Book Club Podcast, Festival of Urbanism

Join us for a series of fascinating conversations about some of the most interesting books about cities and urban life. Hosted by Fenella Kernebone, Head of Programming, Sydney Ideas at the University of Sydney

Dallas Rogers, Kurt Iveson and Preston Peachey interview authors, editors and readers about new literary urban fiction, speculative fiction, historical fiction and academic books on cities.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander listeners are warned that this series of interviews contains stories and voices of deceased persons and colonial violence. 

Killing Sydney: The Fight for the City’s Soul

by Elizabeth Farrelly

Kurt Iveson talks with Elizabeth about her blueprint for the future of Sydney in a radically changing world.

Columnist Elizabeth Farrelly brings her unique perspective as architectural writer and former city councillor to a burning question for our times: how will we live in the future? Can our communities survive pandemic, environmental disaster, overcrowding, government greed and big business?

Using her own adopted city of Sydney, she creates a roadmap for urban living and analyses the history of cities themselves to study why and how we live together, now and into the future.

Killing Sydney is part-lovesong, part-warning: little by little, our politics are becoming debased and our environment degraded. The tipping point is close. Can the home we love survive?


Dr Elizabeth Farrelly trained in architecture and philosophy, practiced in Auckland, London and Bristol, holds a PhD in urbanism from the University of Sydney, and is a former Associate Professor (Practice) at the University of NSW Graduate School of Urbanism. Born in Dunedin, New Zealand, she has made Sydney her home since the late 1980s. The author of several books, including Three Houses – a 1993 monograph on renowned architect Glenn Murcutt and Blubberland; the dangers of happiness (2007) – she is a Walkley-shortlisted journalist, critic and essayist and served as a Councillor for the City of Sydney from 1991 to 1995. Her portrait by Mirra Whale was a finalist in the 2015 Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and she is currently building a passive off-grid dwelling in rural NSW.


by Julie Janson

Preston Peachey reflects on the book Benevolence with author Julie Janson.

Julie’s intensely visual prose interweaves historical events with fictionalised characterisation in a story that shatters European stereotypes about life on the colonial frontier. Julie gives voice to an Aboriginal experience of early-settlement.

Benevolence is a story about this important era in Australia’s history from an Aboriginal perspective.

Told through the fictional characterisation of Darug woman Muraging (Mary James), Benevolence is a compelling story of first contact. Born around 1813, Muraging is among the earliest Darug generations to experience the impact of British colonisation – a time of cataclysmic change and violence, but also remarkable survival and resistance.

At an early age Muraging is given over to the Parramatta Native School by her Darug father. Fleeing the school in pursuit of love, she embarks on a journey of discovery and a search for a safe place to make her home. Spanning the years 1816–35, Benevolence is set around the Dyarubbin/Hawkesbury River area, the home of the Darug people, in Parramatta and Sydney.


Julie’s career as a playwright began when she wrote and directed plays in remote Australian Northern Territory Aboriginal communities. She is now a novelist and award-winning poet. Julie is a Burruberongal woman of Darug Aboriginal Nation. She is co-recipient of the Oodgeroo Noonuccal Poetry Prize, 2016 and winner of the Judith Wright Poetry Prize, 2019.

Mirror Sydney: An Atlas of Reflections

by Vanessa Berry

Dallas Rogers chats with Vanessa about her delicately wrought essays and hand-drawn maps, Vanessa describes her encounters with unusual, forgotten or abandoned places in the city in which she was born and raised, using their details to open up repositories of significance, and to create an alternative city, a Mirror Sydney, illuminated by memory and imagination. She writes at a time when Sydney is being disassembled and rebuilt at an alarming rate. Her determined observation of the over-looked and the odd, the hidden and the enigmatic – precisely those details whose existence is most threatened by development – is an act of preservation in its own right, a testament to what she calls ‘the radical potential of taking notice’.

Vanessa’s work combines a low-fi DIY approach with an awareness of the tradition of philosophical urban investigation. Her unique style of map illustration was developed through the making of zines and artworks, collaging detailed line drawings with text from typewriters and Letraset.

We round out our conversation with a drip into Vanessa’s latest book, Gentle and Fierce. Having spent her life in city environments, Vanessa’s experiences with animals have largely been through encounters in urban settings, representations in art and the media, and as decorative ornaments or kitsch.


Dr Vanessa Berry is a Sydney writer and artist who works with history, memory and archives. She is the author of the memoir Ninety9, the ‘autobiographical almanac’ Strawberry Hills Forever and Mirror Sydney, an essayistic atlas exploring the city’s marginal places and undercurrents, and which won the 2018 Mascara Review’s Avant-garde Award for nonfiction. Vanessa’s latest book is Gentle and Fierce.

Shaking Up the City: Ignorance, Inequality, and the Urban Question

by Tom Slater

Dallas and Tom discuss Shaking Up the City, which critically examines many of the concepts and categories within mainstream urban studies that serve dubious policy agendas.

Through a combination of theory and empirical evidence, Tom Slater “shakes up” mainstream urban studies in a concise and pointed fashion by turning on its head much of the prevailing wisdom in the field. To this end, he explores the themes of data-driven innovation, urban resilience, gentrification, displacement and rent control, neighbourhood effects, territorial stigmatisation, and ethnoracial segregation.

With important contributions to ongoing debates in sociology, geography, urban planning, and public policy, this book engages closely with struggles for land rights and housing justice to offer numerous insights for scholarship and political action to guard against the spread of an urbanism rooted in vested interest.


