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Matrix Revolutions

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Griffith Review #19: Re-imagining Australia (Autumn 2008)

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Hey, here's an idea: let's publish a journal on the future of Australia, now that it has one... I know, we can invite some ALP has-beens and let them run rampant with triumphal gushings. Let's also get someone to flog that republican horse one more time!

This is the weakest Griffith Review I've read yet. A significant portion of this journal is dedicated to dancing on the graves of the culture warriors who have apparently lost due to John Howard's election defeat. (It is news to me that they were winning before.) To someone who has very limited interest in the history wars, these are wasted pages; indeed this edition feels more like an exploration of Australia's past, and is a bit short on ideas for the future.

Skipping lightly over the articles that failed to excite, these were worth the read:

  • Tom Morton's Dreams of Freedom, though really just an advertisement for his upcoming book on Georg Forster, intriguingly portrays the Enlightenment ideals and aspirations at the time of Britain's discovery of Australia.
  • Bruce Elder trekked out west to Hungerford and wrote In Lawson's Tracks. Of course Henry Lawson suggested a better name would have been Thirstyford... There's not much meat on the bone in this piece, which illustrates the argument Lawson and Banjo Paterson had over the nature of the bush by quoting them as extensively as the space limit allowed. It is a pleasant amble, though.
  • Marcia Langton's essay Trapped in the Aboriginal reality show is a compelling call to action. However to a non-specialist it is difficult to understand who (substantively) she is disagreeeing with, and so the false dichotomies (symbolic versus "practical" issues, for example) are irritating clangers.
  • Listening is harder than you think, Kim Mahood's essay about her involvement with a remote Aboriginal community, is the kind of thing I buy Griffith Review for: direct, personal reportage with some perspective thrown in, without overwhelming ideology.
  • Jenny Bowler's memoir Mungo memories is a quiet celebration of her father's life's work, and I wish there were more pieces like this. Australia has loads of world experts in all sorts of arcana, and it would be good to hear about them more regularly.
  • Similarly Barry Hill documents his father's industrial relations (unionist) expertise in A letter to my father.
  • Wayne McLennan returns with another great piece of writing, Meat. He's got a tidy set-piece at the end of the first section:

    "What are you, a wog or something?"

    "He's Dutch [...] and so am I", I lied, "so shut your fucking mouth."

    [...] "What's going on?" C asked.

    "Australian egalitarianism," I answered. "We like everybody to be the same as us."

    I'm going to have to check out his books.
  • Maria Tumarkin's article Life in translation is in the same vein as Peter Mares's one from the previous edition, taking aim at an immigration department that seems thoroughly resigned to wasting human capital.
  • I liked Oren Seidler's A new land, 1976, though it is fizzy and rotted my teeth.