Stephen Orr: Incredible Floridas

Wakefield Press had the great honour of launching bestselling author Stephen Orr’s latest novel, Incredible Floridas, at the beautiful Carclew centre in November. Launched by John Neylon, the evening featured a performance from SINGular Production’s upcoming musical Innocence, based on Stephen Orr’s novel Time’s Long Ruin.

Below is the wonderfully researched speech made by John Neylon on the night:

 

‘Why do novelists write about artists and the world of art?

It’s a fair question because there it’s a well – established genre with historical form.

Consider: Emile Zola’s classic L’Oeuvre (The Work/Masterpiece), (1886) which like Stephen Orr’s Incredible Floridas takes as a starting point, a well-known artist – in Zola’s instance, Paul Cézanne. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey (1890), Joyce Carey, The Horse’s Mouth (1944), John Berger, A Painter of Our Time (1958), Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstasy (1961) and Lust for Life (1934). More recently there have been a swag of novels that look at art or society through the prism of real or imagined artists including: Tracey Chevalier, Girl with a Pearl Earring (1999), Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs (2013), Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch (2013), Ali Smith, How to Be Both (2014), and Don DeLillo, Underworld (1997).
Australia has made its own distinctive contributions including Peter Carey, Theft: A Love Story (2006) and Patrick White, The Vivisector (1970).

I suspect the reason writers are drawn to artists as subjects is that some lead interesting lives. Consider the ongoing public fascination with figures including Vincent van Gogh, Francis Bacon, Ai Weiwei, Andy Warhol, Tracey Emin and in Australia, Brett Whiteley. It’s the total package audiences are drawn to underlaid by the assumption that artworks are windows on talent and genius. And that brings us to Incredible Floridas. Stephen admits that the historical figure of Russell Drysdale fuelled the idea of writing about not so much him, but the idea of him, as a kind of artist. Roland Griffin in his book bears a close resemblance to the real life Russell Drysdale who, along with other artists (notably Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd), dominated Australian landscape art in the post–WW2 era. What propelled Drysdale’s imagery in to the public imagination was that he gradually populated his arid, some say, mutant landscapes, with Australians: Aboriginal people standing their ground and staring white society down, stockmen, cooks, diggers, rabbit trappers, families and above all battlers – the people he saw, sketched and photographed on his expended travels in land to the Top End from the 1950s onwards.

Through the agency of a fictional artist (Griffin) Orr deflects our gaze from Drysdale’s actual paintings with their seductive dramatics to the workings of a creative artist’s mind. In doing so he transports a kind-of Drysdale narrative into the realm of art with all its surprises and contradictions. Griffin’s circumstance epitomises the post–WW2 Australian art world scene where figurative artists, like Drysdale, were confronted with a global trend to abstraction – something which caused him, and many of his contemporaries to stop in their tracks and question if it was still possible for images sourced from everyday life, to have any power to mean anything. Add to this, the push back that expressionist and surrealist artists faced from a conservative public, pining for their lost blue and gold Australian Impressionist arcadias. That’s the back story. So yes, is does enhance the reading of Incredible Floridas to know how courageous artists were in this era in turning their back on comforting myths of nationhood. But you don’t have to get very far into Stephen’s compelling narrative to appreciate that it’s really about the total package, about being an artist and also a husband and father. The business of trying to be an artist often occupies centre stage. The incessant need to keep producing work, find suitable subjects, satisfy dealers and the like. To constantly battle the indifference and ignorance of people around him who wondered why he didn’t get a proper job. Or believe, as one character says of his, that it’s all dogs rooting fence posts. Good for hanging in dentist’s waiting rooms.

Then the heartland of the novel, his struggle (and that of his wife Ena) to continue to love and understand their son Hal throughout the destructive journey his demons lead him.

