Elizabeth Macarthur, Michelle Scott Tucker

37801628.jpg

Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World (2018) is Australian (Melbourne) author Michelle Scott Tucker’s first work. It doesn’t show. This is an assured account of the life of a woman whose name we all know, but who has always – till now – lived in the shadow of her husband John.

Elizabeth Macarthur (1766-1850) was born in Bridgerule, Devon where her father was an affluent farmer, in or aspiring to the lower reaches of the landed gentry, and able (and willing) to provide his daughter with a good education. She married army Ensign John Macarthur in 1788 and when, on half pay and needing to support a wife and young son, he joined the newly-formed NSW Corp as a Lieutenant, she sailed with him on the Second Fleet to Sydney Cove, the only officer’s wife to do so.

Michelle points out that Elizabeth was only 9 years older than Jane Austen and that the circumstances in which she was raised would be familiar to readers of Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. I’m friends with Michelle and on reading the early chapters of her book was imprudent enough to text her, asking if she thought Elizabeth was a ‘Lydia’. “No idea,” she replied, “I don’t make stuff up”. And she doesn’t. Although her account gets along at a cracking pace, it is clearly documented at every step.

To get back to Elizabeth’s Lydia-ness though, I formed the definite impression that Elizabeth was both strong willed and besotted by John. When their first child is born it is clear marital relations had begun before the marriage, indeed it is probable Elizabeth accompanies John on an uncomfortable trip to London in late pregnancy just to be out of sight of family and villagers doing simple arithmetic; there is that lovely cameo on the front cover, so different from the responsible matron (below) she was to become; she alone of the officers’ wives accompanies her husband to what was little more than a campsite on the other side of the world; and later, although I accept she was a devoted mother, I also suspect that when John returned from his long sojourns in England, bringing with him the older children, it was John she welcomed first not the children. Well, maybe the first time anyway.

A020130.jpg
Elizabeth Macarthur, undated, State Library of NSW

Elizabeth Macarthur’s letters home have always been an important source for writers about the early days of white settlement in NSW. We are lucky that she was a constant correspondent with her childhood friend, Bridget Kingdon, daughter of the Anglican vicar at Bridgerule, because to her she allowed herself a little more freedom in writing than she did to her mother. After Bridget’s untimely death in 1802 Elizabeth continued to write to Bridget’s younger sister, Eliza. Later, when John was forced to return to England, they exchanged letters about family and business (though Elizabeth’s to John have not survived) and we also have correspondence between Elizabeth and friends she made in the colony, notably Capt. John Piper.

Elizabeth’s story is often told in Elizabeth’s own words, using short excerpts from her letters, giving an immediacy to the writing that makes the biography flow like a novel without resort to passages of imagination, so-called ‘faction’. And we end up with not just Elizabeth’s story but a whole new perspective on the early years of the colony.

In a way I’ve had years to prepare for this review and it was my intention to have reviewed by now Watkin Tench’s two accounts of the first days of white settlement, MH Ellis’ John Macarthur (1955) and the Eleanor Dark reimagining of first contact and the early days of settlement, The Timeless Land (1941). As it happens I only got to the Tench (here, here).

Tench writes of his shock at the terrible state of the convicts on the arrival of the Second Fleet and Scott Tucker fleshes this out, as the Macarthur’s cabin on the voyage out was actually down with the women convicts. Briefly, with the Second Fleet the British government ‘privatised’ the transport of convicts and the successful tenderers and their ships captains economised on the food and conditions of especially the male convicts in order to sell the left over supplies at extortionate prices on arrival in Sydney. Of the 1017 convicts who were despatched from England 258 died, from starvation, illness, from being almost constantly in irons.

The Macarthur story is well known (to Australians). The initial farm, Elizabeth Farm, on the river at Parramatta (20 km up river from Sydney Harbour). The land grants at Cow Pastures, 20 or 30 km further out, which eventually became Camden Park. The importing of merino sheep, from South Africa and from the King’s flock in England. John’s two long absences in London (1801-05 and 1809-17), the first for a court martial and the second after he, now a civilian, led a rebellion against Governor Bligh. The slow growth of the fine wool industry to serve the mills of England and the Industrial Revolution.

Scott Tucker slowly and surely builds a lawyerly case for John’s fecklessness, right from the beginning. The rushed marriage, his constant disputes with his fellow officers, duels, risky business decisions, grand plans for the future. As he gets older he complains of frequent debilitating bouts of depression, interestingly recognised as illness by both the sufferer and Elizabeth, eventually interspersed with bursts of mania until we, and his family, recognise that he is out of control, in modern terms is bi-polar, and his sons become his guardians.

The bulk of the story concerns naturally Elizabeth’s management of the family business while John is away. He and later their older sons are valuable envoys in London, but they must be supported in style and Elizabeth must manage the flocks, the horses, the home farm and orchards, the large numbers of convict servants and farm workers, the younger children – the boys were schooled in England, keep the accounts. Above all she must improve the quality of the wool and get it off to England. She has some standing in Colony society both as a modest gentlewoman and as a relatively (though not always!) prosperous businesswoman. Scott Tucker does not think she mixed with convict and emancipist women, but on the other hand neither does she seem to have been a social climber.

There is a proper emphasis throughout the account on the Eora people who were displaced by the colonists, beginning with early friendly relations. But as the original inhabitants, and particularly the Gandagarra from the mountains enclosing the Sydney basin, begin to fight back, Elizabeth’s attitudes harden and she goes along with the retributive raids by government forces which culminate in the 1816 Appin massacre.

