• Merrill Findlay

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Homelands is a creative post-disciplinary response to the 2001 “Tampa Crisis”, to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to rural “white” Australians’ reactions to Afghan refugees and asylum seekers since the late 1990s. The project draws on my sojourns in refugee communities in Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia, and Australia, and on my own lived experience in inland rural New South Wales. I explore the reasons people are fleeing Afghanistan and Pakistan, the impacts of their migration on Australian politics, especially in rural electorates such as my own, and the stories “white” rural Australians believe about “boat people” and others who are phenotypically and culturally different from them. I also interrogate the role writers, such as myself, have in influencing progressive social change and promoting more morally enlightened “border protection” policies. I argue that extreme nationalist beliefs are driving both the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan from which refugees and asylum seekers are now fleeing and Australia’s current punitive treatment of “boat people”. In both cases these beliefs are most strongly manifested by the groups social analysts call “the left behinds”, who live in relatively ethnically homogenous and culturally impoverished rural and regional electorates. The strong support Pauline Hanson received in such constituencies in Australia in the 1990s forced mainstream political parties to appropriate many of her One Nation Party policies, as demonstrated by the Howard government in the 2001 “Tampa” election campaign. Since then, opportunistic politicians and others have amplified community anxieties about “boat people”, and successive governments have extended the Howard era “Pacific Solution” policies in even more punitive ways to maintain electoral support. I draw on recent research in multiple disciplinary fields to understand the psychosocial dimensions of these ethno- and religious nationalist attitudes. I examine a range of theories about identity formation and nationalism, and the processes of attitudinal change. I find that such change can only be precipitated by introducing new stories into communities’ repertoires and by re-emplotting familiar stories from different perspectives in ways which inspire strong emotional responses. I conclude that writers can have a fundamental role in this process. The complexity and multidimensional messiness of the “real world” cannot be adequately represented by traditional linear modes of storytelling, however. By using more literary genres writers can narrate events from multiple perspectives and in diverse voices to more accurately represent some of these complexities, and to develop believable “characters” who can inspire empathy and compassion in ways that can promote attitudinal change. This project offers both new stories and familiar ones told in unfamiliar ways to challenge the Us/Them binaries which are the hallmark of the exclusionary identity stories now driving Australia’s “border protection” policies. Despite the government’s boasts that it has “stopped the boats” people are continuing to flee conflict, persecution and famine in their homelands, including Afghanistan, in record numbers. As the impacts of Anthropogenic Climate Disruption take effect, these numbers are likely to increase even further, and at least some future climate refugees will almost certainly try to reach Australia by boat. The Australian government is unlikely to change its current “border protection” policies, however, until rural voters’ fears and anxieties about cultural difference are addressed, and they accept new more inclusive identity stories to replace the Us/Them binaries of “white” settler nationalism. Until this happens, Australia’s moral integrity and its reputation as a good global citizen will continue to be compromised, and refugees and asylum seekers now being held in off-shore detention centres, warehoused in Indonesia, or surviving on short-term bridging visas, will continue to be mistreated and prevented from contributing productively to Australia’s future.
    Date of Award2016
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorJordan Williams (Supervisor) & Paul Magee (Supervisor)

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