Tag Archives: Australia

Southpaw released

Southpaw is a new literary journal of writing from  the global south. It is dedicated to the idea of  ‘south-south’ dialogue: to conversations between  writers, artists and readers about life away from  the metropolitan centres of power and culture. It is a literary left hook from the south features fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, essays, reviews and  images.

Southpaw issue 1 is focused through the theme of  displacement. Writers from South Africa, Indigenous  Australia, Philippines, Colombia, Suriname, Angola,  Indigenous Japan, China, the Horn of Africa, Tunisia,  New Zealand and non-Indigenous Australians write fascinating stories and reflect on home and eviction, migration and asylum seeking, cultural diplomacy  and political oppression, cross cultural dealings and cultural reclamation.

Including:

  • Kevin Murray on the idea of south,
  • Danilova Molintas on the city of Baguio, Kendall
  • Trudgen on diplomacy in East Arnhem Land and
  • Martin Plowman on UFOs in South America.
  • Fiction by: Karen Jennings, Tony Birch, paulo da costa, Ruth San A Jong and Paul Maunder.
  • Non-fiction by Yeeshan Yang, Karen Lazar, Batool Albatat and Aliza Amlani.
  • Reviews by Alice Robinson (Tamil pulp ction), Justin Clemens (Mapanje), Bernard Caleo (Ubby’s Underdogs), John Hughes (Planet B) and Vicki Crowley (Indigenous sexuality).

South Paw Order Form

Indigenous Knowledges in Latin America and Australia conference

Please note the upcoming Symposium that SURCLA is organising: Indigenous Knowledges in Latin America and Australia | Locating Epistemologies, Difference and Dissent | December 8-10, 2011.

The symposium will bring together Indigenous educators and intellectuals from Mexico, Argentina and Chile to Sydney to meet with interested Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators, scholars and activists, as well as non-Indigenous practitioners and allies, to discuss different models and approaches of Indigenous Knowledges and Education in the tertiary sector and beyond.

This project aims at helping educators and researchers in the Higher Education sector of Australia and Latin America to identify opportunities for integrating in their research and teaching and learning relevant aspects of Indigenous Knowledges in the areas of culture, education and sustainability.

Apart from the symposium itself, academic publications, public lectures by distinguished visitors and the creation of a website, the project will stimulate debate on Indigenous Knowledge and film production in Latin America and Australia by hosting film screenings on the topic.

For more information, visit the website.

From Tasmania to Patagonia

 

28 years ago, the Australian Supreme Court banned the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the Franklin River, Tasmania, in a case which came to be internationally known as Tasmania v. Commonwealth.

At the beginning of the 1980s, the unemployment rate in Tasmania was 10 per cent (the highest in the country), and the local liberal government together with some big businesses and industries saw the construction of the Franklin dam as the remedy for all evils. This, however, required the flooding of a unique ecosystem, which had been declared as part of the World’s Natural Heritage by UNESCO. Against the plan stood the members of the Wilderness Society and the nascent Green Party who, joined by a number of community associations and independent citizens, proposed a different path to growth: one based on the respect for nature.

Eventually getting the support of the national Labor Party, those opposed to the dam generated the largest environmental campaign in the history of this Southern country. Their main argument was that the dam would not only violate the country laws, but also international agreements to which Australia had subscribed. After five years of protests, lobbying and media work, they triumphed and their story became one of the most quoted in the history of environmental litigation.

I cannot help comparing this case with HidroAysén, a project from the Spanish multinational Endesa (subsidiary of Italian Enel) and Chilean Colbún, which involves the construction of five dams in Chilean Patagonia, to generate 2.750 megawatts –fifteen times more than the aborted Franklin Dam! Whereas the energy that was meant to be produced in Tasmania was at least destined for local consumption, in the Chilean case it is not the Patagonians who are going to get the benefits, but the capital, Santiago, and the big mining industries in the North of the country. After the controversial approval of the Environmental Impact Study of the dams last May, what is now under discussion is the other half of the project: namely, a transmission line of 2.300 kilometers that would cut through six national parks and 11 nature reserves, and would mean chopping over 20 thousand hectares of forests. If approved, this would turn out to be the longest line of direct current in the planet (and probably one of the most inefficient, losing an estimated 10 per cent of the energy on the way).

