Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following essay contains images of people who have died.


Nah Doongh was among the first generation of Aboriginal children who grew up in a conquered land. She was born around 1800 in the Country near present-day Kingswood, just south-east of Moorroo Morack, Penrith, and she lived until the late 1890s. Her life spanned the first century of colonisation, from the invasion of her Country to the years approaching Federation. She was a contemporary of the famous Hawkesbury River matriarch and landowner Maria Lock and of the astonishing Lake Macquarie religious seer and teacher Biraban.

They, and countless other young Aboriginal men and women, endured the most difficult challenges faced by people anywhere – their lands invaded and taken by aliens, their families ravaged by devil-devil (smallpox) and terrorised by massacres and the theft of their infants. They navigated the settler world of the nineteenth century as well as their own: a new, dynamic, dangerous, hybrid world. The great biographical question of this generation is: how did these young Aboriginal people negotiate and survive these challenges? How, in archaeologist Denis Byrne’s words, did they manage to live in Country that no longer belonged to them?

Nah Doongh’s band may have been the group the settlers called the Mulgoa Tribe, people of the mulgo, the black swans of Dyarubbin, the Hawkesbury–Nepean River. She could remember the time before the white people came, when tall, dense forests still covered the river flats and the lagoons were alive with ducks, geese, and swans. As a child, she must have heard the ringing report of the white hunters’ guns echoing across the valley; in old age she talked about the way the invaders shot and drove away all the game.

By the 1880s, the old woman Nah Doongh lived in a ‘very shaky habitation’ on the Castlereagh Common, north of Penrith, with her husband, Johnny Budbury. The Commons of western Sydney were areas that settlers never took for farms and estates; instead, they were reserved for grazing cattle, for cutting timber, and as a flood refuge. Aboriginal people often lived on them.

Johnny Budbury died one day when the winds were howling. Nah Doongh then kept company with King Charlie, who was probably from Mulgoa. But in July 1885 he died, too. Nah Doongh was alone.

Penrith was still a big, slow, sprawling country town at that time. Set in the Nepean farming districts and on the road and railway heading west over the Blue Mountains, it served the local community of small farmers, orchardists, an army of railway workers, and a few of the old local gentry whose estates hadn’t yet been subdivided for small farms and ‘orchard blocks’. There were also Aboriginal groups living around Yarramundi, at the Black Town (now Plumpton), up in The Gully in Katoomba, in the Burragorang Valley to the south, and at the Sackville Aboriginal Reserve on the Hawkesbury. But Nah Doongh avoided these groups. She mixed with the white people and was well known in the local community. They called her ‘Black Nellie’, ‘Queen Nellie’, or ‘poor old Nellie’.

After King Charlie died, Nah Doongh was also called ‘the last of her tribe’. As in so many cases, this cliché was untrue; it had far more to do with the settler belief that Aboriginal people would eventually vanish from the earth than with reality. Because of this belief, settlers were constantly making records about Aboriginal people, their language and culture, and collecting their stone tools and other artefacts. It was a kind of memorial archiving, carried out while Aboriginal people were still alive. Old Aboriginal people were especially sought out for interviews and photographs. Nah Doongh was photographed at least twice. One is a close-up portrait of her in old age: she gazes off to one side, her ill-fitting bodice fixed with a pin. In another full-length portrait she stands beside a house, wearing a long dress with buttons down the bodice and a white apron. She looks a little bemused. Her left hand is misshapen, her arm hangs limp at her side. In her right hand she grasps a sturdy walking stick.


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    Nah Doongh was among the first generation of Aboriginal children who grew up in a conquered land. She was born around 1800 in the Country near present-day Kingswood, just south-east of Moorroo Morack, Penrith, and she lived until the late 1890s ...

I swim at night, carving through water full of chlorine and tasting of mould, turning lap after lap before the pool closes down, while cells inside me hurry into being like bubbles under a running tap. The lifeguard stalks along beside the pool watching me. I know he’s trying to get me out, but I can’t stop swimming. I have to reach sixty laps, because ending on a non-round number is too terrifying tonight, because everything is too terrifying, because I am pregnant. I tumble-turn at both walls. If I don’t surface, I reason, he can’t stop me. I can keep swimming forever, until my heart lies back down and everything goes back to normal, before today, before it all changed. It is a pool noodle that is finally my undoing. The lifeguard prods me with one like a boy testing roadkill for life, and I can’t pretend to ignore him anymore. I surface, blinking up at him, staring at the blue and white flags stretched across the pool and trying not to cry.

Two weeks in, says the internet, the sex of the baby has already been decided.

I wake up gasping, a low, sick moan floating into the morning. I shake the body beside me, frowning. He kisses me softly, says, ‘It’s only the chickens’, but to me it still sounds like screaming. In the bathroom mirror I watch how my aching right breast has already changed shape, kicking out, reaching for the mouth my body hasn’t yet grown.

It was a girl, I thought.

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    I swim at night, carving through water full of chlorine and tasting of mould, turning lap after lap before the pool closes down, while cells inside me hurry into being like bubbles under a running tap. The lifeguard stalks along beside the pool watching me. I know he’s trying to get me out, but I can’t stop swimming ...

News from the Editors Desk

The ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize is open

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The ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize, one of the world’s premier awards for an original short story, is now open. The Jolley Prize is worth a total of $12,500. This year the winner will receive $5,000, the runner-up, $3,000, the third-placed author, $2,000. Three commended stories will share the remaining $2,500. The judges on this occasion are Maxine Beneba Clarke, John Kinsella, and Beejay Silcox.

The three shortlisted stories will appear in our August 2019 issue, followed by the commended stories. The overall winner will be announced at a ceremony in August. As with our other literary prizes, the Jolley Prize is open to writers anywhere in the world (stories must be in English).

Terms and Conditions are available on our website; and we have also updated our Frequently Asked Questions. Writers have until April 15 to enter.

The Jolley Prize is fully funded by ABR Patron Ian Dickson. We thank him warmly.

