Saturday, 25 November 2017

The Commandant by Jessica Anderson

The Commandant came recommended to me in a roundabout fashion. Earlier on in the year, I attended an 'Honouring the Author' event at the State Library, NSW. The author in question was Jessica Anderson.


Anderson won the Miles Franklin Prize twice (in 1978 & 1980), but not for The Commandant.
By the end of the honouring event, though, I was convinced that The Commandant was the book for me to start my Jessica Anderson journey with (and not one of her two more contemporary award winning books). Historical fiction based on real life events and people will always win me over.

The Commandant is based on Captain Patrick Logan, the man in charge of the Moreton Bay convict settlement on the present day site of Brisbane.

Moreton Bay Settlement 1835
He was a cruel task master, feared by all the convicts.
But the story is told mostly from the point of view of his young (fictional) sister-in-law, Frances, recently arrived from Ireland.

In some ways, this story could be seen as a simple drawing room story about two sisters, but of course, the outside world intrudes regularly on their domestic dramas. There is a strong message about the role of women in the early years of colonisation and how they coped with the isolation, the lack of modern amenities and the constant fear of the unknown. Frances is told by one of the other women,
'Whatever course you take,' she said, half-shutting her eyes, 'no doubt in ten years or so you will arrive at the state of the most of us - simply of making do with what one has. Surprisingly enough -' she opened surprised eyes - 'it is an art in which one may progress. I thought I knew all about making do with what one had, but now I find I can do more with it than I dreamed.'


Anderson's deceptively straightforward plot also hides many viewpoints and tensions.

We see the doubt and confusion that the soldiers and their wives feel about Logan's actions. The young doctors, who have to tend the battered backs of the recently whipped convicts, have another story to tell. The threat of a highly publicised court case in Sydney to deal with the rumours of Logan's cruelty bubble away underneath the surface, only to rear up every time a ship arrives with mail. The menace of the convicts, who far outnumber the soldiers, is felt throughout the story. How the convicts view the settlers and how they, in turn, view the convicts is a tension that Anderson plays with deftly. 


Underlying all this, though, is another viewpoint. The local Aboriginal population are spoken of and seen fleetingly by our main characters. They know they are being watched, rumours and myths are rampant. Yet the reader can also see this little settlement, barely clinging onto the land around the Brisbane River, through the eyes of the Aboriginals, wondering who on earth where these strange people with their stone walls and inappropriate clothing and guns. 

Image source

Even further away, are the Sydney based journalists and intelligentsia who are driving social change and asking questions about reform, mercy and justice for the convicts. Frances represents this new world order while her brother-in-law represents the old world order of duty, a firm hand and punishment. Logan is understandably confused and even, hurt, by the possibility of change. Anderson portrays his loneliness and brooding behaviour in a sympathetic light, thanks to the tender, loving concern he evokes in his young wife (a woman with a lisp not unlike the one that Anderson, herself battled with all her life).

It is not just Logan's right to rule that is called into question here. Anderson also leads us to see how tenuous and uncertain these early settlements actually were. A so-called civilisation perched on the edge of wilderness, halfway round the world, for the spurious idea of containing the poor and dispossessed of England, was always going to be fraught with danger. Most of the poor and dispossessed ended up on the wrong side of the law as a result of the Industrial Revolution. So many of the convicts were shipped off to Australia for one single offence, often stealing food or clothes. The colony of Australia became the dumping ground for a problem the English didn't want to face. Instead of dealing with the problem of a growing divide between the haves and have-nots at home, they shipped as many of the have-nots off to the other side of the world to basically fend for themselves.

Image source

Anderson's story brings to vivid life this period of history. There are fabulous, meaty characters, shifting points of view and a pervading sense of mercy. Logan's demise is deliberately left as confused and murky as the official reports of the time. Anderson doesn't try to give us the answers that weren't available to her characters at the time.

The story ends, as it began, with Frances on board a ship, musing about her fate. The innocence and conviction of her beginning has been tempered by experience and sympathy.

I'm so grateful to Text Publishing for bringing such tremendous Australian stories back into print. I hope they never go out of print again.

#AusReadingMonth
#Australian Women Writers challenge

Thursday, 23 November 2017

On Doubt by Leigh Sales

Touted as a pocket-sized antidote to fake news, Leigh Sales essay On Doubt has been re-released eight years after it's initial 2009 publication in the Little Books on Big Themes series. With the on-going, even increased need for a discussion on self-doubt, balance and truth in our modern lives, this little book has struck a chord with it's 2017 readers, becoming a best seller at work in recent weeks.


Leigh Sales is an ABC journalist and current affairs presenter who has been curious and sceptical all her life. She was the quintessential, questioning, ever-doubting teenager that grew up to do the same thing throughout her career.

She aims to challenge blind faith and over-confidence, but living life with a doubtful mind has it's own pitfalls including anxiety and a lack of an all-consuming passion to name two.

The essay is dotted with fascinating little stories about her childhood, George Bush, Sarah Palin, old style journalists and public disputes between journalists & historians. 

There's even a 12th century philosopher, Pierre Abelard who taught,
that the path to truth lay in the systematic application of doubt. Not only should doubt be brought to bear on external issues, but it should also be turned inwards to test one's own assumptions.

