Over the last two years, the capacity to manage mood has been monetised through the sharing of fake news and political feeds atuned to reader preference: you can also make people happy by confirming their biases.
There was a farmer who lived in the nineteenth century on the Currawong Creek, about 20 minutes as the crow flies from me in southern New South Wales. His name was James Roberts and that name should be known in Australia but it is not. Roberts lived in a big stone house, which in the style of the times hid its occupants from the hard Australian sunlight. He was born in 1812, the son of a pardoned convict called William, who made his living building roads. James was one of the first white settlers in the district and subsequently squatted […]
I remembered I needed to read the book at about the time Tony Abbott told radio talk host Ray Hadley the best kind of energy policy was one that manufactured a partisan point of difference with Labor—and when a bunch of conservative politicians were out telling the voters not to trust politicians during the postal survey on same sex marriage. The book had come to me a few weeks earlier. A political friend had wandered past my desk and presented me with a paperback called The End of Politicians: Time for a Real Democracy. ‘I thought you might be interested in […]
When I was still doing my job, I noticed I had begun to explain myself. ‘I’m literary editor of the Sydney Morning Herald … I run our coverage of books: commission book reviews, interview authors, report on the publishing industry.’ My title didn’t always draw blank looks from people I met outside the book world, but I was unconsciously taking pre-emptive action to avoid embarrassment. Strangers frequently told me they were keen readers of the Saturday books pages and envied my job, which they imagined as being paid to read books. I still played an important and beloved role in […]
There are families in family violence Although great steps have been taken to address the issue of family violence in Australia, the whole conversation still largely frames the problem as something that happens between adults. Children also experience violence in the home and it is time they were given a greater stake when reporting on and considering the issue of family violence. This issue is deeply personal for me. My first memory when I was three years old is of being hit by my father after he discovered the label from a box of tic tacs I had stuck to […]
Fingers crossed for the digital archive The times we’re living in seem like an Age of Exposure—exposure of, exposure to. But if our digital lives were to disappear, so little record might survive of this moment in time as to make it seem, to anyone looking back, like a new Dark Age. The traces of our times, of us—our images, our words—we blithely consign to safekeeping in strings of 0s and 1s. Yet digital data is vulnerable. Whatever the hardware or software or the imagined sanctity of the ‘cloud’, its eventual failure is all but guaranteed. The same was doubtless […]
Australia is defined for me through its landscape. My first memories are of a country town crouched at the edge of mountains, a mighty river, the mysterious ‘outback’ somewhere beyond.
In the late 1990s I had a vivid dream about my old street in Glenroy where I grew up. In the dream my father (who is now dead), my mother and I were standing on the street, pausing in front of a vacant paddock and staring at the swaying grass. I knew, the way we know things in dreams, that it was summer. That it was a Saturday night in 1957 and from the colour of the sky that it was early evening. We all had our best clothes on: my father in a starched, white shirt, my mother in […]
Towards the end of last century between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, Channel Nine broadcast a television show called Hey Hey, It’s Saturday. It was a peculiar show, featuring a genial host, an ostrich puppet, an unseen voice-over man, a hat on a stick, a band, singers and entertainers and a range of fun games and segments. One of the segments was the Great Aussie Joke. Shane Bourne and Maurie Fields would tell jokes sent in by viewers: Little Johnny is sitting in the gutter. He’s playing with a bottle. The local priest walks by and says, […]
The Art of Confessional Writing Walking home down George Street, in Fitzroy, last year, I saw a front window of a former shop, now a private residence, covered in hand-written notes. On the door were instructions: Pssss! Tell us your secret. Have something you need to get off your chest? Something to say, but you can’t? Write it down and put it through our door. We’ll post it in our window. No names please. The window was filled from top to bottom with scrap notes such as these: ‘Everyone thinks I’m cute, but won’t fuck me’; ‘My sister walks […]
It’s not that I fear death; I fear it as little as to drink a cup of tea. —Ned Kelly In one of my early roles as a newly minted Australian helper, I worked as a counsellor with people in law enforcement. On my first day in the job, I set the room up with lights garnered from the store of unused furnishings on the witness-protection floor and waited to see who might come through the door. The biggest part of my job turned out to be talking about such things as: it isn’t dangerous to cry; and accepting death […]
Our vision is continually active, continually moving, continually holding things in a circle around itself, constituting what is present to us as we are. —John Berger, Ways of Seeing At the age of 50, I am going to a life drawing class. I have had the desire to do so for a long time but I am terrified. It is an untutored class at 6.15 on a Wednesday night. You can turn up without notice and this gives me the possibility of an out. In the hours beforehand my mind attempts to trick me: dishes up to the ceiling, […]