Issue 135, August 2016

Mapping Western Australia

6skf22yv-1396317784Guy Grey-Smith, Quinns Rock (1964)

To assume that Australia is culturally homogeneous, that the states and their cities are different only in small and minor things, not in any fundamental ways, is to play into the claims of the long-standing Sydney-and-Melbourne-centric historiography and the cultural nation-building rhetoric of the 1970s and 1980s. There are significant cultural, economic, and socio-political differences between the states and territories. Globally, this is a time of the development of regional markets such as the European Economic Union. At the same time, acknowledging that nation-states have often been forged in the fire of oppression and even violence, groups claiming national status have emerged; for example Catalonia in Spain and, as it happens, Scotland in the UK. The Perth experience, and that of Western Australia, has differences that need to be recognized for what they are, rather than airbrushed over in the cause of generating a unified historical narrative that privileges the south-east corner of the continent and the reinforcement of Australia as a unified nation-state. From this point of view it is not surprising that in a referendum in 1933 Western Australia voted for secession by a factor of almost two to one. Western Australia was not colonized by the French but its divergences from the socio-cultural order of the New South Wales and Victoria axis are nonetheless significant. This issue of Thesis Eleven is a step in the direction of giving Perth and Western Australia a voice, and a visibility on the national and international stage, too long occluded.

From the introduction by Stratton and Beilharz


Jon Stratton and Peter Beilharz

Abstract: Western Australia, like Tasmania, can slip too easily off the map, a periphery on the periphery, its significance occluded by the hegemony of the eastern states of Australia. Yet Western Australia is core to Australia’s economy, not least through mining, and through its proximity to Asia. The West is itself connected more closely to region, in both the local and transnational senses. Its tradition of secessionist thinking indicates a kind of exceptionalist culture. This is a difference which begs for explanation. This essay introduces some motifs and themes of this special issue of Thesis Eleven, entitled ‘Way Out West: Mapping Western Australia’. It locates the West in some recent historical, geographical and narrative context. It gestures toward the biography of its editors, Jon Stratton and Peter Beilharz, and their locations spread across the west and east of the continent. It calls for further scrutiny of these, and other antipodes.

A political theory of progressive individualism? Western Australia and the America’s Cup, 30 years on

John Hartley

Abstract: This paper considers Western Australia (WA) as a sign, comparing what it meant during the America’s Cup campaign of 1986–7, when world media attention was focused on the state, with what it represents 30 years later. In the 1980s, it is argued (Part I), WA was hard to represent at all, with natural, governmental and social horrors bespeaking a place unable to signify itself. These realities had to be ‘forgotten’ if a ‘politics of euphoria’ suitable to the Cup festival – and to the mood of credit-fuelled capitalist deregulation – was to prevail. The media, popular culture and tourism were on hand for that task. They far outstripped official efforts to represent WA as a symbol of mobility, globalization and the progressive development of state and capital, arm in arm. Returning after a generation (Part II), it seems clear that the state apparatus is motivated by a will to control, but that the same horrors attend the lives and deaths of first-nation citizens. What has changed is that policy has shifted from deregulation to privatization, which means an authoritarian state leaves both development and social justice to individuals. The progressive individualism of the ‘WA Inc.’ era has given way to what might be called ‘tradie individualism’ – signalling sociality with a boat of one’s own, a funny car rego or a coin in the charity donation box. Now, if you want to express euphoria, then you must paddle your own canoe.

Nothing happens here: Songs about Perth

Jon Stratton and Adam Trainer

Abstract: This essay examines Perth as portrayed through the lyrics of popular songs written by people who grew up in the city. These lyrics tend to reproduce the dominant myths about the city: that it is isolated, that it is self-satisfied, that little happens there. Perth became the focus of song lyrics during the late 1970s time of punk with titles such as ‘Arsehole of the Universe’ and ‘Perth Is a Culture Shock’. Even the Eurogliders’ 1984 hit, ‘Heaven Must Be There’, is based on a rejection of life in Perth. However, Perth was also home to Dave Warner, whose songs in the 1970s and early 1980s offered vignettes, which is itself a title of one of Warner’s tracks, of the youthful, male suburban experience. The essay goes on to examine songs by the Triffids, Bob Evans, Sleepy Township and the Panda Band.

