University of Queensland j-term 2009/2010 aust1000 Contemporary Australia

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University of Queensland

J-Term 2009/2010

Contemporary Australia
This intensive 3-week program aims to provide students with an introduction to key aspects of contemporary Australian society and culture, especially those aspects which are taken to define Australia’s unique (perhaps even bizarre!) characteristics as a nation. Through a combination of expert speakers and field trips the course encourages the exchange of ideas and information and fosters creative and critical inquiry. Students will explore Aboriginal history and culture, issues of national identity and nationalism, and popular culture and politics. Visits to the major cultural attractions of Brisbane and surrounds and the opportunity to discover some of its lesser known highlights will allow students to experience Australia first-hand.

Lecture program
Australian History I: Australia to 1901
This lecture surveys the modern history of Australia to 1901, encompassing the European ‘discovery’ of Australia, the reasons for the European colonisation, and the process of nation-making between 1788 and 1901. It includes coverage of convict Australia, conflict with the indigenous peoples, the gold rushes, the formation of national identity and the moves towards Federation.

Australian History II: Australia from 1901 to the Present
Here we examine Australian history from federation in 1901 through to the present. Major themes and topics include the establishment of the White Australia policy, the Australian experience of the world wars and the great depression, growing independence from Britain and changing strategic alliances, and the move from the White Australian ideal to multiculturalism.
Together, these two lectures provide students with an introduction to key moments, issues and themes in Australian history.

Imagining Australia

Modern Australia is understood as a young nation, a little over 200 years old. But Australia is also an ancient land, home to the oldest surviving culture in the world. Modern Australia has British origins but now Australia is defined as a multicultural society. Geographically Australia is in the Asia-Pacific but culturally Australian society is more closely aligned with 'the west'. Modern Australia is one of the most urban nations in the world but it has long based its national identity on the bush. These basic points provide an indication of some of the complexities involved in understanding Australia today. How do we define a nation that has been (and continues to be) seen in so many conflicting ways? The lecture will also explore this question. It will provide you with important historical and political background about Australia to help contextualize some of the main contemporary debates. 

Aboriginal History

This lecture will provide a brief introduction to the 'history wars'. It could be argued that in no other Anglophone nation do debates on history play such a central role as in Australia. Since the 1980s there have been extensive debates conducted not only in the academy but in the media and on the streets about how to understand Australian history – is it a story of the relatively peaceful development of a modern, progressive and democratic nation or a story of violent frontier conflict? These different, somewhat polarised versions of Australian history exist and the preference - or imposition - of one version over another exposes the political and ideological nature of Australian society. We will examine the so-called ‘black armband’ and ‘white blindfold’ views of history – who are the main protagonists, and how have their views shaped this very contentious debate.

Aboriginal Culture and Politics

Government policies and practices concerning Aboriginal society and communities have a long and controversial history. Such policies and their accompanying debates have almost always involved complex, sometimes overt, sometimes hidden, ideologies about race, modernisation, nationality, land and law. We will trace some of the key developments in the area of Aboriginal policy as well as political responses from Aboriginal people. In particular we will focus on the reconciliation process including the apology made by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in February 2008 and ask - will this change anything?

We will also examine Aboriginal culture. Social conditions for many Aboriginal people remain extremely difficult. However, over the last 3-4 decades Aboriginal (and Torres Strait Islander) cultures have had a remarkable rise to prominence. They present as new, vibrant cultures, connected to tradition, but also engaging with the contemporary world. We will examine Aboriginal cultural production and explore its place in contemporary Australia.
The bush and the beach
The land has long played a central role in images of Australia.  But the meanings attributed to the land, indeed the kind of landscapes chosen as 'representative' of Australia, have changed dramatically over time.  We will examine these shifts, and look at the ways in which images of the land circulate in contemporary Australia, especially in relation to modern images of 'the Centre', the 'wilderness' and the rural heartland.  When images of the land change, what happens to the ideas we hold about the people of that land?

Secondly we will explore the role of the beach in shaping Australian identity. Recent commentators have suggested that the beach has overtaken the bush in defining popular understandings of what it means to be Australian.  Australia's beaches are one of the most important attractions for international tourists, and the beach features as the backdrop for one of Australia's more enduring soaps - Home and Away.

