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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Peter Carey conjures up a racy ethos and mood in early 1950s suburban Melbourne in his recent novel ‘A Long Way From Home’, featuring his birth-place Bacchus Marsh, and a car rally that captivated the nation. 

Reminiscent of ‘Oscar and Lucinda’, Carey charges full speed into this story, with characters, ideas and narratives bouncing off each other, until it settles down to a manageable rhythm. Probably an apt metaphor as the real hero of the story is the amazing Redex Round Australia Reliability Trial of 1954 (second of three). 

Among the larger-than-life central characters he even manages to invent a blond, German background, part aboriginal man, and reflects on our inglorious 20th century indigenous history.

Regular KC readers might recall my father John (Jack) in Berlin 36 Redux. Well, he’s also in the background of this story, as he competed in this 15,400 kms trial, driving a Chevrolet (car 36) for Christey’s Motor Auctions. Only 120 out of 263 entrants managed to finish the punishing event, with points lost for late arrivals and replaced parts. Dad’s car finished 97th.

His mate, legendary Jack ‘Gelignite’ Murray won in a Ford V8, incredibly with no points lost, and Carey draws on his character. My childhood memories include calling in to Murray’s Bondi garage with my father for a chin wag with Jack later on.

If you want to know more about him, get ‘Gelignite Jack Murray, An Aussie Larrikin Legend’ by his son Phil Murray – it’s not literature, but lots of photos and cars, and O’Hara too.

The Christey’s crew learned a few tricks, as in 1955 they entered the Trial again, with a longer 16,900 kms route round the country: their Ford Customline (car 76) came a very creditable 20th out of 54 finishers and 276 starters! 

I reckon Carey captures the hardships of the Trial and devil-may-care attitude of the self-reliant bunch of individuals who threw themselves into this ‘adventure of a lifetime’ – overall, a rollicking good read, as the cliche goes. Highly recommended.

1954 redex 1

1954 redex 2

1954 redex 3

 

 

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A best seller by Israeli historian Yuval Harari, which has sold 10 million copies, been translated into 50 languages, it’s unequivocally a must-read. Written in plain, unadorned English (translated from Hebrew, so presumably like the original edition), it traces human evolution from the earliest skirmishes with our Neanderthal cousins down through the ages, to finish with the meaning of life!

If you join the fan club you won’t be disappointed, as he simply explains, or explains simply, the overall arrangements in our shared world – particularly through the powerful interaction of evolutionary biology and the multitude of cultures and associated artefacts that we sapiens have created. 

We developed speech to start gossiping, says Yuval, more or less, and it’s what we fundamentally like doing best and most. As an unalloyed atheist, I particularly liked his confirmation of my long-held explanation of religious belief as a manifestation of our innate ability for myth creation and story-telling over the millennia. 

You’ll have to read it to discover the meaning of life, as I ain’t telling you here. 

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So, the ‘iconic’ (obligatory adjective) Sydney Opera House is our biggest billboard, so sayeth PM Scott Morrison aka ScoMo, endorsing NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s approval of advertising on the famous roof sails of this UNESCO Heritage-listed building, to promote a horse-racing event. 

It’s a quintessential Sydney story, where Shock Jock Supremo Jones pulls the strings on Our Gladys, and we then learn that his business partners have nags running in the race – a redolent whiff of his ‘cash for comment’ era. 

I’m not sure that’s what UNESCO had in mind, but maybe it’s the epitome of OzCulture for crass gambling promotion to prevail over aesthetic considerations in a display of rampant philistinism (a word to put back into common usage). To cap it off, ingenuous ScoMo doesn’t get what all the fuss is about. I believe him.

The Pentecostal PM evinces a daggy soccer dad image, and as self-styled marketing guru who in a previous gig at the Australian Tourist Commission oversaw the cringeworthy ‘where the bloody hell are you’ advertising campaign, he has a track record as Chief Philistine. And is Our Glad channelling Edna Everage?

The horse racing event is called The Everest, so how the image of that word on the Opera House will promote tourism here is a mystery only explained by bluster and bullshit. And make no mistake, the Sport of Kings is for gambling, and certainly not for the benefit of exercising the poor nags and jockeys.

Cultural cringe at being Australian is the only response to this travesty, at least amongst us elitists, but it’s not a comfortable feeling. Optimists thought we had left fundamental philistinism behind us in the maligned 1950s, but it’s in our DNA!

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Despite colonial Van Demonian (oh yeah!) attempts to exterminate its aborigines in the 1820-30s, it seems that the extant Tasmanian aboriginal population is growing abnormally well. In the latest census Tassie’s resident population comprises 5.5% Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, compared to 3.3% nationally.

