A kilometre or so from the centre of town, the road that runs north from Melbourne’s GPO changes its name—with an unflinching denial of distance and obstacle—to Sydney Road. It’s a while since I’ve driven all the way to Sydney, but I take that road quite often, to visit family in a country town in central Victoria. One landmark along the route is a marvellously named hotel. Encountered now, disconcertingly, in a stretch of semi-industrial sprawl, it declares itself The First and Last. Poised in the placelessness of postmodern suburbia, points of departure, distance travelled, destinations ahead collapse. A strange kind of continuity emerges. The First and Last—it all depends, of course, on which way you’re beading.
An editorial stands as first and last words. First to be read, last to be written. It is implicit from the moment an issue begins to take shape, yet can never be articulated until the ideas and imagery of diverse contributors—opening gambits, final positions—have been drawn together. Editors set the agenda and get the last word. But who would have thought, for instance, toying with the resonant phrase ‘bread and circuses’, that writers would be conjuring up quite these ideas, these images? This, my first editorial, inevitably feels like a new beginning. It introduces a Meanjin in which distinctions between poetry and prose, critical writing and creative are less important than the effort to find voice and language adequate to make oneself heard; one in which the vitality of writing cultures at the periphery of a recognised literary scene is acknowledged; one in which film or sport or tourism can be treated with the same care as literature or art or politics. These are shifts of emphasis, perhaps, rather than changes of direction, and not without connection to what has gone before.
Some links to the past are obvious—a dramatic new design that takes its cue from earlier Meanjins, for example. Others are implicit—invigorating browsing through the four shelves of back issues above my desk; the encouragement found in subscriber-survey forms with their laudatory refrain of ‘unpredictable’, ‘challenging’, ‘diverse’; the advice of past editors going back fifty-eight years. The support and assistance of the outgoing editor, Christina Thompson, was vital and much appreciated in this transition as was the commitment to Meanjin of longtime staff and volunteers John Bangsund, Claudine Chionh, David Greagg, Martine Lleonart and Richard McGregor.
Meanjin is a work in progress. It is a place for taking risks and testing ideas, for making an imaginative and writerly leap from talk among peers to conversation with a wider audience. Within Meanjin‘s pages, dialogue ranges across literary styles and genres, turns from one arena of cultural practice to another. Emerging writers and modes of writing appear alongside established ones. What these writers share is a passionate commitment to their subject and their medium, and an attentiveness to the complexities of contemporary Australian life, its local and regional inflections, its national construction and global enmeshment.
From this issue, Meanjin gains an editorial advisory board, comprising Ian Anderson, Greg Dening, Julie Ewington, Chris Healy, Noelle Janaczewska, Gail Jones and Tim Rowse. Their critical engagement with Australian and regional culture, understanding of the ways writing matters, and appreciation ofMeanjin’s history will be an immense asset. Drawn from varied disciplines, institutions and locations, the board members reflect a commitment to make this a journal of Australia-wide relevance and inclusion.
Meanjin is Australia’s most prestigious literary magazine, a forum for reflection, speculation, opinion. Over the years it has published writers of exceptional quality and writing of enduring significance. Some have been recognised immediately, others only in retrospect. Meanjin has never been a showcase for the institutionally sanctioned, for narrow specialisation or carefully monitored convention. As a contributor to public culture, intellectual culture, its role is both less clear and more profound than that. To borrow a recent phrase from Meaghan Morris, it is a journal for all those who ‘care about ideas’. Fitting last-and first-words.