Printer Friendly

Insecure Australia: anti-politics for a passive federation.

How did it come to pass that a public-relations slogan became the oft-repeated 'truth' of the 2001 Australian Federation celebrations --'with a vote, not a war Australia became a nation'? This question goes to the heart of the problem of understanding the meld of official fervour and public passivity. The proponents of the celebrations, we argue, were too insecure about the cultural legitimacy of Federation, let alone the public passion for the institutions of the Commonwealth of Australia, to treat the year as an important period of necessary debate and reflection on core issues. A few public lectures aside, it became a year of parades and dubious slogans. One double-page advertisement in metropolitan weekend magazines asked the self-congratulatory question: 'What kind of country has always known the value of a vote?' The positive answer comes first: Australia, a nation formed not by revolution, but by an evolving democracy. The embarrassment comes later in the small print: 'The 1902 Commonwealth Franchise Act specifically withheld the right to vote in federal elections from Indigenous Australians and people of Asian, African, and Pacific Islander backgrounds'. (1) Thus there was a passing acknowledgement of problems in our past, but it was always overridden by public relations messages. Why is it that most politicians and commentators so fervently defended the 2001 Federation celebrations in Australia against civic apathy? More importantly, why is it that they sought uncritically to gloss the past and embrace a shallow form of civic nationalism? (2) This article explores the strange year of the celebrations, a year of top-down organizational fervour and relatively passive public interest. Public spectacles occasionally drew huge crowds. However, the crowds were mostly there for the pageantry and colour, rather than because of a foundational attachment to the political process.

This issue of managing and flattening out the deep tensions of national politics can be put in a larger setting. Before we discuss the Federation celebrations in detail it is worth relating two contextualizing developments. Both have their roots in the decades of the latter part of the twentieth century and earlier, but are being acutely felt now. The first concerns the impact of globalization. In the context of globalization, the modern nation-state faces a series of shearing tensions between state (polity) and nation (community), between the divided polity-community and the economy, and between sections of the 'community'. With globalization has come new kinds of movement of people--mass tourism and systematizing multiculturalism--as well as an accentuation of old kinds of movement--people attempting to escape disintegrating homelands. Moreover, the pressures of the postmodern layer of the economy, with its flows of capital and influence, flows that transcend the old regulatory boundaries of the nation-state, have meant that the government has moved to deregulate the economic sphere while reasserting the connectedness of the nation in the cultural sphere. Taken together, this means that the multicultural community we call 'Australia' is fundamentally different from the Australia of a generation ago, and that sections of that community no longer trust the state to protect their way of life despite the government spending more on self-promotion than any commercial advertiser in Australia, including Coca-cola.

The second contextualizing development that helps us understand the Federation celebrations concerns the slow crisis of liberal governance. Despite the naturalization of liberal democracy as the dominant form of governance across the western capitalist world, politics has taken a further turn of the screw. In countries as diverse as the United Kingdom, Japan, Italy and Australia, an unnamed crisis now pierces deep into the variable formations of political life. It affects political cultures ranging from those of archaic stability and paternal authority to those of predicable volatility or civic passivity. In short, the realm of politics is increasingly treated with cynical suspicion. More and more, the standing of politicians has become dependent on two sources: the day-by-day routinized tidings from the stock exchange and occasional good cheer through massive public spectacles. In the United Kingdom, Tony Blair had a brief moment of return to public confidence with the birth of his son, but it only took a couple of weeks for political life to return to the slough of staged passion and, as it did, it even became common public sentiment that, in Blair's Britain, politicians and their spin-doctors were intent on colonizing public-private moments such as births, weddings and deaths. Voters still vote for him as, in other places, they vote for an Italian media-magnate indicted for mafia connections, or an American millionaire with a born-to-rule vacancy of mind. However, increasingly electoral choice is based on the feeling that the alternative candidate is worse, and electoral activity on the feeling that one should at least participate minimally in the political process. Yes, the liberal-democratic state continues to be sustained by an unassailable shadow-legitimacy. It survives in part, however, because nobody can think of anything better. In other words, even though the neo-liberal state continues to be afforded a passive legitimacy, we face a legitimation crisis of governance.

In Australia, despite the 'success' of the Bicentenary celebrations, faltering glory on the cricket field, and a couple of spectacular weeks during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the loss of faith in conventional governance has been evident in the bathetic celebrations of the centennial of Federation. Of all the liberal-democratic states, perhaps only in the United States--paradoxically, since Watergate, a country used to the chronic crises of state legitimacy--has the nation remained firmly tied to the constitution. Back in Australia, by contrast, we neither trust the documents that hold us together, nor have we the courage to enact constitutional change. This was beginning to be picked up by commentators nearly a decade ago. As Hugh MacKay writes, 'The cynicism of the mid-1990s, however, is much more than a simple extension of what has gone before. Today Australians are trying to come to terms with the fact that the nature of politics itself has been redefined'. (3) In the cultural sphere it no longer even causes us comfort to know that it was the former hero of Gallipoli, Mel Gibson, who patriotically starred on the battlefields of North Carolina as the new Patriot. It is easy to see then how inadequate is the mainstream cultural-political response to this disenchantment. In the centenary year of Federation, the film industry has given us reruns of Crocodile Dundee and the state has been featuring all-new advertisements for our black-and-white past.

