A pair of
ON page 31 we have published a poem, Review, by Janita Cunnington that has a little story behind it. Our poetry editor, Jaya Savige, says Cunnington’s submission came with a note: she had been published in The Australian in the 1960s and recently had taken up poetry again, in her senior years. Jaya continues: ‘‘This poem is in my opinion an absolute cracker. Its metrical facility and overall style are reminiscent of early Judith Wright, and the second part is especially stunning.’’ And there I was thinking it only got a guernsey because the poet cannily titled the piece after the newspaper supplement now in your hands. I do like the poem, too, particularly the line about the high-tension wires ‘‘low-humming, quickened by anxiety’’. BOOKS that made me cry, part two. A while back I mentioned that Elisabeth Beresford’s Awkward Magic was one of two books that made my younger self shed a tear or two. The other was The Death of a Wombat, a bushfire allegory by Ivan Smith, accompanied by drawings and paintings by Clifton Pugh. First published in 1972, this remains one of my most cherished books. So it was not without some trepidation that I pulled it from the shelves one recent night to share it with my almost-sevenyear-old co-reader, Syd. I knew he would like the gripping, poetic story of how various animals respond to a fire, and appreciate Pugh’s beautiful artwork, but I was worried he’d find it too sad. Once the blaze starts (‘‘The thunder has begun! A eucalypt explodes and there is the first temple of flame . . .’’) we know the wombat has no chance, that his desperate ‘‘waddle and crump’’ flight towards the river is hopeless. ‘‘The fire, a half-mile behind, the river 90 yards ahead . . . no odds for a wombat.’’ And when his death comes, it is horrible. Syd did find it sad, as I still do. But he was fascinated by the story, especially one aspect (and I was the same as a boy), the fact only one animal survives: the dingo. And how does it save itself? By doing the opposite of all the other animals: it runs into the inferno, and through it. For days afterwards, Syd asked me questions such as: Would a cheetah/wolf/tyrannosaurus run into a fire or away from it? Other readers have seen the story as a political parable, with the ‘‘cunning and unconquerable’’ dingo compared with JFK. As Smith writes in his introduction: ‘‘It might be better not to mention some of the names linked with the kangaroo and the koala.’’ The former runs and runs and runs but eventually goes up in flames and the latter, doomed by inflexible specialisation, burns where it sits. Far be it for me to draw any contemporary political parallels there. TODAY, June 16, is Bloomsday, the date on which the action, such as it is, unfolds in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Celebratory pints of Guinness will be raised the world over. In my neck of the woods, Bloomsday comes to Bondi beach in a day-long event organised by the fun-loving folk from the University of NSW’s John Hume Institute for Global Irish Studies. There will be Edwardian dress-ups, readings from Joyce by various well-known enthusiasts, a screening of Nora, the 2000 film about Mrs Joyce, and much more. Details: http://jhigis.arts.unsw.edu.au. I DON’T know if quite as much stout will be flowing at this event, but the Australian Booksellers Association annual conference, which starts in Sydney on Sunday, certainly will be grappling with questions of Joycean complexity as participants try to work out how to sell more books in present market conditions. Details: www.aba.org.au/aba-conference.