The Exuberant Existence of Henry Savery, Australia’s First Novelist

Henry_Savery_memorial_stone,_Isle_of_the_Dead,_TasmaniaHenry Savery’s life reads like an exercise in over-imagination. From the beginning, it seems, Henry was going to be one of those guys who couldn’t content himself with the confines of a modest existence. In other words, the man who penned Australia’s first novel seemed simply to be born for the task.

Many of you have probably never heard of him, and it would have remained that way had it not been for the minds behind if:book Australia, rather out-of-the-box bibliophiles themselves, who have incorporated Henry Savery into one of their current projects, ‘Rumours of My Death’. In the recent Brisbane Writer’s Festival, Henry himself engaged with festivalgoers through the conveyance of an anonymous author on twitter, one of the many exceptional experiences on offer in this year’s program.

Thanks to these two Queensland institutions, the bizarre world of Henry Savery has been illuminated for us once again.

And a strange man he was. Not one to trouble himself with good business decisions, Henry failed first at sugar-refining and then at newspaper-mongering and turned instead to forging credit. Sounds like any good Wall Street origin story, right? When his business partner turned him in (classic), he tried to flee to America but jumped off the boat and was quickly apprehended. His jailhouse antics served to postpone his court hearing, which was lucky in the end because he was sentenced to hang and was only saved at the very last moment by friends in high places. If there was one key to success Henry mastered, it was having the right guys on speed dial.

After arriving as a convict in Tasmania he managed to secure a position in the Treasury, despite having well proven his inability to manage finance of any kind. Once again, he knew exactly which hands to shake. Here his narrative takes a turn for the political drama, when his wife and son join him in Tasmania and rumours of her affair with the Attorney General lead to bickering between the two. Being the drama-queen he was, Henry threatened suicide. After he was imprisoned for money troubles yet again, the wife took off back to England, and that was the end of that.

Quintus ServintonNot one to pass up an opportunity Henry used his prison days to kickstart a writing career, another activity that was expressly against the law for convicts. His unfavourable portraits of local personages sparked a libel suit, of course, which was soon dismissed and the articles were later collected and published by the early Australian man of letters, Henry Melville. Here’s where Savery pioneers the ethos of the Lost Generation, a whole century before Hemingway was born.

Somehow, he managed to get released into the care of Major Hugh Macintosh, one of the founders of Cascade Brewery of all people, and spent his days writing peacefully on the banks of the Derwent River. Even though he was forbidden to carry on any kind of business, he managed the farm for Macintosh and wrote the manuscript that would eventually be Australia’s first novel: the fantastically entitled Quintus Servinton, published anonymously in 1831.

After a several further brushes with the law and various local VIPs, Henry again descended into debt and resorted to forgery to support his increasing alcoholism. In a fitting, albeit sad end to his dramatic existence, he found himself imprisoned in Port Arthur where he died and was buried on the infamous Isle of the Dead, passing into colonial legend

100-Things-To-Do-Before-You-Die-43-Port-Arthur-Featured-Image

And there you have it. What better man to assume the mantel of Australia’s first author than one Henry Savery? It could be argued that he embodied the quintessential author archetype: emotional, irresponsible, impulsive and bold, possessing influential friends, an unstable character, and a knack for obtaining a lot of free time in close proximity to a brewery and a beautiful river valley.

His great contribution to our literary oeuvre may not be any Les Miserables or Huckleberry Finn, but it is no less worthy of our respect, even if only for the remarkable life that brought it forth. Someone should really make a movie out of it, but in the meantime the full text of Quintus can be found here, well worth a look. It is, after all, a national treasure, almost two centuries old and an indelible part of our cultural and artistic heritage.

Thank you, Henry Savery, for your financial incompetence, which bestowed upon us this unique slice of literary history.

 

Further Reading:

 

Elise Janes

 

Emigration, Identity, The Commitments and Me

The commitments

I watched The Commitments for the first time when I was 16. What first grabbed me was the world it roddy doylebrought me into: Dublin in the 1980s. Grimy and gritty rain slicked streets, graphited and run down. The slow tumble towards decay. No money. No jobs. No hope. Then it became about something else. The simple act of just watching the film seemed to fill a void in me. And over the next couple of years, I filled that void at least once a week with a dose of the characters from Barrystown Alan Parker brought to life from the novel written by Roddy Doyle.

When I was 11, my family emigrated to Australia. The move was tough for me. I dublin in the 1980swas at an age where I was beginning to understand what it meant to be Irish. A sense of national identity was stirring within me. A youthful fascination with our country’s long and dramatic history has begun to fill my head with wonderful notions. I had been born into a country of rebels and poets, martyrs and musicians. My country’s identity was shaping my identity. I am who I am because my country made me this way. Our history. Our struggle. Our triumphs and our tears.

On 31st December 1987 my dad got me out of bed at around 10.30pm. Dad drove me into the centre of Dublin wheremansion house we stood, at the stroke of midnight, outside Dublin’s Mansion House to watch the Lord Mayor ring in, not only the new year, but the beginning of Dublin’s Millennium year. People cheered and hugged each other. Perched on my dad’s shoulders, I remember getting sprayed with champagne from the bottle the Lord Mayor aimed over the gathered revellers.

