Friday, September 30, 2005


Deborah Biancotti, guest blogging

Spring, damn Spring, it's an itch. I can't think in Spring, can't focus, can't not move (restlessly). Can't settle.

In Spring I am too aware of my skin and every little thing. I am too awake.

This Spring morning: I was thirsty. I was bored. I got up from my desk and walked in the (damn Spring) sunshine to my regular coffee spot and -- unable to decide between my usual mocha coffee or a diet coke from the fridge -- ordered both. Not that caffeine was what I needed. I already had the jitters. Maybe I thought if I filled in my natural shivers with caffeinated ones, I'd smooth out.

While I waited, restless, shifting from foot to foot, I scanned the breakfast bits lined up like a colourful army in front of me. Friands and almond horseshoes and ham-and-cheese-on-turkish-bread and more. I wanted a bite out of all of them.

Beside the obligatory banana bread (cut thick, perfect for toasting and serving under melted butter) was a sweet, sticky, pale yellow loaf of mango & coconut bread. I imagined it caramelising under a grill and cursed them for leaving it where I could see it and want it. But I've long learned to outwit myself. In my pocket was just enough change for the caffeine. I would have to give something up to have the bread.

And Spring, stupid, stupid Spring, made it impossible to decide.

So I trudged back with my hands full of hot and cold running caffeine and all that damn Spring hanging heavy in the air above me. Spring fattening up the morning light and making everything beautiful, even the spill of coffee foam through a small gap in the cup's lid. Even the guy in the light blue t-shirt jogging across the sidewalk in front of me, even the oblivious, slouching kid who almost elbowed me in the gut at the lights. Even that grungy second-hand record store on the corner. Even that. All beautiful, all distracting, all desirable, all potential. All dissatisfying. All adding to the itch, the delicious season of discontent, that made me want to eat the very air.

Deborah Biancotti lives and writes in Sydney, Australia, except for the times when it's impossible to write because everything is so distracting. You can find other online consumption at and

Thursday, September 29, 2005


Ben Peek guest blogging

After spending a week locked in writing to hit various deadlines by today (of which the last will be hit this afternoon) I finally grew sick of staring at the computer and took off to watch a film.

Fortunately, there's a new cinema opened up where I live, and they're offering cheap tickets to see films. Which is good, because I actually won tickets to see Serenity, but then missed the phone call that would ensure that the free tickets would be sent out to me. Still, I'm used to the world ripping me off for cash these days. I can't go five steps before a cinema decides to up its prices, or petrol decides to jump at an even more alarming rate. It's just depressing. Equally depressing for me has been the sight of hundreds of hidden posts about Serenity so that as they can't share spoilers. I skipped them because I thought, you know, maybe the film had some serious spoiler moments, but apart from one moment in the film it's all pretty by the numbers, so there's not much to spoil, really. But I've noticed that's the mentality of people when they get near the Whedon stuff, as if it were somehow difficult to pick out how the plot is going to unfold.

Be as that may, this post is about Serenity. If you're afraid of learning that there is big space battle and a scene in a bar, I suppose you ought to stop reading.

Serenity, for those not in the know, is the film spawned from Joss Whedon's failed tv series, Firefly. Both are about a small crew of smugglers on board a small spaceship that go around and rob banks and smuggle goods, but do it while upholding some sort of vague code of honour that all the officials who Rule the Galaxy don't appear to uphold. The crew is lead by Captain Mal Reynolds, whose character is pretty much what I described for the whole crew, but with a bit of a Southern twang. In his crew he has 1 Second in Charge, 1 Pilot, 1 Dumb Gun Totting Nut, 1 Mechanic, 1 Doctor, and 1 Doctor's Experimented On Sister. He no longer has 1 Prostitute and 1 Priest, since the first character has taken off to the Prostitute Training House due to her feelings for the Captain as per the end of the series, and the Priest, for reasons never quite explained in the film, has taken up on a hideaway called Haven. It's pretty obvious from the outset what happens to priests who take up in hideaways called Haven and harbour their old crewmates--a flashing neon sign would have been less subtle, I thought. Still, the reason why the crew takes up in Haven is because they are being hunted by the Alliance who want River (Doctor's Experimented On Sister) dead because she, also a psychic, has overheard things which would be bad for a shadowy Government that you cannot trust.

Incidentally, there's a rampaging group of cannibals touring around space that no one knows where they came from. Should I draw you a map?

The problem I had when I approached Serenity was that it had to be able to justify itself as a film to me. One of the things that I've never gotten into is Star Trek films. None of them feel much like films, but instead feel more like things created to serve the TV audience, and play off plots and points there. The last Trek film I saw, which had mechanical hive entity people in it called the Borg, had me leaning over to Jesus and saying, "What's going on?" Serenity, for me, had to be a self contained film, and not simply the continuation of the TV series... and from the outset, it is apparent that Serenity is simply a two hour condensed version of the last half of the first season of Firefly.

Now, I liked Firefly, so I liked Serenity, up and to a point. However, as alluded to by not using any of the characters names, the film is forced to jettison pretty much all of the characterisation so that it doesn't become unwieldy, which is why the priest is shoved off on a different planet, I suspect. With the exception of Mal, the rest of the characters are reduced to single notes. The Gun Nut is comedy relief. The Doctor and the Mechanic provide some sort of romance. The Doctor also provides conflict with the Captain over his Damaged Sister. Is that two notes? Well, you get the picture. It is inevitable that this would happen with such a large cast and smaller screen time to create a full experience, and to a certain extent, if you've knowledge of the series, this knowledge helps counteract that because you can read inbetween the lines--which is what you're required to do a lot with the Prostitute and the Captain when they come back into contact. It's not difficult to find the romance, but the back story, the reason why the Captain is so eager to save her, why her deciding to stay at the end... these beats in the film gain a fuller resolution only if you have watched the series. Without that, it's hollow.

What makes Whedon work, when he does, is that he can have excellent character moments and dialogue. Since the film feels like it is condensing twelve episodes of TV plot, a lot of those moments are lost. Adam Baldwin's Gun Nut and the Captain are probably the only two that escape with any memorable moments outside the big fights that River and the Captain and the Spaceship are in. However, other Whedon trademarks are there, starting from the long, uncut establishing shots of the main characters, which is probably the finest moment of the film, to a plot that feels as if it has been lifted straight from a video game. TO DEFEAT THE EVIL ALLIANCE, it is read, YOU MUST UNLOCK A DAMAGED GIRL'S SECRETS TO REVEAL AN EVEN DARKER SECRET THAT WILL CHANGE THE GALAXY. That kind of plot has worked for Whedon in the past, but for every time it has, there are equal examples of it not working and, as with when it hasn't worked, it's hard for the audience to really give a shit about what that secret is. This is one of those cases.

The last real disappointment I have with the film is that, look wise, it hasn't changed from the TV series. Sure, there's a bit more money in the special affects, but the spaceship battle at the end doesn't come anywhere near the spectacle of Star Wars, nor the beauty. Sure, the Star Wars films aren't as interesting, characterwise, as Serenity, but they have a beautiful look. Likewise, every time they end up on a planet, it either looks like a cheap back lot set, missing the borderland beauty that can be evoked as Sergio Leone did so well in Once Upon A Time in the West, or the slick, futuristic city feel of... well, Star Wars, again, I guess. To make these comparisons is not, I might add, wrong. Serenity is a film. What can be excused on television because of budget and time, cannot be excused here. There is time. There is money. The look of the film does not have to be that of a television show. Indeed, even a TV show doesn't have to look so cheap now, as anyone who has seen Deadwood will agree.

That said, I want to add again at that end that while it sounds like I didn't like Serenity, the truth is, I did like it. I just liked it because I liked Firefly, however, and I didn't understand why it was a film now, since it hadn't been improved or changed at all.

It was just the end of season one.

Ben Peek is a Sydney based author. Follow the link to learn more. Jeff's Evil Monkey: So, like, I'm confused. What did you like in the film? Ben: Um. Well. It ended season one well. Jeff's Evil Monkey: That's it? Ben: That's it. Jeff's Evil Monkey: ... Ben: Er, Gina Torres is hot? Jeff's Evil Monkey: You suck.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Ben Peek guest-blogging

On the bus I sat next to a nineteen year old guy with one ear. I wanted to ask him how he lost it. Knife fights, love, a tragic chainsaw accident... But by the time I had listed all the ways you could lose an ear, he had left. Outside the window the World had a decidedly odd bent and I watched it. It seemed like the thing to do.

(Ben Peek keeps a blog. He is currently sitting with Jeff's Evil Monkey and listening to the Mountain Goats' The Sunset Tree.)


Anna Tambour, guest blogging

This is just an introduction and a smattering of artists--an arbitrary list, not anything definitive. I don't have anything to do with any of these people/organisations.

NOTE: Many of these sites are kept up as well as people sweep behind their stoves, but when has that ever mattered?

Fantasy Art in Australia

A little list, in no particular order:

Australian Fantasy Art Enclaves

Australian Illustrators Online

Marilyn Pride

Les Petersen

Nick Stathopolous

Tim Ide

Shane Parker

Australian political cartooning

Here's another site you might be interested in--just launched:
The Visionary Art Forum


Kate Eltham, guest blogging

After my cane toad comment on Brendan Duffy's blog post, here's a story about the psychadelic qualities of cane toads.

