Tasma

Australian Women Writers, Gen 1 (1788-1890)

Madame_Couvreur_-_Tasma.jpg

I’ve been (re-)reading Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill (1888) by Australian author Tasma, one of many notable women writers wrongly written out of the Australian canon. I read Uncle Piper maybe 15 years ago for my thesis, and may have read it first 15 years before that when Dale Spender, and the Nunawading library, first made me aware of the quality and quantity of works which make up what I have since labelled AWW Gen 1. The problem of reading for my thesis was that I was looking for a particular theme – women attempting to live adult lives without surrendering themselves to men – and so rushed through a work I saw as an ordinary romance.

In doing so I was unfair I see now, to the book and to the author. The 1969 Thomas Nelson edition I am reading contains an excellent introduction by Cecil Hadgraft and Ray Beilby (yes I know, more mansplaining) and I thought I would discuss that today, while I push on with what is proving quite a dense read  and I don’t intend that as a criticism.

Jessie Catherine Huybers was born at Highgate in London on 28 October 1848. She was the second child and oldest daughter to James Alfred Huybers, a native of Antwerp who migrated to Tasmania in the early 1850s.

There in Hobart, Huybers prospered as a merchant. His two sons attended Hutchins School (for rich boys). Jessie’s education is not recorded, but her father’s library when it was sold up in 1887 contained 850 volumes of French and English literature. Jessie was married at 18, in 1867 to Victorian ‘gentleman’ Charles Fraser who was 8 years older, and worked for his brother in law who owned the Montpellier and Riverview Mills* and the Hotel Carlsruhe near Kyneton, and ‘Pemberley’ at Malmsbury (both towns north west of Melbourne on the road to Bendigo).

The marriage was unsuccessful. Jessie spent some years in Europe with her mother and younger siblings, came back, began writing, living with but apart from her husband, returned to Europe, met Auguste Couvreur, a Belgian politician and journalist, was back in Melbourne briefly in 1883, to divorce Fraser who was by then living with his mistress, and subsequently spent the remainder of her short life in Belgium as Mme Couvreur. She died in 1897.

A site maintained by the Tasmanian Government says: “In 1877 she adopted the pen name ‘Tasma’, and began writing. She adopted this pseudonym to honour the colony where she grew up and continued to use it for the rest of her life. She enjoyed success from the start of her writing career and was regarded as a bright new talent, contributing articles and short stories on a variety of topics to the Australasian, the Melbourne Review and the Australian Journal.” Her ADB entry adds, “marriage [to Couvreur] gave her the opportunity to expand her writing beyond the fields of literary criticism and the short story.” And goes on …

In 1889 she published her first novel, Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill, which remains the best and best-known of all her novels. This and A Knight of the White Feather (1894) are the least autobiographical of her novels. The others, In Her Earliest Youth (1890), The Penance of Portia James (1891), Not Counting the Cost (1895) and A Fiery Ordeal (1897), are in large measure so obviously autobiographical that Charles Fraser must have been recognized in them from one end of Victoria to the other.

Hadgraft & Beilby write (of the 1890s):

That part of Australian society described by such writers as Lawson, Paterson and Furphy tended to be seen as the whole of society. Tasma on the other hand, saw a part (the middle class) and quite accurately recognised it as only being part … In Uncle Piper she opens a window and allows us to look in on a part of the Australian scene that became increasingly overlooked as the belief took hold that the real Australia was to be found only in the bush.

The editors spend some pages discussing the ways in which Tasma and Joseph Furphy represent respectively the end of English Literature in Australian and the beginning of Australian Lit., and posit that the two may have met when both were living in Kyneton in 1867. Tasma was a French speaker, Furphy had a French wife. Both wrote verse and Furphy won a local prize with a recitation of his “The Death of President Lincoln”. Maybe. In Such is Life Furphy is critical of the generation of the popular women writers who preceded him, and in Rigby’s Romance the eponymous Rigby names his horse Tasma.

Tasma, like Rosa Praed, drew heavily on her unhappy marriage to describe young women struggling to escape from a husband who “is often a drunkard, a gambler, a dunce, a coward, emotionally unstable, prone to insanity, dishonest and occasionally effeminate.” Tasma uses her heroines to argue against the institution of marriage, and to discuss the possibility of Free Love (without ever, unfortunately, resorting to it, or surprisingly, to divorce). These are an almost constant theme in early Australian women’s fiction, constantly overlooked.

The 1950s with its idealization of the perfect marriage propagated by American film and television stands between us and a proper understanding of just how un-Victorian, intelligent Victorian women were. The gatekeepers who kept us from reading Come in Spinner or Lettie Fox with their promiscuous heroines, who kept unpublished and unstudied all women’s fiction from before WWI, also kept us, and to a large extent still keep us, from an informed reading of our own history.

 

Tasma, Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill, first pub. 1888. This edition pub. 1969 by Thomas Nelson, Cecil Hadgraft & Ray Beilby ed.s

The painting of Tasma above is in the State Library Victoria collection and was painted by Mathilde Philippson in 1890 (here)

see also:

Whispering Gums, Tasma (aka Jessie Couvreur) (here)
Other reviews and essays in the AWW Gen 1 page (here)
Patricia Clarke, Tasma the life of Jessie Couvreur, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1994
Patricia Clarke, Tasma’s Diaries, Mulini Press, Canberra, 1996
Patricia Clarke, papers in the NLA (here)
Tasma as seen by the Tasmanian Government (here)
Obituary, Hobart Mercury (here)


*The Montpellier mill at Carlsruhe (here) and the Riverview mill at Kyneton (here) were steam powered flour mills built for pastoralist William Degraves in about 1860. The buildings housing the mills were impressive four story structures of local bluestone.

TheMillMalmsbury_5_1.jpg

One of the surviving mills in this area.

