Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Songlines – an ancient culture for a contemporary world

What interests me in exhibitions about Aboriginal Australia is what they mean for Australians generally, even if most Australians won’t ever see them. After a mere 220 years, in many ways we are still only part way through making our home here. We haven’t yet figured out how to navigate this land properly. When I was at school we learned about so many doomed explorers misinterpreting the country, unable to find their way. Burke and Wills were the perfect examples, undone because they were unable to learn simple lessons offered by the local people on how to make edible the vast supplies of food surrounding them. They starved to death in a field of plenty. It made me realise that we can gain a much richer grasp of Australia through recognising that First Nations culture and heritage is part and parcel of our own Australian heritage.

I knew that the exhibition ‘Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters’ at the National Museum of Australia Seven Sisters was getting close to the end of its run and I knew I definitely wanted to see it. However, like so many things, I discovered that it was only days away from finishing – and even then only because it was extended for a few days. I missed the accompanying virtual reality show because unfortunately that wasn’t extended. I’m told it was excellent.

Visitors view moving digital images of some of the many participants in 'Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters' before entering the exhibition.

Yet I did get to see the exhibition and I am very happy I did. I don’t know what it meant to Aboriginal Australians – I know from years working in the Indigenous cultural programs how much the maintenance and revival of culture and languages is valued. What interests me, though, is what an exhibition like this means for Australians generally, even if most of them won’t ever see it.

A mere 220 years
After a mere 220 years, in many ways we are still only part way through making our home here. We haven’t yet figured out how to navigate this land properly. When I was at school we learned about so many doomed explorers misinterpreting the country, unable to find their way.

Burke and Wills were the perfect example, undone because they were unable to learn simple lessons offered by the local people on how to make edible the vast supplies of food surrounding them. They starved to death in a field of plenty. Is this our future, too?

‘After a mere 220 years, in many ways we are still only part way through making our home here. We haven’t yet figured out how to navigate this land properly.’

This is a personal reaction to the exhibition and its subject matter. For me, the exhibition was illuminating. It underlined how we can gain a much richer grasp of Australia through recognising that First Nations culture and heritage is part and parcel of our own Australian heritage.

Exhibitions like this in major cultural institutions helps acknowledge to First Nations communities the importance of their culture for Australian culture and heritage generally. What really counts with mainstream cultural institutions though is what the stories they tell mean to mainstream Australia. I’ve previously written about other exhibitions about the First Nations peoples and cultures of Australia that the National Museum of Australia has presented and they’ve been excellent and highly informative. 

But this was different. Exhibitions about Aboriginal Australia tend to be stories about Aboriginal Australians, not stories by Aboriginal Australians. In the National Museum they are informed by advisory bodies and consultation and include a great deal of content provided by Aboriginal communities, but that hasn’t previously reached as far as this exhibition bravely set out to do.

‘I found framing the story in terms of the grand narratives of Greece and Rome – the foundation stories of modern Europe – with the equivalent Australian stories valued in the same way was immensely powerful.’

Before you even entered you had a clear sense that this exhibition was trying to tell things in a different way than you might expect. The entrance foyer to the exhibition was splashed with a constantly changing light show, mimicking desert rain and the lush growth that follows, intertwined with snakes and marked by foot steps. Here you started to sense that this wasn’t an exhibition just of objects, but of stories and legends, illuminated by the sorcery of digital technology.

The constantly changing light show in the entrance foyer of the Songlines exhibition.

Songlines

The project was initiated by First Nations Elders who wanted to preserve their stories for future generations and to promote understanding of songlines among all Australians. As a result of this project, research material collected by National Museum curators has been provided for upload into the long-running Aboriginal-managed digital archive Ara Irititja, in Alice Springs.

In its excellent and comprehensive media release from early in the development of the exhibition, the National Museum notes that songlines are epic tales that explain the creation of the Australian continent. 'Also referred to as Dreaming tracks [they] are pathways of knowledge that map the routes and activities of Ancestral beings as they travelled across Australia. Songlines act as pathways of knowledge carrying complex spiritual, ecological, economic, cultural and historical knowledge.'

‘The project was initiated by First Nations Elders who wanted to preserve their stories for future generations and to promote understanding of songlines among all Australians. As a result…research material collected by National Museum curators has been provided for upload into the long-running Aboriginal-managed digital archive Ara Irititja, in Alice Springs.’

