This edition is off to print at the same time as Indigenous activists are establishing Camp Freedom on the Gold Coast, a protest against the stolen wealth that props up yet another Australian Commonwealth Games spectacle. Camp Freedom has echoes of Melbourne’s 2006 Camp Sovereignty, a powerful demonstration against colonial authority, which Tony Birch documents within these pages. Such occupations, Birch writes, present ‘a spectre of repressed Indigenous histories’ that ‘stake a claim’ on past and present.
I used to think that internet time was flat, and that the internet was an engine for stripping texts of their temporal context. I can see now that internet time is infinitely looped, labyrinthine.
Whenever I have moved closer to town, I have missed the cleaner air and the instant sweep of a cool change. Most of all, I like that heart-expanding sense of a horizon clean of buildings, which persists even when you can’t see the water.
I find the craft of writing drearily effortful, and both yearn for and resent the fluent, ecstatic altered states of consciousness that the ‘writering’ industry holds up as peak experiences. Leaps of imagination. Synaptic flashes of intellectual connection. The feeling that a story is ‘telling itself’, or that characters show up, fully formed, to narrate their own plots.
It’s now been over a decade since Indigenous activist group Black GST – Genocide Sovereignty Treaty – occupied Kings Domain, an ornamental parkland in the centre of Melbourne. The occupation, known as Camp Sovereignty, coincided with the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, which presented an opportunity to draw the international media’s attention to a range of Indigenous political struggles. What began as a two-week occupation soon morphed into a contest over place and memory, an act of resistance on a picturesque parcel of colonial land.
The scale and pace of planetary time is too grand for most of us to comprehend. For a rainforest fungus that arrives and dies within a day, a giant myrtle appears immortal and unchangeable. The fungus might write poetry in which the myrtle is a static and enduring backdrop to the drama of its own brief fling with life. With global warming, the spectacle of change has been brought into a time perspective that a single human life can understand. The comforting illusion of immutable environments has fallen away. In my working life I engage in the environmentalist conceit of arresting change – saving the regent honeyeater, stopping rising greenhouse-gas emissions, preserving an old-growth forest in a steady state – but as a writer, I strive for a broader perspective.
I have been writing about the giant Australian cuttlefish, Sepia apama, for years, but this is my first time seeing them in the wild. I have watched countless videos, read numerous books and articles, and repeatedly visited the permanent display in the South Australian Museum’s biodiversity gallery. Sepia apama swims in and out of my novel Dyschronia in various shapes and sizes – even as metaphor, as literary image, they insisted on transforming, slipping out from all my nets of meaning. I have obsessed over these strange creatures until they felt like a part of my inner life. I thought I knew what I was going to be looking at.
In 2013, American psychiatrist and climate change activist Dr Lise Van Susteren coined the term ‘pre-traumatic stress disorder’ (though the honour should properly go to satire website The Onion, which in 2006 featured an article on a condition with the same name) to describe stress reactions related to possible rather than past events. According to Van Susteren, the two conditions are phenomenologically alike, but in pre-traumatic stress disorder ‘we have in our minds images of the future that reflect what scientists are telling us; images of people and animals suffering because of dumb choices we are making today.’
I look over at my friend Jafar and am filled with relief. I am thankful he is not one of the men languishing on Manus Island right now. A refugee from Iran, who tried to get to Australia by boat, he could easily have ended up there.
We are both transients in Jakarta, albeit in very different ways.
Our lungs share the shock of the city’s thick, soupy air as we jog through the pollution-filled haze. Jafar can easily outpace me, but chooses to slow down. Barely raising a sweat, he talks constantly as I pant and drip and stumble along.
The other day I was trying to write a short story. While procrastinating, I googled ‘How to write a short story?’ The search yielded 1.75 million results, the first being ‘How to write an amazing short story’. This article’s number-one tip was to ‘know what a short story is’, and the author even provided a helpful definition: a short story is just like a story, but short. It shouldn’t be a novel, the article advised, and it should have limited characters. (I assume numerically, but perhaps psychologically. Then I tried to think of a story that had unlimited characters. Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate came close, but not quite. I concluded that on this basis, all stories are short stories.) ‘Keep it to 3000 words’ was another suggestion.
As a New Zealander, I have always been puzzled by the immense hold that journalist, poet and short-story writer Henry Lawson (1867–1922) has on the Australian imagination. Some of his writing is undeniably powerful, and his politics (anti-rural militant socialism alongside xenophobic nationalism) intriguing, yet his reification seems disproportionate. The more I read about his life, the more unappealing his character becomes. ‘The evidence for the claim that he was a great writer is easily accessible and incontrovertible,’ Brian Matthews observes. ‘That he was a great human being is another matter.’
