The making of Euro-Australia occurred against the backdrop of two dimensions of its historical constitution. First, it occurred on the back of Britain’s entry into the Oceanian world and its intercivilizational encounters with Pacific cultures. The second dimension was the appropriation of the land of a complex and internally diverse Aboriginal civilization and suppression of its social world view. This was vital to a lasting sense of ambivalence in Australian identity and in the relations of the Commonwealth of Australia with island states in the Pacific. After Federation (1901), Australia became more independent in the context of devolution of the Commonwealth. Engagement in the Pacific War heralded a turn from allegiance to Britain to alliance with the United States. A new orientation to the Asia-Pacific was not a chosen course, but one compelled by geo-political conditions and a growing dynamism in this multi-civilizational world region. From the 1970s to the end of the twentieth century, engagement in Asia accelerated with the onset of a policy regime of multiculturalism and a process of neo-liberal modernization.

This essay argues that Euro-Australia emerged out of complex intercivilizational interactions entailing colonialism, diverse migratory and cultural flows, and the creation of a homogenizing collective memory. I contend that Australian modernity, due in part to its suppression of its indigenous civilization and accompanying denial of that suppression, has borne considerable cultural and political ambivalence about its place in the region — an ambivalence which structures its economic and political relations with neighbouring countries. In this essay, I focus on Pacific relations. I compare developments and turns in Australian foreign policy with patterns of cultural engagement since the 1970s. Towards the end, I raise the Australian regime of refugee detention in relation to climate refugees. The essay concludes with notes on the merits of civilizational analysis in understanding the Oceanian constellation and its potential futures and points for further research on Australia in a multi-civilizational context.