In March 1988 all that was taken away (at least, that’s how I felt for more than 10 years). It was something I struggled with and harboured a lot of anger because of. As a pale and freckled lad with an odd accent trying to adjust to suburban life in Sydney in the late ‘80s the seeds of being an outsider were planted. I had come from Dublin, a city celebrating 1000 years to a country celebrating its 200th birthday. Something about this didn’t sit well with me.

I was enrolled in a local school within a week of arriving and life went on. For all intensive purposes, I neighbourslooked like what Neighbours had led me to believe Australians looked like. The reality in school was different. There were white Australians, of course, but also Filipinos, Egyptians, Iranians, Chileans, Chinese, South Africans and more. There were Catholics, like myself, Anglicans, Muslims, Jehovahs and people who practiced no religion at all. The spectrum of differences was overwhelming. And as soon as I opened my mouth I was found out and my difference exposed. I had never felt so different before. So I worked on my accent, turning my U’s to A’s, my R’s to Ah’s, my Ah’s to A’s. I was blending in, assimilating.

For 5 years, I had been starved of anything Irish, be it on the telly or in magazines or newspapers. Other than on St Patricks day or when classmates blitzed me with a round of Irish Jokes (‘Paddy Irishman walks into a bar…’ or ‘Have you heard the latest Irish invention…’) there was almost nothing for me to hang onto that connected with who I felt I was in my deepest self. Other than an elusive idea of Irishness, I had nothing concrete to grasp onto.

When my parents brought The Commitments home on VHS one day for us to watch on the VCR, I had no idea how much it would affect me. It began with the scenery of Dublin. Streets and places I knew and grew up around. Landmarks, names, references that were not so much learnt as they were part of my DNA. The character’s accents, that strong North Dublin brogue, filled with angst and sarcasm. The accent I had, overtime, left behind.

Before my parents had to return the video the next day, I’d watched the film twice more, staying up late and getting up early before school to do so. I didn’t know what it was – it was too soon to really understand what was drawing me to it. A few months later when the local video store was selling off ex-rental copies of the movie, I bought my own. By then, I knew what it was. This film was my link to Ireland. It was my connection to my Irishness. When I watched this film, the part of me that yearned for ‘home’ was fed. It was my portal, my bridge.

jimmy

It wasn’t long before I could quote verbatim from any part in the film. It had become my identity card. And at the centre of this film was it’s main protagonist, Jimmy Rabbitte. Jimmy was an entrepreneur, a chancer, a man witj vision. The manager of The Commitments, but not a performer in the band. He was friends with the musicians but not a musician himself. He was a dreamer and he was a doer. A man who was a once on the outside and on the inside of events in his life.

As a 16/17 year old I came to identify so deeply with this character that his fingerprint is permanently imprinted upon me. At once, I had someone who I could look to to model myself after, but also, the deeper realisation of how powerful fiction, storytelling, was as a means of connecting. I had lived my whole live having imaginary conversations in my head. With friends, family, famous people, historical people, completely made up people. It’s how I passed my time. And here on the screen in front of me was Jimmy, talking to himself in front of the mirror, in the bath, in bed, being interviewed by Terry Wogan. He lived and expressed this inner monologue that I thought was something only I did.

jimmy in bath

Jimmy Rabbitte had reached out over the oceans and through the TV screen to connect with me. He seemed to be saying, ‘This is what it is to be Irish. This is what it is to go after your dreams.’

My favourite quote from the film, and maybe one of my favourite ideas of all time, is one that is not said by Jimmy, but to Jimmy by  The Commitments troubadour, Joey ‘The Lips’ Fagan. At the moment when the band might reach dizzying heights, it all falls apart, irrevocably. As Jimmy and Joey walk away from the choatic scenes of the band imploding, Joey tries to offer Jimmy the wisdom of his years:

jimmy and joey

Joey: Look, I know you’re hurtin’ now, but in time you’ll realize what you’ve achieved.

Jimmy Rabbitte: I’ve achieved nothing!

Joey: You’re missin’ the point. The success of the band was irrelevant – you raised their expectations of life, you lifted their horizons. Sure we could have been famous and made albums and stuff, but that would have been predictable. This way it’s poetry.

The struggle and the poetic. To me, what being Irish is all about. And as I’ve developed as a writer, it’s unconsciously, instinctively shaped my work. Struggle and revelation. Life and realisation. The inner me always reaching out, looking to connect with someone. Can me being who I am connected with you being who you are? Can this sharing of experiences and understanding bring us together, open doors, unite us, or untether us from whatever holds us back?

I’ll only find out if I keep writing, keeping myself open to experiences, open to wonder. The path is never always straight or flat. The journey never without incident or trial. But this way there lies discovery. I’ll let my friend Jimmy have the last word:

Jimmy Rabbitte: [pretending to be Terry Wogan] So, lookin’ back Jimmy, what have you learned from your experience with The Commitments?

Jimmy Rabbitte: Well, that’s a tricky question, Terry. But as I always say, we skipped the light fandango, turned cartweels ‘cross the floor. I was feelin’ kinda seasick, but the crowd called out for more.

