The New Woman

Australian Women Writers Gen 0 Week 14-21 Jan. 2024

I’ve been studying and writing about the Independent Woman in Australian Lit. for twenty years, first for my degree then in this blog. We, in this blogging community, first looked at the origins of the Independent Woman in AWW Gen 1 Week in Jan. 2018. These days I am privileged to be able to focus my reading and reviewing through, but now I want to look at the ideas swirling around the Anglophone world, which led to and paralleled the rise in Australian women’s fiction, in the second half of the nineteenth century, of the idea of young women rejecting marriage and seeking employment.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), followed by John Stuart and Harriet Taylor Mill’s The Subjection of Women (1869), is probably our starting point for AWW Gen 0, though there are others, not least Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders (1722) – though she does get married a lot.

Other works and authors which spring to mind are George Sand, Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth, Charlotte Bronte’s Villette and The Professor. Willa Cather, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland. There’s a list on the AWW Gen 0 page which I will update as more come to mind or are suggested.

Over all this is the New Woman movement which until now I haven’t read up on at all. Wikipedia’s ‘New Woman’ entry begins:

The New Woman was a feminist ideal that emerged in the late 19th century and had a profound influence well into the 20th century. In 1894, Irish writer Sarah Grand (1854–1943) used the term “new woman” in an influential article [in the North American Review] to refer to independent women seeking radical change. In response the English writer Ouida (Maria Louisa Ramé) used the term as the title of a follow-up article. The term was further popularized by British-American writer Henry James, who used it to describe the growth in the number of feminist, educated, independent career women in Europe and the United States

Wiki, 22 May 2023

Catherine Helen Spence, Australia’s preeminent first wave feminist began writing in the early 1850s; and Rosa Praed, whose heroines famously dispose of inconvenient husbands, in 1880; so the fit with the New Woman is not perfect; though later writers like Catherine Martin, Mary Gaunt and Miles Franklin, fit better. It is notable too that universities in Australia and the UK began allowing women to take degrees in 1881 (USA was earlier, I don’t know by how much).

‘New Woman’ appears quite often as a subject heading in Australian newspapers after 1894, but as a far as I can tell it was for little joke pieces making fun of women. Here’s one from the Adelaide Observer, Sat 1 Feb 1896


“Come, be brave now! Don’t disgrace your bloomers!” It was the tall, masculine woman who spoke. Her younger companion held her protector’s arm nervously and shook visibly. “Oh, but,” she said, “it is so dreadful, and it is coming this way.” Just then the monster came with a rush and a swish and a hypnotic glitter of its beadlike little eyes. It dodged right between the feet of the new woman, and vanished through a little hole in the wall, while the cat, which had aroused it, sprang after, but brought up with a thump against the wall, unable to follow further.

There were two shrieks, a wild clutching of bloomers, a leap towards the table, and then a fall. The young woman had fainted. Nature had again asserted herself. The new woman was unmanned.

p.34 (here)

‘Bloomers’ might be a reference to bicycle riding, which was closely associated with the idea of the New Woman, or might just have been a staff writer getting his rocks off.

Emeritus Professor Lynn Pykett has written widely on 19th and 20th century fiction, including Emily Bronte (1989), The Improper Feminine: The Women’s Sensation Novel and the New Women’s Writing (1992) and Engendered Fictions: The English Novel in the Early Twentieth Century. I have a paper she wrote, in 2000, on the origins of the New Woman. She positions the beginnings of the concept (though not the capitalisation) a year before Sarah Grand:

It was … in the pages of the fin-de-siecle [sic] feminist press that [the New Woman] was first invented as a fictional icon to represent the political woman of the coming century. The feminist version of the New Woman was not the mannish and overly sexualized New Woman popularized in novels and mainstream periodicals of the 1890s but a symbol of a new political identity that promised to improve and reform English society …

Pykett quoting Michelle Tusan, “Inventing the New Woman” (1998)

Pykett goes on to demonstrate that the idea, if not the name, had been extant for some time, probably dating from the 1840s: “as early as 1855 Margaret Oliphant had reminded the readers of Blackwood’s of the way in which a new kind of woman had burst upon the fictional scene with the publication of Jane Eyre in 1847″; and again, “from at least the late 1840s, commentators on modern British life and letters were addressing issues of modernity through their focus on women and particularly the new kind of woman.”

The New Woman takes many shapes, as the focus of men’s fears and of women’s ambitions – housewifely, sexual, and in the wider business and political world.

Another reviewer, in 1865, wrote (and seemingly moves the naming of the New Woman back three decades), “The New Woman, as we read of her in recent novels, possesses not only the velvet, but the claws of the tiger. She is no longer the Angel, but the Devil in the house … Man proposes, woman disposes, is the new proverb.”

For AWW Gen 0 Week I would like you to review a work or works which fit my loose criteria, and of course to let me know of reviews you have done already. Lisa and I have a George Sand site, sadly not updated for some time. I can see the ‘Independent Woman’ in Sand’s life but I would like to see it too in her work. Bron did a great post some time ago on Wollstonecraft, referencing another blogger who had done a series of posts (A Vindication of Accidental Feminists). Ouida (one of whose racy novels Tom was reading on the banks of the Lachlan in Such is Life) is generally counted as anti-feminist, but perhaps her advocacy for the New Woman means I should give her a try.


Lynn Pykett, What’s “New” about the “New Woman”? Another look at the representation of the New Woman in Victorian periodicals (here)

The Broad Arrow, Caroline Leakey

It seems, although it wasn’t my intention, that I am filling in the gaps in my reviews of Fifty Books you must Read. First The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn, now The Broad Arrow: “being passages from the history of Maida Gwynnham, a lifer (1859). The illustration above is Maida mourning the death of her (illegitimate) baby which is an early event, I guess her seduction, which occurs off-screen, is the initial event, in the chain of events which leads to a well brought up middle class young woman being transported to Hobart Town in the early 1850s.

Caroline Leakey was only in the colony for a few years, staying with her sister in Hobart and recuperating from illness at Port Arthur – she describes Emmeline, who more or less represents her in the novel, looking out her bedroom window across to the front gates of the famous prison, with all its comings and goings. I’m not sure she found it very restful.

To spare Emmeline the fatigue of a rather steep flight of stairs, Mrs. Harelick had devoted to her special service a large front parlour on the ground-floor. It opened on the station, and had by no means the pleasant landscape which enlivened the upper apartments. The lovely Bay, and the Isle of the Dead were not to be seen; but some gardens intervening, beguiled the more immediate sight from the prison apparatus, unescapably conspicuous on a prolonged survey from the bow-window.

The Broad Arrow is a very sermonising work, the way so many worthy nineteenth century novels are, but Maida’s story is well done; there is a wealth of detail about the interactions of free settlers and their convict servants; and the descriptions of place, it seems to me, would be familiar to current residents. I said this to Pam/Travellin’ Penguin and she segued to the Broad Arrow Cafe, the site of Australia’s last mass shooting, in 1996. Pam, I’ll make it to Tassie one day, and we’ll definitely meet over coffee and cake.

