A Boy’s Life, Jack Davis

2017 Indigenous Literature Week at ANZ LitLovers

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Jack Davis (1917-2000) was a poet, a playwright, a Noongar man, and an indigenous rights campaigner. His plays, including No Sugar, his best known, are studied in Western Australian schools but I first came to hear of him only a couple of years ago. Reviewing Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence I wrote: “[The girls] were held at the East Perth Girls’ Home (the author says this is now the Jack Davis hostel, to which I cannot find any reference, though Jack Davis seems to have been an Indigenous writer and activist whom I should follow up)” -and now I am.

Davis’ parents had both been taken from their families up north, but by 1917 his father had his citizenship papers and was working at Waroona not far south of Perth, so young Jack was born prosaically in King Edward Memorial Hospital (equivalent to Royal Women’s in Melbourne) and not “delivered by Aboriginal women in the glow of a campfire” as he might have wished.

However, a quote on the second page marks the place where all accounts of Indigenous life in Australia must start until we whites acknowledge and internalize the great wrongs that we have done and are doing:

[My father] remembers holding his boss’ horse outside the Roebourne police station while his boss went to obtain a permit which gave him permission to shoot troublesome blacks on his property. The cost of the permit was one shilling.

Jack’s father came south and married, with jobs in Waroona and Lake Clifton before settling in Yarloop, a timber milling and railway town between Perth and Bunbury. Jack was the fourth of 10 children and grew up with a happy home life, his father with a job at the mill, no more impoverished than the people around them during the 1920s and 30s, with access to good hunting in the jarrah forests of the Darling Escarpment,  a Black family in a mostly white community and no mention of racial tension.

These are stories of going to school, growing up in any Australian rural town, any loving mother with a big family, getting into scrapes and all the rest of it, at a time when roads were unpaved and cars were rare. The writing is spare and cheerful. The stories are short and not as detailed as Norman Lindsay’s for instance, nor as sickly-sentimental as Miles Franklin’s Childhood at Brindabella. I had a look too, at the opening chapters of Albert Facey’s A Fortunate Life, which I haven’t read for a while, but again there was more detail and more continuity than in Davis’ short (150pp) book of stories.

In the last few chapters Jack  falls into the snares of the infamous ‘Protector’ of Aboriginals, A.O.Neville. When Jack is 14 Neville offers him and his next older brother, Harold ‘places’ at Moore River native Settlement to ‘learn farming’. Mrs Davis accepts and the boys make their way there via the Home in East Perth which was later to bear Jack’s name. The offer is of course a con and the boys are used as unpaid labour. As we know, conditions at Moore River were terrible:

One day two sixteen-year-old girls who tried to abscond from the settlement were caught, brought back and locked in the boob. Next day they were taken down to the storeroom where they were both laid over sacks of flour and Mr Neal [the superintendent] flogged them with the cat until they wet themselves. He then ordered them to eat the flour.

Davis thinks superintendent was a tough job, but someone had to do it. After a few months, mostly in the outer camp with the adults, the boys were told to return home. A year or so later, the Depression really starting to bite, the older boys unable to find work, their father dies in an accident, and the family breaks up. Davis heads north and spends the war years droving in the Gascoyne.

Although Davis doesn’t say so, I think his father’s citizenship papers insulated the family from the worst effects of the 1905 Aborigines Act, but the fact that both parents were ‘stolen’ and the Act’s prohibition of ‘citizens’ consorting with Aboriginals meant that nearly all family connections were lost. Neville would claim of course that the Davis’ ‘normal’ family life was proof of the efficacy of this prohibition, but the personal cost was enormous and Jack only discovered he had family connections in the Brookton area east of Perth when author Sally Morgan ran across part of his mother’s family tree during research into someone else, in the latter years of his life.

At this point I have less insight into Davis’ writing than I had expected. Perth academic and editor of Westerly, Tony Hughes d’Aeth, has just released Like Nothing on this Earth: A Literary History of the Wheatbelt which I will review at length ‘soon’, but it contains a chapter on Davis (and another on Facey). For those of you not up on WA geography, the Wheatbelt is a belt of semi-arid country south of a line from north of Geraldton to east of Esperance, but not including the high rainfall jarrah forests of the south west corner. For reasons probably to do with rainfall, that outer boundary roughly coincides with the outer boundary of Noongar country.

For the next few days I am working up the Pilbara coast, but when I get back I’ll put up a part II on No Sugar (the script, I haven’t seen a performance) and d’Aeth’s chapter on Davis.

