A macabre murder during the Women’s Australian Open golf tournament at one of Australia’s most prestigious golf courses sees food and wine journalist and amateur golfer Rebecca Keith on the murder trail once more. Fortunately, Rebecca’s sleuthing takes her on a journey of eating and drinking through many of Adelaide’s bars and restaurants. Little does Rebecca know that her visits to nearby Barossa Valley and Kangaroo Island will reveal clues that will become crucial in the hunt for a killer.
A Royal Murder, a light-hearted thriller full of intrigue and betrayal, features a full cast of eccentric characters set against the rich backdrop of South Australia and its lush food and wine culture.
Read an extract of the book below, as our heroine, Rebecca Keith, is first on the scene of a grisly discovery at the Royal Adelaide golf course.
The Adelaide-to-Grange Line
Rebecca had drunk more than she should have. When the phone alarm went off at five o’clock, she had to stop herself from flinging it across the room. She listened to the news and weather on the radio.
She couldn’t face breakfast and instead spent the extra time in the shower.
It was just before seven o’clock as she walked alongside the railway tracks at Royal Adelaide, heading to her position on the second tee. The course was again bathed in a golden glow. Her footsteps left imprints on the fairway still damp from the overnight watering.
Rebecca heard the train’s whistle, signalling it was about to pull off from the Seaton Park station. She could hear the ding of the boom gates. Within a couple of minutes, she saw the train in the distance as it emerged from the bushes by the fence line and started its journey alongside the fairway. Rebecca was surprised when she heard the train’s whistle again. It startled her. Something was wrong. The train only whistled as it approached walk-crossings on the golf course, and it wouldn’t be approaching one for a few hundred metres. It shouldn’t be sounding its whistle now, nor should it be putting on its brakes. She could tell by the screeching that the train was stopping hard. Rebecca looked along the tracks and spotted a large red duffle-like bag sitting squarely in the train’s path. There wasn’t enough time to stop. She watched as the red bag was flung aside, rolled down the embankment, and came to rest just on the edge of the fairway.
Rebecca stood up and started to jog toward the train. Before she reached it, the driver jumped out of the cab and ran toward the red bag. He looked distressed. Within moments, Rebecca was standing next to him and they were both looking at a bloodied, severed arm lying a couple of metres from the torn bag. The duffle bag appeared to be made from expensive silk, embossed with what Rebecca thought was Chinese calligraphy. She was in no doubt the rest of the body was in the bag. The protruding bloodied leg was a giveaway.
‘Oh my God,’ moaned the train driver as he lowered himself to a crouch on the ground, resting his head in his hands. Rebecca was pretty sure whoever was in the bag was dead, but she needed to know for certain. She walked up to it, undid the drawstring at the top, and gently lowered the silk to uncover the victim’s lacerated face. Rebecca stared. The glazed lifeless eyes appeared to be gazing up to the sky. Rebecca not only knew the victim was dead, she also knew who it was.
Join us at the Beetson Lounge at Grange golf club at 1.00 pm on Tuesday 13 February for the launch of A Royal Murder, in conjunction with the re-release of the first Rebecca Keith mystery, The Popeye Murder. If you cannot attend the launch, but would like to purchase a copy of the books, they can be found on our website, coming soon!
Last week we launched Tracy Crisp’s new book Surrogate to a very full house at Imprints Booksellers. After an excellent speech by ABC Adelaide’s Deb Tribe, here is what Tracy had to say.
Thank you, Deb. For being so open to the invitation and so generous with your time to prepare for tonight and to be here this evening. And thank you for giving Surrogate such a great send-off into the world. It’s extremely nerve wracking, and I really appreciate what you’ve done to wish it bon voyage.
Thank you to Imprints, and especially Jason who has been very patient with all my Hi Jason, just double-checking emails. I remember the first time I walked into Imprints … it was down the road, and I’d just moved to Adelaide to go to uni. I was entirely overwhelmed that year, feeling completely out of place, but when I walked inside, I knew that I wanted to be part of this world. I bought the Complete Shakespeare Sonnets – because that’s how clever I was – and every year since I’ve made a new year’s resolution to learn them all by heart. 2018 will be my year.
