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(generated from captions) given that kind of opportunity, yet a playwright is not questioned when these themes, so a lot of people were...

would turn up in this play, or these characters, in a later work slightly different. and then they'd turn up how can you do that? They'd go, "Well, the nature of a character How can you change when she's like this in this play?"

sure where the best moment All I could say is, "Look, I'm not so that's an earlier version of her. for this character is,

This is a stronger version of her. version of her." This is the ultimate Debbie Coughlin Closed Captions by CSI - 0

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Extended Mix. Hello and welcome to Big Ideas, I'm here at Adelaide's Writers Week I'm Tony Jones and its 50th anniversary this year. which is celebrating around 100,000 people Over the course of this week, will cram into these tents best thinkers and writers to hear some of the world's pertaining to their work. muse on things we're considering historical fiction. And in today's show It's long been a popular genre to interpret and reinvent the past? but how much licence do authors have

stories of their real-life subjects? Can novelists claim to own the controlled by more powerful forces, Or is the retelling of the past or the broader culture? like the State a group of historical writers In this session, of their subject matter. gather to discuss the ins and outs my name is Jill Roe Good morning, everyone, and I'm chairing this session.

and writers here this morning We have some exciting writings which is entitled in this session, Who Owns the Past? The History Question - this morning, Which, in our preliminary discussion, quite broadly. I think we'll need to interpret I'll start with the order. We do have here - Antoni Jach from Melbourne, First to speak will be

Napoleon's Double. home-grown hero on a home-grown hero, Next to speak will be a Arthur Blackburn, VC,

His Men and their Two World Wars. An Australian Hero, at a school prize-giving, And last - and was once said to me last but not least, published by Faber, we have The Collector of Worlds like me, has just got here, by Ilija Trojanow who, but he's looking pretty fit on it. special from our three speakers. So we can look forward to something

I say three, we were to have four, this morning and sends his apologies. Philip Jones is unable to be with us who owns the past, This business about as a kind of question for a while well, it's been going on we will deal with it broadly. and as I say, from their own points of view Our speakers will speak and their own work maybe 15 minutes max, and when they've done, for discussion then we will open it up as I understand is the usual way. some quite lively discussions We've been having between ourselves already. With the history question, with the writings of Inga Clendinnen well, you probably are familiar

"who owns the past?" who asked this question, she described the world where actually and novelists for space. jostling between historians And she talks about a confusion purpose of fiction between the primary aesthetic

of history and the primarily moral purpose

which creates that jostling. Well, we shall see. things to say than that, Inga's got some rather fiercer with her remark but I'm going to leave it there in time and we do have to act on it. that we can't post ourselves back differently then, But people really did think taken back into time. and we will have ourselves

of the figures I think the most recent who died in 1960. is in fact Blackburn VC to the Napoleonic era But we'll be going back and to the era of the age of empire. Without further ado then, and we agreed we'd use first names, let me introduce our first speaker,

published by Giramondo Press Antoni. Napoleon's Double of New South Wales, I think. and that's at the University a painter, a video maker, Antoni is a writer, a photographer,

in creative writing, part-time lecturer a really versatile person.

but here we have with this work, And he has many publications with this work, Napoleon's Double, and philosophical. something really original APPLAUSE Thank you. How's the sound? Thank you, Jill. Good morning. Is that OK? Yep? OK. this out of the way pretty quickly, Who owns the past - we'll get

it's not a question we own the past, you own the past, in talking about. that I'm particularly interested LAUGHTER Er, we can't escape the past, we prefer to forget the past. no matter how much The novelist W G Sebald says the past isn't even past, it's present, it's part of our makeup, it's who we are. Our names are part of the way we're inscribed in the past. My first name Antoni is Polish spelling,

but my mother was Australian, she was a tailor, so that part of my past has been obscured, it's been written over so it can't be seen. My last name Jach is Polish and that betrays no evidence of the tailor background through the matrilineal line. And Mum's Mum was a Clancy, so I've got Irish and Australian in me as well. So names are a very important part

of the way we're inscribed in the past, inscribed in history, we can't avoid history. Erm... who is entitled to write about the past? Let's get this one out of the way pretty quickly,

historians, novelists, hobbyists, in fact everyone's entitled to write about the past.

You can all have a go at writing about the past,

it shouldn't be something that's just for professional historians, professional novelists.

It's natural to be curious about one's origins,

to be curious about the past. Now, in my opinion, there are a couple of really interesting questions, though, that relate to both history and to fiction and one of them is, what is the relationship between history and fiction? And subsequent to that are the allied questions, how and why has history turned into fiction? and, what is the role of truth in historical writing and fiction writing? Now Kierkegaard said, "We live life backwards - "

but er... sorry, "We live life forwards but we understand it backwards." How true is that, we don't know what's gonna happen to us today but we're still, in the middle of today, trying to work out what happened to us yesterday.

