Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Christmas Tree – Genealogy of an Island"

by Hélène Bartleson

A geologist friend of mine used to say that the only thing you can do with Languages and History is teach languages and history. (Surely geology is the history of the planet under its skin.) This talk "Christmas Tree – Genealogy of an Island" presented by Hélène Bartleson at the National Archives of Australia in Perth on 23 February 2010 shows how those two fields can yield such personally rewarding knowledge. Her dad was fascinated by old cemeteries especially with Chinese headstones and their 'hidden history' of itinerant Chinese tinkers and peddlers. 'He was fascinated by their lives, I was fascinated by their language which I did eventually get to study, and it has been a huge help to me, as you'll see shortly.' Hélène also reads Jawi (Malay written with an adapted Arabic script).
She describes photos taken by 'poor Fred Christian ... of mixed-race groups together; the Malays and Chinese and the Europeans were all together and they were all enjoying themselves and actually talking to each other.' Christmas Island sounds like a symbol of multicultural Australia, of what our world might be if everybody just had Hélène's curiosity and interest in people, different people whose hidden histories require us to make the effort to learn their languages. How terrible that it is instead the place currently associated with refugee detention centres and boating tragedies. Read "Christmas Tree – Genealogy of an Island". There's an audio file so you can download and hear it also - link at bottom of that Archives of Australia page. Christmas Island on Wikipedia and on googlemaps.

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