Australia in the Salman Rushdie Archive

Vijay Mishra


The day of the fatwa (Valentine’s 1989) has a connection with Australia. On that very day Rushdie was scheduled to attend the memorial service for his friend Bruce Chatwin (13 May 1940 – 18 January 1989). We read about this in Rushdie’s memoir Joseph Anton. More interestingly, though, there is more in the Rushdie archive deposited in Emory University’s Woodruff Library about his friendship with Bruce Chatwin.   In the archive we discover  that with Bruce Chatwin Rushdie  had travelled, in 1984, to ‘the heart of Australia, which is known as  the “Red Centre” to those  who live there and as the “Dead Centre” to those who don’t’ (Box 4, folder 12). At the ‘Red centre’ of  Australia he had climbed  up Ayers Rock (for that was then the name of Uluru), was reminded of  the tale of the so-called ‘dingo baby’ (Meryl Streep had made it an international cause célèbre in Evil Angels), and in a fleapit of a motel was told the story of  the already drunk Douglas Crabbe,  the 36-year-old  long-distance truckie   who, refused a drink at the Motel,  drove his truck into the bar killing five people. In his defence Crabbe had said that the action was totally out of character as he loved his truck as if it were his own (children). Five years on, Rushdie, remembers this anecdote and wonders if people were willing to execute a writer because they loved their truck (their reading of blasphemy) more than human life. Looking back he thought, climbing up the acared Uluru was also blasphemy. Mercifully climbers were no longer permitted to ascend the massive rock. And then we get this note:
It was on the flight home from that Australian journey in 1984 that he had begun to understand how to write The Satanic Verses.
In the archive there is a 2-page ms titled ‘Notes Towards an essay on Australia.’ In this paper I examine notes Rushdie made during his Australian trip to offer an outline of what the shape of the essay may have been had Rushdie written it. And , additionally, what bits of  Australia make their way into The Satanic Verses.


Salman Rushdie; Bruce Chatwin; memoir

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