Australism and Mattering Maps: Websights of the South Pacific

Pacific Tourism Review, 3, 4, 2000: 19-24.

Garry Gillard

Murdoch University

"Imagining Oceania", as a recent conference was invited to do, one may well think of World Wide Web sites, as they are precisely one of the most significant ways in which many people imagine Oceania.  This is especially true for the author whose inclusive list of South Pacific sites (so inclusive that it includes some North Pacific sites!) has been maintained and developed since 1995.  And true also because web sites literally include images of Oceania, not just the metaphorical ones that we find in capital-L Literature.

A theoretical rationale might begin with the ontology of the text, move through the etymology of the word "literature", to end with the notion of the Derridean supplement (Derrida 1976).  That is to say that websites are also texts, that they contain forms of "writing", and that they show their essential nature in being a necessary supplement to other existing texts.  To anticipate one of the conclusions of this paper, albeit in cryptic form: what it has to say about Samoan websites may throw an additional light on the important Samoan novel Sons for the Return Home (Wendt 1973).  Websites, like literary texts, are (another) textual medium through which we imagine who we once were, who we are, and who we might wish to be.

The pun on sites/sights in the title of this paper is one way of drawing attention to the multimedia nature of websites: all sites use both print and actual (as opposed to figurative) images, and may also utilise sound, animated GIFs, Java script generation, and interactive devices like forms and chatrooms.  Both text and pictures and these other features work separately and together to create networks of identity.

In the particular case of websites which present or re-present the South Pacific as tourist destinations, site designers are constrained by a vision of a certain Southern Pacific, a vision identified here as "Australism".  (The term is constructed on the Latin word for South, and by analogy with Edward Said's "Orientalism" -- that image of a certain Orient as seen from the Occident) (Said 1985).  This limitation of vision, as this paper will show, constrains not only the designers of websites (as representatives of the inhabitants!), but also visitors to the websites, who may subsequently visit the islands as tourists.  As a result, both tourists and locals are limited to a stock of stereotypical imagery and therefore constrained by the visitors' typical expectations.

Looking to the South Seas, we expect to find images drawn from a recognisable lexicon, images with which writers are quite pleased to provide us.  Here is one example: from a gritty realist succumbing to the romance of the South.

Bali-ha'i was an island of the sea, a jewel of the vast ocean.  It was small.  Like a jewel it could be perceived in one loving glance.  It was neat. It had majestic cliffs facing the open sea.  It had a jagged hill to give it character.  It was green like something ever youthful, and it seemed to curve itself like a woman into the rough shadows formed by the volcanoes on the greater island ...  From two miles distance no seafarer could have guessed that Bali-ha'i existed.  Like most lovely things, one had to seek it out and even to know what one was seeking before it could be found.  (Michener 1958 [1947]: 95.)

That's James A. Michener.  But for real cliches, we might turn to his publicist.

"... the South Pacific, the endless ocean, the coral specks called islands, the coconut palms, the reefs and the full moon rising behind the volcanoes."  (Michener 1958 [blurb] 1.)

It is cliches like this, plus others suggesting that the coral specks might in fact be inhabited, that we might expect to find on the websites in question.


The state of mind in which people may commonly think of the South Pacific is a nostalgic one, whether or not they have had the good fortune to have visited or indeed lived there.  And indeed the notion of nostalgia has been a thread running through a particular way of thinking sociologically in recent times, and in cultural and tourist studies as well.

Nostalgia, for many writers (eg. Lowenthal 1985; Turner 1987; Stauth & Turner 1988; Jameson 1988, 1990), means a longing for the past.  This is a metaphorisation of the original meaning: "homesickness", a melancholy longing to return home.  The Oxford English Dictionary distinguishes two meanings of the word, an older and a newer.  The range of exemplary dates for the earlier meaning ("a form of melancholia caused by prolonged absence from one's country or home; severe homesickness") is from 1770 (Joseph Banks!) to 1861, while the range for the newer meaning (longing for a past time as opposed to a distant place) begins in 1920 (with D. H. Lawrence), while the last example is from The Sunday Times [1971] (with, in fact, the now familiar paradox, that "nostalgia is not what it was".)

