Morag Fraser

Conversation is the raison d’être of this monumental monologue. But you might not think so if you read only the reviews. Splenetic, greensick criticism – and there has been plenty of it – insists that what Clive James has built out of a life’s voracious reading and careful noticing – his ‘notes in the margin’ – is a platform for his ego. Not so. But how ruthlessly we skin our own ...

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Dark Victory by David Marr and Marian Wilkinson & Don’t Tell the Prime Minister by Patrick Weller

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April 2003, no. 250

Dark Victory opens with a coup: in a deep-etched narrative, joint – and seamless – authors David Marr and Marian Wilkinson make human beings out of the anonymous acronyms of John Howard’s border protection strategy. Explicitly rejecting the gulag language of numbers, of SUNCs in SIEVs (Suspected Unauthorised Non-Citizens in Suspected Illegal Entry Ves ...

Primo Levi, in two interviews given almost twenty years ago*, set a standard of critical sympathy that is not only exemplary, but peculiarly apt to the fraught debate about the post-September 11 world and the USA’s place and reputation within it.

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Much current debate on crucial issues facing Australia – the economy, race relations, foreign affairs, for example – is conducted in the opinion pages of metropolitan daily newspapers. And ‘opinion’ pages they now are – with a vengeance. It is a symptom of the times that opinion-page editors have less and less recourse to disinterested authorities ...

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You can’t escape the black square with the ominous slit: it’s about as familiar and inevitable in Australia as the icon for male or female. Ned’s iron mask now directs you to the National Library’s website of Australian images. There it is, black on red ochre, an importunate camera, staring back as we look through it ...

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In November 1998, the Governor General, Sir William Deane, found himself in the centre of a storm over the commemoration of Australia’s Aboriginal dead. Launching historian Ken Inglis’s Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, Sir William remarked that in a country of more than 4,000 memorials there were none, at least of an official kind, to the Aborigines who had been slaughtered in the ‘Black Wars’ of the colonial period.

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Secrets by Drusilla Modjeska, Amanda Lohrey and Robert Dessaix

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November 1997, no. 196

That old rhyme sits unpondered in the memory of every woman or man who grew up to speak English or chant it in the many incantatory rituals of childhood. It is locked in there, partnered with the rhythmic thud of a skipping rope and spirals drawn on your palm to test endurance, in the exquisite torture test that was part primitive ordeal, part initiation into a social community that had its mysteries and its taboos and its transgressions. Children move naturally in this world of internalised rhythms, of things unexplained, of enigma and excitement.

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‘Curiosity is a muscle,’ Helen Garner declares in the first essay of this selection, displaying again the metaphorical spark that marks her out and keeps her readers plundering her pages. She is writing about writing, and her revelations couple a disarming intimacy – Garner the wry, lifelong apprentice, confiding trade secrets – with shrewd and reflexive moral admonition. Here, in a brief paragraph, is laid out the disciplinary ground of fiction and reportage, plus a private view of Garner’s workshop and tools: ‘Patience is a muscle,’ she continues. ‘What begins as a necessary exercise gradually becomes natural. And then immense landscapes open out in front of you.’ It’s a beguiling act, this ability of hers to be forever the journeywoman but in the assured allegorical diction of a latter-day Bunyan.

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