Dreaming Australia: Changing Visions of a Country

In a five-part special series, Dreaming Australia: Changing Visions of a Country
broadcast from April 12 to May 10, 2009, Eleanor Wachtel travels to Australia to explore changing visions of the past and the future.

When we think of Australia, we think of sun-drenched beaches, blondes and barbecues; kangaroos, koalas and Crocodile Dundee. But there are also the dream tracks and "songlines," in a landscape sacred to the original inhabitants. Since abandoning the restrictive "White Australia" policy, the country has embraced multiculturalism. Old ideas of cultural identity have given way to a more complex, contemporary understanding of what it means to be Australian.

Read Eleanor Wachtel's Travel Diary about Australia

Read more about Dreaming Australia: Changing Visions of a Country

Australia: sun-drenched beaches, blondes and barbecues; kangaroos, koalas and Crocodile Dundee. But there are also the dream tracks and "songlines," in a landscape sacred to the original inhabitants. For the Aboriginal Australians, the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 is known as "Shame Day."

In 2008, in one of his first official acts as Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd made a long-awaited formal apology in federal parliament to the "Stolen Generations" - those children of Indigenous descent who were forcibly removed from their families by government agencies for more than 100 years. The event was a milestone in an ongoing process of reconciliation, as Australians confront the darker side of their history.

Today, the hidden histories - the secret stories - are being told by new voices that reflect Australia's diversity and energy. Since abandoning the restrictive "White Australia" policy, the country has embraced multiculturalism, with waves of immigration from Asia, Oceania, Africa and other parts of the world. Old ideas of cultural identity have given way to a more complex, contemporary understanding of what it means to be Australian.

In this five-part special series, Eleanor Wachtel travels to Australia to explore changing visions of the past and the future, through conversations with some of the country's most engaged writers.

Part One, April 12, 2009: Alexis Wright

Alexis Wright in Melbourne

Alexis Wright in Melbourne

Alexis Wright, b. 1950 in Cloncurry, Queensland, of the Waanyi people from the highlands of the southern Gulf of Carpentaria, is considered one of the most exciting new voices to emerge in Australian literature. A novelist, essayist and educator, she is a longtime Indigenous rights activist. Her first novel, Plains of Promise, explores the painful collision of cultures at a Catholic mission for Aboriginal people. Her latest novel, Carpentaria (2006), is a kind of national epic, a marvelously inventive work drawing on Aboriginal oral tradition and mythology. Described in the New York Times Book Review as a "literary sensation," the novel has won every major award in Australia and is the first work by an Indigenous writer to win the country's most illustrious fiction prize, the Miles Franklin Award. Carpentaria has just been published in North America by Simon & Schuster.

Part Two, April 19, 2009: Panel Discussion (Chloe Hooper, John Clarke, Christos Tsiolkas)

Chloe Hooper and John Clarke at the ABC in Melbourne

Chloe Hooper and John Clarke at the ABC in Melbourne

A lively and wide-ranging panel discussion, recorded in Melbourne, on the theme of Australian mythology, identity and culture, past and present, with three diverse and entertaining writers:

Chloe Hooper, b. 1973 in Melbourne, is a journalist and fiction writer whose work has won international acclaim. Following graduate studies in New York, at Columbia University on a Fulbright scholarship, she made an impressive literary debut with her first novel, A Child's Book of True Crime, which was shortlisted for Britain's Orange Prize. Her latest book, Tall Man: The Death of Doomadgee, is a penetrating and disturbing nonfiction account of a high-profile case that she covered as a journalist: the 2004 death of a young Aboriginal man in police custody on rough and remote Palm Island, in northern Queensland. As Philip Roth has described it, "Chloe Hooper's masterful book of reportage is a kind of moral thriller about power, wretchedness, and violence." Tall Man: The Death of Doomadgee is published in North America by Scribner.

John Clarke is one of Australia's leading satirical writers and performers. Born in 1948 in New Zealand, he first established his reputation there, on stage, television, film and radio, with his enduringly popular comic character, the farmer Fred Dagg. (Even today, Fred Dagg's Greatest Hits, from 1976, remains one of New Zealand's top selling records.) After moving to Australia in the 1970s, he became well known for his nightly appearances as a political satirist on the television programs "A Current Affair" and "The 7:30 Report." His television series "The Games," a "mockumentary" about the Sydney Olympics, has aired on CBC Television. His books include The Tournament, The 7:56 Report, and two mock compilations of poetry, The Complete Book of Australian Verse and The Even More Complete Book of Australian Verse.

Christos Tsiolkas, b. 1965 in Melbourne, is an award-winning novelist, playwright, essayist and screenwriter whose edgy, provocative work draws on his working-class background as the son of Greek immigrants. His often controversial novels - including Loaded, The Jesus Man and Dead Europe - reflect his preoccupation with history, family and gay identity, in the gritty multicultural reality of modern Australian life. His most recent novel, The Slap, has been described as "a perfect social document of what Australia is today." A huge hit in Australia, The Slap has just earned Tsiolkas the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best Book Award for South East Asia and the Pacific Region. It will be published in Canada in early 2010 by HarperCollins.

