Anu gender Institute and anu centre for European Studies workshop



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ANU Gender Institute and ANU Centre for European Studies workshop

19 April 2013
The power of gender and ethnic boundaries: Examining the representation of women’s experiences of Australia in migrant narratives
Presenters and Abstracts

Paul Arthur
Nadia’s Story”
This is a work-in-progress that follows the thread of previous work that I have published in Life Writing referring to the life and stories of my grandfather, Petro. It reflects on why, and in what ways, my grandmother Nadia’s stories were different to his, relating this to broader issues in biography. Nadia and her family arrived in Australia in 1949 as post-war refugees from Ukraine. She sang Ukrainian songs, cooked Ukrainian food and kept the culture alive amongst her children and grandchildren in Australia, but left the storytelling to Petro. When she was in her late 80s her arthritis became so severe that she could no longer walk had to enter a nursing home. Bedridden almost constantly, she began writing a diary of daily events, and at the same time, stories about the past. Her stories often dealt with the detail rather than the big picture of harrowing experiences as refugees and migrants. For Nadia stories from the past became a life-line, a way of defining herself strongly at a time when she was very frail and, in most other ways, helpless. 
Dr Paul Arthur is Deputy Director of the National Centre of Biography and Deputy General Editor of the Australian Dictionary of Biography. In 2013-14 he has the role of Deputy Director of the Australian National University’s Centre for European Studies. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Paul Arthur has over fifty publications in fields of history, literature, communication and cultural studies, and is founding series editor of Anthem Scholarship in the Digital Age (Anthem Press, London & New York). His recent books include Virtual Voyages (2010) and the edited collections International Life Writing: Memory and Identity in Global Context (2013), Australian Dictionary of Biography Volume 18 (2012, Deputy General Editor), Recovering Lives (2011) and, with Geoffrey Bolton, the award-winning Voices from the West End (2012).

Mary Besemeres
Poles apart? Two Polish Australian women poets, Krystyna Wanda Jackiewicz and Liliana Rydzyńska”
Krystyna Wanda Jackiewicz (1920-1977) and Liliana Rydzyńska (ca. 1940?-2006) are two Polish-born women writers who emigrated to Australia in the postwar period, Jackiewicz as a ‘Displaced Person’ arriving from India in 1947, Rydzyńska moving here from France in 1970. Their poems could not be more different. In a 1988 interview with Australian author, Rudi Krausmann, Rydzyńska speaks of having become a cosmopolitan in Paris in a way that she has never ‘unlearnt’, and which has meant that she does not feel at home in Australia, which she finds parochial by comparison. Her poems represent Australians as severely emotionally repressed, and her life here as ‘one great mistake’ (‘Martwa natura z Australią’ [Still Life with Australia]. This perspective contrasts markedly with Jackiewicz’s unequivocal embrace of Australia in her writing, seen in poems like her ‘Druga Miłość’ [A Second Love], about her home city of Lwów and her new home of Tasmania, where the poet’s affection for her adopted country is as clear as her attachment to her lost homeland. Through a discussion of some poems by each author, in translation, I compare their perspectives as women writers belonging to different generations of migration from Poland, and explore the extent to which one can fruitfully read their work through concepts of gender.
Dr Mary Besemeres is a Visiting Fellow in the School of Language Studies at the Australian National University. She is the author of Translating One's Self: Language and Selfhood in Cross-Cultural Autobiography (Peter Lang, 2002) and articles on transcultural and translingual autobiography. She is co-editor of Translating Lives: Living with Two Languages and Cultures (UQP, 2007), and co-editor of the Routledge journal Life Writing. Her interests include cross-cultural autobiography, contemporary life writing, bilingualism and migrant experience, travel writing, culture and emotion.

Piera Carroli and Vivian Gerrand
La mia casa è dove sono [Home is wherever I am]: Subjects and narratives beyond national borders”
Overcoming the trauma of uprooting was a common preoccupation of earlier immigrant fiction which still recurs. In post 2000 fictions and narratives written by Italians of immigrant extraction – we take as our focus Kaha Mohamed Aden’s Fra-Intendimenti and Igiaba Scego’s writing – there is a critical comparison of the different cultures and generational values and the claim for new spaces and new subjectivities, along the lines of the nomadic figuration and flexible citizenship proposed by Rosi Braidotti. The literary domains are closely linked with the historical and political domains and the theoretical approach adopted: Braidotti’s figurations of ‘nomadic subjectivity’ and ‘nomadic ethics’. In a seemingly similar vein, Somali born author Ayaan Hirsi Ali most recent book draws on the idea of nomadism and bears the title Nomad: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations (2010). Rather than opening up the ways in which identity is imagined as Braidotti is interested in doing, however, Hirsi Ali reinforces Samuel Huntington’s famous Clash of Civilizations thesis which theorizes, in particular, incompatibilities between the monotheistic religions.

