Cake in the Hat Box, Arthur Upfield

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Coming out of Albury last trip, west along the Murray Valley Highway, which follows the river along the Victorian side, I stopped at Strathmerton to check my load and found myself opposite both an op shop and a patisserie. The combination was irresistible and I soon found myself with a cauliflower pie and another Western Australian Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte novel.

Cake in the Hat Box (1955) is set in the Kimberleys, in WA’s North West, rugged, tropical cattle grazing country. Unlike Mr Jelly’s Business (review) which is set in a real town where the author worked in the 1930s, the setting for this story is a fictional settlement, Agar’s Lagoon, maybe based on Durack which marks the turn-off from the ‘Great Northern Highway’, in those post WWII days a primitive dirt track, to the port of Wyndham.

I’ve only been to the very north of WA a couple of times – something I hope to rectify in the coming years – but the descriptions of country sound authentic and Upfield’s ADB entry says, “In 1948 he led a 5000-mile (8047 km) expedition through the Kimberleys, Western Australia, for the Australian Geographical Society.”

The murder at the centre of this novel is that of a policeman found dead in his Landrover on a remote road. His Aboriginal companion (‘black tracker’), Jackie Musgrave, who is missing, is the initial suspect. However, Boney believes that he is dead and explicitly leaves his murder to be discovered and punished by his fellows, the Musgrave mob who live to the south, in the desert. The Aborigines around Agar’s are of a different language group and ‘belong’ to the various stations – one of the principal characters says that her Aborigines are as much the property of the station as the cattle.

The AITSIS map (here) shows just how many language groups there are in the East Kimberley, and the book Two Sisters which I reviewed (here) some time ago gives an account of Aborigines, Walmajarri people, moving out of the desert, although a bit to the west of this story, and onto the stations.

I like Boney mysteries, and have listened to so many that I was unable to read this one without hearing the mellifluous Humphrey Bower in my head. However, as I have said before, Upfield is not free of the racism of his time, and that is particularly true of this story where the mainly white principal characters are interacting all the time with Aborigines.

Sam left the seaport of Wyndham on August 16th, his six-wheeler loaded with ten tons of stores for stations south of Agar’s Lagoon. For ten miles the track was almost level as it crossed the flats south of Wyndham, a ship sailing on a sea of grass as yellow and as tall as ripe wheat. Thereafter it proceeded up an ever-narrowing valley between flat-topped ranges sparsely covered with stunted scrub and armoured with red and grey granite. The ranges merged into a maze with walls a thousand feet high, and the surface of the track was of loose stone and slate, level at no place for more than ten feet.

Gotta love a good trucking quote! Later, an old station owner describes how he used a wagon drawn by 52 donkeys to get over the range. Sam discovers Constable Stenhouse who has been shot dead and reports the death in Agar’s, where fortuitously Boney has been held up on his way home from Broome to Queensland. Stenhouse, married to a local girl, had been a notorious wife beater:

‘Wife got knocked round a bit. She was only two hands high, and couldn’t take it. If she’d been my sister, Stenhouse would have been sitting dead in his jeep years ago.’

Though the speaker goes on:

‘Fair’s fair, I reckon. A good belting don’t do any woman any harm, but no woman is expected to take punches from a bloke like Stenhouse.’

In fact Stenhouse’s wife had died of her beatings some years earlier and now her brother, a cattleman, is the principal suspect for the murder of her husband. Boney does a tour of the neighbouring properties; the ‘Musgrave mob’, never seen except for their smoke signals, come looking for Jackie; we meet some interesting people, White and Black; and a conclusion is soon reached.

But to to return to my argument, the best you can say about Upfield’s views, here expressed by Boney, is “patronising”:

‘Those aborigines have many traits similar to dogs … They’re full of knowledge and helpful in their own country, and are nervous and suspicious when away from it. We feed them and clothe them and we bring them to understand enough of our language to communicate. They smoke our tobacco and ride our horses, many of them drive our cars and trucks, and are able to repair windmills and pumps.

‘Nevertheless, they retain their tribal customs and cling to inherited instincts and convictions. They are loyal to white men living for a long time in their own locality, and suspicious of all others… Be patient. A thousand years are as nothing in this timeless land, and when the last aboriginal sinks down to die, despite the veneer imposed on him by our civilization, he will be the same man as were his forebears ten thousand years ago.

After that, should you read it? My answer is a qualified yes.

The mystery is well done, with the right number of red herrings, and Boney is an engaging character. The landscape of the Kimberleys is spectacular and Upfield describes it well, as he does the male-dominated drinking culture. Ernestine Hill provides similar descriptions, a couple of decades earlier, in her travelogue, The Timeless Land, which no doubt Upfield had read, and she actually hitched a lift with (famous station owner) Michael Durack in this area. Northern Australia is still racist, in a mostly off-hand way (ie. murder is now frowned on, though there are still ‘deaths in custody’) so the depiction of White attitudes is not so wide of the mark. The description of Aboriginal activities is probably accurate, and to a large extent, sympathetic, but Upfield’s descriptions of Aboriginal motivations are inherently racist and should be discounted.

 

Arthur Upfield, Cake in the Hat Box, first pub. 1955. My edition (pictured) Pan Books, London, 2nd printing 1966.

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An EOY Wrap

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Christmas at Milly’s

This is one more end of year post than I ‘normally’ do, and I more or less wrapped up the end of my driving year in Season’s Greetings.  But thank you all for encouraging/putting up with my Journals. And here’s wishing you a prosperous 2019.

