Back to Bool Bool, Miles Franklin

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Back to Bool Bool (1931) is the sixth and final novel Miles Franklin wrote as Brent of Bin Bin, though it was the third of the three initially published by Blackwoods (see here). Now I’ve read them all, it’s difficult to understand Blackwood’s decision, as Back to Bool Bool makes frequent references to the stories that precede it, particularly Cockatoos, but also to Gentlemen of Gyang Gyang. Prelude to Waking, as I’ve already discussed, although nominally a Brent of Bin Bin book, forms no part of the family saga.

The ‘back to’ of the title (we don’t have any noun for back to’s other than back to, do we?) references the celebrations surrounding the centenary of white settlement in the township of ‘Bool Bool’ – the name Franklin uses for Talbingo, her birthplace in the southern NSW ‘high country’ -based loosely, according to Roe, on the (nearby) Tumut centenary celebrations in 1924.

The ‘back to’ is used as a device to reunite characters/descendants from previous books in the series. It takes place in the year following Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang and 20-25 years after Cockatoos. Coolooluck station at Bool Bool is the home of Erik Labosseer, brother of Sylvester at Gyang Gyang Plains. Labosseer is the name Franklin uses for the Lampes, her mother’s family. (Sylvester’s principal property is on the NSW western plains, as was Franklin’s uncle Gus Lampe’s, and in researching this review I read in Roe that Franklin visited him there, at Peak Hill near Dubbo, in 1905).

I wrote in my review of Cockatoos that “Ignez [Milford] and some of her more serious friends gather out of the reach of bothersome aunts and parents to discuss books and to read excerpts from their own writings.” Ignez is of course Miles, loosely fictionalized. The two most important of her friends are her cousins Dick Mazere and Freda Healey. They are dobbed in to their parents for skipping work, and maybe even behaving immorally, by Dick’s self-righteous older sister Blanche. By the end of Cockatoos all three have escaped overseas to become writers.

Back to Bool Bool begins with two ships returning to Australia. On one, a luxury liner, are, separately, a Major-General who is descended from both the Poole and the Mazere families; Mollye, a famous opera singer; and Judith Laurillard, an actress.

Maj.-Gen. Sir Oswald Mazere-Poole, KCMG, MP, seeking adventure, his wife staying behind in London, was watching the last of his fellow passengers board:

A graceful figure swathed in veils, carrying bouquets … This must be the actress. “Not heavy enough in the brisket for a caterwauler,” was his summing-up, redolent of early environment.

[A woman] of splendid height, with pale-blue eyes and florid skin, who walked with swinging gait, taking all glances auspiciously without affectation … This was the Australian, if he knew anything. Her size and features protruding from beneath the fashionable skull-cap proclaimed one of the Brennans of Bool Bool … inevitably Molly, descendant of Timothy and Maria of The Gap, one of the old pioneering families.

On the other ship, a transport for migrants – “assisted passengers – people pushed off their densely populated native island because no longer necessary to feed either manufactories or battlefields” – are Dick, now a poet, and Freda, a go-getter who has been working in the USA. They become friends on board without realising they are cousins until they meet again in Sydney.

Both the Healeys and the Mazeres have retired from their farms at Oswald’s Ridges to cottages in Sydney, as had Franklin’s parents in real life. Dick’s mother has died and his father has remarried, his new wife content to leave the housekeeping to her unmarried step-daughters Blanche and Philippa, both in their 40s. Franklin is scathing about the house-proud Blanche’s devotion to make-work, taking out, you must feel, some of the frustrations she herself felt about having to live at that time with her mother.

There is also a younger sister, Laleen who, wishing herself to become a writer, looks to Dick as a bulwark against Blanche’s insistence on practicality. Here Freda, who has come over for dinner, gets Laleen to come outside to talk,

“It doesn’t take much persuading for Laleen to leave work to others.” Blanche’s voice followed, infuriating Laleen.

“I’d easily do the work if you’d get out of the way.”

“While I’m the one in the position of responsibility I must see that things go right.” Blanche’s housekeeping was never done under a bushel. Certain of her indispensability, she was everywhere, bustling, and fault-finding if possible.

This quote reminds me that Franklin appears to have added something to her writing, maybe she’d been reading Christina Stead. Anyway, she sets up “walls of speech”, not monologues as Stead does, but long unattributed scraps of conversation, often at cross purposes, which are very effective at conveying the impression of a crowded room.

Everyone I’ve mentioned so far (except the actress), and many more I haven’t, meet at the Mazere’s in the months before the back to. Mollye, who is mostly away in the country on a concert tour, takes an apartment in the city and makes it available to Dick as a quiet place for him to write, away from the annoying Blanche. Sometimes Freda or Laleen meet him there. Blanche follows them suspecting immorality.

There’s lots going on. Mollye is keen on Dick, Dick is keen on Freda, Freda is planning a fling with the Major-General, Laleen is keen on Mollye’s secretary Nat, Nat is keen on all the girls. Dick has taken up Christian Science, which I think Miles was introduced to by Vida Goldstein in Melbourne in 1904, and we are subject to some preaching. Miles, always happy to praise herself in the third person, is prominent in her/Ignez’s absence. Freda says to Dick:

Do you remember when Ignez Milford used to take us to She-Oak Ridge to write in the old cockatoo days of Oswald’s Ridges? I used to love you with all my childish affection.”

“I used to worship Ignez in the same way, I guess.”

“How long did you remember her? You were nearer maturity.”

“Faded in the stress of events. She was a brave, vivid creature.”

“Not coarse enough to battle from an environment so removed from art. My own case has been similar. Let’s hope Laleen escapes.”

Franklin still skirts around sex, but for the first time, with Bernice in the previous book and Freda in this one, we have principal characters with ‘a past’. Bernice gets married off, but in Back to Bool Bool, Freda and the Major General plan an affair which they discuss at some length.

