Nuns supply the world with a wonderful source of all-singing, all-dancing, laughing or weeping material, from The Abbess of Crewe to A Nun’s Story, from The Sound of Music to Nunsense. Where would novelists and filmmakers be without the sisterhood? Catholic girls have strong feelings about nuns, often bitter but sometimes affectionate. The rest of us find nuns to be fairly remote figures, eccentric perhaps, but generally benign.

In Lambs of God, Marele Day has abandoned her more habitual line of detective fiction for something altogether more ambitious. Her new novel is a quaint fable set in a remote and crumbling convent inhabited only by three nuns, the remains of the Order of St Agnes, and a flock of sheep believed to be the reincarnations of the dead Sisters. Presumably, the return of the nuns in sheep’s clothing is a jokey comment on the Catholic church.

In their utter isolation from the world, Sister Iphigenia, Sister Margarita, and Sister Carla (the youngest, found as a baby on the doorstep and with origins we only learn at the end) have developed uncivilised habits. They eat with their hands, dress in rags, and don’t wash very much. Sister Iphigenia has an exceptionally well-developed sense of smell, comparable to that of Perfume’s hero, but bodily odours don’t offend her, simply forming part of her fabulously complex scent catalogue. The Sisters while away the long evenings by telling each other stories, garbled fairy tales and myths – Beauty and the Beast, Ulysses and Penelope, Neptune, Athena, Sleeping Beauty. Their year is punctuated by events like Shearing Day and Haircut Day, when they shear and snip and gather the wool and hair together for later use.


Subscribe to ABR


On the table were wool and hair from last year’s harvest, all washed, spun, dyed and skeined. The fresh crop of hair lay in a basket ready to be put through the same process. Sister Margarita sometimes wondered whether it wouldn’t be altogether simpler if they just started knitting the hair directly from the head. They could leave the needles eternally in place and knit another row when the hair was long enough. The pain suffered by sleeping on knitting needles could be offered up for the sins of the world.

Into this primitive idyll steps a man, his smell proclaiming his presence to Sister Iphigenia some hours before his arrival at the monastery. The sisters confuse him with the priest who visited them many years ago, Father John; but this is Father Ignatius, an ambitious, entrepreneurial young priest intent on climbing the ecclesiastical ladder. He has very modern designs on the monastery, seeing it as an ideal holiday resort once the decaying buildings have been restored to medieval grandeur. He has plans for a swimming pool, a helipad, 4WD access. The only problem is the three nuns. He had not realised they existed.

Innocent as they appear, the Sisters are resourceful. Father Ignatius’s scheme appals them, not only because it is ungodly and would shatter their accustomed way of life, but because he is tactless enough to admit the Agnes sheep would have no place in his future and would therefore be slaughtered. The nuns themselves slaughter and eat a sheep now and then, but in a spirit of deep respect. The same act has a quite different meaning when performed for different ends.

So they resolve to detain the sacrilegious priest by all means at their disposal. They drug him, encase his legs in plaster and feed him turnips and nettle tea, their own habitual fare. They steal his clothes, dispose of his car and take over his mobile phone, even learning (improbably) how to use it to their own ends. Father Ignatius is seriously out-manoeuvred and deeply mortified.

Lambs of God is a funny novel – funny peculiar and funny humorous. The humour lies both in the absurdity of the situation and in puns and wordplay. Acerbic little asides, clever juxtapositions of ancient and modern concerns and language, together with a deliberately shocking emphasis on bodily functions – from sex to farting – all enrich the brew.

The peculiarity could more politely be called originality. Lambs of God is different from any other novel you are likely to read this year. Although it has elements of thriller, satire, and straight novel with serious undertones, it is none of these, quite. Some readers will find this mixing of genres clever and entertaining; others may find it unengaging.

The writing is generally competent, apart from the occasional unforgivable slip. (Has it been entirely forgotten that there is a difference between ‘lay’ and ‘lie’? And that a phrase like, ‘as equally overgrown as everywhere else’ is grammatically incorrect as well as ugly?) From time to time a rich, even exotic imagination informs Day’s prose, giving promise of even more interesting work to come.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Review Article Yes
  • Show Byline Yes
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Nuns supply the world with a wonderful source of all-singing, all-dancing, laughing or weeping material, from The Abbess of Crewe to A Nun’s Story, from The Sound of Music to Nunsense. Where would novelists and filmmakers be without the sisterhood? Catholic girls have strong feelings about nuns ...

  • Book Title Lambs of God
  • Book Author Marele Day
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Allen & Unwin $19.95 pb 336 pp 1864483229
  • Display Review Rating No

Fortune begins with Napoleon’s triumphant entry into Berlin on 27 October 1806. Does it matter whether the popular image of the emperor astride a magnificent white stallion is an embellishment? ‘Time sullies every truth,’ Lenny Bartulin tells us. History is as much a fiction as this tale of derring-do and dire misfortune heaped on innocent and wicked alike. Coincidence, improbable and highly amusing, propels the narrative in a series of fast-moving, often farcical vignettes that recall Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532), Voltaire’s Candide (1759), and Joseph Furphy’s classic Australian yarn Such Is Life (1903).

With a mixture of comic bawdiness and earnest philosophising, Bartulin successfully adapts the satirical novel to suit twenty-first-century expectations. He shuffles the overlapping lives of characters as if they are cards in a deck of infinite possibility and combination, thus exposing both their selfless acts and darkest secrets. From Europe to the Dutch colony of Suriname and the penal colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, an otherwise incident-driven narrative is lent pathos by Bartulin’s inventive and insightful attribution of motive both to characters who are major players in historical events and to their most abject subjects. He makes the thoughts of Napoleon, his wives and generals, as banal and elevated as those of ordinary folk affected by the vagaries of their so-called superiors; he forcefully exposes Europeans’ barbarism in the abhorrent treatment of the beautiful slave Josephine and her brother Mr Hendrik.


Subscribe to ABR


Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Review Article Yes
  • Show Byline Yes
  • Custom Article Title Francesca Sasnaitis reviews 'Fortune' by Lenny Bartulin
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Fortune begins with Napoleon’s triumphant entry into Berlin on 27 October 1806. Does it matter whether the popular image of the emperor astride a magnificent white stallion is an embellishment? ‘Time sullies every truth,’ Lenny Bartulin tells us. History is as much a fiction as this tale of derring-do and dire misfortune  ...

  • Book Title Fortune
  • Book Author Lenny Bartulin
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $29.99 pb, 292 pp, 9781760529307
  • Display Review Rating No

Andrew McGahan’s final book, The Rich Man’s House, opens with an apology. ‘It’s a finished novel – I wouldn’t be letting it out into the world if it wasn’t – but I can’t deny that my abrupt decline in health has forced the publishers and I to hurry the rewriting and editing process extremely, and that this is not quite the book it would have been had cancer not intervened … for once I can fairly plead – I was really going to fix that!’

Exactly how long before his death from pancreatic cancer in February 2019 these words were written isn’t clear, but McGahan’s concern was unfounded. While it’s impossible to say what changes he might have made had he had more time, the novel as it stands feels neither rushed nor unfinished.

At its heart is the brooding physical presence of an imaginary mountain rising from the Southern Ocean between Antarctica and Australia. Christened the Red Wall by Captain Cook, but now known as ‘the Wheel’ due to a typographical error in the first edition of Cook’s Journal, the mountain is of truly astonishing proportions: more than fifteen kilometres taller than Everest, taller even than the vast Olympus Mons on Mars, it rises almost twenty-five kilometres above sea level, stretching far up into the stratosphere, its top so high it can be seen only indistinctly from its base.

Despite the Wheel’s physical improbability (or perhaps impossibility), McGahan goes to considerable lengths to make it feel plausible. He provides not just physical explanations (it is a small tectonic plate that has been tilted upward) but an elaborate imaginary history of its discovery, conquest, and cultural significance, most of it delivered in excerpts from books and magazines.