Palace Letters

Margaret and Gough Whitlam at The Lodge, 1973 (photograph via National Archives of Australia/Wikimedia Commons)Margaret and Gough Whitlam at The Lodge, 1973 (photograph via National Archives of Australia/Wikimedia Commons)

Bravo again to Jenny Hocking and her colleagues for ‘maintaining their rage’ about Queen Elizabeth’s indefinite embargo on the release of the so-called ‘Palace letters’ – the correspondence between Queen Elizabeth and Governor-General John Kerr pertaining to Kerr’s dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975.

Jenny Hocking – emeritus professor at Monash University and Gough Whitlam’s biographer – initiated the case in the Federal Court of Australia two years ago. The recent appeal hearing before the Federal Court is the latest chapter in this sorry tale. (A ruling is expected in early 2019.) Hocking’s successive articles in The Guardian are essential reading for Australian citizens, republican or not.

Writing in The Guardian on December 16, Professor Hocking stated: ‘Far from the Palace remaining aloof, Kerr’s papers reveal that the Palace was already involved in Kerr’s deliberations leading to Whitlam’s dismissal.’ Previously, she had written: ‘These letters are a critical part of the history of the dismissal … which all Australians have a right to know. It is utterly inappropriate for any independent nation that such historical documents can remain secret from us at the behest of the Queen.’

Hocking also deplored the ‘gatekeeping’ role of the National Archives of Australia, which has spent approximately half a million dollars on the ‘Palace letters’ case. The NAA, she opined, ‘was not designed to protect and maintain hidden histories’.

Australian monarchists fawn over the endless princes and princesses, and the nation spends a fortune entertaining them, but others know that sections of the British Establishment treat Australians with contempt – none more so, in this context, than the Queen of Australia (ironically so designated by the Whitlam government, two years before its removal).

Judith Rodriguez (1936–2018)

The literary community was saddened by the recent death of Judith Rodriguez, aged eighty-two. Her contribution was extensive, primarily as a poet, of course, but also as a teacher, activist, publisher, and print-marker. She had a long association with PEN International. She taught at La Trobe University from 1969 to 1985 and at Deakin from 1998 to 2003.

The PEN International Women Writers’ Committee put it well: ‘Judith was a fierce campaigner for social justice, a lover of the written word, an inspiring poet, and a true internationalist who has lived a life of commitment and service both within and beyond many borders.’

David Malouf, a lifelong friend, launched Judith’s fifteenth collection, The Feather Boy and Other Poems (Puncher & Wattmann), a week before her death on November 22. Our review will follow.

Judith was a frequent contributor to this magazine, commencing in July 1978 (our second issue). She last wrote for us in 2010.

Harriet McKnight (19882018)

ABR was saddened to learn of the death of the talented writer and editor Harriet McKnight. McKnight’s powerful short story ‘Crest’ was shortlisted for the 2015 ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize. She was also shortlisted for the 2014 Overland VU Short Story Prize and the 2016 Overland Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize. She was an editor at The Canary Press for several years before moving to Darwin. McKnight’s début novel, Rain Birds (Black Inc.), was reviewed in our October 2017 issue by Gretchen Shirm, who noted that McKnight wrote ‘beautifully about people’.

The Calibre Essay Prize is closing!

Entries in the Calibre Essay Prize close on 14 January 2019. The total prize money is $7,500, and the judges are J.M. Coetzee, Anna Funder, and Peter Rose.

Gerald Murnane wins with Border Districts

Gerald Murnane (photograph by Ian Hill)Gerald Murnane (photograph by Ian Hill)

‘Poets are tough and can profit from the most dreadful experiences,’ W.H. Auden once wrote in an essay on Shakespeare. None, it seems, is more dreadful than rejection. Poets can brood over a rejection slip for decades. Gerald Murnane, for instance, recalls: ‘I wrote only poetry in my mid-twenties. I had three poems published in obscure places, but the dozen and more that I sent to mainstream publications were all rejected.’

Murnane, who has apparently finished writing all the fiction he had been ‘driven to write’, has now returned to poetry. The result is Green Shadows and Other Poems, which he started in 2014. In the same Author’s Note, Murnane writes: ‘Even after more than sixty years spent writing, I still find the process itself mysterious and awesome, and nothing has so mystified and awed me as the sudden coming into being of these fully-formed poems in the very last years of my career.’

Murnane has a small but influential readership. Last month, his novel Border Districts won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for fiction, earning the author $80,000.

Giramondo is the publisher of Green Shadows and Border Districts.

Film tickets

At Eternity's GateAt Eternity's GateThis month, thanks to Palace Films, ten new or renewing ABR subscribers will win a double pass to Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro, a film about Silvio Berlusconi. Thanks to Transmission Films, another ten will win a double pass to At Eternity’s Gate, starring Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh.

To be in the running please email Grace Chang at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Summer issue

While you enjoy the January–February double issue, look out for our mid-summer online issue, which will contain a dozen reviews. Meanwhile, good wishes for 2019 from everyone at ABR.

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News from the Editor's Desk - March 2019

News from the Editors Desk

Fellowship Twenty

Felicity Plunkett Felicity Plunkett Felicity Plunkett is the 2019 ABR Patrons’ Fellow. This Fellowship is worth $10,000. Felicity will contribute a number of articles and review essays over the course of the next year.

A frequent contributor to the magazine since 2010 and a past Fellow (2015), Felicity Plunkett – poet, critic, teacher, editor – was chosen from a large field, and here we thank everyone who applied in this round. We especially thank the ABR Patrons who make this program – and so much else – possible.

We look forward to advertising the twenty-first Fellowship – the ABR Indigenous Fellowship – shortly.

Read the media release about this announcement here: ABR Media Release


Behrouz Boochani

Behrouz Boochani FXB342840 Hi resBehrouz Boochani from Iran, on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, on Tuesday 11 April, 2017 (photograph by Alex Ellinghausen © Fairfax Media, MEAA)

Though often convivial, not all awards ceremonies are stirring, but the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards – held at the MPavilion on January 31 – was very different. Behrouz Boochani’s extraordinary book No Friend But the Mountains (published by Picador, translated by Omid Tofighian) was named the Victorian Prize for Literature, having already won the Prize for NonFiction. Boochani, who remains on Manus Island where he has been incarcerated since 2013, recorded a video message and then spoke live to the audience via an iPhone. He spoke with great dignity and feeling.