Gradually, all the actors, including for some reason Judith Laurillard, make their way to the high country for the week of celebrations. Dick has an extended stay on Coolooluck about which he has dreamed throughout his exile, and is roped into writing something for the back to; Mollye of course is to sing; Nat whips up local musicians into an orchestra; Peter and Bernice from the previous novel make a cameo appearance.; Laleen is universally acclaimed as the latest Emily Mazere, the beauty who drowned on the eve of her wedding to Bert Poole (way back in Up the Country); Laleen and Nat announce their engagement.

The denouement, when it comes, is signalled early, is sidestepped, we breathe a sigh of relief, and then it crashes in, from another direction altogether, and we are devastated.

 

Miles Franklin, Back to Bool Bool, first pub. Blackwoods, 1931. This edition, Angus & Robertson, 1956

For other Miles Franklin posts and reviews go to:

An overview of the Brent of Bin Bin series (here)
Miles Franklin Central (here)

Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang, Miles Franklin

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Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang (1956) is the fifth Brent of Bin Bin novel chronologically, though it was the sixth and last published. The ‘Gyang Gyang’ of the title refers to the station (grazing property) Gyang Gyang Plains where the action is set – the ‘Gentlemen’ are the workers on the station – which is in turn named for the ubiquitous gang-gang cockatoos.

I read this and the final Brent of Bin Bin novel, Back to Bool Bool, on my kindle while I was away – they’re not formatted (or proof-read) very well and I ended up reading in landscape to make the lines wrap properly. I will review this one direct from kindle but have located via Abe Books good copies of both – I’m a book collector at heart, just masquerading as a reviewer – and should have them in my hands before I review Back to Bool Bool and wrap up the series.

Apart from Prelude to Waking, which I can see now forms no part of the high country families saga either stylistically or by subject matter, the Brent novels were written in the order I have discussed them, in the latter years of the 1920s. Jill Roe writes that GGG, full name Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang: A Tale of the Jumbuck Pads on the Summer Runs, is the novel of Franklin’s return to Australia, “and should be read as such”. In February 1928 Franklin, who had returned from England the previous year to care for her parents in Sydney, “caught the night train for Cooma and beyond”, to spend time with her Lampe (Labosseer in this series) uncles, firstly at ‘Gooandra’ in the Monaro high plains north of Kosciuszko, then for two months on the western slopes of the Great Divide, at Talbingo where she was born. Here she wrote both GGG and the first draft of Back to Bool Bool.

That she was there shows in both her detailed descriptions of the country, the setting for GGG is based on Gooandra, and in the knowledge she displays of the then dominant wool industry.

Gyang Gyang Plains station is maintained by Sylvester Labosseer to provide summer feed for sheep from his ‘home’ property in central NSW. The living conditions are relatively primitive, but summers in the highlands are mild, and since the death of his wife, Labosseer has preferred to spend much of his time there. Peter Poole, his foreman, is a grandson of the legendary Bert Poole (Ten Creeks Run) and apart from a tendency for unexplained ‘walkabouts’ is a true chip off the old block. The villain of the piece is Cedric Spires, a womaniser (of course) who appears to have a hold over Poole and is his rival for the affections of …

Bernice Gaylord, an artist (and a beauty), who had been the lover of another artist in Paris until he left her and broke her heart –

had reached a dead end which she mistook for the end of all things. The doctors spoke of a strained heart and hinted at TB, a diagnosis welcome to Bernice. it camouflaged her secret and explained the suspension of her career to her family and the Australian public interested in her unusual promise, which had suddenly dried up.

This is as close as we get to a Franklin figure in this novel. Roe writes that MF too had returned to Australia with supposed health problems that were really a cover for stress.

Gaylord, who is Labosseer’s god-daughter, has been invited to spend the summer at Gyang Gyang Plains while she recovers her health. Camping out on the side verandah, walking and riding around the property, she not only recovers her health, and develops a healthy interest in Peter Poole, but also recovers her motivation to begin painting again.

This is an excuse for Franklin to get on a hobby horse she has hitherto concealed – naturalism in art:

There were those who maintained … the Australian atmosphere could not be painted, it was too brilliant; the life could not be convincingly told in fiction, it was too monotonous and lacking in that kind of action which the elementary reader calls plot. The need was for painters and novelists, as well as the ungifted, to break out of  the established rut … a fresh contribution must be made to technique.

In short, over summer Gaylord produces a portfolio of portraits and landscapes that ‘revolutionise’ Australian painting.

We could point Franklin towards the late C19th Heidelberg school of Australian Impressionism (who would be brave enough to direct her gaze to more current movements like cubism or surrealism!) and towards those writers roughly contemporaneous with Streeton et al whose work redefined realism in Australian writing – Lawson, Baynton, Rudd, Furphy and, yes, Franklin. But now, a year or so short of 50, she really was a very old fashioned woman.

Franklin proceeds by “possuming”, that is discursively or by story telling, with plenty of description, at which she excels. Here, Gaylord gets inspiration:

She walked out in the dew-drenched tussocks under the gums standing like snow queens in perfumed bridal dress. Never was such colossal yet honeyed loveliness for miles, and miles, and miles, She was out of herself with joyous excitement.

The men on the isolated station are all fascinated at having a beautiful woman in their midst; the publican’s daughters do their best to put forward their own attractions; various rural catastrophes threaten and are averted; as in all the best romances, true love is achieved at the last possible moment.

In 1928 Franklin submitted GGG to the Bulletin‘s novel competition for that year* under the further pseudonym ‘by Australian Born’ and that was the last that was seen of it for nearly 30 years.

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Gang-gang cockatoo, photo JJ Harrison

Miles Franklin, Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1956

For other Miles Franklin posts and reviews go to:

An overview of the Brent of Bin Bin series (here)
Miles Franklin Central (here)


*The joint winners of the 1928 Bulletin prize were A House is Built by M. Barnard Eldershaw and Coonardoo by KS Prichard.

