July 2006 Archives

Weekend Round-Up 2006 #31

The Age

Margaret Simons takes a long look at Whose ABC? The Australian Broadcasting Corporation 1983-2006 by Ken Inglis, and a detailed look it is too. She begins by regretting the fact that Inglis finished his narrative when he did, at the appontment of the new managing director and just before the appointment of Keith Windschuttle to the board. But he had to end it somewhere, and, anyway, as Simons puts it "History repeats itself. In every chapter, Inglis chronicles the strains between Aunty and the governments that fund her. The tensions between chasing ratings and caring for quality are on almost every page. So too the debate over whether the ABC should take advertising or sponsorship. So too the political stacking of the ABC board by both sides of politics. One is tempted to think there is nothing new under the sun...Inglis' digest of the past is indispensable for the perspective it brings and for its underlining of a simple but indisputable fact: the ABC is far and away our most important cultural institution."

A new novel by Nick Earls is always to be savoured, according to Christopher Bantick, and his latest, Monica Bloom is no exception. "Strong narration is often a consistent feature of rites-of-passage fiction. The reason is palpably obvious. An individual on a life-altering journey, reflecting on experience, can be engaging while promoting a certain vicarious quality...Holden Caulfield's troubled ruminations in J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, Billy Casper's fears in Barry Hines' A Kestrel for a Knave, and, more recently, Blue Black's pithy observations in Anson Cameron's Lies I Told About a Girl, present a first-person account of growing up. So it is with Nick Earls and Monica Bloom." Which puts it into rare company but "his is not a novel preoccupied with blame or hectoring a generation unfamiliar with Countdown or the Clash; Earls is way too subtle for that...The sense of loss that underpins his finely told story is leavened by the astringency of self discovery."

Jeff Sparrow is rather bemused by The Myth of the Great Depression by David Potts, wondering if "it's become something of a patriotic duty for historians to iron out unpleasant creases from Australia's past." Sparrow thinks there's some good stuff here, but there appears to an agenda as well. "David Potts writes well, and his book contains valuable information that will be debated by scholars. It's just a pity that The Myth of the Great Depression emerged in an era that encourages public historians to abandon nuance for polemical fervour."

Short notices are given to: Love Child by Fran Cusworth: "What a turn-up for the books - a first novel that is about something, is plot driven, has appealing characters and is often hysterically funny"; The Ashes: A Celebration by Roland Perry, who "picks the 10 events or matches that he reckons have had the greatest impact on the 100-year rivalry between Australia and England"; and Pilgrimage: A Traveller's Guide to Australia's Battlefields by Garrie Hutchinson: "Hutchinson really knows his subject, and he writes with just the right blend of detached precision and compassion: he is the clinical analyst of specific events and the pilgrim awed and humbled by acts of ordinary people in extraordinary times".

The Australian

Debra Adelaide spent some time as a judge of the AustralianVogel Award so she has some background when it comes to reviewing its winners. She was at first apprehensive about Andrew O'Connor's Tuvalu, but quickly warmed to it: "what a novel it is, full of illusion, teasing us with its inconclusiveness, spinning bleak, intense humour from the straw of failed and doomed relationships."

Christopher Bantick backs up his fiction review from the other paper with a look at Australia's Quarter Acre by Peter Timms in "The Australian", and it would be hard to get two books further apart: "the book is not about the reclamation of space or even apposite planting in accordance with climate change and pressing municipal water restrictions. Australia's Quarter Acre presents a chronology of the development of the Australian garden and what role it has in defining national taste."

Short notices are given to: Vale Byron Bay by Wayne Grogan who "rebuilds that hippie heaven with unerring detail"; Eagle on the Hill by Maggie Shannon: "Of a wider Australia beyond the [Murray] river we learn little, of the chaotic world beyond these shores almost nothing. The bigness here is determinedly local. Call it a big river romance"; Little Wing by Joanne Horniman: "One of Australia's finest writers, Joanne Horniman has an exquisite honesty in her words, which observe the smallest details...Every sentence is beautiful and necessary"; and Queenie, One Elephant's Story by Corrine Fenton, illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe, is "a moving story of an animal whose natural inclinations are tamed by humans. Peter Gouldthorpe's illustrations bring this story to colourful life".

Reviews of Australian Books #26

Nicholas Shakespeare reviews Tasmanian Devil by David Owen and David Pemberton, in "The Times Literary Supplement" this week. "Written in folksy, accessible prose, Tasmanian Devil makes a valuable and long overdue contribution to our knowledge of this marsupial."

Theft by Peter Carey is reviewed by "The New York Review of Books" but the piece isn't available on the website. Which raises the question: which other Australian author of fiction would be reviewed in the NYRofB? Maybe Malouf, but that'd be about it.

Australian Books to Film #13 - Picnic at Hanging Rock


Picnic at Hanging Rock 1975
Directed by Peter Weir
Screenplay by Cliff Green from the novel by Joan Lindsay
Cast: Rachel Roberts, Helen Morse, Jacki Weaver and Anne-Louise Lambert.

Poem: Four Friends by Mousquetaire (Gordon Tidy)

When the work is done and the people are gone and the voice and the nuisance end
I find it most pleasant to banish the Present with a smoke and a minstrel friend.

Those friends the first of the volumes versed, those keen-eyed, quick-eyed men
Who can do so much with that one right touch which is proof of a poet's pen.

Fate leads their feet to here and there, by many a bourne they bide,
But their own true selves on my old book-shelves stand firm at an old friend's side.

And when I feel the yester-winds blow fresh as of yore they blew,
When we swing through Life to the drum and fife and the tune that we once marched to.

Then Gordon strong has signed the song brings back my boyhood blithe,
For I take him down when I'd forget that mower's ceaseless scythe.

I take him down and the striding brown goes sailing and sailing along,
And the grey cheeks flush at the rattle and rush of his "sitting loosely" song.

The cup he pours makes the blood run hot, nor gave those grapes but wine,
For so fierce he stamped the fruit to juice that many a bunch bled brine.

But sorrow -- where is not sorrow? It's shadow escapes, what rhyme?
E'en Ogilvie, the Troubadour, he laughs not all the time.