Carlsruhe Hotel

Hotel Carlsruhe c. 1865. Now Lord Admiral House. “The great bluestone public house, designed for a monster hotel, was completed as far as its first story, but as it was never carried any farther, it naturally possesses at the present time a somewhat squat appearance, with a suggestively make-shift roof, and a general air of having been stopped in its growth.”

Pemberley-24-1024x682.jpg

Pemberley at Malmsbury, now a wedding venue (do grooms emerge from the lake in wet shirts?)

Hearing Maud, Jessica White

9781760800383.jpg

Have you read Brian Matthews’ Louisa? It begins, “Louisa Lawson (née Albury) was born on ..”. But this conventional start makes Matthews unhappy, he criticizes his typewriter, starts again.

I write, “Hearing Maud is the third work by Australian author Jessica White (1978- )”, and immediately think of Louisa. What to do? My ‘typewriter’ is an oldish pc with a 23 inch screen that was radical (and expensive) when I bought it, in 2008 I think, though the box has been updated since, sitting on the wooden kitchen table my paternal grandfather made for his wife, my Nana, in the early years of their marriage during the Depression.

… (how much easier it would be, I thought suddenly, if one could somehow step into that bland, printless expanse and leave behind the struggle with the black and compromising words), this sentence, anyway, reminded me forcibly of the problematic nature of biography and of this biography in particular. (Matthews)

Matthews’ problem is to construct a story from too little information. While Jess White’s, as in any memoir, is what information to hold back.

Jess is part of the furniture a familiar presence in this corner of the blogosphere, disability editor for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge, a guest a couple of times on this blog (here, here, here), a fellow blogger (here), and an occasional correspondent as we attempt, unsuccessfully, to catch up for coffee.

Hearing Maud is her story. Though the Maud of the title is the daughter of Australian novelist Rosa Praed (1851-1935), the connection being their both being deaf. So should that be Non-hearing Maud (and Jess), or is it a plea for us to be hearing Maud who was brought up to speak and write but gradually lost the ability to do both as in adulthood she descended into madness. And, by extension, what is it that Jess wants us to hear from/about her.

Jess became deaf after an illness when she was four. She could already speak and retained some, limited hearing, so by concentrating, lip reading she could appear to be normal, or at the shy end of normal, and her parents made the decision that support at school and elocution lessons were a better option than learning to sign. I’m not sure that’s a decision Jess is happy with. But being publicly critical of parents you love, of anyone you love, comes with the memoir furniture so to speak.

It is easy to overlook that the other half of Jess’s name is White. Her grandfather was Patrick White’s father’s cousin (I think). David Marr, White’s biographer, is big on White’s background in the squattocracy –

The story of the Whites in Australia is the history of a fortune, a river of money that flowed through New South Wales … The Whites had hundreds of thousands of acres of the best land in Australia: in the Hunter Valley, across the Liverpool plains and up through New England.

That’s an unfair thing to apply to Jess, though I think she should have addressed it. Jess’s father shares a farm at Boggabri NSW with his brothers (a little north and west of the really fertile New England country) which he leaves while Jess is in high school, to concentrate on his landscape painting. I think though, Jess enjoys having the great novelist in her family tree as Rosa Praed had the poet Charles Harpur.

Praed too was born into the squattocracy. Her father was a Queensland grazier and politician (see Lady Bridget in the Never Never Land (here)). In 1872 she was married from Government House at St John’s Church of England, Brisbane, to Campbell Praed, younger son of an English banking and brewing family. Interestingly, White downplays this, to ‘Rosa Praed grew up in the Australian Bush’ (I paraphrase, I forgot to mark the quote).

The Campbell Praeds had a grazing property on Curtis Island, just off the coast north of Gladstone Qld. There they had a daughter, Maud, and a son but things went badly and they soon left to live permanently in England. Maud was probably made deaf by a serious ear infection, while only a few months old, on Curtis Island, for which Rosa was unable to obtain treatment.

In England, Maud is taught to speak. She seems intelligent, well educated and well-spoken. But Rosa holds her at a distance, sends her to boarding school, and when the marriage breaks up, replaces Maud with her new and permanent love, Nancy Hayward. Maud stays with her father, and when he dies, blames herself, has a breakdown and is institutionalised in Holloway Sanatorium, where she gradually loses the ability to communicate.

White uses the story of Rosa and Maud to talk about herself and her mother (and her father, brother and sister) and the lingering sadness of a stillborn brother.

I delved into the underworld through Rosa’s words and discovered a woman who used writing to eclipse the distance from Australia and express her enduring love for Nancy. Then I found her daughter, who showed me the terrible history and impact of oralism. Without Rosa, and without Maud, I would never have found myself: a partly deaf, partly hearing woman who travels between worlds, and whose travelling made her a writer.

Hearing Maud is a memoir which swirls around – from the illness which left Jess deaf, to the research in London which led to her interest in Rosa Praed, to her school days, to Maud and C19th treatments for deafness, oralism vs signing (the debate goes on (here)), to Jess’s loneliness, isolation, achievements and love life.

Near the end of the book, Jess’s sister Belle asks her “Is this book a cry for help?”. It’s a good question. Jess tells Belle, No. “I want people to know how hard I’ve worked – and how hard most people with disabilities have to work – to get where I am. I want them to hear Maud’s voice and to know that … deaf people are still expected to act like hearing people.”

At the end, Jess is learning to speak French, learning to sign (at last!), and has, after many false steps, a bloke. She is, for the time being anyway, at peace.

 

Jessica White, Hearing Maud, UWAP, Perth, 2019.

References:
Brian Matthews, Louisa, McPhee Gribble, Melbourne, 1987 (here)
David Marr, Patrick White: A Life, Random, Sydney, 1991
Other Reviews:
Lisa at ANZLL (here)
Sue at Whispering Gums (here)

When the Pelican Laughed, Alice Nannup

ANZ LitLovers Indigenous Literature Week

When the Pelican Laughed

Sue/Whispering Gums mentioned recently that she was thinking about writing about “As told to’s” and whether that is/was/might once have been an appropriate way to publish Indigenous stories. It certainly works for non-writing sports people.