My Henry Lawson, Bertha Lawson

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My Henry Lawson, published in 1943 and never republished as far as I can see, is a memoir of the great short story writer by his wife. I read other works about Lawson during my studies, particularly City Bushman by Christopher Lee and Louisa by Brian Matthews, which I plan to re-read and review in the next few months, but this one makes a nice entry point. Briefly, Lee argues that the mythologising of Australian bush workers was a product of city-based writers, in particular Henry Lawson; while Louisa is an account of the life of one of our great Independent Women, who also happened to be Henry’s mother. Bertha writes of her mother in law:

If there is anything in heredity, Harry’s literary talents undoubtedly came from his mother, who fifty years ago, owned and published the first women’s newspaper in Australia. It was called “the Dawn – a Journal for Australian Women.”

Lawson, then quite young and not yet a published poet, was working elsewhere at the time and “had nothing to do with it, not even as a contributor”. Later in the same chapter Bertha writes:

Louisa was a remarkable character, a very determined woman and she and her poet son could never see eye to eye. Apart they remained friendly; together they were at daggers-drawn. They had many and fierce arguments and eventually Harry left home.

Henry Lawson was born at Grenfell [NSW], in a tent, on June 17, 1867. A “birth in a mining camp … was such a novelty, that every digger visited the home to ask to see the baby and to leave generous presents.” Bertha describes Lawson’s antecedents and upbringing, and it is important in light of Lee’s argument to emphasise just how much time Lawson spent in the bush, both growing up and as a young man.

Lawson spent some time in bush schools, though was often truant or helping his parents with work, and then his deafness, caused by illness, also intervened. Louisa had some poetry published in a local paper and Lawson, aged around 10 or 11, attempted some as well but his father objected to his “vaporisings” and they were thrown in the fire. At 14 he was working full time for his father who was a building contractor in country towns west of the Blue Mountains. His education was only resumed after Louisa left her husband and moved to Granville where Henry, then 16, was able to attend night school 3 nights a week. Within a year he had a poem about a shipwreck then in the papers (The Wreck of the Derry Castle) accepted by Archibald for publication in the Bulletin.

Lawson made a number of attempts to matriculate so he could go on to university, but failed, about which he was always bitter: “I was taught too little? I learnt too much/To use a pedant’s diction” (Lawson, The Uncultured Rhymer to His Cultured Critics). He drifted in and out of employment until at 19 he returned to working for his father, at Mt Victoria. There “he learnt to drink and found that under the influence of liquor he forgot his shyness”. When his father died at the end of 1888, Lawson completed his contracts and returned to Sydney, drifting again, but keeping on writing, and for a while working as a columnist in Brisbane.

Bertha doesn’t say so, but Lawson was becoming well known (see my earlier post Poetry Slam, Lawson v Paterson). In 1892 he borrowed some money from Archibald and took off for Bourke and subsequently Hungerford in far north-west NSW looking for work. His mate Jim Grahame wrote in the Bulletin in 1925 that he and Lawson tramped around the country west of Bourke working as rouseabouts (picking up fleeces, not shearing as was sometimes reported) for six months, before Lawson returned to Sydney by train as a drover with sheep going to the abattoirs at Homebush.

In 1895 Bertha was an 18 yo nurse from Bairnsdale, Vic, in Sydney visiting her mother. A friend introduced her to Lawson who became very persistent in pursuing her and they were soon planning to get married. By this time he had two books of short stories and poetry to his credit and a third, In the Days When the World was Wide, was with the printers. The future was looking rosy. After a couple of hiccups, Bertha’s mother gave her consent and the two were married on April 15, 1896.

In her description of a rowing excursion on Middle Harbour we are given a privileged view into their lives and Lawson’s writing:

Harry took pencil and paper, and while I sat and sewed, or rowed slowly, he wrote verses, chanting them softly to himself, to get the beat and rhythm. This was different from when Harry wrote verse at home, for then he would dictate it to me in that sing-song way of his, and after I had written it down, while he paced to and fro, he would correct it and read it to me.

With money in his pocket, an advance on his book, Lawson was restless and so they sailed for WA where Lawson hoped to become a gold miner, though as it happened they never made it past a camp on the hill near the cemetery in East Perth. When their money was about to run out Bertha engineered a return to Sydney. We get a glimpse of how famous Lawson was becoming:

… in Melbourne, the pressmen came down to interview us; and although we were travelling in the steerage, the captain allowed us to use the saloon, for Harry to entertain the press. It was the grand finale to our tour, and we landed in Sydney with two shillings in the exchequer …

In Sydney Lawson’s drinking mates were a problem, and with an introduction to the Premier, they moved on again, to New Zealand. A job was found for Lawson, as the teacher at an isolated Maori school where Bertha conspired with the locals to make it difficult for Lawson to get to the ‘bright lights’ of Kaikoura 12 miles away on the coast. Here she says, Lawson did some of his best work, all of Joe Wilson and His Mates, a play, and some poetry, including Written Afterwards in which he jokes about the restrictions imposed on him by marriage.

At the beginning of 1898 they returned to Wellington where their son, Jim was born and on to Sydney, where Lawson freelanced for a while till he found work as a clerk with the Government Statistician and gave up the grog. Despite his boss telling him he only had to show up during working hours and he could write what he liked, this lasted just one week!

Another book came out, there was another advance to spend, and another baby, Bertha (b. Feb 1900). Lawson was getting good reviews in Britain, the State Governor offered to pay his passage, and soon the family were on the move again (taking with them of course the ms for My Brilliant Career).

