Tag Archives: Issue #9

The Uselessness of Aversion, Erica Genda

The tension in the room felt like fire. My eyes burned, and my cheeks were wet. 

It was then that Emma came home, and saw Aaron with his hands clenched in a tight fist. She stood before us and released her shopping bags uneasily to the floor. In the background, the television screen, still stagnant, shone into the dark room. At that moment, I wished I could have turned back time, or been able to force it forwards. I wished to be anywhere other than in that moment.

 

*

 

I couldn’t believe I was here. This moment made me wish to be back with my parents in Melbourne.

Emma greeted me at the door of my new home in the outskirts of North Sydney. It was here that I was to live, with two new housemates. They looked like white supremacists, with their pale and freckled skin, light blonde hair and deep blue eyes. I had friends similar to them in primary school. But the minute they saw my mum wearing a hijab they weren’t my friends anymore.
‘Yasmin,’ Emma said. ‘How’s it hangin? Happy to have a new roomie! Need some help with ya gear?’

I politely accepted and felt bad for judging her. I was such a contradiction.

Emma carried my big boxes inside, and I carried the small ones. My justification being I am petite and was already exhausted from the mess that was my life. After only a few hours, I was almost through unpacking my life’s belongings into my new ridiculously tiny bedroom. In the room next door, I could hear my new roomies yapping loudly. I wanted to join them, but I needed a breather. I lay back on my bed and grabbed my phone to Face-Time my mum.
‘Yasmin, my sweetness, you look so sad, what’s wrong?’ she asked.
‘Just moved into my new place. I have housemates Ma…it feels weird.’
‘Are they nice?’

In the background, I could hear my father yelling.
‘Why is dad yelling?’
‘We are making kebbeh, and he’s asking for my help in the kitchen. I don’t know why – he’s made it a thousand times!’
‘Did you want me to call you later?’
‘Ok Yasmin, just be nice and make friends. It is impossible not to like you. I love you,’ she said blowing me a virtual kiss. I rolled over and saw a message from her with a picture of my Dad in the kitchen with mince in his hands. I missed them so much.

‘Ey! Newbie. I mean, Yaz, come out!’ shouted Emma from the lounge room. ‘Thought I’d properly introduce ya to Az, or Aaron as he prefers, who you’ll notice sits on the lounge a lot at night. I have a TV in my room for privacy, but sometimes we enjoy watching a bit of the  Bach together. For the drinking games!’
‘Love it,’ I said.
‘By the way Az, this is Yaz, or Yasmin – which I like, might start calling you that,’ said Emma as I gave a small wave to Aaron.
‘Righto,’ said Emma, and took my hand as she guided me into the kitchen. She gave me a sheet of paper titled ‘Emma & Aarons Pet Hates’. After that list, there was a smaller list of things not to eat or to get for myself if I wanted any. There were a few other house rules on the sheet, but Emma told me to forget them because Aaron wrote them and who gives a fuck about him anyway. I thought she was joking, but couldn’t tell. She popped open a bottle of VB and offered me one, but I hated VB, so I took water instead. Emma leant on the counter, waiting for me to say something.

‘Thanks so much’ I said, ‘but I better finish unpacking.’

I was hopping off the bar stool when Emma said, ‘so what’s ya story? New to Sydney or what?’

I raised my eyebrows. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share everything straight away, but I sat back down.
‘Oh sorry, sensitive question is it?’ Emma continued.
‘No, no! I’ve been here for a while, few years. But, um, I just split with my ex, so I had to get out of his place ASAP.’

I couldn’t look up, as I knew that if I talked about him, my eyes would start to water. How embarrassing!
Emma leant over the counter and gave me a bumpy rub on the shoulder. ‘Fuck him!’ she said.
‘Shut up Em! I’m watching the news,’ Aaron called out. There was no wall between the kitchen and the lounge area.
‘Stop being a dick,’ Emma bit back.
‘Sorry, no offence,’ Aaron said, turning to look at me. I nodded that it was okay even though it irritated me. Though I was probably just being sensitive.
‘How did you guys meet?’ I asked Emma,
‘He’s my brother’s best mate. My brother moved out with a girl, so he moved in. Helps pay the rent, so he’s not that bad – Are ya Az?’ She had a cheeky smile on her face like she thought he was great or something.
‘Please, don’t listen to her. Call me Aaron. I’m not a bogan like some!’ He joked.

I laughed, even contemplating the VB for a moment. It seemed to me that I had walked into a wacky, yet playful friendship and I felt like I was being invited to join in the fun. That was the nicest way to think about this situation.
‘So what did this guy do to you?’ asked Aaron, not paying attention.

I didn’t exactly want to get into the details with someone who wasn’t even listening.
‘Did he cheat on ya?’ Emma prodded.
‘Um, yeah,’ was all I could say before I lost it. I began sobbing into my chest as quietly as I could. I must have seemed like a complete lunatic.
‘Oh shit! I’m sorry babe. It’s okay, Yasmin. Don’t worry. A week from now you won’t even be thinking about this fucking idiot.’

Emma’s tone was suddenly not so loud anymore. She came around to my side of the counter to hold me. That was the moment we became friends.
Emma spent a lot of time with me after that night. She took me out often. Not to clubs, but to dinner and bars where we could enjoy each other’s company. I had become stressed about being on my own. And I felt anxious about being around people who I didn’t like or didn’t like me! But now we were drinking VB every Friday night. The taste was dismal, but the company was nice.  It was comforting to have someone like Emma. We spoke about the important things in life just as easy as the not so important things. I loved that. Aaron joined us on most Fridays too, but he was hooked on the news. It was tiresome. Terrorist bombings and sieges were always being pushed onto viewers, like some kind of fear mongering. No one wants to hear about that on a Friday night. Plus, I found it funny, in a not so funny way that they never spoke about the effects these things had in Middle-Eastern countries. Like Lebanon, where my parents were from, or Syria, where people were likely to die if they stayed or if they fled. I hated seeing all this hate coming from faux Muslims, making the world hell for the good ones. At first, it just broke my heart. Then, I grew furious. Emma would tell Aaron to ‘shut that shit off’, as she could see it visibly upset me. But he never listened.
‘Don’t you find it depressing to watch the news constantly?’ I’d ask him, interrupting a small pecking session between him and Emma.
‘Nah, my dad homeschooled me, and we did a lot of news watching. He always said that it’s good to be informed. There’s a lot of crazies out here.’

He motioned to the lone gunman on the screen who had just been caught. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, just agreed that the man was crazy. But I guess Aaron and I had a different view of what led to crazy.
I became sidetracked with a message from my mum. Another photo, it read, ‘My Turkish friend from work made me this Kanafeh. You would love it! Wish you were here! Miss you!’ Her missing me was nothing new. Ever since I moved to Sydney, our emotions ran high, and we found it hard to be apart. I knew she would have felt it more because I had less of a need to call her as I was finally settling in.  Our catch-ups became less frequent, but we always had a way of letting each other know we were still there. I sent a message back saying, ‘ I love you Ma, tell Dad I say hi and I miss you both. Will call soon.’

I think she knew that I had to make a life for myself, and I was beginning to.
‘So are you two official yet or what?’ I asked sitting on the lounge as Emma and Aaron nestled up to one another.
‘Oh stuff off,’ Emma cringed slightly but looked happy.
‘Well, why not I guess,’ Aaron said smiling. They kissed, and it wasn’t even gross, but I still threw a pillow at them.

 

*

 

It had been about two months since Emma and Aaron had hooked up exclusively. I was sitting on my laptop at the kitchen bench as Aaron watched TV. There was a brief mention of a protest happening in Melton on the news, which is close to where my parents live in Melbourne.
‘What is that?’ I asked,
‘Anti-Muslim protest, they approved a Mosque in Melton,’ Aaron scoffed.

I couldn’t figure out his tone. I took my laptop to the bedroom and Skyped my parents.  My dad answered, and I could see my mum in the background crying with her head down. My dad was whispering like he didn’t want my mum to hear. He told me about a man who threw a beer can at his car as he drove past. The man then yelled, ‘What’re you hiding under there?’ to my mum in the passenger seat, referring to her hijab.

