Monthly Archives: January 2011

Neglected queen

On Wednesday I attended my first ever citizenship ceremony, in a marquee in lovely Enmore Park. After a welcome to country with dance and didj, we had mercifully brief speeches from the local state member, the state member for nearby Canterbury, the local federal member, the local Woolworths manager (who won the brevity medal), an Olympic sportswoman (who quoted bad Henry Lawson), and the Mayor of Marrickville. Then the mayor put on her new chains for the first time – ‘Just a sec,’ she said, ‘I have to get dressed up for this bit.’ The new citizens took the oath and the affirmation of allegiance (the ones with pink name tags had ‘under God’ in their formula, those with orange tags were godless) and each went up to receive a certificate and enjoy a photo op with the mayor. We stood for the national anthem, and it was all over.

And then we found the queen. Unlike God, I don’t recall her being mentioned during the ceremony, but perhaps a photo of our head of state is compulsory for these events. because there she was, sticky-taped to one of the posts of the marquee. This photo doesn’t do justice to the image: the actual pink was much pinker than this, the gold more golden, the blue of her hair much, much bluer. It could have been Dame Edna.

God save her.

Journals: Overland 201, Asia Literary Review 18

Overland 201 (Jeff Sparrow 2010)
Asia Literary Review 18 (Stephen McCarty 2010)

A dear friend of mine was once a member of the CPA (that’s the Communist Party of Australia, not the Chartered Accountants’ thingummyjig). Years after she left the Party, a former editor of Tribune asked her what she was reading to keep up to date with politics. When she named the National Times, an eminently liberal weekly of the day, he was scathing: ‘Surely you don’t think you can get decent information from the bourgeois press!’ I thought of him as I was reading these magazines: at least part of my motivation for subscribing to them is to ensure that I have a regular injection of thinking from respectively left and non-Western perspectives, neither of which – to put it mildly – is dependably represented in the mainstream press.

So, for instance, Jeff Sparrow’s article ‘The Banality of Goodism‘ starts with a quote from Aimé Césaire on the dehumanising effect that colonisation has on the coloniser, and goes on to argue that the war in Afghanistan is actually a colonial enterprise, that colonial enterprises have always dressed themselves in the robes of what he calls ‘goodism’ (we’re in Afghanistan for the sake of the women, the peoples of Central America needed to be rescued from human sacrifice), that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (bad) used some of the same justifications as the US invasion (good). He also reminds us that in the week after 11/9 George W Bush visited a mosque and described Islam as a religion of peace, a gauge of how the dominant Western conservatism has degenerated in the last nine years. This kind of thing has to be good for the soul.

Similarly refreshing are a debate on population policy, a reply to Cate Kennedy’s anti-Internet rant in issue 200, a piece on Bruce Petty’s heroic cartoon-wrestling with economic subjects, an article that discusses the state of ‘flow’ (that focused state attained by craftspeople), a challenging argument against corporations’ providing breast pump ‘lactation’ rooms in lieu of maternity leave, and indeed the replacement of ‘maternity leave’ with ‘baby leave’. I may have come across any of these pieces on the net, but I would have skimmed them there. Here, I either read them with full engagement or skipped them altogether (I couldn’t bear to read Marty Hiatt’s rebuttal of Cate Kennedy, for example, because Kennedy’s piece was exactly the kind of intervention that an incipient Internet addict such as I needed: I don’t want it watered down).

A third of this issue is given over to showcasing the work of Young Writers. No ages are given, but it’s fairly evident that the four writers involved aren’t young in the sense that term would be used in the context of children’s literature. The introductory note by retiring fiction editor Kalinda Ashton and Samuel Cooney invokes Mark Davis’s Ganglands, thereby apparently implying that these ‘young writers’ are Gen Xers. Whatever! In my naivety I had assumed that magazines like Overland would publish work by Gen X and much younger writers as a matter of course, and I found myself reading these four stories with half an eye out to see what made them ‘young’, not a good frame of mind for enjoying a story.  They’re all good stories, but Sam Twyford-Moore’s creepy ‘Library of Violence‘ was the only one that overcame the handicap created in my mind by the pigeonholing.