Dr Tom Slater is Professor of Urban Geography at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

Blood Meridian

by Cormac McCarthy

As we reckon with the violent settler-colonial basis of our cities, Dallas talks with Adam Morton about a recent literary economy analysis of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Adam published this reflection recently in the journal Political Geography. It is titled A Geography of Blood Meridian: Primitive accumulation on the frontier of space.

There is a factual husk to Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian; or The Evening Redness of the West, based on the real spaces and historical occurrences of a group of filibusterers, or mercenaries, based in the United States that engage in racialised acts of scalping Native Americans licensed by the state in Mexico between the 1840s and 1850s. How are these conditions of settler-colonialism to be approached in the novel and what meaning do they convey about past and present experiences of violent dispossession of land, life and territory?

By advancing an approach to world literature covering literary studies, geographical studies and political economy, Adam Morton argues that Blood Meridian should be considered a quintessential novel of the racial and historical geography of the frontier economy and its spatial expansion within the uneven conditions of capitalist development. 

Blood Meridian can therefore be understood as both a novel about the constitution of the frontier economy and Indigenous defiance, resistance and survival.


Adam David Morton is Professor of Political Economy at the University of Sydney. His book Revolution and State in Modern Mexico: The Political Economy of Uneven Development (Rowman & Littlefield, 2011) received the 2012 Book Prize of the British International Studies Association (BISA) International Political Economy Group (IPEG) and his last book (co-authored with Andreas Bieler) was Global Capitalism, Global War, Global Crisis (Cambridge University Press, 2018). The volume Henri Lefebvre, On the Rural: Economy, Sociology, Geography is out in 2022 with University of Minnesota Press, co-edited with Stuart Elden.

Temporality in Mobile Lives: Contemporary Asia-Australia Migration and Everyday Time

by Shanthi Robertson

Dallas and Shanthi discuss Shanthi’s fresh take on 21st-century migratory experiences and temporality from her innovative study of young Asian migrants’ lives in Australia’s cities and regions.

The book shows how migration has reshaped lived experiences of time and place for middle-class young people moving between Asia and the West for work, study and lifestyle opportunities. Through a new conceptual framework of ‘chronomobilities,’ which looks at ‘time-regimes’ and ‘time-logics’, Robertson demonstrates how migratory pathways can profoundly affect the temporalities of everyday life, from the timelines of career trajectories to the tempos of urban living.

Drawing on extensive ethnographic material, Robertson deepens our understanding of the multifaceted relationship between migration,place and time.

Shanthi and Dallas also talk about Exit West in this conversation, a book by Mohsin Hamid. Shanthi calls Hamid’s book ‘almost speculative fiction’, that follows a young couple who escape civil unrest in their unnamed city through magical doors that begin to appear, allowing people to move instantly to different cities around the world.

Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Shanthi says this book is ‘only lightly speculative’ and can be read as a powerful commentary on contemporary migration and borders.  

And if you like this discussion, Dallas also talked with Shanthi on ABC Radio National’s The Philosopher’s Zone, see Chronomobilities.


Dr Shanthi Robertson is an Associate Professor at the School of Humanities and Communication Arts and an Institute Fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University.

Second City: Essays from Western Sydney

edited by Catriona Menzies-Pike

Dallas and Catriona talk Second City, which puts on display the diverse literary talents that make Sydney’s western suburbs such a fertile region for writers.

Beginning with Felicity Castagna’s warning about the dangers of cultural labelling, this collection of essays takes resistance against conformity and uncritical consensus as one of its central themes. From Aleesha Paz’s call to recognise the revolutionary act of public knitting, to Sheila Ngoc Pham on the importance of education in crossing social and ethnic boundaries, to May Ngo’s cosmopolitan take on the significance of the shopping mall, the collection offers complex and humane insights into the dynamic relationships between class, culture, family, and love.

Eda Gunaydin’s ‘Second City’, from which this collection takes its title, is both a political autobiography and an elegy for a Parramatta lost to gentrification and redevelopment. Zohra Aly and Raaza Jamshed confront the prejudices which oppose Muslim identity in the suburbs, the one in the building of a mosque, the other in the naming of her child. Rawah Arja’s comic essay depicts the complexity of the Lebanese-Australian family, Amanda Tink explores reading Alan Marshall as a child and as an adult, while Martyn Reyes combines the experience of a hike in the Dharawal National Park and an earlier trek in Bangkong Kahoy Valley in the Philippines.

Finally, Yumna Kassab’s essay on Jorge Luis Borges reminds us that Western Sydney writing can be represented by no single form, opinion, style, poetics, or state of mind.


Catriona Menzies-Pike is a Sydney writer, editor and former academic. She is the editor of the Sydney Review of Books and holds a doctorate in English literature.


City Road and The Henry Halloran Trust partnered to bring you this Festival of Urbanism podcast series.


Fenella Kernebone, Head of Programming, Sydney Ideas at the University of Sydney


Preston Peachey is a Wiradjuri and Malyangapa man. He is a creative living on Bediagal Country and works for local government on Gadigal Country.

Kurt Iveson, Associate Professor, School of Geosciences, University of Sydney.

Dallas Rogers, Senior Lecturer, School of Architecture, Design and Planning, University of Sydney.

Podcast Series and Audio Production

Dallas Rogers, City Road Podcast.

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