Skip to content

Hobart Writers Festival 2019, Part 2: Guest post

September 17, 2019

And now for the second and final part of my brother Ian Terry’s 2019 Hobart Writers Festival experience. The eagle-eyed among you will notice that this report is much shorter than yesterday’s. This is because Ian went to four sessions on Saturday, and two on Sunday.

Part 2: Sunday 15 September

Book coverDay two dawned with a fascinating conversation between award winning novelist Amanda Lohrey and academic and writer, Jenna Mead. Mead has published an edited version of Caroline Leakey’s 1859 novel, The Broad Arrow: Being Passages from the History of Maida Gwynnham, a Lifer. Lohrey and Mead argue that the novel is one of the most significant works in Australian literature as one of the first novels to describe the convict experience and very rare in having a woman as its main protagonist.

Originally published in two volumes after Leakey’s four year stay in Hobart, it was edited and reissued in 1886 and remained in print until 2000. Mead has restored the original version and argues that while the 1886 edit was brilliant and made it a very saleable work, the original was a deeply political work which showed what it is to live in a convict society where cook’s, servants, nannies, gardeners and a large proportion of people encountered were convicts. It reveals what the daily life of a citizen in a convict society looks like and the role this had in forming a national life with multiple generations inheriting the legacy created. Leakey’s main character is a strong protagonist, a woman of spirit and integrity who is nonetheless worn away by years of refusing to surrender to the system.

While many of the passages excised in 1886 were religious in nature, Mead assures modern readers that these are important, an excoriating critique of Christianity as it was practised in contravention of the true spirit of the religion. The novel is about women and their essential role in forming culture and social life. Lohrey noted that unlike much historical fiction which she is on record as disliking this Leakey’s work written at the time has the feel of authenticity. Leakey kept her eyes and ears open during her visit to her sister in Van Diemen’s Land, eavesdropping on conversations and observing just how the society operated – the result being this newly re-published volume.

Rohan Wilson and Heather Rose

Wilson and Rose (Photo: Ian Terry)

My finale was an engaging conversation between award-winning novelists Heather Rose and Rohan Wilson discussing the latter’s recent book, Daughter of Bad Times. Wilson began by arguing that his novel, a love story (not, he emphasised, a romance) set in 2075 in which climate refugees live and work in a corporatized migration detention centre near Tasmania’s Port Arthur, is not dystopian. Dystopias, he told the audience, inhabit a world which is barely imaginable in its horror and disfunction. His 2075 can already be seen in the current trajectory of increasing global temperatures and sea level rise, and in corporate and government policy where citizenship is commodified, laws are crafted to service the demands of corporations, surveillance is unremitting and protest is outlawed.

Book coverWilson talked about the influence of Cormac McCarthy on his writing and the challenges of writing outside your culture and experience – his main protagonists are a Maldivian refugee and a Japanese-American woman. Both he and Rose underlined that while they can never fully comprehend the experience of being from another culture or ethnic group, artists have to be able to imagine themselves into other worlds and bodies, albeit following sufficient research and with sensitivity. Otherwise, Wilson suggested, he could only write about middle-class, middle-aged white guys and what does he and society learn from that. While he accepted that he could never wholly understand the world view of a young Islamic man from the Maldives, Wilson said that he thought it important that he bear witness to the catastrophe that climate change is for that low lying island nation with a 2500 year civilisation that faces annihilation within the next century. An interesting and vexed current conversation, of course, which will continue to exercise us all.

The conversation concluded with a discussion of the importance of Australia Council writing grants, which both authors have been recipients of. Wilson observed that Australian authors rely on such grants to write the books which provide an important window into our culture. For literature, indeed art, to thrive the grant system needs to be maintained without reduction.

________________________________

I don’t know about you, but I have enjoyed these posts. I’ve particularly enjoyed seeing references in both posts to that issue of writing outside of one’s own experience. I liked Rohan Wilson’s point that it’s important to bear witness to critical issues – in this case the impact of climate change on the Maldives – and, in yesterday’s post, Ian Broinowski’s mention of how he handled the indigenous Australian voice issue. Other points that interested me included poet Pete Hay’s provocative assertion that poetry can’t be put to political causes – really?! – and Rohan Wilson’s definition of dystopias, which is tighter than mine.

What do you think?

Meanwhile, thanks so much Ian for sharing your Festival with me (and us). I really appreciate the effort and have enjoyed experiencing the festival vicariously.

