Border Districts, Gerald Murnane

Murnane Border Districts

Border Districts (2017) is a meditation on remembering by an imaginary author clearly representing Murnane himself who has moved from the capital city where he grew up to a little town which he has long imagined, out on the western plains of the state in which he has always lived, so that one of the meanings of ‘border districts’ is this area of his home state which borders an adjacent state.

It is possible that Murnane intends at least partly an homage to Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Times Lost (1871-1922) which he mentions and which I haven’t read. He repeatedly brings up as memories not things he has seen but memories of the images retained from seeing these things and further, memories of images, scenes, transactions he in his childhood and youth imagined.

This work is a fiction, but a fiction which the fictional protagonist insists is factual, an accurate account of his real memories of both real and imagined landscapes and events. I am reminded that in the only other of his works that I have read, Landscape with Landscape (review), Murnane describes his personal ‘landscape’ as “the space between myself and the nearest woman or man who seemed real to me”. Here, 30 years later, ‘real’ has almost disappeared, leaving only a landscape of retained images of past realities and past imaginings, both equally valid, imperfectly recalled.

For a geography minded reader like me the book is interesting not least for its complete absence of place names. So, the fictional author grew up in the outer suburbs of the capital city (Melbourne) of a state in the southern part of the country, lived as a child for a while in a provincial city (Bendigo), and now lives in a little country town out on the plains of the Western District, which he moved to because he had imagined it.

(Whenever I recall, here in this quiet district near the border, my mostly aimless activity during my fifty and more years in the capital city, I begin to envy the sort of man who might have been paid a modest wage during most of his adult life in return for feeding and watering and grooming and exercising a half-dozen thoroughbred horses in a certain few sheds and paddocks behind a plantation of cypresses on the far side of an assortment of outbuildings in the vicinity of an immense garden surrounding a sprawling homestead out of sight of the nearest road, which would have appeared as one of the faintly coloured least of roads if ever I had seen it on some or another map of some or another of the mostly level grassy landscapes that seem often to lie in some or another far western district of my mind.)

He mentions a number of times a “place-name I have never been able to find in any gazeteer of the British Isles” a place name which he notices on his rare long journeys across the largely treeless plain to the capital city, and which I think is a name I too have seen and indeed look out for along the Melbourne-Adelaide highway, Ercildoun, a ‘Mt’ (prominent hill) north of Trawalla, and with an ‘e’ one of the large (tens of thousands of acres) grazing properties into which Victoria was first divided, and also, though he does not say, a fine old bank building in Footscray. “I learned from my reading that the place name is a much earlier version of the present-day name of a small town in the border district of Scotland”.

If Border Districts has a theme it is stained glass, or to be more accurate, the fictional author’s memory of the quality of light filtered through stained glass, the description of which he constantly refines. The book begins with the fictional author visiting a small church in the town in which he now lives, belonging “to one of the Protestant denominations I pitied as a schoolboy for the drabness of their services”, and which have windows with stained glass representations of leaves and stems and petals.

He remembers (Catholic) churches he attended as a boy and as a trainee priest and their representations in stained glass of Jesus, of Mary, and of the ‘Sacrament’. And an older house in the capital city in which he sometimes stays has stained glass in some of the windows which he photographs to study more closely at home.

This older house which I mentioned in the previous paragraph (which is a phrase Murnane, or his fictional author, use a lot) is the family home of a friend from his schooldays where the friend grew up, after his mother’s death, in the care of his father and his father’s maiden cousin whom he, the friend, calls Aunt. And the fictional author imagines for the Aunt a life in which she marries the man who wrote to her before his death at Gallipoli, a life in which the man comes home home from the War and lives the life mentioned in an earlier paragraph, as a groom on one of the great Western District estates, and they late in life have a daughter and that daughter is of an age with the fictional author and they become friends.

There is much more: coloured glass marbles; a kaliedoscope which works by rotating a marble at the end of a short tube; school Readers (which Victorians of a certain age will remember) which both he and the Aunt’s imaginary daughter read right through at the beginning of the school year and then must suffer through the remainder of the year readings out loud by their less progressed classmates; race meetings followed mostly on the radio and the owners who have the old estates in Western Victoria and their racing colours; an interview on the radio with a women author who catches his attention when she states that she has imagined a house which is situated in that part of the adjacent state nearest the home of the fictional author, and that she will locate and buy this house, which she is certain exists, and turn it into a retreat for authors of fiction, but not for poets or biographers. The fictional author writes to this woman author but she does not reply.

Murnane’s concerns are the border between mind and brain, the border between object and perception, the border which separates the past and our memory of the past. But ‘border’ also denotes a place away from the centre, a place on the outer –

As a young man, I was often driven to search … not only for writers but for painters sculptors and composers of music who lived in isolation from their kind, far from the putative centres of culture. Even in my youth, I seem to have been seeking evidence that the mind is a place best viewed from the borderlands.