‘It’s horrible Yasmin. Just horrible! I don’t know why these people hate us. We don’t do anything. We keep to ourselves! These people, they come and even eat at our shop! It’s like they have lost their minds.’
I found it hard not to cry, but I didn’t want to show my dad how much it hurt me too. He needed to see that I was okay.
‘Your mother and I are worried for you. What is it like for you there? Is it multicultural? Are you okay?’

He looked desperately sad. I couldn’t help but shed a tear.
‘It’s okay dad, tell mum I’m fine. I have friends, and it’s not the kind of place where that stuff happens. I’m safe.’

 

*

 

Following the Melton protests, I had a sick feeling in my stomach that wouldn’t budge. But I never voiced my concern. I called or messaged my parents every day. They weren’t distressed anymore, but I couldn’t shake the anxiety. It was time for dinner, but I didn’t know if I could stomach a full meal, so prepared a coffee and was going to sit with Aaron and watch some TV. As I was about to sit down, he yelled, ‘Fucking Muslims!’

My heart began beating fast and hard; I could feel it against my rib cage. I tried to sip my coffee but my hands were shaky, and I ended up spilling some.  I tried listening to the news, but Aaron just shouted over the top of it.
‘What a twisted, fucked up race! Shoot them all!’

At that moment, I realised that Aaron had no idea that I was Muslim. I clenched the paper towels I had used to clean up the coffee. Aaron kept going and going like he was having a conversation with the television.

‘Can you shut up!’ I snapped.
He paused the TV. There was silence between us.
‘You know you’re being completely racist right?’

‘What’s it to you?’ he said. ‘I can see you’re brown, but I didn’t think you were some Arab.’
‘I’m Lebanese. My parents are Muslim. They’re good people, and it’s disgusting to hear this shit in my living space,’ I replied. My voice shook, but I stood strong.
‘Well let’s get one thing straight then, yeah – this is my place, and I’ll say what I want – you can get the fuck out for all I care.’

Aaron pointed towards the door, and I knew he meant it.
‘I don’t get it. You can’t seriously watch one crazy person on TV, who just happens to be Arabic and think we’re all murderers?’
‘It’s not just one crazy person. There are heaps of you.’
‘That’s not us. That guy stalked that girl; he didn’t kill her with some extremism motive, that’s just the news spinning shit… Or, you, you’re spinning shit!’
‘I’m telling you, Muslims are violent and fucked up. You can see it with your own two eyes.’

He gestured towards the TV.
‘You are completely fucked up Aaron! I hope you know that.’
The tension in the room felt like fire. My eyes burned, and my cheeks were wet. It was then that Emma came home, and saw Aaron with his hands clenched in a tight fist. She stood before us and released her shopping bags uneasily to the floor. In the background, the television screen, still stagnant, shone into the dark room.

‘Turn it off,’ Emma said, her voice trembling. ‘Turn it off now, Aaron!’
‘Are you seriously going to do this?’ He threatened.
‘Do what?’ She said ‘Stand up for my friend?’

I never spoke about my background with Emma, but she wasn’t an idiot. I think she had noticed the photos in my room of me with my parents. She knew I wasn’t like them.

‘To be honest Em, I don’t think I can live here anymore,’ I said and turned away towards my room. I had to get my car keys so that I could get out. I didn’t know what I expected from Em, and I didn’t want to get in between her and Aaron, even if he was a racist asshole.

‘Don’t go,’ she said. As I walked to leave she grabbed my arm,‘it’s just stupid talk. It doesn’t mean anything. He didn’t mean it.’ I felt sad for her defending him like that.

‘I bloody do mean it!’ he said. ‘Next thing you know, she’ll be wearing a fucking burka and yelling Allahu Akbar at me!’
I exhaled a shocked kind of sigh. I had to leave. Emma rushed behind me, but I couldn’t stop. I didn’t have any more words.

 
Download a PDF of ‘The Uselessness of Aversion’

Tagged , , , , ,

The Heaviest Matter in Australia, Michael Sturtridge

It’s Saturday night at the Bald Faced Stag, and the seedy inner-west pub is awash with black t-shirts, flat-caps, bullet belts and ripped jeans. The familiar faces of local metal-heads crowd out the bar while they wait for the first band of the night to start playing in the adjacent room. In the meantime, the bourbon and coke flows freely as mops of long unkempt hair wax lyrical about their favourite bands and who they’re seeing next. The answer is usually, ‘me too!’ Followed shortly by, ‘are you going to X?’ There are one of two local punters determined to tune out the sea of head bangers as they watch Saturday Night Football on the wall-mounted widescreen TVs.  Before long the thundering distortion of a guitar prompts a slow migration to the stage next door, giving the locals a brief respite. The band tunes up their instruments and sound-check their amps while the crowd of bearded beer-swillers looks on with stony indifference. The front-man nods to the sound guy at the back of the room and approaches the microphone: ‘We are Dispossessed, and Australia is under military occupation.’

Vocalist and lead guitarist Birrugan Dunn-Velasco’s antagonist display of righteous anger continues throughout their set, in stark contrast to his otherwise unintimidating stature. His modest height and slender figure are only further diminished by the guitar he wields with ferocious precision. Despite being the main point of contact for the audience, he tends to avoid direct eye contact as he summons hell from within his lungs, preferring the wall running along stage right where the group’s entourage watch on dutifully.

Serwah Attafuah and Jarred Osei round out Dispossessed’s lineup, forming the tight rhythm section which frames Birrugan’s violent rejection of white Australia. Sans bass player, Serwah is left to round out the bottom end of their aural assault. She remains effectively stationary throughout the performance, her eyes darting between Birrugan and drummer Jarrod Osei. Her withdrawn presence is challenged only by the loudness of her guitar and the long dreadlocks that weave down the left side of her face from a loosely bound top-knot. Jarred appears the most at ease, perched on his drum stool-throne, he breezes through blast beats and an array of splashy drum fills. The two remain silent throughout the performance. As it would happen, the majority of the talking this evening would be given to the band’s entourage of guest speakers.

And there’s every reason for their audiences to listen. Indigenous Australia faces a constant uphill battle for the kind of recognition and respect becoming of the world’s oldest known culture. Somewhat ironically, the average life expectancy of an Aboriginal or Torres-Strait Islander is on average 10 years lower than that of their non-indigenous counter-part[i]. Structural inequality is still an everyday fact of life for Australia’s first people – more children were being taken from their families during the Rudd Labor government than during the stolen generation[ii]. Fast-forward to 2016, and the Turnbull Liberal government refused to consult with indigenous leaders before forming the royal commission into youth detention in the Northern Territory. Only after former Supreme Court judge Brian Martin resigned as commissioner for perceived bias did the federal government appoint Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda alongside Justice Margaret White.

It is for this reason that Sydney-based heavy metal band Dispossessed are so vital to the modern music scene. Traditionally an overwhelmingly white genre, with (ironically) subgenres such as black metal promoting white supremacy, the presence of an aggressively black band has made many a mayonnaise metal fan uncomfortable. So we should feel uncomfortable – hard rock and heavy metal is derived from the blues, which is a black form of music. The entire history of rock music in the Western world is built on cultural appropriation. Elvis Presley made rock and blues palatable for white audiences in the 50s. The Beatles and other British Invasion groups did the same for England in the 60s. As Mos Def once wisely espoused, ‘You may dig on The Rolling Stones, but they ain’t come up with that shit on their own.’ In 1982, MTV allegedly only began playing Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean after CBS Records Group President Walter Yetnikoff threatened to pull all CBS videos. I reached out to Dispossessed multiple times for an interview, hoping to get some insight into their firsthand experience with racism in music (and specifically, heavy metal), but was met with silence. I can hardly blame them for being trepidatious about the motives of a 24-year-old white boy.

Heavy metal itself was born with the arrival of Black Sabbath, a group of disaffected white teenagers from Birmingham with an interest in horror movies. Lower-middle class suburbia in England offered little in the way of job prospects, which left academic under-achievers with nowhere to turn but factory labour. It is these foundations that have helped perpetuate the status of heavy metal as a predominantly white genre. People of colour are scarcely represented throughout the genre’s history, with a few notable exceptions: Brazil’s Sepultura helped to pioneer thrash and death metal in the mid to late 80s, before redefining groove metal in 1996 with Roots. In America, Run DMC revitalized Aerosmith’s career with their 1986 remix of ‘Walk This Way,’ whilst Living Colour’s 1988 album, Vivid, gave funk metal an authenticity sorely lacking in the likes of Faith No More and Red Hot Chili Peppers. They too experimented with rap-rock alongside Public Enemy’s Chuck D on ‘Funny Vibe’. Then there was Rage Against the Machine.

