Brona’s AusReadingMonth Bingo

Journal: 040

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Brona’s AusReadingMonth Bingo, November 2019

Australian reading bingo’s in the past, I have dealt with by waiting until the end of the period in question and then filling the squares with books I have read during the previous 12 months. On that basis, this is as close as I could go today to filling in Brona’s Bingo card (by setting, rather than by home state of author), and closer than I expected:

NT     Alexis Wright, Tracker (here)
Tas    Krissy Kneen, Wintering (here)
SA
Vic    Peggy Frew, Islands  (here)
Free Claire Coleman, The Old Lie (here)
WA    Alice Nannup, When the Pelican Laughed (here)
Qld    Anne Gambling, The Drover’s De Facto (here)
NSW David Ireland, The Unknown Industrial Prisoner (here)
ACT   TAG Hungerford, The National Game (short story here)

I chose Claire Coleman for “Free” because I got to it first, but as I scanned my reviews I must say I was tempted by Behrouz Boochani, No Friend but the Mountains (here) and Rosaleen Love, The Total Devotion Machine (here). I’m sorry about the empty SA. The last I can remember reading, and I recommend it, is Cassie Flanagan Willanski’s, Here Where We Live (here) from 2016. Though I did review Joseph Hawdon’s Journal of a Journey from NSW to Adelaide (in 1837) a year and a week ago (here).

Brona made a list of suggestions for non-fiction (it’s apparently also Non fiction November) and for poetry. I could, surprisingly!, get half way round the country with poetry (by going back more than one year):

NT
Tas
SA
Vic     Allan Wearne, The Nightmarkets  (here)
Free
WA    Green & Kinsella, False Claims of Colonial Thieves (here)
Qld
NSW  Alison Whittaker, Blakwork (here)
ACT   

and probably more than halfway with Indigenous authors, Science Fiction, and maybe even Journals. But here is a suggested reading list, because it fits in with the general theme of this blog, for Pre-1950s Women:

NT    Mrs Aeneas Gunn, We of the Never Never
Tas   Tasma, What an Artist Discovered in Tasmania (short story, here)
SA     Catherine Helen Spence, Mr Hogarth’s Will (here)
Vic    Eve Langley, The Pea Pickers  (here)
Free Catherine Martin, An Australian Girl (here)
WA    Katharine Susannah Prichard, Working Bullocks
Qld    Rosa Praed, Lady Bridget in the Never Never Land (here)
NSW  Eleanor Dark, Waterway (here)
ACT   Miles Franklin (Brent of Bin Bin), Ten Creeks Run (here)

Yes, I had to cheat a bit with that last, but Miles’ heroes and heroines ride backwards and forwards through what later became the ACT to get from their properties to Goulburn and on to Sydney. (See also my post Miles Franklin, Canberra, the Griffins). And there’s plenty more pre-1950s women in my AWW Gen 1, Gen 2 and Gen 3 pages.

As for what I’m actually planning to read, I currently have Elizabeth Jolley’s Milk and Honey on the go (WA), I should do another David Ireland (NSW), I’ve just purchased Charlotte Woods’ Weekend, without knowing what state she’s from, and I would love to come up with another Marie Munkara (NT). Unfortunately I chose the audiobooks for my current trip without thinking about Brona, but I have listened to The Rosie Result (Vic) which I’ll review as soon as I get a day off.

 

Currently Reading:

Elizabeth Jolley, Milk and Honey
Lily Brett, Just Like That
Mike McCormack, Solar Bones

Queensland!

Journal: 039

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Queensland is the odd state out. Australian states typically have one large metropolitan centre, with 70-80% of the total population, plonked down around a convenient port, and a mostly empty hinterland. But Queensland’s rural-metro split is much closer to 50:50. And that makes a real difference.

Right-wing Labor governments alternate with very right-wing Liberal-National governments; the police force is institutionally racist (I believe no Qld policeman has ever been convicted of killing a Black person (more here)); Queensland is Australia’s bible belt, though that seems to be spreading into suburbs Australia-wide, not to mention the Lodge; climate-change denialism is rampant: – institutionalized water-theft from inland rivers; widespread land clearing, coastal mangrove clearing; coal mining and fracking for gas prioritized over agricultural production; sugar cane farming and coal ports destroying the Great Barrier Reef.

And yet it is a beautiful place with lovely people (who invariably ask you to agree to 3 impossible things before breakfast – usually concerning God, greenies and commos).

