Nicolas Rothwell

Jennifer Maiden's The Fox Petition: New Poems (Giramondo) conjures foxes 'whose eyes were ghosts with pity' and foxes of language that transform the world's headlines

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How vast the world’s scale is; what splendour it holds. Is it not our task to respond to it, to answer it, to make designs and patterns of our own? We live so briefly, from one night to another – and, in our life, such light. It passes through us, it gives us the gleam in our words: to write is to make a mirror.

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Belomor by Nicolas Rothwell

March 2013, no. 349

I am surprised this book doesn’t come in plain packaging. Its title was inspired, after all, by a cigarette – Belomorkanal, also known as Belomor, a Russian brand the author describes as ‘strong, mood-altering cigarettes’. This cigarette motif suggests the lost world of Europe, when the Iron Curtain still hung.


‘The nearest thing on earth to a Black Australian is a White Australian, and vice versa,’ observed novelist and poet Randolph Stow some years ago. Nicolas Rothwell might have pondered the idea on his more recent wanderings as northern correspondent for the Australian. His north is not simply geographical. It fans south and west from Darwin, and east as far as Arnhem Land. Its core is in the Centre, in the Aboriginal realms of the Western Deserts: not only another country, but also, in the book’s closing phrase, ‘another time’, another dimension to the Australia we think we know. In a tribute to Darwin’s fabled Foreign Correspondents’ Association (whose members are forbidden to file the crocodile stories that southern editors want), Rothwell quotes a Latin motto, ‘Austrem Servamus’ (‘We serve the South’). It’s a droll reminder of how far the correspondent’s words must travel, through a dirty and imperfect lens, to reach from one place to the other. The mediation of numinous, heavy-laden revelations from this remote other country for mainstream consumption elsewhere is the high-wire walk of this book.

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