The end of 2015 is an unusual time politically – a period when the International Brigades are invoked as justification to bomb Syria, even as transgender rights are finally central to debates about identity. Are we on the precipice of transformation or in the eye of the storm? These are the questions elicited by the writings in this edition, such as in Sam Wallman’s reportage about refuge and its refusal in Europe, which calls to mind Dorothy Hewett’s ‘Exodus’.
It’s so easy to casually strip people of their humanity. We read the anodyne language of respectable bigotry in the news every day – and yet nobody complains of its obscenity. But let loose a stray reference to a human body part or sexual practice and suddenly the moral police are up in arms, defending the borders of ‘civil discourse’.
I don’t know what English bluebells smell like, and it’s driving me crazy.
As part of my novel-in-progress, I’m researching the folklore and mythology of plants. According to every source I’ve read, the scent of bluebells is sweet, delicate and unforgettable … for those who have actually smelt it.
The Victorian government’s Royal Commission into Family Violence is currently under way, but no-one who works in the sector is expecting it to produce any new insights. ‘Domestic and family violence’ is, overwhelmingly, violence against women and children by men.
Here is a typical, timeless complaint: nowadays we have lost the capacity to enjoy moments of calm or to engage in quiet contemplation. Bertrand Russell once wrote that children should be spared excessive trips to the theatre. Later it became comic books or pulp fiction. Then cinema and television. Then the internet. Now it is smartphones and the iPad.
Why would the MPACs need more funding? After all, they are already among the best-funded cultural organisations in the country. Opera Australia is the single largest recipient of Australia Council funding, receiving $20.5 million in 2014, plus another $4.2 million from the New South and Victorian governments. All up, Opera Australia receives more government funding than the 145 small-to-medium organisations put together.
But such an imbalance is par for the course in performing arts funding.
Last year, Facebook’s research department published a controversial study on ‘emotional contagion’ and in doing so revealed the extent of its ability to track and even manipulate the mental state of its users. The difference between God and Facebook is that God forgives – at least in theory. But you cannot simply say six Hail Marys and seven Our Fathers and expect your Facebook history to disappear. You can hide your status from your friends. You can delete your profile. But all of your dreams and dark moments are still swimming in the metadata, waiting to be resurrected as soon as they become relevant.
When Caitlyn Jenner, former Olympian and erstwhile patriarch of the Kardashian clan, came out as a transgender woman in early 2015, magazine editors around the world rubbed their hands together in glee. This is, I should note, not a new phenomenon: transgender women have been a figure of public interest since Christine Jorgensen made news headlines around the world in 1952: ‘Ex-G.I. Becomes Blonde Bombshell’. There was nothing new about Jenner’s story – it is no news to the world that transgender women exist – and yet every development of her transition has been recounted with breathless enthusiasm in gossip magazines and on Jenner’s own reality show, I Am Cait.
Reading is a pretty magical process: our brain transforms squiggles on a page into images, scenes and ideas that then link with our emotional and intellectual archive to form new internal experiences. This internal world bridges our imagined and lived lives, giving reading the power to transform not only our perspectives, but also us as individuals. But the changes to our lives brought about by technology have simultaneously changed our relationship with reading. It’s now the source of myriad anxieties: are we reading enough, what and how are we reading, are we retaining the knowledge and so on?
San Francisco is home to about 3000 murals. They adorn high schools, businesses and the walls of mini-parks, and are painted by school kids, teenagers, gang members and professional artists. Most contemporary ones are in the Mission.
Since 1971, this area has been home to an extraordinary flourishing of muralism. It began with the Mujeres Muralistas, a woman’s collective that grew out of both the American Civil Rights movement and Mexican muralist movement led by Diego Rivera.
In the area where I was born and raised, there is one remaining independent art school. This is because of the restructuring of Australian art schools that happened almost thirty years ago, a process that saw most independent institutions affiliate themselves with the major universities. The mergers, part of a reform policy by federal education minister John Dawkins, aimed to heighten the ‘international competitiveness’ and ‘national economic development’ of the tertiary education sector, and came just after free education was abolished in 1989.
It is hard to determine the veracity without having been there, but the tale is a good one. Guglielmo Marconi had a series of heart attacks in the mid 1930s – that much we know for sure. By this time, he was in his late fifties and an Italian hero: a pioneer of long-distance radio transmission, a statesman, a friend of Mussolini. Somewhere around the time of his fourth or fifth heart episode, so the story goes, Marconi became convinced that sounds live forever.
Submissions for the 2015 Overland Victoria University Short Story Prize were assessed blind. More than five hundred entries were equally divided between the judges, who returned after several weeks with a longlist of twenty-eight stories. This longlist was then reduced, over a number of rereads and discussions, to a shortlist of twelve diverse and ambitious stories, and finally to two runners-up and a winning story.
Over a number of days, Peter had been considering a recently recalled incident from his childhood. Perhaps not so much an incident, but more of a scene. In the course of being revisited, the memory had begun to take on a troubling quality. In the scene stand Peter, his mother, and a third person, an unfamiliar man with coldly appraising eyes. The man speaks. He says that Peter has a delightful face. ‘But his legs,’ the man says, staring at the boy’s scabbed shins.
Mornings were when they were most forgiving of each other. When they fucked now it was first thing, when they were still kind.
Before Clive got sick, he was always up early. He worked at the power plant in Hazelwood. Even when he’d been on night shift, he’d get up and make the coffee.
1.1 In the spring, when Brenda’s mother falls sick, she comes to wait it out with them. The newlyweds accommodate her dying presence with a stoicism approaching grace. Irene is a Newark purebred with an avowed desire to die on Manhattan, the only borough in which she has never lived. Among her residues are a palpable sense of triumph over the old neighbourhood and a miniature schnauzer named Mel.
bodies become corpses at the whim
of a machine gun rising up from
carthaginian waves no more suntans
I hear no birds at night
through thick concrete
and the lack is critical.
The full moon washes the garden in light.
Bare branches of elm, a tumble of ferns,
It’s not often she wears jeans. The full moon’s stillness to the east, spread of
There is a certain way of talking about light globes. I will write
we’ll always be running in the hail
local boys a-slouch like bus shelters
let’s make a vow achieve a strained
they’re off to a
mother in crocheted poncho,
My first dead body is when I am ten.
A buzz below the shimmer
tells us someone has drowned.
the image is lossy, you
shield your face before
it burns out a whole in
‘you missed it’,
Never cook a tiny goddess or have less love.
That summer we’d already lived
Drawings from time spent with an autonomous collective working to support people crossing Europe’s borders.
This year’s Story Wine Prize submissions yielded a superb collection of hotly contested favourites and we judges were blessed with an exciting long- and shortlist. For us, the best of these stories honed in on a moment, relationship, mood or event with precision and attention to the finest evocative detail, some managing to also traverse deep issues and spans of time – and all in fewer than 800 words.
Nora opens the door to the smokehouse, stands with her face pressed in the gap between door edge and frame, head almost inside. She leans her left hip and breast against the outer timber of the building, catching the fibres of her t-shirt on the unfinished wood. She twists and rests all of her weight on her right foot.
The red-haired man drove to the bay with his father’s dinghy in a trailer behind him, nodding through the morning darkness. Rounding a corner, water spilled onto the horizon. Hills ringing the shore were still black but beneath them, the sea was bright. The bay was real again.
As the bathwater cools you tell him about the seal wives. How they crept onto the beach under whispering stars, white and heavy-boned with hair more sea-weed than warmth. How a man, salted and tired with fish-grease, might spot a discarded sealskin in the lowlight as he dragged his coracle up the sand to unload his nets.