Travellers’ tales have long starred curious misfits eager to sample different ways of life in faraway places. In On the Road (1957), Jack Kerouac writes of fleeing his cultured, sedentary New York milieu for the company of the insatiable ‘Dean Moriaty’, who, rather than analysing the world from the sidelines, ‘just raced in society, eager for bread and love’. Dharma Bums, published a year later, presaged the birth of the backpacker and predicted ‘a great rucksack revolution’ of young people ‘refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn’t really want anyway’. Fellow Beat icon William S. Burroughs observed of his friend’s influence: ‘Kerouac opened a million coffee bars and sold a million pairs of Levis to both sexes. Woodstock rises from his pages.’ Adelaide girl Elsie O’Reilly, the hippy heroine of Lemniscate, belongs to the Woodstock generation and subconsciously follows in the footsteps of Kerouac and his Beat compatriots. She marches against the Vietnam War in Australia and dances in the streets of London when Gough Whitlam is elected prime minister. She is hungry to experience life beyond the staid constructs of her Catholic upbringing. When we meet her, she is three years into her world trip, traversing Asia on her meandering way home.
Jo Case is senior writer/editor for the Wheeler Centre. Her previous roles have included editor of Readings Monthly, the newsletter for Readings Books & Music, books editor of The Big Issue, co-editor of their annual fiction edition, and associate editor of Kill Your Darlings. Her reviews, essays and opinion pieces have been published in The Age, The Australian, and The Sydney Morning Herald, and her short stories have been published in the Sleepers Almanac and Best Australian Stories. Her first book, Boomer and Me: A memoir of motherhood, and Asperger’s, was published by Hardie Grant in Australia (April 2013).