My Henry Lawson, Bertha Lawson

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My Henry Lawson, published in 1943 and never republished as far as I can see, is a memoir of the great short story writer by his wife. I read other works about Lawson during my studies, particularly City Bushman by Christopher Lee and Louisa by Brian Matthews, which I plan to re-read and review in the next few months, but this one makes a nice entry point. Briefly, Lee argues that the mythologising of Australian bush workers was a product of city-based writers, in particular Henry Lawson; while Louisa is an account of the life of one of our great Independent Women, who also happened to be Henry’s mother. Bertha writes of her mother in law:

If there is anything in heredity, Harry’s literary talents undoubtedly came from his mother, who fifty years ago, owned and published the first women’s newspaper in Australia. It was called “the Dawn – a Journal for Australian Women.”

Lawson, then quite young and not yet a published poet, was working elsewhere at the time and “had nothing to do with it, not even as a contributor”. Later in the same chapter Bertha writes:

Louisa was a remarkable character, a very determined woman and she and her poet son could never see eye to eye. Apart they remained friendly; together they were at daggers-drawn. They had many and fierce arguments and eventually Harry left home.

Henry Lawson was born at Grenfell [NSW], in a tent, on June 17, 1867. A “birth in a mining camp … was such a novelty, that every digger visited the home to ask to see the baby and to leave generous presents.” Bertha describes Lawson’s antecedents and upbringing, and it is important in light of Lee’s argument to emphasise just how much time Lawson spent in the bush, both growing up and as a young man.

Lawson spent some time in bush schools, though was often truant or helping his parents with work, and then his deafness, caused by illness, also intervened. Louisa had some poetry published in a local paper and Lawson, aged around 10 or 11, attempted some as well but his father objected to his “vaporisings” and they were thrown in the fire. At 14 he was working full time for his father who was a building contractor in country towns west of the Blue Mountains. His education was only resumed after Louisa left her husband and moved to Granville where Henry, then 16, was able to attend night school 3 nights a week. Within a year he had a poem about a shipwreck then in the papers (The Wreck of the Derry Castle) accepted by Archibald for publication in the Bulletin.

Lawson made a number of attempts to matriculate so he could go on to university, but failed, about which he was always bitter: “I was taught too little? I learnt too much/To use a pedant’s diction” (Lawson, The Uncultured Rhymer to His Cultured Critics). He drifted in and out of employment until at 19 he returned to working for his father, at Mt Victoria. There “he learnt to drink and found that under the influence of liquor he forgot his shyness”. When his father died at the end of 1888, Lawson completed his contracts and returned to Sydney, drifting again, but keeping on writing, and for a while working as a columnist in Brisbane.

Bertha doesn’t say so, but Lawson was becoming well known (see my earlier post Poetry Slam, Lawson v Paterson). In 1892 he borrowed some money from Archibald and took off for Bourke and subsequently Hungerford in far north-west NSW looking for work. His mate Jim Grahame wrote in the Bulletin in 1925 that he and Lawson tramped around the country west of Bourke working as rouseabouts (picking up fleeces, not shearing as was sometimes reported) for six months, before Lawson returned to Sydney by train as a drover with sheep going to the abattoirs at Homebush.

In 1895 Bertha was an 18 yo nurse from Bairnsdale, Vic, in Sydney visiting her mother. A friend introduced her to Lawson who became very persistent in pursuing her and they were soon planning to get married. By this time he had two books of short stories and poetry to his credit and a third, In the Days When the World was Wide, was with the printers. The future was looking rosy. After a couple of hiccups, Bertha’s mother gave her consent and the two were married on April 15, 1896.

In her description of a rowing excursion on Middle Harbour we are given a privileged view into their lives and Lawson’s writing:

Harry took pencil and paper, and while I sat and sewed, or rowed slowly, he wrote verses, chanting them softly to himself, to get the beat and rhythm. This was different from when Harry wrote verse at home, for then he would dictate it to me in that sing-song way of his, and after I had written it down, while he paced to and fro, he would correct it and read it to me.

With money in his pocket, an advance on his book, Lawson was restless and so they sailed for WA where Lawson hoped to become a gold miner, though as it happened they never made it past a camp on the hill near the cemetery in East Perth. When their money was about to run out Bertha engineered a return to Sydney. We get a glimpse of how famous Lawson was becoming:

… in Melbourne, the pressmen came down to interview us; and although we were travelling in the steerage, the captain allowed us to use the saloon, for Harry to entertain the press. It was the grand finale to our tour, and we landed in Sydney with two shillings in the exchequer …

In Sydney Lawson’s drinking mates were a problem, and with an introduction to the Premier, they moved on again, to New Zealand. A job was found for Lawson, as the teacher at an isolated Maori school where Bertha conspired with the locals to make it difficult for Lawson to get to the ‘bright lights’ of Kaikoura 12 miles away on the coast. Here she says, Lawson did some of his best work, all of Joe Wilson and His Mates, a play, and some poetry, including Written Afterwards in which he jokes about the restrictions imposed on him by marriage.

At the beginning of 1898 they returned to Wellington where their son, Jim was born and on to Sydney, where Lawson freelanced for a while till he found work as a clerk with the Government Statistician and gave up the grog. Despite his boss telling him he only had to show up during working hours and he could write what he liked, this lasted just one week!

Another book came out, there was another advance to spend, and another baby, Bertha (b. Feb 1900). Lawson was getting good reviews in Britain, the State Governor offered to pay his passage, and soon the family were on the move again (taking with them of course the ms for My Brilliant Career).

He had become one of the literary lions of London. A dinner had been given to welcome him, at which the leading literary men were guests. The world was at Harry’s feet…

Lawson however made little attempt to take advantage of the opportunities opening up for him. And after two years on the wagon, on arrival in London he started drinking again. Friends had found housing for them, but “with all this appreciation we still had not enough money to buy food”. Mary Gilmour, her husband and child came to stay (after the failure of New Australia). “We were all in deep financial difficulties”. Then Harry got an advance from Blackwoods (publishers) and Bertha “lost no time buying passages for myself and the children for Australia”. Lawson followed soon after.