Some people are more prone to be convinced by arguments, while others are more easily persuaded by shocking images, powerful slogans and even musical jingles. The No Dams movement in Tasmania worked on both fronts effectively. On one hand, they won the support of public figures and intellectuals who repeated the message of what would be at stake if the dam were authorized. Together with the organizers, they led the protests, rallies and road blockades, and they even ended up in jail, together with hundred other campaigners. (At the peak of the movement, the Tasmanian prison system simply collapsed, unable to fit them all). Thanks to generous donations, the No Dams campaign could also be heard on the radio –Let the Franklin flow–, but arguably the most effective way to raise the public’s attention were the spectacular photographs taken by Peter Dombrovskis: emerald waters flowing down a rocky patch of the river, surrounded by dense forests and half covered by the early morning mist. “Could you vote for a party that would destroy this?”, was the question posed under the picture by the Labor party, in the federal elections of 1983. Few voters dared to answer in the affirmative, and Labor won with a large swing.

Another important point is that it was understood from the beginning that the decision whether to approve or reject the Franklin dam was not technical, but political. The solution could not come from a mere cost-benefit analysis, because what was at stake was something priceless, namely, what Tasmania wanted to be and to become. The Green Party and its founder, Bob Brown, clearly saw this and, after the battle was won, remained as crucial actors in the Australian political scene: today they are part of the governing coalition, and Brown is one of the most popular senators countrywide.

Finally, the campaign was not so much about opposing, but overall about proposing an alternative path to development. The No to the dam was a Yes to sustainable growth. Three decades later, the decision has proved to be correct. Today, tourism is the second major economic activity in that state, and gives jobs to half a million Tasmanians, it generates a billion dollars annually and it attracts almost a million visitors. Moreover, Tasmania is Australia’s leader when it comes to the production of renewable energy, which amounts to 87 per cent of its total. This comes mainly from wind farms and hydroelectricity (yes, hydroelectricity, but not from large dams, but from run-of-the-river power plants for local use).

How should the Tasmanian story illuminate the Chilean case? To start with, the Patagonia Sin Represas campaign has powerful arguments on its side. Among them, firstly, that what looks like the cheapest option in the short and maybe medium term will be the most expensive in the long term. Secondly, that HidroAysén is not the only alternative available to solve the country’s purported ‘energy shortage’, because we have other options in abundance, like wind, geothermal energy and sun. Thirdly, that if HidroAysén benefits anybody, it is not the Patagonians. And fourthly, that a number of recent studies show that big, old-fashioned dams like the ones planned are not the clean energy that they claim to be (given increased sediment build-up, the fragmentation of the river ecosystem which results on the massive death of fish, etc.). Patagonia Sin Represas has used all this arguments effectively, and it has also appealed to our senses through powerful images, like those of the beautiful rivers Pascua and Baker, where the dams would be constructed; the huemules, our national emblems who are now an endangered species and many of whom live in the five thousand hectares to be flooded; and the dramatic effect that the transmission line would have on some of the most pristine landscapes in Chile and the world. Moreover, just as the No Dams campaign, Patagonia Sin Represas has progressively won the support of the general public, transforming itself from a narrow environmental movement into a social one. The best example of this is that, after the initial approbation of the dams by the government, on the 10th of May, 30 thousand Chileans gathered in Santiago to march against the decision. In every regional capital from north to south, this support was replicated.

The battle so far has not been easy, though, and will not be. Whereas in the Tasmanian case the company which proposed the project had limited resources to promote it, HidroAysén, backed by the multinational Endesa, has spent millions of dollars lobbying for and publicizing its cause. An important part has been to infuse fear in the population, through threats such as that we are going to be left in the dark, or that the country will not be able to grow if the project is not carried out. Against this, the only option for Patagonia Sin Represas is to stand as a truly social and political movement with the legitimate support of the citizenry. Regarding this point, another important difference with the Tasmanian case is that, while in the latter the political parties swiftly took sides for or against the Franklin Dam, the main political parties in Chile have only made lukewarm declarations in support or against the project. Discounting a couple of independent senators and representatives, it looks as if our politicians are dragging behind the times, unable to take a stance on the national problems that really matter. In the background, members of the right-wing government have been explicit on their support to HidroAysén, and have had no quibbles to use their position of authority to put the message through. Moreover, no Green Party has been born to work for this and other pressing environmental and social causes (whoever the Greens are in Chile, so far, they have not managed to capitalize on the many voices of discontent).