Australia is no stranger to this exclusionary approach to rock. Just last year, critically lauded two-part documentary, Blood + Thunder, detailed the evolution of the ‘Australian’ sound guided by the vision of pioneer Ted Albert (founder of Albert Music and Albert Productions). Albert helped the careers of now iconic artists like The Easybeats and AC/DC. Conspicuously absent is Albert’s hand in introducing Australia to jazz and blues, when he brought the Sonny Clay Orchestra to our shores in 1928. As The Conversation notes, they were deported 9 weeks later after a directive from the Musicians Union to ban visas for ‘coloured’ artists[iii]. This ban wasn’t lifted until 1953, a full 25 years later. We are expected to accept the notion that Australian (read: white) musicians simply discovered and mastered the blues through divine providence.  This is before we consider indigenous Australians, who weren’t even granted personhood until the 1967 referendum.

There are a select few indigenous rock acts to have achieved varying degrees of mainstream success either before or after the referendum: Jimmy Little, Yothu Yindi, Troy Cassar-Daley, and the Warumpi Band are largely recognizable. Narrow the focus to heavy metal, however, and the list becomes essentially non-existent. Nu metal act NoKTuRNL, who won The Deadlys’ Band of the Year in ’98, ’00, and ’03, and toured nationally with Spiderbait, Powderfinger, and Regurgitator, appear to be the only real antecedent to Dispossessed. Even then, NoKTuRNL fall more in line with the hip-hop stylings of Shepparton rapper Briggs than anything resembling Dispossessed’s hardcore-tinged extreme metal. Despite this, hip-hop and extreme metal share commonality through their inherently political worldviews. Both speak to the socially maligned and downtrodden, albeit in different ways. It’s amazing Dispossessed didn’t happen sooner.

‘Alright, after this us black fellas are gonna tell you off,’ Birrugan murmurs. A collective chortle emerges from the crowd. ‘I’m serious,’ he retorts with indignation, before introducing a tune tentatively titled ‘Kill All White People’. A second chortle is drowned out by screeching guitar distortion flooding the room as Jarred’s double-bass reverberates through the floor, sending every beer-addled bro off balance for a single moment. Windmills of hair turn in unison as fast as their hardened necks will allow, struggling to keep up with the rapid-fire snare. The song crashes to an abrupt finish and the walls look as though they’re about to cave in around us. As we gather our composure, Birrugan tells us to shut up and listen as he introduces each guest from his entourage. A night of killer riffs evolves into a demonstration before our very eyes.

These extended breaks are a feature of all their gigs, and often provoke defensive indignation if not outright hostility. We are treated to a poem and a rap. The whole room fell silent, and each performer was applauded as they concluded their piece. This, from the same audience that is presently mad at Rihanna for unveiling a metal-inspired type-font at this year’s VMAs, and previous abused Kanye West for doing the same for his Yeezus tour merchandise. Such viciously insecure reactions might lend itself to the view that such a scenario as this could never take place. Even as the last speaker, a slightly older indigenous man who is unmoved by liberal platitudes, tells us in between sips of his drink that we’re all complicit in systemic racism, everyone nods silently. ‘I’m probably going to be harassed by the police the moment I leave this venue. I have every other night.’

This is not a surprise. Since the tabling of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody 25 years ago, rates of indigenous incarceration have doubled, and their risk of landing behind bars is 13 times that of non-indigenous Australians[iv]. In between 1989 and 2013, 365 indigenous Australians have died in custody[v]. It is hard to believe that the current royal commission into youth detention will yield any real results considering the country’s history of inaction on indigenous issues. The terms of reference remain confined to the Northern Territory, meaning that any abuse happening outside the state will continue unperturbed.

The revelations aired by Four Corners have sparked a slew of protests nation-wide against torture in detention. Dispossessed has been actively involved with the promotion of these protests. In an interview with Vibe, Birrugan stated:

‘I see the work we do as Dispossessed and the work we do on campaigns, speeches at rallies, grassroots stuff like that, as one and the same. The band is a platform for a wider movement.’[vi]

This is in stark contrast to the tendency for musicians and bands to distance their art from their personal views. For Dispossessed, their political ideology is an integral part of their music, not a subtle undercurrent. They are a band with a purpose.

Indigenous Australia needs a band like Dispossessed right now. A study conducted by the Larrakia Nation (representative of the Larrakia community in Darwin) in conjunction with the University of Sydney and the University of Tasmania which suggests many indigenous Australians feel they have to abandon their culture in order to succeed. According to the ABC, more than 500 Darwin residents took part in the study, ‘ranging from long-grassers to university students.’ The report indicated that over 50% of respondents felt unwanted in Darwin[vii]. One anonymous participant is quoted as saying:
‘We get our power from knowing we are connected … knowing who your family is, who your background is, got the country, how you’re connected, what your totem is and your dreaming is like.’

‘But there’s this other culture that says no, that’s not power.’
Dispossessed command your respect, and refuse to take white Australia’s dismissal of indigenous culture. Every gig they play is a violent reminder that black Australia isn’t going away silently.

This lack of respect for indigenous heritage is also part of why constitutional recognition is not perceived within the community as the fix-all the media would have you believe. In an interview I conducted with Jenny Munro of the Redfern Tent Embassy last year, she stated: ‘I don’t want recognition in the constitution – I want that racist document torn up.’ More recently, The Guardian reported on a survey conducted by social media channel IndigenousX which found that of 827 respondents, only 25% supported Recognise. This in stark contrast to Recognize’s claimed 87% support[viii]. The overwhelming sentiment amongst those surveyed by IndigenousX is that their lives are unlikely to improve with constitutional recognition. However, the notion of a permanent representative body within parliament garnered widespread support. It’s pretty simple, really – indigenous people want their voices heard when the nation makes decisions.

The recent death of a 14-year-old indigenous boy, Elijah Doughty, in Kalgoorlie has only further illustrated the need for greater consultation with the community. WA Today reports that the boy was riding a scooter when he was involved in a car crash with a Nissan Navara[ix]. Protests erupted outside Kalgoorlie Courthouse demanding justice for the deceased boy, a ‘well-loved community member and local football team player.’ The protests ended in violence as riot police were brought in to control the crowd, many of which believe the death was a racially motivated murder. Elijah’s aunt is reported as telling the Kalgoorlie Miner his death was the third in the family in the last few weeks[x]. It is in situations like this that indigenous people feel their lives don’t matter to white Australia. It is the reason Dispossessed sees no hyperbole in writing a song called ‘Kill All White People,’ because white people have done nothing but kill black people since first invading ‘Terra Nullius’ in 1788.

This predicament is not unique to Australia, however, which the group are often highlighting through their Facebook page. Racial injustice is a systemic problem on a global scale, which greatly affects indigenous communities and people of colour all over the world. Whether it is the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA, or Ethiopian runnerFeyisa Lilesa’s protest against government killings at the Rio Olympic Games, Dispossessed are consistently among those expressing international solidarity and pushing against discriminatory power structures designed to maintain white supremacy. As Desmond Tutu astutely proclaimed, ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’

Dispossessed and their guests receive a round of applause as their mid-set showcase comes to an end. The segment has soaked up most of the allotted time for their set, and they’re left with just enough to perform one more song. The lights dim and the band dive into a cacophony of frantic riffing and vocal howls. The crowd returns to causing ourselves irreversible neck damage as if nothing had happened. One can only hope the message sunk in, and wasn’t lost in a drunken haze of indifference. Their final song collapses under its own weight as the final chords are struck and distortion rings out before being abruptly cut off, and the band walk off stage without a second thought. They don’t need to say anymore, they’ve already cemented their place as the most vital metal band in Australia.

