It’s that time of year when images of happy families eating turkey and unwrapping gifts cram our screens. But many families don’t fit this script – and as Tolstoy famously wrote, “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.

Family estrangement is, in fact, quite common in Australia. And as Marina Deller explains, until recently, there was a great deal of stigma and shame associated with it. This has changed, with podcasts and a new crop of emotionally frank memoirs telling stories of family breakdown, pain and resilience.

From Shannon Burns’ searing memoir of his struggles to “escape” his impoverished childhood in Adelaide’s outer suburbs, to former child star Jennette McCurdy’s tell-all account of her mother’s abusive behaviour, true stories of unhappy families can bring people a sense of solidarity and validation. And that’s especially true at this time of year.

As Deller writes: “True stories, in all their forms – and the inherent complexities they contain – can spark conversations on estrangement’s varied forms and causes. Sharing experiences can help reduce the shame of a taboo topic.”

Jo Case

Deputy Books + Ideas Editor

Friday essay: 1 in 25 Australians have been estranged from their families. True stories about this can make people feel less alone

Marina Deller, Flinders University

Family estrangement feels shameful and isolating: but if you’ve experienced it, you’re far from alone. Sharing true stories can help reduce shame and create awareness.

The peculiar history of thornapple, the hallucinogenic weed that ended up in supermarket spinach

David Caldicott, Australian National University

Thornapple or jimsonweed and related plants have an interesting history – from an early asthma treatment to intoxicated British soldiers.

How common are severe side effects from COVID vaccines? And how are they detected?

Kristine Macartney, University of Sydney; Allen Cheng, Monash University; Christopher Blyth, The University of Western Australia; Julie Leask, University of Sydney

Former MP Dr Kerryn Phelps’ COVID vaccination experience has prompted discussion about severe side effects after COVID vaccines. Here’s how they’re tracked, confirmed and prevented.

Grattan on Friday: Liberal post-mortem urges party to address flight of female vote – but not by quotas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Like Labor’s recent post-mortem, the Liberal analysis also points to the key importance of voters’ negative perceptions of Scott Morrison in his government’s election loss.

10 times this year the Webb telescope blew us away with new images of our stunning universe

Colin Jacobs, Swinburne University of Technology; Karl Glazebrook, Swinburne University of Technology

A year on since the historic launch of the most powerful infrared telescope in human history, we admire and explore some of the best images it delivered in 2022.

Repeated head injury may cause degenerative brain disease for people who play sport – juniors and amateurs included

Andrew Lavender, Federation University Australia

While much of the inquiry into concussions and repeated head trauma in sport will focus on professional players and leagues, local teams and young players should also look out for the findings.

Antarctica’s emperor penguins could be extinct by 2100 – and other species may follow if we don’t act

Jasmine Lee, Queensland University of Technology; Iadine Chadès, CSIRO; Justine Shaw, The University of Queensland

The species at risk include flowering plants, moss and lichens, tough invertebrates and breeding seabirds.

The power and the pitfalls of personal storytelling – the best podcasts of 2022

Siobhan McHugh, University of Wollongong

The best podcasts of 2022 handle sensitive content with care and flair.

How to set up a kids’ art studio at home (and learn to love the mess)

Naomi Zouwer, University of Canberra

You can set up a studio space on the dining table or the floor. One way to encourage your child to begin creating is to place freshly sharpened pencils in a jar.

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