At the works Christmas party I spoke briefly to Dragan, but the trailers I’m planning to buy are away, Brisbane probably, so there’s no hurry on that score. I was just going to have one beer and leave, but Dragan’s mum got hold of me and made sure I sat down to salads, arancini and crumbed prawns – the others had roast lamb and pig on a spit.

My break has been busy ferrying family – Ms 15 to and from work,  children and sisters in law from the airport to Milly’s and so on, though Psyche is staying with me. I’ve already locked her out of both the toilet and the bathroom. I live on my own, I’m not used to doors being shut. We learnt in a hurry how to unsnib them from the outside! And then I locked her in the flat when I went out, rode my bike to Milly’s to retrieve the ute early Boxing Day morning, and deadlocked the screen door. Today we all went shopping forgetting she was out running and locked her out of Milly’s. She’s getting a complex.

Big family parties Tuesday AND Wednesday. Weight no longer under control.

Lou and Psyche are with us for another week then, big news!, Lou flies to Morocco, to Casablanca, for a teaching job in Rabat. I still can’t believe he cleaned his flat out in the few days between the end of the Victorian school year and flying to Perth overnight on the 23rd. Here and here are Michelle Scott Tucker’s marvellous photos from her work trip to Marrakech a couple of years ago. Lou’s initial contract is for 18 months and then I think he’s hoping to work with disadvantaged kids in East Africa. He has some paid flights home but I hope he uses at least the first summer holidays to jump over to Europe. Meanwhile I’m going to have to learn to Skype.

Up till now Lou has been my Mum’s only rello in Melbourne and being a good grandson, has trained out to lunch with her most Sundays. Now mum’s nearest family are B3 and all his lot, and our cousin Kay, in Bendigo, a couple of hours away. I’d better stick at interstate for a while longer and see if I can do more trips over there.

Having time on my hands today I copied the stats for the year’s reading onto a spreadsheet to reveal the following: –

208 books read: made up of 19 non-fiction, 43 Literature, 39 general fiction (mostly romance), 14 SF, and 93 crime/thriller/mystery; the all-important male/female writer split is nearly even, 105/103; countries of origin: Australia 43, USA 73, UK 55, Europe 26, Asia 9. That left 2 books I didn’t have a column for, sorry Canada! I tried also to analyse the year the books were written and came up with: 2010-18 114, 2000-2009 40, 1960-99 25, 1900-59 15, pre-1900 14. The median (most common) entry was Male, Crime, USA, 2010-18 which shows what the library buys, not what I’d read for choice. As I’ve said at other times I will use Project Gutenberg and if I’m really pushed, Audible to weight my reading (listening) back to classics, literature (and SF).

Finally, over the last week I published two posts on Tracker Tilmouth, the late Northern Territory Aboriginal activist. Sue and Lisa warned me you guys might be distracted! The following story highlights one of Tracker’s main complaints – that most money given to the NT for Aboriginal disadvantage ends up staying in Darwin.

The Territory has always made a convincing case for the disproportionate cash: the country’s worst life expectancy rates, poorest performing hospitals and schools, the worst health outcomes. But Indigenous groups routinely say the money rarely finds its way to the communities where it’s needed.

“We’re going to say we need [more money] because we have remote Aboriginal communities, then we’ll spend it on a water park,” [sacked NT Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ken] Vowles told Guardian Australia [24 Dec. 2018]

“It’s untenable, it’s disgusting. There’s a lot of anger out there. We have ripped off countrymen in the bush for many, many years to prop up the [Darwin] northern suburbs. The money not spent on Aboriginal communities is disgusting.”

I loved Alexis Wright’s Tracker, as I’ve been banging on since I started reading it. It will be one of the great biographies, up there with David Marr’s Patrick White and Brian Matthews’ Louisa.

Today (Thursday) I think Perth’s pre-xmas heatwave reached the Eastern states. It shouldn’t last long, it’s already considerably cooler here today. Time now to stretch out on the verandah and read a book.

Recent audiobooks

Joseph Conrad (M, Eng), Heart of Darkness (1899)
Josephine Wilson (F, Aust/WA), Extinctions (2016)
Camilla Lackberg (F, Swe), The Ice Princess (2009)
Carrie Fisher (F, USA), The Princess Diarist (2016)
Vikas Swarup (M, Ind), Q&A (Slumdog Millionaire) (2005)
Lee Child (M, USA), Never Go Back (2013)
Ann Lewis Hamilton (F, USA), Expecting (2014)

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel
Arthur Upfield, Cake in the Hat Box (1955)
Anuradha Roy, All the Lives We Never Lived (2017)

Books I gave for Xmas

Haruki Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase (1982)
Tricia Sullivan, Dreaming in Smoke (2018) SF
Morris Gleitzman, Help Around the House (2018)
Bill Condon & Dianne Bates, The Adventures of Jellybean (2018)
Sarah Krasnostein, The Trauma Cleaner (2017)
Ruby J Murray, The Biographer’s Lover (2018)
Iwaki Kei, Farewell, My Orange (2013)
AS Patric, The Butcherbird Stories (2018)
Kenta Shinohara, Astra Lost in Space (2016/2063) Manga

Today it rained

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MST’s book launch. Photo by Lisa Hill

Today (Wednesday) it rained. If you’re a Sydneysider you’ll know what I mean. Though it wasn’t just Sydney, grain harvest and carting was suspended all the way across South Australia as I came over at the weekend, to Melbourne, arriving early enough to have coffee with MST and her wonderful children and then tea with Lou (teacher son) in non-rainy, post Dan-slide Victoria.

