In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Manoa 18.2 (2006) vii-xi

Editor's Note
Frank Stewart

There is a great deal that outsiders do not understand about the Australian continent and what it means to be Australian today. Australia is a large country—the sixth largest in the world—and its size is in sharp contrast to its relatively small population of about twenty million. Just three metropolitan areas on the east coast—Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane—are home to half of the country's populace.

Australia is far older and, at the same time, far newer than we might have imagined. The history of the continent's first inhabitants begins so far back in the origins of humanity that it is called, appropriately, the Dreamtime; from the Australian Aboriginal point of view, the Dreamtime's antiquity is both profound and unbroken, simultaneously past and present. The European settlers who claimed Australia for Britain in 1788 had no notion of such deep time and how it could bind the people and landscape. They set about displacing and eradicating the Indigenous inhabitants, whom they could neither understand nor, apparently, "see." The settlers officially promulgated the notion that the land was terra nullius, uninhabited.

Indigenous people are a mere 2.4 percent of the country's residents. But their history of cultural and physical displacement over the past two hundred years still weighs on the minds of many non-Indigenous Australians, who stuggle with the distinctions between possessing and belonging, be- tween what is legal and what is just. In a recent essay, the social ecologist John Cameron writes:

We are a divided country and this shows up no more strongly than in the relationship between Aboriginal and other Australians. Until we deal with the compartmentalization in society that turns different minority cultures into the "Other" that is to be marginalized, discriminated against or romanticized, the walls of the compartments will remain intact and the layers of our society will continue to rest uncomfortably against each other: A divided society of divided individuals cannot hope to lead sustainable lives and to treat each other, our fellow species and the land itself, in a just and respectful fashion. [End Page vii]

[Begin Page ix]

The story of how the population imbalance between Indigenous and other Australians came about—and its present consequences—can be found in much of the writing in Where the Rivers Meet. For Americans, the story of the dispossession of Indigenous peoples is especially poignant because we are struck by certain similarities between Australian occupation of the land and our own occupation of the New World. But the differences between these experiences are significant and have made Australian literature distinct from both American and British writing. Despite shared cultural roots and traditions, Australian literature has its own sensibilities. Mark Tredinnick, in the introduction to A Place on Earth, a collection of natural-history essays he edited, writes:

For all of the superficial similarities between the settlement of North America and Australia—the vast scale and essential wildness of both landmasses compared to the settled old world out of which the settlers came; the prior occupation by indigenous peoples; the extension of frontiers from east to west, led by pastoral and mining interests; the taming of wild lands in a spirit of capitalist enterprise—four factors make the two stories fundamentally different.

First is the matter of time. European settlement of North America began over two centuries before the British settlement of Australia—its roots reach back to premodern times, to an age of idealism before the Enlightenment. Britain colonised Australia from 1788. European life in this land has a history that does not run back past the Enlightenment. This has endowed Australian cultural life, particularly the apprehension of the land, with a much less romantic, a much more sceptical disposition. Matter had already been rendered unmysterious in settlers' imaginations before they ever beheld this place.

Second, there is this matter of cultural disposition or national temperament. North America was settled in a very different spirit than Australia. The one was settled in idealism; the...