He's off to the Bush to the air so rare that's clinked from snaffles and spurs,
To the Bush that Ogilvie's lover is as sure as Ogilvie's hers.

He seems a careless caroller, with his lilt of the lover's lute,
A Gipsy free who shall flourish a Glee forthwith from his generous flute.

How he sings of the joy of the girl and the boy, how the bridle-touch thrills through his hands!
-- And yet how plain is the dusky vein in Will's well-woven strands.

But would you change for Hell-gate glare this room's soft-shaded light,
Would you tread the West's arena-sand where the gladiators fight;

Would you hear a stave of great gifts that gave the old world's wider ways,
When the camp-fires burned o'er the Fifties turned to our narrower Nowadays.

Would you learn their lot in the God-forgot, where they're besting it, God knows how,
-- Then read the lays that brought the bays to Lawson's sweating brow.

But here are Banjo's bits of blood, -- "They're off!" and "Here they come!"
-- How bright the clustered silks shine out as they slip by the river-gum.

Horse! horse! yes, of course it is horse , -- a curse on your canting cry,
Some books are bought for what's called "thought," and let who wants them buy.

Let some hold out their sieves for rain, let some teams plough sea-sand,
Be I, when "Banjo" drops the flag, at the top of the staring Stand.

First published inThe Bulletin, 14 June 1902

2006 Melbourne Writers' Festival Program

The program for the 2006 Melbourne Writers' festival will be released tomorrow. The full publication will appear as a supplement in "The Age" newspaper. It won't be mailed out this year. Though I suspect the final listing will appear some time soon on the festival's website. Keep an eye out. In the meantime, it has been announced that two of the major items on the program will be a keynote address by Tim Flannery, moderated by Robyn Williams of the ABC's Science Show, and a panel discussion between Robert Manne and Andrew Bolt on the subject of "Stolen Generations". Now that should be something to see.

Literary Gatherings #1 - Lindsay and the Dysons


Edward Dyson, Will Dyson, Norman Lindsay and Ambrose Dyson

A Poet Laureate for Australia

In a major piece in "The Australian" newspaper on the weekend, Perth based writer and critic Richard King discusses the possibility of Australia appointing a poet laureate. The basic question is: Britain and the USA both have one, so why not us?

It is a reasonable question, which I, in typical fashion, scoffed at immediately. What possible use could one be, I thought? Which then raised the supplementary question: what do they actually do, anyway? To which I can safely answer that I do not have the faintest idea.

So it was off to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poet_laureate that I went and obtained the following definition: "A Poet Laureate is a poet officially appointed by a government and often expected to compose poems for state occasions and other government events. The term has in England for centuries been the title of the official poet of the monarch, appointed for life since the time of Charles II. Poets Laureate are appointed by many countries, some U.S. states and the UN."

So the Poet Laureate is a government appointment whose particular task is, to quote the current British incumbent: "..to write poems on royal and national events". But even he then went on to question how this could be done by one person in such a multicultural society as Britain's. What we tend to end up with are ugly poems that no-one is particularly interested in. Which brings to mind the reaction to the poem the then Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, wrote about the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and the Prince of Wales. I think "vitriolic" might not be too harsh a word for the criticism it received. Though to be fair, this may well have been directed mainly at Hughes rather than the quality of his poetry.

It might be argued that C.J. Dennis, in his role as resident poet for the Melbourne "Herald" in the 1920s and 1930s, was as close an example of an Australian Poet Laureate as we have had. Each year during his tenure, he wrote poems commemorating such events as Anzac Day and Remembrance Day; events that most Australians would consider worthy of some sort of decent poetry. But it has also to be remembered that he wrote poems about the Melbourne Cup, the start of the football season and the results of cricket test matches. He wrote about politicians and grocers, country doctors and country pubs, city trams and local trains, trees and birds, gardens and monuments - basically the whole gamut of life as he saw it.

It is impossible to say how popular his verse was at the time it was written. I suppose the fact that he continued to be published for as long as he did gives as good an indication as any of his standing among the paper's readership.

I doubt that Dennis ever saw his role as one concerned with the promotion of poetry as an acceptable artform. He came from a humble background that viewed poetry as part and parcel of an everyday reading life, not as some sort of pretentious nonsense.

In general I'm not a big fan of modern poetry. I don't find it says anything to me that has an impact. There are some that I enjoy (David Rowbotham, Dorothy Porter and Les Murray spring to mind) but the list is short. And yet I put it to you that there are a couple of "poets" working in Australia right now who might be considered to have taken on some of Dennis's mantle: I'm thinking of Michael Leunig and singer-songwriter Paul Kelly. If we are going to appoint a Poet Laureate for Australia I'd certainly like to see either of them being considered for the role. But if we are going to appoint someone whose brief has them writing poems to commemorate the opening of Parliament or the Queen's birthday, then I think we should give the whole idea the flick.

Reviews of Australian Books #25

A couple of Australian crime novels are getting some notice in overseas newspapers.

Susanna Yager, in "The Daily Telegraph", continues the UK's infatuation with The Broken Shore by Peter Temple: "This is a very fine book. Characterisation, dialogue and the quality of the prose are all top-class and Cashin, a quiet, solitary man with a wry sense of humour, constantly tormented by his responsibility for the death of a colleague, is instantly likeable."

And across the water, Marietta Dunn, in "The Philadelphia Inquirer", is impressed with Garry Disher's Snapshot, the third in his Hal Challis novels: "While many readers want their thrillers with gouts of gore and endless gunplay, for me, a writer like Disher - old-fashioned in the best sense of the term - is the most satisfying. The humanity that his officers bring to the story, their interactions, their doggedness and determination, are the real reasons to give his series a try."

This is the second Disher title to be published by Soho Press this month, and it's good to see them looking down this way for some of their foreign crime titles.

