001. An Australia where the whole red centre is covered with a huge reflective mirror. This causes some consternation to modern and traditional inhabitants, and abolishes whole ecosystems. On the other hand, the great mirror reflects enough light back into space to make a noticeable dent in rising temperatures. The great mirror is known throughout the world as a great sacrifice that kept the planet from runaway overheating. It is high enough off the ground, and generates enough energy from solar power, that a whole new civilisation arises underneath it, cool and dark and sheltered from the great blazing sun.
002. 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. And then, long after this civilisation is lost and forgotten, a tiny handful of narrative fragments left over from old parliamentary debates, shreds of old rhyming tax laws and tourist brochures, are stitched together into a vast new epic for a civilisation to come.
003. An Australia in which history books are abolished and Peter Carey’s Unusual Life of Tristan Smith is taught in schools as fact. This has a few inconveniences. For example, in that book settler culture speaks Dutch rather than English. Whole schools of historians come into existence to explain how Australian English in fact descends from colonial Dutch. Rival schools debate the character of Tristan. After a while it all starts to make sense and it becomes inconceivable that the past was any other way.
004. An Australia with no literary prizes, only literary executions. Mock of course, except in the case of particularly egregious crimes against literature. This keeps writers vigilant. Nobody wants to be the victim even of a mock execution, or so the writers say in public. Actually many are secretly hoping to be so chosen, for the notoriety at least and perhaps also for the masochistic joy of being sacrificed to the national good. Sometimes, very rarely, the executions are real. Those writers are mostly forgotten, as their books have all been pulped and their whole biography erased from memory. They live on in the memory of hardy sects who pass decaying paperbacks from hand to hand.
005. An Australia where every citizen who goes overseas for trip and returns is obliged to spend an indeterminate time in a camp behind barbed wire while their passport is, or isn’t, stamped. The camps become rather crowded and the mood, like the food, is poor. None of those returning from their vacation or business trip can see why they cannot be released into the general population on their own recognisance.
006. An Australia where property and work have been abolished. All architecture is made of giant bendy-straws, which with a small collective effort can be transformed into sleeping quarters or slippery-dips or mazes. These new cities spool and spread in all directions like fiddle sticks. People spend their time inventing games of drama and challenge for each other. All necessities are provided by automated systems. The one remaining challenge to social life is boredom.
007. An Australia where all buildings are edible. They are made of a tough but chewy compound that provides all required nutrients and quite a bit of roughage. There are a few different flavors. It is a great boon to the homeless, of whom there are still many, as at least one basic necessity is abundant. However, the edible buildings too tend to come apart, either from erosion in the rain and sun or from having their walls chewed off. This rather swells the homeless population, as construction cannot quite keep up with demand. There is however plenty of work in the building industries. The tradies sing as they work and occasionally bite off a bit of their own handiwork.
008. An Australia where Indigenous people become a landed aristocracy. As owners of the land, they extract a sizeable rent from it, but like all aristocracies, they treat trade and business with disdain. They are more interested in fabulous displays to each other of what wealth can do, in the arts, or in architecture, but most particularly through the acquisition of secret sacred stories. There are occasional fights among them, even to the death, for there can be no nobility without the will to defend it with life itself. But when not confronting each other for recognition and glory, they become world renowned patrons and exemplars of the good life. The landscape becomes dotted with their famous moving castles, which follow ancient tracks between sacred sites, at each of which great ceremonies reassert long held (and occasionally disputed) titles to the nobility of place.
009. A nomadic Australia, where everyone is obliged to move every few weeks, and to change their names. Nobody is anybody or anywhere for very long. There are no permanent jobs or relationships. Nobody lends anybody any money as it would probably never be repaid. Everyone is friends with everyone. The universal form of address regardless of gender or age is ‘mate’. This obviates the need to continually learn new names. People pick up their activities, be they of work, sex or simple companionship, with whoever happens to be at hand. Nobody bothers much with talking about real estate or their ambitions, as nobody really has any interest in either, as they will be someone else and somewhere else by sometime next week. What everyone discusses is philosophy.
010. An Australia that has relocated to the Australian Antarctic territory. The old continent just got too hot. All the minerals had been dug out from under the ground. All the topsoil had blown away and the land lay fallow. In some places the land had turned a crystalline white from salt. So canny real estate developers staked out the Australian Antarctic territory, and in a thrice were selling both waterfront properties and lucrative mining leases. In a short time, the whole racket of the old Australia had set itself up in this new one, mining minerals, and living on the proceeds in waterfront apartments. It was all as right as rain, except without the rain, or so said the people who lived in the waterfront properties. As to what anyone else thought it is not recorded.
011. An Australia that goes quiet for a while, not telling anyone of its doings or even its whereabouts. It proved rather hard to hide a continent of such size, but through a successful social media campaign, the authorities managed to distract the world with some scandals among reality TV celebrities. Nobody much noticed out in the big world that this country about which they knew very little anyway had simply vanished from the face of the planet. A few actors were engaged in various major capitals to pretend to be Australians, and who had elaborate cover stories which suggested that it was a boring place much like anywhere of no interest to anyone, and in any case too far away. In the meantime, those actually still on this now secret continent quietly invented an entire new way of life, of justice and serenity and refinement. They just didn’t tell anyone, and kept it a delicious secret to themselves.