 

 

 

Works Cited:

 

[i] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2016). Life expectancy (AIHW). [online] Available at: http://www.aihw.gov.au/deaths/life-expectancy/#indigenous [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[ii] Australian Government Productivity Commission. (2016). Report on Government Services 2014. [online] Available at: http://www.pc.gov.au/research/ongoing/report-on-government-services/2014/community-services/factsheets/rogs-2014-volumef-chapter15-factsheet.pdf [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[iii] O’Connell, D. (2015). Blood + Thunder: patriotism whitewashes Australian music history. [online] The Conversation. Available at: http://theconversation.com/blood-thunder-patriotism-whitewashes-australian-music-history-44081 [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[iv] SBS News. (2016). ‘A national crisis’: Indigenous incarceration rates worse 25 years on. [online] Available at: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2016/04/15/national-crisis-indigenous-incarceration-rates-worse-25-years [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[v] Booth, A. (2016). Stop Indigenous incarceration rates from rising by ‘addressing poverty’, says Mick Gooda. [online] NITV. Available at: http://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/article/2016/04/13/stop-rising-rate-indigenous-incarceration-addressing-poverty-says-mick-gooda?cid=inbody:royal-commission-into-deaths-in-custody-25th-anniversary-whats-changed [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[vi] Collins, S. (2016). Meet The Radical, Indigenous Metal Band Out To Destroy The Status Quo. [online] Vibe. Available at: http://www.vibe.com/2016/07/austrialian-metal-band-dispossessed-angry-band/ [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[vii] Lawford, E. (2016). Aboriginal people ‘pressured to lose culture’, report suggests. [online] ABC News. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-27/aboriginal-people-pressured-to-lose-culture-study-says/7790928 [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[viii] Liddle, C. (2015). 87% of Indigenous people do not agree on recognition. You’d know if you listened | Celeste Liddle. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/19/87-of-indigenous-people-do-not-agree-on-recognition-youd-know-if-you-listened [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[ix] Young, E. (2016). Enraged crowd attacks police at Kalgoorlie court after Indigenous boy’s death. [online] WA Today. Available at: http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/crowd-threatens-violence-outside-boulder-court-after-local-boys-death-20160830-gr4bzn.html [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[x]Hickey, P.,Kelly, J. and Campbell, K. (2016). Community mourns Kalgoorlie teen. [online] Perth Now. Available at: http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/western-australia/man-accused-of-kalgoorlie-boys-manslaughter-to-face-perth-court/news-story/71b352036131fce8f26a38654a85001d [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

 

 

Download a PDF of ‘The Heaviest Matter in Australia’

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Bright Star, Emma Stubley

Before, the crowd hid us.

Amongst the swaying dancers, no one even noticed two girls kissing. But when Athena pulls me on the DJ’s stage with her, we become the center of the universe. She puts her hands on my waist and the crowd slows. Suddenly everyone is looking at me. I stand on my tiptoes, slipping on the beer-polished floor as I try to make out the glowing exit light hiding behind the swarm of heads.

‘Relax,’ she whispers in my ear and the crowd growls in response.Athena just dances, head down, eyes squeezed tight, ignoring the attention we are drawing.

There’s got to be an exit in here somewhere. But it’s not near the bar, or at the back of the room. The crowd stares at me. They are a pride of growling lions, hungry, shoes scratching against the floor. It makes my skin crawl. We don’t fit in here.

‘We should leave,’ I mutter, grabbing her hand.

They turn to watch a man with slicked back hair, a white shirt buttoned to the top and crocodile-skin shoes. He is front and centre, the king of the pride. His eyes undress me, picking out my weaknesses. He doesn’t move, his chest neither rises nor falls. He is still, except for the mechanic movement of his wrist that swishes wine in his glass, around and around. My palms sweat and he watches me rub them down my thighs. His mouth twitches, smirking at my submission.

He takes a sip and nods. A path appears in the sea of footy shirts and flower crowns, revealing a door, light from the wharf outside seeping underneath. I grab Athena’s wrist and pull her towards it, holding my breath in anticipation of a crushing wave that never comes. Just before we push out the exit, I look back. The man is still staring at us.

Who is he?

 

‘Do you want to find another club?’ she asks as we wander down Darling Harbour. She teeters along the edge of the wharf pretending it’s a balance beam. She is so carefree, holding her arms out and wobbling.

‘Didn’t that bother you?’ I ask as I count the shadows around us. None of them move.

‘Just try not to think about it, yeah?’ She runs to me and kisses my hand, leaving a ghost of lipstick on my knuckles. ‘How about Scary? We’ve not gone for a while.’

I look around to see if anyone saw us. Only the shadows. There was a day, before the eggs cracked on my car, before the love letters spray-painted on my front door, when I didn’t look behind me. I didn’t care who noticed. I held her hand as we danced down the escalators to the harbour, greeting the flying whale on the way. We ran through fountains with the other kids and kissed in the back row of the Imax; 3D glasses discarded, eyes closed. Later, we sat on the wooden boardwalk, feet hanging off the edge. Hands touching. Carefree. The world glared at us and we just watched the sunset. We told ourselves we could survive here. Belong here.

We don’t.

 

 *

 

It’s midnight. We stand in line in the 7-Eleven. Athena has grabbed a sausage roll from the pie warmer and the grease soaks through the paper bag.

‘It’s too early to go home,’ she says, wiping her hands down her dress. ‘Besides we have to wait ‘til your mum falls asleep.’ She rests her chin on my shoulder, waiting for an answer.

I stare at the wall of cigarettes as I hand money over, ignoring the cashier’s eyes as he notices how close together we are standing us. He calculates each of the three atoms, nodding as though he has proven our sin.

Outside the shop, streetlamps yawn in a lazy flicker that barely illuminates the shadow-littered street. With only a pregnant moon watching us, I take Athena’s hand. For a moment, quiet reigns.

A shadow stretches across the pavement. It is long and thin and peels away from the brick wall, forming the shape of a leg. A crocodile-skin shoe follows, bringing with it a man – no; The King. Yellow lips stretch into a plastic smile. I feel greasy, itchy. He balances a cigarette between his fingers. Tendrils of smoke reach out, filling the air between us.

‘Ladies, you can’t be going home so soon?’

I recoil, only to find Athena transfixed, breathing in the smoke. She smiles at him, leaning closer. I grab her wrist, attempting to pull her away.

‘I can show you a new world. One where girls like you belong. A safe place.’

Athena tugs back, and I stumble closer to him.

‘It could be fun,’ she sings to me, her fingers dancing up and down my arm. They fiddle with the sleeve of my shirt. She looks back at him. ‘Where is it? Oxford Street?’

‘Somewhere new.’

I can smell the fruitiness coming from the cigarette smoke. Cherries. I am intrigued. ‘It could be fun,’ I repeat.

Athena giggles, taking a bite of her sausage roll before she skips off down the street.

 

*

 

The moon is pinned between 12 and 1 as we climb the graffiti-covered staircase to the club. A shadow curves up the stairs with us. My stomach tightens as we follow a path of phone numbers and lewd advertisements. From the top, the King smiles at me with the same overstretched grimace as before, reaching a hand down. Shadows buzz around him. Maybe this was a bad idea. I take a breath and step inside this so-called paradise.

The walls are painted like rainforests. Ivy drips off a balcony outside. A fishpond lies sunken into the middle of the room. It paints the ceiling with the silvery glow of its water. Koi fish jet beneath the surface like shooting stars. Bouncers guard the edge of the room, roses tucked into their lapels. On the dance floor, girls dance with other girls, their lips too close and hands too wandering to just be friends.

We move to the bar where an ibis sings pop songs. The bartender, a lion-faced man with a mane pulled into a bun, serves us a shimmering drink in a coconut.

‘Ambrosia,’ he says. I take a sip. It is sweet. A pomegranate and strawberry blend. It tastes like summer, like immortality. My muscles instantly relax.

‘Dance?’ I ask, as I pull Athena onto the dance floor. The ibis sings Bohemian Rhapsody and we sing along. Athena’s eyes are closed, hips loose. Light dances across the glitter on her cheeks. Her hands run up my snakeskin tights and slip around my waist. I wrap my arms around her, letting our hips rub against each other. Her breath tickles my neck. My ponytail becomes looser with every song until my hair bounces on my shoulders. Athena wraps her hands in it. She is so beautiful. I draw her hair behind her ear and lean in. Just as I am about to kiss her, the King appears behind us.