So, my last trip: crossing back over the poor, dead Darling at Bourke; up through Cunnamulla (if you haven’t yet, see the movie), Charleville, Roma, Injune. Drop down into the Carnarvon Gorge National Park, 180 km of cool, tall timber (yes, some clearing) one of my favourite spots in all Australia and I don’t see the best of it from the road. Into Central Queensland coal country. My first delivery to a mine near Nebo, then over the Great Divide to Mackay and up the coast to Townsville.

They weren’t ready for the second delivery, so I left my trailers at the depot and went off for a shower, a sleep, a day off, shopping.  No secondhand bookshops that I could see. I asked at Mary Who?, where I bought Islands and The Old Lie, and the lady there said that as far as she knew they were all gone.

Late in the afternoon I headed up the coast again, too late to see Hinchinbrook Island bright green in a brilliant blue sea as you come over the last hill, but still a presence in the dark, then on through Innisfail and up into the range.

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Parking for the night in a tourist centre car park and in the morning out into the morning mist and lush greens of the Atherton Tablelands.

Loaded and tied down 92 round bales of hay with the help of Tim and Matt, young contractors from Toowoomba; headed south on the inland road (map): Mt Garnet, Charters Towers, 370 km of ‘development’ country, looking perenially newly cleared – I think the scrub keeps growing back – to Clermont and so back through Emerald, and on to Roma, turning east to Miles then south to Condamine where I parked up for the night in the main street, walked to the pub, was offered a shower before I thought to ask, truckies are special in the bush, and sat down to vegie pasta and wine.

Years ago Uncle S and Auntie M – mum’s younger sister – and their kids, my cousins, left Sea Lake for a larger, only partially cleared farm at Tara, southern outback Queensland brigalow country which had broken a lot of hearts according to my father, whose own father had gone broke as the town chemist in nearby Chinchilla during the Depression. The drought is breaking hearts today, though there’s still water in the dams, hence my load of hay, not for the property now farmed by cousin George, but for a couple of his neighbours. They took a trailer each, no mucking about, just got the tractor out and pushed the bales off into rough heaps beside the track.

The second delivery, to TJ – 50ish, dirty blonde hair, ice blue eyes, hard man – was way back off the road, dirt track winding through the scrub for a kilometre maybe, then an old weatherboard house, verandahs all round, surrounded by tired garden, abandoned trucks, tractors, cars, somnolent pig dogs chained to truck bodies I’m sure they could drag behind them if sufficiently aroused. And goats.

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TJ’s father had been a horse breaker and brumby catcher. There was on old Leyland Beaver, just outside the shot above, which had roamed the west of the state, towing a road train of single deck crates, bringing horses in to the property and out to all the rodeos. TJ and I made a few miles, truckin’ in olden days, and then got on to the subject of the dances which country towns in our youth held Saturday nights, for everyone from 12 to decrepitude. I’m still laughing every time I think of a young TJ hugged to a matronly bosom, only the back of his head still visible, feet barely touching the ground as he was whisked around the floor.

George’s brother, a fellow truckie, had seen where I was heading on Facebook, and invited me to stay the weekend. The long weekend, Queens Birthday, as it turned out. So I headed to Toowoomba, left my trailers in the road train assembly, parked my truck in his driveway, well one of them, it’s a big house, and settled down for a couple of days of drinking, TV, and rugby – met more of his neighbours in a couple of hours, watching the League Grand Final in a next-door multi car garage/men’s shed, than I’d met of my own in 50 years.

My cousin’s wife’s from Tara. Knows TJ. Says he’s a manager in a government office in town.

 

Recent audiobooks 

Jacqueline Winspear (F, Eng), Birds of a Feather (2004) – Crime
Kurt Vonnegut (M, USA), Cats Cradle (1963) – SF
David Leavitt (M, Eng), The Indian Clerk (2007)
Lorenzo Marone (M, Ita), The Temptation to be Happy (2015)
Nayomi Munaweera (F, Sri/USA), Island of a Thousand Mirrors (2012)
Amitar Ghosh (M, Ind), Sea of Poppies (2008)
Ruth Rendell (F, Eng), Thirteen Steps Down (2004) – Crime DNF
Karen Robards (F, USA), The Fifth Doctrine (2019) – Thriller
BV Larson (M, USA), Tech World (2014) – SF
Hilary Mantel (F, Eng), Every Day is Mother’s Day (1985)

