Monday, November 14, 2022

Tweet disposition

Watching the destruction of Twitter, live on Twitter, is something of a spectator sport. It is unfolding in real time, this complete implosion of a ‘site’ once revered by wordsmiths, academics, social justice warriors, comedians, poets, animal lovers, sometimes people who identified as all of the above. 

     The most compelling thing about watching this transpire is that it is happening with the written word alone. From the perspective of one entering the Twittersphere to read other people’s Tweets (which is really all I have ever found it useful for), nothing has changed. The format is the same. The layout of the site is the same. It is only the tone, when you start reading, that has experienced a momentous shift in a matter of days. 

    There is so much sadness, and self-reflection, and doubt, creeping into these voices that were once just there, just because they could be. They were steadfast, and clever, and I never had cause to doubt that they would always be that way. I didn’t know these people, much as I often wanted to. I knew very little about their lives either, unless they shared some photos of their dog or their latest holiday/adventure. But they became company in a strange way, a little light relief in the darkness of the online atmosphere. 

     I twigged fairly early on that there were about three personality types on Twitter, at least in the circles where I found myself. There were academics, tortured and slightly self-obsessed but in an authoritative way. Then writers, also tortured and self-obsessed but more self-deprecating. And comedians, who were quick-witted and hilarious to watch as long as you didn’t apply too much psychoanalysis to their emotional state. 

    In the past few days, the mood has been irrevocably altered. There are those who are just there to have a go at Elon (admittedly pretty easy to do), with slightly dark memes and even darker innuendos about billionaires and the state of the world. Sometimes when they say, ‘the world’, I think they mean Twitter. But I think they believe that when they say it. I think some people have morphed the idea of Twitter into their idea of the world, complete with beautiful caring friends, dogs, cats, gardens. It’s a whole simulated life.

    Then, of course, there are those who have been around since the very beginning. Since it wasn’t even cool to be there. I can never tell if these people are being ironic and self-deprecating or if they really believe they are uber-cool and nobody would have ever found Twitter if it wasn’t for their magnetic personality. But regardless, they are there in multiples. And of course, they claim that in the beginning, people found each other on Twitter and then met in real life and it was love at first sight and they formed the deepest, most authentic attachment with all their new friends that will never be affected by anything as superficial as a billionaire buying and ruining the site of their very first meeting.

    Maybe I’m cynical, but I find it hard to take all these people at their word. Ultimately, what really fascinates me is that, despite the advances of technology where we can form deep and lasting friendships with people from the other side of the world and converse with them on multiple subjects, the same personality traits emerge. It’s still like Year 9 at high school, when the popular group all had the latest spiral perm but the head popular girl had to get it first, then her minions followed in no particular order because nobody cared. But everyone remembered that head girl was the first to step bravely into the world of the spiral perm, unsure how it would go for her but determined that it would be great.

    I’m thinking of people I really admire when I say this, so it’s not without its qualifications. The two who come to mind are really brilliant writers, and good people as far as I can tell (although far is exactly where I am in terms of their actual lives and personalities). But still they are spewing forth these copious threads, regaling us all with how brilliant Twitter used to be, how they will miss it so, how they do not know where they will go now, and it all gives me huge Gone With the Wind vibes, in that scene where Scarlett stands at the door, pleading with Rhett in that pitiful Southern belle routine that Vivien Leigh made her own: “But Rhett, Rhett! Where shall I go, what shall I do?”. I think you know the next bit.

    On Friday, there are murmurings about a thing called Mastodon, which is apparently a platform some Twitter stalwarts are considering moving to. There is hesitation, and the important addendum to followers that “I won’t go anywhere without telling you first”. I am sure this is well-intentioned. I am also sure there are people out there who would almost lose their minds if they lost this connection with somebody they assume they know, or even assume is a close personal friend. But it all seems so fraught to me.

    By Saturday evening, the Mastodon thing has been explored and found to be seriously wanting. There are multiple ‘servers’ depending on your interests, and how will we know to find each other if we don’t know which server we’re both at? It reminds me of those days when you had to actually make a plan to meet your friends at the shopping mall on a Thursday night, because there was no such thing as a mobile phone to text them with if you got your wires crossed and ended up at Kleins when you should have been at Hot Property. 

    On Sunday, the voices of dissent are drowning out most of the other content on Twitter, which I guess would be clue number one that the whole thing is about to disappear up its own orifice. I hear some strong but solo voices saying they will stay to fight the system, because after all Twitter is all about the people and it’s always the people who have to struggle against unfair and corrupt systems, otherwise they would just be allowed to run roughshod over humanity and democracy and right about now I imagine that voice gradually fading into nothingness as it disappears mysteriously into a dark cell, or over the edge of a cliff. 

    None of this is to say that I am not affected by these latest developments. I will be sad to lose this place where I can find information, or witty commentary, or cat photos, at a moment’s notice whenever I need them. It is borderline alarming to think that these things, once all gathered in the same place exactly where you knew where to find them, might now be scattered to the winds. What is more alarming are the recent headlines I’ve seen about Elon spouting Republican PR on his new platform, and the news that he has stood down whole teams of people from Twitter headquarters, including those whose job was to manage the whole ‘human rights’ thing and make sure nobody figuratively set fire to the whole place. Now, it is a looming possibility that the new CEO will do that literally.