As the examples in this paper are of places or of images of places, it is the original sense of "nostalgia" which will be understood.  (This older sense of the word, referring to place rather than time, is the kind of nostalgia that is the driving force of The Odyssey, the story precisely of a nostos, that is, a return home, and arguably an originary site for the expression of nostalgia.) 1  The term will, however, be used in what may be a newly metaphorical way (although retaining the spatial element) to refer to a strong desire to go to a place where one has never been (as well as a desire to return to one).  In metaphorising the notion of "nostalgia" in this way, it is suggested that it makes sense to speak of a longing for a home or country that one might wish were one's own, at least temporarily, as a tourist, as well as for a home that one has in fact left.

This follows from the premise that one's sense of identity is usually associated to some extent with one's sense of place: with those places that "matter" to us, about which we might say, that is where we live.  Indeed, nostalgia might be partly defined as one of the means of the creation and maintenance of identity, and in a touristic context, its extension.

Some Fijians identify themselves as being from a place to which they and perhaps even their parents have never been.  Thus John O'Carroll reports that a friend of his was "from Bau", even though neither she herself, nor even her parents, had ever been able to "return" there (1994: 289).  Similarly, Australians might say they "come from" the Shetland Isles, or from Somerset, though they may never have been there.

It has been a commonplace for some time now, as has already been suggested, that "Nostalgia isn't what it used to be" (Robertson 1990: 54, citing Davis 1974, but see above).  But whereas what Robertson here has in mind is what he calls (following Nairn 1988) "wilful, synthetic nostalgia": a "consumerist, image-conveyed nostalgia" which is a product of globalisation, the sense employed here, as has been said, is the older meaning of the word, that of "homesickness".  Turner (1987) claims that "this quasi-medical notion of homesickness" was invented in the seventeenth century by Johannes Hofer, for the symptoms exhibited by soldiers fighting far from home (149).  He goes on to say that philosophical and anthropological discourses have been examining this idea in much broader and deeper contexts, as having to do with the fundamental human condition of finitude, that is, mortality.  And that we may "talk about an ontology of nostalgia as a fundamental condition of human estrangement" or alienation (150).  This kind of nostalgia (as discussed by John Frow 1991) deals with a nostalgia for "lost domains of experience or referentiality" (128)—or, most succintly "estrangement" (135).  He sees this as:

... one of the central conditions of tourism, where the Heimat functions simultaneously as the place of safety to which we return and as that lost origin which is sought in the alien world (135).

So, nostalgia is a longing for unity and identity.  The melancholic element in nostalgia, then, may be seen as arising from a gap between identity and non-identity.  Susan Stewart writes about such a gap in these somewhat mystical terms:

... it is in this gap between resemblance and identity that nostalgic desire arises.  The nostalgic is enamored of distance, not of the referent itself.  Nostalgia cannot be sustained without loss.  For the nostalgic to reach his or her goal of closing the gap between resemblance and identity, lived experience would have to take place, an erasure of the gap between sign and signified, an experience which would cancel out the desire that is nostalgia's reason for existence." (1993: 145)

She may be suggesting, not altogether differently from John Frow, that there is a sense in which the nostalgic can never reach the desired goal, can never recover the lost origin.  That nostalgia is a condition of longing which in actuality does not admit of satisfaction.  In practical terms, as the experience of nostalgia has a pleasurable aspect (as well as a painful one), it makes sense to conclude that the satisfaction would remove that pleasure.  In philosophical terms, having left, one cannot return, in the sense that you can never return to the "same" place—as Heraclitus pointed out some time ago.

Pages on the World Wide Web are perfect exemplars of virtual tourism, in displaying and expressing the possibility of going somewhere, although not necessarily the actuality of travel (or if the actuality of having been there, then only its recall).  They may therefore also display and express the experience of nostalgia.  And they may function in either of these two apparently different and opposed ways ("wannago" and "wannagoback").