This article sets out to examine the selling of the spectacle of Australian federation as part of an attempt to legitimize a nation-state that is increasingly perceived to have lost its way. The internal loss of faith in liberal governance and scepticism about the effects of the projected 'inevitable' rush to globalism is now being addressed, we argue, through an enhanced reflexivity about how to deliver civic education to national citizens. We are not suggesting that there is something essentially wrong with the renewed emphasis on civics or civic nationalism in itself--that is, apart from the blinding superficiality of this particular version. Be that as it may, we are arguing that the mainstream proponents of the celebration have entered a different and much more dangerous territory. First, they have allowed it to be associated with a defensive 'white-blindfold' attitude towards the darker side of Federation and a history of instrumental nation-building. Secondly, this pressure to re-legitimate the nation is not far removed from an associated market-driven imperative to sell the national image as an attractive brand name, both locally and globally. Thirdly, under conditions of scepticism about the state, civic learning is now being used as a form of civic management without putting in place the accompanying reform that would make that civic learning meaningful. Such reform would have to go far beyond tinkering with the Constitution, and it would have to eschew the current public-relations style approach. As we will argue, there are a number of conflicting themes that permeate this turn to civic management: the desire in a globalizing world to give the impression that we are reconciling multicultural diversity with a national identity; the pragmatic need to comfort the non-immigrant, older, white population and other potential One Nation supporters with the thought that they are important; and the vainglorious hope of addressing with mere words the sensibility of those who hold to the high ideal of reconciliation with Australia's Indigenous population. These themes are being addressed in the language of 'banal nationalism'--a nationalism that is reluctant to proclaim itself as nationalistic. (4) In the United States this issue is handled by slipping sideways to use the term 'patriotism'. In Australia, the official languages of 'multiculturalism' and 'nation-building' mix uneasily together, smoothing over real issues that divide Australia. The article begins by addressing the themes of civic management and ends by looking at the politics of the white blindfold.

Managing Civic Education

The slow crisis of politics in Australia became especially clear during the 1999 referendum on the republic. Most pro-republic campaigners were so concerned about being uncontroversial--and taking advantage of the continuing shadow-legitimacy of the state--that their proposals for constitutional 'change' sought to maintain the current system without more than a change of symbolic wording. In response, voters not only rejected the republican model on offer, but did so in part because it was perceived that politicians were going to run it. The outgoing secretary of the Australian Labor Party acknowledged this in a speech to party members in Canberra. Referring to the pre-referendum deliberative poll held in Canberra, he argued that 'it took two days of fact and debate to convince citizens in overwhelming numbers to vote "Yes", but it took only two words to undo the good work. That's two days of education versus those two words--"politician's republic"'. (5) This notion that the republican model on offer to the electorate was divorced from people's concerns was popularized by other politicians, including a senior member of the Coalition cabinet.

Paul Kelly gave further expression to this general and enduring anti-politician sentiment when he claimed that both the Coalition and the Labor parties were a 'national disgrace'. This mainstream journalist went on to argue that the Australian people were the 'victims of a conspiracy--a betrayal by the political class against the best interests of the nation'. (6) 'Conspiracy' is a strange word in this context, because politicians rarely have time to connect systematically with others beyond the usual cabals of party politics. Nevertheless, the hype that permeates the centenary year of Federation has assumed a cultural commonsense, and the response to it can be seen as continuous with the uneven cynicism about Australian republicanism. Celebrating federation thus presses on as an attempt by the political elites to reconnect a sceptical populace with the political processes and structures of governance.

During a speech at Corowa in 1993, then Prime Minister, Paul Keating argued that:
 The Constitution was the foundation of a new national entity. Read
 in 1993, it is an uninspired and uninspiring document: complex,
 legalistic and virtually impossible to relate to contemporary
 Australian life. It was framed as a routine piece of
 nineteenth-century British imperial legislation ... We want
 Australians to consider the strength and weaknesses of their
 Constitution. We want them to debate the advantages and
 disadvantages of making our constitution more closely reflect
 Australian reality, Australian values, Australian hopes. In
 the end we want an Australian constitution in which Australians
 believe. (7)


Rhetoric aside, for Keating, the republican push was not so much about enabling the people to reclaim the Constitution as, contradictorily, about teaching us to be good (postnationalist) citizens. Now, in the wake of the 1999 republican failure, what we are seeing is the desire to press on with this pedagogic agenda in the absence of actual constitutional reform.