They met up again in Colombo but by the time they were back in Australia the marriage was very nearly at an end. Bertha stayed in Melbourne for six weeks, while Henry went on to Sydney; they lived together for a while in Manly, but first Henry, then Bertha, was hospitalised for long periods; their furniture was seized for arrears of rent; a third baby died at birth.

Bertha found employment as a travelling saleswoman for Stuart & Co., booksellers while Lawson took lodgings, “it was useless taking up house again as he was quite penniless and the children had to be provided for.”

He had his happy times and I think those periods were usually associated with absolute freedom from responsibility and full expression of his genius. He hated to be tied down.

In this period, immediately before the Great War, Lawson had published a prose volume “The Rising of the Court” and a book of verses “Skyline Riders”. For a while during the War, the government gave him make-work, writing advertising for the Leeton irrigation area.

Bertha goes on to analyse Lawson’s writing, his connections to the working class, where she and he fit into his stories, particularly the Joe Wilson stories, and his links to the Australian ‘Bohemians’. Lawson died in 1922, of cerebral haemorrhage. He was given a State Funeral and according to Bertha, was buried in the grave that had been prepared for Henry Kendall.

This excellent little book ends with a previously unpublished Lawson short story, A Wet Camp.

 

Bertha Lawson, My Henry Lawson, Frank Johnson, Sydney, 1943 (the drawing reproduced on the cover is signed McCormack)

Travels in Greece, Charmian Clift

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Charmian Clift (1920-1969) was a well-loved writer, though more by women than by men probably, famously married to journalist/author George Johnson (1912-1970). The two met at The Argus in Melbourne in 1946 when Clift was a fledgling reporter and Johnson was an editor and renowned war correspondent. They began an affair, for which they were sacked – mostly because Johnson was already married but also, I think, because they were not discreet.

They moved to Sydney, Johnson secured a divorce, they married, and they began co-writing novels, winning a prize with High Valley in 1948. Next stop was London in 1951 after Johnson obtained a prestigious position there with Associated Newspapers. But after only a few years they moved again, to Greece, with the intention of living as cheaply as they could, as full time writers of fiction.

Clift and Johnson were ten years in Greece, one year on the island of Kalymnos, close to the Turkish coast, the remainder on Hydra where they used all their savings to purchase a house. They had two children, a boy and a girl, Martin and Shane, born in Sydney, and another son born on Hydra. Clift wrote about living on Kalymnos in Mermaid Singing (1958) and about their first year in Hydra in Peel Me a Lotus (1959). Travels in Greece (1995) is a combination of the two.

Johnson had had little early success as a novelist, tending to rush his writing, and was probably happy to co-write with Clift, to take advantage of her greater attention to style and detail, although he continued also to produce novels on his own, finally achieving critical and financial success only after the end of their time on Hydra, with the fictionalised account of his boyhood, My Brother Jack (1964). Johnson, followed later by Clift and the children, then moved back to Australia. Clift was a script writer on the ABC TV series of My Brother Jack which aired in 1965, and began writing columns for the Sydney Morning Herald, soon achieving a large following.

In 1969 Clift, who like Johnson, had a drinking problem, suicided with an overdose of pills. Johnson’s entry in the ADB (here) says that Clift may have feared what Johnson might reveal in the second part of his fictionalised biography, Clean Straw for Nothing (1969) which came out a month later. This implies firstly that Clift had something to fear, presumably Johnson’s jealousy of her real or imagined affairs on Hydra, and secondly that she had not seen any earlier drafts of Johnson’s novel, which you would think unlikely, given their former collaboration.


At this point it occurs to me that the subjects of this and my previous review both died by suicide. If you are thinking along the same lines then I strongly suggest you talk to someone about it. I had a shot at it myself, as a young man, when my first marriage failed, and as it happens I was found and resuscitated. I have since had occasion at different times to rely on family, friends, workmates and counsellors, and they have all helped.*


Clift and Johnson’s time-out began on an impulse. They had often talked, when “outside in the Bayswater Road the night was the colour of a guernsey cow, and on the pavements the leaves lay in a sad yellow pulp”, about chucking in the London grind and moving to an island:

Perhaps if that very day we had not met, by accident, a friend newly returned from Greece who had asked me to come into the BBC to hear a radio feature he had made on the sponge-diving island of Kalymnos …

It burst like a star, so simple and brilliant and beautiful that for the moment we could only stare at each other in wonder. Why the devil shouldn’t we just go?

So we did.

We had no means of communication other than sign language, and we had a bank account that didn’t bear thinking about. Still, we thought we might be able to last for a year if we managed very carefully and stayed healthy. We had for some years published a novel every year or so, not very successfully, but we thought that it might be just possible to live by our writing when our capital ran out.

Clift’s writing is straightforward and clear, bringing to life the people they live amongst, and mixing in lots of geographical and historical background. Her own family we don’t get to know so well. George it seems is generally upstairs typing while Clift gets on with the shopping and cleaning, or he’s with her down at the local bar, and the kids are off playing. I enjoyed both accounts, but the first, Mermaid Singing, more than the second, Peel Me a Lotus. The former has a friendlier feel, as Charmian and the islanders, with the utmost goodwill, learn to understand each other and become friends. So much so that, at the end of the book, it comes as a bit of a surprise when they decide to move on.

Surprisingly, disappointingly, there is nothing at all about Clift’s and Johnson’s collaborative writing, or indeed about Clift’s life as a writer, at all. From that point of view, Park and Niland’s lightly fictionalised account of their first year together as struggling writers in Sydney, at about the same time, The Drums Go Bang (my review), is both more informative and more entertaining.

The people of Kalymnos are friendly, but seemingly without personal boundaries, living as they do (did!) in houses with a single bedroom and one sleeping platform for maybe 10 people. Locals wander in and out of the Clift/Johnson house at will, all the family’s activities are observed by hordes of children, it is not possible to walk anywhere alone, without people making it their business to be your company.

