Journal: 004, Up the Coast

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Kalbarri Gorge, Murchison R.

My second trip, earlier this week, was to Karratha again, but with two trailers rather than three I was able to run up the coast road – so called though it’s sometimes 100 km inland – returning via the inland road, the Great Northern Highway, with old conveyor belts from the BHP iron ore mine Area C (I think they ran out of names) back to Perth (map).

On the coast road it’s desert or near desert country almost right from Perth with farmland shading quickly to hilly coastal heath, which will be alive with flowers in three or four months, to Geraldton (430 km), more hills through Northampton to the Kalbarri turnoff (100 km), 200 km of mallee scrub to Overlander Roadhouse and the turnoff to Shark Bay, then flat, open red dirt, anthills and straggly acacia scrub for the remaining 800 km, broken only by a few km of irrigated mango plantations around Carnarvon on the Gascoyne River, and gums in the river beds as we cross the mostly dry Minilya, Yannarrie, Ashburton and Fortescue Rivers.

Coming home inland is much the same, though with more trees, white trunked eucalypts as we cross the Fortescue flood plain to Munjina and then up over the hills at the edge of Karajini to Newman.

I’m just starting to learn the names of the peoples whose country this all is. The wheatbelt, which stretches up to and narrowly past Geraldton is mostly Noongar country, and the inland, centred on Jigalong near Newman, belongs to the Martu, a Western Desert people. But if you click on ‘Aboriginal Australia’ above, you will see that there are at least another two major groups on the coast between Geraldton and Port Hedland.

I get a clue from False Claims of Colonial Thieves by Charmaine Papertalk Green and John Kinsella who both grew up in Geraldton and its hinterland. Green’s home town was Mullewa, 100 km inland of Geraldton, a rail junction on the now disused Northern Line to the gold mining towns of Mt Magnet, Meekatharra and Wiluna, with lines south into the wheatbelt, to Toodyay and Northam and thence to Perth, and a branch line for the Mid-West iron ore mines –

I saw the rail wagons as a kid/Rolling on by Maley Street/Carrying Koolanooka iron ore (CPG)

And we as kids, outsiders,/jumping from one side of the tracks/to the other. The Mullewa,/train to Perth, discontinued/a few years earlier (JK)

I got distracted by ‘trains’. I meant to say Charmaine Papertalk Green is a Yamaji woman, as I guess were the (fictitious) Comeaways in The Fringe Dwellers (review). “Yamaji Country is in the Mid West region of Western Australia and stretches from Carnarvon in the north to Meekatharra in the east, to Jurien” south of Geraldton (Yamaji website).

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As I drove I listened to two remarkably similar books, Philippa Gregory’s The King’s Curse, about Henry VIII, and Geraldine Brooks’ The Secret Chord, about (the Old Testament) King David, inadequately separated by four hours of Raymond Chandler. Both kings are athletic womanisers who come to the throne as young men and become increasingly murderous as they age, but the most striking of their similarities is that they both  have fair, reddish hair! Brooks is a middle of the road American story teller with a better reputation in Australia, where she was born, than she deserves, but what is she suggesting here? That God’s favourite people couldn’t possibly be brown skinned north Africans? Hard to avoid the R word.

On the other hand I am increasingly impressed by Gregory. Although I originally came to her expecting light romance in an historical setting, she’s in fact an academic historian with an impressive grasp of the Tudor period, and as I said in my review of The Taming of the Queen, is clearly bent on highlighting women acting with independence and initiative. The King’s Curse is an account of Katherine of Aragon’s marriages to Henry VII’s sons Arthur and Henry as seen through the eyes of Margaret Pole, the last of the Plantagenets. I recommend it – a fascinating account of Catholic opposition to the Reformation in England.

