My dear Home Folk,
So begins Tressie Madden's first letter home to her family in Melbourne in January 1904. Tressie had been sent to Egypt, and to her doctor-brother Frank, by her family who were concerned about her poor health, and her letters describe a social whirl in a bustling, exciting, cosmopolitan city.
For over a year, we have been 'visiting' early-20th-century Cairo, and other cities, villages, camps and farms, through our research. Through the letters, photographs, diaries and souvenirs sent home, we've been able to glimpse the experiences of Australians and New Zealanders who travelled to the region we call the Middle East. Josh has focussed on the writings and photos of New Zealand soldiers and nurses who served in the Middle East during the Second World War. He has discovered a rich range of views influenced by soldiers' fears and homesickness, sense of adventure, knowledge of the Bible and education in Classics. Soldiers and nurses photographed scenery, sites, and local peoples; they shopped and ate at stalls and cafes, as well as in the homes of locals. There will be more from Josh in the coming weeks...
For my part, I have been surprised at how many versions and reflections of the Middle East appeared at home in Australia and New Zealand. The souvenirs and presents bought by those who were overseas were worn - and worn out - and displayed, and decoration, new architecture, cinema, novels and fashions were all influenced by 'Eastern' glamour. (White) Australians 'discovered' the outback and became much more aware of the desert in their own country, drawing comparisons with other 'desert peoples'. And immigration, from Lebanon in particular, meant that even small-town Australians and New Zealanders had contact with Middle Eastern peoples. All of these versions of Middle Eastern cultures, no matter how partial or filtered through other lenses, shaped Australasians' ideas of what the region was, and who lived there.
In the coming months we'll be posting snippets from our research for you to enjoy. Feel free to get in contact with us, or to leave a comment on one of our posts.