The Elusive Australian Film Festival

The Palace Cinemas recently hosted a German Film Festival at their locations around Australia. The full program consisted of a staggering amount of films, almost fifty, all of which were produced within the last few years and demonstrated a vast range of genre and narrative. While I expected to be impressed I was nevertheless genuinely surprised at the quality and diversity of the films on offer, featuring remarkable performances, tight scripts, and exceptional production quality.

These days it’s difficult to have a conversation about national cultural capital without reference to native screen productions. And while Germany has never lost the glory of its musical, artistic, dramatic and literary legacy, it is now firmly establishing a platform on the world film stage as well.

who_am_i1Each film on offer was unique and seemed to revel in Germanic culture of the present and the past, representing national roots in subtle yet distinct threads without the usual pedantry or self-consciousness that one associates with non-Hollywood movies. Even the references to Hitler and the holocaust were charmingly unaffected: they seem to be able to acknowledge the best and worst of their identity without attaching any unnecessary gloating or guilt. In other words, these films made me feel that perhaps Germany is one of the most self-aware, successful, advanced, and emotionally secure nations of the modern age.

Naturally this got me to thinking about the Australian film industry and what kind of festival we would produce in similar circumstances. I was interested to discover that while the Palace’s German Film Festival is in it’s fourteenth year, the Australian Film Festival began in 2012, just three years ago. And while the GFF screened in eight locations around Australia, the AFF is only available to those privileged enough to live in Sydney.

Germany has a population of roughly 80 million, about four times that of Australia, which while significant is not as vast a difference as that between our respective artistic outputs. Yes, Germany has an impressive cultural history stretching back centuries at least, and including some of the most notable advances in Art music, visual arts, theatre and literature, but considering the impact the two world wars had on their economy and industry they are producing a remarkable amount of viable artistic product. Researching further I found this rather detailed description of the German arts funding model, which demonstrates the immense value they place on local cultural institutions.

While Australia has a fairly respectable artistic scene in terms of music and theatre, our film culture, like our literature, is still trying to free itself from a strange sort of identity crisis. Ask one of your friends to name just ten good Australian films made in the last three years. Chances are they can’t. That’s not because ten great films don’t exist, but mainly because no one has seen them. They aren’t promoted in film festivals. They aren’t screened four times a day in your local cinema. They are barely advertised at all.

Now ask your friend to name ten movies set in the Marvel Universe. Exactly. That might be a somewhat vulgar comparison but at the very least it demonstrates the shockingly low value we place on our own screen industry.

australia_nicole_kidmanAnd if you find someone who can name ten good Australian movies, I guarantee almost all of them take place in the outback or deal with an aspect of bogan culture or some gory true-crime event. Or star Hugo Weaving. I saw only three German films and was immersed in three completely different yet symbiotic representations of German culture: a cyber-thriller complete with native trance music and Europol agents; a period drama featuring stunning landscapes and historical literary figures; and a schoolyard comedy with ironic references to youth culture and modern generational identities.

There are plenty of great Australian directors, screenwriters and artists making compelling and authentic narrative statements. But they should be more accessible and they should be better funded. Our film students should be encouraged to make modern crime thrillers as well as deep psychological portraits of the Australian bush. We should be able to investigate our own colonial history beyond just The Man from Snowy River. We should be able to represent all aspects of Australian life without drawing on the usual cringe-worthy stereotypes of outback hardship, beer-drinking ute drivers, crocodile hunters or chain-smoking teenage mothers.

Until our government finds some kind of artistic soul and makes the connection between cultural identity and actual funding, the survival of Australian films is really up to the Australian public. We need to make a choice to spend money and time on local talent instead of re-watching Captain America for the third time, and then maybe one day we’ll actually have a film industry that can afford to make huge studio blockbusters.

Try having your own Australian Film Festival one weekend. The local DVD store probably doesn’t stock anything beyond The Castle and Muriel’s Wedding, so you might even have to fork out and buy the movies (you’re not going to find them on Netflix or Apple TV). Try some new releases like Theses Final Hours, The Babadook, or The Rover. Then there’s Animal Kingdom, Red Dog, Felony, Paper Planes or The Proposition, and this great list of films from the 00’s.

Of course you’ll notice the afore-mentioned propensity toward bogans, horror, and the outback. If you do manage to find a modern thriller, urban drama, or even a comedy that doesn’t major on awkward Aussie stereotypes or self-satisfied quirkiness, please let me know. That would be a film miracle. In this age of ‘diversity’-mongering our narrow-minded oeuvre seems embarrassingly parochial.

It’s no Palace International Film Festival. But at least it’s a start.

 

Elise Janes

A Little Gypsy in my Soul: Maria Vantsos

VANTSOSdesign Jodhpur  Rajasthan, India

 

To epitomise the spirit of January’s Embark edition we bring you an interview with Australian travel photographer Maria Vantsos whose flair for bright colour and bold images caught our eye at the Kiribilli Markets in Sydney earlier this month.

 

A Little Gypsy In My Soul is Maria’s collection of fine-art photography featuring far-off lands, exotic streetscapes and bold portraiture that celebrate the raw essence and aesthetic beauty of colour and culture around the world. Her range of display options allows you to choose a single stand-out canvas print or, our favourite, create a wall display of signature block-mounted tiles.

Maria talks to us about her process, her inspiration and the uniqueness of Australian travel culture.