Recent audiobooks

Phillipa Gregory (F, Eng), The King’s Curse (2014)
Raymond Chandler (M, USA), Playback (1958)
Geraldine Brooks (F, USA), The Secret Chord (2015)

Currently reading

Green & Kinsella, False Claims of Colonial Thieves, Magabala, Broome, 2018
Cixin Liu, The Dark Forest, 2008 (translated Joel Martinsen, 2015) – I wish I’d finished it while I was on holidays, it’s taking forever now and I’m starting to lose track.

Volvo, second load Yandi (Rio) (3)
Heading home (first trip) with used conveyor belt
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Journal: 003, On the Road Again

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This is Monday night, meant to be the end of my first day owner-drivering, but Dragan had an ’emergency’ on Saturday and called me in to work early – I almost never say no when I’m asked to work: first you knock back jobs, then you don’t get offered is a ‘rule’ engraved on my heart, or on my anxiety gene – while I was driving son Lou to the airport. Still one daughter, Psyche, with one day left of her holiday with us, but she gave me permission and off I went. Hopefully I’ll make it up to her with a trip to Darwin.

An odd, diverse, needed holiday, spent getting permits etc in place for the truck, and my back, a few visits to the physio to get it into place (successfully), a week with all the kids in town for the first time in a few years, babysitters in place for the grandkids and a night out in the city with ex-ML & the kids and their favourite cousin (Hi Cait), a couple of days in Melbourne with mum, coinciding with Michelle Scott Tucker’s book release – boy, is she (justifiably!) excited.

But, as I said, work. So no time for a leisurely setting up, just chuck in the bedding, tuckerbox, a few days’ fruit and veg, tools, work clothes. Hook up and go. Fuel up; run one trailer to Kewdale road train assembly area (near the airport a few km from the CBD); go back for a second, hook them up (pic above). It’s already late; head out of town and over the Bindoon hills. Sleep near New Norcia. Hook up a third trailer at Wubin, the northern edge of the wheatbelt, on the Great Northern Hwy, before the scrub and desert that stretch north forever. Destination Karratha, 1,500 km up the coast but 1,800 km by this inland route.

The first breakdown of my new career occurs an hour out of Wubin. The left hand steer tyre blows as I’m pulling out of a parking bay and the left side of the truck settles almost to the road. My first reaction in any breakdown is to despair, then to phone someone and share my despair, and only then to begin working on a solution. It has given me a reputation for being unmechanical – which is true – but ignores the fact that I generally get going again.

Unluckily the first 300 km out of Wubin is out of phone range – no towns, no mines – so I despair on my own. Until I see that I can jack the truck up by reaching my arms through the wheel arch and using blocks and two jacks to progressively lift the axle high enough to get the wheel off and the spare on. There are other problems, in particular the wheel nuts are too tight, but other drivers stop to help, and eventually it’s all done.

And that’s the key, “other drivers stop to help”. I’ll write a longer post one day about truck drivers and the Australian Legend, but suffice it to say for now that as long as long distance truck drivers preach and practice ‘stopping to help’ the old ways of the bush aren’t dead.

Because Dragan got me going late on Saturday, because of the time lost broken down, because my bloody airconditioner is out of gas, tonight I’m comfortably ensconced in a motel and I’ll unload in the morning.

I was going to write a ‘literary’ post about this trip, about the old towns Roebourne and Cossack that Daisy Bates came to 110 years ago and that Karratha replaced, but I’ve written about them before (here) so I’ll just mention my favourite artist, whose works of Indigenous-Impressionist grasslands I can’t afford, Marlene Harold of the Roebourne mob, Yinjaa-Barni (here). Not forgetting that tomorrow I’ll be unloading on the Burrup Penninsula, a gallery of Indigenous rock art with a history in millenia to match the Louvre and Notre Dame’s centuries, and as much significance, except in the minds of mining-mad Western Australians.

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When I pulled up tonight I was three quarters of the way through Prime Cut, a Western Australian crime fiction novel. I wouldn’t give away the ending in any case (see this very interesting Daily Review article about ‘spoilers’) so this is as good as time as any for a mini review.

