Culture

Imagining Australia collects nineteen essays from a 2002 conference on Australian literature and culture at Harvard University. Of course, as the proceedings of a conference, it is on occasion hard work. There is something about conferences – the dedication of their audiences, perhaps, or the vulnerability of their speakers – that encourages a somewhat defensive formality. That said, almost every essay in this collection repays a reader’s investment with interest: in describing the history of Australian literary journals; offering a new direction for Australian pastoral poetry; providing surprising perspectives on popular Australian myths; or looking at how contemporary poets use form.

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The way we organise our deaths offers insight into the meanings and significances we attribute to life. The sidelining of organised religion has allowed Australians to voice our own ideas about the muddles of existence through the choice of music for funerals. The regularity with which ‘I did it my way’ is heard at wakes is a reminder of how much more pertinent that song is for individuality than are newspaper columns by Bettina Arndt or Hugh Mackay, still less from Andrea Dworkin or the late Christopher Lasch.

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On his first day at St Patrick’s, East Melbourne, Vincent Buckley was ‘flogged and flogged’ by a Jesuit priest in ‘an incompetent fury’. It is an experience that many of his readers will easily recognise, though their remembered lambastings were more likely to have been incurred at the hands of the Brothers and, unlike Buckley’s, would have been a continuing feature of school life. 

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In his début collection of essays, This Young Monster, Charlie Fox pays homage to a range of artistic icons (or ‘monsters’) who revel in freakish and reckless play. His creatures of choice include filmmakers Buster Keaton and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, photographers Diane Arbus and Larry Clark ...

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