Toots

Toots Benedicta was my paternal grandmother, born in what was then Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, resplendent island, in the early 1900s, emigrating to Australia in the late 1940s. Her story is a complex one, and our relationship was a distant one. I remember meeting her only a handful times before she died. I wish that we could have danced together, like I did as a child with my maternal grandmother. But familial dynamics structured by race and class living under the spectre of the White Australia Policy, seemingly made this an impossibility. I’m sure she would have been a great dancer.

Map of Ceylon from the 1911 Census by E.B. Denham

These last weeks have been full, of books, of sounds, of tracing the lost and the impossible. The histories of Sri Lanka, especially its colonisation by the Portuguese, Dutch and British. Searching for why my family left, how they were able to arrive in a country with an immigration policy of whites only, seeking to better understand who my ancestors might be, who they were. What was their role in the history of Sri Lanka? How were their lives shaped by the waves of colonisation? Why is everything so secretive? Were they running from something? Why don’t they fit any known narrative? What have I of them now? What have I always had of them? The fleeing, nomadic, running, slipping through regimes of documentation, never fitting, always mixed, fluid. Never this nor that. And on we go, dancing through the stratosphere of our intertwined-intergenerational-diasporan histories.

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