Dislocating the Frontier

Dislocating the Frontier: Essaying the Mystique of the Outback

Deborah Bird Rose
Richard Davis
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Dislocating the Frontier
    Book Description:

    The frontier is one of the most pervasive concepts underlying the production of national identity in Australia. Recently it has become a highly contested domain in which visions of nationhood are argued out through analysis of frontier conflict. Dislocating the Frontier departs from this contestation and takes a critical approach to the frontier imagination in Australia. The authors of this book work with frontier theory in comparative and unsettling modes. The essays reveal diverse aspects of frontier images and dreams - as manifested in performance, decolonising domains, language, and cross-cultural encounters. Dislocating the Frontier takes readers beyond the notion of a progressive or disastrous frontier to a more radical rethinking of the frontier imagination itself.

    eISBN: 978-1-920942-37-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[viii])
  3. I. Preface, Introduction and Historical Overview

    • Preface
      (pp. 3-6)
      Deborah Bird Rose and Richard Davis
    • 1. Introduction: transforming the frontier in contemporary Australia
      (pp. 7-22)
      Richard Davis

      The frontier is one of the most pervasive, evocative tropes underlying the production of national identity in Australia. Although frequently used in various contexts, it is rarely defined, suggesting that as an idea it gains its strength and dynamism by virtue of ease of use and great flexibility of application. As an interpretation of indigenous-settler historical relations it is used across the spectrum of encounter, from race wars, conquest and imperialism, to less violent but no less consequential inter-cultural crossings between indigenous Australians and settler-colonists. In terms of scientific or intellectual endeavours the frontier evokes the edges of possibility, beyond...

    • 2. Imagining the frontier: comparative perspectives from Canada and Australia
      (pp. 23-46)
      Elizabeth Furniss

      The idea of the frontier reflects a uniquely colonial view of a place and process of encounter between colonising people, indigenous inhabitants, and natural landscapes.¹ Within this colonial context, the idea of the frontier has been variously developed through history by natural and social scientists, popular historians, artists, writers, and government officials. This volume draws together a similarly diverse group of people who bring somewhat different conceptual approaches and theoretical interests to their studies of the frontier, which raises the immediate question: what do we mean when we talk about ‘the frontier’? In the following pages, and before turning to...

  4. II. Landscape and Place

    • 3. The redemptive frontier: a long road to nowhere
      (pp. 49-66)
      Deborah Bird Rose

      This chapter is an invitation to journey along a tangle of tracks. The first track is a brief excursion across some of the analytic terrain. The analysis I present is founded in a theory and practice of dialogue. There are two main precepts for structuring ethical dialogue.¹ The first is that dialogue begins where one is, and thus is always situated; the second is that dialogue is open, and thus that the outcome is not known in advance. Openness produces reflexivity, so that one’s own ground becomes destabilised. My concern here is with the first precept: to engage in dialogue...

    • 4. Transcending nostalgia: pastoralist memory and staking a claim in the land
      (pp. 67-84)
      Nicholas Gill

      The strength of Australian outback mythology in providing a blueprint for what Australian society, landscapes and history ought to be, lies at least partly in its ‘lack of specificity in time and space’¹, coupled with retrospect. Deborah Bird Rose has argued that such free-floating retrospect diverts attention from ‘here and now of our lives’, and militates against dealing with the consequences of Australia’s colonial past and present.² The inland and north of Australia, the so-called ‘frontier’, in a spatial sense, are, and have been, places where optimistic non-indigenous assessments of land have been subject to regular appraisal and debate.³ They...

    • 5. Water as collaborator
      (pp. 85-90)
      Jay Arthur

      It used to be a dry country out there in years gone by, but bores have changed all of it to white man’s land, carrying many sheep.¹

      The yarn flowed as sluggishly as his river, with anabranches and deep waterholes of reminiscences and irrelevant snags and sandspits to check its course.²

      Whenever I hear of an election, I feel a dam coming on.³

      This chapter is mediated through three landscapes.

