Morrison, Glenn, Raelke Grimmer and Adelle Sefton-Rowston (eds). Borderlands. Charles Darwin University:Uniprint, 2020. RRP $19.95. 112pp, ISBN: 9780646820552.
Despite the overwhelmingly negative connotations 2020 had for a lot of people, for some writers in the Northern Territory it was the year where a vibrant new literary journal burst onto the scene, offering a new chance to have their writing published. The first print volume of Borderlands (with the very apt tagline ‘where ideas and identities meet’) is chock full of some truly incredible writing. The essays, poetry and fiction inside are vibrant, contemplative, intelligent and engaging. There’s even a graphic novel, in full colour, which adds an aspect of accessibility and fun, too. The work in this edition is delightfully free from any kind of COVID reference, having been put together just before the pandemic hit. But, as the editors point out in the introduction, this edition of Borderlands serves as a snapshot of what the world was before that all began.
At times of stress, many of us, but especially writers and their readers, reach for literature to explain what they are going through. Upon twigging that submissions for this edition had closed prior to COVID’s onset, another reader remarked that they were looking forward to rediscovering ‘what the world was like prior to all this’ (ix). As a reminder. A salve. Hope, perhaps.
This collection does, without a doubt, invite the reader into some intimate spaces, where writers have bared their worlds to those who may not be familiar with this place they call home. Nowhere is this more potent than in Paige Duffy’s memoir piece, ‘Surrounded by desert: moving to Mparntwe’. Duffy paints vivid pictures of this place she is to call home, her use of imagery brings rural Australia to life in a way that ensures the reader can see and feel the landscape.
[…] we passed the dead carcass of a horse on the side of the road. Its mouth hung open, teeth bared in an eternal bray, rib cage open for the crows. This land consumes, I think. The birds eat the organs of the horse, the cracked rocks and shrunken leaves drink what water can be spared, and a landscape of ancient beasts consumes the mind. (5)
Though the subject matter of this particular extract may seem unpleasant in detailing the carcass of a dead animal, Duffy’s writing evokes the majesty and the power of the land, unfurled in all of its heat-soaked glory. The land itself is an epic force, one not to be reckoned with, and the implication is that we, as humans, must understand how to respect that when moving through it.
Memory, identity and belonging form another group of themes that permeate this issue of Borderlands. Kirsten Strickland’s short fiction piece ‘Trapped’ brings to light another writer with a real gift for storytelling. ‘Trapped’ is short and evocative, and Strickland is clever with her use of language.
A wave of everything my life lacked rushed through me, and I moaned in pure ecstasy. Pure bliss. Riding that wave, I released, and the flow pushed me into the rush.
My surroundings melted, the heaviness left me: I was light. (45)
That drugs and getting high can offer this person everything she lacks in her life, paints an evocative picture of why going down this socially unacceptable route might have appeal to someone searching for themselves. To be ‘light’ is desirable, to be free of expectations on her identity.
Everyone wanted me to live my life in a certain way. The same way they lived theirs. The proper way. But that didn’t interest me. I knew what I wanted. (42)
The pressure of society on the individual is seen as suffocating and trapping.
It would be remiss not to mention Declan Miller’s graphic story ‘A Trip to Palm Valley’ before closing here. It is vibrant in every way, from the quirky, colourful illustrations to the humour that permeates the dialogue and narrative. It may seem like a simple story—of a group of young guys getting lost on a camping trip—but there is beauty in simplicity and the uplifting power of stories such as this one shouldn’t be underestimated.
In short, Borderlands is a rich and much-needed literary journal that offers us the chance to be introduced to writers and their works who otherwise may not have come to publication. It’s a gift to have access to pieces like these, and we should all be eagerly anticipating the next edition.
Jen is a writer and journalist based in Perth. She lived and worked in Edinburgh, Scotland for ten years and has written for a number of UK newspapers and magazines including The List, The Guardian and The Scotsman. She previously worked for Scoop Events and in the marketing team at Fremantle Press, and is now a freelance writer and editor.