Archive

Do you know the meaning of (or do you use?) ‘white leghorn day’, ‘five finger discount’, ‘beating the gun with an APC’? When a woman ‘chucks a bridge’ what is she doing? Have you come across ‘scarce as rocking-horse shit’, or ‘easy as pee-the-bed-awake’ or ‘tight as a fish’s bum and that’s watertight’ or ‘The streets are full of sailors and not a whore in the house has been washed’? These expressions and plenty more are discussed in Nancy Keesing’s Lily on the Dustbin. Slang of Australian women and families.

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‘Magazines and newspapers in Australian literature’ is a more troublesome subject than it may at first sight appear. Within its scope lurk issues and problems that preoccupy and sometimes bedevil much Australian literary criticism and cultural commentary. Indeed, the method and content of this book provide a helpful approach to those perennial issues.

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In this volume, a valued literary companion of long standing has been stripped of two-thirds of its substance, all of its footnotes and bibliography, even acknowledgments; and the remnant, daubed with illustrations, comes out dressed for a different marketplace.

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Geoffrey Blainey must be Australia’s bestselling historian by a very long way. His audience is far wider than Manning Clark’s for instance: and far less critical. Clark is periodically savaged by packs so frenzied they often seem unable to recognise the nature of the quarry. The difference of course is a matter of both style and substance. Clark, as an early critic once said, is ‘full of great oaths and bearded like the pard’, and he has not changed his fundamental spots. Blainey’s picture is inserted in the barren landscape on the front cover of this book, all warm and friendly; not a Jeremiah, but a kindly tribal elder who will unravel your historical landscape sotto voce, and with perfect equanimity. You can step into your past with Geoffrey Blainey and know you’ll be safe. He’s just about the friendliest historian imaginable.

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This is not a reissue of a novel almost twenty years old, nor is it quite a new novel: it is a heavily revised version of an early work by the author of the prize-winning novel Year of Living Dangerously. Across the Sea Wall was written before C.J. Koch was thirty. In a prefatory note to the new version he writes: ‘If such novels of youth are worth republishing, they are worth revising ... The cuts and alterations are not fundamental, but they are extensive.’ He concludes with the hope ‘that the earlier version of this work will be consigned to oblivion, and that anyone referring to the book, or quoting from it, will go to no other version but this one’.

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The Shearers by Patsy Adam-Smith

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November 1982, no. 46

The Shearers by Patsy Adam-Smith is worth a place in the best of libraries if only for its superb collection of photographs and reproductions – 291 of them! She is to be commended for including reproductions of an 1891 ‘Loyalty’ certificate, an 1890 Queensland Shearers’ Union ticket and three ‘shearing ticket’ versions of the Amalgamated Workers’ Union. I wish I could claim possession of an original of these. I do, however, have a complete collection of every membership certificate issued in what is now called The Australian Workers’ Union right from its very beginning in 1886, when it was called the Australasian Shearers’ Union.

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Selected Poems by R.A. Simpson & Selected Poems by Vincent Buckley

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November 1982, no. 46

If any volume of Selected Poems must be in part the autobiography of an imagination, it is subject to the vicissitudes and ironies which attend all autobiography. One gazes at it and finds familiar lineaments, but one also finds mobilities and stands made more evident than a more partial acquaintance can show. The very title is a warning that the whole story –whatever that might be – is not to be found here: a ‘Selected Poems’ is the outcome of recurrent options.

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At seventy-one Judah Waten is not just another old soldier who refuses to fade away. Nor is he a man who keeps writing books out of habit. He is a born storyteller who writes when he has something to tell us. And the more he writes, the more powerful and persuasive his fictions become.

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Who, we wondered, gets the largest Public Lending Right cheque each year – Manning Clark or Geoffrey Blainey? Probably still Manning, and he’ll still be ahead in the royalties stakes too, but the younger colt must be closing fast, and he shows no signs of tiring. Even if he did, his publishers, like Manning’s for that matter, can always do, as they have here, a recycling and packaging job.

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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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