Thank you to everyone at Wakefield Press and especially to Michael who has twice now taken a punt on my work. Wakefield is truly South Australian, making sure that local stories have a place to be told.
In coming back to Adelaide, I have experienced for the first time since I moved out of my home in Port Pirie the true joy of knowing what it means to feel grounded, to belong, to be at home. Being published by Wakefield has given my return home an extra potency.
Julia was a very caring editor. Liz designed the perfect cover. Ayesha and Maddy have answered endless emails – Hi, just double-checking – and Jonny is making sure my books can fly out of the nest and find a new home.
I don’t want to talk too much about the tortuous process of writing this, but at a time when I was completely overwhelmed with doubt Virginia Lloyd and Jacqui Lofthouse each did a brilliant job in very different ways of helping me see the way through to the end. When I did get to the end, Penelope Goodes in Melbourne and Melissa King who lives in Adelaide and I’m really pleased was able to come tonight, picked it up and did a wonderful job of saving me from embarrassing errors.
Thank you to Adrian. Those of you who know him, know that he is a good man in all of the many senses that we understand that. He not only loves me, and he not only respects my work as a writer, but he values it. He values it not only because it is good for me, but also its place in our relationship. This is not to be taken for granted in a partner. Although I’m not sure he values the production of tea towels taking over the house and the subsequent spread of inky cat prints across all our floors. As I was finishing off the printing for last week’s market, I said to him, ‘Do you think I’m ridiculous?’ And he didn’t say, ‘Yes.’ Though thinking about it now, I also realise he didn’t say, ‘No.’
Thank you to Leo and Felix. My beautiful grandfather used to like saying, ‘Leo and Felix. You had two cats.’ But they’re heaps better than cats. Their inky paw marks are bigger, but so is their love and it is more consistent too.
Before I thank you for coming, I want to give a shout out to Adrian’s parents who can’t be here. Adrian’s mum has done such a wonderful job of negotiating the complexities of the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship and I am very grateful to have her as one of my greatest friends. Thank you to the many members of my family who came tonight, aunties, uncles, cousins, brother, my sisters-in-law. And thank you to mum and dad’s friends.
It is of course the deepest of sadness that Mum and Dad aren’t here. Mum never knew that I was going to publish anything. Which is a pity because she was the first and the best storyteller I will ever know and she really had a way with words.
From the nuns at Henley Beach who, she insisted, were constantly trying to steal her dog, to the day we drove into Port Pirie and she pointed at the stack and said to us, ‘Do you see that? Do you know what that is? That’s the largest lead smelter in the world, and do you know what that means, that means if there’s ever a war, we’ll be the first to be bombed’; to the time that in her capacity as the Mayor’s wife she stood next to Port Pirie’s archbishop as the debs were presented and said to him, ‘You know you’re the only man in the town can get away with wearing hot pink, don’t you?’
I didn’t ever let Dad read the final draft of my first novel. I was nervous about what he would think, afraid that I wouldn’t live up to his expectations. Not because he was especially demanding, but because he had such faith, such confidence in what I would do, and I hated the thought that I had let him down. By the time I felt like I could show it to him, he was far too tired and although I had signed the contract before he died, he never did get to see the finished product. This mistake has haunted me for a long time. But from it I hope that I have learnt to be more open and more trusting, not only in the people around me but in myself.
And finally, I want to say thank you to you.
The biggest challenge that I face when I’m writing is staring down my demons. There’s the obvious, angsty ones. I’m not good enough, what have I got to say that hasn’t already been said, I’m fifty years old I’ve got six thousand dollars in super I should probably get a real job, oh, I’ve got a great idea, I’ll screen print tea towels … and then I will give them away, because I’m too embarrassed to ask for money … but there are also far deeper and much darker demons than those.
It’s a cliché of writing classes to be told, ‘write what you know.’ Okay. So, clichés ahoy, my first novel is set in a town nestled in the shadow of a lead smelte – although spoiler alert, war is never declared – but writing, creating anything, is a way of making sense of the world, of making sense of what it means to be human. So, writing what you know means that wherever you start, you always end up processing the most difficult of emotions. The losses, the pain, the anger, the mistakes. I remember when Leo was quite young and he was asking about the events of my work so far and when we got to the end, he said, ‘Have you ever thought about, instead of all the death, you have a brush with death?