Hobart Writers Festival 2019, Part 1: Guest post

September 16, 2019

No, I didn’t go to this year’s Hobart Writers Festival, but I had the next best thing – a brother who did. Not only that, but he responded positively to my request for some notes. I’ll be posting what he so-called “cobbled” together today and tomorrow, which means no Monday Musings this week. I hope – and believe – that you’ll find his report a worthy replacement.

By way of introduction, my brother Ian Terry has lived in Tasmania for well over three decades now, and recently retired after around 10 years as a curator of history at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. We have been discussing our reading most of our adult lives. It’s a connection that means a lot to me,  because I respect his thoughts and interpretations (despite his not being a Jane Austen fan!)

Part 1: Saturday 14 September

Tasmanian readers and writers have had a mixed week. On the cusp of publishing its 40thanniversary edition of the state’s well-regarded literary magazine, Island learned that its funding from Arts Tasmania has not been renewed for 2020. Unless it can find new sources of funding this celebratory issue will be the magazine’s last.

On a happier note Hobart’s historic Hadley’s Orient Hotel, in recent years positioning itself as a significant cultural space in the city, hosted the Hobart Writers Festival this weekend. The festival has a had a chequered history, sometimes held annually, sometimes bi-annually at varying venues and with changing names. This record suggests that while Tasmania takes its art and culture seriously and has a vibrant and important scene, the state’s small population creates recurring financial difficulties.

This festival’s theme, My Tasmanian Landscape, promised a program all about ‘Tasmania’s amazing literary landscape’ to celebrate ‘our diverse writers and writing’. While it is too long since I ventured into the Hobart Writers Festival, this edition did not disappoint with several sessions a balm to my historian’s soul offering me tempting choices.

Book coverOn the first morning Henry Reynolds was in conversation with Ian Broinowski, author of a historical fiction entitled The Pakana Voice: Tales of a War Correspondent from Lutruwita (Tasmania) 1814-1856. Broinowski whose grandfather and father were both editors of the local newspaper, The Mercury, invents a colonial journalist, W.C., reporting on the frontier war that raged in Tasmania, but with sympathies lying on the Aboriginal side of the frontier. W.C. writes his despatches from an Aboriginal point of view, upending the usual way of reading history and forcing us to consider the colonial experience from the other side of the frontier. Acknowledging that as a non-indigenous person he could not truly represent an Aboriginal voice, Broinowski consulted the well-known Tasmanian Aboriginal writer puralia meenamatta Jim Everett and began the session by thanking him for his assistance and for changing the way he thought about Tasmania’s history.

The conversation touched on many issues, particularly on language, representation and the free press, matters as pertinent today as in the early 19thcentury. W.C. has a trusty canine companion Bent, a nod to early Tasmanian newspaper editor, Andrew Bent, who is regarded as the founder of Australia’s free press for his strident opposition to government control of newspapers. Words and language, Reynolds reminded us, configure the way we regard our history, drawing attention, as an example, to the procession of 26 weapon-carrying Aboriginal men and women through Hobart in early 1832. Although usually portrayed as having surrendered to colonial power Reynolds observed that captives do not commonly proceed to a Governor’s residence spears in hand. Words matter.

In a moving finale, Broinowski asked readers of his book to think about the people depicted on its cover – Aboriginal Tasmanians as drawn by John Glover – as the original owners of the soil and victims of the violence of the frontier.

History underpinned the next session which saw the launch of the inaugural Van Diemen History Prize, initiated by Forty South Publishing, at the suggestion of historian Dr Kristyn Harman. Judges Kristyn Harman, Imogen Wegman and Nick Brodie joined winner Paige Gleeson and highly commended authors Tony Fenton and Terry Mulhern on a panel discussing history writing in general and the authors’ essays in particular.

Brodie observed that much of Tasmanian history could be categorised as myth, and commended Gleeson for exploring and exploding the much-repeated myth of a bunch of rowdy female convicts (the so-called Flash Mob) mooning Governor Sir John Franklin and his wife, Jane Lady Franklin, at the Cascade Female Factory in 1844. In her thoughtful and entertaining response, Gleeson noted that, as an academic historian, writing popular history was alien to her, so she consulted the seer of all modern knowledge, Google, to get some tips. ‘Do not write about historiography,’ she was sternly advised, ‘nobody wants to read about writing about writing history’. ‘Rubbish,’ she thought and proceeded to do just that, exploring how myths come into being and how, while not wholly accurate, they can hold kernels of truth that point to a larger social reality.

