Griffith Review 36: What is Australia For?

Griffith Review 36: What is Australia For?

Julianne Schultz (ed.), Text

It’s a very long time since the term cultural cringe was coined, articulating those ingrained feelings of inferiority that Australian theatre, arts and musicians felt, and yet even today, when we are undoubtedly punching above our weight in the arts, literature, in the sporting arena and economically, we still lack a certain confidence.

This issue of Griffith Review asks contributors to reflect on Australia and its achievements today.

With its usual mix of essay, fiction, memoir and reportage, What is Australia For? makes fascinating reading as a range of contributors discuss their own experience of Australia and how that contributes to the national identity.

“Kartiya are like Toyotas”, Kim Mahood’s brutal and cutting account of white workers in often remote and isolated Aboriginal communities, highlights the challenges faced by well-meaning but largely unprepared and often unsuitable workers.

Frank Moorhouse captures the harshness and brutality of the Australian landscape and something of the dogged nature of Australians in his memoir about a routine bushwalk that goes horribly wrong “out the back of Bourke”.

Our relationship with alcohol is explored in Elspeth Muir’s “Pissed off”.  Are we, as Marcus Clarke wrote in the 1880s “simply a nation of drunkards”?

And Hayley Katzen’s memoir, “The L-word”, looks with excruciating honesty at the world of bullying and homophobia.

Those who find it difficult to understand the challenges for migrants would do well to read Frances Gus’ “Half Chinese, half Australian”. I also loved Maria Papas’ essay on being a second generation Greek.

Cameron Muir argues on the urgent need for a marriage between health and agriculture in the face of that terrible contradiction of the global food system that Australia supports — why do we plan to grow more and more food when we throw over half of it out?

Noel McKenna’s picture gallery captures beautifully the complex, often playful nature of Australia and Australians.

Other contributors: Dennis Altman discusses issues of identity and wonders if Australians have lost the desire to work towards a better society; Nick Bryant revisits our cultural cringe; and Robyn Archer argues that sustainability and resilience must be at the heart of our national debate.

A fabulous read!

Karyl Davison



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