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Anthony Lynch reviews 'The Striped World' by Emma Jones

Anthony Lynch
Wednesday, 23 September 2020

It is fitting that ‘Waking’, a poem that links waking with birth, opens this inspired début collection from Emma Jones: ‘There was one morning // when my mother woke and felt a twitch / inside, like the shifting of curtains. // She woke and so did I.’ So the narrator-poet announces her arrival. The birthing theme continues in the next poem, ‘Farming’, in which pearls are ‘shucked from the heart of their grey mothers’. The same poem also foregrounds the poet’s interest in Ballard-like submerged worlds – oyster farms and shipwrecks, but also entire cities – and in the polarities of sky and sea. Indeed, this collection as a whole engages imaginatively with many dualisms: worldly/other worldly, internal/external, being/not being, self/other. Jones’s method is one of controlled playfulness, and despite many allusions to biblical themes and imagery, she avoids the didactic dualism of good/evil.

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Unsurprisingly, Australia leads the world in the production of close-grained studies of convicts sentenced to transportation. Since 1788, it’s what we do. Emma Christopher proves herself to be a crackerjack at tracking down just about anyone who ever stood before an eighteenth-century court. She reels off their crimes, social origins, associates, aliases, lovers, victims, favourite haunts and previous convictions like a bailiff of long experience. What is more, she appears to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of the alleys, lanes and bolt-holes of every city in the British Isles. So stupendous is her talent for conjuring up the atmosphere of the times that most readers will forgive her for too frequently slip ping into the archaic language of the documents she studies.

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How effective is a voice of reason in a climate of fear? In his introduction to this book, Professor Ian Lowe, president of the Australian Conservation Foundation and Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Griffith University says that he is ‘incorrigibly optimistic’ about the role of education in assisting us to make wise decisions about our future. Over the past twenty years, he has written twelve books, including A Big Fix: Radical solutions for Australia’s environmental crisis (2005) and Living in the Hothouse: How global warming affects Australia (2005), forty-five book chapters, more than thirty journal articles and six hundred columns for various publications. That work has been written for the general public, not just the scientific community.

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Dance is an ephemeral art. This is just one reason, among many, why Alan Brissenden and Keith Glennon’s beautifully designed and presented Australia Dances: Creating Australian Dance 1945–1965 is an important contribution to the light industry of dance historiography. Its eye-catching cover, with a Walter Stringer photograph of dancer William Harvey in a soaring leap above an Australian landscape, will attract bookshop browsers. A perusal of its contents will encourage purchase, as a special gift or for one’s personal library.

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Australian Literary Studies is a journal of the old school, independent of the international academic publishers that have absorbed so many others, and difficult to obtain for casual reading. It has maintained a solid reputation among scholars. From the evidence presented here, it is easy to see why.

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Even the name is confusing: think of it as Belgian Congo/Zaire/Congo DRC to avoid confusing it with the Republic of Congo/Congo Brazzaville across the river. Officially, the name is Democratic Republic of Congo – DRC – so you could roll out the usually accurate cliché that any country with ‘Democratic’ in the name definitely isn’t that. In fact, the DRC had an election a few years back which was reasonably democratic and certainly inspired an impressive voter rollout.

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On the shelves of Australia’s bookshops colonial history follows military history in popularity, though a distant second. While, say, Allen & Unwin has made brave efforts with a succession of books about the convict period – Hamish Maxwell-Stewart’s Closing Hell’s Gates (2008), Babette Smith’s Australia’s Birthstain (2008) or Grace Karskens’s The Colony (2009) – not one (not even Thomas Keneally with his Australians: Origins to Eureka, 2009) has sold as well as Robert Hughes’s The Fatal Shore (1987). Hughes spoiled the Bicentennial celebrations for a generation of scholars, piqued at such a sensational popular book, one that outsold their academic books combined.

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Rolling Column: The Role of the Critic

Brian Castro
Wednesday, 23 September 2020

The Australian literary scene has always been more depressing that it is lively, especially when critics and writers are quick to display their battle scars in public places where oftentimes the debate hardly rises above fawning or fighting. The walking wounded are encouraged to endure. This is about the only encouragement extant. I remember the Simpson episode, not O.J. but Bart, who arrived in Australia for a kick up the bum. Perhaps the emulation of Britain has reached such an unconscious proportion that no ground can be explored beyond the grid bounded by Grub Street and Fleet Street, where youngsters need to be caned for reasons more prurient than wise, and where small ponds become the breeding pools for goldfish pretending to be piranhas dishing up more of the same stew. Thus, British writing, apart from its internationalists, hath come to this sad pass. Or where, given the brashness of being itself a young nation unused to finesse, Australia’s grand ideals end up as populist opinion – a talkback republic of letters irrelevant to its real enemies.

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'Diary' by Patricia Harewood

Patricia Harewood
Wednesday, 23 September 2020

It’s funny about Australia and me. For the first thirty years of my life, I longed to get out of it, and now I can never wait to come back! I have lived in England for forty-two years. I have a marvellous marriage, an English son, three English stepsons, fourteen English grandchildren, and a host of devoted English friends. I love England, the countryside and the changing seasons, from the film of green announcing spring to the glory of autumn and the magic of seeing the bones of the landscape through bare trees in winter. The sound of English birds thrills me. Were I banished, the recollection of the ‘chukka-chukka’ of pheasants (all right, I know they were originally Chinese!) going up to roost would reduce me to tears.

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Festival Days: Mildura Writers’ Festival 2001

Paul Kane
Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Coming upon the fertile fields of Mildura after miles of dry Mallee shrub you have the sense of entering an oasis. For a writer, arriving at the Mildura Festival elicits a similar response: here, at last, is a place to be refreshed and fed, metaphorically and literally. It is a friendly and delicious affair, where writers are fêted because their work is valued and where enjoyment seems raised to a fine art. If ever writing was thought to be food for the mind, then here food for the body is regarded as spiritual nourishment as well.

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