The media release goes on to note that they 'are a means of naming and remembering sites, their resources and their significance. [They] crisscross the land, creating a network of stories that "map" the Australian continent by linking stories to geographical features and serving as vehicles for naming and locating significant sites, like the location of water holes and food, critical for survival. Using songlines, Indigenous communities identify significant sites and pass on laws, ways of living and moral codes to the next generation.'

Foundation stories
At the entrance to the exhibition was a telling quote by Noel Pearson, the controversial spokesman from Cape York, ‘The songlines of the women of central Australia are also the heritage of non-Aboriginal Australians. It is this culture that is the Iliad and Odyssey of Australia. It is these mythic stories that are Australia’s Book of Genesis’.

‘All too often the work produced in the extensive network of community-based arts centres across remote Australia is seen only in terms of art, with little reference to the cultural context from which it springs and which gives it its power.’

As someone who grew up as part of a generation which was probably the last to be touched by a classical education, I found framing the story in terms of the grand narratives of Greece and Rome resonated strongly. These are part of the foundation stories of modern Europe and having the equivalent Australian stories valued in the same terms was immensely powerful. I’m sure that you would find parallel narratives in other grand neighbouring cultures, such as those of India, Indonesia or China.

Culture not art
A major focus of the exhibition was the artworks which helped tell the story. All too often the work produced in the extensive network of community-based arts centres across remote Australia is seen only in terms of art, with little reference to the cultural context from which it springs and which gives it its power.

In this exhibition the context was everything. I still remember many years ago hearing a Yolgnu speaker at the Garma Festival in Eastern Arnhem Land explaining how sand culture, that is the marking of stories in desert sands, turned into painting culture, with direct links to this later, more familiar, form of expression. Many of these paintings are literally maps.

Art, culture and language
This complex and subtle heritage is reflected in Australia’s own languages – the Indigenous languages which are spoken nowhere else in the world. The local and regional Indigenous languages centres and languages workers who have laboured for many decades to maintain and revive hundreds of languages give an insight into the vast store of First Nations living heritage. It is a contemporary part of Australia’s immense cultural history from long before European contact.

We often struggle to understand what it means to be Australian in a world full of other people’s stories. An encounter with this distinctively Australian cultural heritage can help us feel at home in the skin of our own country – and give a much longer perspective on what it means.

Culture and language are the foundation that underpin our daily life in all its variety and complexity. Once you look beyond individual words and start talking about grammar, suddenly you are in the realm of world views and entirely different way of being able to say things. If you can’t say it, can it really exist?

‘We often struggle to understand what it means to be Australian in a world full of other people’s stories. An encounter with this distinctively Australian cultural heritage can help us feel at home in the skin of our own country.’

Ways of looking at time, where you fit in the world, how you are connected to every other person are all matters for language. At their heart these songlines are about language and world views and interpreting the world and its history and its peoples.

Cultural diversity and innovation
This is relevant for contemporary Australian because apart from all the other benefits, encountering other cultures and languages encourages innovative thinking and different ways of seeing the world. First Nations culture is a crucial part of a diverse and dynamic Australian culture, yet it goes much further than this.

Cultural diversity underpins so much of value in modern Australia. It helps ensure innovation flourishes, because where cultures intersect, differing world-views come into contact and fixed ideas and old ways of doing things are challenged. 

‘Apart from all the other benefits, encountering other cultures and other languages encourages innovative thinking and different ways of seeing the world.’

This is essential to the new clever and clean industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape. In a world where change is fast and widespread can any country afford not to mobilise all they have going for them – to survive, let alone to succeed? Cultural diversity is a big part of that picture.

As an added bonus, when the other cultures and languages concerned stretch back to the origins of the land you inhabit, they are even more relevant.

The modern magic of technology
In the background to the exhibition, the National Museum outlines many of its distinctive features. At the heart of the exhibition was an immersive multimedia experience, called DomeLab. According to the media release, it is the world’s highest-resolution travelling Dome and featured images of rarely seen rock art depicting the Seven Sisters activities at the remote Cave Hill site in South Australia. This is the only known Seven Sisters rock art of its kind.

The six-metre wide DomeLab experience, entitled ‘Travelling Kungkarangkalpa’, also featured animated art works including 3D tjanpi (grass) figures of the Seven Sisters soaring through the skies, and the transit of the Orion constellation and the Pleiades star cluster.

‘In our increasingly secular times, only these wonders of technology can approach the sense of awe and magic needed to encounter these ancient stories.’

