Thursday, 12 December 2019

A Poem for Thursday Dub

Photo by Christoph von Gellhorn on Unsplash
Dub Leffler grew up in the small western NSW town of Quirindi. He is descended from the Bigambul and Mandandanji people of south-west Queensland. He is an illustrator of children's books, including one of my favourites from 2011 Once There was a Boy (which he also wrote) and Sorry Day (2018) with Coral Vass.

NSW is currently in the grip of the worst start to the bushfire season in living memory. Over two months of non-stop fires, that have now joined up to create a 'mega-fire' zone north of Sydney, with no end in sight. I understand that Leffler's reasons for crying in this poem run much deeper than the current environmental crisis, still, it seemed appropriate to visit this particular poem today.

I Cry for You, Country
By Dub Leffler | 1 February 2019 | Cordite Poetry Review

I cry about this country.
As I travel about in between the sliced stone mountains.
The train is a salt dipped saw.
Sawing back and forth in the wounds.

I watch the relentless invasion of lantana. We open the cuts and rip off
I cry for you country.

A tree’s single scream lasts years.

When I die, you will have my body.
You take my water, you take my bone.

When we have our dead days,
I will think on you.

The day we finally go, is the day, we finally return.

Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness posts a lovely Poem for a Thursday each week. I enjoy sourcing poems from my recent reads to join in with her whenever I can.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

My Australian TBR - Vote Now!

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
What do you do when you're behind in your blogging schedule?
You make up a new list, of course!

A new list that sucks hours of your time and does nothing to help you finish any of the other posts in draft, but leaves you feeling weirdly satisfied.

A new list, inspired by N@ncy, to help international readers find Australian books.

A new list, that highlights just how severe my TBR issue really is.

A new list that you can help me reduce.

In the comments below suggest 3-5 books (or more if you have a lot of opinions) from this list that I REALLY should read sooner rather than later.

I will compile the numbers by the end of December.
I will then solemnly vow and promise to read the top FIVE books in 2020.

Below are the physical books and ebooks currently in my house or on my ipad. Some are new and some have been languishing for years. Help me decide which ones to read next?

Vote early and vote often!

The List:

1788 by Watkin Tench
7 Steps to Get Your Child Reading by Louise Park

Agamemnon's Kiss by Inga Clendinnen
Almost French by Sarah Turnbull
An Australian Girl by Catherine Martin
An Australian Lassie by Lilian Turner
Anatomy of Wings by Karen Foxlee
The Art of Reading by Damon Young
The Art of Time Travel by Tom Griffiths
Arthur Phillip by Michael Pembroke
At Midnight & Other Stories by Ada Cambridge
Australia Day by Stan Grant
Australian Life, Black and White by Rosa Praed
Australian Notebooks by Betty Churcher
Autumn Laing by Alex Miller
Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin

The Battlers by Kylie Tennant
Beauty by Bri Lee
Benang by Kim Scott
The Body in the Clouds by Ashley Hay
Boys Will Be Boys by Clementine Ford
Bridge of Clay by Marcus Zusak
The Bush by Don Watson
Bush Studies by Barbara Baynton

The Cardboard Crown by Martin Boyd
A Child's Book of True Crime by Chloe Hooper
Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse
Conditions of Faith by Alex Miller
Coonaroo by Katharine Susannah Prichard
The Cost of Courage in Aztec Society by Inga Clendinnen
Craft for a Dry Lake by Kim Mahood

Dancing With Strangers by Inga Clendinnen
The Danger Game by Kalinda Ashton
Darwin's Armada by Iain McCalman
Dead Man's by Mary Gaunt
Dear Parents by Gabbie Stroud
Dear Reader by Debra Adelaide
The Death of Jesus by J M Coetzee
Down in the World by Mary Gaunt
Dragon and Kangaroo by Robert Macklin
The Drover's Wife by Leah Purcell
Dr Space Junk Vs the Universe by Alice Gorman
The Dyehouse by Mena Calthorpe
Dymphna by Judith Armstrong

Elizabeth Macarthur by Michelle Scott Tucker
End of the Earth (short stories) by Mary Gaunt
The Essence of the Thing by Madeleine St John
Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany
Exiles at Home by Drusilla Modjeska

The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes
The First Book of Samuel by Ursula Dubosarsky
A First Place by David Malouf
From the Edge by Mark McKenna
Fugitive Anne, A Romance of the Unexplored Bush by Rosa Praed

Georgiana by Brenda Niall
Ghost Empire by Richard Fidler
The Great Barrier Reef by Bowen
Gum by Ashley Hay

A History of Books by Gerard Murnane
Home by Larissa Behrendt
The House by Helen Pitt
A Humble Enterprise by Ada Cambridge

Inner Worlds Outer Space by Ceridwen Dovey
The Insane Root by Rosa Praed
Island Home by Tim Winton
It's Raining in Mango by Thea Astley

Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner
Journey from Venice by Ruth Cracknell
Journey to the Stone Country by Alex Miller

Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land by Rosa Praed
Landscape of Farewell by Alex Miller
A Little Bush Maid by Mary Grant Bruce
Longlegs by Glenda Adams

Maurice Guest by Henry Handel Richardson
Maybe the Horse Will Talk by Elliot Perlman
The Media and the Massacre by Sonya Voumard
A Mere Chance by Ada Cambridge
The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee
A Million Windows by Gerald Murnane
Modern Love by Lesley Harding & Kendrah Morgan
Mr Hogarth's Will by Catherine Helen Spence
My Love Must Wait by Ernestine Hill
Myself When Young by Henry Handel Richardson

Napoleon: Passion, Death and Resurrection 1815 - 1840 by Philip Dwyer
No Friend But the Mountain by Behrouz Boochani
Not Drowning, Reading by Andrew Relph
Nothing New by Robyn Annear
Notebooks by Betty Churcher

The Old Lie by Claire G. Coleman
Omega Park by Amy Barker
On the Wallaby by Elinor Mordaunt
Only in New York by Lily Brett
Origin Story: A Big History of Everything by David Christian
The Original Australians by Josephine Flood

The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom
The Pea-Pickers by Eve Langley
The Penance of Portia James by Tasma
The Perversity of Human Nature by Ada Cambridge
The Pioneers by Katherine Susannah Prichard
Policy and Passion by Rosa Praed
Position Doubtful by Kim Mahood
Possum by Mary Grant Bruce

Quitting Plastic by Clara Williams Roldan & Louise Williams

Reading by Moonlight by Brenda Walker
A Reef in Time by Charles Veron
Resilience by Anne Deveson
The Retrospect by Ada Cambridge
Riding the Trains in Japan by Patrick Holland
The Romance of a Station by Rosa Praed
The Rose Grower by Michelle de Kretser

