Monday musings on Australian literature: Canberra’s centenary
In 2013 Canberra, Australia‘s national capital, will celebrate its centenary. A whole raft of events and activities has been planned to keep us busy and buzzing all year – and I look forward to them – but for me, a reader, one of the most exciting projects inspired by the centenary is The invisible thread. It’s an anthology of fiction, non-fiction and poetry by writers, past and present, who have had an association with Canberra.
Some 75 writers are represented. Seventy-five! Even I, with my now rather long history in the capital, am surprised by the number, which perhaps gives you a hint to the meaning of the title. Robyn Archer, the Creative Director of the Centenary, writes in the foreword that much about Canberra is hidden or invisible but, she says, “just because you don’t see it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there”. Like, for example, service stations! We do have them, contrary to popular opinion, we just like to keep them tucked away a little! Bill Bryson also noticed this feature of Canberra in his book Down Under. He wrote:
It’s a very strange city, in that it’s not really a city at all, but rather an extremely large park with a city hidden [my emphasis] in it. It’s all lawns and trees and hedges and a big ornamental lake [Lake Burley Griffin] – all very agreeable, just a little unexpected.
Hence The invisible thread!
Now, I haven’t yet read the book, having only acquired my copy last week, but I’ve given it a good look. And within its pages I’ve found many friends – personal and literary. Some are writers I have reviewed in this blog over the last three years or so, namely Francesca Rendle-Short, Alan Gould, Geoff Page, Alex Miller, Nigel Featherstone and Marion Halligan. Others are classic writers I’ve mentioned in various posts, particularly the Monday Musings series. These include some wonderful women, Judith Wright, Rosemary Dobson, Kate Grenville, Miles Franklin and the collaborative team M Barnard Eldershaw. There are writers I’ve known for reasons external to their writing, like Michael Thorley and Sarah St Vincent Welch. There are young writers like the internationally published Jack Heath and rap artist Omar Musa, and older writers like historian Bill Gammage whose The biggest estate on earth won this year’s Prime Minister’s Literary Award and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award. And there are some of the grand men of Australian letters, like the poets AD Hope and Les Murray and the historian Manning Clark. If all these don’t tempt readers, I’m not sure who will, except perhaps those I haven’t mentioned!
The book is divided into four sections: Looking Backwards, Looking Forwards, Pts 1 and 2, and Looking In, Looking Out, Pts 1 & 2. Editor Irma Gold*, whose collection of short stories I reviewed earlier this year, describes the breakdown as “open-ended and kaleidoscopic”, and says that while Canberra features in the writings,
it is not the headline act. Rather, it supplies the invisible thread that links writers to each other, as one-time or full-time Canberrans, and to everyone who call Australia home. Like writers everywhere, the writers showcased here are looking both in and out, backwards and forwards, conveying the world through the lens of their experience.
Each of these sections is introduced with a delightful cartoon by Judy Horacek, one of my favourite cartoonists.
I plan to return to this book, when I’ve had time to digest it more, so I’ll finish here on a little anecdote. In 1988, some good friends and I started a reading group, one that will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year. Our initial focus was Australian women writers, and so in those early years we read Marion Halligan, Kate Grenville and more. We were Canberra women readers. However, also in 1988, a group of Canberra women writers (which included Marion Halligan and was known as the “Seven Writers”) produced a collection of short stories titled Canberra Tales. Several of those writers are included in this anthology, including Dorothy Johnston. Johnston’s story in that collection, “The Boatman of Lake Burley Griffin”, is also in this anthology. Its opening sentence is:
To look at the lake, you’d think nothing dramatic, scarcely anything human happened there.
But how wrong you’d be …
Irma Gold (ed)
The invisible thread
Braddon: Halstead Press, 2012
* To hear interviews with some of the anthology’s authors, check out Irma Gold’s You Tube page