Archive

Sir Alexander Downer (1910–81) was a man of great courtesy, absolute integrity, honesty in reporting the things be observed. I think that these attributes are all self-evident in the book he has written about six Australian prime ministers. Also apparent was, I believe, a too subservient attitude to a Britain which was disappearing and changing throughout his life. After all, the concept of the Queen as the Queen of Australia – instead of the Queen of Britain or the Commonwealth – received acceptance only after World War II, which incidentally was a war that Alec Downer saw out living in the hell of Changi Prison Camp.

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Australia Since the Coming of Man by Russel Ward & New History edited by G. Osborne and W.F. Mandie

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November 1982, no. 46

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.

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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.

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For the previous Commonwealth Writers’ Week associated with the Commonwealth Games at Edmonton, a large if not necessarily lively anthology of writing from all countries of the Commonwealth was produced. Brisbane produced a twelve page ‘Guide to Participants’ which showed that only eighteen of the sixty-three listed participants were not Australian or Australian born. Not all of the eighteen visitors turned up, the most conspicuous absentee being Edward Brathwaite of Jamaica. This imbalance was reflected in the sessions themselves, nearly half of which were exclusively Australian in content.

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The Half-Open Door edited by Patricia Grimshaw and Lynne Strahan

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November 1982, no. 46

The title of The Half-Open Door implies questions relating to the lives of modern professional women in Australia, and bears on the current attention, political and academic, being given to women’s matters. These questions are made explicit in the book’s Preface, which asks why women enter the demanding areas of the professions and the arts, and why so few achieve positions of high status in these fields. Contemporary evidence, formal and informal, of the ambiguity of opportunity for women in Australia is commonplace. For instance, the typical composition of academic humanities departments is like that in which the reviewers work: sixty-four per cent of the student body yet only twenty per cent of the full-time academic staff are female. Why the door – which was opened relatively early for women in Australia by university admittance, emancipation and equal job-opportunity –remains half-closed is a question that needs to be asked. Regrettably, this volume goes only half-way to suggesting an answer.

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Poor John Monash has waited a long time. Before he died in 1931, he clearly hoped for a friendly posthumous biography. He destroyed his collection of erotica and some extramarital love letters. This was characteristically called ‘Emergency Action’. Less characteristically, he instructed his son-in-law and executor, Gershon Bennett, not to ‘preserve indefinitely’ the enormous collection of letters, diaries, cuttings, etc.

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Desert Mother is a collection of poems from a West Australian writer in his late twenties who now lives in Sydney. Many of the poems in it have a double layer of nostalgia – a personal one, for a lost adolescence, and a general one for small towns left on the edge of history.

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Dove by Barbara Hanrahan

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October 1982, no. 45

In Dove, the familiar Barbara Hanrahan ingredients – acute realism and the fantastic, the grotesque – are combined once again to produce yet another powerful and moving novel. The scale of realism and fantasy is, as always, finely balanced. The various locations of the novel, for instance, are beautifully realised. Hanrahan has the eye of the graphic artist for the broad canvas, the sweep of light and sky, and the telling detail. Her eye ranges from the Adelaide Hills to the suburbs of ‘pebble dash and pit­tosporum’ to the Mallee: ‘an antipodean jungle of stiff splintered branches, a mysterious pearly-grey gloom’ interspersed with the ‘faraway rash of green’ that is the wheat. Yet there is more to landscape than this; place is used throughout to evoke psychic states. Appleton, for instance, suggests beatitude and primal innocence. Arden Valley the fairytale potential for the transformation of life, and the Mallee the promised land of plenteous crops and realised love.

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Unlike its parent, the Concise Macquarie has a regular commercial publisher, and we might suppose that it is a sensible commercial proposition. We might wonder if the reduction from the 77,000 headwords of the bigger dictionary to the over 41000 of this is worth saving the $12 difference in price: but nobody who read my review of the parent Macquarie is likely long to ponder this when he or she remembers that Collins cost’s $19.95.

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Child's Play by David Malouf & Fly Away Peter by David Malouf

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September 1982, no. 44

The prolific David Malouf, another of our poets turned novelist, just had two short prose works published within a few months of one another. Although Child’s Play (which also includes two short stories) is set in Italy, where Malouf now resides, and Fly Away Peter in Brisbane where he grew up, the two books are thematically related, not only to each other but to the author’s earlier work.

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