This issue of Asia Literary Review focuses on China, to the extent that all but three items are on topic.  There are photo essays, travellers’ tales, expat narratives, an odd little memoir by Jan Morris, and short stories. A short essay by John Batten, ‘Cracking the Sunflower Seed’, reflects on contemporary Chinese art such as we have seen at the White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney. There’s a poem by last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiao Bo, as well as ten or so other modern poems, with a useful five page orientation by Zheng Danyi. I miss a lot of what’s happening in Chinese poetry – Zheng quotes a quatrain that ‘infuriated Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing’, but all I can see is a lament for a broken stove. So Lord knows what’s happening in Liu Xiao Bo’s poem, ‘You Wait for Me with Dust’, besides surface action of a man in prison writing to his waiting wife.

The three pieces that aren’t about China are almost worth the price of admission: Marshall Moore’s short story, ‘Cambodia’, about three US siblings visiting Phnom Penh, Burlee Vang’s ‘Mrs Saichue’, set in a Hmong community in the USA, and Anjum Hasan’s piece on E M Forster’s time in India, which includes this glorious photo:

I think it’s fair to say that Asia Literary Review is more fun than Overland this issue. Overland, on the other hand, invites sharper engagement with issues closer to home.

Deceptive signs

Our new locality is much richer in street art than our old. Here are a couple of signs that made me look twice, and then a third time.

The first is out the front of a service station in Enmore Road.

It took a third look to realise that the erotic genie is actually pasted onto the bright red container, and that the information inside probably has nothing at all to do with magic or heart-shaped female pudenda.

I was drawn to the cool irony of this one until I realised that it wasn’t intended by the sign creator, but a side effect of the different fading rates of different coloured inks.

M-Day plus 4

Three men and a van took our worldly goods from Annandale to Marrickville on Wednesday.

We were very unsystematic about telling our neighbours we were moving – it’s been just one incidental conversation at a time. Mostly people say they’re sorry to see us go, and seem to mean it. One man told me that when he was young and needing move out of his parents’ place, his wife came home one day saying she’d found a place for rent in Marrickville. ‘Marrickville!’ he replied, ‘Why not just go to Redfern?’ Just in case I didn’t get it, he paraphrased: ‘Why stop halfway? Why not go straight to the bottom?’ He went on after a beat, ‘It turned out we had the best two years of our lives there.’ So here we go: on our way to the bottom, or heading for unexpected bliss?

I’m going to need a new masthead image. This isn’t it, but here’s a quick phone snap of what the view above shot had become midmorning Wednesday:

The little man from our front door elected to stay in Annandale as a piece of public art:

The move was no more nightmarish than you’d expect. Nothing broke – though we did discover that a little Balinese soapstone sculpture in the garden had been knocked into the pond by an enthusiastic little dog and lost its head as a result. A dab of glue restored his head and a day in the sun removed most of the swampy smell.

Four days after the event, the new house almost feels like home. We’ve enjoyed the kindness of friends: one made us dinner and brought it around on the evening of the move; three lots of friends who live on this side of Parramatta Road  have just dropped in, a brilliant way to make us feel like part of a neighbourhood. We live much closer to the street here, so I’m entertained by the passing parade as I sit at my desk– many family groups, as the Annette Kellerman Aquatic Centre is close by. Penny’s dog sculpture is now much more obvious to passers-by: a schoolgirl offers her a lick of her iceblock; a small child tells her father, ‘It’s only a pretend dog.’

Gas and electricity are on. Mail and phone redirection are working. The floor has been restumped. Rooms have been painted. The moving boxes have been taken back by the removalists. Halogen down lights have been replaced by vastly expensive LEDs that we’re told will pay for themselves in no time at all. A sp[ace is well on the way to becoming a studio for the Art Student. Pictures are going up on the walls. Books are in bookcases, though will need some re-ordering.  Settlement on our old home, now an empty shell smelling of cleaning products, was scheduled for Friday but because of a bank stuff up will actually happen tomorrow. Last night we walked to the movies in Newtown. We’re being urged by our younger son to have a house warming, and perhaps we will …

Re-enchantment coming soon

No time to blog. No time to catch up with emails. Moving house. All is well. Probably.

I’ve just sat down to my email for the first time in days, and found notice that my friend Sarah’s brilliant, interactive web site, Re-enchantment, is to be launched in March. There’s a three minute trailer on the ABC site. I can’t embed it, sorry, but do click on the link.

