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Discordant Notes

Journal of Australian Studies 88
Bart Ziino Who Owns Gallipoli? Australia's Gallipoli Anxieties 1915-2005, Sue Lovell, 'Dew to the Soul': One Australian Artist's Response to War, Peter Kirkpatrick Hunting the Wild Reciter: Elocution and the Art of Recitation, Felicity Plunkett 'You Make Me a Dot in the Nowhere': Textual Encounters in the Australian Immigration Story (the Fourth Chapter), Bridget Griffen-Foley From the Murrumbidgee to Mamma Lena: Foreign Language Broadcasting on Australian Commercial Radio, Part I, Emily Pollnitz ...
Thursday, 31st July 2014
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API Review of Books

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 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.


All That False Instruction

By Kerryn Higgs, North Melbourne: Spinifex Press, 2001, 252 pages, paperback, $24.95. Reviewed by Kathryn Hegarty in the Dec 2001-Jan 2002 issue.

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Literary representations of the cunt, in terms sexual and physiological, are few and far between and have not moved much forward in Ozlit since the initial publication of All That False Instruction. The novel treats the female genitalia with a starkness I have not previously encountered in Australian writing. We are soon guided past the initial, surprisingly graphic references to the cunt simply by their frequency and detail. This is triumphant stuff and it speaks volumes that a lesbian protagonist should be the conduit for such a literary opportunity.

The emotional landscape of the book is its strength. For all this novel is a confusing work, the laid bare female, developing lesbian, subjectivity is rendered with restrained, subdued pathos, allowing the sheer emotional pain Maureen Craig continually experiences to envelop the reader.

All That False Instruction does follow a classic linear trajectory of self discovery through pain. The psychic and cultural desolation, even cruelty, of Maureen's childhood and adolescence is starkly rendered and I felt myself longing for some insight into Mrs Craig's motivation; such insight comes, poignantly, near the end of the novel. Maureen's unwillingness to rebel is frustrating but convincing, meshed as it is with her very human need to belong and be wanted. One of the great strengths of the book is the character's continual vulnerability, beautifully and simply depicted, as her craving for love, warmth and connection lures her to sites of sure rejection again and again. The scenes at university, residential college, and a 1960s Carlton share-house point up cultural Australia's limitation and banality in the period. Maureen's negotiation of her emotional journey in this context is doubly courageous and profound. I found it somewhat ironic that throughout Maureen is excelling in her study of the literary canon and even finding inspiration and solace therein for the pain her non-conformity causes. The scenes where she discovers that some of Shakespeare's sonnets were believed to have been written for a man is beautifully evocative and the writing here is deft and spare.

Maureen is utterly believable and writ large, she inspires loyalty, but I cannot relate to her experience of lesbian sexuality and this causes me to examine my critical practices. Yet as a map for evolving sexuality generally, I found the novel insightful and tender. Not all of All That False Instruction is brilliantly written, although the often staccato prose appropriately renders the emotional landscape. Does it inevitably speak more resonantly to the non-heterosexual reader? Maureen's constant struggles to fit, anywhere, even alone with Libby or Cleo, or with her own mother, are parallels for many of us. A Lacanian understanding of the desire to defragment oneself as a subject offers insight across many marginal categories of identity and experience. Yet at times I was bothered by the awkwardness of the expression. Throughout the many interior monologues, Maureen continually refers to herself as 'Craig'. I was disconcerted, reading the introduction after the novel, to discover that Kerryn Higgs referred to the originally published novels as 'Rileys'; the voice to me is very similar to that of the protagonist. Yet perhaps it can be argued that the spare prose creates a distance that is filled with another kind of self-reflexivity. Maureen's honesty, tempered by fear and inevitably causing her more pain than others, is convincing. It is a particular kind of dialogue with the self that Maureen is engaged in that requires the space a third person voice might create. Maureen can't and won't bow to orthodoxies and her bewildered fascination with those that eventually do (Julia, Libby) or those that can do no other (Cleo) is some of the best writing in the book.

The depictions of Maureen's (and Cleo's) parents ring with very true specificity to my working class background. But what resounds most loudly is the early heterosexual experiences Maureen repeatedly shakes off and seeks again. I am close to 20 years younger, yet these encounters were strongly familiar to me. I think they form an early sexual landscape for many straight women. Maureen describes the process of petting with her 'boyfriend' Andy, who is opposed to sexual intercourse outside marriage. 'I was terrified of blunder, almost convinced that there existed a body of precise rules governing the minutest details...something which everyone but myself appeared to be in command of...'.

These experiences, which might constitute what Malinowitz in her extensive introduction calls a classic bildungsroman, also constitute that profound thing, representation. They write a group of us into a landscape from which we may have found ourselves, or large parts of ourselves, missing. By my yardstick, All That False Instruction succeeds very well; it writes in a very particular experience of Australian life, thereby enfranchising some of those who have not seen themselves written. It does so in a novel that is often a stylish and gripping narrative and, that old fashioned thing, a good story.


  • Kathryn Hegarty. 'Review: All That False Instruction by Kerryn Higgs' [online]. Network Review of Books (Perth, Australian Public Intellectual Network), Dec 2001-Jan 2002. Availability: <please cite the web address here> ISSN 1833-0932. [accessed 31 July 2014].

Back Cover Blurb

  • Growing up in rural working-class home, Maureen Craig rebels against her angry mother, the privileges of her favoured brother, and the relentless conformity of 1950s Australia.

    At first, university promises a new world. Terrified and exhilarated, Maureen explores relationships with women for the first time -- finding love, tenderness, and intellectual companionship, only to be thwarted again and again by outraged parents and intolerant peers. Despite overwhelming disapproval, Maureen rejects the passive role presented to her and sets out to find a place in the world where she can be herself.

    A coming out story which won literary plaudits in 1975, All That False Instruction is being published for the first time in its authorised and corrected version and under the real name of the author.

    'An Explosive mix of raw sanity and wicked humour -- a bombshell of a book.' Robert Dessaix

    'A powerful first novel, psychologically persuasive … exceptionally well-written' Mary Lord, Australian Book Review

    'A unique voice -- candid, bracingly intelligent, alive to the world' Helen Garner

Visitors' Responses

  • Live And Fresh
    ...and I like the humour too. This answers my self-questioning how the book would go with new readers, some decades after the original, so sadly displaced by Australia-nervous original publishers.
    Judith Rodriguez (20/02/0620)

Have You Also Read?

  • Enough

    imagePatricia Hughes, North Melbourne: Spinifex Press, 2004, 254 Pages, Paperback, $24.95
    Reviewed by Kathryn Hegarty in the October 2004 issue.

    In June 2004, a leading Australian jockey was charged with assault on his partner, whom he married ten days earlier. The offence shocked the tabloid media; after all, the couple is devoted and the man in question is described as 'besotted' with his wife. As I write, the 'murder-suicide of a family of four is reported in The Age. This term is shorthand for the murder of a woman and two infant children by a man who then killed himself. While the media continues to report horrific statistics of male violence against women, the nature of so-called domestic violence is continually understated, and mooted to be less than criminal. Recently, a plethora of research has emerged that demonstrates not ... read more.

Network Review of Books

Spinifex Press

  • Spinifex is a small independent feminist press. We publish about eight books a year. We work at least a year, sometimes eighteen months, in advance of our publishing programme. This means that by the middle of the year we usually have a completely full programme for the following year. We publish more non-fiction titles than fiction or poetry. We rarely publish short story collections and, at most, publish one anthology per year: either fiction or non-fiction - we vary our styles.

NRB Dec 2001-Jan 2002

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