David Brooks, The grass library (#BookReview)

Book coverOK, I’m going to show my hand here. I love animals – and hate animal cruelty – but I am not vegan. More to the point though, I am cautious about animal rights activists because they can sometimes act out the very violence and cruelty on humans that they condemn for non-human animals. I was, therefore, a little wary when I was offered for review David Brooks’ book, The grass library. However, Brooks, a poet/novelist/essayist/academic/one-time co-editor of Southerly, has enough cred that I decided to take a chance. I’m glad I did – just as I was glad to have read, three years ago, Bidda Jones and Julian Davies’ more targeted animal rights book Backlash: Australia’s conflict of values over live exports (my review).

The publisher’s letter accompanying my review copy quoted the Sydney Morning Herald’s description of Brooks as “one of Australia’s most skilled, unusual and versatile writers”. It is the combination of this writing skill, with the thoughts contained within, that makes The grass library such an engaging and provocative read.

Although there is no doubt about the author’s commitment to his cause, The grass library is not an in-your-face polemical book. Instead, it is a thoughtful work in which Brooks, now a committed vegan and animal rights advocate – advocate being, perhaps, a more appropriate word than activist – works through his practical, philosophical and ethical position. And he does so in a way that encourages us to think along, and to wonder about and question our own thoughts, practices and values.

The book is part-memoir, part-reflection. It starts with Brooks’ partner, simply called T in the book, pronouncing that she can’t eat meat anymore. “We’re turning vegetarian”, she says. A week later, that becomes vegan. And so, a big change occurs in their lives, one that takes oyster- and cheese-loving Brooks not too long, in fact, to get used to. Brooks writes, heralding the book’s real subject-matter:

But this book isn’t about veganism, or guilt. If I’d permitted myself a more eighteenth-century subtitle it might have been “An account of three years pf philosophical and un-philosophical transactions with animals in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales”, but ultimately and more simply it’s about discovery and wonder: wonder and wondering.

After a couple of false starts, Brooks and T find themselves, in 2012, living on a small farm in the Blue Mountains, with their recently adopted dog Charlie, and, soon after, two rescue sheep, Henry and Jonathan. Not long after that, a new-born lamb, Orpheus Pumpkin, joins them, and by the end of the book, ram Jason brings the number to four. These sheep and Charlie form the book’s backbone and become (or, should I say in the spirit of the book, are) characters in their own right. Other non-human animals appear too, some briefly, including cicadas, ducklings, a snake, and rats.

What I most enjoyed about this book is the calm, non-histrionic way in which Brooks introduces and ponders on a range of random-sounding but coherent-as-the-book-progresses ideas, such as “dusk anxiety” and “herd music”. “Dusk anxiety” is introduced early on through a twitching that Charlie was exhibiting at that time of day. It’s a sort of mood-change or discombobulation that some humans (and, Brooks believes, some non-human animals like Charlie) feel at that strange twilight, half-and-half time of day. Sounds valid to me. However, it also provides Brooks an opportunity to raise the issue of anthropomorphism. His argument is that anthropomorphism is not a bad thing, that in fact, it is central to empathy. The barbarity we engage in against animals is made possible, he argues, by denying this empathy, by believing “that we are so different from the creatures we live amongst that we cannot know or even hazard how they feel.” To read this book, then, you need to understand (if not accept) this fundamental world-view. Brooks may not know what the non-human animals he writes of feel, but he writes with the assumption that they do feel (and that we may know what they feel).

Another significant idea underpinning the book is that of the binary way we view animals. This idea is one of the most confronting or, at least, challenging in the book:

There are so many old, rusty binaries involved here. […]

We categorise animals, and behave towards them – accord or refuse them protection or sanctuary – depending on whether we see them as wild or tame, feral or domesticated, native or exotic, rare or common, endangered or of least concern, pet or pest, livestock or otherwise …

In most of these cases, he says, one side of the binary will be given a higher “value” (in human terms), with, often, a justification to kill the opposing side. For each animal concerned though it is his/her life!

It’s not for nothing, I think, that the next chapter talks about rats at their farm!

This discussion of binaries is part of a major thread in the book, which is language, and how it “trips” us up, how it “will restrict us, hold us back, if we don’t learn to use it with greater care and respect”. Language is all too often speciesist, he argues. Grammar – the use of “it” for a non-human animal, for example – is violent, for example, or, at least, has the potential for violence.

It’s a book, then, that makes the brain hurt – albeit in a gentle, encouraging way. However, there is beauty in the book too, such as the chapter on “herd music”. This chapter starts in his writing room, his “grass library”, and is inspired by the appearance outside his room of the two sheep when (and only when) he plays music. He ponders this. They are herd animals, but being just two rescue sheep, they have no herd and are thus deprived of, he posits, the music of the herd:

… if music it can be called (but how else to call it?): the sound of hooves shifting in the grass or tapping on stone, the occasional bleat of a lamb, response of its mother, grunt or growl or call of a ewe or a ram, the sound of snipping at grass-blades, coughs, throat-clearings, nudgings, strokings, as one sheep passes another, regurgitations, ruminant chewings, fartings, belches, sounds nearer and further off, all in all a constant, rolling concert, approximated—very distantly resembled, in a bizarre, post-something way— by the muted rhythmical under-music of whatever it is that I might be playing on the stereo system in my cabin, an aural equivalent of warmth, the ghost of companionship.

I share this because I loved this, but also because it provides some insight into the way Brooks thinks (or wonders.)

I can’t say I agree with all that Brooks writes. For example, as vegans, he and T didn’t want to feed their rescue lamb lactose-based lamb powder, so they seek non-animal products like almond milk (which doesn’t, for the record, work). But, but, I say, lambs grow on milk! And then, of course, there are those binaries. Philosophically I take his point, but practically? I need to think about this more.

The grass library, then, can be a confronting read because it challenges us to reconsider some fundamental perspectives and assumptions. However, it is not a difficult read, because not only is it generous, but it is also peppered with engaging stories about life in the mountains and the non-human animals with whom Brooks and T. live. I recommend it.

Lisa (ANZLitLovers) also enjoyed this book.

