Poor literacy: career stumbling block

A curious set of facts I came across as part of my recent studies makes it certain that any Australian looking for career advancement needs to be able to demonstrate a high degree of literacy.

Most people I know, even those with post-graduate degrees, tend to be dismissive of grammar and spelling as important, even in professional communication. But only some professionals get away with cavalier attitudes like that, and only if they are exceptionally brilliant in other areas. Most of us aren’t that fortunate.

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What Orwell wrote about why I write


With what I assume is a lassitude of realisation, in 1946, that once the war was won, the reality of lost empire, depleted wealth, and towering national debt, George Orwell wrote a short essay, ‘Why I Write’. It appears quite plain and almost too simple to be an Orwell exposition of anything, but in his own unassuming way he revealed quite a bit about himself, and, uncannily, about my own motivations.

To drown in his almost inconsolable meditations about his own loneliness as a child and into his thirties, you will have to read the essay yourself; I’m sure it is reproduced online somewhere and freely accessible.

I am interested in the four categories of motivation he proposes for writers: ego, aesthetics, impulse, and politics. It is admirable in itself to pick these apart. I perceive a lot of overlap between the qualities he mentions for each of these categories.


Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen – in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all – and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

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My Adler decade


In the autumn of 1984 I was broke and in between things when I drafted a couple of entries for an essay competition sponsored by the Sunday Times in Perth, Western Australia.

The entries were to be typed or ‘neatly handwritten’. My submissions were in longhand!

Shortly later I moved on and became distracted by other things. Months later I ran into my old neighbour, who had some dead mail she’d saved for me. In the slim package of envelopes was a letter from the Sunday Times, telling me I had won the competition, with a cheque enclosed.

My winning entry was a comment on the set topic of George Orwell’s inevitably tempting dystopian vision for 1984. I don’t even have a copy of the essay anymore, but I dimly remember that I was as disturbed by the intrusion of Stalinist themes into Western social and political discourses as I remain to this day. In other words, it’s likely to have been an impassioned rant.

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