I suppose that's one application for the word troppo-licious, eh Ben?

(Kate Eltham lives in Brisbane, Australia. She has never licked a cane toad, all behavioural evidence to the contrary.)


Anna Tambour, guest blogging

Ben Peek has been painting a brilliant picture of Sydney. But like a painting that's been painted over, there's something more going on . . .

The shop is the ground floor parlour of a typical Sydney inner-city (1880s suburban) terrace--14-foot wide; style, in admiration Mr Pooter's home, of "Diary of a Nobody" fame; dimensions, a railroad car. The house lot is 14-foot wide. It sweats in the summer, streams down the inside walls in the rain, and freezes its occupants in the winter, though the winters are mild outdoors. Air and light are alien.

Ask the old man in the shop for anything, and his answer is the same. "No. Out of it." Today he's just said no to a request for salt, from the only person who bothered to come in from the light. The only things left on his shelf are, in fact, one packet of Sao biscuits, a bleached roll of Ford Pills ("Keeping you looking trim and healthy.Keeps you really regular") and three hard boxes of Saxa salt.

His window looks obliquely at the neighbourhood tuck shop. It's almost dinner (lunch) for the rubber factory, the marble works, the paint makers. The sandwiches have just been made, enough for the rush--cheese and tomato, ham and pickle (pickle is a yellow stuff that looks like something Van Gogh used). The tuckshop woman is almost ready for the blokes to stream in through the plastic slats of her doorway. There's only one thing left to do: give the sandwiches a final go-over with a spray of Aeroguard.

The ghost window smells the flyspray wafting out of the tuck shop, just as it smells years of mutton, potatoes, and cabbage from its own owner's tea (dinner), the same day after day. The ghost window hears the trots of a summer evening--in two ways: from the radio, and travelling on the summer air, from the races only a short walk away. The ghost window watches the foot traffic on a weekend, headed for the only two places open to fill your needs--lay your bets; and buy your grog. Bread? Had to have bought it already. Workers' rights, you know.

The ghost window sees this world because it does not understand the worlds that crashed into it in the next startlingly few years. It doesn't understand the new people who came to scavenge the sites of the torn-down factories, looking for wood, which they burnt in the tiny coal fireplaces of their terraces--the terraces being renovated by owner builders, often in the secrecy of night. They'd strip their kitchen walls to expose the bricks, making the house even gloomier, but then they'd pop a skylight in, and a window that looked out on the cemented strip of "garden" out back--which had to be dealt with, too, though privacy? Where could anyone get any privacy? These people who had to pick nails out of their fire grates didn't last long, many of them. They got tired of walking around wrapped in blankets in the winter. They tired of the unfixable problems of these developer-built houses, built on rubble and of rubble; all unfixable cracks and entrenched mildew.

The ghost window watched these people, as it watches the new ones now-- the apartment dwellers--. Where the tuck shop was, a gallery sits now. The neighbourhood air is filled with new smells unidentifiable to the ghost neighbourhood.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Kate Eltham, guest blogging

I saw the first jacaranda blooms today. Years ago that used to mean it was time to shit my pants because end of year exams were looming. These days it means the only thing looming is summer. Within a few weeks there will be violent explosions of purple all over the city. The jacaranda trees blossom in Brisbane when spring slides into summer, and weather that was balmy and breezy and give-a-shit begins its inexorable descent into sultry, sticky, and troppo-licious. This is the sort of weather that elicits a certain kind of rabid psychosis in the Clarion South students.

Kate Eltham lives in Brisbane, Australia. She works as a creative industries consultant which is a fancy schmancy way of saying she helps creative people to make a living from their creativity. She is a founding member of Fantastic Queensland, a ragtag band of adventurers developing and promoting speculative fiction in Australia, and co-convenor of Clarion South Writers Workshop. Kate is chairing the 2006 Australian National Science Fiction Convention in a most disorganized fashion. She writes short stories, mainly during West Wing ad breaks.



A mystic and maudlin poet
Sat and sang by the sea,
Disturbing the air the air around him
With a cheerful melody.

High above the albatross groaned
His head tucked under his wing,
But all that maudlin poet did
Was throw back his head and sing.

And everytime the albatross
Gave vent to his grief so sore,
The maudlin poet gave a shout
And proceeded to sing some more.

There came upon this unhappy scene
A hippogriff scaled in pearls
His wings did shimmer like a peacock’s tail
His tail was plaited and curled.

And in his eyes so star-lit blue
A dreadful light did glow
In anger against this cruel young man
Who, feelings, did not know.

The poet glanced up
He gave a cry
He sprang to his feet in shame
For at last he felt inside his heart
Something he could not name.

It thundered in his soul it did
It raged around his brain
It shivered through his fingertips
It sang a sad refrain.

And from his lips there came at last
A sob, and then a moan
A tear fell down his ashen cheek
He gave a dreadful groan.

They bound the wounds of the albatross
The hippogriff and he,
They combed his feathers, they staightened his coat
From his agony set him free.

And all the while, with the eyes of a child
Who knows he has done wrong,
The poet humbly minded the words
Of the hippogriff noble and strong.

I’ll never more, he solemnly swore, sing a happy refrain.
Oh no, said the hippogriff, don’t say that, I like to hear you sing.
Sing day or night, that’s alright,
But pain’s another thing.

‘Tis sweet to be alive and free
Unchained from all life’s woes
But care for others too, my friend
And you will have no foes.

The hippogriff raised his wings
They glittered in the sun
He bowed his noble head awhile
Then into the sky he sprung

The poet watched him disappear
Into a distant star
A bright, intangible, magic thing
Gleaming from afar.

Well, said the poet, as night drew on,
I must be on my way.
He bowed to the albatross, tipped his hat
I’m glad, was all he could say.

His face transformed with emotion,
Up the jagged cliffs he ran.
There, said the albatross, to coin a phrase,
Goes a sadder, but wiser man.



Slumber I from time to time,
As the mood it shifts and turns
And many wondrous dreams have I
Of whales and sheep and ferns.

As I lay slumbering on a noon,
There came a dream to me.
I fancied I was on a ship
And it was lost at sea.

The captain was a rat-like man,
Of sad but graceful mien,
His clothes recalled high society,
But his boots were alien.

These boots appeared for all the world
To have graced a rubbish heap
The captain winced where ere he strode,
So ill they fitted his feet.

The ship was called the Moonly Blink,
The captain’s name was Jake
At heart, the crew were a fearful bunch,
But brave for their captain’s sake.

Now as I think I said before,
We were quite lost at sea.
The ocean was scanned from every side,
With not even a sign of a tree.

The crew by this most doleful news,
Were one and all put out
They drew forth spotted handkerchiefs
As their tears began to spout.

“There, there, “ the captain kindly said,
“Our hopes are not all fled,
No doubt before the end of day,
You’ll regret these tears you shed.

“ Upon some winsome shore you’ll see
The octopuses’ dance,
And elephants will spread their wings
If you just trust to chance.”

“So cheer up lads and bear with me
Though lost we are for now,
And I will show you these delights
In some sweet shady bower”

At those kinds kind words, the crew lit up
And smiles wreathed every face,
Each man stowed his handkerchief
And went back to his place.

I went up to the captain,
“A word, sir, I do crave,
Pray tell to me why do your crew
Appear not very brave?”

“My men, he said, “may seem to you
A rather gutless lot,
But truth to tell, dear madam,” he said
“Exchange them I would not.

“The reason for their cowardice,
You may find hard to understand.
None of them can abide a day,
Without some sight of land”

And on this ship and with this crew,
I watched the day flit past,
It was not strange to me at all
That time could go so fast.

And sure enough, as the captain said,
We spotted land at dusk.
The crew were so elated
That into tears they burst.

Three small boats were lowered,
So that we could go ashore.
The sun was slowly setting
But we reached the land before.

We scrambled joyfully up the sand,
Luxuriantly in bloom,
“We are waiting,” the captain brightly said,
“For the rising of the moon”

And as from out the placid sea,
The moon began to rise,
I heard a knock upon my door
I rubbed my sleepy eyes.

Reluctantly, and full of woe,
I woke from out of sleep,
The dream so soon began to fade,
I could not help but weep.

So now, I suppose, I’ll never know,
If on some winsome shore
The octopus do really dance,
As they did in days of yore.


Anne Sydenham, guest blogging

Although I claim to be a reader not a writer, many years ago I dabbled in writing odd things.

Rummaging through some old bits and pieces, while I was racking my brain for a topic to contribute to Jeff’s blog, I chanced upon some nonsense poems I penned in the distant past.

So here, for your delectation, are two that have survived. They can’t be any worse than those dreadful verses penned by John Laws.

Short biog:

Anne Sydenham lives in Melbourne with her partner and two cats and an enormous personal library. She maintains the Jerusalem Dreaming web site and four other sites, in between reading books, attending concerts and working for the public service.


Trent Jamieson, guest blogging.

I'm part of a critiquing group called ROR.

Once a year we get together and intensively critique each other's novels/projects. Perhaps the most high profile book that was worked on at ROR is Margo Lanagan's "Black Juice". I can't claim any credit on that one because I didn't start going until the following year. The critiquing is fun. It's hard work, but they're an excellent bunch of writers and they all feel like family - and like family, you can be brutally honest with them and they with you. If you're going to bother with a critique group that is extremely important, otherwise it's a waste of time.

