Twist, snap.

I had lost the battle to my sister yet again.

The hollow cqqrkk! rung in my ears as I held the limp, shrivelled end in my hand.

There must be a trick to grabbing the bigger portion, the winning chunk of the Christmas cracker. 
I am yet to figure it out.

Christmas in my household is a raucous jumble of cultures and the overconsumption of chocolate.

Sweaty, Australian sun leaks through the window melting the Kue Lapis my dad makes from a recipe.

My mum is spraying snow from a can onto her children’s backs.

Our brand-new shirts are stained with gooey white Christmas spirit.

The holiday season in 2011 took on particular significance.

It was the year that I transcended the Gloomy Teen Phase into some expectant post-adolescent maturity.

A present arrived in the mail a few days before the 25th of December from my grandmother.

(The President of Indonesia stamped on the corner of the package.)

This wooden, rectangle box sat quietly, its edges awkwardly protruding into the Ridwan family’s makeshift tree.
A pot plant with some small baubles attached to the leaves.

I’d only met my dad’s mother once before.

Dazed (overwhelmed), I was unable to communicate with her, having never learnt to speak a language common to us both - linguistically or generationally.

I bent down to enter the  house and saw my grandmother sitting straight-backed in a wide, straw armchair.

Struck with dementia and other ageing ailments, she remained in her perched position, regaled, her eyes unable to focus upon my face in any meaningful way.

I knelt down and encompassed her warm hands in mine.
The corners of her mouth turned ever-so-slightly upwards – the universal sign of happiness! — as if there was a string connecting from the roof to her gestural curve.


“What’s inside the box?”

Curiosity crept upon me.

I wondered what my grandmother — who knew only of me through the small amount of information my father allowed to reach her (mostly that I was a tall, devout Muslim boy) — had given to me.

Maybe it was money, or maybe a family heirloom (a brooch embossed in gold), or maybe it was even property (one of the under-producing rice fields my family owned in Padang).

She wasn’t a wealthy woman, far from it.

The house had flooded several times during the rainy season and was only held together with flimsy pilons reinforced by my dad and his brothers each time they visited.

That didn’t stop my mind from swaying far from my surroundings.

The prawns seared on the barbeque, their fiery orange flesh turning pale as they cooked, the fans roared to keep the heat at bay, swirling, it all blurred into,“what’s inside the box?”

Card games played out to the tune of Know When To Hold ‘Em, Know When To Fold ‘Em.

The beach air swiftly cleared my sinuses of the city lurgies and I breathed with a sense of purpose, of readiness.

I revelled in the naked peek-a-boo of bodies on the sand, girls and boys flustering for the cricket ball.

Still, I couldn’t let go of the box. 


The day finally arrived after a nightmarish sleep.

Santa had visited me, his chimney appeal more sinister than it was as a 12-year old, now Mr. Claus reportedly: “a creepy man who lets pimply children sit on him at shopping centres”.

With gormless, expanding eyes, I opened the box.


A moment of disappointment flashed over me (my face a bitter reminder of youth) and I turned to my dad to pose the question I had asked myself a thousand times over.

My sister, holding her string of victories over me, snatched the box from my hands, scratching some of the tint from the boxes’ latch .“Go fish!” she shouted.

The fish was delicately hand-painted in gold onto the lid (winking, frolicking around the hook extended from on top of the water), escaping a lazy fisherman with a broad-brimmed hat (he whistled, music notes escaping from his lips under the peachy sunset).

Back in my grasp: the box glowed

Years later, the box swishes around in a larger, transparent container full of things the family pulls out every now and then at Christmas-time, a reminder of past presents with stories upon stories attached.

I rummage through the bits and pieces, hoping to find the man quietly humming, endlessly unable to catch the elusive golden cod.

But I always stop, because I am caught up in the sizzle of prawns on the barbeque and chocolate coins being broken into and smashed around no-longer-white teeth and my dad’s jaunty laughter.

And the thrill of the finding the secret to the Christmas cracker.


Adam Ridwan is a megalomaniac of vague origin with a penchant for over-indulgent shoes. A graduate of Psychology at ANU, he works in marketing for the Wotif Group, was shortlisted for the Monash University Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing and is skilled in all-things-interwebs. He's an avid selfies-with-cats-fanatic which is highlighted on his Instagram (@adamridwan_), his infrequently updated website and his off-beat tweets @adamridwan.

