This is a review of Bumf by Emma Koehn.



Editors: Jeremy Poxon, Sally Olds, Cosima McGrath, Stuart Glover (contributing ed.)


First off, definitions: for Brisbane, and other words for toilet paper. For this review I have googled both. That’s probably a good starting point for you too.


The capital of Queensland, Australia, and the state’s most heavily populated city. Last time I was there, I was at an age where it was socially acceptable for me to be wearing pigtails. This week they had these crazy-random-golf ball-hail storms, and people watched as their roofs were blown off.


1. Printed matter, such as pamphlets, forms, or memorandums, especially of an official nature and deemed of little interest or importance.

2. Toilet paper.


Bumf is an archive of work produced in Brisbane and San Francisco, and while the internet has oft been labelled the never-ending roll of toilet paper, the site has more to offer. The home page currently houses the mag’s most recent collection – essays, poetry and reflections on Brisbane’s recent hosting of the G20 Summit.

World leaders were to arrive on our shores, and Australians were promised shirt-fronting and confrontations requiring Rocky theme music. Instead we got footage of old rotating fans and gardens in forty degree heat, sweating protestors, pleasant conversations, obscure references to domestic policy woes, plates of finger sandwiches. To help digest it all, Bumf has given us words on the media, junkets and the creation of Brisbane.

Stuart Glover pens ‘Garrison City – Brisbane and the G20’, a look at the history of ‘friendly’ political meet-ups, of security and the history of Brisbane as a constructed city – a colonial project obsessed with division, holding white convicts while the British engaged in ugly battles with native peoples for land. The piece is a clever look at the idea of ‘protecting’ a city, and throws light on Brisbane as a bizarre, maybe fitting backdrop for the surveillance and Hollywood-film style security necessary for corralling world leaders into one space.

Jaymee Paxton gives us headlines we won’t have see from Australia’s media, including ‘Fake Eiffel Tower brings Real Tears to François Hollande’s Eyes’ and ‘Michelle Obama ‘Super Pumped’ to go to DFO’ – which, given President Obama’s affection for ‘Brisvegas’, may not have been far from the truth. 

Maryam Monalisa Gharavi’s collection of poems, Septuplus, tackles wealth, development and our connection to environment. ‘Banquet’ has this lovely, nauseating quality that brings forth images of tycoons and their quivering, ample flesh, with lines like:


"A cabonara dot

stained his chin like a mole

filled with bulbous plasma.”

“O you should have seen
his chin ripple and flap.” 

Sincere and major props for remembering the G20 was on, let alone finding a bunch of literary forms to capture it in. Bumf was in the thick of it, and what they’ve mixed the satire we expect from such events with some more pointed reflections on wealth and our nation.

I’m not going to pretend to know much more about Brisbane than what I do as a tourist and someone who has watched the migration of many a writer and artist southwards. The same, actually, goes for San Francisco, although it’s not a stretch to say that the dual influences of these cities leave a mark on the publication.

We know that cities make great writing because they are weird and fractured. The boundaries can be ambiguous, their origins dodgy and based on violence and dispossession, and their development gaudy, impractical, based on greed. For Brisbane, at least through Bumf, you get a sense of isolation that has cemented friendships and perspectives. Pieces like Chris Somerville’s ‘On Leaving the Gold Coast: Street Fighter’ and Michaela McGuire’s ‘On Leaving Brisbane: The Island’ are scattered throughout the archive. Both pieces touch on Queensland’s out of place glitz, in theme parks and on tacky party boats, and play with which parts of that stay with them now they moved elsewhere.

Bumf is a grown up. It’s not the guy who owns an iron and does his own taxes and insists that driving a manual car is ‘so much better because I get bored driving automatics, you guys!’ –  it’s more that upright man/woman we all know who manages to wake up every day and get shit done at work without letting the terror of the world and its petty miseries get them down.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it knows what it wants to say, and does so without preamble. For the writing student, it’s is a home of recognisable lit names and clever prose. If you’ve never been to Brisvegas, or SF for that matter, you might have to jump the fence in order to get what all the fuss is about.

It might take a while, because even the layout of the site doesn’t seem like it wants to let on at very first glace about what the tone and aim are. In this sense, you have to do the legwork and dig through those archives to see what you can get. This is probably kind of the point. Go forth and do some excavation!


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