Sarah Holland-Batt’s Jaguar

Sarah Holland-Batt, The Jaguar (UQP 2022)

If you come across The Jaguar in a bookshop and want to dip, I recommend any of the first half dozen poems. Possibly the most direct is ‘The Gift’ on page 4, which you can also read online at The New Yorker in February 2021, or the Australian Book Review in June 2021.

The book is shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t win. It begins and ends with stunning poems bearing witness to the final illness and death of the poet’s father. They are almost unbearably good in their own right, but carry even more force when one is aware of Holland-Batt’s passionate and eloquent campaigning for improvement in the aged care sector (as in this article in the Guardian).

Here’s part of the Kenneth Slessor Prize judges’ citation:

The Jaguar is a tremendous collection of poems, deeply compelling in their subject matter and exemplary in their attention to language and craft. … This is muscular, tenacious writing of great intensity that bears unflinching witness to the decline and death of a loved one, that embraces the necessary suffering that is part of loving and of being human. The Jaguar is poetry of the highest order — poetry that changes us in the reading of it, that reminds us of the inevitable.

From State Library of NSW website.

My current blogging practice is to focus on page 76 of the book I’m discussing. In The Jaguar, that page comes part way through the third of the book’s four sections. Not all the poems in this section relate to the poet’s father. There are a couple of break-up poems, some despatches from the high life on the Riviera and the USA. ‘Tiepolo’s Cleopatra’ might well be a response to John Forbes’s ‘On Tiepolo’s Banquet of Cleopatra’ (which you can read at this link) – both attend to a painting that reeks of decadent luxury. The poem on page 76, ‘The Worst of It’, appears between two poems about past romantic relationships – ‘Night Flight’ (‘our bodies puzzled together in that room’) and ‘Mansions’ (‘When I think of you I think of mansions’):

The Worst of It
As I combed it, 
he sat cross-legged 
in front of me, 
bent over 
like a penitent, 
his head heavy 
as intimacy.
An easy gesture, 
like wind riffling 
blue dunegrass 
in tidal weather.
Salt and pepper 
at the temples, 
or more accurately 
silver, perilous 
and stellar.
A wave in it, 
long from lack 
of cutting.
How can I go back 
to knowing nothing, 
knowing this?

There are three pronouns: I, he and it. We know who I is; we know what it is; he is unidentified. I read him to be the poet’s father, but he could be a lover or even someone in a patient–nurse relationship with her. It’s part of the poem’s power that his identity isn’t explicit. Readers are free to invent their own specifics.

The short lines aren’t typical of Holland-Batt’s poetry, but they work beautifully, inviting the reader to focus on each element, each connotation, as they are revealed line by line. There’s a lot of unobtrusive echoing of sound – not exactly rhyme – that binds the lines: ‘combed ‘cross-legged’; ‘front’, ‘bent, ‘penitent’; ‘heavy’, intimacy’; ‘silver’, ‘perilous’, ‘stellar’; and so on all the way to the repeated words in the final couplet.

The line-by-line movement is especially clear in the first seven lines, where a physical scene unfurls: first the action of combing, then the man’s basic position, then his spacial relationship to the speaker, then his bowed attitude, then a traditional meaning of that attitude, then a close focus on the head, then the poem’s key word, ‘intimacy’. I love the way the music of these lines builds to that word as a resonant conclusion. Heaviness isn’t an obvious quality of intimacy: we’re not dealing with, say, the intimacy of fresh love, but something more sombre.

In a kind of undulating movement away from that heaviness, the next four lines quietly surprise by comparing the combing action / gesture to wind blowing though blue dunegrass (of which you can see some images here in case, like me, you’re botanically ignorant). Though it doesn’t say so explicitly, this suggests that the two people in the poem have spent time together at sandy beaches, so the intimacy hasn’t always been heavy.

The next eight lines focus on the hair and, again one line at a time, what it tells us about the man.

  • ‘Salt and pepper’: he’s ageing
  • ‘at the temples’: but not what you’d call old or elderly
  • ‘or more accurately’: wait on, the poet is about to rethink her use of a stock phrase
  • ‘silver, perilous’: the light and the dark; on the one hand precious, and on the other in danger, perhaps because ageing brings one closer to death, or perhaps something more specific
  • ‘and stellar’: a nice alternative to ‘salt and pepper’ to describe ageing hair – flecks of shining white against a dark background
  • ‘A wave in it’ – ‘stellar’ felt like the end of the description, but the poem decides to linger a little on the hair itself, noticing other qualities
  • ‘long from lack’ – here’s a place where the line break does a lot of work: by leaving the word ‘lack’ suspended for a moment, it reinforces the earlier suggestions that the man is somehow in trouble: penitent, imperilled
  • ‘of cutting’ – on the one hand this clarifies that the lack is as mundane as not having gone to a barber, but it also suggests a degree of neglect.

In the final three lines, something of the emotional meaning of the moment is revealed. Or more accurately is invoked. This moment of combing the man’s hair comes after a discovery that has transformed the relationship. Given the wider context of the book, I read it as the moment when the father has told the daughter of his illness and the grim prognosis, but in itself it’s not tied to that. The tenderness of the first fifteen lines has been laced with a hint of sorrow or threat. These last lines bring those elements to the surface: something has happened which cannot be reversed.

So, this isn’t one of the book’s poems that takes its readers by storm. But quietly, artfully distracting from its artfulness, it delivers a moment, the kind of moment that could happen at the midpoint of a movie: the moment when we know where things are headed. A moment when we hold our breath and understand the shape of things.

Hilde Hinton’s Solitary Walk on the Moon

Last November I decided to experiment with blogging about books by taking a single page and writing whatever comes to mind about it. I picked page 75, my age at the time. Sadly, though I did focus on page 75 (or 47 or even 7 in shorter books), I didn’t really keep to the plan but felt obliged to go on about the books in general as well. Now that I’m 76, I’m renewing the experiment.

Hilde Hinton, A Solitary Walk on the Moon (Hachette Australia 2022)

You could describe A Solitary Walk on the Moon as a quirky comedy, but that suggests a particular kind of US movie – and Evelyn, the book’s laundromat-manager protagonist, is more John Wayne than Miranda July, or perhaps Miranda July in a John Wayne role. Like the hero of a classical Western movie, she’s a loner who brings her peculiar set of skills to the aid of the community who come to love her, but among whom she feels she has no abiding place.

