Scribe

Talking animals in fiction have, for the most part, been confined to children’s or otherwise peripheral literature. Yet they often serve a serious purpose. Aesop’s fables, with their anthropoid wolves, frogs, and ants, have been put to use as moral lessons for children since the Renaissance. The ‘it-narrative’, fashionable in eighteenth-century England and perhaps best exemplified by Francis Coventry’s History of Pompey the Little: Or, the life and adventures of a lap-dog (1752), saw various animals expatiate their suffering at human hands.

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On Boxing Day 1962, The Australian Women’s Weekly opened with a two-page spread on a new publication, Self Help for Your Nerves, by Sydney physician Dr Claire Weekes. Her four precepts for people suffering from ‘nerves’ appeared in huge, bold type: facing, accepting, floating, and letting time pass. Positive reviews followed, including one by Max Harris in ABR’s December 1962 issue. Wary of the ‘help yourself psychiatry’ genre, Harris was quickly persuaded by its ‘particular excellence’. The book went on to become a bestseller in the US and UK markets, and Weekes followed it up with four more.

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Twenty years ago, Robert Tickner tried his hand at the nuanced art of political memoir. Taking a Stand (2001) was, he said, ‘an insider’s account of momentous initiatives’ in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs portfolio in the 1990s. A portrait of the politician as a young man, son, father, and husband was not in the offing. Cabinet diarist Neal Blewett, a man not renowned for political flamboyance, described Tickner’s narrative as ‘remorselessly impersonal’. Privately, it seems, Tickner also protested that ‘the public me is not the real me!’

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The publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring (1962) is widely regarded as one of the key moments in the development of the global environment movement. In the wake of Silent Spring, science fiction writer Frank Herbert published the first of the Dune series in 1965. Herbert presented complex descriptions of alternate planetary ecologies, with influential characters known as ‘planetologists’ (a new film version is due out this year). In 1972, the image of the ‘Blue Marble’ was released, a photo of Earth taken by the Apollo 17 crew on their way to the moon, also widely considered to be critical in influencing public understandings of our finite planet. Each of these developments extended a long history of exploratory research, experimentation and imagination about the deep and complex connections of Earth systems. Sarah Dry’s Waters of the World investigates six critical figures in this history.

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Steve Gome reviews 'Shadowboxing' by Tony Birch

Steve Gome
Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Shadowboxing is a collection of discrete short stories charting the arduous journey of the narrator, Michael Byrne, from childhood to fatherhood. Living in the inner-Melbourne suburbs of Carlton, Richmond, and Fitzroy in the 1960s was for many a tough proposition – and the Byrne family is no exception. Their household is headed by an embittered alcoholic whose violent tendencies are a source of constant dread. Money is always tight, and the family’s grip on any sort of security or comfort is invariably tenuous. Yet when the stories have been told, what we are left with is not a litany of woe but rather powerful examples of resilience and resourcefulness provided by the inhabitants of these impoverished communities.

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The Money Power: Four books on the big banks

Ben Huf
Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Bank bashing is an old sport in Australia, older than Federation. In 1910, when Labor became the first party to form a majority government in the new Commonwealth Parliament, they took the Money Power – banks, insurers, financiers – as their arch nemesis. With memories of the 1890s crisis of banking collapses, great strikes, and class conflict still raw, the following year the Fisher government established the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, ‘The People’s Bank’, as a state-owned trading bank offering cheap loans and government-guaranteed deposits to provide stiff competition to the greedy commercial banks gouging its customers.

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It’s a challenge to navigate the maze of books published after an election as winners and losers pore over the entrails of victory and defeat. It’s even more challenging when that election delivers a result almost nobody expected. Who’s telling the truth? Who’s lying to protect their legacy?

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Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt is renowned as the woman who defeated David Irving in court after he sued her for describing him as a Holocaust denier. Her portrayal by Rachel Weisz in the film Denial (2016) ensured that Lipstadt and her landmark victory achieved even wider celebrity ...

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There have been at least half a dozen previous biographies of Robert Menzies, but Troy Bramston’s new life of Australia’s longest-serving prime minister is arguably the most attractive combination of research and readability ... ... (read more)

The name of Julia Sorell – the granddaughter of an early governor – never quite died in Tasmania. A faint memory survived of a high-spirited young woman who was the belle of Hobart, a woman who broke hearts and engagements, including one with the current governor’s son. (It was also rumoured – with political intent – that she seduced his father, Sir John Eardley-Wilmot.) An element of scandal arose all the more readily because her own mother had deserted her father for a military man, and had run off with him when he returned to his regiment in India.

 

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