Preparations for the Centenary of Federation were influenced by the report of the Civics Expert Group, Whereas the People, published in 1994. The writers of the report were struggling with very real issues. One of its main concerns was just this lack of connection between people and the structures of governance. The report warned that:
 a civic capacity depends on informed and active citizens and there
 is disturbing evidence that many Australians lack the knowledge
 and confidence to exercise their civic role. As we move towards the
 centenary of Federation, it is timely to reconsider and revive our
 civic inheritance. (8)


This push for increased citizen participation can be seen as a response to a declining sense of national cohesiveness and a fear of 'fragmentation'. It is hinted at in the report passages such as those that quote Bryan Turner on the effects of post-industrialism and postmodernism on society:
 With the development of mass consumption and mass systems of
 information, social styles and cultural practices become mixed into
 an indefinite mass of tastes and outlooks. With this fragmentation
 of culture there also goes a fragmentation of cultural
 sensibilities, a mixing of lifestyles and the erosion of any sense
 of cogent political project or coherent political programme, as the
 lives of individuals become increasingly merely a collection of
 discontinuous happenings. (9)


The sense of a cultural-political crisis is acutely portrayed here. However, in line with an assumption commonly held in the globalizing nation-states of the West, Whereas the People argues that increased civic awareness offers the best method of reconciling the contradictions of diversity and collective identity. This then begins the slide from civic participation (an important issue) to our first theme of managed political integration: the later tendency by the Howard government to treat multicultural difference as a problem to be reconciled with words. Its message is repeated by the Department of Immigration in their 1999 report A New Agenda for Multicultural Australia. This document lays particular emphasis on notions of civic duty and allegiance to the state. According to this report, civic duty 'obliges all Australians to support those basic structures and principles of Australian society which guarantee us our freedom and equality and enable diversity to flourish'. (10) It sounds fine on the face of it--civic integration at one level that allows for continuing cultural difference at another is a positive principle--but keep in mind that this report was produced within a setting that tends to treat the only sustainable differences as those that are emptied of politics or passion. This context can be illustrated by a government that became policy-paranoid about the incursions of illegal immigrants; an immigration museum in Melbourne that reduced the immigrant experience to a series of individualized stories without political content; and an Olympic Games opening ceremony that reduced multicultural difference to a series of globalizing cliched dances marked by different coloured clothing.

The second theme of political integration concerns our suggestion that the Centenary of Federation is simultaneously an attempt to re-integrate Australia's Anglo population back into the system. The Australian Citizenship Council noted that 1999 was the fiftieth anniversary of Australian citizenship, an event, it argued, which is most closely associated with the naturalization of over three million immigrants since the end of the War. 'In this sense,' says the Council, as if words will make it so, 'the inclusive nature of Australian citizenship has been spectacularly successful'. (11) However, later on the same page it refers to another aspect to Australian citizenship: that 'in the consciousness of Australian-born people it has been somewhat less important as it has come to them automatically rather than by choice and has not in itself always been seen as a prominent national symbol'. In contrast to fears that it is the migrant population which will not fit in to established 'Australian values', it now appears that it is the Australian-born community who is in need of integration into the Australian system. This is the very sentiment that was first forcefully expressed by She Who Cannot Be Named in her maiden speech in parliament in 1996: 'I am fed up of being told, "This is our land". Where the Hell do I go? I was born here and so were my parents and children ... Like most Australians I worked for my land; no one gave it to me'. (12) The Australian Citizenship Council cannot refer to Pauline Hanson. In an oblique reference to the backlash in the bush, the Civics Expert Group suggest that the formal education system is not providing young citizens with the required amount of civics training, adding that the unskilled and those living outside the cities were amongst those particularly poorly served by the formal system. An ANOP study into civics education cited by the report confirms that 'this lack of knowledge is widespread and thus the education target is essentially the whole community'. It is here that the civic nationalism of the centenary year of federation plays a key role, although as we will see later it is this very ideology of overt nationalism that groups such as the Australian Citizenship Council want to disavow.

What, then, were the bases for the celebration preparations to proceed? According to the guidelines published for the Endorsement of National Centenary of Federation Projects, Events and Activities, the act of Federation was an event that, 'not only changed the political landscape within Australia, but united its people and fostered economic, social and cultural stability'. (13) From this standpoint, with the state as the guarantor of the nation and its stability and prosperity, the National Council of the Centenary of Federation (NCCF) sees the anniversary as an 'occasion to reflect on the past, to appreciate our democracy, to acknowledge our history and experiences, to take pride in our achievements and look with confidence to the future'. (14) If it were all so simple; if it were an already-achieved condition, then we might well ask what all the fuss is about. Why is so much money being poured into the celebration? Why is it spread over a year of interminable spectacles? And why is so much of the money being spent on media advertising rather than on supporting grassroots-initiated activities?