Border Districts is one of those works, and probably one of those few great works, where the writing is more important than the subject matter. Where we are carried along, bemused, in a great writer’s train of thought.

 

Gerald Murnane, Border Districts, Giramondo, Melbourne, 2017

see also:
Lisa at ANZLL’s review of Border Districts (here)
Lisa’s other Murnane reviews (here)
My review of Murnane’s Landscape with Landscape (here)

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Journal: 007, Wrong Turns

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My old job, a couple of years ago: Where’d the road go?

In January 2011 Anthony Bradanovich, 35, in a triple road train, missed the turnoff to Jundee gold mine outside (very) remote Wiluna, 540 km north of Kalgoorlie and continued on out into the desert, realised after maybe an hour that he had made a mistake and became bogged in the sand attempting to turn around. Not having much water in his cab or any means of communication he began walking back to Wiluna. He was found the next day, dead of heat stroke, 30 km from his truck.

On my first trip in this truck I went to do a pickup from Yandi, an iron ore mine in the Pilbara (the desert region 1,200 to 2,000 km north of Perth), missed the turnoff from the access road to the main gate and kept driving as the road deteriorated into a dirt track. Until I found somewhere safe to turn around my, thankfully empty, triple road train, my next stop looked like being Roy Hill, once a cattle station now Gina’s iron ore mine, 100 km away, cross country.

The wrong turns I have made in trucks are legion. Each time I have to follow directions to somewhere I don’t know, or make my way in the dark to somewhere I have only been in the day, my heart is in my mouth. Towing more than one trailer makes it worse, as each trailer makes both reversing and turning more difficult. In my old job my biggest fear was getting lost on mine sites, and I’ve rung for a grader more than once to tow me out of an impossible situation, or just for a ute to lead me out, though I’ve never actually turned down into a pit.

In this new job unsigned dirt roads aren’t the problem so much as the number of places where the b-double or road train route is a series of left and right turns – Pt Augusta to Renmark (for Sydney) or Broken Hill (for Brisbane), and Bourke to Goondiwindi are examples. But my big problem is negotiating my way around cities. This trip I had deliveries in Adelaide, Bendigo, Melbourne and Sydney. Adelaide and Sydney were ok, the deliveries were only short distances from the main BP truckstops. ‘Bendigo’ turned out to be Fosterville mine, 20 km and a very convoluted route out of town.

I phoned no.3 brother (counting myself as no.1) who has a little farm nearby, from South Australia initially, drove across from Dimboola on the Adel-Melb highway to Marong near Bendigo on bitumen roads so rough I was restricted to 80 kph, didn’t actually miss a turn in St Arnaud but thought I had. I parked for the night at Marong and he took me home for tea and a shower and my sister in law printed out the directions which, next morning I followed successfully (with lots of stops to check), through bush and outer suburbs. Though when I finally got to what proved to be the mine turnoff there was of course no actual sign. Unloaded and another couple of phone calls to #3 I managed to follow (I think!) the b-double route back through Bendigo and on to Melbourne: Dandenong, Carrum Downs and Croydon, suburbs in the outer reaches of the far side of town, involving lots of narrow streets and a peak hour trip back across the city to the freeway north.

Tomorrow (as I write) I have to pick up my trailers which are being loaded nearby in Eastern Creek and top up in Villawood (both in Sydney, if I haven’t made myself clear). How I will get to Villawood or from there back out onto the highway home I had better start researching. (The Horsley Drive goes most of the way but the middle part is not a b-double route).

You might say plug it into Google maps. But I won’t. I won’t switch on GPS, Google already know far too much about me, all my search history for ten years or more, and now I have an Android phone they are no doubt reading and storing my emails – and if you have any doubt about that, mention a product name in an email and see how quickly ‘relevant’ ads appear. Also, I find Maps gives a very poor overview of where you are, and in highlighting your route make it difficult to make out major and minor roads you are crossing. I’m firmly in the hard copy map camp.

The other ‘wrong turns’ I have taken, and buying trucks springs to lots of people’s minds, and leaving Milly to mine, I will leave to another day.

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Another back of a woman’s head book cover. Obviously someone thinks it sells books. As you might see below, I’ve listened to a lot of books in the time it took me to drive from Brisbane to Perth and back to Sydney. Lots of crime, Numero Zero, another of Eco’s well written conspiracy stories, a ‘Regency’ (actually William IV) romance, and a couple of “women’s issues” – though the Salyers was more YA teenage angst. I thought The Book Club, which deals with woman in their 40s and 50s, might qualify for GTL’s Fat Fiction as one of the women comes to terms with her ‘matronly’ size.

