3rd March 2008 | Draft
Memory Challenges at the Edge of the World
Complementarity of "Tas-mania" and "Van Demon's Land"
- / -
There is No Time and Nothing Matters: Cognitive Challenges at the Edge
of the World
highlighting and giving focus to various themes in the light of metaphors arising
from travels in Tasmania.
Traumascape -- of the "White Man's Dreaming"?
Terra cognita vs Terra incognita
Interweaving Demonic and Daimonic Associations in Collective Memory (Annex
-- Demonic associations and demonisation
-- Unusual, unsayable, unsaid, untruth -- and denial
Van Diemen's Land as strategic pioneer in the treatment of dissent and otherness
-- Daimonic associations: imaginative, aesthetic, inspirational or spiritual
-- Refiguration of "the other" through fantasy
Memory Challenges at the Edge of the World (Annex
-- Symbolic journey -- to the "Edge of the World"
associations -- with the "Centres of the World"
-- Amnesia at the "Edge of the World" -- a key to unrealistic optimism?
-- Mnemonic devices for collective remembrance
Import of Nothingness and Emptiness through Happening and Mattering (Annex
of nothingness and emptiness
understanding of emptiness and nothingness
-- "Mattering" and
-- "Nothing" emerging
through combinations of "mattering" and
complexification: integration of "no time"
of "nothing": creating "cognitive shelters"
of "nothing": globalization as exemplar
of "nothing": "import" of significance
and the dynamics of nothingness
Transforming the Edge of the World through Voiding the Centre
Symbolic journey -- to the "Edge of the World"
The sections of Annex
A highlighted the complexity of space, time and culture
through which one may travel in encountering Tasmania. This is exemplified
by the contrast between the wilderness areas of the west and the conventionalism
of the historical dominance elsewhere of the values of "Little England",
as noted by Anthony Gardner (Tasmania:
Reflections of a parallel world, The
Telgraph, 6 February
As a symbolic journey, encountering Tasmania might be summarized in terms of
the situations below.
As an explanatory device, such a journey may be framed
like that of climbing a mountain, as exemplified by the classic account of
the surrealist novelist René Daumal (Mount
Analogue: a novel of symbolically authentic non-euclidean adventures in mountain
climbing, 1959). In fact Rene Daumal's inaccessible Mount Analogue,
though a creation of his imagination, was estimated by him (and others) to
actually exist in the South Pacific, somewhere between Tasmania and New Zealand.
Rite of passage in the wilderness: Whilst Cradle
Mountain may be experienced as hyper-commodified for quality (eco)tourism, the challenge
of the 8-day Cradle
Mountain Overland Trek to Lake St Clair has become a rite
of passage for some 9,000 people each year, notably Australians. This
celebrates a spectrum of values -- whether or not their engagement is limited
to the physical challenge. ****
Ghost towns: As noted above, many fomerly busy places offer
the curious eerie experience of ghost towns. As a former mining town, Queenstown
in the west is indicative of what become of places elsewhere where the population
is decimated -- whether after commercial exploitation
has ceased to be viable or a major disaster.
As the "Queen's town", the implication of the highest authority in such development
is highlighted -- as well as in the heritage challenges of remaining pollution.
The nature of the abandonment is emphasized by the quaint steam train service
for upmarket tourism now running from there to Strahan on the coast -- a form
of disaster tourism.
"Dismal Swamp": The world's only blackwood sinkhole
forest offers a unique expeience for tourists who may choose to walk down to
the underground geology or shoot down via a 110 metres luge-like chute in 17
Swamp" is located on the route to the "Edge of the World".
The name may be seen as exemplifying the challenge of distinguishing between
primeval and prime-evil in an edenic environment that, in the case of Van Diemen's
Land as a penal colony, indeed came to be perceived as a dismal swamp. This
was the challenge of the first European visitors and remains one for those
threatened by nature unadulterated by the hand of man.
The "chute" might fruitfully model the sudden change of status experienced
by those convicted and sentenced to transportation to a penal "hell hole".
Although the "walkway" down is more indicative of the time taken to adjust
to the new reality -- in a journey of months to the opposite side of the world.
beyond dismal swamp ****
"Edge of the World": This is the point farthest
west on the island of Tasmania. Nothing happens at that "Edge of the World".
Appropriately it is only marked by a simple poem on a very modest plaque on
a very small plinth. However -- being Australia -- it is backed up by an unusually
well-appointed electrical barbecue facility for its appreciators -- perhaps
reminiscent of the famed Restaurant
at the End of the Universe, notably in that it was suitably occupied
at the time by the likes of Walter Matthau and John
Lennon (in the cult movie, Grumpy
Old Men). Appropriately, there is also an adjoining eco-friendly
toilet complex, common to tourist Australia.
