Directions: A vision for Australia
St Pauls, $19.95 pb, 136 pp
Does Australia have a soul? I have been asked this question recently, in slightly different ways, by Russian, German, and French friends. They comprehend that Australians have an identity, but their question is about something deeper than words. About what animates us at a profound level, and which is related to our identification with the land. They say Australians demonstrate many estimable qualities, but they think that, apart from the indigenous peoples, our roots are still shallow. They think we have shed our European histories but are culturally adolescent.
The question is reasonable and important. Can a nation of this type, built on waves of immigrants, develop a ‘soul’ (as a European would understand it) in only a little over 200 years? Australia is, after all, part of a new world that is rapidly being ‘globalised’. We do not have 1000 years of peasantry, feudalism, and civil war as a forge upon which a national soul has been hammered out. But the end of the twentieth century saw a battle of ideas, a kulturkampf, begin over the question of what it means to be Australian and what Australia is to become.