DomeLab was conceived and developed in 2015 by Professor Sarah Kenderdine in collaboration with the National Museum and 10 other organisations, as part of a project supported by the Australian Research Council. Professor Kenderdine explained that DomeLab challenges groups of some 30 people at a time to see things differently and transports them into other worlds. ‘Travelling Kungkarangkalpa is a digital sanctuary that simultaneously expresses the sphere of the world around us, the sky above and the ground below, enveloping viewers in depictions of the Seven Sisters as they travel through country,’ said Professor Kenderdine, ‘Visitors can stand, lie or sit beneath the suspended Dome and experience senses similar to camping in the desert, gazing up into the night sky.’

In many ways, in our increasingly secular times, only these wonders of technology can approach the sense of awe and magic needed to encounter these ancient stories. Curator Margo Neale, notes that the exhibition ‘uses the newest technology to tell ancient stories from the oldest culture – thus reflecting the power of the ancient to remain contemporary’. She is specifically referring to the digital DomeLab experience, but it could be said of the exhibition as a whole.

Crossing many boundaries
This exhibition crossed many communities, stretching from the Martu country in the west through the Ngaanyatjarra country in the east of Western Australia to the APY (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara) Lands in central Australia. In a world where the tendency is for borders to close, with diversity viewed as full of threat rather than promise, this crossing of boundaries is heartening. It’s a modern version of an exchange across boundaries that probably occurred for thousands of years before our times.

‘In a world where the tendency is for borders to close, with diversity viewed as full of threat rather than promise, this crossing of boundaries is heartening.’

Some years ago I came face to face with the sheer silliness of the artifical and bureaucratic division of Australia as a result of European colonisation. A funding program I was responsible for contributed to a music program in the Ngaanyatjarra country. This sat astride Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory, with its centre somewhere and nowhere in the middle of all of them – in practice it ignored state and territory borders. It was a marvellous example of reality refusing to be codified.

An intricate network of effort
The ‘Songlines: tracking the Seven Sisters’ project was initiated in 2010 by Anangu Elders from the APY Lands and led by senior Seven Sisters custodians from across the Central and Western deserts. The exhibition grew out of an urgent need by the custodians to protect the songlines for the future. As part of this it was important to explain their significance for Australia’s overall cultural heritage.

‘The intricate network of connections that made this exhibition possible are almost as complex and extensive as the songlines themselves.’

There were many partners because this is no small endeavour. The intricate network of connections that made this exhibition possible are almost as complex and extensive as the songlines themselves. I was interested to see that one of those centrally involved, Professor Sarah Kenderdine, used to work at the Powerhouse Museum when I was there. She played a key role in developng the Virtual Olympia component of the major exhibition, ‘1000 Years of the Olympic Games: Treasures of Ancient Greece', which coincided with the Sydney Olympics in 2000. In that exhibition ancient Greek artefacts and state of the art animation and computer imagery intersected, for its time pushing many boundaries.

Multi-layered and rich

The exhibition represented an important moment in the long and complex relationship between Aboriginal Australia and Australia the modern nation, product of an all-conquering European colonial power. I suspect that the flow on effects will be felt for a long time.

Friends of mine saw the exhibition several times because it was so multi-layered and rich – and noticed new things each time. While the exhibition has finished, luckily the comprehensive catalogue will give some sense of its impact. In another sign of the success of the exhibition, the catalogue sold out, but luckily a reprint is underway. It looks excellent and I will be ordering a copy.

See also

‘indefinite article’ on Facebook – short arts updates and commentary
‘Short arts updates and irreverent cultural commentary about contemporary Australian society, popular culture, the creative economy and the digital and online world – life in the trenches and on the beaches of the information age’, 'indefinite article' on Facebook.

Taking part – Arts involvement in a divided Australia
‘The arts and culture sector has long suffered from a shortage of high quality, useable research and statistics. This makes what is available doubly important as we argue the case for the central relevance of arts and culture and the broader social and economic impact of involvement. New research demonstrates the positive scale of involvement, views on importance and trends in participation in Australia’s arts and cultural life, especially hands on involvement. It also shows a worrying decline in engagement and recognition in recent years and points to the need for a more strategic view by government’, Taking part – Arts involvement in a divided Australia.