‘Don’t you just love it here?’ he says, handing me another drink. As I sip it, I smile at him, slightly woozy, and take his hand.

‘It’s fantastic,’ I say.

He smells so sweet. Fruity. I pull him close to me. Athena is confused. She grabs my hand but I push her away. I take another sip as a bouncer taps her on the shoulder. The shadows swallow her, but I’m too busy staring into the endless galaxy of his eyes to notice.

We sip back the ambrosia, lining coconut after coconut along the bar while the ibis sings jazz tunes. It is just him and me now, everyone else has melted away. We laugh, heads thrown back, feet kicking. I kiss his cheek, his nose, his hands. The ambrosia has made me ravenous. The moon grows heavier as the song gets louder and I become drunker.

A slow dance plays, and his hand rests on the small of my back. We spin, dazzling and perfect, Cinderella and her king. ‘You and me, we are the golden ratio. We can be so beautiful,’ he says. ‘Together.’

I want this to be beautiful. I want to believe in this safety. It is so much easier. So I kiss him. I tuck my hair behind my ear, place my hand on his chest and kiss him. And it is perfect.

Until it isn’t. His mouth tastes of maraschino cherries. It is sour and artificial. My stomach turns. I push him away.

I’m going to be sick.

 

I find myself dry-heaving in the bathroom sink. A glass of pink liquor rests on the marble counter and I chuck it back, hoping it’ll soothe my stomach.

Then, he appears behind me. ‘Look how perfect we are. Together,’ he says.

I stare at my reflection in the mirror. My body redefines itself to his desire as his hand caresses my cheek. Sharp cheekbones. Plump lips. Curls graze against my shoulders, bouncing in a kind of effortlessness that takes hours to perfect. He kisses my neck. My breasts grow plumper and my waist grows thinner. Am I really this pretty?

I reach out to touch my reflection. It smears, leaving grease on my fingers and revealing the truth. Smudged mascara. Cracked lips. My t-shirt hugs my collarbone and hangs loosely, hiding any curves. The bathroom smells of vomit and cherry air freshener. I push him away from me.

‘This isn’t me. This is just an illusion. Just the promise of emptiness,’ I cry.

He grabs my wrist and spins me to face him. His fingers dig into my skin, and I feel the bones move. I gasp. I try to pull away but his grip is too strong. He pushes me back against the bathroom counter. The impact of the marble flashes up my spine and I’m ripped out of his fantasy. My vision goes black.

 

I sit across from Athena. Steam from a coffee machine perfumes the room. The cafe is filled with small children weaving between tables. Athena flicks grains of sugar at me and I hold my spoon up like a shield, giggling. Her nose scrunches at the bridge from the faces she pulls. I brush my fingers along her hand. This is the perfect day, the perfect future. The coffee machine splutters. Children knock a table and cutlery clashes to the floor. I look up, only to see him. He can’t be here. This is my dream. He doesn’t belong here.

Our cups explode into shards of porcelain. In the blast, I am torn away from her. Ivy wraps itself around her arms and she struggles to reach me. I try to crawl to her but something grabs my ankle, stopping me.

 

‘Wasn’t it easier to be with me?’ he asks ‘Isn’t this world safer?’

I knee him in the groin, and push him off me with more force this time. I dart out of the bathroom, back into the club. The music has stopped and shadows lurk on the dance floor. She has to still be here. But where?

The bottles behind the bar are filled with murky liquors, and the bartender bares his teeth at me. His mane slips free of its bun, flaring wildly around his face. She’s not near the barstools. I spin around the room. Crocodiles crawl out of the pond, snapping their jaws. Above me, bats hang from flickering lights. Snaps of light pierce through their wings like makeshift strobe lighting. I see no trace of her. Flapping wings swarm towards me, biting my neck and clawing at my face. I grab a fire extinguisher off the wall, and hold it like a weapon.

Something moves outside. Athena? I push through the glass doors, and out onto the balcony. She’s there, collapsed at the edge of the balcony. Her hair spills across the ground like spilt milk. Her arm is trapped beneath her body but reaches out, as if calling to me. Ivy from the balcony creeps towards her, twisting around her limbs- half-blanket, half-chains.

Oh God, be alive.

The King steps in front of her, appearing in a crack of thunder that buckles the concrete beneath us. He stands in the broad moonlight. Gnarled knuckles. Yellowing teeth. Skin stretched across his gaunt face. He is horrific. Why couldn’t I see it before?

The bouncers pour out from the club, onto the terrace. Their arms are covered in thorns. Pink petals have replaced their heads in the form of a grotesque face. They circle me, standing side-by-side with interlinking arms. The thorns grow across their chests until I am trapped in a caged rose bush. I swing the base of the extinguisher at the wall, hoping to make a hole.

The cage barely even budges. Instead, the thorns grow around it, swallowing the tank. I punch the guarded wall. Kick it. Flail against it. The rose faces just blink at me. A leafy arm uncurls itself from the cage and wraps itself around my neck. Its grip is just tight enough to make me gulp for air. Thorns dig in and drops of blood seep out staining the neckline of my shirt.

‘Come with me and you can save her,’ the King says. ‘I can protect you. Be the home you always wanted. You could be free from all of this pain.’

The cherry smell appears again, forcing me to imagine a life with him. The small suburb. The Toyota. The dog. The smiles shared with neighbours while taking out the bins. A peaceful life. Without Athena.

I remember the way her breath tickled me on the dance floor. The way her hands, those soft hands, accept me, the way they always have. The way she felt like safety more than anything else in the world. More than anyone else.

Here I stand, a girl in front of a king.

Fuck him.

I shove my hand through the cage of thorns. They scrap up the length of my arms, but I reach through. I won’t be paralysed by fear anymore. The petals flake away. Pink turns to brown, then dust. Thorns fall apart. The tendrils release their grip on me. The extinguisher clanks to the ground and rolls near my feet.

I pick it up and turn to face the King.

‘You were never protection. Only decay.’

The metal extinguisher is cool in my hand. I raise it. Point it at his face. Something fills his eye, perhaps fear. I squeeze.

Snowflakes line his eyelashes. He blinks and frost grows across his skin. He crashes to the floor. Gone.

Athena wakes up in a gasp. The ivy withers, shrinking back onto the balcony. I run to her.

‘You are my family. My home. I want you. I will always want you,’ I tell her.

I kiss her.

 

The sky has sweetened since we entered the club. We walk up the black footpath to Wynyard station and slip onto a train just as the doors close. Something draws my glance back to the platform. A man stares at me, hair slicked back.

 

*

 

I sneak Athena into my bed as the morning takes its first breath.

‘Tell me a story,’ I say.

She creates a constellation, pinning together the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling. ‘In a great empire kissed by the gods, no one has to hide between moth-laced jumpers,’ she starts. ‘There, we are bright stars, luminescent, gorgeous.’

I close my eyes. ‘Where is this world?’

‘Far away,’ she sighs. She rolls over to me and rests her chin on my chest.

Here, we are still less than beautiful.

But, for now, it is enough.

 

 

Download a PDF of ‘Bright Star’

Tagged , , , ,

Ghosting, James Renshaw

 

Ghosting                                             Ghost

 

Hey                                                                                 Hey

    . . .                   . . .

