Tom Singer

This Spring I traveled to Australia for the first time. The small town of Alice Springs was at the heart of my trip and sits in the center of Australia. Alice Springs has become an important “contact zone” between indigenous (Aboriginal) and non indigenous peoples. Many agencies dealing with aboriginal affairs are headquartered there. In defining what a “contact zone” is, Mary Louis Pratt wrote that a contact zone is a social space “where cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today”1. Peter Bishop, writing in his chapter "The Contact Zone as Imaginal Space" in Placing Psyche, goes on to say, "Contact zones also offer spaces where a decolonialising of cross-cultural communication and action can occur, where there can be alternative possibilities."2

This is precisely what I encountered in this unusual community of Australian citizens who have gathered in Alice Springs to engage more vitally with pragmatic intercultural exchange and relationships. Although Alice Springs is a town of only 28,000 people, I witnessed the most amazing display of cross-cultural creativity that I have ever seen. A volunteer group of sensitive people have gathered not only to promote positive relations between indigenous and non indigenous people but to stimulate a fertilization between the oldest mediterranean/middle eastern mythologies and the Aboriginal Altjerre or "The Dreaming". The “alternative possibilities” that are emerging in the contact zone of Alice Springs include contact between ancient and modern cultures, between western and aboriginal mythopoetic modes of thinking and between human beings of good will from two very different worlds. Emerging out of this contact zone are new, meaningful mythic and contemporary pragmatic forms that contribute to what I like to think of as “recombinant visionary mythology”. And the relationships between word, image, and ceremony that result are stunning.


1. M. Pratt, “Arts of the Contact Zone”, in Mass Culture and Everyday Life, ed. P. Gibian (New York: Routledge, 1997), p. 62.

2. P. Bishop, "The Contact Zone as Imaginal Space: The Nullarbor in the Non-indigenous Australian Imagination”, in Placing Psyche: Exploring Cultural Complexes in Australia (eds. Thomas Singer, Craig San Roque, Amanda Dowd and David Tacey (New Orleans: Spring Journal Books, 2011).