A Day to Remember

Journal: 030

Image result for moratorium march melbourne

Anzac Day is not my favourite day. For a long time it functioned as a remembrance day, fostered by the genuine anti-war feeling of servicemen and women returned from two world wars. By the 1970s in the face of a popular anti conscription, anti Vietnam War movements, Anzac Day was out on its feet. But it was designed by politicians in the immediate post-WWI years as an excuse for jingoism and so it has been revived, in a form nearly as distasteful as (white) Australia Day, by ‘neglected’ Vietnam ‘vets’ and right wing politicians wanting revenge for their defeats in student unions.

In other years I’ve put some work into my Anzac Day post but this year it nearly passed me by, and it’s only in the last couple of days I’ve given it any thought. Monday, coming down through the Mallee from Port Augusta to Melbourne I was listening to Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. Vonnegut enlisted during WWII, fought in Europe, and was captured by the Germans. He writes with feeling of war as the slaughter of children, which of course when you think of the age of most soldiers it is. I wish I was in a position to write a review.

My father’s father fought in WWI, in France. He died when I was 15 and I never heard him speak about it. Dad was in the Air Training Corp while at Melbourne High during WWII, joined the Navy in 1945 and later spent some years in the CMF (now the Army Reserve), as a lieutenant with a swagger stick. He was at a camp in 1959 when I managed to slice my toe while chopping wood in bare feet and mum’s bravery didn’t extend to watching the doctor giving me injections inside the wound prior to stitching it up.

Daughter Gee did a school project on Dad’s war years and if I was home I could have used the photo she used of him, at 19, posed in his Navy uniform with peaked cap; and the matching photo of his father at much the same age in his slouch hat and army great coat, which Dad always had where he could see it on his desk.

So I was a disappointment. As I have written elsewhere, I went up to Melbourne Uni from Mudsville as a Fabian, tried the MU Labour Club and was moved on to the Anarchists where I stayed. First year was a mess. I had left behind a pregnant girlfriend, I was a country boy mixing at Trinity College in (junior) high society; I was clearly over-excited and drank too much; and I plunged head-first into the anti-war movement. And of course I failed. And it shows how out of touch I was, that that came as a surprise.

Three or four years ago, that high school girlfriend contacted me, out of the blue on Facebook, and we have become friends again. Mostly we write, though once or twice a year we catch up for lunch. I asked her early on had she read my blog and she wrote back, “I have read 4 and you may call me Fancy.” So Fancy she is.

To my surprise I find there are limits to what I can write about myself. But a baby girl, Simone, was born and was adopted out. My father was angry. I failed Engineering and he wouldn’t have me in the house, exiled me for the summer to work on a dairy farm. The following year he found two little old ladies for me to board with near the MCG. I lasted a few weeks and took a room in North Melbourne.

I’d been voted first year rep on the committee of the Engineering Students Club and by the end of the year I was President. The club of course was a shambles and on failing I pulled out. The following year, ostensibly repeating (no credit for the subjects I passed), was devoted to the Moratorium, May 8, 1970. I formed a body called Engineering Action to mobilise the engineering students and also worked with SDS on the Melb Uni organizing committee.

May 8 was a Friday. Early in the week Dad wrote and said we should talk and he would be available all day in his office to speak to me. Fat chance! In the morning we gathered near the Union, and then with me and a mate, Bruce at the head, holding our banner between two poles, we marched down Swanston St and across to Treasury Gardens to join the crowd. When the march proper formed up we surged out down Bourke Street, 12 abreast, the full width of the street, still pouring out of Spring St when the head of the march reached the GPO a kilometre down the hill, far more than the 100,000 we were credited with. Our lot were near the head, outside Myers. “Myers belongs to the people, Myers belongs to the people”, “The people have Buckleys” (Myers and Buckleys & Nunn were two prominent department stores). There were speeches, if you could hear them, singing and chanting, it was a joyous day.

Image result for moratorium march melbourne

Soon after there was a Socialist Scholars Conference in Sydney, organised by the communists (CPA) probably as I attended a session given by Eric Aarons (party secretary) and became temporarily famous for asking him a question which began “Lenin was a fascist c#@* …”. Most of the Melbourne party took the opportunity of being in Sydney to go and see Hair, but I chose instead to see Zabriskie Point which was a fine movie, but didn’t have Roy Orbison singing the theme song. On the way back down the Hume (driving the Premier’s daughter’s car) I announced I was dropping out and a week later I was a truck driver.

