December 2010 Archives

Poem: At Gordon's Grave by T. S. Browning

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Our Gordon looked within his breast and sang;
And all his heart was in the melody
That leapt from off his lips and clearly rang
Throughout the bush in sad, sweet harmony
With all the other sounds that there are born,
And cradled 'mongst the gullies and the gums,
And like a stream from out the distant morn
Australian, his flood of singing comes
To us to-day; and with his best heart's blood
The stream is all alive ... And live it must
Whilst e'er in yonder tree so full in bud,
'Neath which his mouldered bones enrich the dust,
By day his notes stir in the song-bird's breast
And whisper in the boughs perpetually,
And whilst by night the breeze that knows no rest,
Picks up the echo of his melody.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 October 1933

Another Weblog

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One of the reasons behind the sparsity of entries on Matilda of late is due to the work I've been doing on creating another weblog.

This second weblog, Rhymes Rudely Strung, will consist of reprints of Australian poems, from the early 1800s to the early 1950s, where each poem will be published on the anniversary of its first appearance.  It's a strange little idea that I've had kicking around for a while, and as I've lately found myself with a bit of spare time on my hands I thought I'd have a shot at it.

The process of identifying the right poems has taken a fair bit of work and I'm indebted to the material available on Austlit (the Australian Literature Resource out of The University of Queensland) and Trove, run by the National Library of Australia.  Without both of these I could never have even contemplated getting this thing off the ground.  With them it has still been  difficult, but achievable.

The initial aim is to print one poem per day for the whole of 2011.  I've so far been able to create entries for each day in January, most of February and some of March.  Keeping myself about 2 months ahead of publication might just make this work and give me a bit of leeway if enthusiasm starts to lag at any time.

I'm fully aware that this is really a vanity piece, probably only of interest to me and a few stray visitors.  That doesn't bother me.  The good thing about the internet is that it allows you to demonstrate your hobbies in public without the requirement for any form of feedback or approval.

The first real entry in this new weblog will be posted on January 1st 2011, but I'm hoping to add an introduction to the project on December 31 2010. I'll publish a link to the new site here on Matilda on that day.

Australian Bookcovers #237 - The Bellarmine Jug by Nicholas Hasluck

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The Bellarmine Jug by Nicholas Hasluck, 1984
Cover illustration by Shane McGowan
Penguin edition 1985

Film Adaptation - John Marsden Novels

The film adapatation of John Marsden's novel, Tomorrow, When the War Began, has done extremely well at the Australian box-office and, this morning, The Age newspaper is reporting that the film's director, Stuart Beattie, is working on the next in the sequence.  No title or other details have been announced as yet.  And the Internet Movie database (IMDB) doesn't have a listing for any such film.

Poem: Adam Lindsay Gordon by Lance Fallaw

Where the gum-trees' long shadows are spearing
   The highway's red zone,
There passes athwart the thin clearing
   A rider alone.
Head bowed over breast, forehead smitten
   By fortune his foe--
So we see, who have read what is written,
   The Gordon we know.

No! racing apace, not at canter
   We see him to-day.
We hear not the quip or the banter
   Of comrades at play.
But slow in his saddle goes leaning
   The stockrider sick,
And the thinker who sought for life's meaning
   Is tired of the trick.

Around him new lands, but within him
   Old fancies, old themes.
No thunder of horse-hoofs could win him
   From making of dreams.
Let others sweep past us with chorus,
   Exultant of eye.
A hush of grey sunsets comes o'er us
   As Gordon goes by.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 January 1930

Best Books of 2010 #2 - The New Yorker

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The following Australian books were chosen amongst the The New Yorker's Reviewers' Favorites for 2010:

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey;
Summertime by J.M. Coetzee

2010 Walkley Award Winners

The winners of the 2010 Walkley Awards were announced last night.  The category I'm mainly interested in is the Walkley Book Award  which "celebrates excellence in non-fiction literature and long-form journalism."

