Monica Carroll’s short story “Archives, space, shame, love” in Gillian Polack’s ‘Baggage’ anthology is almost a new genre in itself. I call it “Geofiction” because to me it’s a geographical story about Canberra.
It’s about coming to Australia, and much, much more. Carroll is very good at layering her stories, and her depth of observation means the reading experience is varied. In “Archives”, she talks about the way sitting in a public chair can be sometimes disturbing; airplane seats, doctor’s waiting rooms, bus seats. She talks about the contagious magic of such things.
She found writing to a concept easy because she usually starts that way. She starts from a concept, from a solid idea, rather than from an image or a snippet.
We spoke about how ‘place’ is so important when settling in a new home, and how the experiences of the past effect the way we lives our lives.
The Australian Archives are really quite something. I’d been there the weekend before we spoke, and seen my father’s name, and my grandparents’ there, recorded. Strange how this makes you feel. Monica says of the Archives, “There’s so much stuff, so many lives, so many stories.”
East Block 1929, now home of National Archives of Australia
National Archives Image number A8875, 4
She says, “It’s hard to fathom it all. Put all those stories together and it makes Australia.”
Monica is happy our archives are easy to access. “Habits of bureaucracy and record keeping, thanks to the British,” she says.
Geographically, Carroll moves around Canberra in the story. She features Lake Burley Griffin, our man-made, often algae-filled water feature. In an early story, someone told her to take out the Canberran detail but she didn’t do it and “Special Foldings” was a successful sale.
Ever since, she has been determined to have Canberran detail in her fiction. She names a number of other authors who focus on their home area. Stephen King and Maine, for one.
Lake Burley Griffin, 1966
Australian Archives Image number A1500, K14662
“The whole stinking floor after floor after shelf after shelf after box after file after page. I yearn for a great flood to rise the waters of Lake Burley Griffin and wash their letters and signatures and passport sized photographs into each other. One big pulpy mess. That’d shut them up.” From “Archives, space, shame, love”
The story also focuses on Mt. Ainslie. This mountain is a special place for most Canberrans.
Panorama from Mt Ainslie towards Civic, 1926
National Archives Image number A3560, 2113
“At Mt Ainslie’s pinnacle, I looked out. Had I vision, there’d be the stars named for my dead family.
So tired. A husk.”
I missed the midnight life. Living on white toast hearing dog whistle shrieks of something that could exist.” From “Archives, space, shame, love”
As Monica says, “You can stand on top of Mount Ainslie and see the city unfold”.
‘Baggage’ will be launched at Worldcon and can be purchased from Galaxy Books in Sydney.