I am writing last Sunday, so to speak, as I have work during the week, a road train load for a construction company up the coast to Cape Preston, this side of Karratha; and if I am to post anything at all it will have to be this pointer to my review on the AWWC site.

The last few weeks of work have been very Goldilocks, not too much, not too little, but enough to keep the bank balance ticking over. And speaking of my shaky bank balance, yesterday I got a firm offer for my remaining ‘spare’ trailer – payment due this coming weekend – which I should have sold before buying my new trailer, my new toy Melanie says (rightly!), last September.

You’d think the days off in between jobs would be enough to keep my reading and reviewing up to date, but sadly not. The last few ‘guest’ posts on the AWWC have involved huge amounts of editing as I attempted to abridge 4,000 word papers to meet our 1,500 word standard (I failed. They all came in at around 2,000). But the two ‘projects’ they covered – women’s service in WW1 and female servants in nineteenth century Australian women’s Lit were both enormously interesting.

[Now, today as I post, I’ve come north to Port Hedland to pick up a couple of tray trucks to take back to Perth]

Not the first novel of Australian convict life, that was Quintus Serviton (1831), but a vivid, and the earliest, picture of female convicts in domestic service. Read on …

The Little Black Princess, Jeannie Gunn

Over at my other gig I’ve been working on/editing an upcoming story by Stacey Roberts on Aboriginal domestic service as represented in early Australian women’s fiction (it’s out now – here). This inevitably includes a large section on Mrs Gunn’s The Little Black Princess (1905), the story of Bett-Bett, an 8 year old Aboriginal girl Mrs Gunn takes in as a servant companion during the year her husband was managing Elsey Station on the Roper River, 400 km south of Darwin.

Mrs Gunn is better known for her account of that year, We of the Never Never (1907). And it was only today, reading contemporary reviews of The Little Black Princess, in which Mrs Gunn appears to be unknown, that I realised they were published in that order. And before I go on, let me reiterate from Stacey’s essay:

Gunn’s self-titled role of the “Little Missus” in these plucky novels of settler courage was only made possible by the violent theft of the lands of the Manarayi and Yanman peoples of the Roper River.

Mrs Gunn’s books – memoirs really – are generally accounted as the first sympathetic accounts of Aboriginal life to be directed at the general public. We’ll pass over for the time being that that “sympathetic” involves great dollops of paternalism. What surprises me, brought up in totally white, 1950s white picket fence Victoria, is how much of what was ‘general knowledge’ about Aboriginal life, was derived directly from these two books.

My intention today is not to write a review of The Little Black Princess, though I must one day force myself to re-read and review We of the Never Never for my ‘50 Books you must Read‘ project, but to go over some of the material around it. Let us start with a newspaper review:

Mrs. Jeannie Gunn, who inhabits, or did inhabit, a homestead somewhere up in the Northern Territory, has written, in “The Little Black Princess” (Melville and Mullen), absolutely the most charming book about our aborigines that has yet been published. We have had statistics about them, and learned persons, such as Mr Gillon and Mr. Baldwin Spencer, have described to us what their manner of life has been and is. We have had some of their legends translated for us sympathetically by Mrs. Langloh Parker and others, but we never have had till now the aborigine as he is presented familiarly to us….

Mrs. Gunn came across the Princess by accident, and it is at least to her credit that her eye of faith pierced through the no-clothing of the eight-year-old aristocrat and found that there was good stuff in her. Decadent race the aborigines doubtless are, but there is no want of bright specimens here and there.

The Princess had but one possession, outside the glories of her lineage, and that was a dog called Sue. “All nigger dogs,” remarks the author, “are ugly, but Sue was the ugliest of them all. She looked very much like a flattened out plum-pudding on legs, with ears like a young calf, and a cat’s tail.” Sue, in a word, was not beautiful, and in that respect she suited her eight-year-old mistress. Nothing on earth could make people of our race regard any aboriginal as absolutely beautiful, though, judged by their own canons, there have been dusky Helens fit to put nations at enmity in Australia.

But we may well be persuaded by Mrs. Gunn’s delightful book that the aborigines – some aborigines – are pleasant folk to have around. You can’t teach them anything. Sometimes they won’t hear, and sometimes you speedily find out that they have not the necessary apparatus for thinking as white people think. The theories of religion entertained by the most advanced amongst them are confused, and hardly warrant the high expectations entertained in some quarters of the feasibility of Christianising the remnants of the Australian tribes.

All this comes in for incidental illustration in Mrs. Gunn’s book. We can heartily commend it as an interesting book in itself, and as a sympathetic study of an original character.

Sydney Morning Herald, Sat. 09 Dec. 1905

I don’t see any point in filling the quote with “[sic]s”. This is how we thought and wrote a century ago, and it probably fairly represents my starting point as a child half a century later, in Victorian rural communities from which all traces of the original inhabitants had been removed to reservations – Condah and Framlingham, of which I was entirely unaware though I lived nearby at different times, and more particularly Lake Tyers, way out in the state’s east.

The other reviews I located were not as vile. The best of them, which ends: “Even the omniscient Mr. Andrew Lang might learn much new information from it upon the subject of the race which is said to represent the earliest strivings of the human mind towards the great ideals of Law and Truth.” appeared originally in the Daily Telegraph, though Trove has it in the Clarence and Richmond Examiner Sat 13 Jan 1906. And no, I don’t know who Lang is (I found one mention of him collecting Aboriginal stories in conjunction with Mrs Langloh Parker).

At the end of The Little Black Princess, Bett-Bett returns to her people. In fact Mrs Gunn’s husband died; she returned to Melbourne (where apparently she was friends with Ada Cambridge); and the girl Bett-Bett was based on, Dolly Bonson, was sent away into service in Darwin and never returned home. She does get more mentions in the papers. Firstly:

Readers of Mrs. Aeneas Gunn’s book, “The Little Black Princess” will be interested to learn that the little black princess herself was recently the guest of Mrs. Gunn at Hawthorn, Victoria…

Bett-Bett has developed from the “little bush nigger girl,” who boasted her “plenty savvy Engliss missus,” into an intelligent, comely child, with a wonderful command of the English tongue

various, May 1907

Then, in 1937 Mrs Gunn writes up Dolly’s life to date, as a servant in Darwin (though doesn’t name her as Wikipedia erroneously states), in a story headed “Life Story of Famous Piccaninny”, Sydney Morning Herald, Thu 4 Feb 1937.

Finally, we have “My Great Grandmother, Bett-Bett the Little Black Princess” which appears to be by Alan Holman, in 2014. Here we discover that the first time Dolly revealed publicly she was Bett-Bett was to her church in 1969; and we learn a bit more about her departure from Roper River:

[Mrs Gunn leaving] brought her into contact with her white father, Mr Cummings, for the first time. They became great friends, although the relationship was legally and culturally prohibited.

