Angus and Robertson

Sisters by Drusilla Modjeska

by
September 1993, no. 154

A few years ago, there was a great song on the radio, a song about remembering riding with an assortment of brothers and sisters in the back seat of the car. I don’t even recall the name of the song, much less the name of the band, but there was a line in the chorus that used to wipe me out: ‘And we all have our daddy’s eyes.’

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As part of his quest to gather information about the ‘famous Dr Warson Holmes Jackamara’ – a Detective Inspector of police, a government official, and the holder of a doctorate in criminology – an Aboriginal oral historian interviews an erstwhile Queensland real estate broker and aspiring politician, for whom Jackamara once worked as a ‘minder’. The transcripts of the resulting thirteen monologues comprise the substance of a novella which presents the reader with an object lesson about the dangers inherent in the greed for power – in hubris – and in white Australian’s failure to recognise the strength of the Aboriginal spirit beings. As such, despite what some might see as its overstrained mythicism, this work has a compelling, and uniquely Australian, quality.

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The first thing to be noted about this collection of essays is that it is aimed at a quite specific market – HSC/VCE students. There is a list of ‘Study Questions’ at the end, and the language of the essays is consistently pitched at an upper secondary school level. Readers who want more complex responses to My Place would be better served by consulting the eclectic bibliography to the text as a starting point.

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The remarkable Peter Corris has done it again, producing his third book this year, with probably a couple still to come. I say remarkable because, with the occasional lapse, he manages to maintain a high standard of entertainment despite being prolific. No real writer, of course, would countenance publishing one book a year, let alone four or five, but fortunately for crime buffs this is not a problem for Mr Carris, who, one suspects, would happily produce a book every month if the publishers let him.

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Come on in. Do you like mango chutney? I myself have never had mango chutney, not liking mangos, but Phil’s an expert on making the stuff. It never lasts, but make sure you use green mangos because the old ones are too stringy.

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Tolerance and passion might seem, at first thought, to be peculiar bedfellows. Charmian Clift, in this series of essays first published in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Herald, Melbourne, combines the two in a dazzling and compellingly readable collection.

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Madness by Morris Lurie

by
July 1991, no. 132

We meet Tannenbaum in his ‘cosy Anne Frankish semi-hidden nook’. These writerly Jewish recluses have very little else in common; Tannenbaum is separated from his wife and two children. His friend/lover Anise is trying to drink her way out of a nervous breakdown. For further solace he resorts to ‘horizontal unravelling’ or ‘psychiatric horizontality’.

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Henry Lawson’s death prompted a torrent of lamentation and, despite the distaste of academics and critics, the poet was soon enshrined as a National Treasure. Colin Roderick’s biography is a monument of dedication to the poet.

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The task of reading these three books together provided more than I was anticipating. Their perspectives of decades of Australian society and writing practices cover the past, the personal and the politics. The writers come from three different generations (born 1903, 1923, 1940), and represent particular writing intentions or schools, certainly different genres. The connecting thread, probably the only one, is that each of the books is written form such a particularised stance. Each is written in the first person, and flirts to varying degrees with the confessional mode. The tensions between restraint and letting it all hang out, what gets said and what comes out in the not-saying, interested me.

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Gwen Foster met Lieutenant Thomas Riddell in Brisbane in 1942, when she was twenty­two. ‘Tony’ Riddell, stationed in Brisbane, was sent to Darwin early in 1943; and between January and September of that year, Gwen Foster wrote him the eighty-nine letters that make up this book. It’s the chronicle of a year, of a city, of a family, of a friendship, of a war no one could see an end to, and of that stage in the life of a gifted young woman at which she says, ‘At present I am unsettled and do not know which way my life will turn.’

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