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HidroAysén has still a long way to go before its definitive approval, and it is in the meantime that those who oppose it have to come with concrete alternatives. Together with the No to the dams in Patagonia has to come a Yes to other paths not only of energy production but, more widely, of development and even property rights over common goods (under Pinochet´s dictatorship, the Chilean waters were privatized, and it was thanks to this law that Endesa could acquire a significant amount of the water rights, especially in the area of the project). What is at stake here is not only one of the most pristine landscapes in Chile, but in the planet. The conclusion should be obvious: One Patagonia is worth more than a thousand dams.

Author: Alejandra Mancilla, Chilean Journalist and PhD candidate in Philosophy, Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE), Australian National University, Canberra. www.alejandramancilla.wordpress.com

Southern Latitudes

Another forthcoming conference, to be held at the State Library of New South Wales, Southern Latitudes, is presented by the Australia & New Zealand Map Society (ANZMapS) and is to be held from24–27 May 2011. The conference will cover a wide range of topics from presenters including several Petherick readers. Speakers include:

  • Frederick Muller, ‘The first map documenting Magellan’s sighting of the Southland and sailing of the Pacific: Fries’ Tabula moderna alterius hemispherius, 1525’
  • Dr Michael Pearson, ‘Charting the sealing islands of the Southern Ocean’
  • Allen Mawer, ‘Incognita: The Incredible Shrinking Continent’
  • Sydney map collector Robert Clancy, ‘Shaping Australia: 1850-1950’
  • Rupert   Gerritsen, ‘The Freycinet map of 1811 – The first complete map of Australia?’
  • John Robson, ‘University of Waikato, ‘John Lort Stokes’
  • Mark Alcock, Project Leader, ‘Law of the Sea and Maritime Boundary Advice Project’
  • Bronwen Douglas, Senior Fellow at the ANU, ‘Geography, Raciology, and the Naming of Oceania, 1750–1850’
  • Christine Kenyon and Katrina Sandiford, ‘Charles Sturt, 1838, Overlander and Explorer: Tracing his journey by map and diary’
  • Bernie Joyce, ‘The 150th Anniversary of the Burke & Wills Expedition’

Details of the program, and registration etc are at http://www.anzmaps.org/

Southpaw–a literary left-hook from the Global South

Issue 1: displacement

Southpaw is a punchy new literary journal that will feature the voices and perspectives of writers from the South. Entering into dialogue with artistic communities across the South, it means to develop links, provoke conversation and share knowledge. Launching in 2011 from Melbourne Australia, it will feature fiction, creative-nonfiction, cultural commentary, essays, poetry, drawings and other graphics from writers and artists in the South.

Southpaw is currently looking for submissions in each of the above categories: short fiction, creative nonfiction, commentary, poetry, drawings, and essays up to 3000 words.

The first issue of Southpaw will be shaped by the experience and idea of ‘displacement’ – a theme with which Southern communities are especially familiar. But this is not necessarily to imply a negative encounter with change or trauma: displacement (in practice and thought) also suggests new possibilities and positive challenges that enliven thinking and burst into creative expression. Southpaw is looking for contemporary voices in all forms of writing. The energy of the South and the alternatives its many cultures and individual creativities offer today will be a challenge and antidote to the traditional sources of cultural influence and activity.

Please make your submission in Word by 30 April 2011.

Email your writing or drawing to: [email protected]

Alison Caddick, for Southpaw editorial group

Developing Pacific Scholarship

ANU Campus 31 January-11 February 2011

Call for applications from Pacific Islander scholars

The State Society and Governance in Melanesia Program (SSGM), situated in ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, is offering a Pacific Scholarship Award for eight places to graduate students and scholars from universities, research institutions and professional bodies in the Pacific Islands to attend its Developing Pacific Scholarship Program for two weeks from 31 January to 11 February 2011. Full travel costs to and from Canberra, plus accommodation, will be paid to successful Pacific Islander applicants.

