Vida, Jacqueline Kent

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Given that I specialise in unmarried turn of the C20th women, Vida Goldstein (1869-1949) is one of my favourite people, and I have been meaning to read this recent (2020) biography for some time. I finally got it on BorrowBox and listened on the way over to Melbourne. I had a heap of deliveries throughout rural Victoria and had set aside Tuesday to get them finished, but as it turns out, I finished early, Mum is unvisitable in these Covid times, and so for once I had a day off. Hence this review.

Vida Goldstein was a suffragist, a pacifist and a socialist; she stood for Federal Parliament, unsuccessfully, three times; she undertook popular speaking tours of England and the US.

Kent’s biography, and her reading of it, are pretty dry. There is none of the life which made Sylvia Martin’s Passionate Friends for instance so enjoyable. Passionate Friends centres on Mabel Singleton and Mary Fullerton who were committee members of Goldstein’s Women’s Political Association, and on their friend, Miles Franklin, but provides lots of detail about early WPA meetings.

I imagine there are not many mistakes of fact, but Kent makes a couple in regards to Franklin, whom she claims for Vida as a significant friend. MF only lived in Melbourne, Goldstein’s home town, once, in about 1904. The two met then – MF had introductions from Rose Scott, the Sydney suffragist with whom she had stayed in 1902 (see My Career Goes Bung) – and they remained lifelong correspondents. They met again, briefly, in 1911, when both were in London. And except maybe in later years when MF was back in Australia and moving around a bit, that was it.

For whatever reason MF didn’t attend Goldstein’s meetings in 1904 – she didn’t meet Mary Fullerton until the 1920s. And in London they were attracted by different branches of the suffragist movement – not mentioned by Kent. Goldstein was a firm supporter of the Pankhursts’ Suffragettes, until they took a pro-war stance in 1914; while Franklin was a member of a breakaway group – the Women’s Freedom League.

What really got up my nose was the sentence which went “when she was about 20 Franklin’s family moved from her birthplace Talbingo to Penrith” [then a country town on the outskirts of Sydney]. Talbingo was MF’s birthplace, but it was her mother’s mother’s home. Mrs Franklin famously rode 60 miles through the snow to get there for the confinement. The Franklin’s lived at the Franklin family property Brindabella until MF was 8 or 9, when Mr Franklin moved them all to a dairy farm nearer to Goulburn. My memory is that MF had already left home before the move to Penrith and was a trainee nurse, though she was familiar enough with the town to set her second published novel there, Some Everyday Folk and Dawn.

I don’t have any more criticisms, well one small one, and a surprising one coming from me, Vida is overwhelmingly parochial, nothing important (in suffragism etc) seems to happen except in Victoria. (White) female suffrage was achieved in Victoria in 1908, in NSW and Federally in 1902, and in South Aust in 1894. Rose Scott and Louisa Lawson in Sydney are barely mentioned; Goldstein’s struggling newspaper the Woman’s Sphere is never compared with Lawson’s much more successful Dawn. The mother of Australian suffragism, Catherine Helen Spence, a South Australian, does not come into it until she congratulates Goldstein after her first campaign for the Senate.

Kent awards Goldstein the accolade “the first woman [in the British Empire] to nominate for Federal Parliament”, though eventually four women stood in that 1903 election; and Spence had been Australia’s ‘first female political candidate’ when she stood for the Federal Convention in 1897.

I’ll skip over Goldstein’s adherence to Christian Science, which played an important part in her life, to the extent that when she retired from politics she became a minister. There were two questions in my mind, coming into this book: How did Vida get started? and what about Cecelia John?

Kent is discreet about John, whom Sylvia Martin implies might have been in a relationship with Goldstein. John was a flamboyant type, I picture her on a white charger with a green and purple standard leading a peace march (maybe in connection with the first conscription debate of WWI). When she came into the WPA she was quickly given responsible positions and the two travelled together to England. That’s about it really. One time I wrote to Martin about one of her books and suggested John might be her next subject, but probably not.

So how did Vida get started? Her father, despite his surname, was an Irish protestant (his father was a Polish Jew). Her mother, Isabella, was from the Scottish/Australian squattocracy of Victoria’s Western District. Mr Goldstein was in business, in rural Victoria and then in Melbourne and was able to send Vida to PLC, Melbourne’s principal girls’ school (other alumnae include Henry Handel Richardson and Nettie Palmer). Both parents were involved in charities and Isabella was with Annette Bear-Crawford in obtaining the funding for Melbourne’s first women’s hospital, the Queen Victoria, in 1897.

Initially, Vida and her sisters supported themselves by running a co-ed preparatory school. But Vida quickly discovered an aptitude for organizing and speaking alongside her mother and Bear-Crawford, and by the time the latter died unexpectedly in 1899, Vida Goldstein was undisputed leader of the radical women’s movement in Victoria.

The book goes into some detail in relation to each of Vida’s campaigns, for the Senate and for the House of Representatives seat of Kooyong; her attempts to get women’s suffrage through the Victorian state parliament – always stymied by the upper house, the Legislative Council; her public speaking and her newspaper.

