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Monday, September 13, 2010

September 7th


* Peter Sutton’s “The Politics of Suffering” has won the John Button Award for excellent writing of political and social interest. We discussed this confronting discussion on Aboriginal politics earlier his year.

* Geordie Williamson, “The Australian’s” literary editor, wrote a useful piece on REVIEWING in this month’s ALR. ‘Seems there is too much bland summarising and/or unfounded accolade being passed off where analysis and evaluation is called for. Hear here!

* The current “Overland” includes a probing essay on “originality and place in Australian writing”. An aspect that comes up frequently in reviews on this program: eg, “The Book Of Emmett” so vividly anchored in Melbourne’s Western suburbs.

* The latest “Australian Book Review’ has a review of Katherine Gallagher’s new poetry anthology “Carnival Edge”. Katherine will be in the region soon, offering a workshop. We hope to have her on the show.

* You will remember we talked a lot about David Marr’s “Quarterly Essay” on Kevin Rudd a few weeks back. The latest “Essay” provides twenty pages of responses from leading journalists as well as Marr’s own.

* The winner of the 2010 Children’s Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year Award is “The Hero of Little Street” by Gregory Rogers. It is for ages 4 and up. Stephanie Crawford, our Melbourne correspondent, gives a short review;
This is a charming, comical picture book about a boy who escapes into an old art gallery from a gang of bullies.
Roger’s engages children in the art and craft of storytelling. His books are highly recommended to keep young readers engrossed for hours.The detail of his illustrations is amazing.

* What new for children’s books right now is “Zac Power Extreme Missions Bindup”- Junior Fiction, this is one for the boys. A short summary;
Zac Power's Grand Pa drags him on a new mission in the middle of the night to find the four parts of a powerful gadget called IRIS. Grand Pa won't say what IRIS does, or why it's been broken up. Zac knows the threat is bigger than to just GIB. If they don't find IRIS before their enemies do, the whole world will be in danger.

* Also Mem Fox’s collaboration with Olivia Rawson “A giraffe in the bath”, illustrated by Kerry Argent was released earlier this year. It is a very funny picture book that suggests increasingly silly and hilarious possibilities of things that make us laugh. Lots of fun for every reader, with beautiful illustrations by Kerry Argent.

This Weeks Poem:

“The Blackbird’s Song”- RS Thomas

RS Thomas was a minister in various Welsh parishes from the end of WWII until his retirement in the early ‘90s. All his published poems are now available through Phoenix Books.
Have you heard our blackbirds are lately ‘back in town’?


“The Vintage And The Gleaning,” - Jeremy Chambers. Text, pp 264, rrp $ 32-95, 2010.

This is a novel in two halves by another first-time novelist, surely a member of the NE Victoria’s famous Chambers winemaking family – given the book’s geographical setting in an unnamed district half an hour’s drive from Corowa, NSW, and that the main character now works as a labourer for a local vigneron.

For about 100 pages, “Smithy” our narrator [sixties-something former shearer - for 47 years] tells us about his days working for “Boss”, preparing the vines for the next vintage [later to be threatened apparently by predatory insects which necessitates wholesale insecticide spraying]. He has lately given up “the grog” which conveniently makes him a clear-eyed and very observant recorder of all that is going on in his workplace and in town and district….although his memory can be a bit creative at times as he himself admits. His wife, Florence [whom he confesses to having treated very poorly] has died suddenly years ago from cancer. His son, “Spit”, is a shiftless, lazy husband and father with whom Smithy has only the slenderest interaction. Smithy feels his life may just as well be over; after all he has left is his hard and boring work among the vines – though he has started going to church! So most of the first half of “’Vintage” is dialogue, at work and in the pub, and it is done very well. Chambers is excellent on the vernacular so unique to Australian rural life.

Smithy is a sad character. Raised as an orphan on a “mission” somewhere ‘up North’, he has drifted the country following the sheds, drinking a lot, going nowhere. All he has ever known is work. The marriage and parenthood appear not to have provided him with much. A lifetime of drinking has all but ruined his health. Facing the emptiness of old age [his one encounter with his grandson is a pathetic scene],he meets up again with a 34-year-old local woman whom he had rescued years before from a violent husband who is back in town after a stint in gaol. This Charlotte moves into Smithy’s house and they await the inevitable visit of her husband. From heron in both Charlotte and Smithy tell their “back stories’, for about 50 pages each. Now, they are interesting enough though rather predictable. Charlotte’s is of a well-brought-up girl’s “What If” regrets, Smithy’s is a fairly typical if nonetheless tragic tale of childhood neglect and loneliness.
Where is all this going? Nowhere really, and that is the book’s weakness. Careful editing may have rendered the two ‘biographies’ better integrated into the whole. The liveliness of the work/town scenes early give way to lengthy, repetitive narrative. There is not enough DRIVE here, though Chambers reveals a keen eye and ear for the details of life in country Victoria. As a painter of these vignettes, he can be brilliant. As a writer of a fully-realised novel, however, he falls short. That being said,” The Vintage and the Gleaning” it is still worth reading.


“Bereft”- Chris Womersley. Scribe, pp 264, rrp $32-95,2010.