012. An Australia that is no longer the same shape or size. It isn’t even on the same place on the map, or wouldn’t be, if there were maps. It is all different and its all the same, at least as far as nature is concerned. There is a beast that stalks these places, adapting to them, growing in number and power. It is from elsewhere, and it feeds on whatever it finds here. It is big and nearly always white. The front teeth grew to enormous size over time, for tearing flesh. It got smart, but a mean kind of smart. Its predator’s eyes are pale, usually. The ears are enormous, but the fur smooth. Like their distant ancestors, they still hop. They will flourish for a while, at the top of the chain, then the chain will snap again, and they will be gone.
013. An Australia no longer imagined as island victim of invasive species. It strikes back. A secret ASIO program goes into the smuggling business. It teams up with a secret CSIRO lab that selects native species for their survival traits in given habitats, and with a little genetic tom-foolery, augments it. From the prisons come convicted smugglers who once brought drugs into the country. Now their mission is to smuggle sleeping budgies out of it. After a while, the world begins to notice. Budgies on the prairie; emus on the bayou. Wallabies breeding in the Scottish Highlands. The box jellyfish wreaking havoc on tourist beaches everywhere, leveling the playing field for Queensland destinations. No longer boxed in to their single continent, the Monotremes take to the planet.
014. An Australia where everyone looks like Ned Kelly in the famous paintings by Sidney Nolan, except that while black is popular, the helmets come in all colours. It is called a Ned Kelly when worn by a man and a Nellie Kelly when worn by a woman, although the unisex styles are so popular the terms are interchangeable. Everywhere you look, the sleek black tubes covering the head, with a simple slit for the eyes, usually in mirror glass. They are so lightweight now, in the new materials, and even bulletproof, as the advertising shows with effective demonstrations. Gives you an awful headache, however, to be shot in the Ned. Inside, it is your own special world. Not only audio and video but also olfactory inputs can be carefully filtered. No spam in this can! Not much of anything really. Not much of the world need be experienced. It is all flat and dry, and the troopers are hardly friendly anyway. Best to stay cylindered-in and avoid it. Such is life.
015. An Australia where the cities are built, not to prevent insurrections, but to make them more fun. All the civic moments which concentrate the totemic power of the state are made of flammable materials. All the streets around them are a maze of alleys in which rioters can lose themselves and evade the police. Some even have movable faux street fronts, so the zigzag alleys can be reconfigured on the fly, just to baffle the rozzers even more. The parliament building is located at the crossroads of major transit lines to make it convenient for the rabble to gather. It has a balcony wrapped around all its sides at just the right height, so that when it is successfully stormed, the insurgents can wave their banners to the crowds below. The powerful live in glass houses. They can be seen mock-cowering behind sofas and upturned tables every time there is a riot, but the glass is actually strong enough to stop a bazooka.
016. An Australia continuously building and abandoning its cities, along great tracks that stretch across the continent. Giant 3D printing machines make the city out of dust and glue according to fantastic, award-winning designs. A new sector emerges from the printers every six months or so, ready for the adventurous to come and play in it, and stake out some cosy quarters. As the city advances, it leaves behind old sectors with which everyone is bored, although some melancholy souls wander about in these pristine ruins, or venture even farther back along the line of march into the detritus, which disappear into the desert dust from whence it came.
017. An Australia that decides, for no obvious reason, that it has a prejudice against Melburnians. They are a shifty lot, it seems. Sharp in their business dealings. They come from Melbourne but have no real origin or home. Sometimes they pass as if they were the same as us, but you can tell them by the lobes of their ears. There’s something not quite present about them. They are not as down to earth as us. There’s something about our way of life they want to take from us. They are an alien force, but a sly one, ripping us from what we enjoy. They like money. They are like money. They are money. Maybe it is money. Maybe it isn’t Melburnians after all.
018. An Australia that decides that Harry Seidler was right about Blues Point Tower being a great example of urban form. It is decreed that all buildings are to be of exactly the same design. Whole cities are demolished. All those dingy terrace houses, all those fat blocks of flats, squandering space. Our cities become instead vast open swards of green, with whitish fingers of tower sticking up, at neatly spaced intervals. Everyone has a view of the water, or if not of the water, of several of these beautiful towers.
019. An Australia where everyone eats artisanal cheese and heirloom tomatoes. Everything comes from farmers who provide pictures of themselves and stories about the provenance of all their ingredients and methods. There is no food that does not have a story, and several seals of good land practice to attest to its worthiness to be eaten by the good people of the cities of Australia. Meanwhile the farm labourers who have to do all the handiwork of this handcraft agriculture curse us in their tin huts.
020. An Australia that harbors in its midst some secret agents. They are not spies for the state or a foreign power. They are spies for the future. They make their secret reports and hide them away in the public archive. These reports are being studies by officials in a future time. Those officials are building a case against us. It’s a fat dossier they are accumulating, from all these reports. As soon as they invent time travel that works backwards as well as this one that works forwards, we’re for it.
Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.
Subscribe | Renew | Donate November 9–16 to support progressive literary culture for another year – and for the chance to win magnificent prizes!