Sagaland by Richard Fidler and Kari Gislason
Shallows by Tim Winton
Silent Invasion by Clive Hamilton
A Single Tree by Don Watson
The Slow Natives by Thea Astley
Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters by Margot Neale
The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
The Spare Room by Helen Garner
Stasiland by Anna Funder
Stories by Helen Garner
The Swan Book by Alexis Wright
Sydney Harbour: A History by Ian Hoskins
A Sydney Sovereign & Other Tales by Tasma

Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman
Thirty Days by Mark Raphael Baker
The Three Miss Kings by Ada Cambridge
The Timeless Land by Elenor Dark
Tiger's Eye by Inga Clendinnen
Tivington Nott by Alex Miller
The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
Trick of the Light by Laura Elvery
True North by Brenda Niall
True Stories by Helen Garner
The Turning by Tim Winton

Uncle Piper of Piper's Hill by Tasma
The Unknown Judith Wright by Georgina Arnott
Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung

Watershed by Fabienne Bayet-Charlton
We of the Never-Never and The Little Black Princess by Aeneas Gunn
Welcome to Your New Life by Anna Goldsworthy
What Was Left by Eleanor Limprecht
Whipbird by Robert Drewe
The White Earth by Andrew McGahan
The White Girl by Tony Birch
A Wind from the Wilderness by Mary Gaunt
A Woman in China by Mary Gaunt
A Woman's Experiences in the Great War by Louise Mack
Women Kind by Dr Kirstin Ferguson & Catherine Fox
The Writing Life by David Malouf

You Daughters of Freedom by Claire Wright

Photo by Joey Csunyo on Unsplash

Sunday, 8 December 2019

The Translated Literature Tag

Created by Diana @Writings on Papyrus (a now defunct blog), this book tag is fabulous for anyone who loves to read books in translation.

All the wonderful links on Diana's blog have now, sadly, been lost. But hopefully we can start a new chain of favourite translated books for us to get excited about. Feel free to leave a link in the comments if you'd like to join in.

I. A translated novel you would recommend to everyone:

II. A recently read 'old' translated novel you enjoyed:
  • Les Miserables | Victor Hugo. A successful year-long slow read was the ideal way to tackle this chunkster. With 365 chapters, it's made for this kind of readalong - I highly recommend this approach. You'll learn everything you ever needed to know about Waterloo, the sewers of Paris, and the barricades. And love. In all it's guises.

III. A translated novel you could not get into:
  • Don Quixote | Cervantes. Sorry to all the fans of this epic Spanish novel, but I got tired, so very, very tired of the joke that never ended, the cruel humour that seemed so pointless and the story line that never went anywhere and kept repeating. It wore me out completely. The only enjoyment came from researching certain sections and reading along with others (I'm looking at you Silvia & Nick in particular) who were devoted fans. For them, I kept on trying, as long as I could.

IV. Your most anticipated translated novel release:
  • The Memory Police | Yōko Ogawa
  • The Memory Police is a 1994 novel by Yōko Ogawa. 
  • Published in English by Pantheon Books and Harvill Secker August 2019
  • Translated by Stephen Snyder. 
  • It is a science fiction novel set in a future of mass surveillance reminiscent of 1984, and written in a strange and dreamlike style influenced by Kafka.
    On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses—until things become much more serious. Most of the island's inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few imbued with the power to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten.
    When a young woman who is struggling to maintain her career as a novelist discovers that her editor is in danger from the Memory Police, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her floorboards. As fear and loss close in around them, they cling to her writing as the last way of preserving the past.

V. A foreign-language author you would love to read more of:
  • Banana Yoshimoto | Kitchen & Moonlight Shadow were enchanting short pieces that have me very curious about what else she can do.

VI. A translated novel which you consider to be better than the film:
  • My choice works the other way round - a film of a translated book which was far superior to the book goes to Out of Africa | Karen Blixen.

VII. A translated 'philosophical' fiction book you recommend:

VIII. A translated fiction book that has been on your TBR for far too long:
  • The Master and Margarita | Mikhail Bulgakov. I can't even remember where or when I picked this book up now. But it's Russian, there's a cat and the title contains my favourite cocktail. I really should have embraced this years ago.

IX. A popular translated fiction book you have not yet read, but want to very soon:
  • Norwegian Wood | Murakami. I'm overdue for another Murakami experience & I've decided this one should be next.

X. A translated fiction book (or author) you have heard a lot about and would like to find more about or read:
  • Patrick Modiano
  • Svetlana Alexievich
Any thoughts on which one's I should prioritise?

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Caring For Country by Billy Griffiths

Recently I read something or saw something about the Ranger program in the Northern Territory, which led me to Billy Griffiths report in the Griffith Review Edition 56 | Millennials Strike Back | April 2017, Caring for country: The place where the Dreaming changed shape.

It's fascinating and encouraging to see the various ways that Indigenous peoples around the world are maintaining faith with their old ways as they incorporate the parts of modern life that suit them as well. The Ranger programs running in the NT are all about teaching the young how to care for country and get in touch with their culture. To make their work easier, they now use GPS, satellite imagery, aerial photography and other modern technologies. They also learn how to create new stories, art, dance and songlines that reflect their modern lives.

The other emerging story, gaining traction in the articles I'm reading, is the capacity of the Aborigines of Australia to evolve and adapt to seismic change over the 65 000 years they have lived on this continent. From the extinction of the megafauna to surviving the last ice age. White settlement is just one more thing to survive, adapt to and incorporate. The (white) story is also slowly evolving - from seeing the Aborigines as a culture doomed to die out in the face of a (superior) larger civilisation - to celebrating the longest living culture in the world surviving against all odds. Two hundred years in the context of 65 000 may seem like a mere blimp in time, but the consequences of our 200 years together impact all our daily interactions and understandings. We can marvel at the 65 000 years but it is today that we have to live in.

How does the NT ranger program figure in all of this?

Billy Griffiths takes us to Djinkarr, a small outstation in western Arnhem Land. He claims that these small, remote, poorly connected settlements are a good thing, (which flies in the face of the usual white conviction). He says there are 'overwhelming benefits to having people living on country. People sustain country, and country in turn sustains people.'

