Fol­low the de­sire lines:

Re­mak­ing Aus­tralia

AQ: Australian Quarterly - - CONTENTS - LOUISE TAR­RANT

We live in an ex­tra­or­di­nary mo­ment. In the face of po­ten­tially mas­sive en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial cri­sis lies op­por­tu­nity for rein­ven­tion and trans­for­ma­tion. Like fall­ing domi­noes, seg­ments of our so­ci­ety are ad­mit­ting that busi­ness as usual is no longer the an­swer.

A new Aus­tralian story is wait­ing to be told but whose story will it be, and what will it look like?

The key to our fu­ture will lie in our ca­pac­ity to en­vi­sion this shared fu­ture. Vi­sion­ary think­ing – the imag­i­na­tion and ex­pres­sion of the pos­si­ble – pro­vides a ve­hi­cle to en­gage, ex­plore, cri­tique and dis­cover. These vi­sions help us cre­ate new sto­ries about who we want to be.

This ar­ti­cle can­vases some of the bar­ri­ers that have held back this con­ver­sa­tion in Aus­tralia but also high­lights two new vi­sions com­ing from within our civic core that seek to re­write that story.

De­sire Lines are var­i­ously known as so­cial trails, path­ways of de­sire, rene­gade pas­sages or pi­rate paths.

De­sire Lines dis­cov­ered

It's Fri­day night The crowd tum­bles out of Syd­ney's foot­ball sta­dium Friends and strangers rub shoul­ders Soft mur­murs per­me­ate the night air – goals re-lived, near misses cri­tiqued To the left of the Exit sits a lonely folly – an aes­thet­i­cally beau­ti­ful but empty pedes­trian bridge Tes­ta­ment to a planned en­vi­ron­ment de­void of com­mon sense In­stead, to a per­son, fans turn right – to tread the well-honed de­sire line stretch­ing across the grass With a shared wry smile as we step onto this com­mu­nally cre­ated path, we join the mini re­bel­lion forged by thou­sands be­fore us.

De­sire Lines are var­i­ously known as so­cial trails, path­ways of de­sire, rene­gade pas­sages or pi­rate paths. They are the tracks honed into the land­scape by peo­ple vot­ing with their feet to cre­ate an al­ter­nate path to their de­sired desti­na­tion. A lovely metaphor for the ex­pres­sion of un­tram­melled pub­lic will.

They tell us much about hu­man be­hav­iour, prac­ti­cal liv­ing and com­mu­nal pref­er­ences. As Jane Ja­cobs, a lead­ing cam­paigner for peo­ple­cen­tred ur­ban plan­ning, wrote in 1958: “[t]here is no logic that can be su­per­im­posed on the city; peo­ple make it, and it is to them, not build­ings, that we must fit our plans.”

1

This was, in its day, a rad­i­cal no­tion and if you were to sub­sti­tute ‘so­ci­ety' for city and ‘mar­kets' for build­ings, or trans­pose First Na­tions hav­ing a Voice over their own lives, it is just as apt to­day.

De­sire Lines mapped

En­gag­ing peo­ple in dis­cus­sions about their con­cerns and as­pi­ra­tions – a map­ping of the de­sire lines – en­ables new and old am­bi­tions to emerge. The power and hon­esty of such sto­ries, rooted as they are in peo­ple's lived ex­pe­ri­ence and deep­est de­sires, can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated.

Aus­tralia RE­MADE

In a ne­olib­eral con­text – where peo­ple's hu­man­ity is con­strained to be­ing mar­ket ac­tors, whose life choices re­quire us to ‘max­imise our util­ity' and where the ex­er­cise of cit­i­zenry is said to be through con­sumer choice – it seems highly sub­ver­sive yet lib­er­at­ing to in­stead so­licit, ac­knowl­edge and give voice to peo­ple's de­sires.