MST gave me a copy of this year’s Stella winner, Alexis Wright’s Tracker which I hadn’t intended reading, but which having started I can’t put down. A review is coming, though it may take me till the xmas hols.

I’m sure I’m not the only reader who misses Michelle’s blog since she started working at Stella. She says she has 160 books to read for next year’s prize (or some such number). Even if there’re half a dozen judges, that’s still a lot of reading. But she has undertaken to review the Billabong series, of which she has long been a fan, for AWW Gen 2 week. That’s 13-19 Jan. Michelle.

Lou had a book for me too, on an episode in Australian working class history, which has long been absent from my library, but I told him to wrap it and give it to me when he comes over for Christmas. Psyche has phoned just in the last hour to say that she has booked her flight from Darwin, Milly and I have booked time off, Gee and the grandkids won’t go on holidays till the new year, so that’s all of us, in Perth, on the actual Christmas Day, and Milly is planning a feast (my jobs are transport and grog, purchase of).

My deliveries in Melbourne were quite straightforward, though way down in Dandenong (an outer south-eastern suburb), but after that I got thoroughly Draganned. I had a pickup in the outer west, then a second in Frankston, back past Dandenong (we’re talking two 100 km round trips, in traffic), and a third in Cowra – yes that Cowra, 500 kms north in NSW. That was this morning, which means the rain had come. I’m not used to rain. And it got worse. With three quarters of a load I came on into Sydney. Unloaded it all at a depot for transport at a later date. And now I sit at the Eastern Creek truckstop. The rain still falls. I await further instructions.

Sitting around in Melbourne – there was a 24 hour break somewhere in those cross-city back and forths – I started sorting through the newspapers that populate my passenger seat. I know I said I’ve given up paper newspapers, and I have, but Milly and I bond over cryptics, so when I think of it I buy a weekend paper. The West, which has the cryptic we’re used to, or the SMH/Age which we find harder. I keep the motoring sections ‘for later’, and then there’s Owner-Driver which is free in truckstops, and in amongst all these I found the last six Australian Book Review, which subscription I will not renew but which I must have paid a couple of years ahead – and still the reviews are mostly not Australian and if they are, are mostly not fiction.

But I found a few interesting Indigenous stories. In Wright’s wonderful biography Tracker Tilmouth seems to identify various groups within his community by the matriarch, so ‘Geraldine mob’ or ‘Ursula mob’. This is not a usage I’ve run into before but it comes up again in ABR May 2018, “The Paradox of Recognition” by Richard Martin, about native title in the Ceduna area. I wrote in Crossing the Nullarbor, “… from Yalata to Ceduna, were the Wirangu whose language was subsumed by the related Kokatha, another member of the Western Desert family of languages to their north.” Ceduna’s Aunty Sue Mob are identified as Kokatha and are initially excluded from the Wirangu native title claim. The article – a review of two books – discusses how legalistic views of native title are breaking up communities.

Two other articles on Indigenous issues are Kim Mahood on archeology (April 2018). Indigenous occupation has been extended back 65,000 years and the book she reviews, Deep Time Dreaming by Billy Griffiths studies the question ‘Who owns the past?’; and Alan Atkinson on The Sydney Wars by Stephen Gapps (August 2018). “In response to invasion, various Indigenous groups on the Cumberland Plain were drawn together from time to time, apparently in innovative ways …” to fight back.

On a different subject altogether, Beejay Silcox writes ‘We are all MFAs now!’ (August 2018). Over a number of pages she argues that MFA programmes make no difference to what we read, but have merely taken the space formerly offered by cafes as forums for budding writers to meet and criticize each other’s writing. Studying in America she discovers, quelle surprise!, that American courses teach only American writing. My own opinion is that Masters degrees have taken the space formerly occupied by tech college diplomas.

 

Recent audiobooks

Mary Burton (F, USA), The Hang Man (2017) – More dead young women, their deaths described in loving detail. Do the authors get off on writing this stuff?
Blake Crouch (M, USA), Dark Matter (2016)
Andrea Camilleri (M, Ita), Angelica’s Smile (2014)
Eve Chase (F, Eng), Black Rabbit Hall (2016)
Kate Atkinson (F, Eng), When Will There be Good News (2008)

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel
Alexis Wright, Tracker (2017)

Stuff on the Internet

The NY Times flies out to Australia, to Goroke in western Victoria to meet the next Nobel Laureate in Literature (thanks to my brother in law who sent me this) and finds him behind the bar at the local golf club (here).

 

Journal of a Journey, Joseph Hawdon

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The full name of the journal (as you can see) is: The Journal of a Journey from New South Wales to Adelaide Performed in 1838 by Mr Joseph Hawdon. It’s a slender hardback of 66pp, published in 1952, so 114 years after it was written, from mss in the SA State Archive, the Mitchell Library (NSW), and in the possession of the family. My father has inscribed his name on the flyleaf and the year 1959.

Joseph Hawdon (1813-1871) was an early settler in Port Phillip (now Melbourne), the first to drive cattle overland from the north (from around Gundagai maybe, on the Murrumbidgee), he established the first overland mail service between Melbourne and Sydney, and he was, as he describes in this journal, the first to travel overland between Melbourne and Adelaide.

