Posts Tagged ‘Peter Carey’

Anzac Pride

April 23, 2016

Anzac Pride.

One hundred and one years ago a collection of young, brave and shockingly naive young men set foot on a foreign shore to protect our home shore. Yes, many of them paid the ultimate price and sacrificed their lives for ours on that skinny strip of sand in Anzac Cove in 1915. But their sacrifice made us into a nation. We may have been united under Federation a few years earlier but it was Gallipoli and WW1 that made Australia into a nation. You may consider that romantic foolishness but it is part of our mythology and I am happy to subscribe to that.

Today I want to consider what that means for Australians. There are no Anzacs left. But we cannot forget Anzac Day – April 25 – and the way I am commemorating it today is by looking at our cultural place on the world stage. Forget politics, forget economic power-house but cast your eyes around music, performing arts, literature and you’ll find an awful lot of Australians at work, doing us proud; doing our Anzac tradition proud.

Koala

Once upon a time in order to make something of yourself you had to leave Australia (and or NZ, if we’re being truly Anzac-y today) and establish yourself OS – usually England but latterly the USA. Thus in the 1960-70s luminaries such as Germaine Greer, Clive James and Barry Humphries (Dame Edna Everage to you) left home seeking more than was to be had Down-under. These people have established loud and large personalities on the world stage, and regardless of their politics or yours they clearly established Oz as more than a place for convicts and surfers.

In Hollywood we had a few who had their toe in the waters early on, but their numbers were few. Errol Flynn, Peter Finch, Rod Taylor, but not Merle Oberon – oh, no, she was never ours. It was all smoke and mirrors to disguise where she really came from. Her exotic skin and luminous beauty hailed from the sub-continent and a sleazy beginning, not from obscure and far-far away Tasmania.

Many of the rock and rollers of the 60s and 70s got as big as they could and tried their hands OS but most returned bloodied and bowed. Who broke through: The Bee Gees (but they were British in the first place); The Easybeats had one colossal hit (Friday on My Mind); Helen Reddy (I am Woman); LRB were quite successful for quite some time; Air Supply did very well; Rick Springfield left Zoot and was a huge hit in the States; Olivia Newton-John was one of our biggest stars – she is forever Sandy in Grease, isn’t she? Peter Allen married Liza Minnelli to help things along, but he was an amazing performer. But our failures were greater.

But things changed, as they often do and slowly but surely there were more of us on the big screen, on the radio and various music channels, TV shows; winning prizes in literature. We were taking major roles, not just character parts; we were headlining tours, filling theatres. Our accent stopped being a problem. We arrived. Being Australian is not embarrassing, we have lost our cultural cringe. We have stepped up to our Anzac heritage in more ways than those young men could possibly have imagined.

 

Who are our world players now?

We have Oscar winners and actors who command some of the biggest salaries in Hollywood. Nicole Kidman may have ridden off on Tom Cruise’s coat-tails but she has stood on her own for years as a fine actress. Cate Blanchett is simply gold – everything she does is amazing – perhaps she is our finest actress ever? Chris Hemsworth and Hugh Jackman earn small fortunes and are two of the best looking men in Hollywood, and reputedly the nicest guys too. We have a string of excellent actors: Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Naomi Watts, Rebel Wilson, Elizabeth Debicki and the wonderful Eric Bana. If we go Anzac, we can include Sam Neil and Russell Crow, who did bag an Oscar and was stunning in Gladiator.

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Kylie rules as our music queen these days but AC-DC are still going strong and as popular as ever. Why else the upset about Axl Rose joining the band? INXS were absolutely huge, as were Crowded House (yes, NZ again but this is about Anzac Day). Yothu Yindi owned the world there for a few years. Neighbours and Home and Away still run home and OS. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was one of the best movies ever and is now a West End stage production. Jason Donovan still performs regularly and Adam Hills has his own comedy show on UK TV. Ozzies pop up all over the place and these days, because of the amount of talent and ability we have you may not instantly recognise them. This is a good thing – we are as good as the rest.