Right at the end Michelle allows herself a little whimsy:

Elizabeth was a real-life Elizabeth Bennet who married a Wickham instead of a Darcy – albeit a Wickham who loved her as much as he was able.

So no, not a Lydia.

As John became increasingly incapable of dealing with his illness, he demanded, in 1831, that Elizabeth leave him. In 1833 the family confined him to Camden Park and Elizabeth who had been living with other members of her extended family was able “to return to dear home” at Elizabeth Farm. John died in April 1834, and Elizabeth, without ever carrying out her oft expressed wish to return to Bridgerule, in February 1850.

 

Michelle Scott Tucker, Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World, Text, Melbourne, 2018

see also:
Author Interview, Michelle Scott Tucker (here)
Lisa at ANZLitLovers’ review (here)

Advertisements

Author Interview, Michelle Scott Tucker

Michelle Author
Michelle Scott Tucker

Michelle Scott Tucker’s first book, Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World is due out, in bookshops everywhere in a day or so. She has been kind enough to grant me interview while I scramble to produce a review. Meanwhile, check out Lisa at ANZLitLovers’ review here.

 

Q. So first up, I think you went from school to university to the Commonwealth Public Service. At what stage did you decide to become a writer.

A. Yes, that’s right. After uni (in Melbourne) I moved to Canberra and worked in Australian government policy roles for over a decade, then moved back to Melbourne and into consulting (mainly for government clients). Essentially, I’ve always written for a living. And despite what you’ve heard about government writing, I think my various day jobs gave me a solid grounding in how to turn complex issues and ideas into readable, accessible prose. But I was in my mid-thirties before I realised that writing was always the part of my job I enjoyed most, and that writing – for its own sake – was something I wanted to pursue. And I’ve probably only been confident enough to call myself ‘a writer’ for the last year or two. Getting a publishing contract definitely helped!

 

Q. Your book is a biography of Elizabeth Macarthur, who came out to Sydney on the Second Fleet and was instrumental in establishing the wool industry here in Australia. How did you light on her as a subject? Did you intend all along to demonstrate that she had agency, that she was not just John Macarthur’s wife?

A. One of my government jobs involved (briefly) working with women farmers in outback Queensland. I was young and pretty green, and they were very kind. They explained that there was no such thing as ‘a farmer and his wife’. In reality each farming couple were both farmers, and usually part of a farm family. Although the farm work might be split along gendered lines, the women’s work was just as crucial to the financial viability of their farms as the men’s.

I studied history at uni, and speaking with those outback women made me wonder why farm women seemed to be missing from the Australian historical narrative. So I started doing some basic research, stumbled across Elizabeth Macarthur’s story and found it absolutely compelling – there was so much going on! So yes, I definitely and deliberately set out to demonstrate that she was far more than just someone’s wife.

 

Q. Some time ago I saw a piece in which you imagined from Elizabeth’s point of view the birth and death of (I think) Elizabeth and John’s first second child, while they were still at sea on the way here. Did you ever consider writing this whole work as Historical Fiction? And in the context of this question, how much have you looked into the theory side of modern biographical writing – the mixing in various proportions of documented fact, disputed facts, speculation, authorial research, fiction to cover the gaps and so on.

A. The book opens at sea aboard a convict ship, on a stormy Southern Ocean, with Elizabeth Macarthur giving birth prematurely. No part of the scene is imagined, or fictionalised. The historical record is clear about the premature birth of the baby girl, and her subsequent death, about the ship, about the storms, and even about Elizabeth’s prayers. We know nothing about Elizabeth’s subsequent grief, and I say so.

Nor is any other part of the book fictionalised or imagined, and although occasionally I provide commentary, or speculate about something, it’s clearly flagged as commentary or speculation. If there are disputes or gaps in the historical record (and there are always gaps) I flag them too, and leave the reader to decide. Essentially, I abide by the code that historian Clare Wright calls ‘not making shit up, ever’. In the book, I’ve selected words very carefully so that every sentence is as accurate as possible. But, that said, I do use all the narrative tools associated with fiction to ensure that I present the facts in a compelling, interesting and accessible way. As a result, I seem to have written a history book that reads like a novel.

I do love reading books and articles about writing and especially about writing biography. I also enjoy reading lots of different kinds of biographies, including those that describe the author’s research process. But I’m really not a fan of including fictionalised scenes in non-fiction narratives. It’s distracting, and rarely adds to my understanding of the subject. If I want the fictionalised version, I’d rather read a historical novel (and I do read lots of those, too). For myself, I wasn’t ever tempted to go down the historical fiction route, not when the real story was so interesting anyway.

 

Q. We your loyal followers have been following the progress of Elizabeth Macarthur for years now on your blog Adventures in Biography. On 4 Jan 2015 you wrote, “I aim to spend 20 minutes every day working on my Elizabeth Macarthur biography.  And slightly less time in my hammock swing …” How did that work out? How long had you already been writing by then. And how long before that had you been thinking about writing?

A. Like all my New Year resolutions, that ’20 minutes a day’ one lasted less than five minutes. Although probably slightly longer than the ‘do more exercise’ or ‘be a nicer person’ resolutions. I have a family, a job, and plenty of things on. I write when I can, in the cracks of my life, so to speak. I started working on the book when my children were tiny, so the actual start date is lost in the baby-haze, but maybe about 12 years ago? I’d do some research, do some writing, do some more research. Some years I didn’t write more than a chapter. But in 2016, once I had a contract, and therefore a deadline, I started writing a whole lot more.

