Tuesday, September 21, 2010


The main questions/ideas raised in one of my subjects, Politics of theory in Latin America, are what is Latin America?, What is the 'Latin American condition'? and in what way do the geographical/natural features of the continent shape the political landscape and the character of the people?

One notes that a sort of continental identity has arisen from the pain, mistakes and struggles (of all kinds - social, economic, political, physical) that all of the nations have suffered at the hands of the Spanish, the Caudillos and modern despotic rulers (atleast according to Jose' Marti'). It seems to have brought a sense of pride to the nations, that they have endured (or been shat out the other end, depending on how you look at it) and continue to exist.

As a result, I fell into a deep reverie on Australia. What is Australia? What is the 'Australian condition' (if it actually exists)? Here are my opinions, embellished in a pseudo-Sarmientine manner.

The autochtonous people of this country, who once were made of the land have been massacred, and those who survived were torn away from it, like a newborn from the arms of its mother, and placed in front of a stern Colonel, who 'educated' them, and taught them how to live. Rightfully, some wail and scream of the injustices that were done to them, while others sleep in chemicals to distill the pain. Lo and behold, the sumptuous fruits of modernity and colonial ambition! They have been marginalised to such an extent that they are considered disfunctional from birth by the government, and are therefore given the funds necessary to support themselves. Thanks to our forefathers, they make up very little of the current Australian population, and have an equally minimal effect on our national identity. But these people know the land better than any cartographer, better than Flinders or Simpson, for once they were the land.

The heterotochtonous people have undergone very few 'National' struggles - the Japanese in Darwin is the only example that comes to mind, Gallipoli seems secondary. From whence comes such a strong identification with a nation that has existed for three generations? The struggles of those first convicts who arrived on boats seems plausible - they were oppressed by the harsh hand of the law, which had fallen rightfully upon them. When convicts are released, they will immediately seek out sensual pleasures - they believe that they have the right to, as they have been deprived for so long. To this day, we are a nation of consumers - probably second only to the US. The traditional man sits idly watching footy with a beer in one hand and a pie in the other. He commutes for more than an hour a day in a four-wheeled drive that could run down a Rhino. If his beer is spilt, he looks for a fight. If someone asks him to catch the train instead of driving he is indignant, he feels deprived of his God-given right as an ex-convict to extravagant consumption. He was imprisoned in the past, and now he quietly imprisons his wife; dismissing her and demanding that she meets his desires. But (I would say thankfully) our national identity has been diluted, owing largely to immigration and the all-destroying monolith that is American pop culture. Culturally, we are now, in my opinion, 5% indigenous, 20% true blue Aussie, 10% English, 40% American and 25% foreign (Indian, Asian, etc...) Culture is dynamic. So Australian culture and the Australian identity is no longer comprised of Utes and footy, but of a combination of a complex range of influences. This lack of solidity may be troubling and confusing to some, but to me it just confirms the real answer to the question of "What is Australia?".

Australia will always be defined by its geography. It is the grandfather of the continents, withered by time, looking scornfully upon the young bucks of the world. America, with it's jagged peaks and violent volcanoes is but an angsty and troubled teen, looking to prove its worth in impressive geological features. Old man Australia sits in his rocking chair, as flat as a pancake, smiling whimsically upon the silly white figures that tickle his edges, convinced of their dominance over him. His heart, Uluru, has been touched upon by people, but there has been no colony established on top of it, or even near to it, except for the purposes of harbouring tourists who look in wonder at the core of this unconquerable being. And all around it is desert, most of which could never independently support human life. It is guarded by ruthless reptiles and unendurable weather; Like many old people, he has become obsessed with home security. Crocodiles wait in the rivers of the North, and sharks circle the continent. To the South, in case Antartica gets any ideas, he has placed the Nullarbor plain. Shrub, dirt, salt lake - the groaning landscape continues like this for thousands of kilometres. The human inhabitants are there to prove that it is possible to live in such an environment, and their only source of water is a train that comes from Adelaide or Perth. The old man distracts the people with his abundant exterior, keeping his insides to himself.

I now smile when I think about how I slipped over while atop Mount Beerwah a few weekends ago. We don't own this continent, it owns us.

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