There were other demos. All small, some violent in a mild sort of way. July 4 outside the US consulate was always good for some argy bargy. This year when I got home I found Fancy sitting on my bed. She told me some home truths and left. For the second Moratorium I was in Brisbane but hitched in to town from the transport depot to take part.

The following year I lost my licence and enrolled in my third first year – Arabic, Aikido and MU Rifle Club – I was going to be a revolutionary. There was a world-wide feeling that we were forcing the US government to back down over Vietnam, over civil liberties, over everything. At Melbourne we kept meeting, demonstrating, attending lectures – Jim Cairns was a favourite speaker. I spent one afternoon in the cells under the old Magistrates Court for “publishing” (handing out) a Save Our Sons document against conscription.

I had already been ‘conscripted’ once when I filled in false papers (to “disrupt the system”). By March I was officially a draft-resister and was automatically conscripted for real this time, if they could catch up with me.

By the end of the year, the Federal Police were closing in. I had no wish, and perhaps not the courage, to spend two years in jail. The Young Bride and I took off for Queensland. I got my licence back. We spent a happy year truck driving with the rednecks. In December Labor got in and Gough gave us all a pardon.

Maisie Dobbs (2003), Jaqueline Winspear

By coincidence I spent all today (24th) listening to the first Maisie Dobbs novel. Maisie is a working class girl given the opportunity to attend Girton women’s college at Cambridge, is nurse during WWI, and subsequently becomes an (English) Independent Woman detective, sort of a more serious Phryne Fisher. Winspear devotes a fair amount of the novel to Maisie’s back story, and apart from the standard horrors of trench warfare stuff, her main thesis is that society needs its returning heroes to look (and act) acceptable, that returned soldiers with facial and mental injuries are forced by social pressure to keep themselves hidden.

Recent audiobooks 

Kathy Lette (F, Aust/Eng), Altar Ego (2012)
Georgette Heyer (F, Eng), Arabella (1949)
Robert Heinlein (M, USA), Beyond this Horizon (1948)
Orson Scott Card (M, USA), Earth Awakens (2014)
Georgette Heyer (F, Eng), Friday’s Child (1944)
Nadine Millard (F, Ire), An Unlikely Duchess (2014)
Mickey Spillane & Max A Collins, (M, USA), King of the Weeds (2014)
Anne McCaffrey (F, Ire), Dragonsdawn (1988)
Tim Winton (M, Aust/WA), Land’s Edge Abandoned this memoir written with Winton’s usual flowery descriptiveness when he claimed that to go down the beach is to commune with god.
Franz Kafka (M, Czech), The Castle (1926)
Raymond Chandler (M, USA), Playback (1958)
P Finn & Petra Couvée (M/F, USA/Russ), The Zhivago Affair (2014) How the CIA published Dr Zhivago

Currently reading

Melissa Ferguson, The Shining Wall (Australian new release)
Gerald Murnane, A Million Windows
Thea Astley, Collected Stories


One Good Turn, Mary Leunig

One Good Turn, by Mary Leunig.

Mary Leunig (1950- ) is the younger sister of soppy, much loved newspaper cartoonist Michael Leunig. We (Milly and I) have had her earlier savagely funny books of drawings forever – There’s No Place Like home (1982) and A Piece of Cake (1986). She put out a couple of others in the 90s but One Good Turn (2018) is her first book for a quarter of a century, and what a beauty it is!

The kids had unrestricted access to my bookcase and could often be found with their heads over a Mary Leunig illustration trying to work out what was going on (see illustration on the right below). My favourite was a of a young housewife at the sink , a child tugging at her leg, dreaming of the white knight coming to rescue her, her arms blood to the elbows, plunged unnoticed into the insinkerator.

mary l

Leunig lives with her artist husband on a bush block in north eastern Victoria and her drawings reflect that, she draws her life and what she thinks about life. She draws personally and she draws politically. She draws her battle to keep her unborn son against the constant pressure to give it up for adoption, through to Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s formal apology to young mothers in Parliament in 1990. She draws taking out her kids to show them off when they are little, through to taking them out with machine guns when they “grow up to be fascists”. In a double page spread she finally gets the recognition she deserves “by shooting my brother in the bum” (she must have used an expanding bullet as poor Michael loses an awful lot of organs through a gaping exit wound).

