Another new year.
I’ve been thinking over the past few weeks about the radical shift in perspective that’s taken place in the last twenty years in Antipodean relationships with our great traditional protectors, Great Britain and the US.
I know that’s not a new line of enquiry. (Indeed, I once wrote a thesis on an associated topic – poets’ views of landscape.) During the course of my adult life the world, and the cultural life of the place in which I grew up, has been reshaped.
Funnily enough, while my thoughts have focused largely on books and writing, the initial pondering was prompted by gardening: I’ve been thinking a lot about gardens (more on that later), and remembering the quantum shift towards planting and designing around indigenous plants that occurred when I was growing up. It’s entrenched now, taken for granted, but has enjoyed a huge surge in interest in Australia recently as a result of the drought and the push towards more sustainable gardens.
So with this in mind, on the plane to and from Melbourne last week I read the Peter Timms edited collection of essays, The Nature of Gardens, then David Malouf’s Quarterly Essay, Made In England.
Malouf traces the critical point in the self-sufficiency of Australian thought to the Second World War, when invasion appeared imminent:
What it did was bring Australia – the land itself – fully alive at last in our consciousness. As a part of the earth of which we were now the custodians. As soil to be defended and preserved because we were now connected to it. As the one place where we were properly at home, the one place to which we were related in an interior way by daily experience and, as Vance Palmer put it, through love and imagination and which related us, in a way we were just beginning to grasp, to those for whom the land of Australia had always been this…
I’d argue that the cracks had appeared much earlier, in visual arts and poetry, and wonder too about the role of modernism and the impact of the Great War in breaking open the old ways of thinking before 1939. Perhaps they simply prepared the ground.
Amazing, really, how quickly the turnaround happened. When I was 18, even in a proudly patriotic family, it was clear to me that anybody who wanted to get on – especially writers – moved to London. I just never got around to it.
Of course some of that lives on, and some of it is perfectly sensible. Yet somehow in the decade or two between the Clive James/Germaine Greer exodus and my generation the earth shifted dramatically.
It’s still shifting.
And so am I.
But that’s another story.