Booms, busts and parochialism: Western Australia’s implacable political geography

Mark Beeson

Abstract: Western Australia (WA) has recently assumed an unaccustomed centrality in the minds of Australian policymakers. The recent resource boom briefly propelled WA to the forefront of national economic affairs. While this proved a relatively short-lived prominence, the emergence of WA at the centre of a putative ‘Indo-Pacific’ region promises to give it a more enduring strategic significance. This paper details how geopolitical and geoeconomic forces have shaped WA’s developmental history, and why they are likely to do so in the future as well.

The not-so-barren ranges

Kim Scott

Abstract: This is an impressionistic and informal essay written near the end of a novelist’s Australia Research Council funded research project: ‘Developing narratives from language and stories indigenous to the south coast of Western Australia’, and informed by how that research project morphed into an emphasis on revitalization of Noongar language, and the attempt to restore connections between a particular Creation Story and landscape in an area regarded as ‘massacre territory’. A sympathetic reader might think of the topic as ‘The Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Project meets The Barren Ranges’.

Fever in the archive

Anna Haebich

Abstract: Biography is a metaphor for this critical study of a major Australian archive that holds the records of government departments responsible for the administration of Aboriginal affairs in Western Australian from 1897 to 1972. This artefact of totalitarian state control is structured by western colonial ontologies of bureaucracy and legislative control of subject people. The project of decolonizing this archive was begun in the 1970s by Indigenous writers negotiating between the archives and their own cultural knowledge to produce major creative works combining both. These works show the passionate, rich storytelling that emerges when indigenous people release the stories captured in the archives and restore them as living cultural heritage.

Ugly town. Race, policy and people in Perth in the 1920s

Sean Gorman

Abstract: In considering the historical treatment of Aboriginal Australians this paper will discuss the different spaces operating in Western Australia’s South West in the late 1920s and the government policies that fed into them. These are the Moore River Native Settlement that is located some 100 km north of Perth and White City, a carnival sideshow located at the bottom of William Street on the banks of the Swan River in Perth. The 1905 Aborigines Act and a provision within that act known as the Proclamation of the Prohibited Area of Perth will be discussed. This will be done by comparing the ways that White City was seen by the government in the 1920s and how in recent years Northbridge has been regulated and discursively constructed. The intent is to look at how Aboriginal people have been treated over time and consider the social, historical and political forces that have shaped that construction.  

Facades of Diversity

Susan Leong, Thor Kerr, Shaphan Cox

Abstract: This article focuses on urban space and heritage. Our aim is to understand how ordinary streets in Perth respond to urban change and how much these urban streets represent Western Australia’s heritage. The intention is to eschew the dominant branding of WA as Australia’s mining state and shift the spotlight so that in addition to the economic and material, light is also shed on the socio-cultural in the everyday and the vernacular. This project uses Henri Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis approach to explore a contrapuntal reading of heritage that disrupts the deserving, dominant and fixed histories of High Road in Willetton and High Street in Fremantle. Amid the tides of migration, commerce, and cultures, heritage facades on High Street Fremantle appear singular and fixed, whereas multiple cultures have been extracted for sale on High Road. Superficially High Road seems diverse, but the overarching impulse across both sites is commerce – ‘Business as usual’ reigns.


David Whish-Wilson

Perth as a ‘big’ city: Reflections on urban growth

Peter Newman

Abstract: The bigness of cities has attracted much attention from urban academics and professionals whose perspective may be divided into two camps: productive science using agglomeration-based analysis or impact science using anxiety-based analysis. The two approaches need to be joined in order to resolve issues of urban ‘bigness’, and in this article the growth of Perth is used to illustrate the potential and challenges of this integration.

Book reviews

Tim Corballis reviews Agamben and the Politics of Human Rights: Statelessness, Images, Violence

Chamsy el-Ojeili reviews Looking for the Proletariat: Socialisme ou Barbarie and the Problem of Worker Writing

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