Once we finish the critiquing we have a couple (well a lot) of glasses of wine and then solve crimes. We've a bit of reputation as case closers these days, with Australia's strong anti-defamation laws I can't say much here, but you may remember a certain case involving a severed head, three monkeys, and a bottle green Volvo - that was us.

So far members of ROR have won, or been nominated for, numerous Aurealis awards, and a whole host of published novels have come out of it. They're my family, and every time we get together I remember that, and miss them all terribly when we're done.

ROR is made up of Cory Daniells (Rowena Cory Lindquist), Marianne de Pierres, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Richard Harland, Margo Lanagan, and Maxine McArthur.

I'll start with Margo Lanagan. She's just about finished a novel called "Little Peach" which is set in the same world as her story from "Black Juice", "Singing my Sister Down". I'm rather looking forward to reading it. Margo is the forensics expert of the team, often uncovering the vital clue, be it a splash of blood on the chandelier or a single hair in the carpet.

Cory Daniells (Rowena Cory Lindquist) has been a part of the Australian SF scene since the seventies, and is a fine writer of SF, Fantasy and Horror. One of the most accomplished, driven people I know, she has just signed with agent John Jarrold on the strength of a book critiqued at ROR. Rowena is the logical thinker of the bunch, often solving a crime purely through the power of reason.

Marianne De Pierres is a fine writer of post-cyberpunk action adventure. Her first books, the Parrish Plessis series, were an excellent trilogy of cyberpunk adventure set in a futuristic Gold Coast. I don't know anyone who is as good at pacing a novel, she is also wonderfully adroit at compressing information, and back story. Marianne scatters ideas enough for most people's novels on every page of hers, which is why I am eagerly awaiting her new Space Opera series "The Gods Way". We've looked at this at ROR and it's good, extremely good. Orbit publishes her in the UK, along with Charles Stross and Iain M. Banks, and there's a good reason why she's part of that list. Marianne is also ROR's crime fighting muscle, in a fight, you get behind her - well I do anyway.

Tansy Rayner Roberts, has published two very funny novels, and is currently working on something much, much darker. Think art nouveau fantasy with teeth and boots, but not boot wearing teeth, which is a tad disappointing. When this book finds a publisher it will make a splash, Tansy has a truly unique voice.

Check out her blog at it's one of my regular blogish indulgences. The blog occasionally details our crime fighting adventures - when we can get clearance, like I said, our anti-defamation laws are very tough - think of Tansy as Watson to Rowena's Holmes.

Richard Harland has produced some of the finest dark fantasy in Australia. He is also in possession of an extremely twisted sense of humour - which can be seen in his Aurealis Award winning novel "The Black Crusade" . He is currently working on a magnificent YA novel called "Juggernaut" it's everything a good steam punk novel should be, and then some. When it comes to crime fighting, he's pretty much of the hardboiled variety, always ready to kick down a door, or wink at the winsome secretary, while secretly reading their files.

Maxine McArthur is writing a bunch of interesting novels at the moment, including a stunning series of fantasy novels based in medieval Japan and a series of detective stories set in Edo Japan. Her Aurealis Award winning novel "Less than Human" is a fascinating near future murder mystery set in Japan and will delight any reader with more than a passing interest in crime fiction, Japanese cults, or Manga. Maxine is the legwork, thorough thinking, kind of crime fighter. She knows the streets (no matter how mean) better than anyone. She also has an excellent right cross.

Trent Jamieson (hey that's me, writing in third person mode) is just about to finish his novel Roil, it's a Steampunk zombie adventure tale about the end of a world. Trent gets the coffee and usually says something inane, once the case has been cracked, that makes everybody laugh indulgently.

Our webpage lives at:

Follow the links - there's pictures and everything.

Monday, September 26, 2005


Cat Sparks, guest blogging

Godawful Australian poetry:

[taken from 'In Love is an Expensive Place to Die – Poems by John Laws' 1971]


Let's buy an orange car with a slit in the roof
I want the slit in the roof because
That just might let some sun in.
And that sun's pretty powerful and
That just might let some fun in too.
Apart from that, with a slit in the roof
Of your average car
You would find it much easier to commune with nature,
And if the sun's on your face
It won't seem so bad when you grate your gears.
Apart from that a bird might fly in.
Somebody once said a bird in the car
Is worth a slit in the roof.

Twenty One

Let's go somewhere else –
Here is too near.
Somewhere else is far away.

Thirty Three

Does anybody have a tissue,
I think my heart's caught a chill.
I fell asleep in the draught of love
And a frozen heat could kill.
Does anybody have a tissue.
I could also dry my eye
I could spread it wide and could hide this face
So the world won't see me cry.
Does anybody have a tissue to wipe
A small boy's tears and also wipe away
A love he thought would last for years.
Does anybody have a tissue to wipe
The whole world's eyes.

(Cat Sparks runs Agog! Press. She is also a writer, graphic designer, photographer and desktop publisher. In 2004 she was a graduate of the inaugural Clarion South Writers' Workshop in Queensland. She was awarded the Aurealis Peter McNamara Conveners Award in 2004. She has just returned from Writers of the Future, where she was a 2004 prize winner.

Cat lives in Wollongong and collects horrible things.)

Sunday, September 25, 2005


Ben Peek, guest-blogging

This is an image of the High School I went too. Nice spikes, yeah?

I'm glad that Anna Tambour posted her images of Australia, because it gives you a nice juxtaposition to my ones of urban decay. I'm fascinated by urban landscape, and while it's entirely my world, Anna's is an important one in regards to Australia. Still, I wish I had the ability to upload sound for you guys. The thing you're missing is the sound of birds--the soft murmur of life in the background of urban and rural living that, sadly, all images lack.

The High School I went too was really quite shit, you know. It was called Pendle Hill High, and the year after I left, it was listed as a disadvantaged school. Like most public schools Pendle Hill didn't have to be underfunded, but since it lacked any sway whatsoever, it was left to rot. I went up there a week or so back to walk and photograph it out of general amusement and my then plan for VanderWorld blogging (which has since changed, hey, have you picked that up? It's becoming a lot more like my normal blog, just with a focus on images). Anyhow, when I went there, around the school were all these signs telling me that public education was worth the investment. It was as if the entire school had turned into a beggar and was sitting on the side of the road with a cardboard sign, asking for cash.

(Ben Peek writes stuff. He has a novel called Black Sheep coming out next year. He wrote 'Dream of a Russian Princess'-- Jeff's Evil Monkey: Hey, you know what I like? Ben: I'm so afraid to ask. Jeff's Evil Monkey: Blenders. Ben: ... Jeff's Evil Monkey: You can blend anything. Ben: You're talking about people, aren't you? Jeff's Evil Monkey: Babies, actually.)

Saturday, September 24, 2005


Grace Dugan, guest blogging

In the group interview, Jeff asked us if there was anything special or unique about Australian sf. This got me thinking. Not that I’ve never discussed this before, but lately a few thoughts have been solidifying in my head, particularly about Australian fantasy. So I’m going to embark on an attempt to jot them down in some random order and see if they add up to anything.

My Childhood with Plants

I was raised on a pretty steady diet of fairy stories. We had two of those colour-coded fairy books, violet and gold I believe they were, but also The Magic Faraway Tree, various other Enid Blyton creations, and of course Disney. In our house we hade some small framed pictures by Cicely Mary Barker, and I also had a birthday book with her drawings of fairies for all the letters of the alphabet. The first thing I wrote that I still have is a 1000-word story dictated to my mother when I was five, entitled Baby Rose Gets Lost. The basic story is that Baby Rose gets to go and have tea with Mrs Rabbit, then plays a series of extremely enjoyable games with the baby rabbits, Hopsy and Pebbles, and then they build a beautiful cubby house.

“They got nice smelling mint and pinned it on the hut. How pretty it all looked. They asked a friendly spider for some of his spider web and they found two more hedgehog prickles and used them for needles to sew all the mint and flower petals together. Then they asked the rabbits’ mother for glue, and they glued the mint and flower petals together and used them for wallpaper.”

The only moment of tension is when Baby Rose gets lost on the way home, but it doesn’t last long. In the end she asks her mother if she can go and live with the baby rabbits, and her mother says yes.

Cicely Mary Barker’s Blackthorn Fairy

From when I was five to ten, we lived in a house with a little garden out the front. This garden became the site of many of my imaginary adventures and games. Honeysuckle and jasmine grew over the front of the house. There was a lavender bush and a daisy bush which in particular had hidden depths where I created little bowers for my dolls and ponies. The garden had pansies and gardenias and miniature roses.

When I was ten we moved out of town to a property. The property backed onto some state forest, which connected up to the Main Range National Park. It would have been possible to leave by the back door and walk for days, if not weeks, without crossing a road. But me and my friend Nina had no such ambitions. The landscape for our games was a wooded area probably less than 500 by 500 metres. It was what is known as dry scherophyll, basically gum trees, foot-high dry grass and lots of silver dead wood. Cattle sometimes grazed in there; it was basically a paddock with trees. But it was on a slope, and was hilly enough so that you couldn’t see out of it from the inside. We built a series of cubbies, first in a gully, where we put a frame of heavy wire mesh across a couple of bits of wood and wove dry grass through it to dry to create some kind of thatch. The second was in a tree which had fallen upside down, in such a way that it created a triangular frame, although there always seemed to be spiders around there so we abandoned it after a while.

