Essays and Commentary

2016 Calibre Essay Prize (Winner): 'The Great Red Whale'

Michael Winkler
23 May 2016

The history of my onomastic apprehension and misapprehension about the big thing in the middle of Australia: It is called Ayers Rock. No, it is ...

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Brian Matthews reviews 'We Need Silence to Find Out What What We Think: Selected Essays' by Shirley Hazzard

Brian Matthews
26 April 2016

In her speech as the winner of the 2003 National Book Award, Shirley Hazzard said, 'We should do our best by the language. We mustn't torture it; we mustn't diminish it. We have to love it, nurture it, and enjoy it.'

Reading Hazzard, as she is variously represented in this collection, is to encounter a writer who has done her 'best by the language' and, in t ... More

Jill Jones reviews 'Everywhere I Look' by Helen Garner

Jill Jones
22 April 2016

You could regard this latest book by Helen Garner as simply a collection of various essays, a miscellany if you wish, but to do so would be to give it less than its due. There is nothing casual or accidental about Everywhere I Look. Its coherence may, of course, have much to do with Garner's voice, which is consistent and compelling, as is her actual writin ... More

James McNamara reviews 'The Best American Essays 2015' edited by Ariel Levy and 'The Best Australian Essays 2015' edited by Geordie Williamson

James McNamara
24 February 2016

At the back of the cupboard of old lies is a crusty one that goes like this: the essay is a lesser form of literature. Oddly, it is perpetuated in collections like Ariel Levy's The Best American Essays 2015, which – in its foreword by series editor Robert Atwan – bashfully admits that essays are the B-team of the writing world. 'The quintessential essay ... More

Emily Laidlaw reviews 'Small Acts of Disappearance' by Fiona Wright

Emily Laidlaw
23 December 2015

Reflecting on the first day she attended a clinic for eating disorders, Sydney poet Fiona Wright admits: 'I'm ... not sure that I would ever have gone ahead with the admission if I hadn't thought that I could write about it later.' This is a remarkably self-aware statement, one that encapsulates the fierce intelligence of her linked essays in Small Acts of Disap ... More

'Sabotage: How the attack on renewables undermines government' by David Schlosberg

David Schlosberg
24 September 2015

‘Pathetically inadequate’ was probably the most frequent description of the government’s voluntary emissions proposal for the United Nations Climate Change Conference; the description fits their climate and en ... More

'The Forest at the Edge of Time' by Ashley Hay

Ashley Hay
24 September 2015

Let’s begin, somewhere around 4,500 bce, in a small patch of soil on the south-west coast of Western Australia. An ovule and some pollen combine on the crest of a ridge overlooking the sea, and a plant begins to grow. It’s a little thing with juvenile leaves which will become a faint ... More

'The scientist of his own experience: A Profile of Gerald Murnane' by Shannon Burns

Shannon Burns
28 July 2015

The town of Goroke (population six hundred) stands almost exactly between Melbourne and Adelaide, in the Wimmera region of Victoria. It is, in many ways, a typical small country town. If you drive there in the morning during late spring or early summer, you’ll need to slow the car to avoid kangaroos on the road. Magpies are everywhere. Horses and other livestock m ... More

Carol Middleton reviews 'Dear Life' by Karen Hitchcock

Carol Middleton
29 May 2015

In her long-form essay Dear Life, columnist and fiction writer Karen Hitchcock considers how we in Australia treat the elderly and dying. To the task she brings her formidable skills as a writer and her experience at the coalface, working as a staff physician in a Melbourne public hospital. The result is a sensitive, rigorous, and moving account that ex ... More

Tony Birch on 'The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith' by Thomas Keneally for Reading Australia

Tony Birch
27 May 2015

Thomas Keneally’s novel The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1972) is based in part on historical events, particularly the crimes committed by Jimmy Governor, an Aboriginal man from New South Wales. In 1900, Governor was a key figure involved in the killing of nine Europeans, including five women and children. The killings followed Governor’s marriage t ... More

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