Archive for the 'australia' Category

america is not the heart, by elaine castillo

Baggage means no matter how far you go, no matter how many times you immigrate, there are countries in you you’ll never leave.

in which i succeed in naming three (3) emotions

I’m sad she’s dead, for the usual human and parasocial reasons.

I’m genuinely curious if also worried about what comes next.

And I’m angry, I am so so angry, about the British empire.

As a white Australian I exist because of what Britain saw as surplus population it could send to administer its stolen wealth. The ways in which my life was predetermined, the ways in which I was raised and educated to be a colonial bureaucrat, were callous and calculating and fundamentally genocidal, and have left me traumatized.

The thing about Elizabeth. The thing! That I managed to grope towards just now, is that she was a human sacrifice to empire. She had no choice and no escape. She had to do her duty.

And she did her duty flawlessly. She was incredible at it. A genuinely awe-inspiring triumph of will.

And she shouldn’t have done that. For two reasons. One (the most important) is because the Empire is a death cult that murdered millions on her watch. The other is that her performance of that duty is and always will be forced on the rest of us as the standard we will inevitably fail to meet.

I admire her. But I will not seek to emulate her. Her indulgence of powerful men and her racism were ruinous even in her immediate family, and catastrophic for the world. What she did so amazingly well is a thing that should never have been done.

Which loops back to sorrow. Those glimpses of the woman she could’ve been: the 18yo ambulance driver, the rider galloping her own racehorse.

What a fucking waste and betrayal of all her strength and integrity, to pour it out in the service of maintaining a corrupt status quo.

What a waste of mine.

monkey grip, by helen garner

I wished to trust, and so I trusted. When events did not please me, my dreams reworked them.

another day in the colony, by chelsea watego

To enact an existence that is always love and resistance demands of us a deliberate and conscious decision to find joy – not away from the fight, but in the fucking fight.

one day i’ll remember this, by helen garner

Mind filled, emptied, filled again with brilliant things I’d write if only I were brilliant.

ten steps to nanette, by hannah gadsby

The further away I am from Australia, the more work I have to do to explain the geographical situation of the place I grew up in.

panic! at the bookshop

Back in Sydney after more than three years, the longest I have ever been gone. There’s trams now. We’re staying in a beautiful Victorian terrace house in Surry Hills. Magpies and lorikeets sing in the trees. The rain is bucketing down and despite few hopes for the election, on Saturday the godawful Federal government washed away.

I still can’t seem to travel without getting untidy emotions everywhere. I timed my meltdown for Gleebooks, which feels more like home than anywhere else I have visited on this trip, filling my arms with history books as if they’d stop up my leaky heart.

more

After a pretty good run of books, including two history/biographies each of Imperial Rome, the First Fleet, the Donner Party and Hollywood in the seventies (spoiler: it’s settler colonialism all the way down), I have come to an annoying halt. You know when you pick up this book and that and you KNOW they’re good and if you were in another mood you would devour them, but today, eh? That.

Mostly, I think, it’s that I want to read more books exactly like Emma Southon’s Agrippina and A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Imagine I, Claudius rewritten by Tamsyn Muir: hilarious, serious, queer and profane.

I want this kind of telling of my own history, but the closest I found were the biographies of Esther Johnston, my umpty-great grandmother the Jewish convict and First Lady of New South Wales (Esther), and of her contemporary – NOT friend – Elizabeth Macarthur (A Room Made of Leaves). Weirdly, both books end halfway through the story, with Esther’s triumphant closure being social acknowledgment by Elizabeth, while Elizabeth’s is feeling a sense of connection to her Paramatta farm despite knowing perfectly well that she had wrested the land from it’s traditional custodians.

I mean, those narrative choices make sense when you consider that Esther died an alcoholic widow and Elizabeth’s entire life was mythologized to justify the attempted genocide of the indigenous people. The true stories are kind of a bummer and don’t fit traditional (imperialist) Chosen One story structures. But this is where Emma Southon is so fucking good. Agrippina’s story is also embedded in histories of violent dispossession and oppression, but Southon embraces the ambiguity and complicity and tragedy. Plus there are jokes and swears.

The Donner Party books – The Indifferent Stars Above and The Best Land Under Heaven – came closer to scratching that itch if only because there is no way to frame that story as anything like a triumph. The worst you can do (and this has been done plenty) is to cast it as a weird aberration, a sort of Californian Dyatlov Pass incident, whereas in fact it’s the logical consequence of white Western expansionism, manifest destiny literally eating its young.