I love noticing the way people walk. I like to compare the length of strides, the pendulum frequency of arms swinging, the various orientations spines give to the angles of chests, whether you can hear feet shuffle or not. I like imitating unusual walks sometimes, like a party trick. I couldn’t imitate my own. I don’t know what my own mirror-image walk would look like. Moving is a formula so specific to our bodies we hardly think about its infinite variations. It’s like writing essays or having sex: it’s always a surprise when another person’s worn-in recipe involves a method you’ve never encountered before. 

I do have a particular memory of myself walking, the me of primary school, looking at the pavement, watching grey grit in the concrete roll by like thick television static under my shoes. The average time it took to get from school to my house was about 17 minutes, and I knew for some reason that if I arrived home in 15 minutes or 18 minutes or twenty, everything would change. Every second in that little window of transit would mean that every decision after that would be made differently, the span of my life would shorten or lengthen according to the speed of my stride. This was just before Sliding Doors came out, which I later watched like a documentary.  

I’d vary the speed of my walk- faster, slower, sometimes I’d skip for a little bit, sometimes I’d just stop for a second, or tie my shoe, and then run to catch up to myself, to where I should have been by now. I watched lines of liquorice tar slicing the pavement into slabs stretching out like frames in a film strip, and somewhere ahead, I could see the ghost of myself trudging along with her knitted library bag (my knitted library bag), the me who’d walked home a bit quicker. I’d wonder what her life would be like, whether she was cursed or happy, and whether those few minutes meant I’d escaped something terrible or missed out on everything great.

I want to describe now the morning of the 24th of August, the white shock of sunlight and the lightning zoom of pupils becoming pinpricks inside my red-rimmed eyes. A headache rumbled like a cannonball inside my skull, the outside of which felt precious and damaged like chipped porcelain. I breathed in the factory smell of fresh merchandise emanating from my new Courtney Love tour t-shirt and breathed out the stale ash-mouth taste of relinquishing all respect for my own health. I felt so wretched I knew I must have had fun, and then a second later, I remembered that I had.

I decided to check on the weather. I reached my arm up to lift my blind, I had a sudden, clear-eyed premonition of the seconds that followed, like seeing myself exactly in the future, like skipping forward. I knew it would happen, but I couldn’t feel it enough to stop it. I didn’t get the message to my hand in time, or maybe my body just wanted to do it anyway, just to teach me a lesson. 

So it happened, I pulled the blind up, and the white bar at the bottom of the blind swung forward, knocking over my full-length mirror which was resting precariously on its edge, and my mirror, the prize of weeks of gumtree searching and my partner in fashion crime, fell right on top of my little oil column heater and broke, a brilliant tinkering crash like the end of the world or the beginning or both. Slices of silver littered the floor like sheets of ice around the Titanic and I swore, loudly, and saw seven years of bad luck stretching out ahead of me, just like that old film-strip pavement reaching some fatal horizon.

I got up and examined the wreckage, and I laughed. In each bright sliver, I saw my mascara-streaked face glinting in fractured configurations, hundreds of ghosts spilling out in different directions, all of them, probably, doing something dumb, surely, somewhere, always, and not only for seven years. Pretty wretched and pretty happy, alternately, and together.


Claire Capel-Stanley is a writer and curator based in Canberra. She was until recently the inaugural arts writer in residence at M16 Artspace, and has written for Art Monthly, Fairfax newspapers, BMA, HESTER magazine and Lip among other publications. She used to have a massive crush on Daniel Radcliffe and still thinks he is surprisingly underrated. Claire's blog is and you can follow her on Twitter (but don't get your hopes up) @capelstanley.

I wouldn’t describe myself as an uncool kid in the eighties. Certainly my parents, nineteen when they conceived me, were regarded as an extremely cool young mum and dad.

Despite this, some mysterious force compelled them to give me a huge old-fashioned stamp album for Christmas when I was about ten, accompanied by a charity bag of used world stamps.

Pulling them out of the stocking, I had laughed and rolled my eyes, muttering something about stamps being for nerds. In spite of – or maybe because of – this, I got a charity bag of stamps for the next ten years or so. It became a running joke; my parents were pleased to see me look for them amongst the normal gifts, and it pleased me to complain about them when I found them, year after year.