David Brooks
The grass library
[Blackheath]: Brandl & Schlesinger
ISBN: 9780648202646

(Review copy courtesy Brandl & Schlesinger)

Grace L. Chao and Amanda Ambinder Shapiro, Bookclub social: A reader’s guide to online book clubs (#BookReview)

BookcoverBack in 2016, I completed a survey about online bookclubs, and answered some supplementary questions about “my” sort of club. I also took part in a follow-up telephone interview with the two American researchers involved, Grace Chao and Amanda Shapiro. Now, three years later, they have completed their research and self-published it in their book, Bookclub social: A reader’s guide to online book clubs. Of course I bought it, because although it’s some time since I’ve been active in online book clubs (or, OBCs), I am interested in reading communities of all sorts.

Chao and Shapiro explain their research process in the opening chapter. They describe their work as an ethnography, and so used “anthropological methodology”. This involved the survey (for which they received 840 responses, a 22% response rate), followed-up by in-depth interviews with around 100 participants, and participant observation of a number of clubs in operation. They divide the clubs into seven genres:

  • Classics (which includes Literary)
  • Erotica
  • General Reader
  • Horror
  • Mystery/Thriller
  • Romance
  • Sci-fi

You won’t be surprised to hear that I slotted into the Classics group.

Anyhow, in this chapter they explain their aim as being to look at “how the nature of community is being redefined and shaped in the digital age”. I wouldn’t say, necessarily, that what they found was surprising – at least not in terms of my own experience of such clubs – but the book makes some cogent points about how international online communities can work, what they can offer, and some of the challenges they face too.

Of course, Chao and Shapiro found that, overall, female readers dominate most of the clubs, which is similar to face-to-face clubs, although in certain genres, like sci-fi, men are involved in greater numbers than in others. They found that people join these clubs to converse about books, “to deepen and enhance their reading experience”, and often, to seek both intellectual and social outlets. Face-to-face clubs can do these too, but OBCs can offer more.

For example, and this is something that I particularly liked, in a traditional face-to-face book club, there is limited time for discussion, usually just an hour or so. As Chao and Shapiro put it, these groups require “a faster thought process where there is less time to analyze or to react”. In an OBC, you can read a comment by another reader, mull it over, and write a response in an hour, a day, or whenever (within the rules or practices of the club.) I learnt so much during my 10 years or so of active involvement in these clubs.

However, it’s not only the extended time-frame which enables deeper or more expansive discussion. The global nature of these clubs allows for a more “diverse cultural exchange of perspectives and opinions”. This diversity can be generational, gender, racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, political and/or religious based.

For some readers, Chao and Shapiro found, OBCs represented the only outlet available to them for book discussion. These are readers who live in countries/places/situations where “a shared reading culture is not prioritized” (or, even, approved of), or who read genres (like Erotica) for which it is not always easy to find local reading communities, or who, for some reason (such as being housebound), are unable to access activities like face-to-face reading groups.

A propos the first group, Chao and Shapiro write that “for members from more restrictive cultures and communities, a virtual shared reading community could be their first foray into a community which allows personal expression and choice”. They include some moving stories about such readers, mostly women, who are desperate to be part of a reading community. A member of a Romance bookclub told Chao and Shapiro about a member from Pakistan, who was being pressured to marry “an elderly gentleman”:

Shortly thereafter, she told us that her family was not allowing her to post in the group anymore and even restricting her access to the internet. In her last post, she wrote: ‘Think of me.’ I didn’t know what to do. We never realized the risk she was taking by being a member of our book club. Through our book discussions, she was exposed to different cultures, religions, politics, morals, and values; she was able to speak her mind freely, things we take for granted in Western society. It’s like the club was deemed a bad influence…

Stories like this are saddening, but not surprising.

They note, in fact, that the social aspects of these clubs disprove the popular misconception that OBC members are “anti-social because they prefer online to face-to-face interactions”. Socialisation does take place, they say, with “intricate networks of friendships” being created across “national borders, time zones, and cultural barriers”. Here I’ll share a quote from the book that I’m sure another survey participant wrote about me:

I met another gal from Australia when she and her hubby were visiting here. We went to a great museum in Los Angeles.

Mr Gums and I did indeed meet two OBC friends of mine, and we had a lovely day at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. My OBC experience has had a significant and ongoing influence on my life, even though I am no longer active.

The book is logically structured, with the main body comprising chapters focusing on specific questions, such as Who’s in charge? (on the role of moderators) and Who’s anchoring the club? (on the role of core members). Other chapters explore social connection in OBCs, how they create virtual safe havens, their role in exposing members to new ideas, and the way they are able to create a sense of belonging among members. Chao and Shapiro support these discussions with evidence from their field research and from relevant academic writings by anthropologists, sociologists, information scientists, and others. The chapters are carefully footnoted and there is an extensive list of references at the end.

I’m not sure whether what they found can be extrapolated to other online communities and the book ends with advice about OBCs rather than making such extrapolations, but they do make some cogent points about the way OBC’s support and promote diversity and inclusivity, and they identify the main factors that make these sorts of communities work (or not). For these reasons, Bookclub social is a worthwhile read, as well as, for me at least, an enjoyable one.

Grace L. Chao and Amanda Ambinder Shapiro
Bookclub social: A reader’s guide to online book clubs
BookBaby, 2019
ISBN (ebook): 9781543947526

Amanda Duthie (ed.), Kin: An extraordinary filmmaking family (#BookReview)

Book coverKin: An extraordinary filmmaking family is the second tribute book I’ve reviewed in Wakefield Press’s Don Dunstan Award series. The first, Margaret & David: 5 stars, was also edited by Amanda Duthie. Like that book, Kin contains short reflections and essays on the contribution made to Australia’s film industry and culture by Freda Glynn, her children Erica Glynn and Warwick Thornton, and her grandchildren Dylan River and Tanith Glynn-Maloney. The book also includes brief biographies of the five individuals involved, and a family tree, all of which help orient the reader.

In my review of Margaret and David, I focused on one aspect of the pieces that interested me, which was the commentary on what I called “the practice of criticism”. That made sense, because Margaret and David are critics. Freda Glynn and family are a very different awardees. They are indigenous Australians from central Australia, and they have championed and practiced Aboriginal screen story-telling for over three decades, their influence reaching way beyond Australia. Freda Glynn helped establish CAAMA (the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association) and Imparja Television. Erica Glynn and Warwick Thornton are internationally renowned filmmakers (and more), with third generation Dylan River and Tanith Glynn-Maloney following in their filmmaking footsteps.

