Post Colonialism In Australia

Post Colonialism in Australia #

Colonialism has been a part of history since the beginning of early civilisations.  Great empires can only develop by the exploitation of other civilisations for both cheap labours and a source of raw materials. Ancient Greece had colonies as did Troy, Persia and later Rome.  In fact early Britain was once a colony of first Rome, then the Vikings, and finally the Normans.   It was during the Middle Ages that Europe began to explore the world for a source of raw materials that a race for colonies began.  Spain gained South America, the Dutch, East India and England went global to both North America, India, the South Pacific and by the late 1860s all the European Powers began a mad scramble for Africa.  Justified by the policy of mercantilism, colonies were seen to exist for the benefit of the mother country and could be exploited at random.

British Imperialism and Australia:  #

Imperialism is the prerogative of powerful nations over their inferiors.  Most emerging empires aspired to grow by colonising weaker neighbours to extend their dominant hegemony.  Persians, Greek, Roman, Ottomans, Russian and many others expanded by conquest – might is right.

European nations developed their military and naval strength from about the tenth century and began to look for sources of wealth from distant regions.  Mercantalism became common in Europe from the 16th to the 18th century that promoted governmental regulation of a nation’s economy for the purpose of augmenting state power at the expense of rival national powers. It promulgated the idea that colonies existed for the sake of the mother country.  Britain, Holland, Belgium, France and Spain were the major rival colonial powers, with Spain and Portugal directing the conquest of South America.  Holland formed the Dutch East India company looking for spices in the far east base of Batavia, now Indonesia.  Belgium focussed on Central Africa, while England and France contested North America, parts of Africa, and the Pacific.  British naval and military victories against the Spanish in 1588 and the French in 1756 cemented its dominance.  Whoever rules the waves, can waive the rules. 

As Stephen Morton, Professor of English at University of Southampton comments:        

English History is this complex and often unsavoury history – a history of conquest, dispossession, and violence.

Much of the unrest in former colonial areas such as the Middle East, Africa, South East Asia is a direct result of patronising and paternalistic policies of imperialistic powers.  An excellent example is the 1980 film The Gods Must be Crazy.

Literature which reacts by challenging the content and form of colonial influence and expresses its ideas in its own voice and vernacular language, is deemed to be Post-Colonial.

In 1989 a new book by Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin entitled “The Empire Writes Back…..” analysing the effects of the disintegration of these empires and the ramifications.  Any Post Colonial response can exhibit one of the following traits:

·        Power relationships between colonies and mother country.

·        Influence of dominant cultures over emerging immigrant minorities

·        Forms of resistance against colonial influence and control

·        Finding our stories, myths, legends and our voice.

·        Revising our history by changing our perspectives.

Originally, the official British position was that the colony of Terra Australis should be a multi-purpose one; as a penal colony, a strategic, free settler outpost, and an opportunity to acquire flax for sails and Norfolk pines for mast posts.  

However, there developed two cultures and visions for the early colonies.

One, saw us as simply a colonial outpost of British civilisation located in Asia. We were a *“new Britannia in another world”. *Our political institutions, culture, symbols, flags, national anthems, and history was British to the bootstraps.

Australians have been uncertain of ourselves, we felt insecure. What was the cause of this? … First … geography, the hostile environment, the fear experienced when alone; far from Europe. Second, the doubt, do we belong here, perhaps this is geography, perhaps history … third, Australia as the harlot, raped by the Europeans, coarse, vulgar, meretricious.  We suffer from cultural cringe. 

Much of this has changed over time, and it has been our artists; painters, writers, musicians and politicians who have instilled a greater sense of identity and pride in ourselves.

Howard Jacobson on the ABC’s Brilliant Creatures postulated that

In the early 1960’s Australia quietly emerged out of a cultural, intellectual and economic backwater which had stifled a number of aspiring intellectuals, including Robert Hughes, Clive James, Germaine Greer and Barry Humphreys found stifling and boring. They discovered “overseas” and became celebrated ex-patriots in the Mother country. 

Howard Jacobson had a difficult time understanding this as they made an instant splash in Britain as he went from Britain to Australia to teach in what he describes as a dynamic iconoclastic intellectual environment at Sydney University. 

** #

*“To the desert go prophets and hermits; through desert go pilgrims and exiles. Here the leaders of the great religions have sought the therapeutic and spiritual values of retreat, not to escape but to find reality.”    *― Paul Shepard, Man in the Landscape: A Historic View of the Aesthetics of Nature

Jacobson speculates about this paradox; perhaps it was the pressures of boredom, that a stultification produced such diamonds, the exhilarating dullness; such beauty and exhilaration.  He points out the contradiction that Australia reveres its writers more than England does, yet Australians are suspicious of tall poppies.

Colonial Australia has a larrikin nature about it. Jacobson describes them as raw, hedonistic and bloody-minded, outlandish, hoodlums in the playground with a healthy disrespect for vaunted authority.

The Australian language is one of verbal acrobatics - kangaroo cuckoo, not mealy mouthed but honest and unpretentious. The language of extremism, full of exaggerated, over blown, overstating things; pushing the language of hyperbole. 

David Williamson’s The Removalists (1971) raised the issue of Police abuse of power and authority through brutal violence.

My Place, by Sally Morgan depicts the psychological and social forces in play when a technologically and economically superior culture encroaches and imposes its religion, values, justice, economics and social structures on the conquered.  Indigenous people are displaced, their cultures destroyed by forces beyond their control.