    On Monday, there are people who have gone to planet Mastodon and tried to get in but it wouldn’t let them, and what could this possibly mean except that it is clearly an inferior place and if it won’t have them, well they don’t want to be there and that’s that. So they are back in Twitter, waiting sullenly, like a teenager who’s been locked out of the house because they forgot their spare key. And they’re only here because the mall is on fire.

    By now, the whole fabric of Twitter is made up of people making witty/cynical analogies between ‘this bin-fire of a site’ and other diabolically bad situations. But as I mentioned before, it’s all just text. There is no actual bin fire, no actual ‘site’, no real friendships at risk (if they are indeed real), and ultimately no ‘place’ in which to locate all this chaos, except in individual users’ emotional landscapes. When did we all become so attached to these ‘sites’ and attribute them so much meaning? Did it happen gradually, while we weren’t paying attention?

    By now, the vibe has become one of panic. People are running backwards and forwards from Twitter to Mastodon, trying to find servers, posting their ridiculously long-winded new account names lest anyone lose them in the crush. And the poor admins at Mastodon are overwhelmed by this sudden interest in their once-marginal online platform, unable to keep up with all the newcomers who are used to being served immediately if not sooner.

    I guess I am thinking I will just watch it all unfold. What option do I have? It’s not like I have any followers really, and I have certainly never cultivated anything like a following on Twitter. I prefer to follow, is what I’m saying. I am following the latest shenanigans with absolute fascination, and it doesn’t show any signs of getting less interesting any time soon. I have no way of knowing how this will end. Nobody does. Which makes it totally on-trend for 2022 (and 2020 and 2021 for that matter) as well as being decent entertainment.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Into the wild

The words “Wild Writing Retreat” were written in my favourite typeface, as if I needed another reason to want a part of it. It was early December. The retreat was at the end of February - far enough in the distance for me to indulge my fantasies of sneaking away from all my commitments for SEVEN WHOLE DAYS, without having to seriously think about everything that would entail. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Even through Christmas and New Year, I wanted it to look forward to. I was due to begin a creative writing PhD on February 1, and such was my desire to be a wild writer that I, somewhat optimistically, asked the university if I could access all my first year’s allotment of research funding to (partly) pay for the retreat. I knew that in the COVID climate I would not have opportunities to travel overseas for a while, even potentially interstate, and equally I believed this retreat, three hours from home, would give me some bearings to follow in the first year of my postgraduate studies.  The university agreed. We did some juggling with the household budget and found the remaining funds to pay for my entry into the wild. And I waited.

I had never been away from my husband, nor any of my three children, for a period as long as seven days. And while the thought sometimes filled me with dread – what if I had a terrible bout of homesickness and couldn’t be consoled by a group of strangers? – it also seemed daring and long overdue. My eldest daughter is capable, dependable, and also 18 so technically an adult. I would miss them, but I knew my family would be okay without me. 


As it happened, I’d never experienced being in a place away from home and family the way I did on this retreat. I missed them, enjoyed talking with them most nights to catch up on their days, but it felt like I compartmentalised myself so effectively that I never experienced the slightest sense of homesickness. From arrival at Springfield Farm, I was all in. Over the course of the next seven days, we all experienced deep connection with the land on which we met – a gathering place, described as the centre of a kind of wheel that takes in Dharug, Gundungurra and Dharawal country. We connected to it by writing about it, by meditating on it – led on one clear morning by the glorious Indigenous author and poet Kirli Saunders – by digging in it to plant she-oaks for the Glossy Black Cockatoo to eventually eat, and just by sitting in it, witnessing it, appreciating it. The she-oaks weren’t the only ones opening up to new ground.


There were challenges, of course. Challenges to ways of thinking, of being. Some led to change and others to confirmation, but all were ultimately welcome because this experience would not have been the same without them. On the sixth day of the retreat, having not left the property since arriving, I skipped lunch and drove into the nearest town where I found myself in a beautiful bookshop, embracing capitalism and art and, ultimately, that elusive thing social media influencers have defined as self-care. I sat in a cafĂ© and filled my belly and my soul with comfort, in the form of a large chai latte and a cake made with orange, almond and just a hint of religion. I returned to the farm a changed woman – or maybe just closer to the woman I already am, having given myself permission to partake in some things I really love.


