A background to me
& my thinking
I am based in Naarm, also known as Melbourne, Australia, where I am an Associate Professor in Writing and Publishing at RMIT University. I am raising my family in the inner city, and I am involved locally in progressive politics, our local public school and the nearby Buddhist society.
I was born in country New South Wales on the lands of the Biribi people, around the double delta Manning River, and spent my early childhood mostly in that area. My later childhood and adolescence was spent mostly on Wiradjuri country in the state's central western plains. As a teenager, I was lucky to visit incredible sites like Mt Grenfell and Mutawinji. I took an early interest in land rights. Ideas such as "the land owns us" and that "life is the binding and connecting way – the oneness is – if you are alive you're connected to everything that's alive" (I'm quoting Yankunytjatjara elder Bob Randall) lodged deep for me as a teenager and have influenced my thinking about home, belonging, land-ownership, interconnectedness and politics ever since.
My father was born in the Netherlands and grew up under the German occupation of WWII. He migrated to Australia as a young man in the early 1950s. Both sets of my mother's grandparents migrated to South Australia from England during the nineteenth century and were members of the settler-colonial community in and around Adelaide (including the town of Clare, on the lands of the Ngadjuri and Kaurna people). I acknowledge that my family history is tangled up with the many waves of colonisation and migration that have worked to dispossess First Nations peoples in Australia, and that continue to disadvantage them now. My privileges arise, in large part, from that history as well as from the continuation of oppressive colonial legacies into the present.
I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of country throughout Australia, and recognise their continuing connection to the lands, waters and communities. I have been strongly influenced by the powerful art, music, drama, dance, writing and song of First Nations Australians and I honour their extraordinary lineage as consummate storytellers. I want to pay my respects here to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures and to elders past and present and to acknowledge that the country on which I was born and continue to live and work has never been ceded. Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land.
I was one of three children. My mother was a nurse. My father worked in forest management and horticulture. At home we didn't have TV until well after I started school, and even then its use was limited. My parents liked to listen to jazz. Sometimes my dad played the bongo drum (we loved that!). I spent a lot of time outside, first with the animals we raised, and later with a best mate who lived in the same street. Together, my friend and I engaged in imaginative narrative games that lasted many hours. My own contributions to such narrative worlds were influenced by the bush adventures of my father and the TV show Ask the Leyland Brothers. I wanted to travel the outback with a menagerie of animals, like Midnite in Randolph Stow's novel of the same name. When I reached adolescence, I became a difficult, rebellious risk-taker, a political radical and very anti-establishment. My mum said to me, "You can't just do whatever you want!" and I said, "I can! I can and I will!" Sorry mum. Actually, mum was more right than I knew then but there's a part of me that is still not fully willing to concede.
I was educated in public schools and was first in family to go to university. Both of my parents were left-leaning and egalitarian. My father was an atheist and (briefly) a member of the Australian Conservation Foundation. My mother was a yoga teacher and was influenced by yogic philosophy.
I studied creative writing at the University of Wollongong, joining their School of Creative Arts at a time when the interdisciplinary creative arts program was vibrant and flourishing: theory and practice were mutually informing. My teachers there included John A. Scott, Ron Pretty and Joanne Burns as well as Sue Rowley, Sue Gillett, Barry Conyngham and Morrie Scott. Later I studied for my doctorate at the University of Queensland, where my supervisory team included Jan McKemmish, Bronwyn Levy, Jude Seaboyer and Amanda Lohrey. I am grateful to all of those teachers.
What do I mean when I call myself a feminist? I am interested in a “worldly” feminism, that is a deeply situated feminism generated from ordinary experience and concerned with “how gender works, as a social system, or as a machinery” (Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, 2017, p. 19). Like Sarah Ahmed, I am interested in feminism as an “affective inheritance” and as “part of a wider struggle, a struggle to be, to make sense of being” (Ahmed 2017, p. 20). I come to feminism with an interest in equality, justice and progressive politics and with grave concerns about ecological collapse in an era of addictive consumerism. While I acknowledge that there is no one feminism, I am committed to a feminism that is attentive to interconnectedness and intersubjectivity and that tries to help us understand what "we" are in the process of becoming, right now. I also recognise that feminism cannot speak with one homogenous voice: accordingly, I am responsive to recent debates around intersectionality and trans-inclusivity (Bettcher, 2017; Zakaria, 2021).
In short, I take an approach to creative writing theory and practice informed by the thinking of feminist posthumanist philosopher Rosi Braidotti (see The Posthuman, 2013). For Braidotti, 'we-are-in-this-together' is the primary ethical formula. As she puts it, "the posthuman is a navigational tool that enables us to survey the material and discursive manifestations of the mutations that are engendered by advance technological developments, climate change and capitalism" (Posthuman Knowledge, 2019, p. 2). Accordingly, she challenges us to come up with new forms of thinking that are attentive to the complexities of our times, underpinned by a neo-Spinozist ontology ("A Theoretical Framework for the Critical Posthumanities", 2018). As with Rachel Blau DuPlessis, I link the transformative potential of feminist literary practice to the need to make something that gives pleasure, because“aesthetic pleasure motivates political pleasure – towards transformation” (The Pink Guitar, 2006, p. 29). This line of thinking is aligned with Rosi Braidotti’s conception of affirmative ethics. Geared toward creating possible futures by working with careful deliberation on the cultural imaginary, my practice as a feminist writer emphasises the creative dimension as an affirmative and innovative core.
I am also influenced by the Theravada Buddhist canon and by the writing of Siri Hustvedt, Michael Ondaatje, Amanda Lohrey, Bernadine Evaristo, Maria Tumarkin, Jessica Au, Ali Cobby-Eckermann, Lydia Davis, Tove Jansson, Mohsin Hamid, Simone Lazaroo, Han Kang and Anuk Arudpragasam. I discovered George Orwell as a young person and remain a dedicated fan. I admire graphic narratives and comics by Safdar Ahmed, Sam Wallman and Vanessa Berry and I draw strength from works at the creative/critical nexus such as those by Corine Pelluchon, Eloise Grills, Sarah Ahmed and Helene Cixous, among others.
How should we live in these challenging times? Reading helps me contemplate such a question, and exercises many possible answers. Writers and thinkers like Corine Pelluchon, for example, help me enormously, both in daily life and with my artistic practice, by presenting me (us) with knotty statements like: "It takes courage to have fear."