He had become one of the literary lions of London. A dinner had been given to welcome him, at which the leading literary men were guests. The world was at Harry’s feet…

Lawson however made little attempt to take advantage of the opportunities opening up for him. And after two years on the wagon, on arrival in London he started drinking again. Friends had found housing for them, but “with all this appreciation we still had not enough money to buy food”. Mary Gilmour, her husband and child came to stay (after the failure of New Australia). “We were all in deep financial difficulties”. Then Harry got an advance from Blackwoods (publishers) and Bertha “lost no time buying passages for myself and the children for Australia”. Lawson followed soon after.

They met up again in Colombo but by the time they were back in Australia the marriage was very nearly at an end. Bertha stayed in Melbourne for six weeks, while Henry went on to Sydney; they lived together for a while in Manly, but first Henry, then Bertha, was hospitalised for long periods; their furniture was seized for arrears of rent; a third baby died at birth.

Bertha found employment as a travelling saleswoman for Stuart & Co., booksellers while Lawson took lodgings, “it was useless taking up house again as he was quite penniless and the children had to be provided for.”

He had his happy times and I think those periods were usually associated with absolute freedom from responsibility and full expression of his genius. He hated to be tied down.

In this period, immediately before the Great War, Lawson had published a prose volume “The Rising of the Court” and a book of verses “Skyline Riders”. For a while during the War, the government gave him make-work, writing advertising for the Leeton irrigation area.

Bertha goes on to analyse Lawson’s writing, his connections to the working class, where she and he fit into his stories, particularly the Joe Wilson stories, and his links to the Australian ‘Bohemians’. Lawson died in 1922, of cerebral haemorrhage. He was given a State Funeral and according to Bertha, was buried in the grave that had been prepared for Henry Kendall.

This excellent little book ends with a previously unpublished Lawson short story, A Wet Camp.

 

Bertha Lawson, My Henry Lawson, Frank Johnson, Sydney, 1943 (the drawing reproduced on the cover is signed McCormack)

Internee 1/5126, Robert Paterson

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This year’s Anzac day post concerns the imprisonment without trial of my great-great-great uncle in 1916, and begins with an extract from my late father’s A Family History (1997), which had only private circulation. Family and military history is all he wrote so this is probably his one chance at a guest post:

Carl Zoeller (1868-1926) was a German merchant who came to Melbourne in 1885, and settled in Brisbane in 1886. He spent 5 years in New Zealand and New York, and was highly successful in various enterprises, and prominent in the German community in Brisbane. In 1898 he married Minnie Luya, my mother’s great-aunt. Their children were Richard, b 1902, d in infancy, Lisette 1905, Herbert 1908, Mary 1910 and Barbara 1914. In 1907, his father died and Carl renounced his German inheritance, a pottery factory at Grenzhausen in Nassau, and was naturalized in 1908.

Carl and Minnie and their family were victims of an awful vilification during the Great War. It is hard to imagine the Australian government, let alone the people, having been so brutal in their treatment of naturalized citizens and their Australian-born offspring. Apart from Carl’s summary arrest and internment for the duration of the war, his whole family, irrespective of their having been born in Australia, were snubbed by friends and neighbours, verbally and physically assaulted, and finally deprived of their citizenship rights. Their Lismore branch store was wrecked by a mob on Christmas eve, 1915, and Carl was arrested in February 1916. He was sent first to Holdsworthy, and later to Berrima, where the Emden survivors were interned.

He was deported to Hamburg in 1919. Minnie’s Australian citizenship was taken from her, and she and the children joined him at Grenzhausen, near Coblenz, in mid 1922. Germany did not want them, and their brief residence there was a misery. Minnie and the children came back to Australia, to an unhappy existence, in 1924 (Mary remained until 1926).

Carl applied to numerous former friends for help to re-enter Australia, but no-one, not even his in-laws, helped him, although his mother-in-law, Eliza Luya, prayed for him daily until her death in 1923.

Finally, he was allowed entry to South Africa, and he left England for Capetown in June 1926. His daughter Lisette left Australia on 12 October to visit him, but on 17 November he committed suicide, knowing that Lisette would reach him four days later. Minnie died in 1948.

All this was told to me on various occasions by my mother [Nancy Clare Holloway (1902-1977)], although she had forgotten some dates and details. But the story is now recorded in Robert Paterson’s book, Internee No 1/5126. Robert is the son of Mary Zoeller, and has since sent me a copy of his book.

David Clare Holloway (1927-2014)

Paterson’s self-published book naturally provides much greater detail, particularly of Zoeller’s frequent appeals against his imprisonment and subsequent deportation; of the (Billy) Hughes war-time government’s vilification of German-Australians; and of the mistakes and blame-shifting involved in the government’s ongoing refusal to accept that Zoeller was stateless and had never at any time been German. The  ‘Demit’, granted prior to his departure in 1885, releasing him from Prussian citizenship, was conveniently lost for a number of years by Australian authorities around the time of his deportation after the war.

The Zoellers were in fact from Grenzhausen (near Coblenz) in Nassau. The Duchy of Nassau was taken from the Austrians by the Prussians in 1866, and was subsequently incorporated into a newly united Germany in 1871. Carl Zoeller, by renouncing his right to German citizenship and emigrating before his 17th birthday was never ‘German’ and this was belatedly accepted by (parts of) the Australian government only after his deportation, when they were obliged to return (some) of his property which they had, as it turns out, illegally seized or sold up during the war.

On his arrival in Australia, Zoeller worked in Melbourne and Brisbane and then spent four years in business in NZ, before returning briefly to Germany, via New York, on a visit to his family in the 1890s. He was able to become the agent for a number of German medical products and returned to Brisbane and established a business which was soon flourishing.

As dad writes, he married Minnie Luya in 1898 – and let’s be clear, Minnie was Australian born, of Anglo/Irish heritage. Her father was a timber trader/shipper from Gympie Qld, and her mother was the illiterate Eliza Clare, out from Ireland as a servant (no doubt via one of the bounty schemes) I mentioned in my post of a couple of years ago, Educating Women. Zoeller’s wife Minnie, and my great great grandmother Maria were both sisters of Abraham (‘Eb’) Luya, who headed the trading conglomerate later known as Luya Julius, and whose trucks, by then part of Fleetways Ltd, were still prominent on Qld roads when I worked there briefly in the 1980s. Eb Luya was also for a while Chairman of the Queensland National Bank.

