Posts Tagged ‘essays’

White Australian celebrated two hundred years of colonization in 1988. Much has changed in the relations between the races in Australia since 1988. There have been great advances as well as catastrophic setbacks. In 1993 the Native Titles Act was passed, granting land rights to indigenous Australians who could prove continuity of occupation and some compensation to others whose lands had been taken away. This led the indigenous Australians to have the same legal position as the Native American and Canadian First Native peoples had since colonization.



“This country is Aboriginal people’s homeland… we want to keep our culture strong for our children’s children. We can not do this without our land because it is our lands, or dreamings, stories, paintings – all tied to our land.”


                                                                       (Michael Jagamara Nelson)


In January 1996 Governor General Bill Hayden in his Australia day address praised the Aboriginal artists for using the “redemptive” power of art to teach non indigenous Australians about themselves and their land. Contemporary Aboriginal art has been a spectacular presence in local and international artworks in recent years. It is an innovative relocation of energy by Aboriginal people because of its economic and communicative potentialities. Most of it is produced for external audience, for tourist and art market consumption, and it is disseminated through structures that have arisen just for this mediating purpose. It has become an art movement with its own set of shared but distinctive methods, styles, contents, masters and mistresses; regional and local variations, patterns of change, practice of distribution, and languages of interpretation.



The majority of Aboriginal artists live in tribal situations, in the desert regions or in Arnhen Land, at actual or social removal from places of white settlement. The artists are a small minority of approximately 200,000 Aboriginal people living in non-tribal circumstances. The urban artists are the children of the tribal people who had been forcefully relocated. The artists have often been trained in white art schools or, more recently, Aboriginal colleges.



The central tension in white Australia flows from its essential migrant experience, with its carriage of imported cultures mixed with the desire to create a distinct one. The tension is the result of doubled foundational and fundamental national ideologies: imperialist and nativist.



The powerful emergence of art by Aboriginal Australians in the 1970s to its arrival at the point of market, media, and critical dominance during the 1980s was based on artworks coming from a number of tribal communities. It was led by spectacular paintings on canvas or bark, based on sand, body, and rock painting designs and compositions.


Tribal Aborigines in Australia, especially since 1970s, have, in the main, actively sought ways to maintain their cultural separateness, to relate to non-Aboriginal cultures through a screen of distance. The contemporary Aboriginal art movement, on the other hand, is itself a hybrid formation between western modernity in Australia and Aboriginality. Exchanges between cultures should be seen as shaped not only by the fundamentally divisive operations of imperialism but also understood as constitutive relationships.



Art originating from tribal communities consists of sacred/ secular art objects that at once stand for absent secret/ sacred ones and, at the same time, stand in their own right as artworks.


          (Terry Smith, Public Art between Cultures: The “Aboriginal Memorial,” Aboriginality, and Nationality in Australia)



Literacy policies and practices are not only influenced by socio- cultural factors but also value- laden and political. While the use of non- standard varieties of English and creoles is widespread among Aboriginal Australians, the National Framework of Australia is a framework of adult English language and literacy. The Aboriginals have identified improved English literacy as a priority but feel this need not be at the expense of other Aboriginal languages.



It is not just language attitudes and politics that are at issue. Also of fundamental importance are the manners in which language is used and differences in what another culture regards as socio- linguistic competence, particularly in cross- cultural interaction. Discourse strategies and pragmatic elements may not vary between cultures but there is a great deal of evidence to show that they are valued, taught and reinforced differently.



In multifarious ways, many Aboriginal Australians have resisted and continue to resist assimilation and incorporation, not only into the dominant society’s ways of life, but they have also resisted much of the white middle-class value system’s modes of thinking and behaving embedded in dominant social institutions. The maintenance of distinctive styles of language use is one such example of passive resistance.



Australian pastoral is haunted by a similar sense of violation, caused by an upheaval of no lesser magnitude-that of the displacement of an indigenous population by the settlers of a colonizing power. Though there have been times when the Aboriginal has played no part in Australian pastoral, this effacement has been limited and partial. For the most part it is the persistence of the Aboriginal figure which is remarkable- appearing sometimes as a shadowy, spectral presence, sometimes dramatically heightened by fear or guilt, more recently as a figure arguing on its own behalf for a revision of the pastoral order-and always as the embodiment of an aboriginal claim, a claim to priority.



