UNE scholar discusses ‘place’ with eminent writers

Published 06 November 2008

annepender.jpgA University of New England academic was among the prominent writers and literary scholars from Australia and overseas who came together at the National Library of Australia last month to discuss the importance of ‘place’ in Australian writing.

Dr Anne Pender (pictured here), a Senior Lecturer in English and Theatre Studies, researches and writes about Australian authors who have chosen to live abroad. She has published a book on the novelist Christina Stead, and is working on a major study – funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) – of the life and work of Barry Humphries.

The event in Canberra, on the 24th and 25th of October, was a public colloquium, titled “Home and Away – Writing about Place”, at which the 28 invited speakers explored the influence of places on their own and others’ writing, and engaged with an audience of about 200 people.

The London-based poet Peter Porter – Australia’s most eminent poet living abroad – and  the novelist Helen Garner were special invited guests, and among the other speakers were the novelists Robert Drewe, Marion Halligan and Michael Wilding.

The colloquium was in honour of Emeritus Professor Bruce Bennett, a distinguished literary scholar with whom Dr Pender is collaborating on another of her research projects – a three-year, ARC-funded study titled “Reverse Diaspora: Australian Expatriate Writers in Britain since the 1830s”. (Professor Bennett’s book on Peter Porter, Spirit in Exile: Peter Porter and his Poetry, was published by Oxford University Press in 1991.) The third member of the research team working on the “Reverse Diaspora” project is Dr Ian Henderson, who grew up in Sydney and now teaches Australian literature at King’s College London. Dr Henderson flew to Canberra for the colloquium, where he joined Dr Pender, Michael Wilding, and Associate Professor Kate Rigby from Monash  University in presenting a session titled “Expatriatism, location and creativity”.

In her talk about Australian expatriate writers in the UK, Dr Pender speculated about possible differences between those of Barry Humphries’ generation and the younger generation – including their reasons for leaving Australia and their reasons for staying away. “The younger writers seem to be not as concerned about their ‘expatriate’ status,” she explained, “whereas the older generation often felt that the label ‘expatriate’ was applied to them almost as an insult.”

In the context of her own research, she said, Peter Porter’s talk about London as a working city for writers – and as a meeting place for speakers and writers of English – had been illuminating.

“But the whole event was both useful and enriching for me,” she added, “with its revellations about the influence on a writer’s work of their childhood memories of place. For example, Helen Garner spoke brilliantly about how almost all of her work is set in Melbourne – no matter where in the world she’s writing it.”