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Preview: Happy Antipodean

Happy Antipodean

A blog by Matthew da Silva since 2006

Updated: 2018-03-20T12:15:52.353+11:00


Book review: The Museum of Words, Georgia Blain (2017)


This dull memoir rambles on relentlessly about the author’s mother, broadcaster Anne Deveson, and about her daughter, Odessa. Any drama a book about three generations of women might have contained has to be provided by the author’s diagnosis of a brain tumour. The tumour is removed from her skull, but she then has to undergo chemotherapy, and it is in the pauses in the treatment before she is

The man walks out in SA election


I stayed up late on Saturday night to watch to the end of the post-election coverage on the ABC News channel. The South Australian election was the main topic of discussion at the commentary desk but there was also a federal by-election in Batman, a Melbourne inner-city electorate, where the Australian Labor Party (ALP) had been up against the Australian Greens. Within 25 minutes of the premier

Book review: Off the Record, Craig Sherborne (2018)


A comic novel is a bit of a rarity in Australian fiction these days. This one reminded me of the work of Morris Lurie (1938-2014). I remember reading his ‘Rappaport’ (1966) when I was a very young man and enjoying its sly humour. But even more potently this novel reminded me of Martin Amis’ ‘Money’ (1984) insofar as the main character is highly distasteful and in the end receives his

Book review: Red Sparrow, Jason Matthews (2013)


This page-turner quickly proved its value and drew me into a world of pursuit and flight, deception and loyalty, love and hate. At the core of the novel sits Dominika Egorova, a thwarted ballet dancer who was forced to quit dance school because of the unethical and criminal conduct of two other students. This plot device sets the tone for much of the novel, where life in Russia is

Book review: Autonomous, Annalee Newitz (2017)


I gave it a good shot but I regret to say that this genre novel’s dystopian world bored me silly. It just doesn’t drag you in, and relies instead on such standard sci-fi strategies as robots and crime to spark the reader’s interest. The novel opens with Jack Chen, who is a pirate of an ethnic Asian background who lives in North America and who deals in contraband drugs. She drives a submarine

Talking about the social housing model, Common Ground


This is the latest in a series of blogposts on this blog about homelessness. This time, I spoke with Felicity Reynolds, who is CEO at the Mercy Foundation in Sydney. About 10 years ago, Reynolds was involved in bringing the Common Ground system of social housing to Australia from the US, where it had been developed initially in New York City. In this interview, Reynolds mentions another

Graffito, Pyrmont, near Channel Ten


On Monday when I was out to get some lunch I saw this graffito on a traffic signal box near Miller Street where you cross to get to the Fish Market. I wondered what it might mean. The arrow seems to be pointing to the percentage sign, the function, rather than the zero, the quantity. Perhaps the person who had made the graffito was a libertarian, bringing attention to the limiting nature of the

Book review: Heroes of the Frontier, Dave Eggers (2016)


This unfortunately flawed picaresque novel is nevertheless a tour-de-force of characterisation, with at its centre a small family unit surrounding Josie, who is forty and separated from the father of her children. There is Paul, who is eight years old and rigorously ethical, and fearless Ana, aged five. Paul is highly solicitous of his sister's welfare and Josie has a self-destructive streak

Force of nature


I’m seated on the toilet and I think of God. When you’re enthroned and the mass of solids is exiting your body, and then when you are cleaning yourself, the odour of the soil rises along with the aromatics like methane. And there’s something else in there as well: it’s the smell of the seashore at low tide, when you can scent the corruption that is part of the harbour’s natural processes. The

Book review: The Other New Girl, LB Gschwandtner (2017)


When Susannah Greenwood (she is married now and doesn't use that surname any more but I couldn't find her married name in the book) goes to San Francisco to be at the birth of her grandchild she unexpectedly bumps into someone from her distant past. Daria McQueen is now a shadow of her former self. Where as a teenager at the Foxhall School in rural Pennsylvania she had been the leader of the

Book review: Enlightenment Now, Steven Pinker (2018)


What wants to be a manifesto for reason in an age of burgeoning ignorance turns out to be a deeply flawed book evincing few signs that the author is aware of the forces that have combined to form his own view of the world. Pinker starts his little treatise regretting the rise of Donald Trump without furthermore displaying any evidence that he understands the forces that brought that particular



Since the middle of last year, I have been writing a series of blogposts about brutalist architecture in Sydney. From the late 1960s until the mid-1970s there was a commercial building boom in the city, resulting in a healthy stratum of edifices in this distinctive post-war style appearing in one of the world’s great trading entrepots. Because of this, I decided to research the new construction

