We asked Keri about her work and life in Newcastle.
Tell us about your background, including what drew you into your area of interest?
I moved from Sydney to Newcastle at the end of 2006 after I got a job as a Creative Writing lecturer at The University of Newcastle. As someone who did a PhD in ‘grunge poetics’ finding myself in the sweet-hereafter of Newcastle seems almost fated. One of the panels I am facilitating at this year’s Newcastle Writer’s Festival is ‘Rough & Tumblr: Blogging Newcastle’, also the name of an article I wrote last year, which contrasts my ambivalence toward Newcastle off-line with my fascination with the way others aestheticise it on-line.
What are you passionate about? Can others in the community get involved? How?
I’m interested in how Newcastle’s amateur place-bloggers are creating an extended cultural sphere for the city. Rather than becoming an active blogger myself, I have instead become a serial viewer/voyeur, which makes it feel like I am browsing Newcastle at a necessary distance, observing the observers. I am a passionate spectator of others’ passionate spectatorship.
All three bloggers on the panel have active blogs:
Mark MacLean of Hamilton North writes about walking his dog Jambo down Styx Creek, a landscape of contaminated gas works and drains clogged with infinite assemblages of litter. Born in England, MacLean situates his blog as part of a lineage that includes the eighteenth century English country parson (and amateur naturalist and ornithologist) Gilbert White, who wrote about the world of ‘bearded orchids’ and ‘ripening crabapples’ in and around his parish. MacLean published a locally best-selling book A year down the drain: Walking in Styx Creek, January to December which draws on his blog and is available to buy on his site.
Every day since 1 January 2012 Michael Newton has uploaded a photograph to his Tumblr Showbag often with a pithy tag line posted beneath. His photograph of the (now that you mention it) chess-like tower on The Hill, is captioned ‘Rook Takes Bishop’. While I often think I’ve stumbled across the definitive photograph of the Newcastle Ocean Baths on Tumblr, only to see another one and another one, I think that, for me, Newton’s photograph of a container ship named ‘Fiction’ in Newcastle harbour (captioned ‘Not as strange as Truth’) will remain seared in my memory. I immediately emailed it around to a number of writer friends with a by-line of my own: ‘Fiction, your ship has finally come in’.
Siobhan Curran’s blog The Novocastrian Files is a way of navigating unsung creative, cultural and culinary nodal points in the city’s ever evolving cartography of DIY enterprise. It’s hard not to get overcome by jealousy when getting a surreptitious peek inside studios such as this.
Other blogs people might be interested in include:
There’s also the Lost Newcastle Facebook group.
Has what you’re researching changed your point of view or reaffirmed something you already felt/knew? In what way?
In order to feel ‘located’ in Newcastle it appears that I need to surf the somewhat disembodied creativity of others, that in my case direct experience is not always better than its mediated equivalent: actualised repeatedly on-line in unique and creative ways. Engaging with Newcastle in a networked way has renewed my sense of connectedness with the local (including that which can never be entirely encompassed by the virtual). Somehow, paradoxically, it’s made me get real!
Do you draw on any people or resources for inspiration?
I have been influenced by a PhD by Ulises Mejias called ‘Networked Proximity: ICTs and the Mediation of Nearness’ in which he writes: ‘The mediated near that the network delivers is a slightly different near, familiar and unfamiliar at the same time’. This research helped me articulate the fact that looking at representations of Newcastle on-line was not simply a matter of reaching my nose around the back of my head!
What’s been the most unexpected aspect of your work so far?
One of the first Newcastle Tumblrs that I followed was by a straight edge punk with a facial tattoo and the open jaws of a panther on his neck. There was something about his melancholic self-hatred that fascinated me, along with his penchant for taking phone photos of a nocturnal abandoned Newcastle as he walked the city during his many bouts of insomnia. He also often photographed his morning eggs benedict, coffee chain snacks and pet rats. One day I was startled to see him with his dad in a bakery in New Lambton. It almost felt like celebrity spotting, and I think part of the satisfaction of reading blogs is not just having intimate windows into other people’s lives, but realising the potential to inhabit the same city in myriad ways.
What do you hope will be achieved by what you are doing and what did you achieve or realise?
Through this project I got to work through the kinks in my relationship to Newcastle: while I appreciate the city’s persistent ‘rough diamond’ mythology and its post-industrial ambience (event though post-industrial seems a bit of a misnomer considering Orica’s hexavalent chromium leaks and the coal dust in the air) I still experience an underlying (and productive) sense of displacement (gliding deep down, like a sting-ray along the ocean floor).
What’s been your proudest achievement to date?
I’m really appreciative of my job, which allows me to engage creatively with research and work with the amazing students we’ve got in our Creative Writing program.
What would be your dream project?
I’d like to stage a ‘Tour of Beauty/Blight’ that involved collaborative installations with artists across Newcastle: with Indigenous sites and stories; industry; abandoned buildings and new technologies.
What does the future hold?
I’m going to try to run the Hill to Harbour 10k this weekend.
What’s your favourite Newcastle neighbourhood and why?
I live in Islington and I quite like the grunge and the gravitas of living on Chinchen Street in an old shopfront.
Can you name a local hero?
I’m inspired by the Principal of Islington Public School down the road.
What do you look forward to doing most in Newcastle in summer?
I love walking or jogging out the breakwater and swimming in the ocean baths.
While I tend to wear Blundstones, I like boots and scarves ensembles in all forms.
Where and what was the last greatest meal you had in Newcastle?
My favourite hang at the moment is Madam Mo’s dumpling house on Maitland Road Islington. They do a great iced tea.
Best place to getaway to?
The most interesting city I’ve been to recently is Kolkata. After doing a month of yoga in South India, arriving in Kolkata was a shock to my lungs but it is one of the most fascinating cities I’ve travelled too. It’s a port town too, on the Hooghly River, and its still possible to see so much of its multicultural and colonial history from the East India Company and Raj era, including hidden abandoned buildings (empty synagogues, Portuguese cathedrals and fire temples) as well as those still operating today such as Anglo-Indian bakeries and Old China town men’s clubs. My partner and I were swept up in a Kali pilgrimage and it felt like seeing a rock star god, past the slaughtered goats to see her black idol.
Your #1 Newcastle insiders tip?
Baked Uprising’s kitchen and bakery in Maryville.
‘Fiction’ by Michael Newton.