Kunapipi 19 (2) 1997 Full version
Anna Rutherford 0
0 University of Aarhus , Denmark
l d l d V N D > I
9 2 : / £ i - ........:..... : .
Kunapjpj is a tri-annual arts magazine with special but not exclusive
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VOLUML XIX NUMBI::R 2, 1997
SHIRLI::Y CIIEW AND DAVID DABYDLLN
DIANA BRYDON, KI::E TI JUAN CHYI::, ANNE COLLETT,
MARGARET DAYMOND, ERNEST K. I::MCNYONU, HELEN
GILBERT, GARETI I GRJFFITI fS, ALAMC..IR HASIIMI, ARITHA VAN
HERK, ALAN LAWSON, RUSSELL McDOUGALL, HENA MAES
JELINEK, GANESII MISHRA, ALASTAIR NIVEN, KIRSTEN HOLST
PETERSI::N, BRUCE CLUNIES ROSS, PAUL SHARRAD, KIRPAL
SJNGll, IILLEN TIFFIN, GI::RRY TURCOTTI::, JAMES WIELAND,
RAJIVA WIJESINHA, MARK WILLIAMS, R. ZIIUWARARA.
Kunapipi is published with assistance from the European branch of the
Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies, the
Faculty of Arts and the Centre for Research in Textual and Cultural
Studies (CRITACS) at the University of Wollongong, and the Arts
Council of England.
Cover: 'Refugee' by Jim Jarman. Photo by Sue Moore
IN MEMORY OF SIGNE FRITS
Kunapipi refers to the Australian Aboriginal Myth of the Rainbow
Serpent which is the symbol both of creativity and regeneration. The
journal's emblem is to be found on an Aboriginal shield from the Roper
River area of th e Northern Territory in Australia.
Photo montage by Peter Lyssiotis
EDITORIAL: THE LOSS OF OUR HUMANITY
When we discover that there are several cultures instead of just one and
consequently at the time when we acknowledge the end of a sort of cultural
monopoly, be 11 illusory or real, we are threatened with destruction by our own
discovery Suddenly. It becomes possible that there are JUSt others, that we
ourselves are an 'other' among others. Paul Ricoeur, History and Truth
No-one is different without they have something wrong with them .
Patrick White, Clay
It is by the failures and misfits of a civilization that o ne can best Judge 1ts
weakness. Epigraph to Doris Lessing's The Crass is Singing
rhe ultimate test of our worth as a democratic nation is how we treat our most
vulnerable and diSadvantaged
Su William Deane, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia
It is not often I write an editorial for Kunapipi. That is not because of
laziness or lack of concern, though I have to admit that both the time
factor (to get the journal to press) and the space factor (more pages mean
higher printing costs), do play a role. Sometimes I feel constrained like
Mrs Touchett in Henry James' novel The Portrait of a Lady, when she
said, 'I never know what I mean in my telegrams - especially those I
send from America. Clearness is too expensive'. In the case of this
editorial I've decided that the issues are too important to lack clarity and
so I'm hoping to win the lottery to cover the cost!
On this occasion I am breaking with my usual convention because I feet
that the issues to be dealt with are too important not to warrant an
editorial. Most of them, with the exception of the aborigina l issue, are
relevant not only to Australia but to the world in general, and the
Western world in particular, and in accordance with the policy of
Kunapipi many voices from many countries are included to discuss these
issues- aboriginal rights and the stolen generation, Hansonism, racism,
migration, in particular Asian migration, refugees, multi-culturalism, the
continued rapid and insidious growth of what Jim McClelland calls the
llfW world religion, Globalized Economic Rationalism, whose main
function seems to transfer the manufacturing industry, that is jobs, from
muntries that have a high standard of living to low-wage countries.
Nike's sweat shops in the Asian countries were exposed in the Australian
papers but it didn't stop an Australian youth being murdered for his new
It is my intention to start with globalization, economic rationalism and
dehumanization. This is not because I find the question of racism and
taeatrnent of our indigenous population secondary to the other issues. On
the contrary. My reason is that I believe that the root cause of all the
other evils we are faced with lie within the first group mentioned. To find
1 solution we must find a cause, and having found the cause try, by some
means, to eradicate it. Impossible - no - nothing's impossible. I
personally had a great deal of respect for Mother Teresa and her work but
not for her blind adherence to the teachings of the present Pope. You see
the question I would ask is, 'Why were they poor?' As Zillah Eisenstein
said, 'Since life activity in this society is always in process, in process
through power relationships, we must try to understand the process. To
understand the process is to understand the way the process may be
changed'. The aim of this editorial is to try to provide some reasons why
Australia is in the position it is in today.
In her 1997 NSW Premier's Literary Award address, Drusilla Modjeska
said, 'a time of upheaval and conflict in ways of thinking, and perhaps
even of writing, are being challenged and changed in the most painful of
ways. I am sure I am not the only one to have had the sensation of
waking up to find myself in an Australia I barely recognise. Or rather
more to the point, an Australia I would rather not recognise'. Drusilla
Modjeska is not alone i11 these thoughts. Because of illness I was unable
to attend my mother's funeral. I did however write the eulogy which was
read by a friend of mine at the Requiem Mass. Somehow or other I must
have felt the winds of change that were soon to affect Australia so
violently for I concluded by reminding those present, of the Mayfield of
old, that Mayfield of my childhood and of the well-known characters
including my mother who had been so much a part of it. 'It was' I said 'a
harder world than the one we live in today, but in terms of love, caring
and community spirit one could not have found a richer world'. Some
readers might say 'she's just growing old (which I am) and
sentimentalizing the past'. No I'm not. I am not adverse to change; on
the contrary I am a firm believer in John Cardinal Henry Newman's
dictum, 'To live is to change'. It's not change that bothers me. It's the
changes that have and are continuing to take place that cause me not only
great anger but great anguish and shame.
I left Australia when I was twenty-one, not because I didn't like it but
because I was curious and wanted to see what the rest of the world was
like - if it really was like what for us were the almost mythical pictures
we had seen in our history books. I had a fair idea of where each country
was because I was taught to swim at a very early age by my father in a
pool adjacent to Newcastle beach. The pool had a raised concrete map of
the world in it, appropriately coloured, and my father would say, 'Now
swim from Africa to India'. A swim across the Indian Ocean was quite a
swim for a five year old and I'd be pleased when I reached the shore
Bombay I suppose. Getting from India to Sri Lanka (Ceylon in those
days) was much easier and the swim home to Australia no trouble at all.
Actually I think that was the first time 1 questioned the term 'the Far
East'. Why far? England was a lot further and required another
swimming season before I could struggle to reach its shores.
In 1955 I left for Europe, this time by boat, and apart from another short
!he Loss of Our Humanity
period in Australia plus many visits I have literally wandered around the
world, cunous about other peoples, their cultures and their countries,
findmg out the realities of what lay behind those blocks of concrete in
that pool. It is little wonder that an academic career led me into post
colonial studies, an area in which I taught for thirty years at the
Uruversity of Aarhus, Denmark. Teaching post-colonial literature meant
that I also taught Australian literature and I did my best to teach it warts
and alt pointing out all the negative features as well as the positive. I
discussed the White Australia Policy, the treatment of the aborigines
using texts like Glenys Ward's Wandering Girl, showing Tracey Moffat's
film Nice Coloured Girls, and using text by non Anglo-Saxon/Celtic
writers such as Judah Waten's Alien Son and Ania Walwicz' 'Wogs'. As I
beheve that colonization and feminism are linked, I used Henry Lawson's
'Squeaker's Mate' to show the hypocrisy behind Russell Ward's
Australian legend; Kate Grenville's Lilian's Story was a wonderful
example of the fate of a person who was not only female but 'different'
and there could be no better text than Thea Astley's It's Raining in
Mango to put a lie to the old myths just as David Malouf's Remembenng
Babylon and Alex Miller's The Ancestor Game revealed all the flaws
behind so-called historical 'truth' as found in the official text books. I was
not 'knocking' my own country, for though by the time you read this I
will have spent two thirds of my life in other countries, and I'm off to
Chile, Peru and Easter Island in November and fly to England and
Europe via Sri Lanka in January, however I am still a firm believer in a
quotation from Horace much used by many post-colonial writers: 'They
change their skies but not their souls who sail across the sea'. Where I
live and where I die will not change that. In the rather jingoistic last line
of Dorothy Mackellar's poem, Australia, a poem we all learnt at school,
when the time does come to die, 'I know to what brown country my
homing thoughts will fly'.
When I taught Australian literature, in spite of presenting the 'warts' I
was always careful to point out that in spite of everything else, I believed
that we had created in a very short time the best 'multi'-cultural society
that existed. I also believed that the Mabo1 and Wik2 decisions had gone a
long way towards reconciliation with Australia's original population.
When I reached Australia in 1997 a great shock hit me and I was forced
to ask myself the same question that Dr Lois O'Donoghue had asked;
namely what had happened to that 'moment of idealism' manifested by
90% of the Australian population in that referendum of 1967? This was a
referendum that decided that aborigines could be Australian citizens.
There are indeed disturbing echoes today 'of the black and coloured
issues' that were around when the nation's framework was established.
What had gone wrong?