Hawdon arrived in Sydney from England in 1834, joining his elder brother John who had already established himself with properties at Cowpastures (outside Sydney, and presumably neighbouring the Macarthurs) and then at Bateman’s Bay, though at the time of this journal John was on their Howlong property on the ‘Hume’ (the Murray). In 1836, “Soon after my arrival at Port Phillip, I formed a cattle station midway between that Settlement and Western Port” (at Dandenong according to ADB).

Hawdon writes, “Towards the end of last year (1837) I determined on making the arduous experiment of driving Cattle, for the first time since the colonization of New Holland, from Eastern to Southern Australia …”. His journey took him northeast from Port Phillip, then west following the Murray (map). Along the whole way he encountered local Indigenous people and relations were generally friendly.

My map of major Aboriginal languages (here) shows all of central and western Victoria belonging to the same family. I have sourced a more detailed map (here), and the SA section of the AIATSIS map (here). I’m sorry that’s the best I can do to name the people whose country Hawdon and his party passed through. Hawdon writes that he talked to the locals and his comments accord with my map of major languages – “The languages of these tribes [west of L.Bonney in SA] is different from that of the tribes near the junction of the Murrumbidgee [north of Swan Hill], and the people are of a much milder and more friendly disposition.” Lake Bonney was known to the locals as Nookamka, “but in virtue of my privilege as its first European discoverer” he named it after his travelling companion Charles Bonney.

Hawdon speaks to Aboriginal people all along the way, but fears them too, often waving his gun at or shooting near them, though funnily enough the person who came nearest to being shot was Hawdon himself when one of his men in fear of his life took a shot at a charging bullock, and missed, the ball grazing Hawdon’s chest.

Setting out on Jan. 1 from his own station, 17 miles SE of the Port Phillip Settlement, “crossing a small range of hills, wooded with stringy-bark, the rest of the journey [to Melbourne] was through an open forest well covered with grass”. Think of that next time you’re on the Monash Freeway.

Jan. 2. Breakfasted with Captain Lonsdale, the Police Magistrate, who also lent him a dray. Then set off in company with the Postman. Picked up Bonney at “Mercer’s Vale” (Beveridge) and crossed over the Great Divide (at Pretty Sally I guess), arriving at the Goulburn River on Jan. 5. Took 2 more days to reach Howlong, near Albury, on the north side of the Murray. There the postman exchanged mail bags with the postman down from Yass. So the overland mail service, which Hawdon instigated, involved three 180 mile stages – Sydney-Yass by coach, then Yass-Howlong and Howlong-Melbourne.

Selecting cattle from the herd which he and his brother ran at Howlong, he swam them back over the river which he describes as being 100 yards wide with a strong current. I’ve swum in the river above Albury and that’s much wider than I remember but I’m sure the Hume Weir upstream makes a big difference.

They return to the Goulburn River, battling sand and lightning storms. He never says he regrets making the trip mid summer but he may well have. A bit of winter rain would have made the long sandy stretches later in the journey much more manageable, and would also have meant more feed for the cattle. Bonney has 1,200 sheep, which some days later escape in the night and make their own way home.

Finally, on Jan. 22, they set out. Following the Goulburn and then the Murray, though staying a bit south as they cross the Campaspe and the Loddon. Near present day Mildura they use a sandbar to cross to the north side of the river and then almost immediately come on the confluence with the Darling (much of this country was ‘known’, having been reported on by Major Mitchell after his expeditions of 1835 and ’36) which they ford without difficulty, on March 1.

On March 4 he ‘discovers’ a lake which he names Victoria and which I didn’t know existed (there’s no road north of this section the Murray). The country is mostly rolling sandhills and the only feed for the cattle is the reeds along the river. Further along, he is separated from the river by high – he says 200-300 ft – limestone cliffs and each night must find a pass down to get the cattle to water.

By Mar 10 they are in South Australia and ‘discover’ Lake Bonney. When the river turns south (Overland Corner) they start looking out for the ranges which separate them from Adelaide. At Mt Barker, Hawdon can see across to Lake Alexandrina (through which the Murray drains to the sea) and then they must conduct the cattle down the precipitate slopes of Mt Lofty to present day Noarlunga and so on to Adelaide (settled a couple of years earlier) 20 miles back up the coast.

I won’t stretch your patience by including quotes, but Hawdon’s descriptions of the country he passes through, of the plentiful birds, fish and kangaroos, and of the people he encounters nearly every day make this a book well worth seeking out – especially for Victorians and South Australians who will recognise many of his descriptions.

For Hawdon’s history after 1838 an excellent starting point is Janine Rizzetti (The Resident Judge)’s alternative blog Banyule Homestead (here), as Hawdon was its original owner.

 

Joseph Hawdon, The Journal of a Journey from New South Wales to Adelaide, Georgian House, Melbourne, 1952


On Feb. 22 Hawdon recorded: “On the opposite bank of the river in front of our tent, were a tribe of Blacks having their bodies painted in white streaks… I think this might have been part of the tribe that attacked Major Mitchell in 1836.” The date accords with Hawdon being in the region of Mt Dispersion, between Robinvale and Red Cliffs, where Mitchell ambushed and killed Aborigines he said were threatening him. I plan to look into this in a future post.

Crossing the Nullarbor

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The Nullarbor Plain (nul-arbor: no trees) lies across the WA/SA border and its cliffs hold back the Southern Ocean. Technically, the highway only crosses the plain around Nullarbor Station at the head of the Bight, but generally a Nullarbor crossing is the 1200 km from Norseman, WA to Ceduna, SA, though the Eyre Highway continues another 500 km across the Eyre Peninsula to Port Augusta (map).