I don’t know Alan Carter but I’d be surprised if he’s not an English migrant resident in WA. The story begins with a double murder in England coinciding with Sunderland’s surprise win in the 1973 FA Cup then moves to the WA south coast, Kim Scott country, in the 2000s.

The protagonist is DSC Cato Kwong, demoted to the Stock Squad (investigating stock, ie farm animal, theft) for taking short cuts in a murder investigation. He is called to Hopetoun, coastal hamlet become thriving dormitory town for the new BHP (here called Western Mining) nickel mine outside Ravensthorpe 50 km inland, where an old very ex-girlfriend Tess Maguire is sergeant in charge of a two-person station.

Her offsider is Indigenous and there is a nod to the Cocanarup Massacre and the possibility of a non-white history for Hopetoun and Ravensthorpe.

A body, or at least a torso is washed up on shore – discarded by a frenzy of sharks – and subsequently a matching head washes up as well. Meanwhile a retired ex-copper from Sunderland now living in Busselton (also south of Perth but on the west coast) becomes aware of an old murder in Adelaide almost identical to the Sunderland one and of sightings of the principal suspect in WA.

The two streams of investigation come together (inevitably), a policeman is murdered on the jetty at Hopetoun  …

If you want to know whodunnit or if Cato has it off with Tess then you’d better ask me on Weds when I’ve had some driving time to listen to the end. Though I did mean to say that the reading is for the Association for the Blind, WA and that sometimes their readings are a bit flat. However, in this case their reader, Jim Malcolm, an Australian of British extraction by the sound of him, is a natural and does a good job.

Recent audiobooks

Mark Billingham (M, Eng), Time of Death (2015)
Alan Carter (M, Aust/WA), Prime Cut, Fremantle Press, 2011 (Audio edition: Association for the Blind of WA, 2012)

Currently reading

Krissy Kneen, An Uncertain Grace, Text, Melbourne, 2017
Cixin Liu, The Dark Forest, 2008 (translated Joel Martinsen, 2015)

 

 

 

 

Wong Chu and the Queen’s Letterbox, T.A.G. Hungerford

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TAG (Tom) Hungerford (1915-2011) was born in Perth, WA, fell into journalism, served in the 2nd AIF in the Pacific in WWII, and eventually, around retirement age, became a full time writer. His four novels include Sowers in the Wind (1954) which won the 1949 Sydney Morning Herald prize for literature but “was held back by publisher Angus & Robertson because it dealt with the economic and sexual exploitation of the Japanese after the War by Australian occupation forces.” (wiki)

Lisa at ANZLitLovers recently reviewed, and loved, his collection of autobiographical stories, Stories From Suburban Road (1983) (here) and that inspired me to see what I had on my own shelves – I have purchased a lot of pre-loved Oz Lit in bulk over the past few years and so have only a vague idea of what I own – coming up with Hungerford’s first collection of short fiction, Wong Chu and the Queen’s Letterbox (1977) published by our own marvellous Fremantle Arts Centre Press (on which more here).

In 1990 the Fremantle Arts Centre Press (now just Fremantle Press) established the T.A.G. Hungerford Award for unpublished Western Australian writers. Previous winners include fellow blogger Nathan Hobby with The Fur (review) and Robert Edeson with The Weaver Fish (review). I see I also have the 1990 winner, Brenda Walker’s Crush so I’d better review that too.

The first story, the title story of this collection sets the tone (the period is the 1920s when Hungerford was around 10 years old) –

You mightn’t think there’d be a very strong connection between an old Chinese market gardener and a pillarbox owned by the Queen of England – but there was: a long and intimate, and in many ways a romantic one too.

Both the pillarbox and the Chinaman first knew South Perth as a rushy riverside retreat of cow paddocks and market gardens and bush, where the settlers along the river bank had their own jetties, and flat bottomed boats for travelling to and from Perth, and horses leaned thoughtfully over every second front fence along the one main road through the suburb.

