Australian Reading Hour 2018


The link below is to an article that takes a look at Australian Reading Hour 2018, which is on September 20.

For more visit:
https://bookriot.com/2018/09/17/australian-reading-hour-2018/

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Guide to the Classics: the poetry of Rosemary Dobson


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Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1555. Rosemary Dobson addressed the painting in her poem Painter of Antwerp.
Wikimedia

Peter Kirkpatrick, University of Sydney

In our series, Guide to the classics, experts explain key works of literature.


In the first century BCE the Roman poet Horace proposed that, “A poem is like a picture”, meaning that, like painting, poetry engages in mimesis by imitating life, copying it in a fixed medium. But what happens when art imitates art, as in Australian poet Rosemary Dobson’s poem, For the Painter Ben Nicholson, about the work of the British modernist?

Finding and learning

the inner essence,

making and showing

by signs and symbols

that a tree like a glass

contains its tree-ness

and frost is white

on the rim of darkness.

Even more ancient than Horace is the concept of ekphrasis, the poetic description of a work of visual art: painting, sculpture, architecture. In other words, ekphrasis is a kind of translation of one art form into another. Dobson’s poem is a meditation on how a picture can reveal more by suggesting what’s not there – at least to the physical eye – as much as what is.

The poet Rosemary Dobson (centre) in 1953.
Wikimedia

Across her long career, Dobson was celebrated as a poet who could take the reader beyond the immediate image to another insight. From early on her skill with traditional forms was balanced by a willingness to loosen them in more conversational ways, so she responded better than some of her postwar peers to the cultural shifts of the 1960s and beyond.

At Frensham School in Mittagaong, NSW, where her widowed mother was employed as a house mistress, Dobson’s interest in both poetry and art was actively encouraged. Later, while a non-degree English student at Sydney University, Dobson also studied painting with the artist Thea Proctor.

During the 1940s she worked in the editorial department of the publisher Angus & Robertson, where she met her husband Alec Bolton. Bolton would set up Brindabella Press in 1972 to print fine editions of poems, often including Dobson’s illustrations.




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Poems about paintings

Dobson was fascinated by the ways in which poetry and the visual arts might speak to each other, and late in life described how learning visual design helped her write her poems:

I mean that as one strives for balance of light and shade, weight and airiness in painting, so one can use words and phrases to the same effect in writing poetry.

‘The Arnolfini Portrait’, Jan van Eyck, 1434.
Wikimedia

The title poem of her earliest collection, In a Convex Mirror (1944) seems to be inspired by Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait (1434), and addresses a poignant irony about all representation: that art, in order to capture life, must inevitably still its pulse:

Shall we be fixed within the frame,

This breathing light to clear-cold glass

Until our images are selves

And words to wiser silence pass?

A painting may preserve the moment, offering a “wiser silence”, but it can’t account for the ravages of time that will inevitably “rive the two of us apart”.

Dobson’s many poems about European paintings are among the finest modern experiments in the ekphrastic mode. Painter of Antwerp evokes Pieter Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (c. 1555), a work also treated by W.H. Auden and William Carlos Williams.

Dobson reads the painting from the artist’s earthy Flemish point-of-view as he returns north, bemused rather than impressed by the glories of the Italian Renaissance, as symbolised by the classical figure of Icarus fallen from the sky, a minor detail in the picture:

At the top of the Alps he paused perhaps, looked backwards,

Rejecting the fanciful, and took for a painting

Ploughman, fisherman, and moon-faced shepherd,

The furrow cut cleanly, the sheep contented;

Put thumb to nose with neither pride nor envy

At soaring wings – a Southerner’s invention –

Icarus sprawling, two feet out of the sea.

In contrast, the classical world is welcomed in Landscape in Italy, which expresses wonder at the way a painting – here Botticelli’s Primavera (1477-1482) – can re-enchant the everyday world:

But Art, more durable than thought

Between event and memory

Has interposed her coloured chart

To show in perpetuity

That but five steps from where we lay

Drowsing upon the short-cropped grass

Lightly, with all her springtime flowers,

Did Botticelli’s Flora pass.