On the plaque, the poem (Edge of the World by Brian Inder) reads as follows:
|I cast my pebble onto the shore of Eternity.
To be washed by the Ocean of time.
It has shape, form, and substance.
It is me.
One day I will be no more.
But my pebble will remain here.
On the shore of eternity
Mute witness from the aeons.
That today I came and stood
At the edge of the world.
To the extent that it exists in "reality", the "Edge of the
World" can of
course be fruitfully considered as being both nowhere and anywhere. The quest
for it, as for the end of the rainbow, has been instructively and delightfully
portrayed in the iconic movie The
Gods Must be Crazy (1980) and its sequels. Set in Botswana and South
Africa, it tells the story of Xi, a Bushman of the Kalahari Desert (played by
Namibian bush farmer
N!xau) whose band has no knowledge
of the world beyond.
In its early years Tasmania could itself be understood as the
Edge of the World. Australia itself had the dubious distinction of being described
by its Prime Minister as the "arse end of the world". Ironically,
as with the Bushman on a quest to dispose of the iconic Coca Cola bottle dumped
on his people from a plane, it was sought as the place for the disposal of
unwanted things. The Bushman framed it as returning the unwanted gift to the
Gods. The British Empire saw Tasmania as a place to dispose of unwanted people.
The eco-friendly toilet might be seen as exemplifying current understanding
of the edge at which ultimate disposal of consumption (at the barbecue) could
be ensured. Industrial society, especially the developed world, is now challenged
by waste disposal and the need for an
"edge" over which it could be deposited -- especially in the case
of radioactive wate..
Tulampanga: A focal point of tourism in Australia is Uluru,
named by European's as Ayer's Rock. Tulampanga is a highly significant site
for Aborigines -- a location where three distinct tribal groups met. At the
centre of Tasmania, it is part of the Kooparoona Niara Region (namely the Western
Tiers or Mountains of the Spirits). Both locations are protected as state reserves.
Tulampanga has been named by the European's as Alum
Cliffs (Gorge) and signposted,
appropriatiately, as a "lookout" and
as part of an "interpretation
Recently upgraded to offer insights
into the Aboriginal cultral heritage, it is designed as a place of contemplation.
There is no toilet or barbecue facility. Tulampanga is an unusually
beautiful confluence of three very deep river gorges and is especially sacred
to Aboriginal women. As with the Edge of the World, it is marked by a short
poem, in this case by Phyllis Pitchford (an elder of
Bear witness to Our reality
They know of
In the effort to preserve
This pathway of Our history
Through the Mountains of the spirits
Please -- help Us maintain this right
As the meeting point of three (extinct) tribal groups, Tulampanga may point
forward to the nature of a meeting point between the collective identities
of Tasmania. Whether expressed or repressed, these might be represented by
the worldviews of the "Aborigines", the "Convicts", and
Englanders", as suggested
in the concluding table.
Dubious associations -- with the "Centres of the World"
The confusions in collective memory (including "false memories",
possibly deliberately planted)
are ironically illustrated in relation to the chalet in the iconic wilderness
centre of Tasmania at Cradle Mountain -- named as Waldheim by Gustav Weindorfer,
the Austrian nature conservationist from
Carinthia. The chalet was opened to visitors in 1912 -- an initiative
that continues to this day, although the original chalet was destroyed
in 1974, after his death, only to be replaced by a replica (following protest).
As might be expected, access to visitors is now made possible
on a much larger scale through various commercial initiatives, notably the Cradle
Mountain Lodge. The name Waldheim has now been appropriated into the Waldheim
Alpine Spa with its therapeutic Sanctuary (including a steam room, sauna,
hot-tub and cool plunge pool, as well as a relaxation lounge), using the beauty
care product line Sodashi -- derived
from an ancient Sanskrit word meaning "wholeness, purity and radiance".
Promotional emphasis is given to the original Waldheim motto: "where
there is no time and nothing matters" (although with the implicit
the ability to pay"). This Waldheim? A fundamental betrayal of environmental
values -- or only for purists?
Such a pattern might seem to have been repeated:
- since "Waldheim", for those active
in the international community over past decades, has
strong and problematic associations of profound betrayal with Kurt
Waldheim, another Austrian (Kate Connolly, CIA
knew about Waldheim's Nazi past, The Guardian, 2 May
2001). He was the 2-term (1972-1982) representative of the world's highest
collective secular expression of human values -- only then to be revealed
as a former member of the Nazi Sturmabteilung (having
surrendered to the British in Carinthia) -- and subsequently to become the
9th President of Austria (1986-1992). Such confusions were apparent during
World War I when Gustav Weindorfer was inappropriately assumed by some in
his Tasmanian community to be an enemy spy -- forcing him to retire as a
hermit to Waldheim. (Curiously, at the official unveiling of the monument
on 14th March 1938, Germany invaded Austria.)