Noel Pearson's article explains very clearly what happened in the last
Federal election and his opening paragraphs dealing with the Great
Mainstream of Australia are of course written with deep irony. Initially
the massive coalition victory was perceived as an assertion of mainstream
values - the triumph of 'ordinary people' over policies which had been
perceived as favouring minority or even elite groups, a term bandied
around to describe supporters of reforms in relll.tion to women, ethnic
groups and aborigines, to denigrate promoters of social reforms particu·
larly with reference to gender, race and ethnicity. Such groups were
accused of having, with the support of the previous governments,
enforced a rigid regime of political correctness. The so-called 'chardonnay
socialists' included of course the supporters of the arts, intellectuals, the
Australian Broadcasting Commission, socialists and supporters of the
Republican movement. The day after Paul Keating, Australia's former
Labor Prime Minister, announced his support for an Australian republic
he was lampooned in a cartoon in one of Australia's national newspapers
as an IRA terrorist and underneath was written Irish Catholic Working
Minority groups, being given too much support and encouragement
were regarded as the privileged, whilst the Great Mainstream, 'all of us'
was being victimized and deprived of its fair share of the goodies.
According to Ms Hanson, multiculturalism is 'discredited and
meanspirited'. Robert Menzies, former Prime Minister of Australia, was
attacked over our White Australia immigration policy. His answer was,
' We don't import problems'. I wonder how Ms Hanson got in! I am sure
that much of the racism that exists in Europe today stems from the same
source as Betty Th0gersen mentioned . (Hence Mrs Thatcher's demolition
of the London County Council and her making sure that Ken Livingstone
was no longer in power.) In whatever way it was perceived, it was
promoted and fanned to fever pitch by Pauline Hanson who set about to
put the 'facts' right and speak for 'All of Us' . This is an issue which I
would like to take up later.
In a splendid article in The Weekend Australian called 'The Business of
Being Human' Richard Neville wrote among other things, 'The point of
business is to provide profit. The point of culture is to provide meaning'.
Later in this editorial I mention David Putnam's film The Mission. Earlier
this year a debate took place between Peter Guber, the former chairman
of Sony Pictures, a power in Hollywood, and the British film producer,
Sir David Putnam, whose films include Chariots of Fire, The Killing
Fields and The Mission. The event was a debate attended by 700 students
at Boston University. The issue: 'Do social values figure on Hollywood's
Mr Guber claimed they did. 'Films are a worldwide industry, America's second
export ... This is show-business, not show-show '
David Putnam replied: 'The medium IS too powerful and too ~mportant an
mfluence on the way we hve, the way we see ourselves, to be left solely to the
tyranny of the box-office or reduced to the sum of the lowest common
denominator of public taste.'
Mr Guber replied: 'lf you want religion, go to church.'
Sir David's argument was that cinema is the church, that ' to an almost
alarmmg degree' films shape people's thinking and define social health.
Each of the film makers had foot-soldiers on hand to support their arguments.
Guber's was William Roth. His argument was: 'As we know, llollywood's only
goal IS to make money ... The audiences define and control the product ... The
product was neutral, utterly bereft of moral content, responsible only to market
forces, like a Teflon pan. Not art for art's sake, but art for money's sake.'
Putnam's supporter was Tom Oanon. After describing Hollywood as a cultural
ghetto with a tremendous effect on world society he continued: 'Films should do
what great literature and art do: make us and elevate us and remind us that we
are not alone.'
When the time came to vote it turned out to be a crushing vote for the Putnam
camp. It is, as the article concludes, ' ludicrou s to say in 1997 that films don' t have
an impact. But Hollywood's failure to grasp the power the movies have on culture
and thought, not only in America but worldwide, is not deliberate. It is ignorant
I have dealt with this issue at length because I am able to see the direct
effect of the lowest common denominator on the Australian population.
As Richard Neville said in his article, ' We recognize more labels and
logos than we do birds and trees. We' ve come to equate our self-worth
with our net worth'.
In most cases I am afraid he is correct. The power of films and
commercial television, owned incidentally by Rupert Murdoch and Kerry
Packer, who have just joined Vanity Fair's sixty-four richest and most
powerful people in the world, is enormous. As Barbara Drury reports in
her article 'Toys "R" Hell', 'the world's toy markets and fast food empires
have set their sights on your money and they are using your children to
get it. This will be achieved by the wave of movies and marketing [films]
that is about to break on Australia'. As she said, 'It is a rare parent who
can tc,ugh out their offspring's relentless demands for Star War's
paraphernalia or the latest Barbie'.
Richard Neville also quoted the figures released by the United Nations
in 1996 which revealed that the net worth of the world's 358 richest
llillionaires is equal to the combined income of the poorest 45% of the
world's population. 'After the first billion', Neville asks, 'how about the
teSt going into a global kitty for the super poor?' This idea of course
would seem preposterous to those who owned that first billion and
whose aim was to own not only two or three but many more. Other
~s of interest are that in Australia in 1993 the top 10% of households
/lilntrolled 40% of Australia's wealth, while the top 50% controlled 95% of
iUstralia's wealth. I'm sure the present day figures would reveal an even
iilore depressing outlook. And whilst we're on the subject of figures, 50%
the world's refugees are children and an estimated 97% of refugees
in Third World countries. Peter Nobel, Ombudsman for Refugees,
, said, 'The World needs change, new thinking and new people.
~tion is change because it brings the new. What is good in the old
survive the change. What is bad I hope will not. In the meantime we
must continue our work for Human Rights and respect for all human
beings'. Remember what John Donne said, 'No man is an island, entire
of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main ... Any
man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind'
(Meditation 15). Richard NeviJle's question reminded me of one raised by
the former leader of Tanzania, Sir Julius Nyerere. I was fortunate enough
to be present at an address he made at the Royal Commonwealth Society
in London. Here was a humble man, making a plea for help and sacrifice
for his poverty-stricken country and the equally poverty-stricken
inhabitants, to a group, most of whom would have been regarded
amongst the rich and elite of Britain. When he concluded questions were
asked for and one woman stood up and said, 'Sir Julius, are you really
asking me to sell my country home?' Sir Julius, a very gentle man, smiled
wryly and replied, a reply I will never forget, 'Madam, isn't one home
enough for you?' His plea I am afraid fell on deaf ears.
A group of British coalminers pointed out that God had been replaced
by Mammon. 'The owners don't believe in God because they've got their
heaven here on earth'. This new world religion finds one of its firmest
believers in the present Australian government, and it is with their
blessing that the multinationals seek to introduce individual contracts and
do away with collective bargaining; the old divide and rule principle is
applied, and in spite of the defiant stand by the unions, 'United we
stand/Divided we beg', one feels that they have little chance against such
odds. With the gradual demise of the unions and with the subsequent
loss of jobs there is an increasing social insecurity; human beings were
described recently, by the leader of one big multinational, bidding for yet
another state owned asset as 'controllable market labour', labour which
can be dumped on a rubbish heap when no longer deemed of any use.
Along with all of this one sees a whittling away of the welfare state, a
high increase in jobless, particularly amongst the youth, an alarming
suicide rate which not only includes the young but also the old, who no
longer feel there is anyone or any institution to take care of them. In a
'user pays' society what happens when the user can't pay?
'Unemployment', as Sir William Deane said, 'presents a loser with the
stark face of poverty - material poverty in the form of homelessness,
inadequate clothing, sustenance, care or help. And so often the grim
companion of disadvantage is the poverty of spirit'.
When you take away a people's right to work you take not so much
their money, though this of course is important, but even more important
is the removal of their self-esteem and loss of confidence.
Our leaders have failed us. With full intent to destroy union power, to
downsize the work field, a shift to casual labour and job insecurity,
deregulated hours and the attempt to introduce a twelve hour day, the
government had very successfully succeeded in dividing us along
economic, life style, age and career lines. We have indeed become
Disraeli's two nations. But where the leaders have failed us even more is
that, as Helen Trinca stated, 'they have also failed to fill the intellectual
and policy vacuum left when Australia jettisoned the right to work. In
her Larry Adler lecture given at the Sydney Institute on 13 August 1997
Australia's distinguished novelist Shirley Hazzard remarked, 'Years ago,
in America, an elderly maverick in public life asked : "Does the economy
exist for us, or we for the economy?" Who would be foolhardy enough to
ask that question now? Humanism is being thrown over as yet another
piece of outmoded baggage, without consideration of what is being given
up, or fear of what this conversion will make of us'.
Shirley Hazzard's is not a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Her
sentiments were echoed by another distinguished novelist, David Ireland,
whose latest book The Chosen has just been published. 'Westerners have
stripped the world of the sacred, the transcendent, and now have no
centre, no stable place to stand, no point where the inside that makes us
what we are can view the world about us and the world behind that.
Behind bitumen and bricks, glass and concrete, rubber tyres, airports,
McDonald's ... we are restoring the sacred to those who value it, from
whom we wrenched it away, yet we count nothing sacred ourselves. We
live spiritually centreless lives with few meanings beyond food and
family, comfort and career path. We have lost that central seriousness
around which the rest orbits and to which it refers'.
And don't think that economic rationalism dies with you . On the
contrary even the dead are not free of it. Here I am referring to what is
euphemistically called the 'Revitalization of Sandgate'. In discussing the
Sandgate issue I would stress that I have no desire to give offence to
people whose relatives are buried there. Sandgate, I should explain, is the
second largest cemetery in the State of NSW and there is no doubt that
there are many historic aspects related to it which we are told that the
Trust plans to capitalize on. The headlines tell it all. 'New life for
Sandgate Cemetery'. No need to wait for the day of judgement eh! No,
Sandgate is going to be revamped and if the Sandgate Cemetery Trust
has its way Sandgate is not only going to be 'revitalized' (facelifts are also
provided) so that it becomes not only a major tourist attraction but also a
place of 'passive recreation'. Given the nature of its inhabitants I would
suggest it will indeed be a place of 'passive recreation'. But that's not all.
