Moorilla Mosaic, edited by Robyn Mathison and Lyn Reeves

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball


Moorilla Mosaic is a collection of poetry, stories and excerpts from novels in progress, written by 27 Tamanian writers, all of whom read at the Moorilla Cultural Series in 1991 at the Moorillla Museum of Antiquities. The book reflects the wide diversity of styles and the rich landscape of Tasmanian writing, which seems to have suddenly come into strong public focus in the last year or so. As with any collection of poetry and prose by different authors, the pieces work best in small readings, taking time to allow each author’s distinctive style to settle, and for the messages to release their meaning. The collection contains from 3-5 poems or a few pages of prose from each author, which works well in allowing the reader time to become accustomed to a particular voice. The voices in this volume certainly differ. There are poems about lost innocence, travel poems, poems which equate the modern world with the ancient, and a wide range of poems about the natural beauty of Tasmania, such as Pete Hay’s “Night Owl, With Rain,” which calls upon an owl’s:

precise mourning
a soft, soft metronome, hw-how,
ticking the hours over.

or Ivy Alvarez’ “Earth” where: loam crumbs, brown earth melts under water’s welts.

There are also a number of bush style poems invoking insularity, ugliness and poverty such as Tim Thorne’s “Pension Payday” where:

You can hardly hear the sirens for the sound of breaking glass
Maggie’s in the corner with her skirts up round her arse
and Jimmy’s shat himself again and Bill’s been put away
and the form guide in the paper says its slow to dead today.

For me at least, the most powerful poems in the book however, are those which speak in a female voice, of the universal themes of motherhood, personal insecurity and loneliness. Some of those which really stand out are Liz Winfield’s anguished “Poems of Lonely Vale,” which speaks of isolation and the loneliness of a young mother:

in this place where the fog didn’t lift till lunchtime
and the sun disappeared at four
I didn’t know then that the black dog bites
as gentle as rain
as soft as your cuddle with the words
‘sometimes tears
just fall…’

Other motherhood poems also work well in their earnest and intense imagery such as Sarah Day’s “Children’s Ward” where the reader visualises a ward full of asthmatic children fighting for breath, along with the pain and warmth of one mother’s love:

She has been stroking his back since time began,
working calm’s liniment between shoulder blades
Scarcely bigger than chicken wings

or Louise Oxley’s “Bearing a Name” where we are with her in her intense labour, shocked by the realisation that at one time this kind of fairly common set of emergencies would have killed a woman:

I am called prima gravida and
you, placenta previs – deep
traverse arrest –

failed high forceps – foetal
distress – emergency caesarian
section. These are not

> the names I had in mind. How
could they be?
Before your coming to me
they did not signify.

The fiction varies too, with most of the excerpts set in Tasmanian landscapes, and most of the works chosen carefully enough so that they make sense as short stories, especially Robert Cox’s “The Darkness After Midnight” where a woman learns of her husband’s accidental death.

All of the authors in this collection are widely published, and many have become part of the Tasmanian literary canon. This book is indicative of the variety and detail of what modern Tasmanian authors have to offer the world, with their unique but also universal vision. For anyone wanting an unusual and fresh anthology of contemporary Southern Australian writing – a sampling to savour slowly – this is a nicely put together collection. You may not like every piece in it – poetry being the most subjective and personal of literary experiences, it is unlikely that every work will appeal to every reader, however, it is possible to read this and imagine yourself in the charming Moorilla museum with a glass of good wine, surrounded by objects of antiquities, excellent acoustics, and the very congenial and often moving voices of poets and novelists sharing their art.

For more information on Moorilla Mosaic, or to purchase a copy, visit: Moorilla Mosaic: Contemporary Tasmanian Writing, Edited by Robyn Mathison and Lyn Reeves
Bumblebee Books, 1991, Paperback
ISBN 0-9586133-2-X
RRP A$29.95

Magdalena Ball is Editor of The Compulsive Reader, Preschool Entertainment, and is the author The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything. Her fiction, poetry, reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in a wide range of on-line and print publications.