Congratulations to the organisers and the Victorian government for not excluding Behrouz Boochani from these prizes, which – on this occasion – transcended the merely festive and monetary. (Boochani had earlier been excluded from the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards because he is neither an Australian citizen nor a permanent resident.)

At the ceremony, Omid Tofighian read a new poem by Behrouz Boochani (again, translated by Tofighian), which we are thrilled to publish in the March issue.

Felicity Plunkett reviewed No Friend But the Mountains in the October 2018 issue.


Peter Porter Poetry Prize Shortlist

Peter PorterPeter Porter

This year’s judges – Judith Bishop, John Hawke, Paul Kane – have shortlisted five poems in the Peter Porter Poetry Prize, which is worth a total of $8,500. The poets are John Foulcher (ACT), Ross Gillett (Victoria), Andy Kissane (NSW), Belle Ling (Queensland/Hong Kong), and Mark Tredinnick (NSW). The poems commence on page 39.

This year’s Porter Prize ceremony will be held at fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, on Monday, March 18 (6 pm). Reservations are essential for this free event: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. After readings from the work of Peter Porter, the shortlisted poets will introduce and read their poems. Then a special guest will name the overall winner, who will receive $5,000.


MWF on the move

The Melbourne Writers’ Festival (first presented in 1986) was based at the Malthouse Theatre from 1990 to 2008. Many people with fond memories of those congenial auditoria and the main foyer – always packed with authors and publishers and readers – have been hoping that MWF would find a more gemütlich home than Federation Square.

Happily, this year MWF will move to the State Library of Victoria (SLV), that dynamic cultural complex in the heart of town. The creation of new public spaces as part of SLV’s $88 million Vision 2020 redevelopment will make it possible for the Library and adjacent venues to accommodate a festival with this popular writers’ festival.

SLV CEO Kate Torney commented: ‘The Library is thrilled to be partnering with MWF to become the new home of Australia’s favourite literary festival. The partnership will bring new audiences to our magnificent Library, which is being transformed to meet the changing needs of our visitors.’

The Festival will run from August 30 to September 9.


Calibres galore

When the Calibre Essay Prize closed in mid-January, there were more than 450 entries – far more than in previous years. That’s almost two million words of essayism. Judging is underway but will take longer than expected. Hence, the winning essay will appear in the May issue – not April.

Hearty thanks to everyone who entered the Calibre Prize.

2019 Stella Prize Longlist


The 2019 Stella Prize longlist features books by twelve women, from a variety of publishers. Allen & Unwin figures prominently, with Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee, Little Gods by Jenny Ackland, and Bluebottle by Belinda Castles. Three-year-old publisher Brow Books is favoured too, with Pink Mountain on Locust Island by Jamie Marina Lau and Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin. Axiomatic has already won the 2018 Melbourne Prize for Literature Best Writing Award and was shortlisted for the 2019 Victorian Premiers’ Literary Award.

The other longlisted titles are Stephanie Bishop’s Man Out of Time (Hachette), Enza Gandolfo’s The Bridge (Scribe), Chloe Hooper’s The Arsonist (Penguin Random House), Gail Jones’s The Death of Noah Glass (Text Publishing), Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip (University of Queensland Press), and The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie (Finch Publishing).

The winner will be named at a ceremony in Melbourne on April 9.


Melbourne University Publishing

MUP

Melbourne University Press – under the leadership of Louise Adler – has an unrivalled capacity to generate publicity. The University of Melbourne’s decision to (in the words of new Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell) ‘refocus MUP and a high-quality scholarly press’ and to reduce its commercial publishing led to a lot of lively debate. In response to the changes, Ms Adler (CEO since 2003) resigned, as did five board members, including Bob Carr and Gillian Triggs. There has been much commentary, some of it indignant and partisan.

Writing for Australian Book Review, Dominic Kelly – political historian and commentator – approaches the controversy from a different angle. His article aims to fill in some of the gaps in the recent coverage and to provoke a broader discussion of the role and purpose of university presses within the Australian publishing industry. Dr Kelly voices the frustrations of many academics about the direction of MUP and the quality of its titles over the past decade. He also seeks to correct the view propagated by a number of journalists and commentators that criticism of MUP from within academia is motivated by snobbery.

To read Dominic Kelly's commentary, click here


Vale Andrew McGahan

Andrew McGahan (photograph via Allen & Unwin)Andrew McGahan (photograph via Allen & Unwin)ABR was saddened by the recent death of author Andrew McGahan from pancreatic cancer in February aged fifty-two. McGahan was the author of six novels including the Vogel-winning Praise (1992), Wonders of a Godless World (2009), and The White Earth (2004) which won the 2005 Miles Franklin Award. McGahan was also the author of four young adult novels in the Ship Kings series including Ship Kings (2013) and The Coming of the Whirlpool (2011)

James Bradley reviewed The White Earth for ABR, describing it as ‘possessed of a resonance and symbolic complexity that exceeds anything he has done before’. His review was republished in the January-February 2019 issue as our From the Archive feature. In a statement on the Allen and Unwin website, publisher Annette Barlow said ‘I know that Australia’s literary community and readers will join me in mourning the loss of Andrew. I will remember him for his fierce and intense intelligence, his kindness and generosity, his fascination with the natural world and his bravery in facing his diagnosis. He truly was the best of men.’  

Allen and Unwin will publish McGahan’s final, posthumous novel The Rich Man’s House in September 2019.


Newcastle Writers Festival

The 2019 Newcastle Writers Festival runs from 5–7 April, and the full program is now available. Guests include Heather Morris, author of the bestselling The Tattooist of Auschwitz; acclaimed journalist and author Clementine Ford, who will discuss her recent work Boys Will Be Boys; and the award-winning Australian artist Ben Quilty. The festival will also feature a series of writing workshops and masterclasses, book launches, literary trivia, and much more.

For more information on the Newcastle Writers Festival, visit their website.