In similarly entertaining mode, Tony Fenton informed the audience that writing about the minutiae of weather, the environment and times encountered by hapless scientists who journeyed to Bruny Island and remote Port Davey to view the eclipse of the sun in May 1910 was critical to his story, because otherwise it would be boring ‘as nothing happened’. Four weeks of drizzle, rain and grey skies did not abate and the eclipse was impossible to see. School children in Queenstown, on the other hand, despite the town’s soggy reputation, enjoyed rapidly clearing skies and a good view of the event.

Terry Mulhern’s essay is more sombre, telling us of the last days, even hours of early 19thcentury Henry Hellyer who took his own life 1832. Mulhern told us that he was able to draw on his own early experience of depression to empathise with the turmoil that led Hellyer down his fatal path.

Finally, in answering a question from the floor, Imogen Wegman reminded us that historical myth-breaking takes courage and could be controversial. For female historians, she suggested, this is even more difficult as women were not meant to rock the boat.

My third session took me on a journey from 1820s India and Tasmania’s Derwent Valley to the state’s Fingal Valley in the 1930s as Henry Reynolds discussed the lives, nature writing and linkages between Elizabeth Fenton and her great great grand-daughter, Anne Page with Margaretta Pos. Pos, a former Mercury journalist and ‘plain writer’ in her own words, has written about Elizabeth Fenton and published the teen-aged journal of own mother Anne Page.

Both women wrote lyrically about Tasmania’s natural world. Page called herself a ‘bush rat’ and lovingly described the valley in which she lived with its presiding presence, Tasmania’s second highest peak Ben Lomond. She listed animals sighted, including the thylacine, and like Fenton decried the destruction of old growth forest and the environment in general.

Reynolds noted that while many historians have argued that it took several generations for Australians to grow a deep sense of place and love for their new home, in Tasmania this happened very quickly as evidenced by the writing of women such as Fenton. He also suggested that Page’s love of nature was fostered by her being educated at home on the Fingal Valley farm rather than at school where education focussed away from Tasmania.

In conclusion, Pos reported that she asked her mother, who died aged 97, whether she had ever wanted to write books. ‘I was going to write eight books,’ Anne Page replied, ‘but had eight children instead’.

Dissident poets and story-tellers Sarah Day, Cameron Hindrum, Pete Hay, Ruth Langford and Gina Mercer, rounded out my day one sessions by discussing the role of poets as activists. Hindrum stated that Tasmanians have a genetic predisposition ‘not to take any crap’ and quoted Bertolt Brecht who, writing about dictatorship, asked, ‘Why were their poets silent?’

Unconvinced by Brecht’s question, Hay, a poet, academic and activist, provocatively opined that poets puff themselves up, that with their tiny and declining audience they cannot be activist by writing alone. Poetry, he said, is elusive and enigmatic and so cannot be put to political cause, although he did concede that writers have a role to bear witness and cut through political sloganeering. He finished by telling us that poetry rewires the brain by bending the rules of language, and read a moving poem about driving through clear-felled land near Laughing Jack Lagoon in central Tasmania – It’s no laughing matter, Jack – the poem concluded.

Day countered Hay’s thesis by remembering the writer/poet/activist Judith Wright and quoting Emily Dickinson’ lines, Tell all the truth/but tell it slant. Mercer drew on her own history of childhood trauma telling the audience that poetry became her solace and her voice, her way of speaking the unspeakable, of being activist in the cause of women’s and environmental rights by transforming silence into words and action. She spoke of poetry as providing reflective activism.

Langford, a Yorta Yorta woman who grew up in Tasmania, confessed that she was a dissident by birth and a story-teller rather than a poet, and that she had engaged in much activism in her life, chaining herself to machinery and scaling corporate buildings to hang protest banners. Life as an activist she said was one of hate and division, of us and them. Now eschewing direct activism, she argued that our current predicament required intelligence to heal the planet and society, with words and poetry providing powerful vehicles for this.

Nhulunbuy Primary School, I saw we saw (#BookReview)

September 15, 2019

Book coverA week or so ago, I wrote a post to commemorate this year’s Indigenous Literacy Day. In that post I noted that the book I saw we saw was going to be launched at the Sydney Opera House that day. It was written and illustrated by students from Nhulunbuy Primary School, up on the Gove Peninsula, and a number of them were going to read and perform from the original Yolŋu Matha language version, Nha Nhunu Nhanjal?, at the launch. I ordered my own copy of the book that day.

