A downright disgrace
This looks, on the face of it, to be a downright disgrace. In a country which still hopes to be literate and educated, this journal links us to our major cultural tradition. No doubt somebody will purport to explain and support the decision. I also note that the cruel choice was made at exactly the point in history when – beset by pandemic – we will lack cultural education very sadly indeed.
Chris Wallace-Crabbe (online comment)
I wouldn’t have a writing career without Australian Book Review, and I know I’m far from alone. ABR is many things, but its most vital role is as an incubator of new Australian voices, both creative and critical; our makers, thinkers, and dreamers. And with ABR’s unwavering – and distressingly rare – commitment to paying all of its contributors a fair (and growing) rate, the magazine gives us the support we need to keep writing at a time when it has never been harder to carve out a sustainable life on the page. The Australia Council decision is just the latest example of a myopic and feckless government mortgaging its country’s creative future.
Beejay Silcox, Albany, WA
Now, when the mainstream press is substantially reducing, or even eliminating, review pages; when radio and television arts and review programs are also diminishing; and when many fear that Australian cultural production will simply become invisible, we need the ABR more than ever. Many will be dismayed at the Australia Council’s failure to understand ABR’s contribution.
What is less well understood is the importance of a well-regarded general review, such as ABR, in sustaining long-form research in the humanities and social sciences. Arguably, since much of this work is publicly funded, a capacity to engage lay audiences with what is produced, rather than it being limited to other specialists, is desirable. More significantly, if books in these fields cannot gain attention (and sales) beyond other professionals and students, they will not be published. In short, it is about the survival of such books and the dissemination of ideas well beyond the academy.
ABR has served that purpose admirably for a long time. It is more important than ever now. Local publishers and academic journals are struggling to compete with British, European and US competitors whose larger audiences guarantee a greater impact factor. As a result, researchers are pushed to publish specialised ‘international’ research overseas; Australian case studies and topics drop off the agenda; and Australian books can seem irrelevant. In my field, political science, the principal Australian journal has ceased publishing book reviews. In consequence, ABR has become a necessary resource even for those of us in specialist fields to identify what, in the case of substantial long-form research (rather than journal articles), is being published.
The Australia Council must be encouraged to reconsider this decision.
James Walter, Monash University, Melbourne
Australian Book Review is our assurance of our freedom as writers. It occupies a uniquely critical space in our culture that we leave vacant at our peril. If ABR is forced to close due to a lack of support from the Australia Council, the Australia Council will have failed all of us. To lose ABR would be a humiliation of the freedom of thought in this country. The critical voice of ABR is essential to the intellectual health of our society.
Alex Miller (online comment)
Thank you, ABR, for your unflagging commitment to quality literary and arts journalism in these testing times. We have not only a global pandemic on our hands but also a muddy deluge of misinformation and disinformation. As Peter Rose writes, ‘Never has reasoned argument or cogent journalism been more important than it is now.’ In this, ABR is a necessary voice.
Naama Grey-Smith, Melville, WA
Jenny Hocking and the ‘Palace letters’
Congratulations to Jenny Hocking for her brilliant and revealing article ‘At Her Majesty’s Pleasure’. It is both a record of the tumultuous events of 11 November 1975 and an exposé of the Thomas Cromwell-like intrigues and plots conducted by the then governor-general, Sir John Kerr, his secret confidant the High Court Justice Sir Anthony Mason, along with Her Majesty the Queen, her private secretary, and her heir.
All reveal that the hapless Kerr, contrary to official opinion, never acted alone. Professor Hocking’s examination of the Archives Act (1983) reveals that only rules that suit the monarch and by extension Australia’s coalition government will be adhered to. Hocking reveals how our federal government has now spent more than $800,000 to prevent Commonwealth records being released, on the spurious grounds that the letters relating to the dismissal of a twice-elected prime minister are now deemed personal property.
Where will this end? There are enough characters in this essay for an all-revealing play to be written by the award-winning playwright Emily Steel in conjunction with Jenny Hocking and perhaps advised by Hilary Mantel. This play, At Her Majesty’s Pleasure, would fill theatres here and overseas, thus further rewarding Hocking’s research and scholarship. Never would a script be so theatrical and revealing.
Ultimately, thanks to Jenny Hocking and ABR, the truth will out, never mind how long it takes. We can take comfort, as Walt Whitman reminds us: ‘All truths wait in all things, / They neither hasten their own delivery nor resist it.’