I should really, and might if I find a paper copy, review Alex Miller’s Lovesong. I had Miller whom I don’t think I’ve read before pigeonholed as outback lit. so the theme of this one was unexpected. It contained a bit of Miller himself – I see he has moved on to fictionalised memoir in The Passage of Love (2017) – as a retired author listens to and rewrites the story of a childless Tunisan woman living in Paris. All stories fill in the time, but they have to reflect the author’s experience for me to find them meaningful, and though a woman reader might say ‘I agree with how that woman feels about being childless’, it didn’t do it for me.

Recent audiobooks

MJ Salyers (F, USA), Appalachian Daughter (2014)
Alex Kava (F, USA), Black Friday (2009)
Mons Kallentoft (M, Swe), Midwinter Sacrifice (2007, Eng. 2011)
Umberto Eco (M, Ital), Numero Zero (2015)
Julia London (F, Eng), The Ruthless Charmer (2000)
Faye Kellerman (F, USA), Blindman’s Bluff (2009)
Peter Grainger (M, Eng), An Accidental Death (2013)
Ruth Rendell (F, Eng), The Veiled One (1988)
Mary Alice Monroe (F, USA), The Book Club (1999)
Alex Miller (M, Aust/Vic), Lovesong (2009)

Currently reading

Gerald Murnane, Border Districts
Miles Franklin, All That Swagger (Actually, I’m carrying it around with me in the vain hope of stopping long enough to get time to make a start on it.)

Elizabeth Jolley, Tony Hughes-d’Aeth

ANZLitLovers Elizabeth Jolley Week June 4-11 2018

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Wikipedia: date, photographer not stated

Elizabeth Jolley (1923-2007) gets a chapter in Hughes-d’Aeth’s account of Western Australian Wheatbelt writers, Like Nothing on this Earth (2017) mostly on the strength of her most famous novel, The Well (1986). I wrote an essay on The Well for my degree, maybe 12 years ago, but it has been lost in moving house and at least two computer upgrades. Disappointing. I like to reuse my material and I had spent a season carting grain in the area where the book is set just a few years earlier.

Jolley, who had grown up in “the Black Country of the English Midlands”, moved to Western Australia with her husband and three small children in 1959. Hughes-d’Aeth says that although she had been working on stories and novels all her adult life, her formal career as a writer dates from the late 1960s – her mid 40s – when she began to have stories published in Westerly and Quadrant. Her first novel came out in 1980, her second, The Newspaper of Claremont Street – which draws on the author’s own life in Claremont and her search for a patch of land in the country to call her own – in 1981. The Well, 5 years later, was her seventh.

The Jolleys purchased their 5 acre hobby farm in 1970, at Wooroloo, 60 kms out of Perth in the Darling ranges. Hilly and well treed country in the main, on the Great Eastern Highway out of town, and still 50 km short of Wheatbelt country. Her account of the purchase and her feelings for the land are in Diary of a Weekend Farmer (1993).

Jolley first became acquainted with the Wheatbelt in the 1970s when she was roped into supporting an initiative for the Fremantle Arts Centre where she was giving classes in creative writing, which involved her in sending out books and supporting material to discussion groups in the country then in meeting with the groups as a travelling tutor. Jolley was obviously fascinated by her long, lonely drives

All the miles of wheat in all directions, folded and mended in places, are pulled together as if seamed, by little dark lines of trees, as if they are embroidered with rich green wool or silk on a golden background. In the design of the embroidery are some silent houses and sheds. Narrow places, fenced off and watered sparingly, produce a little more of the dark green effect. At the intervals, there are unsupervised windmills, turning and clicking with a kind of solemn and honest obedience. [Jolley, A Small Fragment of the Earth]

Jolley referenced her little farm in her first collection of (linked) short stories, Five Acre Virgin (1976). The first story to have a recognisable Wheatbelt setting was “The Long Distance Lecture” which appeared in 1979 in her second collection.

The road is well made and the wheat is standing in that golden stillness just before the harvest

contrasts with

… the township at dusk seemed to be a desolate scattered poverty; a shabbiness of blistered little houses, stacks of poles and empty drums gathered near a closed petrol station, and a wheat silo alongside a deserted overgrown railway line.

The paddocks and the townships it seems standing respectively for life and death. Jolley always seemed to see the Wheatbelt in gothic terms, beauty underlain by isolation and death, and overtly models this story on Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” (1907) in which a man travelling in arctic wilderness waits too long to stop and build the fire which might save his life.

She expanded on the literary lecturer in the Wheatbelt theme in the novel Foxybaby (1985) but it is in The Well that she brings the Wheatbelt to life.

Hester Harper has grown old on her father’s wheat sheep farm outside an unnamed town which is probably based on Brookton on the edge of the Wheatbelt closest to Perth. The Harper property is one of the larger farms in the district and Hester has proved a competent manager. But when she takes on a young woman, Katherine, as a servant/companion and her father dies, she abandons her roles as farm manger and pillar of local society in her infatuation for Katherine, gives up her homestead to the Bordens and their brood of sons, and takes up a little cottage on the edge of the property.

