Archive

How different can two books be? Peter Rose’s first book, The House of Vitriol, is one of the first off the rank for the new Picador poetry series – and a sign of things to come. It is mercurial where Lehmann is mild. Rose’s style is very distinct: gaudy and revved up from the start.

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Another book on George Augustus Robinson, the nineteenth-century oddity who toured Tasmania gathering Aboriginals whom he eventually incarcerated on Flinders Island? Historians from John West to Brian Plomley have written about his Tasmanian adventures; Robert Drewe and Mudrooroo Narogin have added interpretations of his singular career. Do we need another?

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His minister described him as a permanent troubleshooter. And yet Charlie Perkins was surely the most trouble-prone and troublesome permanent head in Australian administrative history. Where other bureaucratics operated stealthily to preserve the outward appearance of responsible government, he engaged in calculated acts of public defiance and abuse of the governments he was meant to serve. They could no more dispense with his services, however, than he could operate without their largesse. And so for the best part of twenty year the volatile mediator orchestrated relations between the state and the modern Aboriginal movement.

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Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'Blessed City' by Gwen Harwood

Kerryn Goldsworthy
Wednesday, 04 March 2020

Gwen Foster met Lieutenant Thomas Riddell in Brisbane in 1942, when she was twenty­two. ‘Tony’ Riddell, stationed in Brisbane, was sent to Darwin early in 1943; and between January and September of that year, Gwen Foster wrote him the eighty-nine letters that make up this book. It’s the chronicle of a year, of a city, of a family, of a friendship, of a war no one could see an end to, and of that stage in the life of a gifted young woman at which she says, ‘At present I am unsettled and do not know which way my life will turn.’

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Cassandra Pybus reviews 'The First Stone' by Helen Garner

Cassandra Pybus
Wednesday, 04 March 2020

We meet in one of the ubiquitous coffee shops in Brunswick Street. I order a cappuccino, all milky froth. Hers is a short black; bitter and strong. Over the past decade our relationship has been desultory, unevenly balanced: we live in different states and she is a famous novelist. I have always been in a supplicant role. We have something approaching a friendship, maybe. Today she defers to me. She has just reviewed my book on the Orr case for the Times Literary Supplement. And liked it, she says. She wants my help.

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Marian Eldridge reviews 'Usher' by Matthew Condon

Marian Eldridge
Wednesday, 04 March 2020

The usher of the book’s title is T. Nelson Downs, long-time resident of Burleigh Heads. (The T. Doesn’t stand for anything; it was a parental whim.) He’s one of those wonderful, original, exasperating people full of impossible ideas (such as marketing gigantic ice sculptures for public occasions using skilled tradesmen brought out especially from Florence).

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When the Australian government urged older workers to delay retirement, some observers saw this as ‘wedge’ politics. One ageing media personality joked about younger women refusing to have babies sufficient to care for him in his dotage. For electors, the falling birth rate may be a controversial economic issue, but for some couples, and especially women, decisions about procreation are not theoretical exercises but painful personal dilemmas.

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Paul Hetherington reviews 'The New Dark Age' by Joan London

Paul Hetherington
Thursday, 20 February 2020

Over the last couple of decades in Australia, short fiction has been a poor cousin to the literary novel. While this country continues to produce fine writers of short fiction, many of them struggle to achieve book publication of their works. Larger publishers often seem no more interested in collections of short fiction than they are in poetry collections. Their argument: short fiction, like poetry, does not sell. It has often been left to smaller Australian publishers to produce and promote short fiction writers, who are sometimes taken up by a major publisher if they achieve a notable success with a longer work.

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Cheryl Jorgensen reviews 'The Grand Hotel: A novel' by Gregory Day

Cheryl Jorgensen
Thursday, 20 February 2020

According to the author’s note at the end of The Grand Hotel, this will probably be the last of his stories to be set in fictional Mangowak, a coastal town in south-western Victoria. The first, The Patron Saint of Eels (2005), won the 2006 Australian Literature Society Gold Medal. The second, Ron McCoy’s Sea of Diamonds (2007), was shortlisted for the 2008 New South Wales Premier’s Prize for Fiction.

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Graham Seal, author of this invaluable new survey of Australian folklore, hopes this book will ‘explode the pernicious and persistent myth that Australia has no folklore’, a cultural lie he illustrates on the opening page by trotting out a familiar scapegoat in the form of a visiting Englishman carping about the lack of folksong in this country. This seems to me to base the book on an unnecessary and even false premise. Most Australians, I would have thought, are aware either consciously or subconsciously of a national body of folklore – it’s just that assiduous nationalists have hacked away the corpus by single-mindedly promoting the paraphernalia of the bush mythology: the pioneers, the bushrangers, the heroes and anti-heroes of sport and war.

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