Defining Modern Australia

There is a great deal of passion in Australia at the moment concerning ‘multi-culturism’, and whether or not that term continues to serve a useful reference.

One of the key questions is this: at what point does any contemporary expression – whether it is language; art; product or faith – become so far removed from its origin that it is no longer derivative, but rather something completely new and discreet in itself?

I was recently struck by the strong cultural inheritance of the Barossa, one that clearly borrows from Silesian; German; English; Scottish and Australian influence. Standing in the kitchen at the Apex Bakery in Tanunda, and learning how the fiercely-held local traditions now eclipse even those of their country of origin, left me pondering what it means to be ‘modern Australian’.

Later on I moved from the valley floor to the bigger skies of high Eden, and I noticed that many of the larger gum trees were scarred with black on the windward sides of their trunks. It was explained to me that well before the presence of Europeans, the local Aborigines would set a clutch of embers next to sheltering trees in order to provide light, heat and a signal of return whenever they were in the area. Unlike the still living traditions of European influence, this seemed a poignant, almost unremembered, inheritance that we would do well to try and recapture.

Today, our landscape displays the punctuation marks of agriculture very clearly, while in contrast, Australia’s indigenous and nomadic culture has left little or no trace by way of footprint. The native Australians created a practical intimacy with the land that was best defined by a sense of belonging and witness quite at odds with European notions of property, ownership and legacy. Unfortunately, the subsequent story of disavowal and dishonour is now irrecoverable.

However, as Australia now strives for an improved identity in the world of wine, I hope that our new-found respect for nourishing inheritance and land – rather than exhausting them both – might be the beginning of a long and careful reconnection.

Ultimately, do we define our land and inheritance, or do they define us?


About Paul Henry

Paul Henry: founder and principal strategist at winehero consulting ltd; 2010 WCA International Wine Communicator of the Year; 2007 Len Evans Tutorial Brokenwood Scholar.
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4 Responses to Defining Modern Australia

  1. Ric says:

    It’s not one or the other – the world we live in is a complex system with feedback loops – it affects us, and our reaction(s) to that affect our environment. Ultimately it becomes difficult to distinguish clearly between what our land and inheritance define, and what we do. The inheritance we have received we will enrich (hopefully!) and the result will be what we pass on to future generations – we will have been shaped by our starting points, and shaped the outcomes with our own skills, attributes, experiences.

    Point of order: this type of conversation is much better carried on over a bottle or two … 🙂

  2. Paul Henry says:

    Hi Ric,

    It is hard to distinguish between two sometimes, particularly when ‘inheritance’ can be both literal and figurative. It just struck me that with all the current talk about influence, origin, sustainability and identity, Australia has such a fantastically rich vein of ancient and modern culture to draw from.

    Are we doing that, or have we done it enough, as we seek to find a new model for success…As for the bottle idea, let’s get on to that – do you have a favourite watering hole?



  3. Thought provoking writing Paul. I have mulled your thoughts over for a couple of days and for me the Indigenous “sense of belonging and witness” are the evocative and compelling sentiments that for me will stand the test of time.

  4. winehero says:

    Hi Helen -Thank you so much for visiting.
    I, too, like that sense of belonging and witness, as if it is the land that defines and lends us a sense of purpose, rather than the other way around. I think this is a very noble idea and one that might give vignerons and other agricultural ‘guardians’ pause for thought. I am very pleased – but not surprised – that it resonates for you and the crew at The Lane! Cheers, ph

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