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Brenda Niall has turned her biographer’s eye to a personal subject—her grandmother, Aggie. She tells the story of a fiercely independent and intelligent woman who braved a new country as a single woman, teaching in a country school, before marrying a Riverina grazier, whose large powerful family was wary of the newcomer with ideas of her own.
Aggie dealt with hardships and loneliness after the early and drawn-out death of her husband, and brought up her seven children to be happy—all with a calm determination. But it was the memory box and her longing for the sea that captured the imagination of her granddaughter.
‘Brenda Niall’s Mannix is the most wise, shrewd and elegant biography yet produced of this complex and beguiling man. Niall’s irresistible prose strengthens the candour of this fine book.’
‘Brenda Niall has written perceptively about the different but complementary personalities of Mary and Elizabeth Durack. She has done the two sisters proud in this splendid and informative work.’
‘Brenda Niall, the distinguished biographer of the novelist Martin Boyd and author of a swag of other books, has written a fond and fluent life of Mannix that captures the crispness and the passion, the humour and the enigma of the man who meddled with politics like a master magician.’
‘An affectionate tribute to someone who quietly but firmly shaped her own place in the world.’
‘Can You Hear the Sea? creates a portrait, from other kinds of evidence, of a woman whose silence sealed her most intimate moments. With a light touch, Niall looks at her grandmother’s life through the prism of the imaginative world in which she was immersed…Aggie’s is a story of independence and grit: understated, necessary, uncelebrated.’
‘Aggies gift of the shell and the empty box put two questions to Brenda Niall. They also addressed her craft and her desire. Could she recreate the sounds and feel of the past out of unpromising materials, and could she fill the empty box while recognising that it remained empty? This book answers both questions with assurance. One might hope that among the next generation of Aggie’s descendants another young person will hear in it the sea that flows into story telling.’
‘A fascinating subject…Hopefully people still find ways to write biographies that so adeptly capture the particularity of lived experience.’
‘[Niall] is clear about her process, asking questions, noting gaps, offering her own memories with an easy blend of intimacy and distance, in an authoritative yet conversational voice…Niall writes with respect for a woman who built a dynasty across centuries, was adventurous and stable, traditional and ahead of her time, English and embodied the best of Australia.’