 

We’ll start at the beginning. What brought you into this line of work?

When I was 22, I decided to take a year off from my studies to travel through South America with my older sister. I was studying graphic design at the time majoring in black and white photography. ‪‪Landing in Mexico to kick off our adventure changed that very quickly. Early one morning as we were travelling out of the city and down a dirt road our bus pulled over to pick up some locals and as the fog was lifting and I was awakening to a new day, I looked out of my window seat to see a line of native women in fluorescent pink ponchos and brightly coloured yellow bows tied around their long plaits, zigzagging down a lush green mountainside. I was in awe! I saw art, I saw the boldest of colours playing themselves out within a moment in everyday life. I remember thinking how beautiful it was to ‘see’ the world in colour. After many more trips overseas and friends complimenting me on my photography, I haven’t looked back. I started with several cafe exhibitions where my passion for combining travel, photography, and colour & culture into wall art has grown from there.

 

Your use of colour to evoke the soul of a place is remarkable. Can you describe your artistic process?

Thanks!

‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪’A Little Gypsy In My Soul’ now creates bold, rich fine art photography which celebrates colour and culture around the world! My passion and the challenge is to ‘see’ what can so often be missed‪‪‪‪… weathering paint, a hanging water urn, a passing moment. My body of work is an artistic approach to the celebration of colour but more than that it is also a documentation of tradition, culture, religion, tribe, and an identity unique to that country…. through people and place so much of what is disappearing due to globalisation can be frozen in time due to the power of photography.

‪‪‪‪My photos are featured onto our signature wooden tiles and as fine art canvas prints.

 

VANTSOSdesign Rajasthan, IndiaYou seem to have genuine passion for the places you visit. How do you decide where to travel and what to photograph?

It’s really inspired by how colourful a country is,‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪ where that character of culture and spirit is still predominant in everyday life. Mexico, Morocco, Cuba and India are some of the most fascinating and visually stimulating countries to explore. I also enjoy returning to countries I have previously travelled to years before. As I grow and change over the years my vision of what I’m inspired to capture also matures.

 

In your experience, do you think Australians have a particular interest in travel culture?

Absolutely! Particularly‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪ because we have grown up within a highly multi-cultural society and that exposure to so many different faces and facets influences many to want to explore further. Being so isolated from the rest of the world when we adventurous Aussies travel, we really like to spread our wings‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪!

 

As an artist do you work with anyone else or have you collaborated before?

No, I’m a one woman band, just me and my camera and the wide open road!

 

It seems you have visited some truly exotic places. What’s on the cards for 2015?

Returning to India to photograph the holi festival which marks the end of winter in early March. They welcome in the spring with throwing colour bombs at each other, so I can’t wait to be within the thick of it all to live and capture this amazing experience. ‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪I hope to travel through Vietnam towards the end of the year. I will also be spending the year designing new products featuring my photos so stay tuned.

 

VANTSOSdesign Yellow Rajasthan, IndiaCan you tell us about your current range and maybe highlight some favourite images?

I am currently in the process of working on my new collection for 2015 which I am looking forward to sharing soon.

There will be a feature range of photos from Morocco and the Greek Islands,‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪ showcasing my work from the last trip I did to these countries. It will also feature a new selection of photos from all around the world from previous trips. One of the highlights of my previous catalogue was featuring a beautiful sequence of different coloured turbans and saris I shot through India (pictured).

 

We met at the Kirribilli markets but you display at other retail venues throughout Sydney. Where can people get hold of your work?

I retail at Paddington/Bondi beach markets in Sydney every weekend and around Australia through various homeware and online stores such as Temple & Webster. ‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪My work can also be purchased from my website at www.vantsosdesign.com.au

Elise Janes

2015 Guide to Australian Literary Festivals

 

Australia boasts some of the world’s largest and most diverse literary festivals, offering everything from general interest to genre-specific favourites such as Swancon and Supanova. Get your diary out, the literary year starts here.

 

Byron Bay Writers Festival 2014, courtesy of bangalowguesthouse.com.au

 

General Interest

Perth Writers Festival
Perth, WA
February 20-23
What to expect: A program paying ‘homage to the vintage objects of print culture such as books, maps and letters, and [embracing] the new storytelling media’.

Adelaide Writers Week
Adelaide, SA
February 28 – March 5
What to expect: ‘Australia’s largest and oldest literary festival, offering both writers and readers a unique opportunity to spend time sharing ideas and literary explorations’.

Festival of Golden Words
Beaconsfield, TAS
March TBA
What to expect: ‘Covering literary fiction, popular fiction, biography, comedy, current affairs, history, military, sport, poetry, wine and food, stage and screen, and self-publishing, with a strong concurrent children’s and young adults programme.’

Eye of the Storm
Alice Springs, NT
April 23-26
What to expect: ‘[T]he 2015 Eye of the Storm writers festival is shaping up to be an extraordinary event that touches on universal themes that are close to the heart of Central Australian communities.’

Sydney Writers Festival
Sydney, NSW
May 18-24
What to expect: ‘Australia’s largest annual celebration of literature and ideas…the third largest event of its kind in the world’.

Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival
Margaret River, WA
May 29-31
What to expect: ‘Celebrating literature and promoting Margaret River and surrounds as destinations.’ This year’s theme is Seasons.