Page 76, a little past the one-quarter mark, is relatively uneventful, but in it the characters develop, the plot moves forward and key images recur, all without breaking a sweat.

Evelyn is in the process of building what will turn out to be a patchwork family. Having overheard two young women, laundromat customers, talking about a friend who has disappeared, she has insinuated herself into their confidence, and enlisted the help of a befuddled old man, also a customer, who she has learned is a retired policeman. At the start of this page, she introduces the man to the young women with characteristic awkwardness and a touch of bravado that doesn’t quite work:

‘This is,’ Evelyn said, suddenly realising that she didn’t know his name, ‘our retired policeman.’ Her ta-da finish went unacknowledged.

We understand the lack of acknowledgement to be partly because the young women don’t quite trust Evelyn, and partly because the retired policeman is grubby and vague-looking. By this stage readers have come to understand that though Evelyn is deeply strange – perhaps non-neurotypical, perhaps from a non-mainstream culture, or perhaps dealing with childhood trauma – she is smart and well-intentioned. But we also understand other people’s hesitance around her.

The ex-policeman introduces himself as Phillip, and they head off to the police station. In a characteristic narrative move, they stop on the way for Phillip to play the love-me, love-me-not ritual with a daisy. He presents Evelyn with the stem, ‘topped by a clearly embarrassed pistil and a sad, solitary petal which flapped about in the evening breeze’. This moment reminds us that Phillip is probably in early stages of dementia, but it’s also a feature of the novel’s style: at any moment there’s likely to be a mild departure from a straightforward narrative. All the characters, it seems, are at least slightly odd, or at least wonderfully naive.

They arrive at the police station:

‘Don’t ring the bell,’ he said authoritatively when Evelyn went to ding the bell.
‘How will they know we’re here?’ she asked. The old man pointed at the mirror behind the counter and sat down on one of the plastic moulded chairs. They were all bolted together, and Evelyn wondered why. No one in their right mind would steal one. Phillip crossed his legs and clasped his hands behind his head. The two girls sat either side of him. Evelyn was not in the mood for sitting and wandered around the waiting room looking at the faded posters that looked like they’d been there for years. There was a chart of missing persons, and Evelyn vaguely remembered the tall cross-eyed man who had gone missing while bushwalking a few years back. They had never found him, as far as she knew.

This isn’t one of Evelyn’s most eccentric moments, but you can see her restless mind at work, wondering about the chairs, noticing the details of a missing man. We half expect her to go in search of him (she doesn’t). Hilde Hinton draws us into Evelyn’s world, so that we too come to notice the odd things that stand out for her, and find ourselves seeing the world with fresh eyes – not those of a child, but fresh all the same.

You can see the author’s mind playfully at work here too: is Phillip’s counter-intuitive advice about ringing the bell sensible, or are we being played with? Either way, it’s characteristic of this book that a man who when we first saw him was unable to find his own way home has practical wisdom to offer when he’s on his own turf.

There’s a faint hint here of Evelyn’s past. It’s the missing persons chart that she notices. The novel is full of such people: the young women’s missing friend, the mother of a little boy who calls on Evelyn as the only friendly adult in his life, potentially Evelyn herself. We gradually discover that she has had a number of previous lives. We learn almost no specifics, just enough of her childhood to know she was ill treated. We learn that she has walked out of her life a number of times and started over each time, so an undertow of suspense builds: this time, as she almost inadvertently builds a patchwork family around her, will she stay or will she go?

The search for this missing friend turns out to be a minor episode (they don’t actually find her, but the search is resolved). In terms of the longer arc, what is happening here is that Phillip is being drawn back into meaningful participation in society. He will go on to help solve the mystery and become part of Evelyn’s knocked-together community.

There are other great characters: Don, the man from the paint shop who is delighted by Evelyn; and the little boy and his drug-addicted mother. As the back-cover blurb says, Evelyn is going to make a difference in their lives, whether they like it or not. She’s a terrific character and this is an immensely enjoyable book. I’m grateful to the Struggling Artist, who picked it up more or less at random from the Marrickville Library shelves.

Ocean Vuong’s Time is a Mother

Ocean Vuong, Time Is a Mother (Cape Poetry 2022)

This book is dedicated ‘for Peter’ (who I’m guessing is the poet’s partner) and ‘for my mother, Lê Kim Hồng, called forward’. The inside front flap confirms what the dedication implies:

In this deeply intimate second poetry collection, Ocean Vuong searches for life among the aftershocks of his mother’s death, embodying the paradox of sitting within grief while being determined to survive beyond it. … Vuong contends with personal loss, the meaning of family and the value of joy in a perennially fractured American spirit.

In a 2020 interview with Seth Meyers (on YouTube here) promoting his novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Vuong spoke beautifully of his relationship with his mother. She must have died soon after the interview.

This is not a single-focus collection. It opens with ‘The Bull’, a dream-like encounter between a bull and the narrator as a boy (you can hear Vuong read it at this link). Like a dream, the poem invites a range of interpretations: could it be about vague adolescent guilt (‘I was a boy – which meant I was a murderer / of my childhood’), or religion (‘my god / was stillness. My god, he was still there’), or ambivalence about sex (‘I didn’t / want him. I didn’t want him to / be beautiful’), or a psychotic episode? It’s a suitably uncanny introduction to the book as a whole, which is – if nothing else – hard to pin down.

The next couple of poems likewise don’t insist on a single theme: if anything, mental illness seems to be taking centre stage. The first long poem, ‘Dear Peter’, is a verse letter apparently written in a psych hospital (it begins ‘they treat me well / here’).

But given the context of the poet’s mother’s death, these poems can be read as ’embodying’ the profoundly unsettling effects of grief. The last lines of ‘The Bull’, foe example, reveal that behind the image of the bull lies a sense of oneself as a grieving animal:

enough to hold. I
reached for him. I reached - not the bull - 
but the depths. Not an answer but 
an entrance the shape of 
an animal. Like me.

As in Vuong’s novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (my blog post here), there’s a complex interplay between the author’s identity as a young gay man who migrated to the USA from Vietnam as a child, and his relationship to his mother and her experiences both before and after migration. For example, ‘Not Even’ (page 35) starts out with a witty take on the changing social status of gay men:


I used to be a fag now I'm a checkbox.

