Friday 19 January 2024

Catherine Cole, "Slipstream: On Memory and Migration"

Catherine Cole is Professor of Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores University in Liverpool, Merseyside. She is an Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Wollongong in Australia. She has published ten books including novels, a collection of short stories, memoir, academic monographs and edited collections. She has been a visiting fellow in the UK at UEA and in China at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou. She also has been a writer-in-residence at the Cite International des Arts, Paris, and in Hanoi, China, UK and Australia. She has peer reviewed for the Australian Research Council and the Literature Board of the Australia Council. She was twice a member of the Professorial Committee for the Australian Research Council’s Excellence in Research Assessment process (REF) in the Humanities and Creative Arts. She has reviewed research and curriculum in the Creative Arts and Humanities in the UK, China, New Zealand and Australia. She has published with University presses, major publishing houses and small press publishers. She also has judged leading writing awards in Australia. She is currently on the Board of University of Cambridge Press (Crime series).


About Slipstream: On Memory and Migration

Slipstream explores the ways in which migration changes the lives of those who migrate. It draws on the experiences of Catherine’s family who migrated from Yorkshire to Sydney after World War Two as ‘Ten Pound Poms,’ also called ‘Australia’s hidden migrants.’ The memoir examines the impact of migration on the children of migrants, especially those born in the new place. ‘As happens in so many migrant narratives,’ she noted, ‘the drive for a better life for their children became a kind of family mantra, a way of confirming my parents had done the right thing, however painful. In many ways Slipstream was my way of expressing my gratitude to my parents for the sacrifices they made when they left their homes and families behind.’

What made their journey as Ten Pound Poms of great interest, she noted, was how the family transplanted Yorkshire into Sydney’s south-western suburbs. ‘When you think about it, their journey was remarkable. They came from large families in a mining village not far from Barnsley and had never travelled much beyond it. Yet they travelled up to Glasgow to embark The Empire Brent and sailed for 5 weeks to a new life in Australia. Twelve thousand miles is quite an adventure when you’d never left Yorkshire.’ 

Catherine’s research also drew on a range of resources in the UK. She spent time in a number of museums and archives, most notably the Maritime Museum in Liverpool, the Central Library in Glasgow – the city from which her family sailed - and the Barnsley Town Hall archives. Field research involved trips to Royston and Barnsley, exploring the towns and landmarks of her parents’ lives before they left for Australia. Catherine remains fascinated by the ways in which the experience of migration spreads from generation to generation, affecting those born in the new place as potently as it affected those who left home. ‘My childhood in Sydney was spent listening to stories about my parents’ former lives in the UK and I felt very torn between my two different identities. I wasn’t unique in this. My school friends were Lithuanian, Italian, Polish, Finnish, Dutch, Scottish – all of us watched as our parents adjusted to their new lives, torn just as they were between the old world and the new one.’

You can read more about Slipstream on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read a short excerpt from the memoir. 


From Slipstream: On Memory and Migration, by Catherine Cole

Any aspirations our parents might have had for themselves seemed to have burned out with their migration and the establishment of a new home – surely their great trip across the oceans, their building of a house and garden, two new Australian children and a new job were enough? The house lingers in us all, though. It aspired to roses and the thrift of making do, those perversities of expectation where a house became the inanimate representation of what our parents’ long sea voyage really had been about – a nice home on a quarter acre block halfway across the world, the mortgage paid off as quickly as possible. Thus, we return to our childhood home through memory, our world shrinking, receding as nostalgia claims us. We return to Bachelard’s world of ‘motionless childhood … motionless in the way all Immemorial things are.’ Our childhood homes gone, all the hopes and struggles of building a new home in a new place are replaced with a middle-aged nostalgia for the childhood homes we left. ‘Memories of the outside world will never have the same tonality of those at home,’ Bachelard said, ‘and by recalling these memories we add to our store of dreams; we are never real historians, but always near poets, and our emotion is perhaps nothing but an expression of a poetry that was lost.’

Our family home in Bankstown also retains a tyranny of memory. Now both parents are dead, my siblings and I rarely talk about the house, nor about those unsettled early years when we became Australians, in theory at least. The house might rise before us when a memory needs verification. Was it then? Where was that? Waiting for older siblings’ memories to act as the binding agent for something not quite formed. Our parents can’t be asked at all. But the dead speak through photographs and tape recordings, in a flickering family home movie of us all standing self-consciously in front of the flowering jacaranda opposite the back door, its bell flowers drifting above us like purple snow.

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