John Murray

ART

Contemporary Aboriginal Art: A guide to the rebirth of an ancient culture

by Susan McCulloch

Allen & Unwin, 248 pp, $39.95 pb

1 86508 305 4

Contemporary Aboriginal Art (first published in 1999) contains a wealth of information for those interested in the history, practice, and culture of Aboriginal art. By its very nature, Aboriginal art is constantly changing and evolving, and, in this revised edition, Susan McCulloch details new developments in already well-established communities, and the emergence of some entirely new movements. McCulloch, visual arts writer for The Australian, has travelled extensively to the Kimberley, Central Australia, Arnhem Land and Far North Queensland, and her book provides first-hand accounts of Aboriginal artists and the works they are creating.

Beautifully illustrated, Contemporary Aboriginal Art also contains a comprehensive directory of art centres and galleries, a buyer’s guide, and a listing of recommended readings.

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Approximately 37,000 years ago, a volcano erupted in the south-east corner of the continent now known, in settler-colonial parlance, as Australia. His name is Budj Bim. As his lava spread and cooled, Budj Bim’s local relations, the Gunditjmara people, set about developing new ways of managing the changing landscape. They would engineer, most famously, a large and sophisticated aquaculture system, one dedicated in particular to the raising and harvesting of Kooyang, or eels. This infrastructure, explains Gunditjmara man Damein Bell, was instrumental in providing food to ‘one of the largest population settlements in Australia before Europeans arrived’.

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The title of Miriam Margolyes’s memoir, This Much Is True, strikes a declamatory note, well suited to the octogenarian actor whose greatest asset is her voice, with its diverse accents, timbres, and moods. It also proclaims that we are not going to have the wool pulled over our eyes, or to be frustrated by authorial modesty, tact, or political correctness.

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‘There is no such thing as an inherently robot-proof job,’ says Kevin Roose – a stunning admission in his new book, Futureproof: 9 rules for humans in the age of automation. We are all at risk of automation – indeed, more at risk than we think. Silicon Valley’s optimism about automation is either ‘false’ or ‘radically incomplete’. Roose says he should know: he once fell for it too.

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Long before Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook, a company called Simulmatics Corporation sought to predict and control human behaviour through the analysis of big data. If Then tells the story of that company, from its humble beginnings in a tiny office on Madison Avenue to the hallways of political power in Washington, DC.

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Serious observers of American presidential politics will not have missed the rapid rise to national prominence of Pete Buttigieg, the thirty-eight-year-old former mayor of the small Midwestern city of South Bend, Indiana. Within a year of announcing his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, Buttigieg had made history as, in his words, ‘the first openly gay candidate to win a state in a presidential nominating contest – doing so as the first out elected official to even make the attempt’.

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The store of knowledge available to humanity has never been so immense and accessible as it is today. Nor has it been so vulnerable to neglect or erasure. That, in essence, is the message of this book, written with urgency by the most senior executive at the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford, one of the largest and oldest library systems in the world.

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However much we may locate the joy of travel in the sudden revelations of a new experience, one of its most enduring pleasures lies in collecting for later. For the collector–traveller, journeys abroad offer an escape from the familiar and, as importantly, a chance to assemble a different kind of education from the one we receive at home, a living textbook shaped by first-hand encounters and the possibility and urgency of adventure.

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