Yamba Writers Festival
Yamba, NSW
May 29-31
What to expect: ‘The Clarence region has an abundance of writers, poets and thinkers and some, along with the featured writers at the Festival, have published works over many years in both Australia as well as internationally.’

Noosa Long Weekend
Noosa, QLD
July 14-26
What to expect: ‘An arts festival with a strong strand of literature – in a beautiful environment’.

Byron Bay Writers Festival
Byron Bay, NSW
August 7-9
What to expect: ‘Australian writing, with recognition of Australia’s geographical location through the inclusion of Indonesian and Asian authors.’

Melbourne Writers Festival
Melbourne, VIC
August 20-30
What to expect: Celebrating 30 years in 2015, the festival ‘will take audiences on a literary tour of Australia and all corners of the globe’.

Brisbane Writers Festival
Brisbane, QLD
September 2-6
What to expect: ‘Energy and “casual intellect”’ bringing together ‘readers, writers, innovators and provocateurs’.

 

Tailored

Digital Writers Festival
Online
February 11-22
What to expect: Run by the team behind Melbourne’s Emerging Writers Festival, expect some similar faces from young local authors and online journals.

Australian Romance Readers Convention
Canberra, ACT
March 6-8
What to expect: The festival ‘will bring together romance readers, authors and publishers and provide an opportunity to talk about all things related to romance fiction.’

Somerset Celebration of Literature
Gold Coast, QLD
March 18-20
What to expect: ‘Over 30 acclaimed authors from around Australia hold interactive sessions and workshops for both children and adults.’ YA and schools focus.

Historical Novel Society of Australia
Sydney, NSW
March 20-22
What to expect: ‘Both the imagination and dedication of historical novelists present an authentic world which can enrich a reader’s understanding of real historical personages, eras and events.’

Swancon
Perth, WA
April 2-6
What to expect: ‘A speculative fiction convention that is invested in all kinds of media’ with ‘panels and discussion about games, film, literature, and graphic novels.’

Write Edit Index
Canberra, ACT
May 6-9
What to expect: ‘Australian conference for editors, indexers and publishing professionals.’

Emerging Writers Festival
Melbourne, VIC
May 26 – June 5
What to expect: ‘[A] place where creativity and innovation are celebrated, where new talent is nurtured and where diverse voices from across Australia are represented.’

Continuum
Melbourne, VIC
June 6-8
What to expect: ‘[S]peculative fiction and pop culture fan convention celebrating creativity across genre and media. From hard-edge science fiction to high-flown fantasy, comic books to film noir, high culture to sub-culture.’

Voices on the Coast
Sunshine Coast, QLD
July 16-17
What to expect: ‘Leading Australian and International authors, illustrators, poets and performers’ talking and workshopping with students and adults.

National Play Festival
Adelaide, SA
July 22-25
What to expect: ‘[F]our days of new Australian plays, artist talks, masterclasses and industry discussions’ as well as a partnership with State Theatre Company SA.

Romance Writers of Australia Conference
Melbourne, VIC
August 21-23
What to expect: ‘[P]rovides unique networking opportunities for writers, editors, agents and other publishing industry professionals with a keen focus on romance publishing.’

Book Week
National
August 22-28
What to expect: National school-based events hosted by Children’s Book Council of Australia. This year’s theme: Books Light Up Our World.

National Young Writers Festival
Newcastle, NSW
October 1-4
What to expect: ‘[T]he country’s largest gathering of young and innovative writers working in both new and traditional forms’.

GenreCon
Brisbane, QLD
October 30 – November 1
What to expect: ‘GenreCon provides an opportunity for writers, editors, agents and other genre fiction professionals to come together for three days of networking, seminars, workshops, and more.’

Crime and Justice Festival
Melbourne, VIC
November 13-15
What to expect: ‘There is no other festival that combines the crime fiction genre with discussions on the law, social justice, human rights and general social commentary.’

Supanova
Melbourne: April 10-12
Gold Coast: April 17-19
Sydney: June 19-21
Perth: June 26-28
Adelaide: November 20-22
Brisbane: November 27-29
What to expect: ‘[C]omic books, animation/cartoons, science-fiction, pulp TV/movies, toys, console gaming, trading cards, fantasy, entertainment technology, books, internet sites and fan-clubs’ and the Madman National Cosplay Championship.

Oz Comic-Con
Perth: April 11-12
Adelaide: April 18-19
Melbourne: June 27-28
Brisbane: September 19-20
Sydney: September 26-27
What to expect: ‘Oz Comic-Con boasts a show floor packed with exhibitors, autograph and photograph sessions with the hottest celebrities and one-of-a-kind panel events’.

 

More Information

The above list represents only a snapshot of the many literary festivals held throughout Australia, with some major centres still yet to release dates. Keep checking festival websites for the most current details, and find further information at the following sites.

A comprehensive and up-to-date list on author Jason Nahrung’s website:
jasonnahrung.com/2015-australian-literary-festival-calendar/

An extensive searchable inventory on the Literary Festivals site:
www.literaryfestivals.com.au/index.html

A narrower list but more specific detail on the Australian Government site:
www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/writers-festivals

Elise Janes

On Travelling Alone

Charlotte Walking by Tom Kemp copy

The media and the travel industry sell us the idea that the best sort of travel is with someone else, preferably your partner. The posters in travel agencies show couples lying together on tropical beaches, or holding hands on the Great Wall of China. To an extent, they’re right — travelling with a partner is a terrific way to strengthen your relationship. It also means there’s someone to hold your bulging backpack when you go to the loo in a crowded train station in a developing country — a benefit not to be underestimated.