Sales discussed the perils of what she called 'niche news' in 2009. This is the news of telling consumers what they want to hear and it is, of course, interesting to see how this has now morphed into the fake news of today's mad, mad world.

The state of our political system is discussed. Our need for strong leaders to provide electoral certainty has given rise to absolutes. Any leader that changes his of her mind, prevaricates or takes too long to make a decision is seen as a poor leader. Complex issues are not debated, nuance is avoided at all costs, while black and white thinking reigns supreme.

It's easy to see why so many people found Trump attractive when viewed in this light.

Sales finished her 2009 essay poking a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun at herself, clearly showing that she didn't take herself too seriously after all:

I feel that without a doubtful mind, I wouldn't learn as much or have as much fun. But I could be wrong.

The 2017 postscript added another 20-odd pages to her original essay which brought us update with Trump, Turnbull, Shorten and social media, all 'neatly manicured to show our best possible selves to the world'.

Sales believes we have now become so used to distortion in every part of our life that people, especially those in public life, 'no longer bother to hide their deliberate skewing of reality'.
She claims that we've stopped caring about the facts and don't trust any organisation or politician to tell us the truth or anything genuine.

But we can do better than double speak and political correctness - the secret is authenticity.
the reality is there are not two equal sides to every issue...There are not two sides to racism or bigotry....When the facts are overwhelming, they should be presented as such.
Facts matter. Integrity matters. Honesty matters. It's important to understand that your own opinion is not always right and it's vital to be open to the views of others.

I read On Doubt late in the day during the 24 hr #DeweyReadathon in preparation for #AusReadingMonth and #NonFicNov. 

It was a quick, easy read with nothing particularly new or startling to reveal, but it was a timely reminder for us all to check in with our own certainties and black and white thinking, to exercise some doubt and caution and to question those who claim to tell us the truth.


I'm not quite sure what koala's have to do with a French philosopher, however this was the quote that Sales used as her epigraph. Since it's #AusReadingMonth, what the heck! Perhaps this can remind that the first thing you should doubt is the notion that koalas are cute and cuddly. Cute they may be; cuddly they are not!

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Sisters by Ada Cambridge

Happy Birthday Ada Cambridge!

My copy of Sisters by Ada Cambridge (21st November 1844 - 19th July 1926) was a fairly recent find in a second hand book shop. It's a 1989 Penguin Australian Women's Library edition which was apparently the first time this glorious 1904 book had ever been reprinted.

With wealth and good birth behind them the four Pennycuik sisters expected to marry well and live happily ever after, but Ada Cambridge, in this turn-of-the-century novel, dispenses with conventional romantic notions about marriage. 
Deborah Pennycuik refuses three proposals in one day; Mary invents one to last her whole life; Rose marries for love and into poverty; while Francie marries for money. 
Whatever the motive and how ever careful the choice, marriage is no guarantee of happiness. Instead, Ada Cambridge presents a cutting satire on the institution of marriage.

The title appealed immediately as I am also, one of four girls.


According to the brief bio in the front of the book, many of Cambridge's 25 novels were serialised in the Australiasian and The Age and she was one of Australia's most successful and best known writers at the time. Really?

How is it then, that a review by Ali @Heavenali a few years ago, was the very first time I had ever heard of this extraordinary Australian writer?

Where did she go? Why did she fall out of favour? How did she fall out of favour?

And who was she?

Cambridge's online biography says:

Ada Cambridge (1844-1926), writer, was born on 21 November 1844 at St Germans, Norfolk, England, daughter of Henry Cambridge, gentleman farmer, and his wife Thomasina, née Emmerson, a doctor's daughter. She grew up in Downham, Norfolk.

On 25 April 1870 at Holy Trinity, Ely, she married George Frederick Cross, a curate committed to colonial service; on 19 August they landed in Melbourne.
 
In the following years pastoral work took them to Wangaratta (1870), Yackandandah (1872), Ballan (1875), Coleraine (1877), Bendigo (1883), Beechworth (1885) and Williamstown (1893).
Ada was centred on but not confined by home and family in those decades and the busy life of their different parishes gave her a wide range of colonial experience which she later recalled in the engaging and valuable Thirty Years in Australia (1903). 
This and her childhood reminiscences, The Retrospect (1912), inspired by a return visit to England in 1908, show to what extent she drew upon personal experience and private dream-world for her novels. 
She herself emerges as frail and charming, never robust after a carriage accident in the 1870s; her ideas were considered a little daring and even improper for a clergyman's wife.

She sounds utterly fascinating. As does her very pragmatic, class-conscious story about marriage.

Ada Cambridge, c. 1920, by Spencer Shier

Sisters is the story of four young women coming of age on a rural property in northern Victoria. But it is also the story of Guthrie Carey, a young sailor whose life crosses paths with the sisters at various points.

The perils and pitfalls of love and marriage dominate the story. It would seem that Cambridge had a pretty cynical view and very low expectations for happiness within the confines of marriage.

Poor Mary married in a fit of madness, an older man beneath her in every way, even though he was a man of the cloth. Her marriage was one of quiet desperation; her only joy an ungrateful son and the eventual death of her husband.

