Essays and Commentary

In the teaching of copyright, it is usually said that copyright is an economic right. In Arnhem Land, they think otherwise. In 1990, I attended a meeting of Aboriginal artists in Maningrida. These artists had been involved in a copyright infringement case concerning the unauthorised reproduction of works of art on T-shirts. The case had settled, and the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the division of the spoils. The case involved a number of artists and different infringements by the same infringer.

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Writing Down the Voice

Gillian Bouras
Wednesday, 10 June 2020

My great-grandfather Robert had a beard, a pointed one, presumably grey. He stands in a sepia-coloured photograph, gazing steadily at the camera, leaning on a walking stick and wearing a grainy-looking overcoat. But these are only dimly recollected details: I have not looked at the relevant album for years. Much more vivid is the voice I never heard. It was transmitted by my mother, who is now also dead. Throughout my childhood my imagination was peopled by various characters, as she recalled their exact words, entertaining my sister and me as she herself had been entertained: by using remembered voices she recreated her past and created one for us.

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Mateship, Friendship and National Identity

Ronald A. Sharp
Friday, 05 June 2020

A year ago, I came to Australia prepared to spend the first half of my sabbatical leave completing a book on John Keats. Never having been to Australia, I was eager to spend some time here: five months in all. When I participated in the 2008 Mildura Writers Festival, it became clear to me that something both delightful and extraordinary was at work. There was a fine group of writers, including Les Murray, David Malouf, Alice Pung, Alex Miller, Sarah Day, and Anthony Lawrence. But what made the festival remarkable was the combination of conviviality and serious talk about literature and ideas that surpassed anything in my previous experience, which included far more such events than I could begin to count.

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The Survival of Poetry

Peter Porter
Wednesday, 03 June 2020

Some years ago I wrote a poem called ‘A Table of Coincidences’, which contained the lines: ‘the day Christopher Columbus discovered America / Was the day Piero della Francesca died.’ This is a verifiable fact, unless changes in the Western calendar have altered things. Clearly, I was being sententious and reactionary: the ancient good of the world and its new doubtfulness seemed to start on the one day. A hostile reviewer pointed out that every date in the world is the anniversary of some other date, and poured scorn on my notion by suggesting that a momentous event like the Armistice in 1918 might share a date with the invention of Coca-Cola. But we still honour anniversaries, and I am only too conscious of the 365 days that have passed since 11 September 2001.

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Reading Mr Robinson

Inga Clendinnen
Wednesday, 03 June 2020

I grew up in a once-upon-a-time land when milk and loaves appeared at the door to the jingle of bells and the clopping of hooves, when housewives were wistful Cinderellas in sacking aprons and hair permanently rollered for the ball, when men wore hats, and lifted them to the funerals of strangers passing in the street. That time – the forties, the early fifties – has been mythologised into a Camelot of Anglo-Celtic virtue, or a dark age of tribalism and British cooking. In my recollection, of course, it was neither, but simply the way things were. It is disconcerting to find one’s private past, one’s little collection of ordinary memories, become a matter of ideological dispute, and to discover, after peaceful decades spent reading historical documents, that you have become a historical document yourself.

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The Story of Short Stories in Australia

Bruce Pascoe
Monday, 23 December 2019

People produce art to explain and honour the life they know, and to many the short story is a logical medium for that expression. The more futuristic art gurus, however, believe that printed pages are destined for extinction as an art form and that the short story will be first on the Dodo list.

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To some it may seem solipsistic to be reviewing what is, in effect, a collection of reviews, but when the reviewer in question is as smart as the late Clive James and the subject is as substantial as Philip Larkin (1922–85) this is unlikely to be the case.

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The World of Charmian Clift is a selection of the weekly columns she wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald’s women’s pages. They date from 1964, the year that she, George Johnston, and their children returned from Greece, up to her tragic suicide in 1969. Clift herself selected most of the essays for the book, which was first published posthumously in 1970, not long before George Johnston’s death from tuberculosis.

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The Meaning of Recognition

Clive James
Friday, 29 November 2019

There is a difference between celebrity and recognition. Celebrities are recognised in the street, but usually because of who they are, or who they are supposed to be. To achieve recognition, however, is to be recognised in a different way. It is to be known for what you have done, and quite often the person who knows what you have done has no idea what you look like. When I say I’ve had enough of celebrity status, I don’t mean that I am sick of the very idea.

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A young George Seddon smiles boyishly from the cover of his Selected Writings, a mid-twentieth-century nerd with short back and sides and horn-rimmed glasses. This collection of Seddon’s writings on landscape, place, and the environment is the third in the series on Australian thinkers published by La Trobe University Press in conjunction with Black Inc. The other two, Hugh Stretton and Donald Horne, were also on mid-century men.

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