Readers my age might recall from their schooldays I, the Aboriginal by Douglas Lockwood, as told to him by Alawa (Roper River, NT) man, Waipuldanya, aka Phillip Roberts. When I reviewed it (here) four years ago I expected to find it surrounded by a great deal of dismissive commentary, but in fact it seems to be regarded as a quite faithful account, although expressed in Lockwood’s fluent journalese.

The story around When the Pelican Laughed is slightly different in that it is more recent, 1992 rather than 1962, Marsh and Kinnane were working on an oral history project about Aboriginal women forced to work as servants, and Alice Nannup knew Kinnane’s (Indigenous) grandmother. But there is another, much greater difference, and that is that the words are all Alice’s.

‘You, Wari, you’re lucky to be with us, because you nearly got drowned one time.’ This is a story my mother told me about when I was very young. She told it to me in language.

For what it’s worth, my opinion is that it is important that oral histories be collected, but the author credited should be the teller not the writer. In this case all three are credited.

This book also brings up another much more important issue and one that Australians have nearly always swept under the carpet and that is, whether Aborigines were slaves. In The Great Australian Loneliness (1940) Ernestine Hill writes of pearling at Cossack (near Roebourne, south of Port Hedland and 1500 km north of Perth WA):

Nearly all the pearlers employed aboriginal divers… A bag of flour and a stick of tobacco bought a human life… From hundreds of miles inland the blacks were brought, men who had never seen the sea and now were to live and die in it. A dark sentence of history tells that when they refused to come voluntarily they were lassoed from horse-back, and dragged.

There was a form of agreement to be signed in Cossack… With a clumsy cross the natives signed their death warrants. Few of them lived longer than two years.

Alice Nannup, who was born in 1911, tells of her own position as a 19 year old on Ida Valley station 7 hours drive (maybe 200 km) from Leonora, itself a remote desert town 240 km north of Kalgoorlie in WA’s eastern goldfields (map).

Thinking back, I’d say Beeginup and Ida Valley were the two places where I was the most flat out. It was really terrible. All of us – Jess, Mary and myself – were just worked and worked. I was supposed to get five shillings a week there but they never paid me. They never paid any of us [and wherever she worked she almost never had days off].

This was on a ‘society’ property. “People would come from stations all around there, and the Bunning girls and Nellie Manford used to come up from Perth to have these big parties and play tennis.” Those were big names when I first came to Perth. Whether they still are I don’t know, though the companies bearing those names have been subsumed into others.

Alice was born on a station in WA’s north west, “Abydos Station, out from Port Hedland”. Her father was a small-scale cattleman, Tom Bassett though Alice didn’t find this out until after she had been removed to Perth as an 11 year old. Alice’s mother mostly worked for Bassett, though she moved around a bit.

My mother’s name was Ngulyi, that’s her Aborigine name… She was born on Pilbara Station, which is between Roebourne and Marble Bar and she belonged to the Yindjibarndi tribe. My mother spoke five languages as well as English – Nyamal, Palyku, Kariyarra, Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi. I spoke Kariyarra and Ngarluma the most, and, of course, English.

These languages belong to the Ngayarda group, around and inland of Roebourne, bordered to the south by the Yamaji, and to the east by the Martu, the northernmost of the Western Desert peoples (I learn as I go, so I hope I have this right. See a previous post (here)).

Wari (Alice) lived a quite happy life, an ordinary bush life with lots of cousins, at a time when all her people were station hands, until her mother was tricked into allowing a White family to take her south “to be educated” where they delivered her into the hands of the Chief Protector and she was held at Moore River, not educated at all, but made to work until she could be sent out into ‘service’.

Bassett came down and attempted to recover her, but he was soon thwarted from even visiting, and she never saw him or her mother again. This is where the question of slavery comes in. Of course Aborigines under the 1905 Act were not owned by individuals and so could not be bought and sold, but they were effectively ‘owned’ by the State. They had no freedom of movement; they had to work where they were told; if they were paid, it was a derisory amount, half of which was paid into an account held by the Chief Protector and which they could sometimes beg to be allowed to spend (on necessaries); and by Alice’s account they worked tremendously long hours, seven days a week. Late in her life, Alice discovers she had been the sole beneficiary of Basset’s will – £400 – but the money had been paid into an Aboriginal Affairs account, was lost, and they had made no attempt to tell of his death or of the earlier deaths of her mother and sister.

Alice mostly worked as a servant on farms, which involved both inside and outside work. The farms of course were all down south. The Chief Protector made sure that northerners only worked in the south and southerners only worked up north, to reduce the possibility of abscondment. Alice did in fact walk off Ida Valley and once picked up was able to resist any attempt to return her.

[A policeman] told us that Mr Neville had said we should go back to the station, and we should never have run away because it was dangerous. So we told the policeman how we were treated and that, and he said, ‘Well, I can’t force you, so you’ll have to come into Leonora.’

Here they found work until they were able to return to Perth. Alice knew Neville from having been a maid in his house, so she got him to give her a pass to go and work with a previous employer, but after only a few months, Neville wrote to her saying that Will, her boyfriend had the chance of a married position so she should return to Moore River, which was the only place he would allow Aborigines to be officially married.

They found work around Meekatharra but eventually settled at Geraldton, on the coast and began raising a large family through the Depression and WWII in a series of camps, shanties, reserves, and all too infrequently, reasonable houses, experiencing all the while both casual and official racism. Eventually she and Will split, I think Alice was a pretty forthright woman, and although she continues to live and eventually retire in Geraldton she is contacted by relatives in Roebourne and is able to reconnect and make peace with her past.

