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From Here to There: Australian Artists and Walking

July 23, 2018

In mid-July I visited Lismore, on Wiyabal land, to speak at an event for the exhibition From Here to There: Australian Artists and Walking, curated by Sharne Wolff and Jane Denison. I was one of the essayists who contributed to the catalogue, writing about the connection between walking, art, life and landscape.

The exhibition presented walking in different ways, directly and indirectly, but always as a deliberate practice used to engage with the world outside the artist’s studio. Noel McKenna‘s New York diaries were collections of observations made while walking, often including encounters with creatures, whether they be Miss Jasmine the museum cat, or the Long Island Big Duck.

A different kind of observation was involved in Rebecca Gallo’s collection of roadside debris, found during walks in Lismore during her residency for the exhibition. Collecting these scraps and shreds as she went, in the studio she set them into a new kind of life, as a mobile where wedges of newspaper, rusty bolts, scraps of plastic, and a flattered dried toad spin in a slow dance.

I too was eager to go out walking in Lismore. I hadn’t been to the town since, 1997, when I was there visiting zine friends of mine: it was so long ago I was still practically a teenager. My only memories of the town were looking at framed photographs of past floods in a city cafe, and sitting on the porch of my friend Lee’s house, a memory that is tinged green from the enclosure of the surrounding trees.

This time, my guides to the town were: a late-1960s postcard of the town taken from a lookout in Lismore Heights; a map Simon drew me of his remembered Lismore of the 1990s, and my host from Southern Cross University who I spoke with at the gallery, Associate Professor John Page. Here are some of the places they led me.

The same scene but much more green, 50 years later from the Claude Riley Memorial Lookout.

Lismore houses, raised up for protection in floods. Rainbow steps, banana trees. John and I walked around the low-lying areas near the river, where everything around felt verdant, and he told me stories of past floods and town characters.

A polite bus shelter.

Past amusements live on at the skating rink.

The beautiful Tropicana Fruit shop on Keen Street, with the sign for its previous incarnation as the Wonder Bar.

Gentlemen’s Fashions and George Gooley’s.


An important feature of Simon’s 1990s map: the cedar log outside City Hall.

no cordial

A strong warning for some not-so-strong drink.

The walker.

(Thank you to John, Sharne, Jane, SCU and the Lismore Regional Gallery for having me visit.)


Other Worlds and a Marrickville Map

May 26, 2018

For Other Worlds this year, I decided to keep things local, and make a map of Marrickville, where the fair is to be held, in the Town Hall. I’ve never lived in Marrickville myself, but it is a place I know well, have spent much time in and moving through. It’s a capacious suburb, full of details that connect to its many threads of stories, as Gadigal Land, as a place with a strong migrant community, especially for people from Greek and Vietnamese backgrounds, and as a place with a rich creative community.

Like the maps included in Mirror Sydney, the Marrickville map collects some of the suburbs landmarks, connecting them with their stories and each other. It hopefully opens out into many other stories, as it triggers the memories of people who have had an association with Marrickville, or a place like it, in their life. The accompanying guidebook suggests some alternative readings of these places, and how they might figure in the dream-life of the suburb.

Visit me at Other Worlds, Sunday 27th May, 12pm – 5pm, or buy a copy of the Marrickville zine and map on Etsy.

Poster by Haein Kim


Disposable Camera

January 31, 2018

Has it really been 5 years since I’ve published a Disposable Camera? It seems so. I had recently been wondering if disposable cameras still existed, but then one day I was on the train in Sydney, passing through Circular Quay station, which gives you a postcard view of the harbour. As I looked out towards the harbour, a teenage boy on the other side of the carriage took a photo through the window with a disposable camera. I heard the snap of the shutter and the rasping sound of the film being wound on. They still exist, I thought, maybe it’s time to reinstate my own Disposable Camera. Soon after this day I cut some paper into quarters, unboxed the Olivetti Valentine, began to type and let the words lead me.