The manner in which the author constructs a sense of fractured relationships between family members and Roland (in particular the so, Hal) has the hallmarks of Drysdale outback townscape where everyone is watching each other, straining for some line, even a word that might lead to some authentic exchange of feelings. The frustration that Griffin feels as an artist is mirrored in the fragmented exchanges with Hal as he once again lashes out in tormented anger at everything and everyone around him. The depths are reached when Hal, on a North End trip, fires a gun which brings his father running. ‘I heard a shot’ Roland says. Hal’s bitter response: ‘You couldn’t paint a corpse.’

We are into the book almost 300 pages before Stephen rewards us with an extended exchange between father and son, on the road to Ayers Rock (Uluru). ‘At some point Roland felt the desire to hug him but knew that his son wouldn’t let him. ‘All he wanted, (as the text says) was to make him happy, make a journey for him and meet him on the other side.’

And so the narrative unfolds – driven both by the thoughts that spring to Roland’s mind and by others. These are classic ‘watcher on the cast iron balcony’ interludes with characters swapping roles between observing and being observed. They occur like cinematic jump cuts that underscore the fragmentary nature of relationships. In these exchanges both Roland’s take on his art, his family and life is exposed to the core. So too are the contradictions of Hal’s own state of mind which swings wildly from savant insights which go to the heart of the matter and inchoate rage.

Now, if I was writing this book I would have been tempted to get Rimbaud in to the act about midway and toss this brew of uncertainty and trauma into some metaphysical thermo mix and spin it into some mythic dish. But in keeping Rimbaud at bay – apart from the book’s title and referencing that author’s Drunken Boat (and also Drysdale’s depiction of a boy with a boat) when Roland shows him how to make a paper boat (‘as fragile as a butterfly in May’) the author takes us to a real ‘there’, one that can be recognised in the laconic language of what used to be known as working class Australians (whatchername, you gonna getta hiding) and numerous references to an Adelaide (based in part on the author’s own Thebby childhood) that has slowly slipping below the horizon such as ‘schizos’ (as Hal is name-called) being sent to Glenside, the Cheltenham racetrack, cheap lino from McLeay’s, Lawlers the White Ant People, making apricot jam, wet sour sobs, half –empty salt and pepper shakers on old country pubs, the drive in, jacarandas and blue stone gutters – and , one of the most evocative sketches in the book, ‘dozens of bored children falling from monkey bars into a sea of wild oats’ (Rimbaud – match that!). Then there are the broader mindsets of a bye gone era such as Hal’s response to school speaking for many (‘I hate the place – the shit about Hastings and Nefertiti’), to this the enduring idea that somehow, the inland desert experience cures all ills – the idea that Hal would be OK if ‘you could get him under the stars, talk, keep busy.’ ‘Sort him out’.

Through this fascinating counter posing of aspiration and reality aspects of what it means to lead a creative life appear. This life is often messy and holds no promises beyond the next act, the next painting – or book. In the end Roland had no clear idea of why he was ‘doing it’. ‘Except that a man had to do something to stop himself from going mad.’ Forget talent and genius. This is as ordinary and basic as it gets

Francis Bacon once said that ‘Painting has become, all art has become, a game by which man distracts himself. And you might say that it has always been like that, but now it’s entirely a game. What’s fascinating is that it’s getting more difficult for the artist. He must really deepen the game to be any good at all so he can make life a bit more exciting’. I rather like Hal’s perspective, ‘There were millions of things to do in life, but all you needed was one thing you were good at, and could bear repeating every day.’

In this regard, Stephen, in continuing to write, you have obviously come to terms with your destiny. And we are all the beneficiaries. Congratulations on Incredible Floridas – this not so crumpled paper boat is now launched.’

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The launch of SURROGATE by Tracy Crisp

 

Last week we launched Tracy Crisp’s new book Surrogate to a very full house at Imprints Booksellers. After an excellent speech by ABC Adelaide’s Deb Tribe, here is what Tracy had to say.

 


 

Thank you, Deb. For being so open to the invitation and so generous with your time to prepare for tonight and to be here this evening. And thank you for giving Surrogate such a great send-off into the world. It’s extremely nerve wracking, and I really appreciate what you’ve done to wish it bon voyage.