Oh no! Not for those who are going to flock to it as it is turned into a
major tourist attraction. We have been assured that no existing graves
will be recycled - think of the blood and bone potential - but more
'income producing measures' have to be introduced to make it a viable
project. These include 'a lawn cemetery' (placed I might add on one of
the busiest and noisiest corners in Newcastle - not much chance for
'passive recreation' there - 'a commercial nursery, an annual open
garden day, a columbarium, encouraging double use of single graves for
couples, public tours, a computerised data base with a fee for people
compiling family trees, a service on Mother's Day and a Friends of
Then of course there is the question of tenure. I know many think of
that term only in relationship to academics but the dead have now joined
the academics. The draft plans of the Trust are full of references to 'the
idea of limited tenure for grave plots', but so far the NSW Government
has rejected this idea. You can be sure that the Trust will persevere in its
demands and it will come as no surprise to you that the Chairman of the
Sandgate Cemetery Trust is an undertaker.
All of this must provide good news for those who worried about
ageing. There's no longer any need to worry. Just leave it up to the
market forces and if you feel like being revitalized I'm sure that for a fee
the Sandgate Cemetery Trust will be happy to oblige.
By the way, if you think that the Sandgate Cemetery Trust has got the
game sewn up, forget it. The papers have just informed us in an article
entitled 'Foreign Bodies', that 'almost one in three Australian bodies will
be laid to rest by an American-owned company'. Two multi-nationals
head the list and one we are told would make it Australia's ninth largest,
not far behind Rio Tin to. The president of the Australian-owned company
is rather angry about it.
'There IS absolutely no way we should be allowmg the Americans to dommate our
funeral mdustry,' he says. 'There IS no export advantage- you can't export bod1cs
and there is no technology transfer - all you need is a back hoe. They have
nothing to bring to the industry apart from the1r marketing techniques. They are
adding to our foreign debt and looking to take advantage of Australians in theu
bereavement' But then the Americans have always had the edge on dealing w1th
'The Loved One[sl', haven't they?
In the following section I would like to discuss racism, Pauline Hanson
and in particular the plight of Australian Aborigines.
The catchcry for the last election was for 'all of us'. But who were 'all of
us' or who are 'all of us'?
There is a particularly obnoxious game being played at the moment,
especially by Australian youths. It's called 'Pick the Aussie' as if there is
such a national identity. r happened to be party to a conversation
between two women whom I knew to be of Irish Catholic descent. They
were discussing the terrible state of affairs in Australia. The conversation
ran something like this. 'It's terrible all this violence isn't it? You know
there wasn't any before "they" came!' 1 refrained from pointing out that
violence had been an integral part of Australia's history since the first
white settlement. The conversation continued. 'They should bring back
the death penalty don't you think?' I said, 'No, I do not think so'. Then
came the reply, 'Well they should be sent back to where they came from'.
My question to that was, 'But what if they are Australian citizens?' 'Ah'
back came the answer, 'but they're not real Australian like us are they?' I
was tempted to point out to them that the surgeon to the Port Phillip
Association, Dr Alexander Thomson, claimed that the Irish were 'utterly
KKK by Mandy Graham, Newcastle Morning Herald
useless ... intellectually inferior even to the aborigines', and Governor
Arthur begged the Colonial office not to send Irish convicts to Australia,
as they would lead to the impoverishment of the colony's intellectual and
spiritual life', but I felt those pieces of information would have fallen on
deaf ears and my suggestion that the 'real Australians' were the
aborigines would only bring forth more ignorance and intolerance than I
felt up to fighting. I decided to leave them 'as ignorant as Paddy's pigs'
(a common derogatory term about the Irish), blissful in that ignorance.
I am well aware that racism is not confined to Australia. Other
countries have their Pauline Hansons, their Le Pens, their Ian Paisleys,
their Enoch Powells, their Ku Klux Klans, to say nothing of the neo-Nazi
groups that have arisen all over Europe. By mentioning these bodies I am
not excusing Hanson. I am simply pointing out that Australia is not
unique. Nor is it unique in its barbaric behaviour towards the indigenous
population. Where Australia is unique I believe is in the continuation of
that pohcy towards the aborigines today.
We all know that racism played a central role in Australia's Federation
(1901) with White Australia firmly nailed to its masthead. When Dr Lois
O'Donoghue launched 1901- Our Future's Past she pointed out that 'the
Fathers of Federation had put indigenous people m the Constitution only
to exclude us', in any census taken aborigines were not to be 'counted as
part of Australia's population'. Aborigines were considered an inferior
race which under the laws of Social Darwinism would eventually die out.
It was not until the referendum of 1967 thirty years ago when 90% of
Australians voted to make aborigines Australian citizens.
I quote from Alfred Deakin, one of the founding fathers of Australian
Federation, an intelligent, cultured, widely read man. (Compare Thomas
Carlyle and his essay on 'The Nigger Question'.) Deakin objected not
only to the Chinese but to all who could not become 'Anglicized without
delay'. This included 'Southern Europeans of the lower Latin type'. What
is perhaps most fascinating is his fear of the civilized 'alien races' with the
Japanese singled out.
I contend that the japanese requ1re to be excluded because of their high abilities. I
quite agree ... that the japanese are the most dangerous because they most nearly
approach us, and would, therefore, be our most formidable competitors. It is not
the bad qualities, but the good qualities of these alien races that make them
dangerous to us. It IS their mexhaustible energy, their power of applying
themselves to new tasks, their endurance and low standard of living that make
them such competitors ... the faculties that make them dangerous to us are those
which make their labour so cheap and their wants too few. The effect of the
contact of two people, such as our own, and those constituting the alien races, is
not to lift them up to our standard, but to drag our labouring population down to
theirs. It is the business qualities, the business aptitude, and general capacity of
these people that make them dangerous, and the fact that while they remain an
element in our population, they are incapable of being assimilated.
Already the economic fears and racism were inextricably linked. In a
time of recession and unemployment racism is quick to raise its ugly head
as the outgoing chairwoman of the NSW Ethnic Communities Council,
Ms Angela Chan pointed out just recently. We forget very quickly that
when we needed labour we very rapidly obtained it from any source we
could, as was the rest of the Western world (see Peter Lyssiotis's
montages, pp. vi, 22). When we no longer need it we try to throw it back.
Malcolm Fraser, himself a Liberal, pointed out to John Howard on the
ABC television programme, Prime Ministers on Prime Ministers, 'Now
people say immigration takes jobs, but as immigration has been reduced
unemployment becomes more entrenched'.
The other scapegoats were the Asians, particularly the Chinese, many
of whom had been brought as miners during the gold rushes of the
1850s, just as migrants from Europe and eventually Asia were brought in
after the Second World War to supply much needed labour for the great
industrial boom that followed that war. Peter Lyssiotis's montage reminds
us, 'To those lands which have machines labourers shall be given'.
The policy of 'White Australia' was firmly nailed to Australia's mast
head and the Bulletin had as its motto until December 1960, 'Australia for
the Whiteman'. Known popularly as 'the bushman's Bible' the Bulletin
supposedly represented the ideals celebrated in the legend of the 90s,
(the 1890s), the bushman's legend, namely egalitarianism and a fair go
for all. The only catch to it was 'for all'. Like Pauline Hanson's ' For All of
The Loss of Our llumanity
Us' the 'all' was far from being inclusive. 'All' meant being male, white
and anti-intellectual and its values are perhaps best summed up by Harry
m Thea Astley's It's Raining in Mango.
I'm part of the established Australian soda/ structure, he would say, and I can't
See, he would say, a poem, a kind ofpoem ofstructure. And as many girls as you can get on the side.
Do they count? someone might ask.
You 're kidding, he would say
The idea of Australian and mateship was taken to ridiculous limits
when T. Inglis Moore, an arch-nationalist stated in his book Social
Patterns in Australian Literature, that Patrick White's novel, The Tree of
Man, was both undemocratic and un-Australian (for Inglis Moore the two
were synonymous). The reason for his judgement? Stan Parker, the hero
of the novel, didn't have a mate!
We are told that John Howard takes with him to each office to which he
moves, three pictures, Winston Churchill, Mrs Thatcher and Russell
Drysdale's painting 'The Cricketers'. The first two I can easily
understand, the third is no doubt attributable to Mr Howard's declared
love of cricket. But let me say to you Mr Howard, what you are doing to
the indigenous people of Australia and to many other 'ordinary
Australians' is 'just not cricket' . While the positive features of family life
have long been recognized, white Australians have actively promoted the
fragmentation of black families. No doubt you would adhere to the
dictum, 'The family that prays together stays together'. Tell that to the
stolen generation. Or are one culture's prayers superior to another's?
Is it true, as Pauline Hanson insists, that we are a Christian country (I
wonder if she knows the etymology of Christian) and that the prayers of
the heathens, pagans etc. go unanswered! By the way back to the
Catholics again. When South Australia advertised for new settlers it
assured them that it was a state free from pagans and popery!
