Gerald Murnane – Another World in This One

Gerald Murnane: Another World in This OneMy Paris Review piece on the now-infamous 2018 Gerald Murnane conference in Goroke, Victoria will be published as part of Gerald Murnane: Another World in This One, papers from and inspired by the conference.

The collection is edited by Professor Anthony Uhlmann of Western Sydney University; it was a thrill to be asked by Anthony to have the piece not only included but to be used as the introduction for the book. Also great to be sharing pages with some of the best writers and critics in the country, including Murnane himself.

Gerald Murnane: Another World in This One is published by Sydney University Press on 02 March 2020. Buy the book here.

On Anne Serre’s The Fool

The Fool by Anne SerreI had the serious pleasure of reviewing The Fool and Other Moral Tales by Anne Serre for Music & Literature. Picked up The Fool on a whim (cover got me, and the fact it was published by New Directions), thoroughly enjoyed what Serre was up to, and immediately ordered The Governesses. Wanted more, but this is all there is in English translation, so thought the next best way to spend more time with her writing was to review it. Speaking of which, I’ve got something else in the pocket, looking for a home for that now.

The first review I’ve written (or completed, at least) in over a year, knew I was rusty so put the work in on this one – hope it shows. Big thanks to Jeffrey and Taylor at M&L for giving it a home – it’s a pleasure to be published by them again.

And do pick up The Fool.

On ‘Scenes from Gerald Murnane’s Golf Club’

Scenes from Gerald Murnane’s Golf ClubI wrote a piece for the Paris Review called Scenes from Gerald Murnane’s Golf Club – on the Murnane symposium last December, organised by Western Sydney University. Symposiums aren’t typical PR fodder, but this one was at a tiny golf club in Murnane’s country home-town, and was both a celebration of the writer and, quite possibly, a goodbye of sorts. In case it’s not clear in the piece, it was a surreal and fun day which was only one part of an amazing trip that included hanging out at the pub in Natimuk with writers I’ve long admired, then spending the next morning with Alexis Wright.

If you’re planning a bush symposium, sign me up.

With thanks to Nick from Giramondo, Andre for the photo and Nadja for humouring me.

Update (I)

Breaking from the usual self-indulgent tomfoolery to write an equally self-indulgent personal update – for no other reason than to keep writing. The writing is coming easy. The reading is going terribly but I’m writing a lot. Apart from a few lit journals (which seem conducive to my condition), I have returned to Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, my favourite book by David Foster Wallace. It’s the only thing I’ve been able to read with any sort of ease of late and I’m not sure where to go next; money for books is low, so revisiting things also serves a practical purpose.

But the writing. I’ve written a handful of blog posts, a few short things, a critical thing. I’ve got some ideas for some kids books that, if nothing else, amuse me. I’m putting some work out there and relegating other work to the back corner of the portable hard drive I keep in my desk’s bottom drawer. I’m writing a novel. I’m always writing a novel, but this time it’s almost done. It sort of is done, but the last edit became a re-write and I did some things in the second half that will conflict with things done in the first, and so on, and so I need to go through it a few more times before I do whatever it is you do with these things. Sometimes I think it’s good, sometimes I think it’s bad. Some of it has been a lot of fun to write, the ugly parts, the parts about an element of Australian culture that I fear is endangered, especially. I hope it gets somewhere just so I can show off the ugly parts.

I also have a novella written. Once the novel is in a state I’m happy with I want to go back to the novella and see what exactly I did there. Ideas for it rose and converged and I wrote it in a frenzy at the end of last year and the result was unlike anything I’ve written before. I’ve got a page in Evernote detailing all the references/influences in the novella which in itself is a weird document. I thought it was good – we’ll see about that.

As for definites, I’ve got a couple of short stories being published later in the year, both of which I’m very excited about.

On the defaced

On a recent trip to Turkey I (inevitably) spent a lot of time visiting historical sites around the country and noticed (inevitably) that a lot of the art, Byzantine cave paintings and classical sculptures, had been defaced – literally. Heads were removed and if not heads then faces and if not faces then eyes. Once-proud statues of gods and statesmen (are they the same thing?) with their chests puffed and the folds of their robes clutched in their arms now stand around museums and ancient cities like lost ghosts.

