Delys Bird

In his Epilogue to this major study of the West Australian wheatbelt and its writers, Tony Hughes-d’Aeth describes his work. With no ‘exact precedent’ in Australian scholarship, it is ‘best thought of as an amalgam of literary history, literary sociology and literary geography’. To achieve this, Hughes-d’Aeth traces the idea of the wheatbelt through inte ...

Elizabeth Jolley’s personal and publishing history is well known. She migrated from the United Kingdom to Western Australia with her husband, Leonard, and their three children in 1959, when Leonard was appointed Librarian at the University of Western Australia. Although she had been writing from a young age and had brought a great ...

Westerly 59:2 by edited by Delys Bird and Tony Hughes-d’Aeth

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March 2015, no. 369

‘A father is God to his son,’ declares the father in David Whish-Wilson’s story ‘The Cook’, just a split second before he is shot dead by his drug-dealing son. Thus begins this special edition of Westerly, which marks not only the magazine’s sixtieth year of publication but also the retirement of its two standing editors, ...

Tim Winton: Critical Essays edited by Lyn McCredden and Nathanael O’Reilly

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October 2014, no. 365

Sitting, a few years ago, in the audience at a writers’ festival in the south-west of Western Australia, at a panel session hosted by Jennifer Byrne, I was struck by the widespread reaction to one of the panellists announcing that the book she had chosen to discuss was Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet (now securely canonised as an ‘Australian national classic ...

The question of the relationship of the biographer to their subject is a fascinating one. Kath Jordan is frank about her long and intimate friendship with Veronica Brady as she recounts the way this book came into being. In a preface, she remembers celebrating with a friend the High Court’s rejection of Western Australia’s challenge to its Mabo native title decision, in March 1995. Thinking of Brady’s active involvement in Aboriginal rights issues, the two decided that they would write her biography. Brady gave her consent to the idea – although there is no sense that she was closely involved with the project – and what became the unexpectedly long gestation of Larrikin Angel was eventually begun, with only one author.

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This is a particularly interesting group of reissued ‘classics’, spanning just over fifty years in twentieth-century Australian literature. Although they have very different fictional styles, all are realist or social realist novels, and their politics and preoccupations are not dissimilar. Each is concerned with working people’s lives, differing contrasts between city and country life, and aspects of class.

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Authority and Influence: Australian literary criticism, 1950–2000 edited by Delys Bird, Robert Dixon and Christopher Lee

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May 2001, no. 230

The problems that have bedevilled Australian literary criticism and literary history over the last twenty years have been worldwide. Histories, even quite short ones, now have to be written polyphonically, by committees of dozens of contributors. It is taken for granted that no single person could cover the whole field and the variety of critical perspectives, movements, genres, institutions and ideologies involved. One of the recurrent phrases of recent years has been ‘pushing the boundaries’; but histories, surveys, theses, articles all depend on demarcation lines. That is why the notion of a ‘canon’ has been useful, though, of course, a canon needs to be constantly questioned and revised so as not to become stagnant and restrictive.

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Beverley Farmer is one of a group of women writers celebrated in Gillian Whitlock’s collection of excerpts from their work, Eight Voices of the Eighties. Its introduction begins with a remark attributed to Elizabeth Jolley where she calls the 1980s in Australia ‘a moment of glory for the woman writer’. Beverley Farmer’s first novel, Alone, was published in 1980, at the beginning of this period of renaissance and recognition of women’s writing as central to a national literary culture.

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A phrase like ‘And God so loved the world, she …’ has a radical impact on that most deeply ingrained convention; the contract underlying and validating much of Western culture that the logos is masculine and the power behind the logos is designated, generically, as ‘he’. Our culture is patriarchal; patriarchal power derives from God and that power is symbolically inscribed in language.

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Some years ago, when I was able for the first time to lecture on the position of women in Australian society within an Australian Studies undergraduate course (in a section headed ‘Minorities’), the available material on the topic, apart from occasional brief throwaway references in the standard works, was minimal. Recognition that this gap existed – in academic courses, in the knowledge structures of disciplines, in our minds – coincided with the publication of those first few books, like Damned Whores and God’s Police, My Wife, My Daughter and Poor Mary Ann and others, that allowed the subject of women to be spoken and the social structures and discourses that positioned them to be examined.

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