Archive

Sir Maurice Bowra, renowned as the most lively and learned don in Britain, if not in all Europe, reigned supreme as Warden of Wadham College Oxford for more than three decades until his retirement in 1970. This long-expected biography, diligently researched for many years by the late Michael Davie, London-based author, journalist, and former editor of the Melbourne Age, has now been expertly completed by Oxford historian Leslie Mitchell, who writes with the ease and authority of a biographer thoroughly acquainted with his subject and the College over which he long presided: though not, perhaps, with the sharply quizzical eye that Davie, working outside that golden circle, might have trained on both.

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The physiotherapist I saw for a pinched nerve in my back not long ago turned out to be an avid reader of fiction. She would work her way through the Booker shortlist each year. But she wouldn’t read Australian novels. As she pummelled my knotted flesh, I wondered if this was the right moment to admit that I was a person who wrote such things. She explained that, having moved to Australia from South Korea as a twelve-year-old, she had been made to write essays at school about a book called A Fortunate Life that she found as painful as I was finding her pressure on my spine.

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The reissue in one volume of three of Ruth Park’s much-loved novels The Harp in the South (1948), its sequel Poor Man’s Orange (1949), and the prequel Missus (1985) is welcome. The trilogy completes the family saga, taking the Darcy family from its emigrant beginnings in the dusty little outback towns where Hughie and Margaret meet and marry, to their life in the urban jungle of Surry Hills, then for-ward to the 1950s when the next generation prepares to leave the slums for the imagined freedom of the bush. These are Australian classics, but classics of the vernacular, of the ordinary people. They should never be allowed to disappear from public consciousness.

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Up from the Mission is a powerhouse of a book. One would expect no less from Noel Pearson. This collection of thirty-eight essays combines to provide multiple overarching narratives: Pearson’s personal trajectory from the mission on Cape York, where he grew up; his intellectual development; and his political efforts at regional and national levels to redevelop Cape York communities and to influence the nation. The writings date from 1987 to 2009, from his first essay as a radical graduate student to his latest pronouncements.

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Why do you write?

It’s an excuse to hang around books, which is all I’ve done, one way or another, over the course of my career.

Are you a vivid dre ...

Delights and jolts

Dear Editor,

ABR is always engaging, even when one disagrees with the thrust or standpoint of particular reviews, but surely the May issue is the most brilliant ever. An edition which has a poet (Peter Rose) reviewing David Malouf’s new novel, Brian Matthews on Henry Lawson, Elizabeth Webby on Xavier Herbert, and Robert Phiddian on Penny Gay’s monograph about Shakespearean comedies, has to be special, thoroughly deserving of the endorsements of literary luminaries with which ABR has promoted itself over the years. In fact, a writer who, as Dr Phiddian did, can use the phrase ‘industrial-strength literary-criticism’ in his first paragraph and one of my favourite words, ‘rebarbative’, in his second, has my unremitting admiration. And I haven’t yet mentioned the appearance of John Burnheim and Ian Britain on the Letters page.

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Ideal climate for writing

Climate change poses undoubted challenges for science – and society – but what exactly does the phenomenon mean for Australian cultural life? The University of Melbourne’s inaugural Festival of Ideas, June 15–20, investigates the question, with a program featuring scientists, environmentalists, archi ...

'It’s in your hands, Julianne,’ proclaims an e-mail from Barack Obama. So opens the latest Griffith Review, which explores the many ways that, across the globe, individuals and groups are taking social, political and environmental matters into their own hands. Addressee aside, the Obama e-mail sent to editor Schultz in the final week of the US election campaign landed in the virtual hands of millions. But as Schultz notes, the Obama campaign saw ‘social networking’ on a massive scale, made millions feel involved and, she posits, saw a concomitant end to the ‘era of mass media politics’. Marian Arkin’s memoir picks up on campaign engagement, recalling her involvement with a large-scale community of volunteer lawyers working to protect the integrity of the US election process. Arkin’s article provides a useful guide to those who find the US electoral college system a mystery.

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Our fascination with Gallipoli is probably at a peak. Like other symbolic events, it rises, falls and rises again in public esteem and curiosity. In the last quarter of a century, beginning when Anzac Day was at a low ebb, books and documentaries about Gallipoli have flooded bookshops and television stations. This new book by Professor Robin Prior, a specialist Australian historian of World War I, argues that the flood tide has almost drowned us in myths. The subtitle of his book is ‘The End of the Myth’. It is doubtful whether one able historian can terminate the myths, but this is a brave attempt.

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The key theme of HEAT 19 is death. In 224 pages, a collection of Australian writers and academics pay homage to the departed in a range of essays, poems and short stories. The journal opens with Judith Beveridge’s moving and personal tribute to the poet Dorothy Porter. According to Beveridge, ‘Dot’ (as she was known to her friends) was a ‘consummate professional and her public performances were unfailingly polished’. However, Porter ‘also had a very fragile side, vulnerable to the pain of exclusion and rejection’. The title of Beveridge’s piece is ‘Trapper’s Way’, which is the name for a strip of land in the New South Wales suburb of Avalon where Beveridge once lived with Porter.

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