Coming home late from a dance, Kathy driving, they hit a shape in the dark, a man, a man who has broken into the cottage and stolen it later turns out Hester’s wad of cash. Hester dumps his body in the disused well they use for rubbish and from there it gets very gothic indeed.

For Jolley the endless fields of wheat are both isolating and lawless, providing a space, as in many of her works, in which women may operate free of men, free of authority. Veronic Brady, nun, writer, and ABC Commissioner points out “the tension in [Jolley’s] characters between the wish to exclude masculine agency from their lives, on the one hand, and a need, on the other, to find something of themselves in this masculine agency.” [Brady, Elizabeth Jolley, New Critical Essays]

Let me finish with a quote from Jolley, who despite drawing so heavily on her own experience insists, like Miles Franklin after My Brilliant Career, and countless others, that her work is fiction:

My fiction is not autobiographical but, like all fiction, it springs from moments of truth and awareness, from observation and experience. I try to develop the moment of truth with the magic of the imagination. I try to be loyal to this moment of truth and to the landscape of my own region or the specific region in which the novel or story is set. I have always felt that the best fiction is regional. [Jolley, Learning to Dance]

I know not everyone agrees with me, but “loyal to this moment of truth and to the landscape” (and good writing!) is what I most look for in a novel and it is what Jolley delivers in spades.

 

Tony Hughes-d’Aeth, Like Nothing on this Earth, UWA Press, Perth, 2017

see also:
Hughes-d’Aeth on the Wheatbelt (here)
Hughes-d’Aeth on Jack Davis (here)
my review of The Newspaper of Claremont Street (here)
ANZLitLovers Elizabeth Jolley page (here)

 

The Turning, Tim Winton

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Tim Winton (1960 – ) is a presence in Western Australia, Fremantle’s public intellectual, replacing Ben Elton. We have fairly low standards for public intellectuals over here. The public intellectual of the other end of town is a sharemarket miner, one of whose floats came good, and not just for those in at the beginning.

The boyishly personable Winton is not my favourite author but I feel constrained to keep up with what he is writing, a task made easier by much of his output being on audiobooks and by a lightness of style. His subject matter, other than in Cloudstreet (1991), is almost invariably adolescent boys in seaside towns in WA’s south west, ie. himself. Cloudstreet, as I remember it (not fondly!) is an evocation of suburban Perth in the 1960s, an excuse to bring up again the Rivervale mass murderer, Eric Cooke, himself just an extreme example of the Rivervale men I knew, first or second-hand, but for Winton a plot device, a base to touch. Rivervale, my home, slowly gentrifying now due to its closeness to the city, but for many years row upon row of fibro and galvanised iron State Housing houses on desolate sandy quarter acre blocks, which I have always imagined as the setting for Cloudstreet though apparently it is not.

The Turning (2004) is a novel in fragments. Wikipedia uses the expression “This multi award-winning collection of short stories” but I don’t agree. My reading is that this is one man’s story over time, focusing on his adolescence in ‘Angelus’ (Albany, Winton’s boyhood home town and a substantial regional port city in WA’s south) through a series of interconnected vignettes. Which of course implies that the  stories in which the man/boy – Vic Lang – doesn’t appear, still serve to illustrate aspects of Vic’s story, of his, and Winton’s, generation.

So, the opening story, Big World, is of two boys from Vic’s high school class who head off after graduation, heading north in their Kombi, picking up a girl along the way, growing apart. An essay on boyhood friendship and that Australian staple, mateship.

Right now, standing with Biggie on the salt lake at sunset, each of us still in our southern-boy uniform of boots, jeans and flannel shirt, I don’t care what happens beyond this moment. In the hot northern dusk, the world suddenly gets big around us, so big we just give in and watch.

I said above that Angelus, the setting for many of the stories, is Albany, a port city on the south coast with a history of whaling. This is clearly the case, despite many reviews referring to it as a small fishing town, though I do sometimes get the impression Winton has included aspects of smaller towns on the west coast, Augusta for instance. White Point where Vic’s family camp on holidays is a real place, a remote beach south of Augusta. In passing, Augusta is the setting for much of Stedman’s The Light Between the Oceans and Albany, ‘King George Town’, is both Kim Scott’s boyhood hometown and the setting for That Deadman Dance.

And speaking of Kim Scott, the defect in this book, and in Winton’s work generally is the way he almost completely ignores the substantial Noongar presence in the south west. The “Aboriginal kids from St Joe’s”, however favourably portrayed, who come up in a couple of these stories, are at best tokens. I can’t imagine Winton the environmental warrior is racist, or even ignorant, so can only imagine he has taken the conscious decision that Indigenous stories are not his to tell -which I would applaud – but that is no excuse for implying that Whites and Noongars do not interact.

