Dr. Sinclair will tell us how Melech Ravitch – poet, traveller, and (until 1934) Executive Secretary of the Fareyn fun Yidishe Literatn un Zhurnalistn in Varshe – got wind of the approaching catastrophe of the Holocaust, and scanned the globe for a place of refuge. With this in mind he set out for Australia in 1933, and upon arrival mounted an expedition to the Kimberleys in the Northern Territory.
His account of the journey – written in Yiddish – and his numerous photographs, display a remarkable and unusual sympathy for the aboriginal people. Indeed, he saw in them a reflection of the suffering of his own people he had left behind in Europe.
Ravitch is an engaging companion. And if it weren’t for the historic tragedies that befell both Jews and Aborigines his journey would be the stuff of comedy.
In the 1980s his journey and experience was recreated on canvas by his famous son, Yosl Bergner. Still only seventeen, Bergner had followed his father to Australia, where he soon established himself as the conscience of Australian art. Like his father he felt a kinship for the Aborigines, magnified by the awareness of what exactly had befallen European Jewry. In 1950 Yosl Bergner arrived in Israel, where he eventually became one of the country’s most distinguished artists. Just as his father saw Australia as a sort of double-exposure – Europe over-laid upon Australasia – so Bergner juxtaposes Israel and Australia, producing a looking-glass image of the Promised Land. In short, the father presents a version of What-Might-Have-Been, while the son offers a portrait of a dreamer disappointed.
Clive Sinclair has published 13 books of fiction, travel, and autobiography, some of which have been given prizes. Early in his career he was selected as one of the twenty Best of Young British Novelists. His most acclaimed collection of stories – The Lady and the Laptop – won both the PEN Silver pen for fiction, and the Jewish Quarterly award for fiction. An earlier collection, Bedbugs, was recently republished by Syracuse University Press in its Library of Modern Jewish Literature. In 2008 he published Clive Sinclair’s True Tales of the Wild West, an exercise in Dodgy Realism. He also leads a double-life as an academic and critic: he has published a study of Isaac Bashevis and Israel Joshua Singer – The Brothers Singer – and writes regularly for the Times Literary Supplement. His association with UCSC began in 1969, when he arrived from England as a graduate student; it continued in 1980-81, when he returned as a Visiting Lecturer, as he did again in 2003.