I played tennis from the time I was six until the day in 2018 when I hurt my back during a game and discovered I had multiple myeloma and a compression fracture on T8, which spelled the end of my tennis. I followed my favourite players, men and women, until I was too old to care. My favourites were Ken Rosewall, Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras. I was once a ball boy for a doubles match between John Bromwich-Adrian Quist and Mervyn Rose-Ken McGregor. Only the oldies will know whom I’m talking about. I used to wonder why we didn’t have really good women players as well, and then Margaret Smith arrived. She was, and remains, phenomenal. Let Wikipedia summarise (slight edit):
Court won more than half of the Grand Slam singles tournaments she played (24 of 47). She won 192 singles titles before and after the Open Era, an all-time record. Her career singles win-loss record was 1,177-106, for a winning percentage of 91.74 per cent on all surfaces (hard, clay, grass, carpet), is also an all-time record. She won at least 100 singles matches in 1965 (113-8), 1968 (107-12), 1969 (104-6), 1970 (110-6), and 1973 (108-6). She won more than 80 per cent of her singles matches against top 10 players (297-73) and was the year-end top ranked player seven times.
I hope Wiki is right about the all-time records. There is no one in women’s tennis to surpass her, and she stopped competing, as Margaret Court, in the mid 1970s, almost half a century ago. She is a few years younger than me, and it may be that the powers that be in the Gong System decided that she should be elevated while she was alive. I don’t know, and I don’t care. She deserves it more than those, like State Governors, High Court appointees and some Vice-Chancellors, who become Companions of the Order of Australia because of their office, rather than because of their achievements.
But there are those who do care, and they hate it, because Margaret Court, a Pentecostal minister, has denounced aspects of the gay community. Now it may be also that most reverends have learned to be quiet about all this, or have scrabbled to find something in the Bible that would allow them to sit easily with gays as parishioners or even clergy. But two of the LGBTQI collection have handed back their own gongs in protest, and Kerry O’Brien, renowned ABC presenter, and an old friend of mine, has refused to accept one for the same reason. That of course is up to them. My interest is in the underlying assumptions about honours.
There is no perfect means of handing out honours in a way that everyone will be happy with the outcome. The system is run in a representative way, so that it’s not all dominated by men, or whites or professionals. Women are still under-represented, but the ratio is improving. Likewise for the ‘indigenous’. But the notion that this group or that can decide whether or not someone of another entity ought not to be honoured strikes me, frankly, as fatuous. People are honoured for what they have achieved for themselves and for our country, not because of what they have said or written, unless it was over a very long time. Okay, you like the award so little that you’ll hand yours back. What are the rest of us supposed to do about that? Shrug their shoulders, in my case. Then, sit down and write a piece like this.
I see this protest as a form of ‘cancel culture’, or ‘political correctness’. I dislike it. About Margaret Court’s own statements I am easy, though they are not my sentiments. We should be able to say what we think. That’s what freedom of speech is all about. If you don’t like what someone has said and feel offended by it, then you can go down the path of saying so through available means. That may work if what the person wrote or said is not covered by its being academic work, or something of that kind. It happened to me, and was expensive when my assailant pulled out of the action, at no cost that I could see to him.
I am not fussed about the LGBTQI collective, partly because it is not at all a true band. The alphabetics don’t mean anything much, other than those so identifying with one of them have little to do with the rest other than they are not ‘straight’, heterosexual, whatever, and may feel discriminated against. My general sense of Australian collective opinion is that most of the rest of us don’t really care any more what they get up to, but I doubt they’d feel that Margaret Court should be so victimised.
Let’s prune the protest to its core. It would go something like this.
We are Xers, and if you say something offensive about Xers you should not be honoured at all.
I think that’s a fair summary. Why are Xers so important? How far could it go? If Xers were, say, returned servicemen, and someone said or wrote something denigrating about such people, but was honoured for something else they had done, would these Xers act in the same way? I doubt it, because returned servicemen are not part of the politically correct Mafia. But say something negative about indigenous Aboriginal people and the cancel-culture people will be on you at once. If there is such a principle, it should apply to everyone, not just to those you don’t like.
What should we do about this insidious attack on ‘people we don’t like’? Let us agree that we should be proud of our multi-ethnic and diverse people, all of them, and their origins as well, without elevating any of them to a lofty state, and without suggesting that any of them are beyond the pale.
We are in danger of doing the first with the sudden usage of ‘First Nations’ for Indigenous and Aboriginal people. This is a borrowing from Canada and is meaningless here. I’m not sure it was much more meaningful there. What we had were family and clan-like groups who wandered over what they saw as their ‘country’, along routes that took advantage of the presence of food and water over the year. The maps that purport to show such ‘nations’ are based on linguistic usage, not political boundaries. Certainly the family and clan groups met one another, for trading and wife selection, and to take advantage of an annual great abundance in food. But that’s it. We are going to hear much more about First Nations and their role in finding an acceptable wording of the Constitution, acceptable, that is, to those that want such an outcome.
I’m not one of them. Our Constitution and the legal amendments to it provide that all Australians are the same under law. I would like to keep it that way.