Towards the end of the book she is able to say,

… I had thirteen kids, they had forty children between them, and their kids have had forty six. So altogether that makes ninety nine. I have another great grandchild due in 1992 which will make it one hundred – and maybe I’ll get a telegram from the Queen.

Alice Nannup was a sober and abstemious woman. Originally C of E, she moved on when a South African vicar began discriminating against the Blacks in his congregation, and found a home with the Seventh Day Adventists. And if she didn’t get the material rewards she deserved for her tremendous hard work, she ended up secure in her culture and with an enviable network of family and friends.

 

Alice Nannup, Lauren Marsh, Stephen Kinnane, When the Pelican Laughed, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Perth, 1992. Cover painting by Michael Francas (taken from a photo of Alice but with a background clearly of the country inland of Roebourne).

see also: My review of The Fringe Dwellers by Nene Gare (here), which is set in Geraldton. Gare’s husband worked in Aboriginal Housing, so Nannup knew him and was friends also with another Aboriginal woman working with Nene Gare on the book.

 

No Friend but the Mountains, Behrouz Boochani

39284186.jpg

Behrouz Boochani (1983- ) was born in that part of Kurdistan which has been subsumed into northern Iran, and which was the site of battles during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88. He took a masters degree in Political Science in Tehran, worked for a time as a journalist, and was active in promoting Kurdish independence. This brought him to the attention of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. When, in 2013, many of his colleagues were arrested Boochani went into hiding, and subsequently made his way to Indonesia, where this memoir begins, to make the risky passage by boat to the Australian territory of Christmas Island, and there to claim refugee status.

As is well known, Boochani is today and has been for a number of years, a prisoner in the hell hole maintained by private contractors on Manus Island, PNG as part of the Australian government’s illegal indefinite offshore imprisonment of non-White refugees. The book began as a series of long text messages (thousands of words) in Farsi which were then translated into English by Dr Omid Tofighian of Sydney Uni. (more here and here). Boochani and Tifighian collaborated closely in a process “requiring literary experimentation … and a form of shared philosophical activity”.

The text of the memoir is surrounded by forewords and afterwords, by the translator, and by Australian author Richard Flanagan. I have chosen not to read them, but to concentrate on the words of the text itself. When the memoir begins, the author is anonymous, in a party of others like himself being carried in two trucks to the beach. And we only slowly build up a picture of who he is, who they are, and why they have chosen to undertake this clearly perilous voyage.

Two trucks carry scared and restless passengers down a winding, rocky, labyrinth. They speed along a road surrounded by jungle, the exhausts emitting frightening roars … For six hours I have sat without moving, leaning my back against the wooden wall of the truck, and listening to an old fool complain about the smugglers … Three months of wandering hungry in Indonesia have driven us to this misery, but at least we are leaving on this road through the jungle, a road that will reach the ocean.

And so the scene is set.

The book proceeds as a series of images, through text and poetry, of surroundings, of people who are rarely named but instead are given descriptors – Maysam-the-Whore, Father-of-the-Months-Old-Child, The-Friend-of-the-Blue-Eyed-Boy. First the voyage, itself worthy of a book on its own. A little fishing boat, crowded, leaking, a storm, the boat out of fuel. It is only slowly revealed that this is the author’s second attempt at a crossing. But this one is ‘successful’, the boat sinks, they are rescued, transferred to Christmas Island.

The author is of the mountains to which he and his mother had retreated to avoid the Iran-Iraq War, knows the ocean only from geography textbooks, had considered joining the Peshmerga, the Kurdish liberation army, questions his own courage because he didn’t.

Is this human being who he thinks he is?

Does this human being reflect the same theories that he holds?

Does this human being embody courage?

From Christmas Island the refugees are rapidly transported to Manus Island. To a hastily and shoddily constructed prison. They are warned by their Australian captors that the Papuans, to whose country they have been shunted, are cannibals. And the Papuans – “Papus” in this text – have been told that the refugees, all men, are terrorists awaiting deportation. This is of a part with the Kyriarchal system of oppression employed by the Australians (see link below) in which every person is controlled by being forced to treat every other person as enemy.

Boochani describes at length the systems, or rather his reactions to the systems of handing out food, communications, and medicine which are designed deliberately to be both inadequate and inequitable so that prisoners are forced constantly into queues to be the first to get to fresh food, or paracetamol (all other medications being stockpiled but not dispensed), to doctors and dentists who are promised monthly but never arrive.

He is never able, we are never able to forget that he is caged, indefinitely, in the most squalid conditions, the toilets and showers flooded with and surrounded by human waste, tropically hot beyond bearing, crowded into tiny, ill-ventilated rooms, mosquito bites festering into open sores. And yet he remains both human and a poet.

That damn fan keeps spinning pointlessly. My whole body is drenched in sweat. I take my clothes off. Whatever position I lie in to try to sleep, half my body becomes covered in perspiration …

He sketches in his fellows, mostly Kurds, and particularly the Gentle Giant who breaks up disputes just with his presence. The author enjoys brief respites in the dark, on the roof or over the fence, on the beach, but the book ends with the four compounds of the prison breaking into protests and then riot. The Australians retreat, even the elite riot squad, “iron men, with their proud iron armour” –

The officers had all run away.  They stood on the other side outside the prison, and on the dirt road behind the prison. The Papus also stood there … Slowly, gradually, a group of local people emerged on the dirt and outside the prison. An unimaginable alliance was forming: locals were uniting with the Australians. Even in these circumstances they commanded the situation. They still ruled.

As the prisoners break down the fences separating the compounds “a downpour of rocks descended. It wasn’t clear where they came from, but they rained down on the mass of prisoners on the battlefield.”

Over time, in the dark and confusion, the Australians are reinforced. They lead the non-combatants, of whom Boochani is one, out of the prison, down a road lined by Papus, who beat any prisoner who gets out of step. After long hours, when the riot has been quelled, they are led back, not to their rooms, but to a tent where the bodies of the wounded are piled.

