One day I was cycling around Melbourne and I saw a delivery motor bike in front of me. On its rear it said “you ling, we bling,” and I braked so fast you’d have thought I was in a cartoon. The unfortunate thing is, Miss Chu’s is not alone amongst Melbourne’s eateries in its racist imagery. So come with me now on a tour of racism, appropriation and ‘fun’ across Melbourne’s restaurants.
- people who surge towards the train doors as they open and have to be forced to let people off
- bikes on trains at peak hour (travelling with the peak) leaving no room for wheelchairs and mobility scooters
- the smell
- the East West Link
- every single driver, cyclist, tram and pedestrian on Sydney Road who isn’t Liz
- Upfield Line comes only every 20 minutes
- unlit stretches on Upfield Bike Path (obviously the fault of the train line)
- the number of disposable coffee cups abandoned underneath the seats
- people who insist on not getting off the tram till they’ve touched off, in the city centre. DON’T DO THAT
- that time someone yelled at Steph for having her bike on the train (despite it being contraflow and in an empty front section)
- the way people all crowd around the door
- the distance between the platform and the train at brighton beach station
- IT IS NOT RAINPROOF
- ptv’s lack of integration
- giant puddles form a lake between tram and footpath on Sydney Road
- rail infrastructure dates back to 1930s
- the smell
- having to hear ‘dumb ways to die’ four times whilst waiting for your burger from the lord
- that one time someone Steph knows was masturbated against on the tram
- how hard it is to actually report a thing to Metro Trains
- ticket inspectors seem to mostly target young men of colour and the vulnerable or disadvantaged
- twitter last week had a person whose sister was harassed by PSOs at her station
- remember that time they assaulted a teenage girl and then charged her for spitting on them?
- and people who get off then stop stock-still right in front of the doors. I WILL BODYSLAM YOU, PEOPLE, DON’T THINK I WON’T. YOU’RE MORE YIELDING THAN THE TRAM DOORS THAT WANT TO CLOSE BEHIND YOU
- people who insist on staying in the doorway until their myki has registered before they’ll get on the tram. THERE ARE FORTY PEOPLE BEHIND YOU AND WE ALL WANT TO BOARD. SWIPE ONCE EVERYONE’S ON BOARD
- teaching visitors how to myki
- ONLY PLACE IN THE WORLD YOU CAN’T BUY A TICKET BUT YOU CAN GET A FINE FOR A LACK OF TICKET
- THE SMELL
- sitting on a train between north melbourne and southern cross
- sitting on a train between flinders street and richmond
- “the train will be departing shortly” OH WILL IT
You can be forgiven for not knowing what that means. I’ve read the flyer and looked at the facebook page, and I still don’t know.
What I do know is that this is what the back of the flyer looks like:
And that the front of the flyer says ‘connect feeling, share expression, awaken life.’ This event is apparently about community, but whose community? At between $55 to $80 for a ticket, with a WHITE AS clientele except for performers (and that one kissy face dude in the corner), I have my suspicions.
From the Trybooking page: WHO COMES: Everyone is invited! From children to grandparents! The main clientele is usually conscious people who want to celebrate their hearts openly in fun and play. And by defacing the heritages and cultures of other peoples, I guess. This event will apparently open with a sacred ceremony (sacred to whom? Cannot wait to see whose culture they indiscriminately mine to contribute to this feeling of transformation).
As always, thank you for including brown people in your event. By paying us to be performers and then abusing our cultures and heritages.
The Melbourne Queer Film Festival starts in just TWO HOURS. This year I’m blogging for MQFF, so I’m heavily involved, and you can see my filthy penguin flipperprints over everything (check out the blog).
I love Melbourne’s festivals, as they’re often a great time to get involved in a community, learn more about a subject, or just love Melbourne a little bit more. And MQFF is definitely one of my favourite festivals all year round. And if you’re broke, there’s even $10 buck tix, which I LOVE the concept of.
Tonight is the opening night party, and there are still tickets to that: Any Day Now, starring your favourite and mine, Alan Cumming. Also I will be wearing a tutu.
And I am super excited about so many films! If you’re still unsure, I wrote a list for Peril of Azn-interest films, and below is my personal list (note: I won’t end up seeing all of these):
G.B.F (Gay Best Friend) (Saturday 15 March, 20:15): The summary starts “Move over Mean Girls and Heathers, it’s 2014 and there’s a new set of prom queen wannabes and they need a gay best friend;” I don’t need to know anything else.
Quick Change (Saturday 15 March, 16:00): I have seen the first five minutes of this movie and it looks adorable – sadly my screener was having issues and I failed at seeing the rest. This Filipino movie is about Dorina, a trans woman who makes a living selling homemade cosmetics to other trans women. She does a runner when a client has a bad reaction to some of her cosmetics.
Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf? (Sunday 16 March, 20:30): This is a comedy and I need the laughs.
OUT in the Line-Up (Sunday 16 March, 15:00): Australian documentary. Queer surfers.
