Issue 18. April 2016- June 2016


Nicci Pratten, ‘Joey Bowie’, mixed media on paper, 2016.


Teasing Threads

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Ivan Sen’s Goldstone: “a drama charged thriller which moves to the beat of the sacred land”- Zalehah Turner reviews the film that opened the 63rd Sydney Film Festival

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Josh (Alex Russell) and Jay (Aaron Pedersen) in Goldstone (2016). photograph courtesy of the SFF.

Described as a Neo-Western crossed with Outback Noir by Indigenous director, Ivan Sen, Goldstone “is a drama charged thriller which moves to beat of the sacred land it is played out on.” A spin-off from Ivan Sen’s last feature film, Mystery Road (2013), Goldstone sees the return of Indigenous detective, Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) once again caught between two worlds but feeling as if he belongs in neither, on the hunt for a missing girl in the striking, yet, harsh and unforgiving land of outback Queensland.

Multi-talented, Ivan Sen not only wrote and directed Goldstone but composed its moving score, shot the stunning scenes of “the epically beautiful desert landscape” and edited the film in post-production. While the mining town of Goldstone didn’t actually exist, Ivan Sen found the landscape he wanted in Middleton, Queensland not far from Winton the location for Mystery Road. As Middletown with a population of three, had “a landscape but no town,” Ivan Sen built the town of Goldstone from demountable buildings and shipping containers which doubled as the crew’s accommodation.

Director and cinematographer, Ivan Sen gives significant weight to the stunning, desert landscape. He sets up the turning points in the film with breath taking, aerial shots, then pauses with long shots and even longer takes to let the action play out on “the all-important stage” that informs their decisions. Aaron Pedersen added that, in Goldstone, “desolation and isolation become important characters…the land is a character, the wind is a character, and even the sun is a character…the greater elements [that] bind us all together.”

For Ivan Sen, the mythic town of Goldstone, a frontier mining outpost, filmed in Middleton, is a place “where different cultural worlds collide, in an epically beautiful desert landscape.” Detective Jay Swan, who has one foot in each, has the power to connect those worlds. An Indigenous upholder of the laws that have replaced those of the First Nation’s, Jay Swan is in a unique but incredibly difficult position which “has profound socio-political repercussions.” For Ivan Sen, people like “Jay Swan are invaluable to our society” as they can walk between boundaries, connect worlds and facilitate “a greater understanding and empathy to all cultures.”

Ivan Sen sees a strong connection between both Aaron Pedersen and himself to the protagonist, Jay Swan in their blood, upbringing, personal lives, and the communities they came from. More importantly, he feels that just like Jay Swan, both of them step “outside of those communities to face the other world” in order to help encourage an understanding between the two.

However, buried deep within people who can walk between cultural boundaries is a sense of not belonging in either which carries a great, emotional toll. Jay Swan’s desire for justice despite the incredible resistance he encounters from all sides has a profound impact on his life both professionally and personally.

Jay (Aaron Pedersen) in Goldstone (2016)

Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) in Goldstone (2016). photograph courtesy of the SFF.

From the opening scene of Goldstone we see the heavy toll his work and home life has taken upon him. No longer clean shaven with closely cropped hair and a muscular frame as audiences saw him in Mystery Road, he is drinking heavily while driving along the desolate, desert road towards the town of Goldstone. A young, local cop, Josh (Alex Russell) pulls him over for drink driving, arrests Jay and locks him in a cell overnight. Their relationship remains fraught with personal conflict and tension. However, regardless of their differences, the missing person’s case that Jay has come to solve reveals a level of corruption and crime in Goldstone that both Josh and Jay must fight in order to uphold the law for the sake of the community and themselves.

Ivan Sen wanted there to be a stark contrast between the portrayal of Jay Swan in Goldstone and that of Mystery Road. He also wanted to “to dirty him up a bit” in order to convey a sense of time passing as well as, the impact of the past events on Jay’s life. However, it was Aaron Pederson’s suggestion that, given all that had happened to Jay, he should be drinking. Aaron Pederson felt that they “were able to achieve it without reinforcing negatives.” Both Jay and Josh have to overcome their own inner demons in order to deal with the problems created by greed and corruption in the local mine, Furnace Creek. However, Jay’s drinking appears overly self-indulgent in light of the incredible danger that the women and members of the community are in.

From the outset, Ivan Sen wanted to create a level of intimacy between the audience and Jay Swan in Goldstone. Drawing them closer to Jay, than they had been in Mystery Road, through a script that is both an action packed drama and emotional journey of self-discovery. Ivan Sen said that, he “wanted to make it more personal than last time. In Mystery Road [Jay] is trying to help solve the problems of a town but this time we kind of wanted those problems to manifest within him.”

Jimmy (David Gulpilil) in Goldstone (2016)

Jimmy (David Gulpilil) in Goldstone (2016). photograph courtesy of the SFF

At the heart of Jay’s personal journey in Goldstone is a need to reclaim his sense of belonging, something which a local, traditional elder, Jimmy (David Gulpilil) holds the key to. However, in order to begin his cultural and spiritual awakening, he must pull himself together to save Goldstone from its web of corruption, greed and crime.

Ivan Sen stressed that, through Goldstone, he wanted to make a film that was like its protagonist, Jay Swan; a film that could connect cultures that had been clashing since the first European contact, specifically those of Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people. Ivan Sen stressed that, “we are all connected but we separate ourselves with cultural and social boundaries” which are only “there because we construct them.” The trick with Goldstone, he claimed, was to make these themes not only “palatable and presentable to an audience” but also, thought provoking, moving and entertaining at the same time.

For Ivan Sen, film was the perfect format through which to tell the story of Indigenous Detective, Jay Swan as it has the power to cross cultural boundaries. Through a strong script with complex and engaging characters in a well-paced crime drama balanced by powerfully emotive journeys of self-discovery, shot in a stunning location, Ivan Sen manages to entertain while raising important issues such as, Land Rights, people trafficking and mining.


Nashen Moodley at the Opening Night of the Sydney Film Festival 2016. The State Theatre, Market St, Sydney. Wednesday 8th June, 2016 Photographer: Belinda Rolland © 2016. Courtesy of the SFF.

Ivan Sen’s fourth feature film, Goldstone premièred at the Opening Night Gala of the 63rd Sydney Film Festival on 8 June 2016 and competed in the Official Competition although, it did not win. It has since been selected by the Sydney Film Festival for the Travelling Film Festival which will tour eighteen cities in regional New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory. The Travelling Film Festival is an initiative started in 1974 by former SFF Director, David Stratton to ensure that regional communities have access to a range of Australian and international films that they would not have had otherwise. While Mystery Road only had a limited release, Goldstone screens in cinemas around Australia from 7 July. Aaron Pedersen will also attend a Q & A after an advance screening of the film at Cinema Nova in Melbourne at 7pm on 28 June 2016.