The pen tip jabbed in my back, I feel the mark of progress. 

Further on, a young woman at a party says to the poet: ‘You’re so lucky. You’re gay plus you get to write about war and stuff. I’m just white.’ The next lines are:

Because everyone knows yellow pain, pressed into American letters, turns to gold.

Our sorrow Midas touched. Napalm with a rainbow afterglow.

But the poem doesn’t stay at that satirical level. It goes to deeply felt issues of ‘war and stuff’, including the kindness of a stranger and, inevitably, his mother’s death, until it arrives at a stunning metaphor for emergence from grief – which I won’t quote here because you really do need to read the whole four pages to get its full effect. A slightly different version has been published by the Poetry Foundation website at this link.

Even a poem such as ‘Old Glory’, a non-rhyming sonnet that lists common US turns of phrase, doesn’t depart far from the theme of death and loss. It begins, ‘Knock ′em dead, big guy’, and ends, ‘I’m dead.’

As usual, I want to look at some of the poetry in close-up. I’ve picked page 75 arbitrarily (it’s my age – at least it was when I started this blog post), but it happens to fall part way through ‘Dear Rose’, the most powerful and interesting poem in the collection. You can read the whole poem at this link, with an elegant introduction by Ben Lerner.

For context, it’s a long poem, 33 eight-line stanzas, framed (like On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous) as an address to the poet’s mother. It recalls key moments from her life: a schoolhouse destroyed by napalm when she was six years old; her ostracism in Vietnam as the son of a white US soldier; her brother shot dead for stealing a chicken to feed her. Intermingled with these historical moments are some apparently random elements: the sight of an ant carrying its dead brother; memories of his mother making fish sauce from the salted corpses of ‘a garbage bag of anchovies’. Page 75 goes from mid-stanza 17 to stanza 21. In the image below, disregard the first word, a carry over from the previous line. It may help to know that ‘their’ in the first line refers to the fermenting anchovies:

First, a word about punctuation. There isn’t any. Even line-break and stanza-breaks don’t function as punctuation. One effect of this is to slow the reader down. Several times, even in this short passage, you have to stop and realise you’ve moved on to a new thought. The transition point isn’t always clear. In what follows you may well have a different notion of where the sense breaks fall. It’s worth noticing how meaning is often carried over the line-breaks and stanza-breaks (technical term: enjambment). The effect varies, but there’s usually a moment of suspense that’s resolved at the start of the next line (‘almost /-sauce’, ‘dissolved / by time’), or a slight surprise as the meaning changes or enlarges (‘like an animal / being drowned’, ‘the largest thing you knew / after god’).

enter within months their meat
will melt into brown mucus rot almost
-sauce the linear fish-spine dissolved 

by time at last pungent scent 
of ghosts

The fermenting anchovies are not a pretty sight, or smell. They entered the poem as a memory in their own right, but by this stage they’ve come to represent the process of memory, or perhaps of grief: there’s a promise that they will dissolve and develop into something useful, even delicious, but first there’s a lot of painful emotion (‘brown mucus rot’) to be endured. Not yet sauce, they are all that remains of those who have died, ghosts.

of ghosts you said you named me
after a body of water ′cause 
it's the largest thing you knew 
after god I stare at the silvered layers 

This abrupt shift of subject is one of many in this poem and elsewhere in Vuong’s poetry. The poem’s attention comes up out of the murk to a clear, simple memory, a many-times told tale, that speaks loud and clear how much his mother treasured him. But then:

after god  I stare at the silvered layers 
the shadowed line between two pressed fish 
is a finger in the dark gently remembered

There’s a difference between the familiar stories of the past, and the way some memories come unbidden and partial, ‘gently’, sometimes without context, like a shadowed line in the fermenting jar. In this case, it’s ‘a finger in the dark’ that’s remembered.

in the dark his finger 

on my lips Ma his shhh 
your friend the man watching me 
while you worked the late
shift in the Timex clock factory why 
am I thinking this now the gasped throats 
mottled pocked fins gently the door its blade 
of amber light widening as it opened 
shhh it sounds like an animal

being drowned as you churned 
the jar your yellow-white arms pink 
fish guts foaming up gently you must 
remember gently the man he's in 
the '90s still his face a black rose 
closing do you know 

This feels like a memory of sexual abuse. As I read it, the question, ‘Why amI thinking this now?’, is answered in the following words: ‘the gasped throats /mottled pocked fins’. Something about the image of the anchovies brings this memory up from the depths. The stanza break here is brilliant: the man’s ‘shhh’ sounds like an animal, and then the first words of the next stanza, ‘being drowned’, tie the memory back to the image of the anchovies as well as leaving no doubt about the nastiness of the remembered incident. I’m fascinated by the repetition of ‘gently’: usually with implications of tenderness, here it suggests stealth – both on the man’s part and on the way the memory steals into consciousness.

Colour is important in this poem. Pink, red, blue, amber, brown, white and black recur, each with a range of connotations, as if the disparate elements of the poem are tied together with coloured threads. The ominous blade of light here is the same colour as the New England light beneath which his mother started the fish sauce, as her hair, and as the anchovies themselves. The description of the man’s face as a black rose contrasts to Vuong’s mother, Hồng – meaning ‘rose’ – who is sometimes describes as pink, sometimes white.

The last phrase ‘do you know’ is the classic question of the abused child to the parent who might have been expected to protect them. Such a question demands to be included in this letter to the poet’s dead mother. But it goes no further, as the mother now speaks, beginning with the same phrase:

closing do you know 
what it's like my boy my 
boy you said sweating above the jar

to be the only one hated the only 
one the white enemy of your own 
country your own

You could read this as the mother being incapable of hearing the son’s story. And you’re probably right. But it’s like the extraordinarily powerful moment in On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous when Little Dog comes out to his mother, and just as he thinks his big dramatic moment is over she says, ‘Now I have something to tell you.’ It might not be ideal parenting for a mother to burden her little son with a story like this, but this is not a poem of reproach. Far from it. The poet is acutely aware of what his mother has endured – and by implication he has been aware of it since he was very young (‘My boy my / boy’), and it’s her life struggles and triumphs that

face the trees they were roaring 
above us red leaves leaving little cuts 
in the sky gently I touched 
your elbow the fish swirling 
in their gone merry-go-round

The final lines on this page bring us back to the moment when the mother is stirring the anchovies with her attentive son beside her. The ‘red leaves leaving little cuts / in the sky’ suggests that the exchange has left both of them still wounded, but this time ‘gently’ surely does suggest tenderness, and the merry-go-round is ‘gone’ – the issue can be left behind.

