VIC contributor

Galileo and Kepler went down in history for prising European science from the jaws of medieval mysticism and religion. But where was England’s equivalent? Newton would not make his mark for another century. Surely the free-thinking Elizabethans also had a scientific star?

They did: Thomas Harriot (c.1560–1621). Most of us have never heard of him, for Harriot did not publish his findings. His day job was teaching navigation to Sir Walter Raleigh’s ship captains. Queen Elizabeth’s favourite was intent on colonising North America for the Crown. But it was also down to Harriot’s personality: retiring, cautious, and meticulous.

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Australian classical music. Not quite an oxymoron, but certainly an unfamiliar phrase. Yet Australian literature has been promoted by a battery of university courses overseas, following the beachhead established by Patrick White’s Nobel Prize. Similarly, Australian art has twice had great moments of impact: the Whitechapel exhibition of 1961 for the Nolan–Boyd generation, and now the continuing worldwide interest in Aboriginal art. Our rock stars have repeatedly made worldwide reputations; in classical music, Australian singers have regularly risen to the top. But classical composition has been something else. Apart from the quirky Percy Grainger – deftly working in small forms, sometimes with large resources – no Australian composer has had a significant influence overseas (though Brett Dean is shaping up as a contender). Grainger had to abandon Australia to do so, eventually taking out American citizenship.

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Amy Baillieu reviews 'The Trespassers' by Meg Mundell

Amy Baillieu
Wednesday, 23 October 2019

As the ship carrying nine-year-old Cleary Sullivan and his mother, Cate, sets sail from Liverpool, there is a ‘flurry’ among the passengers. A ‘violent slash of red; tall as a house and shining wet’ has appeared on the dock, visible only to those onboard. Cleary’s mind fills with images of ‘some diabolical creature of the deep, blood erupting from its mouth’. The reality is more prosaic – some spilt paint – but it is an ominous beginning.

Like Meg Mundell’s début, Black Glass (2011), The Trespassers takes place in an unforgiving near-future. Cleary is one of more than three hundred masked passengers escaping a pandemic-riven United Kingdom. Their passage to Australia has been arranged through the ‘Balanced Industries Migration’ scheme, indentured servitude in all but name. The old-fashioned mode of transport and technological restrictions imposed on the passengers, combined with sailors casually shooting down drones, and terms like ‘shippers’, ‘sanning’, and ‘the stream’, give the novel an almost timeless quality, though its concerns are very much of the moment.

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In Israel’s recent election, Benjamin Netanyahu desperately defended his position as Israel’s prime minister, but perhaps also as a free man, because he may soon face trial for corruption charges. As Israelis learn more about his lavish life style, many yearn for the days of David Ben-Gurion (1886–1973), whom they recall as an ascetic statesman of vision and integrity. Netanyahu is seen as the opposite of Ben-Gurion.

So mused Israeli historian and journalist Tom Segev, author of this important biography of Israel’s first prime minister, in Haaretz newspaper. But, he added, Netanyahu has in many ways followed in Ben-Gurion’s footsteps, especially in his view that Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians can at best be managed, not solved.

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In 2016 John Kaye was dying. Once leader of the Greens in New South Wales, he had a final message for his party. ‘This isn’t and never has been about changing government … This is about changing what people expect from government.’ In our era, dogged by chronic distrust of parties and government, it might have served as a rallying cry for people to transform politics by demanding more of their representatives. But Kaye was a man of the left, and in the context of an impending election, as the Greens descended into vicious factional brawls over preselection for his seat, his words unleashed a storm of controversy over the direction of the party.

This is just one among many eruptions of internecine warfare over the purpose of the Greens chronicled in Paddy Manning’s comprehensive history. The survival of the party since 1992, despite the elaboration of a program, and despite its professed commitment to consensual democratic processes, has depended on its leaders: the iconic Bob Brown, then Christine Milne, and lately Richard Di Natale.

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The recent speech by young Swedish climate-change activist Greta Thunberg has provoked much comment and controversy. It also caused me to ponder the future of our planet and how our cultural lives will be affected by the environmental changes that will inevitably take place by the middle of the twenty-first century ...

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Paul Kildea reviews 'Sontag: Her life' by Benjamin Moser

Paul Kildea
Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Sam Leith, literary editor of Spectator magazine, recently put author Benjamin Moser on the spot. ‘Do you think her work will last?’ he asked, referring to the writings of Susan Sontag, whose biography Moser had not long finished. ‘And if so, which of it?’ Moser dissembled bravely. ‘Well, I hope so ...

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When invited by Morry Schwartz, Anna’s husband and proprietor of Schwartz Publishing, which owns Black Inc., to write an account of the Anna Schwartz Gallery (ASG), Doug Hall initially declined but changed his mind after realising that it would enable him to write with a fresh perspective, having returned to Melbourne after twenty years as director of Queensland Art Gallery. The result, Present Tense: Anna Schwartz Gallery and thirty-five years of contemporary Australian art – which takes its title from the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007), Think with the Senses – Feel with the Mind: Art in the Present Tense, curated by Robert Storr – is a periphrastic straddling of art history, social history, and biography, inclined to reminiscence over analysis.

Featuring eighty-nine chapters of varying length, the text mostly provides overviews of the artists represented by ASG, set within a chronicle of Anna Schwartz’s evolution as a gallerist. This broad narration is interspersed with chapters on a few key late-twentieth-century art dealers – sometimes to narrate artist defections to ASG – as well as state museum redesigns, biennales, and even a chapter on Anna’s wardrobe.

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Artist, hermit, instinctive communicator, a nomad who built studio nests for himself all over the globe, Ian Fairweather is a consistent paradox – and an enduring one. In an art world of fragile and fluctuating reputations, his work retains the esteem with which it was received – by his peers – when he landed in Australia in 1934 and, with their help, exhibited almost immediately. His way of life – eccentric, solitary, obsessive – was extraordinary then, and continued so until his death in 1974. Success never sanded off his diffident, abrasive edges. When presented with the International Cooperation Art Award in 1973, he mused, in a letter to his niece, Helga (‘Pippa’) Macnamara:

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David McCooey reviews 'Empirical' by Lisa Gorton

David McCooey
Wednesday, 25 September 2019

In her latest collection of poems, Empirical, Lisa Gorton demonstrates – definitively and elegantly – how large, apparently simple creative decisions (employing catalogues or lists; quoting from the archive; engaging in ekphrasis or description) can produce compelling and complex poetic forms.

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