South Perth is now an upmarket suburb of apartment buildings and big houses facing across Perth Water to the CBD, though there are still 1930s brick houses in the less favoured streets. I live just a few kilometres upstream in a riverside flat in a formerly working class suburb of uniform fibro boxes on sandy, quarter acre lots. But what I love most of all is the connections to my own past – to the employer who ran cows on the South Perth foreshore before the War, to the Chinese market gardeners keeping to themselves on the highway in Stawell (Vic) when I lived there in the seventies, to the horses still drawing milk floats when I was at high school in Melbourne, and my great aunt’s lovely house, a refuge for all her country rellos, with stables out the back, in Surrey Hills (Melbourne).

Eventually the pillarbox with its “VR, 1857” is gone and the market gardens, and the Chinamen too, all called “Charlie”, living in tin sheds on their lots, and Suburban Rd, now Mill Point Road, is no longer a “ribbon of red gravel” through “a double line of the loveliest trees”, though the trees are still there, where the road passes the zoo and drops down towards the freeway.

The next story is of a woman, pregnant, drinking and smoking with a neighbour, unable to understand her young daughter and particularly her determination to watch what sounds like Playschool on TV. My parents weren’t drinkers but I have plenty of mates who’d identify with these Saturday nights –

“What do you do with …?” The friend nodded in the direction of the doorway. “When you go to the club I mean?”

“Oh … wrap her up, and put her in the back seat. Duck out a couple of times, to look. She sleeps OK.”

And Sunday sessions. I remember Sunday sessions! (The Lady in the Box)

Some of the stories are straight out of the Australian Legend playbook, the mainstay of Oz Lit for a century, the lone Aussie guy in the outback with and without his mates. With variations of course. A Lithuanian reffo makes his way outback and is finally accepted into the brotherhood when he solves a problem for his tough, station foreman (The Talisman); a tough alpha male in his forties, a fishing boat skipper in a North West hamlet, is on the way down and his ‘mate’ is looking for greener pastures – or as the title implies, wishes to attach himself to another shark (Remora)

Because this is Western Australia, Aboriginals play an important part. Of course Hungerford is old fashioned, about feminism too which clearly bemuses him, but not unsympathetic. In Perth, in these stories, the Indigenous locals are in the background – ‘scarecrow “blackies” and their stick-insect children, whose tangled black hair and blazing eyes I can still see, all these long years after they have gone to their dreaming … [trudging] through the streets of the quiet riverside suburb which they used to own’ – or servant women, probably brought down from up north, who ‘would hang their heads so that their curly brown hair made a curtain before their faces.’ But in ‘The Only One who Forgot’ an Aboriginal boy is front and centre. An orphan just coming into adolescence, he befriends a little blonde girl and his (white) foster mother, out of fear of his coming sexual awareness, beats him –

She swung her open hand across his mouth, hard. The blood ran from his lips and he stood still, his fingers creeping along his jaw toward it. The woman’s eyes blazed.

“Nigger!” she cried, shrill with fear. “Damn black nigger!”

We get on to love and marriage, or sex and marriage not working out more often, but the story I enjoyed most takes a diversion to Hong Kong, after the war, when the narrator runs into the daughter of the big house on the hill above the South Perth foreshore, whom he had met when he was a ten year old accompanying his piano tuner father, and she gives him some surprising explanations for things which he had then only dimly perceived (Green Grow the Rushes).

An excellent collection, in many ways evocative of a time not quite past, not in our imaginations anyway, and to which we continue to cling.

 

T.A.G. Hungerford, Wong Chu and the Queen’s Letterbox, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Fremantle, 1977. Cover image and ‘text collages’ by Robert Birch.

Elizabeth Macarthur, Michelle Scott Tucker

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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.

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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)

AWW Gen 1, Treasure Trove

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

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If this is Friday then I must have been to a copper mine north of Meekatharra, though by the time you’re reading this it’ll be Saturday and I’ll have got back to Perth, hooked up two loaded trailers and be on my way to Kalgoorlie.