Part Three, April 26, 2009: David Malouf

Eleanor Wachtel and David Malouf in Sydney

Eleanor Wachtel and David Malouf in Sydney

David Malouf, b. 1934 in Brisbane and based now in Sydney, is one of Australia's most elegant and insightful writers. His evocative poetry, novels, short fiction and essays have won wide recognition internationally. His books include the short story collections Dream Stuff and Antipodes; the novels The Great World (winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Prix Femina Etranger), Remembering Babylon (shortlisted for the Booker Prize and winner of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award), Johnno, An Imaginary Life and The Conversations at Curlow Creek; and a memoir, 13 Edmondstone Street. David Malouf has also written opera libretti and a play, Blood Relations. His latest story collection is Every Move You Make (Vintage Books), and his most recent poetry collection is titled Revolving Days (University of Queensland Press). His new novel, Ransom, a revisiting of Homer's Iliad, has just been published by Random House Australia.

Part Four, May 3, 2009: Michelle de Kretser/ Kate Grenville

Michelle de Kretser in Melbourne

Michelle de Kretser in Melbourne

Michelle de Kretser, b. 1957 in Colombo, is an award-winning novelist descended from the Dutch Burgher community in Sri Lanka. Drawing on her experience as an immigrant to Australia in the 1970s, at age 14, she explores cross-cultural identities in subtle and unexpected ways. Richly imagined and beautifully written, her books include The Rose Grower, set in revolutionary France; The Hamilton Case, a mystery set in pre-independence Ceylon (winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize); and her latest novel, The Lost Dog (Little, Brown and Company, 2007), a multi-layered story of dislocation and discovery, set in contemporary Melbourne. The Lost Dog won the Christina Stead Prize for fiction and Book of the Year at the New South Wales Premier's Awards.

Born 1950 in Sydney, Kate Grenville is the author of engaging fiction - from her early contemporary, psychological stories to more recent work that delves into Australian history. Her novel The Idea of Perfection won Britain's Orange Prize for fiction. The Secret River - an epic story that sweeps across the 19th century from London to colonial Australia - won numerous international awards, including the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Overall Best Book. Her latest novel, The Lieutenant, is set in 1787, when the First Fleet set sail from England for New South Wales. Based on real events, it is an imaginative exploration of the time of first contact between the colonizers and the original Australians. The Lieutenant is published in Canada by HarperCollins.

Part Five, May 10, 2009: Ruby Langford Ginibi/ Sam Watson and Samuel Wagan Watson

Ruby Langford Ginibi in Campbelltown

Ruby Langford Ginibi in Campbelltown

Samuel Wagan Watson Jr. and Samual Watson in Yeerongpilly, Queensland

Samuel Wagan Watson Jr. and Samual Watson in Yeerongpilly, Queensland

Acclaimed author and historian Ruby Langford Ginibi is an elder of the Bundjalung people. Born in 1934 on the Box Ridge Mission at Coraki in northern New South Wales, she had her first child at 17 and went on to raise nine altogether, in a life filled with tragedy and triumph. Her memoir, Don't Take Your Love to Town, was published in 1988 and won the Human Rights Literary Award. Since then she has become a fierce advocate for social justice and a cultural custodian, researching Aboriginal history and her own roots in books such as My Bundjalung People and, most recently, All My Mob (University of Queensland Press, 2007). She is considered an icon of survival and power for the Aboriginal people.

A joint conversation with two leading figures in contemporary Aboriginal culture, the creative father-son duo of Sam Watson and Samuel Wagan Watson. Sam Watson, b. 1952, is a Brisbane-based novelist, playwright, storyteller and activist of the Birri-Gubba and Munaldjali nations. His political activism began in the 1960s, and he continues to campaign for Aboriginal rights, most recently running in the Queensland state election as a candidate for the Socialist Alliance. He received honors for his novel The Kadaitcha Sung, published in 1990 by Penguin, and has similarly won acclaim for his 1995 film Black Man Down, about Aboriginal deaths in custody. Sam Watson teaches Black Australian Literature at the University of Queensland.

Samuel Wagan Watson, b. 1972 in Brisbane, of Bundjalung, Birri-Gubba, German, Scottish and Irish descent, is the son of Sam Watson and a respected, prize-winning poet. His collections include of muse, meandering and midnight, itinerant blues (a book of "road poems") and, most recently, smoke encrypted whispers, which won the New South Wales Premier's Literary Award for book of the year and best fiction. His poetry is fresh, personal and vivid, drawing inspiration from country music and the everyday landscapes of Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. Smoke encrypted whispers is published by the University of Queensland Press.

Comments are closed.