Essays

The sprawling quadrilateral

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For a long time all I saw were cranes.  Apart from the public housing blocks to the north-west, cranes were the tallest thing in the inner-city Melbourne suburb of Richmond.  They projected their slender strength and, hypnotically dangling their chains, put us under the residential hypnosis — buy buy buy. During my time in Richmond, … Continue reading The sprawling quadrilateral →

In Kathmandu

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The ABC recently aired a story about “paper orphans” in Nepal.  These are children who are orphans only on paper, their status “invented” by orphanages to attract money, or sponsors, from wealthy countries like Australia.  According to the ABC, Australians are “still funding and volunteering at orphanages, unwittingly perpetuating a multi-billion-dollar global industry that exploits children for profit.” 

Cultural politics and historical fiction

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Several years ago there was an article in The New York Times that caught my interest.  The article was about Olly Neal, a high-school kid in the late 1950s who stole a book from the library because he liked the racy cover. Neal was an ‘at-risk’ kid.  He was poor and black and had an attitude.  His father was a farmer.  The house had no electricity and Olly Neal was one of thirteen children. 

On the couch: Three Australian poems

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I’m going to look at three short Australian poems.  Despite each of them being about something or having a readily identifiable subject matter (a train journey, middle age, a trip away to an old estate), I’ll look at them for how they can give us insight into the nature of artistic inspiration and creativity or the process leading to the poem’s creation. Of course, every strong poem is probably its own record of the inspiration and creativity that brought it into being.  But how?

Inattentions of Reading

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This essay first appeared in Meanjin, Autumn 2019, in a slightly different form.

Whatever else it is, reading is surely one of the central activities and interests of literature.  Literature itself, though, is hardly a central activity or interest in contemporary culture.  So it seems odd that readers of Gerald Murnane who are also critics or reviewers like to point to the author’s eccentricities: he has never worn sunglasses, for example; he’s reclusive, never flown on a plane, and

Australian Realism

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This essay was first published in Sydney Review of Books, July 2015, under the pseudonym, Paul Galimond. It appears here in a slightly altered form.

In The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story (1962) Frank O’Connor argues that a defining feature of the genre is what he calls ‘submerged population groups’.  ‘It may be Gogol’s officials’, he writes, ‘Turgenev’s serfs, Maupassant’s prostitutes, Chekhov’s doctors and teachers, Sherwood Anderson’s provincials, always dreaming of escape’.  If, in his short stories, John Morrison’s characters are a particular class of ‘submerged’ people, it is due to the labours of work and material hardship — to ‘battling’.