      Lake George is a large natural lake to the north of Canberra. Its indigenous name is Weereewa. The Federal Highway connecting Canberra to the Hume Freeway to Sydney runs along...

    • 6. You call it desert – we used to live there
      (pp. 91-96)
      Pat Lowe

      When I first went to the desert with people who come from there, we travelled by car and on foot to some very out of the way places. They had names, but were not to be found on kartiya (whitefella) maps, even under a kartiya name. Sometimes I found myself wondering whether I was the first white person to have set foot in some of these places. I had, after all, been brought up in England in the days when much of the map of the world was coloured red, and when British people were proud of the Empire. I...

  5. III. Science and Nation

    • 7. The platypus frontier: eggs, Aborigines and empire in 19th century Queensland
      (pp. 99-120)
      Libby Robin

      On 19 February 1971, Professor Rick Beidleman of the Department of Biology, Colorado College, USA sent a letter to Dr Michael Hoare, Research Fellow at the Academy of Science. The letter sought advice on a sabbatical project on the ‘impact of Australian historic frontiers on the development of Australian natural science’. Beidleman had undertaken a study of the relation between the American frontier and natural science in the 1950s, and saw Australia as a logical extension: ‘The comparison is so similar, indeed, that one finds the same people carrying out natural science exploration in the two countries, as you appreciate’,...

    • 8. Frontiers of the future: science and progress in 20th-century Australia
      (pp. 121-142)
      Tim Sherratt

      The glow of his campfire framed a simple tableau of pioneer life. Across this ‘untenanted land’, Edwin Brady mused, ‘little companies’, such as his own, sat by their ‘solitary fires’. ‘They smoked pipes and talked, or watched the coals reflectively’. Around them, the ‘shadowy outlines’ of the bush merged into the dark northern night, and ‘the whispers’ of this ‘unknown’ land gathered about. It seemed to Brady that this camp, this night, represented the ‘actual life’ of the Northern Territory as he had known it. But the future weighed heavily upon that quiet, nostalgic scene. The moment would soon fade,...

  6. IV. Interrupting the frontier

    • 9. Eight seconds: style, performance and crisis in Aboriginal rodeo
      (pp. 145-164)
      Richard Davis

      One Sunday late in August 1999 I was in a car travelling to Koongie Park station, just outside of Halls Creek in the Kimberley, with Quentin and Aaron, two Aboriginal cowboys just finished competing at the Broome Rodeo. They had not won a buckle or taken home a cheque, but they were, despite a couple of misgivings, reasonably happy with their participation in the bull-ride, one of the three, with saddle bronc riding and bareback bronc riding, basic rough stock events at any rodeo. One of their reservations concerned the quality of the stock, both the bulls and the bucking...

    • 10. Boxer deconstructionist
      (pp. 165-176)
      Stephen Muecke

      A ghost is haunting Australian politics, the ghost of Aboriginal power. Perhaps in the way that Marxism has been a ‘critical factor’ in the articulation of world politics, Aboriginal power has been a spectre in white Australian history. And despite all the struggles, the regular announcements of victory, assimilation, ‘reform’ or ten point plans, Aboriginal power persists. Marxism, too, continues to haunt the languages we use to analyse politics and history.² How does one explain the persistence, even the growth of Aboriginal power; the power it uses to unravel those often-held certainties of politics and history?

      In order to attempt...

    • 11. Absence and plenitude: appropriating the Fitzmaurice River frontier
      (pp. 177-196)
      Andrew McWilliam

      The concept of the frontier has been an enduring one over the course of European colonisation and settlement in Australia. In its classical form, it may be defined as an expanding boundary of conflict created in the process of colonial settlement and associated with coercive appropriation of land and landscape from its indigenous residents.¹ In Northern Australia the frontier was contested comparatively recently under the guise of 19th century pastoralism, prospecting and missionisation. The impacts differed in character but the results were more or less the same. Writer Ernestine Hill, renowned for her heroic prose puts the issue succinctly;


  7. Index
    (pp. 197-207)