“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





04 March 2015


It was a wondrous thing to sit in the Pioneer Women's Garden in Adelaide at 9:30 this morning, listening to Tim Low talk about his beautiful book, Where Song Began - Australia's birds and how they changed the world. This book is a number one must.

You can hear Tim talking to the ABC's Richard Fidler here. He blows my mind.

Grapegrowers and winemakers who wage constant warfare with grape-hungry and plain destructive vandal birds who rip things to bits for fun should all read this amazing work. 

 Just so's you know.

As I attempted to take a few snaps of Tim from this position, that Number 5 came down and said "You'll only be taking one photograph, won't you. I need to keep my aisles clear." 

So of course I scarpered. I apologise for not getting a better shot. Click image to enlarge.

While Tim spoke with perfect erudition of the birds of Australia, dozens of them, of all sorts, cheeped and chattered and waged battle in the trees above our heads. Buy the book.

Here's an  extract of another writer's reflection on Writer's Week from thirty years back:

This year, seeking fertilisation, I travelled 10,000 miles to the Adelaide Festival Writers’ Week.  I arrived knowing very little about Adelaide: capital of South Australia, close to the Barossa Valley where German migrants established many excellent vineyards, site of one of the most attractive cricket grounds on earth.   

Not much else, except that both David Hare, whose play A Map of the World was premiered at an earlier Adelaide Festival, and the actor Roshan Seth who played the lead in it, had spoken very highly of the place.  Within hours of arriving, however, I was offered a memorable summary of the city by one of my hosts.  ‘It’s called the City of Churches, Adelaide’, he said.  ‘But one of the churches is now a discotheque, and what’s more it’s the first disco in Australia to show porno films.'

It was a useful clue, a hint that there was more to Adelaide than meets the eye.  What met the eye was conservative, spacious, pretty, and a little bland.  Adelaide was designed from scratch by South Australia’s first Surveyor-General, Colonel William Light, in 1836.  ‘Light’s Vision’ was of a grid set in a garden, and that’s the way the city still looks.  But for all its parkland and wide avenues it retains an air of being somehow uprooted, or unexplained, which is perhaps common to all planned cities.  It is attractive enough, with its greenery and its ‘Adelaide Lace’ - filigree wrought iron ornamentation on many porches and balconies - but it tells you nothing.  The city’s shape does not contain the history or unveil the nature of its people.  It is a kind of disguise. 

Adelaide was an enigma, and I was getting interested in breaking its codes.  Meanwhile, though, Writers' Week was proceeding fertilely enough.  The distinguished South African novelist André Brink arrived, having been obliged to sit throughout his flight from Africa next to an Australian farmer who had assured him that he would enjoy Australia, ‘because we’ve got our blacks well under control, you follow me, sport?’  However, Brink’s meeting with the exiled black South African writer Bessie Head was the week’s most moving encounter.  Bessie, a tough woman with a tiny, singsong voice issuing from an ample frame, said it had been worth coming all the way from Botswana to Adelaide just to meet André, ‘because, for the first time in my life, I have met a good white South African.’

Writers’ Week takes place in and around a large marquee set in pleasant, palm-fringed lawns across the road from the main Festival Centre; half-establishment, half-fringe, it has in the past irritated some of the more pompous visiting writers because of its informality.  But that seemed to me to be its chief virtue.  All week, writers and readers meandered in and out of the marquee, strolled on the lawns, dipped into the book tent and even, from time to time, stopped by the bar for a tinnie of Swan.  The audiences are mostly friendly, but they sometimes heckle: Adelaide’s own Barbara Hanrahan had to put up with one well-lubricated gentleman’s repeated advice to ‘shut up and give someone else a chance’.  And sometimes the audience offers more interesting information than the platform speakers.  While Morris West, Australia’s best-selling novelist, spoke for an hour without once getting off the absorbing subject of his extremely high income, I was out on the lawn discovering that D. M. Thomas’s initials (yes, he was in town as well) were Australian slang for Deep and Meaningful.  Revenge at last, I thought; Deep and Meaningful Thomas seemed like a fair way of getting even for Olympic Medallist Rushdie.

And everywhere you looked you saw excellent Australian writers.  Elizabeth Jolley, deceptively frail to look at, with a profile uncannily close to Virginia Woolf’s, read what she called a couple of dances.  ‘I don’t really dance myself,’ she told the audience, ‘but for some reason my characters often do.’  The dances were subtle, courtly, graceful.   