The country also gets a lot of love from Griffiths:
Small fires streak the savanna beneath me, as the land is worked and cleaned. The gentle smoke on the horizon is sign of a healthy country. In the distance, disappearing into a soft haze, lies the rugged stone country of the Arnhem Land Plateau. The plane wobbles over the mouth of the Liverpool River, where saltwater meets fresh, and descends towards a thin ribbon of grey on a cleared patch of thick, earthy red: the international airport. On one side of the airstrip, a few dozen houses cluster around a football oval; on the other, a neat grid delineates the newest suburb, called simply ‘New Sub’. Maningrida, as our destination is known, takes its name from the Kunibídji phrase Mane djang karirra: ‘the place where the Dreaming changed shape’.
This particular essay came about thanks to Griffiths involvement in a short-term, independent art and environment initiative known as The Arnhembrand Project. The aim was to tell 'healthy country' stories through paint and performance, science and oral history. The rangers play an important role in creating new stories about what is happening to their country.
The Djelk IPA is a vast estate, extending across monsoon rainforests, tropical savannas, grasslands, wetlands, sea country and stone country – ....Buffaloes, pigs, feral cats and cane toads have trampled, chewed, rubbed and wallowed their way across a delicate ecosystem, destroying habitats, spreading weeds, muddying springs, transforming the vegetation and exacerbating the eroding impact of wildfire. The effect on native species has been devastating. Their decline and extinction have deprived the Bininj of bush tucker as well as delivering a more existential loss: the displacement of totemic beings from their ancestral homes.

The rangers are using cool fires to manage the land, they are systemically clearing the land of weeds such as mimosa and they are culling the buffalo herds that are devastating the land and the local fauna.

The outstation movement and ranger programs have been evolving since the 1970's as small groups left the townships, failing due to illness and alcoholism and lack of purpose. They felt 'driven by a responsibility to return to country, to tend to sacred sites and to work the land through fire, ceremony, hunting and gathering.'

Betty Meehan, anthropologist, has spent her career working with various Aboriginal groups around Australia. In the 70's she was in the NT with the Blyth River people, where she claimed that this was not 'the end of the Dreaming', instead this was the place where the Dreaming was changing shape.

The late Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek (Wamud Namok), an Aboriginal elder from Manangrida said that the biggest threat to the environment is ‘empty country’: ‘not having people on country to look after it’.
The outstations, combined with the ranger services, are the key to avoiding the neglect that comes from empty country. ‘Outstations are not about the old ways, they are the birthplace of the new ways for us.’

The ranger program has not only benefited the local environment, it has also reintroduced pride and purpose into the community with kids staying at school longer to qualify for the internships. The flow on effects for health, mental health and the local economy seem self-evident.

There have been numerous articles and programs highlighting the ranger programs in the NT, Queensland and WA and even more websites devoted to sharing the news about local programs. A few are listed below.

ABC News | 25 Nov 2018 | Indigenous rangers in training.
The Conversation | 15 Jan 2018 | Indigenous ranger programs are working in Queensland.
SBS News | 14 Feb 2018 | WA gets all female Indigenous ranger teams.
Njanjma Aboriginal Corporation
Warddeken Land Management
APN Cape York
Pulu Indigenous Protected Area
Western Mulga

I'm glad I could end #AusReadingMonth with a good news story.

Image source

  • Billy Griffiths is an historian and lecturer in Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies. 
  • Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia (Black Inc., 2018)
    • Winner of the Ernest Scott Prize 
    • The John Mulvaney Book Award
    • The Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction
    • 2019 Book of the Year at the NSW Premier’s History Awards.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

AusReadingMonth Wrap Up

Another AusReadingMonth has come and gone.
Another month of reading lots of fabulous Australian literature and sharing them all around the world.

Thank you one and all for your participation, for sharing your thoughts and for all your enthusiasm. The main reason I keep coming back to host AusReadingMonth year after year is you.
I love our chats and I love seeing Australian authors being celebrated all around the world.

What was your favourite Aussie read this year?

Did you finish your AusReadingMonth Bingo card?

My favourite Aussie read this year (so far) has been The Yield by Tara June Winch.
My favourite read during AusReadingMonth was Ceridwen Dovey's In the Garden of Fugitives.

I almost completed my Bingo card.
It was only in the dying days of the challenge I realised I had forgotten the ACT. I may still try to squeeze one in over the next few days! The link for reviews will stay open for a few more days to capture any of your late reviews as well.

My Bingo Card looks a little like this:

Caring For Country | Billy Griffiths (NT) (Essay)
The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted | Robert Hillman (VIC) (Novel)
Griffith Review 63: Writing the Country (NSW, QLD, VIC, TAS, WA plus Lord Howe Island, Heron Island & PNG) (Essays, Poems & Short Stories)
In the Garden of Fugitives | Ceridwen Dovey (FREE) (Novel)
Trace Fossils | Alice Gorman (SA) (Essay)
Till Apples Grow on an Orange Tree | Cassandra Pybus (TAS) (Memoir)
The Water of Life | Mary-Rose MacColl (QLD) (Novella)
99 Interpretations of the Drove'rs Wives | Ryan O'Neill (NSW) (Oulipian)
The Wonder Child | Ethel Turner (NSW) (Novel)

Sadly, while we reading all about Australia during November, large areas of the country were ablaze with bushfires. NSW, Queensland, parts of Victoria and South Australia have been covered in smoke haze day and night, preparing for the worst, hoping for the best, as fires rage out of control. And it's not even summer yet!

Six lives, hundreds of thousands of hectares of farm land and forest and dozens of homes have been lost to the fires. But it is the wildlife that have really suffered this time. The koala habitats along the eastern seaboard have been devastated and many are now saying that the koala population of Australia is functionally extinct, which apparently, is not entirely true. The images have been confronting and upsetting, but this National Geographic article gives the less sensational and more accurate lowdown on what is happening to our koalas. Their situation is desperate, but not yet at a point of no return.

In the weeks to come, I will post a list of my (current) Australian reading list to inspire you for next year's AusReadingMonth.

However, November is not the only month of the year that you can get excited about reading Australian authors.

The next Aussie reading event to get excited about is Bill @The Australian Legend's Gen III reading week in the middle of Jan 2020. This is the month to read books written by Eleanor Dark, Christina Stead, Eve Langley, Jessica Anderson, Thea Astley, Elizabeth Harrower, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Dymphna Cusak, Mena Calthorpe, Kylie Tennant, Ruth Park, Nettie Palmer, Joan Lindsay, Ernestine Hill and Charmaine Clift just to name a few. For a full list visit Bill's blog.

In Feb 2020 the Stella Prize longlist will be announced. Many bloggers & tweeters aim to read the entire list before the winner is announced in April.

For an extensive list of Australian women writers and their books reviewed by bloggers, visit the Australian Women Writer's Challenge.

Early in July 2020, also watch out for Lisa @ANZ Lit Lover's Indigenous Literature Reading Week.

I will continue to read and review Australian books throughout the year, but until November 2020, that's all for AusReadingMonth 2019.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman

Text Publishing:
Tom Hope doesn’t think he’s much of a farmer, but he’s doing his best. He can’t have been much of a husband to Trudy, either, judging by her sudden departure. It’s only when she returns, pregnant to someone else, that he discovers his surprising talent as a father. So when Trudy finds Jesus and takes little Peter away with her to join the holy rollers, Tom’s heart breaks all over again. 
Enter Hannah Babel, quixotic smalltown bookseller: the second Jew—and the most vivid person—Tom has ever met. He dares to believe they could make each other happy. 
But it is 1968: twenty-four years since Hannah and her own little boy arrived at Auschwitz. Tom Hope is taking on a batttle with heartbreak he can barely even begin to imagine.