The books – the original Yolŋu Matha version, launched at this year’s Garma Festival, and the English version – were published by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, which describes itself as a “national book industry charity”. Their aim is to “reduce the disadvantage experienced by children in remote indigenous communities in Australia, by lifting literacy levels and instilling a lifelong love of reading”. These two books came out of their Community Literacy Project, and were produced through a series of workshops with illustrator Ann Haddon and teacher-librarian Ann James, with local Yolŋu elders helping develop the story.

So, the English-version book. It begins with a brief introduction telling us that the Yolŋu people of north-east Arnhem Land represent one of the largest indigenous groups in Australia. Their main language is Yolŋu Matha, which, it explains, has twelve sub-languages, each with its own name. It also tells us that, for most Yolngu children, English is their second (or even third or fourth) language. I saw we saw, the English language version of their book, is, by definition, written in English, but it uses words from the Dhaŋa sublanguage to name the actual “things” seen. This is a lovely, effective way of introducing indigenous language to non-indigenous people (as recommended at the Identity session of the Canberra Writers Festival). However, this approach also creates a bit of a challenge for the reader – what is being seen, and how do you pronounce it?

Beach, north-east Arnhem Land

Beach, north-east Arnhem Land

Well, there is quite a bit of help for us in this. First, the text and illustrations provide a lot of clues. “I see a waṯu grab a stick from a man” is accompanied by quite a busy drawing with birds, fish, turtle, jellyfish, and a person fishing, but there is also a picture of a dog with a stick in its mouth. So, waṯu is dog! Sometimes, however, it’s not so easy to get it exactly right, either because of the busy-ness of the picture or the (delightful) naiveté of the children’s drawings. You can usually guess, but can be uncertain, nonetheless. In these cases, the illustration on the last page of the story, which shows most of the creatures with their English names, provides most of the answers. Finally, there is also the online Yolŋu dictionary which, in fact, I used to obtain the necessary diacritics since, funnily enough, they are not available on my Apple keyboard!

That’s the “what is being seen” problem solved, but what about the pronunciation issue? How would you pronounce ŋurula (seagull)? Or mirinyiŋu (whale)? This one is easily solved. At the front of the book is a QR code. You hold your tablet or smart phone camera over that to be taken to a website where you can hear the story read by child-speakers of the language. The whole story only takes 3 minutes or so. Of course, being able to then say the words yourself will take some practice.

The story itself is simple, traditional picture-book style. The pages alternate between “I saw …” and “We saw …”, with each “I saw – We saw” pair forming a rhyming couplet:

I saw a maranydjalk leaping high
We saw a ŋurula soaring in the sky

It’s a delightful book. The rhymes are comfortable, not forced; the illustrations are appealing, particularly to young people; and story introduces readers to the rich natural environment of Arnhem Land region. It also conveys the pride the young authors and illustrators have in their country. It would be a wonderful book to use in primary school classrooms. It’s certainly one I look forward to reading to Grandson Gums when he’s a little older (and I’ve practised my Yolŋu Matha).

You can purchase this book directly from the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, for $24.99.

Nhulunbuy Primary School students, with Ann James and Ann Haddon
I saw we saw
Broadway: Indigenous Literacy Foundation, 2019
40pp.
ISBN: 9780648155492

 

Prime Minister’s Literary Awards Shortlist, 2019, announced

September 12, 2019

As you know, I don’t announce all literary awards shortlists, but the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards have an “interesting” history, so I plan to follow them more closely than I originally did.

The press release says that over 500 books were submitted across the 6 categories, much the same as last year in fact. Last year, I listed all categories, but this year I am just listing the three that feature most often on my blog.

Rodney Hall, A stolen seasonFiction

  • Rodney Hall’s A stolen season, Picador (my review)
  • Gail Jones’ The death of Noah Glass, Text Publishing
  • Melissa Lucashenko’s Too much lip, University of Queensland Press (my review)
  • Suneeta Peres da Costa’s Saudade, Giramondo Publishing (Lisa ANZLitLovers’ review)
  • Laura Elizabeth Woollett’s Beautiful revolutionary, Scribe Publications

While last year’s list was male-dominated, this year’s tips the balance just over to the women’s side. Also, last year’s list seemed a little conservative, sticking to tried and true authors, while this year’s list mixes it up a bit. Indeed I barely know two of them. Best of all, last year I had read none of the shortlist, while this year I’ve read two! Hall, Jones and Lucashenko have appeared on a few lists this year, with Lucashenko, of course, recently winning the Miles Franklin Award.