This is the back­drop to the de­vel­op­ment of a story that re­jects that “com­pe­ti­tion is the only le­git­i­mate or­gan­is­ing prin­ci­ple for hu­man ac­tiv­ity.” This story in­stead ad­vo­cates

2 for an Aus­tralia where love, re­spect and com­pas­sion is cen­tral – a place where peo­ple and planet come first. It has been through map­ping the de­sire lines of a di­verse cross sec­tion of Aus­tralians that the vi­sion, Aus­tralia RE­MADE: Cre­at­ing the Best Ver­sion of Us, has emerged .3

The roots of this project be­gan 3 years ago4 when a loose group­ing of civil so­ci­ety lead­ers and ac­tivists came to­gether to start a con­ver­sa­tion about

the fu­ture. We recog­nised the truth in Naomi Klein's urg­ing “to do more than draw a line in the sand and say ‘no more'”. We had to move from sit­ting in

5 re­sis­tance to em­brac­ing trans­for­ma­tion.

We also un­der­stood that this needed to be a shared and in­clu­sive en­deav­our.

In 2017 we em­barked upon an en­gage­ment project6 to test the ideas and sen­ti­ments that kept re­cur­ring in our gath­er­ings and to hear what else might be miss­ing. We had con­ver­sa­tions with over 200 or­gan­i­sa­tions, com­mu­ni­ties and in­di­vid­u­als, ask­ing them, ‘Imag­ine you have wo­ken up in the Aus­tralia of your dreams. What is it like?'

The in­vi­ta­tion to talk was meet with both ex­cite­ment and some trep­i­da­tion. This felt like a long over­due in­vi­ta­tion – where peo­ple had just been wait­ing… wait­ing for the op­por­tu­nity to be part of a con­ver­sa­tion about the fu­ture. At first peo­ple strug­gled to find the words to de­scribe their de­sires and con­cerns, yet in the course of con­ver­sa­tion they in­vari­ably grew in con­fi­dence and ex­cite­ment. It felt like hope was just sit­ting below the sur­face – just wait­ing to be primed.

What emerged was an amaz­ing con­ver­gence of thoughts and feel­ings across cir­cum­stance and ge­og­ra­phy. This wasn't a con­ven­tional po­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tive – it was warm and hu­man, re­silient and re­bel­lious, grand and ev­ery­day. Rooted in lived ex­pe­ri­ences but lit with pos­si­bil­ity.

Imag­ine you have wo­ken up in the Aus­tralia of your dreams. What is it like?

The re­sult­ing vi­sion rests upon nine equally im­por­tant and con­nected pil­lars: 1. A First Peo­ple cel­e­brated at the very heart of what it means to be Aus­tralian

2. A nat­u­ral world for now and the

fu­ture

3. An econ­omy for the peo­ple

4. A so­ci­ety where all con­tri­bu­tions

count and ev­ery job has dig­nity

5. A di­ver­sity of peo­ple liv­ing

side-by-side

6. A coun­try of flour­ish­ing com­mu­ni­ties 7. A new dawn for women

8. A thriv­ing democ­racy

9. A proud con­trib­u­tor to a just world

The Uluru State­ment from the Heart

Over the course of 2016-17, the Ref­er­en­dum Coun­cil7 con­ducted 13 re­gional di­a­logues with First Na­tions peo­ple. This was a truly re­mark­able ex­er­cise. Span­ning ge­ogra­phies, lan­guages, cul­tures and his­to­ries this process sought to find com­mon ground.

It rep­re­sented a crit­i­cal turn­ing point for First Na­tions peo­ple in de­vel­op­ing their own agreed agenda and path for­ward. This cul­mi­nated in the first Aus­tralian First Na­tions Con­sti­tu­tional Con­ven­tion in May 2017 – the 50th an­niver­sary of the 1967 con­sti­tu­tional ref­er­en­dum.

It was time for some­thing very dif­fer­ent. It came off years of be­ing spo­ken for, of un­de­liv­ered prom­ises, of empty sym­bolic ges­tures. As Me­gan Davis summed it up: “our peo­ple are get­ting old. Too many bark pe­ti­tions, too many state­ments.”

