Fiona Gruber reviews 'The Mystery of the Venus Island Fetish' by Dido Butterworth (Tim Flannery)

Fiona Gruber reviews 'The Mystery of the Venus Island Fetish' by Dido Butterworth (Tim Flannery)

The Mystery of the Venus Island Fetish

by by Dido Butterworth, edited and introduced by Tim Flannery

Text Publishing, $29.99 pb, 283 pp, 9781922079305

It is 1932 and as the SS Mokambo steams into Sydney Harbour with Archie Meek on board, the Australian Museum’s young anthropologist is about to discover that he has committed a terrible faux pas. After five years away in the Venus islands studying the customs and culture of its head-hunting inhabitants, Meek is eager to be reunited with Beatrice Goodenough, the beautiful but sheltered registrar of the museum’s anthropology department. In true island fashion, Meek has accompanied his request for her hand in marriage with the sincerest love token a man can proffer. Unfortunately, on receipt of his dried foreskin, lovingly posted, Goodenough fails to respond as a Venus Island maiden would. A younger, weedier Meek might have been ready to crumple at such rejection, but the hesitant stripling of nineteen is now a bronzed hunk of twenty-four, ready to claim Beatrice as his own despite the misfiring of his culturally specific courtship ritual.

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Published in March 2015, no. 369
Fiona Gruber

Fiona Gruber

Fiona Gruber is a journalist and producer with twenty years experience writing and broadcasting across the arts as a commentator, profile writer, and reviewer. She currently divides her time between Australia and the UK.

Gruber's work has appeared in The Australian, The Times Literary Supplement, Australian Book Review, The Guardian, The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Opera Now, History Today, and Art World Australia.

Her profiles of well-known writers and playwrights include John Banville, Margaret Drabble, Simon Callow, Marina Warner, A. L. Kennedy, Francis Wheen, Michelle de Kretser, Toni Jordan, David Francis, Jane Smiley, Angus Trumble, Chris Womersley, David Harrower, Richard Bean, Jez Butterworth, and Moisés Kaufman.

For ABC Radio National alongside sporadic appearances as an opinionated commentator on hot topics, Gruber has made a series of features on writers, artists, theatre makers, and explorers for The Book Show, Books and Arts Daily and Hindsight. These include artists John Wolseley and Vera Möller, writers Robert Macfarlane, Patricia Cornelius, Charlotte Wood, Francis Wheen and Alex Miller, actor Lisa Dwan, and explorer John Helder Wedge.

Gruber also worked for ABC TV as a researcher and producer on its Sunday Arts program.

She produced and hosted The Opening a live-to-air weekly radio arts show on PBSFM between 2003–10, notable for its mix of the very local with the rather famous. And in 2011 she was a regular on ABC 774 talking arts with veteran presenter Derek Guille.

Gruber received a Green Room Award in 2005 for co-founding and hosting ‘Gert's Sunday Salon’, a raffish arts and cabaret club in Melbourne’s Fitzroy.

In 2013 Fiona Gruber started a series of podcasts for the Melbourne Theatre Company which explore ideas around the plays on stage, the wider world of theatre, and the even wider world influencing stage selection.

Alongside her journalism she's currently finishing off a biography of nineteenth-century Australian entrepreneur Alice Cornwell: Victorian gold miner, proprietor of the London Sunday Times, and breeder of miniature black pug dogs.