Landscapes of Exile when ‘space’ becomes ‘place’

Published 17 July 2006

How 'space' becomes 'place' through cultural, artistic, intellectual and ethical practices is the focus of an upcoming international conference being co-hosted by Southern Cross University.

Landscapes of Exile will explore how the experience of exile from a homeland can be both traumatic and transformative and how it can affect the human condition in complex and diverse ways.

The conference has been convened by Associate Professor Baden Offord, director of Southern Cross University's Centre for Cultural Diversity and Social Justice (pictured) and Professor Anna Haebich, co-director of the Centre for Public Culture and Ideas at Griffith University.

It will be held at the Byron Bay Community and Cultural Centre from July 26 – 28.

"What chiefly characterizes the experience of exile is that the landscape becomes a crucial feature of survival and meaning," Professor Offord said.

"This conference, which draws together speakers of international renown from across the globe, presents a forum for us to deeply and critically examine diverse aspects of the experience of exile."

One presenter, Murri woman and acclaimed international author, Melissa Lucashenko, will speak on her experience of belonging and connectedness in Byron Shire.

"As non-indigenes have begun to look more honestly at Aboriginal Australia, they have begun to ask themselves difficult questions about ways of belonging to a stolen continent," she said.

Ms Lucashenko will explore challenging questions such as 'What proportion – if any – of the guilt of past generations belongs with present day inheritors of Aboriginal wealth? How can all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, belong to the polity; or, is belonging to country a matter of personal psychology; or, is it more properly viewed as a spiritual, not a political, quest?'

Local historian Dr Johanna Kijas will explore the layers of belonging in our current 'seachange' landscape.

"In a place where migration, settlement and competing claims of belonging are intense, stories of arrival, displacement and conflict jostle with ones of re-emergence, new- found belonging and collaboration," she said.

Dr Janie Conway-Herron, lecturer in writing at Southern Cross University, will share with participants her personal exploration of exile and belonging, based on a journey to the Scottish Highlands taken in 2004.

In a paper titled 'This Whispering in my Heart', Dr Conway-Herron will look at the history of her ancestors' migration/exile from Scotland in the early nineteenth century as a result of the Highland Clearances and their subsequent taking up of vast tracts of land through pastoral leases in Australia.

"Like many Australians I was appalled when I realised what had happened to Indigenous Australians as a result of white settlement," she said.

"But, by embracing the fact that white Australia has a black history, I had also to face the genocide of Aboriginal peoples that my family might have been complicit in. It is an unsettling knowledge, one that cuts to the heart of contemporary belonging in Australia.

"Many of my ancestors were crofters, indentured to Scottish landlords for generations. As a result of the clearances whole families were pushed off their lands and replaced by sheep.

"It is the irony entailed in these same ancestors' appropriation of Indigenous peoples' country in order to run sheep, that sets the whisperings in my own heart in motion."

Running parallel to the Landscapes of Exile conference will be an exhibition of selected works by Southern Cross University students and lecturers. The exhibition will explore place/space/landscape in the context of whiteness.

More conference info:

Media contact: Zoe Satherley, media officer, 6620 3144, 0439 132 095.

Media contact: SCu SCU