In 1911 his business was doing so well that Zoeller was able to purchase for cash a house in Wilston on a large block of land – he ran cows, an orchard, and 60 chooks – which he “gave as a present to my wife and children so that they will always have a roof over their heads”. He named the house “Munna”, and in 1983 it was still in use for wedding receptions, at twenty-nine Murray Street.

In 1912 Zoeller and Dr Euchariste Sirois built a private hospital at Marburg near Ipswich, and Zoeller also provided the backing which enabled Fred Peters, the owner of Eskimo Pie, to establish Peters Ice Cream. Fred Peters was later Mary Zoeller’s godfather.

War was declared against Germany in August 1914, and the sentiment against German-Australians was strong right from the beginning. Late that same year Zoeller was the first person prosecuted under The Trading with the Enemy Act (1914) and received a £100 fine for importing some small items of medical equipment from Germany on a client’s order. Zoeller was kept under surveillance and in 1915 his file with the local (Brisbane) military read “believed to be disloyal but nothing can be obtained against him”.

In Feb. 1916 he was “detained for the duration of the war”. The actual conditions of his detention at Holdsworthy and Berrima weren’t too bad, but unfortunately Zoeller wrote an intemperate letter to his sister in law, which after sections were cut out by the censor, ended up being pasted together to read:

Xmas here in camp … we all prayed extra hard for an early German victory on all fronts, wished damnation to war … if only half the curses which I heap on those flaming Australian idiots who are responsible for my internment hit their mark they will roast in hell for all eternity … Am taking every possible care of myself so as to be as fit as a fiddle when the fight for Germany’s commercial and economic victory comes to be fought.

This letter and the conviction for ‘Trading with the Enemy’ were held against him (and were all that could be held against him) through all his appeals to officialdom for the remainder of his life.

In 1919 Zoeller’s naturalisation as an Australian citizen was removed and in late September, after 20 years as a prosperous Australian businessman, he was one of “5,276 [Germans] deported in nine ships which sailed at various dates between May 1919 and June 1920.” He had no option but to return to his family home in Grenzhausen where he lived with a cousin but was able to obtain only minimal employment. “Luckily”, as the German economy slowly collapsed into hyper inflation what little money he was able to obtain from Australia was sufficient to keep him going.

Zoeller missed his wife and children, and they missed him. We have the evidence of his considerable correspondence with one of two men who stood by him throughout, Dr Sirois (the other was his attorney, Arthur Birley). As his appeals to be allowed to return continued to be refused, Minnie and the children had no choice but to join him in Germany. Minnie applied for a British passport, but the most she could obtain was an obnoxious ‘permit to travel’ which identified her as a ‘German national’. They stayed from 1922-24 but conditions in Germany continued to deteriorate and they came back to Australia, leaving just Mary, who was thriving in boarding school.

Even after restrictions on Germans emigrating to Australia were lifted in 1925, Zoeller continued to be denied (re)entry. On the advice of Australian officials, he was also denied entry into NZ and so he sent Mary home and in June 1926 he moved to South Africa from where he wrote “being back in an English colony is to me like being in heaven.” However in November of the same year he wrote to his sister in Germany, “I do not want to be a burden on my beloved ones and therefore I have decided to put an end to my life with a bullet tonight.”

Paterson paints a clear picture of his grandfather as a cheerful, optimistic and loving family man ground down by the obduracy of an Australian government playing up to anti-German hysteria for which it was largely responsible in the first place. Shades of 2017!

 

Robert Paterson, Internee 1/5126, self published, Brisbane, 1983

Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell

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They [Catalans] had attempted to produce within the militias a sort of temporary working model of the classless society. Of course there was no perfect equality, but there was a nearer approach to it than I had ever seen or than I would have thought conceivable in time of war.

Homage to Catalonia (1938) is what it says, George Orwell’s homage to the people of Catalonia who attempted an anarchist/socialist revolution in response to the army’s attack on their fledgling democracy, and more broadly in response to centuries of harsh rule by feudal landowners supported by the Catholic church and the monarchy. A revolution that was brought down not by the civil war but by the backsliding of right-wing socialists in the Republican government and by the treachery of the Communists.

In this it resembles (or presages) another account of anarchist ‘revolution’ undone by Communists, Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative (1968) about the Paris uprisings of that year and which I have owned almost since it was written. In fact, a great deal of Orwell’s book, particularly about the lies invented and propagated by the news media, serves to show plus ca change etc.

Homage to Catalonia has two parts – Orwell’s memoir of his time as a volunteer soldier, and an analysis of the failure of the Revolution – written in the immediate aftermath of his service, “five months ago” as he says, and before the end of the Spanish war (1936-1939). The book contains a third part, Looking Back on the Spanish War, written in 1943. But that deals in particular with the partisan, dishonest role played by the press and deserves a separate review.

George Orwell (1903-1950) is well enough known and I will not say much about him, except this: he is often claimed by the Right, especially for Animal Farm (1945) which is clearly an attack on Soviet communism. But let’s be clear. Orwell was of the Left, and like many of us still, was deeply upset by the descent of the Russian Revolution into bureaucracy and totalitarianism, a descent which he experienced personally in Spain. The POUM militia he enlisted in was broadly described as ‘Trotskyite’ – it wasn’t, but it was, and he was, committed to socialist revolution. And although Orwell was fighting firstly for the preservation of democratic government, he understood well, what we have mostly forgotten, that in the end ‘democracy’ is just another name for Capitalism.

