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.

An Angel in Australia, by Tom Keneally

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

There is something to be said for plain, clean narrative, with no tricks, no fancy poetry, twists or multiple time sequences. Tom Keneally’s latest novel, An Angel in Australia has been written solely with the reader in mind. It is an easy, fast paced and big hearted story which draws on Keneally’s own experiences as a child during WW2, as well as his extensive knowledge of the clergy, about which he has written. The story involves Father Frank Darragh, a young and “naive” priest, whose sense of compassion comes into conflict with the Church, the times, and threatens to undermine his own faith. The story opens in 1939, as Darragh, a priest in training, worries about his lack of involvement in the war, and receives a prophetic message from a monsignor commanding him to be a “merciful confessor.” Darragh takes the message very seriously, and from then on, the story takes place in the pivotal period of 1942, with Sydney fearing an impending Japanese invasion, visiting well heeled American troups, and air raids combining to create a change in the morality. The impact on the type of confessions Darragh starts to hear is dramatic, and his sense of divine order begins to unravel. He faces a number of startling challenges to his faith, including a fellow priest who has abused a child, homosexuality and transvestism, unfaithfulness, militarily sanctioned racial bigotry, and above all, the honest confessions of a beautiful woman accepting small favours for the sake of “dignity” while her husband is a prisoner in Germany. Frank’s attraction to the woman and her subsequent murder turn this story into a significant mystery which calls to mind Chesterton’s Father Brown stories that Frank himself is reading.

Keneally’s characters are well drawn, and we can sympathise with the gentle Frank as he does multiple battle with sin, his close minded and self serving superiors, real criminals, the law, and his own tortured sense of faith and feelings of insecurity in the face of the war. Other characters are also well drawn, with the slightest touch of Dickens, such as the monsignor Carolan, a man who excels in fund raising, but whose sense of compassion is solely lacking. There is the Cajun prisoner Gervaise, with his exaggerated politeness, his accent with its “layers of dolour and diphthong” and his hopeless future, the “worldly” inspector Kearney, the pugilistic communist saviour Trundle and the well spoken and unpenitent Kate Heggerty with her lost son, and the very American MP Fratelli, with his boxes of groceries and confident but strange air, all of whom lend colour and depth to what is essentially Darragh’s story.

Keneally is also able to create setting and place effectively, illuminating an American barracks and its relationship to its Australian environment:
They drew up to the camp gate in a country of stunted eucalypts and acacia. The rituals of admission, the gestures of the military police, were all so emphatic. Americans were good at military liturgy, an art form more casually attended to in the Australian army. No movement these men made seemed casual or negligent. In their standings-to-attention, in thier impeccable webbing, they seemed to Darragh to have built a ritual bridgehead against the enemy. (198)

Or the climactic moment when Japanese submarines attack Sydney Harbour: The peculiarities of light and tracer and shadow which had enabled them all to see the tip of the submarine had passed and been replaced by raw, unregulated sound. So simultaneously did machine-gun fire and rifle shots and shells and depth-charge explosions occur, including here, with the gun crew and the men with the automatic rifle at the end of the ferry jetty all adding their foreground quotient to the body of sound, there was not room for breath. (304)

Although this is primarily a novel of plot – a fine story, rather than a difficult exploration of ideas, Frank’s attempts to reconcile a personal morality which makes sense in terms of his own experiences with the Church’s morality is poignant and provides the backdrop or premise of the book. The Church also represents authority in all its forms, and is paralleled by the authority presented by the American army – and in both cases, this authority is found wanting in the face of true compassion and morality. Kate Heggerty cannot be saved, Gervaise is never heard from again, Carolan continues to enjoy his golf, and Darragh is laicised, but perhaps not before he is able to save Kate’s son. Ultimately, An Angel in Australia with its ambiguous title, refers to more than Kate Heggerty’s corpse, but also Darragh and his angelic soul, which rises above the constraints of his environment.

In an interview with The Compulsive Reader, Keneally said that “I firmly believe that the novel is meant to be chaotic,” and swore an oath that novels after Bettany’s Book, his previous novel, would be less inclusive. An Angel in Australia is not chaotic at all, but rather a very smooth, tightly constructed and linear narrative set in a single place and single time in history. It is certainly less inclusive than Bettany’s Book, and much more focused, although perhaps less ambitious as well. That is no crime however. It would be difficult to criticise this extremely entertaining, well constructed story which takes the reader so effortlessly into a very serious and important part of Australian and world history.