On the second-last night of a writing retreat which involved, for me personally, not a lot of writing and very little retreating, there was a last-minute change to the schedule. Post-dinner activities would now involve wine, and music, and dancing. The venue had also changed, from indoors to outdoors. We gathered at the fire pit in the middle of a field, sheltered in a slight dip below the main house, bordered on one side by a stand of birch trees and with views out across the range. The seating was a series of greyed and weathered tree stumps, arranged in a circle around an oversized iron platter of fire. At first we sat on the stumps, which were large enough in diameter to seat two people comfortably, pre-COVID, but as soon as the blip of the Bluetooth speaker sounded, we were on our feet – dancing on plinths, reliving our youths, singing into the dying sunset and hearing a thousand souls – including our own – echo back to us. The night fell and we kept on singing, arguing good-naturedly about song choices and jostling for DJ duties. It might have been any lounge room at any party in any house in Newcastle in the 1990s. It felt familiar, and safe, and celebratory. The opposite word, in the English language, for the verb retreat? Advance.


For several days after returning home, I felt myself walking in two worlds. Through our WhatsApp group, set up for the retreat and continuing as a kind of lifeline beyond it, I knew I was not the only one. I had one foot still in Springfield Farm, the other back home, and neither one was willing to concede. It made it difficult to walk and hard to think straight, but I wasn’t in the mood for straight lines anyway. I was still curving my way around unfamiliar roads and dirt tracks, breathing in the mist of waterfalls, marvelling at giant cavernous valleys, missing the company of strangers who had so quickly become friends. So much of life is wanting to be in one place or another and not managing either, but learning to navigate the spaces in between.


I will never forget the women I met at Springfield in the dying days of Summer 2021. Something in me wonders if we weren’t all just emerging from our most difficult year, from trauma and separation and isolation and fear, into the arms of one another – the way a newborn child, when delivered by caesarean, raises its shivering arms into the foreign air of an operating theatre, cradled by a gown with a person inside it, in the absence for that single moment of the flesh and blood it has known for the past nine months. I do not really question that we were all doing that, in our own way, and I know there was a reason we were all gathered there together, at that place for those days. We all delivered ourselves to a farm south of Sydney, we all saw the light and we reached for it with our hands and our words. How miraculous it was. How singularly breathtaking to be a part of it.




Tuesday, June 16, 2020

on monuments and trauma

Viola: A blank, my lord. She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud,
 Feed on her damask cheek. She pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?
We men may say more, swear more, but indeed
Our shows are more than will, for still we prove
Much in our vows, but little in our love. (Shakespeare 6)

AT the age of 22, an impossibly human girl named Jean found herself attracted to a man made entirely of stone. They were opposites. She was a mess of wounded flesh and exposed nerve endings. He had been dead for more than a century. He stood in a park named after him, overlooking the city’s accumulated misery. She was at a nearby pub, being farewelled by a bunch of drunken journos. When she flew for England on a one-way ticket, she would miss them only slightly less than the broken feeling this city had left in her bones. 

It was a Friday night at the end of 1995. Jean was drunk. She had smoked the first and last cigarette of her life but would never forget the feeling of burning tar in her throat as she crossed the road from the pub to the park without looking for cars and climbed the near-vertical concrete steps to the edge of the continent. The towering statue of James Fletcher was waiting for her. 

She could feel the translucent forms of souls only slightly more conflicted than hers. They had walked a few steps further and stepped over the white safety fence as though they were sneaking off to a picnic, only to leap and break their bodies, like their spirits, at the base of the cliff. Jean felt them pulling at her in the warm salted darkness but she locked eyes with James Fletcher and the weight of his plinth-bound presence and something in her refused to let him go. 

She communed with his concrete body because it was neither flesh nor blood. She could pour out her despair, her self-hatred and the feeling of emptiness that threatened to annihilate her and he would not recoil. His hands would never seek to warm themselves on her body and he would never reach out to claim her as his own. He would give her nothing, which was all she had ever asked for. She knew she could not move him, but she also knew she wanted him to stay exactly where he was.

Adjacent to the local constabulary and within the judicial precinct, Jean beseeched James Fletcher to answer her. He stood calmly over her and she begged him to relieve her suffering. He surveyed the city, silent and unwavering, and appeared to revel in his own immortality and her hopeless inability to grasp the functional requirements of life. In her drunken stupor, she could see only one thing clearly: his face. She had no God and no faith but perhaps this was the closest she would ever come to religion, this pleading for guidance, a crazed and beer-blurred serenade by a spurned lover, a sinner separated from the flock. This stone man represented every man who had ever touched her or even looked at her, and she remembered them all in the same way the body holds trauma, like a bank vault that’s already been broken into but all evidence of the desecration lost.


My major creative work investigates the role of monuments and memory in recollections of trauma. It depicts actual events and began life as creative non-fiction but I feel more comfortable and even empowered by telling this story from a third-person point of view. I believe my work sits in the often contested space between narrative fiction and autobiography, an area in which there is room for me to play without encountering the “conflict between life and writing” (Sutherland) and the inevitable question: my truth or yours? I have drawn on the memoir novel The Last Thread, by Michael Sala, in which he documents the early trauma of his life through the character of Michaelis. I have drawn also on the memoir Reckoning, by Magda Szubanski, in which she weaves the wartime history of Poland through personal recollections of growing up uncertain of her sexuality in the Melbourne suburbs during the 1960s. My experiences with sexual abuse and the resulting trauma have been revisited in recent years through the lens of Clementine Ford’s self-described manifesto Fight Like A Girl, in which she addresses her own trauma by taking a refreshingly reactionary stance against male toxicity and its impact on girls and women. I have also drawn on several essays in Anne Teresa Demo and Bradford Vivian’s collection Rhetoric, Remembrance and Visual Form: Sighting Memory in investigating the roles of history, place, monuments and memory in the perpetuation of trauma. 