You are on record, Mr Howard, as saying, 'Personally I feel deep
sorrow for those of my fellow Australians who suffered injustices under
past generations towards indigenous people. (He is referring to the stolen
generation, see p. 14). [But] Australians should not be required to accept
guilt and blame for past actions. But is it so hard to say 'I'm sorry' Mr
Howard? I worked in Nigeria for some time and one custom struck me in
towards the kovil. I push open the doors. I have to use some physical
effort to do so. The doors are of carved, heavy wood. Fortunately for me,
they have not been padlocked. My sandals, which I carry in my hands,
are soaked and sodden, with grains of sand adhering to their soles. I
place the sandals on one side of the entrance. I enter barefoot into the
cool, womb like darkness. The stone flagged floor is smooth beneath my
blistered feet. A strange feeling, some unknown emotion enters within
me. I feel I enter into the body, the house of deities. The worshippers
must now be few and far between but this is still the habitation of those
sacred deities. The spirit of bhakthi, of love, pervades it.
The fragrance of camphor and incense clings to the walls. The feeling of
bhakthi. Palpable. Feel it. A breath of wind, stirring within me, waiting
for me to summon it forth. Buried. Deep in my innermost being. The
psyche. Yet breathing. Still alive. Like the memory of the Golden Man in
the ancient temples.
Older than time. The Golden Man. Where did I hear of him? From the
stories of my grandfather, who heard it from his forebears. The Golden
Man, the effigy of the ancient sacrificer in Vedic times. His breath
emerging through the perforations of stone to reach the sky vault. His
figure placed in a certain direction. His head towards the East and the
sunrise. Buried thoughts. Feelings. Emotions. Surfacing in my mind. The
fish. The Golden Man. Shiva-Shakthi. The Great Mother of the Universe.
Also Kali, Durga. Goddess. Warrior. Creator. Preserver. Destroyer.
Durga. Mother love. Maternal feelings and instincts. Protecting her
young. Motherhood. The journey taken for that purpose. Why the
Golden Man too? Gold will never perish. I still preserve the small
amounts of gold I possess. The gold that decked me as a bride. I am a
Christian yet I too had a dowry of gold. Inherited heirlooms. Brides
adorned with gold, sit on the manaverai. But not the young women who
now fight for The Cause. The warriors. For whom there is now a new
kind of chastity. The gun is their symbol of both power and martyrdom.
Gold. Gold sovereigns. We pay the gold sovereigns to purchase a life or
even a passage from the North. There are different taxes. We comply. If
we want to live.
The kovil. Temporary halting place for a transient like myself. For
others too perhaps. This was the first time I was leaving the North in this
manner, crossing by boat. Across the lagoon. In the past I had taken a
train or bus. Special air-conditioned buses with piped-in music to enliven
the journey out of the Peninsula. I had aJways passed through those
familiar landmarks until, after all the predictable stops and changes, we
reached the South of the island. Used to be such a long journey. We
would take food wrapped in plantain leaf - red rice, stringhoppers,
vegetables, fried fish, fish curry, a container of sodhi flavoured with dill
seed to assuage our hunger. In the baskets woven from dried palmyrah
frond. There were thermos flasks of hot coriander flavoured coffee and
bottles of drinking water from our wells, cooled in clay pots. And for our
friends and relations in the South, the fruits and vegetables culled from
our gardens - the different varieties of mangoes, nectar sweet when ripe,
hand plucked from laden branches. Bundles of murunga with their
tender flesh; odial kelengu, the crisp, hard and fibrous dried palmyrah
root which we could break off into pieces like dried stick and crunch
between the teeth, tiny woven baskets of jaggery made of palmyrah juice,
the dark brown particles moulded into the plaited strips adding to that
distinct flavour. Curd pots too. Gold jewellery crafted by the family
goldsmith. I would sit by the window of the compartment watching the
changing colours of the terrain, white, sandy dunes of Chavakachcheri
giving way to the red earth of Chunnakam; palmyrah groves, their taU,
straight palms with flourishing crests of fronds. Clusters of palrnryah
fruits, dark brown, like polished mahogany, shading into a golden
yellow. The palrnryah palm. Part of a familiar landscape. The 'Kalpa tree'
- Tree of Life. Transplanted from Paradise to earth by Brahama directed
by Shiva; 'Eight hundred and one uses'. A familiar landscape and one I
could return to at will then, in the past; laden mango trees; vegetable and
tobacco plots; the kovils and kerneys; the wellsweeps and the farmers
working on their land in the early morning light before the hot sun came
up . Scorching their bodies, scorching the earth; herds of goats wandering
about searching for grass and leaves, fences made of the huge fan like
fronds of dried palmyrah, the murunga trees with feathery branches. Like
delicate green filigree. Murungas dangling their thick green whips. The
past. All that was in the past. Reach the southern boundary of the
Peninsula. Elephant Pass where once the elephants crossed the ford.
Elephant herds from the mainland. To eat of the ripening palmyrah fruit
that grew on the other side of the estuary. I remember the glistening
white salterns and the old Dutch fort in the distance, converted into a
resthouse, the waters of the ocean lapping the sides of the walls. Forts
this and others which are at close proximity to each other. Reminders of a
different kind of conquest when the Dutch were in power ... now we
have to take alternate routes out of the Peninsula.
My eyes, after the brilliance of the sun outside, take some time to focus
their gaze in the darkness within to my surroundings. As I look round
the temple I feel a great silence envelops me. I divest myself of all
mundane thoughts such as changing my wet clothes and taking dry ones
out of my small bundle of belongings. It is strange that no one else has
followed me into the kovil. The others do not seem to mind the
discomfort. Although I am wet and shivering, my throat is parched with
thirst. I look at a single coconut in a corner of the kovil and wish I could
drink of the water within it, search for the sharp blade that will crack it ...
a single coconut brought for a pooja that was to be performed by the
priest in attendance. Where was he anyway? The priest? The place was
empty of any other human being but myself.
I pause to think of where I am. I have some time to be by myself. My
jewels? My money? I have taken precautions. They have been secreted
away in little pockets sewn into my bodice. These few things that are of
some value to me are still intact. I need to purchase food, drink, tickets
for travelling to the Sou th .
I am a Christian but a place of worship whether it be the kovil or the
church will always be sanctuary. The deities surround me here, so a part
of my sense of loneliness begins to disperse. What is it that the believer
comes in search of here? Moksha? The realization of the Absolute? Or to
fulfil a vow? Or to pay penance for wrongdoing?
I myself am aware that I have several tasks to fulfil before I attain
peace. For me, as a Christian, the path to salva tion is one that is fraught
with suffering; I see Christ as th e Good Shepherd. Myself the lost sheep
... yet ancient ra cial memories arise within me. When I look upon the
face of Shakthi, Dewi, the Grea t Mother, I think of my own motherhood
which draws me on to endure all suffering on this journey. It is this great
desire to see my younger son who lives and studies in the South and to
be with him, look after him, to be re-united with him. My maternal
instincts grow stronger with each step I take. I wish I could make an
offering to Shakthi, the Grea t Mother. I know that I am not the only
mother who does so, for the safety and protection of their sons, many of
whom they will never see again. Both sons and daughters. For them, it is
sometimes not the taste of nectar of the gods but of the cyanide capsule
they bite on.
Each one of us has an individual mission . I know what mine is. But
those young people, those whose bodies become the live explosions?
Their missions become historical. Their names are sometimes a matter for
conjecture but the act is recorded for all time. Then it is that the Great
Mother becomes Kali, Kali the Destroyer who devours all existence. In
the South too. Outside the Peninsula. In those remote villages where
both mothers and their children die, hacked to death ... poojas ... for
whom then ? Avenging reprisals ... ? In war is there all loss of humanity?
There is no one here, in this kovil to chant the Sanskrit slokas for the
poojas. I would have listened as I used to, to the church litany and
drawing comfort from that sacred chanting. No worshippers to sing
thevarams. All I do is to sing, very softly, beneath my breath, hymns to
the deity I worship. Stanzas, lines, words which share the same emotion
of bhakthi. True, the deities were here, long, long ago. Before the
Christian missionaries brought the worship of a Christian Saviour to the
North. My own people were proselytised by them, yet I feel no sense of
division, for within this temple, I attain the same kind of realization that
the worshipper within a sacred sanctuary comes upon. That I too can
become one with the Divine, with Dewi, w ith Shakthi, with the Great,
the Universal Mother.
In the dim half-light of the temple, an invisible lamp seems to glow. I
do not know from what source the flame begins to glimmer unless it is
the memory of flames that once burned brightly in the tiered brass lamps.
But a strange glow illuminates the faces and limbs of the deities so that
they are no longer concealed in darkness. They appear almost to breathe,
to be gazing at me. I feel they are alive, yet their expressions possess a
calmness and stillness devoid of the turmoil, the sadness and pain I had
observed on the faces of my fellow travellers in the boat. The deities are
silent yet they appear to be listening to the echoes of the chanting of
Sanskrit slokas and singing of the thevarams whose memory clings to the
walls of this temporary sanctuary. I try to learn, even at this stage of my
life, something from them. In the churches where I worship I have gazed
long upon the face of a crucified Christ who bears on his head a crown of
thorns, whose hands and feet are nailed to the Cross. I gazed at the
agony of the Mother of Christ, the Agony of the Pieta. My mind fills with
emotions of pain, agony, sin, penance. Hope lies only in the thought of
the Resurrection and of the knowledge that a living Christ walked with
us in all our travails. The Christian missionaries imparted those messages
to my people from churches which had been built by colonizers and
conquerors. The pulpits were the pulpits of a different kind of conquest.
