Querido Yayo, my grandfather, you started attending Communist Party rallies when you arrived in Sydney, no? Mama remembers watching you on May Day on the sidelines of the march—a little girl seeing her father hold up a flag. From what I know of your politics, you weren’t precisely a communist. I think you joined because finally you could. Australia let you do that. Here, from Franco’s Spain, here were the ideas speaking to you. I remember seeing a photo of you marching. In my mind there is a cigar in your mouth, but then that’s how I always remember you. […]
Our lives are made up of different arcs—love, family, politics, geography, time and dislocation among them. One of the arcs that has exercised me most is my wondering about post-colonising Australia and its myths and mythmaking propensities, also about my family’s. Although my childhood was spent mostly in Melbourne, it was punctuated by our frequent pilgrimages to the promised land (aka South Australia) and inflected by the awareness that Melbourne was exile to my South Australian mother—feelings I do not share. She often reminded us of our ‘free settler’ heritage, and of our roots in the colonial era, no more […]
Behrouz Boochani’s prize-winning book No Friend but the Mountains is a genre-breaking metanarrative produced under extraordinary circumstances. The response to it has been deep and will likely last. But I find that the attention that the Kurdish writer pays to the natural world is all too often subsumed under other layers.
A word is a small mystery and ‘All written work’, Jane Hirshfield tells us, ‘retains some trace, however faint of [the] initial sanctity of the Word.’ Celebration of this sanctity or, as Hopkins has it, the inscape of a word, is a hallmark of lyrical poetry and one of the things that draws me to the reading and writing of poetry. In a world dominated by abbreviated communication, by purpose-driven language and weasel words, poetry remains a domain where language’s rich tradition can be feted. I have been exploring language and how it is transformed into the art we call […]
From under a hessian sack a calm, clever face looks through the bars with an air of rumpled bemusement. This shapeless shambles of long, thick hair and leathery skin seems to have accepted her place in the world, even while not quite understanding why she’s in it. Wearing her hessian headscarf, she sits in a Buddha pose, her long powerful arms folded in front of her, and watches the bizarre world of humanity pass her by. The interior monologue of Mollie the orangutan is separated from us by a hundred years and the not inconsiderable language barrier between human and […]
Seven Ways to Save Politics It’s a strange way to start, with musings on the future, but this is where we must situate ourselves, in the place of anticipation. By the time you are reading this, you will have cast your votes, and a new federal government will be settling in. It will either be a government of the same stripe, a Coalition government, or more likely—if the opinion polls at the time of writing are to be believed—a Labor government. It is also possible that we are looking at a minority government of either disposition. In any case, a […]
In the corridor where the Australian Dictionary of Biography team does its work at the Australian National University in Canberra, there is a gallery of photographs of those who have led the project since 1962. The first is of Douglas Pike (general editor, 1962–73)—rouseabout, shearer, teacher, clergyman and historian. Pike, the son of missionaries to China, looks squarely at the camera, pipe in mouth: a stereotype of the academic. The gallery continues with Bede Nairn (1973–84), historian of the NSW Labor Party. Nairn—with a neat moustache that makes him look like a retired army colonel—wears a tweed jacket and paisley […]
I am acutely aware while visiting other places that I am in the home of the ancestors whose stories since ancient times are preserved in the land, seas, skies and atmosphere. These stories of country live inside us and are ‘the extraordinary literacy of place’, of ancient land titles, and are similar to understanding the old stories of places that the British landscape writer Robert Macfarlane might describe as being the ‘intricate stories to map the landscape’.
Places are fragmentary and inward-turning histories, pasts that others are not allowed to read, accumulated times that can be unfolded but like stories held in reserve, remaining in an enigmatic state, symbolizations encysted in the pain or pleasure of the body. —Michel de Certeau 2017 In 1836 Colonel William Light surveyed Adelaide, as an elegant grid delineated by parklands and squares, and set North Terrace as its northern boundary, a wide and gracious promenade, with plantation gardens. High above the terrace, on the roof of an old bank, now a restaurant, I celebrate an insignificant birthday with sweet wine and […]
Well, it’s not so much the political heat that got to us all in the end as the political humidity. Either way, we have now well and truly moved beyond mob rule (or dēmokratía as Plato would Greekily call it) and are now on a burning zip-line to a dictatorship, sparks shooting from our carabiner and Musorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain blasting from our Heart-Eyes Emoji headphones. Oh, for the glory days of the aristocracy when leaders like Sir Robert Menzies gave us what we wanted whether we liked it or not; or philosopher kings like Paul Keating dazzled us […]
I’ve been trying to decide which of my encounters with doctors, the ones from the early days of my illness, was the most mortifying, the most frustrating, the most burdened with assumptions about young women and their bodies and brains. But I can’t seem to be able to do it. Not because there were so many, too many to choose from—there were—but because I know I wasn’t thinking like this at the time, that I was so new to sickness and, more importantly, to medicine, that I still assumed it was unfailing and perfectly rational, that if I answered all […]
When I was in primary school Mum owned a light-blue Mitsubishi Galant. I remember two things about the car. One, the seats were covered in a black vinyl that—in the heat of a Melbourne summer—would result in a skin–upholstery fusion and a screaming skin–seat separation. Two, she called the vehicle Bess. ‘For God’s sake, Bess,’ would be a familiar refrain on cold winter mornings when the Galant exhibited no regard for school start times. Bess, which I thought I’d forgotten about, was on my mind recently. I’d passed a car with headlights framed by fluttery black fringes. I’d googled a vague […]