An insightful, edifying and thoroughly captivating edition, in which issues crucial to the current political, economic and cultural climate are expounded upon with dexterity and wit.
An eclectic corpus of essays, fiction and poetry, memoir and photography, Meanjin Volume 71 Number 3 Spring 2012 places the emphasis on high quality, thought-provoking content, employing a range of varied media to delve further into stories with a distinct localised flavour.
In an editorial that sets the tone for the rest of the journal, editor Sally Heath interlaces humour with facts to paint the stark reality facing many in the publishing industry and the broader arts sector. In a rousing call-out, she underlines the importance of ‘telling Australian stories and reinforcing uniquely Australian cultural values:
‘The publishing industry is in transition. Times are tough, the market for the printed word is hard, a tricky environment that also demands creative thinking.’
In ‘The State of Australia’s Performing Arts Centres and What It Tells Us about the State of the Australian Arts’, Ben Eltham typifies the theme of Heath’s editorial and delves into the ‘curious disconnect’ that ensues when federal and state governments choose to invest in hard arts infrastructure – such as performing arts and entertainment centres – instead of developing cultural policies, funding commissioning programs or programming budgets, fostering talent and building arts communities.
Eltham uses the Albany Entertainment Centre as a cautionary tale to demonstrate the problems that arise when the construction of a fancy arts centre is not supported by effective management, a clear marketing paradigm, a commissioning program and robust community participation.
‘Investment in buildings – the venues – needs to be supplemented with recurrent operational funding. The commitment needed is therefore greater than is generally understood, which can lead to problems for local and regional centres.’
The essays contained within Meanjin constitute a diverse body of works. Apart from Eltham’s piece, Rebe Taylor’s ‘The National Confessional’ ¬– which delves into the complicated and painful legacy of the ‘last’ Indigenous Tasmanian, Truganini – and Paul Daley’s ‘Disturbing the Bodies’ – which details Daley’s sojourn into the battlefields of Somme, where he uncovers the remains of Australian soldiers and asks how they should be memorialised – provide a commentary on thorny issues pertinent to Australia’s politicised cultural and historical landscape.
Conversely, James Bradley’s ‘Encounters with the Uncanny’ provides a light-hearted respite from grave subject matters, detailing a few grisly encounters and explaining the scientific reasoning that may lie behind supernatural sightings.
Much like the essays, the fictional works within Meanjin embrace diverse trajectories and disparate themes. Marion Halligan’s short story ‘Eating Oysters’ captivates, as Ralph grapples with paradoxical feelings of guilt and lust on his 20th wedding anniversary after harbouring a secret lover for the past three years. Mark Welker’s ‘A Funeral for Eddie Moon’ draws in various residents of a small town as they prepare for Moon’s final send-off – culminating in a chilling and thoroughly unexpected finale.
The brief, staccato paragraphs and the third-person narrative that constitute ‘What Remains the Same’ by Michele Freeman is integral to the heartbreaking tale of a powerless sister bearing witness to her brother Shaun’s gradual descent into alcoholism and mental illness. By tracing key moments in the siblings’ lives – from their childhood through to their young adult years – Freeman effectively maps an all too common journey: substance abuse, a dysfunctional household, and schoolyard bullying.
Interspersed throughout the journal, poetry provides a welcome change of pace from the comparatively longer works. Particularly memorable are Ciaran MacLennan’s ‘By Sea They Come’, an account of the perilous journey and unwelcome reception asylum seekers face on their arrival in Australia; the lighter ‘Waiting for the Train’ by Craig Billingham; and the dark and evocative ‘Father; At the Market’ by Dimitra Harvey, where words flows seamlessly from stanza to stanza, ever so often peppered with the odd full stop that imbues it with an incessant sense of rhythm.
Unlike some other journals, Meanjin is aided by liberal use of photographs that are crucial to the unfolding of various narratives – none more so than in Daley’s aforesaid piece; photographer Lucy Parakhina’s picture gallery-cum-diary entry; Helen Ennis’s ‘The Space of Biography: Writing on Olive Cotton’ and John Kinsella’s short memoir, ‘Autography 5’. Each account is enlivened by drawing directly upon the images to shed more light on the premise it tackles.
Meanjin Volume 71 Number 3 Spring 2012 proves to be an insightful, edifying and thoroughly captivating edition, in which issues crucial to the current political, economic and cultural climate are expounded upon with dexterity, striking simplicity and inescapable wit.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Meanjin Volume 71 Number 3 Spring 2012
Edited by Sally Heath
Paperback, 192pp, $24.99
Melbourne University Press