 

Q. When you told me that you had started a blog, in June 2014, I of course started reading it – the first blog I ever read – and also the blogs that you followed. They were/are a fascinating mix of literature, history, and biography and I have followed much the same blogs ever since. I am sure your interaction with these bloggers has been both enjoyable and informative, and we have loved sharing in the progress of your work. What would you say as a writer about being a blogger, that is, does the interaction contribute to your writing, or your thinking?

A. Starting a blog, and being part of that online community of bloggers, has made a huge contribution to my writing – and thinking.

Before becoming a blogger myself, I came across ANZLitLovers and vividly remember nervously posting a comment for the first time. Lisa, the blogger behind ANZLitLovers, was immediately welcoming and supportive and that motivated me to keep exploring the literary blogosphere. It’s a terrific place to learn about and discuss Australian (and other) books.

Through my own blog I’ve made contact with some really lovely people, and their encouragement really did mean (and still means) a great deal to me. We’re friends now, and I occasionally see some of them offline too. A few were directly helpful, for example: Dr Marion Diamond (Historians are Past Caring) generously pointed me towards relevant research information that I’d have never found on my own; and Bernice Barry, a published biographer, shared some incredibly useful insights about what to expect from the publishing process. Twitter and Facebook, in their different ways, have also provided me with useful and interesting connections.

 

Q. If starting writing was the first big step forward, was your acceptance into the Hard Copy programme the next big step? The perspective from the outside was that it of course gave you confidence and practical ideas but there also appeared to be quite a bit of ongoing fellowship and support.

A. My first big step was the culmination of lots of smaller steps. I entered small competitions and didn’t win. I submitted pieces to literary magazines and received lots of rejections. I applied for a fellowship and was shortlisted (the Hazel Rowley). Then I applied for a residential fellowship (to Varuna) and was accepted. Each step drew on what I’d learned from the step before.

Acceptance into the ACT Writers Centre 2015 HardCopy program was a terrific next step; I learnt a huge amount that year and, as you say, gained a valuable friendship group of other non-fiction writers. But the big break was meeting with (and getting incredibly positive feedback from) publishers and agents at the end of the program. During that process the woman who became my agent, Jacinta di Mase, offered to represent me. That was the real break – scoring a top-class agent. Thanks to her efforts, I subsequently received generous offers from seven different publishers for my unfinished manuscript. That’s when it all started to feel real, and I really did start to think of myself as a writer. That feeling also made it easier to carve out more time for writing.

 

Q. Finally, your blog is often overtly feminist, for instance in addressing the inequality of opportunity for women writers compared to men. Would you say that Elizabeth Macarthur is informed by feminism? Or that it is consciously part of a feminist project to redress the balance of male and female stories in histories?

A. Yes, Elizabeth Macarthur is definitely informed by feminism and yes, it is an attempt to redress the balance. The Australian historical narrative is full of white men working (mining, exploring, soldiering, etc).  The Australian historical narrative is also full of white men failing (and there’s perhaps a PhD thesis in this for someone). Bourke and Wills: fail. Ned Kelly: didn’t end well. Even the Gallipoli campaign – the men themselves may have been heroes but it seems to be that not every Australian realises we actually lost that battle.

Elizabeth Macarthur was an interesting, intelligent successful woman who played a crucial role in Australia’s colonial history. Hers is not a household name – but it ought to be. And it’s a bit sad, really, that merely writing about a female historical figure remains a feminist act, but it’s true.

 

Thank you Michelle. I should have my review of Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World up early next week (here).

Michelle’s website (here) includes a link to her blog and dates for author talks/book signings (under News & Events).

Miles Franklin’s Last Diary

images

Between the last two entries in The Diaries of Miles Franklin (2004) Paul Brunton writes:

If Miles Franklin kept a diary for 1954 [the year of her death], it has not survived. She made her last known diary entry, for 1 January 1954, at the back of her pocket diary for 1953.

Jill Roe, of whom Brunton writes, “All those who venture into Franklin studies are in the debt of Dr Jill Roe for her scholarship over the last two decades”, does not write about Franklin’s diaries directly in her monumental Stella Miles Franklin (2008), though she occasionally quotes from them. For the last year of Franklin’s life she must have relied on Franklin’s correspondence which she had edited and published 15 years earlier.

Now, as of March 7, we know there was a diary for 1954, known of these last 30 years but inexplicably kept secret. Julie Power writes in the Age (and no doubt in the SMH but I come from Melbourne):

Everyone believed the diary of her final year was lost until her distant relative Margaret Francis spotted it in an old suitcase. Seeing the diary with Franklin’s tiny spidery writing was ‘‘ a moment of absolute exhilaration’’ , said Ms Francis, who lives in Wagga Wagga.

She glimpsed the diary 30 years ago, and had kept a promise to keep its existence a secret, hoping that someone had put it somewhere safe.

After finding it three years ago, Ms Francis – who has dedicated much of her life to writing three volumes detailing the extended Franklin family’s rise from illiterate convicts and settlers to the educated squatocracy – would get up at five in the morning to read and transcribe the entries.

By the beginning of 1954 Miles was 74 years old and presumably knew she was getting near the end. However, her first entry for the year was cheerful enough: “Awaked to a grey day. Must have had quite 7 hrs sleep!!! so I felt very well. Left at 10.45 for Killara & walked from station to 36 Springdale Rd [maybe 500m]” and there follows an account of a family gathering for dinner, “Beautifully roasted turkey & vegs & 4 sweets. Nuts & chocolates”.

