Small City Tales of Strangeness and Beauty

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Gillian Britton, Stephen Lawrence
Wakefield Press, 2009 - Adelaide (S. Aust.) - 197 pages
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'In these stories, poems and photographs with Adelaide as its theme, the city sighs with shifting sands. Its mornings swirl with readdressed mail and untended gardens, its afternoons seethe with melting bitumen and its nights crackle with heat, breakdown, the attrition of marriages. The city disgorges stories in the way waste yields coloured glass, not as a collector's item but as something being halted from passing out of memory.' - From the foreword by Brian Castro Contributors include: Nicholas Jose, Jude Aquilina, Rachel Hennessy, Anne Bartlett, Carol LeFevre, Jill Jones, Ken Bolton, Graham Rowlands and John Tranter, writing as Mark Pallas.
 

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Ask someone from interstate what their thoughts or impressions of Adelaide are and the answer will probably range between it being the most boring city in Australia to the bizarre murder capital of the world! Thankfully this excellent collection of short stories, poems and photos will go some way towards dispelling the stereotypes, debunking the myths and showing some of the subtleties that lie beneath the shadows cast by Light’s statue. Inevitably in a compendium as varied as Adelaide itself, there are variations in quality, but overall this is a very strong, consistent selection, with many familiar Adelaide landmarks and events providing a backdrop to the creative output within. Bustling Rundle Mall. The meandering “rheumy” River Torrens, run aground on its own banks. The fawning Festivals and haring cars of Mad Marches. The festivity of the Pageant and the 70s pageantry of the Festival Theatre. Its sapping heat and soporific beaches full of stunned, sleepless escapees from the savage sun. The soulless suburbs stretching like a dreary blanket from Wynn Vale to Salisbury.
Throughout this anthology are the homeless and desperate of Petra Fromm’s ‘A Live Kidney’, smelling like feral cats, “his jowly face hanging in grey folds as if holding up the skin was too much effort”. Buskers and hustlers as described by Jude Aquilina in her “curious composition “ Early Morning Bruegel, “a frenzied busker, missing a string repels donors with his filthy feet and discord.” We all just all walk on by, oblivious to the tumult and turmoil of the lives swirling around us. This quiet small city of the south, Australia’s most European outpost.
Standout stories for me in this collection include the riotous Rob de Kok piece ‘The Dumbest Thing Christ Ever Said’ about finding religion in the brothels of Port Adelaide: “You are not alone in this Southern desert, love like a wounded elephant, terrible and pathetic, storms the deadly streets.” Outing by Anna Solding is the deceptively simple story of a young boy taken on a trip to the city by his papery Aunt Eddie (no relation) while his mother has an abortion. It packs a powerful emotional punch. ‘Guarding the Pageant’ by Stephen Orr, ‘So Long Dianne’ (Kristen Thornell) and Carol LeFevre’s desperate tale of life on the margins on ‘Rangoon Road’. A road to nowhere. Angela Smith’s Flight DJ546 from Adelaide is the pick of the poems, with its depiction of “the reality of the writer” at an embarrassing author signing session during Writer’s Week. All the works in this anthology are enjoyable in some way though, from the big name authors such as Stephen Orr to the unknown graduates of Adelaide’s fine creative writing courses.
“A small city marks you with exquisite moments of delight and pain,” goes the foreword to Small City Tales. “A region or way of life does not begin to exist until it has been interpreted by one artist after another,” suggests Nettie Smith in the epigraph. Adelaide may be a small city but the tales it has to tell are endless and as the work of the artists in this book suggest, remains ripe with possibilities for many more tales of beauty and strangeness such as these to be unfolded.
 

Contents

Tributary leading onto Rundle Mall John De Laine
7
Boats for Hire David Mortimer
20
At Adelaide Writers Week Mary Manning
26
the grace Reniadctte Smith
47
At The Flash before work November morning Ken Bolton
62
Taking the Cake Steve Evans
72
Fashoda St Adelaide Graham Rowlands
81
So Long Dianne Kristel Thomell
88
On Reading an Electrical Meter
107
Thirst Anne Bartlett
118
Skin Nic Rowan
131
This House in Glenalta Stephen Lawrence
145
Going Going Alexandra Weaver
157
Opening Night West Beach Cameron Fuller
169
Glenelg Beach Courtney Black
184
On a Moonless Night at Grange David Ades
191

Picking a Fight with Colonel Light Michael Winkler
97

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