On reading 'The Great Red Whale'
'It kills you, doesn't it, that there's something you can't have. Possessed of every privilege, you are used to recognising your desires, then framing strategies to satisfy them. But you'll never be indigenous to this land, no quantity of gold or guilt or good deeds can buy that connection, and in your guts you know this is plain unfair.'
'The Great Red Whale', by Michael Winkler, published in ABR June-July 2016
Late last month, I had the privilege of proof-reading the essay that won Australian Book Review's 2016 Calibre Essay Prize: 'The Great Red Whale' by the journalist Michael Winkler. It's one of the finest essays I've read in a while, and it is perfectly complemented by the outstanding cover art featured on ABR's June-July issue.
To quote ABR, the essay is about 'fractures, overlaying the ruptures within the author's psyche with the fissure between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, something Winkler believes keeps us 'heartsore as a nation.'
In the backdrop of his thoughts on cultural identity, Uluru, and that 'mad, swirling novel' Moby-Dick, is Winkler's history of depression, which lends his essay's mature, pensive voice a certain poignancy. Lessons have been learnt during his many visits to Indigenous communities, and you feel wiser for being being privy to them.
Among many, there is one paragraph that's particularly resonant to me, as a dark-skinned Australian son of Sri Lankan migrants, which best encapsulates my sense of unease living in my own country of my birth:
I was born here, I am not leaving, but it does not belong to me by birthright. When I am grasping for something firm to hold onto, a fixing point of identity, I cannot cling to my country. While I care deeply about Australia, I don't like our flag or our anthem or our jingoism. Nor do I rally to cries of Reconciliation – a nonsense, since there was no conciliation in the first place. My attachment to Australia is a deeply conflicted affair ...
You can read Michael Winkler's essay at www.australianbookreview.com.au