If You Don’t Buy Australian Books as Xmas Gifts You Are Garbage

Now that we’ve gotten that clickbaity heading out of the way, I would like to apologise. Sorry, that was a bit extreme, you’re probably not garbage. But the point does stand.

There’s an article I love to reference which is about how to support your author friends – people are mostly good and want to support their friends. And people are mostly smart, and know that being an author is a sucky job that has little to no rewards, and that there are lots of little things you can do to help an author, that means the absolute world to them.

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And at this time of the year, the best way you can do that is by buying an Australian book for someone at Christmas. This is such a win-win situation – buying presents suck, buying books are easy, they’re great gifts and people actually appreciate the thought behind getting them. And it helps when you aren’t just like ‘here is a book for you, family member’ but are actually like ‘I loved this, and I thought of you, and now I want you to have it’. That makes the recipient feel special, I believe.

For the last two years, my personal challenge has been to only buy Australian books for all my Christmas gifts (except for Bridget, who gets something fancier. But often a book too). It’s been really rewarding so far. I’ve had several occasions where people have made a point of letting me know how much they loved the book I chose for them.

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This is also not just about supporting authors you may know – this is also about Australian books in general. There are all sorts of things going on at the moment – Amazon looming over us all, parallel importation, the scrapping of arts funds – that basically penalise Australian authors for being authors. It impacts on bookshops and on our own literary culture in general. It’s basically a really really good thing to do, OK?

Here are some books which I’m buying people for Christmas:

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Zoe Norton Lodge is the funniest person in the world, and this is her book, which features funny stories about her life. Duh. Buy this for people who will appreciate laughing at things. Buy this for that family friend who only watches the ABC. Don’t buy this for your famously humourless great-aunt Edna. She probably won’t get it. OR MAYBE SHE WILL, AND IT WILL CHANGE HER LIFE!

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This is a great book. Antonia Hayes is a wonderful writer. I feel like this is a good book for dads, because dads are interested in science. Some dads are.

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Defender by Chris Allen is ACTUALLY the book I’m buying my dad. Me and my dad read thrillers over the Christmas break, and Chris Allen writes a mean thriller. He was a paratrooper and the Sheriff of NSW, so he really understands thrills.

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The Going Down Swinging Longbox is the perfect gift for some kind of mysterious family member that you know nothing about: perhaps your cousin’s new wife, or your distant and haughty grandfather. There’s so much in here, including Australian treasure Andrew Denton, and best writer in the world Bridget Lutherborrow’s short story collection, that you’re sure to somehow make them happy.

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Best Australian Comedy Writing? This is obviously the perfect Christmas gift. It’s comedy writing, and it’s the best. I’m buying this for my sister, because she needs to goddamn lighten up. That was a little joke. She appreciates jokes. That’s why she’s getting this book.

 

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Hey, who put this here? Pretty sneaky of me. But no, seriously – you can buy it for 10% off at the Spineless Wonders website throughout December, so it’s a good gift for that weird nephew that sits in the corner, or for your grandma’s seventeen cats. Also, I know Kinokuniya in Sydney has about twenty of them, because they let me sign them all and now they can’t return them, which was pretty dumb of them.

 

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Lessons in Native Fauna

I read this story at a Penguin Plays Rough storytelling event held in The Rocks by Word Travels. Old Yeller was beaming down with his big face, trying to kill us all, but it was grand.

Intellectually I think we all know that Australia is trying to kill us.  People overseas know Australia as the place where crocodiles fight sharks in the water, and if you manage to escape them, there’s a horde of spiders waiting on the shore, weaving webs of silk and lies. People overseas get the danger – it’s why they liked Steve Irwin so much. They saw him as a perfectly rational response to our death-trap of a nation. They think that kangaroos hop down George Street with an unholy cocktail of crocodiles and Taipan’s hiding in their pouches, and only Steve Irwin had the guts to wrestle them into submission and send them back out into the desert.

Us locals know that the kangaroo death brigade is hyperbole. In fact the majority of Australian’s are fairly lax about the ever-present spectre of painful death that hangs over us. Every summer the news is filled with stories about the aggressive Funnel Webs living in our kitchen, or the Redbacks in our toilets, or the sharks in our paddling pools – but it’s always something that happens to a friend of a friend. We are careless. Australia is deadly, but Australia is also patient. It waits for your guard to be down, before it strikes, like a Cassowary going for your eyes.