-Zalehah Turner


Goldstone screens from 7 July at Event Cinemas, Palace Cinemas, the Dendy, Hayden Orpheum, and the Ritz and as part of the Travelling Film Festival. See the individual websites for details.

Palace Cinemas:

Event Cinemas:

Dendy Cinemas:

Hayden Orpheum:

Randwick Ritz:

Travelling Film Festival:

The TFF’s next stop is Wollongong from 19-21 August 2016. More details will be announced late June 2016

Zalehah Turner is a Sydney based poet currently completing her Bachelor of Arts in Communications majoring in writing and cultural studies at the University of Technology, Sydney. Zalehah is an Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review:

Kleber Mendonça Filho wins the 63rd Sydney Film Prize for the “compelling and relevant,” Aquarius: review by Zalehah Turner

Copy of 00-22 REd Carpet Aquarius director

Winner of the 63rd Sydney Film Prize, Kleber Mendonca Filho (Aquarius) at the Sydney Film Festival, 2016 (Courtesy of the SFF)

The winner of the 63rd Sydney Film Prize is Brazilian director, Kleber Mendonça Filho for his moving portrayal of music critic, widow and cancer survivor, Clara (Sonia Braga) fighting to retain her Recife apartment and legacy despite the underhand schemes devised by a powerful corporation in Aquarius. The award which comes with a $63,000 cash prize was announced by Jury President, Simon Field on 19 June 2016 at the Closing Night Gala of the Sydney Film Festival. Simon Field claimed Aquarius was “a film of effortless verve and intelligence.”

The Sydney Film Festival’s Official Competition, now in its ninth year, is a highlight of Festival program and the announcement of the Sydney Film Prize is a much anticipated event at the Closing Night Gala. Previous winners have included, Miguel Gomes’s three-part film, Arabian Nights (2015) based on One Thousand and One Nights, Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation (2011) which went on to win both an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012 and the first recipient and winner of the Caméra d’Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, Steve McQueen’s Hunger (2008).

According to Festival Director, Nashen Moodley the Sydney Film Festival’s Official Competition was a “a compelling program of 12 of films that demonstrate the cutting edge of film-making” with “some of the most exciting films and filmmakers in the world right now.” Of the twelve films selected by Nashen Moodely for the 2016 Official Competition, Simon Field stated that, “the Jury was unanimous in its admiration [of the] strong competition this year.”

Three of the films vying for the prestigious, Sydney Film Prize, came directly from Cannes. Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius and Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World both competed for the Palme d’Or with It’s Only the End of the World taking out the second most prestigious award at the Cannes Film Festival, the Grand Prix. While, Ivan Sen’s outback noir and sequel to Mystery Road (SFF 2013), Goldstone, opened the Sydney Film Festival on a distinctly Australian note.

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Festival Director, Nashen Moodley with Kleber Mendonca Filho (Aquarius) at the Sydney Film Festival, 2016 (Courtesy of the SFF)

Accepting from Recife in Brazil, the 2016 Sydney Film Prize winner, Kleber Mendonça Filho said, “To get this recognition from Sydney Film Festival means a lot to me and to the film, which is building up momentum for our Brazilian release.” Although, he was unable to be at the Closing Night Gala to receive the award in person, he sent a video message to the Sydney Film Festival and its audience expressing his thanks and commending Nashen Moodely for his programming skills, comparing them to that of a DJ. “Being a DJ in a film festival is the best thing that there is!” he said. Mendonça Filho added that, Moodely was constantly surprising over the length of the festival through his programming with different rhythms and different films.

Nashen Moodley explained, after the first screening of Aquarius at the State Theatre on 10 June, that music was very close to Kleber Mendonça Filho’s heart and that this was reflected his direction and screenplay of Aquarius. Mendonça Filho’s first feature film, Neighbouring Sounds screened in the 2012 Sydney Film Festival’s Official Competition although, it did not win. However, there are distinct similarities in the screenplays such as, the location, that of Kleber Mendonça Filho’s home town, Recife, the strength and resilience of the characters and the socio-economic themes.


Clara (Sonia Braga) in Aquarius (SFF 2016)

According to Kleber Mendonça Filho, Aquarius “is very much about the past, the present and the future.” The director claimed that the very “heart of the film is memories” and that he saw it “almost as a time machine” with objects, photos and records providing the impetus for flashbacks and allowing for smooth transitions between the different stages and periods of time in Clara’s life. Music, Mendonça Filho claimed, didn’t get old as we did. More importantly, it contained personal memories of certain times in our lives for all of us, especially, Clara. He said that it was easy to add what he referred to as an expensive soundtrack because music meant so much to Clara and often forms her initial response to the violent attacks from the corporation wishing to tear down her apartment. Director, Kleber Mendonça Filho added that the film was also very personal and that there was a lot of his mother in the strong, female protagonist, Clara.

Jury Chair, Simon Field maintained that Kleber Mendonça Filho had created a “witty, sexy and playful” film that was both political and personal. He stressed that, “Aquarius is a compelling and relevant statement of contemporary Brazil at a very appropriate moment.” He added that, “at the heart of it is Sonia Braga’s astonishing and brave performance of a fearless character resisting pressures from her family and the corporate world.”

For anyone who missed out on Aquarius in the official 2016 Sydney Film Festival program, you can catch it at Palace Norton Street, on Wednesday 22 June at 6pm. Palace Verona and Palace Norton Street are screening twelve of the extremely popular, top-selling films after the Festival’s Closing Night Gala. Festival Director, Nashen Moodley said that, “These screenings are a wonderful way for audiences, if they missed out on Festival tickets, to see some of the most talked-about films of the year.”

-Zalehah Turner



Zalehah Turner is a Sydney based poet currently completing her Bachelor of Arts in Communications majoring in writing and cultural studies at the University of Technology, Sydney. Zalehah is an Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review:

By Popular Demand: Aquarius screens at Palace Norton Street on Wednesday, 22 June at 6pm

Powerful and Extensive: B. J. Muirhead Reviews ‘Death Fugue’ by Sheng Keyi

Death Fugue by Sheng Keyi. Giramondo 2016

DeathFugueSheng Keyi’s Death Fugue is a novel which deals with political and social freedom in the face of government lies, control and violence. Despite this, it is a deeply compassionate and personal novel which focuses on the manner in which large, socially and personally traumatic events permeate lives over time leaving them, perchance, with little or nothing to say that can provide reprieve from past events and the life they now live. It is saved from being mere political rhetoric by focusing on one man, Yuan Mengliu, a surgeon in the capital city Beiping in the fictional country of Dayang, neighbouring China. Yuan is a good surgeon, but he is disconnected from his patients to the point that he usually doesn’t know or take any interest in the name of the people whose bodies he is cutting into. What he does take interest in are women: he is an unashamed womaniser who is “convinced that, once stripped of clothing, all women would go back to their true state. The body could not lie.” The opening of the book explains this, and sets the personal context for the story:

Those who have suffered the mental strain of life’s vicissitudes often end up by becoming withdrawn. Their earlier zeal has died; their beliefs wander off like stray dogs. They allow the heart to grow barren, and the mind to be overrun with weeds. They experience a sort of mental arthritis, like a dull ache on a cloudy day. There is no remedy. They hurt. They endure. They distract themselves in various ways, whether by making money, or by emigrating, or by womanising. Yuan Mengliu fell into the last group.

