Cricket, peanuts, and right-wing politics
Hoggy may regret his recent intervention in Australian political discourse, but up in Queensland his former team mate Carl Rackemann is busy turning himself into a politician. Nicknamed 'Big Carl' by his fans, Rackemann played twelve tests and fifty-two one day internationals for Australia in the 1980s and '90s, before following family tradition and setting up as a peanut farmer in the South Burnett region.
Last September Rackemann announced that he would be standing as a candidate for the Katter Australian Party in the 2012 election to Queensland's state parliament. As its name suggests, Big Carl's party is led by Bob Katter, the long-time federal MP for the North Queensland seat of Kennedy. Katter is fond of wearing a ten gallon hat, and political analyst David Penbarthy has noted his 'strange, Alabama-inspired manner of speech'. Katter's politics are a curious mixture of libertarianism, social conservatism, and Keynesianism. He rails against 'government interference' in the lives of 'ordinary Australians', denouncing environmental laws in particular, but believes that the state should reimpose heavy tariffs on trade goods from Asia, subsidise farmers, and ban 'immoral' behaviour.
Katter's party has been described as 'One Nation with a hat', and it has been attempting to appeal to the small farmers and small town working class voters who supported Pauline Hanson in the 1990s. Many of these voters blame the decline of small town industries and falling prices for agricultural products on the globalisation of the Australian economy and the depredations of Asian capitalists. They may be alienated by the Liberal-National coalition's embrace of globalisation, but they are also hostile to the social liberalism of the Labor and Green parties.
Katter can appeal just as crudely as Hanson to the prejudices of Australians. In a 1996 speech he accused unnamed 'slanty-eyed ideologues' of trying to impose 'political correctness' on his country; more recently he called for the construction of one hundred new military vessels to patrol the waters around Australia and hunt down would-be refugees.
In his recent interviews with the media, Carl Rackemann has explained that he is a third-generation farmer in South Burnett, and has claimed that this firm grounding in the region will help him to perform well if he gets to parliament. What Big Carl hasn't mentioned is that South Burnett is perhaps the most reactionary part of Australia, and that members of the extended Rackemann family have been closely involved in the febrile, anti-democratic politics of the place.
In the late nineteenth century the South Burnett area was a part of the blackbirding industry, as Melanesians abductees landed in ports like Mackay and Brisbane were purchased and put to work on cattle farms and sugar plantations. As Queensland's slave-driven economy took off in the 1870s and '80s, the state earned the nickname 'the second Louisiana', and attracted emigrants from the defeated Confederate States of America. Germans also began to arrive in numbers, and in 1884 George Hiedrich Rackemann led a large family group off the docks in Brisbane.
In the area around the South Burnett town of Kingaroy, the Rackemanns helped establish a peanut industry in the 1920s. When the Great Depression struck Australia's rural economy, depriving farmers of export markets and pushing them into debt, many of the people of South Burnett turned to the ideology of the far right for answers. Hundreds joined the Douglas Credit Party, which blamed the Depression on a conspiracy by Jewish bankers, and warned of the dangers of a takeover of Australia by communists.
In August 1939 thirty-seven armed supporters of the Douglas Credit Party stormed the Queensland parliament in Brisbane, and took the state's Labor MPs hostage. The rebels, who surrendered after a short siege, included Charles and Raymond Rackemann, peanut farmers from South Burnett. The Douglas Credit Party petered out in the early 1940s, but later that decade many of its activists formed the League of Rights, which was for decades Australia's largest explicitly anti-semitic organisation. With its claims that Jews, bankers, Aboriginals, and trade unionists were plotting to ruin white farmers and nationalise their land, the League played on old financial and racial anxieties.
One of the League of Rights' admirers was Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who was MP for Nanango, a seat that includes parts of South Burnett, for forty years, and Premier of Queensland for eighteen years. As Premier, Bjelke-Petersen declared a state of emergency to allow the passage of the Springbok rugby team through Queensland, banned trade union pickets, and regularly accused the United Nations of plotting to conquer Australia. Bjelke-Petersen may have repressed the left and trade unions during his long reign as Premier, but he was consistently supportive of far right political organisations. He was happy to speak at League of Rights events, and his paranoid denunciations of communism and the United Nations encouraged the formation of ultra-right outfits like the Progress Party, which contested Queensland's 1980 election, and the Confederate Action Party, which grew in strength in the 1980s before falling apart in the early '90s. Paul Rackemann contested the Capricornia seat in the 1980 election for the Progress Party, and was a founding member of the Confederate Action Party. In his speeches and communications to the media, Rackemann claimed that he had been persecuted on account of his German ancestry, denounced the Australian banking system as the tool of a sinister cabal of conspirators, and complained that Queenslanders were becoming 'serfs'.
In the 1990s another member of the Rackemann clan became prominent in far right circles. After becoming interested in German history because of his family's links to the country, Peter Rackemann decided that the Holocaust had never happened, and that Hitler's regime had been unfairly maligned by historians. Rackemann became an activist for the Adelaide Institute, the organisation led by Frederick Toben, one of the world's most notorious Holocaust deniers and Hitlerians. In 1999 Toben was imprisoned for nine months in Germany for denying the Holocaust, and in 2002 the Federal Court of Australia found the Adeliade Institute guilty of 'vilifying Jewish people', and demanded the removal of hateful messages and images from its website. Peter Rackemann remains one of the key members of the Institute, and the group's website describes him as a man 'who is willing to die' in the struggle to clear Hitler's name. In the January 2007 issue of the Adelaide Institute's newsletter Toben celebrated the involvement of Peter Rackemann's father in the 'pineapple rebellion' of 1939.
Carl Rackemann will be trying to win Joh Bjelke-Petersen's old seat of Nanango in the upcoming Queensland federal election. We would be unwise to conclude, without the help of evidence, that Rackemann has the same politics as some of his relatives, or that he aims to perpetuate the legacy of Bjelke-Petersen and the League of Rights, but there is surely something disingenuous about his claims that his family history and his South Burnett upbringing give him an affinity with democracy.
[Posted By Maps/Scott]