Allen & Unwin

Paul Jennings’s literary career can be traced back to three whispered words from the author Carmel Bird, who taught him writing at an evening class in Melbourne in 1983. ‘You are good,’ she told him. Jennings was an unpublished forty-year-old at the time, yet within two years Penguin had launched his first short story collection, Unreal!

... (read more)

Ian Britain reviews 'Son of the Brush: A memoir' by Tim Olsen

Ian Britain
Wednesday, 16 December 2020

‘A voyage round my father’, to quote the title of John Mortimer’s autobiographical play of 1963, has been a popular form of personal memoir in Britain from Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son (1907) to Michael Parkinson’s just-published Like Father, Like Son. The same form produced some of the best Australian writing in the twentieth century, with two assured classics in the case of Germaine Greer’s Daddy, We Hardly Knew You (1989) and Raimond Gaita’s Romulus, My Father (1998). The tradition has continued into the present century with – to list some of the choicest plums – Richard Freadman’s Shadow of Doubt: My father and myself (2003), Sheila Fitzpatrick’s My Father’s Daughter (2010), Jim Davidson’s A Führer for a Father (2017), and Christopher Raja’s Into the Suburbs: A migrant’s story (2020). Mothers in such sagas are far from absent, and they can emerge, though not always, as the more obviously loveable or loving figures. As signalled by most of those titles, however, mothers loom less large over the unfolding narrative. Fathers may not always know or act best, but, partly because of their often tougher, commanding mien, they become irresistibly the centre of attention.

... (read more)

In Recollections of a Bleeding Heart (2002), Don Watson wrote that Lowitja O’Donoghue ‘seemed then and has seemed ever since to be a person of such transcendent warmth, if Australians ever got to know her they would want her as their Queen’. Robert Manne, in the first-ever Quarterly Essay (2001), portrayed her as ‘a woman of scrupulous honesty and great beauty of soul’. These qualities gleam in Stuart Rintoul’s handsomely produced biography.

... (read more)

Brian Toohey reviews 'Keating: A biography' by Edna Carew

Brian Toohey
Monday, 23 November 2020

This book has drawn comment from press gallery journalists that the author’s background as a finance writer has led to weaknesses in its political analysis. The political sections, however, strike this reader as every bit up to the standard of the press gallery contributions on the subject, and, indeed, add some useful detail on Paul Keating’s early years, which were devoted with such unswerving dedication to entering parliament at the age of twenty-five. Both the gallery and Carew agree that Keating is an outstanding politician and enormously successful treasurer. While it is not always fair to lament that a book is different from the one you might have preferred to read – the author’s task is hard enough as it is – I would have hoped that the economic issues would have been explored with a much broader brush.

... (read more)

Snake Cradle: Autobiography of a black woman is the first published volume of a three-part life story from Australia’s renowned black rights activist Dr Roberta Sykes. In Snake Cradle, Sykes chronicles the first seventeen years of her life in Queensland and gives us a generously open story in her legendary powerful and thought-provoking style.

... (read more)

Russel Ward’s new book is a revision of History, which he published in 1965, mainly for an American audience. In fact, it was read more in Australia and now he has extended the work, put in more detail, and, presumably in response to recent developments, included some cursory glances at the doings of Aborigines, explorers, and the female half of the Australian people.

... (read more)

Clare O’Farrell reviews 'Coda' by Thea Astley

Clare O'Farrell
Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Each of the three parts that make up Thea Astley’s new novel, Coda, is prefaced by a newspaper report, real or imaginary, detailing cases of ‘granny-dumping’, the ruthless abandonment of old, frail, and disoriented people by their unidentified children. This sets the scene for a reflection on old age and the rejection of those whose physical and mental capacities no longer meet the stringent requirements of the standard economically viable unit of modem civilisation. The manifest duty of such objects is to be as discreet as possible, providing minimal inconvenience to others (especially their adult children) until they can fade into oblivion.

... (read more)

My Blue-Checker Corker and Me probably has enough strengths to make one forget, eventually, most of its irritating features. Paul Radley’s story of ‘a small mellow world’ is unashamedly emotional. and Radley is clearly fascinated with the possibilities of language. This is the story of a twelve-year-old boy and his relationship with his grandfather, his mates and his pigeons.

... (read more)

Christina Hill reviews 'The Great Arch' by Vicki Hastrich

Christina Hill
Thursday, 29 October 2020

The Great Arch has considerable if unlikely charm. It is a history of the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in a novel about real and imagined people living near its construction site. Hastrich brings to life (potentially dry) detail about huge steel plates, creeping cranes, rivets and cables. We see this mostly in the writings and photographs of her central character, an Anglican vicar who records the progress of the bridge-building in his parish paper and also writes a two-volume book about it. The Reverend Ralph Anderson Cage, rector at St Christopher’s at Lavender Bay (based on a real person, Frank Cash), is an endearingly hapless yet decent man who becomes obsessed with the unfolding engineering marvel that reshapes the population and topography of his once-thriving parish.

... (read more)

David Malouf, one of the subjects interviewed by Margaret Throsby in Talking with Margaret Throsby, recounts his childhood experiences as an eavesdropper. He reveals that by listening in on conversations between his mother and her women friends he learnt about a world that was otherwise off-limits to him. For devotees of Mornings with Margaret Throsby on ABC Classic FM, the experience might sound familiar as they tune in to live conversations between the host and her distinguished guests; conversations which, although obviously public in that they are broadcast on national radio, frequently open a window onto the private world of the subject. Paul Keating, in Talking with Margaret Throsby, reveals that he would often prepare for cabinet sessions by listening to music (‘Start off slow, you know, and finish on something big’), conductor Jeffrey Tate discusses the ways in which he has coped with spina bifida, and writer and restaurateur Pauline Nguyen, who arrived in Australia as a ‘boat person’, talks about the difficulties of growing up in a household marked by fear and violence.

... (read more)