Friday, April 27, 2018

Tales from the Slammer #2

Tales from the Slammer #2

On the first day, I walked around the edges of the tall, thick, whitewashed walls. There are sparse, newly planted native gardens and the prison itself is surrounded by bush covered hills and rocky outcrops. There is a whole suburb that wraps itself around the back of the prison. Nestled and a little incongruous. Strangely, on the path from the staff carpark to the entrance are some convict cut sandstone stairs that lead to the bottom of the wall. There are no doors there – a strange throwback to the time when this whole island was a prison and those large, heavy bricks were cut by the indentured labour, my ancestors, who we call ‘the convicts.’

I consider the myths of this place, Risdon Prison, anonymous and impenetrable. It crept into my childhood via the media with the harshest and most elaborate crimes, crimes that inform the psyche of all Tasmanians, crimes that in our small town are still too ripe and raw - unhealed tissue - to drop into casual conversation. Crimes that we still feel the sting of. 

The individual voices here are distinct and proud and personal and more often than not, damaged. They are fathers and husbands and sons, they are struggling with their lives, their incarceration and their crimes. They are individuals and their kid’s names tattooed on their arms belie how much they love them.

The Prisoner Education and Training (PEAT) section is lit with fluorescent lights and, although one of the rabbit warren training rooms has natural light, to work here in winter must be dispiriting. It’s summer now and the rumbling too-cold aircon makes a pervasive soundscape.

There is also an entire library, the Risdon LINC, which is a wonderful thing. It must be a bubble within the broader prison complex and, while the inmates bring their tussles and torments in with them, I can only imagine how the rehab unit feels, how maximum might feel, how an individual cell may feel. We are all just big pieces of tofu, taking on the flavours of those around us, the aromas of the space we inhabit. How does a space define and inform us?
I am doing this as a Writer in Residence and hope to use creative writing and storytelling as a vehicle to move them into a space where reading and writing is easier, where verbal communication (not with fists) is owned, powerful and even progressive. I hope to open some tiny creative cracks, to help them find tools to tell their own stories, to place themselves within a broader narrative. To pull focus and to tell their tales with a distinctive beauty. I have not yet held the first session.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Tales from the Slammer. #1

Tales from the Slammer -

The induction happened a few weeks before my first day at work, an induction like so many other jobs; a room of screens, an internal database with a series of multiple choice questions. The questions included the standard ones that any work place would have; about protocols and standards and what to expect, but also many unique to this new place of employment, Risdon Prison, where I was to work on a grant project for LINC Tasmania, the library, and their dedicated literacy service.

I have been contracted by LINC Tasmania as a Writer in Residence at Risdon Prison, through their far reaching literacy program. Literacy is one of the most significant and important issues affecting Tasmania right now. In Tasmania, half of us struggle to read and write. A report by the ABS for 2011-2012 shows that 49% (aged between 15-74) are functionally illiterate. This means that half of the people who live with on this island do not have some of the most practical skills to get by in the modern world. These are things like filling out forms or reading straightforward instructions. 

Literacy, in terms of readin’ and writin’ is one thing, social literacy, the ability to ‘read’ a situation and to ‘write’ a response is another. In prison it is worse. Inside the prison the 49% functional illiteracy increases to approximately 80% with low skill levels in one or more domains of literacy – reading, writing or numeracy. There are myriad reasons for this; including intergenerational illiteracy, less access to educational resources, contempt for education from those the system has failed in the past and the seemingly entrenched and often ignored class system in Tasmania.

The Writer in Residence role in this iteration was a blank canvas. In my public life speak long and loudly (not long enough, not loudly enough) about the need for all of us to have the tools to tell our stories, and how, whether through spoken or written literacy we can grow a sense of self and of community. More often than not I am speaking to a literate audience. This role affords the opportunity to work specifically with those who struggle with literacy and to hopefully let some light pour in to a world of reading and writing, and to celebrate literature and the written word. The program would also need clear outcomes, and a tangible improvement in the ability and confidence of inmates to read and write.  Where to begin!?

Friday, April 6, 2018

Paige Turner - April

If you’re reading this, you can read, yep. It may seem like a silly statement, but being able to read makes you part of the 50% of Tasmanians who can read and write. Only 50% of us are functionally literate, which is of significant concern for all of us. What to do? There are lots of things, but to begin the drip feed, start reading on the bus, reading in public. Be a public celebration of reading, a very embodiment of reading – and volunteer as an adult literacy tutor through 26Ten.

