Commentary

Just before I flew to Australia to deliver this year’s HRC Seymour Lecture in Biography, I heard an ABC broadcast on the BBC World Service. The Australian commentator was talking about the centenary of the birth of Donald Bradman, the ‘great Don’ with his famous Test batting average of 99.94 runs. He said that Bradman was a peculiarly Australian role model because he was a sporting hero and because he knocked the hell out of the British bowling. Slightly carried away by the moment, he added: ‘We still need those founding fathers – we’ve had no George Washington, no Abraham Lincoln ... Don Bradman fills a biographical gap.’

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The Unsentimental Bloke: Kenneth Cook and Wake in Fright

Jacqueline Kent
Wednesday, 01 April 2020

Kenneth Cook was always a little surprised by the success of Wake in Fright. He dismissed it as a young man’s novel, as indeed it was; he published it in 1961, when he was thirty-two. Among his sixteen other works of fiction he was prouder of Tuna (1967), a partial reimagining of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea set off the coast of South Australia, and The Man Underground (1977), which dealt with opal mining. Perhaps he preferred them because he had enjoyed the research involved. It is true that both are better crafted, more assured, than the novel that made his name. But he could never quite accept that Wake in Fright delineated grim truths about the bush and its inhabitants that his other novels do not capture.

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Shannon Burns reviews 'Essays One' by Lydia Davis

Shannon Burns
Friday, 20 March 2020

Essays One is the first of two volumes of collected non-fiction drawn from all periods of Lydia Davis’s long career. While the second collection will, according to the author, ‘concentrate more single-mindedly on translation and the experience of reading foreign languages’, this volume has an alternating focus on writing and reading practices, translation, commentary, reviews, and personal essays. It is loosely structured, non-chronological, and doesn’t shy away from repetition or reiteration – particularly throughout the several pieces that share the subtitle ‘Forms and Influences’.

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News deserts: A worrying portent for our democracy

Johanna Leggatt
Friday, 20 March 2020

During my first month as a trainee journalist at The Sun-Herald newspaper in Sydney, I went on strike. It was the year 2000, and the newspaper enjoyed a full roster of reporters and photographers dedicated solely to one edition each Sunday, yet even during this well-resourced period there were inklings of the headwinds to come. 

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The dismissal of the Whitlam government by the governor-general, Sir John Kerr, on 11 November 1975 was one of the most tumultuous and controversial episodes in Australian political history. The government had been elected on 2 December 1972 and returned at the May 1974 double dissolution, with Whitlam becoming the first Labor leader to achieve successive electoral victories.

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The nuclear scale of the inferno that delivered our Black Summer will be remembered as a turning point in the debate about climate change. It was the summer when the monster of energy stored up in the earth’s oceans and atmosphere revealed itself in the most dangerous climate drivers; the summer when Australia could no longer take for granted the evolution of precious species and their habitats over millions of years, with more than a billion animals dead and more than ten million hectares of forest burnt. But it was also the season in which climate-denying politics was comprehensively trumped, no matter how much spin, media massaging, and misinformation was employed to make the fires, and their link to climate change, go away.

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Season of reckoning

Tom Griffiths
Friday, 21 February 2020

What do we call this terrifying summer? The special bushfire edition of ABC’s Four Corners predictably called it Black Summer. Perhaps the name will stick, for it builds on a vernacular tradition. Firestorms are always given names, generally after the day of the week they struck. There are enough ‘Black’ days in modern Australian history to fill up a week several times over – Black Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays – and a Red Tuesday too, plus the grim irony of an Ash Wednesday. The blackness of the day evokes mourning and grief, the funereal silence of the forests after a firestorm. Black and still. And when the fires burn for months, a single Black Day morphs into a Black Summer.

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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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