August 7th, 2012


Robert Hughes

Influential Australian art critic and writer Robert Hughes has died in New York aged 74.

Hughes, who was known for books such as The Fatal Shore and Shock of the New, died in hospital in the Bronx after a long illness.

I was sad to hear of Hughes death today. The Fatal Shore, his book on Australia's colonization, is pretty sweet--so good, in fact, that I have constantly said to myself that I should track down his other books, though I have never gotten around to it.

Hughes the Fatal Shore set itself apart from a lot of Australian history that I was reading while writing A Year in the City simply by the quality of his writing. A thick six to seven hundred pages in length (depending on edition and if you count notes at the end, which I do), the book is intelligent, articulate, and beautiful. It was one of the few books that I wanted to continue going, to follow all the history of the country as it unfolded, across all the States and Territories, and to have it continue to be told in Hughes' voice.

If you haven't read it, I do recommend tracking it down--there are so many light, poorly researched books on Sydney, Australia, on colonization, but the Fatal Shore is not one of them.

"One may liken this moment to the breaking open of a capsule. Upon the harbour the ships were now entering, European history had left no mark at all. Until the swollen sails and curvetting bows of the British fleet came round South Head, there were no dates. The Aborigines and the fauna around them had possessed the landscape since time immemorial, and no other human eye had seen them. Now the protective glass of distance broke, in an instant, never to be restored."