John Hanrahan

The ‘place in the city’ of Fr Edmund Campion’s latest pilgrimage into Australian Catholic life and history is St Mary’s cathedral, Sydney. Campion spent six years here as a young-priest working in the shadow of both the cathedral and the august Normal Cardinal Gilroy.

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Beatrice Wood, banished by those around her to ‘the category of the aged’, is both the focus and the strength of Julian Davies’s third novel, Moments of Pleasure. Choosing to live her life as a single woman, she has been the unforgiven Magdalene of her family because for fifty years she has been the lover of Mark, a man twice married. A dapper moustache of a man, Mark drifts in and out of both Bea’s life and the novel.

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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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Oxford University Press has begun a welcome series called Australian Writers. Two further titles, Imre Salusinszky on Gerald Murnane and Ivor Indyk on David Malouf, will appear in March 1993, and eleven more books are in preparation. Though I find the first three uneven in quality, they make a very promising start to a series. In some ways they resemble Oliver and Boyd’s excellent series, Writers and Critics, even being of about the same length. However this new series is less elementary, more demanding of the reader. It is, predictably, far sparser in critical evaluation, concentrating on hermeneutics, and biographical information is as rare as a wombat waltz.

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In 1983, Bill Dodd was nearly eighteen when he dived into a river and nearly lost his life. Dodd warns against diving carelessly into waterholes: ‘It can give you a lot of unnecessary hassles, take it from me.’ This laconic understatement is characteristic of Dodd’s account of his life. He is now a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair for life. Yet, without straining credibility, Dodd manages to convince you that he is a lucky man.

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Madness by Morris Lurie

by
July 1991, no. 132

We meet Tannenbaum in his ‘cosy Anne Frankish semi-hidden nook’. These writerly Jewish recluses have very little else in common; Tannenbaum is separated from his wife and two children. His friend/lover Anise is trying to drink her way out of a nervous breakdown. For further solace he resorts to ‘horizontal unravelling’ or ‘psychiatric horizontality’.

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Now we are in the season of missed and mellow fruitfulness. The mellow fruitfulness belongs to the winners of literary awards and literary grants. The missed are those who are eternally short listed but never ascend the throne. Of course, some books shortlisted never have a chance of winning. They are put there for encouragement, minor recognition, sometimes tokenism.

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Melbourne has Moomba and Melbourne Cup week. Sydney and Perth have cultural festivals. And so, pre-eminently, does Adelaide. Even from the backblocks of Melbourne, Adelaide Writers’ Week stirs up a real thrill.

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Max Harris must be an important cultural figure. Max Harris keeps saying he is. He also notes that Rupert Murdoch thinks he is. Now Harris has published just over two hundred pages of ‘The Best of Max Harris’, subtitled ‘21 Years of Browsing’, thirty six pieces from the Australian. I pass over in almost-silence the implication that Max is only at his best when writing for Rupert. And maybe the best one can say is that they deserve each other and wish them a happy anniversary.

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My first contact with Arthur Phillips was through a note signed A.A.P., attached to a short story that an editor couldn’t find space for. The note pointed out that the story lacked reality, e.g. a child was allowed to sit in a hotel bar. When I finally got to meet A.A. Phillips, it was over a drink. The pleasure at meeting was enhanced by a child at the next table. I ribbed Arthur about this, telling him that he had sinned against the commandments of social realism. He allowed me my small victory (the story is still unpublished) and then told a number of very funny stories against himself. I knew him only slightly, but that minimal acquaintanceship showed him to be as extraordinary and as delightful in his living as he was in his writing.

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