How and why Mengliu became the distant, almost uncaring surgeon and womaniser is the subject of this book, which places the purely personal in the context of a political story which begins with the appearance of a pile of shit in Round Square.

…it was a dark brown lump smelling of buckwheat, soft in texture, and standing nine stories high. It’s bottom layer was fifty metres in diameter. It’s structure was like that of a layered cake, narrowing to a relatively artistic spire at the top.

Needless to say, the appearance of the pile of shit in the centre of the capital, close to the Wisdom Bureau (the National Youth Administration for Elite Wisdom), where Mengliu worked in the Literature Department, caused a public uproar. The shit was removed quickly, and the government offered the completely irrelevant explanation that it had been gorilla shit, as proven by DNA tests. The Tower Incident, as it became known, lead to mass public demonstrations and to the violent crushing of the demonstrators with tanks, bullets and disappearances. Most of this information is offered in the opening two chapters, and sets the scene for Sheng’s aim of trying to talk about the after effects of the events in Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Indeed, the protests in the book are an accurate recounting of the Tiananmen Square protests and their end in the massacre of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people. With an opening and context such as this, it might be expected that the book would focus on the protests and have an explicitly political agenda, but this is not the case in any expected manner. Rather, the story focuses on how Mengliu met the love of his life (Qizi) in the very first protest march, then lost her, presumed dead, and ceased being a poet in order to become a surgeon. Most importantly, it deals with his inability and unwillingness to write in order to produce political propaganda. Much of the story occurs in a land known as Swan Valley, whose residents and spiritual leader attempt to coerce Mengliu into writing poetry again, to celebrate the beauty, the perfect society that has been created on scientific and political principles of equality, peace, prosperity and other lies. Mengliu’s trip to Swan Valley occurs twenty years after the Tower Incident and the suppression of the protests which followed. Every year Mengliu searches for Qizi—he is convinced that she is still alive, and his love for her haunts him. He is in a small sail boat, floating in the ocean, when a storm rises:

The maddened clouds surged together, twisting in a fury into one great pillar that towered over the lake and drew it up into a funnel, leaving a spinning whirlpool at its centre. The sail, caught in the winds, began to flap violently, and everything turned black before Mengliu’s eyes. Both his body and his consciousness were sucked into the great black hole.

When he wakes, he is in a forest through which he must struggle before encountering peaceful and friendly wild beasts, before arriving at Swan Valley, where he stays until he learns the truth of himself, and returns to the sail boat from which he is rescued by the local people he had been staying with. It is only at this time that it becomes apparent that his journey has been a psychological fugue, an hallucination which brought him back to himself as a poet and protester who refused to protest, even if he never writes again. There is much, so much that I haven’t mentioned, particularly about Qizi and her various incarnations in Mengliu’s life, but this is to be expected when reviewing a large book. Ultimately, it is a book about personal and social survival which, for Chinese and non-Chinese readers alike, encompasses much more than the fictional recounting of the Tiananmen Square protests. It would have been easy to make this a depressing or nihilistic book, but Sheng has avoided this course, to the great benefit of her message. It is, however, occasionally frightening, simply because it is quite easy to recognise many aspects of the contemporary West in the nanny state of Swan Valley—although, fortunately, sex is not illegal here, as it is in Swan Valley. It also is, unusually for a novel with such serious intent, easy to read and very entertaining, full of laughable situations, ideals, frustrations and very human compassion for those who have become dispossessed from themselves. Because this is the case, it is a book which should be, and deserves to be read widely. My one caveat is in respect of the symbolism that Sheng relies on. It is powerful and extensive, from the tower of shit and the inadequate government explanation, to Qizi, who ceased being Mengliu’s lover and became the leader of the protests, thus standing in place of the Styrofoam and plaster statue—the “Goddess of Democracy”—that was erected in the final days of of the Tiananmen Square protests. Many symbols and references are likely to escape an English reader, however. In Swan Valley (the name of which may be symbolic of something I am unaware of), for example, it is explained that a young chef

…holds in high esteem the chef who butchered oxen for King Hui of Liang…Everything is an art. Does its beauty match that of a good poem?

The reference here is to a passage in Zhuangzi, Chapter Three, and the teaching of following the course, or tao, in order to nourish one’s life. Whilst this reference is likely to be well understood in China, it is sheer happenstance that I am aware of it, its source and some of its meaning. That there are many other references and contexts which would expand the meaning and effect of the writing is obvious, and I fear that I have missed much of Sheng’s intent as a result, even though the most potent symbol—Mengliu’s silence, his refusal to write poetry again—cannot be missed. None the less, even if Western readers fail to grasp much of the cultural symbolism, Death Fugue is a book full of easily understood ideas and situations, focused around the Hero’s journey, which is the basic structure of the book and of Mengliu’s trip to and time in Swan Valley. A note at the back of the book informs us that the translation and publication was made possible by a philanthropic gift, from Mr William Chiu, to the University of Western Sydney Foundation Trust. This gift has been well repaid with this translation and publication, and I hope it is further repaid by the readership which the book deserves.

– Bruce Muirhead


BJ Muirhead is a writer and photographer living in rural Queensland. He has published online and in print journals, and was included in an anthology of Queensland poetry (1986). He has published art criticism and was photographic reviewer for the Courier-Mail newspaper in the 1980s. His writing and recent exhibitions, Primary Evidence (2011) andFlesh (2014), continue his lifetime interest in the human body and its relation to the inevitability of age and death. He can be found at  and

Death Fugue is available from

Cabinets, clocks and curiosities: Sarah St Vincent Welch reviews ‘Wrong Way Time’ by Fiona Hall

Wrong Way Time by Fiona Hall is on at The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra until July 10, 2016. 


Fiona Hall’s Wrong Way Time is the first exhibition of the artist representing Australia at the Venice Biennale to be completely reinstalled and exhibited back home for the Australian public to experience. It is on at The National Gallery of Australia in Canberra until 10 July, 2016, and entrance to the exhibition is free. It is a huge work of one of our major and beloved artists, made up of around 1363 objects. Most of the series within it are new, created with a myriad of media and by many methods. It is housed in a single darkened room that contains a structure of wooden display cabinets lit from within, and the viewer can walk around, behind, and into their centre, engaging with the works in the cabinets from both sides. They are Cabinets of Curiosities, or a Wunderkammer, and recall for me early experiences of natural history museums and eccentric arrays of objects in country folk art museums, though Wrong Way Time is the finest of art.

