Tag Archives: Weston Creek

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

Smoke and Mirrors

Kel Robertson. Smoke and Mirrors. Pan Macmillan 2010. ISBN: 9780330426190.

This book was chosen in a popular vote as the book to represent the ACT in the National Year of Reading collection for 2012. The Year of Reading website explains:

we set out to identify a set of eight books, which together describe what it’s like to live in, be from, visit or in some other way connect with the eight different states and territories. We wanted to create a collection of books which, if read together, articulates the Australian experience – remote, regional, suburban and metropolitan.

I did initially wonder how on earth a book of crime fiction that I’d never heard of could possibly fit this bill for the ACT. Having read the book, I now think I understand. That is hard to explain without spoilers.

Detective Brad Chen is on the trail of the murderer of a former Whitlam government minister, rumoured to be, in his forthcoming memoir, about to spill the beans on the CIA’s influence on the 1975 dismissal. The killer is brutal, and also takes the life of the woman editing the memoir.

The intense and violent interest of thugs of various nationalities in locating a copy of the manuscript seems to confirm that there is an international political scandal here worth killing for. At the same time, much more personal disputes are happening at the Uriarra writers’ retreat where the murders took place. And like all good fictional cops, Brad Chen’s personal life is a disaster area. People seem to want to hurt him for a variety of reasons.

So which is the real story and which is just noise? The drama played out on the political stage, or the ones that are forming, dissolving and reforming communities and relationships all around us?

I love that Brad gets out into the burbs a bit. No one in The Marmalade Files travels more than 1 500 metres as the crow flies from the lake, unless they are trying to hide from someone. Brad Chen is all over the place. The Belconnen cop shop, the Coombs building at ANU, Dickson, Ainslie, even a bus ride through my neck of the woods around Weston. There are throw-away truisms about living in Canberra that give the book authenticity for me. Brad assumes that parliament can’t be sitting when he’s able to get a cab within five minutes . On his jaunt around the suburbs of Weston Creek he observes:

Canberra buses are often empty outside peak hours and they take long, meandering journeys on silent streets… It’s impossible to shadow a Canberra bus without blowing your cover.

Brad is pretty cool, which means that he lives in the Kingston/Manuka area. It’s compulsory. If I was doing a Manuka count instead of a Caphs count in this project we’d be at a 100 per cent strike rate, but as Brad shares a bottle of bubbles with a sequential couple of friends in Caphs, we are still at a respectable three from four. Telopea Park and Paperchain, both also in the cool zone, are other relevant measures.

Can I really believe that international intelligence agencies and criminal gangs would stage a violent robbery at on a grey morning outside the Melbourne Building? No. Because these things don’t happen in Canberra. What happens in Canberra is that brothels run model operations so clean that Brad is “astounded they’re not advertising ISO 9000 compliance.”

It is strange that the books I’ve enjoyed the most so far have both been examples of quirky, humorous crime fiction. I don’t have a history of reading in this genre, Phryne Fisher excepted. [And to digress completely, who will join me in lobbying Kerry Greenwood to bring Phryne to Canberra?] Both Smoke and Mirrors and The Apricot Colonel I found funny, endearing and intriguing. I’m not sure it’s necessarily the genre that agrees with me, though. Both books seem to have recognised the balance that is in Canberra—domestic lives lived out while the world rumbles along in the background. Politics is not the only game in town.

Awards

Joint Winner 2009: Ned Kelly Award Best Fiction

ACT Winner 2012: National Year of Reading Our Story collection

Caphs count

75%

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Filed under Contemporary Fiction, Crime & Suspense