Over the page, as you’d expect, there is further complexity. As with fish sauce, the poem’s disparate elements, many of them horrible in themselves, are mixed together and allowed to work on each other to become an unexpectedly beautiful new thing. If you have a chance, do read the whole thing.

I read Time Is a Mother in honour of World Pride, which has recently dominated my part of the world. The book turns out to be a salutary counterweight to the relentlessly manic imagery with which commercial culture signifies its openness to the LGBTQIA+ community: self-questioning, generous and deeply serious.

Middlemarch: Progress report 5

George Eliot, Middlemarch: A study of provincial life (George Eliot, 1871–1872; Könemann 1997), chapter 47 to beginning chapter 59

This month, as usual, Middlemarch made its presence felt elsewhere than in the five pages I read each morning. Researching her family history, the Struggling Artist learned that her paternal ancestor who came to Australia roughly a decade after the events related in Middlemarch was a health practitioner who started out as a doctor and became an apothecary because that’s where the money lay after medical doctors were no longer able to sell drugs. This change in the law plays a big role in the fortunes of Middlemarch‘s Lydgate. He is in favour of the changes and the established medical men of the town, believing they will be deprived of much of their livelihood, take against him.

In last month’s progress report, I described the moment when Dorothea feels pity for Casaubon, her dried-up stick of a husband. I thought it was a central turning point, a hinge. Little did I know (spoiler alert) that the real turning point would turn up in the next day’s reading! He died.

This month, among the older generation there’s much buying and selling, some blackmail, some generosity to the younger generation, a near riot as the railway comes to town, and some apparent endorsement by George Eliot of appalling class attitudes and behaviour.

Among the younger generation, which is where our interest really lies, Dorothea is taking up the management of her inherited estate, while a codicil to Casaubon’s will says she will be disinherited if she marries Will Ladislaw – which if it becomes known will create the impression that the two young people have been having a dalliance (nothing could be further from Dorothea’s mind or Will’s upright nature, though it’s what we want for them both). In the hope of winning Mary’s hand, Fred has given up any intention of becoming a clergyman, but he has discovered, and inadvertently alerted Mary to the fact, that the altogether decent, but older, Mr Farebrother has his hopes set on her too. Rosamond, who only last month revealed that she was pregnant, has had a miscarriage probably caused by going riding against her husband’s advice, and there’s a brilliant scene when Lydgate tells her about their financial crisis expecting her to see it as their shared problem, only to find that their understandings of the world, including in particular of their marriage, are separated by a huge gulf.

Today the narrative returns to the vexed issue of Dorothea and Will’s prospects. At least, that’s where I think we’re heading. Chapter 59 begins with this wonderful sentence, a nice example of Eliot’s way with similes, and of her wry understanding of how good intentions don’t guarantee good outcomes:

News is often dispersed as thoughtlessly and effectively as that pollen which the bees carry off (having no idea how powdery they are) when they are buzzing in search of their particular nectar.

While visiting the Farebrother household Fred learns about the codicil to Casaubon’s will. He, who ‘knew little and cared less about Ladislaw and the Casaubons’, wants to avoid being scolded tiresomely by his sister for having given up the Church, and passes the news on to distract her. Who knows what his sister, gorgeous and totally lacking in empathy, will do with the information? It’s not like her to keep any cat in any bag.

The suspense is massive.

2023 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards

Who knows who will be Premier at the awards ceremony in May, but the shortlist was announced on 1 March while Dom Perrottet is still in the offices. The list can be bit hard to read on the State Library site. Here it is in one quick look, with links to the judges comments.

Christina Stead Prize

UTS Glenda Adam’s Award for New Writing

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature

Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting

Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting

Multicultural NSW Award

NSW Premier’s Translation Prize

Indigenous Writers’ Prize

The winners are announced on 22 May. With any luck there will be a break from recent practice and the Premier, whoever it is, will make the presentations.

I’m in no position to predict winners, having read or seen very few of the shortlisted titles, loved some, found one mediocre and one unreadable. All the same, I’d happily risk a large sum on The Australian Wars for the Betty Roland, and a moderate amount on Jaguar for the Kenneth Slessor. It will be interesting to see what happens if Anonymous wins the Translation Prize. Whatever, that’s an impressive list for anyone stuck for something to read.

Reading with the Grandies 32: Digger, Digger and Despereaux

The world has changed since my last post about grandparental reading. Our granddaughter has started school, which means that her little brother now goes to Day Care without her reassuring presence. They both still like to be read to. Here are some of the titles that now have a look-in among the established favourites such as Catwings, Grug, Mrs Wobble the Waitress or Fantastic Mr Fox.

Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock, Dig, Dump, Roll (Walker Books Australia 2018)

For a brief time, our grandparentng days included the reading time at our nearest bricks and mortar bookshop, Harry Hartog’s in the Marrickville Metro. On one of our attendances we asked the brilliant ukulele-playing book reader to include a book about diggers as a treat for our two-year-old grandson. She obliged, and made a sale for which we are immensely grateful.

It’s a simple book, first published in Australia but now available from Candlewick in the USA and Walker in the UK. It’s structured as a series of riddles: What’s that making that noise? Here’s a hint … [Turn the page] … machinery revealed. The book’s refrain has now entered permanently into the vocabulary of the two year old and the five year old as well as their grandparents: ‘Digger digger coming through!’

An added topical bonus is that we discover at the end that all the machinery and the builders have been constructing a school: ‘You can learn and play here too.’

Hervé Tullet, Press Here (Allen & Unwin, first published in France as Un Livre by Bayard Editions 2010)

This is a terrific piece of design. One spread presents an image of one or more coloured dots with an instruction (‘Press here and turn the page’, ‘Tilt the page to the left’, and so on). The next spread reveals the result of your action. The dots multiply, change colour, move around the page, get bigger and smaller. It’s a wonderful book to read and be read to, and I’ve seen people of various ages having a nice time with it.