The sign above is from my Wednesday delivery, a mine on the edge of the Nularbor, out towards Balladonia. In Kim Scott’s Benang, his great grandfather Sandy One Mason is a teamster delivering supplies out of Esperance to amongst other places, Balladonia which I guess was then a sheep station (it’s now a roadhouse 180 km from the nearest town), based on his wife, Fanny’s (Benang) knowledge of the country.

In all this driving I am drowning in wordy books, reading when I get the chance Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, and listening to Canterbury Tales, Vanity Fair, and over the last couple of days, Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria, which will be my next review.

But a letter this morning from my cousin Kay, a librarian in Bendigo who last got a mention three years ago, has alerted me to a story in the Age about a ‘treasure trove’ of nineteenth century Australian fiction which has only recently come to light with the digitisation of old newspapers.

Linda Morris writes: “When Katherine Bode, an associate professor at the Australian National University, set out to answer this question, she had only a vague sense that some fiction was printed in Australian newspapers in the 19th and early 20th centuries.” (!)

“The more than 21,000 forgotten novels, novellas and short stories she has uncovered indicate that early newspapers published fiction constantly, from Australia and all over the world, and everyone was reading it.

“The collection includes seven rediscovered titles from well-known writer Catherine Martin, author of the acclaimed 1890 novel The Australian Girl [my review].

“Martin was a feminist writer of her time but her stories were published anonymously or under a pseudonym and had therefore been lost to literary history until now, according to Dr Bode.

“You can visit the project and search, read, correct, add or export the works by visiting To Be Continued – The Australian Newspaper Fiction Database at cdhrdatasys.anu.edu.au/tobecontinued/.

I’ll do that, just as soon as I get to spend a day at home. Meanwhile, one more pic …

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Yes I know, it’s filthy. You wash your truck, it rains.

 

Linda Morris, Australian National University Researchers recover lost treasure trove, the Age, Melbourne, 1 Mar 2018 here

Lady Bridget in the Never Never Land, Rosa Praed

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

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So we begin Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week. If you are posting, or have posted previously, a review of a work by a Gen 1 woman, put a link in Comments below and I’ll include it in the AWW Gen 1 page. In preparation over the past month or so I have put up:

AWW Gen 1 page
Annabella Boswell’s Journal review
Dale Spender, Writing a New World review
Australia’s First Women Writers, Michelle Scott Tucker

The AWW Gen 1 page contains a short overview of the period (women who began writing prior to the 1890s and the Bulletin years) – the Dale Spender review contains a longer overview – and a list of all the women writers of the period with links to their ADB biography, reviews of their work, essays about their work and in some case links to where their work may be found on-line.

So far I have 19 21 writers, seven of whose novels I have reviewed; links to reviews by Brona (Brona’s Books), MST (Adventures in Biography), Lisa (ANZLitLovers) and Jessica White; posts about authors by Sue (Whispering Gums), Nathan Hobby, Jess again (and again!), Narelle Ontivero, Morgan Burgess; links to ‘third party’ essays like Illawarra Historical Soc., The Letters of Rachel Henning: Have we been conned? (Read it, it’s fascinating). And more is promised!

Onwards, to Lady Bridget. Rosa Praed (1851-1935) was born into ‘comfortable’ circumstances on one of her father, Thomas Murray-Prior’s Queensland cattle stations, the third of eleven children (ADB). She was educated at home, by her mother and tutors.

In October 1857 Rosa was at a corroboree which presaged the massacre of seven members of the Fraser family, and one black worker, on neighbouring Hornet Bank Station (map), in retaliation for the usual ‘dispersal’ of the traditional inhabitants and misuse of their women. Following the massacre, posses of white settlers, in which Murray-Prior was prominent, virtually wiped out all the local Yiman people.