Throughout 1954 Miles was mostly querulous, as might be expected. Wrote to friends “I can’t complain” but did. Continued her work in the garden, and with the Fellowship of Australian Writers; and maintained friendships with fellow writers Jean Devanny, Katharine Susannah Prichard (and KSP’s son Ric Throssell) and Dymphna Cusack – maybe she was a closet socialist realist after all! I was going to write that in 1952 she prepared “a lavish lunch” in honour of Lenin’s birthday, but I see on re-rereading it was actually for her Aunt Lena.

With recognition as a writer coming so late in life – after that amazing early start was so completely lost – she was still struggling with mss right up to the end. With Cockatoos, the next in line of the Brent of Bin Bin books which Angus & Robertson had undertaken to publish; an anti-war play The Dead Must Not Return; and a book of essays arising from a lecture tour to Perth, which was eventually issued posthumously as Laughter, Not for a Cage.

In her last chapter “Shall I pull Through?” Roe writes at length on Franklin’s ambivalent attitude to sex, which underlies all her writing. Franklin told Jean Devanny in 1954 “that now sex had come to stay it was time to give it a rest” (I think she means writing about it). But she was still interested enough to read Kinsey.

In 1952 when he met Franklin for the first time at a FAW meeting young playwright Ray Mathew saw her as “an amusing figure, a kind of combination of Mrs Pankhurst and Mary Poppins”, but he grew to respect her and in a 1963 monograph – the first literary assessment of the whole Brent of Bin Bin oeuvre – ‘argued that although Cockatoos was the only one of the Brent books likely to survive in its own right … the series was a masterpiece’, and defended Miles’ method of ‘possuming’ and ‘yarning’. But he also discusses Franklin’s ‘sexual confusion’ which “may either irritate or amuse the reader, but it does force the author into extraordinary studies of women desiring but incapable of consummation which are subtle and unique in Australian writing.”

As the end approached Franklin dictated a letter to Vance Palmer which begins, “Dear Vance, I had your book ready to read when I was taken with a heart attack five weeks ago; so I have not read it but I am glad it is out & know it will be a great success.” [I can’t see what book that would be, maybe a short story collection]. She speaks of her illness and of being taken to stay with Mrs Perryman in Beecroft and adds “I do not know whether it is worth struggling to survive.” (July 23rd 1954).

Her last (published) letter is to Pixie O’Harris, Sep 3 54. “Pixie dearest dear, You little know, I perceive, by your letters, how near I still am to tumbling into the grave.” Typically, she also writes “Tell Ray Mathew not to worry about his play, I always feel worse than he does.”

She died on September 19th. The final entry in her diary, three days earlier, was ‘‘Went to Eastwood by ambulance to be X-rayed . Ordeal too much for me. Day of distress and twitching. Returned to bed’’.

This last diary has been donated to the State Library of NSW, which already has the 46 previous diaries detailing the author’s life from 1909. What Ms Francis plans to do with her three years of transcription I’m not sure, maybe add it to her family history.

176841ea2f0d78386067844eb678ae10e93e2400
photo: Louise Kennerley, the Age, 7 Mar 2018

 

Julie Power, Miles Franklin’s Secret Diary Discovered, The Age, Melbourne, 7 March 2018 here

Paul Brunton ed., The Diaries of Miles Franklin, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2004

Jill Roe ed., My Congenials: Miles Franklin & Friends in Letters, vol 2 1939-1954, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1993

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

see also: Miles Franklin page for a list of her works and links to reviews and other posts

After, Nikki Gemmell

33556155.jpg

Nikki Gemmell is an important Australian author. A true statement but I feel the tugging of “, I think”. I’m not sure that the literary world in general agrees with me, though her wikipedia entry, maybe written by a fan, says:

In France she has been described as a “female Jack Kerouac”. In 2007, the French literary magazine Lire included her in a list of what it called the fifty most important writers in the world – those it believed would have a significant influence on the literature of the 21st century.

Here, in Oz, her uncompromising inner views of women attempting to make a path for themselves in a hostile world and the staccato poetry of her language are no match for say the boyish charms of her contemporary, the people’s favourite Tim Winton.

Gemmell’s early novels are, in order, Shiver (1997), Cleave – originally published as Alice Springs (1998), Love Song (2002) and The Bride Stripped Bare (2003). I get the impression that she is gradually stripping away all extraneous action, increasingly focusing her attention inwards on women finding their way in a sexual world, and experimenting as she goes with the language to express that. [That is a para from my earlier review of Love Song (here) – not quoting, just reusing].

Her subsequent novels have been The Book of Rapture (2009), With My Body (2011), I Take You (2013) and there have been a number of works of non-fiction. Which brings us to After (2017) a memoir written in the aftermath of her mother’s suicide.


In the fraught world of euthanasia, I say this: if the perpetrator’s family cannot, by law, be involved in the wishes of the person wanting to die, then you’re condemning that person to a horrendously bleak and lonely death.


We begin in the morgue, in an ante-room, Nikki and her brother Paul, the older brother Andrew  choosing to be absent, remaining absent throughout, about to ‘identify’ their mother’s body – a redundant ritual now you’d say, though Gemmell doesn’t – the police with them supportive but also closely watchful, alert for signs, for evidence, that a crime may have been committed, that the obvious suicide, by an overdose of pills in the comfort of her lounge room, may have been ‘assisted’.

This is close up and personal, Nikki’s grief is visceral, its depth and immediacy expressed in broken sentences. But. Gemmell is a writer, a producer of literary output. So this is written from the heart, yes, but then rewritten and rewritten, packaged by a major publisher and presented to us to consume. Polished in its unpolishedness you might say. A writer must always say ‘look at how well I suffer’, her greatness being in making us forget that we are not looking at suffering but at a, at her, depiction of suffering.

