Archive

Kathleen Fitzpatrick wanted to be an actress. Instead, she became a famous lecturer and teacher in the History Department at the University of Melbourne, and in one of the frequent revealing asides in her memoir implies that perhaps this fact explained her ability as an inspiring lecturer.

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‘In fifty years’ time,’ Robert Haupt and Michelle Grattan write in 31 Days to Power. ‘historians will look at the 1983 elections, see that inflation, unemployment and interest rates were at high levels compared to the past, and conclude that Fraser could never have won’.

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The twelve-month period which began in February 1982 saw an unprecedented growth of interest in Aboriginal drama in English, both within Australia and overseas. In that month, Jack Davis’s second play, The Dreamers, made its début in the annual Festival of Perth and was generally well received by the critics. Five months later, Robert Merritt’s 1975 play The Cake Man was revived briefly in Sydney, in preparation for its two-week season as an Australian representative at the World Theatre Festival in Denver, Colorado. So popular was it that tickets for the entire season were sold out in advance of the first performance, thereby breaking all box-office records for the festival.

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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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Brian McFarlane’s small book on Martin Boyd’s Langton novels is a particularly measured and useful study. He makes no grand claims for Boyd but sees and appreciates him for the writer that he is when he is at his best, and the Langton novels – The Cardboard Crown, A Difficult Young Man, Outbreak of Love, and When Blackbirds Sing – certainly see Boyd at his best.

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Yoogum Yoogum by Lionel George Fogarty

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February–March 1983, no. 48

Yoogum Yoogum is the second collection of verse by a young Queensland Aboriginal whose earlier volume, Kargun, did not get a great deal of attention when it was published in 1980. Fogarty’s themes are ones increasingly heard in contemporary Australian writing: the historical dispossession of the Aboriginals, the present decay and demoralisation of Aboriginal society, white greed and exploitation, the primacy and potential of the land as a key to fulfilled life, the plight of (Aboriginal) women, the pathetic dispossession of Aboriginal children, solidarity in the cause of redressing the wrongs to Aboriginals, the fundamentally positive values of Aboriginal society, the possibilities for solidarity with other groups in the struggle for social justice.

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Thomas Keneally excels in stories of guilt. Schindler’s Ark joins Bring Larks and Heroes and The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith as his best work so far. Organised and complacent cruelty to convicts, to blacks, to Jews grabs Keneally’s imagination to produce his most powerful novels. On one level, Schindler’s Ark is the story of a man who played the system to ensure the survival of his Jewish factory workers. On another level, it is their story, a compelling narrative of suffering and the will to survive. Fifty years after Hitler’s vaguely democratic marching to power, Keneally compels us to believe in the reality of the Holocaust. He writes of death, separation, and survival with the matter-of-fact authority of Kevin Heinz telling us how to mulch our petunias in a time of drought.

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Returning to live in Queensland seems to have done something to Thea Astley’s perception of Australian country life. In this novel, as well as in her previous one, A Kindness Cup, she gives as appalling and scathing a vision of life in rural Australia as has come from any novelist since Barbara Baynton. Although her prose is as bitingly astringent as ever in this book, it lacks the sardonic humour of her recent collection of short stories Hunting the Wild Pineapple. The pessimism and anger are almost unrelieved.

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Archipelagoes by Peter Goldsworthy & The Harlots Enter First by Gerard Windsor

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February–March 1983, no. 48

It is comparatively rare for a new writer to bring out his first two collections in the one year, and even more rare that one should be a collection of verse and the other of short stories. Yet this is exactly what Peter Goldsworthy has done. His name will be unfamiliar to many, but those who regularly read literary magazines will have come across his stories and poems before and he will undoubtedly be heard of again.

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The Most Beautiful World is somewhat of a conundrum at first look. I spent a long time trying to penetrate the surface of this latest book of poetry by Rodney Hall. I had just been reading his exciting, original, and well-sustained novel Just Relations, I guess I was looking for the same excitement here. It didn’t arrive on schedule.

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