The link below is to an article reporting on the winner of the 2020 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, Christine Dwyer Hickey for ‘The Narrow Land.’
The links below are to articles reporting on the winner of the 2020 Wolfson History Prize, ‘The Boundless Sea – A Human History of the Oceans,’ by David Abulafia.
For more visit:
The link below is to an article that reports on the shortlist for the 2020 Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award.
The link below is to an article that reviews the kindle Cloud Reader.
Former Liberal Minister Christopher Pyne attracted critics for his political front. But he always had plenty of friends and networks, enabling him often to be a player, if not always a “fixer”.
After his election to the South Australian seat of Sturt at age 25, he went on to hold senior portfolios, notably education and defence, and to stride the parliamentary stage as Leader of the House of Representatives.
In his memoir, The Insider, the former politician provides his take, humorous and candid, on a tumultuous 26 parliamentary years.
In this podcast, Pyne talks about life after politics, and stories from the ‘Canberra bubble’.
“I don’t miss politics at all – because I left happy, and I wanted to go.
“So I’m not one of these politicians that was dragged kicking and screaming. I left when people wanted me to stay, which is a great rarity.”
Pyne is ultra candid about his ambition to be prime minister:
“I think when you’re 15, and you decided you want to be a member of the House of Representatives, you kind of think ‘I’m going to dream big.’ So of course I dreamt to be prime minister”.
Reality, it appears, didn’t hit for quite a while.
“I think that week when Malcolm [Turnbull] was deposed and nobody was suggesting that I should be running for leader, it dawned on me that the generation that was being elected, which was Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg, were a generation different to me.”
It seems sometimes literary fiction performs a bellwether function: signalling changes; alerting us to the directions in which a society is headed.
The 2020 Miles Franklin shortlist seems to bear this out in six novels whose topics shimmer with relevance: the continuing wounds of colonisation (for people and the environment); language and all its possibilities and failures; ditto families; and the issues that are intrinsic to fiction, like conflict and character, trauma and resilience, sex and art. And, in the case of these six novels, lost or vanished family members and the uncertain status of the dead.
Peggy Frew’s Islands reads like a sequence of vignettes, focused through members of the Worth family and other, more tangential, characters. Frew demands and rewards a reader’s attention, because the impact of her structure is a lapidary arrangement of different voices, times, geographies.
The overall effect is of fragments of impressions, a prism that reflects and deflects the light cast by childhood: the presence and absence of the younger sister Anna, and then of the rejected mother and the incompetent father, until the remaining sister, Junie, is left almost alone, with every breath freighted by the disappearance of her sister:
Junie can look back on the past, when Anna was there. She can see, behind her, that world, where things were aligned. And then there is a signpost, a marker, which is Anna being gone. And after that the void opens …
Tara June Winch’s The Yield is another story of family crisis, of a daughter gone missing, a family stranded in the midst of the enduring trauma of invasion and the newer catastrophe of environmental mismanagement. All that, and then the death of grandfather Albert Gondiwindi and the impending loss of their family home.
This sounds like an unrelieved tragedy but the novel is full of light, not least because of the writing: practically every sentence is a marvel, language that does not merely describe but perfectly fits the world of things. The characters, too, are beautifully rendered, with Albert and his widow Elsie demonstrating how one can live fully and hold close all that seems lost.
As his legacy, Albert has left a dictionary full of words from his apparently lost language, which come with advice and responsibilities:
The spirit woman was empty-handed and showed me her hands … and she said, ‘Wanga-dyung.’ ‘What’s that mean?’ She said, ‘It means lost, but not lost always.’ I said okay, and she told me to practise it.
The “not lost always” is bequeathed to his sad granddaughter August, who starts learning, as grandmother Elsie insists, “We aren’t victims in this story anymore”.
The White Girl
Another lost daughter, another unresolved mourning is at the heart of Tony Birch’s The White Girl, set during the period of the Aborigines Protection Act, which permitted white people to insult, assault, and confine Indigenous people without legal consequences.
Odette, grandmother of the eponymous “white girl”, has struggled to preserve her right to raise the baby, Sissy, left behind when her daughter disappeared. She struggles to maintain dignity in the face of unremitting abuse. When a local thug says to her, “I thought there was none of your lot left around here”, she replies, “Oh, my people are still here, son … We’ve always been here and we’re going no place”.
The name Odette recalls the swan: always just out of reach, always poised, always gracious. But she is also tough and decisive. When it’s time to leave town, illegally, to protect her granddaughter, and Sissy says, “We’re in trouble, aren’t we, Nan?”, Odette merely laughs:
Trouble? Our people have been in one sort of trouble or another from the first day we set eyes on a white person.
It wasn’t a good year for daughters.
Carrie Tiffany’s Exploded View works like a negative Bildungsroman, focusing on a girl who practices elective mutism because “You have to stop listening to yourself to be able to speak”.
She avoids human contact, creeping into neighbours’ homes when they are out, creeping out of her own home at night, entirely dissociated and alone. This is not surprising given her backyard mechanic and abuser “Father Man”; her Mother who escapes into fantasies; her isolation from friends and protectors. She identifies with car bodies and engines but also assaults them — dropping sewing needles into their delicate moving parts, hacking holes into pipes. She insists, “There are many happy times in my family”, but her example of a happy time is only the hunt for Mother’s lost contact lens.
There seems little hope in the exploded view this novel offers of abused adolescents, but it is leavened by her determination not to cave in: “You are only lost to others”, the unnamed girl? observes, “not inside yourself”.