This is not really a book about a bookshop.

But the lost and brokenhearted are everywhere.

If you're looking for another 84 Charing Cross Road or The Little Paris Bookshop or The Storied Life of A J Fikry, then this is not it. However if you enjoy gentle historical fiction full of love, tenderness and beautiful scenes of Victorian country life, you've found a winner.

Hillman has previously written the biographies of three Holocaust survivors - all women - so he is pretty well placed to write a sympathetic and accurate story about another such woman. It's not the first time that a bookshop setting has been used to represent culture and civilisation as a counterpoint against a time, person or place that is the complete opposite. But it is a useful, hopeful way of showing us how the better side of human nature triumphs over the worst.

In the Reading Guide for the Canadian edition of his book, Hillman said,
...victory. In the life of all Jews who outlived those who wished to murder them and found the courage to embrace life again, a victory is recorded. For me, every lovingly maintained bookshop is also a victory over all that is dowdy and dumb in the world.

The titular bookshop is more of an idea than the actual setting of the story, though.

The main backdrop of the story is Tom's farm in country Victoria. The bookshop may be a place of courage and ideas, but Tom's place is all about the heart and soul. It's a place to heal, to belong and to feel safe. All the main characters in the story are lost and damaged, one way or another. There are varying degrees of tragedy and trauma explored. Whether it's at the hands of a Christian fundamentalist cult, a deranged gunman, a thoughtless wife and mother, a revolutionary mob or Adolf Hitler. However, Hillman also said that,
it would be grotesque to suggest that the suffering of Hannah at the hands of the SS could be compared to Tom’s sorrow when Peter is taken away. People can recover from a broken heart, but the particular circumstances of Hannah’s heartbreak—no. The issue is not “recovery” but whether a commitment to life might allow a person to bear a terrible burden and still see the poetry in the world.

It is that commitment to life, that this gives this gentle story a little something special. It's easy to say that good will triumph over evil, that education will win out over ignorance and that kindness will oust brutality, but how? It doesn't just happen. You have to decide to make it happen. A life well-lived is the best victory of all.

  • Longlisted for the Australian Book Industry Award, Small Publishers' Book of the Year, 2019

Thursday, 28 November 2019

A Poem for a Thursday by Ali Cobby Eckermann

N.B. I selected my AusReadingMonth poems over a month ago.

Given the horrendous bush fires around NSW and Queensland throughout November, I felt it was important to come back to say that this poem, and my choice to post it today in no way reflects the current state of emergency in many of our national parks and forests.

As Eckerman clearly states in her preface to her poem, it was written in response to a (stupid) political appointment a year ago and describes a feeling, not an action.

When I first read (Kuru Waru) Bushfires Eyes I was struck by the powerful imagery and the passion behind the words. Repeat readings have only reinforced its impact.

(Kuru Waru) Bushfires Eyes
By Ali Cobby Eckermann | 1 February 2019 | Cordite Poetry Review

A response to the appointment of Tony Abbott as Special Envoy of Indigenous Affairs by the newly self-elected Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison 29 August, 2018.

There are bushfires burning in my eyes
I am burning down the modern world
I am burning your invasion of me
I am burning the image of you
You are all burning on my pyre

I am burning your prejudice of me
I am burning your paternalism
I am burning your policies
I am burning your excuses
I am burning your greed

I am burning your lack of understanding
I am burning your refusal to acknowledge that
I am burning your insults and beratings
I am burning your reaction to this poem
There are bushfires burning in my eyes

My Mother the land is crying
My Mother is crying with beauty
My Mother is crying with sadness
I am crying for all my mothers
We are crying for our land

Our tears are embers unable to quell
There has been no lull in you
There will be no lull in me
I am burning down the modern world
There are bushfires burning in my eyes

Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness posts a lovely Poem for a Thursday each week. I enjoy sourcing poems from my recent reads to join in with her whenever I can.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Griffith Review 63: Writing the Country edited by Julianne Schultz & Ashley Hay

Image: James Tylor, Turralyendi Yerta (Womma) 2017 Photograph with ochre & charcoal.

Place. Land. Country. Home. These words frame the settings of our stories. Griffith Review 63: Writing the Country focuses on Australia’s vast raft of environments to investigate how these places are changing and what they might become; what is flourishing and what is at risk.
How we speak of and to the world we live in requires us to make sense of where we are and where we’re going; it requires us to describe, interrogate and analyse our places from the smallest to the grandest of scales. In the second issue of Griffith Review, published fifteen years ago, Melissa Lucashenko wrote of ‘earthspeaking, talking about this place, my home’. All these years later, the need to hear all sorts of earthspeak has perhaps never been more urgent.

In the past, I would have gobbled up the stories, essays, poems and articles in a Griffith Review edition in one fell swoop. Leaving me with a general impression of the theme of the edition and a vague memory of some of the pieces. But this time, I decided to go slow.

Slow Reading is my new mantra. I want to read as thoughtfully, consciously and carefully as I can as often as I can. Obviously, not all books lend themselves to this approach. Some stories are lightly told, some favourite series are formulaic although lovable and comforting and some books are nothing more than a quick, easy holiday read. They all have their purpose, time and place.

But some books deserve more. And sometimes I deserve more!
Sometimes I want to devote more time to one book so that I can savour each moment, delve deeply and create a rich reading memory of my time with the book.

In recent times. Les Miserables was one such book, and I'm currently reading Moby-Dick with this slow reading approach. Back in February, when I acquired my copy of the Griffith Review 63, I decided to do the same. To slow read each essay and story. To let each one stand alone in my memory.

I confess, I didn't think I would still be reading it in November!

It also left me in a quandary about how best to record my slow reading experience. Giving each piece it's own post would be too laborious for me and rather dull for you, oh brave internet wanderer who landed on my page!

The passing of time has allowed the answer to present itself to me. Just like my Moby-Dick chapter posts, I will present each essay with a brief snapshot of the things that caught my eye or captured my imagination. Poems and stories I will leave for another time.

