What happens when you try to buy Russian literature in small town Queensland?
So I asked the old half-deaf biddy in the second hand bookshop if she had any books by Solzhenitsyn.
“Soldier Nixon, I don’t think so. Are they crime or thrillers or what ?”
Brushing aside the concept that Stalinist era oppression might have been a crime against humanity, I said,”No, SOLZHENITSYN”.
“Oh, Soldier Nitsyn ! No I don’t think we’ve got any. How do you spell that ?”
At which point I pretty much gave in.
I guess you’ve just got to accept that some battles just aren’t worth fighting any more…
This surprises me. Queensland has long had a significant Russian speaking population. When I was there in 1999, I saw the Red Army Choir perform. A very large percentage of the audience were long time residents of Queensland born in Russia. The first large wave of Russian apparently came to Queensland after the Bolshevik Revolution. If there is interest in this I will contact Tom Poole who used to teach Russian history at University of Queensland and see if I can get some further information.
A brief google search shows the Russian population in Queensland is even bigger, older and more important than I thought. The first noted Russian immigrants started arriving before the Bolshevik Revolution. Brisbane had a Russian language newspaper by 1912. At one time Russians were the fourth largest ethnic group in Brisbane. Alexander Kerensky even lived briefly in Brisbane. The story above strikes me as one of those persistant stories trying to show Queenslanders as ignorant yobos in contrast to the people of New South Wales and Victoria.
I don’t think Ian’s original post was particularly intended to show Queenslanders as ignorant yobos. For all I know, Ian could be a Queensland native himself – from his blog, he appears to be living in Queensland now.
I read the post more as an amusing story, showing up that some people know nothing about Russian literature. I’d imagine there would be a fair chance of receiving the same reaction from the doddery owner of a bookshop fifty miles outside of London, which also has a sizeable Russian population.
More information on the Russian diaspora in Australia would be fascinating to read, though. I for one know virtually nothing about it, other than it exists.
While I am sure there are large numbers of people everywhere in the world who know nothing about Russian literature. I suspect the percentage is less in Queensland than elsewher due to the fact that thousands of Russians started arriving there after 1905. Which is why the story kind of struck me as odd. Maybe that is part of the humour. Kind of like finding a book store owner in Pennsylvannia who had never heard of Kafka. I will see about putting together a post on the Russian diaspora in Queensland in the next week or so.
No, I’m not a Queenslander, I’ve only lived here for about twenty years, another 50 or so and I might qualify – to see Qld drop the steppebysteppe off the URL. If there are a lot of people with Russian ancestry in Queensland I can assure you they keep very quiet about it. I was merely rather saddened that the word Solzhenitsyn meant nothing to her. Saddened, but really not surprised. As I said in my original post ‘Russia and its culture doesn’t exactly rank high on the list of average Queenslander’s interests’. Nothing terribly contentious about that I would have thought.
I look forward to reading of Queensland’s Russian immigrants !
Well, the topic was too big to do all in one post. I have a post up now on the Russian immigrants in Queensland prior to 1919 and their involvement in radical socialist politics. Are you sure they don’t teach this stuff in schools in QLD? It seems kind of basic to the state’s history.
Otto, my wife is a very well educated Queenslander. I asked her if the Merivale Riots meant anything to her. Not a glimmer of recognition. They simply don’t teach Queensland history anymore. History, along with geography has become subsumed into SOSE, the nebulous Study of Society and Environment. Not too many years ago I employed a young Queensland graduate who did not know who Stalin, Ho Chi Minh or Mao Tse Tung were. She was smart enough to get into Uni but had zero general knowledge. I genuinely despair of this state’s education system.