Earthly conquest. Temporal power. The conquerors had invaded this land
but the invasions had been for a limited space of time. Now we read
historical documents to gain knowledge of their tenure. Wonder what
kind of sermons they preached. All ghosts those preachers. Where I am
concerned the Peninsula is my home but I go to the South. My return will
perhaps never be assured. My home may remain empty, the rooms echo
with hollowness but I make no predictions.
I am just one speck, one dot in this vast d esert. If my life is snuffed out
there will only be a few left to mourn my once existence. Everyone who
has lived here, in the Peninsula, has known grief and loss. As they have
in the South too. Those mothers in the South, do they even have the
mortal remains of their sons for burial? But death makes heroes of the
ordinary man, the man who would have been a farmer or perhaps a
student. Heroic speeches are made to stir up the patriotic emotions of
those who go out to battle and then we see the dead, the maimed, the
mutilated. We see the rows so neatly laid out, of sprawling bodies with
the grimace of death on their faces ... and we forget, except for those who
have lost a son, a daughter who has meant everything to them - father,
brother, son, daughter ... there are posters in the Peninsula to remind us
of the martyrs. And in the South? When I go there, I will perhaps
discover other names on white flags and banners. Where are some of
those bodies? Lost in the depths of the ocean, boats mined and sunk in
the deep, helicopters and planes shot down with their irretrievable cargo
The highways and byways mined. My consciousness becomes a crater
which swallows up all thought of those deaths, burying them deep, deep
within its very depths to surface only in nightmares. I shudder for an
instant. My two sons are not militants. They are ordinary young men
although I do not know what thoughts they harbour in this struggle for a
separate Homeland. My younger son has somehow managed to study,
pass his examinations, enter a campus in the South, follow an Honours
course in Engineering, win a coveted Class in his degree, become an
assistant lecturer in the Faculty. What if he had been like one of those
who had to bite on cyanide capsules at so young an age? Who prefer
death to arrest and interrogation? Sacrifice. Isn't it part of all our
religions? They say so much about these suicide bombers who detonate
themselves? What if I had a daughter? What if she had joined the
movement? The young girls too have broken away from aU the
constraints imposed on them by tradition. There are regiments of women.
There are the suicide bombers. There are the Sea Tigers. Women now
fulfil different roles. Yet they are someone's children. They have parents
They have suckled from the breasts of their mothers ... we have to try to
understand them, their missions, their sacrifice of life, of youth ... we
have to try to understand why such choices are made. We have to
question ourselves. Why someone else's child and not mine? But within
this space of time in which my thoughts wander endlessly, exploring
different routes, alternate routes of the mind, my life has undergone a sea
change. For perhaps the first time in my life since this war began, a sense
of peace steals over me as I stand here, feeling the ancient rites which
have permeated every part of this abode as well as my whole mind, spirit
and body, reaching the core of my inner being.
I have forgotten that I entered into this kovil feeling a sense of self-pity,
so chilled to the bone as if mortal rigors had overcome me. I have to
change my wet clothes before I emerge to continue along the land route.
Wouldn't it be an act of sacrilege ·to change before the gaze of the deities?
What could I do? What shall I do? Find the darkest shadowed corner,
conceal myself behind a pillar and unwrap the folds of my sari in such a
way that nothing of my flesh would be seen? Wearing all these clothes,
arranging each pleat and fold meticulously, I realize how constricting
they have been all my life. Especially when I had to step off the sandy
verge of the lagoon, wade shoulder high through the water for about a
hundred yards and when I reached the rocking boat throw my doth
bundle into it; after which I clambered in with the others as best I could,
clinging first onto the edge and then being helped in by willing hands.
There was no other way for us travellers to reach a desired destination.
Not at a time like this.
A time of war. Some of the travellers carry their possessions, bags,
suitcases, baskets, on their heads. Others tuck up their clothes as high as
they can, even draping their veshtis on their shoulders but that doesn't
prevent our bodies from being soaked. I've made the wrong choice. Now,
as I look around at the deities, I remember the great temple festival at
Nallur when they are all decked out in silks, satins, velvets and brocades
embellished with silver and gold, gem encrusted padakkams, heavy gold
chains, sovereigns dangling from every inch of their bodies, garland upon
garland of fragrant flowers round their necks. Towards the end of the
festival, they are taken out in the chariot, along the temple veedhi, the
precincts which represent the real world to them. A refreshing airing out
of the incense and camphor filled sanctum, their ears assailed by the
incessant pleading of the penitents. Hasn't their view of the real world
changed after the wars, the invasions, the occupations? Once, the
penitent paid his vows and penance, rolling and rolling his body along
the temple veedhi, clothed only in veshti, barebodied, limbs coated with
the white dust stirred up by that movement. At his side stood the patient
and silent comforter. Will that veedhi one day be empty of all
worshippers? Who will blow the conch to echo over the deserted plains.
And the ancient rites and rituals? Who will perform them? The gods will
remain within their sanctum and perhaps the echoes of the slokas will
still remain within it. But till then who will carry the pooja trays to them
in a ghost town where shells rain down like bursts of lethal fireworks,
where the bombs fall and the exodus begins, as someday it will. Perhaps
an ancient poosari will remain to help the new conquerors to carry out
the rites and rituals which they too believe in, sacred rites that still have
significance to these warriors. And ourselves? We can only live from day
to day. We predict time through light, through dark. Dawn. Midday.
Dusk. Nightfall. And the passing of the seasons. The seasons of drought
and rain. We keep moving. The guerrillas keep moving. They operate
from the thick jungles. They have their hideouts, their strongholds, their
underground networks. Everybody is constantly moving, within the
Peninsula and out of the Peninsula. But the deities remain. Will always
remam. Haven' t moved off to Kailasa. Their ears are now accustomed to
more than the chanting of the slokas. The bursting of the shells
reverberate like the conches of the past to announce the commencement
of each new battle ... but the deities are still the guardians of this land.
They do not make the same crossings as we do, their garments drenched
in the waters of the lagoon but the worshippers still carry them in the
chariots of their hearts. Bombs fall on churches, kovils. Walls shattered by
shells, but those whom we worship remain in spirit. Perhaps their
presence even in the ruins are a solace to those who are left behind. For
me, now, this kovil is a place of refuge. The face of Shakthi engenders in
me a feeling of power. Shakthi. The Mother of the Universe. The Mother
of all creation. But there are two poojas for her. Durga pooja. Kali pooja.
Terrifying image of her. Stamping on the symbol of evil, a wreath of the
heads of the giants she had slain and a string of skulls round her neck.
These are the images that the believer bears. Life. Death. For me it is
Shakthi's image as the Universal Mother who reminds me so forcibly of
my own instincts of motherhood, that impels my journey to the South.
Now that we have to move away from the well tried paths and the
convenient routes, the familiar passage which impedes our journey with
obstructions and obstacles we have no other alternative but to find our
way out. Somehow war transforms the safe road. It is now fraught with
all kinds of dangers visible and invisible but we travel along it. There are
no alternatives to reach a desired destination.
My mind turns to those biblical times when the waters of the Red Sea
parted for the Israelites to make a passage to the other side .. . 'Then
Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea
to go back by a strong East wind all that night, and made the sea into dry
land, and the waters were divided. So the children of Israel went into the
midst of the sea on the dry ground and waters were a waJI to them on
their right hand and on their left ... ' But it has not been an exodus for us,
not yet. Perhaps very soon, that event will take place. Perhaps the
crossing is an intimation of what wiJI come to pass. I leave one son, a
daughter-in-law, a grandchild, behind. I leave my home behind . I hope
to return one day but the question I ask myself now is where do I really
belong? We have the de facto rule of the militants in the Peninsula. My
son remains in the South like many others whose homes are in the North
but returns to see me. Does that make me a renegade when I want to
leave my home in this manner, take the crossing? An illegal crossing.
Though physically I belong to this terrain, I have to make this journey
with all its attendant risks and hazards. Let me survive for as long as the
time allotted to me. I have come through one part of the journey. The
waters did not part for the passage of our boat but I reached somehow,
dry land. This time, there was no drowning, no death at sea. I am not the
only one, by no means the only one to brave this crossing. We who make
our journeys must brave fire and ice, ocean and desert, whether it be
here, in out own terrain or elsewhere in a far country where the millions
of asylum seekers and refugees from their own war-torn zones trek into
an unknown future. Many will never reach the Canaan land. Perish they
will on the way. Bodies piled into mass graves. Frozen. Suffocated.
Arrested. Deported . There is now no country which can be called Home
if you become a perpetual wanderer on the face of the earth. I haven't
moved out of this island ever but now I feel I have. Within this one
country, two exist, one of them engendered by new imperatives,
historical imperatives. We are divided by these forces. Too late to efface
them. The conflict grows daily into monstrous proportions. Death and
displacement are the inevitable results. Will the chasm be dosed in one
day by the piled up bodies of the dead?
Even a simple journey, which in the past needed no new philosophies
yields such self-interrogation? Is it because I have been a teacher of
history who always felt that I must question even the ready made
answers and interpretations provided by the research of other scholars?
Life in the past centred round journeys which were easy to take- family
reunions, marriages, births, death. When we were summoned, we went.
No one looked upon us as if we were a different breed of people. Now
we have to re-exarnin·e, re-assess our identities and ask ourselves the
questions about those first beginnings - inroads, incursions and invasions
and how we even arrived here. The documentation lies in those history
books from which I myself once taught ... are we descended from those
first colonizers from the sub-continent? Were those same colonizers
responsible for the collapse of ancient civilizations and the drift to the
South West of the island? Did the invader become one with the invaded?
