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Duffy & Snellgrove


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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Robert Gray’s new book continues the style of his previous one, Lineations, by interspersing poems with drawings: there are three panels of six drawings each, spaced throughout the book. It also contains a long meditation on things and thinginess, reality, consciousness (and all stops between) called ‘The Drift of Things’ ... ... (read more)

Watershed by Fabienne Bayet-Charlton & Summer at Mount Hope by Rosalie Ham

April 2006, no. 280

Fabienne Bayet-Charlton’s Watershed begins, ‘… such is the realm of water. It cradles yet suffocates. Warms and cools us. Sustains, nurtures and kills us.’ Indeed, the bonds and binaries of the element are central to this narrative – not simply the presence or lack of literal water, but also fierce emotional currents that threaten to submerge its main characters.

Set in contemporary South Australia’s Murraylands, Watershed centres on ex-champion swimmer Eve Buenetti, who is lost in a barren psychological terrain following the presumed drowning of her son, David. The novel also explores her husband Marconi’s response to the tragedy, and the tangled rivalry and sexual tensions between Eve, Marconi and his brother Victorio, the womanising town mayor. As in many explorations of rural communities, tangential storylines evolve, providing a break from the Eve–Marconi narrative and insight into other town dwellers, such as cryptic newcomer Jasmine.

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A 'ground-breaking’ analysis of the Beatles through their lyrics? One is put irresistibly in mind of  the cover of Abbey Road: barefoot Paul McCartney out of step with his fellows, apparently confirming the sad circumstance at which John Lennon had hinted in the last line of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’: ‘I buried Paul.’ Except, of course, that what Lennon really slurred was: ‘I’m very bored.’ And that McCartney, far from dead, was alive, well, rich and ripe with sappy tunes sufficient to see him through another couple of decades. Scholars in the field of popular music have an unfortunate way of seeming pointlessly po-faced, rapt in the intertextual resonances of ‘A-Wop-Bop-A-Loo-Bop-A-Wop-Bam-Boom’. Not everyone can be Greil Marcus – sometimes not even Greil Marcus.

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Australian writer Peter Robb has once again written a whole, complex, foreign society into our comprehension. This time it is Brazil, its myriad worlds of experience, its cruelly stolid immobility and exhilarating changefulness, its very incoherence, somehow made accessible to our understanding. In 1996 Robb’s Midnight in Sicily was published to international acclaim. He had set himself the task like the one the mythical, doomed Cola Pesce had been commanded to achieve: to dive into the sea of the past; ‘to explore things once half glimpsed and half imagined’; and to discover ‘what was holding up Sicily’. And he succeeded magnificently.

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Stephen Edgar’s fifth volume, Lost in the Foreground, is a book of marvels, both technically and in the elegant, magisterial reach of its content. He is wonderfully inventive, and his complex rhyme schemes and forms are achieved with such precision and finesse that one can only conjecture as to how long each piece must have taken to become so lovingly and artfully realised.

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You might expect a book of eighty-eight new poems by Les Murray to be sizeable (most of his recent single volumes run to about sixty poems each). But Poems the Size of Photographs is literally a small book, composed of short poems (‘though some are longer’, says the back cover) ...

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By the time I arrived in Canberra in the late 1970s, Mungo MacCallum was already a legend in his own lunchtime, which, as he admits in this latest book, ‘frequently dragged on towards sunset’. He was famed for introducing a new style of political journalism into Australia: irreverent, opinionated, witty, at times scurrilous. He was impatient of cant, and punctured pomposity. These qualities are all apparent in Mungo: The Man Who Laughs. It is avowedly neither autobiography nor history. It is an odd hybrid, divided distinctly into two parts: a set of autobiographical sketches devoted to his early life, laced with politics and laughter; and a personalised chronicle of the age of Gough Whitlam.

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Peter Goldsworthy, doctor and poet, is a writer of significant style and concision. This new selection of his lyric poetry lives up to its jaunty, graffitied, lavender cover; it bespeaks lightness. And lightness is damned hard work. You don’t get there just by smiling and going to book launches ...

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The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham & Black Hearts by Arlene J. Chai

October 2000, no. 225

Set in the 1950s in a tiny Australian country town called Dungatar, Rosalie Ham’s The Dressmaker explores the rippling effects of chaos when a woman returns home after twenty years of exile in Europe. Tilly Dunnage was expelled from Australia in a fog of hate and recrimination; her neighbours have never forgiven her for an act Tilly thought was predicated upon self-preservation, but others chose to see as manslaughter. Returning to look after her senile mother, Tilly sits in a ramshackle house atop a hill while the town people below bitch and snipe at her with rancorous glee. This is a story about loose lips and herd mentality bullying in a town where everybody knows your past. The dressmaking title refers to Tilly’s fabulous seamstress skills (she learnt the trade overseas). But even her ability to transform the frumpiest shapes into figures of grace does not mellow the unforgiving hearts of her neighbours.

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