I moved to Perth from the country when I was eighteen to study and haven’t left. I’m thirty-six today, which means I’ve now been here half my life. I’ve lived in nine different suburbs from North Lake in the south to Lesmurdie in the hills, but it’s Victoria Park in the inner-city which has become home. My brother and I moved into a decaying weatherboard house in East Victoria Park in 2002. It was before the boom, and it cost $120 a week. There was a hole in the bedroom wall and the feel of the 1950s still in the old carpet and fittings and the overgrown quarter-acre backyard. We were shocked at the price – far beyond us – when it was put up for sale for $350,000 the next year. After a few years in share houses in East Victoria Park until I got married in 2006, it took six years to get back to the area, but Nicole and I had often thought we probably would, and now we’ve been back in Victoria Park for five years. Continue reading
Tracy Ryan Claustrophobia (Transit Lounge, 2014)
My friend Tracy Ryan’s new novel, Claustrophobia, was published recently by Transit Lounge. Set in Perth, it’s a literary thriller about a woman’s obsession with her husband, Derrick’s ex-lover, Kathleen. The claustrophobia of the title is an apt description of the feel of the novel. We’re constrained within the narrative viewpoint of Pen and her narrow, obsessive world. Her marriage is claustrophobic, too, the jealousies and social isolation fueling her behavior. The clichés in which Pen talks and coats her world hint at a darker side constrained within, and it’s this side of her which is gradually revealed.
Pacing is important to the thriller, and in this novel it’s just right, building up tension slowly and, for the reader, unbearably, knowing something must break. The plot opens with an inciting incident of Pen uncovering an undelivered letter from Derrick to Kathleen, and deciding to open it and read it. From here, this initial decision to keep a secret in her marriage in retaliation snowballs expertly with each chapter.
I’m left at the end unsure of how to judge the characters; this ambiguity is probably part of the novel’s psychological accomplishment. Pen is an unsettling protagonist to live with for 240 pages. The positive spin on her provided by one of the other characters is that she’s intelligent and passionate, but crippled by low self-esteem. Yet as with people in real life, the characters around her don’t know the level of neurosis and obsession percolating behind her façade. Derrick, her husband, truly is too controlling, and can be seen to have helped cause Pen’s madness; yet he is a somewhat more balanced and grounded person than Pen. Kathleen is the most sympathetic of the major characters, an articulate and generous academic who lives life to the full—and yet has her own obsessiveness which emerges late in the novel.
The novel evokes Perth so very well, from suburban life in the hills, to the hallways and cafes of UWA, as well as the bush town of Pemberton. There are too few novels set in Perth, and this one is convincingly grounded in it. It’s possible to loosely associate it with the crime genre, and suggest that with the work of David Whish-Wilson and Felicity Young it begins to map out Perth as an increasingly plausible setting for crime fiction.
On the subject of genre, the characters discuss the novels of Patricia Highsmith and Georges Simenon, perhaps a case of the novel wearing its influences proudly. These are the right reference points for a contemporary novel in the tradition of these two writers, with the fresh setting of Perth.
They began demolishing the Wellington St Bus Station yesterday. I might be the only person sad about this, and in my case, it’s all for sentimental reasons. I’ve spent a lot of time at that bus station since I moved to Perth as an eighteen year old in 1999. It has been an ugly, dingy thing of concrete and tin all that time.
For the first time in ages, I caught a bus into the city a few Saturdays ago, forgot to get off at my stop, and ended up at the station. I didn’t even realise it was its final day, but it was an appropriate co-incidence. The kiosk I worked at for four years was shut up. The place was deserted. I walked through, and tried to breathe it all in for a last time.
The station was opened in 1973, a year which has seemed pivotal to me. The year the fur hit Western Australia in my novel, the year my favourite poet W.H. Auden died, the year my ex-girlfriend was born, the year Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy died in the Amazing Spider-Man.
I worked in that little kiosk within the station every Saturday (except the week of Christmas) from 1999 to 2003. History will not remember it. It was a nondescript place, inexplicably named “R&J Gourmet Deli”, even though the owner’s name was Anne, and it sold nothing more gourmet than a ham and salad roll alongside every standard variety of cool drink and chocolate bar.