Creating the future for Australia's arts and culture
‘Australia’s arts and culture is at a critical stage. One of the issues confronting it is lack of any kind of shared sense of what the role of government is in encouraging our arts and culture. The whole set of interlinked problems with the relationship between government and Australia’s arts and culture can be reduced to a lack of strategic vision and a long-term plan for the future. This deficiency is most apparent in the lack of any guiding policy, like trying to navigate a dark and dangerous tunnel without a torch or flying at night without lights or a map’, Creating the future for Australia's arts and culture.

If the arts are important but not enough people know it, are they really important?
‘As the new landscape of Australia’s arts and culture emerge in the post-Brandis era, we are starting to see how organisations are adapting and the issues they are facing in doing so. To a lesser degree we are also seeing how artists themselves are responding. It seems clear that the absence of any overall strategic approach to arts and culture – whether from the Government or from the arts and culture sector – is having a deadening effect’, If the arts are important but not enough people know it, are they really important?

The big picture and long view – creating a cultural future
‘The never-ending election campaign that became the never-ending election tally has turned into the unpredictable second term government. What does this new world of fragmented politics mean for Australian arts and culture and the organisations, artists and communities which live it and advance it? There are a series of major factors which are hammering arts and culture organisations. These intersect and mutually reinforce one another to produce a cumulative and compounding long term disastrous impact. All this is happening in a context where there is no strategic policy or overview to guide Government. It is critical for the future that the arts and culture sector think broadly about arts and culture, build broad alliances and partnerships, never forget its underlying values and draw on its inherent creativity to help create a society based firmly on arts and culture’, The big picture and long view – creating a cultural future.

Lies, damned lies and lies about statistics – how population growth will magnify the impact of arts and culture cuts
‘I’ve said before that the traditional saying about ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’, should instead refer to ‘lies, damned lies and lies about statistics’. Cuts to national arts and cultural funding, while relatively small each year, have a cumulative effect far greater than at first appears and, in the long run, will undermine the effectiveness of national arts and culture support. Where the real disastrous impact of these cuts will hit home is when we also factor in the impact of population growth. If anything, there needs to be an expansion of arts and cultural funding to service the growth’, Lies, damned lies and lies about statistics – how population growth will magnify the impact of arts and culture cuts.

Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda
‘There’s an election in the air and I was thinking about what would be a good list of positive improvements that would benefit Australia’s arts and culture, so I jotted down some ideas. They are about recognising arts and culture as a central part of everyday life and an essential component of the big agenda for Australia. They are about where the knowledge economy, creative industries and arts and culture fit, how arts and culture explain what it means to be Australian and how they are a valuable means of addressing pressing social challenges’, Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda.

Full circle – where next for Australian national arts and culture support in the 21st Century?
‘With a Coalition Government which now stands a far better chance of being re-elected for a second term, the transfer of the Commonwealth’s Arts Ministry to Communications helps get arts and culture back onto larger and more contemporary agendas. This move reflects that fact that the new industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape, are both clever and clean. Where they differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture and are a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world. In that sense they have a strategic importance that other sectors do not’, Full circle – where next for Australian national arts and culture support in the 21st Century?

Time for the big picture and long view for arts and culture
‘A far more important issue than arts funding is how can the broad arts and cultural sector become a better organised, effective voice for arts and culture and its wider importance for Australia? Changes like this happen because they are able to happen – because decision-makers think they can get away with it. The arts and culture sector and its supporters have to be influential enough that decision-makers think carefully about the importance and the standing of Australia’s arts and culture and weigh any decisions they make carefully in terms of the strategic needs of the sector. These current dire circumstances may provide the opportunity we have needed to look seriously at this question’, Time for the big picture and long view for arts and culture.

Art for arts sake, art for society’s sake or arts as entertainment?
‘Case studies and anecdotal evidence show that involvement in cultural (and sporting) activity – by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities – often has powerful flow on social and economic effects. However, this is not why people are involved in cultural activity – it’s just a bonus. It shouldn’t be ignored and it can be harnessed to good effect but we have to be careful not to focus just on the side effects, no matter how important. Cultural activity is an expression of who we are, what we value and how we see ourselves and our place in the world. That’s much more important. Few would suggest that non-Indigenous culture should only be supported where it can be shown to produce some social or economic impact. Indigenous culture is far more than a way of fixing social problems – it is a powerful positive force in Australian culture, a central part of our presence in the world’, Art for arts sake, art for society’s sake or arts as entertainment?