Dolly was caught between two worlds. Her own culture wouldn’t accept her whiteness and the white community refused to accept her Aboriginal heritage. Dolly soon became a liability to her constantly travelling father, so she was reluctantly sent to a boarding house in Darwin. For the next decade, apart from some short moments of relative happiness, life was tough.

In 1918 she met and married Joe Bonson and they had five children together.

Dolly Bonson, aged 95, died in March, 1988.

I have noted before, particularly in relation to accounts of Aboriginal massacres where police were encouraged to bring back no prisoners, that Australian newspapers were far more open in their racism than the novelists I generally rely on. You can see that demonstrated here, and I can only imagine stories continued to be told that way because it suited the beliefs of the wider Australian population.


Jeannie Gunn, The Little Black Princess: A True Tale of Life in the Never-Never Land, first pub. 1905 (Project Gutenberg)

Geoffry Hamlyn – Settler Colonialist.

Journal: 102

Gunaikurnai Country (East Gippsland, Vic.)

Henry Kingsley’s The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn (1859) is almost our first first-hand account (albeit fictional) of both the processes and the underlying philosophy of the British appropriating Aboriginal lands during the first century of white settlement in the continent now known as Australia.

As it happens, I am also editing, for my AWWC gig, to be posted Weds 10 May, Stacey Roberts’ account of representations of Indigenous women taken into service, which begins with the slightly earlier Clara Morison and Gertrude the Emigrant, and which covers some of the same territory.

While, like all of us, I have long been conscious of Australia’s inherent racism and our failure to accord Aboriginal people equal rights (unless they entirely renounce their own culture) I have been slow to understand/acknowledge white settlement as an ongoing process from which I/we continue to benefit. If one book got me started down that path then it is, as you may have gathered, Dr Chelsea Watego’s Another Day in the Colony (2021). Now I follow settler colonialism debate – at a very basic level – as well as I can, on Twitter for instance . There is a wikipedia entry on the theory, but it doesn’t specifically include Australia.

Kingsley’s vision for the colony is given in a speech by Dr Mulhaus to Hamlyn’s friends at a picnic:

“I see the sunny slopes below me yellow with trellised vines … Beyond I see fat black ridges grow yellow with a thousand cornfields. I see a hundred happy homesteads, half-hidden by clustering wheat-stacks.

“They have found gold here, and gold in abundance, and hither have come by ship and steamship, all the unfortunate of the earth … all the opressed of the earth have taken refuge here, glorying to live under the free government of Britain; for she, warned by American experience, has granted to all her colonies such rights as the British boast of possessing.

“I see a vision of a nation, the colony of the greatest race on earth, who began their career with more advantages than ever fell to the lot of a young nation yet. War never looked on them. Not theirs was the lot to fight, like the Americans, through bankruptcy and inexperience towards freedom and honour. No. Freedom came to them, heaven sent, red-tape bound, straight from Downing Street.

pp 354,5

They begin to talk over each other: “I see,” began the Major, “the Anglo-Saxon race —-” “Don’t forget the Irish, Jews, Germans, Chinese and other barbarians,” interrupted the Doctor. “Asserting” continued the Major scornfully, “as they always do, their right to all the unoccupied territories of the earth—-” (“Blackfellows’ claims being ignored,” interpolated the Doctor.)

As with most stories of this type, in the eastern states anyway, the owners of the “empty” land are imagined to have just faded out of the way, of no use or importance even as station hands. There are not even any mentions, that I can recall, as there are in Gertrude the Emigrant for instance, of traditional encampments in uncleared portions of the properties, or in the Alps to the north.

There is just one battle recorded, and it is out on the NSW western plains, on the Lachlan – Such is Life country – a thousand kilometres to the north west, and Hamlyn’s partner, Stockbridge is killed. Later in the book, though, Hamlyn comes upon an old fellow, a hutkeeper for shepherds, who knows of that death and what followed, which we hadn’t previously been told:

“I kenned your partner… He was put down up north. A bad job – a very bad job! Ye gat terrible vengeance, though. Ye hewed Agad in pieces! Y’ Governor up there to Sydney was wild angry at what ye did, but he darens say much. he knew that every free man’s heart went with ye… Ye saved many good lives by that raid of yours after Stockridge was killed. The devils wanted a lesson, and ye gar’d them one wi’ a vengeance!”

p. 359

And so another massacre slides by under the radar.

To finish with, what Kingsley really thought about Australia:

Any man once comfortably settled there [on the homestead verandah where we started] in an easy chair, who fetched anything for himself when he could get anyone else to fetch it for him, would show himself, in my opinion, a man of weak mind. One thing only was wanted to make it perfect, and that was niggers. To the winds with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Dred after it, in a hot wind! What can [Harriet Beecher] Stowe, freezing up there in Connecticut … know about the requirements of a southern gentleman when the thermometer stands at 125F in the shade? … all men would have slaves if they were allowed. An Anglo-Saxon conscience will not, save in rare instances, bear a higher average heat than 95F.


Let me mention in passing that slavery was “abolished’ in the British Empire in 1807, though Aboriginal Australians were largely unpaid (or had their pay confiscated by state governments) for their farm/station labour up until 1968; and convicts were forced to labour, though they did receive minimal pay, up until at least 1868 (when Transportation ceased).


Map above from Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation website. I get the impression that the various properties in the novel are at the north-eastern end of Gunaikurnai Country.

Suggested Twitter follows: @drcwatego, @SaraSalehTweets, @OnlinePalEng, @Jairo_I_Funez

Henry Kingsley, The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn (review)


Recent audiobooks 

Tarryn Fisher (F, USA), The Wrong Family (2020)
CJ Box (M, USA), The Bitterroots (2019) – Crime
Neal Asher (M, Eng), Zero Point (2012) – SF
Connie Willis (F, USA), Doomsday Book (1992) – SF
Priscilla Royal (F, USA), Valley of Dry Bones (2010) – Crime (Medieval)

Currently Reading 

Henry Kingsley (M, Eng), The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn (1859)
Caroline Leakey (F, Aus/Tas), The Broad Arrow (1859)
Alexis Wright (F, Aus/Qld), Praiseworthy (2023) – this will take a long, long time!

AWWC Apr. 2023

Wed 5Elizabeth LhuedeMrs McCarter: “well-known authoress”
Fri 7Stories FTAMrs McCarter, Over-stepping (short story)
Wed 12Debbie RobsonAustralian Women in WWI: Scottish Women’s Hospitals
Fri 14Stories FTAMiles Franklin, Nemari ništa (It matters nothing)
Wed 19Bill HollowayMiles Franklin, Nemari ništa (review)
Fri 21Stories FTAActive Service Socks
Wed 26Whispering GumsHelen Simpson: “one of the giants”?
Fri 28Stories FTAHelen Simpson, Under Capricorn (fiction extract)

The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn, Henry Kingsley

For a long time in Australia, up until at least the 1980s, the only Nineteenth century Australian books in print were Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of His Natural Life (1870), Rolf Boldrewood’s Robbery Under Arms (1882) and, to a lesser extent, Henry Kingsley’s The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn (1859). Even today, along with Lawson and Paterson, these three are the only ‘old’ books you will consistently come across in bookshops.

