Farewell to a poet and champion of new literatures

SydDr Syd Harrex – poet, pioneer in international literary studies and one of Flinders University’s original academic cohort – has died at the age of 79.

Tasmanian born and educated, Dr Harrex joined the newly established Department of English at Flinders as a foundation lecturer in 1966. In 1977, he founded the Centre for Research in New Literatures in English (CRNLE) to promote research into the English language literatures of India, Africa, the Caribbean, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore and Australasia.

The first centre of its kind in the world, CRNLE ran a writer-in-residence program that attracted prominent authors and academics and also hosted numerous international conferences. Among CRNLE’s associate members were Nobel Prize-winning Jamaican poet Derek Walcott and eminent Indian novelist RK Narayan.

Over its 30 years of existence, the Centre was a prolific publisher of literary criticism, including the CRNLE Reviews Journal, establishing a network of international scholars and creating a legacy that continues in the form of Flinders-based online journal Transnational Literature.

In addition to his extensive research output, Dr Harrex published seven volumes of poems, including the critically acclaimed Atlantis and other poems. His poetry has appeared in national and overseas periodicals and anthologies, including the Oxford Book of Modern Australian Verse.

Syd, as he was universally known, will be fondly remembered as a charismatic, generous and influential teacher; many of his numerous postgraduate students went on become academics in Australia and overseas.

Emeritus Professor Graham Tulloch said that Dr Harrex was a man with a huge capacity for warm and lasting friendship with people of different cultures from around the world.

“He put Flinders in the map as a centre for study in the new literatures, and brought a number of very distinguished visitors to the University, among them Jack Unterecker, P Lal, Eddie Baugh and CD Narasimhaiah,” Professor Tulloch said.

“Syd also gave enormous encouragement to many young academics and to his postgraduate students.”

Dr Harrex retired from Flinders in 2008, and despite failing eyesight continued to write poetry at his homes in the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island.

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7 thoughts on “Farewell to a poet and champion of new literatures

  1. Condolences to Syd’s family and friends. He was an inspirational academic that will not be forgotten.

  2. Syd was one of my tutors when I was studying English for my BA in the early 70s and he was a great mentor and always inspiring. After graduating and joining the School as an academic in 1999, Syd remained a friendly face and a mentor for many. Read his poetry and you will see why he will be sorely missed. Vale, Syd!

  3. All of us involved in the study of literatures from postcolonial societies will miss Syd Harrex. He was a larger than life character and a man of great warmth. His work on South Asian English literature pioneered much that followed and he will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

  4. Sad news indeed. Syd’s interest and encouragement led to me doing my PhD in postcolonial literature with CRNLE in 2000-03. I own many of his poetry volumes, inscribed with beautifully cryptic words, and I very fondly remember by Honours class of two with him in 1999. Always funny, thought-provoking and encouraging. He will be missed.

  5. Syd’s passing will be felt by many. This is a sad and reflective time. For me, Syd was a remarkably generous and insightful supervisor. In terms of his contribution to the study of New literatures in English, Syd was truly inspirational, opening up to students exciting new fields of literary studies and he was always there to support postgraduate students in their explorations and analysis.

    I am very grateful for the experience of working with Syd and deeply appreciative of his help in establishing my academic career. I believe this is true of many people.

    Thanks you, S. C. Harrex.

    Ron Blaber

  6. So sorry and saddened to hear of Syd’s death. As others have remarked, he was not just an original and prolific scholar and poet, but also a generous nurturer of younger colleagues. Some years back, I was privileged to join CRNLE for a term. Syd’s door was always open, and the door of the office he assigned me had Anna Rutherford’s name on it, so I knew I was in the right place! Wednesday lunches at the Flinders staff club were a highlight of every week, of course, but cherished memories of time with Syd go beyond the academy. After work at Flinders, there were trips up the road to the Blackwood RSL for a bevvy, a bite to eat and Last Post. He insisted I learn about Aussie rules and took me to a derby game between Adelaide and Port, and further afield, on other visits to Australia, he took time and care to share his beloved islands, KI and Tassie. He was a man of many worlds — of global sensibilities and local affections. Here in Canada, our thoughts are with Jane and Jamie, and we shall raise a glass or two to you, Syd! Travel well! Jamie Scott

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