Essays

When I’m ten or so, my brother appears shirtless at the dinner table. Ever the eager disciple, I follow his example without a second thought. It is a sweltering January day, and our bodies are salt-crusted from the beach. Clothing seems cruel in these conditions. As my brother tucks into his schnitzel, tanned chest gleaming, I grow conscious that the mood has become strained. Across the table, my parents exchange glances. The midsummer cheer of recent evenings is on hold.

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There’s a script for everything. Someone, voice wavering, says, ‘She’s dead’, and you say, ‘What?’ They say it again, and you say, ‘Oh, my god.’ You ask the usual questions, and then hang up and everything is incredibly quiet. You tell your boyfriend, and you both walk around the house trying to pack useful things: a sleeve of Valium, warm socks. You call your brother in London. He texts to say it’s five am there, can it wait? You call back. Before he even answers the phone, he knows.

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Andrew McGahan’s first novel, Praise (1992), concludes with its narrator, Gordon Buchanan, deciding – perhaps accepting is a better word – that he will live a life of contemplation. This final revelation is significantly ambivalent. The unresponsive persona Gordon has assumed throughout the novel is something of an affectation. On one level, he is playing the stereotypical role of the inarticulate Australian male, but his blank façade is also defensive; it is a cover for his sensitivity. For Gordon, life is less overwhelming in a practical sense than in an emotional sense. His true feelings are a garden concreted over for ease of maintenance. He feels that the defining quality of human relationships is doubt, and this doubt confounds expression. ‘I’m never certain of anything I feel about a person,’ he says, ‘and talking about it simplifies it all so brutally. It’s easier to keep quiet. To act what you feel. Actions are softer. They can be interpreted in lots of different ways, and emotions should be interpreted in lots of different ways.’

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Searing, mind-numbing grief at the loss of my partner of thirteen years was one thing, but such a breach of parking etiquette could not stand. The necessary adjustments were made, and the less serious business of grieving could begin. Later that day my sister weighed in. Her aid came in the form of fifteen ham-and-cheese sandwiches ...

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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 ...

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Australia remains alone among the settler colonies for its lack of treaties with First Nations. This is despite the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia have been calling for a treaty for decades – since at least the 1970s and then more forcefully during the Treaty ’88 Campaign ...

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It begins with a projected haze of ocean horizon. In this blurry liminal space, silence is misted with anticipation, like the moment before an echo comes back empty, right across the sea. Then a close-up of multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis’s hands unpicking tranquillity’s fabric, each piano note a loosened stitch ...

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The University of Melbourne’s announcement on 30 January 2019 that Melbourne University Publishing would henceforth ‘refocus on being a high-quality scholarly press in support of the University’s mission of excellence in teaching and research’, which led to the resignations of its chief executive, Louise Adler ...

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Grand illusion

Jane Goodall

 

AS I WAS SAYING: A COLLECTION OF MUSINGS
by Robert Dessaix
Vintage, $27.95 pb, 224 pp, 9781742753072

 

‘I’m sitting in my tower, cogitating.’ Well, Dessaix admits, it’s not a real tower, though he likes to think of ...

A year ago, I came to Australia prepared to spend the first half of my sabbatical leave completing a book on John Keats. Never having been to Australia, I was eager to spend some time here: five months in all. When I participated in the 2008 Mildura Writers Festival, it became clear to me that something both delightful and extraordinary was at work. There was a fine group of writers, including Les Murray, David Malouf, Alice Pung, Alex Miller, Sarah Day, and Anthony Lawrence. But what made the festival remarkable was the combination of conviviality and serious talk about literature and ideas that surpassed anything in my previous experience, which included far more such events than I could begin to count.

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