When I was a small boy in Hobart, my mates and I would often go down to the Tasmanian Museum after school; and one of the exhibits that interested us most was what we called ‘the human skeleton’. It stood in a glass case on the stairs, and it was only when we were older that we took in the fact that these were the remains of ‘Queen’ Trucanini, last of the Tasmanian Aborigines. There was no general notion abroad then that there was anything wrong with exhibiting these bones; but I remember a vague sense of unease – of being in the presence of something shameful. Such a sense exists in all of us; but there is no god so powerful as science in persuading men to suppress it.... (read more)
Desert Mother is a collection of poems from a West Australian writer in his late twenties who now lives in Sydney. Many of the poems in it have a double layer of nostalgia – a personal one, for a lost adolescence, and a general one for small towns left on the edge of history.... (read more)
'It’s in your hands, Julianne,’ proclaims an e-mail from Barack Obama. So opens the latest Griffith Review, which explores the many ways that, across the globe, individuals and groups are taking social, political and environmental matters into their own hands. Addressee aside, the Obama e-mail sent to editor Schultz in the final week of the US election campaign landed in the virtual hands of millions. But as Schultz notes, the Obama campaign saw ‘social networking’ on a massive scale, made millions feel involved and, she posits, saw a concomitant end to the ‘era of mass media politics’. Marian Arkin’s memoir picks up on campaign engagement, recalling her involvement with a large-scale community of volunteer lawyers working to protect the integrity of the US election process. Arkin’s article provides a useful guide to those who find the US electoral college system a mystery.... (read more)
The key theme of HEAT 19 is death. In 224 pages, a collection of Australian writers and academics pay homage to the departed in a range of essays, poems and short stories. The journal opens with Judith Beveridge’s moving and personal tribute to the poet Dorothy Porter. According to Beveridge, ‘Dot’ (as she was known to her friends) was a ‘consummate professional and her public performances were unfailingly polished’. However, Porter ‘also had a very fragile side, vulnerable to the pain of exclusion and rejection’. The title of Beveridge’s piece is ‘Trapper’s Way’, which is the name for a strip of land in the New South Wales suburb of Avalon where Beveridge once lived with Porter.... (read more)
Apologists for torture often defend their walk on the dark side by invoking putative imperatives, such as protecting their communities from great evils. The paradigm is the ‘ticking bomb’ situation, where pre-empting catastrophe hangs on extracting information from uncooperative terrorists. The merging of combatants and innocents in modern warfare has highlighted the terrible dilemmas of ‘collateral damage’: how much intended or foreseen material destruction and killing of innocents can be justified in engaging your enemy? Then there are the ‘noble’ lies that politicians seem obliged to tell in protecting the larger interests of the nation.... (read more)
While many journals and anthologies are moving away from themed editions, the theme of this anthology is urgent and worthy. The royalties from Thanks for the Mammaries will go to the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF). Editor and NBCF ambassador Sarah Darmody writes eloquently in both the introduction and her autobiographical piece, ‘Frankenboob’, about her decision to have a prophylactic double mastectomy after discovering that she carried the gene that gave her an eighty-five per cent chance of developing breast cancer.... (read more)
Wilfrid Prest reviews 'The Ends Of Life: Roads To Fulfilment In Early Modern England' by Keith Thomas
A new book by the most learned, original and witty historian now living and writing in England – conceivably in English – is a rare treat. Because Keith Thomas’s academic career commenced in 1950s Oxford, it scarcely mattered that his first monograph – the prizewinning, much-acclaimed Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971) – only appeared when its author was in his late thirties. For ‘publish or perish’ still then seemed little more than a joke, except across the Atlantic, where some of my senior colleagues in the history department at Johns Hopkins had doubts about inviting an apparently ‘unpublished’ Mr Thomas to read a paper early in 1971. (Not all knew his historiographical essays in the TLS and elsewhere, let alone his pioneering forays into gender history).... (read more)
Our fascination with Gallipoli is probably at a peak. Like other symbolic events, it rises, falls and rises again in public esteem and curiosity. In the last quarter of a century, beginning when Anzac Day was at a low ebb, books and documentaries about Gallipoli have flooded bookshops and television stations. This new book by Professor Robin Prior, a specialist Australian historian of World War I, argues that the flood tide has almost drowned us in myths. The subtitle of his book is ‘The End of the Myth’. It is doubtful whether one able historian can terminate the myths, but this is a brave attempt.... (read more)
Stickers on a rotten apple
In his review of Angela Bennie’s anthology of hostile Australian reviews, Peter Rose is correct when he surmises that ‘we tend to exaggerate the number of severe reviews’ (September 2006). I think that, generally, Australians do not like disagreement; they prefer to ‘keep the peace’, and this is mostly true of our critics also.
The really troubling aspect of Crême de la Phlegm: Unforgettable Australian Reviews (apart from the clear assumption of its subtitle that it is only adverse reviews which are ‘unforgettable’) was a comment in Bennie’s introductory essay. At least on my reading, she appeared to generalise that our critics are ‘philistines’. Many maybe, but I’d rather not call them critics.... (read more)
How disappointing your cover feature on The First Stone turned out to be. I feel very let down by the most mediocre review I’ve read on this most talked-about work. Your former Editor, Rosemary Sorensen, wrote a superb, thought-provoking piece in the Sydney Morning Herald. I expected the review in ABR to be of similar quality.
Brian White, Elwood, Vic.
(Ed’s reply: You might be interested to know that the Sydney Morning Herald chose to republish a shortened version of Cassandra Pybus’s review of The First Stone, on Wednesday 10 May, acknowledging it was first published in ABR.)... (read more)