Margie Mackay 1
  1. VCA & MCM, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

The contestation of space and property rights is an age-old global dilemma, which Australia is far from having reconciled. Anxieties and tensions continue to exist amongst settler, migrant, and Indigenous communities, with differing relationships to land, its use, significance and possession.

If, as the Italian sociologist Rosati suggests: 'Ritual and the sacred have to be understood as the deep grammar of society' (Rosati 2009, 6) how might this ‘deep grammar’ be re-conceived to reflect a multiplicity of voices, capable of easing spatial and proprietary tensions, in today’s post-secular, yet enduringly religious, society?

This paper examines a series of recent, site specific, ‘New Ceremonies’, held in a variety of public spaces in Melbourne (the MCG 2010 - 2013, Birrarung Mar 2008, and St Kilda’s O’Donnell Gardens 2014), which aspired to tackle this question. Dialogues of connection between participants from differing backgrounds, cultures, and spiritual communities were therein given space to emerge through the processes of secular-spiritualritual enactments.

Ritual scholar Hilda Kuper suggests that: ‘In their rituals, we see persons dramatizing self and culture at once, each made by the other’(Kuper in Macaloon 1984 pg155). As such, ‘New Ceremonies’ could be seen as explorations of the reflexive, transformative, and reconciliatory potential of ritual forms, wherein Indigenous and non-Indigenous ‘ceremony makers’ enact new national imaginings. In doing so they co-create narratives of belonging, recognition and connection in public, embodied and affective (yet also temporal and ephemeral), sites of reconciliation and knowledge transfer.

Utilising an auto-ethnographic and trans-disciplinary approach the presenter, and director of these case studies, offers insights into the contemporary use of ritual forms in public spaces, including questioning the validity of polarising notions of the ‘sacred and profane’, and argues for non-religious interpretations of ‘the spiritual’ and ‘the sacred’ – so often seen as the exclusive purview of religious institutions.