Viking

There seems to be an ever-growing – I almost wrote market, but think I mean obsession – these days for the family history, the personal memoir, the parading of how I spent my childhood/adolescence/ protest years/personal and economic growth decades, before-finally-contributing-to-the-joy-of-past-and-future-generations-by-listing-my-achievements. Many of these are self-published. Kristin Williamson’s biography of her playwright husband is not, but perhaps should have been.

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When Malcom Fraser was prime minister, he was generally thought of as a hard and ruthless man of the right. In part this was because of the role he played in the removal of Gough Whitlam; in part because of his fiscal prudence; in part because of his orthodox Cold War foreign policy. Following his defeat in 1983, an alternative picture of Fraser gradually emerged. Under Labor, Australia embarked upon a program of economic rationalist reform. For his failure to anticipate this programme – to be wise or, as some would say, unwise before the event – Fraser was caricatured, especially by his former political friends, as a do-nothing prime minister. His time in office was ridiculed as Seven Wasted Years. After 1996 Fraser became one of the most influential critics of John Howard’s new brand of populist conservatism. The portrait of him was once more redrawn. The left saw him as a principled humanitarian; the right as an incorrigible Wet.

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Bob Ellis is the quintessential Labour groupie, and Goodbye Babylon the latest instalment in the saga of his love affair with the ALP, which began with The Things We Did Last Summer, a slim and evocative volume, published twenty years ago. By contrast, Goodbye Babylon is a fat book; rather like Ellis himself, it is sprawling, dishevelled, undisciplined but likeable, witty, and gregarious. His prose, though prone to excess, can be rich and compelling.

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There seem to be fewer post-election books doing the rounds after the 2019 federal campaign than has been the case in recent decades. Why is this? The 2019 campaign may have been achingly bland, but the result shocked pollsters, voters, and a news media that had long predicted a Labor win. Morrison’s ‘miracle’ victory is probably Australia’s most historically significant one since the last ‘unlosable’ election, back in 1993, when another cocksure opposition took its own ‘big target’ tax package to the people.

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Hazel Rowley reviews 'Fishing in the Styx' by Ruth Park

Hazel Rowley
Tuesday, 24 March 2020

I discovered Ruth Park’s Companion Guide to Sydney in a Sydney second-hand bookshop in 1980. Published in 1973, it was already out of print, probably because it evokes a Sydney that no longer existed. In the early 1970s, Park writes, ‘Sydney was beginning to pull itself to pieces, the air was full of fearful noise, the sky of dust … And the terrible sound of the rock pick tirelessly pecking away at Sydney’s sandstone foundations was over all.’

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Writing trans and gender-diverse lives

Yves Rees
Monday, 24 February 2020

Six years after the ‘transgender tipping point’ proclaimed by Time magazine in 2014, the trans and gender-diverse (TGD) community continues to surge into the spotlight. From Netflix and Neighbours to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (which named ‘they’ its 2019 word of the year), transgender experience is enjoying well-deserved recognition and representation. Visibility, however, is not without its problems. Internationally, growing awareness has triggered an anti-trans backlash, with the TGD community becoming a conservative scapegoat du jour. The United States is experiencing a spate of anti-trans violence, while ‘bathroom bills’ proliferate in red states. In Australia, the 2016 moral panic over Safe Schools was followed in 2019 by The Australian’s anti-trans campaign (with sixty-eight articles, ninety-two per cent of them negative, published in six months), as well as the transphobic fearmongering of TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) over Victoria’s birth certificate reforms – not to mention Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s attacks on ‘gender whisperers’.

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When the Australian government urged older workers to delay retirement, some observers saw this as ‘wedge’ politics. One ageing media personality joked about younger women refusing to have babies sufficient to care for him in his dotage. For electors, the falling birth rate may be a controversial economic issue, but for some couples, and especially women, decisions about procreation are not theoretical exercises but painful personal dilemmas.

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Susan Sontag has identified in contemporary fiction what she calls an ‘impatient, ardent and elliptical’ drive. These are features, above all, of the well-wrought story, and they are also adjectives that well describe its inherent paradox: the story is contained but somehow urgent, intensified but working in a system of concision, suggestive but employing referential exorbitance. Four pages might betoken an entire world.

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Gerald Murnane reviews 'Holden's Performance' by Murray Bail

Gerald Murnane
Friday, 20 December 2019

As I write these words, I have just read the first forty-five pages of Murray Bail’s novel. Those pages are mostly about the Shadbolt family of Adelaide.

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Terri-ann White reviews 'The Golden Dress' by Marion Halligan

Terri-ann White
Friday, 20 December 2019

Marion Halligan’s new novel has as its centrepiece, shiny and assertive, flagged by its title, a dress made with loving care but, nonetheless, improvised just so that the fabric will go far enough. A dress that Molly Pellerin wears to a party at the laundry where she works, an event that becomes a defining moment in her life, the dress a legacy, offering an image of Molly as dazzling, beautiful, and loved. The photograph sustains her memory, potently, permanently.

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