I have written often enough about the role of Dale Spender in getting our early women writers back into print, in Pandora and Penguin in the 1980s, though whether they still are is another matter, and maybe all we have left is Virago. Whatever we might tell ourselves about our urbanity and sophistication, Australians have an endless fascination with men being virile in the Bush.

The Recollections must have remained pretty well-known for at least half a century after publication, as Furphy in Such is Life (1903) went to some pains to express his contempt for the Buckleys – Kingsley’s English gentlefolk who take up a grazing property in the Australian Alps. In fact, a search of Trove shows that The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn ran as a serial in country newspapers in 1871 and again in 1894.

Written in 1859, after be had been five years in Australia, Henry Kingsley’s Geoffry Hamlyn, now appearing in a new edition, published by Ward, Lock, and Bowden Limited (of London and Melbourne) deserves the welcome which one gives to an old and cherished friend. [from The Australasian (Melbourne), Sat 8 Dec 1894].

I can’t find any reviews, but in 1910, the novel was being run for a third, or more likely, fourth, time. One introduction concludes: “It is almost unnecessary to note that the justly celebrated author of Westward Ho !, Charles Kingsley, was our author’s brother”. I’m afraid I only know Charles for The Water Babies which Gee insisted I read to her over a long series of nights, protesting if I ever seemed to be ‘skipping’ (which I would if I could get away with it).

Joseph Furphy writes: “Those whose knowledge of the pastoral regions is drawn from a course of novels of the Geoffry Hamlyn class, cannot fail to hold a most erroneous notion of the squatter. Of course we use the term ‘squatter’ indifferently to denote a station-owner, a managing partner, or a salaried manager”. There are “a thousand types”, but none of them include “the slender-witted, virgin souled, overgrown schoolboys who fill Henry Kingsley’s exceedingly trashy and misleading novel with their insufferable twaddle.” (Such is Life, 164)

Langa-Willi, Skipton, Vic.

Henry Kingsley (1830-1876) left Oxford without graduating and came out to Australia in 1853 to join in the Gold Rush. “For some time Kingsley had little or no money and carried his swag from station to station. Philip Russell stated in 1887 that he employed Kingsley at his station Langa-Willi, and that Geoffry Hamlyn (1859) was begun there. Miss Rose Browne, daughter of Rolf Boldrewood, stated it was on her father’s suggestion that Kingsley began to write. Russell’s story is confirmed by her further statement that her father gave Kingsley a letter to Mr Mitchell of Langa-Willi, that he stayed with Mitchell, and there wrote Geoffry Hamlyn.” (wikipedia). Kingsley returned to England in 1857, wrote some more, and died of cancer of the tongue aged 46.

If you’re wondering about that photo, Victoria’s Western District, the home of our squatting aristocracy, looks more like England than it does like the rest of Australia.

The novel begins with some very tedious, and very Victorian – meaning the era – opening chapters. Introducing first Hamlyn and the Buckleys, in 1857, in oldish age on the verandah of an Australian homestead, about whom Hamlyn has written a book; and then going back half a century to establish the various families on their estates in England.

We’ll ignore their antecedents, and by say, the 1820s, all the principal characters of the novel were gathered in or around a Devon village, Drumston. They are the Buckleys, who, no longer able to afford its upkeep, have given up their ancient estate, Clere and moved into (youthful) semi-retirement; their baby son, Sam; the widowed vicar, his spinster sister Miss Thornton, and his wilful daughter, Mary; Mary’s cousin, Tom Troubridge; Hamlyn; his friend Jim Stockton; Dr Mulhaus, a German aristocrat; George Hawker, son of a villianous farmer and his gypsy ‘housekeeper’, Madge; William Lee, a convict escaped from Tasmania and his off-sider Dick.

George Hawker is led, rather willingly, into a life of crime and gambling by William Lee. Mary is an heiress twice over, and moreover is keen on Hawker, who can act the gentleman as necessary; so Hawker runs off with her to London where they are married, she gets pregnant and he runs through her first fortune. Mary finds her way home, running into Hawker’s cousin and the mother of another of his children along the way. The Vicar dies.

Stockton, who Mary should have married, goes to NSW with Hamlyn, where they take up land and prosper. The Buckley’s decide that sounds like the way to revive their own fortunes and head off after them. Dr Mulhaus, Troubridge, Mary with her son Charles, and Miss Thornton, her aunt, decide to accompany them.

You may remember that when the various sides of Miles Franklin’s family arrived in Sydney, they were forced to go south, into the mountains at the headwaters of the Murrumbidgee and Murray, for free land. Hamlyn and Stockridge have land further south again, on the far side of the mountains where the Snowy rises and rushes south into Bass Strait. Out one day looking for a lost bull, they come across, purely by accident, a party of travellers. Yes, it’s the Buckleys.

Mary Hawker and Tom Troubridge (he’s her cousin remember) take up land on the edge of the mountains, and the Buckleys take up land some miles further out into (relatively) open country, in what is today East Gippsland (Victoria). Dr Mulhaus lives with the Buckleys, and the reformed William Lee is their overseer. Dick turns up one day in the bush, and he becomes Hamlyn’s manservant, because of course he does.

There are a couple of aristocratic families nearby – a widow with a son and two daughters, Capt Brentwood with a son, and a daughter, Alice, away at school, and some Irish families who of course are not aristocratic (and have rather more children). Listen, it’s just an ordinary British adventure book, with all the prejudices that implies. But it also just happens to be the first set in the Australian bush, which is rather better described than you might hope.

A new heaven and a new earth! Tier beyond tier, height above height, the great wooded ranges go rolling away westward, till on the lofty skyline they are crowned with a gleam of everlasting snow. To the eastward they sink down, breaking into isolated forest-fringed peaks, and rock-crowned eminences, till with rapidly straightening lines they fade into the broad grey plains, beyond which the Southern Ocean is visible by the white sea-haze upon the sky.

The properties prosper. The young men grow up together, with little education except that Dr Mulhaus acts as tutor to Sam Buckley. Alice comes home and is of course the most beautiful, intelligent and good natured girl that Hamlyn has ever seen. A notorious bushranger turns out to be another native of Drumston. There’s an exciting battle (if you want some real colonial bloodthirstiness check out the rape of the bridal party in Ralph Rashleigh).

Everyone makes their fortune – without the Goldrush being mentioned, though much of Sam’s comes from speculating in Melbourne property (plus ca change, what) – and they all go back to Britain (or Germany) and resume their rightful titles.