This Program is envisaged as a training opportunity for younger Pacific Islands researchers. During the first week of the Program, a selection of ANU Pacific Studies staff will offer brief summaries of their current research, there will be opportunities for comments and feedback on the visiting participant’s writing and research, and guided introductions to research resources. The second week will feature 15-20 minute presentations from each of the visitors on any aspect of their research. Trips around Canberra and social events will also be offered. For further information please see the SSGM website: http://ips.cap.anu.edu.au/ssgm

How to Apply

Send an abstract (less than 250 words) drawing on research you are currently or have recently undertaken and how you wish to develop this during your visit to ANU, as well as the topic of your proposed short presentation during the second week at the Pacific Research Colloquium. Please include a brief biographical description explaining who you are and which institution or organisation you are affiliated with. Send to: [email protected] Deadline for abstract: 27 October 2010

Successful applicants will be notified by 2 November 2010 and will be required to submit a full draft paper by 26 November 2010. Award of the Scholarship will be dependent on receipt of the draft paper. Applications from Pacific Island women are strongly encouraged. This program is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID)

Here from elsewhere: Settlerism as a platform for south-south dialogue

Thursday 21 October 2010 7:30-9pm

Institute of Postcolonial Studies, North Melbourne

James Belich, Kate Darian-Smith, Lorenzo Veracini

The southern question is figured as a struggle by colonies to liberate themselves from metropolitan centres in order to realise their own destinies at the other end of the world. This includes taking up the challenge of co-existence with peoples originally displaced by the process of colonisation. But what remains of the relation between metropolitan centre and periphery? Is there evidence of exchange between oldland and newland that offers a more reciprocal arrangement? What does this mean for potential solidarity between countries of the periphery?

Professor James Belich is at the Stout Research Centre, University of Wellington. His two volumes on New Zealand history, Making Peoples and Paradise Reforged, are considered comprehensive and engaging. His recent publication Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld, 1780-1930 is described in the TLS as ‘one of the most important works on the broad processes of modern world history to have appeared for years.’

Professor Kate Darian-Smith is Professor of Australian Studies and History at the University of Melbourne. Kate has written widely on Australian history and on the British world. Her works include, as co-editor of Britishness Abroad: Transnational Movements and Imperial Cultures, Melbourne University Press, 2007 and Text, Theory, Space: land, literature and history in South Africa and Australia, Routledge, 1996. She is currently working on an ARC-funded project (with Penny Edmonds and Julie Evans) on Conciliation Narratives in British Settler Societies in the Pacific Rim.

Dr Lorenzo Veracini is a Senior Research Fellow at Swinburne University and holds a Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship. He joined the ISR in early 2009 and has studied history and historiography in Italy and the UK before moving to Australia in the late 1990s. He is the author of Israel and Settler Society (Pluto Press 2006) and What is Settler Colonialism? (forthcoming). He is currently writing a global history of settler colonialism and is on the editorial board of the new journal, Settler Colonial Studies.

Institute of Postcolonial Studies
78-80 Curzon Street
North Melbourne
Victoria 3051 Australia (map)
Tel: 03 9329 6381
Admission – $5 for waged, $3 for unwaged, and free for members.

Our Williams–Ross Gibson and Tony Birch

Tony Birch and Ross Gibson

Tony Birch and Ross Gibson

The recent dialogue between Ross Gibson and Tony Birch demonstrated the kind of thinking that might be revealed through a southern perspective.

At the opening of the series, Raewyn Connell laid down the challenge to broaden our theoretical references beyond the metropolitan centres. In the discussion that followed, there was a sense of concern in abandoning the reassuring authorities, particularly European theoretical figures. Would this be to forgo critical thought – to drift away from the main action in transatlantic universities? Connell countered with a democratic image of a thousand boats that would criss-cross the south-south axis.

Gibson and Birch pointed in an alternative direction. They both looked back to iconic figures in the early history of European colonisation. Gibson considered the life of William Dawes, a scientist who explored different ways of engaging with Indigenous hosts in Port Jackson at the time of the First Fleet. And Birch looked from the Victorian end at the biography of William Barak, a Wurundjeri leader who traversed the Indigenous and settler worlds. While Dawes and Barak would not be considered theoretical sources, their actions in their time provided models for ways of thinking today.

