Commentary

Belated recognition of Australian prose poetry

Paul Hetherington and Cassandra Atherton
Thursday, 24 September 2020

Until recently, Australian prose poetry hasn’t attracted much attention – we’re not sure why. Having written prose poetry for years, we’re both fascinated by the form, which can be loosely defined as poems written in paragraphs and sentences rather than in stanzas and lines.

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Black and Republican in the Age of Trump

Michael L. Ondaatje
Thursday, 24 September 2020

While on the campaign trail against Hillary Clinton in 2016, Donald Trump appeared to deviate from a scripted speech he was delivering in Dimondale, Michigan. What followed was remarkable: ‘At the end of four years, I guarantee you that I will get over ninety-five per cent of the African-American vote. I promise you.’ Undaunted by six decades of black voting behaviour and his own poor standing with African-Americans, not to mention the fact that he had yet to defeat Clinton, Trump promised a ‘new deal for black America’ that would spark a decisive black shift to the Republican Party. African-Americans had long been the nation’s most partisan racial group: since 1964, no Republican presidential candidate had won more than thirteen per cent of the black vote, and no Democrat less than eighty-two per cent. Yet Trump, a man with a long and divisive racial history, vowed that he would soon rival Barack Obama for electoral appeal among African-Americans.

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In early August, deep in the winter of Melbourne’s stage-four discontent, journalist Rachel Baxendale became the story. The Victorian political reporter for The Australian newspaper was attacked online for questioning Premier Daniel Andrews on his government’s hotel quarantine program, as an explosion of new coronavirus infections caused unprecedented economic shutdown and the curtailment of civil liberties. As thousands of people watched the premier’s live press briefings from their living rooms, Baxendale assiduously probed Andrews about the use of security guards instead of Australian Defence Force personnel to guard returned travellers.

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Bodies in motion: The pandemic, the economy, and the dictator

Paul Muldoon
Thursday, 24 September 2020

‘Healthy People Gather for Your Freedom.’ So read the sign held proudly aloft by a young woman at a protest against coronavirus restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’ in Melbourne. Drawn to the Shrine in a symbolic gesture of solidarity with those other ‘diggers’ who defended Australia against the threat of authoritarianism, she was part of a small crowd with a big message: ‘Freedom is under threat’. A bit like coronavirus itself, perhaps, ‘Freedom Day’ was an accident waiting to happen – not least of all in Victoria. No democratic government can expect to curtail freedoms without stirring up the civil libertarians (both the sane and the crazy), and the restrictions devised and enforced by the Andrews government have been more severe than most. If one is to believe former prime minister Tony Abbott, the premier of Victoria now heads up a ‘health dictatorship’ that holds five million Melburnians under ‘house arrest’. Daniel Andrews, though in truth a champion of social justice, has of late acquired the disagreeable moniker of ‘Dictator Dan’ for putting a plague city into lockdown.

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Rolling Column: The Role of the Critic

Brian Castro
Wednesday, 23 September 2020

The Australian literary scene has always been more depressing that it is lively, especially when critics and writers are quick to display their battle scars in public places where oftentimes the debate hardly rises above fawning or fighting. The walking wounded are encouraged to endure. This is about the only encouragement extant. I remember the Simpson episode, not O.J. but Bart, who arrived in Australia for a kick up the bum. Perhaps the emulation of Britain has reached such an unconscious proportion that no ground can be explored beyond the grid bounded by Grub Street and Fleet Street, where youngsters need to be caned for reasons more prurient than wise, and where small ponds become the breeding pools for goldfish pretending to be piranhas dishing up more of the same stew. Thus, British writing, apart from its internationalists, hath come to this sad pass. Or where, given the brashness of being itself a young nation unused to finesse, Australia’s grand ideals end up as populist opinion – a talkback republic of letters irrelevant to its real enemies.

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This is how it’s going to be then

Alex Miller
Friday, 11 September 2020

Writers and readers, it seems to me, are often driven by a need to confess. Everything. Not just sins. But the lot. To confess in the original secular sense of this word; to utter, to declare (ourselves, that is), to disclose and uncover what lies hidden within us. If I’d not been a writer, I used to think I’d like to have been an archaeologist. It’s only recently I’ve located the connection between writing fiction and archaeology. Historians and biographers are probably just as confessional in their work as writers of declared fictions. But they are undoubtedly able to more easily disguise this because they are accountable to the objective – to outcrops of unrelocatable facts along the way, that is.

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'Ukulula': Obama-euphoria in Lancashire

Peter Goldsworthy
Friday, 11 September 2020

My son Daniel’s African wedding took place in Lancashire – where his new Zambian in-laws live – a few days after the US presidential election. Barack Obama was not on the guest list, but his presence loomed so large that he might have been an extra, virtual, best man.

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'On Patrick White' by Humphrey McQueen

Humphrey McQueen
Thursday, 03 September 2020

I met Patrick White first in 1965. Reduced to 1.9s.6d, he was lying, in an American edition of Riders in the Chariot, on a sale table at Finney Isles department store in Brisbane. So much has changed. Today, we would talk of remainders; the shop has been taken over by David Jones which has in turn been taken over by Adelaide Steamship which later bought up Grace Bros; prices are now given in dollar and cents.

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How Fremantle's first newspaper was hoaxed

Bob Reece
Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Fremantle’s first real newspaper, The Herald, saw the light of day in a building on the corner of Cliff and High Streets on Saturday, 2 February 1867. The brainchild of two ex-convicts, James Pearce and William Beresford, it soon became the main voice of opposition to colonial autocracy, as well as the voice of Fremantle itself. 

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Those of us who work in classical music will be familiar with the accusation that our chosen art form lacks contemporary social relevance. It is one with a long pedigree. ‘Sonata, what do you want of me?’ asked an exasperated Fontenelle in 1751, according to Rousseau. But you will find no widespread or heightened disdain for worldly affairs among classical musicians on the whole. Rather, any apparent reticence they may have describing how their art connects with the world at large stems from the fact that it is notoriously difficult to do. As the well-known quip goes, ‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.’ This is not a love that dare not speak its name so much as one that struggles to be put into words at all.

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