My literary week (8), a cultural life

There’s always something going on here in the nation’s capital, besides politics that is and despite the belief in some circles that it is a soulless place! In fact, it’s so busy here – so packed full of things to do – that my reading has been pretty slow of late. However, I have been active, and thought some of my activities might interest you.

Blog mentoring – and a question for you

In my last Monday musings I mentioned that I’ll be mentoring two ACT Lit-bloggers for the rest of this year. We had our first meeting last weekend, and one of the issues we talked about – and it’s one we’ll continue to talk about – relates to what litblogging actually is. What is the difference, we want to explore, between litblogging, review and criticism? Where are the lines, what are the crossovers? We tossed a few ideas around, including the issue of informality/formality, but there’s a lot more to explore regarding content (and these concepts of review, criticism, analysis) and audience (who reads blogs, what do blog readers look for, and can this audience be widened?)

So now I’m throwing it over to my brains trust – that is, you who read this blog – because you cover a wide range of backgrounds. What say you to these questions? And how (or where) do you think litblogs fit into literary culture?


I mentioned Coranderrk on this blog a couple of years ago. It was an Aboriginal Station in Victoria, established and successfully run by some remaining local indigenous people, and it operated from 1863 to 1924. I came to the story through the Bread and Cheese Club’s activity in the 1950s when they held working bees to repair the cemetery and restore the monument of leader William Barak to its rightful place in the town.

So, when I saw that the play Coranderrk, which was first performed in 2013, was going to be part of his year’s Canberra Theatre Centre season, I bought tickets, and we finally got to see it this week. It tells the story of the community’s attempt to obtain formal control over the land when local farmers started making moves to move them on! They felt the land was too valuable to be run by Aboriginal people (!), and so, as the program says,

the men and women of Coranderrk … went head-to-head with the Aboriginal Protection Board at a Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry to be allowed to continue.

The play tells this story primarily using words from sources of the time – mainly evidence and testimony from the Inquiry. The four actors – three men and one woman – each play several indigenous and non-indigenous characters to tell the story of the conflict. It is, really, like a documentary in play form (called, I believe, verbatim theatre), and it could have been very dry. Fortunately, I like documentaries. And anyhow, the writers do manage to inject the words, the story, with a sense of theatre, partly through little recurring motifs, like banter over a hat, and word plays, as well as, of course, the drama of the story itself.

It’s not a happy outcome, as you’d expect for the time, but the program says “The production aims to encourage a shared understanding of the past between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.” It is just one of the many stories that are coming out now about our colonial past and that we Australians need to know if we are to advance as a “real” nation, that is, as one that knows its true history.

Written by Andrea James & Giordand Nanni
Directed by Eva Grace Mullaley
Produced by Ilbijerri Theatre Company & Belvoir
Canberra Theatre Centre, 14-15 June 2017

John Waters

John Waters, NFSAOne of my several post-retirement commitments is involvement in the Friends of the National Film and Sound Archive. Like most Friends organisations we volunteer for our “parent” body, and we organise events. Recently, we ran a bus tour of the suburb of Moncrieff, whose streets are named “to honour Australia’s music history”.  We enjoyed driving around the streets, being regaled by local music expert David Kilby with biographies of and entertaining clips from such performers as Johnny O’Keeffe, Jimmy Little, Harold Blair and June Bronhill.

Then, this week, we presented an evening, to a full house, with the wonderfully generous Australian actor John Waters who willingly gave up his time, driving himself to Canberra, to talk about his career in film and, at the same time, promote the importance of preserving Australia’s audiovisual history. The NFSA is “our nation’s album” he said, and “who doesn’t like a family album”. Exactly.

There was more to my week, including my local Jane Austen group’s discussion today of the plethora of biographies about our Jane – but I think I’ll save that for another post. There’s only so much culture you can manage at a time!

27 thoughts on “My literary week (8), a cultural life

  1. How wonderful to be in easy reach of such a diverse range of cultural activities. Im afraid our capital city can’t match that even with four theatres and a concert hall. Way too many musicals for my taste make it onto their programmes.

    As for your question discussed by your mentees, I’d say that
    litblogging is the broadest of the three categories in terms of content. It deals with trends, insights, profiles of authors/publishers.

    reviews – an overview of the book’s plot, themes, narrative structure and the reviewers reactions

    criticism – the elements of reviews but also looks at the book in as part of the author’s body of work, and its historical context plus probably a more in depth assessment of the quality and nature of the language used.

    Not sure if any of that is true: will be keen to see what more insightful contributors come up with

    • Oh, thanks so much Karen for getting things going. Good stuff. I’m sure there will be variations on the themes, but what you say makes good sense.

