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Calibre Prize

sheila fitzpatrickSheila Fitzpatrick, a professor at the University of Sydney specialising in the history of modern Russia, is one of the world’s most influential Soviet historians. She is the author of two memoirs, My Father’s Daughter (2010) and A Spy ...

Andrea GoldsmithAndrea Goldsmith is a Melbourne-based novelist, reviewer and essayist. Her literary essays have appeared in Heat, Meanjin, Australian Book Review, Best Australian Essays, as well as numerou ...

John CoetzeeJ.M. Coetzee was born in South Africa and educated in South Africa and the United States. ...

In Australia, fewer than one in three expected deaths takes place outside an institution, but eighty per cent of people say they would rather die at home.

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Tragedy and loss

Dear Editor,

In his otherwise eloquent defence (‘Seeing Truganini’, May 2010) of Benjamin Law’s busts of Truganini and Woureddy as ‘irreducible historical objects’, secular works of art and therefore items that should be available for free discussion and exchange, and also in his sketching of the various shades of guilt accompanying this very complex issue, David Hansen, a professional curator, is, I feel, himself ‘guilty’ of looking around these works rather than at them – in fact, not ‘seeing’ them. Dr Hansen says: ‘It is not the sculpture that conveys the extinction myth, but the way the image is and has been used in another past, a later past.’ Focusing on Truganini, he details how, when her bust was made, there were still ‘two hundred full-blood Palawa living’, Darwin’s ‘Origin’ was twenty years off, Truganini was ‘smart and vivacious, young and attractive’, and she and her treaty group were ‘A-list colonial celebrities’.

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Patronage and ABR

Private philanthropy has never been more important for the arts, as costs (and expectations) rise, and as traditional sources of funding and revenue become more unpredictable. ABR has had some success in this regard since entering the field two years ago, but June marks a turning point for us, with the formal launch of our philanthropy program in Melbourne, on 2 June. David Malouf, one of Australia’s most celebrated writers, is our guest speaker. There will be more such events around Australia in coming months.

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What a wonderful thing is the essay! What a hymn to the human mind and its vagaries and cogitations – to its humanness. All honour to Australian Book Review and the Cultural Fund of Copyright Agency Limited for celebrating it with the Calibre Prize – and, of course, to our prize-winning hymnists.

To celebrate the essay with this degree of fanfare shows a certain amount of chutzpah, I think – of ‘courage’ in the Sir Humphrey Appleby sense of the word. (‘A courageous decision, Minister.’)

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When my husband died a while back, I was left with my memories and a house full of books. Harold was so ill, and for so long, that what I felt in those first few days after his death was a dulled feeling, ‘It’s over’. Not relief, certainly not joy, not even sorrow, but a blank sense of inevitability: ‘All over’: the end to the terrible struggle of the past few years, the harder struggle of the last few months, and the merciful oblivion of the last few days.

My husband had so many books, so lovingly collected. On various scraps of paper, inscribed at different times and places, he left contradictory instructions about what was to happen to his books when he died. Until I work out what to do, I have become caretaker of the books.

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‘Urgent things to say’ in the Calibre Prize

The competition was keen, the field unprecedentedly large (almost 200 entries), but after main readings and much discussion Kevin Brophy’s and Jane Goodall’s essays struck the judges of this year’s Calibre Prize for an Outstanding Essay (Gay Bilson, Peter Rose and Rebecca Starford) as being in a class of their own. It was impossible to split them. Both writers share the third Calibre Prize for an Outstanding Essay, and each will receive $5000.

That’s all they have in common, though. It would be difficult to find two more dissimilar essays, a measure of Calibre’s versatility and the diversity of the writers who are drawn to it. Jane Goodall’s theme, like her succinct title (‘Footprints’), has a kind of suaveness and urgency as she explores ideas about ecology and personal responsibility with reference to Kate Grenville, Mrs Aeneas Gunn, Nevil Shute and a sublime short story by Leo Tolstoy.

Kevin Brophy’s fruity title (‘“What’re yer lookin’ at yer fuckin’ dog?”: Violence and Fear in Žižek’s Post-political Neighbourhood’) introduces an amazing tale of domestic mayhem and incivility in present-day inner Melbourne. Kevin Brophy’s tormentors may have been the neighbours from hell, but what a tale it is. To make sense of this five-year drama, Kevin Brophy draws on the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek and his theory that violence – ubiquitous violence, as he sees it – is the very basis of late capitalist ‘post-political’ life.

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Jonathon Otis – a true believer

The winner of the 2008 ABR Reviewing Competition is Jonathon Otis for his review of Julian Barnes’s memoir, Nothing to Be Frightened Of. Mr Otis receives $1000 and future commissions in the magazine. Second prize, valued at $250, goes to Elizabeth Campbell for her review of Brook Emery’s poetry collection Uncommon Light. Third prize, a set of Black Inc. books, goes to Alexis Harley for her review of Janet Frame’s novel Towards Another Summer.

The competition attracted 150 entries – a forty per cent increase from 2005. The selection of subjects under review was impressively vast, ranging from national and international fiction to ethics, the economy and even gastronomy. Religion, notably, was a popular subject; we received numerous reviews of Christopher Hitchens. There were multiple reviews of Ian McEwan and J.M. Coetzee. Interestingly, death was a popular subject.

Peter Rose judged the competition with Rebecca Starford. The Editor remarked: ‘This competition gets better and better. I’m pleased we attracted more entries, but the main purpose of this competition is to foster greater interest in the art of reviewing, to encourage new reviewers and to replenish the ranks of Australian critics. The standard this year was markedly higher than in previous years; the long list was extensive. We have identified about two dozen new reviewers for ABR. We’ll certainly present this award again in 2009.’

Jonathan Otis, a Melbourne-based writer with an abiding interest in genre, had this to say on learning of his win: ‘I feel a quiet, comforting elation. I am a true believer in literature’s life-affirming qualities. For me, ABR exemplifies vigilance through art in Australia. I am thrilled to have won the competition and for the opportunity to contribute to such an esteemed literary review.’

Jonathon Otis’s review appears on page 42. He will write for us again in 2009.

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