Archive

Marcella Polain’s latest book of poems continues her lyrical exploration of personal experience. Her earlier collections centred on immigrant life, shadowed by a violent history, in the adopted context of the Western Australian wheat belt. In the new poems, which occupy more than one third of the current volume, the emotional terrain has thickened, and the range of experience has expanded to include midlife concerns of failing health, ageing parents and death. ‘So this is what life is,’ Polain writes, ‘nausea, vertigo, migraine, cramps.’ One poem describes the extra chores of helping her mother, and ends: ‘Last Sunday you couldn’t remember who I was or / what you wanted me to buy for you.’

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Late in November 1916, the German commerce raider Wolf, laden with 100 tonnes of mines, set out on a journey of 100,000 kilometres across three oceans. After the ship reached home, in February 1918, 442 days later, its guns and mines had destroyed more than twenty Allied vessels. Hundreds of their crews and passengers had been held captive. When the voyage of the Wolf began, German U-boats were sinking hundreds of thousands of tonnes of shipping each month. The belated adoption of the convoy system drastically reduced those losses, so that the Germans, rather than the British, suffered the worse privation in the last year of the Great War. In that time, Wolf was the only German surface warship not penned up by the British naval blockade.

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The Gooneratnes’ mountain bungalow, overlooking rippling tea plantations, is called Pemberley, after Mr Darcy’s mansion. A wall plaque commemorates Elizabeth Bennet’s description of it. In the style of a modern Jane Austen, Yasmine Gooneratne takes up the enduring and universal question of who will marry whom, as Vikram Seth did in his mega-novel A Suitable Boy (1994), and at similarly entertaining length. The topic is Bollywood’s favourite too, but before writing The Sweet and Simple Kind, Professor Gooneratne, a specialist in eighteenth-century fiction and poetry, had not seen the film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

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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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