Tag Archives: Tuggeranong

Snake Bite

Christie Thompson. Snake Bite. Allen & Unwin, 2013. ISBN: 978174343079.

‘What a poser! I bet she’s from Tuggeranong, just like us.’

‘Tuggeranong like us? Are you a Kambah girl now?’

‘Um, let me see. The other week I wore my Ugg boots down to the Village, smoked bongs in three separate backyards, drank my weight in Bundy and Coke and now we’re getting tattooed. Is that Kambah enough for you?’

‘You’ll never be one of us,’ I teased her. ‘No matter how much you want it. See, you just made fun of that girl getting the “ohm” symbol, but every good bogan has at least one eastern religion figure in their house that they bought from the Dollar Shop.’

‘Have you seen my house? Dana and Joan eat that stuff up.’

‘Sorry, but if you pay more than two dollars it doesn’t count.’

Lots of Snake Bite felt familiar to me. I’m not sure if I am reassured or alarmed that being a teenager in the Tuggeranong Valley in the 2000s doesn’t sound all that different to being a teenager in south-western Sydney in the 1980s. Not so much the drugs in my case, not the dysfunctional families, although there was plenty of that going on around me, but the alcohol, the out of control parties, the long aimless summers, the bitchiness between girls, the ties to family tangled up in the yearning to break away, the teenage search for self esteem. Snake Bite felt authentic. It’s what you’d call ‘gritty realism’. If you aren’t up for the worst swear word available in the English language, this book isn’t for you.

Jessica – Jez – is seventeen, and working out who she is in the summer of 2009. The models she has to work with aren’t great. There’s her drug-dealing best friend Lukey, sick of being beaten up by his brother and saving money to head to Melbourne and escape. Her next door neighbour Casey, who has just got a job as a stripper and can’t believe that Jez is affronted by a request for a head job from a guy at a Civic party. Her absent father, away down the coast and always making excuses and half-hearted attempts to make good.

Then there’s her alcoholic mother. Arriving home one night, Jez finds the house open and her mother on the floor:

Frantic, I kneeled at her side. She was fully clothed, belly down on the carpet, arms at her sides. I leaned close to her face. I could hear her breathing. And I could smell the alcohol on her breath. Bundy and Coke…

I cursed myself because this wasn’t a lame soap, it was real life… I went to the fridge in the kitchen and found two West Coast Coolers… Then I went back to where Mum lay and gently unhooked her handbag from her shoulder… I took her packet of Benson and Hedges and forty bucks from her wallet.

Jez knows what she doesn’t want, but she doesn’t seem to know what she does want. She’s tired of her mother and her mother’s friends, of suburbia, of drugs and fights “and this whole scorching claustrophobically hot summer”. She and Lukey don’t want to end up working in Woolies, but a pub would be alright. She feels trapped by her life, but can’t imagine herself anywhere else. She’s torn between a kind of ‘bogan pride’ and a yearning for something different.

Author Christie Thompson evokes that claustrophobically hot Canberra summer well. It falls like a blanket over the aimless days of Jez and her friends, stifling initiative and free will. Their lives are beers in the children’s playground “covered in scrawls of texta and graffiti, under a gum that did nothing to shield us from the sun”. Jez looks down on her world from Mount Taylor, seeing a crowd of houses and ghost grey gums, “a sunken pit of suburbia surrounded by yellow hills.. and [a] shopping mall smack in the centre”. Swimming at Kambah Pool in the Murrumbidgee river may provide a reprieve from the heat, but the lethargy of that summer, and shock realities of the world of the Tuggeranong Valley are never far away.

All Jez is really looking for is a bit of hope. It may be there in the relatively functional family life of her new friend Laura and Laura’s lesbian parents, and in the way they seem to have inspired Jez’s mother. Jez may be trapped in the suburbs, but between the houses and the powerlines she can see the purple Brindabellas.

Eventually summer will end. Canberra is famed for its autumn leaves, but in the newer suburbs like Kambah the street trees are all eucalypts, so “the season’s change creeps up slowly, then bam, it’s colder than a nun’s fanny.” The evolution may be hard to discern, but it’s there.

Awards:

Nil

Caphs count:

10%

2 Comments

Filed under Contemporary Fiction, Women Writers, Young Adult

The Invisible Thread

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.

Awards:

Nil

Caphs Count:

13%

2 Comments

Filed under Anthology, Women Writers