But of course, we only know what it is to feel loss and pain because we know celebration and joy. Because we know friendship and we know love. So, when I say thank you for coming, thank you for helping me to celebrate, I mean it most sincerely.
Thank you for coming to the launch of my new novel, Surrogate. Thank you for reading it, and thank you in advance for sending me nice notes to tell me how much you loved it. Thank you for telling me a little white fib if you never get around to reading it, and thank you for flat out lying if you do read it but you don’t really like it.
In late September Wakefield Press had the honour of launching Liz Williams: Body Language, a beautifully photographed book dedicated to the works of the late South Australian ceramicist.
Below is an excerpt from author Margot Osborne’s speech at the launch.
I was driven to do this book on Liz Williams to honour her lifetime of artistic achievement and to ensure that there is a record of her unique contribution to Australian ceramics. It struck me when I heard about her illness that despite her receiving numerous grants and residencies, I was among the many in the Adelaide art scene who had more or less taken her presence for granted, as someone who would always be there to bump into on the Parade and engage in long enjoyable conversations. Meanwhile over the years she worked away quietly maintaining a low profile presence in her Norwood studio, making her wonderful coil-built sculptures and travelling overseas to investigate how the art of other cultures might influence her own work. At her death she had never received the in-depth attention of a long-form essay, or a career survey exhibition and catalogue. Nor was she represented in the Art Gallery of South Australia by any work more recent than a sculpture from her Receudos exhibition in 1993.
This book is a first step in addressing that situation.
In addition to my own essay on the evolution by Liz Williams of a figurative sculpture language in clay, the book includes three earlier re-published essays by Catherine Speck, Damon Moon and Wendy Walker.
Another dimension to the book are the tributes from Liz’s artist colleagues and friends – Jeff Mincham, Anna Platten, Jane Sawyer, Karen Genoff, Milton Moon, Donald Richardson and Margo Hill-Smith. These writers were all
personally selected by Liz shortly before her death.
At the creative heart of the book are the glorious images of Liz Williams ceramics by Grant Hancock, photographer to the artists of Adelaide. Grant worked with Liz photographing her work from 2006 to 2016. There are some 70 full page images of Liz’s ceramic taken by Grant, as well as his photographs of her beautiful home and studio taken earlier this year.
And now finally, I come to Anna Platten. Anna was there at the start of this project and was entrusted by Liz to have oversight and ensure the book turned out as she would have wanted. In the weeks after Liz’s death Anna decided she would make the drawing that we have on display tonight. Normally she works from life but as that was not possible, she recreated Liz in her studio from a blend of photographs. It is a moving image of Liz, full of light and life, even though she was already gravely ill. Titled ‘Inside the Head of the Quiet Woman’, it conveys the contrast between the appearance of the gentle ageing woman and the art that grew out of her intensely imaginative inner life.
Thank you everyone. It’s been a wonderful project. Now all we need is for you to buy the book.
To purchase the book and to find out more, visit our website here
Last Thursday marked the celebration and re-launch of City Streets, a chronicled answer to the past 75 years of Adelaide’s architecture. As author Lance Campbell says, it’s a great big book about a great small city.
We were hosted at the beautiful Living Choice Fullarton and joined by many of our Wakefield Press authors and friends, including the event’s emcee, Keith Conlon. And to top it all off, we had some fantastic Coriole sparkling!
The new edition includes a foreword and by the SA Premier, Jay Weatherill – here we present some highlights of the Premier’s kind words and insights from his launch address.
This is not merely a beautiful book. In its detail and its scale, it’s also an invaluable record of the growth and evolution of our city’s “square mile”.
City Streets is the work of two gifted people. The photographs, by the late Mick Bradley, are superb – precise and expansive, capturing Adelaide’s special quality of light. Though they’re ostensibly of buildings, the images are rich with people and movement and energy – just like those taken by Baring back in the 1930s. As for the writing, who better to sneak behind the facades and tell the stories of our town than Lance Campbell. Lance is an outstanding reporter and writer. Whether the topic is sport or the arts or, from time to time, politics, his prose is elegant and insightful – revealing and describing things many of us would otherwise not have noticed
As I suggest in the foreword to the new edition, City Streets is likely to generate mixed feelings in some readers. More than most comparable cities, Adelaide has managed to retain a large number of attractive buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries. But – along the way – we’ve probably allowed some special ones to slip through our fingers.
