Brisbane

By Butler, Michael | Antipodes, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Brisbane


Butler, Michael, Antipodes


SOCIAL HISTORY Remembering the City of Forgetting Matthew Condón. Brisbane. Sydney: U of New South Wales P, Ltd., 2010. 301 pp. n.p. ISBN-13: 978-13 1742230283 (Available in North America from Independent Publishers Group www. ipgbook.com. $27.00)

Early in Brisbane, Matthew Condón writes: "I understand . . . that I have lived with some form of historical amnesia. That I have not contemplated; that I am in truth disconnected from the place where I came into the world, when I always thought I was a part of its fabric, that it was essential to who I am" (43). That is the start of his "odyssey" (300), a many-leveled exploration of the city in hopes of identifying that fabric and his connections to it.

Brisbane is the second volume in the U of New South Wales Press City series, in which leading Australian authors write about their hometowns. Choosing how to approach his, Condón, who is both a novelist and a working journalist, opted for a tandem collaboration of the two. Brisbane is based largely on journalistic research but assembled like much contemporary fiction. It utilizes three narrative consciousnesses: the boy, Condón's remembered self, secure in a city "pieced together from stories he had heard from his parents and grandparents, pictures he'd seen in the newspaper, and the grey images of his city on television" (8); the man, the boy grown up, who has the book's last word, a try at making sense of what it has discovered; and /, the investigator who does its work: walking the city, interviewing, researching, looking, smelling, touching, and remembering.

Brisbane jumps through sections of varying length, genre, and subject as it puts side by side formal histories, early novels and poems, newspaper articles, local histories, anecdotes, family legends, private memories. It interviews the great and the ordinary, professional researchers and amateurs, well-remembered writers and artists as well as forgotten ones. Although looking like an accidental text, Brisbane is unstructured but not disorganized. Its disparate parts are so connected by continually reappearing lines, phrases, stories, people, places, and events that its patchwork, or dropped scrapbook, look eventually comes to embody a growing realization: the city is a "nameless jigsaw, a book without an index" (18).

The quest for the fabric of Brisbane starts at the supposed site of the city's beginning, "a large, dull, rectangular granite obelisk that marks . . . the white birthplace of my city, the Caucasian holy ground" (8). The forgotten look of the stone and uncertain wording of its plaque set off a search for a complete history, but gathering more and more information leads only to the loss of certainties. Questions branch into more questions, things to investigate, areas to wander through. Interrogating city history opens out to interrogating family history, doubting family memories to doubting personal ones. Proceeding in an un-programmed and non-discriminating way with its itinerary undetermined and traditional preconceptions of significance wholly dismissed because anything can interest, everything can tell, Brisbane does not seem to develop as much as purposely it "just grows. …

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