The winner was:

Shirley Shackleton, The Circle of Silence: A Personal Testimony Before, During and After Balibo (Murdoch Books).

You can read the full shortlist here.

Best Books of 2010 #1 - Financial Times

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The Financial Times has chosen, amongst their best fiction picks of 2010:

Peter Carey's latest novel, Parrot and Olivier in America. They said: "Carey's brilliant evocation of the life of Alexis de Tocqueville explores themes of democracy, art, taste and class - all in the rich language of one of the world's finest writers."


The Slap by Christos Tsialkos: "A man slaps his cousin's son at a family barbecue - and triggers this soap opera of a novel. Misogynistic, voyeuristic and impressively engrossing."

Australian Bookcovers #236 - The Blue Guitar by Nicholas Hasluck


The Blue Guitar by Nicholas Hasluck, 1980
Cover illustration by Craig Foster-Lynam
Penguin edition 1989

Clive James Watch #17

Review of Revolt of the Pendulum: Essays 2005-2008

Nicholas Lezard in "The Guardian": "When a collection of James's essays slides out of the Jiffy bag, other books can wait a while, for James's is the one I want to read first, even if I've read half the pieces before. But you or I won't have read more than half, and probably not even half, because we don't subscribe to all the magazines that James contributes to. We aren't aware of the Monthly (Australian, founded 2005) or the Australian Literary Review, and we don't see the New York Times as often as we'd like to. And we've never had a chance to get our hands on Previously Unpublished.

"Here, then, you might think, is more of the same, and if you've made up your mind one way or the other about Clive James then you might see little point in changing it. After all, his is a consistent viewpoint, informed as it is by experience, learning, and a fondness for the political centre. He spends just as much time telling off the left as he used to, in terms that suggest doctrinaire ideological positions indicate a tin ear when it comes to listening to history."

Reviews of The Blaze of Obscurity 

Mark Broatch in "Sunday Star Times" (NZ): "Readers interested in the man behind the ego may indulge in psychological biography beyond what he allows us: his absence as a father, the avowed uxorialism (an unexpected paean to his wife appears about halfway) and two daughters, the endless pursuit of female attention, the guilt about 'wasting time' on TV's evanescent virtues. But James admits/claims that he himself doesn't know what he is out to achieve, let alone why.

"Among all the creation, the essays (Cultural Amnesia being a high point), the memoirs, the novels, the busy website, the boy from South Sydney claims poetry is his true passion. Yet being Clive James, verse becomes another arrow in his quill to beguile, seduce, persuade. He notes in Blaze that a visiting Stirling Moss, the racing car driver, beat him to the Sydney university beauty simply by dint of sheer charisma, when James' poems had failed to make an impact. This was 50 years ago. It seems Clive James' attempts at seduction will never stop as long as he draws breath. And with his gifts, that is something for which we should be truly grateful."

Sunil Iyengar in "The New Criterion": "...James's most pointed barbs are reserved for himself. The author is shown as a young terror, donning a cape and mask at nightfall, ransacking construction sites and decimating lawns with makeshift scooters. In relating each childhood sequence, James's tone is wry and bemused, happily void of neurotic tics or psychobabble. Yet the shade of his father is never absent. For much of the book, the young James questions his own virility, latches onto strong male figures, and tries hard to alienate his mother. Nonetheless, the two bonded over a ritual viewing of four movies a week: 'My mother and I quarreled frequently but we reached a comforting unanimity on such matters as what constituted a lousy picture.'"


"How Broadway Conquered the World" - Atlantic Monthly

"Rocket Man" - review of Every Riven Thing by Christian Wiman in The Financial Times.

"Words Fail in the Pacific" - review of HBO mini-series "The Pacific"


Prior to an appearance at the Richmond Festival in late November, James spoke to Will Gore of the "Elmbridge Guardian".


The Wikiquote site has a number of quotes taken from James's works.