The key term in the title, "mattering maps" is Larry Grossberg's.  He uses it fairly loosely, as is the case here.  The main characteristic that he wants to attach to the term is a notion of affect, which, he writes, "defines a structure and economy of belonging" (1992a: 84), which may be taken as meaning to refer to the idea of feeling "at home", although perhaps only temporarily, as a satisfied tourist does.  He continues:

The image of mattering maps points to the constant attempt to organize moments of stable identity, sites at which people can, at least temporarily, find themselves "at home" with what they care about (1992a: 84).

He is in fact using the idea of this kind of cartography as a way of organising what he wants to say about pop music: we feel "at home" listening to certain kinds of music; we relate our sense of ourselves to that experience.  But what Grossberg writes in another place is perfectly adapted to thinking about sites on the World Wide Web, namely, that

... mattering maps also involve the lines that connect the different sites of investment; they define the possibilities for moving from one investment to another, of linking the various fragments of our identity together (1992b: 60).

The idea of "sites of investment" is obviously valuable in the present context—websites are often literally that—but so also is the idea of "lines that connect": an adequate metaphor for the way in which hyperlinks work in "moving from one investment to another, of linking the various fragments of our identity together".


Samoan sites are the major exemplars of the primary mode of nostalgia (of temporary or permanent exiles, people born in the country, who long to return to the homeland).  Two of the more significant sites are of this kind., as its name suggests, is a meeting-place, as its says, for "Polynesians on the world wide web", this superimposed on a photo of a traditionally dressed female dancer: a "fire dancer". 2  As soon as one "enters the Polycafe" one is offered a long list of general messages, and also the opportunity to enter one of a number of more specialised bulletin boards and chatrooms: the Kamehameha Round Table, "for serious talk", the Big Mango Sports Bar, obviously for sports lovers, the Alofa Lounge, "for Poly lovers, romantics, and those seeking genuine personal relationships", and the Mana Lounge, in which "decency and respect makes friendships last".  The predominance of Samoan names makes the origin of the writers clear, while many of the subject lines indicate that they are not at the time in Samoa: Ladee Koo Breeze for example, writes recently that "Wedding bells are ringing in Long Beach" (27Apr99), while Lil' Andrew wants to "Shout out to my aiga on da rock and Tacoma ... I've arrived safely to Guam" (27Apr99), Angel asks "What's up to my Samoan peeps in Union City!!  Where my girls at!!" (25Apr99), and Tiafau sends the fourth in a series of her "Memories of Samoa" (26Apr99).  The other major site is Samoachat, and again its name gives a fair indication what it is in fact: a webpage for the use of Samoans to talk with each other. 3

The intention of many local sites is simply to provide information: Fiji Village, to begin with Fijian sites for example, is one of the more important sites representing Fiji on the Web. 4  It offers football scores, election results, and even the top movies in Suva for the week.  But it is not so plain that it is does not offer a bure for its logo, and a woven mat for the page background.

Another is the Fiji Visitors Bureau. 5  One of the raisons d'etre of this latter is to give information about the accommodation available to tourists considering visiting Viti.  But another is to establish, with words and imagery, the quite specific identity of a tourist's Fiji Islands.

In the immediately previous version of the front page, before August 1999, the designer used a photo of a hotel swimming pool (the Sheraton Denarau), no people, just a line of blue and white pool lounges, six blue umbrellas, twelve palm trees, with nothing behind the sea wall but the blue Pacific Ocean stretching to infinity.  The lines dividing the page used a tapa design: which the visitor is likely to recognise as "exotic".  The text on the front page includes "South Pacific Paradise", "The One Truly Relaxing Tropical getaway!" and "Fiji The Way The World Should Be".

As Peter Wiltshier's paper in this issue reports, it was decided to concentrate on just the one tag-line, the one seen as the most essential to the tourist's view of Fiji, as "The one truly relaxing tropical getaway".  The other tags, both of some long standing, have disappeared from this page, leaving only this one underneath a new photograph, an aerial one of a small island (probably Castaway), completely ringed with white sand and ocean.  Although some accommodation may be glimpsed in the photo, there is no suggestion of any activity.  (Whereas the tiled swimming pool previously may have suggested the exercise of swimming.)  Image and wording work together to get across what is on offer: palm trees, beach, sand, and nothing needing to be done.