Seeing as these fortunes have all been made on someone else’s land, let’s have a look at that. “The land referred to as ‘East Gippsland’ is country that spans three indigenous nations, these are the nations of Bidewell, Yuin, Gunnaikurnai and Monero (Ngarigo). These nations never ceded sovereignty and continue their custodianship of the land of waters within so called ‘East Gippsland'” (here).

At this point trucking calls. I have two trips back to back, and no time for writing. As I have quite a bit to say about Hamlyn’s unselfconscious settler-colonialism, I will post at this point and write up his representation of settler-Aboriginal interactions as soon as I can.


Charles Kingsley, The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn, first pub. 1859. 474pp.

Fifty (Australian) books up to 1950 you must read

Read that title as “…must read to understand how Australian Literature began and developed”.

For the last twenty years, for my degree, and here on this blog, my objective has been to establish that the Independent Woman is at least equally as strong an archetype for Australianness as the Lone Hand in the Bush/Brave Anzac so beloved of politicians.

The Lone Hand myth was the product of AG Stephens at the Sydney Bulletin at the turn of the C20th, building on the ballads of Adam Lindsay Gordon and Banjo Paterson, the short stories of Henry Lawson and Steel Rudd, and Joseph Furphy’s groundbreaking novel Such is Life. And building also on what seems to be suburban Australia’s love of the Bush and the Outback.

Stephens was actively misogynist, writing approvingly of men “going home to beat their wives”, and anti-Melbourne to boot, so it was easy for him to characterise the earlier (and overlapping) school of Ada Cambridge, Catherine Martin and Tasma to name a few, as Melbourne-based, women writers of domestic and romance fiction. Melbourne’s premier writer, Marcus Clarke, was guilty more or less by association.

The idea of Australians as rugged individualists at home in the Bush was only given strength by the wartime (WWI) reportage of CEW Bean and Keith Murdoch. Then after the War, with universities studying only English Lit.; the overweaning influence in publishing and education of Colin Roderick, himself no mean misogynist; and the dominance of returned servicemen in education generally; that first generation of women was lost to view, out of print for another 60 or 70 years.

Between the Wars, male writers like Vance Palmer struggled to be the next Henry Lawson, Xavier Herbert maybe a notable exception; while women writers, working in the mostly urban Modernist and Social Realist streams, regained centre stage. Those women whose spiritual home was the Bush pushed a third theme, both in Literature and in Politics, reclaiming a place for women alongside men, as ‘Pioneers’. Ironically, the most successful of all the writers following Lawson was Eve Langley, whose Steve fights so hard to be both Independent and at home with Bush life.

The novels I have listed below are both worth reading for themselves, and important for their contribution to these themes. Interestingly, leaving aside the very early writers, nearly everyone here says that the Australian writers they read initially at least, were Kendall, Gordon, Lawson and Paterson. Of the English they say Milton and Byron. Some say the Vicar of Wakefield, Thackeray, a few Dickens. I am yet to see one who says Austen. Novel-reading I suspect was not seen as serious.

I admit I have not read all these works yet myself, and some I have read I actively dislike (looking at you Mrs Gunn). Often I have chosen just one work, or sometimes two, to stand in for an author’s whole body of work.

The themes a work contributed to are in brackets at the end of each listing. Quite a number give views of Aboriginal life, only Unaipon is himself Indigenous. There are roughly 50 novels and 25 others – Poetry, Criticism, Non Fiction


Watkin Tench, A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, 1793, review (NF, Pioneer, Indigenous)

Henry Savery, Quintus Serviton,1831, no review (Lone Hand)

Charles Harpur, The Bushrangers and Other Poems, 1853 (Verse)

Catherine Helen Spence, Clara Morison, 1854, review (Independent Woman)

Rafaello Carboni, The Eureka Stockade, 1855, no review (NF)

Frederick Sinnett, The Fiction Fields of Australia, 1856 (Criticism)

Louisa Atkinson, Gertrude the Emigrant, 1857, review, (Pioneer)

Henry Kingsley, The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn, 1859, review (Pioneer)

Caroline Leakey, The Broad Arrow, 1859, review (Independent Woman)

Henry Kendall, Leaves from the Forest, 1869 (Verse)

Marcus Clarke, For the Term of his Natural Life, 1870, no review (Lone Hand)

Adam Lindsay Gordon, Bush Ballads & Galloping Rhymes, 1870 (Verse, Lone Hand)

Rolf Boldrewood, Robbery Under Arms, 1882, no review (Lone Hand)

Fergus Hume, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, 1886, no review (Urban)

Tasma, Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill, 1889, review (Urban)

Rosa Praed, The Romance of a Station, 1889, Proj. Gutenberg (Remote)

Catherine Martin, An Australian Girl, 1890, review (Independent Woman)

Ada Cambridge, The Three Miss Kings, 1891, review (Independent Woman)

William Lane, The Workingman’s Paradise, 1892, no review (Urban, Anarchism)

Price Warung, Tales of the Convict System, 1892 (Short Stories)

Ethel Turner, Seven Little Australians, 1894 (YA)

Banjo Paterson, The Man from Snowy River, 1895 (Lone Hand, Verse)

Henry Lawson, While the Billy Boils, 1896 (Lone Hand, Short Stories)

Mary Gaunt, Kirkham’s Find, 1897, review (Independent Woman, Outback)

Louise Mack, Teens, Girls Together, 1897-8, review (YA)

A Sutherland & HG Turner, The Development of Australian Literature, 1898 (Criticism)

Steele Rudd, On Our Selection, 1899, review (Pioneer, Short Stories)

Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career, 1901, review (Independent Woman)

Henry Lawson, Joe Wilson and his Mates, 1901 review (Lone Hand, Short Stories)

AG Stephens ed., The Bulletin Story Book, 1901 (Lone Hand, Short Stories)

Barbara Baynton, Bush Studies, 1902, review (Independent Woman, Short Stories)

Joseph Furphy, Such is Life, 1903, review (Lone Hand, Modernism)

Mrs Aeneas Gunn, We of the Never Never, 1908, review (NF, Pioneer, Indigenous)

Mary Grant Bruce, Billabong books, 1910-42, review (YA)

Mary Gilmore, Marri’d, 1910 (Poetry)

Louis Stone, Jonah, 1911, no review, (Urban)

CJ Dennis, The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, 1915, review (Verse, Urban)

Louise Mack, A Woman’s Experiences in the Great War, 1915 (NF, Memoir)

Rosa Praed, Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land, 1915, review (Outback, Indigenous)

Maurice Furnley, To God: From the Weary Nations, 1917 (Verse)

May Gibbs, Snuggle Pot and Cuddlepie, 1918 (YA)

Norman Lindsay, The Magic Pudding, 1918 (YA)

DH Lawrence, Kangaroo, 1923, no review (Modernism)

DH Lawrence & Mollie Skinner, The Boy in the Bush, 1924, review (Lone Hand, Modernism)

Kenneth Slessor, Thief of the Moon, 1924 (Verse)