Poem: Give Thy Thoughts to the World, Oh Poet! by Ellen E. Debney

Give thy thoughts to the world, oh poet!
   They are thine for the good of all--
The mighty who care to read them,
   The lowly in peasant hall.
Send them forth, in the name of Heaven,
   The gems from thy poet mind;
And let them be pure and holy,
   And true, and loving, and kind.

Give thy thoughts to the world, oh poet!
   It is not for thee to know
The good of aught thou hast written;
   Thou only must onward go
In the strength of the One above thee;
   So, like crumbs on the waters cast,
Shall thy silvery music echo,
   And touch e'en the soul at last.

Give thy thoughts to the world, oh poet!
   Stay not for the voice of praise;
'Twill surely retard thy progress,
   And dazzle thy upward gaze.
This life is so frail and fleeting,
   Thou wilt find it short indeed
To tell of thy glorious visions--
   Time rides on so swift a steed.

Give thy thoughts to the world, oh, poet,
   However humble they be;
Thought is parent to thought, and who knows
   What others may garner from thee.
There's many a grand conception
   That cometh of lowly birth;
Mind ever from mind is building
   The new from the old on earth.

Give thy thoughts to the world, oh, poet--
   A song for the wild wood glen,
A hymn for the grand old ocean,
   A sigh for the woes of men,
A soothing word to the weary,
   Sweet warblings too for the child,
A smile for all human happiness,
   A sob for the heart's grief wild.

Give thy thoughts to the world, oh, poet;
   By thine own life's joys and tears
Thou wilt gain fresh inspiration,
   And light for the coming years.
Thy warbles must echo somewhere
   Abroad in the wilderness,
And surely amongst the many
   A few may listen, and bless.

First published in The South Australian Advertiser, 30 March 1869

The Australian Slanguage

It's always interesting to make connections between two newspaper pieces dealing with seemingly different topics, but which are, bascially, about the same thing.

Roland Sussex and Michael Clyne in their essay titled "2020 - Languages" - written for the December 2010 issue of the "Australian Literary Review" - discuss the prospect of foreign language study in Australia.  Their first paragraph sets out their theme perfectly: "Cars run on petrol. Societies run on language. Languages are treasure houses of culture and history."  If we are going to profit from a major mining bom, then why don't we also attempt to profit from multi-culturalism in the form of multi-lingualism.

The authors state that only 13 per cent of current Year 12 students study a Foreign Language; a lamentable state, and one that needs urgent attention.  My two children have studied a foreign language at school: both studied Italian in primary and my daughter did, and my son will, study French at high school.  But, like me, my daughter only took French for as long as she had to before dropping it in favour of other, preferred, subjects.  The easy excuse is that our family is not good at foreign languages. But, surely, every language is foreign when you are young.  The problem lies in how it is encountered, taught and encouraged in the early years.

When I hit high school in the late 1960s and was forced into learning French and German I knew the languages existed but I doubt I had ever heard a word spoken in either: the mid-North of South Australia at that time was not a hot-bed of multi-culturalism.  I didn't travel to any French or German speaking countries in my school years, and I never met anyone who spoke those languages at home.  I never had the opportunity to read books or comics in the languages and I never saw any French or German films, or television programs, without subtitles - if I saw any at all.  Two to three hours a week just was never going to be enough to get more than a basic grasp of the concepts.  I struggled to get even that.

I have a friend who lives in the Netherlands who regularly speaks four languages: Dutch, French, German and English.  He has to.  He interacts with speakers of those langages on an almost daily basis.  He may not be as proficient in German as he is in English but I suspect he gets by quite adequately for work and social occasions and can always drive over to Germany for a weekend and immerse himself in the language and culture if he finds he's getting a little rusty.

