The story of art could be framed as a narrative of tension between the boundless creative imagination of artists and the practical limitations – including instability, scarcity, even toxicity – of their materials. As master paint-maker David Coles explains in this wonderful book ...... (read more)
Simon Caterson reviews 'Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know: The fathers of Wilde, Yeats and Joyce' by Colm Tóibín
Like so many parents of great authors, the fathers of Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, and James Joyce have much to answer for. Certainly, each man had a profound influence on his son’s literary career without for a moment being conscious of the literary consequences of his words and actions ...... (read more)
Simon Caterson reviews 'Missing in Action: Australia’s World War I grave services, an astonishing story of misconduct, fraud and hoaxing' by Marianne van Velzen
Apart from its value as a case study in bureaucratic corruption and incompetence caused by lack of proper oversight, Missing in Action serves as an important reminder that the trauma of Australia’s involvement in World War I did not end with the Armistice. The appalling loss of life ...... (read more)
Simon Caterson reviews 'Truth’s Fool: Derek Freeman and the war over cultural anthropology' by Peter Hempenstall
‘It is hard to reach the truth of these islands,’ observed Robert Louis Stevenson of Samoa in a letter written to a close friend in 1892, two years after the author had moved to an estate on Upolu. Stevenson, who died in 1894, could never have anticipated the prophetic dimension added to those words. Less than a century later ...... (read more)
Sherlock Holmes, fairly early on in his career, survived an attempt by Arthur Conan Doyle to kill off the character in ‘The Adventure of the Final Problem’. Although Conan Doyle had wanted to dispense with Holmes and write about something else, he bowed to the pressure to continue the great detective’s adventures that ...... (read more)
Simon Caterson reviews 'Code Breakers: Inside the shadow world of signals intelligence in Australia’s two Bletchley Parks' by Craig Collie
In architectural terms, if no other, the Australian counterpart to the famous World War II code breaking centre at Bletchley Park initially could not have been more different. While Alan Turing and his celebrated colleagues cracked the German Enigma code at a secluded mansion in the English countryside, Australia’s code breakers began working out of a nondescript ...
Simon Caterson reviews 'The Fabulous Flying Mrs Miller: An Australian’s true story of adventure, danger, romance and murder' by Carol Baxter
Among the glittering generation of pioneering aviators and aviatrixes of the 1920s and 1930s, Jessie ‘Chubbie’ Miller stands out as remarkably adventurous. Carol Baxter’s highly readable biography provides an engaging portrait of a young suburban housewife who decided, quite literally, to make her own way in the world. As Baxter acknowledges, for a biographer ...
Notwithstanding the fact that he died alone in a hotel room following a heroin overdose at the age of fifty-three, Brett Whiteley led what for an Australian artist ...... (read more)
According to A.N. Wilson, the Bible is badly misread by those fundamentalists, whether believers or atheists, who choose to read it in a literal-minded way rather than as ...... (read more)
Simon Caterson reviews 'Waterfront: Graft, Corruption and Violence: Australia's crime frontier from 1788 to now' by Duncan McNab
The Australian way of life has been much influenced by the proximity of most of the population to the coast. While we often think of the sunny side of that existence in terms of the beach, certain shadier aspects of the Australian experience have been shaped at the docks.
'Australia's major ports have been the birthplace of the nation, home to the tight-knit ...