Gibson looked at Dawes’ attempts to understand the local language. His notebooks reveal that he moved away from a nominalist approach to an increasingly contextualised grasp of their language. This is in part thanks to his intimacy with a local woman, Patyegarang, who helped him appreciate the profoundly relational nature of Indigenous language. Gibson talked about Dawes as a ‘littoral’ person, a marine adept at working in the space between land and sea. His notebooks show a man navigating a shifting world, ‘always in conversation with oneself and other people.’

For Birch, Barak also negotiated between the white man (namatje) and Wurundjeri. Rather than a passive figure, Barak was always navigating a path as a political strategist. An important component of that was his relationship to the first manager of the Aboriginal mission in Coranderrk, John Green. Birch could see echoes here of his own collaborations with namatje such as the artist Tom Nicholson.

Other Australian writers have also recently depicted the first encounters between white and black worlds, such as Inge Clendenin and Kate Grenville. But it is not only in Australia that this interest has emerged. The Argentinean writer Walter Mignolo has written about the Inca historian Guaman Poma, who tried to tell his people’s side of the story in a book The First New Chronicle and Good Government (1615). Poma tried to identify how the best of European and Inca cultures might be combined. In doing this, he used a map dividing the world into four quarters, rich and poor, moral and barbaric.

In modern terminology, civilization and barbarism distinguished the inhabitants or the two upper quarters; while riches and poverty characterized the people living in the lower quarters. On the other hand, the poor but virtuous and the civilized are opposed to the rich and the barbarians. In a world divided in four parts, subdivided in two, binary oppositions arc replaced by a combinatorial game that organizes the cosmos and the society.
Walter Mignolo The Darker Side Of The Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality, And Colonization Anne Arbor: University of Michegan Press, 2003, p. 252

The next step would be to gather together scenes of first encounter as they are currently being rehearsed across the South. In these tentative experiences of contact, there is sometimes a brief flicker of dialogue before the full force of colonisation is finally applied. A glimpse of these proto-colonial scenes can speak to those countries where the tide of colonisation is now ebbing in the other direction.

Suvendrini Perera: An Insular State

An Insular State

Thu 02-09-10, 7:30pm

At least since Thomas More’s Utopus founded his ideal state by carving it free, by the use of forced labour, from the continent to which it was bound, the topos of the island, organised by an ontologised division between land and sea, has been central to the geopolitical imagination of western modernity. In his 1998 Boyer lecture David Malouf described island-Australia as the product of an entirely new and uniquely European act of envisioning: When Europeans first came to these shores one of the things they brought with them, as a kind of gift to the land, was something that could have never existed before; a vision of the continent in its true form as an island … And this seems to have happened even before circumnavigation established that it actually was an island … Aboriginal Australians, however ancient and deep their understanding of the land, can never have seen the place in just this way … If Aborigines are a land-dreaming people, what we latecomers share is a sea-dreaming, to which the image of Australia as an island has from the beginning been central (my emphasis). For Malouf island-Australia is the fulfilment of a European (more specifically, English) desire that completes a teleology of colonial desiring: a gift. Reciprocally, insularity is the distinctive gift the colonisers bring to the land: an opening of previously unimaginable ways of seeing and being. This paper explores what is at stake in insularity as a gift of form, at once a topographic and imaginative figure and a political programme, for Australia, the island-continent.

Suvendrini Perera is Associate Professor of Cultural Studies at Curtin University. She completed her PhD at Columbia University, New York, and her B.A at the University of Sri Lanka. Her most recent book is Australia and the Insular Imagination (New York: Palgrave, 2009). A co-edited volume, Enter at Own Risk? Australia’s Population Questions for the 21st Century is forthcoming in 2010.

Institute of Postcolonial Studies
78-80 Curzon Street
North Melbourne
Victoria 3051 Australia (map)
Tel: 03 9329 6381
Admission – $5 for waged, $3 for unwaged, and free for members.

Interview with John Mateer – a home for poetry in the South

‘Written from the rim of the far flung South African diaspora, these poems by John Mateer roll back the tide of forgetting, giving us one glimpse after another of a multifarious and beloved homeland.’  JM Coetzee

This interview refers to a poem African City which can be found here.