Cities have been the focus of utopian thinking since early capitalist industrialisation manifested as rapidly expanding urban slums. From around 1750, disenfranchised rural populations flocked to cities, taking up work in unregulated, overcrowded factories or on dangerous construction sites. The vast majority experienced extreme poverty and were forced to live in crowded, unsanitary housing. Australia’s nineteenth-century cities were not as industrialised as those in Europe or the USA, but the inadequacy of housing and sanitation, along with not infrequent economic depressions, meant urban conditions were often comparable to those in the northern hemisphere.
We were pleased to see a broad range of entries in the 2018 Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize, stories diverse in form and voice, and creative in their approach to the theme of travel. We noticed that some writers struggled to think beyond cliché and others struggled to balance experimentation with engaging the reader. In general, though, the quality of entries was very high, and we enjoyed seeing some humour and formal experimentation in the mix.
This is the letter the government department has sent Joe, advising him that he could be deported. Here is the number of days until he might go: 28. A number as small and square and bureaucratic as the postage stamp on the envelope. Here is the lawyer’s website. This is the figure the lawyer quoted to help save him and it’s astronomical, eye-watering, but also doable. Essential.
In the summer days of 2010, Linh squatted in the back of the kitchen and pressed her bare back to the stone sink. Customers stopped coming in and even the ice melted in their tubs of sweet drinks in the fridge. At the end of the days, cubes of grass jelly shrivelled, growing wrinkled layers of film on their sides and Linh had to throw it all into the bushes at the back of the cafe.
The Mexican dream went something like this: Talia’s dad is dead, and what’s less like a dead dad than Pina Coladas on the beach, maybe some Mayan ruins, some of the less morbid ones. It was supposed to be just me and Maggie but we needed to get her out of it, her shredded family, the eulogies suggested by every park and school and supermarket. The whole city full of so sorry with Talia in the middle, sitting cross-legged on the kitchen bench among the funeral programs and the flowers, gorging herself on cheeses sent by the sympathetic.
It was a chilly evening in Tehran in 1983. Narges was sitting on the couch, listening to the radio, stroking her daughter’s hair. Asi lay asleep, her head on Narges’s thighs. The apartment was small and didn’t have much furniture. The war limited their luxury. Asi’s grandmother stood at the window, her small figure half-lit by the evening. She looked out through the steamed glass towards the autumn sky. No-one knew what lay behind those dense, livid clouds. A missile could hit their apartment this time, as it had next door.
‘Sophie, come and look,’ Mum calls. I sulk, go to the window. Pretend to give a shit about jewellery. The opals are arranged on velvet cloth, shimmering under the hot beam of an office lamp. Occurs in the fissures of almost any rock, the note card says, most commonly in limonite, marl, basalt, rhyolite. Before they’re mined, opals run deep underground, seamed through the earth like irregular veins. These stones look dead on the black cloth, as if prepared for reburial.
By the time he pulls into the driveway it’s almost midday. Mum’s got the turkey in the oven and the heat has steamed up all the windows, so I have to make a hole in the glass with my sleeve to see. But I know it’s him alright. I can tell by the way he walks up the path and the look on Mum’s face when she opens the door.
Karl had sharpened the knife exactly as I’d asked and he’d also brought home a bottle of Japanese whisky because he knew this was coming. He’d got started on the whisky in the car, out the front. I was drinking myself, watching him through the blinds, trying to decide if I would really do it or not. When he came inside I was sitting on the lounge. I had two clean glasses ready and he sat down beside me, stinking of beer, smoke and vegetable fat plus the cleaning products they use on the grill that take me way back to preschool.
Sifting through shells I think of you—
Green striped flange truncated at the stalk,
singed partner variously allocated,
the dusky hearing aid of secular distance enforced.
Woke up stockinged blindfolded disarranged over Ashgabat –
2 ½ romances surely about lands us at the crawling border –
Dulled unfaithful apples threatening the plague as you pay –
There were spectacular grounds for mistaking it for home –
Let fault flaw
Let the fence fall
Let’s flabbergast the goal with tongues
Let debacle warp in dawn
In the true style of Judith Wright, there soon emerged poems about the environmental gaze cast over land, heartfelt rebellions of courage, and history, as it is understood by individual rapture. As an Australian poet I felt pleasantly relieved and rewarded by the high poetic quality of submissions. At a glance it was obvious the strongest voice belonged to a much younger voice than mine – a delightful hope for the future of Australian poetry!
When you go as the spaces between wine&zoloft say you must
non-normative flags whip pink f*g umbrellas out of our trans- -gressive / expressive hands
Tiddalik say I’m such great thirst I will drain the land and drag my big fat belly
Artwork for this edition by guest artist Charlotte Allingham.