Over the course of the stories we look at Vic’s relationships with girls, with his wife and with his father. We see Angelus’ underbelly of drugs, crime and corruption, Vic’s policeman father eventually disappearing, a cleanskin forced out and into hiding, discovered years later in a tiny remote community of old men in the Goldfields north of Kalgoorlie. We see also, over a number of stories, the Leapers, Frank a football star, Max an abusive husband, who come together after years of estrangement in a Winton-esque high moment of big wave surfing and sharks.

They bellied down the long, smooth face and beneath them the reef flickered all motley and dappled, weaves of current and colour and darting things that were buried with Max and him as a thundering cloud of whitewater overtook them. The blasts of water ripped through Leaper’s hair and pounded in his ears. The reef was all over him but he held fast to his brother, hugging him to the board, hanging on with all the strength left in his fingers, for as long as he could, and for longer than he should have.

I like The Turning. I think Winton has had a shot at writing something a bit different and it has largely worked. The movie too had good reviews and I must make an effort to see it.

 

Tim Winton, The Turning, Picador, Sydney, 2004 (interestingly, the cover of the copy I have – which was given to me by my sister in law, M to review two or three years ago – has a different, blacker cloud formation in the background, and others have a beach campfire instead of a car). Audio version, Bolinda Audio, read by Humphrey Bower and Caroline Lee

Journal: 006, A Milk Run

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Holden one tonner, not mine, but close

Milk and I have had an odd relationship. Memories of a seven year old. Mum breastfeeding my youngest brother in a neighbour’s kitchen. Running up the hill from our little row of housing commission weatherboards in Hassett St, Leongatha with a billy for a quart of milk from the local dairy – not the milk factory, which stood on a hill in the distance wafting its sour milk smell over the town. Pushing nervously between Grandma’s placid cows waiting their turn while she handmilked in the little post and thatch shed in the corner of the yard. Granddad was already up at the machinery shed and the path from the house took a short cut through the ‘dairy’.

Walking home from Colac High and stopping for a spearmint thickshake. Cornflakes or weetbix and hot milk for breakfast all my young life, until I became a truck driver.

Banished to work on a dairy farm for a friend of a friend of Dad’s during the summer break after my first year at uni, because he couldn’t stand to have me at home – pregnant girlfriend, routinely drunk in college, failed Engineering. You get the picture. Ninety acres of lush, hilly country down Warrnambool way. Farmers, a brother and sister in their sixties in a mud brick house, the interior walls papered with pictures from the Womens Weekly, the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, the Wedding, the Coronation. Up every morning to walk the cows up the hill from the creek as the sun rose out of the mist. Milk, clean up, breakfast. Work on handyman stuff, or grubbing thistles during the day. Milk again in the evening. Dinner. Sleep. Bathing was for Saturdays if I didn’t take a couple of hours off to go for a swim.

Hitchhike back to Colac for Saturday arvo/Sunday morning at home. Number 2 brother, I’m the oldest, wouldn’t let me in the sleepout until I’d showered. Fleas! Or into Warrnambool to stay with friends from an earlier school, Hawkesdale, in their flat over the bakery. Saturday night dances at the surf club. Beer. And sometimes even, girls!

You know the next bit. The Moratorium, drop out of uni, drive trucks. No milk involved. A young marriage which I may not have previously mentioned. Its inevitable failure due to me being ‘away’.

I met Ludmilla Agnes, Milly, now ex Mrs Legend, and the six month old Psyche at the end of 1977, fell in love, gave up trucking, lost a sales job, drove, rolled a truck in the Blue Mountains, Milly by now six months pregnant. Gave up trucking again and we bought a new one tonne Holden to do a milk run for a dairy in Manning, a Perth suburb ‘south of the river’. That is south of the Swan, but on the Canning River which feeds into the Swan downstream of the city.

Remember home delivered milk? In glass bottles? The runs I had in Manning with its three bedroom red brick boxes and nearby Booragoon, all McMansions thirty years before the term was invented, took me about 4 hours, from 11pm or midnight, every milk box home to a redback spider and wolf spiders’ webs spanning the gaps between trees, the big spider always in the centre, head high, to run into in the dark. If one of Milly’s sisters was living with us, Milly might come out and we would do the run together, barefoot in the night, armloads of bottles, returning to the ute with notes and money to go into the bucket between us for later reconciliation.

Lou due, Mum and Dad come over from Melbourne. March is a month for birthdays and for mine and Mum’s they shout us to the Oyster Beds in East Fremantle, then very posh. Lou was recalcitrant and after a week was to be induced, at 9.00 am in King Edwards, the main women’s hospital.

I did the run as usual and retired for a couple of hours kip, only to be woken by Mum saying he’s born and there’s a problem. Into the hospital, mother and son well. He decided not to wait for the induction after all and was born on the trolley as Milly was being wheeled into the birthing room. So I missed that one. The next one, Gee, was a caesarean, which I saw up close and got to be first to hold her, mother being knocked out.