'I am happy. For Debbie...I'm clean now - I never thought to be again - to know anything so exquisitely sweet, either in earth or heaven - I'm clean, body and soul, day and night, inside and outside, at last.'

Ouch!

Rose, also married beneath her - way beneath her - a draper no less, but she married for love. To the modern reader, it seems like she has a pretty happy marriage. There's enough money to live very comfortably, they appreciate and feel grateful for their good fortune and they have eleven healthy, adoring children! Rose doesn't miss the society life of her childhood, but her sisters still judge her and deem her marriage unsatisfactory due to the taint of 'new money'.

Such a sordidly domestic person she was!...Love - great, solemn, immortal Love, passionate and suffering - was a thing unknown to comfortable, commonplace Rose....Was it come to this - that marriage and family were synonymous terms?

Frances, pretty and wilful, the baby of the family, shockingly marries a much older man for his money. They quickly head off to the Continent to live the society life deemed necessary back then. Just as quickly, she begins an affair with an old family friend.

Poor Francie! she was born at a disadvantage, with that fascinating face of hers set on the foundation of so light a character

Deb, the beauty, stayed defiantly single for most of her life, until she succumbed to the charms of her very first lover in his dotage. She is lonely for children, but consoles herself with some kind of high-minded ideals about pure love. But basically she's left nursing a grumpy, old man!

Young Carey's first wife tragically dies in a boating accident after five weeks of married life together. Lily's ghost and their brief marriage becomes his ideal. He falls for the beauty of both Deb and Frances and nearly gets ensnarled in a romantic fantasy gone wrong with Mary. Eventually he marries an English country cousin, after finally attaining everything he ever dreamed of, yet still idealising his love for Lily, instead of being grateful for what he has.

Lily in the retrospect was the faultless woman - the ideal wife and love's young dream in one...'Whatever is lacking now, I have known the fullness of love and bliss - that there is such a thing as a perfect union between man and woman, rare as it may be.' It will be remembered that he was married to her, actually, for a period not exceeding five weeks in all.

Cambridge finishes her tale about love and marriage with Jim, the station manager, who has secretly pined after Debbie all his life, listening outside the window to her play the piano to her slumbering husband.

He did not know what a highly favoured mortal he really was, in that his beautiful love-story was never to be spoiled by a happy ending.

A rather twisted version of the 'it's better to have loved than lost, than never to have loved at all' idea perhaps? We have an unhappy marriage with a power imbalance, a domestic goddess whose life is taken up with child bearing and child rearing, an adultress, a nursemaid, a man still in love with his former wife's ghost and a lonely old, man dreaming of a love that will never be!

I'm certainly very curious to know more about Cambridge's own marriage now.

If Sisters is a fair example of her work, then I will certainly be seeking out more. She doesn't write with the same breadth and depth as Henry Handel Richardson, but she does tackle women's issues and class consciousness head-on in a time when this was not really the done thing in literature.

Sisters features some fabulous dialogue and memorable descriptions. Debbie and Carey in particular, are fully realised characters that will live with me for a long time to come.

Bill @The Australian Legend is planning an Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week. Cambridge is considered to be Gen 1 writer according to Bill's list of generations. Pop over to his page to join in the discussion or to check the list for your own reading pleasure. The idea is to read and link up Gen 1 AWW on his post that will go live on the 15th Jan 2018, to create a fabulous online resource for all of us.

Bill's post alerted me to the fact that the AWW Gen 1 women, including Cambridge were dismissed by the (mostly male, Sydney-centric) Gen 2 writers. In much the same way that many men still try to dismiss Jane Austen as a romance writer for women, it appears that Cambridge was relegated to the status of being nothing more than a writer for women, writing about female domestic concerns. And therefore not worthy of male attention.

Have you ever read any books by Ada Cambridge?
#AusReadingMonth
#AustralianWomenWritersChallenge

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Ladies of Missalonghi by Colleen McCullough

Regular followers of my blog will already know how much I love The Ladies of Missalonghi. It's not only a deliciously light, confectionery offering of a book, it's also a murky story mired down in a controversy involving plagiarism and L. M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle. A recent readalong for The Blue Castle was all the convincing I needed to not only reread it, but also to tack Missalonghi onto my #AusReadingMonth TBR pile.

The last time I read the books, TBC was read after TLOM, and The Ladies came out slightly ahead in personal preference, so I decided to reverse the order this time. And guess what? This time The Blue Castle was the preferred story.


I love the setting of TLOM. The Blue Mountains is one of my favourite places in NSW, in fact, Mr Books and I were married 8 years ago on a Blue Mountains clifftop overlooking one of the beautiful valleys mentioned in the story. It's wildness and grand views are perfect for a BIG romance and the cool nights seem designed for snuggling up with a cosy book and someone you love. But I could be biased! (FYI - Byron is a fictional Blue Mountains village, but it could also be any of the gorgeous villages that do actually hug the line of the cliffs and the railway).



