Republic of Moreland

March 9, 2008

Headline in here thanks ta

Filed under: books & writing,nonsense — Kath @ 9:04 pm

Moreland Leader’s savvy-sub-editors working overtime.

But if you want to witness the nadir of suburban newspaper reportage, read Helen’s post here.

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February 14, 2008

Modesty prevents him*

Filed under: art,books & writing — Kath @ 5:22 pm

Okay, I’m gonna to do something that’s frowned upon within the interwebs. I’m gonna out a psuedonymous blogger.

The Republic of Moreland’s ‘Leonaardo’ is actually — ta-da-da-da — the painter Robert Hollingworth!

Don’t know Robert’s art? You may know his words. Robert’s a terrific writer. Last night I went to the launch of his latest book, They Called Me The Wildman, at Readings in Carlton. Published by Murdoch Books, the book’s publicity blurb reads thus:

They Called Me the Wildman is historian and artist Robert Hollingworth’s captivating reconstruction of Swedish-born naturalist Henricke Nelsen’s solitary life. Henricke lived on a mountain in Victoria’s Tallarook Ranges in the 1860s. Robert Hollingworth has written Henricke’s life story in the form of a prison diary. No imaginary work could arrange a better cast of characters than this meticulously researched story.

Never mind the blurb (and Robert insists he’s not a historian — even though the book is based on historical records). I can tell you it’s a terrific read. I read it in manuscript stage, and ’twas one of those page-turners that keep me up into the wee hours. And I don’t even tend to read this kind of genre. I promise you it was authentic and moving and wondrous. It hit me right here:

*pounds heart*

Now, it’s in hard-cover, beautifully bound, with gorgeous paperstock and old illustrations. It’s a fine object as well as a wonderful read. If you buy one as a present it will be treasured, I promise.

You can listen to Leonaardo talk about it on ABC Radio National.

October 22, 2007

“Like the guy in that ad with the microwave”

Filed under: books & writing,nonsense — Kath @ 6:27 pm

This semester I started teaching first-year writing students at a university rated at the very bottom in the Best Universities Guide. It’s located in Zone 3 — or what was until recently, when Zone 2’s girth expanded. Most of the students are from suburbs listed on the bottom rung in the real estate valuation pages (those suburbs topping the unemployment charts); many are first-generation Australians; many are the first in their families to go to university. I’m guessing they wouldn’t think to describe themselves as I’ve just done, and sometimes I feel like an impostor.

I love my students — I really do. As a colleague said, they don’t have tickets on themselves.

Sometimes I find myself teaching them tenets of good writing I’m yet to learn myself. One class exercise was to minimise adjectives and let our verbs do the hard work (I wish!). Each of us had to write a passage describing someone in the room, and then read it to the class.

Knowing that adjectives would indeed flow, I became anxious as students started scribbling. Polite restraint isn’t characteristic of my class, and I was fearful of the offensive descriptions that might ensue: of flesh billowing out of too-tight jeans; of try-hard piercings; of swampy complexion, fussy synthetic track pants, prim hijabs, a smile that goes down instead of up, nicotine fingertips, overstated bling, service-station sunglasses, solariumed cleavage, lank hair.

The adjectives did pour out, but not as I’d second-guessed, with my Zone 1 prejudices. A scarf was described as knotted noose-like around the wearer’s neck. (The wearer chortled.) A woman was described in purple prose (by the lank-haired lad) as having hair that cascaded mermaid-like on to the pleasing tension of her t-shirt. (I swallowed and looked at the woman, who grinned, unblushing.) Another woman named every shade of grey in a headscarf: dove-grey, rain-grey, corporate-grey. Someone was “like the guy in that ad with the microwave…”

I love my classes: they are so intimate. Semester is almost over, and I’m sad.

October 12, 2007

Wisdom from Raymond Carver

Filed under: books & writing — Kath @ 5:20 pm

“Writing is trouble, make no mistake, for everyone involved, and who needs trouble?”

July 27, 2007

Text and the city

Filed under: books & writing — Kath @ 1:27 pm

Just as I put up a post about the paucity of novels about Melbourne, The Age’s Melbourne Magazine makes a liar of me. Today it features authors who write about Melbourne: Tony Wilson (I think Faith mentioned him), Alice Pung (was Unpolished Gem about Melbourne?); Elliot Perlman; Sonya Hartnet and Kate Holden. I’m wondering what their criterion is: Kate Holden’s memoir was about her life as a prostitute junkie in Melbourne, sure. But using that criterion, they left Arnold Zable, Helen Garner and Christos Tsoilkas off the list. How wide a net do we cast?

