In Transit: Migration and Memory in the Writings of Martin Johnston and Dimitris Tsaloumas

Julian Tompkin


In August 1964 Martin Johnston boarded the Ellinis in the port of Piraeus, destined for Sydney, Australia, bringing to an end his 14-year estrangement from the land of his birth. Johnston, who had lived abroad most of his life in England and Greece, would return as a literal migrant to his own country. It was a theme that would prove fecund and deeply allegorical for the then 17-year-old son of authors George Johnston and Charmian Clift, later manifesting in his poetic works such as In Transit: a sprawling 14-part paean to Johnston’s immutable sense of displacement.


A little over a decade before, in 1952, Greek poet Dimitris Tsaloumas would complete the same metamorphic journey, fleeing his Dodecanese homeland and arriving in Melbourne, Australia where he would take up the uneasy mantle of Australia’s Hellenic poet in exile. Despite parabolic overtures of assimilation, paradoxical themes of longing and dislocation pockmark Tsaloumas’s vast canon, tethering an uneasy union between his two divergent worlds both ancient and contemporary; familiar and profoundly alien.


This essay explores the lives and comparative themes of exile in the works of both Johnston and Tsaloumas—writers who both identified as Xenos, a Greek word that translates as both ‘guest’ and ‘stranger’—and investigates the often incorporeal, irredeemable and contradictory natures of nostalgia and belonging.


Literary expatriation; Exile; Dimitris Tsaloumas; Martin Johnston

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