Robert Hughes talks about
AUSTRALIA: BEYOND THE FATAL SHORE.
When Thirteen/WNET New York presents
AUSTRALIA: BEYOND THE FATAL SHORE, premiering nationally September 5, 2000 at 9 pm (ET) on PBS (check
local listings), viewers may discover the six-part documentary
series to be as much about its author and host, Robert Hughes,
as it is about the "land down under." Below, Hughes
reflects on his experience creating this epic series about his
is the idea behind the series?
RH: We take a look at Australia
via six key themes, like money, class, and power, like attitudes
towards landscape, and examining how Australian's attitudes
have -- or have not -- changed since I lived there 35 years ago.
And we examine those issues mostly through the words of the Australians
do you hope to achieve with this series?
RH: If there's one thing
I want this series to do it is to liberate this rather thin "Wild
West" fantasy Americans have about Australia. To them, CROCODILE
DUNDEE is a work of social realism.
makes this series different from other programs about Australia?
RH: Australia is not, to me,
a picturesque little country full of cute marsupials at the
end of the world. What I'm interested in is a really live,
complex, in some ways difficult, country which I think has attained
a very high level of social intelligence and civilization at
its best. Part of the difficulty in doing a series like this
is avoiding the clichés about Australia while making
something that is both comprehensible to people who've
never been to Australia and know nothing about it, and at the
same time does not appear historically contemptible to informed
Australians. I believe we succeeded.
lived away from Australia for so long, do you still feel connected
RH: I'm a Sydney boy and
always will be. I've never given up my Australian citizenship.
I just couldn't -- I would feel like a total traitor. I have
a very intense love-hate relationship with the country.
differences do you find between Australia and America?
RH: I think the biggest single
difference between Australians and Americans is that you were
founded as a religious experiment, and we were founded as a
jail. America is such a bizarrely religious country, and Australia
is hardly religious at all, and much of what makes the two countries
different stems from that.
similarities between the two countries?
RH: We are alike in many ways.
Historically, for instance, the story of the treatment of Australian
Aborigines by whites in Australia is almost exactly analogous
to that of American Indians by American whites. They were consistently
displaced, invaded, and killed in tribal wars throughout the country
and deprived of full citizenship rights.
is the state of the Aborigine in Australia today?
RH: The condition of the Aborigine
has changed immensely, though for some people, very reluctantly,
in the last 25 years. A very active and politically quite powerful
Aboriginal group has been formed across Australia to ram through
the necessity of giving Aborigines the full benefits of living
in the country that they have occupied for 40,000 years. It has
been an uphill battle, but undoubtedly it is a battle that is
now going to be won.
mention in the series that Australia has historically faced an
identity crisis. What's behind this?
RH: The Head of State of Australia
has always been a hereditarily appointed English monarch. America
dispelled of this scenario quite some time ago with a revolution.
There has been no such revolution in Australia, which has consequently
left us with all sorts of glitches from the 18th century still
stuck in our system. As a by-product of being a colony, we are
still suffering from severe problems of self-identification.
of the themes you explore in the series is that of space. How
does the Australian concept of space differ from that of the U.S.?
RH: Americans have this contrary
myth of space, because to them, space is freedom. It's the
whole "Go West, young man" philosophy. You got to it
and discover paradise. In colonial Australia, space itself was
a prison. You walk across the country, find nothing, then die.
So Australians don't associate large space with freedom and
opportunity the way Americans do. It's a totally different
you think the outback will become more residential over time?
RH: No. As far as I know, the
far outback is, to all intents and purpose, uninhabitable, except
by certain Aborigine tribes. It certainly isn't capable of
supporting the kind of society we're used to. We do not have
a fertile center in this country like the United States. You have
the great, fertile plains. We do not. As you go farther into the
outback, it just gets worse.
suffered from a near-deadly car accident at the start of filming
this series. How did the accident affect your life?
RH: An experience like that does
transform you. It does something to your fear of death -- and
your expectations of life. It makes you realize that life is a
very contingent thing, and that we only come here once. So, we'd
better damn well make the best we can of it.
did the accident affect your work on the series?
RH: It's an interesting business,
trying to do a series like this when you can't walk and you're
wiped out by the afternoon. I think it made me more explicit.
I think it made me more inclined, as they say, to throw my hat
over the fence first, and then jump after it. It clarifies things
in a way. You lose some of your fear of the opinions of others.
the upcoming Sydney Olympic Games play a role in the series?
RH: As far as I'm aware,
the word "Olympics" is not at all mentioned in this
series because, frankly, there are things that are much more fundamental
and interesting in Australia.
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