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Richard Flanagan is an admirable fellow because of his generosity and outspoken progressive political views. His latest and prize-winning novel draws on his father’s experience as a prisoner of war of the Japanese in WW2. Along with thousands of other allied POWs he toiled as a slave labourer under atrocious conditions in the Thai jungle on the infamous Burma railway construction.

The central character Dorrigo Evans resembles Weary Dunlop, legendary leader of POWs who rallied his men and cared for them medically as best he could under the deprivation and torture inflicted by the Japanese army. It is also a love story, with two women, Amy and Ella, intertwined in the war narrative. The social mores and attitudes of 1940s Australia are well drawn.

The book’s title is a translation of a famous haiku poem, and Flanagan portrays the mindset and Emperor worship of the Japanese officers and guards, and their despised Korean underlings. In omniscient author mode he gets into all their heads, which is interesting enough. Eventually though I was shell-shocked by all the gruesome cruelty and exhausted by the intensive psychological and philosophical outpourings of all the characters involved. I’m not sure it all hangs together properly either.

Flanagan spent twelve years on this oeuvre ensconced in his Bruny Island cabin, and had three separate stories which he eventually combined into one. Unfortunately the result is not seamless, and occasionally the cracks show with some overlapping and repetition, for example the description of a hotel room where he used to meet his amour.

Like Tim Winton, Flanagan seems over-indulged by his editor, who could’ve taken the scalpel to some over-florid passages and over-long narrative. Or maybe the two lionised authors don’t brook any interference? The story would’ve been sharper with less. I felt somewhat bludgeoned by it.

The use of coincidence (or fate?) was unconvincing too, such as Dorrigo walking past Amy on the Harbour Bridge, and the surprise of discovering Darky’s true father. Moreover Aussies didn’t say ‘I’m good’ in 1942, 707s did not fly to Hobart, and writing of ‘things’ to mean qualities or concepts is just poor English (p.331). OK there’s some homework for other nitpickers.

Narrow Road won the prestigious Man Booker for 2014, and recently the Prime Minister’s Literary Award, which was more controversial. Flanagan shared the fiction award with Steven Carroll, and promptly gave his $40K to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation – a fine gesture.

However one of the judges, poet Les Murray, complained that the panel recommended only Carroll. Reports say that the PM intervened. “A clear majority of us thought the Flanagan book was superficial, showy and pretentious, and we disdained it. Something happened behind the scenes. I don’t know who pulled the strings but the decision we delivered was without strings”.

For a detailed critical review check this in the London Review of Books.

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Bad Oysters

Nah, I don’t eat ‘em, never have, and don’t get the gourmandise associated with these slimy concoctions of marine life. Unfortunately they colonise the littoral zones of the Wide Brown Land and abroad (lovely word, redolent of a bygone era when the colonies indeed knew their place), waiting silently for clumsy fools to submit to open-foot surgery on their scalpel-like shells. Dastardly molluscs!

Such was the fate of your KC culture correspondent while clambering around in bare feet trying to go fishing. Such hubris! Hence several weeks of enforced immobilisation ensued and an intensive reading program, the fruits of which are shared in these book reviews, with more to follow. And KC resurges from a somnambulant hiatus. Oh yeah.

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Things He Didn’t Know

Robert Hughes, the renowned expat Australian art critic, writer & broadcaster, published this autobiographical memoir in 2006, no doubt unaware that he would only live another six years. It’s called ‘Things I Didn’t Know’ and strangely we don’t find out what they are. He certainly didn’t know that he would be savaged by the Aussie meejah after a near fatal car accident on an outback WA highway in 1999, due to his expat tall poppy status.

The story of his life is interspersed with reflections on the greats of Western art, and ascerbic commentary on his contemporaries in the 60s counter & mainstream cultural scenes. For example, the painter Albert Tucker was a bore with an ego the size of Uluru, whose paintings become increasingly repititious. The clunky try-hard Orstralian metaphors employed by Hughes make one smile. He knew everybody in the Australian art firmament: Nolan, Olsen, Donald Friend, Fairweather and others. Friends or otherwise.

Hughes’ great-grandfather John was such a pious catholic that he imported the Sisters of the Sacred Heart to Sydney and gave them an estate at Elizabeth Bay. Later he also gifted them his waterfront domain at Rose Bay called Kincoppal, to help them further the education of young women. Robert says that the nuns devastated the family fortunes rather as the imported rabbit had done to graziers.

His privileged upbringing included the Jesuit boarding school Riverview with its full-on  indoctrination of the 1950s, which is portrayed in uncanny detail. Hughes managed to recover from it, but no doubt all that God-bothering helped him later to appreciate Italian art with such passion.

After an apprenticeship as newspaper art critic in Sydney he goes off to Italy at the invitation of his mentor Alan Moorehead and so begins that Italian art love affair. Eventually he re-locates to England and gets newspaper work in Fleet Street. Unfortunately the story ends not longer after he cracks the big job as art critic at Time magazine in New York under Henry Luce.

Hughes must have kept a detailed diary because the memoir is chocka with thoughts, impressions and anecdotes. A rollicking good read, as they say.

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Petering Out?

Reader interest in the dearth and death of Sir Peters calls for analysis of the obvious corollary of a dwindling supply of Peters generally. No, not coronary, although that could well be a primary cause of their disappearance.

In fact, given the advanced age of the Peter population, heart disease may have dealt with many of them. Think of any Peters you know personally: most are sixty plus, with a few in their fifties, and my forty year old son-in-law. Co-founder of Paypal Peter Thiel is aged 43. Seriously, there are no Peters in their 20s or 30s or younger. Except Europe’s Youngest Stunt Rider.