Where is your home?

This should be an easy question to answer. Yet, as I formulate what to say, I realize that I don’t have a simple answer. Usually I would prefer not to answer a question like that, but due to the nature of your interest in the South, let me explain some things about my background. When I was a child, in 1977, my parents and I emigrated to Canada. My father found living there difficult, partly for health reasons – he suffered badly from asthma – and partly because he had set up a company in South Africa which seem to have better financial prospects than what he had in Canada. So we returned to Johannesburg, and it was shortly after that that my father started preparing for us to emigrate to Australia. We only left for Australia when I was 17 and had already received my conscription papers. That was in 1989, towards the end of the Emergency period. That was in retrospect exactly the wrong time to go: Mandela was released the year after! When people ask me why our family moved to Australia there is a complex of issues, too many to spell out in this interview. But at the back of them all were concerns about the inequality of that society, and at that time – it is easy to forget – South Africa was a warring state, both within its borders and on the borders with Mozambique, Angola and, to a lesser extent, Botswana. If I ponder why we went to Canada in 1977, I think both of the Soweto Uprising and of South Africa’s invasion of Angola that was only called off because the CIA were afraid it would creating a flash-point between the US and Cuba. That is not all. Being someone whose life was shaped by an awareness of the violence of racism in South Africa, being in Australia, while it is a much more peaceful country, nevertheless leaves me in a state of disquiet; the nature of White Australia’s relationship to the Aboriginal peoples makes me feel that this country itself is, if only on a symbolic level, but I don’t think it is only symbolic, in conflict with itself. Through my art-criticism and certain parts of my poetry I have been confronted with a special kind of silencing that occurs here, a silencing which is concerned to rein-in disruptive discourses or people. The current director of the South Project once told me, after I had described to her a number of the ways my writing, both critical and literary had been hindered here in Australia, that she would really like me to write a book about all the subjects you can’t write about in Australia! So, in answer to your question, I am not sure how at home I can feel here. Perhaps this is a post-traumatic feeling… Sometimes when I think of my father I think of the evening when he was preparing his company-tax and he came to me, I was a young child, and explained that he had paid the same amount of money that a tank cost the army. He was astonished and disgusted. It was only after his death that I found out he had in his youth been involved in liberal – in the good sense! – politics.

As a poet, you seem to place great importance in the public act of reading. Do you write each poem as a test, awaiting the results of its reading?

There is a larger question here, related to the dynamic nature of the poem, of the literary artefact. I stress the event of reading aloud as much as reading privately; both are events, which through their performance have certain histories and practices. In the Western World – if we may include Australia – there is a greater familiarity with the idea of silent reading than with the performance of the voice. This has been changing, but largely this remains true. I see the importance of the “public act of reading”, as you put it, in that it is an event of voicing. Whether this is good for the poem and the poet is open to debate – I suspect it isn’t – but that is a separate and complex issue… But it is this idea of the voice, elemental and vulnerable, a form of “bare life” to use Giorgio Agamben’s term, that is crucial here. It has less to do with the consequence of the nature and meaning of the poem than it has with the existential fact of one’s own presence, and, therefore, the world represented by that presence. That presence can’t fail if it is attended to with the hope of encounter. In a less philosophical sense, the question that must arise in the context of ‘performance’ must be the degree of success of the communication, though that is something, perhaps, not to be gauged, rather experienced.

Is the ‘haunting’ something that is always open a sense of cultural difference, or can it sometimes close cultures off.  How do you avoid the pitfalls of the gothic when composing poems about the South?

