Republic of Moreland

July 29, 2007


Filed under: Brunswick,crime,Sydney Road — Kath @ 8:45 pm

Yesterday I visited my beloved hardware store, a family business, a dusty vestige of old Brunswick, where they greet you by name, serve you from behind the counter and sell nails by the kilogram.

I was there to buy a tap and pvc pipes and elbows for our new tank. From behind me a small voice said, in a broad Australian accent, “Whatya boyin them for?”

I turned and saw a slight woman. A blue woman. The skin on her face was blue, her hands were blue, her limp, mousy hair had blue streaks, as did her synthetic tracksuit. In the few seconds that followed, some possibilities flipped over in my mind. She’s a performer, perhaps a mime artist, perhaps a circus player. Or else she’s got that peculiar skin condition some Vietnamese people suffer, where blue-black freckles appear as you age.

But these weren’t freckles, and this was a most unnatural electric blue. No, vibrant, aquamarine blue.

I said something and looked away, but I noticed that the bluest region of her face was around her lips, and when she spoke, the pink fleshy insides of her mouth looked almost obscene against it. And then I saw what she was buying: three cans of vibrant-electric-aquamarine-blue spray-paint.

She sniffs it! I whispered to C——, one of the storekeepers, as she took me up the back to choose some threaded pipe fittings. C—— told me: I know, I know, but what can we do? We’ve called the police, and there’s nothing they can do, either. Then C—— said: It’s terrible. I’m hard, you know, but I feel sorry for her. And she has kids, too.

July 27, 2007

Text and the city

Filed under: books & writing — Kath @ 1:27 pm

Just as I put up a post about the paucity of novels about Melbourne, The Age’s Melbourne Magazine makes a liar of me. Today it features authors who write about Melbourne: Tony Wilson (I think Faith mentioned him), Alice Pung (was Unpolished Gem about Melbourne?); Elliot Perlman; Sonya Hartnet and Kate Holden. I’m wondering what their criterion is: Kate Holden’s memoir was about her life as a prostitute junkie in Melbourne, sure. But using that criterion, they left Arnold Zable, Helen Garner and Christos Tsoilkas off the list. How wide a net do we cast?

(By the way, I also exempt Andrew Stafford’s Pig City from my claims about Brisbane literature. It’s non-ficiton, anyways. Helen exempts He Died With A Felafel etc: I never read it, only heard repeated charges of “Hey, that bit was my story: John Birmingham pinched it”. I remember Stuart Glover wrote a similar thing about Nick Earls’ Zigzag Street, in a wonderful essay in the now-defunct Imago magazine.)

July 17, 2007

Permablitzing the suburbs

Filed under: environment,neighbours,urban farming — Kath @ 10:46 am

This is great!

July 7, 2007

Melbourne just not very novel

Filed under: books & writing — Kath @ 12:15 pm

The time to read books is on public transport, of course. (Who has the time otherwise?) Little One and I are in Brisbane for the school holidays, and we’ve used so much PT that I’ve caught up. Just finished David Marr’s His Master’s Voice and Clive Hamilton’s Silencing Dissent and Frank McCourt’s memoir, Teacher Man (all good). Re-read, for the third time, Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer (brilliant). Caught up on two issues of The Monthly (okay) and The American Scholar (always tremendous).

Running out of material, I visited The Avid Reader in West End. Its co-owner, Fiona, is usually excellent at finding exactly what you want. “I want a memoir,” I said. She suggested a few. Nah. How about this, then? She presented A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka.

It’s a novel. My fiction-reading days are over. (The last novel I enjoyed was Mark Haddon’s wonderful The curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. I rarely enjoy fiction.)

But the praise plastered over the cover was superfluous. “Outstanding”, “Splendid”, “Hilarious” “Remarkable”, “Rare”, “Enthralling”, yadda yadda yadda. These reviews were from reputable sources like The Times Literary Supplement. The book was shortlisted for prizes. I bought it.

It was competent and fairly engaging, but annoying. Its high drama, big characters and heavy-handed humour shat me. Its narrative devices were obvious and in your face, treating you like a mug. I was always aware of the author devising the darned thing in order to be clever.

Which got me thinking about the spate of cringeworthy, self-conscious novels (with the exception of Andrew McGahan’s Praise) written ABOUT BRISBANE. Including stuff by Nick Earls, Venero Armanno, and an artless novel by a woman (forget her name) that I won at this event and promptly donated to the school fete. Since the late 80s, there have been heaps of Brisbane novels.

I was wondering if Melbourne novels were as poor, but I can’t think of any. Sure, there have been novels set in Melbourne (Garner, Tsiolkas, Hardy, etc), but try as I might to think about a novel largely about Melbourne, I can’t. This may well say more about my ignorance than the state of things, and I’m happy to be shouted at if I’m wrong, but I’m venturing a theory. Melburnians don’t need novels about Melbourne; but post-Bjelke, Brisbane folk need novels about Brisbane.

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