The sense of abandonment. Here. In this place. The obscenity of that. The shell of our mother, the skin on her face already sinking into the hollows of her skull. Giving her that distinct, distancing, mask of death. It is not Elayn but an eviscerating absence more skull than life. It is our mother. It is not.

Gemmell’s mother found marriage too constricting, had left Bob her worker husband of twenty years forty years earlier, taken Nikki aged then 10, “the court ordered the boys to stay with their father”, left Wollongong for life in the big smoke, changed her name from the prosaic Elaine, “set about turning herself into who she really wanted to be”.

It is not clear that who she really wanted to be was a mother, and Nikki and Elayn bang heads for eight years until Nikki manages to leave home.

When I was young Elayn would fling, ‘No one likes you.’ When I craved prettiness, ‘You’re so ugly.’ When I didn’t measure up in terms of a daughter, ‘Why can’t you be like …  She wanted them but had me, her swotty clod of a thing. That could write.

Elayn hated Bob all the rest of her life and resented that Nikki didn’t. Elayn had been a model, there are photos of her throughout the book, and Nikki isn’t, though elocution lessons did get her into the national broadcaster. Elayn works and buys an old three bedroom flat in Sydney’s eastern, beachside suburbs and reinvents herself as a glamorous theatre goer. Years later Nikki is shocked to find that the flat is a tip inside, all her mother’s declining strength having been expended on external appearances.

Nikki marries, lives in London, has four children, exchanges brief visits with her mother, finally comes home, purchases a house in a neighbouring suburb and spends the final five years still banging heads but making she thinks, some progress. The last of those years is spent by Elayn in crippling pain after a botched operation, and you could hardly blame her for considering euthanasia. But without discussion or warning? In the week of her oldest and loved grandson’s Year 12 exams!

Gemmell is a weekly columnist in the Australian. She must have written something, her bewilderment at her mother’s choice. A chapter is devoted to readers’ responses. I skim it. Dr Philip Nitshke of Exit International tweets:

Nikki, it was empowerment! – your mother joined, #euthanasia PP Handbook, asked Exit forum Qs and imported.

So, Elayn’s death had been planned and kept secret for months. Gemma meets and becomes friends with a doctor who has suffered chronic pain and who with the full support of her children is planning to end her life in Switzerland where it is legal. Becomes more understanding of the problems of chronic pain and her own lack of awareness of her mother’s opioid drug addiction.

Writing this book is therapy, “Six months since the writing was begun, the maelstrom of bewilderment that was this book. Now, finally, stilled.” It’s an interesting work, but not her best. The edgy young woman of the earlier works is now a suburban mum and a Murdoch hack finding some peace in restoring her children’s valued porcelain pieces, smashed in a storm at around the time of her mother’s death, in line with the Japanese philosophy Kintsugi, to embrace the repair of an object as an aspect of its history, using lacquer mixed with powdered gold, which has acted as a metaphor throughout the work.

I checked the AWW Challenge site (here) and found only eight reviews for works by Gemmell – mine of Love Song not there so I’ll have to upset the statistics again (!) and include a back entry – which rather proves my case that she doesn’t receive much attention.

 

Nikki Gemmell, After, Fourth Estate, Sydney, 2017

see also: My review of Love Song here

 

Annabella Boswell’s Journal

Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week 15-21 Jan. 2018

Annabella Boswells Journal

Annabella Alexandrina Campbell Innes “was born at Yarrows, near Bathurst in New South Wales in 1826, in September, which in that favoured land is a sweet spring month, when all nature is fresh and gay.”

Her father George, an eighth son then aged 20, had come out to NSW from Scotland with his older brother, Captain (later Major) Archibald Innes, 3rd Buffs, in 1823 and almost immediately took up grants  of land at Winburndale Creek (“Yarrows”) and further north, a cattle station, “Glen Alice”, in mountainous and nearly inaccessible country near Capertee (then called Capita), maybe 200 km northwest of Sydney.

In November 1825 George married Georgianna “Moorshead, née Campbell” (which implies she was a young widow), also a Scot, in St John’s, Paramatta. “Miss E. Macarthur, of Elizabeth Farm, was one of the bridesmaids”. Ten months later Annabella was born.

At a young age, Annabella began keeping journals, and when later she married Patrick Douglas Boswell of Garrallan – a distant relative of the biographer – and then moved back home with him after he inherited the family estates in Scotland, she rewrote them for her children, according to the Publisher’s Note, as Early Recollections and Gleanings, from an old Journal. It is possible this was an intermediate stage as, according to the ADB

Some Recollections of My Early Days (1908) was republished as Annabella Boswell’s Journal (Sydney, 1965 and reprinted 1981 and 1993). Her vivid account of colonial life, Further Recollections of My Early Days in Australia (1911), was republished as Annabella Boswell’s Other Journal (Canberra, 1992).

This implies her writings were polished up again for the general public in 1908 and 1911 when Annabella Boswell was in her eighties (Later she writes that she is looking back 60 years which would be about right). She died at Garrallan in 1914.

Annabella writes that the family left Yarrows while she was an infant. It’s not clear where they lived for the next few years, but in 1834 they moved to Capertee and Annabella found herself “settled at school in Bridge Street, Sydney, under the care of Mrs Evans and her friend and partner, Miss Ferris. Mr Evans had a large bookseller’s and we occupied the rest of the house”.

At Easter the Tank Stream flooded Bridge Street and Annabella was sent to the Macleays. He was Colonial Secretary and her uncle, Major Innes’, father-in-law. Annabella remembers a dinner party where she was “much noticed by Mrs Sturt, afterwards Lady Sturt, wife of Captain Charles Sturt, who was then absent with an exploring party near the Murrumbidgee River.”

