Irma Gold (ed), Judy Horacek (ill). The Invisible Thread: One Hundred Years of Words. Halstead Press, 2012. ISBN: 9781920831967.
It would be naïve to think that the fact of living for a time in Canberra would automatically leave some indelible, detectable mark on a writer and her writing. The influence of having lived in one part of the world or other is often not singular enough to allow any of us to point to a piece of work and say “There. That bit is because of Canberra”. It’s part of who we are, not some specific aspect of our being, divisible from the rest of us.
If there is no single, discernible influence of place on any one of us, is it not also true that every individual influence leaves some trace on us somewhere? We are all the sum of our parts. Or more than.
And so to The Invisible Thread: One Hundred Years of Words, a centenary anthology of writings emanating from Canberra. This is not a selection of writings about Canberra, but of works by authors who are connected with the city.
The thread is, indeed, invisible at times. Many of the works reproduced in full or extracted here are not discernibly related to this part of this world, although some are. But, if the ties linking one work coming out of Canberra to another are at times invisible, other links are often shining and clear. I did enjoy very much the way that editor Irma Gold and her advisory committee have put this anthology together.
I felt in the beginning that I was playing one of those word puzzles where you change one letter in a word at each turn to make a new word. Somehow you get from ‘cold’ to ‘warm’, changing one letter at a time. Word ladders, I think they’re called. The progression through Part One: “Looking Backwards, Looking Forwards”, was so gentle that it was no surprise at all to find myself having moved effortlessly from CEW Bean’s “Anzac to Amiens” to Michael Thorley’s “Things”—“After their owners die, things die too”.
Bean’s poetic observations of the western front. His research at Tuggeranong Homestead, with the experience of war lingering for his correspondents in Peter Stanley’s “Quinn’s Post”. War pursuing, or never having left, Lesley Lebkowicz’s elderly “Good Shoppers”. Judith Wright asking us in “Counting in Sevens” to contemplate the markers of our lives, and which of them will we remember in our old age. AD Hope looking back in rage and love through “Meditation on a Bone”, refusing to give up on past hurt. John Clanchy’s “The Gunmen”, allowing ancient hurts to perpetuate themselves onward and forevermore. Penelope Leyland tracing perhaps one of the greatest of hurts and most primal of fears, the “Lost Child”, swallowed up by the unfamiliar Australian landscape. Roger McDonald’s solitary men, together, not devoured by the landscape but part of it, where the spaces are as important as the solid things, in “When Colts Ran”.
I dipped in and out of The Invisible Thread over a few weeks, which is what you should be able to do in an anthology. It did mean, though, that I lost the thread in places, or just forgot to look for it. It is a collection that pays reading in sequence, for the joy of finding those links in the chain, but the selections also introduced me individually to new friends, and allowed me to also revisit old acquaintances.
As I said, this is not an anthology about Canberra, but rather of, from, or maybe through Canberra. There is, though, the visible as well as the invisible trace. Bob Crozier, the Queanbeyan postie’s journey to deliver the mail to Bean. Buckler and Fred’s visit to “the national capital with its monuments – Parliament House, War Memorial, Civic Centre – held off in dry grass paddocks” on “one long, hot endless day”. Bill Gammage’s referencing of the 2003 bushfires, and how the loss of ancient management practices may have precipitated them. The Unknown Soldier, lying in state in King’s Hall at Old Parliament House before processing through the city and our consciousness to the War Memorial. Phar Lap’s heart in its glass case in the Museum: “’I don’t like cold dead places with old dead horses without hearts,’” Marian Eldrige’s Alvie mutters. Dorothy Johnston’s “Boatman of Lake Burley Griffin” giving a mysterious other life to the Lake, dividing us from the here and now and from each other, offering solace, leading some of us away.
The final piece is called “Luminous Moments”, extracted from Marion Halligan’s The Taste of Memory. It is a lovely work to finish on, I think, reflecting the thread that runs, visibly or not, through the rest of the writings. Halligan’s prose here is a stream of consciousness – one thought seamlessly seguing into the next without losing the train or the coherence of the story, until somehow we find ourselves back where we began, but having been enriched by the journey. This, like the rest of The Invisible Thread, is a series of luminous moments indeed.