Dutifully, in the early years I placed the stamps in the fragile paper slips of the album, straightening them gently and running my hand over the protective cellophane shield to flatten the edges down of the little works of art. Secretly, I would pull out the album and re-categorise the collection: always in country of origin, but then sometimes by theme, colour, year or price.

The album has survived many removals: dearly loved share-houses; now defunct de-facto situations; blissful solitary inner city loft living. I never once considered getting rid of it. Looking back, I can see that curating the stamps, the re-categorising and re-ordering, put me in a pleasant state of control during my turbulent adolescent years. It was a solitary, quieting of the mind amid the clamour of the classroom or the din of the house, as everyone complained bitterly about living with my hormones.

The stamps were a retreat. Later, as an adult, the stamps became a constant in my ever-changing world of housing, jobs, social groups, partners and news cycles. Who would have thought the stamps would become such a poignant reminder of the old world of my childhood, when even emails weren’t invented yet.

 Six years ago, a punter visiting for a drink incredulously spied the stamp album on my bookshelf. It could have been the drinks, it could have been that I liked him – either way, I gingerly placed the album in his lap. I talked him through the categories, pausing every now and then to let him appreciate the beauty of the finest: the Hungarian stamps, the Polish ones. He was amused, a gentle smile on his face, and at the end he murmured something about me being a funny little nerd. Later, he admitted he knew at that minute that I was a keeper because of my lack of inhibition in declaring myself a lover of stamps. And now he has to lug the album through every move, every renovation – he grumbles, but never denies they are special.


Angie Holst is a writer based in Sydney. Her novel 'Expectations' was published in 2013 and she blogs on books at . Follow her @awoo75.

Brace Yourself was the secret pseudonym I gave her. Brace Yourself because you never knew what you were going to get. She was like a hurricane stopping by briefly to collect a few dozen condoms and a hot chocolate with five sugars in it.

She wanted to move to Central America and save the turtles. Said she didn’t need much out there, as long as she could stay on her methadone script. When I was off work for six weeks following emergency surgery, she acted like my colleagues had personally hospitalised me.

It used to be just the condoms, nothing else, no chat. She couldn’t wait to be rid of us, in case the ten seconds she spent in our company were ten seconds that lost her a punter. But then stuff changed.

Like, it turned out that she was being pimped, and that there was no emergency housing that would provide support for addictions. This might have been a bit more useful than arresting her fucking clients, but there we were. One night she got in the car and bawled for her mother and it was heartbreaking. There were these two ladies in the back of the car, too –  government researchers who were seemingly way out of their depth. I remember one of them gingerly reached out and patted her arm, said there, there. Brace Yourself was starting to rattle and she had to get back out and make money. I called around everywhere but nobody could do a goddamn thing. I’d never dealt with anything so heavy before.

The amazing, fantastic thing was she got out of that situation by herself. Kept working. Yes, she still had a habit, but she was out there on her own terms now. And after that, we had this connection, I guess.

She was a few years younger than me and you might call her ‘spirited’, if you felt like it. When she chose to give someone a piece of her mind it was a joy to witness. I was in my mid-twenties, plagued with self-doubt over how professional I really was – oversharing tales from my faintly ridiculous personal life, that kind of thing. But it wasn’t like anything was going to shock her, and if it made her laugh then cool.

So then this one time I gave her a lift to buy smokes and she comes out of the petrol station yelling, I got you a present! A little multi-coloured crab on a keyring, soft and stuffed with sand. I rarely use keys now that I live on the road, but it still comes with me. I wonder where she is now, and whether someday we’ll put the world to rights over gin and tonics in the Port o’ Leith, someday when things are sorted, in whatever form that takes.


Some details have been changed to protect anonymity.

Nine is a writer, editor, DJ and international pet sitter from Northern Ireland via Scotland. She would still be working with women like Brace Yourself if funding cuts hadn’t shut the project down. Nowadays she divides her time between Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and the rest of the world, and writes about sex work every so often.

I was born in a country town on the border of South Australia and Victoria. A town that was big by country standards, but small enough that the whole world felt like it was on our doorstep. Behind our house were big open fields where our dog used to run and chase rabbits. Our neighbours were our best friends – the adults would play cards and drink wine while Becky (their daughter) and I would sit up in bed in our pyjamas, telling each other stories. 

