Beyond my family there are a few people who directly informed my life and who saw, or lit, the spark of promise in me. Special first off honour goes to Margaret Muller, my high school English teacher, for whom I strove to tame my wild run on sentences across essays and stories. Thank you for believing I could make it at the next level. And I did.
University was the place I dreamt of ever since I had learned such places existed. However, whereas I imagined ancient, monumental buildings, and darkened timber libraries, there was Bendigo. A collection of oddly shaped brown brick 1970s and 80s towers sitting on a hill in the outer suburbs of a regional Victorian town. It turned out it delivered exactly what I never knew I wanted from a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities. There was the sweep of historical traditions, literature and philosophy. The course made my narrow life wide with the magic of possibility. Finally, there were people who understood the things I was interested in.
Despite a degree or two, I can’t adequately convey the importance of Dr Roger Sworder to my intellectual growth. He founded and defended the course I studied. He introduced myriad students to The Odyssey, to Greek philosophers beyond Plato and Aristotle, and to a way of reading a text that influences me still. And I hope, for always.
His lecture delivery was magnetic. His stage presence held a restive student audience captive like none other, whether he was declaiming Constantine Cavafy or the Myth of Er, in his Oxford accent, or expounding the attributes of Parmenides.
Towards the end of my degree he was the first and only person to demand I attempt the Honours year. It was this act of trust, perhaps, out of many others, that lives with me most.
Dr Sworder supervised my Honours thesis with much patience and goodwill across a steaming hot summer in his little office crammed with books, but no computer, with its westerly window.
Sadly, it wasn’t my best work. In my grief for my mother, and inexperience, it never could be, but if I disappointed him, he never revealed it. After that I occasionally encountered Dr Sworder during my first attempt at a MA, and then whenever I could attend his public events and speeches. I was honoured to have him request a copy of my newspaper review of his 2003 Worner Lecture.
Life went on. I moved. He retired and I read his books and articles.
And now he has died.
I told one of my friends once that what we had taken part in wasn’t a degree, it was an initiation into an understanding of the cultural legacy of the Western world. We didn’t just parse The Odyssey, Dr Sworder immersed us in its symbolic meaning. He enriched the world. But such bald statements do not convey the profundity of the experience. And I am bereft not only because someone I admire has died, but because so many missed out. We precious few. We graduates.
Now, more than ever, we need intellectuals and writers such as Dr Sworder. I know this because he argued this best.
All that is left to say is that I am intellectually who I am, in part, due to Dr Sworder and his course. He and his colleagues in Bendigo shaped my interests and although it is many years since I was an undergrad, these interests remain. Thus, I can argue Enheduanna of Ur deserves the same level of sophisticated attention he brought to Plato and Parmenides.
Therefore, I am glad I met him. I am glad for his teaching and supervision. I am forever in his debt for Dr Sworder’s influence.
And I can’t stop crying.