2005 John Monash Scholar Associate Professor Ben Etherington shares his story as a John Monash Scholar returning to Australia after his studies. (His profile and contact details can be found here.)
I returned to Australia in 2012 after seven years at the University of Cambridge as a PhD student and then Faculty Research Fellow to take a job at Western Sydney University. Medieval streets were replaced with commuter highways, a small elite student body with a large and diverse cohort. I joined the wonderful Writing and Society Research Centre at Western Sydney – a group that takes a ‘whole of book’ approach to writing and criticism. Its staff include publishers, novelists, poets, critics, translators, editors and scholars. It is home to one of Australia’s best independent publishers, Giramondo, the esteemed literary journal Sydney Review of Books, and writing groups for emerging authors from Western Sydney.
I have continued research into primitivism begun at Cambridge, publishing Literary Primitivism with Stanford University Press in 2018. Primitivism is a utopian idea that posits humanity’s ideal state as being an originary natural condition. It has gained new traction in the face of impending environmental catastrophe, something I discussed with the ABC’s Philosopher’s Zone, and which is the subject of new research into ‘rewilding’. I have also travelled regularly to the Caribbean to conduct research on the history of poetry written in the region’s distinctive creole languages. This research is being supported by ARC Discovery Project funding (2022-2025). A notable offshoot has been producing radio features for the ABC. With fellow 2005 Monash alumnus Matthew Baker, I produced a feature on Jamaica’s unique dancehall music scene, and, with the Sydney-based Jamaican novelist Sienna Brown, a documentary on Caribbean convicts in NSW.
Another exciting initiative within the Centre has been ‘Other Worlds’: an ARC-funded project exploring alternatives to the cosmopolitan ideal of ‘world literature.’ This has involved working with some of Australia’s best writers to explore the particular and often unexpected ways in which they make connections with writers from other places. One outcome of the project was collaborating with the Waanyi novelist Alexis Wright and the Gangalidda activist and leader Clarence Walden on an ABC feature about his life and times. I was the first to introduce Wright’s work into the curriculum at Cambridge when I taught there a decade earlier.