The name of Jesus’ favourite apostle doesn’t even appear in the Top 100 Boy Names List for 2013. What’s happening, people? Even Elliott gets a mention along with Carson (are you kidding: son of car?) and Eli. Aiden is in second spot, after eight years as number one! It’s not even spelt correctly: the place is called Aden. Exclamation marks galore.

It’s all over for the Peters, bar the shouting. Which means you all shouting drinks for us remaining Peters until we sail off into the sunset. A precious diminishing resource to be enjoyed while we last. Imagine a world without Peters. At least my grandson has it for his middle name. Maybe the music group ‘Peter, Bjorn & John’ may lead to a resurgence of Peter babies, but it’s not looking good at this stage.

The race is on to become the last one standing. My SIL is short odds. No need to run Blue Peter up the flagpole yet though, as there’s no sunset sailing here. By the way, Blue Peter is the world’s longest-running children’s TV show, in Britain since 1958. See how we last? But what will happen to the Peter principle? So many questions still unanswered.

 

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Zeitungsbeschwererkissen

Modern First World living is fraught with really annoying problems. Out Kookynie way we spend plenty of time on the front verandah, trying to digest an array of old-technology newspapers with our daily bread. Sometimes though the desert wind suddenly gets up and starts blowing pages all over the joint. And we have to scurry around retrieving them and fitting ‘em back together. Imagine how annoying that can be.

So we briefed researchers at KLOTU (Kookynie Lo-Tech University), who have been collaborating with the prestigious Deutscher Werkbund to bring the finest German design traditions to bear on the problem. The year-long project has resulted in the simplicity of this subtle application of a classic object, with exact proportions and weight for easy handling.

To capitalise on consumer perceptions of German quality design the new device is called Zeitungsbeschwererkissen (ZBK) or newspaper-weighing-down-pillow. Local fashion designer Akira completed the collaboration trifecta with a stunning pale red fabric representing the faded earth around Kookynie.

Every First World resident with a verandah or backyard is gunna love this baby. And with such a cool brand name it’ll go off, big time: move over Hugo Boss. You can facebook-like it, as it’s going viral and global! Firstly though we’re tackling the Kookynie market with a 2-for-one offer for those households with his and hers newspaper piles. Or hers and hers

And of course when the last printed newspaper rolls off the presses and digital reigns supreme, the ZedBeeKay will painlessly revert to its classic slim pillow function full-time. The opposite of inbuilt obsolescence.

Wind pillow

 

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Arise Sir Peter!

Bunyip aristocracy. Putting all satirists out of business. Boosting republican sentiment. Every ironic or sarcastic criticism of PM Abbott’s re-introduction of Knights & Dames to the Orstralian cultural firmament has been made already, so not much space left to play in.

The first unfortunate collateral damage is the outgoing Governor-General Quentin Bryce, who has accepted to be the first Dame under the new-old royal awards system. It does somewhat diminish, indeed make a mockery of her recent pro-republican pronouncements.

Incoming GG, ex-army chief Peter Cosgrove has also accepted his gong, becoming the first Australian Sir Peter since Hawkie’s dodgy old mate Abeles back in the 80s. With our penchant in recent years of uncritical respect for any member of the armed forces, this puts Cosgrove close to the gods.

What a joke! Even John Howard has refuted the idea of resurrecting this archaic custom of caste and patronage, thus leaving Abbott way out back behind the white picket fence.

However it will boost the dwindling supply of Sir Peters in the world. Humourist Ustinov has passed. Blake the Kiwi yachtsman killed in the Amazon. Scott the conservationist also gone too young. Only Jackson of the Rings is still thriving with endless Tolkien iterations. So Cosgrove joins a rump of Knights Peter.

POH is definitely not accepting a gong for services to the meedya and low intellectual life. No way mate, tell ‘em they’re dreaming! As a youngster I didn’t stand up for God Save the Queen, the erstwhile Australian national anthem, so I’m certainly not kneeling before Her Maj or offspring. I prefer the companion order of Irishman Peter O’Toole, who refused a knighthood way back. No connection, but he also died last year.

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Human Clothes Horse

Modern media and fashion have developed a sycophantic co-dependency, which can usually be passed over, but sometimes it can also get right up one’s nose or other orifice. Even while quietly minding my own business perusing sister news oracle, the SMH, this week.

Since our Germaine wrote about it back in 1970 the objectification of women’s bodies has increased exponentially. Well, I haven’t formulated a mathematical equation but we are surrounded by images of women’s bodies used to promote every kind of dodgy product. The original cover of ‘The Female Eunuch featuring the skin of a female torso hung up on a rail was disturbing enough.

At first glance the offending SMH promotion of a couple of fashion designers dressed up (pun intended) as news and its accompanying photo look banal. Naturally we process the photo first, and my reaction was to look for the explanation of the stunning-looking woman. But in the caption she is nameless and her presence is explained by the swimming costume she’s wearing. Of course she’s a model, but apparently we all understand that she is only a clothes horse. That is, tantamount to an object, as that horse is not alive.

No need of Roland Barthes, Levi-Strauss (the anthropologist not the jeans brand), semiotics and all that interesting French wankery, to understand the signification of this ingrained cultural norm. That woman’s identity has been stolen, suppressed and abused by the fashion and media industries, with the connivance of us punters, consumers and fashion victims. Her collaboration only makes it more tragic.

And frankly, what a tasteless, bogan design, particularly in the week of our worst aviation nightmare with flight MH370 getting all day news coverage.   Nameless model

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