Author Archives: Tom McLean

Doubtful Nationalities: A Josef Koudelka Retrospective

So, what nationality are you?” In my Omaha grade school in the mid-1970s, we’d ask each other this question with deep concern. I had friends who claimed Irish with pride (especially around St Patrick’s Day, or when the Boston Celtics were in the playoffs—thanks to a guy named Havlicek, but never mind). German was a […]

Enduring Hunger: Memorialising the Irish Famine Overseas

In the mid 1990s, the 150th anniversary of the Great Famine inspired Irish diaspora communities around the globe to commemorate the deaths of more than one million persons and the displacement of more than two million. These communities were faced with a challenge: how do we publicly memorialise death and survival? Is there a way […]

Moments’ Monuments: Laurence Aberhart’s “Anzac”

Every immigrant absorbs a new cultural matrix, some of which is predictable, some that surprises. When I moved to New Zealand, I thought I knew my adopted matrix pretty well: after all, I had read Erewhon, owned at least three Crowded House CDs, and admired the cinematic settings of Middle-earth. My aversion to Robbie Williams […]

Fitting In: Bendigo’s Golden Dragon Museum

Sometimes the travel gods are against you. Worse, sometimes you hit a bad streak, where your whole decision-making process is off, and one bad decision leads to another. I felt that way on a visit last summer to Bendigo, in the heart of Australia’s nineteenth-century goldmining region. On my first evening I had dinner with […]

You Decide: The Immigration Museum, Melbourne

Are museums our new spiritual centres? Like the cathedrals of past centuries, museums have become our architectural wonders. Tourists travel to the Louvre to venerate I.M. Pei’s pyramid as much as Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, and Bilbao has become a new pilgrimage site since Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum opened in 1997. Museums resemble places of worship […]

The Artist as Global Citizen: Cai Guo-Qiang in Brisbane

In the mid 1990s I taught English in Xiamen, a coastal city in southern China. Xiamen (also known as Amoy) has a lovely subtropical climate, and today it’s a favourite holiday spot among the Chinese. But from 1842 to the Second World War, it was a treaty port. After the First Opium War, the British […]

Immigrant Woods

My mate Pete and I had just left our Saturday morning coffee gathering when we noticed a tremble of dark feathers in the street. A female blackbird (which in fact is brown) was not doing well. Unable to fly, she had struggled through the grass and stumbled down the curb into the road. I picked […]

A Migrant’s California Mission

Growing up Catholic, I always struggled with the idea of proselytism. Our neighbours were Jewish and Protestant, but I never worried about their souls (my parents didn’t either, thank God). Twenty years later, teaching in China, I was happy to quietly “bear witness,” to attend religious services and support the small, local community of Chinese […]

A Polish Exile in London

What does the name Kosciuszko mean to you? Australians know it as their tallest mountain; New Yorkers know it as the bridge connecting Brooklyn and Queens; daytime television fans know it as the Mississippi town that gave us Oprah Winfrey. Residents of Washington DC, Chicago and Boston may have seen the name on an old […]

Transported

Sydney in winter. The brisk, bracing chill of a clear blue morning in early July (yes, northern hemisphere reader, July), which will quickly warm up to a comfy twenty degrees centigrade[1] before midday. Even so, Sydneysiders will stay bundled in their sweaters and scarves, thinking this is what winter feels like. To me it feels […]