- with the election in 2005
of the German Joseph
Alois Ratzinger to the papacy -- the highest representative of Christian
values. Controversially he had earlier been enrolled in the Hitler
Jugend. A problematic choice for many given the controversy over the
relation between Nazism and the papacy (John Cornwell, Hitler's
Pope, 1999; David G. Dalin, The
Myth of Hitler's Pope, 2005)
- the role of Donald
Rumsfeld as prime defender of the free world's values against terrorism.
As a paragon of optimism and positive thinking, he made singular and unashamed
use of deception to push the world to a new edge of insecurity, notably through
increasing US military expenditure to a level exceeding that of all other
countries combined (Rand corp ***). Rumsfeld under Bush, notably failed to
contrast their strategy with that notoriously articulated by Hermann
... people can always be brought to do the bidding of the leaders...
All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce
pacifists for lack of patriotism.
Such examples raise the question of the degree to which collective memories
of any group in Australia are themselves inappropriately confused (cf Gary
Gumpl and Richard Kleinig, The
Hitler Club: the true story of Australia's No. 1 Nazi, 2007).
Historically this particularly applies to the complex case of the "Vandemonians".
Over many decades it has applied to the various understandings of the history
of black-white relationships throughout Australia -- especially where these
are framed by the fiction arising from Cook's original disobedience of his
orders to consult with any indigenous inhabitants.
The saga continued on the
occasion of the response
by Brendan Nelson, leader of the opposition, to
Ministerial apology of 13th February 2008. Given the controversy engendered
by Nelson's comments, one might ask whether, like his namesake and Cook's
contemporary, Admiral Lord Nelson, he had not adopted the legendary technique
of looking through his telescope at the battle scene -- using his blind eye
in order to be able to deny what would otherwise have been visible (a signal
from his superior to cease combat), and trusting that his disobedience would
be approved in retrospect.
The examples illustrate how founding truths and myths can be voided of their
significance -- evacuating their original meaning. This is a process which
might be described by the Australian term "white-anting". To what
extent has the imaginary of both Black Australians and White Australians
Amnesia at the Edge of the World -- a key to unrealistic optimism?
Repudiating the past: Tasmania was born through a simple change of name from
Van Diemen's Land. Symbolically this was done as a rejection of a problematic
past -- in order to focus on the "positive" and avoid the "negativity" of an
unfortunate heritage. Name changing for such purposes is a characteristic of
some forms of religious conversion in which a name with spiritual connotations
is adopted as a means of confirming that the sins of the past have been washed
away. It is an image management technique common to corporate entities whose
initiatives are handicapped by negative publicity regarding their past activities.
The process is commonly described as a "makeover" or "reinventing
a way that enables the past to be forgotten, both by the renamed identity and
by others. Typically such a change, whether formally accompanied by a new set
of behaviours (a new "constitution") or not, accords little attention
to the heritage of the past or to any remedial responsibilities. To the extent
possible, the past never happened. All that counts is optimism for a bright
In Tasmania the formal change was accompanied by a repudiation of those most
evidently associated with the past -- namely the "Vandemonians" (convicts,
their associates and the Aborigines) -- by their "betters", including
those who had been most instrumental in exacerbating the conditions of the
past (cf John Quiggin,
the past, 2003).
Repression of memories: To a marked degree, those transported
as convicts to Tasmania were those whose very existence it was desired to forget
The subsequent repressive measures (using an "iron fist") in service
to the values of "Little England" resulted in a repressed "second
class" of citizens
-- conveniently to be ignored and forgotten by those of the dominant higher
class. Repression of memories was thus expressed in a threefold manner with
respect to: the savage measures employed by the "iron fist"; the
resulting condition of peoples (notably the Aborigines resettled out of sight);
and any complicity in the inappropriate actions of the past (whether as a convict
or as a representative of law and order).
This created a situation in which those
of the higher class refused both to associate with those of the second class
or to remember any associations with that class through relatives (including
parents). Peter Hay also notes that for many Tasmanian
descendents of those transported as convicts -- and condemned by Victorian
Vandemonian laws *** -- efforts to identify or refer to such ancestry are avoided.
