Academic and Writer, Born 1934, Geelong Vic
As a writer and historian, Inga Clendinnen's interests lie in understanding how people think and introducing other people to the problems and lessons of history. She has received international acclaim for her studies of Aztec and Mayan cultures, and her book on the Holocaust was voted Best Book of the Year by The New York Times in 1999. Recently, she has also turned her attention to the historical relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
At the core of her work is the idea of difference: different individuals and cultures see the world differently, and this needs to be respected and nurtured. A recurring theme is the attitudes to violence, war and death that form an often unexamined part of every society.
With the same remarkable candour, perceptiveness and intellectual rigour that she brings to her work, Inga has been able to examine these universal concepts in relation to her own life. In her memoir, Tiger's Eye, she explored her reactions to a life-threatening illness. In this interview, she recounts many of her most formative experiences.
Growing up in Geelong in the 1930s and 40s, she felt suffocated by the quietness and order of suburbia and was repelled by her mother's laborious domestic routine. She recalls the financial pressure on the household in the post-Depression years and her brutal introduction to the realities of war, when the American servicemen her family billeted were killed or maimed. Scholarships to high school and then Melbourne University offered her a chance to escape.
Inga speaks frankly too about her marriage at the age of 20, the unexpected pleasures she discovered in motherhood, and the need to find a new role as a researcher and writer as her sons reached their teens.