Thirty years ago, wanting to probe deeper into the question of what it meant to make home in Tasmania, I enrolled to do my honours year at the University of Tasmania. During a discussion with the secretary of the History Department about my partially formed dissertation ideas, she urged me to read a thesis by a recent graduate whose work had greatly impressed her: one Richard Flanagan. When I read the thesis and the book that came out of it, the result can best be described as a soul shift. It was not so much the information I gained but that Flanagan’s approach to Tasmania’s past released an imaginative flow in my own research, allowing it to slowly metamorphose over fifteen years into my first book, Van Diemen’s Land. I share this anecdote, not just to highlight what was lost when universities sacked most of their administrative staff, but to show how seriously Richard Flanagan has always taken history.
The Things We Live With: Essays on uncertainty by Gemma Nisbet
The interconnected essays in Gemma Nisbet’s début collection, The Things We Live With, revolve around a premise that is as familiar as Marcel Proust’s madeleines or W.G. Sebald’s images: that things – objects, documents, photographs, even colours – evoke memories of the past. Her essays shift seamlessly from childhood to adult travels, jobs, relationships, and the problems that can lurk beneath a functional exterior.
In the dying months of the last century, I took a crash course in Modern British Fiction. I had opted for the most contemporary course on the Oxford English MPhil that covered the most contemporary period (1880 to the present, then generally understood to have ended circa 1970). My elective choices had all been a little unpopular: rather than a term parsing Ulysses, I read all of Conrad; where the crowd chose Pound or Eliot for the poetry elective, I turned up at St John’s each week to talk about Yeats.
Algorithmic Intimacy: The digital revolution in personal relationships by Anthony Elliott
In May 2021, scientists at Woebot Health, a US-based artificial intelligence company, published a paper titled ‘Evidence of Human-Level Bonds Established with a Digital Conversational Agent’. Reading it back then, I felt like a door had suddenly opened from nowhere. But not just any door: this one led directly to a passage into human inner life and one of its most intimate dimensions: the nature and experience of emotional bonding.
Gunflower by Laura Jean McKay
Laura Jean McKay’s new collection, Gunflower, offers a range of disturbing, deftly satiric, and sometime bizarre short stories. As in her award-winning novel The Animals in that Country (2022), some of the stories in the collection explore the relationship between the human and non-human, and often challenge rational explanations or simple allegorical interpretations for the imaginative worlds they create. Even the conventional realist narratives sometimes defy generic conventions. The story ‘Flying Rods’, for example, moves from standard verisimilitude to Gothic horror. ‘Site’ transforms the familiar terrain of an adulterous affair with repeated descriptions of a ship sighted off the coast, such that the ship’s symbolic meanings remain tantalisingly unclear.
Men at War: Australia, Syria, Java 1940–1942 by James Mitchell
There is an honoured tradition of battalion histories in Australia, particularly from World War I. The best of them tell us something of the individuals who served Australia well. This book takes battalion histories to an entirely new level. It is the most complete, and the most absorbing, account of a battalion I have ever read.
Australia's Pivot to India by Andrew Charlton
In April 1990, Australia’s high commissioner to New Delhi, Graham Feakes, was in the final year of a six-year posting. Still regarded as one of Australia’s finest diplomats, he had worked tirelessly to invigorate a relationship that had been allowed to drift aimlessly for decades. Under his watch, in 1986 Rajiv Gandhi made the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Australia in almost two decades. Bob Hawke reciprocated shortly afterwards. Ministerial commissions and senior level officials’ groups were established. Aid was set to increase.
The strength of comic strips, like poetry, can derive from concise language and startling images. With Bulk Nuts, the latest addition to Mandy Ord’s long list of autobiographical comics and graphic novels, the Melbourne cartoonist attains a new level in her work. One of the ways she does this is by cutting back on words and presenting more considered, finished drawings. Through verbal economy and graphic surety, this collection of comic strips directs our flow of reading deftly from word to image and back again. Several stories end with the light gravity of a haiku or the hesitancy of e.e cummings.
The Naturalist of Amsterdam by Melissa Ashley
What child has not been fascinated to watch the miraculous metamorphosis of a hungry caterpillar to pupae and then butterfly in a glass jar on the table? This transformation is such an everyday part of our ecological awareness as to be almost child’s play. What was once the cutting-edge technology of scientific observation – the transparent glass isolation chamber, the magnifying lens, and the microscope – has now become household tools for educating children, as if we must recapitulate the lessons of our historical scientific development through our own childhoods.
In August 1943, John F. Kennedy, then aged twenty-six, was rescued from the threat of Japanese captivity – or worse – by a few brave Solomon Islanders, in an operation coordinated by the Australian naval officer Reg Evans. Evans was one of the Royal Australian Navy’s ‘Coastwatchers’, intelligence collectors based perilously behind Japanese lines.