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  • words an exacting constraint over the past years most of them for The Bulletin can be a brief essay Good reviews don t just retell the story nor is their primary purpose to tell you whether you should read the book or not Good reviews converse with the book they pick up an idea and develop it That s what I tried to do in my short review of Cormac McCarthy s fine novel The Road The trick is to find something worth saying beyond a précis of the book while not stealing its thunder It s a thing I try to do even if I hate the book see my review of Norman Mailer s The Castle in the Forest or feel only mildly engaged by it see my review of Dave Eggers s novel What is the What and Brenda Niall s memoir L ife Class I wrote a PhD some years ago my book The Land s Wild Music came out of that time For a period I thought I might become a university teacher of writing and literature I have written a few essays of literary criticism though I ve always steered clear of the recondite

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  • it would including prolonged incumbency for a regime good at buying votes with fear 5 Absolute power corrupts absolutely Which brings to mind the Australian Wheat Board You can insist if you like that John Howard and Alexander Downer didn t personally sign the contracts that put millions of dollars into the treasury of the selfsame tyrant we went to war I think that was the reason to topple but you d have to say it doesn t look like a good thing to have happened on your watch If the government didn t know what the national wheat monopoly was up to in Iraq at a time like this why did it not Where was its fabled management proficiency where were its acuity and probity on this occasion Complicit or negligent take you pick In the Westminster system of government I grew up in and studied ministers and prime ministers walked for such bungles Not in this regime Where the rule is all power no responsibility 6 A rising tide lifts all boats While I m on the big issues the biggest Al Gore was convinced about global warming in the 1980s that was early to be fair even compared to environmental activists like David Suzuki Like a good conservative John Howard ignored the science and denied the evidence written in the landscape until it was already too late All of a sudden late in 2006 he got it He got it then because his polling told him the voters had got it the year before To do nothing about global warming will cost us and the earth incalculably more than doing something about it concluded the very sane Professor Stern mid 2006 Don t be seduced by Stern said Howard Seduced To what To action from inaction To defence of our children s lives In the long run if we get one we ll look back on Howard s environmental denial as the gravest and costliest failure of imagination and courage of these pitiful and pitiless years 7 Tough love If one of the communities that make up your society is for whatever reason neglecting and abusing its little ones and its women you must do what you can as a government to help If leaders in that community have been trying to tell you increasingly urgently for eight years that this is going on and you have not listened then when at last you act you might have the grace to acknowledge your prolonged neglect and inaction Act then with mercy and compassion as well as decisiveness And spare us and the troubled community your sanctimony When you act do what you can to preserve the dignity and the rights of the people you step in to help even when what has happened among them offends common decency For are there not such abusers among mainstream society too And do we strip them and their families of land rights and fundamental rights If you can find the money for police that would be a good thing too and medical officers and bureaucrats find as much again for teachers and for leaders among those communities who can together create the conditions for healing And above all listen above all balance your sudden urgency with some contrition for how long it took you to get urgent and with some respect for the ancient humanity and intelligence of people who had beautiful social mores millennia before Europe was an idea among warring tribe balance justice with mercy Or you could do what this government has done which is not to listen for a decade and then to act without listening again all in a moment to curtail civil liberties and punish the innocent along with the guilty and to wind back land rights and to generally to conspire to help and the helping is good if very late in a way that clearly feels less like help than a paternalistic invasion to many of the people its meant to be saving 8 My road or the high road The intervention in the Northern Territory instances the modus operandi