Southerly 72/3: Islands and Archipelagos

David Brooks and Elizabeth McMahon (editors), Southerly Vol 72 No 3 2012: Islands and Archipelagos

1southerly723The title of this issue of Southerly, ‘Islands and Archipelagos’, refers to its subject matter, but it could just as easily refer to its form: a literary magazine, archipelago-like, is a gathering of diverse entities, each with its own integrity but all having something in common, whether a theme as in this case or something less tangible, like a tone, or an ethos, or a presiding personality.

I enjoyed my island hopping. My favourite moment is the bravura opening sentence of ‘Outcast of the Islands: Malinowski Amongst the Modernists’ by David Brooks :

If there could ever be such a thing as a True History of Modern Thought, at least one chapter would have to trace that set of strange, 
neglected, yet teasingly-almost-direct lines between a heterogeneous
 crew of squatters, graziers, country postmasters, district magistrates, missionaries, and employees of the Overland Telegraph recording details of Indigenous Australian life and culture in the mid- and late- nineteenth century and the desks of Edward Tyler at Oxford, James George Frazer at Cambridge and Emile Durkheim in Paris, and, through them, and a number of other significant late-nineteenth-century anthropologists, to the likes of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Sigmund Freud (see, for example, the first half of Totem and Taboo), Marcel Mauss (Essay on the Gift) and so many other key figures in early twentieth-century thought and aesthetics that one wonders whether the Simpson Desert or the Trobriand Islands should be given a place – a quite significant place – amongst the generating landscapes of Modernism.

Yes, that is just one sentence. The article not only delivers on the sentence’s promise but ends with a link to a provocatively titled companion piece, ‘Origins of Modernism in the Great Western Desert: An Introduction’.

Tying for second favourite moment are:

  • Michael Sharkey’s poem ‘First Eleven’, eleven stanzas consisting of phrases that evoke an Australian baby-boomer childhood, presumably to the age of 11. Much of it might be inscrutable to people of other generations and other places, but I was born in 1947, a year after Sharkey, and his deft hand worked nostalgic wonders in me, even in the minority of phrases that didn’t touch directly on my own experience:

    The Royal Visit. Easter Show.
    My sherbet packet. Liquorice stick.
    My shop-bought pie. My Iced Vo-Vo.
    My Cracker Night. My Jumping Jack.
    My father’s gas mask. Old blue tunic.
    My small sister in the clinic.
    My six-stitcher. My first duck.
    The choko vine. The dunny truck.

  • Michael Jacklin’s ‘Islands of Multilingual Literature: Community Magazines and Australia’s Many Languages’, which prises open the subject of Australian literature in languages other than English. I’ve always felt odd about the portrayal of 1950s Australia as monocultural and monolingual: Italian and other southern European languages were part of the soundscape of my 1950s north Queensland childhood; one of my best friends in primary school was Chinese; my farmer father played poker with a Greek, a Korean and a Yugoslav; in the 30s and 40s my magistrate grandfather spoke to Italians who appeared before him in their own language. This essay discusses evidence, including a journal from Brisbane in the 1930s, that there has long been lively, linguistically diverse literature in the Australian context, much of it invisible to the mainstream literary establishment.
  • a new poem by Jennifer Maiden, always a thrill. ‘Diary Poem: Uses of Ethiopia’ is in part a polemical essay, taking issue with some feminists who are ‘well in favour / of ethical security’. I’m not sure what ethical security is (Google is no help): it’s related to rigid ideological narrowness, I think, and may have elements of self-serving moralism. Feminist ‘fandom for Gillard’ is a symptom. My regular readers know that I often feel like an outsider with contemporary poetry (and by the way I think that’s more about me as a north Queensland boy than about the poetry). With this poem, I probably get the references more than most readers: not the Ethiopian art or the story of Sylvia Pankhurst, which are central to the poem and beautifully fleshed out, but the passing allusions – to Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech, and her cutting of the supporting parents’ benefit on the same day; to the earlier poem ‘A Useful Fan’, neatly encapsulated here as ‘trying to inhabit Abbott interestedly’; to a set-to on the Overland web site described as her ‘daughter the fire tiger’ (itself a reference to an earlier poem, ‘The Year of the Ox’) defending her ‘on a hostile magazine site now given / to ethical self-security’. Paradoxically, familiarity with the references predisposes me to foreground the detail of poem’s polemics (I want to argue about her view of Overland, for example, and I’m not sure about the connection she seems to be making between some feminists and abortion), rather than the poem’s central thrust, which I read as captured in the description of doves in Ethiopian art as