So. Into the hospital, mother and son well. He had a problem which needed surgery over the next 12 years but which is well behind him now. Arrived in time to eat Milly’s substantial breakfast. Lou was immediately transferred to Princess Margaret’s, the children’s hospital, and Milly was given one of the rooms reserved for mothers down from the bush. I think they were there a week. Milly got told off for being in her night gown, her status as a new mother entirely ignored. I got told off for wandering in in shorts and singlet, no shoes. I would bring in the milk bucket and we would sit on her bed, counting and writing up the night’s earnings.

A couple of years later, on my thirtieth birthday, I got a mild hepatitis, and that was the end of milk for me. The ute and I soldiered on as I developed a commercial traveller’s run in truck spares around the southern half of the state, returned to school, became an accountant.

Oh yes, ‘A Milk Run’. Multiple deliveries and pickups. I’m in Brisbane today by way of deliveries in Adelaide, Cobar and Toowoomba. Pick ups in Broken Hill and Cobar didn’t eventuate but the journal was already half written in my head.

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Eve by Iris Johansen is your standard US crime thriller with invincible CIA and FBI agents but is nevertheless interesting. There are four protagonists, Eve who reconstructs faces over skulls, her life partner Joe an FBI  agent, John Gallo, a former US Ranger and the father of Bonnie her abducted, long dead child, and Catherine, a CIA agent, though in this story they all act independently of their day jobs in the hunt for Bonnie’s killer.

Nearly all the action is carried forward by dialogue, including sometimes the words and thoughts of their quarry, a serial killer who preys on children, which takes some endurance (for the reader/listener).

Secondly, this is one of many, many novels where US agencies are portrayed as out of control and corrupt. And yet this seems to have no effect on real world perceptions of these agencies (except for lefties like me). Strange.

Thirdly, and most interestingly, the ‘heroic’ actions of the men are generally portrayed as rage or jealousy-induced, testosterone driven while most of the thought and planning comes from the women.

In my playlist Eve was followed by A Passage to India, wonderfully well written, though a little stereotypical in its characterisations and again, the author’s intent is to satirise ‘strong’ men.

I’d planned a full review of Tim Winton’s The Turning before this but work intervened. Hopefully I will complete it today, but more likely next week.

 

Recent audiobooks

Ian McEwan (M, Eng), Sweet Tooth (2012)
Tim Winton (M, WA/Aust), The Turning (2004)
Sue Grafton (F, USA), W is for Wasted (2013)
Iris Johansen (F, USA), Eve (2011)
EM Forster (M, Eng), A Passage to India (1924)

Currently reading

Gerald Murnane, Border Districts
Cixin Liu, The Dark Forest, 2008 Finished! All 550pp.

All My Love, Anne Brooksbank

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The best image I could find

As if I didn’t have enough books in my own TBR – mere hundreds – I borrowed this one, a gift from my Henry Lawson fan brother and his young family a quarter of a century ago, such a long time ago, such a short time, mid-life crisis time for me and my young family, from my mum when I was there recently.

The author, Anne Brooksbank (1943- ) wife of the late Bob Ellis, commentator and script writer whom I still remember vividly with Mungo MacCullum and John Hepworth (and Sam Orr, Michael Luenig, Morris Lurie how could I forget) in the Nation Review (1970-81) “lean and nosey like a ferret”. Sorry, I shouldn’t define a woman by her husband. Brooksbank has a number of novels to her credit, many film and tv scripts, some I think in collaboration with Ellis, and has recently rewritten All My Love as a play which seems to be touring Western Victoria as I write.

All My Love (1991) is the story of the romantic relationship of Australian poet Mary Gilmore (1865-1962) and the iconic Henry Lawson (1867-1922). Gilmore’s ADB entry says ” Her account of an unofficial engagement and Lawson’s wish to marry her at the time of his brief trip to Western Australia (May-September 1890) could be accurate regarding dates, but there is no other corroborative evidence. There was clearly, however, a close relationship between them in 1890-95, but it was broken by his frequent absences from Sydney. Mary’s later comments on his career were always somewhat proprietorial but the extent of her influence on his literary talents and her contribution to his literary education remain unsubstantiated.”

The words ‘fiction’ and ‘novel’ pop up regularly in accounts of All My Love on the net, but nowhere in the periphalia (there must be a word) of the book itself, though right from the first chapter it is clear we are in the territory of historical fiction rather than even ‘imagined biography’ – there are no footnotes or endnotes and the letter young schoolteacher Mary Jean Cameron (Gilmore) gets from her mother is so full of framing information (about Louisa Lawson and Dawn) that it could not possibly be real.

