The utopia of the senses : white travellers in black Australia, 1980-2002

Clarke, Robert (2005). The utopia of the senses : white travellers in black Australia, 1980-2002 PhD Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

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Author Clarke, Robert
Thesis Title The utopia of the senses : white travellers in black Australia, 1980-2002
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2005-01-01
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Helen Gilbert
Alan Lawson
Total pages 320
Language eng
Subjects L
420101 English
Formatted abstract

Contemporary Australian travel narratives - first person prose narratives by domestic and foreign writers, ostensibly based on real journeys through Australia - are distinctive for the variety of tastes and dispositions to which they cater, and the range of travel styles they popularize. Amongst their other functions, each style of travel performance sets the context for particular forms of popular cultural critique, whereby the examination of certain aspects of modem life, frequently dissatisfying ones, and the contemplation of alternatives become principal themes of the travel narrative. In so far as Australia is used as a site for undertaking such critical journeys, issues of whiteness and Aboriginality inevitably arise. As a consequence, such travel narratives represent forms of the postcolonial public sphere and are implicated in the discursive construction of emergent publics that address themselves to specific themes of everyday life. This thesis is concerned with the way in which contemporary white travel texts represent encounters with Aboriginal Australia through discourses that promote utopian desires of personal and social transformation. These texts, through their engagement with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultures and spaces, articulate critiques of modem Australian society and contemporary consumer culture in general. They also present reflections on the possibilities and limits of reconciliation between black and white Australians. At the same time they potentially recuperate textual practices for framing otherwise pernicious and oppressive rhetorics within discourses of benevolence. And the oppositionality of the texts in relation to white hegemony is potentially compromised by the value of the books as cultural commodities; value that is substantially attributable to their representations of Aboriginality in its various manifestations.

There is a long tradition of representing Australia as utopia, and European travel writing has traditionally been infused with a utopian ethos. Yet the status of indigenous Australians demonstrates the absurdity of mistaking this island continent for utopia. The white travel writers discussed here recognize this to varying degrees. Nevertheless, their books express in various ways feelings of hopefulness for, amongst other things, the relationship between black and white Australians. This thesis examines how such hopefulness manifests in these works to articulate particular sensibilities within contemporary Australian travel cultures. It examines and critiques the limits of these sensibilities, not necessarily to prove their inauthenticity, but rather to demonstrate how, given the development of national and transnational discourses on race in the period since 1 980, these texts suggest that in postcolonial Australia hope is always an emergent understanding of future possibilities at the horizon of past and present discourses on the politics and ethics of race relations.

Keyword English
contemporary australian travel

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (RHD) - UQ staff and students only
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