Tag Archives: Paula Shaw

Sonnet #11: For Naomi Grace

The Art Student and I have spent a long weekend away from activism and the desk respectively to help celebrate the first birthday of my great-niece Naomi. I didn’t manage a sonnet for the occasion, and that was just as well, as Naomi’s parents had devised a sweetly solemn naming and welcoming ceremony that was a complete thing in itself without any great-avuncular versifying. But November’s quota must be filled, so here’s one after the event:

Sonnet 11: For Naomi Grace
Naomi Grace has just turned one,
a girl who lives up to her name:
delightful, graceful – just as sun-
flowers the sun or moths the flame,
all faces follow where she goes
and stop when she’s in yoga pose.
Today at Cram’s Farm was her naming
ceremony: father Damon,
read aloud with mother Paula,
called on us to be her people
(rellies, friends, no church, no steeple),
and whatever might befall her
love her, back her each endeavour,
weep as needed, dance forever.

Which of these two looks more intelligent, would you say?

Dog Ear Cafe Launch

Last night we went to another brilliant launch at Gleebooks: Rachel Perkins doing her first book launch,  of Andrew Stojanovski’s first and he says only book, Dog Ear Cafe. It was a surprisingly intimate affair. Many members of the author’s family were there, including a couple of charming twin nieces who were just tall enough to reach the snack foods, and relaxed enough about the surroundings to keep up a sweet background noise during proceedings.

Stojanovski lived at Yuendemu in Central Australia for 11 years, and was part of the Warlpiri community’s successful campaign to wipe out petrol sniffing there. As he said, all through his time in the Centre Aboriginal elders would say, ‘Don’t write a book about this.’ They were sick of whitefellas blowing in, spending a bit of time there, and then going away and making a quid or getting jobs by writing anthropological or other treatises about them. But then, toward the end of this time there, one friend said to him, ‘You should write a book about this.’ The idea was that he should write a history or a manual to show other whitefellas how they could be useful. When he told a young friend – a former sniffer and active participant in the regeneration of the community – about the idea, the young friend said no one would read a history/manual, he should write it like an adventure with all the funny and dramatic incidents left in.

Rachel Perkins did a lovely job as launcher. She was there as an Aboriginal Big Name who could give the book her blessing, of course,  but she let us know from the start that she had a friendship with the author dating back decades – she communicated her pleasure (and relief) in the excellence of the book, he affection for Andrew, and her own deep appreciation of the creativity, resourcefulness and above all compassion of the people of Yuendemu. Given that it’s been in the news recently as a place of violence and lawlessness, this was a refreshing perspective from one who has strong connections there.

So much of this launch was heartening. Andrew Stojanovsky told poignant stories (he cradled a glass of red wine under his nose, to illustrate the habitual posture of a petrol sniffer). He explained the benefits for Aboriginal communities in having white people there to perform functions that would be rendered extremely difficult if not impossible by the complex demands of avoidance and can’t-say-no kinship obligations. He relayed many conversations with friends young and old at Yuendemu. In one of these he was talking to a Warlpiri man about the challenge of making friendships between whitefellas and Warlpiri. He said that sometimes it felt as if there was a Grand Canyon between the two. The old man said, ‘Yes, but I see tightropes across the canyon.’

Inevitably, I thought of Seven Seasons in Aurukun, my niece Paula Shaw’s account of a much shorter time in a remote Aboriginal community. Rachel Perkins spoke of the importance of books by whites that move beyond the anthropological or ethnographic perspectives to portraying individual people – Paula’s book does that. And Andrew Stojanovsky described the conditions endured by school teachers when the community was still home to petrol sniffers – as Aurukun was during Paula’s time there – and commented that it was no surprise that few teachers managed to stay more than two years.

Dog Ear Cafe has already been reviewed by Will Owen in North Carolina. He would have enjoyed the launch. We bought a copy.

December niece news

Since I seem to be posting regular notes about nieces, perhaps I should explain: I’ve got eight of them, and five of the eight have lived, or at least stayed for a while, with us over the years. Every one of them is a source of great joy. A number of them are meeting with a degree of success as writers and artists, and I’m shamelessly putting my blog to work as part of their publicity machines. (We have seven nephews, sources of no less joy, who have so far been more or less avoiding the need for publicity.)

