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Diasporic Transpositions: Indigenous and Jewish Performances of Mourning in 20th-Century Australia

Gay Breyley
Ethnomusicology Forum
Vol. 16, No. 1, Musical Performance in the Diaspora (Jun., 2007), pp. 95-126
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20184578
Page Count: 32
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Diasporic Transpositions: Indigenous and Jewish Performances of Mourning in 20th-Century Australia
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Abstract

Twentieth-century Australia was the site of a range of diasporic encounters, as well as the continuing effects of colonization and simultaneous movements towards decolonization. Extensive mid-century immigration schemes saw hundreds of thousands of (selected) Europeans migrate to Australia, including Jewish Holocaust survivors, or displaced persons as they were known then. After Israel, Australia's population now has the highest proportion of Holocaust survivors in the world. Meanwhile, many of Australia's indigenous survivors of colonization were dispersed from their traditional lands, often working for rations in the pastoral industries. Only in the late 20th century was there sufficient popular interest in Australia for narratives of these displacements to enter such public spheres as popular music and literature. While there are clear and significant differences between Jewish and indigenous communities and their respective positions in Australia's history, both communities have been disproportionately afflicted with memories of loss and death. For both, mourning is a most significant practice. Through literary and musical sources, this article examines performances of mourning in Australia's Jewish and indigenous communities. It argues that these communities' practices do not represent cultures of hybridity, as is sometimes claimed. Rather, their performances of mourning may be read as complex transpositions, performed within dynamic cultures of survival. This is evident, for example, in a poetic adaptation of the Kaddish by Lily Brett, a child of Holocaust survivors and former rock journalist. In different ways, it is also evident in adaptations of country music by Bundjalung elder and bereaved mother Ruby Langford Ginibi and in adaptations of both Celtic folk and Baarkanji traditions by the late Baarkanji educator Evelyn Crawford.

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