Forging Heritage for the Tourist Gaze: Australian History and Contemporary Representations Reviewed

By Vogler, Agnes | Journal of Australian Studies, March 2007 | Go to article overview

Forging Heritage for the Tourist Gaze: Australian History and Contemporary Representations Reviewed


Vogler, Agnes, Journal of Australian Studies


In a theatre of its own design, history's drama unfolds; the historian is an impartial onlooker, simply repeating what happened ... the historian does not order the facts, he conforms to them. Such history is a fabric of self-reinforcing illusions. (1)

In The Road to Botany Bay Paul Carter discusses the western tradition of perceiving and recording history in which the representation of places or people through writing is understood to be a true and objective repetition of events. Carter emphasises that 'the real mythologising which occurs here is in the invention of a point of view, a panoramic eye before whose gaze the historical facts unfold again exactly as before'. (2) Carter further argues that 'the gaze of most historians has been comparably partial'. (3) For postcolonial countries such as Australia, where history as part of the Eurocentric legacy of colonialism is an inherited cultural discourse, the realisation that history is influenced by the perspective and vision of the historiographer gives grounds for a re-evaluation of accepted historic 'facts'. This essay argues that tourist culture has continued and refocused postcolonial debates about power over historical representations. I further suggest that Australian literature on the subject of tourism offers a platform from which to contest historical perspectives and review not only accounts of past events, but contemporary representations as well.

Recycled debates

In 1993, Priscilla Boniface and Peter J Fowler described the representation of the 'Indigenous/colonial relationship' as 'one of the key issues in the tourism debate'. (4) One reason for this is that Indigenous cultures have become an important resource as the tourist industry continues to exhibit interest in different cultural heritages. Australia is no exception. 'Since the 1980s', observes Jane Jacobs,

   the Australian Tourist Commission has been actively engaged in
   overseas promotion ... Even in advertising which does not explicitly
   put Aboriginal Australia in the foreground, the graphics and music
   scores may be inspired by Aboriginal culture. (5)

Dot-paintings and didgeridoos have arguably become as recognisable a metonym for Australia as has the Sydney Opera House. While Boniface and Fowler observe that representations of the Indigenous/colonial relationship have become a key issue in tourism, the debate is not only centred on a re-evaluation of the history of that relationship but also the continued tension surrounding the issue in postcolonial countries. Advertisements, such as those mentioned by Jacobs, raise questions about settler societies imposing a dominant culture on Indigenous inhabitants and simultaneously invite analysis of contemporary instances of appropriation and exploitation. Bella Dicks argues that the opportunity to display cultural heritage for the tourist gaze 'potentially encourages groups of all kinds to think of their own cultural "roots" as statements about their selves and, hence, their identity'. (6) Displays that rely on history and heritage therefore become potential sites of struggle for control over historical representations as well as control over contemporary narratives.

Toni Birch examines a historically rooted conflict that tourism has been instrumental in turning into a contemporary debate. In 1989, the Victorian Minister for Tourism, Steve Crabb, announced that the Grampians mountain ranges would revert to their Aboriginal appellation of Guriward (although this was later altered to Gariwerd). This move was met with a great deal of opposition from both the local Koori community, which had not been consulted about the change, and from the general population. (7) The 'restoration' was motivated by a recognition of the area's potential as a tourist attraction in which its Koori heritage was arguably a key component, given that tourists were increasingly interested in experiencing non-western cultures. …

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