Thank you to Imprints, and especially Jason who has been very patient with all my Hi Jason, just double-checking emails. I remember the first time I walked into Imprints … it was down the road, and I’d just moved to Adelaide to go to uni. I was entirely overwhelmed that year, feeling completely out of place, but when I walked inside, I knew that I wanted to be part of this world. I bought the Complete Shakespeare Sonnets – because that’s how clever I was – and every year since I’ve made a new year’s resolution to learn them all by heart. 2018 will be my year.

Thank you to everyone at Wakefield Press and especially to Michael who has twice now taken a punt on my work. Wakefield is truly South Australian, making sure that local stories have a place to be told.

In coming back to Adelaide, I have experienced for the first time since I moved out of my home in Port Pirie the true joy of knowing what it means to feel grounded, to belong, to be at home. Being published by Wakefield has given my return home an extra potency.

Julia was a very caring editor. Liz designed the perfect cover. Ayesha and Maddy have answered endless emails – Hi, just double-checking – and Jonny is making sure my books can fly out of the nest and find a new home.

I don’t want to talk too much about the tortuous process of writing this, but at a time when I was completely overwhelmed with doubt Virginia Lloyd and Jacqui Lofthouse each did a brilliant job in very different ways of helping me see the way through to the end. When I did get to the end, Penelope Goodes in Melbourne and Melissa King who lives in Adelaide and I’m really pleased was able to come tonight, picked it up and did a wonderful job of saving me from embarrassing errors.

Thank you to Adrian. Those of you who know him, know that he is a good man in all of the many senses that we understand that. He not only loves me, and he not only respects my work as a writer, but he values it. He values it not only because it is good for me, but also its place in our relationship. This is not to be taken for granted in a partner. Although I’m not sure he values the production of tea towels taking over the house and the subsequent spread of inky cat prints across all our floors. As I was finishing off the printing for last week’s market, I said to him, ‘Do you think I’m ridiculous?’ And he didn’t say, ‘Yes.’ Though thinking about it now, I also realise he didn’t say, ‘No.’

Thank you to Leo and Felix. My beautiful grandfather used to like saying, ‘Leo and Felix. You had two cats.’ But they’re heaps better than cats. Their inky paw marks are bigger, but so is their love and it is more consistent too.

Before I thank you for coming, I want to give a shout out to Adrian’s parents who can’t be here. Adrian’s mum has done such a wonderful job of negotiating the complexities of the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship and I am very grateful to have her as one of my greatest friends. Thank you to the many members of my family who came tonight, aunties, uncles, cousins, brother, my sisters-in-law. And thank you to mum and dad’s friends.

It is of course the deepest of sadness that Mum and Dad aren’t here. Mum never knew that I was going to publish anything. Which is a pity because she was the first and the best storyteller I will ever know and she really had a way with words.

From the nuns at Henley Beach who, she insisted, were constantly trying to steal her dog, to the day we drove into Port Pirie and she pointed at the stack and said to us, ‘Do you see that? Do you know what that is? That’s the largest lead smelter in the world, and do you know what that means, that means if there’s ever a war, we’ll be the first to be bombed’; to the time that in her capacity as the Mayor’s wife she stood next to Port Pirie’s archbishop as the debs were presented and said to him, ‘You know you’re the only man in the town can get away with wearing hot pink, don’t you?’

I didn’t ever let Dad read the final draft of my first novel. I was nervous about what he would think, afraid that I wouldn’t live up to his expectations. Not because he was especially demanding, but because he had such faith, such confidence in what I would do, and I hated the thought that I had let him down. By the time I felt like I could show it to him, he was far too tired and although I had signed the contract before he died, he never did get to see the finished product. This mistake has haunted me for a long time. But from it I hope that I have learnt to be more open and more trusting, not only in the people around me but in myself.

And finally, I want to say thank you to you.