Paula Shaw, whose memoir Seven Seasons at Aurukun received quite a bit of attention earlier in the year, and not just from me, popped up again in Inga Clendinnen’s article in the December Australian Literary Review. Although the article itself has attracted aspersions from Guy Rundle in Crikey, the reference to Seven Seasons as ‘a brave and honest book’ stands uncontested. Thanks to my avuncular Google Alert, I also came across a number of reviews by teachers – on the publisher’s web site, and a review by an Aboriginal reader who has the most negative response I’ve seen so far, identifying a ‘heart of darkness vibe’, but says all the same that it would be a ‘good read for anybody interested in contemporary life in an Aboriginal community in Australia’.

Meanwhile, Paula’s sister Edwina Shaw has been gracing the pages of the Griffith Review for a couple of years now – and grace is the right word for it, even though her stories deal with dark themes set in Joh-era Brisbane. She has a story in the current issue, along with Frank Moorhouse, Louis Nowra and other luminaries. She also has a story, about different youth altogether, in the current (Winter) edition of the Asia Literary Review, sharing the contents list with among others Henning Mankell. (I was putting off posting this until the Asia Literary Review web site included details on the Winter issue, but as it’s now 5 January my title will be appallingly out of date if I postpone any longer, so here it is with what may be the right cover.)

Update: Chris Wood, the editor, has told us in a comment that it is the right cover.

Another update: The Winter issue is now up on the Asia Literary Review web site. I’ve fixed the link, and added one to Edwina’s story, ‘Broken’.

Niece on John Button long list

The long list has been announced for the John Button Prize for ‘Australia’s best piece of writing on politics and public policy in the past year’. I’ve read a number of the essays and books that made the cut, but the one that’s relevant to today’s nepotistic agenda  is Paula Shaw’s Seven Seasons in Aurukun.

The judges – Bob Carr, Kerry O’Brien, Morag Fraser, Judith Brett and J.M. Coetzee – don’t look corruptible, otherwise I’d urge all four of my readers to try to influence them by any means necessary. They meet at the end of July to choose a short list of six, and the winner will be announced on 28 August.

Carn the Shaws!

Fun Fearless Niece

My fabulous nieces turn up in the most unexpected places. One of them is in the shortlist for Cosmopolitan’s Fun Fearless Females 2009 awards. I’m not surprised to discover that I hadn’t heard of most of the other people on the short list. None of the bloggers, for example, have crossed my radar– I went for a look and understood why, but I won’t go on about that. My niece Paula is on the Authors shortlist – along with the formidable Chloe Hooper and a number of others who have been invisible to me until now, though I don’t expect my ignorance has caused them much heartache.

I cast my vote in a number of categories. Why don’t you go and cast yours? The good thing is you’re not restricted to the names they’ve listed. You can add your own. Perhaps there’ll be a write-in landslide for Lowitja O’Donoghue in the Inspirational Role Model category.

Bookblog #59: March is the launchiest month

Paula Shaw, Seven Seasons in Aurukun (Allen & Unwin 2009)
Cassandra Golds, The Museum of Mary Child (Penguin Australia 2009)
Ursula Dubosarsky, The Terrible Plop (Penguin Australia 2009)
Stephen Whiteside, Poems of 2008 (self published 2009)
Noelene Martin, Freda (self published 2009)

Here’s a clutch of books I have more than a casual interest in.

aurukunI’ve told you about Paula’s Seven Seasons more than once, and may well do so again. Now I’ve actually read it. While it’s missing some of the juicier and possibly libellous moments of the early draft I read, it still offers plenty to chew on, and is also — Richard Aedy was right — a bit of a girl’s own adventure. More than 30 years ago I spent six weeks in a remote Aboriginal community with the Fred Hollows Trachoma Prevention Program. Just those few weeks were enough to unsettle my sense of what it means to be Australian. One of the other Trachoma-ites put it well, if slightly hyperbolically: I used to think Australia was a European country, he said, but now I realise it’s an Aboriginal country with a huge number of Europeans living around the edges. Paula spent a lot more than six weeks in Aurukun, and engaged in a way that shows up my stay at Willowra for the tourism it was. What’s more, she took on the challenge of wrangling the experience into words. I hope the book provokes a productive conversation. I expect it will give pleasure to most readers. But don’t take my word for it.

plopmarychildEarly in the month, the publication of these books by former editorial staff members on The School Magazine was celebrated — nothing so grand as a launch — by a small lunch in town. I had the best gnocchi ever, the authors paid, and we enjoyed each other and the occasion in a way that might have been described as riotous if there had been more than a handful of us. But the pleasures of the lunch were pallid compared to those of the books. I hadn’t seen The Terrible Plop before, but I hope to see much more of it as a result of giving it to very young acquaintances: it’s a rhyming story of ridiculous terror in the forest that begs to be read repeatedly until it’s known by heart. The Museum of Mary Child is another book I read in earlier incarnations, as a beta reader. As a rule I’m not drawn to horror as a genre, and this is at least marginally a horror book – marginal because there are no vampires, ghouls or zombies. But I just loved it. I haven’t read the published version yet, but it’s been highly praised in the Aust Child Lit Crit journal Magpies as a ‘disturbing and quite terrifying’ book that ‘demands a special reader’. 