Everyone and everything converge in the warm light and darkness of its space. A sense of privacy and anonymity is created but also a sense of possible commune. Glancing up, another viewer may be framed on the other side of the cabinet. When I last visited the exhibition was filled with quiet chatter and excitement; marked by the occasional chime of a clock, (from the over thirty clock installations), a mechanical cuckoo’s absurd call, a crow’s caw.


On my first visit it was difficult to move from the cabinet facing the entrance, I was so struck by Crust, the sculptures made of baked white bread laid out on open atlases. The sensual, gut response I had to the rubble of the bombed apartment building strewn on the map of Syria, the elephant carcass, the machine gun made of bread, held me there, wondering over their conception, their making, and my intense and immediate response to them. I peered down and up into the cabinet, and caught the reflection of a crusty MacDonald’s double arches on the top shelf. While chatting to the security guard who had joined me, we agreed the bread called to our childhood memories, of bread and jam, school lunches, and the basic need of staple food for all. We peered in, checking which countries were on the maps. The vision in Wrong Way Time is global and political, but not didactic. Here it is. This is what it is. Where it is. Make connections. Talk about it.



Tender is a series of birds’ nests made of shredded American dollar notes. The serial numbers of the notes are etched on the glass cabinet that contain them, as are lists of the bird species’ scientific names. The nests are exquisite, and accurately constructed. Through this cabinet All the Kings’ Men can be seen, ‘figures’ knitted from soldiers’ camouflage uniforms from different nations, suspended in the centre space of the cabinet structure. They seem tribal and darkly humorous, grotesque. Their shadows cast twirls of lacing patterns on the floor. The figures are marked with details; a flag, a horn, a die, a billiard ball. A circular map on the wall behind Tender, at first seems a bejewelled exotic chart, but with surprise the viewer comes to realise the jewels are car headlamp casings, warm orange, and glowing. In the Venice Biennale this was a map of our southern skies, but this particular ‘clock’ has been recast for the NGA setting. What can be glimpsed through, between, over, what is reflected, and can be seen around, adds to the sense of discovery that leads the viewer through this exhibition. It asks us to connect, to interrogate the installations, to discuss them.

Money is a recurring medium and symbol in Hall’s work and is prominent in this exhibition too. The series Where the wind blows added to my initial inability to move past that cabinet at the entrance, I was so amused and appalled by the determined sperm painted on the bank notes swimming in isobar patterns across their dictator’s portraits. This work is potent with value and nationhood, masculinity, humour and dread. An extensive series of banknotes When my boat comes fills the cabinet opposite the back wall, depicting floating vessels of many kinds, painted with leaves of plants from that country (of trading value) recalling traditions of botanic art. This intricate, delicate, and extensive series references and points to so many currents; trade, exploitation, economies, labour, and nature.

image of bank notes with sperm painted in gouache swimming across the the portraits of dictators

The walls are lined with clocks whose surfaces are transformed with quotes, slogans, tally marks and faces, in the series Wrong Way Time, Big Game Hunting and Out of My Tree. The hall clocks, mantel clocks, and cuckoo clocks frame the cabinets, and create a passage around them, and feel ever present. They suggest we have passed the ‘tipping point’ in the crises in our environment, in our climate, our global politics, our inequities.

Endings are the new beg

A clock-like installation, Manuhiri (Traveller), illuminates the far corner. It is made of driftwood collected on the beach at Awanui on Aotearoa, New Zealand’s North East Cape, at the mouth of Waiapu River. Each piece of wood is shaped like an animal, and together they suggest a mandala, or a constellation.

Kuka irititja (Animals from another time) is a collaborative work with members of the Tjumpi Desert Weavers of the Central and Western Desert region of Australia. Hall, with 12 women artists from this group, wove animals from this area that are endangered or now extinct. Whenever Hall speaks of this collaboration it is with great affection and connection with the other artists. Made of grass and many sundry materials, even camouflage uniforms (which provide a binding thread with ‘All The Kings Men’), the animal characters seem like guardians at the exit and entrance.

The exhibition is so generous, so layered and fecund that I have taken up camp there in my mind, blown up a metaphorical lilo and lain back to continue my thinking about it, possibly forever. Wrong Way Time invites this level of engagement. I can’t stop talking about it.

– Sarah St Vincent Welch


Sarah St Vincent Welch grew up swimming in Middle Harbour and now loves walking on Mt Majura. She teaches creative writing in the community. She co-edited The Pearly Griffin – the story of the old Griffin Centre with Lizz Murphy, and two short story anthologies – The Circulatory System and Time Pieces with Craig Cormick. She also co-edited FIRST: Surrender with Francesca Rendle-Short in 2007 (a student anthology at the University of Canberra). Her chapbook Open will be published by  Rochford Street Press later this year.

‘The Lifeblood of the Poetry Communities Across Australia’: Zalehah Turner reviews The Australian Poets Festival

APF National Program Director Toby Fitch photograph by Tim Grey

APF National Program Director, Toby Fitch. photograph by Tim Grey

Launched in both Melbourne and Perth on February 20, at Blak & Bright and Perth Writers’ Festival, respectively, Australian Poetry CEO, Jacinta Le Plastrier, said that, “The Australian Poets Festival was the crown jewel of the new national program.” She confirmed that it “will bring the passion of poetry to writing and poetry festivals across the country, highlighting the best and brightest of Australian poets nationally, by state or territory” as well as, supporting younger and emerging poets.

Australian Poets Festival National Program Director, Toby Fitch, added that, the festival “is designed to add new and more diverse poetry events to the major writers’ festivals across Australia, so as to bolster the presence of contemporary poetry in the national conscience.” In developing the APF 2016-17 program, Toby Fitch pitched several events to the major literary festivals, two of which, ‘The BIG READ’ and ‘Mysterious Ways: Poets and Publishing’, were particularly popular with the festival directors but he was keen to point out that there were a range of different events in the APF program, with others to come.

Both ‘The BIG READ’ and ‘Mysterious Ways’ have an obvious appeal as part of a truly national program. An impression that is of vital importance to Australian Poetry, which under Jacinta Le Plastrier, is committed to engaging poets across the country through a range of new programs and services despite the loss of four-year funding from the Australian Council of the Arts.

‘The BIG READ’ focuses the poets and audience on the poetry of the state or territory of the hosting writers’ festival and ‘Mysterious Ways’, on ‘the lifeblood of the poetry communities’: poets who not only write but sell, edit, teach, or publish. Both events formed part of the program at the Australian Poets Festival launch on 20 February at the Perth Writers’ Festival with ‘The BIG READ’, featuring different poets, also at Wordstorm: The Northern Territory Writers’ Festival on 7 May and ‘Mysterious Ways’ at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on 22 May.

