'Part road movie, part memoir, part murder mystery, Seven Versions of an Australian Badland embarks on an enthralling journey through time, into the realms of myth and magic, narcissism and genocide.' (Back cover)
'Contemporary Australian cultural studies has seen a move towards a multimodal awareness of space and place in writing – a speculative turn in both critical and creative work confronting the subject/object dichotomy as a limitation in place-making. Theorists such as Ross Gibson, Stephen Muecke and Michael Farrell offer beautiful conceptualisations of written spaces, drawing from several philosophical traditions, which might give context to contemporary creative practices. This writing regularly draws from movement as an integral feature of the practice discussed, with walking emerging in several approaches to re-envision the poet wanderer. But it is also possible to trace in this writing an act of selfmanifestation, a desire for the ‘doing-making’ of self to be inscribed within the multimodal spaces created. This paper will argue that this layering of self and space in the act of writing is both akin to and actively opposing the tradition of Romantic thought. While several features of the practices invoked might seem to draw from similar acts of immersion in landscape, the underlying trope of the Romantic poet’s divine communion is inverted in the speculative drive towards multimodal relation.
‘A fire hydrant on a street corner in Carlton, in inner-city Melbourne, carries an ephemeral stencilled graffito : ‘terror nullius.’ The graffito is a pun on the legal doctrine of terra nullius, Latin for ‘nobody’s land,’ which dictated that any territory found by a colonizing power could be occupied and claimed if it was deemed not to be inhabited by prior occupants. Typically it was deployed by the British, for example, in a number of rulings in the mid- to late – nineteenth century, (Reynolds, 'Frontier History' 4) to legitimize their colonial conquests around the so-called New World, in particular in Australia. Its hegemony as a legal fiction was ended by the Australian High Court’s historic Mabo ruling of 1992, which deemed that so-called native title, that is, Indigenous possession of Australia, had existed before and after British occupation and the declaration of sovereignty in 1788 (Butt, Eagleson, and Lane).’ (Introduction)
The signal pistol
Echoes on the hard surface
Of the swimming pool.
And this tiny gem is by the contemporary Australian writer Robert Gray, matching Seishi for precision even though Gray's poem is fashioned from a much looser part of the world:
Torpid farmland afternoons.
A windmill stirs
as a bubble breaks in buttermilk.
(Gray 'Twenty Poems' 91)
Entire systems of reality are sketched quickly but exactly in these works. Shifts of scale spring from quickly conjured settings. Note all the perspectives offered in each poem, how in an instant your sensibility grabs several vantages on the scenes. Conjunctions of heat and smell and sound all shuttle across your cognitive frame, putting you here and there in a flash, giving you sudden and intense access to realities within the settings that are being witnessed. From the intimacy of your own witnessing body, you span out to encompass sharp details of large places-the hard acoustic slap in a swimming pool that's big enough for tournaments; the almost-imperceptible transpiration across flatland paddocks that need more water than raw nature supplies. And then in the next instant, as the meagre syllables slip along, memories pulse suddenly within you to bring you quickly back close to yourself via past time. All this occurs in a rhythm that folds the larger world and you together unstintingly. Appreciating Seishi's and Gray's crystalline miniatures, you know closeness as well as vastness in a retinue of glimmering moments. Emphasising definitive details of lived experience so exactly, both poems are realist.'