Australian Non-Fiction

Cryptic Cargo

Centred on the arrival narrative of a single book, the Kasasol Ambia (Stories of the Prophets), in a mosque built in 1887 at the edge of the desert in Broken Hill, historian Samia Khatun’s Australianama, is, like the object of its inquiry, a book of books. The mystery of ‘who/what’ brought this 500-page compendium of Bengali Sufi poetry, printed in eight volumes between 1861 and 1895 in Calcutta, to this outpost of empire down-under, launches Khatun into a decade-long odyssey from Sydney to Dhaka, Perth to Calcutta, Melbourne to Lahore, and deep into the archival reserves of nineteenth-century colonialism.

This is your brain.
This is your brain on drugs.

Fleming deploys an intelligence that does not seek to draw a firm line between a before and an after; instead, the confessor is borne on the question of drugs and what they mean, rather than born again after drugs have been left behind.

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The SRB is an initiative of The Writing and Society Research Centre at Western Sydney University

Not My Problem:
on The Colonial Fantasy

The Colonial Fantasy could have been a book that shaped how future settler publics saw their predecessors – it’s what I hoped for when I opened it – but that ambition falls flat. And as she asks her peers to pull out of governing us, is Maddison not doing her own supplanting? She rehashes Kevin Gilbert’s Because a White Man’ll Never Do It – a book with almost the very same thesis, and a book that’s older than my parents.

Finding Australia’s
Lost Arabs

‘At times, as Arabs, lost in the world of displacement, marginalised by our dispersal, and racialised as inferior to our Western counterparts, we can become weary of our lived experiences as diasporic subjects. But with writing as empowering, affecting and beautiful as Sakr’s poetry, or testimonials as stimulating as those assembled by Abdel-Fattah and Saleh, can we dare become ‘tired’ of diaspora writing in any of its modes?’

Still (and) Moving Images:
The Old Greeks: Photography,
Cinema, Migration

‘Beginning with his mother’s creased identity card from the era when Cyprus was colonised by the British Kouvaros links the great themes of twentieth-century migration to the affective structures provided by both photography and cinema that give a purchase for those lost and uprooted individuals swept up in these global eddies. His relatively short and multi-faceted meditation provides an analytical scaffold as well as a moving response to his own question—what do we owe our ancestors and the dead?’

The Monster is Nobody at All:
Yellow City

‘Ellena Savage’s writing seduces with the masquerade of the conversational, drawing you into the muck of everyday life before unmasking the binds, political and otherwise, our lives are embedded within.’

No Bouquets, No Touching Up:
Myself When Young

Some memoirs are written in tranquil mood and quiet spaces. Not this one. When Henry Handel Richardson sat down at her desk in September 1942 to contemplate her younger self, the sound of German bombing raids made writing almost impossible. Yet she found the task a welcome escape from the turbulent present. A novel in progress and a short story were put aside. Myself When Young was her last book. Although she did not live to complete it, her memoir opens a door to her past that she had kept firmly closed during her life as a writer.

Bleached Atmospheres of Dread

It is Hill’s capacity to keep broad political structures and the minutiae of personal experience and emotion in her sights at all times that makes this such a unique and powerful contribution to a field of literature which, to our shame, is still only just emerging.

Cross-Stitch:
Sam George-Allen and Bri Lee

Both George-Allen and Lee are describing their experiences of realisation, of revelation, of feminist wonderment: that the way our culture has been built relies on the systemic mistrust of women.

Living Things:
City of Trees by Sophie Cunningham

With an incremental power, this collection of essays invites us to be present absolutely to ourselves, our environments, our histories and our world. City of Trees is a deeply ethical and thoughtful call to consciousness, a call to see and feel being in and of the natural world.

Comfortable and Comforted: The World Was Whole by Fiona Wright

This is a book about the complexities of home, about being unhomed, about the body as home, and about the spaces we work to make home, our dwellings and our neighbourhoods. When life is marred by unbelonging and grief, it is the habits and routines of being homed that bring comfort and even joy.

Best in Show:
Australian Art Exhibitions: Opening our eyes

'The considerable achievement of this book has been to chart the various curatorial paths and strategies adopted by people working both inside and outside the official art establishment and the discussion of the fascinating intersections between these various paths.'

Logic in the Ash

Hooper dug through court transcripts, documents and interviews to recreate the Black Saturday bushfires and inquest and to present a context for her account of Brendan Sokaluk’s crimes. If not handled carefully, reconstruction narratives can turn stories into unsolvable puzzles.  This is because they derive their narrative coherence from atomised sources that often conflict with each other. While Hooper does allow her multiple characters many digressions,  The Arsonist achieves its clarity through strict linear chronology.

Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin

The Drowned and the Saved: Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin

The work of ‘proving a hypothesis’ could hardly be more alien to Tumarkin. Instead, she is concerned with examining difficult events and experiences: paying attention, being emotionally and intellectually active, while refusing to let the consequences of tragedy, bravery, cruelty, care, or indifference go unnoticed, unexamined or unfelt.

Mirror Sydney by Vanessa Berry book cover

Eccentric Guides:
Vanessa Berry’s Mirror Sydney

Mirror Sydney appeals to the notion that people live inside worlds of their own making. This suggests both a certain comprehensiveness or completeness and a limitation: the globe is known in form but so are its borders. However, this is also a world post-globalisation: the great exhibitions of the colonial project have become abandoned variety stores and theme parks, the pathos of which comes from quaintness or the strange, instead of authority or splendour.