Out at the farm it was difficult to grow things. There was a drought on. My mother used to carry bathwater out into the garden. Then there was a plant quarantine because of melon-thrip, so everything had to be grown from seed. On top of that, hungry possums and wallabies would often eat new and/or tasty plants, despite the most serious of preventative measures. My mother often spoke nostalgically of the gardens of Melbourne, where apparently everyone had gardenias and daphne and magnolias, or of the blue hydrangeas of her childhood in Sydney (where we lived they turned out red). This always felt to me like a longing for the old world.

My childhood reading progressed from the Babysitters Club to the Narnia books to Anne of Green Gables through to David Eddings and Raymond Feist. The paddock where we played was just over the fence from an area where the undergrowth had not been burned off or eaten away, so that it was much more difficult to walk through, and had a darker and messier look about it. We liked to call this area the Forbidden, and we never went there.

The simple truth of it was that for us the bush was fantasyland. We were decidedly uninterested in Australian history. It was boring. On a school excursion we visited Leichhardt’s tree, where the ill-fated Ludwig Leichhardt met with his companions before walking off to his death somewhere north of there (if I remember correctly). We went to old homesteads and learned about Jackie Howe, the greatest sheep shearer of all time (to whom a giant pair of shears stands as a memorial at the entrance to Warwick, in the Jackie Howe Memorial Rest Area. He sheared 321 sheep in 7 hours and 40 minutes). But it was boring. When we were out in the bush we were adventurers, we were on a quest.

When I was sixteen or seventeen, I became more interested in bushwalking, and the Forbidden became the starting point for a number of walks between our house and the ridge behind it. In the winter of either Year 11 or Year 12, I used to often go for a walk after school. I had to get out of my uniform and into my boots and army pants as quickly as possible in order to get an hour or an hour and a half of light. It got darker much faster in the bush than in the open, and when it got dusky things were hard to see. In that kind of bush, where there was dense undergrowth of hoveas and blackthorn and wattle, there were so many small leaves and little crisscrossing branches that it would have been impossible to draw it in any detail. The dead leaves on the ground were bone white, the grass became grey, it was all a little creepy. It was at this time of day, while hurrying home on the firetrack, that I used to remember that the place had a history before we were there, that the land was old; I didn’t know what history it had, I didn’t even know the name of the Aboriginal people who had lived there, or what had happened to them, or if any of their descendants still lived in the area. Then I’d get back to the golden-lighted house, to sweet-and-sour chicken, tea, homework and Seinfeld, and reading in bed.

Grace Dugan’s first novel, which she started in September of her final year of high school, is coming out from Penguin Australia in 2006. It’s called The Silver Road.


Anna Tambour, guest blogging

Most of Australia is summed up this way, or it's been condemned for other faults--the rainforest being a treacherous hell of lawyer vines ready to rip your skin off, or tempting fruits that will kill you, etc, and that's just the plants. It doesn't matter where you go, though. This is the most fascinating continent in the world--and I'm including the Americas and Africa in my judgement--but you've got to get out of the car. Breathe in. Today the air here is filled with honey, butter, and grape (all from wattles), and the formic trails of the flying ant swarms of yesterday afternoon. And look up close.

Look close enough to bend down to see the lichen flower, pick up parrot chew-sticks, feel why the mountain devil got its name. On the coasts especially, where rainforest and desert live neck and neck, where drought and flood can be a day apart, the diversity is breathtaking, if you haven't fallen asleep from the boredom of driving through it.

Barbed wire is a passive aggressor collector. Found hanging in the high heat of noon: an inch-long insectivorous bat, its mouth moving with miniscule maggots; a boobook owl, spreadwinged, dehydrated, but retaining, for the short time during its rescue (only to die a half hour later), the strength of a hydraulic press.

When wrapped around trees, as wire has often been, wire meets its match. There are many trees in once-farmed spots that wear embedment scars, and from whose flesh pokes a bony black finger of wire, almost completely rust. Plants are far more permanent.

the lyrebird
adds twang to her song ~
the fence builder

Amongst the tangle along a creekbank, lianas hang from unseen branches, often with a twisted section of vine that looks like a spring. The vine outlived the tree it wrapped itself around, and lives on with all the indefinity inherent to a place that fire visits frequently enough that the bark of living trees is artist-quality charcoal.

new year flurry
burnt eucalypt leaves
and welcome-swallows

After rain: bursting from the hard kaolin path, mushrooms that break the clay. When only their rounded heads show, they look like human babies emerging from the world below. In wet humus, a star fungi--the texture and colour of a rubber glove.

mist rises
flying ants shimmer
on the trough water

Looking down after the winds of spring, many nests fall. A nest the size of an orange, its internal space no larger than a table-tennis ball. Made of dried grass, it is lined and interwoven with the top feathers and down of rosella parrots, and woven amongst all this, orange moss and the white empty shells of spider egg sacks. It smells, strongly, of life.

flowering plantain
a butterfly opens her
big eyes for flight

On a forest path no-one visits, along a high ridge--a ridge with a vista that stretches out to the coast; look down: a fossil clam.

The Editor: Stop! This is edgy as treacle. Anna: Where's Jeff's Evil Monkey? The Editor: He's an illegal alien, so don't switch the subject. What's the meaning of this? Nature's bad enough, but haiku! You'll be quoting Thoreau next. Anna: But you know I hate Thoreau. He waxed e, with spats on. The Editor: It's a good thing I stopped you from doing your own blog. Anna: I thought you didn't like the names, is all. I loved Wet Rubber Oyster, and what's wrong with Ptomain Ptoisoning: Surving Sugqestion? The Editor: Leave! Anna: Before I tell everyone how today, I watched a white-winged chough standing on a man-high termite nest, pluck white ants as they emerged from cracks at the top, to swarm? The Editor: You snuck that in. Anna: And where to go to listen to two wombats growling at each other? The Editor: Well . . . Anna: And about how if you note a wombat's precise scat, you can see it grow a coat of rabbit-fur fungi? The Editor: Evaporate! Anna: And before I tell them about how a wombat's leg bone would have made a great kongo for Modesty Blai


Geoffrey Maloney, guest blogging

Something diabolical is happening in Brisbane.

One of the things that Trent and Grace forgot to mention is that the Devil lives in Brisbane. He mostly likes to hang out in an inner city suburb called Toowong. Maybe because Toowong’s got a great big cemetery, and the old horned guy gets to grab some last minute soul-stealing opportunities. Although mostly you’ll find him drinking beer at the lovely old Regatta Hotel - that looks over the lovely old meandering river - or drinking café lattes in one of Toowong’s trendy coffee shops. Trent Jamieson knows a lot more about what the Big D gets up to in Brisbane than I do; he’s spent some serious time compiling a Devil Facts’ list. Although, to be totally embarrassing, I think that Grace Dugan is the only person I know who’s kissed him. She assures me that he’s a lousy kisser and his mouth tastes like cigarettes. The Devil, not Trent.

Zoran Zivkovic when he was a guest at last year’s Brisbane Writers’ Festival was so impressed by the presence of the old evil one in our sub-tropical city, that he decided to compile an anthology dealing with that very subject. The outcome, not surprisingly is entitled, ‘The Devil in Brisbane’. It will be launched at this year’s writers’ festival by the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, who has a keen interest in promoting the Devil - as you might expect - as one of the city’s big tourist attractions. Jeff Vandermeer and my humble self will be performing official duties.

It is a great honour for me to have worked on this project with Zoran as his assistant editor. Wonderful to work with all the writers who were so totally professional in their approach. Great to see the dynamic Brisvegas style cover art that K J Bishop provided. Much to my three diabolical daughters delight, Big Sis’ Kirsten commenced sketching it in our dining room during one of her visits to Brisbane. Luis Rodrigues did a splendid cover lay-out and Sean Wallace at Prime Books delivered big time by getting abundant copies of the books here well in time for the launch. So all engines are go for the launch on the 29th of September.

This all started when Zoran, as part of his official duties at the writers’ festival last year, conducted a master class, perhaps more simply describe as a writers’ workshop. Some of the people from that class dropped over my place today to collect their author’s copies of the anthology. I’ve always wondered about this master class thing which is a big feature of the writing scene in Brisbane, but everybody I met today confirmed that Zoran worked some diabolical magic during the day they spent with him. I think he’s a bit of a magician at heart.

Like Trent Jamieson, I’m a newbie to Brisbane. I grew up in Sydney and Brisbane was always the redneck city of the north, but Sydney’s like that, always throwing criticism on its sister cities. And Brisbane’s bad politics are largely gone - the redneck boys from the bush no longer control government. Like Trent too, I fell in love with the place. I love the weather. I love the purple haze of the jacaranda trees that cover the city in late spring. I love the old wooden houses and the wonderful river, and that people still hello to each other when they pass in the street. I love the fact that my three daughters have opportunities open to them that they would never have had in a place like Sydney, because we wouldn’t have known the right people or lived in the right suburb. When I moved to Brisbane, I felt like I’d come home and wondered why it’d taken me so long to get here. Yeah, it’s a homey kind of place, but it’s buzzy and vibrant too. It’s odd that way, a bit weird really.

