Care and compassion, a fair go, freedom, honesty, trustworthiness, respect, and tolerance. These were the nine ‘Australian values’ that former Liberal Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson demanded be taught in schools, especially Islamic schools, across the nation in 2005. How? Partly through the tale of John Simpson and his donkey, Murphy. They clambered selflessly up and down Gallipoli’s Shrapnel Valley with the bodies of Anzacs on their backs like Sisyphus’s boulder, their forty days of toil ended by a sniper’s bullet. Never mind that Simpson’s real surname was Kirkpatrick; that he did the equivalent work of many nameless others; or that Simpson was an illegal Geordie immigrant who had enlisted just for the free ticket back to England. ‘The man with the donkey’ has consistently proven too useful a tool to question for war recruiters and other patriotic tub-thumpers.

Wayne Macauley, long one of Australia’s deadliest satirists, has also found it difficult to leave Simpson and Murphy alone. His short story ‘ Simpson and his Donkey Go Looking for the Inland Sea’ first appeared in Westerly back in 2001, before being republished in Macauley’s surreal collection, Other Stories (2010). This new novella expands but does not dramatically alter that story. In both, Simpson has survived Gallipoli thanks to a mysterious vial of water given to him by a wounded soldier named Lasseter. Simpson, back on Australian shores but still committed to his role as ‘helpmate to the dying’, believes that finding more of this magical substance will allow him to save the country’s ailing: ‘I will stand knee-deep in the healing water baptising all our downtrodden.’ Confusingly, this quest leads him not towards Lasseter’s famously misplaced gold reef but to the Inland Sea, the enormous (and non-existent) body of water that once tricked Charles Sturt into dragging a boat from Adelaide to the Simpson Desert and back again. This conglomeration of Aussie myths and legends is slightly disorientating at first – one almost expects Simpson to encounter a drop bunyip-yowie – but it is effective as a broad allegory for the way solutions to this country’s deepest injustices always shimmer just out of reach.

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    Care and compassion, a fair go, freedom, honesty, trustworthiness, respect, and tolerance. These were the nine ‘Australian values’ that former Liberal Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson demanded be taught in schools, especially Islamic schools, across the nation in 2005. How? ...

  • Book Title Simpson Returns: A novella
  • Book Author Wayne Macauley
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Text Publishing, $19.99 pb, 144 pp, 9781925773507
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Boat, pub, boat, pub, boat, pub: in the fictitious Western Australian fishing town of Stark, residents divide their days between these two brutally masculine locales, and readers will be hard-pressed to decide which is bleaker. Is it the crayfish boat, with its ‘pong of bait’ and ‘hostile company of the breeze’, or the rural tavern, where ‘the trebly call of dog racing’ soundtracks the boozing of ‘men who looked scarcely alive’? And what’s worse, to be circled by sharks or surrounded by meth heads; to be tossed about by vicious waves or to have your face carved open by a pint glass? ‘Stark wasn’t the sort of place one stayed long’, we’re told, which begs the obvious retort: who the hell would stay there at all?

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  • Custom Article Title Alex Cothren reviews 'The Windy Season' by Sam Carmody
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    Boat, pub, boat, pub, boat, pub: in the fictitious Western Australian fishing town of Stark, residents divide their days between these two brutally masculine locales, and ...

  • Book Title The Windy Season
  • Book Author Sam Carmody
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  • Biblio Allen & Unwin $29.99 pb, 336 pp, 9781760111564

Jack Kerouac spent his elderly years sequestered in a crumbling Mexican hacienda that 'smelt like beer and farts'; his amphetamines replaced with antacids, his octogenarian skin 'the colour and texture of beef jerky'. Never mind that Kerouac actually drank himself to an early death in Florida, because somehow this alternate universe, the starting point of Lynnette Lounsbury's second novel, We Ate the Road Like Vultures, has the tragic atmosphere of reality. Just imagine how crushed Lulu – the teenaged Australian protagonist – feels when she tracks down her diminished idol: 'I only ever read about you being young and mad and wanting everything ... here you are all old and wanting nothing.' By page eight, poor Lulu has already witnessed Kerouac's one-time muse, Neal Cassady, coaxing urine droplets from his withered Johnson, her romance for the Beat generation similarly drying up.

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  • Custom Article Title Alex Cothren reviews 'We Ate The Road Like Vultures' by Lynette Lounsbury
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title WE ATE THE ROAD LIKE VULTURES
  • Book Author Lynnette Lounsbury
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  • Biblio Inkerman & Blunt $29.99 pb, 232 pp, 9780992498566

Not a year passes without someone claiming to have stumbled upon the legendary Tasmanian tiger. A flash of stripes, a tawny blur, strange paw prints in the mud; are these genuine sightings or mass hallucinations suffered by a populace whose grief for the extinct icon is stuck in a state of collective denial? 'Tassie loves the tiger now ... this entire country is going to be saying sorry forever'; so muses one character of Sarah Kanake's first novel, in which an absent species is both metaphor and backdrop to a drama about human loss and 'the unending, circling misery' of not letting go.

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  • Custom Article Title Alex Cothren reviews 'Sing Fox to Me' by Sarah Kanake
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  • Book Title Sing Fox to Me
  • Book Author Sarah Kanake
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  • Biblio Affirm Press $24.99 pb, 300 pp, 9781922213679
Thursday, 27 March 2014 15:16

The Italians at Cleat's corner store

During World War II, billeted Axis POWs were deemed such a threat to the morals of British women that theBritish government enacted legislation proscribing amorous fraternisation. Although these laws were rescinded in the conflict’s aftermath, Jo Riccioni’s début novel demonstrates that the appeal of the foreigner endured, as a family of Italians arrive to disrupt the postwar calm of Leyton, an east London farming community.

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  • Custom Article Title Jo Riccioni's 'The Italians at Cleat's Corner Store
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  • Book Title THE ITALIANS AT CLEAT’S CORNER STORE
  • Book Author Jo Riccioni
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  • Biblio Scribe, $29.99 pb, 384 pp, 9781922070883
Sunday, 19 January 2014 16:14

An Elegant Young Man

Late in his first collection of anecdotal short stories, Luke Carman’s narrator, also named Luke Carman, realises that the magic in a book he loves, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, cannot be replicated in his own life. He is stuck in Australia, and ‘Australia is not the place for ecstatic truth.’ Stuck, to be precise, in Sydney’s western suburbs, depicted as an uncultured wasteland of ‘high-rises, methadone clinics and car yards’. A complicated patchwork of ethnicities blankets this terrain: ‘Fairfield is full of Latinos’, ‘Cabra’s all about Asians’, ‘Penrith is just scumbag Aussies’, etc. It is more melting pot than multiculturalism, as Carman shows the youth leading dismal lives of depressing homogeneity. On ‘bone-grey streets spare and grim’, they drift about, squawking broken, racist language at one another, the ennui lifting only when the war cry is bawled: ‘you wanna punch on?’

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  • Custom Article Title Alex Cothren reviews 'An Elegant Young Man'
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title An Elegant Young Man
  • Book Author Luke Carman
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  • Biblio Giramondo, $19.95 pb, 192 pp, 9781922146458