The biggest challenge that I face when I’m writing is staring down my demons. There’s the obvious, angsty ones. I’m not good enough, what have I got to say that hasn’t already been said, I’m fifty years old I’ve got six thousand dollars in super I should probably get a real job, oh, I’ve got a great idea, I’ll screen print tea towels … and then I will give them away, because I’m too embarrassed to ask for money … but there are also far deeper and much darker demons than those.

It’s a cliché of writing classes to be told, ‘write what you know.’ Okay. So, clichés ahoy, my first novel is set in a town nestled in the shadow of a lead smelte – although spoiler alert, war is never declared – but writing, creating anything, is a way of making sense of the world, of making sense of what it means to be human. So, writing what you know means that wherever you start, you always end up processing the most difficult of emotions. The losses, the pain, the anger, the mistakes. I remember when Leo was quite young and he was asking about the events of my work so far and when we got to the end, he said, ‘Have you ever thought about, instead of all the death, you have a brush with death?

But of course, we only know what it is to feel loss and pain because we know celebration and joy. Because we know friendship and we know love. So, when I say thank you for coming, thank you for helping me to celebrate, I mean it most sincerely.

Thank you for coming to the launch of my new novel, Surrogate. Thank you for reading it, and thank you in advance for sending me nice notes to tell me how much you loved it. Thank you for telling me a little white fib if you never get around to reading it, and thank you for flat out lying if you do read it but you don’t really like it.

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Taking a Punt

Shavers down: it’s Movember. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australian men, with 3000 dying of it each year – more than the number of women who die of breast cancer. Turn the focus on men’s health with this excerpt from Peter Endersbee’s memoir, Taking a Punt.

Anna accompanied me to the urologist for the biopsy results. I was still clinging to the possibility it might be benign in spite of the terrible PSA readings. When he came into the waiting room he was wearing a stiff white coat that belied his humble open-faced demeanour. He was tall and dark and handsome and younger than I’d imagined. Early forties. Certainly not the battle-scarred senior partner I’d associated with his field of specialisation. He seemed far too young to be playing God to a waiting room of old and middle-aged men. We were shown chairs, and sat down.

I could hardly bear to look at him. He smiled and praised me for having taken myself off to Casualty after I’d experienced the very flu symptoms he’d mentioned as an unlikely side effect of the biopsy. He said I’d done the right thing. His introductory gambit had my hopes up. It would be downhill all the way and I’d soon be walking out scot-free.

But after referring to more papers he looked me squarely in the eye and said they’d found carcinogenic cells from the biopsy. The PSA result had been bad enough, but hearing that I had prostate cancer was like being mentally winded, a feeling of vertigo. I glanced out the window, the plane trees and clear blue sky suddenly in a different world. I only half heard that my Gleason score was a seven on a scale of one to ten. I was told the Gleason was an indicator of how aggressive the cancer might be based on an aggregate number from the biopsy samples, where anything less than seven indicated a reasonable chance of a good prognosis; anything more than seven did not. The surgeon tried to reassure me that a seven was not so bad, at least it wasn’t an eight or a nine, which he had half expected, given my very high PSA. When I asked him what my chances were without the operation he replied, ‘Five to ten years, taking into account your readings and your age.’

As the first shock waves began to subside, I became aware of Anna taking notes.

On the way home we didn’t say much. Even over cups of tea at the kitchen table it hadn’t sunk in.

‘You’re taking it remarkably well,’ she said.

‘What else can I do?’ I was looking at the picture she’d painted on the teacup from which I was taking controlled sips, wishing I’d never answered the telephone that day. I clutched the soothing ceramic vessel.

‘I will support you in whatever you choose to do,’ she said. ‘We’re in this together.’

 

Find out more about Taking a Punt here.

 

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Edmund Pegge on being in Dr Who

From the warm and witty Edmund Pegge we have a few thoughts on being a small part of the Dr Who phenomenon:

 

On being interviewed at a Dr Who convention in Adelaide the following conversation occurred:
Int: How did you approach your part?
Ed: Probably learnt my lines and hit my marks. It was a long time ago.
Int: What did you think of being in Dr Who at the time?
Ed: Nothing. It was just another job.
Int: How did being in Dr Who affect your career?
Ed: It didn’t until now.

