Melbourne University Press

Continent of Mystery, subtitled ‘A thematic history of Australian crime fiction’ is, in the most simplistic terms, a daunting and inspiring book. My Australian crime fiction, mystery and detective fiction magazine, Mean Streets, was launched by Knight towards the end of 1990, not long before his move to the United Kingdom. For better or worse upon Knight’s departure I assumed, or at least so I was told, the mantle of Australia’s expert on crime fiction. I always perceived that observation as a compliment but having read Continent of Mystery with a sense of awe I can only say that I’m not sure I’m even fit to sit at Knight’s feet when it comes to local fiction with criminality at its core.

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The collective dislocation that followed the advent of Covid-19 generated (and continues to generate) a slew of books intended to make sense of the turmoil. Encompassing Slavoj Žižek’s anti-capitalist treatise Pandemic! (2020) and books for children such as Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar’s While We Can’t Hug (2020), the responses have ranged from considered attempts to apprehend the pandemic’s scientific, political, and social parameters to those designed to do little more than catch the Covid wave before it passes. Regrettably, Peter Doherty’s An Insider’s Plague Year tends more towards the latter.

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For anyone who has spent substantial time recording Aboriginal cultural traditions in remote areas of Australia with its most senior living knowledge holders, bestselling writer Bruce Pascoe’s view that Aboriginal people were agriculturalists has never rung true. Farmers or Hunter-gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate – co-authored by veteran Australian anthropologist Peter Sutton and archaeologist Keryn Walshe – has already been welcomed by Aboriginal academics Hannah McGlade and Victoria Grieve-Williams, who reject Dark Emu’s hypothesis that their ancestors were farmers (like Pascoe himself).

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Peter Job, a former East Timor activist, has written a careful, dispassionate account of the stance of Gough Whitlam’s and Malcolm Fraser’s successive governments in relation to Portuguese East Timor. He has consulted a commendably wide range of oral and written sources, interviewing, for example, several retired senior Australian officials formerly engaged in the design and implementation of Timor policy. His story ends in 1983, with Bob Hawke’s election to office. Job should be encouraged to complete his account in the future to acquaint readers with developments up to at least the UN intervention in 1999 that gave Australian diplomacy a new role.

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There’s a Judy Horacek cartoon in which a woman tells a friend that she once intended to be the perfect wife, a domestic goddess. When the friend asks, ‘So what happened?’, the woman replies, ‘They taught me to read.’

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Facing the ‘global refugee crisis’, politicians in Europe and Australia claim they are protecting their countries from the arrival of untold multitudes. Yet the ‘crisis’ is not global but highly specific. In 2019, seventy-six per cent of refugees came from just three countries (Congo, Myanmar, and Ukraine), while eighty-six per cent of refugees are hosted in a handful of countries in what is known as the Global South (especially Turkey, Jordan, Columbia, and Lebanon). Despite the significant contribution of Germany to hosting refugees, only ten per cent of the global refugee population live in Europe, comprising 0.6 per cent of the continent’s total population. There are 2,600,000 refugees in Europe today, compared with 11,000,000 at the end of World War II. The European Union’s challenges can scarcely be said to be at ‘crisis’ levels.

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The subtitle of Janet Malcolm’s new book (published in Australia by Melbourne University Press) is Gertrude and Alice. Few names of literary couples can be so confidently trimmed. Scott and Zelda, Ted and Sylvia, George and Martha … all those happy couples. Gertrude and Alice has been used before, as the main title of Diana Souyhami’s joint study (1991), and will doubtless be used again. Their fame is an achieved and bankable thing, notwithstanding the fact that Gertrude Stein (1874– 1946) – whose books included Three Lives (1909), The Making of Americans (1925) and the wonderfully titled A Long Gay Book (1932) – remains perhaps the least read of the modernists.

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The Anthology of Australian Prose Poetry edited by Cassandra Atherton and Paul Hetherington

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December 2020, no. 427

What is it about English language poetry that has proved so resistant to the lure of the prose poem? The French, it appears, held no such qualms, finding themselves besotted with the form ever since Aloysius Bertrand and Charles Baudelaire began dispensing with line breaks and stanzas. Of course, the very existence of English-language works like Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons (1914) or William Carlos Williams’s Kora in Hell (1920) could be used to argue otherwise, but such endeavours were considered too eccentric at the time to impart a lasting legacy. Perhaps if T.S. Eliot, whose antipathy towards the prose poem is well known, had given us a major cycle along the lines of Saint-John Perse’s Anabasis (1924), a work he admired and translated, things might have turned out differently.

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What Happens Next? edited by Emma Dawson and Janet McCalman & Upturn by Tanya Plibersek

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December 2020, no. 427

What is to be done? The question is asked whenever humankind confronts a new crisis. And the answers, whether from biblical sources, Tolstoy, or Lenin (or indeed Barry Jones in his imminent book, What Is To Be Done?), must confront universal moral quandaries at the same time as they address local needs, hopes, and aspirations.

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Scott Morrison does not like to explain the decisions he makes on our behalf. Sometimes he just refuses to discuss them, as he did when, as immigration minister, he simply rejected any questions about how his boat-turnback policy was being implemented at sea. At other times he is a little subtler, as he has been this year while presiding over what will probably prove to be the most consequential shift in Australia’s foreign relations in decades. The collapse in relations with our most powerful Asian neighbour and most important trading partner is not just Canberra’s doing, of course; it has resulted from decisions made in Beijing too. But Australia’s recent and current choices have certainly contributed to the chill, and our future choices will do much to determine where things go from here.

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