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

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

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

In 1990 the Fremantle Arts Centre Press (now just Fremantle Press) established the T.A.G. Hungerford Award for unpublished Western Australian writers.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Miles Franklin’s Last Diary

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Between the last two entries in The Diaries of Miles Franklin (2004) Paul Brunton writes:

If Miles Franklin kept a diary for 1954 [the year of her death], it has not survived. She made her last known diary entry, for 1 January 1954, at the back of her pocket diary for 1953.

Jill Roe, of whom Brunton writes, “All those who venture into Franklin studies are in the debt of Dr Jill Roe for her scholarship over the last two decades”, does not write about Franklin’s diaries directly in her monumental Stella Miles Franklin (2008), though she occasionally quotes from them. For the last year of Franklin’s life she must have relied on Franklin’s correspondence which she had edited and published 15 years earlier.

Now, as of March 7, we know there was a diary for 1954, known of these last 30 years but inexplicably kept secret. Julie Power writes in the Age (and no doubt in the SMH but I come from Melbourne):

Everyone believed the diary of her final year was lost until her distant relative Margaret Francis spotted it in an old suitcase. Seeing the diary with Franklin’s tiny spidery writing was ‘‘ a moment of absolute exhilaration’’ , said Ms Francis, who lives in Wagga Wagga.

She glimpsed the diary 30 years ago, and had kept a promise to keep its existence a secret, hoping that someone had put it somewhere safe.

After finding it three years ago, Ms Francis – who has dedicated much of her life to writing three volumes detailing the extended Franklin family’s rise from illiterate convicts and settlers to the educated squatocracy – would get up at five in the morning to read and transcribe the entries.

By the beginning of 1954 Miles was 74 years old and presumably knew she was getting near the end. However, her first entry for the year was cheerful enough: “Awaked to a grey day. Must have had quite 7 hrs sleep!!! so I felt very well. Left at 10.45 for Killara & walked from station to 36 Springdale Rd [maybe 500m]” and there follows an account of a family gathering for dinner, “Beautifully roasted turkey & vegs & 4 sweets. Nuts & chocolates”.

Throughout 1954 Miles was mostly querulous, as might be expected. Wrote to friends “I can’t complain” but did. Continued her work in the garden, and with the Fellowship of Australian Writers; and maintained friendships with fellow writers Jean Devanny, Katharine Susannah Prichard (and KSP’s son Ric Throssell) and Dymphna Cusack – maybe she was a closet socialist realist after all! I was going to write that in 1952 she prepared “a lavish lunch” in honour of Lenin’s birthday, but I see on re-rereading it was actually for her Aunt Lena.

With recognition as a writer coming so late in life – after that amazing early start was so completely lost – she was still struggling with mss right up to the end. With Cockatoos, the next in line of the Brent of Bin Bin books which Angus & Robertson had undertaken to publish; an anti-war play The Dead Must Not Return; and a book of essays arising from a lecture tour to Perth, which was eventually issued posthumously as Laughter, Not for a Cage.

In her last chapter “Shall I pull Through?” Roe writes at length on Franklin’s ambivalent attitude to sex, which underlies all her writing. Franklin told Jean Devanny in 1954 “that now sex had come to stay it was time to give it a rest” (I think she means writing about it). But she was still interested enough to read Kinsey.

In 1952 when he met Franklin for the first time at a FAW meeting young playwright Ray Mathew saw her as “an amusing figure, a kind of combination of Mrs Pankhurst and Mary Poppins”, but he grew to respect her and in a 1963 monograph – the first literary assessment of the whole Brent of Bin Bin oeuvre – ‘argued that although Cockatoos was the only one of the Brent books likely to survive in its own right … the series was a masterpiece’, and defended Miles’ method of ‘possuming’ and ‘yarning’. But he also discusses Franklin’s ‘sexual confusion’ which “may either irritate or amuse the reader, but it does force the author into extraordinary studies of women desiring but incapable of consummation which are subtle and unique in Australian writing.”

