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Sylvia Martin

Sylvia Martin

Sylvia Martin is the author of three biographies of women neglected in Australian literary and cultural history. Ida Leeson: A life: Not a Blue-Stocking Lady (Allen & Unwin, 2006) was awarded the 2008 Magarey Medal for Biography and shortlisted for the NSW Literary Awards and the Kibble Award. She has also published widely in literary and academic journals. Her latest book is Sky Swimming: Reflections on Auto/biography, People and Place (UWA Publishing, 2020).

Sylvia Martin reviews 'Charmian and George: The marriage of George Johnson and Charmian Clift' by Max Brown

August 2004, no. 263 01 August 2004
For some Australians, the exotic, exciting and ultimately tragic relationship of Charmian Clift (1923–69) and George Johnston (1912–70) has attained the mythical status of other famous literary couples of the twentieth century: F. Scott and Zelda, Virginia and Leonard, Ted and Sylvia. The combination of beautiful people, prolific and personal writing, illness and suicide makes them irresistibl ... (read more)

Sylvia Martin reviews 'Dame Joan Hammond: Love and Music' by Sara Hardy

November 2008, no. 306 01 November 2008
My mother, a fine mezzo soprano, had three all-time favourite singers: Kathleen Ferrier, Maria Callas and our own Joan Hammond. When I was a child, my parents took me to see the famous diva perform Tosca in Melbourne – standing room only at the back of the circle. I remember red velvet, a thrilling voice, my own tired legs and a sense that I was in the presence of greatness. Sara Hardy’s biogr ... (read more)

Sylvia Martin reviews ‘The Intimate Archive: Journeys through private papers’ by Maryanne Dever, Sally Newman and Ann Vickery

September 2009, no. 314 01 September 2009
‘What is it that distinguishes “the experience of being in the archives” from other types of research?’ The introduction to The Intimate Archive indicates that this is a crucial question underpinning the book. Neither dry repositories of records nor merely the random detritus of lives, archives are understood as constructed artefacts, shaped by cultural and political practices as well as b ... (read more)

Sylvia Martin reviews 'Vida: A woman for our time' by Jacqueline Kent

October 2020, no. 425 24 September 2020
Miles Franklin used to delight in relating an anecdote about a librarian friend who, when asked why a less competent colleague was paid more, replied succinctly: ‘He has the genital organs of the male; they’re not used in library work, but men are paid more for having them.’ I was reminded of this when I found that the subject of Vida, Franklin’s friend Vida Goldstein, had preserved a pie ... (read more)

Sylvia Martin reviews 'Unnamed Desires' by Rebecca Jennings

January-February 2016, no. 378 22 December 2015
It is almost twenty-five years since Garry Wotherspoon's City of the Plain (1991) was published. In his ground-breaking history of Sydney's gay subculture, he stated that the 'history of life for lesbians in Sydney ... is more properly part of women's history'. Rebecca Jennings seeks to redress that gap in Unnamed Desires. She offers a nuanced understanding of Sydney's lesbian history from the 193 ... (read more)

Sylvia Martin reviews 'Madeleine: A Life of Madeleine St John', Helen Trinca

June 2013, no. 352 26 May 2013
My Swedish neighbour is rebuilding. From my back garden I overheard her Australian builder loudly introducing her to a tradesman named Hans. ‘Now, we’re for it,’ he chortled. ‘It’ll be talk, talk, talk, no stopping you now.’ As I hung out the washing, I reflected that the Australian nervousness around ‘Continentals’ that Madeleine St John details so deliciously in her novel about 1 ... (read more)