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Gay Bilson

Gay Bilson

Gay Bilson was, for twenty-five years (1973–1998), a restaurateur and cook in Sydney. She has created and directed several events centred on food and community, often for the Adelaide Festival, and was an associate director under Peter Sellars for the 2002 festival, producing programs such as Nourish (feeding patients in a large public hospital) and The Edible Library. In 2004 she directed Eating the City, a large community project created by the Spanish food artist and psychologist Alicia Rios, for the City of Melbourne. As an extension of this project, she recorded oral histories with the communities who took part. She is the author of Plenty (2004) and On Digestion (2008).

Gay Bilson reviews ‘The Maestro’s Table: Food, talk and convivio’ by Judith Armstrong

August 2006, no. 283 01 August 2006
So here we are. A house in Dosson, a village ‘almost joined to’ Treviso, which in turn is not far at all from Venice. A casa aperta, an open house, one to which friends and colleagues of the owner, a well-regarded musician, are drawn, not only by their confidence that a simple permesso will ensure welcome but because the owner ‘believes implicitly in the civilising effects of hospitality’. ... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'A Big Life' by Jenny Kee (with Samantha Trenoweth)

December 2006–January 2007, no. 287 01 December 2006
What a big book it is! And so many photographs: only a few without Jenny Kee. The dust jacket is drop-dead gorgeous: just Jenny’s face, with the Revlon red of her trademark glasses and lips lifted to the title. But heavens, this isn’t a dust jacket but a jacket. Take it off. The lining is Jenny’s Monet Opal print, and there are French folds and more photos. Open the book, and here is Jenny ... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'Blood & Tinsel: A memoir' by Jim Sharman

October 2008, no. 305 01 October 2008
Jim Sharman and Rex Cramphorn (a future artistic director of Melbourne’s Playbox Theatre) first met at NIDA in the 1960s, and Sharman returned there as a tutor in the 1970s. He was then a ‘radical populist’, while Cramphorn was scholarly, mad about Racine and Corneille. But they agreed that theatre was a vocation, and shared a ‘crypto-mystical’ interest in the slippery relationship betwe ... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'The Red Highway' by Nicolas Rothwell

May 2009, no. 311 01 May 2009
Towards the close of the second section of The Red Highway, Nicolas Rothwell is driving across the Kimberley Plateau towards Wyndham with a hitchhiker, an Aboriginal girl. When she asks why he has come back, he tells her that while he was a reporter in the Middle East he heard stories about places in the Kimberley that reminded him of people he knew there and of how much he missed the country. He ... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'Of Sugar and Snow: The History of ice cream making' by Jeri Quinzio

November 2009, no. 316 01 November 2009
A remarkable ice cream made in 1991 included two thousand eggs, ninety litres of cream and fifty-five litres of milk. No one but Phillip Searle, Australia’s emperor of ice cream, would have set out to make Ball and Chain, a giant, medieval, spiked weapon which melted in the mouth. The spikes themselves were thirty-centimetre silver-leaf-tipped cones of vanilla ice cream and raspberry sorbet, and ... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'Trouble: Evolution of A Radical / Selected Writings 1970–2010' by Kate Jennings

June 2010, issue no. 322 01 June 2010
One day soon, instead of meekly thanking the Editor for another memoir, I’m going to scream. Not another damned life story, confession, self-exploration! I’m fed up, I’ll shout – fed up with women (because they always are) whose only way of writing about their times is to plonk themselves at the centre (which they are, in a literal sense) and to define everything through their own feminism ... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'Sydney: A biography' by Louis Nowra

January-February 2023, no. 450 28 December 2022
I recently learned (was it from Martin Amis?) that ‘pulchritude’ is a synonym for ‘beauty’. How can such an ugly word be associated with beauty? I feel the same way about ‘Sydney’, named by Governor Phillip for the British Secretary of State who had suggested an Australian colony. An ugly word that is the name of a beautiful topography, a geologically complex and weathered arrangement ... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'Autobiography of my Mother' by Meg Stewart

July–August 2007, no. 293 26 August 2022
If you didn’t read Meg Stewart’s gentle, courteous Autobiography of My Mother when it was first published in 1985, no matter. This second edition was precipitated by the research of others. ‘What My Mother Didn’t Tell Me’, the title of the additional chapter, is that Margaret Coen, Meg’s mother, had a long affair with Norman Lindsay in the 1930s. Lindsay was married, in his fifties; Ma ... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'The Grass Hotel' by Craig Sherborne

April 2022, no. 441 23 March 2022
In How Fiction Works (2008), James Wood examines how novelists write characters and allow us to sympathise with them. He refers to the philosopher Thomas Nagel’s now famous question, ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ Nagel reckoned we cannot know, can only imagine what it would be like to behave like a bat. We can’t know ‘what it is like for a bat to be a bat’. This is pertinent to Craig ... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'True to the Land: A history of food in Australia' by Paul van Reyk

December 2021, no. 438 24 November 2021
‘The past only comes into being from the vantage point of the future,’ the novelist Michelle de Kretser told an interviewer recently. History is written in a present that is inexorably moving forward, while historians explore as far back as their interests take them. All the while they are backstitching, a step forward, a half step back. Post hoc ergo propter hoc? Paul van Reyk begins his sto ... (read more)
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