Adens’ and Scego’s, Fra-Intendimenti and La mia casa è dove sono, also published in 2010, are similarly preoccupied with how we imagine identity. The idea that home is where one finds oneself presents a departure from Huntington’s paradigm which extends nationalistic tropes of blood ties that are evident in Italian jus sanguinis citizenship laws, where to be Italian, one must have Italian blood. To be at home, in Aden’s and Scego’s work, means to accept that one’s identity is produced as much by one’s heritage as it is by one’s trajectory. This idea has been explored across multicultural and postcolonial bodies of literature over the past few decades. Aden’s and Scego’s positioning as Italian Somali writers within a context of a nation that has neglected to acknowledge its colonial past speaks to and with this literature. Scego’s oeuvre addresses Italy’s colonial legacy with the Horn of Africa while simultaneously challenging attitudes towards migrants in Italy who are construed in the mass media as a threat to Italian society. Aden’s writing also negotiate and produce new forms of Italianness, and with them, understandings of identity as complex, dynamic and nomadic. [Published in Scritture migranti, vol. 5/2011: 85-104. (Rivista di scambi interculturali, University of Bologna)]


Dr Piera Carroli is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Language Studies at the Australian National University.

Her research interests include diaspora and postcolonial Italian literature and literature of migration in Italy and Europe; Italian women writers; the role of literary texts in second language teaching and learning, contemporary Italian narrative. Since 2009 she has been a member of the “Eu Cost Collaboration To ISO 901 Action Project Women Writers In History” working on writers such as Cristina di Belgioioso, and also collaborating at the new edition of Louise Hays’ Biography Project.


Dr Vivian Gerrand’s research interests include migration studies, Italian studies, belonging and displacement, multiculturalism, identity, citizenship. Vivian was AEUIFAI fellow in 2009 at the European University Institute in Florence and has worked as a tutor at the Australian Centre, University of Melbourne.

Ana Dragojlovic
“‘If you had only married a nice blond man’ – Body politics, Gender and the White Australian policy”
This paper engages with the interpretative understanding of mobility, gender and racialization by Indisch (Indo-Dutch) women who, after being interned as white Eurasians in Japanese Internment camps during the Second World War, were subjected to the White Australian policies which welcomed them and their children as faired-skinned subjects but prevented their dark-looking husbands from immigrating well after the Policy was abolished. My particular interest here is in women’s narratives about communication with the Immigration officers who expressed disbelief in their choices to ‘marry a short brown man’. Thus, racial policy here intersected with imposed gender normativity, pointing to attempts not only to regulate the arrivals of “non-white” (sic) immigrants but to interrogate and shame women who made such non-normative choices. Furthermore, I consider how families’ narratives of migration and racialisation feature in the narratives of their daughters who are now well into their 40s.

My particular interest here is in teasing out complex interplays of inclusion and exclusion through practices of ‘othering’ – both through the institutionalised apparatus of the nation state and the ways in which otherness is produced and articulated in the textures of everyday experiences. I suggest that body politics, albeit in different ways, remains the ultimate site of political, social, cultural and gender legitimacy across different generation of migrant women.


Dr Ana Dragojlovic is a Postdoctoral Fellow in School of Social Sciences at the University of Queensland. She is an anthropologist who works in the areas of gender and mobility from the perspective of critical masculinity studies, and queer and feminist theory. Her more recent interests are centered around critical approaches to historical trauma and related therapeutic discourse and practice. Her regional specialisation reflects her interest in diasporas and empires and includes Indonesia, the Netherlands, Dutch East-Indies and Afro-Asian connections (particularly in relation to the Afro-Caribbean).

Sonia Mycak
Literary production of post-war European ‘Displaced Persons’ in Australia: Elena Jonaitis, Helen Boris, Pavla Gruden and Elga Rodze-Kisele”
Between 1947 and 1954 some 180,000 refugees from war-torn Europe came to Australia under the auspices of United Nations’ IRO resettlement and the Australian Government’s Displaced Persons Scheme. Department of Immigration statistics at the time revealed that most of the refugees were from Poland, the former Yugoslavia, Latvia, Ukraine, Hungary, Lithuania, the former Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Russia, Germany and Romania. Although the immigrants were penniless on arrival, they quickly formed communities and organised a social and cultural infrastructure by establishing cultural and artistic organisations, dance troupes, choirs, theatrical societies, orchestras, women’s groups, youth and scouting associations, sporting clubs, co-operatives, learned societies, newspapers, presses, meeting halls, churches and schools. Within each of the ethno-cultural communities a lively literary life also flourished, and a distinct literary culture emerged which included writers’ associations and readers’ clubs, recitals and festivals, competitions, and the production of periodicals and books.