Later in the week Rodney Hall read from his magnificent novel Just Relations, winner of the Miles Franklin award: it was so good that you wished you had written it yourself.  And there was Blanche d’Alpuget, the acute, level-headed biographer of Bob Hawke, the Prime Minister with a 78 per cent popularity rating, a Labour leader who misses no opportunity of beating up the Left.  ‘His physical appeal is huge,’ Blanche d’Alpuget told me.  ‘Men write to him to say they carry his photograph in their wallets and it gives them strength.’  What does that do to a man, I wondered, that adulation.  When he arrives at rock concerts and walks through the crowd, people stand up as he passes.  Bob, it’s Bob. G’day Bob, good on yer, Bob.  It seemed alarming to me, this leader-worship.  How far from good-old-Bob to ‘Duce!  Duce!’? 

‘Well, of course,’ Blanche said, ‘what’s happening to him is totally corrupting.’

Jolley, Hall, d’Alpuget; Thomas Keneally beaming at everyone and standing them drinks; and Patrick White, David Malouf, Peter Carey and Murray Bail weren’t even there .... Australian literature seemed to be in extremely good shape. I was ashamed to have arrived knowing so little; I left knowing a little more; it was a good week.

‘Don’t you find,’ Angela Carter said one evening, ‘that there’s something a little exhausted about the place names around here?  I mean, Mount Lofty.  Windy Point.’  On another occasion, Bruce Chatwin said something similar: ‘It’s a tired country, not young at all.  It tires its inhabitants.  It’s too ancient, too old.’

I was looking for the keys to Adelaide.  And gradually things did come bubbling up from under that smooth, solid facade.  On an excursion into the Adelaide Hills I was told how fires regularly devastated the region.  I heard about the famous blaze on ‘Ash Wednesday’.  Freak effects - as the flames surged over a road on which there were two petrol pumps, one blew up and the other was unharmed.  And finally, almost casually, I was given hints about arson.  What sort of people are these that burn the landscape?  There is strangeness here.

Hindley Street, Adelaide, looks lively when you first walk down it.  Young people, nightspots, restaurants, street life.  Then you notice the brothels and the winos.  And one night a trail of blood along the pavement.  Shoeprints in blood staggering along, ending up in a dark doorway.  Another clue.  And a couple of days later I hear about the vanishing youngsters.  Sixteen-year-old girls and boys, disappearing into thin air.  The police do nothing, shrug; teenagers are always leaving home.  But they never turn up.  I am told that parents of these dematerialised children have formed their own search organisations.  Adelaide seems more eerie by the minute.

On my last night in town, many of us go to a party thrown by Jim, a local sheep king.  It is a housewarming; his last house with its priceless art collection was destroyed in the Ash Wednesday fire.  The new place is in ritzy North Adelaide.  An excellent party, and Jim is a generous and literate host.  But then I am buttonholed by someone who wants to reminisce about his days in an English public school, and the double vision begins again.   

Later in the evening, a beautiful woman starts telling me about the weirdo murders.  ‘Adelaide’s famous for them,’  she says , excitedly.  ‘Gay pair slay young girls.  Parents axe children and inter them under lawn.  Stuff like that.  You know.’ 

Now I begin to understand Adelaide.  Adelaide is the ideal setting for a Stephen King novel, or horror film.  You know why those films and books are always set in sleepy, conservative towns?  Because sleepy, conservative towns are where those things happen.  Exorcisms, omens, shinings, poltergeists.  Adelaide is Amityville, or Salem, and things here go bump in the night.

I flew out from Adelaide at the end of Writers’ Week, heading for Alice Springs.  Very quickly the greenery of Adelaide was replaced by the desert.  The great, red infinity of that awesome moonscape set the previous week in its proper context.  The desert, the harsh pure desert, was the reality, was Australia, was the truth; the town I was leaving stood revealed as a mirage, alien, a prevarication.  I settled back into my seat, eager to reach the Alice. 

... the above is an excerpt from 'Rushdie on Adelaide - Salman Rushdie has words with the world at Writers' Week'; Tatler, London, October 1984. 

Way back when ... Jim and the Drinkster (in the new house)


Anonymous said...

Sexist bastard, obvioulsy sugesting the chocolate wheel girl is a bird!

Big Irma

sanitary sal said...


@AnastasiosMora said...

Geez, I thought it was you writing about Adelaide writers' festival 30 years ago.