Maria Tumarkin, AxiomaticNon-fiction

  • Cynthia Banham’s A certain light: A memoir of family, loss and hope, Allen & Unwin
  • Gabrielle Chan’s Rusted off: Why country Australia is fed up, Vintage Books
  • Paul Genoni and Tanya Dalziell’s Half the perfect world: Writers, dreamers and drifters on Hydra, 1955–1964, Monash University Press
  • Chloe Hooper’s The arsonist: A mind on fire, Hamish Hamilton (on my TBR) (Lisa AnzLitLovers’ review)
  • Maria Tumarkin’s Axiomatic, Brow Books (my review)

A mixed bunch, as you’d expect from something broadly described as “non-fiction”, but I’m pleased that again, unlike last year, I have actually read one of the books, and have another on my TBR. I like the judges’ description of Tumarkin’s exploration of her axioms, that she “turns them upside down and uses them to explore the intersection of past and present memories and the entanglement of human frailty.”

Clare Wright, You daughters of freedomAustralian history

  • Billy Griffiths’ Deep time dreaming: Uncovering ancient Australia, Black Inc.
  • Anna Haebich’s Dancing in shadows: Histories of Nyungar performance, UWA Publishing
  • David Kemp’s The land of deams: How Australians won their freedom, 1788-1860, The Miegunyah Press
  • Meredith Lake’s The Bible in Australia: A cultural history, NewSouth Publishing
  • Clare Wright’s You daughters of freedom: The Australians who won the vote and inspired the world, Text Publishing (my review)

Like last year, university publishing houses have done well here, with UWA Publishing, The Miegunyah Press and NewSouth Publishing taking three of the five spots. But, unlike last year, this year I have actually read one of the books! I am also particularly keen to read Billy Griffiths’ book which explores not only Australia’s archeology but the history of archeologists’ relationship with indigenous people and their knowledge and ideas about Australia’s “deep past”. While Griffiths and Haebich address indigenous Australia in their histories, I’m disappointed that there are no indigenous-authored histories here. Were any published or submitted this year I wonder?

The complete shortlist with judges’ comments can be seen on the website (Click on each book for the comments).

Thoughts, anyone?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Teachers in Australian novels

September 9, 2019
tags:

What’s brought this on, you are probably wondering, but I can explain. Firstly, my Jane Austen group has, over the years, discussed Jane Austen from the point of view of roles and professions, so, for example, we’ve discussed professions like the clergy, and roles, like brothers, in Austen, and have enjoyed the research and the discussion. Secondly I’ve been in Melbourne this weekend visiting our family, and it just so happens that Son Gums is a teacher. Why not, then, I thought, look at how teachers are portrayed in Australian novels.

Hmmm, I can think of many films, though I admit that I’m talking internationally here, about inspirational teachers. They abound, in fact, but where are they in novels? Even where teachers are not negatively portrayed they seem more likely to be weak and/or ineffectual, than proactive and successful. It was hard to search the internet for my topic, however, because searches tended to retrieve hits about teaching fiction, or teachers’ resources for fiction, rather than hits about teachers as characters in fiction. I did, though, find a blog post from 2012 in which blogger and educator, Darcy Moore, asked “where is the inspirational teacher in Australian popular culture literature and film?  I wasn’t surprised to discover that he didn’t find much either. 
BookCover

So what is there? Some novels featuring teachers fall, loosely, into the mystery-crime-thriller genre. There’s Kenneth Cook’s debut 1961 novel Wake in fright which chronicles the nightmarish school holiday of a rookie teacher in outback Australia, Joan Lindsay’s famous 1967 novel Picnic at Hanging Rock in which teachers lose some students during a picnic, and Gabrielle Lord’s 1980 novel Fortress that was inspired by a real abduction of a teacher and students in Victoria in 1972. At least in that story the teacher does manage to escape with her students. It’s probably not surprising, given the dramatic nature of these novels, that all three have been made into movies. I have read two of these books, but before blogging.