Australian Bookcovers #22 - Ultima Thule by Henry Handel Richardson


Ultima Thule by Henry Handel Richardson, 1929
(Penguin Modern Classics 1971 edition)
Cover: detail from Redfern Station 1893 by Arthur Streeton

Weekend Round-Up 2006 #30

The Age

As Nick Economou, senior lecturer in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University, states: "It is possibly the case that a long period in opposition are conducive to reflection, analysis and self-analysis and that this might account for why so much has been written about the Labor party over the years." He then goes on to review two new books on the subject, Coming to the Party: Where to Next for Labor edited by Barry Jones, and Reconnecting Labor by Barry Donovan. Unfortunately he's not all that impressed: "It's hard to know what has motivated the respective publishers to run with these really middling books about a party whose problems have already bene widely canvassed.."

Peter FitzSimons lives two lives, one the author of very readable histories, and the other as a boof-head sports commentator. He actually seems perfectly at home with both roles and his latest book, Tobruk is reviewed this week by Christopher Bantick, who is pretty impressed by the thing. "Tobruk will be a welcome read for those comparative few 'Rats' who were there, and FitzSimons has effectively resurrected a long and largely overlooked battle for a new Australian generation. Gallipoli has reached saturation point in the national consciousness and the Kokoda trek has become a must-do endurance test. But Tobruk?"

Helen Elliott profiles Adrian Hyland on the eve of the publication of his first novel Diamond Dove. What's interesting about Hyland, apart from his novel, is that fact that he's getting such a profile as a 51-year-old. It's good to see.

Short notices are given to: Plastered: The Poster Art of Australian Popular Music by Murray Wilding with Nick Vukovic: "The book is well designed and produced and the accompanying text is entertaining and informative. It deserves an exhibition, preferably not in a gallery - maybe the Prince or the Espy should oblige"; New Under the Sun: Jewish Australians on Religion, Politics & Culture edited by Michael Fagenblat, Melanie Landau and Nathan Wolski: "Divergent voices offer snapshots of Jewish identity in the process of re-invention"; and Allie McGregor's True Colours by Sue Lawson: "Teenagers do self-absorption like no one else. The astonishing level their self-centredness can reach is captured perfectly by Sue Lawson in this readable young adult novel." I can relate to that.

The Australian

It's quiet in "The Australian" this week, with only short notices aa book reviews. Terry Dowling reviews three Australian collections of short sf fiction. Of volume two of the Year's Best Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy edited by Bill Congreve and Michelle Marquardt, he calls it an "excellent showcase of the scene". He describes Cat Sparks's anthology, Agog! Ripping Reads, as "a rich, varied and worthwhile instalment in an important series", and of Simon Brown's collection: "Powerful, sensitive, often deeply moving, Troy shows what the story story can be in the hands of a truly gifted writer." The future of Australian sf and fantasy looks expecially bright.

Dylan Thomas Prize

The longlist for the inaugral Dylan Thomas prize has been announced and we find that Emily Maguire's first novel, Taming the Beast, has been selected. The prize is for writers under the age of 30 who write in English. The prize will be awarded biennially. The winner will be announced at the Brangwyn Hall in Swansea on 27th October 2006. With a first prize of £60,000 it's not to be sneezed at.

Poem: The Bloke's Lament by O.K. (Edmund Fisher)

Admirers of his brilliant and typical Australian work will learn with pleasure that Mr. C. J. Dennis, famous as the creator of "The Sentimental Bloke", has been specially engaged to conduct a daily column for the Melbourne HERALD.

'Struth! me faith in me creator, 'im as also made Doreen,
Has dissolved an' left me weepin', like the snows I never seen --
Them virgin snows of yester-year, whereof the poets tell:
There's nothin' I believe in now unless it's blimy 'ell!
For Dennis -- strike me, Dennis! -- 'im wot dreamed me into life,
Ordained me, as yer may say, to a clean and tidy life,
Wif a treasure of a wife,

Has sold hisself for lucre (for a gilty lump, I guess)
Into bitter, blanky bondage wif the gory evenin' press.
Melbourne 'ERALD, wot goes barmy w'en the latest murder's on,
'As signed a legal contrack wif the bloke wot calls me "son,"
Which will keep 'im workin', workin', like a weary galley-slave,
While he envies poor old Ginger, as lies dossin' in the grave,
An' will want to 'ave 'is froat cut w'en he goes to get a shave.

Cripes! the orful daily vampire will be boozin' on 'is blud
Till his airy fancy sickens, and the Muse's name is Mud;
There'll be suicides an' murders for the topics of his verse:
Comic songs abowt the motor wot collided wif an 'earse;
Tricky r'ymes to make yer shudder 'e will orfen 'ave to spin
On the kid that lived a fortnight ere its muvver done it in;
An' w'en of luv an' wedlock Den is itchin' to discourse,
He'll be preachin' spicy lessons on an actress's divorce.
Gawd! 'e'll perish in 'is prime of wot the parson calls Remorse.

I can picture dear old Dennis drinkin' bitterness's cup,
W'en the golden sun is sinkin', and 'is number's goin' up;
W'en he feels hisself collapsin' 'neath the burden of 'is cross,
Just because he sold 'is birfright to the journalistic joss.
I can picture 'im a-askin' for the Bloke as made 'is name,
The Bloke wit 'ad the honor of conductin' 'im to Fame:

I can almost 'ear 'im sayin' "Bill, I 'aven't long ter live -
This job 'as corspsed me proper, so I beg yer to forgive."
An' I shall answer "Ryebuck: though you've got it in the neck,
You're the aufor of me bein', an' I owes yer deep respeck."
An' I'll squeeze 'is clammy fingers wot no more carn't 'old a pen,
In a way wot's meant to tell 'im "Ginger's waitin' for yer, Den."
Then Den will smile an' peter out, all quiet an' serene --
An' the closin' of 'is eyelids -- I -- shall -- leave -- it -- to -- Dor-e-en.

First published in The Bulletin, 25 May 1922

Caricature #9 - "Hal Gye" by David Low


First Tuesday Book Club

A month or so back, we reported on plans by ABC television to introduce a monthly books program. Now those plans have been put in place and First Tuesday Book Club will premiere on Tuesday August 1st at 10pm. As previously noted, the program will be hosted by Jennifer Byrne and will also feature a panel of booklovers including actor and author Jacki Weaver, Gardening Australia host Peter Cundall, blogger Marieke Hardy, and Jason Steger, literary editor of "The Age". The first books up for discussion will be American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and The Ballad of Desmond Kale by Roger McDonald.

