Project: Writing Place
The SRB has been publishing new writing devoted to place since 2016.
How can we tell the story of places where families with limited means came and went and made a living of sorts, places that act as meeting points between the old and the new, the long established and the newly arrived, where each generation is given the opportunity to understand itself as different from a previous generation and, hence, able to break away?
Hopefully the Future is Dark
What I do know is that, while once simply writing the west was a threat to the status quo now the real political imperative is to stand in the dark with our eyes wide open, welcoming the uncertain. It is an invitation to undo the ways ‘things are done’ and invite alternatives into the equation. Bad writing has always been about having the last word and leaving others in silence. Good writing opens up a conversation about who we are that may never end.
In 2017, I found myself back where I began, in Parramatta. I was excited to make a difference in my community through my new job: as a producer for a local literature organisation. The work felt like it was going to be important, and I felt like it had to be me who did it. All my life I had been a chubby, crooked-toothed, glasses-wearing nerd – not a self-declared nerd, either, and therefore the bad kind. I had been fortunate to discover literature at an early age, and spent most of my formative years at Max Webber Library or the Angus & Robertson in Blacktown Westpoint, accumulating a tiny empire of books which I buried myself into, to make up for my dearth of friends or much else.
Turnings and Over-turnings in Glebe
Since I did not grow up here, and arrived knowing no-one, Glebe was both without memory and emphatically real. The new resident seeks not only the stories of a place, but also its genii loci and forms of unconcealment. Something small becomes the proclamation of larger matters, and historical consciousness prompts random and puzzled affections. There’s a passageway here that reminds me of John Berger’s notion of ‘the shape of a pocket’. For Berger this term refers to hidden-away communities and small spaces of cultural resistance, but it also to the effects of painting in its ritual role as affirmation.
There is not much of Martin’s vision left at Luna Park. A memorial to the fire victims mysteriously disappeared during a refurbishment in 2003. Up some stairs, where the Big Dipper used to be, there is now a mural in front of an uninviting courtyard where no-one sits. It is a trompe l’oeil, showing the scaffolding of the absent Dipper, like the skeleton of an extinct vertebrate, and in front of it, painted on a fusebox, is a variant of the Sharp Face. It looks ugly and sour though. There is something wrong with it, with its expression.
Two Lives in the Cross
The Cross that I remember was rather pretty in those days, with dress shops and gift shops and sweet little trees lining Darlinghurst Road, far from the interestingly ugly place it became during the R&R days in the late sixties and early seventies. Back in the fifties it was marvellous, the most interesting spot in Sydney. If you wanted to buy a smart gift, the Cross was where you went; it had coffee lounges, cinemas, restaurants, clubs – and even then it had its seamy side, but what wasn’t wonderful about that?