The Plain is largely uninhabited except for the roadhouses every 60-180 km and the quarantine workers at the border (Eucla/Border Village Roadhouse). Driving across from west to east, the clay soils of the Goldfields and the Great Western Woodlands give way after Balladonia to limestone plains, light scrub and saltbush until well into South Aust. and the Mallee woodlands around Yalata. The Nullarbor itself is “the world’s largest single exposure of limestone bedrock”, but as far as I can see, sand, limestone and mallee scrub extend all the way across SA and into northern Victoria.

Much of the plain is fenced for grazing, sheep I imagine, though you never see any. Then from around Nundroo – a couple of houses and an old service station – scattered wheat farmers scratch a living from marginal soils and even more marginal rainfall. Penong, 70 km before Ceduna, is the one township, with a truck stop, a couple of shops and a police station. A while ago, I wondered why Kim Scott’s great grandmother Fanny (Benang) and her husband carried supplies from Esperance (on the coast) to Balladonia, 180 km east of Norseman. It was not a sheep station as I thought but a township, although for what purpose I cannot imagine, and is now long gone.

The signs along the highway, when they’re not being stolen by backpackers, warn of camels, kangaroos and wombats. There’s no shortage of kangaroos, or emus or wedge-tailed eagles; camels are a problem when they venture this far south, which is luckily not often, because their weight and high centre of gravity cause a lot of damage when you hit them; wombats dead or alive, you used to see a lot of at the eastern end of the plain, but not so much now.

I can only think of two literary references to the Nullarbor, Daisy Bates’ The Passing of the Aborigines, a selection of articles written by her and collated by Ernestine Hill, and Hill’s biography of Bates, Kabbarli (here); and Stephen Orr’s The Hands with its improbable Herefords (they certainly wouldn’t get fat!) and mathematically impossible train sighting (one hour horizon to horizon at 100 kph). Though at the edge of my memory is an SF novel written by Sean McMullen, a workmate of a friend but now apparently famous, Mirrorsun Rising about a post-apocalyptic future which somehow involves Victoria at war with Western Australia.

The Indigenous map I rely on (here) shows a major language group extending from around the Goldfields (Kalgoorlie) along the Bight to Nullarbor Station in South Australia. As best I can discover, the original languages along the coast were Ngadjunmaya to the west and Mirning to the east, both now extinct. The people of the Goldfields and out into the desert are Wangkatja, Western Desert people

Further east, from Yalata to Ceduna, were the Wirangu whose language was subsumed by the related Kokatha, another member of the Western Desert family of languages to their north, following the establishment of the Koonibba mission near Ceduna (map). Yalata on the highway has been a mission, a roadhouse and is now an Indigenous community centre. And the roadhouse where you could once stop for souvenirs and snacks is closed.

Not just out on the Nullarbor, but in the roadhouses I use in WA, in the Goldfields and the Pilbara, and in outback SA and NSW, you never – I think I can say never – see Aboriginal workers. Racism probably. Chinese-run roadhouses don’t prosper either, though there are a couple of Indian ones. Truckies it seems, like to be served by (white) housewives and backpacker girls.

White 9000 Adelaide 1976

The SA end of the Eyre Highway was sealed in 1976 and I made my first crossing at the end of 1977, so I never got to cross on the dirt, though long sections of the old road still run parallel to the bitumen. I’d always wanted to run east-west and my business, I was an owner-driver then too, was registered as “Go West”. I got my chance when Holymans in Sydney offered me a load of lawn mower grass catchers. I’d brought a mixed load of oranges and general freight up from Adelaide and the Riverland, unloaded Sunday night at the markets, went round to Holymans who had me going by Mon evening; was in Adelaide Tues arvo to top up; and more importantly pick up my girlfriend Tommy who had promised to introduce me if I ever got a load to Perth, to her busty blonde friend Xenia; arrived Perth Thurs, pulled up in inner suburban Rivervale outside Xenia’s duplex; and were met at the front door not by Xenia but by her slender younger sister  …

Milly and baby Psyche. I went off and unloaded. Xenia came home from work and took us down the beach. By that night I had been awake 6 days. I fell asleep in the shower, was discovered, crawled behind a couch and there lay oblivious to the five women who hadn’t seen Tommy for years since they were all together in Alice Springs, and now had a lot to say.

The next morning I woke early. Milly was in the kitchen feeding Psyche. We talked, we sat and read, I held Psyche. Later, the girls said if I was ever back in Perth I should come and stay. I rang Adelaide, organized a load for Xmas Eve. Took Tommy home. “You’ve fallen for Xenia, haven’t you,” she said – resigned after repeatedly losing boyfriends to her in Alice. “No,” I said, “her sister.”

Drove all day Xmas Day, absolutely no traffic, was back in Perth Boxing Day and stayed for 2 weeks. Down the beach, Cottesloe, Swanbourne, New Years Eve at Steve’s (a famous pub). The time of my life. Got regular east-west work, took Xenia to Melbourne, took Milly’s best friend to Melbourne. Brought my Monaro back, to take Milly to the drive-ins. It took a while to convince her. And where was the Young Bride you ask. In Holland as it happens – a story for another day.

