Peter Goldsworthy

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll 

State Opera South Australia
by
16 November 2020

It gives some indication of the relative youth of Australian theatre that Ray Lawler, author of the watershed 1955 play Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (‘The Doll’ for short), is still alive. Ninety-nine years old, he apparently even had a hand in this production, just the second staging of Richard Mills and Peter Goldsworthy’s largely faithful operatic adaptation. Premièred by Opera Victoria in 1996, then remounted by Opera Australia two years later, the opera has not been performed since. It has now been dusted off, with minor changes made by composer–conductor Mills, by State Opera South Australia as part of its three-year ‘Lost Operas of Oz’ project. It’s a mark of Anglo-Australian culture’s immaturity, too, that it remains restless and amnesiac, almost wilfully ignorant of the past in its perpetual quest for the ‘next big thing’.   

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An excuse first. This can only be a magpie’s look at a marriage – between poetry and music – that has a near-infinite history of complex living arrangements, recurrent divorces, remarriages and impromptu de facto cohabitations. I’ve chosen a few marital battles of particular interest to me, a writer for whom song is a sometime thing. I’d like to claim those battles as representative of some epochs and musical styles, at least within various Western traditions; they are certainly representative of my musical obsessions.

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Yes, death was a good career move for Mr Elvis
Presley, but for those of us yet to leave the building,
cancer offers a lifeline, bringing family fame,
at least, and a careering mind, especially during
the long night-watch, when what happened in Vegas
comes home from Vegas,

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In his latest novel, Everything I Knew, Peter Goldsworthy uses this famous quotation. Indeed, it is so apposite that it might well have provided the epigraph. Everything I Knew is, in part, a self-conscious reworking of Hartley’s The Go-Between (1953). The first-person narrator, Robert Burns, is a naïve fourteen-year-old boy in desperate thrall to a young woman. But where the emotional life of Hartley’s boy protagonist is destroyed by the precipitate arrival of sexual knowledge, Everything I Knew subverts this notion.

The year is 1964 and the setting is Penola, a country town in South Australia. Robbie is a Year Seven schoolboy, precociously intelligent, restlessly pubescent. His father is the town policeman and his mother a well-meaning but stolid housewife. The community is narrow; everyone knows everyone else. At the beginning of the novel, Robbie is beginning to outgrow Billy, his best friend from primary school, an Indigenous boy with a reputation for getting into trouble that Robbie, to a lesser extent (being white), shares.

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Minotaur by Peter Goldsworthy

by
August 2019, no. 413

Halfway through Minotaur, Peter Goldsworthy’s jauntily satisfying novel about a sharp-tongued former motorcycle cop blinded by a bullet to the head, Detective Sergeant Rick Zadow gropes his way to a shed behind his Adelaide cottage. Inside lies a partially dismantled 1962 Green Frame Ducati 750SS ...

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A seven-hundred-page Collected Poems? The cover photograph of the Big Bloke himself is an embodiment of what’s inside in all its sprawling abundance. As is his surname, which can’t help but invoke our country’s big river, whether in full flood, or slow trickle, or slow spreading billabongs ...

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History is written by the Oscar winners in our time, which makes the responsibilities of serious historical scholarship never more important. Despite its realist pretensions – it looks as real as life – film is a dreamy, poetic medium, too often prone to simplicity, conspiracy theory, sucking up to the Zeitgeist ...

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Steve Brock began writing in the shadow of the New York school, but in ‘dreaming with Ted Berrigan’ – ‘I can’t remember if he said anything’ – might be saying goodbye to those earlier cool dudes and already a ...

Miłosz: A biography by Andrzej Franaszek, edited and translated by Aleksandra Parker and Michael Parker

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January–February 2018, no. 398

About halfway through this thick biography of the Nobel Prize-winning poet Czesław Miłosz (and halfway through the century of horrors that his life experiences uncannily track and are witness to) came a passage that stopped me dead ...

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Porter Prize

We received almost 1,000 entries in this year’s Peter Porter Poetry Prize – by far our biggest field to date. Entries came from twenty-two countries. The judges – Ali Alizadeh, Jill Jones, Felicity Plunkett – have now shortlisted

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