Monument is poet and critic Bonny Cassidy’s fourth book. Moving seamlessly through genres in its recovery of the past — part poetry, part prose, microhistory, memoir, travel writing, and sometimes counterfactual speculation — it traces the complex consequences of colonial settlement across the generations of a White Australian family of mixed origins and ancestries.
Following the threads and detours signalled by research, objects and testimony, Cassidy makes a case for the value of ‘collected memory’ against the tide of settlement and silence. Inspired by the methods of Natalie Harkin’s archival poetics and Katrina Schlunke’s Bluff Rock: Autobiography of a Massacre, Cassidy’s Monument considers how non-Indigenous Australians might absorb First Nations truth-telling; and what this means for acts of speech, and writing. Should our memories serve the living or the dead, the past or the present? Why do we need new monuments in Australia, and where should we expect to find them?
Have you ever felt lost in your family history? Have you ever trawled deep into your complicated and often fraught past, finding stories that bewilder and fascinate in equal parts? In many ways, Bonny Cassidy’s Monument is that experience in a book: a long night in the archives, captured with a poet’s sensibility. But it’s also more than that – not just a family history, but also an interrogation of the process of remembering itself, framed by a nation where so much has been deliberately, wilfully forgotten. Cassidy dances along the threads of her ancestry, from Tasmania to Ballarat and back again, studying the margins as much as she does the records themselves. Throughout, she is driven by the question of monuments and the other ways a settler society fills the gaps of a collective memory.
Coming on the heels of David Marr’s own monument of family history, Killing for Country, comparisons are inevitable. Yet, despite their surface similarities, Monument feels unique, animated by a lyrical, ephemeral style that is capable of drifting between present and past, and between poetry and prose. On a conceptual line drawn between memory and history, Cassidy’s approach falls squarely on the side of memory, finding her ancestors in that blurry space where time blends together and the senses come to life. Each individual becomes a piece of the larger story of the slow formation of ‘Australia’ as a nation, but Cassidy never loses sight of what that nation erased. After all, remembering goes hand in hand with forgetting: ‘the hardening of millions of soft denials into unknowing’, as Cassidy eloquently observes.
Wielding a fragmented perspective that refuses to be tied down to a single voice or style, Monument is a book engaged in profound and weighty concepts that demand your attention. Its ambition might occasionally lose you, but Cassidy’s talent and craft will invariably find you again.
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