On winter mornings the valley was filled with brilliant white cloud that sat like milk below the level of the cliff tops, and suddenly as the sun increased in warmth it would lift up in a moment and vanish. Sometimes the cloud would come down from above, fingers seeking out the tree tops far below until it succeeded in covering them from sight under a spectral blanket. And as sunset approached, winter and summer, the cliffs began to take on deeper, richer colour, glowering rose-red, then crimson, and finally purple that faded into night's mysterious indigo. Most wonderful of all was the rare snow, when all the crags and outcrops of the clilffs were picked out in white, and the moving leafy trees shook off their powdering of icy moisture as fast as it fell upon them, unwilling to accept a touch so alien.

This is the mountains to a tee!



I also love that Missy's immediate family in TLOM are much kinder and more loving than poor Valancy's in TBC. Missy has grown up poor with a strict but loving mother. She knows what poverty and love  feels like. Poor Valancy only knows poverty.

Both novels can be seen as fairly classic examples of the romance genre - with a down trodden, plain heroine-to-be, a family that gets in her way/puts her down/hides her away, a mysterious, stranger hero-to-be, a misunderstanding that becomes the agent of change so that our 'to-be's' finally become fully fledged heroine and hero, in love and living happily ever after!

It has been suggested by some reviews I've read online, that McCullough's story is in fact a parody of the romance genre, but for a parody to work, there have to be clear signs for the reader to pick up on. Having read both books more than once, I couldn't find any evidence of parody or spoof, although McCullough does seem a little self-conscious at times.

The mystery in TLOM is more modern, and dare I say a more believable story (despite the ghost!) than Valancy's mere wondering about what on earth it is that Barney gets up to in his locked room. The satisfaction the reader gets when Missy's extended family get their comeuppance is far more thrilling than the mild pleasure we feel when we eventually discover what most readers have already worked out about who Barney really is and what he is doing.

As for the ghost in TLOM!
Where did that come from? 
I don't think that McCullough gives the reader anywhere near enough clues and it isn't resolved very well, but it does inject a lovely bit of fairy tale-like magic into this romance. And it's the feel of this story that people respond to after all, not the logic.

The main thrill for readers of TBC is Valancy's blossoming. In true Cinderella style, Valancy overcomes parental and societal restrictions to finally come into her own and be happy in a life of her own choosing. She does it all by herself and we couldn't be prouder! Whereas Missy is guided and encouraged by Una to do the same.

The deception at the heart of both stories is one that Valancy also visited on herself. She is totally unaware that the doctor's letter was not meant for her. Whereas Missy sets out to deceive to get her man. And that's where TLOM loses a little of its charm, but gains some in moral complexity.

Did McCullough plagiarise The Blue Castle?
The jury still seems to be out on this.

Both Montgomery and McCullough are frequently associated with national stereotypes: as McCullough ruefully acknowledges, part of her problem seems to be that she has interfered with an author who is a ‘Canadian icon’. Montgomery’s writing is recognised as playing a major role in establishing one of the most persistent images of Canadians—as wholesome, vigorous, close to nature. On the other hand McCullough’s own brashness and sense of herself as a tall poppy under attack draw upon a stereotypically Australian set of images. The authors in play in this controversy, then, are recognisably national, if quite dissimilar.

                                                   (Double Trouble: One or Two Women? Gillian Whitlock, March 26 2015, Meanjin Quarterly)

McCullough always denied any plagiarism. However her theory that she was merely using the known tropes of romantic fiction doesn't really hold up either. There are just too many similarities.

I suspect the truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.

As an Anne fan, McCullough no doubt read The Blue Castle at some point in her childhood, but didn't remember doing so. Instead it stayed, tucked away, cosy and warm in her subconscious, until she was ready to write her very own fairy tale romance. The controversy doesn't diminish either story, and can actually be seen as a bonus. Thanks to the debate, both books have now been read by a much wider audience than what may have happened if they'd just been left to their own devices. I, for one, would never have discovered TBC if not for the controversy and I will always be grateful for that.

Both books are light, sweet, fluffy reads, just like a box of chocolate or a glass of bubbles! They're perfect in small doses or as a tonic to lift you out of the blues. And together, they are a splendid way to spend a rainy weekend, comparing and contrasting, til your heart's content!

LyzzyBee's 2017 TLOM review
My 2017 reread of The Blue Castle
Naomi @Consumed by Ink's review for the 2017 The Blue Castle re-readalong
My very first read of The Blue Castle in 2014
My original 2013 flashback post for The Ladies of Missalonghi that got me started on this journey.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

So, November...

has turned out nothing like I had planned.

Life's like that sometimes.

But I'm determined to get back on track, refocus my energies and finish a few reviews!

Thank you all for your patience, and a BIG thank you to Nancy for reviewing her little heart out and maintaining her #AusReadingMonth enthusiasm despite my intermittent attention.


Not all of my recent preoccupations have been sad ones though.
I also had the excitement of preparing for my very first photographic exhibition.

Earlier in the year, I was approached by our local library to share my Cuba photos for public display.
They had spotted my holiday photos on Instagram and thought they would make an interesting exhibition.

I had never done anything like that before, so I nervously said yes.


Back in January, when I took my 1000+ Cuba photos, my only intention had been to document our holiday.

However, I’ve always had a fascination with the art of photography. 
When I got my first iPhone in 2011, the first app I downloaded was Instagram. 
I quickly discovered @fatmumslim and her daily photo challenge. 
She inspired my eye and my photo choice.

