Open State festival has a packed program which kicks off on Thursday 28 September and runs through to Sunday 8 October. Publisher Michael Bollen brings you the Wakefield Press Reader’s Guide to Open State.
My, my. It’s an eye-opener and source of pride, browsing the Open State program, reminding us how books and reading interweave past, present and future. Picking through the goodies on offer, the mind thinks inevitably, Hmm, could be a book in that. And thinks too: Now, which of our existing books best fits that theme?
One session, Blast From the Past, is about getting our stories on screen. We have a host of possibles. Maybe a soapie set in Adelaide’s first gaol, feeding off Rhonnda Harris’s Ashton’s Hotel with its cast of intriguing characters. Or tales from underground, using Carol Lefevre’s beautiful book of true stories, Quiet City: Walking in West Terrace Cemetery.
Then again, perhaps Simon Butters’s YA novel, The Hounded, about alienation in Adelaide’s hinterland, is the best screen fit. Though it works also with the question that obsesses our town – Adelaide is one of the world’s most liveable cities: fact or fiction?
You can take a stroll to decide in the Future Adelaide Walking Tour. Have a browse along the way in Lance Campbell’s and Mick Bradley’s deluxe book, City Streets, which showcases the CBD in 1936 and 2011. Whither now?
Dickson Platten have helped shape the Adelaide landscape through people-centric place-making since the 1960s, and you can celebrate that 50 years of achievement at the opening of their exhibition, On Show. We have books from both Dickson and Platten: Addicted to Architecture, Hybrid Beauty and the lovely Lure of the Japanese Garden.
From one design icon to another: the beloved Jam Factory present Drink. Dine. Design. featuring finely crafted objects, ideas and applications that enhance the joy of eating and drinking. Learn more about the Jam Factory in its fortieth-anniversary book, Designing Craft / Crafting Design.
Nick Jose has written both fiction (Avenue of Eternal Peace) and non-fiction (Chinese Whispers) about China, so its no surprise to see him as one of the co-curators of Writing China, a day-long series of transcultural, transmedia events. Brian Castro is a prominent participant, likely mentioning his novel On China (and why not also add Drift and Double-Wolf to your bedside reading pile).
Among the many events that make up Writing China is Reimagining: Panel and Readings. This panel considers how fiction can take the world you know – your city – and make it new. A full-on accompaniment might be Stephen Orr and his latest book of short stories, Datsunland. In the words of Kerryn Goldsworthy in the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘[Orr’s] work continues to have a prominent place in the literary mapping and recording of South Australia and Adelaide’.
For the last weekend of the festival, we’ll be selling our wares at the annual State History Conference. This year’s beguiling theme is Hearts and Minds: revaluing the past. There’s much of that in our new Colonialism and its Aftermath – the first comprehensive history of Aboriginal South Australia since Native Title.
We at Wakefield look forward to seeing you round this Open State as we venture from our normal habitat: gladly chained to the wheel, churning out South Australia’s tales to the world.
Richard Zachariah’s Vanished Land is an ode to what once was within the picturesque Western Districts of Victoria. His rich language frames anecdotes of rose-tinted childhood musings alongside despairing soliloquies on the modern state of the once majestic region. With a balance and pace that immerses the reader within the author’s thoughts and understanding, Zachariah opens up a world that has been lost.
A keen July wind touches us. I’m standing at the entrance to Hexham Park, which my old friend David Armstrong sold at a time of rural recession a decade ago. The paddocks are invisible under a plague of pine trees. A hundred and fifty years of the Armstrongs’ Western District hegemony has faded like a rainbow in the sky. The Camelot of my boyhood dreams is gone. No one at this moment feels safe from talk of grief.
When he greets us, David is amiable and brave. Artist Robert Whitson is there with me to paint what is left of the beloved place.
David’s key to the gate doesn’t work. The locks have been changed by the new owners, one of the timber companies whose tax-driven tree ventures have disfigured the Western District. Hexham Park, once a haven of undulating paddocks and river flats, is now a vivid scar of pine trees over sprayed weeds.