A not dissimilar site, although a private as opposed to a government venture, Eco-Lodge, declares itself to be "Fiji's Hidden Paradise". 6  A second, equally hyperbolic claim it makes is that "Stress Hasn't Arrived Here Yet".

A Cook Islands website tells visitors they are "Welcome to Paradise" over a painting of windswept tree, beach, sea and sky. 7  The foreground is occupied by a Tangaroa figure (the Polynesian creation deity who lives in the ocean).  The text begins with the proposition that we are in "The Heart of Polynesia".  (Though David Owens' Amerika Samoa pages make the same claim for that country. 8)

Another Cook Islands website, which begins with the address "" but immediately takes the browser to a New Zealand server, claims to be the "Gateway to Pacific" [sic]. 9  The drawing on its main page brings together a schematic palm tree with a spider's web linking it to another ancestral Tangaroa figure.

An example of webpage dedicated to a place one has visited and to which one looks back with nostalgia is John's Beekeeping Notebook. 10  John Caldeira was in Fiji with the Peace Corps for two years (he doesn't say which years) and gives us a number of pages in which he looks back on a place where "The culture is rich."

Fijian villages are great places", he writes.

One's worth is measured more by one's contributions and generosity than by the wealth one retains.  There are no taxes.  No home mortgage.  No insurance payments.  The aged are respected.  The culture is rich.

And, in another page:

Many parents in the US could learn valuable lessons on child-rearing from Fijians.

A much more ambitious site, dedicated to Amerika Samoa, has been maintained on the Web since 1995 by David Owens. 11  His front page shows a classic photo: sun setting over a volcanic island formation on the other side of a bay, framed by coconut palms.  As his company, iPacific Communications, is located in Fresno CA, one might be justified in assuming that he is another expat who has returned to his homeland but is nostalgic for the land he visited and misses.

Some such sites or pages have clearly been put up by expatriates who use them to create a souvenir of their stay.  But in an expression of nostalgia for somewhere one has never been, one webpage owner, who has explicitly NOT been to Rarotonga, has put on the Web a glorious aerial photograph of the island with the heading "Where I Want to Go". 12  The only text reads

I found this picture on the WWW.  It's Rarotonga, the largest island in the Cook Islands.  I've never been there, but it sure looks like a great place to relax.

What is striking about this is that this whole webpage exists only for this person to tell literally the World, "Where I Want to Go".  It is the classic, though banal, assertion of the "wannago", a version of the "wannabe".  This designer means much more than the superficial claim that the island in the (stunning) photo is merely a good "place to relax".  This is a textually understated version of the island in Michener's Tales of the South Pacific, which appears in another overstated version: the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from the musical South Pacific (1949):

Bali Ha'i may call you
Any night any day
In your heart you'll hear it call you
Come away come away

Bali Ha'i will whisper
On 'de wind of 'de sea
Here am I, your special island
Come to me, come to me!


And so to return finally to the notion of "Australism", formed, as was said, by analogy with Edward Said's "Orientalism".  Australism, to adapt Said's words,

can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the [Austral: the Southern]—dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short Australism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Austral.  (1985 [1978]: 3) 13

Australism is that discourse and system of representations which enables the authority of "the West" over the South, in this case not the economic South, but the geographical South Pacific, a most typical site for touristic longing and indeed travel.  As John O'Carroll points out, "a certain Pacific (especially a 'South Pacific') is a product of Western knowledges" (256).  It is by virtue of the power of Australism (another word for O'Carroll's and others' "Orientalising power relations" [264]) that the South Pacific is constrained to perform according to Western fantasies, to show itself in its fetishised and emblematic form, with swaying palms, dancing girls, grass huts in "... the dream of the idle islands, the coconut palm, the traditional thatched bures, the exotic rites and attires" (O'Carroll: 310).

In the texts mentioned in this very brief survey, and in countless other webpages, the South Pacific is constrained to represent itself to some extent as a series of cliches, of images drawn from a designer's standard stock.  In this way it is prevented from being whatever it "really" is, and forced to represent itself in the forms and fantasies of a Northern dreaming.

Works cited

All of the websites cited were available from the list at the author's website.

Davis, Fred 1974, Yearning for Yesterday: A Sociology of Nostalgia, Free Press, New York.

