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Empires of information
The international War on Terror and recent events in our immediate region, particularly Indonesia, have thrown a sudden spotlight on Australian reporting of the Asia Pacific. But Australia has a long history of journalism, travel writing and documentary filmmaking here. This paper draws on Edward Said’s writings on ‘orientalism’ to bring an historical perspective to bear on contemporary factual genres and practices. It highlights three cases, focusing on Indonesia and Papua New Guinea: the travel writing and journalism of Frank Clune in the late thirties and early forties (To the Isles of Spice, 1944), the agit-prop filmmaking of Joris Ivens and the Waterside Workers Federation (Indonesia Calling, 1948), and the explosion of documentary work that came out of Papua New Guinea, Australia’s only true colony, from the early 1970s. In conclusion, the paper offers a caveat to factual crafts and genres — in both journalism and filmmaking — that deal with these geographically close, but culturally ‘other’, Australian neighbours, whom we must learn to live with. Empires of information are always, simultaneously, empires of imagination.