Mr White examines the ways in which the Australian past had become an object of the tourist gaze by the 1920s, as a society that imagined it was new began to discover it had a past worth visiting. Much of the stimulus came from popular tourism’s fascination for the lurid, the macabre and the sensational, which often undermined more respectable perspectives on Australia’s past. While governments were prepared to celebrate explorers, pioneers and political figures, the past that tourists persisted in seeking out was a more disreputable one. They were less interested in being inspired than in being entertained.Convicts, bushrangers and rebellious diggers became standard tourist fare surprisingly early and, by catering for more vulgar tastes, tourist operators and ordinary tourists themselves wrote their own versions of Australia’s past.
By the 1920s, however, Australia’s past was also acquiring a patina of nostalgia, driven by the car, urbanisation and a sentimental pioneer tradition. The discovery of charm and quaintness in a past on the edge of slipping away offered a nostalgic escape from progress. This more respectable strand of history tourism was most evident in the series of ‘Back to…’ celebrations initiated by country towns in the early 1920s. These two strands, the sensationalist and the sentimental, came together in 1932 at the opening of an iconic tourist site, Gundagai’s Dog on the Tuckerbox.
About The Speaker
Richard White is visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Australia & International Tourism Research Unit (AITRU) and the National Centre for Australian Studies (NCAS), Monash University. He has been teaching Australian history and the history of travel and tourism at the University of Sydney since 1989. His publications include Inventing Australia, The Oxford Book of Australian Travel Writing, Cultural History in Australia, On Holidays: A History of Getting Away in Australia and Symbols of Australia, and he edited a special issue of Studies in Travel Writing on Australia. His most recent book, co-edited with Caroline Ford, is Playing in the Bush: Recreation and National Parks in New South Wales (Sydney University Press, 2012). He holds an ARC Discovery Grant for a project exploring the history of tourism to the past in Australia. Other current research includes work on the history of Australian tourism to Britain and a history of the cooee. He is co-editor of the journal History Australia.
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