The photo above is taken from the counter. I’m glad I wrote on the back. ‘Sat 18/6/01 This morning at work it just started pouring. It was delicious, all that wet.’ That would have been a few weeks after my Ian Pop’s funeral, the first time I’d lost anyone.
I went through the gamut of emotions, cooped up in the kiosk all day each Saturday. It helped pit me against the world, working as everyone else seemed to be at leisure. I felt, in turn, depression and fascination with the world I observed.
It was the characters I remember most strongly. Victor was an elderly Burmese man, who wore an old suit and would come to buy a cup of tea each day. He was usually on his way to sit in a park or the cathedral and meditate on the teachings of Buddha and Jesus. He would take my hand and offer me his blessing, often repeating his favourite saying – ‘Better a day spent in virtue and meditation than a lifetime in vice.’ On my shelf I still have a little book he gave me one day of the sayings of Buddha.
There was another guy, I can’t remember his name, who was a relentlessly optimistic small time crook. He loved to show off to me, but in a rather unassuming way. He was a short guy, with a lot of swagger, a lot of friendliness, and an American baseball jacket. One day he declared he had a new girlfriend; she was fifteen, he proudly told me. The next week he said they were trying to get pregnant. I asked him if that was a good idea.
And then there was Gerry, the self-declared ‘world’s happiest bus driver’. He’d been a car dealer, lost the lot in the recession in the nineties, and blamed Keating, who he hated daily. But his therapist had helped him recover, and now he went around loudly driving buses, being very deliberately happy.
I would listen to Radio National and write poems on pie bags. I would breathe in the fumes, and get over two break-ups in those four years. I’d eat too much chocolate, and go from being a skinny kid to overweight. I knew exactly what I wanted in those years, everything was so very clear.
David’s Whish-Wilson’s new book, Perth, combines memoir, history, geography, architecture and literature to create a rich biography of the city. It’s part of the ‘cities’ series from the publisher, New South.
Whish-Wilson begins with the story of Fanny Balbuk, an Aboriginal woman born in 1840 who reacted to white encroachment ‘by stubbornly continuing to follow the tracks of her ancestors’ (3), meaning she would walk through people’s yards and houses. It’s a fascinating story, but Whish-Wilson’s use of it shows some of his skill as a writer. He starts by recalling how he first heard the story in primary school, giving us a taste of how stories and mythologies are transmitted in Perth (an ongoing theme in the book). He quotes Daisy Bates to give a contemporaneous portrait of Fanny and then describes himself looking out over Perth, picturing her route and being reminded ‘that beneath the geometric frame of the modern city… there exists footpads worn smooth over millennia’ (4).
The book’s long chapters group a diverse range of material around the themes of ‘river’, ‘coast’, ‘plain’, and ‘light’. As an example, in “The Plain”, the focus is on suburbs, which leads to a fascinating overview of the history and architecture of different periods of suburbs, from the inner-suburbs out to Armadale and its place in Perth’s self-perception. The theme brings out the work of Tim Winton and Peter Cowan, the effect of suburban serial killers, and a couple of stories from his own life, finishing with a reflection on the future of Perth’s spread out suburbs in an age of climate change and water shortage. The structure is loose, and gives the work the quality of a wide-ranging conversation – which is both a strength and weakness.
I have learned so much about my own city reading this book. Whish-Wilson’s breadth of reading is remarkable, as is his eye for the fascinating story, image or anecdote. I discovered, for example, that Alan Bond’s offices in the top three floors of the Bond Tower lay vacant from for nearly a decade, and in 2009 they were found to still be in their original condition, ‘so that Bond’s desk, chair and boardroom table were invitingly advertised as part of the new lease’ (79).
This book captures the mythology of Perth, with a strong sense of its past, present and future.
Home Song Stories is writer-director Tony Ayres’ personal excorcism of his troubled childhood with his selfish mother, a fading nightclub singer who constantly sought out new men to admire her and excite her. At the end of the film, the narrator says that he and his sister don’t talk about their mother; they don’t know what to say. Maybe this film will make up for that.