While, the structure, theme and focus of ‘The BIG READ’ and ‘Mysterious Ways’, remains the same, the selection of poets at each changes as of the APF tours the significant writers’ festivals around Australia. Allowing for a diverse range of opinions, poetic style and experience to inform and engage audiences across Australia. The Australian Poets Festival has the potential to encourage a more inclusive as well as, expansive perception of Australian poetry. Australian Poetry’s new national program may well succeed in revitalising the community’s perception of poetry by showcasing a range of voices “in new and exciting ways” (Le Plastrier) which have the power to engage audiences directly, drawing it closer to the hearts and minds of the community, as a whole. At the sixteen writers’ festivals that the APF will take part in over the next few years, audiences are sure to get a sense of the strength and diversity of poetry and the poetry community within Australia.

While, the Sydney Writers’ Festival did not include ‘The BIG READ’ in its program, it embraced ‘Mysterious Ways: Poetry and Publishing’ as well as, the well-known, Sydney, experimental poetry event, ‘AVANT GAGA’ which was, according to Toby Fitch, “loads of fun.” AP CEO Jacinta Le Plastrier was proud and delighted at the turn out at both Australian Poets Festival events at the SWF. Jacinta Le Plastrier maintained that, “Australian poetry is flourishing and we want to showcase that in a way that is exciting and unexpected” with the Australian Poets Festival, the highlight of the Australian Poetry’s new national program.

Hosted by National Program Director, Toby Fitch, ‘AVANT GAGA’ featured ten poets, including, 2016, Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize winner, joanne burns, alongside, the short listed, Lionel Fogarty, in a sold event with close to 140 in attendance, on Saturday, 21 May. ‘AVANT GAGA’ is not unique to the APF program but rather, comes from a successful, experimental poetry night hosted by Toby Fitch at Sappho Books which most definitely has been succeeding in showcasing poetry in exciting and unexpected ways. While, every event has a different line up, Sydney-siders that missed ‘AVANT GAGA’ at the SWF, can catch it at Sappho Books in the near future.

At the second APF poetry event at the SWF on Sunday, 22 May, ‘Mysterious Ways: Poetry and Publishing’, Kent MacCarter, Kate Lilley and Michelle Cahill each read a selection of their poetry and discussed the ways in which their work, editing Cordite, Southerly and Mascara respectively, and university teaching in the case of Kate Lilley, impacted or influenced the writing of their own poetry. Chair Ivor Indyk, founder of Giramondo Publishing, co-founder of Sydney Review of Books and university professor, carefully negotiated the poetry readings and discussion which under his guidance, intertwined naturally. Ivor Indyk informed the audience as to poets’ background, including their own publications, impressive awards and achievements as well as, those of the journals they edit, create and publish while all the time, gently steering the poets towards the positive connections between the two.

Editor and publisher of Mascara Literary Review, Michelle Cahill claimed that before working on projects which focused on contemporary Asian Australian and Indigenous writers, she had never really identified as writer from a particular background. Having the voices of so many people from different cultural backgrounds come across her desk as an editor was not only eye-opening but helped her reflect on personal notions of race and identity.

Poetry Editor of Southerly and Director of Creative Writing at the University of Sydney, Kate Lilley, is the author of two prize winning books, Versary and Ladylike, with another, Tilt forthcoming. Kate Lilley maintained that until, poems were published in a book, they remained unfinished, continually open to editing and rewriting. She claimed that through reading the poems she shared with the ‘Mysterious Ways’ audience, she hoped to give them a sense of finality.

Kate Lilley read the title poem of Tilt which is also part of the Red Room Company’s Disappearing app. that connects poetry to place. The poem describes her job at the old pinball parlour, Fonzie’s Fantasyland which used to be on Oxford Street, Darlinghurst. By the end of the poem, she knows she is leaving and on to another life. One, she informed the audience at SWF, she was much more suited to, that of academia. Another poem she chose to read, ‘GG’ from Realia, she felt reflected the interconnectedness between the research she undertook at university and the poems she wrote as a result. She also included, ‘Harms Way’, a poem inspired by her own engagement with the crisis of detention policy in this country.

An active member of Melbourne PEN, Creative Director of Cordite and author of three poetry collections, Kent MacCarter claimed that he would read four poems directly influenced by jobs he was working on at the time. However, his first poem, a combination of bricolage and journalism about the ‘incomputable persistence of life’ was ironically inspired by the hardest job of his life, being a father, and the survival stories of airplane crash victims, among others.

He maintained that while working at Cordite came at a great personal cost to his own writing, it gave him a unique position to see what was going on in the world. He also felt strongly that his varied work experience had exposed him to jargon and terms specific to those particular areas which, when taken out of context and used in poetry, had the capacity for wonderful word plays.

Interestingly, in response to an audience member who had seen the explosion of interest around English poet, Kate Tempest since her appearance on Q & A and her opening address at the SWF and wanted to know how poetry could engage that level of attention consistently and why it didn’t generally, Kate Lilley suggested that poetry was constantly engaging with enormous interest and support from the community particularly, in Australia. According to Kate Lilley, poetry was no longer just for the elite and this intense level of interest in poetry which she claimed to witnessed first-hand was happening around us all the time.

‘Mysterious Ways’ certainly addressed several issues surrounding poetry and the publishing industry from the perception of poets who form the ‘lifeblood of the community’ by not only writing and publishing their own but working in ways that make poetry possible for others. Along with ‘AVANT GAGA’, it gave a voice to a range of poets and lead to a successful Sydney premiere of the Australian Poets Festival.

However, National Program Director, Toby Fitch was quick to point out that there were a range of different events that he had been pitching to the literary festivals around the country. “There’s the BIG READ gala, there’s AVANT GAGA, which originated at the Poetry Night at Sappho Books I run monthly, and there’s Mysterious Ways, but there are other events too, and that will happen at festivals to come.”

While those APF poetry events are part of the programs of writers festivals to come, Toby Fitch announced that, “At Queensland Poetry Festival and at Melbourne Writers Festival, on consecutive weekends, along with the [other] events, I’ve also organised for something called ‘Transforming My Country (by Dorothea Mackellar)’, in which poets will read and discuss a poem they’ve written (say, a version, an experimental translation, a response, or a riposte) to that famous Australian poem about Australian identity.” According to Fitch, “The poets in the two iterations of this panel will reflect the diversity of poets at work in Australia.”

The poem now known as ‘My Country’ by Dorothea Mackellar compares England to Australia and was redrafted several times before its initial publication under its original title, ‘Core of My Heart’ in The Spectator, London, 1908.

Some may remember reciting, ‘My Country’, at school until, the words lost their meaning. Still others, may feel strongly that the intensely patriotic poem written by Mackellar at nineteen while homesick in London does not reflect the experience of the average Australian, let alone acknowledge the original landholders, nor the horrors of what was an incredibly recent history at the time the poem was written.

