01 August 2013


This was another Paperchain book launch but with a difference. The Griffith Review is a major Australian literary journal and it’s just reached 10 year of age. This is not old, of course. Meanjin and Overland and others have been going for much longer and still manage to survive. They all provide some non-fiction essays along with fiction and poetry. My literal mind lends itself to non-fiction these days, so I’ve only dabbled with these journals, but looking at this issue of GR I am impressed. Lots of articles concerning issues of contemporary relevance in a pre-election period, with a range of points of views. Even if they agree on the big picture (and on issues like climate change you really can’t “disagree” and be intellectually self-questioning and honest and), they differ on how they see issues and what messages they take from it. As for 5x4s, this was a snap visit to five of these articles (one fiction reading) by their authors.

Julianne Schultz, GR editor introduced the night and welcomed the arrival of Griffith Review’s 10th anniversary. GR is based in Brisbane, but this launch is in Canberra. Perhaps there’s another in Brissie, but the reading and authorial public is presumably pretty strong here. She could easily enough gather five authors for the launch. She gave various figures, like 667 contributors and 69 books which have found their genesis in GR. Impressive. Then introduced the five authors.

First was Tom Griffiths. His take on climate change was fascinating. He first confirmed the nature of theories in science (much stronger than common parlance suggests). He noted that climate change has become a new conversation stopper at dinner parties, and he stated that the reasons for public contrarians (truly an industry) are obvious enough and boring. His particular interest was how rational and honest people can take it on themselves to so blithely question the scientific method in this field while taking it for granted elsewhere. He mentioned the forbidding nature of the topic and changes required, the unwanted reality, but “we have to believe in the creative value of dialogue with our fellow citizens”. Good luck. Funny enough, I heard him only hours later on ABC RN Late Night Live relating the same story.

Second was Desmond Manderson. He recounted how he came back to Australia after 10 years away and found the issues unaltered (second Sydney airport, boat people, etc). No surprise that his article is called Groundhog day. He pondered this, and came to conceive of the asylum seeker issue like the drug problem. He identified three characteristics: zero tolerance (the answer is always tougher); unintended consequences; collateral damage (eg, legal system undermined). He looked at the war on drugs and how we have moved to a harm reduction approach and how this has de-politicised the situation and produced better public policy and better results. He argued that prohibition is not a form of regulation, but a form of un-regulation. He argued these are uncanny parallels.

Third was Michael Welsey. He spoke on the rise of Asia and China and how we impose our own mindsets on the changes. Alternatively, we see these countries as “growing up” to a future like a waring European past or we see Asia’s past as determining its future, so China is on top and others below. He turns this around, asking how does the world look from China, this Communist saviour of World Capitalism. He noted that this is the only recent power with great powers in its memory (Mussolini did have an image of Ancient Rome but it was more distant). His article promises 8 examples of confounding the present against the past … but we have to read the article.

Fourth was Anna Rose. Anna took a different approach to climate change and perhaps social change more generally. She recounted her conversations with Hunter Valley school students about the need to limit coal use. These students were from mining families and would be immediately affected, but science tells us that they and we all will be more affected if we do nothing about burning coal. She also told of the Meriwether Industrialists, a group that was formed in reaction to her school-time Meriwether Greens. So the conversation was of interest, but Anna also argued that Australians must be braver. Now there’s an interesting call. We find heroes everywhere these days (or cowards when it suits) and our military is newly pedestalised, but much argument is a trivially thin veneer over self-interest or ideology and this is hardly courageous. It takes responsibility to be informed and courage to be coincidentally ethical and honest. Anna also laid claim that writers and GR are just that.

Fifth was fiction from Andrew Belk. He read from his short story dealing with family survival and FIFO workers. We laughed at Dawn Fraser St (all the local streets were named after Australian Olympians). We were brought to earth by a string of expletives (“They’re good words; I like profanities”). We took his ironic solutions with due seriousness (“Put Christmas Island on eBay; that would solve many problems”). But this was cutting writing about testing family life.

Enough said. These were just snippets, but this issue of Griffith Review is weighty and rich with these and other thoughts. I’m looking forward to a good read.

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