Womersley is quite well-known as a journalist, reviewer and short story writer. His first book was rewarded as a first-time crime novel. As with Chambers, Womersley takes us to rural Australia, this time to NSW, just west of the Blue Mountains.
In one sense, this is a war story….No: an AFTER-war story. The main character, Quinn, leaves home after a family tragedy which haunts the rest of his life and gives the novel its dynamic. He eventually joins the army to fight at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, experiences which leave him facially scarred and psychologically burned. With nowhere else to go and [probably] vengeance on his mind, he heads home – where he is still the main suspect for the unsolved murder. Australia is in the grip of the Great Influenza Epidemic, so his home town is a skeleton of its former self, stripped of many of its young men by the war and now suffering the ravages of the flu which is slowly killing his mother. Quinn is beset with what we now call PDSD lethargy, hallucinations, fear, and dissociation. He is forced to live in the bush, staying in the hills above the town. Here he meets an apparently-orphaned young girl, Sadie Shaw, who becomes his lifeline and confidante. She is a somewhat faerie-like character who knows much more than can be explained by her practice of listening into the conversations of the local residents.
Throughout this sparsely-worded novel, Womersley gives us some stark and arresting scenes of the Australian bush. The cast of characters is small, reduced to Quinn’s parents, an uncle and one or two others. The plot hinges on what must eventually happen when Quinn confronts the real murderer – and I felt the book faltered somewhat with the dramatics of this thread. While Quinn is a hunted and damaged victim we can empathise with him. The novel seems unsure what to do with his predicament. I know the book has been widely reviewed, usually positively. I welcome a new voice and Womersley can write. I had to draw a comparison with David Malouf’s “Fly Away Peter” and even Roger McDonald’s “1915”[ even though the latter was much more ambitious in its reach.] It is good to see the prevailing myths about World War One being reviewed in all sorts of ways and this novel certainly adds meaningfully to this task.

RATING: ***+

John Marsden- Tomorrow When The War Began Special

This week, to coincide with the September 2nd release of “Tomorrow When The War Began’ film, we dedicated the show to discussing John Marden’s book in comparison with the Stuart Beattie film adaptation.

Guest reviewer Kate Speakman, a Year 7 Geelong Collage student, spoke about the book, giving us her perspective on the storyline, characters and themes.

RATING: ****

Rhia reviewed the film version. Here is some of what she had to say.

Having not read the book, I went in to watch the film with no expectations or preconceived notions about how the story should be presented. There is always the risk of film adaptions of books falling short because readers of the book get to make up their own film version in their minds from the words written on the page (that’s the fun in reading the book). However, Stuart Beattie, did not fall short. He did a fantastic job in translating from the page to the screen. It seems his years of screenwriting such films as ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, ‘Australia’, ‘Collateral’ and ‘30 Days of Night’ have paid off and influenced him in the making of this film. It is a quality Australian film and looks very Hollywood on a fraction of the budget, at around $20 million. I would be proud to see this film stand up as a representative of Australian film, production and talent in an international market. Everything from the settings, actors, music and language oozes Australian culture and talent.
The film was well balanced in theme with drama, love, relationships, action, war, family, friendship and comradary all represented, but not overpowering one another. It’s true that Beattie had a great story to work with in the first place, however the challenge was to translate into a visual medium without compromising the story. We can see this in the opening of the film where Ellie is recording the group’s experiences direct to a digital video camera- a logical updating of the books first person narration for the film. There is no doubt that Beattie made the film look good with the action and explosion scenes but I feel the strength is in the exploration and bringing to life of Marden’s characters.
Actress Caitlin Stasey (Neighbours), who played Ellie Linton, gave a powerful performance and brought depth to her character. I saw her as a modern day ‘Xena’, a fierce warrior who remained strong throughout the ordeal but subsequently broke down showing her raw humanity.
The best part of the film for me was seeing the defining moments of each character as they, in turn, stood up as individual warriors, this was a strength of Beattie’s work. Every character was pushed to their physical, mental and emotional limits and their came a point in the film where each one of them was put to the test and had to make the decision to fight for their life. Ellie’s speech in ‘Hell’ said it all by posing the question to the group of ‘how much do you value your life over someone else’s?’. We see the clear choice for everyone as they have their defining moment and make their choice, non was more powerful than Robyn’s, she went against her catholic morals of ‘thou shalt not kill’, picking up a gun and firing at the enemy with tears streaming down her face, to save her friends.
This film really shows the humanity, innocence and strength of these children as they fight for survival and deal with the effects and consequences of war way beyond their comprehension.


Also check out these links to the 'At The Movies' website where you will find selected clips and an interview with Stuart Beattie

Selected Clips-
Stuart Beattie Interview-


Continuing with the ‘Tomorrow When The War Began’ special, this week’s tracks were taken from the film soundtrack. Congratulations to director Stuart Beattie on the Australian filled soundtrack. Not only is he supporting the Australian music industry, but also showcasing Australian talent on an international scale. This week tracks included;

-‘Tomorrow Theme’, a collaboration by Nic Cester (Jet), Davey Lane (You Am I, The Wrights), and Kram (Spiderbait)
- ‘Fader’ by The Temper Trap

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