It seems the story is very close to real events, with some minor changes – like moving the action from Perth to Melbourne. It seems that Screenwest just didn’t have enough money to fund this film beyond scripting! They should be funding lots of feature films – it’s the major art form of our time.
I’m guessing Arts Victoria stepped in with some money, on the condition that the action be moved to Melbourne. As a Western Australian, that makes me disappointed – we lose another one of our stories.
If you visit the Metro Cemeteries Board you can see the burial records for both Tony Ayres’ mother, Sue, and his stepfather, Bill Ayres (‘Uncle Bill’). Apparently she killed herself in their flat in Applecross. I think I’ll always think of her now if I’m driving along Canning Highway. What a sad story.
Police and forensic investigators this morning continue to trawl through bushland in Kings Park in the search for missing mother-of-two Corryn Rayney.
Today marks nine days since Mrs Rayney disappeared after a bootscooting class in Bentley on August 7.
During guarded comments to waiting media yesterday, police admitted they had found “disturbed soil” in an area of Kings Park where an oil link from Mrs Rayney’s car lead them yesterday.
The story has been building up for days. At first she was just missing, mysteriously, after a Bootscooting class. And then yesterday her car is found in Subiaco. And then a trail of oil into King’s Park and recently disturbed soil.
It feels, reading the paper and listening to the news, that the media has this expectation: today there will be a body.
And Perth, voyeuristically, waits. I peer into King’s Park from the bus on the way to work, but I don’t even see any police cars. Somewhere in there, a body.
King’s Park seems a place for bodies. Recently, there were weeks of stories in the local paper about a missing Nedlands man. His poster was up at the local supermarket. He looked familiar; maybe I met him once. And then the postscript: a tiny article in the local paper saying that police had confirmed a body found in King’s Park was that of missing man and no suspicious circumstances were involved. Between the lines: a suicide, and, hence, thankfully, not a media fanfare. I felt so sad reading about it.
A few years ago, a homeless woman was found dead in King’s Park. She had no family.
King’s Park has taken on a sinister aspect in my mind. A place of secrets. A place of death.
Me and Nicole went to see the Cure on Saturday night.
It was at Challenge Stadium, a basketball stadium, and the setting for part of my novel The Fur. It was strange to be back in that place again; the last time was nine years ago when I was playing volleyball at countryweek. Robert Smith was standing on that same ground where I’d been playing sport.
They played for over three hours, a loud and generous set that seemed to cover every single album except Bloodflowers. (I wonder if he regrets Bloodflowers? I have always liked it and I always will.) Some of the songs I remember him playing are:
– Us or them
– A hundred years (a real treat)
– Wrong number
– Lovesong (at this point Kath and Kim next to me got up and did a chicken dance.)
– Pictures of you (another highlight for me; but if only he’d played Last dance.)
– Fascination street (actually this was early in the set)
– Deep green sea
– Friday I’m in love (was this in the encore? I think so)
– The kiss (the only song I remember repeated from the last Perth concert in 2000 – when he played every single Bloodflowers song.)
– Why can’t I be you?
– Just like heaven
– Jumping someone else’s train
– Killing an arab
– The forest
– The walk
– Never enough
– Three imaginary boys
– Fire in Cairo
The bass player, Simon Gallup, was annoying, he kept on bending his knees and crouching and swaying; he didn’t have any of the dignity of the others. He looked like a little boy playing with his older brothers. Even if he’s been with the band since the start.
I wish Robert had said more, revealed something of himself, or about the songs. I guess he wanted them to speak for themselves. At one point he said he wasn’t saying much because he kept forgetting he spoke the same language as us.
With two guitars, a bass and drums in a heavy rock stadium setup, the interpretation of the songs was really aggressive. I guess that’s my main criticism. I would have liked to have seen a softer, more varied performance. And keyboards. Give us that 80s sound! Instead, we had a clear message that ‘we’re not too old for this’.
UPDATE: Here’s a complete setlist-