Peter Conrad is one of the most gifted writers of our time. Whether exploring the history of opera (A Song of Love and Death), the essence of a movie director (The Hitchcock Murders), or the twentieth-century relationship between art and life (Modern Times, Modern Places), he has dazzled audiences for nearly thirty-five years since he left his native Australia for a life spent mainly in Oxford, London, Lisbon, and New York. In this new book, Conrad tells the story of what Australia the people, the bush, the desert, the cities used to be like, and what it has now become. He uses all his special gifts of making us feel that the particular, in this case a country far from the horizons of most of us, is nevertheless of intense personal concern.
The settlement of Australia coincided with the invention of photography, and Conrad's brilliant word-pictures of the hot, aromatic, cicada-loud landscape are woven around 200 images. The camera recorded the clearance of the bush and the construction of huts for homesteaders, documented the exploration of the uninhabitable outback, and accompanied the building of new cities, bravely determined to look European despite their geographical position. This many-layered story depicts the making and remaking of Australia: a social history extending from the trials of the frontier to the hedonistic urban society of the present day; a psychological history describing how the mob gradually permitted individuals to challenge the country's inherited values; and a cultural history that begins with the harsh, arid earth and shows how stark reality is transformed into art.
It is a book about memory of home and our lifelong homesickness, about the way we construct fictions, license lies, make room for Utopia, or express and suppress desire and hostility about our family albums of self and nation.