Archive

‘We’ve given Ayers Rock back to the Aborigines!’ Perhaps I remember those words so clearly because a friend spoke them to me over the telephone when I was in England, surprised almost daily at the reforms of the Whitlam government and at the international interest they excited. Years later I reflected on the meaning of that ‘we’. Had he said the same words to an English person, the meaning of it would have been different. Addressed to me, that ‘we’ wasn’t so much a classification that included or excluded me: it was an invitation to be part of a community whose identity was partly formed by its relation to Australia and its past and by its preparedness to accept responsibilities for what head been done to the Aborigines – at that time (before we knew about the stolen children), the taking of their lands and desecration of their sacred places. Had I thought about it, that would partly have answered the question I did ask him. ‘What does giving it back mean?’ He couldn’t say. In fact no one I asked could. No one was interested. Everyone was heartened by the generosity expressed in the gesture and enthusiastic in their hopes for a new era.

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A man waits outside a schoolyard and watches a young girl who, it seems, is his daughter, though she doesn’t know him. What appears to be an internal dialogue between the man and the child’s mother commences, set apart from the main text. It is a self-conscious narrative manoeuvre. The narrator, Jules Pyatt, after all has a thesis in English literature behind him (abandoned). He knows what narrative is all about, and he knows he wants to tell the story of his ‘Tazyrik year’, which belongs to a period several years before, when he was in his late twenties.

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‘At a crucial moment in my career, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to take heart from the humbling serenity and unaffected craftsmanship of Michel Foucault, in what I was not to know were his last years.’ Nothing could be further from the spirit of Foucault and Literature than this tribute by eminent historian Peter Brown. During’s measure of Foucault’s contribution to literary studies is the extent to which in his writings, as in his person, ‘academic skills’ are reconciled with a ‘transgressive’ political radicalism in such a way as ‘to break down the limits of academic professionalism’. No doubt the passionate, politically engaged reflection and teaching envisaged in During’s (post-) Foucauldian programme for literary studies would leave intact the sabbatical leave arrangements upon which Brown’s and Foucault’s collaboration would have depended.

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What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi Eisenberg Murkoff, Sandee Eisenberg, and Hathaway R.N. & Safe and Natural Remedies for the Discomforts of Pregnancy by The Coalition for the Medical Rights of Women

by
August 1987, no, 93

I thought of concealing myself behind the androgyny of my initials and writing a mean little piece about apple-pie and motherhood and pregnancy in particular. But honesty prevails and I confess to being a woman, and a pregnant one, too.

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I’m well overdue with this article, and I suspect John McLaren is never going to speak to me again. Trouble is, I’m on a frenetic reading jag and its mainly McLaren’s fault.

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In Future Active, Graham Meikle roams the electronic landscape picking out highlights and lowlights. Like all travellers, what he finds is influenced by his interests and perspectives. Sometimes this leads to illuminating insights; sometimes I marvelled at what he might have seen but didn’t.

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The Hanging of Jean Lee is the third verse novel I have reviewed recently, except that this one is closer to the verse documentary.

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Gerard Windsor had a rocky start to his writing life. Out of the Jesuits after seven years, he scored a contract with his old school, Riverview, in Sydney, to write its centennial history. I was one of the alumni he interviewed; I remember suggesting that he take steps to guarantee the publication of his text. After all, I argued, a school run by a religious order was like a family commissioning its history: it would have tender feelings towards its dead and be wary of any diminution of their legends.

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Laurie Duggan’s study of ‘imagined space’ in Australian visual culture arrived on my desk, with a certain synchronicity, the day after I saw the film Memento. In their distinctive ways, both these works seem indicative of our age, offering unstable and fractured accounts of space and time at a moment when virtual reality seems to be untying our formerly fixed Western notions of these concepts.

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‘People are not entitled in a civil society to pursue a malicious campaign of character assassination based on a big lie.’ This was Andrew Clark, son of the historian Manning Clark, expressing understandable outrage on behalf of his family. The issue was the infamous allegation, based on nebulous evidence, that Manning was ‘an agent of Soviet influence’ and had been awarded the Order of Lenin. Unfortunately, as the Clarks will know, the big lie, even when refuted, spreads across generations. Although the onus is supposed to be on the accusers to prove their allegations, in reality it is easily, plausibly reversed.

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