Indian Jute in Australian Collections: Forgetting and Recollecting Transnational Networks

Andrew Hassam

Abstract


Indian jute sacking played an essential role in Australian life for over 150 years, yet its contribution to Australian development and its Indian origins have been barely recognised in Australian public collections. What has Australian history gained by this erasing of jute from public memory? Wool, sugar and hop sacks are displayed in public collections as evidence of an Australian national story, but their national dimension depends on the cultural invisibility of jute and jute’s connections to the stories of other communities in other places. Developing an awareness of the contribution of Indian jute to the development of Australia requires an awareness not simply that jute comes from India but that the construction of national identity by collecting institutions relies on forgetting those transnational connections evident in their own collections. Where jute sacks have been preserved, it is because they are invested with memories of a collective way of life, yet in attempting to speak on behalf of the nation, the public museum denies more multidimensional models of cultural identity that are less linear and less place-based. If Indian jute is to be acknowledged as part of ‘the Australian story’, the concept of an Australian story must change and exhibitions need to explore, rather than ignore, transnational networks.

Keywords


Australia; India; Jute; material culture; national identity; transcultural networks

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