Introduction: On Suicide on Watch? The Enduring Power of Nature | Julianne Schultz (26th Nov 2018).
  • societies and cultures evolve in response to the environment in which people find themselves.
  • unforeseeable natural events have destroyed some civilisations...but others have been undone by over-exploitation
  • Arnold J Toynbee quip - more civilisations die from suicide than murder.
    • A classical historian and writer of comparative history.
    • Hugely popular and influential in the 1940's and 50's.
    • Now criticised for being more of a Christian moralist than an historian - ouch! (Encyclopedia Britannica).
  • Schultz believes that we may be on 'suicide watch' but we can still feel optimistic with a 'sense of agency'.
  • McLean Foundation and The Nature Conservancy commissioned writers for this edition.
    • The McLean Foundation is a family foundation that has four areas of interest: protecting Australia’s biodiversity; supporting inter-city, rural and remote literacy programs for disadvantaged Australian children; rural tertiary education scholarships; and community development programs. 
    • Their environmental funding to date has included establishing and supporting The Nature Conservancy Australia and their Nature Writing Prize. Robert McLean is the Chair of The Nature Conservancy Australia, a Senior Advisor to McKinsey & Co, and a Board Member of Philanthropy Australia.
    • I love that people like Robert McLean exist. Read his 2011 bio in the SMH here.
Essay: Crossing the Line | Ashley Hay
  • or the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.
  • There are mechanisms and consequences we can already see and understand (the known knowns).
  • There are effects and impacts we can see happening without yet understanding why, or how they might impact each other (the known unknowns).
  • And then there are the 'unknown unknowns', the layers of knowledge about our planet's natural systems, their requirements, their reactions and interactions that we don't know about yet. The Things that we cannot see coming.
  • 30 yrs ago the CSIRO investigated what would happen if we doubled the concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere. 
    • 'Most of the consequences that science then predicted would occur by 2030 we've already seen.' Griffith University's Emeritus Professor Ian Lowe.
    • Including Perth's rainfall declining by about a quarter in 30 years. But what wasn't predicted was the decline by two-thirds of the run-off rate. 
    • 'it's hotter and drier when it rains, which means there's a more dramatic reduction in run-off' - which means there is less water available to be collected when it does rain.
  • A road trip is a kind of mediation. Time and space stretch a little and you pay different attention to the landscapes you move through.
  • biophilia - love of nature
  • The Permian-Triassic extinction, 252 million years ago, wiped out more than nine-tenths of all species. It took the ecosystems effected about 5-8 million years to recover.
  • The unknown unknowns in all of this are each and every one of us: what we purchase, what we vote for and what we insist on, as much as how we live.
  • Hay's solution - pay attention, witness this moment, imagine the unknowns, imagine what's coming next.

Essay: Lost and Found in Translation | Kim Mahood
  • Books in books - Kangaroo (D H Lawrence), Voss (Patrick White), To the Islands, Tourmaline, Midnite, Visitants and The Merry-go-round in the Sea (Randolph Stow), Animal Farm (George Orwell), Tracks (Robyn Davidson), The Songlines (Bruce Chatwin), Belomor (Nicholas Rothwell)
  • what is consistent in all these books is the presence of Aboriginal people in various configurations.
  • Ochre and Rust (Philip Jones) songlines are a 'kind of scripture, a framework for relating people to land, and to show that their relationship is inalienable.'
  • The major songlines, such as the Seven Sisters, are like arteries that carry the life force of the culture through the body of the country.
  • songlines are fixed in the landscape
  • but they can be performed anywhere, with permission.
  • the land is as conscious as the people who live in it.

Essay: Boodjar ngan djoorla: Country, my bones | Claire G Coleman
  • My bones are in the soul of Country, and Country is in my bones.
  • No matter where we go Country calls out to us.
  • I wept when I realised Country had not forgotten me even when I did not know Country. My old-people, my ancestors, would care for me.
  • Truth escapes in the end, lies cannot live forever.

Essay: A Fragile Civilisation: Collective living on Australian soil | Stephen Muecke
  • Ancient Indigenous civilisations and/or modern Western civilisations.
  • I would like to define civilisation as planned, sustainable collective living.
  • Yolngu as Indigenous example.
    • If the Yolgnu have flourished for up to 50 000 years, while the kind of civilisation based on large cities could self-destruct after only a few hundred, perhaps it is time to recalibrate what we mean by civilisations.

Essay: The Planet is Alive: Radical histories for uncanny times | Tom Griffiths
  • Amitav Ghosh - The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2016)
    • we are knowingly killing the planetary systems that support survival of our species.
    • we half aware of this predicament yet also paralysed by it, caught between horror and hubris.
  • Anthropocene - a new geological epoch that recognises the power of humans in changing the nature of the planet, its atmosphere, oceans, climate, biodiversity, even its rocks and stratigraphy.
  • The Great Acceleration - from the 1950's when the human enterprise suddenly exploded in population and energy use.
  • Or the Sixth Extinction - humans have wiped out about two-thirds of the world's wildlife in just the last half century.
  • Big History - David Christian - history of the universe - global storytellers.

Reportage: A Change in the Political Weather? Forecasting the future of climate policy | Paul Daley

  • Carl Feilberg - late 1800's Queensland - human rights activist & environmentalist.
    • Bio coming soon by Robert Ørsted-Jensen.
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
  • Daley wrote this piece Nov 2018 and talked about politicians being out of step with public opinion about climate change and that this would be evident in the federal election in 2019. Instead it showed that journalists were out of step with the broader public opinion about climate change. They were (I am) living in an inner city bubble and we all made the mistake in thinking that the rest of Australia (rural, suburban and city fringes) felt the same as us or had the same priorities and concerns.

Essay: We All Took a Stand: Margaret River versus the coal industry | David Ritter
  • Loved this piece.
  • I had no idea that this even happened - there is power in our stories if we choose to tell them.
  • The community of the Margaret River took on the coal industry and won.
  • Australia's approval systems for fossil fuel mining are antiquated and loaded towards the interests of developers.
  •  In this case, the political and business elite decided, emphatically, that some things are more important than the extraction of fossil fuels.

Essay: Life and Death on Dyarubbin: Reports from the Hawkesbury River | Grace Karskens
Essay: Rebuilding Reefs, Restoring Memory: At work in the waters of history | Anna Clark
  • Clifton Springs shellfish reef restoration project, near Geelong.
  • R H Tawney - doing history well meant contemplating the processes of how (and where) the past relates to people in the present.
  • over 95% of native flat oyster & blue mussel reefs have disappeared across southern Australia.
  • each generation remembers what fisheries were like at the beginning of their own lifetimes, so that the baseline of that ecosystem subtly changes over ever-lower bar is set as the 'new normal'.

Reportage: The Butterfly Effect: Stalking a giant in PNG | Jo Chandler
  • 1906 | Albert Stewart Meek
  • Ornithoptera alexandrae | Queen Alexandra's birdwing - largest butterfly in the world.
  • rural people do not always understand the outsider notion of 'conservation', and outsiders do not always understand what villagers think of when they imagine 'development'.

