Book reviews

Great Australian Racing Stories
Jim Haynes. ABC Books, 2005. isbn 0 642 58962 3, rrp $29.95

In this sprightly collection of racing yarns in verse and prose, Jim Haynes does justice to the richest source of pathos and misadventure in our sporting life. Afficionado and punter, he is always ready with a poem or opinion of his own. But here too are the nearly forgotten, but remarkable racing tales of J. C. Bendrodt (one of Haynes’s childhood favourites), as well as the once known-by-heart ballads of Banjo Paterson. None of these is more affecting than ‘Only a Jockey’, Paterson’s bitter account of the death of a teenage apprentice, which concluded that ‘the horse is luckily uninjured’. There are evocative photographs in the book—of grand surges to the post, and of the grind of stable work. Haynes’s sampling is wide and generous. There are memories of champions and of bush chicanery, of the Melbourne Cup—one of the two Australian national days—and of the canny winter slog of jumps racing. The book is animated by love of horses and the people who ride and train them, and of punters too. Let one of Haynes’s contributors have the last word: ‘Betting and Beer are the basis/Of the only respectable life.’

Peter Pierce

The Story of Christianity
Peter Partner. ABC Books, 2006. isbn 0 733 31885 1, rrp $75

This is the coffee-table book of the television series. So, the spoken word preceded the written text by five years. But that matters little when the story covers 2000 years, and when it is so judiciously told and so lusciously illustrated. The difficulty of telling the story of Christianity comes out of the fact that it is a living faith. As such, it forms part of the story both of Christians and of those who react to Christianity. Each group will tell the story from its own committed perspective. But to try to tell the story from the outside also distorts the story. It is like taking a lustrous shell from the sea in order to examine it at home.

A public television series of this kind must present the story of Christianity largely from the outside. Peter Partner’s narrative does so with great respect. He focuses on what is generally agreed, and reports significant disputes about interpretation. This makes the book a very useful skeleton that can be fleshed out with further reading. This disciplined approach conveys less well what it has been like to see the world through Christian eyes. But the images with which the book is replete encourage wonder about Christianity as a lived faith.

A book under which any coffee table might groan with  pleasure.

Andrew Hamilton

Carry Me Down
M. J. Hyland. Text Publishing, 2006. isbn 1 921 14509 9, rrp $29.95

M. J. Hyland caused a flurry of excitement with her previous book, How the Light Gets In, an impressive, if somewhat uneven, debut, which collected some weighty short-listings.

Her second novel, Carry Me Down, is an accomplished first-person narrative in which 11-year-old John speaks with a compelling and disturbing voice about his life in the Irish town of Gorey and, later, in Dublin. John discovers that he can tell when his parents are lying to him. This uncomfortable knowledge meshes with his great passion—The Guinness Book of Records—and he determines to be the world’s greatest lie detector.

Hyland’s own biography is well-enough known from her essay writing and from interviews—her early life in Ireland, her time in Australia, her difficult relationship with her father—and there is the temptation to see echoes of her life in her fiction. She skilfully confounds this presumption by creating fiction that is memorable and a character that captures the reader so that by the time disquiet encroaches—a slight uncomfortableness with John’s perspective, a rising horror at the disintegrating family—the reader cannot abandon him, nor forget his fascinating, dysfunctional family.

Jennifer Moran

Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia
Bill Arthur and Frances Morphy (general editors)
The Macquarie Library, 2005. isbn 1 876 42935 6, rrp $80

Like all good atlases, this one is a smorgasbord of information, both visual and textual, which readers can consume at their own pace, and according to their own tastes.

Open a page at random and you might find an illustration of bamboo smoking pipes from Torres Strait, or a photograph of a bark bucket from the Kimberley region of Western Australia, or a map of legal service sites around Australia, or a graph indicating the places named from indigenous words as a percentage of total place names in Western Australia.

The atlas is organised into three broad sections: the socio-cultural space; the socio-economic space; and the socio-political space. Its timeline runs from 70,000 years ago to the present, and its contributors include many leading experts.

The atlas will be of immense usefulness to students, journalists and others who need a quick and easy-to-use reference work on indigenous Australia.

Robert Hefner



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