We're still trying to process the past. I see the connection between fiction and history

as resembling something like the double helix structure of the DNA, where each is the other side of the other,

and they both intertwine - they twirl one over the other in a delightful way. The word history derives from the Latin word historia,

meaning history or story. We tell a story about the past either in an historical mode or via a fictive mode. Besides, both novelists and historians have something in common.

They're both machines for turning coffee into words. That's a quote from Paul Erdos, who talked about mathematicians as being machines for turning coffee into theorems. Now, Marcel Proust wrote 1.1 million words in In Search of Lost Time to try and understand his personal past. And this part of the novelist's quest. In particular, the novelist is often asking, "who am I?, "where do I belong? How do I stand in relationship to other people?" There're a different set of questions for historians in lots of ways. Now, Herodotus was called the Father of History by Cicero

but his habit of relating the anecdotes of others as if they were facts, relating such things as the customs of barbarian tribes, resulted in him being called the Father of Lies by later historians. Napoleon read Herodotus and he read Goethe's novel The Sorrows of Young Werther.

In fact, he read Young Werther eight times as a teenager and it really coloured his world view. Napoleon became a mixture of his history reading and his fiction reading. They really helped to form the man. And it could be argued that Napoleon, who was an aspiring novelist,

was inspired to sacrifice himself to what he saw as a great cause by reading Goethe, by reading fiction. Now two of my novels, a book of poetry and a sequence of short fiction, have all incorporated research, so I owe a debt of gratitude to the historians that have assembled the primary source documents together and have written their version of accounts. However, my guess is that when I'm researching, I am looking for different things than from professional historians. I'm not looking for historical truth, but rather, I'm looking for nuggets of gold that will feed my imagination.

Irrespective of whether they are true or not, I'm fond of asking the "what if?" question. About 10 years ago, when it was revealed that Saddam Hussein had seven doubles, I asked myself, "wouldn't it be interesting if Napoleon had a double or two in Egypt?" At that time, I had forgotten about my reading of Simon Leys' fabulous novel, The Death of Napoleon, which uses the story of a double for Napoleon. It wasn't until I had almost finished my novel

that I went back and looked at the Simon Leys novel. Now, after the prompting of the Saddam Hussein list of doubles, I went to the internet to see if the double theory had any validity. The internet, God-sent for conspiracy theorists worldwide, gave me what I wanted it to give me - an assertion that yes, Napoleon did employ doubles, four of them. I wasn't worried if that was true or not, it was comforting to see that someone had made that assertion publicly.

Later, I was curious again and consulted, via a third party, a respected French scholar on Napoleon by the name of Jean Tulard. The claim of Napoleon having doubles was false, but that didn't deter me. Plausible, that if Napoleon wanted to have a double or two, then Egypt would be the perfect place, as the Egyptians would have no idea what Napoleon looked like. It was in the era before photography and the drawings and paintings of the young 29-year-old Napoleon

differ greatly in the way he is represented. It could well be different people portrayed. Another nugget of research gold was discovering Sir Walter Scott's assertion, in his historical account of Napoleon's life, that Napoleon made a pact with what Scott calls a little red man. This little red man had magic powers and would protect Napoleon while he supported the principles of the French Revolution, freedom and liberty, the two words that adorned the top of Napoleon's stationery. Scott says that the little red man

enabled Napoleon to lead a charmed life, escaping numerous assassination attempts. As an aside,

I'd like to mention a charming little story about Napoleon. He was in Egypt, he was resting under the noonday sun under a mudbrick wall. The mudbrick wall fell, injured a few of his soldiers, but he was unharmed and he uncovered a whole stash of Roman coins.

So it seems like the little red man was behind him in this particular time. So the story about the little red man, it's a great story. It's in a biography of Napoleon, and it's presented as fact. I thought it was just delicious for a novelist, and wonder what professional historians make of this assertion.

It doesn't appear in the other biographies. There are something like 600,000 books

written and published about Napoleon, which is a very daunting task. So when you go to try and research Napoleon,

there is a surfeit of information. There's way too much to try and accommodate. Now, I've got four books in front of me, I've carried them all the way from Melbourne, and the first one is in the mode of historical writing and it's by Inga Clendinnen. It's a very fine book, it's called Dancing With Strangers.