I will draw upon findings from a project I undertook to interview writers who came to Australia as so-called ‘displaced persons’ and study the literary cultures within their communities. My aim will be to explore the gendered dimension of this experience of immigration and the literary and cultural production within the ethno-cultural communities. Focusing upon women writers and their texts, together with other forms of cultural production, I intend to investigate cultural identity, national attachments, narrative practices and social networks. Too often we refer to immigrant experience as a singular phenomenon without differentiating between different waves of immigrants and differing socio-historical conditions under which immigrants arrive. By focusing on gender perspectives, my broader objective will be to shed light on the specificities of the post-war ‘DP’ experience and the particular contribution these immigrants made to literary and cultural life in Australia.


Dr Sonia Mycak is an Honorary Associate in the School of Letters, Art and Media at the University of Sydney. For eleven years she held research fellowships at the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales, two of which were awarded by the Australian Research Council. Sonia’s research focuses upon the multicultural literatures of Australia and Canada. Together with Amit Sarwal, she edited a collection of essays on Australian multicultural literature entitled Australian Made: A Multicultural Reader (2010). Australian Mosaic: An Anthology of Multicultural Writing, which she edited with Chris Baker, was reprinted in 2012.

Jayne Persian
Displaced Women (1947-1952) in Australia: Memory in Autobiography”
I propose to submit a paper based on an examination of the retrospective self-representations of female Displaced Person (DP) experiences through literature, including autobiographical novels and memoirs. DPs arrived in Australia with little documentary evidence of their lives in Europe. They also soon found that their stories were not encouraged in an Australian society intent on assimilation. DP narratives were either co-opted to fit into the government’s publicists’ and media’s representations, ignored, or became part of a diasporic literature. For those DPs interested in reaching out to an Australian audience, and particularly for women, autobiographical novels and memoirs have been attempted in order to reposition both their individual life narratives, and their identities. DP memoir provides a mode of representation which can be seen as benign and yet is subversive, precisely because its individualised representations stand in opposition to dominant representations.
Dr Jayne Persian holds an honorary fellowship at the University of Wollongong and a 2012-2013 fellowship at the Museum of Australian Democracy for a project titled “Calwell, Chifley and Displaced Persons (1947-1949): ‘New Australians’”. Her research on Displaced Persons (1947-1952) focuses on the 170,000 ‘Displaced Persons’ – predominantly Central and Eastern Europeans – who arrived in Australia as International Refugee Organisation (IRO)-sponsored refugees.

Nonja Peters
Dutch Australian Women - Mutual Heritage Activities”
Definitions of transnationalism vary, but generally centre on exchanges, connections and practices across borders, thus transcending the national space as the primary reference point for activities and identities. These have increased exponentially in concert with the growth of instant global communication systems. The accelerated development of communication, transport, trade and information networks through globalization has therefore strengthened the connections of migrants to two or more places. Today, something said in Sydney will reach The Hague quicker than you could fly there, and vice versa. What happens in The Hague feeds back, electronically and physically, immediately into Dutch Australian communities.’ In other words, instead of focusing on just one country or the other, policies with a transnational outlook specifically address the linkages between countries arising from transnational activities and practices by migrants.

While, Dutch migration to Australia was most-often expressed in labour market or self-employed terms, in recent times it is also articulated in terms of Cultural Diplomacy (CD) - cultural exchange that give us the chance to appreciate points of commonality and, where there are differences, to understand the motivations and humanity that underlie them. Since 1997 the concept of ‘mutual cultural heritage’ has attracted political interest in the Netherlands. The concept was integrated into the International Cultural Policy of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education, Culture and Science under the definition mutual. The CD policy aims to preserve mutual cultural heritage and utilize it as an instrument for sharing expertise, building capacity for the cultural field in the partner country, stimulate cultural and economical development, creating public awareness and increasing knowledge of this heritage. In 2012, Australia was designated a ‘priority country’ under the Netherlands ‘mutual heritage policy’ because of the volume of heritage activity in the Dutch Australian community to preserve their cultural heritage. As a result, the Dutch Embassy in Australia and Centre for International Heritage Activities in Leiden, Netherlands held ‘Dutch Australian Culture Days’ in Fremantle, The Hague (at the Australian Embassy) and Canberra.

