As this edition of Overland goes to print, refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru have been protesting for 180 consecutive days about their 1153 days in detention. Twelve hundred adults, children and babies rammed into (repurposed) containers or suffocative tents in a camp where water is scarce and food rotten, where rape and sexual abuse is an everyday occurrence, where escape is sought through self-harm or suicide. Misery and pain goes unheeded; broken bones, infections, diseases and ailments are treated with, at best, Panadol.
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.
As a high-functioning depressive, I’m good at keeping its muzzle on. But it gets its teeth in every now and then, and its bite is poison. There are toothmarks I don’t look at, because on that day I can hobble around and get things done. Some mornings I wake up and see them bleeding, see the flesh blackening around ancient wounds. Then I wonder how I can deal with anything at all. On those days, all I can see is that black dog. It’s got its teeth in everything.
I’ve noticed that criticism today is both offered and received in increasingly emotional terms. Descartes, that mean old robot guy, may have proven his existence using thought, but these days it seems toothless to stake intellectual claims by saying ‘I think’ or even ‘I believe’. Instead, it reveals much about the current state of criticism that we might begin a critique with ‘I feel …’
I write in response to AJ Carruthers in ‘Four perspectives on race and racism in Australian poetry’ (Overland 222). Aside from noting that his characterisation of what seems to be the undefined majority of Australian poetry as ‘conventional verse culture’, which simply imports and slightly renames ‘official verse culture’, that term of dismissal used by US experimental against what used to be called ‘academic’ or ‘confessional’ poets, I thought I should say something about the way he portrays part of my poetry.
The Foxconn deaths garnered unprecedented media attention, both inside and outside of China. It was the first many people had heard of the Taiwan-based multinational, despite it being the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer. In China alone, Foxconn currently employs over one million people at twelve factories. The products it manufactures – notable examples include the iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Nokia, Kindle, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Wii U – are staples of the developed world.
In June 2016, an Australian on minimum wage earned $656.90 per week. That is $34,159 a year, before tax. According to the Australian Tax Office’s ‘simple tax calculator’, the tax owed would be $3030, leaving a take-home salary of $31,128. Let’s call it $600 a week.
It’s fair to say that many of us would struggle to make ends meet on that income – $600 a week does not go very far in modern Australia.
When teaching creative writing, I invariably ask my students why it is they want to write. The answers range from the predictable – ‘to straighten out my thoughts’, ‘to create my own world and escape reality’, ‘to remember and capture memories’ – to the faintly quirky – ‘to reproduce the contours of my mind’, ‘to take ideas out and decide if they are a diamond or a piece of glass’. While these reasons are perfectly valid, I am yet to encounter a student who gives the answer I did when I first began my writing journey: ‘to change the world.’
What I want to try to explain is why Australian books cost as much as they do. This is because readers tend to know very little about the process of book production and the various factors that drive up prices. (As a secondary point, lower prices do not guarantee higher sales. There is a limit to the number of books even the biggest bibliophile can read in a year. Books require a significant investment on the part of the reader, both in terms of money and time, and so publishers need to worry about quality control as much as affordable pricing.)
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.
Jeremy Corbyn, the first radical socialist leader in the Labour Party’s history, was never going to have things easy. Elected against considerable resistance from the political establishment – but with 60 per cent of Labour members’ support amid a surge in party recruitment – his cards were marked from day one. Labour MPs let it be known that they would get rid of Corbyn by any means necessary. As it happens, the media has been their constant ally in the struggle.
This is not the first time a refugee crisis has washed up on the country’s shores: older Malaysians still recall the arrival of tens of thousands of Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s. The boats were initially pushed back out to sea, until, after increasing pressure from the international community, the Malaysian government established a refugee camp on the tiny island of Pulau Bidong. Less than one square mile in size, the island was deemed to have a capacity of 4500 – at its peak, it housed over 40,000 refugees.
Prison islands feature heavily in Australia’s post-invasion history. From the imprisonment of convicts on the islands of Sydney Harbour to the forced removal of Indigenous people to Rottnest Island and Flinders Island, Australian governments have a long tradition of punishing deviance – be it criminal, racial or both – offshore. Those deemed guilty of ‘wrongdoing’ have been kept out of sight and away from scrutiny – a tradition that lives on in the inhumane detention centres of Christmas Island, Manus Island and Nauru.
Submissions for the 2016 Overland Victoria University Short Story Prize were assessed blind. Five hundred entries were equally divided between the judges, who arrived at a longlist of thirty stories. This longlist was then reduced to a strong shortlist of fourteen, and finally to two runners-up and a winner.
She hunched under the vestibule of her tent in the hot, grey dawn. There was no breeze. Gums listless, flies already buzzing, the wet forest beckoning across the clearing. She pulled a water bladder from her pack and unscrewed the nozzle, pouring a generous amount into her canteen. Some spilled over her hands and it was a relief even at this early hour. She had not expected it to be so muggy this far south. She took a draught and wiped some water over her face, leaf rot steaming at her feet.
Ainsley stares into the mirror, pours herself into her eyes, there is no tear yet but soon there will be. [Best Newcomer: Television Drama!] Parts her lips. Does shocked-scared followed immediately by tortured-brave. Then her mother shows up, how’d she get in? Poor old mum, holding yet another scarf. But no, mum. Not the time. You get out. I’m doing sad. Ains holds her own gaze. It’s the beauty that gets her, these eyes are really pretty, she widens them, lets in a little air.
The first door is split directly from the centre of a swamp gum and is blocking up its home, swaddled in the bush. The timber’s grain ploughs its length and a fist of brass knocker presses its knuckles from the centre of the wood. As I float down the sandstone path, dressed as a vampire, the eucalypts in flower swirl all around me and their scent rains down and the sound of their smell is a bright and comforting chime of sweet wetness. And yet I am frightened – for a long time I’ve been unable to sleep.
I wanted to know, in a pause
whether the fine,
between nail and skin
was designed to be removed.
Never knew you properly
in the fifteen years
our lives overlapped.
This great expanse of country
always lay between us.
And so … to rouse a whip, coral or corral or currach
like coracle branded hide singed hair no modifier
no not really to live by said decisive akubra mirage
for Ania Walwicz
when I get what i want i worry
go off bleeding into the Dusk
lean my hungry Head against a taco
Truck, nibble till i’m fit to bust
on service Friendliness. independence
I drive the boat to the shack and do nothing
like knitting a Hole in the buffet table
and other Tasks that need mismanaging
I wake up five hours later for a tootle
to find Icecream in the fishtank and the phone ringing
alternate versions of tom thumb’s blues
you’re done up like somebody’s dream and that band
next door makes young marble giants
At night we leave the colony to go to the ballet:
Balanchine, mixed repertoire, Tchaikovsky.
It’s American Girl Night and the girls in pigtails and gingham
carry dolls in pigtails and gingham,