Archive

All poets have two chances of being remembered. A few, the strongest of their age, compose a handful of poems that resist time and indifference. Many more never attain anything like poetic strength, yet their works are preserved because they embody a particular style or period. It is still too early to judge where Charles Buckmaster will be placed in the ranks of Australian literature. Already, though, the process of canonisation has started, and at the very least Buckmaster is likely to be read as an exemplary figure of Australian poetry in the 1960s.

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Writing to Geoffrey Dutton in 1969, Patrick White confesses: ‘All my life I have been rather bored, and I suppose in desperation I have been inclined to weave these fantasies in which I become more “involved”. Ignoble, au fond, but there have been a few results.’

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John McLaren reviews 'Double-Wolf' by Brian Castro

John McLaren
Thursday, 05 March 2020

Wolves and goats. The goats represent the ego. They control time, represent culture, continuity, the status quo. They live in the grandfather clock that is at once history and the records of the psychoanalyst. The wolves are the id, the unconscious, desire. They are also reason, and they triumph over time. The Wolf-Man led Freud to his understanding of the war of the id on the ego. Freud identified as neurotics those who, unable to live with the war, regress to the instinctive, the primitive, the animal.

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Some time before the sun set on the British empire, ‘British justice’ took on an ironic meaning. In the colonies, we knew it was a charade, like that doled out to ‘Breaker’ Morant during the Boer War. The dice are loaded in favour of a prosecution that nevertheless insists on carrying out its cold-blooded retribution in an apparently value-free legalese, thus preserving the self-righteousness of the empire and tormenting the condemned. Yet, as Robert Manne and David Corlett make clear in this latest Quarterly Essay, the larrikin land of Australia can now, through its treatment of asylum seekers, fairly be said to lead the world in the practice of traditional British justice.

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Artful Histories represents that extraordinary achievement – a learned critical study, based on a thesis, which is exhilarating to read. While it covers the expected ground, with careful accounts of Australian autobiographies of various types, it also addresses a core problem of current literary debate – the relative status of different literary genres, and the interrelation between writing and life. There is no mention here of The Hand That Signed The Paper or The First Stone (they are beyond the range of the discussion) but McCooey’s elucidation of the relationship between autobiography, history, fiction, and life bears directly on the issues which have kept Australian readers arguing over the past year. At the end of his chapter on autobiography and fiction, McCooey summarises the difference in a seemingly simple statement: ‘Fictional characters die fictionally, people die in actual fact.’ The implications of this are far from simple, and McCooey argues for the maintenance of the boundary between genres on the grounds of moral responsibility.

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Carmel Bird reviews 'Grand Days' by Frank Moorhouse

Carmel Bird
Thursday, 05 March 2020

Grand Days is volume one of Frank Moorhouse’s Palais des Nations novels, and is connected to the author’s previous works Forty-Seventeen and The Electrical Experience by the characters of Edith Campbell Berry and George McDowell. The principal narrative of Grand Days goes on for 500 or so pages, and is followed by some thirty pages of notes and explanations which form another narrative. The most interesting narrative of all, to me, however, is the story of where this book fits into the life and work of Frank Moorhouse.

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It is comparatively rare for a new writer to bring out his first two collections in the one year, and even more rare that one should be a collection of verse and the other of short stories. Yet this is exactly what Peter Goldsworthy has done. His name will be unfamiliar to many, but those who regularly read literary magazines will have come across his stories and poems before and he will undoubtedly be heard of again.

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How different can two books be? Peter Rose’s first book, The House of Vitriol, is one of the first off the rank for the new Picador poetry series – and a sign of things to come. It is mercurial where Lehmann is mild. Rose’s style is very distinct: gaudy and revved up from the start.

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Another book on George Augustus Robinson, the nineteenth-century oddity who toured Tasmania gathering Aboriginals whom he eventually incarcerated on Flinders Island? Historians from John West to Brian Plomley have written about his Tasmanian adventures; Robert Drewe and Mudrooroo Narogin have added interpretations of his singular career. Do we need another?

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His minister described him as a permanent troubleshooter. And yet Charlie Perkins was surely the most trouble-prone and troublesome permanent head in Australian administrative history. Where other bureaucratics operated stealthily to preserve the outward appearance of responsible government, he engaged in calculated acts of public defiance and abuse of the governments he was meant to serve. They could no more dispense with his services, however, than he could operate without their largesse. And so for the best part of twenty year the volatile mediator orchestrated relations between the state and the modern Aboriginal movement.

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