The following is the launch speech given by Anthony Macris at the launch of our Stories of Perth anthology
I would firstly like to acknowledge that the Australian Short Story Festival is taking place on Whadjuk Noongar land and we pay our respects to elders past, present and emerging. We respect their culture and the continuing contribution they make to the life of this city and region.
Anthologies like Stories of Perth play a critical role in developing our writing culture. These days, for the publisher and funding bodies, they are very much a labour of love, and first up I’d like to pay tribute to its editor, Alice Grundy of Seizure, and Brio books, for pulling all of this together.
There’s no vibrant writing culture without places for emerging voices to be published in. And while the digital space has made it possible to publish in ways we’ve never seen before, there’s still nothing quite like finding your work anthologised in book form. There you are, amongst your peers, your words a crisp black on the white paper page. Your stories have been organised into a solid, immutable form. In the first instance, these stories give us a feel for the times we live in, then, over time, become a record that tells us who we were, what we felt, how we dealt with the struggles and celebrations that our lives are made up of.
I’ll talk about some of the struggles and celebrations that fill the pages of this book in a few moments. But first I’d like to talk a little about the society that these struggles and celebrations occur in: the Australia of the first part of the millennium. Australia, we are told these days, is the most successful multicultural society on earth. Now, there is little doubt that our country is one of great wealth, and if you take rankings like the Human Development Index – which measures things like life expectancy and standard of living and ranks countries accordingly – there’s Australia in the top three, along with Norway and Sweden.
But ultimately, these are crude measures, ones that give us next to no idea of what the lived experience of being Australian is. And that’s where story collections like this, expertly edited and curated, come in. It’s collections like this that lift the lid and look under the surface of the neat narrative of what it is to be Australian.
One of this collection’s great strengths is its commitment to diversity. There’s a great range of perspectives, all with something nuanced and interesting to say. There are race perspectives: indigenous, immigrant (both European and non-European), recently arrived and more established. There are LGBTQI voices, ones that bear testament to what it means to continue the struggle for equality. There are working class perspectives that remind us that not everyone in Australia is on some automatic path to guaranteed prosperity. There are Anglo-Celtic voices, which, in the context of this anthology, take their place as equals amongst the many, their experiences and perspectives no more, and no less, important than the others. In this way, this anthology is an exemplar of showing not just who we are, but who we should be: a diverse culture in a state of flux that has come a long way, but still has a long way to go in addressing equity amongs its various groups. But, that said, I would also argue that there is one group with a greater claim than anyone in this struggle for equity, and that group is made up of our First Nations peoples, whose perspective takes pride of place at the opening of this collection.
Now, all of this sounds rather grand. This anthology is not just about Australia, but about Perth, one Australian city, a city rich with its own particularities and local culture. The Perth in the collection not only represents national issues, but is also the stage set for a range of intimate, sometimes tragic, sometimes affirming moments, the transformative incidents in our personal lives that form the before-and-after moments that find us forever changed. The first date, maternal grief, strained friendships, and conversely, the joy of friendship, of listening to karaoke, or simply that of food cooked and shared.
None of this can be expressed without high quality writing, and there’s an abundance of this in Stories of Perth. Ambitious collections such as these are hard to pull off: how to balance diversity of voices with consistency of quality? Noble sentiments are all very well, but is the writing any good? And I can say that, as I was reading, I was impressed at how, story after story, I was presented with high quality, expertly turned prose, some of it powerfully direct, some of it in the lyrical mode, some of it celebrating a particular vernacular and finding its unique poetry there.
To sum up: congratulations to all the authors, and to the publishing team, and to the Copyright Agency, for making possible such a compelling and enjoyable overview of this city in Stories of Perth. It’s a timely and much needed contribution to our literary culture.