If you have travelled to Central Australia, you are sure to recognise the scene immediately. There is no missing the way the light plays off the landscape. The vivid oranges, reds and greens that eventually roll away, opening out to colours that seem already washed through with water – milky purples, smouldering pinks and dusky greys. For those who have seen them, the MacDonnell Ranges are difficult to forget. They stretch out to the east and west of Alice Springs like a long line of bunched up caterpillars. Leaving town, and travelling along the highway, whether towards Hermannsburg, where famed ranges painter Albert Namatjira lived, or east towards Trephina Gorge, it is impossible not to be startled into silence at the constancy of their beauty.
Therese Ryder (Ngale – Perrule), our newsletter’s featured artist this week, knows the ranges intimately. She was born at Todd River Station east of Alice Springs, where she lived for six or seven years until she was taken to the Mission in Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa), 80 kilometres south east of Alice. It was here she learned to paint with watercolours. She has been developing her watercolour style for many years, in conjunction with traditional dot-style works. Many of her paintings depict the landscapes east of Alice Springs, around Ross River, which was her father’s country. ‘Aboriginal people must paint their country and their stories,’ she once said. ‘This is my contribution to these places and to my family, the Arrernte people.’
We are featuring Therese Ryder’s work – which is currently on display at Ngurratjuta Iltja Ntjarra (Many Hands Art Centre), an Aboriginal owned and governed art centre – in celebration of NAIDOC Week. The annual cultural festival runs from 6-13 July, although there are a number of celebrations that start today, including a screening of the film Mad Bastards in Fish Creek, Victoria, and the first-night showing in Canberra of Helpman Award winner Ursula Yovich’s interpretation of the Vanessa Bates play The Magic Hour. Over the course of the week, there will be events taking place across the country, including author talks and exhibitions.
We were saddened this week to hear of the death of Matthew Richell, Hachette Australia CEO and Chairman of Hachette NZ, who died earlier following a surfing accident at Tamarama Beach. SRB would like to extend condolences to Matthew’s family, and to Hachette’s staff and authors.
We would also like to acknowledge the passing of the wonderfully talented yet underappreciated Irish writer Dermot Healy, who died on 29 June, aged 66. Healy was regarded as one of Ireland’s best writers – he was once described by Roddy Doyle as ‘Ireland’s finest living novelist’, while Pat McCabe called Healy’s The Bend for Home ‘probably the finest memoir … written in Ireland in the last 50 years’. The Bend for Home includes one of my favourite lines: ‘It’s in a neighbour’s house fiction begins’ – a sentence that lurks in the mind long after you read it. Healy also wrote short stories, novels and poetry, and directed and wrote a number of plays. He was an active presence in community theatre and the founder and editor of the community arts publication Force 10. He was also the subject of a documentary that is well worth watching called The Writing in the Sky.
Eimear McBride has won another award for A Girl is a Half-formed Thing: the £10 000 (A$18 350) Desmond Elliott Prize. Reflecting on McBride’s achievement, author and judging chair, Chris Cleave, lauded the author and her novel with the kind of praise that would leave most writers breathless:
Eimear McBride’s novel … stands shoulder-to-shoulder with The Catcher in the Rye, Lolita and The Road as a masterpiece that some love and some loathe, but which has a greatness that few will deny … It is the most untamed, most expertly crafted, most daring, most challenging and most moving human story I’ve read in years … It is a seditious act of storytelling that does what only the greatest works of fiction do: irresistibly it pulls you in to the story, leans close to your ear and whispers you something true about yourself.
For those who may have missed it, Kerryn Goldsworthy has recently reviewed A Girl is a Half-formed Thing for the SRB.
Congratulations this week also go to two SRB contributors – Linda Jaivin and Evelyn Juers. Jaivin won this year’s NSW Writers’ Fellowship, an award granted to established mid-career writers. The $30 000 fellowship includes a twelve month residency at the State Library of NSW. Jaivin will use the fellowship to research her new novel The Education of Proofreader Ding. Juers, meanwhile, is one of four writers to be shortlisted for the $10 000 Margarey Medal for Biography, for her book The Recluse. She joins Janet Butler for Kitty’s War, Patricia Clarke for Eilean Giblin: A Feminist Between the Wars, and Fiona Paisley for The Lone Protestor: AM Fernando in Australia and Europe. The winner will be announced on 9 July during the ASAL conference.
Lastly, bouquets to Australian Book Review, RABBIT, Kill Your Darlings and The Lifted Brow who were among the long list of recipients of the recent VicArts Grants program. The funding will allow each of these literary journals to continue their work in promoting and publishing Australian writers. (If you are interested in reading more about Australia’s contemporary literary journal scene, then you may like to revisit Alice Grundy’s SRB essay from earlier this year ‘Nimble Innovators’.)
This week SRB features two very different essays. One is sure to provoke lively discussion; the other is likely to send you back to the work of one of this country’s most acclaimed and accomplished writers. Leslie Barnes’ essay is a comprehensive review of Melissa Gira Grant’s Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work, a critique of what Grant calls ‘the prostitute imaginary’ and the way sex work has been stigmatised, mythologised and codified by the broader public. Barnes’ review also considers the story of controversial figure Somaly Mam, who has been the subject of intense media scrutiny since her memoir The Road of Lost Innocence was found to be ‘full of falsehoods and fabrication’.
Our second essay has literary critic, publisher and SRB editorial board member Ivor Indyk writing on the work of David Malouf. The essay was delivered as a keynote address at the State Library of Queensland as part of the ‘David Malouf: Celebrating a Life in Letters’ event, held in honour of Malouf’s eightieth birthday. Indyk considers Malouf’s two most recent publications – the poetry collection Earth Hour and A First Place, a collection of essays and other writings – in the broader context of Malouf’s celebrated oeuvre, finding in writer’s exceptional versatility a distinctive ‘Maloufian pulse’.
In recognition of her Margarey Medal for Biography nomination, From the Archives this week features an essay by Evelyn Juers. Nature’s Art is a collective review of several works of nature writing, in which Juers reflects on the way the natural environment beckons to writers. As a companion to Ivor Indyk’s essay, we also feature David Malouf’s essay on D. H. Lawrence, in which Malouf makes some observations about Lawrence that resonate with those made by Indyk about Malouf himself.
Those of you who read the SRB on mobile phones – and that’s nearly 20% of our readers – will notice this week that the site looks somewhat different, following the launch of our new mobile site. We hope this new mobile-friendly version will make our articles easier to read on your devices. Please let us know if you have any feedback, as we are always keen to enhance your reading experience.
This will be my last Week in Review and newsletter for three weeks. I am heading to Estonia on holidays! While I am away, other members of the SRB editorial team will take over the WiR reins. I will be back at the end of July.