The NCCF was created by the Council of Australia Governments (COAG) and receives considerable financial and bureaucratic support from the federal government. One billion dollars, designated the Federation Fund, has been allocated to the commemoration of the Centenary of Federation. This is supposed to snowball. Much of the publicity is designed to attract corporate sponsors to augment the Commonwealth funding. Coles-Myer was the first major corporate sponsor of the Centenary, contributing $3 million to the funding of anniversary events and programs. Coles-Myer CEO, Dennis Eck, said that the company, on behalf of its 157,000 employees, was proud to support Australia's Centenary of Federation. He continued: 'the political stability and growth which has stemmed from Federation has provided a solid foundation for the Australian corporate sector to build on'. (15) A joint Federal Government and Australian Tourist Council initiative entitled 'New Century, New World, Australia 2001' is designed to assist Australian business and government to invite their colleagues to Australia during the Centenary celebrations. This campaign is designed to lure the 'lucrative' business travel market and to 'assist corporate Australia build international presence and influence partner, affiliates and clients'. All in all, Centenary is supposedly 'great news for our tourism industry'. (16) In order to finance itself the government has licensed its trademark-Australia insignia to Australian manufacturers including t-shirt makers, and manufacturers, of 'souvenirs, stationery, toys collectables, homewares and much much more'. (17)

In order to promote the aims of the Centenary, the NCCF co-ordinated a series of events and activities that began in 1999 with advertising campaigns and publicity stunts, such as an around-Australia run by Pat Farmer, and continues throughout the entirety of 2001. Other national events previewed for the year 2001 include:

* A parade in Sydney on 1 January from the CBD to Centennial Park. In Melbourne, the day began with a flag-raising ceremony 'proudly presented' by Australia Post[TM] and a march to the Tattersals[TM] federation arch followed by 'the great Australia day BBQ ... proudly presented' by Carlton and United Breweries[TM]. $7.8 million was spent on Federation day.

* A service from Darwin on 19 February commemorating the first time that the Commonwealth's territory was attacked;

* A Federation Cultural Festival in Melbourne in May to celebrate the opening of the first federal Parliament (the AMP corporation's 'Journey of a Nation' travelling interactive expo will have already passed through Melbourne by that stage);

* A National Flag Day in September celebrating the design of the official Australian flag;

* A steam-rail journey between Port Augusta and Perth 'to provide a reminder of the unity achieved through federation';

* A year-long international symposium entitled 'Holding Together', which is concerned with 'the question of the coherence of nation-states at a time when some countries--and Australia is a notable example--hold together, while others fall, tragically, apart'.

Not all the events will be on the national scale, and there is a putative emphasis placed on 'participation' at a local level. State governments are also playing a role in the celebrations. However, despite the part to be played by the individual state governments in such activities, the consciousness to be encouraged is a Commonwealth-wide one. The official Guidelines emphasize that in order to receive endorsement and funding, any activities need to be 'national in nature'; a criterion that they ask should be 'considered carefully'. It must contribute 'to an enhanced sense of nationhood'. (18)

Inclusion is described as 'a priority' by the NCCF, with the program being designed to embrace 'the first Australians, older Australians and new Australians'. (19) Here, linked to our first two themes as if they work as a chronological flow, enters our third theme: the need to address the issue of black and white reconciliation. Early in 1999, Deputy Chairman of the Council, Rodney Cavalier, and CEO, Tony Eggleton, went to the Northern Territory and met with Indigenous representatives from the media, and business and community organizations. The possibility of 'original Australians' playing host to 'all Australians' at an 'inclusive arts and cultural festival in Central Australia' was discussed. This was part of the NCCF's commitment to 'examining ways Indigenous Australians can make a significant contribution to the centenary year'. (20) According to Mr Eggleton, 'Unlike the Bicentenary, which was not seen by many indigenous Australians as a cause for celebration, the Centenary of Federation commemorates the establishment of institutions to protect and promote the rights of all Australians'. (21) His words evidence the rhetorical papering over of structural problems and historical grievances. The notion of federal institutions being 'protectors' of Aboriginal rights sounds lame in the context of the controversy still surrounding the 1997 Bringing Them Home report, but for those with longer memories the term 'protector' conjures up a history of brutal control in state and church-administered enclaves of pain.

Who is Edmund Barton?