Primavera, Botticelli, 1482.
Wikimedia



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Why Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is a cult classic


Translating the world

One can overemphasise Dobson’s poems about paintings at the expense of the variety of her achievement, along with its distinctly Australian elements. A major reason she gave for writing so little while in England with her husband and family in 1966-71 was: “one needs to write where one’s roots are. Away from one’s country one is taking in rather than giving out”.

During this time her work became more immediately personal – it was an era for “confessional” poetry – and, by becoming so, more elegiac, more concerned with the passing of time and with loss.

The landscape of Dry River offers an “objective correlative”, to use T.S. Eliot’s term, for state of the poet’s mind. Though in a freer form, note the emphasis on dactyls (a poetic foot that starts with one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed), creating a falling cadence:

It was my river. My spirit’s destination.

Abstract of water, a dried depression,

Holed and bouldered and raked with fissures

Where the idea of water channelled

Irresistibly over and under

Endlessly forcing down to the sea.

The poems of Dobson’s middle-age are often more explicitly concerned with women’s experience. In Cock Crow, the responsibility of being a writer, of “Wanting to be myself, alone”, conflicts with the responsibilities owing to “One life behind and one before”, her mother and daughter, whose sleeping forms are unaware that she has fled the house. But morning brings the sound of the crowing cock, that biblical symbol of betrayal, and the poet returns, “Thinking I knew his meaning well”.

In later life, Dobson collaborated with fellow poet David Campbell to produce translations – what they called “imitations” – of the work of several 20th-century Russian poets, which were published alongside more literal renderings of the same poems.

As poet Simon West has remarked, such an exercise is both rare, and rarely celebrated, in a “largely monolingual” literary culture such as ours. But in a way Dobson’s contributions are also like her ekphrastic poems: renderings of the original work in another medium; here, another language.

Poet James McAuley described Dobson’s work as “pellucid”: a highly appropriate word for a poet so invested in painting, which depends on light. But McAuley was also referring to a translucent quality in Dobson, what he called “a meaning within the meaning, or haunting the meaning, a feeling that what the poem says or does is only a way of conveying something else which is ineffable”.

The last of a series of short elegies to David Campbell, The Continuance of Poetry, offers an example, showing as well the influence of Chinese poetry:

Not being able to find the hermit he wanted to visit

Li Po looked deeper into the landscape.

Like Li Po we lean against a pine-tree;

And looking into the landscape find your poems.

For Dobson, in translating the world for us, art necessarily bears the trace of the translator.The Conversation

Peter Kirkpatrick, Associate Professor in Australian Literature, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ten of Australia’s best literary comics



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Tommi Parissh’s The Lie and How We Told It is one of a crop of new Australian comics appealing to adult audiences.

Gabriel Clark, University of Technology Sydney

With news that the Man Booker Prize long list includes a graphic novel for the first time, the spotlight is on comics as a literary form. That’s a welcome development; the comic is one of the oldest kinds of storytelling we have and a powerful artform.

Right now, the Australian comics community is producing some of the best original work in the world. Australian comics punch above their weight globally. Many have been picked up by international publishers and nominated for international and national literary awards – yet remain little known at home. Some are directed at an adult audience; some are for all ages. They tackle issues ranging from true crime to environmental ruin to life in detention.

As someone who has researched comics for years – and been a fan since childhood – I want to share with you some highlights from the contemporary Australian comic scene. Here are 10 Australian comics of note, in no particular order.


Reported Missing, by Eleri Mai Harris

Sue Neill-Fraser’s conviction for the murder of her de-facto partner Bob Chappell in 2009 polarised the Tasmanian city of Hobart. To this day, Sue has maintained her innocence. This piece of long-form comics journalism by cartoonist Eleri Mai Harris takes readers deep into the personal impact this case has had on the families of those involved.

You can read Reported Missing online here.

Reported Missing; cover page.

Reported Missing; inside page.


Bottled, by Chris Gooch

According to one study, mean friends can be good for you. The opposite may be true in this psychological drama, a tale of jealousy, friendship and narcissism. Bottled is a tense piece of suburban noir set in the suburbs of Melbourne, rendered stark and disjointed by Chris Gooch’s striking artwork.

Bottled; cover page.

Bottled; inside page.