Milly sees a progression in the stories told by the pictures – I gave this to her for her birthday last year, but couldn’t persuade her to write a review – I couldn’t, but can perceive a theme: That the upper classes are bastards, working people and women especially do it tough, and moments of enjoyment may still be found.

All of the pictures bear looking at, over and over. For ‘simple’ drawings they have extraordinary depth and complexity. There is a picture of richly gowned prelate lying face down, arms wide, crucified. The eye is drawn first to the spilled bottle of grog beneath his left hand, then to the two, small bare feet sticking out to the right from under his robe, and finally to the child’s clothes – shirt, shorts, shoes, socks, underpants – neatly off to the side.

Many of the drawings are intensely personal, or more accurately, refer to intensely personal situations. In the page after the drawings above Leunig writes under another drawing of herself now, “But I’m post menopausal, and sex hurts … plus I’m not interested. AT ALL! THE END.” Early in the book there is a picture of her mother’s gravestone topped by a very angry angel. In a later series she attempts to visit her mother from whom she was estranged, and her brother in law calls the police. A year later she hears her mother is dead.

He early drawings always had her son and daughter tangled around her feet, but apparently as the kids got older they disliked what she drew and now they too are estranged (I have provided a link to a very open ABC interview). As she writes, “First I fucked up the kids. Then I fucked up Lois [dog]. And now I’ve fucked up the chooks! to be cont….”

There’s lots more. Lots of it sad. Lots I don’t understand. But every house should have a copy.



Mary Leunig, One Good Turn, Brow Books (an offshoot of The Lifted Brow), Melbourne, 2018

ABC interview (here)

A Million Windows, Gerald Murnane


Aren’t we lucky that Giramondo so faithfully supports Gerald Murnane. I hope they make money on the deal. You would think a major publisher would snap up Murnane just for the prestige, but then perhaps Murnane stays with Giramondo out of loyalty. They appear from their website to have 10 of Murnane’s 17 published works of which A Million Windows (2014) is the 11th – which implies Murnane has been quite busy in his eighth decade, putting out more than one book a year, or perhaps just clearing his desk of unpublished mss.*

Wikipedia begin their Murnane entry with: Gerald Murnane (born 25 February 1939) is an Australian writer, perhaps best known for his novel The Plains (1982). The New York Times, in a big feature published on 27 March 2018, called him “the greatest living English-language writer most people have never heard of”. Lisa Hill at ANZLitLovers passionately advocates for him to be the next Nobel Laureate for Literature, and I concur, he is an astonishingly original writer.

A Million Windows is a work of fiction, or so it claims, about what it is to be a creator of works of fiction. Murnane’s conceit is that there is a large building of two or three storeys on the grassy western plains of a southern state, in which authors live and work and meet in the evenings in the common rooms to discuss their work, and in the remote wings of which building there are romance writers and suchlike and maybe even readers with whom the writers of literary fiction never come into contact.

I know the Western District of Victoria (Murnane’s ‘southern state’) pretty well and there are very few buildings of three storeys, maybe some hotels, and only to my knowledge one which is out in the country and that is the old Ararat lunatic asylum, which being just off the Western Highway Murnane would drive past quite often, and it would amuse me greatly if that is the building Murnane is imagining for his writers.

Early in the book, Murnane recalls a passage in Australian writer Hal Porter’s 1963 autobiography Watcher on the Cast-Iron Balcony, not that he names either the author or the book:

… the author claimed to remember his having seen often as a child, while he wached from a balcony in the late afternoon, and when light from the declining sun fell at a certain angle, what he called sumless distant windows like spots of golden oil.

He, or I should say the principal character in this work of fiction who seems to be the author’s alter ego, discusses the ‘privilege’ of being familiar with the location of this part of the autobiography – “one of the least worthy varieties of fiction extant” – in that it better enabled him as a young reader to visualise what the author was writing, and mentions being as a child in the regional city “where the autobiographer, more than thirty years later, would be struck and killed while drunkenly crossing the street.”

Later in the book, while walking in the grounds of the two or three storeyed building he looks up and sees the sun reflecting in the windows like spots of golden oil, like a million spots of golden oil maybe, as “the house of fiction has in short not one window, but a million …” (Henry James).