 

Jack Davis, A Boy’s Life, Magabala Books, Broome, 1991

see also Mairi Neil’s review (here) of Jack Davis’ poetry in her blog Up the Creek with a Pen …
Jack Davis, No Sugar, Currency Press, Sydney, 1986
Tony Hughes-d’Aeth, A Literary History of the Wheatbelt, UWAP, Perth, 2017

Louisa, Brian Matthews

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Brian Matthews begins Louisa (1987) with complaints about his typewriter, which is dented and damaged and “everyone else I know or had ever heard of” was using a word-processor; his struggles with writing; and his problems with biography. ‘At the top of a clean, white page’ he has written:

“Louisa Lawson (née Albury) was born on ‘Hungry’ Rouse’s Guntawang Station in February 1848 and was baptized in the homestead drawing room by the Reverend Archdeacon Gunther.”

Such fastidiously slavish conformity to formula: she/he (name) was born on/at (place) in (date) and (add in more or less random detail for balance); such awful inertia, such adamant refusal to open out into anything of further interest.

This sentence … reminded me forcibly of the problematic nature of biography and of this biography in particular. The truth of the matter was: despite my diligent pursuit of fact and evidence, anecdote and clue, I knew very well as I finished and recoiled from that so conventional opening gambit that there was a critical shortage of material.

Brian Matthews was born in 1936 and “lives [in 1987 at least] in the Mount Lofty Ranges (Adelaide) with his wife and five children” – a sentence whose point I have never understood, and yet it is found, with just the details changed, in nearly every author bio. He was teaching Literature at Flinders Uni, and had written previously on Henry Lawson. Now he was tackling Lawson’s less well-known mother, a fiercely independent woman, a writer and publisher, and an important figure in Australian first-wave feminism. The problems to overcome, as he sees it are;

First: paucity of hard evidence. The act of writing biography is stalked at every point by the temptation to invent…

Second: even when material is plentiful, but especially when it is not, there exists the danger that the writer will enter the narrative, inflated and indulged behind the fluctuating presence of the subject.

For a dozen pages he proposes and abandons various forms of parallel factual and speculative texts before settling on a new beginning:

Gertrude Eloise was the second of twin girls born to Louisa Lawson on 30 April 1877 in Mudgee. Her sister Annette Elizabeth, whom her mother and Henry later referred to as Nettie, died in January of the following year.

And so we finally begin making our way, easily and fluently, into Louisa’s story, although with occasional interspersions from ‘Owen Stevens’, our biographer’s alter ego.

Gertrude in later life was to write about both Louisa and Henry. Owen Stevens comments on her value as a source: “She failed as far as Henry was concerned … But she was far too close to Louisa for far too long … to get it really wrong.” But the next paragraph begins: “The biographer is both shocked and obscurely excited about the forthrightness of this statement” and after some further questioning, “henceforth he will patrol the alternative text, like an editor” ready “if need be, to kill him off at the slightest sign of trouble.” So, it seems we are to have not one but two alternative streams of text.


I’ve written about Louisa before, in The Independent Woman in Australian Literature, but here is a re-hash of her bio:

Brian Matthews describes Louisa as tall, with striking looks, and tirelessly hard-working. Used from a young age by her mother as an unpaid skivvy and child-minder, she rushed into marriage at 18, to an itinerant 34 year old gold miner, Peter Larsen. With 5 children under 10 before she was 30, she struggled to survive on their small bush block at Eurunderee, near Mudgee (the source of many of Henry Lawson’s stories), running a small general store and post office, farming with the help of Henry, Peter being mostly away, and still finding time to write poetry and to lead a successful local campaign for Eurunderee to get a school; before finally giving up and moving to Sydney in 1886, where she supported herself by sewing and washing and taking in boarders.

 In 1887 she purchased an ailing newspaper, the Republican, which had its own small printing press, and which in 1888 morphed into Dawn, a monthly newspaper for women. Later the same year the absent Peter died leaving her some money, enabling her to enlarge her press, and within a year she was employing 10 women, including printers, earning her the enmity of the (male only) printers’ union. Through Dawn, Louisa launched a campaign for female suffrage in 1889, and in 1891 she was elected to the council of the newly formed Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales. Until the vote was won in 1902 she frequently spoke at large assemblies, and the facilities at Dawn were volunteered for meetings and the printing of pamphlets. Louisa, no doubt reflecting on her own experience, was fierce about the difficulties faced by women forced by economics into unhappy marriages: ‘“Half of Australia’s women’s lives are unhappy,” proclaims the first editorial.’ In 1900 she was hit by a tram and the effects of the injury lingered, until, in 1905, Dawn, which had been an important voice educating and campaigning for women’s rights, was closed down and Louisa retired to her gardening.


It is central to both Louisa’s life and to Henry’s writing, that Louisa was a great story teller. Matthews points out that Louisa, who moved in all kinds of Sydney social circles, despite her limited education and having lived in the bush in poor to desperate circumstances until she was in her forties, assumed a position of leadership in the women’s movement by dint of her articulate public speaking, both formally and off-the-cuff. And he is able to analyse how stories, related at various times by Louisa, Gertrude and Henry, gain in dramatic intensity, while retaining a core of near-identical ‘facts’. So, most famously, The Drover’s Wife, is in essence a story that Henry and Gertrude had often heard told (and embellished) by their mother.