Peel Me a Lotus begins with Charmian pregnant with their third child – only ever called ‘baby’, as far as I can tell – on Hydra, having purchased a two storey house from the many empty since the glory days of the previous century, but waiting for the interminable renovations to be completed before moving in, and waiting desperately for the return of the only half-way competent ‘midwife’, before giving birth.

This book is more concerned with the activities of the other expats – not Leonard Cohen, who doesn’t arrive on Hydra until not long before the Clift/Johnsons leave – though George and Charmian still have friends in the local community. Clift is concerned that the charm of the island is being lost as it becomes a summer holiday destination for Athenians, as well as the latest resort for the usual suspects attempting to live cheap.

For it is now apparent that the yearly passage of the smart, penniless, immoral, clever young people – Creon’s ‘bums and perverts’ – has had its inevitable effect. This beautiful little port is to suffer the fate of so many little Mediterranean ports ‘discovered ‘ by the creative poor… We are watching the island in the process of becoming chic.

You will be pleased to hear that ex-Mrs Legend and I found, and the Greeks we spoke to agreed, that Hydra is probably still the least spoiled of the tourist islands. Perhaps the town, pop. 3,000, is too small to ever become a major tourist destination. Hope so!

These are interesting and well-written books with just one discordant note. Lisa at ANZLL in a recent review (here) on Clift’s newspaper columns published as a collection of essays after her death as Trouble in Lotus Land, Essays 1964-1967 (1990) said that Clift had disappointingly expressed the view that she had left school at fourteen because there was nothing they could teach her that would be “of the slightest use”. It was obviously a view she held seriously, leaving her children to the vagaries of Greek village school education, in fact, on the evidence of this book, not paying them much attention at all.

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Hydra, 2017. I believe the cave where Clift and her kids swam is just outside this photo, to the right

Charmian Clift, Travels in Greece, Harper Collins, Sydney, 1995. Previously published as Mermaid Singing (1958) and Peel Me a Lotus (1959)


I’m now home after a marvellous trip, my first and only probably. On the evidence of this past month, if I were to spend that ‘mythical’ year in Europe it would be in Paris, where I could pick up the language, where there is so much to do, and from where the whole of Europe is accessible by Fast Train network. Returning to earth, I have a couple of books left to review, Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers written while he was living in Hydra; and Cave of Silence (2013) by Kostas Krommydas, recommended to me by a friendly lady bookseller on Santorini.


*Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day: Lifeline 13 11 14; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467; Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800; MensLine Australia1300 78 99 78

Internee 1/5126, Robert Paterson

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This year’s Anzac day post concerns the imprisonment without trial of my great-great-great uncle in 1916, and begins with an extract from my late father’s A Family History (1997), which had only private circulation. Family and military history is all he wrote so this is probably his one chance at a guest post:

Carl Zoeller (1868-1926) was a German merchant who came to Melbourne in 1885, and settled in Brisbane in 1886. He spent 5 years in New Zealand and New York, and was highly successful in various enterprises, and prominent in the German community in Brisbane. In 1898 he married Minnie Luya, my mother’s great-aunt. Their children were Richard, b 1902, d in infancy, Lisette 1905, Herbert 1908, Mary 1910 and Barbara 1914. In 1907, his father died and Carl renounced his German inheritance, a pottery factory at Grenzhausen in Nassau, and was naturalized in 1908.

Carl and Minnie and their family were victims of an awful vilification during the Great War. It is hard to imagine the Australian government, let alone the people, having been so brutal in their treatment of naturalized citizens and their Australian-born offspring. Apart from Carl’s summary arrest and internment for the duration of the war, his whole family, irrespective of their having been born in Australia, were snubbed by friends and neighbours, verbally and physically assaulted, and finally deprived of their citizenship rights. Their Lismore branch store was wrecked by a mob on Christmas eve, 1915, and Carl was arrested in February 1916. He was sent first to Holdsworthy, and later to Berrima, where the Emden survivors were interned.

He was deported to Hamburg in 1919. Minnie’s Australian citizenship was taken from her, and she and the children joined him at Grenzhausen, near Coblenz, in mid 1922. Germany did not want them, and their brief residence there was a misery. Minnie and the children came back to Australia, to an unhappy existence, in 1924 (Mary remained until 1926).

Carl applied to numerous former friends for help to re-enter Australia, but no-one, not even his in-laws, helped him, although his mother-in-law, Eliza Luya, prayed for him daily until her death in 1923.

Finally, he was allowed entry to South Africa, and he left England for Capetown in June 1926. His daughter Lisette left Australia on 12 October to visit him, but on 17 November he committed suicide, knowing that Lisette would reach him four days later. Minnie died in 1948.

All this was told to me on various occasions by my mother [Nancy Clare Holloway (1902-1977)], although she had forgotten some dates and details. But the story is now recorded in Robert Paterson’s book, Internee No 1/5126. Robert is the son of Mary Zoeller, and has since sent me a copy of his book.

David Clare Holloway (1927-2014)

Paterson’s self-published book naturally provides much greater detail, particularly of Zoeller’s frequent appeals against his imprisonment and subsequent deportation; of the (Billy) Hughes war-time government’s vilification of German-Australians; and of the mistakes and blame-shifting involved in the government’s ongoing refusal to accept that Zoeller was stateless and had never at any time been German. The  ‘Demit’, granted prior to his departure in 1885, releasing him from Prussian citizenship, was conveniently lost for a number of years by Australian authorities around the time of his deportation after the war.

The Zoellers were in fact from Grenzhausen (near Coblenz) in Nassau. The Duchy of Nassau was taken from the Austrians by the Prussians in 1866, and was subsequently incorporated into a newly united Germany in 1871. Carl Zoeller, by renouncing his right to German citizenship and emigrating before his 17th birthday was never ‘German’ and this was belatedly accepted by (parts of) the Australian government only after his deportation, when they were obliged to return (some) of his property which they had, as it turns out, illegally seized or sold up during the war.

On his arrival in Australia, Zoeller worked in Melbourne and Brisbane and then spent four years in business in NZ, before returning briefly to Germany, via New York, on a visit to his family in the 1890s. He was able to become the agent for a number of German medical products and returned to Brisbane and established a business which was soon flourishing.

