'Australia’s Mediterranean Isolario: Writers’ and Artists’ Perceptions of the Mediterranean Islands'
As an island within the Pacific region Australia writes itself a narrative of having reasonable historical and cultural relationships with other Pacific Islands. Its colonial history with Britain has favoured and endorsed a similar, though perhaps more tenuous, relationship with the Atlantic seaboard. But what about its relationships and links with the Mediterranean islands? Australia’s link with the Mediterranean is older than its settler history and goes back to the notion of Terra Australis, the landmass that mimed Europe. It was this resemblance that led to the pursuit of the inland sea — a ‘mediterranean’ — in the middle of the island continent in the nineteenth century. In modern Australia’s imaginary it is al fresco dining that bespeaks a Mediterranean lifestyle. Are there any other connections between Australia and the Mare Nostrum and its islands?
Hardly ever present on the list of must-sees for Australian travellers abroad experiencing their European grand-tour, the islands of the Mediterranean have instead captured the imagination of many Australian writers and artists. From the mid 1950s, when Charmian Clift and George Johnston moved with their family to the Greek island of Kalymnos and later to that of Hydra, a number of them have chosen different Mediterranean islands as home and/or inspiration for their work. Shirley Dean, Shirley Hazzard, Robert Dessaix, Dorothy Porter, Roseanne Dingli, Peter Robb, Venero Armanno and Arnold Zable are probably among the most popular writers whose work has featured an island of the Mare Nostrum as the location for or the subject of their writing (Corsica, Capri, Corfu, Crete, Malta, Sicily and Ithaca respectively). Joined and nurtured by the same sea, though idiosyncratically different from each other, the islands of the Mediterranean fittingly conjure the more recent idea of an ‘island’ as a hybrid space, isolated and connected at the same time, single fragments of a rich and multilayered network. Sites of exclusion, seclusion and freedom, these islands have provided a space where writers and artists from all over the world have come to express their personality and unleash their creativity.
What draws Australian writers and artists to these particular islands? Is it their ancient and mythological dimension, their evoked timelessness, or rather their stark and often simple reality, or is it all these? Is it their geographical dimension and actual isolation or rather their peculiar cross-cultural manifestations and their undermined cosmopolitanism, or none of these? Is it that distinctive sense of freedom that only a circumscribed space, such as a small island, can give? What are the differences and similarities that surface from their Antipodean representations and how do they differ from those of islands in other regions of the world? Is the idea of the ‘island’, with its cultural and geographical imprint a prominent trope in these works? Is the yearning for these smaller islands born from the fact that Australia too is an island? Is the creativity of the artists influenced at all by such hybrid spaces? What lies behind these perceptions? Is it a cultural, historical or geographical phenomenon? What sort of isolario transpires from these specific Australian perceptions? These are just some of the questions and issues this collection aims to focus on at a moment in which the Mediterranean region is featuring prominently on the media. Rather than being merely a taxonomy of representations of the Mediterranean Islands perceived through Australian eyes, this collection aims to uncover the many possible relationships these neglected spaces of cultural production have in Australian Studies and aims to do so from a number of interdisciplinary perspectives.
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