Indian Jute in Australian Collections: Forgetting and Recollecting Transnational Networks

Main Article Content

Andrew Hassam


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.

Article Details

Author Biography

Andrew Hassam, University of Wollongong

Andrew Hassam is Visiting Fellow in the School of English Literatures and Philosophy at the University of Wollongong. He is currently researching the production of Bollywood movies in Australia, as well as completing a monograph on changing Australian attitudes to British migrants. His most recent writing has appeared in Food, Culture and Society (2009) and Studies in South Asian Film & Media (2009), and he is editor of Bollywood in Australia: Transnationalism and Cultural Production (2010). He is a member of the Editorial Boards of the Australian Historical Review and History Compass, and a Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy.


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