An Angel in Australia, by Tom Keneally
ISBN 1-86471-001-2
2002, hb, RRP A$39.95

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.

The Waterhole by Graeme Base

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball


Graeme Base’s children’s books are special. They are the sort you read and re-read and save for your grandchildren. Artist and author Base’s vivid and highly detailed drawings are so sumptuous, so full of fun and whimsy, without compromising on realism that you can look at his work long after you’ve finished reading the text. Recently released in paperback, The Waterhole was inspired by a visit to Kenya and Tanzania. The gently rhyming and alliterative prose follows a shrinking waterhole as animals from all over the world gather at it to drink. The waterhole itself is cleverly cut into the pages of the book, which gives it a 3-D effect as it shrinks into nothing.

The book operates on many levels. It is a counting book, with each number corresponding to a page, animals, and a particular area of the world. It is also a book of discovery, where you can learn about the areas it covers in the animal frieze around the edge of each page. Your children can also find the hidden animals on each page, the crayfish, storks, foxes, peacocks, bears and so on, formed out of the fauna. On each page is also a series of funny, dressed frogs, which leave “town” when the water runs out. Finally, this is an ecological book, encouraging children (and adults) to think about our most importance resource, our vulnerability without it, and the cycle of dry and wet.

This beautiful book is rich, powerful, and lots of fun. The watercolour, pencil and gouache illustrations are stunning, and although the text is relatively simple, it is humorous. There are real animal sounds and their English “translations” – now I know the sound a ladybird makes (Bzui)! There is so much for children to learn from this wonderful book – from the diversity of our natural world, problem solving skills, the flora and fauna of the world, ecology, and of course, the joy of reading.

The Waterhole by Graeme Base
Puffin, March 2003, pb, RRP $A19.95
ISBN 0-14-0567534

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.

Sabriel, by Garth Nix

Born in the Old Kingdom, Sabriel has not been within its walls for many years. She has lived in the safety of her school, away from the power of free magic. But something has happened – her father, Abhorsen, has vanished and she is the only one who can find him.

Back in the Old Kingdom, Sabriel discovers that she is much more than she ever thought she was, or could be. Others are know calling her Abhorsen, and looking to her to save the Old Kingdom from the terrible evil that lurks beyond the grave. All Sabriel wants is to find her father and return his title to him. The two quests – finding her father and saving the Kingdom – become one, and Sabriel must draw on all she has learnt and much that she learns along the way, as well as the strength of her friends, old and new.

Sabriel is an absorbing fantasy- rich in depth, in originality and excitment, yet accessible even to those new to the genre. It is little wonder the book was a winner of the Aurealis Award for Australian Speculative Fiction, and that the remaining titles of the trilogy have been eagerly awaited.

Sabriel, by Garth Nix
First Published by Harper Collins, 1995, newly published by Allen & Unwin (2003)

Adrift, by Allan Baillie

“Flynn . . . ” Sally’s voice was soft and serious. “We’re going away.”

When Flynn is told to look after his little sister, he isn’t pleased. A day at the beach should be about fishing and adventure, not looking for shells and whinging. But then Sally finds an old wooden crate, and Flynn starts a game. No longer a plain crate, now it’s a pirate ship, with Sally and Flynn the pirates and Sally’s cat Nebu the ship’s cat. Only Flynn doesn’t notice that the ship really is moving – until they are too far from the shore to do anything.

Out at sea, with no food, no water and no idea how he will get home, Flynn must take responsibility for Sally in a way he could never have forseen. As he struggles to keep them alive he develops a gradual understanding of his troubled relationship with his sister and with his father.

Adrift, first published in 1984, is a classic book from a classic author. It is a story which withstands the test of time – still relevant and exciting for children of the noughties.

Still good reading.

Adrift, by Allan Baillie
Thomas Nelson, 1984

Grandma Cadbury's Bikie Gang, by Dianne Bates

Cadbury tells all his mates his Grandma’s getting a Harley – and loves their jealous reaction. Soon he’s off cruising the highways on the back of Grandma’s Custom Softail. It’s just one of the wild things his Grandma has done – she used to drive a big rig, and after that a mini bus to take tourists around Australia. Now she’s staying nearer to home to be with Cadbury when his mother is away. And Cadbury couldn’t be happier.

Well, he could be happier – if all the pesky girls in his class would just leave him alone. They seem to think he’s cute and they want to kiss him – yuck.