But there is something magical about travelling alone. Something that the travel agencies and media don’t tell us, and the security warnings try to scare us away from. The people who get closest to explaining the magic of solo travel are writers, such as Emma Ayres, whose book Cadence describes her bicycle adventure from England to Hong Kong with a violin, and Robyn Davidson, whose book Tracks tells of her travels across the Australian desert with a dog and four camels.

I came to solo travel in a slightly different way. In year twelve, I read Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, and loved it so much I decided to travel to India. I got my opportunity a year later, when a university scholarship gave me the funds. My parents were worried that their eighteen year-old daughter was about to go schlepping around the subcontinent for three months, but now that I had the money, I couldn’t be stopped.

My first weeks in South Asia made me wonder if my parents were right. In Sri Lanka, after signing up spontaneously for some sort of alternative medicine treatment, I found myself shut up in a wooden box like a coffin with small holes at the bottom. Someone I couldn’t see started putting hot, aromatic substances under the coffin, presumably so they could be absorbed through my skin. With no language skills to figure out what was happening, I lay there and wondered if I was going to end up steamed to death in the name of a medical procedure I didn’t understand.

On my first day in Delhi, my backpack caught on the back of a rickshaw in the narrow streets of the old city. Still attached to my backpack, I found myself dragged fifteen metres down the street, through laughing and pointing crowds, before the driver realised he’d attracted an unpaying hitchhiker.

At that point, I found a payphone and rang my mum, close to tears. I was thinking about going back to Australia. But instead, I got on the first train out of Delhi. ‘Amritsar’, said the sign.

And it was on that train to Amritsar that I began to understand the beauty of solo travel. I met a group of university students who were travelling back to their home in Amritsar, and they decided I should visit them. So I spent a few days staying with a young Muslim woman at the university’s Girls Hostel. (No males allowed — not even baby brothers.) She told me about her secret relationship with a boy. They’d been in love for years, but they hadn’t even kissed, or told their families about their relationship. As I told her about my friends and our own views of relationships, I began to question aspects of my own culture that I’d taken for granted.

She was the first of many wonderful people who invited me into their lives in India. Each of them shared different perspectives on the world. A young lesbian told me how she couldn’t bring herself to explain to her parents why she kept rejecting the male suitors they brought her. An older trade unionist forced me to question the ethics of being a young, white middle class person traipsing around looking at the developing world.

I often think about many of these people, and their ideas and experiences have informed many of the decisions I’ve made about my own life and career. If I’d been travelling with another person, I doubt I’d have met them — one person is more likely to meet other people than a self-contained duo.

Later, after I’d finished university, I had my first major solo trip in Australia. Lacking the money to go overseas, and with a month to go before I started at my new graduate job, I decided to take my Mazda 121 bubble car from Canberra to Alice Springs and back. It was January and scorching, which was wonderful, because the roads were clear and I had campsites to myself, from the Grampians, to the Flinders Ranges, all the way to the West MacDonnell Ranges. I spent hours each day walking and sweating and thinking, and in my evenings I read. I had never had so long to spend inside my head, nor had I ever had the opportunity to see the Australian desert, with its red earth stretching for miles until it met the bright blue sky.

I didn’t meet so many people on this trip, but one man sticks in my mind. I was camping — alone, as usual — in the West MacDonnell Ranges, when I got caught in sudden, torrential rain. It beat down, soaking me in seconds and flooding my tent. I was taking down my tent, and trying to figure out if it would be safe to sleep in my car, when an Indigenous ranger showed up. He invited me to stay at his place. As a respectful man, aware of the strangeness of inviting an unknown woman to sleep in his house, he didn’t talk much. I went to bed early, and slept gratefully in his child’s Sesame Street-themed sheets. In the morning, he was gone, having left just a note encouraging me to eat as many eggs on toast as I needed.

I know that solo travel is more dangerous than group travel. You’re more likely to meet nasty people and get caught in threatening situations. But you also have the sorts of experiences that just aren’t possible if you’re travelling with your partner, let alone a busload of tourists. You notice things more, and you meet more people.

Now, more often than not, I travel with my partner. But I do still go off on trips of my own — admittedly with a few more safety precautions than in my younger days. I’m aware of the dangers, but I think they’re worth the risk. Solo travel has made me who I am, and it continues to introduce me to new places, people and ideas, and make me question aspects of my life and culture I’d otherwise take as given.

Penny Jones

This essay was first published on Penny Jones’ blog: www.pennyalicejones.com 

Sir Partridge Gormley Speaks

Hello blots,

When The Cringe begged me to become an agony uncle for them, I sent the word out to my enormous fan base. Naturally, I was subjected to a veritable blizzard of need, most of it drivel. Only this missive struck a chord:

Dear Uncle

Firstly, let me say that I worship you like a god.

