Fiction and non-fiction – paperback; Brio Books; 185 pages; 2019.
Perth — the capital city of Western Australia — is one of the most isolated cities on earth, sandwiched between the great expanse of the Indian Ocean and the vast Australian outback. Until I visited the city on a short holiday in 2015, I had never even stepped foot in Western Australia — now I’ve chosen to call this part of the world home.
When I saw this anthology on the shelves at (my new) local independent bookshop (New Edition, in Fremantle, which I love) I couldn’t resist buying it. I hoped that reading it might give me some background to the city and perhaps tell me a few things I didn’t know, a kind of literary familiarisation for want of a better description.
Off the bat I have to say the collection is diverse — there’s fictional pieces and essays on a vast array of topics and themes by a series of new and emerging writers — so it’s not cohesive in that sense, but it does provide an interesting portrait of a city in flux, a city I understand has a long history of boom and bust, and which has gone through some enormous changes in the past decade thanks to a massive mining boom, which is now on the slide. (There’s a lot of wealth here, but I’ve also noticed a lot of rough sleepers, which is surprising given the relatively small population of 2.1 million people.)
Interestingly enough, there are no stories here about mining, but there are stories about immigrants moving here and finding their feet and tales about young people learning to stand on their own two feet for the first time. If I was to criticise it in any way, I’d say it feels slanted towards young voices rather than a broader mix of young, old and everything in between — but that’s a minor quibble and I expect it can’t be helped given its focus on new writers.
An introduction to the city
The opening piece, Split by Cassie Lynch, is a beautiful introduction to the city, showing how it has developed and grown — but at great cost. The author is a descendant of the Noongar people — whose ancestral lands comprise the south west and south coast of Western Australian — and she uses indigenous story-telling techniques that blend magic realism with vivid descriptions of the plants and birds and animals that once inhabited the area now home to the CBD. She looks at how the city has been altered by geography, by nature, by violence.
Settlers will say that they brought science, technology and worldly culture to the shores of this wild country. Marvels. Advancements. Shakespeare. The wheel. And they did.
But they also brought savagery to Noongar Country. Slavery. Poverty. Incarceration.
Another hard-hitting piece is a journalistic essay by Scott-Patrick Mitchell entitled Tales from Meth City, which looks at how a once silent epidemic was exposed by the media in 2014 and the impact the drug has had on the community.
The front page news hit Perth’s psyche pretty hard. With a chorus of fury and lament, anger and denial, people all across the state suddenly became armchair experts on the issue. Social media comment sections became an echo chamber of outrage. People openly pointed out addicts to their friends on public transport, talking loudly about how the government should just lock up all these junkies. One man in Hillarys — a very affluent suburb located in the Norther suburbs, filled with McMansions, clean parks and rich kids — even spray-painted his neighbour’s house with the phrase ‘JUNKIE DOGS’. They were mere casual users.
But it’s not all as heavy as this. There’s a few lighter pieces, such as Priya Chidambaranathan’s Tea, Cake and a Bit of Cleavage, a short story revolving around a child’s first birthday party and a bold dress her mother decides to wear, and Brunette Lenkic’s Featherlands, a short report about a neighbourhood terrorised by noisy peacocks.
All up there are 12 stories in this collection, which have been chosen to “tell us stories we wouldn’t expect” (as per the blurb on my edition). It follows on from a similar collection, published in 2013, called Stories of Sydney.
I hope the publisher plans to extend the franchise to other capital cities, such as Brisbane and Melbourne, as it’s an interesting exercise to read an anthology focused on a particular place. I’m not sure I learned that much about Perth from this one, but I certainly enjoyed reading it.
The book is available in paperback and ebook formats in Australia, and in eBook only in the UK and North America.