The problems that have bedevilled Australian literary criticism and literary history over the last twenty years have been worldwide. Histories, even quite short ones, now have to be written polyphonically, by committees of dozens of contributors. It is taken for granted that no single person could cover the whole field and the variety of critical perspectives, movements, genres, institutions and ideologies involved. One of the recurrent phrases of recent years has been ‘pushing the boundaries’; but histories, surveys, theses, articles all depend on demarcation lines. That is why the notion of a ‘canon’ has been useful, though, of course, a canon needs to be constantly questioned and revised so as not to become stagnant and restrictive.
Living the queer life in the inner-city suburbs of Sydney, it is hard not to become complacent, smug even. Like a magnet, Sydney draws lesbians, gays, bisexuals, queers, you name it, from all over the country. If you’ve grown up in rural Victoria, moved to Melbourne after compulsory schooling, and then fifteen years later have hit a certain mid-gay-life ennui, where else is there to go?
You can’t escape the black square with the ominous slit: it’s about as familiar and inevitable in Australia as the icon for male or female. Ned’s iron mask now directs you to the National Library’s website of Australian images. There it is, black on red ochre, an importunate camera, staring back as we look through it ...
Were it not for the timing, it would be easy to speculate that this richly evocative collection of pieces about music was the inspiration for Jane Campion’s glorious film, The Piano. So many elements of the film – the dominant image of the beached piano, the powerful undertow of sexual passion, even the unexpected violence-are present in this book in the most uncanny similitude. I should not be surprised since Carmel Bird has already displayed her uneasy fascination with the film in her dazzling essay ‘Freedom of Speech’ (in Columbus’Blindness and Other Essays) and in her introduction to Red Hot Notes she admits that the film was a catalyst for the idea of various writers exploring ‘the complex feelings that surround, and embed themselves in, the human response to music’.
Beverley Farmer is one of a group of women writers celebrated in Gillian Whitlock’s collection of excerpts from their work, Eight Voices of the Eighties. Its introduction begins with a remark attributed to Elizabeth Jolley where she calls the 1980s in Australia ‘a moment of glory for the woman writer’. Beverley Farmer’s first novel, Alone, was published in 1980, at the beginning of this period of renaissance and recognition of women’s writing as central to a national literary culture.
This is Maurice French’s sixth work on the Darling Downs. An Associate Professor of History and Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Southern Queensland, he is ideally placed to study this fertile plateau in south-east Queensland, reputedly the richest agricultural land in Australia.
Literary biographies are reputedly more widely read than their subjects’ own works: more people have probably read David Marr’s biography of Patrick White than have tackled The Twyborn Affair or The Aunt’s Story. The same may perhaps can be said for autobiography, and it’s my bet that Geoffrey Dutton’s Out in the Open will attract more attention than, say, his novel, Andy (Flying Low), his collections of poetry, or even his impressive biography of Edward John Eyre.
Connoisseurs of lapidary prose and the fine art of understated narrative are unlikely to enjoy this risky passionate novel. Nor will they enthuse over sentences such as, ‘The agony was so extreme I was numb with it, as if I had fallen into a vat of molten steel and could not immediately feel the enormity of the burn’, or, ‘Flooded with embarrassment, desire, delight, I thought stupidly, no wonder men go so wild over women, no wonder they dream continually of being lapped in that heavenly softness as they go about the hard world.’ However, Rosie Scott has made her own priorities clear in a 1991 essay called ‘Come and see the blood in the streets’.
The usher of the book’s title is T. Nelson Downs, long-time resident of Burleigh Heads. (The T. Doesn’t stand for anything; it was a parental whim.) He’s one of those wonderful, original, exasperating people full of impossible ideas (such as marketing gigantic ice sculptures for public occasions using skilled tradesmen brought out especially from Florence).
At last, books about Such is Life and its endearingly attractive, quixotically sophisticated author, Joseph Furphy, are coming out. Three in the last few months is a welcome harvest, certainly a happier response than Furphy got during the prolonged Wilcannia showers of his life.