These three themes, embracing first Australians, One Nation Australians and new Australians are brought together around three activities: education, spectacle and advertising. It is the national projection of historical verities that is the greatest area of concern for the organizers. In the public sphere, civic education is reduced to learning a few facts and reinventing a few political hacks, with the focus divided between television advertising and developing school curriculum. It is in this area that the concerns of the Civics Expert Group, and later the Civics Education Group, are most directly addressed. The History and Education Program was launched by the Council in July 1999 and has been allocated $10 million dollars from the Federation Fund. The aim of the Program is again, to support 'activities which contribute to an enhanced sense of nationhood, and raise awareness of the 100-year journey of Australia's Federation'. (22) Council Deputy-Chairman Rodney Cavalier states that:
 Our research suggests that within the community there is a limited
 understanding of the significance of Federation and its centenary.
 More importantly, it does tell us that when people are better
 informed about Federation and how it affected our way of life in
 Australia, their interest in celebrating the centenary increases
 significantly. (23)


As with the republic referendum of 1999, education emerges as the missing link for popular endorsement or participation in such projects. From the beginning of 1999, a series of advertisements were released as Community Service Announcements, the first of which focused upon the community ignorance about the first Australian Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton. The second advertisement continues in the pseudo-pedagogic vein, filling in more gaps in popular Australian history by focusing on the role of Indigenous sports people in Australia's early cricketing history. Overall, the History and Education Program aims to create histories for a popular audience, especially young children and those living in remote communities. (24) More 'expert' analyses of the Federation and its Centenary are also encouraged in the fields of broadcasting, exhibitions, performances, publications, multi-media/ online productions, seminars, conferences and research. A selective list of History and Education projects includes:

* A multimedia/online production from the Australian Multicultural Foundation aimed at Australians from 'linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds who may have little knowledge of key elements of the Federation story' ($250,000);

* 'Why Australians Matter', a three-part television production that will 'commemorate the ingenuity and enterprise, environment and sense of humour that have helped forge the Australian character' ($200,000);

* A book and CD-ROM from the Office of the Status of Women examining the economic and social history of women and their role in the formation of Australian nationhood ($105,300). (25)

The prospect of research grants to cash-strapped academics also draws the academy into the Centenary celebrations. A lot of the work is concerned to make the history exciting to contemporary readers. For example, on the back cover of a book entitled Makers of Miracles containing essays on the 'Federation Fathers', Di Langmore recalls:
 When I studied Australian History at School and university, the
 'Federation Fathers' seemed to have none of the fascination of
 glamour of some other figures in Australian history... [they]
 looked old, bearded and often corpulent. They did not seem to do
 much except sit around arguing and writing. If I had been told that
 Alfred Deakin wrote passionate sonnets to his wife, that Edmund
 Barton was an affectionate father to his six children, or that fat
 George Reid married a Tasmanian farmer's beautiful daughter ... I
 might have found them more interesting. (26)


A Peculiar Kind of National Birth: the White Blindfold Version

Through this education process, a romantic-bland historical narrative of Federation begins to emerge which can be summarized as follows. Prior to 1901 there was no Australian government, but rather six self-governing colonies peopled by British subjects. Although there were practical reasons for the six colonies to form a federation--such as defence co-ordination, free trade and the central administration of immigration--there was, by the later part of the nineteenth century, 'a growing feeling of national pride'. (27) This growing sense of pride meant that 'almost everyone agreed that joining together in some way would be a good thing'. (28) In some countries, such unification required a war or revolution to be achieved but, in Australia, unification was a peaceful process, initiated by the people. On 1 January 1901, Australia became a nation via a ceremony in Centennial Park and Edmund Barton became Australia's first Prime Minister. Women soon gained the vote after Federation (proudly ahead of most countries) and even though Aboriginal people lost the federal vote in 1902 they still contributed much to the nation in terms of art, culture and human resources. Although most Australians at the time of Federation were from Britain, now Australia is much more diverse which is one of its strengths and defining characteristics. Overall, the story is a 1950s' school-book version of history--mythological in the worst sense of the word.

Historical interpretations, particularly their contested debate, are vital to any national community. However, as Anthony Smith points out, while historians have often been some of nationalism's most trenchant critics, they often play a prominent role in the uncritical spread of the ideology itself. 'The history of nationalism,' writes Smith, 'is as much a history of its interlocutors as of the ideology and movement itself'. (29) The concern is to link the past with the present in a way acceptable to the demands and constraints of current political society. The existence of 'the nation' in the past is used as an attempt to justify its existence in the present, as well as to project the nationalist vision forward into the future while mobilizing the population for certain economic or political ends. In the case of the Federation celebrations, it is done through the misuse of history.

Aspects of Australian history since 1901 are enhanced or downplayed according to their usefulness to the pedagogic, integrative project of the Centenary organizers. The White Australia policy is barely mentioned although the Immigration Restriction Act was one of the first acts of the new parliament in 1901. Similarly downplayed are the assimilation practices carried out against the Aboriginal populations. As noted above, the NCCF's official 'Federation Story' maintains that by 1901 'almost everyone' agreed that Federation was a good thing, despite the self-interest of the different states threatening to scupper the project, and an earlier referendum that had failed. Unsurprisingly, the official story cannot be sustained consistently even across the various official sites. The Queensland government's version of the Federation Story is slightly different to the national web-site version. It emphasizes that support for federation in Queensland came most vocally for those in the north who hoped the whole idea might prove so unpalatable to the politicians in Brisbane that separation might ensue. (30) The 'growing sense of national pride' referred to in the NCCF's version of events, also needs to be qualified. National pride in 1901, argues Luke Trainor, was intimately bound up with imperial grandeur, to which the events in Centennial Park gave ostentatious expression. Being part of the British Empire was seen as the best way to guarantee Australian trade links and provide defence from attack from rival imperial forces. For many nationalists in Australia the loyalty was to Empire, the Crown or the 'British race' as much as to Australia itself. (31)

