We are thrilled to have arrived in Sydney, our first destination in Australia! We have spent a fascinating year reading about many aspects of Australian culture, under the theme of “Isolation and Connection: Australia in the Globalizing World.” Australia has been a rich subject of inquiry because of its image as an isolated location and nation that is nevertheless deeply connected to the contemporary globalized world through its history of colonialism as well as its current economic and political significance in the region. Australia’s position as a kind of experiment in nation-building, given its past as a settler colony and geographic remoteness from the “Western” world, has offered a spectacular field for study of concepts of nationhood, belonging, and cultural and environmental citizenship.
Our exploration has run from the early migration of indigenous peoples, through Australia’s history of modern colonization and nationalization, to narratives of immigration, assimilation, and white nationalism, leading us to investigate various concepts of Australian nationhood and proposals for the future construction of Australian national identity. We’ve looked specifically at the history and conditions for Aboriginals and multiethnic populations—often finding discomfiting resonances with U.S. national history—including the tragedy of the “Stolen Generation,” disparities in medical conditions, the problems of youth in the criminal justice system, the relationship between minority religions and social cohesion, and representations of minority populations in cinema. We’ve considered the continent’s unique biodiversity, as well as the current threats of climate change in practical terms and as they affect personal and national identity.
Our reading and conversations have opened our eyes to a part of the world about which many of us have had little to no knowledge before this year. We are eager now to test what we have learned against the impressions and practical realities of Australia, both cosmopolitan and in the outback.
We arrived this morning after a long journey and began to get a sense of the city, starting with the iconic Opera House across the bay. We strolled through the Royal Botanic Gardens nearby, to which we will return. We were struck by the large, boldly nonchalant white ibises we saw throughout the grounds; evidently they are also called trash turkeys. We could see why, as we watched them scuffle over crumbs left on café tables. It is a telling sign of alterations to the ecosystem that apparently they live in large numbers in the city but their population has declined in the wild.
We also took in Sydney’s aquarium, where we were treated to many species of sea life from Australia’s waters, ranging from large dugongs, related to the manatee, to spectacularly graceful rays, as well as seahorses, jellyfish, and anemones.
We look forward to the coming days.