Last Thoughts From Oz

David Lowenthal explores Australian history

'It must seem silly to you’, Australians said before they found I was an American, 'celebrating a past only two hundred years old'. Australians venerate the new; Crocodile Dundee is more affectionately recalled than the Aborigines. But Australians now laud and plagiarise the Aboriginal psychic landscape; Crocodile Dundee has become prime dreamtime.

Dreamtime or nightmare, the bicentenary celebration 'goes against the grain with me', protested the novelist David Malouf at the start of the year, 'because it goes against the grain of our real experience as Australians'.

This particular event is too ambiguous – and its repetition in fancy dress is ridiculous. It is too blackened with sorrow for some of us... and with shame for the rest: too loaded with despair, courage, the slow triumph of surviving and creating, for its re-enactment to be any more than a tawdry farce.

On a visit in April and May, I found many other Australians surfeited by pseudo-national bricolage, especially of nautical trivia.

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