Cut to the bone – the accelerating decline of our major cultural institutions and its impact on Australia’s national heritage and economy
‘I always thought that long after all else has gone, after government has pruned and prioritised and slashed and bashed arts and cultural support, the national cultural institutions would still remain. They are one of the largest single items of Australian Government cultural funding and one of the longest supported and they would be likely to be the last to go, even with the most miserly and mean-spirited and short sighted of governments. However, in a finale to a series of cumulative cuts over recent years, they have seen their capabilities to carry out their essential core roles eroded beyond repair. The long term impact of these cumulative changes will be major and unexpected, magnifying over time as each small change reinforces the others. The likelihood is that this will lead to irreversible damage to the contemporary culture and cultural heritage of the nation at a crucial crossroads in its history’, Cut to the bone – the accelerating decline of our major cultural institutions and its impact on Australia’s national heritage and economy.

Arts, culture and a map of the future – the limits of arts policy
‘In the arts, from a virtual policy-free zone, we’ve now got policies – not as many as we could have hoped, but enough to be going on with. Some of them might even get implemented. Importantly, the others will help to frame the debate and offer ideas for the future. Those parties that have arts policies offer good solid and productive proposals which, if implemented, would lead to definite improvement for Australia’s arts and culture. However, that’s just the starting point’, Arts, culture and a map of the future – the limits of arts policy.

Arts funding – it’s not all about the money
‘National Arts Minister, Mitch Fifield, has said that being a strong advocate for the arts doesn’t mean delivering government funding and that an arts Minister or a government shouldn’t be judged just on the quantum of money the government puts in. This sidesteps the Government’s very real problems that it has muddied the waters of existing arts funding, cutting many worthwhile organisations loose with no reason, that rather than delivering arts funding, it has reduced it significantly, and that it has no coherent strategy or policy to guide its arts decisions or direction. The real issue is that a national framework, strategy or policy for arts and culture support underpins and provides a rationale for arts funding – and is far more important’, Arts funding – it’s not all about the money.

Dear Treasurer – our arts are central to everyday life, why doesn’t funding reflect it?
‘In response to steadily diminishing support for arts and culture by government, it's crucial to recognise that Australia's arts are central to everyday life and should be firmly on the main national agenda. Apart from their value in maintaining a thriving Australian culture, the range of social and economic benefits they deliver and their role in telling Australia's story to ourselves and the world make them an essential service’, Dear Treasurer – our arts are central to everyday life, why doesn’t funding reflect it?

Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans
‘In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time and integrally related to so many powerful social and economic forces – creative industries, popular culture, the digital transformation of society. Design is often misunderstood or overlooked and it's universal vocabulary and pervasive nature is not widely understood, especially by government. In a rapidly changing world, there is a constant tussle between the local and the national (not to mention the international). This all comes together in the vision for the future that is Design Canberra, a celebration of all things design, with preparations well underway for a month long festival this year. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all’, Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans.

Creativity at work – economic engine for our cities
‘It is becoming abundantly clear that in our contemporary world two critical things will help shape the way we make a living – and our economy overall. The first is the central role of cities in generating wealth. The second is the knowledge economy of the future and, more particularly, the creative industries that sit at its heart. In Sydney, Australia’s largest city, both of these come together in a scattering of evolving creative clusters – concentrations of creative individuals and small businesses, clumped together in geographic proximity. This development is part of a national and world-wide trend which has profound implications’, Creativity at work – economic engine for our cities.

The immense potential of creative industries for regional revival
‘Across Australia, local communities facing major economic and social challenges have become interested in the joint potential of regional arts and local creative industries to contribute to or often lead regional revival. This has paralleled the increasing importance of our major cities as economic hubs and centres of innovation’, The immense potential of creative industries for regional revival.

The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future
‘The swan song of the Creative Industries Innovation Centre, ‘Creative Business in Australia’, outlines the experience of five years supporting Australia’s creative industries. Case studies and wide-ranging analysis explain the critical importance of these industries to Australia’s future. The knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape, is both clever and clean. Where the creative industries differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture’, The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future.

Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture
‘The developing creative industries are a critical part of Australia’s future – clean, innovative, at their core based on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.’ Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture.

My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world
‘My nephew just got a job in Wellington New Zealand with Weta Digital, which makes the digital effects for Peter Jackson’s epics. Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible. This is part of the new knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape. Increasingly the industries of the future are both clever and clean. At their heart are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future – innovative, in most cases centred on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally. This is transforming the political landscape of Australia, challenging old political franchises and upping the stakes in the offerings department’, My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world.