whiteside08This book slipped quietly into my mail box with a friendly note from the author. It turned out he’d used a quote from this blog as a back cover blurb, and I wasn’t embarrassed to see myself thus quoted. Stephen evidently plans to produce two very slim vols a year to sell at his performances, and his brief introduction to this one implies that he produced a number of poems in 2008 that didn’t make the cut. He’s a member or ARVOs (Australian Rhyming Verse Orators), a group who meet of a Sunday, presumably in the afternoon, to celebrate their shared passion for bush poetry. Poems of 2008 begins with ‘Triangular Cantaloupe’ a smooth parody of/tribute to C J Denis’s ‘Triantiwontigongolope‘ and proceeds on its cheerful way for 40 pages. There’s a touch of controversy in ‘A Puzzle’, which raises questions about euthanasia in a poem that an introductory note suggests might be for children. There’s political comment, in ‘Australia Spurns a Hero’, about Peter Norman, the white Australian athlete who stood on the podium with the two African Americans who gave the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics:

Norman is a hero, now, throughout the USA.
October 9 has peen proclaimed as Peter Norman Day,
And in Australia’s hist’ry a most sorry day is burned,
For Norman is the hero that his native country spurned.

You can get copies from the BookPod online bookstore or, while stocks last, wherever Stephen Whiteside is performing.

fredaFreda is a self published book of a very different stripe, a biography of Freda Whitlam, launched this morning appropriately enough at the Whitlam Institute in the University of Western Sydney. Noelene Martin, the author, is a friend and neighbour of her subject, and I suspect she chose the self-publishing route to improve her chances of getting the book into print while Freda, now nearing 90, and her elder brother Gough were still around to enjoy it. Noelene is a veteran writer of non-fiction for children (much of it published in The School Magazine during my editorship, hence my interest in the project), and it shows here: while the meat of the story is in Freda’s career as Principal of the prestigious Croydon Presbyterian Ladies College in Sydney, Moderator of the Uniting Church, force behind the establishment of the University of the Third Age in Sydney, and so on, it’s the first hundred pages that really shine.

You can tell that, as well as sifting through piles of youthful correspondence, the author spent hours with her subject, listening to reminiscences. As she said today at the launch, the down side of seeing the book finally published is that all the secrets about Freda that she has held close to her heart are now general property. The little girl who knew the Greek alphabet, but not the English, before she started school; the teenager who walked seven miles from her tutor’s place back to school and couldn’t understand why the Principal made a fuss; the young woman at Yale on a Fulbright Scholarship who slept through a sermon by Eric Fromm; the beginning teacher on an excursion to Alice Springs who couldn’t stand to see a tourist haggling with Albert Namatjira and interrupted to buy a painting at exactly the price the artist was asking: the book recounts these and a myriad other minutely recorded incidents that are steps on a journey to a significant contribution to public life. (As a bonus, we get to see Gough as a shadowy but brilliant big brother.)

The launch was an imposing affair. A handful of distinguished Whitlams, including Gough in a wheelchair, and a hundred or so other people, mostly a good bit older than me, gathered in a spacious hall with modern stained glass windows and were addresses by the Vice Chancellor, Barry Jones (the launcher, who proclaimed with reasonable confidence that he and Freda were the only two people in the room who had corresponded with Ezra Pound, and conceded that she won the competition by having actually met him in the asylum in Washington DC), Noelene and finally Freda herself. Much had been said about Freda’s modesty (her entry in Who’s Who is apparently terse to an extreme and she doesn’t have a Wikipedia page at this moment). Her speech exemplified the trait: she hardly mentioned herself at all, but urged us to be glad at the publication of a book by someone from Western Sydney, about someone in western Sydney, when so many people think that ‘out here we don’t read’. Everyone has a story worth telling, she said, and it was good that one person’s story was being told in this book. In other words, she found any number of ways of praising the book while directing attention away from herself.

You would probably have trouble finding this book, but if you’re interested in Whitlamiana, in the history of the Uniting Church in New South Wales, the University of the Third Age, or the past as a fascinating other country, I recommend you contact the author-publisher at mrsmarty(at)aapt(dot)net(dot)au.