Review: A Long Way Home

A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, (Melbourne: Penguin, 2013).

A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, (Melbourne: Penguin, 2013).

Do you remember becoming separated from your parents by accident as a child?  That moment when you realised that you could not find your parents and were lost in a strange place was terrifying.  You may have been rooted by fear, or madly dashed around. You probably called out for them in between sobs.

Perhaps you have lost one of your own children.  My husband recalls the panic he felt when the tram he had just boarded started moving and he realised that our five-year old was still at the tram stop.  He yelled at the tram driver to stop but the tram kept going.  Hubble left the tram at the next stop and vividly remembers his mad sprint down the road to the tram stop where our daughter was still standing.

Fortunately for most of us that moment is transitory.  Parents find their children after a couple of minutes or kind strangers take the child to the store manager or police who find their parents.  Parents and the child resolve to be more careful in future and life resumes.

The nightmare for five-year old Saroo and his mother was not transitory.  Saroo was lost on the streets of Kolkata and his desperate mother was unable to find him.  The separation became permanent. Yet while kind strangers were unable to reunite the child with his mother they were able to provide the care he needed. Now an adult, Saroo Brierley tells his story in A Long Way Home. Continue reading

India at the Australian Historical Association Conference

Hockey stick

A hockey stick used by my mother at school in country Victoria during the mid 1950s with signatures of the 1928 Indian Olympic hockey team (the blue and yellow grip was added in the late 1970s).

Chinese-Australian history was well covered at the Australian Historical Association Conference but when I reviewed my conference notes I realised that a number of the sessions I attended were about the relationship between India and Australia.  I have only dabbled in this history during a seminar in my honours year, but increasingly I feel drawn to learn more.  Indians have lived in Australian since colonial times and the two countries have a strong historical association due to being fellow members of the British Empire.   Aside from these specific associations, my interest in secularism draws me to Indian history.  Leading researchers in this area recommend attention be given to the manner in which India has dealt with religion and state.

It was fitting that the keynote presentation was delivered by an authority in Indian colonial era history, Professor Sir Christopher Bayly of the University of Cambridge.  He gave a comparative overview of the two countries, titled ‘India and Australia: Distant Connections’.  He noted that the original peoples of both countries were subjugated and land appropriated by the colonial conquerors and that both countries experienced violence – between settlers and Aboriginal people in Australia and in India, the Rebellion of 1857.   The English legal system used in both countries had difficulty accommodating the native peoples because evidence under oath was traditionally only accepted from Christian witnesses.

Bayly commented that Australian self-government became an ‘icon’ for Indians agitating for independence.  However, Australia was a flawed icon in Indian eyes as they read about Australia’s treatment of Aborigines.  In questions afterwards, Bayly noted that the colonial era Calcutta newspapers had a significant amount of news about Australia, more so than another significant member of the empire – Canada.  Why was this?  There were significant shipping connections between Australia and India.  Continue reading

Blog Header – The People

The header for this blog reflects my view of history.  It reflects a world where people communicated and travelled beyond their national borders. I am attracted to the perspectives offered by ‘transnational history’ which challenges the traditional nationalist histories of the past.  Historians who take a transnational view understand that people, ideas and goods travelled extensively beyond national borders.  These transnational connections were already extensive by the time we noticed them in the late twentieth century and started talking about globalisation.  People have always been curious about what lay beyond their home and sought to understand the ideas and exchange the goods of others.

The Silk Road is a good example of interaction between peoples.  The European empires that emerged after the travels of Columbus are another obvious example albeit in the case of many indigenous peoples, an exchange forced upon them with devastating consequences.  The lives of the people in the header of my blog were significantly affected by people who lived beyond Britain’s shores.

John Cornelius Woolward

John Cornelius Woolward d. 1836

The first person that I would like you to meet is John Cornelius Woolward.  You can only see the bottom part of this silhouette in the header (at the top above the ‘s’ and ‘t’ at the end of the blog title).  In 1798 he fought in the Battle of the Nile at Aboukir Bay, a significant battle where Nelson routed the French fleet.  John Cornelius suffered a significant hearing loss from this battle.  He then became the harbourmaster at Ramsgate, England.  He served in this position for 26 years.  His interaction with the world outside Britain was through conflict.  As far as I am aware, opportunities for him to interact with people from other parts of the world outside battle were very limited.

Studio photo of Matilda Woolward seated, holding a book

Matilda Woolward d. 1907

The next person was the wife of the son of John Cornelius, Matilda (nee Barrett).  She married in 1845 on the island of Guernsey.  Her husband worked for the coastguard and I assume had been transferred from Kent to Guernsey as part of the service’s policy of transferring their employees in a bid to prevent collusion with smugglers.  Continue reading