A bad week for Australia just got worse ...
Sunday 08 June 1997
The crowd of chic and soigne Australians who gathered at the Rebecca Hossack gallery in London's Fitzrovia had, until that point, every reason to enjoy the breeze of liberal complacency wafting through the rooms. There they were in the presence of two Australian icons, the Aboriginal artist, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, and, perhaps even better, Dr Greer, who was to open the show.
Ms Hossack, who is also Australian cultural attache in London, was so pleased that Germaine had agreed to attend the show that she forgot in her own speech to pay tribute to or even to mention the works of the artist - large paintings or "dreamings" which resemble abstract patterns but which, in fact, represent the myths, resources and ancient pathways in the landscape.
This was the key for Dr Greer to launch her attack on her own heritage. The more closely she had considered the idea of the upper legislative chamber in Canberra being composed entirely of Aborigines, she said, the less absurd it seemed. Aborigines, the "hereditary aristocracy of the country", would never contemplate the degradation of the environment which was still taking place under the whites. Australia was now a "ruined" country, with the vast river basins suffering salination.
If the smiles on the faces of the cultural attache, and of others present, had by now become fixed, worse was in store. The long history of mistreatment of Aborigines had had an invidious effect on their conquerors, Dr Greer told them. White Australians were all "slightly mad" as a result of repressed shame at their actions towards the Aborigines, whom they thought of as "failed slaves" not even being capable of being servants to the newcomers.
Her own awakening to the value of Aboriginal culture took place on a visit to central Australia in the 1960s, where she found herself in the presence of a subtle and mysterious social organisation. She had since been given tribal status in Victoria.
Given the fact that the present Australian government, with the support of the white majority, is intent on dismantling the arrangements reached with the tribes by the previous Labour administration, it seems clear that Dr Greer will remain a resident of Cambridgeshire for the foreseeable future.
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