Archive

This is a splendid book, by far the most important of the recent OUP contributions to the study of Australian literature. Everything that you ever wanted to know about Australian Literature. Comprehensive (amazingly), consistently lively, up to date, as far as I can judge, accurate.

I have played the usual reviewers’ game for a book like this – trying to ...

Influence spotting is one of the major preoccupations of traditional art history. Important and necessary though the practice may be, I sometimes suspect that it is employed to keep art history the preserve of the specialist and to deny access to the general reader. How refreshing, then, to be confronted with a scholarly Australian art history book that explores the artists’ subject matter and its local context rather than the derivation of the artists’ styles.

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Some years ago a perky little tune used to introduce Jong Amis’s programme, Talking About Music. Stravinsky, I thought, listening to the cupped trumpets. But no, the BBC had chosen a piece, by our very own Percy Grainger. Surprise number two occurred when it was announced a few years later that Benjamin Britten himself was conducting an all-Grainger programme in London’s Festival Hall. Could this be the same Percy Grainger, he of the museum built like a public lavatory, said to contain photographs of all the great composers specially endowed with Nordic blue eyes? It was. Never was the point more forcefully made than when Philip Jones, performing with his Brass Ensemble in Melbourne in 1982, stepped forward on the platform of the Concert Hall to ask, with an English solicitude for the proprieties, for permission to play a piece by Grainger to honour the centenary day of the composer’s birth. The audience was a little puzzled.

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Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'Underground' by Andrew McGahan

Kerryn Goldsworthy
Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Several years ago, on two separate occasions, Drusilla Modjeska and David Marr called for Australian fiction writers to address directly the state of the country in its post-9/11 incarnation. ‘I have a simple plea to make,’ said Marr in the Redfern Town Hall in March 2003, delivering the annual Colin Simpson Lecture: ‘that writers start focusing on what is happening in this country, looking Australia in the face, not flinching … So few Australian novels – now I take my life in my hands – address in worldly, adult ways the country and the time in which we live. It’s no good ceding that territory to people like me – to journalists. That’s not good enough.’

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Anna Goldsworthy reviews 'The Student Chronicles' by Alice Garner

Anna Goldsworthy
Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Despite its rather grandiose title, Alice Garner’s The Student Chronicles is a friendly, unpretentious book. It is a coming-of-age story, set mostly in libraries – an anti-Monkey Grip, or a love letter to geekdom. The only sex happens behind closed doors; the real romance is with the library. ‘I loved the Baillieu Library so much I wrote a really bad poem about it,’ Garner confesses, with characteristic self-deprecation. Occasionally, she takes her reader by the hand – like a less precious Alain de Botton – and guides them towards the classics. Thus she introduces Montaigne, a partial model for this book, as a writer of ‘disarming modesty and honesty’, two qualities that the author herself possesses.

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Brendan Sargeant reviews 'In A Critical Condition' by John Docker

Brendan Sargeant
Wednesday, 19 August 2020

John Docker has written an entertaining if uneven book on the history and politics of literary criticism in Australia. The subtitle of the book, ‘Struggles for control of Australian literature-then and now!’ along with the Pop Art cover, gives an indication of his combative and slightly melodramatic approach. The book is, however, extremely important and something of a landmark. It presents a broad overview of the institution of literary criticism and its teaching in Australia, especially during the 1950s and 1960s. It discusses the political implications of various critical methods, and draws attention to some of the wider social and political ramifications of what occurs in the English departments of tertiary institutions. There is also discussion of the work of individual writers such as Katharine Susannah Prichard and James McAuley. As Humphrey McQueen writes in the foreword to the book, ‘His work also deserves the attention of people whose first area of interest is not literary criticism, for example, anthropologists, historians and political scientists.’

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The novelist’s art is wide ranging; he is concerned with a multitude of things that comprise the fabric of his book. The short story writer, however, is concerned with one thing that implies many, since singularity and intensity are the essence of his art. The best short story writers depend on a marked personal attitude and this is the distinguishing characteristic of David Martin’s second collection of stories whose common denominator is his compassionate understanding of the problems of New Australians.

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Reminiscences of a Friend

R.G. Geering
Wednesday, 19 August 2020

A few Australian poems from J.J. Stable’s Anthology, A Bond of Poetry (‘The Man from Snowy River’, ‘Clancy of the Overflow’, ‘My Country’), Robbery Under Arms and For the Term of His Natural Life are, to my shame, practically all the Australian literature I can remember reading in my school days. My interest in Australian writers was stirred, really, by two events while an undergraduate at Sydney University. The first was two lectures given by H.M. Green, Fisher Librarian, on Christopher Brennan (an interest reinforced by the first performance at the State Conservatorium of Music in November 1940 of Five Songs – poems of Brennan set to music by Horace Keats). The second was a passing reference by Ian Maxwell in a splendid set of lectures in 1939 on three modem satirists (Butler, Shaw, Huxley) to Christina Stead’s House of All Nations. Maxwell was certainly up to date in his reading, as Christina Stead’s fiction was not at that time widely known in Australia and House of All Nations had been published only the year before. These two events made me realize that Australian writers were part of that great world of English literature which were studied at universities.

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‘“No good dad,” he used to remark hopelessly, “people’ll say that you were dragged up.”’ In this way, Furphy records his son’s response to Such is Life. Furphy, in his own review of his own novel expressed a different view. ‘There is interest, if not relevancy in every sentence ... beyond all other Australian writers. Tom Collins is a master of idiom ... Originality is a characteristic of Such is Life ...’ However much he had his tongue in his cheek, Dad was of course right, as a rereading of the novel in John Barnes’s Portable Furphy will prove. The novel is ‘a classic’ as Stephens recognised, even if he did throw in his each-way bet of, ‘or a semi-classic’. Barnes has included all of Such is Life (in a photo facsimile of the original edition, which does make one long for larger type and more spacious layout, but makes possible an interesting collection of Furphy’s other writings in a comparatively small volume).

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Peggy Holroyde reviews 'Gods and Politicians' by Bruce Grant

Peggy Holroyde
Wednesday, 19 August 2020

At a time when one is reading of Cabinet decisions to cut many of the remaining constitutional links with Britain (Premiers’ Conference, June), thus moving Australia closer to national sovereignty, it is timely to be reminded of events only just over the contemporary horizon which could be said to have matured this nation into quickening the pace towards that independence of British dominion – no matter how tenuous politically, yet still incipiently present in the Statute Books and by Privy Council.

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