The South Asian Odyssey in Australia
An evocative and gracefully written reflection on cultural encounters between Aboriginals and Indians in the Outback, from the nineteenth century.
Australian deserts remain dotted with the ruins of old mosques. Beginning with a Bengali poetry collection discovered in a nineteenth-century mosque in the town of Broken Hill, Samia Khatun weaves together the stories of various peoples colonised by the British Empire to chart a history of South Asian diaspora.
Australia has long been an outpost of Anglo empires in the Indian Ocean world, today the site of military infrastructure central to the surveillance of ‘Muslim-majority’ countries across the region. Imperial knowledges from Australian territories contribute significantly to the Islamic–Western binary of the post-Cold War era. In narrating a history of Indian Ocean connections from the perspectives of those colonised by the British, Khatun highlights alternative contexts against which to consider accounts of non-white people.
Australianama challenges a central idea that powerfully shapes history books across the Anglophone world: the colonial myth that European knowledge traditions are superior to the epistemologies of the colonised. Arguing that Aboriginal and South Asian language sources are keys to the vast, complex libraries that belie colonised geographies, Khatun shows that stories in colonised tongues can transform the very ground from which we view past, present and future.
Samia Khatun is a writer, filmmaker and cultural historian. She was born in Dhaka, educated in Sydney and has held research fellowships in Berlin, Dunedin, New York and Melbourne. She is soon to develop a history programme at the University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh.