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Remembering Babylon Essay

To what Extent can Gemmy be regarded as Representing a Paradigm Shift in the Mind Set of the Settlers? In the novel Remembering Babylon by David Malouf, the character Gemmy causes the settlers to change their attitudes towards Australia. At first, the settlers have a very negative view of the land that they had colonised, but when Gemmy joins them he makes them realise that it is not so bad after all. He teaches them some of the things that he learned from his time living with the Aborigines. These ideas then transform the settlers’ mind set and their attitude towards Australia.

In the beginning, the settlers did not feel like they wanted to be in Australia; they thought that Scotland was much better. During the flashbacks of how George Abbott came to Australia, it shows how inferior Australia is seen. When he was told that he would go to Australia, it says “Australia. That was the word Mr Robertson had dropped into the room. The silence deepened around it, then spread” (Malouf 45). The reaction to the word Australia shows how poorly he thought of it, which is signified through the use of mood. In this passage, the mood is very surprised, but in a negative way almost as if it was unthinkable to suggest it. George Abbot later described Australia as a “…godforsaken place…” (Malouf 46).

This mind set is shared by Lachlan when he moves to Australia. He thinks that “The bush – it wasn’t even a country – was of no interest…” (Malouf 49). The fact that he thought of Australia as an uncivilised land, rather than a country, displays the view that Australia is inferior to Scotland. Before the settlers had met Gemmy, their attitude towards Australia was that it was in every way inferior to the life they could have had in Scotland and they did not really want to be there.

When Gemmy had been found by the Aborigines, he adapted to their life and learned from them their views on life and nature. That is shown when he hears of the settlers coming to Australia and he sees them as strange, as if he had the mind set of an Aborigine. “So when news drifted up from the south of spirits, white-faced, covered from head to foot in bark and riding four-footed beasts that were taller than a man, he was disturbed, and the desire to see these creatures, to discover what they were, plucked at him till he could not rest” (Malouf 26). This view that he had of the unknown creatures shows that in his mind he has become more like an Aborigine than a white man and he feels as if he does not really know what the white people are any more.

Later on, as Gemmy accompanies Mr Frazer on one of his botanical excursions, Gemmy acknowledges the spiritual world. “…a clear light surrounding him like the line that contained Mr Frazer’s drawings. It came from the energy set of where his spirit touched the spirits he was moving through” (Malouf 61). The fact that he has learned about spirits of creatures shows that during the time he stayed with the Aborigines, he learned to appreciate another dimension of the world. By living with the Aborigines, Gemmy became like one of them. He no longer felt like he belonged to the white people any more and because of the Aborigines he also learned to appreciate the world in a completely different way.

After Gemmy had lived in the settlement for a while, Janet had an epiphany that allowed her to view Australia from a different perspective. She felt as if “all the rough skin of her present self crusted and came off, what would be revealed, shining in sunlight, was this finer being that had somehow been covered up in her” (Malouf 53). After that epiphany, she felt “as if she had been relieved of the weight of her own life, and the brighter being in her was very gently stirring and shifting its wings” (Malouf 53). These feelings described make it seem as if she was becoming more spiritual, almost like Gemmy had learned to be. She saw the world in a new dimension that allowed her to see the true beauty of Australia. Janet became more aware of what the land around her really was like and its beauty in a similar fashion as Gemmy had, thus she could have been influenced by his views.

Mr Frazer also learned a lot about the nature from Gemmy. He often went on outings to discover new plants and record them in his notebook and he always took Gemmy along to show him the nature. “He sketched the parts of the plants that Gemmy showed him” (Malouf 59) and carefully recorded every detail of it in his notebook. On another one of the expeditions, Mr Frazer writes a reflection in his diary that says: We have been wrong to see this continent as hostile and infelicitous… It is habitable already. I think of our early settlers, starving on these shores in the midst of plenty they did not recognise, in a blessed nature of flesh, fowl, fruit that was all around them and which they could not, with their English eyes, perceive… We must rub our eyes and look again, clear our minds of what we are looking for to see what is there. (Malouf 118).

This reflection shows how Mr Frazer had learned to appreciate the nature and aims for others to also be able to open their eyes to the world around them and appreciate it for what it is instead of hate it for what it is not. Later, when Mr Frazer talks to the governor Sir George, he describes the “…knowledge of native life…” (Malouf 152) that Gemmy has, which shows that he appreciates Gemmy’s more extensive knowledge and how it can benefit the life of the settlers. By teaching Mr Frazer about the nature in Australia, Gemmy has managed to show him the true beauty of nature and appreciate it as it is.

Through opening the settlers’ eyes, Gemmy has been able to show them how to fully appreciate Australia. First, they did not at all care for it since they wanted it to be as much like Scotland as possible. However, as Gemmy came, he passed on some of the knowledge he had learned from the Aborigines. This allowed Janet to see the world from another dimension and appreciate its true beauty. It also taught Mr Frazer the usefulness of nature and he began to appreciate it for its real beauty. He then wishes that the other settlers also could see the world as he does and he tells the governor about this new knowledge. By teaching the settlers about the land, Gemmy managed to cause a paradigm shift in at least some of the settlers’ attitudes towards Australia.


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