As dad writes, he married Minnie Luya in 1898 – and let’s be clear, Minnie was Australian born, of Anglo/Irish heritage. Her father was a timber trader/shipper from Gympie Qld, and her mother was the illiterate Eliza Clare, out from Ireland as a servant (no doubt via one of the bounty schemes) I mentioned in my post of a couple of years ago, Educating Women. Zoeller’s wife Minnie, and my great great grandmother Maria were both sisters of Abraham (‘Eb’) Luya, who headed the trading conglomerate later known as Luya Julius, and whose trucks, by then part of Fleetways Ltd, were still prominent on Qld roads when I worked there briefly in the 1980s. Eb Luya was also for a while Chairman of the Queensland National Bank.

In 1911 his business was doing so well that Zoeller was able to purchase for cash a house in Wilston on a large block of land – he ran cows, an orchard, and 60 chooks – which he “gave as a present to my wife and children so that they will always have a roof over their heads”. He named the house “Munna”, and in 1983 it was still in use for wedding receptions, at twenty-nine Murray Street.

In 1912 Zoeller and Dr Euchariste Sirois built a private hospital at Marburg near Ipswich, and Zoeller also provided the backing which enabled Fred Peters, the owner of Eskimo Pie, to establish Peters Ice Cream. Fred Peters was later Mary Zoeller’s godfather.

War was declared against Germany in August 1914, and the sentiment against German-Australians was strong right from the beginning. Late that same year Zoeller was the first person prosecuted under The Trading with the Enemy Act (1914) and received a £100 fine for importing some small items of medical equipment from Germany on a client’s order. Zoeller was kept under surveillance and in 1915 his file with the local (Brisbane) military read “believed to be disloyal but nothing can be obtained against him”.

In Feb. 1916 he was “detained for the duration of the war”. The actual conditions of his detention at Holdsworthy and Berrima weren’t too bad, but unfortunately Zoeller wrote an intemperate letter to his sister in law, which after sections were cut out by the censor, ended up being pasted together to read:

Xmas here in camp … we all prayed extra hard for an early German victory on all fronts, wished damnation to war … if only half the curses which I heap on those flaming Australian idiots who are responsible for my internment hit their mark they will roast in hell for all eternity … Am taking every possible care of myself so as to be as fit as a fiddle when the fight for Germany’s commercial and economic victory comes to be fought.

This letter and the conviction for ‘Trading with the Enemy’ were held against him (and were all that could be held against him) through all his appeals to officialdom for the remainder of his life.

In 1919 Zoeller’s naturalisation as an Australian citizen was removed and in late September, after 20 years as a prosperous Australian businessman, he was one of “5,276 [Germans] deported in nine ships which sailed at various dates between May 1919 and June 1920.” He had no option but to return to his family home in Grenzhausen where he lived with a cousin but was able to obtain only minimal employment. “Luckily”, as the German economy slowly collapsed into hyper inflation what little money he was able to obtain from Australia was sufficient to keep him going.

Zoeller missed his wife and children, and they missed him. We have the evidence of his considerable correspondence with one of two men who stood by him throughout, Dr Sirois (the other was his attorney, Arthur Birley). As his appeals to be allowed to return continued to be refused, Minnie and the children had no choice but to join him in Germany. Minnie applied for a British passport, but the most she could obtain was an obnoxious ‘permit to travel’ which identified her as a ‘German national’. They stayed from 1922-24 but conditions in Germany continued to deteriorate and they came back to Australia, leaving just Mary, who was thriving in boarding school.

Even after restrictions on Germans emigrating to Australia were lifted in 1925, Zoeller continued to be denied (re)entry. On the advice of Australian officials, he was also denied entry into NZ and so he sent Mary home and in June 1926 he moved to South Africa from where he wrote “being back in an English colony is to me like being in heaven.” However in November of the same year he wrote to his sister in Germany, “I do not want to be a burden on my beloved ones and therefore I have decided to put an end to my life with a bullet tonight.”

Paterson paints a clear picture of his grandfather as a cheerful, optimistic and loving family man ground down by the obduracy of an Australian government playing up to anti-German hysteria for which it was largely responsible in the first place. Shades of 2017!

 

Robert Paterson, Internee 1/5126, self published, Brisbane, 1983

Hippy Days, Arabian Nights, Katherine Boland

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Hippy Days, Arabian Nights is a memoir in two parts by Melbourne-based artist, Katherine Boland (1957 – ). The first part, her childhood in England and Victoria and her life as a hippy and young mother in a community on the NSW south coast, is interesting reading. Part 2, her love affair as a fiftyish divorcee with an Egyptian man half her age, is less so.

Boland, her younger sister Lisa, and her parents migrated to Australia from England in 1961, settling in Melbourne where her father found work as a photographer, taking postcard images all round Australia. After two years, maybe wishing to settle down, he bought a photography business in Bairnsdale, a coastal town in eastern Victoria.

While the budding artist decorated the chook shed and created masterpieces of “swirling crop circles and intricate geometric patterns” with the ride-on mower, her father was descending into depression.

By the time I was ten years old, he had slowly but surely become a misery guts… At the age of forty, disillusioned with how things had turned out, Dad became increasingly depressed and maudlin, drowning himself in drink.

After ten years he sold up and the family returned to England, to Manchester and “my grandfather’s damp and camphor smelling, old person’s house”. Boland writes:

At the age of eleven [ie. at about the time of WWI], my grandfather and grandmother were sent to work in one of the many cotton mills operating in Lancashire at the time. Crawling on hands and knees under the thunderous industrial looms, it was their job to collect the drifts of lint building up on the factory floor …

This strikes me as extremely unlikely. Anyway, dad can’t find work and they move again, to Spain where “Mum and Dad began to lose all direction, perpetually arguing and moving from one alcohol fuelled party to the next”. After six months of this, nearly out of money, they give in and return, not just to Australia but to Bairnsdale. A few months later, still without work, Dad parks his car in the bush, pipes the car exhaust into the interior, and dies.