Dymphna Cusack, Jungfrau

Some books feature teachers, but aren’t significantly about their work. Dymphna Cusack’s 1936 novel Jungfrau  (my review) is one such. Cusack, who had herself been a teacher, writes here about three women, obstetrician Eve, teacher Thea, and social worker Marc. They are modern young professional women, but the book’s focus is more their personal and social lives, particularly as affected by Thea’s affair with a married professor, than their working lives. Indeed, early on, Thea, defending her adulterous relationship as her right “to get something out of life”, says “my work doesn’t mean anything to me”. Hmm …

Book coverThen there’s Tom Dorahy in Thea Astley’s 1974 novel A kindness cup, my first Astley, which I read long before blogging. He’s an idealist, a humane person, who returns to his home town for a reunion, but what he really wants to do is right the wrongs of a massacre of Aboriginal people that occurred during his time there, twenty years previously in the 1860s, and for which the perpetrators were never properly punished. It’s interesting that Astley, inspired by a real massacre, was writing about this in 1974! She really was a special and fearless writer. However, again, the book, as I recollect, isn’t so much about his teaching.

Book coverElizabeth Jolley’s 1983 novel, Miss Peabody’s inheritance, also features a teacher, but perhaps not quite in the way most parents would be looking for. This is a novel-within-a-novel, in which an Australian novelist sends instalments of her novel-in-progress to a fan in England. Her novel is about three middle-aged single women, including headmistress Arabella Thorne, who holiday annually together in Europe. This particular year, Thorne brings along a sixteen-year-old student to give her “a little finishing”. The finishing she gets, as she becomes caught up in Miss Thorne’s emotional entanglements with her women friends, is not exactly the usual!

Book coverHmmm, so, are there any teachers actually being good role models in Australian novels? I’m sure there are, but the only one I can remember right now is Phil Day who appears in Julian Davies’ 2018 Call me (my review). Phil Day is not, admittedly, the novel’s protagonist, but his student Pip is – and Phil Day plays an important role in Pip’s coming-of-age trajectory, by listening to him and discussing life with him, rather than by telling him what to do.

Good, wise and/or supportive teachers do appear, I know, in other coming-of-age stories, but I can’t think of any that stand out particularly.

So I’m going to end this post, by returning to Darcy Moore, who concluded his post with:

In an era where teachers are often criticised by politicians and our standing in the Australian community is often talked down, certainly in comparison to Asian and Scandinavian countries, it is important that we work to build an improved attitude towards learning. … It would be wonderful to build a vision into something tangible, something that that allows us to have a society where such positive imagery about teaching and teachers enters our popular, cinematic and literary culture and is not viewed as pretentious, elitist or cringeworthy. Wouldn’t it?

Seven years after that post, things are still much the same I think in terms of how our teachers are perceived. Why is this? And would it help to have some positive depictions in literature – and the other arts? I’m not one to prescribe what writers should write about, but that doesn’t stop me wondering whether positive portrayals would help (if that makes sense.)

Meanwhile, do we have some great depictions in Australian literature that I’ve missed? I’m sure we do, so here is your chance to tell me.

Six degrees of separation, FROM A gentleman in Moscow TO …

September 7, 2019

It is the first Saturday of the month again, which means it’s time to do the Six Degrees of Separation meme. If you are new to blogging and don’t know what that is, please check our host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

Cover for Amor Towles A gentleman in MoscowThe main point is, though, that Kate sets our starting book, and this month’s is – hallelujah, again – a book I’ve read and reviewed, Amor Towles’ A gentleman in Moscow.

Book coverNow, A gentleman in Moscow is set, almost completely, in Moscow’s famous Hotel Metropol. How many people live in hotels? I sense that it was more common in the past than it is now, but maybe I’m naive? Anyhow, the book I’m reading now (so no review yet) is Dominic Smith’s The electric hotel. My first link, however, is not to this fictional Electric Hotel, as you might have expected, but to the real Knickerbocker Hotel in Los Angeles, in which the main character, the now elderly Claude Ballard, is living at the start of the novel.

Book coverClaude Ballard, our gentleman in Los Angeles, is a film director, albeit a fictional one from the silent era, but it just so happens that my last read was the memoir of a contemporary Australian film director, Jocelyn Moorhouse, so it’s to her book, Unconditional love: A memoir of filmmaking and motherhood (my review) that I’m linking next.

Book coverJocelyn Moorhouse’s husband, PJ Hogan, is also a film director, and two of his most famous films are Muriel’s wedding and My best friend’s wedding. A now classic novel, but one I only read recently, starts with a wedding, Mary McCarthy’s The group (my review), so that’s my next link.