 

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My story begins at a time when my guard was down so far, that people who are clinically dead have been known to have more peripheral awareness. It was the perfect time for Australia to punish me. I was in that magical state of half-being known as university break. I was minding my parents house and by extension, looking after their pets. A glorious month where my responsibilities were so few, that watching a documentary on sloths could fill me with anxiety. I was so lazy, that instead of making a sandwich, I would sit in front of the fridge and eat all the component parts separately. My bar job had recently cut my shifts to four hours a week, for the ultra-legal reason of ‘not wanting to work with a fag’. I had to feed my cat twice a day. This was my life.

On this particular day I was doing season six of my epic Buffy re-watching marathon. It was around midday and I’d been watching since breakfast the previous day. I was naked, curled in a nest of junk food and wine bottles. At some drunken point the previous night, I’d put on a cape made from a bed sheet and hooked my sword on to a belt that hung from my bare waist. I was borderline psychotic, not really able to understand that I wasn’t some kind of terribly plotted character from the Buffy universe.

As I watched and stewed in my own awfulness, I heard a strange bumping sound coming from up the stairs. I paused the DVD, and listened as it continued. My first thought: it’s my parents, coming home from their holiday early. I, their 22-year-old son is naked, wearing a cape and has a sword strapped to him.  Why couldn’t they just catch me injecting heroin like normal kids? But that thought was thankfully dismissed, when I realised my mum probably wasn’t yowling and hissing. The sound of struggle continued, and I had an inkling of what it could be. My cat, Lily, was rescued from the local graveyard, where she probably survived by killing vampires. As a sign of her affection to me, she loved to leave headless birds or defenestrated rats on my pillow. Maybe she had some poor native creature in her talons and was dragging it up the stairs for me.

I finally got off the couch, ready to rescue a cute lorikeet or possum baby or something, only to be confronted by the sight of my cat dragging a fully grown brown snake behind it. Brown Snakes are only the SECOND most venomous land snake, so at least there’s that. The snake was writhing furiously, trying to escape from my cat’s jaws. Lily looked wide eyed and panicked, as if she had literally bitten off more than she could chew, or as the other popular saying goes, ‘had a live brown snake in her mouth’. She struggled for a few more moments, and then looked me in the eyes and let it go.

The Brown Snake reared up and started lunging at Lily with horrifying speed. This was it – this was my moment of testing, the instance where Australia throws something horrible at you and decides whether you deserve to live or die. My reaction, I believe, can only be put down to the 40 straight hours of Buffy I’d been watching, the sleeplessness and also, let’s not forget the fairly considerable level of inebriation. Because as that huge fucking snake bared its fangs and struck at my cat, I unsheathed my sword, and chopped its goddamn head off.

Well – I tried to. Due to ‘the law’ my sword, an authentic Omani cavalry blade, was blunted. So when I hit the snake, with my best, two-handed blow, it kind of just launched it across the room into the kitchen, where it hit the wall with a splat. I might not have beheaded it, but I did cut fairly deep, and it proceeded to lie there and slowly bleed out in a huge puddle.

Now, let’s all move past the fact that this is my one moment of heroism and despite looking ludicrous, wang flopping obscenely beneath my cape and all, this was probably the greatest thing I’ve ever done, or ever will, in my life. Let’s move past it, because what I did after it is really fucking weird.

I was suddenly hit by a giant wave of adrenalin. Despite the snake being really dead, the adrenalin also bought a bunch of fear. I became obscurely terrified that someone would know what I had done. I had to hide the body! So I scooped up the still bleeding reptile, stuffed it into an empty Oreo box and chucked it into the next-door neighbours yard. I then attempted to clean up snake blood using windex and paper towel, a practice I don’t recommend to anybody. If any of you are thinking of committing a murder, you probably don’t want someone with this degree of poise helping you dispose of the body. But after the fear died down, and the pigs were unable to track the notorious ‘snake-in-a-box’ case back to me, I realised something marvellous.  Australia tested me, and in the face of danger I proved that I could be mildly effective. I could survive whatever this enormous danger-island sent my way, survive and then panic absurdly afterwards. Thanks, Australia.

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Have you read Miranda Devine’s article on Camilla’s parasol? Read it here. Not only is it the strangest homage to Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’, it is also immensely embarrassing to read as an Australian. Devine seems to think that our fusion powered sun is as patriotically ours as Vegemite and Emus, and that by erecting a parasol to ward off the worst of its cancer lasers, the Royal consort has spat in the faces of our children. Why do we as a country have such a strange reaction whenever somebody from overseas comes to our shores? If you’re not famous: detention centres. If you are famous: losing our tiny goddamn mothershitting minds.

