Joyful Strains, Making Australia Home is a recent book, but it hasn’t had as much attention as IMO it should have had, given the importance of the immJoyful Strains, Making Australia Home is a recent book, but it hasn’t had as much attention as IMO it should have had, given the importance of the immigrant experience to our country. As Thuy On noted in her review for the SMH, it is apparently the first anthology to explore the experience of the expatriate, the refugee and the political exile, from authors who have variously made their home here. It’s a fascinating collection of memoirs by 27 authors from all over the world...
was an inspired choice to have indigenous author Alexis Wright write the Foreword of Joyful Strains to complement the introduction by Arnold Zable . She reminds readers that there is a shameful legacy – a history of dispossession and oppression – which is inherited by each person who arrives in this country to live, calling Australia home. But – in the spirit of generosity which seems to characterise so many spokespersons for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People – she also explains that the storytelling legacy that shapes their long history makes them open to stories from other cultures.
By reading each other, we grow our ability to understand, to acknowledge and to share one another’s joy, hope, grief, loss, and for many, the predicament of losing homes, lands, community, family and country. We are all people of stories.
Our stories define who we are and what we want to become, just as it was the stories of our ancestors that formed the basis of Aboriginal law, spiritual beliefs and an understanding of how to maintain a relationship with the land.
It is a basic human need to be offered hands in friendship, to be offered shelter and to live in peace with a sense of security. This is how we can welcome and acknowledge all stories, and give them hearth in our hearts. It would not be within us for it to be otherwise.
There’s something very special about reading a book that’s written by a personal friend. It makes it difficult to write an unbiased review – so I shanThere’s something very special about reading a book that’s written by a personal friend. It makes it difficult to write an unbiased review – so I shan’t try…
I first made the acquaintance of Ros Collins in her capacity as the literary executor of Alan Collins, and through reviewing his books Alva’s Boy and A Promised Land? I became an admirer of his writing. But before long my relationship with Ros changed and we became firm friends, meeting up for coffees, lunches – and one memorable day, a personalised tour of the Lamm Jewish Library of Australia at the Beth Weizmann Community Centre. We caught up at the Melbourne Jewish Literary Festival in 2014 too. Ros is a dynamic lady, with a CV full of the most remarkable accomplishments – but until she hesitantly asked me if I’d had time to read a draft chapter of the memoir she was writing, it did not occur to me that she might soon be a published author! Like everyone else – including Ros herself – I thought that Alan was the writer in the family…
Well, you know how it is… I have a TBR full of books I’ve promised to review, and books I need to read in preparation for the forthcoming Bendigo Writers Festival – but when I finished Rod Jones’ The Mothers late at night and wanted something else to read, Karen Lamb’s super new biography Thea Astley: Inventing Her Own Weather was on the dining table where I’d been reading it over breakfast. It was warm and comfortable in bed, and Ros’s book was on the bedside table. It was too tempting not to ‘have a quick look at it’…. (Something I had also done at the traffic lights on my home from collecting it, I must confess.)
I was half way through the book before I turned the light out, and I wasn’t able to resist finishing it the next day.
**spoiler alert** It’s rather silly. We’re led up the garden path to various dead ends – which are intended to make us think that there’s a high level**spoiler alert** It’s rather silly. We’re led up the garden path to various dead ends – which are intended to make us think that there’s a high level Canberra political/public service conspiracy to cover up snuff movies and a sex-slave trade. None of this has happened and it’s too easy to tell who the killer is. The narrator is too self-consciously an editor, and she does far too much rambling on about nothing much at all. There are numerous barely-disguised digs at the Howard government which will date the book in no time.
Kylie Tennant (1912-1988) is famous in my mind for the extraordinary method of research for her Depression novels, so as soon as I saw this biographyKylie Tennant (1912-1988) is famous in my mind for the extraordinary method of research for her Depression novels, so as soon as I saw this biography in the local book bargain shop, I knew I had to have it. Many of us know her work from the ABC TV adaptation (2005) of Ride On Stranger (1943) and I have read The Battlers (1941) but this biography shows that Tennant was a prolific author who wrote in many genres and was also a noted reviewer of Australian literature.
