Archive

One of the first books I read about news and politics was a lively British volume edited by Richard Boston, called The Press We Deserve (1970). In it, he quoted a recent speech by the Duke of Edinburgh reciting all the standard clichés about the role a free press played in sustaining democracy. On the contrary, Boston argued, a newspaper such as the News of the World is about as helpful to democracy as an outbreak of typhoid. It may, he said, be the price of democracy, but that was a rather different proposition.

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Theatregoers with long memories may well hug to themselves the ‘golden years’ of the Melbourne Theatre Company’s tenancy of the Russell Street Theatre in the 1960s, a time in which plays as varied as Hochhuth’s The Representative, Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear, Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s infallible matinee version of Henry James’s The Heiress, and many others jostled for attention. It was the time when an actor called Clive Winmill stepped on stage in the swinging London comedy The Knack and, instead of saying his lines, treated the audience to a passionate anti-Vietnam involvement speech. It was a time when the provocative new and the venerated classic made equal claims on a theatrical ensemble which achieved real importance in Melbourne’s cultural life.

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Jay Thompson reviews 'Kylie Tennant: A life' by Jane Grant

Jay Daniel Thompson
Thursday, 12 November 2020

In a 1985 interview, Kylie Tennant was quoted as saying: ‘I … don’t know how people get on who haven’t been raised in a battling Australian family.’ Jane Grant expands upon this image of Tennant as a quintessential ‘Aussie battler’ in her biography of the acclaimed novelist. Kylie Tennant: A life is relatively brief, yet it provides a remarkable insight into the pressures (societal and otherwise) that informed Tennant’s politics and prose.

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Louise Swinn reviews 'Izzy and Eve' by Neal Drinnan

Louise Swinn
Thursday, 12 November 2020

In the bohemian district of an imaginary city not unlike a very bleak Sydney, Izzy and Eve have been living together for twenty years. Eve, who torments herself with clippings of unsolved murders, is a jeweller and also a receptionist – sometimes more – in the local brothel. Izzy draws erotic cartoons for a living, and has taken to frequenting S & M clubs. Gay men start disappearing from the clubs, and Eve is catapulted into an investigation that leads her to Izzy’s world, his friends and ‘silt’, the drug linking the disappearances. So Izzy and Eve becomes a gothic thriller, the narration whipping back and forth between Eve and Izzy, sometimes distractingly quickly. Beginning with Izzy, the characters talk, frequently but fleetingly, of faith, which seems to be at the core of this narrative. But it is Eve the non-believer, drawn more vividly, who dominates the story.

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Shirley Walker reviews 'Inventing Beatrice' by Jill Golden

Shirley Walker
Thursday, 12 November 2020

Jill Golden’s Inventing Beatrice is a fictionalised account of the life of her mother, Beatrice (or B). This is life writing at its most precarious, right out there on the borderline of ‘fact’ and the ‘inventing’ of the title. Is it a novel or a biography? The media release labels it a novel but concedes that it ‘crosses the genres of biography and autobiography, fiction and non-fiction, speaking in several voices’. What is certain is that the point of view, and of judgment, is constantly shifting as the narrator sets out to unravel the enigma of her mother’s emotional frigidity and to find out the real circumstances of a childhood that, she feels, has destroyed her. Why did B send her three small daughters – the youngest only eight months old – away from home for more than five long years? They spend this time in foster care, then boarding school.

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Chris Boyd reviews 'Grassdogs' by Mark O’Flynn

Chris Boyd
Monday, 02 November 2020

Grassdogs’ literary antecedents jostle like faces crowding around a porthole on a departing emigrant ship. One can tick them off like books on a required reading list for a twentieth-century Australian literature course. The doppelganger Jekyll-and-Hyde protagonists (blithe young city lawyer Tony Tindale and his bestial, increasingly wretched uncle Edgar) might have been written with actor Dan Wyllie in mind. Edgar even loses teeth in a car accident, just like Wyllie.

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Melissa Ashley reviews 'Folly & Grief' by Jennifer Harrison

Melissa Ashley
Monday, 02 November 2020

Folly & Grief, Melbourne poet Jennifer Harrison’s third collection, reads on one level as a playful enquiry into the centuries-long association of folly with innovative live performance. Lizard men abseil down gallery walls; an extreme body artist creates a living sculpture of bees; a ventriloquist’s dummy stirs to life; New Age travellers toss firesticks, knives and chainsaws high into the sky. While the danger lurking in such displays is often what retains our interest (‘He juggles a chainsaw … even the fine patinating rain / feels like sprayed blood on my face and lips’), Harrison is equally concerned with the challenging apprenticeships these unusual skills demand. The road to becoming a master entertainer is explicitly connected to the craft of writing: ‘a juggler first conquers clumsiness / then writes the same poem, over and over.’

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The third volume to be produced by the Asian Association for the Study of Australasia, Diaspora: The Australasian Experience, is a large publication with more than forty chapters. It makes an important contribution to the often willing debate about preserving Austral(as)ia’s perceived homogeneity in the face of the challenges carried in the cultural baggage of postwar arrivals from beyond the shores of the United Kingdom. Most, if not all, of the writers prefer to celebrate what Jane Mummery calls, in the opening essay, ‘the affirmation of the hyphen and hybridity’. Many other essays in the collection also demonstrate the extent to which Australian academics in the humanities and social sciences are contributing to the development and analysis of cultural connections between South Asia and Australasia.

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Brian Matthews reviews 'Cricket Kings' by William McInnes

Brian Matthews
Monday, 02 November 2020

It was the first game for the season in some halcyon year of my cricketing past. We’d scraped together a team, but the other mob was rumoured to be a couple short. Their first three batsmen were competent enough and made a few. Then a collapse brought number eight to the wicket. Impeccably clad, he was one of those blokes who puts his gloves on after taking guard and then spends minutes surveying the field, pointing to each position with his bat, as if burning them into his tactical memory. At last he faced his first ball, which went straight through him and took the middle and off stumps out of the ground. ‘Bad luck, mate,’ said one of our blokes, with a kindness the ensuing months would erode. ‘First knock for the season, eh?’ The beautifully attired number eight looked at him in astonishment. ‘First knock ever,’ he said.

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Some years ago, Robert Hughes bemoaned the capitulation of art museums and galleries to ‘the whole masterpiece-and-treasure syndrome’. Although made in the 1980s, Hughes’s point may still be valid, especially if the number of recent exhibitions with the word ‘master’ in their titles is anything to go by. A quick check reveals that, in Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria is particularly fond of the word. In Melbourne last year, we had ‘Dutch Masters from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam’ and ‘Albrecht Dürer: Master of the Renaissance’. In 2004 the NGV put on ‘The Impressionists: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay’.

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