Some of the Byzantine art on the roofs of the caves in Cappadocia were suspiciously well preserved, as if somebody had run a water-colour over the old painting to touch it up before the day’s tour started. But even more striking were the lack of eyes. Angels and saints were remarkably vibrant but their eyes were white. I tried to tell if the eyes had faded or been scratched out or painted over.

At the ruins of Hierapolis, a seated Egyptian’s head has been removed. Only his folded arms and clothes covering his legs have been left to him. The faces of Medusa on various sarcophagi have been worn down. Even the penguin-esque statue of Horus at the site had its beak chipped off.

Of course, with so many faces removed, a game to find a sculpture with a face or cave painting with eyes begins. 


Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between something that’s old and something that’s ancient. 


The kind of man who drinks with his back to the ocean.

On the Explorer

Central Station

After Campbelltown farm animals begin to appear in the fields, faces down in the grass.

Everyone knows each other; or knows someone who knows each other. Everyone is a recovering alcoholic. Everyone is dead or dying.

A woman hasn’t paid the difference. The conductor tells her not to worry about it – because it’s Christmas, he says. “Oh, thang-kyou,” she says.

A can of soft drink is cracked. There is a pause, and then it is opened, as if he didn’t want to disturb.

Everyone is dead or dying or died years ago.

New home new home old home boarded and bombed with graffiti. Long houses which in my mind when I see them I attach to the word homestead.

In a field of gumtrees there is a tree house, dark and stuck between two trees like it is an organic extension of them, with a blue port-a-loo outside. (I, at first, instead of writing tree house, wrote true house.)


Dirty cloud and dirty earth and cows cluster on a hilltop like they wait for something other than dusk. (I’ll try to get a shot of a kangaroo for you.)

(The train whistles; the faster we go the more desperate the whistling. I don’t feel like writing, or reading, so I do this.)

Right on time: two grey shadows in the fields like the upturned trunks of trees: kangaroos.

The names of the stops mean nothing for me. I do not know them and so they are only names. For a long time, while we were still in Sydney, the rail line channels through industrial estates, factories and warehouses, or the leftovers of industry. I don’t even know this part of town – I look for signs or buildings or the shape of places to know where we are. These places are empty. I don’t know my city.

I think about the conductor. I imagine him folding his work shirt in a dim motel room, alone, turning on the radio that is built into the bedside table. Or is he going home? Does he have someone to fold his shirt?

Burnt Trees

“It’s out of my hands.”

We pass a muddy clay lake and burnt out trees that a fire has whipped bare.

“It’s out of my handsisn’t it?”

A caravan park where the caravans have been turned into permanent homes, television aerials on rooftops, the caravans stripped of their ability to transport; black forest and then blackened fences and then spaces where homes used to be.

A footy lost over the fence.

One corrugated shed then the remnants of a shed, as if it’s been blown up or blown away.

The buffet has closed but there is hot food left which they don’t want to waste and so everything is half price: plain meat pies are 1.90; pasties are 1.70; sausage rolls are 1.80. To prevent wastage.

“All right love ya. … Love you. … Love ya bye.”


On being a question away

[A response to Brad Frederiksen]

I wrote, Brad, something of an answer to your question how cool would it be if you clicked on an image and it flipped to reveal the history behind it?, which I know wasn’t exactly directed at me, or anybody else really, something further about the photos that have hung on the walls of my grandmother’s house and continue to hang there, now, as I write this. One of the photos is a portrait of my grandmother’s grandparents on their wedding day. The man (I don’t know his name) is dressed in a stiff black tuxedo and is seated while his new wife (I don’t know her name) stands in a frilled, long-sleeve dress beside him. They wear serious expressions and gaze at something to the side of the camera’s lens. The man’s tuxedo is a harsh, funereal black dark as his moustache, dark as his hair. Their cheeks are rosy. I have memories of the flowers in the photograph – in his lapel, on the table to his side, incorporated, maybe, into her outfit – being coloured at the tips, but this may be incorrect. Though they are a part of my family and this photo has always been in my life and their history and my connection to their history is just a question away, I have no connection with them. The photo is hand-coloured and the colour has faded so that what is left makes them, or him at least, and I hate to say it, look like a ventriloquist’s dummy. The setting is indoor and staged, made neutral, and so they don’t look like they are even in Australia. Anyway, this isn’t what I was going to write but I’m OK with that because what I was going to write about I decided, for reasons of decency, maybe, or because this isn’t the forum, not to write about anyway.