The biography was commissioned by the National Library of Australia as the second in its An Australian Life series. Drawing on papers held in the NLA, this series includes biographies of authors such as Alan Moorehead and Daisy Bates, but if there are others in the series they didn’t come up in the search I did at the NLA bookshop. It’s a pity if there aren’t any more, because I can think of dozens of Australian authors who merit a brief, capable biography like this one, if not more than that.
Today’s young authors, many of whom have the resources of a university behind the PhD that guides their first novel, would perhaps recoil in dismay at Tennant’s methods. The daughter of a middle-class family, she was nonetheless denied university education by her conservative father, and it was an uncle who paid her first term fees at Sydney University in 1931. But (like many of today’s young students) Tennant could not manage both part-time work as a copywriter and also the rigours of study, and she abandoned her course. Nevertheless she was determined to write, and so in 1932 (aged 20) she set out to walk the 600 miles from Sydney to Coonabarabran in northern NSW, ostensibly in response to an invitation to visit the friend who would become her husband, Lewis Rodd. What she said later was that she had wanted to find out all she could about the unemployed men on the track who (sometimes with their families) were searching for work in what was the worst year of the Depression. As you can see in my review of The Battlers what she did was what they did: camping out; being moved on and out of towns that didn’t want them; doing without; going hungry and getting sick. She was also sometimes in real danger, including from an attempted rape. But right from the very beginning she was a writer of social conscience: she wrote her novels with the express intention of wanting to change public opinion about the injustices she saw.
I finished reading this book late last night and I am still overwhelmed by it. It was unputdownable for the last 200-odd pages, and food for consideraI finished reading this book late last night and I am still overwhelmed by it. It was unputdownable for the last 200-odd pages, and food for considerable thought long after the light was turned off. Definitely a contender for any intelligently-judged awards that are going around.
It’s a wild ride. Words tumble over themselves in torrents as narrators Aldo and Liam hurtle through a kind of brotherhood forged in grief for their dead sisters. They have nothing else in common at all except their wit:
Until I met him, almost all my male friendships were based on homoerotic wrestling or the lighthearted undermining of each other’s confidence, but for Aldo and me, our connection was of like minds on pointless adventures, whether that be taunting bouncers outside nightclubs, riding shopping trolleys down suicidally steep declines, or attending first-home auctions to force up the bids of nervous young couples. In those days, Aldo and I had such great conversations that every sunset seemed like the end of an era. We were young and there were no unpleasant surprises waiting for us in bathroom mirrors. We did things we wouldn’t feel guilty about for literally years. Nobody was on a diet. (p. 91)
Wickedly funny one-liners surge through a surf of black humour crashing through the reader’s mind as the plot unfolds: it’s very dark. Very dark indeed. Too lively to be called a ‘meditation’ on suffering and resilience, the novel is more of a forensic dissection of how the absurdities of modern life can conspire to inflict misery on undeserving victims. The novel doesn’t answer the existential question that threads right through the novel: what is the point of suffering? But it excoriates the reader with what that question might mean for its main character. The Biblical Job had nothing much to complain about, by comparison…
Rod Jones’ new novel The Mothers is such a different book to Julia Paradise (see my review)- it’s hard to believe it’s by the same author. At one leveRod Jones’ new novel The Mothers is such a different book to Julia Paradise (see my review)- it’s hard to believe it’s by the same author. At one level, it’s a family epic which begins with the travails of a single mother in the early 20th century, but on another level it’s a social history that interrogates motherhood and mothering in a way that I haven’t come across before – not least because it’s written with great sensitivity by a male author whose own life experience bleeds into the book.
As I mull it over, I wonder what kind of reader this novel will speak to… Peter Pierce in The Australian was a bit hard on it, I think. I found the first few chapters less enticing than I’d expected -but as Jones quickly moves more into the period of living memory, there is less overt reliance on research and the voices become more authentic. Alma, born in 1909 and married in her teens only to be tossed aside for a new woman when barely into her twenties, reacts emotionally as most of us would, but her choice to leave Fairweather was an unusual response for those days. And I suspect that choosing to go home with a man she didn’t know is something most women with small children would hesitate to do today, even if they were homeless…
I didn’t intend to add to the ink spilt over this year’s Anzac Centenary, but I just have to share these words from the current Griffith Review, whichI didn’t intend to add to the ink spilt over this year’s Anzac Centenary, but I just have to share these words from the current Griffith Review, which I bought last week at the History Writers’ Festival held at Readers’ Feast Bookstore. There is much wise and thoughtful writing in this issue, and editors Julianne Schultz and Peter Cochrane deserve congratulations for sourcing diverse perspectives and original thinking about so many different aspects of military history.
