Tag Archives: Paraguay

Henry Lawson, Mary Gilmore, William Lane and “the little Utopias” – by Esteban Bedoya

In the last two months we have been to  two outstanding performances  dealing with the story of the Australian colonists  who settled in Paraguay at the end of the nineteenth century. In  November 2015  we attended the premiere of an opera composed and directed by Michael Sollis and staged by the Griffyn Ensemble. In February of this year we saw All My Love, a play by  Anne Brooksbank  dramatising the  close friendship between two icons of Australian literature, Mary Gilmore and Henry Lawson. This relationship was never to be consummated  because Gilmore set her mind and heart on pursuing her own personal Utopia by joining the  band of Australians, led by William Lane, who two years earlier, in 1893,  had travelled to Paraguay to establish two socialist  colonies and begin a new life.

Lane and his followers arrived  in a far-away country that had  recently endured  the bloodiest  conflict on South American soil: The War of the Triple Alliance, pitting Paraguay against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay (1864-70). Paraguay had been considered  the country with the most promising future in the region, boasting  a passenger railway, ship building for international trade, the first iron foundry in the Southern Cone and an extensive telegraph network.  To support this infrastructure, hundreds of European engineers, architects and technicians had been recruited, which contributed to the development of an education  system and a program of urban modernization. Consequently, Paraguay was in the process of becoming the most modern and self-reliant country in South America.

Tragically, Paraguay became the victim of a bloodbath of epic proportions. Why? Historical documentation suggests that the principal reasons were its legitimate claims to independence and its pretensions to develop its own model of social and economic development. Statements by top political and military leaders involved in the war against Paraguay confirm their genocidal intent:

How much time, how many men, how many lives and how many resources are needed to end the war, to turn the Paraguayan population into smoke and dust, to kill even the fetuses in the wombs of the women?

The war in Paraguay concluded for the simple reason that we killed all Paraguayans over the age of ten.

It is a sad memory, but it provides the historical context for the arrival of the hardy Australians who reached Paraguay. William Lane and his comrades found a country in ruins where the surviving women and their children were incapable of raising a smile. But Paraguay needed to be repopulated so the Australians received a warm welcome. Lane, Cameron, Cadogan, Kennedy, Gilmore, Wood and the others were the founders of the colonies of New Australia and Cosme, which in due course bequeathed thousands of descendants —Australian and Paraguayan— as well as a rich cultural legacy that belongs to both of our nations.

The expedition that set sail on The Royal Tar on 17 July 1893 from Sydney Harbour provides a solid basis for writing the history of Paraguay-Australian bilateral relations. In the words of the historian Marisa González Oleaga, “They have left us a heritage of dignity and pride. Nobody will ever again recreate the experience of New Australia, but people will always envisage the possibility of new worlds beyond the horizon.” Many years have elapsed since that heroic enterprise, but Utopian ideals continue to inspire men and women throughout the world striving to reach the Light on the Hill.

First shipload of Australian immigrants left Sydney on the Royal Tar in 1893


Today, humanity is facing grave humanitarian crises. Limited resources frustrate endeavours to ameliorate the fate of people in embattled regions. We may draw inspiration from the pilgrims who sailed in The Royal Tar, risking their lives in a quest of a “little Utopia” in a distant land. It is significant that two works about this extraordinary adventure should be staged in Australia at the same time. The message conveyed by Gilmore, Lane and Lawson continues to resonate in the works of talented contemporary Australian artists and writers who remember the idealism and courage of their forebears. And by some mysterious telepathy, the saga of these intrepid settlers has also inspired an Argentinian movie director, Cristian Pauls, to tell their story. In collaboration with Paraguayan partners, the movie is currently in production on the other side of the Pacific.

This efflorescence of interest in the shared history of Australia and Paraguay is not mere coincidence. It is an urgent reminder that we should both work together to keep alive our historical memory. Our artists, poets and writers are telling us that it is our joint responsibility.

Esteban Bedoya is Chargé d’Affaires of Paraguay, Canberra.

The truth about the resignation of Benedict XVI

One wonders if Esteban Bedoya has some secret hot-line into the Vatican. When he published The Apocalypse According to Benedict in 2008 it seemed an audacious fantasy that Pope Benedict XVI, AKA. Joseph Ratzinger, would ever retire from this highest of worldly offices. Popes don’t retire: they assume the Papal throne at an advanced age and moulder away on the job. One need only think of Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who died at the age of 85, suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and severe degenerative arthritis. By the end of his life John Paul II had survived two assassination attempts and several cancer scares, but his decrepitude was alarming.

In his novella Bedoya has Benedict retire – and so it came to pass. On 11 February 2013, two months’ short of his 86th birthday, the Pope announced his intention to step down, citing “a lack of strength of mind and body”.

Having witnessed the lamentable final years of his friend and ally, John Paul II, one can understand Benedict’s actions, even if had been 598 years since the previous Papal resignation. That was when Gregory XII was forced to resign in order to end the Great Schism which divided the Catholic Church from 1378 to 1418.

