Archive

The publishing world and other allied industries, namely the media and literary critics, tend to promote authors on a ‘star’ system. Especially women writers. They allow certain women to become ‘flavour of the month’. Recently, if you remember, it was Beverley Farmer, and then Kate Grenville. For a short period, every newspaper, magazine, or radio program with a literary bent featured them and their fiction. This treatment is reserved for fiction writers. Never is such sustained coverage given to that awesome creature, the ‘woman poet’.

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German Raiders of the South Seas by Robin Bromby & Royal Australian Navy 1942–1945 by G. Hermon Gill

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June 1986, no. 81

The history of Australia at war has tended to focus on the exploits of the Australian army to the neglect of the other two services. It is usually forgotten, for example, that the most famous of Australia’s military actions, that at Gallipoli, was part of a combined operation, in which the failure to land the troops at the designated spot virtually condemned the attack from the outset. In both world wars, command of the sea was the prerequisite for Australia’s military participation and for her own security. Far removed from the main theatres in World War I, Australian forces had to be transported thousands of miles by sea to the Middle East, Gallipoli and the western front. Allied sea power made that possible.

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Vale John Hanrahan. Dear reader, if you think you miss him, you should see how I feel. I tried to get a Sydney person to take over this column. I really did. He said no. (Actually, he laughed.) So for those Sydney people who complain that ABR suffers from rampant Melbocentrism (and as a native of Adelaide I am far from blind to the ravages of this local disease, myself), bear in mind that the number of Sydney writers who get asked to write for ABR is considerably greater than the number who actually do. In the meantime I shall do my best, faute de mieux, since neither rain nor hail nor sleet etc., and ABR’s monthly deadline waits for no person …

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Transgressions edited by Don Anderson & The Australian Short Story by Laurie Hergenhan

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May 1986, no. 80

I have a theory that every second Australian is a closet short story writer. And this is a conservative estimate. According to my theory, the so-called ‘booms’ in the history of the Australian short story in the 1890s and 1950s merely reflected fashions in the book and magazine publishing businesses, not the relentless scratching away in exercise books or thumping of battered typewriters which occupies the waking hours of the determined taleteller and which is, I am convinced, a more popular national pastime than dodging income tax. How else to explain the sheer volume of short stories being published? And these are but the tip of the iceberg – a mere fraction of those that have been and are being written.

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Leonard Mann’s account of his experiences in World War One, Flesh in Armour, has recently been reissued. It may be the case that there are certain experiences that are impossible to write about unless one has personally undergone them. The three great Australian classics of World War One – Flesh in Armour, The Middle Parts of Fortune and When the Blackbirds Sing – all convey an air of total verisimilitude when it comes to describing the conditions of battle. In comparison, even such gifted writers as David Malouf and Roger McDonald convey the impression of faking it when they come to write about war, no matter how much care they take or research they have done.

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Headlands by Bruce Beaver

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May 1986, no. 80

The jacket painting on Bruce Beaver’s highly wrought little book of prose poems is Lloyd Rees’ ‘The Coast near Klama’. It’s an elevated view of virgin green and dun coloured headland, the ochres rising through. Sea swirls into an oysterish bay. There is one distant figure looking down on another distant figure in a rock pool below. The sky, as with so many Rees skies, is egg-shelly yellow near the horizon, a glowing compliment to the taste we form and hold of earth.

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Books flow steadily from the northern to the southern hemisphere through the traditional conduits of empire. To get them to flow back the other way is difficult but it can be done. The real task though, it seems to me, is to overhaul the plumbing so that writing and writers can flourish, and that’s a long haul.

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The Amorous Cannibal by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

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May 1986, no. 80

As artists get older, they are supposed to mature, and commentators begin to look for the demarcations of their three periods, a nice bequest from Beethoven. One vitiating side effect of this is to misplace freshness in their art. Judging the vital middle period works, and bowing before the sublimity of the late, the critic bestows a nostalgic glance over his shoulder to the early output – ah, what freshness, what morning glory there! It may be true of Beethoven, but the experience of most of us lesser creatures is more often the opposite. We start a bit grey and elderly: only later, after much experience, do we throw off ponderousness, embrace wit and light-spiritedness and appear verdant for the public gaze. I hope Chris Wallace-Crabbe will not object to my including him in this (to me) honourable company: those who write, after thirty years on the job, with twice the élan they had at the beginning.

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Vernacular Dreams by Angelo Loukakis

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May 1986, no. 80
In ‘Partying on Parquet’, the story from Vernacular Dreams chosen by Don Anderson for inclusion in Transgressions, the hapless Steve attempts to hold a party for his HSC tutor Penny. The party is split into two small groups: Penny and her ‘uni friends’ Jan and Greg, and Marina and Pavlos, ‘dumb ethnics like himself whom he had met at Greek dancing class’. Naturally everything goes wrong, from the loudness of heels on the parquet floor to the botched lunge at Penny in the kitchen. But this is not just a simple story of humiliation. Steve is depicted at the end standing under the shower moving from resolutions (‘As for Greg and Jan, the only way he would ever be able to get on top of smart arses like them was to beat them at their own game,’) to what might be called ‘shower dreams’: ‘The steam had got so thick, he could hardly see a thing. He stared up at the ceiling. It was hanging there like a mist, a fog, with the light shining through; and it as his for as long as he wanted.’ ... (read more)

Now we are in the season of missed and mellow fruitfulness. The mellow fruitfulness belongs to the winners of literary awards and literary grants. The missed are those who are eternally short listed but never ascend the throne. Of course, some books shortlisted never have a chance of winning. They are put there for encouragement, minor recognition, sometimes tokenism.

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