Review – Tas Weekend (Mercury Newspaper)

It was with a mixture of shock and shame that I read this evocative collection of essays by James Dryburgh. Such is the breadth of his experiences Dryburgh might best be described as an intrepid traveller with a strong social conscience. He is also an author and social activist who now is a very welcome resident in Tasmania.

His essays here, mostly previously published, reflect his recent experiences in both Latin America and in Tasmania. In the 12 selections, some interesting comparisons between the two locations are made. It seems a long stretch to match the two. To me, they are worlds apart.

The shock to me personally, however, happens on several levels. Despite having some acquaintance with Latin American politics I was unprepared for the soul-searing reality of injustices, suppression and cruelty towards dissidents in countries such as El Salvador and Colombia as revealed here.

The interview with democracy advocate and presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt in Colombia late last century, in particular, reveals levels of barabarity in her incarceration by government authorities that defy belief.

Similarly, Dryburgh’s account of David, a young El Salvadorian teenager whose struggle for dignity and educational opportunities within an oppressive and draconian government regime, is saddening. Signifiantly though, despite the young man’s circumstances he endures and is eventually successful. It is a tribute to the strength o the human spirit, a common theme in this work.

In this essay, Dryburgh also draws attention to the often confusing and conflicting role of the church in these and similarly unstable societies. Translate this observation to current international events and readers will readily draw their own conclusions.

Also in the collection are some very personal insights into empathy and imagination in the development and enactment of human thought and behaviour. Unyielding Imagination is a good essay to start with, revealing much of Dryburgh’s character and the perspectives and values he holds.

His essay on the efforts of the local Brighton municipality to introduce compassion into the treatment of local indigenous people, asylum seekers and refugees provides an interesting insider perspective on bureaucratic machinations, fumbling and obscure decision making.

My shame or frustration is seemingly a part of a global inability or unwillingness to ameliorate the plight of those confronted by the circumstances such as those frequently described here. At least modern technology now enables us to expose those inequities.

Tasmanian academic and writer Peter Hay’s introduction is brilliant. He adroitly and eloquently connects the author’s recurring ideals and unveils his passion in combating injustice. It will serve to immediately engage even the most indifferent enquirer.

This small, unimposing, yet at times powerful work will challenge, enlighten and provoke those who wonder about disconcerting directions for humanity that are emerging. It deserves to be widely read.