And that’s how you get the US state of California, superimposed (by force) on the Bear Flag Republic and the Mexican Californios and Spanish Alta California and before and throughout all of that a landscape of indigenous cultures and languages maybe as ancient and diverse as those in Papua New Guinea. I went on to read The Mighty Franks and Hollywood’s Eve, both of which have to reckon with the titanic legacy of Joan Didion, the ur-pioneer. And look, back in the 90s I venerated Didion like any other young white woman would-be new journalist, but when you read Roberto Lovato’s Unforgetting and are reminded of her callous line on El Salvador, “Terror is the given of the place,” that veneration turns a little sour. Given by whom, exactly?

Hollywood’s Eve makes a decent case for Eve Babitz – sensualist, humanist – as a counterpoint to Didion’s ironic analyst, but it’s weird and deeply Californian that each in the wake of profound personal tragedy has taken a hard right turn. I can’t think of a neat way to end this post. History, and especially history with white women in it, is just like this: frustrating, messy and inconclusive.

the white possessive, by aileen moreton-robinson

It takes a great deal of work to maintain Canada, the United States, Hawai’i, New Zealand, and Australia as white possessions.

a room made of leaves, by kate grenville

Sydney Town was a dusty ugly angry place, a sad blighted bit of ground on which too many souls tramped out their days dreaming of somewhere else.

esther, by jessica north

When the Pilgrim Fathers had sailed in the Mayflower to establish the first European colony in North America, there had been only about a hundred colonists—all of them free settlers—and half of them had died during their first winter. Captain Phillip was taking more than a thousand people—most of them already weak, unhealthy convicts—on an eight-month voyage to the other side of the world.

the voice that thunders, by alan garner

When the British were deprived of their American Colonies, they were at a loss for a gulag in which to dump their political dissidents, especially the Irish, their petty thieves and social inadequates. Australia was a godsend, better even than America. It was as good as the other side of the moon.

the australian ugliness, by robin boyd

The trouble is a deep unawareness, and a wish to remain unaware, of the experience of living here, now.

flow

Last night as I was drifting off to sleep, I thought about Frenchs Forest, where I grew up, and the tiny pieces of bush that I knew so well: the undeveloped block adjoining the high school, which is now the Northern Beaches Hospital; the little steep park around the corner from our house, called Blue Gum Reserve; and the steeper gully leading into Bantry Bay, which is now part of Garigal National Park, named for the traditional custodians of the land.

Liz has been talking about BART stations through time, and for a minute I could see all those little remnants joined up into one vast sea of dry sclerophyll woodland fading into the blue distance. There were sandstone boulders and shady overhangs. Banksias and grevilleas grew brilliant and spidery in the understory. It smelled like eucalyptus trees under the hot sun and sounded like cicadas singing. This was my home country for tens or hundreds of thousands of years, before the houses were built, even before special constable and crown lands ranger James Ffrench clear-felled the forest that now, in ghost form, bears his name.

I realized that the high sandstone flats, in Allambie and Narraweena and Beacon Hill, are carved and were likely ceremonial. People would live closer to fresh water, I thought. As I traced in my mind the clear cool creeks (Frenchs, Carroll, Bates) that run down into Middle Harbour, I realized that the rill that ran across the bottom of the high school oval and into Rabbett Reserve (willow trees and golden sand, frogs and tadpoles) ran the other way, into the confusingly-named Middle Creek. My home was high on the watershed itself.

Middle Creek flows not into Middle Harbour but into Narrabeen Lagoon. According to the Dictionary of Sydney:

The camp site at Narrabeen Lagoon was the last community Aboriginal town camp to survive in the northern Sydney suburbs. Probably, before the British invasion, Narrabeen Lagoon was one of the many coastal occupation sites offering seasonal shelter, fish and wetland resources… higher and less accessible country was used for ceremonial and educational purposes by the Gai-mariagal. Dennis Foley, a Gai-mariagal (Camaraigal) descendant, describes the area as ‘the heart of our world’.

Dennis Foley has written of the destruction of the camp in the 1950s, when what became the Academy of Sport was built. When I was a child in the 1970s, it was whispered that there were still people living there. These were the survivors of the genocide of the Eora people. There is no sign or memorial.

I’ve been thinking a lot about gods and goddesses and the dead: la Calavera Catrina and Guadalupe and Epona, all psychopomps, all syncretist beings like me. I’ve been thinking about AORTA’s Theory of Change:

Decades of neoliberal policy have erased histories of enslavement and genocide, and the movements that fought and resisted along the way. Today’s social movements are often disconnected from local, regional, national, and global movement history, which can lead to a sense of isolation and alienation.

And about this essay, in which:

Derrida asked, ‘Is it possible that the antonym of “forgetting” is not “remembering”, but justice?’