After a year at Mrs Evans’ Annabella’s father took her home to Glen Alice where she and her siblings were schooled by governesses. They seemed to have had an active social life with weddings and dances. In this context she mentions Ann Macarthur who MST tells me must be a daughter of Hannibal, John Macarthur’s nephew, and from the 1830s on, a member of the NSW Legislative Council.

Throughout, Annabelle and her family move almost entirely within the Scots community. A Presbyterian minister who includes Capertee in his rounds gives his service in Gaelic, and they have a shepherd who speaks only Gaelic. Even when Annabelle is being taught the kings of England, she begins at the Stuarts!

Annabella was a good diarist, both observant of people and her surroundings, and a fluent writer. While I enjoyed the references to the Macarthurs and Charles Sturt and so on whom I know from history books, the highlight of this book for me was the close descriptions of the logistics of getting into and out of Capertee. I have driven old trucks over Mt Victoria and out through Lithgow and Bathurst any number of times, not to mention Kandos and Wallerawang, so I can only marvel at the men who got horse and bullock wagons on unmade tracks through these mountains – at various times Annabella was in a gig that tipped over and pinned her underneath; her mamma was thrown from the back of a wagon that tipped when the horses bolted and a wheel broke; and of course they were bailed up by bushrangers.

The book’s subtitle is An Account of Early Port Macquarrie. The reason for this is that Major Innes built a mansion on his estate “Lake Innes” outside Port Macquarrie (400 km north of Sydney). George Innes’ health was failing and he took his family there in 1839 hoping for rest but was soon dead. Mrs Innes sold up Glen Alice and after a couple of years in Paramatta the family went back to Lake Innes to live.

At the peak of Major Innes’ uncertain prosperity, the grand house, liveried servants and unstinting hospitality gave Annabella a taste for the high life. Kilted pipers piped in the mornings and led the dances at night. Even the locals of the Birpai nation joined in:

When we went down again we found about twenty natives assembled there and dancing vigorously, while Bruce played. When they had finished, Dido proposed that we should dance a reel, and at once the whole party seemed inspired with a wish to join, and really there could not have been a gayer scene; we four girls in white frocks and pink sashes flying through the dance pursued by nimble partners ..

Life however was not without its problems. On Christmas Day, 1843:

It was very late when dinner was announced, the cook imagining it was a holiday (and making it one) had gone to sleep.

And so passed the 1840s as Annabella grew to womanhood – gardening, preserving fruit, drawing flowers, doing lessons, riding, bathing in the sea, rowing on the lake, entertaining endless visitors, and dancing. Of most concern is the news from London, via Sydney, of a new fashion in dresses:

Aunt Williamina asks her if we wear any stiff petticoats, and says she never wears less than two corded and stiff starched and one of horse-hair… I quite dread my own appearance so puffed out.

In 1845 a visitor arrives from India with “coolies” to be used as labour on his Darling Downs station. You might remember that Caroline Chisholm (here) was concerned that the virtual slave labour of convicts would be replaced by importing cheap labour from China and India. Annabella is more interested in their different colours and absence of dress, though she does mention some news from Sydney about Mrs Chisholm.

When the journal ends the colony is suffering an economic downturn and Port Macquarrie is virtually deserted; the house servants have ravaged the cellars and departed; Major Innes is in Sydney, and Annabella and her mother, too, are about to leave. The running of the Lake Innes estate had been predicated on the labour of convict servants. Transportation to NSW ended in 1840,  and by 1848 Lake Innes was unviable. Major Innes was appointed police magistrate at Newcastle, and there in 1849 Annabella met Boswell.

 

devonshire-squab-pie-2.jpg
For Kate W., Squab Pie. “Layers of apple and beef steak,covered with pie crust, and baked… Cook says I should have added an onion.”

 

Annabella Boswell, Annabella Boswells Journal, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1965 (this edition 1981). Introduction by Morton Herman. Cover painting: Port Macquarie in the 1830s by Joseph Backler (1813-1895)

See also AWW Gen 1 above for more on the first generation of Australian women writers.

Bohemians at the Bulletin, Norman Lindsay

md22449052381
Illustration: Henry Lawson reproves Bert Stevens [clerk]
The founding of the Sydney Bulletin in 1880 by JF Archibald (and John Haynes, who does not appear to have played a part in its day to day operations), as a magazine of news, comment, short stories and poetry, marked a turning point in Australian nationalism, expressed in its banner “Australia for Australians” – famously changed in 1886 to “Australia for the White Man”. In 1894 Archibald employed AG Stephens, already a well-known literary critic, who began soliciting and commissioning literary works for his famous ‘Red Page’:

What readers could expect in the ‘Red Page’ was a potpourri of articles, reviews, extracts, letters, paragraphs, anecdotes and notes, occasionally with photographs or cartoons. The poem of the week, starred to indicate its quality, appeared in a top corner and in the bottom corner might be blunt, cruelly witty advice to rejected contributors. Stephens’ common practice was to spark controversy by attacking an established writer, such as Burns, Thackeray, Kipling, or Tennyson, thereby enticing correspondents as varied as Christopher Brennan or George Burns to attack and counter-attack, sometimes over weeks. It was heady stuff. (ADB)

In 1901 Norman Lindsay, then aged 21, came to the Bulletin as an illustrator, from Melbourne where he had been at art school. Although already married, he fancied himself as a carouser, a Cassanova, and produced endless drawings of naked women. Later in life he wrote some interesting fiction, mostly semi-autobiographical and boastful of his conquests, and of course the wonderful children’s book, The Magic Pudding (1918) prized by generations of young Legends.