The conqueror with the conquered? The subjugator with the subjugated?
Or will ancient grudges always remain? Submission is not easy for
anyone to accept. To be under the yoke. 'Sub iugum', as I learned in my
Latin class from the missionaries. To be sent under the yoke? The young
anywhere in the world will not accept it. Have they been taught that all
people other than themselves are seen as 'the enemy'. Each one calls the
other, enemy. Displacement. Alternative routes. Departures. These new
journeys must take place. We have to move from the North to the South
to see our children set out on their own journeys as asylum seekers. But
not our people alone. Others too. Their motives may differ. But for the
moment we will seek out, in spite of all obstructions, the route to where
we want to go. Towards that desired destination. The ordinary journey
now ceases to be a commonplace, everyday fact of life. The journey
becomes a mission. Just as the mission undertaken by the man who sets
the ambush or the man who on his individual mission is caught in that
No names. Anonymous people. After capture, aliases. Women. Sea
Tigers. Martial women. Women in battle. Nothing new. Throughout
history armies of the past had women fighting side by side with the men.
Armed women. Bearing swords. Uttering magical battlecries. Struck
terror into the hearts of the enemy. The Bible. Book of Judges. Barak's
army with its ten thousand men. Refused to go into battle without
Deborah the prophetess. Wife of Lapidoth. To her Barak had spoken
those words. 'If thou wilt go with me, then will I go: but if thou wilt not
go with me, then will I not go'. And Deborah went with Barak to
Kadesh. Gave him knowledge that the hour was right for battle. Defeated
Sisera who fled, his men all put to the sword. What an end for Sisera
with his nine hundred chariots of iron ... taking shelter in Jael's tent, she
gave the battle weary Sisera a drink of milk ... fell fast asleep ... drove a
nail into his temples ... fastened it to the ground ... Think of the young
women in the movement in the Peninsula ... joined the armed struggle
... no distinction between men and women fighters, dressed in battle
fatigues, shorn of their wealth of hair, forehead adorned not with red
kum kumum but with blood, embrace the gun ... not a man ... the new
women generated by war ... the traditional roles ... wives ... mothers ...
rituals ceremonies of marriage ... not for them ... round their necks, the
thali, that marriage bond ... no, no, wear instead a kuppi bearing a •
cyanide capsule ... bite into it ... when they have no other recourse ...
sacrifice, sacrifice, ... death, martyrdom ... both sides ... when will there
be reconciliation? Eyes that envision the tombs of the dead ... the
vermilion silk marriage saris spill from the hands of their mothers ...
streaming like blood in the supplicating hands.
And when I was young? Years and years before I became a woman of
austere habits after the death of my husband. I wonder what I would
have made of my life in these times, if I was a young woman? Probably
widowed or in exile. Up to now I have stayed behind. Because my two
sons remain here. I must go to one of them. I conceal myself in the
darkest niche, hidden in the shadows. I begin to shed the garments that
have clothed me for the lagoon crossing but as I do so a strange force
takes over my body. I feel my flesh being transmuted into another
substance. One other than this mortal flesh. The substance of which
Shakthi's image is composed. I seem to share the same breath. I had
become one with her. I would share her power. Even her name. Born out
of this calamitous journey. I felt that the deities in this sanctuary had
taken me in, accepted me, made me feel at home. It did not matter to me
that there was no one to carry the pooja trays. They would return, the
worshippers. I had lost, forgotten, my mortal hunger and thirst. I no
longer needed fruit or nectar to keep me alive. The fragrance of those
past rituals still lingered, the staling scent of a few flowers, now withered
but no, there was no longer need for any of these things. The rites and
rituals had taken place many times over and this was so sacred a place
that my ordinary flesh and blood body had miraculously changed. I had
come inside quite light-headed with exhaustion and hunger. I had
thought of the white flesh of the coconut kernel, the coconut water that
had poured from it, the ripe combs of plantains, the feel of silky hibiscus
flowers against my fingers. Now everything had changed. I seemed to
have become one of them. My hunger and thirst vanished. I heard a
voice travelling from very near, soft, speaking in syllables that I could
faintly understand, not the language of ordinary speech which human
beings used in their raucous interchanges but the language in which the
priest addressed the deities. I had to translate it, through my mind and
imagination into that which could be comprehended for now we shared
the same breath although I was the newly born one and they were the
ancient, ancient deities. I was no intruder here. I was welcome.
'Make yourself at home within this sanctuary. We understand you are
after a long journey. To us you have travelled through time, through
memory, to reach us. We can create a space for you too here. Sometimes
travellers enter and search for a plantain or two or even a little of the
sacrificial offerings of milk in the vessels. The worshippers come seldom
now yet they remain and when they come it is not empty-handed. People
cannot forget their deities even in a time of war'.
I touched my body. The tremors that had shaken my limbs seemed to
have passed. It was as if invisible hands had very gently unwrapped my
wet clothes and out of the bundles I carried, taken out fresh, dry clothes
which covered me. The wet clothes, still dripping with water lay humped
about my feet. The money I carried with me was sewn in little pockets in
my underclothes. Would I still need it? I wondered. I looked up at the
faces of the goddesses. Which one had been speaking to me? Was it
Shakthi, the consort of Shiva? They would belong to time without an age
here. No hazardous journeys for them across the lagoon in a boat which
at any moment might capsize, sink from either being overloaded or
attacked. These journeys were not peacetime journeys. What patience
they had cultivated day after day, month after month, year after year
while the penitents themselves grew old and died; while the priests and
poosaries changed. The slokas never changed, only the human voices
that chanted them.
They were watching me, all of them. I did not importune them for
anything for I did not feel myself a penitent. What a feeling of peace and
tranquillity filled my spirit and yet did I not have my own God to turn to?
And what about the rest of my journey? 'Take up your abode here', the
voice continued. 'No shells fall here. You will be safe. There are no mines
laid where you stand, take a few steps, walk towards that niche that
stands empty and remain there for all time' . The idea was tempting to
remain here, a deity among the divine. This was familiar landscape to
me. I had known so much human suffering, widowed young, bringing
up two sons alone, shells falling on the house. In fact one day the shells
had landed on the roof of the house but fortunately the room in which
we usually slept and had taken refuge in, escaped. When we found food
we ate. Sometimes we would all rush to the church to take refuge. Ah,
yes, I know the deities too are taken into the outer world at certain
seasons, during the times of the ritual ceremonies. They too are
accustomed to the sounds of battle. Yet, they endure. Always. They will
But time passes. I have to make my dedsions. I had prepared myself in
a different way to face the hazards of the crossing. I had first to prepare
my mind and then my body to face it. Age did not matter. The aged
ones, the ancient ones climb Adam's Peak in their pilgrimage for that is
the Sacred Mountain where the Buddha has placed the impress of his
foot. It is the inner strength of faith and belief that sustains each one of
them. Here it is the passage through water, arid plain, jungle and the
journey to the South. And my son at the end of it. Will he miss me if he
never sees me again? But he is young. He will continue to live his life.
'Stay' the voice says, 'stay with us'. I stoop to pick up my clothes. My
limbs feel warm. I have stopped shivering with cold. I feel a different
kind of life flowing through my body. I am human again but I have a
strange new strength to carry me through the next stage and the next and
the next of my journey as I walk out into the starkness of white sunlight
and white sand.
p . 107 vallam - Tamil word for fishing boat
p. 111 urea fertilizer
p. 112 bhikku - a Buddhist monk
p . 113 koti - is the Sinhala word for tiger. Now a term used to describe the Tamil
militants who are sometimes called the Tamil rigers (LTTE)
p. 114 kovil a Hindu temple
p . 117 the yom - symbol of the goddess Shakthi or Shakti
p . 117 lchthys -Greek word for fish . Claimed by some to be the acronym for jesus
p . 118 bhakthi - deep and intense quality of spiritual devotion displayed by the
devotee in worship of the deities
p. 118 manaverai - ceremonial weddmg platform/daiS where the nuptial seat for the
bridal couple is placed. Used at Hindu marriage ceremonies
p. 118 sodhi- a gravy in which coconut milk is generally used
p. 119 murunga- a vegetable Anglicised term 'drumstick'
p. 119 pooja- worship, rituals
p. 119 odial kelengu - the dried root of the palmyrah palm
p . 120 Moksha -state of nothingness/ an ideal in which no rebirth recurs
p . 120 slokas - Sanskrit verses
p. 122 veshtis - waist cloth worn by Tamils
p . 123 padakkams- elaborate appendage to a throatlet or necklace approximating to a
locket. Studded with gems.
p. 123 veedhi - passage/route/area, encircling a Hindu temple
p. 123 Kailasa - the celestial abode of the Hindu deihes
p. 123 Durga pooja - rituals performed in the worship of the goddess Durga
p. 125 kum kumum the Tamil name for saffron powder worn on the forehead . An
auspicious symbol. Used in temple rituals too. The red variety is the most
popular. The mark on the forehead is called kum kumum pottu
p. 126 thah- Hindu marriage necklace
p. 126 kuppi - small vessel or contamer
p . 127 poosanes- Hmdu priests who carry out the pooja rituals
D e w a s u n d a r i Arasanayagam
Red eyes is that all I can show of my feelings?