Great Australian Authors #30 - Morris West


Morris West (1916 - 1999)

The Pope was dead. The Camerlengo had announced it. The Master of Ceremonies, the notaries, the doctors had consigned him under signature into eternity. His ring was defaced and his seals were broken. The bells had been rung throughout the city. The pontifical body had been handed to the embalmers so that it might be a seemly object for the veneration of the faithful. Now it lay, between white candles, in the Sistine Chapel with the Noble Guard keeping a death watch under Michelangelo's frescoes of the Last Judgment. The Pope was dead. Tomorrow the clergy of the Basilica would claim him and expose him to the public in the Chapel of the Most Holy Sacrament. On the third day they would bury him, clothed in full pontificals, with a mitre on his head, a purple veil on his face, and a red ermine blanket to warm him in the crypt. The medals he had struck and coinage he had minted would be buried with him to identify him to any who might dig him up a thousand years later. They would seal him in three coffins - one of cypress; one of lead to keep him from the damp and to carry his coat of arms, and the certificate of his death; the last of elm so that he might seem, at least, like other men who go to the grave in a wooden box.

From The Shoes of the Fisherman by Morris West, 1963

Weblog Housekeeping

I must apologise if you have been experiencing any difficulty accessing this weblog over the past few days. It appears my ISP has been having some troubles in maintaining a viable connection. A power failure in Sydney downed the service on Sunday night for approximately 5 hours and another outage splatted it today for about 10 hours. This is known in the trade as "not very good". Hopefully normal service will be resumed shortly.

Literary Reflections #4 by Will Dyson

The Novel of the Great Open Spaces.





First published in The Herald, 01 May 1926

Johnno by David Malouf

As mentioned here about a month ago, David Malouf's coming-of-age novel Johnno has been adapted for the stage and received its world premiere at the Brisbane Festival on Friday. Andrew Fraser, in "The Australian", interviews the key players: Malouf, playwright Stephen Edwards and director Sean Mee. The play runs at the Playhouse Theatre as part of the Brisbane Festival. There is no indication, at this stage, of plans to mount the production elsewhere in Australia.

Australian Bookcovers #21 - The Way Home by Henry Handel Richardson


The Way Home by Henry Handel Richardson, 1925
(Penguin Modern Classics 1971 edition)
Cover: detail from Coming South by Tom Roberts

Weekend Round-Up 2006 #29

The Age

It would appear that the tide has turned at last: Australian fiction and non-fiction, poetry and a young adult novel are reviewed this week in "The Age". A welcome change.

Zelman Cowan - ex governor-general, law professor and public intellectual - has published his autobiography, A Public Life, which is reviewed this week by Michelle Grattan, the paper's political editor. Cowan had a difficult job to do when he took office: "Sir Zelman's reputation as the voice of reason and moderation, the conciliator, had Malcolm Fraser appoint him to succeed John Kerr as the 'healing' governor-general. It was a sound choice and he did much to restore the office. Fraser was disappointed when he did not agree to stay on beyond his initial stint but Sir Zelman was already set to return to academe as provost of Oriel College at Oxford." So his public life covered a period of great change and "Sir Zelman's book is packed with detail and description. He gives, especially, a strong feel of college and university life, and for his many friendships, particularly in the academic world. On the governor-general years, readers do not get a lot of gossip or insights into politicians - a discretion that is perhaps understandable but a touch disappointing." Which is, I guess, just what a political reporter would say.

Two second novels with remarkable similarities are reviewed by Helen Elliott (but which are not on the website) - Vale Byron Bay by Wayne Grogan and Death of a Whaler by Nerida Newton - both are set in Byron Bay during the 1970s. "Newton's Byron is gentler than Grogan's - hers is perhaps more New Testament to his Old - but together, and individually, they add depth and understanding to a time and a place that was crucially important to anyone interested in tracking how we got from 'there' to 'here'. History is always best-learnt from unselfconsciously Australian tales such as these."

Peter Pierce is impressed by the formidable John Tranter as he reviews the poet's latest collection, Urban Myths: 210 Poems. "The volume contains 210 poems that range from Parallax (1970) to the present, across a dashing range of forms - haiku and leisurely verse narratives, works that modulate from poetry to prose, poems that are guardedly autobiographical and others that overtly imitate and vary the verse of many writers whom he admires, and has attentively absorbed."

Garth Nix has released the fourth book in his Keys to the Kingdom series for young adults, Sir Thursday, which is given a short review by Diane Dempsey. She finds that "Nix maintains the series' momentum as well as his hold on the complex world he has assembled, including the kingdom of the House, where strange armies meet even stranger foe...Author of the Old Kingdom series, Nix has gained his popularity with children by writing in a bold way. His universe in The Keys to the Kingdom is demandingly complicated but he rewards his readers with chilling moments and the occasional hysterical laugh." Sounds good enough for me.

Short notices are given to: Cricket: Back in Time by Ian Collis, "In many ways it's as much social history as cricket history, taking us, decade by decade (each with written introductions), from the game as a gentleman's leisure to the professionals of the Packer revolution"; Prisoners of the Japanese by Roger Bourke, whose "study may have started as a PhD thesis, but it now an absorbing analysis of how we write and read the prisoner-of-war experience in the Pacific, and, more generally, the often troubled alliance of fiction and history"; and The Shadow Thief by Marion May Campbell which "is a difficult but rewarding book. It's full of verbal epiphanies and occasionally its literary qualities serve to obscure rather than embellish the intricate movements of its plot".

The Australian

Peter Ryan favourably reviews Ida Leeson: A Life - Not a Bluestocking Lady which tells the story of the woman who was the head of Sydney's famous Mitchell Library from 1932 to 1946. This review is as much a memoir, as Ryan first met Leeson in 1944 and their paths crossed over the next twenty years until her death.

"Leeson knew everyone, from Henry Lawson to Miles Franklin, from Walter Burley Griffin to James McAuley, from Bert Evatt and Thomas Blamey to Manning Clark. And with the possible exception of Evatt, whom she loathed, she helped every one of them."

She comes across as a formidable woman.

