Two eclectic collections

Gavin McLean reviews Griffith Review 28 and Sport 28.

Still the lucky country?

Edited by Joanna Schultz
Text, $28 an issue, annual subscription outside Australia $A130

The title of the latest issue of Australia's leading quarterly refers to Donald Horne's 1964 classic The Lucky Country.

That was the book in which he called Australia a "lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck".

Like our near contemporary The Half Gallon Jug, Quarter Acre Paradise, the title entered everyday parlance, although many Aussies missed the "second-rate" part of his explanation.

It went through many editions and can be bought here in the $13 Popular Penguin series.

Fittingly, Glyn Davis provides the longest piece, a fascinating biographical sketch of Horne.

He was hard to define, a journalist who moved from left to right and from the bloody world of mainstream Australian journalism into his own niche in academia, occupying a role he'd long thought Australia would never support - that of the public intellectual.

Although this issue features a colour photo essay on miners, three short pieces of prose fiction and a couple of poems, essays, reportage and memoirs predominate.

If the Griffith writers are a representative sample of Australia's thinking class, the city dwellers at least are clearly worried about the environmental and social degradation created by the minerals boom that dominates so many of the articles.

Yes, Australia may have escaped the recent recession, but holes in the earth that can be seen from space bring their own problems: a scramble for scarce water rights, housing problems, unequal incomes, racial inequality, pollution and political tensions.

Perhaps the most sobering piece is Jonathan West's.

For decades economists have urged economies to concentrate on activities in which they have a comparative advantage, whether that is timber growing, dairy processing or mining minerals.

Yet, as West argues, countries that move to exporting a few staples thin their middle class, the group that creates the social glue provided by local democracy, local sports and cultural sponsorship and by the innovative new industries that pay more than mere export staples.

New Zealand New Writing: Winter 2010

Victoria University Press, $19.95 an issue, pbk

Sport is unashamedly fiction and poetry-driven.

More like a paperback than JAAM or Landfall, Sport in its 38th edition is fatter than ever at 288 pages and provides some welcome winter reading.

As usual, it is a good showcase for the print virgins and those new to publishing.

A few old performers such as C. K. Stead and Elizabeth Smither contribute pieces, but many are like Pip Adam or Craig Cliff, each of whom has a first collection of short stories due out this year.

Sport 38 is a hopeless thing to review in brief in the conventional sense, since more than 40 people have contributed to this eclectic volume. Treat it as a mystery Christmas stocking, a chance to sample unfamiliar authors.

Some lines stuck in my mind: Lindsay Pope on an unwanted companion: "Time with her felt heavier than the mortgage."

Or Julian Novitz's cyber geek who spent his time hunched over "into a teapot position - one hand in his crotch, the other on his mouse."

Another standout was surprising for its subject - lawns.

Louise Wrightson knows that Wellington's steep gradients are hell on lawn mowers and their owners and her three poems address our hills and how to make them flat:

Source thirty cubic metres of earth, two rakes, a sprinkler,
Sturdy wheelbarrows and as many pecs as you can muster.

Another story that captured my imagination was Breton Dukes' tale of beach life, "Sand".

The notes on contributors in the back say that he is working on a collection of short stories and that "luckily Breton Dukes is living in Dunedin".

Dr McLean is a Wellington historian and reviewer.


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