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Spectral presences: a historiography of lascars

Held on the 17th Oct 2023

at 6pm to

, Southern Tasmania

Add to Calendar 2023-10-17 18:00:00 2023-10-17 19:30:00 Australia/Sydney Spectral presences: a historiography of lascars Hedberg Writer in Residence 2023 - Public Lecture Recital Hall, the Hedberg, University of Tasmania or ZOOM
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Recital Hall, the Hedberg, University of Tasmania or ZOOM


Hedberg Writer in Residence 2023 - Public Lecture


  • Michelle Cahill

Photo of aboriginal  sea craft

Hedberg Writer in Residence 2023 - Public Lecture

To say there were extensive connections between Asia and Van Dieman’s land in the first half of the 19th century does not disavow the brutal violence of European colonisation, including the Black War (1824-1831). One strand of this multiple layered and deeply traumatic history may be evidenced in the contact between lascar survivors of the Brahmin shipwreck in 1854 and two Aboriginal women, who for 20 years had been living on King Island.

In this lecture I’ll give an overview of lascars as maritime footnotes in Tasmania’s history, as well as more affluent South Asian presences. Lascars were a cheap, racialized workforce, a form of indentured labour. Their entry into Australian waters has been framed by the tensions between emergent nationalism and the mobilised workforce of globalised trade. I offer my analysis on their limited and stereotypical appearance in news reports, shipping bulletins, letters to the editors of newspapers, travel diaries, nonfiction books, and novels. Recently, an integrated and subjective account has been the character of Srinivas in Jock Serong’s novel, Preservation (2018) which fictionalises the 1797 wreck of the Sydney Cove.

Imbued with precarity, and ambiguity in its repository of wreckage, cargoes both washed ashore and in-situ, and in the footprints of its survivors’ camp, I propose that the Brahmin shipwreck becomes a composite archive, where textual, environmental, maritime archaeology, and cultural artefacts can be re-storied as knowledge.

Attend online or at the venue

You can join this free talk in-person, or online. To attend in-person, select your free tickets through Eventbrite. To attend online,  register via Zoom , and we'll email you details on how to join the session.

Hedberg Writer in Residence Program

Michelle Cahill is the third Hedberg Writer in Residence with the residency open to all established writers with professional publication record, in any field or genre, and being resident in Australia.

The residency is offered by the College of Arts, Law and Education and the School of Humanities at the University of Tasmania. The project is supported by the Copyright Agency's Cultural Fund.

The successful writer devotes three months to writing in a quiet but stimulating environment, in the University of Tasmania's campuses. During the residency, as well as working on an original piece, the winner will engage with the University's creative writing students, emerging Tasmanian authors, and the broader Tasmanian creative community through a small number of workshops, masterclasses, and public talks in the state.

Michelle Cahill

Michelle Cahill is an Australian novelist and poet of Indian heritage. Her short story collection, Letter to Pessoa (Giramondo) was awarded the NSW Premier's Literary Award for New Writing, shortlisted in the Steele Rudd Award and longlisted in the ALS Gold Medal. Her novel Daisy & Woolf is longlisted in the ALS Gold Medal. She has been shortlisted in the Elizabeth Jolley Prize, the Peter Porter Poetry Prize, and received the Val Vallis Award and a Red Room Poetry Fellowship. In 2023 she takes up the Hedberg Writer-in-Residence at the University of Tasmania.