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“Space without people”

Austro-German Filmmaker, Bestselling Author and Journalist Colin Ross Discovers Australia

Siegfried Mattl

In 1929 prominent Austro-German filmmaker and author Colin Ross visited Australia with his family for several months. In his literary and cinematic work on Australia Ross establishes a perplexing argument: Australia’s “nordic myth” (the White Australia policy) exposes the continent to the peril of an Asian invasion. In accordance with concepts of cultural hegemony within the framework of the so-called German liberal imperialism and driven by Germany’s ambition to reestablish a presence in its former colonial realm, he advocates for the forced immigration of South European laborers to the continent to populate the vast “empty space” of Australia and guard against the menacing consequences of a British-Japanese pact. This article discusses the visual and literary strategies employed by Ross to popularize geo-political thinking in Germany, thereby inducing a shift in the travelogue genre from appealing to “colonial desire” to promoting the politics of an emerging imperialism.

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Ambivalent Mobilities in the Pacific

“Savagery” and “Civilization” in the Australian Interwar Imaginary

Nicholas Halter

Australian travel writing of the interwar period expanded with the growth of tourism in the Pacific Islands and the development of publishing and literacy at home. This article focuses on how the Australian middlebrow imagination was shaped by the diverse travel accounts of Australian tourists, adventurers, executives, scientists, officials, and missionaries writing at this time. Many of their texts borrowed and blended multiple discourses, simultaneously promoting the islands as educational and exotic, and appealing to an Australian middlebrow readership. In this article I argue that not only was travel writing middlebrow in its content and style, but the islands themselves were a particularly middlebrow setting. This is evident in representations of the islander “savage” in the region of Melanesia, a prevalent theme in Australian travelogues. I argue that this middlebrow literature was characterized by ambivalent and often contradictory ideas about the civilized “self” and the savage “other.”

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Kingsley Garbett

On 4 July 2003, a one-day “Cultural Research and Refugee Studies” workshop was held in Sydney. Greg Gow and Amanda Wise organized the workshop, a cooperative venture between the cultural research centers of the University of Western Sydney and the Australian National University. It brought together a large group of researchers, practitioners, and community representatives to exchange ideas about cultural research among refugees and asylum seekers in Australia. The three articles that follow, by Gow, Wise, and Glazebrook, present a particular perspective on the methodology of studying and analyzing refugee behavior in Cultural Studies, stressing the significance of considering the emotive and affective aspects of their status and position. Wise’s material considers East Timorese refugees, many of whom now have residence in Australia, while Gow and Glazebrook examine more recent refugees and asylum seekers from Iraq and Central Afghanistan, respectively, many of whom still have uncertain futures. Comments from a panel discussion by Khalid Koser, Pnina Werbner, and Ien Ang complete this thematic section.

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More than Luck

Australian Protest in a Social Movement Society

Ben Hightower and Scott East

This introduction begins by challenging a common narrative formed in relation to Australia—that it is a “lucky country.” This “exceptionalist” view of Australia is also evidenced in national legal frameworks relating to human rights. Drawing on histories of Australian politics, it is argued that social justice stems not from luck or an exceptional legislative system, but from various forms of social contestation. Especially since the global protests of 2011, more scholars are considering the organization, impacts, and practices of social movements that occur on a global scale. Despite the evolution of globalized protest, this collection is informed by Connell’s southern theory (2007), which identifies the unequal geopolitics of knowledge. The articles in this issue provide a diverse range of case studies that can inform protest practices and evidence the vitality of dissent in Australia. Activist knowledges and a quest for collaborative approaches to protest are the two elements that run throughout this issue of Contention.