The novelty of Bedoya’s story is that the Pope does not resign solely because of declining health. His decision follows a landmark decision that throws the Church into crisis. Those who considered the Pontiff to be an ultra-conservative, now call him “Benedict the Revolutionary”.

Having detonated his bomb the Pope declines the offer of spending his retirement in the Vatican and withdraws to his native Bavaria. The real Benedict has remained in Rome, but with the caveat that his only ‘revolutionary’ gesture was the resignation itself.

The startling parallels between art and life lend a seductive power to Bedoya’s imaginative rewiring of reality. Is it impossible that the real Benedict might have felt the same anxieties about the “crisis of faith” faced by the Church today? The crisis is real enough with the Catholic Church often resembling a vast multinational corporation peddling a medieval view of personal morality. Believers around the world find their faith tested by doctrines seemingly at odds with the circumstances of their lives.

Bedoya’s Pope takes decisive action then resigns while the shock waves are still radiating outwards. He knows there can be no stopping the forces he has unleashed. For the reader this extraordinary scenario has a eerie plausibility. One can believe the real Benedict nurtured similar ambitions which never came to fruition. The author leads us into this state of heightened credulity by presenting the Pope as a creature of flesh-and-blood who talks freely about his childhood temptations, feeling the conflict between his vows to the Church and the pangs of sexual desire.

For the Church the Pope is an immaculate figure whose life and actions can only be exemplary. Bedoya’s version seems much more like a mere mortal – more capable of eliciting our sympathies, less demanding of reverence.

And so we read The Apocalypse According to Benedict as both an outlandish work of fiction and a tale that brings a touch of earthy realism into our views of that otherworldly kingdom, the Vatican. The book dispels the air of professional mystery concocted by the Church and leads us to focus on those greater mysteries contained within the human heart.

Review by John McDonand

In 2008, Paraguayan author predicted and described the Pope’s resignation

Life, at times, imitates art.

In the novel, “The Apocalypse of Benedict” (El Apocalipsis según Benedicto) published in 2008, prize-winning Paraguayan author, Esteban Bedoya, accurately describes the Pope’s retirement at the age of 85. Incredibly, one paragraph of Bedoya’s novel reappeared 2 years later in 2010, when Benedict XVI, in an interview (which was later published as a book) with a German journalist, expressed a possible condition for his retirement. At the end of Bedoya’s short novel, after his retirement, the ex-Pope was continued to be called “Benedict”.

In the first part, with an admirable writing style that is both precise and surgical, Bedoya tells a story, very similar to reality, of the public life of Benedict XVI, whose full name is Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, who after the death of John Paul II, was elected as the 265th Pope on the 19th May, 2005.

In the second part, Bedoya unleashes his creativity and, amongst other events, Benedict XVI resigns. What follows, is a recommendation for anyone who has yet to read the book: to get themselves a copy and read it.

But it’s not just by coincidence or chance that Bedoya is lead to such an accurate prediction. It is however, the development of the novel that drives and justifies this outcome.

The resignation and retirement of the Pope, detailed in Bedoya’s fiction, is now seen today repeated in reality and has taken many by surprise. Accordingly, use of this fiction should be highlighted as an effective method to interpret and explain what really occurs in the dark, yet elaborate corridors of the Vatican.

One of the extracts from the novel that accurately describes certain sentiments and reasons for retirement which have since been publicly expressed by Benedict XVI himself, years after Bedoya’s novel had been published, includes:

The press speculated and started rumours which spoke of the retirement of the Pope: Benedict himself had announced his intention to resign in the case of being unable to carry out such responsibility (“The Apocalypse of Benedict”, page 21).

Benedict’s sentiment in Bedoya’s 2008 novel, fits perfectly with the paragraph highlighted by the Basque newspaper, GARA, on 12th February 2013 which reads:

The protagonist himself (Joseph Ratzinger), in a book-length interview with German journalist Peter Seewald, confessed in November of 2010 his willingness to “resign due to illness, if physically, psychologically and spiritually (he) were not able to perform (his) job (in: http://preview.tinyurl.com/cy9az8y).

The idea is not to take away potential readers of the novel, so in it, after the resignation, the former Pope was continued to be referred to as Benedict…

In light of this, Cubadebate published the article: “Lombardi: We will continue to call him Benedict XVI” (in: http://tinyurl.com/bu7vd4r).

It’s worth highlighting the film “Habemus Papam”, by Italian film director Nani Moretti, which tells the fictional story of Cardinal Melville, who, when elected Pope, suffers a panic attack that prevents him from taking office. However, in the case of the Bedoya’s novel, both the identity and age of the Pope who decided to retire is actually depicted: the same Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict XVI, at age 85.

To think that a Pope can retire is not something extraordinary, even though the last time it happened was 598 years ago, but to actually predict the name and age of the Pope who has now, in real life, resigned and retired…. well that’s a different story.

