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Review

In August 1943, John F. Kennedy, then aged twenty-six, was rescued from the threat of Japanese captivity – or worse – by a few brave Solomon Islanders, in an operation coordinated by the Australian naval officer Reg Evans. Evans was one of the Royal Australian Navy’s ‘Coastwatchers’, intelligence collectors based perilously behind Japanese lines.

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Judith Clarke’s new novel for young adults, The Winds of Heaven, is a moving story about the strength and difficulty of friendship, and how accidents of birth, family and situation can combine to overwhelm the brightest spirit.

On her first trip to Lake Conapaira in 1952, ten-year-old Clementine meets her cousin Fan for the first time. Fan is a whirlwind: beautiful, impulsive and imaginative. Clementine is entranced by Fan’s strength and liveliness, and the two girls quickly become friends. But Fan’s childhood is a world away from Clementine’s cautious but loving family home. Stranded with her violent mother amid the prejudices of a country town, the beautiful Fan is labelled ‘stupid’ at school, and regularly beaten and emotionally abused by her depressive mother. Her sister has left home, and her father disappeared long ago. Fan fights for happiness, and fights hard. She has her miyan, or spiritual guardian, an elderly Aborigine who lives in the bush and tells her stories. He calls her Yirigaa, ‘Morning Star’, and is the only positive adult influence in her life. Clementine wants to stay with Fan, but the holiday draws to an end and she must return home, leaving Fan with her mother in the house that smelled of ‘anger and hatred and disappointment and jagged little fears’.

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Geoffrey Blainey is seventy-three years old and has published thirty-two books. Since his last book was a history of the world, one might have assumed that he had reached the end of his career. But he is not done yet. He moves, as he has always done, from grand speculation to what might be thought trifles – in this case, the details of everyday life in Australia from the 1850s to 1914.

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The Byron Journals is organised into short, eventful chapters detailing several months in the life of Andrew, its protagonist. Andrew sets out from Adelaide on a schoolies’ trip, hoping to escape the weight of expectation and the fallout from his parents’ personal and professional lives. In Byron Bay he joins a group of street musicians. His prolonged holiday becomes a lost summer of drugs (consumed, cultivated and sold), alcohol, sex and music. Andrew is drawn into intense relationships with the members of the group, particularly with the captivating Heidi, who has herself come to Byron to escape a troubled past.

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Those familiar with the previous titles in Garth Nix’s The Keys to the Kingdom series will be expecting another carefully structured, action-filled adventure. They would be half right. In the seventh and final instalment, Lord Sunday, Nix has abandoned his familiar formula. The elements are all there – the seventh key, the seventh Trustee, the seventh fragment of the Will – but the meticulous structure that has been the benchmark of the series is replaced with a mad dash to the ultimate conclusion. As a result, this book reads like a finale to the interrupted climax of book six, Superior Saturday (2008). This lends the narrative a frenetic energy that mirrors the plot, as the ever-encroaching Nothing grows closer to overwhelming the House, the Universe and Everything, while the ‘real world’ (which fans will understand isn’t really the ‘real’ world but only Arthur and Leaf’s version of it) descends into further chaos as a result.

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Kally Palamas is an Australian of Greek descent; a trained and published philosopher barely coping with a personal tragedy in the man-made caves of Cooper Pedy. Estranged from her lover and living a solipsistic life, her world is disrupted when she travels to Greece to deal with the ceremony of her father’s death.

Her father, Akindynos Palamas, had been one of the many Greek migrants to travel to Australia in search of freedom and fortune. However, after achieving success in his adopted land he succumbed to the lure of the myths of his old country while his family continued their lives in Australia.

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Now by Morris Gleitzman & Where There’s Smoke by John Heffernan

by
June 2010, issue no. 322

Now eighty, Felix, whom we met in two previous novels by Morris Gleitzman, is living in hot dry country Australia. In Once (2005), little Felix escaped from a convent, desperate to find his parents, not understanding that they had left him there in an effort to protect him. In Then (2005), he was ten. After jumping from a train bound for a concentration camp, he struggled to hide himself and six-year-old Zelda, who was not even Jewish, from the Nazis in Poland.

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Apples with Human Skin is a collection of taut but detached poems. Well crafted, with superb use of diction coupled with tight and inventive forms, the poems remain, however, unrelated to anything in modern-day usage or consciousness. There is a coolness to the writing which can become relentless. Imagery and line structure are evocative and precise, and Shepherdson successfully invents a minimalist syntax in each of the longer chaptered poems. There are also shards of social comment hidden amongst the granite-like structures.

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A remarkable ice cream made in 1991 included two thousand eggs, ninety litres of cream and fifty-five litres of milk. No one but Phillip Searle, Australia’s emperor of ice cream, would have set out to make Ball and Chain, a giant, medieval, spiked weapon which melted in the mouth. The spikes themselves were thirty-centimetre silver-leaf-tipped cones of vanilla ice cream and raspberry sorbet, and these were broken from the enormous ball, which had been sculpted around a heavy iron frame. This included long handles so that the servers, naked but smeared with clay, might carry the weapon through the centre of a rectangle of some 180 diners towards the performance of Music for Ball and Chain, composed by Tony Buck and commissioned by Searle. The musical instruments were indeed a ball and chain.

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Piano lessons have been a source of joy or frustration for generations of Australians. By the early twentieth century, there was a piano for every three or four Australians. Skill at the pianoforte was an accomplishment that bourgeois parents desired for their children, especially daughters.

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