Commentary

In the conference room the conversation is, like the clothes, ‘business casual’. For my benefit, everyone has switched from Arabic to English. Despite the linguistic shift, my new colleagues converse as fluently as before. I have arrived in Eastern Turkey with an aid organisation to support the humanitarian response in north-west Syria.

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In early 2021, the Victorian government announced the creation of the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission to investigate the harms done to Aboriginal people through colonisation. Named after the word for truth in the Wemba Wemba/Wamba Wamba langauge, Yoo-rrook will be the first exercise of its kind in an Australian jurisdiction and one of the most significant responses yet offered to the call for Voice, Treaty and Truth issued by the Aboriginal peoples of Australia in the ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’.

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For much of her career, Gwen Harwood (1920–95) was best known for her hoaxes, pseudonyms, and literary tricks. Most notorious was the so-called Bulletin hoax in 1961, but over the years she orchestrated a number of other raids on literary targets, mainly aimed at challenging the power of poetry editors and gatekeepers. For L’Affaire Bulletin (as she sometimes called it), she submitted to that august magazine, under the pseudonym Walter Lehmann, a pair of seemingly unexceptionable sonnets on the theme of Abelard and Eloisa. Only after the poems were published did the Bulletin discover that they were acrostics; read vertically, one spelled out ‘So long Bulletin’, and the other, ‘Fuck all editors’. 

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‘Your sense of permanence is perverted,’ said Holstius to Theodora Goodman in The Aunt’s Story (1948). ‘True permanence is a state of multiplication and division.’ The words are prescient, for Patrick White, who wrote them, has done rather well at dissolving into the impermanence of post-mortem obscurity. Perhaps unsurprisingly in view of the pandemic, the thirtieth anniversary of his death in 2020 left little imprint. No literary festival honoured the occasion, and no journal did a special issue. If White is looking down at us from some gumtree in the sky, he will be bathing in the lack of glory. He despised the hacks of the ‘Oz Lit’ industry as much as he loathed the ‘academic turds from Canberra’.

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People seeking asylum are off trend. As the black and brown people on boats have stopped arriving on Australia’s shores, so has our interest in them waned. In commemoration, a boat-shaped trophy sits in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office, inscribed with the words ‘I Stopped These’. Today, Australians seem preoccupied by the vaccine roll-out and allegations of rape in parliament. With a federal election on the horizon, people seeking asylum and refugees seem passé, a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

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The Middle-East conflict is perhaps the most intractable in the world. Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting for nearly a century over the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. The world has witnessed a never-ending cycle of tension and conflict, including a number of full-scale wars, with immense suffering on both sides. 

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On Thomas Keneally by Stan Grant & With the Falling of the Dusk by Stan Grant

by
June 2021, no. 432

Let’s start with a portrait. The year is 1993. The book is My Kind of People. Its author is Wayne Coolwell, a journalist. Who are Coolwell’s kind of people? Ernie Dingo, for one. Sandra Eades. Noel Pearson. Archie Roach. And there, sandwiched between opera singer Maroochy Barambah and dancer Linda Bonson is Stan Grant, aged thirty. Circa 1993, Grant is a breakthrough television presenter and journalist whose mother remembers him coming home to read the newspaper while the other kids went to play footy. ‘[T]here was a maturity and a sense of order about him,’ Coolwell writes. The order belies his parents’ life of ‘tin humpies, dirt floors, and usually only the one bed for all the kids in the family’.

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Editorial boards of magazines are seldom noticed, except when a magazine is in trouble. For the past three years ABR’s board chairman was Brian Johns. Last May Brian resigned. It was a resignation he had been signalling for some time; he believed that it was time for him to go.

As a member of the board, I was saddened to see Brian go. ABR had been very important to him, and its success and survival, in both cultural and economic terms, had been an overriding concern. Brian was a demanding, at times overbearing, at times charming, but always inspiring and exciting chairman.

Brian is always interested in what people think, and in them. One of his great talents is that he inspires people to articulate and implement their ideas. With ABR his overriding ambition has been to establish it as a journal of influence in promoting Australian writing, that was successful on all fronts; and with the help of some wonderful editors – John McLaren, John Hanrahan and, most recently, Kerryn Goldsworthy – that has been achieved.

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Hugh Stretton knew he was a lucky man – someone born well in the lottery of life. Born in 1924, he came into a thoughtful family with a strong record of public service. He was educated at fine private schools and excelled in his arts and legal studies at the University of Melbourne. When war intervened, Stretton served in the navy for three years without suffering injury and then won a Rhodes scholarship before completing his undergraduate qualifications.

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President Joe Biden has given cause to hope that the position of Science Advisor to the President of the United States might be returned to a position of influence after years of neglect under Donald Trump’s presidency. Biden nominated Eric Lander of MIT and, for the first time, elevated the advisor’s role to a Cabinet-level position. Lander will also sit on the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), which coordinates science and technology policy across the various federal research and development agencies, and which is chaired by the president.

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