A Part Of Me Is Still Unknown, by Meg O’Shea

Who is my birth mother? In this autobiographical story, Meg O’Shea travels to Seoul to find an answer to that question, armed with her sense of humour and imagination. This whimsical story of sliding door moments explores the emotional impact of not having solutions and the fatality of not knowing.

You can read A Part Of Me Is Still Unknown here.

A part of me is still unknown; cover page.

A part of me is still unknown; inside page.


Villawood – Notes from an Immigration Detention Centre, by Safdar Ahmed

Villawood is a Walkley award-winning piece of comics journalism about the experiences of being held captive in a Sydney asylum seeker detention centre. In sharing the stories and experiences of the detainees, it lays bare the harsh realities of indefinite detention. These stories are made even more real through the inclusion of artwork created by the detainees. Their images sit alongside Safdar’s tense line work, which illustrates the realities of this brutal system.

You can read Villawood online here.

Villawood cover.

Villawood inside page.


Home Time, by Campbell Whyte

Changes are on the horizon for a group of Year Six school friends who are looking at their last summer together. But their suburban world is transformed after a freak accident transports them to an alternative universe. The friends find themselves in an inverse world filled with creepy gumnut babies, cups of tea and a deceptively familiar Australian landscape. With Home Time, Campbell Whyte has created an intoxicating and visually stunning Australian Narnia.

Home Time; cover page.

Home Time; inside page.


Making Sense of Complexity, by Sarah Catherine Firth

Sarah Catherine Firth’s visual essay explores how we understand the complex systems that exist in the world around us. Through autobiographical anecdotes and humour, it covers the history of scientific thought, unpacks complex ideas and helps provide answers to complicated questions.

You can read Making Sense of Complexity online here.

Making sense of complexity

Making sense of complexity.


The Lie and How We Told It, by Tommi Parissh

The blurb says The Lie is about how “after a chance encounter, two formerly close friends try to salvage whatever is left of their decaying relationship”. But it’s much more that. Visually, Tommi Parissh’s disproportioned characters dominate the spaces and the panels they inhabit, their uneven bodies reflecting their unease with themselves and their shared history. The Lie is a beautifully poignant tale of confused identities, self-centeredness and regret.

The Lie and How We Told It; cover page.

The Lie and How We Told It; inside page.


Hidden, by Mirranda Burton

“Everyone sees the world in their own unique way.” That’s how Mirranda Burton introduces Steve, one of the intellectually impaired adults she teaches art to. But Hidden isn’t about how her subjects see the world. It’s about how Mirranda sees them – with care, respect and humour. Mirranda’s fictionalised stories reveal how engaging meaningfully with people can shift your perspectives in beautiful and unexpected ways.

Hidden; cover page.

Hidden; inside page.


The Grot, by Pat Grant with colours by Fionn McCabe

If everyone you know is trying to get rich at everyone else’s expense, then who can you trust? In The Grot, the world is in the wake of an unnamed environmental catastrophe, technology and society have been reduced to simple mechanics, and everyone is rushing to Felter City to make their fortunes. With The Grot, Pat Grant and Fionn McCabe have created a stained and wondrously dilapidated alternative universe of Australian hustlers and grifters fighting to survive in a new Australian gold rush.

You can read The Grot online here.

The Grot; cover page.

The Grot; inside page.


So Below, by Sam Wallman

Sam Wallman’s comic essay So Below explores ideas of land ownership and its social and political ramifications. Sam’s poetic artwork guides the reader through complicated questions to reveal the communities impacted by the social construct of land ownership.

You can read So Below online here.The Conversation

So Below; cover page.

So Below; inside page.


Gabriel Clark, Lecturer, Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Peter Corris’s Cliff Hardy was a genuine Australian international crime fiction hero



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Australian crime fiction author Peter Corris published 102 novels in lifetimes, including 52 centred on the private investigator Cliff Hardy.
ALLEN AND UNWIN

Stephen Knight, University of Melbourne

Peter Corris, author of the Cliff Hardy novels, died on August 30 2018 age 76.


By the 1970s Australian crime fiction was drifting.

The genre had a long history, back to convict days, when it dealt with unfair convictions and brutal treatments, most famously in Marcus Clarke’s For The Term Of His Natural Life (1870-2).