Daisy Utemorrah Award

In this prize-happy country, some of the worthiest (if not most lucrative) literary awards are for unpublished manuscripts. There is a new one from Magabala Books: the Daisy Utemorrah Award for an outstanding fiction manuscript in the junior and Young Adult categories (including graphic novels). It honours the late Ngarinyin Wunambal elder and author Daisy Utemorrah. Entrants must be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander persons. The winner will receive $15,000 and, better still, a publishing contract with Magabala Books. Applications close on April 30.

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    ABR News: Felicity Plunkett named the ABR Patrons' Fellow 2019; a new poem by Behrouz Boochani; the Peter Porter Poetry Prize shortlist announced; the Melbourne Writers' Festival moves; Calibres galore; the 2019 Stella Prize shortlist announced; the Melbourne University Publishing furore; and more ...

News from the Editors Desk

Winner of the Calibre Essay Prize!

Grace Karskens (photograph by Joy Lai)Grace Karskens (photograph by Joy Lai)The Calibre Essay Prize, now in its thirteenth year, has played a major role in the revitalisation and appreciation of the essay form. This year we received a record number of entries – 450 new essays from twenty-two countries. ABR Editor Peter Rose judged the Prize with J.M. Coetzee, author of several volumes of critical essays as well as the novels that won him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003, and Anna Funder, author of the international bestseller Stasiland and the Miles Franklin Award-winning novel All That I Am.

This year, our two winning essays could hardly be more different: a remarkable contribution to Aboriginal and colonial history from one of our finest historians; and a highly personal account of an abortion – the body out of control and at sea.

Grace Karskens – Professor of History at the University of New South Wales and author of the award-winning The Colony: A history of early Sydney – is the overall winner of the Calibre Prize; she receives $5,000. Her essay, titled ‘Nah Doongh’s Song’, examines the unusually long life of one of the first Aboriginal children who grew up in conquered land. Born around 1800, Nah Doongh lived until 1898. Her losses, her peregrinations, her strong, dignified character are the subjects of this questing essay, in which the author states: ‘Biography is not a finite business; it’s a process, a journey. I have been researching, writing, and thinking about Nah Doongh … for over a decade now.’ The discoveries she makes along the way – the portrait she finally tracks down – are very stirring.

‘Nah Doongh’s Song’ will appear in our Indigenous issue, to be published in August.

Placed second in the Calibre Prize is ‘Floundering’ by Melbourne-based artist, photographer, and fine artist Sarah Walker. Sarah Walker told ABR: ‘The Calibre Essay Prize is an essential avenue for new writing to be published with profound care and respect. I am proud to be joining a lineage of extraordinary writing.’

In addition, the judges commended five essays, which will appear online in coming months. They are John Bigelow’s ‘The Song of the Grasshopper’, Andrew Broertjes’s ‘Death and Sandwiches’, Martin Edmond’s ‘The Land of Three Rivers’, Michael McGirr’s ‘Thicker Than Water’, and Melanie Saward’s ‘From Your Own Culture’.

ABR gratefully acknowledges generous support from Mr Colin Golvan AM QC and the ABR Patrons. 


Tell us your Favourite Australian Novel and win!

FAN pollTen years ago, we invited readers to nominate their Favourite Australian Novel of all time, and what an informative list it was. Placed first, to no one’s surprise, was Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, followed by The Fortunes of Richard Mahony by Henry Handel Richardson and Voss by Patrick White.

Now we’re keen to find out your Favourite Australian Novel published since 2000. Is it True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey, Breath by Tim Winton (placed fourth in the 2009 FAN poll), Questions of Travel by Michelle de Krester, Carpentaria by Alexis Wright, Truth by Peter Temple, Benang by Kim Scott, The True Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard, The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas – or one of the myriad novels published here in the past two decades?

To vote, all you have to do is complete the FAN poll survey. You’ll then be in the running to win one of three great prizes:

  • A $500 voucher from Readings
  • Herbert von Karajan’s Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon and Decca (valued at $1,281)
  • A five-year digital subscription to ABR.

Good luck!


Introducing ABR's new column: Ephiphany

While on the subject of seminal works, we’re also curious to learn what some of the country’s finest writers and arts professionals consider the pivotal cultural encounters in their own artistic formation. Was it a poem, an oil, a pas de deux, a film, a novel, a temple, an aria or riff?

We invited ABR Laureate Robyn Archer – one of Australia’s most culturally sophisticated and distinguished artists – to inaugurate our new column, Epiphany. Robyn recalls a day in 1996 when she ventured to Glyndebourne, which she had previously resisted, only to be entranced by Peter Sellars’s production of Handel’s Theodora – ‘some kind of aural miracle’.


Monash sells film rights to Half the Perfect World

Half the Perfect WorldThe story of Australian writers George Johnston and Charmian Clift life on the Greek isle of Hydra is unfailingly captivating. The most recent book on the subject was Paul Genoni and Tanya Dalziell’s Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreamers and Drifters, 1955–1964 (Monash University Publishing, 2018). Reviewing it in the November 2018 issue of ABR, Brian Matthews recalled writing to Clift when he himself was contemplating becoming a schoolteacher on another Greek island in the mid-1960s. Our reviewer described Half the Perfect World as ‘a fascinating, impressively researched, well-told story about a place and its moment that time and tourism have since overrun’.

Now Cascade Films has purchased the film rights for Half the Perfect World, to be directed by Nadia Tass with a screenplay by Andrew Knight. Commenting on the sale, Nathan Hollier, Director of Monash University Publishing, said” ‘We are thrilled to have now partnered with such a well-credentialled and talented group of filmmakers.’


Hilary Mantel's new novel

Hilary Mantel (photograph supplied)Hilary Mantel (photograph supplied)

Devotees of Hilary Mantel’s novels about Thomas Cromwell don’t have much longer to wait for the publication of the third and last volume in the trilogy. HarperCollins has announced that The Mirror and the Light (which will escort Cromwell to the block just as he manoeuvred his arch-enemy Anne Boleyn there at the end of Bring Up the Bodies [2012]) will be published, after many delays, in March 2020 – surely the publishing event of the year.

Both of the first two novels in the series – Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies – won the Booker Prize. Will the finale earn Mantel another Booker, making her the first person to win three Booker Prizes?