And there, I think, is the reason for our perceived lack of language skills - our isolation. It's just not possible to drop over to a foreign country for the weekend to top up your vocab and pronunciation.  The Europeans have it easier: London to Moscow is a touch under 2,500 kilometres; Melbourne to Jakarta is 5,148.  Number of languages between London and Moscow?  Eight? Ten? Who knows but certainly more than the one between Melbourne and Jakarta.

On the other side of the fence we have the recent spat between Hugh Lunn, author of Words Fail Me: A Journey Through Australia's Lost Language and Peter Conrad who reviewed the book for The Monthly. Lunn's view is "If you lose your language, you lose your personality, your character and who you are."  And I certainly have a lot of sympathy for that.  While it doesn't happen every day I do get some rather odd looks from people when I drop an old Australian slang expression into my conversations.  I don't do it deliberately, it just seems appropriate at the time. I like the Australian vernacular, its colorful turns-of-phrase, its  rhyming slang and its use of opposites, and I would really not like to see it disappear.  But, I fear, the encroachment of the ubiquitous American culture is slowly strangling the life out of good old Strine.

Both of these newspaper stories point to a slow but inevitable change in the Australian language.  It's becoming more trans-Pacific, taking on American phrases and meanings and slowly losing its individuality.  We're too small a nation to hold out against the cultural forces at work here, and I'm very sorry about that. 

The 20th century was the American century and maybe the current change is just a product of that.  If the 21st century is going to be the Asian century then maybe at this time in a hundred years we'll be decrying the influence of Chinese slang used by our young.  In that case we might have an answer to the Sussex/Clyne question: we'll all be speaking a language that will be an amalgam of English, Chinese, Japanese and Russian - rather like an updated Gibsonesque version of Anthony Burgess's Nadsat from A Clockwork Orange

A situation we might have to describe as horrorshow rather than just plain bonzer.

Currently Reading


 Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
The second book in the "First Law" series. Epic fantasy written to honour the honour and explore the standard fantasy tropes, as well as to poke ore than a little fun at them at the same time. A big book, but still a page-turner.



 How it Feels by Brendan Cowell
A debut novel from a multi-talented author/actor/director. A coming-of-age novel which might well be semi-autobiographical.


Recently Read


 Monster Blood Tattoo: Factotum by D. M. Cornish
The third book in the MBT series. Will we finally find out who Rossamund really is? And will we be sad to leave this fully-realised fantasy world? I suspect the answer will be "yes" to both.



 Rendezvous at Kamakura Inn by Marshall Browne
Browne's first novel in a new series, this time featuring a Japanese detective, Inspector Aoki. This novel finds the inspector investigating an old murder in a snowed-in remote Japanese retreat.



 The City & The City by China MiĆ©ville
MiƩville's Hugo Award winning novel of two cities inhabiting the same physical location. A murder mystery with hints of classic sf/fantasy memes, from Dick to Borges, but in a European setting.

 Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child
The 13th Jack Reacher novel. Suicide bombers on the New York subway and international terrorism mixed with hard-boiled action makes for an interesting brew.



 The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
Heroic fantasy in the modern style. A fantasy that is laced through with noirish elements, and excellent characterisations. First book of The First Law trilogy.

 Where Have You Been? by Wendy James
What happens when a sister returns after being missing, presumed dead, for twenty years? James enhances her reputation as one of Australia's rising literary novelists.

 Wyatt by Garry Disher
Disher's anti-hero is back after an absence of ten years with a gritty, fast, noirish struggle for survival. All the best aspects of Disher's work are on display here.



 Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
A Young Adult steampunk novel set at the start of an alternate history First World War. Fast-paced, intriguing and totally captivating.



 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Dick's novel of the near future when the difference between human and android is barely discernible. One of the great all-time sf titles.



 American Journeys by Don Watson
Watson journeys into the heart of America, by train and car. There he discovers the best, and the worst, of humanity and society.



 Ghostlines by Nick Gadd
2009 Best First Novel at the Ned Kelly Awards. Murder in the art world involving political intrigue and business corruption in Melbourne.


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This page is an archive of entries from December 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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