Currently reading

Peggy Frew, Islands
Claire Coleman, The Big Lie
Elizabeth Jolley, Milk and Honey

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Leyland Beaver road train, Quilpie Qld

 

Not Hope Farm

Journal: 038

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Hope Farm (2015), shortlisted for the 2016 Stella, is one of those worthy books that travel around with me but which for some reason I resist reading. Luckily, last Tuesday, its time came. I finished the Total Devotion Machine review, reached into my bag for the next cab off the rank, hesitated over Junkie – 3 SF/experimental in a row?; Lily Brett – but so soon after New York?; and so spent the rest of the day, not unhappily at all, with Peggy Frew.

What had put me off of course was the name, I’m rarely in the mood for a rural idyll. Hope Farm is the name of a run down farm rented by hippies in – I’m guessing – Gippsland, the Strezlecki Ranges east of Melbourne. Thirteen year old Silver and her mother Ishtar are taken there by Miller, one of an endless succession of men briefly put on a pedestal by Ishtar (the better to see their feet of clay?).

The story is framed as a fortyish Silver looking back on a troubled childhood …

That was last Wednesday week. And there I ran out of time.

I remember a bit more, Ishtar an intelligent woman with a reading difficulty, her story childishly written, running alongside Silver’s as we gradually learn how both women got to be where they are now. Life for the orphan Silver a series of insecure dependencies from foster home to Ashram to hippiedom and rural, communal living. Reminiscent of Helen Garner of course, but Garner who is quite clear on the rules and difficulties of urban share houses, never quite says how she got there in the first place.

Fascinating for me, as these people and more particularly their theories were very much in the air when I was in my twenties. I chose a different path, shared housing a convenience rather than a way of life, but at different times at least considered going bush and scratching out a living.

“And there I ran out of time”. I was a few days in Melbourne because Dragan, back from two months furlough, had found me some loading ex-Perth where Sam had none, but had then found ways to divert me all round Victoria and southern NSW while he rushed his own trucks in from Adelaide and Sydney to grab the available freight and leave me stranded.

Still, I had a pleasant weekend with Mum, got some reading and writing done. Got a promise of a load home from another carrier and by late Wednesday was on my way. Missed sweet (?) sixteen’s birthday. Parked up Saturday arvo. Friends, the Longvales, old family friends from the very first days our kids were at kindy together and on through primary school, high school, functional and dysfunctional teenagerhoods, weddings, divorces. Friends who one particularly messy year had taken Lou in when Milly and I couldn’t, had my flat for a few weeks, and so I stayed with Milly. Not long enough to wear out my welcome.

On Sunday we had a family dinner at Clancy’s in Freo, where the kids have plenty of space to play. Kimbofo should have come, she lives just across the road, but sadly was unwell. Tuesday we had dinner with the Longvales. Otherwise it was a quiet few days of cryptics, quiches, left over birthday cake, wine, more cake, and good vego cooking.

A mate with a few acres in outer suburbia had earlier offered me parking for my truck and trailers; Dragan looked away when I dropped in with paperwork; his sister requested my fuel card. Without words an era in my working life came to an end.

On Tuesday I secured a part load to Mackay, north Qld; thought I had another, high paying load to Kununurra in the far north of WA which would have involved a trip around the top; there were difficulties with it being oversize; it fell through, was revived; fell through again. And meanwhile between socialising and not being able to settle down, I was neither writing nor reading much. Not much except American politics as their “president” begins spiralling towards an early exit and almost certain jail.

A Toowoomba-based carrier I had been chasing for ages came good with a load for my back trailer; the Kununurra load came up again and I regretfully knocked it back; and today, Sunday I’m in Port Augusta on my way to Mackay and Townsville, diagonally across the continent, for the first time in eighteen years. Ok, my seven hours break is up, I’d better fire up and get moving. (map)

Up and over Horricks Pass, too narrow and winding for B Doubles but legal and an hour quicker than the alternative, through the Flinders Ranges, through Peterborough, old railway junction town of lovely stone cottages and shop fronts and out onto the endless desert plains of red dirt, saltbush and acacia.

I’ve stopped again at Broken Hill, to get this off, will sleep somewhere short of Cunnumulla tonight and around Clermont tomorrow. Who knows what my next review will be. Not Lorna Doone whose words fill today and all of tomorrow probably, the damp green fields of Devon a strange contrast to the Australian outback. But something will come up, it always does and I have to have a day off before the end of the week.

