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UWA Publishing

At a time when the world strains under the pressure of multiple crises, it stands to reason that coming of age might no longer hold the same literary value it once did. This ‘polycrisis’ encompasses not only the convergence of myriad catastrophic events – climate change, war, Covid-19, the resurgence of fascism, etc. – but also the failure of metanarratives or belief systems to mitigate against these. Amid all this unprecedentedness, the rise of an anti-Bildungsroman sentiment hardly surprises. In different ways, both Brendan Ritchie’s Eta Draconis and Roanna McClelland’s The Comforting Weight of Water attend to the central question: how does one come of age in a collapsing world? It’s a line of enquiry that just so happens to reflect Franco Moretti’s critique of the Bildungsroman genre in The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in European culture (1987), articulating how the novel of youth upholds the myth of Western modernity and progress.

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Given the huge popularity of crime fiction, some readers might wonder why there are not more examples by Aboriginal authors. Perhaps it is because crime in general is too close to the bone. It was only coincidental to be reviewing Julie Janson’s Madukka the River Serpent amid the controversy that followed the ABC’s coverage of the recent coronation, yet the relevance was inescapable. For the tiny number of readers unaware, this is when the slimy gutter of social media-fuelled racism dragged journalist Stan Grant down to the point where the national broadcaster lost one of its best (temporarily, one hopes). Grant’s departure speech at the end of his final Q&A on 21 May was so moving and thought-provoking it will stand in history alongside other landmark speeches – Paul Keating’s Redfern address springs to mind – and may well prove to be a catalyst for reform. Though prompted by cruelty and hate, it responded with generosity and love – love of people, love of culture, love of country.

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Collected Poems, Vol. 1 & 2 by John Kinsella

John Hawke
Wednesday, 24 May 2023

A quarter of a century has passed since Ivor Indyk contributed a scathing review of John Kinsella’s first collected poems to the pages of ABR (July 1997), and the contending responses to that opinion have typified the reception of his poetry among the vituperative local poetry community ever since. This extravagant representation of his work – two volumes of close to a thousand pages each, with a third volume pending – might seem almost deliberately designed to expose the author to similar criticism. Rather than a conventionally shaped collected edition, this is more like a throwing open of filing cabinets, and the nearly 1,700 pages presented so far are certainly not all masterpieces.

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Published in June 2023, no. 454

Childhood is something we take for granted. We all had one, but our idea of when it ended is quite subjective, depending on the society and culture in which we grew up, our economic and class background, and particular family circumstances. In some societies, the end of childhood is quite clear-cut. Most Aboriginal societies in the past (and some in the present) defined the onset of male adulthood by putting boys through stringent initiation ceremonies. Some girls also went through initiation ceremonies, others ended childhood when they reached what was deemed a marriageable age.

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Published in April 2003, no. 250

Some stories are very familiar to us, as a society, stories whose ugly truths we seem to have accepted, may even have, belatedly, apologised for, but the story of Joy Janaka Wiradjuri Williams, as told by Peter Read, reveals how much White Australia still has to learn about the complexity of our national past and the tragedy of its continuing legacy. Eileen Williams, three weeks after her birth in 1943, was sent to the United Aborigines Mission Home at Bomaderry, where she was renamed Joy. She grew up in state institutions and was later incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals, spending many years struggling with alcohol and drugs. As a young woman she had a baby taken from her, a repetition of the trauma inflicted on her mother and her grandmother. Joy, a poet and activist, mounted a long and unsuccessful lawsuit against the New South Wales state government. She died of cancer, alone, in 2006.

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Published in February 2010, no. 318

Richard Harding reviews 'The Unforgiving Rope' by Simon Adams

Richard Harding
Wednesday, 24 August 2022

Simon Adams’s thesis is that capital punishment was crucial in how the West was won: ‘The gallows were a potent symbol of an unforgiving social order that was determined to stamp its moral authority over one-third of the Australian continent.’ But hanging was discriminatory; it ‘was never applied fairly or impartially in Western Australia’. Adams points to the fact that ‘there were 17 men hanged between 1889 and 1904, all of whom were “foreigners”: two Afghans, six Chinese, one Malay, two Indians, one Greek, one Frenchman and four Manilamen’, but not a single ‘Britisher’. Capital punishment was racist, reflecting the ‘distortions and prejudices of the British colonial legal system’.

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Published in March 2010, no. 319

Jennifer Mills reviews 'Banjawarn' by Josh Kemp

Jennifer Mills
Wednesday, 23 March 2022

The latest in a new crop of outback gothic fiction, Josh Kemp’s début has everything readers have come to expect from the genre. There’s a messed-up bloke with a past. There’s a lost girl, ten years old and traumatised. There’s plenty of guilt and shame, damaged landscapes, haunted houses, injecting drug use, altered states, brutal acts of violence, and of course, there is the road.

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Published in April 2022, no. 441

New collections from Caitlin Maling and Kristen Lang are situated in vastly different landscapes but pursue similar ideas about the natural world’s fragility and the imminent environmental catastrophe. Maling’s Fish Work, as its title suggests, is primarily interested in marine life and the scientists studying it at Lizard Island Research Station on the Great Barrier Reef, while Lang’s Earth Dwellers explores mountains, caves, and coastlines in Tasmania and Nepal, examining the myriad complexities of ancient ecosystems. Maling’s and Lang’s new books, their fourth collections, urge readers to attend to the work of millennia that has produced these distinctive ecosystems and, in doing so, to appreciate the urgency of protecting them.

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Published in October 2021, no. 436

The biographical note to A Thousand Crimson Blooms observes that Eileen Chong’s first book, Burning Rice (2012), is ‘the first single-author collection of poetry by an Asian-Australian to be studied as part of the NSW HSC English syllabus’. Having run many writing workshops for students and adults over the years, Chong takes her pedagogy as seriously as her poetry. It’s no surprise, then, that A Thousand Crimson Blooms, Chong’s fifth collection, is replete with scenes of instruction. In ‘Teacher’, the poet corrects her mother’s pronunciation (‘I say TEAcher, then, I say teacher.  / … I feel like an arsehole’) only to stand corrected by memories of her mother’s gentler tutelage. The collection’s dedicatee, Chong’s grandmother, metes out corporal punishment in ‘Hunger’, but has her own body disciplined in ‘Float’. The poet learns the meaning of ‘thole’ (Scottish for ‘to endure / what is barely bearable’) and after surgery discloses the origins of her nurse’s name. If there is pathos evoked by these anecdotes, much of it has to do with the way knowledge – how to care for the body, where to look for the roots of words – helps the poet overcome the inertia occasioned by violence, whether racial, sexual, or medical.

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Published in July 2021, no. 433

Oliver Driscoll’s note on his first book I Don’t Know How That Happened (Recent Work Press, $19.95 pb, 74 pp) praises the inclusive flatness of David Hockney’s still life paintings, and it is to this inclusiveness that his poems and prose pieces aspire. Droll reported speech creates a comic atmosphere but also moves into Kafkaesque alienation where nothing seems to follow any pattern.

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Published in April 2021, no. 430