Ali Cobby Eckermann's launch speech for Into the Suburbs
'You are my hope' is my favourite of the beautiful remarks from a father who loved his son. This is the story of a family physically exiled from their homeland by a dream for a better life in suburban Keysborough Australia, led by a father of high morals who is remembered for his wonderful smile. The boy is eleven years old when the adventure begins in Melbourne, the garden city is an entry to order and cleanliness so different from the busyness of Calcutta, set with a prospect of sunshine, clean air and a classless society. Teenage years imbibed with the importance of family amongst a world of strangers, a busy father and an independent mother, a curious son. Dad often reminds 'leave the past behind, create a new world' and in this book we realise this is often impossible.
As the family enters the mainstream of Australia the reality of being different is forced upon them in the schoolyard and in the workplace, their comfort in the politics of immigrants who live beside them, who remember their journeys across the seas with the caution 'look under your feet, there are no roots.' Yet the roots are set to grow through education and a shared love of books and reading, growing louder as the boy slowly grows through puberty to manhood.
When a special teacher enters his life he hears 'Words Enter Us' and a new seed is planted, nurtured by the loving hands of his father and mother, the slow elation of learning that emotion and language can change the world. Suddenly the patriarch is missing, a tragedy and mystery spilt into Port Phillip Bay, the wonderful smile that lit up rooms had become reluctant and now ceases forever. The young teenage son had once told his father 'I want to be a witness' and in the beautifully written memoir we are led to Witness, led inside the family home to join at the kitchen table, an honest portrayal of love. Does one ever recover from losing a cherished parent in such circumstances? Maybe. Maybe not. I am sure the imprint of those years helps define the poignant and powerful writing of my friend Christopher Raja, once Christopher Rajaratnam. Names can be changed quickly to accommodate others. Life changes constantly to lead us to our passions. The boy ponders in the classroom 'What will your passion be?' And we join here tonight to celebrate the passion of Christopher, who chose writing and has chosen to share his amazing story of migration with us.
Much love to Chris and Edith and to his daughters.
Ali Cobby Eckermann