The title itself, ‘Transforming My Country’ suggests that the event allows members of the panel in both cities to reflect and transform through their response, not only the original poem but the concept of national and cultural identity. Through reading and then, discussing the poem they have written for the event, the poets will have the chance to engage the audience in questions of national identity, pride, history, heritage, and culture. As well as, reflecting on the concepts of place and community which are inherent in both the focus on the Australian landscape in the second two stanzas of Mackellar’s poem and the overall theme of belonging.

Given the significance of ‘My Country’ to questions of national identity in Australia, ‘Transforming My Country (by Dorothea Mackellar)’ has the potential to be a key poetry event in the Australian Poetry’s revitalised, national program and the Australian Poets Festival.

However, the APF program is not just about increasing the visibility and diversity of successful poets but also offers workshops, such as the up and coming, ‘Poetry of the Eye: The Visual Aspects of Poetry’ hosted by the Program Director Toby Fitch at the Emerging Writers’ Festival on Wednesday, 15 June at the Wheeler Centre, Melbourne. ‘Poetry of the Eye’ is part of the EWF’s ‘Writers’ Night School’. Workshop participants are encouraged to bring a poem or text written by themselves or another, to reshape after learning a brief history of concrete and visual poetry.

The APF is also showcasing other events and awards within Australian Poetry’s new national program. At the Australian Poets Festival launch at the Wheeler Centre on 20 February, Samuel Wagan Watson and his mentee, Caution read poetry, rapped and discussed the importance of Blak voices and the AP Blak mentor program at Blak & Bright, The Victorian Indigenous Literary Festival in Melbourne. Samuel Wagan Watson is one of the poets on the ‘Tune Your Poetry’ committee, an online poetry mentoring service run by Australian Poetry that aims to connect prospective mentees with mentors from the same state or background and identity if requested.

Another significant event in the APF program is the announcement of the winner of the Scanlon Prize at ‘SUNBURNT COUNTRY’, the APF event at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival on Friday, 2 September. The Scanlon Prize is a partnership between Australian Poetry and the First Nations Writers’ Network made possible by the Scanlon Foundation.

The Australian Poets Festival is certainly showcasing and increasing the visibility of Australian poetry at writers’ festivals around the country and hopefully will continue to do so with the help of the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund. The Copyright Agency contributes 1.5% of its annual income to development projects, such as the APF, that support the Australian publishing and visual arts industries, and have a broad cultural benefit. The program is truly diverse and national with the launch of the Australian Poetry mentoring service at Blak & Bright, ‘The BIG READ’ reconnecting poetry and place, ‘Mysterious Ways’ focusing on the strength of the poetry community, ‘Transforming My Country (by Dorothea Mackellar)’ on questions of national identity, AVANT GAGA on the playful and experimental side of poetry and ‘Poetry of the Eye’ on practical and informative advice on creating your own visual poem.

Given the significant impact of the funding cuts announced by the Australian Council of the Arts on Friday, 13 May to Australian Poetry, along with sixty-two other arts based organisations, one can only hope that people vote in favour of change and the return of adequate and stable funding to the Australian Council of the Arts.

Blak & Bright x Australian Poets Festival: Samuel Wagan Watson and Caution at the launch of the APF at the Wheeler Centre, Melbourne on 20 February 2016: Blak & Bright x Australian Poets Festival

-Zalehah Turner


Zalehah Turner is a Sydney based poet currently completing her Bachelor of Arts in Communications majoring in writing and cultural studies at the University of Technology, Sydney. Zalehah is an Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review:

The next Australian Poets Festival event is ‘Poetry of the Eye’, a workshop held by Toby Fitch at the Emerging Writers’ Festival at the Wheeler Centre, Melbourne on Wednesday, 15 June at 6:30pm. Tickets cost $35 and $30 for concession holders. ‘Writers’ Night School: Poetry of the Eye’:

The Difficulty of Migration: Anna Couani Launches ‘Father’s From the Edge’ Edited by Helen Nickas

Father’s From the Edge edited by Helen Nickas, Owl Press Melbourne 2015, was launched by Anna Couani on 12 May at 6.00pm at the Macleay Museum at The University of Sydney .

fathers-from-the-edgeIt’s kind of strange to be launching a book that you appear in. This anthology consists of Greek Australians writing about their fathers. I’m a half Greek Australian. My mother’s background is mostly Polish. My parents met in Sydney, at Sydney Uni when they were studying Medicine during WWII. I’m not very Greek, being the child of a Kastellorizian whose family came here around 1918, and growing up in a period when bilingualism wasn’t valued as it is today.

This project, of getting creative writers to write about their fathers has posed all sorts of difficult questions. I wish I were one of those writers (some are in this book) who seem to have had a childhood living in a monolingual idyll in domestic bliss with their loving parents secluded on the margins of Australian society, cocooned in a supportive Greek community. That wasn’t the template that I could use. That narrative didn’t fit onto my experience but as well as that, I don’t write stories. I think of my work as realistic not naturalistic. I often use autobiographical material but have never written a biography or even a memoir. In the 70’s I wrote in the sociological frame for my tertiary studies, about my parents in Surry Hills, so I have studied my parents as a phenomenon. Generally, I keep my family out of my creative writing and see it as a privacy issue because the audience, conceivably a Greek audience, might consist of people who know my family or my parents. For the last couple of decades, my brothers, who don’t usually read my work, give me reports from people who have read my work. My parents have occasionally attended a reading where I was reading my work. So the thing is, how much do you want to reveal and do you want to reveal anything negative? Being doctors, my parents were considered saints in the communities they served. Why would I want to make like a nasty fly in the ointment?

But this task, writing about one’s father, one’s father on the edge, meaning on the margins according to Helen’s introduction, also suggests to me, a person ‘on edge’ which describes my father quite well. I don’t know if the word ‘comfortable’ would have ever been used about him. And as I mention in my piece, he had the ability, through his withering silent treatment, to put everyone around him on edge as well. Dean Kalimniou’s piece describes a father situation that I find really amusing, recognising my own father in it. He describes his father as a crypto Greek and crypto Aussie. People who came here very young or who were born here, especially before the 50’s when so many more Greeks arrived, can be equivocal. They are kind of assimilated but also not. They might be proud of their ethnicity but also hide it out of habit. I know my father said that people would attack him and his brothers if they walked along the street speaking Greek. That would’ve been in the 1920’s and 30’s before they grew up and started to look more dangerous. They all had a very Aussie way of talking, had a mastery of Aussie slang but could toss in a few words of Greek used as coded commentary with each other.

There’s also the idea in the phrase ‘from the edge’ that people are living somehow precariously. And some writers in the book paint a picture of a total larrikin, a larger than life character, and remind me of one of my uncles, Uncle George, the bad boy, not exactly parent material. George Alexander’s father was definitely a bad boy, but maybe also a character built from the bad boy wog template of Hollywood movies, either by himself or by George, imigration is so difficultt’s hard to say. I find it intriguing that Vrasidas Karalis (Professor of Greek at University of Sydney), so highly achieved, so intellectual, had a devil of a father. Who would’ve thought it? And Vrasidas writes his father piece in the 3rd person, referring to himself as ‘the son’, so obviously there must have been some kind of distancing for Vrasidas to depart so completely from his father’s model. Especially with the people you know, it’s fascinating to think about the writers themselves and their fathers and the way they represent them. Of course these fathers, like my uncle, were people who were products of terrible misery as Vrasidas points out.

