Alexis Wright

Author

About This Project

In the last light our China Southern Airlines flight from Melbourne began circling to land at Guangzhou, and I would see for the first time, a small part of the Guangdong Province – homeland of my great-grandfather.

 

He died long ago, but Canton lives as an imaginary place in the minds of his many descendants, most of whom have never been to China.

 

Through the clouds, the channels irrigating numerous family garden plots gleamed, and I saw silvery stretches of water in a myriad of small dams nestled in the tropical green slopes of the hills.

 

This homeland of my great-grandfather seemed like a wondrous waterland, and I wondered how he could have left this country, to live for the rest of his life in a remote and often arid place in Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria, where he would eventually die and be buried.

 

But then, I knew the history that caused thousands of men like my great-grandfather to leave China for countries like Australia in the nineteenth century. He came with enough strength to endure a perilous journey of enormous hardship, possibly walking hundreds of kilometres in the extreme heat of Northern Australia, to eventually live in the traditional country of my Waanyi great-grandmother.

 

If he had to choose a home in Australia, he chose well. He came to live in a place of solitude and water, almost a microcosm of the Guangdong Province, nestled in the arid landscape of the Gulf of Carpentaria.

 

He lived in his new landscape locked in a haven that was protected by spring-fed rivers with permanent running waters – a secluded paradise where he would work hard by using Chinese knowledge and inspiration, irrigating the land with canals to grow vegetables and horses. He raised a family surrounded by water, and was culturally united with and protected by our ancestors.

 

Alexis Wright is the Boisbouvier Chair in Australian Literature at the University of Melbourne, and the author of the novels Plains of Promise, Carpentaria and The Swan Book. Her most recent book is the collective memoir Tracker: Stories of Tracker Tilmouth.

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