The audio book Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific is now available from CD Baby. Compared with the print version there are two minor changes in the ordering of the stories, ‘Headland’ the last stories in the print version is at the end of the suite of stories that are set in Australia and ‘Baby Boomers and Japan’ precedes it.
Making the audio book
Recording this audio book has been an interesting journey. My first step was to acquire a suitable microphone. After experimenting with some cheap off the shelf versions, I realised that they were quite inadequate. After a little research I found the Yeti by Blue. This is an incredibly versatile microphone. I won’t say much about it here, but I’ve posted YouTube video below that demonstrates its versatility.
Garageband proved to be suitable software so I began. Not being a professional actor but at least knowing how to project my voice and read with both a consistent metre and expression, I embarked on the journey.
Ambient noise, bad voice days and the occasional rumble of thunder or jets passing over necessitated re-recording at times. I also made an attempt to engineer changes in my voice to reflect different characters. I think for the most part I’ve been successful. In saying this I must added that I didn’t attempt accents beyond the most minimal variation. My years living in Indonesia and the fact that I currently reside in Singapore did not embolden me to attempt Indonesian or Singapore English, for the most part.
Here is a sample of my work my work from An Unusual Kind of Thunder which is the first of two firsthand accounts of the Bali Bombings of October 2002. The other is In the Charnel House. Reading stories like these wirth their strong emotional content and explicit descriptions of the impact of terrorist bombing is an emotional experience. Although I’m well beyond the raw Post Traumatic Stress of the first few years after this event, the reading brought back a lot of memories. In a practical sense, this meant I had to edit a lot, when the tears started flowing. The result is a smooth coherent unfolding of two powerful stories.
My work’s significance.
In launching my book earlier this year Dr David Reeve had this to say of it:
This is partly creative fiction though it’s based on his own life and I think of it of keeping to a tradition of writing on Asia. I remember the excitement back in 1978 when Chris Koch published The Year of Living Dangerously then in 1980 Blanche D’Alpuget published Monkeys in the Dark, 1981 Turtle Beach. Robert Drew in 1981 published A Cry in the Jungle Bar. Those authors sat down not knowing that the others had an Asia theme and started just at a particular moment to write about Australians really enmeshing themselves in Asia.
When I look at the similarity of those four novels, in each of those, Australians go forward full of high ideals and anticipation but in fact come home defeated, physically wounded or psychologically wounded or in the case of the hero of A Cry in the Jungle Bar actually dead. So I think this is a new and more mature and more realistic mood in Russell Darnley’s book. The Australian doesn’t go out with high hopes to Asia, gets defeated and returns partially destroyed, certainly damaged. In him it’s a much more complex engagement, it has of course it fears, it’s dangers, its sicknesses but it’s much more mature, I think, in its approach to the complexities of these enmeshments.
I’d like to think that I’ve added a more optimistic and resilient dimension to Australia’s attempts at engaging with our remarkable large and complex neighbour since 15 of my stories are set in Indonesia. This is no simple task, as former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans reminds us when he writes:
“No two neighbours anywhere in the world are as comprehensively unalike as Australia and Indonesia. We differ in language, culture, religion, history, ethnicity, population size, and in political, legal and social systems.”
Of course the book isn’t merely about Indonesia, Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific is 29 stories inspired by one family’s experience spanning three generations the stories are cradled in reality and crafted with an eye for accuracy, but frailty of memory and the natural passing of people and the need to protect others has rendered some stories fictional, even when they’re not.
This work acknowledges that interactions with people from our and culture are generally tangible and familiar but beyond our immediate culture things change, now meaning and understanding must often be negotiated. Foucault’s ideas and the Balinese belief that the reality is interaction of Sikala the seen and Niskala, the unseen, influence this work.
What comprises the Unseen realm varies. What might be understood as micro ecology in one place has spiritual explanations elsewhere. In rational secular society magic is dismissed as mythology or superstition but in parts of Asia and in the Pacific what might be seen as myths and misconceptions can possess the power of reality.
