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Alexis Wright

I have often spoken of trying to write in some meaningful way about what it means to belong to all times in this place that we call our traditional homeland. Aboriginal people know that we have been here since time immemorial. We have never lost track of the wisdom and knowledge that generations of our ancestors had developed over thousands of years about the powerful nature of this country. It was their knowledge that ensured the survival of our culture to this day.

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In this week’s ABR Podcast, Tony Hughes-d’Aeth reviews Alexis Wright’s new novel, Praiseworthy. Expectations are high: after all, Wright is the only author to have won both the Miles Franklin Award and the Stella Prize.

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An ochre-coloured haze has gathered permanently over the town of Praiseworthy somewhere in the Gulf country. It is composed of dust, soot, broken butterfly wings, memories, and grief – and it isn’t going anywhere. Meanwhile, on the ground, thousands of feral donkeys are being corralled into the town cemetery by an Indigenous leader called Cause Man Steel. Most call this man Planet because he is always banging on about the collapse of the planet.

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Ten years after the first ABR FAN Poll, the second one was limited to Australian novels published since 2000 (though we received votes for recent classics such as 1984, Voss, and Monkey Grip). When voting closed in mid-September, Richard Flanagan’s Booker Prize-winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North emerged ...

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News from the Editors Desk

In Alexis Wright’s novel Carpentaria (2006), Girlie claims, ‘If you ever want to find out about anything in your vicinity, you have to talk to the mad people.’ There are a lot of mad people in Wright’s biography of Aboriginal activist, thinker, and provocateur ‘Tracker’ Tilmouth. He is probably the maddest of all, in the ...

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With this double issue, Australian Book Review enters its fortieth year. ABR was of course founded in Adelaide in 1961 as a monthly magazine. Max Harris and Rosemary Wighton edited the first series, whose final, quarterly appearances lapsed in 1974. The second series was created in 1978 under the auspices of ...

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‘Without an indigenous literature, people can remain alien in their own soil,’ wrote Miles Franklin, initiator of an Australian literary prize that has been awarded to just two Aboriginal writers: Kim Scott for Benang in 2000 and That Deadman Dance in 2011; and Alexis Wright for Carpentaria in 2007. Franklin, of course, didn’t mean I ...

Tolerance, Prejudice and Fear by Christos Tsiolkas, Gideon Haigh and Alexis Wright

September 2008, no. 304

Tolerance, Prejudice and Fear comprises a trio of essays commissioned by the Sydney PEN. According to its website, PEN is ‘an association of writers devoted to freedom of expression in Australia’. In this book, three major Australian authors discuss the roles that tolerance, prejudice and fear have played in contemporary Australian society. This is a society in which traditional ideas about national identity and race have been variously championed and attacked. The result is thought-provoking and engrossing.

The text opens with Christos Tsiolkas’s essay on tolerance. Tsiolkas argues that it is no coincidence that a liberal ‘politics of tolerance’ has become popular during an historical period in which neo-conservatism has flourished. Gideon Haigh follows with an essay on the cultural ‘narcissism’ that swept through Australia during John Howard’s eleven years as prime minister. During this period, Haigh argues, Australian culture became ‘shallow, thick-skinned, aloof from the world’s problems, impervious to the sufferings of others – then retracting in angry confusion at the hint of questioning, raging petulantly when crossed …’ The third piece is Alexis Wright’s analysis of the harmful and infectious nature of fear. This is a topic that both Tsiolkas and Haigh raise at different points in their essays. Wright argues that Anglo-Australians have long been socialised to fear ‘Aboriginal people and … law’, while a ‘fearfulness of white Australia’ has arisen within Aboriginal culture. Wright concludes her piece by arguing that literary fiction can offer an effective mode of political resistance in a period when both major political parties in Australia are essentially singing the same neo-conservative tune.

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There is a mesmerising scene in Carpentaria when Joseph Midnight is asked if he has seen the fugitive Will Phantom, a young local Aboriginal man who is single-handedly waging a guerrilla war against a large lead ore mining company. He eyes the questioner and astutely spots him as a ‘Southern blackfella …

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