Meanwhile in Australia

The Arts have been suffering under our marvellous Coalition government for a long time. Until now, literature copped the biggest hiding, but now, small companies in other sectors are joining us and we really don’t want company in starving in garrets. Australia doesn’t have garrets… older houses, in fact, are mostly three bedroom, single story on a quarter acre block. We are not Paris in the nineteenth century. Our Arts sector, however, feels a bit like that – loved and punished both at once. Considered interesting by the rest of the country, but almost definitely despised by the right wing that nevertheless claims the benefits of culture. Here’s the article:

For my region we have this on top of bushfires. I know you all know that, but totting up the balances is a scary business. Most offers of government support ask us, “What has changed since COVID-19 came onto the scene?” but we had to pull our heads in months before. I seem to spend a lot of time right now explaining this to people who want to help me but who can’t fit me into categories.

I rebelled yesterday. I made my own category in a US online bookshop that helps keep indie bookshops alive. I wanted it to be easier for writers local to me to get income. I’d already put the books of mine that were available through the shop into a list (only seven of them – this shows how Australian writers aren’t quite as easy to get hold of internationally as it looks, in the brave new world of print on demand) so I added a new one, which is an introduction to some of the current Australian and NZ science fiction and fantasy writers who can be obtained by post in the US. Here is the page with all my lists, just in case you’re after a series to drown yourself in rather than a book by an Australian writer.

This week I’m not actually a living advertorial. I sound like one. I certainly feel like one. I’ve been asked so many questions. So very many questions. My time is very precious this week, for I’ve the it’s hard work to stay afloat physically and not fall too far behind financially, and I’ve got questions to answer, and … this week I’m preparing for Passover. On top of everything else. A human advertorial preparing for a festival that so few Australians celebrate.

Other Aussies mostly explain that they’re not Christian – they just celebrate Christmas and Easter and take Sundays off. Australia is not religious, but it’s really rather Christian in culture. Sometimes this is lovely, but it means, every year, I have to defend and justify and explain my own festivals. In some parts of the US there are enough Jews so that you can assimilate without loss, but in Australia the public expectation is that you lose anything that doesn’t fit with public feeling about what is appropriate. This is complicated. What is appropriate for a Jew in Australia? Each of us finds our own way, for there is no single view.

Normally, it’s an uphill slog for Passover. This year was no exception. The exception this year was that friends came to my aid. Jackie French didn’t take “I’ll improvise” for an answer, and I have horseradish from one of her friends. Horseradish as my bitter herb is a deep part of my family tradition, so this means, though there will be no-one with me during Passover and though I may not be attending the family gathering from a distance (not a story for here, I’m afraid) I won’t be alone. That’s the thing about Passover. The seder plate and the traditional food is memory and friends and family. Even alone one is not alone if one can get the ingredients right.

The fact that my ingredients are right (not kosher, except for the matzah, but emotionally right) is a huge tribute to the community spirit that you all saw during the bushfires. That horseradish comes from Narooma, which has moved from Firetime to Crowtime with barely a moment to breathe. The friend finding me things is from Araluen, which was shut off during Firetime and now is closed again. My apples come from Batlow, that town that was heavily burned… but the orchard survived and now farmers are dealing with the problem of getting fruit to market within the limits of lockdown. I talked to the owner at the farmers’ market in the days I was still allowed to go to farmers’ markets. Now I’m confined home again, as a high risk person, so someone chatted to the farmer on my behalf and they found me the exact varieties my father’s charoseth needed. And so it continues.

I’ve decided that this is an important indicator of emotional survival of COVID-19. These communications where some people know each other and some don’t, but all are reaching out to solve problems and have problems solved. Community helps us get through, even if we never actually meet each other.

I did my bit when the politicians rang. I had worked out who was missing what in three different categories: one for everyday care (some people are so isolated now, it’s scary), one for writers like me (the assistance requires documentation that does not exist often enough in the writing world with its money-after-the-event and gig economy and last minute cancellations), and one for the emotional well-being of cultural minorities. He’s the Minister for Multicultural Stuff (he has a formal title, but I like Multicultural Stuff) and he has promised to do public wishes for important occasions, because that means our part of Canberra life will be acknowledged: we won’t be invisible and feel alone.

I’ve never seen a time when senior politicians (even Territory or State ones) ring round and listen. I’ll be watching where this one takes the conversations. The fact that he rang, however, with no idea who I was or what conversation he was in for (poor man!) suggests that Firetime taught us something and that our region will not have it any easier from the virus itself, but that we may have learned how to be there for others. Not all Canberrans. But enough of us.

This is watch and see time, and it’s difficult. Lockdown is difficult. Not knowing if there’s any income or if infrastructure is going to break down is difficult. For all of us. I am hopeful that my region is kind and clever, but the proof, as they say, will be in the pudding. We won’t really know for a year. We have to experience that year. All of us do.

From everyone in my region to all of you – take care. If talking helps, then talk with me. I’m getting good at it.

Stay safe and let your brain wander into all the good or fascinating places you’ve dreamed of. I put together more lists than the Australian and NZ one so that you can find the books you need. (If people are giving to me, then I need to share, too.) If there’s another kind of book you want to read that’s neither horror nor apocalyptic – we have enough of both of those in everyday life – then give me a hint and I’ll make more lists of good books.

My whole region is trying to take the bad things and turn them into much and grow gardens, the least I can do is show you were to find dreams and places you can run to, so that you can walk in gardens even if you are, like me, stuck in a few rooms for months on end.

Good books help so much. I walk while I read. It’s one of the ways I achieve enough movement in a given day. When I walk, only the corners of my eyes see that I’m in my living room. I can pretend it’s a hall in a mansion or a path going somewhere strange. The other day I started reading in my living room, felt a change underfoot and realised I was in the library (my library is anyone else’s main bedroom). That moment when I woke from a story to find myself surrounded by story is still with me.


Update: someone clever has turned the Australia community desire into a website. All other regions need to do is develop their own website and they wouldn’t need the bushfire experience to find out who can give and who needs something:



Meanwhile in Australia — 6 Comments

  1. Thanks to you I discovered Sulari Gentill and her Rowland Sinclair mystery series.
    Highly recommended 1930s on the dark side of cozy. Some humor. Some of the dark side of the years leading up to WWII.

    And thanks to you I’m putting together an new anthology “Oz is Burning” (working title) through B-Cubed Press. Mostly Australian authors.A publisher’s share and my editor’s share of the profits will go to a yet to be determined charity, probably one that focuses on wildlife rescue and habitat restoration. We can’t pay much but hopefully we’ll bring some attention to some really talented authors.

    • I love it that you, too, are doing the outreach thing. It’s what will help more people get through this time. I’m glad you found Sulari – and I’m really, really looking forward to that anthology! The timing shouldn’t be perfect for right now, but it is.

  2. Thanks again, Gillian, for keeping us updated! I, too, discovered Sulari Bentill through you, and am really enjoying her characters and history/settings. Hang in there, and best wishes!