At this point I had to go off for two or three weeks, and I find I can no longer do this wonderful book justice. I will try and refresh my memory and leave you with some notes and some quotes.

Murnane discusses his theories about writing by positing discussions between writers who are clearly versions of himself. Sometimes I agree with him, for instance that Literature (as distinct from mere story telling) arises out of the author’s lived experience; and sometimes I am left with my mouth agape.

On time …

What I was hoping to do when I began this paragraph was to explain, for myself as much as for the reader, why I cannot call to mind any detail of a certain house of two or, perhaps, three storeys (the silent corridors in the far-reaching wings, for example, or the grounds where strollers readily lose their way among hedges or thickets or ferneries, or the immense and and mostly level distances to be seen from upper windows) without the conviction that the personages frequenting the place exist not in any sort of temporal progression but in what might be called the narrative dimension, which not only extends infinitely backwards and forwards, as we might say of our own time, as we call it, but has what I perceive to be a breadth or depth, likewise immeasurable.

On reading …

[The author’s young self] found it impossible to accept that the last page of a book of fiction was any sort of boundary or limit. For him, the personages who had first appeared while he was reading some or another fictional text were no less alive after the text itself had come to an end than while he had pored over it.

For whom does he write …

… one or two of us [writers] claim hardly to think of their readers but to draw inspiration from the task itself: to keep in mind the splendid intricacy of the finished text and even to feel, as they complete page after page, that their writing expands their sense of who they are and of how much meaning can be found in a few meagre-seeming experiences.

Why A Million Windows is NOT a self-referential work …

For the sake of the undiscerning reader, I shall repeat the simple fact that I am the narrator of this work and not the author.

Make of that what you will, there is much, much more.


Gerald Murnane, A Million Windows, Giramondo, Sydney, 2014

see also:
The NY Times flies out to Australia, to Goroke in western Victoria to meet the next Nobel Laureate in Literature and finds him behind the bar at the local golf club (here).
My Review of Border Districts (here)
My review of Landscape with Landscape (here)
Lisa at ANZLL’s review of A Million Windows (here)

*One of Murnane’s earlier works, A Season on Earth, has just been republished, in full for the first time (ABC report) and Lisa has a copy, expect a review very soon.

This is Ridiculous!

Journal: 029

Spud’s Restaurant, Pimba SA

When I moved back to live in Western Australia in 2002 the main reason was … well the main reason was that Millie had already moved back, bringing with her Gee who had had a rough year after dropping out of uni … but the other main reason was that WA had no driving hours laws, no policemen pulling you up every day seeking out faults in your log book. Of course I made a nonsense of that rationale by promptly getting a job with Sam and Dragan and running backwards and forwards between Perth and north Queensland for a year, racing the two-up teams by dodging around cameras, cheating on my log book and skimping on sleep, until one of Dragan’s mates, a young Serbian “experienced” on the Belgrade – Berlin run, foisted on me for a hot-shot to Darwin, rolled us over on the first night out.

I hitched a lift with a lady Aboriginal magistrate to where Millie was living and working in Newman and after a short holiday there got into bulk cartage – no ropes or chains! – within WA. Eventually driving hours were regulated, but they were never onerously enforced, and were/are easy to live with – 15 hours/day up to 168 hours a fortnight, with mandatory 7 hour breaks each night and two 24 hour breaks every two weeks. At the height of the mining boom, with good hourly rates including for breaks, we were making as much as members of parliament, though without the ‘electoral allowances’.

Eastern states driving hours were for years 12 hours driving, 12 hours breaks per day, not much fun when you’re a long way from home and getting paid by the kilometre, but they are now, under the recent National Heavy Vehicle (NHVR) scheme a bit better at 14 hours per day, minimum 7 hours break each night and one day off each week, though with cameras now in SA as well as NSW – cheating not possible!. For most of last year, back again with Sam and Dragan, I was running to Brisbane or Sydney, sitting for a couple of days and then off back home for a couple of more days off, one round trip a fortnight, regular as clockwork. But since November I have been running mostly Perth Melbourne which round trip is theoretically do-able before a 24 hour break is due but which despite frequently involving side trips to Albury, Canberra and Sydney  I seem to be more and more often doing every week and a half, so 5,500 kms a week instead of 4,000, and 60 hours a week and days of loading/unloading instead of 45 .

I want to get off!