Oldest son, William Fraser who had been away at the time of the massacre, returned and began murdering black people – without hindrance from the police – at every opportunity, including two men exiting Rockhampton courthouse where they had just been acquitted. Astonishingly, Fraser is the model for Colin McKeith, the hero of this novel.

Murray-Prior moved his family closer to Brisbane and in the 1860s was Postmaster General in a series of colonial governments. Rachel Henning, one of my Gen 1 list, writes of him, ” I suppose it does not require any great talent to be a Postmaster General. I hope not, for such a goose I have seldom seen. He talked incessantly and all his conversation consisted of pointless stories of which he himself was the hero.”

In 1872 Rosa was married from Government House at St John’s Church of England, Brisbane, to Arthur Campbell Bulkley Praed, a younger son of an English banking and brewing family. After an unhappy couple of years on Campbell Praed’s station on Curtis Island near Gladstone (400 km north of Brisbane) the couple went to live in England where Rosa Praed became well-known as a writer. In 1897 Rosa gave up on the marriage and began living with Nancy Hayward, a psychic medium.

Rosa Praed never returned to Australia but drew heavily on her life there, and on her correspondents, including her father, whose attitudes she later repudiated, for her stories (see Patricia Clarke, A Paradox of Exile: Rosa Praed’s Lifelines to her Australian Past here).

Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land begins with journalist Joan Gildea talking to her friend Colin McKeith, a Glaswegian of humble antecedents, who has taken up property on the ‘Upper Leura’ in outback Queensland, and is a member of the Legislative Council (established in 1860 after Queensland became separate from NSW in 1859). It is not stated but I’m guessing the action takes place in the 1880s*.

All place names are fictionalised so Queensland is Leichardt (after the explorer), Brisbane is Leichardt’s Town, and Joan has a house on ‘Emu Point’ in a bend of the ‘Leichardt River’ downstream from Parliament House and the Botanical Gardens.

Hornet Bank is north of Wandoan, good country on the coastal side of the Great Dividing Range. The local river is the Dawson which runs into the Fitzroy and comes out on the coast near Rockhampton. But Patricia Clarke says that the locality of ‘Leura’ is further north and inland, semi-desert ‘Never Never’ country based on Rosa’s sister’s home, Aberfoyle Station. The (mostly dry) rivers up there stay west of the Great Divide and run into the Gulf, so Praed may have made a mistake with her geography when she has the ‘Leura River’ coming out on the east coast.

Lady Bridget O’Hara is the impecunious daughter of a late Irish Earl, living off her wits and the generosity of titled relatives. She is friends with Joan and to escape a failed love affair in England comes out to Leichardt in the party of the new Governor. McKeith, a solitary and hard-nosed bachelor, is introduced to Bridget by Joan, falls heavily in love and persuades her to marry him, which she does in scenes reminiscent of the author’s own wedding.

Lady Bridget is tiny and vivacious with unruly curls, a horsewoman and a singer, sounding very much like a Miles Franklin heroine. Praed was 28 years older than Franklin, but in 1915 when Lady Bridget came out Franklin had just finished writing On Dearborn Street and their heroes have a striking similarity – both insist on their ‘wholesomeness’, ie. both are virgins. And this in fact is a strong theme in early Australian writing, both men’s and women’s.

At this point in my reading, Bridget and McKeith have just spent the night in a rough hotel after coming up the coast for a couple of days in a steamer, all in separate rooms! McKeith is planning for their “first night” to be camping out under the stars on their journey inland. I have paused because Praed has raised two points of tension and I want to write about them before I see how they are resolved.

Firstly, Bridget has married McKeith because he fits her image of a strong, independent man, but also because she is in desperate need of financial security. Praed’s novels are full of discarded, no-longer convenient marriages and I’m agog to see how this one turns out. Bridget suggests to McKeith’s bemusement “that you and I are as incongruous as the duck and the kangaroo”, quoting from the Edward Lear nonsense poem.