Bright red eyes remember
the hibiscus 1 used to pick
from that wild garden
place in glass decanters
watch them sparkle
and Kandathe's red porial
which we ate in her
mud walled house
floor clamped clean with
dung goats wandered
in the garden
red eyes reflect you
on red earth we scratched
out squares played hopscotch
screamed and shrilled
nearby limestone quarries
gape like era ters on
a surface scarred
Suramanium picked glass
today white, fresh
and the wailers crying
out professional tears
as trod on shallow seas
washing over pots and ashes
those of our fathers and now
our brothers while we slip through
life, non-persons shadowless
What awaits me when I go back
to that place called home
bitterness and guns from which
blood flows frothy streams
I ride clouds air sky below
figures dance in war formation
It was different then there
people danced in marathons
went rafting dangerous waters while
I stood in subways, music, listening
others in basement bookstores searching
and I sprawled out on sun cemented
steps shadows feet heads hands voices
coins tinkling a guitar fingers toes
tap while I find myself drifting
war formations to games in sun shine
squares you fought with real guns
real fodder little beings toppling
heels over heads absurd creatures the
dead and the killers blood seeps out
confused colours reds and swollen purples
blaze on sands then seas while a tired
sun brings me back home.
conjure up a
stalks its prey
on concrete paths
AWAY- MAINE, 1986
My thumb reeks of garlic my body feels heavy with wondering 'are you dead?'
I walk, slide slip
rain beats down on head uncovered
I taste it drips into
mouth tears dampen
thoughts of you
and I distanced
cannot do much
but race into a
nowhere place with
imaginary messages bearing
'Are you alive?'
Standing over a table
slicmg ginger talk of
home sounds of ping pong
balls bouncing jolting
my thoughts back to you
~Jut they roll away.
In a Refugee camp - Extracts from a
28 July 1983
Reach the refugee camp dazed and weary. The refugee camp is a
school, everything is silent. We sign in at the e ntrance our names and
address. I wonder whether our h ouse s till exists. Through th e dark and
gloomy exteriors of the building, I see a long queue of people h olding
tin plates. They all look inmates of a concentration camp and I want to
run away. They look at us with dazed and sunken eyes, d ressed in
shabby clothes. O ur new home is a classroom on the first floor,
overlooking a square, which is a hive of activity. Rice is being cooked in
a large ca uldron over a wood fire, while refugees are holding out plates
and being served boiled rice and sambara from buckets.
Our fellow refugees greet us with sympathe tic smiles and listen to
our dilemma of being hunted out of our house. It's a relief to be
surrounded by friends.
Soon we too are invited to partake of this late lunch . I'm thirsty, but
have no tumbler to drink from, however a reserve policeman offers us a
glass of plain tea which I take up to mother.
Night is setting in. We have received terse orders to remain silent and
keep all windows shut. The glaring rays of a flare fixed on a tree
outside lights up th e whole room.
At about eleven p .m. the dinner call resounds through th e corridors.
We hastily awake and join the long queues. Not hungry, but everyone
is enjoying the rice and sambara. I see children ea ting rice off the palms
of their hands. There are not enough plates.
12.00 p .m. Two men who introduce themselves as Douglas and
Janaka from a sangaramaya have brought a pail of milk. They say their
society is against the use of violence on Tamils. Everyone is suspicious
of the m and are reluctant to drink the milk. Father however goes
forward and has a glass of milk. The milk test h as passed. Soon all
drink the hot sweetened milk.
29 July 1983
Got up at about 5 o'clock. There are only a few toilets for nearly a
There's n o breakfast. We are hungry . One of our friends has brought
a bag full of bread, which we cut into hunks and distribute among the
children. The adults have to manage without breakfast.
Lunch is served at about four o'clock. We have lost our appetites.
Night. - Tension and fear of an attack on the camp. Someone has
seen something move 1:1p the grassy embankment. Soon a policeman is
sent up to investigate, he returns to say that there's nobody. It is only a
branch of a tree blowing in the breeze.
30 July 1983
Negative feelings are kept at bay. During visiting hours there's a steady
stream of visitors, who bring food and lunch packets. Someone tells my
mother that he has brought some food and clothes for the refugees, but
there is no-one to distribute them. Soon the room becomes a centre for
refugee clothes. New life is infused into us. The apathy and lack of
motivation is dwindling and the inmates cook and work hard all day. A
kind of order prevails - a new spirit seems to have taken over, the
desire to live, to find a new meaning to life, existence ...
A doctor has brought tins of infant milkfood . We then boil a cauldron
of water and prepare the milk. We do not have firewood and so we use
broken up desks and even chairs. Parents line up to get their infant's
share of the milk. The bottles they clutch are filthy and need to be
sterilised. We finish at about 5 o'clock. Walk back to our 'new home'. It
is even more crowded today. Families huddle together listening to the
BBC news broadcast on Sri Lanka. Later on we prepare to sleep. Many
sleep on the bare floor. It is cold tonight.
DAVID DABYDEEN, GUYANA
I wish to pay a brief tribute to a man, a noble and distinguished African,
whose work was of utmost relevan ce to many of UNESCO's concerns as
expressed in the Director-General's Report - concerns such as the
freedom of artistic expression, or the freedom from political persecution,
or the rights of minorities, or the right to be protected from activities, on
the part of governments or private companies, which lay waste to the
The man of whom I speak was a fine poet and novelist. I knew him as
a writer and as a friend. I use the past-te nse beca use h e was killed last
year: his name was Ken Saro-Wiwa.
I firs t met Ken Saro-Wiwa at a Writers Festival in 1990 and I was
quickly impressed by his character. He had a ready spirit of friendship
about him . He was of gentle manner, and the modesty and quietness of
his speech indicated n ot only a man who was lacking in vanity, but also a
man who possessed an advanced sense of his own mortality. He knew
that by challenging a multinational oil company and a military regime, he
was liable to be assassinated .
Tyrants and writers are natural enemies. The tyrant cannot endow
words with beauty and truth and spirit, and so the tyrant is eternally
envious and fearful of the writer's power. What the tyrant cannot control,
he seeks to extermina te.
Ken Saro-Wiwa had a special and dangerous gift as a writer, which was
his sense of humour, the quickness of his wit. He had a talent for
ridiculing a nd parodying the strut and pomp of the elite. A very effective
way of deflating the ego of tyrants is to laugh at them. And in hts
writings Ken Saro-Wiwa laughed at their grandiose ambitions, thetr
overweening egos. He laughed at the sh iny medals they pinned on their
chests, and the pompous titles they gave themselves. He showed them to
be foolish, and all the more dangerous because of their foolishness.
It grieved me to learn of his imprisonment, and when he was killed I
felt stained, almost bligh ted . I believe that the killing of a noble human
soul can have this inward e ffect on all of us, irrespective of our race or
gender or nationality . We feel that our own individual humanity is
diminished by a loss such as that of Ken Saro-Wiwa's life.
I believe that the dea th of Ken Saro-Wiwa is as significant as that of
Address to the UNESCO Executive Board, Paris, on 24 April1996
Lorca at the hands of Spanish fascists or the death of Mandelstam at the
hands of Stalin. Ken Saro-Wiwa's death was only different in that he met
his fate partly because of his environmental concerns.
It is dear to me that environmental concerns, which are relatively new,
will find expression in relatively new modes of violence. In Britain where
I spend part of my life, I have already witnessed the ransacking or
burning down of shops which deal in environmentally unfriendly
products. The spectacle of veal crates and cruelly caged animals arouses a
passion among many British people, a passion so intense that sometimes
I wonder whether we are all suffering from mad cow's disease! A new
phenomenon in Britain today is that of the frail and elderly pensioner
confronting bulldozers or burly bailiffs and policemen, all in defence of
some beautiful parkland threatened by road-building. The spectacle of the
lone, unarmed student confronting a tank in Tiananmen Square is
refashioned, with typical British eccentricity, in the image of pensioner
confronting bulldozer. People in Britain who are not normally activists
have become highly charged and politicized because of the environmental
In Britain, such activism expresses itself in low-level violence and it
rarely leads to loss of life. In South America, where I originate, we tend
to do things with less decorum. In a very short period of time we have
killed thousands of Amerindian indigenous peoples whose only crime
was that they stood in the way of bulldozers, in defence of their land and
their forest environment. As a writer I can understand why the literary
form of 'magical realism' originated in my region. 'Magical Realism' has
to do with a certain grossness or exaggeration of proportions. The idea of
the grotesque lies at the heart of the literary form of 'magical realism'.
And the practice of the grotesque lies at the heart of our behaviour
towards our indigenous peoples. No Indigenous Peoples Fund, however
welcome, can ever recompense these peoples for the robbery of their
culture, their lands and their lives.
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
IAN ADAM is Professor at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has
written two volumes of poetry and articles on Victorian and Post-colonial Literature
and with Helen Tiffin is co-editor of Past the Last Post: Theorizing Post-colonialism
and Post-modernism. He edited Arielfrom 1980 to 1990.
AOSAF AFZAL is a young London poet published by Krax, Pomes, with two
Poetry Now anthologies .
All ARASANAYAGAMs were interned in a refugee camp in Kandy, Sri Lanka
during 1983. This was due to the conflict which still continues today between the
Tamil and the Singalese. DEWASUNDARI is a Tamil, JEAN ARASANAYAGAM is
of Dutch Burgher family descent married to DEWASUNDARI and PARVATHI is
their daughter. They were eventually released and now live in Kandy. All three are
writers. Jean Arasanayagam has published one book of poetry and Penguin (India)
are going to publish the history of her Dutch Burgher ancestors. She was a
contributor to Unbecoming Daughters of the Empire and Dangaroo Press will
publish her next collection of poetry . Parvathi's short story 'Six Matching Cups and
Saucers' was published in Kunapipi No. 2. 1995.