David is apologetic as we climb the locked gate and walk the mile long red gravel drive to his forsaken birthplace.
When I think of the towns to the northwest, the contrast is stark.
As a teenager, I knew Streatham, Skipton and Lake Bolac as the heart of a grazing and cropping nirvana, but today those towns are bereft and sinking, while proximity to a big city has handed Birregurra freshly painted cottages, organic cafes, a destination restaurant and a burgeoning future in lifestyle real estate.
Then I see the miracle of crops. Vast areas of sheep country have gone under the plough, defying traditional claims that the wet, heavy soil would drown any monetary return. Farmers have confounded the rules by raising the beds 15 centimetres and creating depressions between them to drain water. Once drained, the rich volcanic soil pushes up white and red wheat in unprecedented quantities interspersed with ripening canola in swathes of ludicrous hi-vis yellow.
Steel mammoths with rubber legs rumble through widened gates where utes once bumped along. Workers give way to machines ruled by laptops and satellites, driven by GPS-RTK auto steer, replacing manpower and emptying the towns.
Visiting outback Australia, the English writer Bruce Chatwin discovered the Aboriginal custom of measuring a journey in songs rather than kilometres. Out of this visit came The Songlines (1987), which lit up an ancient culture by interpreting the dreamtime as a parallel reality that exists alongside our quotidian existence, preceding us and lasting long after our deaths. Chatwin believed that our time-challenged lives would be enhanced if we discarded the angst of measuring kilometres so that a destination became a way of seeing and redefining ourselves.
The Songlines mythology came to me travelling in a car with Peter Learmonth, a fifth-generation Western District dictionary of ownership, bibliography of people and compendium of history. In the spirit of Chatwin, he measured our trips by properties passed and people remembered. Kilometres were irrelevant, never mentioned.
Find out more about this bestseller here.
The Miles Franklin announcement is not far away. This award is arguably the most important on the Australian literary scene. In his Brief Take on the Australian Novel, Jean François-Vernay structures his approach by borrowing from another popular art form: film. Here we have his ‘Low-angle shot of the Miles Franklin Award’.
In line with the wishes of Stella Franklin, who bequeathed almost all of her estate estimated at £8,996 to establish this literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award must give preference to a published work ‘of the highest literary merit and which must present Australian Life in any of its phases’. Founded in 1957, the award has ever since crowned 58 novels with glory and increased their sales.
As is the case with any respected prize, the Miles Franklin has had its share of controversies. In 1994, the jurors unleashed a debate by excluding Frank Moorhouse’s novel Grand Days (1993) from the competition, claiming that its Australian content was practically insignificant. The story traces the career of a young Australian woman who, after the Great War, works for the United Nations in Geneva. In 1995, the committee tried to make amends by celebrating The Hand That Signed the Paper by Helen Demidenko, but it later transpired that the author was a Ukrainian-impersonating plagiarist. After this scandal, the jury decided to play it safe in 1996 with Highways to a War by Christopher Koch. Pocketing the prize money, Koch started another controversy when he revealed his uncharitable thoughts about academia.
Today, some people think it is high time the overly restrictive selection criteria of this award should be revised in order to take into account novels whose characters, settings, themes and plots are located outside Australia. The list of recipients of the Miles Franklin is also widely criticised for comprising chiefly middleaged novelists, few of whom are women (approximately one third of all prize-winners), let alone Aboriginal (Kim Scott and Alexis Wright being the exceptions). There is a sneaking suspicion that the judging panel might almost be guilty of ageism, sexism and racism. Despite the criticism, this national and nationalistic prize is still regarded as a reliable benchmark for identifying great Australian novels. The winner in 2010, Peter Temple’s Truth, indicated that popular genres like crime novels are now taken seriously.
For more close-ups, panoramic views and special features on the Australian novel, see here.