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moving again…

i am now in the process of moving this blog onto my own site.

the main page is not yet up, but whenever you like you can start heading on over to:


If you leave my house via the back gate (you’d have to get me to unlock it for you) it’s just a short walk to the footbridge that crosses the railway line. After crossing it it’s then just another short walk until you come to Edward Street. If you turn right you’ll walk past a particular house, a house that stands out because it has fake grass. It probably doesn’t stand out that much, not in the way a house in a heritage-listed area would if it was painted pink, but I think it does a little. (There was a minor local controversy once when a house in a different area was painted purple. I believe the heritage colour codes won out in the end.) I walk past this house quite a bit and more often than not I think about the fake grass. It doesn’t seem right. The grass is approximately the same colour as natural grass I suppose, but then that too is strange. Because the fake grass always looks this same colour. Seasons have no impact on it. It doesn’t darken with the rain or attain a brittle yellow tinge in the hottest sun. And leaves and twigs and so forth don’t join with the grass in a normal mulchy way. They sit there on a bed of plastic, looking confused by the lack of normal decomposition potential. I wonder if the people that own the house need to get out and rake the leaves off their fake grass, and whether this process is harder or easier. I think it would have to be harder. In fact I think they would need to employ some sort vacuum to get the job done.

There are signs advertising the fake grass installation process on the fences around the house. This makes it clear that the people who own the house run a business installing fake grass. Or, there is a chance the people that purchased the fake grass got a special deal, based on the agreement that they would have these signs put up. The owners of the business must think that because Edward Street is a busy street people will see the signs, be impressed by the fake grass (and its implicit promise of low maintenance) and call to make an enquiry. The problem is though that the fake grass looks really odd and I don’t think many people would ever call. Except maybe people wanting to find out what it costs to install fake grass but for ulterior motives (to add some substance to an anecdote about how much they hate fake grass for example).

The signs on the house have recently been joined by a yellow For Sale sign. The house is very close to the centre of town, so I imagine there will be interest in the property. People will look through it and evaluate it for either residential purposes or investment purposes. But what will they think of the fake grass? If I bought the house I would immediately rip it up and begin the replacement process. It would be a strong gesture aimed at ‘getting back to nature’. I would talk to my new neighbours about it and they would start to see me as a man of principles. They might even reveal that they never liked the previous residents. But would I eventually question my grass decision? The thinking evident here suggests that would be likely. Grass isn’t really something that should be in the front of every Australian household. If you didn’t plant it, water it, and throw an obscene amount of water on it it just wouldn’t be there. The stuff we see is generally not native. It is part of an outdated class construct, existing to fulfil our English fantasies of luxury. I can afford to own this land but no one shall live on it! And really, nobody even follows through with the ideal by getting dressed up to have tea and cucumber sandwiches while lounging in the ‘grounds’. At best we use the grass for bbqs. Sometimes I think about how good it would be to have a pristine grassy area that the kids could play on. In the images in my mind at this time, I am often standing near the bbq, drink in hand, observing the rollicking play as the sun sets.

This morning I realised the auction date is set for this Saturday. I am thinking of going along. If I bring my wife with me I think we could pass as potential homebuyers. Really I will be there to monitor peoples’ reaction to the fake grass. Maybe I’ll arrive early and talk with the more authentic homebuyers. I’ll say things like ‘What do you reckon about this shit fake grass?’ I’ll let you know how it all goes.


my friend ronald now has a blog. many of you may remember him for his witty ‘your words are as of the braying of a goat’ comment here, a while ago. please visit his site, & criticise his work. he will most probably genuflect in response, writing some such nonsense as ‘thanks for the genuine advice. i’m new to the blogosphere. hope you keep reading.’ blah blah blah.


My review of Tiggy Johnson’s collection of poetry, First Taste, is up over at Angela Meyer’s blog.

That is all.

(oh, except that we had a baby a few days ago. we named her Zadie. all is good.)

