In terms of literature, my lovely friend, Cassie Flanagan Willanski, is launching her first book into the world. It’s a collection of short stories that explores white Australians’ relationships to the land and the indigenous Australians with whom they share it. Here Where We Live is brilliant. I’m not just saying that.
Cass and I go way back and we have histories that have intertwined around activism and writing. In fact, Cass has been a huge influence in my life. We met in an Environmental Writing class at the University of Adelaide. I loved her work from the first time I heard her read aloud in class. This was back in the late 90s and I remember to this day that her story involved hardenbergia violacea, a native climbing plant with a gorgeous purple flower. To recall that kind of detail after nearly 20 years proves that she’s a truly powerful storyteller. By the end of that writing course we were firm friends.
After uni we both moved from volunteer activism into environmental campaigning, working with various organisations in South Australia. We were both involved in Friends of the Earth’s anti-nuke campaign and helped to successfully stop the radioactive waste dump that was planned for northern SA. Cass went on to work for the Wilderness Society. I worked for Greenpeace, Animal Liberation, The Conservation Council and the Greens (I got around in those days). We invaded the Hazelwood coal mine and ended up in a Victorian court together. Salad days. Literally, both of us being hard-core vegetarians.
Then, after a decade or so, I had a break down. That term doesn’t accurately describe it. Compassion fatigue. Depression that turned nastily acute. Whatever you want to call it, I couldn’t work in the movement anymore. I had lost all hope that the world could be saved and saw no reason to keep living in it. Although I stepped back from the edge, I felt like the primary component of my identity, the activist, had died and all I was left with was a worthless husk. It was Cass who showed me that there were other ways to be an activist. She wrote poetry and short stories and showed me that creativity can be a powerful political act.
We created poetry zines together, at first with another friend from the green frontline, Jules Winefield. We called ourselves Triple Bottom Line. First came Power Cut. Then Sustainability for Activists. Cass started a Masters in Creative Writing. I did a solo zine called Celestial Navigation. Cass met the love of her life, artist John Willanski and married him. A year or so later the three of us went out to the vast mallee lands beyond Ceduna with West Mallee Protection and cleaned sacred rockhole sites with the traditional custodians. I started writing poetry and launched into a PhD in Creative Writing. Cass finished her Masters, brought the gorgeous Florence into the world, had her prize-winning short story collection accepted for publication and started a PhD in Creative Writing.
Which brings us to the 10th of April 2016 and the triple-world collision. Cass’s book, Here Where We Live, is being launched at theTinCat Cafe in Kent Town. Cass chose one of my photographs to grace the cover of her book and I’m so incredibly honoured that I am tearing up a little just writing this. Cass, John and Florence are a wonderful family whose daily lives revolve around love, creativity and living softly on the planet. They are inspirational and so deserving of this success. But even when they should be drinking in the accolades, they are generous to a fault. Despite being married to a visual artist, Cass has asked me to provide the art to decorate her launch space. So, thanks to the selflessness of the Flanagan Willanski family, I’m exhibiting some of my photos of South Australian landscapes and John has even printed and mounted them for me. Thank you both so so much. I am truly honoured. May the worlds collide and let’s launch this book in style!