No 247 - December 2002 / January 2003

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'Our First Book': Clive James, Peter Rose reviews Barry Humphries's My Life As Me , Robert Manne reviews Malcolm Fraser's Common Ground , Delia Falconer reviews Emily Ballou's Father Lands


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    Summer Cash. "Life on the Ice" by Roff Smith. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) Wheeler, Tony
    The collapse of the Soviet Union had one quite unexpected effect on world tourism - it opened up Antarctica. Cash-strapped, post-Communist Russia could no longer afford its large collection of Antarctic bases, or the fleet of polar-equipped vessels that supplied them. Many of these ships are now chartered out to adventure travel companies. As a result, the opportunities to visit Antarctica have increased dramatically, while the cost of getting down to the ice has dropped steeply. The Antarctic visitor total is now around 15,000 tourists a year, quite apart from the personnel travelling south to the forty-odd scientific bases.
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    Cook's Crumpet. "Into the Blue: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before" by Tony Horwitz. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) Hains, Brigid
    "Into the Blue" is a rich mix of history and travelogue, sometimes too rich for easy digestion. It is long, for one thing, and the twists in mood and tone can be a little wearying. Although Horwitz could not track every part of Cook's voyages, he visits many key sites, including Tahiti, eastern Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. The book opens with verve and humour as Horwitz spends a week on the replica "Endeavour". With a journalist's ear for a telling phrase, and a vivid historical imagination, Horwitz goes on to match accounts of Cook's travels with his own.
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    Tertiary Foes. "Radical Students: The Old Left at Sydney University" by Alan Barcan and "The Diary of a Vice-Chancellor: University of Melbourne 1935–1938" by Raymond Priestley (ed. Ronald Ridley). [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) Crennan, Michael
    Many thousands of undergraduates have walked under the stilts of the Raymond Priestley Building, which forms part of Melbourne University's great wind tunnel, with no thought of the person commemorated by its name. He was, in fact, a remarkable man. His four years as Vice-Chancellor (1935–38) emerge in extraordinary detail and intimacy, thanks to this edition of his journals. If the Priestley diaries give the view of a university from the top, Alan Barcan's study of the old left at Sydney University gives it from the bottom, or at least the middle. His study spans more than four decades, commencing in the 1920s and moving on to the new left period. His work is amiable, ironic and inclusive.
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    The Irish in Australia. "First Fleet to Federation: Irish Supremacy in Colonial Australia" by Jarlath Ronayne. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) Reece, Bob
    It was inevitable that, sooner or later, someone would write a book celebrating the achievements of the Protestant Irish in Australia. Books commemorating the part played by the Catholic Irish culminated in Patrick O'Farrell's ambit claim that they were responsible for just about everything we like to think of (or used to think of) as being distinctively Australian. Now Professor Jarlath Ronayne has given us his own hyperbolic response in the subtitle of this sumptuous publication. The best way to see the book is as a useful reminder that 'Irish' and 'Catholic' were not synonyms in colonial Australia.
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    Orality Is All. "The Commonwealth of Speech: An Argument about Australia's Past, Present and Future" by Alan Atkinson. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) Kingston, Beverley
    According to the back cover: 'This book explores the way common conversation matters … that during the last two hundred years we have been beguiled by reading and writing. Only during the last part of the twentieth century have we begun to remember the importance of speech as a source of truth in human affairs.' It could also be noted that the seven essays collected here began as lectures, seminars or articles on such themes as the role of the monarchy in modern Australia (Prince Charles is judged a better speech-maker than his mum, therefore we have hope), the republican movement, the significance of Manning Clark and Henry Reynolds as influential Australian historians, the early nineteenth-century views of Edward Smith Hall and James Macarthur on the rights of Aborigines, and Raffaello Carboni's account of the Eureka Stockade.
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    Safety in Seminaries. "An Angel in Australia" by Tom Keneally. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) Pierce, Peter
    Writing novels, he's Tom Keneally. Works of history - such as "The Great Shame" (1998) about the Irish diaspora to the USA and Australia in the nineteenth century, and this year's "American Scoundrel", concerned with the adventures of politician, general and amorist Dan Sickles - are by Thomas Keneally. There is more doubling in Keneally's most recent novel, for he uses two titles. In this country, we have "An Angel in Australia"; in Britain, "The Office of Innocence". Each suggests a different line of approach to a novel that seems in some ways old-fashioned, so instinct is it with his earlier work.
