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Friday, August 16, 2013

RWAus13 - Day One

In 1968 my little family traversed the Indian Ocean from Kenya to Australia (not by boat I hasten to add). We were perfectly respectable assisted settlers who arrived by plane...once we got over that little problem of proving my mother was white. Having been born in Africa and Australia being in the grip of a form of apartheid known as the "White Australia Policy", there was apparently a doubt that mother was anglo saxon in origin. We had to be produced to meet with a visiting member of the Australian parliament!

My father, good military man that he was, had done a reconnaissance and decided on Perth as the place we would settle. There was already a well established community of former colonials in Perth and was the closest place to Africa. Interestingly he swore the LAST place in Australia he would settle was Melbourne.

The "Round House" of Fremantle Jail
Perth in 1968 was by modern standards little more than a large country town but coming from East Africa it seemed like the most amazing metropolis. I can still recall my astonishment that television was not only available 24 hours a day but it came on 3 different channels. I sat glued to Adventure Island and Skippy. We lived across the road from King's Park where I discovered Kangaroo Paws and gum trees and, oddly, jonquils. Whenever I smell jonquils I always think of Perth. We survived the Meckering earthquake and I survived my first 6 months at an Australian school. It was a bruising experience as my mother could not afford the school uniform and for the first term I wore 'civilian' clothes. At the back of the playground as a group of 10 year old girls huddled over a radio, I learned about the cult of the Melbourne Cup and can still tell you that in November 1968 Rainlover won that great race.

But home life was unsettled. Despite his experience Dad couldn't find work and I learned in subsequent years that he and my mother were considering debunking to South Africa when a job came up in...Melbourne. The rest, as they say, is history.

So after that preamble, it is strange to find myself back in Perth. I have only ever been back once before, about 14 years ago, accompanying my husband on a business trip. Perth is the most isolated capital city in the world, being 4 hours flight from the east coast of Australia.

So here I am at the Esplanade Hotel in Fremantle. I recall the Fremantle of 1968 as being a very down at heel, rough port area that no respectable person would visit. These days, like my own home town, it has been gentrified, the lovely sandstone buildings restored and the notorious Fremantle Jail, a popular tourist drawcard. Here you will find the Martime Museum with the Wreck of the Batavia and here you will find the 2103 Romance Writers of Australia Conference.

The festivities kicked off last night with the Penguin Party to celebrate the first birthday of its romance imprint, Destiny. Friday is traditionally the "Workshop" day but this year I passed on the workshop for the chance to attend an "academic" conference - the inaugural Elizabeth Jolley Conference, facilitated by Curtin University. The subject of the conference is Reading and Writing Romance in the 21st century...which one has to admit it is a pretty broad subject.

The wonderful Elizabeth Jolley herself did not write romance and may, if she is looking down on proceedings, be slightly bemused by having her name used in this context. Curiosity more than anything drove my decision and I am glad that I made that choice. I make no pretensions to academia and am constantly bemused by "academic speak" eg "modalities of power in fiction", "Desire and Compulsory Demisexuality in the Romance Novel', "Destabilising Divides and Re-imagining Subjectivities" etc etc. Once you get past that secret squirrel language of the academic there has been some fascinating insights and conversations kicking off with Professor Imelda Whelehan's Keynote address on "Meaningful encounters - 40 years of feminists reading romance".  Unfortunately the romance feminists seem to read is that of 30 years ago, more particularly HMB in which feminist characters are depicted as dowdy and slightly pathetic. It would be interesting to see a feminist perspective on modern romance. I think Professor Whelehan's conclusion is something along the line that there are as many different types of feminism as there are genres of romance fiction and both defy any attempt to box them up and present them as either right or wrong.

Having given myself till lunchtime (with the promise of sightseeing around Freo and maybe a tour of the jail), I found my steps drawn back, only to have to depart early to sort out my room issues (now, mercifully fixed). Tonight is the traditional fancy dress Cocktail Party and conference proper kics off tomorrow. Watch this space!

Esplanade Hotel Fremantle