In 1911 Lindsay went to England for a while and returned suffering a nervous breakdown -which he is happy to talk about in this book – which led him to buy Springwood in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney where he was to spend the rest of his life, and which was the setting for the movie Sirens (1994) starring Sam Neill (as Lindsay), Elle Macpherson and a young Hugh Grant.

In Bohemians at [orginally ‘of’] the Bulletin (1965) Lindsay writes short sketches of his interactions with Archibald, Stephens and some of his fellow contributors. Lindsay admires Archibald with whom he is largely in accord – including on the related subjects of buxom 14 year old girls and the entrapment of men by Rape Laws – and ends his piece on Archibald with:

We know that Archie endowed Australian art with the Archibald Bequest and bestowed on Sydney the splendid Archibald Memorial fountain, the only truly fine monument the city possesses… But he wrote his personality deeper on this country’s culture when he sought for and published the best poetry and prose and draughtsmanship it could produce, and fostered in it the spirit to envision life in its own terms and not on any culture borrowed from other countries.

On the other hand, Lindsay didn’t get on with AG Stephens and the things he writes about him are mostly spiteful – Stephens scuttling back to his office in the face of danger, and so on. Henry Lawson, Lindsay did not know very well, mostly seeing him as angry presence dashing in and out of the Bulletin offices, or cadging money for grog, and in fact he knew Bertha (Henry’s estranged wife) better, as she managed a picture gallery for George Robertson next door to Angus & Robertson’s bookshop:

I was holding a one-man show at the gallery, and happened to be in Mrs Lawson’s small office, finishing a pen sketch which had been commissioned, when she dashed in exclaiming breathlessly, “I can’t go out there. He’s only come in here to annoy me.” I glanced out to discover that “he” was Henry Lawson, who was going around making a pretence of looking at the pictures …

Steele Rudd, Lindsay met just the once (oddly, as Rudd lived in Sydney from 1903-08) seeing him as a yokel, though he was in fact a senior clerk in the Qld Public Service, but at least has this to say of him:

In his Dad and Mum and Dave and Joe he created idiosyncratic characters … and not just types as Lawson did with his Bills and Jims and Andys, who are all out of one mould, indistinguishable as personalities from each other.

With Banjo Paterson, an ‘aristocrat’ according to Lindsay, he was much more in sympathy and they would go horse riding together, having stables, paddocks (and grooms!) at their north shore properties.

I can’t ever recall discussing literature with him, nor did he place any accent on his contribution to it, which was a considerable one, and now seen in its significant relation to a national culture. By the fine quality of his ballads, he compressed into a few years the bridge between the folk-lore ballad and major poetry which the early Scotch and English balladists made for the great Elizabethan poets.

There are other once notable and now largely forgotten writers – Victor Daley, Rod Quinn, Jack Abbott, Bernard O’Dowd, Randolph Bedford, Hugh McCrae, Louis Stone (whose novel Jonah I must read) – many of whom Lindsay knew well. Lindsay is knowledgeable about poetry, as I am not, and gives a lively account of a period – more than a century ago now – which was still central to the study of Australian literature when this little book came out in the sixties.

He ends with thumbnail sketches of ‘Tom Collins’ (Joseph Furphy) and Miles Franklin, whom he met only briefly. Of Furphy, to whom Lindsay must have been introduced soon after he arrived at the Bulletin, he writes “I don’t remember a single thing he said”, though he does remember the fuss AG Stephens made publishing Such is Life and the great expectations he had for it.

WP_20150614_001
Miles Franklin in 1902 by Norman Lindsay

But Miles definitely made an impression!:

I came across gaping at this bright vision of girl in such a drab and dusty setting, and was introduced to her by A.G. [Stephens] – Miles Franklin! reality far outshone fancy’s portrait of her inspired by her novel [My Brilliant Career], and I went straight up in the air, bubbling an extravagant tribute to that work.

I have written before that Stephens, fearing Lindsay’s predatory disposition, would not let Lindsay see her downstairs, so he “never saw Miles again till she returned to Australia, and we were both middle-aged”, when she tells him he was the one member of the Bulletin staff whom she wished to meet, which he says he does not believe. However, in her own work, My Career Goes Bung or Cockatoos, I forget which, she has him present her with a book of his sketches (Jill Roe says the book was by Stephens but signed by Lindsay who had illustrated it). Strangely, this brief meeting, or at least its sequel, is described/imagined also by Kylie Tennant who has Franklin running into Barbara Baynton at a tram stop outside the Bulletin offices, by which time Franklin is carrying a box of chocolates.

 

Norman Lindsay, Bohemians at the Bulletin, first pub. 1965. This edition Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1980.

see also:

Bertha Lawson, My Henry Lawson, Frank Johnson, Sydney, 1943 (review)

Richard Fotheringham, In Search of Steele Rudd, UQP, Brisbane, 1995 (review)

Penne Hackforth-Jones, Barbara Baynton: Between Two Worlds, Penguin, Melbourne, 1989 (review)

Kylie Tennant, “Miles Franklin: Feminist whose men were men”, SMH, 23 Jul 1974.

Poetry Slam, Lawson v Paterson (here)

Author Interview, Sarah Goldman

Goldman Caroline Chiholm
Illustrations from Caroline Chisholm

Caroline Chisholm: An Irresistible Force by Sarah Goldman (my review) is the recently released biography of one of the most interesting and influential women in Australia’s early history. My review copy arrived with a letter suggesting Sarah would be happy to be interviewed, so I sent her some questions to which she has been kind enough to give extensive answers. I didn’t let on, but this is my first interview.