(By the way, I also exempt Andrew Stafford’s Pig City from my claims about Brisbane literature. It’s non-ficiton, anyways. Helen exempts He Died With A Felafel etc: I never read it, only heard repeated charges of “Hey, that bit was my story: John Birmingham pinched it”. I remember Stuart Glover wrote a similar thing about Nick Earls’ Zigzag Street, in a wonderful essay in the now-defunct Imago magazine.)

July 7, 2007

Melbourne just not very novel

Filed under: books & writing — Kath @ 12:15 pm

The time to read books is on public transport, of course. (Who has the time otherwise?) Little One and I are in Brisbane for the school holidays, and we’ve used so much PT that I’ve caught up. Just finished David Marr’s His Master’s Voice and Clive Hamilton’s Silencing Dissent and Frank McCourt’s memoir, Teacher Man (all good). Re-read, for the third time, Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer (brilliant). Caught up on two issues of The Monthly (okay) and The American Scholar (always tremendous).

Running out of material, I visited The Avid Reader in West End. Its co-owner, Fiona, is usually excellent at finding exactly what you want. “I want a memoir,” I said. She suggested a few. Nah. How about this, then? She presented A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka.

It’s a novel. My fiction-reading days are over. (The last novel I enjoyed was Mark Haddon’s wonderful The curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. I rarely enjoy fiction.)

But the praise plastered over the cover was superfluous. “Outstanding”, “Splendid”, “Hilarious” “Remarkable”, “Rare”, “Enthralling”, yadda yadda yadda. These reviews were from reputable sources like The Times Literary Supplement. The book was shortlisted for prizes. I bought it.

It was competent and fairly engaging, but annoying. Its high drama, big characters and heavy-handed humour shat me. Its narrative devices were obvious and in your face, treating you like a mug. I was always aware of the author devising the darned thing in order to be clever.

Which got me thinking about the spate of cringeworthy, self-conscious novels (with the exception of Andrew McGahan’s Praise) written ABOUT BRISBANE. Including stuff by Nick Earls, Venero Armanno, and an artless novel by a woman (forget her name) that I won at this event and promptly donated to the school fete. Since the late 80s, there have been heaps of Brisbane novels.

I was wondering if Melbourne novels were as poor, but I can’t think of any. Sure, there have been novels set in Melbourne (Garner, Tsiolkas, Hardy, etc), but try as I might to think about a novel largely about Melbourne, I can’t. This may well say more about my ignorance than the state of things, and I’m happy to be shouted at if I’m wrong, but I’m venturing a theory. Melburnians don’t need novels about Melbourne; but post-Bjelke, Brisbane folk need novels about Brisbane.

June 4, 2007

Passive-aggressive notes

Filed under: art,books & writing,nonsense — Kath @ 12:27 pm

This has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Moreland, but I just couldn’t resist. I don’t normally take much notice of WordPress’s most popular site list, but over the last week a blog called Passive-aggressive notes from roommates, neighbors, co-workers and strangers has topped the list. This site rivals Brunswick’s Mrs Washalot blog for originality. It’s hilarious: take a look.

May 3, 2007

Another reason the State should support home vegie patches

Oh, Bettina, Bettina. In your plagiarised article, syndicated in newspapers Australia-wide, you claimed that organic food was more dangerous than factory-farmed food. There are too many outright lies in this copied-and-pasted industry spin article to unpack here, but they have been adequately discredited elsewhere.

But you got me thinking about the ongoing lobbying efforts to discredit organic food — even in our suburban vegie patches. Recently, our own Melbourne Times printed some typesetting claiming the answer for home vegie gardeners could be genetically modified crops.

“Efforts to grow drought-resistant crops,” typed Kirsten Alexander, “could extend to the garden… Once crops have been created to cope with drought there’s surely an opportunity to offer genetically modified, drought-tolerant plants to the gardening public.”

This is WAY unlikely, Kirsten. For a start, no such GM commercial crops exist, or have been field-trialled. And repeatedly, industry and independent polling shows that the overwhelming majority of Australians don’t want GM. And a poll by the South Australian Farmers’ Federation revealed 80 per cent of farmers didn’t want it, either, and supported a moratorium on it. There’s no reason to suppose we urban farmers will feel any differently.

And the rhetoric of drought-tolerance coming from industry isn’t matched by peer-review studies. The promises of (patented, monopoly-owned) GM crops — lower yields, drought tolerance, pesticide tolerance, save the third world — look good, but are simply not backed by evidence.

