Educated in the discipline of History at the University of Peradeniya
and Oxford, *Michael Roberts* taught at Peradeniya from 1966 to 1976
before moving sideways into Anthropology at the University of Adelaide
in 1977. His many publications encompass social mobility, social
history, agrarian issues, peasant protest, popular culture, urban
history, caste in South Asia, practices of cultural domination and
nationalism. His main focus has been Sri Lanka, but there have been
ventures into Indian socio-political history, Australian myth making and
the sociology of cricket; while his present concern is a comparative
study of martyrdom. He is one of the central figures behind the new site
The recent political brouhaha in Australia about “boat people” has led
him to intervene in the debate through efforts at publishing articles
that are relevant to the issues under discussion. These are based on
anecdotal knowledge picked up over the year's but largely proceed on *a
priori* lines and are founded on a number of surmises.
*Adjutant Australia* is critical of the fetish for order and the
residual racism in Australia that underpins the hardline policy in place
over the last decade or so in order to deter illegal immigration by sea.
This critique of the Australian mind-set failed to make the cut in
several Aussie media outlets, including *Eureka Street*, a radical
website. So it has fallen back on the Lankan site www.groundviews.org
*Speaking from Ignorance: Australians on Sri Lanka and Its Boat People
*was drafted in order to present what I knew about both Sinhalese and
Tamil migration over the last 60 years. A link to the *Australian’*s
Opinions Editor drew encouraging signs. However, she was a kind of
sergeant major in her own right and recast my text. This exercise
involved deletions of criticisms of the media – hardly surprising that.
The change of personality via style was a bit disconcerting, though
perhaps there were pluses in the fact that some points were rendered
sharper. I decided to bat within my limited powers and, aside from minor
amendments, accepted the revised text. What I was not told and what
caught me by surprise was a total change of title and shift of target.
The revised text appeared in the *Australian *of 11 November 2009 as
*Tamil Tall Tales*. Worse still the *Daily News* in Sri Lanka filched
the essay from this source and published it on Friday 13 November.
Needless to say many Tamils have reacted with the anger at what seemed
to be a sweeping disparagement of their community. While this is in
itself a body of data, I asked the editor if she would have been as
insensitive if she was fashioning this title for the Yolngu, Wik or some
Well, *Tami Migration Within and Beyond Sri Lanka* is a partial response
to the cyber comments on the Australian website. It is presently in
search of a media outlet because the *Australian*’s editors are not
In the interim I have also written *Crude Reasoning* after the Editor of
an ABC website indicated which of the motifs in my unpublished draft,
“Speaking from Ignorance,” that she was interested in. This time round
there were only minor editorial changes and only a foreshortening of my
original double-barrelled title. This essay has just gone up on web today.
I have another one or two essays in mind.
Taken in by Tamil tall tales:
Adjutant Australia: Controlling Boat People
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