Being mostly published in London for the curiosity of the English, Australian crime fiction had followed European models, with some major success like Fergus Hume’s best-selling The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886), and the fine series of mysteries by post-second world war women writers June Wright, “Margot Neville”, Pat Flower and Pat Carlon. But local crime fiction was little publicised and had little impact – the books mostly came into libraries from London.

The Drying Trade introduced Peter Corris’s private investigator Cliff Hardy.
Goodreads

English business interests and Australian outlooks changed as time passed. Then, in 1980, Peter Corris’s The Dying Trade appeared, a crime story which was American in its influence, fully Australian in its spirit, and both published and strongly publicised at home. The novel was the first adventure of a tough, but at times sensitive, Sydney private eye with the wonderfully Australian name, offering both geography and morality, Cliff Hardy.

Published by McGraw Hill, an American company newly adventuring across the Pacific, the novel was very well-received, and started Peter’s own long series of fiction. But it was also the first of a very striking renaissance (or even naissance) in Australian crime writing.




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Within ten years Marele Day, Jennifer Rowe and Claire McNab were producing their sharp variants of female detection. By 2000, major producers such as Gabrielle Lord, Gary Disher and the powerful Peter Temple, who also recently passed away, were busily at work. They were asserting that the mysteries of death and detection could have a distinctly local and socially investigative thrust – as Corris had established back in 1980. No wonder he has been named the “godfather” of modern Australian crime fiction.


Goodreads

Cliff Hardy, though tough in his name, could be subtle. He lives in Sydney’s Glebe; he spent some time at the nearby university; and is capable of close analysis when needed. His cases are brought to him, but, as the masters of the form Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler established, the P.I. will also assert his privacy and make decisions about where his investigation is going to go.

As with the major American writers, the primary themes of the Cliff Hardy novels are urban corruption. But Corris’s expertise in Pacific history informs his writing. The first novel involves Pacific misdoings. White Meat (1981) makes Indigenous themes important – which return strongly in The Black Prince (1998).




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Like the detective of Peter Temple, who no doubt learnt both confidence and approach from Corris, Hardy shows how local malpractice can have its roots in national and international criminal evil.

Though Australian crime writers have had very little success with the spy thriller, Corris’s Ray Crawley series – eight novels from Pokerface (1985) to The Vietnam Volunteer (2000) – are a capable version of the form.

More remarkable is his eight-book “Browning” series, from Box Office Browning (1987) to Browning Without a Cause (1995). In the series, the popular investigator Browning (one wonders why Corris chose the name of the wry learned 19th century English poet) adventures in part comically around the world, meeting on his way his compatriot Errol Flynn.

In the Browning series, journeyed around the world having misadventures with celebrities.
Goodreads

Corris also assented to the recent (and internationally very late) male Australian crime-writer engagement with police detectives – some of his leanest and sharpest novels are the three in the Luke Dunlop series about an undercover police agent, from Set-Up (1992) to Get Even (1994).

At first an academic historian, in the 1970s Corris became the literary editor of the much-regretted serious weekend newspaper The National Times. He had a wide range of knowledge and interests.

But what Corris will be most remembered for, and what he kept flowing in novels — and also in a number of short stories – were the adventures of Cliff Hardy. Cliff was drinking and chasing women a lot back in 1980. He calmed down in both departments, but kept at his investigations of corruption and malpractice, both business-oriented and personal.

Through his hero, with his physical and moral echt-Australian name Cliff Hardy, and through his lucid, calm plotting, Corris has matched Raymond Chandler in the modern world’s dominant crime form.

Both citified and individualist, the private eye story at its best demands personal, deep referential knowledge of the author – and calm stylistic skills. We have seen all this in the Hardy novels.

At the very end of Corris’s last Hardy novel, Win, Lose or Draw (2017) – in Australia, sport is always there – Hardy is smiling. So should his creator have been. With Hardy, he made a richly entertaining, very widely-admired, genuinely, lastingly, Australian international crime fiction hero.The Conversation

Stephen Knight, Honorary Research Professor, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Malcolm Fraser’s political manifesto would make good reading for the Morrison government



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Members of the Liberal Party’s latter-day “broad church” could do worse than secure copies of these Malcolm Fraser’s manifesto for a new political party.
AAP/ Luis Enrique Ascui

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Malcolm Fraser died on March 20, 2015, just a little more than three years ago. One can only speculate what he would have made of a three-year Malcolm Turnbull interregnum, but it is a fair assumption he would have been disgusted by the behaviour of the Liberal party’s hard right and its media acolytes.