Edmund Pegge as Meeker in Dr Who

Edmund Pegge as Meeker in Dr Who

The gathering were slightly astonished at how casual and perhaps irreverent I was being in what is now seen as iconic television. At the time Dr Who was just a popular series with a widening fan base. In retrospect there is a strong case for saying that Tom Baker and Louise Jameson were the most convincing Doctor and offsider. Baker was highly intelligent and had an intellectual charisma.
The episode in which I played Meeker in ‘The Invisible Enemy’ had a notable first appearance – K9 the robot dog. This was most gratifying as we all earned heaps of overtime as K9 kept breaking down. What is more, I was pleased to hear that he was voiced by John Leeson, an actor friend of mine whom I last saw at a Dr Who convention in London.
That was my first experience of a convention. There was only myself, John and another actor, the other eight were technicians and a tea lady from those days. In other words, anyone vaguely connected was invited along. I signed dozens of DVD covers and posters and all insisted on a photo with me. I was their star buddy in a flash. It took a lot less than 15 minutes!

To read more about Ed’s adventures as a working actor, have a look at his hilarious and astonishing memoir, Forever Horatio, available here.

Forever Horatio by Edmund Pegge

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Liz Williams: Body Language

by Marrgot Osborne with Grant Hancock

Cover of the book

In late September Wakefield Press had the honour of launching Liz Williams: Body Language, a beautifully photographed book dedicated to the works of the late South Australian ceramicist.

Below is an excerpt from author Margot Osborne’s speech at the launch.

I was driven to do this book on Liz Williams to honour her lifetime of artistic achievement and to ensure that there is a record of her unique contribution to Australian ceramics. It struck me when I heard about her illness that despite her receiving numerous grants and residencies, I was among the many in the Adelaide art scene who had more or less taken her presence for granted, as someone who would always be there to bump into on the Parade and engage in long enjoyable conversations. Meanwhile over the years she worked away quietly maintaining a low profile presence in her Norwood studio, making her wonderful coil-built sculptures and travelling overseas to investigate how the art of other cultures might influence her own work. At her death she had never received the in-depth attention of a long-form essay, or a career survey exhibition and catalogue. Nor was she represented in the Art Gallery of South Australia by any work more recent than a sculpture from her Receudos exhibition in 1993.

This book is a first step in addressing that situation.

In addition to my own essay on the evolution by Liz Williams of a figurative sculpture language in clay, the book includes three earlier re-published essays by Catherine Speck, Damon Moon and Wendy Walker.

Another dimension to the book are the tributes from Liz’s artist colleagues and friends – Jeff Mincham, Anna Platten, Jane Sawyer, Karen Genoff, Milton Moon, Donald Richardson and Margo Hill-Smith. These writers were all

Brain Parkes, Jam Factory CEO, and Margot Osborne, author

personally selected by Liz shortly before her death.

At the creative heart of the book are the glorious images of Liz Williams ceramics by Grant Hancock, photographer to the artists of Adelaide. Grant worked with Liz photographing her work from 2006 to 2016. There are some 70 full page images of Liz’s ceramic taken by Grant, as well as his photographs of her beautiful home and studio taken earlier this year.

And now finally, I come to Anna Platten. Anna was there at the start of this project and was entrusted by Liz to have oversight and ensure the book turned out as she would have wanted. In the weeks after Liz’s death Anna decided she would make the drawing that we have on display tonight. Normally she works from life but as that was not possible, she recreated Liz in her studio from a blend of photographs. It is a moving image of Liz, full of light and life, even though she was already gravely ill. Titled ‘Inside the Head of the Quiet Woman’, it conveys the contrast between the appearance of the gentle ageing woman and the art that grew out of her intensely imaginative inner life.

Thank you everyone. It’s been a wonderful project. Now all we need is for you to buy the book.

