So Many Wonderfuls

Tina Matthews, Walker Books, 2014

Tina Matthews illustrates and writes about a village near the sea that has no high-rise, litter, pollution, intrusive advertising, mega shopping centres or traffic congestion. There’s plenty of open space.

The book also celebrates the pride of public spaces that include community halls, libraries, parks and schools. In a way, the book is a definition of what a good community is — where people of all ages talk, play and learn together and care for one another. It celebrates the simple pleasures of life, such as when family and friends sit around a warm fire in the coolness of an evening after a picnic by the sea.

The River and the Book

Despite being about exploitation, destruction and dispossession, The River and the Book is a positive fable centreing on a remote village that confronts the irreversible collapse of its life support system – their river and their sacred book.

A well-intentioned researcher, Jane Watson, visits the village but steals the villagers’ treasured book. Nothing is ever the same again. Simbala, the “Keeper of the Book”, is left with a terrible emptiness that drives her to leave her village to seek Watson and recover the stolen book.

The village’s river is dying. Foreign developers are unsustainably extracting too much water from the river to grow commercial crops of cotton. Villagers downstream have no choice but to wage war because without water they cannot survive.

This gentle and entrancing book by poet-author Alison Croggon deals with complex issues such as water wars, resource depletion, ecological collapse, globalisation, Third World poverty, rural depopulation, indigenous dispossession and the voracious exploitation by more powerful “civilisations”. She challenges the anthropocentric view so dominant in modern civilisations; as Simbala’s acerbic cat, Mely, so eloquently says, “Human beings are selfish and greedy and they think that the world has been put there just for them.”

An Economy is Not a Society

Winners and Losers in the New Australia
By Dennis Glover, Redback, 2015

Author and former political speechwriter Dennis Glover fondly remembers Doveton, where he grew up, as a thriving suburb where families all had decent, permanent jobs.

This vibrant working-class community has been shattered by successive governments that have vigorously pursued economic reforms that have pushed the country’s once-prosperous manufacturing base offshore. Doveton is now one of the most depressed suburbs of Melbourne, with one of the highest unemployment rates.

Thousands of jobs have been lost from factories going overseas. Now only insecure contractual work exists, and only for a few. Calls that we can no longer afford social protections such as Medicare and the aged pension add to the destruction of egalitarian Australian society.

An Economy is not a Society debunks the acclaimed neoliberal economic reforms that have transformed the economy since the 1980s – deregulated markets, the floating of the dollar and a focus on increasing productivity and efficiencies. They have brought affluence for some but Dennis Glover argues that these measures have turned parts of our society into a pipeline from school to gaol.

These books are in Federation’s Library. Suggestions for classroom activities with these books are in the digital edition of the journal.

Janine Kitson is a casual teacher.