When Orwell entered Spain from the south of France in late 1936 Barcelona was effectively anarchist. The churches had been sacked, all forms of deferential address had ceased, tipping was illegal, and so on:

It was a town in which the wealthy classes had ceased to exist… All this was queer and moving. There was much in it I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as as a state of affairs worth fighting for. Also I believed that things were as they appeared, that this was really a workers’ State …

There was a shocking shortage of supplies for the volunteer militias, partly because the Republican government was wary of its ‘allies’ the Anarchists becoming too well-armed, and later, Russian-supplied arms were directed to the Communists and the International Brigades (Orwell is clear that, despite claims to the contrary in the right-wing press, there was very little Soviet army presence in Spain, although there were large numbers of soldiers from Fascist Germany and Italy). Not every soldier was issued with a blanket – in winter! – and Orwell’s first gun was an 1896 Mauser, for which he had just 15 rounds of ammunition.

Many of the recruits were very young, as young as 12 in some cases, refugees from the poverty of the back streets of Barcelona, and it was not long before the government was reverting to conscription.

The rival forces in this region had established fronts several hundred metres apart, along the tops of hills to the north and west of Barcelona. There was very little artillery on either side, and the constant rifle fire was inaccurate and uncoordinated. Occasionally one side or the other would make a sortie, often to gather firewood or the potatoes growing in untended fields. The government was attempting to retake nearby Huesca, and the Anarchists were attempting to cut the road north to Jaca, so Orwell’s section, in which he rose to corporal and eventually lieutenant – though all ranks through to general were on the same pay and orders often had to be argued rather than enforced – would sometimes be involved in fighting to divert Fascist troops from defending those more important actions.

In the early stages the inefficiency of the POUM forces led Orwell to consider seriously transferring to the more efficient Communists in Madrid. But, while on his first leave in Barcelona, communist ministers within the government used government troops to regain control from the workers’ committees, and particularly the anarchist-controlled Telegraph Exchange (Wiki) . For a week Orwell was holed up defending POUM headquarters, although he and his opposite numbers in the building across the road maintained their own private ceasefire. Orwell analyses how it was always the workers who were asked by the government to forgo, in the name of winning the war of course, the freedoms they had seized in the beginning, and which Orwell begins to think they should have hung on to.

My favourite image of the war is from this deeply disillusioning period:

An Anarchist patrol car drove up , bristling with weapons. Beside the driver a beautiful dark-haired girl of about eighteen was nursing a sub-machine gun across her knees.

Orwell’s wife (he doesn’t mention her name) is in Barcelona, and at one time when an attack is imminent she establishes a first-aid post, but otherwise she is mostly out of sight.

Orwell’s biggest concern in this account is to counter the lies which, as he wrote, were still being propagated about this action being a workers’ insurrection. “An immense amount, enough to fill many books, has already been written on the subject, and I do not suppose I should exaggerate if I said nine-tenths of it is untruthful. Nearly all the newspaper accounts published at the time were manufactured by journalists at a distance, and were not only inaccurate in their facts but intentionally misleading.”

Orwell returns to the front, with a unit of mainly British volunteers, is wounded, shot through the neck. His description of the transport and hospitalisation of the wounded is horrifying. He finally gets back to Barcelona, with validly stamped discharge papers, to what he thinks will be a night at last in a hotel bed with his wife, only to find that POUM has been proscribed and he is now a wanted criminal. Shades of our own retrospective terrorism laws. The leader of POUM, Andreu Nin is in jail and has probably already been murdered. Orwell’s commanding officer, a Belgian wanted in his own country for the ‘crime’ of fighting for the Republicans in Spain, is arrested and by the time of writing had almost certainly been shot. Orwell and some other British stay in hiding and eventually make their way back to France.

I suppose I have failed to convey more than a little of what those months in Spain meant to me. I have recorded some of the outward events, but I cannot record the feeling they have left me with. It is all mixed up with the sights, smells and sounds that cannot be conveyed in writing: the smell of the trenches, the mountain dawns stretching away into inconceivable distances … the food queues and the red and black flags and the faces of the Spanish militiamen; above all the faces of militiamen – men whom I knew in the line and who are now scattered Lord knows where, some killed in battle, some maimed, some in prison …

A wonderful book, which to all you lefties out there I recommend unreservedly as an essential part of your education. A new though less competent Franco has seized the United States. The Revolution is coming!

Madrid (6)

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, first pub. 1938, this ed. Penguin, 1966


3 April 2017. Woke yesterday in Madrid and spent a few hours walking in the sun. Found the bookstalls near the Prado. Lots of marxist lit. including the book above, which seemed very a propos. Spent last night in Huesca. Walked all round the inner part of town. The countryside is flatter than I expected, though I guess those snow topped mountains to the north and east are the Pyrenees, which I plan to cross today by railcar and bus.


Sue at Whispering Gums, reviewed Orwell essays on book reviewing, Bookshop Memories, and Books v Cigarettes. Now I’d better go and read them!

A Man’s Head, Georges Simenon

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Translated by Geoffrey Sainsbury

Here I am in Paris at last, in a delightful old house of three levels and full of books, on the Rue de la Tombe Issoire; a converted stables maybe, at the rear of an apartment block. “Look for the porte vert”, my daughter wrote, and there it was and in we walked through a cobblestoned tunnel, past the concierge’s door, and out into the courtyard. All exactly as I imagined from half a century of reading Simenon and Maigret.

Yesterday, we – me, ex-Mrs Legend, geology daughter and three grandkids aged 5 – 13 – made our way by #38 bus to the Ile de la Cite – the Palais de Justice, the Prefecture de Police, Notre Dame – on a lovely early spring day, no leaves on the trees yet, but daffodils and tulips flowering in all the gardens. Maigret routinely cuts through the Palais on his way to his office in the Prefecture, but the two buildings/complexes are separated by a street, the Blvd du Palais, and slightly offset, so I’m none the wiser about how that works.

