British and Multicultural
The second “Letter from... Sydney”: Jennifer Gaschler is learning about Anglo-Saxon traditions down under.
Dec 13, 2019
There are over 200 clubs and associations at the University of Sydney. They are run by students with a lot of enthusiasm, who are willing to put in the time and energy. It’s a great opportunity to meet people from all over the world. I joined the Sydney University Dramatic Society, known for being the oldest continual theater company in Australia.
I designed the set for our production of “The Bleeding Tree.” The play by local playwright Angus Cerini is about domestic violence in a small town in the outback, so the stage floor was covered in desert flowers. I get to share my own cultural background in our next show when I direct “The Trial” by Franz Kafka.
All the instructors in the performance studies department are also active in the theater community. One of them asked me to help with his documentary play, in which Afghan immigrants perform Persian poetry. Even though Australia is known as a multicultural project that has succeeded, there are currently strong political voices calling for limits to the number of Muslim refugees allowed into the country. The theater project provides a counter voice and shows that the newcomers aren’t showing up empty handed, but have a rich culture that they bring along.
An Aboriginal director is currently working at the university on a production of his play about his personal experience of forced adoption. Children from Aboriginal families were taken from their homes without consent and given up for adoption to white families in order to assimilate them. The practice continued into the 1970s. I am doing an internship with him in order to gain insights into past and persisting forms of racism for my master’s thesis.
I also sing in the university choir, which was founded 161 years ago. British traditions live on here, even though the singers are as colorful as the campus – people from Australia, China, India, Japan, Southeast Asia, and Europe all come together to make music. We wear academic robes when we perform, and before meals for official festivities they still sing “God Save the Queen,” even though the national anthem of Australia was officially changed to “Advance Australia Fair” in 1984. Our Christmas concert was held in the Great Hall, which always makes me think of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter books.
As far as the temperatures go, it doesn’t feel very Christmas-y. The heat and drought have led to numerous bushfires, which have been making headlines around the world. The entire city of Sydney is covered in a haze of smoke that makes everything look like a sepia photograph. Some days the air quality is worse than in Delhi. It has even rained ash. While many Australians refuse to let it dampen their Christmas cheer, there are still huge demonstrations every week calling for more climate protection.