Lucy Frost

Australia in the imagination of its first European mapmakers was a curious place where odd creatures dwelt. Now that a metropolitan culture emanates from cities to encircle the continent with farms, roads, towns, and nature reserves, the spaces marked ‘exotic’ have shifted. But they’re still here. I know, because I’ve recently moved from Melbourne to Tasmania. Why are you doing this? Asked West Australian colleagues when we talked at a conference in south India. Tasmania’s a great place for a holiday, but how could you live there? It’s so far from everywhere, and you’ll have no one to talk to.

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We are the stories we tell. We need our stories: they make us feel real. Stories give to our personal experience the particular shapes and cohesiveness we call ‘self’. When we enter into new friendships, when we fall in love, we tell our stories. The closer we draw to people, the more of our stories we are willing to risk. ‘Risk’ is always a factor. If we fall out with our closest friends, if love turns to enmity, the stories which are us may be stolen from our telling, and reshaped with malicious intent, putting at peril our cohesiveness, pressing us into despair, pushing towards the fragmentation of self we call madness. The stories which make us strong, self-confident, keep us vulnerable as well. Stories are easy to steal.

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If Australia during the last century was ‘no place for a nervous lady’, this collection of women’s writings edited by Lucy Frost establishes with simple eloquence that it certainly was no place for a nervous gentleman.

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Greek and English, the Greek father and Australian mother, the child in the middle who looks at one object and sees different creatures – no catch-phrase like ‘culture conflict’ says much about what is happening in Ismini’s life at this moment. The story does, however, in the strong, unblinkered prose of Beverley Farmer as she writes with unfaltering sensitivity about Greece, about Australians in Greece and Greeks in Australia, and, painfully, about couples and the families who mix their cultures with their love and hate.

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The time is always four o’clock in the morning when Night Sister M. Shady (unregistered) is on duty at The Hospital of St Christopher and St Jude. The punctual milkman is swearing as he falls on the broken step, the elderly patients are having a water fight or an altercation or a game of cards. Whatever may or may not be going on, Mrs Shady will record with confidence ‘nothing abnormal to report’.

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