 

I thought we could make it                  I couldn’t bear the thought

an idea formed from intimate               this idea made from vague

stop-motion pictures, brief initiatives would unravel me,

snaps of the blind flash                       would lace us in the blind

fiction, a coming of age                       flash fiction, reeling films

text-to-speech in motion, then out of speechless emotions,

coffee with conversations,                   coffee stains painting us

eyes; we’re parting our lips exchanging breaths; eyes

     opened, closed, opened, closed, opened, closed,

and the world can be real –                 and the world can’t be real –

 

our sudden escalations                       this I know will escalate

to nowhere. Or if that                           to nowhere. Or if that

     somewhere was a place I’d be sure that I’d be

for pixel parks – hidden                       safe from myself – hidden

in the flood of Wi-Fi signals                 in a tangle of Wi-Fi signals,

to the sent histories, lingering              bogged down in the cache,

with scents dug into my bed ruminating over fragments

sheets, and memoirs of a spoon          left indented on the outskirts

      indented on the right – of your physical life.

you were melding with me                   How could we materialise

in the middle of it all.                           in the middle of it all,

 

I was morphing our existence,             complacent in this existence –

now knowing you after knowing me knowing after you knowing now

you as hexadecimal. Maybe               of these consequential infinities?

it’s me who’s locked within                 I don’t want to barricade you

the handset infinite regress, within my firewalls and 4G

        here where we shift out fortresses of cybernetics

the bones of our conscience – connected to the white skins

I didn’t know we could                        and shuffling flesh. I can’t

when we siphon fluid words                bleed the veins of my words –

from our thumbs and risk it                 I’ll pour until our voices turn

   in some level of purgatory dust in purgatory drought,

decay in digital permanence.              rotting under our fleeting guise.

 

But deletion is permanence, or            But deletion is fleeting, and

a paradox when a ghost                      freedom when a human

kisses me, holds me,                         holds me, kisses me, takes

leaves a spoon indented                      my soul and indents it

on the right edge of the bed, in the outskirts of his life,

and any further traces                         and any further traces

         found in ideas formed of lost ideas made shared

from these cold stop-motion                from warm, vague initiatives

pictures and brief snaps from              unravelled in these films from

the blind flash fiction is                       the blind flash fiction, is

           framed for a profile, framed for a memory,

empty and without a name.                 locked away without a body.

 

Swipe Right                 Swipe Left


 

Tagged , , ,

Weathering the Storm, Claire Jones

Naomi stared up into the sky, darker and more threatening than the Sunday Nippers were used to.

The girls huddled together, like penguins in their matching swimsuits, trying to stay warm and protected from the sand being hurled at them by gusts of icy wind. The notoriously flat Collaroy surf was large and violent today. The water events had been called off and the sand events, Naomi hoped, would shortly follow.

‘Alright, Under Fourteens,’ the supervisor called, ‘take your marks.’

Reluctantly, the girls separated and took their places – their backs facing the water. Naomi knelt on the sand, inching back until her toes found the groove of the freshly drawn line. She gave a quick glance down the line of competitors before lying flat on her stomach. The sand felt cold against her body as she folded her hands neatly on top of each other, elbows out to the side.

‘Heads up.’

Naomi raised her head up from the sand and stared out at the Collaroy Surf Club in front of her. The normally bright yellow building dulled in the absence of any sun. She turned her gaze right, about a kilometre down the sand, to the two-story houses that lined the beach – hers amongst them. In their back garden that opened onto the sand stood the lean-to shelter her father had built. It displayed the first surfboard he’d ever used and his father’s before that, spanning four generations. The limited space of the lean-to was currently occupied by a small group of mothers, including her own, taking refuge from the wild weather. Naomi envied them.

‘Heads down.’

Naomi placed her chin back down on her folded arms, her body clenched tight with cold and nervous anticipation. The optimistically applied sunscreen stuck grains of sand to her arms, smelling thickly of creamy chemicals and salt.

Phwoot!

The whistle blew and Naomi jumped to her feet, turning to run into the wind for the hosepipes sticking out of the sand a few meters behind her. She plucked a hose from the end of the row as she ran past it, sand hitting her legs as two girls beside her dove for the same flag. Satisfied, she gave the hose to the supervising lifeguard and returned to the start as the course was reset.

Walking back to the line, she picked her father out from amongst a group of lifesavers gathered closely together under the big red tent. This wasn’t unusual, quite the opposite, but Naomi could tell from the way he and the others were standing, furrowed brows and arms crossed or gesticulating wildly between the waves and the buildings, that something was off. She lay back down on her stomach, ready for the whistle. But her eyes and mind were still on her father. It’s not a shark, or someone in trouble, or they’d by running for the rubber ducky, she thought. A big rip? No, they don’t need a group talk about moving the flags. What’s going on?

Lost in thought, she didn’t register the starting whistle, springing up a second after the others. Damn! She was close enough to her neighbour to be in with a chance if she dived, but Naomi didn’t like diving into the sand – that’s what the ocean was for. She kicked at the sand where the flag had been and headed over to the tent.

‘Out already, Naomi? What happened there?’ Paul asked.

Naomi shrugged. ‘Just wasn’t concentrating, I guess.’

‘Not to worry.’ Paul clapped her on the back. ‘You’ll get ‘em next time.’

‘Is everything okay? You’re all looking worried.’

Paul took a deep breath, recreating his troubled stance from before.

‘There’s a low pressure system moving in from the east, apparently bringing one heck of a storm with it.’

‘A cyclone?’

‘No, sorry love,’ Paul laughed. ‘Just a big, windy storm with some pretty sizable waves.’

‘Will you have to close the beach?’

‘Yeah, we’re starting to send people on their way now.’

Meanwhile, the company of mothers in their yard had dispersed. Trinny, Naomi’s least favourite of the mother’s group, approached them. Her whiter-than-white smile looking even more unnatural against the ever-darkening skies. Please don’t talk to us, please don’t talk to us, please don-

‘Paul! Darling! Young Mark over there was telling me you’ll likely be evacuated with these king tides. Well, you three are always welcome with us up on the plateau there. You could keep an eye on your house from the lounge!’ Paul smiled tightly while Naomi tried to mask her horror.

‘Thanks, Trinny. But we’ll be right. People like to over-warn to avoid lawsuits.’

‘Well, if you’re sure, darling. My door’s always open if you change your mind!’ Trinny gave Naomi’s arm an intrusive squeeze and, after an uncomfortable wink in Paul’s direction, she was gone.

Paul let out a frustrated sigh. ‘Look, Naomi… even if we end up being evacuated, it’ll only be as a precaution. Your mum will probably want to pack up a few things just in case. But I promise you, there’s nothing to worry about.’

Naomi felt a slightly terrified thrill working its way up her chest. Her cousins in the Blue Mountains had been evacuated countless times during the fire seasons, and she thought it sounded like quite an adventure. Nothing like that ever happened to Naomi and secretly, she resented it. Maybe this year she’d have a good story to share at the Christmas table.

The heavy clouds unleashed, rainfall rapidly building. The yellow sand turned dark and the beachgoers were sent packing. It was then that Naomi’s mother, Angela, arrived from the house, bringing Paul a travel mug of fresh coffee and a kiss on the cheek.

‘Will you be needed here for long?’

‘Only about an hour after the beach is closed. I think the weather will keep people away.’

‘I gave my mother a call after I saw the storm warnings. She’s happy to have us if needs be.’

‘Thank god,’ Naomi said with relief, ‘I’d rather drown than spend ten minutes with Trinny.’

‘Naomi!’ Angela gasped, giving her a light slap on the shoulder. ‘We’d better get to the house, start packing what we can.’

‘Just in case,’ insisted Paul.

‘Just in case.’ Naomi nodded back.

 

 *

That evening, Naomi stood at the window of her unlit bedroom, the immense power of the storm shaking the window in its frame. It was exhilarating being so close to the raw elements, only the tremoring glass pane separating her from the thrashing storm. The rain pounded relentlessly on every surface. The streetlight cast the trees’ shadows against her wall, moving violently from side to side. The weakest were branches ripped from the trunks and flung in every direction. She was transfixed. What would that feel like, to be at nature’s mercy? Could I end up in Oz, like Dorothy?

A deafening crack came from somewhere nearby and the street was plunged into darkness. Before iPhones, a blackout always meant her parents pulling down the candles from the top of the pantry, the three of them sitting in the dim light around the dining room table. They’d draw pictures and play cards or board games until it was time for bed. That was the part Naomi looked forward to most. Getting ready for bed while her mother followed her around with a candle made her feel like an eighteenth century princess. For nostalgia’s sake, she fumbled through her cupboards for a candle and matches by the light of her phone. She placed the lit candle on the windowsill and sat down in the middle of the room, hugging her crossed legs to her chest and staring at the orange glow against the black.

