Archive

I have had a haunted week reviewing the The Oxford Companion to Australian Folklore; haunted by a host of inadequately credited or totally omitted characters and folklore subjects clamouring for their status and value to be recognised. Thus, in that vast penumbra of lost souls, the plaintive cries of characters such as Ginger Meggs, the Magic Pudding, and the Banksia Men, Rolf Harris and Barry Humphries, together with subjects such as Strine, Rhyming Talk, Hanging Rock, Ghosts, and Oral History, have begged for their recognition! And swelling their ranks are those who only got a toehold in the door, so cursory is their mention: Dad and Dave, Joseph Jacobs, Marion Sinclair, Clancy of the Overflow, the Man from Snowy River, et al.

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Ghosts by John Banville

by
May 1993, no. 150

People who have read John Banville’s Book of Evidence tend to pale and take on a manic look when they’re told that there is a new Banville out. When they learn that it’s linked with that earlier book, almost a sequel, their ears pinken, their lips tremble, and, most disturbingly, their fingers begin to twitch. At this stage, the holder of an advance proof backs away, calmly, as smoothly as possible, never turning until the door is reached. Then she runs, and they’re in hot pursuit.

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Jay Parini intended this collection of critical essays to be a Festschrift for Vidal’s sixty-fifth birthday in 1990. Its lateness may suggest he found some difficulty in obtaining suitable material, and account for the mixed quality of the essays. There is, however, so little available about Vidal that we must be grateful for this collection, which contains previously unpublished material and reprints some essays which would otherwise be difficult to trace.

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Connoisseurs of lapidary prose and the fine art of understated narrative are unlikely to enjoy this risky passionate novel. Nor will they enthuse over sentences such as, ‘The agony was so extreme I was numb with it, as if I had fallen into a vat of molten steel and could not immediately feel the enormity of the burn’, or, ‘Flooded with embarrassment, desire, delight, I thought stupidly, no wonder men go so wild over women, no wonder they dream continually of being lapped in that heavenly softness as they go about the hard world.’ However, Rosie Scott has made her own priorities clear in a 1991 essay called ‘Come and see the blood in the streets’.

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This is the 150th issue of ABR since its revival in 1978, and so it would seem appropriate for us to look back on that time in order to come to some wise conclusions about the state of book reviewing, of literature, of communication and culture in this country.

Appropriate can go jump, however. 150 is splendid, and here’s to another 150 of them.

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Aboriginal poet and activist, Kevin Gilbert, died in Canberra on 1 April 1993 after a long battle with a respiratory disease. He was sixty years old.

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Where women lead, men generally have the sense to follow. Eventually. Feminist fiction, lesbian fiction have developed ahead of gay fiction in Australia. This is one of the many ideas acknowledged or explored in Dennis Altman’s welcome addition to literature about homosexual relationships.

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There are some pretty ambiguous rats in this collection and most of them are male but ultimately, it’s the writer’s own unease that cumulatively gnaws away at happiness and achievement.

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There were no winners in the first round of the Orr Case. Sydney Sparkes Orr lost his job as Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tasmania in 1955. Suzanne Kemp, who had accused him of seduction, lost her reputation. Her father, who had supported her accusations, was subjected to all manner of speculation and innuendo. Edwin Tanner, a mature-age student who had complained about Orr’s poor teaching and his requests for professional favours, had his life ruined. Dr Milanov, Orr’s colleague who had protested that Orr was harassing him professionally, found himself subjected to just the kind of persecution he had fled in his native Serbia.

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Perusing the Australia Day honours list, I was disappointed to see that Judith Wright had not been honoured with a major award. She is one of our greatest living poets, a pioneer environmentalist, and a tireless champion of Aboriginal rights. In this year, when the nation is still coming to terms with the momentous implications of the Mabo decision, it is worth remembering that Wright has been a key supporter of and advocate for the Murray Islanders land case since its inception in 1981. Wright is one white Australian who does not need an International Year of the Indigenous People to draw her attention to the outstanding worth of people such as Eddie Mabo and Mandawuy Yunupingu.

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