The Oxford Companion to Australian Music
Oxford University Press, $79.95 hb, 608 pp
Twenty-five or thirty years ago, when it was still fashionable to speak of the Great Australian Emptiness, we took this image of the geographical dead heart of Australia as implying a cultural emptiness as well, a suggestion that too little had happened or been made here to give the mind, the civilised mind, anything to hang on to, identify with or make its own.
Well, the idea of geographical emptiness has gone. Geologically, and as the home of a rich flora and fauna, Australia now looms in our head as a crowded space, made alive to us, in a living way, partly through our own discovery of it as a place we are deeply at home in, partly through our understanding, if only in a beginning way, of that great earlier network of meanings that was laid over it by the Aborigines; crowded too, now that scholars and publishers over these last years have made the whole story known to us, with the products of more than two hundred years of dense and daily living, with country houses, bark huts, regional forms of domestic architecture, furniture, silverware, paintings – artefacts of every sort that mark and define our presence and are, as much as anything can be, the evidence of a unique identity.