of this regime as we ve endured it in many other areas notably the referendum on an Australian Republic and the national water plan The political journalists call it wedging I had a boss who thought he was pretty good at it too and that it was somehow good for us He d set managers against each other or just let tensions rise and then he d get cross and jump in sternly as if to say you see how you people need me Take a serious issue ignore it if it won t go away bang together a solution that suits your ideological position offer it as the only solution on offer paint all critics of your particular plan as opponents of a solution You want a water solution here s one meager and hasty don t buy it you re an environmental vandal You want a republic try this one you don t like it you don t really want a republic and nor do I This strikes some commentators as being in some way smart even an essay in leadership I saw smarter plays at school It s just low grade thinking a mania for control discomfort with uncertainty determination to be right and bullying 9 Irreconcilable difference Speaking of discomfort with uncertainty almost the first act of this government was to extinguish native title This was Howard s swift response to the Wik decision which had overturned the fiction upon which Australia was settled that indigenous people had no title to this land that they were not in fact here Wik determined that two systems of title coexisted in this land yet at least on lands not yet alienated from the Crown and Wik implied that such coexistence might go on One spiritual the other bankable Imagine how that might have played in wiser hands imagine what a

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  • and into these shimmering gestures of memories of love of place What Roland paints is the conversation he has had with places the country that plays and goes on playing between him and these bluffs and trees and rocks and lightscapes and valleyfloors and firegrounds that stopped him dead and asked him to stay I wrote a poem at Lake St Clair once and if it s not too much of an indulgence I want to read you a bit of it here because it says something better than I could find a way of paraphrasing it at the State Library of Queensland where I say on Thursday and wrote all this The Other Pieces I pick up a rock on the lakeshore a riverstone the glacier left now cleft perfectly down the middle a notch at one end This is how one feels half a self bereft We are here perhaps to look for the rest of who we are and that could be anything a lake a range a woman a pink robin one s children one day in particular Perhaps one is everywhere one looks And then a second thought strikes me holding the half rock each of us is someone else s other a lost half a longing I bend and put the rock down among the other pieces of the shore I turn and I am gone The idea that each of us is the lost half of something or someone else the rest of who we are and what we d like to know and be that I wanted to touch on Because I think Roland s work might be understood this way The poem or the painting like the good walk with open mind and heart through open ground or open forest or desert is the most humble and perhaps the most revealing practice in the examined life I may find the rest of who I am some other fragments of my original self in places that arrest me and ask me to stop One becomes oneself more fully through witness through giving in to the seductions of particular places now and then and emptying oneself of everything but what one can discern of the self of this profoundly other realm the land just here as it gives itself to me Where one stops and looks as hard and at once as tenderly as Roland looks in places like these and how one recalls in one s work back in the studio where one stopped and who one was there that is where and that is how one nears who one really is one s original self These paintings and drawings of Roland s are pilgrimages Steps through country toward itself and toward oneself They are prayerful halting perambulations They are walking devotions Divinations of the world and who we once were or might yet be within it Roland is not an overtly religious man but I think his work is his prayer

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  • off the light and let her fall on me For three or four nights at a stretch each month in that house at the edge of a cliff that is how sleep would come out of a crow black sky I dreamed well there I made some books I made some poems We made my girl and I a marriage and a couple of moon bright children I let a