I'm interested in the subtitle - this is the hardcover by Canongate - and the subtitle is, "The True History of the Meeting of the British First Fleet and the Aboriginal Australians, 1788". So the true history, I'm interested in that,

I think we could have a good discussion later about that notion, whether it exists or not. The other book I have is a very fine novel by Martine Murray, and its title is The Slightly True Story of Cedar B Hartley, Who Planned to Live an Unusual Life. So this is a different claim, this one for a novel, rather than for a work of history. A slightly true story, a different type of claim. Now the other book I've brought with me from Melbourne is one I'm very fond of.

It's the journal of Nicolas Baudin 1800-1803. A monster of a book, a couple of kilos, published by your very own Libraries Board of South Australia, they've done a marvellous job.

Translated by Christine Cornell, she's done a wonderful job of translation. And this is a fabulous book, love this book. For a novelist, research is so entrancing, it's so seductive. I'd rather read this than actually transform this type of stuff into novel. And similarly, when I was doing Napoleon's Double, there's a marvellous book called The Description of Egypt, which Napoleon and his savants created. 28 volume book, very large elephant - they're called elephant folios -

full of images, 13 books of images, and those images really fed my imagination. Images are a great way to get source material for a novelist or for a historian, because they're representing things without words and you can see things in a very different way. Now, the serious problem I found, and I think it could well be true

for other novelists with lots of source material is that there can be too many facts. There's a period of necessary forgetting and of half-glimpsing and half-remembering, a process that would be anathema to a historian or to a scholar. But there it is, the truth is out. To write fiction based on historical sources, I find that you need to know, then you need to forget, then you need to imagine. Of course, this is not necessarily true for other novelists. But with Napoleon's Double, there was just way too much - way too much information to process, so I only needed a thin sliver. The other really daunting thing was - my book's based on seven conscripts who join Napoleon's army, they go to Egypt, then some of them join the Baudin expedition to Australia. And there was a first person account of a solider going with Napoleon to Egypt that was brilliantly written. And I read it first of all to get inspiration,

and then I put it aside, it was too good, it was too daunting. This is what I was trying to do.

I was trying to, in a sort of third person initially, then a first person, try and recreate the voice of a soldier, try and imagine my way into the story.

This soldier, who was actually there, had done it beautifully, so I couldn't keep reading. Now - (WOMAN SPEAKS FAINTLY) How many minutes, Jill? Two or three. Two or three minutes, that's fine. I'll skip a whole heap of pages, I'll go to the end. I actually asked Jill to give me a warning, I can go on and on. Now, this is a little end part. Napoleon, in 1816, had been defeated at Waterloo, he was reflecting upon his personal history, he was writing his biography, and Napoleon said the following,

"it must be admitted that the true truths are difficult to ascertain in history." What is history anyway? "An agreed-upon fiction," said Napoleon, quoting an earlier writer. "History's based on facts, but what are facts? Oral reports, documents, images, all of which can be partial, incomplete, blurred, falsified. Even if the details can be ascertained accurately, how can the intention behind the actions be ascertained?" Napoleon went on to say in the same conversation in 1816 the following, "Historical fact, which is often invoked, to which everyone so readily appeals, is often a mere word. Suppose I have given an order. Who can read the bottom of my thought, my true intention? And yet, everybody will take hold of that order, measure it by his own yardstick, make it bend to conform to his plans, his individual way of thinking, and everybody will be so confident of his own version.

The lesser mortals will hear of it from privileged mouths and they will be so confident in turn. Then the flood of memoirs, diaries, anecdotes, drawing room reminiscences - and yet, my friend, that is history." Now, in summary, who owns the past? The answer is the storyteller owns the past. Those stories may be either the true stories of history

or the slightly true stories of fiction.

Thank you for your attention. APPLAUSE You'll just have to ask what the bit he missed out was. Thank you very much. It's my pleasure now to introduce Andrew Faulkner.

Many of you will know him quite well, I think, since he's a home-grown journalist, well known here.

You probably also know his subject, Arthur Blackburn, VC. I... I read this with great interest. I'll leave you to say more. You've read the book? Of course I have! LAUGHTER APPLAUSE That's dedication, isn't it? I think that makes it about 32 people that have read the book now. Who owns the past? Well, in my view, I'm with Antoni on this one - no-one owns the past and I'm not really particularly interested in the question either, so I'm going to stray immediately from the topic. Why do we Westerners always feel we have to own everything? More than that, I believe ascribing ownership of the past

or claiming ownership of it can be dangerous. People commandeer the past to pursue certain ideologies. This is becoming more common in military history, sadly. The Australian war story is littered with as many myths as battlefields are strewn with corpses. You've all heard the jingoistic sloganeering that sprouts like a noxious weed in the week before ANZAC Day.

