|Chapter 1:||Reading Post-Colonial Australia|
in one form or another, cultural transformations have circulated around the imperial hegemony of space, time, and language.
The task of understanding the formation of alternative modernities requires us to look at the cultural engagements that occurred between colonized people and dominant ways of knowing. Fundamentally, when we talk of place, language, and history, we are talking about a contentious struggle between ways of seeing, ways of naming, and ways of narrating memory, but they all fall into the orbit of a struggle over representation. This struggle is less obvious in the settler colonies. Yet the post-colonial reading of Australian art and literature gives us a clue to the ambivalent, creative, and transformative ways in which alternative modernities are adapted.
The significance of place in Australia can be summed up by a story Henry Lawson tells about learning geography in school. The British Board of Education issued his textbook, and it stated that in summer the sun could be seen in the north. Lawson says that the teacher explained the situation, but standing in the schoolyard, it did not feel to the young Lawson that the book was wrong, but that he was in the wrong place (Kiernan 15–16; emphasis added). Displacement was not simply an affect. Displacement was caused by an education system and a cultural hegemony that suggested that real life occurred elsewhere. The ideology of place that such education carried led to Australian students writing school compositions about making snowmen when no child had ever seen snow, just as it led to Caribbean children writing essays about “snow on the cane fields” (Brathwaite 264) and to the deep familiarity, the sense of arrival, that V. S. Naipaul felt when he first set foot in England and saw that countryside familiar to him from all his reading. The point is that every post-colonial experience of place, no matter how personal, no matter how phenomenologically described, is a consequence of the hegemony of imperial representation. This is the same concerted and ubiquitous process that Edward Said describes in Orientalism. It is not necessarily as systematic, but it is just as hegemonic.