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Looking east, looking in.

In Brisbane recently I listened to poets, novelists and publishers from Oceania. From countries that have experienced colonisation by France and a Maori novelist, obviously from Aeotearoa/New Zealand. The main question was largely about writing in French, in local languages, and the experience of translation in a post-colonial era.

Having been involved in several Trans-Tasman poetry symposiums that aimed to make a bridge between poets from Australia and Aeotearoa/NZ (and, this year, with Hawai'i and China as well) I know some of the difficulties of distance and disconnect that exist in the South Pacific region. In Brisbane novelist Witi Ihimaera suggested that instead of looking north (to Europe, USA etc) Australians could concern themselves with looking east. I think he made a good point. And in ensuing discussion the suggestion was made that we also look to the interior towards the indigenous Aboriginal people. It was a welcome reminder. The Pacific Islands Forum exchanges ideas, funding etc at an international government level and met recently in the Cook Islands. The Festival of Pacific Arts was held in July this year in the Solomon Islands. I've visited and attempted to explore some aspects of the cultures of Nouvelle Caledonie, Aeotearoa and two of the Mascarene islands to the west of Australia as well, across the Indian Ocean to La RĂ©union and Mauritius. Looking west.

The topic in Brisbane generally veered towards French-language writing and the identity of, say, a Kanak writer in relation to that. Someone remarked that Australian, Vanuatuan, Pakeha (etc) writers don't describe themselves as 'British-Australian' writers and neither do writers from the "French" Pacific think of themselves as 'French-Tahitian' or 'French-Kanak' (etc) writers.

The talks were at the new State Library and the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane right next door to the Queensland Art Gallery where there was an exhibition of portraits from the Prado Museum in Madrid. The entrance to the Gallery has a hologram of part of the Prado - it kind of cried out for a pose. I took a few photos - you can find them here.

If you're interested in reading work by some of the authors in the photos, one of the publishers is 'Au Vent Des Iles' and the web site is here.

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In the September issue of Art Monthly, Susan Cochrane, author of Art and Life in Melanesia has written an extensive illustrated report on this year's Festival of Pacific Arts. She notes, towards the end of the article : "As far as mainstream Australia and its art aficionados are concerned (with a few exceptions), the Festival of Pacific Arts, the world's largest indigenous arts festival celebrating the cultural life of our Pacific neighbours, slips right under their radar. It does not even raise a blip."

Currently, Australians mainly know about the Pacific politically, as a 'Pacific Solution' - somewhere for the Federal Government to place hundreds of refugees in the hope of discouraging their arrival by fishing boat in our country. They are to be kept, awaiting 'processing', on what is continually referred to as the 'remote' island of Nauru, in Micronesia, and on Melanesian Manus Island in the Asian Pacific just north of Papua New Guinea.





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