The Penguin edition of A Man’s Head I have with me (earlier than the one pictured) I found quite by accident in a second hand shop in Perth a few days ago. It has an excellent introduction by Patrick Marnham – well, excellent except that it reveals who dunnit – which sets out Simenon’s history as a writer.

Georges Simenon (1903-1989) was a stupendously prolific author, writing up to 40 titles per year. When he wrote La Tete d’un Homme in 1930, first published in English in 1939, as A Battle of Nerves, he was already a successful writer of pulp fiction under various pseudonyms, and had four other Maigret novels completed. They were all launched at a wild party in Montparnasse (just up the road from here!) in February 1931. By the end of the year there were 11 Maigret titles in print, and by 1939 and the outbreak of war, nineteen.

Simenon famously wrote two streams of novels, Maigrets and ‘Simenons’, psychological thrillers. Although they are not so dissimilar in their approach to crime, the Simenons are probably more sexual. By the time he retired in 1972 Simenon had written 193 novels under his own name.

In this early novel, Maigret is already 45, a large man (though under 6′ as it turns out), broad shouldered, imposing, wrapped in his heavy overcoat, and an Inspector in the Police Judiciaire. He and Madame Maigret, waiting patiently at home in their small apartment on the Blvd Richard-Lenoir, are and remain childless. In fact, Mme Maigret, who is a significant presence in later novels, barely rates a mention in this.

Maigret solves his murders by accumulating evidence, not just the forensic evidence, and the curious noises in the dark, of Sherlock Holmes, but the evidence of Maigret’s senses, of his feeling for the characters involved as he absorbs himself in their milieu. Marnham writes that “When the forensic expert tells Maigret that the writer of the anonymous note to a newspaper is an intellectual who speaks several languages [and identifies which bar in Montparnasse the note has come from by the colour of the ink], we can take it that the author is mocking the great tradition of ‘Elementary my dear Watson’.” Maigret is a new type of detective, arriving at the identity of the perpetrator by his intuition into the characters of the victim(s) and the suspects.

A Man’s Head begins with a prisoner on death row awaiting his turn to die, having already heard the man in the next cell being led away – Markham points out that, shockingly, in 1930 “execution was still carried out on the street, in central Paris, outside the prison walls”. The man, Heurtin, sentenced to death for the murders of a wealthy old lady and her servant/companion is allowed to escape and is followed by Maigret’s men as he makes his way back along the Seine to his parents’ inn where, rejected by his father, he hangs himself in the stables. Along the way he is observed by Maigret hanging around outside a Montparnasse cafe attempting unsuccessfully to make contact with a poor young man, a student maybe, ekeing out a coffee and a pot of yogurt over a whole day sitting at the bar. In this cafe Maigret is subsequently approached by the young man, Radek, who wishes to discuss murders with him, and by a flash young man, Kirby, who is the nephew and heir of the murdered old woman, and from there he goes on to uncover the real murderer.

But this brief account does no justice to the long hours Maigret spends waiting, observing and thinking, nor to Simenon’s loving attention to detail, in the descriptions of Paris’ underbelly of prostitutes and petty criminals, and of life along the Seine, the barges, the cafes and inns, out of Paris and into the country.

And Maigret spent an hour after his own heart, snugly ensconced in a corner of the cab, whose windows were splashed with rain and misty from the warmth inside. He smoked incessantly, warmly wrapped in the enormous overcoat that had become a byword on the Quai des Orfevres.

The suburbs of Paris glided by, then the October country. Sometimes a drab band of river came into view between the gables of houses and the bare trees.

Maigret is of course at odds with the examining magistrate who, in the French system, controls the case, and his neck is on the line – though not so literally as Heurtin’s – in the gamble he takes in facilitating the escape of a convicted murderer. There are probably too many coincidences, particularly in Maigret being present when Heurtin attempts to contact Radek, and we have less involvement with Maigret as a person than we do in later novels. But nevertheless, all the elements are there which almost instantaneously made Maigret and Simenon justifiably famous.

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The Prefecture de Police (looking down towards Notre Dame)

Georges Simenon, A Man’s Head, first pub. 1931. This ed. translated by Geoffrey Sainsbury, Penguin Classics, 2003.

*The absence of French accents is not me being bolshie! I typed this direct into WordPress (I normally type at least my first draft in Word) and so had no access to special characters – though I guess there must be provision for French bloggers somewhere. Anyway, sorry. I’ll fix it when I get home.


The driver who brought us in from Charles de Gaulle Airport said that the French were unhappy with the British over WW II and had consequently been resistant to speaking English. But I must say that the mostly french-speaking waiters and barmen we have dealt with, far from being ‘notoriously surly’, have been uniformly cheerful and helpful. Tomorrow I make my way to Avignon, where the others are staying on, then on to Barcelona. All I have to do is negotiate my Eurail pass into a ticket into Spain, which is so far proving difficult.

Prelude to Waking, Miles Franklin

Preludeto Waking

Prelude to Waking (1950), the fourth in the Brent of Bin Bin series, is in many ways an anomaly. Stylistically it belongs to an earlier period of Franklin’s writing; none of the (relatively few) characters is connected with the families of the earlier novels; and it is set in England. Even to the extent that Australia plays a part, it is the NSW western plains, not the southern highlands.

It is difficult to imagine how Miles Franklin survived, as a writer, the quarter century between the extraordinary success of My Brilliant Career (1901), which she wrote as a teenager, and the success of her first two Brent of Bin Bin novels, Up the Country and Ten Creeks Run, written when she was nearing fifty. And yet she wrote continuously throughout that period. In the novels written immediately after My Brilliant Career, but not accepted for publication until many years later, rewritten as My Career Goes Bung and Cockatoos, her youth, her growing ability as a writer, and above all her optimism after that initial success bubble through. Slowly, that optimism must have faded into a grim determination.