It goes something like this, The Australians won the Great War on their own and they would have won at Gallipoli too

had they been landed on the right beach by the bloated and blundering British generals. Rather too much alliteration there. Sorry. Then the Tommies messed everything up when they stopped to brew pots of tea on the beach. In France, the Australian Field Marshal Monash was the greatest general ever and his ingenious tactics at the epic battle of Le Hamel won the war. Ra, ra! And so on. It's everywhere.

Such sweeping generalisations are based on kernels of truth but do not stand up to any serious scrutiny. Then, in the Second World War, the Aussies gave the Italian hordes

a good, old-fashioned thrashing in North Africa 'cause our brave boys were physically and mentally superior. The leathery Diggers scoffed at the bullets and shell bursts, tramping into the very jaws of death, singing, "We're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz." Excuse my singing voice. This is repeated in myriad histories of the North Africa campaign. If anything they did sing South of the Border,

but that was only one section of about ten men and I'd argue for not very long. Complete rot. This kind of rubbish devalues the bravery and sacrifice made by Australian soldiers and is also a slur on the Italians sent to their deaths in tanks with armour little thicker than of the Aussies' bully beef tins. Left unchecked, it might taint the true and sacred record. Now to perhaps the most contentious ground. It goes like this, If it wasn't for the brave Diggers on the Kokoda Track, the Japanese would have strolled into Brisbane. When he released his book Invading Australia two years ago, the Australian Museum's Dr Peter Stanley, who many of you would know, was vilified for arguing that the Japanese considered an invasion but the opportunity to invade never came. More than that, Stanley found no evidence of an invasion plan. Similarly, Craig Stockings exposed the Battle of Bardia myths in the latest edition of the Australian War Memorial's wartime magazine

and I quote, "We do not require myths

in order to comprehend their successes and failures. Let the tools of historical inquiry speak. They may not always whisper 'ANZAC' but they will talk true," Stockings wrote. I wholeheartedly agree with Stanley and Stockings. What's wrong with telling the truth? Now for a slight twist to my argument. Today, March 1, 68 years ago, Japan landed 25,000 of its best troops on Java. They were opposed by an indifferent Dutch imperial force so impotent it made Captain Mainwaring's army look like a bunch of Spartans. But there was also a force of 3,000 Australians led by Adelaide's Brigadier Arthur Blackburn. They'd been hastily landed as a sop to Dutch morale and to save the British Empire's face.

Blackburn's men provided the only real resistance on the island, inflicting about 1,000 casualties on the invaders, before being forced to surrender. Thus begun 3.5 years of unimaginable horror for these men. Many slaved on the Burma-Thai Railway. Their commander was 'Weary' Dunlop. There they quickly learned that cholera can kill in a day. If they escaped cholera there was beri-beri, there was dengue fever, there was dysentery, torture, starvation, humiliation, execution. One in three of these soldiers died in captivity. Here the hype and the truth converge. Once a year, some of the survivors, now all in their high 80s and 90s, their wives, widows and families, gather just up there behind you on the Pathway of Honour, to remember and to shed a tear. Meeting them was the biggest blessing of writing this book. We've stayed in touch since, and I'm blessed to be able to call some of them friends. These men thought that they were fighting to avert an invasion of Australia. This helped sustain them during their imprisonment. Were they wrong to think this, just because it may have been disproved 60 years later? Of course not. The historical record evolves as new material becomes available, which is right and proper. But nothing changes the belief they had at the time which was that they were defending their homeland. Of course, this is also right and proper, for if anyone does own the past, at least a piece of it, it's these wonderful, beautiful men. Thank you. APPLAUSE Well, thank you very much and we're ahead of our schedule. I now come to our third and final speaker,

Ilija, and his remarkable work, The Collector of Worlds. He is a rather remarkable person, I've been gathering, coming originally from Bulgaria, moving to Germany... ..India? No, not India - I don't... ..India, East Africa, South Africa. He now lives in Vienna, and got here yesterday.

LAUGHTER And he's going on, I think, to somewhere else, after today. So, he's a man on the move,

and this book, The Collector of Worlds, is, he tells us in the blurb, inspired by the life and works of Sir Richard Burton. He also tells us that all individual lives are mysterious, and we shall now hear what he really means by that.

Thank you. APPLAUSE Good morning. I'm amazed by the crowd.