The pieces are written by a wide variety of indigenous and non-indigenous arts people from around the world, such as actor Deborah Mailman, authors Bruce Pascoe (whose Dark emu I’ve reviewed here) and Larissa Behrendt, critics Margaret and David (of course!), arts administrator Kim Williams, and American academic Faye Ginsburg, to name just some of the over 20 contributors.

Most of the pieces comprise personal reflections and heartfelt tributes to the various individuals in the family, but for those wanting a good overview of how it all started, Philip Batty’s longer piece, “Freda Glynn and the evolution of CAAMA: A personal reflection”, is well worth reading. Too few Australians know about our indigenous pioneers – who they are, let alone what they’ve done and the challenges they’ve faced doing it. Having worked, as most of you know by now, in the film archive/library industry most of my career, I became aware of CAAMA early in its existence, but I didn’t know half the story told by Batty – the personal and the political! He tells of CAAMA applying for money in 1988 from the Australian Bicentennial Authority:

Some city-based Aboriginal groups protested again CAAMA accepting the bicentennial ‘blood money’ and, on several occasions, Freda fronted up to these groups to argue that all government funding to Aboriginal organisations could be described as ‘blood money’. Indeed, at a particularly hostile meeting, I remember thinking back to the first time I met Freda when she was confronted by the all-white Citizens for Civilised Living [can you believe such a name!!]. On this occasion it was an all-Aboriginal crowd she confronted with the same bravery.

It’s important to note here that, as Stan Grant and so many others have stated, indigenous people are not united in their responses to how their cause should be progressed – any more than non-indigenous people are about their lives. I’m frequently astonished by how we white Australians seem to expect all other groups to be united in a way that we are not. It denies people the individual agency in their lives that we demand for ourselves.

Anyhow, rant over. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this book. I’m unusually behind in my reviews, and this book is, in one sense, of specialist interest, though in another I’d argue that it would offer something to all Australians interested in our cultural history. It does have a political thread – of course – but that thread is unified by a single foundational idea, the idea that sits at the bottom of all that this impressive family does. I’ll let Bruce Pascoe tell you:

The real history of the country was eliminated from our curriculum, our society, our politics, our morality. If the best-educated people in the land, the mild professors and urbane historians, can fabricate a history of such blinding connivance then another tactic has to be employed if the oppressed are to receive any form of justice. And that tactic is on old one: story.

What Freda Glynn and her family have done – as this book shows – is to set up infrastructures (the CAAMA group supports music, film, television, radio, for example) that facilitate that story being told, to provide training for indigenous people in creating and producing their stories, and of course, to make stories themselves. Warwick Thornton’s films Samson and Delilah and Sweet country are just two examples of a swathe of productions members of this family have made and/or facilitated.

All I can say is may the Glynn family continue to make stories that tell us as it is! Meanwhile, I commend this book to you as an excellent introduction to all that can be done when people put their hearts and souls into something they believe in.

AWW Challenge 2019 BadgeAmanda Duthie (ed.)
Kin: An extraordinary filmmaking family
Mile End: Wakefield Press, 2018
ISBN: 9781743056028

(Review copy courtesy Wakefield Press)

Igniting Change, Small ways to shape our world (#BookReview)

Igniting Change, Small Ways to Shape our WorldI really should have posted on this book, Small ways to shape a world, way before this, because it is a quick (albeit meaningful) read, but I am rigorous about the order in which I post on books sent to me for review, and so it has taken until now for it to rise to the top of the pile. I am sorry it has taken so many months for me to get to this book.

Anyhow, enough excuses. Have you heard of Igniting Change? I hadn’t until this lovely little book was sent to me. Igniting Change is, as its website says:

a purposely small organisation that’s passionate about sparking big, positive change with people doing it tough in our communities. We are moved by the humanity and courage of the people we are privileged to work with. We listen, we remain open-minded, we uncover what’s hidden from everyday eyes, we’re guided by the people who experience the issues, we connect unlikely experts to create new thinking and above all we strive to give a voice to people experiencing injustice and inequality. Solid governance and independent funding enable us to take risks when backing outstanding people and organisations, cutting-edge investments that have a real chance of catalysing social change. We call this ‘igniting change’ and we love what we do.

They are, then, about social change and they seem to mainly work from the grass-roots level. Click on the videos on their Projects page to get an idea of how they work, and what they do. One of their mantras is “see the person, not the label” – that is, not “prisoner”, or “homeless”, or “refugee”, and so on.

(Check out the members of the Board for a good picture of who they are.)

Anyhow, Small ways to shape a world is very much about working from the grass-roots. It stems from their belief that “Small Changes x Lots of People = Big Change.” Their promo describes it as “a meaningful, practical book encouraging over fifty small acts of kindness, thoughtfulness and quiet rebellion”. It is, then, about person-to-person kindness, and about the myriad things any individual can do to effect change – no matter how small. As Paul Kelly sings, “from little things, big things grow”.

The book contains a variety of ideas – some are direct suggestions for action, while others are thoughts or questions or adages that suggest action or that simply encourage us to tweak how we think which may then flow on to how we act. Whatever the idea though, it’s inspired by such values as respecting dignity and showing warmth. Some of the ideas are credited to other people and organisations, while others presumably come from their own brainstorming. They address a wide gamut of issues we are confronting – regarding community, social justice, and energy. Here are some picked (sort of) at random!

  • Why do some cultures have elders while others have the elderly? (elders.org)

  • Homeless doesn’t mean nameless. (thebigissue.org.au)

  • Who are the traditional owners in your suburb? (welcometocountry.mobi)

  • People who need the most love often ask for it in the most unlovable ways.

  • Connect with people. Have a talk.

Igniting Change, Small ways to shape our world, page viewThese ideas and thoughts are presented one to a page with a simple, clear illustration on the facing page, some whimsical, some more provocative, most symbolic, but all making a point.

I don’t think there’s much more I can say except that this is the sort of book that probably preaches mainly to the converted, but even the converted can need reminders, because it is so easy to get caught up in our daily challenges and forget the small ways in which we can contribute to the bigger picture.

Lisa also posted on this lovely little book.

