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Thanks to Stan Grant, public intellectual


Like many Australians, I was dismayed by Stan Grant’s decision to stand down from his work with the ABC. Dismayed for him at the racist abuse that he had suffered. Dismayed for us as a community that he should have been so unsupported. Dismayed for Australia that his argument that racism is entrenched in Australia was once again verified. Dismayed for myself that one of the most consistently stimulating public intellectuals in Australia should be so silenced.

In comparison with this loss the debate about who was responsible for the vilification of Grant and their reasons is sterile. For what it is worth, responsibility has been imputed to a number of factors. It has been attribute an innate racism in Australia that is always ready to vent. It has been attributed to various failings of the ABC. The public broadcaster is accused of having acted partially in encouraging anti-monarchist views in its coverage of King Charles’ coronation, failing to support Grant against the abuse that he suffered, and not being a respectful place for Indigenous or immigrant staff, or has allowing its employees to breach the distinction between reporting and opinion. Others have attributed responsibility to the coverage by News Limited. Certainly, the ABC have deplored the vilification and have apologised for not defending Grant. For all its faults, however, the ABC is popularly regarded as more reliable for its coverage of important events than the commercial media.

Perhaps a more salient contemporary confusion lies between the roles both of journalists and commentators as contributors to media and as catalysts for a social media pile-on. In this case, the two roles were clearly connected. Whether causally or only consecutively connected is open for discussion.

These issues, however, are only incidental. The point is that a good man, a proud Indigenous man, has been so wounded by the racial abuse directed at him for his criticism of ingrained racism in Australia that he has temporarily withdrawn from public life. As we move towards the Referendum on the Voice that is a chastening reminder of our nation’s history and of our responsibilities.

It is also a time to celebrate what Stan Grant has given to public life through his thought and writing and to lament what we might hope will be its only temporary loss. Whereas the response of most columnists to current events is predictable, I have found Grant’s reflections on public life and on current issues constantly surprising. Even if I could anticipate many of his judgments on such issues as Indigenous history in which he had been a protagonist, he always offered fresh insights, judgments and possibilities. He brought to any issue that he discussed the fruit of broad experience in and outside Australia. He took topics out of their merely local context to a broader and more universal level.

Grant’s perception of Australian history and culture was enriched by his wide reading both of contemporary Australian affairs and of the cultural, political and economic strands of Western civilisation. Although he was focused on his own Indigenous history and culture, he explored more broadly the wellsprings of the culture that the European invaders brought with them and which shaped their treatment of the First Peoples. That double perspective also illuminated his reflections on Australian attitudes to China and on the simplistic framing of international relationships as a contest between freedom and totalitarianism.


'The point is that a good man, a proud Indigenous man, has been so wounded by the racial abuse directed at him for his criticism of ingrained racism in Australia that he has temporarily withdrawn from public life.'


The most valuable gift of Stan Grant’s writing to me has lain in his generous invitation to enter the world of Indigenous Australians from within. His sharing of the feelings and wounds that underlay his life as an Indigenous Australian challenged any of my generalised, dismissive, and ignorant attitudes and judgments based in ignorance and in lack of empathy. He drew us outsiders into his world. He also made us appreciate the depth of the conversion of heart and mind that would be needed to open the path to reconciliation. Only getting the words right would never be enough. 

Stan Grant’s gifts are those of the public intellectual. They are rare gifts, and for that reason even their temporary withdrawal from society is unfortunate. That his withdrawal was caused by people who were not his peers in intelligence or in character is infuriating.  The term public intellectual usually denotes a person whose home is academia, who is at home with research, and who from it enters public conversation in order to illuminate and to persuade a wider, non-specialist audience. Such people are indispensable. Grant, too, has some of these formal qualities – he has taught in universities and has written books. His gift to public conversation has been to come from a world distant from academia and to bring to educated Australians the sensibility and the insights of a person who remains in mind, heart, experience, sensitivity and memory an Indigenous Australian.

These are the kind of remarks we might expect in a eulogy. They are not written as a farewell, however, but as a thank-you and in hope that Stan Grant will experience the encouragement that will allow him revitalised to return to public life. 





Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Stan Grant, ABC, Racism, Q&A, Indigenous, Public Intellectual



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Existing comments

Stan Grant is a proud Indigenous man, a media commentator, writer and, yes, a public intellectual who wears his heart on his sleeve. The vulnerability that goes along with each facet of his being has taken its toll. His clear-eyed analytical skills were evident in his farewell statement when he conceded that, as a member of the media, he was part of the problem. It is the media which needs to rethink its stance. Stan is in the mould of the respected and much-loved journalist, Andrew Olle, who touched many lives with his lack of hubris and integrity. Stan has those qualities and it is to be hoped that his break will reinvigorate him. Meanwhile, we can ponder what makes great journalism.

Pam | 31 May 2023  

Hi Andrew. Thank you for your own reflection upon Stan Grant and his racist treatment. I have written too about my own 'deep sadness' about this sad, sorry situation, which was published in a recent Pearls and Irritations newsletter (John Menadue) and I re-posted it in my LinkedIn profile. Regards, Greg:)

Greg Latemore | 01 June 2023  

I couldn’t agree more with Andrew Hamilton’s comment on Stan Grant’s withdrawal from public life. So sadly , because of racism ,which I believe is very prevalent in Australian society !
Let us look at ourselves , and acknowledge how we may be gradually becoming, more and more like some aspects America, appears to be, a torn divided nation, which could be fuelled by the evil of racism. Let us uphold the dignity of our humanity , by treating all as equals…

Bernie | 01 June 2023  

A brilliant tribute, Andy. Thank you ever so much.

Richard Olive | 01 June 2023  

I thank you for your articles. I find the daily news paper often have a biased account ,therefore we need other opinions to be more informed. I for one greatly appreciate them.
Mary Duncan

Mary Duncan | 01 June 2023  

Thanks for this article! I particularly agree with you that Stan enabled us to enter into his world, to gain deeper insights and this was always in a invitational style, so the listeners/readers did not feel lectured or diminished but we enabled to share a 'eureka' moment of new insight. May he return to public life soon!

Sue Jacka | 01 June 2023  

Thank you Andrew for a wonderful synthesis of the whole issue of the great injustice done to Stan Grant and also calling out the deep imbedded racism within Australian society of which we all are victims for when one person or group is diminished we are all diminished

M. Fraser | 02 June 2023  

Thank you Andrew for a very cogent synthesis of the injustice done to Stan Grant and its highlighting of the deep and embedded racism inherent in Australian society. It diminishes indigenous and migrant Australians but ultimately it diminishes us all for when part of society is diminished we all are.

M. Fraser | 02 June 2023  

“….he also made us appreciate the depth of the conversion of heart and mind that would be needed to open the path to reconciliation……”
How true, he has helped our hearts to further explore the spirit that emanates from the Ulu?u Statement from the Heart.
A great Australian.

Kerin Fox | 02 June 2023  

I join with Andrew Hamilton in hoping that Stan Grant will return to public life revitalised. Our nation and our public debate is poorer without him.

Audrey Brown | 02 June 2023  

Thank you for your insight, I was sadden and ashamed of the comments left by media and everyday white Australia. We havent advanced much have we?

Marie Wilson | 02 June 2023  

I'd agree that the ABC was, in earlier years, "more reliable" than commercial media. Today that's debatable.
The ABC went all in with the Russia/Trump collusion story billing it "the story of the century." Numerous investigations have proved it was a hoax involving the FBI, CIA, Justice Department and political and media operatives. Asked if it would now apologize, the ABC responded: "The ABC stands by the reporting by Sarah Ferguson and Four Corners."
Recent revelations show the Morrison Government censored anyone questioning vaccines, lockdowns and mandatory vaccinations including "suppressed Covid-19 posts from doctors who disagreed with official public health and vaccine information." The ABC and most media unquestionably toed the official line, now shown to be mostly wrong.
Professor Greg Craven accused the ABC of "polluting" the legal atmosphere around the Victorian trial of Cardinal Pell. Reporter Chris Kenny accused the ABC of "vindictively" promoting the whole saga. The ABC responded: "We stand by our reporters and our stories."
Today, most media are terrible. The latest Rasmussen Report shows 59% of likely voters in the US, regardless of race, regard the mainstream media as "truly the enemy of the people": 58% whites; 51% blacks; 68% other minorities."

