Australia Foundational narrative discussions

The work presented here is an enquiry into Australia’s Foundational narrative among the largest group of the Australian population, Australians of European descent.

During our ethnographic and documentary work in Australia, we were told repeatedly that the country’s society is “work in progress”.  It became apparent there is not yet a solidified foundational narrative, as there would be for an older society (e.g. the French Revolution).  That’s why we have called these pieces “foundational narrative discussions”, aimed at presenting a discussion, rather than the final word.

Most Australians live on a thin line between two oceans:  outside, the Pacific.  Inside, a huge ocean of rock, sand and bush:  the Outback.

Over the years, Australians have developed a vibrant “coast line culture”, a maritime culture, one looking outward to the world.  They’ve turned themselves and their society towards the sea, a bridge, a link with other societies and other civilizations.  That’s how they look towards the future.

At their backs, however, the Outback is a defining part of their identity.  The Outback is where a lot of early settlers built Australia’s primary economy of farming and mining.  Taming the desert has been a long, hard and difficult journey.  Australia’s interior is also where the first occupants, the Aboriginal population, were pushed, which generates a diffuse feeling of guilt.

The Outback is a unique space to which Australians are extremely attached, even though they might not visit it often:  immensity, gum trees, red earth… The Outback has character.  It is also perhaps where Australians’ taste for freedom and open skies finds one of its symbolic sources.

Perhaps because Australia is a small population in an immense space, or perhaps because of the blue collar and convict background, Australia is a society that believes deeply in individual achievement, and compared to other societies, is less keen on norms and conformity.

Anything goes, no worries, she’ll be right mate:  Australians love to express this overtly relaxed, and sometimes nonchalant desire to accept and include everybody’s personality, quirks, or projects.

Of course there is bigotry, racism and exclusion in Australia, as in other places, and a difficult relationship with Indigenous populations.  But there is also a palpable project to empower individuals to make the most of their potential, and a respect for others within a society proud of its egalitarian origins, that produces a lively and vibrant democracy.

Christophe Abensour