According to judges’ comments about this year’s Miles Franklin shortlist the Australian voice in fiction is best represented by the past and the outback, and is male. I dispute and reject all three of these suppositions. While Australia’s past is very important I do not think it best represents what it is to be Australian nor what Australia means today. ‘The Outback’ also has little to no resonance for the majority of Australians today and I don’t think I even need to make an argument against the third, ridiculous claim about the Australian voice being male although I will point out the award is named after a woman not a man.
Australia’s past is multi-faceted, misinterpreted, misunderstood and often just plain missing. While I think it is vitally important that all Australians learn and understand more about their past it is equally important that the past is comprehensive and completely inclusive. But ignoring the present isn’t helpful either. Australia’s voice in fiction should include indigenous voices and those of migrants both past and present. We are a diverse culture and society and our voice in fiction should be a reflection of that.
To me ‘The Outback’ is a white European ideal that is overly romanticized. It often promotes the abhorrent idea of Terra Nullis and maligns indigenous culture. Urban and coastal Australia has much more relevance today than ‘The Outback’ and I think urban stories are much richer and multi-layered. I think the ‘Australian Voice’ is a multi-cultural one and an urbanized one. While Australia is a large land mass the overwhelming majority of Australians live on the coastal fringe in cities and towns. The so-called universal values of Australia, ‘mateship’ and ‘a fair go’, exist in the urban modern-day as much as they did in the rural past. Look at the reaction to the floods in Brisbane and the thousands of people from all walks of life who turned out to help clean up the city.
When judges of our highest literary prize believe an old man from the country speaks for modern Australia is it little wonder our society sits on a precipice of intolerance. The Australian Voice should be getting readers to understand more about all the wonderful cultures that make up our society as well as gaining empathy for the different Peoples within our communities. The Australian Voice should question what being an Australian actually means and we as readers should constantly question what the Australian Voice is and what it should be.
What do you think the Australian voice is? And what should it be?