Oxford University Press

Apart from Abbott’s booby (the gannet Sula abbotti, which now breeds only on Christmas Island), all entries on the first two pages of the Australian National Dictionary pertain to race and white foundation. Is this mere chance, or do we here have an instance of the knack of language to trap and reticulate human experience from its very springs? Probably a spot of both. Whatever: how apt that a dictionary of Australianisms based on historical principles should start with words such as Aboriginalabolition act, abscond, and absolute pardon. Absolute pardon is followed by acacia, whose bloom is the emblem of our national besottedness.

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Ian Donaldson’s The Rapes of Lucretia is a book so rich in ideas that a review can only be unfairly perfunctory. It starts from ancient accounts of the rape of Lucretia and tracks the transformations of the myth through two millennia. This is no wearisome catalogue, no tedious grinding of PhD mills. Donaldson is, as he puts it, ‘especially interested in the close relationship that may exist between the creative and the philosophical processes of mind; between art and argument’. What emerges is a sturdy contribution to the history of ideas, a book showing how a myth which sustained Roman ideas of heroism and political liberty was used at different periods of history to reflect and embody changing political and sexual ideas.

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For thirty-four years Clem Christesen endured financial stringency, public apathy, political vilification, academic indifference, and institutional hostility in order to provide in the literary journal Meanjin a mirror that would provide for his fellow Australians the image of the just city.

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That Neil Warren-Smith was a magnificent singer and actor I knew from having seen him in many Trust and Australian Opera seasons, including the very first in 1956. But his proneness to appear as czars, monks, ancient sages, field marshals and similar dignified personages had concealed from me that he was also a magnificent larrikin. This is a very welcome bonus of what is, sadly, a posthumous autobiography, talked with unblushing frankness down a tape recorder and presented with what seems to have been a minimum of intervention by Frank Salter.

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Imagine you’re trying to make sense of the universe five hundred years ago, when astronomers believe there are just seven visible ‘planets’ wandering about the Earth: the sun and moon plus Mercury to Saturn. Intriguingly, there are also seven known metals: gold, silver, copper, iron, tin, lead, and mercury. For hundreds of years there have been just seven known ‘planets’ and seven metals. Wouldn’t you be just a little tempted to see more than a coincidence here? Take gold, for example, which ‘does not react with anything in the air or the ground, and so retains its brilliance seemingly forever’: surely its power is similar to that of the ever-shining sun?

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Ivan Vasilevich Ovchinnikov defected to the Soviet Union in 1958. After three years in West Germany, he had had enough of the West with its hollow promises. He was a farmer’s son, and his family’s property had been confiscated and the family deported as ‘kulaks’ during Stalin’s assault on the Russian village in the early 1930s. Ovchinnikov managed to escape the often deadly exile, obscured his family background, and made a respectable career. Brought up in a children’s home, then trained in a youth army school, the talented youngster eventually entered the élite Military Institute for Foreign Languages in Moscow. In 1955, now an officer and a translator, he was sent to East Berlin as part of the army’s intelligence unit.

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Graham Seal, author of this invaluable new survey of Australian folklore, hopes this book will ‘explode the pernicious and persistent myth that Australia has no folklore’, a cultural lie he illustrates on the opening page by trotting out a familiar scapegoat in the form of a visiting Englishman carping about the lack of folksong in this country. This seems to me to base the book on an unnecessary and even false premise. Most Australians, I would have thought, are aware either consciously or subconsciously of a national body of folklore – it’s just that assiduous nationalists have hacked away the corpus by single-mindedly promoting the paraphernalia of the bush mythology: the pioneers, the bushrangers, the heroes and anti-heroes of sport and war.

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In his 1980 bibliography of Bernard Smith’s published works, Australian Art and Architecture (1980), Tony Bradley lists, exclusive of books, well over 200 articles, book reviews, and other miscellaneous items. Allowing for articles written after 1980 and four previously unpublished, The Critic as Advocate contains sixty works from Bradley’s list. Previous collections of Smith’s essays, The Antipodean Manifesto (1976) and The Death of the Artist as Hero (1988) each contains about twenty republished essays – leaving Smith still with over a hundred for future recycling. If this is to be the case it is perhaps well to look at the value or otherwise of this type of enterprise.

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Paul Giles is a critic for whom it is important where he lives, although not so much in terms of location as of literary and imaginative perspectives. He began as an Americanist literary scholar, in voluntary exile from the United Kingdom, where he was trained, writing about the global remapping of American literature and, more recently, having moved to Australia, about Australasia’s constitution of American literature. He likes redrawing the critical maps of literary study, but also following the reverse and inverted orbits of writers themselves. Part of this impulse includes rethinking the hemispheres. Giles’s book about Australasia and US literature, for example, was titled Antipodean America (ABR, August 2014). If it wasn’t too much of a mouthful, you’d say he was a serial re-territorialiser.

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Galileo and Kepler went down in history for prising European science from the jaws of medieval mysticism and religion. But where was England’s equivalent? Newton would not make his mark for another century. Surely the free-thinking Elizabethans also had a scientific star?

They did: Thomas Harriot (c.1560–1621). Most of us have never heard of him, for Harriot did not publish his findings. His day job was teaching navigation to Sir Walter Raleigh’s ship captains. Queen Elizabeth’s favourite was intent on colonising North America for the Crown. But it was also down to Harriot’s personality: retiring, cautious, and meticulous.

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