|Chapter 1:||Reading Post-Colonial Australia|
Place is not simply location, and it is never simply there to be discovered. It is more like Ferdinand de Saussure's distinction between langue and parole. Space, says Kathleen M. Kirby, is like langue—language—“a loose unrealized network organized by relative distances, proximities, connections and chasms” (179). Place is the equivalent of parole—utterance—rather than the potentiality of utterance that is space. Place, we might say, for both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians is uttered into being and maintained by narrative. Cultural production is marked by an ideological struggle over how Australian place should be uttered into being, how it should be represented, and it begins in the act of seeing itself. In Western discourse, seeing has been synonymous with knowing. For Plato, and for Western society ever since, sight has been the supreme sense, with vision, knowledge, and reason inextricably tied to each other by means of this imagery of the truth “shining resplendent” (Elias, 198). But what is “seen” is always heavily determined by preexisting assumptions (we might say “believing is seeing,” rather than “seeing is believing”).
The ideology of the very first representation of Sydney, Thomas Watling's painting A Direct North General View of Sydney Cove (1794), although he was a convict, is the ideology of colonialism itself. As we look through an opening in the bush towards a town arranged in the orderly ranks of a military parade, we see that the civilizing effect of colonialism creates order out of chaos, produces planned urban settlement in the wilderness. Many of the assumptions of colonial painters who painted what they “saw” were the assumptions of Western and Romantic pictorial art. If we look at the city painted by Conrad Martens around the middle of the nineteenth century, we see a scene driven by the conventions of landscape painting.Similarly, an Arcadian discourse in Australian culture generated from the myth of Australia as the land of possibility emerged in the work of painters such as John Glover. His A View of the Artist's House and Garden (1835) and My Harvest Home (1835) provide a vision of a bountiful land that hovers in the tension between the triumph of colonization and the nationalist celebration of Australian fecundity. The matter was not that simple, of course;