Oxford University Press

This handsome set of volumes – this ‘library’, it might almost be said – is one of the finest large publishing projects undertaken in Australia over recent years. Dedicated to ‘those who have served in the defence of Australia, 1901–2001’, it is brought triumphantly to a conclusion by the recent issue of its Volume VII, An Atlas of Australia’s Wars. This climactic volume, lying open on your desk, spreads eighty centimetres wide and is a splendidly presented treasury of geographical and logistical information. Now we can make better sense of, for example, the plethora of existing individual unit histories. Many of these (despite their wealth of fine detail and personal information) have baffled our broader understanding. Now we have, set out before us, the land (or the sea, or the airspace) where the fighting took place, and can appreciate reality in a new dimension.

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ART

Contemporary Aboriginal Art: A guide to the rebirth of an ancient culture

by Susan McCulloch

Allen & Unwin, 248 pp, $39.95 pb

1 86508 305 4

Contemporary Aboriginal Art (first published in 1999) contains a wealth of information for those interested in the history, practice, and culture of Aboriginal art. By its very nature, Aboriginal art is constantly changing and evolving, and, in this revised edition, Susan McCulloch details new developments in already well-established communities, and the emergence of some entirely new movements. McCulloch, visual arts writer for The Australian, has travelled extensively to the Kimberley, Central Australia, Arnhem Land and Far North Queensland, and her book provides first-hand accounts of Aboriginal artists and the works they are creating.

Beautifully illustrated, Contemporary Aboriginal Art also contains a comprehensive directory of art centres and galleries, a buyer’s guide, and a listing of recommended readings.

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For a reform politician, these three books should be compulsory reading. They are not, for such a reader, heartening. But they do ‘serve in many respects to discover, to confute, to forewarn, and to illustrate’.

Brian Dale’s Ascent to Power, very much less than fair to Neville Wran, is an unintended expose of the nature of political journalism in this country and its practitioners.

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I am writing this review in a cafe in the main street of Gympie, a town founded on gold discoveries in 1867. It is 200 kilometres north of Brisbane and seventy kilometres from the coast. Frontier types abound in a town population of 11,000 and in farming communities around. Rough, craggy, sunburnt faces, wizened facial muscles, arms creased by years of hard work and a determined walk. In their everyday habits they exhibit loyalty to friends, a capacity to improvise and a contempt for blacks. And these are the women.

As our feminist historians have pointed out, there are few women in Russel Ward’s The Australian Legend, first published in 1958. Indeed in the index there are only a handful of entries: ‘on goldfields’, ‘prostitution’ or and ‘shortage of, in bush’, the last being the longest entry.

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Oxford University Press has begun a welcome series called Australian Writers. Two further titles, Imre Salusinszky on Gerald Murnane and Ivor Indyk on David Malouf, will appear in March next year and eleven more books are in preparation. Though I find the first three uneven in quality, they make a very promising start to a series. In some ways they resemble Oliver and Boyd’s excellent series, Writers and Critics, even being of about the same length. However this new series is less elementary, more demanding of the reader. It is, predictably, far sparser in critical evaluation, concentrating on hermeneutics, and biographical information is as rare as a wombat waltz.

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The life and work of Charles Baudelaire (1821–67) must be viewed against the historical background of the crushing failure of the Paris revolution of 1848, in which soldiers massacred three thousand workers. In the elections that followed this unsuccessful working-class uprising, which Baudelaire and his fellow artists supported, the French Romantic poet Alphonse de Lamartine received 18,000 votes, while Louis Napoleon received fifteen million.

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‘It’s a media beat-up,’ our Brooklyn Airbnb host assured me as we chatted on the doorstep one sparkling autumn afternoon in early November 2016. ‘They need to make it seem like a contest or there’ll be no story.’ It would have been rude for me, as an outsider, to demur. I bumped into him once more, ashen-faced the following morning, after Pennsylvania had finally swung to Donald J. Trump, delivering him the presidency. Our conversation was brief; his sense of disorientation palpable.

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In 1959, David Hill, aged twelve, left England and sailed on the Strathaird to Australia with two of his three brothers. Like thousands of children before them the Hill boys were bound for a Fairbridge farm school. Like thousands of children before them, they had come from a poor background, with a struggling single mother who believed that Fairbridge would give her boys a better education and greater opportunities in life than she possibly could.

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Ilan Stavans is a professor of Humanities at Amherst College in Massachusetts, a native of Mexico City who is now a distinguished scholar of Latin American and Hispanic cultures. Here he turns his outsider’s gaze on the large question ‘What is American Literature?’ to productive if rather erratic effect. This is a strange book, one that purports to achieve an Olympian overview of an established academic field, but one whose most effective contributions manifest themselves in casual, digressive comments on particular authors and contemporary cultural issues.

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The reverberations from 6 January 2021 continue. On that day, two thousand or more protesters stormed the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, intending to overturn the formal ballot electing Joe Biden as president of the United States. Waving phones, livestreaming their moves, some called for the execution of politicians, notably Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. For the first time, a Confederate flag was waved on the floor of the Congress, while a man wearing horns and waving a ‘Q sent me’ sign became the global image of the invasion. The mob was eventually pushed out of the building, but five people died during or after the assault, and four police officers caught in the mêlée later suicided.

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