Central to this history is the story of one man, Walter Richman, the billionaire adventurer who has the distinction of being the only human being to reach the mountain’s summit, and whose conquest of the mountain – and mysterious actions at its top – remain controversial.


Subscribe to ABR


A contempt for the heedless privilege of power is written deep into McGahan’s fiction, as visible in the colonial violence at the heart of 1988 (1995) and The White Earth (2004), as it is in Last Drinks’s portrait of political corruption. Richman embodies both, his indifference to the human cost of his conquests a reminder that ‘billionaires make their own rules’. As the novel opens, he is in the process of completing his greatest project: a palatial residence built into the peak of the smaller mountain that rises beside the Wheel, a venture that has not only attracted furious criticism from environmentalists and others but has resulted in the deaths of a number of workers, including, most recently and publicly, the building’s designer, the celebrated Australian architect Richard Gausse.

At Gausse’s funeral, his daughter Rita is approached and invited to visit the house. The request comes as a surprise, not least because Rita and her father were, to all intents and purposes, estranged, largely as a result of Rita’s now-abandoned career as a sort of medium, capable of communicating with ‘presences’: non-human intelligences that inhere in places of power such as mountains.

Against her better judgement, Rita accepts Richman’s invitation, and soon after finds herself among a select group the great man has gathered at the house that is her father’s last and greatest achievement. But, as becomes clear when a disastrous earthquake traps Rita, Richman, and the others in the house, Richman has invited Rita because he believes – or at least half believes – the various accidents that have befallen the project are the work of the presence that inhabits the Wheel, and its desire for revenge on him for defiling its peak.

McGahan Andrew (photograph via Allen & Unwin)McGahan Andrew (photograph via Allen & Unwin)

McGahan was often praised for his preparedness to inhabit different genres, but while reading The Rich Man’s House it’s difficult not to wonder whether he mightn’t be better understood as a writer of speculative fiction and fantastika who occasionally wrote in more realist modes. After all, of his eleven published novels, only Praise (1995), 1988, and Last Drinks (2000) are strictly realist; the others veer from straight fantasy (the four Young Adult novels), to fabulist fantasy (Wonders of a Godless World, 2010), science fiction (Underground, 2007), and the gothic (The White Earth).

Through this lens, the failed career as a horror novelist of McGahan’s alter ego, Gordon (Praise and 1988), looks suggestive as well as satirical. But it also creates interesting affinities. Some of these are reasonably obvious – The Rich Man’s House’s haunted building, use of invented documents, and interest in ancient, inchoate terror place it in a tradition that flows back through Chuck Wendig and Stephen King to M.R. James and others. Likewise, its careful and occasionally over-extended working out of the practicalities of the science and history of the Wheel often has echoes of science-fiction writers such as Neal Stephenson.

More interestingly, however, the novel’s interest in geology and non-human presences makes it read like a companion piece to McGahan’s antepenultimate adult novel, Wonders of a Godless World. While it is difficult to know where their use as metaphors for questions about deep time and human transience ends and their role as something closer to manifesto begins, the two have a tension that lends the book as a whole a fascinating oddness.

Sadly some of this oddness slips away in the book’s final third, when the machinery of the plot takes over and Rita and her companions find themselves fighting to escape the Wheel’s malefic power. However, it also suggests that McGahan’s writing was continuing to evolve and change in fascinatingly unpredictable ways right up to the end, and underscores not just the uniqueness of his voice and vision, but the scale of his loss.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Review Article Yes
  • Show Byline Yes
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Andrew McGahan’s final book, The Rich Man’s House, opens with an apology. ‘It’s a finished novel – I wouldn’t be letting it out into the world if it wasn’t – but I can’t deny that my abrupt decline in health has forced the publishers and I to hurry the rewriting and editing process extremely, and that this is not quite the book it would have been had cancer not intervened … 

  • Grid Image (300px * 250px) Grid Image (300px * 250px)
  • Alt Tag (Grid Image) James Bradley reviews 'The Rich Man’s House' by Andrew McGahan
  • Book Title The Rich Man’s House
  • Book Author Andrew McGahan
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $32.99 pb, 594 pp, 9781760529826
  • Display Review Rating No

