Heartbreaking & necessary: Fire anthology review

Last month I had the great fortune to be part of a launch of this profound anthology hosted by Eltham Bookshop and the Eltham Library. The event was well attended, booked out, standing room only in fact. Five of the seven Victorian authors included in the anthology were in attendance, three of us gave readings. The readings held the audience  in thrall.

Fire - published by Margaret River Press

Fire – published by Margaret River Press

Part of the magic of the kind of work presented in this anthology is voice. Each piece presented is unique, whether it be poetry, short story, photography or an artwork. Within each piece is a clearly articulated voice, carrying it’s own weight and tone, conveying it’s own message. A new voice emerged with each reading from Fire. As each author’s voice resonated around the room the scent of smoke seemed to manifest and emotion ran high. Each of us felt and heard the experience of waiting, of fearing, of deciding, descend upon us with every uttered word. Eyes were damp, hearts were blown open and we were reminded, again, of our human frailty.

The work contained in Fire: a collection of stories, poems and visual images, is not confined simply to the human experience of bushfire, although that is a prevailing theme. The voices within this anthology speak of interactions with fire in the present and past. David Milroy’s Warlardu and Karla imbues a contemporary man’s grief with a beautiful, ancient Aboriginal myth of love, Cassandra Atherton’s Raining Blood and Money… gives a bone-chilling account of the 1911 Shirtwaist fire in the US, Brooke Dunnell explores the devastating consequences of our contact with fire in The Pressure Suit.

Images are striking, even heart-stopping at times. John Gollings’ aerial photo of Kinglake after Black Saturday shows ‘red strokes…the residual ash from burnt out and fallen limbs and trunks of particular genus of pine tree whose ash is red/orange’. It is beautiful, stark and tragic.

Poetry touches places other forms can’t. Carmel Macdonald Grahame’s Coming Down to Earth reflects on the sense of esoteric pointlessness of choosing new bathroom fittings. Miriam Wei Wei Lo uses words like lassoes and whips in her shimmering poem, Playing with Fire, drawing the reader in then shocking them back out again.

Fire is not a book to be consumed all at once. It’s chocolate is way to dark for that. It’s best read in small bites, followed by time for digestion and reflection. It is an important piece of work, reminding us that we live in a dangerous time in our history and we are less in control of our surroundings than we believe ourselves to be.

My own copy has become quite dog-eared, it’s been carted around so often from place to place, which is why I recommend it.

Purchase Fire: a collection of stories, poems and visual images from Margaret River Press or your local indie bookshop.


The UnAustralian Australian (or why Jan 26th isn’t worthy of being called Australia Day)

I’m going to make this quick because it’s painful. And I know it’s likely to ruffle a few feathers.

January 26th signifies the day that Western immigration started in this country. The people who lived here at the time had no say in it. My (our) ancestors just lobbed in on their shores with their nasty diseases, their grog and their funny attitudes toward people of darker colour and set up camp. Pioneering? Yes, I suppose they were. Many were also cruel and inhumane and used their self-entitled whiteness as an excuse to run around slaughtering, raping and enslaving other human beings without due recourse.

Is this the event we really want to base our celebration of national pride on?

In the 220 years that followed some things have changed, but the fundamentals haven’t. It’s a bit tragic that we see fit as a nation to dance around wrapped in our flag (another issue of decorum entirely) singing Aussie, Aussie, Aussie Oi Oi Oi on a day that many Australian’s see as signifying the beginning of the demise of their culture and loss of their freedom. To celebrate the day our people lost their identity, language, self-respect isn’t Australian. There are plenty of words to describe it, but Australian isn’t one of them.

I’m not against celebrating being a part of this great nation. I love it here so much I feel no need to travel far beyond it’s beautiful boundaries. I love the diversity of it, the expanse of it, the irony of it. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating national pride – I just don’t think we should be doing it on January 26th.
So today, Australia Day 2013, I’m not celebrating at all. Which, to me, seems the most Australian thing I can do.