Igniting Change
Small ways to shape our world
Richmond: Hardie Grant Books, 2018
ISBN: 9781743794197

(Review copy courtesy Igniting Change)

Clare Wright, You daughters of freedom (#BookReview)

Clare Wright, You daughters of freedomWell, that was a tome and a half! And in saying this I’m referring less to the length of Clare Wright’s new history, You daughters of freedom: The Australians who won the vote and inspired the world, than to its depth and richness. There are, in fact, two main stories going on here – the story of women’s suffrage in Australia and England, and that of Australia’s leadership in the world, at the time, in terms of progressive politics, of forward-thinking social legislation. They were heady, optimistic times, and the suffragists (being those men and women who advocated for women’s enfranchisement) were part of it all.

Clare Wright frames her history of this period in Australia’s nationhood through the story of five suffragists – Vida Goldstein (1869-1949), Dora Montefiore (1851-1933), Nellie Martel (1855-1940), Dora Meeson Coates (1869-1955), and Muriel Matters (1877-1969). These women should – like that famous suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst is – be household words. Indeed Pankhurst knew and used most of them in her long battle for women’s suffrage in England. Why are they not? Why, for example, asked Clare Wright at the lecture I attended, is there no statue to Vida Goldstein in Victoria? (There is, she tells us in her Epilogue, a memorial park bench in her hometown of Portland, Vic! A park bench!!)

Well, lest we think they are not well-known because achieving suffrage was oh-so easy in Australia, Vida told otherwise to a US Senate Select Committee on US Suffrage during her 1902 USA tour:

Vida wished the senators to know, too, that this was the result of years of hard fighting–in case they also subscribe to the ‘one fine day if just happened’ school of political progress.

In other words, our five women (and all the other Australian fighters for the cause) may not have had to chain themselves to a grille like Muriel Matters did in England in the Suffragette cause, nor refuse to pay taxes as Dora Montefiore also did in England for the same cause, but they had lobbied their case hard. Indeed, while South Australia granted suffrage to its women in 1894, and the new federal government to women in 1902, it took until 1908 for the last state in Australia, Victoria, to do so.

I should clarify here that, although Australia was a leader in women’s suffrage by being the first nation to legislate suffrage for all white adult Australian women, without property qualifications, and to enable those women to stand for parliament, it was just for white women. As Wright says, “it was now race, not gender, that defined the limits of Australian citizenship.”

Writing history

You daughters of freedom is, then, a good read, because the story it tells is fascinating. The five significant women are all wonderful subjects in their own right:

  • Vida Goldstein, the private school girl who “developed a passionate commitment to the underprivileged” and a “zeal for social reform”, and stood for parliament several times to pave the way for others;
  • Dora Montefiore, the committed socialist whose practice of non-violent civil disobedience was observed by a young Gandhi;
  • Nellie Martel, the elocutionist whose militant activism resulted in her being arrested in England and spurned by papers at home;
  • Dora Meeson Coates, the artist whose “Trust the women” banner is now on permanent display in Parliament House; and
  • Muriel Matters, the actor who led the grille protest in the House of Commons, flew in a “Votes for Women” labelled airship over London, and undertook a popular, successful lecture tour on English suffrage in Australia.

I’m not going to share their stories, because you can find them in reviews (like Lisa’s, in the link below), in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (on which their names above are linked), and most importantly in Clare Wright’s book. Each of these women played critical roles in the suffrage fight both home and in England where limited women’s suffrage wasn’t achieved until 1918.

No, what I want to write about is the style, because no matter how interesting or important history is, few (besides the academics and die-hards) will read it if it it’s not written in a way that engages. And this is where Wright shines. It’s a hefty tome, at nearly 500 pages. It’s a complex one which juggles the stories of five quite disparate women, from the late nineteenth century to the second decade of the twentieth. And it is extensively researched, with each page containing not one but several quotes from mostly primary sources (such as newspapers, speeches, and documents from personal papers.) A daunting work for researcher and reader alike.

In my admittedly limited knowledge of historical writing – so I might be barking up the wrong tree – Clare Wright’s approach reminded me somewhat of Thomas Carlyle’s in his three-volume The French Revolution. It’s a few decades since I read Carlyle, but that history could be written with such verve and colour made a big impression on me. Like Carlyle, though perhaps not quite so flamboyantly, Wright is not afraid to use bold rhetorical tools to tell her story. Explaining why 1911 didn’t turn out to be the golden year England’s suffragettes hoped, Wright writes:

Truth be told, the writing was on the wall well before that. The summer of 1911 continued in a national pantomime of over-the-top pageantry and under-the-surface tension with the King and his court centre stage. But the audience should have been shouting, ‘Over there! Look over there!’

Over there  … to Bermondesy […]

Over there … to Ireland […]

And further over there–to Germany […]

The glorious late summer of Edwardian England was about to shatter like a cheap vase.

There is nothing inaccurate in what she says – to my knowledge, anyhow – but the way she says it is fresh, compelling, and devoid of dry or, worse, obfuscating academese. I could pull out example after example of writing that captures our attention, but I think I’ve made my point.

Wright is also careful to make clear where the historical record is lacking. Why did Nellie, for example, suddenly disappear from public life? Wright explains that there are no clear answers, but follows up to discuss the “few clues”.

And, then, almost best of all, there’s the extensive use of contemporary newspaper reportage – surely made so much easier for modern researchers by the wonderful Trove. Wright draws on conservative and progressive newspapers from around Australia to reflect what people – as represented by editors and journalists – were thinking at the time. When Nellie, say, or Vida, were active in England, the Australian papers were watching closely and reporting. Not only does this flesh out our understanding of the suffrage question, but it fleshes out the wider social history.

The book is chronologically told, with evocatively titled chapters, such as, for example, Chapter 28’s “Homecoming Queen, Australia, winter 1910”, which chronicles Muriel Matters’ return home for her lecture tour. However, despite this signposting, readers do have to be on their mettle to keep track of our five suffragettes, to know where they are at any one time, and which of the many political organisations, if any, they’re aligned with. It’s a complicated story that Wright aims to tell – and following it requires attention.

They were heady days …

So, You daughters of freedom, is an engrossing read – but, I have to admit that, as I read it, I became sadder and sadder. This was mainly because of that thread that I mentioned in my opening paragraph, the one to do with Australia’s leadership in terms of progressive politics. What happened to us – us Australians I mean? There we were, at the turn of the century, leading the world, not only in women’s suffrage but in a whole raft of social reform measures, relating to working conditions, conditions for women and children, and, even, Maternity Allowance. We were also the first nation to elect a socialist or Labor government, when Andrew Fisher was swept into power in 1910.