Peter Rose, reviewing Bring Up the Bodies for ABR in June 2012, wrote:

Mantel humanises tyrants and psychopaths. Unlike most writers, who have so little experience of it, she understand power … The language throughout is fluent and zesty. Adverbs are at a premium, and most of the sentences are brief. This tautness, the seeming simplicity of the prose, generate real drama and spring … Hilary Mantel’s second novel about this doomed statesman and most improbable of heroes proves even more relishable than the first.


Out of paradise

Mary-Kay Wilmers (photograph a screengrab from London Review Bookshop interview)Mary-Kay Wilmers (photograph a screengrab from London Review Bookshop interview)

Few people escape from publishing. Most people, once they get a foot in the door, stay put. Mary-Kay Wilmers has been working in the industry for more than fifty years. She began at Faber & Faber when the company was still dominated by ‘GLP’ (the ‘Greatest Living Poet’ himself, T.S. Eliot, much mentioned in Toby Faber’s epistolary history of Faber). Wilmers, co-founder of the London Review of Books in 1979 and sole editor since 1992, occasionally writes ‘pieces’ for ‘the paper’ (LRB-speak). Now, two admiring colleagues of hers, John Lanchester and Andrew O’Hagan, have collected some of her occasional writings in a volume called Human Relations and Other Difficulties (Profile Books, $27.99 pb).

We meet the warring Connollys: literary critic Cyril Connolly, who ‘famously marked his place in a book he had borrowed with a rasher of bacon’, and his second wife, Barbara Skelton, who bedded many but doesn’t seem to have liked anyone (‘What a terrible waste of time people are,’ she wrote in her diary). Coolly, Wilmers is often deadly: in her essay on Patty Hearst she mentions a pre-kidnap beau called Steven Weed – ‘not a name that would necessarily wish fame upon itself’.

Wilmers is generally suspicious of aphorisms, but ABR liked this one in her article on seduction: ‘One way or another, a plot had to be devised to get Adam and Eve out of paradise.’ This piece, in true LRB fashion, occasioned a lethal exchange of letters. Christopher Ricks, in acidulous form, rebuked Wilmers for misremembering one of his pronouncements: ‘I hope that Ms Wilmers the editor of the LRB is more scrupulous than Ms Wilmers the insufficiently edited contributor to her pages.’ (Wilmers, adverbially deft, was sorry that Ricks had ‘taken the lapse so darkly to heart’.)

Hacks shouldn’t miss Wilmers’s article ‘The Language of Novel Reviewing’ – that toughest of assignments. Wilmers notes some of the pitfalls, the minor misprisions. Here, on her own turf, she is decidedly epigrammatic: ‘Every liberal and illiberal orthodoxy has its champions’; ‘Sometimes it seems as if novel reviewing were a branch of the welfare state’; and ‘Just as some novels supply their own reviews, so many reviews supply their own novels.’

Wilmers is funny about the triads of adjectives flung at novels: ‘exact, piquant and comical’, ‘rich, mysterious and energetic’, etc. etc.. She might have been thinking of those triadic puffs beloved of trade publishers – usually written, at any one time, by a cohort of six reliable encomiasts.


Monash University launches the Ian Potter Centre for Performing Arts

The Ian Potter Centre for Performing Arts (photograph supplied by Monash University)The Ian Potter Centre for Performing Arts (photograph supplied by Monash University)

On May 13, Monash University formally opened Melbourne’s newest cultural hub, the Ian Potter Centre for Performing Arts. The $54.3 million venue includes the refurbished 586-seat Alexander Theatre, the 130-seat Sound Gallery for acoustically optimal music performances, and the 200-seat Jazz Club, which operates as a café by day and restaurant and bar by night. Professor Paul Grabowsky, Executive Director of the Monash Academy of Performing Arts, hosted the launch. The night featured a performance by Australian soprano Emma Matthews with the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, Uncle Jack Charles reciting a poem from the late Les Murray, a circus display by the group One Fell Swoop, Auro Go on the piano, and a performance by Grabowsky with Vince Jones and band

There’s a very active program, and arts lovers are encouraged to sign up to receive regular updates from the Centre.

For more information about the Ian Potter Centre, visit the Monash website.


The Wheeler Centre's $150,000 Next Chapter project 

Applications are now open for The Next Chapter, a $150,000 development project for writers run by The Wheeler Centre. Ten writers are chosen as part of the annual program to develop their work. As well as receiving $15,000, each recipient will be assigned a personal mentor. Selected recipients will be expected to complete a manuscript within the twelve months of the program, as well as actively participate in the mentoring relationship. This year, the judges are authors Benjamin Law, Christos Tsiolkas, Sophie Cunningham, and Ameblin Kwaymullina. 

Application are open until July 12. For more information, visit The Next Chapter website.


The year of Anchuli Felicia King

Playwright Anchuli Felicia King (photograph via Melbourne Theatre Company)Playwright Anchuli Felicia King (photograph via Melbourne Theatre Company)

What a year Anchuli Felicia King is having. The twenty-five-year-old, New York-based Australian playwright has new productions of her work at the Royal Court, London, the Melbourne Theatre Company, and the Sydney Theatre Company.

First up is White Pearl, at the famed Royal Court. Running until June 15 and directed by Nana Dakin, it opened last week to much acclaim from new ABR arts reviewer Alexander Douglas Thom, who described it as a ‘meticulously constructed black comedy’ and ‘unabashedly political theatre, an accounting of some of the sunk costs of modern society’.

Sydney audiences will have a chance to see White Pearl in October 2019, when the STC mounts a new production directed by Priscilla Jackman. Meanwhile, in August, MTC will present the world première of Golden Shield, directed by Sarah Goodes, described as ‘an urgent legal drama that explores the personal and political ramifications of corporate greed in the political economy’.

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    ABR News: The winner of the Calibre Essay Prize; the ABR Favourite Australian Novel poll; our new column, Epiphany; Monash University sells film rights for Half A Perfect World; Hilary Mantel's new novel; Mary-Kay Wilmers; Anchuli Felicia King; and more!