Two maritime histories are reviewed by Jennifer Moran: Where Fate Beckons: The Life of Jean-Francois de la Perouse by John Dunmore and An Imperial Disaster: The Wreck of George the Third by Michael Roe.

"La Perouse's story has all the elements of dramatic tale: derring-do, thwarted love that triumphs only to be cruelly cut short, tragedy, mystery and the sweep of history. John Dunmore, professor emeritus of French at Massey University in New Zealand, has written more than 20 books on French navigation in the Pacific. He writes intelligently with a light touch so that the more convoluted machinations of French colonial ambition are readable and interesting, and the life of la Perouse, with its ambitions and frustrations, emerges with fascinating detail."

On the other hand, An Imperial Disaster is a book "for those fascinated by the minutiae of Tasmanian history and prepared to steep themselves in the grinding politics of the colonialists, the petty arguments of those who lived on the fringes of the channel, and the machinations of committees and inquiries charged with improving safety at sea."

And to round off the pretty full menu in "The Australian" this week, Kerryn Goldsworthy looks at two books of poems by John Kinsella: The New Arcadia and America (A Poem). In both books "Kinsella has used the literary heritage of poetry as the cornerstone of what he's doing. It's impossible to miss the density, sometimes to saturation, of American writer presence in America or the complex, elaborate use of traditional poetic forms and conventions in The New Arcadia...the former is haunted by American poets: their beliefs, rhythms, tone...The New Arcadia is an excellent example, close to home, of how a poet may say what he needs to say not just in words but also in the use of formal conventions that go back through the centuries."

Short notices are given to: Hooked: A True Story of Pirates, Poaching and the Perfect Fish by G. Bruce Knecht: "Piracy on the high seas is never dull but Bruce Knecht's wonderfully styled account of Australian patrol boat Southern Supporter's chase in 2003 of the Uruguayan long-liner Viasra, spotted in the Australian Fishing Zone, delivers edge-of-the-seat reading"; Reconnecting Labor by Barry Donovan who says that "Labor needs to 'reconnect with a vengeance' is it hopes to beat John Winston Howard"; Slow Living by Wendy Parkins and Geoffrey Craig, which tells "an alternative story about what makes a life good"; and A Man of All Tribes: The Life of Alick Jackomos by Richard Broome and Corinne Manning: "Jackomos the AIF soldier, the sideshow wrestler and his fairytale courtship and marriage to Aboriginal beauty Merle Morgan are richly detailed in this biography of a 'man of all tribes'".

Australian Plays to Film #2 - Don's Party


Don's Party 1976
Directed by Bruce Beresford
Screenplay by David Williamson from his own play
Cast: Ray Barrett, Claire Binney, Graham Kennedy, Pat Bishop, and Graeme Blundell.

Poem: In Brighton Cemetery by J.M. Marsh

Once more earth's fairest season hastens
With first fruits of her quest and fastens
   A chaplet for the quiet hill:
Where Adam Gordon little recking
Heaven's white or crimson flecking;
Winter's chill or summer's decking,
   Gently laid, is dreaming still.

And all in vain our high enthronement
Awaits him, and too late atonement,
   Like phoenix, rises from the pyre;
For, mist-like, through some broken rafter
Flits the soul into the hereafter,
Who shall say when grief or laughter
   Wakes again that silent lyre?

Each year with drowsy sibillation,
Chaunt breeze and locust iteration
   Of summer and her bursting pods;
And man, long marvelling at existence,
Saddening at their strange insistance,
Heavenward looks and in its distance
   Seeks the secrets that are God's.

In vain; the seed-time and the harvest
Have failed not since the farthest
   Of times that wrote on earth their scroll;
But who of women born in weeping,
Watching while a word was sleeping,
Learning their secret for his keeping,
   Stayed the garner of his soul?

Beneath yon broken column, coping
Well fitted, neither doubt nor hoping
   There cometh to the quiet breast;
And never more shall love or scorning
Sweeten eve, embitter morning,
Times destroying or adorning
   Shall not wake him from his rest.

And we who dream not, whose endeavour
Sere mainlands bound and who forever
   Praise sea and sky, yet shoreward creep
For those things won by his devotion,
Glimpse of heaven, refrain of ocean,
Every phase of man's emotion,
   Thank him and his memory keep.

First published in The Bulletin, 18 May 1889

Note: the Adam Gordon here is, of course, Adam Lindsay Gordon, the only Australian writer with a memorial in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey in London.

Caricature #8 - "C.J. Dennis" by Hal Gye


Bookshop Chain Plans to Expand

Angus & Robertson, one of Australia's largest chain of bookshops, has announced plans to expand its nationwide network of 170 stores by adding another 45 over the next two years. It appears that A&R are positioning themselves as a general/discount bookseller, filling the gap between Borders and Dymocks at the top end, and KMart and other discount stores further down. It appears that, given the chain's current spread, that the additional stores are not aimed at solely expanding their geographical coverage.

Books Banned in Australia

The Australian Classification Review Board has banned two radical Islamic books, the first books banned in Australia in decades. The Australian Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, has now called for even tougher laws to ban such publications, according to a report in "The Australian".

And this "came after the Australian Federal Police and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions both ruled that the books did not constitute sedition under new anti-terror laws passed last year."

So we are in for another round of security law tightening. I wonder when this will start affecting fiction. If a novelist describes a scene that can be construed as being instructive about a terrorist act, then that book might also be banned. I can think of a few that might fall foul of this law. Innocuous in themselves, but if you look at them in a certain light, as bureaucrats are wont to do, they could appear to be far more dangerous than they actually are.

Time to start getting a tad concerned I think.

Literary Reflections #3 by Will Dyson

The Recipe for the Russian Novel.





First published in The Herald, 24 April 1926

Clive James on Stage

For certain readers in certain parts of the United Kingdom, Clive James will be appearing at the Norwich Playhouse on November 18th at 7.30pm. Tickets are £15.

The ABC Board and Alan Jones 3

"The Australian" newspaper has been running pretty heavily with the Alan Jones biography story over the past week, with no less that 5 items being printed. On July 4th came the news that the ABC's lawyers had given the go-ahead for the book to be published, "insisting the corporation could defend any defamation action launched by the radio broadcaster."

