Melbourne University Publishing

You might expect a book of eighty-eight new poems by Les Murray to be sizeable (most of his recent single volumes run to about sixty poems each). But Poems the Size of Photographs is literally a small book, composed of short poems (‘though some are longer’, says the back cover) ...

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Masculinity isn’t what it used to be. To begin with, it has gone forth and multiplied to become masculinities, for it is a requirement of a pluralist culture that diversity not only be acknowledged but cultivated. What has happened, of course, is that as women’s history has given way to gender studies, masculinity, which was formerly taken for granted as part of the dominant culture, is being put under the microscope.

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Science Fiction (speculative fiction, sf, sci-fi, whatever) is not much more than a century old. H.G. Wells called his pioneering efforts ‘scientific romances’, still a good name, and his wonderfully fecund The Time Machine and War of the Worlds were published as late as 1895 and 1898. So Australia as a Europeanised nation is even younger than this ‘space age’ genre. If you push it back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 1818, its birth coincides with white settlement. Time enough, you’d think, to grow plenty of Aussie sf.

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I heard Manning Clark lecture just once. It was in 1981. He was addressing a hall packed with school students who were attending a history camp at the Australian National University. That night, Clark demonstrated two qualities which distinguish most good lecturers: he played a character who was an enlarged version of himself, and he convinced the gathering that his topic was central to any understanding of the human condition. He told his young audience that they were faced with a great choice. With their help, Australia might one day become millennial Eden – a land where men and women were blessed with riches of the body and of the spirit. But if they were neglectful, he warned, their country would remain oppressed by a great dullness: Australia would continue to languish as a Kingdom of Nothingness. (This speech, it should be noted, was delivered in the middle of that bitter decade which followed the dismissal.)

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Greg Dening was trained for the Catholic priesthood. He became an outstanding historian of the Pacific, although perhaps better described as an anthropologist-historian, in company with Clifford Geertz, Marshall Sahlins, Nathalie Zemon Davis, and his colleague Rhys Isaac, to whom this book is warmly dedicated. Yet echoes of his initial calling linger in his work, certainly as evidenced in this collection of essays.

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In recent times, we hear, stars of TV serials such as Neighbours and Home and Away have been mobbed on arrival at Heathrow Airport, and recognized even in Finland – Australian production houses appear to have a talent for capturing on screen alluring fantasies and traumas for purveying to mass audiences, both home and away. The foundations for this sorely-needed export industry were doubtless laid in the 1940s and 50s, when Australian radio serials and drama were heard around the globe, at least in English-speaking countries (subtitles are difficult on radio). At home, hundreds of hours of drama were pumped out every year on ABC and commercial stations ...

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Running hot on the national Austlit Discussion Group email waves recently was the question of speaking position and voice for men in contemporary critical discourse. What had occasioned the discussion was ASAL’s annual conference in Canberra, part of which had been a very successful morning at the Australian War Memorial focussing on writing and war (e.g. Alan Gould and Don Charlwood).

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One of the defining features of recent years in Australian ‘literature’ (as I suppose we must call it), in tandem with a perceived growth in the quantity of fiction and poetry by women, titles reflecting the ethnic diversity of origin in more and more writers, and a growth industry in Aboriginal studies, has been the remarkable increase in sophistication of approach to biography. Perhaps more specifically, cultural biography.

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At the conclusion of the fascinating essay ‘Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner and Cook’s Second Voyage’ in his recently published book Imagining the Pacific: In the Wake of the Cook Voyages, Bernard Smith writes:

The most carefully planned and the most scientifically and efficiently conducted expedition ever made up to its time in the realm of reality provided the poet with a world of wonder and a nucleus of recollections from whence emerged in its own good time the most romantic voyage ever undertaken in the realm of the imagination.

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