Her word prompts are usually adjectives or nouns, but occasionally she throws in a photographic technique.
Over the years I discovered the joys of macro photography, the rule of three, playing with light and shadow, depth of field and many more. 


My love of photography is a hobby, not a profession.
Any skills I have gained are from practice, practice, practice.


One of my favourite photographic techniques is leading lines. 
I love angles and diagonals and I knew that Cuban architecture would give me plenty of opportunity to play around with this.

Santiago de Cuba

I’m also attracted to colour.
Another big plus when travelling in Cuba!

Havana

We didn’t know what to expect when we arrived in Cuba. 
It’s certainly the flavour of the month in travel destinations right now. 

We had a strong sense of wanting to see Cuba and experience it, before the rest of the world arrived. From the minute we announced our travel plans, we were inundated with questions and curiosity. 
We had our own expectations and assumptions. 
Cuba met and confounded them all!

Trinidad

My Instagram photos of our time in Cuba have attracted worldwide attention and comment all year. 
People want to know what it’s like there now, after 60 years of socialism. 
They want to know about the old cars, the colourful buildings, the music and the people. 

My photos capture the light and shadow, the vibrancy and decay, the new and the old. 
Each scene stands on its own; an image captured in time. 
Together they tell my story of travelling through Cuba.

You can see more of my Cuba photos on my other (photographic) blog, Four Seasons.

But for now, here is me, looking slightly stunned and bemused on Thursday evening, as everyone gathered around to see my Cuba photos officially launched!


Friday, 17 November 2017

Non-Fiction November: Be the Expert

This week's topic for Nonfiction November is Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert:

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Hosted by Kim @Sophisticated Dorkiness, head on over by the end of today to link up and/or read all the fabulous responses.


I've had a Holocaust fixation for a very long time.

It goes back to Yr 9 at high school when I studied the causes and effects of WWII for the first time. We read Anne Frank's Diary as part of our studies. I was appalled, horrified and fascinated in equal measure. I simply couldn't understand how it happened. How did the German people get caught up in such a huge and obviously wrong situation? How did the rest of the world let it happen? And could it happen again?

The conditions and treatment of the Jews inside the concentration camps gave me bad dreams and bad feelings for years. How could human beings treat other fellow human beings so awfully? What did this say about man's inhumanity to man? Not only on a universal level, but also on a more personal, day to day level? What is in our human psyche, our human hearts and souls that could allow something like this to happen? Why did so many people participate knowingly in such events?

Over the years I have read many, many books about the Holocaust - histories, memoirs, commentaries, eye witness accounts, fiction, diaries and the occasional denial piece.

I still don't understand, but the three books that brought it tantalising close are:


Mein Kampf is an awful book, poorly written, full of hideous thoughts and ideas. But to understand evil you need to know what it looks like. Skim read it if that's all can you manage, but the early parts about his impoverished childhood give the modern, more psychologically aware reader some inkling into why Hitler and many German people like him, where able to think and act the way they did.

I felt dirty and guilty the entire time I was reading this book, but it reminded me that Hitler was not necessarily born evil. He acted like a monster, but he was in fact a human being, just like you and me, and that's the bit I still struggle to understand.

Gitta Sereny's biography on Albert Speer is a masterpiece in psychology, trust and truth. This huge book is a commitment, but it is worth every word and every page. Sereny wears down Speer's defences slowly but surely in this compassionate yet relentless search for truth, responsibility and conscience.

If you only ever read one book about the Holocaust, make it this one.

I read Reading the Holocaust about 15 years ago. It was hard going. Intellectual, exacting, in your face accounts from survivors and perpetrators that explored the Holocaust from ever angle. Clendinnen used her historians gaze to examine the stories and literature surrounding the Holocaust. Like me she was on a search for the human amongst the inhumanity. It was gut-wrenching, thought-provoking stuff, some of it not for the faint-hearted. But I've always figured that if people actually had to live through such unspeakable, unthinkable things...and survived, then the very least I can do is read about them and bear witness.

Perhaps not the lightest or easiest topic to be an expert on, but if you've ever wondered why or how such a thing could have ever happened, then these three books may help you come a step closer to understanding.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

barrangal dyara (skin and bones) Jonathan Jones

I had a rather unexpected, almost obsessive response to Jonathan Jones' installation at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney last year. 
It touched me in ways that I'm still finding hard to catch and define.



My fascination kicked in at several levels:
the fire
the architecture
the history
the cultural aspect
the loss
the healing
the blending of histories
the time & place....


In 1879 Sydney hosted the International Exhibition. 
A specially designed building was erected on the edges of the Botanic Gardens to house the exhibition. It was grandly called the Garden Palace.


Tragically the Garden Palace and everything inside was destroyed by fire in 1882.
Stored inside was a huge collection of Gadigal artefacts of cultural and historical significance.


Over a hundred years later, Jones went searching for some of the cultural material from where his family came from. He discovered that most of it was destroyed in the Palace Garden fire.
The sense of loss and forgetting around this event spurred Jones on to find a way to reconnect and understand what happened here.


" Perhaps the fire was a kind of cultural burn, regenerating the site for future generations."

The outline of the Garden Palace depicted in white shields.