Derrida, Jacques 1976 [1967, 1974], Of Grammatology, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore MD, & London, tr. and with an introduction by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak from De la grammatologie, Minuit, Paris.

Frow, John 1991, 'Tourism and the semiotics of nostalgia', October, Summer, 57: 123-51.

Grossberg, Lawrence 1992a, 'Affect and the popular' and 'Hegemony by any other name', We Gotta Get Out of This Place: Popular Conservatism and Postmodern Culture, Routledge, New York & London: 75-89.

Grossberg, Lawrence 1992b, 'Is there a fan in the house?: the affective sensibility of fandom' in Lisa A. Lewis ed., The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, Routledge, London, New York: 50-61.

Jameson, Fredric 1988, 'The nostalgia mode', from 'Postmodernism and consumer society', in E. Ann Kaplan, Postmodernism and Its Discontents, Verso, London; repr. Peter & Will Brooker eds, Postmodern After-Images: A Reader in Film, Television and Video, Arnold, London, New York: 23-25.

Jameson, Fredric 1990, Postmodernism, Or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Verso, London/Duke University Press, Durham, NC.

Jameson, Fredric 1990, 'Nostalgia for the present', Postmodernism, or The Logic of Late Capitalism, Verso, London/Duke University Press, Durham, NC; repr. Peter & Will Brooker eds, Postmodern After-Images: A Reader in Film, Television and Video, Arnold, London, New York: 25-35.

Lowenthal, David 1985, The Past is a Foreign Country, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, New York.

Michener, James A. 1958 [1947], Tales of the South Pacific, Pan.

Nairn, Tom 1988, The Enchanted Glass: Britain and its Monarchy, Hutchinson Radius, London.

O'Carroll, John 1994, Writing the (Western) City: An Analysis after Derrida, PhD dissertation, Murdoch University.

Robertson, Roland 1990, 'After nostalgia?  Wilful nostalgia and the phases of globalization', in Bryan S. Turner ed., Theories of Modernity and Postmodernity, Sage, London: 45-61.

Said, Edward 1985 [1978], Orientalism, Penguin, London, (first published Routledge & Kegan Paul, London & Pantheon, New York).

Said, Edward 1985, 'Orientalism reconsidered,' Cultural Critique 1, Fall.

Stauth, Georg & Bryan S. Turner 1988, 'Nostalgia, postmodernism and the critique of mass culture', Theory, Culture and Society, 5, 2/3: 509-526.

Stewart, Susan 1993, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, Duke University, Press, Durham & London.

Turner, Bryan S. 1987, 'A note on nostalgia', Theory, Culture and Society, 4, 1: 147-156.

Wendt, Albert 1973, Sons for the Return Home, Longman Paul, Sydney.

1        I suggest that, among many other things, The Odyssey can be read as establishing a dreaming trail, a song-line to map a legendary version of part of the Mediterranean.

2 Checked: 28 June 1999. Not found 20 August 2016.

3        Samoachat: Checked: 28 June 1999. Not found 20 August 2016.

4        Fiji Village: Checked: 28 June 1999. Still up 20 August 2016.

5        Fiji Visitors Bureau: Checked: 28 June 1999. Not found 20 August 2016.

6        Eco-Lodge: Checked: 28 June 1999. Not found 20 August 2016.

7        Welcome to Paradise: the Cook Islands: Checked: 28 June 1999. Still up 20 August 2016.

8        David Owens' Amerika Samoa page: an appreciation of fa'a Samoa: Checked: 28 June 1999. Still up 20 August 2016.

9 Checked: 28 June 1999.

10       John's Beekeeping Notebook: Checked: 28 June 1999. Not found 20 August 2016.

11       David Owens' Amerika Samoa page: an appreciation of fa'a Samoa: Checked: 28 June 1999.

12       Jeff Dean, 'Where I want to go': Checked: 28 June 1999. Not found 20 August 2016.

13       (I'm tempted to introduce Septentrional—or "Northern"—in the place of "Western", but I don't think it would catch on: it's too hard to pronounce.)

Garry Gillard | New: 20 August, 2016 | Now: 20 August, 2016