Do we build monuments to our trauma? Do we set them in concrete and let them cast shadows over us for the rest of our lives? In August 2017 a video circumnavigated the globe in a matter of hours. It showed a group of people chanting and wailing as they brought down a statue of a Confederate soldier outside a courthouse in Durham, North Carolina. (Jackson and Ellis) The backdrop of the video was the death a few days earlier of a young woman named Heather Heyer, who had been protesting against a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Days later, a group of protesters tired of being looked down upon by old-school white supremacists on monuments took matters into their own hands. In the viral video, there are loud cheers as the tin soldier is duly unmounted from his lofty pedestal. The metal flattens into the ground like putty, constitutionally bereft of any resistance to the revolution. Indigenous journalist Stan Grant was prompted by these scenes to question the “damaging myth”, perpetuated by monuments around Australia, that the continent was discovered and not invaded by Captain James Cook (Grant). Through non-fictional narrative and historical research, my work asks where is our resistance to a history that doesn’t recognise our grief? How can we shift our trauma if it is fixed in its place, rooted in the ground and reinforced in stone?

In Michael Sala’s The Last Thread, the setting of Newcastle is a palpable presence. The streets and landscapes described in the book are very familiar to me and in some cases represent the sites of my own trauma. The following passage describes the closest thing to ancient monuments in the city in which Michaelis seeks to recreate the comforting traditions and memories of his childhood in Holland:

This part of the town has an older feel, a bit like Europe – the sprawling cathedral above the mall, like something medieval, the ruins of Fort Scratchley on the headland, with cannons that once fired on Japanese submarines. Near the remains of the fort is the break wall and above it the lighthouse. Back from this extend the narrow streets and century-old terraces ravaged by salt. Past that, hidden on the top of a hill, is the school where he first went as a boy six years ago . . . walking with Mum towards the sky through the corridor of figs. (Sala 140-141)

My story incorporates the landmark sites and monuments of Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle police station, the old legal precinct, The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate building and the adjacent parkland and cliffs above the ever-present ocean. As Bradford and Demo explain, “physical locations and environments constitute deeply evocative loci of memory. . . . to view landscapes and cityscapes is to remember the past imprinted and continuously reprinted on their natural or physical contours” (7). Beyond bricks and mortar monuments, our trauma is often embedded through our body’s memory in the fabric of the landscape itself.

Sala’s central character Michaelis/Michael lives vicariously through his older brother Con, who is more independent, adventurous and daring than him. Through the course of the book we hear suggestions of Con’s deeply traumatic past, hints but never outright elaborations of sexual abuse at the hands of his father. The narrative reflects a culture in which such abuse is a known but concealed truth, rendered intangible because it never fully exists as fact or fiction. It exists in the contested space of memory, between the past and the present. It is this space in which Michaelis’s mother perpetually resides, between her own past and present and between Newcastle and Holland. She carries the artefacts of her memory in the form of her records – “Neil Young, Neil Sedaka, The Beach Boys, The Mamas and the Papas . . .  from Holland to Australia and back again” (Sala 93). Ernesto Pujol relates the story of his parents’ emigration from Cuba in 1961 and the state-imposed “home inventory” which transferred ownership of all their personal belongings or “visible memories” to the government (181). As Pujol explains, the inventory was “the task of detaching memory from object, so that you could take yourself with you, so that your heart did not remain behind” (181). In my own story, the role of visible memory in perpetuating trauma is reinforced when Jean visits the site of the recently demolished Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate building and finds enormous freedom in the space where it used to be.

In The Last Thread, during the family’s short-lived relocation to Holland and a visit to the war museum, Michaelis struggles to understand the enormity of the Holocaust and asks an innocent question of his mother which reveals two very human but perhaps flawed perspectives of trauma and its place in memory.

 ‘Why did we go there today?’

‘It’s important to know what happened.’


‘I don’t know, if enough people know, if they really know about that sort of thing, maybe it won’t happen again.’

. . . He doesn’t understand how knowing about something can stop it from happening again. It’s never been that way for him. Like when he crosses his legs under the table. He’s eight and he’s been doing it forever. When he crosses his legs, Dirk kicks him in the shin. Once the pain has died down, Michaelis just does the same thing again. It is called forgetting. (Sala 99)

This concept is particularly relevant to my own character of Jean, who experiences this childhood phenomenon of “forgetting”, or of removing herself from the trauma, during a sexual assault by a trusted male psychology student in the walled grounds of a mental hospital:

She is lost and struggling to breathe when her childhood survival instinct kicks in, honed in the year before kindergarten when she was unable to resist the lure of the clothes racks in Kmart and would hide herself underneath them and sing quietly to herself. She would be found by her panicked mother after long minutes of searching. Just stay here and someone will come.

