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Senor Pilich

This is the saga of Senor Pilich and how he saved the monastery. Senor Pilich, monastery cat extraordinaire, is struck by the sinister Mr Dreggs. Struck by his boot, that is. 'Mr Dreggs, a thief, was at large in the monastery. He was a confidence man. He was overly interested in valuable and historic things. He looked suspicious, acted suspiciously and, above all evils, he did not like cats. Dreggs was a positive threat to the place. He had to go.' Señor Pilich and his friends foil  Dreggs at every turn in a hilarious adventure which causes mayhem throughout the monastery. Meanwhile, monastic ...
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Altitude BirdIssue 44
Features reviews by Kathleen Broderick, Linn Miller, Christine Choo, Bill Thorpe, David Ritter, Eve Vincent, Stephanie Bishop, Alison Miles, Richard Kay, Amanda Day, Bernard Whimpress, Mads Clausen, Marion May Campbell, Sylvia Alston, Catie Gilchrist, Eva Chapman, Lucy Dougan, Stephen Lawrence and Nathanael O'Reilly. Click here for more details.


Altitude

Altitude BirdPopular Music: Practices, Formations and Change - Australian Perspectives
The papers collected here in this special edition of Altitude offer a brief snapshot of popular music research broadly connected with Australia. The essays demonstrate the variety of theoretical and methodological approaches used by researchers in the fields of popular music studies and cultural studies to explore themes of popular music practice, formation and change in an Australian context. Click here for more details.



 
 
 
 

The Hulk

By Simon Robb, Bulahdelah: Post Taste, 2003, 98 pages, paperback, . Reviewed by Moya Costello in the January 2006 issue.

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Simon Robb's The Hulk is engaged in multitasking and to read it is to engage in multiskilling. To open its pages is to read fiction, specifically the Gothic genre (or perhaps we should say neo-Gothic); to consider history, specifically an aspect of Australia's unreconciled past; and to play with textuality, with writing and reading.

Context, often taken for granted in books produced by globalised publishers, is pronounced and foregrounded in the production values of The Hulk. The imprint is the cheekily named Post Taste which we can immediately assume correctly to be a small, independent Australian press. The book's cover mimics a form of traditional binding with the appearance of thin, open-weave cloth wrapped around the spine. Inside, the font is quaint (Mrs Eaves!) -- florid, grave and fine all at once. Boys Own Annual-type illustrations amplify pathos in the text. And the formality of nineteenth century language is critically deployed.

In the 'Introduction' the narrator, addressing the reader as 'dear', lays out his tasks. The Gothic mode is selected as apposite to his purpose -- an atmosphere in which the familiar apears in unexpected places, serving to disorient us from our history and identity. The familiar is our convict history, but occurring in the supposedly free colony of South Australia. From 1880 to 1891, boys sentenced to serve prison terms were incarcerated on the hulk Fitzjames moored off the coast. The sentimental is the dominant tone of the Gothic; as the narrator says, it is 'an excess of refined, mournful and tender feelings circulating around struggles concerning knowledge of the other'. Paedophilia, as well as being 'a gross abuse of power', is one 'bleak presence' in sentimental merging.

The narrator uses 'mystory' or the fictocritical which we could say deploys the tactical rather than the strategic, responding to specific subject matter in context. Anna Gibbs has said in Text (online) that 'there is no blueprint' for writing fictocritically. It 'must be constantly invented anew in the face of the singular problems that arise in the course of engagement with what is researched'. Further, The Hulk's narrator says of fictocriticism that it is both 'ethically ambitious' and 'utopian' in its 'literary experimentation'.

The Hulk was short-listed in South Australia's 2004 Festival Awards for Literature in the category called 'innovation' rather than experimental. Judges' comments on the short list were primarily directed at the hybridity of the texts. In relation to the hybrid, Stephen Muecke has said of the fictocritical, on the Trans/forming Cultures website, that 'at its simplest it makes a persuasive argument while telling an engaging story; at its most complex it is a surrealist montage of different styles and media'. The Hulk combines documentary material and fabrication. The terms nonfiction and fiction themselves, as Nicholas Jose has said in the inaugural Marya Glyn-Daniel Lecture at the University of Canberra, are shifty concepts because behind them lie slippery questions about 'fact, truth, language and imagination'.

In The Hulk, different historical periods merge in fluid time: the past enters the present and vice versa. For example, while on the hulk characters search for documents in what seems to be a modern Compactus unit.

The overarching framework or principle -- the link between the disparate elements -- is the textual. In Australian Book Review, James Ley has said of genre-crossing literary work that they are:

essential to a literary culture because they explore the limits of expression and thus the boundaries of the self ... Inevitably, these books place demands on the reader ... Their aesthetic is one of complexity [and] indeterminacy ...
In the active reading demanded by The Hulk, we make and are made by the text. Appropriately, the documents of Alfred Weippert, one-time teacher in the hulk, contain a discussion of reading: 'To read with hostility is to befriend the power of ignorance ... It is ... to become ... fearful ... to be surrounded by that which threatens sense making ...'.