Katherine goes on to study Art at RMIT, meets John, a political science student at Monash, and moves into his St Kilda flat. After a year, they toss in their studies and armed with The Vegetable Gardening and Animal Husbandry Handbook from the Space Age Bookshop in Swanston St, they head up to ‘Kelly country’, camping in the bush east of Wangaratta until they can find a farmhouse to rent “officially ready to become ‘alternative life stylers’”. For 18 months they live off their own vegetables, chooks and goats, but they want more. A trip to WA to earn ‘big money’ on prawn trawlers is a failure and they end up in Sydney, as live-in maid and gardener/chauffeur for ‘Lady Hooker’ (presumably the widow of LJ Hooker, who died in 1976).

Finally, they have enough money to purchase 100 acres of bush, in the Bega Valley, near Mumbulla Mountain and inland from Bermagui. Slowly, they clear the bush, build themselves a wattle and daub hut and begin to make a go of things. Other hippies purchase blocks nearby so there is always the possibility of shared labour – and shared dope, which increasingly becomes a problem.

Boland’s optimistic and humorous approach to what is really a recreation of C19th pioneering lifestyles is reminiscent of Betty MacDonald’s The Egg and I (1946), dimly remembered from my mother’s bookshelves.

A baby, Eva, comes while John is at a new year’s eve party. Katherine phones a neighbour who finds “the expectant father smoking hashish from a home-made hookah in the back of a Ford Falcon panel van.”

I spent seven glorious days in the Bega District Hospital, the longest stay permitted before they threw new mothers back out into the world. Compared to our mud hut in Brogo, it was like holidaying at a Four Seasons Hotel.

Over time, Katherine persuades her mother to live with them (in a refurbished goat shed); John who works part-time as a bricklayer, builds them a new house with real bricks, electricity and a flush toilet; and Eva joins pony club. Then, “in the weeks before 9/11”, it all comes to an end. Eva has left home at 16 to complete her high school education in Canberra, and Katherine  catches John out in an affair with another woman from their community, and returns to Melbourne to live with her sister, determined to make her way as an artist.

On the night of her first exhibition, she begins an ultimately abusive relationship with “the clever, charismatic, cocaine-sniffing, Croatian architect Vicko”. She does more art, gets some overseas residencies, including one at Luxor. She, by then aged 52, and her translator, “the stunningly attractive” Mr Gamal Bahar, aged 26, engage in love at first sight, and so begins ‘Arabian Nights’. Boring.

Over the next five years, she visits him in Cairo, staying in his empty flat across the road from his family’s apartment, then when that is forbidden, at a hotel where they can’t sleep together; they talk daily on Skype; they meet in Viet Nam, Thailand and London. He can’t get a tourist visa to enter Australia – too many Egyptian men overstay apparently – they consider marrying in Egypt, his father says No; there’s the riots and army takeover following the ‘Arab Spring’; they prevaricate over an Australian ‘Prospective Marriage Visa’.

If it doesn’t cost too much, read this book for its first half, an amusing and informative account of modern day subsistence living, which all of us boomers probably considered at one time or another, however briefly.

 

Katherine Boland, Hippy Days, Arabian Nights, Wild Dingo Press, Melbourne, 2017 (Review copy supplied by Wild Dingo Press).

Boland’s art on Pinterest (here)

Miles Franklin: Her Brilliant Career, Colin Roderick

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My late father had retired by the time I was doing my Masters so I kept him busy with a list of the books that I was having trouble finding and he would scour Melbourne’s second-hand bookshops. Consequently my Miles Franklin shelf includes half a dozen biographies and a whole string of Aust.Lit. overviews, from HM Green’s A History of Australian Literature to Clement Semmler ed., 20th Century Australian Literary Criticism.

My Miles Franklin biographies are:-

Jill Roe, Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography (2008) which I got (new) for my birthday when it came out in the final years of my 7 year struggle to finish.

Marjorie Barnard, Miles Franklin (1967)

Colin Roderick, Miles Franklin: Her Brilliant Career (1982)

Verna Coleman, Miles Franklin in America: Her Unknown (Brilliant) Career (1981)

W. Blake, Miles Franklin: Novelist and Feminist (1991)

Sylvia Martin, Passionate Friends (2001)

Miles Franklin, Childhood at Brindabella: My First Ten Years (1963)

Not to mention her diaries and letters and importantly, all the essays introducing republications of her work, for instance Elizabeth Webby in My Brilliant Career/My Career Goes Bung, A&R (1990) and Roy Duncan in On Dearborn Street, UQP (1981).

Jill Roe’s is of course the most comprehensive, but the others have their uses and Verna Coleman’s is very good on MF’s time in Chicago. Sue (Whispering Gums) warned me off the Colin Roderick some time ago but I was reading it late at night, just to get it out of the way really, while some recent MF posts were fresh in my mind, and it was quickly obvious that she was right. Roderick’s disparagement of Franklin is so blatant, sexist and disagreeable that I thought I would write about it.

Colin Roderick (1911-2000) was an important figure in Australian literary circles and a vigorous promoter of Australian Literature. He was editor at Australia’s premier publishers, Angus & Robertson, 1945-65, and a director from 1961-65, foundation professor of English at James Cook University 1965-76, and was appointed to the inaugural judging panel of the Miles Franklin Award under the terms of MF’s will, which position he held until 1991, “when he resigned in acrimonious circumstances over the definition of what constituted a work of Australian fiction.” (Pierce)

In his obituary for Roderick (presumably in the Age of 16/6/00 – Dad has cut it out) Peter Pierce writes that “Roderick began a remarkable career as an author in 1945, with The Australian Novel. This was followed by critical and biographical works on Rosa Praed (1948), Miles Franklin (1982) and ‘Banjo’ Paterson (1993). The height of Roderick’s literary scholarship is represented by his impeccably edited, multi-volume collections of Henry Lawson’s verse and prose.”

I have Dad’s copy of The Australian Novel with his name and the year 1947 (it must have been set for Teachers’ College) inside along with the price (10/6) and the obit cutting. Miles Franklin has supplied a Foreword which includes:

… extracts from the literature of the British Isles and other parts of Europe, included in the class readers of my mother’s and grandmother’s times, were treasure trove to me before I was twelve. A little later came the discovery of Australian writers like Marcus Clarke, Rolf Boldrewood, Gordon and Kendall… Fuller enchantment came with Lawson, Paterson, and others not so prominent.”