He notes the difference from the somewhat comparable Prince Edward Island of
Canada. Boyce notes Victorian ***
Great Australian Silence: As noted above, the "history wars" of Australia
have highlighted the traumatic nature of memory repression within that country,
notably with respect to Tasmania. As editor of a work endeavouring to give
due consideration to those memories, Robert Manne (The
introduction to the major rebuttal of Keith Windschuttle,
1968, the anthropologist W. E. H. Stanner delivered what turned out to be perhaps
the most consequential lecture ever broadcast on the ABC. Stanner called his
lecture 'The Great Australian Silence'. The point he was making has often been
misunderstood. Stanner did not mean that scholars and others had failed to
show an interest in traditional Aboriginal society. As he understood better
than most, anthropology was probably the most distinguished and developed of
the social science disciplines in Australia. What Stanner meant was that both
scholars and citizens had, thus far, failed to integrate the story of the Aboriginal
dispossession and its aftermath into their understanding of the course of Australian
history, reducing the whole tragic and complex story to what one historian
had called 'a melancholy footnote' and another a mere 'codicil'.
As noted with respect to the Windschuttle study, it continues an Australian
tradition of justifying and silencing colonial injustices. This tradition runs
deep only because there is so much to justify, and so many voices to silence.
In this respect Rebe Taylor (Breaking
a Loud Silence. The Age, 13 September 2003) notes:
My research has unearthed stories told in Tasmania of a horrific frontier,
with one person in 1908 describing their island as a "land soaked in blood".
It is in popular memory that we find the reason why colonial injustices continue
to be silenced in white Australia, but the culture of remembering those injustices
is no less entrenched.
"Lest We Forget": Given the sacrifices made by
Australians in the wars of the British imperium, it is to be
expected that the war dead should be assiduously remembered by their relatives
and comrades. In emulation of the Whitehall Cenotaph celebrating "The
Glorious Dead", many of
the cities and towns of Australia, and often even the smallest in Tasmania,
have a similar monument -- typically inscribed "Lest We Forget".
The word "cenotaph" originates
from the Greek for empty tomb.
"Lest We Forget" is notably repeated in response to recitation at
such cenotaphs of the "Ode
of Remembrance" on the occasion of memorial services
for the war dead -- including the nightly reading by Australia's Returned
and Services Leagues, often made in a "memorial hall".
|Ode of Remembrance (final verses)
- They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
- Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
- They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
- They fell with their faces to the foe.
- They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
- Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
- At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
- We will remember them.
have been sensitive to the desirability of an alternative order of service
for Remembrance Day. In 2005 (60 years after the end of World War II), the
Diocese of Oxford, for example, announced a New
Remembrance Day Service specifically "to include people of all faiths
and none" -- presumably previously excluded.
The revision was elaborated with The Joint Liturgical Group of Great Britain
and the Royal British Legion "for those who gather in silence on 11 November
around war memorials across the nations".
Selective remembrance: It is however curious that, even with the passing of
time, it remains virtually unthinkable to consider any remembrance of:
- the members of the enemy military services killed by those honoured above
-- there being no question of an enemy worthy of honourable remembrance
- the innocent citizens, killed by those honoured above, whether deliberately
or inadvertently -- there being no question of recalling the tragic effects
of collateral damage as increasingly highlighted
- those killed in defending their lands, homes and ways of life from aggressive
actions by military services -- there being
no question of recognizing the justice of causes foreign to those of the
military authority ordering their death
- those who died as a result of treatment meted out, fairly or unfairly,
by military authorities in the course of punitive "iron fist" and "scorched
earth" strategies to eliminate any form of resistance
As those with the capacity to remember find their memories failing with age,
this selective approach to collective memory can be explored in relation to
the following issues:
- complicity on the part of (supposedly universal) religions in reinforcing
the assumption of the appropriateness of the killing of "the enemy" (duly
demonised for the purpose) and celebrating selectively
(even by denomination) the tragic inappropriateness of the fallen being killed
- restricting the scope of "Remembrance Day":
- the triumphant past efforts of some honoured above to proudly record the
numbers they may have killed (by score marks on their rifles or fighter
planes) before they themselves were killed
- competing forms of "remembrance" of those that do not subscribe
to those of the Commonwealth, and their current political significance
the German national day of mourning; Yasukuni
Shrine and Hiroshima
Peace Memorial Park in Japan).
- of particular interest
is the United
Nations Memorial Cemetery in Korea (Busan) and its
"custodians of the past". The UN General Assembly held a special
in commemoration of all victims of World War II, in
accordance with Assembly resolution 59/26 of 22 November 2004.
Within such a context, and given the many appropriate excuses associated with
the passage of time, it is most curious to find a project of remembrance relating
to the "Royal Veterans" in "Van Diemen's Land" (Gwenda M. Webb, Tasmanian
1, June 1995).
Collective memory: In these terms it could be argued
- from a cybernetic perspective, the "order" of
a remembrance service might be described as focusing on
"1st order" remembrance, namely remembrance of those we know,
whose innocence and righteousness we choose not to question ("nor
the years condemn"), irrespective
of their impact on those elsewhere we did not know (who
may have been innocent and righteous in the light of criteria of which we
are not aware). The latter might be incorporated into a more inclusive "2nd
order" remembrance -- liberated from the implict demonisation cultivated
in relation to that of the "1st order".
