Macmillan

In 1848 Ludwig Leichhardt and half a dozen companions set out from Queensland’s Darling Downs, intending to cross the continent to the Swan River Colony in Western Australia. The entire expedition disappeared, virtually without trace. Since then at least fifteen government and private expeditions have tried to ...

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To go on thinking of the Korean War as a ‘forgotten’ war in a ‘hermit’ country, as we too often do, ignores the many authoritative accounts of it. Cameron Forbes’s new book is the latest.

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The Revolutionary Century by Alison Carroll & Every 23 Days by Sarah Bond, Alison Carroll and Claire Watson

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November 2010, no. 326

If you were to tell me that a book had been written that covered a century of art in Asia, from 1900 to 2000, and that its geographic range moved from Japan to Pakistan and Indonesia, to Nepal, the Australian outback, and Cambodia, I would initially ask how many volumes it contained. That such a book exists, in a fairly slim volume, is tribute to the skills of its author, Alison Carroll. How has she done it?

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Arnold Shore: Pioneer Modernist, by Rob Haysom, fills in the gap between late Impressionism, tonal Meldrumism, and Fred Williams. Attractively presented and illustrated, Haysom’s well-written and informative text examines Arnold Shore’s personal insecurity and the searching nature of his alla prima art, especially his concern with texture and colour; and his contribution as an art teacher and long-time critic.

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John Birmingham’s After America is the second book in what is clearly intended to be a trilogy of page-turners – a follow-up to his Axis of Time trilogy, the swashbuckling alternative history which saw a US carrier battle group transported back in time to the middle of World War II. After America, the sequel to Without Warning (2009), is set in a decidedly dystopian alternative present, the result of a mysterious energy wave that wipes out most of the human and animal life forms in North America in 2003. As one might expect, chaos ensues. A global ecological catastrophe has accompanied the human disappearance, a civil engineer from Seattle (the only big US city to survive the wave) has been elected president, Israel has launched nuclear strikes on its Middle East neighbours, and groups of well-organised pirates from Lagos have taken over New York City.

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Encounters with Australian Modern Art by Christopher Heathcote, Patrick McCaughey and Sarah Thomas

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February 2009, no. 308

Eva Gandel and Marc Besen Married in Melbourne in 1950 and soon began collecting current art. After the closure of John Reed’s privately established but short-lived ‘Museum of Modern Art & Design of Australia’, they bought a few of its de-accessioned possessions, paintings by John Perceval and Sidney Nolan. In the 1970s they added works by recentlydeceased Sydney artists William Dobell, Ralph Balson, and Tony Tuckson. These were perceived ‘gaps’ in a collection of recent Australian art. Perhaps the systematic history of Australian art then profusely displayed in the private collection formed by their relative Joseph Brown, and first published in 1974 as Outlines of Australian Art, had inspired the Besens to be more systematic. Hitherto, they had mostly encountered local work by living artists.

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Melburnians are rightly proud of the great painting by Giambattista Tiepolo in the National Gallery of Victoria, The Banquet of Cleopatra. Now restored to its prominent position in the gallery, it will continue to attract admiration from generations of visitors, though we should hope that its neighbouring masterpiece, Sebastiano Ricci’s The Finding of Moses, is not overlooked when connoisseurs gather beside the Tiepolo. Jaynie Anderson’s handsome book is a whole-hearted and scholarly homage to Tiepolo in general, and to this picture in particular.

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One Fourteenth of an Elephant by Ian Denys Peek & If This Should Be Farewell edited by Adrian Wood

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April 2003, no. 250

These two unusual books reflect on aspects of the prisoner-of-war experience in Singapore, Thailand and Burma during World War II that have not been much canvassed in Australia. One Fourteenth of an Elephant, Ian Denys Peek’s sometimes irascible ‘memoir of life and death on the Burma-Thailand Railway’, relates the experiences of a member of the Singapore Volunteer Armoured Car Company. Peek was British and had grown up in Shanghai, but was not taken into captivity there as was novelist J.G. Ballard (who recalled the experience in Empire of the Sun). Peek and his brother Ron were at the fall of Singapore. Soon afterwards began their movements between a series of hospital and labour camps along the railway. Peek’s story – his first book, published sixty years after his capture and told in the first person – gives a British perspective on a fate that he shared with thousands of Australians.

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It’s a Proustian title, or at any rate a Powellian one, that Bernard Smith has produced for this memoir of his life in the long-ago 1940s, and, yes, there on the cover is Anthony Powell’s hero, Poussin. That’s doubly appropriate because one of the more vivid figures (though also one of the more saturnine ones) in this remembrance of things past is Anthony Blunt, great scholar of Poussin’s work, master spy, eminent director of the Courtauld and critical educator of the Young Bernard.

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If I were inclined to draw connections between books and food, Joy Dettman’s first novel would have to be a hamburger: it’s big, it’s juicy, it’s relatively quick to consume and it’s packed with all the generic trimmings of which a good meaty mystery is made. And while certainly Mallawindy’s characters are thus rather stereotypical and the quality of Dettman’s writing a little clumsy at times, this book is worth sampling if you’re ever so slightly addicted to narratives with gusto. It’s the kind of book you could easily enjoy on the plane, on the tram, or, yes, even on the couch and forget where you were – and this is apt given that one of the primary concerns of this book is not so much food (although a portion of it has made its way into Michael Gifkins’ 1994 extravaganza, Tart and Juicy) as memory loss.

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