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Preview: Happy Antipodean

Happy Antipodean

A blog by Matthew da Silva since 2006

Updated: 2018-02-22T08:30:41.136+11:00


Street censorship, Ultimo


When I went down to the shopping centre yesterday to have some salad for lunch I came across a number of painted black boxes on the pavement. There were four of them within the space of about 100 metres, on the west-side footpath of Bay Street. Three were like this one, regular square or rectangular shapes. But one had been made in close proximity to the kind of builders’ marks that are put down

Book review: Tell Them I Said No, Martin Herbert (2016)


A kind of history of post-war art practice, the book chronicles the practices of artists who for one reason or another eschewed the bright lights and fanfare of the art world, and dropped out. For various reasons usually related to notions of authenticity they quit the scene and went AWOL. It’s a serious discussion to have because art remains a place where truth is spoken without fear or

Book review: The Trauma Cleaner, Sarah Krasnostein (2017)


This biography shows how the abused little boy Peter Collins became the successful businesswoman Sandra Pankhurst and it is structured in convenient slabs of text. The biography of the transgender woman is interspersed with lively vignettes as Krasnostein accompanies Pankhurst on jobs – she is a professional trauma cleaner, many of whose clients have mental illnesses; hoarders and such – and

My father’s favourite charity


When I was a small boy I remember one Saturday or Sunday mum asked me to go to my father’s study to ask if he wanted refreshments. His friend Peter Daly had come over to discuss real estate with dad and they had secreted themselves away in the study where they would have privacy for the important conversations that would lead to new acquisitions. My memories are fragmentary but I would have

Bush-hammering concrete


Not long ago I bought a book on brutalism that contains this fascinating Max Dupain photograph showing two builders labourers working on the Canberra Defence Offices, in Campbell Park, in 1971. The two men are using bush hammers to create an exposed concrete effect, giving the building a ribbed look like corduroy. The heavy hammers are shaped like meat tenderisers, with a grid of polygonal

Democracy shoots itself in the foot again


The shooting today at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida will change nothing. When one of America’s major parties is allied so strongly with the radical fringe element in the electorate that wants to conserve gun ownership rights, nothing can change. In Australia as it happens, on the same day as the Florida shooting there was a gun death, involving outlaw motorcycle club

Former Sydney Law School construction site


Back in late September I wrote about the brutalist building that used to be on this site. The site is now almost empty, in preparation for the construction of luxury apartments in the heart of the CBD. You can hear loud sounds coming from the site from behind the hoarding that surrounds it. The hoarding has a jaunty cartoon design painted on it. Tourists were standing around a tour guide who

Book review: Permission to Bloom, Nicole Llera (2017)


This is the second first-person account by a person living with a mental illness I have tried to read in the last few days. This book is subtitled ‘A novel’ but it’s clear that it is autobiographical. The other was ‘Moving to Oregon’ by James Townsend (2017) which was subtitled ‘A bipolar journey’. In that case, the book started with what seemed to be some sort of episodic structure that

Renaissance tapestries draw crowds to AG NSW


When I heard about ‘The Lady and the Unicorn’ on ABC TV  last night it was touted as a piece of medieval culture but this turns out to be misleading. The work is a series of tapestries manufactured around 1500 that are designed to hang from walls, and they were purchased by the French state in the late 19th century. Prior to that, they had been prey to deterioration in a house in the French

Book review: Concrete and Culture, Adrian Forty (2012)


Subtitled, ‘A material history’, this book goes more of the way I needed to learn about the emergence of concrete as a construction material in the 19th and 20th centuries. From the 1890s, when different systems for using reinforced concrete were first patented, until the 1950s when, after WWII, there was a building boom as a result of decades of depressed demand, the use of concrete gained

TV review: The Billion-Dollar Bust, Four Corners, ABC (2018)


This week we got a little more evidence of the way the ABC is shifting to the right on the political scale when the current affairs flagship Four Corners ran a slick piece of PR for law enforcement titled ‘The Billion-Dollar Bust’, instead of the usual in-depth investigative pieces that we have come to recognise as particularly their area of expertise. The story centred around Pakistani money

Book review: The Great Seesaw, Geoffrey Blainey (1988)


This is a silly book in retrospect partly because its central claim is so ludicrous. Geoffrey Blainey was already notorious for saying controversial things that fell on the conservative side of public debates when the book came out. In 1984, for example, when Bob Hawke was PM Blainey made some comments at a public event in a town in Victoria about Asian immigration, stirring up the pot in a

