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Australian Voices

For the past year I have been engaged in one of the activities that Robert Dessaix charges (ABR No. 129) are not only unnecessary but ‘harmful’ to the many writers briefly involved. I have been working as a Research Fellow at Deakin University with Sneja Gunew as the last in a line of bibliographers which has included Lolo Houbein and Alexandra Karakostas-Seda, updating and extending a bibliography of first and second generation Australian writers from non-English­speaking backgrounds. I have also been working on acquiring books by these writers to include in the collection of ‘Australian Literature’ at the Deakin University Library.

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Dear Editor,

The Fat Author Replies to Robert Dessaix:

The author does not embody Iiterary classification nor does she base her work on literary theory though literary criticism does inform her literary practice.

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In last month’s Telecom Australian Voices essay, Robert Dessaix discussed the ways in which multiculturalism divides up the Australian literary scene, concluding that “in a word, it’s time our multicultural professionals stopped marginalising multicultural writers”. The response of Sneja Gunew, who was quoted in that essay, is printed in its entirety here, along with other letters prompted by the essay.

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‘No,’ Ania Walwicz said at the Melbourne Festival when asked if she was an ethnic writer, ‘I’m a fat writer.’ We laughed and applauded.

The multicultural professionals, however, may not let her (or Tess Lyssiotis) off the hook so easily. I have in mind that small but eloquent band of people, usually from institutions, who actually have a vested interest in keeping constructs like Anglo-Celtic/non-Anglo-Celtic, English-speaking background/non-English-speaking background alive and functional.

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We are having a Sunday picnic. It is not a cosmopolitan affair, with pâté and brie and champagne, nor even a dinky-di one, with sausages and sauce and tinnies. Simply an impromptu, let’s-get-out-of-the­house event: a jar of peanut butter, a jar of honey, a tub of marge, half a loaf of Friday’s bread and a packet of jubes.

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Somewhere between seventy and eighty enthusiasts attended a conference at the University of Wollongong on 10–12 July to celebrate the work of Olga Masters, the award-winning novelist and short story writer who died in 1986. It was not the usual academic conference by anyone’s standards although, as might be expected, some academic papers were given. Interesting and provocative as these were, they were greatly overshadowed by the readings from Masters’s works by two of Olga’s daughters, Sue and Debra, a rehearsed play-reading by Wollongong’s professional theatre company, Theatre South, of Poor Man’s Castle published by Currency, and lively reminiscences of their mother by two of Olga’s sons, Roy and Chris.

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A founding figure in the Sociology Department at Flinders and now Professor at Macquarie, Bob Connell is almost certainly the most significant figure in sociology in Australia. If sociology has traditionally been a poor relation in our older universities to both politics and anthropology, its current claims to influence owe a considerable amount to the directions in which Connell has pushed it.

For Connell, sociology has always been a discipline that can contribute directly to the political project of establishing a more humane and equitable society, and his concerns have been largely around the major dimensions of inequality along lines of class and gender (racial and national divisions have been far less of a preoccupation, although he acknowledges their significance). His work has been heavily anchored in the Australian experience, though with a larger theoretical interest; in a submission to the C.R.A.S.T.E Committee he argued for encouraging original theoretical work in Australia rather than merely Australianising the empirical content of scholarship.

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The dominant note of Professor Kramer’s long-awaited James McAuley is control. The volume will no doubt be gratefully received by lovers and adversaries of McAuley’s literary achievement, for many reasons: it brings before a wider reading audience guile a few new poems published only in the little-circulated volume Time Given (1976). These poems can now receive their due and wider admiration. (Unfortunately, only thirteen of the thirty-one poems from Time Given have been reprinted here, in two different sections.) This volume also gives wider accessibility to some of McAuley’s scattered journalism and literary criticism. Fifteen essays have been selected, but I 1hink it a great pity that some of the essays referred to and discussed at some length in Kramer’s introduction do not appear in the text, especially the seminal and highly ambivalent ‘The Magian Heresy’. In a similar way Kramer mentions the importance of the poem ‘A Letter to John Dryden, but summarily dismisses it as ‘the rather strident satire’, and does not include it in the volume.

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John Bunting’s portrait of Robert Menzies is a book for fans. Beautifully produced, with a handsome cover, tartan endpapers, and a royal blue marker, it is an ideal gift for those who agree with Bunting’s judgement – that Menzies was ‘grand and magnificent, the best man of his time’. It will also please those who, though more reserved in their admiration than Bunting, remember Menzies with respect and admiration.

Bunting was a member of the Prime Minister’s Department for the last seven years of Menzies prime ministership, and a senior officer in that Department from the beginning of Menzies long post-war reign in 1949. He feels that Menzies suffered a bad press after his retirement and has often been misunderstood; as he can speak with the authority of experience he has taken up his pen to write of Menzies as he knew him.

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The World of Norman Lindsay edited by Lin Bloomfield & A Letter From Sydney edited by John Arnold

October 1983, no. 55

The World of Norman Lindsay is compiled by Lin Bloomfield, proprietor of the Bloomfield Galleries in Paddington, NSW, and an authority on Lindsay’s work. It was first published more expensively in 1979. This elegant paperback will make it widely accessible, which is a matter for satisfaction. It contains comprehensive, short, expert articles about Lindsay’s life and achievements as an artist and the reminiscences of Lindsay’s children, grandchildren, models, friends, and colleagues. Good illustrations, some in colour, cover every era of his works in all their variety, and the book also includes photographs of people and places.

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