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Mudrooroo (Colin Johnson)

As part of his quest to gather information about the ‘famous Dr Warson Holmes Jackamara’ – a Detective Inspector of police, a government official, and the holder of a doctorate in criminology – an Aboriginal oral historian interviews an erstwhile Queensland real estate broker and aspiring politician, for whom Jackamara once worked as a ‘minder’. The transcripts of the resulting thirteen monologues comprise the substance of a novella which presents the reader with an object lesson about the dangers inherent in the greed for power – in hubris – and in white Australian’s failure to recognise the strength of the Aboriginal spirit beings. As such, despite what some might see as its overstrained mythicism, this work has a compelling, and uniquely Australian, quality.

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Publishers are like invisible ink. Their imprint is in the mysterious appearance of books on shelves. This explains their obsession with crime novels.

To some authors they appear as good fairies, to others the Brothers Grimm. Publishers can be blamed for pages that fall out (Look ma, a self-exploding paperback!), for a book’s non-appearance at a country town called Ulmere. For appearing too early or too late for review. For a book being reviewed badly, and thus its non-appearance – in shops, newspapers and prized shortlistings.

As an author, it’s good therapy to blame someone and there’s nothing more cleansing than to blame a publisher. I know, because I’ve done it myself. A literary absolution feels good the whole day through.

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‘If you can’t say something nice,’ my mother always said, ‘don’t say anything at all.’ (I pinch this opening gambit, shamelessly, from Kate Grenville’s Self-Portrait in the last ABR, and hope she does not mind; imitation is the sincerest form etc.) Apropos of parental expectations regarding niceness-or-silence, however, I am reminded of a remark of Elizabeth Jolley’s: ‘I think my mother wanted a princess, and she got me instead.’

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