Turn the Soil

Kevin Murray

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This concerns a long-term national project to explore other stories about Australia with the aim of putting the Republican question on more fertile ground.

  • Turn the Soil — an exhibition of craft that asks ‘What if someone else had colonised Australia?’
  • Off the Beaten Track — a series of workshops that speculate on alternative histories of Australia.
  • Canberra scenario: What if no one had colonised Australia?

Your comments/thoughts/images/dreams are requested for the following implausible scenario: In the 18th century, attempts by the English to establish a colony in New Holland are thwarted by the courts, who determine that the indigenous people do have prior ownership of the land. How would Australia fare in world history if it had been released from the colonial hold?

Rather than construct a singular narrative, as occurred in previous workshops, this question is left open as a set of options. This is a particularly difficult historical speculation to construct, for both practical and moral reasons. Your responses are thus much needed. A synthesis of comments will be placed online before the next workshop in July. You can either reply by this email or fill out an online form.

A. Indonesian option

Islam gradually spreads from south-east Asia to Australia. As in the Javanese model, Aboriginal beliefs persist in local customs and ceremony, they are subordinated under a monotheistic religious system. On the back of this monotheism, Australia falls under the control of a network of powerful families and elders take on a Sufi authority. There is strong resistance to European presence. Comment.

B. Utopian option

Aboriginal culture develops unfettered by nationalism 3/4 its own or that of others. Instead, it gathers from the best of Western and Eastern knowledges what serves its own ends, which include the care for their land and upholding sacred stories. In the late twentieth-century, Australia becomes a haven for the symbolic uses of communication technology. Its own Silicon Valley attempts to adapt multimedia to the dreaming experience. Comment.

C. Worldly option

As an unworldly people, Aboriginal communities become prey to cunning business empires. By playing off personal and tribal rivalries, drilling and mining operations proceed unfettered by government supervision. With no unified defence force, Australia becomes a haven for criminals and terrorists. Aboriginal people are quickly exploited without any possibility of redress. Comment.

Kevin Murray is a freelance writer, curator and narrative psychologist.

Turn the Soil, organised by Craft Victoria, funded by Visions Australia and curated by Kevin Murray, was at the Canberra School of Art Gallery until 21 June, opened in Sydney on 1 August 1998, and is then off to Broken Hill.

See an update about the project and/or read the results of a writing workshop in Sydney: Mad Max meets Lord of the Rings.

If you would like to contribute to this discussion, please email [email protected]