The Australian Public Intellectual Network
  Home    Network Books    Australian Common Reader    ACH    Conferences    Network Reviews    Virtual Library    Altitude    From the Editor   
Discordant Notes

Journal of Australian Studies 88
Bart Ziino Who Owns Gallipoli? Australia's Gallipoli Anxieties 1915-2005, Sue Lovell, 'Dew to the Soul': One Australian Artist's Response to War, Peter Kirkpatrick Hunting the Wild Reciter: Elocution and the Art of Recitation, Felicity Plunkett 'You Make Me a Dot in the Nowhere': Textual Encounters in the Australian Immigration Story (the Fourth Chapter), Bridget Griffen-Foley From the Murrumbidgee to Mamma Lena: Foreign Language Broadcasting on Australian Commercial Radio, Part I, Emily Pollnitz ...
Saturday, 2nd August 2014
  News      Calendar      NRB Current Issue      

API Review of Books

Altitude BirdIssue 44
Features reviews by Kathleen Broderick, Linn Miller, Christine Choo, Bill Thorpe, David Ritter, Eve Vincent, Stephanie Bishop, Alison Miles, Richard Kay, Amanda Day, Bernard Whimpress, Mads Clausen, Marion May Campbell, Sylvia Alston, Catie Gilchrist, Eva Chapman, Lucy Dougan, Stephen Lawrence and Nathanael O'Reilly. Click here for more details.


Altitude BirdPopular Music: Practices, Formations and Change - Australian Perspectives
The papers collected here in this special edition of Altitude offer a brief snapshot of popular music research broadly connected with Australia. The essays demonstrate the variety of theoretical and methodological approaches used by researchers in the fields of popular music studies and cultural studies to explore themes of popular music practice, formation and change in an Australian context. Click here for more details.


Quarterly Essay: Whitefella Jump Up

By Germaine Greer, Melbourne: Black Inc, 2003, 120 pages, paperback, $12.95. Reviewed by Mitchell Rolls in the November 2003 issue.

Help more readers find out about this article
Slashdot Slashdot   Digg Digg   StumbleUpon StumbleUpon

Greer writes her essay, so she tell us, not as a scholar, academic, or someone with specialist knowledge seeking career advancement, but as 'an elderly Australian laywoman' (pp 1-2) seeking to joggle discourse she finds wearisome on to new paths. This disingenuous aw-shucks modesty is significant for two reasons. Firstly, the essay reads as if it is indeed written by a layperson. Secondly, if Greer was not all those things she disavows for this essay it is difficult to imagine who if anyone would have published it. For the most part, the essay is nonsense. Where it does raise challenging and contentious current issues Greer does not appear to realise how provocative she is being.

The Australia Greer evokes is one wrenched from unreconstructed stereotypes of yesteryear. Her script, roughly torn from the pages of Lawson, makes it a wonder that settler-Australians have survived at all. We come from stock so befuddled by alcohol that rare moments of sobriety were spent searching for more. Our sense of civic duty and pride only extended so far as building more hotels. When we were not drinking or planning our next bender, we were suiciding or attempting it. We continue to loathe ourselves, the outback, and the land of our abode. The native flora we find abhorrent. When not finding pleasure in the bottle it is in a seaside suburbia voided of all native plants. Our 'forefathers', one and all, were ignorant, deluded and desperate (pp 6-14). We are linguistic imbeciles, and take pride in that. Whereas Greer, the cosmopolitan sophisticate, can pronounce flawlessly (one presumes) the Italian and French names for their cities and regions, we are unable to do so (p 47). Perhaps our inebriation discomposes our tongues. Our pursuits are secular, acquisitive and hedonistic (p 54). The psychosocial maladies besetting settler-Australians are a consequence of our 'dead-heart', itself a consequence of knowing the country is not ours and therefore we cannot love it (p 7). We are the guilty inheritors of another's land (p 14), and remain forever aliens in our birthplace (p 15). This is the alleged problem that Greer is addressing. Not, she stresses, 'the Aborigine problem', whatever it is she means by that tortured phrase. And like so many of those who diagnose supposed afflictions infecting settler-Australians, and, more generally, western psyches and cultures--spiritual emptiness, materialism, environmental degradation, alienated selves--Greer seeks remedies in Aboriginal cultures. Her concern is to press Aborigines into service as healing unguents for the ailing Australian self. Also, like most of the work that seeks some form of healing for western selves in Aboriginal cultures and beliefs, Greer's too finds Aboriginality in the form of an idealised traditional image. Despite finding fault with notions of authenticity and criticism of anthropological interest in the cultural esotery of desert dwellers (p 22), Greer's primal experience of Aboriginality, the place where she could discover 'what had been hidden from' her in order to 'jump the gulf that divided white and black' took place not in urban Australia but in the bed of the Todd River in Alice Springs (p 22). Greer's Aborigines are not urban, or middle-class, or English-only speakers. Rather, to be an Aborigine is to have a skin name, to hunt and cook shellfish and eat witchetty grubs (p 23), to be a naked wanderer dutifully following the religious instruction to roam (p 25), to live in one's traditional country for lives have no meaning beyond it (p 56), to marry across language groups (p 56), to perform ceremonies and corroborees (p 56), and to speak several languages (p 56). Suturing this catalogue of anthropological furphies together is an evocation of New Age mysticism. For Greer, authentic Aboriginality remains hidebound to knowledge of country, language, and 'deepest secrets' (p 15). Homage to Aboriginality as New Age noble savage extends throughout. Aborigines emerge as the learned bearers of all wisdom: 'every Aboriginal adult is a teacher' (p 16), they are a peaceful people who live in harmony with each other, and rather than showing hostility to whites they always in the first instance seek to establish relationships of equality (pp 43, 56).