When I was three we moved to Adelaide. It was only a four hour drive, but a whole other world away. I made new friends at kindergarten and I had a whole new backyard to go exploring in, but still I was a pretty introverted kid. I had lost my best friend and everything seemed enormous. But I had Ernie.

Ernie was a stuffed toy version of Ernie from Sesame Street – complete with stripy jumper – and he came everywhere with me. He shared my love of stories and bath times with rubber ducks and predicted my current love for woollen jumpers way before I caught on.

 But one day, without talking to me about it or leaving me a note, Ernie disappeared. I was devastated. I cried so much that my parents went out and bought me a brand new Ernie. This was not a house full of toys - most of our games and puzzles were borrowed from the local toy library - so to buy a new toy outside of a birthday or Christmas was a big deal.

Two days later, Ernie reappeared. My parents were furious and cried foul. I professed my innocence but Ernie, New Ernie and I were all tainted from the experience. It did not take long until New Ernie was cast aside; there was just too much history between Ernie and I. 

Later, Ernie confided to me that he too had been struggling to adjust to the big city and had tried to make his way home again. He spent three days trying to find a bus or train or someone he could hitch a ride with back to the town with the beautiful blue lake. But he had underestimated how far away it is and how difficult it can be to hitchhike when you are small and lack opposable thumbs.

After a few days of roaming the suburban streets of Adelaide, he gave up and made his way back home. When I found him he was caught in the jasmine vine. He had tried to jump the fence at night to sneak back inside without anyone noticing, but his jumper had snagged on his way down. He said I couldn’t say anything to my parents because we would both get into even more trouble, but I was quietly proud of his adventurous spirit.

He used to tell me his tales from the road late at night when it was just two of us, sitting up in bed, telling each other stories. 

Kylie Maslen is a writer and events producer based in Melbourne. She writes about what she's been reading and what she's been eating at Sheappeared at the 2014 Emerging Writers' Festival, has been published by Writers' Bloc and previously wrote for Collect. In October she appeared (and made sandwiches at) at the National Young Writers' Festival. Say hello on Twitter: @hellobookplate

Everybody was heading home. George was the only one still clearing out his room and packing clothes, shoes and kitchen utensils into the car. Sam and I were sitting on the outside table, talking and laughing. Tomorrow was my birthday.

 'Hey, I have something to give you. Hang on, I'll get it.’ Sam reached into the red gift bag sitting next to her and produced a small, dark blue, rectangular box.

Sam was going away for at least a year and would be travelling as part of her research. I wasn't sure when I'd see her next. Perhaps I would travel too and meet up with her in Europe, in Piccadilly Square or somewhere like that.  We'd been talking about keeping in touch with actual physical letters. We liked pretending to be more literary than we were. But I was pretty sure that it was never going to happen. I was more than capable and willing to write letters but am, to all intents and purposes, too lazy to seal them into envelopes, drive them to the post office for stamps, and send them halfway across the world. We'd probably Skype. Or email instead.

But I opened the box and there, new and glittering, was a fountain pen. 'Oh, is this a hint?' I asked, teasing. It was made out of clear, sleek plastic and had a shiny, silver nib. It was the Lamy I'd had my eye on for the past week.

 George came to the table. 'Cake, ladies?' he asked, placing an assortment of treats on the table. He disappeared inside again for some juice, as we cried out a loud, 'Yes!' Typical.

It was quiet between us. We had a long established way of communicating: no backslapping or hugs; we're not that kind of sentimental. But I held the pen in my hand and thanked her. We ate some cake and George came to join us.

 It was the end of the academic year but, strangely, I felt like I was at the beginning of something, a thing I couldn't put my finger on. I wanted the new year to bring new opportunities. I had an inkling they'd come but I felt anxious about it. Then I realised that it was because Sam was leaving. We'd been a constant in each other's lives for the past seven years – and the future now looked a bit scary.

 An hour later, Sam said she was heading off. 'My parents are meeting me at the airport in an hour. So. Bye, everyone. Promise to keep in touch, and Camilla, if you don't write me letters with that pen then at least write something interesting.’ I laughed and agreed. We said our goodbyes.

After, I went inside and sat at my desk and put the pen on top of my notebook.


