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Sending Papers up the Hume

Hilary McPhee reflects upon a large number of boxes in her laundry   In London again this summer, I return as I always do to the handsome Reading Room of the Wellcome Medical Library in the Euston Road, my place of refuge and strength, as I have come to think of it, in a part […]

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Missing Betty

Melbourne. Full moon, winter solstice and a real chill in the air. I have been walking the Fitzroy streets even more than usual in the days since Betty Burstall died, trying to compose a condolence of sorts to her sons. Betty lived around the corner from me in a grand old terrace, a bike ride […]

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Silences

  A short unspoken history of this part of the coast Once upon a time, a long time ago, in the 1950s and 60s when photos were black and white and scarce, there was a beautiful place by the sea, unknown and unsmart, where old bathers and dirty sandshoes were all anyone needed, plus a […]

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Semifinal 2 – Tournament of Books: My Brilliant Career vs The Fortunes of Richard Mahony

   VS  This is torture. Two dead white women whose books feel like friends — and I am already deep in subjectivity. They sort of map my life. Once a fierce nineteen year old like Miles Franklin’s Stella/Sybylla, I was determined not to get snagged in convention or my mother’s life. I once loved a […]

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Certainties

My euphoria after the people’s uprising in Tunisia and Cairo and the stirrings in Syria lasted for weeks. Then, during the long run up while the UN was deliberating over the no-fly zone for Libya, I was visiting the fiord country in a remote part of PNG where the villages are accessible only by boat […]

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Great days

Hosni Mubarak looking strangely like Silvio Berlusconi (who also doesn’t get it) has handed over power. Once the middle classes – especially when thousands of doctors and the elderly – joined the young, it was probably all over. But earlier that evening it had looked like a dangerous stalemate. I made the mistake of watching […]

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Youth lash out

It seems to me there are a few hopeful signs – Egypt especially – and here  a generation of young Australians who can’t wait to get out there, lining up to study international relations and cross-cultural complexities, volunteering, learning second and third languages, galvanised by the thought that they are going to have to sort […]

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Lesley Hazleton: On reading the Koran

Lesley Hazleton sat down one day to read the Koran. And what she found — as a non-Muslim, a self-identified “tourist” in the Islamic holy book — wasn’t what she expected. With serious scholarship and warm humor, Hazleton shares the grace, flexibility and mystery she found, in this myth-debunking talk from TEDxRainier. A brilliant introduction […]

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National Biography Award Talk & Podcast

[i]excerpt[/i]…

Tonight, because I am in the Friends Room of the splendid Mitchell Library, talking to people who can be assumed to be interested in biographical writing, it seemed like a fine opportunity to talk a little about some of my time away from here when I was writing a complex biography.

Talking about the book at all is hemmed around by stop signs and no-go areas – most of them in my head, some of them the normal restraints of confidentiality and privacy, some of them might sound a little paranoid to you, like an episode from Spooks, but I was in a world of security concerns, where emails are vetted regularly, at least for keywords, where computer files sometimes seemed to come and go – and formal communications are always coded and oblique.

A few years ago, I was solicited for the task of writing a biography of a well known public figure in Amman – a man greatly respected all over the Arab world and in Europe. He is not at all well known in Australia, which is a pity because we could do with his insights, but it does make talking about the project slightly easier. I don’t need to name him but will try to ensure he gets a copy of this paper. He doesn’t ‘do’ emails, his staff do. And it’s a world of multiple agendas.

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Timid Minds

CAL / Meanjin Essay ‘Cringe’, wrote A.A. Phillips, is ‘a disease of the Australian mind’. This was an unpleasant enough notion in the Australia of the 1950s, then a remnant colonial monoculture with no separate language to hide behind. Now with our cosmopolitan aspirations and liberal assumptions, it seems unthinkable. Arthur ‘Angell’ Phillips, critic and […]