I wonder whether you would be so good as to publish, in a forthcoming number of ABR, a short list of selected errata as they appear in Kenneth Gelder’s review of The Book of Sei and Other Stories in your June issue.
Mr Gelder’s opinions are his own affair, much as I might wish that he had not made a book of mine their vehicle. I was, however, disturbed to find that, purporting to quote the first lines of the story entitled ‘The Dolphin’, he in fact quoted the opening lines of quite another (‘Red and Black’).
I was concerned also to find a phrase (‘the woman “comes to him”’) presented as a quotation from ‘The Book of Sei’. The phrase appears nowhere in that story, nor in the other story, ‘Striptease’, which Mr Gelder discusses at that point. It would seem to be a fabrication of his own.
A similar problem occurs when Mr Gelder quotes me as having written ‘She was the bitch beneath him … He sits above her as if in a saddle.’ True, both phrases are mine, but as the change of tense should indicate they occur in quite different contexts (a full page and two section-breaks apart). A fairer reviewer might also have acknowledged that this ‘position’ is neatly and exactly reversed but two pages later.
While I may be able to do little about being quoted out of context, or about erroneous hypotheses as to my ideological positions by one who insists that narrators stand in for their authors, or who claims that ‘the stories unashamedly set themselves in a “prehistorical” world’ when, by McGuinness writes on possible alter the furthest stretch of my imagination, I can find only two out of nineteen that do so, I may, perhaps, with your assistance, restore what little of my text Mr Gelder cites to something closer to the form in which it is published.
With thanks, in anticipation, for your consideration.
Can I please reply, as briefly as possible, to David Brooks’s letter on my review of his The Book of Sei and Other Stories?
Mr Brooks is right to point out the ‘Erratum’ about my (mis)quote from the opening of his story ‘The Dolphin’. I apologise for this, pausing only to note that the quote I did give, from the opening of the following story ‘Red and Black’, was pretty similar in kind anyway. Both stories more or less open with the question ‘How can I begin?’ and go on to seek a point of origin etc. (as my review suggested).
The phrase ‘comes to him’ was never presented as a quote from Brooks’s story. The phrase is used twice in my review, and Brooks refers to its second appearance only. No page reference is attached to this phrase, which, I thought, was clearly designated as my own. The repeated phrase, describing how the female always seems to come to the male in Brooks’s stories, was placed in inverted commas for emphasis and irony, etc. I also do this with, for example, the phrase ‘as they were’ in the same review: this is a part of my writing style, I’m afraid, and not an ‘erratum’.
In fact, there are no other ‘errata’ in my review: Mr Brooks misleads readers by referring to a ‘short list of selected errata’ as if there are more, which there are not.
I don’t see the ‘problem’ with my quote, ‘She was the bitch beneath him … He sits above her as if in a saddle.’ The ellipsis between the two sentences should sufficiently indicate the break between them. I did say that the female ‘by and large’ occupies this particular position: I never said (as Brooks implies) that it was the only position she occupies.
I stick by my use of the term ‘prehistory’, defined earlier in my review as ‘precapitalist’ history. Almost all the stories in Brooks’s collection share, as I see it, a ‘prehistorical’ setting in this sense. I never did ‘insist’, by the way, that ‘narrators stand in for their authors’, as Brooks suggests.
Finally, it seems to me that my review misrepresents the stories no more and no less than any other well-intentioned review, determined as it was to make clear in the limited space available (where one cannot but quote ‘out of context’ etc.) just what it thinks of them. I believe that I reviewed David Brooks’s collection ‘fairly’, though this is not to say that I reviewed it ‘favourably’ (which, I suppose, is why the tone of Mr Brooks’ letter is as it is). I would add that just as Mr Brooks thinks I have misrepresented his stories in my review, so I believe he has misrepresented my review in his letter. The inevitable and unavoidable process of misrepresentation goes on and on, and again I can only apologise for the one ‘erratum’ that went unchecked.
(Dr) Kenneth Gelder
I draw your attention to serious errors of fact in ‘Saltbush Building’, a review by Mr Jim Davidson which appeared in the Australian Book Review’s April edition. This concerns misleading allegations that the historic Buchanan’s Hotel was destroyed by the Townsville City Council in 1982.
There are errors in one of the three books reviewed by Mr Davidson (Australia’s Iron Lace by Brian Turner), and this is a matter which will be taken up with the publisher and author, but there is also misinterpretation and expansion of errors in the review.
It is totally erroneous to link the tragic loss of Townsville’s Buchanan Hotel with that of the wilful destruction of Brisbane’s Bellevue Hotel.