The English translator isn’t named. It may have been designer Hervé Tullet himself. Whoever it was did a magnificent job.

Esphyr Slobodkina, Caps for Sale (©1940)

We may have a copy of this in a box somewhere. I remember enjoying it with our children, and now it’s been read to us by the marvellous Lisa at Balmain Library Storytime.

A troupe of monkeys steal a pedlar’s caps from his head while he’s asleep. He tries everything he can think of to get his caps back, and in the end manages it in an unexpected way. The language is wonderfully incantatory, and apart from sheer enjoyment value, there’s plenty to exercise young minds – the range of colours, numbers, and of course the overarching problem to be solved.

Esphyr Slobodkina was a Russian-born avant garde artist and feminist, and this is brilliant.

Kate diCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux (Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread) (Walker Books 2003)

I may be posting about this prematurely, as we’re only a couple of chapters in – it’s a big chapter book. But both Nana / the Emerging Artist and I are enjoying it immensely, and Granddaughter listened wide-eyed.

I did read parts of this decades ago, but it’s brilliantly fresh this time around.

The princess, known as Pea, isn’t all that keen on the business of choosing a suitor, but is very taken by a little mouse, the Despereaux of the book’s title, who is entranced by her beauty. The mouse breaks some of the most sacred rules of mousekind by first letting humans see him, then letting one of them (Pea) touch him, and then – oh horror! – speaking to them. But what are you gong to do when the most beautiful creature you’ve ever seen doesn’t think you’re an ugly, big-eared runt, but thinks you’re cute, with cute ears?

We do a lot of reading. Small amounts of Paw Patrol, My Little Pony, Peppa Pig. These blog posts are selective.

Journal Catch-up 17

Sadly or otherwise, reading in the sauna turns out to be a prompt for excellent conversations, and I’m tending to walk rather than take public transport. So my standard time slots for reading journals have shrunk, and I’m as far behind as ever.

Alexandra Christie (editor), Heat Series 3 Nº 5 (Giramondo 2022)

Each issue of the current series of Heat gives us a slender collection of excellent writing from Australia and elsewhere, including work in translation and work from Australian writers of non-Anglo background.

The stand-out feature in this issue is Kate Middleton’s three ‘Television Poems’. As someone who watches an awful lot of TV, I enjoyed these a lot. They deal with Dickinson (‘the one they always / had to label spinster, recluse, or else just too intense‘); the revelations about sexual abuse on the sets of TV shows, especially Hey Dad! (‘in suburban Sydney / the sitcom architect turned sinister’); and The Crown, with passing references to The Cosby Show, SVU, Scooby Doo, among others. Plus there are endnotes that are both helpful and funny (‘It’s hard being Kate Middleton and being uninterested in the royals’).

Of the rest, I most enjoyed Jenny Erpenbeck’s ‘Things That Disappear’, translated from German by Kurt Beals of the USA; and Oliver Driscoll’s ‘Two Simple Stories About Friendship’.

I had a vague unease reading this journal, which came into focus with the final piece, ‘Still Life With Cheese’ by playwright, poet and essayist Noëlle Janascweska. (You can read it for yourself on the Giramondo website at this link.) It’s a nicely written essay that interweaves the author’s personal dealings with various cheeses; a smattering of facts about the history of cheese manufacture; quotes from Zola, Auden, and Wallis & Gromit; and reflections on 16th century Flemish still lifes. There’s a reproduction of Still Life with Cheese, Artichoke and Cherries by Clara Peeters, 1625, which is stunning even in black and white. But I found myself wondering why I was reading it. I’m not particularly interested in cheese, and the essay didn’t make me interested. It feels like something written because the writer is a writer looking for a subject, rather than arising from any inner necessity.

At that point, something crystallised in my mind. It feels as if the new series hasn’t yet found its feet, hasn’t yet established a coherent purpose for existing. I already have two more issues on my TBR shelf. I’m hopeful.

Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk (editors), Overland 247 (Winter 2022)
(Much of the content is online at, and I’ve included links)

By contrast, Overland is suffused with a sense of purpose.

The lead article, ‘That’s not us!’ Wake in Fright and the Australian nightmare by Gregory Marks, is an excellent account of Ted Kotcheff’s film and Ken Cook’s novel it was taken from. It’s odd, though, to argue that the film, directed by a Canadian and starring an Englishman, exemplifies Australia’s ‘cultural cringe’. One moment that stands out in my memory from when I saw the film in 1971 is the alarming first appearance, complete with huge cigarette-lighter flame, of Chips Rafferty’s character (who isn’t mentioned in the article), which is the opposite of any kind of cringe.

Serving up colonialism instead of care‘ by Caitlin Prince tackles the pressing issue of how her fellow settler Australians can face and change attitudes that keep colonialist oppression in place. It’s a long article. Here’s a taste of the main argument:

Telling white Australians to ‘get over it’ would be consistent with our colonial stiff-upper-lip inheritance and Australia’s general trend of having the emotional intelligence of a brick, but it would also grossly misunderstand the problem. … People need space to unpack problematic racial views, otherwise they remain repressed, packed in tight, impossible to understand and shift. …

It is radical. and uncomfortable, to imagine meeting racist views with care – uncomfortable for everyone, but impossibly unfair to ask of Aboriginal people, whose lives (and deaths) are impacted by racism. Doing so, however, is sensible if we consider how human beings learn to regulate emotion.

Among the other articles, I particularly responded to ‘An almanac of immeasurable things‘ by Lachlan Summers, which sheds light on the naming conventions of cyclones and other phenomena, and the way the names can mislead. An example:

After the Black Summer [of 2019–2020], calls have been made for a category beyond catastrophic. Far outside the nomenclature of disaster, and generating new conditions of terror, this was a catastrophe that threatened not to end. In fact, ‘Black Summer’ refers to eleven months of waiting for fires to stop reproducing themselves.

The substantial array of poetry includes ‘log‘, a welcome new poem from joanne burns, which begins with this striking image:

dream’s letterhead lies exhausted
in the recycling bin

Among the healthy selection of short fiction, there were some effectively weird, surreal/uncanny pieces. My favourite, however, was a realistic story about a young person living in a share house in a southern city feeling for their home in Far North Queensland as it’s lashed by a cyclone. It’s ‘Sweet Anticipation’ by Jasmin McGaughey, winner of the 2021 Nakata Brophy Prize for young Indigenous writers. Interestingly, only an incidental word or two indicate that the protagonist is First Nations. At least, it’s interesting to me as a Far North Queenslander who was living in Sydney when Cyclone Larry took the roof off my childhood home.