‘The Devil in Brisbane’ is an eccentric book, and perhaps it suits this city perfectly. Brisbane is a hard place to put labels on these days, and ‘The Devil in Brisbane’ is in a sub-sub-genre all of its own. It’s a wonderful folly in the most delightful way. And for reasons which I don’t quite understand, people in Brisbane are giving it tremendous support. It’s not everyday that you get a book launched by the Lord Mayor, and manage to get a major write-up for it in the Saturday newspaper. Which might suggest to some, that there’s not much happening in Brisbane. Which is far from the truth. As Trent mentioned, Brisbane isn’t a country town. It’s a city of over one million people. In a city this size there’s important things happening all over the place. ‘The Devil in Brisbane’ has become one of them.

Strange, yes.

But, yet, of all places, the Devil chooses to live here, in Brisbane. I think I know why. We probably have the best coffee of any sub-tropical city in the world, and the Devil, well, he enjoys the warm weather and he loves a good café latte. And we have so many writers too who are so willing to sell their souls for a brief flicker of fame.

Geoffrey Maloney lives in Brisbane (you should have guessed that). His collection “Tales from the Crypto-System” is available from Prime Books. Geoffrey is a professional croquet player. On days off, he manages research and evaluation projects for the QLD State Government. Occasionally he does some work as an editor, and he usually finds some time to write at 3:00 o’clock in the morning when everybody else is asleep in his old wooden house.


Ben Peek, guest blogging

I don't much imagine anyone reading this is actually in the path of Hurricane Rita. It's got to be too close for anyone in the path of that to be reading a blog right now. I imagine you're all sheltered up. I got hope that you're all safe this time round.

Since Jeff's American, I reckon it's an easy bet to say that there are a lot of American readers here. (Hi.) So I figured I'd acknowledge what was coming, let you guys know we're aware over it here. Saying that isn't the kind of thing that makes a difference to reality, but I figured it ought to be said, just 'cause we’re here, y'know?

Be cool.

(Ben Peek and Jeff's Evil Monkey have taken a break from watching Secret Service Bondage films. They're having a smoke outside. Jeff's Evil Monkey: So, you ever get the US Government coming by your blog? Ben: There is some indication of it. Jeff's Evil Monkey: It's good to have an international audience, isn't it?)

Friday, September 23, 2005

NATIVE FOREST: Southeast Coast Australia

Anna Tambour, guest blogging

If it could,
it would
dig itself deep
under the forest floor
kneel under its roots,
so shallow pale and tender
and pull them, too, down under
this silent and protective canopy.

They'd listen
like pillaged villagers
these roots trunk branches leaves
hunkered and waiting yet again for the army
to pass by

A bash against a trunk: baby whip-bird flight
shuffled leaves: echidna hunting ants
wind whoops through the she-oak trees
zing bang: summer Christmas beetles
squabble screeches: fruit bats in the night
and through the days a constant forest-muffled
rumble clomp and swish of four-wheel drives.

If it could, the tree would
hibernate a month of summer
and in cool April, also cower
hiding through the holidays
when again and again, They come
an army tramping in

with their pink-tinted herbicide
with their tiny sharpened hatchet
with their grim joyous will to kill
eradicate exterminate re-forestate
against this tree: the feral coral tree
(and for the forest here forevermore)

this tree so long ago dug in -
in joy by someones now passed on,
their bedstead now: long earth
lost buried under the forest floor
beside this great and tender-rooted tree
that when They trample off again
will fill, what's left of it,
with song


Anna Tambour, guest blogging

"You'll enjoy this Puddin'," said Bill, handing him a large slice. "This is a very rare Puddin'."

"It's a cut-an'-come-again Puddin'," said Sam.

"It's a Christmas steak and apple-dumpling Puddin'," said Bill.

It's a --. Shall I tell him?" he asked, looking at Bill. Bill nodded, and the Penguin leaned across to Bunyip Bluegum and said in a low voice, "It's a Magic Puddin'."

"No whispering," shouted the Puddin' angrily. "Speak up. Don't strain a Puddin's ears at the meal table."

"No harm intended, Albert," said Sam, "I was merely remarking how well the crops are looking. Call him Albert when addressing him," he added to Bunyip Bluegum. "It soothes him."

"I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Albert," said Bunyip.

"No soft soap from total strangers," said the Puddin', rudely.

…from THE MAGIC PUDDING almost forgotten in Australia, but being discovered in the USA
At Melbourne's Continnum: Creatures Natural and Unnatural, in July 2005, The Magic Pudding never made an appearance in any discussion, to my knowledge, even in the panel "Folk and Fairy Lore in Australia". I asked why, and someone said, "I guess everyone forgot it." Perhaps this wonderful book and its unique characters will be rediscovered as valued imports, in the grand tradition here.

"But it was always thus. As far back as 1857, a Sydney nurseryman advertised in his catalogue of plants the Swan River daisy--from seeds imported from England. Then during the First World War a Melbourne nurseryman sent to England for seeds of Sturt's desert pea, which covered untold acres close to Broken Hill. He received the reply: 'None available now that the German market is closed' …before the German market closed another Melbourne nurseryman imported the seeds of 100 varieties of Australian wattle--the cultivation of them had not been attempted here…" - from "Knockers", by Keith Dunstan, Cassell, Australia, 1972

There's never a Magic Pudding in my house. He keeps getting himself given away. Incomparable, irascible, unpredictable in the extreme. The story is "better than Alice in Wonderland", and the pictures are even better--all by that incomparable himself, Norman Lindsay, the man who painted "The Crucified Venus", and whose caricature of himself (with a nose that if made of wood, could have made a thousand ships) is on the cover of my novel, Spotted Lily.


Deborah Biancotti, guest blogging

Jam Doughnuts: Jam Doughnuts get brownie points for reminding me of my childhood. Jam Doughnuts are never as good as you think they're gonna be.

Cream buns: Cream Buns are best when they are Butter Cream Buns from the Chinese bakery up the road. Mock cream on soft bread, covered with coconut. Cream buns should never be so old that there's any sensation as your teeth descend through the cream. Even mock cream is meant to be soft. If it wasn't, it would be called Mock Something Else. Mock Butter, maybe.

Profiteroles: Too much can go wrong with profiteroles. The cream can be too hard, the choux pastry can be too chewy, the chocolate can be too un-chocolatey. A high risk dessert.

Cheesecake: Can take it or leave it. Baked is better.

Trifle: OK, but better for breakfast than dessert.

Custard: Best homemade, with lots of milk whipped up to make the custard frothy. Pour into a cup & drink warm.

Mango pancakes: The Regal does excellent Mango Pancakes for Yum Cha. The tang of mango contrasts exquisitely with the softness of the pancake & cream. Tinned mangoes appear to give the best effect. The only time Mango Pancakes are ever less-than-excellent is when they're Banana Pancakes. Even Banana Pancakes are very good (though they lack the complexity of their Mango cousins), but are disappointing when you bite into them expecting them to be mango.

Berries Soaked in Liqueur: No.

European Sponge Cakes Soaked in Liqueur: What's with putting liqueur into desserts? Liqueur is best drunk, & dessert is best eaten.

Pavlova: Must've made myself sick on it as a child. Can't look at Pavlova now.

Lamingtons: Lamingtons are the only thing I miss when I'm overseas. Lamingtons are white sponge cake rolled in chocolate sauce & covered with coconut. They were originally an invention to make stale sponge cake taste better. Sometimes they have cream in the middle, but the cream does not make a worthwhile contribution to the overall Lamington experience, and is best avoided. Lamingtons also come in strawberry, but any other flavour would be wrong. Although mango lamingtons would probably be nice.

Gulab Juman: Excellent, sickly sweet dumplings floating in sugar syrup. Found in Indian sweets stores on Cleveland St. The best ones do not show splitting (the ones I make generally split, but still taste excellent). Brilliant with Ice Cream.

Ice Cream: Excellent in many of its guises, favourites include coconut & also caramel. Gelato is different to ice cream & generally better. All sorts of flavours make good gelato. Rockmelon, pistachio, white chocolate, honey vodka (not sure about honey vodka, actually, but it sounds like a damn good idea). Gelato exists all over Sydney, though exceptional examples may be found in Leichhardt & Newtown.

Wasabi Ice Cream: (Special case: Ice Cream.) Have not tried, but seeing as the Chilli Choc Tim Tams were pretty tasty, might give it a go. Wasabi Ice Cream may be obtained from the Japanese ice cream shop near the Capital Theatre.

Chilli Choc Tim Tams: Not bad. Original Tim Tams are still the best, especially when used as a straw to drink coffee (not to be done in polite company).

Black Forest Cake: Not a huge fan of chocolate cake, myself. Chocolate is best in coffee or in Cadbury blocks. Or Tim Tams.

Fruit Salad: I respect your right to choose Fruit Salad.