Well, what happened, says Wright, was World War 1, which completely changed the nation’s narrative. But that is another story. Meanwhile, I highly recommend You daughters of freedom, and look forward to Wright’s third book in her planned trilogy on Australian democracy.

Lisa (ANZLitLovers) has also reviewed this book. She liked it too.

AWW Badge 2018Clare Wright
You daughters of freedom: The Australians who won the vote and inspired the world
Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2018
ISBN: 9781925603934

Rebecca Skloot, The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks (#BookReview)

Rebecca Skloot, The immortal life of Henrietta LacksIn her extensive acknowledgements at the end of her book, The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot thanks “Heather at The Book Store, who tracked down every good novel she could find with a disjointed structure, all of which I devoured while trying to figure out the structure of this book.” Interesting that she looked at novels, particularly given our recent discussion regarding non-fiction that reads like fiction, but more on that later …

Many of you will have heard of the book, or, if not, of Henrietta Lacks, or of her HeLa cells? It’s a sort of hybrid biography-cum-science book about an African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks who died in 1951, and the immortal HeLa cell line that was and continues to be cultured from her cervical cancer cells. As Skloot writes, “these cells have transformed modern medicine.” The book was published in the USA in 2010. It won multiple awards, including, says Wikipedia, the National Academies Communication Award for “best creative work that helps the public understanding of topics in science, engineering or medicine”. In addition, the paperback edition was on the New York Times Bestseller List for 75 weeks.

I’ve described the book as hybrid, because the story (or biography) of Henrietta Lacks is just one of its threads. It also interrogates the complex intersection between race, class and ethics in medical research as well as broader ethical ramifications of issues like “informed consent” and the commercialisation of human tissue. Skloot, herself, says early in the book,

The Lackses challenged everything I thought I knew about faith, science, journalism, and race. Ultimately, this book is the result. It’s not only the story of HeLa cells and Henrietta Lacks, but of Henrietta’s family—particularly Deborah—and their lifelong struggle to make peace with the existence of those cells, and the science that made them possible.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, then, this book is another example of those non-fiction books that I like so much in which authors author takes us on their journey of discovery, in this case to understand the people and the science, the ethics and the law, behind this astonishing story. Skloot wasn’t the first so tell it, however – something she makes clear during our journey. Earlier stories include Michael Rogers’ 1976 article in Rolling Stone, and the 1997 BBC documentary, The way of all flesh, which you can watch on YouTube. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the story of the cells, so if you want to know about them – read the book and/or watch this video.

Skloot explains her own fascination with Henrietta, from being introduced to her cells in high school, through those HeLa cells being “omnipresent” throughout her biology degree, to when she was in graduate school studying writing “and became fixated on the idea of someday telling Henrietta’s story”. It’s not surprising then that this book has been extensively researched – as evidenced by the Notes and Acknowledgements. (These two chapters make great reading in themselves.) It took around 10 years to write, not just because of this extensive research. A major issue which Skloot had to confront was the understandable suspicion and anger of the Lacks’ family, whose help she needed if she were to tell this story properly and with integrity. Their story is bound up in a long invidious history of research carried out on African-Americans, which is also detailed in the book.

“What do you mean, ‘everybody else’?!”

So, the structure. The book is divided into three parts – Life, Death, Immortality. In the first two parts, the story is told in two roughly alternating, chronological threads – one telling the story of Henrietta Lacks, her cells, and her family, from 1920 to 1973; the other tracking the early days of Skloot’s research from 1999 to 2000. In the third part, the two tracks coalesce into one chronological thread, starting from 1973 when the late Henrietta’s daughter-in-law, Bobbette, discovers quite accidentally via a friend’s brother-in-law, that Henrietta’s cells were being used in scientific research and had been since 1951. Until that point, no-one in the family had known that Henrietta’s cells were still “alive” and being used in research all over the world:

“What?!” Bobbette yelled, jumping up from her chair. “What you mean you got her cells in your lab?”

He held his hands up, like Whoa, wait a minute. “I ordered them from a supplier just like everybody else.”

“What do you mean, ‘everybody else’?!” Bobbette snapped. “What supplier? Who’s got cells from my mother-in-law?”

She is, to put it mildly, horrified – and rushes to tell her husband and thence the family.

Here, though, I’m going to return to the issue of writing non-fiction like fiction. There’s the use of narrative structure, of plot lines, to create some sort of tension for the reader – in this case it largely revolves around the lives and reactions of the family, particularly Deborah – while we are also learning drier “stuff” about the history and ethics of cell culture and medical research. The dialogue I’ve just shared is part of the main plot line concerning the family’s discovery of what had been happening to Henrietta’s cells.

Then there’s the use of evocative, descriptive language. Skloot doesn’t overdo this, staying, in the main, direct and focused – but there are enough little flourishes to keep the writing interesting, like “HeLa grew like crabgrass” or “tufts of hair like overgrown cotton sprouted from his head”. The imagery draws from the area in which it is set. And, there’s the use of dialogue. Skloot did carry out a lot of interviews over her decade-long research and often makes clear when she’s quoting from those – but not all dialogue comes from that research. Some is imagined – or what critics call “representative”. No-one, for example, would have recorded Henrietta’s exact words when she visited her gynecologist, but Skloot writes:

“I got a knot on my womb,” she told the receptionist. “The doctor need to have a look”.

How much more interesting that is to read than, say, “Henrietta visited her gynaecologist, telling the receptionist that she had pain in her womb that needed to be investigated.” I know what I’d rather read. Not only is dialogue more engaging, but if the writer gets the voice right it enhances our understanding of the character. One of the delights of this book, in fact, is our getting to “know” members of Henrietta’s family, and the dialogue plays a significant role in this. Not non-fiction readers, however, approve of this approach.

As I’ve already said, I’m not going to write a lot about the content of this book, fascinating though it is. It has been written about extensively; there are interviews with Skloot on the web; and for background there’s that BBC documentary. The book is now nearly a decade old. Cell research has moved on, but the story of the intersection of race and class with science and ethics is still relevant. Moreover, this is a book of history – the history of medicine. Close to home for me, for example, was learning that HeLa cells were involved in identifying the connection between the HPV virus and cervical cancer, and thence the development of the vaccine with which my reading group’s daughters were among the first in the world to be vaccinated.