Franklin read widely and thought about her craft. After leaving Australia in 1906 she attempted to adapt her idiosyncratic style to modern trends, not the avant garde (Joyce’s Ulysses came out in full in 1922) but at least to mainstream middle class English and American writing. Prelude to Waking is a ‘Mayfair’ novel which Franklin had been working on in the mid 1920s, and is her second novel with a male narrator after On Dearborn Street (unpublished till 1981) which she wrote in 1915 at the end of her Chicago years. Prelude must have been important to Franklin as her insistence on including it in the Brent of Bin Bin series held up the publication of the final three books in the series for another twenty years.

Franklin wrote innumerable plays, none of them ever performed, and one other novel, Bring the Monkey, a Dorothy Sayers-type mystery, in England, in this middle period of her writing, before going on to the bush realism style which was so much more acceptable to both her publishers and the Australian public. Roy Duncan in his Introduction to On Dearborn Street writes, “The five works [of this middle period], hidden away and virtually unknown over sixty years, reflect Miles Franklin at her most fluent and uninhibited.” Nevertheless, he describes Prelude as an instance of “interesting ideas embedded in artistic failure”.

In On Dearborn Street the narrator is not much more than a cipher, only there as a foil for Sybyl, the Miles Franklin character, as she works through her difficulties with the idea of marriage. According to Duncan, Franklin’s “larger proposition – which can be seen in terms of her total output – [is] that man is a destructive animal and that woman must save him by leading him to a renunciation of the flesh”. Prelude to Waking has a similar theme but the male narrator is stronger, with the result that we have not one but two ‘Miles Franklins’, the male lead, Nigel Barraclough, and the female lead, Merlin.

Nigel, or Niggeh as Merlin calls him – “Oh, let me call you Niggeh. With your fair complexion it will be a lark and show the dear negroes that we don’t mind” – is writing a Mayfair novel, and the implication is that we are reading the novel which he is writing, but that is never made clear. The novel’s subtitle is A Novel in the First Person and Parentheses apparently implying we sometimes go back to earlier events; and the dedication is “To England’s Genius Cracks” which, despite frequent references to them in the text, was not where the light came in, not for me anyway.

The novel begins with Merlin coming to Nigel’s shabby Mayfair flat in about 1925 to propose that they represent their friendship as a liason. In the subsequent ‘parantheses’ we learn that both are war heroes, Nigel a brave company commander and Merlin “had achieved the Balkan Fronts during some of the first great battles and retreats” (MF was actually vocally anti-war, and a volunteer hospital orderly for 6 months well behind the Serbian frontlines); and both are married to other people. Nigel has a sexy Spanish opera singer wife who so frightens him that he must live in London while she lives in Paris, and Merlin has married an elderly bachelor, Hugh de Courtenay la ffollette , the better to avoid having to marry anyone else.

Franklin has a seeming aversion to plots, or to any plot other than watching the Miles Franklin figure, in this case Merlin, maintaining her independence through numerous proposals; and Prelude is no exception. We go back to 1919, London after the War. Nigel is living in a rooms above a cobbler’s shop, Merlin is running a little cafe (a reference to the Minerva, a cafe owned by women, where MF worked during the War). Merlin’s father Guy, a widower sheep farmer from the Bogan River region of NSW, is living with her while her brother, also Guy, runs the farm. The closest we get to the earlier novels is that Guy sometimes takes his flocks to mountain pastures during times of drought.

Nigel has visited Russia at the end of the War and back in London gives a public lecture with a glowing account of the October Revolution. By this he is rendered unpopular and is sent to tour the South Pacific for a while, including an extended visit to Guy jr. which of course he reports to Merlin and her father (Franklin’s best writing is always of the bush):

Mile by mile we caressed that wide, strange country, whose silence has a voice, and whose eerie beauty, before man has defaced it, captures the senses as does that of no other land I have seen. Out on the ridges I could still see the leaves of the bimby box gleaming like silver; the soft grey waters of the Bogan and Namoi gliding noiselessly past coolabah, yarran and belar in the perfume of the native mignonette; the flower-carpeted plains quivering in the sunlight, undulating to the mirage that ever retreated before the traveller. Already my heart gnawed to be there again.

Nigel, Merlin and Guy are invited by Merlin’s friend Lady Courtley to a house party at Snippington Manor, the de Courtenay home. Taking with them both the cockney cobbler (above whom, as I have said, Nigel is currently living) and the cobbler’s son who is being educated at Eton. While the cobbler teaches various lords trick shots at billiards, Merlin is pursued by the various lords, including de Courtenay’s nephew, who is in turn pursued by Pamela Clutterbuck-Leeper, “a wanton, politely called a siren”, and so it goes on.

Meanwhile, Franklin’s politics are all over place. She was always snobbish about her place in the squattocracy and here she seems to be mostly on the side of the aristocracy. If it’s intended to be ironic I didn’t catch it. She, or at least Nigel, is pro the Bolshevik Revolution, but anti the Irish Republicans. As always, she is anti the nouveau riche, in this case War profiteers, and in one place goes so far as to suggest an English Revolution, yet she has Merlin publish an essay extolling the virtues of the British Empire.

I’m not going to recommend that you read this yourselves, I couldn’t imagine anyone reading Prelude to Waking for enjoyment, but it was interesting to see Franklin attempting to progress her craft as a writer, while tying herself in knots with her unfashionable ideas about chaste male-female relationships.

I recently gave in and purchased a Kindle Paperwhite. The Brent of Bin Bin series is available from Amazon as one book, for $1.00 from memory. I found it easy to read, though with some silly spelling mistakes – mostly from b and h being transposed at the beginning of words – but found it simpler to revert to the real book to look up particular passages.

 

Miles Franklin, Prelude to Waking, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1950. The cover shown above is of my copy, a first edition.

For other Miles Franklin posts and reviews go to:

An overview of the Brent of Bin Bin series (here)
Miles Franklin Central (here)