At the time of his death, Fraser had quixotically lent himself to efforts to establish a “reform” party as a centrist alternative – in the tradition of Menzies and Deakin – to the existing political parties.

So no doubt the former Liberal prime minister’s disgust would have been aggravated during last week’s leadership upheavals, in which reactionary elements came within a handful of votes of hijacking the party of Robert Menzies, and before that Alfred Deakin.




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While this attempted hijacking may has been averted – for now – the danger has not passed, nor has the possibility of a split between the Liberal Party’s conservative and moderate wings.

Scott Morrison is from the conservative flank of the Liberal Party, as is his deputy Josh Frydenberg.

If the two leaders were in doubt about the task confronting them in restoring confidence in a Coalition government, this should have been dispelled by the latest Newspoll. It revealed a collapse in support for the government whose primary vote plunged four points to 33%, while Labor’s increased six points to 41%. This was the first poll since Malcolm Turnbull was deposed as prime minister.

Turnbull’s mistake, among several in the wake of his 2016 near-death political experience, was to allow himself to be persuaded that, to shore up support in the conservative heartland and outflank Pauline Hanson, he needed to shift further to the right.

In the end, he was devoured by those he had sought to appease, or as Winston Churchill might’ve advised: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last”.

This brings us back to Malcolm Fraser and the “forgotten people” of Australian politics. This is the phrase Menzies used when he established the Liberal Party in 1944 out of the embers of the United Australia Party he had led at the outset of the second world war.

Menzies’ “forgotten people” were defined as those caught between a union-dominated Labor Party and a conservative establishment. What the father of the Liberal Party had in mind was the artisan and small business class, broadly defined.

As Menzies put it in his slight memoir, Afternoon Light.

We took the name “Liberal” because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments; in no sense reactionay, but believing in the individual, his rights and his enterprise…

It is interesting that the word “progressive” has become a weapon wielded by the right in its relentless culture wars against the left, in what has proved to be a debilitating era in Australian politics.

In this debasement of the political debate, phrases like “political correctness” and “identity politics” and “virtue signalling” have been weaponised to the point where these phrases have corrupted reasonable discussion.

Fraser’s attempt before he died to promote a centrist liberal alternative to the existing parties was aimed at representing the “forgotten people” in Australian politics.

These were not Menzies’ “forgotten people” who had found a home in John Howard’s “broad church” of latter-day Liberals, but a small “l” liberal wedge in the centre. They have long felt disenfranchised.

The so-called “sensible centre”, caught between a conservative party trending reactionary and a Labor party led by union-backed factional apparatchiks is more numerous than party operatives on either side would have you believe.




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As mentioned in a previous column the same-sex marriage vote demonstrated a much larger cohort in the centre of Australian politics than might be conceded by the political class.

But back to Fraser. While his “reform” party never saw the light of day beyond a small circle of small “l” Melbourne liberals, members of the Liberal Party’s latter-day “broad church” could do worse than secure copies of these documents.

This is not because I believe Fraser’s reformist movement would have gained traction, necessarily, but because its 24-point manifesto reflects views widely held in the liberal and moderate centre of Australian politics.

Space does not permit publication of the Fraser manifesto in its entirety, but salient points include:

  • calls for tougher ethical sanctions on members of parliament who breached a code of conduct along with the establishment of an anti-corruption commission

  • a cap on donations to political parties and a requirement these donations be disclosed in real time

  • the introduction of a market-based emissions trading scheme and bold targets for renewable energy

  • early moves to a Republic

  • an end to the incarceration of asylum seekers in off-shore detention centres

  • an independent foreign policy

  • a requirement for a two-thirds majority in parliament to sanction the commitment of Australia’s armed forces to war.