Last trip was typical – I left Perth on Friday, dropped a car in Adelaide on Sunday night, delivered to Dandenong – as far across Melbourne as you can get – on Monday. Ran my trailers up to a mine near Bendigo, was meant to be home mid Thursday but was at the last minute given a side delivery to Roxby Downs (in north central South Australia) so had to convert my morning with B3 into a 24 hour break, did the Roxby Downs, was sent back to Adelaide to fill the empty space on my back trailer, got home and unloaded yesterday (Sat) morning on what was to be my last trip – a year to the day since I started – before I bought my own trailers, to find my name on a manifest to Roxby Downs and Rozelle (!!!! Darling Harbour, central Sydney !!!) due out lunchtime today.

I have a review to write – Gerald Murnane’s A Million Windows which I am getting to the stage of barely remembering; I am writing thousand word essays (seriously!) for my NHVR accreditation, far more rigorous than the joke M.Bus in Logistics I did at RMIT; I have the accounts for quarterly company tax due and am at the deadline for last year’s personal tax; I have family to see, bills to pay. In three hours I have a meeting scheduled with Sam and Dragan. We will finalize which trailers I am buying and, maybe, how much I will be paid (they pay ok but it’s like pulling teeth). We will finalize that I DO NOT DO SYDNEY.

After that I am hopeful of settling back to one trip a fortnight and as they say a better work life balance. I bloody hope so anyway.


Recent audiobooks (though it’s a couple of weeks since I brought this list up to date)

Philippa Gregory (F, Eng), The Other Queen (2008)
Michael Kataki (M, USA), Ernest Hemingway: Artifacts from a Life (2018)
Michael Arntfield (M, USA), Mad City (2017) True Crime, Too long!
Teresa Driscoll (F, USA), The Friend (2018)
Dashiell Hammett (M, USA), The Maltese Falcon (1930)
Sue Grafton (F, USA), X (2015)
Ann Granger (F, Eng), Keeping Bad Company (1997)

I have started at a new library, my fourth, as I wear out their collections. This one, Cockburn seems to have some excellent SF and old classics. I have also downloaded some books from LibriVox – in particular The Vicar of Wakefield.

Currently reading

Elizabeth Jolley, The Georges’ Wife (1993)
Gerald Murnane, A Million Windows
Thea Astley, Collected Stories

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad


Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) was Polish, a seaman, and one of the great writers of English prose. That is about what we “all” know of him. Researching, I find that he was born into the Polish intelligentsia in Russian- ruled Poland, was well-read in Polish literature, his father was if not a revolutionary, at least anti-Russian. He was mostly home-schooled, but received some formal education in western Poland which was under Austrian rule, spent four years in the French Merchant Marine, then another 15 years in the British merchant marine. He became a British subject in 1886, though shades of our own dual citizenship pollies, he was not released from Russian citizenship for another three years.

My introduction to Conrad came via The Secret Agent which I see my father inscribed for my 15th birthday in 1966 and which was the eleventh of Conrad’s 20 novels and novellas. I have always been a Conrad fan though I am not particularly knowledgeable about either the author or his work. Heart of Darkness (1899) I own, in a Bantam paperback together with Youth and Typhoon but I chose the Penguin cover above for its realistic portrayal of the river steamer at the heart of HoD. I also have a downloaded audiobook copy from Project Gutenberg, and when my cd player jammed (with 2 cds to go of a 19 cd SF space opera) this last trip, I dug out some old flash drives and re-listened to HoD (and Howard’s End).

The novel is framed as a story told by Marlowe, a captain in the merchant marine, to a group of his businessmen friends whiling away the evening on the deck of a yacht moored in the Thames estuary. This is an old-fashioned gambit now, but the writing is timeless, spare and descriptive (ie. both efficient and effective). It reminds me of the factoid I’ve quoted a couple of times recently that Murakami pares down his prose by writing first in English before rewriting in Japanese. Conrad, for whom English was his fourth or fifth language – after Polish, Russian, German and French – was probably also working from a limited – for a writer -English vocabulary.

While listening, I thought also of two other great writers who were contemporaneous with and stylistically similar to Conrad – Jack London and Henry Lawson, also self-taught, working men and who probably also worked from limited vocabularies. Conrad is described variously as being at the tail end of C19th Realism and at the beginning of C20th Modernism, and perhaps he, London and Lawson were just caught up in the zeitgeist, but I think also their similar backgrounds played a part.

