Strange Country: Why Australian painting matters
Miegunyah Press, $49.99 pb, 376 pp
The cover assembles the book’s title and author’s name (writ very large) with a photograph of him, in an art gallery, before a wide yellow landscape by Fred Williams. Turning to the viewer, Patrick McCaughey is about to launch into a story that will satisfy the curiosity teased by the name of the book, Strange Country: Why Australian Painting Matters.
I first encountered Patrick in the early 1970s, when the brothers McCaughey lectured, one following the other in adjacent lecture theatres at Melbourne University, James reading Homer’s Iliad and Patrick outlining the story of modern art. Leaping on top of the podium, James dramatised the soap operatics and petty feuds of the Greek gods. Descending to platform level, he enacted the bickering of muscle-bound Greek heroes as they hung about, bored and underemployed, in their camp outside the walls of Troy. Heroism resounds in every line of the Iliad: an achievement of poetry and of mnemonic aura, and rather clearly not the thrill roused by the drum of a historical inevitability as self-fulfilling as the laws of physics.