To purchase the book and to find out more, visit our website here

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The Wakefield Press Reader’s Guide to Open State

Open State festival has a packed program which kicks off on Thursday 28 September and runs through to Sunday 8 October. Publisher Michael Bollen brings you the Wakefield Press Reader’s Guide to Open State.

My, my. It’s an eye-opener and source of pride, browsing the Open State program, reminding us how books and reading interweave past, present and future. Picking through the goodies on offer, the mind thinks inevitably, Hmm, could be a book in that. And thinks too: Now, which of our existing books best fits that theme?

One session, Blast From the Past, is about getting our stories on screen. We have a host of possibles. Maybe a soapie set in Adelaide’s first gaol, feeding off Rhonnda Harris’s Ashton’s Hotel with its cast of intriguing characters. Or tales from underground, using Carol Lefevre’s beautiful book of true stories, Quiet City: Walking in West Terrace Cemetery.

Then again, perhaps Simon Butters’s YA novel, The Hounded, about alienation in Adelaide’s hinterland, is the best screen fit. Though it works also with the question that obsesses our town – Adelaide is one of the world’s most liveable cities: fact or fiction?

You can take a stroll to decide in the Future Adelaide Walking Tour. Have a browse along the way in Lance Campbell’s and Mick Bradley’s deluxe book, City Streets, which showcases the CBD in 1936 and 2011. Whither now?

Dickson Platten have helped shape the Adelaide landscape through people-centric place-making since the 1960s, and you can celebrate that 50 years of achievement at the opening of their exhibition, On Show. We have books from both Dickson and Platten: Addicted to Architecture, Hybrid Beauty and the lovely Lure of the Japanese Garden.

From one design icon to another: the beloved Jam Factory present Drink. Dine. Design. featuring finely crafted objects, ideas and applications that enhance the joy of eating and drinking. Learn more about the Jam Factory in its fortieth-anniversary book, Designing Craft / Crafting Design.

Nick Jose has written both fiction (Avenue of Eternal Peace) and non-fiction (Chinese Whispers) about China, so its no surprise to see him as one of the co-curators of Writing China, a day-long series of transcultural, transmedia events. Brian Castro is a prominent participant, likely mentioning his novel On China (and why not also add Drift and Double-Wolf to your bedside reading pile). 

Among the many events that make up Writing China is Reimagining: Panel and ReadingsThis panel considers how fiction can take the world you know – your city – and make it new. A full-on accompaniment might be Stephen Orr and his latest book of short stories, Datsunland. In the words of Kerryn Goldsworthy in the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘[Orr’s] work continues to have a prominent place in the literary mapping and recording of South Australia and Adelaide’.

For the last weekend of the festival, we’ll be selling our wares at the annual State History Conference. This year’s beguiling theme is Hearts and Minds: revaluing the past. There’s much of that in our new Colonialism and its Aftermath – the first comprehensive history of Aboriginal South Australia since Native Title.

We at Wakefield look forward to seeing you round this Open State as we venture from our normal habitat: gladly chained to the wheel, churning out South Australia’s tales to the world.

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Melancholic Meanderings through ‘The Vanished Land’

Richard Zachariah’s Vanished Land is an ode to what once was within the picturesque Western Districts of Victoria. His rich language frames anecdotes of rose-tinted childhood musings alongside despairing soliloquies on the modern state of the once majestic region. With a balance and pace that immerses the reader within the author’s thoughts and understanding, Zachariah opens up a world that has been lost.

 

A keen July wind touches us. I’m standing at the entrance to Hexham Park, which my old friend David Armstrong sold at a time of rural recession a decade ago. The paddocks are invisible under a plague of pine trees. A hundred and fifty years of the Armstrongs’ Western District hegemony has faded like a rainbow in the sky. The Camelot of my boyhood dreams is gone. No one at this moment feels safe from talk of grief.

When he greets us, David is amiable and brave. Artist Robert Whitson is there with me to paint what is left of the beloved place.

David’s key to the gate doesn’t work. The locks have been changed by the new owners, one of the timber companies whose tax-driven tree ventures have disfigured the Western District. Hexham Park, once a haven of undulating paddocks and river flats, is now a vivid scar of pine trees over sprayed weeds.