The story is that Marlowe, at a loose end, and wishing to extend his considerable experience as a seaman by working as “a fresh water sailor for a bit” in Africa, applies to rellos on the Continent to gain him an introduction. This is soon achieved and after a cursory interview in a city like a “whited sepulchre” (Marseilles?) he finds himself making his way down the coast of Africa.

“I left in a French steamer, and she called in every blamed port they have out there, for, as far as I could see, the sole purpose of landing soldiers and custom-house officers. I watched the coast. Watching a coast as it slips by is like thinking about an enigma. There it is is before you – smiling, frowning, inviting, grand, mean, insipid or savage, and always mute with an a air of whispering, Come and find out. This one was almost featureless, as if still in the making, with an aspect of monotonous grimness.

Marlowe is landed, walks 200 miles to his station, finds his “ship” has been sunk in a shallow part of the river, spends months recovering and repairing it. Sets out on a voyage up river with various passengers to the isolated station of the famed Kurtz. Rescues Kurtz who is dying. Sails (sorry, steams) back.

The heart of the story concerns the atmosphere around Kurtz, who is believed to be favoured back home, and who is phenomenally successful at securing ivory for the Company, and so is regarded with both awe and jealousy by his colleagues. I’m not competent to add to the century of learned commentary around this great work, so this ‘review’ is just a token to say I’ve read it.

French colonies in Pink (how counter-intuitive is that!)

The specific location is never stated, or not that I noticed anyway, but I believe is generally held to be the Congo River. My first thought was that the Congo was not then even a colony, but the personal possession of the Belgian King. However, more research shows that the French had a neighbouring colony (now Congo) which bordered the River, but only well upstream and hence the 200 mile walk.

Since writing the above I have read a learned introduction (in my 1960 Bantam edition) which states that Conrad’s intention was to expose the heartlessness of King Leopold’s rule of the Belgian Congo and that Marlowe in fact signed on in Brussels. Make of that what you will. My memory is that Marlowe talks all the time of working for the French. (Which reminds me that the one defect of the novel is that all the characters are so English in their speech).

In his initial remarks Marlowe muses on young Romans coming up the Thames to their British possessions:

They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force – nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind – as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness, The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look at it too much …

Not surprising maybe from an author whose own homeland was a colony, but heresy in the pre-War Britain of Empire.

We are made conscious all the time of the ill treatment of the locals, and of the worthlessness and casual brutality of the colonists. At one point Marlowe remarks that English villages would be deserted too if every passing party raided them for supplies and manpower. But I’m afraid that in the end I read these great works for the flow of the language, and am barely conscious – and not at all retentive -of the ideas being expressed. Not very satisfactory for a reviewer I know.


Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, first published 1899. Available (free) for download as an audiobook from Librivox (catalogue).




The Georges’ Wife, Elizabeth Jolley


Elizabeth Jolley (1923-2007) is one of our most important recent writers. Astonishingly, she doesn’t have an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, though her husband does. I’ve read some (too few) of her novels and have owned Brian Dibble’s apparently definitive biography, Doing Life (2008) for a number of years without actually getting round to reading it.

Consequently I come to The Georges’ Wife (1993) with only the scantiest background knowledge off where it fits either autobiographically or in relation to her other work, though I’m vaguely aware she was in one or more unusual marriages. I decided to maintain my ignorance and to read this book in isolation as it were, which is not really my usual position.

Jolley is quite obviously a lover of words, and in this she seems similar to Gerald Murnane, both older writers writing carefully, beautifully about their fictional younger selves. We advance in bits and pieces as the older protagonist, Vera as we eventually learn, recalls from time to time bits and pieces of her younger life.

Vera is on a ship being asked for her story; she is pushing an old Mr George in his wheelchair; she is a doctor with her own surgery; then she is acting as maid to Miss George, Mr George at university, teaching. We learn she has daughters, a six year old and a baby, was a nurse during the War and is now training to be a doctor. Vera and Mr George, 22 years her senior, grab moments to be together as lovers. We learn, not straight away, who was the father of the first daughter, who was father of the second. There was a couple before Mr and Miss George, and after. Vera’s mother and father are not happy about the relationships she enters into, but do not condemn her for the babies, or not directly.

‘Tell me about yourself, Migrant’, the rice-farm widow says to me. So I tell my widow things about myself. When I tell her about Felicity and Noël her mouth is so wide open, as she listens, I can see her gold fillings.

