GriffithReview69 – The European Exchange

Reviewed by Gerard Healy

The overall theme of this collection are the many connections between Europe and Australia from cultural, historical and artistic viewpoints. Many of the writers reflect on their families’ immigrant experiences and the perspectives they’ve gained from that.

This Griffith Review, like most previous ones, includes essays, memoirs, fiction and poetry as well as some reportage and a picture gallery. There’s something for everyone who is interested in the numerous links to Europe we have. However, one of the difficulties of reviewing over forty contributors is that I can’t do them all justice. For example, there are nineteen essays and nine memoirs, just for starters.

The editors, Ashley Hay and Natasha Cica, have done a good job under trying Covid19 conditions to assembly such an eclectic group and see the project through to publication. Their plans were mapped out in pre-pandemic times and any predictions or projections about the future are now somewhat speculative.

Christos Tsiolkas’s essay ‘Class, identity, justice: Reckoning with the ghosts of Europe’ (p 17) looks at the Bosnian conflict and the treatment of Greece after the GFC. He paints a powerful word-picture of a young girl covered in offensive graffiti in a museum display.

‘Behind the Scene’ (p 91) by Robyn Archer takes us into the world of German cabaret traditions and her East German family. She comments on the relative strength of support for the Arts in Europe compared to Australia today. Reflective and informative.

Pat Hoffie in ‘Stranger Dreams of Ptolemy’ (p 103) offers an interesting look at the northern hemisphere’s imaging of the southern sphere and how in reality that image often didn’t match up. Various earlier explorers saw barren wastelands and left disappointed.

Julienne van Loon’s ‘Asking the Relevant Questions’ (p 135) explored the work of three female thinkers. They look at the climate crisis in a spirit of shared hope and of togetherness in its broadest imaginable sense. A different way of seeing a problem and its solution.

Three other essays worth a look include: ‘Brexit, Australian-style’ by Stuart Ward (p 166); ‘Come together’ by Esa Laaksonen and Silvia Micheli (p 246), a look at libraries in Finland and Australia; and ‘Wheat, wages and weapons’ by Lilian Pearce and Will Bakes (p 258), which is about the Sunshine Harvester works in Victoria.

One of the best memoirs was ‘Red Plague’ by Michael Cooney (p 176). This is an interesting, quirky and informative look at the Irish connection to Australia. Since my father was born in Dublin and came to Perth as a child this was the most personal for me. Worth a read.

‘Island Stories’ by Frank Bongiorno (p 52) covers the twin Italian migrant experiences (north and south) and his own childhood in Melbourne. Also, the push to get those skills that would help you achieve in Australia. Then there’s ‘London Calling’ by Andy Cairns (p 253), which covers the young Aussie traveller’s well-worn path.

George Megalogenis shared some insights with Natasha Cica (p 286). He talked of the post WW2 migrant program; first wave enjoyed small business success and home ownership, their children showed educational and professional excellence and then the third generation return to the average. Of note is an interesting visit to his old selective High School in Melbourne and the principal’s observations. In contrast, today’s intake is generally higher skilled and this poses two problems. One is that Australia is seem as a posting not a home, with other countries able to offer better settlement deals. Secondly, migrants’ cultural identity is already formed (usually middle-class) and with strong links back to mother countries. Well worth a read.

For some contrast, there are four poems to tackle. I preferred ‘Wog (n) definition’ (p 28) by Natalie D-Napoleon, which was a clever exploration of word meanings and ‘Mother-daughter trip’ (p 269) by Anna Jacobson. On a Brisbane to Geelong trip, Anna makes connections with her mother’s Polish past.

If you need a break from all the words then the Picture Gallery offers colourful displays of flora (p 113) by Christian Thompson or modern art (p 217) by Emily Floyd. I am often bemused by how the related commentary can find so many deeper meanings in the images than greets the average eye.

Finally, in the Fiction section I enjoyed ‘Brisbane, Late 1960s’ by Anthony Macris (p 292), because of the overlapping time lines of my own childhood. While some places were familiar, his characters’ experiences were different and informative.

Ashley Hay (Co-editor) is a former literary editor of The Bulletin and a prize-winning author of three novels and four books of narrative non-fiction. In 2014, she won the People’s Choice Awards in the NSW Premier’s Prize and edited Best Australian Science Writing.

Natasha Cica (Co-editor) is adjunct professor of Law at ANU with a Doctorate of Law from Cambridge University. She is an award-winning author, broadcaster and public commentator.

Griffith Review 69: The European Exchange

(2020)

Co-editors: Ashley Hay and Natasha Cica

Griffith University

ISBN: 978 1 922212 50 4

304 pp; $27.99

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