Anthropology was not on offer when I enrolled at La Trobe as a mature age student in the 1980s. Robin Jeffrey, however, was teaching Peasant Studies, those peasants that anthropologists like to examine. Then with Grant Evans, sadly now deceased, we looked at the peasants through a development lens. Robin was also teaching on politics in England and India, a rather dry subject. He brought it to life though, through a mash of political affairs and the sexual proclivities of politicians, both at home and in the colonies. The real attraction in India however, was a man in a loin cloth, and even his sex life was not left out!
In year three, Marilyn McIntyre was teaching anthropology, and we studied sex work in Thailand and the Philippines. I began to really get a feel for the lives of peasants, and the imagination of Margaret Mead. Then a master’s thesis followed, on HIV, exploring the sexual culture of northern Thai peasants.
David Bradley started off as my supervisor, but as I was working and travelling it went on for some time. Dennis Altman finally led the process, giving him his ‘first big break’ as he became one of the leading lights in the AIDS world! For a while Robert Manne was also on board; maybe Dennis was away. I was a little confused (was I doing politics or anthropology?), even Joe Camilleri was suggested at one stage, but I guess he was busy with his rock band. David Bradley came back on the scene then, and I have him to thank for giving me the tools to go out and meet the natives – the peasants. I didn’t know I needed tools at the time, but they really worked as I finished up marrying a peasant.
Now I’m writing a book on sex and gender, it’s not all sex, its anthropology; on the life of the woman I married and her family. It’s political, of course, but includes development, sociology, philosophy, Buddhism, feminism, and other subjects in the well-rounded education that added to my maturity.