Jewish-Australianness and Gillian Polack’s ‘Melusine’

Gillian Polack is an important Australian writer and Medievalist who was born and raised in Melbourne. Her heritage and religion have had a great influence on her writing, but not only that – her Jewish-Australianness shows us the importance of representation and diversity in print media.

Polack shows in her writing and in her interviews that the strength and empowerment that came from her Jewish-Australianness should not be underestimated. It shows that bicultural identities should be valued and supported in order to underline the beauty of it. Being part of one culture does not eradicate or diminish the other part of a person and even showcases that a person is not half of anything. They are a whole entity, an entire and complete person that is part of more than one culture and religion. Jewishness does not disregard one’s Australianness, neither does one’s Australianness disregard their Jewishness. On the contrary, transcultural identities enrich the amount of perspectives that come into play and show the diversity of society and represents the state of the world. This is emphasised ever so effortlessly by Polack, for instance in her novel The Time of the Ghosts.

Her protagonist is a fairy named ‘Melusine’, also referred to as Lil (presumably short for Lilith) at times – Melusine’s background derives from the European folklore figure and is described as half woman and half serpent or fish. In The Time of the Ghosts, however, ‘Melusine’ is depicted as a Jewish fairy. This fascinating occurrence of both Melusine’s having more than one identity comes as no surprise once we remind ourselves of Polack’s expertise in Medieval studies. Her writing strikes the audience’s interest especially when you bear in mind that there is a personal nuance and influence on it as well. You can approach this perspective from a biographical point of view by taking Polack’s medievalist background into account and take a closer look at ‘Melusine’, the folklore figure and Polack’s character ‘Melusine’ – the first one is a woman who must hide her true identity as a female spirit of fresh water from her husband and her surrounding and the other one as a fairy who has to hide her Jewish identity as well as her fairy-being in order to protect and shield herself at times.

This depiction in Polack’s The Time of the Ghosts indicates that all the different cultures that a person consists of make them who they are. ‘Melusine’ serves as a great metaphor in this sense and helps people to understand the struggles of growing up in multiple and mixed cultures. The beauty and enrichment it can bring to you once you learn about your cultures and beliefs by getting in contact with them is an important aspect in staying in touch with your culture and familiarising yourself. Learning your language or also trying to connect to your cultures’ cuisines are tools to stay in contact with your heritage, as Polack herself has done through cooking with her Jewish grandmother and trying to learn Yiddish and Hebrew.