I struggled to get work for my trailer, a pantec (van), so borrowed B2’s flattop. Rolled it with a load of jarrah when I came over the rise into Ceduna and there was a train on the line, took it off the road out into the sand and laid it gently on its side. Bought a new trailer but was soon broke and declared bankruptcy. Was a salesman for a few months, then a driver again, crossing the Nullarbor twice a week each way, two-up (one driving, one asleep) with Ipec fast freight. Rolled another truck in the Blue Mountains. Flew home. Retired. Lou was on the way.

After five years in Perth I dragged Milly and the kids to Melbourne where we stayed for fifteen years. Milly flew home sometimes and we made two trips by car, Mitsubishi Magna station wagons, a trailer for the tent and supplies. The first time the two youngest sat in the very back (with seatbelts!), talked and played games, Psyche listened to music, Milly read to me and kept everyone fed. The second time Lou had a broken leg, a corkscrew fracture when he was tackled by all his fellow scouts, including his sister, playing british bulldog, and he got the back. Psyche flew home early that trip to celebrate her 18th birthday while we came home round the coast, the Big Tree at Pemberton, Denmark, Albany, Esperance.

In 2001 Milly had had enough of Melbourne and drove back to Perth in her little Daewoo, came back to see us in July and again at the end of the year when she sold up. I hung on for a couple of months then drove my lovely Triumph 2500 TC I’d bought all those years ago back in Perth, round to the wreckers, piled all I had left in the Mitsubishi and drove over to join her (share housing you understand, we’d been separated a while). Started running out of Perth to north Qld for Sam, till in December (2002) a co-driver foisted on me for a quick trip to Darwin rolled the truck with me in the sleeper and I packed it in. And that was it for Nullarbor crossings until I rejoined Sam and Dragan earlier this year. The rest you know.

Indigenous Stories

Train refuses to stop for injured Aboriginal, Ooldea, 1941 (here)
Aboriginal Astronomical Traditions from Ooldea (here)
Our People, Ooldea (here)

Recent audiobooks

Ian McEwan (M, Eng), Sweet Tooth (2012)
Jonathon Kellerman (M, USA), Heartbreak Hotel (2017)
Margaret Atwood (F, Can), The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
Kerry Greenwood (F, Vic/Aust), Death at Victoria Dock (1992)
Kate Chopin (F, USA), The Awakening (1899) – Project Gutenberg

Currently reading

Laurent Binet, The 7th Function of Language
Yelena Moskovich, The Natashas

We were not here first

Journal: 012

Nifty Road Sept '13 (1)

We were not here first. It seems self-evident now and was in fact acknowledged by writers from Watkin Tench onwards. Unfortunately though, our behaviour and in particular our legal system, was based on the conflicting ideas that there was no one here in 1788; or that there was but their perceived failure to build houses, engage in intensive agriculture meant that their presence didn’t count; or that there wasn’t a war but they lost anyway and Australia was ours by right of conquest.

That was all swept away, theoretically at least, by a combination of the (Commonwealth) Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 and the Mabo Case (1982-90) in which the High Court ruled (1) that states – in this case Queensland – could not pass laws which conflicted with the Racial Discrimination Act; and (2) that wherever the rules and customs of the indigenous inhabitants – in this case the Mer people of the Murray Islands in the Torres Strait north of Queensland – have continued without explicit extinguishment by state law, then the land remains theirs.

The Native Title Act of 1993 which was meant to give effect to the Mabo decision in fact interpreted it as narrowly as possible, in order of course to give the greatest possible advantage to grazing and mining interests, with near impossible definitions of continuing occupation for example, when so many indigenous people were forced onto reservations or had drifted in to provincial centres. My own opinion is that all crown land, including leasehold – which is to say, most of outback Australia – should be acknowledged as belonging to the original inhabitants and that we should only then negotiate a treaty for its ongoing use by all Australians. That is, that the Aboriginal Land Councils instead of being supplicants should be able to negotiate from a position of relative strength.

As part of my own, belated education about what it means to live in a shared country I have been increasingly careful to identify whose land it is that I am talking about/driving on in my reviews and journals. But in my last post ‘The Heaviest, Longest Run in the World‘, in concentrating on the driving experience (and the word count!) I said nothing about whose land it was and I want to rectify that here.

In general, because this is where I live, I am best informed about the indigenous nations of Western Australia – though I still have a long way to go! – but as I go on I will do my best to learn and write about everyone whose land I cross.

As I’ve written previously, Perth, the south-west and the wheatbelt (except around Geraldton) are Noongar country. Going north from Perth on the Great Northern Highway we cross the Moore River at New Norcia. The infamous Mogumber Moore River Settlement is just a few kilometres west. I have written about it a few times, in Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence of course, but also in relation to Kim Scott and Jack Davis. Molly, Daisy and Gracie, the Rabbit-Proof Fence girls headed north from Mogumber before striking east and would have crossed the Highway (if it existed back in 1931) a bit south of Wubin. You don’t see many Aboriginals in these little wheatbelt towns and I imagine they have mostly drifted in to Perth or to provincial centres like Northam and Moora.

Since reading Scott I have also become conscious of the different language groups within the Noongars. The AIATSIS map says the language spoken in the area up to Wubin is Balardung.

Separating Wubin and the Murchison goldfield towns of Mt Magnet, Cue and Meekatharra is 300 km of scrub and desert. About 100 km up, the Irwin River rises near Mt Gibson and flows down to the coast at Dongara south of Geraldton. I wouldn’t be surprised if this marks the border between Noongar and Yamaji country. The various language groups within the Yamaji nation occupy the land from south of Geraldton to north of Carnarvon, on the coast, and inland to the headwaters of the Murchison and Gascoyne Rivers (as best as I can ascertain, which applies to everything I write here).