In this latest period, disenfranchised voters of the moderate centre vote for minor parties, including the Greens, as a protest. This is not because they feel affinity for the more doctrinaire positions of the Greens, but out of despair at the Hobson’s choice being offered by the major parties.

In their calculations about how to rebuild the Coalition’s shattered credibility, Morrison and Frydenberg should remind themselves that a lot of Australians are fed up with politics as usual.

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The Conversation

People are antagonistic to attempts by unscrupulous politicians and their friends in the media to hijack the political debate. They are sick of being caught in the slipstream of the tiresome culture wars.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Your guide to the Miles Franklin shortlist: a kaleidoscopic portrait of a diverse nation



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The Miles Franklin authors with their novels, clockwise from top left: Felicity Castagna, Eva Hornung, Kim Scott, Michelle de Kretser, Catherine McKinnon and Gerald Murnane.
Courtesy Perpetual/ Copyright Agency/ Martin Ollman/Timothy Hillier. Eva Hornung image: Noni Martin., CC BY-NC-ND

Jen Webb, University of Canberra

The Miles Franklin award is famously for “a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases”. That’s a very broad palette, yet for most of the award’s existence — 1957 to the present — it has recognised a rather narrow field of “Australian life”.

The 60 novels honoured to date include 42 written by 28 men, and 18 written by 14 women. Almost to a person, these winning authors are Anglo-Australian. While their narratives cover an impressive range of issues, topics, periods, structure and narrative voice, it is notable that in a country described by our prime minister as “the world’s most successful multicultural society”, the Miles Franklin seems to have remained a bastion of monoculture.

Until recently, that is. Women authors are appearing more frequently – on the shortlists and as prize winners – and the cultural and linguistic heritage of authors is similarly expanding. This year the mix of shortlist authors, and the content of their novels, is impressively diverse.

Border Districts

Gerald Murnane’s Border Districts is explicitly a literary novel, one with no overt plot and really only one voice. The narrator is fastidious to the point of primness, narrow and self-absorbed: a fussy old man who drifts into Grandpa Simpson moments, telling stories that wander from point to point with no apparent destination. Yet this work is also a remarkable account of memory, its fractures, and its fragments. This gives the lie to the narrator’s insistence that he is writing a report, not a novel, and casts a gentle melancholy over the work.

The unnamed narrator seems to have lived a life at arms length, remaining encased in abstractions, neglecting to experience anything at first hand. What I found the most desolate image in the novel is his childhood collection of glass marbles. The material expression of his life’s effort to “recollect” and “preserve” his memories and moods, they are no more than tiny flashes of colour, frozen in their glass bubbles, seeing and saying nothing.

In his sense of colour, and his hankering for the clarity of memory, is the suggestion that he contains within himself another man, one who yearns to feel.

No More Boats

Felicity Castagna’s No More Boats opens in 1967, the year Harold Holt disappeared and, through the magic of narration, incorporates in the opening pages what is yet to come: 2001, the Tampa crisis, the September 11 attacks. In these pages, Antonio, the protagonist, is both young Italian migrant, and the ageing man who has become the face of: “We will decide who comes to this country …”

He and Rose live in Parramatta, where young men like their son Francis are testing out models of masculinity; where young women like their daughter Clare are crafting lives beyond their parents’ oversight; a rich human zoo that provides the stage for a brilliantly observed and sensitively recounted novel illuminating the politics of identity, family, community and nation.

His family are forced to confront the public scandal of Antonio’s xenophobia, to understand why a migrant in a migrant community could be so thoroughly seduced by the violent logic of the hard right. There are no real answers, of course; but beyond the family’s distress and the community’s upheaval is the shadow of two centuries of Australia struggling against “too many boats”.

The Last Garden

Eva Hornung’s The Last Garden is based in a South Australian religious community named – perhaps ironically – Wahrheit. There is little truth here though, and easily as many secrets and violences as are found beyond Wahrheit’s boundaries. These are flushed out by the tragedy that opens the novel, where Matthias Orion, not-fully-committed member of the church, destroys everything he can reach on his property, and slaughters first his wife and then himself.

Their 15-year-old son Benedict arrives home from boarding school to discover this horror; and even as it breaks him, so too it marks the end of the community’s Nebelung, their mythical home. The novel is told through a careful interlacing of Benedict’s and the pastor’s perspectives. The latter fails miserably to care sufficiently for the deeply traumatised Benedict, who after all has become “part of the wound” the community finds itself suffering.