So, no women writers for young Miles.  In 1945 Roderick was a Gympie, Qld school teacher but he had an MA and this book was his path to a doctorate. In fact, only two pages of it are his and the remainder consists of 19 extracts from Australian novelists, 11 men and 8 women. Without payment. Roe writes, “when Roderick told Miles he was doing it for the good of Australian literature but expected to get a D.Litt. for his efforts, she set about organising a boycott.” This petered out and all the authors or their estates gave grudging permission – no doubt many of the anthologised novels were out of print.

Roderick was an early advocate for the Brent of Bin Bin books, and though of course she never acknowledged her authorship of them, Miles was inclined to cut him a little slack. In the small world of writers and publishers in Sydney they inevitably met quite often but never had a good relationship.

According to Roe, “whereas [Barnard’s biography] sought to elucidate the legend, Roderick tried to demolish it. (No doubt Roderick was shocked to discover from her papers [released 10 years after her death] what Miles really thought of him.)”

At the time of her death in 1954 Franklin was a writer of the Pioneer school, and decidedly out of fashion, but the rise of second-wave feminism in the late sixties, aided by the release of a film version of My Brilliant Career in 1979, made her anti-marriage heroines relevant again. Dozens of editions of My Brilliant Career were released around the world, My Career Goes Bung was reissued a number of times, and in 1986 even Some Everyday Folk and Dawn was ‘rescued from obscurity’ by Virago.

This seems to have made Roderick – who was after all a far north Queenslander – uncomfortable. He had Miles pigeon-holed as rural, out of date and eccentric and to apply to him the ‘psychology’ he is fond of applying to Miles, he was probably miffed to have lost his hold over her re-burgeoning reputation.

When it comes to the chronology of Franklin’s family and of her life as a writer, Roderick’s biography is detailed and interesting – Roe remarks that Roderick had first access to MF’s papers but fails to acknowledge them – but when it comes to analyses of Miles’ character and writing, Roderick uses pop psychology and perhaps his (unacknowledged) unhappiness at his portrayal in her letters to paint an unflattering and inaccurate picture. Some samples:

[her] unshakeable conviction of physical inferiority and lack of physical attraction… converted her into a skittish coquette stringing two or three men along simultaneously and a synthetic man-hater… It forced her to become a defensively bellicose propagandist for feminist causes. (p.14)

To be a proper woman she needed to submit to a man:

One of her American suitors might with a sure instinct express his intention of putting her across his knees. Had one of her Australian beaux done so in 1899 [the American would not have needed to, ie. she would already be married]. (p.72)

… she spent the best years of her life as a lackey to dominating women who were natural obsessed feminists. (p.75)

The blighting of Miles Franklin’s career was the result of indiscipline during her literary infancy … When she had put the finishing touches on the ebullient perturbations of her adolescence, they fell into the wrong hands. So did she. [This] was to lead her into a quagmire of irrelevant and wasteful New Woman militancy. (p.76)

And so it goes on. Roderick gives no credit at all to Franklin’s lifelong devotion to women’s and charitable causes, nor to her important contribution to women’s writing during the years of first wave feminism; and of course the one book he does credit as ‘literary’ is that homage to men’s endeavours, All That Swagger (1936).

The final lines of My Career Goes Bung are: “Was a woman’s refusal to capitulate unendurable to masculine egotism, or was it the symptom of something more fundamental?” It was certainly unendurable to Colin Roderick.

 

Colin Roderick, Miles Franklin: Her Brilliant Career, Rigby, 1982

Colin Roderick, The Australian Novel, Wm Brooks, Sydney, 1945

Sue at Whispering Gums: Who is Colin Roderick? (here)

In Search Of Steele Rudd, Richard Fotheringham

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Steele Rudd was the pen-name of Arthur Hoey Davis (1868-1935), in his time Australia’s no.1 best-selling author, and probably the only author up to the 1970s to earn enough from his writing to comfortably live on. The collection of stories for which he is best known, On Our Selection!, was published as a book by the Bulletin in 1899, was made into a wildly successful stage play*, into a number of movies, and finally degenerated into the long-running radio serial Dad and Dave.

The publishing rights to On Our Selection! were onsold to the Bookstall Company in 1907,  and it is estimated that by 1940 they had sold a quarter of a million copies. Rudd went on to produce a host of similar story collections and a number of novels of mostly indifferent quality, as well as the for a while successful magazine Steele Rudd’s Monthly/Steele Rudd’s Annual which commenced in 1903 with contributors including Joseph Furphy, Miles Franklin, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Vance Palmer and Louis Esson.

The title of this biography is something of a misnomer, Steele Rudd needs little searching, even today. The person who has been lost is Arthur Hoey Davis, the writer. The problem with Davis is that quite early in his writing life, ‘Steele Rudd’ the brand took over, and particularly after Davis’ death the association of Steele Rudd with the bush characters ‘Dad and Dave’ took on a life of its own, almost completely dissociated from Davis’ writing.

Davis’ problem began when the stage version of On Our Selection was launched in 1912 and the success of Bert Bailey in the lead as Dad and Fred Macdonald as Dave led directly to the identification of these two with Steele Rudd’s stories; to a host of ever more remotely connected plays, movies and of course, the famous wireless serial; and to a new field of Australian writing, bucolic humour, with numerous Steele Rudd imitators including Sumner Locke with her Mum Dawson, Boss books.

I have a book called Steele Rudd, Dad’n’Dave’s Selection, not a name ever approved by Davis, published by Angus & Robertson in 1953 and containing those chapters of On Our Selection and its sequel, Our New Selection, which Bookstall chose to publish in its cheap paperbacks. In the Foreword , W.E. FitzHenry who as an employee of the Bulletin knew Davis in the 1920s, writes that Steele Rudd was “amazingly tolerant towards his imitators” but if “one thing made him wild, however, it was a Dad-and-Dave wireless programme that ran some years ago.”  In fact, Dad and Dave was still running on the wireless when I was at primary school in the 50s, and I would listen to it religiously on 3UL along with the Argonauts on the ABC.

