Monday, March 27, 2006


Nothing seems ordinary any more. Everything seems exceptional. The sunset as I was driving home this afternoon was almost literally breathtaking- this warm rose glowtook up half the sky in a huge bank of clouds- like the whole sky had just become orange. It is funny how people think things 'are' a colour in an almost immutable sense. Like that the sky is blue or the mountains green.

Anyway ... I met a new world last week going to a US diplomats place in Sydney for a 'reception' I found myself presented to a crowd explaining my work/research/life in a unprepared speech. Afterwards lots of respectable looking old men came and discussed it with me and I felt myself explaining with some broad generalisations the nature of cross cultural communication and some of the issues that can arise... talking about ethics too and what is an appropriate way to research indigenous languages in Australia. After I had talked away for a while, I asked the man I was addressing who he was.... 'Justice suchandsuch' he replied 'advisor to the AIATSIS (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Institute) ethics committee', 'chairperson for legal rights of indigenous peoples (or something like that...!)' etc etc. I spent the next few seconds looking at my shoes and trying to remember what the hell I had just said! He was a gentleman though eased my embarrassment by inviting me to come and talk to his colleagues some time about the work I was doing.

This happened more than once- until I realised everyone in the room was some one to be reckoned with, vice chancellor of this, chairperson of that etc. etc. and I also realised that this scholarship is not 'for free' so to speak, there is a performance involved and I need to get my act together and get it right because the people there were really *listening* to me, you know? As far as they were concerned I was an expert and I realised they may never hear it from some one else so next time I will be a bit better prepared to express clearly and in detail what my goals are and why they are important and how they could benefit from being involved...

I wish I could adequately explain the scene.. there were all kinds of unrecognisable food, 'waiters' hovering on every corner to refill your glass, gently direct to the right room, take your coat etc, marble columns beautiful chandeliers (a huge beautiful concert piano!). There were five scholarship recipients there, two physicists, two lawyers and me. They were witty and eloquent and well dressed- maybe they had caught on quicker than me that we were there to exhibit ourselves...afterwards along with some of the US students here on exchange we went out to a bar (pretentious might be the word....) and in hindsight I realise that I have to stop being sociable and agreeing with things or nodding my head , when I am thinking ' I couldn't disagree more'!, I have the feeling that if I just really said what I thought in those situations it would probably be much more interesting and significant. To really stop trying to fit in with a group and remain true to my own values and ways of measuring worth and warmth of interaction. To this end- in round two is coming up in May and when the Honorable Johnny Howard himself comes and shakes my hand, I will have a few things to say. And this time i hope to have a couple of elders of Ngukurr around to help me keep it real-... I must say apart from a few moments, I did enjoy myself- it felt a little bit like an anthropological expedition and I learnt a lot (about myself too) and the people were kind. Only one person asked me 'why don't 'they' all just learn English', I laughed at first because I thought she was joking- but clearly she was not, and I suppose it is good sometimes to start with your most base assumptions and elucidate why you believe in them. I think she listened.


Blogger Catalin said...

Wow, Sophie! What a funny, interesting and odd experience. You've painted a good picture; I can quite imagine it, although I wish I knew how you were dressed (since you mention that they others were clearly aware of being on show).

Knowing you, I am sure you made a good impression and probably came across as more authentic than you realised, even if you were nodding politely instead of speaking your mind. You're right, too, I'm sure that speaking your piece would be more helpful and interesting than biting your tongue.

Good luck with the next do!

11:41 am  
Anonymous bulanjdjan said...

I second Catalin. It's so overwhelming to be in that world - just your own silent awareness of it and evalutation of it would have struck those you met there and perhaps given them cause to think about where you are coming from, no matter what you say or how you articulate yourself.

1:56 pm  
Anonymous bulanjdjan said...

When and where are you meeting John Coward?

1:57 pm  
Blogger Sophie said...

Rumour has it that he will be at the dinner I am going to in mid-May... but it could just be a rumour. And if he is there I might only have 3 seconds while I shake his hand to say something. 'Not Happy, John' comes to mind! Any suggestions?

Cat- the dress was 'business attire'- I had some beautiful new (heeled!) shoes that were my saving grace (I kpet looking odown at them thinking..ah at least I have the shoes...) and a dress- business woman kind of cut...but I still wasn't quite manicured up to the standard! The next invitation says 'lounge attire'- any ideas?!

6:08 pm  

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