Australian Society

Late in 1986, the Australian Bicentennial Authority took sixty celebrities off to Uluru to make the television advertisement containing the jingle ‘Celebration of a Nation’. Just as the shoot finished, a heavy storm broke, prompting the stars to run for cover. ‘Oh, darling,’ cried Jeanne Little, a popular television personality at the time. ‘The real Australia’s quite frightening, isn’t it?’

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How effective is a voice of reason in a climate of fear? In his introduction to this book, Professor Ian Lowe, president of the Australian Conservation Foundation and Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Griffith University says that he is ‘incorrigibly optimistic’ about the role of education in assisting us to make wise decisions about our future. Over the past twenty years, he has written twelve books, including A Big Fix: Radical solutions for Australia’s environmental crisis (2005) and Living in the Hothouse: How global warming affects Australia (2005), forty-five book chapters, more than thirty journal articles and six hundred columns for various publications. That work has been written for the general public, not just the scientific community.

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Diaspora: The Australasian experience edited by Cynthia Vanden Driesen and Ralph Crane

by
October 2006, no. 285

The third volume to be produced by the Asian Association for the Study of Australasia, Diaspora: The Australasian Experience, is a large publication with more than forty chapters. It makes an important contribution to the often willing debate about preserving Austral(as)ia’s perceived homogeneity in the face of the challenges carried in the cultural baggage of postwar arrivals from beyond the shores of the United Kingdom. Most, if not all, of the writers prefer to celebrate what Jane Mummery calls, in the opening essay, ‘the affirmation of the hyphen and hybridity’. Many other essays in the collection also demonstrate the extent to which Australian academics in the humanities and social sciences are contributing to the development and analysis of cultural connections between South Asia and Australasia.

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With the growing politics of fear focused on Islam, and the pervasive ‘Othering’ of Muslims both nationally and internationally, this book on the everyday lives, beliefs, and practices of Australian Muslims is an important social antidote. Abdullah Saeed, a leading Australian Muslim scholar of Islam, provides us with a readily accessible book that introduces the basics about the religion of Islam, and a short social and cultural history of Muslims in Australia. It explores Islamic religious organisations and leadership in Australia, the diversity of Muslim communities, common stereotypes and misunderstandings about Islam as well as the difficulties and discrimination Muslims have experienced in Australia. This is a clear, concise, culturally sensitive and diplomatic little book for a general readership.

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It’s usually said that Australians are uninterested in the metaphysical. Where in America the lines between the secular and religious are notoriously blurred, not least in their politicians or sporting heroes invoking God on almost every conceivable occasion, Australians by contrast are held to be a godless lot, their mythologies entirely secular in form and meaning. God is rarely publicly invoked, except by ministers of religion whose particular business it is duly to do so.

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The cover of David Tacey’s earlier book on Australian spirituality, Edge of the Sacred, showed a few parched branches sticking out of the sand. The cover of this one is quite different: billowing clouds, rocks, water, lilac sunset colours. You might think that a certain blossoming had taken place; that Tacey’s project – the spiritualising of ‘secular’ Australia – had been wonderfully realised. On the other hand, the luscious hues of ReEnchantment’s cover may place the book more firmly still in the realms of fantasy – a genre that also happens to be popular with Tacey’s publisher, HarperCollins.

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No icon better encapsulates the ethos of male culture than the pub. Sharing a beer in this bastion of male conviviality has been a defining experience in shaping Australian male identity. The pub as a cultural and social institution has attracted the attention of many historians, but none have considered the ubiquitous and yet mysteriously anonymous figure of the barmaid. Although represented in fiction and film, and up until recently, a part of the very fabric of pub culture, the barmaid remains an elusive figure in Australian history.

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