Secondly and far more importantly, McKeith’s strong man image is based in large part on his ill usage of and hatred for blacks and Bridget is disgusted by this and says so. And yet she marries him. Len Platt in Race and Romance in the Australian Novels of Rosa Praed here suggests that Praed’s reputation as a radical may not be deserved, and that in particular she is half-hearted in her condemnation of both McKeith’s racism and his violent opposition to trade unionism. Let’s read on …

Bridget and McKeith travel by train inland to the terminus at ‘Fig Tree Mount’ and there transfer to a buggy for the 250 miles home, with Moongarr Bill, the head stockman, and two black workmen, Wombo and Cudgee. As they depart McKeith is jeered by ‘unionists’ on the hotel veranda, who turn out to be men he’s just sacked:

“Mister Colin McKeith? – you can take it from us boys he’s the meanest cuss that ever downed a harmless nigger…. Ask him what the twenty-five notches on his gun stand for?”

“And I tell you what it is, Steve Baines. There’ll be another notch on my gun, and it won’t be for a nigger, if you give me any more of your insolence.”

Another man grabs the reins of the lead horse and is whipped for his trouble; and among the flying insults Bridget learns that McKeith employs a good looking young widow, Mrs Hensor, as housekeeper for the stockman’s quarters.

Fifteen months later memories of the honeymoon drive have faded. Mrs Hensor will not take orders from Bridget, drought is setting in, union shearers are striking, the government has sent armed ‘specials’ to protect employers of scab labour. A dray bringing supplies to the McKeiths has been ransacked and the horses killed; McKeith, returning from town with a police inspector and a visitor, finds Bridget has given aid to Wombo and his new bride against his direct orders; he whips Wombo and drives the couple off the station.

But! The visitor is her old lover from England, Willoughby Maule, who had left her to marry an heiress who had then conveniently died. McKeith and the inspector must go to a neighbouring station where fighting is expected. Bridget has refused to talk to McKeith about her former life as a social butterfly and now he is eaten with jealousy, but must leave her and Maule together just when he and Bridget are at daggers drawn.

This sounds melodramatic, but Praed is better than that and the last third of the novel is a convincing  portrayal of two egotistical people at cross purposes through misunderstanding and miscommunication. The harm that McKeith’s jealousy causes reminds me of Henry Handel Richardson’s Maurice Guest. Of course I won’t tell you how it ends but I do think Praed lets McKeith off lightly. Yes he is scarred by the murder of everyone in his family, but Praed, once she introduced this into the story, should have dealt with it front on, not incidentally.

Overall though, Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land is both an insightful study of a man tortured by love and an illuminating view of times past.

 

Rosa Praed, Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land (first pub. 1915), Pandora, 1987, my copy on kindle from Project Gutenberg here


*Re the period of the novel: Praed mentions abandoned diggings at ‘Fig Tree Mount’. Gold was first mined in Queensland at Charters Towers in 1872. The Great Shearers’ Strike which led to the formation of the Australian Labor Party was in 1891. Praed has McKeith lose his seat in an election won by the Labor Party, about a year after his marriage, which could only be 1899 when the world’s first, albeit short-lived,  minority, Labor government was formed.

Taboo, W.E. Harney

taboo harney

In putting away Kim Scott’s Taboo after reading and writing it up for my last post (here) I saw I had another Taboo, a gift as it turns out from my father to his father for Christmas, 1944, the first book by white bushman cum writer Bill Harney (1895-1962) who mixed closely with the Indigenous people of northern Australia, in the cattle and fishing industries, and at the time this book was written, as a Native Affairs patrol officer.

Let me be clear that it is not my intention to endorse the views contained in this book, nor to offer it as alternative to Scott’s, but rather to make a critical reading of an old-fashioned account by an ostensibly sympathetic observer of peoples maybe only one generation removed from the “old ways”.