52 Tuesdays (Tuesday 18 March, 18:00): Filmed every tuesday over a year, this film (not a documentary) follows a teen as one of her parents transitions, and I am super into the conceit of this film.
Bad Hair (Wednesday 19 March, 18:00): Not totally sure what this movie is about, but I do know Junior wants to straighten his hair and I’m intrigued.
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (Wednesday 19 March, 21:00): Taiwanese movie about discovering one is gay after being established with a family. Allegedly a comedy of errors. This usually wouldn’t be my thing but it’s the only Mandarin-language movie this year.
Noor (Friday 21 March, 18:00): A Pakistani trans man goes on a road trip to find a place where he belongs. Hopefully adorable.
Zoe.Misplaced (Sunday 23 March, 15:00): Melbourne lezzie drama. All good.
I have reviewed Soongava, so I won’t be seeing that again, but it was very interesting.
SEE YOU THERE. Come say hi, I’ll be there most days of the festival.
I’ve never been an advocate of the idea that you must be familiar with certain writers and works in order to call yourself a science fiction fan, but sometimes I find a gap in my reading that’s frankly embarrassing.
So it was with George Turner, the Australian, Melburnian author of acclaimed SF and literary novels. Until The Sea and Summer was quoted in Sophie Cunningham’s Melbourne, I had never heard of him.
Born in 1916, he was already an accomplished critic and novelist (winner of the Miles Franklin Award in 1962) before he started writing SF in the late ’70s. Wikipedia describes his science fiction writing as being remarkable for “detailed extrapolation and … invariably earnest approach to moral and social issues”. Joe Haldeman called The Sea and Summer “didactic”, and apparently meant it as a compliment.
My curiosity was piqued, and The Sea and Summer — published in America as The Drowned Cities — has recently come back into print. I bought the ebook and settled in.
Francis Conway is Swill – one of the millions in the year 2041 who must subsist on the inadequate charities of the state. Life, already difficult, is rapidly becoming impossible for Francis and others like him, as government corruption, official blindness and nature have conspired to turn Swill homes into watery tombs. And now the young boy must find a way to escape the approaching tide of disaster.
What the publisher’s blurb doesn’t tell you is that this is a novel about two brothers, Teddy and Francis. As the novel opens, they’re “little Sweet” — in a society with 90% unemployment, their father has a job, which means they’re lower middle class. Then their father is laid off and cuts his own throat, and so the Conway family becomes rapidly downwardly mobile. They are not actually Swill, but fringe-dwellers, living just a few blocks from the vast skyscrapers that hold the Swill population.
Teddy is “gifted”, so he’s swiftly spirited away by the State, to train in police intelligence. Francis, left behind, is a skilled mathematician in an age where mental arithmetic has been forgotten, and so he becomes involved with a white collar criminal who needs to hide her records from the government.
As a kid in the ’80s and ’90s, I read a lot of didactic science fiction about climate change. I didn’t really enjoy these books (for one thing, my parents were/are climate change skeptics, and regarded environmentalism as a left-wing plot, and as a wee child I absorbed these ideas), but in those heady, pre-internet days, reading SF filled the gap between episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
(The best of those earnest middle grade novels was The Lake at the End of the World by Caroline MacDonald, which surely deserves an entry here if I ever find my copy.)
The Sea and Summer reminded me very strongly of those books. It’s grim, largely humourless, and contains long passages of conversation explaining human nature. I had hoped that Turner’s literary background would be reflected in the quality of his writing, and it was, but it was an assemblage of the traits that put me off “literary fiction” as a genre: a narrative that speaks for the characters instead of letting them demonstrate their qualities through dialogue, and, when they do speak, they all sound basically the same.
Part of this might be down to the framing device: The Sea and Summer is a novel written in the very far future, after humanity has survived the Greenhouse Years and is preparing to face another Ice Age. I wondered if we’re meant to think the author of the novel-within-the-novel is just not very good, but all the far-future characters are written in the same way.
(The far-future setting has no narrative of its own, save for one character — an Indigenous Australian actor who plays caucasians in whiteface — who is seeking to write a play featuring the novel’s characters. There are lots of earnest discussions about human nature, many featuring a Christian character who, as the stereytype goes, cannot speak without moralising. He’s thoroughly judgmental and unpleasant, but apparently we’re meant to find it appalling that he’s studying church history, because what a waste of intellect?)
It’s always hard to judge near-future science fiction without sniggering at the things it gets wrong. (Remember the Eugenics Wars of the late 1990s? Well, who doesn’t?) But I tried very hard, as I was reading, to separate any feelings of superiority I might have at spotting the “wrong” history from my response to the story itself.
This was difficult, though, because the novel deals with issues that are happening right now — financial collapse, harsh austerity measures, chaotic weather — and the responses of the characters, and society in general, bear no relationship to reality. If millions of people are crammed into 70-story buildings and all but left to rot, is it really going to take decades for social unrest to develop? Is it going to be years before people start thinking of re-learning the homesteading arts and becoming self-sufficient?