Australian journalist and author David Leser’s 2018 Good Weekend article, ‘Women, men and the whole damn thing’, sparked a wildfire of commentary, confession, and praise. Written in the early white heat of the #MeToo movement, the Harvey Weinstein exposé, and Oprah Winfrey’s 2018 Golden Globes speech in which she spoke out on behalf of the Time’s Up campaign, it crackled with questions that were age-old yet suddenly pressing: ‘Why is it that men have killed, enslaved, scarred, diminished and silenced women of every age, race and class, on every continent, for so long?’; ‘What is it we have so deeply normalised that we are blind to?’ And most pertinently, or practically, in the midst of this cultural reckoning: what happens next?

Women, Men and the Whole Damn Thing expands on those themes and features well-crafted interviews with activists, intellectuals, campaigners, authors, and family members, and also selected correspondence the author has received from victims of abuse.

As a ‘straight, white, middle-class male who has breathed the untroubled air of privilege’ all his life, Leser is at pains to point out that he isn’t a spokesperson for women and can’t ever know their lived experience. Rather, as a father of two daughters, he wants to show ‘there were men prepared to listen and learn’ – men who might ‘become part of the change that is so urgently required’.


Subscribe to ABR


A daunting task. So fast-moving are events that a number of high-profile legal cases – including those of Australian actors Geoffrey Rush and Craig McLachlan – are presented as being up to date ‘at the time of writing’. And sadly, there’s no shortage of up-to-the-minute material for Leser to choose from. Statistics, testimonies, and anecdotes combine in this hair-raising, frequently stomach-churning compendium of violence against women, and men’s role in perpetuating that violence. Flitting between the personal and global, Leser argues compellingly that misogyny in its multifaceted modern form is inherited from the world’s main religions, that the dubious privileges of masculinist culture are there for the atheist and pious alike, and that those of us who notice them least are those they serve the best. 

A recurring opinion – articulated most devastatingly by Eve Ensler, campaigner and author of The Vagina Monologues – is that men have long been policed, by others and themselves, to ‘cage and kill the feminine within their own beings and consequently the world’ – a deeply ingrained trait that makes crying unthinkable and ultimately, in Leser’s words, ‘obliterates women and girls’, as well as ‘weaker men, more feminine men, gay men, different men, transgender men and, of course, children in all their divine innocence’.

With Zainab Salbi – author, broadcaster, and founder of Women for Women International – he discusses the allegations published in 2018 on Babe.net against stand-up comedian and actor Aziz Ansari by a young woman, dubbed ‘Grace’, whose romantic date with the star, described in some detail, ended with her being ‘taken advantage of’. The backlash against Ansari, a self-proclaimed feminist, was swift, as was the counter-reaction against Grace, who was pilloried on air by the Canadian–American broadcaster Ashleigh Banfield for having potentially destroyed Ansari’s career on the back of ‘a bad date’. Because of the ambiguities it touches on, Salbi believes this story is, in many ways, more important than the transgressions of the Harvey Weinsteins of this world. When it comes to what most women actually go through, she tells Leser, ‘80% of the story is the Aziz Ansari case’.

Helen Garner, a friend of Leser, had a ‘squirmy feeling’ when reading the Ansari story, and says she’s primed to detect a ‘whiny’ note of entitlement in the political position taken by certain – invariably younger – women: ‘It’s like someone with road rage: anyone bumps into them and they go berko …’

Leser’s twenty-four-year-old daughter, Hannah, is incensed by Garner’s comments; his twenty-nine-year-old daughter, Jordan, views the Ansari story as a ‘disgusting one-night stand’ but not sexual assault. Which is to say, there is generational and geographical dissonance as to which male behaviours merit private redress and which ones – if any – warrant a potentially ruinous trial by social media.