On a family mythology

[A response to Brad Frederiksen]

What I wanted to say here, and did in fact begin to shape into words, I realised maybe shouldn’t be said – not yet (or, at least, not through this medium) – and so deleted it, thus diminishing the quality of this post. Because of my upbringing (certain specifics of which I was going to write about here but have decided not to) I have a habit of stalling whenever I approach the indecent, as if I have inside me some sort of indecency filter, which comes from what I’m not going to write about and ultimately has the effect of, in real life, getting me in knots, and is probably not an indecency filter or related to decency at all. [What I mean by decency is very specific rules related to, for example, what should be said in certain social situations or in what state of dress one should leave the house – is this even decency or are these just weird, ritualistic, socio-religious-influenced “laws” drummed into you, or, more correctly, me, as a kid?] {And the reason I’m not writing here what I was going to write – and did in fact want to write – is that something I wrote some time ago about what I’m not going to write about here today was mentioned to me by somebody related to what I wrote about then but not today, not in a mean way, and not to chastise me – it was, in retrospect, done really quite decently – but in a way that I interpreted as their way of letting me know that they’d read it, and so I probably wrongly think it would be indecent of me to again tell a story here from that particular grouping of stories.}

But then there is also a strong desire to say it all anyway – because the rules are illogical. Because I can say what I want. Because fuck off. So what happens is that not saying what I want to here itself begins to assume an ironic lean.

I think what I’m trying to say here, and what I will say here, is that I liked, in your post, Brad, that you continued on this theme that may be a subconscious continuation of my response to your post, or may have been a logical extension of that original post, which is, after re-reading it now, quite possible, the theme being the mythologies upheld and championed by families – which I already said, anyway, in the title of this post. And not as some sort of badge of honour, or not necessarily, not at its heart, because most families aren’t mob gangs or members of a dictatorial dynasty, but simply as part of a real or imagined history that is passed down from generation to generation because these are the stories we tell ourselves and each other – sometimes on blogs and sometimes, I suppose, for reasons of decency, not.

On the first day of spring

[A response to Brad Frederiksen]

I have deeply wrinkled palms. Have been told at various points in my life that this is a signifier of being “an old soul”. Don’t believe in souls and so had strong feelings this was bullshit. Then read a short story (can’t remember by who, which kind of diminishes this post – have a feeling it was in translation and by an East Asian author) in which it’s mentioned that a pregnant woman shouldn’t worry lest her stresses be passed on to the baby in her womb, making him squeeze his fists shut, giving him deeply wrinkled palms…

On a separate matter

I’ve written before about my time working in pubs but I wanted to share another story from those days that has been on my mind lately.

One of the pub’s regulars was a short, hollow-cheeked man of middle-age who always wore a zip-up vest and a military cap. I’ll refer to him here as X. X drank, always, and only, schooners of light beer in the way that others only drank schooners of VB or Resch’s, or refused a beer without the perfect head, or refused to drink at all, only bet – such were the habits and rituals of the regulars. One night near closing, X was, despite drinking only light beer, getting very drunk, drunker than I’d seen him before. At one point, he came to the bar and asked for “one for the road”. As I poured it, we agreed that after this beer he’d go home. Soon, he came back to the bar, put his empty on the drip tray and asked for another. This time I refused and said he’d had enough. He tried arguing and I walked away. For some time he stubbornly stayed at the bar, leaning on it, watching glumly as I served others. Eventually I reasoned with him. I gave him a glass of water and told him to drink it and if he did I’d give him another beer. This episode seemed to change our relationship. Either because I gave him what he wanted, or because I resisted, X became much friendlier with me after that night, as if a barely remembered conflict had made me less of a stranger. X wasn’t a bad guy. He was polite, laid back, quick to laugh – different to a lot of the others. Regulars were people who either couldn’t find a way of escaping that lifestyle, or lost souls. Maybe one was the result of the other – anyway, it was clear to me that X was the latter. One day, he told me what I understood was, as he saw it, his story. He told me that his father was an American, a G.I. who had been out here during the war. While in Australia, he’d been in a relationship with X’s mother, with X himself the only proof that it ever was. X’s father shipped out, and X never met him. That’s why he looked how he looked, and why he felt like he didn’t fit, he said. X took his hat off to both scratch his head and show me his face in full. His background was mixed up, so he was too.