5 Things I’ve already learned in 2013

1. The largest number in the world is googolplex. Not to be confused with Googleplex, the true seat of power in this electronic world, where Google stretches out its tentacles into every computer and device known to humans.

2. Infinity is a concept – not a number. At my mature age this was a surprise to me. Leading to the discovery of number 1.

3. Love has a smell. It has several actually, but one in particular I discovered on holidays. It’s called a ‘Blackboy’ rose and it’s divine. It was served up as decoration on a plate of lemon tart, and I couldn’t stop smelling it.

4. You can live to a sprightly 92 by blatantly ignoring all the good advice given you. My mother-in-law is of this ripe age and has not allowed age to defeat her in anyway. She still sunbakes without sunscreen, mows lawns in spite of breaking her hip 3 years ago, fixes holes in her concrete driveway (badly) and puts her lipstick on by feel. She hasn’t looked in a mirror since she turned 70 because she can’t face seeing what age has done to her face, and so has no clue how old she looks.

5. Every single opportunity shop and second hand bookshop has at least one Danielle Steel book. (I only know this because my mother-in-law loves DS and has read every title in her local library so we are on a mission to expand her collection – which has been surprisingly easy!)

Paper based slut

Prepare the confessional. I have a dark secret few people know about and I’m about to declare it. It’s an obsession. I’ve kept it to myself (relatively) all my life. Occasionally I meet another being who enjoys the same passion, and when I do there’s great relief in sharing the depths of my perversity with someone who understands it.
It’s not like I’m unusual. Everyone has their little fetishes. Mine just happens to be a bit on the strange side. Are you ready?

It’s stationary.
Yep. Stationary. The stuff you buy in newsagents.

Ever since I was a little girl I have loved stationary. I loved the smell and have been known to surreptitiously sniff fresh paper and notebooks when I think no-one is watching, like a pervert sniffing ladies panties.

I used to save my pocket money for a trip to the local newsagents (in Benalla) where I would stand goggling at all those neatly arranged clips, scissors, stamps, staples and sticky tape, packaged up in cardboard and plastic, just waiting to help me make something irreplaceable and delicate for my parents to find space in the cupboard for. Now, as an adult, I gaze longingly knowing all those little bits and pieces will help me transform my life into an organised, categorised, easily accessed dream, complete with clipboards and alphabetical indexing.

My particular liking is for new pens and pencils. There’s something about the clean nibs, the sharp points, that makes taking them to an unsullied sheet of paper pure joy. And there’s another beautiful thing. Brand new notebooks. Clean, lined pages just waiting for a neat hand to record the shopping list, my top ten movies, household renovation projects, books I must read before I die. My bucket list. Never mind the disappointment of my ever messy handwriting. Just tear the filthied page out and start again, fresh as a daisy. It’s like the absolution of the confessional – I’m forever redeemed by a clean sheet of paper.

A newsagents is a hotbed of sexy innovation. Since 3M’s invention of post-it notes, a trip to a well stocked stationer holds untold futuristic pleasures. I can buy little plastic tabs in all sorts of glorious colours to stick on useless documents I’ll never read but keep until I’m 90 – and I love the way the tabs make me look intelligent. White out, while still available, has been superseded by a nifty gadget that sticks a strip of thin white tape over your mistake. Forget messy globs of thickened white paint on a tufty brush. Here you will find staple free staplers, magic invisible sticky tape, glue sticks that don’t dry out, dividers with interchangeable removable tags. It’s the ultimate manifestation of perfection and control. Or the illusion of it anyway.

No wonder I’m no fan of electronic records. Where’s the pleasure in them? You can’t smell them. You can’t appreciate their colour, their tidiness. You can’t run your appreciative fingers over the smooth cover of a new manilla folder in cyberland, can you? Nope. Only the real deal will do.

You can imagine what happens when I go to Officeworks. I think I’ve died and gone to God’s central business office in the sky. Tidy aisles brimming with my drug of choice, the smell of ink and unopened plastic, the promise of my blind hope – a life without chaos and unpredictability. Now that’s what I call HEAVEN!

Do you have a strange fetish?