When the trauma is repeated some years later by a different perpetrator, Jean leaps immediately to the conclusion that it must have been due to “something she had done”. This confirms the concept that, perhaps especially for women with regard to sexual assault and abuse, being aware of the potential for trauma cannot necessarily stop it from happening. 

In Reckoning, Szubanski’s references to the fallen monuments of Warsaw, where her father was born, represent the trauma her father experienced but never reveals. It runs deeply but silently in the family’s fabric, an inter-generational trauma that Szubanski feels the impact of but struggles to understand. Her visit to Auschwitz with her parents in 1992 (Szubanski 256), like Michaelis’s visit to the war museum, illustrates the role of monuments in trauma. A haunting legacy to one of the world’s greatest traumas, the former Nazi concentration camp attracts hundreds of tourists each year, perhaps seeking some tangible hold on the incomprehensible horror of the Holocaust. Szubanski describes the buildings themselves as “Blunt broken ruins, bits of concrete upended like outcroppings shifted by vast geological trauma” (Szubanski 256), as if the now invisible human trauma had somehow caused a deep seismic impact. She describes it as “hell on earth”, and “the world’s shrine and cemetery”, left to the custodianship of the deeply damaged Polish race (Szubanski 257). The notion of geological remnants of trauma is revisited soon after, as Szubanski recounts the dual mythical and scientific origins of Polish amber. In each version the golden substance is created through trauma, whether it be as the tears shed by Phaeton’s grieving sisters the Heliades in Ovid’s “sunshine and sorrow” myth (Szubanski 257) or the trauma of trees which secrete the resin to heal their wounds. The substance is transformed “over vast geological time” (Szubanski 258) into fossilised amber but remains buried beneath the floor of the Baltic Sea until it is freed by “tides and cataclysms ” (Szubanski 258) and floats on the salt water to begin another life as a treasure, sometimes with a visible relic of the trauma - like an insect - trapped inside. In her introductory chapter, Szubanski describes the 15thcentury surgical practice in which holes were cut into patients’ skulls to extract “the stone of madness” and relieve them from their symptoms.

I swear sometimes I can feel that stone in my head. A palpable presence, an unwelcome thing that I want to squeeze out of my skull like a plum pip, using nothing but the sheer pressure of thought and concentration. If I just think hard enough . . . 

That stone was my father’s legacy to me, his keepsake. Beneath his genial surface, somewhere in the depths, I would sometimes catch a glimpse – of a smooth, bone-coloured stone. A stone made of calcified guilt and shame. I could feel it.

I can feel it still. (Szubanski 2)

Like the James Fletcher statue central to my own work, Szubanski’s embodied trauma is made of stone. It carries with it a heaviness and permanence like monuments to war heroes or founding fathers, those through which “societies outsource the burden of remembering” (Ruohonen 210). Yet when we carry it as our own personal monument of trauma, experiencing it with our body’s memory, it can be an agonising and debilitating burden. I have tried to emphasise this sense of heaviness in my descriptions of the landscape and sites of trauma in my own story. References to the “stone man”, “the weight of his plinth-bound presence” and “his concrete body” in the passages where Jean communes with the James Fletcher statue above the “concrete steps leading to the edge of the continent” are reflective of the Newcastle landscape and its own visible links to the past. The James Fletcher Hospital site is described as holding historical trauma which has “seeped into every stone”, while the newspaper building is linked to elements of the “subterranean” and “the underworld” before it is razed and reveals the depths of its contamination, or at least Jean’s perception of it, in the earth below. 

Clementine Ford says repeatedly “it’s okay to be angry” – in fact she dedicates a whole chapter of Fight Like A Girlto the subject (264-281) and her rage is never far from the surface throughout the book. It’s good advice which she clearly lives by, but how much rage can we individually shoulder, when it is so draining to be perpetually angry? If it is indeed only the second stage of grief – after denial, and before bargaining, depression and acceptance – then of course anger is valid and necessary but I question how long it can be maintained. In the past 25 years I have covered all five stages of the grieving process and it still enrages me to revisit the sites, both physical and spatial, of my trauma. But that anger and the accompanying grief continue to take something away from us, in the form of energy, and at some point we must dismantle the monuments that perpetuate our rage. 

In the recent, often angry debate over our own monuments to Captain Cook, some said we should leave them unchanged as a reminder of the past - even one that has been altered by the wisdom of ensuing centuries. Others thought an extra plaque, an edit of history, would suffice. I suppose it depends how visible you want your version of the story to be. I chose to document autobiographical events through the character of Jean because I felt more comfortable as the external creator of this story rather than the internalized, powerless victim trapped within it.I have made a conscious decision to play with a character outside of myself in order to narrate the autobiographical events of my life. While I can cross the bridge of memory into the past, emotionally and spatially my 19-year-old self no longer exists. So Jean is a creation, or re-creation, of me. As fantasy author Ursula le Guin writes:  “By ‘imagination,’ then I personally mean the free play of the mind . . . I mean recreation, re-creation, the combination of what is known into what is new” (Sutherland). Jean gave me the ability to craft a story rather than simply document the past. 

