Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 6, 2020

Author Talk: Ros Collins at the Lamm Jewish Library of Australia

It has been too long a time since I’ve been able to catch up with my dear friend and author Ros Collins, so an opportunity to ‘see and hear’ her via Zoom through the auspices of the Lamm Jewish Library of Australia was too good to miss.  Readers may remember that I was at the launch of her latest book Rosa, Memories with Licence, and of course I read the book, but it was a most enjoyable session anyway.

Rosa is a migrant story, and the book is about exploring her own complex identity.  The catalyst for writing it came after a meeting with a couple of elderly migrant gentlemen as she was on her regular walk with her dog.  As they chatted they christened her Rosa, and they flirted with her which she says was very good for her self-esteem!  At the time she was on her way to see her Russian doctor and when she got home she reflected about this microcosm of Melbourne society: a Russian, a Greek, an Italian and a ‘ten pound pom’ who had another layer to her identity because  she is Jewish.

She shared a memory from Alice in Wonderland where Alice isn’t sure who she is, and she identified with that, even as a child growing up in Ilford in the UK.  There were only a handful of Jews in Ilford, and so her exposure to Jewish culture was mainly within the family.  Since they were mainstream orthodox, her mother kept kosher, and would have been horrified to see Ros tucking into school lunches of shepherd’s pie!  She also sang Onward Christian Soldiers with gusto at school and knew nothing much about Jewish culture.

At 18, she decided that she would be British rather than Jewish, because she considered Jewish communal life dull and conservative.  Her move to live independently, unmarried, was rather outrageous for the time.  And then she married Alan, a penniless Australian Jew who had no ‘status’ in the Jewish community, with whom she escaped to Australia.  Alan was emphatically Anglo-Aussie, and had no family to speak of, so they were a nuclear family of five, Ros and Alan and their three children.  But at this time, Australia had its influx of migrants and everybody came from somewhere else and Ros was at ease with that.

On retirement after a career as a librarian, Ros was planning a return to study, but was persuaded instead to catalogue the Kadimah library, much of which was in a very fragile state.  Many of these texts were irreplaceable fragments, in Yiddish, telling the story of the destruction of whole villages in the Holocaust.  The volunteers she worked with had all been born n Europe, and in summer when they were wearing short sleeves, she could see that many of them had tattoos inflicted by the Nazis.  Her growing awareness of the Jewish side of her identity was sparked by a question about where she was from, and he didn’t mean England, he meant where was her family from.  This was the catalyst for Ros to embark on a steep learning curve… discovering her Jewish identity, and this is the journey that she describes in the book.

There is, BTW, another book on the way… based on her husband Alan’s family history and involving a family convict…

Thanks to Australia’s Third World broadband network, my connection was a bit bumpy so this post is a bit disjointed.  But I hope you get the flavour anyway!

The book is available from Fishpond: Rosa: Memories with Licence, direct from Hybrid Publishing or from your favourite indie bookshop.



  1. Grrr. Me and time zones. I really was hoping to catch this. I wonder if it will be accessible as a replay?


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