(Deborah Biancotti is a Sydney-based writer & amateur dessert hunter. She recommends that desserts are best when consumed in good company & with a smile on your face. Desserts should never be abused as an antidote to unhappiness. This only sours them. You can hunt out Deborah's online presence at &


Cat Sparks, guest blogging

I turned 40 a few weeks ago. I had a big party and friends gave me heaps of cool presents. But I have to admit there was one gift I was especially looking forward to. Kaaron couldn't make it on the day, but she'd been dropping hints that she'd bought me something special. She'd even casually let the price tag slip: two bucks fifty. Kaaron and I are into the same sort of stuff, and what you pay for this stuff is important. Its like cheating if you pay too much. The last thing she'd given me had cost a dollar: a lacquered slice of tree trunk depicting a shack and palm trees on a tropical beach. Anything with palm trees works for me – I knocked a new nail into the feature wall for that one. It hangs in pride of place above Dimitri, my 90 per cent proof Metaxa 'Greek dry apertif' bottle shaped like an Athenian guardsman in national dress – carried back from Cyprus for me by archaeologist buddy Helen after a dig. Another time Kaaron gave me a copy of 'Power of a Praying Wife' by Stormie Omartin. That sits well next to the Spanking Encyclopedia, vol II and a Carter Brown paperback, The Bump and Grind Murders'.

These treasures and many others are features in what Deb refers to as my 'Wall of Shame'.

I collect disgusting artefacts from around the world: nodding dogs, chocolate cigarettes, wailing mosque alarm clocks – I have three of those. Airline ashtrays, Leonard Nimoy poetry, nekkid lady playing cards, snow globes where it snows in strange places, like Bethlehem and Alcatraz… The oldest piece in the collection is something I purchased as a small child on a trip to the Blue Mountains in the Scenic Railway gift shop. It’s a plastic shrunken head with stringy nylon hair. The pencil itself has long gone but it had the words 'Sorry I lost my head' stencilled up the side. My younger sister confessed many years later that she was bitterly jealous of it.

I've got a plastic donkey cigarette dispenser – guess where the cigarette gets dispensed from; a Gautier cognac bottle shaped like the concord; a light-up venetian gondola, a Virgin Mary pickled in Lourdes holy water; a Sadaam Hussein fob watch and silver scud missile earrings; a 'Master Piece' port decanter in the shape of Mannequin Piss -- guess where the port gets dispensed from. A row of assorted edition James Bond books, a Walther PPK replica cigarette lighter; 'The Outlaw' Automatic presentation set:[The modern Automatic pistol is favoured by the detective and secret service agent for its compactness and ease of concealment…] This particular toy comes with 2 guns, red plastic bullets, BP gun oil and a cleaning brush.

And then there's Cuban cigars, opium spoons, 1920s venetian glass cocktail ornaments; Nymph ladies razor blades, a Skylab souvenir ashtray, Star Trek Ken and Barbie. Deb gave me a Laverne and Shirley LP one year (with the $6 price sticker proudly in place). The album is called 'SING' but the lettering is so unclear that every time I walk past and see it, I read the word 'SLAG' instead… And then there's the ones that got away: precious treasures that for no apparent reason I neglected to purchase when I saw them and now they're gone forever: a talking Peewee Herman, a pineapple ice bucket, Boy George and Michael Jackson dolls.

One time I returned from Kaaron's place utterly frothing with envy because of her British Royal family pop up book. You pulled cardboard tags to make the Queen's corgis jump, Charles and Diana kiss & on the balcony, Princess Anne drink… Rob managed to score me one of those on Ebay for six bucks.. which was just as well cos I was pretty much ready to break into Kaaron's house and steal hers.

So what did Kaaron give me for my 40th birthday? It kinda defies description so here's a photo.

One thing I love about kitsch is the knowledge that somewhere out there is (or was) a factory pumping out the stuff. Just imagine that your day job is sitting on a production line cracking open the moulds of lurid plastic imitation carnival glass buddhas mounted atop roaring dragons. Or maybe you're the dude who gets to add the musical device or the gizmo that makes it light up.

Cat Sparks, Sept 2005

(Cat Sparks runs Agog! Press. She is also a writer, graphic designer, photographer and desktop publisher. In 2004 she was a graduate of the inaugural Clarion South Writers' Workshop in Queensland. She was awarded the Aurealis Peter McNamara Conveners Award in 2004. She has just returned from Writers of the Future, where she was a 2004 prize winner.

Cat lives in Wollongong and collects horrible things.)

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Ben Peek guest blogging (though he thinks it is called guest pimping this time round)

Issue 7 of Full Unit Hookup arrived in the mail today.

It's a really fine looking zine, if you haven't seen it before (the image here doesn’t do it justice, honest). I hadn't seen it, so I was pleasantly surprised. There are cute little black and white illustrations through each of the stories and the layout is clear and easy to follow for the entire 42 pages. In addition, there is a nice mix of authors in this issue, including Bruce Holland Rogers, Lucy A. Snyder, and Jake Lake and Scott William Carter collaborating. There's also me, too.

It's four bucks, US. Simply put: it's a bargain.

(Ben Peek and Jeff’s Evil Monkey are watching Secret Service Bondage films. You may never see them again.)


Ben Peek guest-blogging

Australians will never acquire a national identity until individual Australians acquire identities of their own.

--Patrick White.

All our best heroes are losers.

--Richard Glover

National identity is a strange thing.

I said at the start that I like the fluidity of blogs. Fucking the spelling, fuck the rules. Start one thing, finish with another. Ideas live for five minutes. Opinions drown in seconds. Both get reborn the next week. I told the Evil Monkey to make a statement without a dick joke and he said stop talking about a place no one in their right mind would buy a plane ticket to go and see.


Listen to the Monkey.

National identity is something that gets fought over. Pick your country, we've all seen it. Who belongs, who doesn't. It's a bloody game and the hand prints left over history are always wet. National identity translates into a long list of issues too messy for me to try and pin down now, and to be honest, I don't much care for doing it. It's a big planet. Lots of people. Me, I'm Australian, but I don't reckon being Australian makes you inherently better off than anyone else except in first world vs third world living standards. Outside that, I'd not kill to defend a national identity and I don't much care for any political statement that says I should. Yet it is fought for. Fought over. Fought with. It's important, it's debated, and even if there's no definite set of words or image that you can use to describe a whole country of people, the conversation keeps returning.

In August this year there was a thing in Australia politics about teaching tolerance in Islamic schools. Tolerance apparently means being accepting of different cultures and beliefs, except for girls in a hajib. The ALP wants Islamic schools to bring in bus loads of 'white' friends so they can learn all about democracy and throw out those horribly inflammatory books they're reading. Meanwhile, the actual minister of education, Dr. Brendan Nelson, in talking about getting Islamic schools to teach tolerance, says things like, "[The story of World War One veteran John Simpson Kirpatrick] which is part myth and part truth, is about an unarmed man with a donkey, who over some 40 days, rescued a number of injured and wounded men. He was unarmed and he represents everything that's at the heart of what it means to be an Australian."

Iqbal Patel, the President of an Islamic school in Canberra, translates this to mean that, "We have in all our schools the very ethos of Australian education, namely respect for each other, mateship, although that's a much-used word in the last few weeks. And you know, teaching the national anthem, flying the flag, teaching Waltzing Matilda."

Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong;
"You'll never catch me alive!" said he;
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong,
"You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me!"

Am I the only one who finds it odd that, in the attempt to 'teach tolerance' and what it means 'to be Australian', that Islamic schools, under the direction of the Government or an attempt to appease said organisation, are now teaching the song about the guy who killed himself rather than get caught for stealing a sheep?

Like I said, national identity is a fucked game to play. Spin a wheel, pick an art, get a label. It's strange to think that, somehow, in these songs and films and books and personalities that we would somehow be able to find an identity for millions of people. That something would become intrinsically more valued because it somehow contains this essence of Australia, which may or may not involve killing yourself after you stole a sheep. Personally, I don't reckon you're going to find this Australian essence. The closest you can come to it is by looking at a particular artist's body of work and saying that he/she, over time, engaged in what it meant to be Australian. Or American. Or Iraqi. Or whatever. But, of course, someone would come along and say, "Well, that doesn't say what I think," and then you're back that messy debate. For example, a lot of people connect being Australian to the outback, as if somehow, in that empty, dry landscape, there's a purity that reveals national identity—yet I don’t connect to this at all. But a lot of Australian work is tied to the outback and you can argue that it is that landscape which makes it Australian. Conversely, it also explains why speculative fiction is, more often than not, a difficult thing to connect to national identity. Reading the responses to Jeff's question about an Australian essence in Australian written work displays that. Of course, the larger argument to be made with speculative fiction is that, due to its step away from reality, it's often more concerned with the business of creating a worlds which exists outside any national identity. As Kim Wilkins notes, "Genre identity is as valid as a national identity."

I'm certainly not here to say if that's true or not. The thought presented itself at the end of this post and I'm going to let it hang there like an odd piece of clothing on a clothesline. Make of it what you will.

(Ben Peek wrote the story 'Johnny Cash (a tale in questionnaire results) in issue 4 of Shadowed Realms. It's free. Click to read it. Jeff's Evil Monkey: I got a visit from the Secret Service today. Ben: You did? Jeff's Evil Monkey: They said I had been a bad monkey. Ben: Shocking. Jeff's Evil Monkey: They said that I needed to be punished. Ben: I think I see where this is going. Jeff's Evil Monkey: So I asked them if they wanted to spank me. Ben: *sigh* Jeff's Evil Monkey. I filmed it. You wanna see? Ben: ...Yeah, okay.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Brendan Duffy, guest blogging

Australia split off from Pangea maybe 120 million years ago, before us Eutherian ‘placental’ mammals had evolved from our pouched relatives in what was to become Asia. All across Pangea the inferior pouched model was supplanted by the latest triumph in evolution with its long internal gestation, but not in Australia. Australia (and Antarctica) travelled the southern ocean in isolation, carrying a cargo of ‘ancient’ flora and fauna into the present. Antarctic marsupials became extinct.