Interview with Steven Amsterdam

before elapsing

the full text of this poem is now available online

hourly rate

I worked my way through the days alone. My friend had secured a position on the grape vines, so I was left to work the rows by myself, endless oranges, thorns, pastel pink spiders, pesticide-on-the-wind. My body started giving out. I was getting less oranges in the bins every day (earning less money) and removing the aching stiffness from my shoulders required nearly an hour in the shower. One night I told him I was leaving. I said this type of work wasn’t for me. I said I thought I was suited to work that exercised my mind.

I could barely carry all my stuff but I managed to get it to the outskirts of Hilston. I sat there with a cardboard sign. It was getting dark. I figured I could always go back into town. But as I was contemplating this two young guys in a ute approached and stopped. Jovial guys in Akubras. We’re not going to Griffith mate they told me, but if it gets dark we’ll come out and give you a lift back to the pub. One of them gave me a beer. As they left I saw a car that had passed in the meantime stop, and return towards me. This driver was also somewhat jovial. I thought they were picking you up he said. Hop in.

He told me he had pioneered a fishing competition in Hilston. He said it was a landmark thing, an event that brought in tourists, tourist dollars. He said now the event had been taken over by other parties and was being run into the ground. He said the locals were never even grateful to him for all that he had done. I thought and said yes, you’d think they would be grateful.

He took me all the way to Griffith. It was a reasonable hitchhiking gamble – there is nothing between Hilston and Griffith. I thanked him, went to a phone box and bought a bus ticket to Wagga. It was 8pm and the bus would pass through at 2am. I hid all my gear near an industrial bin behind the service station. I went and bought a big mac. Then, I sat on the public bench near the service station, and waited for the bus to arrive. I began reading Dante’s Inferno. I imagined things would be different when I got home.

Festival Finale – Book Club with Jason Steger and Cate Kennedy

I uploaded the last blog post and didn’t even have time to check it before racing off to the final event of the festival (apostrophes on the festival dinner post are now in the right place…) This weekend has been a whirl. I’m back in Wagga now, but my mind is still buzzing with thoughts about the final event, the book club style conversation with Jason Steger and Cate Kennedy.

This event was easily one of the most well attended of the festival, and I don’t think the audience was disappointed. The mood was nicely intimate, and it did feel as if we were listening in on a relaxed chat between Steger and Kennedy. All that was missing was a fireplace, and a glass of sherry.

They began by discussing Kennedy’s writing in general – how she came to writing, when she began taking it seriously – and a focus on storytelling then seemed to naturally develop. Cate claims this is what she is most interested in all her writing (and she’s written in many forms – poetry, short stories, a novel, even songs). She says it comes from her family, and an upbringing where you would ‘stand or fall, based on how well you could tell a story around that table.’ The focus on storytelling is interesting, because it makes you think of the crafting of a narrative, and this is questioned later on. Is the ‘story’ really most appealing part of Cate’s book The World Beneath?

Steger’s questions bring a really good measured pace to the event, even though we know the talk must move to talk of the novel in question. Following a question regarding what ‘spirit’ Kennedy writes in, she eventually gives us this: ‘To be a writer you must have empathy, and a really good memory.’ I like this. It feels quotable too. I tweet it straight away. Interestingly, despite her somewhat conservative approach to engaging with online writing, Kennedy presents as a very open and thoughtful author.

Before moving to The World Beneath Steger asks Kennedy about her short stories (I have heard much praise of her ability with the form – and she is of course Black Inc’s selected editor for the Best Australian Short Stories 2010). The best analogy she gives is one of looking through a door, but only getting a short glimpse before it closes. Everything has to be perfect if you are to get a sense of what’s inside. The door always closes quickly. Analogies that help with crafting are useful, sometimes, to a certain extent. This is one I wonder if I will think of in the future. Perhaps on one of those rare occasions I am putting together one of my own short stories.

And then a segue into the realm of the ‘Book of the Festival’. (‘A short story is like spinning a plate. A novel is like spinning ten plates.’) I have read the book. I have read and really liked the book. The World Beneath is a novel that enters the lives of a separated couple and their fifteen year old daughter. The failings of all three are laid bare as the novel unfolds. And, as Cate tells us, ‘everyone in the book has this experience of having their world view knocked sideways’.

