Archive

Yoogum Yoogum by Lionel George Fogarty

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February–March 1983, no. 48

Yoogum Yoogum is the second collection of verse by a young Queensland Aboriginal whose earlier volume, Kargun, did not get a great deal of attention when it was published in 1980. Fogarty’s themes are ones increasingly heard in contemporary Australian writing: the historical dispossession of the Aboriginals, the present decay and demoralisation of Aboriginal society, white greed and exploitation, the primacy and potential of the land as a key to fulfilled life, the plight of (Aboriginal) women, the pathetic dispossession of Aboriginal children, solidarity in the cause of redressing the wrongs to Aboriginals, the fundamentally positive values of Aboriginal society, the possibilities for solidarity with other groups in the struggle for social justice.

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I first met Fabinyi in November, 1963 – he had offered me an editorial job sight-unseen at F.W. Cheshire while I was living in London. On my first day in the basement in Little Collins Street, Melbourne, I shook hands formally with a handsome, greying man in his early fifties with a slight stoop and a thick European accent. Within a week or two of my arrival, my new acquaintances warned me about him: he was ambitious, and he was circuitous. Then followed the tired, old (and to me, offensive) joke about the Hungarian in the revolving door. I shall comment on these accusations later.

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Thomas Keneally excels in stories of guilt. Schindler’s Ark joins Bring Larks and Heroes and The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith as his best work so far. Organised and complacent cruelty to convicts, to blacks, to Jews grabs Keneally’s imagination to produce his most powerful novels. On one level, Schindler’s Ark is the story of a man who played the system to ensure the survival of his Jewish factory workers. On another level, it is their story, a compelling narrative of suffering and the will to survive. Fifty years after Hitler’s vaguely democratic marching to power, Keneally compels us to believe in the reality of the Holocaust. He writes of death, separation, and survival with the matter-of-fact authority of Kevin Heinz telling us how to mulch our petunias in a time of drought.

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Returning to live in Queensland seems to have done something to Thea Astley’s perception of Australian country life. In this novel, as well as in her previous one, A Kindness Cup, she gives as appalling and scathing a vision of life in rural Australia as has come from any novelist since Barbara Baynton. Although her prose is as bitingly astringent as ever in this book, it lacks the sardonic humour of her recent collection of short stories Hunting the Wild Pineapple. The pessimism and anger are almost unrelieved.

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Archipelagoes by Peter Goldsworthy & The Harlots Enter First by Gerard Windsor

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February–March 1983, no. 48

It is comparatively rare for a new writer to bring out his first two collections in the one year, and even more rare that one should be a collection of verse and the other of short stories. Yet this is exactly what Peter Goldsworthy has done. His name will be unfamiliar to many, but those who regularly read literary magazines will have come across his stories and poems before and he will undoubtedly be heard of again.

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The Most Beautiful World is somewhat of a conundrum at first look. I spent a long time trying to penetrate the surface of this latest book of poetry by Rodney Hall. I had just been reading his exciting, original, and well-sustained novel Just Relations, I guess I was looking for the same excitement here. It didn’t arrive on schedule.

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Most of the poetry books reviewed come out in issues of less than one thousand, most of them well below five hundred. This must make Australia’s census of avid poetry readers no more than five thousand, or .002%. It is not surprising, then, that most published Australian poetry revolves around the process of writing for the poet’s poetic friends. This creates a very élitist form of communication and promises to do nothing to encourage more Australians to read poetry, because often the poetry written has nothing to do with the lives or interests of 99.998% of this country’s population.

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Do you know the meaning of (or do you use?) ‘white leghorn day’, ‘five finger discount’, ‘beating the gun with an APC’? When a woman ‘chucks a bridge’ what is she doing? Have you come across ‘scarce as rocking-horse shit’, or ‘easy as pee-the-bed-awake’ or ‘tight as a fish’s bum and that’s watertight’ or ‘The streets are full of sailors and not a whore in the house has been washed’? These expressions and plenty more are discussed in Nancy Keesing’s Lily on the Dustbin. Slang of Australian women and families.

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‘Magazines and newspapers in Australian literature’ is a more troublesome subject than it may at first sight appear. Within its scope lurk issues and problems that preoccupy and sometimes bedevil much Australian literary criticism and cultural commentary. Indeed, the method and content of this book provide a helpful approach to those perennial issues.

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In this volume, a valued literary companion of long standing has been stripped of two-thirds of its substance, all of its footnotes and bibliography, even acknowledgments; and the remnant, daubed with illustrations, comes out dressed for a different marketplace.

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