Germaine Greer has told white Australia to embrace its Aboriginal identity. But this book is more about her own isolation and sense of lossby Nicolas Rothwell / September 26, 2004 / Leave a comment
How harsh the lot of the celebrity expatriate, condemned to wander constantly between two worlds – shining with brilliant, well polished ease amid the codes of an adopted country while yearning, in some secret mental recess, for the familiar simplicities of home.
All the key figures among the mid-century “great generation” of Australian expatriates betray a certain tension in their relations with their country of origin. Barry Humphries has built a career on mockery of Australian ways, while Clive James has spent half a lifetime in dazzling, polylingual overcompensation for his antipodean background. Phillip Knightley, perhaps the most illustrious of Australia’s journalistic exports to Fleet Street, recently wrote a definitive, affectionate yet barbed millennial portrait of his own country (Australia: A Biography of a Nation). Ur-feminist Germaine Greer is, in some circles, the best known of this group of Australians abroad, and she has her own distinctive take on the homeland.
Her polemical arguments are brought together in Whitefella Jump Up, a thin essay which first appeared in Australia last year, and is now published in Britain as a book. Greer believes there is something gravely amiss with Australia, something that might begin to be set right by the simplest of remedies. Her view, widely shared by modern Australia’s professional classes, is that the country was founded upon an act of territorial expropriation whose consequences echo to the present day. But rather than merely lament this fact, she believes an active process of engagement and correction should be pursued. Australians should acknowledge that they are not, in any simple sense, “at home.” Indeed, they should look in the mirror, and say to themselves: “I live in an Aboriginal country.” Even the obvious, Greer suggests, “cannot be recognised as true until somebody says it.” There is a rhyme here with the controversy that has raged in Australia over the question of an apology to the Aboriginal population (the present conservative government is resolutely against this). Greer, though, doesn’t want just to apologise; she wishes to acknowledge Aboriginal priority and primogeniture.
Greer’s journey towards this position is briefly sketched. She thinks of herself as still Australian, and is proud of the fact that she spends four months of the year in the country of her birth. When she came back to Australia in 1971 after her first forays into international controversy, she went to central Australia with friends and slept on…