The biography progresses with each chapter of ‘mainstream’ text enlivened by suggestions from ‘Owen Stevens’ and counter-suggestions and occasional grudging agreement from the ‘real’ biographer. Louisa clearly had a hard life, starting out in rural poverty, reinventing herself in the city, encumbered by sons with serious mental illnesses, and then, at the height of her success as a publisher and women’s advocate, is knocked down by a tram, confined to bed for a year, left with ongoing back problems and headaches, and finally declines into what sounds like dementia with her children – other than Henry who by 1920 was totally incapacitated by alcoholism – scheming to inherit her cottage.

Matthews discusses Louisa Lawson’s achievements under four headings: Poetess, Dawn, Womanhood Suffrage, Inventor, before grudgingly adding a fifth, Henry.

Poetess: Louisa wrote poetry throughout her life, was published, in other magazines as well as her own, and published one collection, The Lonely Crossing (1905) which Matthews says is worthy of serious consideration. “The situation at the heart of many of Louisa’s poems is reminiscent of Barbara Baynton’s stories of besieged women. Indeed, she shows quite considerable consciousness of other writers – Boake, Longfellow, Kendall, to name a few – and often benefits from her knowledge of them.”

Dawn: “Louisa’s great years [1888-1900] began when the scatty, exciting, amateurish, outrageously belligerent little Republican disappeared overnight and re-emerged as The Dawn. For the next twelve years, Louisa Lawson was a known, striking and ubiquitous figure in Sydney journalistic and feminist circles.”

Dawn, throughout its seventeen years, crusaded for the interests of ordinary women – not anti-marriage but against laws and customs which gave men the ‘whip-hand’; pro divorce; full of useful hints – how to ride a bicycle , or ‘the possibilities in a leg of beef’; plain living; women’s health; opportunities for women to exchange ideas and information; women’s shelters; womanhood suffrage.

Womanhood Suffrage: In May 1889, Louisa addressed the inaugural meeting of The Dawn Club which became an important forum for discussing women’s rights. Two years later, a meeting addressed by Louisa, Rose Scott and others resolved to form The Womanhood Suffrage League of NSW into which the Dawn Club was merged. Matthews lists an executive committee which does not include Louisa, though her ADB entry says: “When Mrs Dora Montefiore formed the Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales in 1891, Louisa was invited to join and was elected to its council.” In any case, Louisa continued to play an active part, both at meetings and in The Dawn – in contrast to the studied silence of the mainstream press. If I have a criticism of Matthews it is that he has very little to say about the League and the part played by Louisa.

Inventor: By contrast, Matthews spends a whole chapter on the saga of a buckle for securing mail bags invented by Louisa and adopted for use by the Post Office. She won a couple of contracts to supply the buckle and there was talk of it being used by Post Offices throughout the Empire, but eventually her design was stolen by the firm she was using to manufacture it, and with the connivance of managers within the Post Office bureaucracy, and despite numerous, tedious court cases, her title to the design and hopes for an independent retirement, were lost.

Henry: In those times before Henry Lawson was in the process of being forgotten it was common to blame Louisa for neglecting her children (I think this may be a dig at Colin Roderick and his book The Real Henry Lawson). But in fact Henry was an adult when Louisa moved to Sydney. She found him work and then when she purchased the Republican and its printing press, he worked for her there and later wrote articles for Dawn. Louisa always encouraged Henry with his writing (to which Peter, his father, was opposed) and was the first to publish him, Short Stories in Prose and Verse (1894),  including for the first time anywhere, The Drover’s Wife.

Matthew’s opinion is that: “Henry Lawson was a great writer. He was also, sadly, critically disabled by deafness [not to mention a poor education, and a disinclination to accept criticism]… Allowing for his misfortune, however, it can still be said that he was impetuous, shallow and an incorrigible whinger.”

The final chapters document the years of Louisa’s decline, which I am happy to gloss over. Louisa Lawson was a striking woman and this is a striking biography, both for its form and its content, and should be on the TBR of every student of Australian Lit.

 

Brian Matthews, Louisa, McPhee Gribble, 1987. My edition Penguin, 1988

see also the much more expert opinions of Nathan Hobby, here
and I recently wrote on Bertha Lawson’s biography of Henry Lawson, here

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


29 May 2017

I’ve been contacted by a distant (third, I think) cousin who came across this post by googling ‘Zoeller Murray St’ after the house, recently renovated, was entered in a TV competition. He reminds me that I failed to mention that Minnie’s story was also told in the novel Struggle of Memory (1991) by Joan Dugdale.

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)