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This report is taken from PN Review 47, Volume 12 Number 3, January - February 1986.

Verse from the Desert Country Anthony Howell
I first went out to Australia because I was invited to perform at the Sydney Biennale in April 1982. It was not at all as I had expected. I think Barry Humphreys has invented Edna and her entourage more to gratify his British public than to convey Australian life with much accuracy. Or perhaps Australia used to be like that. My friends tell me that before the ethnics moved in - Italian, Lebanese, Vietnamese - the food used to be terrible, and perhaps life was less cultivated than it is now, though the literary evidence suggests that this was not the case.

Today, things are a little too refined. The wines are exceptional, especially the Chardonays and the Clarets: the French have pronounced Australian champagne 'drinkable', and there is little reason ever to set foot in a pub. Most social drinking is conducted over the dinner table. Far from being loud-mouthed, I found the Australians too courteous, confusing criticism with insult. Such politeness is one of the last vestiges of a cultural cringe which is rapidly going out of fashion - the other remaining trace of it being an excessive interest in their own art and literature, a sort of inverted cringe which somehow manages to bring a discussion about Vermeer, say, around to a tub-thumping for some modern out of Wollongong.

There has always been great painting going on there, from the early days of Eugen von Guerard, working in Victoria in the 1850s, whose work ...


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