Book review: Skin in the Game, Sonya Voumard (2018)


This curious and suggestive book is something of a memoir and something of a portmanteau that has the function that it contains a number of different things each of which is of a disparate nature. As a memoir, it charts the author’s early experiences as a cadet journalist with the Herald and Weekly Times in Melbourne (where my great-grandfather worked in the 1920s), then her move to the more

Book review: Somebody I Used to Know, Wendy Mitchell (2018)


This knowing memoir represents something of a watershed for people living with dementia, but even more so for their carers and other family members, and most especially for policymakers. Covering a lot of fresh ground in an engaging way, it is the second book by a person living with early-onset dementia I have read, following Christine Bryden’s 2015 ‘Before I Forget’, which I reviewed in April

Bad timing


You might see a man on his knees with his elbows on the pavement supporting his upper body, bent over stubbornly and inconveniently in the middle of the footpath at the corner of a busy thoroughfare with a cup held in his hands and his face turned toward the ground. You might stop and say a word or two and hand him a few coins or you might simply place some change in the cup and hurry on about

40th annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras


The event kicked off in the morning when a representative from NSW police was interviewed on ABC News about the original Mardi Gras in 1978. “NSW police got it wrong in 78," when they disrupted with violence the first march, he said. It had been held to mark the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riot in New York, which had also been characterised by police brutality. Much has changed. In

Book review: Silent Invasion, Clive Hamilton (2018)


Subtitled ‘China’s influence in Australia’, this is a tiresome but formidably important book. It takes us on a trip behind the curtain into the corridors of power in Beijing where for the past 15 years or so the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have pursued a policy of world economic and political control. The way this has happened with the acquiescence of the people of the country

We need more inclusionary zoning, not less


I don’t often write about politics these days. Twitter has become so much more highly polarised and people have such short fuses, blocking you for nothing but asking a question that is construed as violent disagreement. But this story on the Sydney Morning Herald website yesterday really annoyed me. The story seems to take the side of the local mayor in the Northern Beaches against the

Book review: The Good Country, Bain Attwood (2017)


This book mainly chronicles European settlement of a central part of Victoria in the 1830s and 1840s and the relations between the settler community, the state and the Aborigines whose land was stolen. The land was at the time called Port Phillip District, before being renamed Victoria in 1851. The book is subtitled ‘The Djadja Warrung, the Settlers and the Protectors’. In its first part, I

Book review: Rogue Nation, Royce Kurmelovs (2017)


This fussy little book dates the appearance of populist politics that is threatening the stability of Western democracies globally to the late 90s when the carrot-headed Liberal, Pauline Hanson, quit the party to set up her own operation, which became One Nation. The author furthermore worked for a spell up to the middle of 2017 in the office of South Australian independent senator Nick

Got something in my eye


On Saturday night at about 2am I woke up for some reason and tried to open my eyes but something had got into the right eye and it was painful to blink. The pain didn’t go away with my eyes closed because even when your lids are shut your eyes keep on moving in tandem. Tears were streaming down my cheek on the right-hand side of my face as I blinked furiously, and with a rising sense of panic I

Dragon boats on Darling Harbour


I was walking through Darling Harbour on Saturday and saw dragon boats lined up on the water with full crews. Each boat has a drummer sitting in the bow on a chair, 10 paddlers, and one sweep handling an oar in the water to steer the boat with. I talked to some of the people sitting and standing around near the marquees that have been set up by the City of Sydney, which organised the races, for

Book review: Everybody Lies, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz (2017)


This is a happily optimistic book about big data by a single, middle-class white male who graduated from Harvard and worked at Google. It tries to elencate the gains to be made in a future where more data can be more quickly quantified and analysed by more people for more purposes. It suggests a world where difficult questions can be solved using the vast amounts of digital information that

Book review: Consider Phlebas, Iain M Banks (1987)


This piece of gun schlocky starts with a machine-built ship escaping from a galaxy. At its edge, the ship is intercepted by enemy vessels and intentionally detonates, but the Mind that inhabits it escapes to a planet in a nearby solar system. It’s all very high-tech and glossy but then you cut to a torture chamber of the Culture on the planet Sorpen, where the Changer Horza is kept shackled in

Book review: The Court Reporter, Jamelle Wells (2018)


Having worked for almost two decades as the ABC’s court reporter, Jamelle Wells is well-placed to fulfil an important function as go-between between the public and the media. The law must not just perform its social, economic and political functions, it must also be seen to perform them. Open courts are a long-established part of the legal justice system in Australia (and other former British