That lack of consensus extends to consent and what it should look like in practice. There is now an app – uConsent – that generates a ‘consent barcode’ digitally stored when willing sexual parties agree. And then there’s what is for me, personally – a straight white man with two young boys who still cry freely and clutch teddies – a more promising initiative. Leslee Udwin, following her documentary India’s Daughter about the gang rape, torture, and murder of medical student Jyoti Singh in Delhi in 2012, founded Think Equal, a widely piloted school program to teach children aged three to six skills such as empathy and self-regulation, ‘so that they don’t grow up to rape, bully, become addicted to substances or commit suicide’. Get them young, in other words, to start countering the brutal exceptions and universal pressures of masculinity.

This is an important book, heralding and contributing to what, with luck, will become a workable roadmap beyond patriarchy. I would challenge anyone to read it without pangs of recognition and/or self-recognition. It’s a testament to the strength of Leser’s thesis that the inevitable conclusion seems at once counter-intuitive, simplistic, and profound: for everyone’s good, men – all men – need to find ways to start loving and respecting themselves.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Review Article Yes
  • Show Byline Yes
  • Contents Category Society
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Australian journalist and author David Leser’s 2018 Good Weekend article, ‘Women, Men and the Whole Damn Thing’, sparked a wildfire of commentary, confession, and praise. Written in the early white heat of the #MeToo movement, the Harvey Weinstein exposé, and Oprah Winfrey’s 2018 Golden Globes speech in which she spoke out on behalf of the Time’s Up campaign ...

  • Book Title Women, Men and the Whole Damn Thing
  • Book Author David Leser
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $29.99 pb, 336 pp, 9781925266108
  • Display Review Rating No

Gough Whitlam is idolised, Bob Hawke respected, and Paul Keating admired, but Barry Jones is undoubtedly the most loved by the Labor party rank and file, a lovability which puzzled many of his colleagues in the Hawke government (1983–91). Insofar as they recognised it, they qualified it – labelling him ‘a loveable eccentric’ – a characterisation of which Jones himself is aware. There is little in his political career to explain this phenomenon. An assiduous figure in the Victorian Labor Opposition for five years, he was a junior minister for six years in the Hawke government, in his own words ‘a minister low in the food chain … [who had a] chequered career as Minister for Science’; he was then ‘defenestrated’ as a minister by his own Centre-Left faction, only to be resurrected as National Party President on and off during the years of Labor’s decline and fall. How does this scarcely stellar political career translate into such enduring popularity?

A clue may lie in parallels with Pauline Hanson, whose ‘preliterate approach’ to politics Jones despised. Both Hanson and Jones radiate a kind of childlike quality, innocents abroad in a world of feral adults. Yet despite her naïveté, Hanson shook the liberal verities of Australian politics, while, despite his innocence, Jones has been a remarkable accumulator of political patronage. Moreover, just as Hanson’s popularity derived from her ‘not being one of them’ (a politician), so his derives from being so much more than a politician. In an age in which politicians rank low in public esteem, being more than, less than or just not one of them is an invaluable political asset. And Jones is perhaps the most extraordinary polymath ever to have sat in an Australian parliament.

Quiz king, politician, ambassador, author, traveller, cultural commissar in the arts, education and film, adjunct professor, Cambridge college fellow – the range of his roles boggles the imagination. He was a seminal figure in the revival of the film industry in Australia in the 1970s; his book Sleepers, Wake! (1982) is one of the more important works published by an Australian in the latter part of the twentieth century; The Macmillan Dictionary of Biography (1981, 1986, 1989) was a monumental achievement; and for a decade he was at the heart of UNESCO, first as Australian executive board member, and then as ambassador.


Subscribe to ABR


Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Review Article Yes
  • Show Byline Yes
  • Contents Category Biography
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Gough Whitlam is idolised, Bob Hawke respected, and Paul Keating admired, but Barry Jones is undoubtedly the most loved by the Labor party rank and file, a lovability which puzzled many of his colleagues in the Hawke government (1983–91). Insofar as they recognised it, they qualified it – labelling him ‘a loveable eccentric’ – a characterisation of ...