The project put together an information booklet for visitors.
In it Jones said,


"as I've worked on the project, the garden palace has become a symbol for the repercussions of forgetting. So many people I've spoken to about the project hadn't known the history of this enormous building that once dominated Sydney's skyline both physically and conceptually. I've begun to question what else we can forget as a community, if something so grand and visible and spoken about has disappeared from our vision. Aboriginal communities have often been the victims of Australia's ability to forget. In this way the Garden Palace became a fault line in the nation's memory, which has enabled the project to bring to the fore other forgotten histories."


Barrangal dyara means 'skin and bones'.
The project consisted of three components - a native meadow of kangaroo grass, thousands of white shields and several soundscapes.


The four different types of shields marked the boundary of the original building.
They also "echo the expansive rubble that remained after the fire."

These shields are "void of unique markings or personal designs, speaking to the erasure of cultural complexities through collection."


The exhibition ran from 17th Sept - 3rd Oct 2016.
I visited it three times, as well as the concurrent exhibition at The State Library.

Shortly afterwards I spotted this lovely cloth bound book commemorating the exhibition.
I knew that I had to have it!


It combines photographs and archival information from the Botanic Gardens site and the Library exhibition as well as essays from various people involved in the project, Aboriginal elders, architects, artists and historians.

It was utterly fascinating and absorbing.
The exhibition felt like an important moment in our Australian consciousness as well as a personal journey that I'm still exploring.

#AusReadingMonth
#NonFictionNovember

Monday, 13 November 2017

#CCSpin 16

I'm sure you all know by now how much I love a Classics Club Spin. I can proudly say that I have participated in all 16. At the end of a really, really heart-breaking week, to suddenly discover #cc spin posts popping up all over the place in my neglected feedly feed, helped to lighten the gloom.

Thank you dear Classics Clubbers for such a timely and much needed boost to my morale!


For details on how to join in a #CCSpin, click on the link here.
The main thing you need to know though, is to compile your list of 20 books by this Friday - the 17th November.

On that day a number will be randomly selected.
That's the book you read.

You have until the 31st of December to finish your book and review it.

Join in the fun by visiting the other players and commenting on their lists.
It's a great way to meet like-minded bloggers and explode your TBR classics wishlist!

My previous spins have been mostly successful and/or enjoyable.
I've also made my own fun by trying to read my books with other Classic Clubbers during many of the spins.


#1 The Magnificent Ambersons with Cat @Tell Me A Story.

#2 Tess of the D'Urbervilles with JoAnn @Lakeside Musings & Several Four Many.

#3 My Cousin Rachel - hope to watch the movie soon.

#4 The Brothers Karamazov - I floundered about halfway through this chunkster, then I lost the book when we moved two years ago...serendipity, I say!

#5 The Odyssey with Plethora of Books - This one was a bit of a cheat as I had started it for another readalong, but struggled to finish. I added it to my cc list to motivate me to finish it. When no. 20 spun up it seemed like the gods had decreed it so!


#6 No Name by Wilkie Collins with Melbourne on My Mind.

#7 Silent Spring by Rachel Carson with Karen @Booker Talk - my first classic non-fiction spin.

#8 Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh - my one and only dud Spin read so far.

#9 The Great World by David Malouf - my first Australian classic spin.

#10 A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark.


#11 So Big by Edna Ferber with Christy - we both experienced the joy of rediscovering a forgotten award winning classic.

#12 Dubliners by James Joyce - too depressing and hopeless for my state of mind at the time.

#13 The Catherine Wheel by Catherine Harrower - my second Aussie #ccspin classic.

#14 The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnet - it's weird how books remind you not only of the time or place within the book but also the time and place where you read them. This spin book was read one weekend whilst visiting my father-in-law. Seeing this cover on my list today made me tear up straight away and took me back to the lovely weekend we all enjoyed together last year.

#15 Out of Africa by Karen Blixen - a disappointment in the end. The movie was better.

#16 The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield.

Now that my Classics Club List is finally getting smaller, it is also getting harder for me to match all 20 books with another reader.

If you spot a match with your list, please let me know before the magic number is selected on Friday, I can then tweek my list to suit.


1. Villette by Charlotte Bronte

2. Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis

3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath with Elley the Book Otter

4. The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield

5. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn with Katrina @Reading Record Blog

6. This Side of Paradise by F Scott Fitzgerald with Jillian @In Her Books

7. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

8. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe with Laurie @Relevant Obscurity

9. The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck with Elley the Book Otter

10. Night and Day by Virginia Woolf

11. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde with Amanda @Simpler Pastimes

12. Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac

13. Indiana by George Sand

14. Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington with Jillian @In Her Books

15. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

16. The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather with Allison @Climbing Mount To Be Read

17. War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

18. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

19. Corinne by Stael

20. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Friday: The lucky spin number is 4 which means that I'll be reading my oh so pretty VMC designer edition copy of The Diary of a Provincial Lady. After the month I've had, I cannot tell you how delighted I am the I have spun such a beautiful, charming, gentle book to ease me into the Christmas.

How did you fare?

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Once Upon A Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay

Once Upon A Rhinoceros is my kind of picture book.

