The state of Victoria, as we all know, is currently doing it tough, with a marked increase in the number of active coronavirus cases. As we go to press, the outlook is gloomy. We all hope that daily counts will decline soon and that before too long all Australians will be able to enjoy the sort of freedom, movement, and confidence now enjoyed in other states.
Meanwhile, the arts sector is grateful to the Victorian government for its sustained contribution to the creative industries, which have been devastated since March. Even at this disastrous time, when budgets everywhere are threatened, Creative Victoria continues to bolster artistic endeavour in myriad ways. Recently, Australian Book Review received $39,000 to help pay Victorian writers over the next twelve months. We couldn’t be more appreciative.
Copyright and commentary
Over the past fifteen years, the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund has been a consistent supporter of this magazine’s determination to broaden its influence and to diversify its publishing. The Calibre Essay Prize, ABR Arts, and States of Poetry would not have been possible without seeding grants from the Cultural Fund.
As the pandemic worsens and the world contends with immense challenges – climate change, inequality, illiberalism and populism, and the enduring horrors of racism and slavery – commentary becomes more significant in ABR. To complement recent articles on Covid-19, the Palace Letters, and the climate crisis, ABR is commissioning a series of longer features on related topics, helped enormously by a grant of $20,000 from the Cultural Fund.
The August issue includes three articles in this new series. Historian Georgina Arnott, in an essay that will surprise some readers, writes at length about the legacies of British slavery and the extravagant compensation of British slave-owners, some of which money made its way to the Australian colonies. James Ley, in a withering piece, laments the federal government’s vendetta against the arts, the ABC, and the humanities. Finally, Kieran Pender writes about law’s #MeToo moment in the wake of the Dyson Heydon revelations.
ABR – and our essayists – are grateful to the Copyright Agency.
The Jolley Prize
This year we celebrate the tenth ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize. We received about 1,450 entries. The judges – past winners Gregory Day and Josephine Rowe, and Ellen Van Neerven – have shortlisted three stories: ‘Egg Timer’ by C.J. Garrow (Victoria); ‘Hieroglyph’ by Simone Hollander (Colorado); and ‘River Story’ by Mykaela Saunders (NSW). The stories appear in this issue.
This year’s crop of stories were suitably diverse in both technique and content. The increasingly international profile of the prize meant that this diversity extended also to sense of place, narrative timbre, and even dialect. The dramatic year we are having as a species was also evident in stories that dealt with the pandemic scenario, but, as in any era, the very best of the crop transcended any single issue to dramatise the timeless heart of the human experience.
Here are the judges’ comments on the three feature stories.
Skilfully composed and deeply felt, ‘Hieroglyph’ is a remarkable and entrancing feat of symmetry and style. It’s a rare thrill to encounter a story whose innovative form so seamlessly and sensitively reflects the emotional and elemental terrain of the lives held within.
‘Egg Timer’ is a refreshingly entertaining short story full of acerbic wit and linguistic nerve. Its highly contemporary vernacular prods at the seams of analogue and digital life whilst providing a rendition of a community in the ‘new quotidian’ mode of the pandemic. The story has many dazzling comic moments and a playful verve for the creative potential of everyday speech. The story is also a timeless and rather touching character study, a portrait of a child’s universe, told by a narrator looking back on a Now equally divided by twenty first-century anxieties as by the old xenophobias hovering around the backyard fence.’
‘River Story’ evokes Alexis Wright in its embodiment of the experimental and allegorical lyrical. The story illustrates the strong matriarchal bonds between three generation of women and the grief, birth and death that is shared between them. The river in the work’s title is viscerally described, and the story delicately unfolds at the collision of remembering and forgetting places.
The judges have also commended five other stories: ‘Wait for Me’ by Jasmin McCaughey; ‘I Believe’ by V.S. Kumar; ‘Two Africas’ by Jean McNeil; ‘Lucky Charms’ by Jennifer Down; and ‘Bedford Jeune’ by Lauren Sarazen.
We congratulate the eight shortlisted and commended authors, and warmly acknowledge the generous support of Ian Dickson, who makes the Jolley Prize possible in this lucrative form.
Elizabeth Harrower (1928–2020)
ABR was saddened to hear of the death of Elizabeth Harrower on July 7. Harrower was born in Sydney in 1928 and moved to London in 1951. Her first novel, Down in the City, was published in 1957, followed by The Long Prospect a year later. In 1959 she returned to Sydney where she began working for the ABC and as a book reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald. In 1960 she published The Catherine Wheel, her only novel not set in Sydney. The Watch Tower, acclaimed by many as her finest work, appeared in 1966. As Geordie Williamson noted in The Monthly in 2014, Harrower’s novels are ‘graceful, intellectually acute and possessed of the unrelenting quality of nightmare’.
While Harrower continued to write, she would not publish again for nearly fifty years. When asked what impeded her writing in her 2015 Open Page interview, Harrower reflected: ‘At different times different forces, sometimes not even a world war.’ In Certain Circles, her final novel, was originally completed in 1971 before Harrower withdrew it from publication. As Bernadette Brennan noted in her review of the novel for ABR (May 2014), ‘Harrower withdrew the manuscript of In Certain Circles from publication because she felt “people would be disappointed. Patrick [White] would be disappointed.”’ The novel was finally released to critical acclaim by Text Publishing, which had included her earlier books in the Text Classics collection. A new short story collection, A Few Days in the Country, was released by Text in 2015. ABR was proud to have published the short story ‘It Is Margaret’ in the magazine.
The Porter Prize
The Peter Porter Poetry Prize is now open, for the seventeenth time, with increased prize money of $10,000, of which the winner will receive $6,000. The judges are the 2020 Porter Prize winner, A. Frances Johnson, Lachlan Brown, John Kinsella, and John Hawke (ABR’s Poetry Editor). The closing date is October 1. As always, we thank our supporting Patrons, Morag Fraser and Andrew Taylor.
Camaraderie and connection
Finally, a mid-year note of heartfelt thanks to our readers, contributors, subscribers, and supporters. Since mid-March, when everything seemed to change – our scope, our securities – it’s been a time of immense risk and uncertainty. None of us has gone through anything like this, and it’s not over yet. But it’s also been a season of great camaraderie and connection. This year, ABR subscriptions have risen by twenty per cent. To have increased our readership by a fifth at such a time is not a small thing – and we want to go further. Private donations – never inconsiderable at ABR – have risen by forty-six per cent, many of them, as donors have made clear, prompted by readers’ dismay at non-funding by the Australia Council. We’re so grateful for your support, your concern, your solidarity. It’s profoundly galvanising.
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