Mena Kashmiri Abdullah: Australian Poet & Writer

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      Mena Kashmiri Abdullah: Australian poet, story writer, who explores the overt tensions and hidden delights of an Indian upbringing in rural Australia. Born in 1930, at Bundarra, New South Wales, to sheep-farming immigrant parents. She was among the first in the country to write of ethnic differences at a time when the White Australia Policy was still active. 'The Red Koran' (1954), her first published poem, draws on the disparity between location and inheritance to inform the bush ballad with Indian folklore. Appearing in the Bulletin in 1954, it was anthologized in Australian Poetry (1955) as was her poem 'The Prison' (1957).

      Her elliptical short stories are vivid with landscape and tradition and tell of the quest for identity and enchantment in an unfamiliar land. What was to be done with a dark-faced Indian child who was a second generation Australian?' asks 'Grandfather Tiger' (1956). Although all but three of her stories collected in The Time of the Peacock (1965) - were 'in collaboration with' the poet, Ray Mathew, it is generally thought that he was more an influence than a co-author. JAH Abra (1978) Joan Barfoot's first book, later reissued in Britain as Gaining Ground (1980), won the Books in Canada First Novel Award. Dealing with the betrayals of domesticity; it shows the female protagonist searching for an identity separate from that of her husband and family. Although conditioned to be dependent, and even though nothing is more frightening than freedom and uncertainty; Abra nevertheless flees a world in which her sole function seems to be circumscribed by a socially constructed role of wife and mother. Leaving the suburban security of husband and children, she goes to live in an isolated cabin, free from human contact, clocks and mirrors.

      Through a chosen life of self-sufficiency and the immediacy of living in close contact with nature, Abra gains physical strength and sharpened senses. Once deeply in touch with herself, she is ready and able to re-evaluate her life and account for her actions when her daughter tracks her down. In this women-centric fiction, Barfoot, in realistic and intense detail, shows the protagonist's achievement of the inner peace and strength that formerly eluded her.

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