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    Knowing Your Budgie. "City and Stranger" by Aileen Kelly, "In Your Absence: Poems 1994 - 2002" by Stephen McInerney and "Flying Blind" by Deborah Westbury. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) Brophy, Kevin
    This is Kelly's second book after her prizewinning "Coming up for Light" (1994). The poetry seems more complex, more ambitious, no less poised and measured, but less convinced of William Carlos Williams's troublesome dictum, 'No ideas but in things!' There are ideas here, and many things, but mostly there is the intimate care Kelly takes with language. Deborah Westbury's fourth book is fast, terse and intense, and heated by the surrealism of the everyday. Just as Elizabeth Bishop gave up on European surrealism because, she said, she found enough strangeness on her own street, Westbury's poetry is down-to-earth in its strangeness. "In Your Absence", Stephen McInerney's first book of poetry, carries endorsements from Les Murray and Robert Gray on the back cover. While Kelly can dazzle and seduce with intellectual risks and the physicality of her imagery, and Westbury brings her determined gaze and intelligent ear to what's going on around us, McInerney shares some of his rambling thoughts or makes gentle prods at insight or memory.
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    Mobile Icons. "The Ice and the Inland: Mawson, Flynn and the Myth of the Frontier" by Brigid Hains and "Australia's Flying Doctors" by Roger McDonald and Richard Woldendorp. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) Robin, Libby
    Australia's frontier legend is alive and well, as is John Flynn's contribution to it in these two new books. "In Australia's Flying Doctors", Richard Woldendorp's glorious photographs celebrate a medical service that reaches about eighty per cent of the vast Australian landmass. They are complemented by Roger McDonald's economical personal vignettes of outback spirit.Tensions between wilderness and 'home' recur at many levels throughout "The Ice and the Inland". The sublime landscape was beyond humanity, yet the ice explorers sought a language that could embrace it and 'draw it closer to their life-world'. The men of the south celebrated freedom from a domestic world controlled by women, yet worried about their absence.
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    Pursuing the Past. "Australia's Democracy: A Short History" by John Hirst and "The Citizens' Bargain: A Documentary History of Australian Views Since 1890" by James Walter and Margaret MacLeod (eds). [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) Grimshaw, Patricia
    John Hirst faced a challenging task when he set out to write "Australia's Democracy: A Short History". In a single monograph, he has traced the story of political rights and practices of citizenship, assessed within a context of social change. Not only does such writing place considerable demands on an historian's range, but any prominent historian who attempts a short history attracts the sharp attention of all stakeholders. Senior students of Australian democracy would do well to consult another recent book, "The Citizens' Bargain: A Documentary History of Australian Views Since 1890", edited by James Walter and Margaret MacLeod. They have brought together an admirable collection of documents focused on a broad definition of citizenship as incorporating civil liberties, political rights and economic entitlements. The editors concentrate on public debates rather than legal documents relating to citizenship since the 1890s, airing the contestations, the false hopes and the resistances that characterise our past.
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    Our First Book. [essay]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) James, Clive
    This essay is a reflection on Australian literature and its role in national culture.
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    Subverting the Versions. "Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet" by Graham Miekle. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) Hawthorne, Susan
    In "Future Active", Graham Meikle roams the electronic landscape picking out highlights and lowlights. Like all travellers, what he finds is influenced by his interests and perspectives. Sometimes this leads to illuminating insights; sometimes Hawthorne marvelled at what he might have seen but didn’t.
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    Medea's Bathhouse. "The Penguin Book of Gay Australian Writing" by Graeme Aitken (ed). [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) Porter, Peter
    This is a strange assortment of pieces. To someone who doesn't move in any gay community, the anthology's chief problem is its fissiparousness. There has to be a distinction between gay writing and writing by authors who are gay. The majority of contributors to Graeme Aitken's book take gay life to be their subject, but several are included because they are gay, while not necessarily employing gay themes, or doing so indirectly.
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    Best Books of the Year.
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12)
    This item outlines personal selections for Best Books of the Year, according to Don Anderson, Peter Bishop, Neal Blewett, Ian Britain, Alison Broinowski, Peter Craven, Morag Fraser, Raimond Gaita, Kerryn Goldsworthy, Peter Goldsworthy, Gideon Haigh, Jacqueline Kent, Patrick McCaughey, Brian Matthews, Brenda Niall, Allan Patience, Ros Persman, Peter Pierce, Dorothy Porter, Peter Porter and Chris Wallace-Crabbe.
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    Melancholy Sentinel. "Broken Song: T.G.H. Strehlow and Aboriginal Possession" by Barry Hill. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) Devlin-Glass, Frances
    It seems to be only a couple of years ago that Devlin-Glass' students declared gender and race to be the 'hot' topics in culture. Now, she confidently predicts, they will relegate gender (still acknowledging its importance) and reformulate the second term by adding a third: race and its intersection with religion, in its broadest definition. "Broken Song" analyses the fraught relationships that exist and have existed between indigenous Australians and those 'ministering' to them, whether via missionary, welfare, legal or academic agencies. T.G.H. Strehlow (1908–78), who turbulently enacted all those roles, demonstrates how even the best intentions are inadequate compensation for colonial inequities.
