It takes only five months for a newt to regrow a lost limb. Skittles and Tic Tacs both made public statements denouncing Donald Trump during the 2016 Presidential race. Psychologists have learned that whenever we believe that a problem – like addiction, domestic abuse, or climate change – is intractable, our brains appear programmed to ignore it. The world’s best freedivers reach depths of 200 metres on a single breath. Australia’s First Peoples are proportionally the most incarcerated on earth. Of Australian surgeons, 91.5 per cent are male. The kea, an alpine parrot from New Zealand, can kill and devour sheep. Australia’s relative average income for people with disabilities is lower than any other OECD nation.
One of the functions of the essay has always been to give readers access to new information, experiences, ways of thinking – even entirely new worlds. The above list, gleaned from The Best Australian Essays 2017, gives some sense of what readers are in for. It’s a sample of the truly odd, infuriating, revealing, depressing, and often startling pieces of information on offer throughout. Though Anna Goldsworthy, in her brief introduction, worries about having made selections that are too personal, the essays are remarkably varied: in tone, style, subject matter, and spirit of approach.