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The Uluru State­ment from the Heart9 emerged from that Con­ven­tion at Uluru. It is an ex­tra­or­di­nary doc­u­ment – full of beauty, pain, grace and con­vic­tion. It is an in­vi­ta­tion from First Na­tions peo­ple to non-in­dige­nous Aus­tralians to lis­ten, hear and walk with them in their quest for Voice, Treaty, Truth.

It calls for a First Na­tions Voice to the Aus­tralia Par­lia­ment, en­shrined in the Con­sti­tu­tion. A Makar­rata Com­mis­sion – a ‘peace mak­ing process' for truth telling and agree­ment mak­ing. And ul­ti­mately, keep­ing faith with the theme of the state­ment, “a bet­ter fu­ture for our chil­dren based on jus­tice and self-de­ter­mi­na­tion”.

When De­sire Lines con­verge

“The ex­pres­sion of the de­sire for a bet­ter way of be­ing or of liv­ing” 10 is known as utopian think­ing. It has a long and hon­oured tra­di­tion, reach­ing back to Plato's Re­pub­lic (C.380BC) and Thomas More's Utopia (1516). But re­gard­less of genre or pe­riod, utopian thought has var­i­ously tried to grap­ple with the big ques­tions: • What con­sti­tutes a good life? • What does a bet­ter world look like? • How best do we live in har­mony with each other and the planet? Times of rup­ture, tran­si­tion or in­sta­bil­ity tend to elicit, or sharpen, a con­ver­sa­tion about the fu­ture and about al­ter­na­tives. These al­ter­na­tives might be in­cre­men­tal in scope or trans­for­ma­tional in the sys­temic change sought. Much de­pends on the level of en­trenched con­trol ex­er­cised by those sup­port­ing the sta­tus quo and the level of or­gan­i­sa­tion, mo­men­tum and am­bi­tion of those seek­ing change. It is about both the power of ideas and the power be­hind the ideas.

Utopian rep­re­sen­ta­tions of ‘other worlds and other ways' seemed to reach their zenith in the lat­ter part of the 1800s as ma­jor in­dus­trial and eco­nomic changes in the western world gen­er­ated sig­nif­i­cant up­heaval, and in turn, ma­jor un­rest and ide­o­log­i­cal de­bate. For ex­am­ple, Look­ing Back­wards 2000-188711, prob­a­bly the

The Uluru State­ment from the Heart emerged from that Con­ven­tion at Uluru. It is an ex­tra­or­di­nary doc­u­ment – full of beauty, pain, grace and con­vic­tion.

most prom­i­nent so­cial­ist utopian novel in the US in the late 1800s, sold 1 mil­lion copies in mul­ti­ple coun­tries and lan­guages and is said to have spawned some 40 al­ter­nate ‘utopias' in re­sponse.

In Aus­tralia in the 1890s, a prom­i­nent group of Vic­to­rian rad­i­cals co­a­lesced around the labour news­pa­per, Toc­sin. They de­vel­oped a mag­nif­i­cent po­lit­i­cal agenda that, amongst its 74 points, cu­ri­ously called for “65. A Free Hansard” in ad­di­tion to “26. Abo­li­tion of Laws which place Women… at a dis­ad­van­tage as com­pared with the Man”, “61. To Bring Peo­ple Nearer to Art and Art Nearer to the Peo­ple” and “68. Abo­li­tion of Class Priv­i­lege”.

12

This pa­per even­tu­ally mor­phed into the news­pa­per of the Vic­to­rian La­bor Party.

Re­flect­ing a sig­nif­i­cant diminu­tion in the con­test of ideas, and the grow­ing cli­mate cri­sis con­fronting civil­i­sa­tion, it is no­table that the later years of the 20th cen­tury saw a dearth of utopian pro­pos­als com­pared with the slew of dystopian fu­tures fea­tured in film, art and lit­er­a­ture.