The message arrives. They had killed Reza. They had killed The Gentle Giant.

This great and poetic work proclaims what has gradually been becoming clearer over the past decade. We Australians are allowing ourselves to be ruled by Nazis. Nazis who maintain their concentration camps offshore but who, emboldened by our passivity, are slowly increasing their hold over us through surveillance, through the withholding of information, through the ‘legal’ persecution of those few brave enough to reveal the government’s illegal actions.

We didn’t complain when they introduced indefinite detention without trial for non-white refugees. We didn’t complain when they introduced indefinite detention without trial for non-white muslim “terrorists”. We have never complained about the ongoing killings by police and vigilantes of Aboriginals. So don’t bother to complain when they start coming for white, middle class anti-war activists. It will be too late.

 

Behrouz Boochani, No Friend but the Mountains, Picador, Sydney, 2018. Translated (from Farzi) by Omid Tofighian


Postscript: On 18 May the Australian people voted in a federal election. Racist, troglodyte Queenslanders put the far-right One Nation party and the expansion of coal mining first in such numbers that against all expectations the Morrison Liberal government was returned. For Boochani it was the end of all hope:

How many more people must die on Manus before Australia ends indefinite detention?Behrouz Boochani (The Guardian [4 June 2019]): “I have never seen the refugees on Manus so depressed. Even when Reza Barati was killed, when that innocent man was sacrificed … that time when the other refugees were bashed and beaten. I swear, it has never been like this. Not even on Good Friday in 2017 when soldiers rained shots into the prison camp. Even at the height of the violence and when confronted with death the refugees always maintained a sense of hope. However, the day after the election, everything sank into an abyss of darkness. The outcome of the last election extinguished the last glimmer of hope for freedom, it shut out any hope that remained after six years of purgatory. Overnight everything just slipped away.”


See also:
Manus Prison and the Kyriarchal System (here)
Arash Kamali Sarvestani & Behrouz Boochani, Chauka, Please Tell us the Time (video here)(Age review here)
Mohammad Ali Maleki, Iranian poet/Manus Is. prisoner, at Verity La, 6 June 2019
Refugee sets self on fire (Age 12 June 2019)
Mums4Refugees Facebook page (here)
Dawood Amiri, Confessions of a People Smuggler (review)

Joseph Furphy, Miles Franklin

Australian Women Writers Gen 2 Week 13-19 Jan. 2019

Illustration: Chris Grosz, The Monthly, Sept. 2009

It is not clear even at the distance of more than a century whether Joseph Furphy (1843-1912)  is one of our greatest writers, though he certainly wrote one of our greatest novels, Such is Life (1903) purportedly the memoir of time spent by Tom Collins, a minor NSW government official, with bullock drivers in the Riverina (southern NSW), “a classic which few were to read and no one was ever to establish clearly what it was all about.” (Manning Clark in Furphy’s ADB entry)

I have a first (and only, probably) edition of Miles Franklin’s Joseph Furphy, from now long-gone antiquarian book seller, Magpie’s, in Fremantle, originally belonging to a Paul Le Comte, “member W.A.H.S.” (WA Historical Society?) and including newspaper cuttings and – Emma and Lisa will like this – an information card for Furphy’s burial site in Perth’s Karrakatta Cemetery.

Franklin’s ‘Prefatory Note’ begins –

The time is not yet ripe for a definitive biography of Joseph Furphy. The Australian attitude toward biography opens the case for Mateship versus Modernity, and so far Mateship holds the pass. No frankly searching study of the lives of our prominent personages would be tolerated … because of the still lingering conventions of modesty and reticence by which British middle-class behavior was regulated until inhibition was loosened in the preliminary war of 1914-18.

Jill Roe (2008, p.388) thinks that Franklin is averting to the possibility of an affair between Furphy and Kate Baker (1861-1953), Franklin’s ‘collaborator’ in this work. The married Furphy and Baker, 18 years his junior, met in 1886 when Baker was teaching near Rushworth (in central Victoria). They became lifelong friends. Baker was important in encouraging Furphy to write, and after his death and her early retirement at 52 she did all she could to publicize and safeguard his work (ADB). By 1939, when she spent 5 months in Sydney with Franklin getting this biography underway, Baker was elderly and stone deaf and Franklin largely took over, so that the collaboration consisted of Franklin writing from the material Baker had collected over a lifetime.

Franklin was herself a Furphy fan and she and Furphy had exchanged complimentary letters and subsequently met, in 1904 (see also Such is Life, Abridged!).

It is sometimes stated that this biography won the 1944 Prior Prize, the year the book was published, but in fact Franklin won the 1939 Prior Prize for the essay Who was Joseph Furphy? which she dashed off after Baker had returned to Melbourne, though she shared the £100 with her (Franklin initially came second but the ms which beat her, MH Ellis’ biography of Governor Macquarie*, was belatedly judged to be insufficiently foot-noted).

Franklin begins at interesting point. After a brief ‘Furphian’ digression – one of the features of Such is Life is its flights down side alleys – on the development or otherwise of a distinctly Australian literature, she gives us Kate Baker, newly hatched school teacher, rushing to catch the train, and subsequently a coach and then a spring cart to the home of Isaac Furphy – brother of Joseph – and his family where she is to board for a year, before moving six miles to board another year at the home of Samuel and Mrs Furphy, Joseph’s parents, constantly inundated, by Joseph’s brothers and sisters and their children, by Joseph’s wife Leonie and their children, by everyone around except Joseph whom Kate finally meets only on the day of her departure.

When Joe began to talk he justified himself as the literary prodigy of the family. He was then forty-four, Kate Baker in her twenties.

Joe talked till 1.00 am, and again the following night. Then it was time to leave, and she asked him to visit her and her parents some time in Melbourne.