One of those was the gracious Grand Central Hotel – which later housed Foy’s department store – and used to sit on what we now call “Hungry Jack’s corner”. For some reason, it was decided to demolish that lovely pile in 1976. To paraphrase Joni Mitchell, we pulled down “paradise” and put up a parking lot!
As I’ve said publicly before, I think we should see cities as – first and foremost – communities, rather than just collections of buildings and houses and roads. In line with the fact, one of the prevailing and very welcome things about our current city centre that can’t be fully captured in words or pictures is its vibrancy.
The tale of this city will go on and on. And the buildings we love today and are part of our collective consciousness will – in time – go the way of the old ones featured in City Streets. I hope and suspect that, one day, others will follow in the footsteps of Mick Bradley and Lance Campbell. And the Adelaideans of, say, the 2080s or 2090s will reminisce about – who knows? – the Adelaide Convention Centre or the Federal Courts building in Victoria Square. For now, however, we have this new edition of City Streets – and we’re very happy and appreciative, indeed.
On behalf of the State Government, I commend Wakefield Press for its initiative, for continuing to tell great stories and – through this book – for helping to chart the history of our built environment.
Photographs by Brad Griffin.
Learn more about City Streets .
One of the biggest pleasures of the SALA festival is hearing the keynote address from the featured artist.
Last year it was Giles Bettison on the importance of art. This year, Catherine Truman spoke to a packed house about the joys of ‘tadpoling’, and how important a sense of adventure and a strong work ethic are as an artist – or, indeed, a scientist.
Catherine’s very kindly shared her speech with us here. We agree with her – viva SALA! And, may we add, viva Catherine Truman!
Tadpoling at the Bench
Firstly, I to would like to acknowledge that we meet on Kaurna land and pay respect to their spiritual relationship with this country past, present and future.
Thanks everyone for being here tonight, especially my dear friends, family and colleagues who’ve travelled from far away places to share in the celebrations.
It is such an honour to address you tonight as the featured SALA artist for 2016 but this wonderful achievement has only been possible through the support, love and inspiration from a lot of other people and so firstly a few personal thank yous.
And then I’d like to tell you a little story – a story about tadpoling. In fact I’ve titled my address to you tonight Tadpoling at the Bench.
Thanks to the SALA committee and to Penny and Kate for their incredible commitment to this ever-growing phenomenon that is SALA and a nod to Paul Greenaway, the instigator, for his vision. To Arts South Australia and Wakefield Press for their support of the SALA publication especially Michael Bollen, Margot Lloyd and Clinton Ellicott. To Melinda Rackham for her intelligent, insightful, writing and to both Melinda and André Lawrence, our mentee on the project, for their commitment to getting it thoroughly right. And to Rachel Harris, our designer, for the magic she wove to bring together Melinda’s fine words and the many, many luscious images by Grant Hancock into such a magnificent book. We are all really proud of it. I hope you all enjoy it.
I never dreamed that having a book written about you would be quite so intense, quite so wonderful. We had to proof it a few weeks ago, and I must admit I felt very emotional holding the pages in my hands for the first time. I became so absorbed, I forgot I was meant to be proofing and by the end I was so excited I really wanted to rush back to the studio and make some more work. So that’s a good sign eh?
A special thanks to my Gray Street family, Jess Dare and the gang for keeping me afloat through thick and thin and to my lifelong partner Sue Lorraine for her patience, sage advice and rock solid love.
And to the people at the coalface of Arts South Australia and the Australia Council, for your professional support and for believing in my practice.