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Peter Carey and Richard Flanagan are our stellar writers. Both have won the Booker – Carey twice. Both write of our experiences and all manner of things that show that any notion of inferior literature being automatically associated with Australia is a notion that belongs in the dark past. Other writers have international impact, including Christos Tsiolkas and The Slap that sold phenomenally and was made into an excellent TV series. The Rosie Project has been an international hit and of course Eleanor Catton, from NZ, was the youngest ever Booker Prize winner with The Luminaries. Don’t forget other stars like Markus Zsusak (The Book Thief), Tim Winton, David Malouf and Thomas Kenneally who wrote many wonderful things but notably Schindler’s Ark which was made into a harrowing film.

This Anzac Day don’t dwell on the less acceptable side of our nation, the treatment of refugees and Aboriginals; ignore the vile exploits of Rupert Murdoch and Gina Rinehart and their ilk. Ignore the idiot politicians, the division in our society that doesn’t need to be there at all. Remember our fallen soldiers, on that memorable day so long ago, so far away, and all the others who have fought for us, to make us into a great nation. We may not be as good or as kind or as clever as we should but we do have a great deal to be proud of and it is timely to be aware of the good things we are and do.

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We have come a long way since April 25, 1915, and indeed we have a long way to go, but we can pause and be proud of our cultural giants. We are no longer lone men riding the outback, surfers or convicts: we are world players. We compete. In fact we really punch above our weight. (Images from Private Collection)

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Reading Takes You Many Places – Forgotten & Reclaimed

April 2, 2016

Reading Takes You Many Places – Forgotten & Reclaimed

In the midst of holidays one should be in the midst of reading but I am struggling with books these days – not a confession a writer and English teacher should make! However, as I re-opened To Kill A Mockingbird last night I was reminded of many things, not the least being what a fabulous book it really is and why I do not want to read Go Set a Watchman.

Moreover I was taken back to a previous time of reading. To a place I barely remembered but on beginning the novel I found myself in a sparse room in Larrakeyah Lodge on Myilly Point in Darwin, on one of my first trips into Darwin from Nhulunbuy. Larrakeyah Lodge had many incarnations – then it was a hostel type accommodation for visitors from far flung parts of the NT – usually teachers on PD courses. Then it became the student accommodation for NTU, and now it is gone – well it has been gone for many a long year, in the name of progress and expensive town-houses. But I remember lying on my single bed in my stuffy room reading into the night, reading about an equally hot and stuffy place, troubled by racism, trying for justice in an unjust world.

Illywhacker

So I got to thinking that this is not an uncommon phenomenon. If I think about Peter Carey’s Illywhacker I am instantly transported to my verandah on Klyn Circuit in Nhulunbuy, sitting in an old cane chair, behind the privacy of the cannas and tomato plants reading one of my favourite books of all time. I am hot and sweaty, but still and happy as I read and sip iced water and escape to Bacchus Marsh and a 137 year old liar. If I recall Oscar and Lucinda (also by Carey) then I find myself poolside in a Bali resort, my baby boy splashing at the edges of the pool with his father, while I’m on a barge with a glass church in outback Australia.

Monkey Grip by Helen Garner is a modern Australian classic and something about Melbourne, not just the setting resonates in my head as I read. I suspect I was there for the first reading of the novel. But I read it again when I was in hospital just after having Pallas. Indeed her name came from the novel – a small section where Pallas-Athena was mentioned and the name hooked and took and so our baby, who very nearly became Paris, ended up Pallas-Athena, all from reading in Darwin hospital in the quiet time between sleeping and feeding.

Monkeygrip

If I think of The English Patient then as well as the locations of the novel – pre-war desert and war riven Italy – I am in Shanghai at the time when Hong Kong was handed back to the Chinese. Re-reading the novel takes me there, as does any thoughts about Schindler’s Ark – so many rats in the book, so many rats in the school!