Amongst many fine pieces of writing, it was Cory Taylor’s brief memoir, ‘Claiming the Dead’ which arrested my attention with her words about the Cowra cemetery. She relates how, at the time of the Tokyo Olympics, Japanese diplomats negotiated for the gathering together of all Japanese who had died on Australian soil either during their internment or during the Cowra breakout.
As you know if you read my recent post about the Bendigo Writers Festival, one of the sessions I’m presenting there is The Chronicler of Oz, in converAs you know if you read my recent post about the Bendigo Writers Festival, one of the sessions I’m presenting there is The Chronicler of Oz, in conversation with Roger McDonald. I know Roger’s work through his novels, which I’ve been reading since Mr Darwin’s Shooter was published in 1998, but I wasn’t familiar with his non-fiction. So I was delighted to find that Shearer’s Motel (which won the 1993 National Book Council Banjo Award for non-fiction) is still available, and I’ve just finished reading it.
As readers also know by now, I am an indoors sort of person, and like Anita Heiss‘ I find that ‘Five stars are the only stars I want to sleep under‘. But if anyone can convince me of the wonderment of outback life, it’s Roger McDonald, with stunning evocations like this:
He came to the summit of a low range, hardly more than twenty or thirty metres’ inclination above the dark scrub. Mild as the elevation was, it had the effect of pushing the horizon down all around, creating a star arena. He had never seen such stars. He was at the centre of their wheel. They put him into their system, shifting across the cab of the truck as he moved along, cramming against the windshield, heaping overhead and cascading down and around and below. Stars filled the rear-vision mirror and reflected on the insides of the windows, stars overlaying stars in sheets and panels of smoky, frozen light. He was drunk from repetition and delay as he stopped and went on, stopped again to piss into a ground-fog of Mitchell grass and prickly shrubs with his head tilted back under the stars; stopped to sit on the heat-creaking bonnet of the truck, then leant back with his spine arching like a space-surfer, afloat on stars, surrendered to them, taken aback. He wanted nothing but this rising into the star-sky. (p. 176).
Based on McDonald’s own experience working as a cook for shearing teams, Shearers’ Motel recounts the story of ‘Cookie’, a man in search of his own story, cutting loose from his wife and children and their small farm to venture into remote outback life.
I was expecting to enjoy this book because I like Mirka Mora’s free-spirited art works, but it was a disappointment. I found it difficult to follow heI was expecting to enjoy this book because I like Mirka Mora’s free-spirited art works, but it was a disappointment. I found it difficult to follow her train of thought in these chaotic ramblings… The constant name-dropping really irritated me. Of course a notable painter like Mora is going to know many notable people, but there are 10 pages of famous names in the index! Most of the time there’s seems to be no relevance in mentioning these people, but that may be partly because of the erratic way that Mora has put this book together. She explains (on p190) that her first efforts at writing her autobiography consisted in copying parts of her diary, and that is exactly what most of it looks like. She says elsewhere that her editor was concerned about her not meeting the deadline and I suspect that if time was tight, he/she decided to try and make a virtue of the muddle and hope that those interested in the book would consider it ‘artistic’. (Mora herself alludes to Proust, hinting that she is writing in a sort of stream of consciousness as Proust did, but having read Proust myself, I can’t agree….) (Would Proust have written four lines about being molested on a train, followed by a line about wearing a little black Parisian suit? (p78). I think not).
It’s an ambitious quest, to write the story of an Aboriginal hero of colonial times. Reading Libby Connors’ account of the life and violent death of tIt’s an ambitious quest, to write the story of an Aboriginal hero of colonial times. Reading Libby Connors’ account of the life and violent death of the warrior Dundalli and how she untangles events from sources that are inevitably Eurocentric makes for fascinating reading. Warrior is an important contribution to the debate around the exclusion of the colonial frontier wars being excluded from the national military narrative and its associated memorialising.