From Harold Avenue we turn … My heels, the heels of my shoes, newly repaired, sound on the new surface of the road, like a trotting horse, a little trotting horse. Like a toy horse, Mr George makes this observation saying, at the same time, that his feet are not making any noise on the road.

In many ways this is a novel about couples, about Vera seeing her life through her connections with couples. Her mother and father, her father’s sister and her live-in companion, Mr and Miss George, Felicity and Noël, Magda and Dr Metcalf who came before the Georges.

‘I shall always love you and want you,’ [Mr George] told me then, ‘but in the end we all do have to leave each other. Even when I do leave you, ‘he said, ‘I shall have given you myself and you will be different because of knowing me.’

As a contrast to the couples around her, Vera always makes a third, but is fascinated by her opposite, widows, who are singles, Gertrude who came before the story starts, her mother’s friend, Mrs Pugh, the ‘rice’-widow on the ship (who has actually moved on to sheep farming), Miss George, who she has to be reminded is actually a spinster.

Is there a story? Sort of. Vera completes her training and gains a residency at the old hospital in the industrial Midlands town where her parents live and where she was originally a nurse. She falls in with Felicity and Noël, Cambridge educated ‘hippies’ in a dirty, falling down farm house on a scrap of pasture between factories and coal mining slag heaps. Her children back at the Georges’, cared for by Miss George and an au pair, and later in boarding school. From Noël she catches TB – hard to remember how prevalent it once was, and how fearful my father was of us boys catching it – and spends a year in a sanitorium.

We discover she is on board a ship to Australia where she and Mr George have separately been offered positions, and much of the second half of this (quite short) book has Vera reflecting on her friendship with the widow and Mr George’s discomfort with that. In later years Vera thinks as much about the Widow as she does about Mr George, though she only sees her one more time, a brief idyll on the widow’s sheep station.

We end almost as we started, Vera pushing Mr George along the now-familiar streets of  an unnamed Australian city and Vera has come, belatedly, to a revelation.

We, Mr George and I, are a couple.
‘We do not seem to be like a couple.’ I say.
‘Vera, what is it you are saying? What did you say, Vera?’ Mr George wants to know.
‘We do not,’ I tell him, ‘seem to be like a couple.’
‘Why do you bother, Vera,’ Mr George replies, ‘with such an ugly word?’

This is astonishing writing that captures exactly the quality of remembering incidents in detail but in an order that conforms only to some inner logic of its own.


Elizabeth Jolley, The Georges’ Wife, Penguin, Melbourne, 1993

see also:
Lisa at ANZLitLovers Elizabeth Jolley page (here)
Meg’s guest review at ANZLitLovers (here)

Not reading, Not writing

Journal: 028

Mallee Sunrise (near Ceduna)

Eighty percent of east-west freight goes by rail, so when there’s a derailment road freight goes mad. In the two weeks since my last book review, The Glass Canoe, I have done trips ex-Perth to Port Augusta and to Melbourne, with a bare minimum 24 hour break in between. And that only served to make me late into Melbourne, 7.00 pm Friday. I thought I would get to spend the weekend at mum’s, but the carrier had my two trailers off-loaded and re-loaded in four hours and off I went again.

Mum was due to spend a week with B3 at Bendigo anyway, so he ran down and picked her up and I caught up with them the next morning for breakfast and some shopping at a little farmers market. No interesting second hand books, but very nice locally grown apples, plums and grapes. And a jar of home-made peach jam.

Coffee and a shower and I was off up the Calder Highway – slightly longer than the Western Highway through Adelaide (map) but infinitely more peaceful. Of course Dragan was soon on the phone to put an end to that. The western end of the Nullarbor was closed due to bushfires and the customer was considering offloading me in Adelaide. After four hours sitting at the Yamba, SA roadhouse I was allowed to proceed.

We often drive through bushfires, especially out in the desert where there’s no one to stop us, but eleven years ago there were fires in the scrub country on both sides of the Great Eastern Highway west of Coolgardie. At the time I was delivering cement out of Perth to Kambalda, about 80 kms past Coolgardie, four or five trips a week, and over the course of a number of days I could see the fires along the hills about a kilometre back from the road.

