The Great State Divide, during The Emerging Writer’s Festival, had a number of interstate writers debating what they thought made their state’s writing unique and different from that of the other states.
The debaters included Lisette Ogg who works for the Queensland Writer’s Centre; Rachel Hennessy, her first novel, The Quakers, won the Adelaide Festival Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, receiving $10,000 and publication by Wakefield Press, she currently lives in SA; Simonne Michelle-Wells, a writer from Melbourne (originally from W.A.) with a background in theatre writing and directing; Sean Riley who is regarded as one of South Australia's leading playwrights; and novelist Jennifer Mills who lives in Alice Springs.
Lisette Ogg started the debate by saying that WA writers were full of guilt about their treatment of Aborigines and migrants.
Sean Reilly grew up in Tasmania and told a story of his mother denying his families Aboriginal heritage, even to the extent of playing Spanish music as an attempt to claim they were Spanish. His mother had recently contacted him and told him that they were Tongan. There were a number of books and authors mentioned during the session including Xavier Herbert and I was waiting for someone to mention his novel Capricornia in which a half-caste Aboriginal is convinced by his white father that he is Indonesian.
Sean felt that Tasmanian writers were also full of guilt about what had happened to their state’s Aborigines, and their writing was full of the spookiness and harshness of Tasmania.
Jennifer Mills said there was a flourishing writing scene in Alice Springs.
The writers agreed writer’s shame about our heritage was not unique to any one state, with guilt about our treatment of Aborigines, migrants and the environment being the prevalent Australian voice. Tim Winton was mentioned as someone who typified Western Australian and Australian guilt.
They asked the audience which Victorian writer we thought typified the Victorian voice. No one was game enough to put their hand up. I immediately thought of Peter Carey, who was born in Bacchus Marsh in Victoria and where part of his novel Illywhacker is set. The True History of the Kelly Gang is also set in Victoria and My Life as a Fake is about a literary hoax perpetrated in Melbourne. Those novels all have characters of questionable integrity at their centre who seem to be in denial about the defining elements of their existence.
If I had felt really brave and willing to go into a long winded explanation I would have mentioned science-fiction writer George Turner. Two of the three novels of his I have read are set in Melbourne, with The Sea and Summer having global warming as its backdrop. Another one of his novels, Genetic Soldier, is about a future attempt to recolonise Australia, but this time the Aborigines are genetically enhanced so the outcome is different. Both novels echo the shame of our past.
My next Emerging Writer’s Festival post will cover a session entitled: The Revolution will be Downloaded.