This journey is a long and varied one. It begins in 1914 with Sid Thompson and D Company part of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force sent to capture New Guinea from Germany. Easily defeating the enemy unseen forces took enormous toll draining the strength of healthy young men and promoting a lifetime interest in Chinese medicine for Sid.
I’ve mentioned An Unusual Kind of Thunder and In the Charnel House but there are many more tales
Red Poppies and Janur chronicles Sid’s return to Australia, his family struggle through the Great Depression, and his response to the sacrifice of those who gave up their lives in the Great War. It Segues into Camphor, Silk and Ivory,
a story of seamen’s tales and a child’s embryonic awareness of the cultures beyond.
Made in Japan is a story of hostilities that run deep it’s an account off bitterness, even hatred through memories of wartime atrocities. It’s also a story of redemptive transformation that for many Australians began with the appearance of the striking Hiroshima panels that finally allowed a true measure of the atrocity of war to emerge.
Joss Sticks and Cracker Night and An Encounter with White Australia often unacknowledged Asian influences in Anglo Australia of the 1950’s at a time when clear visions of the Australian region and its many cultures were still shrouded in the vial of the anti-Asian White Australia Policy.
Surviving the Sixties is a personal account of a growing sense of region the desire to know the other rendered more difficult but racism the Vietnam War and the draft. It explores the discourse of a generation confronted by the shadow of the Cold War and its monochromatic world.
In Headland many years of travel in Asia permit a resolution of the negative energies that long enveloped me when I stood on Coogee’s northern headland. This is a story that could not have been written without a sense of the interplay of the seen and the Unseen.
First Landfall is about a journey to Singapore in 1972 and an abrupt awakening the realisation of being a ketchup Backpacker a blow to romantic idealism. Following on the Sublime to the Horrific reveals a couple confronting a primal issue conception with complications as they travel through Singapore Malaysia and Thailand.
Beyond Bhomas’ Powers reveals an ancient spiritual tradition pointing to a harmonious balance with nature. In Balinese tradition Bhoma is an unseen power behind this balance transforming and recycling yet unable to deal with modern and pollution.
Balikpapan Looking Backwards and Forwards employs the metaphor of the Wayang Kulit, the shadow play, revealing the past and the present shaping out the future of Borneo and its once magnificent equatorial rain forests.
The River Guide ventures further into the heart of Borneo with Alex whose mind is a precise map of values and relativities, of seen and unseen flows and eddies. A journey of many hues it affords opportunities to view the history of the river and its people confronting influences from the Ming to the present.
Siberut and the Simple Life is a story of forest people yet to develop the habit of money. It is also a story of the warmth and humour but more importantly one of exploitation and the destructive forces transforming their environment
The Pig and the Cockfight is not exactly a comedy of manners but it could be, rather it’s a story of the process of understanding Balinese culture at greater and greater depth, the pitfalls the humour and the ultimate resolution.
Kampanye – The Campaign Procession sees two Australians caught up in a huge demonstration on the eve of Indonesia’s elections challenging the paranoia of official Australian travel warnings and revealing a society of youth optimism and generosity of spirit. Following on Pemilihan Umum – The General Election continues the theme as the Australians join Indonesian friends in this transition to democracy.
An Unusual Kind of Thunder and In the Charnel House deal directly and graphically with the Bali bombings of 2002. Any assessment of these stories is best left to the reader.
Beyond this suite of Indonesian stories there is a number of others that warrant special mention.
Singapore 43 Years On is about returning to Singapore a city transformed. This is a story of disorientation and a longing for the past being transformed into a contemporary appreciation of this remarkable on entrepot and its global connections.
Vietnam A War Revisited is a story of the anti-war movement and the draft told respectively from Hanoi. It is a story of unveiling, in a sense. Visiting Vietnam for the first time and grateful that I wasn’t part of that group of Australians sent there in the 1960s, and a chance meeting with another Australian in Hanoi, evokes a candid reflection on the War years.