I wrote about the Yamaji for the first time in my review of Papertalk Green and Kinsella’s False Claims of Colonial Thieves. The Yamaji are bordered to the east by Western Desert people. Mt Magnet, Cue and Meekatharra aren’t big towns and they all have active gold mines, but they also have substantial Aboriginal populations, which are probably these days a mixture of Martu from the north, Yamaji, and Ngaatjatjarra from out towards the NT and SA border. There used to be reports of ‘trouble’ in the towns but I haven’t heard any in the last decade. Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis, a Ngaatjatjarra woman, writes of her family’s move, in the 1960s, in from Docker River on the NT border to Wiluna, east of Meekatharra, from where she was sent to school at the mission at Karalundi, on the highway 50 km north of Meeka.

The rest of the trip, except that we detour via Port Hedland (map) to avoid the atrocious Nullagine Road from Newman to Marble Bar, is Martu country. The Martu are the northernmost of the Western Desert peoples. Daisy Bates who owned a station near Jigalong, north of present day Newman (see Ventured North by Train and Truck) learned elements of the Martu language there and was surprised to find it useful when she later settled amongst the southernmost of the Western Desert peoples 3,000 km away at Ooldea in SA. Jigalong, one of the main camps for maintaining the rabbit-proof fence, became the centre of the Martu people and was of course the home which Molly, Daisy and Gracie were heading back to. The northernmost limits of Martu country include Nifty, my destination, as well as the Woodie Woodie and Telfer mines, in the Great Sandy Desert where I imagine the border with the Walmajarri (see Two Sisters) is fairly fluid.

There are two separate language groups on the coast north of Yamji country, one south of Port Hedland, probably once centred on the Fortescue and Ashburton Rivers but now at Roeburn, and another between Port Hedland and Broome. I can’t tell you anything about them so I’d better do some homework!

SONY DSC

Recent audiobooks

PD James (F, Eng), Shroud for a Nightingale (1971)
Hetty E Verolme (F, Aust), The Children’s House of Belsen (2000)
Masaji Ishikawa (M, Japan/Korea), A River in Darkness (2000) DNF
Michael Veitch (M, Vic/Aust), The Forgotten Islands (2011)
Carole Radziwill (F, USA), The Widow’s Guide to Sex & Dating (2013)
Julia London (F, Eng), The Dangers of Deceiving a Viscount (2013)
Richard North Patterson (M, USA), Loss of Innocence (2013)
Michael Connolly (M, USA), Trunk Music (1997)
Tim Winton (M, WA/Aust), Eyrie (2013)
Stuart Woods (M, USA), Paris Match (2014)
Jay Stringer (M, Eng), Runaway Town (2013)
Gregory Randall (M, USA), Venice Black (2017)

Currently reading

Helen Garner, Honour & Other People’s Children


Housekeeping: I started using the Journal heading so that readers who were only interested in book reviews could see the journal emails and press delete. Don’t worry, you still can! But I’ve moved the journal designation down a notch so that while it is still clear in the email it is not so obtrusive.

The photos are mine, from the Nifty and Woodie Woodie roads in the Great Sandy Desert.

All That Swagger, Miles Franklin

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Angus & Robertson 1952 ed.

By the 1930s Miles Franklin, in her fifties, was at last established as a writer, both in her own mind with the relative success of the first three Brent of Bin Bin novels published in 1928, 1930 and 1931, and with the publication, under her own name for the first time since 1909, of Old Blastus of Bandicoot in 1931. Permanently back in Sydney from years overseas in Chicago and London, as “spinster-daughter-cum-housekeeper” in her mother’s house in Carlton (Jill Roe’s words) she was also a leading member of the Fellowship of Australian Writers – with Marjorie Barnard and Frank Dalby Davidson – and was often called on to give talks.

In her last years in London Franklin had written two ‘Mayfair’ novels. One eventually came out in 1950 as Prelude to Waking (by Brent of Bin Bin), the other, Bring the Monkey, was published in 1933 but sold only a few hundred copies. This marked the end of an excursion into writing about town-based women, her lived experience since the turn of the century. She had already returned to the Bush where her heart had always been with Brent of Bin Bin, but All That Swagger was to be her great triumph.

Jill Roe believes that this was the book Franklin had to write. The trigger was the death of her father – the novel is a fictionalized account of her Franklin grandfather’s pioneering exploits – but Miles “seized upon the Franklin experience over time as the perfect vehicle for what she wanted to say about contemporary Australia, with its still-uncertain culture and fragile environment.”

Ignoring her commitments to publishers Blackwood for another Brent of Bin Bin novel – Mary Fullerton was told to tell Blackwood that ‘William Blake’ (Brent) was probably in the United States – it took her only a few months, to Aug. 1933, to knock out a rough draft of 400 odd pages and two more to come up with a first typescript.

I have written before that Franklin gave up on her feisty independent heroines to write a novel that men would approve of – though I can’t find any evidence that she ever said this out loud – a story of men taming the Bush, mainstream Oz Lit, and when the novel came out in 1936 they did approve and were at last willing to praise her.

The saga begins in the 1830s in County Clare, Ireland. Free-thinking (ie. non-religious) Danny Delacy, whose Trinity College-educated father runs a small school, persuades Catholic Johanna, the daughter of the local ‘squire’, to elope with him to Australia.

