At first glance, this biography does not look especially compelling. Why should we want to know about Australia’s first woman radio pioneer? But David Dufty calmly and quietly shows why Violet McKenzie is well worth celebrating. From her earliest days, Violet, born in 1890, showed great flair for practical science. She became a high school maths teacher but was determined to study electrical engineering. She qualified, but her gender meant that she was refused admission to the university course and also to a technical college diploma. Meanwhile, her elder brother Walter had become an electrical engineer and was running his own business in Sydney. This was 1912: seduced by the new moving-picture craze, Walter had ploughed all his profits into a ‘flickergraph training school’, teaching people to operate cinema projectors.... (read more)
The confusing aspects of this book begin with the title, She I Dare Not Name. Instead, there is a whole book about this person, a self-described spinster. Then there’s the S-word itself, which has carried a heavy negative load since about the seventeenth century. (A minor irritation is the back-cover blurb, which describes this as ‘a book about being human’ – as distinct from being what?)... (read more)
Kenneth Cook was always a little surprised by the success of Wake in Fright. He dismissed it as a young man’s novel, as indeed it was; he published it in 1961, when he was thirty-two. Among his sixteen other works of fiction he was prouder of Tuna (1967), a partial reimagining of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea set off the coast of South Australia, and The Man Underground (1977), which dealt with opal mining. Perhaps he preferred them because he had enjoyed the research involved. It is true that both are better crafted, more assured, than the novel that made his name. But he could never quite accept that Wake in Fright delineated grim truths about the bush and its inhabitants that his other novels do not capture.... (read more)
Since 9/11 and all its attendant horrors, the story of the bomb that exploded outside Sydney’s Hilton Hotel early on the morning of 13 February 1978, killing three people and injuring nine others, has largely been cast aside. However, it is considered the worst terrorist act perpetrated on Australian soil. It had wide ramifications at the time, and murky issues still surround it.... (read more)
This autobiography by Tim Costello – Baptist minister, lawyer, anti-casino activist, CEO of World Vision Australia for thirteen years – is a clear and straightforward account of his life, free of obvious literary artifice. What Costello has tried to do, he says, is to understand and explain how his memories and experiences ...... (read more)
The ‘untold history’ of Faber & Faber should be a cause for celebration. For so many of us, possessing the unadorned, severe paperbacks with the lower-case ‘ff’ on the spine meant graduation to serious reading: coming of literary age by absorbing the words and thoughts of Beckett, Eliot, Larkin, Stoppard, Hughes, Plath ...... (read more)
If you were young and energetic and a believer in a range of progressive causes, Melbourne in the first three decades of the twentieth century was an exciting place. It was even better if you were in love. Doris Hordern and Maurice Blackburn, the joint subjects of Carolyn Rasmussen’s deeply researched ...... (read more)
Kenneth Cook (1929-87) was a prolific author best known for his first novel, Wake in Fright (1961), which was based on his experience as a young journalist in Broken Hill in the 1950s. In January 1972, as I sat in a London cinema watching the film made from this novel by director Ted Kotcheff, its nightmare vision of outback life seared itself into my brain ...... (read more)
In September 2018, NewSouth published a new edition of A Certain Style.
On a chilly evening in 1980, a stylish woman in her early seventies, wheezing slightly from a lifetime’s cigarettes, climbed a staircase just beneath the Harbour Bridge, entered a room full of book editors – young women mostly, university-educated, making their way ...