The Centenary's supporters make much of the popular foundations of the Commonwealth of Australia. Donald Horne, board member of the New South Wales Centenary of Federation Committee and joint-author of the Australian Citizenship Council's Australian Citizenship in a New Century, was irked by the 'Australia Week' celebrations in London during the summer of 2000. He feared that these celebrations in the former Imperial metropole would send out the wrong signals, namely that 'Australia became a nation as a by-product of British generosity'. (32) Similarly, historians such as Helen Irving argue that 'the people' were 'an essential part' of Federation and John Hirst argues that Federation was a popular process all along. (33) It is not hard to find evidence to counter their positions. Stuart Macintyre, for example, argues convincingly that Federation was not a huge popular event at the time. 'Australians,' he says, 'can hardly be accused of rushing into Federation'. (34) He is sceptical of the principle, advanced at Cowra in 1893, that 'the cause should be advocated by the citizen and not merely politicians'. The author of this principle was himself a politician and the make-up of the subsequent Constitutional Conventions leading to Federation were overwhelmingly drawn from the political elites. Macintyre continues: 'the politicians, having impugned their own calling, called forth a voice that could restore its legitimacy, they reinstated the people as a disembodied presence, capable of an altruism that they themselves could not achieve'. (35) Even The Bulletin noted popular apathy to the outcome of the Federation negotiations:
 The fact has slowly dawned on [the Bulletin] that nine-tenths of
 the population takes no real interest in the future Australian
 nation, in the alleged glorious destiny of this continent, in the
 marble metropolis which is to be the political centre of the
 Commonwealth, or in any of the other abstract glories of a united
 Australia. (36)


The contemporary evidence, particularly outside of Sydney, is equivocal. Roslyn Russell and Philip Chubb note that, despite the 'stupendous culminating occasion' in Sydney's Centennial Park, enthusiasm elsewhere was more muted. In Hobart the crowd was 'not a large one [and] neither was it very demonstrative'. In Brisbane, 'maybe it was the heat' that meant that 'there was a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the public,' while in Melbourne, 'everybody felt happy, but nobody felt inclined to make a noise about it'. (37) Despite this apathy, this is taken to be an indication of true Australianness by present-day enthusiasts, who use the pre-Federation plebiscites of 1898 and 1899 as indications of popular support for Federation. These events are used as evidence that 'Australia was created with a vote, not a war--in peace, not in anger'. (38) Russell and Chubb's history of Federation, One Destiny!, repeats the same theme of a 'nation brought into being peacefully'.

It is the apparently peaceful nature of Australian unification that marks it out from other nations' experience of nationalism, notably the violent revolutions or wars of unification that brought Italy, Germany and the United States into being. In the Centenary narrative, this peaceful evolution into nationhood is something that characterizes Australian nationalism today, thus making Australia a 'tolerant' society. The Australian Citizenship Council also picks up this theme about the special character of Australian nationalism. However, the Council goes further, arguing that Australian nationalism is not nationalism really at all--what we have been calling 'postnationalism'. Thanks to increased civics awareness, Australia is supposedly about to leave such an ideology as (classical modern) blood-and-flag nationalism behind. Australia is compared with the United States:
 Right from its birth in the Declaration of Independence, the United
 States defined itself not through the new form of nationalism, but
 in its political beliefs and institutions ... Australians have not
 gone that way. Instead they have made 'national' claims--about the
 kinds of people they are, even about the physical land Australia is
 ... Now, even at times of celebration, Australians do not
 characterise themselves by their political system primarily, or at
 all. They have shown almost a complete lack of interest in looking
 for the distinctiveness and the comparative success of the civics
 institutions that frame their citizenship ... The result is a
 strange situation in which one of the greatest elements of
 Australian potential--its 'polity'--is one of those that is least
 spoken about. (39)


The Council is quick to point out that their promotion of Australia's polity as a focus of allegiance and source of pride is not nationalism because it is underpinned by civic values:
 The values are not nationalistic. They are the very opposite. They
 proclaim that Australians can live together in peace and have a
 strong sense of community within their country even though they
 are different from each other in many ways. In this we could still
 set something of an example to the world. (40)


The Council argues that Australia can transcend nationalism and national identity and move onto something nobler, which in turn will become a source of Australian pride. However, to do this it must rely on the promotion of nationalism in the Centenary of Federation.