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  • its end an essay is an artful meander through an idea or a place or a life or something 5 Wondering an essay is not an expert discourse it is an open minded attempt to come to some understanding of its topic to essay is to try but not to prove to essay is to wonder 6 Humble an essay s tone is modest writing one is a test of character posers write bad essays because one must never show off and yet one must not be afraid And an essay isn t an essay unless it is a piece of writing an essay is a literary form like a novel a short story or a poem An essay is something more than a brochure or a piece of journalism or a rant On the other hand an essay is very like a letter A good one But if you re reading something and it s true and some of the other things on my list and yet it lacks whatever it is the care with words the sense of rhythm the technique and craft and form that makes a work literature then whatever else it is it s probably not an essay In his wonderful anthology The Art of the Personal Essay the essayist Phillip Lopate argues for the personal essay I ve always thought though that if an essay isn t personal it s not an essay Still some work not always my favourite casts the writer as its subject and hero And certainly there are other kinds of essay among them the rant the sermon the parable the reportage the meditation Categories blur as they should Anne Fadiman in her recent collection At Large At Small speaks of familiar essays a term I like the sound of

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  • have a nature writing tradition the tradition itself is anonymous in our literature Here then is the nature writing we have done such as it is My list by the way is far from exhaustive and inevitably it is personal It reflects my reading and to some degree my taste in reading It includes only nonfiction It is not that nature writing must only take place in essay form Traditionally though it mostly has As I suggest here and argue elsewhere in the book Writing the Wild I was just finishing when I bumped into Kate Llewellyn it is in lyric nonfiction along with lyric poetry that a writer may accomplish best the deep immersion in place that nature writing calls for In that book and in the introduction to my anthology A Place on Earth 2003 I acknowledge and list the work of Australian poets and some novelists in writing as though geography really mattered But here I ll stick to nonfiction I have organised our writing into categories that conform with a taxonomy Thomas J Lyon compiled of North American nature writing though I have varied that taxonomy in ways that mattered in the book I had just finished but which need not trouble us here NATURAL HISTORY ESSAYS Gregg Borschmann s The People s Forest 1999 Alec Chisholm s Mateship with Birds 1922 Nicholas Drayson s Wildlife 1988 Tim Flannery s The Future Eaters 1994 Ashley Hay s Gum 2002 Robin Hill s Bush Quest 1968 Charles Laseron s The Face of Australia 1953 Donald Macdonald s The Brooks of Morning 1933 Stephen Martin s The Whale s Journey 2001 Ann Moyal s Platypus 2001 Graham Pizzey s Journey of a Lifetime 2000 Eric Rolls They All Ran Wild 1969 George Seddon s A Sense of Place 1972 and his Searching for the Snowy 1994 though this brilliant sometimes detached and scholarly sometimes personal fiercely intelligent book of a river river of a book is impossible to catch in a single category Vince Serventy s Wildlife of Australia 1968 Paul Sinclair s The Murray 2001 Nicolette Stansko s Oyster 2000 James Woodford s The Wollemi Pine 2000 and The Secret Life of Wombats 2001 Mary White s The Greening of Gondwana 1986 and After the Greening 1994 ESSAYS OF EXPERIENCE IN NATURE Solitude and back country living E J Banfield s The Confessions of a Beachcomber 1908 Charles Barrett s Koonwarra 1939 Albert Facey s A Fortunate Life 1981 Barbara York Main s Between Wodjil and Tor 1967 one of the very few consciously Thoreauvian works in the Australian literature Elyne Mitchell s Speak to the Earth 1945 Douglas Stewart s fishing essays The Seven Rivers 2001 Peter Timms Making Nature 2001 another Thoreauvian enterprise in many ways our most accomplished piece of nature writing Haydn Washington s A Sense of Wonder 2002 Travel and adventure C E W Bean s On the Wool Track 1910 1925 Ross Brownscombe s Blue Rivers 1997 Charmian Clift s essays from central Australia especially The Centre 1967 Frank Dalby Davison s Blue Coast Caravan 1935 Robyn Davidson s Tracks 1980 H H Finlayson s The Red Centre 1935 Ernest Giles Australia Twice Traversed 1889 Augustus Charles Gregory s Journals of Australian Explorations 1884 Barry Hill s The Rock Travelling to Uluru 1994 Ernestine Hill s The Territory 1951 William J Lines A Long Walk in the Australian Bush 1998 C T Madigan s Central Australia 1936 Thomas Mitchell s Three Expeditions into the Interior of Australia 1839 Francis Radcliffe s Flying Fox and Drifting Sand 1938 T G H Strehlow s Journey to Horseshoe Bend 1969 Rural life and garden life T R Garnett s From the Country 2001 Barney Robert s Where s Morning Gone 1987 Eric Rolls The River 1974 Michael McCoy s Michael McCoy s Garden 2000 ESSAYS OF PLACE Memoirs and nonfiction novels of place Alice Duncan Kemp s Our Sandhill Country 1933 and Where Strange Gods Call 1968 Mary Durack s Kings in Grass Castles 1959 Mrs Aeneas Gunn s We of the Never Never 1908 Jill Ker Conway s The Road from Coorain 1989 Kim Mahood s Craft for a Dry Lake 2000 Marie Mahood s Icing on the Damper 1995 Kerry McGinnis s Pieces of Blue 1999 Roger McDonald s Shearers Motel 1992 Sally Morgan s My Place 1987 Patrice Newell s The Olive Grove 2000 and The River 2003 Bernard O Reilly s Green Mountains 1940 and Cullenbenbong 1944 Carolyn Polizzotto s Pomegranate Season 1998 Eric Rolls Celebration of the Senses 1984 Tim Winton s Strange Passion A Landscape Memoir in Down to Earth Australian Landscapes 1999 Judith s Wright s The Generations of Men 1959 and The Cry for the Dead 1981 Prose poems Kate Llewellyn s The Waterlily 1987 Roger McDonald s The Tree in Changing Light 2001 Tim Winton s Land s Edge 1993 Barry Hill s Broken Song 2002 which belongs in many categories including the next one but which I have put here to acknowledge its lyric power CULTURE NATURE Philosophical theoretical scientific and historical reflections on the nature of nature and culure W M Adams Martin Mulligan s Decolonizing Nature 2003 Jay Arthur s The Default Country 2003 Richard Baker s Land is Life 1999 Bob Beale and Peter Fray s The Vanishing Continent 1990 Geoffrey Blainey s A Land Half Won 1980 Geoffrey Bolton s Spoils and Spoilers 1981 Tim Bonyhady s The Colonial Earth 2000 Tim Bonyhady Tom Griffiths Words for Country 2001 John Cameron s Changing Places 2003 Paul Carter s The Road to Botany Bay 1987 and The Lie of the Land 1996 Robyn Eckersley s Environmentalism and Political Theory 1992 Marjorie Barnard Eldershaw s My Australia 1939 Tom Griffiths environmental histories Hunters and Collectors 1996 and Forests of Ash 2001 and his Ecology and Empire 1997 edited with Libby Robin W K Hancock s Discovering Monaro 1972 Peter Hay s Main Currents in Environmental Thought 2002 and Van Diemonian Essays 2002 Barry Hill s Broken Song 2002 David Horton s The Pure State of Nature 2000 William J Lines Taming the Great South Land 1991 Tim Low s Feral Future 2001 A J Marshall s The Great Extermination 1966 Stephen Martin s A New Land 1993 Freya Mathews The Ecological Self 1991 and For Love of Matter 2004 Mark McKenna s Looking for Blackfellas Point 2002 Martin Mulligan and Stuart Hill s Ecological Pioneers 2001 Val Plumwood s Environmental Culture 2002 Peter Read s Belonging 2000 Eric Rolls A Million Wild Acres 1981 and From Forest to Sea 1993 Deborah Bird Rose s Nourishing Terrains 1996 George Seddon s Man and Landscape in Australia 1976 and Landprints 1997 T G H Strehlow s Songs of Central Australia 1971 David Tacey s Edge of the Sacred 1995 Martin Thomas s The Artificial Horizon 2003 Judith Wright s Born of the Conquerors 1991 To this list we can now add an anthology of Australian and North American nature writing published last year and the issue of Southerly in which I am writing this The largest category of books here by far is as you see the last the many subtypes of books about mankind s relationship with nature Most of these are not really literature even in their own author s understanding of the term though many of them are very important in the contribution they have made to ecological thought They are books about ecology which are not themselves most of them literary They are books about the encounter with wildness books about naturalism books about books about nature books of environmental history and philosophy books of anthropology But I want to come back to this category What else have we got here There is quite a bit of straight natural history writing the first category and the least lyric and personal in the taxonomy of nature writing That says something I think about an Australian instinct for straight talking and a national aversion to lyrical and the personal discourse If we didn t so often substitute cliché fashionable irony and dogged recitals of fact for intimacy I would say that national trait was a virtue I think on balance it is what holds our essay writing back Travel is a large category too There are some good books here by some fine writers Bean Brownscombe Clift Dalby Davison Barry Hill Ernestine Hill Lines and Radcliffe All of these are place literate and expressive to at least some degree of country A colonising project a nationalising incentive a pastoral tone characterises the books of Charles Bean H H Finlayson Ernestine Hill C T Madigan Francis Radcliffe an Englishman and the government explorers Giles Gregory and Mitchell But still you feel you almost hear the landscapes in their prose Of the writers I ve listed in this category only William Lines and Ross Brownscombe have selfconsiously attempted a nature writer s narrative Although few of these travel books can fairly be compared in the depth of their ecological imagining Thoreau Matthiessen or Lopez say all of whose books belong in this same category I sense that our best prose of place our deepest engagement with country may lie in this category of travel Much of the memoir though land based is intensely concerned with family and personal matters and it is hard to hear the particularities of landscapes speaking in many of these But here too is some remarkable writing some passionate intelligent and subtle engagements with country particularly in Alice Duncan Kemp s memoirs of station life in the channel country in the first half of the twentieth century in Kim Mahood s account of her growing up in Australia s desert heart in Patrice Newell s plainspoken memoirs of pastoral life and in Judith Wright s prescient incendiary poetic and place literate books of her own family s country These among our best books of place oriented prose are all works I notice by women But the bulk of the books dealing with nature in Australia are academic histories cultural studies of landscape perception social studies of identity anthropology scientific ecology social ecologies ecofeminism green politics and philosophy All of it has great value little of it is literature Many of the authors whose works I have included here George Seddon and Geoffrey Bolton for instance Val Plumwood Paul Carter and David Horton even Peter Timms though they sometimes run a personal riff write dispassionately as observers analysts and scholars Their language is constrained by the kind of orthodoxies that allow little place for what Neil Evernden called the green chaos to sing They write about they do not write much from inside the encounter with the world The historians in this list despite an evident love of the land have written from a sturdily anthropocentric stance the theme of Australians discovering impacting shaping naming an environment runs strongly through Blainey Bolton Hancock and Rolls Blainey s title is A Land Half Won Hancock s subtitle is A Study of Man s Impact on His Environment and Bolton s A History of Australians Shaping Their Environment The subtitle of one book Seddon edited Man and Landscape in Australia expresses an ecocentric hope Towards an Ecological Vision which he has pursued in all his books in which he places men the toolmakers and changers back inside their natural realms But he has not managed I m not sure he has tried for it is not an task he takes upon himself to escape the confines of culture academic scientific culture in particular to enter into the life of the land to anything like the degree of North American essayists like Emerson Thoreau Leopold Lopez and Nelson whose work in other ways Seddon s resembles even surpasses He holds to a deeply humanist and humane skepticism which patterns much of the rest of the writing in the final category Even Griffiths who is more aware than the others of the lyrical tradition of natural history writing from Gilbert White to Barry Lopez and who is conscious I think of writing within the tradition of the essay writes elegantly but always with the historian s detachment A number of Australian academics in politics philosophy cultural studies social ecology theology and literature Val Plumwood Ariel Salleh Kate Rigby Robyn Eckersley Freya Mathews John Cameron Stuart Hill Martin Mulligan David Tacey Pete Hay have over the past fifteen years led the world toward a new ecocentric paradigm in thought They have written a lot of significant books and papers and participated through their work in the greening of the humanities within the academy and to a small degree outside it Great though the achievement of these Australian thinkers has been it still surprises me that we have left most of the work of remembering earth of remaking out relationships with the more than merely human world to the academics and consequently made ourselves a heavily academic prose so far of nature We have not had enough writing from writers on nature and so we have not yet made a literature of nature though we have had a lot to say about it Something I think the lack of a tradition of personal and lyric essays and the fierce humanism and secularity of our intellectual tradition has made those of us who have thought hard about landscape choose academic forms and diction or at best the approach of the journalist or social historian rather than the models of a more engaging personal and lyric prose that American thinkers have practised for 150 years now The hold of our English inheritance is still very strong on Australian prose style There is for instance a remarkable ignorance of the