Greer is at her most provocative, challenging and interesting in her argument that Aboriginality is not something innate or racial, but instead a cultural construction, a nationality, an inevitable outgrowth of country (pp 15, 18-19, 71-2). Consequentially it is an identity, or way of identifying, that is open to everyone, both black and white. Whites, just like Aborigines, can learn to be Aboriginal. Greer provides a number of examples of whites who have become Aborigines through some form of initiatory learning (pp 42-3), and hints that she too, with her talismanic skin name (p 23), love of the country and linguistic competence in European languages, is an Aborigine. The notion of Aboriginality as a cultural construction is not new, and it enjoys considerable support. Aboriginality as an outgrowth of country has also been explored elsewhere, and its raising here is useful. Nevertheless, many Aborigines now vehemently reject any attempt to unshackle identity from biology. This significant cohort seek strenuously to deny claims of Aboriginality to people who cannot authenticate their autochthonous biological heritage to the extent of contesting identities through the courts. Furthermore, many Aborigines (at least those with public voices and within academia) subscribe to the notion that one's genetic heritage determines one's ontology. Whereas an Aboriginal person may have to learn certain things, it is their biology that gives them the capacity to do so. Whites, irrespective of whatever learning, training and experience they have or undergo, are genetically incapable of indigenous knowing. These arguments enjoy currency and support. They also need contesting. Greer, however, appears to be unaware of them. According to Greer, Aborigines are only too willing to adopt settler-Australians as brethren.

However, what exactly Greer means by Aboriginality is not clear. As on many issues here, she is contradictory, obfuscatory and confused. Despite rejecting the notion of Aboriginality as a cluster of inherited traits and behaviours, she elsewhere stresses the 'multitude of blood ties' that bind Aborigines and settler-Australians (p 39). Or perhaps Aboriginality is simply an expression of the continent itself (p 72). And this raises another issue. Greer presents herself as a seer, yet the gist of her argument has been made many times before. The Jindyworobaks sought a revitalised nationalism and regional aesthetic in Aboriginal attributes, as did the modernist painter Margaret Preston in a campaign spanning decades. Les Murray too has made similar observations, albeit with greater sophistication, subtlety and a good deal less ignorance. Greer's main thesis of turning to Aborigines, indeed turning Aboriginal, in order to address the alienation from self and country allegedly experienced by settler-Australians is also found in a number of New Age and quasi Jungian publications. Besides dubious speculation on the influence of Aborigines on settler-Australian behaviours and traits--our 'evasiveness', abhorrence of confrontation, love of yarning, sex segregation at social events, all allegedly arising from Aboriginal influence--the essay offers nothing particularly insightful.

It is also pitted with asinine statements. According to Greer the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team is named after the Maori (p 62) (it's not), during World War II 'the Japanese invaded the Northern Territory' (p 75) (they didn't), there are now more Aborigines than ever before (p 64) (most probably false), no Aborigines have ever inveighed against the rush of new claimants of Aboriginality (p 63) (utter nonsense), and one could go on and on. Greer admits to doing little research for this essay (apparently one only does research for purposes of qualification, a job or promotion (pp 1-2) and it shows. It is also a shame, for Greer is capable of coherent, intelligent argument. She is capable of analysis that can joggle discourse on to new paths or into new areas. This essay, however, in its untutored dalliance with contested and sensitive issues shows only contempt for its subject.


  • Mitchell Rolls. 'Review: Quarterly Essay: Whitefella Jump Up by Germaine Greer' [online]. Network Review of Books (Perth, Australian Public Intellectual Network), November 2003. Availability: <please cite the web address here> ISSN 1833-0932. [accessed 02 August 2014].

Back Cover Blurb

  • Is Aboriginality at the core of Australia's identity?

    In this remarkable essay, Germaine Greer challenges white Australians to come to terms with thier past and present relationship with the indigenous community. Greer discusses Australia's culture today, the current reconciliation process and the white guilt that she believes is destroying Australia. Her essay is a fresh, unexpected and superbly written argument that will shock and delight.

Have You Also Read?

  • Girt by Sea: Australia, the Refugees and the Politics of Fear

    imageMungo MacCallum, Melbourne: Black Inc, 2002, 106 Pages, Paperback, $14.95
    Reviewed by Geoff Parkes in the August 2002 issue.

    As our defence forces face another investigation into their government-ordained duty of 'protecting our borders', serial media man Peter Howard is arrested claiming he was abandoned by asylum seekers in the South Australian desert and John Howard's image, imprinted over a background of protesting detainees, adorns the covers of European dailies. Mungo MacCallum's 'Girt By Sea' is, at the very least, exquisitely timed. It is also a well-argued, convincingly pursued indictment of John Howard and his fellow Liberals and of the Australian people willing to swallow the inflammatory squirts of a party desperate to remain in power, and the story of a group of helpless people on a sinking ship who ... read more.

Network Review of Books

Black Inc

  • Black Inc. is an independent Melbourne-based publisher to the general trade, specialising in literary non-fiction and fiction books. Our list includes Quarterly Essay, Australia's leading current affairs journal. An imprint of Schwartz Publishing, Black Inc. was founded in 2000 and publishes between 20-25 books a year.

NRB November 2003

Need to Contact Us?

  • API Network
    c/- Richard Nile
    Professor Australian Studies
    Director Institute for Media, Creative Arts and Information Technologies
    Murdoch University
    Australia 6152
    Tel +61 8 93602170


Site Meter