David is apologetic as we climb the locked gate and walk the mile long red gravel drive to his forsaken birthplace.

When I think of the towns to the northwest, the contrast is stark.

As a teenager, I knew Streatham, Skipton and Lake Bolac as the heart of a grazing and cropping nirvana, but today those towns are bereft and sinking, while proximity to a big city has handed Birregurra freshly painted cottages, organic cafes, a destination restaurant and a burgeoning future in lifestyle real estate.

Then I see the miracle of crops. Vast areas of sheep country have gone under the plough, defying traditional claims that the wet, heavy soil would drown any monetary return. Farmers have confounded the rules by raising the beds 15 centimetres and creating depressions between them to drain water. Once drained, the rich volcanic soil pushes up white and red wheat in unprecedented quantities interspersed with ripening canola in swathes of ludicrous hi-vis yellow.

Steel mammoths with rubber legs rumble through widened gates where utes once bumped along. Workers give way to machines ruled by laptops and satellites, driven by GPS-RTK auto steer, replacing manpower and emptying the towns.

Visiting outback Australia, the English writer Bruce Chatwin discovered the Aboriginal custom of measuring a journey in songs rather than kilometres. Out of this visit came The Songlines (1987), which lit up an ancient culture by interpreting the dreamtime as a parallel reality that exists alongside our quotidian existence, preceding us and lasting long after our deaths. Chatwin believed that our time-challenged lives would be enhanced if we discarded the angst of measuring kilometres so that a destination became a way of seeing and redefining ourselves.

The Songlines mythology came to me travelling in a car with Peter Learmonth, a fifth-generation Western District dictionary of ownership, bibliography of people and compendium of history. In the spirit of Chatwin, he measured our trips by properties passed and people remembered. Kilometres were irrelevant, never mentioned.

Find out more about this bestseller here.

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Low-angle shot of the Miles Franklin Award

The Miles Franklin announcement is not far away. This award is arguably the most important on the Australian literary scene. In his Brief Take on the Australian Novel, Jean François-Vernay structures his approach by borrowing from another popular art form: film. Here we have his ‘Low-angle shot of the Miles Franklin Award’.

 

In line with the wishes of Stella Franklin, who bequeathed almost all of her estate estimated at £8,996 to establish this literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award must give preference to a published work ‘of the highest literary merit and which must present Australian Life in any of its phases’. Founded in 1957, the award has ever since crowned 58 novels with glory and increased their sales.

As is the case with any respected prize, the Miles Franklin has had its share of controversies. In 1994, the jurors unleashed a debate by excluding Frank Moorhouse’s novel Grand Days (1993) from the competition, claiming that its Australian content was practically insignificant. The story traces the career of a young Australian woman who, after the Great War, works for the United Nations in Geneva. In 1995, the committee tried to make amends by celebrating The Hand That Signed the Paper by Helen Demidenko, but it later transpired that the author was a Ukrainian-impersonating plagiarist. After this scandal, the jury decided to play it safe in 1996 with Highways to a War by Christopher Koch. Pocketing the prize money, Koch started another controversy when he revealed his uncharitable thoughts about academia.

Today, some people think it is high time the overly restrictive selection criteria of this award should be revised in order to take into account novels whose characters, settings, themes and plots are located outside Australia. The list of recipients of the Miles Franklin is also widely criticised for comprising chiefly middleaged novelists, few of whom are women (approximately one third of all prize-winners), let alone Aboriginal (Kim Scott and Alexis Wright being the exceptions). There is a sneaking suspicion that the judging panel might almost be guilty of ageism, sexism and racism. Despite the criticism, this national and nationalistic prize is still regarded as a reliable benchmark for identifying great Australian novels. The winner in 2010, Peter Temple’s Truth, indicated that popular genres like crime novels are now taken seriously.

For more close-ups, panoramic views and special features on the Australian novel, see here.

