My sister died seventeen years ago and there aren’t many days I don’t miss her. I’d like us to be walking together beside the Murray River near our place in Merbein, hearing her laugh, and being renewed by the sunshine through the river red gums.
Apollo and Thelma: A true tall tale by Jon Faine
A lesser writer than Jon Faine would have found many more cheap laughs in this extraordinary story. One of the two central characters, Paul Alexander McPherson Anderson, was better known as The Mighty Apollo. In what feels like a bygone age, he was the proprietor of The Mighty Apollo Martial Arts centre in West Melbourne. He lived there in spartan quarters, above a panel beater.
Faithless by Alice Nelson
Faithless is the third novel by West Australian writer Alice Nelson. Her first, The Lost Sky (2008), saw her named Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist, and her second, The Children’s House (2018), attracted widespread critical acclaim. All three explore themes of trauma, displacement, memory, and love. Nelson, many of whose family migrated here from Europe, once pondered in a 2019 interview with Brenda Walker at the Centre for Stories whether writers write to ‘heal some kind of loss’ and whether for her ‘it began with that sense of loss of homeland, loss of culture and country that ran through my family’.
‘Such is life’ is a common phrase in Australian popular culture – it has even been tattooed on bodies – but Joseph Furphy’s novel of the same name, published in 1903, is often forgotten. Ned Kelly mythology suggests that he uttered this phrase just before being hanged in 1880, though some historians argue that what he actually said was, ‘Ah well, I suppose’. Long before Furphy (1843–1912) wrote his magnum opus, the stoic phrase was perhaps wrongly associated with a cult hero’s execution.
Where We Are by Alison Flett & ecliptical by Hazel Smith
Hazel Smith’s ecliptical features an image of a Sieglinde Karl-Spence work of art, ‘Becoming’, a pair of ‘winged feet woven with allocasuarina needles’. It is a striking image, evocative of Mercury, with one foot resting on the other, as if the right foot’s instep is itchy. The idea of ‘itchy feet’ is something that ties ecliptical to Alison Flett’s Where We Are. Flett and Smith are both migrants to Australia; their poetry is sensitive to its site of writing, and to international and interpersonal connections.
Georgie heads towards a bench in the shade. No prams or bags or snack boxes on it. No other parents looking for playground chitchat. Max scuffs along a few metres behind her. He’s waving a stick like a metal detector and mumbles to himself. Georgie sits down and waves for him to hurry up. She should’ve shelved it by now. You can’t hurry Max. He’s always walked to the beat of his own drum. At his own pace. He stops for a moment to look at the sky and holds two hands up around his eyes like binoculars. He’s looking, maybe at something, maybe at nothing.
languish by Marion May Campbell & And to Ecstasy by Marjon Mossammaparast
The title of Marion May Campbell’s third poetry collection, languish, conjures ideas of laziness, daydream, failure to make progress, ennui, lack of enthusiasm, anhedonia. Campbell’s poetry is concerned with the excitement of language, but also its debasement. Several reviewers have commented on the work’s intertextuality (Campbell often employs compositional strategies such as parody, allusion, calque). Always the audience or reader is integral to shaping the text. For Campbell, importantly, the unsaid or unquestioned are as important as collaged lyric or contemporary language trace, as seen in these lines from the first poem in the collection, ‘speechless’:
Basin: A novel by Scott McCulloch
On the surface, Scott McCulloch’s début novel, Basin, takes place in a brutal and degenerated landscape; the edge of a former empire in a state of violent flux. Rebels, separatists, terrorists, paramilitary groups, and the remnants of imperial forces clash over borders and interzones in the wake of the ‘Collapse’, an undefined geopolitical and ecological disaster. Print and broadcast media warn of inter-ethnic conflict and Rebel advances. Bazaars, brothels, and a chain of Poseidon Hotels all operate amid industrial waste and military checkpoints, servicing the region’s fishermen, soldiers, smugglers, and drifters. There is a multiplicity of language and religion (Abrahamic denominations mingle with archaic, pagan beliefs). Alcohol consumption and illicit drug use are rife. The climate is oppressively humid.
Ten Steps to Nanette by Hannah Gadsby
Hannah Gadsby’s show Nanette (2017–18) starts out funny but then shifts to long, angry monologues that refuse its audience the release of laughter. By breaking the conventional contract between a comedian and her audience, Gadsby rejected her own former practice of turning her traumatic experiences into jokes. Nanette’s international run and subsequent release as a Netflix special spanned the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, which gauged public support for marriage equality, as well as the international #MeToo movement against sexual assault.
The Jaguar by Sarah Holland-Batt
I first encountered Sarah Holland-Batt’s poem ‘The Gift’ in The New Yorker. It begins, ‘In the garden my father sits in his wheelchair / garlanded by summer hibiscus / like a saint in a seventeenth-century cartouche’ – an unremarkable opening, I thought, to a poem of personal anecdote, a genre too ubiquitous among our contemporaries. Rereading the poem in the context of her third collection, The Jaguar, I became acclimated to her style and manner, and admired the alertness of its verbal performance. If the new book remains a personal memoir, narrating the devastating illness and death of her father, it is also charged throughout with a strong writer’s intelligence and vulnerability. ‘I will carry the gift of his death endlessly,’ she writes, ‘every day I will know it opening in me.’
When Ann-Marie Priest wrote to me in 2015 asking whether she might talk to me about her proposed biography of my mother, and requesting my permission to examine some correspondence in the Fryer Library, which I, as Gwen Harwood’s literary executor, had placed on restricted access, I replied with a terse refusal to cooperate. Since my mother’s death in December 1995, I had kept tight control of her vast correspondence, nearly all of which she had donated to various research libraries over the last two decades of her life, and I saw no reason to change my ways.
Here Goes Nothing by Steve Toltz
What happens when we die? Human curiosity about the afterlife has inspired countless artists and storytellers from the earliest myths through to Dante and Boccaccio. More recently we’ve had Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (2002) and George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo (2017), as well as sitcoms like Netflix’s philosophical The Good Place and Amazon’s capitalist dystopia Upload, and now Steve Toltz’s alternately bleak and bonkers take in Here Goes Nothing.