The official launch will be at the Adelaide Film Festival at the Palace Cinema on Wednesday 2 March at 5.00pm –  a free event open to the public. The website will go live on the ABC that same day.

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne will host a two-day Re-enchantment Symposium on Thursday 10 and Friday 11 March 2011, called Fairy Tales Re-imagined: From Werewolf to Forbidden Room.

There will be Sydney launch on the evening of Thursday 24 March at the Surry Hills Library.

M-Day minus 4: First mail, last juice

The first item of mail has been delivered at our new address, a parcel containing a copy of Ruth Park’s Harp in the South, from a South Australian BookMoocher, in plenty of time for my next Book Group meeting. Note the artful smudging of personal details in the photo, enabled with minimal fuss by iPhoto.

And this morning, after decades of daily service at breakfast time, our  juicer blew its motor and has been consigned without ceremony to the pile of stiff that will be taken away on Monday by 1300RUBBISH.


We haven’t seen much of the Sydney Festival this year, but last Friday we  managed to go to see Mirazozo at the Opera House forecourt. It’s an inflated structure, a luminarium, which you can wander about inside for 20 minutes. It only costs $10, or less if you’re in a group of four or more.

M-day minus 6

As we move closer to taking possession of our new house – filling the attic and the kitchen cupboards, we come across little treasures that have been left for us by the lovely people known as The Vendors. There are some small black hexagonal tiles which will come in handy if the bathroom floor suffers serious trauma, several cans of paint clearly marked with the room they belong to, a roll of toilet paper (an act of superb thoughtfulness). And then there are the grace notes: a plastic soldier missing one leg; a dog-suitable tennis ball; and this little putti lyrist on the paling fence:

Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy

Eva Hornung, Dog Boy (Text 2010)

Our species has long been fascinated by stories of human children raised by wild animals , as the Wikipedia page on feral children attests. I don’t have to strain my memory muscle too hard to come up with (in order of my encountering them) Mowgli, Romulus and Remus, Truffaut’s L’enfant sauvage, and the ‘wolf girls’ Amala and Kamala (about whom we published a story in the School Magazine, not realising the whole story was made up to raise funds for an Indian orphanage). Dog Boy tells one of those stories, and evokes that fascination brilliantly.

On page 15 Eva Hornung gets explicit about the challenge she has taken on:

And so it was, trotting with three dogs through ordinary lanes, past ordinary tenements, past ordinary lives, a lone boy crossed a border that is, usually, impassable – not even imaginable.

The stories of feral children I’ve encountered (add to the list above the Werner Herzog movie about Kaspar Hauser, and Louis Nowra’s first play, Inner Voices, and wasn’t there a Peter Handke play as well?) focus on what happens when the child returns to human society, and chronicle the process of learning, or failing to learn, how to be human. I don’t think I’m giving anything away to say that  this book pretty much ends where those stories start. I was given it as a Christmas present with a card suggesting it might help me get in touch with my animal nature. Certainly it was a wonderful book to read while walking a couple of dogs: Eva Hornung may have done extensive research on the ethology of feral dog clans, but it’s very obvious that she has also had intensive personal experience with dogs. There’s a lot I could say about the way the book explores what it is to be human, our relationship with other species, especially dogs,  parenthood, love, post-Soviet Russia (the story unfolds mostly in the devastated outer suburbs of Moscow) and so on. But its power is in the way it takes us into the smelling, scratching, snarling world of doghood, as experienced by a small boy who comes to think of himself as a dog but never completely loses his sense of difference.

It’s tremendously moving. There are some major shifts in the narrative, all of which I resisted crankily at first and each of which led me to unexpected places. If my heart has segments, then the book moved systematically through a number of them, and pulled hard at each in turn. Even when, quite a way in, the narrative leaves the dogs’ perspective for a time and actually names some of the story’s precedents, including some listed in my first paragraph, in a kind of metatextual play, the spell isn’t broken. Tightened, if anything.

If, as I do, you ‘accidentally’ skip to the end and read the last sentence, you may think you know how the story ends. Don’t read the second last sentence.

Now, back to packing up the house, carefully not stepping on the dog who is clearly very disturbed by the growing chaos.

M-Day minus 8

One house gets itself into boxes. The other lies in wait.