In The Hulk, history is approached through imaginative writing, and a mournful, and hence repressed, part of white Australian history is highlighted then excavated and revealed. Robb's work is similar to Ross Gibson's in Seven Versions of an Australian Badland, which, according to Angela Rockel in Australian Humanities Review (online), triangulates 'the violence of Australia's colonial past, a culture of denial, and the quality of present connections that can be made in place'.

There is some ambiguity (perhaps only for this reader) about the character and actions of John Redman, as a one-time superintendent of the hulk, and Weippert. Their respective documents contain different versions and timings of the same event. Either or both could be paedophiles or homosexuals. Both are haunted by desires they find distressing. Redman could be cruel and stupid. He self-reports his own concern for the boys, whereas Weippert's documents testify to his having a boy unmercifully whipped. At times, the voice of the narrator is tortured too. Haunted by his own childhood, he says he enjoys the misery of others. He appears to adopt iconic descriptions of the writer as one engaged in a lonely and unlegitimised task about a particularly melancholy subject. Such elements contribute to a tone of Gothic hysteria in the text. But perhaps, also, their point is performance; as Anna Gibbs has said of the fictocritical, 'the strategies of the telling are part of the point of the tale'.

A number of things are impressive about The Hulk. Robb moves seemingly effortlessly among distinctively different voices. In order to hear the boys' own voices when there are no historical records of them, the narrator incorporates interviews he conducted with staff and boys who are incarcerated in the present. Documented in Wippert's scrapbook, the boys' voices are startling in their clarity. Robb also deftly mixes discourses, drawing on such textual strategies as journal writing, commentary, internal monologue, character portrayal, theory, reportage and documentation. And the larger project itself, like Ross Gibson's Seven Versions, approaches history in an imaginative, creative and innovative way.

Citation

  • Moya Costello. 'Review: The Hulk by Simon Robb' [online]. Network Review of Books (Perth, Australian Public Intellectual Network), January 2006. Availability: <please cite the web address here> ISSN 1833-0932. [accessed 20 August 2014].

Back Cover Blurb

  • Australian history, post European settlement, would be nothing without crime. But in one part of the nation they like to keep their crimes secret.

    South Australia was founded as a nineteenth century middle-class utopia, free of the convict contagion which tainted other Australian colonies.

    But between 1880 and 1891 this 'enlightened' society implemented a barbaric penal solution - incarcerating 'delinquent' boys aged between 8 and 16 on a prison ship moored off the South Australian coast.

    The Hulk is the story of those boys living on the hulk Fitzjames, whose voices have been hidden from history.

    Simon Robb delves back into the historical sources and uses contemporary interviews to make the boys speak again, uncovering the terrible stories of a truly Australian secret history.

Visitors' Responses

  • Whimpress Review Of The Hulk
    Firstly, I should say I have an interest here - I'm Lachlan Colquhoun, publisher at Post Taste and publisher of the Hulk.
    Lachlan Colquhoun (20/05/1122)

  • Whimpress' Review Of The Hulk
    While I'm sure that Bernard Whimpress is a competent and able historian in his own right, and one would hope that the editor of API Review would want to give all books a fair hearing, it seems to me counterproductive to get someone of Whimpress' avowed tastes and convictions to review a book like The Hulk. Apart from the witty spleen, what does this review tell us about what this book, in particular, or cross-genre writing, in general? Wouldn't it have been more productive to get someone with fictocritical expertise to review it and perhaps therefore enlarge our understanding of what this text might be able to accomplish - through a more informed reading?
    Anne Brewste (20/05/1122)

  • The Hulk
    The ‘backdating' referred to by Bernard Whimpress was not a ficto-critical conspiracy but a quirk in the software which I am still trying to repair. I'm sorry if this has caused any confusion. - Ed.
    Phil Cloran (20/06/0201)

  • The Hulk
    What happens in the world of electronic publishing? In my case what appears, offends and partially disappears.

    My original review of Simon Robb's The Hulk which appeared in API Review of Books No 39 obviously created some flak such that there was an aggrieved response from the book's publisher Lachlan Colquhuon and a more balanced complaint from Anne Brewster. Both were posted on 22 November.

    There was no sign then of a review by Moya Costello. Now it is strange (even in a virtual universe) that Ms Costello's review can be backdated to November and appear ahead of my original review now reduced to 'also' if not 'also ran' status. I guess the ficto-critics are rejoicing.
    Bernard Whimpress (20/06/0201)



 
Network Review of Books

NRB January 2006

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