Books in review

By Colleen Cook

In this issue:

When horse became saw: A family's journey through Autism

Cover illustration of When horse became saw

Anthony Macris
Penguin Books $34.95

Anthony Macris (BA ’91) is father of Alex, a severely autistic child. He also writes lyrical prose with style and sensitivity, generously engrossing us in his very personal world. The title indicates the moment when his bright little toddler began to regress into autism, propelling his family into a journey that would draw on all the love, resourcefulness and stamina they could muster.

The need to learn about his son’s world led Macris to investigate everything he could find out about autism. It wasn’t very much. It also became clear that early intervention was the key, but that therapies were vague at best, and heavily reliant on parent involvement. The best one-on-one therapy was privately run and very expensive.

Anthony and his wife Kathy were faced with daily worries about income, balancing work and the emotional intensity of being their son’s full-time therapists, perhaps for the rest of their lives.

Macris’s descriptions of treasured moments, unconditional love, daily family struggles and triumphs, and the joy to be found in repetitious mundane daily tasks make this book about so much more than a journey through autism. It is deeply moving. It invites us to wake up to how we perceive our own worlds, and to appreciate each moment.


Duelling surgeon, colonial patriot

Image of Duelling Surgeon, Colonial Patriot book cover

Robert Lehane
Australian Scholarly Publishing $44.00

So many early Australians fail to receive rightful recognition. Robert Lehane’s (BSc ’65) meticulous research reveals a portrait of one such man. In so doing, he provides lively snapshots of the chaotic life of a fast-growing colony.

William Bland was sent to Australia after fatally wounding a fellow naval officer in a duel. He was headstrong, vocal and unafraid to speak his mind. He was also compassionate and benevolent, an excellent surgeon, a prolific writer, an inventor and a leader, an animal lover, gardener and philanthropist.

That a convict could come to this country and become one of its leading statesmen led Bland to support the rehabilitation of convicts. He argued against capital punishment and supported trial by jury. He set up the precursor to Sydney Grammar School, and was central to establishing the University of Sydney, elective legislature and public education.

Bland cared for the sick, whether they could pay or not. He himself died insolvent and though loyal friends praised his contribution to the colony, it was not widely acknowledged. Does anyone know he invented an early form of fire extinguisher and an airship? Lehane has given us more to think about next time we drive down Bland Street.


Dancing with empty pockets: Australian bohemians

Image of Daning with Empty Pockets: Australian Bohemians

Tony Moore
Murdoch Books $29.99

Most of us secretly long to be part of a bohemian subculture, taking risks and not caring about money. Now we can experience this world vicariously, through Tony Moore’s (BA ’84 PhD ’08) riveting investigation of the past 150 years, which avoids romanticising the bohemian lifestyle.

From dandy remittance man Marcus Clarke in the mid-1800s through to Julian Assange, these rebels were clearly not the least bit ordinary, and that is their attraction. A surprising number of them are second-generation bohemians, such as Mirka Mora’s son Philippe, Frank Hardy’s grand-daughter Marieke and Norman Lindsay’s son Jack.

There was a good deal of drinking, sex and disobedience to be had, but more significantly, our culture owes much to the audacity of those who were prepared to go out on a limb in favour of free speech and artistic autonomy. It’s a rich legacy which, Moore argues, will continue as long as there is a need to “outrage the bourgeoisie”.

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Extreme south

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James Castrission
Hachette Australia $35

It's easy to be cynical about adventures that follow in the footsteps of pioneers, assisted by lessons learnt, supported by new technologies. Instead, the journey of these two adventurers, James Castrission (Cas) and Justin Jones (Jonesy), is inspiring. Though they made history with the longest unsupported polar journey of all time from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole and back, their tenacity to survive required the kind of spirit of endurance and friendship which surpasses the need to break records and win races.

Cas wrote this book in record time. They only finished the journey in January 2012. It is a vivid account of meticulous planning, and a journal of daily challenges. They defy unforgiving weather conditions and freezing cold temperatures to cover 2275 kilometres in just over three months, and it is hard to put this book down until they're safely home.


Ladylike

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Kate Lilley
UWA Publishing $19.95

In a rapid and playful exploration of words, constructed and deconstructed on the page, Kate Lilley (BA ’83) looks at her academic life, psychoanalysis and history, and draws heavily on female images and relationships in her poetry.

Lilley's mother, Dorothy Hewett, died in 2002. In a section dedicated to her, the poem Dress Circle deals with the dilemma of mother-daughter forces that linger after that death. Each of the four parts in this book of poetry creates a different mood, but Lilley's wit and stinging phrases keep the reader alert and searching for messages below the surface.

Much of the poetry is built on references and our comprehension is richer for understanding what they are. However, the poems have an autonomous strength, and maybe that's already enough to enjoy them.


Trieste goes to Australia

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Gianfranco Cresciani
Padana Press

Around 20,000 triestini (almost 10 percent of Trieste's population) migrated to Australia during seven years in the 1950s and '60s. They were educated, employed and well paid. Australian historical accounts have grouped them with the Italian collective, but theirs is a different story.

Gianfranco Cresciani is not only the author of this book, but one of those immigrants. Having written several books about Italians in Australia, his research and knowledge is exceptional. He is able to enliven this objective history with his own subjective viewpoint.

With bad memories of post-war turmoil, these emigrants left their national identities behind and assimilated quietly into Australian culture. Finally there is a book which tells us not only about the triestini here, but also those who returned to find a very different place.

Dead men don’t drive

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O J Younessi
VBW Publishing

This collection of stories hovers around satire and humour. Its author, James Younessi (MDSc '97), spent his childhood in his native Iran, and has chosen to write these stories in Persian and translate them himself. His fable, The Pomegranate, reflects his ties to this world. An intriguing tale of an ancient world, told from mother to daughter, it illuminates timeless human foibles, and is the star of this collection.

Equally memorable is the piece from which the book's title is drawn. It will resonate with anyone who has had to deal with the frustrations of bureaucracy.

The topics for each story are as varied as you would expect from a writer who is also a surgeon with a passion for coins and fountain pens.