As you would expect I read a great deal at uni – well you have to with an English degree. Two sets of reading stick in my head. DH Lawrence’s Women in Love and The Rainbow. I loved those books – dense and intense, full of fecund images and words and when I think of reading them I am at ‘the farm’ – a family place in the deep south of Tasmania, on the banks of the wide deep blue Huon. Then it took some time to get there; there was no internet of course but also no telly and only a scratchy radio. I’d set the fire and read for the weekend, late into night, barely able to tear myself away from the intensity of the relationships in the books. I had a boyfriend who promised to visit me there. He never did, but like Ursula and Gundrun I believed in the centrality of love and passion in my life.

At the end of every year at uni I read The Thorn Birds. It was a guilty pleasure, but one I indulged for several years. It was summer, exams were over, the sun was out and the cricket was on. I’d set myself up on the banana lounge, slather myself with sun-cream and settle for a day of indulgent reading, another story of passionate love but not so intense writing. I figured a bit of pulp fiction was deserved after the year of reading academic and classic fiction and writing less than wonderful essays.

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And I did read Death in Venice when we went to Venice and it felt the right thing to do. I certainly recalled the large cold rooms of HMC (Hobart Matriculation College) as I re-read the slender volume. But it was quite wonderful to sit on the beach that von Aschenbach had sat on to gaze upon Tadzio and be reminded of his desperation, his unrequited but deadly passion. So now when I think of the novel I am again in Venice and it’s a beautiful place to be.

When I finally go home a large list of books will take me to France, because that seems to be my main reading place these days, not just books for study but a bit of Agatha Christie, Geoffrey Eugenides (you must read Middlesex) and the wonderful Night Circus. Of Mice and Men will forever take me to classrooms and a variety of students, as will Macbeth and bloody Romeo and Juliet.

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Books are transport machines – inside them you are in different worlds in different times, exploring, experiencing, imagining. Outside, the where you were when you were reading is another place you travel to as well – a place where you remember who you were, what you were doing and feeling at the time of reading. Who’d have thought a book was better than the Tardis? (Images from private collection).

Reading Lists for students… dare you write your own?

June 7, 2014

Aftre Michael Gove announced the ‘banning’ of several iconic books for GCSE students a predictable and not entirely unwarranted torrent of abuse ensued and then alternative lists popped up – including the Guardian’s selection from notables. Oh, dear, what lists – full of self indulgence (Russell Brand) and complete ignorance of the teenage beast (nearly everyone else except for Hilary Mantel).

It is worth considering – what books should be experienced during the high school years, what should you read and know about as you grow and become who you are? After all those of us who dwell in the world of books know how we learn about ourselves and others from reading, as well as all the osmosis language skills we acquire simply from reading.

Should we agree with Michael Gove and eschew books from other countries, other cultures and be utterly xenophobic in our canon for the kiddies? What sort of citizens would we be brewing if we follow such a path? Others are asking this question and it is an important one to consider, given there is more truth in fiction than in history, given there is mandated focus on socio-historic-cultural baggage of the texts studied in school.

M&M

In my time in Australian schools we taught a broad range of texts from writers across the world, although perhaps we could have done better. But, there were a slew of excellent YA American novels by the likes of SE Hinton, Paul Zindel, Robert Cormier – so many kiddies loved The Chocolate War and I am the Cheese. I taught To Kill a Mockingbird alongside The Lord of the Flies. We had Animal Farm and Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy. But some of these dated – notably Colin Thiele and Lord of the Flies, or perhaps it became too English as we became more Australian and hade more home grown stuff to choose from, including Nick Earls, John Marsden, Isobel Carmody, Sonya Hartnet and Nadia Wheatley.

We were not starved for choice and indeed many of my happier moments were raging arguments in my departments about which books needed to go and which ones we now wanted in our book-rooms. Yes, schools where I chose what we would teach and then my teams chose from the range. Good times.