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Ronan Farrow at MWF

Ronan Farrow Heidi Gutman MSNBC ABR OnlineRonan Farrow (photograph by Heidi Gutman/MSNBC)Ronan Farrow will be a guest at this year’s Melbourne Writers’ Festival (24 August–2 September). The celebrated author/lawyer/journalist will discuss ‘Power, Abuse and Facing Facts’ in an event chaired by journalist Tracey Spicer at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre on Thursday, 30 August.

Farrow, the son of filmmaker Woody Allen and actress Mia Farrow (and grandson of the Australian film director John Farrow), has been a central figure in uncovering cases of sexual misconduct among men in positions of power, particularly in Hollywood. His gutsy reporting in The New Yorker on Harvey Weinstein’s ‘systematic, predatory’ behaviour was instrumental in the wider #MeToo movement in 2017. This reportage subsequently won The New Yorker the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for public service.

Farrow’s new book is titled War on Peace: The end of diplomacy and the decline of American influence (Norton).

For more information about the 2018 Melbourne Writers’ Festival visit: https://mwf.com.au/

Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield Curt Richter ABR OnlineJane Hirshfield (photograph by Curt Richter)Jane Hirshfield, one of America’s most outspoken and influential voices in poetry, feminism, and intellectual life, will visit Australia for the first time in July. People in Melbourne, Sydney, and Mildura will have a chance to hear the poet read from her work (she will also conduct a workshop at Writers Victoria).

Jane Hirshfield, chancellor-emerita of the Academy of American Poets, has published several collections. She will read at the University of Melbourne on 23 July (6 pm), a public event that is co-presented with the School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics in the Faculty of Arts Monash University (register at http://alumni.online.unimelb.edu.au/hirshfield)

The Mildura Writers’ Festival runs from 19–22 July. Guests will include David Malouf, Robyn Davidson, and James Ley.

We have much pleasure in publishing Jane Hirshfield’s poem ‘Interruption: An Assay’ in this issue.

Prizes galore

Our voracious judges are currently reading their way through almost 1,200 entries in the 2018 ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize, which is worth a total of $12,500. As always, we will publish the three shortlisted stories in our August issue. The winner will be revealed at a special event at fortyfivedownstairs on Monday, 21 August (6 pm – see our Events page). The Jolley Prize ceremony is a free event and all are welcome, but please book via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Readings from the shortlisted stories will precede the announcement.

August is also an exciting month for the world’s most alliterative of literary prizes. Entries for the 2019 Peter Porter Poetry Prize (worth $8,500) will open on 1 August.

Meanwhile, the 2019 Calibre Essay Prize will open on 1 September – the thirteenth time we have presented Calibre.

Sign up to our free monthly eNews newsletter, follow us on social media (Facebook and Twitter), or visit our website to get all the latest news about our prizes.

SMH Young Novelists

Congratulations to 2014 ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize winner Jennifer Down on being named an SMH Young Novelist for the second year in a row, joining previous multiple recipients Emily Maguire, James Bradley, and Sonya Hartnett. Down was chosen in 2017 for her début novel Our Magic Hour, and this year for her début short story collection, Pulse Points, which features her Jolley Prize winning story ‘Aokigahara’.

Jolley Prize 2014 Jennifer Down ABR OnlineJennifer Down at the 2014 ABR Elizabeth Jolley Prize ceremony

 

The other 2018 SMH Young Novelists are Marija Peričić (The Lost Pages), Shaun Prescott (The Town), and Pip Smith (Half Wild).

More than a building

La Mama, one of Melbourne’s iconic theatres, has been seriously damaged in a fire. The blaze, started by an electrical fault, occurred on 19 May. No one was injured, and arson is not suspected.

‘While there is considerable damage, this has become a restoration project. We will retain as much of the historic structure of the building as possible … we loved our building on Faraday Street, but La Mama is more than a building, and despite our devastation her spirit is strong. Together with our artists, staff and community we will move with strength into the next fifty years and beyond,’ said La Mama Artistic Director and CEO Liz Jones and Company Manager and Creative Producer Caitlin Dullard in a joint statement.

La Mama Rick Evertsz ABR Online La Mama Theatre after the fire (photograph by Rick Evertsz)

 

All productions in La Mama’s Autumn season will proceed at different venues. For more information, visit La Mama’s website or Twitter page.

John Simkin Medal 2018

‘Why index?’ asks the indispensable Chicago Manual of Style, now in a sixteenth edition, and sumptuously indexed itself. The answer it provides is compelling: ‘This painstaking intellectual labor serves readers of any book-length text … An index, a highly organized, detailed counterpart to a table of contents and other navigational aids, is also insurance – in searchable texts – against fruitless queries and unintended results.’

Painstaking this essential labour certainly is, as anyone who has devised one can attest, so it is good to know that the craft of indexing is not entirely overlooked. The Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers (ANZSI) is seeking nominations from publishers, booksellers, editors, librarians, and indexers for the John Simkin Medal – an award recognising an outstanding index to a book or periodical compiled in Australia or New Zealand. To learn more about the John Simkin Medal, visit the ANZSI website.

Satan Repentant by Michael Aiken

Satan Repentant by Michael AikenAuthor James Bradley will launch Michael Aiken's verse novel, Satan Repentant (UWAP, $22.99 pb, 140 pp, 9781742589770), on Saturday 16 June from 4 pm – 5.30 pm at an event at Sydney's Better Read Than Dead bookstore. A reading from Michael Aiken will be followed by informal drinks.

Satan Repentant was written as part of Australian Book Review's inaugural Laureate's Fellowship under the mentorship of David Malouf. The novel is described as 'a violent epic leaping from the cosmological to the infinitesimal, a modern day drama of revenge, resentment, and remorse, telling a new myth of what would happen if Satan tried to apologise and atone for all his crimes.'

David Malouf describes Satan Repentant as a 'tour de force. Michael Aiken, like Milton, Blake and Mary Shelley before him, has created a language, entirely free of place and time, in which to take on dramatically. and with great intelligence and wit, some of the abiding questions – moral, social, theological – at the centre of our culture.'

To register for the event, visit the Better Read Than Dead website.