It must be the biggest crowd at a literary event on a Monday morning... ..in world history. LAUGHTER Fabulous - and looking at you, I'm sure it's not a school class that's been organised, or, um... LAUGHTER Anyway, who owns the past? Um, I have to say something different now so I'm going to say I'm actually hugely intrigued by that question. The reason is that the answer is very simple and very brutal - those in power own the past. And the reason is that the sources that historians use are tainted. They always are tainted. Sources are falsified as they're written down. Anyone who has studied the way an authoritarian regime works knows that. So what you do is sources are then falsified a second time through age, through distance. So, by the time you analyse them, you have to cut through several layers of falsification, which you can only do through imagination. So basically, at the end of the day, what the Australian lady - whose name I've forgotten now - sorry, what was her name? Inga Clendinnen, what she says is, I think, a little bit bizarre because I don't see a substantial difference between historians and novelists. To actually reach some kind of level of metaphysical truth they have to use their own imagination. Um, which is usually what happens when you're looking at the history of places which have undergone very brutal, kind of, renderings of history.

I'll give you one example - my... ..the country where I was born, Bulgaria. Everything that we can study regarding the communist past of Bulgaria, from 1944 to 1989, has been written, compiled by the State.

By the secret service, by the party, by the police. On a second level, access to all those archives is limited or not allowed. So what you have is you have an archive that, in itself, is not reliable, and you have an unreliable access to this archive. At the same time, those people who witnessed the brutality of that system are dying.

And there are very, very few people who ever bothered to actually speak to these people. And there are very, very few books written by those people. So what you have is, if we wait for another 10 or 20 years,

the only face, the only description of history that will remain in place, is the version compiled and written by the State.

And therefore, you will actually obliterate history as a complex, plural, diversified narrative.

Which is why I believe that novelists actually have a very, very important, a decisive role to play, because novelists - of course, based on research,

but every good novelist does do as much research as a good historian, I'd say. Of course, based on research - they actually have the means to give a voice to those who have been silenced. And to me, that is probably

the most important function, role and challenge to any novelist. So that is why - and in the case of Bulgaria, I've been talking to survivors from the Bulgarian gulags and prisons for the last 15 years, trying to compile an alternative, a subaltern version of events.

And it's extremely difficult, because on the other hand every person who has been traumatised again has a very limited recollection of what he went through. To come to the novel that I am presenting here, The Collector of Worlds, again you have a history - Victorian age, 19th century, where most of the documents, most of the archives, tell the story of the British Imperial power. And you have very, very little that tells the other part of the story. Very little that tells you what the Indian servants, the African guides, thought about this age. And, interestingly enough, even amongst African historians, for example, you have very little interest in Africans who were engaged in this process. So that is why I took one person who was actually the most important guide, African guide, in that period. His name was Sidi Mubarek Bombay who was a slave. In those days, when a slave was sold, he lost his name and he took up the name of the place he was sold to. So he was sold in Zanzibar to an Indian trader who took him to Bombay so his new name was Bombay. And when the man died, the Indian trader died, he set him free. So he returned to Zanzibar and he became the first professional and the most important professional guide of the 19th century. The amazing thing is that white people always claim that they discovered places. Um, which is a little bit ridiculous because they didn't know where they were going, number one, and number two is there was always an African with them who told them actually, "You know, if you cross that river and that..." So Sidi Mubarek Bombay was that man

and he was actually the guide to the very first expedition into Central Africa. It's called the Burton-Speke expedition, the second one, Speke-Grant, the famous expedition by Stanley and the first crossing of the continent by Cameron. So this is the man who actually is the greatest traveller of the 19th century

and he is completely unknown because he was a former slave and he is an African so tough luck for him. But I was very, very intrigued by how he would tell the story of imperial travel and occupation

so I thought, "why not give him a narrative voice, why not let him tell the story?" And what then happens is that you actually turn things upside down, of course you do. It's - I think it's a very intriguing way of trying to come to terms with multi-dimensional realities is turning things upside down. Actually there's an Indian trope in the Sufi poetry of the Middle Ages which is called ulat bansi which means literary upside down

in which the Sufi philosophers thought that actually to provoke a new way of thinking

and a new way of looking at things, you have to turn them upside down. And the intriguing thing

is that I started off wanting to write a novel about Richard Burton as someone who not only travelled the world but who actually wanted to culturally adapt himself to different regions and traditions, as someone who actually wanted to undergo a metamorphosis, as someone who was a kind of chameleon, as someone who thought that cultural identity is very, very dynamic and flexible. But the more I wrote from the perspective of Sidi Mubarak Bombay, the more I started developing a very critical, and at times even, um, disappointed or even hateful perspective on my main hero because I saw the other side of all he did and all he thought. And the way I read - Another thing, I was very intrigued by what Antoni said about the surplus of information. I think the problem is that sometimes the responsibility of the authors to find new information. But very often, particularly if you're dealing with the 19th century and the 20th century you have too much information. And one of the ways that those in power actually suffocate what we might call truth is by burying it under a huge, huge, huge load of unimportant information so that it's very difficult to distinguish the necessary from the unnecessary. And it's very true about Richard Burton. You have ten biographies. And those ten biographies don't agree on anything substantial I mean, if you take his marriage.

