Listen to Ashley Hay's introduction here:
THERE IS A particular ebb and flow in crafting a co-edited collection, in the first vague collaborative maps of possible shapes, in the side-by-side work with individual writers, in the conversations sparked by the unexpected combinations their pieces make. The idea of conversation – of exchange, of intersection – is a bonus of Griffith Review’s thematic structure: it allows a range of voices and ideas to reflect and refract a central point. In many ways, Griffith Review 69: The European Exchange does extra work with this.
The thinking for this edition began in the highly mobile world of mid-2019. It began with the links and legacies that flow both ways between Europe and Australia – the thoughts and ideas from these two sides of the world, and how they impact on and operate in each other. It began with civic spaces, with politics and the environment, with the different ways the familiar is remembered and the unknown is imagined. It began with recovery and memory as well as evolution and change. In the northern spring of 2019, the French President Emmanuel Macron described Europe as a project in the sense of its own ongoing evolution and reshaping. Similarly, this collection grew from ongoing processes of transformation as much as the day-to-day parallels and dichotomies, comparisons and contrasts, shared and split visions that operate between this south and that north.
This idea of movement between Australia and Europe had become a given, both the relative ease of coming and going taken for granted by many twenty-first-century commuters and travellers, and waves of earlier migration from Europe to Australia more often dictated by war, displacement and government initiatives to ‘populate or perish’. In many ways, Natasha Cica – co-editor for this edition of Griffith Review – embodies both the richness of this two-way nourishment, and the reality of lives remade by quick decisions. As director of change consultancy Kapacity.org – and as a thought leader who is currently an honorary professor at the Australian National University – for many years she has worked and lived between Europe and Australia.
THE ERUPTION AND spread of COVID-19 changed everything. It marooned Natasha in Tasmania and despatched Griffith Review to work remotely from different spare rooms and kitchen tables in South-East Queensland. It brushed against every story we were working with as we sought to diagnose which would be touched by the virus, which were immune and which would be subsumed altogether. It also recast the potential of this collection as part of that long-standing dialogue between Europe and Australia, part of the transfer of shared experience and shared knowledge. The sectors in which Griffith Review lives – the academic and the cultural – were hit hard by this viral disruption. This editorial cycle is closing in the southern 2020 winter, in a time of impassable borders and ongoing separations.
These pages hold a rich mix of writing from the European sphere, from Finland, Greece, Poland, Bosnia, Italy, France, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Hungary and elsewhere, interspersed with voices from many parts of Australia. These writers have performed and pivoted under extraordinary conditions: they wrote in places they were trying to leave, in places they were trying to stay, in the limbo of enforced quarantine and in the surreal silence of nationwide lockdowns. Into almost every piece they dropped some extra offering of human sharing – a critical ingredient in any connection or exchange. Perhaps these small acts of generosity will stand as one important marker of this pandemic.
‘Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew,’ the novelist Arundhati Roy wrote in London’s Financial Times in April 2020. ‘This one is no different.’ Through April, May, many of those re-imaginings focused on domestic circumstances framed within broader economic upheavals. In late May, the undeniable injustices of historical and contemporary racial inequality burst through this tight prism, in the US and around the world. More than a quarter of a million Australians weighed public health directives against public calls for change and marched on 6 June: the narratives of COVID-19 and an insistence on racial equity are now intertwined here as part of a reconsideration of the legacies of European arrival. As the status of borders keeps changing, and however the world is remade by these times, the conversations between Europe and Australia must continue to combine the complexities of definitions and responsibilities, past, present and future, with ideas of justice and exchange.
In Europe: A Natural History (Text, 2018), Australian scientist and conservationist Tim Flannery writes that one hundred million years ago there was ‘a great seaway, known as the Tethys’ that stretched ‘all the way from Europe to Australia’. Writing these words, on my own, on this winter morning, at the end of this unique editorial process, I’m imagining the conduit of that prehistoric waterway – one long, fast-flowing current of blue that connects a here to a there. I’m imagining a flotilla made up of the different moments, ideas and images in this collection. I’m imagining their journey, south to north, north to south and back again, and all the conversations they might spark along the way.
OUR GREAT GRATITUDE to our publishing partner, the Australian National University, for its commitment to and support for this edition.
16 June 2020