  • Book Title A Thinking Reed
  • Book Author Barry Jones
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $55 hb, 572 pp, 978174114387X
  • Display Review Rating No

I came to this book after reading Don Watson’s biography of Paul Keating. On the cover of Recollections of a Bleeding Heart, Keating is seen through a window frame, head bent, reading engrossedly, shirt sleeves rolled up – a remote and distant figure. He is seemingly careless of the attention of his photographer, and biographer; a recalcitrant subject.

The contrast with Faith could hardly be starker. On the cover of Marilyn Lake’s biography, Faith Bandler looms large, hands clasped, face alight with laughter and pleasure, in turquoise tones. There is nothing remote about this figure. Faith Bandler wanted an account of her life, and chose Lake as her biographer. This is, Lake tells us, a joint project, the product of frequent discussions between biographer and subject. But why has Lake, Australia’s foremost feminist historian, turned to biography? From the co-authored Creating a Nation (1994) to Getting Equal: The history of Australian feminism (1999), Lake’s work has been directed towards writing women into Australian history. Her signature, as an historian, is a concern with the interaction of masculinity and femininity as a dynamic force in history, and with the way Australian citizenship has always been contested along lines of gender, race and ethnicity. From this, it is apparent why Bandler’s role as an activist and campaigner for indigenous rights interests Lake.

This shift to biography is in some ways brave, for Bandler, like Keating, is a difficult biographical subject. It is not just that she is an unlikely public figure: a politically effective woman in a public culture dominated by men; a political leader outside parliament; a black leader in white Australia; and a highly respected public figure. It is also a difficulty generated by her characterisation as a ‘gentle activist’: a charismatic presence, beguiling and disarming; and a black activist who felt at home in the radical, literary circles of middle-class Sydney. Bandler used the art of gentle persuasion rather than factional alliances and party struggles, and this makes her story very different from those of activists such as Charles Perkins. The title of the book becomes metonymically symbolic of Faith’s character, a celebration of a woman with extraordinary creative and spiritual capacities who campaigned in white gloves and elegant shoes. This is the fabric of the biography, and it remains intact throughout. Who would have thought that Marilyn Lake would characterise a woman as the consummate modern wife, mother and hostess, combining political activism and domestic prowess? Thankfully, Lake offsets this somewhat by including the story of the meticulous arrangements Faith made when she invited the feminist activist Jessie Street to dinner. New yellow curtains were made to match the daffodils on the table; the roast veal dinner was perfect. Street was in fine form, and enjoyed the feast. Nevertheless, she reminded her hostess to conserve her energy for the things that mattered most: her politics and public speaking.


Subscribe to ABR


Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Review Article Yes
  • Show Byline Yes
  • Contents Category Biography
  • Custom Highlight Text

    I came to this book after reading Don Watson’s biography of Paul Keating. On the cover of Recollections of a Bleeding Heart, Keating is seen through a window frame, head bent, reading engrossedly, shirt sleeves rolled up – a remote and distant figure. He is seemingly careless of the attention of his photographer, and biographer; a recalcitrant subject ...

  • Book Title Faith: Faith Bandler, gentle activist
  • Book Author Marilyn Lake
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $39.95 hb, 238 pp, 1 86508 841 2
  • Display Review Rating No

In February 1974, Robert Rose, a twenty-two-year-old Australian Rules footballer and Victorian state cricketer, was involved in a car accident that left him quadriplegic for the remaining twenty-five years of his life. The tragedy received extensive press coverage and struck a chord with many in and beyond the Melbourne sporting community. Robert was a brilliant all-round athlete with an impeccable sporting pedigree. He was the latest of the famous Rose family of Collingwood. His father, Bob, was one of the greatest-ever players for the club and had gone on to coach it. Four of Bob’s brothers had also played for Collingwood.

At the time of the accident, Robert was playing state cricket and might have gone on to bat for Australia. His best-remembered cricketing feat was to put Dennis Lillee to the sword at the MCG. Robert’s younger brother, Peter, witnessed the assault on the great fast bowler. Sitting in the top tier of the Northern Stand reading Norman Mailer’s autobiography, Peter’s attention is drawn to the ‘microscopic drama’ unfolding below. Proud as always of his brother’s sporting prowess, he forgets about Mailer and becomes part of the rapturous crowd.

