At my age the obituaries read like autobiography…

By which I mean one notes again and again someone you can relate one way or another to your own life or career or interests, who can’t possibly be dead – can they?

Just lately:

Ruth Wajnryb, linguist and ESL guru (1948-2012)

Dictogloss – which I first encountered while teaching at Wessex College in 1990.

And all those marvellous columns and books!

In her book, Expletive Deleted, described as ”a good look at bad language”, Ruth Wajnryb (pronounced ”Vine-rib”) took a scholarly look at bad language – ”swearing” – which might be taken as a substitute for slugging someone, until one realises that some languages, such as Japanese, supposedly do not contain any nasty words. In its blurb for the book its publisher, Simon and Schuster, went into the anomalies of swearing as spread across cultures. ”Why is it that in some languages you can get away with intimating that a person and his camel are more than just good friends, while pouring scorn on a mother’s morals guarantees you a seat on the next flight out?” the publisher asked rhetorically.

That does not quite sum up the life of Ruth Wajnryb, but it does reveal the extraordinary mentality of this daughter of two Polish physicians, who were Jewish Holocaust survivors from Poland, nurtured her in her language development and set her off on a course to became an international linguist.

Ruth Marie Eugene Wajnryb was born in Sydney on September 13, 1948, daughter of Abraham Wajnryb and Nellie (nee Gelman). Her parents had been married in Poland before the war, drafted into the Polish army at the outset of hostilities, captured and incarcerated throughout the war, before reuniting in Paris and migrating to Australia.

Wajnryb grew up in Campbelltown and was schooled there. She briefly visited Israel then returned to Sydney, where she undertook an Honours Arts degree at Sydney University and a Diploma of Education, completed in 1974. She went out teaching, including a stint at Strathfield’s Santa Sabina College, but became increasingly interested in teaching English as a Second Language. For migrants wanting to learn the language of their adopted country, she had a special empathy.

Becoming increasingly involved in the training of language teachers, she joined the staff of the University of New South Wales and led the Teacher Training Department in the university’s Institute of Languages. She started writing books on English teaching and developed a technique, known as ”Dictogloss”, combining the features of a dictionary and glossary, which became enormously successful…

I never met her, but she was always around…

Bruce Bennett,  Oz Lit guru (1941-2012)

Bennett was an editor of The Penguin New Literary History of Australia (1988), The Oxford Literary History of Australia (1998), and Resistance and Reconciliation: Writing in the Commonwealth (2003).

Rosemary Dobson, poet (1920-2012)

Her literary career was as distinguished as it was long. Her first collection of poems, In a Convex Mirror, appeared in 1944. Her last book, Rosemary Dobson: Collected, was published by the University of Queensland Press last month. Dobson belonged to that generation of mid-century poets that included A.D. Hope, James McAuley, and Judith Wright. She, however, always stood apart to some extent, and by the time of the ”poetry wars” in the 1970s, her poetry was quietly singular at a time of noise and fashion.

Her last full-length collection, Untold Lives & Later Poems (2000), was published when she was 80. It won The Age Book of the Year Award in 2001, one of the few poetry books ever to do so.

Rosemary Dobson was the granddaughter of the English poet and essayist Austin Dobson.

And a curious one, the probably real King of England died in Jerilderie this month: Michael Abney-Hastings, the 14th Earl of Loudoun (1942-2012). A lovely story which segues nicely into my recent rereading of The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.

And finally what a shame it will be if Malcolm Turnbull’s obituary — long in the future one trusts — should read "ought to have been Prime Minister of Australia."  What a waste of talent, and what a contrast to any current leader!

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