My name is Michelle Aung Thin.
I am the 2017 National Library of Australia Creative Arts Fellow for Australian Writing, supported by the Eva Kollsman and Ray Mathew’s Trust.
My fellowship project is titled Cosmopolitan Rangoon through the eyes of Gordon Luce or, how the politics of authenticity shape the intimate, and I will be working with private papers from the National Library of Australia’s Luce Collection. Gordon Luce was one of Europe’s foremost scholars on Burma and lived in Rangoon from 1912 until 1964. Here is a link to the Luce Collection at the NLA.
The NLA Fellowship is an important part of my research for my second book, which is about returning to Burma, the country of my birth.
I left Burma, now Myanmar, with my family when I was still an infant, the year after the military coup. Like many who emigrated, we were not allowed return visas until relatively recently. Which meant we were separated from my great grandmother and my grandparents and any sense of what Burma was.
I went back for the first time a few years ago and my current project is about the experience of at last seeing Yangon, the city of my birth. I found myself a witness to the aftermath of decades of military government. I searched for my own past. I am Anglo-Burmese, of mixed Burmese, Indian, Dutch and German descent. My family’s story roughly follows the arc of Burmese annexation, from Vandockum, a Dutch sailor stranded in the region who turned to piracy: to his grand-children, who profited directly from the proceeds of colonization: to my grandmother’s encounter with a Japanese Photographer known only as K, which seemed to mark the end of empire and their cosmopolitan world; to my own parents, who were caught out by increasingly violent nationalism after World War Two.
What I shared with the Burmese I met and spoke to was a sense of lost home, a lost nation and lost time. But as I walked the streets of Yangon, searching for evidence of my own history, I realized that no matter how much I wanted to be connected to the city of my birth, I itched to be on the move, at-home in many places. Like Canada, where I grew up. Or Australia, where I live now.
So, where do we belong? In the homes we are born into or the homes we make for ourselves?
To buy a copy of my first book, The Monsoon Bride, published by Text, click here.