Fresh & poetic: Richard Regan and Leanne Searle launch ‘The Last Asbestos Town’ by Helen Hagemann

Helen Hagemann’s debut novel, The Last Asbestos Town, Adelaide Books 2020, was launched by OOTA (an independent writers organisation based in the Fremantle Arts Centre) Writers and committee members Richard Regan and Leanne Searle at The Pavlich Room at the Fremantle Arts Centre, Finnerty St. Fremantle on 3 October 2020


Richard Regan on The Last Asbestos Town by Helen Hagemann

Having had the privilege of being one of her students, I am also delighted to be able to say a few words to help Helen launch her wonderful debut novel – The Last Asbestos Town.

There are two main reasons for this.

The first, of course, is the novel itself, which is a beautifully crafted story set in the south-west of Western Australia in the near future, in a time when the government is forcibly eradicating the last of the nation’s asbestos structures. In common with all the best fiction, it grabs the reader’s interest from the very first sentence and holds it until the final page.

At the heart of the book is the evolving relationship between the newly married lovers, May and Isaac, as they struggle to save their country town home from demolition. The compelling narrative that Helen weaves is part love story, part mystery and part thriller, all written in language that is crackling, fresh and poetic. The lyrical opening paragraph sets the tone; for me, its evocation of the countryside is strongly reminiscent of Henry Lawson or Thomas Hardy. (..Contd)


More at Rochford Street Review


HAVE A GO NEWS SEPTEMBER 2020 – Issue, Page 14

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Review in Have a Go News – September 2020


January Magazine is based in Canada and featured my novel The Last Asbestos Town in their “FICTION” section in July 2020. January Magazine is entirely concerned with content: great writing, well edited; top art; super photos. Their Web site is about books and authors and reading that would grow more rich and intellectually valuable over time.

REVIEW from WritingWA on my full poetry collection, “Of Arc & Shadow”


Roland Leach reviews Helen Hagemann’s new collection in his launch speech at the FAC. Evangelyne & other poems, Australian Poetry Centre, Melbourne, 2009.

It is a sign of a vibrant poetry culture when first collections are published within several months of each other in Western Australia. Helen Hagemann’s book, ‘Evangelyne and other poems’ published by the Australian Poetry Centre was launched a month ago at the Fremantle Arts Centre on 25th July, 2009.

Helen’s poems range over many areas of human experience but I am particularly taken by her evocation of the past. Small town Australia that has probably disappeared. It may be asked: How do we render the past realistically or truthfully from the distance of years? This may be a great problem for historians and other social scientists, but perhaps less problematic to the poet. It is after all how the poet remembers and imagines it that creates art. Still we want something authentic, something we can also bear witness to as a truth that we remember. Often the past is constructed as an idyllic time of innocence and the simpler life. Untainted and uncorrupted, though still full of the hardships of everyday life. Many have written of the past in this way with varying success. I would like to include Helen amongst this group with her fine collection of poems in Evangeline & other poems.

After reading the first poem of Helen’s book, ‘Evangelyne & Other Poems’, I thought that instead of the Longfellow epigraph she could have used the famous Larkin poem, ‘Annus Mirabilis’ where the poet claims that ‘Sexual intercourse began in 1963 . between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles’ first LP’ when she confesses ‘I don’t know how to keep from spilling this. But we made love in our younger dreams, the sixties no different to now, except in our town streets bounced us quickly towards adulthood on a seamy valiant seat.’ Helen addresses early sex in later poems as well though it seems more a cross between Larkin and Puberty Blues, so perhaps the past she describes was not so idyllic.

Of course the epigraph ‘Wither my heart has gone, there follows my hand’ is suitable with the story of Evangeline and the Acadian people of Nova Scotia who were exiled from their homes- their homes burnt and families driven away, for not supporting the English in fighting their own people – people of French stock who were often relatives. This sense of loss and exile from a familiar setting is apparent in the book though it is more an exile from the past that permeates the collection as well as the loyalty to one’s people.

The poems evoke the past brilliantly. Anyone over 45 will fondly recall many of the things in their childhood that were part of the everyday environment. The Mobil Pegasus that always fascinated me. Malvern Star bikes we rode around the streets. Sunday roasts. The small corner stores and the personal connections within the streets of our country. The poems are populated with these close family connections – grandfather, grandmother, father, brothers, sons, aunts. The boats and fishing expeditions. And it is the rawness of these past experiences that are evoked visually and emotionally that capture the reader.

The mood of the collection is captured in the final lines of No.9 Ridge Street –

‘I was always happy then; beaches two streets away, fishing jetty, a

fifty-yard swim. That’s how the house leaves me, currawongs waking

the street, dog in a lazarous doze, half-running in his mind, one

eye walled to the sun, the other on the diminishing heels of mum.’

The world Helen recreates is one of innocence, a more simpler life, an interconnectedness between our everyday actions and an unconscious meaningful existence. There is an obvious love and generosity of spirit in the way she speaks of all the people in the poems. I loved the portrayal of her father in ‘Inheritors of Bob’s Bristle Lures’ who was joyful and full of life, always out fishing – ‘At three am, he stuffed his boots with footy socks, pushing laughter from the wharf at Anderson’s shed to jig ‘shrimp lures’ off Daley’s Point with a mate called Stewie.’ But it also shows another side to him: ‘No one knew his desire to be alone on a rock, in the black bay at night.’ His expertise in making his own lures is celebrated and finishes on the task of passing these on when he dies.