Memoir: The Suburbsm the 60's: What use a scrap of bush? | Kate Veitch
  • Growing up in Vermont and Nunawading.
  • An outdoor life, playing in the nearby bush.
  • Naturally, we never talked about our adventures to our parents. Nor did they ask. This was an era when parents had better things to do than hover over their children, monitoring their every move.
  • Healesville Freeway Reserve | 2012
  • The importance of place & childhood spaces.

Reportage: Eating Turtle: Changing narratives of the normal | Suzy Freeman-Greene
  • Heron Island
  • the heroes of the story are scientists.

Memoir: It's Scary but Nobody Cares: Challenging Australia's reputation for deadliness | Ashley Kalagian Blunt
  • A Canadian view of Australia, drop bears and other deadly creatures.

Essay: Valuing Country: Let me count three ways | Jane Gleeson-White
  • In 2008, Ecuador became the first country to recognise the rights of nature.
  • Rights-of-nature laws also now in Bolivia, New Zealand, India and Colombia.
  • three ways of thinking about the natural world - country, natural capital, rights of nature.
  • 2016 Fitzroy River Declaration recognises the river as a living ancestral being with its own life force.
  • 2017 Yarra River Protection (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron).
  • 2018 petition to protect the legal rights of the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Capitalism is fundamentally opposed to preserving nature.
  • ecological economics.
  • protecting the environment is a good thing for humanity | Carl Obst

Reportage: Ghost Species and Shadow Places: Seabirds and plastic pollution on Lord Howe Island | Cameron Muir
  • Runner-Up Bragg UNSW Press Prize for Science Writing 2019
  • Shortlisted for the Eureka Prize for Science Communication
  • flesh-footed shearwaters | mutton birds
  • they vomit plastic. The parent shearwaters here are slowly feeding their chicks to death with plastic.
  • the plastic blocks their digestive tracts and can pierce internal organs.
  • A torrent of plastic is coming. More plastic was produced in the last fifteen years than in the previous fifty

Essay: The Cost of Consumption: Dispatches from a planet in decline | James Bradley
  •  2018 Living Planet Report
  • The sheer scale of the problem makes it difficult to think about.
  • As creatures disappear, we forget them, as baselines shift we adjust, and the world as it was is lost.
  • The Great Acceleration
  • For while population growth has played a part, the rise in GDP and energy far outstrips the rise in population. In fact it is humanity's booming middle classes...who are the problem. The ecological footprint of an average Australian or American is three times that of a Costa Rican, and almost eight or nine times that of the average Indian or African. It is also, significantly, double that of many Europeans.
  • The real problem is the insatiable consumption of the world's wealthy.
  • We already possess the technologies to deal with the problem - renewable energy, sustainable farming practices...better education and literacy, especially for women...basic taxation and economic reform...better governance....
  • Environmental justice is also social justice and intergenerational justice. But it is also interspecies justice.

Essay: Climate Change, Science and Country: A never-ending story | Brendan Mackey
  • the climate norm will be there is no norm.
  • scientists are not catastrophists - they project rather than predict.
  • Climate change may be a scientific discovery, but it is the humanities and creative arts that speak to what this means.

Reportage: Remaking Nature: Novel strategies in modified landscapes | Andrew Stafford
Essay: Transforming Landscapes: Regenerating country in the Anthropocene | Charles Massey
  • regenerative farming
  • Many of the world's desertifying environments are the result of human activity. In Australia - as in the Middle East...
  • in mismanaged landscapes the small water cycles are destroyed.
  • capitalist market economy believes in continual growth. Nature is viewed as a raw material for wealth and property creation.
  • to become landscape literate.
  • Paul Hawken | human brain is not wired to deal with future existential threats.
  • Project Drawdown
  • This is not a liberal agenda, nor is it a conservative agenda...this is a human agenda.

Essay: Encounters with Amnesia: Confronting the ghosts of Australian landscape | Inga Simpson
  • Judith Wright | The love of the land we have invaded, and the guilt of invasion - have become a part of me. It is a haunted country.
  • Louisa Atkinson | 1853 | The Illustrated Sydney News | Nature Notes

  • Eric Rolls | A Million Wild Acres | 1981
  • Mark Tredinnick | The Blue Plateau | 2009
  • One of the most obvious characteristics of Australian nature writingnis the tension, for non-Indigenous Australians, around how to write about our connection to the places we love, knowing that those places were stolen from others, and possibly sites of violence.
  • Although thinking of ourselves as a bush nation, we are, in fact, urban and suburban - and increasingly illiterate in nature.
  • Nature wanting to belong, a yearning for connection with the natural world and the places in which we live. To be at home....Instead of trying to write ourselves all over the landscape, it is time to hear what it is saying and write it deeper into our selves.

This is the very first Griffith Review I have read from cover to cover. 

Previously I have enjoyed the occasional essay or story when an online prompt led me to the one free monthly read I am allowed as a non-subscriber. I was, however, particularly drawn to the topic of this edition. I figured it would have lots to say about the environment, climate change, Indigenous perspectives and landscape. It did. 

My Goodreads wishlist has exploded as I pour over the individual the bibliographies and I have found new authors to explore. I have discovered new-to-me websites and environmental projects that not only provide the scientific facts about climate but also give us all hope that we can really look after this planet we live on, if we really want to.

I won't be able to devote as much time as I have for this edition to all future editions, or even to catching up on the back list editions. It will be a case of cherry-picking the topics and authors that interest me or challenge me the most.

The various essays, stories and poems in this edition, helped me to complete several squares on my AusReadingMonth Bingo card - NSW, VIC, QLD, TAS and WA. As a bonus, I also ticked off a few nearby islands - Heron Island, Lord Howe Island and PNG.


Monday, 25 November 2019

In the Garden of Fugitives by Ceridwen Dovey

Don't let me mislead you into thinking that In the Gardens of the Fugitives is a book about gardening, food and recipes, even though I'm going to start with a recipe. 

Apparently one of the food items uncovered during the excavations of Pompeii, was a medallion of ham flavoured with bay leaves and fig slices. Normally a mere reference to a meal in a book wouldn't be enough to have me scrambling for recipes, except this week the Christmas ham has been on my mind.

I have a lovely recipe for a marmalade, dijon mustard & whole clove glaze that I inherited from a beloved aunt, that has been my go-to for the past decade. I'm not sure that family tradition will allow me to mess with this on Christmas Day, but I'm now dead keen to try the Pompeian version at some point. Boiling a ham and wrapping it pastry isn't my usual thing though (which seems to be how the Ancients preferred their ham), so I've found an online recipe that tweeks these old flavours by basically swapping them out with my usual ingredients. 