Arthur Hoey Davis was born in Drayton, near Toowoomba on Queensland’s Darling Downs, the eighth of 13 children (only 9 survived beyond infancy) to Thomas Davis, a blacksmith sent out from Wales for stealing in 1847 and Mary (Green) a ‘beneficiary’ of the Orphan Girls’ Emigration scheme from Ireland in 1848.

Thomas and Mary married in 1852, and were mostly based in Drayton until 1870 when, in their forties, they took up a 160 acre selection at Greenmount on the railway line between Toowoomba and Warwick, a section of the line which later connected Brisbane and Sydney. The selection had become available following the break-up of the big squatting runs in 1867, though the squatters found ways of hanging on to the best land. The land was relatively cheap but “the selector had to live on the land, and fence and cultivate [and clear] one tenth of it. For nearly the full five years it took Thomas and Mary to pay for their selection, they apparently did not fulfil any of these conditions”.

But in 1877 they finally moved into a small timber hut – with a galvanised iron roof, not shingles as claimed in the stories. Arthur and his brothers and sisters went to the local school, Emu Creek, until they were 12 and were then engaged in farm work. By the time he was 16 Arthur was a jackaroo on a neighbouring station and an accomplished horseman. At that point his mother, perhaps seeing in him a little more scholastic ability than in his siblings, wrote to a politician she knew and got Arthur into the Qld public service, as a clerk, where he did well, with a little help from the same politician who organised an early promotion.

Davis “for years contributed casually to various local weeklies, and it didn’t cost me anything – nor them either.” His first recorded publication, “The Creeker’s First Sermon”, appeared in Queensland Punch on 4 Sept 1893, ostensibly an account of the first church service at Emu Creek, beginning a lifetime of drawing on material from his childhood, and his parents’ hardships, in the backblocks.

Two years later, he had married a girl he knew from school, Violet Christina ‘Tean’ Brodie, adopted the pen name Steele Rudd, and had his first piece accepted by the Bulletin which over the next few years accepted a series of his sketches of Queensland farm life. In 1899, with text editing by literary editor AG Stephens “at times amounting to co-authorship”, these stories were unified under one family name, the Rudds, and published in book form as On Our Selection!. 

Stephens was later to write that the work of the Bulletin’s earlier and most famous son, Henry Lawson, demanded similar treatment, and it is possible that Lawson was influenced to move in this direction, as his next book Joe Wilson and His Mates (1902) has a “sustained characterisation lacking in his earlier volumes of short stories.”

Comparison between Lawson and Rudd is important for another reason and that is that Rudd’s work was never part of the Bulletin school of writing around bush mateship, the myth of the Lone Hand, to which Lawson was central. Miles Franklin would sometimes claim that she and Rudd were the progenitors of a new school in Australian writing, Bush realism. A claim later supported, in the 1970s, by John Hirst and  Judith Godden for instance, who posited that the myth of the Independent Bushman or Lone Hand had been ameliorated by the general adoption of a Pioneer myth, where families carve productive farmland out of unwelcoming bush; a myth which acknowledges the role of women and incidentally validates the pioneers’ right to be seen as the creators, and therefore the valid owners, of the land. (I, of course, claim MF for her central contribution to the literature of first wave feminism). Of the loneliness of pioneering Rudd writes:

I often wonder how the women stood it the first few years, and I can remember how Mother, when she was alone, used to sit on a log where the lane is now and cry for hours.’ (1899, p.5)

As with most writing of the Pioneer school, Rudd’s work is completely whitewashed:

Thomas Davis and Mary Green arrived on the Darling Downs just after the ten-year war between the Murri people and the squatters had ended, and together they witnessed only occasional skirmishes as the Native Police completed their murderous business. [So] the author of On Our Selection! could write as if Aboriginal society had never existed. In one story Dad accidentally digs up the remains of a long-dead Aboriginal man, but when he realises what it is he throws the skull out the door and tips the bones on the dustheap. The incident sounds a rare, unpleasant note from an earlier time, and in another variant of the same story Davis changed it to a sheep’s skull, eliminating the echo altogether.

Tean bore Davis three children in quick succession and then later a fourth, Eric, who was until this book came out, Davis’ only published biographer. After the success of his second book, Our New Selection! (1903) Davis accepted retrenchment from his well paid public service job and moved his family to Sydney to enjoy the ‘Bohemian’ life of the full-time writer. In 1904, with the Bulletin getting out of book publication, Davis signed with The NSW Bookstall Company, for a £500 advance and 25% royalties for his third book, Sandy’s Selection. He was to produce 20 or so more novels and story collections but this was the pinnacle of his career. By 1908 Tean had persuaded her husband not just to return to Queensland, but to return ‘home’, to his and Tean’s home town, Greenmount, where Tean used her savings to buy another 160 acre property, ‘The Firs’. This was his wife’s dream and Davis set up a desk on the vernadah where he continued to write while a manager taught his children to farm.

Davis finally escaped Greenmount in 1917. All the farm equipment was sold off, a share farmer was installed, one son went off to War, and the Davis family moved to Brisbane. Tean’s mental health was failing and eventually she was institutionalised (and later divorced when Davis was thinking of re-marrying). In 1920 Australian film director Raymond Longford ignored a decade of Dad’n’Dave-ism to produce On Our Selection as realist tragi-comedy. With his earlier Sentimental Bloke, it is one of the great Australian silent films. A sequel, Rudd’s New Selection (1921) has been lost. A later Rudd film, The Romance of Runnibede, was apparently “one of the worst Australian feature films ever attempted”.

In 1923 Davis formed a relationship with the 16 years younger Winifred Hamilton. Together they revived Davis’ magazine. “Winifred’s contributions to Steele Rudd’s Monthly were mostly essays that boldly and directly confronted the sexism of her era.”  They moved to Sydney, and the relationship straggled on, but a series of unfortunate investments, and the Great Depression, saw Davis, who in the early part of the 1920s had royalty income of £700 a year, destitute and Winifred working in Queensland. Winifred Hamilton later wrote a biography of Davis which remains unpublished.