Waves of exotic placental invaders have washed up on our shores, particularly ones that could get here under their own steam, such as the flying and swimming ones; bats, seals, and dugongs, although rodents made it, too. It took the walking ones quite a while. The first wave of human invaders, as Tim Flannery tells us in The Future Eaters, hunted the marsupial megafauna to extinction, then were forced to develop a more sustainable resource management strategy, or harmony. Chris Gregory tells it a slightly different way in his excellent short story ‘Mock Chicken’.

The second wave of human invaders occurred 220 years ago. Since then Australia has suffered more species loss than the rest of the world combined.

In 1859 twenty four European rabbits were released near Geelong, and by 1910 they had spread across most of the continent, occupying all but the alpine and tropical areas. Current Australian rabbit population is estimated at 200-300 million, descended from the genetic bottleneck of those 24 founders. Rabbits cause approx $600 million damage to agriculture per annum, severe environmental degradation, desertification, and compete with native wildlife for resource and habitat.

Typical local control methods have included destroying warrens through ripping, ploughing, blasting, and fumigating; poison baiting; shooting and hunting with dogs and ferrets; rabbit proof fencing; and, unfortunately, releasing predators such as cats and foxes. Against such a huge rabbit population these largely manual methods have a small impact, so, on a national scale, Australians did what they were good at: biological ‘control’ – introducing MORE exotic animals to combat the ones now reaching plague proportions. Much like the old lady who swallowed a fly, things can escalate.

Myxomatosis, a mosquito borne myxoma virus, was released in 1950 and killed an estimated 95-99% of all rabbits within 18 months, but with no nationwide follow up to manually finish the job, or at least keep numbers low, the rabbit population soon bounced back with increased immunity. Furthermore, the host-pathogen relationship changed in the wild, and new strains emerged which were less virulent. Still, myxomatosis remains an active biological control agent whose efficacy appears to have reached an equilibrium, keeping rabbit populations at half that of the 1940s.

Efforts to increase the efficacy of the virus included the introduction of two new Myxomatosis carrying flea species to Australia, the European rabbit flea in 1968 and the Spanish rabbit flea in 1990. Both saw the myxomatosis transmission rate increase. Australia’s exotic menagerie continues to expand.

The rabbit calicivirus disease, RCD, was first recorded in China in 1984. Modes of transmission include the blowfly, which will transmit the virus from an infected carcass, unlike myxomatosis which requires the mosquito vector to sample live blood. Also unlike Myxoma, RCD is an RNA virus and mutates 106 times faster. In 1995 Australian researchers were testing this virus as a possible biological control agent under quarantine conditions on Wardang Island, 5 km off the South Australian coast. It jumped to the mainland, presumably on flies, and rapidly spread across south eastern Australia, with a 95% kill in peak areas. Stories abounded of people driving around the country selling infected rabbit carcasses to farmers in order to spread the virus more quickly and alleviate pressure caused by the rabbit plague. It is estimated that more than 30 million rabbits died in southern Australia during October–November 1995.

However, the new black in biocontrol is Immunocontraception. It is a method whereby a sexually transmitted viral disease from the target species is genetically modified. Basically, genes encoding the target species’ fertility factors, such as sperm and/or egg proteins, are spliced into the viral genome downstream from the viral coat proteins, so that when the virus replicates, the progeny display their normal viral antigens PLUS the host animal’s fertility factors. Infected animals make antibodies against the virus AND their own fertility factors. As a consequence they become sterile while their health and quality of life remain unaffected, unlike myxo and RCD. Immunocontraception is lauded as humane (although some have suggested using lactation controlling genes so that young will starve).

Immunocontraceptive methodologies can be applied to all of Australia’s pest species. It targets their most successful attribute – high fertility. Alpha males and females spread the disease fast, and their symptomless behaviour allows them to compete as normal, stopping uninfecteds from breeding. Immunocontraceptive biocontrol has not yet been trialed in Australia, but success has been achieved with the house mouse in lab conditions.

So are biological agents safe, effective, and controllable? Where did RCD come from? Why are there genetically related viruses with different hosts? Is it because viruses can mutate and change hosts? How did Brisbane horse trainer Vic Rail die? A mystery virus, eventually identified as the Hendra virus, closely related to the emerging Nippah virus that plagues Malaysian pig farms, occasionally kills the farmers, and can be carried by migratory flying foxes (all eutherian mammals). Most mammals have the same genes and many those genes have highly conserved coding sequences. So, viruses emerge, mutate, and jump species. What will happen if Immunocontraceptive viruses are released?

Australia has seen the introduction of many pest species (as Robert VanderMeer would know). Biocontrol of pest species should be dealt with carefully. Successes like the control of Patterson’s Curse and Prickly Pear are not always attained. One thing is sure, if rabbit numbers are to be reduced, the numbers of introduced rabbit predators such as the red fox should likewise be reduced, less the native wildlife fall prey to hungry mouths.

Brendan Duffy has a PhD in the evolution of mammalian sex chromosomes, and was involved with screening marsupial Y chromosome libraries for candidate immunocontraceptive genes to target the Australian Possum, an animal introduced to New Zealand to provide a fur trade. NZ’s lack of predators has lead to a plague of possums running rampant in New Zealand. They are a bioreservoir of bovine tuberculosis, and threaten the NZ ecology and dairy industry. Many Australian pest animals are currently being considered for Immunocontraceptive management strategies. Brendan has a story about Australian Immunocontraception appearing in ASIM 21.


Ben Peek, guest blogging

It's almost lunchtime and already pushing 30 degrees when I decide to go for a walk to sit by a river.

The park is full of cars and people; families sitting under canopies, Turkish men with sheesha pipes, Indian boys playing cricket, Muslim women fanning themselves under white hajib and young married couples with their designer children and picnic baskets.

There is no wind, the park is still apart from the noise, and everyone's slowly getting red and drowsy from the heat.

From 'Summertime in the Suburbs' by Lynda Hawryluk.

It's easy to show parts of Sydney up poorly, just like it is with any city. You do it as you pass basketball courts without hoops, as you pass the parks with broken swing sets, and the community centres scattered with broken windows like dead eyes. You experience small shops closing, only to be replaced by malls and chains outlets from the States. Some suffer at the hands of your personal history with family, relationships, and experiences you can't shake. Ground zero for the psyche. It's easy. All of it. I've done it--done all of it.

I can do it here with two photos, but I'll only do it next to Lynda Hawryluk's poem.

(Ben Peek's story 'The Dreaming City' appears in The Year's Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy. Jeff's Evil Monkey: Admit it! Admit it! Admit it! Ad-- Ben: You been doing that all day, when you going to be finished? Jeff's Evil Monkey: Never! It's funny! Ben: No, it ain't. Look, Monkey, we could spend our time here making masturbation jokes every day, but you'd be missing your chance. Jeff's Evil Monkey: My chance? Ben: Yeah, your chance to say something important. Jeff's Evil Monkey: Without dick jokes? Is that possible. Ben: Yeah. Jeff's Evil Monkey: So, like, say something, y'know, culturally valuable? Ben: Contribute to society. Jeff's Evil Monkey: Okay. Ben: Right. Go on. Jeff's Evil Monkey. Let me think. Ben: Sure. Jeff's Evil Monkey: Okay. Got it. Ben: Say. Jeff's Evil Monkey: Okay, okay: George Bush hates black people. Ben: Duh.)


Grace Dugan, guest blogging

Let me start by telling you a bit about our lovely city, which will be the backdrop for some of Jeff’s adventures in Australia.

(First aside: I’m annoyed that Trent beat me to this, but I wrote it last weekend, before I even knew he was writing one! So you’re going to have to suffer my introduction as well)

(Second aside, for other Brisbanites: I’m going to romanticise it a bit, so don’t write in and correct me or anything, okay?)

Brisbane is a city of around one million people, on a latitude about equivalent to Miami. I suspect we get cooler winters than Miami, but basically it’s pretty hot here, rains mostly in summer, lots of green things growing around the place. It’s on a biggish river which flows into Moreton Bay, and does not have any trendy beachside suburbs. But there’s the Sunshine Coast to the north, and the world famous (but mostly disliked by Brisbanites) Gold Coast to the south.

A lot of people in Brisbane don’t like Brisbane. If you go to the Valley markets on a Saturday morning, you can buy any one of a series of t-shirts to express your possibly ironic dislike of the city. They say things like: For my sins I live in Brisbane, Brisvegas where’s everyone’s a winner baby, and Brisbane warped my fragile mind. (Don’t ask me why people call it Brisvegas, ask someone else). Australians in general suffer from cultural cringe, which is where we don’t think we’re good enough and where we constantly look to the outside for validation. Brisbane suffers from its own extra dose of it in relation to Sydney and Melbourne.

