Cassandra Pybus

The extraordinary life of Truganini, an Aboriginal woman known as the 'last Tasmanian', is explored in this turbulent history by Cassandra Pybus. An inspiring and haunting story, Truganini’s life spanned psychological and cultural shifts nearly beyond comprehension. In this episode of The ABR Podcast, Billy Griffiths, author of the award-winning Deep Time Dreaming, reviews Truganini, Pybus's history of a woman reclaimed by the Tasmanian Indigenous community as a symbol of 'rights, identity, ownership, and survival'. 

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Open Page with Cassandra Pybus

by Australian Book Review
April 2020, no. 420

When I was younger and could tolerate copious amounts of alcohol, I really enjoyed writers’ festivals, especially in Canada, where they are often in stupendous landscapes. I made some lifelong friendships with marvellous writers and enjoyed memorable late-night conversations in the lobbies and bars of swish hotels.

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Truganini: Journey through the apocalypse follows the life of the strong Nuenonne woman who lived through the dramatic upheavals of invasion and dispossession and became known around the world as the so-called ‘last Tasmanian’. But the figure at the heart of this book is George Augustus Robinson, the self-styled missionary and chronicler who was charged with ‘conciliating’ with the Tasmanian Aboriginal peoples. It is primarily through his journals that historians are able to glimpse and piece together the world fractured by European arrival.

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In the wake of the spectacular collapse of Rothwells and unsavoury revelations about Western Australian entrepreneurial enterprise, it is very apposite for Penguin to have republished Nick Hasluck’s 1980 novel, The Blue Guitar. This novel, as relevant now as nine years ago, deals with the world of entrepreneurship with its illusory money, fast talk, and duplicity. It is a world of the corrupt and the corruptible, where principles and moral certainties give way before glib notions of innovative thinking and flexibility.

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Greg Dening was trained for the Catholic priesthood. He became an outstanding historian of the Pacific, although perhaps better described as an anthropologist-historian, in company with Clifford Geertz, Marshall Sahlins, Nathalie Zemon Davis, and his colleague Rhys Isaac, to whom this book is warmly dedicated. Yet echoes of his initial calling linger in his work, certainly as evidenced in this collection of essays.

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Red Hot Notes edited by Carmel Bird

by
April 1996, no. 179

Were it not for the timing, it would be easy to speculate that this richly evocative collection of pieces about music was the inspiration for Jane Campion’s glorious film, The Piano. So many elements of the film – the dominant image of the beached piano, the powerful undertow of sexual passion, even the unexpected violence-are present in this book in the most uncanny similitude. I should not be surprised since Carmel Bird has already displayed her uneasy fascination with the film in her dazzling essay ‘Freedom of Speech’ (in Columbus’ Blindness and Other Essays) and in her introduction to Red Hot Notes she admits that the film was a catalyst for the idea of various writers exploring ‘the complex feelings that surround, and embed themselves in, the human response to music’.

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Dear Editor,

Dr Jenna Mead claims, among other things in her most recent attempt to discredit The First Stone, that I have ‘invented dialogue’ and written ‘hypothetical meetings with imaginary characters’. All the conversations and encounters in the book are documented in detailed, scrupulous notes. This includes my account of a telephone conversation between Dr Mead and me, which she would perhaps prefer to think of as a figment of my ‘merciless imagination. If only Dr Mead were an imaginary character – but it would strain the ingenuity of a better writer than I am, to have dreamt her up.

Helen Garner, Elizabeth Bay NSW

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Dear Editor,

How disappointing your cover feature on The First Stone turned out to be. I feel very let down by the most mediocre review I’ve read on this most talked-about work. Your former Editor, Rosemary Sorensen, wrote a superb, thought-provoking piece in the Sydney Morning Herald. I expected the review in ABR to be of similar quality.

Brian White, Elwood, Vic.

(Ed’s reply: You might be interested to know that the Sydney Morning Herald chose to republish a shortened version of Cassandra Pybus’s review of The First Stone, on Wednesday 10 May, acknowledging it was first published in ABR.)

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We meet in one of the ubiquitous coffee shops in Brunswick Street. I order a cappuccino, all milky froth. Hers is a short black; bitter and strong. Over the past decade our relationship has been desultory, unevenly balanced: we live in different states and she is a famous novelist. I have always been in a supplicant role. We have something approaching a friendship, maybe. Today she defers to me. She has just reviewed my book on the Orr case for the Times Literary Supplement. And liked it, she says. She wants my help.

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There were no winners in the first round of the Orr Case. Sydney Sparkes Orr lost his job as Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tasmania in 1955. Suzanne Kemp, who had accused him of seduction, lost her reputation. Her father, who had supported her accusations, was subjected to all manner of speculation and innuendo. Edwin Tanner, a mature-age student who had complained about Orr’s poor teaching and his requests for professional favours, had his life ruined. Dr Milanov, Orr’s colleague who had protested that Orr was harassing him professionally, found himself subjected to just the kind of persecution he had fled in his native Serbia.

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