Monuments can be comforting, confronting and cautionary. They are weighted with our history and our rage and can be debilitating when carried long distances. In the process of writing my own trauma and traversing the spaces between past and present, truth and fiction, I have come to realise that while we may need to construct monuments to our trauma, it is equally important to deconstruct them. We do not need stony-faced men to look down on us from their high (or low) points in history, where they can overlook everything including human suffering. We need to dismantle them with our own hands and take their place on the pedestal as a mark of who we are and what we have endured. It is important to recognise our painful past and the roles of history, place and memory in the perpetuation of trauma. By removing the stone emblems, brick walls and concrete basements of that trauma we can become our own monuments, no longer weighted markers of a dark past and no longer buried, but sites of freedom and beacons for the future. 



Demo, Anna Teresa and Vivian, Bradford. “Introduction.” Rhetoric, Remembrance and Visual Form: Sighting Memory, edited by Anna Teresa Demo and Bradford Vivian, Routledge, 2012, pp1-12.

Ford, Clementine. Fight Like A Girl. Allen and Unwin, 2016.

Grant, Stan. “Stan Grant: It is a ‘damaging myth’ that Captain Cook discovered Australia.” ABCNews. Accessed 29 September 2017.

Jackson, Amanda and Ellis, Ralph. “Seven arrested in toppling of Confederate statue in North Carolina.” CNN, Accessed 29 September 2017.

Pujol, Ernesto. “Inherited and New Memories.” Rhetoric, Remembrance and Visual Form: Sighting Memory, edited by Anna Teresa Demo and Bradford Vivian, Routledge, 2012, pp180-188.

Ruohonen, Johanna. “Silenced Memories: Forgetting war in Finnish public paintings.” Rhetoric, Remembrance and Visual Form: Sighting Memory, edited by Anna Teresa Demo and Bradford Vivian, Routledge, 2012, pp209-227.

Sala, Michael. The Last Thread. Affirm Press, 2012.

Shakespeare, William. “Twelfth Night.” The Complete Oxford Shakespeare, Volume II, Comedies. Oxford University Press, 1987.

Sutherland, Natalie. “The Fiction in Autobiography: Fantasy, Narrative and the Discovery of Truth.” Perilous Adventures10.02. Accessed October 28, 2017.

Szubanski, Magda. Reckoning. Text Publishing, 2015.

Friday, September 21, 2018

volume one


I remember those beach towels, the ones you are lying on. Dad’s is horizontal stripes, bright colours alternating with black. Yours is twice the size of his, a beach ‘blanket’, I think you used to call it. I remember you wrapping it around me when I came out from swimming at the beach, and it would be dragging on the ground. You would tuck it in, or maybe it was Dad, and then I couldn’t move my arms or my legs. I was stuck like a sandy towelling skittle, but of course I didn’t mind. It’s still one of my favourite feelings, to be wrapped up in a warm towel like that.

I think this photo was taken on a trip to Greenmount, in Surfers Paradise. I can’t even imagine how beautiful it would have been then, in the late 1960s before the developers rolled in and cast shadows over the sand. In this photo, it’s so white it almost looks like snow. There are three of you in the picture. Your towels are spaced evenly apart so you have colonised a section of beach that would be unheard of these days, at least in the summer when there’s barely more than a foot’s width between the beach umbrellas on any decent stretch of sand. There’s nobody else in the photograph, not even a shadow, and the white glare of the sand surrounds the three of you like a halo. Like you’re the only people on the face of the earth. The man sitting on the left was always known to me as ‘Uncle Gadge’ and I never asked why. When the knowledge was considered somehow necessary, I found out his real name was Gary. I didn’t think it suited him.

There are lots of photos of this trip you and Dad made with Gadge and his wife Doreen. She was obviously the photographer, though you all had a turn because this page of the photo album has four frames with exactly the same set-up, only different people. I can imagine you all taking turns with the camera, maybe a Box Brownie or something a bit more modern. There’s no group shot of the four of you but there you all are on one page. I just have to imagine the four of you sitting there together. The little square photographs are exactly what the Instagram generation tries to recreate - white borders and super-saturated colour with a yellowed veneer of age. There is #nofilter here, just five decades under self-adhesive film. On the facing page of the album, there are more shots of you all at a wooden table that’s covered in empty beer bottles. You are all laughing.

I remember Gadge was always making people laugh, but now I’m not sure if that’s from experience or from my memories of looking at these photos. My favourite when I was a kid is the one of him with a flash bulb from a camera stuck in his belly button. I don’t remember seeing him that much when I was growing up, even though they didn’t live that far away. He and Doreen were my godparents, which explains how close you were to them in 1972 when I was born. Because I have children of my own now, I can see how that would have changed when my sister and I came along. I can see how life and a mortgage and babies and a job can take over from drinking beer around a kitchen table in Greenmount. But I am glad you had those times.