You can also attend other celebrations of reading and writing, such as the launch of Word Fall by Betty McKenzie-Tubb at the Hobart Bookshop on April 12 at 5.30pm. This is her new collection of poetry, following on from a book of memoir of her last 80 or so years. She has a love and mastery of language, and as poet Robyn Mathison notes, she was moved to tears, deep contemplation or laughter as she read these poems.
Tasmanian writer Shirley Patton will have her northern launch, following a successful Hobart event in March. Her new novel, The Secrets We Keep is a compelling novel of the transcendental love of children and the truth's unwillingness to stay hidden. This is happening on April 12, 6pm at Petrarch’s Bookshop in Launceston.

On April 18 I am heading to Launceston to do a lunchtime talk for the National Book Council of Tasmania. This is open to the public and I’d love you to come along and say hello. Who am I when I’m at home? – well, Editor in Chief of Transportation Press, erstwhile non-fiction Editor of Open Road Review, South Asia’s leading mag of literature and culture, reviewer, writer, columnist, and recently I’ve had the great pleasure to be working with lower literacy inmates at Risdon Prison as Writer in Residence, doing slam poetry. April 18, 1pm on the second floor of the Launceston LINC, this is a free event.

Reading for the Revolution returns in April, this time with readings and discussion around the concept ‘democracy’ – which is something which history teaches us, time and time again that we should not take forgranted. The next one is taking place at 7.30am (yes, in the morning sleepy heads) on Tuesday, April 10 upstairs at the Food Store in South Hobart. Readings include ‘How Politics Works in Australia’ a recent essay in The Monthly by Scott Ludlum, and Tim Lo Surdo’s discussion from Democracy in Colour. For further information contact the inspirational Millie Rooney –

I’m getting conflicting information about the ‘officialness’ of the announcement – but Ellen Harvey has updated her Twitter profile to note she is the new director of the TasmanianWriters’ Centre. I imagine this means that contracts are signed and she is on her way to relocate to Tasmania for the role. This is exciting times for a centre which has a grand opportunity to be the go-to space for writers and readers of all ilks, diversities, propensities and desires. I wish her all the best for her new role. UPDATE APRIL 7- her Twitter profile no longer includes this in her bio. Oh! The intrigue! Stay tuned, I understand the Centre are issuing a press release this weekend or coming Monday.

It's excellent to hear that the first two titles from Emily Conolon’s exciting new interactive children’s series, The Freedom Fighters, Break your Chains and Touch the Sun, are being launch at Fullers on April 7th at 2.30pm. Emily is a Tasmanian of the Year, humanitarian as well as being an author, and these books offer the opportunity for young readers (9+) to choose their own destinies, putting themselves in the shoes of migrants and refugee children and experiencing the twists, turns and life or death choices of finding your way to a new home in Australia. This is a free event, but please make sure you RSVP to
Fullers is also hosting the launch of From Limerick to Campbell Town to Detroit by Meredith Hodgson. This book traces the remarkable life of Eliza Williams who was transported to Van Diemen’s Land for theft in 1851, where she served as indentured labour for John Leake at his magnificent estate Rosedale. Her letters have survived and they tell a fascinating tale of the journey from convict woman, to prosperity. The author will be in conversation with historian Kristyn Harman on Thursday, April 12 at 5.30. (see also the review of Kristyn Harman’s latest book, Cleansing the Colony, in this issue).
Private Projects, a distinctive, glorious small gallery in Moonah, has copies of artist Duncan Blanchard’s new book available now. This is the only Tasmanian distribution outlet.

A little ahead of myself this month, but a significant event on any reader’s calendar should be the launch of Robbie Arnott’s first novel, Flames. The book will be launched by MAN Booker Prize winner, Richard Flanagan at Fullers on May 3, at 5.30pm. I cannot wait, this book is already being lauded as a surrealist version of the island state, and what some are calling “one of the finest works of Australian literature in recent years”. Woot.

The latest in Tansy Rayner Robert’s Creature Court series is available for pre-order here.

Do you have any writing or reading news? Drop me a line –

Paige Turner November

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