Morag Fraser

What is to be done? The question is asked whenever humankind confronts a new crisis. And the answers, whether from biblical sources, Tolstoy, or Lenin (or indeed Barry Jones in his imminent book, What Is To Be Done?), must confront universal moral quandaries at the same time as they address local needs, hopes, and aspirations.

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That old rhyme sits unpondered in the memory of every woman or man who grew up to speak English or chant it in the many incantatory rituals of childhood. It is locked in there, partnered with the rhythmic thud of a skipping rope and spirals drawn on your palm to test endurance, in the exquisite torture test that was part primitive ordeal, part initiation into a social community that had its mysteries and its taboos and its transgressions. Children move naturally in this world of internalised rhythms, of things unexplained, of enigma and excitement.

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Morag Fraser reviews 'The Labyrinth' by Amanda Lohrey

Morag Fraser
Monday, 24 August 2020

In a 1954 letter to his niece Pippa, artist-nomad Ian Fairweather lamented that he could not write with sufficient analytic detachment to look back at his life and ‘see a pattern in it’. (Ian Fairweather: A life in letters, Text Publishing, 2019). The irony – that one of Australian art’s most profound, intuitive pattern-makers should be ruefully unable to ‘see’ the formative structures and repetitions of his fraught life – would not be lost on Amanda Lohrey. Labyrinth, her haunting new novel, is a meditation on fundamental patterns in nature and in familial relations, and our experience of them in time. But this is a novel, not a treatise, its narrative so bracing – like salt spray stinging your face – that one is borne forward inexorably, as if caught in the coastal rip that is one of the novel’s darker motifs. It is a work to read slowly, and reread, so that its metaphorical patterns can come into focus, and the intricate knots of structure loosen and unwind.

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Sir Andrew's Messiah 

Morag Fraser
Tuesday, 10 December 2019

‘Sir Andrew’s Messiah’ it was: the conductor’s affectionate choice (Andrew Davis had soloed in Messiah as a boy), and his own orchestration, of Handel’s masterwork for his farewell concert as the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s chief conductor. Sir Andrew, who has caught an Australian habit, will return in 2020 as Conductor Laureate. Handel (who didn’t rate a mention on the MSO’s concert program cover) is perennial, so his return, and return, to Australian concert stages, churches, community singalongs, and recording studios is more guaranteed than rain.

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Artist, hermit, instinctive communicator, a nomad who built studio nests for himself all over the globe, Ian Fairweather is a consistent paradox – and an enduring one. In an art world of fragile and fluctuating reputations, his work retains the esteem with which it was received – by his peers – when he landed in Australia in 1934 and, with their help, exhibited almost immediately. His way of life – eccentric, solitary, obsessive – was extraordinary then, and continued so until his death in 1974. Success never sanded off his diffident, abrasive edges. When presented with the International Cooperation Art Award in 1973, he mused, in a letter to his niece, Helga (‘Pippa’) Macnamara:

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La Trobe University Essay: 'On September 11' by Morag Fraser

Morag Fraser
Monday, 23 September 2019

Primo Levi, in two interviews given almost twenty years ago*, set a standard of critical sympathy that is not only exemplary, but peculiarly apt to the fraught debate about the post-September 11 world and the USA’s place and reputation within it.

Much current debate on crucial issues facing Australia – the economy, race relations, foreign affairs, for example – is conducted in the opinion pages of metropolitan daily newspapers. And ‘opinion’ pages they now are – with a vengeance. It is a symptom of the times that opinion-page editors have less and less recourse to disinterested authorities ...

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Conversation is the raison d’être of this monumental monologue. But you might not think so if you read only the reviews. Splenetic, greensick criticism – and there has been plenty of it – insists that what Clive James has built out of a life’s voracious reading and careful noticing – his ‘notes in the margin’ – is a platform for his ego. Not so. But how ruthlessly we skin our own ...

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You can’t escape the black square with the ominous slit: it’s about as familiar and inevitable in Australia as the icon for male or female. Ned’s iron mask now directs you to the National Library’s website of Australian images. There it is, black on red ochre, an importunate camera, staring back as we look through it ...

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Morag Fraser reviews 'Leeward: A memoir' by Geoffrey Lehmann

Morag Fraser
Tuesday, 18 December 2018

The poet James McAuley once told a group of Sydney university students – ‘forcefully’,  as Geoffrey Lehmann recalls – that poets should have a career unconnected with literature. Lehmann had already imbibed a related injunction from his mother:  ‘One day she told me I should become a lawyer and a writer ...

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