If you want to understand more about fear and loathing - and better possibilities - Australian-style, read the maiden issue of the quarterly journal Griffith Review, a joint venture between Griffith University and the ABC. Each issue has a theme, and the first is Insecurity in the New World Order.
Twenty short essays, photographs, poems and pieces of fiction explore Australia's position on a planet awkwardly juggling the sticky balls of 21st-century globalisation, terrorism, spin and militarism. Norman Swan reminds us that being alert and deeply alarmed is a hard-wired psychological response to perceived danger - be it posed by the Black Death, HIV-AIDS or SARS. He argues that this emotional overreaction might have worked for hominids on the forest edge, but it ill equips our society to manage the new plagues. Swan suggests transparency and openness as guiding principles for those responsible for explaining and defusing
Graeme Dobell explores a worrying trend in the opposite direction within a key Australian player on security questions, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He goes inside the department to expose its hardcore "don't question, don't tell" culture that critics ascribe to the Howard Government. As the children-not-overboard debacle should remind us, that culture permeates the wider Canberra bureaucracy. Who is morally responsible for what happens today in Australia's corridors of political power?
Other contributors explore some applied and evolving consequences of political decisions. Eva Sallis takes us on an Adelaide taxi ride, during which her driver
says he'd never let "towel heads" in his cab. She describes feeling helpless and lame in explaining to him that that means her father, her husband, her friends - just people. Irris Makler revisits the looting of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad and talks to its research director about why American troops protected the Ministry of Oil but not the museum's cultural treasures.
In Tampa time, John Birmingham sits in a cafe near the million-dollar properties of Bondi, listening to a young woman with Celtic tattoos and dreadlocks sip espresso coffee and tell her friends we might have to "machine-gun a few of them so asylum seekers understand they're not wanted".
Tim Page goes to Baxter immigration detention centre for the Easter 2003 protests, pictured right, to photograph Aussie Boys in singlets, Blundstones and pink tutus squaring up with Robocops in riot gear. And a poem by mtc cronin
brings us a line about refuge, terror and contagion that suggests how the insecurities of our public spaces contaminate more private ones: "We quarantine
our hearts, ignoring the same woman under the bed who was there yesterday."
Analysis sits comfortably with anecdote and art in Griffith Review. Alan Gyngell's piece on Australian foreign policy in the post-Soviet era poses thoughtful challenges for those drafting blueprints for engagement with our
fragile, complex region. William Tow demystifies the international relations theories that are vying for global ideological dominance. Adrian Vickers raises overlooked questions about Bali and its place in the Australian imagination, from the 1890s to the Kuta bombs of October 2002 - as both a foreign zone of living dangerously and a familiar one that tugs like big surf at our hearts.
Griffith Review wants to capture the spirit of the times and build a bridge between literary, academic and journalistic writing and the reading and thinking public. That's aiming high and, given the contents of this issue, no doubt some are already praying for failure. But they should have to stockpile their schadenfreude. This slender but weighty, cheeky, elegant, sceptical and readable publication has already punched an important hole in that grey polyester blanket of conformism flattening debate in our nation.
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