Thursday, November 17, 2005

Clendinnen gets classy gong

Distinguished historian, writer, public intellectual and survivor Inga Clendinnen has been awarded the biennial ASA Medal.

From Jeremy Fisher, Executive Director of the ASA: "The Australian Society of Authors, the principal advocate for the professional and artistic interests of Australian authors, has awarded Inga Clendinnen the 2005 ASA Medal.

The Hon Dr Meredith Burgmann, President of the Legislative Council of New South Wales, presented the Medal at a ceremony in the Jubilee Room of NSW Parliament House on 17 November 2005 from 5 pm to 7 pm.

The ASA Medal is presented biennially to recognise the achievements of authors (including illustrators) who have made a significant contribution to the Australian community or Australian public life.

Inga Clendinnen is an internationally recognised historian and writer whose work continues to surprise readers with its depth of knowledge and breadth of interests.

Inga first came to national attention as a teacher and researcher of the Aztec and Mayan cultures. Then, in 1990, Inga became desperately ill with a rare liver disease, and was expected to die. Unable to continue her research, Inga challenged herself to depart from her training as a historian to write the acclaimed personal narrative Tiger’s Eye (Text Publishing, 2000).

Also during this long illness, Inga went on to research and write Reading the Holocaust (Text Publishing, 1998), a book that effectively "cleared a space" for Holocaust discussion to be freshly and "impassionedly" taken up.

In 1999 Inga presented a survey of Aboriginal history for the 41st annual Boyer Lectures on ABC Radio National, and continues to speak compellingly about indigenous lives in Australia. These lectures were subsequently published as True Stories. Her book Dancing With Strangers (Text Publishing, 2003) investigates the relationship between the British and Indigenous Australians during the colony’s first five years.

Inga continues to write and to challenge readers' expectations, demonstrating extraordinary research skills, empathy for others and a dedication to the craft of writing."


Serendipity in the form of a local Adelaide company cancelling its last show of the year opened up an unexpected opportunity earlier this month for Larrikin to bring to Adelaide the one-man show that had had Melbourne audiences queuing up: Chris Bunworth in Dina Ross's 'Trio'.

(That's Dina Ross the fortysomething Melbourne playwright, not Diana Ross the ex-Supreme.)

I'd not heard of this writer before and had managed to miss her contribution to the 'those nasty feminists wrecked my life' wave of codswallop that slopped over the press recently -- just as well, or I would have enjoyed the play a lot less than I did. But it was the best Australian play I've seen for ages, even counting being periodically if metaphorically bashed over the head by Stephen Sewell. Ross is an utterly different sort of writer, much more focused on character and interiority.

In 'Trio', a young Australian violin virtuoso is found dead in his hotel room in Vienna, and a year later the three main men in his life are getting ready to go to a memorial concert for him -- his New York Jewish agent, his ockerish twin brother and his bereaved lover. As they dress, they reminisce about the dead man and ponder the manner of his death, and in doing so they gradually reveal all kinds of things about themselves as well as about him.

Melbourne theatre critic Helen Thomson assumes in her review that his death was suicide, but I've got a theory that the ghost of Mendelssohn had a hand in it.

Bunworth spends an hour onstage doing a sort of slow reverse striptease with the accoutrements of male evening dress, morphing from one character to the next using only voice modification and body language -- and the script, of course. It's a virtuoso performance, but it's also firmly grounded in a superb bit of writing.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Australian Literature Reading Meme

Inspired (if that is the word I want) by the ubiquitous reading meme that did the rounds a while back, here's an antipodean variation on the meme theme:

1) Which Australian poem are you most confident you could recite from memory?

2) Which of the Seven Little Australians are you?

3) Which is your favourite Patrick White novel?

4) Which is the best Patrick White novel?

5) Which Australian fictional/dramatic/poetic character do you fancy most?

6) And which do you identify with most?

7) If you had to read five Australian poems to a heterogeneous unknown audience, which five would you choose?

8) Which five Australian books would you take to a desert island?

