Laurie Clancy

This collection of twelve stories by the author of The Savage Crows and A Cry in the Jungle Bar seeks to explore and define what Drewe sees as a part of our national psyche, the preoccupation with the coast and with the ‘careless violent hedonism’, as one of the characters puts it, of beach life. In ‘Looking for Malibu’, David Lang, who appears in several of the stories, defines it for a then fellow expatriate in a discussion about criminals on the run. ‘If their enemies were middle-class Australians they’d know where to look for them,’ he says. ‘You know something? When Australians run away they always run to the coast. They can’t help it. An American vanishes, he could be living in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, the mountains, the desert, anywhere. Not an Australian-he goes up the coast or down the coast and thinks he’s vanished without a trace.’

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A story called ‘The Burden’, which appears at about the halfway mark of this collection, begins like this: ‘Graham was finding the burden of freedom a little too much for him …’ He is working alone in his room above a Chinese restaurant near the Berkeley campus of the University of California, where he is a visiting Australian Fellow, writing a novel about, it seems, academic life. But the novel isn’t ‘coming along’. He is ‘stuck hopelessly in the middle of a quarrelsome English department meeting from which he couldn’t extricate any of his characters’. He has run out of money and food and is down to his last half gallon of Red Mountain claret. ‘Nothing for it but to do the tourist thing and wander down Telegraph avenue with a camera.’ And so begins his afternoon of boredom, inchoate intentions that evaporate as they arise, and chance meetings. Looking back on it at the end of the day, he decides there was ‘not much to show for it … Or maybe there was something there. He pulled his notebook towards him and began to write, “Graham was finding the burden of freedom a little too much for him …”’

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Henry Handel Richardson: The letters edited by Clive Probyn and Bruce Steele

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October 2000, no. 225

The status of Henry Handel Richardson as a writer in Australia has always been somewhat problematic. Some people put that down to the fact that she was an expatriate. Leaving Australia at the age of eighteen, she returned only once, very briefly, in 1912. Expatriates, however, have often been paranoid about their reputation in this country and inclined to imagine that the Australian public is punishing them for leaving whereas in most cases it is indifferent to or even ignorant of that fact.

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A few years ago I was teaching an anthology of Australian short stories to a group of very bright Spanish honours students at the University of Barcelona. As one would expect, some of the stories were written by Australia’s most famous and highly regarded writers but at the end of the course the students voted unanimously for Serge Liberman’s ‘Envy’s Fire’ as the finest story they had read on the course.

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Peter Pierce’s concern in this critical study is with two periods – from the second half of the nineteenth century, when most of the myths of the lost child began to appear, and the second half of this century, when a quite different kind of narrative emerges. The period in between he regards as largely a consolidation of the late nineteenth-century examples. Ranging widely over not only literature but pictorial art and contemporary factual accounts, he shows the striking changes that take place in the forms in which the legend appears.

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Gideon Haigh is turning into something of a one-man industry on cricket in Australia. Following highly successful books on the Packer revolution, Allan Border’s reign, and a recent defence of the Ashes, he has now turned his attention to the crucial years 1949 to 1971 when Australia went from being undisputed world champions to a side being overtaken, not merely by England but for the first time by South Africa, which would shortly be expelled because of its practice of apartheid, with the so-called Third World countries showing that they would not remain beaten for much longer. It opens, in other words, with Donald Bradman about to depart and ends with the ruthless sacking of Bill Lawry and the arrival of Ian Chappell as new captain.

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A River Town by Thomas Keneally

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May 1995, no. 170

The river town is Kempsey on the north coast of New South Wales, 300 miles from Sydney. It is the new year and, we soon learn, just around the turn of the century, immediately before Federation. Once more Keneally has plundered Australian history in order to explore his concern with Australian identity.

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Leonard Mann’s account of his experiences in World War One, Flesh in Armour, has recently been reissued. It may be the case that there are certain experiences that are impossible to write about unless one has personally undergone them. The three great Australian classics of World War One – Flesh in Armour, The Middle Parts of Fortune and When the Blackbirds Sing – all convey an air of total verisimilitude when it comes to describing the conditions of battle. In comparison, even such gifted writers as David Malouf and Roger McDonald convey the impression of faking it when they come to write about war, no matter how much care they take or research they have done.

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About Tilly Beamis by Sumner Locke Elliott

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April 1986, no. 79

Expatriate Australian writer and now naturalised American citizen Sumner Locke Elliott seems to have written this novel to dramatise his own sense of cultural displacement and identity. Cutting back and forth in time (between 1978 and 1950) and place (Australia and the United States), it traces the attempt of a woman named Tanya van Zandt in New York to retrace the whereabouts and identity of an Australian, Tilly Beamis, who turns out to be (it does not take the alert reader long to recognise) her actual former self.

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It is astonishing how many major works of Australian fiction – and often major works in themselves – are out of print at any given time. Angus and Robertson and Penguin, occasionally assisted by smaller firms like the specialist feminist press Virago and the university presses, have done fine work in drawing attention to novels and writers undeservedly out of print. One writer who seemed out of fashion for a time but whom Penguin are systematically bringing back into print is Martin Boyd. The latest is their series of reissues of his work is a relatively little known and lightweight novel with the misleadingly enticing title of Nuns in Jeopardy (first published in 1940).

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