      Interesting about your capital city. I’m trying to count how many theatres/concert halls we have. Roughly the same as you, though it depends on how small I go in terms of suburban theatres/arts centres which have performance spaces. We have some musicals here – and I enjoy musicals overall – but they are certainly not the main fare. And particularly not in the main Canberra Theatre Centre, which has a largish theatre and the smaller Playhouse theatre. I think we have a great variety of performance here.

  2. Sue, what a great week. I see Litblogging as a more personal review of a book rather than one that dwells on criticism or analysis. I see them as a more honest review, and if I respect the blogger I am more likely to follow up on the book. I dislike reviews that are too sweet. I also don’t like a review that is so analytical that in end you don’t know what the story is about. In July, my library is holding two events which will celebrate Jane Austen, her writng and novels. The Corranderk play sounds like it is presented in the same way as ‘Black Diggers’, which I saw in Brisbane. It was great, and some of the actors talked with us at the end of the play in the lounge.

    • Thanks Meg for adding your perspective to the question. I like your discussion of too sweet vs too analytical, too .

      Are you going to the Jane Austen things? As you probably know July is the 200th anniversary of her death.

  3. I don’t disagree with any of the above but I find lit blogs to be a mixture of reviews and discussion. When I’m reviewing I will include what literary and historical context that I can, but I think the reviewers in ABR for instance work at another level again.
    What I miss is lit theory and criticism where I feel like I’m out of the loop.
    PS I owe you some answers elsewhere which I might be a couple of days dealing with.

    • I can’t really give an example, but I feel there’s a whole university based theory discussion going on (in unnecessarily convoluted language) which I would like to observe and be informed by.
      What I didn’t say earlier is how much I appreciate the diversity of points of view in this space, readers in various countries, historians, practical writers like Jane Rawson and Michelle (MST), not to mention Nathan Hobby’s theory based discussion of autobiography.

      • Ah, I understand and know exactly what you mean. I don’t recollect my university literary studies being quite so theory-based as they seem to be now.

        And thanks, that’s a very good point about the diversity offered by blogs. I think we do offer a far more diverse experience than in more formal reviews in newspapers/journals, as you say, which is partly due to the diverse backgrounds of bloggers and to the fact that we bloggers are free to do our own things rather than abide by some house-style or rules.

        • I did my lit degree in the mid seventies and there was nowhere near the amount of critical thinking and assessment that you find now. Feminism, post colonialism, marixist – none of these were ever mentioned. I did a second degree with the Open University in the late 1990s and you did not dare write any essay without reference to critics.

        • Yes Karen, I’m glad I’m not the only one. I was early to mid seventies. We were introduced to some critics but not so much to the overarching theories.

  4. Hi Sue, yes the events are being held in celebration of Jane Austen’ life. I will be attending both events. I forgot to add another reason why I like libglogging, and that is it encourages quick responses, and not long-winded discussions.

    • Ah thanks, another useful point to throw into the mix. And great re those events. I’d love to hear about them if you can be bothered. I’ll probably do a JA blog on the actual anniversary of her death. I was going to an event but unfortunately (well in terms of that anyhow) I’m going to be out of town in July so will have to miss it.

  5. Interesting times for you! I’m not 100% sure on what litblogging actually is, but I’d like to find out more.

    • Good question, Theresa. We’ll make sure we have a go at defining that term/concept as well and discussing what we think it involves. Generally, I see it as blogging about literature but that’s very broad, and those words need a bit of “unpacking”.

  6. Wow, some excellent events you have attended. But John Waters! No surprise there was a full house.

    Hmm, so litblogging to me is more personal. It can be critical and offer analysis but it comes from a more relaxed place where personality is more at play and sharing and conversation are more important than imparting information or scoring intellectual points. It is also wide-ranging and covert only specific books, but anything book-related from cultural events to the TBR pile. Sometimes I think litblogging might be more about the experience of reading and being a reader than the actual books themselves.

  7. Another thought on Lit blogging. It is almost always positive about a book. Or at least yours is! I guess a person doing a printed review is paid to review a particular book, and has to find something to write, even if the book was hated. Chances are if you are hating a book, you’ll put it down, since there are plenty of replacements available, and so never write a blog about it.

    • Ah, you’ve raised an interesting question Neil. Not all litbloggers are almost always positive, and some would not like that description I think, but you’re right about me. My reading time is very precious so I’m not inclined to read books I won’t like. I rarely don’t finish books – though I do that occasionally – but I try very hard to make sure I only read books that I will enjoy reading. I’m not equally enamoured of all that I read, but I don’t easily dislike books that I’ve chosen to read (and finish). The thing is that what I most dislike in books is cliched plots and writing, stereotypical characters, boring ideas, and I think I manage very well to avoid those sorts of books. Does that make sense?

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