Now, listen to this. When I got married seven years ago, a distant relative was charged with videoing the event. He has since returned to his native Fremantle and not a peep has been heard from him since. I’ve emailed him frequently asking for a copy of the video but to no avail. I even sent him a crisp $50 note to cover the cost of postage but the bastard simply trousered it.

I’m going to Perth soon for a mutual relative’s wedding where I will surely bump into him. Rather than endure a ‘scene’, is it reasonable for me to simply lift the money from his wallet, should the opportunity present itself?

Yours in righteous indignation

Egbert T

Well, Egbert, you have been betrayed. I can visualise this strange relative of yours. Perhaps he is in advanced middle age, corpulent, fancies more than the odd tipple and is not averse to leering at the young and winsome. He is a cad, and as such the usual rules of human conduct do not apply.

Of course there may be an entirely reasonable explanation for his failure to provide you with what is rightfully yours. Perhaps he has died. Perhaps he never received your funding, or has been forced to hand it over to a bookie. Who knows or cares?

Therefore the simple answer to your question is yes, by all means slip the bugger a mickey, rummage in his hip pocket, restore the cash to its rightful owner, and why not lift an additional crafty fiver for your trouble? After all, you shelled out 50 of the hard-earned and whether he received it or not the bastard owes you a wedding video, which he has presumably either lost or taped over with something unsavoury.

Huzzar!

Sir P

A man who has long needed an introduction, Sir Partridge Gormley is a baronet, raconteur, bon vivant and genteel nutter. With plenty of time on his hands he welcomes queries from anyone who’s confused and dilemma-ed. Sir Partridge’s verbal emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke 

Conan Elphicke

Have a question for Sir Partridge? Email your query to thecringeblog@gmail.com.

Unnatural Selection

Melbourne Cup‘ The race that stops a nation.’ It’s a big claim by Racing Victoria, but is it really true?

Since its inception, and not even halted by two World Wars, the Melbourne Cup has been embraced with increasing gusto by every generation of Australians. But at some point during the 70s and 80s — when work was just a place you visited five days a week to fill in time and lunches were spent downing beers at the local pub — our attitude to (and love of) the race began a slow transformation into something much uglier.

Those heady decades leading up to Black Monday were a time of enormous wealth generated largely by a booming resource industry; a time when entrepreneurs like Alan Bond were showing the rest of us how they lived large in the ‘wild West’. A precedent was set and celebrating the Melbourne Cup ever more excessively became the new Australian way, the thing to do, iconic and culturally fitting.

Then, on the first Tuesday of each November, offices around the country would close for business from mid-morning. Old box televisions were wheeled into board rooms, canapés and flutes of French champagne were passed around with largesse by ruddy-faced directors, and there were always at least five sweeps on the go in any one place, giving every tipsy worker a fair chance of scooping enough cash with which to celebrate later. For those few hours, corporate tiers were torn down, bosses mingling (usually in more ways than one) with employees, the reception desk abandoned and the switchboard turned off — all for the sake of a three-minute horse race. What other nation on earth would dare to slow its production wheels for such a silly thing?

But if the race managed to grind too-rich corporations to a halt, there were plenty of industries that didn’t — couldn’t — stop to partake: teachers, doctors and nurses, emergency services, transport workers and the like. The adage that the Melbourne Cup ‘stops a nation’ didn’t then — and doesn’t now — bear scrutiny. How could it? But it’s a great marketing gimmick, and one that Racing Victoria clings to.

Even the most extreme measure taken by Victoria — declaring Melbourne Cup day a public holiday — hasn’t proved the claim true. In a number of regional centres it’s business as usual; they celebrate their own spring racing carnivals (Kyneton Cup) and they’ll take their holiday when it suits, thank you very much. Most Melburnians decide, since Tuesday’s already a holiday, they might as well bunk off on the Monday off too, so it becomes the longest of long weekends. A chance to get away. Race? What race? And for those Victorians who do give a damn; who plan a modest get-together of their own — the men tapping in online bets and beering it up around the BBQ while, in the kitchen (yes, even in 2014), women peel cling film from bowls of salads and supervise hordes of children — it no longer holds the same appeal. Because, just as it’s been for the last 40 years, celebrating the Melbourne Cup isn’t about watching a race. It’s about over-indulging and skiving off work. And when you’re already off work, what’s left to celebrate?

Flemington_main_stand,_2013_Melbourne_Cup (1)

Flemington main stand, 2013 Melbourne Cup by Jupiter Firelyte via Wikimedia Commons

Indeed, unless we ignore the race altogether, what else can Victorians do except attend the bloody thing?

So we do. In droves. Every year the numbers increase (over 104,000 in 2013) and one could be forgiven for thinking the enforced holiday nothing more than a clever money-spinning ploy. But there’s no denying that for many who frock up and flock to Flemington for the big day (or the whole week: 331,196 last year), the Melbourne Cup remains a high point on the social calendar. And it celebrates everything that’s wonderful, as well as all that is truly awful, about our society.

It’s about selection – the fastest horses, the best-dressed race-goers, the most expensive foods and wines, the most coveted of tents — the rich, the powerful, celebrities and dignitaries alike, all choppered and chauffeured to the track and separated by affordability and popularity from the untidy masses who collect on the concourse. It’s as much about selection as it is about rejection, and it isn’t hailed ‘the sport of kings’ for nothing. Charles Darwin, if he were alive today, might be more than a little bemused by the spectacle.

