Outback Sentinel

photo of lonely desert road

I glimpse him from a distance, a Drizaboned mirage on the road. He tips his flask upside-down and his shoulders drop.

Do I stop? I shouldn’t leave him here.

My vehicle slides past. He is an iron statue, powder coated in russet. He makes no eye contact. I stop and check my rear-view mirror. Nothing but red dust haze.

The windscreen amplifies the sun. I emerge sweltering. My boots crunch on the gravel.

I hear a crow. Perched on the fragile limb of a solitary tree, clothed in black, it caws. “Waaa Waaa Waaaaaaaaaa.” It ruffles its feathers and stares.

I look back for the man. I can’t make out his silhouette.

My vision stretches across the featureless land. Death belongs out here and I pick up its stench before I see the evidence. Few remains are scattered, the trucks and birds having reduced the corpse to dust.


Outback Sentinel was runner-up in the Fellowship of Australian Writers (FAW) Microfiction Award – National Literary Awards 2015
“Outback Sentinel was remarkable for the writer’s ability to distil atmosphere using the sights and sounds of a deserted country road.” Lynn Smailes, FAW judge

I float


A cloudless blue ceiling
Buoyed by liquid hands
Warmth imparted from a star
Butterflies dip and feed
Roosters bleat
I float

Full moon
Illuminates a black vault
Off a skin slick as mercury
Heels on golden sandstone
The banyan tree shivers
Gecko hollers
I float

Clouds rupture in the dusk
Strike and slap my face
Alone but not lonely
Lightning fractures
Thunder groans
I float

Indonesia October 2016

A question of who’s taken offence


It seems that controversy over the Brisbane Writers Festival keynote address has brought forth a pretty nasty slanging match about cultural appropriation. US author, Lionel Shriver’s perceived insensitivity to the concept of white privilege caused such offence that one local writer felt the need to leave the event. Much has been said in response to an article posted by Yassmin Abdel-Magied (originally on medium.com, but now also in The Guardian Australia) in which the author describes her compulsion to walk out during that keynote speech and why. As a fellow writer, and of Eurasian heritage, I commend Abdel-Magied on her action to take a stand against Shriver’s myopic opinions. I wasn’t at that event, but it appears Shriver opportunistically used her privilege at the podium to vent her opinions on cultural appropriation. Some audience members agreed with the speaker, but others felt aggrieved enough to warrant expression of their concerns publicly the next day (including Yen Rong a festival volunteer).

I’m more saddened and surprised by the responses of the writing community who have attacked Abdel-Magied for her actions. The majority of responses to her article are self-righteous and blinkered by white goggles. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a half-Indonesian, half-English Australian, living in the affluent and privileged ‘City of Literature’ that is Melbourne. I’m also a specialist doctor (‘How much more privileged can you be?’ I hear you say). Having been subjected to my fair share of racist taunts in my lifetime, as well as having racism and religious hatred exercised towards my father, an Indonesian Muslim, I do not subscribe to the view that I can write whatever I damn well like purely because I am a writer of fiction.

The issue at stake here is offence and so many of the respondents to Abdel-Magied’s article just can’t seem to see that. Offence is a subjective experience, therefore every person will feel it for different reasons and in different ways. Writers should assume their writing always has the potential to offend someone and try to minimise that damage as much as possible; otherwise their writing can be perceived as inflammatory or defamatory. As writers, we all create characters of differing ethnic and cultural backgrounds, sexualities and genders. But we should try, at the very least, not to create characters who might be construed as clichéd, tokenistic insults. That seems a basic moral stance to aspire to.

It’s not about the fact that as a Eurasian emergency physician, I should only write Eurasian medical stories. It’s not about the fact my colleagues might be writing a deaf character or a homicidal psychopath or an Icelandic elf or a French concubine, when they may or may not be any of the above. Clearly no fiction writer can proclaim to be someone else. We try to write in a way that readers might be able to escape into a different reality. We try to get in the heads of our characters to make them seem real to our readers. But when we feel compelled to get into the head of someone we can’t possibly be, know or understand culturally, we need to show caution, respect, sensitivity and genuine interest. Do research. Make friends with people who are ‘like’ the character. Engage readers who are ‘like’ the character and be open to fair and unreserved criticism or praise. Have the humility to realise when offence is taken and be prepared to either cop the flak or change what’s caused offence.

It seems that Abdel-Magied’s action to walk out of the keynote address and write about her experience has subsequently become a case of ‘shooting the messenger’. So many respondents have taken offence to her article as if it were a threat to their very existences as writers. Abdel-Magied is warranted in having taken offence to Shriver’s subject choice delivered from such a position of privilege and power.

The Stranglers at the Corner Hotel 20 April 2016

Photo of the Stranglers bass player J-J Burnel
J-J Burnel, photo by Eddie Berthier 2012

Follow this link to my review of the Stranglers published on Collapse Board

The Stranglers @ Corner Hotel, Melbourne, 20.04.2016

Two evenings with Calexico

Calexico at Hamer Hall 2 March 2016 Image copyright bandAnna photography 2016

Follow this link to my review of the U.S. band Calexico from Tucson, Arizona, who are currently on tour in Australia and New Zealand. I was lucky enough to see them twice, at Hamer Hall in Melbourne and Meeniyan Town Hall in South Gippsland, Vic.


Additionally, a slightly shorter version appeared on: