What Perth people want: Deocoding a city’s vibe to plan it a festival

 

“People are genuinely interested in who you are and why you’re here,” she said.
“Perth knows who we are and who we are not: not the east coast, not a big city, and not in a rush.”

Who Perth people are, what they like and what they need has been top of mind for Msimang since she was asked to curate the 2020 Literature and Ideas Festival, the writers festival taking place within Perth Festival.

And she’s noticed that while Perth might be comparatively protected from the world, even this city could not be insulated from the whirlwind that was 2019.

“We are living in a moment when people are really sped up,” she told WAtoday ahead of Thursday night’s program launch.

“If things were already fast, 2019 was really a headspin.”
There were plenty of existing pluses with the Perth festival – including a loyal, engaged audience and a vibrant central hub around the University of WA’s University Club, giving the venues a distinctive vibe.

But having attended numerous such festivals here and around the world, in recent years she had noticed common faults: overwhelming programs, no time to reflect between events, and a pressure to pack as much in as possible.

Thursday night’s program launch at the Octagon Theatre. By Jessica Wyld

Her idea was simple but radical: slow it down. Sessions lasting an hour instead of 45 minutes. Breaks lasting 30 minutes instead of 15. Panels featuring two or three writers instead of 4-5.

The idea is that each session will allow for a deeper conversation, and maybe even questions at the end won’t have to be dropped as they so often are.

Each break will accommodate not a hasty bathroom trip but also give you a chance to grab a coffee or chat to the person next to you about what you saw or are about to see.

Small panels will allow members to have their say, address questions and go down enticing rabbit holes.

The flipside, of course, of any “less is more” approach is that sacrifices are made. The event cannot be spread over more days due to financial constraints, so the overall number of writers appearing is reduced.

But the list of headliners would seem to prove a limitation can also be a strength, with Thursday night’s launch revealing a list stacked with impressive international, national and local names.

One can hardly find a bigger headliner than Neil Gaiman, whose works include The Sandman comics and novels CoralineAmerican Gods (televised by Netflix) and Good Omens (co-authored by Sir Terry Pratchett and televised by Amazon Prime), who will be telling his life stories at Perth Concert Hall.

Bruce Pascoe, whose 2014 book Dark Emu was bought by more than 115,000 Australians in 2019 alone, and is now being adapted by ABC TV, is appearing in an opening event that sold out faster than any other in the wider Perth Festival.

At the launch. By Jessica Wyld

Other names include:

  • Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap and new tome Damascus;
  • Jasper Jones author Craig Silvey;
  • Charlotte Wood, Stella Prize-winning author of The Natural Way of Things, promoting new novel The Weekend;
  • Melissa Lucashenko, Miles Franklin-winning author of Too Much Lip;
  • A.J. Betts, author of YA bestsellers Rogue, Hive and Zac & Mia;
  • The Family Law’s Benjamin Law;
  • The Accidental Feminists author Jane Caro;
  • Look What You Made Me Do author and Walkley award winner Jess Hill;
  • The Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson;
  • Holden Sheppard, whose debut Invisible Boys has won rave reviews and a slew of prizes;
  • Peter Holmes à Court on his memoir Riding With Giants;
  • Crime authors Dervla McTiernan, Sara Foster and David Whish-Wilson;
  • Bruny author Heather Rose

Each was handpicked for how their works speak to the festival’s theme of Land, Money, Power, Sex, and paired carefully with others for events that promise to push the boundaries in exploring those themes, with the result that many remarked to Msimang it was their most personalised, thoughtful festival invitation in years.

Look out for the companion story coming soon, detailing the must-see highlights of this year’s program, but don’t forget: slow down, and take it easy.

The 2020 Literature and Ideas Festival runs February 21-23.

This story originally appeared here on WAtoday

Em’s 2019 Reading Roundup: the 48 books read, plus my top recommendations for fiction and non-fiction

Fiction (36)

Literary fiction

Bridge of Clay, Markus Zusak
Road Story, Julienne Van Loon
1988, Andrew McGahan
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead
City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert
The Death of Noah Glass, Gail Jones
The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
The Natural Way of Things, Charlotte Wood
Red Can Origami, Madelaine Dickie*
The Testaments, Margaret Atwood
The Weekend, Charlotte Wood
Frankisstein, Jeanette Winterson
The Dutch House, Ann Patchett

Crime/Mystery

Wimmera, Mark Brandi
River of Salt, Dave Warner
March Violets, Phillip Kerr (unfinished)
Death on the Nile, Agatha Christie
Minotaur, Peter Goldsworthy
True West, David Whish-Wilson*
Blue Moon, Lee Child

Thriller

All That is Lost Between Us, Sara Foster*
I Am Pilgrim, Terry Hayes
Zero Day Code, John Birmingham

YA/Children’s 

The Wind in the Door, Madeleine L’Engle
Many Waters, Madeleine L’Engle
Emily of New Moon, L. M. Montgomery (re-read)
The Starlight Barking, Dodie Smith
Emily Climbs, L. M. Montgomery (re-read)
Emily’s Quest, L. M. Montgomery (re-read)
The Outsiders, S. E. Hinton (re-read)

Nonfiction (12)

Shallow, Selfish and Self Absorbed: 16 writers on the choice not to have children 
Nora Heysen: a biography, Anne-Louise Willoughby*
Australia Reimagined, Hugh Mackay
In Defence of Food, Michael Pollan
The Pleasures of Leisure, Robert Dessaix
Any Ordinary Day, Leigh Sales
Egyptian Mythology, Simon Goodenough
On Leopard Rock, Wilbur Smith
Egyptology, Emily Sands/Five Mile Press
Egypt, Konemann Press
On Eating Meat, Matthew Evans
The Wooleen Way, David Pollock*
*WA author

Fiction: Top 10

  1. Freedom, Jonathan Franzen – an absorbing American family saga of jawdropping ambition that had me hanging on its every word and lost inside its themes. Not a new book but perhaps even more relevant now than it was in 2010.
  2. Bridge of Clay, Markus Zusak – massive, time consuming book, not easy but had me weeping like a baby by the time it closed. Majestic. Read more by clicking here.
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood – old, but I’d never read it before and by golly it’s stood the test of time. It fairly crackles with intensity. A must-read.
  4. The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion – the story of an autistic man trying to enter the dating world. I am late to the party on this 2013 bestseller but I fell into this book and didn’t look up until two days later when it was finished. Touching, engrossing and funny. I can’t really imagine someone who wouldn’t enjoy this.
  5. Invisible Boys, Holden Sheppard* – YA novel about growing up gay in Gero. Full of youthful desire, longing and suspense. Immersive, raw, defiant, intense. A must-read. Read more here. 
  6. The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead – an American novel of young men who grew up in an abusive juvenile prison for wayward boys. Has that powerful simplicity shared by the great American novels. Destined to become a classic.
  7. I Am Pilgrim, Terry Hayes – a spy thriller that bounces around the Middle East and absolutely must be made into a movie. Convincing, brutal and compulsive. A cracker of a read.
  8. The Testaments, Margaret Atwood – The long awaited sequel to A Handmaid’s Tale lacks its hypnotic pull and yet is an absolute page-turner, does not waste a single word and satisfies the longing for more from Gilead. Atwood is a master storyteller and I didn’t want it to end.
  9. The Weekend, Charlotte Wood – the story of a group of three ageing women whose friend dies. They are saddled with the grim task of cleaning out her beach house, but realise on the way that this was the friend who glued them together, and without her they struggle to get along. You wouldn’t think that a literary novel with such a ‘quiet’ subject would be a page-turner but I devoured this. Highly recommended.
  10. Frankisstein, Jeanette Winterson – two plot lines, both inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: one an imagining of Shelley’s life at the time of writing, the other a futuristic look at a world of artificial intelligence, cryonics and sexbots, in which humans’ original bodies will be only a jumping-off point to start negotiations. Classic Winterson in its sheer imagination and reach, and in the beauty of its prose, but once again she reaches an original frontier and pushes your intellectual boundaries while at the same time frequently making you laugh.  
Honorable mentions to City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – a captivating, sweetly humorous and touching tale of exuberant young womanhood in a bygone New York. A fantastic summer read if you’re in the market for one – and The Dry by Jane Harper, crackling murder mystery (click on title in list for review).

Non-fiction: Top 5

Australia Reimagined, Hugh Mackay – click the title and read the review to see why I was so inspired by this book. Should be required reading for all Australians, yet is not preachy by inspiring. A powerful antidote to the despair that can grip any regular watcher of the news.
In Defence of Food, Michael Pollan – not a new book but a fascinating look into why diet and nutrition is a subject that continues to confuse, intimidate and utterly do a disservice to human beings, no matter how intelligent they are.
On Leopard Rock, Wilbur Smith – an autobiography of a writer in the heyday of writing, the story of Africa in the grip of apartheid, a portrait of a remarkable family and full of tales of death-defying encounters from a man who appears to have lived nine adventurous lives. Would make a great gift for a fan, but equally fascinating for me and I have never read a Wilbur Smith (though I now intend to).
On Eating Meat, Matthew Evans – by a former journalist, now farmer. Examines Australia’s intensive meat industries in a way that, far from discouraging anyone from eating meat, shows you how to wield your power as a consumer to encourage better welfare for animals. This book has shown me how to enjoy eating meat again.
The Wooleen Way, David Pollock* – the inspiring life story of a pastoralist in Western Australia’s southern rangelands, a cry for help for a vanishing resource, a rallying call for all Australians to better look after it. I found this book electrifying and I will be writing more about it this year as a drying climate makes the situation facing our rangelands more urgent than ever.

Want a personalised recommendation? 

Not all of the books could make it on to the ‘top’ lists, but the vast majority were excellent reads. Some are linked to separate reviews you can click on or leave a comment if you have a question about whether I think you’d like a particular one of these!

The detective and the priest: Leigh Sales’ tales of love, loss and hope

This story originally appeared here, on WAtoday. It’s a long read, but I poured my heart into writing this on Friday, so if you are interested, please grab a cup of tea and give it some time. 

If you’ve ever experienced traumatic grief, you will know a part of you will always be grieving, will never get over it, despite you managing to build a ‘new normal’.

But after some years passed, another part of you might have realised it taught you something, sparked a change.

A girl carries flowers to a memorial wall following the Christchurch shootings, which left 50 dead and 39 wounded.

A girl carries flowers to a memorial wall following the Christchurch shootings, which left 50 dead and 39 wounded. Image: AP

Maybe something big and visible, a new mission. You’ve committed to making a difference in the world, and now you’re got the iron will to achieve it.

Maybe something more private. You’re more compassionate, more ‘present’, more appreciative of the small things.

Are you grateful for these changes? Of course you are.

Would you give them up in a heartbeat just to have that person you lost back? Just to hear their voice one more time, give them one more hug, even for one minute?

Of course you would.

It’s hard to acknowledge anything good could come from the worst thing that ever happened to you.

But just as grief is a universal human experience – as terrible as we sometimes are at talking about it – it might comfort you to know that this unexpected gift of growth is not an aberration.

“I don’t think many people have heard of post-traumatic growth, as it’s a relatively new field of study,” said Leigh Sales, who explores the concept in her new book, Any Ordinary Day.

“Most psychological research in the past has focused on the ways that awful life events impair normal function.

“Post-traumatic growth is the positive personal changes in outlook or attitude people can experience in the wake of something awful happening to them.

“Of course, nobody would ever want this, you’d rather not have the bad thing happen to you and not experience the changes!”

Sales, who appears this weekend at Perth’s Disrupted Festival of Ideas, said it was only 25-30 years ago some US researchers started to ask if, after a period of time, traumatised people might not just return to “normal” functioning but instead in some cases have “enhanced” functioning.

Leigh Sales appears in Perth this weekend.

Leigh Sales appears in Perth this weekend. Image: Daniel Boud

“People sometimes used their awful personal experiences to affect positive change for society as a whole – for example, Walter Mikac, whose whole family was killed at Port Arthur, was a major voice in the gun reform campaign in Australia in the late 1990s,” she said.

“Rosie Batty turned her personal tragedy into a major national campaign for domestic violence awareness.

“[Now] extensive research, looking at people who’ve experienced all kind of cataclysmic life events, from facing breast cancer to dealing with a death in the family, shows that people do develop in positive ways from those experiences.”

Sales, best known for her work on ABC’s 7.30, herself lived a blessedly lucky life until one day, about to give birth to her second child, she suffered a uterine rupture – a rare and often catastrophic event that frequently kills the mother, baby or both.

They both survived, but Sales’ sense of trust in the world had been irrevocably damaged.

She began to dwell on luck and chance, on blindsides, fear and how people cope with loss. Not losses like the expected death of an elderly parent, but the ones that can instantly tear a life apart.

She had spent much of her career trying to avoid direct exposure to these events, she wrote. But her own life in 2014, plus the news stories she anchored afterwards, made her realise avoidance was pointless – like “trying to hide from life itself.”

In an effort to walk towards, not away from, such possibilities, to stare them in the face, she wrote Any Ordinary Day.

Sales interviewed people including Stuart Diver, the sole survivor of the Thredbo disaster, whose wife died beside him; Walter Mikac, whose family died at Port Arthur; and Louisa Hope, a sufferer of multiple sclerosis who was also a hostage in the Lindt Cafe siege.

She crunched the numbers on the actual odds of a person experiencing such happenings and examined the reasons we all tend to be far more afraid of being involved in, say, a terrorist attack, than a car crash (spoiler alert… the media plays a role).

She also spoke to “ordinary” people who had lived through events that never entered the national consciousness, but were nevertheless the stuff of nightmares, asking them and herself: How did you survive? And if it happens to me, how will I bear it?

The answers were unexpected and precious: stories of resilience, love and hope, such as that of Juliet Darling, the priest and the detective.

Juliet’s late partner Nick Waterlow had an adult son from a previous relationship who had paranoid schizophrenia and believed his family was plotting to destroy him.

One night at a dinner, Antony stabbed his sister and father to death. His sister’s daughter, a toddler, was also seriously injured.

Any Ordinary Day is Leigh Sales' third book.

Juliet had not gone to dinner. The news of her partner’s death was brought to her doorstep.

But so was something else: people whose actions illuminated the vital role other people can play for another’s recovery.

In the following days, while Juliet was rocked with shock and fear, Father Steve Sinn, who would oversee the funeral, and lead investigator Detective Graham Norris, made countless small and yet infinitely compassionate gestures.

Father Sinn’s first gesture on entering her home was to throw away a vase of dead flowers, without pausing for permission or directions.

At Nick’s funeral, with Antony still at large, Detective Norris slid up to her and murmured, ‘You don’t need to be afraid, you can’t see us but we’re everywhere’, freeing her to farewell her partner without having to glance over her shoulder.

“Often people reported to me that when something dreadful happened in their life, some of their friends disappeared because they didn’t know how to cope,” Sales said.

“It was a bit like being plonked into a foreign land … if you found people who could speak the language, they were like lifelines.

“In Juliet’s case, she had two people who came into her orbit who seemed to speak the language … both seemed to understand death and they didn’t seem rattled or fearful.

“Both acted as if they believed she’d cope, and so that made her feel more calm.”

Three years after Nick was murdered, Juliet’s son George, a healthy 26-year-old, died of sudden and unexplained heart failure while at work.

“She had such a rough trot and she was a lovely person,” Sales said.

“I found her, like everyone in the book, completely compelling and moving in describing what she’d been through and how much insight she had into it. And also her bravery in telling me about some of the worst things in her life because she wanted people to understand what it’s like and to know better how to help others.”

Juliet’s experiences forced her to re-evaluate the beliefs that had previously shaped her understanding of the world.

She had once believed that everything happened for a reason, for example.

And that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.

She now dismissed that as a cliché; no, she believed, something so terrible could easily weaken you.

But she was now more attuned to kindness in the world around her.

And more compassionate towards people who struggled to know what to say or do in the face of loss.

“People can sometimes feel resistant to the idea that such a horrible thing has changed them in positive ways, because of course, the pain of what happened is so much more present than any sense that you’re a more compassionate or present person,” Sales said.

“As I said, nobody would want post-traumatic growth if they had a choice. You’d rather be a lesser person and not have the trauma.”

And of course, anyone would choose to take that trauma from a friend if they could.

But in the absence of such an ability, Sales remembers advice from Father Steve Sinn.

“[This] has stayed with me more than any other thing anyone I interviewed said to me,” she said.

“He said all you have to do is accompany. You don’t have to say the right thing, do the right thing or even have any idea what to do. You just have to be there.”

 

Disrupted: Festival of Ideas runs this weekend at the State Library of WA in Northbridge, with guest speakers Leigh Sales, Karl Kruszelnicki, Geoff Gallop, Tracy Westerman, Bri Lee and more.

All Disrupted events are free and all panels will be live-streamed and on the Perth Cultural Centre screen. 

Full program here

Torn from two mothers: Perth MP’s 10-year labour brings stolen boy’s story to life

This story originally appeared on WAtoday. 

 

On Christmas Day 1957, Bruce Trevorrow’s father Joe was concerned about his baby son’s incessant crying. He knew little Bruce wasn’t well.

In bookstores now.

Joe was an Aboriginal man, who had no way of getting from his home in South Australia’s Coorong region to Adelaide Children’s hospital, a two-hour drive away. He walked in the blistering heat, cradling his feverish son, into the nearest town and pleaded for help. A relative of his wife agreed to drive Bruce to hospital, to the panicked father’s enormous relief.

That was the last time he ever saw his son.

Fifty years later, Bruce Trevorrow became the only member of the Stolen Generations ever to sue an Australian government for compensation – and win.

Tony Buti, now a member of the West Australian Parliament, was at that time a legal academic and expert on the Stolen Generations.

After reading the judgment on the Trevorrow case handed down in 2007, Dr Buti could not forget it.

“It was an incredibly beautifully constructed judgement; logical and at times poetic,” he said.

“I wanted to bring this story to life.”

Six years of interviewing and research followed, considerably slowed by the sheer volume of material and by his election to Parliament.

“I essentially did it over summer periods and weekends but I could never spend long stretches, because in this job there is always another commitment,” he said

“I considered giving up … but I felt an obligation to the people that I interviewed.

“I also knew this story should be given to a wider audience.”

Buti after a long road to publication.

Buti after a long road to publication. FREMANTLE PRESS

It took ten years to complete A Stolen Life, launched this month to a sell-out crowd just ahead of NAIDOC Week, an account of the ruining of a child that is all the more devastating for the careful precision of its language.

Joe and Thora’s home was a shack Joe had built himself. It was basic, with a swept dirt floor, but clean. ‘Native welfare’ officers had inspected, but not reported it unfit for children. They found no evidence of neglect. None of Bruce’s siblings were ever removed.

Yet on January 6 the hospital allowed a foster family to take the recovered baby ‘Brucey’ home without so much as a fostering licence.

The laws of the time stated that to remove a child from their family, there had to be either parental consent or a government order. Neither happened.

Bruce’s frantic mother, unable to get to the hospital, wrote multiple letters to authorities asking how Bruce was and when he could come home.

They responded that her baby was still not well enough. Thora only discovered the truth when it was far too late to reverse.

Bruce’s foster mother had her own mental health issues, which worsened when he grew older and began to display signs of emotional trauma.

“There was love there, but it was always a problematic relationship,” Buti said.

“She was having difficulty coping, he was being a difficult child and she would threaten to send him away so he felt this great sense of insecurity.”

When Bruce was around eight and his skin had noticeably darkened his older foster sister bluntly broke the news of his Aboriginal heritage, and the boy’s sense of rootlessness deepened.

He eventually met his birth mother Thora on his ninth birthday and soon afterwards authorities abruptly decided he would be better off – after all – back with her.

They told Bruce he was going to Thora’s for the school holidays and removed him from his foster mother without warning or allowing for goodbyes. The 10-year-old, with little experience with Aboriginal environments, who had not been emotionally prepared to leave his foster mother, was thrust back into an Aboriginal environment he had no knowledge of and taken to meet a host of strange relatives.

Bruce’s father had already died. He never bonded with his siblings or mother and adulthood brought full-blown psychological problems and alcoholism.

The adult Trevorrow was always able to work but he grew familiar with psychiatric hospitals and ended up in court repeatedly for hitting his wife. He never connected with his children.

When this lost soul walked into the office of Joanne Richardson, who was working at Adelaide’s then-equivalent of the Aboriginal Legal Service, he was her age but she couldn’t believe how much older he looked.

“He was a man who didn’t feel comfortable anywhere. He didn’t exude warmth. He wasn’t an attractive person to be near,” Buti said.

“But when Bruce told her his story, she felt it needed to see the light of day.”

It took thirteen years for that day in court.

The ALS had few resources. Richardson carried a heavy load, dealing with civil matters, and had a couple of paralegals and another lawyer assisting her but was engaging barristers to help out. Every time she engaged a barrister, that barrister would then get promoted and leave.

Things turned a corner when Richardson’s persistence secured the now-famous Julian Burnside QC, whose initial reluctance to take on such an uncertain case turned into a burning determination to win after meeting Trevorrow and, like Richardson before him, being shocked by his appearance.

The trial went for 38 days. The state threw everything at it; no member of the Stolen Generations had yet successfully sued the state and they were worried about opening the floodgates. There were skilful advocates on both sides and keenly contested expert evidence.

Trevorrow, although he had difficulty communicating, was a good witness in the very truth of how he stood in court: as a broken man. The appearance of his siblings, who had had every success in life, underpinned his case. Their strong family upbringing and connection to culture meant they coped with their ups and downs in life, ending up with important leadership roles in the Aboriginal community. His older brother even lectured at Harvard.

This brother, Tom, told the court Bruce was very quiet, and “different”, from his first visits.

“He’d missed out on – how could I say – our way of life, because he was raised differently and we had to be aware sometimes when we talked, and we’d talk in our language,” he said.

“We’d talk about somebody, or we’d talk about something, that Bruce wasn’t familiar with … even sometimes our actions of what we do with our body language, our Ngarrindjeri ways.

Tom told the court later in life, Trevorrow would sit with family on his intermittent visits, and “tears would run down his cheeks in front of his eyes, he was hurting and didn’t want to show it … everybody knew of what happened to him and it wasn’t fair and we knew that the way he was carrying on is because he couldn’t fit in again, even though we tried helping him fit in, he couldn’t … it’s hard to put into words sometimes; it’s what we feel as blackfellas, as Ngarrindjeri, inside, what we sense about each other.”

It was hard, he said, to put into whitefella words.

“They belonged to a world that Bruce never belonged to,” Buti said.

“Bruce … was caught between two worlds, unsure of who he was, and without the security of a family that would allow him to forge his own identity.

“He was stolen and it just seemed so cruel.

“That they weren’t told what happened to him. That the state lied about it. That he never saw his father again. That he was not prepared to be stolen a second time. That he could not form a close relationship with his mother, or his siblings. That he could never reconnect with his Aboriginal world or the non-Aboriginal world. And perhaps most greatly that he could love or care for his own children.”

Justice Tom Gray awarded damages in respect of injuries and losses, unlawful removal and detention, misfeasance in public office and false imprisonment, totalling $525,000. Bruce Trevorrow died the following year, aged 51, months after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered his famous apology.

A Stolen Life is in bookstores now.

This story originally appeared on WAtoday. 

Review: Australia Reimagined, Hugh Mackay

Being a journalist up close to the political and media spin cycle, seeing oppositions become governments that fail to live up to our hopes as miserably as the predecessors who get voted out, while social and environmental problems only deepen, is endlessly disillusioning. I spend many days battling cynicism and weariness.

In particular, reporting on and reading about climate change, seeing David Attenborough’s Our Planet burst onto screens in all its beauty and urgency, knowing potentially irreversible destruction is happening right now without action to avert it fills me with a creeping despair that is increasingly clouding life. I am far from alone in this.

As the screws have been tightening, a review copy of Australia Reimagined by Hugh Mackay, Australia’s best known social researcher, has landed quietly on my desk.

It sat there months, among other things that needed dealing with (e.g. climate change!)

One day I picked it up. I needed something to amuse me during a lunch break that wasn’t a screen. I had no preconceptions. I enjoyed a previous book of his, The Good Life, but I expected this to be a bit boring, to be perfectly frank. A book about Australian society? Yawn!

I was entirely unprepared to be swept swiftly away, by a surging river of ideas.

I began to read the book every lunchtime. At the end of every lunchtime I put it down with increasing reluctance. And at the end of the week I put the book on the back of the bike, brought it home, and spent the weekend devouring the rest, with the kind of fervour that’s usually more to be expected from new-release crime fiction.

Anyone – and I’d hazard a guess that it’s many of us – anyone who feels even vaguely, even a niggle, that there might be something somehow wrong or contradictory about the way we live in this country today – despite all our luck and progress and privilege – should read this.

In a marching argument loaded with insights on the Australian-specific version of Western culture, Mackay examines our trends in privacy, technology use, religion, marriage, loneliness, anxiety, multiculturalism and gender and demonstrates how these trends are feeding into each other, affecting our social cohesion, dragging us down as a people.

It’s a story about ourselves we need to hear. But it’s not a lecture and while it’s at times shocking, it’s never depressing. Quite the opposite: it’s illuminating, empowering, hopeful.

Mackay offers new ways to think about reviving and transforming our broken and disenchanting political system, our crippled public education system, our toxic gender stalemate – and more.

For someone feeling so broken-down by the situation described in my opening paragraphs that sometimes, in my darker moments, I struggle to see the point of even continuing to work, it’s like a breath of fresh air.

His ideas made me want to spring up from my chair after every chapter and take some kind of practical, actionable step. I think anyone who read this would feel the same, but depending on their own problem or passion, the action they would take might look quite different from mine.

Therefore, at various times while reading I wanted to thrust this book under the noses of my brother, sister, mother, husband, boss, colleague and friend, and there’s no better recommendation for a book than that. It would make a great gift (I’ve already lent mine out!)

If I had known how much I would love it, I would not have let it languish in a ‘to read’ pile; I would have placed it on top and read it before anything else.

As should you.

 

Perth doctor’s ‘happy bowel’ guide brings him shitload of fans

Who could have predicted that one of the biggest crowds at Perth Writers Week would be the one that gathered to hear a doctor talk about bowel movements?

Nevertheless, people lined up around the building to see Perth colorectal surgeon Michael Levitt, recently appointed WA’s chief medical officer.

Dr Levitt's book has struck a chord in the community.

“I think there were about 150-200 people, and it was packed – eventually they just had to close the doors,” he said.

“It was [Perth emergency doctor and author] Michelle Johnston who interviewed me, so I guess they figured if I wasn’t entertaining, at least she would be.

“I was a little surprised by the crowd though. It’s not my first book – I’ve written three books about bowels now.”

But this book is something of a departure from the first, The Bowel Book, published in 2002 by Oxford University Press – a textbook of bowel disorders aimed at the general public.

The second, The (Other) Women’s Movement, published in 2008, focused on managing constipation and while it was more approachable than the first, Dr Levitt said it still had “too much detail for general interest”.

But The Happy Bowel, whether it’s the bright cover, engaging tone, the endearing cartoons inside or a combination of it all, has enjoyed runaway popularity.

"An empty bowel is a happy bowel."

“In the course of a career your thoughts inevitably change over time; are subtly modified, based on feedback from patients,” Dr Levitt said.

“I also wanted to write a bit more in my voice.

“This subject is about significantly troublesome systems, and I have found approaching it with a lighter heart gets people onside.

“Every person in the planet has their bowels open in their own quirky fashion. Having that on the table, as it were, I think I get more information and patients become more receptive.”

But the book is not about cancer, colitis, Chrohn’s Disease, or even haemorrhoids.

It is for people who simply find bowel actions difficult – to start, to stop or to control in general. Who struggle with constipation, incontinence and dissatisfaction.

It’s what doctors call “functional” bowel disease.

To illustrate how function fails, Dr Levitt first describes what a “good action” looks and feels like.

“Prompt, effortless, brief and complete,” he said. “And the single most important thing? The strong urge that says, go now.

“People who can generate that urge but choose to go early, like guys who grab a book and wait on the platform waiting for the train to arrive, get into trouble.

“And people who never get that urge, more often women, have another significant problem.”

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‘Girl Painter also Good Cook’: The story of a (female) artist

“Until Nora entered, winning the Archibald had remained the province of male artists for seventeen years. It would be another twenty-two before a woman won a second time.”

In bookstores now.

So begins the biography of Nora Heysen, Australia’s first official female war artist and the first of the country’s biggest art prize, the Archibald Prize for portraiture.

The biography was launched this week by Perth writer and journalist Anne-Louise Willoughby.

And on Thursday, on the eve of International Women’s Day, Willoughby attended the launch of a Melbourne exhibition seeking to restore Heysen to what the author describes as her “rightful place” of prominence in the Australian art world.

Heysen worked alongside her father Hans Heysen, known for his distinctive paintings of the eucalypts surrounding their family home in Hahndorf, South Australia. But she also worked all over the world and made a lifelong friend in urban landscape painter Jeffrey Smart, who regarded her so highly he made himself available to contribute to this biography before his death.

But Heysen spent her life struggling to be recognised as an artist first, and a woman second.

“What was so extraordinary is that while her work and its historical context is covered in art collections, we didn’t know anything about her life,” said Willoughby, a writer with a background in art history.

“These things kept cropping up in my study, that nothing was known about her save a list of her works.

“Why was she the first woman to win the Archibald? How did she come to be the first war artist of Australia? Things like that don’t happen out of the blue.”

Read the rest of this story here on WAtoday.