- remembrance as currently conceived might be understood as simplistic in
that it lacks any degree of self-reflexivity. Symptomatic of that is the
incapacity to broaden the focus to include the fallen within the
homeland whose deaths were brought about by the action of the security forces
of the homeland. Also symptomatic is the failure to address the issue of
those killed by "friendly fire". In cybernetic terms again, such
self-reflexive remembrance might be understood as of a "3rd order".
- the considerable emphasis in Australia on
Remembrance Day might be understood as a way of safely avoiding more challenging
collective memories (of "higher order") characteristic of the Great Australian
The danger of such a narrowly focused collective memory is highlighted by
the well-known saying of George Santayana ("Those who cannot remember the
past are condemned to repeat it" -- in ways that remain necessarily unforeseeable).
It is surely a measure of cultural maturity to speak, as did Richard von Weizsacker
(President of West Germany), 40 years after the end of World War II, of the
danger of not facing but forgetting and distorting history, and especially
of the danger of disregarding the fact that many German citizens had committed
There is no such thing as the guilt or innocence of an entire nation. Guilt
is, like innocence, not collective but personal. There is discovered or concealed
individual guilt. There is guilt which people acknowledge or deny… All
of us, whether guilty or not, whether young or old, must accept the past.
We are all affected by the consequences and liable for it… We Germans
must look the truth straight in the eye -- without embellishment and without
distortion… There can be no reconciliation without remembrance.
The formal apology by the Prime Minister of Australia on 13th February 2008 is
an example of such maturity. However, he himself declared it to be only a first
Aboriginal remembrance: With respect to the Aborigines:
- as noted above, according to Robert Manne, both
scholars and citizens have failed to integrate the story of the
Aboriginal dispossession and its aftermath into their understanding of the
course of Australian history. Unlike their implicitly demonised enemies of
Remembrance Day, Australians have yet to engage in a commemorative process
for the destruction of the Aboriginal way of life -- comparable to that of
the Germans relating to the Nazi Final Solution. The highly politicized processes
of formal apology (at the time of writing) are of course a step in that
- however controversial of necessity, the efforts of Keith Windschuttle to "whitewash" such
memories regarding Aborigines could indeed be considered comparable to some
degree to those of the revisionists who have endeavoured to reframe the implications
of the Holocaust to substantiate a pattern of denial -- just as others have
sought to exploit such disasters to advance their own agendas
- it might be argued that in Tasmania there is currently more evident concern
with the lessons to be learnt from the tragic extinction in the 1920s of
Tiger (or Tasmanian Wolf) than there is for the extinction
of the Aborigines in the previous century
- the claim regarding the continuing existance of the Aborigenes, through
their genetic descendants, is an elegant way to reframe positively the challenge
of any endangered species -- by declaring that proximate
genetic relatives continue to carry the genes of the species that has disappeared.
This genetic model could be considered as pointing to the problematic possibility
of a memetic analogue.
Just as it is curious to see a current reference to the "Royal Veterans"
of "Van Dieman's Land", with respect to the Aborigines it is curious to note
the current initiative of the Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner Commemoration
We Forget, 2008). This provocatively imitates the format of Remembrance
Day to recall that on 20th of January 1842, over 5,000 people (a quarter
white population) gathered at the outskirts of Melbourne to witness the execution
of two Aborigines whose guilt was in question.
One complication in envisaging a complementary form of remembrance for Aborigines,
and for the massacres to which they were subjected, is that in their culture
naming the dead is considered inappropriate.
Should memorials inscribed "Lest We Forget" be matched by "Have We Forgotten?"
on the same structure or on a complem,entary one?
Mnemonic devices for collective remembrance
Historical and war memorials: As noted by the Council
for Aboriginal Reconciliation (Sharing
History: a sense for all Australians of a shared ownership of their history,
1993) in a section on Sharing
History: memorialising the past, such memorials are:
forms of cultural expression, they are generally erected after much public
discussion with careful consideration of what would be appropriate. Memorials
represent an important stage in the creation of national identity; they are
a very concrete expression of public history, a way of making permanent in
letters carved in stone a judgment about events, which may be local, national
or international. Memorials reveal public perception, and may be seen as a
measure of the popular influence of the views and writings of historians.
Although many historians may be comfortable writing and speaking of early
European settlement in Australia as an invasion, public attitudes and language
have not necessarily changed. The gap between popular history and the history
written by academics has still to be convincingly bridged. The builders of
monuments appear wedded to the view that the colonisation of Australia was
peaceful, and only in recent times have hesitant steps been taken to admit
to the memorials the realities of the frontier.