Brent of Bin Bin (Miles Franklin), Up the Country, 1928, review (Pioneer)

M Barnard Eldershaw, A House is Built, 1929 (Pioneer)

C Hartley Grattan, Australian Literature, 1929 (Criticism)

Katharine Susannah Prichard, Coonardoo, 1929, no review (Remote, Indigenous)

David Unaipon, Native Legends, 1929 (Indigenous)

Arthur Upfield, The Barakee Mystery, 1929, no review (Lone Hand, Indigenous)

Henry Handel Richardson, The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney, 1930 no review (Pioneer)

Frank Dalby Davison, Man Shy, 1931, no review (Independent Woman, Outback)

Flora Eldershaw, Contemporary Australian Women Writers, 1931 (Criticism)

Leonard Mann, Flesh in Armour, 1932, no review (Lone Hand, War)

Ion Idriess, Drums of Mer, 1933, review (Indigenous)

Dorothy Wall, Blinky Bill, 1933 (YA)

Eleanor Dark, Prelude to Christopher, 1934, no review (Modernism)

Georgiana McCrae, Georgiana’s Journal, 1934, review (Pioneer Memoir)

Dymphna Cusack, Jungfrau, 1936, review (Independent Woman, Modernism)

Miles Franklin, All That Swagger, 1936, review (Pioneer)

Ernestine Hill, The Great Australian Loneliness, 1937, review (NF, Outback)

Xavier Herbert, Capricornia, 1938, no review (Outback, Indigenous)

Christina Stead, The Man Who Loved Children, 1940, no review (Modernism)

Eleanor Dark, The Timeless Land, 1941, no review (Pioneer, Indigenous)

Kylie Tennant, The Battlers, 1941, no review (Social Realism)

Eve Langley, The Pea Pickers, 1942, review, (Independent Woman)

Miles Franklin & Kate Baker, Joseph Furphy, 1944, review (Criticism/Biog.)

Ern Malley, The Darkening Ecliptic, 1944 (Verse/Hoax, Modernism)

Norman Lindsay, The Cousin from Fiji, 1945, no review (Independent Woman)

Christina Stead, For Love Alone, 1945, no review (Independent Woman, Modernism)

Ruth Park, The Harp in the South, 1948, no review (Social Realism)

Patrick White, The Aunt’s Story, 1948, no review (Independent Woman, Modernism)

Judith Wright, Woman to Man, 1949 (Verse)

Frank Hardy, Power without Glory, 1950, no review (Socialist Realism)

Colin Roderick, An Introduction to Australian Fiction, 1950 (Criticism)

Nevil Shute, A Town like Alice, 1950, no review (Outback)


That’s about 1200 words already. I’d like to do a commentary on each book, but 50 words per book would take me past 4000. Meanwhile, where I have them, I’ve linked to my reviews.

NB. Loiusa Egerton (Castle Herbert), 1830 by Mary Grimstone who was in Tasmania from 1825-29, was probably the first novel written in Australia but it has no Australian content. Women’s Love, 1832 sounds more interesting. Back in England, Grimstone moved in Socialist and Unitarian circles which included Elizabeth Gaskell.

Marshmallow, Victoria Hannan

April 1 was release day for Alexis Wright’s Praiseworthy. Off I went to my local indi, who disappointingly as usual, had Wright tucked away in a corner and a (presumably) new Atwood front and centre of New Releases. One book is never enough and so I picked up Marshmallow and a new to me Octavia Butler, Fledgling. It’s an expensive hobby, not much change out of a hundred bucks there.

You’ll remember I reviewed Hannan’s debut, Kokokomo, just a few weeks ago. In Comments, Kate W said that she had read Marshmallow (I’ll find and link to her review at the end) and thought this time Hannan had spread herself a bit thin, writing from the perspective of each of the five protagonists. I on the other hand (unexpectedly) enjoyed it and thought it the right approach for a novel whose subject is the effect of a tragedy on a friendship group.

Of course friendship groups are something I only know about from watching Friends and Big Bang Theory – which I still do on Facebook, more often than I like to say. Russell and Cam and Di and so on who were my friendship group for the three years I was at or around uni were never anything like Nathan, Annie, Ev, Claire and Al in this book; and anyway, even leaving aside me getting married and going off truck driving, the others soon all went their separate ways (The following year I was meant to come back from Queensland for Cam’s wedding but YB was crook, it would have involved hitchhiking, time off work; and that was the end of that).

Once again Hannan uses the setting she seems to know best, Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs, this time mostly Brunswick and North Fitzroy, along St Georges Rd. Plus a look at Toorak, Melbourne’s most expensive suburb, which Nathan comes from (and Russell too from my own friendship group – Nathan’s parent’s house seemed very familiar). The timing is just two days: from the morning of the day before, to the evening of the first anniversary of the tragedy. But of course, using recollection to circle round and round, from their first days at uni together – they’re now in their late thirties – to close in on the tragedy itself.

All five were there when the tragedy occurred, and feel some level of blame. Nathan and Annie, childhood sweethearts now married, were at the centre of it; Ev to a large extent, is the rock as the others fall to pieces around her; Al and Claire, a couple since uni, are spiralling apart, with Al routinely drunk and Claire, a high-powered lawyer, working ridiculous hours.

[Al] read the same articles with the same photo of the smiling boy. Nothing new. Nothing damning. Yet it bought him no peace, no solace. It didn’t change the fact of what had happened nearly a year ago.

He knew he should stop and look through his inbox, write a to-do list, get his shit together. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t stop looking, couldn’t stop venturing off his now-daily anxiety tour of the internet.

That’s from chapter One. There are 27 chapters in all, averaging eleven pages per chapter. Each chapter a close third-person perspective on one protagonist. Some start out observational and it takes a minute to work out whose chapter it is. Annie, who is closest to the tragedy, gets just one or two pages each time, and we see her mostly from the ‘outside’.

I guess the central theme is that one grief brings out another. To deal with the immediate grief you have to deal with everything. Al with a friend who died when he was a teenager; Nathan with remote and controlling parents; all of them with guilt.

‘Why did you lie to old what’s-her-chops about how they’re doing?’ Al asked.

‘Because I don’t think either of them would appreciate me telling Patti fucking Saunders that they’re not coping at all,’ Claire said. ‘That Ev’s not coping, that we’re not coping.’ Al didn’t say anything. Claire kept going. ‘Grief is a rollercoaster ride, Al. And it’s cumulative. These feelings … they can bring up stuff about others you’ve lost.

She heard Al sigh.

Like your mum. for example,’ Claire added carefully.

‘Don’t bring her into this.’

Right at the end, it all comes together a bit too neatly for my taste. Life’s just not that good, even when mummy and daddy have given you (Nathan) the money to buy a million dollar inner-suburban terrace.