This new Disposable Camera is about a specific memory object, that being a koala souvenir that once lived alongside me, and now lives in my thoughts. I’ll be debuting it at the zine fair for the Festival of the Photocopier in Melbourne on February 11th at the Melbourne Town Hall. I’ve also listed it on Etsy, for those elsewhere or eager.

Ursula Le Guin’s Blue Moon Over Thurman Street

January 24, 2018

This morning I heard the news of Ursula Le Guin’s death, or perhaps it is more accurate to say I saw it: her face, and the covers of her books, and images in tribute on social media. Le Guin wrote immersively of fantasy worlds. The islands of Earthsea floated in their ocean, but also in her readers’ imaginations. Transferred between this world and ours was her wisdom.

A few years ago I found a different kind of Ursula le Guin book, the nonfiction book Blue Moon Over Thurman Street, written in collaboration with photographer Roger Dorband. The book was $1 and I’d found it poked in among the cookbooks and outdated travel guides of the nonfiction shelf of a Salvation Army op shop. I first had to check it was the Ursula Le Guin, because it was so unlike the books she is known for. It was a book that, in photographs and poetry, told the story of a street: Thurman Street in Portland, Oregon, where Le Guin lived.

“To walk a street is to be told a story,” she writes in the introduction. Over the decades she’d walked along Thurman Street – a long straight street of 45 blocks, which starts at the river and ends in the forest of Macleay Park – she noticed its daily changes and then its larger ones, as the gentrification of the late 1980s took hold. But she wanted to capture “not the losses and gains but the permanence” of the place. She worked with photographer Roger Dorband, responding to his photographs. Some photos she’d asked him to take, others he took as he walked Thurman Street. “Roger’s Thurman Street is bluer and darker and bleaker than mine; it has more cars and more power lines. My street has more kids, cats, dogs and housewives than his.” Together, they documented the moments through which, Le Guin writes, is “the only way to catch permanence”.

It’s a book with a light touch, for all the depth of place and time it covers. Le Guin’s handwritten texts alongside the photos are like captured thoughts, and interspersed with them are stories from neighbours, and sections from the Bhagavad Gita, “which in its austere tenderness acknowledges all chance and change, including them in stillness”. Additionally, Dorband’s notes on the photographs at the end of the book tell the stories of how they came into being, take us into the energy of each moment.

I’ll look through this book today, with its shadows and windows and people caught mid-step, and think about Le Guin walking here throughout her long life, her thoughts in the moment, or in worlds elsewhere.

Crimezines and Festival of the Photocopier

January 14, 2018

Early 2018 sees some activity in the zine realm of Vanessa Berry World.

First up, I’m running a zine workshop at the Museum of Sydney to coincide with their Underworld exhibition. The exhibition is a collection of 1920s police mugshots, and it tells the stories of some of the underworld characters who operated in the city in that era. For the workshop we will use archival photos from the 1920s Sydney city streets and vintage advertising imagery as the basis for Underworld-inspired zines. I’ll bring some of my typewriters along and we’ll have a fun afternoon in the underworld of the city past. For information and bookings, see the event page at Sydney Living Museums.

In February, I’ll be travelling to Melbourne for the Festival of the Photocopier zine fair on Sunday February 11th, 12-5pm. It has been years since I’ve been able to attend so I’m very much looking forward to what is certainly Australia’s largest and most popular zine fair. I’ll have a new zine to debut as well as copies of my recent zines, and I’ll be sharing a table with the lovely Erin Fae. We’ll be collecting cake recommendations and dispensing zines and stories, so do stop by and visit us if you’re at the fair.

In other zine news, a zine I made 22 years ago kicked off the Zines I Will Never Throw Out instagram. It’s always interesting to see zines of mine that have been kept for such a long time, especially when they were made over a couple of late nights when I was a teenager, long ago.

Two Muses for December

December 2, 2017

Talking Mirror Sydney

November 7, 2017


In this video for the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts, I spoke about my new book Mirror Sydney and how I came to write it, in the bookish surrounds of Berkelouw Paddington.