National Claims

Terri-ann White, University of Western Australia


This paper will discuss my recently published novel about family and Australia, Finding Theodore and Brina (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2001). Opening up the vaults of family is a risky enough business; when it uncovers contested sites of race and oppression it can become hard to explain why you are doing it in the first place. I have milestone years: middle points and ends of centuries to keep me company in my family story.

In the middle of the nineteenth century my family first came to Australia: one as a convict, one a free settler. By the end of that century they had been pilloried in their outpost of Westralia; written out of the picture of White Australia, compromised by ideas of Federation. And in the next near-middle, one family member internalised her shame about her Jewish heritage and turned into a feral fascist, publicly anti-semitic, a member of the Australia First Movement. By the time I come into the picture with pen poised at the next end, I am accompanied by a national mood of racial disaffection and joined by a member of the federal parliament who wants to remember my great aunt and her call to Australia First. I spill the beans on family, those who came before me. Their diaspora, my national identity. Will I be forgiven for my transgressions?

My presentation will investigate some of these conundrums with discussion and readings from the book.

New: 30 August, 2001 | Now: 6 May, 2015