Tag Archives: Namadgi

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

Venom

Dorothy Horsfield. Venom. Pandanus Books, 2005. ISBN: 1740761790

We tend to think of Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory synonymously, but in reality the city of Canberra takes up only a small part of the land mass of the ACT. Even setting aside the sliver of coast at Jervis Bay which remains part of the Territory (for now, anyway), about 46 per cent of the ACT is taken up by the Namadgi National Park. The Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is significantly smaller, but also contributes another goodly chunk. Then there’s Brindabella National Park and the Bimberi Nature Reserve.

We aint called the Bush Capital for nothing. The other night driving home from the theatre I had to dodge a fox on Adelaide Avenue and a kangaroo on Streeton Drive. Neither of these are particularly uncommon occurrences. One creature that I haven’t encountered, indeed, which I thought I had left behind forever in Sydney, is the funnel-web spider. Turns out they are here too, although apparently they aren’t so easy to find, if Dr Paddy Jones’ research is anything to go by.

Paddy has taken a diversion from the usual work of the CSIRO Forestry division at Yarralumla to concentrate on identifying and describing the species of funnel-web in the Canberra region. He hires single mum Madeleine as his research assistant, and the pair spend Saturdays combing the bush for those elusive specimens.

Their relationship is hesitant and self-conscious at first, dotted with misunderstandings and embarrassments, as each of them tries to work out what the nature of their attraction might mean and where their friendship might head. It’s not very surprising, then, that Madeleine’s ex, Doug, misconstrues the rapport between them, and plots revenge.

Venom is really about relationships. Tentative, awkward ones like Madeleine and Paddy’s. Twisted, poisonous ones. The instant and eternal relationship between mother and child. Unlikely but solid ones. But these relationships happen in a landscape, and many of the relationships in Venom happen in the bushland of the ACT.

It was weeks before Paddy again raised the issue of an overnight camp-out. The next half-dozen Saturdays were spent in fruitless hikes through Namadgi and the Tidbinbilla Reserve and the next couple along overgrown trails beside the Murrumbidgee River. Their expeditions involved an unvarying routine — a walk to a designated spot, an hour or so’s meticulous search through an area of bush, then a cuppa over a camp fire. As the weeks wore on and they achieved nothing, Madeleine’s confidence waned. It wasn’t simply that, despite her dutiful reading of Paddy’s research file, she had no idea how to find the fabulous funnel-web. She also suspected that the good doctor might be a rank amateur like herself.

But already they were friends of a kind and she looked forward to their afternoons together.

While Madeleine and Paddy are sweeping the bush for spiders, Madeleine’s ex-partner inhabits the poisonous atmosphere of the parliamentary triangle, the landscape much more often associated with Canberra. When he and Madeleine first arrive in Canberra they find a home in Yarralumla,

close to the high-rises that passed as the capital’s city centre and close as well to the lake’s foreshore with its forests and the sparse sheep paddocks that people referred as parkland. And, in a city of manicured lawns and hedges, the house’s big back garden was wildly overgrown and various.

This is a middle ground. Madeleine finds herself here, somewhere between Doug’s muckraking at the Press Club and Paddy’s denial of economic and political reality on the bike paths crossing the Molonglo at Scrivener Dam. She is looking for a model that works for her of what a marriage, a long-term relationship might be, and she’s not finding it. It’s not in her parents’ marriage, and not in her own short-lived relationship with Doug. She’s also looking for answers to her relationship with her father, and with Doug. What did each of them recognise in the other that she has missed? Perhaps the spiders have the answer.

Awards:

Nil

Caphs Count:

11%

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Filed under Contemporary Fiction, Women Writers