Biography and Memoirs

Theatregoers with long memories may well hug to themselves the ‘golden years’ of the Melbourne Theatre Company’s tenancy of the Russell Street Theatre in the 1960s, a time in which plays as varied as Hochhuth’s The Representative, Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear, Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s infallible matinee version of Henry James’s The Heiress, and many others jostled for attention. It was the time when an actor called Clive Winmill stepped on stage in the swinging London comedy The Knack and, instead of saying his lines, treated the audience to a passionate anti-Vietnam involvement speech. It was a time when the provocative new and the venerated classic made equal claims on a theatrical ensemble which achieved real importance in Melbourne’s cultural life.

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Jay Thompson reviews 'Kylie Tennant: A life' by Jane Grant

Jay Daniel Thompson
Thursday, 12 November 2020

In a 1985 interview, Kylie Tennant was quoted as saying: ‘I … don’t know how people get on who haven’t been raised in a battling Australian family.’ Jane Grant expands upon this image of Tennant as a quintessential ‘Aussie battler’ in her biography of the acclaimed novelist. Kylie Tennant: A life is relatively brief, yet it provides a remarkable insight into the pressures (societal and otherwise) that informed Tennant’s politics and prose.

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It used to be said in decades gone by that overseas acting luminaries only came to Australia when their stars were in decline. This was never true in the case of Sybil Thorndike, who was critically acclaimed here, and widely admired as a person. She was not one of those who was past her prime – or, like some, never had one. She remained in her prime until she died in 1976. It is indeed hard to imagine her contemplating any other approach.

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Valentine Alexa Leeper: it’s a name to conjure with. The daughter of the first warden of the University of Melbourne’s Trinity College, Alexander Leeper, she was christened ‘Valentine’ because she was born on 14 February. No name could have been less appropriate: she was to prove a committed spinster. She was remarkable for a number of reasons, not least of which was that her life spanned an entire century. Born in 1900, she survived into the twenty-first century. Although her life experience might have appeared narrow and confined (she never travelled abroad, for example) Valentine had the advantage of growing up in a university environment and was possessed of a formidable intellect; her interests were wide and she was active in many organisations, ranging from the League of Nations Union to the Victorian Aboriginal Group.

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The paths of James Macarthur and Philip Gidley King crossed in 1801 when Macarthur was a very small boy. King, then governor of New South Wales, sent Macarthur’s father, John, to England for trial for illicit duelling, fearing that Macarthur Senior had too many allies in the colony to secure a conviction there. Young James Macarthur was six by the time his father returned, far from the chastened man King had hoped. In fact, he brought with him instructions that he was to be granted additional land, making his holdings the most substantial in the colony. It was not exactly the victory that King had envisaged (or that his biographers seem to think he won.)

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Warren Osmond reviews 'John Monash' by Geoffrey Serle

Warren Osmond
Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Poor John Monash has waited a long time. Before he died in 1931, he clearly hoped for a friendly posthumous biography. He destroyed his collection of erotica and some extramarital love letters. This was characteristically called ‘Emergency Action’. Less characteristically, he instructed his son-in-law and executor, Gershon Bennett, not to ‘preserve indefinitely’ the enormous collection of letters, diaries, cuttings, etc.

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The ‘land of smiles’ was what they called Prague under German occupation during World War II – at least the Germans did. Few locals. Fresh vegetables and meat were available (to Germans) in quantities unknown back in Germany. Until close to the end, there were more than a hundred cinemas operating in the city, as well as theatres, concert halls, and numerous other places of entertainment. After all, Goebbels was not only passionate about culture in general, but keen, he said, to initiate a ‘lively cultural exchange’ with Czechoslovakia in particular.

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The vision was of a brown-skinned child standing by her side. She sensed it so keenly that she could even feel the child’s warmth. It was so striking she wondered about her sanity … but as time went by, she became more comfortable with her vision, accepted it as something precious, a visitation of some sort that only she knew about.’

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Virginia Woolf wrote that when trying to communicate about pain as a sick woman ‘language at once runs dry’. How does one talk about wounds without fetishising their workings, and how in a society where pain is taboo does one speak of it authentically? In Show Me Where it Hurts, writer and journalist Kylie Maslen balances the difficulty of this equation: telling the story of her disability and having that story remain fundamentally unspeakable. The act of telling remains for Maslen ‘a rejection of language’, and yet the thing on the table for those suffering is ‘the desire to make ourselves known’.

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Who was John Maynard Keynes? Was he the bookish Cambridge don who penned ambitious theories to overturn the tenets of economics and political liberalism? Or was he Baron Keynes of Tilton, the ardent imperialist who viewed British rule as a benevolent force bringing justice, liberty, and prosperity to the societies it administered? Was he a meticulous Lothario who kept lists of his hookups with anonymous men on notecards? Was he also a political statesman who lambasted the intransigency of his colleagues during fraught negotiations in two world wars?

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