Quite a few of these entries are written as short stories focussed on one event or incident. The writer has shaped the work as a short story, with the biographical element made secondary. Like Martha Mylona’s beautiful piece about her father’s funeral. The sense of loss is represented powerfully by the fact that the father is obviously absent. And there are shards of memories intruding into the narrative that is not actually a narrative. It’s a guilt-filled episode. Like many in the book, there is a sense of guilt, especially where parents are remembered who made extraordinary sacrifices to come to Australia,to provide their children with a better life and with education. In the case of Helen Nickas, the father concurred with his children’s decision to migrate, knowing that there were no opportunities for them in Greece at the time. The loss was a sacrifice and many of these stories pay homage to sacrifices that parents made either to let their kids go or to migrate with the family. And what comes through these texts very strongly is the fact that migration is so difficult, something people seem to forget these days when talking about asylum seekers. People don’t naturally want to leave the place where they grew up and live as strangers in a new country.

Also in the book, there are lessons from the edge. Just lately, since my father died 4 years ago, I’ve been thinking about some of the habits I inherited from him, things like eating an apple right down to the seed. You tend to think that’s just a matter of habit or style but actually it is a habit of poverty. Many of the stories in the book describe a father who is a gardener, so happy to be in the backyard tending a garden. But these fathers are not the gourmet gardeners doing it as a hobby like we might today, these men were/are people continuing the habits of subsistence living, practising agricultural skills they learnt as children. It just happens that this is the healthy alternative. Efi Hatzimanolis labels the Greek Australian suburban backyard “a hybrid space of memory and agonism.” When the working life might be mindless and you’re trapped in low paid menial jobs, agricultural work is uplifting and people can feel productive and capable, falling back on their substantial skills.

Efi’s text is one that gives us a taste of the Australian (Wollongong) context and one of the few that mentions The Great Schism in the Church and the left wing Greeks who have been and remain a considerable force in Sydney and Melbourne. Her piece collages chunks of text – memories of Greece and the war, work in the steel mills and ongoing conflicts, minor skirmishes that typify a particular kind of cantankerous Greek dad.

There are so many more pieces here I could mention obviously. The book has a lot of variety, from Despina Michael’s lesson in Cypriot history to Nick Trakakis’ reflection on masculinity. There are funny stories and everything else besides. So I’d like to applaud Helen Nickas for this interesting publication and also for continuing to publish works through her press, Owl Press. It’s a fabulous enterprise independent of mainstream publishing, which makes it unique.

I’d like to finish with a short excerpt from John Charalambous’ piece, Disgust. He describes how he feels affronted that a cashier in a supermarket doesn’t differentiate between him and his father. He writes:

I usually resist the temptation to look at myself in public windows. But the girl has awakened an anxiety. Approaching the escalator, I look into a glass-fronted advertising board. I see two old men, Dad stooped and bald with a ring of white fluff, my own head quite grey, both of us yellowish. Two Greek men. That is what strikes me: that we are a genetic island, a unity, a remnant of a distant place.

 – Anna Couani


Anna Couani is a Sydney writer and artist who taught Art and ESL most of her life. Her most recent book is a collection of poetry, Small Wonders, Flying Islands Books. Some of her previous work is available at

Father’s From the Edge is available from

Teasing Threads – Sundry Film and Literary Criticism: A gag from ‘Scary Movie’

Chris Palazzolo wonders about what makes us laugh.

Scary Movie PosterAs I get older it’s often asserted that what teenagers find funny is different to what aging hippies like me find funny. I work in a video shop, and a film that continues to be popular with my young customers is the horror/teen/slasher spoof Scary Movie (2000). There are lots of very low grade gags in this movie, some of them work, a lot don’t. The one I wish to look at is the scene where Cindy (the all-American good girl played by Anna Faris) is chased through her house by the masked murderer. Cindy dashes into her bedroom, slams the door shut, and runs to her computer. The murderer pushes the door open trying to get in but the door gets stuck – Cindy has time to send a 911 Emergency email. The message reads WHITE WOMAN IN TROUBLE. Four police cars are instantly at her house, lights strobing, sirens blaring, driving up her driveway. The murderer, still behind the stuck door, hears the cops arrive and runs away.

The scene lasts seven seconds and consists of five shots. The last shot; the reaction of the murderer to the cops arriving, is the punchline. What it shows is that the cops do appear as fast as the cut from the email being sent, to them driving up the driveway – they do appear instantaneously. The cut isn’t the filmmakers making an Eisenstein type political statement, it shows the real amount of time that the cops take to arrive; they are there instantly. And naturally that’s because of the message WHITE WOMAN IN TROUBLE. That message, and that message alone, will summon the filth so fast that no time elapses at all. No other message will produce such a response. The very instant, the very point in time the SEND icon is clicked and the message WHITE WOMAN IN TROUBLE dissolves and is reconstituted on the police server in a digital eyeblink, the cops will be there. It is a universal constant. It is a Law.

In the real world, the police don’t arrive at an emergency call instantaneously. They usually take 10 or 15 minutes to arrive. Montage gives the filmmaker the opportunity to inflect or comment upon story events without upsetting the continuity with the laws of real time. A cut straight from the message being sent to the cops arriving can indicate that they arrived with unseemly haste, but not in such a way as to be incompatible with reality. In the world of Scary Movie however they do arrive instantaneously, if you send the right message. The viewer understands this when they see the reaction shot of the murderer at the door. If the cops had taken 5 or even 2 minutes to arrive he would be in by now, because the door is only jammed by a shoe or something. Instead, he’s still pushing at the door, so no time has elapsed at all.

Consider how the physical laws of space and time have to be adjusted in the viewer’s mind in order to grasp the physical laws of the Scary Movie world. Not only would the police cars have been driven at the speed of light, they would have to have accelerated at the speed of light to get to the speed of light too. The message on the other hand would not have travelled at light speed because the electronic impulse has to travel at least part of the way through material circuits, the inertia of which would have slowed it down. This means that the cops have responded before the message is even received by their own servers. Consider too how the cops, in all other respects atrocious small town stereotypes, one of them so backward he still poos his own pants, all of a sudden have the skills to navigate, in formation, the enormous cosmic forces that light speed releases and park at exactly the right point in space and time. Finally, consider how sweet innocent Cindy automatically knows the right message and has no problem at all using her privileged status as a WHITE WOMAN to get the Law working for her.

