Three things with Claire G Coleman: ‘If it was lost in a fire it would be a terrible loss to art’

Three things with Claire G Coleman: ‘If it was lost in a fire it would be a terrible loss to art’

Claire G Coleman’s first novel, Terra Nullius, used speculative fiction to confront the horrors of colonisation and dispossession. Perhaps the biggest influence on her debut was HG Wells’s sci-fi classic The War of the Worlds, which itself was inspired by British colonial treatment of Indigenous Tasmanians. Coleman felt Wells’s book and her own were “approaching the same question from opposite sides”, she told Guardian Australia at the time.

It was a hit: among a long list of other accolades, Terra Nullius saw Coleman win the Norma Kathleen Hemming award, which celebrates Australia’s best science fiction. Last week, the Noongar author returned with her third novel, Enclave, which again weaves a dystopian allegory about the ugly realities of racism – as well as the perils of homophobia, surveillance, greed and privilege. While Terra Nullius was written while travelling around Australia in a caravan, Enclave was penned in a somewhat more ergonomic set-up at home.

The Perth-born, Melbourne-based writer considers a piece of art she has hanging at home one of her most prized possessions. Here, Coleman tells us why she treasures her Arone Meeks lithograph, as well as the story of two other important personal belongings.

What I’d save from my house in a fire

At Cairns Indigenous Art Fair a few years back I talked at great length to legendary artist Arone Meeks, whose artistic language is modernist and unique. I purchased from the artist a lithograph called Star Koiki, a tribute to the land rights hero Koiki Mabo, who started the court case that overturned terra nullius.

It’s beautiful, powerful, painterly and passionate – one of the artist’s most simple works, on the surface, but its power floats below the surface. The connection to the story of land rights adds to that power.

I was devastated when I heard of the artist’s passing. When I look at the work his passing strikes me, adding, morbidly, to how special the work is. It was my last chance to have a work from that artist to hang on my walls and I didn’t even know it. If it was lost in a fire it would be a terrible loss to art.

My most useful object

I never wanted to own an air fryer. They are advertised as a “low-fat” cooking method and I am not scared of fat; in fact I eat largely low-carb so fat is an important part of my diet.

But it’s not an air “fryer”, not really. It doesn’t fry food at all. In essence, the plastic thing that sits on my kitchen bench at all times is a high-power fan-forced oven that blasts food with hot air. It’s simple, right. Yet nothing I have ever tried cooks a better roast chicken or pork crackling half as well as my misnamed tool.

A whole roast chicken can be produced in that thing in 20 minutes and the skin goes crispy without additives. Even if it used as much power in an hour as the electric oven in my rental – which it does not – it cooks food faster so I can save power and we get to eat quicker. It fries nothing, but I love it.

The item I most regret losing

Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine are a relatively obscure punk-pop band from the UK who were mostly active in the early 90s. Their songs are some of my favourite, even though most people in Australia have never heard of them. When I worked in IT, doing website development and code at a design company while studying computer science, I had their best-of CD in the drive, blasting the music into my headphones at all times for weeks.

I was working way too many hours at the time. Although I was a casual, there was more work than I could handle, and I was often there 40 hours a week while studying and teaching at a university. Burnout was inevitable, but Carter USM held it at bay for a long time. When I had those songs in my ears I was able to keep going.

Losing that CD was one of the most stupid mistakes I can ever remember making. I received a call from my manager saying they were upgrading the computers in the office. It didn’t occur to me, perhaps because I was tired, to ask someone to pull my favourite album of the time out of the machine.

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