Published by Lulu (US). ISBN: 1-4116-5689-X
Five Sides of the Fence is an eclectic mix of creative non-fiction pieces that questions the political, social, and personal fences that both motivate us and restrain us. The stories include a working journalist’s experiences of the media, a study of the anti-globalisation movement in Australia, some literary journalism, personal reflections, a touch of satire, and political verse.
When I came to compile this collection I agonised about how I could present a lucid narrative that connected the many themes that had, for five years, consumed my work life, my academic life, and my personal life. After a friend accused me of always ‘sitting on the fence’, I decided to divide my collection into five sections, using the metaphor of fences as a concurrent theme.
The first section, Outside the Fence, delves into the lives of people who live on the fringes. The UnAustralians is a diary of the September 2000 anti-globalisation protest at Melbourne’s Crown Casino. I attended the event as a reporter and photographer.
I first became aware of the anti-globalisation movement through television images of the 1999 Seattle riots, when several thousand protestors disrupted a World Bank meeting. Media coverage of the ‘violent’ Seattle protests sparked my interest, and I was keen to see how the Australian media would report the Melbourne event.
I had expected to read negative portrayals of ‘ratbag’ and ‘rent-a-mob’ protestors, but I was surprised, and angered, at the extent to which the media vilified and slandered the Melbourne demonstrators. What was essentially a ‘non-event’ turned into the ‘Battle of Melbourne’ (The Age 11/9/2000) I had worked in the media for a long time, but it was the s11 event that forced me to question how our news is moulded. Fly Magazine first published The UnAustralians in November 2000, and it has since been re-published twice.
Shortly after I wrote Mayday in Melbourne, the anti-capitalism movement in Australia ran out of steam. The Tampa Crisis and September 11, with the help of most commercial news organisations, turned the public’s attention even further inward. Breakfast in Melbourne takes a satirical poke at the phenomenon of commercial radio ‘shock-jocks’ who pander to the public’s fears, and who build ratings, and Prime Ministerial popularity, through divisiveness and paranoia. I was working as a radio producer at 3AK in Melbourne during this period and was familiar with, and even had some respect for, the ‘performances’ of our Drive and Morning show presenters. These people enjoyed the game of eliciting controversy – it brought passion and ratings – but it also formed public discourse. This concerned me.
October 22 is a pro-refugee polemic set to a rap rhythm that I wrote for the Voice of the Turtle, one of the oldest online left-wing intellectual journals. October 22 compares the public’s cold reaction to the Siev-X tragedy (when 350 Afghani and Iraqi asylum seekers drowned in the Timor Sea) with the outpouring of grief over the September 11, 2001 New York terrorism attacks:
No all-star concert
No modest silence
No national heroes.
No grieving firemen
No Cheering patriots
No Churchill speeches.
We bomb their mountains
they won’t see our beaches (p19-20)
I also wrote October 22 as an angry response to a 3AK managerial directive to ‘do no more refugees’ stories.
The second section of my book, Inside the Fence, looks at the world through my position inside the media. Apart from Death of a Station, which records my thoughts about the last days of 3AK radio in Melbourne, the stories are ‘objective’ and journalistic.Police Story records a day in the life of a Hastings police officer. The Marlin Chaircaptures the excitement of deep-sea game-fishing, and questions why many middle-class suburban men need to experience the ‘hunter instinct’ at least once a year. The Air Factory describes an afternoon production shift at 3AK radio, in what turned out to be one of the late John Hindle’s last broadcasts.
On the Fence is a loose collection of travel and opinion pieces. Tullamarine Terrorexpresses my initial thoughts about migrating to Australia. I was 23 years old and had no idea what to expect. To me, Australia really was a land of kangaroos, tropical beaches, and bushfires. I was expecting a new version of England, a kind of Bognor-Regis in the sun. Within a few moments of arriving however, I realized Australia is a lot richer than that:
‘How did you become a vampire?’ I ask humoring him as my anxious brain estimates the distance from here to Talbot.
He’s much more talkative now. ‘I killed myself – shotgun through here.’
He places his index finger into his mouth.
‘Three of me mates – we were all into the satanic stuff – dug me up the day after the funeral and buried me at a crossroads out near Clunes… (p93)
On the Fence also records a time when I had become quite cynical about the political process in Australia. What’s in a Name? was published in The Paper in April 2004 during a time when policy makers and public commentators had perverted language for dubious reasons:
…Yoga and meusli
Trips to the dentist
White gleaming healthy
The future was eastward
The lie kept on bubbling
It swallowed and spat
She couldn’t do it
She was too truthful
Too human for that…(p117)
I had originally intended Writing the Fence as a rationale for Five Sides of the Fence,but as I wrote, I realised I still had much to say. Social Fences attempts to explain the fences of globalisation through Jung’s notion of the ‘shadow’. Childhood Fences looks at the borders, other than the North/South Border, in Ireland. The Ant and the Grasshopper is an author/critic conversation:
Show me some work and then make your judgements
Ok a poem:
Kneeling upon my marrowbones
This very next lent I will unbare
My penitent buttocks to the air
I know, and it’s crap, give me something of your own.
There’s nothing creative about plagiarism.
You didn’t know that was Joyce.
I’m a literary academic – of course I did… (p128)
Terry Cantwell is an Australian journalist, writer, and editor. He has worked as a news reporter, a features writer, a commercial radio producer, a draftsman, and a copywriter. He is a former Verandah Literary Journal editor. Qualifications: Journalism. (1996) Dip Arts Professional Writing/Editing (Chisholm 1999). BA Literature (Deakin 2002). BA (Deakin Professional Writing & Editing (2003). GradDipEd – English/Media (Monash ongoing).
Five Sides of the Fence is available through Amazon.Com, Barnes & Noble, www.lulu.com/teecee and Borders. It will be available at most retail booksellers from January 2006. Author contact: firstname.lastname@example.org