The Art Gallery of South Australia has held such an important place in my growth as an artist. I do feel that it is embedded in my DNA. It is deeply satisfying to present such a large body of work in this gallery. It’s a great honour. Thanks Nick Mitzevich and Lisa Slade for their chutzpah and commitment to showing live and kicking practising South Australian Artists and Rebecca Evans the curator of European and Australian decorative arts. My exhibition was her first major project in her new position at the Art Gallery of South Australia and she hit the ground running with grace and elegance and it has been a pleasure to work with her. Thanks to all of the install and registry staff too, especially Jess and the crew who had to document well over 300 objects for the show!
So you can see I haven’t sustained my long career without the support of many others and I thank them from my heart.
Now to my tadpoling story and I promise it’s short and sweet.
I want to tell you about an image that’s in the book being launched tonight.
When I was seven my dad took a picture of me tadpoling in National Park. In this picture – a 35 mm Kodak slide, the kind with the cardboard mount – I seem completely unaware of either the camera or my dad for that matter. There I am standing in the creek, brown Bermuda shorts, scrawny little legs covered in mud with a blue plastic strainer in my hand, bent over, absolutely focussed on the water, poised, ready to pounce on some poor unsuspecting taddy. Mum’s shade-house was forever croaking as I was growing up. Every time I look at that photo I relive those moments of complete bliss, of absorption, and curiosity, the thrill of discovery and the deep pleasure of pursuit. And I’m really pleased that forty-three years later this picture appears in the beginning pages of the book because it still resonates on many levels.
When I create work I touch base with tadpoling. Hunting and gathering is integral with my daily practice of making art. It’s full of challenging and difficult and delicious experiences of absolute absorption, deep focus and pursuit. Connecting with the wider world – observing, listening, learning, staying open, interacting, engaging and exchanging – is critical to being an artist. It provides context and meaning. I actively seek out contact with others, mostly scientists because they like to go tadpoling too, and I like to think the world is a better place because of the creative exchanges we have. I’ve been artist in residence in the School of Medicine and the biomedical laboratories of Flinders University for several years now and learnt firsthand that there are rich parallels between art and science. Full-time practise in either field is mostly a day-to-day slog and some days, there is nothing tangible to show for it. But we both agree, it’s the slog that’s compelling and fruitful and wonderful. Now I can better understand and embrace the chaos and rhythms embedded in my day-to-day creative processes. This time next year the JamFactory will be presenting a solo exhibition of my art/science project works.
The wonderful South Australian painter Deidre But-Husaim put up a post on Facebook recently, a quote by Chuck Close. He said:
The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.
I couldn’t have said it any better. And I learnt that through tadpoling at the bench and working with scientists.
This is wise advice, but it seems that the nitty gritty part of creative practise is not always understood by the consumers of art or the powers that be – those powers that have just been narrowly re-elected for example. Enough said. It is usually romanticised and separated from real life. So it is vital we put voice to the day-to-day creative processes of full-time practice and take advantage of SALA to give us that important voice
In rounding this up, when I think about my dad sneaking up on me to take that photo of me blissfully tadpoling in that muddy creek in National park, I feel incredibly moved that he recognised the substance of the moment and that he cared enough to record it for posterity.
I hope you all get to do a little tadpoling yourselves this SALA.
Please visit my show upstairs and Melinda and I are now going to be happily signing books in the foyer, please come up and say hello!
Thank you and viva SALA!
Coast to Coast is the true story of one family’s incredible undertaking: to walk across India in order to help children living in the poorest parts of the world. We’re all in awe of the Petruccos for their generosity, tenacity and good humour. In her speech at the launch, Deb Kandelaars explained her own history with this incredible family …
We first met the Petruccos on the South Coast about 10 years’ ago now. It turned out that both our families had made a sea change from the city at around the same time and our kids were at the same school. We immediately became good friends. The Petruccos are a very warm and welcoming family. Our kids played together, and for Bec and I, our husbands were often away with work so we were great company for each other. Wednesday taco night became an institution.
Our friendship was cemented on one of these evenings when a horrible thing happened: a very pregnant Bec slipped and slid face-first down our long staircase, landing chin first at the bottom. She was taken by ambulance to South Coast Hospital and then by chopper to Flinders. It was a very dramatic and worrying night. Nick was on his way home from interstate, and the kids stayed at our place watching ‘The Simpsons’. I also remember uncharacteristically letting them have Coke at McDonalds at 10 o’clock at night. I think we were all a bit traumatised! Thankfully all was okay with Bec…and Bec and baby Gus both survived to tell the tale, but that terribly stressful night has become the stuff of legends – a kind of marker in our friendship.
We all eventually left the South Coast – Nick and Bec and family to Melbourne, Malaysia, Adelaide and Melbourne again…and us back to Adelaide. It was during a family trip to visit the Petruccos in Melbourne a few years’ ago that Nick brought up the idea of walking across India and raising money for Childfund. My first response was ‘Bloody hell, really?’ It was no surprise to me that Nick and Bec were looking to raise money for children in India. They’d previously spent time there, and had supported an orphanage for some time. Both of them had travelled and worked in India and they had a heartfelt connection with the place and the people. But to pack up the kids and actually walk across India – it rattled my neat city sensibility of life being predictable and in its place. That night we chatted about the plan and made a few jokes about Nick dressing in Gandhi-like white flowing apparel and walking with a large stick across India.
But when Nick has a dream – Nick really has a dream! And his patient, enthusiastic and seemingly tireless partner, Bec, was by his side. Before long they were organising a fundraising day in Melbourne and they pulled together an amazing range of inspirational speakers who donated their time… and they managed to sell hundreds of tickets, raising thousands of dollars for their cause. It really was a wonderful, inspiring day, and they were a little closer to realising Nick’s dream.
A few years’ ago, Nick and Bec set off with their family on a trip up the east coast of Australia. It was precious time out for all of them from work and school, and a chance to travel together. They bought a camper trailer and lived the dream for a few months. Just before they set off on their India trek, the beloved camper trailer was sold to help finance the journey.
So they set off to India with their kids… and their wonderfully supportive extended family and friends joined them along the way. I should mention that at this point in time, I was at home in Adelaide, in the comfort of our home…but to be fair, I did support them by posting ‘go team’ ‘yay, good on you’ ‘keep going’ messages.
As they travelled, Nick made regular blog posts about their journey – and, as you can imagine, it wasn’t always joyful. Like any good journey story, it contained magnificent highs and desperate lows, overcoming adversity and, finally, after a long and arduous journey, reaching their goal. The success of any one walking day was subject to the weather, extreme heat, rain, energy levels, and just generally trying to look after everyone’s needs. Sometimes they walked along incredibly busy roads with little room to spare; other times they were in peaceful rural settings stopping at a roadside coffee tent, and mingling with the locals.
I remember one of Nick’s stories about a particularly horrendous case of food poisoning where he was hallucinating and the hotel room was spinning. I think at this point, Nick was wondering what on earth he’d gotten them all into. Yet at other times, they found themselves surrounded by a throng of happy Indian children, as they handed over supplies and bikes for their school.
When the journey was over and Nick had turned his blogs into a manuscript, he asked me to read it for him. From the outset, I was right there on that journey with them in India. The locations are fascinating; the people are heart-warming. Within the walking group, there was a real sense of team work, unity and love. If the kids got tired, they could jump in the support car; if there was a medical dilemma, Bec (aka Nurse Ratchett) came to the rescue; Nick’s mum Jen was very supportive with the children and general morale; and Nick’s stepdad Nick (yes, you’re right, there are way too many Nicks in that sentence!) helped bolster the team’s spirits when they needed a lift. Nick’s sister, Kate, and her children, flew in to do part of the walk, and the cousins had a great time together on their family adventure. As I said, there were highs and there were lows – but all in all they achieved what they’d set out to do – to walk across India and raise money for children in need.
So congratulations to all of you who made the walk, and played your part in this special story. And particular congratulations to Nick for documenting it and bringing the story to life. I know this is something you’ve wanted to do for a long time and I’m really proud of you. And a special mention to Bec because she’s played an integral role in this journey and this book; and she is always there in the wings, ever-enthusiastic, loving, organised and supportive.
I urge you to buy a copy of Coast to Coast, not only because funds raised from the sale of the book will go to children in need; but also because it’s a wonderful story. Whether you take the journey via your armchair or perhaps it inspires you to do more, it’s a great read about an ordinary family doing something quite extraordinary.
On April 17 we were excited to host the launch of Mike Ladd’s new collection Invisible Mending right here at Wakefield Press.