Davis continued to write. Bert Bailey paid him a little for the rights to turn the On Our Selection play into a sound film, and later for the film rights to the Steele Rudd play Granddad Rudd. In late 1935 Davis was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas and shortly after he was dead. Fotheringham labels the last chapter of his biography ‘Grave Robbers’ which expresses pretty clearly his feelings about the plundering of Steele Rudd’s literary legacy which then ensued.

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Part of the success of the Steele Rudd phenomenon was the illustrations

 

Richard Fotheringham, In Search of Steele Rudd, UQP, Brisbane, 1995


* “in May 1912 actor manager Bert Bailey staged a version of On Our Selection which became the most popular Australian play of its time and probably, per head of population, of all time. Between 1912 and 1916, it was seen by one million people in Australia and New Zealand and was regularly revived until 1929”. Apart from writing the book, Davis was at least a co-writer of the script but the contract for royalties was so poorly written that his financial return was negligible.

 

Don’t Tell Me You’re Afraid, Giuseppe Catozzella

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translated by Anne Milano Appel

I’ve complained – most recently to Lisa at ANZLitLovers – about the indifferent (literary) quality of the audio books I get from my local library, and I listen to more than 100 each year, but good ones do pop up from time to time and this is one of them. Don’t Tell Me You’re Afraid (2016) might have been problematic in a number of ways, it is the ‘true story’ of a Somali woman, written in the first person, ie. in the woman’s voice, by a male Italian journalist. Unforgivably, the name of the translator, Anne Milano Appel, appears nowhere on the front or back covers of this Penguin Audio edition. The reader, Adjoa Andoh, who is good, creates her own problems as she is quite recognisably also the reader of McCall Smith’s The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series (set in Botswana) and so we are asked to accept the same accents and intonations for characters from diagonally opposite corners of sub-Saharan Africa.

Unfortunately for this review I don’t have access to a paper version so I have only my memory, and guesswork, for names and spellings; and of course, no quotes.

This is the story of Samia Yusuf Omar born in 1991 into poverty in, to use an apt cliche, war-torn Mogadishu. Her parents and brothers and sisters live in a two room hut in a compound containing another couple of huts and a large eucalypt.”Don’t tell me you’re afraid” is the family mantra – if you don’t acknowledge fear then you won’t feel it, but they live in an environment where fear is often the only rational response.

We begin when Samia is eight years old, inseparable from her friend and blood-brother Ali, who is the same age, and who lives with his father and older brothers in another room in the same compound. The two fathers, who are friends but of different tribal backgrounds, support their families by selling fruit and clothing in the markets. Samia, underfed and skinny is already a very quick runner – we are asked to believe that over the next couple of years she competes on equal terms with adults – and dreams of being an Olympian. Ali gives up trying to beat her and instead makes himself her coach.

The war in Somalia is between the various clans who are all attempting to obtain/assert control over at least a part of the country, and the sound of gunfire is a constant background to everyday life. The fundamentalist Islamists Al-Shabaab are gaining in influence. Samia’s mother and sisters cover their heads in light, brightly coloured veils, and Samia herself understandably prefers to train dressed only in shorts and t-shirt, but with the rise of Al-Shabaab she, and all women, must eventually be covered at all times by the burqa, and Samia resorts to training at night, after curfew, in a deserted stadium with a tartan track pock-marked with bullet holes.

After victories in a couple of amateur races Samia is taken up by the Somali Olympic Committee and in 2008, ‘for experience’, is one of two Somali athletes selected to attend the Beijing Olympic Games. Here she is pitted in a heat of the 200m against one of the world’s great runners, Veronica Campbell-Brown; a skinny girl in a borrowed t-shirt up against tall, muscled women in lycra. Of course she finishes well adrift, but to tremendous cheers in a packed stadium (YouTube).

Samia returns home, having for the first time travelled by air, stayed in a luxury hotel, competed at the Olympics, and seen although not spoken to her hero British/Somali runner Mo Farah, and this is the end of the feel-good story. The other half of the novel is the story of impoverished people everywhere forced by conflict, religious oppression and yes, the wish for a better life, into making their way to countries of the ‘first world’ as refugees.

Ali, who has been increasingly withdrawn, leaves Mogadishu only to reappear briefly as a soldier with Al-Shabaab. Hodan, Samia’s favourite sister and a talented singer, is forbidden to practice and eventually leaves home to undertake ‘the Journey’, the perilous crossing of the Sahara to Tripoli and hence to Italy and safety. She succeeds and is accepted as a refugee by Finland. Abe, Samia’s father is caught up in a shooting at the market, is wounded, unable to work and eventually dies. Samia, who has sworn to stay in Somalia and fight for women’s rights, gives in to the inevitable. She is assisted to move to Ethiopia, but is unable to gain permission from the Somalis to be accepted into a coaching programme there.

In a last desperate attempt to get the coaching she needs to be competitive at the 2012 London Olympics, Samia too commences the Journey.

In an Afterword, Catozzella says he has spoken extensively to Hodan and to a woman who was with Samia for a time, after becoming aware of Samia’s story from a report in Al Jazeera. He makes a good fist of the story although he largely ignores aspects of Samia’s life which may have seemed more important to a woman writer (and to Samia) such as the onset of puberty and the ongoing threat of rape both in Mogadishu and on the Journey.

I prefer to concentrate in my reading generally, and in this blog more particularly, on books which are Australian or at least of relevance to Australian life or literature. In this case it seems to me the more we know of the personal stories of refugees the less likely we will be to put up with their indefinite confinement in concentration camps on reaching Australia. I know we are like-minded on this issue, but it fills me with anger and despair that Abbott and Dutton and their willing collaborator and poodle, Malcolm Turnbull, continue to speak and act so despicably in our names.

 

Giuseppe Catozzella, Don’t Tell Me You’re Afraid, Penguin Audio, 2016 (7 1/2 hours). Translated by Anne Milano Appel, read by Adjoa Andoh