Colonial landscapes: from historical trauma to mythic history 1850-2013

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Author: Kali Myers
Date: Annual 2013
From: Melbourne Historical Journal(Vol. 41, Issue 1)
Publisher: University of Melbourne Postgraduate Association
Document Type: Article
Length: 7,861 words
Lexile Measure: 1940L

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That is what we've always got to remember: we are the first people of Australia. Yet for the first 190 years of written Australian history, Aboriginal people were excised, excluded and ignored. (1)

In 2011, the Australian government released its official Multicultural Policy; a sixteen-page document which emphasises the value immigrants can bring to Australia. (2) Interestingly, whilst the cover page includes images of numerous Australians--all of differing ethnicities--the first-page image is of a white Australian farmer with his daughter. The images that follow are of an Indian woman, an Asian woman, two African children and so on whilst the very last image is of an Indigenous woman.

This document--its images and its verbal emphasis on multiculturalism as the integration of immigration--is a useful point of departure for an examination of how the dominant visually and verbally constructed image of Australia--here represented by the white farmer welcoming new immigrants whilst Indigenous people remain an afterthought--reveals an interaction between trauma, memory and landscape which underpins the continued inequality of Australian society. It is this image of Australia, and the physical and imagined Australian landscape within which it exists, which has made Indigenous people and the trauma of colonisation invisible within that landscape and thus within history, allowing white Australia as the descendants of the colonisers and settlers to construct a narrative in which they are both the primary inhabitants and owners of the Australian landscape. The stories that nations tell about their past invent their present. (3) The process of Australia's colonisation, surrounded and fuelled by discourses of white male discoverers and of taming the landscape, has become accepted as knowledge in popular memory. The verbal and visual discourses, which have constructed these images and the corresponding myths of the original 'white Aussie bushman' and the harsh but yielding Australian landscape, have laid the foundations for the current Australia and its past. The imposition of this Australia upon a pre-existing Indigenous landscape through the violent and traumatic process of colonisation and latter efforts of nation building has resulted in a contemporary Australia which continues to struggle with the question of how to reconcile the past with the present and to integrate 'white' and 'Indigenous' Australia.

As this article shows, physical and imagined landscapes are sites of collective memory and knowledge, and this is no less tangible (or real) for pre- and post-colonial 'Indigenous' Australia than it was/is for colonists, settlers, and contemporary 'white' Australia. (4) Examining the impact of early colonial art and literature on the creation of an Australian landscape imbued with a mythologised colonial past, as well as the corresponding creation of an Indigenous landscape through art, oral history and cultural practice, this article demonstrates how the intersection and entanglement of landscape, memory and meaning becomes a powerful force in the creation of identity, culture and communal historical knowledge. Invoking the 'anguish' of Deborah Rose Bird's Indigenous colleague Phil--who stated that '[non-Indigenous people] see the scarred tree and the tools--they don't see the connections to country' --this article seeks...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A393518191