Camilla Patini is a writer and student at the Australian National University. She has written arts reviews and opinion pieces for Lip Magazine, and was, until recently, the author of its ‘love and relationships’ column. Her writing has also appeared in Woroni, the ANU student newspaper. She is currently one of two ‘Bloggers in Residence’ at the ACT Writers Centre.

The bottle sat on my kitchen shelf for at least a year. Dark green and slimy, it was the proud result of a backyard science experiment, or – as I like to call it – the curious outcome of an alchemical investigation that took not only brains, but serious talent.

What was in this bottle? Why was it so precious that I had left it on my shelf, unopened, for a year or more? The answer is a heady mix of tap water, food colouring and codeine. Yes, crystals of the stuff.

I had been prescribed some panadeine forte for an infected cut in my foot. (Turns out, if you leave stitches in for one extra day, all bacterial hell breaks loose.) After taking a single pill (which felt awesome, thanks for asking), I was left with a mended big toe and a packet of leftover pain medication I had no idea what to do with.

So began a series of rabid internet searches. Soon, armed with a wealth of information (did you know paracetamol isn’t water soluble? I should have known this when I tried to spike my boyfriend’s tea – long story), the distillation process began. It wasn’t difficult and only took an hour, which is a bit scary when you think I was just an arts student at the time. After the codeine separated and dissolved into water, I poured it into a mini Jack Daniels bottle with the label peeled off. Food colouring created the vivid green tinge; I think I was going for an absinthe aesthetic. I’ve always had a taste for the dramatic. I was pretty proud of myself. Who would have thought: Jess Oliver, the chemistry buff. Don’t ask me about the periodic table but god damnit, I can Google.

They say the proof lies in the pudding, but I was never quite game to taste test my own creation. Although tempted, I always had a strange feeling that maybe, just maybe, I should leave my Frankenstein’s monster on the shelf to gather dust. If you’ve read Mary Shelley’s famous yet terrifying book you will understand – this was not a can of worms I wanted to open. The liquid’s green tinge lightened over time and strange, fluffy clouds formed inside, floating silently in their glass confines. Every now and again, I would inspect the bottle, turning it around and watching the soft crystals of codeine at the bottom whirl like flakes in a snow globe.

Months later, a couple of my boyfriend’s friends came up to Canberra to visit for the weekend (we went to the Mint. It was riveting). One of them, a graduate of pharmaceutical science at uni, opened the kitchen cupboard, saw the bottle and asked, ‘what is that?’

‘Oh,’ I replied, nonchalant but secretly proud, ‘that’s just some codeine I extracted from panadeine forte’.

‘Have you taken any?’ He sounded amused, but with there was an edge to his voice that immediately awoke my suspicions.


‘Good, because there’s more than enough codeine in there to kill you. I’d throw it out straight away’.

Frankenstein indeed. 


Jess Oliver is a Canberra based writer and sub-editor in art + theatre for Lip Magazine. She enjoys chocolate, books and red wine, and is a self-confessed 'but why?' person.

When I was twenty, my grandmother died. Recollection of the early morning conversation with my father remains vivid; his strained voice over the phone as he shared the news, my uncontrollable sobs as I struggled to accept what I had been told. Unexpectedly, her passing acted as a positive catalyst, swiftly reuniting a deeply fractured family.  We flocked to each other the week following Betty’s death, offering support and love to one another; extended family that hadn’t sat in the same room for ten years now sharing meals, laughter and tears. 


Horrified by the choice of caskets available for our stylish and creative matriarch, we unanimously agreed on the simple and inexpensive option. Nothing more than a sturdy white box. No frills. Not yet, anyway. The empty coffin sat propped up in our carport, as my father and uncle feverishly made modifications that spoke of her life-long love of painting and gardens. The act of decorating the coffin was a moving and memorable experience for creators as well as bystanders. 


When it came to the distribution of Betty’s treasured possessions, we all regrouped as a family and organically migrated throughout the house: room by room, object by object. This felt celebratory and gentle; another chapter in our grieving process. We shared stories about Gram’s art collection, outfits, books and kitchen appliances. We marvelled at the condition of her possessions. Everything pristine and beautifully cared for. There were things in that house I had grown to love over the years: a basket of colourful building blocks, antique letter openers, glass paper weights and decorative coffee table coasters. Each possessed their own unique story. I knew what everything felt like in that house. Every surface and texture was familiar terrain.