Brooksbank doesn’t say where Mary was, but it was Silverton in outback NSW in 1889. She describes the drive into Broken Hill (also not named) with the coachman shouting Adam Lindsay Gordon ballads to his horses, and then the train rides to Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney as Mary takes the long way home (map) to spend Christmas with her mother who had some years earlier left her husband in southern NSW, and Mary as the eldest to care for her siblings, and “gone off to work as a breezy and often inaccurate journalist for a Sydney paper”.

On her first day in town Mary is introduced to Louisa Lawson, even taller than she is, nearly six feet, is commissioned (ordered) to write an article about miners’ women, and is told by her mother and Henry’s that they are to meet.

In the third chapter Henry goes off to meet that “wretched young woman”. That is, while still in the third person, the viewpoint switches to Henry, and so it alternates for the rest of the book. The meeting is of course awkward (Lawson’s deafness is not mentioned till later). Still, they go for a walk and he shows her the ‘real city’.

Henry, who couldn’t spell, and in fact was in real life defensive about not having had much of an education, would bring his poetry to Mary to correct, and “seemed quite glad to relax into the role of being instructed, and it bothered her that he did. He had clearly been ordered about by his mother for most of his life …” Mary herself had already had a few poems published and began to write more, “in competition”.

Henry on one of their walks takes her to rooms above a Castlereagh St bookshop where he has a few drinks and recites (bellows) Sons of the South and she meets William Lane.

There is some discussion of their differing attitudes to Aborigines. Henry “had been brought up the child of poor selectors who saw the Blacks as a lost and inferior people” whereas Mary had been taught by her father who had known and learnt from the local Wiradjuri. Mary’s early nurse was a Wiradjuri woman but “there was secret approval given from Sydney for the wiping out of the Blacks … I never saw her again.” This would have been in the early 1870s, around Wagga. (“The allusion to massacres by Mary Gilmore here and elsewhere and other oral traditions suggest there were further killings of Wiradjuri from the 1870’s on.” Wiradjuri Heritage Study by Wagga Wagga City Council).

Mary gets a North Shore (Sydney) school for 1890 and the two meet most days, until Louisa, angry with Mary’s mother, attempts to force a separation by sending Henry and his brother Peter off to the WA goldfields. Henry responds by proposing to Mary, but she is not ready. (What is it with Henry and the WA Goldfields? The next time he heads off, in 1906, he rushes into marriage with Bertha and even then doesn’t make it past a camp on the river at East Perth and soon returns home).

Mary takes a room at Louisa’s and Henry is soon back, but not soon enough. Louisa has been intercepting his letters to Mary and she has lost heart and moved away. “In the months that followed, and the year after that, Mary heard of him from time to time. Heard that he was raising a few eyebrows with his drinking …” Years pass. Henry gets sent out west by the Bulletin, “You can have no idea of the horrors of the country out here. Men tramp and beg and live like dogs“(HL). William Lane sails for Paraguay. Louisa prints Henry’s first book [Short Stories in Prose and Verse (1894)] and while he is out delivering it, he and Mary finally bump into each other again.

But. Despite clearing up the heartbreak of the missing letters, he’s a drunk, he’s sleeping with the bookshop owner’s plump young step-daughter (Bertha), and she’s off on the next ship to William Lane’s Cosme in Paraguay.

There, Mary marries the uneducated bushman, Will Gilmore and they have a son. Cosme fails. Sailing home (the long way again) via Patagonia and Liverpool they are invited to stay with the Lawsons,  by then living in London, and are persuaded by Henry, and Bertha’s doctor, to take the mentally unstable Bertha and her two children back to Australia with them, an horrendous journey. Bertha is jealous of Mary and says so loudly. The ship breaks down, and they are joined in Bombay, where it is being repaired, by Henry unable to remain in London without his children. He takes a separate small cabin for himself in which, on the way home, for the first and only time Brooksbank imagines them in bed (based on a Mary Gilmore poem: “I lifted up his head/And laid it on my breast“).

And that’s just about it. A fascinating subject which Brooksbank never really succeeds in bringing to life.

 

Anne Brooksbank, All My Love, Heinemann, Melbourne, 1991

see also:
My review of My Henry Lawson by Bertha Lawson (here)
My review of Louisa by Brian Matthews (here)
Janine, The Resident Judge’s review of A Wife’s Heart: The Untold Story of Bertha and Henry Lawson by Kerrie Davies (here)

False Claims of Colonial Thieves, Green & Kinsella

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John Kinsella is a notable West Australian writer and has been on my to-do list for some time, not that x-Mrs L was aware of this when she chose False Claims for me at our local indie book store, fortuitously across the road from our favourite pub. She also didn’t know or had forgotten that her brother had been briefly Kinsella’s teacher at Geraldton High when he was newly out of Teachers’ College. I would visit him when I was in town, in his share house of young teachers barely out of school themselves, strangers in a country town, clustered for warmth and protection, a scene multiply familiar to me after years of following my itinerant school teacher father around country Victoria. BiL doesn’t claim to have had any influence on Kinsella, though he is given credit by a later student, Kim Scott – a dedicatee in this book – for his taking up writing , for which we are all grateful.