Danny gains employment with a squatter on the Goulburn plains (inland of Sydney) but he is determined to be a land owner and all the best land is taken. Eventually he is assisted by his employer to take up a “sliver of land” on the Murrumbidgee.* “The new place was called Bewuck by the blacks for the hauls of cod they caught in the fish hole, almost in front of the homestead.”

The land is heavily treed and must be cleared. “Guarding the illusive land were throngs of giants – the stateliest trees on the globe. Delacy was like an ant in the aisles of box trees and towering river gums, but he attacked them as an army.” Johanna makes the best of her primitive house and begins having children. Although Franklin’s stories generally include a central matriarch, Johanna, while fitting the bill, takes second place to Danny.

Later in the novel as Johanna dies and Danny declines into old age the spotlight shifts not to their sons, and certainly not except briefly to their daughters, but to their grandchildren, cousins Clare Margaret and Darcy, both surrogates for Franklin herself. Clare Margaret the idealised bushwoman Franklin might have been had her father remained in the mountains; and Darcy, whose ineffective cow cocky father and domineering disappointed mother enable Franklin to express her unhappiness with her own situation both growing up and now, at her mother’s beck and call.

The Brent of Bin Bin novels are based on Miles’ mother’s family who had extensive holdings in and around Talbingo on the opposite, western slopes of the Australian Alps. The Franklin family appear in these novels as the Milfords, and Agnes ‘Ignez’ Milford is effectively Miles herself. As far as I can see though, the Milfords and the Delacys, both fictional, both based on the Franklins, have completely separate stories (I expected bits of Up the Country and Ten Creeks Run to cross over into All That Swagger but it doesn’t happen).

Although squatting was by the 1840s technically illegal, the NSW government took no action other than to charge an annual fee and to mandate that small parcels of land must be released to settlers. Danny aspires to virgin land in the Alps –

He could never ascend from his gorges to the higher land of Quebarra or Glenties without exalted emotion. He would gaze towards the Australian Alps and collaterals, extending for eighty or a hundred miles around the translucent horizon, and feel as a poet drinking from the fountain of inspiration. There lay a land to be wrought to the heart’s desire. With this attitude of the visionary was interwoven the need for energetic action. In the rare moments when he sat with Johanna before retiring he talked of going up the Murrumbidgee with his surplus stock and settling in a valley the blacks called Burrabinga.

Miles Franklin has her shortcomings and this novel is just a straight recounting of one family’s beginnings, generating little narrative tension. But Danny and his mates, fellow struggling squatter Sandy Urquhart and publican Hennessy, his sons Robert, William and Harry are all well realised, as are Johanna and her older daughter Della. There are many supporting characters, so many that following marriage prospects and side stories – for instance that of Bella Rafferty who rises from a hovel to become first a servant then wife of a squatter – is hard work. Later generations, around Margaret Clare, are rushed; Miles’ feminist concerns are snuck back in by roundabout routes, but they’re there; the renditions of Danny’s philosophical musings in Irish brogue are bearable, Johanna’s scoldings are often amusing; and above all the descriptions of country and horsemanship are outstanding.

I won’t give you the ins and outs of the story, the opening up of Burrabinga; Danny lost for months, losing a leg on a journey out into the plains; Burrabinga abandoned, reclaimed; the establishment of a great breed of horses; Danny’s banishment from the marital bed; (son) Robert’s adventures in manhood etc, etc right up to a pioneering England-Australia flight by a fourth generation Delacy in the 1930s. But allow me one more excursion.

We are all, rightly, becoming concerned with how Australian literature takes into account Indigenous points of view. Franklin in her writing is sympathetic to the plight of ‘blacks’ but appears to subscribe to the then widely (and conveniently) accepted dying out thesis. In the middle of the book she writes of the second generation marrying, starting families, “All were behaving in a way becoming to an empty continent where population was in demand.”

I get the impression there was a general acknowledgement of Aboriginal rights in ‘liberal’ circles at this time of writing. As a case in point, Eleanor Dark’s A Timeless Land was published just five years later.  Franklin ascribes to Danny a viewpoint acknowledging prior and ongoing occupation of ‘his’ land. In the early days local Ngarigo people came each year to Bewuck to fish for cod and Danny would pay them a bullock to slaughter for their land, though it is clear the people soon stop coming. She also mentions that Danny did not approve of nor take part in any shootings – which we are learning were far more commonplace than previously accepted. Danny also ‘adopts’ two Aboriginal children who fill a place somewhere between retainers and friends for the rest of their lives.

My verdict: still well worth reading.

 

Miles Franklin, All That Swagger, Sydney, 1936. Published as a serial in The Bulletin after winning that year’s Prior Prize, then as a book, also in 1936, by Angus & Robertson (see my post ‘Prior Prize Winners, All That Swagger’). My edition Sirius Books, 1986.

For all Miles Franklin reviews and other posts on her see my Miles Franklin page.


*I had difficulties with the geography, but I think the first Delacy homestead Beewuk was on the Murrumbidgee south west of (present day) Canberra. Late in the novel Beewuk is resumed by the Federal Government as part of the Australian Capital Territory.

Burrabinga, the property in the Alps, is presumably Brindabella, where Franklin spent her first 8 years, but as far as I can tell it is not upstream on the Murrumbidgee, but on a tributary. (Map The Murrumbidgee is a faint white line running south to north through the centre of the map). Sue/Whispering Gums, can you add any more?