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Belonging Essay

Belonging, in essence, refers to the notion associated with the connections individuals make with people, groups and places. Conversely, by belonging to a certain group or place others are indirectly excluded from belonging in the process. Belonging is a connection that we all, as humans, instinctively seek out; it forms part of our natural behavior. Through this process of belonging we ultimately conform and grow as a person, the outcome through which is our place in society is established.

The Immigrant Chronicle” by Peter Skrzynecki illustrates how difficult finding a sense of belonging can be by raising the issues experienced when attempting to assimilate in a new cultural environment with all the associated physical, personal and social changes. Similarly, Jeffery Smart’s painting “The New School” and the short film ‘Mr Cheng’ explore how barriers can hinder our sense of acceptance and belonging. Though it is an innate need to belong it is not always achieved. This idea is accentuated throughout “In the Folk Museum” as the composer struggles to relate to a history and culture which is not his own.

The visit highlights his inner conflict of not knowing where he belongs. He does not feel like a ‘true’ Australian who may look at such ‘relics’ and see cultural significance to them and understand their historical value. Rather he views them in a detached sense “To remind of a past/ Which isn’t mine”. The poet uses a faceless caretaker as a representative of Australia’s past. She sits next to a “winnowing machine” an agricultural machine that separates grain from chaff, creating a metaphor for separating the ‘true’ Australians from new migrants.

The poet illustrates the caretaker as dull and uninviting, matching her hair colour with the grey clay bottle that is in the museum; causing them to appear be made from the same entity adding to the composers discomfort and estrangement. The composer emphasises his lack of belonging by describing the colour of the museum as well as its “cold as water” touch showing the disconnection and isolation the composer experiences. The poem reinforces this idea, when the composer is asked to sign the visitor’s books emphasising that he is only a viewer of the Australian history rather than a part of it.

Likewise “St Patrick’s College” also portrays the need to belong; however, it reveals that belonging does not always come naturally despite his mothers attempt to find a way to connect through uniform and the schools reputation. The poet explores this attempt to belong in the third stanza by the stress of “eight years” passing by and yet he is still “Like a foreign tourist, Uncertain of my destination, Every time I got off. ” The poet reinforces this idea again by the repetition of time in the start of the fourth stanza, establishing that no matter how long, he is still not able to belong.

Despite the use of uniform, it is evident that it is only a facade, used in order to create an illusion of belonging. It is not the uniform that binds students together, but rather a unique connection shared with individuals and place. (Link to question here and back to thesis). Jeffery Smart’s painting “The New School” establishes that although belonging is an innate need, it is not always achieved. Smart is described as a social commentator, a witness to the alienated city dweller or worker in a dehumanized landscape.

Elements of his paintings are taken from real places but they are modified and generalised. The effect is that he creates universal scenes which could be renderings of any large modern city rather than being anchored in Australia or Europe. The concept of isolation is shown through the individual’s body language and placement of the hands as well as positioning in the painting. She is distant from the other students, as well as the school, showing she does not fit, emphasising her disconnection and lack of belonging.

Jeffery Smart also creates a negative feel through the dark colour of the sky and the sadness the girl displays through her facial expression, showing the difficultly to belong and how the individual feels isolation as she has no connection with these people place or groups. Similarly “In the Folk Museum”, the composer feels alienated not being able to relate to the Australian culture and history. The poem initiates feelings of isolation and disconnection as the poet questions himself and his place in society as he does not experience a link with the history viewed.

Both “St Patrick’s college” and “The New School” relate to a place and a lack of belonging. Smart furthermore highlights the struggle to belong by the vectors in his painting. This is shown by the lines of the basketball court, fading as they progressively near the individual, emphasising the student’s estrangement from the school. In the same way Mr Cheng experiences a lack of belonging through the vectors employed by the director, as images of his family appear however they fade emphasising his uncertainty of where he belongs.

The director revisits the idea of isolation, illustrated through the severed family connections that Mr Cheng has suffered. Mr Cheng’s alienation is echoed throughout the piece as the director emphasises his exclusion throughout the film through Mr Cheng’s portrayal as being secluded from society. This struggle is shown by the projections of his memories on a brick wall throughout the film, creating a metaphor, representing the wall as a barrier, showing that although he possesses these memories he is blocked from accessing his true identity.

Peter Skrzynecki’s, ‘The Immigrant Chronicle’, allows one to see the difficulties the poet, as a second generation migrant; experiences, this being, the dichotomy of belonging to a culture which is not his own and the feeling of estrangement from his parents’ culture. This concept is also shown through Jeffery Smart’s painting ‘The New School’ as the individual struggles similar to that of Mr Cheng to relate to an environment which is unfamiliar.


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