Your hair is peroxide blonde, almost as white as the sand, and I remember you telling me a story about jumping into a super-chlorinated pool and losing your bleached hair in handfuls. You had to have it cut short, which I think makes you look like a model. Maybe it’s also the oversized sunglasses, or the way you’re lying on your beach blanket, in your glamorous bikini, not a care in the world. Dad is in his natural element, leaning back on one elbow and smiling at the camera. His legs are stretched out past the edge of the towel, feet crossed and covered in sand, and he looks as though he’s been lying there for the better part of a lifetime. Maybe just the best part.

You live near a beach like this now, you and Dad. You both seem to be happiest when you are near the water, and you have passed that on to my sister and I. Your grandchildren have all known the joy of sitting on the sand at the water’s edge with you, building sandcastles, or holding your hand and jumping over and into the waves. So much has changed since this photograph was taken, yet so much is still exactly the same.

This golden life you had, newly married and before children, glows back at me from the pages of a discoloured photo album. It is one fleeting moment, captured like a bug in a drop of amber. I turn it over in my hand and hold it up to the light, looking for things that aren’t there. But it is only one scene in one chapter, the first in this album of stories. There will be daughters born, first days of school, a sea change, a cancer diagnosis and a heartwarming recovery before the pages run out. But it’s only volume one, and life is lived in many volumes.

Friday, August 24, 2018

It seems I have forgotten my biro

I’m no Malcolm Turnbull but it’s been a fucking WEEK. 

On Wednesday I was gallery sitting for an exhibition that, coincidentally, my work also won. I entered a short story cycle I had written, as the call for entries sought work from all disciplines at the University of Newcastle. And I fucking WON. First prize. I am no longer prepared to apologise for that, even though it seems few in the art world agreed with the decision and even fewer in the writing world see it as a proper literary achievement. 

So there I was, gallery sitting, when a middle-aged white man approached the counter and asked me what I had entered. Clearly he knew that anyone with work in the exhibition also had to volunteer their time to gallery sit for at least a few hours. I could have said “Oh, I won. My work is in the corner of the gallery.” Instead, ever apologetic, I just told him where he could find it. But it seemed he had already seen all the works, because he immediately retorted: “Didn’t grab me.” Because I was so clearly waiting for his opinion on this. “It grabbed the judges,” said I, to which he looked surprised and asked how much the prize was worth. Like it was any of his filthy fucking business. But I told him. He seemed impressed with the amount, but not with the fact that I had won it. He went into the gallery and I went back to the counter, where he approached me about five minutes later and proceeded to ask what the point of my work was, with its tiny text that you had to get up close to read (he obviously hadn’t done this, because he hadn’t been gone long enough. He also confessed as much, insinuating he couldn’t really be bothered as it wasn’t a “visual” work). 

So there I was, volunteering my time to work in a gallery, proud of my achievement not only in writing the work but also in being awarded first prize by two separate judges of sound mind, justifying myself to a middle-aged white man. Again. And again. I told him the challenge was to invest the time to read the work and then perhaps you would be rewarded with an emotional response, just as you might be with a visual work of art. I might as well have been reading the phone book. He didn’t see the point, though I think I won the argument because he gave up and congratulated me before thankfully leaving the building. But he didn’t read my work and he probably still thinks it doesn’t deserve to even be hanging in a student art prize, let alone win it. He’s entitled to that opinion, of course. But why of all days did he have to choose this Wednesday between 1pm and 5pm to come in to the gallery and throw it at me? These fucking tests are doing my head in.

Today, I went to a university lecture titled Perspectives on Film, Media and Culture. I had spent the past 36 hours closely (some might say a bit obsessively) following the political clusterfuck unfolding in Canberra via the Twitter feeds of the country’s best journalists as well as some on-point social commentators. I was also following more traditional coverage on ABC News 24 both on radio and television. I spent 20 years being a journalist and I boycott all news except political drama because I can’t get enough of that. In between marvelling at the professionalism of ABC journos who had been dissecting the drama for three straight days, I also read no less than five scholarly articles about the creative industries. Because they were assigned to be read for today’s lecture. 

There were lots of things discussed in the lecture, probably lots of valid things and even interesting things, but I don’t remember many of them. What I do remember is the twenty-something (female) lecturer telling the class that women over the age of 40 don’t understand social media. They don’t understand how to use it or how it works. They think it works like life and it doesn’t, apparently. I am 45 years old and I wanted to tell her IT’S NOT FUCKING ROCKET SCIENCE. Instead I politely suggested that we don’t CONFUSE it with life, which is a different thing entirely. She tried to apologise, said she didn’t mean me obviously, not all women over 40 etcetera etcetera. Don’t fucking test me, I wanted to say. But I felt like I had already sat the test, and already failed it. 