Rachael Mead had the honour of launching Mike’s book. We recently hosted an exhibition of Rachael’s photography alongside the launch of Cassie Flanagan Willanski’s Here Where We Live, and it was a pleasure to have her back.
If you weren’t able to make it to the launch, don’t worry we’ve got you covered. You can read Rachael’s speech below!
Hello and thank you all so much for coming. It is my great pleasure and honour today to be launching the latest book by one Australia’s most loved and lauded writers – Mike Ladd.
I’ve just used the label “writer” and while we are here to celebrate the launch of Mike’s ninth book, to call Mike a writer is to try to squeeze him into a box that doesn’t properly contain him. Don’t get me wrong, Mike is one of Australia’s most esteemed poets and you can find his work in just about every anthology of Australian poetry in existence. Mike started his career as a poet at seventeen and by 25 he published his first collection The Crack in the Crib.
Just as he was launching his literary career, he started work for the ABC in Adelaide as a sound engineer and by 1997 he’d worked his way up to creating and producing his own Radio National program, Poetica which ran for 18 years until 2015, when it was taken off the air much to the outrage of Australia’s literary community. Mike’s current role with Radio National is in the features and documentary unit but once again the box of documentarian doesn’t contain him either.
In the 80s Mike was a musician in the new wave band The Lounge and he frequently collaborates with musicians and artists, writing poetry for the screen and live performance with groups such as The Drum Poets, newaural net, and Max Mo. He writes, films and edits video poetry and I would recommend finding Zoo After Dark, and The Eye of the Day on YouTube.
Most recently he and his partner the wonderful visual and installation artist Cathy Brooks have been running projects that put poems on street signs as public art and you can see their work in the Adelaide Bus Station and Tram Stop 6 on the line to Glenelg.
Now the reason I’ve gone on about Mike’s rich and varied creative career is that the book we are here for today, Invisible Mending, draws the many threads of his past work together. Invisible Mending is more than a poetry collection; it contains essays, creative non-fiction, personal vignettes and photographs. While on the surface this seems incredibly diverse it is a remarkably coherent mediation on themes of human impact on the natural world and how to mend the rents that grief, loss and change tear in our lives.
The book weaves together poetry and prose pieces, picking up and elaborating on themes that Mike has explored in past work; displacement and marginalization from Picture’s Edge, family and suburbia from Close to Home, and politics and social injustice in Rooms and Sequences. However, the themes of his most recent works clearly still preoccupy him. Transit explored the compounding effect of momentous life events in the construction of identity and healing after loss is a thread that weaves its way through Invisible Mending. Mike also continues to draw on his deep cultural and ecological understanding of Adelaide that was so beautifully expressed in Karrawirra Parri. Environmental devastation, particularly human impact on our natural world is another of Mike’s ongoing preoccupations. With these themes in mind we can see his choice of title is perfect. It is taken from a line in the final piece, “A Country Wedding”, where Mike notices the landscape healing itself after the devastation wrought by flood. This book is an intensely personal account healing after wreckage – both ecological and emotional.
To me, one of the most significant aspects of this book is that all these pieces are non-fiction. Mike is a documentarian and this book showcases his skill at observing subjects from different angles and digging at the surface until what lies beneath is revealed. The piece that best illustrates this is “Traffik” – a story set in Malaysia and Japan that resembles short fiction but is in fact drawn from real events. Mike produced this work of creative non-fiction from television and newspaper reports while he and Cath were in Malaysia and faced with the unavoidable evidence of deforestation and species loss as a result of the palm oil industry. But even so, the documentarian sees that not everything is black and white. At the heart of this piece is the understanding that emotional bonds can exist between species, and that as humans we do things, often inexcusable things for love and connection. While the ends don’t justify the means, those ends can be understandable, even beautiful. It is not easy, being human. Mike as documentarian observes and reports but does so with empathy and it is his ability to interweave reportage with compassion that makes this book both compelling and insightful.
I’d like to read you one of my favourite poems from the book now – “Travelling the Golden Highway, thinking of global warming”.
