Tag Archives: Mount Stromlo

Small Moments

Harry Saddler. Small Moments. Ginninderra Press, 2007. ISBN: 9781740274258

Small Moments is a memento of everyday life and the preciousness of ordinary days. In the days following the 2003 Canberra bushfires, a Deakin family go on with their lives, getting ready for a long-ago-planned party. The smoke haze that continues to hang over Canberra, and the momentousness of what has gone on the last few days, has them each thinking of what they have, and also of what they have perhaps lost.

If I was going to recommend a single book amongst those I’ve read this year to give a stranger some small understanding of Canberra, it might just be Small Moments. It is a book about the simple pleasures and mundanities of suburban life, observed in a context of something important but external. Life changing events that exist alongside and slowly merge with daily life.

Many of the small moments in the book are very small indeed. Robert’s bus ride through Manuka, and his minutes in the office going page by page through his report are the commonplace in the extreme. I did wonder at times just how much dull detail might really be needed to set the scene or make the point. But there are moments of poetry even in this.

Unseen behind the two men, unheard as the world receded into silence around them, the paper of Robert’s report drifted softly from the printer; drifted, rocked in the air and settled like birds on a ledge. But the pigeons beyond the window showed little interest in settling; the slowly warming air made it ideal for gliding higher and higher between the buildings…

The book follows each family member in turn as their thoughts drift between the humdrum now and various points in the past. While even the dog, Amy, has a viewpoint, the majority of the reflection comes from father Robert and daughter Sacha, whose thoughts meander from today to their weekend bushwalk through Namadgi the year before.

From each of the characters we hear an inner voice, observing and remembering and following whatever progressions that thoughts might take. It did make for some confusing moments at times, as the thoughts of Robert or Sacha in particular drift from the past to the present without any markers or borders, much as our own train of thought might do.

If they both stopped to listen, and there was no longer any crunching of boots in the twigs and dry leaf litter on the track, they could hear a faint trickle of a creek somewhere among the grass in the middle of the small valley, perhaps twenty metres away.

Robert stretched and turned towards his computer and switched it on.

What is slowly revealed, through the inner reflections of each character and the narrative of the days, is a measure of what was lost, or almost lost, by Canberra in that time. And a little of what was gained.

As the family members go about their business, they learn of friends and colleagues, friends of friends, who have lost their homes. There are words of condolence and encouragement, but little that anyone can really do. Sacha and her mother, Helen, detour from shopping in Woden and Phillip to head to Weston Creek and the fire zone. There they find houses stopped forever at some small moment before the world changed.

Opposite the hi-fi was a bookshelf. Opposite the hi-fi there had once been a bookshelf. Stuffed in a cupboard in a hallway had been a box full of Christmas decorations, recently put away for another year.

Small Moments voices well what I think much of Canberra went through in those days and weeks immediately after the fires. Shock, and grief. Thankfully for most of us, for the grief is for the loss of something unspecified. A feeling as we contemplate the seeming randomness of it all, that ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. A grim satisfaction that Canberra was making the news as a place where people live, not as a synonym for unpopular decisions.

Helen feels guilty, feeling she might be “jumping on the grief bandwagon”, but Sacha has a response: “The whole city lost something. Just think of Mount Stromlo, say, or Tidbinbilla.”

The whole city did lose something in those days. But perhaps we also gained some things, like an appreciation of the small moments.

Awards:

Nil

Caphs count:

9%

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Filed under Contemporary Fiction

The Day of No Consequence

Gerard Dalton. The Day of No Consequence: Part 1 Canberra. Gerald Dalton, 2012.

The Day of No Consequence: Part 1 Canberra is, of course, part of a series, self-published by the author and available as an ebook via Amazon. Each is billed as a novella, but the Canberra part at least is more like a chapter. Short, digestible, and only $1.85 each, coming to a total of $12.95 for all seven parts. I’m thinking it’s clever marketing. Entice the reader to take a chance for the price of spare change, and hopefully bring them along to buy the whole thing bit by bit.

I won’t be spending the $12.95, but that’s not, surprisingly enough, because Part 1 was terrible. It was interesting and readable and I wanted to go with the story, although speculative fiction is generally not my thing.

Anthony Troy is an astrophysicist whose job is to make assessments about the likely size, trajectory and ensuing damage that will be caused by the meteors that are hurtling towards earth. This is a common enough occurrence that there is an internationally-agreed scale of warnings based on the size and scope of the projected damage. Whole Australian coastal cities move to alternate towns such as Tamworth, Bendigo and Kalgoorlie to wait out the warning period.

This happens in the context of some kind of world-wide system of laws and governance, if not government, that requires humans to wear microchips in their armpits to track their every move, particularly in relation to their carbon footprint. Anthony feels “shielded by the shear [sic] mass of accumulated data on every individual such that he felt he was, in reality, statistically anonymous.”

While this level of surveillance might be generally accepted, it is apparently burdensome enough to warrant an annual event when the system closes down for 24 hours, and it is forbidden “to monitor or utilise any information which could lead to the conviction of an individual for a crime committed on the Day of No Consequence.” Of course, Anthony has revenge on his mind, and the Day of No Consequence is the day to put plans into action. Turns out, he’s not alone.

None of this has very much to do with Canberra. In fact, most of the action takes place at the Sheraton Resort on Denarau Island, Fiji. Anthony does take the train (mindful of his carbon quota) to Campbelltown to liaise with a criminal or two, a segue I found quite amusing, given that I grew up in Campbelltown. Canberra’s contribution is as the location of the Space Watch Centre at Mount Stromlo, where the importance of Anthony’s job consumes all of his energy, leaving him powerless to save his daughter, his marriage or in the end, his wife.

If I had more energy I could pursue all sorts of metaphors for the trade-off between the global and the personal in Canberra and in our own lives. There are some interesting ideas here about where we might find the balance between personal privacy and societal security in the age of ubiquitous surveillance, big data and global terrorism.

The author lives in Dublin, and it is curious that he chose Mount Stromlo and Canberra (and even more interesting is the Campbelltown reference). The other locations for the series are perhaps less surprising: Rome, London, Tehran, Paris, Los Angeles and ‘New Baghdad’. All the research required, though, is a bit of googling (and maybe some better map reading – it’s Kellicar Road in Campbelltown, not Killinger Road. I learned to drive there. The other location references are all correct, so this looks like an error, perhaps by an overzealous spellchecker, to me).

Still, it’s nice to know that we have a place in the mind of the futurists, sitting amongst the hills, scanning the skies and helping to save the world.

Awards:

Nil

Caphs count:

19%

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Filed under Speculative Fiction