Quoting Sansom: Camaraderie & the grammar of exchange


I love Basil Sansom’s ethnography. He seems to capture something really vital about the social milieu of the long-grass. This description, for example, of setting out on a drive through remote country, ‘knowingly foredoomed’ is hilariously familiar:


‘I learned how to value most of the acts and things they valued in the terms they used. Price was another matter. In the ways things worked, it seemed that prices belonged not to a generalised system of exchange but to the particular transactions in which they vested. The reason why Big Maxie could get ol Luke to use his expensive 4wd Toyota to travel 200 miles down the track by offering a measly twenty dollars for incentive, was less a function of market forces, more a product of two intersecting biographies.


If one knew enough of Big Maxie and ol Luke, the power of Big Maxie’s few dollars made a kind of sense. Those dollars vested in a transaction that brought the past history of a relationship to the present and also implicated the future which was contained in a declaration of the social significance and human urgency of Big Maxie’s southward mission.


With twenty dollars now in hand, old Luke joined in Big Maxie’s purpose. They set out with reason, knowingly foredoomed to run out of petrol on the way home. They would then rely on the essential camaraderie of the road which, in the remoter regions of Australia, impels travellers to help fellow motorists who fall into trouble. The bitumen is graced by frequent acts of generalised reciprocity to make it an authentic ribbon of the goodwill whose token is the headlight-flash greeting’ (1988, pp. 161-162).




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