Not long after the blackout the Emergency Evacuation Alert had come through on their phones. Naomi was breathless; whether from fear or excitement she could not tell. She bombarded her parents with questions as they drove their packed car up to Angela’s mother’s house on higher ground, asking, could their house get flooded? (Possibly.) Would next-door’s fish drown? (No.) Could Grandma get evacuated too? (Unlikely.) After much fussing from her grandmother, Naomi had settled on a roll-out bed in front of the unseasonably lit living room fire, her parents on the fold-out couch behind her. The fire crackled, it’s heat warming her face. Rain pelted down in the background , the occasional clap of thunder barely discernible above the wind. Naomi had assumed her parents had fallen asleep until her father spoke softly.

‘Say it.’

‘What?’

‘I know what you’re thinking, just say it.’

Angela sighed reluctantly. ‘I’d feel a lot better right now if the sea wall had been put in. I wouldn’t keep imagining the beach collapsing from under our house.’

‘Ange, if a seawall had been put in, there’d be no beach to collapse. No nippers for Naomi, no life saving for me. Just a kilometre-long concrete slab.’

‘You don’t know that, Paul. Not for sure.’ Angela paused before mumbling, ‘I don’t think Naomi even likes nippers.’

Naomi could remember the seawall causing conflict between her parents a year or two before.

 

*

‘Do you know what we’re doing here, Naomi?’

Naomi shook her head, eyes squinting in the glare of the morning sun. Her hand felt tiny, grasped in her father’s.

‘We’re drawing a line in the sand,’ Paul said.

Naomi looked out at the line of people stretched along the beach, from Narrabeen to Collaroy, where they stood.

‘Woah! It looks like hundreds of people!’

‘Thousands!’ Paul grinned widely.

‘Millions?!’

‘No, honey,’ Angela said flatly, adjusting her sunglasses and looking at her watch.

The seawall had been a contentious topic at the dinner table the night before.

‘There’s no evidence that sea walls will prevent coastal erosion,’ Paul had insisted. ‘In fact, it may well do the opposite. The water will just hit the walls and drag the sand back in. Eventually there’ll be no beach left.’

‘Trinny was saying -’ Angela started.

‘Oh god, not Trinny.’

‘She was saying that the council could use all the sand they dredge from Narrabeen Lake and some of the other lagoons to replenish the beach.’

‘That’s not just sand, that’s sediment and sea grass and all sorts of crap. Do you want to turn our beach grey? That Trinny is an idiot.’

‘Let’s hear your great idea then, Paul.’

Paul leant back in his chair, clasping his hands behind his head. ‘Not my job. That’s what the local government and its fancy think tanks are for.’

Angela had simply shaken her head in an angry silence as she cleared up the plates to the kitchen.

‘We’ll show ‘em what’s what at the protest tomorrow, eh?’ Paul had said to Naomi with a wink. Naomi scrunched up the left side of her face and blinked hard in an attempt to wink back.

 

 *

The storm raged on for another twenty-four hours. Naomi was glued to her iPhone, transfixed by the images and videos on social media capturing the increasing severity of the damage. Narrabeen Lake had spilled over, flooding sections of the main road. People were filmed kayaking in the side streets.

‘Idiots,’ Angela said, shaking her head.

‘Still not as stupid as the people driving through the flood waters,’ Paul replied.

‘You wouldn’t run into a bushfire, so don’t drive into a flood,’ Naomi read aloud from her Facebook feed. Then she saw it.

An eleven second clip taken the night before by one of the Collaroy residents, showing a backyard pool being dragged into the sea along with barbeques, garbage bins and outdoor furniture. Police lights flashed in the background. What was on the other side of the pool punctured a hole in Naomi’s stomach. Is that…

Her back garden. At least, it was where her back garden used to be. Now it was a straight drop into the tide, barely a metre from their back door.

‘Dad? Dad!

The lean-to was gone. The family’s boards were nowhere to be seen. The table, chairs, her mother’s roses, those were replaceable. But…

‘Shit.’

‘Paul! Language!’ Paul took the phone from Naomi and showed it to Angela.

‘Oh my god. Oh, Paul. Wha – what do we – how will…’ Angela trailed off in despair. Paul handed Naomi her phone. He left the room without a word. Naomi felt paralysed. She had wanted something exciting to happen. But nothing like this. She felt her mother’s arms wrap around her shoulders.

‘It’s okay, Nomi,’ Angela whispered. ‘We’ll be okay.’

 

*

Naomi waded into shore, looking out at the reserve that now separated Collaroy beach from Pittwater road. Small children with ice cream-smeared faces played on the grass as their parents watched from a picnic table. That used to be my living room. Water dripped from her hair onto the sand as she bent to collect her belongings. She straightened, car keys firmly in hand, and noticed her father’s dusky orange van beside her dented Mazda in the car park. She spotted him stepping off the short wall that separated grass from sand. He held a close-to-melting ice cream in each hand.

‘A graduation present.’ Paul held out an ice cream. ‘Congratulations.’

Naomi exchanged it for a kiss on the cheek and sat down on the wall, toes digging into the dry sand. It’d been six months since she saw him last. She’d stayed with him in Byron Bay shortly after her mother’s wedding, Naomi and her grandmother vacating the house in lieu of a proper honeymoon.

‘How long are you here for this time?’ Naomi asked, catching drips of ice cream with her tongue.

‘Just for the week, then I’ll spend a few days in Coff’s on my way back. Do you want to join me?’

Naomi counted out the days in her head, realising with disappointment that she had to work.

‘Another time.’ Paul promised.

Naomi watched as Paul looked around behind her, biting into the cone as he contemplated the recreational area standing in place of the houses. Once it had become clear the large-scale storms would be a more than annual occurrence, beachfront homes at Collaroy, like Naomi’s, were no longer viable. Bit by bit, the land was sold back to the state and transformed into a reserve. Though Paul had held out for as long as possible, Angela and Naomi having already moved in permanently with Naomi’s grandmother, the fight was eventually one he could no longer afford.

Naomi gave him a friendly nudge. ‘At least the beach is still here, right?’

‘Yeah,’ Paul conceded. ‘They could’ve done worse.’

‘Speaking of, Dad…’

‘Mm?’

‘Trinny sends her love.’

‘Naomi, that’s not even funny.’

 

Download a PDF of ‘Weathering the Storm’

Tagged , , , ,

The Nightlight, Kate Dawson

Gail watched as the house across the road continued to burn. She saw others gathered outside pointing and staring, children crying and that mutt from next door yelping.  There was a body only metres from the house, lying face down in the grass. It looked like a man. He was wearing pyjamas. Her fingertips turned white as she squeezed the rail of the balcony. The flames were eating away at that weatherboard house. She didn’t know her neighbour very well but had seen him in passing. An odd fellow with glasses, who was always fidgeting or rushing somewhere. And there were always dark circles under his eyes. She should probably call that woman, Joan. The one who had come around one afternoon bearing lemon slice and wishing to speak about Gail’s new neighbour. The one who had been worried about her son; she had begged Gail to watch out for him. The distant sound of sirens grew closer as a fire truck sped down their little street. The firemen ran as fast as they could in their huge boots.

 

*

 

Matt was supposed to outgrow his nightlight, but it hadn’t gone to Vinnies with his old clothes. Neither had it been stuffed away in a drawer. While it was plugged into the wall, it ensured his safety from the horrors outside. The orange glow from beside his bed encouraged books, shoes and an outdated computer to come to life; they were shadows on the wall. An open notebook lay on the desk, with envelopes of mail beside it. Some were torn open, while some remained sealed. The light let the room be filled with a warmth, rather than a presence. But there was a rustling and Matt’s eyes snapped open.

Something was outside.

It’s just a possum, he thought and closed his eyes again. But another noise scraped the side of the house, as if a tree branch had decided it would grow a fingernail. His eyes sprung open once more and he creased his brow. There it was again.  It’s just an animal. It is not a person standing outside the window. Matt tried to pull the curtains shut tighter, not willing to invite the darkness in. He tossed over to the other side and pulled the blanket back over him. The night continued to age and soon Matt was asleep.

Outside the wind grew and the trees shook, dancing to show off their moves and rid themselves of extra weight. Blades of grass moved as one. The limbs of trees relocated to new places, some finding refuge on the corrugated iron roof. The roof, however, would not accept these visitors silently.