Despite a year-long advertising campaign reminding viewers that 'Australia was created in peace and not in war', it is also relatively easy to show that this was not necessarily the case. Somebody forgot to tell the Department of Veterans' Affairs what the official line is on the matter: its own publication notes that 'from its very inception the Australian nation was involved in war'. (41) At the time of Federation, the Australian colonies were involved in the war in South Africa. Ultimately the colonies and Commonwealth would send an official number of 16,124 men and women across the Indian Ocean, of whom 518 would die--more than the total number of Australians who died in Vietnam. (42) Referring to the South African war, Lord Tennyson, the Governor of South Australia, stated at his Federation address in Adelaide, 'the Empire had been federated on the battlefield, and the charter of Federation had been sealed by the blood of many heroes'. (43) Defence considerations had been an important catalyst for federation, with Australia having a single military commandant since the 1890s. It was believed that a united Australia would be better and more efficiently able to defend itself, and the Empire. Indeed one of the first acts of the Commonwealth was to dispatch troops to South Africa. In March 1901, Whitehall cabled Melbourne stating that the 'patriotic action' of the New Zealand Government in sending 1000 men to fight had strengthened the Imperial government's hand in bringing the war to a swift conclusion. The cable continued. 'His Majesty's Government do not desire to press for further offers, but if your government should wish to follow the example of New Zealand, we should gratefully accept reinforcements of 2000 men on the same terms and conditions as last'. (44) Edmund Barton cabled back two days later: 'Mr Barton presents his humble duty [to] gladly send reinforcement of 2000 men to South Africa, as desired'. (45)

Furthermore, the entire European settlement of Australia rests upon an internal colonial war that supported the appropriation of Aboriginal lands. The Commonwealth of Australia inherited control over lands won from the original owners during over one hundred years of conflict, resulting in 2,000 settler deaths and an estimated 20,000 Aboriginal deaths. (46) Such statistics make it harder to argue that Australia was founded in peace and not in anger. If, as the Centenary narrative implies, there had been no internal war, then there are more problems for the Commonwealth's legitimacy. If Australia had not been won by conquest then neither had a treaty with the original inhabitants been enacted, nor had the original inhabitants invited the Commonwealth onto their lands. If this is the case, then the very legitimacy of the Australian state is called into question in international law--that is unless we still hold to a doctrine of Terra nullius.

Conclusion

Through this centenary year of Federation, we have seen the popularizing of a distorted version of history and politics. Intentional or otherwise, this official story sustains the shadow legitimation of the liberal state by conflating its creation with the birth of 'the Australian nation'. According to the emerging Federation narrative, it is the Commonwealth that gives the Australian nation its full expression and guarantees its prosperity and continuity, framing Australian citizenship and multiculturalism. Unfortunately, the terms and style taken in reinforcing this message of Australian nationalism are shallow and unsustainable. Writing a few years ago, John Hutchinson looked at the possibilities of developing a forward-looking kind of nation-state, critically aware of its past and actively working through contemporary realities of deep multicultural and indigenous differences. The last chapter of his book Modern Nationalism described Eastern and Western Europe as a lost cause in this respect and turned to the New World immigrant societies of Australia, Canada and the United States to ask the question: Are they 'pioneers of postnationalism or insecure parvenus'? (47) On the evidence of the Centenary of Federation celebrations, Australia has gone backwards since 1988. Despite important counter-trends, (48) it remains an insecure island-nation of bland defensiveness--the insecure parvenu. However, now this defensiveness is caught between a concern for spectacle continuous with nineteenth-century 'official nationalism' and a new self-consciousness--a certain kind of postnationalism that only feels comfortable in using the flattering images of encomiasts and creative consultants to project an image of itself to itself. Maybe after we get beyond all these celebrations and reflections the real debate will begin. Strangely, that roundabout way of approaching the needed debate about the nature of community and polity makes complete sense for a nation-state that was so keen to come-of-age that it celebrated its bicentenary before it reached its centenary.

(1.) The Age, Good Weekend, 5 May 2001.

(2.) 'Civic nationalism' is a form of nationalism that emphasizes the civic relationship of citizens to the state rather than that of embodied ties and passionate support for an ethnic or national community. It is often taken to be the most positive form of nationalism--and, indeed, it can be--however, as Tom Nairn attests in this issue of Arena Journal, it has its own ambiguities and contradictions.

(3.) M. Billig, Banal Nationalism, London, Sage Publications, 1995.

(4.) M. Billig, Banal Nationalism, London, Sage Publications, 1995.

(5.) G. Grey, Address to the National Press Club, Canberra, 22 March 2000.

(6.) The Australian, 19 February 2000.

(7.) P. Keating 'Speech at Corowa', Papers on Parliament (32), Canberra, Australian Senate Publications, pp. 63-4.

(8.) Civics Expert Group, Whereas the People: Civics and Citizenship Education, Canberra, Australian Government Publishing Service, 1994, p. 3.

(9.) Civics Expert Group, p. 15.

(10.) Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, A New Agenda for Multicultural Australia, Canberra, Commonwealth of Australia, 1999, p. 6.

