Politicians invariably attribute their most reactionary idiocies to the population. They are, they say, merely reflecting the electorate’s wishes. But the most recent elections revealed little positive enthusiasm for the conservative program. A survey immediately after the poll showed that respondents expected the new government to make matters worse rather than better on job security, workers’ rights, the environment, public services and welfare.
Besides being exhausting and stressful, moving house is strangely introspective.
In early September last year, I began to feel an ache running between my spine and right shoulderblade.
For some time I’d wanted to build a new writing space that would also double as a bedroom. But to build a bedroom, one has to construct a space that is conducive to dreaming. That is, after all, what bedrooms are for, just as kitchens are primarily designed to facilitate the sharing of food. In his great book The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard says that the purpose of an entire house should be to support the dreamer.
When the British occupying force in Kabul was wiped out at the end of the Anglo-Afghan War in 1842, a surviving infant was purportedly taken in by Afghans who called him the ‘European Child’ (‘Feringhee Bacha’ in Persian). Feringhee Bacha grew up as an Afghan, though one who was marked as an outsider by his name. Eventually, the boy was said to have become interested in his origins, and ran away to Persia, where he made contact with British officials who conveyed him to India. Lord John Elphinstone, governor of Bombay, met Feringhee Bacha and christened him ‘John Campbell’.
The address was voted number three in a 2011 ABC Radio National poll of ‘the most unforgettable speech of all time’, ranked behind, first, Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have a Dream’ and, second, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.
On 2 February 2013, Anene Booysen, a seventeen-year-old from a small, forgotten farming community, died from injuries sustained during a brutal rape. Only a few days later, on Valentine’s Day, celebrated athlete Oscar Pistorius fatally shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. The shock was complete: what was this dark heart beating at South Africa’s centre?
‘It’s important because the Waanyi language is a really threatened language. There has been a lot of work done to develop a Waanyi dictionary to teach schoolchildren in communities like Doomadgee in the Gulf of Carpentaria, but places like Doomadgee also have children who speak other threatened languages. Doomadgee was once a mission, so there are Waanyi, Gangalidda and Garawa people, and that makes it difficult.’
The year is 1984. The snow has melted and the smell of spring is in the air. I am walking along Bolshaya Sadovaya Street, which begins at the Mayakovsky Square. At house number 10, near the archway from the street to the courtyard, there is graffiti reading Slava Bulgakovu (Hail Bulgakov!).
By this stage in my freelance writing career, I fret that I’ve made myself unemployable in the ‘regular’ workforce because I struggle with the panoptical logic governing most jobs. By ‘panoptical’, I mean the ways in which employers require their workers to perform their work as if always observed.
In March this year, prime minister Julia Gillard boasted that she led a Labor government, not a social democratic one or a progressive one. She described Labor as ‘politically, organisationally, spiritually and even literally, the party of work’. Her academic admirers were in agreement, with labour historian Nick Dyrenfurth arguing that, unlike that latter-day Trotsky, Kevin Rudd, ‘Gillard “gets” the labour movement’.
Three of us – producer Chris Eckman, videographer John Bosch and I – are flying back to Mali, a landlocked African country that, until recently, has rarely garnered international attention. We’re here to record a new album with Malian musicians for the Dirtmusic project. We’ve brought no songs, just a few pages of notes and fragments, and a plan to create something out of whatever comes our way.
The winning stories have nerve. They avoid these pitfalls, and do something more: they surprise and delight, and they bring us into the places writers need to go. They take us past the stereotype, past our expectations, and into the blurry vagueness of life, with all its bewildering contradictions.
Winner: 2013 Overland Victoria University short story prize
Joint runner-up: Overland Victoria University short story prize.
Joint runner-up: Overland Victoria University short story prize
I wander in her woollen hat caught like
The silver glints in the ti-tree. A clue is wrapped in foil, peeled from the lining of the cigarette pack and rolled into balls. The clue says, look behind the beach hut. The rosaries clack
A cigarette bud sits
at my windscreen
they were really into sax back then – big mouthfuls of it –
Later that night, I cut the plastic boning from the bodice of my dress:
My meditation teacher is a pessimist and a poet. He says the mind is like a glass of orange juice, the sediment slowly settling to the bottom leaving a clear liquid.
Cloud burst, and another sky falls. A blight of sun causes all feather to lose flavour in the wind. But our children will still have their mobile phones and dial the clouds
Footsteps of giant creatures crisscross ancient mud
A thousand paws-prints caught in pitted sandstone
It’s possible to forget a lot of things in the fullness of time:
My father’s eyes, the pale intensity of distance, how it all began.
The smell of toast reminds me of my father,
Not only because he was cremated.