As a child I dreamed of setting off into the big, wide world to explore. I've always wanted to see what there was to be seen. I couldn't wait to be grown up so that I could finally just go.

Small rhinoceros has the very same dream; she wants to see the world. She patiently waits until the time is right, and as you can see by the glorious cover designed by Leila Rudge, she succeeds.


She sailed on...through the woolly wild of winter and the smooth sweep of summer...to faraway lands and beyond.

On her return home, her family and friends are happy to see her, but unimpressed by her tales...all except for one quiet voice who asks,
'Did you get lost?'
'Many times.'
'And was it...wonderful?' 
'Oh yes!'  

Oh yes indeed!



With themes of independence and freedom, pushing the boundaries of what is considered 'normal' and daring to be different to fulfil your heart's desire, Once Upon A Small Rhinoceros will charm you and inspire you in equal measure.

Meg McKinlay has written some of my favourite books for teens and children, including the CBCA award winning A Single Stone, No Bears and Ten Tiny Things. She has a wonderful blog post describing her creative journey with this particular story here.

Leila Rudge adds collage elements to her pencil, paint and paper 'hand snipped' illustrations. She has written and illustrated the wonderful CBCA Notable book Ted, the very popular CBCA shortlisted book, Gary as well as No Bears with McKinlay.

#AusReadingMonth
#AustralianWomenWriters Challenge

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

This Blogging Life

I don't normally share personal family stuff on my book blog, but I want to explain my recent absence from this blogging life.

On the weekend, out of the blue, my wonderful, loving father-in-law died. He was a dynamic, fun loving, warm-hearted man. He loved life and everyone in it. We will miss him so much.

Mr Books with his father, an ultra-light pilot at 81.
This week is about family time - being together, supporting and loving each other as we prepare to farewell a man who so thoroughly lived every minute of his life right to the very end.

He flew his plane early on Saturday morning, called us briefly between meetings at his beloved ultralight club, before suffering a massive heart attack later in the day. His fellow pilots performed CPR which allowed all of us who were far away, time to get to Melbourne to see him one last time before he passed away on Sunday afternoon.

He was doing what he loved right to the last. An inspiration to us all.

Which is why I will post my AusReading challenge for this week. He wouldn't want our grief at losing him to stop us from doing what we love to do.

This week will be a nice simple photo challenge. Post a photo (or ten) to show us where in the world you are reading your Australian books. Post on Insta, Litsy, twitter or your blog. Link back to the masterpost here.

I may not be around much this next week, but I look forward to seeing your photos and reading your posts when I come back on board.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

#6degrees November

#6degrees is a monthly meme hosted by Kate @Books Are My Favourite and Best.

Oftentimes I haven't read the starting book for this meme, but I can assure you that I only play the next 6 books with ones I have actually read. 
If I've read the book during this blogging life, then I include my review, otherwise, you just have to take my word for it!

This month the starting book is a controversial bestseller by a member of the eighties ‘literary Brat Pack’ – Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero.
Are you game?

Old image alert - Kate @Books Are My Favourite & Best now hosts #6Degrees but this is a good refresh of the rules.

This was a tricky starting book for me.
Not only had I never read it, but I had never even heard of it.
Nor do I plan to read it now I know a little more.
Amoral twenty somethings have never appealed to me, in real life or in book form!

So where to go to next?

A quick check of the wikipedia entry for 'Literary Brat Pack' tells me that many of the authors were inspired by Raymond Carver - another author I have never read.
But I have read Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which is a homage to Carver's well-known book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.


Phew!
I made the link.

Murakami's memoir was tremendous and has stayed with me for years.
I'm not a runner, but I am a writer and I am someone who seeks out peace & quiet & solitude.
Murakami talks about all three with equal passion.

Another memoir that brims over with shared passion, is Julia Child's My Life in France.


I love a good foodie book. This one also has Paris!

Paris, passion and food make my next link easy.
Jonathan Grimwood's The Last Banquet had all three as well as being a captivating read full of surprises.


It explored taste, texture and smell, just like Perfume by Patrick Suskind.
Both books were also set during the French Revolution.



One of my favourite French Revolution stories is Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities.


Another city; another time brings us to modern day New York for our next link, with Bill Hayes' Insomniac City.
It's not only a love letter to a city but also to a recently deceased lover.


Insomniac City is presented in a gorgeous package - original photography, creative sensory dust jacket and pages with deckled edges.

I started with amoral twenty-somethings but finished with love.
Where did your #6degrees take you?

Thursday, 2 November 2017

AusReadingMonth Q&A

My attempt to answer my own questions for #AusReadingMonth!
(with gratuitous use of holiday photos)

Start of the Sydney to Hobart boat race, Boxing Day - From South Head looking towards North Head as the boats head out to sea.


1. Tell us about the Australian books you've loved and read so far.


So many to choose from!

But some of my all time favourites are:

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony by Henry Handel Richardson

Dirt Music by Tim Winton

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Rowland Sinclair Mystery series by Sulari Gentill

Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven

The Monkey's Mask by Dorothy Porter

Shark Net by Robert Drewe

The Reef: A Passionate History by Iain McCalman

The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia by Bill Gammage


And some children's books that I either read as a child or read to my classes over the years -

The Deep by Tim Winton

Rivertime and Rockhopping by Trace Balla

Ash Road by Ivan Southall

Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner

Pastures of the Blue Crane by Brimsted


2. When you think of Australia, what are the first five things that pop into your mind?



The five things I love about Australia are our beaches, the weather, our way of life, our sense of humour and gum trees.