Haunting. This experience appears in a number of my poems, poems written in various parts of the world. I am not sure how to respond to the first part of your question, except to say that many people in the West don’t believe in the reality of the spirit-world – though I am sure they are outnumbered by those who do elsewhere! – and so if one speaks about hauntings and spirits and the Ancestors they might simply think these are tropes. I remember once speaking at the Free University Berlin and explaining that to understand certain things about South Africa one needs to acknowledge that the spirit-world and religion, including African-styles of Christianity, play an essential role in many people’s live, and that, for example, Soweto is quite a haunted place. One need not simply believe me: there is a very good book, Madumo: a Man Bewitched by Adam Ashford, on this subject. I also told them that I agree with the photographer Santu Mofokeng when he said that South Africa would have had a civil war with terrible bloodshed had it not being for the calming presence of the African Zionists. The students looked at me with a degree of disbelief, and their professor, in whose class I was ‘ a guest speaker’, somehow made what I had said sound more academically respectable. The reality there, I suppose, is that academia is about studying life not living it. In that sense, it might close off cultural difference. As to the question of the gothic. This is not at all a concern for me because that literary category is one that would be imposed on the kinds of experiences I am talking about and have written about. I hardly think you could accuse Amos Tutuola of being Gothic! If anything, I believe still thinking along those lines, being concerned in that way, shows the extent to which non-Western experiences aren’t accepted as being authentic in themselves.

To what extent is the world of poetry a flat space? Do you feel able to move around as a poetic consciousness in any part of the world, or do you tend to locate yourself in a particular terrain? What would that be?

I am not sure what you might mean by “a flat space”. I sometimes think that when readers look at my body of work, with poems written in many parts of the world, that they imagine I am leading some kind of scattered existence, that what I have been doing is incoherent. Actually, what I have been doing in the last decade or two, is developing a sense of the post-colonial world; by that I mean I have mostly travelled in places that were colonized or responsible for colonization, whether the US or Portugal, Austria or Sri Lanka, and very often within the hemisphere defined by the Portuguese Empire, though I must admit this is far from complete! I see my travelling, since my visit to Sumatra in 1998, as a way of following in the wake – I was going to say footsteps! – of poets and pilgrims, trying to witness the way traffic and commerce produces connections between certain worlds and walls of silence between others. South Africa is the country of my birth and youth, so it has a special meaning here, whereas all the other places I see as places of encounter. One of the problems literary critics seem to have with my work is that is doesn’t suit any of their categories, especially national categories, with the exception of Portugal, where there is a strong tradition of poet-travellers: Luis de Camões, Camilio Pessanha, Rui Knopfli and Gil de Carvalho. One of the reviewers of my book Elsewhere concluded very pessimistically saying that she thought I was – to use a metaphor – at the end of the road, that my work was full of miscommunication and silence. It was an observation inattentive to the mechanisms of certain kinds of silence, how silence can speak in an encounter just as powerfully as the silence of a place can. A Portuguese critic, much more sympathetic to my work, told me what most interested her in my work was the way silences, often as evidence of historical memory, interrupted the everyday, the norms of place. When you ask me about how I might situate myself, I have the feeling that you might be wanting to return to the question of homeliness again… Let me say this: Last weekend I was present at the unveiling of Yagan Memorial Park, a place where, after 177 years, the remains of one of Australia’s legendary Aboriginal figures were laid to rest. There, in that place, and in a few other places around the city of Perth where I am ‘based’, I felt there was a respect for reality of this place, his land, its histories and peoples. It’s at moments like that that I feel a homeliness, though it might not be mine. Elsewhere, at other moments in other places, places that might have been damaged, I often write poems.

Can you recommend a Xhosa poet?

I was going to ask, Why Xhosa? And when you say that, do you mean the language of the ‘ethnic group’, because Xhosa writers might not write in isiXhosa… But there is one whose work I like, who comes immediately to mind, who did write in isiXhosa: St J Page Yako. Let me quote his “The Contraction and Enclosure of the Land”:

Thus spake the heirs of the land
although it is no longer ours.
This land will be folded like a blanket
till it is like the palm of a hand.


John Mateer has published books of poems in Australia and overseas, and a prose travelogue about Indonesia. He has been writer-in-residence in Kyoto, Beijing, Coimbra, Medan and at Ledig House, New York. In 2006 he was a participant at the Iowa International Writing Program. He has given readings in many countries, most recently in Austria at Schloss Leopoldskron/Salzburg Global Seminar as well as at PEN International’s Free the Word festival in London. His latest books are Ex-white/Einmal-Weiss: South African Poems (Klagenfurt: Sisyphus, 2009), The West: Australian Poems 1989-2009 (Fremantle Press, 2010) and Southern Barbarians (Sydney: Giramondo and Lisbon: T41, forthcoming).”