As the end approached Franklin dictated a letter to Vance Palmer which begins, “Dear Vance, I had your book ready to read when I was taken with a heart attack five weeks ago; so I have not read it but I am glad it is out & know it will be a great success.” [I can’t see what book that would be, maybe a short story collection]. She speaks of her illness and of being taken to stay with Mrs Perryman in Beecroft and adds “I do not know whether it is worth struggling to survive.” (July 23rd 1954).

Her last (published) letter is to Pixie O’Harris, Sep 3 54. “Pixie dearest dear, You little know, I perceive, by your letters, how near I still am to tumbling into the grave.” Typically, she also writes “Tell Ray Mathew not to worry about his play, I always feel worse than he does.”

She died on September 19th. The final entry in her diary, three days earlier, was ‘‘Went to Eastwood by ambulance to be X-rayed . Ordeal too much for me. Day of distress and twitching. Returned to bed’’.

This last diary has been donated to the State Library of NSW, which already has the 46 previous diaries detailing the author’s life from 1909. What Ms Francis plans to do with her three years of transcription I’m not sure, maybe add it to her family history.

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photo: Louise Kennerley, the Age, 7 Mar 2018

 

Julie Power, Miles Franklin’s Secret Diary Discovered, The Age, Melbourne, 7 March 2018 here

Paul Brunton ed., The Diaries of Miles Franklin, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2004

Jill Roe ed., My Congenials: Miles Franklin & Friends in Letters, vol 2 1939-1954, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1993

Jill Roe, Stella Miles Franklin, Fourth Estate, Sydney, 2008

see also: Miles Franklin page for a list of her works and links to reviews and other posts

Treasures from the Attic, Mirjam Pressler

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This is a difficult post to write. Not because I have any problems with the Anne Frank story. I don’t. Her diary is one of the iconic works of western, and Jewish, humanism. But because, as so many works about the Holocaust continue to appear, and to be reviewed in this corner of the blogosphere, I feel that the anodyne comments I have made to date conceal rather than represent what I think about Holocaust fiction in particular and Zionism in general.

So, it is time that I made my views clear in the hope that you will then forgive me if a) you disagree with me; and b) if I no longer comment on your posts about those two subjects.

My politics after a year or so at uni, from 1969 on, were (and remain) as I have discussed before, left-wing, anarchist and anti-war. But as well, at least partly in response to a strong (loud) right-wing Zionist movement at Melbourne Uni, they quickly became pro-Palestine and anti Israeli expansionism. Today I believe the Settler movement and the support it receives from the Israeli government is indistinguishable from Apartheid.

Like many ‘liberals’ I am torn about whether the British should have plonked the post WWII Jewish refugee problem – which they and all the Europeans were more than happy to deal with ‘off-shore’ – onto the Palestinians. But it was done, and in any case Zionism has a long history, and is now as much a fact as the Viking and Norman invasions of England. My argument is not that it should be reversed but that by behaving immorally (not to mention illegally) with regards to the Palestinians the Israelis are building up a store of trouble which will surely overwhelm them some time in the future.

My problem with Holocaust literature, and fiction in particular, is firstly with Jewish exceptionalism. Yes, we white Europeans are still horrified to discover what we were capable of in Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust is still within living memory. Anne Frank, if she had survived, would be two years younger than my healthy and active mother. But, while the blame for the Holocaust might lie with the Germans  – though they had plenty of willing collaborators throughout Europe who have not been so willing to own their share – Genocide is a world problem, the fallback position of demagogues in every country, however they use weasel words to disguise their intent.

I could mention Turkish Armenians in 1915, Rawanda in 1994, the Balkan wars of the 1990s, the shocking decline in the Indigenous population of Australia in the first century of white settlement. Arundhati Roy in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017), which is written around Hindu persecution of Muslims, writes, aptly for my argument:

… there’s that other business that’s become pretty big these days. People – communities, castes, races and even countries – carry their tragic histories and their misfortunes around like trophies, or like stock, to be bought and sold on the open market. [p.195]

The point is not that Germans, or Turks or Serbs or Hutu or Hindu nationalists are bad, but that ordinary people everywhere are easily led, can be persuaded to kill, to look the other way, to fail to prevent others from killing in their name.

So my points about Holocaust fiction are that:

The Holocaust is not an argument in favour of current Israeli government policy towards Palestine – and may even be an argument against it.

More peoples than just the Jews have been the subject of systematic attempts at elimination.

Fictions about ‘good’ Germans, as To Kill a Mockingbird is about a ‘good’ white man in the South, are designed to make us feel better about being ‘upper’ – oh no, we wouldn’t behave like those Germans, those Vichy French, we would all be abolitionists or in the Resistance. The truth is the evidence suggests otherwise.

We do not need ‘historical’ fiction to remind us of the Holocaust. I write this and yet I wonder if it is true. Certainly we do not want the Holocaust used gratuitously as the background for otherwise unremarkable stories, but on the other hand survivors and their descendants are still dealing with the Holocaust every day. You only have to read Lily Brett’s Lola Bensky for this to be clear. Two recent posts – Lisa at ANZLL’s review of Belladonna by Daša Drndić (here) about failure to acknowledge guilt; and Emma at Book Around the Corner’s account of listening to and meeting F-H Désérable, the very young author of Un Certain M. Piekielny (here), put the opposite case.

“As F-H Désérable pointed out, it is only thanks to literature that we were all in this room, talking about people who died during WWII and thus acknowledging their existence and their horrible untimely death. I think that’s why dictators are often afraid of books.”

Are you still with me? I had better get to the book at hand, which I enjoyed but which I must warn you I listened to a few days ago and must review from imperfect memory. Treasures from the Attic (2012) came about when the wife of Anne Frank’s cousin decided to go through all the letters and memorabilia accumulated in the attic of the home in Basel, Switzerland which one branch of the Frank family had moved to, from Munich, in the 1930s.

Mirjam Pressler was selected by the family to write up the letters because she had previously edited the definitive (German) version of Anne Frank’s Diary. This is a story in itself. Anne apparently intended her diary to be published and from her first ‘raw’ version wrote a second, more polished version which differed in a number of respects from the first. Anne’s father Otto on coming into possession of the diaries after his release from Auschwitz, combined the two to produce the version first published and I think he may also have done the first translation from Anne’s Dutch to his native German.

The story – and it is fascinating to have so much background come to light on such an iconic figure – is in three parts, telling the lives of three generations of Anne Frank’s family:

Alice, Anne’s grandmother, married to Michael Frank

Helene (Leni) Elias, Alice’s daughter and younger sister of Robert, Otto and Hector Frank.

Buddy Elias, Leni’s son and Anne’s cousin who had played with her when she was 9, who continued to correspond with her until the progress of the war made that impossible, and who gradually became the principal advocate of Anne Frank’s Diary as Otto grew older.

In the early part of the twentieth century Michael Frank had become a prosperous merchant banker in Munich with his three sons serving in the German army during WWI. Even during the hyper-inflation of the 1920s I think the family did ok, but with the rise of Nazism it was felt prudent to emigrate. Robert became an art dealer in London; Otto, the head of the family business after his father’s death, moved the bank to Amsterdam; Hector never settled down but eventually spent the war attached to the Elias’s in Basel.

Leni and her husband Eric(?) moved to Basel where Eric was the director of a German firm, but increasingly the Elias family’s income came from Leni’s business buying and selling the unwanted possessions of Jews fleeing Europe. They were joined in Basel by Alice and by Leni’s mother in law.

Pressler tells these stories, which are interesting in themselves, without ever losing her focus on Anne. Holland, despite declaring its neutrality on the outbreak of war, was occupied by the Germans in May 1940. Otto made increasingly desperate pleas to be allowed to emigrate, to the US, to England, to Cuba, but they were all refused. And as is well known, eventually went in to hiding with his family in the ‘secret annexe’.  By the end of the war 70% of the Jewish population of Holland had been deported and murdered (wiki).

Betrayed and shipped to Auschwitz, of the Otto Franks only Otto survived. On his release he was returned to Holland, although even there his citizenship was uncertain. His letters to Leni tell of Anne and her older sister Margot being taken away and of Anne’s mother dying of illness and starvation in the last few weeks before liberation.

Eventually the family is given a heart-rending account of the girls dying together in Bergen-Belsen by the last women to be with them.

Leni’s and then Buddy’s story pick up Otto’s life after the war and the rise and rise of Anne Frank’s Diary, the book, the play, the movie.

 

Mirjam Pressler, Treasures from the Attic, Penguin, 2012 (No English translator acknowledged). Audio version BrillianceAudio, read by Sherry Adams Foster

 

Lady Bridget in the Never Never Land, Rosa Praed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

Best Reads 2017

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Nov. 7 2017 was the centenary of the “October Revolution”, the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in Russia

I read a few new releases in 2017 though nowhere near enough to have an informed opinion about the “best”. Still, they were all very good.

Heather Rose, The Museum of Modern Love (review)
Kim Scott, Taboo (review)
Claire G. Coleman, Terra Nullius (review)
Jane Rawson, From the Wreck (review)
Odette Kelada, Drawing Sybylla (review)
Sarah Goldman, Caroline Chisholm (review, interview)
Tony Hughes-d’Aeth, A Literary History of the Wheatbelt (review)

The further back we go the better informed less uninformed I am, though as it turns out there is only one review (by me, two by Nathan). So, here are my lists for 50, 100 and 150 years ago drawn from Annals of Australian Literature.

1967

There were 17 novels published (23 in 1966), none really notable and some mildly interesting non-fiction.

Dymphna Cusack, The Sun is not Enough
Shirley Hazzard, People in Glass Houses
Thomas Keneally, Bring Larks and Heroes
KS Prichard, Subtle Flame (Nathan Hobby)
Kylie Tennant, Tell Morning This
Donald Horne, The Education of Young Donald (autobiog.)
Marjorie Barnard, Miles Franklin (biog.)

1917

33 books published, about the same as 1916, including 9 novels and some relatively notable verse and short stories. Australia Felix was the first book in the Richardson’s Fortunes of Richard Mahoney trilogy.

Barbara Baynton, Cobbers (s) (review, biography)
Randolph Bedford, The Silver Star
Marie Bjelke-Petersen, The Captive Singer
Capel Boake, Painted Clay
CJ Dennis, Doreen (v)
CJ Dennis, The Glugs of Gosh (v)
Sydney de Loghe, Pelican Pool
SG Fielding, Australia AD 2000 or the Great Referendum (one copy on Amazon!)
Mary Marlowe, Kangaroos in King’s Land
Adela Pankhurst, Betrayed (play)
AB Paterson, Saltbush Bill (v)
Tarella Quin, Paying Guests
Henry Handel Richardson, Australia Felix
Steele Rudd, The Old Homestead (s) (biography)
Steele Rudd, Steele Rudd’s Annual (magazine 1917-1923)
EL Grant Watson, The Mainland

Writers born in 1917 included Nancy Cato, Jon Cleary, Frank Hardy, Sumner Locke Eliott (whose mother, Sumner Locke died), James McAuley, D’Arcy Niland.

1867

15 books published including 6 novels, much better than the previous year – four books, no novels.

James Bonwick, John Batman, Founder of Victoria (bio)
Charles de Boos, Fifty Years Ago
Matilda Evans (Maud Jeanne Franc), Emily’s Choice (Nathan Hobby)
John Houlding (Old Boomerang), Australian Capers
Thomas McCombie, Frank Henly or Honest Industry Will Conquer
Edward Maitland, The Pilgrim and the Shrine
James Neild (Cleofas), A Bird in a Golden Cage

Henry Lawson was born – I don’t recognise any of the others.

1817

James Bonwick was born and that’s it. I have my father’s copy of Bonwick’s Western Victoria: The Narrative of an Educational Tour in 1857 which I will add to my TBR.

Have I reminded you about Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week 15-21 Jan. 2018?

 

Joy Hooton and Harry Heseltine, Annals of Australian Literature, 2nd Ed., OUP, Melbourne, 1992

see also:
Robert Graham’s Voline: The Bolshevik October Revolution (here)

Taboo, W.E. Harney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Some Everyday Folk and Dawn, Miles Franklin

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Some Everyday Folk and Dawn (1909) is Miles Franklin’s second published novel. It’s set where it was written – at Penrith (called Noonoon in the novel) now an outer western suburb of Sydney, but then a separate country town where Franklin’s parents had moved after leaving their farm at Thornford and where Miles lived with them for part of 1904, three years and two unpublished novels after her runaway success with My Brilliant Career. In her Introduction, Jill Roe says that Franklin …

… has two main things to say, and says them in typically forthright style. The first is that marriage is a material question and should be treated as such. The second is that women are citizens in their own right, and should take their responsibilities seriously. Both points relate to the position of women and debate about it in Australia in the early twentieth century, and reflect Franklin’s increased feminist awareness and commitment.

Roe also points out that we should do well to take notice of Franklin, rather than second wave feminists – she instances Anne Summers’ Damned Whores and God’s Police, but I would add Kay Schaffer – who see women in early Australian society as oppressed or irrelevant.

By contrast, Franklin presents a progressive, self-respecting and even prosperous female culture which is well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of newly attained political status, participant in, rather than victim of, social forces.

Finally, Roe says, while we should not read fiction as documentary, Franklin writes an ‘astonishingly accurate’ account of electioneering in Penrith during the NSW 1904 state election, the first in which (white) women were permitted to vote, though maybe in stressing local issues, she underplays the Conservative’s great fear of the rise of Labor and Socialism.

So, the story. Dawn is an attractive young woman, living with her Grandmother Clay who has a large, old house on the banks of the Noonoon (Nepean) River, and who takes in paying guests, mostly over summer. The other members of the household are Carry – another young woman who shares housekeeping duties with Dawn, Mrs Clay’s brother ‘uncle’ Jake, who doesn’t do much, and Dawn’s grubby younger cousin, Andrew. The narrator, an older woman – thirtyish it later turns out, but grey haired – lately retired from the stage, has had to wait till autumn to become a boarder, so there are no summer staff – cooks and waiters and so on – and only one other guest, Miss Flip, “an orphan reared by a rich uncle”. Then there’s Mrs Bray, neighbour and gossip and Ernest Breslaw, a handsome young man, previously acquainted with the narrator, who appears serendipitously to rescue her from a rowing accident.

The unnamed narrator is an observer and occasional meddler in the action. She has a heart condition and is recuperating from a nervous breakdown after heartbreak. Miles was only 25 when she wrote this, but this foreshadows breakdowns she was to suffer herself – notably after the death of her sister only a few years later, and on her return from Serbia near the end of the Great War – and also the breakdown she ascribes to her heroine Bernice Gaylord in Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang (review) written two decades later.

As in nearly all Franklin’s fiction there is a matriarch who is central to the action and usually from the NSW high country. In this case it is Grandma Clay, whose late husband had been the driver/operator of the mail coach servicing ‘Gool Gool’ (Tumut), the nearest town to Sybylla’s grandmother’s property in My Brilliant Career.

The various story lines are: the narrator’s attempts to match Dawn up with Breslaw, with more discussion on making a sensible match, rather than no match as in say My Career Goes Bung; Miss Flip’s “uncle” proves to be no uncle; and on choosing/voting for a good candidate rather than a particular party.

Franklin always struggled with plots but her descriptions are wonderful. And evocative – when I was little my grandparents’ farm didn’t have electricity, a lot of the outbuildings were thatched, horses were still used, cows were handmilked and grandma made her own cream and butter. Franklin writes of the daily ritual of pulling apart and washing the cream separator, which grandma would do in the outside laundry. It’s all so familiar (and I’m so old!). Here she describes the trains pulling through Penrith and heading up the mountain to Katoomba:

The little town retained a certain degree of importance as one of the busiest railway centres in the state, and its engine-sheds were the home of many locomotives. Here they were coaled, cleaned and oiled ere taking their stiff two-engine haul over the mountains to the wide, straight, pastoral and wheat-growing West; and their calling and rumbling made cheery music all the year round, excepting a short space on Sundays; while at night, as they climbed the crests of the mountain-spurs, every time they fired, the red light belching from their engine doors could be seen for miles down the valley.

Romances go as romances go; Grandma Clay is concerned about the perils of girls  marrying ‘up’; Dawn is inclined to marry any local yokel rather than be stuck at home; and the anti-marriage sentiment is mostly in the context of the election – men expecting that the women of the household will vote as directed (by them).

In fact, most of the book centres on the election, and when it was eventually published 4 or 5 years later, Franklin requested that publicity be directed at the women’s suffrage campaign in England where women were not to receive the vote fully until 1928.

There’s unfortunately quite a bit of gratuitous racism of the “even a gin wouldn’t behave so badly” variety, or the woman campaigner whose children were left to run about “so untended as to be indistinguishable from aboriginals”, and even if these are typical men’s views, Miles makes no attempt to counter them.

The incumbent makes his pitch to men in the bar where he can buy their votes with free grog, while the women mostly support the opposition candidate who is for temperance – a strong stream in the women’s movement when drunken husbands were a major problem. “The men on the Ministerial side were nearly gangrene with disgust, because, as one put it, “nearly all [the opposition candidate’s] men were women”.

Dawn becomes overwrought when one man, a neighbour, goes down the pub and leaves his wife to give birth alone, until Grandma comes to the rescue, and takes it all out on Ernest, who must be mollified by the narrator:

“Can you not grasp that she was irritated beyond endurance with the unwholesomeness of the whole system of life in relation to women, and that for the moment you appeared as one of the army of oppressors?”

After this, the “uncle”, whose perfidy has become known, is tarred and feathered (literally!) by Dawn and friends. Shades of #Harvey Weinstein, they tell him,

“Yes, good women have to continually suffer the degradation of your type in all life’s most sacred relations. They have to endure you at their board and in their homes, and leering at their sweet young daughters …”

Then the election. Miles is more concerned with women voting, and parliament therefore having to consider their interests than in who actually gets in. Then as now, there was no real difference in their policies, nor in the self interest of members on both sides. Interestingly, on the night following, the newspaper office has a scoreboard in the window, just as we do today on television, with the names of winners going up as they are declared elected.

The story glides slowly to its natural end. Miles Franklin is not a natural story-teller and this is a typically awkward account of love making (in the old fashioned sense!) though for once she has marriage on her mind, she was only 25 after all.What little narrative tension there is is in Dawn’s choice of suitor. But Franklin believes very strongly that the groom should be as pure as the bride and this limits her choices somewhat.

Overall, Franklin’s detailed account of electioneering and town meetings, of ‘everyday folk’ serving the railways and farming on the banks of Nepean, paints a brilliant picture of a few, important months in the life of one of Australia’s oldest white settlements.

 

Miles Franklin, Some Everyday Folk and Dawn, first pub. 1909. This edition Virago, London, 1986 with introduction by Jill Roe. Cover painting, detail from “Cove on the Hawkesbury”, Charles Condor.


For links to all my other Miles Franklin posts I’ve replaced my Miles Franklin Central post with a page – ‘Miles Franklin’ in the menu overhead – or click here