I have been an admirer of Helen’s prose poems for quite a while and was one of the editors of the Weighing of the Heart where we included all three of her poems in the anthology. She has the poetic sensibility and skill to take the everyday events of life and transform them through the choices of detail, a language that comes honestly from her observations, and a sureness of touch that ultimately delivers a poetic vision of the quotidian. It is a collection I will read over and over.

Jean Kent reviews Helen Hagemann’s new collection – back cover – Evangelyne & other poems, Australian Poetry Centre, Melbourne, 2009.

Helen Hagemann’s writing is a triumphant celebration of the power of poetry to recapture the past and still the present. Whether she is remembering growing up on the Central Coast of NSW, memorializing family and neighbours or observing cormorants, she makes each moment vividly real. These poems have all the dazzle and sting of a summer day at the beach, with the Esky full of rolls and lettuce and the ‘cozzie’ a ‘rainbow’ to put on. Evangelyne & other poems is an exuberant, generous, thoroughly lived-in collection. Its relish for the veryday details of Australian life is a rare delight.


Andrew Burke reviews Helen Hagemann’s reading of her new collection at Lunchlines, ECU. Evangelyne & other poems, Australian Poetry Centre, Melbourne, 2009.

Today I took myself off to Lunchlines at Edith Cowan University (this semester in its new time slot of Monday 12.30 to 1.20pm) to hear my long time friend, poet and novelist, Helen Hagemann, read.

It was a pleasure walking into the stale old classroom in Building 17 to see some friendly faces I knew from when I taught there. I bought a copy of Evangelyne off Helen – a handsome hand-sized red book with stitched binding and fold-over cover (a style I really like myself).

Helen read from a new poetry collection in manuscript before reading from her second novel, a work in progress. The narrative sense and the imaginative similes kept the audience engrossed, both in the poetry and the prose. In fact, she shared with us her love of the prose poem, and illustrated this love with a haibun from her book, Ball Doyen(ne), pg 17. I notice there are a number of prose poems and haibun in Evangelyne, so I am looking forward to investigating that text.

Helen laughed at herself as she gave the audience (mainly present day students) ‘motherly advice’ about getting up at Lunchlines and reading to your first audience. Her confidence and style weren’t there when she first stood up at ECU some years ago!


Carol Jenkins reviews Helen Hagemann’s Evangelyne & other poems in the indigo journal September, 2010 (Evangelyne published by the Australian Poetry Centre, Melbourne, 2009.)

Evangelyne is Hagemann’s first collection and sets out 25 separate poems that build a portrait of an energetic, not quite awkward, not quite wistful, teenager growing up in the 1960s on the Central Coast of New South Wales. It is essentially a nostalgic recollection of adolescence and teen years, family and friends – the happy stumblings of youth. Overall, there is a sense of minor regrets, friends which the narrator could have done better by, and reverie of a fishing trip, sewing baskets, and the illicit hijacking of the family Morris Minor.

These poems, for the most part, present as well-crafted summaries, relaxed pieces written in straightforward language. Hagemann has a good ear for the vernacular and a keen attention to detail. She can turn out a neat phrase too, as we see in No. 9 Ridge Street, ‘mum’s tea-cosy lips whistled at the corner’ and ‘as the easterly processed his name our Collie ran madly…’ but in the same poem, she sums up with the simplified, ‘I was always happy then, beaches two streets away, fishing jetty, a fifty yard swim.’

Evangelyne & Other Poems – shortlisted in the Mary Gilmore Award 2010
Judging Panel ASAL, 2010

Helen Hagemann’s book looks the size of a chapbook but is actually quite substantial. Every line is packed with content, in coastal poems of memory and nostalgia that are celebratory, sometimes elegiac, and often both simultaneously. The poems have a wide range of reference even while maintaining a consistency of subject matter. No words are wasted and this with rich imagery creates an emotional intensity, but an intensity that does not preclude humour. The shortlisted poets include Emma Jones, Emily Ballou, Sarah Holland-Batt and Joanna Preston.

Congratulations! now to Joanna Preston for The Summer King winner of the Mary Gilmore Poetry Prize 2009 – (9/7/10)

Evangelyne & Other Poems is published by the Australian Poetry Centre as part of the APC New Poets Program (supported by the Sidney Myer Fund), PO Box 284, BALACLAVA 3183. Visit their website at

REVIEWS supplied by Roland Leach, Jean Kent & Andrew Burke

Roland Leach has three collections of poetry, Shorelines:Three Poets (Fremantle Arts Press), drowning ophelia (Sunline) and darwin’s pistols & other poems (Picaro Press). He is the proprietor of Sunline Press, a publishing venture to publish Australian poets in a hardback series.

Jean Kent has three poetry books, and the manuscript of her fourth collection, Travelling with the Wrong Phrase Books, was highly commended for the 2008 Alec Bolton Prize. Her first book, Verandahs, was republished in 2009 by Picaro Press in its Art Box Series.

Andrew Burke has several poetry collections to his name with his latest collection, Beyond City Limits recently published by ICLL, Edith Cowan University.