Left largely to himself, and to the horses that escaped his father’s murderous rampage, and to the fox that stands in for that angel of death, Benedict lives with, and like, the animals. In that living he finds a way to recover some sense of self, and to re-enter his community: though whether as messiah or as restored son is uncertain.

The Life to Come

The Life to Come, Michelle de Kretser’s new novel – actually a discontinuous narrative in five sections – offers an insider-outsider view of contemporary Australian society through the shifting focalisations, points of view and voices that comprise the sections. The threads that weave it together are Pippa, a self-satisfied, hyper-performative, not-quite-good-enough novelist, and “real” novelist George Meshaw, who disdains her shallow conceits and her populist writing style.

Pippa is the more visible of the two. She spends much of the novel charming and then disappointing friends, and struggling under the burden of her mother-in-law’s condescension, while always firmly focused on herself. George appears principally through his novels – the last of which, along with Pippa’s last, are tossed in the bin by Pippa’s disenchanted neighbour, who had hoped to find warmth and meaning in these works, but found only words.

While the stories are set in Sydney and in Paris, with references also to Sri Lanka, the twin foci of this novel (for me, at least) are, first, an excoriating critique of Australian colonialist attitudes and politics, and next the burning realisation that – as one character observes – “The only life in which you play a leading role is your own”; we are all merely bit players in the lives of others.

Storyland

Catherine McKinnon’s Storyland is also structured in five discrete sections, the transitions here being characterised by the pulsing of time, rather than the geographical shifts of de Kretser’s work. Storyland starts and ends in the Illawarra region, during the early days of colonisation, where the possibility of trust or friendship between the local Wadi Wadi people and the invading British is constantly thwarted.

The sections between swoop up through the 19th and 20th centuries to a post-apocalypse future, and then cascade down again. Key elements – a river, a cave, a clever man’s axe – appear in each time period, connective tissue that binds them together. Characters too reappear, individuals or their descendants struggling with colonial society and its mores, with missed opportunities for connection, with the collapse of the environment and human society.

I read this novel as a migrant, and as a person of European descent, so I am not well positioned to evaluate the merits of McKinnon’s use of Aboriginal language and representation of the Aboriginal characters, but for me they were both convincing and moving. Story is not politics, but in it we can find ways to review ourselves and our histories, and perhaps begin to find points of conciliation.

Taboo

Taboo, by Kim Scott, is located squarely in the post-Apology present, when the Australian government can express regret for the Stolen Generations while maintaining the Northern Territory Intervention; and when Aboriginal communities across the country are building new ways to enter the future without deserting the past.

Focalised primarily through the young woman Tilly, daughter of an Aboriginal man who, toward the end of his life, realised the power of language to heal his community’s wounds, it follows the people of Kepalup and their establishment of a Peace Park to settle the ghosts of local Aboriginal people slaughtered by the ancestors of local pastoralists.

Though the novel is necessarily tragic – killings, stolen children, wrecked lives – it also has something generous and pragmatic at its heart. Says Uncle Wilfred of the white community: “Sorry for the history, they say. Know it’s our country, our ancestral country. They’re not gunna give the land back, but know we’re the right people.”

Despite the record of massacre, despite the clumsy interventions by white people – well-meaning but condescending, unaware of how little they know of Noongar culture – the community turns to recovering their language, retelling stories, reclaiming culture, and finding “magic in an empirical age”.

These six novels convincingly meet the criteria of the Miles Franklin, providing accounts of Australian life in all its phrases, in stories of “the highest literary merit” that craft a kaleidoscopic portrait of this society.

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The Conversation

The winner of the Miles Franklin will be announced at the Melbourne Writers Festival on Sunday 26th August from 4pm at Deakin Edge, Fed Square.

Jen Webb, Director of the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA): 2018 Book of the Year Awards


The links below are to articles looking at the winners in the CBCA 2018 Book of the Year Awards.

For more visit:
https://blog.booktopia.com.au/2018/08/17/cbca-winners-2018/
https://cbca.org.au/winners-2018