Gods and goddesses move around outside time, where the dead are not gone, just elsewhere. Historical memory is a kind of augmented reality, a map drawn in the colors of love and grief and anger. May I honor the memory of my dead. May they seek justice through me. May I be a good ancestor in my turn.

the dealer is the devil, by adrian newstead

Imagine an Australia where the Aboriginal people negotiated a treaty and were never invaded by Europeans; where the trade routes embedded in the great songlines across the continent remained intact. Imagine what Australia could have been like today, if Aboriginal people had continued as the sovereign owners of the country. Imagine the Badi people farming pearls in partnership with Japanese traders; the Gija mining gold and diamonds and trading with the Chinese; the Pintupi sharing culture and wisdom with eco-tourists in a sustainable glass tower adjacent to Uluru; the Eora, enjoying the fruits of environmentally friendly condo development around Sydney Harbour.

lucky just to keep afloat

I’ve had the Split Enz song “Six Months In A Leaky Boat” on constant replay this trip. I wasn’t at all surprised to find out Tim Finn wrote it after a nervous breakdown. I complained to Jeremy that everything I want to say about the legacy of settler colonialism and consequent mental illness, this song says in five minutes.

Aotearoa, rugged individual
Glisten like a pearl, at the bottom of the world
The tyranny of distance, didn’t stop the cavalier
So why should it stop me? I’ll conquer and stay free

Ah c’mon all you lads, let’s forget and forgive
There’s a world to explore, tales to tell back on shore
I just spent six months in a leaky boat
Six months in a leaky boat

An old friend tried to argue that Doctor Who isn’t a modern King Arthur myth because “no one cares that much about stories.” And yet it moves. In case you’re not convinced that this song is a miracle of subversive irony, I’ll just point out that Thatcher banned it during the Falklands War.

craft for a dry lake, by kim mahood

There was a time when the notion of beauty would not have entered my head, when it was simply my place. I did not know it was beautiful

messing about in boats

We enjoyed the Rivercat so much that we’ve taken two more ferries, one around Scotland Island from Church Point and one to the Basin from Palm Beach. Pittwater smells of salt and diesel, the smell of my childhood. There are cormorants and kookaburras, gulls and jellies.

I read this remarkable essay about Australian childrens’ books as well as a thoughtful article about the high country brumbies that I can’t share because it’s paywalled to hell. Like the mustangs in California, Australia’s feral horses wreck delicate ecosystems. Scientists and the traditional owners of country want them gone. But local cattlemen lost grazing land to the Snowy hydro scheme and to the National Parks well within living memory. To them, the brumby cull is the last straw. In the paywalled article, National Party MP Peter Cochran whines: “You don’t have to be black to feel a connection to this land.”

I grew up on stories about brumbies, by Mary Elwyn Patchett and Elyne Mitchell. In them, the wild horse is as much a part of the bush as the possum and the kangaroo. It took me decades to recognize this as a way for white people to lay claim to what wasn’t theirs. When I revisited Patchett hoping to read her books to the kids, I was appalled by her racism. Mitchell’s father was Harry Chauvel of the charge on Beersheba. Both writers are immersed and complicit in the white supremacist, militarized, settler-colonialist narrative that Evelyn Araluen describes in her essay.

Even my beloved Swallows and Amazons, with its naval officer father and its mother who grew up sailing on Sydney Harbour, instructs children in exploration, mapping and conquest. Maybe Westerners can’t have innocent pleasures. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth questioning as simply messing about in boats. Do you want empires? Because that’s how you get empires.

and a cormorant, not shown

I miss Port Jackson a lot; people who say that the Bay is like it don’t seem to know either of them very well.

Last year we went to Cockatoo Island. This year we decided to keep going, as far as we possibly could, all the way to Parramatta. It was very hot and we all got sunburned and this is the cover of our next album.

I expected something vaguely industrial from the Parramatta River. Instead I got mangroves and casuarinas, pelicans and ibis.

Sydney is so enormously full of surprises that I do not think I will ever come to the end of it.

halfway across the world

I wrapped up a mighty four weeks at work before skiving off on (previously-scheduled) hols. My signature achievement so far is having matched names to faces for my boss’s eighteen direct reports. If you think I’ll retain that mapping after a fortnight sitting on Sydney beaches eating mangos, I have several bridges you might like to purchase.

This was my first time flying with my brand new cyborg leg. Despite what my doctors told me, it does indeed set off the metal detectors. I was frisked around the scar tissue, which was very interesting. Otherwise our flights were uneventful. You walk out of the Sydney international terminal into a wall of southern hemisphere summer and if you are me, it brings tears to your eyes.