It's a very weird marriage because he went - they went - he went on his honeymoon - their honeymoon - on his own. Which was, um, which was in Equatorial Guinea. So just imagine, you just got married and your husband says, "Well, darling, I'm going off to Equatorial Guinea. I'll be back in 18 months." People usually, in those days, did not return from Equatorial Guinea. But anyway, one of the biographies says this was a marriage made in heaven and the other one says never were two people less suited for each other. So to answer your question, Antoni, this is really a case of both authors writing the true story of the marriage. So when you have such a surplus of information I think it's actually very, very useful to get rid of it and to kind of internalise it to a point

where you start forgetting it. And I think that is what good novelists do. They try to find out as much as they can but then they forget that - they forget it on a superficial level. It's somewhere deep down within them. So they have the freedom to re-imagine and thus actually come closer to the complexity of reality

which I think really good novelists do. And I think I've talked for long enough. OK. Thank you. APPLAUSE Well, thank you. It seems that our panelists have, in fact, tried to answer the question, so you can all pass. The writer owns the past. No-one owns the past. Those in power own the past. Well, that is a spectrum, all of them with good points,

and all of them with significant substance of research behind them. And all of them very well, if I may pass judgment, very well written books. So the question that does seem to still be there - I thought we might evade it, but we haven't been able to evade it, 'Who owns the past?' And I happen to be the only historian on this platform. LAUGHTER

And I perhaps may be allowed to point out to the organisers the only female person. So I do feel a certain loyalty to my own profession about trying to get things right but I do actually have the last say. LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE That was naughty, wasn't it?

And I am supposed to ask the first question. So while you're organising your questions, here's mine. It's one that I'm asked sometimes. And I'll ask it of each of the speakers in their turn. Why did you choose that particular subject? Um, why I chose Napoleon. It was an accident, in a way. It starts - it's a fairly long story, but I collect old encyclopaedias. I collected an encyclopaedia Chambers' from 1897. Fantastic. You really see the prejudices of the time. You think an encyclopaedia's full of fact, it's full of prejudice, full of opinion. And I was doing a terrible thing. I was cutting out illustrations from this old encyclopaedia using them in what I call 'picture stories', creating works of art out of them. And I came across an entry on Napoleon and it said Napoleon had been to Egypt and I thought, that's funny.

I'd read a bit about Napoleon. I didn't know he'd been to Egypt. And I thought, "Why did he go to Egypt?" He went to Egypt when he was only 28 and he'd just been married, he hadn't been married long and he just wanted to see the world, and he decided he'd take 167 savants with him to keep him company, to write his story, and I'm tempted by Ilija's notion

that the State is the one who owns the past because Napoleon did exactly that. He wanted these people to write about him, the poets to praise him, the musicians to write great operas about him. He really was desperate to control the representation of what happened in that time in Egypt. He was the world's first spin doctor. He wrote marvellous letters back to the Directory in Paris saying how he'd won this battle and this battle. He did win battles initially but then all the battles went wrong. But due to the power of words when he came back to Paris he was treated as a hero, the hero of Egypt. But I wrote a short story out of that confrontation with Napoleon in the encyclopaedia and I didn't intend to do any more about it but three publishers came to me and said, "If you write a novel I'll publish that novel." And I'd just published The Layers of the City which is a philosophical novel - all my novels are philosophical, nothing much happens. Someone said to me actually, "In your books, nothing much happens, then nothing much happens again." LAUGHTER Which is interesting because I'm into repetition, I love repetition, and so that was sort of a nice little moment. So everyone told me that The Layers of the City was too dense, too philosophical, and a senior Australian writer took me aside and said, "You're doing it all wrong. Novels are something that send people to sleep. They just have to be marginally interesting so people stay awake for 15 minutes and then they fall asleep. Your novels are keeping people awake. No-one's going to buy them.