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Recent audiobooks 

Graham Greene (M, Eng), The Quiet American (1955) – Lit.Fic.
Kurt Vonnegut (M, USA), Galapagos (1985) – SF
Nina George (F, Ger), The Little Paris Bookshop (2013) – Contemporary
Amitar Ghosh (M, Ind), Sea of Poppies (2008) – Contemporary
BV Larson (M, USA), Tech World (2014) – SF
RD Blackmore (M, Eng), Lorna Doone (1869) – Classic

Currently reading

Peggy Frew, Hope Farm
William Burroughs, Junkie
Connell & Marsh ed.s, Literature and Globalization

Some Books

Journal: 037

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Another weekend in Melbourne – I hope it’s only a weekend, oldest granddaughter turns 16 at the end of the week and I’d like to be at the party, back home in Perth. Left the trailers at a truckstop in the northern suburbs and made my way to Mum’s where I can ‘hide’ the prime mover in a light industrial side street.

Mum reads pretty well constantly. Her retirement village has a ‘library’ where residents may leave and borrow books. The ones that caught my attention this weekend were Norman Lindsay’s The Cousin from Fiji (1945), the story of a young woman in the 1890s Ballarat of Lindsay’s boyhood, and given his notorious womanizing, surprisingly sympathetic; A Web of Friendship, Christina Stead’s letters; and Notorious Australian Women (2011) by Kay Saunders.

I read the Charmian Clift chapter in NAW and it was profoundly disappointing – it seems Clift is notorious for being beautiful (on the cover of Pix); getting pregnant at 18 and adopting out her daughter; and, get this, for causing the breakup of her marriage with George Johnston by being the breadwinner while he was ill.

There was no way Mum was going to let me take the Stead with me, but I got to read a couple of letters and I’d like to share with you excerpts from one which illuminates Stead and husband, William Blake’s move from London to New York in 1935, after they’d mostly been living in Paris (biog.). The letter is headed ‘Blech’ (Blake’s parents were German Jewish immigrants) at an address in Brooklyn and is to Nettie Palmer.

I had to begin all over again here, at the very moment I seemed to be getting to know people in London. I don’t know how long I will be here: it looks like a long session [discusses migrating to Canada] … If that works out all right I will in proper time (I believe it is three years) apply for first papers as an American citizen, a status which becomes effective in five years as I understand … It is always possible however that Bill will get tired of America and move again.

Rebecca West has been very generous to me, so have others: I have not found any envy or disparagement in the literary world, although I have found some (or rather, envious silences) amongst middle-class friends with no literary calling.

I only want one thing, I thirst to do something so good that there will be no denying it on anyone’s part.

My new novel, by the way, will disappoint you: it is one of those things that kick round in publishers’ rooms for years, being altered, discussed, proved, approved, until the author has got out of all patience, and the book out of all recognition [The Beauty and the Furies].

… I really put some gristle into Seven Poor Men and my New York friends haven’t even read it [apparently they expected free copies, which she couldn’t afford]. So they pass the fact that I write, up in silence, perhaps feeling slightly injured even; and sit and talk the whole evening about the stock market or what not. It makes me simply furious, not that I expect to be an object of interest, but not ever to be able to talk about literature … it is my own fault for hanging round demnition middle-class circles. I get a lot of fun though, from time to time, out of Bill’s business-friends: they are cheerful, brutal neo-Darwinians (survival of the slickest), complete Marxians (but on the other side of the fence!).

[Christina Stead, 8th Jan. 1936, from RG Geering ed., A Web of Friendship: Selected Letters (1928-1973), Imprint, Sydney, 1992]

I looked up ‘demnition’, a variation on damned, maybe invented by Dickens.

As I type on Mum’s dining room table, there is a silver foil wrapped package on the bench, a fruit cake which Mum has made me for Christmas, though I’ll probably save it for my birthday in March, the last before another big ‘0’. And yes, I brought my washing home. But I did cook dinner, well mine anyway, a vegie frittata, Mum had steak. Tonight (Sun.) we can eat out.

