NOSTALGIA FOR AN assimilated nation haunts public debate on national identity and nationhood, as well as related issues of race, ethnicity, indigenous rights and immigration. Commentators on both sides of Australian politics deny that the Prime Minister is turning the pages of government back to the assimilation policies of the 1950s. They are right, of course. We celebrate cultural diversity and acknowledge indigenous rights, cultures and histories. Yet, although the word “assimilation” is rarely mentioned, there is more than a hint of its essence in official pronouncements on national values, citizenship and the practical integration of Aboriginal communities. The paradox of public denial of assimilation and hidden allegiance to its tenets can be explained as “retro-assimilation”.
From this perspective, current visions of the nation can be seen as yet another example of nostalgia and clever marketing. Retro-assimilation mixes 1950s dreams of an assimilated nation with current ideas of nationhood using today’s spin to create a new vision based on shared values, visions and agreements. Like other retro products, it uncritically exploits the surface of the past without regard for original meanings and significance. Retroassimilation has strong appeal in today’s climate of social turmoil, transformation and global threats; we are irresistibly drawn to its retroscapes, and nostalgic memories of safer and simpler times.
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