Iconic figures of the beach - the surfer and the lifesaver - have played important roles as heroic national stereotypes. However, a historical perspective on the place of 'the beach' in Australian society reveals changing images and definitions of the beach over the duration of the twentieth century as social movements, acceptable codes of behaviour, and changes in patterns of consumption and urbanisation evolve. This reveals that 'the beach' has never been a homogenous cultural site, but rather needs to be understood as a contested domain, with different meanings and ideas on how it should be engaged with, or managed for the future.
Australian Art
This lecture examines the history of Australian art. It explores the continuation of European traditions in Australia including the development of Romanticism and Impressionism. It explores how the Heidelberg School exemplified the localisation of contemporary modernity. With its emphasis on light, landscape and the working class man in the late 19th century Australian art helped to forge a growing sense of Australian nationalism
We will then explore art in the 20th century looking at Dada, Post-Impressionism, Modernism, and Cubism etc. How did the parallel growth of contemporary urban settings for Australian art, mesh with the ongoing desire to examine Australia's rural mythologies eg Drysdale's Ned Kelly series?

Indigenous Art

Indigenous art raises crucial questions about 'Modernism' and 'Primitivism'. Who decides what is modern and what is primitive? Whose interests are served by constructing a modern/primitive divide? Why can't traditional Indigenous art have had its own 'modernists'?

This lecture will explore these questions by looking at the long, and varied, regional traditions found in indigenous art: skeleton art, rock paintings, carvings in rock and on trees and on bark, body scarring etc. We will discover how art worked as text, as 'message sticks' and discover that Indigenous art was often an amalgam of communal, personal and spiritual stories, set in a recognisable physical landscape. The lecture will also look at the phenomenon of 'Dot paintings' from Papunya, Western Desert in the 1970s and analyse how it has been appropriated by Australia generally as symbolic of Australia.

Australians at War: The Anzac Legend
War has played an extremely important role in Australian history. Involvement in World War I has provided Australia with a powerful foundation myth. This lecture examines the Anzac legend as Australia’s most evocative national collective memory, comparing and contrasting the legend with historical realities. It examines the rise of the legend and assesses some of the positive and negative effects on Australian culture and historical memory. And it asks how can the sentimental elements of the legend be productively combined with more accurate historical understanding of the Australian experience of war?
Sport in Australia

In Australia, sport is said to be a national obsession. It has become one of the dominant forms of popular culture that continues to feed into notions of national, regional and community identity. The live coverage of certain sporting events are among the top rating programs on Australian television, certain broadcasting legislation is predicated on the right of every Australian to have free-to-air access to live television coverage, and in the year of the Australian Olympics 2000, the federal government spent approximately $100million in support of sport.

What place does sport hold in Australia life and how has it shaped understandings of Australian identity? By exploring sport as a social construct we begin to understand that despite notions of egalitarianism, fair play, and giving due recognition to sporting achievements, the coverage and institutions of Australian sport are nevertheless, influenced by cultural prejudices and gendered thinking.

Debating Australia

In this final class we will bring together the dominant themes explored across the class. What kind of nation is Australia? Is there such a thing as an Australian identity or Australian values? Is Australia a nation of the ‘fair go’? How multicultural is it? What does the future hold for indigenous Australians? Does gender equality exist? What place does Australia have on the world stage? Where is Australia ‘going’ as a nation?


Assessment for the course is divided into 3 parts:

  1. Short essay 20% - 1000 words - due 5 Jan

  2. Reflective journal 50% - 5 x 500 words - due 16 Jan

  3. Exam 30%

Short essay 20% 1000 words

The outsider’s gaze: visitor’s impressions of Australia

Compare and contrast the accounts of two visitors to Australia. Discuss what understandings of Australia are evident in the texts.

(Be alert to their discussions of Australian nature, climate, and its indigenous inhabitants. Think about what shapes their understandings of Australia – what preconceptions do they bring, how important is direct experience?)

You can compare two historical accounts or one historical and one more contemporary account.

Suggested texts include those by:

Joseph Banks

James Cook

Arthur Phillip

Watkin Tench

Peter Cunningham

Lachlan Macquarie

Bill Bryson

* As this is due early in the course it is expected that students will have read the texts and largely written it prior to arriving. Sources will be provided in a reader.

Reflective journal 50% 5 x 500 words

You are required to write five entries, each consisting of 500 words and each marked out of 10%. While you will draw on your own experience of Australian culture, you must also engage with the lectures, class discussions and readings. The aim is for you to critically analyse various aspects of Australian culture. How does your own experience meet and/or contest the commonly received ‘version’?

Exam 30%

This will require you to write 3 short essays (750 words each)

The exam will consist of two sections (A & B).

Section A will consist of general thematic questions that cover material across the course.

Section B will be consist of questions on specific topics studied in the course.

You will need to respond to one question from section A and two questions from section B.

Full details of assessment requirements and criteria will be discussed with students on the first day of the course.

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