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If I didn’t constantly listen to audiobooks I would be even more unaware than I am now of what goes on in World Literature. My reading, I’m sure, would revert to SF and classics, mostly Australian. And of course I would miss out on some excellent fiction. Which takes us back to Grab the Lapels, again! Is ‘excellent fiction’ Literary Fiction, and what I prefer, writing for the writing’s sake, something else? Experimental Fiction maybe? I’m not sure. But the Solitude of Prime Numbers (2008) is definitely excellent fiction.

The novel begins as a series of episodes in the lives of various children and it takes a while to pick up the connections. It’s never said, but apparently it’s set in Turin. A child, Alice, gets lost in the fog on a ski slope and has an accident. Mattia suffers at school because his twin sister is ‘odd’. They finally get invited to a birthday party, he abandons her in a park on the way to the party and when he returns she is gone, in the lake maybe, and never found. Alice, is bullied by the flash girls, cronies of Viola, but is finally, seemingly accepted by them. Mattia, a brilliant student, ends up at Alice’s school. There are other students but we hear less and less of them. Alice, who has been left with a permanent limp from her skiing accident, tortures herself by not eating. Mattia tortures himself by stabbing his palms.

Alice forces Mattia to accept her as a friend, but they are never lovers. Mattia goes away to lecture in mathematics in Germany. Alice takes up photography (and gets a very funny revenge on Viola, while taking Viola’s wedding photos).

The delivery of the reader, Luke Daniels, is almost deadpan, but I think that is the way it is written. The story itself is rivetting as you become more and more invested in the two protagonists. Their ‘relationship’ is brought to a head by what might or might not be a sighting of the long dead twin sister. Highly recommended!

Recent audiobooks 

Joseph Conrad (M, Eng), Nostromo (1904) – Lit.Fic
Paolo Giordano (M, Ita), the Solitude of Prime Numbers – Lit.Fic.
PK Dick (M, USA), Our Friends from Frolix 8 (1970) – SF
Andrea Camilleri (M, Ita), The Paper Moon (2005) – Crime
Robin Maxwell (F, Eng), Mademoiselle Boleyn (2007) – Hist.Fic.

Currently reading

Tasma, Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill
Connell & Marsh ed.s, Literature and Globalization
John Kinsella, Hollow Earth
Rosaleen Love, The Total Devotion Machine and other stories

Sea Lake

Journal: 036

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Work fell in a hole in June and I’ve been waiting weeks between trips. Getting stuff done? Not as much as I’d wish. Even in Perth I put off making appointments in case a job comes up. It doesn’t, or not very often. Sam – or more likely Dragan, who’s been sent on extended stress leave to Serbia, again – stuffed up a contract worth 10 loads a week which means they don’t have enough for themselves let alone me.

There’s a marketplace, like ebay for trucks, where casual (ie. one-off) loads are offered. I price all the ones that suit me. A few weeks ago I won a wide load to Southern Cross (about 400 km east of Perth); over the course of two or three weeks I was offered a couple of others but not at the right money; then last Thursday week I won a truck to go back to Melbourne. In Melbourne I was lucky enough to score a load straight back home. So here I am, Milly making tea and me reading The Magic Pudding to GK’s 8 & 10.

I came out of Melbourne early Wednesday, straight up the Calder, tooted as I went past MST’s country estate, ditto for B3 outside Bendigo, and pulled up at Sea Lake, mum’s old home town, to top up supplies and look around for the first time in more than 50 years. As farms got bigger and farmers got older, ie. past child bearing, country towns shrunk alarmingly and it looked for a while in the 1980s as if Sea Lake might become derelict, but they seem now to have stabilised and even to have polished some of the rough edges. There was a story in the paper (the Age I suppose) recently that Chinese tourists are coming in large numbers to photograph Lake Tyrell, the huge salt pan to the north, so that might be part of the reason, and Australians driving round to see the painted silos must be part of it too.

The last time I can remember coming to the shops here, Granddad, Dad and I had brought a load of sheep into the saleyards and then gone into town, to get stuff for Grandma no doubt. Dad bought me an ice cream but wouldn’t let me eat the cone all the way to the bottom because my “hands were sheepy”.

You can imagine I was overjoyed, this time, to discover a community art gallery and second hand bookshop opposite the supermarket, and at $2 per book I decimated their classics. Below are a couple of brilliant Lake Tyrell photos from the gallery (with the permission of the volunteers) by Robert Poynton and Ron Hawkins respectively. The prints are around $300 ea.

