Commentary

Dear Chancellor French, I write this open letter to you to make certain points about the environment of university press publishing, in support of UWA Press and its Director, Professor Terri-ann White, and her team.

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'Putting the terror in extraterritoriality' by Christina Twomey

Christina Twomey
Friday, 22 November 2019

I am from a very large island, a continent in fact. Yet smaller islands have meant more to me – trips to Bribie Island with my grandmother to drink shandies and eat crab sandwiches; two years living in an expatriate Australian community on the Malaysian island of Penang; an object lesson in the power of oceans while visiting American Samoa, when my then boyfriend and I were carried by the tide beyond the coral reef we were exploring with snorkels. In my part of the world, small islands often connote tourism, but they also serve other objects. There is a vanishing point where paradise becomes isolation, where utility meets strategy and where purpose matters more than people.

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Buildings or books ‒ what makes a university?

Robert White
Thursday, 21 November 2019

Word gets around quickly. Within a week of the University of Western Australia announcing the closure of UWA Publishing after eighty-five years, and the peremptory sacking of its staff, a petition had gathered almost 10,000 signatures. This is nothing new. Proposals to close UWAP in 1973, 1990, and 1996 were soundly defeated, after being robustly debated at UWA’s Academic Board, Convocation (alumni), and Senate. This rescued UWA from vociferous criticism voiced nationally and internationally.

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Émile Zola

Brian Nelson
Thursday, 07 November 2019

Unlike Flaubert, the ‘hermit of Croisset’, who turned away from his age in an attitude of ironic detachment, Émile Zola (1840–1902) embraced his century in a way no French writer had done since Balzac. Zola’s ambition was to emulate Balzac by writing a comprehensive history of contemporary society. Through the fortunes of his Rougon-Macquart family, he examined methodically the social, sexual, and moral landscape of the late nineteenth century along with its political, financial, and artistic contexts. Zola is the quintessential novelist of modernity, understood in terms of an overwhelming sense of tumultuous change.

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How Australian Is It

Ihab Hassan
Thursday, 07 November 2019

The question is probably all wrong. How can an American – well, an Egyptian-born American, if hyphenate we must – pronounce life on Australia? I came to the Antipodes late in my life, drawn to the Pacific, that great wink of eternity, Melville called it, drawn to horizons more than to origins. I made friends and became in Australia a wintry celebrant.

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Andrew McGahan’s first novel, Praise (1992), concludes with its narrator, Gordon Buchanan, deciding – perhaps accepting is a better word – that he will live a life of contemplation. This final revelation is significantly ambivalent. The unresponsive persona Gordon has assumed throughout the novel is something of an affectation. On one level, he is playing the stereotypical role of the inarticulate Australian male, but his blank façade is also defensive; it is a cover for his sensitivity. For Gordon, life is less overwhelming in a practical sense than in an emotional sense. His true feelings are a garden concreted over for ease of maintenance. He feels that the defining quality of human relationships is doubt, and this doubt confounds expression. ‘I’m never certain of anything I feel about a person,’ he says, ‘and talking about it simplifies it all so brutally. It’s easier to keep quiet. To act what you feel. Actions are softer. They can be interpreted in lots of different ways, and emotions should be interpreted in lots of different ways.’

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Religion and Justice

Raimond Gaita
Tuesday, 29 October 2019

‘Dear God. Save us from those who would believe in you.’ Not long after the attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11 last year, those words were sprayed on a wall in New York. Knowing what provoked them, I sense fear of religion in them. Their wit does not dilute the fear, nor does it render its expression less unsettling. To the contrary, it makes the fear more poignant and its justification more evident.

Enough people have been murdered and tortured over the centuries in the name of religion for anyone to have good reason to fear it. Is it, therefore, yet another example of the hyperbole that overwhelmed common sense and sober judgment after September 11 to sense something new in the fear expressed in that graffiti? In part, I think it is. But the thought that makes the fear seem relatively (rather than absolutely) novel is this: perhaps the horrors of religion are not corruptions of religion, but inseparable from it. To put it less strongly, but strongly enough: though there is much in religion that condemns evils committed in its name, none of it has the authority to show that fanatics who murder and torture and dispossess people of their lands necessarily practise false religion or that they believe in false gods. At best (this thought continues), religion is a mixed bag of treasures and horrors.

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One’s last gumtree

Amanda Laugesen
Thursday, 24 October 2019

Sidney (Sid) J. Baker (1912–76) is undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in the history of Australian slang lexicography. Born in New Zealand, Baker worked in Australia as a journalist, writing for publications such as ABC Weekly, The Daily Telegraph, and The Sydney Morning Herald. He was also the author of a number of books about Australian slang, one of which is A Popular Dictionary of Australian Slang (1941).

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The recent speech by young Swedish climate-change activist Greta Thunberg has provoked much comment and controversy. It also caused me to ponder the future of our planet and how our cultural lives will be affected by the environmental changes that will inevitably take place by the middle of the twenty-first century ...

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The war on journalists and whistleblowers

Kieran Pender
Monday, 21 October 2019

It is a famous parable. If a frog is dropped in boiling water, it will immediately leap out. But if placed in tepid water that is gradually heated, the frog will not notice the increasing temperature until it is boiled alive. The parable may be biologically inaccurate, but it remains instructive in the context of civil liberties ...

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