It looks a little something like this:

1 whole, cooked leg of ham
about 16 bay leaves
about 30 whole dried figs (I might even experiment with fresh figs in the autumn)

1 cup smooth fig jam
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
2 teaspoons dry English mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

The idea being to insert half a bay leaf into the scored sections of the ham, as one would the cloves, then cover with the glaze. Towards the end of the cooking time, add the dried or fresh figs to the juice in the bottom of the pan for about 15 mins.

To finish it off the meal, à la Romaine, float rose petals in one's glass of wine.

Sounds delish!
The flip side of feasting is death. The ancients had always understood that. A banquet is life in miniature. You arrive hungry, eat and drink your fill, make merry, then go to sleep. All feasts, all lives, must come to an end. Death, tugging your ear, says: Live, I am coming.

AD 45-79 | Still-life wall panel from the House of the Chaste Lovers |
Cockerel pecking at pomegranates, figs, and pears.
Okay, so how did we end up in Pompeii talking about figs and ham and rose petals?

I haven't read Dovey's first novel, Blood Kin, but I did read and adore her kookier second story collection, Only the Animals. This collection felt like an emerging writer still playing around with what kind of writer she wanted to be. The stories were fun and clever but they also showed that Dovey had some bigger ideas that she was prepared to play with. In the Garden of the Fugitives the writing and style felt more assured and the themes more autobiographical. It feels like she has now arrived as a fully-fledged writer.

Dovey explores, via a letter writing regime between the older mentor figure with regrets, Royce, and the younger, lost soul, Vita, themes of obsession, confession and atonement. As she says early on journeys need a point; a narrative arc. Both narrators, the letter writers, have very distinct voices and stories that intersect at times.

They are both lonely and seem to be overtaken by various forms of guilt, melancholia and nostalgia. Vita's story is more a coming-of-age one, whilst Royce is looking back on his life from his deathbed. Vita is still searching for a place or space to belong, whereas Royce spent his life trying to find someone to belong to. Neither of them ever seemed to feel at home in themselves.

Each and every one us contains a whole world of suffering.

Royce's voice sounded cultivated and charming. He was clearly educated and erudite. His letters were searching, teasing, insidious even. Vita's voice was more confronting. Harsh at times, sometimes cruel and to-the-point, she was often cool and distant. Their letter writing attempts to reinterpret, revise and reassess how they got to where they currently are. We all have a story to tell; and that story evolves with each retelling.

They both shared complex relationships with place. For Royce, place was caught up in how he felt about the people within the spaces. He said that it is impossible to experience a place like Pompeii outside the prism of your own desires. And certainly for Royce experiencing anything, including human relationships, outside the prism of his desires would be nigh on impossible. He had the emotional range typical of most narcissists.

However, his stories about his time in Pompeii, excavating the site known as the garden of fugitives, with his first obsession, Kitty, were utterly compelling. I could have had a whole story just about this time in Italy. 

Once you can inspect your own history like an artifact, you're a step closer to liberating yourself from it.

It took me a while to warm to Vita's story, even though I have shared many of her feelings of confusion about belonging. Perhaps it was the distance at which she liked to keep people, even her readers. Vita was often hamstrung by indecision, doubt and guilt. Her relationships reflected this muddle.  

One of the places that Vita was trying to fit into was Mudgee, NSW. The town I called home for 18 years. Naturally I was curious to hear what Dovey, via Vita, had to say about it.

To people just passing through, Mudgee is charming. The town's quaint sandstone buildings and wide streets, and, further out, the wineries and orchards in perfect rows, the shaded paths along the Cudgegong River. The natural beauty of the surroundings blinds most casual visitors to the town's unexpected strangeness, its schizoid social self. Itinerant labourers, gentleman farmers, amateur winemakers, corporate wine overseers, fly-in-fly-out mine workers, tree-changers, bogans, all bumping up against one another. 
There's the cheap cafe serving pies next to a hipster cafe serving artisanal brews. The old shitty pub with greasy carpets and pokies beside an organic wine bar. The farmers' market displays vegetables with authentically soiled roots and handmade cheese, but the explosions from the coal mines ringing the valley regularly destroy the peace. 
I fit in here because I, too, am caught between identities.

I suspect these comments are true of most small towns in Australia. Especially those that attract visitors and weekenders from the bigger cities around them. Mudgee is definitely one of those towns. But I lived there for a long time and never heard the sound the explosions from the coal mine at Ulan. Although it's quite possible that her character, living amongst the wineries on an olive farm, was on the Ulan side of town. Her descriptions made me think of the hills out past the cemetery and airport, on the way to the mines. Perhaps from there you could hear the blasts.

However a big part of Vita's story was about South Africa. She was born there, but her parents moved to Australia when she was young. She inherited not only their white guilt about Apartheid, but she suffered from her own version of guilt. Her time with a counsellor with an interesting excursion into
political will, individual culpability and responsibility. She not only reflected on the injustices and generational effects of Apartheid, but also the Australian colony experience, American slavery, Germany & the Holocaust. 

One comment struck me in particular, as I was able to relate it to the current debates around climate change politics. I hear many Gen Z's talking about climate change with a similar refrain. 

It wasn't me, I shouldn't have to feel responsible for decisions I didn't make. This way of thinking can lead to the false conviction that the injustices of the present are similarly outside your influence, that things will remain the same regardless of what you do or don't do.

I also learnt about psychohistorians. I didn't even know it was a thing, but learning about the 'why' of history and examining the differences between stated intentions and actual events sounds exactly like something I'd like to explore further.

The rallying cry of psychohistorians is that history repeats itself because of the propulsive effects of humiliation....They believe that the traumatised country, like the traumatised individual, has a psyche that is fractured. It has an unconscious. It buries painful memories, It indulges wishful fantasies through national myths....The Germans have developed an entire vocabulary and classification system for the different kinds of guilt suffered by different generations.

There's a whole lot of stuff about archaeology and Pompeii and Royce's reasons for feeling guilty and remorseful, that I haven't gone into here. Both Kate & Lisa explore these angles further, if you're interested. Like both Kate & Lisa, In the Garden of Fugitives will be added to my best books of 2019 list.

Kate @Books Are My Favourite and Best review.
Lisa @ANZLit Lovers review.

Favourite Quote:
Not one of the wise elders whose path I was privileged to cross in my years there ever said to me: No human being should have to go through life alone; do everything you can to find your person, the one who makes it bearable, the one who will love you back. Or everything else will be for naught anyway.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Trace Fossils by Alice Gorman

I plan to read Alice Gorman's Dr Space Junk vs the Universe (2019) in the very near future. Knowing I wouldn't have time to feature it during this year's #AusReadingMonth, I decided to search for any other examples of her essay writing instead, to give us all a taste of what's to come.

Trace Fossils: The Silence of Ediacara, the shadow of uranium popped in the Griffith Review 55: State of Hope | Jan 2017 - an edition dedicated entirely to South Australia. It also appeared on The Conversation: Friday essay | 3 Feb 2017.