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What I bought

Katherine Mansfield, The Garden Party & other stories
E Temple Thurston, May Eve or the Tinker of Ballinatray (inscribed to EW McDonald March 1, 1928)
Louisa May Alcott, Rose in Bloom
Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out
Ann Radcliffe (author of Udolpho), The Italian (1797)
Rosaleen Love (F, Aus), The Total Devotion Machine & other stories, The Women’s Press – SF, 1989

Recent audiobooks 

Anne McCaffrey (F, USA), All the Weyrs of Pern (1991)- SF
Ian McEwan (M, Eng), Atonement (2001) – Lit.Fic
Leslie Charteris (M, Eng), Señor Saint (1958) – Crime
Lisa Gardner (F, USA), Three Truths and a Lie (2015) – Crime
EM Forster (M, Eng), A Room with a View (1908) – Lit.Fic
Giles Foden (M, Eng), The Last King of Scotland (1998) – ?
John Scalzi (M, USA), The End of All Things (2015) – SF
Aaron Elkins (M, USA), A Deceptive Clarity (1987) – Crime
Aldous Huxley (M, Eng), Island (1962) – Lit.Fic

After a decade of audiobooks, something new (to me). Three of the books above go on into the first part of new books, two of them without warning, which presumably I am then meant to rush out and buy. Disconcerting and annoying!

Currently reading

Tasma, Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill
Gerald Murnane, A Season on Earth
Christopher Lee ed., Turning the Century
Charmian Clift, Honour’s Mimic
Connell & Marsh ed.s, Literature and Globalization

Recent Film etc.

2040, Just OK
New Sea Change, Love it!

 

 

Jean & David

Journal: 035

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Another couple of weeks in Melbourne putting together a load home, another couple of weekends staying at mum’s. Week days at truckstops – Dandenong, Somerton, Sunshine, outer suburbs respectively south, north and west, reading, writing, talking sometimes, doing a couple of pickups and one day of local work delivering dead forklifts to the recyclers.

Mum has a new hip, was in a rehab hospital when I arrived, spent a few days in a real hospital, a few more days in rehab and then home in time for the weekend. We are both deaf, in a getting old sort of way, so conversation is a trial, especially when there’s background noise. But, surprisingly, I learned stuff I hadn’t heard before and if I don’t write it down what will happen to it, so here’s a story: Jean & David.


At the end of 1948 Jean was an awkward sixteen year old farm girl who wanted to be a teacher. Her father, Fred had left school at 13 to help out his widowed mother and older brother George on the family wheat, sheep farm in Victoria’s Mallee. As they got older and married, the original farm, of 5 one square mile (640 ac.) blocks, was divided up between them and their younger brother Bert.

There were sisters, my great aunts, Annie who told me she remembered the family’s original move from Maldon at the turn of the century, she and George and their parents in a flash sulky; Mavis who married a farmer; Alice, a lifelong teacher; and another boy, Jack, who stayed on at school, became an engineer and died in the War.

Annie married a farmer too but he died and she was back with her daughter Marjorie, living on the home farm, when I wrote ‘Educating Women‘ a few years ago. She moved to Melbourne, remarried late, bought an old farmhouse in (relatively inner) Surrey Hills, hawthorn brick with a slate roof, stables and beehives out the back, providing all us country rellos with a city base. I would lie in bed and listen to the clang, clang of the Wattle Park trams, and the buzz of Box Hill station in the distance.

Fred married (a different) Annie from a nearby farm, and they had daughters Lucy, Jean, Mavis, then, after gaps, boys Allan and Les. Those gaps were stillbirths, mourned by Grandma years later mum says now. I never knew. The girls went to school at their father’s old school, Tungie, a little weatherboard shed, in endless acres of wheat, sand, and mallee-bordered fences. One teacher and ten or twenty kids.

After Tungie, high school at Sea Lake Higher Elementary (K-10), Lucy was soon back on the farm, outside on the tractor mostly, but helping too with baby Les, and with the pigs, cows, chooks – farms were pretty self sufficient back then.

So 1948, 1949. Lumpy – her word, tall, big-boned, she never really made it past plump, and is tiny now in old age, Jean failed Geography in Leaving, had to do it again, and some other subjects. Social Studies where the new teacher, going on 22, tall, dark, handsome, up from Melbourne, helped her out with extra notes, while she was also part-time as a student teacher helping out with the littlies. By the summer break she and the Melbourne guy, David, both socially awkward, were going out.

