Reimagining Australia: solidarity with Indonesia and Indigenous representation

indonesia_calling_128480x48029286b0b06d5ca4909a223c77f41144a091329In Indonesia Calling and other stories, Ariel Heryanto spoke on the extraordinary moments of solidarity between Indonesia and Australia in the 1940s – moments which have been almost entirely erased from the memory of both countries. Heryanto argues that this may be because remembering would involve acknowledging the past power of the left in our region. He discussed Joris Ivens’ film, Indonesia Calling, which gives the exact opposite message of the one he was commissioned for: it envisaged a future of an Australia with strong ties to an independent Indonesia. The making of this film was also surrounded by the growth of different links and networks of solidarity, but these has been largely forgotten, and aren’t referenced in current discussions of the relationship between Australia and Indonesia. The military regime in Indonesia is one of the many factors in the forcible erasure of this history of solidarity.

The Indigenous Representation, Politics and Recognition panel opened with Sharon Mascher and Simon Young‘s work on Re-Imagining Australia’s Constitutional Relationship with Indigenous Peoples: Lessons from the Canadian Experience. They noted that while there are important lessons to be learned by making comparisons, we should be cautious about trying to transplant bits of law between different contexts. The Canadian experience is very striking, especially the scale of the initiatives taken in 1982, and Canadian constitutional reform has had interesting (and sometimes unexpected) effects that are worth examining further.

Angelique Stastny spoke on Stereotypical representations of settlers and Indigenous people in school history textbook then and now. Stastny asks whether revised history has translated into new modes of knowledge and a critical shift in the representations of settler-Indigenous relationships in textbooks, or if old colonial tropes have emerged in new forms. Looking at Australian textbooks over time, the proportion of material addressing settler-Indigenous relationships is reasonably steady. Most textbook authors are male, though with a growing proportion of female authors. Textbooks only started including Indigenous sources from around the 1970s, though there are still a small proportion of sources. Content names few women (either Indigenous or non-Indigenous). Almost all textbooks mention violent conflict between settlers and Indigenous people, and this makes up a significant proportion of the content. In the 1960s to 1980s, content shifts from describing Indigenous people as threatening and politically distinct – around this time, there’s a shift to describing them within frameworks of dependency. What is at stake might be not just how Indigenous people are represented, but also who does the work of representing.

Finally, Michael R. Griffiths presented on the Distribution of Settlement: Indigeneity, Recognition and the Politics of Visibility. He notes the forcible making-visible of Indigenous tropes through white Australian creative writing: a kind of appropriation of Indigenous history as a way of Indigenizing settler culture. The presentation focuses on Indigenous writers’ work, which often responds and critiques these trends. Griffiths asks how settlers read Indigenous writing today, and how Indigenous writers navigate the politics of visibility in their writing. He draws on theory about the engagement that comes with refusal, the tension between the politics of visibility and the right to opacity.


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