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    Lest We Forget. "The Oromo in Exile: From the Horn of Africa to the Suburbs of Australia" by Greg Gow, "From White Australia to Woomera: The Story of Australian Immigration" by James Jupp and "Mixed Matches: Interracial Marriage in Australia" by Jane Duncan Owen. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) Lack, John
    The arresting cover of James Jupp's important "From White Australia to Woomera" features the distraught faces of the children of detained asylum seekers. As the blurb puts it: 'There never has been a greater need for a sober, historically informed yet critical account of immigration policy in Australia.' This is indeed a book for the times. "Mixed Matches" is Owen's study of what she terms 'interracial' marriages in Australia. Owen is herself a partner in a 'mixed race' marriage. Of Anglo-Scots background, she married a Malaysian of Sinhalese and Indian parents in 1956, when such marriages were uncommon and frowned upon. This perhaps accounts for the readiness of more than 100 couples or partners (and some of their children) to give the warm and frank interviews that form the heart of this intriguing book. Greg Gow's distinguished work of participant observation, "The Oromo in Exile", is a book that conveys 'the pain of exile' experienced by the Oromo people who fled Ethiopia and now live in Melbourne's inner-western suburbs of Sunshine, Footscray and Kensington. The story of persecution, escape, flight, refugee-camp existence and eventual reassembly in Melbourne is told in a series of asides as Gow explores how the Oromo enact in story, song, music and ritual their sense of nationalism, and sustain their notion of home with the assistance of modern technology such as the VCR and cassette player.
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    Free Cabs and Lost Zions. "Goodbye Babylon: Further Journeys in Time and Politics" by Bob Ellis. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) Blewett, Neal
    Bob Ellis is the quintessential Labor groupie, and "Goodbye Babylon" the latest instalment in the saga of his love affair with the ALP, which began with "The Things We Did Last Summer", a slim and evocative volume, published twenty years ago. By contrast, "Goodbye Babylon" is a fat book; rather like Ellis himself, it is sprawling, dishevelled, undisciplined but likeable, witty and gregarious. His prose, though prone to excess, can be rich and compelling.
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    Fraser's Journey. "Common Ground: Issues That Should Bind and Not Divide Us" by Malcolm Fraser. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) Manne, Robert
    In "Common Ground" - an impressive, if unscintillating, collection of (mainly recent) speeches and added commentaries - Fraser is, characteristically, untroubled by the apparent problem of shifting political identity. According to him, his early reputation for ultra-conservatism was always misplaced. While his views have remained more or less steady, the political spectrum has lurched violently to the right. It is the world and not Malcolm Fraser that has changed. Manne does not believe Fraser's self-interpretation fits the facts.
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    Hamlet, Semar and The Godfather. "Abdurrahman Wahid: Muslim Democrat, Indonesian President" by Greg Barton, "The Politics of Indonesia (Second Edition)" by Damien Kingsbury and "Reformasi: The Struggle for Power in Post-Soeharto Indonesia" by Kevin O'Rourke. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) Monfries, John
    Have the Bali bombings completely changed our view of Indonesia? Although obviously not designed to do so, these three books provide necessary background on how such an atrocity might be possible in the near-anarchic circumstances of that country. They also give a wide-ranging and informative picture of the present state of Indonesia in all its chaos and uncertainty. They make sobering reading, as if Indonesian politics is a mixture of Shakespearean tragedy, Javanese shadow play and gangster drama: "Hamlet", Semar and "The Godfather". In sum, read Barton for a vivid character sketch of a fascinating might-have-been; Kingsbury for important background and a broad-brush approach; O’Rourke for piquant details about the many commercial scandals and the cynical behaviour of the Indonesian élite. Perhaps Indonesia deserves better leadership than it is currently getting, but it also needs helpful cooperation and understanding after recent events.
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    The Perils of Memoirs. "The Truth about My Fathers" by Gaby Naher, "I'm Hungry, Daddy: A True Story" by Cliff Nichols and "The Bean Patch" by Shirley Painter. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) Tuffield, Aviva
    These three memoirs share a central focus on fathers: Gaby Naher's is a meditation on fatherhood, Shirley Painter's is about surviving an abusive one, while Cliff Nichols's relates his life as an alcoholic and unreliable parent. They are also all part of the current flood of life-writing appearing from Australian publishing houses. Drusilla Modjeska, writing recently about the failings of contemporary fiction, argued that creative writing courses since the 1980s have produced a spate of postmodern first novels that were 'tricksy and insubstantial', deconstructing narrative at the expense of well-developed plots and characters. These courses may also account for much of the current memoir boom, feeding the demands of our voyeuristic culture. But publishers have a responsibility to readers to tame the genre’s self-revelatory excesses.
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    God. [poem]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-12) McCooey, David
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