    aware of complex peripheries,
    well-mannered with watchfulness,

As well as these pieces that topped my pops, there are learned essays on issues facing real islands and islanders, on Andrew McGahan, Randolph Stow, Drusilla Modjeska, and the rock band the Drones. There are short stories (especially Sandra Potter’s ‘“an empty ship in these latitudes is no joke”’, a lightly annotated list of things taken to and from Antarctica, and Terri Janke’s ‘Turtle Island’, a not-quite-ghost-story, not-quite-love-story, not-quite-war-story set in the Torres Strait in World War Two). There are other excellent poems and nearly 70 pages of reviews, plus the overflow in The Long Paddock, which includes a fine review by Sarah Holland-Batt of Ali Cobby Eckermann’s Ruby Moonlight.

A final note: the spectacularly beautiful cover, reproduced above, is described on the contents page as Sue Kneebone’s Continental Drift, but it’s actually a detail from that work, which I recommend you have a look at on Sue Kneebone’s web site.

3 responses to “Southerly 72/3: Islands and Archipelagos

  1. My pleasure in reading your posts never abates: Especially this time to learn of Michael JACKLIN – whom I must research further. Back in the 1980s when I was both skirting and diving into the field of Australian Literature and its cultural diversity – seeking to broaden the paedagogical perspective and implementation in TESOL and mainstream classes – I was being impelled from out of my childhood experience as well as then contemporary studies and work teaching focus. I grew up in a northern landscape too Jonathan – not so far as your own – in Tamworth. (Born 1949. Michael SHARKEY’s “First Eleven” perfect resonance, though I usually suggest Australia’s ‘First Eleven’ was the Fleet of 1788.) Key people in my widowed mother’s orbit were a Chinese family – her first landlords – and later when she bought our home the neighbours and their children were of English and Scottish and Italian and German and Chinese and Dutch and Indigenous backgrounds. I first read “Tin-Tin” comics in Dutch, in fact. Not that the language meant all that much, of course – I was following the pictures. At Sydney University a classmate was the daughter of Harry CHAN of Darwin (though she didn’t speak Chinese) and part of the same group a “White Russian” lass born in Harbin – with her family booted out of China by Mao in 1960/1961. Though surrounded by difference (a maternal grandfather with Kentish accent and a paternal Scottish grandmother) yet even so all these differences were still noteworthy. In my 3rd Year at Sydney I boarded with the widow of Esmonde HIGGINS (noted WEA lecturer – sister of Nettie PALMER – nephew of HB HIGGINS) and in the household was a young Hong Kong Chinese engineering student. Jump forward some years and teaching in Hay and Deniliquin and Inverell and travels/teaching in Europe – back to spend a year in Mudgee – and at Eurunderee – packing gherkins on the MULLER farm – but one remove from Henry LAWSON’s Eurunderee childhood home. Its German character later properly laid out for me in a poetry collection from the Wayside Chapel’s Ted NOFFS – exploring his German/Mudgee family roots. By which time I was in Sydney – variously an Education Officer examining the kinds of literature – OZ LIT – highlighting our national multicultural and Indigenous character – or teaching via such literature in the classroom. Some names of people who were very important to me then included the writer Angelo LOUKAKIS – and an important spread he edited within the pages of The Bulletin on the contemporary nature of Australian Literature; Ivor INDYK at Sydney University (later as editor of HEAT very important as a window onto the most exquisite of contemporary literature during my many years in Japan); Leonie KRAMER – via her lectures on Martin BOYD’s The Cardboard Crown – that back-and-forth between here and the land of one’s ancestral roots – familiar to all of us in one sense or another; Peter SKRZYNECKI – his poetry, his anthology Joseph’s Coat – his generosity; Sneja GUNEW then at Deakin – now at UBC (Canada) her anthologies and academic insights; Lolo HOUBEIN in South Australia – along with Peter LUMB and an annotating/listing of literature/writers in Australia of non English-speaking backgrounds – in languages other than English; bringing me via various pathways into touch with two writers – András DEZSERY (Hungarian) in Adelaide and Hansi FOKS (German) in Melbourne. Again thanks, Jonathan.


  2. Wow, Jonathan. Two great posts in a row. I followed the link to the Brooks essay, which was wonderful. Thanks!


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