Archive

Faced with the publication of her first novel, the narrator of Stepping Out has a terrifying thought. ‘I was about to be unmasked,’ she realises. ‘End of my double life. Everyone was about to dip into my world and find out what was really cooking there ... I felt like I’d placed a bomb and was waiting, under cover, for it to explode.’

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Valentine Alexa Leeper: it’s a name to conjure with. The daughter of the first warden of the University of Melbourne’s Trinity College, Alexander Leeper, she was christened ‘Valentine’ because she was born on 14 February. No name could have been less appropriate: she was to prove a committed spinster. She was remarkable for a number of reasons, not least of which was that her life spanned an entire century. Born in 1900, she survived into the twenty-first century. Although her life experience might have appeared narrow and confined (she never travelled abroad, for example) Valentine had the advantage of growing up in a university environment and was possessed of a formidable intellect; her interests were wide and she was active in many organisations, ranging from the League of Nations Union to the Victorian Aboriginal Group.

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The familiar triumvirate of globalisation, advanced technology and consumerism has altered feminist, activist and subcultural practices so dramatically that their originators have trouble recognising them, and academics are racing to keep up. Next Wave Cultures acknowledges and embraces these upheavals in women’s social and political action. Anita Harris has selected a motley group of eleven essays that cover a diverse range of lifestyles, identities, communities and activities.

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Jo Case reviews 'Lemniscate' by Gaynor McGrath

Jo Case
Friday, 30 October 2020

Travellers’ tales have long starred curious misfits eager to sample different ways of life in faraway places. In On the Road (1957), Jack Kerouac writes of fleeing his cultured, sedentary New York milieu for the company of the insatiable ‘Dean Moriaty’, who, rather than analysing the world from the sidelines, ‘just ra ...

Late in 2005, after months of delicate negotiations, the National Library of Australia announced a remarkable coup: the purchase of a previously unknown collection of fifty-six watercolours of botanical and ornithological subjects drawn and painted in Sydney in the years 1788–90, the cradle period of European settlement in Port Jackson. The significance of these paintings, unsigned and undated, had for many years gone unrecognised. The watercolours, apparently acquired as early as 1792, had been held in England over several generations by the Moreton family, the Earls of Ducie. Over several generations, their significance had apparently been overlooked or simply not understood; in time, the portfolio, though safely held, had been forgotten. It came to light in 2004 during a routine valuation of the estate of Basil Moreton, sixth Earl of Ducie. The eventual sale was negotiated with representatives of the present and seventh Earl, David Moreton, who was committed to honouring his family’s long connection with Australia on properties in Queensland. But before that, it was necessary to identify the works more definitively beyond their (then) presumed Australian subject matter.

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Self-evidently, the short story demands precision. The term ‘short story’ more than likely brings to mind the magazine-length sprint or the rapidly delivered epiphany. John Updike was a master of this demanding form. In his Olinger and Tarbox tales, characters are assembled quickly and sent to their fate with little delay. Never cursory, this was writing performed under haiku-like restraint. In the short stories of Wendy James and Tom Cho, we are presented with similarly brief and precise tales of two different Australian landscapes: one as small as a kitchen, the other as capacious as an arena. Why She Loves Him is James’s first story collection after two well-received novels. For the most part, the stories are quiet and domestic affairs. Her characters are frequently repressed and restrained, filled with rage that is rarely given voice. If the short fiction of some novelists feels too constrained, James’s evocation of despair is perfectly suited to these short bursts.

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If the history of ornithology seems esoteric, of interest only to specialists, this is the book to open your eyes. Tim Birkhead is an eminent field ornithologist and a gifted and passionate science communicator. Each of these elements shines from this book, a wonderful distillation of the vast ornithological literature that has accumulated over the past four centuries. Effectively a history of natural history, it is a delight to read.

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Ken Knight reviews 'The Shallow End' by Ashley Sievwright

Ken Knight
Thursday, 29 October 2020

Ashley Sievwright’s The Shallow End, an often entertaining début, casts a wry gaze over a steamy Melbourne summer. Narrated by an unnamed observer, the novel attempts to capture an authentically idiosyncratic gay male voice while traversing a myriad of issues, such as heartbreak, sex, media sensationalism, love, cruising and happiness. Both witty and easy to read, the novel, though largely superficial, is filled with moments of droll sagacity.

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Movie Of The Week. The MacNeil–Lehrer Newshour. Helen Vatsikopoulos. Andrea Stretton. Tales From a Suitcase. Pria Viswalingam. Italian Serie A Football. Annette Sun Wah. These are just a few examples of SBS programs and personalities that helped me – and no doubt many others – negotiate the fetid swamp that was Australian television in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, the swamp is a lot bigger and the stench even worse, but does SBS still provide an effective alternative?

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Christina Hill reviews 'The Great Arch' by Vicki Hastrich

Christina Hill
Thursday, 29 October 2020

The Great Arch has considerable if unlikely charm. It is a history of the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in a novel about real and imagined people living near its construction site. Hastrich brings to life (potentially dry) detail about huge steel plates, creeping cranes, rivets and cables. We see this mostly in the writings and photographs of her central character, an Anglican vicar who records the progress of the bridge-building in his parish paper and also writes a two-volume book about it. The Reverend Ralph Anderson Cage, rector at St Christopher’s at Lavender Bay (based on a real person, Frank Cash), is an endearingly hapless yet decent man who becomes obsessed with the unfolding engineering marvel that reshapes the population and topography of his once-thriving parish.

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