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Craig Sherborne

There is no God, I was made in this man’s image:

those slate-dark eyes of his are mine,

the dented bridge of our his-my nose.

I laugh with his rasping cackle in me.

I walk with his stooping, trudging gait,

swearing his ‘Jesus bloody Christ’

in a sudden fist-curl of temper.

My right ear points like a flesh-antenna as his does,

and being my father I bear his name.

Haphazardries of kin passed on from birth

that to see him wizened on his cancer bed,

his insides turned to water,

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A laughing man, according to Flaubert, is stronger than a suffering one. But as Craig Sherborne’s extraordinary new memoir of childhood and youth shows, the distinction isn’t that simple. There is much to laugh at in Hoi Polloi, but this is also a book suffused with pain and suffering ... 

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To celebrate the best books of 2004 Australian Book Review invited contributors to nominate their favourite titles. Contributors included Dennis Altman, Brenda Niall, Kerryn Goldsworthy, Morag Fraser and Chris Wallace-Crabbe.

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A stable of silver
was our sacred skite.
It’s the poor in us
my father said; we are ill
with going without
even when we gain
a stable of silver.
‘Bring the guests this way, son.’
That’s Oreka from his Hotham
rout. That’s Ima Martian from
leading all the way.
Sliding the glass, the mirror skins
of trophies warped us round.
Decanters and their goblets of young
buckled the face of a bender-down.
Trays and teapots like models
for a meal, never used,
hardly touched except by my mother
when champagne washed the plum
from her mouth and improved her swearing.
China was not a country,
it was a cup and saucer place
in there at arm’s length from the world,
her arm’s length, turning over a dish
to show her Wedgwood or Doulton tattoos.

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Franca by Franca Arena & Speaking for Myself Again by Cheryl Kernot

September 2002, no. 244

If Cheryl Kernot writes another book – and if Speaking for Myself Again is anything to go by, you had better hope she doesn’t – her publishers should at the very least make sure the punctuation police do their job. It appears they didn’t even show up to the scene of the accident this time. Exclamation marks are strewn throughout the work. Each time Kernot wants to bitterly labour a point, up pops an exclamation mark, as if she’s hitting the keyboard and cursing, ‘Take that you bastards’. Thus we get: ‘And some people can be so rude!’; ‘Women have sustained me!’; ‘I could write a whole book on my experiences with the media. Perhaps I will!’; and ‘Opinion rules!’ In a teen diary, that’s fine, but not in a book by a former senior federal parliamentarian.

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Clive James is a fussy A-grade mechanic of the English language, always on the lookout for grammatical misfires or sloppiness of phrasing that escape detection on publishing production lines. Us/we crashtest dummies of the written word, who drive by computer, with squiggly red and green underlinings ...

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Dawn Fraser had a hundred or so pages of fair prose in her and she put them in this book, her autobiography. The trouble is that the book is 400 pages long. But that’s not a bad result. If a David Malouf or Helen Garner lined up for an Olympic swimming final, you’d expect them to sink.

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The only organised crime boss I ever knew was Perce Galea, in the mid1970s. He owned illegal casinos and raced thoroughbreds. ‘Colourful racing identity’, the polite broadsheets called him. My dad raced horses too and would go to Randwick at dawn to watch them work. I’d tag along on Saturdays and there Perce would be – Windsor-knotted tie, brown cashmere long-coat, and porkpie hat – straight from his gambling dens without having gone to bed. That impressed me. Every second word he used was ‘fuck’, and no one stopped him. That impressed me too. ‘He never swears in front of women,’ my mother would say. She called him a ‘thorough gentleman’. I liked standing next to him. I told everyone at school that I knew a crime boss. Perce told me to ‘piss off’ with a wink once, so he could talk business. When I didn’t, he gave me $5 and said ‘Scram’. You must have heard of Perce. He’s famous for having thrown a fistful of bills into the crowd when his horse Eskimo Prince won the Golden Slipper in 1964. He was a natural PR man for the vice trade.

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