The author on “Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from #Asia and the #Pacific”

Common views of Asia and the Pacific, from the outside, often confer undue prominence to such things as typhoons, tsunami, earthquakes, malaria or even magic. While these can be confronting realities in the Asia-Pacific region beyond such differences even more remains unseen and misunderstood. Frequently unacknowledged are the influences Asian and Pacific cultures exert far beyond their borders.


Seen & Unseen: A Century of Stories from Asia & the Pacific is 29 stories inspired by one family’s experience spanning three generations of change. It blends anthropology, botany, ecology, economics, geography, history, politics and spiritual traditions. While each story is cradled in reality and crafted with a careful eye for historical accuracy, frailty of memory, the natural passing of people and the need to protect others has rendered some fictional even when they are not.

Influencing this work is an acceptance that interactions with people from our own culture are generally tangible and familiar, but when beyond our immediate culture things change. Now meaning and understanding must often be negotiated in intangible, non-rational and unseen ways. Foucault’s notion of the third space has influenced this work. Another influence is the Balinese belief that reality is an interaction of Sekala (The Seen) and Niskala (The Unseen).

Precisely what comprises the unseen realm varies throughout the region. What might be understood as mere micro ecology, in the developed world, can have spiritual explanations in some Asian and Pacific cultures. In rational secular society people commonly eschew magic as mythology or superstition, yet in parts of Asia and the Pacific what might be seen as myths and misconceptions can possess the power of reality.

The stories

I begin this journey in 1914 with Sid Thompson and D Company, a tale inspired by the little known ANMEF sent to capture New Guinea from Germany. While easily defeating the enemy unseen forces took an enormous toll. Sid Thompson also appears in Red Poppies and Janur. Several stories address changing Australian views of Japan through the encounters of ordinary people. Joss Sticks and Cracker Night and An Encounter with White Australia reveal Asian influences in Anglo-Australia of the 1950s. First Landfall and The Sublime to the Horrific chronicle my own first bumbling attempts at being in Asia. Some 15 stories are set over an 18-year period in Indonesia from the comfort of urban to life to that of forest people yet to develop the habit of money. These begin with tales about engaging with manifest cultural differences and lead into matters of more global significance. Campaign and The General Election take two Australians and Indonesian friends through a transition to democracy. An Unusual Kind Of Thunder and In The Charnel House deal directly with the Bali Bombings of 2002 while My Second Meeting With Jonathan unfolds in its aftermath. Singapore 43 years On is about returning to Singapore, a city transformed. Vietnam A War Revisited is a story of the anti-war movement and the draft told retrospectively from Hanoi. Finally, Sid Thompson returns in the more metaphysical tale Headland.

The basic and enduring interplay of the seen and the unseen worlds is of great significance to those of us from the land that’s girt by sea. While we might choose not to see, to look inwards and to rejoice in the notion that our land abounds in nature’s gifts, regional and planetary systems are unfettered by such introspective cultural constructions.


You can purchase the book now from Amazon



One thought on “The author on “Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from #Asia and the #Pacific”

  1. Often-Unacknowledged Asian influences in #Australia from the #Baiini and #Macassans to the present

    # Makassan Influence

    In pre-contact times, the majority of Aboriginal people living in what is now known as ‘Australia’ probably spoke between 5-8 languages fluently (see Blake 1991, inter alia). Multilingualism was the norm in Australia B.C. (‘Before Cook’).

    Moreover, there was very little outside influence on Australian languages and cultures before colonisation, other than that of the Macassan language/culture, which has left significant and permanent traces on a number of the Arnhem Land languages of northern Australia. Before Australia ever existed as a political entity in the sense that it does today, Macassan (aka Makassan) sailors from the island formerly known as The Celebes (now called Sulawesi and part of Indonesia) regularly visited the coastal shores of Australia’s north, looking for trepang (also known as bêche-de-mer, sea-cucumber and by several other names), a type of sea slug that was regarded as a delicacy and an aphrodisiac in parts of Asia, and which the Makassar sailors would on-sell to the Chinese in particular.

    In many respects this inter-cultural experience was quite dissimilar from that brought about by the British colonisation that occurred later, these long-term, regular Macassan forays into Yolngu waters and islands did have a significant impact on local Indigenous Australian population.

    Russell discusses these little known facts that ALL Australians need to know in his book…


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