I'm rather fascinated by the whole idea of space archaeology (the archaeology of orbital debris, terrestrial launch sites, and satellite tracking stations), which is the field that Gorman lectures in at Flinders University. However, she began her career working on Indigenous stone tool analysis and the Aboriginal use of bottle glass after European settlement, which is where this essay is coming from.

My first question was what are trace fossils? Gorman describes them as - the preserved impressions left by the passage of a living body through sediment.

Wikipedia expanded this by saying that they are impressions or other preserved signs of activity left by animals, plants, protists, and bacteria. These can be tubes, lines, scratches, or other features, like dinosaur footprints or shrimp burrows. They are created in soft sediments and have been found in rocks as far back as the Late Precambrian (2 billion to half a billion years ago).

Apparently South Australia, around the remote areas of Woomera and the Nullarbor Plain, have plenty of trace fossils on offer. This area was once covered by glaciers during various ice ages followed by seas as the glaciers retreated and the earth warmed up. Storm surges caused an influx of sediment that embedded fern fronds and other sea creatures. Segmented worms were squashed, curled up on the bottom of the sea bed.

As Gondwanaland was created these old sea beds were pushed up into mountain ranges.

Which brings us to the Ediacaran Period, a geological period I had never heard of before. It began 635 million years ago and ended 542 million years ago with the Cambrian explosion of animal life. It's a relatively 'new' period, only receiving official status in 2004. Ediacaran fossils were first discovered by Reg Sprigg in 1946 in the Ediacaran Hills, Flinders Ranges. They indicate the earliest forms of complex life on earth.

Now you know!
Gorman provides a very readable, easy to follow potted history of the area to current times. From giant megafauna and Aboriginal life, the arrival of colonists and cattle, the hunt for uranium, a rocket testing range to nuclear bomb testing.

Aboriginal people became a trace fossil in the land deemed empty – hidden in plain sight. Kokatha, Pitjantjatjara, Adnyamathanha and Barngarla people lived on missions around the state, and gathered in coastal towns that offered them the employment that the rocket range had promised but didn’t deliver.
At this time, white Australians thought Aboriginal occupation had been a few thousand years at most, and many believed Aboriginal people were dying out – the inevitable result of the “stone age” being superseded by the “space age”.

Visiting these areas devastated by livestock and human intervention is a sobering experience, yet Gorman is constantly fascinated by the small details, the junk, if you like, that is left behind. Whether it's a crushed fern fossil from a billion years ago, a twisted coke can in the sand or twisty ties left tied to a fence around a nuclear test site. They all tell a story.

Modern uses for this remote area of SA now include detention centres, farms for giant wind turbines and tourism.
the same apparent “emptiness” that brought rockets, nuclear tests and detention centres now attracts commercial interest in storing nuclear waste from other nations. It’s the end of a cycle that starts with the mining and export of Australian uranium. The redistribution of uranium is a very Anthropocene process, part of the dismantling and reassembling of the planet.

As a long-time fanatic of geology, archaeology, anthropology and evolutionary studies, this tantalising but brief glimpse into the life and times of the desert of South Australia has stirred some dormant microbes of excitement and intellectual stimulation within me.

It's funny (peculiar) how only last week I was considering my collection of fossil books as a possibility for the Non-fiction November | Be the Expert week. Ever since, I've had these vague stirrings of longing to reread the Leakey family bio and the various books on Pompeii, Troy, Charles Darwin, fossils and evolution that I have tucked away somewhere.

Curiously my current fiction read, The Garden of Fugitives by Ceridwen Dovey also has a Pompeian archaeology story strand. Finding Gorman's Trace Fossil essay was obviously meant to be.

If you can recommend any other books about archaeological digs, fossils or evolution, I would love to hear about them in the comments below.

Image source

Favourite Quote: deep time is always waiting to burst through the crusts of the surface.


Thursday, 21 November 2019

A Poem for a Thursday by Melissa Lucashenko

Image source
Sydney has once again woken up shrouded in bush fire smoke. Air quality is very poor and people are being asked to avoid exercising outdoors. It's hot one day, cold and blustery the next. It's hard to breath freely and it's not even summer yet.

Two weeks ago it was the smoke from the fires in northern NSW. This week, fires are blazing to the west of Sydney in the Hawkesbury area.
Sydney will be moving onto level 2 water restrictions in the next week or so (although many areas in western areas have been on level 4 or higher restrictions for months).

The rain forests in Queensland have been burning and catastrophic fire warnings are in place again today for South Australia. Victoria is on high alert as well. It's going to be a long day for the firies.

Perhaps if we thought about the trees as people, with a gender and personality, like the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, we would have found a better way to live with them and take care of them.
I'm trying not to think about the koalas and wombats and possums. The news coming in is just too distressing.

Melissa Lucashenko is an Aboriginal writer of Goorie and European heritage.

She was the winner of the 2019 Miles Franklin Award and the Queensland Premier’s award for a work of state significance for Too Much Lip.

As well as the winner of the 2013 Deloitte Queensland Literary Award for Fiction and the Victorian Premiers Prize for Indigenous Writing for Mullumbimby.

She won the 2013 Walkely Award for Long Form Journalism with her Griffith Review essay, “Sinking Below Sight: Down and Out in Brisbane and Logan”. Lucashenko also writes poems.

This poem caught my eye because my father grew up in the area of Crystal Creek, near the small town of Numinbah. Going for drives to the Natural Bridge and through the valley are part of my childhood memories. It's a beautiful area with a long history.
Small fires went through this area two months ago.

Numinbah Valley in Spring
By Melissa Lucashenko | 1 February 2016 | Cordite Poetry Review

In the Yugambeh there exist three genders: male, female, and a gender used specifically to refer to trees.

Twenty thousand moons shone here upon the People
and twenty thousand more before that
showed themselves crystal in the rushing streams
flanked with green lichened giants, beloved brothers
our other selves who have endured so much

Now the People are few here, and pale
white men came six seconds ago with their bibles and noise
the People left, bleeding
we left, torn from our mother’s arms to be made white

Our tallest selves on this mountain remain, strong and beautiful
Our tallest selves use the wind to speak, asking
Why are we lonely?
Where have our families gone?

Here, I answer, singing them a new song
jarjum yanbelillah mobo
the children of the People will return
goorie jinungilellah numinbah jagan mobo
your other selves will be standing alongside you again tomorrow
we will not cry long; we will not salt the earth of our grandmothers
be happy in your waiting Tall Ones
we are coming
we are coming
we are coming

Natural Bridge or the Nature Arch as we knew it back in the 1970's

Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness posts a lovely Poem for a Thursday each week. I enjoy sourcing poems from my recent reads to join in with her whenever I can.