British So­ci­ol­o­gist Kr­is­han Ku­mar writ­ing in 2010 be­moaned this cir­cum­stance: “The loss of utopia – if only for the time be­ing – must nev­er­the­less be a cause for re­gret. For over four hun­dred years it was one of the main ve­hi­cles for the ex­pres­sion of hopes, as­pi­ra­tions and schemes of hu­man­ity. It was a prin­ci­pal way of at­tempt­ing to tame the fu­ture.”

13

De­sire Lines un­packed

Anti-utopi­ans ar­gue that utopias, par­tic­u­larly blue­print utopias, in­vari­ably lead to to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism whilst oth­ers rel­e­gate utopias to be­ing ‘wish­ful think­ing' or ‘cas­tles in the clouds'.

Of­ten the op­po­si­tion to utopian thought comes from more con­ser­va­tive forces and those with most to lose if any change to the sta­tus quo were to oc­cur. But the de­risory or dis­mis­sive stance on big vi­sion think­ing can come also from within the ranks of those seek­ing change. For them, the pres­sure to fo­cus on the im­me­di­ate and tan­gi­ble seems too over­whelm­ing.

Yet as Ernst Bloch in his fa­mous

The Prin­ci­ple of Hope tril­ogy (1954-9) re­minds us, “all free­dom move­ments are guided by utopian as­pi­ra­tions.”

14

But vi­sions are more than oned­i­men­sional doc­u­ments – they are as much method as they are plan – they are ve­hi­cles of, and for, so­cial change. Vi­sions can in­spire, ed­u­cate, cri­tique, mo­ti­vate and unify.

When De­sire Lines are muted

So if vi­sions are so im­por­tant why has there been such a dearth of them in Aus­tralia un­til now?

A large part of it has to do with the times in which we live. TINA – There Is No Al­ter­na­tive – has been the over­ar­ch­ing po­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tive for the last forty years. Its dom­i­nance has

The de­risory or dis­mis­sive stance on big vi­sion think­ing can come also from within the ranks of those seek­ing change.

For them, the pres­sure to fo­cus on the im­me­di­ate and tan­gi­ble seems too over­whelm­ing.

been strength­ened by the demise of com­mu­nist states and the dis­cred­it­ing of a so­cial­ist al­ter­na­tive; the in­ter­nal­i­sa­tion of the ne­olib­eral politic by so­cial demo­cratic par­ties; the pace of global eco­nomic re­struc­tur­ing; and the cen­tral­ity of fear, cri­sis or loss in many so­cial move­ment re­sponses.

In ad­di­tion, there has been a clear agenda pros­e­cuted by the wealthy and ‘big end of town' pur­su­ing eco­nomic self-in­ter­est to un­der­mine and si­lence op­po­si­tion. Po­lit­i­cal cap­ture has been key to its suc­cess.

Con­se­quently, dis­sent has been char­ac­terised var­i­ously as thug­gery or elitism. Work­ers and their unions are de­monised, at­tacked and cir­cum­scribed while civil so­ci­ety's right to ad­vo­cate is con­stantly chal­lenged. Cul­tural lead­ers and in­tel­lec­tu­als are de­monised and marginalised. His­tory is ig­nored or re-writ­ten – à la the cul­ture wars and John Howard's black arm­band of his­tory. The me­dia has pro­vided the cheer squad, thought po­lice, and at times, fir­ing squad for much of this si­lenc­ing.

As ac­tivist jour­nal­ist Lau­rie Penny vividly re­minds us: “It is dif­fi­cult to think clearly about a bet­ter world when you're try­ing to pro­tect your soft parts from heavy boots.”

15

New De­sire Lines forged

How­ever, the whole point of de­sire lines is that they emerge un­ex­pect­edly and of­ten against the dic­tates of for­mal

struc­tures and pro­cesses around them.

