After 40 months – more than three years – no-one has been settled on Manus Island. The few in Port Moresby are struggling to survive. Now several more of us have been attacked by local people who do not want us here. Therefore we can only say that we are official hostages.
It was Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who encouraged us to hate those he regarded as ‘the absolute scum of the earth’ who ‘should all rot in hell’. A few years later, Tony Abbott would argue that people smugglers were ‘cruel, heartless and careless’. Journalism of substance did little to disabuse us of a one-size-fits-all image; Sarah Ferguson’s 2012 investigation on Four Corners interrogated the masterminds’ motives but stopped short of shining a light on those who ran the highest risk of arrest and prosecution: the crews. The other boat people.
We were part of the anti-Vietnam War movement and we were angry. For more than a year LBJ had been escalating the war in Vietnam. US planes were bombing large swathes of Vietnam back to the Stone Age (to use a phrase attributed to US air force chief Curtis LeMay). Hundreds of thousands of American troops were battling peasant guerrillas in the paddy fields and jungles of Vietnam and villages were being napalmed.
It is – or should be – the role of creative writing programs to challenge students’ ideas, to confront and reconsider every assumption a student might hold. Craft matters, but so too does originality of thought, of building on knowledge to produce something genuinely new. Removing literary theory from writing courses is an anti-intellectual move that is ultimately self-defeating, and it is one that de-politicises creative work.
Whether you’re an emerging writer or you’ve been around the traps for a while now, Overland is sure to have an opportunity for you.
There’s a chilling scene near the beginning of Ray Bradbury’s 1953 classic, Farenheit 451, where Guy Montag discovers that his wife has overdosed on sleeping pills. When the nonplussed emergency technicians arrive they pump Mildred’s stomach using enormous machines, give her a blood transfusion and then leave matter-of-factly: all in a day’s work in the twenty-fourth century.
It sounds like science fiction, but there’s no question it works. Late last year, I wrote about the ‘debate’ over PrEP, short for pre-exposure prophylaxis, which allows people who are HIV-negative to take a daily pill to prevent getting infected. It works whether or not condoms are used, and therein lies the rub: people who are opposed to gay men and transgender people getting it on freely tend to oppose PrEP as well. This, along with the fight for same-sex marriage, has reheated an older debate about gay ‘promiscuity’.
Today, with an orange-skinned buffoon with weird hair running for president, we’re plagued by evil clowns. Should we be surprised?
If the anti-corporate slogan ‘another world is possible’ gave rise to radical pie throwing, today’s clowns belong to a period in which political hopes have been so entirely crushed that carnival becomes less utopian and more nihilistic.
One of my earliest memories of New Zealand is of being told to ‘Go back to China!’ in the playground at school (ironically called the Confidence Course). This irked me, because I wasn’t from China.
An Australia where everyone in public speaks and writes in rhyming poetry with the cadences of Henry Lawson. This is the most prized ability in the whole land. School children are prepped for gruelling contests of rhyme and wit, often with improvisations on a wide range of topics. All debates in parliament are rhymed, as is the evening news. The news takes on somewhat anecdotal quality, favoring a good yarn over factual accuracy. A whole country of Lawsonian Homers sings itself into legend by sheer metrical virtuosity.
Malcolm Gladwell has been subjected to significant amounts of criticism over the years, which are to varying degrees compelling and valid. His approach to storytelling is both overly simplistic and engaging. He reproduces what others have researched in accessible ways, but makes mistakes and misrepresentations. He is entertaining but, given his reach and looseness with the truth, arguably dangerous.
The proposal and ensuing conversation show how the languages of government and art are incompatible. They are incompatible because art cannot be described in the vocabulary of the state without invoking purpose and commerce. Moreover, ministerial jargon does not admit moral ambiguity: those who govern traffic only in moral conviction. Embedded in any political polemic is the aspirational and patronising assertion that ‘We can all agree on x’, where x is to do with hospitals, education, terrorism etc. How could you disagree with this obvious good? Do you hate children? Do you love bombs?
In 1991, Lawrence Summers, then president of the World Bank, suggested that the bank develop a scheme to export garbage, toxic waste, and heavily polluting industries of rich nations to Africa. ‘Had Summers advocated invading Africa with weapons of mass destruction,’ Nixon writes in Slow Violence, ‘his proposal would have fallen under conventional definitions of violence and been perceived as a military or even an imperial invasion.’
I have an awful lot to show for the Master of Creative Writing, Editing and Publishing that I finished at the University of Melbourne in 2014. Truly I do. I have tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt, a rather small but tasteful gold-embossed certificate, and a relentless niggling feeling of having wasted both my time and money.
There’s a gentle yearning in her voice, as it floats above the barest guitar. She launches into a loving tribute to womanly stoicism, devotion to home and family, building a portrait of the kind of woman who ‘didn’t mind just staying home’. As the list of unremarkable sacrifices grows, we’re reassured she doesn’t mind: ‘If she did, she never did say so to Daddy.’ After a few repetitions, a sentimental ache takes hold. It will take a while, a few plays, to hear that uneasy qualification hiding easily in the opening words, as if just slipped in to help it scan.
But can the UBI give all that is promised? I no longer think so. Indeed, the model currently proposed has the potential to strengthen racist policies, increase exploitation of migrants, escalate the environmental impacts of our current economic system, and further wealth disparity both locally and globally.
The media construct of Indigenous people as ‘lazy, entitled’ began to emerge during the 1980s, as the mining industry’s publicity campaign against Indigenous land rights came into full force. Media-friendly grabs like ‘the black arm-band view of history’, the ‘surrender Australia policy’, ‘special privileges’ and the ‘Aboriginal Affairs Industry’ crept into the discourse.
Besides Barbie, Dolly Parton was one of the first grossly unrealistic images of womanhood I came across. I was around eight when I saw her on the cover of my mums’s Dolly Parton Favorites album and oh how deeply I loved her. Her big hair took up almost the entire front cover and her Tennessee-Mountain-cleavage was caked in rhinestones. Even by that stage I knew some of her songs by heart. I wouldn’t hear a bad word about her and I sung ‘Coat of Many Colours’ from beginning to end to many a family pet. I felt a kinship with her, not only because we were both ‘country gals’, but like Dolly I also grew up religious (my mum was an evangelical Christian) and we also didn’t have a lot of money.
The provocation of whether or not Dolly Parton is a feminist is less interesting to me than the idea that she embodies a certain type of female influence not owned by those more affluent or academic. What’s interesting to me is not whether or not she calls herself a feminist, but how she is an example of the ways in which many working-class people I know are empowered women whose lives are examples of the merits of feminism, even if they do not express it in the ways currently popular in contemporary discourse.
I have spent many hours in outpatient triage-madness, where so many of our elders die way too young from the heaviest of loads, and my heart still lurches when I drive past this hospital. Being anywhere near it triggers ‘re-memory’: the feeling of an uncanny repetition, an encounter with something deeply social and collective. Toni Morrison speaks of re-memories being ‘out there in the world’, waiting for us to bump into them so we can read the signs and know ‘the things behind the things’. Re-memories help us know the whole story.
When Lavrentiy Beria, the former head of Stalin’s secret police, fell out of favour with the Soviet government and was executed, the authorities proceeded to expunge his achievements and very existence from the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. The publishers created four extra pages of the closest alphabetical entry – the Bering Sea – and sent them to every one of the encyclopedia’s subscribers so they could replace the entry for Beria. For people who lived in the Soviet Union, compliance with this kind of request wasn’t optional: being in possession of banned or unrevised texts implied criticism of the regime and carried with it a range of unpleasant consequences.