Q. Personal Stuff: It bemuses me that publishers ‘always’ put in an author bio, “so and so lives in Sydney with her partner, two sons and a dog”. The things that affect how I read a work are the author’s gender, age and education.

A. none [that’s what I get for being impertinent!]

 

Q. Writing: This is your first book. I like the writing, it is both fluent and informative. Did you arrive at this point by writing in the course of your work, keeping a journal, writing for publication short stories/essays, or maybe just by writing/re-writing Caroline Chisholm? During the course of writing Caroline Chisholm did you publish any extracts?

A. I’ve written all my life, firstly as a newspaper journalist and then later as a television producer mostly in news. They say of journalists that they know a little about a lot, but not much about anything. Writing this biography gave me an opportunity to concentrate on one, fascinating character and the people and places which became the background to her story. It did take me a time to develop my voice though. In most news writing, one avoids expressing opinions whilst striving to communicate relevant facts concisely and effectively. Writing about Caroline demanded a different style altogether. I soon found that expanding and colouring-in with the facts were both enjoyable and rewarding, particularly as I had such a rich subject and environment to explore. Through the process I was helped by being part of a writers’ group at the NSW Writers’ Centre. Disinterested opinions from other writers are very valuable. Once the rhythm to the writing was established though, I found it quite easy to continue. It was also a thoroughly enjoyable process and one I am eager to repeat.

 

Q. Motivation: Did you always want to be a writer? A biographer? What drew you to Caroline Chisholm in particular?(The more I read about her, the more I admire her).

A. Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a journalist and I honestly enjoyed every moment of my career, whether it was in newspapers or television, in Sydney, Melbourne or London. I vaguely thought that one day I would write a book, but it wasn’t until I started delving into Caroline’s life that I became absolutely determined to write about her. It all started years ago when I mentioned her to my (then) young sons, who knew nothing about her. I began to investigate Caroline so that I could tell them about her and I became hooked. I was busy at the time and put the idea of writing a biography away until a few years ago when I decided to give it a go. I was interested in not just telling what she did and how she did it, but who she was, in effect the flesh and blood woman behind the story. Similarly, I also thought it important to explore the physical and social environment in which Caroline lived because they too are vital aspects of her life. I thought it important to look at her 19th Century world and try to understand it from a 21st Century viewpoint.

 

Q. Process: Had you already started when Carole Walker published, did this give you pause? By your notes you rely on the McKenzie Memoirs, is there much other source material for the early part of her life (I infer there is no birth record naming the mother)? I imagine Chisholm becomes increasingly visible in Trove over time. Was your manuscript or parts thereof workshopped?

Q. I came across Carole Walker’s excellent PhD thesis and then book sometime after I had started my work on Caroline. It did not really give me pause because I soon realised that we were approaching the same subject from two different viewpoints. Another major difference was that Carole Walker’s best research and interest was focused on Caroline’s life and work in the UK. As you have obviously seen from my end notes and bibliography, I have certainly referenced some of her admirable research, but I have also been able to follow other leads. One valuable resource was Edith Pearson’s essay on Caroline which was written after Pearson interviewed Caroline’s daughter, also named Caroline. Elsewhere I found other resources for example the notice of Caroline and Archibald’s wedding in the Northampton Mercury and William Whellan & Co., History, Gazetteer and Directory of Northamptonshire which gave me valuable information about Caroline and Archibald’s neighbours in Northampton in 1831 and the whereabouts of various of her relations at that time and afterwards. Elsewhere I was fortunate to happen upon the log of Archdale Low Whitby, who sailed to Australia in the Slains Castle, Caroline’s first Family Colonization Loan Society boat. The log gives fascinating information of what it was really like to make that journey in the mid-19th Century and, I have the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies to thank for using that wonderful material. Without doubt, both the British Newspaper Archives and more particularly our own Trove from the National Library of Australia were invaluable and truly engrossing sources, both to follow Caroline’s career and that of her various family members.

 

Q. I think you are careful to say when you are ‘imagining’, which is not always the case. What do you think about the fictionalizing of real lives? What influence have other biographers had on your work? Have you read Brian Matthews’ Louisa for instance which is really an extended discussion on constructing a life from insufficient facts.

A. I think that the art of biography is to bring a real person alive as a character so that they are interesting not only on an intellectual level, but an emotional level also. If the reader is engaged with the subject then the enjoyment of the book is so much richer. There are various techniques. I have chosen to use short fiction pieces at the start of most chapters, each easily identified by a change in font. As I explained in the introduction, in each case, the fiction relates to events that follow in the body of the chapter. They were also created using actual facts and evidence, be it direct writings by Caroline or other people such as Charles Dickens or a diarist of the time.

 

Q. Last of all, do you have a new ‘life’ in mind, underway even?

A. Yes, I do have another project in mind, but it is still percolating through my brain at the moment, so I will remain a little coy about it for the time being.

 

Thank you Sarah!

 

Sarah Goldman, Caroline Chisholm, Harper Collins, Sydney, 2017 (Review copy supplied by publisher)

I also referred to:

Carole Walker, A Saviour of Living Cargoes – The Life and Work of Caroline Chisholm, (first published in Australia in 2009 by Australian Scholarly Publishing; republished in Australia in 2011 by Connor Court Publishing; UK edition published by Wolds Publishing, 2010)

Eneas Mackenzie, Memoirs of Mrs Caroline Chisholm (London, 1852)  preserved by Project Gutenberg Australia as an e-book (here).