The Null Device

Whitefella Jump Up

The Graun has published an extract of Germaine Greer's latest polemic, "Whitefella Jump Up". In it (originally published as a Quarterly Essay, and now reprinted by another publisher), she argues that to achieve nationhood, Australia should declare itself an Aboriginal Republic, replacing the head of state with "the Aboriginal people", and allowing anybody in Australia to call themselves "Aboriginal":
The second step in the journey is a second statement to the self in the mirror. "I was born in an Aboriginal country, therefore I must be considered Aboriginal." This is a tougher proposition, as long as Aboriginality is thought of as racial, but if we think of Aboriginality as a nationality, it suddenly becomes easier. It would not involve the assumption of a phoney ethnicity or the appropriation of the history of any particular Aboriginal people. The owners of specific dreamings would continue to be so still, and would continue to pass them on according to their law as it applies to those concerned.

Greer then goes on to argue that the Australian national character owes more to Aboriginal traditions than to the British character; that Australia's British settlers and their descendents gradually "went native" without realising it, adopting everything from the broad, nasal Australian accent to the egalitarian tradition, from backpacking and "feral" dance parties (which came from "going walkabout" and corroborees) to the tradition of telling exaggerated yarns, from the continent's first inhabitants; meanwhile, the gulf between Australia and Britain is vast:

Observers of white Australian life are struck by the degree of segregation between the sexes, which cannot be explained by the prevailing mores of the countries they came from. Aboriginal society, too, is deeply segregated; men and women are used to spending long periods in the company of their own sex. The more important the occasion and the larger the gathering, the more likely it is that women will gather in one area and men in another, just as white Australian men gather round the beer keg, leaving the women to talk among themselves. One explanation of the Australian mania for sport of all kinds is that sport is the only remaining area of human activity that is still rigorously segregated.

Funny that she mentions this, because none other than Jeremy Paxman pointed out (in his book The English: A Portrait of a People) the great degree of segregation between the sexes in English society (as compared to other European societies and/or America, undoubtedly). This has probably changed somewhat over the past few decades, though to say that Australian blokes' tendencies to watch the footy with a tinny of VB in hand while the sheilas talk in the kitchen about their kids/the last episode of Neighbors comes from Aboriginal customs of "secret (wo)men's business" seems more far-fetched than attributing it to how English society was in decades or centuries past.

There are 5 comments on "Whitefella Jump Up":

Posted by: toby http:// Mon Jun 21 23:14:40 2004

Aboriginal means 'Having existed in a region from the beginning'. It's hard to imagine people of European descent shoehorning themselves into a definition like that.

Posted by: acb Tue Jun 22 04:28:58 2004

Mind you, archaeologists say that the present Aborigines came here 50,000 years ago from what's now south-east Asia, so that would, strictly speaking, rule them out as well.

Posted by: toby http:// Tue Jun 22 06:38:36 2004

I think it's safe to say that in this context, 'the beginning' means 'the beginning of human occupation', which makes Aboriginals It (or at least the only It that's survived). I'd contend that this is an example of a good idea taken to its illogical conclusion via a series of mirages and willful ignorances.

Posted by: acb Tue Jun 22 11:56:11 2004

I once heard that it is believed that there were prior human inhabitants who were displaced/wiped out by the present aborigines. (Whether or not they worshipped hideous Lovecraftean elder gods in abhorrent rites is unknown.)

Posted by: greatcathy http:// Fri Jun 25 01:29:04 2004

Interesting piece, but I'm not sure she can really argue that Australia practices apartheid AND that white Australian and aboriginal personalities are the same. Also, if the Australian accent comes from aboriginal languages, why is it so similar to NZ's?

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