Australasia Archive

Winton’s ‘Island Home’

One of my favourite books of last year was Island Home: A Landscape Memoir by Tim Wintonwhich is both a celebration of Australia’s wild places and an impassioned argument for their preservation

As I said in a review for The Daily Telegraph, it’s shy of 200 pages, yet airy with the space of the great southern land.

It’s now out in paperback from Picador and, courtesy of the author, you can read an extract from it on Deskbound Traveller.

Making Tracks with Robyn Davidson

When Robyn Davidson made her 2,000-mile walk across Australia in 1977 from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean, Rick Smolan was commissioned by National Geographic to catch up with her (and her camels and dog) five times during the trip to take photographs.

That was in an age without GPS,  satellites and mobile phones. There was no way for Davidson to call for help, no way for her to be found. And Smolan was shipping film back to Washington and having no idea whether his pictures had worked.

Smolan’s Ted Talk about the assignment, published earlier this month, is both frank and fond. He discloses that he and Davidson got off to a really bad start…

Tim Winton’s Australia

I’ve just finished reading a wonderful new book from Tim Winton, Island Home (Picador), which is both a celebration of Australia’s wild places and an impassioned argument for their preservation. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read any of Winton’s novels — ashamed because his preoccupations are so much in tune with those of Deskbound Traveller: in Island Home, he writes that “the effect of the power of place on the behaviour and aspirations of the people around me has been my underlying and ongoing concern”. So I’ve just ordered Cloudstreet, which I see Philip Hensher has described in the introduction to the Picador edition as “the great Australian novel”.

Winton says in Island Home that the greatest influence on his own writing was the novelist Randolph Stow  (1935-2010), who was born in Geraldton, Winton’s mother’s home town, and died in Essex. He was a writer “who seemed to feel the country of his birth as if he wore it”.  The same might be said of Winton himself.

At the end of the new book, there’s a note saying that Island Home had its beginnings in a collaboration with the photographer Richard Woldendorp, and that an essay, “The Island Seen and Felt”, was first given as a talk at the Royal Academy in London in 2013. You can still listen to that talk on the Royal Academy’s website.

On Soundcloud (see below) there’s also a good ABC radio interview with Winton about Island Home, recorded when the book came out in Australia seven months ago.

Making ‘Tracks’ in Australia

Tracks, a film based on Robyn Davidson’s 2,000-mile walk in 1977 from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean, with four camels and a dog, is already being screened in cinemas throughout Australia and is due to open shortly in Britain. It’s that rare thing: a film of a book of which the book’s author heartily approves. That may be partly because the film-makers make no attempt to clear up a mystery that remained at the end of Davidson’s own account: what prompted her to embark on such a trek in the first place.

The Griffith Review, an Australian quarterly I’ve only just discovered online, has been prompted by the film’s release to direct its readers to its archive, and a moving piece Davidson wrote in 2006 on her return to Darwin. It runs to nearly 6,000 words, so print out the PDF and enjoy it away from the screen.

In the same edition of the Griffith Review, David Malouf tells how his novella Fly Away Peter was inspired by his finding an “exotic” landscape close to home.

Eleanor Catton’s New Zealand

This is going to be a celebrity-free site, lacking in what editors call “big names” — unless renown has been won by proficiency with pen, camera and paint. Eleanor Catton, winner of the Booker Prize for The Luminaries, is now a much bigger name than she was at the start of this week. As anyone who saw her take the Booker stage will have noticed immediately, however, her favourite light is not lime. In The Guardian Review today, she writes fondly about her native New Zealand. It’s a piece in which she laments the inadequacy of language to describe the natural world, so it’s a shame that the editor failed to notice that Catton herself had earlier twice fallen back on the word “stunning”. Put it down to the rush for topicality.