Essays and Commentary

About ten years ago I was interviewed on Irish radio on a matter entirely unconnected with writing. The first question the interviewer asked me was, ‘Is that yourself, Elisabeth?’ This ungrammatical question struck me as both hilarious and pertinent. I don’t remember much about the interview except that leading question.

‘Is that yourself?’ In 1959 ...

I have often admired the mystical way of Pythagoras, and the secret magic of numbers.
Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici
The real world is not given to us, but put to us by way of a riddle.
Albert Einstein

In the kitchen of my mother’s houses there has always been a wooden stand with a ...

During a lull in the fiercest weather event the south-east of the continent has seen in thirty years – we call them ‘events’ these days, as though someone’s putting them on – I went out on a Sunday morning and bought myself a book.

I should tell you that we live on an acre in the country one hundred and t ...

Mark McKenna’s analysis of Manning Clark’s Kristallnacht episode (The Monthly, March 2007) – in which he shows that Clark was not in Bonn on Kristallnacht, that he arrived a couple of weeks later, but that in ensuing years he appropriated his fiancée Dymphna’s experience and account and made it his own without any attribution – may be further illuminated, given another dimension, if we look more closely not at Clark, who, as McKenna shows, wasn’t there, but at Dymphna, who was.

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I am at the exhibition ‘National Treasures from Australia’s Great Libraries’. I have come to see a picture of a man named Bungaree. I am standing in front of him, but I am distanced. The painting is glazed, low-lit, hung on a wall on the far side of quite a deep display case. If I stand up straight he is in focus, but too far away for me to see the details. As ...

Dear Elizabeth,

Well, it seems our long correspondence is over. Actually it ended some years ago, didn’t it? Your last letter to me is dated Christmas Eve 2001. I continued writing to you into the following year, not immediately realising you were unable to reply, even though your later letters spoke of confusion and of unaccountably getting lost in familiar streets.

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‘Welcome to the Netherlands!’ the sign says in Dutch and English. The Schipol customs official inspects my Australian passport. ‘Nederlands geboren,’ he sniffs. ‘Zo je komt terug.’ So you’ve come back, he adds, in a tone suggesting that I might have left something behind minutes ago, rather ...

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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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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For there is always going on within us a process of formulation and interpretation whose subject matter is our own selves.

These words appear towards the end of Erich Auerbach’s study of representation in Western literature, Mimesis. First published in 1946, the book has become a classic of twentieth-century literary criticism, but is almost as famous for the circumstances under which it was composed as for its content. It was written between 1942 and 1945 in Istanbul, where Auerbach, a German Jew, was living in exile.

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