Ross Howard | 02 June 2023  
Show Responses

Ross Howard, yes there are now people who distrust the ABC, among them many who were once loyal watchers and listeners. I was once an ABC Friend, but no longer. I stopped listening to most of Radio National's offerings when that station swamped us with undiluted Pride. Those former listeners, who grieve that the ABC has been "captured" by the gender ideology movement, cluster around the Women's Cooee website.

Stan Grant is impressive when he does radio interviews, for example on the Religion and Ethics Report, and I hope he continues to do them. His talents are wasted on television. These days television is not an adequate medium for presentation of deep, challenging and values-affirming ideas.

Janet | 03 June 2023  

I could not stand stan grant lecturing and hectoring of anyone he did not a like on abc q an a

stuart lawrence | 02 June 2023  

Thank you Andy for your beautiful reflective comments about a truely dignified and proud Indigenous man.

Wayne Brabin | 02 June 2023  

There are two separate issues here. I abhor the racism and hate that has come into the issue. My issue is with the timing and inappropriateness at the time regarding the coronation. Commentary should be tailored to the event. It SG wants to have his way then comments should be set aside and a separate program then be locked in.
To take an absurd parallel this is akin to a football game being displayed and someone or a group talking about agriculture.
With such experience belong to Stan Grant and Craig foster the time for them to air their views was for another time and another place. The event that was on was meant to be the focus and a team was not there for that particular hour.

michael jones | 02 June 2023  

I completely agree with your comments. I grew up in southern New South Wales, not from from Stan's place. I recall with sadness the way the local indigenous people were treated. Stan is a remarkable gentleman andxso genuine. My wife is Asian and myself, her and our children have experienced racism so we understand Stan' pain however imperfectly. I emailed the ABC following the news expressing solidarity with Stan. Q&A will not be the same. The ABCmanagement needs to show more spine in these cases.

Gavin O'Brien | 03 June 2023  

Thank you, Andrew, for a very good article about the racist abuse that has forced Stan Grant to take time out from the ABC and public life.

Stan Grant has contributed greatly to our collective understanding of events at home and abroad as a journalist , commentator, public speaker and author. And he has been particularly powerful in making us aware of the dark history of this country and the feelings of indigenous peoples following the British invasion and occupation.

Having said that, I have not always agreed with his views on international politics or indeed the way he has moderated the ABC TV’s Q&A program.
But no two people will agree totally on everything.

In its edition of 3 - 6 June 2023, The Saturday Paper has an article by Mike Secombe titled “Posts Racist” which also examines the levels of racism on social media that are targeting key people in the public discussion about the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Mike interviewed James Blackwell – a Wiradyuri man who is a research fellow and PhD student in Indigenous Diplomacy at the Australian National University.

James appeared on a recent Q&A program and told those attending that racist attacks against him started as soon as the names of the panellists were released and before the program occurred. During the Q&A discussion, James called this out and blamed the Liberal and National Parties for their stance and comments on the Indigenous Voice referendum.

He also said that the flow of racist abuse became incredibly worse after the program.

I can also report coming under attack on social media when as a non-indigenous Australian, I have advocated a YES vote in the coming referendum. However, what I have received is nowhere near as offensive as what Stan, James and other indigenous people have experienced.

Like Andrew and many other fair-minded Australians, I am appalled that we are seeing this behaviour being exhibited by a number of our fellow Australians well into the 21st century.

I am just hopeful that the YES vote in the coming referendum will be similar to the one in the 1967 referendum when 90.77% of Australians voted YES to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being considered as Australians. This will then show that those committing this racist abuse are a very small noisy and hateful minority. And will hopefully improve our current tarnished image abroad on the issues of the treatment of our indigenous people and asylum seekers and let us get on with the other important tasks of formulating a treaty, history telling and the reconciliation process.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 04 June 2023  

Don't let ABC staff or Queenslanders vote in the Voice referendum.

John Frawley | 05 June 2023