Two days later and David Salter (who used to be executive producer of the BC's "Media Watch" program) got stuck into the the ABC over its decision: "It's distressing to discover Aunty can now be so two-faced and craven. ABC Books is happy to trade on the huge market awareness and credibility of the ABC brand, but its courage apparently fails it when faced with the challenge of putting some real editorial gristle behind its own imprint." And then put the knife in where it deserved to go: "Anyone who still doubts the ABC is succumbing to a new order of top-down conservatism should ponder recent history. Previous boards and managements were made of sterner stuff. In 1993 the ABC Books logo appeared on Paul Barry's The Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer, a robust biography that traversed material as contentious as anything we might expect to read in Jonestown."

Simon Kearney then revealed further details about the ABC Board discussions, along with the news that a print-run of 30,000 was being touted. On the same day, July 6th, came the report that five leading Australian publishers were vying to pick up the publication rights to the book - you'd couldn't buy this sort of publicity. Which was followed on the 7th July with the news that the publisher Allen & Unwin would be the publisher of Chris Masters's book. To be frank, I hope that's the end of it. Until publication day at any rate.

Australian Bookcovers #20 - Australia Felix by Henry Handel Richardson


Australia Felix by Henry Handel Richardson, 1917
(Penguin Modern Classics 1971 edition)
Cover: detail from Australian Gold Diggings by an unknown artist

Reviews of Australian Books #24

Peter Temple's book The Broken Shore is reviewed this week in "The Times". The reviewer, Marcel Berlins, is pretty impressed: "The Broken Shore portrays a community in thrall to long-established prejudices and passions. It is also about the inner destruction of families: raw, cruel and moving. Congratulations to Quercus -- a recent addition to crime publishing -- for bringing this to English readers."

In "The Sunday Times", Peter Carey's book, Theft, is chosen as one of the 50 novels for their readers to contemplate on their summer holidays: "Artifice and deceit are the themes of Carey's marvellously enjoyable novel about a faded painter caught up in art forgery."

Shirley Hazzard Profile

James Campbell profiles Shirley Hazzard in "The Guardian" over the weekend, concentrating on her long-term friendship with Graham Greene while both were residents of Capri, but also delving into her writing history.

Weekend Round-Up 2006 #28

The Age

Maybe, as Kerryn Goldsworthy said in a comment here last week, Australian publishers of fiction are in rest mode, waiting for the Miles Franklin hoopla to die down before they place their new wares before us. Or maybe they're waiting for the winter blues to pass, or spring to appear. Or something. Anyway we are short on the fiction front again. And if you get sick of hearing it, then rest assured that I get sick of writing about it.

In reviewing Florence Broadhurst: Her Secret and Extraordinary Lives by Helen O'Neill, Janine Burke finds a character who "is the sort of grand fibber who belongs in a Peter Carey novel." Unfortunately she comes away a little disappointed: "Perhaps if O'Neill had assessed her rigorously within the context of Australian modernist design, instead of choosing to emphasise her life's sensational aspects, a more accurate picture might have emerged of this curious character."

Short notices are given to: Keywords in Australian Politics by Rodney Smith, Ariadne Vromen and Ian Cook: "This is an excellent reference for clarifying that are often used but whose definition remains hazy"; Quarterly Essay - Voting For Jesus: Christianity and Politics in Australia by Amanda Lohrey: "The great pleasure of this essay is watching Lohrey's fine mind at work as she separates rhetoric from reality, the polemic of patriarchs and preachers from the lived experiences of ordinary people"; Teachers Who Change Lives by Andrew Metcalfe and Ann Game: "This thoughtful book side-steps the polemic by taking us into the classroom and bringing alive the learning experience from both the teachers' and the students' perspectives"; Grassdogs by Mark O'Flynn: "What this feral portrait of a stunted life lacks in measured plot development, it makes up for with it imaginative use of language"; and The Waddi Tree by Kerry McGinnis who "has an ear for colloquialisms of the bush and keen eyes when it comes to realising the landscape."

The Australian

Peter Ryan puts Paper Empires: A History of the Book in Australia 1946-2005 edited by Craig Munro and Robyn Sheahan Bright, in context straight off: "This is the third and final volume of a noble enterprise begun years ago: to recount the story of books in Australia from the First Fleet to the present day. Volume one told the then slender but fascinating tale up to 1890; volume two carried it forward to 1946 and the end of World War II; now volume three takes us inside the infinitely more complex book world of the day before yesterday." Which is a worthy ambition. The pity is the "book's general authority is weakened by a long list of inexplicable omissions."

The Sydney Morning Herald

And we get some Australian fiction at last with Michelle Griffin's review of Death of a Whaler by Nerida Newton. "You do not need to read too deeply between the lines to connect the most famous book about whales and Newton's portrait of a dispossessed Byron Bay whaler and his friendship with a troubled hippie called Karma." Which doesn't augur well. And Griffin ends up a tad disappointed: "Newton writes in thoughtful prose. But she is so bald in spelling out her themes of fate and redemption that her slight story sinks beneath the weight of her motifs." This is Newton's second novel. Maybe that explains it.

Also on the menu in the SMH is Amanda Hooten's review of Kate Morton's The Shifting Fog. You might remember this book getting a bit of press coverage a few weeks back. Hooten raises the point that this book reads like something you've read many times before: "Of course, the reality is that many people - me included - absolutely love this stuff, which is why The Shifting Fog will no doubt do very well. Give me a story containing doomed love, a large staff and a wide selection of flapper dresses, and I'm happy. The problem here, however, is that on ground so well covered by such gleamingly gifted writers as Mitford and Waugh, Fitzgerald and Coward, you must be brilliant to be anything at all - and The Shifting Fog is some distance from brilliance...One thing for which Morton is to be commended, however, is her follow-through. She winds up her characters' fates with skill and thoughtfulness; not only her primary characters, but all their descendants. And she gets something else right, too. She recognises that, with novels like this, sometimes what matters is not literary genius."