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Collections without End

The Ghostly Presences of Captain Matthew McVicker-Smyth and his Western Australian Mineral Collection in the State Library of Western Australia

Andrea Witcomb and Alistair Patterson

The discovery of five photographs in 2018 in the State Library of Western Australia led us to the existence of a forgotten private museum housing the collection of Captain Matthew McVicker Smyth in early-twentieth-century Perth. Captain Smyth was responsible for the selling of Nobel explosives used in the agriculture and mining industries. The museum contained mineral specimens in cases alongside extensive, aesthetically organized displays of Australian Aboriginal artifacts amid a wide variety of ornaments and decorative paintings. The museum reflects a moment in the history of colonialism that reminds us today of forms of dispossession, of how Aboriginal people were categorized in Australia by Western worldviews, and of the ways that collectors operated. Our re-creation brings back into existence a significant Western Australian museum and opens up a new discussion about how such private collections came into existence and indeed, in this instance, about how they eventually end.

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From India to Australia and Back Again

An Alternative Genealogy of The Elementary Forms of Religious Life

Sondra L. Hausner

This article argues that, although we think of Australian tribal ritual as Durkheim’s source material for his masterwork The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, we must also consider the extensive Indological scholarship on which he draws – and with which he debates – as critical inspirations for the text. His extensive engagement with his nephew, Marcel Mauss, whose earlier work, Sacrifice, with Henri Hubert, was premised on an analysis of Vedic ritual, would have been one source for his study of religion writ large; Elementary Forms also takes up in detail the work of Max Müller, among other Indologists, whose work was well known and widely engaged with in the French and broader European intellectual context of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This article argues that the Indological comparative lens was key to Durkheim’s own approach as he worked to articulate the relationship between religion and society; in contrast to the philologists, he argued for the primacy of practice over language in ritual action.

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Alessandro Pelizzon and Jade Kennedy

In the past two decades, “Welcome to Country” and “Acknowledgment of Country” practices have become commonplace at the commencement of most public events throughout Australia, and it is highly unusual to participate in a public event where some words of acknowledgment of the traditional owners and custodians of the locale are omitted. This article traces the origins of such practices while identifying the semantic, political, and conceptual differences between them. It articulates how precolonial protocols of encounter among distinct groups and individuals inform “Welcome to Country” practices, attesting to the ontological and epistemological continuity of the latter in relation to the former. It explores recent trends in the public understanding and positioning of both “Welcome to Country” and “Acknowledgment of Country” speeches and events, contextualizing their emerging positioning within the fabric of Australian settler colonial relations, particularly in the context of contemporary discourses on Aboriginal sovereignty and the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

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Worldly Tastes

Mobility and the Geographical Imaginaries of Interwar Australian Magazines

Victoria Kuttainen and Susann Liebich

In the interwar period, increasingly mobile Australians began to contemplate travel across the Pacific, both toward Asia as well as to America. Contemporary writing reflected this highly mobile culture and Pacific gaze, yet literary histories have overlooked this aspect of cultural history. Instead of looking to Australian novels as indexes of culture, as literary studies often do, this article explores the range of writing and print culture in magazines, concentrating on notions of mobility through the Pacific. Its focus is on the quality magazines MAN and The Home, which addressed two distinct, gendered readerships, but operated within similar cultural segments. This article suggests that the distinct geographical imaginaries of these magazines, which linked travel and geographical mobility with aspiration and social mobility, played a role in consolidating and nourishing the class standing of their readers, and revealed some of their attitudes toward gender and race.

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Memory, History, and Ego-Histoire

Narrating and Re-enacting the Australian Freedom Ride

Ann Curthoys

This article explores the intersections between history, memoir, and collective memory. It re ects on my experience of writing, as both historian and former participant, about the 1965 Australian Freedom Ride, which protested racial discrimination against Aboriginal people. It also traces the ways in which memory of and discourse about that event has changed over time: how it was and is remembered and understood, and the di erent uses made of the event by Aboriginal people, educators, and historians.

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Robert Lee

Australian railway historiography, like its railway history and indeed like Australia itself, poses a curious paradox. Why is such a fortunate and civil polity so parochial and so divided geographically? It is now more than 230 years since British colonisation began. Ever since, Australia has been prosperous; relatively egalitarian, at least for its white population; generally free from civil strife; and efficiently and effectively governed. The temperature of its debates and conflicts rarely has risen above levels characterised by civil disobedience and strikes, which have been controlled by police and courts within usual legal frameworks.