Outside of school, Cadbury and his Grandma and her biker friends have loads of fun and exciting adventures. Some are more scary than exciting. Perhaps the scariest of all is when a new girl comes to school – and turns out to be part of the gang.

Grandma Cadbury’s Bikie Gang is the third book about Grandma Cadbury and her hilarious adventures. Author Dianne Bates has a special talent for stories which are silly, adventurous and educational all at the same time. Good fun.

Grandma Cadbury’s Bikie Gang, by Dianne Bates
Angus & Robertson, 1993

The Boy Who Loved Chocolate and Other Stories, by Dianne Bates

What would happen if you loved chocolate so much that you stole some from your auntie’s sweet shop? What if she was able to turn you into a statue?And what would happen if your Mum’s new boyfriend was a vampire and crept into your room at night?

Author Dianne Bates knows the answers to these questions – because these and other questions are at the heart of the short stories in The Boy Who Loved Chocolate and Other Stories.

The eight stories in the book are as entertaining as they are different – as well as the chocolate thief and the vampire boyfriend, there are female bushrangers, magician uncles, a dog called Custard and more.

Ideal for classroom use, the stories are also great for readers who like to read just a little at a time – a complete story can be devoured in one sitting.

Published in 1990 and followed by several reprints, The Boy Who Loved Chocolate remains a great collection of short stories for 8 to 12 year olds.

The Boy Who Loved Chocolate and Other Stories
, by Dianne Bates
Omnibus Books, 1990

Rose, by Robert Wainwright

When Lang Hancock married Rose Lacson in 1985 it was a fairly quiet wedding – held in Sydney, away from the glare of the media and with only a few carefully selected guests. It is unlikely that Hancock could forsee that this was the beginning, however, of an increasingly public life. The marriage would send the previously private man into the public eye, a situation which would endure even long past his death.

Since that wedding, Rose Hancock Porteous has become one of Australia’s most recognisable and talked-about women. Known for her lavish parties, expensive tastes and outlandish behaviour, Rose continues to attract media attention. In Rose, Western Australian writer and journalist, Robert Wainwright provides a gripping account of this flamboyant woman.

From her childhood in the Philippines, to her first and second marriages and on to her third – with Lang – and fourth, with Willie Porteous, Wainwright provides insight into Rose’s life and motivations. Wainwright uses his own lengthy media association with Rose, as well as detailed research and interviews, to present an account which is as insightful as it is balanced.

A compelling read.

Rose, by Robert Wainwright
Allen & Unwin, 2002

A Child's True Book of Crime, by Chloe Hooper

Having an affair with a married man is always risky, more so when that man is the father of your star pupil. And when his wife has just written a book about a murder with strange parallels to your own situation, then the affair is positively dangerous.

Kate Byrne is aware of these risks, yet continues her affair with Thomas Marnes, hoping his wife Veronica does not know.

When late-night phone calls and unexplained car troubles begin to effect her, it is too late to tun back. She must weather the storm as she is carried on an unstoppable tide of fear.

A Child’s True Book of Crime
is a stunning first novel, from the talented Chloe Hooper. It is a hard book to classify – part thriller, part satire, part literary fiction – and even part children’s story. But it is the inability to classify the book which makes it so intriguing. It is unlike any other book.

A Child’s True Book of Crime, by Chloe Hooper
Vintage, 2002

The Very Blue Thingamajig, by Narelle Oliver

Creak…crunch…crack! From an egg covered in more spots than you could possibly count, came a very blue thingamajog. The other thingamajigs gathered around to see the new arrival, but didn’t stay long. This thingamajig was just too plain and boring, so he was left alone.

But, one Sunday morning, the thingamajig woke up to find he had a very curly tail. On Tuesday, he found he had a new pair of yellow wings. For the rest of the week, there was some new and interesting addition every day, until the next Sunday he was ready to show the other thingamajigs. Their reaction was not quite what the thingamajig expected.

The Very Blue Thinggamajig
is a fun lift-the-flap book, which teaches the concepts of days of the week and counting, at the same time as providing a gentle lesson on differences. Author/illustrator Narelle Oliver uses simple language and rich pastel colours to create a gentle but fun story.

Oliver is the author and illustrator of many award-winning picture books, including The Hunt and Baby Bilby, Where Do You Sleep?

The Very Blue Thingamajig,by Narelle Oliver
Omnibus, an imprint of Scholastic, 2003