Roger Rees, Goolwa, SA
The more I read about our constitutional monarchy, the less benign it appears. Well done to Jenny Hocking for pursuing this matter so vigorously. I think the Australian public is being blinded by the soap opera the royal family has become and not pausing to think about how inappropriate it is for our modern, forward-looking nation to cling to its colonial origins so fiercely. The secrecy surrounding the monarch’s interactions with democratically elected governments is quite breathtaking when you take time to think about it.
Judith Masters (online comment)
Thank you, Jenny Hocking, for your fantastic historical contribution and for your courage and resolve in taking on the power of the monarchy and the obfuscation of the National Archives.
Sally Gray (online comment)
The least of our worries
Long-lasting fires, like the ones experienced in many parts of Australia this season, certainly cause great trauma and distress as well as enormous damage. The need for Australians to find ways to live safely in fire-prone regions has never been more urgent. But to imply, as Tom Griffiths does in his article ‘Season of Reckoning’, that such fires might become the new normal or last forever is to ignore ecology and to miss the most terrifying threat they pose.
The more frequent, more severe, and longer lasting fires we are seeing under a changed climate will inevitably exhaust the natural regenerative capacity of our native ecosystems. Over time, forests will disappear, accelerating reduced rainfall and falling water tables, and leading to the aridification and desertification of previously habitable areas.
Fires may be the least of our worries when there is nothing left to burn.
Danielle Clode, Bradbury, SA
Tom Griffiths replies:
I’m grateful that Danielle Clode is keeping the vital conversation about bushfires going, and I agree that the most fearsome long-term threat the fires pose is ecological. Over the summer, we saw fire interact with different ecological regions in new and frightening ways; we saw blazes in New South Wales behave like Victorian firestorms; and we saw the fires across Australia burn longer and with more ferocity than we have before. We are already experiencing – in our lifetimes – significant changes to native ecosystems due to fires exacerbated by climate change. ‘This is not the new normal,’ as I quoted James Bradley as saying; ‘It is just the beginning.’ I wrote my essay in the hope that this can be our season of reckoning – that we will indeed ‘worry’ about the fires – and that we will curb our society’s obsession with fossil fuels and thus minimise the dire ecological outcomes that Clode describes.
Our tragic red summer
The world may be grinding to a halt, but I have been immersing myself in my first copy of ABR as a subscriber. I was saving it up for a long-awaited trip to Tasmania, but alas this was not to be. Tom Griffiths’s reflective essay on our tragic red summer took me back to all the times I have stood outside with the smell of smoke filling the sky. Griffiths gives not only an Australian retrospective on bushfires but a call for climate action, a reckoning. As the world becomes more dystopian by the day, I hope his call reaches a wide audience. The more articulate and strident voices on the state of our nation we have, the better.
Jenny Esots, Willunga, SA
Tom Keneally’s new novel
Tom Keneally needs to research the methods of lamb castration. The method he describes would have resulted in the extinction of the Sunday roast and the lambs that underwent the procedure he describes. Tom is a bit like Banjo Paterson, extolling the droving life but never going a-droving – pure theatre. Another comment on life on the land from the metropolitan armchair.
Gill David Egan (online comment)
Thanks for this in-depth review of Jennifer Maiden’s The Espionage Act by James Jiang. This line is great: ‘One of Maiden’s great strengths is her ability to preserve a tender awareness in the midst of privation and intrigue.’ To clarify regarding weariness: weariness, weariness in corruption, weariness in politics/espionage and weariness of the artist are actually themes in the collection, not a commentary on the poems or the poet. In terms of politics, it was interesting how media sources tended to try to apply the term ‘too weary to continue’ to Bernie Sanders until his recent success in Nevada. It seems it’s used often to mean ‘a physical state in which someone is worn-down or practically handicapped’ and the idea that someone cannot function in that state. But far from anything eugenic or Darwinian, survival (physical, artistic and political) depends often on reflecting on tiredness to continue. In ‘Diary Poem: Uses of Corruption’, Maiden writes: ‘Talking of the weariness of actors, Richard/Burton on a set once advised his daughter Kate, / who was exhausted, that the best thing was to use / the tiredness in playing the part, / not hide it.’ Just to quickly clarify a couple of things: Maiden uses the term ‘honeytrap’ not ‘honeypot’ to look at the deliberate the use of intimacy to compromise someone politically. Maiden was also not saying that that Turing’s preoccupation with Snow White was related to his death, but that Intelligence forces may have used that preoccupation to suggest that he had died by self-poisoned apple, while in fact there was apparently no poison in the apple.
Katharine Margot Toohey, Quemar Press (online comment)