Melbourne Prize for Literature

Entries are now open for the Melbourne Prize for Literature. The Prize, worth a total of $100,000, is open to residents of Victoria who have been published in any literary genre. Information and entry guidelines are available from www.melbourneprize.org

Winter Reading

Midway through this double issue (June–July), we will publish a smaller online edition with a number of new reviews. Look out for this in the last week of June. If you are signed up for our free e-bulletins, you will receive an email Alert when the mini-issue is published.

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    Ronan Farrow at MWF, Jane Hirshfield, ABR Prizes galore, SMH Young Novelists, La Mama Theatre, John Simkin Medal 2018, Melbourne Prize for Literature, Winter reading ...

Thursday, 29 March 2018 12:48

2018 Calibre Essay Prize winner

Lucas Grainger-Brown is the winner of the twelfth Calibre Essay Prize – Australia’s most prestigious essay prize. The judges – novelist Andrea Goldsmith, NewSouth Executive Publisher Phillipa McGuinness, and ABR Editor Peter Rose – chose Lucas’s essay ‘We Three Hundred’ from a field of over 200 essays submitted from thirteen countries. Lucas receives $5,000, and his essay appears in the April 400th issue of Australian Book Review.

Lucas Grainger Brown and his mother
Lucas Grainger Brown and his mother

We Three Hundred’ is a candid and unsentimental account of life as a cadet at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra for a bookish, idealistic adolescent straight out of high school.

On learning that he had won the Calibre Essay Prize, Lucas Grainger-Brown commented: ‘It is an incredible honour to win the Calibre Essay Prize. When I was ready to write out this formative story, I knew I had to submit it to the Calibre Prize. Australian Book Review provides a fantastic national platform for the appreciation of Australian arts, ideas and culture. I hope my essay is read as a constructive addition to the ongoing dialogue about who we are and where we are going.’

This winner of the second prize, worth $2,500, is Kirsten Tranter. Her essay, entitled ‘Once Again’, will be published in an upcoming issue.


Lucas Grainger BrownAbout Lucas Grainger Brown
Lucas Grainger-Brown joined the Australian Defence Force as a high school student. Subsequently he worked as a management consultant. He is a researcher, tutor, and doctoral candidate at The University of Melbourne. Philosophy and politics are his enduring passions. He has published commentary, essays, and fiction across numerous media. He first wrote for ABR in 2016.

Kirsten Tranter Calibre Prize runner upAbout Kirsten Tranter
Kirsten Tranter lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the author of three novels, including Hold (2016), longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. She completed a PhD in English Literature at Rutgers University in 2008, and publishes essays, journalism, and literary criticism. She is a founder of the Stella Prize for Australian women’s writing.


Longlisted entries

Judith Bishop (VIC)
‘O Brave New World, That Has Such Data In’t (Love and Self-Understanding in an Algorithmic Age)’

Sally Kerry Fox (UK)
‘The Lives We Leave Behind’

David M. A. Francis (VIC)
‘Between Joy and Sorrow: A Journey of the Hands’

Karen Holmberg (US)
‘The Very Worst Ache Is Not Knowing Why: Remembering Mme. Cluny’

Jack Jeweller (NSW)
‘Wings with Words’

Daryl Li (Singapore)
‘Metamorphoses’

Lea Zusmanovicha (VIC)
‘The Tails of Blankets’

Further information

pdfClick here to download the media release

Subscribe to ABR Online to gain access to this issue online, plus the ABR archive.

Click here for more information about past winners and to read their essays.

We look forward to offering the Calibre Essay Prize again in 2019. 

We gratefully acknowledge the long-standing support of Mr Colin Golvan QC and the ABR Patrons.

Grace Karskens (photograph by Joy Lai)Grace Karskens (photograph by Joy Lai)The Calibre Essay Prize, now in its thirteenth year, has played a major role in the revitalisation and appreciation of the essay form. This year we received a record number of entries – 450 new essays from twenty-two countries. ABR Editor Peter Rose judged the Prize with J.M. Coetzee, author of several volumes of critical essays as well as the novels that won him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003, and Anna Funder, author of the international bestseller Stasiland and the Miles Franklin Award-winning novel All That I Am.

This year, our two winning essays could hardly be more different: a remarkable contribution to Aboriginal and colonial history from one of our finest historians; and a highly personal account of an abortion – the body out of control and at sea.

Grace Karskens – Professor of History at the University of New South Wales and author of the award-winning The Colony: A history of early Sydney – is the overall winner of the Calibre Prize; she receives $5,000. Her essay, titled ‘Nah Doongh’s Song’, examines the unusually long life of one of the first Aboriginal children who grew up in conquered land. Born around 1800, Nah Doongh lived until 1898. Her losses, her peregrinations, her strong, dignified character are the subjects of this questing essay, in which the author states: ‘Biography is not a finite business; it’s a process, a journey. I have been researching, writing, and thinking about Nah Doongh … for over a decade now.’ The discoveries she makes along the way – the portrait she finally tracks down – are very stirring.

‘Nah Doongh’s Song’ will appear in our Indigenous issue, to be published in August.

Placed second in the Calibre Prize is ‘Floundering’ by Melbourne-based artist, photographer, and fine artist Sarah Walker. Sarah Walker told ABR: ‘The Calibre Essay Prize is an essential avenue for new writing to be published with profound care and respect. I am proud to be joining a lineage of extraordinary writing.’

In addition, the judges commended five essays, which will appear online in coming months in High Calibre. They are: 

  • John Bigelow: ‘The Song of the Grasshopper’
  • Andrew Broertjes: ‘Death and Sandwiches’
  • Martin Edmond: ‘The Land of Three Rivers’
  • Michael McGirr: ‘Thicker Than Water’
  • Melanie Saward: ‘From Your Own Culture’ 

About Grace Karskens

Grace Karskens is Professor of History at the University of New South Wales. She is a leading authority on early colonial Australia and also works in cross-cultural and environmental history. Her books include Inside the Rocks: The archaeology of a neighbourhood and the multi-award winning The Rocks: Life in early Sydney. Her book The Colony: A history of early Sydney won the 2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction and the US Urban History Association’s prize for Best Book 2010. Her next book, People of the River: Lost worlds of early Australia, will be published by Allen & Unwin in 2020.

