J. R. R. and Christopher Tolkien
Mariner Books, August 2015
A thousand years on, the sharpness of Beowulf‘s images still strikes us. Longships cruise amid icy spray. A king stares with fear amid the riches of his hall. Then comes the fiend Grendel stalking across the moors. Tolkien’s translation weds to these visions the rhythm and grandeur of language that rumbles even as it exults, which rolls like the swells of the sea. Continue reading
ARCHIPELAGO OF SOULS
Picador, June 2015, RRP $32.99
Archipelago of Souls appealed to me at first glance. Its main character, Wesley Cress, arrives as a soldier settler on King Island and provides an instant link to my own family history. My father and his brothers and sisters grew up for the most part on King Island after my grandfather took land there as a soldier settler himself. Though the book is set probably 15 years or so before my family arrived there, I couldn’t help wondering if the (in)famous Kelly Quirk might make an appearance somehow. That’s the power of half-remembered family legend, I suppose.
When I was 18 or so, we took a family trip to King Island to look at the old farm, which had been sold on to another family some decades again. We went in June or July, for peak wind effect, and spent a few days in family reunion. I never met my grandfather. I’ve heard some of his ludicrous stories, tales about his … let’s call them “adventures” on the island and his youth, of his alcoholism and his time during the war. My dad and my grandma, Na, also died when I was five and 14 respectively; and on the island I felt very connected with them despite their absense. So the cold trip on the isolated island remains a powerful memory. King Island is part of the family mythology.
Crescendo to an error
A certain private parking area near my brother‘s apartment includes fold-up pedestals that the spaces’ owners can upraise to defend them from other motorists. Each pedestal folds up into the middle of its parking space, where you lock it into place with a key. The distance between pedestals in adjacent spaces then becomes just one pedestal diameter less than the width of the space. Now instead of just blocking your space, the interloping vehicle blocks two spaces.
Blum, William (Common Courage Press, updated edition October 2008, ISBN 978-1567512526)
In 2009, President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” 
Many thought the prize undeserved – on the grounds that Obama appeared too much the enemy of peace. Had he won it, they asked, for prosecuting a war in Afghanistan? Or instead for his proposal to expand the United States military? Or for his plan to send “at least” two additional American combat brigades to Afghanistan? Continue reading
UNDERSTANDING AUSTRALIAN ENGLISH
McKenzie, Ian (lulu.com, July 2012, ISBN 9781105912054)
A few years ago, I bought a sheet of melamine at Bunnings Warehouse. I asked the lumber handyman if he could cut it into quarters for me.
“Sure,” he said. Continue reading
THE ZEN GUN
Barrington J. Bayley (DAW Books, 1983, ISBN 9780879978518)
When I flew into Los Angeles in 2002, the airport strip-searched me. I look about as menacing as a pug dog, but as I walked through the x-ray machine, a woman pointed to me and they pulled me off to the side.
Behind a translucent curtain marked, ‘privacy screen’, they had me strip down to my underpants. A man in latex gloves felt me up. Meanwhile, another man pulled the innersoles out of my shoes and probed around inside them with a plastic wand. Continue reading
REMAINS TO BE SEEN: TRACING JOE HILL’S ASHES IN NEW ZEALAND
Davidson, Jared (Rebel, 2011. ISBN 9780473189273)
In a bum one sees the mystery of how he got there. Seasick Steve ran away from home. Joe Hill fell into the Great Depression. Ours came from a tatterdemalion public library on Cooke Street, where he’d spent the morning chroming petrol from a lemonade bottle. Whomever they’d sent to pick him up hadn’t arrived, so we offered him a lift home in Colin‘s Subaru.
The bum lived in a shelter on a street he pronounced, “flighnay!” Continue reading
HOME INSULATION PROGRAM
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (ANAO Audit Report No.12 2010–11; Commonwealth of Australia, 2010; ISBN 0642811563)
When Labor spun open its home insulation subsidy in 2009, a thousand insulation dingoes all across the country started fighting to get their muzzles under the spigot.
When the first one phoned, I explained that I already had grey insulating powder in the crawlspace. When their tradesman came, he found I had too much grey insulating powder to qualify for the subsidy. Continue reading
NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE
Foundation Publications (1997, ISBN 978-1885217721)
A few years ago I attempted to rent advertising space in The Bible between the Old and New Testaments. I created a website for a fictional business called ‘Prince of Databases’ at:
I then emailed The Gideons International, who print and distribute Gideon’s Bible, at firstname.lastname@example.org: Continue reading
GOD’S SMUGGLER, THE LAND OF THE KANGAROO, REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE 1990s, others
Brother Andrew, Elizabeth Sherrill, John Sherrill and Pope John XXIII (Chosen Books, 2001, ISBN 9780800793012), Thomas Knox (W. A. Wilde & Company: Boston, 1896, ISBN (reprint) 9781409970385), Peter Townrow and Ron Martin (editors) (Routledge, 2002, ISBN 9780117023659)
A wearisome ancient practice requires the journalist to begin his description of any country or region by describing it as “a land of contradictions”.
The charitable view sees this as the journalist’s admission that he hasn’t comprehended his subject. That he views the disparate facets he’ll go on to describe as contradictions, comprehending too little about the country or region to harmonise them. Continue reading