This study provides a valuable summary of some of the findings of Ken Inglis
and Jock Phillips (War Memorials in Australia and New
Zealand: a comparative survey, 1991), including:
- of the three memorials in Australia by 1900 not one marked any violent
encounter between Europeans and indigenous Australians.
- on one of the few monuments
to European victims of Aboriginal weapons, the inscriptions were civil, not
military; the killing was categorised as murder.
- in New Zealand had ten memorials by 1900 honouring those who
had 'fallen' in the New Zealand wars, the first being erected in 1865; between
1900 and 1915 over 20 memorials were erected in New Zealand to the dead of
the New Zealand wars.
- in Australia the silence continued; there was no wish
to remember what had happened to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Recognizing that monuments rarely tell both sides of a story, and can quickly
become dated in relation to new understandings of the circumstances
to which they relate, the report on Sharing
History provides a significant example of a monument and a "counter-monument"
proposed by those who found the former offensive.
As with the challenge of desecration of cemetries in Europe, those anywhere
in Australia commemorating Aboriginal initiatives may be blown up (as in Kalkadoon).
memorials: There is a curious poignancy to the
attempt to remember on an "empty
those that died far away, in honour of collective self-esteem and identity,
whilst deliberately repressing any memory of those that died in the neighbourhood
defending memories embodied in a landscape that had been framed as an "empty
land" (terra nullius) by those that massacred them. This observation
was made whilst staying on the lands of the Ngarrindjeri people
-- on the day on which the Prime Minister of Australia made his apology -- and
visiting a place they remember painfully as the place of a massacre, followed
by a visit to a neighbouring town with its cenotaph. The tourist information
boards at the massacre location, detailing the wildlife of the area, made no
mention of the massacre.
At the white
What are our children taught?
Are they told of the battles our people fought?
Are they told how our people died?
Are they told why our people cried?
Australia's true history is never read.
But the black man keeps it in his head.
(Rob Rilley, 1995)
There is a logical, but nevertheless curious, selectivity to collections of
Archives of Australia as the official locus of Australian collective memory.
It indeed "contributes to the development of Australian culture by helping
Australians better understand their heritage and democracy". The focus is
however necessarily on "the full range of Australian Government activities
since Federation in 1901".
It is however claimed that the scope "includes significant 19th-century
records dealing with activities that were transferred from the colonies to the
-- but without any clarification regarding "significant", especially
in the case of materials that might be considered controversial. But,
given the selective availability of information on massacres, the question is
whether this selection is done so as to enable
"Australians better understand their heritage" -- especially in the
light of the spirit of the Prime Minister's apology.
- ** those who ensure that there is no proof are responsible for proving
that what is claimed to the contrary is not true
- ** how to avoid re-membering or being re-minded
Commemorative stones and Sacred sites: Addressing the challenges
of memory in relation to collective trauma, Maria Tumarkin ('Wishing
You Weren't Here …':
Thinking About Trauma, Place and the Port Arthur Massacre, 2001)
offers three citations:
- "As much as body or brain, mind or language, place is a keeper
of memories -- one of the main ways by which the past comes to be secured
in the present, held in things before us and around us". (According
to Edward S Casey, Remembering: a phenomenological study,
Indiana University Press, 1987, p
- "The collective
thought of the group of believers has the best chance
of immobilizing itself and enduring when it concentrates on places, sealing
itself within their confines and moulding its character to theirs". (Maurice
Halbwachs ***early in the twentieth century.
- "In the course of the nineteenth
century nations came to worship themselves through worshipping their past,
ritualising and commemorating to the point that their sacred sites and times
became the secular
equivalent of shrines and holy days".34 -- The national memory
that seeks to enable nations to worship themselves by worshipping their past
has a particular fondness
for sacred sites. As John Gillis writes ***,
There is a curious
complementarity between the cenotaphs (deliberately rendered meaningless to
Aborigines) and Aboriginal sacred sites (typically considered meaningless superstition
by non-Aborgines). The cenotaphs are not designed to commemorate the values
of the Aborigines, just as the sacred sites were never conceived to commemorate
the values of the Latecomers. Both are however considered "sacred sites" whose
desecration would be vociferously challenged -- and has been.
The possibility of such complementarity raises challenging issues of the
comprehension of temporal topology, especially in the specific case of Tasmania:
- Edge of the World: this 1-metre high plinth might ("at
be perceived as a miniature cenotaph; it endeavours to commemorate the existential
challenge of living in time, but essentially from a male perspective focused
on the short-term (being a recent construct) -- as with its war memorial
- Tulampanga: as noted above, its existence is obscured
beneath the European name of Alum Cliffs (Gorge), as are many sites held
sacred by Aborigines (such as Ayer's Rock). It holds memories dating back
over a long period. It is specifically associated with "women's business".