You're going to be a failure as a novelist." So I took this to heart and I thought, "Well, gee, if three publishers want a novel on Napoleon I can write a novel on Napoleon," which I've done. So it was in response to the desire of the other and it was a thoroughly intriguing thing to do. But I never want to write a novel based on source material ever again. I may, but I never want to. LAUGHTER I want to write contemporary novels. I've been writing one since 2003, and that's the next place I'm going to go to. APPLAUSE It's a question I get very often, and, um, it's a horrible cliche, but, um, because it was there. No one had done a book on Blackburn before. If anyone had, I wouldn't have done it. Someone had started one, but as soon as I started mine, he gave up the ghost, because he was living in Perth, and had limited access to the soldiers that were surviving from the Second World War. And we did a deal, and he posted over his material, and I paid him a couple of hundred dollars, and I was away. Never... LAUGHTER

I got a nice head start, so that was, ah... LAUGHTER ..that was pretty good, but, um, I actually address the question in my preface, and if you'll indulge me I'll read it to you,

because it has been edited by the excellent Michael Boland from Wakefield Press. "Inevitably, the question comes - 'why write a book about a long-dead soldier?' There are two preferred responses - launch into the long, standard spiel detailing Arthur Blackburn's many achievements. The alternative is to say, 'Because no one's done it before.' As I progressed on my long journey, I favoured the latter, partly because it was easier, but also because it was true. I remain astounded that this is the first biography

of one of Australia's greatest soldiers." So, um, for those of you who don't know the story, the potted story is he was one of the first ashore at Gallipoli, he was a very un-soldierly looking chap - he had flappy ears and he was a skinny, little solicitor.

He was quite frail when he was a child, told to give up lacrosse, because he was too frail. Um, this chap was then one of the first ashore at Gallipoli, the first 50 or so soldiers ashore at Gallipoli,

and made it further inland with a comrade, than anyone else did on that first day. And then - one reviewer said that that warranted a book on its own, but he went on to win his VC at Pozieres, in a truly remarkable VC stunt, as they say. Managed to survive the war, helped found the RSL in South Australia, helped found Legacy in South Australia. Three years in State Parliament, um, about 15 years as State Coroner, ah, and then the silly old fool re-enlisted for the Second World War at age 48, I think. Um, captured - he was a battalion commander, he captured, formally captured Damascus from the Vichy French,

ah, and was promptly told off by a snooty English colonel because this wild colonial was roaming the streets waving his slouch hat, saying, "I was first, I was first!" LAUGHTER The English gentleman was about to tell him off until his eye fell on his 1914-18 ribbons, and he noticed that he had a Victoria Cross, so he - the protocol in the British-Australian Army is that any soldier of any rank, be it field marshal down to private, must salute a VC winner. So, um, Blackburn was, in that sense, senior to him. Then, of course, he was brought back to fight the Japanese, he was captured in Java, promoted to brigadier, and then spent three and a half years getting beaten up, starved, tortured, et cetera. So, I just thought it was a good story. LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE You know, I think that's a very good answer - because no-one has done it before. I think, um, that's probably the reason why we write books. In my case, I wrote a novel about the 19th century, because the 19th century isn't over yet. LAUGHTER So, I thought it might actually -

it might be a good way to write the contemporary novel, so, um. The reason is very simple. The reason is the way Europe, or the so-called West talks about other regions and continents has been shaped by the 19th century - the language it uses, the conceptions, um, the terminology. It's - it all comes from the 19th century. So it's all based in an imperial project. And intriguing is, while I was researching for my novel,

and that took a long time - about seven years - one of the things I did is I looked at the Afghanistan Campaign of the British army in 1839-1840,

which, as you might know, was the biggest defeat in the history of the British Army. The Afghanis absolutely destroyed them, and they had to actually flee the country, leave the country, which I think is one of the reasons why they still like going there - they're still trying to get revenge for the beating that - you know, British are bad losers... LAUGHTER ..so they try to get revenge for the beating they got then. The amazing thing, in all seriousness, the amazing thing is that when you read reports by British generals, 1840 on Afghanistan - you could actually publish these reports today, and just change the names. It was the same language, the same perspective, the same way of looking at the Afghanis, the same way of analysing the problems,

and the same solutions. So actually, the way the West is treating Afghanistan has not changed in the last 170 years. Now, that's not too good if you believe in human progress. It's actually both daunting and terrifying, if you ask me. And this holds true for many, many other places.

I mean, whenever a European writes about Africa, he goes on and on, rambles on about tribalism being the main engine of divisiveness in Africa, and so on. But many of the tribes were invented by the colonialists. Tribe, in itself, is kind of a simplification of a far more complex and far more dynamic form of ethnic identity. So, I thought it would be hugely interesting to look at the 19th century, and to find out why we have still not overcome it. And the second thing is whenever I read a novel by a European author on, let's say, India or Africa, I noticed that the locals were minor figures. You know, it was like in the old Hollywood movies - if you were black, the only role they gave you was a servant. It took, like, 50 years for an Afro-American to get, you know, a substantial role in an American movie. So, I thought it would be actually really interesting to give Africans, Indians, Arabs a voice, and to put them on the same level, so actually, to have them as human beings with the same authority, and the same, um - with a narrative voice. And therefore, those two things, kind of motivated me

to write the novel. APPLAUSE Thank you. Well, now, this is a very grand, large crowd, I agree. And, ah, I'd like to invite you to ask questions of our writers - about themselves or their - well, within reason - LAUGHTER ah, and their work, even what they're going to do next, which is my other question, but I'll hang on to that one. So, do we have any comments? Questions?