All this makes the book well worth reading. There were, admittedly, times when the cell science got the better of me (and other non-scientific members of my reading group) but not enough to turn us off. Skloot’s courage, warmth and empathy with people out of her ken, the trust those initially fearful, angry people came to place in her, and her ability to tread the fine line between judgement and analysis when discussing actions of the past make this a special read. No-one in my reading group regretted this choice for our schedule. A fine way to end the year.

Rebecca Skloot
The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks
Sydney: Picador, 2010
ISBN: 9781742626260 (ePub)

Amanda Duthie (ed.), Margaret & David: 5 stars (#BookReview)

Amanda Duthie, Margaret and DavidMargaret and David, the subjects of this delightful, eponymously named collection of reminiscences and essays, do not need last names here in Australia. They are just “margaretanddavid”. But, since we have an international readership here, I should formally introduce them. Margaret and David are Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton, Australia’s best-known and best-loved film critics who retired from their television movie show in 2014 after 28 years on air! There were to us as Siskel and Ebert were to Americans. Their influence was immense.

This book, Margaret & David: 5 stars, is essentially a tribute book produced on the occasion of their being awarded the 2017 Don Dunstan Award, an award established in 2003 to commemorate the late South Australian Premier, Don Dunstan, who was a major champion of the arts, including film. The book contains mostly short reflections, but also an extended essay, on Margaret and David’s contribution to Australia’s film industry and culture, and, in fact, to world film culture. The pieces are written by a wide variety of industry people, from producers like Jan Chapman, through actors like Geoffrey Rush, and directors like Cate Shortland and Gillian Armstrong, to film business people, journalists, film festival directors, and even, Margaret’s son, Josh. It’s a delightful read – but a provocative one at times too.

Of course, I enjoyed the insights into Margaret and David’s personas and working relationship – and won’t go into these. If you’re looking for gossip you won’t get it here because Margaret and David were professionals, and were, and are, we are told, good friends. Sure, they disagreed, sometimes vociferously – we all remember Margaret’s “Oh, David!” exclamations – but these arguments always teased out ideas about film. Gillian Armstrong says, “they formed a lively, fiery, passionate, laughter-filled relationship.” If, on the other hand, you’re looking for insights into the history of the Australian film industry, you will get some here. This is not an academic work, but many of the reflections on these two can’t help but comment on the Australian industry and on film culture more broadly, from the mid 1980s when they started on television to the mid 2010s when they finished. Their contribution – and impact – was not only qualitative but, in some respects, quantifiable.

This all interested me, but what I want to focus on in the rest of this post is what the book offered me regarding …

The practice of criticism

… because, fundamentally, criticism is criticism, whether you are discussing film or books, drama or ballet. I enjoyed some of the commentary on this.

Director Gillian Armstrong, while teasing (and forgiving) David about his poor review of her Oscar and Lucinda film, describes perfectly the art of the critic, when she says

It is important to have serious discussions that actually discuss the craft of the director. They shared a real appreciation of the vision behind the camera angles, the lighting, editing, music and casting. But most importantly, their reviewing was about the very heart of those films, the content and ethics.

Leaving aside the terms “review” and “criticism” which tend to be used somewhat interchangeably in the book, I think this statement contains the guts of what criticism or, shall we say, serious reviewing is about: marrying analysis of technique with exploration of content (and ethics). Journalist Sandy George, in her extended essay, puts in this way:

They actively engage in talking about the narrative, the history of the production, what the filmmaker was trying to achieve, and how the film affected them; they don’t engage in reductive talk such as “this is good”, “this is bad”, “see this”, “don’t see that”.

There’s one memorable review they did which several writers commented on: their review of the violent R-rated movie Romper Stomper. Margaret gave it 4.5 stars and David refused to rate it. This review is now famous – and part of this is for the way their discussion was conducted. It was respectful, and considered. You can see the review here.

Other practical issues are teased out – such as reviewing works you don’t like, and reviewing works by friends. On the former, Sandy George quotes David Stratton on writing reviews for “the extremely influential” Variety:

‘I never gave a glowing review to something that didn’t deserve it … but knowing how important a Variety review is, I sometimes went out of my way not to review a film.’

A valid decision I think, though purists would probably say that you should review such films regardless.

George also quotes Margaret about reviewing works by friends. They tried, she said, “not to be friends with filmmakers, but it’s impossible”. She also says:

“I’ve always been kind to Australian films because I’m such a wimp … “

Indeed, one person said that because of this, a good review from David carried more weight!

George goes on to report one distributor’s comment that

one way the pair went above and beyond for Australian films was how carefully they chose their words when one fell short.

Notwithstanding my above comment about not reviewing at times, I also like this approach. Honest reviews are important, but there are ways of being honest. The arts are tough enough, without demoralising those working hard within it, don’t you think?

Anyhow, I enjoyed this book. It’s a quick read but not a frivolous one. I’ll close with a comment made by current SA Premier, Jay Weatherill:

Their love of cinema is real, undiminished and contagious, and they have helped me and countless other Australians to understand the critical role can play in telling our nation’s stories and presenting our values.

AWW Badge 2018Amanda Duthie (ed.)
Margaret & David: 5 stars
Mile End: Wakefield Press, 2017
ISBN: 9781743055137

(Review copy courtesy Wakefield Press)

On Reading Pleasures, and not being alone

Reading pleasuresFor my birthday last year, a friend who knows me well gave me a delightful little book titled Reading pleasures. I hadn’t planned to blog about it but, upon looking at it again this week, I changed my mind – mainly to share one idea that recurs in the book. First, though, some background. The book was published by the National Library of Australia in 2016, and is just one of many gorgeous books the Library publishes each year. It comprises quotes, mostly from writers, about reading, and each one is accompanied by a delightful image – photographs, paintings, drawings, cartoons – from the Library’s collection. The majority of quotes come from Australians, but there are other sources, including Haruki Mirakami and the Bible!

The book opens with a Forward written by Jennifer Byrne, an Australian journalist and, over the last decade, the host of ABC Television’s Book Club program. She writes that the book represents “a celebration – and examination – of the lifelong, earthly, impossible-to-explain love affair between readers and their books.” What she found, she says, when reading all the quotations, was how many different ways readers view reading. Some see at as private, a refuge, an escape, while others see it as the opposite, as providing company, as reassuring us that we are not alone. There are other views too, of course, such as those that apply social, moral and/or intellectual values to reading, but it is this issue of aloneness – or non-aloneness – that I want to share, because it’s a significant feature of my reading.