I don’t want to reveal everything about the book, but it is enough to say I admired it on a number of levels. The narrative pull is strong: I was quickly turning pages as the tension mounts toward the end, needing to know how it would turn out. But then there are other elements. An audience questioner raised the idea that perhaps it wasn’t the storytelling so much that is the best part of the novel, but the way other things ‘unfold’, the way the characters continually unfold as the work itself does.

Cate was very generous with her answers, and at all points willing to reveal all she could about the process of writing the book (interestingly, again a good editor was placed as being pivotal). Jason Steger directed the flow of conversation perfectly. Thinking about The World Beneath was the best way to end the festival. It left us all having read a really well written book, and also left us a little illuminated as to how such an object is created, an important thing for writers’ festival to do.

David and I drive home. We are tired. But we talk of future writing projects. A good writers’ festival experience does this to you, it seems to open up possibilities for your own work, things you just want to keep roaming over.

Well. This brings things to a close. It’s been an intense and enjoyable blogging experience. I hope I managed to bring just a little slice of the Albury Write Around the Murray Festival to you.

Festival Dinner

Despite the wealth of writing talent at my table last night, no weapons changed hands. Yes it is a little odd, but I didn’t let that ruin what was otherwise a great night.

The dinner began with canapes out under the marquee, and a special introduction to Spatial Stories.

‘During the festival large-scale sound and video installations transformed the QEII Square into an art space focussed on the theme of environmental responsibility. Greg Shapley’s sound installations from debris from the Murray River, Yandell Walton’s large-scale projected video installation and Emilie Zoey Baker’s poetry especially written for the festival.  Spatial Stories also included the results of local artist David Smith’s collaboration with people and their responses to the theme. Yandell Walton’s large scale projections occurred nightly to the rear of the LibraryMuseum.’

The installations and projections were a great addition to the festival. As was Emilie, performance poet extraordinaire. Her performance before dinner was (appropriately) all about eating meat, about the way we eat meat, about the ethics of our eating habits. As EZ said, she isn’t a vegetarian, so it was an interesting approach to the issue. Her argument was for a more considered approach to meat eating, where we value the food and the production cycle, and don’t simply farm the planet to death. All done persuasively, poetically. (Oh and she kicked things off with her Aussie Legends poem (is that the right title..?) which is, always fantastic to hear her do.)

Then it was inside for the festivities. The tables were set up right there in the library, a great place for a literary dinner. The writers were spread out over the tables (I managed to be placed at a table with Nathan Curnow again… a weird déjà vu) and we immediately proceeded to engage in sparkling literary banter. We talked books, teaching, poetry, Best Aus poems etc etc… many many more intriguing topics. There was also wine, and food. Copies of Reader’s Digest were piled in the centre of each table, along with interesting page fragments from obscure sources (the image above is one of these, ably photographed by Angela Meyer).

Chris Masters’ keynote address had a different tone to his panel presentation of the previous night. He focussed on his beginnings in the Albury region, and he was quite positive about regional news networks, about the possibilities they offer, when compared to the much maligned national news bodies. Interestingly, a key figure that Masters invoked was the writer Eric Otto Schlunke, a 20th century writer who focussed his work very tightly on the Riverina region. Masters finds a lot to admire in this man’s work – actually the way he spoke of Schlunke really makes me want to find some of the writings too. Master’s address was relaxed, engaging, and quite positive, even when he was talking about the sustainability of journalism in the modern era.

So then more banter, more wine, more grave festival event analysis, until the desert arrives. This it seems was the signal for Nathan Curnow’s ‘impromptu’ poetry performance (although I did see him pacing a little nervously beforehand…) Nathan gave Cate Kennedy ‘the love’. He walked into the crowd, and performed his best love poetry for her. It was appropriate (her book is ‘book of the festival’) and, well, lovely. Lovely. Cate followed it up with her own poem. Something I’ve never seen her do, and equally lovely, and possibly even more impromptu. There was a lot of love in the room.

