Peter Pierce

This collection of Peter Ryan’s writings, Lines of Fire, is no grab-bag of oddments. The pieces included here are given an impressive unity by the author’s imposition of his presence, by his trenchancy, elegance of expression, a desire to honour the men and women of his younger days and to excoriate a present Australia in which too many people wallow in ‘an unwholesome masochistic guilt’. The finely designed cover shows a wry, ageing, wrinkled Ryan smiling benignly over his own shoulder, or rather that of his younger self, in uniform, in late teenage, during the Second World War. What happened in between is richly revealed in the elements of Lines of Fire.

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Between the wars, the dominant mode of Australian fiction was the saga: tales of land-taking and nation-building, melodramas within families across generations, characters shaped by loneliness and obsession ...

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Of the fate of Australian prisoners of war in the hands of the Japanese during World War II, the literature – memoir, fiction, history – is voluminous. There were 21,652 of them, of whom thirty-five per cent, or 7780, perished. A good deal has also been written of enemy prisoners – Japanese, German, Italian – who were held in camps in this country, and in pa ...

For many undergraduate students of Australian history in the 1960s (when there were still plenty of them), the set text was not a narrative history but Manning Clark’s Select Documents in Australian History (1950, 1955). Dry but fascinating, the documents covered the period from 1788–1900. First published more than a decade before the opening volume of Clark’s A History of Australia, here were the bones of the research for that work. In his introduction to Documents That Shaped Australia: Records of a Nation’s Heritage, John Thompson acknowledges Clark and Frank Crowley’s Modern Australia in Documents (1973). He has, however, done something different. This book has a smaller number of items than its predecessors, but it is attractively and extensively illustrated (usually, but not always, with photographs of the documents). No doubt Thompson’s publisher, Pier 9, thought of school library sales for the book. It is a hope that deserves to be rewarded.

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Late in November 1916, the German commerce raider Wolf, laden with 100 tonnes of mines, set out on a journey of 100,000 kilometres across three oceans. After the ship reached home, in February 1918, 442 days later, its guns and mines had destroyed more than twenty Allied vessels. Hundreds of their crews and passengers had been held captive. When the voyage of the Wolf began, German U-boats were sinking hundreds of thousands of tonnes of shipping each month. The belated adoption of the convoy system drastically reduced those losses, so that the Germans, rather than the British, suffered the worse privation in the last year of the Great War. In that time, Wolf was the only German surface warship not penned up by the British naval blockade.

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A Companion to Australian Literature Since 1900 edited by Nicholas Birns and Rebecca McNeer

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February 2008, no. 298

When G.B. Barton presented his two works concerning the literary history of New South Wales to the Paris Exhibition of 1866, he hoped that they would enable readers ‘to form an exact idea of the progress, extent and prospects of literary enterprise among us’. The words are succinct, unobjectionable, and their sentiments influenced much of the literary history of the next century, much as the productions of that time were usually annals rather than analysis. Barton’s civic-minded project linked the maturing of Australian literature with its political culture. Implicit in his endeavour, though numerous others would use the metaphor outright, was the notion of ‘coming-of-age’. This chimera had as long a life as the search for the Great Australian Novel.

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A Companion to Australian Literature Since 1900 edited by Nicholas Birns and Rebecca McNeer

by
February 2008, no. 298

When G.B. Barton presented his two works concerning the literary history of New South Wales to the Paris Exhibition of 1866, he hoped that they would enable readers ‘to form an exact idea of the progress, extent and prospects of literary enterprise among us’. The words are succinct, unobjectionable, and their sentiments influenced much of the literary history of the next century, much as the productions of that time were usually annals rather than analysis. Barton’s civic-minded project linked the maturing of Australian literature with its political culture. Implicit in his endeavour, though numerous others would use the metaphor outright, was the notion of ‘coming-of-age’. This chimera had as long a life as the search for the Great Australian Novel.

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Ten years in the making, Matthew Condon’s vibrant modern epic, The Trout Opera, has been worth the wait. It has an expansiveness and generosity of spirit that has become uncommon in Australian fiction (unless we think of an altogether different book, but on a similar scale, Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria, 2006). Sent in 1996 to report on the slow death of the Snowy River, Condon met the storied old-timer Ron Reid, who in his more than eighty years had rarely left the Dalgety region. From Reid’s yarns came the germ of a novel. Essentially, it is an affectionate and many-stranded variation on that old cultural chestnut in Australia: the search for the original of ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s ‘The Man from Snowy River’.

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In September 1943, seventeen commandos of Z Special Force, led by Lieutenant Commander Ivan Lyon, attacked and sank with limpet mines seven ships in the Singapore harbour. A year later, in October 1944, when the Pacific War had only months to run, a repeat performance failed and all those involved were ...

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When it was first published, Tasmanian army nurse and prisoner of war Jessie Simons entitled her memoir of captivity While History Passed (1954). It was reissued as In Japanese Hands (1985). This was one of the numerous autobiographical works produced after their ordeal by POW survivors, whether they were driven by an enduring hatred of their captors (Rohan Rivett, Russell Braddon) or by a striving for forgiveness (Ray Parkin). In his study of ‘Literary imagination and the prisoner-of-war experience’, Roger Bourke has turned instead to what he regards as the neglected area of fiction (sometimes autobiographically tinged) of captivity by the Japanese in World War II. His range encompasses British as well as Australian authors. He is particularly concerned with what the film industry made of such novels as Neville Shute’s A Town Like Alice (book 1950, film 1956), Pierre Boulle’s The Bridge on the River Kwai (1954, 1957), James Clavell’s King Rat (1962, 1965) and J.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun (1984, 1987).

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