If presence in literary journals, anthologies and at writers’ festivals may be taken as an indication of a poet’s importance, Anthony Lawrence has for some time been regarded as one of Australia’s foremost poets of the post-’68 generation. He has published five books of poetry, all of which to my knowledge have been well received, and he has also been the recipient of many prizes, most recently the inaugural Gwen Harwood Memorial Prize and one of the Newcastle Poetry Prizes for 1997. With the publication of his New and Selected, Lawrence seems to have been canonised.
I am sitting at my home desk high up in the mountains overlooking the border ranges to New South Wales and then to the left, the strip of highrise, the Gold Coast, and the sea beyond. Hathorn and Lucashenko have both set their recent youth novels in an imaginary location not far from me. The sea and the hinterland is a territory I am beginning to know well and I have enjoyed exploring it a little further in my reading.
Two autobiographical works, both by women historians, are presented in the elegant small format which often says ‘gift book’ and may suggest more surface charm than substance. In fact, there are at least as many contrasts as resemblances between the two, and although the mood is quietly reflective, there is no easy nostalgia.
It was perhaps a fair return because in 1893, when the first 200 Australian settlers took up the land given to them by the Paraguayan Government to establish their Utopian paradise, they found one thousand Guarani Indians living on the land. They were ‘expelled’.
Were it not for the timing, it would be easy to speculate that this richly evocative collection of pieces about music was the inspiration for Jane Campion’s glorious film, The Piano. So many elements of the film – the dominant image of the beached piano, the powerful undertow of sexual passion, even the unexpected violence-are present in this book in the most uncanny similitude. I should not be surprised since Carmel Bird has already displayed her uneasy fascination with the film in her dazzling essay ‘Freedom of Speech’ (in Columbus’Blindness and Other Essays) and in her introduction to Red Hot Notes she admits that the film was a catalyst for the idea of various writers exploring ‘the complex feelings that surround, and embed themselves in, the human response to music’.
Beverley Farmer is one of a group of women writers celebrated in Gillian Whitlock’s collection of excerpts from their work, Eight Voices of the Eighties. Its introduction begins with a remark attributed to Elizabeth Jolley where she calls the 1980s in Australia ‘a moment of glory for the woman writer’. Beverley Farmer’s first novel, Alone, was published in 1980, at the beginning of this period of renaissance and recognition of women’s writing as central to a national literary culture.
On the day of the last Federal election, I became engaged in an unlikely conversation with a helper for the ‘Call-to-Australia’ cause at my local polling booth. When I revealed that I had recently completed a research project on Dr H.V. Evatt, my elderly companion asserted that Evatt should not be hailed as the hero of the labour movement. Australia’s greatest politician, this former member of the Australian Labor Party informed me, was ‘Edward Granville Theodore’.
Contemporary Aboriginal writing, like Aboriginal art, is now so diverse that is impossible to talk about any one particular style. John Muk Muk Burke, whose first novel, Bridge of Triangles, has just been published, recently told a Sydney seminar for Aboriginal writers that they were no longer writing from the viewpoint of victims. He said they were survivors rising from the ashes of the invasion like the phoenix. Burke’s own novel is multi-layered, poetic and visually strong, with a structure informed by his study of world literature.
This is Maurice French’s sixth work on the Darling Downs. An Associate Professor of History and Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Southern Queensland, he is ideally placed to study this fertile plateau in south-east Queensland, reputedly the richest agricultural land in Australia.