What’s Owed

Growing up as a budding writer in Perth, filled to the brim with disgusting quantities of ambition, it felt predetermined I would end up in Melbourne.

At age 13 I was awarded first place in the Tim Winton Young Writers Award; Lower Secondary Category and, naturally, felt I had peaked in my career. In Perth, at least. After the award, the only rung left on the local literary ladder was to directly challenge Tim Winton to a duel for dominance as the West Australian writer. And I’m a pacifist at heart.

So, within the space of one especially hot summer I graduated high school, turned 18 and booked a flight to the East Coast.

I have been enriched, time and time again, with what Melbourne has to offer. I think of the panels I have attended, the workshops, the talks, the discussions, the in conversations. I think of the arts criticism residency I conned my way into, that with time… turned me into an art critic. I think of the Hotdesk Fellowship, here at the Wheeler Centre, that I just finished. I think of what a good decision it was to move here, for me, almost every day.

Equally, I remain acutely aware of all that I have missed, still miss, from this city. Acutely aware that I am enjoying only a fraction of all that I want. My muscular dystrophy, mild though it is, necessitates I only do 1 out of every 3 things I really, really, really want to do.

On those days, when a mutation in the TTN gene leaves my body hypotonic, flimsy like a rag doll – I might as well still be in Perth, for how insurmountable leaving the house becomes.

And then, in those hours upon hours of absolute stillness, deathlike limpness, my brain continues ticking – and I wonder whether one day I might still enjoy all that Melbourne has to offer from my bed.

What does the one City of Literature a country has owe to those who are the entire width of a country away? Or those who feel like they’re the width of a country away?

The promise of the internet suggested that digital space could and would be the way to dismantle the barriers facing those made distant from location, class and disability.

But as long as digital space is rendered as a second class experience, a pale documentation, the nominal $20 fee so a publication can claim ‘we pay writers’ – then those whose only access is through the digital space will be second class citizens within Australia’s literary world.

How much effort does a City of Literature owe to its execution of a digital space? How much effort do we, who can sit in this room, owe to those who can’t?

A friend of mine, a writer, a Victorian through and through, recently moved to Perth because she got a job on a show being made there – a long-running show, a new soap opera, one that employed a whole team of writers for more than half a year.

This would have been unthinkable to me as a teenager, that something like this could exist in WA.

I’m grateful that I moved to Melbourne. I’ve learned so much, grown so much, made so many friends and (for now) can finally live off of writing.

But I can’t help wondering – what do I owe to the version of myself that stayed on the West Coast?

This piece was written for the event Our City of Literature – Parliament: Future Melbourne, held at the Wheeler Centre to celebrate 10 years of Melbourne being a designated UNESCO City of Literature.

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