It evokes a particular style of contemplation. Curiously the marker plinth
is of size commensurate with that of the Edge of the World.
Sacred geometry and its desecration: Although the commonality is never suggested,
both derive their significance from what in western tradition is termed sacred
geometry -- of which the cenotaph is but one simple example. A more generic
understanding is that represented by the landscape sculptor Marko
Pogacnik. who is concerned with how to perceive landscapes and environments
as composed of several visible and invisible levels and how to behave accordingly.
Given the fundamental challenges of commemoration between communities, Pogacnik's
approach to "Earth healing" is worth consideration. With a method
analogous to acupuncture -- termed lithopuncture -- he uses stone pillars
and positions them on "acupuncture points" of the landscape. Cenotaphs
and sacred sites might both be understood in such terms. They form part of
a long tradition across cultures of the use of stele as
mnemonic markers -- as with the omphalos of
pre-Christian times. The famed Pillars
of Ashoka, distributed across India
and Pakistan, and on which Edicts were inscribed, offer an early example.
- *** yoni, memory >>> gateless gate (two-fold) / greer
- *** shadow of each -- gypsies, droits acquis, abuse
In contrast, with curious lack of reference to
the Tulampanga Aboriginal site, a massive government-funded triangular sculpture
installed in its proximity (Soulevement - Triangulaire,
point de vue) to relate to "three significant geographical features
of the Great Western Tiers - Quamby
Bluff, Western Bluff and the spectacular gorge" designed to "connect
the visitor with the forest, the art and the environment". Failing adequate
consultation with appropriate Aborigines, this might well be considered as
a blatant effort to negate the significance of a sacred site, or distract from
it, especially since it lies on the pathway to it.
It is however curious
that official funding is available for "interpretation
trails" (or "interpretive trails") which
might be understood as "songlines",
or European efforts to substitute for them. Is this a "magical" confrontation
betwen "White Man's Dreaming" and "Black Man's Dreaming"?
How is it that Cradle Mountain, as iconic wilderness centre of Tasmania, has
no Aborginal name associated with it -- and German (Waldheim) is the other
language of choice for the inspiration it represents, as was Dutch for both
names of "Tasmania"? The exception in that area is Truganini Point, the name
of the last full-blooded Tasmanian Aborigine. This corresponds to the use of
French in relation to the Alum Cliffs -- and only the discrete use of Tulampanga.
Is it the case that there are different cognitive functions associated with
the two styles of dreaming? Perhaps descriptive (and possibly connective) in
the interpretive case in contrast with refreshing and sustaining the pattern
in the songline case?
- 3 worlds / two worlds (off-shore?) ***
- Edge of World -- make a deposit -- over the edge -- disposal -- public
- -- as with this story
- Hillman -- healing fiction
- omphalos *** centre -- mnemonic vines
- ** sanitized commemoration
- Keyserling -- tropisms -- wheel -- poiesis --
Emblems and totems: Aside from the commemorative
structures in the landscape, or constructed there, a curious bridge between
the cultures of the Aborigines and the Latecomers in Australia is to be found
in the role and function of the symbols of significance to both. An excellent
example is provided by the Black
Swan -- a bird mainly indigenous
in the southeast and southwest regions of Australia.
The role of the Black
Swan in Australian heraldry and culture extends
to the first founding of the colonies in the eighteenth century. It has often
been equated with antipodean identity, the contrast to the white swan of the
northern hemisphere indicating "Australianess".
The Black Swan figured significantly as gifts from the Latecomers
to Aborigines in early encounters between them,
notably during the circumnavigation of Van Diemen's Land by George Bass and
Matthew Flinders in 1798 (cf Lyndall Ryan, The
Aborginal Tasmanians, ***) and by James
Kelly in 1815 (James Calder, The
Circumnavigation of Van Diemen's Land, 1984), as detailed by James Boyce
The Black Swan is especially significant to Aboriginal people and is
a part of many different legends and dreamtime stories among different tribes.
For some Black Swans are the wives of their All Father. To some, for whom it
was a totem, it was taboo to kill, hunt, or eat it. Along with the emu, this
swan is found on the Australian coat of arms. The coat
of arms of the Australian Capital Territory, granted in 1928, includes
swans as supporters: one is black and the other white, said to be symbolising
those Aboriginal and those of European ancestory.
The taking of Black Swans to Europe in the 18th and early 19th centuries brought
the birds into contact with another aspect of European mythology: the attribution
of sinister relationships between the devil and black-coloured animals such
as a black cat. Black Swans
were considered to be a witch's familiar,
and often chased away or killed by superstitious folk. ****
Curiously, in adopting Aboriginal names for some parts of its hydro-electric
developments, Hydro Tasmania has
used that of Catagunya,
meaning Black Swan.