Rose Boys is Peter’s account of his brother’s life and death. The book is about their relationship as brothers, about what life is like for the families and friends of catastrophic spinal injury victims; it’s also, and appropriately, about Peter himself: about the adolescent who had to look up from Mailer to see his brother hooking Lillee; the ‘Rose boy’ who, far from playing for Collingwood, was to become an accomplished poet, a gay man, and now a fine practitioner of a form of life-writing that combines biography, autobiography, pathography, eulogy, ethical reflection, and an enquiry into Australian myths, ideologies, styles of masculinity, and cultural locales.


Subscribe to ABR


Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Review Article Yes
  • Show Byline Yes
  • Contents Category Biography
  • Custom Highlight Text

    In February 1974, Robert Rose, a twenty-two-year-old Australian Rules footballer and Victorian state cricketer, was involved in a car accident that left him quadriplegic for the remaining twenty-five years of his life. The tragedy received extensive press coverage and struck a chord with many in and beyond the Melbourne sporting community ...

  • Book Title Rose Boys
  • Book Author Peter Rose
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $29.95 hb, 289 pp, 1865086398
  • Display Review Rating No

Whether you track backwards in time from the hidden pestilence that is Chernobyl, or forwards from the vengeful terror of Stalin’s collectivisation and anti-nationalist policies, it is an inescapable fact that the Ukraine has had a bloody and awful century. In the winter of 1932-33 alone some four to five million Ukrainians died in the famine caused by Stalin’s brutal agricultural ‘reforms’.

A brief flowering of Ukrainian national culture in the 1920s paralleled a period of Jewish freedom following the Bolshevik revolution, with terrible consequences; the pre-revolution anti-Semitism of the Ukraine found new vigour in the 1930s, as the bitterness caused by Stalin’s policies was focused by the Ukrainians on the Jewish Bolsheviks who held positions of authority in the new regime. It is not surprising that Hitler’s invading armies were at first welcomed by Ukrainians as liberators, and Nazi anti-Semitism found many sympathisers in this brutalised nation.

Some fifty years later the ugly history of the Second World War in the Ukraine became the stuff of daily news presented to a largely bemused Australia, when several old men of Ukrainian descent were charged here with war crimes, and one case in particular – that of Ivan Polyukhovich – was brought to trial in Adelaide.

Helen Demidenko has written The Hand That Signed the Paper as a fictionalised account of the life of a Ukrainian man thus charged. The book is written from the point of view of the man’s niece, who interviews family members and records their view of the events that took place. We are, then, as readers, given the opportunity to act as the jury for a case that is ultimately not brought to trial, because of the poor health of the defendant.


Subscribe to ABR


Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Review Article Yes
  • Show Byline Yes
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Whether you track backwards in time from the hidden pestilence that is Chernobyl, or forwards from the vengeful terror of Stalin’s collectivisation and anti-nationalist policies, it is an inescapable fact that the Ukraine has had a bloody and awful century. In the winter of 1932-33 alone some four to five million Ukrainians died in ...

  • Book Title The Hand That Signed the Paper
  • Book Author Helen Demidenko
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $13.95 pb, 1863736549
  • Display Review Rating No

If ever there was a national question, it is this ... We were good enough to fight as Anzacs. We earned equality then. Why do you deny it to us now? ... We ask you to be proud of the Australian Aboriginal, and to take his hand in friendship … At worst, we are no more dirty, lazy, stupid, criminal, or immoral than yourselves … After 150 years, we ask you to review the situation and give us a fair deal – a New Deal for Aborigines.

Aborigines Claim Citizen Rights!

William Ferguson and John Patten

 

In 1938, the year of Australia’s sesquicentennial celebrations, trade unionist William Ferguson and former boxer John Patten helped to organise the first Aboriginal Day of Mourning and Protest on January 26; later that year, they co-wrote the pamphlet from which the above excerpt is taken, on behalf of the nascent Aborigines Progressive Association (APA). At the time, David Unaipon’s Native Legends (1929) was the only work of literature written by an Aboriginal Australian to have been published, and it would be many years before the next, Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s We Are Going (1964).

