University of Queensland Press

Rift by Libby Hathorn & Killing Darcy by Melissa Lucashenko

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June 1998, no. 201

I am sitting at my home desk high up in the mountains overlooking the border ranges to New South Wales and then to the left, the strip of highrise, the Gold Coast, and the sea beyond. Hathorn and Lucashenko have both set their recent youth novels in an imaginary location not far from me. The sea and the hinterland is a territory I am beginning to know well and I have enjoyed exploring it a little further in my reading.

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Pomegranate Season by Carolyn Polizzotto & Till Apples Grow on an Orange Tree by Cassandra Pybus

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June 1998, no. 201

Two autobiographical works, both by women historians, are presented in the elegant small format which often says ‘gift book’ and may suggest more surface charm than substance. In fact, there are at least as many contrasts as resemblances between the two, and although the mood is quietly reflective, there is no easy nostalgia.

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It was perhaps a fair return because in 1893, when the first 200 Australian settlers took up the land given to them by the Paraguayan Government to establish their Utopian paradise, they found one thousand Guarani Indians living on the land. They were ‘expelled’.

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One of the principal characters in much of Thea Astley’s writing is Queensland. ‘An intransigent fecundity dominated two shacks which were cringing beneath banana clumps, passion-vines, granadillas.’ There’s a lot of sad poetry about the place; and the distances that separate us, I mean the physical distances, are like verse-breaks in a ballad; and once, once we believed the ballad might never end but go on accumulating its chapters of epic while the refrain, the almost unwordable quality that mortises us together, retained its singular soul. How express the tears of search?

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Red Hot Notes edited by Carmel Bird

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April 1996, no. 179

Were it not for the timing, it would be easy to speculate that this richly evocative collection of pieces about music was the inspiration for Jane Campion’s glorious film, The Piano. So many elements of the film – the dominant image of the beached piano, the powerful undertow of sexual passion, even the unexpected violence-are present in this book in the most uncanny similitude. I should not be surprised since Carmel Bird has already displayed her uneasy fascination with the film in her dazzling essay ‘Freedom of Speech’ (in Columbus’ Blindness and Other Essays) and in her introduction to Red Hot Notes she admits that the film was a catalyst for the idea of various writers exploring ‘the complex feelings that surround, and embed themselves in, the human response to music’.

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Beverley Farmer is one of a group of women writers celebrated in Gillian Whitlock’s collection of excerpts from their work, Eight Voices of the Eighties. Its introduction begins with a remark attributed to Elizabeth Jolley where she calls the 1980s in Australia ‘a moment of glory for the woman writer’. Beverley Farmer’s first novel, Alone, was published in 1980, at the beginning of this period of renaissance and recognition of women’s writing as central to a national literary culture.

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A striking black-and-white photograph on the front cover of Oodgeroo implacable and wise. And then the publisher’s blurb on the back cover

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This is a fascinating publication. The first book by Wiradjuri author John Muk Muk Burke, Bridge of Triangles, is really free-form short fiction than a novel proper. Novella length, it is episodic, impressionistic, often poetic and open­ended. And, while it has many strengths, this 1993 winner of the David Unaipon Award for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors is ultimately a disquieting piece of work.

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On the day of the last Federal election, I became engaged in an unlikely conversation with a helper for the ‘Call-to-Australia’ cause at my local polling booth. When I revealed that I had recently completed a research project on Dr H.V. Evatt, my elderly companion asserted that Evatt should not be hailed as the hero of the labour movement. Australia’s greatest politician, this former member of the Australian Labor Party informed me, was ‘Edward Granville Theodore’.

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Contemporary Aboriginal writing, like Aboriginal art, is now so diverse that is impossible to talk about any one particular style. John Muk Muk Burke, whose first novel, Bridge of Triangles, has just been published, recently told a Sydney seminar for Aboriginal writers that they were no longer writing from the viewpoint of victims. He said they were survivors rising from the ashes of the invasion like the phoenix. Burke’s own novel is multi-layered, poetic and visually strong, with a structure informed by his study of world literature.

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