Harney’s Taboo is a collection of stories with an extended Introduction by the anthropologist AP Elkin (ADB). Elkin, in his time a noted defender of the rights of Aborigines, writes:

… Harney has lived in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, for about twenty years, contracting, trading and working at this, that and the other. From the moment he realized that the natives, though different from us, were human like ourselves, he has taken a sympathetic and intelligent interest in them, seeking to understand them.

He goes on to speculate on the causes of ‘aboriginal depopulation’, citing ‘clashes’, introduced diseases, and ‘psychological’: “the upsetting of that balance or equilibrium between man, his fellows and nature, which had been developed in the course of centuries” and which the coming of the white man brought to a sudden end.

… almost every story in this book is a concrete illustration of the change wrought in the natives’ manner of life by contact with the white man and his ways, and of the disastrous consequences.

Reverie: Harney sits on the beach with trepang curing, watching an old man singing dreamtime songs to children, and muses on similarities between cultures. “Their numerous customs, so like our own, point to a common origin.”

Cananda: A legend of love and jealousy recorded in the hope it may never be forgotten, tied to a story told by a white trader on a sailing vessel in the Gulf, of hearing the spirit of a man cry out overhead at the moment of his death a hundred miles away.

The Law:  A harsh story of Ramajerrie who refused to be a stockman but instead lived by raiding the bosses’ cattle, who took leniency as a sign to continue, so his little band of marauders were shot up and the survivors tricked into eating poisoned flour; and his son Ngiaroo, who was sceptical of traditional law and was killed for failing to give up his wife to an elder, while his killer, who did respect traditional law, is sentenced to jail.

The Secret: The sad tale of a man who saves the life of the policeman arresting him out of fear of being blamed, and is honoured for it; then saves the life of a little white girl through his own bravery, but is cursed and left to die for making her cry.

And so we go on with stories and photos and a great deal of Aboriginal language and knowledge. Stories of laws abandoned because traditional punishments are illegal under white man’s law; stories of white men misusing the law to prevent their ‘house gins’ being claimed in traditional marriages; and over and over again, stories of Indigenous people being murdered in the name of justice, or more often, just to prevent them from living and hunting on cattle pasture, which of course includes all the best water:

Nugget was of a different clay from Jack; he was a hard man. Pity help the native who crossed his path. Some of them tried it once, but he gave them a feed – rice flavoured with arsenic; and …

people heard of the murder [of Jack], and a body of white men with a policeman in charge started out in pursuit of the killers – a punitive expedition, the strong chasing the weak, killing all that came in their way, the innocent as well as the guilty. [The Good Samaritan]

I think however, that in his own mind at least, Harney’s thesis is that the Aborigines are/were a primitive (but interesting) people giving way to a superior civilization,

Of course, we smile at these simple people, with their foolish superstitions; nevertheless, I have found that behind their ideas is a deal of logic. [The Mumba]

And he is fair enough to point out that “we once hung camphor bags around children’s necks to keep away sickness” and that a great many whites wear the crucifixes and medallions of their own superstitions.

Let us end with Justice, the story of a man whose mother was chased over a cliff when he was a babe in arms, was brought up ‘white’, visited the city, but in his home town –

… saw natives led about on chains, prisoners for some paltry offence, being given a feed of half-cooked rice and then a drink of water just before they got to town, so that, as they marched down the street, the people were amazed at the way they were treated – they looked so full. The knowing ones laughed at the joke – the police did well out of the native arrests, as they received one shilling a feed per man.

He saw, “and being intelligent, understood”, and ran away to the bush, raising the “standard of revolt, carrying death to the white man in its trail”, until he and his little band were chased down and killed.

So these are stories which were current, no doubt well known and thought unexceptional, when John Howard (1939- ) was a boy and yet which, when they were revived and substantiated during his prime ministership, he mendaciously labelled as a “black armband” view of history.

 

W.E. Harney, Taboo, Australasian Publishing Co., Sydney, 1943

see also my post on Ion Idriess and particularly his novel Nemarluk which is from the same period and general location (here)