Leonard Co­hen re­minds us in his sem­i­nal work, An­them:

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring For­get your per­fect of­fer­ing There is a crack in ev­ery­thing (there is a crack in ev­ery­thing) That's how the light gets in16

De­spite the seem­ing om­nipres­ence of TINA, the cracks in ne­olib­er­al­ism and at­ten­dant con­ser­va­tive pol­i­tics have be­gun to show. In­deed, the Great Re­ces­sion of 2008 wasn't just a crack but rather a rup­ture in peo­ple's faith in mar­ket-first eco­nomics. But as Mil­ton Fried­man, one of the key ar­chi­tects of the ne­olib­eral project, was want to say: “when the time came that you had to change” as it did in the 1970s “there was an al­ter­na­tive [ne­olib­er­al­ism] ready there to be picked up.”

17

Un­for­tu­nately, in 2008 an al­ter­na­tive wasn't honed and ready. But since then some con­flu­ence of fac­tors has shifted. Grow­ing in­equal­ity in eco­nomic se­cu­rity and po­lit­i­cal power, and the ever-loom­ing im­pacts of dev­as­tat­ing cli­mate change, are bit­ing hard into pub­lic con­scious­ness. Com­mu­nity frus­tra­tion at the fail­ure of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to en­gage hon­estly and boldly with them about the fu­ture is deep­en­ing.

Over­seas, Oc­cupy, San­ders, Corby, Pode­mos, even Brexit and Trump her­ald a de­par­ture. Sa­cred cows no longer seem so sa­cred. Or­tho­dox­ies are be­ing chal­lenged and al­ter­na­tive views and vi­sions are be­ing pro­mul­gated.

Sud­denly the fu­ture is be­ing con­tested.

In Aus­tralia, a fail­ure of po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship to in­deed lis­ten, learn and lead on the big is­sues of the day has re­quired peo­ple to step up and be­gin their own con­ver­sa­tions and be­gin to cre­ate new shared de­sire lines rooted in com­mu­nity.

The Uluru State­ment from the Heart is a per­fect ex­am­ple of First Na­tions peo­ple giv­ing up on politi­cians and

There is a crack in ev­ery­thing (there is a crack in ev­ery­thing) That's how the light gets in The Uluru State­ment from the Heart is a per­fect ex­am­ple of First Na­tions peo­ple giv­ing up on politi­cians and forg­ing their own pre­ferred path­way.

forg­ing their own pre­ferred path­way. As Me­gan David de­scribed it, “[c]on­tem­po­rary democ­ra­cies like ours are in­ept at pro­duc­ing mean­ing­ful pro­cesses of pub­lic will for­ma­tion be­yond the bal­lot box. When con­fronted with gen­uinely de­lib­er­a­tive pro­cesses, es­pe­cially those that threaten the sta­tus quo, those in­ured to the sys­tem are of­ten baf­fled and dis­mis­sive.”

18

Un­for­tu­nate but true. De­spite the fact that in a most his­toric act our First Na­tions peo­ple stood to­gether and spoke with one voice, their call for Voice Treaty Truth was im­me­di­ately closed down by con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal lead­ers. Yet we also know from polling more than 60% of Aus­tralians are sup­port­ive of the ini­tia­tive19 – even with a hos­tile prime min­is­ter.

A his­toric mo­ment of pos­si­bil­ity was missed but given that the Uluru State­ment from the Heart is ad­dressed to the Aus­tralian peo­ple, rather than po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, it is now up to a united com­mu­nity to cham­pion this call.

The same dis­so­nance be­tween com­mu­nity de­sires and po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship also un­der­pins the Aus­tralia RE­MADE state­ment. Here, com­mu­nity con­sen­sus un­der­ly­ing this state­ment puts ‘peo­ple and planet' be­fore the po­lit­i­cal or­tho­doxy of ‘econ­omy first'.

This is en­tirely con­sis­tent with Re­beca Hunt­ley's re­search find­ings in her re­cent book Still Lucky: Why you should feel op­ti­mistic about Aus­tralia and its peo­ple,

which found “[w]e re­main a so­ci­ety where the val­ues of egal­i­tar­i­an­ism, ‘the fair go', still mean some­thing” and

20

that Aus­tralians still see “the econ­omy is a means to an end… and the end is well­be­ing.”