About Charmaine Papertalk Green I know little, well nothing, but gleaned the following. She is a poet and artist born in 1962 at Eradu railway siding on the Greenough River between Mullewa and Geraldton on Amangu country and is a member of the Wajarri and Badimaya cultural groups from the Yamaji Nation of Western Australia. “Her books include Just Like That (Fremantle Arts Centre Press) and Tiptoeing Tracker Tod (Oxford University Press). Charmaine lives in Geraldton, rural Western Australia.” (ABR)

John Kinsella, born in 1963 in Perth, has achieved wider fame as a poet and writer generally and even a (short) wikipedia entry. Elements of his biography come up in this collection of poems, which are a reflection by the two poets on their experiences living in and around Mullewa, Geraldton, Western Australia. Kinsella’s father appears to have been a workshop supervisor on mines throughout WA before coming to “a millionaire’s farm” outside Mullewa as manager.

I know Mullewa well enough both from passing through on my way from Geraldton to the eastern goldfields and from visits as a tourist. It is a small town once an important railway junction and centre for farming, notable for its stone buildings and particularly its Catholic church, Our Lady of Mt Carmel.

Catholic church Mullewa
Our Lady of Mt Carmel, Mullewa

The church and its architect/builder Monsignor John Hawes (1876-1956) come up surprisingly frequently in the poems.

Hawes – God’s intruder:

Galloping in, bible and cross in hand/Hawes, God’s intruder/Altar stone of the earth/ Intruding on our barna/In the name of Catholicism/Bow your head and conform/For this is now the whiteworld. (CPG)

That priest, England in his veins,/converted the midwest diocesan vision/of souls gathered under one-roofs./A Spanish breeze drawn/under the arches. Mt Carmel. (JK)

It also helps in understanding the poems to know – from the Our Lady of Mt Carmel website above – that the Yamaji people didn’t attend the church but instead had services at a site outside town

Mass Rock is the intruder in our space
Mass Rock is not my significant site
My people’s campsite not Hawes’ space (CPG)

And it seems Papertalk Green shares my bemusement with the Catholic practice of praying to stone gods: A space for those to pray their sins away/Under the watchful eyes of icons and statues/Like civilised colonial pagans with gargoyle guards.

The back cover blurb describes the poems, which alternate irregularly between the two poets, as “call and response” but that is not completely accurate as they are more “variations on a theme”. Their main shared concern is the impact of mining on country

Grandmothers:

My grandmother was a mining town child -/Kookynie where her father was foreman/of the South Champion Mine. My father/worked for decades in Karratha and Kal -/so it’s not as if I come to the mines/without foreknowledge. But I can only/see them as the harrowing of Hell,/the opening of the land to release/what shouldn’t be released,/a desecration of spirit and place. (JK)

I am glad the only mining/She would have known was/From the rich ochre on her/Body and in her hair during/Ceremony time out on country. (CPG)

Papertalk Green writes also of things that are specific to her – the claims of pale skinned Indigenous people not being taken seriously: His skin is fair – no argument there/Lived as a Yamaji all his life/As a strong Wajarri man (CPG, writing about her father, I think), and words of warning to the Identity Police; drugs in her community, dealers, ‘needle teachers’. While Kinsella writes more generally about Western Australia – Mrs Dance cutting down the first tree; travelling with his parents; the Great Western Woodlands (the world’s largest remaining temperate forest); the tragedy of cutting down salmon gums which may predate white settlement.

Papertalk Green writes a jokey little piece about ‘yarning’ (telling stories) and Kinsella tops it, talking over her: How can I but take up the call,/Charmaine, and yarn right back at you -. Papertalk Green offers a space for reconciliation

Come on I dare you
Grab my hand
We can discard our
Protective robes of
Biases, superiority, stereotypes
Oh yes don’t look surprised
We both own those robes
You wear yours when you
Call me a black multhu, a gin, a black bastard
I wear mine when I call you a
White invading convict land grabbing multhu
Oh yeah we both got those robes
But that space over there
Will allow us to take off the robes
And stitch a new robe
To wear and heal together
On this land we both call home

There’s lots more. This is a lovely book, not just a new look at WA’s midwest, but a new attempt to define what it is to be Australian. I know I say I don’t like poetry but the truth is I mostly can’t be bothered concentrating long enough to read it, and this time I’m glad I did.

 

Charmaine Papertalk Green & John Kinsella, False Claims of Colonial Thieves, Magabala, Broome, 2018. Cover image: We Remember – Our Barna! by Charmaine Papertalk Green and Mark Smith. “This print tells the story of Geraldton’s foundation around colonialsim and its impact on the First Peoples – the Wilunyu of the Yamaji Nation.” 2016