Deconstructing RNP – 3

A note on ‘geography’ – which is only touched on lightly here.

In looking at things from a perspective which takes peoples+countries as the norm, we can discern several aspects to the split in Western awareness which separates people from country.

In addition to the processes which drove European peoples off their living countries (e.g. to produce a landless working class ‘at home’) one of the features which is striking is the Western expansion known as the Age of Exploration ( which drove a wedge between people and country ‘abroad’)

An Age of expropriation  may be more apt – expropriation of other peoples well managed living country in order to solve European problems.

While explorers sought to map other parts of the world they did so with a notion of geography which did not include the ‘maps’ which indigenous peoples already have of those countries.

For European adventurers the landscape was ‘real’ but First Peoples representations of it were of no account. In the Age of Reason the only forms of reason which counted were culturally one-sided.

While passing mention may have been made, in some cases, to an indigenous name for a place, the over-all indigenous ‘map’ was not considered relevant.

To do this would have required establishing proper and respectful exchange relationships with indigenous peoples, and (generally speaking) this was not part of the European expansion into First Peoples countries. This would have slowed the rate of expansion.

Europeans wanted to establish their own kind of relationship with the ‘new’ lands – not with the people who were already occupying those countries.

Alfred Crosby uses the term “Neo-Europes” (‘Ecological Imperialism – The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. 204 CUP). More on this later.

More frequently, in mapping routes for further colonisation, European names were given to features of the landscape despite the fact that the landscape had already been signified for countless generations. Where First Peoples are included (in some way) it is as viewed from the outside by European eyes. Country is not seen through the eyes of First Peoples.

A careful study of European occupation of the New World in the America’s is required to tease out the interplay between the explorers and those who came after them to dispossess indigenous peoples – and also those who, moving into country where the local peoples had been marginalised, could construct representations of country which owed nothing to indigenous worldviews.

Darwin’s travels in South America can be seen in relation to the earlier studies of Humboldt – and Humboldt’s work must be seen in relation to the process of dispossession which took place in the preceding centuries.

While Darwin’s work on the Beagle was addressed to nature (and his account conveys the excitement of the world as seen by new means), the Voyage of the Beagle, under Captain FitzRoy, was basically a state-funded naval enterprise in mapping charts to give an advantage to British merchants.

This too can be seen in relation to earlier voyages. Cook’s mapping of the East Coast of Australia is a prime example of ‘arm’s lenght’ mapping. He can maintain complete separation form the people living on this coast, and – having seen it through a telescope – lay claim to the land  in the name of King on the other side of the planet.

Mapping ‘new lands’ according to Western ideas of adequacy allowed for ‘geography’ to be regarded as complete even though it did not include people and cultures of the areas it ‘described’.

Those ‘modern’ notions of adequacy must be rejected by those of us who seek to remove ethnocide from our forms of representation.

An exercise which lies ahead is to look at the whole field of discourse in which ‘naturalism’ makes sense and also passes itself off as not being a ‘cultural code’ (that is, it presents as having a privileged ability to depict reality).

Another exercise which lies ahead it to look at naming in relation to national parks (in general) and the Royal National Park (in particular).

It is useful to read some pages of Bruce Baskerville’s 1994 paper “Talking about National Parks – intentions, making places and history in NSW and WA.” which can be found online at