The next issue of Heat kicks off with an essay by Fiona wright. And a quick look at Overland 248 reveals the presence of an old friend from English Hons at Sydney Uni in the 1970s. Much to look forward to.

Bryan Hartas, Hard As

Bryan Hartas, Hard As: My Life as an Orphan Boy (AndAlso Press 2021)

Full disclosure: This book was edited by my niece, Edwina Shaw. ‘Edited’ is an understatement for the process that she and the author undertook together. She describes it in an Editor’s Note:

I first met Bryan several years ago as a participant in the creative writing classes I run at Lotus Place, a resource and support centre for Forgotten Australians. Bryan often spoke about wanting to record his whole life story, despite having difficulty with literacy like many Forgotten Australians.
Over a period of years, Bryan and I have sat together and I have written down his words as he spoke them, later shaping these notes into a chronological narrative …
Over the past couple of years, I have read the story aloud to Bryan and he has added and changed details.

The book tells the story of just one of more than half a million children who were failed by Australian society and its institutions in the 20th century, under the appallingly ironic heading of ‘care’. They are the ‘Forgotten Australians’ – the term used by the 2003–04 Senate Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care:

Children were for many reasons hidden in institutions and forgotten by society when they were placed in care and again when they were released into the ‘outside’ world. … These people who spent part or all of their childhood in an institution, children’s home or out-of-home care background have been the forgotten Australians.

(‘Introduction: Conduct of Senate Inquiry – Submissions:1.16‘, Forgotten Australians Report, 2004, from Wikipedia)

In the first dozen pages of Bryan Hartas’s story, he is relatively safe in his mother’s care. He very rarely sees his father, but hears him attack his mother when he comes home drunk at night. There are two photos, one of Bryan as a chubby baby and the other, a classic of its kind, showing him aged seven with his three siblings grinning awkwardly at the camera. A man whose head has been torn from the photograph, possibly the children’s father, stands behind them. Bryan’s mother was taken away in an ambulance soon after that photo was taken, and he never saw her again. Then the true horror began.

Completely neglected by their father, the children were taken into care, where they were separated. Years of mistreatment followed, including terrible hunger and vulnerability to sexual assault by older boys. In Bryan’s account, he was singled out for special mistreatment because he was ‘ugly’. The treatment meted out by the nuns and others was terrible. As he grew older, he was sent to work with the men around the place, but still given the paltry food allotted to the children. At times he had no bed, but had to find a spot in a shed where he slept under a pile of hessian bags. He was sent out to work on farms. In one of them he was treated well, given decent meals, and received some affection, which he soaked up. But mostly he was treated worse than the farm animals. It may be that he fell through the cracks in the system, but the system itself was hideous. He was sent to a correctional institution after some failed attempts at escape, and while still a teenager he landed in Boggo Road Gaol in Brisbane. Possibly the most horrific moment in his narrative is when he talks bout the relief he felt in gaol: he was safe and well-fed, with a bed of his own. On his release he committed a crime so as to find a way back to safety.

He manages to have relationships with a number of women. The narrative glides over the details, but none of the relationships endure. He does have a number of children. He gives up alcohol, does volunteer work, and at the time of telling the story he has a good connection with his children. It’s a story of survival.

The subject matter is gruelling, but it’s a gripping read.

To give you a taste, here’s a story of what happened on the Willises’ dairy farm near Fangool, out past Biloela, when Hartas was fourteen years old. (I can’t find a town called Fangool – maybe it’s a name made up to protect the guilty, and maybe it’s only accidental that it sounds like an Englishing of a common Italian swear word, which could be Bryan’s joke, or possibly Edwina’s.) Another boy from the home, James, was also working on the farm, and for some reason he was treated much better than Bryan. The farm was rundown, and a lot of the equipment – the truck, the milking machines, the windmill, the riding gear – was in disrepair. Inevitably, there was an accident. When Bryan was bringing cows in to milk one afternoon, the girth on his horse’s saddle broke. He fell on some jagged rocks and was knocked unconscious:

When I came to, I had blood on my head and terrible pain on the right side of my back and in my shoulder. I came to in a panic, knowing I’d been badly hurt, that I needed help. So I started back to the house as fast as I could. Staggered and ran and staggered and ran all the long way to the farm. I didn’t know where the horse was.
When I got back, James told me to go over to the house. Mrs Willis gave me a pain killer and told me to sit on the back veranda for a few minutes then go back to work. It was my left shoulder, my dominant hand, and my arm was hanging useless beside me, yet she forced me back to work. After a while, I got up and went to the dairy, but I couldn’t do anything properly because I was in so much pain. I could barely lift my arm. I should have gone to hospital. It was a serious injury.
I got no sleep that night or for many nights for months after that because of the pain. I didn’t even get another pain killer from the Willises. For months I couldn’t use that arm at all and had to fumble around with my right hand trying to put cups on teats and do the other jobs. Many decades later, I still can’t throw a ball with that arm. Only recently, the break and damage was revealed. X-rays showed my shoulder blade had been cracked and the ball joint of my shoulder was chipped. I told the Willises I was in agony, but they still didn’t take me to a doctor.

(Page 75)

This is characteristic of Hartas’s vivid manner of telling. It reflects the confidence he felt in his editor/scribe – confidence that she would record his story with integrity, but also that she is listening with respect and empathy. There’s an insistence on how terrible things were (and elsewhere on how much his mother’s love meant to him) that reflect his wanting her – and us – to understand. I know I’m probably prejudiced because the editor/scribe is my lovely niece, but it seems to me that what shines through in this book is her ability to listen well, and her ability to render the chaos of the spoken word (which anyone who’s ever transcribed their own or anyone else’s speech knows is close to universal) into smooth prose that still sounds like a speaking voice.

I’m glad I read this so soon after reading Ruby Langford Ginibi’s Haunted by the Past. The books are similar in many ways. Together they bear powerful witness to the lived experience of suffering and resilience that lies behind labels like Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and Forgotten Australians.

