Tuesday, 21 February 2023


Northcote High School

Northcote High School

Bev McARTHUR (Western Victoria) (17:50): (46) My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Education and relates to a story in the Age newspaper on Saturday titled ‘School’s new chapter on First Nation’s history,’ and my learned colleague here Mr Mulholland will be most interested in this, I am sure. It described Northcote High School’s invitation to Indigenous education expert Dr Al Fricker to audit the school’s library and its 7000 books. The aim was to remove non-fiction titles deemed historically inaccurate or offensive. It resulted in 36 books being removed from the library and a further 12 titles being filed under a new restricted category. Any reference to Aboriginal people being nomads or hunter-gatherers, for example, was removed. My question is this: what right does one man have to decide what history is correct or incorrect? What right does one man, backed by one school, have to decide what version of history students need to learn? Students can disagree with the books, challenge them, debate them, as they should, but to remove them as if that part of history, that version of history does not exist is surely the antithesis to an inquiring education.

Some of the books were removed because they were almost 50 years old. One wonders if Northcote High School has a copy of the Bible even. Dr Fricker argues that:

We wouldn’t accept science books being that old in the library, so why do we accept other nonfiction books to be that old …

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that science changes, history does not. These days even poor Roald Dahl is being censored. George Orwell’s 1984 describes the party slogan:

Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past …

Could one sentence better describe Northcote High School today? The school said it is absolutely about inclusivity. It is not, I contest. It is an exercise in exclusivity, excluding selected histories in favour of preferred versions of history. The school wants to create a culturally appropriate and safe library no less, but safe from what? The truth? Safe from challenging debates? Safe from inquiring minds? It is encouraging others to follow its example and is supported by the Victorian School Library Association. Given taxpayers have bought these books, paid for the librarians to put them on the shelves and for teachers to use them as part of broad learning, can the minister please advise whether all government schools in Victoria will be required to also undertake a cultural audit of libraries?