Thursday, November 24, 2016

writing myself out of this mess

I'm not much of a people person, I suppose most people who know me would say. It isn't that I don't enjoy company, even crave it sometimes, it's just that good company seems to be getting harder to find. Everyone is so busy doing whatever it is that keeps them going. I am not burdened by busy-ness, as it happens, but I am doubly burdened by the guilt associated with that and some days I can't keep going no matter how hard I try.
I spend way too much time looking at my newsfeed and seeing a relentless churning mass of things that make me sad, interspersed with the occasional cat video or Dalai Lama quote that makes me smile. I know, and please don't interrupt me with advice because fuck knows that's the other thing my newsfeed is brimful of, that I should put my phone away and go outside. On most days I do. On most days I try to maintain some perspective. I try to focus on all the amazing good in my little part of the world. But some days that little part is bounded on four sides by a fence and surrounded by people who couldn't care less.
I have never felt more in need of a tribe, and never felt that tribe so far away. I know where they are and it is not here. If I go in search of them I will have to take everyone I love, but my greatest fear is that I will have to take myself too.
I was hoping a couple of weeks ago to see Mother Moon and get some answers from her. Turns out she's not a superwoman either, and the clouds were more than a match for her that day. I thought how good it would be, given the election of a moron and the passing of a genius, to have a gathering of people singing, playing music, embracing nature and each other's company and the immense power of the moon. She's seen this shit a million times and she's all over it.
All I really feel capable of doing at the moment is writing. If I could write myself and everyone else a new world that's totally what I would do. It turns out I can't. I just write little bits and pieces of happiness here and there and maybe one day I will have a nice word quilt to throw over our shoulders to keep us warm.
I wrote this today. I really hope you like it.

AT the age of five years, Esmeralda began to collect things. Having no grasp of time’s relentless nature or the span of decades that awaited her, she started keeping little traces of her life in a lidded porcelain box her grandmother had given her. The ballerina painted on the lid was on her tiptoes, arms outstretched in front of her as though to carry all the treasures Esmeralda bestowed into the little box. Soon the treasures – a broken but still spectacular hair clip, two miraculous four-leafed clovers her sister had found, a piece of broken pottery with a blue flower in one corner, several glass beads saved from a broken necklace and a magnificently whole macadamia nut – began to outgrow the ballerina’s box. Despite having just celebrated her sixth birthday, Esmeralda needed a new vessel for her life’s most important articles. Having explored the overflowing plasticware drawer in the kitchen – plenty of boxes but no lids – and searched her sister’s bedroom and her own, Esmeralda could find no vessel as pretty as the ballerina’s box. She resolved to store future treasures in a properly unassuming shoebox, so as to render snooping sisters unaware of the bounty inside. An added bonus was that the ballerina’s box fitted inside the shoebox too, as Esmeralda would have hated to part her treasures from their steadfast, pointy-toed guardian.

In keeping with the nature of things, this first shoebox spawned a multitude. Soon a whole shelf of Esmeralda’s wardrobe had to be cleared to contain all the shoeboxes and all the treasure. Her mother’s protests to dispose of some of this priceless collection were greeted with momentary disbelief followed by outright indignation. Still, as Esmeralda passed her seventh, eighth and ninth birthdays, her collecting of treasures began to slow down. When she reached the milestone of one decade on earth, there were fewer and fewer things to treasure – at least things that could fit inside a shoebox. If she counted her cat Zydeco, her threadbare teddy, her Mum and Dad, her rainbow high-tops, raspberry ice blocks and the jacaranda tree in her backyard, there was more treasure than could ever be contained in a vessel smaller than Esmeralda’s enormous heart. She did not stop treasuring the little things, she only stopped trying to make them her own.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The first Freya

When I was about 15 there was an Australian film I saw, I can’t even remember where or with whom. It was called The Year My Voice Broke.
There was a girl in this film and her name was Freya. I had never heard the name before but it stayed with me for many years, and I remembered this Freya as being a bit wild and almost otherworldly. I remembered her cotton dresses and her wanderings around the barren but beautiful landscape in which the film was set. My second child was born 18 years after the film was released, and she was never going to have any other name but Freya.
In the time between seeing my first Freya and holding my very own, I had learned more about the name – the Norse goddess of love and beauty, who rode in a chariot drawn by two cats, whose day was Friday (the day my Freya was born) and whose animals were cats and stallions. I did not watch The Year My Voice Broke again, although I found it on DVD at a discount store a couple of years ago and bought it.
Last night I decided on a whim to finally watch it again, this time with my husband who had never seen it before. I watched my first Freya with eyes almost 20 years older and saw what it must have been that drew me to her, although I couldn’t honestly recall most of the storyline. I saw her wildness, her connection to spirit, her barely contained beauty and her wild yellow hair that matched the hills around her home town.

I had not expected the story to be one of birth and loss, of ghosts and the heavy, unavoidable burden of history. As a 15-year-old I had not seen any of these things, or at least had not found them memorable. How lovely it was to know that even though my life now carries so much more and sometimes weighs so heavily, that my first Freya has not changed at all. She is still wandering the windswept hills, wearing her cotton dresses and windswept hair, being beautiful and wild.