(As I write, within 24 hours of the government announcing its inhumane policy of sending asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea, protests were being organised by the inner-urban left wing. The Swill v Sweet policies affect the urban poor of the western suburbs — if we tried treating that demographic the way we treat refugees, there would be riots.)
The novel discusses — at great length — the extent to which this status quo is deliberately maintained by the government, but again, it’s not convincing. Coupled with the explanation that the lower classes need to be coaxed into revolution by intellectuals, and the portrayal of the Swill as anarchic and dangerous, I was increasingly uncomfortable with the subtext. There are lots of scenes where characters realise to their amazement that Swill are, in fact, people, but there is such emphasis on the special qualities of Billy Kovacs, the Tower Boss who is an object of fascination throughout the book, that it starts to feel tokenistic. Our best look at an “average” Swill is a scene with a 14 year old prostitute, who is animalistic, violent and frankly a bit stupid.
The novel’s treatment of race, such as it is, is similarly troubling. We have the intellectual, elite Aboriginal in the framing scenes, which is a nice change from the usual absence of Indigenous Australians from any future setting. (I’m troubled by the whiteface aspect, but I can’t quite articulate how. And it’s just a one-off line that I may be blowing out of proportion.) On the other hand, in the novel-within-a-novel, we also have a reference to Asians — okay, a series of racist slurs — moving into central Australia and promptly destroying the environment with artificial weather programs.
Later, Teddy recoils from the realisation that his future mentor is ethnic. I mean, he’s Greek. Now, racist bigotry against Mediterranean immigrants was big in the ’50s and ’60s, but it was dying out in the ’80s — save for a few last gasps in the form of bad comedy — and is pretty much laughable now. Nick is a great character, by far the most likeable in the novel, but I’m still confused by the attitude towards his Greekness.
I don’t mean to be ticking off social justice talking points, but I really can’t not discuss the women of The Sea and Summer. It won’t take long, because there aren’t many. There’s the scholar in the framing device; Alison Conway, mother of the heroes and lover of Billy Kovacs; Nola Parkes, a public servant or businesswoman; and Vi, Billy’s wife, who is immensely fat (“gross” is one word that’s used) but also his political confidant. Oh, and there’s Carol, the love interest for one of the Conway brothers — but don’t worry, she has a couple of scenes, then vanishes from the stage as soon as they become a couple.
I found this interview illuminating:
Do you think there is a difference between the way you set your female characters and your male characters, or not? For instance in The Sea and Summer, the two mothers: were they two characters that were already set?
No they weren’t. The middle-class mother (Alison Conway) was an afterthought.
[The rest of the interview goes into some detail about Turner’s processes for creating female characters, and how that differs from his writing of men.]
It’s a bit silly to complain that a 78-year-old man, speaking in 1994, holds attitudes that aren’t compatible with mine, when I am a 31-year-old woman in 2013. On the other hand, one needs to balance that against the ageist idea that old people are automatically less enlightened, etc. I respect Turner’s attempts to create women with strength, but I disagree that the outcome is successful.
(Not to ding the interviewer as well, but “the two mothers” he refers to are Alison — and Nola Parkes, whose maternal status is completely irrelevant to the role she actually plays in the novel.)
I have to say that I wouldn’t have guessed Alison was a later addition, but I found her character incredibly frustrating. She’s terribly passive, sometimes passive-aggressive, held up by Billy as a figure of ideal womanhood to be protected, kept ignorant and generally put on a pedestal. This was quite annoying, because there were occasional glimpses of a really strong, brave character, but the narrative kept undermining her.
Although I have to say, the narrative didn’t do a great job of supporting her sons, either. Much is made of Francis being unlikeable and generally unpleasant, but until the very end, and an incident that frankly didn’t match up with his earlier behaviour, he didn’t seem like an especially weak or nasty person. Desperate, yes, and somewhat conniving, but his behaviour made sense in the context of his life, and seemed quite understandable coming from a young boy and teenager. Until the very last moment, his punishment doesn’t seem to fit his crime.
I think perhaps the age of the protagonists misled me into approaching this as a young adult novel, ie, it wouldn’t take it for granted that its audience hated and feared teenagers. The lack of sympathy for Francis — and apparent support of Teddy, who is essentially a member of a secret police force — was confusing.
With all these complaints, why did I keep reading?
Well, stubborness, and a strong sense that I wanted to talk about this book.
And it’s an Australian novel that’s set in Melbourne, my adopted city. I really loved the glimpses of the future city (even as I wonder, if rising oceans necessitate the building of sea walls, is the central business district really going to be that dry and well-maintained?), the vast towers dominating Newport and Richmond.
There’s also a glimpse of the past city, as Teddy walks through the long-abandoned Jolimont Railyard, a landmark that no longer exists in 2013 — wiped out by urban renewal, not decay.
The Sea and Summer was described as a novel of Melbourne that advanced its science fiction presence beyond Neville Shute’s On the Shore, updating the apocalyptic city for a new threat. I wonder if perhaps Melbourne is due to be destroyed again, fictionally speaking, and what the 21st century approach will look like.