Applied creativity
‘I have been dealing with the issue of creativity for as long as I can remember. Recently, I have had to deal with a new concept—innovation. All too often, creativity is confused with innovation. A number of writers about innovation have made the point that innovation and creativity are different. In their view, innovation involves taking a creative idea and commercialising it. If we look more broadly, we see that innovation may not necessarily involve only commercialising ideas. Instead the core feature is application—innovation is applied creativity. Even ideas that may seem very radical can slip into the wider culture in unexpected ways’, Applied creativity.

Creative industries – applied arts and sciences
‘The nineteenth century fascination with applied arts and sciences — the economic application of nature, arts and sciences — and the intersection of these diverse areas and their role in technological innovation are as relevant today for our creative industries. From the Garden Palace, home of Australia’s first international exhibition in 1879, to the Economic Gardens in Adelaide’s Botanic Gardens these collections and exhibitions lay the basis for modern Australian industry. The vast Garden Palace building in the Sydney Botanic Gardens was the Australian version of the great Victorian-era industrial expositions, where, in huge palaces of glass, steel and timber, industry, invention, science, the arts and nature all intersected and overlapped. Despite burning to the ground, it went on to become the inspiration for what eventually became the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences — the Powerhouse Museum’, Creative Industries.

History all around us – the long term practical impact of cultural research 
‘Cultural research has long term impacts in terms of our developing body of knowledge which stretch far into the future. Researchers are finding stories in our major cultural collections that were never envisaged by those originally assembling them – a process that will continue long into the future. The collections of our major cultural institutions are becoming increasingly accessible to the very people the collections are drawn from and reflect. In the process they are generating greater understanding about some of the major contemporary issues we face’, History all around us – the long term practical impact of cultural research.

Indigenous culture and Closing the Gap
‘Experience of many years of the Indigenous culture programs shows that involvement in arts and cultural activity often has powerful flow on social and economic effects.’ The gap in Closing the Gap.

The hidden universe of Australia's own languages
‘I’ve travelled around much of Australia, by foot, by plane, by train and by bus, but mostly by car. As I travelled across all those kilometres and many decades, I never realised that, without ever knowing, I would be silently crossing from one country into another, while underneath the surface of the landscape flashing past, languages were changing like the colour and shape of the grasses or the trees. The parallel universe of Indigenous languages is unfortunately an unexpected world little-known to most Australians.’ The hidden universe of Australia's own languages.

Indigenous cultural jobs – real jobs in an unreal world
'Subsidised Indigenous arts and cultural jobs are real jobs with career paths that deliver genuine skills and employment capability.' Real jobs in an unreal world.

Why cultural diversity is central to Australia’s future promise – a refocused Labor arts policy?
‘Can Australia successfully navigate the treacherous and confusing times in which we live? Understanding the crucial importance of our cultural diversity to our cultural, social and economic future will be essential. Applying that in the policies and practices that shape our future at all levels across Australia can ensure we have a bright, productive and interesting 21st Century. An important part of this are the political parties, major and minor, that are increasingly negotiating the compromises that shape our world. The recent launch by the Labor Party of a new group, Labor for the Arts, could be an important development. Combining as it does a focus from an earlier time on both arts and multiculturalism, it could potentially open the way for some innovative and forward-thinking policy’, Understanding why cultural diversity is central to Australia’s future promise – a refocused Labor arts policy?

Missing evidence
‘More than ever we need an evidence base for policy to ensure that resources are applied most effectively and government action reflects real long-term cultural, social and economic trends and dynamics. Unfortunately, at the same time, we are all too often seeing the very services needed for this to occur being drastically trimmed or redirected. It’s too often a case of not ‘spending a penny to save a pound’. Any diminution of the role of the ABS in collecting statistics about the arts and cultural sector is particularly worrying because the value of these statistics in the ability to compare them over a long period and identify crucial trends. It would be like flying the passenger jet of public policy with eyes closed, radar turned off and maps out of date’, Missing evidence.

Predicting the weather
‘I grew up in a world where there was a definite set of things you knew - and one of them was not what would happen with the weather. The other day I was talking to someone who must have grown up in the same period. We were chatting casually about the weather and she made a comment - quite seriously - that weather forecasts were usually wrong. Unfortunately she was thirty years out of date. What amazes me is that the weather forecasts are usually so right’, Predicting the weather.

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