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In one way, this is a book to unnerve the teaching academic: it is so eminently cribbable. As a ‘handbook’ of Wright’s poetry, it ranges widely rather than intensively, offering lucid expositions and firmly delivered judgements. If these latter are sometimes, by the nature of the book, more asserted than demonstrated, they nonetheless seem usually sound and sensible: the lines quoted from ‘The Watcher’ do indeed ‘attempt, and fail, to wrest a response from the stereotyped symbols of the matriarchate’; ‘Christmas Ballad’ is banal; Fourth Quarter does represent ‘a newer and more vigorous poetic world’ than Alive.

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You will never guess from reading these two books that Australia is generally regarded by the rest of the world as the best place to seek information on scientific sheep management and efficient wool production.

For more than thirty years Australian scientists have successfully led the search for a better understanding of the biological workings of a sheep, the structure and growth of wool fibres and of the ecological intricacies of pasture management. During the same period wool technologists have made tremendous strides in the preparation, handling and measurement of wool, while economists have made their own important contributions to the more efficient management of sheep and the more efficient marketing of wool.

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Passenger by Thomas Keneally

June 1979, no. 11

Peter Ward’s stunningly inadequate review of Passenger in the Weekend Australian has at least the virtue that it compels a reply. The first came from Keneally himself, who finished his account of the novel’s favourable reception in other English-speaking countries by saying ‘I just don’t want people to avoid Passenger because of any antipodean twitches. So don’t miss it. Believe me.’

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Green House by Dorothy Hewett

June 1980, no. 21

In a talk she gave recently at Writers’ Week in Adelaide, Dorothy Hewett praised Gwen Harwood as:

Working in isolation as the woman hero, charring like a cartographer the uneasy, shifting, violent, broken world of Australian women and finally, in the teeth of all opposition. proclaiming the right to love and be a hero.

Dorothy Hewett identified several other roles or figures for women writers of poetry in Australia, most particularly:

The woman as loser, lover, bleeder, the victim figure, at once perverse and self-exacting, who refuses to be second-best.

But it’s clearly Harwood’s heroic proclamation of ‘the right to love’ that Hewett admires.

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More than thirty years after the last helicopters left the roof of the American embassy in Saigon, the flow of new books on the Vietnam war shows no sign of abating. Among them are some intended for a limited, scholarly market, some for a wider general readership; some for Americans, some for Australians. These three books exemplify some of the trends in both the substance and the style of Vietnam war histories, and illustrate both the virtues and the faults of differing approaches to the most controversial conflict of the twentieth century.

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In November 1984 when I left Queensland to come back to Victoria, Kathy de Bono, a friend from the Yoga school, followed me to Murwillumbah where I was catching the train. She told me that because my car was old she’d drive slowly behind me in case I broke down. Now my Lesley McGinley doesn’t look much, but it goes like the clappers. Out of mischief I flattened my foot when I’d crossed the Tweed, and Kathy soon became a speck in my rear vision mirror. When she reached Murwillumbah she said ‘I brought a packet of tissues in case you cried. Instead you’re all lit up and laughing.’

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Writing fiction is something I originally stumbled upon rather than consciously chose. Much the same can be said of my career as student and university teacher. Brought up in London in a lower working-class family, I certainly harboured no intellectual or literary ambitions. Like the rest of my family, I looked forward only to escaping from school as soon as possible and settling down to a steady job. What challenged that way of thinking was my parents’ unexpected decision to go to Northern Rhodesia (as it was then) when I was fifteen. Central Africa, where I was to spend a good portion of the next twenty years, did more to alter my attitudes and prospects than anything before or since. Still under British rule, it showed me the last and perhaps the ugliest face of colonialism; and in so doing destroyed any smug sense I may have had of my own Englishness. Equally, the politics of an emerging Zambia taught me some painful and abrupt lessons about both myself and the twentieth century preoccupation with violence. 

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As the child of survivors of a war-battered, sorely depleted driftwood generation, I have acquired reasons in plenty to call myself lucky. Perhaps more, far more, than merely lucky.

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When I told a friend I was thinking of writing an essay on pre-Hispanic literature he said, ‘Forget it. You’d have to go to university to find out how to write an essay. Why don’t you write about your Christmas holidays?’ So perhaps it’s polite to warn readers that the following words, observations, and ideas are derived solely from personal experience, reading and reflection. I am a genuine lay person, shamelessly uneducated, having left school at fifteen and not found the time (or funds) to return since. 

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Travelling around writing

by Australian Book Review
May 1993, no. 150

An interview with Martin Flanagan.

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