A windy late summer’s day


The other day in the Botanical Gardens there was a temporary display of wildflowers that you could photograph with the multi-storey buildings of the CBD lofting skywards in the background. European honeybees vectored in and out of the tall stands of metre-high zinnias, paper daisies and marigolds, homing in on a blossom here or there in a thoughtful manner like spaceships landing on varicoloured

Movie review: The Post, Steven Spielberg (2017)


This functional drama had me burping, sighing and hiccupping with contained emotion so that my companion on the day had to ask me at one point if I was alright. I identify as a journalist so the freedom of the press means something both abstract and real to me, and this film embodied an ideal in my mind. I was encouraged by others seated in the penumbra of the Dendy in Newtown who occasionally

Book review: Australia Day, Melanie Cheng (2017)


This is the most accomplished collection of Australian short stories I have read since putting down Cate Kennedy’s ‘Dark Roots’ in 2006. It’s a completely ravishing assemblage of work of a generally high quality that decisively announces on the literary scene in this country the arrival of a special talent. Cheng is a woman possessed of an uncanny ear for dialogue and a brilliant sense of

Getting some packaged food


This is the third in a series of blogposts that I started last month. They aim to capture a moment in time and I call them meditations. The other day I went down to the supermarket to stock up my freezer with the frozen dinners I rely on in the evenings for sustenance. I had a scare last year when my blood sugar levels went up to an alarming point. My general practitioner organised for me to

Book review: Dyschronia, Jennifer Mills (2018)


For most of its length, this book is a real page-turner, enveloping the reader in a fabulous world of failed industrial schemes and environmental carnage in the near-future. It reminded me in a very immediate way of another piece of worthwhile Australian cli-fi, Kate Legge’s 2006 ‘The Unexpected Elements of Love’, which I reviewed on this blog in September of that year. For most of its length

Book review: Raw Concrete, Barnabas Calder (2016)


This is an enticing book about brutalism but despite its promise you often wish that Calder had had a more urgent or persistent editor sitting behind him with his or her hand on his shoulder asking him firmly at key points, “Why?” And then, even more firmly, “How?” Calder is an architecture lecturer, so he is a person with unique insights into his chosen craft and discipline, but his method

Taking selfies in Darling Harbour


Being a tourist resort, Darling Harbour probably now has the same role to play in modern Sydney as Manly did for the same city many decades ago. Manly’s proximity to Circular Quay, a short ferry ride distant from the train station there that is on the City Circle Line, which was completed in stages from 1916 to 1956, the year this station was built, made it a favourite destination for families

Book review: City Dreamers, Graeme Davison (2016)


Subtitled ambitiously, ‘The urban imagination in Australia’, Davison’s book ends by asking some very expansive questions: How do we belong to the city? How do we belong to the land?  Do we now have the chance to assimilate our culture within the Dreaming of the original inhabitants of the continent, whose history goes back 65,000 years, and there find answers to the enervating questions that

A family outing at the Fish Market


Normally when you see foreigners at the Fish Market, it is Chinese tourists (or Chinese migrants mixed with Chinese tourists, or Japanese tourists, or Koreans) making their way into the big, messy parking lot that surrounds the place. They stream in from the light rail station across Bank Street under the approaches to the Anzac Bridge and negotiate the difficult footpaths where the roots of the

Movie review: Sweet Country, dir Warwick Thornton (2017)


I saw this movie on Australia Day which is apposite considering its subject matter. It is a film about the frontier in the 1920s in the wake of WWI and it’s hard to say it – especially because of how the public sphere has become so highly polarised in recent years – but it is only partly successful. Bear with me if you are liable to disagree with this judgement because I am writing from a

Book review: The Art of Time Travel, Tom Griffiths (2016)


This book is published by Black Inc, property developer Morry Schwartz’s Melbourne publishing outfit, which also brings us ‘The Monthly’ and ‘The Saturday Paper’, and a lot of the historians it singles out for discussion are from the southern capital. I used to read ‘The Monthly’ but I found that it relies unwontedly on a stale stable of local contributors. I got a bit fed up with it because

Book review: The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver (2009)


This historical fantasy is ultimately pessimistic, layering events from the first part of the twentieth century upon those of the years after 2001, when truth died again in America. The country never learns, it seems. The novel assumes a bulbous shape with years of hope and prosperity in the middle preceded by years of dearth and uncertainty and followed by years that are seriously blighted

New Year’s revolutions


This morning I got notification from Facebook via a suggested post dated 20 January 2014 that told me that with a friend I had started the ‘Book Chat’ series of podcasts on that day, and at Twitter they told me that it was the anniversary of my joining their site. They made a tweet (“Do you remember when you joined Twitter? I do! #MyTwitterAnniversary”) for me to use that had a graphic on it