As the afternoon rolled on, I was given a well-loved sheet-set, a vase and a painting. A modest but precious loot. As sofas were claimed along with dining room tables and buffets, I sat still and waited patiently for The Lamp. The large 1950’s creation demanded your attention with its turquoise base and long shade made from thick strands of tightly wound wool. Even as a small boy I would sit and marvel at the mystifying object, running my hand across its coarse and bulbous body, plucking the wool like swollen strings of a harp. It spoke of a time and place that was completely unfamiliar to me. I wondered if it had made its way across the ocean with the Townsend’s after their time living in New York.


Harmoniously, on that fond afternoon, the lamp entered my custody. Without argument, without negotiation, without question. Surprisingly, I was alone in my adoration for this signature piece. I had anticipated a battle to unfold but instead the lamp simply and easily entered my orbit for good. As I have moved from house to house the lamp has continued to raise eyebrows and demand attention. Conversations unfold when people ask me where it came from and I take delight in responding. I shed light on my cherished history with this object and I tell stories about my beloved grandmother, Betty, or Gram as we fondly nicknamed her; a grandmother who unknowingly left me a lamp, now a ghost who continues illuminating me. 

Image-maker. Storyteller. Show pony. In an effort to continue taking photos and telling stories Sam has found himself on a perpetual fact-finding mission. Purposefully placing himself in (often challenging) environments that will likely deliver the goods. His pictures are often introspective and quiet, static frames intimately asking questions of the subject and the maker, where his stories are slightly louder; laughing hard at everyone and everything, himself included. 

Harry refused to hire removalists again.

He insisted I was stronger than I looked, even though – after last time we moved – I had a heat pack more-or-less surgically attached to my neck for a month.

The fridge was The Heifer, because it had taken half an hour of sweating and swearing to get it out of the trailer last time. The nickname stuck. Sorting the groceries: should these go in The Heifer?

The couch was The Diva. She had refused to fit in the elevator of our last building and had to have her own pulley system fashioned so she could be eased up into the living room via the balcony. I imagined the ropes as a giant cabaret swing and that The Diva was wearing a big tiara, singing ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ while onlookers threw sequined cushions into her lap. Whenever we started getting busy on The Diva, Harry put a stop to proceedings and suggested we move to the bedroom or wait until Grand Designs was over. Sex on the couch is for teenagers.

And the bookshelf was Mr Cellophane. You know the song, Harry said. From Chicago. Mr Cellophane. You can walk right by me, look right through me, and never know I’m there. He sang it with an irritating flourish.

Mr Cellophane was unremarkable. He had no place there. Moving days made him morbidly self-conscious. He deadened every corner he slouched in and was repeatedly replaced by a handsome cabinet or a multi-talented leaning shelf.

We left him on the balcony while we figured out the rest. We coaxed The Diva into her corner. We hip-and-shouldered things. We kicked at the futon and set a stately lamp in six different places. Domestic tetris.

The idea with Mr Cellophane was that you put the little bolts in the holes and the shelves rest on the plastic nubs, so they must be lined up perfectly. But we didn’t get that far. We’ll just keep him there for the moment, we said.

One day a strong wind came and pushed Mr Cellophane about so that he tipped and shuddered against the balcony railing. A forlorn brown backslash.

We heard the clatter but we didn’t right him for a week or two.

Occasionally someone would say, why don’t you put plants in that thing? You could keep herbs in trays. Harry would always say what a nice idea it was, as though we’d never thought of it ourselves. And then he’d tell them how Mr Cellophane came to be on the balcony, and sing the song again.

I’d say that we should never have brought it upstairs in the first place, should have just taken it to the tip. Then I would imagine the two of us – Mr Cellophane and I – me holding him weightlessly over my head and launching him like a javelin onto a soft mound of landfill.

At first he’d stick out. But then the damp and the flies would come, and he would finally rot. Happily invisible.




Lucy Nelson is a writer, editor, dancer-in-the-dark and carbohydrate enthusiast. Her work has appeared in the the Age, the Canberra Times, the Big Issue and BMA Magazine. Lucy is the 2014 recipient of the Templeberg residential writing fellowship.