21

What is emerg­ing are de­sire lines out­side the for­mal po­lit­i­cal chan­nels.

When De­sire Lines be­come or­tho­doxy

The ques­tion is: can such vi­sions take root and cre­ate new or­tho­dox­ies?

Twice, ma­jor changes have oc­curred in Aus­tralia's set­tings in the last fifty years.

The first came when Gough Whit­lam mag­is­te­ri­ally de­clared in 1972: “Men and women of Aus­tralia! The de­ci­sion we will make for our coun­try on De­cem­ber 2 is a choice be­tween the past and the

What is emerg­ing are de­sire lines out­side the for­mal po­lit­i­cal chan­nels.

fu­ture, be­tween the habits and fears of the past and the de­mands of the fu­ture. There are mo­ments in his­tory when the whole fate and fu­ture of na­tions can be de­cided by a sin­gle de­ci­sion. For Aus­tralia, this is such a time. It's time.”

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Mem­o­rable words and an elec­tion man­i­festo span­ning 47 pages and

200 prom­ises – from soar­ing emo­tional ap­peal to bring­ing sewage to the 60% of sub­urbs with­out. All with the pur­pose “to recre­ate this na­tion”.

23

Bizarrely, one of the best tes­ta­ments to this am­bi­tion and legacy comes from the rad­i­cal right think tank, IPA whose web­site at­tests:

The other ex­am­ple is the Ne­olib­eral project it­self. Although it didn't be­gin life as a pub­lic fac­ing vi­sion in­tended to in­spire mass move­ments, it was none­the­less a vi­sion with a pur­pose – and pow­er­ful big-money back­ing. Rut­ger

Breg­man likens its rise to a re­lay race “with think tanks pass­ing the ba­ton to jour­nal­ists, who handed it off to politi­cians. Run­ning the an­chor leg were two of the most pow­er­ful lead­ers in the western World, Ron­ald Rea­gan and Mar­garet Thatcher.” And changed the

24 world it has.

Both these as­pi­rants waited in the wings for a long time – hon­ing their ideas, build­ing the ca­pac­i­ties re­quired to win, keep­ing unity and fo­cus on their am­bi­tion and not los­ing faith that change was pos­si­ble.

So the re­lease of these two won­der­ful vi­sions, the Uluru State­ment from the Heart and Aus­tralia RE­MADE, do not mean job done! The chal­lenge is to build ‘the traf­fic' along those de­sire lines such that they be­come em­bed­ded in new for­mal struc­tures and ways of work­ing – a new com­mon sense.

At stake is the fu­ture of our coun­try and whether it will be one borne in jus­tice and self-de­ter­mi­na­tion for our First Na­tions and whether peo­ple and planet re­side at its core. At this point, peo­ple are forg­ing these de­sire lines across the com­mu­nity wait­ing for for­mal pol­i­tics to catch-on and catch-up that a new fu­ture is re­quired. A fu­ture (as fore­seen in Aus­tralia RE­MADE) where “we are uni­fied and up­lifted as a na­tion, we are com­pas­sion­ate, we make sure we all have a place.”

Let's hope they don't take too long.

No prime min­is­ter changed Aus­tralia more than Gough Whit­lam….. he en­acted an am­bi­tious cul­tural agenda that con­tin­ues to shape Aus­tralia to this day.

The chal­lenge is to build ‘the traf­fic' along those de­sire lines such that they be­come em­bed­ded in new for­mal struc­tures and ways of work­ing – a new com­mon sense.

IM­AGE: © Michael Cogh­lan-flickr

IM­AGE: © Sam Hood

Times of rup­ture, tran­si­tion or in­sta­bil­ity tend to elicit, or sharpen, a con­ver­sa­tion about the fu­ture and about al­ter­na­tives.

IM­AGE: © roawrzz-de­viantart

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