Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ignoring the neighbours – why our backyard matters

My trip to Tahiti last year reminded me of the large issues swirling around the Pacific and of how uneven the relationship between Australia and the region has been. It threw up lots of issues about how local cultures adapt to the globalised economy. Producing artwork and performances for the tourist market is problematical. Yet it's also the fate of Australian culture generally. Is it swimming against the tide for all of us?

Apart from the immediate enjoyment, the trip made me think a lot about globalisation and our relationship to the Pacific. Polynesians trying to reposition their culture as part of the economy of the contemporary world reminded me of our attempts to maintain a distinctive Australian culture in a world awash with the products of other, larger cultures.

Our guide, a retired fire dancer who spoke four and a half languages, pointed to a hedge which used to provide tattooing ink for a practice invented by the Tahitians and described by a word from their language which had travelled the world. Now the ink, like that in his tattoos, came from China.

Canary in the coalmine
The Pacific islanders are also like the canary in the coalmine for us – the early effects of climate change will reach them earlier and they are in effect an early warning system which we neglect to our detriment.