Australia dealt with Obama coming to our humble shores in 2011 with all the dignity and aplomb of that girl who vomited all over herself furiously when someone dressed as Batman came to her birthday party. It wouldn’t have been so embarrassing if the same level of gormless, over-excited regurgitation didn’t occur whenever the Queen, Oprah or even that one racist prince decide to come over. For a long time, I’ve assumed our treatment of foreign celebrities – which ancient Incan gods in the middle of blood sacrifices would have declared tacky – to be because of cultural cringe. It’s long been established that we are embarrassed of our own international high-flyers – Crocodile Dundee, Steve Irwin, Schapelle Corby – and look up to foreign stars. Kim Kardashian for example, with the same starry eyed, slack jawed idolation as a toddler imitating the family Labrador.

And cultural cringe does exist in Australia, I’m not disputing that. But what people don’t understand is part of Australia’s embarrassment of their own country, stems from cultural fear. To put it frankly, Australian’s are terrified of Australia. On a basic level, the very fauna and flora seem designed to kill us. Our population centres cling to the shores like terrified mollusks  desperately ignoring the nuclear heated red centre of our country, seething with the majority of the world’s poisonous snakes and spiders. And there are millions of camels, and I saw one of them bite the face off an American tourist once. True story. And while the coastal areas are more temperate, they simply expose us to giant sharks and jellyfish and sand between your toes when you’re wearing thongs.

When I was a kid, I cross-stitched me and my friend Matthew’s names on a small pillow in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, because I’m an expressive friend and also a giant nerd. And this is still less embarrassing than Australia’s collective appreciation of Oprah’s tour of our opera facilities. But subconsciously, I think we were all in such of a lather of excitement because we are impressed with anyone who actually wants to come here. When Obama touches down in Airforce One, we just can’t fathom why he would brave the gauntlet of Crocodiles to meet us. When Oprah bellowed for us to look under our seats, our collective hearts were in our communal throats, because there were probably Redbacks mixed in with the gift packs. I’m going to be uncharacteristically optimistic and hope that Australia’s shameful demonisation of refugees and asylum seekers is actually a misguided attempt to save these poor people from the poisonous spurs of our platypuses.

Historically speaking, my theory makes perfect sense. Since the moment Australia separated itself from the mega-continent, it’s been home to things the rest of the world is better off without. If you’ve ever researched the species of mega-fauna that Australia played host to, a pantheon of truck sized wombats and tree dwelling kangaroos with razor sharp claws and guided-missile scrotum’s, you’ll understand where I’m coming from. Gaia has basically been using Australia as a dumping ground for creatures too deadly or weird to exist anywhere else.

Even the British Empire – the dickiest of empires – realised that the best possible use for Australia, a country roughly a million times larger than their own withered penis of an island, was to dump all their criminals here.  Possibly lost in the mists of time and colonial outrages, is the fact that the British aristocracy was using Australia as an enormous gladiatorial contest between hardened criminals and belligerent echidnas. Like a pre-television reality show, they probably assumed one side would wipe the other out in a systematic and entertaining manner.

To this day, anyone who has experienced the scourge that is Australian tourism and its effects on another country, would have to agree that Australians should be kept inside the country. It’s not often that one debates the wisdom of inventing air travel – but watching ten shirtless bogans wearing Australian flags, singing Waltzing Matilda at 3am in Hoi An and throwing beer bottles at a pond full of carp will usually get it done.

I am terrified of Bob Katter. I once had the misfortune to strut happily into his mobile sneer while working in the Sydney ABC building. As a portion of society he refuses to believe in, he is representative to me of some of the fear I hold towards my own countrymen. Having been stuck in the middle of such nation-building events as the Cronulla riots, I know that my neighbour can be just as terrifying as a nine-foot salt water croc, wallowing in a pool of racism somewhere. In a way, Bob Katter and his giant hat fulfill the same role as the Sorting Hat in the popular Harry Potter novels. Much like being put into Slytherin, I know that anyone voting for Bob Katter  is probably an enemy of everything I stand for, and will drag their feet in helping me hunt down horcruxes. Yet, while I am scared of him, I feel virtuous in the knowledge that he is Australia’s problem. We keep him safely trapped here with the snakes, spiders and other elected officials.

Australia is and always has been, to an extent, a type of prison. Whether it’s cane toads spreading from Queensland, or  Queenslanders, Australia exists to keep these plagues within its borders. So, while we exist in perpetual fear of our country, countrymen and country music, we can at least know that unlike most countries, Australia has a purpose – because if they weren’t here, they’d be assing up somewhere else. And if this means that we act like gibbering meth-cats every time a famous foreigner comes over here, I’ll secretly understand, behind my mask of seething intolerance.

THE SCORE: 5/5