Australian Plays to Film #1 - Breaker Morant


Breaker Morant 1980
Directed by Bruce Beresford
Screenplay by Jonathan Hardy, David Stevens and Bruce Beresford from the play by Kenneth Ross.
Cast: Edward Woodward, Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown, Charles 'Bud' Tingwell, and Terence Donovan

Poem: The Kid by C.J. Dennis

Now, this ain't a loocid story, but it 'as a 'igh-class moral.
   I can mop up all the praises hurled at me by them it soots.
An' with them it don't appeal to I don't seek to pick a quarrel;
   But I pause to say, in passin', that I hold 'em brainless coots.

Well, it mighter been a nightmare or it mighter been a vision.
   Why or 'ow or where it 'appened, or 'ow long or short ago --
These are items I am shy of; but I've come to this decision:
   It all 'appened some'ow somewhere, an' I'm tellin' all I know.

With this lengthy introduction -- which I'm trustin', inter-arlier,
   Will be paid for, cash, at space rates, to assist a bard in need --
(For the lot of jingle-writers in our own sun-kissed Australier
   Ain't so sunny as it might be, on the 'ole) -- I'll now proceed.

There was me -- who's most important, bein' here to tell the story --
   There was Kodak's gloomy lodger, an' a 'Enry Lawson bloke,
Also E.J. Brady's pirate, full of husky oaths and gory,
   An' a plump and pleasin' female from an Ambrose Dyson joke.

Likewise with us at the gath'rin' was Grant 'Ervey's Strong Australian,
   An' a curly Souter peach; it was a treat the way she dressed;
An' a Louis Esson dryad, sparsely gowned an' somewot alien
   (For which rhyme I point to many precedents amongst the best).

Also there were many others, far too noomerous to mention;
   Bron men, somewot out of drorin', but exceedin' terse an' keen;
Yeller pups, George Reids an' dry dogs -- but it is not my intention
   To innoomerate the items in a Chris'mas BULLYTEEN.

Where we were I 'ave no notion, tho' it mighter been Parnassus.
   Any'ow -- but I'm forgettin' one small guest that came unbid;
Standin' in a corner sulkin', seldom speakin', 'cept to sass us,
   Rubbin' 'is thin calves together, stood a Norman Lindsay kid.

But the main point of this story is that all of us was stony;
   An' we needed money badly for to give ourselves a treat.
An' we wanted to present the editor with somethin' toney
   In the shape of clubs or rest cures, just to try an' get 'im sweet.

"Mates, alas, there's nothin' left us," ses the gloomy Lawson native.
   "We can only look for other castaways from other wrecks."
When the Wild Cat, on 'is windlass, scratched 'is left ear contemplative
   An' remarked, "I think I've gotter scheme to land the fatted cheques.

"We are valuable assets," 'e went on, in tones finanshul.
   "We are also reproductive, an' I think I see a chance
To relieve the present tension, an' secure a sum substanshul,
   Which all comes of my acquaintance with low schemes an' 'igh finance.

"If we borrer twenty thousand on our natcheral resourses --
   On all BULLEYTEEN creations -- it will purchase many beers.
We can maffick, an' pay int'rest -- which is a triflin' thing of course is --
   With a sinkin' fund extendin' over ninety-seven years."

Well! To say we was elated is to put the matter mildly.
   I can still 'ear Brady's pirate yellin', "Bite mates, let us bite!"
I can still see Kodak's lodger kick 'is slippered feet, and wildly
   Try to borrer two-an'-sixpence on the spot....But oh, that night!

"Where do I come in?" a squeaky voice arose above our shoutin',
   Rose an' squeaked, shrill an' insistent, over all our joyous din.
'Twas the kid, the Lindsay youngster, standin' in 'is corner poutin'.
   "Take a pull, yer bloomin' wasters! Blime, where do I come in?

"Nice lot, ain't yer? Garn, yer loafers! Let the comin' generation
   Suck their thumbs an' watch yer jag, an' 'ump the bill when it comes due;
Slave an' work when you 'ave snuffed it. An' you look for veneration
   From us kids! Why, blime, who could venerate the likes of you?

"As THE BULLYTEEN been preachin' years an' years an' years for nuffin'
   On the vice of floatin' loans an' gettin' in the 'ands of Yids?
Playin' up yer borrered money! Eatin' drinkin', swillin', stuffin'!
   Then, when you 'ave chucked a seven, what a picnic for the kids!"

Spare me! You could 'ear a pin drop when that little kid 'ad finished.
   We just 'ung our 'eads in silence, till the Strong Australian spoke.
(Brady's pirate tore 'is whiskers, with 'is lust for jags diminished;
   An' the Souter peach was sobbin' on the breast of Lawson's bloke.)

"Comrades," ses the Strong Australian, "see our star all glory litten!
   Heed the ancient, beer-stained story! Heed the warning of the kid!
Lo, the way of ink's before us! Ringing verses shall be written
   In which I shall figure largely. Yes, I shall." An', 'struth, 'e did!

Ses the pirate, with the remnants of 'is whiskers fiercely bristlin'.
   "In the war of life together we must take each wound and sear."
"Now, we care not where we're bound for," ses the Lawson native, whistlin'
   For 'is dawg. "It's up Matilda." As for me, I ses, "'Ear, 'ear."

As I sed, this yarn ain't loocid, but its moral should not fail yer.
   I shall ne'er fergit that ev'nin' or the voice above the din.
It's the cry of all the kiddies, born an' unborn, in Australyer,
   When we flash our borrered millyuns: "Blime, where do we come in?"

First published in The Bulletin, 20 May 1909

Mid-Week Round-Up

The current state of the Australian condition is examined in a triple-book review by Bob Beale in this week's Bulletin. He looks at Australian Heartlands by Brendan Gleeson, Time for Change edited by Tim Wright and The Australian Miracle by Thomas Barlow, and saves his best praise for the last of them: "...a thoughtful read about Australian creativity and invention, it also busts some cherished myths. Barlow coolly dissects the perception that Australians are great innovators (good, but nothing special), that we're crap at commercialising our ideas (could do better, but we're OK) and that our best and brightest get poached (what we lose on the swings, we gain on the roundabouts)."

In a later review in the same column, Anne Susskind is a bit disappointed by Karen Spamon's Madonna of the Eucalypts which she finds to be: "...too much story and too linear, without enough pause for crafting the writing." Not sure what she means by that either. Thereby reflecting the problem of mini-reviews.