Stories: It is to be imagined that the Aborigines
of Van Diemen's Land, before the extinction, developed stories to give meaning
to the process they were undergoing -- adding to their fund of learning tales.
As in Australian in general, the Aboriginal people
developed stories to situate the colonists within their own worldview. As noted
earlier, it remains the case that Aboriginal people necessarily cultivate
contrasting stories about their problematic current situation in the light
of the "evils" which
gave rise to the Prime Ministerial apology of 13th February 2008. They, for
example, make extensive use of the documentary films and arguments produced
by John Pilger and
Alan Lowery (The Secret Country: the First Australians fight back,
1985; Welcome to Australia: the secret shame behind the Sydney Olympics,
At the time of writing, the relevance of myth has been dramatically highlighted
by Serbian film director Emir
Kusturica on the occasion of the massive protests in Belgrade on 21 February
2008 against the declared independence of Kosovo. He stated that he disagreed
with the Hollywood-style myths cultivated about Kosovo, did not however object
to other people living their chosen myths, but strongly argued for the right
of Serbs to live their founding myth centered on Kosovo.
Given the importance of stories to the culture of the Australian Aboriginal
peoples, and given the alternative stories cultivated (or fabricated) about
the bloody past of their association with the White Man, there is a case for
exploring the relevance of stories to reframe a somewhat equivalent
(if not bloodier) situation. This is the case of the indigenous Indians of
Central America as they have been partially assimilated into the Spanish culture
of the area. Rather than repressing the imaginal engagement with death
as it has impacted on their culture, and continues to do so, it has been cultivated
through La Santa
Muerte (Saint Death, La Santísima Muerte, Sacred Death) -- whose
petitioners are prostitutes, drug dealers and murderers, as well as multitudes
of ordinary housewives, taxi drivers and street vendors hoping to cure a sick
child or pay the rent or simply make it through another day without getting
robbed or kidnapped or shot. (see Homero Aridjis. La
Santa Muerte) [more | more].
Anthropologists date the origins of the cult to the Spanish
conquest that brought Christianity in contact with the Aztec death worship.
Church repression kept the tradition dormant for centuries until it resurfaced
in poor urban areas. (cf Paradoxes
of Tyranny and Death Judging Saddam Hussein and La Santa Muerte,
Songs: As noted by James Boyce (Van
Diemen's Land, 2008) with respect to traditional songs by prisoners:
Unfortunately, most of these songs and ballads, and even the dialect used
to compose them, have been lost. (p. 136)
Boyce places great emphasis on the extraordinary integration of early Vandemonian
society through the pubs:
No site was more important for music -- or, for that matter, dance, betting
and games -- than the public house. The freedom of all ranks of society,
including convicts and soldiers, to visit pubs -- virtually unrestricted
until the mid 1820s -- is one of the most remarkable aspect of early Van
Diemen's Land... Most of these pubs escaped much official interference or
elite patronage, serving as a place apart where the people's culture was
let be, and where daytime distinctions between prisoners and their gaolers
-- who were, after all, generally from a similar class background -- were
loosened. Such slackness seems extraordinary from the perspective of even
a decade later, but this was a time wheen there were no barracks for the
soldiers and no gaol for the convicts. (p. 136-7)
At present the role of song is promoted through the Folk
Federation of Tasmania. However it is not its function to address the
issues raised by the repressed Vandemonian memories or the challenges of
the Aboriginal inheritance.
Whereas Sheffield has successfully framed a response to its economic vulnerability
through mural art (inspired by poetry), it might be asked whether Tasmania
offers the possibility for responding to controversial historical memories
through song. Do complex societies need songs of larger scope and ambition
to offer a healing process for supposedly forgotten collective wounds and traumas
-- beyond the simplicities of national anthems and football songs, as discussed
in deail elsewhwere (A
Singable Earth Charter, EU Constitution or Global Ethic? 2006; All
Blacks of Davos vs All Greens of Porto Alegre: reframing global strategic discord
through polyphony? 2007)?
|Example of Palawa
of Tasmanian Aboriginal language)
(from the interpretation board in Kunanyi
|milaythina nika milaythina-mana
||This land is our country
|pakana laykara milaythina nika mulaka
||Aboriginal people ran over this land to hunt
|pakana-mapali krakapaka milaythina nika
||And many died here
|tapilti larapuna, tapilti putalina
||From Eddystone Point, to Oyster Cove
|tapilti kunanyi, tapilti tayaritja
||From Mount Wellington to the Bass Strait Islands
|waranta takara milaythina nara takara
||We walk where they walked
|nara taymi krakapaka waranta-tu waranta tunapri nara
||And they will never be dead for us as long
|milaythina nika waranta pakana
||As long as we remember them
|waranta palawa, milaythina nika
||This country is us, and we are this country