When I’m ten or so, my brother appears shirtless at the dinner table. Ever the eager disciple, I follow his example without a second thought. It is a sweltering January day, and our bodies are salt-crusted from the beach. Clothing seems cruel in these conditions. As my brother tucks into his schnitzel, tanned chest gleaming, I grow conscious that the mood has become strained. Across the table, my parents exchange glances. The midsummer cheer of recent evenings is on hold.
The Whole Picture: The colonial story of the art in our museums and why we need to talk about it by Alice Procter
You are looking at a book. On its cover is a painting of a person of colour. But you can only see a portion of the piece. The face is obscured. One dark eye takes up the middle third of the page, while one nostril fills the bottom right-hand corner. The painting is covered in a layer of fine cracks – presumably due to its age. These lines show that myriad individual pieces make up the image before you, but this is still only one part of the picture. Frustratingly, you cannot see the face as a whole.
There’s a script for everything. Someone, voice wavering, says, ‘She’s dead’, and you say, ‘What?’ They say it again, and you say, ‘Oh, my god.’ You ask the usual questions, and then hang up and everything is incredibly quiet. You tell your boyfriend, and you both walk around the house trying to pack useful things: a sleeve of Valium, warm socks. You call your brother in London. He texts to say it’s five am there, can it wait? You call back. Before he even answers the phone, he knows.
Okay, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with this country. For a start, we have this profoundly stupid and deeply irritating myth that we’re all irreverent freedom-loving larrikins and easygoing egalitarians, when it is painfully obvious that we have long been a nation of prudes and wowsers, that our collective psyche has been warped by what Patrick Mullins describes, with his characteristic lucidity, as ‘a fear of contaminating international influences’, and that we are not just an insular, conservative, and deeply conformist society, but for some unaccountable reason we take pride in our ignorance and parochialism. And let’s not neglect the fact that we are cringingly deferential and enamoured of hierarchy. Oh yes, it’s all master–slave dialectics and daddy issues around here. Why the hell else would we keep electing entitled, smirking, condescending autocrats?
From the Issue
Intrépide: Australian women artists in early twentieth-century France by Clem Gorman and Therese Gorman
Law in War: Freedom and restriction in Australia during the Great War by Catherine Bond
The Stranger Artist: Life at the edge of Kimberley painting by Quentin Sprague
The Better Half: On the genetic superiority of women by Sharon Moalem
Fire Front: First Nations poetry and power today edited by Alison Whittaker
‘The constant loss of breath is the legacy.’ So wrote poet Ali Cobby Eckermann in 2015 for the anthology The Intervention. The eponymous Intervention of 2007 in the Northern Territory was, in the long history of this continent, the first time that the federal government had deployed the army against its own citizenry. As I write this review, in the United States police are using tear gas, traditionally reserved for warfare, against those protesting the worth of black life, while the president flirts with the idea of calling in the military. Some of us gasp in shock. Some, in suffocation.
A young Australian radical, who finds academic success later in life, struggles with an inexorable question: what is the relationship between these two worlds: the activist and the scholar? This question animated the life of Vere Gordon Childe, the Australian Marxist and intellectual whose The Dawn of Euro pean Civilization (1925) helped establish modern archaeology, as it has his most recent biographer, activist and labour historian Terry Irving, whose Class Structure in Australian History (1981, with Raewyn Connell) remains a key text.
Inferno by Catherine Cho
Catherine Cho’s Inferno is the first ‘motherhood memoir’ I have read since reading Maria Tumarkin’s essay ‘Against Motherhood Memoirs’ in Dangerous Ideas About Mothers (2018). The topic of motherhood has been ‘overly melded’ to memoiristic writing, Tumarkin argues; it feels ‘too much like a foregone conclusion’.
Chicken: A history from farmyard to factory by Paul R. Josephson
Borrowing a term coined by the late Jewish Nobel Laureate and vegetarian Isaac Bashevis Singer, Charles Patterson (in)famously likened humanity’s treatment of animals to an ‘eternal Treblinka’. In his 2001 book of the same name, Patterson set the mass murder of Europe’s Jews and industrialised animal slaughter side by side, drawing a line between the production methods of Chicago’s early twentieth-century slaughterhouses, the assembly-line technology pioneered by Henry Ford – an avowed anti-Semite and Hitler supporter – and the death camps of Nazi Germany. Another Jewish writer, the German philosopher Theodor Adorno, is said to have observed that ‘Auschwitz begins whenever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals’.