Wednesday, October 12, 2016
The Australian sensibility and Becoming Aurora:
At uni, I spent a semester studying the Australian sensibility. I remember that it woke me up -- as never before -- to what it means to write Australian literature, to make Australian films, to create Australian art. Of course, it also showed me that the Australian sensibility is quite unpindownable, a sort of indefinable something that is somehow imbued with the spirit of this country. When you see it, you recognise it, yet it would be impossible to define it according to a set of absolute characteristics. But ever since I spent fourteen weeks looking at it, I now unconsciously seek it out everywhere.
In Becoming Aurora, a recent release from UQP books by author Elizabeth Kasmer, the Australian sensibility makes itself felt in the ever-presence of Queensland humidity during the mad summer season of the Christmas holidays. The sweat is tangible, as is the salt spray coming off the Sunshine Coast beaches near the characters’ homes. The looming majesty of the Glasshouse Mountains reminds us that, in Australian stories, the land is always a character, even if it never speaks. Just as powerful is the interplay between white Australia, indigenous Australia, and immigrant Australia, a complex combination of cultures and back stories that carries with it beauty and grief, hope and shame, warring emotions that may always be part of the Australian narrative.
Rory is still grieving the loss of her dad four years ago. She is constantly disappointing her mum, and alternately frustrated by and desperately protective of her little brother. And when she is singled out for her role in an act of racist vandalism towards a local curry house, she is forced to bear the penalty, alone. Outwardly defiant, inwardly unsettled, and feeling betrayed by her best friend Cam and the crowd she has always hung out with, Rory turns up to fulfil her community service obligations with an enormous chip on her shoulder.
Aurora's story plays out in those crystalline weeks as the year is ending and a new one beginning, a season of finishes and a season of starts. As Rory is pulled from the comfortable familiarity of what she knows and is thrown into entirely new settings, she meets new people – among them a grumpy old man and a dark-eyed Iranian boy – whose growing place in her life shape this into one powerful summer.
Becoming Aurora captures the vast sense of possibility that hangs in that time at the end of school, over Christmas, with the promise of a new year’s fresh beginning. It also captures what it means to grow up, and how growing up often looks like stepping out from your own protected hiding place and examining life from another’s point of view. It means putting aside your own biases or discomforts and recognising the hurt and lostness in someone else. It means taking responsibility for your own actions and breaking a new path for your future. It's as much about becoming an adult in Australia as it is about becoming Aurora.
Australia’s future, just like Aurora’s, will be peopled by a multitude from the world over. Books like Becoming Aurora are an important and beautiful way to engage our hearts in this conversation. They make us consider what it means to be Australian, and what it will look like to build an Australian sensibility we can be proud of.
Published August 2016 by UQP Books