Annie Ernaux’s girl’s story

Annie Ernaux, A Girl’s Story, translated by Alison L Straya (Seven Stories Press 2020, from Mémoire de fille, Gallimard 2016)

There’s an AI app that‘a in the news just now. I asked it to write a review of Annie Ernaux’s A Girl’s Story/Mémoire de fille. Here are some excerpts from what the app came up with:

“A Girl’s Story” by Annie Ernaux is a highly acclaimed and celebrated memoir that tells the story of the author’s childhood and youth. …

The book is written in a simple, straightforward style that is both raw and emotionally charged. …

She vividly describes the sights, sounds, and smells of her childhood, and her descriptions are so vivid that the reader feels as though they are right there alongside her. At the same time, the author’s reflections on her life and experiences are both deeply personal and universally relatable, making the book accessible to a wide range of readers.

Lazy students be warned: almost every word in those paragraphs is misleading. The AI clearly hasn’t read the book.

The book does NOT tell the story of the author’s childhood and youth.

It scrutinises barely two years of the author’s life, when as an 18-year old in 1958 she left her parents’ custodianship for the first time, had her first sexual experiences, developed an eating disorder, read a lot (including Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex), attended a prestigious college, decided against entering the teaching profession, worked as an au pair in London, and began her career as a writer.

The book is NOT written in a simple, straightforward style.

Take the opening sentences:

There are beings who are overwhelmed by the reality of others, their way of speaking, of crossing their legs, of lighting a cigarette. They become mired in the presence of others. One day, or rather one night, they are swept away inside the desire and the will of a single Other.

The science-fictional feel of ‘There are beings’ probably isn’t there in the original French, where it’s not unusual for elevated prose to refer to people as êtres (literally ‘beings’). But even without that bit of translationese, you’d hardly call these sentences simple or straightforward. In fact, they almost stand as a warning: if you want a simple, straightforward story, go somewhere else. The hint (‘or rather one night’) that the story is going to involve sex is neither simple nor straightforward, but at least it promises spiciness.

The style is NOT raw and emotionally charged.

The style is intensely intellectual, as is only right for a text that is concerned with the process of remembering. Memories are often there as single images, without a clear sense of how they connect with each other. Where memory fails, the narrator quotes from ancient letters and diary entries, or simply speculates about what ‘the girl of S’ (as she is called from the start) must have been feeling. From the older person’s perspective, the sexual experiences are terrible, but as far as the narrator can tell (remember?) ‘the girl’ didn’t see them that way. See the opening lines quoted above: it’s a story of a young woman who loses and regains her sense of herself. One strand of the book is a troubling inquiry into the nature of consent.

The reader does NOT feel as though they are right there alongside her.

Annie Ernaux considers that she is no longer the person who had those experiences as an eighteen-year-old. It took me several pages to be sure that ‘the girl of S’ is not someone other than the author. If we are ‘right there alongside’ anyone it’s the 70-something writer who sets out to ‘explore the gulf between the stupefying reality of things that happen, at the moment they happen, and, years later, the strange unreality in which the things that happened are enveloped’. At least that’s how she describes her initial intention. The book is more complex, recursive and elusive than that.

She vividly describes the sights, sounds, and smells of her childhood

No. Just no!

The author’s reflections on her life and experiences MAY BE deeply personal and universally relatable, but not in the way the AI implies.

This calls for discussion of an actual piece of writing. I’ll pick the moment (on pages 74–75) when the girl, still in the last year of high school and working as a counsellor at a children’s camp, has had two sexual encounters with H (the ‘single Other’ of the book’s first paragraph, which I quoted earlier). After the second time, of which the narrator says she remembers very little but which certainly wasn’t pleasurable for the girl, H promises to come to her room and say goodbye the next morning, the last day of camp. The girl knows that he is engaged to someone else, but nevertheless spends a sleepless night imagining that ‘H is her lover, truly and for all eternity’. When he doesn’t come at dawn, she goes to knock on his door. Though he can see his back through the keyhole, he ignores her. This is definitely a ‘deeply personal’ moment, but the narrator isn’t interested in capturing its emotional intensity. She writes:

Even if it had crossed her mind (and I think it probably did) that by promising to come and say goodbye, he was simply trying to shake her off, no objective sign of reality – the fiancée, the unkept promise, the lack of a meeting arranged for later in Rouen – can possibly compete with the novel that wrote itself in a single night, in the spirit of Lamartine’s The Lake, or Musset’s Nights, or the happy ending of the film The Proud and the Beautiful, with Gérard Philipe and Michèle Morgan running toward each other, or the songs (that Esperanto of love) I can list without a second thought.

She goes on to list five songs, all of which are as unknown to me as the novels and movie. I googled one, Dalida’s ‘Histoire d’un amour’, and it’s as romantic as you’d expect – on YouTube here. You don’t need to be familiar with the references to see that the narrator is considering the girl from an ironic distance. She isn’t mocking. Her project is more intellectually rigorous than that, and much more interesting: she wants to understand how ‘the girl’ really experienced the moment, at the same time as knowing that complete understanding is impossible.

After listing the songs, Ernaux does two things. First, she asserts that this kind of self story-telling is common:

At this very moment, out in the streets, the open spaces, on the metro, in lecture halls, and inside millions of heads, millions of novels are being written chapter by chapter, erased and revised, and all of them die as a result of becoming, or not becoming, reality.

This reminds me of the way Proust’s narrator in In Search of Lost Time writes at length about how he imagined what places were like based on their names, only to be almost always disappointed by the reality. Annie Ernaux explicitly suggests that this is a universal thing. So maybe it’s ‘relatable’ after all.

(By describing this fantasising as novel-writing, Ernaux seems to be suggesting that her writing life began that night, a whole other dimension of the memoir.)

The second thing she does is to leap forward in time:

When, in the subway or the RER, I hear the first notes of Dalida’s ‘Histoire d’un amour’, sometimes sung in Spanish, within a second I am emptied of myself, hollowed out. I used to believe (Proust had a comparable experience) that for three minutes, I truly became the girl of S. But it is not she who suddenly revives but the reality of her dream, the powerful reality of her dream, spread throughout the universe by the words sung by Dalida and Darío Moreno, and covered up again, buried by the shame of having had that dream.

(The RER is the rapid transit system serving Paris and its suburbs.)