This paper assesses the extent to which ‘Dutch Australian women’ - who arrived in Australia postwar from either the Netherlands or Netherlands East Indies - are represented in these ‘mutual heritage’ activities. It asks to what extent they are utilizing this new ‘shared electronic space’ to display narratives that express their intangible cultural heritage: experiences, memories, ideas, attitudes and values of migration and resettlement. The knowledge base individuals use to construct, transmit and reflect on the historical knowledge that shapes their own and family’s history and identity. As identity politics exert an increasing influence on domestic and international exchanges, these attributes make culture a critical forum for negotiation and a medium of exchange in finding shared solutions.
Dr Nonja Peters is Director of History of Migration Experiences (HOME) Centre at Curtin University, is an historian, anthropologist, museum curator and social researcher with a special interest in the preservation of immigrants' cultural heritage, in particular Dutch maritime, military, migration and mercantile connections with Australia since 1606; the migration experience and immigrant entrepreneurship.

Delaney Michael Skerrett
History, Memory, and Gender in the ‘Return’ of Descendants of Latvian and Estonian Refugees to the Baltic”
A survey was conducted of a number of younger generation members of Estonian and Latvian émigré communities (11 and 16 subjects, respectively) who had ‘returned’ to the ancestral homeland, to determine the reasons for their decision. A detailed questionnaire was provided for the respondents. Attempts were made to ascertain the subjects’ level of ‘Latvianness’ or ‘Estonianness’ and their emotional commitment to their new-found homeland. While the small sample may not provide definitive answers, the study gives richly suggestive insights into the thought processes and motivations of these young Baltic people. Special emphasis is paid to the role gender has played in the refugee and return migration experiences.
Dr Delaney Michael Skerrett recently completed his PhD in applied linguistics at The University of Queensland. He also holds the following degrees: MA (Baltic Studies) (Tartu), MEd (HigherEd) (QUT), PGradDipAppLing (Monash), GradDipPsych (CQU), GradDipSocSc (Sociology) (UNE), BA(Hons) (Spanish Lang & Lit) (UQ), BBus (InternatBus) (QUT).

Ann Tundern-Smith
Narratives of Women from the First Transport”

Ann has been interviewing over the past 14 years women and men who came to Australia from the Baltic States via Germany in November 1947. They are from the first group of non-British migrants ever selected by Australian officials for settlement here. They also were in the first group of 839 refugees chosen under what was called the IRO Mass Scheme. Even the selection of 115 women among the 839 challenges the dominant view of the Post World War II workforce in Australia being no place for women, as they were chosen to work in occupations in which there was a shortage. The interviews reveal how these women made a life in Australia in and out of the workforce over the past 65 years.


Ann Tündern-Smith is the first of the Australian-born children who resulted from Calwell’s pioneering post-war population programs. Her mother was one of the Estonians selected for the ‘General Stewart Heintzelman’, which brought the first Displaced Persons here in November 1947. For nearly a decade she has been researching and writing about the importance of the Heintzelman’s arrival and of the lives its passengers found in Australia. She is the author of Bonegilla’s Beginnings (2008).

Kasia Williams

Narrative connections: stories of migration, feminity and power”



In the narratives of women coming to Australia from Eastern Europe, either as displaced people after the Second World War, fleeing communism in the 1980s or escaping economic difficulties in the 1990s, what is often striking is the sense of empowerment the migration process seems to offer these women, in spite of all the difficulties and distress migration naturally causes. This “constructive” approach to the painful experience of migration and the urgent need to define/invent oneself anew is implicit in the memories of displaced women (collected as a part of research on ethnic communities in Australia), in autobiographical short stories (collected in various editions of multicultural writing of the 1980s), anecdotes and poems (collected as a result of creative writing community projects). Examining the selected examples of such narratives by women of Polish background, migrating to Australia in different times and circumstances, I try to illuminate certain connections between them – beyond their shared ancestry – that contribute to understanding migration as a gender-sensitive process which forges new gender roles and relationships, and redefines feminine identities. Recent migration studies have taught us that gender is indeed an important factor in research on migration, but it is usually perceived as a category determining who migrates and how, rather than as a mechanism playing an important role in “managing the achievement of belonging” or in transforming from a migrant to a committed Australian citizen. Reading women’s narratives from this perspective does not denote gender as a female property, but it does complicate a typical understanding of migrant women’s roles as all but autonomous and independent, and of their narratives as ruminating on irreparable loss and passive nostalgia.
Dr Kasia Williams is assistant professor at the British and Commonwealth Studies Department, International Studies Faculty, University of Lodz, Poland, and a Visiting Fellow at the ANU Centre for European Studies. Her main research interests include literary theory, utopian literature, diasporic literature, digital media and performance studies. She is currently working on a book dealing with myth and images of Australia in European literature and culture.

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