Schultz, Julianne, et al: What is Australia For?

Schultz, Julianne, et al

What is Australia For?Griffith Review 36, Autumn 2012

An extensive collection tries to answer the question posed in the title. Julianne Schultz’s introduction, ‘A question with many answers‘, suggests that ‘[t]he emerging Asian century’ provides many opportunities for Australia, provided we are not motivated by externalthreats as in the past. Chinese-born but long resident in Australia, Frances Guo discusses her individual identity issues while Dennis Altman detects a paradox in the rise of an Australian nationalism which is at once aggressive and turned towards traditional, Western models.

We continue to agonise about national identity [says Altman]. Since federation there has been a quest for foundation myths; there is a vast literature on how Anzac Day became the de facto symbol of Australian nationhood, despite Australia Day. Young Australians flock to Gallipoli and the Kokoda Track, reinforcing the assumption that nationhood is established through war. Under John Howard there was a discernible rise in military imagery, a trend continued since; prime ministerial visits to overseas troops and attendance at military funerals have become commonplace. Afghanistan is our longest overseas military commitment, yet there is little debate about what our politicians mean when they proclaim, united for once, we must ‘finish the job’.

Altman’s article repays close reading, particularly given his long residence outside Australia during the years about which he writes.

Among other pieces in the collection, there is Michael Wesley’s ‘The land at the end of the world‘, which suggests that the meaning of Australia was that

it was an expression of the genius and destiny of the Anglo-Saxon race. Every triumph of the English-speaking peoples was celebrated in its cities and towns. Australia’s responsibility was to maintain the purity of its society against the teeming lesser races to its north, and to play its role in the evolving global drama of the British peoples.

Then there is Cassandra Atherton, who writes about the Japan-Australia relationship, Leah Kaminsky (Israel and Australia), Frank Moorhouse, who travels inland to Bourke in search of Australia, Nick Bryant on aspects of Australian culture, Robyn Archer on Australian anomalies, and others. The whole issue is worth attention for the writing as much as the analysis.

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