A Pale View of Hills 

Dulwich Hill branch manager, radio personality, and book selling superstar, Morgan Smith tells us how it is.

March 2020

 - Friday, February 28, 2020
Those of you who’ve been paying attention will have noted that I rarely write about non-fiction, because I rarely read non-fiction. It feels like a terrible failure on my part, but hey, at my age, it seems too late to change. One of my passions in non-fiction though, is art history and biography, especially books about women artists. Since the 1980 publication of Janine Burke’s seminal Australian Women Artists  1840–1940, I’ve been fascinated with the lives and work of women artists. ( I also loved Burke’s The Heart Garden and named my dog ‘Sunday’ afer the arts benefactor,  Sunday Reed). Which brings me to a new publication, Odd Roads to Be Walking: 156 Women who Shaped Australian Art. This very handsome book by two Wagga Wagga Doctors (go figure), Paul Finucane and Catherine Stuart, is pretty much the most professional self-published book I have ever seen. The colour plates are excellent, and the accompanying biographies of the women, well-written. This is not a history per se but a biographical listing of the artists, which the authors have limited to those who have not lived through to the 21st Century. They had to draw the line somewhere!

I was pleased and surprised to recognise the name Phyl Waterhouse—a Melbourne artist and regular finalist in the Archibald, Sulman and Wynne Prizes. I inherited a beautiful small oil landscape by Waterhouse, which I have always loved. The small note about her (the authors couldn’t do long pieces on all 156 artists) mentions she exhibited in Adelaide which is where my parents would have bought the painting, and that her life-long partner, the more well-known Charles Bush (whom she married at 62!) was a war artist in Papua New Guinea. My father was there as a writer and became friends with many war artists such as Ivor Hele, and my siblings and I have several paintings by them.

Intrepide
is yet another book about Australian women artists will be released in April, by Clem and Therese Gorman. (It’ll look like name-dropping if I tell you Clem Gorman was also a friend of the Smith family—so I won’t.) I’m looking forward to it immensely.

Back in my fiction comfort zone, my best read this month was Improvement by the American author Joan Silber. In spare but evocative writing, Silber weaves the lives of inter-connected, marginalised New Yorkers and the lives they inhabit, moving from the wonderful Reyna and spreading out to all those affected by the central inciting incident—a car crash in which one of their number dies. It’s hard to explain how Silber manages to be both simple and complex, romantic and pragmatic, emotional and intelligent. It’s a short book—with not a superfluous word or word out of place. Beautiful. See you on D’Hill, Morgan