Because there’s nothing natural about the Melbourne Cup. It has become a day of wanton excess. A day where twenty-four of the world’s most thoroughly-bred and genetically engineered horses compete for brief accolade, and their owners and trainers compete for huge prize-money.

2013_Myer_Fashions_on_the_Field_(10705584675)

2013 Myer Fashions on the Field by Chris Phutully via Wikimedia Commons

It’s about breeding, and not just on the track. It’s about who’s-who and what’s-what and where to be as well as how best to be seen. It’s about gambling, about squandering that last fiver or throwing down another five hundred — because let’s face it, so many there can afford to — on a whispered tip. It’s a day that heralds every extravagance and every hope and every desperate dream. It’s a race that’s less about the majesty of the horse — its power, its grace, its extraordinary stamina — or the skill of the jockey, and more about a multi billion-dollar industry.

While it can be argued that the Melbourne Cup generates huge profits for all involved in organising and running the event (no, they don’t ‘stop’ either) and helps fill government coffers, it’s not all pretty.

horse_crash3

2007 Melbourne Cup race day – English import Bay Story put down after crash with Bling Bling in Race 3. Via Brisbane Times

It’s been impossible (for me, at least) to find any records stating the exact number of horses that have had to be euthanased as a result of injuries sustained on Melbourne Cup race day. Racing Victoria guards such statistics zealously. And this year, much has been made of the legal wrangle between the racing industry and The Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses, when the latter erected a billboard depicting a dead racehorse over one of Melbourne’s busiest tollways. (It’s since been removed). Add to this any number of horror stories about what happens to these magnificent animals once their use — their money-raking days — are over.

melbourne-cup-2009 -3But there are other horror stories too, the derisive kind, those that mock ridiculous fashion and excessive drinking and spending, and next-day’s tabloids are filled with pictures of the plastered and the poorly attired and all the mess they’ve left behind. And for us Melburnians who have ignored it — who’ve escaped the city and are returning from our long long-weekend — there’s the after-race spectacle to endure as dishevelled, panda-eyed girls totter and weave their way home, while already drunk race-goers decide it’d be a ‘great idea, mate!’ to continue their carousing, crowding pubs and clubs before vomiting and defecating on street corners. Yep, it’s a glorious day for all.

So wherever you are tomorrow, if you’re watching, make sure you savour every second of those three minutes. After all, ‘the race that stops a nation’ is the real reason you’re there. Isn’t it?

Jane Abbott   

Happy Halloween, Australia

Halloween-picQ: I moved house a few months ago, and I’ve been enjoying my new neighbourhood. That is, until last week when I found a note in my letterbox asking me to put a couple of orange stickers (supplied with the note) on my gate so I can join in Halloween celebrations. I don’t even have kids! And isn’t Halloween an American thing? I don’t want to upset the locals and be the only one not participating. What should I do?

Spooked, VIC     

____________________________________________________________________    

A: Is there anything more un-Australian than our adoption of a not-even-American festival that’s been plucked from the depths of pre-medieval history to become a sugar-hyped free-for-all? Probably not. Yet, since none of us have any real clue what it is to be Australian (and without any re-worked traditions of our own), what else can we do but tag along? (It could be argued that has become our tradition.) But don’t worry because it’s hardly the same thing at all.

Cotton wool strung between ragged gum trees, badly carved fly-buzzed pumpkins perched on picket fence posts, unlit lanterns thrashing in a hot wind, sweaty little monsters swathed in metres of bed sheets — no, it doesn’t resemble anything close to Halloween. Here (thanks to a little thing called geography, and a not-so-little thing known as daylight savings) it’s celebrated under a scorching sun. No spookiness, no ghosts or goblins, no haunting shadows cast by flickering orange-tinged candlelight, no screams of delight or even fear. It’s nothing more than tiny gangs of over-excited and already over-fed children shepherded by over-indulgent parents, who trudge from orange-stickered house to orange-stickered house hoping to snag a few freebies. And where’s the harm in that?

Many years ago, my mother — a schoolteacher who, by the end of every day was utterly fed up with children of all ages and sizes (including her own) — opened the door to a trio of brave trick-or-treaters. After they’d made their demands, she yelled, ‘This is not America!’ and promptly slammed the door shut. I don’t know who was more shocked, and I was still too young to realise the erroneousness of her statement. Australia may not yet be America, but by God we’re trying our hardest.

So take heart and suck it up. Put those little orange stickers on your front gate – hell, paint the whole thing orange; grab a few pumpkins and relieve your frustrations with the biggest knife you have; buy kilos of chocolate (the cheap kind) so by the time the little darlings get home it’s melted to brown goo; pull a sheet off your bed and wrap yourself in it — not toga-like, of course; this isn’t a Roman orgy. And when you open your door to their sing-song voices and their cherubic smiles, smile back and thank all that is Australian that we haven’t (yet) adopted more outlandish traditions.

If there’s any consolation to be found, it’s this: you may never fully embrace or even enjoy Halloween, but you can be sure your role as the Grinch in upcoming neighbourhood Christmas festivities is already firmly established.

Jane Abbott   

 

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