At least three of the quotes refer to this idea. Richard Flanagan describes his protagonist in The narrow road to the deep north (my review) visiting a bookshop. Dorrigo Evans “vaguely” browses the shelves looking for Virgil’s Aeneid, but, writes Flanagan,

It wasn’t really the great poem of antiquity that Dorrigo Evans wanted though, but the aura he felt around such books – an aura that both radiated outwards and took him inwards to another world that said to him that he was not alone.

Another quote comes from bibliotherapy advocate Susan McLaine who says:

Great writers tackle the mysteries of human personality and dark existential concerns. Reading them, we feel less alone.

And then Elliot Perlman (whose novel The street sweeper I’ve reviewed) writes:

A great writer can attach themselves to your mind and your heart, and you feel you understand the world better. As long as you have the capacity to read, you needn’t be alone anymore.

Jennifer Byrne says that she would once have “sided with the solo/escape faction”, that she had always seen reading as “a refuge”, but, through her ten years with her book program, she had discovered that reading can be a more “sociable” activity. As a book group member for thirty years myself, I enjoy this social aspect of reading – as well as the escape aspect – though for many of us, I’d say, it starts way before joining book clubs. It starts when books are read to us, and when we swap, lend and/or talk about books with our friends and family. This sociability aspect is conveyed through some of the illustrations in the book. Most, naturally, depict solo readers, but there are others that are more community-focused, such as four boys reading during a school health week (1930), a father reading with his daughter (1932), eight girls reading in an orphanage dormitory in New South Wales (1935), and, on the next page, a 1934 photo by Harold Cazneaux of some school girls at the exclusive Frensham School, reading, writing and drawing.

However, I see the relationship between reading and not being alone as accommodating more than this particular “sociability” aspect – and I think this other meaning is conveyed in the quotes I’ve shared. This meaning is about our deeper selves, about our discovering that our innermost thoughts and fears, loves and hates – including those we feel less proud of or just less certain of – are not ours alone. Through reading, we discover people who think, feel, suffer, act as we do. When we rail at, laugh at, grimace at, shout at and/or empathise with them, we are recognising them in ourselves and we feel – at least, I feel – less alone. I may or may not feel better about myself, but I feel more connected as a human, I feel that I am human. I might also, hopefully, take the opportunity to examine, privately, my feelings, ideas, actions and think about whether I might modify them (those I don’t like anyhow) in the future!

In other words, whether or not it brings me up with a start, shocking me with recognition, and whether it then reassures me that I’m okay or makes me want to better myself, it is this sense of not being alone which makes reading such a valuable, meaningful exercise for me.

What about you? Why do you read? Does the idea of  “not being alone” play any part in your reading pleasures?

Reading pleasures
(with a Foreword by Jennifer Byrne)
Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2016
ISBN: 9780642278968

Joy Eadie, Discovering Charles Meere: Art and allusion (#BookReview)

Joy Eadie, Discovering Charles MeereThe award for my last review of the year goes to something a little left field for me, Joy Eadie’s Discovering Charles Meere: Art and allusion. I say left field because it is, essentially, a book of art criticism, and I don’t do much of that here (or anywhere, for that matter!) However, when Halstead Press offered me a copy for review a few months ago, I was intrigued, so accepted the book. And here is why I was intrigued …

In the email offering me the book, the publisher wrote:

Australian Beach Pattern is Meere’s most famous work and hangs in the Art Gallery of NSW. However, despite its popularity and recognition, it has been labelled by critics as an unimaginative work which glorifies an Aryan ideal of mid-twentieth Australia, and Meere’s name is hardly known.

And thus my interest was aroused, because earlier this year I had been to the Brave New World: Australia 1930s exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. One of the sections was titled “Body culture” and the commentary noted that “the evolution of a new Australian ‘type’ was also proposed in the 1930s – a white Australian drawn from British stock, but with an athletic and streamlined shape honed by time spent swimming and surfing on local beaches.” The notes referred to the problematic aspects of this idea in an era when eugenics was on the rise in Germany.

While the exhibition didn’t, in fact, include Charles Meere, it is in this context that his most famous work, “Australian Beach Pattern” (online image) dated 1940, has been seen and it is this interpretation that Joy Eadie refutes by offering her own reading of the painting. She does this by analysing the painting and comparing it with like works from his oeuvre to develop her ideas about his themes and world view.

Eadie’s thesis is, essentially, that within Meere’s coolly formal application of an Art Deco-cum-neoclassical style lie recurring features including “a certain dry wit, irony, the use of allusion and appropriation, oblique reference to the historical context and to being in a certain time and place, while recalling other times and places”. These features, she argues, are not easily apparent in one work, such as “Australian Beach Pattern”, but they become evident in the context of several works.

Robert Drewe, The bodysurfersHowever, before I discuss the book, I should explain for those who don’t know that “Australian Beach Pattern” is one of Australia’s iconic images. It was used on the program for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, on the cover of Robert Drewe’s The bodysurfers, and apparently features in curriculum materials about democracy in Australian schools. Merchandise featuring it is also amongst the most popular at the Art Gallery of News South Wales, where the painting has resided since 1965. But now, to the book …

It starts with a brief biography of the little-known British-born Meere (1890-1961), then moves on in Chapter 2 to analyse the poster (“1978 … 1938 150 Years of Progress”) he created for NSW’s 1938 Sesquicentenary celebrations. Referencing some of the tensions of the anniversary planning and using the careful eye for detail needed by an art critic, Eadie identifies features of the poster which depart from traditional poster style, and proposes that Meere’s aim was to subvert the “nationalistic hubris” of the anniversary story. Her analysis includes the suggestion that Meere alludes to Hieronymous Bosch’s “Ship of Fools” painting to comment on the practice of sending British outcasts to the other side of the world. She notes his inclusion of tall strong Aboriginal people on the shore, his placing of his own signature in proximity to these figures, and argues that his “choice of black to proclaim the joyous message of progress” was “deliberate and ironic”.

In this vein – analysing Meere’s painting style, use of colour, allusions to European paintings, historical context, and so on – Eadie discusses picture after picture, including of course “Australian Beach Pattern”, to build up her argument concerning Meere’s more subversive commentary on contemporary culture, and she is, overall, convincing. Her close reading of the paintings, mirrors, really, the close textual analysis literary critics do. And her challenge with Meere reminded me of that issue regarding the value to criticism of knowing the creator that I raised in my recent review of Bernadette Brennan’s book, because, in Meere’s case, it appears there are “no diaries or notebooks recording his artistic practice” so, says Eadie, “one can only speculate”.