Back to sexologist-turned-industry-lobbyist Bettina’s campaign. I’m reading Michael Pollan’s magnificent book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Did I mention that this book is stupendous? Part history, part gastronomy, part biology and politics and philosophy and intrigue, it’s so elegantly researched and written that even those not interested in food production would love it, I swear. It reads as a giant literary essay, and as Penelope Hobhouse said, it’s “as compelling as a detective thriller.” Buy this book: it’s peerless. Really. (If you want examples of Michael Pollan’s writings, they’re here.)

Something I’m learning about from this book is how the by-products of war became integral in industrialised agriculture. In particular, the introduction of petroleum-nitrogen fertilisers meant farmers no longer had to rotate their crops (for example, with legumes, which fix nitrogen in the soil, or livestock, whose poo also adds nitrogen). Using nitrogen fertilizers derived from fossil-fuels, farmers could now plant monocrops repeatedly in the one space:

Liberated from the old biological constraints, the farm could now be managed on industrial principles, as a factory transforming inputs of raw material–chemical fertilizer–into outputs of corn. Since the farm no longer needs to generate and conserve its own fertility by maintaining a diversity of species, synthetic fertilizer opens the way to monoculture, allowing the farmer to bring the factory’s economics of scale and the mechanical efficiency to nature.

… From the standpoint of industrial efficiency, it’s too bad we can’t simply drink petroleum directly, because there’s a lot less energy in a bushel of corn (measured in calories) than there is in the half-gallon of oil required to produce it. Ecologically, this is a fabulously expensive way to produce food…

Put another way, he writes, “it takes more than a calorie of fossil fuel energy to produce a calorie of food.” The traditional farm, on the other hand, “produced more than two calories of food energy for every calorie of energy invested.”

More than this. Nitrogen fertilizers decrease our food’s nutrient content. Graham Harvey has documented the ways nitrogen fertilisers don’t stimulate nutrient density, but they do cause excess growth of sappy tissue within plant cell walls. Repeated studies show animals and plants fed chemical fertilisers are lower in the essential vitamins and minerals than organically-fed animals and organically-grown food. Although Bettina’s plagiarised article reckons the opposite.

We home gardeners, even those who buy our fertilizer from Bunnings, tend not to pullute river systems with petroleum fertilizer run-off. And we use far less water and energy to make our food.

Even if you do believe Bettina’s claims that organic food isn’t tastier (it is), and isn’t more nutritious (empirical studies show it is), for these reasons alone we should be encouraged by the state to grow the stuff. If the State is really interested in sustainability and public health, that is. And there’s no better place to grow it than in our fertile, intensive backyards, where we can use much less water and energy than broadacre farmers.

March 17, 2007

Communism: a love story

Filed under: books & writing,politics — Kath @ 9:52 am

At last, The Age has published a review of Morelander Jeff Sparrow’s magnificent biography, Communism: a love story. As Amanda Lohrey has observed, the book rollicks along like a good novel. You can also read about it here.

The MUP website has a sample chapter you can download and read. It’s not the book’s best chapter, in my opinion, but it’ll give you a taste. What I love about this book is that while it IS a love story (or many) of the erotic kind, it also profiles many famous Australians’ doomed love affair with Communism without sentiment or dogma. There’s a lot to learn in there.

January 14, 2007

Radio City

Filed under: books & writing,Brunswick,notices — Kath @ 11:04 am

From the Vulgar Press:

Over the course of three decades, 3RRR-FM has become an indispensable part of Melbourne’s cultural fabric, a vital hub of the city’s renowned music and arts scenes and an independent voice among a chorus of repetition.

But it wasn’t always so. Born in 1976, the product of an experiment in public radio just as the DIY spirit of punk music was hitting the streets, much of Triple R’s existence was fraught and surrounded by chaos. (more…)

January 9, 2007

unknown unknowns

Filed under: books & writing,cafes & pubs,events,notices — furiouscowgirl @ 9:45 pm

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December 22, 2006

Open for business

Sydney roadWELCOME TO Republic of Moreland. I did pen a tagline under its masthead but, for reasons unknown, WordPress refused to publish it. I thought about using Almost Pretty, the title of a history of Sydney Road, which, incidentally, is the longest continuous retail strip in the Southern Hemisphere, or so a prominent local real estate auctioneer is very fond of shouting. (If you’re lucky enough to covet property, you know who I’m talking about. He with the year-round suntan.) It’s an impressive fact, until you think about the other cities in the Southern Hemisphere. Anyway, suggestions for the tagline, and how to get it up there, will be warmly received. (more…)

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