Carmel Bird, Family skeletonThe group, as I’ve said, starts with a wedding, but it ends, logically I suppose, with a funeral. A book that starts with a funeral – and this has its own logic – is Carmel Bird’s Family skeleton (my review).

Book coverBut, enough of weddings and funerals. My next link is on something simple – the author’s name. Later this month I will be heading to Japan (my fourth visit). An early western visitor to Japan was the intrepid Englishwoman Isabella Bird whose 1879 travel book, Unbeaten tracks in Japan I’ve quoted from (although I haven’t yet finished it.)

Book coverI like reading Japanese literature, though I haven’t read a lot since blogging. However, I did recently read a contemporary novel, Sayaka Murata’s Convenience store woman (my review), which explores some of the challenges faced by people who dare to be – or, simply are – different, in modern Japan.

Hmm, this chain is more hodge-podge that mine usually are. For a start, it includes two books I have started but not yet finished. Also, we have traversed the world far more energetically than we often do, starting in Moscow, then going to Los Angeles, and then Australia. We then popped back to the USA, this time the east coast, before returning to Australia, and then ending up in Japan. Oh, and we started in a grand hotel and ended in a convenience store. I’ll leave you to ponder what that means!

And now, my usual questions: Have you read A gentleman in Moscow? And, regardless, what would you link to? 

Indigenous Literacy Day 2019

September 4, 2019

Today, Wednesday 4 September, is Indigenous Literacy Day, which the Indigenous Literary Foundation (ILF) describes as “a national celebration of Indigenous culture, stories, language and literacy”. The day is intended to both promote awareness of disadvantage in indigenous communities, and to  “encourage the rest of Australia to raise funds and advocate for more equal access to literacy resources for remote communities.”

I have been donating annually to ILF for the last few years, but there’s more I can do to support them and raise awareness. Writing this post is one of those ways.

It seems particularly relevant for me to do this this year, because the importance of supporting indigenous literacy, and, related to this, of spreading knowledge about indigenous languages was the impassioned parting message from Tara June Winch, Yvette Henry Holt and Jeanine Leane, at the Canberra Writers Festival Identity session.

Nha Nhunu Nhanjal? project

Book coverA few weeks ago, I received an email from the ILF reminding me about Indigenous Literacy Day and telling me about a book they are publishing, commemorating both this day and this year’s International Year of Indigenous Languages. The book is Nha Nhunu Nhanjal?, and is the product of a special project. It was “written and illustrated by Yolŋgu Matha-speaking students from Nhulunbuy Primary School on the Gove Peninsula in North East Arnhem Land and was launched at this year’s Garma Festival”. An English edition of the book, titled I Saw We Saw, will be launched at the Sydney Opera House today, Indigenous Literacy Day. Students from Nhulunbuy, 4,000 kilometers away, will be present to read and perform from the Yolŋgu Matha version.

In the email, ILF quoted well-known Australian author Richard Flanagan, an ILF Ambassador, speaking at the Garma Festival:

“Every language is a universe, and each universe allows us to understand what it is to be human in a different, larger and richer way. Like a basket woven out of many pieces of grass, many languages make our societies stronger and better.”

ILF says, reiterating Winch and co’s message, that

It is vital for young children to have access to books in their language. And seeing their way of life reflected in books their own children and community have created, ensures that cultural identity and connections to country remain strong.

We all know this don’t we? Many of us love reading about other cultures, but our first home, our starting point has to be, and for most of us naturally was, books about our own culture.

How can you support indigenous literacy and culture?

There are many things you can do, of course, depending on your skills, abilties, interests and wallets. Here are some ways:

  • donate to ILF (here)
  • buy a book (or two) from the National Library of Australia’s Bookshop, online or in store, today, between 9am and 5pm, as they all be donating 5% of all sales made to the  Indigenous Literacy Foundation. (Or from any other bookshop offering a similar donation to ILF today.)
  • buy the English version of the book, to keep, give away and/or donate to your local school.
  • hold your own fundraising activity, such as a Book Swap (doesn’t have to be today!)
  • advocate for ILF on social media, tagging @IndigenousLiteracyFoundation on Facebook and Instagram, and @IndigenousLF on Twitter

Let’s do what we can to help indigenous Australians’ literacy. And let’s also do what we can to increase non-indigenous Australians’ understanding of an ongoing 60,000+ years culture that no other country in the world is lucky to have. I mean, really, how fortunate we are.