The orange snapped into blackness, shadows became invisible. Matt sprang up, wheezing for air. He went to grab his glasses from the bedside table and felt his hand knock them. There was the unmistakable sound of plastic skating across wood and hitting the wall.

Damn it.

The glasses were trapped behind the bedside table.

‘No…no…no.’

Light was his priority. Matt tried to switch his nightlight back on – nothing.

He shouted for his parents.

Matt rolled to the floor from his bed and began to crawl, shivering though his body was covered in sweat. His fingers gripped at the thick carpet, afraid of what lay ahead. The smell of satay noodles drifted through the air from the takeaway Matt had ordered earlier. Dinner seemed so long ago.

‘Mum, Dad,’ he whispered, but the response – nothing.

Hand after hand he crept ahead, searching for the doorframe. When his hand found it he reached up along the wood, clutching the wall for support as he grasped for that switch. Hopefully it was only the nightlight that was broken, but the switch clicked without gifting any light. He slumped back to the floor, still shaking. Where are my parents? Are they even alive? Are they tied up?  He could hear his heart pounding in his chest and his breath was loud and quick. He brought his knees in close and held them tight, trying to stay still and silent so no one would know he was there. His eyes weren’t adjusting to the night. Without his glasses, they couldn’t.

My parents don’t live here.

He realised he had been calling out to strangers or to no one. So they might still be alive.

In the kitchen, there would be a torch, but that was miles away. And with the wind still speaking, who knew what was out there? How could he go out unarmed? But if he didn’t risk it, he would not make it through the night. The rustling sound came again and then that fingernail scraping. He covered his ears and sunk into the carpet.

‘Stop, stop, stop,’ he whispered, begging as he clutched at his ears, shaking on the floor. The sound eventually faded. Matt carefully lifted his hands from his ears, hoping whatever it was couldn’t see him.

He had to get to the light, which meant getting to the kitchen. If he crawled, then he wouldn’t knock himself out by bumping into anything. It will be safer. He placed his hands back on the carpet, reached ahead to make sure it was clear, and began to crawl. The wind had started outside again. Or was it rain? It was difficult to tell. It had a voice that screeched and howled like a banshee.

Matt felt like he’d been crawling forever. Reaching his foot back, he hoped for it to reach nothing but carpet. It touched the doorframe.

‘Shit.’

Trying not to be discouraged, he continued forward.

He tried to slow his breathing. ‘Just take a deep breath and focus,’ is what a psychologist would have said, had he ever been brave enough to go. But the hypnotherapist his mother had sent him to as a child hadn’t helped.

An animal cry pierced the darkness. Matt covered his mouth to stifle the scream he felt rising in his throat. Is that thing in here?

Then it happened again.

What is that?

A dogRelax, probably belongs to the neighbours to complement their irritating kids. 

Matt’s hand touched something sticky. He shuddered and tried to ignore the germs that must be writhing within the fibres of the carpet. Wiping his hand on the carpet to remove the stickiness, he bumped the leather couch to his left. He needed to change direction soon. Only now did he realise the painful irony that he hadn’t bought those sensor lights. The ones he had been looking at in Bunnings only a few days before. They were so magical. You walked past them and suddenly – light! That beautiful thing that allowed us to see and gave us warmth. Curse you sun for not being out all day and night. Forget the other side of the world! We need it more. I need it more.

His face knocked into a wooden chair. His eyes tried to make out the shapes in front of him, but they didn’t look familiar. He’d forgotten where things were placed in the house. His eyes squinted as he looked ahead at the distortions in front of him, which were fuzzy around the edges. They could be pieces of furniture, or just as easily a ghost or creature. These shapes reminded him of an earlier time when he didn’t wear glasses, when everything was blurry or seen in double. As a child he’d felt like his friends had evil twins. He had a sharp sense of hearing, but his sight had always been both terrible and frightening.

Matt moved ahead, weaving around objects through the carpet, dirt and hair.

His own hair covered the tips of his ears and his mum had always disliked it. She would complain it was too long and nag him to get it cut. His fingernails were ripped short; he hadn’t been able to kick the habit of tearing the tips when they grew to a reasonable length. The flannel pyjama pants hid his lean body from the world. And that was the way he liked it, never wearing shorts that would expose his pale chicken legs.

A cold, smooth sensation ran under his hand, interrupting his train of thought. He pulled it away instinctively as if he were trying to avoid a burn from a pot. But he had to continue on, so he reluctantly placed his hand back on the surface, trying to decipher this new texture.

Lino. Could it be?

The kitchen.

Relieved, he wiggled forward and placed his other hand to accept the cold and felt his knees hard against the floor. The usual humming of the fridge was silent, as if it had lost its voice. The silence was not his friend. He reached to the left letting his hand find the kitchen drawers. He felt the edges and figured out which one was the third drawer, ‘the miscellaneous drawer’ he had called it when he first moved in. He now regretted making that secret hideaway of random junk which had no place. He searched the drawer for that keyring-torch-thing his Mum had given him last Christmas. He had thanked her, knowing she was just trying to help. She had always been worried and had hoped he would grow out of it. But when he didn’t, when the fear followed him, she had felt helpless. The keyring was a gift meant as kindness, but really it just drew attention to everything, to the darkness, to his inability to sleep through the night. To the fact he had fallen short of being a man.

He didn’t want to look at the torch and be reminded of what it represented, as it   dangled next to his keys.

So he’d hidden it, and now was sifting through the drawer for it. But in amongst everything else, he could not find it. His hands fumbled through the drawer, passing over pegs, Blu-tack, batteries, an emergency pack of cigarettes. Then his hand came across a small box with a rough edge. A nervous but excited laugh escaped his lips and hung in the darkness. He shook the box and heard the small pieces of wood hit the sides. He attempted to light a match, but it didn’t take. His hands were shaking as he tried another. Light spread in front of him as a flame was born. An unsteady glow of light allowed the shadows to dance and sway. Matt exhaled in relief and continued rummaging through the junk searching for the torch. The flame of the match bounced around, providing little light to assist.

Then there was a sound at his feet. Matt stopped and looked around trying to figure out what made the scuttling sound. Something hairy ran across his foot. Gasping, Matt jumped backwards trying to escape what he hoped he had imagined. He could not shake the feeling of that thing. He felt it all over him. His shoulders hunched and his hands curled into fists. Then he noticed light in the corner of his eye. Matt turned towards it, towards the fire that was spreading across the carpet. The hand that held the match was empty. His eyes widened as he stepped back. The fire was growing, fast. He had to do something.

He yanked the tablecloth from the dining table, sending the fruit bowl spinning and a mug crashing to the floor. He threw the tablecloth over the fire hoping it would smother it, that the fire would surrender. For a second it worked. But then the edge of the tablecloth began to burn and smoke seeped out as the fire began to consume the fabric. Matt leapt backwards and pulled his pyjama top over his mouth, trying to avoid the harsh smoke filling his lungs. This smoke wasn’t comforting like a cigarette. This smoke was evil; it wanted to swallow you. It stung Matt’s eyes. He had to get out of there.

Dropping to his hands and knees, Matt headed for the door. It was becoming even more of a challenge to breathe and the fire was bright. Sweat dripped from his skin. When he hit the door he scrambled to open it, thumping and banging, trying to escape. When he found the handle he screamed as he touched it, withdrawing his stinging hand. He used his shirt to cover his hand, and turning the handle he finally rolled out into the darkness and onto the grass. The darkness brought a cool freeing air to his lungs. He felt the grass on his cheek and rolled over to get more air, his hand throbbing and his face and eyes wet. Outside suddenly felt so safe.

 

*

 

There were shouts from the road and a child crying. Neighbours had gathered outside and the sound of sirens were loud. A middle aged lady appeared in front of him asking if he was okay, waving a blurry hand to see if he could understand her. He tried to answer but his energy had left him. Attempting a nod was the only response he could return. At the sound of footsteps he turned to see firefighters run past in black and yellow, helmets and masks covering their faces. The lady told him she would call his mother and rushed to get him some water. The glow from the house softened as the firefighters shouted commands to each other.

The nightlight hadn’t survived.  It would be nothing more than a piece of melted plastic within his empty home. Tomorrow he would face the night again and he would face it alone.

 

 

Download a PDF of ‘The Nightlight’

Tagged , , , , ,