This paragraph could be seen as encapsulating the book as a whole. Annie Ernaux the narrator grapples throughout with the nature of memory. Here, she realises that in the intervening years, in non-rigorous mode, she has believed herself to be reliving that moment, becoming once again her eighteen-year-old self and losing all sense of who she is in the present. But with her rigorous mind at work, she realises that what is being revived is the dream, the pattern of thinking and feeling that came into play at that moment. Any mockery that may have been implied in the ironic distance of the previous paragraphs is identified as coming from shame.

It’s no accident that Proust is mentioned here. His ghost hovers over the whole enterprise. At one level, his huge novel tells his alter ego’s life story, while A Girl’s Story tells the much smaller story of a teenage girl’s first more or less traumatic sexual experience. (Proust’s narrator’s first sexual experience is of the don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it variety.) At another level, they are both philosophical inquiries into the nature of memory and desire. Ernaux’s book doesn’t have the queerness or the comedy of Proust’s, but it is just as serious, just as challenging, and has the added passion of feminist horror.

Ruby Langford Ginibi’s Haunted by the Past

Ruby Langford Ginibi, Haunted by the Past (Allen & Unwin 1999)

Ruby Langford Ginibi (1934–2011) was a Bundjalung woman who among many other things wrote five autobiographical books. The first, which lifted its title from a song made popular by Kenny Rogers, became a bestseller when it appeared in 1988. Tara June Winch has written about it:

What Langford Ginibi produced in penning Don’t Take Your Love to Town was a broad-scoping segment missing from the body of Aboriginal literature, published in 1988 amid the fanfare and patriotic celebrations of Australia’s bicentenary. Decades later it retains its relevance and importance, still sounding a clarion call to the future for understanding and a breaking of the cycle of social and racial disadvantage for Aboriginal Australians, at long last.

Tara June Winch, ‘On “Don’t Take Your Love to Town” by Ruby Langford Ginibi‘, Griffith Review 80, May 2023.

Haunted by the Past, published a decade and three books after Don’t Take Your Love to Town, continues and amplifies that call to the future. In a writing style that feels unstudied and conversational, it tells the story of Nobby, one of Langford Ginibi’s nine children. This is a mother’s story of seeing her son sent to boys’ homes as a child and then incarcerated more than once as an adult for something he didn’t do; the terror that he would die in custody as so many Indigenous Australians have done; the joy, hers and his, of taking him to his traditional country on his release after eight years in prison; his development as a painter (his artwork is on the cover of this first edition); and in the final pages, his marriage with the prospect of a stable future. Even if you suspect that motherly bias influences the account of Nobby’s ‘crimes’ and punishment, the picture of legal system’s treatment of young Aboriginal men is damning.

It’s a deceptively simple book, just seeming to tell it as it was, one thing after another. There are straightforward quotes from court documents, including psychiatric assessments of Nobby’s suicidal state of mind at one point. Nobby gets to speak for himself in sections written for the book at his mother’s behest. There are detailed accounts of organising prison visits, and hiring cars, and visiting relatives. There are Mum jokes, as when the band strikes up ‘Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town’ at a wedding, and her family start singing it to her:

I called out to them, ‘If I didn’t take my love to town, you mob wouldn’t be here!’

(Page 178)

But the cumulative effect is far from simple. From the opening words – ‘Where does Nobby’s story begin? With his birth in 1955? Or further back …’ – Langford Ginibi is clear that she is telling her son’s story in the context of the long story of colonisation. Without using terms like intergenerational trauma, her story-telling challenges versions of Aboriginal experiences that ignore this country’s continuing history of racist and genocidal policies. She shows us the human, everyday faces of people who might other tend to be reduced to statistics in the mainstream media. Everything seems intensely ordinary, but long history is there at every moment. It’s a history of resilience and achievement as well as oppression.We are told a number of times about the Aboriginal cricketer who bowled Don Bradman for a duck. You get a strong sense of the warmth of family life – the extended family of people who haven’t seen each other for years as well as the immediate family. The opening pages that tell of her family’s background and, especially, her time in a bush camp with an uncle, are filled with rich experience of community, culture and the natural world.

The darker context becomes explicit in Chapter 6. Chapter 5 has given us pictures of Nobby’s despairing state when he was sentenced to jail again, including one suicide attempt. Chapter 6 begins:

While Nobby was doing this long stretch in jail, the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody was going on. Even before the official inquiry I was always worried about Nobby when he was in jail. I received a letter from him that stated: ‘Mum, if I ever go back to jail again, they’ll bring me out feet first because bein locked up like an animal and bein told by screws, do this do that, it’s nearly drivin me mad! I can’t take it anymore.’ The pressure was so bad. And Nobby was very depressed from time to time. It really got me down. I was always worried that he would have survived the police, the wardens and the other inmates, but then take his own life.

(Page 75)

Characteristically, Langford Ginibi doesn’t linger over her fears. Nor does she milk the situation for suspense:

But he has survived.

And then, the perspective widens:

Not everyone has been so lucky.

The next 15 pages tell the stories of eight Aboriginal men who died in custody or, in one case, were killed by police during a raid on the man’s home. This book is the story of a survivor, but we can never forget the ones who didn’t survive. On the very last page, when Nobby’s story seems to have reached a happy landing, the ghosts of those men appear:

They were callin out to Nobby, sayin, ‘On ya brother. You survived the brutal jails. We didn’t make it. Long life and much happiness to you and your lady. Go in peace, and live for all of us!’

(Page 179)

I picked this book down from my TBR shelf after reading Gregory Day’s Words Are Eagles. The opening essay of that book invokes an Indigenous perspective that written words are dangerous because they can be divorced from particular places and from direct interpersonal communication. It does this without quoting from Indigenous people. In the spirit of counterpoint as recommended by Edward Said in Culture and Imperialism, I needed to read something by a First Nations writer, and this book was right there. It doesn’t address Day’s point directly, but it does achieve the thing he advocates. Reading it feels like sitting down for a long chat, a yarn, with a remarkably assured, relaxed matriarch. When you put it down, you see the world differently.

Ruby Langford Ginibi received the Special Award at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards in 2005, where I had the good fortune to be sitting on the table with her at the awards ceremony. Her other books are:

  • Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town (Penguin Australia 1988)
  • Real Deadly (Angus & Robertson 1992)
  • My Bundjalung People (UQP 1994)
  • All My Mob (UQP 2007)