As I said, I enjoyed it, but for me Marshmallow was ‘just’ Grief Lit., well written general fiction. Hannan is now at that point in her career where she must decide if she wants to go down the popular, and profitable, Liane Moriarty path or if she is to use her considerable skills as a writer and observer of Gen whateverthisis behaviour to be the next Charlotte Wood, say. (I suppose I could say the Australian Sally Rooney, but to do that she would have to do away with the prop of ‘issues’ and I’m not sure she can, or will).


Victoria Hannan, Marshmallow, Hachette, Sydney, 2022. 292pp

Kate’s review in BooksareMyFavouriteandBest (here)

Stuck in the Middle

Journal: 100

Western Australia

Last weekend I was 1200 km north of Perth in the desolate country north east of Geraldton, sheep stations once but now running cattle at maybe one beast per sq. mile; bounded on the west by the North West Coastal Hwy (and Shark Bay), on the east by the Great Northern Hwy; say 800 km south to north and 400 km west to east; traversed by only the meanest of dirt roads. Home to KSP’s Coonardoo and Neville Schute’s Beyond the Black Stump; the epic buggy journey by Daisy Bates (driven by her husband Jack, though she doesn’t say so) probably following the dry bed of the Gascoyne River, from Jigalong to Carnarvon; the last part of Robyn Davidson’s camel trek (Tracks); and home also to the trucking memoir I reviewed a little while ago, Wheel Tracks.

This is Yamaji country, though the language quoted by KSP in Coonardoo appears to be Martu, whose land is centred on Jigalong, further to the west (past Newman, on the WA map).

I had a load of cement and weldmesh for a new mine 300 km north of Carnarvon and 200 km inland. I would have gone via the little community of Gascoyne Junction but the local council stipulated otherwise. My instructions were to turn off the NWCH 5 km before the bridge and rest area at Barradale, a roadhouse that hasn’t existed these last 30 years, and my landmarks after that were to be various stations at 40-50km intervals.

At which turnoff I arrived 3.00pm Friday, having spent a considerable time persuading Milly and Gee that even in the best of circumstances I would be out of phone range for 24 hours and if they hadn’t heard from me by Sunday here were my contacts and if they couldn’t help, CALL THE POLICE.

For once, the situation on the ground was pretty much as the map said it would be. By sunset I was at a parking bay just past where my road joined the road from Gascoyne Junction and there I spent the night. Unfortunately, the rain storm threatening in that photo arrived almost as soon as I pulled up.

Within an hour of taking off in the morning, and only 16 km from the mine, or from the access road in anyway, I was bogged. Luckily, I could hear traffic on the two way and was able to get someone to come out to me. After maybe 3 hours, that guy returned with a big 4wd loader to tow me out, which he did with some difficulty. I followed him in to the mine, unloaded, and by afternoon the road had dried out enough that I didn’t have any trouble driving out.

Back to the highway – and phone service – about 4.00pm, to 15 missed messages just on the family site (Psyche has been seeing a physio who is successfully ‘rewiring’ the connections between her brain and her legs meaning she’s finding walking a bit easier). I’d phoned Gee on a borrowed satellite phone from the mine, but I was happy to let them know I’d come out ok as well.

Me: Thanks for keeping an eye out.

Gee: It’s nice to have the mild excitement!

Me: It’s fun to BE the mild excitement.

Milly: Hmm…

Dragan had a pickup for me to do in Geraldton which I knocked off on the Sunday and here I am back at home, expecting to hear that I’ll shortly be asked to do it all again [not yet].

At various places along the ‘road’ in there were signs to Mount Augustus, which seems to have come into tourist consciousness only in the last few years. It is apparently a big red rock twice the size of Uluru. At a high point on the mine access road I looked out across the plain to see in the distance a mountain towering over the horizon, and I guess that was it. Wiki says “The local Wadjari people call it Burringurrah”. At this time I am struggling with the distinction between Wadjari and Yamaji. More homework needed.

Over the course of the trip I listened to JM Coetzee’s Boyhood, which made no impression on me at all; to an international thriller by the late Melbourne crime (and MF winning) writer Peter Temple whom I discover was born and raised in South Africa; and an interesting coming of age debut, Electric and Mad and Brave by Tom Pitts, set in Hastings on Melbourne’s outer eastern fringe, and which deserves more attention than I am paying it here.

I see ‘Stuck in the Middle’ is/was a US tv series, but what I had in mind was the early 70s pop song.


Recent audiobooks 

JM Coetzee (M, SAf), Boyhood (1997)
Katie Sise (F, USA), Open House (2020) – Crime
Tom Pitts (M, Aus/Vic), Electric and Mad and Brave (2022)
Peter Temple (M, Aus/Vic), In the Evil Day (2002)
Nick Spalding (M, Eng), Logging Off (2020) – ‘Humour’ DNF What was I thinking!
Lisa Unger (F, USA), Fragile (2010) – Crime

Currently Reading 

Samuel Butler (M, Eng), The Way of All Flesh (1903)
Arkady & Boris Strugatsky (M, Rus), One Billion Years to the End of the World (1977)
Stella Gibbons (F, Eng), Cold Comfort Farm (1932) – I’m enjoying it so far. Is the humour a bit forced? Maybe.

AWWC Mar. 2023

Wed 1Elizabeth LhuedeBella Guerin, From imperialistic butterfly to democratic grub
Fri 3Stories FTABella Lavender, Mrs Pankhurst: sonnet
Wed 8EmmaCatherine Helen Spence, An Autobiography (review)
Fri 10Stories FTACatherine Helen Spence, A week in the future (fiction extract)
Wed 15Bill HollowayCatherine Helen Spence, Clara Morison (review)
Fri 17Stories FTACatherine Helen Spence, Clara Morison (extract)
Wed 22Teresa PittAgnes G. Murphy
Fri 24Stories FTAAgnes Murphy, To Aimee (poetry)
Wed 29Whispering GumsLouise Mack, The world is round
Fri 31Stories FTALouise Mack, My valley (nonfiction)

Kokomo, Victoria Hannan

Bodies in the sand, Tropical drink melting in your hand
We’ll be falling in love, To the rhythm of a steel drum band.
Down in Kokomo

[Beach Boys, 1988]

Not deathless prose (or verse) Not sure why Hannan’s novel has that name; neither the name nor the cover do the novel any favours. As various characters point out, Kokomo qua tropical resort is not even a place, the only real Kokomo is a middling industrial city in Indianna. Have you been there Melanie? Is there a statue to the Beach Boys?

So the name’s a distraction, doubly with its vaguely Japanese feel. This is a novel set in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, Northcote or Preston, I forget now, about a thirtyish (Anglo) woman dealing with her widowed mother dealing with grief and guilt; dealing with glass ceilings (and glass walls); dealing with her unsatisfactory love life; dropping – at least temporarily – a lover and a good career in London to return home, to her mother and to the Chang’s across the road whose house she grew up in as much as her own, whose children were effectively her only brother and sisters.