In turn, author Frei Betto has so far written about five resignations, including that of Benedict XVI:

In the history of the Church there are four popes who resigned …: Benedict IX (01/05/1045), Gregory VI (20/12/1046), Celestine V (13/12/1294) and Gregory XII (04/07/1415). Benedict XVI will be the fifth, as of 28 February 2013 (in: http://tinyurl.com/bfdyls2).

Literature is also capable of writing the history of the future

In delving into universal literature and cases of authors who produced works considered clairvoyant, emerge the names of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, George Orwell, Ray Bradbury and Manuel Scorza.

Julio Venre was a successful French writer thanks to his ability to attract a very diverse readership. He captivated audiences by pioneering the science fiction genre and his works were not only popular in his time, but even still today.

He predicted with great accuracy in his fantastic tales the appearance of some of the products generated by the technological advances of the twentieth century; TV, helicopters, submarines and spaceships (in: http://tinyurl.com/ylmn3om).

Herbert George Wells was a writer, novelist, historian and British philosopher. Wells wrote science fiction novels such as “The Time Machine” (1895), whose original title was “The Chronic Argonauts”, “The Invisible Man” (1897), “The War of the Worlds” (1898) and “The First Men in the Moon “(1901).

George Orwell, under the pseudonym of Eric Blair, was a British writer, and wrote the novel “1984” in 1948. Perhaps this title arose as a rearrangement of the last digits of the year to place the work in the future. It is often cited as a counterexample to a utopia (an imagined place in which everything is perfect), with “dystopian fiction” (an imagined place in which everything is undesirable). In this book the concept of “Big Brother” emerges; a police state which is totalitarian, vigilant and repressive, as it used to be three decades ago, due to results of projects like “ECHELON” (UKUSA Security Agreement: United States, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

Ray Douglas Bradbury, American science fiction writer, wrote fantasy stories with a poetic prose such as; “The Martian Chronicles” (1950), “The Golden Apples of the Sun” (1953), “A Medicine for Melancholy” (1960), “The Machineries of Joy” (1964) “Ghosts of the New” (1969), and among his novels, the unforgettable “Fahrenheit 451” (1953), is also highlighted as part of his dystopian fiction.

Manuel Scorza, excellent writer, poet and social activist from Peru, wrote the monumental epic series “The Silent War”, composed of five novels: “Drums for Rancas” (1970); “Garabombo, the Invisible” (1972), “The Sleepless Rider “(1976), “The Ballard of Agapito Robles”(1976) and “Requiem for a Lightning Bolt” (1978). In the latest of the series, Scorza wrote about certain characters and their actions which, two years later, came true in a few sociopolitical cases in Peru.

However, in the case of “The Apocalypse of Benedict” Esteban Bedoya went a step further, venturing into unchartered territory and creating a piece of literature which, five years ago, described with amazing accuracy something that then was the future and today is now the present.

International recognition of Bedoya’s nouvelle format

In some proposals for the classification of novel literary works nouvelle or novella is a story of a lesser extent than a novel and is defined by Julio Cortázar as a “genre somewhere between a story and a novel.”

With respect to the number of words in a nouvelle, some authors set their limits between 30,000 and 50,000 words, but it is not an inflexible rule. Two nouvelle works are: “The Tracker” by Julio Cortázar and “Perjury in Snow” by Adolfo Bioy Casares.

This extension which responds to the nouvelle format is apparently where Esteban Bedoya is most comfortable. “The Apocalypse of Benedict” in its Spanish version has 13,389 words and in English, 14,756. His excellent nouvelle will be republished under the title of “The Ear Collector” and in its Spanish version will be 35,914 words.

The novel “The Apocalypse of Benedict” is not limited to the accuracy of the story and guessing what happens now in 2013, it has outstanding literary merit pertaining to both the structure and the level of creativity. In fact, for this work Bedoya received the 2010 PEN America/Edward and Lily Tuck Prize for Paraguayan Literature.

As a writer, Bedoya has also received awards from the Academy of American Poets (1982) and publisher, Helguero (1983).

His much publicized novel “The Bear Pit” (2003), was translated into French under the title “La fosse aux Ours” (2005), the German title “Der Bärengraben” (2009) and published in France by La dernière Goutte.

His novel “The Evil Ones” (“Les Mal-aimés”) (2006) was translated and published in France as by L’Haremattan and the novel, now titled “The Ear Collector” will be translated into French and published in France by La dernière Goutte.

“The Apocalypse of Benedict” is being translated into English for publication in the United States.

After ten years of his creative work being published, Esteban Bedoya’s writing continues to increase in creativity, with genuine stories that are not only worthwhile reads, but are enjoyed with the same pleasure as that of the best of Augusto Roa Bastos.

Article by Vicente Brunetti from Kaos en la Red (translated by Gabrielle Hall).