We’ve spent a long time talking about Australia’s relation ship with our near North. The recent Asian Century White Paper succeeds the interminable early 90s debates about whether Australia was part of Asia, which succeeded the end of the White Australia interregnum, which succeeded exports to the PRC and trade deals with Japan in the 50s.
But I like to go back to the 1940s, and William Hardy Wilson’s Kurrajong – a topic which fascinates me, and apparently few other people.
Wilson saw an Australia that reflected both European heritage and the influences of the region as not just desirable, but as the End of History. In his teleology, history was a series of conflicts that were the product of a benevolent global Jewish conspiracy to draw populations together and create fusion aesthetics. The last of these would be the peace of East and West, between the the traditions of the Sinosphere and Greco Roman tradition of Western Europe. This would occur in Australia if Wilson had anything to do with it, and so he set about planning a perfect city in Kurrajong (North West of Sydney), designing buildings and lobbying they Chifley government to bring in more Asian migrants. 1
You’ve probably grasped by now that Wilson was, ahem, eccentric. He also really like nuclear mushroom clouds. They feature in his proposed monument to peace, behind sketches of his proposed buildings 2, and in one image of Kurrajong a towering cloud marks the obliteration of a site in the distance which, after visiting the lookout, I determined to be the site of the Sydney CBD.
When we get down to it, what really was Wilson’s vision of a Eurasian civilisation? Did it encapsulate dual lingualism, or a new synthetic language? Did it incorporate a fusion cuisine like that we call Modern Australian? Did it attempt a merged political philosophy between branches of liberalism and Confucianism?
Unfortunately it seems that his vision extended to pagodas with pillars, and little further.
Such a narrow focus is hilarious, really. Yet how far have we come? Tim Soutphommasane bemoans the “mercantilist” framing of relationships with Asia, instead of seeing these relationships as a facet of our relationship with our multicultural selves. In its own way, the mercantilist framing is as laughably narrow as the pillared pagoda.
Like multiculturalism, the Asian century will be a case of our ostensible leaders catching up to the rest of the country. Parliaments and media are the last bastions of White Australia, and filled with men and women who can only see multiculturalism as a source of restaurants or “good yarns“. Its no wonder that whilst the rest of the country gets on with the actual challenges of the century, they are trapped in a narrow conception – out of touch with their society’s relationship with the region as they are with all other features of the society they ostensibly represent.
The absurd thing is that whilst this change is already occurring, they imagine themselves in the vanguard whilst the host has marched many miles ahead. Wilson lived in an age where leadership and social planning were in vogue, which is why he planned a city from above. Given where they often live, you’d think our “leaders” would get just how misanthropic planning from above makes life on the ground.
3 I like to imagine his chagrin at dealing with an immigration minister who was both a fellow Sinophile and resolute opponent of such migration.
4 I first saw such an image in a dream, which is what led me to Wilson in the first place….but that’s another story.