 

So, what might an All-Australian list look like?

Classics

For the term

For the Term of His Natural Life, Marcus Clarke

Capricornia, Xavier Herbert

We of the Never Never, Jeannie Gunn

The Eye of the Storm, Patrick White – there must be one White at least, as he is our only home-grown Nobel winner, no matter how inaccessible you think he is!!

A Fortunate Life, AB Facey

My Brilliant Career, Miles Franklin

Picnic at Hanging Rock, Joan Lindsay

Walkabout, James Vance Marshall

The Harp in the South, Ruth Park

A Town Like Alice, Neville Shute

The Man Who Loved Children, Christina Stead

Ride on Stranger, Kylie Tennant

Poetry of AB Paterson

Short stories from Henry Lawson

 

Modern Classics

Monkey grip

Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey

Gould’s Book Of Fish, Richard Flanangan

Monkey Grip, Helen Garner

Lilian’s Story, Kate Grenville

Maestro, Peter Goldsworthy

Fly Away Peter, David Malouf

Unreliable Memoirs, Clive James – entertaining memoir

My Place, Sally Morgan – important memoir

Fly Away Peter, David Malouf

Cloudstreet, Tim Winton

Carpentaria, Alexis Wright

Poetry by – Les A Murray, Gwen Harwood, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Bruce Dawe, Judith Wright, AD Hope, John Kinsella, John Tranter, Dorothy Porter

 

Drama

radiance

The One Day of the Year, Alan Seymour

The Club or The Removalists by David Williamson

Radiance, by Louis Nowra

 

YA

looking f Al

The Obernewtyn serties, Isobel Carmody

48 Shades of Brown, Nick Earls

Looking for Alibrandi, Melinda Marchetta

Tomorrow when the war began, John Marsden

Lockie Leonard – Human Torpedo, Tim Winton

Sabriel, Garth Nix

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

 

Classic Films (because films should be included too…)

rabbit proof

Rabbit Proof Fence (based on true story)

Gallipoli (based on letters from the front)

Mad Max (just because…)

 

What would this highly personal selection tell us about being Australian? That women are valued in our canon, that there are Aboriginal voices (although there is an argument there should be more). There are few immigrant voices, but I have been away from home for a while and not as up to speed with recent developments… What would these stories tell us about ourselves? Do we not need texts from other countries, other voices in our heads to tell us about the world and how to live?

When I taught English Lit in the NT the texts were King Lear, The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night and 1000 lines of poetry, which was taken from an Australian anthology. So there was representation from three countries, different times and places, classics and moderns. Perhaps there should have been more classic Oz-Lit at that level, perhaps there is now. When I taught English Communications in Tasmania we embraced other cultures much better and taught The God of Small Things and Jhumpa Lhahiri’s collection of short stories alongside Radiance and some non-fiction texts.

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From my list – extensive but not exhaustive you can plainly see we have as Australians a rich and long standing literary heritage from which to create a bespoke English curriculum but I am not sure this is wise. I think it would shame us in many cases, it would reinforce some of our less admirable characteristics and much and all as people might breath a sigh of relief at the absence of Shakespeare or the Romantic Poets, or Dickens, what would an English education be without a smattering of good writing, of the classics from across the world?

It is always wrong to ban books, or attempt to modify people’s reading, be they teenagers or adults. Reading books, reading fiction is one of those activities that is dying fast amongst the young. What is beholden on the powers that be is to promote texts that engage and excite and mix in the classics, from across the world. A country like the UK should be outward looking, to learn from reading, to be anything but xenophobic and nationalistic in your curriculum.

Remember there is more truth in fiction than in any other book, perhaps that’s why people want to burn them and ban them and why writers are often considered with suspicion…

What do you remember from your school days? What would you want students to be reading in High School? (Images courtesy Google Images)