The data collection is through self-identification, with the latest figure up from 4.7% in the previous census, which prompts speculation. Perhaps ‘stolen generation’ cultural renewal is encouraging people to reclaim their previously suppressed aboriginal heritage. Maybe more aboriginal people are moving across Bass Strait, and/or ‘natural increase’ is occurring?

Aboriginal Land Council estimates around 20,000 aborigines in Tasmania, so Chairman Michael Mansell reckons the census figure of 28,537 is too high. Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre CEO Heather Sculthorpe says aboriginal numbers were reduced to a few hundred after the Black Wars and could not have grown through natural increase and immigration (from the mainland) to be the highest proportion in Australia.

So, something is going on in Tasmanian minds when they increasingly self-identify as aboriginal. Mansell says that some might be ‘mistaken’ and others ‘opportunistic’. But I reckon it’s much more positive than that: perhaps being aboriginal is the new cool, hip trend and Tasmanians are at the pioneering cutting edge, out on the fringe, so to speak.  Dare I say, the new black?

Imagine if more of us claim aboriginal heritage and we go way past apologies and reconciliation into a new nirvana of collective pride in our ancient land’s earliest culture. We latecomers could then be assigned honorary belonging to ‘country’ somewhere, maybe learn some local language and take care of that country?

* Thanks to Anne Mather (The Mercury, 09 Sept 2018) for her report and interviews, which prompted this reflection. Inflection?

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The mind-bending Trumpian world, which operates in a bulletproof moral and factual vacuum, has made sarcasm and irony, my tools of trade, largely redundant there. So I’ve refrained from commentary on the Big Schlanger since his election.

However, his latest diplomatic sortie, meeting his mate Vladimir in Helsinki and his subsequent press conference is obviously redolent of Alice in Wonderland. The BS explained that when he said ‘would’ he meant ‘wouldn’t’ or v.v. This famous quote below from that literary masterpiece has probably come to mind for many of us.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

 

Humpty Trumpty

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Tim Cope is an Australian adventurer who made a remarkable solo trip by horseback from Mongolia to Hungary over a three year period from 2004. His book ‘On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads’ is a fascinating record and tale of high adventure, replete with maps and photographs.

Cope’s story of survival on the remote fringes of the Eurasian Steppes and ex-Soviet Union, with his loyal horses and dogs, is well told. They suffer extreme temperatures, dry marginal landscapes and encounters with rough locals. And are welcomed and embraced by traditional hospitality, which saves his life often.

The expedition is truncated by Tim’s return to Australia and elsewhere for various reasons, and we share his life story over those years, with some romantic interludes and companions.

I found it all engrossing, and closely followed the expedition’s detailed movements over the maps provided. His insights into the histories of those frontier territories, and the thread of nomad traditions that runs for thousands of kilometres, is fascinating. A great read!

Mongolian steppe

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My friend Clare gave me an endurance test with the gift of this 866 page novel about growing up in New York mid twentieth century. Well, I did falter half way through but got my second wind and sailed on to the end of this blockbuster (obligatory cliche).

Auster’s long sentences create a beguiling rhythm of thought and dialogue about growing up possibilities, as the lives (yes, plural) of young Archie Ferguson play out against the backdrop of post-war American society and events that shook the nation in the 60s, notably the war in Vietnam. The characters in his extended part-Jewish family clan and society are well drawn, and the portrayal of Archie’s childhood and intimate life convincing. The underlying goodness of the heroic Archie characters is less so.

However the device of parallel Archie lives is too contrived. The omniscient author tries to explain it all in the final pages by a what-if rationale about the fateful turns that Archie’s life could have taken and conflates him as author of this book. Too cute by far and unconvincing. Yeah, of course all lives are prone to random shocks and surprises, aka the fickle finger of fate. The title refers to disappearing Archies as Auster takes them out, but it’s actually just confusing.

A more traditional solo Archie narrative would have worked fine, and saved four hundred pages. Maybe Auster had too many storyline ideas and, with an indulgent editor, decided to chuck ‘em all in the one story. Pre-eminent novelists are often indulged (see my reviews of Winton and Flanagan).

Putting that major whinge aside, I enjoyed the ride and was both entertained and enchanted, which are two of three hallmarks of good writing identified by Nabokov. Auster’s insight into young minds and their struggles with post-war life ring true – forming childhood identities, the threat of the draft for young men, the mood of radical resistance in universities to conservative society at large and the war in Vietnam, their burgeoning sex lives, writing urges, and longing for legal tender.

If you can gird your loins, so to speak, you might enjoy the marathon ride too.

Columbia uni 68

 

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