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Beneath the surface

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ACTThere is a myth that nothing happens in Canberra and, I must confess, sixteen years ago when I arrived here I credited that myth.

My first memory is of driving along Northbourne Ave, past Civic. ‘That’s the city,’ my brother thumbed. I looked out of the window and experienced mild panic. Where? I thought. I can’t see anything. I grew up in Melbourne but had spent the last three years in England, a cramp of a country with a leaden sky that had pressed against me for far too long. My arrival in Canberra marked a blue sky soar of a day. The sun tap danced, the woolly hills unfurled gracefully. And there was so much space; something I had been craving. Yet I wanted more from a city than what appeared to be a bunch of blank-faced office blocks, a centre that blurred past in a matter of mere seconds. I wanted vibrancy and art and boldness. This place looked bland and lifeless.

I was soon to discover that Canberra is adept at trickery. On the surface it can appear to be one way, but look a little closer, delve a little deeper, and something entirely different is revealed. Canberra is anything but boring. It is a place of ideas and imagination and experimentation. In 1999, I started working for Muse, then Canberra’s monthly arts magazine, and by 2001 I was its editor. I was out most nights of the week soaking up all the arts and cultural practice that this city had to offer and I couldn’t possibly get to every theatre show or exhibition or book launch. Canberra was, and still is, a richly creative city.

I left Muse long ago and the magazine has since folded, but now I find myself once again inviting readers to experience the diversity of artistic practice that comes from our region, this time through The Invisible Thread, an anthology of 100 years of Canberra writing.

In 2009, both Melbourne and Brisbane produced anthologies of work from their cities. At the time I was talking with Anne-Maree Britton, then director of the ACT Writers Centre, about how Canberra really needed an anthology of its own. For its small population Canberra punches above its literary weight and yet so often our city flies under the radar. It was time we did something about it.

A few days later I happened to receive some promotional information about Canberra’s 2013 centenary celebrations. The timing couldn’t have been better; the centenary offered the perfect opportunity to make an anthology happen. An advisory committee of local authors (Marion Halligan, Alan Gould and Adrian Caesar) and literary experts was assembled. Halstead Press came on board, and we secured funding from the ACT Government and the Centenary of Canberra. Everything began to roll from there. The committee spent one year reading through the work of over 150 writers to create a shortlist from which I made final selections. The Invisible Thread, is different in both purpose

and scope to the Brisbane and Melbourne anthologies. It includes fiction, nonfiction and poetry, giving readers a taste of the diversity of work to emerge from the region during the last 100 years. Writers such as AD Hope, Roger McDonald, Bill Gammage, Judith Wright, Kevin Gilbert, David Campbell, Jackie French, Humphrey McQueen, Jack Heath, Rosemary Dobson, Clive Hamilton, Manning Clark, Omar Musa, Marion Halligan, Alex Miller, Les Murray, Kate Grenville and Garth Nix. The list goes on and on.

After years of work the anthology is now ready to emerge. As I write this the book has been typeset and the cover design is underway. The Invisible Thread will be in bookshops in October and will be launched at the National Library in November as part of the National Year of Reading’s Legacy event. It’s exciting times.

And yet we still have one hurdle to get over. We are short of funds to cover the final portion of printing costs and pay authors for appearances at our scheduled events. Last month we launched a fundraising campaign via crowd-funding site, Pozible. We’ve already raised over $4000 of our $5000 target and we have until 9 September to secure the remainder. The way Pozible works is that if the target isn’t reached by the campaign’s end none of the donations are processed and we don’t receive a cent. But the great thing about Pozible is that it’s not all one-way. There are rewards on offer for those who donate, including advance copies of The Invisible Thread and VIP invitations to Woven Words, an event featuring acclaimed authors Alex Miller, Alan Gould and Sara Dowse, alongside music from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra. So if you value literature and reading please support our Pozible campaign and help us get the word out to the nation about how fabulous Canberra really is.

This post was first published on Her Canberra.