I read Kokomo as an audiobiook, a freeby from Audible. I thought last trip I would listen to it again, refresh it in my mind, but more exciting options intervened, so I will have to make do with what memories looking stuff up prompt. First cab: Kate W. Surely “dealing with grief and guilt” means she’ll have a review and she does (here), from nearly two years ago.

Kate discusses Hannan beginning with a “sex scene”. In fact, the novel’s first words are : “Mina knew in that moment what love is.” The protagonist Mina (Jasmina) is about to take her lover and workmate Jack into her mouth when the phone rings. And she answers it!

Next we know, Mina is on a plane from London to Melbourne, and Jack has been left hanging (or standing). Her mother has been seen down the shops, at the chemist, having apparently gone outside her suburban home for the first time in 12 years, since the death of Mina’s father. Over the next two thirds of the novel, Mina waits, increasingly frantically, for Jack to answer her texts and emails. And I thought guys were thick.

Arrived in Melbourne, plopped down on her old bed, in her childhood bedroom, Mina finds her mother won’t talk to her, doesn’t want her there, is perfectly happy with daytime soaps and grocery deliveries to the door. Mina is forced into an aimless existence of polite small talk with her mother; hanging around the Chang’s; going out with Keira Chang, her lifelong Best Friend, whom she had left behind; running into the boyfriend she left behind; chasing up Shelley, her and Keira’s friend from university, now hopelessly lost to them in marriage, motherhood and upwardly mobile suburbia.

All this time Mina’s head is still in London. In her flat and Jack’s flat. In the advertising agency where she and relative newcomer Jack are joint department managers. Jack geeing up the troops, playing golf with the boss, screwing Mina. Mina falling in love, working back, getting presentations out on time and perfect. There’s a promotion coming up …

One day Mina sees her mother walking in the street with Arthur Chang, Keira’s father.

The voice of the novel changes from Mina’s first person to Elaine, her mother, in third person (and switches back briefly to Mina right at the end). And so Hannan slowly unravels the mystery of Elaine’s agoraphobia.

If you haven’t already read Kate’s review, do. She captures stuff that I (may have) thought about but couldn’t/didn’t commit to paper –

“Where this book really succeeds, is in how recognisable the uncertainties, introspection, and tensions are – a pause in the conversation that is a beat too long; a work colleague quietly but determinedly undermining you; the poorly disguised dismay of a friend when you drop in unannounced – in fleeting scenes, Hannan creates a gripping emotional narrative. And it culminates with the question, how do we manage the gap between what we have and what we need or want?”

And, like me, Kate loves that the author gets the feel of Melbourne just right.

Victoria Hannan is a Melbourne-based writer and photographer (website). Kokomo was her first novel. She now has a second out, Marshmallow (2022). I must read it.


Victoria Hannan, Kokomo, Hachette, 2020. Audiobook read by Liesl Pieters. 9 hrs 35 min.

Empathy, Fay Lee

Australian Women Writers Gen 5-SFF Week 15-22 Jan. 2023

Empathy (2022) is good, straight SF – not ‘dystopian’ or ‘Cli-Fi’ or any of those other things – from an Australian author and an Australian publisher, Hawkeye. And still it doesn’t say SF anywhere on the cover, nor on the author’s website. The author sent me a review copy, presumably after reading some reviews from our recent Gen 5-SFF Week. I guess she’ll read at least this far, so Fay, were you told not to use the term “SF”, do you think you’ll sell better as a “thriller”, or is there some other reason?

Hawkeye, whom I have not run into before, are a small, Brisbane-based publisher, specializing in new authors, and it must be emphasized, offering “traditional” publishing contracts.

The world Empathy is set on is some future Earth where the mega-rich have established ‘Sky Towns’, domed cities floating above the grime and troubles of the planet below, but tethered from time to time to Earth to re-supply.

Later, I floated in the infinity pool while Gerry slept on a lounge chair, recovering for the soiree. Leaning on the edge of the pool, I looked down down at the polluted metropolis squatting beneath me. At one edge, a darker smudge stained the haze. A riot was in progress. I traced the pattern of the city and guessed it was work of refugees, sick of being excluded from the privileged suburbs of the endemics.

As you can see it is written in the first person, by a ‘pleasure nymph’ whom I am sure has a name, but skip reading (re-reading) the first few chapters, even where she is introduced or people greet her I can’t see that a name is used. The problem is that when I am reading I carry a picture of the protagonist(s) in my mind rather than names and so am often stumped when they are referred to in the third person. And I don’t take notes.

A pleasure nymph is an escort whose skin and nerves have been enhanced so that touching her produces a feedback loop of pleasure. She feels the customer’s pleasure and feeds it back to him (or her). But she also acts in that geisha/escort role of greeting and entertaining the client’s guests.

Our nymph has just resurfaced from being kidnapped and tortured – tortured so that the victim attached to her felt her torture, it turns out – and then has suffered a period of blackout where her body has been rebuilt both to enhance her responses and to include bionics which allow her to change shape from female to male.

This is about the extent of the world-building, once these elements have been established the story devolves into a crime thriller with half a dozen well written characters with whom we get familiar. Gerry, mega-rich, a ‘grandee’ of the town; Marissa, a former refugee who has become wealthy and has recently been admitted to grandee status; fellow nymphs, Elise, Wentao, Rochelle, Kareena; a policeman from the surface, Ianto.

Our nymph has to restablish herself with her clientele. She holds a soiree wherein we are introduced to all the main characters; finds that she has a booking to attend a party at Marissa’s – who turns out to lean in the direction of sadism; where she meets and begins a sort of relationship with the policeman. Gerry has her for a night and is so impressed he attempts to ’employ’ her for the next 20 years, paid in advance at her usual rate, which she rightly it seems to me, regards as an attempt to return her to the slavery from she had escaped as a child.

How can I explain that I need my freedom? That I don’t want to be locked into a contract for a trip to the moon and back – always back? It would bind me to a man for years after he was tired of me, a man who could continue to dictate my movements, my dress, my food, my acquaintances – I try not to imagine two decades of enforced celibacy – long after he stopped thinking of me as anything more than a thing to be ordered around.

There are two crime threads. One is to work out how and why she was kidnapped. The other evolves through the course of the novel. There is the usual excitement, double crossing and reveals. Lee has obviously put a great deal of thought, not just into the plot, but into developing our nymph as a sympathetic character and into how both the emotions and the economics of her situation might work.

This is Science Fiction in the old way. A well thought out ‘world’, and a plot that rocks along. Not literary at all. But it is also Women’s SF, a distinction I have been exploring/trying to make for a few years now, which depends far more on the character of the (female) protagonist than straight, men’s SF, and on character development. Sure, it’s escapism, but it’s well done.


Fay Lee, Empathy, Hawkeye, Brisbane, 2022. 209pp

Fay Lee’s website (here). I can’t see that there is an e-book version but you can always ask.

I put a link in my own recent review of Future Girl to Kimbofo’s review for AWW Gen 5-SFF Week of The Hush by Sara Foster but I suspect not many of you saw it.