In The Returns, Philip Salom produces what in some lights reads like a metafiction.
It is the story of Trevor, an artist turned bookseller turned bookseller-artist whose dead father returns, inconveniently, to trouble him. It is the story of Elizabeth, daughter of an ex-cultist, a book editor who suffers from face blindness and recognises people by their shape and smell. It is the story of the art sector where only artists with a track record can expect to be exhibited, where “the book publishing scene looks like property management sometimes. Safe books in safe suburbs”.
Salom is a poet, and great swathes of this novel show this lineage:
[S]o many people want art to be romantic gestures and a clutch of the bowels, a dazzle born of insanity (first), suffering (second) or heroin, or beautiful lovers or genius from the fucking stars. Oh, art! Our body is made of stardust! No, it’s not.
Set in a slice of Melbourne struggling for recognition, between the dog shit and motor accidents and incompetent criminals, the cool eye of the painter and the cool voice of the editor deliver a cocktail of tenderness, irreverence and sometimes laugh-out-loud humour in the face of what feels a little like disaster.
John Hughes’ No One follows the lonely narrator through his attempts to determine who or what he hit while driving past Redfern station one night. He can’t resolve the problem: there is no data to work with, and the absence in this accident operates as a sort of allegory for his life. He cannot, after all, resolve his own history – his lost homeland and parents, his invisibility.
“It’s like we walk on water”, he says, “so little trace do we leave of ourselves.” Even the strange relationship he develops with a young woman he calls the Poetess – one who carries the scars of her own abusive past – is built on water.
The narrative also seems an allegory of Australian history. Speaking of his history lecturer, he recalls:
You can’t alter historical injustice in the present, he said. Two hundred years after the fact – he was talking about colonisation – the crime continues, only it’s a criminal-less crime now, which means it can never be solved.
While this novel is desperately sad, the writing is exquisite, and the narrative offers the promise one can adapt; it is possible to achieve at least small moments of resolution.
The winner of the Miles Franklin will be announced on Thursday July 16.
Global support for the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t only about standing up against the injustice done to George Floyd, or Indigenous Australians in custody. People are also standing up against the entrenched racism that leads to a careless approach towards the lives of people who aren’t white.
Research shows 75% of Australians hold an implicit bias against Indigenous Australians, seeing them negatively, even if this is unconscious. Children absorb this bias, which becomes entrenched due to messages in the media and in books, and continues to play out at school and the broader community.
Making sure children have access to books showing diversity is one step in breaking the cycle that leads to entrenched racism.
Children develop bias from an early age
Children develop their sense of identity and perceptions of others from a very early age – as early as three months old. Because of this, young children are particularly vulnerable to the messages they see and hear in the media and in books.
Research over many years has shown books can empower, include and validate the way children see themselves. But books can also exclude, stereotype and oppress children’s identities. Minority groups are particularly at risk of misrepresentation and stereotyping in books.
First Nations groups are commonly absent from children’s books. Excluding the viewpoints, histories and suffering of First Nations Peoples can misrepresent history, and teach kids a white-washed version of the past.
A world of children’s books dominated by white authors, white images and white male heroes, creates a sense of white superiority. This is harmful to the worldviews and identities of all children.
Sharing stories through books
Evidence shows sharing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories helps break down stereotypes and prejudice. And this, importantly, helps empower Aboriginal children and improve their educational engagement and outcomes.
But research suggests many classrooms have books that are monocultural literature, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander books are notably absent.
There are some encouraging signs, with an increase in the publication of books by and about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We are also seeing bookshops and publishers reporting a rise in demand for books on race and racism.
This can also help adults become informed about Australia’s colonial history. Reading these books can help challenge their own unconscious biases and misunderstandings.
The challenge for teachers and parents is to access suitable children’s books and share them with the children in their care. We can use these stories as a foundation for conversations about culture and community.
This can help to drive change and support reconciliation.
Other ways of sharing diverse stories
Creating Books in Communities is a pilot project run by the State Library of Western Australia that helps create books with families about their everyday experiences. These books represent the families’ culture and language.
Projects like these are another way we can recognise and extend the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Another project, On Country Learning, involves children and teachers learning through culture alongside Aboriginal elders. A preliminary review of the program shows it enriches teacher knowledge and motivates all children to learn.
Reading and listening to the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can help teachers gain important knowledge and understanding. This helps them effectively engage with and teach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
And it helps them teach all students about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, histories and cultures.
To see real and lasting change children need everyday story books with heroes and characters that reflect their diverse backgrounds. To help this happen we can support groups such as the We Need Diverse Books Movement and LoveOZYA , which actively call for and promote diverse books for young people.
Affirmation of all children’s culture, language and identity at this pivotal time in world history is critical to the future of all our children.
Parents and teachers can source Aboriginal literature from websites such as: Magabala Books, IAD Press, Aboriginal Studies Press, Fremantle Press, UWA Publishing, BlackWords, Batchelor Institute Press.
Helen Joanne Adam, Senior Lecturer in Literacy Education and Children’s Literature: Course Coordinator Master of Teaching (Primary), Edith Cowan University; Caroline Barratt-Pugh, Professor of Early Childhood, Edith Cowan University; Libby Jackson-Barrett, Senior Lecturer, Edith Cowan University, and Robert Stanly Somerville, Head of Teaching and Learning, Kurongkurl Katitjin Centre for Australian Indigenous Education and Research, Associate Professor, Edith Cowan University