Article-1 (5.2)

 Teesta Review: A Journal of Poetry, Volume 5, Number 2. November 2022. ISSN: 2581-7094

Australia-India: Treasures from the Album of Human Memories

My association with Australia, Australian studies in general and Australian literature in particular can be traced back to the year 2004. It was in 2004, as Chairperson of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, I visited Melbourne for the first time. It was a dream come true. Australia the land of cricket, kangaroos, koalas, wombats, kookaburra, cockatoos et al did not seem so alien to me, after all. The literature and culture of Australia to which I was introduced by Australian writers and academicians in 2004, created a sense of bonding and even in 2021 that connection continues as an ever-enhancing rich learning experience.

Interestingly, soon after my visit, the Australia-India Council granted me a visiting fellowship for eight weeks in 2005. This was indeed a rare opportunity to learn about Australian literature and culture by going through archival material in the excellent university libraries at Perth, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane, meeting academics and writers and interacting with Australian student communities within classrooms and also in the campus cafes and dining halls of the student residencies.

The added attraction of the AIC fellowship, which also makes it unique, is the fact that the visiting fellow gets a chance to visit at least five to six universities located in at least four or five Australian states. I vividly recall the late August afternoon when I reached Perth airport and had an AIC officer waiting to meet me at the arrival lounge. Within minutes she helped me to change my mobile sim card and having called home and reassured my husband that I had indeed reached, I accompanied my guide Denise Tallis to the hotel where I would be staying for the next two weeks. Denise escorted me to the lush adjoining sprawling gardens where I learnt to call our familiar eucalyptus trees, gum trees. The flora and fauna of Australia are overpowering, it seems as if all those pictures that we had seen in our geography books had become animated. But of course, it was sad to know from the menu cards in restaurants that the Australia’s national animal, the kangaroo, features as a part of the fare on offer.  I was served Kangaroo steak at a dinner and it was explained to me that this was a perfectly acceptable way to handle the kangaroo over-population.

But among such unique experiences, what really enriched me, as a cultural commentator, was my introduction to Australian women writers and their writing. If not for this very enabling AIC fellowship, I am almost sure that I would not have known about many feisty early twentieth century women writers. Back home it was invariably discussions about Patrick White, Peter Carey, Peter Goldsworthy, Kim Scott, Tom Keneally that we seemed to talk about. The wiser among us also spoke of Jack Davies, Mudrooroo, Kate Grenville, Kath Walker, Les Murray among others. And of course, Germaine Greer. But it was in Perth that two names were repeated many times by faculty members of the Curtin University of Technology: Miles Franklin and Katherine Susannah Prichard.

Interestingly, in 2006, The Dept of English, Calcutta University brought out a special issue on New Literatures in its prestigious departmental journal. I was the editor of this issue and the volume included many articles by eminent Australian critics such as Bill Ashcroft, Bruce Bennett, Andrew Hassam and David Carter among others.

 Also, during my fellowship period, when I reached the University of Queensland, Brisbane I was introduced to the works of two activist-writers: Jean Devanny and Eleanor Dark. At Perth I had learnt about Miles Franklin and Katherine Susannah Prichard. I had been informed about a number of Marxist women writers and the fact that there were a number of Australian writers who were members of the then Australian Communist Party. 

Interestingly, though I had read some details about the mentioned writers, Franklin, Prichard, Devanny and Dark in the histories of Australian literature that acknowledged their contribution to Australian letters, the on the ground recommendations by Australian academics and critics seemed to me to be far more enthusiastic and an eye-opener for me.

It was a pleasure to meet Carole Ferrier, editor of the feminist journal Hecate. I was introduced to Carole Ferrier at a tea meet organized by David Carter the Director of the Centre for Australian Studies, University of Queensland. Tall, slim, with a beautiful crown of shoulder length hair Carole Ferrier looked spectacular and powerful as she moved around in her office, telling me about her work, informing me about her Indian friends and promising to send me some issues of the journal Hecate, which she edited. In fact, she sent me all the back issues of Hecate till 2005, and I now have a special shelf exclusively for the Hecate issues. But along with these back issues she also gave me a copy of a book she took about twenty years to write. The book was Jean Devanny Romantic Revolutionary, published by the Melbourne University Press in 1999.

I visited Australia in 2017, as an invited speaker to participate in an international conference on gender politics curated by Carole Ferrier at the University of Brisbane. My perception has been that Australian studies can expand in India if the cultural two-way traffic, between Australia and India, receives enhanced governmental and institutional support. Incidentally, the forthcoming issue of Hecate will carry my review of a new book on Miles Franklin.

Also, I was recently delighted to notice that the Miles Franklin award of 2021 went to Amanda Lowry who I had met at the University of Brisbane in 2005. Lowry had gifted one of her books to me when we had met in 2005. Perhaps the album of human memories store and save treasures beyond the scope of virtual galleries and photo albums in phones and computers. 


Interliminal Encounters: Indian and Australian writers in po(i)etic dialogue, eds Amelia Walker and Aden Burg