The flipside of cultural cringe, though, is an kind of jingo-istic, defensive love of the city. This seems to be especially true in recent years. Brisbane is the fastest growing city in Australia, has a skyline full of cranes, new shopping centres every month, soaring real-estate prices, a rapidly gentrifying inner city, and an air of self-congratulation. Brisbane is the new black, apparently. We now have more clothes boutiques, wine bars, delis and fancy restaurants than we’ve ever had before.

We also have a powerful city council. Unlike Sydney and Melbourne, Brisbane is not broken up into separate local government areas, and is in fact the largest city or shire in Australia. The council has a fairly strong influence on the literary scene. For the last few years, they’ve had a One Book One Brisbane reading campaign (although last year it was in fact Two Books One Brisbane because of a stuff up in the way it was organised). Now they’re changing it to One Book Many Brisbanes, an (annual?) anthology of stories by local writers set in Brisbane. Some writers have quite a high profile here, most obviously Nick Earls, who was in a major ad to promote the city, but there are others too.

So this would all be a good thing? Maybe, maybe not. I like the idea of writing about Brisbane, as long as we’re allowed to trash it and burn it and show it as ugly and doomed and evil. As long as we don’t all have to be celebrating the sinuous curves of the river and the optimism of economic growth, writing cutesy stories about sharehousing in Taringa or café dramas of New Farm. The literary history of Brisbane doesn’t go back very far. Probably our most celebrated author is David Malouf, who wrote these lines about the city, which you can find on a plaque on the pavement in Albert St: “Brisbane is so sleepy, so slatternly, so sprawlingly unlovely! I have taken to wandering about after school looking for one simple object in it that might be romantic, or appalling even, but there is nothing. It is simply the most ordinary place in the world.” I believe it’s from Johnno.

So, most important of all, what is it like here? The sun is really bright, yet we hardly ever wear hats. Green things grow everywhere, especially monsteras, jacarandas, bougainvilleas and poincianas. In the warmer months, suburban gardens fill the streets with the scent of frangipani, yesterday today and tomorrow, mock orange and star jasmine. The river meanders, so that if you stand in the middle of town, you can walk one way and get to the river, but if you walk the opposite way you’ll also get to the river. Most of it’s bright and shiny. Our old heritage buildings were knocked down by our fascist premier in the 80s, and everything else gets rebuilt every ten years; there’s a general lack of urban grit. Our old houses are wooden, stand up on stilts above the ground, and have big verandas. They get moved around every now and then, so sometimes if you’re up in the middle of the night you will see a truck driving by very slowly, carrying an entire house on its back, taking it further out into the suburbs so that it can make room for a block of six apartments.

It’s a nice place to live.

Grace Dugan’s first novel The Silver Road is coming out from Penguin Australia in 2006.


Trent Jamieson, guest blogging

Australia isn't just Sydney, though that city sits there, big and bold and arguably the country's heart. People seem to think that we're a rural country. But most of us live in cities. And all our cities are different.

I live in Brisbane. It's a pretty city. (I like the word pretty. It's the first word my wife said as a baby, which I think is cool, but that's beside the point). I like Brisbane at sunset. I live in inner city Brisbane, well the edge of, and you can still walk down the street at sunset and see the night creatures coming out. At the right time of year flying foxes stain the sky with their passage, possums skitter across the powerlines, and scrub turkey's, after skilfully navigating the traffic, find roost in the trees or in leaf litter in people's backyards.

Brisbane isn't Sydney. Smaller for one thing, easier to get around, has a manageable skyline, all wrapped up in a river - patient, deep and dark and prettiest at night. It's a pretty city, a tawdry pretty, but also an elegant pretty.

Particularly at sunset. The sun loses itself behind Mt Coot-tha. Yesterday, sun setting, and me looking west as I walked home from work, I saw a whole bunch of scrub turkeys nesting in a tree in the middle of town, squabbling and squawking, big ugly birds, and, in the sunset, they were pretty, graceful silhouettes.

I wasn't born here. I grew up in a small country town, but when I moved to Brisbane, I fell in love with the place.

Some people call Brisbane a big country town. It isn't. It's a small, pretty city.

Things will change. The city's growing. The river's waiting to flood, it has drowned the place before. But, right now, just this moment. The sun setting. It's perfect.

Trent Jamieson's first book "Reserved for Travelling Shows" comes out through Prime any day now.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Ben Peek, guest-blogging

Barber Shop

on key-rings:
Colt 45s.
World globes (on key
rings). Soccer balls on key-rings.
All purpose knives
with corkscrews,
Hip-pocket combs. Pipes.
Shaving brushs.
Bottle openers.
Cards with
nude women on the back.
Cufflinks. Nail-clippers. Watchs.
Men's shampoos. Hair creams.
And 2 photographs
of the Barber, cutting somebody's

24 Hours, Pio.

I was born in Blacktown, but got raised a couple of suburbs away in a place called Toongabbie. From birth, race has been cut into the landscape around me.

It's easy to see in Blacktown. Blacktown. Black Town. In the early eighteen hundreds, Blacktown was named as a piece of land set aside for 'trusted' Aboriginal families to settle and farm, who called it Boongarrunbee. Likewise, Toongabbie also had an Aboriginal name, which was Toongagal. It was renamed by Arthur Philip when he made the Third Settlement, as Toongabbie is also known. They told me that when I was a kid, and on the bi-centenary of the 'burb, gave us kids white t-shirts with prints of brown shackles across it in celebration of our heritage. A more truthful image would have been to give us t-shirts with dead Aboriginals, since the arrival of the English with their convicts meant that they all got fucked. There's no nice way to put it: The Aboriginal people got fucked over.

If you want to understand my Sydney, you have to understand that I'm coming from a land that is, with its names, its history, its urban myths, steeped in racial conversations about crime, acceptability, and belonging; and that, weaved through all of this is a social climate that has a deep struggle for land ownership. You don't belong in Sydney until you own land. It's important. Deep in the psyche we all know what happens to a group of people who have no tangible, brick and mortar, street and pavement, tie to the land. The history of that is fresh, just over two hundred and seventeen years old, and the city crawls with people looking, buying, consuming land.

In Sydney, you get your land and you hold onto it. It's the same throughout the country. One of the worse of the social crimes in Australia is to take another person's home from them.

This was set down in a popular way in the film called The Castle, a comedy made in 1997. The title is a play on the old saying, "A man's home is his castle," and the film dealt with a working class Australian family whose home was going to be bought out by the Australian Government to make an airport or a highway or a mall. You know, something important. It happens in real life, though Sydneysiders don't win when it happens and they resist, which is unlike the family in the film who take their battle through the courts like the Law is a tool to be used for the people to keep the world Right. The film is the classic little Aussie Battler story where, in the end, good Australians triumph, and they keep their land and send the message that no one, not even the Government, can take off them.

It's a dark observation to make, given the history of the country, but hardly a unique one in the history of the world. I make it here only because I was born in Sydney, born in a place called Blacktown, while I lived in another place called Toongabbie. I begin in these places. I begin with names that shout a history of segregation, not just against Aboriginal men and women, but Asian and Muslim and more, and a history of theft, of cultural loss, of white washing the past.


(Ben Peek has a message board... Jeff's Evil Monkey: Hey, hey, is that a Pio quote at the start there? Ben: Yeah. Jeff's Evil Monkey: Pio ain't from Sydney. Ben: Yeah, I know, I-- Jeff's Evil Monkey: You just quoted him because he likes to say "Fuck the spelling!" and you're full of typos! Ben: Fuck you, Monkey. Piss off. Jeff's Evil Monkey: Or what? You'll spank me? Ben: What? Jeff's Evil Monkey: You just want to spank the monkey! Admit it! Admit it! Admit it!)


Deborah Biancotti, guest blogging

What is this 'Australian'? I have never been sure.

On a sleepy morning bus ride I tried to work it out. There was a boy with sensitive eyes and a girl with sensitive skin. She was so pale, too, so flesh-delicate with such long brown messy hair. A school of grey suit sharks like blank robots whose On switches weren't On yet. A man with a worn face and an Italian accent and a phone gelling his face to his palm, fingers tangled in his own curls. A pair of girls (Japanese, I think), black-haired boys with their backs to me. An old, old woman I suspected to be Chinese. Another woman with faded red hair and blush in squares across her cheeks, so deep and thick it looked like sunburn. Permanent Damage Rose, I called it in my head. I realised I live in a world where I am the foreigner.

Further, I realised that's what I like. The comfortable sense of being a stranger in my own land. My own skin. The daily self-consciousness. A walk down the street becomes an exercise in negotiating a culture only marginally familiar. It pounds on your ear drums. It wakes you up.

Artists talk about the light in Australia, how fierce it is, how hard, how it comes crashing down and turns the red dirt milk white at times. What they don’t mention is how that light beats you around on its way down. A caffeine eye wash. Makes everything look a little delectably wrong.

This is not my home.

That's the most powerfully recognisable thing about this place.

(Deborah Biancotti is a Sydney-Australia-based writer. She has a cat called Monkey, mainly because she doesn't much like cats but finds monkies hilarious. Especially when they're forced to wear waistcoats and ride those little bikes -- two pastimes her own Monkey refuses to indulge in without resort to predictably inhumane treatment. Deborah's online homes are at &