Events unfold in what became Brisbane in the 1840s as the fledgling British settlement came under attack. Dundalli, a powerful warrior and lawman who led indigenous resistance against incursions onto traditional lands, was captured and executed after a shambolic trial which had no legal reason to take place. Connors also shows how the indigenous justice system of ‘payback’ ritual spearing escalated into much greater violence in response to cases when the British broke their own laws.
Winner of the Walkley Award for Young Australian Journalist of the Year in 2010, Latika Bourke is a 30-something journalist who works for Fairfax, covWinner of the Walkley Award for Young Australian Journalist of the Year in 2010, Latika Bourke is a 30-something journalist who works for Fairfax, covering national politics for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. She has also worked for ABC and 2UE in Canberra. But From India with Love is not a book about federal politics, it's a book that's on a mission to promote the value of inter-country adoption. From the horse's mouth, so to speak, because Bourke considers her own experience as an inter-country adoptee a success story.
I should say at the outset that I don't have an opinion about inter-country adoption. But I know that there are very strong opinions out there, on either side of the debate, and that there is an Australia actor (whose name escapes me) who is currently on a high-profile mission to have Australia's controls relaxed. So this book, From India with Love, for all its wit and charm and confessional style, has politics at its heart.
Politics (from Greek: πολιτικός politikos, definition "of, for, or relating to citizens") is the practice and theory of influencing other people. (Wikipedia)
Four Lives in Art couldn’t be more different to the last biography I read, but the undertaking is the same: to rescue from obscurity Australians whoseFour Lives in Art couldn’t be more different to the last biography I read, but the undertaking is the same: to rescue from obscurity Australians whose lives have been overlooked. And though the reasons are different, like Dundalli in Warrior, the four women in Awakening present challenges to those who would reconstruct their lives.
Successful in their lifetimes, today these four are largely unknown, and it is our view that their remarkable lives and achievements deserve recognition. Although all four women are mentioned in anthologies and are now the subject of postgraduate research, only Louise Dyer has received in-depth attention, from Jim Davidson, in his account Lyrebird Rising: Louise Hanson-Dyer of Oiseau Lyre, 1884-1962 (1994). With the exception of Louise Dyer, much of the work they made also no longer survives. It has suffered the fate that Germaine Greer described in The Obstacle Race (1979), having been lost or assimilated by their better known male contemporaries. Sculptures by Dora Ohlfsen in public collections, which for years languished in storage, are now lost. American and Australian collectors bought Mary Cecil Allen’s work, yet today the whereabouts of most of these works is largely unknown. (Introduction, p. vii)
Not mentioned in this paragraph is the publicist, Clarice Zander’s work. More about her later…
The book doesn’t claim to be an exhaustive biography. With about 40 pages for each subject, Awakening spans the period between the close of the nineteenth century to the outbreak of the Second World War, focussing on the career paths of these women from the heady days of the post Federation era to the calamities of war
Stephen Daisley’s second novel, Coming Rain, is a brutal book in many ways; it’s grounded in the harsh reality of harsh country and the harsh people wStephen Daisley’s second novel, Coming Rain, is a brutal book in many ways; it’s grounded in the harsh reality of harsh country and the harsh people who live in it.
Just recently there has been an animal welfare campaign featuring shocking injuries done to sheep being shorn. It’s drawn a swift response from rural communities claiming that sheep are too valuable to be damaged in the way that’s depicted. The truth probably lies somewhere in between – after all, despite her best efforts, a hairdresser occasionally accidentally cuts a child who won’t keep still. Perhaps it’s inevitable with very sharp scissors and uncooperative wriggling children. The difference, I suppose, is that a hairdresser can’t do whatever it takes to keep a kid still. Still, Daisley’s depiction of what it can take to keep a sheep still, isn’t pretty. This author’s bio includes working on sheep and cattle stations so presumably he writes from experience. (But there’s nothing in the novel to suggest that what he depicts is universal practice, or contemporary practice either. The novel is set in the middle of last century, if Wikipedia is right about the date that Evening Peal won the Melbourne Cup. Let’s not have any arguments about livestock welfare here, ok?)
