University of Queensland Press

Rain May and Captain Daniel by Catherine Bateson & Too Flash by Melissa Lucashenko

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April 2003, no. 250

In the list of life’s most stressful events, family breakups and moving home are way up there in the top ten, and one often follows the other, compounding the trauma. This is the situation for eleven-year-old Rain in Catherine Bateson’s Rain May and Captain Daniel, when her mother, Maggie, sells their inner-city house in the aftermath of divorce. They head for the country to turn Grandma’s deceased estate into a dream home. Maggie’s hopes are higher than her daughter’s: she foresees serenity, harmony, and self-sufficiency; Rain expects ‘Boringsville’.

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Mangroves by Laurie Duggan

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April 2003, no. 250

Poems are like mangroves. They lodge and grow in the mind, becoming part of us, just as these plants take root in estuarine silt. Even on the page, there is sometimes a resemblance. As its title suggests, Laurie Duggan’s first volume since New and Selected Poems (1996) is substantially a product of his recent move to Brisbane, containing a large section of poems coloured by references to the city’s subtropical conditions. However, Mangroves also brings together varied material that dates from 1988 to 1994, some of which – notably the ‘Blue Hills’ sequences – has been published elsewhere.

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W.H. Auden, following Samuel Butler, thought that ‘the true test of imagination is the ability to name a cat’, and plenty of people, poets, and others have believed this: to recast a dictum of Christ’s, if you can’t be trusted with the cats, why should we trust you with the tigers? Gwen Harwood could be trusted with the cats, and with yet more domestic things; here, for example, is her fairly late poem ‘Cups’

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Bearded Ladies/Dreamhouse by Kate Grenville & Joan Makes History by Kate Grenville

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December 2002-January 2003, no. 247

Being out of print is like moving back in with your parents – it’s not usually a sign that things are on the up. But fortune’s wheel turns with scant regard for merit or effort, so it must be a relief for writers when their publishers decide to ‘celebrate their continuing contribution to Australian literature’ with a re-release of their back catalogue.

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To the Islands by Randolph Stow & Tourmaline by Randolph Stow

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December 2002-January 2003, no. 247

Before the age of thirty, Randolph Stow had published five novels and a prize-winning collection of poetry. In Australia, only Kenneth Mackenzie, another Sandgroper, had made a similar youthful impact. Mackenzie’s first book, The Young Desire It, was published in 1937, though I believe drafted some time before that. Stow’s The Haunted Land (1956) was written when he was only seventeen. When another precocious young Western Australian, Tim Winton, published his first novel, he was painfully conscious of these precursors. This was crucial for Winton, because both Mackenzie and Stow were to have troubled creative lives: Mackenzie died relatively young, his later novels disadvantaged by the youthful brilliance of his first. Randolph Stow, after his three initial successes, has published only five further novels, two collections of poems and a book for children. It has been a career with long silences.

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You might expect a book of eighty-eight new poems by Les Murray to be sizeable (most of his recent single volumes run to about sixty poems each). But Poems the Size of Photographs is literally a small book, composed of short poems (‘though some are longer’, says the back cover) ...

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From a small island, messages in a bottle floating out to sea. That was Gwen Harwood’s image for the poems she sent out during her early years in Tasmania, long before she had due recognition. Her letters, by contrast, knew their destination; they were treasured for decades by her friends, and they now make up the remarkable collection A Steady Storm of Correspondence ... ... (read more)

Authority and Influence: Australian literary criticism, 1950–2000 edited by Delys Bird, Robert Dixon and Christopher Lee

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May 2001, no. 230

The problems that have bedevilled Australian literary criticism and literary history over the last twenty years have been worldwide. Histories, even quite short ones, now have to be written polyphonically, by committees of dozens of contributors. It is taken for granted that no single person could cover the whole field and the variety of critical perspectives, movements, genres, institutions and ideologies involved. One of the recurrent phrases of recent years has been ‘pushing the boundaries’; but histories, surveys, theses, articles all depend on demarcation lines. That is why the notion of a ‘canon’ has been useful, though, of course, a canon needs to be constantly questioned and revised so as not to become stagnant and restrictive.

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Living the queer life in the inner-city suburbs of Sydney, it is hard not to become complacent, smug even. Like a magnet, Sydney draws lesbians, gays, bisexuals, queers, you name it, from all over the country. If you’ve grown up in rural Victoria, moved to Melbourne after compulsory schooling, and then fifteen years later have hit a certain mid-gay-life ennui, where else is there to go?

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You can’t escape the black square with the ominous slit: it’s about as familiar and inevitable in Australia as the icon for male or female. Ned’s iron mask now directs you to the National Library’s website of Australian images. There it is, black on red ochre, an importunate camera, staring back as we look through it ...

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