May the following year, 1950, David and Jean were in Healesville, 250 miles away (400 km) on David’s motorbike – think poor, not cool – waiting for permission to marry. Their parents came, I don’t know how long they took. The impatient couple were married, spent the remainder of the year at a one teacher school at the furthest, opposite end of the state.

Another year, another school, Leonard’s Hill outside Daylesford. I was coming, a farmer drove Jean to hospital, David followed on motorbike. These were the days of wood stoves, cool safes, chip heaters, a little damp weatherboard house in a tiny community in a gloomy forest. The doctor recommended warmer, drier climes. Back to the Mallee.

Underbool. Fifty kids, two rooms, one teacher. The assistant was gone missing. Jean now 19 employed as ‘sewing mistress’, given the littlies again, a few months till the Inspector could produce a replacement, the last time in her life she was paid to work. William turning 1 then 2, left to run free, the school darling. I remember bits of it, crawling up the two or three stairs to Dad’s classroom, Dad facing me down the aisle and all the kids turning to look and laugh. I had always thought it was a memory from the next school, Bonnie Doon when I was 3, but Mum says no, that the kids told their parents nothing about school except ‘what William did’.

Wm, Underbool 1952

That’s it. I didn’t know Dad had (briefly) been Mum’s teacher and I didn’t know Mum had ever been paid to teach, beyond her months as a student teacher. I know bits and pieces about their wedding, Mum always unhappy about the photo of her in a fawn suit that hung in their bedroom. But the more I learn, the happier I am. Why is that, I wonder?

Since writing this, I am back in Melbourne again on another trip (and now back in Perth). I phoned Mum after I finished unloading, her rehab’s going ok. She left hospital early because Gee, my youngest was over for a visit, her kids variously with their other grandparents in north Qld and their aunty in Darwin. Gee’s in her thirties, the baby in the photo above is 68, but the baby in the photo above that is now 15. I’ve always enjoyed calculating Mum’s age as 18 years above mine (it’s 18 years and 50 weeks). She ran round the backyard pushing me and my mates on my new bike when I was six; did the same for my kids; only a few years ago she and Dad were conducting ‘old people’ on national park walks. I can’t imagine having grown up with old parents.

 

Recent audiobooks 

Julian Barnes (M, Eng), Flaubert’s Parrot (1984)
Alfred Bester (M, USA), The Stars My Destination (1956)
Philip K Dick (M, USA), Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974)
Elizabeth Berg (F, USA), The Year of Pleasures (2006)
Fyodor Dostoevsky, (M, Rus), The Brothers Karamazov (1880)
Sergio Rodrigues, (M, Bra), Elza: The Girl (2008)
Jane Austen, (F, Eng), Northanger Abbey (1817)
Charlaine Harris (F, USA), Shakespeare’s Landlord (1996)

Currently reading

William Dick, A Bunch of Ratbags
Alice Nannup, When the Pelican Laughed
Lily Brett, New York
Jess White, Hearing Maude
David Ireland, The Unknown Industrial Prisoner

Little Women, mostly

Journal: 034

Book Cover

You guys all grew up reading Little Women I’m sure. Milly did, and Gee says that she and Psyche did, though I don’t remember giving it to them, but I didn’t. No sisters, no copy in the house. So I read/listened to it for the first time just a week or so ago and thought the first sentence of my review was going to be “I couldn’t find a way into reviewing this book which you all know by heart – no trucks!” BUT. In Part II, Chapter 23* a distressed Jo steps out into traffic without looking, into the path of a … truck. I pictured a costermonger’s barrow

Image result for costermonger barrow

though Websters suggests any “strong horse-drawn or automotive vehicle for hauling” so I’m not sure what Alcott intended.

*I wrote ‘2/23 truck’ on the back of my hand because that is my notebook when I am driving, but Ch 23 is actually in Part I, and now I can’t find the quote.

Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) wrote Little Women in two parts, which came out in 1868 and 1869. It is generally regarded as fictionalised autobiography and as a novel for children. I’m sure most of you read it at around 12 or 13 but it seems to me to be directed more at young women getting ready for adulthood and marriage.