The humour comes from the absolute naturalisation of racism pervading American law enforcement stripped of any shame or embarrassment whatsoever, ready to go on record without a fraction of second’s hesitation that it responded, with miraculous efficiency, to the message WHITE WOMAN IN TROUBLE. This is funny for teenagers because whether there is endemic racism in American institutions or not, it’s not a ‘nice’ thing to talk about anyway.

– Chris Palazzolo


Teasing Threads is Chris Palazzolo, novelist and poet, editor at Regime Books in Perth, radio host on 6EBA FM North Perth, and manager of one of the last video shops in the world – Network Video, Roleystone.

Living Twice Squared: Stevi-Lee Alver Observes Eileen Myles at Sydney University

Eileen Myles performed at the Footbridge Theatre at the University of Sydney on Thursday 26th May 2016

Eileen Myles. Photograph Poetry Foundation (

Eileen Myles. Photograph Poetry Foundation (

Experiencing Eileen Myles perform at the University of Sydney last week left me floating in an indelible cloud of jouissance. It wasn’t as simple as hearing her read or the sound of her voice, it was interacting with a corporeal performance of poetry. It was witnessing a body becoming the beat of a poem, an act that changes something in the room, shifts directions, alters perceptions, tattoos the air with words.

It felt as though there was a collective transformation as language, moving through the flesh of a poet, generated a bodily response within the audience. When introducing Myles, Kate Lilley couldn’t have put it better: “an event with Eileen Myles is no ordinary event, in this country or any other… It’s a page-turning, hanging-out type experience… Tonight it’s as if we are living four times. Tonight, we are living twice squared.”

Myles embodies the potential of poetry as a public and political platform, rather than a private, silent process. As her playful energy enveloped Footbridge Theatre there was an undeniable sensation that language is what makes us who we are. She leaves us with the impression that outside of language we are unable to know ourselves, that we can only come to know what we don’t know through language and—through language—we can reach the limit of our understanding.

Eileen Myles reading ‘The Sadness of Leaving’ at Sydney University

Her rhythm is one of spontaneity and effortless precision. A single instant was born from each line. The theatre became a collection of shimmering moments, all buzzing and rubbing up against one another, in an unforgettable evening of poetic multiplicities.

“I love tulips because they die so beautifully.” ~ Eileen Myles

– Stevi-Lee Alver


Stevi-Lee Alver has had her fiction, poetry, and reviews published across Australia and the United States. She enjoys collaborating with visual artists, six-word stories, wine and cooking. Her recently published chapbook, Cactus, is available from Rochford Street Press

Funny, Insightful and Touching: Anna Forsyth Reviews ‘Fair Game’ by Carmel Bird

Fair Game by Carmel Bird. Finlay Lloyd press, 2015.

fair game 2This petit offering from Finlay Lloyd Press represents prolific author and essayist Carmel Bird’s first longer memoir piece, with the inclusion of her short story,  What World is This? from a ballet based on Carmel’s research on Tasmanian history.  This book is part of a set of five short works released together by Finlay Lloyd. Though the book itself is light enough, the contents carry the weight of an important historical subject: The Princess Royal girls, or the group of women sent on a fateful journey to Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) to become the wives of the men sent to the penal colony. Carmel warns the reader that her account ‘…will waver, will veer off course…in service of the narrative itself.’ The book is written in a rambling style, but Carmel is an insightful tour guide of the subject. Because of its combination of memoir and historical essay forms, it is more of a woven tapestry that gives us a bigger picture, as opposed to a singular historical narrative.

Traditional histories of Tasmania have lent themselves to the masculine perspective; their heroes and villains being the convict and pioneer men, those battlers who forged a part of Australia’s history with grit and rippling muscles (if cinematic portrayals are correct). What these histories largely omit are the women who, through a variety of circumstances, found themselves bit players in this hyper-masculine world; their struggles and contributions reduced to marginalia in our textbooks (if that). This book then forms an important piece of the narrative puzzle. It could be that it warrants more than the 60 pages it was given. It is not a revisionist work, and not comprehensive by any means, but a simple snapshot of the lived experiences of pre-Tasmanian era women.

The title, Fair Game, comes from the lithograph on the cover, entitled, E-migration, or a Flight of Fair Game, by Alfred Ducote. At first glance, it’s a gentile portrait, in pastels of Georgian women flitting across the ocean, portrayed as delicate butterflies. One imagines a soft, gentle landing for these characters. But on closer inspection (Carmel with her magnifying glass), we see the true meaning of the satirical piece. The women depicted are the chosen few, sent by barque sailing ship (The Princess Royal) on a gruelling trip, we are told lasted just over four months. They are seen as property, with a tiny figure waiting for them reaching up with a net and exclaiming ‘I spies mine’. A woman wielding a broom is seen positioned on the opposite coast shooing the woman away as ‘Vermont’. This is indicative of the view of the particular women who were chosen to be part of this group. Not dissimilar to the men in that sense. Van Diemen’s seen as almost an offshore dump for those in society deemed less than respectable.

In terms of source material, it is interesting to note the audacity of Coultmann Smith in stamping his tome with ‘The whole story of the convicts’. His, Shadow over Tasmania was endorsed by the state premier in 1941 as a definitive and final word on the subject. Carmel notes in her cheeky way that it is a ‘creepy old paperback’ and bemoans the lack of substantial works to base her research on. An interesting aside is that a historical essay she wrote for a high school cultural exchange was rejected on the basis of its dark subject matter (i.e. Aborigines and convicts). Now Carmel can finally have her say, giving a voice to those who barely even register in the mythology. She doesn’t pull any punches politically either, stating, “I regard ‘settlement’ as a horrible euphemism, a choking smoke screen, language working to obscure the truth of the British invasion of the island, of the deliberate genocide of the local people…”. It’s a forthright statement and a sentiment shared by many.

The fact that it is part memoir softens what could be another dark and guilt-inducing look at a chapter in Australia’s history. If the array of history books were laid out as a buffet, don’t be fooled into thinking this is akin to a light and fluffy pavlova dessert. In some ways, it would have done it a greater service to package it in a more authoritative way. The choice of the comical lithograph almost mocks the women whose suffering Carmel touches on in the book. Knowing what we do now, those political cartoons of old veer into demeaning and offensive territory. It could just as well be for that reason that it was chosen. The gritty reality for these women is in stark contrast to this saccharine portrayal.

In her glamorous author shot on the back cover, Carmel smiles at us, her neck adorned with a frilly scarf. But don’t be put off by the traditionally feminine wrapping of this book. It is funny, insightful, touching and will hopefully open the door to more of the hidden stories of Australia’s past that have been swept under the carpet.

 – Anna Forsyth

Anna Forsyth is a writer and freelance editor, originally from NZ, now living in Melbourne. Her poems have appeared in FourW, Landfall and other journals. She is the convenor of the monthly female driven poetry event and refugee fundraiser, Girls on Key –

For details on how to purchase a copy of Fair Game go to