‘The Long Weekend In Alice Springs’

A book review, for something different:
Image of The Long Weekend in Alice Springs

Craig San Roque’s Long Weekend In Alice Springs

Adapted and drawn by Joshua Santospirito. San Kessto Publications, 152pp, $35.

Alone on a clear winter’s night in 2008, I lugged my swag up a dry creekbed a couple of kilometres north of Alice Springs and slipped into unconsciousness. Later, from the inchoate, moonlit sand beneath my head, the guttural sound of a wild dog’s growling dragged me back to my body. Seemingly, I had been suspended deep in the remnants of the ancient, granulated ridges beneath me—now terrifyingly rendered into a conduit for dog-noise. By the time I found the means to move, the hound had gone, unsighted, into the night. On the fringe of Alice Springs a few weeks earlier, another person—somnolent like me, though inebriated—had been killed by a pack of wild dogs. Another had been severely injured. I decided to drive myself back to my bedroom in town—the domesticated confines of which I gravitated towards more keenly in the coming months. As a new resident, I had been bitten, figuratively speaking, by both an actual dream-dog and the awful media reports giving it imaginal form. The timbre of the town’s fear at that time was canine. I subsequently kept myself on a tighter leash.

Reading— rather apprehending—a singular new graphic novel titled The Long Weekend in Alice Springs has provided ample cause for this reminiscence. Produced by Centralian psychologist/writer Craig San Roque and mental health nurse/cartoonist Joshua Santospirito, The Long Weekend addresses the nature of ‘Alice’, or Mbantua as it is known to locals, and the ways in it influences the experience and behaviour of the hapless people who visit or inhabit it. In light of the town’s frequently troubling social issues, that one element—and it is only one—of the area’s Arrrente dreaming stories should emerge as ‘a rape and dog fight’ is not surprising.

Illustration, Courtesy of Josh Santospirito

Illustration, Courtesy of Josh Santospirito

The idea that the Australian settler society’s ongoing experience of place—and even our economic and geographic land use patterns—may be shaped by extant Indigenous dreaming stories is not new. Witness Kaurna elder Lewis O’Brien’s discussion about the dreaming of the Adelaide city area with physicist Arnold Mindell in that writer’s Dreaming While Awake (2000) or Burnum Burnum’s wide-angle Aboriginal Australia: a Traveller’s Guide (1988). Similarly, San Roque and Santospirito show the graphic, contemporary importance of the Arrente people’s cosmology of Alice Springs to all who live in the town. This is merely San Roque’s departure point, however. For him, the conceptual framework linking these ideas—and their equivalents in the ancient and contemporary Middle East—is C.J. Jung’s concept of the cultural complex. In fact, San Roque’s character in the book has been commissioned to write an essay on the topic, and it is as he goes about his business on the eponymous Long Weekend that he teases out the ideas linking the Sumerian tale of Inana’s descent into the underworld with Arrente dreaming tales—and the emplaced distress caused to whites and blacks alike by ‘the psychopathologies of colonisation’. Together, these tropes form the ‘cultural complexes’ that San Roque negotiates. In this pretty, home-pressed volume, he rubs them together until sparks fly, illuminating many of the most troubling aspects of life in northern Australia that are baffling to visitors and long-term residents alike.

Illustration, Courtesy of Josh Santospirito

Illustration, Courtesy of Josh Santospirito

San Roque is, in my estimation, a local philosopher—one who has meditated for two decades on the inter-cultural space of Alice Springs in its mythical and psychological dimensions. His intelligent and soulful groundwork is evident in the book’s luminary prose. Supporting this endeavour is the evocative graphic art of Joshua Santospirito, which captures the Alice Springs known to this former resident perfectly. There is something darkly endearing about the world evoked by Santospririto’s pen; think of a pared-down aesthetic akin to Ron Brooks’ plumate imagery in The Bunyip of Berkley’s Creek. As San Roque’s character—rendered as an enigmatic, aquiline  flaneur by Santospirito—is called to attend various crises, he walks the town’s local cyclone mesh and saltbush-fringed lanes, and witnesses the Warlpiri weekend unfolding in his own backyard. As the weekend passes, it becomes evident that the breakdowns suffered by San Roque’s patients, far from being the result of individual pathologies, are symptomatic of the cultural, mythic and postcolonial clashes in which their victims are enmeshed. Between these events, a searing light is shone into the casual, inchoate tensions for which Alice is renown.

During my years in Alice Springs and elsewhere in the NT, I saw daily evidence supporting San Roque’s assertion in this book—that the encounter between ‘two cultures that don’t have the faintest notion of how to deal with each other’s presence’ continually generates its own ‘psycho-pathologies of distress’.  Decades of government effort has not lessened the enormous commitment required of individuals to comprehend—let alone remedy—the dispiriting distance between mainstream and traditional Australian Indigenous cultures. San Roque is one of the few who is taking us forward in this endeavour—if any are prepared to listen. Santospirito has heard this Centralian philosopher, and responded. They both deserve our thanks.

Illustration, Courtesy of Josh Santospirito

Illustration, Courtesy of Josh Santospirito

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~ by 1charlieward on August 23, 2013.

9 Responses to “‘The Long Weekend In Alice Springs’”

  1. from one underdog philosopher to another

    charlie, thankyou very much for your illuminating and well cut review.

    craig

    • An underdog today, a mongrel tomorrow? Got to look out for more CSR writing.

      • I have quietly mentioned (once) that he should make an anthology of his writings … but I’ll need a group effort of people quietly hinting at it for an extended period of time to get any results I think.

  2. Reblogged this on Joshua Santospirito Art and commented:
    A fine review of the Long Weekend

  3. Great review, San Roque and Santospirito have engaged in such an enjoyable collaboration for this book, the graphic work by Santospirito has great aesthetic value and drives the reader through San Roque’s reflection with great art. Good on both of them and on the writer of this nice review.

    • Thanks Leonardo, after trying to publish this review elsewhere, it’s been good for me to put it up on this blog. Less about the industry and more about acknowledging the artistry and endeavour around me.

  4. hey Charlie, i perused the rest of your blog after reading this kick arse review….you’ve kept me amused and my brain ticking whilst trapped in the office under fluro lights, cheers! also, i wanna say a big yeeeeha, thanks! for introducing me to the whoa-ness of process work, i’ll be sinking my teeth into it further, thanks to you.

    • Great Jessi, thanks. PW is the bomb, I couldn’t say enough good about Arny Mindell and his work. If you reach any dead ends, let me know.

  5. Touching to read such a great review penned by my dear brother-uncle, of the book that most helped me understand my home town. Sending praise and courage for more astute creativity to you Charlie and to Craig and Joshua for such an rich and enduring offering to our dust and spinifex cultural milieu.

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