Mr Davidson’s review claims that fire had destroyed the rear of Buchanan’s Hotel, ‘justification enough for the Council to move against the facade’.
Even more damaging is a photograph of the beautiful old Buchanan’s building which carries the highly inaccurate caption ‘Buchanan’s Hotel, destroyed by Townsville council in 1982’. This could be the handiwork of the publishers in layout and may not be the fault of the reviewer.
It is, however, offensive for this Council to be branded as a ‘stupid ox’ and a ‘Captain Midnight’.
It is of concern that such inaccurate statements cast disrepute on a local authority which has, in fact, led Queensland in attempts to preserve historic buildings and which has lobbied strongly for heritage legislation in this State.
We make the following points –
(1) Buchanan’s Hotel was part of the character of this city, an object of pride for residents and the Council, an attraction for tourists and a building worthy of protection at any cost. It was privately owned, and because of the lack of heritage legislation in Queensland, could not be offered protection by the local authority or any other agency. When the owners proposed to redevelop the site with multi-storey units, the Townsville City Council cooperated totally in plans to maintain and preserve the beautiful old hotel facade. We in fact ‘bent’ our by-laws to allow this to happen and to encourage the owner to at least preserve the front of Buchanan’s in its original and most attractive form.
(2) Before this redevelopment occurred, a severe fire swept through the building in 1982 and virtually destroyed the structure. It was a tragedy felt by this Council as well as the community. The Mayor and others publicly expressed dismay at the loss of this fine example of our architectural heritage. The facade and ironwork was still standing, but was dangerously unsound. In the opinion of Inspectors of Construction and Safety with the State Department of Labour and Industry, unsafe sections of burnt-out brick walls needed to be taken down and other sections secured against further collapse. It should be noted that the remnants of the building were considered to be so dangerous and unsafe that adjoining commercial premises were evacuated and the road closed.
(3) As the law stands in Queensland, this notice (to take down and secure certain sections) had to be issued through the City Council, under the relevant section of the Building Act.
(4) This notice was NOT an order for demolition of the ironwork facade. It was carefully worded to ensure every assistance was given to facilitate any salvage attempts by the owners. This demolition and salvage work was not undertaken by the Council, but involved the owners’ contractor. When the owners’ contractor attempted to lay the veranda framing and lacework back on the site, the awning structure, weakened by fire and partial collapse of the building, collapsed outwards into the street and destroyed all but a few panels of the beautiful old lacework.
As can be seen by these facts, the City Council had no reason to ‘move against the building’ and we certainly had no vested interest in the site for future developments.
If the Council had been responsible for ‘destroying Buchanan’s in 1982’, the electoral backlash from an irate community would have put us out of office.
To claim, particularly in your caption, that the hotel was destroyed by the Townsville Council in 1982, is not only damaging, but offensive.
The facts are that the building was destroyed by fire and the facade was lost when the owners contractor attempted the difficult and dangerous task of salvaging the lace ironwork.
Far from destroying buildings of historic interest, Townsville City Council has purchased two old bank buildings of architectural and historic merit in the main street, which are now our City Library and the Pere Tucker Regional Gallery. We have restored the old Magistrates’ Court Building and given it at peppercorn rental to the Townsville Museums Association.
We have resisted strong pressure from some quarters to demolish the old Victoria Bridge and have co-operated with the National Trust in plans to have the bridge preserved and redeveloped by private enterprise as a tourist facility and attraction.
We have also joined with the National Trust in the presentation of Council funded plaques for the owners of significant buildings throughout the city, in the hope of creating greater public awareness and responsibility by owners.
The Council has gone as far as possible within present Queensland law in producing development control plans to identify buildings which warrant preservation.
In the old Flinders Street East precinct, we have relaxed town planning requirements, particularly on parking, to encourage owners to preserve historic buildings.
This Council has also presented detailed submissions at local government conferences and has lobbied the State Government for the introduction of responsible heritage legislation which is sadly lacking in this State.
While we realise that your publication has accepted the review in good faith, and the reviewer has also worked on inaccurate material in the first instance, it is a shame that all this has been built on, to produce an unfortunate and inaccurate criticism of this local authority.
We had hoped for a more responsible or thorough approach by authors and reviewers looking into matters of our heritage and building preservation in this part of Australia.
Alderman Mike Reynolds,
A.M. Mayor of the City of Townsville
Alderman Tony Mooney
Chairman of the Council’s Works and Town Planning Committee
Alderman David Parker
Chairman of the Council’s Building Committee