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A great big book about a great small city

Last Thursday marked the celebration and re-launch of City Streets, a chronicled answer to the past 75 years of Adelaide’s architecture. As author Lance Campbell says, it’s a great big book about a great small city.

We were hosted at the beautiful Living Choice Fullarton and joined by many of our Wakefield Press authors and friends, including the event’s emcee, Keith Conlon. And to top it all off, we had some fantastic Coriole sparkling!

The new edition includes a foreword and by the SA Premier, Jay Weatherill – here we present some highlights of the Premier’s kind words and insights from his launch address.

 

This is not merely a beautiful book. In its detail and its scale, it’s also an invaluable record of the growth and evolution of our city’s “square mile”.

City Streets is the work of two gifted people. The photographs, by the late Mick Bradley, are superb – precise and expansive, capturing Adelaide’s special quality of light. Though they’re ostensibly of buildings, the images are rich with people and movement and energy – just like those taken by Baring back in the 1930s. As for the writing, who better to sneak behind the facades and tell the stories of our town than Lance Campbell. Lance is an outstanding reporter and writer. Whether the topic is sport or the arts or, from time to time, politics, his prose is elegant and insightful – revealing and describing things many of us would otherwise not have noticed

As I suggest in the foreword to the new edition, City Streets is likely to generate mixed feelings in some readers. More than most comparable cities, Adelaide has managed to retain a large number of attractive buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries. But – along the way – we’ve probably allowed some special ones to slip through our fingers.

One of those was the gracious Grand Central Hotel – which later housed Foy’s department store – and used to sit on what we now call “Hungry Jack’s corner”. For some reason, it was decided to demolish that lovely pile in 1976. To paraphrase Joni Mitchell, we pulled down “paradise” and put up a parking lot!

As I’ve said publicly before, I think we should see cities as – first and foremost – communities, rather than just collections of buildings and houses and roads. In line with the fact, one of the prevailing and very welcome things about our current city centre that can’t be fully captured in words or pictures is its vibrancy.

The tale of this city will go on and on. And the buildings we love today and are part of our collective consciousness will – in time – go the way of the old ones featured in City Streets. I hope and suspect that, one day, others will follow in the footsteps of Mick Bradley and Lance Campbell. And the Adelaideans of, say, the 2080s or 2090s will reminisce about – who knows? – the Adelaide Convention Centre or the Federal Courts building in Victoria Square. For now, however, we have this new edition of City Streets – and we’re very happy and appreciative, indeed.

On behalf of the State Government, I commend Wakefield Press for its initiative, for continuing to tell great stories and – through this book – for helping to chart the history of our built environment.

 

Photographs by Brad Griffin.

 

Learn more about City Streets .

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Love your Bookshop Day

‘What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.’

― Neil Gaiman

In an age of Internet sales a humble bookshop could seem archaic. In a march to digitise and automate, something so small as a bookshop could be considered an afterthought. Yet, those of us who frequent shelves and bookstalls, who know of other lives and worlds and realms within pages, we know a bookshop is more. It is the soul of a place, wherever that place may be, and the heart of a community.

This Saturday 12 August marks Love your Bookshop Day, an occasion that invites anyone to celebrate his or her local bookshop, with events and programs throughout Australia. Drop into your local this Saturday to support and celebrate what makes your bookshop special.

A taste of the events happening around Adelaide:

  • Booked at North Adelaide has a giant book raffle (drawn at 4 pm)
  • Dillons Norwood Bookshop has book readings (2 pm), face-painting and giveaways
  • Imprints Booksellers on Hindley Street has countless of activities and prizes
  • Matilda Bookshop in Stirling has book-buying advice from authors, an illustrator in residence and a competition for a stack of books
  • Mostly Books in Mitcham will be championing a young writers group along with raffles and more

And of course we are open with our Mile End store, 1 – 5 pm. All books are 3 for 2 (cheapest book free) with a free cat or dog book bag if you spend over $75. We have an I Love My Dog and My Dog Loves Me book giveaway as well.

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