Things were winding down but that was the moment for mixing, and various table hopping ensued, various promises to catch up in the future, various excursions outside for cigarettes.

You’ve always got to be part of the group that ‘continues on’, that takes on the full experience. I joined Angela Meyer, Nathan Curnow, David Gilbey, Louise Southerden and Jason Steger for margaritas before bed. Lovely. Angela spilled her drink – Jason mopped it up. She tweeted about it straight away. I’m blogging about it now. We are ‘write’ around the murray.

Lifting the Lid – Andrew Rule

There is a great crowd in for this session. Andrew Rule is a senior writer for The Age. He is also, I am now aware, a true story teller. I walk into the session two minutes late, and he was already in the middle of a narrative, one that took in much of his life and many of his investigative cases. At one point he detailed having his car windscreen shattered, a vague ‘message’ from someone… And this, it turns out, was the point. Rule was preempting a question not yet asked, ‘Do you get scared, doing what you do?’ I think if I had to paraphrase his answer it would be ‘sometimes, but not enough to make me stop.’

(Since starting on a country newspaper in 1975, Andrew Rule has worked for three metropolitan newspapers and in radio and television production. Previously a feature writer with The Age’s Good Weekend magazine, he has variously co-written, edited and/or published several books, including the best-selling Underbelly true crime series, and Sex, Death and Betrayal. As a senior writer for The Age and The Sunday Age, Andrew has won a Gold Walkley, the Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of The Year award (twice) and the Melbourne Press Club’s Gold Quill Award (twice). He specialises in investigative stories but has won awards for stories in sport and other areas. Andrew is one our most accomplished writers. – from The Age.)

The key line is the one emboldened above. Rule is here to talk about his role as a writer, and particularly his role as a writer of investigative journalist. When asked about his collaborative role in the Underbelly books, Rule somewhat cryptically tells us ‘well even blind musicians need a labrador…’ But it is more reasonable that the collaboration has happened organically, Rule and John Sylvester combining separate skills. Maybe one is more proficient with the writing, one more adept at the investigative groundwork? Rule does give us a clue, telling us ‘I can do grammar and punctuation and all that sort of stuff.’

I am interested in what Andrew Rule does as a writer, in what particular skills he needs to employ in his line of work, but he doesn’t talk about these things a great deal. What I surmise after a while is that part of his skill is the force of his personality. He is the guy that can spin a yarn, can create that ‘narrative arc’ that was mentioned a few times in the Sustaining News Stories panel session. Late in the session Rule tells a story he says we should ‘never ever talk about, outside this room’ (maybe he wasn’t told there was a festival blogger?) and also demonstrates how the personality can elicit information. There is a certain skill involved in negotiating with an ex-hit-man, a skill that allows you to tell the story that will get you what you need as well as not get yourself into trouble. Maybe this skill is something you either have or don’t? Rule says at one point ‘You can’t put in what God left out…’ implying that writers and investigators are born that way. But of course he also qualifies, saying that ‘you can learn the tricks’.

The troubling stories are the ones Rule is famous for. (We are told his next book will be Underbelly: The Golden Casket.) An interesting question arising from the themes of Rule’s work had to do with violence. Why is this the news, but more importantly, has Underbelly glamourised violence and criminal activity? Rule is unconvinced (though he does make it clear the television series is not anything of his doing), because he claims crime has been glamourised for thousands of years. It’s intriguing, and people will be interested. It is true. Sex and death will capture an audience’s attention. What I like then is his quoting of The Highwayman, and, especially, the putting out there of this image: ‘the moon was a ghostly galleon…’ (An English teacher tried to teach me about metaphor in highschool, using this image. It is now burned into my synapses.) I’m not sure where the discussion of violence could then go. It is a topic for a thousand sessions itself.

But unfortunately the stories have to come to an end, and it is quite a disappointment (despite my blog-tiredness) because you could listen to Andrew Rule talk about his exploits for hours. He has to catch a plane though, and ends it all in a straightforward manner: ‘No more stories!’

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