At the beginning of the novel Mr March, father of the little women of the title, is away at the American Civil War, as a chaplain (on the Union side) so the year is around 1862. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter came out in 1850, Elizabeth Gaskell’s first, Mary Barton, was published in 1848, all of Jane Austen’s had been out for 30 or 40 years, but the two works which Alcott has Jo reading are The Vicar of Wakefield (secretly, for amusement, when she’s meant to be reading sermons to her wealthy, aged aunt) and Fanny Burney’s Evelina, both dating from the previous century. I wish just one author would write, “I rushed down to the bookshop for the latest xxx”, Dickens maybe, who was then at the height of his popularity. Of course the work which is central to Little Women is the older again Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan (1678), another “first novel written in English” (here).

There is of course nothing I can tell you about the book itself. I found it a bit preachy but am used to that strain of Christian duty in books of that time; and I probably preferred Anne of Green Gables (1908, I hadn’t remembered it was so ‘recent’). I would though like to say a little about ‘the Independent Woman’. Jo speaks at length about the advantages of being unmarried and of course she famously refuses to marry the boy next door. Alcott herself remained unmarried, supporting herself as a governess and writer (her family’s connections with Thoreau, Emerson, the Underground Railroad are fascinating (wiki) and I would like to read more).

“An old maid, that’s what I’m to be. A literary spinster, with a pen for a spouse, a family of stories for children, and twenty years hence a morsel of fame, perhaps, when, like poor Johnson, I’m old and can’t enjoy it, solitary, and can’t share it, independent, and don’t need it. Well, I needn’t be a sour saint nor a selfish sinner, and, I dare say, old maids are very comfortable when they get used to it, but…” and there Jo sighed, as if the prospect was not inviting.

Americans, it seems to me, are afraid of independent women and even strong characters like Marge Simpson and Roseanne eventually bow down to their husbands, so I was disappointed but not surprised when Alcott not only married Jo off to the older Bhaer but made Bhaer, not Jo, the principal of Jo’s school.

At nine they stopped work and sung as usual

Project Gutenberg has a generously illustrated version (here). The illustration above is “At nine they stopped work and sung as usual”, by Frank T Merrill (here).

That’s a scrappy review, I know, but I wanted to say something about it. Now I am listening to Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot which is a fiction about an amateur Flaubert biographer – really just an excuse for talking about Flaubert, and about what we can say about writers – which I am finding both interesting and enjoyable, and about which I might write a similarly scrappy review. If I get time. And there’s the rub. I’m stuck in Melbourne. Again. After only one day home in Perth. Here, mum is in hospital after a hip replacement (she’s quite well thank you, though tired). B3 is down to see after her and picks me up from the truckstop in Dandenong each day when it’s clear there’ll be no work, and drives me up to mum’s hospital (Knox).

Meanwhile, back in Perth it’s all happening. Kim (Reading Matters) has just come from London to live and work; Nathan Hobby has handed in his PhD thesis* and is now facing the world as “full-time parent, part-time writer, part-time librarian”; and Jess White is visiting us for the launch of Hearing Maud. Hopefully I will shortly catch up with them all.

see also: Melanie/GTL’s recent post on US women’s comedy (here)

Recent audiobooks 

Katharina Hagena (F, Ger), The Taste of Apple Seeds (2013)
JD Robb (F, USA), Brotherhood in Death (2016)
JD Robb (F, USA), Apprentice in Death (2016)
Truman Capote (M, USA), The Grass Harp (1945)
Frank Herbert & Bill Ransom (M, USA), The Ascension Factor (2012)
Ann Barker (F, Eng), Ruined (2009)
Ben Bova (M, USA), Moonrise (1996)
Louisa M Alcott (F, USA), Little Women (1868)
Lisa Jackson (F, USA), Innocent by Association (1986) DNF – I stopped reading this book, and would advise you to never read this author, when the heroine was kidnapped and fell in love with her abductor. Why women authors advocate violence as a way of winning women is beyond me (in my own defence, I was expecting a crime thriller not a modern bodice ripper).

Currently reading

Eleanor Dark, Waterway


*Nathan Hobby: 100 word version of my thesis, sounding more scholarly than it is in reality: ‘Astir With Great Things’ is a biography of the early life to 1919 of Katharine Susannah Prichard (1883-1969), an Australian writer and political activist. Critically engaging with Prichard’s autobiography, Child of the Hurricane, the thesis builds a fuller account of her early life with archival material. The thesis narrates Prichard’s literary development and the writing of The Pioneers and Black Opal. Exploring Prichard’s political radicalisation against the backdrop of World War One, the thesis also considers the intertwining of Prichard’s personal life with writing and politics, including the effects of her father’s suicide and her brother’s death in the war.