PIA ARKE lives and works in Copenhagen, Denmark. I Ier work has been exhibited
extensively in Northern Europe. Currently collecting material for a photographiC
book on Scoresby Sund m East Greenland. She is represented in Weilbachs Art
Dictionary, 1994, and published in Dagens Nyheter, 'Kulture imellan', Jan.-Feb.
1995; in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, April 3, 1995; in Katalog. Quarterly
Magazine for Photography, Winter 1993, Spring 1996, and Winter 1996-97.
MARY D. CHAUHAN bi-lingual Gujerati writer and performer for both adults and
children she won the East Midlands Arts Writer's bursary in 1990, and in 1996 came
joint second in the Asian Playwnght Festival, Kalam Kahe run by the B.B.C.
Sampad and the Leicester Haymarket Theatre with her play Red Skies.
JULIAN CROFT is a graduate of the University of Newcastle. He worked in West
Africa for several years and has published eight books including poetry, fiction and
DAVID DABYDEEN, novelist and poet, is Professor of Literary Studies at Warwick
University. His last novel was The Counting House (Cape) 1986, his forthcoming
novel A Harlot's Progress will be published in 1998. His poetry collections include
Slave Song and Coolie Odessey both published by Dangaroo Press.
MAURA DOOLEY is a poet and an editor who lives in London . Her latest poetry
collection is Kissing A Bone (Bioodaxe) 1996, she is editor of Making For Planet
Alice (Bioodaxe) 1997.
CATRJONA ELDER is a lecturer at the University of Wollongong, where she
teaches Austalian Studies and History . Her research interests at the moment centre
around fictional fantasies of assimilation in twentieth century Australia
MANDY GRAHAM, Design Editor at The Newcastle Herald, studied at the
Newcastle College of Advanced Education and has a Bachelor of Arts -Visual Arts.
She also has a postgraduate diploma in Plant and Wildlife Illustration. She is a
winner of numerous industry awards including the Journalist of the Year in 1991
and Northern NSW Artist of the Year in 1997.
DAVID HUTCIIISON engmeer, historian, Physics teacher, adult educator, first
Curator of History at W.A. Museum. Writer of poetry, short stories and translator
of these from Greek. Author of a book about the Benedictine Monks of New
Norc1a, the extract 'Karen' IS from his novel The Poverty Bush.
jiM )ARMAN cover artist. jim Jarman's father was a stockman on a station, his
mother, the cook. When he was seven he was put in a boys' home. He rejoined his
mother and stepfather when he was ten but because of cruelty he ran away and
became a street kid at the age of twelve learning to live off his w1ts. At the age of
fourteen he was made a ward of the state and released when he was eighteen. No
IJne ever visited him so he had plenty of practice at being a loner. He became a
driller and worked in Australia, Indonesia, Borneo, Iran and the Persian Gulf. After
a sting drilling in the Bass Strait he was given a job in Pakistan with the Australian
Development Assistance Bureau and the United Nations to train the local people in
drilling water bores for Afghan Refugees. He was sent by the United Nations to
Afghanistan to drill for water to hold back the flow of refugees in the middle of the
warzone between Russia and Afghanistan. After six weeks leave/counselling in
Australia Jim was sent to Burma, first to Rangoon then to Mandalay, where he
supervised three massive water projects. He always gained the respect and
adm1ration of the people and refugees he helped and lived with. Not surprisingly
Jim suffered traumatic experiences which remain with him today. Now he lives a
quiet life in beautiful country near Stanthorpe. These are the base outlines of a
qu1te remarkable hfe. On his return to Australia he began to experiment w1th pieces
of metal and today IS recogmz.ed as a maJOr sculptor m this art. His figure 'Refugee'
seemed a very appropriate cover for th1s 1ssue. The photograph was taken by Sue
Moore, a photographer from the same area.
DOROTHY jONES is a New Lealander who is a graduate of Otago, Adelaide and
Oxford universities. She has published widely in the field of Post-colonial literatures
focusing particularly on women's writing.
METTE }0RGENSEN holds an MA in English and Modern Greek from Aarhus
Umvers1ty, Denmark. She is presently working on finishing her Ph.D at the
Department of Comparative Literature, Aarhus University, Denmark, where she
has also been teaching. She is co-editor of two Danish literary journals and has
published articles, primarily in Danish, on contemporary anglophone post-colonial
HAR)IT KAUR KHAlRA born in Leicester a writer of poetry and short stories she
recently won a poetry competition and was funded by the Arts Council on a
creative writing course at Lumb Bank, Yorkshire. Both teacher of English and post
graduate student at Warwick University.
BILL LEAK is a cartoonist for The Australian.
PETFR LYSSIOTIS, born in Cyprus he is a photographer and photo-montage artist
combming image with text.
ALAN MOIR is a cartoonist for The Sydney Morning IJerald.
CHRIS NEWMAN is a graphic designer artist who studied at the University of
Technology NSW and is now continuing his studies in Spain .
NOEL PEARSON born a t Cooktown and was educated at the Hopevale Lutheran
Mission of which he speaks kindly, he is of aboriginal descent and a leading activ1st
for Aborginal Rights. He graduated in Law from Melbourne University and is Cha1r
of the Cape York Lands Council and advtsor on Native Title to ATSIC (Austrahan
and Torres Strait Is lander Commission).
GAYE SHORTLAND was born in Bantry, Eire. After readmg T.E. Lawrence's Seven
Pillars of Wisdom s he decided she wanted to chase nomads. ' Not being male or
Joan of Arc I couldn' t hope to lead them.' Havmg obtamed a first class MA m
English from the University of Cork she got a one-yea r lectureship in English at the
Umversity of Leeds. She decided that she d1dn' t want to end up as a permanent
member of s taff in one of the forty-nine staff cubicles with a tea-kettle so she left in
search of her nomads who she was able to find when, through Derry )effares, she
got a job at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Northern Nigeria. It was here that she
found her Touregs and where I first met her and we became good friends .
She continued her pursuit of her nomads, had a daughte r, Maryam, with a
Toureg. By then she was teaching at the University of Niger, and living with the
Touregs. When the unive rsity ran out of money s he ran a restaurant and recreahon
centre for the Ame rican Embassy in Niamey. She had married a Toureg and had
two children by him, Adam and Rali. She, her hu sband and children even tually
returned to Cork. Can you imagine a nomadic Toureg in Cork? No. Well neither
could he. So with Gaye's blessing he returned to the Sahara. She and her family
were penniless but that is nothing n ew. She wrote a book, Mind That lis My
Brother. It became a bestselle r both in Ireland and the U.K. She has just published
another, Turtles All the Way Do wn. She's still penniless and still wonderful. Our
paths didn' t cross for a long time but as she wrote in the inscnphon of her first
book, 'Dea r Anna, I low wonderful to say "With love" after more than twenty
years.' She's a remarkable woman.
ALICIA STUBBERSFIELD hves m Wales, her first full poetry collection is 7he
Magician's Assistant (Fiambard).
BETTY TH0GERSEN is a graduate of the Umversity of Aarhus, Denmark where
sh e specialized in post-colonial literature and the University of Aalborg, Denmark
where she did a degree in International Stud1es. Since her graduation she has
travelled widely and worked almost exclusively in the field of humanitarian work,
including serv1ce with the United Nations High Comm issioner for Refugees in
Sydney, Australia and in refugee camps m Nepal. In addition she has completed
the following courses: Cultural Sensitization, Kathmandu, Nepal; People-Oriented
Planning, Sydney, Australia; and a Study trip to the United Nations European
Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland. She currently docs voluntary work w 1th
SAEED UR-REHMAN comes from Pakistan and has a Masters degree from the
University of the Punjab. In 1991, he was expelled from the National Inshtute of
Modern Languages, Islamabad because of what they considered to be his
blasphemous poi11t of view. After a trial by a jury of re ligious scholars, he was
forbidden to return to the Institute. He was advised to leave the country. These
days, he is in Australia and has recently completed his Honou rs Masters thesis on
Indian Literature written in English. While studying in Australia he had no finanCial
support from any government and with a great deal of difficulty, he financed his
education. He is always looking for a homeland because there is none for him.
Aosaf Afzal, Jean Arasanayagarn, David Hutchison
Ian Adam, Aosaf Afzal, Dewasundari Arasanayagam
Mary Chauhan, Julian Croft, Maura Dooley, Harjit Kaur Khaira
Alicia Stubbersfield, Saeed Ur-Rehman
Parvathi Arasanayagam, 'In a Refugee camp- Extracts from a
Diary'; David Dabydeen, 'Address to the UNESCO Executive
Board, Paris'; Dorothy Jones, ' Post-colonial Families Reconfigured:
a Discussion of The Bone People and Miss Smilla 's Feeling For
Snow'; Mette }0rgensen, 'Islands: Literally and in Literature'; Noe
Pearson, 'University Day Address, 5 May 1997'; Betty Th0ger~en,
'Expanding Horizons' ; Saeed Ur-Rehman, 'Brown Bleakness/Bro
Greyness: A Textual Analysis of My Body in Australia'
COVER: ' Refugee' by Jim Jarman