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Sally Morrison

Think of John Brack, or Fred Williams, and without effort or prompting a painting will come to mind. These names conjure up Brack’s urban figures with their blank yet expressive faces, or Williams’ minimalist landscapes. Instantly recognisable, they could have been painted by no one else. Yet their makers have never been celebrities. Brack’s Collins St, 5p.m. is more widely known than Brack the painter. Fred Williams always seemed too absorbed in his work to turn his face to the public. A portly figure in a suit, he was no one’s image of an artist. Arthur Boyd, so one of his friends wryly remarked, ‘sometimes backed shyly into the limelight’, but he was happiest away from the public gaze. Although the popular acclaim of the Ned Kelly paintings might well have obscured their creator, Sidney Nolan was tough and confident enough to emerge into a blaze of publicity (expertly kindled by John and Sunday Reed) and to withdraw when he pleased.

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Dear Editor,

In reviewing my biography of Clifton Pugh, Brenda Niall, a distinguished biographer herself, arrives at this puzzling last sentence: ‘Whether or not Morrison intended it … the Clifton Pugh of these pages emerges more as opportunist than true believer’ (ABR, February 2010). She states earlier that it surprises her that a large number of women were attracted to Pugh, and that I myself retained a measure of love for him until the end of his life.

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Mad Meg by Sally Morrison

May 1994, no. 160

Midway through Sally Morrison’s new novel, Mad Meg, I began to develop the scissor twitch, an almost overwhelming urge to cut it up and reassemble it into a new structure. Not quite the vandalism it suggests – I read Mad Meg in galley pages, which encourages scissorly desires. It is a vast, kaleidoscopic novel, which opens with a wonderful mischievous energy, full of surprises and pleasures, and laconic wit. Yet it begins to teeter midway and, in my view, ends in unnecessary disarray. Hence the twitch.

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Would it surprise you to know that a number of our well-known writers write to please themselves? Probably not. If there’s no pleasure, or challenge, or stimulus, the outcome would probably not be worth the effort. If this effort is writing, it seems especially unlikely that someone would engage in the activity without enjoying the chance to be their own audience.

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I am a Boat by Sally Morrison

May 1989, no. 110

Collections of new Australian short stories by a single author have become a regular feature of Australian literary publishing in recent years. They are a welcome addition to the range of new writing available to the reading public. Collections that have unity of style, are thematically coherent and present a linked set of perceptions from the one creative source offer the reader much more than a light or fragmentary experience. Instead of the sustained characterisation of the novel, they can achieve a dazzling variety of episodes and mood. Robert Drewe’s Body Surfers and Helen Garner’s Postcards from Surfers are outstanding examples of how good the best collections of stories can be. It was a great delight to pick up I am a Boat by Sally Morrison and find that, although it is only her second book, in style, originality and literary quality, Morrison is fast approaching the Drewe and Garner class.

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Australia has a tradition of brilliant female writers. With this book, her first novel, Sally Morrison has joined them.

It’s a knockout.

If she had used a simple narrative form, I’m sure she’d have made as much money as the lady who wrote The Thorn Birds. Luckily for us, she didn’t. She fashioned a work of art instead.

The characters are marvellous, they are so real, you can smell them, I’d say that if you don’t find yourself, or at least part of yourself, among them, you don’t exist. The story, told in a series of mental flashes from the characters (and some of them are flashes indeed) is of the last three days of the last term in a country high school.

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