Walking and Thinking in Toronto, Winnipeg and Sydney in the Twenty-First Century
Australia and Canada are among the world’s most highly urbanized countries yet myths of the wilderness and the bush continue to dominate national imaginaries and perhaps especially, to deny indigenous peoples full rights to the city. This paper will engage postcolonial settler urban imaginaries as they are challenged and redefined through texts that reposition the national, the global, and the transcultural through a focus on walkers in two Canadian cities as imagined by Sheila Heti, Dionne Brand and Russell Smith (Toronto in How Should a Person Be?, What We All Long For and Muriella Pent), and Winnipeg (in Marvin Francis’s city treaty: a long poem). These texts each renegotiate what Jane Rule calls “contracts with the world” in the shadow of Canada as a “treaty nation” reimagining the gendered and racialized spaces of the city. These urban imaginaries will be contrasted with those linked to the streets of Sydney, Australia, through a brief comparison of the ways in which Gail Jones’s Five Bells may be seen to revise not only Kenneth Slessor’s canonical poem of the same title but also Christina Stead’s accounts of walkers in the city in Seven Poor Men of Sydney and For Love Alone. In relocating the Australian myth of the lost child from the bush to the city, revisiting Stead’s hymns to the harbour, and revising Slessor’s elegy for a drowned companion, Jones reimagines Sydney as a place where losses must be remembered, where danger still lurks, but also as a place where forgiveness and new beginnings might be possible in a city increasingly seen to be a crossroads for the world. Each text asks what it means to think in these cities, where as city treaty puts it, “we all walk edges uncertain / on border slippery … between bush and city” 28).
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Image Ryan McGinley, still from Sigur Ros video “Varuo” illustrating Don’t Move to New York @artfcity by Paddy Johnson
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