I read this to you not only an example of Mike’s brilliance as a poet, showing his mastery of minimalist style and his potent combination of natural and industrial imagery to powerful political effect. But to me this poem demonstrates how Mike, with so few words can embed us in an experience with him. We are there, both crammed into the backseat and crammed inside his head in that moment, thinking about the landscape and climate change. Again, Mike the documentarian is working with Mike the poet to translate his sensory experience of the world into such effective imagery that the reader is given an almost visceral understanding of being Mike Ladd at that point in time. It is this ability to transport us that also makes him a brilliant radio documentarian – in a world where sight is the prime sense he delivers stories that engage the mind by stimulating the minor senses, giving us access to experiences and situations that inspire and fascinate us, allow us to perceive the world differently, peel back layers and feel our way to understanding what lies behind the things we see.
There is so much to say and this book is so diverse yet so coherent I’m really struggling to make this concise so I’m just going to pick out one more thread from this book – a thread that runs through the whole collection – that of grief over the rents and losses that accrue throughout life and the ongoing work of mending to make oneself whole again. While the book moves geographically from Adelaide across Australian highways to the east coast then on to Malaysia, Sydney, South America, Spain and back to Australia the themes of family and loss travel with us – reinforcing that the things make us and break us in life are inescapable – love and grief.
Mike introduces us to his father and the heartbreaking progress of his dementia in the book’s first section, which is grounded in Adelaide and family. We are in Malaysia with Mike as he is researching the Malaysian roots of the pantun form when he hears of the death of his father. Like the Malaysian journey, the essay on the pantun veers into the personal as grief overwhelms all else. “The Book of Hours at Rimbun Dahan” is one of the most moving pieces on grief I have read. Please read it. Then look up the award-winning video poem Eye of the Day on YouTube. It is a gorgeous combination of a selection of tunggal pantun, sound and film and an immersive illustration of the experience grief, regret and distance.
I’m going to read for you now Winter Light.
This book illuminates a writer’s commitment to the mending of grief, the work to close distances that gradually widen in families, the reclamation of lost histories, and the healing of land after centuries of abuse. We look at Mike and see the laid-back, generous, thoughtful man we think we know. But like all of us, this is just the coherent skin we show the world. Turn us inside out and you see all the darning, all the messy stitching holding us all together. And, to me, that’s what this book represents – these poems and stories, insights and observations – these words are all the stitches that hold Mike together. Turn him right side out and it’s Invisible Mending.
Congratulations Mike. It is truly brilliant work and I am honoured to declare Invisible Mending officially launched!
What’s hilariously funny and poignantly tender, written by an award-winning Wakefieldian, and about to be a big Christmas seller?
This guy! Launching as part of Feast Festival next Tuesday, with music by Triptick and wines by our very favourite sponsors, Fox Creek, Fables Queer and Familiar is one of our big (little) books for this summer. Written by the always-wonderful Margaret Merrilees, who’s been shortlisted left, right and centre for The First Week, and adapted from her online serial Adelaide Days (which has already got an enormous following), Fables is pitch-perfect. Read more here (and put your name down to grab a copy when they come in!), and we’ll see you all on Tuesday!
Okay okay okay. Deep breaths. We got some good ones on their way!
First things first: we’ve got two very different and very exciting books coming out within a day of each other.
Memoirs of Mixed Fortunes is a memoir from the (self-styled) first native-born South Australian, Samuel Joseph Stuckey. Including recollections of his brush with the Burke and Wills group, his time in Pakistan getting camels for use in the north, and the shooting death of Aboriginal man Pompey, it’s a fascinating read, supported by original documents supplied by memoir editor and his great-granddaughter, Mary Louise Simpson.
The following night, for something completely different, will be the launch of The Case for Palestine by Paul Heywood-Smith. This book presents the history and issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict from the point of view of an Australian observer who has been deeply involved since 1973. A founding member of the Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA), Paul Heywood-Smith argues that it is the responsibility of all adult and thinking members of the world community to inform themselves of the background to the conflict and the current issues associated with its resolution.
Now, there’s one other thing. Have you guys ever been to this place? It’s just around the corner from our new premises, it’s amazingly delicious, and amazingly cheap!
If you can’t tell, we’re feeling a lot of gratitude for good books and good pizza over here today …