9) If you were a guest at Don’s Party, would you be

(a) naked in the pool
(b) upstairs having sex
(c) outside having sex
(d) sulking with a headache
(e) huddled round the TV
(f) crying
(g) more than one of the above (please specify)
(h) other (please specify)

10) Tim Winton or Christos Tsiolkas?

11) Banjo Paterson or Henry Lawson?

12) Henry Lawson or Barbara Baynton?

13) Was Helen Demidenko guilty, and if so of what?

14) What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen at a writers’ festival?

Honk if you are a personnage a clef

When Adelaide writer Peter Goldsworthy's comic semi-spec-fic novel 'Honk If You Are Jesus' was published in 1995, some sharp-eyed Adelaide readers (and perhaps a few Canberrans and Sydneysiders) saw more than a passing resemblance between one of the characters and a well-known conservative cove-about-town.

Now that the stage adaptation of the novel will be having its world premiere at the Adelaide Festival in March 2006, one has to wonder whether, on a whim, they invited the cove to play the character -- and, if they did, what he replied.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Books new and forthcoming

Beverley Farmer's 'The Bone House' (essays) and Nicholas Jose's 'Original Face' (novel) are both just out from Giramondo and seem to have been designed almost as companion volumes, with beautiful, spooky, startling images of human faces haunting their covers.

Jennifer Maiden's new volume of poetry 'Friendly Fire' is also recently published by Giramondo.

Marion Halligan's 'The Apricot Colonel', like her previous novel 'The Point', is a culinary murder mystery, billed by publishers Allen & Unwin as an 'entertaining romp through murder, fruit bottling and the dark arts of book editing' -- out in February.

Kerry Greenwood's also working in this unique sub-genre -- although I guess you could say 'The Silence of the Lambs' is a culinary murder mystery of sorts, and even more so 'Hannibal'. Greenwood's third novel about Corinna Chapman ('baker extraordinaire and amateur sleuth'), titled 'Devil's Food', is due out in January. Still on crime, Peter Corris has a new Cliff Hardy book, 'Saving Billie', out in December. Both also Allen & Unwin.

Black Inc's annual volumes of 'Best Australian [Insert Plural Form of Genre Here] 2005' are just hitting the shops: the stories are edited by Frank Moorhouse, the essays by Robert Dessaix and the poems by Les Murray.

Also from Black Inc, Craig Sherborne's memoir 'Hoi Polloi', and also in the memoir category, Frank Moorhouse's 'Martini' from Random House.

This is SO not a comprehensive list -- noted highlights merely.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


It wasn't done deliberately, but yesterday was a highly ambivalent sort of day to be setting up a blog on Aust Lit, commemorative as it was of so many endings: it was the 30th anniversary of the Dismissal, the 87th anniversary of the end of the First World War, and the 125th anniversary of the day Ned Kelly was hanged.

At the going down of the sun, well may we say: 'Such is life.'

Whatever happened to Aust Lit?

'The Australian literary traditions that might connect us most closely to our own society seem to have less and less traction,' writes Nicholas Jose in his essay 'A Shelf of Our Own' in this month's Australian Book Review. 'Even to think of Australian writing as a category of its own is starting to sound a little odd ... Australian literature has been squeezed by globalisation in the market place, intellectual fashion in the academy and opposition to cultural intervention in the public sphere.' National constructs, he argues, are now viewed with suspicion and the category 'literature' has become likewise suspect.

Can any of this be denied? Would you want to try? As distinct, I mean, from wishing it otherwise.

Trundling wide-eyed around the blogosphere after the fashion of Leunig's Vasco Pyjama except with no direction-finding duck, I've found only a few blogs that could be said to belong even loosely to the 'Aust Lit' category and it's interesting to see that poets on the whole make far better bloggers than writers in any other genre apart, of course, from journalists proper; Chris Mansell and Jill Jones both maintain blogs where their own poems appear, while Alison Croggon runs the impressive Theatre Notes and its spinoff Critic Watch.

I've found only one blog fully dedicated to Australian literature as such and that's Perry Middlemiss's admirable Matilda.

A sort of scrapbook or day book of information, gossip, ruminations and what someone (also in ABR) has unkindly called 'spasms of assertion' is what I have in mind. Comments are always welcome.