Memoir

John Kinsella’s new memoir, Fast, Loose Beginnings, may have been published by the august publishing house of Melbourne University Publishing, but it is nevertheless a garage-band of a book. It is, as its title signals, both fast and loose. Its rhythms aren’t always graceful, and its timbres aren’t always smooth. You can almost hear the hum of the amplifiers. The poet Jaya Savige, in his review of the book for the Sydney Morning Herald, commented on the book’s lack of polish.

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Jay Daniel Thompson reviews 'By the Balls' by Les Murray

Jay Daniel Thompson
Friday, 07 August 2020

IBy the Balls opens in the 1950s, when young Laszlo Urge and his family were forced to leave Stalinist Hungary and head to Australia. Laszlo was shocked to find his new country to be a ‘dry and colourless’ place where soccer (which he refers to as ‘football’) was unpopular. However, this situation was to change. In the following decades, Laszlo became ‘Les Murray’, a popular television sports commentator who has publicly championed his favourite game.

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In August 1998 former ABC journalist Mary Delahunty won the by-election for the Victorian seat of Northcote. One year later, after Steve Bracks audaciously nabbed the premier’s crown from an unsuspecting Jeff Kennett, Delahunty found herself in charge of the education and arts portfolios. Her learning curve was steep. ‘If the chook shed was for parliamentary incubation then the dungeon provided sparse and smelly cells for the discipline of ministerial office,’ she writes in her new book, Public Life, Private Grief.

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Warren Osmond reviews 'Trial Balance' by H.C. Coombs

Warren Osmond
Friday, 31 July 2020

In the Australian administrative tradition, Dr H.C. Coombs is a remarkable survivor, a maximalist and an innovator, not least in his· preparedness to write in public. The key figure in the Post-War Reconstruction brains trust which flourished under Curtin, Chifley and Dedman in the 1940s, he became Governor of the Commonwealth and then the Reserve Bank for twenty years and then entered a new creative phase in the post-Menzies and the Whitlam years.

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Few who saw them will forget the grainy newspaper images of Australian drug traffickers Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers. Despite high-level diplomatic pleas from the Australian government, they were hanged at Pudu jail in Kuala Lumpur in July 1986 for possessing 180 grams of heroin. In the post-execution mêlée, their bodies were concealed by blankets, but one foot was casually left uncovered. The poignancy of those toes was heart-rending, their vulnerability encapsulating the brutal and ruthless efficiency of law in that region of South-East Asia.

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Queer memoir is particularly given to formal play, to unpacking and upsetting the conventions of genre in order to question women’s roles as both narrator and subject. Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (2015) mixes scholarship and bodily transformation. Carmen Maria Machado’s In The Dream House (2019) unpacks the nature of narrative itself to reflect on an abusive relationship. Into this field comes Sky Swimming, Sylvia Martin’s ‘memoir that is not quite a memoir, more a series of reflections in which I act as a biographer of my own life’. For Martin, the critical distance of the biographer enables her to consider the resonances that exist between her own experiences.

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In a long career talking to and about politicians, I have learned one thing. While many fantasise about being prime minister, the key driver is to get close to the centre. Christopher Pyne captures this immediately in The Insider, comparing the political world to the solar system in which the skill is to know one’s place relative to the sun (the prime minister), and the aim is to get as close to the sun as possible. To be an insider, to know how things work, with privileged information that few others share, is the allure.

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One heady day in the mid I920s, sculptor and Lindsayite recruit Guy Lynch (brother of the elegaic subject of Slessor’s ‘Five Bells’), held forth in a pub at Circular Quay on his plan for Sydney to become an Hellenic city. The Quay itself he saw as a magnificent ampitheatre for the incarnation of the Lindsay group’s Nietzschean dream of Dionysian joy, as revealed in the vital art affirmed as the salvation from the twin vices of bourgeois philistinism and modernistic decadence, the canon that ran from Shakespeare, Rubens and Beethoven, to Norman Lindsay and Hugh McCrae. He-men would lean against pillars, girls would stroll about, and grand opera would be played amongst forests of statues.

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Kathleen Fitzpatrick wanted to be an actress. Instead, she became a famous lecturer and teacher in the History Department at the University of Melbourne, and in one of the frequent revealing asides in her memoir implies that perhaps this fact explained her ability as an inspiring lecturer.

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Caitlin McGregor reviews 'Inferno' by Catherine Cho

Caitlin McGregor
Friday, 19 June 2020

Catherine Cho’s Inferno is the first ‘motherhood memoir’ I have read since reading Maria Tumarkin’s essay ‘Against Motherhood Memoirs’ in Dangerous Ideas About Mothers (2018). The topic of motherhood has been ‘overly melded’ to memoiristic writing, Tumarkin argues; it feels ‘too much like a foregone conclusion’.

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