It is perhaps unsurprising, then, though still remarkable, that approximately half of the writing represented in this 260-page anthology of Aboriginal writing in English consists of excerpts from works published in the last twenty years. As the editors, Anita Heiss and Peter Minter, explain in their insightful introduction: ‘Aboriginal literature as we know it today had its origins in the late 1960s, as the intensification of Aboriginal political activity posed an increasing range of aesthetic questions and possibilities for Aboriginal authors.’ And if the 1960s and 1970s introduced us to Oodgeroo, Jack Davis, Gerry Bostock, Kevin Gilbert, and Lionel Fogarty, the two decades since the publication of the first comprehensive anthology of Aboriginal literature in 1988, Paperbark, have seen an even greater upsurge in indigenous writing in English.

Heiss and Minter have taken the significant decision of commencing the anthology not with Unaipon’s work – the expected starting point for such an anthology – but with a letter written by Bennelong (of the Wangal people, Sydney) some hundred and thirty years earlier, in 1796: the earliest documented piece of writing in English by an Aboriginal person. The opening third of the book consists mainly, therefore, of excerpted letters, petitions and political manifestos written in the period between the late eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, sometimes in raw, ungrammatical English, but always describing the same poignant arc, a people’s suffering under various assimilationist state and federal legislation.


Subscribe to ABR


Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Review Article Yes
  • Show Byline Yes
  • Contents Category Indigenous Studies
  • Custom Highlight Text

    In 1938, the year of Australia’s sesquicentennial celebrations, trade unionist William Ferguson and former boxer John Patten helped to organise the first Aboriginal Day of Mourning and Protest on January 26; later that year, they co-wrote the pamphlet from which the above excerpt is taken, on behalf of the nascent Aborigines Progressive Association ...

  • Book Title Macquarie PEN anthology of Aboriginal literature
  • Book Author Anita Heiss and Peter Minter
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $39.95 pb, 260 pp, 9781741754384
  • Display Review Rating No

‘Fuck Australia, I hope it fucking burns to the ground.’ Sarah Maddison opens this book by quoting Tarneen Onus-Williams, the young Indigenous activist who sparked a brief controversy when her inflammatory comments about Australia were reported around 26 January 2018. For Maddison, a Professor of Politics at the University of Melbourne, Onus-Williams’s Australia Day comments (and subsequent clarification) convey a profound insight into ‘the system’. She writes:

The current system – the settler colonial system – is not working ... Yet despite incontrovertible evidence of this failure, the nation persists in governing the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in ways that are damaging and harmful, firm in its belief that with the right policy approach … Indigenous lives will somehow improve. This is the colonial fantasy.

Indeed, Maddison dismisses both ‘progressive’ and ‘conservative’ approaches to Indigenous policy as not just failing but actually covertly desiring the ‘elimination’ of Indigenous peoples. Her message for readers is that ‘[w]hite Australia can’t solve black problems because white Australia is the problem’, and while the ‘structure’ of settler colonialism endures in the institutions of Australian society, Indigenous people will fail, and things will continue to worsen. As such, she argues for a complete rethink of policy approaches to ‘Australia’s settler problem’, one that would abandon ‘the liberal settler order’ produced by the colonial fantasy for something else, although she acknowledges that the alternative to settler colonialism ‘is uncertain’ as ‘there are no easy answers’.


Subscribe to ABR


Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Richard J. Martin reviews The Colonial Fantasy: Why white Australia can’t solve black problems by Sarah Maddison
  • Contents Category Commentary
  • Custom Highlight Text

    ‘Fuck Australia, I hope it fucking burns to the ground.’ Sarah Maddison opens this book by quoting Tarneen Onus-Williams, the young Indigenous activist who sparked a brief controversy when her inflammatory comments about ...

  • Book Title The Colonial Fantasy
  • Book Author Sarah Maddison
  • Book Subtitle Why white Australia can’t solve black problems
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $34.99 pb, 336 pp, 9781760295820
Page 1 of 4