Review: 'Hecate's' 'Australian Women's Book Review',
Volume 10, 1998

With this edition, Australian Women's Book Review marks its tenth anniversary and its amalgamation with Hecate. It now appears annually.

Volume 10 contains a wide and quite fascinating range of conemporary women's writing, encompassing Indigenous (Australian, New Zealand, US), intercultural, historical and current social perspectives. Around twenty books receive individual attention from reviewers, including fiction by Carmel Bird and Pham Thi Hoai, and poetry by Jennifer Strauss, Fay Zwicky and Lee Cataldi. There are a number of articles grouped under the heading Debates and Discussions, and a guest-edited section (by Cathie Dunsford) featuring Aeotearoan/New Zealand feminist writers. There's also a smattering of creative writing, notably very striking poems by Sandra Hutchins and MTC Cronin. Relieved by reproductions of book covers, other artwork and the bold cartoons of Debbie Harmon Qadri, the magazine's format is inviting and the layout professional.

I read with considerable interest and enjoyment Heather Nix's reflections on her Welsh ancestry, with which she begins her overview of recent Welsh writing, and Terry Whitebeach's survey of writing by Indigenous Australians. It's encourageing to hear Whitebeach express her delight at having too many books to choose from. I also found Anne Collins' refreshingly open article on the joys and disappointments of 'This Writing Life' really engaging. Why continue to write, she asks, when your name is, 'in the commercial sense, valueless'? And this question was only one among the many I found myself confronted with as I read through AWBR. Big questions they are, too. Here are some others: does rape matter? (Annie Cossins); what is the spiritual logic of a novel? (Terry Whitebeach); where is the space for 'wilfulness, irrationality, carelessness, pragmatism or desire' in the abortion debate? (Margie Ripper); which are the boys and which are the girls who succeed in Australian schools? (Georgina Tsolidis); and a more general, but nevertheless insistent question: what does mainstream mean?

In her editorial, Barbara Brook tells us that AWBR's focus is on 'accessible, intelligent writing that will offer a range of books by women to a broad readership' and in the main I found this to be so. The contributions are well-informed and insightful, making for enlightening reading. One – Georgina Tsolidis' review of Answering Back – Girls, Boys and Feminism in Schools by Jsne Kenway and Sue Willis, I found opaque – too dense for many readers, I think.

Separatist publications always leave me feeling a litle sad. However, AWBR does have an atmosphere of inclusion rather than exclusion. In an increasingly complicated world it amplifies many of those small voices that might otherwise remain inaudible. This alone is a good enough reason to hope that it continues to appeal to the broad readership it is aiming to reach.