3. Have you ever visited Australia? Or thought about it?
What are the pro's and con's about travelling to/in Australia for you?
What are/were your impressions? 


One of the con's about travelling anywhere in Australia is the long distances involved, but it's also one of the pro's - I love a good road trip!

Pro's are our gorgeous and unique wild flowers and our beautiful, sandy beaches.
Con's are the hot summer's days that make even going to the beach unpleasant (sand too hot, sun too hot, water too crowded!) and the rips and the bluebottles and the sharks!
Although I've seen a lot of dangerous rips and hundreds of bluebottles in my lifetime, I've never seen a shark.

Milk Beach, Sydney Harbour


Pro - the multicultural aspect of our society - we can eat food from anywhere in the world - either in a restaurant or at home as we can buy all the (once) exotic ingredients in most of our supermarkets now. We can see shows & movies, attend festivals and buy books in many, many languages.

Con - the underlying racism that still lingers in many sub-strata of our society and our on-going appalling treatment of the Aboriginal issue and refugees.

Cape Tribulation, Qld

4. If you have been or plan to visit, where will you be heading first?
If you already live in this big, beautiful land, tell us a little about where you are, what you love (or not) about it and where you like to holiday (or would like to visit) in Australia.


Some of my favourite places to holiday in Australia are:
The Blue Mountains (NSW),
Mudgee (NSW),
Mornington Peninsula (VIC),
Port Douglas (QLD),
Port Stephens (NSW),
The Barossa Valley (SA),
Margaret River (WA)
- hmmmmm a theme is developing here -
a number of these places are famous for their wines!

Indian Ocean, Cape Naturaliste, WA

5. Do you have a favourite Australian author/s or book/s?
Tell us about him/her/it.


I'm a huge Tim Winton fan, even when I don't particularly like his book or characters.
He was the first Australian author that made me feel proud to be Australian (in a literary sense).
He was literate, passionate, erudite yet reserved.
Thanks to Tim, I sought out other Australian authors...I've never looked back!

6. Which Aussie books are on your TBR pile/wishlist?


So many!
But to name a few:

NON-FICTION
Ghost Empire by Richard Fidler
Notebooks by Betty Churcher
The Bust by Don Watson
Modern Love by Lesley Hardng & Kendrah Morgan
Thirty Days by Mark Raphael Baker
Gum by Ashley Hay
Island Home by Tim Winton
Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner
A Reef in Time by Charlie Vernon
Agamemnon's Kiss by Inga Clendinnen
1788 by Watkin Tench
Dancing With Strangers by Inga Clendinnen
Saga Land by Richard Fidler & Kari Gislason
True North by Brenda Niall
The Unknown Judith Wright by Georgina Arnott
Position Doubtful by Kim Mahood

FICTION
Coonardoo by Katharine Susannah Prichard
Whipbird by Robert Drewe
The Swan Book by Alexis Wright
First Person by Richard Flanagan
The Pea Pickers by Eve Langley
It's Raining in Mango by Thea Astley
Journey to the Stone Country by Alex Miller
Benang by Kim Scott
The Slow Natives by Thea Astley
The Turning by Tim Winton
Maurice Guest by Henry Handel Richardson
A New England Affair by Steven Carroll
Everyman's Rules For Scientific Thinking by Carrie Tiffany


7. Which book/s do you hope to read for #AusReadingMonth?


The Commandant by Jessica Anderson (QLD setting)
A Rightful Place: A Roadmap to Recognition edited by Shireen Morris (FREE)
Mirror Sydney by Vaness Berry (NSW)
Wishbone by Marion Halligan (an author based in the ACT)


8. It came to my attention recently (when I posted a snake photo on Instagram) that our overseas friends view Australia as a land full of big, bad, deadly animals.
Can you name five of them?
What about five of our cuter more unique creatures?
(For the locals, which five animals from each category have you had an up close and personal with)?


Obviously I've been up close and personal with a Highland Copperhead (see photo), I've seen a red-belly black snake from safe inside the house as well as lots of red-backed spiders. I've had to leave the water twice thanks to shark sightings and several times thanks to stingers, but I didn't see them myself.

Whilst on camping trips & friend's farms I've spotted kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, emus, goannas, platypus and untold number of native birds.


9. Can you name our current Prime Minister (plus four more from memory)?
No googling allowed!


Malcolm Turnbull is our current PM
The most recent others are Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and John Howard.


10. Did you know that Australians have a weird thing for BIG statues of bizarre animals and things?
Can you name five of them?




So far I've visited the BIG Gold Panner in Bathurst (NSW),
the BIG Banana in Coffs Harbour (NSW),
The BIG Merino in Goulburn (NSW),
the BIG Ned Kelly in Glen Rowan (VIC),
the BIG Rocking Horse in Gumeracha (SA),
the BIG Cherries in Young (NSW)
and the BIG Murray Cod in Tocumwal (NSW).


#AusReadingMonth