We then return conventionally to the beginning and Furphy’s surprisingly, almost Austenesque, literary home environment. Of his juvenilia Franklin writes:

A copy of “Childe Booth’s Pilgrimage” has been preserved. It bears traces of easy acquaintance with Scott, Longfellow, Homer, Byron, Burns, Moore and others. Written when the boy was between fourteen and fifteen years of age, it shows him in embryo the Furphy who in 1897 delivered of Such is Life.

Joseph was one of five brothers, and journals were kept by their mother of their writings, ballads and odes to lost loves. The Furphys had come out from Ireland in 1841, were employed and sometimes self-employed in various locations outside of Melbourne, including Kyneton where Joseph went to school. In 1868 they took up land, “Sand Hills”**, around Lake Cooper (map) in the names of Samuel (senior), Joseph and Isaac, building themselves homes which survived into the 1950s, and it is there that Kate Baker came to teach.

Today it is an inspiring sight to gaze from Mount Burramboot over the glowing plains which reach away to the blue distance for leagues on every side. In the foreground Lake Cooper and its satellites glisten like sapphires in a shield.

Joe’s selection lived up to it’s name and after five years he gave up, rented nearby while he tried a bit of gold prospecting, then with a wagon and bullocks, he uprooted his tiny, French wife and their children to follow him as a bullocky through the backblocks of NSW. His oldest son Felix, not a budding writer, who had command of Furphy’s second wagon wrote to his grandfather in 1883 –

I have no books hear but the third book and the story of the too dogs and father reads nothing but shakspere everybody carries books but they are yellow novels …

Older brother John, a blacksmith, had in the meanwhile set up the famous Furphy Foundry in Shepparton. When Joseph’s enterprise failed, due to drought and disease in the cattle, Leonie wrote home for help and a position was made for Joseph at the foundry. At last he had a settled home and could begin to write.

His first piece, “The Mythical Sundowner”, appeared in the Bulletin 5 Oct 1889, signed Warrigal Jack, though he later used Tom Collins, a “synonym for idle rumour” (as ‘Furphy’ was to become during WWI).

Over the next decade or so, he was engaged constantly, when he wasn’t working, in reading, writing, and researching, setting tasks for Kate Baker, and corresponding with fellow pedant and polymath William Cathels.

By 1897 he had an ms in want of a publisher. He wrote to the Bulletin seeking advice, and AG Stephens asked him to submit it to them – 1125 hand written pages. Furphy advised Stephens –

The plan of the book is not like any other that I know of – at least, I trust not. Also you will notice that a certain by-play in plot and éclaircissment is hidden from the philosophic narrator, however apparent to the matter of fact reader.

Stephens wrote at length to Furphy setting out in detail the economics of publication. First requirement was a typed copy and Furphy, fearful that a typist would bowdlerize his often profane masterpiece, purchased Shepparton’s third typewriter, taught himself to type, and knocked out a copy in … 12 months!

At his point in the book Franklin reproduces a great deal of (fascinating) correspondence. I find it interesting that both Stephens and Cathels, the first people to read and admire Such is Life, saw it as an idiosyncratic but essentially true-to-life account of Bush life, whereas I see it as one of the great works of Modernism, essentially about writing and language as Picasso’s work is about painting, not funny-looking women.

For three years the Bulletin prevaricated about publishing. It was a fine book, but much too long. They would bear a loss out of the goodness of their hearts. And so on. Furphy finally conceived the idea of excising two strands of the original, which would go on to be books in their own right, the novel Rigby’s Romance and the collection of stories which eventually became The Buln-Buln and the Brolga. Even so, correction, re-typing, illustration, proof reading dragged on through all of 1901 (when Miles Franklin’s own My Brilliant Career stole some of his thunder) and 1902.

Finally, in June 1903 Stephens wrote to Furphy that 2,000 copies had been printed and 500 bound, –

“… the book market is dead, have no hope of selling them for some time… Your whole affair is the curious instance of that dead and gone thing conscience. The book’s so good that it has got itself printed against foreknowledge and predestination absolute that it’ll have a darned slow sale. I mention this as a faint excuse for the shocking delays.”

Such is Life was finally released in August 1903 with an inappropriately floral cover, to mostly good reviews in Australia and adverse in Britain. Sales were poor, around 25 a month, making it impossible for the Bulletin to consider Rigby’s Romance. Furphy wrote a review of his own, concluding –

… the studied inconsecutiveness of the “memoirs” is made to mask coincidence and cross-purposes, sometimes too intricate.

In 1905 Furphy and his wife moved to Perth WA where their children were already established. They lived between the rail line and the sea, Cottesloe or Swanbourne. Between making their homes habitable, and surf bathing, he was fully occupied and after only little more than a decade, his writing career was at an end.

Rigby’s Romance was published in the Barrier Truth (Broken Hill) in 1905-6 and it was 15 years before Kate Baker could arrange to have it published as a book. Furphy died in 1912 without ever returning to see his friends in Melbourne, but maintained an active correspondence.

The last quarter of the biography is an analysis of Furphy’s work, including Miles’ frustration at Furphy’s inadequate depiction of women, ending with a discussion on the relative merits, and fame, of Ulysses, Such is Life and Remembrance of Times Past.

furphy cutting 1

 

Miles Franklin, in association with Kate Barker, Joseph Furphy: The Legend of a Man and his Book, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1944.

Shane Maloney, Miles Franklin & Joseph Furphy, The Monthly, Sept 2009 (here)

Jill Roe, Stella Miles Franklin, Fourth Estate, Sydney, 2008

Such is Life is available from Text Classics in print (2013) and e-book.


*M. H. Ellis, Lachlan Macquarie: His Life, Adventures and Times – “after a fortnight’s examination, Ida [Leeson, Mitchell Library] declared the work undocumented and full of inaccuracies.” Franklin’s work was “elevated from ‘highly commended’ to first place, with a rider that entry No. 62 would have won had it been fully documented and the references checked.” From the NLA database it appears that Ellis’ work was published in stages from 1942 to 1952, and has since been reprinted.


