VCA Digital Archive: Girl at the Window, inspired by a Gerald Murnane documentary

Still from Secret Matters, by Janos Zoltan.
Still from Secret Matters, by Janos Zoltan.

The VCA Digital Archive is a living audiovisual record of student films that date back to 1966. The articles in this series respond thematically to the depth and breadth of the collection, which will be available for research from mid-2019. Enjoy!

By Monica Raszewski

Morning sunlight streamed in through the window above Anna’s desk and reminded her of summer mornings at Klara’s place. She thought of the mornings when they sat in the small back garden with the whole day before them and nothing yet decided.

A dull ache in her chest, like a hairline crack, gradually intensified and travelled up to her throat. She had been writing about the girl who had appeared in the second-storey window of the tenement building during that first week in Nadvodom. Anna leaned over her desk and opened the window.

Secret Matters (Trailer). Janos Zoltan. 2015. Documentary.

Klara’s small car had rattled along a narrow and uneven road. As they approached a sharp bend, Klara pointed directly ahead at a tall narrow building. She thought that was where Anna’s father had lived before he emigrated to Australia.

Anna pressed her back into the car seat and thrust her feet forward as they sped towards the building. Klara turned the steering wheel sharply to the right and they whizzed past. Anna looked back at the narrow, run-down tenement that Klara said was scheduled to be demolished and asked her to stop the car.

They walked back to the building with the dirty facade and peeling paint. Anna held her small camera loosely, like a stone she had picked up on a walk. She felt obliged to take a photograph but now that she stood before the building there didn’t seem to be any point. She sensed Klara watching her.

“If your parents had not left, if they had stayed here, we would have known each other all our lives,” Klara said.

Anna held up the camera and took a photograph of a section of wall with peeling yellow paint. Then she stepped back and looked up. A pot of red geraniums stood on the white ledge of a first floor window. The window was half open and there was a lacy curtain making it impossible to see inside.

They walked through the gateway into the courtyard. The inside of the gateway was covered in graffiti and there was a smell of piss. The narrow courtyard was deserted. The worn, uneven paving formed a secret pattern.

As they went further into the courtyard, Klara whispered that you could hide in these old buildings. Over the years, people had built partitions, false walls and attics within attics; an entire network of hiding spots. You could hide in the basement, the cellar, in dark corners and in corridors where you could flatten yourself against the wall and disappear.

They emerged from the gateway back onto the street. Anna glanced up at the first-floor window with the red geraniums.

A girl of about 11 stood at the window between the lace curtains looking down at the street. She had long sandy hair parted on the side and a serious, proprietorial expression on her face. It seemed to Anna that the girl could have belonged to any decade in the last 150 years. She stood at the window, silent, inside and outside the world she observed.

Anna leaned over the desk to open the window wider. She hovered over her notes as if to fly out the window, over the wooden fence and overhanging bushes, beyond the roof of the neighbour’s house into the thin strip of pale blue sky.

If her parents had never left Nadvodom and she had been born there, then she and Klara would have known each other all their lives. She would have lived inside the building she had only seen from the outside, she would know the history of the hidden doorways and courtyards, she would know the entire city.

She and Klara would be like sisters, speaking their private language invisible and cocooned by the sounds that no one else understood. They would travel this way staying for as long or as short a time as they wished until they arrived back in Nadvodom.

Monica Raszewski is a writer of fiction and plays and an admirer of Gerald Murnane’s work. Girl at the Window is an imaginative response to Secret Matters, a documentary about Murnane in the VCA Digital Archive. The response was inspired by the yearning and empathy explored in the documentary and the idea of Murnane the writer wandering to other places in another time while sitting at his desk in Geroke.

The VCA Digital Archive series of articles was commissioned as part of a grant from the University of Melbourne, Student Services Amenities Fee. University of Melbourne staff and students and some industry people dipped into the FTV archive and watched films based on themes. The idea was to use the archive as stimulus in which to curate and create. Some responses are completely creative, others are reviews, others are word art pieces.

The full collection is available for research.