American tradition of essay writing and nature writing among Australian writers Ours like England s is a literary culture dominated overwhelmingly by fiction by the novel a form made for mirroring society but less apt for the larger realm of nature beyond the run of plot dialogue and characterisation Whereas the essay that form so well suited I think Tredinnick 2003 pp 17 ff to the work of landscape witness has flourished and remained personal literary and engaging in North America it has floundered as a literary form in the United Kingdom or Australia Here the essay has fallen largely into the hands of the academy where it has become a critical not a literary let alone a personal instrument Nature writing can occur in many forms and genres but it seems to go best in the personal essay I have argued Tredinnick 2003 and in the book I have just finished Writing the Wild that the essay the lyric essay in particular has a particular fitness for landscape witness For many reasons we have not done much writing in that mode here One consequence is that we have not done much nature writing not the kind at least in which the elements of personal engagement and lyric stylisation have their place If nature writing is as Joseph Woods Krutch once said a literature of experience with nature and if it aims to deliver to its readers what John Burroughs called a spiritual auracular analogy of the life of the place it witnesses then it s going to be hard to pull it off if you don t write personally if you don t engage lyrically if you don t write essays You could write poems and do it just as well of course And we have done as I have acknowledged elsewhere Tredinnick p44 On the other hand we may be inventing our own forms Gregg Borschmann s eloquent oral history of the forests the opening chapter of Jill Ker Conway s memoir and its droll exact unfussy evocation of the western plains of New South Wales Ashley Hay s loving survey of the eucalypts George Seddon s snowy river which will not stay within its banks or behind its dam wall and his caustic poetic fact rich and humane essays about landscape and language all of Eric Rolls rambunctious intemperate prose for river and field and forest the passionate reflection of historians like Tom Griffiths Mark McKenna Peter Read and Libby Robin the musical anthropological and literary explorations of the poet Barry Hill the elegant and ecocentric art criticism of Tim Bonyhady the brainy ramblings of Peter Timms the anthropological conversations with land and belonging being led by Deborah Bird Rose and others all these works escape my categories really and suggest that a new antipodean literature steeped in these places and their grammars is dawning Looking across this long list of nature books all these letters of ours for this country I wonder though how we could have made a prose so formal so mannered and gardenesque out of a set of landscapes so wild and unruly so unconforming There remains a deep rift in Australia between culture and nature between the city and the bush between the diction of letters and the common mode of speech let alone the language the landscapes speak It shows in the abstractness formality and aridity of most of our few essays And it shows in our writing about land which very largely adopts the conventions of the academy or the pastoral turning to nature functionally for redemption for metaphor for renewal in language that articulates an anthropocentric enterprise in the diction of the city Tredinnick p 43 Seddon 2003 Too little of our prose in novel and nonfiction strikes the right note between the discourse of the expert and the discourse of the local inhabitant To be expressed country needs words and phrases that are suggested by the place itself and suggestive of it not cultivated in the tamed landscapes from which the colonisers literature comes it needs the vernacular it needs what David Malouf has called the intelligent vernacular It needs conversation not disquisition It needs the rhythms of speech fashioned out of long association with country Conversation is

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  • the queue a woman asked her friend So is this nature writing This is not a question one expects anyone to ask in Australia even in a bookshop even at the launch of a book that almost fits the description When I Read More Page 1 of 1 pages What s Writing For What makes writing worth writing and reading is what the story or the poem achieves beyond the

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  • Label Works In Progress In July 2008 Cambridge University Press is publishing under a different title a slightly revised version of The Little Red Writing Book in the Unites States and the United Kingdom I m working on those revisions

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