On Dec 30, 2007 my diary records that I was between Coolgardie and Kambalda, “Engine too hot to go up hill. Westrac out – unable to fix it.” While I sat beside the road I talked on the CB to the trucks coming past. The highway had been closed at Coolgardie and all Perth-bound traffic was being turned around and sent via Esperance (map). I let my engine cool down then ran in to Kambalda and was offloaded by about 10.00pm. Luckily for me, my engine played up again and instead of trying to sneak around the roadblock, I pulled over and went to sleep.

The next morning word on the CB was confused. The fires had intensified and Coolgardie was closed indefinitely. A convoy of trucks had been allowed through overnight, had been turned back when fire and dense smoke crossed the road, some forced to abandon their trailers. I joined the stream of traffic southbound to Esperance and it was only slowly, via the CB and ABC local radio that we learned 3 truck drivers had died, burnt to death in their trucks (Boorabbin Fire. Official Report).

Ever since, Main Roads have been (understandably!) hyper cautious, closing roads at the earliest warning. There was no sign of fire when I came through this trip, though apparently fires had threatened Kambalda (which is 40-odd km off the main highway).

These last couple of days I have been getting my truck ready for inspection as part of my National Heavy Vehicle scheme accreditation, which is turning into a saga in its own right. I could say I haven’t read or written a word, which is what it feels like, but I’ve read all your posts, lots of Oz politics and Trump and Brexit, but barely a word of The Georges’ Wife which I’ve started a couple of times in the past two weeks. Hopefully, this coming trip I’ll get a proper 24 hour break and be able to settle down to a long read.

Two books from the last two or three trips –


The Quality of Silence (2015) is an action thriller set in mid-winter Alaska. It wasn’t too bad;  Lupton writes interesting and likeable characters; and her protagonist Yasmin – “a beautiful, troubled astrophysicist” – hijacks a semi trailer to get her, and her precocious, deaf, ten year old daughter, Ruby, to her missing, environmental activist husband in the deep north. Once the truck was wrecked, I skipped to the last disc. The ending was as unlikely as you’d expect.


Jane Harper’s Force of Nature (2017). Harper writes moderately entertaining Australian crime fiction, but she butchers Australian geography – see my review of The Dry (here). This one was supposedly set in the ranges three hours east of Melbourne, the Australian Alps with its majestic eucalypt forests and ferny understory, which she describes as ‘hilly with lots of trees’ (I paraphrase). How she can be considered for literary awards I do not understand. The plot? Five women on a weekend survival course get lost in an area where a serial killer has previously lived/worked. Only four of them emerge from the bush. The fifth has been an informant for federal white collar crime detective Aaron Falk so naturally he goes up into the mountains to search for her.

Recent audiobooks

Sunni Overend (F, Aust/Vic), The Dangers of Truffle Hunting (2016)
Nele Neuhaus (F, Ger), Snow White Must Die (2010)
Kerry Greenwood (F, Aust/Vic), The Spotted Dog (2018) DNF
Isabel Allende (F, Chile), In the Midst of Winter (2017)
Kate Atkinson (F, Eng), Started Early Took My Dog (2010)
Bernard Cornwell (M, Eng), Agincourt (2009)
John Sandford (M, USA), Storm Prey (2010)
Rosamund Lupton (F, USA), The Quality of Silence (2015)
Elizabeth Berg (F, USA), Talk Before Sleep (1994)
Chris Lynch (M, USA), Irreversible (2016)
Patricia Cornwell (F, USA), Point of Origin (1998)
Fiona Barton (F, Eng), The Child (2017)
Jane Harper, (F, Aus/Vic). Force of Nature (2017) read by Stephen Shanahan
Tom Woods (M, Eng), No Tomorrow (2014)
Erich Maria Remarque (M, Ger), All Quiet on the Western Front – BBC play, 2014
Monica McInerney (F, Aus/SA), The Alphabet Sisters (2004)
Ashley Claudy (F, USA), Outside the Ropes (2014)
Fern Michaels (F, USA), About Face (2003)
Kevin Wignall (M, Eng), To Die in Vienna (2018)

Currently reading

Haruki Murakami, The Strange Library
David Ireland, The Glass Canoe
Elizabeth Jolley, The Georges’ Wife

DVDs sitting beside the television

Cleverman series – interesting way to look at racism in Australia
Luis Bunuel, The Exterminating Angel – I love 1970s arthouse cinema; Bunuel, Fellini, Lina Wertmuller.