The recognition of the Aboriginal as the true pastoral subject appears in the poetry of the later colonial period (1840s to 1880s) as a mortal confrontation between two different kinds of pastoral ideal, the one primitive, the other classical in origin, as the poets seek to accommodate a presence which has not dimmed but grown more compelling in time. In both Charles Harpur and Henry Kendall, the two most distinguished poets of this period, the confrontation centers on the pastoral place, now defined in Australian terms and presented as the site both of allurement and of death. In what is probably Harpur’s most significant poem, “The Creek of the Four Graves,” a settler and his four shepherds set forth into the Australian wilderness to seek “new streams and wider pastures” for their flocks. Harpur’s attempt to capture this new territory in his verse places considerable strain on his poetic resources. In mobilizing the pastoral form, Harpur is evidently unwilling to admit the Aboriginal inhabitants of the wilderness as proper subjects, and he cannot call on his shepherds, who have as yet to feel at home there. The result is unpopulated pastoral, in which the elements of nature take on the roles normally played by humans in the pastoral landscape. It is the sun whose glances flash down the nameless creek between the mountains; the creek is “duskily befringed” with feathery swamp-oaks, turning its pools into seductive eyes; the mountains themselves become sheep as the breeze blows over “their rough enormous backs deep fleeced with wood.”



The “wild” pastoral of the Australian bush and its indigenous inhabitants is by nature undefined, unformed-it is felt as a force working against the traditional pastoral economy, unsettling and negating its priorities. Kendall’s surging rhythms, his “lyrics with beats like the heart-beats of Passion,” seem driven by the same kind of energy that invests Harpur’s images with their thrilling power. This beat, “the pulse of wind and torrent” as he calls it, catches up the decorous personifications which inhabit his pastoral scenes, then casts them aside, tripping awkwardly, and effete survivors from an outworn tradition. His funereal landscapes are more somber, gloomier, and more desolate than Harpur’s, the burying ground of his ambitions as a poet and as a man. Sometimes the dead mourned there are Aboriginals, killed by Aboriginals, as if death was the only history these places had ever known.




After Kendall, as the poet Judith Wright noted, “a great silence falls.” It is not that pastoral disappears from the literary repertoire, for it continues to play a dominant role in Australian writing. In the decade before and after the federation of Australian states in 1901, it was pressed into the service of defining the new Australian nation, celebrating the white bushworkers who were taken as its characteristic types, but offering little space to the Aboriginals from whom the land had been taken. After the First World War, when the pastoral form was used for the completely opposite purpose of driving nationalist sentiment out of Australian literature, the poets drew on the classical world, not the Aboriginal, for their shepherds and maidens, their nymphs and fauns. It was only in the second nationalist phase, from the late 1920s on, that the Aboriginal re-turned to Australian pastoral, not as a presence in the landscape dimmed by the passing of time but, on the contrary, as the embodiment of the very spirit of the land itself, representing a claim deeper and more basic than that which had been entertained before.



From this primitive but still essentially pastoral perspective, Prich-ard and Dark and other novelists-Vance Palmer, Frank Dalby Davison, Barnard Eldershaw, and Xavier Herbert in particular-developed their critiques of the exploitative, dominating, and re-pressive tendencies inherent in the white settlement of Australia. Whereas for Harpur and Kendall the Aboriginals had been the devil’s representatives in what might with time become a paradise, now it is the whites who are portrayed as the intruders into a timeless Aboriginal idyll, with the Aboriginals representing those qualities of spontaneity, freedom, reciprocity, and ease denied by the relentless capitalist urge of white settlement.




The remembered place is not idyllic in itself-in his plays Jack Davis presents the Moore River settlement, to which many Western Australian Aboriginals were forcibly removed, as being more like a concentration camp. This is not an origin site, but another resting place in a long tale of dispossession-what makes the scene idyllic is the fact that it is witness to an act of transmission between the generations, an act which, given the large-scale destruction of Aboriginal culture, is remarkable for having happened at all. It is this act and the further transmission effected through its commemoration in poetry which gives the place its significance, as if the Aboriginal claim to the land was not fixed and unchanging, but mobile, some-thing remade and renewed in the face of negation.



We are the lightning-bolt over Gaphemba Hill

Quick and terrible,

And the thunder after him, that loud fellow.

We are the quiet daybreak paling the dark lagoon.

We are the shadow-ghosts creeping back as the camp

fires burn low.

We are nature and the past, all the old ways

Gone now and scattered.

The scrubs are gone, the hunting and the laughter.

The eagle is gone,

the emu and the kangaroo are gone from this place.

The bora ring is gone.

The corroboree is gone.

And we are going.’


                                (Oodgeroo Nonuccal, We are Going)




The aboriginals have gone through ages of destruction of language and abnegation of culture. Today the white Australians are trying to mend their fences. A song about racial reconciliation with the aboriginals has become the fourth-biggest selling recording in Australia. The song, “From Little Things Big Things Grow,” begins with a recording of the words of Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, from his February, 2008 apology for the country’s history of mistreatment of its indigenous peoples. “As Pm, I am sorry,” Rudd says. “On behalf of the government, I am sorry.”


From Rudd’s words the song later moves on to these lyrics:


“There are moments in the lives of nations where hope and history rhyme. Now’s one of those times. Let’s close the gap, and if we truly mean it, we can stare down our future and find we can see through those eyes. Let us not stand with those who deny.”