Monday musings on Australian literature: Reading about Canberra
If you’re not already aware of it – through my blog or elsewhere – Canberra turns 100 this year. Tomorrow, Tuesday 12 March, is THE day. How does one date a city with such precision? Well, in Canberra’s case it’s pretty easy because it was (is) a planned city. I suppose a number of dates could have been chosen – the date the location was announced or when the design competition or its winner was announced, perhaps – but the date we use is the date it was officially named, the date a bunch of white people came riding across the sheep paddocks and declared this place would be Australia’s national capital and called Canberra. We have movie footage of the event – and the city has been well-documented in all media ever since.
I’m not going to dwell long on this, because I’ve talked about it before and will again during the year, but I thought I’d list three useful resources for those interested in the city’s literature:
- The invisible thread, edited by Irma Gold, is the anthology I’ve written about several times already. It’s not exclusively about Canberra but the 70-odd pieces within are all by writers who have a connection with the city. It includes fiction (short stories and novel excerpts), non-fiction and poetry.
- Meanjin Quarterly Vol 72 No. 1, 2013, The Canberra Issue. Meanjin, arguably Australian’s most venerable literary magazine, aims in this issue “to take the pulse of our elusive, much maligned-capital”, the city often dubbed, writes editor Zora Sanders, The National Capital of Boredom. Little do they know, we longstanding residents mutter, but quietly so (for we rather like our secret). This beautifully produced issue is organised into sections labelled Essays, Fiction, Gallery, Memoir, and Conversation, with poetry interspersed throughout. The contributors include Gideon Haigh, Drusilla Modjeska, Marion Halligan, Dorothy Johnston and Alan Gould. (Click here for subscription and stockist details).
- Dinner at Caphs is a blogger whose Centenary project is to “attempt to read in 2013 only fiction that is set in Canberra. I want to try to see this city the way others see it, and to examine how I feel about what they see”. Dani has a page on her blog listing books she has identified as being set in or about Canberra. I’m hoping she’ll update it as she comes across more. My own reading group has decided on a (not exclusive) focus on Canberra-related writing this year so I was chuffed to come across Dinner at Caphs.
I started this post by mentioning how well Canberra’s history has been documented. I’ve mentioned film and writing, but music too has played a part. What better way to close this week’s Monday Musings than on the chorus from popular Australian songwriter Jack Lumsdaine’s song written in the late 1930s and titled “Canberra” or “Canberra’s calling to you”. Click this “Canberra’s calling to you” link to read more about the song and hear some old and new versions. (It’s a bit of a hoot.) The chorus begins:
Like a jewel so rare,
In a setting so fair,
A city of white was born.
With its gardens of blooms and its rare perfumes
That greet each sunny morn,
Australia’s creation the heart of a nation
‘neath azure skies of blue.
Very much of its time of course, but it’s part of our history. I am grateful to our national institutions – the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Library of Australia, the National Archives of Australia and the National Museum of Australia – for the work they’ve done to capture and preserve the history of this city I call home. Roll on the next 100 years …