Tag Archives: australia

Remebering Babylon – David Malouf

Beautiful book cover

Beautiful book cover

 Malouf is an acclaimed Australian author. Remembering Babylon was published in 1993 but is set in colonial Australia. Being published only 18 years ago hardly makes it vintage, as the publisher claims, but that’s neither here nor there. It deals with the common topic of prejudice and for me comes somewhere between the subtle, intricate analysis of Forster’s A Passage to India, and the brash, dictation of Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Consequently I’d give it half marks.

What I enjoyed about Remembering Babylon were the diverse characters, and the look into pioneering life.

What I didn’t like about this book was the seemingly irrelevant passages, the limited insight, and the unnecessary use of profanity. On the first point, there were a few short incidences that were, while beautifully written, seemingly irrelevant to the central theme. Malouf told single incidents from several perspectives, but he didn’t go deep enough into any one for my enjoyment. As for the profanity, I cannot stand this in written prose. Malouf could have just as easily conveyed the hardened, uncouth characters without it. Furthermore, he uses unpleasant imagery for things which are not unpleasant. For example, instead of saying Mr Frazer made his lips into the shape of an arsehole, he could simply has said Mr Frazer pursed his lips.

This is not a book for those who need a climatic ending, but Malouf poetically captures the nuances of Australian flora and conditions so it is more the journey than the destination.

What I especially loved about this re-release was the beautiful cover, which resembles Delftware, with it’s stark white cover and royal blue line-art. It was 80% of the reason I bought it.

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Beyond the Black Stump

 Beyond The Black Stump is by my sister’s favourite author, Nevil Shute. If you like Steinbeck, you’ll probably like Shute. He is best known for On The Beach and A Town Like Alice, which were both made into film, the former notably featuring with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardener.

This author, who started life out as an engineer, writes books about foreigners and their interactions with Australians and Australia around the 1950s. As a English immigrant to Australia at the time, he has a talent for capturing the sensibilities and curiosities of Australia of the time, and expresses a true fondness for his new country, often in comparison to an England he saw as deteriorating.

The Australia Shute writes about no longer exists in many parts, due to immigration, adoption of multiculturalism and globalisation, however the characters in Beyond the Black Stump are quite close to my ancestry. They are an assortment of people whose family arrived in Australia generations ago, who worked to overcome the hardships of the land, and pioneer a young nation. In better words, the second and third verses of “I Am Australian” (lyrics at the bottom of this post).

The arrival of American oil prospectors stirs up the small community, and is quite an imposition on the slow and simple way of life they are accustomed. The storyline centres around the American, but examines internal changes of those around him. There is a slight predictability to the end, is but it is enjoyable to see the characters get there. The last line is particularly beautiful.

extract from I Am Australian

Lyrics by Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton

I came upon the prison ship, bowed down by iron chains.
I cleared the land, endured the lash and waited for the rains.
I’m a settler, I’m a farmer’s wife on a dry and barren run
A convict then a free man, I became Australian.

I’m the daughter of a digger who sought the mother lode
The girl became a woman on the long and dusty road
I’m a child of the depression, I saw the good times come
I’m a bushy, I’m a battler, I am Australian

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