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This review is taken from PN Review 89, Volume 19 Number 3, January - February 1993.

CONVERGENCES Les Murray, The Paperbark Tree: Selected Prose (Carcanet) £18.95

Like the continent of Australia, Les Murray is large, and contains multitudes. It can be hard, in fact, not to see him as a kind of portmanteau-poet, containing convict balladeer, Aboriginal elder, newspaper-poet, Bunyah hillbilly, Boetian bard and even Bastard from the Bush - as if, had he not existed, it would have been necessary to invent him. He has of course, praise be, invented himself, and not the least of the glories of The Paperbark Tree is the chance its several essays give to inspect at close hand the materials of his construction.

We see, for example, the fat boy at Taree High School being 'immunized' against the herd-instinct by two straight years of public derision. 'In my own culture,' he writes ('From Bulby Bush to Figure City', p 339), 'I had never been persecuted for being fat, or for anything else.' From Taree, perhaps, comes that recurrent suspicion of academia as a mere cover for organized humiliation that surfaces in a number of these essays, as well as its counterpoint, the richly elaborated love of local habitations and names reflected in the oral tradition of his own culture that is his most defining characteristic.

In another essay, 'The Bonnie Disproportion', Murray discusses this culture, that of the Scots who settled the hill-country of New South Wales, at length, and we are drawn close to the very moment of self-creation. A child crouches by what the text as printed calls 'a heart fire' - ...


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