Migration and Melancholia and Settler Discontentment

1 March 2018

Coming to Australia, living in Melbourne these past eight years, the cultural cringe feels familiar. What does it mean to be Australian, and what makes Australian literature Australian? Perhaps we cannot think Australian without first thinking states and cities, as Jonno Revanche argues in his Kill Your Darlings about the implicit biases of ‘the Melbourne voice’ in independent literary publishing and cultural taste-making. We cannot think country without confronting ourselves with what being on Country means for us, even and especially when we try to be progressive. As Evelyn Araluen writes in ‘Resisting the institution’ with Overland piece, the decolonial is not merely an aesthetic, or even a way of life, but a way to life, the way First Nations families and communities have survived colonial efforts at symbolic, material, and total erasure. Hannah Donnelly, too, in her ‘Unnatural Way of Things’, describes how the landscape is a muse for so much poetry, but how the fetishisation of its beauty also speaks to the way the language of colonial desire … crowned as literary, and thus emulation-worthy in canon, haunting the way settlers interact with the land and the land’s original owners. How do we avoid being overstaying tourists in the way we dwell here?

A former student who is now a mate reached out to me recently. As we messaged each other, I remembered a story a mutual friend told me about him. That he had taken a poster endorsing a toxic, choleric masculinity, cut and pasted the letters in different places, and had the new sign say ‘The only way out is through.’ This is all I have to go on, as a young migrant woman of colour who is an Australian settler who writes on stolen land. What through, where to? This is such an old land, with a multiplicity of pasts, home to all our dark histories. It’s a start, the history of an old land, is a start. To a better way for all, without leaving anyone behind. To start where I can, to start where I am, even if I am not somewhere grand like a capital city. Even if I don’t have big statements inside me right now, or ever. Even if I don’t like the ‘right’ things, even if I don’t think the ‘right’ thoughts about canons, floating signifiers they may be. To seek fulfilment in a deep and private honesty far beyond aspiration, as described by Ali Alizadeh in his memoir of his successes and struggles as a writer. To start with my and my country’s truthful inconveniences and believe, really believe, that we are all it takes, that we are enough. And the rest is improvisation.

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