(11.) Australian Citizenship Council, Australian Citizenship: a New Century, Canberra, Commonwealth of Australia, 2000, p. 4.

(12.) www.onenation.com.au/New_Pages/Main_Frames/Main_Frame.html, 5 September 2000.

(13.) www.centenary.gov.au/happen/nation_endorse.htm#criteria, 8 March 2000.

(14.) www.centenary.gov.au/happen/nation_endorse.htm#criteria, 8 March 2000.

(15.) www.centenary.gov.au/media/release/20000124.html, 24 January 2000.

(16.) www.centenary.gov.au/resource/neworld.htm, 8 March 2000.

(17.) The Australian Women's Weekly, December 2000. Interestingly, one of the government's education advertials, 'What kind of country?' in the Weekly, October 2000, featured a cover of the Weekly itself.

(18.) www.centenary.gov.au/happen/nation_endorse.htm#criteria, 8 March 2000.

(19.) www.centenary.gov.au/centenary/cent_who.htm., 2 March 2000.

(20.) www.centenary.gov.au/resource/ceo2.htm, 8 March 2000.

(21.) www.centenary.gov.au/resource/inclusiveyear.htm, 8 March 2000.

(22.) www.centenary.gov.au/resource/tellstory.htm, 8 March 2000.

(23.) www.centenary.gov.au/media/release/3179.html, 8 March 2000.

(24.) www.centenary.gov.au/happen/happen_grants.htm, 8 March 2000.

(25.) See www.centenary.gov.au/happen/happen_grants.htm, 8 March 2000.

(26.) D. Headon and J. Williams, Makers of Miracles: The Cast of the Federation Story, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 2000.

(27.) www.centenary.gov.au/resource/pt1/whatkind_body.htm, 8 March 2000.

(28.) www.centenary.gov.au/resource/pt1/whatkind_body.htm, 8 March 2000.

(29.) A.D. Smith, 'Nationalism and the Historians,' in Balakrishnan (ed.), Mapping the Nation, London, Verso, 1996, p. 175.

(30.) www.cofq.qld.gov.au/qld_story_overview.html, 8 March 2000.

(31.) L. Trainor, British Imperialism and Australian Nationalism: Manipulation, Conflict and Compromise in the Late-Nineteenth Century, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 158.

(32.) The Australian, 20 June 2000.

(33.) H. Irving, To Constitute a Nation: A Cultural History of Australia's Constitution, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 134; J. Hirst, 'Federation and the People: a Response to Stuart Macintyre', in Papers on Parliament (32), Canberra, Australian Senate Publications, 1993. Helen Irving is director of the 1901 Centre at the University of Technology Sydney. The Centre was set up with money from the National Council for the Centenary of Federation and is part of the Federation industry. The website for the 1901 Centre encourages general inquiries and notes that 'written information can be provided for a negotiated fee'. (www.uts.edu.au/fac/hss/Departments/1901/1901_centre.htm) Donald Horne is among the many names listed as members of the 1901 Committee.

(34.) S. Macintyre, A Concise History of Australia, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 136.

(35.) Macintyre, p. 139.

(36.) N. McLachlan, Waiting for the Revolution: A History of Australian Nationalism, Ringwood Penguin Books, 1988, p. 168.

(37.) R. Russell and P. Chubb, One Destiny: The Federation Story--How Australia Became a Nation, Ringwood, Penguin Books, 1998, pp. 7-14.

(38.) www.centenary.gov.au/resource/pt1/whatkind_body.htm, 8 March 2000.

(39.) Australian Citizenship Council, 2000, pp. 9-10.

(40.) Australian Citizenship Council, p. 13.

(41.) Department of Veterans' Affairs, Australians at War: Key Dates and Data since 1901, Canberra, Commonwealth of Australia, 1999, p. 3.

(42.) McLachlan, p. 182.

(43.) Russell and Chubb, p. 13.

(44.) National Archives of Australia: A6443, 281.

(45.) National Archives of Australia.

(46.) H. Reynolds, Why Weren't We Told? A Personal Search for the Truth About Our History, Ringwood, Viking, 1999, p. 151. We note the controversy over these figures, but just as we consider that the controversy over how many Jews died in the Holocaust does little to advance an understanding of the problem, our argument here does not depend upon one-by-one empirical confirmation of the numbers of dead.

(47.) J. Hutchinson, Modern Nationalism, Fontana Press, 1994, ch. 6.

(48.) For example, see Mary Kalantzis's Barton Lecture, 'Recognising Diversity', Museum of Sydney, 20 February 2001.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Arena Printing and Publications Pty. Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Wellings, Ben; James, Paul
Publication:Arena Journal
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jan 1, 2001
Words:7451
Previous Article:'Che vuoi?' / 'what do you want?'.
Next Article:From fragile peace to violent apartheid: Israel and Palestine are at war.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters