On Australia’s ‘unsettled settlers’, I: Anne Rees, ‘Reading Australian modernity: Unsettled settlers and cultures of mobility’, History Compass, 2017


Abstract: What did Australian modernity look like? Over the last two decades, Australia’s entrenched reputation for ‘cultural belatedness’ has been displaced by the study of ‘colonial modernity’. No longer beholden to the idea that a singular modernity was disseminated from core to periphery, scholars now speak of many localised modernities that arose across colonial and provincial sites. According to this new ‘multiple modernities’ paradigm, Australia was home to its own home-grown incarnation of modern life. But what was distinctively ‘Australian’ about Australian modernity? Although widely discussed in recent historiography, scholars have yet to delineate its distinguishing features. This article posits mobility as a central component of the Australian modern. Drawing upon new scholarship in settler colonial studies and transnational history, it argues that early twentieth-century Australia was home to intense cultures of both domestic and global mobility that were entangled with the geographies and anxieties of the settler colonial project. It shows how the nation’s ‘unsettled settlers’ also became its chief agents of modernity, and in doing so draws together several strands in recent historiography. Although mobility also signified modernity beyond Australia, it was within this settler colonial nation tyrannised by distance that the modern appetite for motion reached especial heights.

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