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In 1944, a new road was rapidly taking shape in the Northern Flinders Ranges. A team of geologists and miners watched as the first bulldozer most of them had ever seen tore through the scrub, opening access to an isolated mine site. All this urgency was at the behest of the British government, who were keen to know the extent of Australia’s uranium supplies. Douglas Mawson had discovered radioactive minerals in the Flinders Ranges many years before. But although attempts had been made to take some commercial advantage, such as promoting the health-giving effects of the radioactive Paralana Hot Springs, the deposits appeared to be of little value. All this seemed about to change. This was a road to the future. 1
I always used to imagine progress as a Bruce Petty cartoon: a juggernaut of wires, levers and pulleys, leaving hapless victims in its lurching wake; the figure of science would feature prominently, of course, perhaps believing itself in charge, while on the front, fixed like some sort of bowsprit, the crossroads signpost would point proudly ever onwards. The image of a bulldozer ripping through the scrub, building a road that would signal Australia’s entry into the Atomic Age, seemed to offer a similar metaphor. Technology and violence were subduing the land, clearing a path for progress.
The image of the juggernaut, Bernard Yack notes, ‘wonderfully captures the erratic motion and disruptive effects of the dynamism introduced into our lives by distinctly modern ideas and practices’. 2 But the image, he argues, also bestows upon those practices an assumption of unity and totality. There is no place for spectators, people either ride the juggernaut or are crushed beneath its wheels. He suggests that we imagine ourselves alongside the juggernaut, where ‘we have the opportunity to balance its effects on our lives with the whole range of nonmodern ideas and practices that survive the swath that it has cut through our world’. 3 But the question that has nagged at me all this time returns: how is it possible to think outside progress, when it contributes so much to the way we construct our lives?
I originally thought I would end this thesis with the bulldozer of destiny pushing onwards over a landscape of broken hopes. But I can’t. Instead I am drawn back to another image, to an elderly man, sitting in his tent between the bush and the sea at Mallacoota. How can we think outside progress? Perhaps we need to cultivate ridiculous dreams, and unreasonable objections, to deny inevitability and embrace contradiction. Something as simple as sheer cussed irony might enable us to imagine the impossible and maintain hope where no hope exists. Perhaps it is not revolutions we need, but individual acts of defiance. EJ Brady, after all his searching, may have finally found the blueprint for utopia. Not in his socialism, or his remade Christianity, but in his denial of time itself.
‘I will not grow old.’
- Reg C. Sprigg, Arkaroola – Mt Painter in the Northern Flinders Ranges, SA: The last billion years, Arkaroola, 1984, pp 229-233 ↩
- Bernard Yack, The fetishism of modernities: epochal self-consciousness in contemporary social and political thought, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1997, pp. 38-9. ↩
- ibid., p. 40. ↩
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