Telling stories for the Martians

It’s a late summer afternoon in Sydney and writer Anna Funder walks with a languid grace into a cafe with an industrial air – plain tables and raw concrete surfaces. Outside the heat is fierce and the light harsh yet Funder, slender, pale and the very model of sangfroid, is her own microclimate.

Last year the 49-year-old, Melbourne-born writer returned to Australia after nearly four years in New York with architect husband Craig Allchin (BArch 1989), three young children at serious risk of becoming precociously Americanised, and 16 cases of luggage.

Allchin had continued to work in Sydney during their time in the US – “a long commute”, says Funder, with a slight curl of the lip and a generous dose of irony.

This year she starts work at Sydney’s University of Technology, from which she has a doctorate in creative writing, in an honorary role that allows her freedom to write without the shackle of a heavy teaching load.

Anna Funder

New York winter: Anna Funder before her return home.

Family seems to have been the chief motivation for her return. “So many things become clear only when you do them,” she says as her gaze falls to the white tabletop, “and for someone who works with their imagination I’m bad at imagining what they might be like.

“In time we realised that we would always be foreigners if we stayed in America. We would always be at one remove from the society, and at one remove from our children who are absolutely a part of that culture.”

But the move feels good. Funder (BA(Hons) 1988, LLB(Hons) 1991, MA(CrWrtg) 2002) spent the first month walking around Sydney taking photographs. “It was so beautiful,” she laughs, seemingly embarrassed at the pure simplicity of the emotion. “Australia is a fantastic country.”

In place of America’s excitement and intrigue, and the physically intimidating mass of New York city – the family lived in Brooklyn – she is now “in a confident place to write from, a place I know”. But in a tacit admission that she might not know the place well enough, she is reading about early colonial Sydney when we meet, and excited by the story.

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