There are two narratives in Coming Rain. There’s the story of Lew McCleod and his substitute father Painter taking seasonal work on a WA sheep station; and there’s the story of a pregnant dingo encroaching into human territory. They’re not parallel narratives though they seem so for much of the book: farmers don’t muck about when it comes to dingoes raiding their stock. Yet there is a tenderness about the way Daisley brings this dingo to life:
The dingo stood and felt the giddiness, the ground whirling before her. She waited until it stopped. Took three steps, again waited. She needed to hunt and this need was as great as that to mate and to suckle; it was if she breathed. Without glancing back at the young dog she put her nose to the ground and at first walked, then trotted into the long yellow grass. Soon she was invisible.
As her mother had taught her to hunt she now hunted. Mostly it was patience and listening. Stilling to become as the moving land, the earth, the smoke bush. Yate trees and gimlet, salmon gums, ghost and white gums wandoo. The hushing of her heart and quiet breathing and to wait and then to attack. Nothing else. It was nearly dark, but not to her. (p. 137)
It was Glen Hunting who brought my attention to Emily Bitto’s debut novel when we were commenting on the Miles Franklin longlist, and so I owe my discIt was Glen Hunting who brought my attention to Emily Bitto’s debut novel when we were commenting on the Miles Franklin longlist, and so I owe my discovery of this terrific book to him – thank you, Glen!
I love books involving art and artists, but this one has a slightly different twist to it. In fact, it reminded me a little of Gillian Slovo’s memoir of her parents’ role in the apartheid struggle in Every Secret Thing (1997). Slovo’s mother was the activist Ruth First who was assassinated by the South African security forces; her father was Joe Slovo who was imprisoned and then lived in exile until negotiations began to end the apartheid era. Gillian Slovo grew up knowing always that she and her siblings came second to political commitment. In Bitto’s novel, the children of avant-garde painter Evan Trentham and his bohemian wife Helena, always come second to art…
Is there a difference between being an idealist serving a noble cause at the expense of your children, and being a bohemian doing the same thing in the service of art? Perhaps not to the children… but that’s a question for book groups to argue about, eh?
Set in the Depression years and afterwards, the story is narrated by Lily, the observant, sensitive young friend of Eva, the middle child of Evan and Helena. Lily is captivated by the exotic elements of Eva’s home life: the freedom; the absence of routines; and the careless attitude to school and homework and rules. She compares the casual makeshift elegance and easy-going atmosphere of the Trenthan home with the placid conservatism of her less wealthy parents, and finds them wanting. She achieves her dream when difficult circumstances at home allow her to move in and live with the Trenthams for a while, and she believes that she is part of their world, the emerging world of modernist art in Australia.
I love reading Peter Singer’s books; he inspires me to be a better person.
The Most Good You Can Do is about the concept of ‘effective altruism’; basicI love reading Peter Singer’s books; he inspires me to be a better person.
The Most Good You Can Do is about the concept of ‘effective altruism’; basically it’s about interrogating your own philanthropic choices to ascertain whether it’s money, time or other forms of altruism well spent.
All of us are influenced to some extent by emotion when we give. There’s some rather dismaying research that shows that we are more likely to give to one child with a photo and a name than we are to photos of more than one child in need even when we know that we could save more lives for the same amount of money. We respond to cute and lovable, or tragic and sad, and we respond to personal appeals from someone we know. Too many of us give small amounts to lots of charities even though the cost of administering these small amounts often outweighs the donation. This is why charities pursue us for regular monthly deductions from our credit cards, because it’s the most cost-effective way of collecting the money and it’s money they can count on.
From this book I learned that there are organisations such as Charity Navigator in the US and Give Well that exist to evaluate the effectiveness of the charity dollars we donate. But it’s not as simple as it looks: a charity with lower administrative costs may not be using some of its money to monitor due diligence or the effectiveness of what it does. There must be effective checks to ensure that the money is being spent properly, but research into effectiveness needs to take into account that some programs are long-term and others are short-term. Provision of clean water to schools (my favourite Oxfam Christmas gift) has an immediate impact on health outcomes (and school attendance) but adult literacy programs may take longer to take achieve results and the effects on community health or the local economy may be indirect and harder to trace.