**Googling ‘Sand Hills Furphy’ brings up directory entries which indicate that the family still farms there; a family reunion on May 25; and a death notice for Joseph’s mother.


furphy cuttings 008

This cutting fortuitously references not just Furphy but Mollie Skinner (see Writing the Boy in the Bush) who might come up again later in AWW Gen 2 Week


AWW Gen 2 Week posts you might have missed –

Monday Musings on Australian Literature: Capel Boake, Whispering Gums

Louise Mack, A Woman’s Experiences in the Great War, Nancy Elin

Tracker, Alexis Wright

Michael Winkler reviews 'Tracker: Stories of Tracker Tilmouth' by Alexis Wright

Tracker (2017) is Alexis Wright’s Stella Award winning ‘biography’ of Central Australian Aboriginal activist Tracker Tilmouth (1954-2015). Known during his childhood as Bruce, and officially as Leigh, he should now, I think, as a late Arrente man be called ‘Kwementyaye’ Tilmouth, but I will continue as his friend and biographer Wright does, with ‘Tracker’.

Tracker is a giant of a book, 620 pp, a collage of overlapping interviews and stories, told by Tracker himself with very occasional prompting from Wright, and by his friends and colleagues.


Tracker Tilmouth: My political education began at a very young age when Lois Bartram, the housemother of our cottage on Croker Island Mission, read … to my brother William and me … Cry, the Beloved Country.

I went to Croker when I was three or four years old, with my younger brothers [William and Patrick].

Lois Bartram: I went to Croker in 1956, and Bruce came in 1957. I was twenty-five … I had done general nursing training and mid and infant welfare.

My family and grandparents on both sides lived in Nullawil … in north-western Victoria, and were farmers in the area.

We heard at the beginning of the year that these three brothers were coming but then they didn’t come… I learnt years later when I met the boy’s Aunty Doreen that she and her husband had gone to court to gain custody.

The law that said children could be removed had just been changed. It had been repealed so that they could no longer be removed but the same bureaucrats were still in power, and they got around it by charging the kids with being neglected.

Patrick Tilmouth: Sister Bartram was a good lady. And a tiny lady, she was only tiny. She put the fear of God into all of us.


And so it goes on – these are only excerpts, each ‘story’ is generally two or three pages. The Arrente people are from the area around Alice Springs, but it was policy to send the children far enough that they could have no contact with their families, and so the boys went to Darwin, to the Retta Dixon, a “drafting yard” from whence children were distributed. Their five older half-siblings, “because their skin was fairer they were sent south.”

They were lucky with Lois Bartram, who loved and educated them, took them home with her on holidays (Tracker caused Nullawil’s first race riot during a game of cricket when he refused to be given out); and also with Croker Island where they were free to roam about and catch and ride the local ponies.

Tracker eventually does a bit of high school in Darwin, returns to Alice Springs, spends some years on a cattle station, meets his father, does a lot of hell-raising, begins to be involved with the Central Land Council, gets a degree (in Agricultural Science, I think, though he refers to himself as an economist) at Roseworthy in South Australia, lives and works with communities, particularly around Docker River on the WA border, and finally, with little fanfare, we find him assistant Director and then Director of the CLC. And from there he goes on to Indigenous politics, prawn farming, and advising on Aboriginal economic ventures.

Tracker’s story, which as you can imagine, does not proceed in straight lines, concerns his wide range of contacts through Indigenous, State and National politics, as well as of course all the actors in the Central Land area, and indeed throughout northern Australia; and his core belief that Aboriginals must achieve economic independence, and that all else is just gifts from their white masters.

So you have this assimilation process running at a hundred miles an hour, parallel to the dysfunction of Aboriginal communities. And they have to be kept dysfunctional because you do not want any models to evolve from the Aboriginal community. (p. 424)

Self-governance for Aboriginals is a myth. Property rights are a myth. The land is vested in the Commonwealth Government and indigenous people are permitted to live on it with conditions. Aboriginal bodies are invented, funded, appointed by Government. Government chooses from whom it will take advice – Tracker is very, very angry, and often very funny, about Black intellectuals, about the Dobsons, Marcia Langton, Warren Mundine; White people, failures down south, come to communities as workers, mechanics and end up Administrators; Black bureaucracies, the Northern Land Council in particular, follow the rules, “Stay between the lines”, collect their salaries, their constituency not communities but their paymasters, Government.

Tracker is a lifelong member of the Australian Labor Party, was certain to become a Senator, but was sabotaged, vilified by the man he was to succeed, Bob Collins, who subsequently suicided before he could face charges relating to sex with children. Nevertheless he is adamant that property rights for traditional owners, which logically flowed from Mabo, was hijacked by the Government acting for white interests, first by Paul Keating and then John Howard, that the Native Title Act confers nothing, no right to occupy, just the minimum of royalties from mining, soon squandered on salaries and fleets of white Toyotas.

Tracker led the CLC to buy up cattle properties in the NT, as there was a sunset provision in the Native Title Act which meant that up till a given date Native Title would be automatic on Aboriginal owned properties. His big success was Mistake Creek which has always been profitable, but his dream is horticulture based on the good soils and underground aquifers of much Aboriginal land.

Eventually, another case will make its way to the High Court, the Native Title Act will be thrown out and the original inhabitants will be granted full property rights to all unalienated land.

The next task is to find a model for community ownership. Tracker was greatly attracted to the Israeli Kibbutz Movement, both for their successes in desert agriculture and for their communal governance. The Governments’ policies divide and rule, deliberately causing divisions even within language groups. Abbott, at the time of writing still prime minister, in particular attempting to enforce a ‘white picket fence’, assimilationist, individual ownership model.

Tracker Tilmouth was a man bursting with ideas, and I have barely touched on them here, bursting with stories, riding racing camels, driving, camping, living in the bush, friends with everyone he met (maybe not Peter Garrett or Jenny Macklin), sitting on Bronwyn Bishop’s lap and asking her if she wanted to make babies (I will never get that out of my head!), driving major negotiations, Jabiluka, Century Zinc, telling the young Marandoo Yanner, a leader in the author’s own country at the bottom of the Gulf, that you don’t say you have sovereignty, you’re not given sovereignty, you take sovereignty, the sovereignty is yours and has 60,000 years of history.

If you’re serious about Reconciliation – and Reconciliation is just a token without Aboriginal property rights – then read this book.

 

Alexis Wright, Tracker, Giramondo, Sydney, 2017

see also:
My post, Tracker Tilmouth on … (here)
Lisa at ANZLL’s ‘thoughts’ (here) but – sorry Lisa! – don’t stop after 250 pages. This is a fascinating book from beginning to end. Not just the ‘life’; not just the format, story telling, which Wright has contributors discuss in the last hundred pages; but the knowledge of what worked and what didn’t, why so much of what we nice, liberal whites do is wasted, mired in bureaucracy, or runs headlong into racist government (every NT government) and dickheads like Malcolm ‘take your Statement from the Heart and shove it’ Turnbull; and whatever else you read, read p.499 on the community running Ali Curung Horticulture who kept the minutes of their meetings as an enormous ever-growing dreamtime mural.

Tracker Tilmouth on …

TRACKER,-GREG-CROUGH-KALKARINGI-CONVENTON.jpg
NT Aboriginal Constitutional Convention, Tennant Creek, 1993 (Central Lands Council archive)

Self Determination: The last thing [white people] want to do is have Aboriginal people escape. Escape through the fence and go into the paddock where you can dream the unthinkable dream. They were very worried for Aboriginal people, that democracy would break out, rather than guided democracy which we enjoy at the moment. The guided democracy is still in place. And so Aboriginal people do as they are told, when they are told, by whom they are told because they do not have any control over the finances. Anyone who says Aboriginal self-determination, I would say you really want to think about that statement before I hear it again. (p.264)

Negotiating: My main argument is that you cannot go to the table with a begging bowl. If you are going to exercise your rights, and your rights are enshrined in the ownership of land, your rights are also enshrined in the economic power that you bring to the table. You cannot negotiate from a point of, Please be kind to me, I am a coon. That goes nowhere. The only time you negotiate is when you say, Righto! If you don’t listen to me it’s going to cost you. And it is going to cost you a lot more than you thought. It is delaying your project, it is delaying your resource development, it is delaying everything. (p.351)

The Intervention: The minute you saw the Intervention in the Northern Territory you thought this is madness, absolute madness. It had taken so long to get people to start [working on] self-determination, and to understand what self-determination means, and then as soon as they nearly grasp it, [the government] takes it away from them…

Even under Australian government policies of self-determination, self-management was never really happening. It was words. When there is an invasion of land, where there is an invasion of policy, whether it is an invasion of money, you cannot [win]… The minute you rely on somebody else you are gone. You adopt their policies and politics…

So you have this argument that is coming, and it has not stopped coming, and it is that the next boom in the Northern Territory will be gas and oil, and they are going to say, Righto! What have you got to offer and how do we take it off you?

Diminished through the Intervention. Totally sat on our arse. Totally sat on our arse because the Intervention was the worse thing that ever happened. Did we get any arguments from Labor politicians about the Intervention in the Northern Territory? None. (pp. 374-6)

Paul Keating: The agenda [during the negotiations to develop the native title legislation in 1993] … had nothing to do with Aboriginal people and that was day one on native title. What does the government want? Not what do you want, not how do you want it, nothing like that, so [Michael] Mansell, Clarky [Geoff Clark], and those blokes and me were pushed out the door … We were thrown out … never invited to another meeting. It had nothing to do with what Keating could deliver to you. It was about what you could deliver to Keating. Keating saw them coming a mile away. He did them cold. And today the argument that is continuing is about property rights on native title and the delivering of native title was not a discussion for Aboriginal people, it was a discussion by the leaders to deliver the Aboriginal people on a plate to Keating…

So yes, the native title debate was an absolute sellout by Aboriginal people who should have had a lot more understanding of what were the rights of Aboriginal people going forward. We lost all the ground that Faith Bandler and those people gained for us. Lost all the ground that Charlie Perkins gained for us. Lost all of that. (pp. 246-8)

Property rights: This is the disconnect that land councils keep falling over, this question about what role has native title got in relation to the [NT] Land Rights Act? The answer is very simple, the Land Rights Act is the political process by legislation… Native title is a legal decision by the High Court of Australia which supersedes any political process … So there is no need to have the legal debate. It is a question of going down to the High Court and exercising your native title rights….

Native title property rights goes past the Land Rights Act, to where you actually own the land, not the Commonwealth. Whereas under the Land Rights Act the Commonwealth owns the land under a land trust. So there is an argument there that people are really, really scared of pursuing. (pp. 372-6)

Recognition: That is why the Dodsons are wrong about advocating for recognition in the Constitution. It is not our Constitution, it is their Constitution. If you want to be invited to a shit sandwich, off you go. It is not ours, it has nothing to do with us. So we have the stupidity of recognition. What do you recognise? You recognise we own it? If you want to recognise we own it all, give us a treaty. Give us our rights. Give us our property rights. Return the stolen land. Do those sort of things. Do not talk to us about recognising us because you can do that on a piece of paper, it is not going to mean anything. (p.407)

 

‘Kwementyaye’ Tilmouth (1954-2015) was an Arrente man, from the country around Alice Springs, and a leading figure in NT and Australian Indigenous politics. The extracts for this post are from the extensive interviews which make up Alexis Wright’s recent, innovative (and Stella Award-winning) biography of him. A review follows.

 

Alexi Wright, Tracker, Giramondo, Sydney, 2017