About Sarah Walker

Sarah Walker is a Melbourne-based writer and fine artist. In 2017 she won the Sydney Road Writer’s Cup and the Sydney Road Storytelling Prize. She has been published in Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Women of letters. She is also an award-winning photographer, theatre designer, anddirector, and is co-host of the podcast Contact Mic.


Further information

Click here to download the media release

Subscribe to ABR to gain access to this issue, plus the ABR archive.

Click here for more information about past winners and to read their essays.

We look forward to offering the Calibre Essay Prize again in 2020. 

We gratefully acknowledge the long-standing support of Colin Golvan QC and the ABR Patrons.

Friday, 23 March 2018 14:18

News from the Editor's Desk - April 2018

Calibre Essay Prize

The Calibre Essay Prize, now in its twelfth year, has played a major role in the resurgence of the literary essay. This year we received more than 200 original essays from thirteen countries. ABR Editor Peter Rose judged the Prize with novelist and essayist Andrea Goldsmith and NewSouth publisher Phillipa McGuinness. Their task was a long but stimulating one because of the quality of the thirty longlisted essays.

Lucas Grainger-Brown is the winner of the 2018 Calibre Essay Prize. His essay, entitled ‘We Three Hundred’, offers a candid and unsentimental account of life at the Australian Defence Force Academy as an idealistic cadet straight out of high school. Dr Grainger-Brown receives $5,000 from ABR.

Lucas Grainger BrownGrainger-Brown, who first wrote for ABR in 2016, told Advances: ‘It is an incredible honour to win the Calibre Essay Prize. Many of its past winners changed the way I think and feel about fundamental things. I am delighted my words will be added to this important body of work. When I was ready to write my formative story, I knew I had to submit it to the Calibre Prize. Australian Book Review provides a fantastic national platform for the appreciation of Australian arts, ideas, and culture. I hope my essay is read as a constructive addition to the ongoing dialogue about who we are and where we are going.’

This year’s runner-up is ‘Once Again: Outside in the House of Art’ by novelist Kirsten Tranter. In this ekphrastic essay, Dr Tranter, who lives in California, returns to Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s video installation ‘The Visitors’ and offers a subtle meditation on art, parenthood, and expatriation. Kirsten Tranter receives $2,500. We will publish her essay in May.

Black Inc. may have decided not to proceed with The Best Australian Essays (as with its poetry anthology), but Calibre will be back bigger than ever in 2019.

ABR gratefully acknowledges generous support from Mr Colin Golvan QC and the ABR Patrons.

Peter Temple (1946–2018)

800px Peter Temple Oslo bokfestival 2011 ABR Online

Peter Temple, the first crime writer to win the Miles Franklin Literary Award, died at his home in Ballarat on 8 March, aged seventy-one.

Temple, who was born in South Africa and emigrated to Australia in 1980, was the author of nine novels, including the Jack Irish series, later adapted for television. Truth, his last novel, won the Miles in 2010. Temple also won five Ned Kelly awards and the British Crime Writer’s Association’s Gold Dagger award. In a tribute to its author, Text Publishing described Temple as bringing ‘the soul of the poet to the demands of the crime novel’.

Porter Prize

Nicholas Wong became the first Asian writer to claim an ABR literary prize when he was named winner of the 2018 Peter Porter Poetry Prize. Wong, who had travelled from Hong Kong to attend the Melbourne ceremony on 19 March, receives $5,000 for his poem ‘101, Taipei’. He told Advances, ‘I’m honoured to be the winner, especially with a poem whose subject matter may seem foreign.’

Nicholas Wong photograph by Sum at Grainy Studio 200pxTracey Slaughter was placed second with her poem ‘breather’; she receives $2,000. One-third of the entries in this year’s Porter Prize came from overseas – a measure of its international prestige and of greater awareness of ABR outside Australia.

We congratulate Nicholas Wong, the other shortlisted poets (Eileen Chong, Katherine Healy, and LK Holt), and our three judges: John Hawke, Bill Manhire, and Jen Webb.

A podcast of the Porter ceremony – including readings from all five shortlisted poets – is available on our website.

Films Galore

For reasons too Bollywood to relate, our Film and Television issue has been postponed to June, giving readers more time to vote in our online survey. Tell us your favourite film, director, and actor for a chance to win one of five great prizes, including a one-year Palace VIP card. You have until 21 May to vote.

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    The Calibre Essay Prize, Peter Temple (1946-2018), Porter Prize, 2018 Film survey

I signed away ten years of my life at high school. Three hundred or so teenagers did likewise around the country; from Sydney and Melbourne to the wind-rustle quiet of burnt umber townships. We had similar reasons – wanting to be heroes and leaders, chasing self-respect, escaping loose ends, following Simpson and his donkey.

After graduation we cut our hair to regulation length, checked off items on a list in a thick wad of mailed instructions. We packed our luggage, teenage surfeit shrunk to military limits. Stiff in two-piece suits and shiny new leathers, family members farewelled, we converged on Canberra.

Canberra from above, in the throes of summer: a slice of suburbia deserted amid the pivot of a tumbleweed dust bowl; kindling grass chequered with vacant car parks; dark green mountains at the edge of the plateau. It was almost deserted. The politicians had gone home; locals had fled to the coast. The bushfire season consumed the headlines at a newspaper stand by the luggage carousel.

Buses with tinted glass awaited us. In a strange quiet, cocooned by the thrumming air-conditioning, we endured an anxious trip along the highway. Halfway up a gradual rise overlooking dry scrubland dotted with brick whitewash, our convoy turned through insignia-crusted walls. Into a strange city we burrowed, among Brutalist buildings stacked on the concave hillside like a Brazilian favela. Strangers began shouting at us. I caught the eye of another passenger and we shared a moment of sangfroid. We had arrived at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

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    I signed away ten years of my life at high school. Three hundred or so teenagers did likewise around the country; from Sydney and Melbourne to the wind-rustle quiet of burnt umber townships. We had similar reasons – wanting to be heroes and leaders, chasing self-respect, escaping loose ends, following Simpson and his donkey ...

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