And speculate she does, sometimes drawing long bows. These show the depth of her research, but with little evidence for what Meere actually knew, saw, experienced or thought, these bows rely on our agreeing with her assumptions – particularly regarding his alluding to other works. Her analysis of his “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” painting is fascinating but relies on our making a number of leaps with her. In her chapter discussing the origins of the large number of “copies” of “Australian Beach Pattern” which regularly hit the market, the speculations build, but, as she does elsewhere, she admits to them, calling one idea “highly speculative”. Other times, she explains that she had to work from digital or reproduction copies of works in private hands, and that her analysis could change on seeing the work itself. None of this, however, gets out of hand, and her arguments are clear.

Discovering Charles Meere might sound dry and suited only to specialists, but not so. Eadie’s writing is engaging and refreshingly free of academic jargon and meaningless polysyllabic words. The book is short, nicely produced, and is well-illustrated, making it easy to follow her argument. As for the content, it should appeal to anyone interested in Australian art and 20th century Australian culture. I enjoyed my foray into the outfields of my reading interests!

aww2017 badgeJoy Eadie
Discovering Charles Meere: Art and allusion
Braddon: Halstead Press, 2017
ISBN: 9781925043389

(Review copy courtesy Halstead Press)

Stan Grant, Talking to my country (#BookReview)

Stan Grant, Talking to my countryHistory is, in a way, the main subject of my reading group’s October book, Stan Grant’s Talking to my country. I’m consequently somewhat nervous about writing this post, because discussions of history in Australia are apt to generate more emotion than rational discussion. I will, though, discuss it – through my interested lay historian’s eyes.

However, before we get to that, I’d like to briefly discuss the book’s form. Firstly, it’s a hybrid book, that is, it combines forms and/or genres. In the non-fiction arena, this often involves combining elements of memoir with something else, like biography, as in Gabrielle Carey’s Moving among strangers (my review). In Grant’s case, he combines memoir with something more polemical – an interrogation of Australian history, and how the stories we tell about our past inform who we are and how we relate to each other.

Secondly, and probably because it’s not a straight memoir – Grant wrote his memoir, The tears of strangers, in 2002 – the book is structured more thematically than chronologically, though a loose chronology underlies it. For example, his discussion of the lives of his grandparents and parents doesn’t happen until Part 3, and then in Part 4 he discusses the government’s policies for handling “the ‘Aboriginal problem'”, particularly that of assimilation (or, more accurately, “absorption”.) This structure enables him to focus the narrative on his theme, so let’s now get to that.

The book opens with an introductory chapter titled, simply, My country: Australia. In it, Grant sets out why he wrote the book, which is to convey to non-indigenous Australians just what life is like for indigenous people, to explain that although history is largely ignored it still “plagues” indigenous people, and to tell us that the impetus for him to finally write the book was the booing of indigenous football player Adam Goodes in 2015. And here, in very simple terms, Grant states his thesis:

This wasn’t about sport; this was about our shared history and our failure to recognise it.

He goes on to explain that while some tried to deny or excuse it, his people knew where that booing came from. From my point of view, it’s pretty clear too.

“the gulf of our history”

Now, I’m not going to summarise all his arguments – or the stories of his and other indigenous people’s experiences – but I do want to share some of his comments about history. As Grant is clearly aware – and what Australian isn’t – history is politicised, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. My generation, the baby-boomers, grew up learning that Captain Cook discovered Australia and that Governor Phillip established the first settlement. If Aboriginal people were mentioned, it tended to be in passing. They were merely a side-bar to the main story. We may have learnt about the missions (and the “great” work they were doing) and we may have learnt in later years of schooling that many indigenous people lived in poverty, but we weren’t told about the massacres and violence that occurred, and nor was it ever suggested that we* had invaded an already occupied land. However, as we now know, these things we weren’t told are incontrovertible facts, supported by evidence.

Some, unfortunately, still ignore these facts and some try to interpret them differently, while the rest of us accept them but feel helpless about how to proceed. And this leads directly to Grant’s underpinning point, which is that we – black and white Australians – meet across “the contested space of our shared past”. Elsewhere he states it a little less strongly as “the gulf of our history”. I love the clarity of these phrases. They explain perfectly why discourse in Australia regarding indigenous Australians can be so contentious and so often futile. Grant’s point is that we can’t progress as a unified nation until this space is no longer contested, until the gulf is closed or bridged.

Grant puts forward a strong case based on experience, anecdote and hard facts (such as the terrible, the embarrassing, statistics regarding indigenous Australians’ health outcomes, incarceration rates, etc) to encourage all Australians, “my country” as the title says, to understand why, for example, when we sing the national anthem – “Australians all, let us rejoice” – indigenous people don’t feel much like joining in. What do they have to rejoice about? Where is their “wealth for toil”.

Suffice it to say that I found this a powerful book. While in one sense, it didn’t teach me anything new, in another it conceptualised the current state of play for me in a different way, a way that has given me new language with which to frame my own thoughts.

By now, if you haven’t read the book, you’ll be thinking that it’s a completely negative rant. But this is not so. It’s certainly “in your face” but Grant’s tone is, despite his admitting to anger, more generous. His aim is to encourage us white Australians to walk for a while in the shoes of our indigenous compatriots and thus understand for ourselves what our history, to date, has created. He believes that good relationships do exist, that there is generosity and goodwill but that, as the Adam Goodes episode made clear, bigotry and racism still divide us.

Late in the book Grant discusses the obvious fact that this land is now home to us all, that many of us have been here for generations and “can be from nowhere else”. Rather than rejecting “our” claims to love this place, he writes that this should make it easier for us to understand indigenous people’s profound connection to country. He writes:

I would like to think that with a sense of place comes a sense of history; an acceptance that what has happened here has happened to us all and that to turn from it or hide from it diminishes us.

And so, rather than telling indigenous people that “the past is past” and “to get over it”, it would be far better, far more honest, far more helpful, for us non-indigenous people to say, “Yes, we accept what we did and understand its consequences. Now, how should we proceed?” Is this really too hard?

Stan Grant
Talking to my country
Sydney: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2016
ISBN: 9781460751978

* And by “we”, I mean, as Robert Manne explains it, not “we” as individuals, but as the nation.