Jill, perhaps I can ask a question first. Jill won the Premier's Non-Fiction Prize yesterday for non-fiction. I think we should give her a round of applause. While we have Jill here, I think we should use her. Don't you agree? (CROWD AGREES) While we have Jill here, I think we should use her. Don't you agree? (CROWD AGREES) (JILL LAUGHS) My question to Jill is, "Is there such a thing as a true history?" LAUGHTER When I set out to write the biography of Miles Franklin, I had no intention of turning it into a life's work, but the sources are very great, and I was doing it because I violently disagreed with the only other people that had attempted it, because they hadn't read the papers. So I did it because it was there, and also, I wanted to get it right. Maybe it's wrong to say, "Right", but I did aim - and I wonder if this is an approved of aim these days - I did aim to write an authoritative work. Can I have that word? I don't expect it to be the last, but I hope that anyone in future will simply have to pay attention to what I've done, that it is part of an ongoing discussion between the present and the past, which somewhere in there, truth does lie. But it's an ongoing thing. But I wouldn't dream of giving something the title, The True History Of, I think that's an insult to readers, actually. They can work out whether they think it's true or not, or valid. So, that's my answer, at least for an interim. APPLAUSE Ah, as well, you must come to the microphone and someone is there already - is that right? Go on then, off you go. Thank you.

I was intrigued by what Ilija was saying about the, sort of, western imperialistic, sort of, spin we seem to have on the histories and the things that we read. I was in Gallipoli a couple of years ago, and it seems that as Australians,

we've been fed all this stuff about our history that does, kind of, make something of Gallipoli, that I think it probably wasn't. And it's intriguing to hear what the Turkish people have to say about what Gallipoli was about. I was wondering how it might be that we can redress some of this and actually start to hear the histories

more from, um, not just one perspective. I mean, is that possible for authors to actually - I mean, obviously, people are starting to have a go at this, but to actually write history in a way that actually may take multiple perspectives - is that possible? I think, Ilija, that's your question. Um, I think it is. I think we're living in very interesting times, in that we've had, um - the last 50 years have completely revolutionised the form of history writing. I mean, we had the French school, which started looking at the everyday life, la vie quotidienne, of people. For the first time we had the subaltern studies, which, for example, wrote a completely new history of India.

So, it's a process in the making. We have very interesting books in the last few years about the history of slavery, from the perspectives of the slaves, as far as one can research that or re-imagine that. And, of course, we have a growing number of very good historians in countries which were formerly colonialised, which are now looking with a fresh eye on things.

So, I think, yes, in years to come, and in decades to come. We also have a growing number of authors who are actually multicultural and multilingual. I mean, of course, you always write in one language, but, um,

the eco-space in their head is multilingual, which, I think, allows you to depict the complexity of issues much better than when you just have one language and one perspective. So, I think, yes, I think we're in a good way. Would either of - yes? Yeah, I think oral histories are quite interesting. Wendy Lowenstein's Weevils in the Flour, talking to people who went through the Depression, so those sorts of accounts, first person accounts, are very interesting. There's a great history series called the Private Life History, published in France,

that tries to look at what the domestic intimate circumstances of people were like in the 18th, 17th, 19th centuries, et cetera. What did they do for bathing? What did they do for letter-writing? That sort of stuff, so I love that, sort of, intimate type of history. And, ah, another thing - back to oral history, but Studs Terkel, who interviewed people about their attitudes to work, interviewed people about the Second World War, and that was a great way of collecting different voices, so you have snippets. It's not just the one voice, it's multiple voices. So, the more of that sort of recording of what ordinary people think, the better, in terms of creating different types of history. There certainly is a need for different types of history, because the governments can try and control - quite naturally, want to control the amount of information, the type of information.

So in Australia, very big issue about nation-building, how we conceive of ourselves, how we see ourselves, and what our history has been. That's what governments always have been doing - they're always trying to control the presentation, representation of a country, of the individuals within. Well, you can see that thoughtful session in full, on our website. And that's all from me at Adelaide Writers' Week, but the festival fun doesn't stop here on Big Ideas. Tune in next week for all the highlights of the Perth Writers' Festival,

including sessions with Don Watson, David Finkel and Paul Kelly. That's on Big Ideas next Tuesday at 11:00am right here on ABC1. I'm Tony Jones and I'll see you then. THEME MUSIC Closed Captions by CSI

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