Tim Flannery's book The Weather Makers, is reviewed by Jim Hansen in the cover article for "The New York Review of Books". It's more of an overview of the subject and a summarisation of this book, plus others, than a straight review.

The ABC Board and Alan Jones 2

The Board of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has confirmed that it made the decision to dump the proposed biography of Alan Jones by ABC journalist Chris Masters. Normally decisions such as this would have been taken by ABC Enterprises, a section of the ABC which handles publishing. The Federal Opposition is claiming political interference in the decision, but the Prime Minister has denied any involvement.

Tim Winton and Lockie Leonard

An item that I missed a few months back relates to the filming of a 26-part series of Tim Winton's children series of stories about Lockie Leonard. The production started in February and was due to run for six months, based in and around the town of Albany in Western Australia.

In other Winton related news, Ray Lawrence, director of the wonderful Lantana and the current release Jindabyne, attempted to make a film version of Winton's Booker shortlisted novel The Riders, but he was unable to raise the necessary finance.

Literary Reflections #2 by Will Dyson

How to Write an Australian Novel.




First published in The Herald, 17 April 1926

C.J. Dennis Back at the Bar

C.J. Dennis spent the latter part of his life in Toolangi, a small hamlet some 15 minutes from Healesville in Victoria's Yarra Valley. Since the early 1970s the town has been without a hotel after the previous one was destroyed in a fire. That hotel has now been rebuilt and a report in the Upper Yarra Mail states that the main bar will be given the title of "I Dips Me Lid" in honour of Toolangi's most famous resident.

See the poem "I Dips Me Lid" for an example of the usage. Of course, the most famous use of the phrase occurs in Dennis's poem The Intro, from his verse novel The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke. The relevant verse is as follows:

O' course we worked the oricle; you bet!
But, 'struth, I ain't recovered frum it yet!
   'Twas on a Saturdee, in Colluns Street,
   An' -- quite by accident, o' course -- we meet.
Me pal 'e trots 'er up an' does the toff --
'E allus wus a bloke fer showin' off.
   "This ere's Doreen," 'e sez.
"This 'ere's the Kid."
      I dips me lid.

Australian Bookcovers #19 - The Sunken Road by Garry Disher


The Sunken Road by Garry Disher, 1996
(Allen & Unwin 1996 edition)
Cover photograph by Alan Morgans.

Weekend Round-Up 2006 #27

The Age

The lack of Australian books under review continues this week with only one getting a very minor mention. On a Wing and a Prayer by Peter Bensley is a debut novel which is reviewed by Dianne Dempsey, who seems pretty impressed by the book: "Peter Bensley is to be congratulated on writing a novel that is actually about something: the ongoing impact of the war on its survivors. Bensley is also capable of arriving at some lovely imagery in a natural and unpretentious manner. On a Wing and a Prayer has such an uplifting denouement, I'm sure Bensley thought of it first and then moved his narration towards it. An actor by trade, on the strength of this, his first novel, he could definitely swap one precarious career for another."

Short notices are given to: Saving Australia: Curtin's Secret peace with Japan by Bob Wurth: "This is a study of a country at war and its one-time pacifist prime minister who 'recognised (that) appeasement of Japan was misguided' and who, after having exhausted all reasonable paths to peace, became the wartime leader his country needed"; Chatroom by Barbara Biggs: "Worthy message ... plus clunky writing equals indigestible novel"; and A Fox Called Sorrow: A Legend of Little Fur by Isobelle Carmody, second book of the Little Fur series: "The world Carmody has created is filled with the smell of the earth and the sound of animals who talk...This entrancing world is illustrated by Carmody's delicate pencil drawings."

Coverage over at "The Australian" isn't any better. In fact it's non-existent.

The thinnest weekend for Australian books for the past 18 months.

The ABC Board and Alan Jones

Sitting down here in Melbourne it's hard to understand the influence radio jocks, like Alan Jones, have on the general public in Sydney. It's only when news filters out about his friendships with the high and mighty within Australia's Conservative fraternity that we get an inkling of what he is capable.

Now comes the news that the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) has bowed to pressure from Jones and his lawyers to cease the proposed publication of a book, titled Jonestown (great title by the way), by Chris Masters. This book was commissioned by the board four years ago but has now been put on hold under the threat of legal action by the book's subject. Firstly, the threat is reasonable enough. Chris Masters is a major, multi-award-winning journalist in this country working for the television current affairs program Four Corners. Chances are the resultant book was not going to be a flattering portrait. So you can understand why Jones would want to put a stop to it any way he could.

The problem lies in the way the ABC Board capitulated over the legal threat. Reports are that the book was raked over by any number of legal experts so, presumably, the material in it was deemed balanced enough to be reasonable. But it seems the Board could not accept the risk. And today we read that various other journalists within the ABC have expressed their displeasure at the decision. One wonders how much this has to do with the recent appointment of Keith Windschuttle and Janet Albrechtsen as directors of the Board. Both are considered to have a decided right-wing cultural agenda and to be admired by our current Prime Minister. Just wondering.

Australian Books to Film #12 - The Brush-Off


The Brush Off 2004
Directed by Sam Neill
Screenplay by John Clarke from the novel by Shane Maloney
Cast: David Wenham, Mick Molloy, Bruce Spence and Steve Bisley

Poem: The Poet's Son by Edward Dyson

The day on which the boy was born
   The poet whispered: "See,
This is my son! Here is the morn!
   A new day breaks for me!

"He shall be one to boldly cry
   A message to all men;
He shall succeed for ruth where I
   Drove but a halting pen.

"My boy shall speak with such a voice
   Of mastery that they
Who hear at noon shall have no choice
   But swiftly to obey.

"The careless men shall hear his call
   Above the clangor made
By whirring loom, and mill, and all
   The tumult that is trade.

It was a prophet spake. To-day
   One in the street I heard,
And old and young from work and play
   Were heedful to his word.

His tongue was forceful as the gale;
   His bell moved every one.
He called the people to a sale.
   He was the poet's son!

First published in The Bulletin, 10 April 1919

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