Archive

Being out of print is like moving back in with your parents – it’s not usually a sign that things are on the up. But fortune’s wheel turns with scant regard for merit or effort, so it must be a relief for writers when their publishers decide to ‘celebrate their continuing contribution to Australian literature’ with a re-release of their back catalogue.

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This fine first novel by a thirty-six-year-old Tasmanian woman was first published in 1984, but to the best of my knowledge has received only one review. Certainly, ABR missed it, and I would not have read it had it not been entered in the Vance and Nettie Palmer Victorian State Government awards for fiction. Had I been able to persuade my fellow judges of its merit, it would certainly have made the shortlist. Lohrey’s talent as a writer has finally been acknowledged in the latest issue of Scripsi, which prints an extract from the novel she is currently working on, as well as a substantial and thoughtful review by Anne Diamond.

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Self Portrait

Jenny Lee
Monday, 14 September 2020

Not being of an introspective temperament, nor an accomplished portraitist, I find it easier to talk about my milieu than myself. I spent my childhood in northern New South Wales. My mother’s people had come to farm in the district around the tum of the century, and most of her family had married, lived and died there. Though my father was a newcomer from the coast, he too had relatives in the town. For some years my younger brother and I were the babies of the kin group.

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Cheryl Jorgensen reviews 'Equator' by Wayne Ashton

Cheryl Jorgensen
Monday, 14 September 2020

Equator, a rambunctious, unwieldy novel, begins in a Spanish orphanage with an elderly watchdog, Pinski. According to the narrator, who is addressing a large orange butterfly, Pinski has succumbed to the heat of the day and cannot be bothered protecting his human charges. The human characters – and therefore, by association, those who are reading his story – are called ‘the custodians of the nectar’. This rather beautiful metaphor is used many times in Equator, as are dialogues, which become incantations about good and evil.

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Gambling was and is an economically and culturally important activity in many urban African American communities, and ‘numbers’ was from the mid-1920s a ‘full-blown craze’ in Harlem. It was a complicated method of gambling on a set of three numbers generated by an apparently incorruptible process. The numbers, posted each day by the New York Clearing House, a financial institution just a couple of blocks from Wall Street, related to arcane matters such as daily clearances between banks and the state of the Federal Reserve, but they were eagerly awaited, published in news-papers and deployed for quite different purposes. Numbers ‘bankers’ roamed the streets collecting small ‘investments’ from customers who then collected a return if their three numbers came up. Regular small bets from large numbers of people generated a lot of money, and successful numbers operators became rich. Numbers had a turnover in the tens of millions of dollars a year in Harlem and, remarkably, became the enterprise ‘with the largest number of employees and the highest turnover’ in that legendary part of the city.

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In a 1995 interview for the Paris Review, Ted Hughes was asked if the 1960s boom in translated poetry in the United Kingdom, particularly with series such as the Penguin Modern European Poets, had had an effect on poetry written in English. ‘Has it modified the British tradition!’ he replied. ‘Everything is now completely open, every approach, with infinite possibilities. Obviously the British tradition still exists as a staple of certain historically hard-earned qualities if anybody is still there who knows how to inherit them. Raleigh’s qualities haven’t become irrelevant. When I read Primo Levi’s verse I am reminded of Raleigh. But for young British poets, it’s no longer the only tradition, no longer a tradition closed in on itself and defensive.’

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Sharyn Killens is no stranger to the spotlight. After a long career as an entertainer, she is used to appearing in make-up and gown, pouring out a song. She is also a veteran of interviews and media stories, with a different song: that of her own extraordinary life. In The Inconvenient Child, written with her friend Lindsay Lewis, Killens (known on the stage as Sharyn Crystal) relates a wrenching and finally satisfying story of abject misery and triumphant emotion. In the paradigm of classic Australian memoir, her tale needs no bells and whistles to ring true. It is a transfixing performance.

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Edward Sugden was the first master of Melbourne University’s Queen’s College, a position he held for forty years. One needs to provide this identification, because although in his day Sugden was regarded as one of Melbourne’s best-known citizens, his is one of those names that has dropped from view. Along with his contemporaries Alexander Leeper of Trinity College and John MacFarland of Ormond, he contributed to what Wilfrid Prest calls ‘the golden age’ of Melbourne University’s colleges.

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Smithy is a retired shearer turned vineyard worker. His days are spent among the vines, where minutiae become conversational talking points and the lives of others are dissected with dogged patience. Smithy, a recovering alcoholic, still haunts the bars he used to call home, but no longer drinks in them. As a consequence, memories are resurfacing: a past up north, his wife Florrie, and days when his son still regarded him as his father. Charlotte also lives in the town. She shares a common bond with Smithy, following the events of a particular night. Fearing the emotion of that night and without alcohol to numb his fears, Smithy decides to seek redemption in the only way he knows.

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The pretext of this book is as simple as it is delightful. In 1982, at the ripe old age of nineteen, Sandy Mackinnon found himself on the windswept island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. Iona is one of those places, familiar in the world of spiritual tourism, that is layered in irony. In ancient times it became home to a community of monks, most notably St Columba, for the simple reason that nobody in his right mind would follow them there. Now, of course, it is a popular destination for those who value more than their right minds. Iona, like Santiago de Compostella, has a small but cogent literature of its own. It weaves a spell. There is very little to buy there. It creates debt in other ways.

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