When Panita Silapavithayadilok was considering where to apply for a PhD, it was the opportunity to study with Associate Professor Giorgia Alù in the School of Languages and Cultures that led her to University of Sydney. Two of Alù’s specialist areas, travel writing and photographic culture, were of particular interest to Panita, whose research centres on the work of distinguished Italian journalist and photographer Tiziano Terzani (1938-2004).
Panita, who is taking a study break from her position as lecturer in Italian studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, is the latest recipient of the Frances Merenda Travelling Scholarship. The $5,000 scholarship, established by Frances Merenda in 2009, supports students to travel to Italy to pursue further studies or research. It provided Panita with the opportunity to access Terzani’s personal library and archive, available exclusively at the Giorgio Cini Foundation in Venice.
Terzani travelled extensively throughout Asia for over 30 years. His accounts – through reportage, travel books, and photography – consider “the way Asian people fought against socio-political injustice.” Panita’s research trip to Venice helped deepen her knowledge of Terzani’s work and hone the argument of her research.
Some of Terzani’s personal library and archive in Giorgio Cini Foundation, Venice.
Panita says she’s thankful for “such a precious experience in enriching my research perspective,” and would encourage other students to explore what scholarships are available. “Applying for a scholarship is an opportunity for us to communicate our research ideas to others and to think about our own research from a holistic point of view.”
Scholarship founder, Frances Merenda MBE (1924–2016), understood the significance of attitudes towards linguistic and cultural difference perhaps better than most.
Frances Merenda
Frances was born in 1924, a few years after her family migrated to Australia from Italy. She grew up in northern Queensland, where her family endured poverty and hardship.
At the start of the Second World War Frances and her mother were arrested and sent to an internment camp. Her father, who was also interned, joined them shortly after. The family spent 16 months imprisoned.
After the war Frances dedicated herself to the welfare and education of Italian migrants. She began work with Department of Immigration in 1969 as the first ever Italian speaking welfare worker and in 1976 was awarded an MBE for her service to the community. A year later she wasa member of the group appointed by Malcolm Fraser to review post-arrival migrant programs. The review marked an important development in the evolution of Australian official policy towards settlers from one of assimilation to multiculturalism.
Changing attitudes towards linguistic and cultural difference shaped Frances Merenda’s journey, and is also integral to the work of the School of Languages and Cultures. Panita – a Thai scholar of Italian studying in Sydney – and her research subject – an Italian writer/photographer whose work centres on Asia – are a great reflection of that.

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