During the War Australian suffragists generally took a pacifist position and Goldstein received some flack about her name (its German-ness rather than its Jewishness). She seems to have become increasingly open about declaring herself a socialist, without ever abandoning her essential upper-middle-class persona.

This is a book I needed to read, for all its imperfections. I’m still a Vida fan and, while I might argue with her emphases, I’m sure Kent got the facts of her life right.

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Jacqueline Kent, Vida, Viking, Melbourne, 2020.

Iso again

Journal: 070

Iso again reminds me of Alone again, naturally. It’s certainly how I feel. Our incompetent federal government, with its incompetent international traveller quarantine and incompetent vaccination rollout and incompetent stewardship of the aged and disabled has allowed the latest, almost instantly transmissable strain of Covid-19 out into the general populace and so Victoria is locked down, heading into its second week as I write, WA has reinstated its ‘hard border’ and I in Melbourne loading, am heading back into mandatory isolation.

At least as an essential worker I can keep moving. And I will. I should be in Perth on Monday, unloaded Tues, second vaccination Weds, loaded Thurs, Fri and on my way back east over the weekend. Customers have not only contacted me with freight but one has organised to pay me in advance. How good is trucking!

Interestingly, it’s been a while since I had my brain probed with a nasal swab. The seven day test rule for truckies seems to have fallen into abeyance. Last year South Australia maintained testing stations at truck stops. But the one I used, at Port Augusta, has been closed these past two or three trips. I wonder if they’ll open it again with so much Covid on their border. Otherwise, I expect I’ll be tested within 48 hours of crossing into WA – Sun night if I’m making good time, more likely Monday.

Can you tell I have time on my hands and an itch to write? Posting just once a week seems wrong somehow, though it seems to be enough to keep my readership up. But as it turns out I’ve had nearly two days off in Melbourne since finishing unloading. Yesterday I wrote up Vida which I listened to on the way over (to be posted Sunday). Today’s Weds and I’ll post this, such as it is, while the ink’s hot.

I thought about writing up an episode in my life – I still owe Melanie an ‘I ran way to the circus’ story – but that seems to be something I would rather not just dash off. I’ve been thinking for a while about writing my autobiography, not as a book but as a series of posts over a number of years. How would I start? Brian Matthews writes that he thought about (and rejected) a conventional opening for Louisa – “she was born on such and such a date at …, add incidental detail for colour”. I could say “I was born in the bush hospital at Daylesford [70 years ago], weighing 8lb 10oz, after a farmer took mum in in his car from the little one teacher school at Leonard’s Hill, dad following later on his motorbike.” A few more sentences to dispose of my childhood and we could get on to the interesting stuff. I’ve no intention of competing with Sartre’s Words. I’m more Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, or Catcher in the Rye if I was good enough.

No one will ever be Joyce but if I were a writer I wouldn’t mind being Salinger or maybe DH Lawrence – yes I know, I’m Tiny Tim to their Placido Domingo.

The clock on the right of the screen says 10:58. That’s WA time, so it’s really 1pm and I’m due at the steel warehouse to load at 3.00. I have this constant backwards and forwards in my head between local and WA time because, by law, we have to keep our logbooks in home state time to stop us cheating when we cross the border. I normally drive from 5am to 10pm. The other day I leapt out of bed at 5.45 (on my phone) only to realise, after I started the engine, that I was in South Australia and so couldn’t move on for another 45 minutes.

I haven’t had time to list my audiobooks. But I’m currently listening to Herman Koch’s The Ditch (so-so) and reading Carmel Bird’s The Bluebird Cafe (whimsical).

Looking for a photo to illustrate this post I saw I had a sequence from my last trip – loading steel; tarped; some cars on top; hooked up as road train (on the cliffs overlooking the Bight).

I don’t usually have anything else under my tarps, but that trip I was carrying a drill press, ‘protected’ by shrink-wrap which quickly goes all Priscilla Queen of the Desert if you don’t cover it up.

As I said, Vida next, then, if I get them written, another installment of Such is Life, and a review of Butter Honey Pig Bread. Where will I find the time? And more books being if not read then listened to all the time. Maybe, by the end of next trip, a spell of iso will be looking more attractive.

Madame Midas, Fergus Hume

Reading Matters’ Southern Cross Crime Month, March 2021

When Kim at Reading Matters announced Southern Cross Crime Month I had a C19th century Australian detective novel at the back of my mind but struggled to bring it into the light. It was not Ellen Davitt’s Force and Fraud (1886) which Lisa and I both reviewed on its publication in book form for the first time in 2017. Nor was it Madame Midas which I found serendipitously in my ‘new books’ TBR pile; it was of course Hume’s much more famous The Mystery of the Hansom Cab (1886), which seeing as it is not on my shelves I must have borrowed, probably as an audiobook.

The cover notes say Hume self-published The Mystery of the Hansom Cab in Melbourne, where it sold 20,000 copies. He then sold the copyright in London, where it was also a success, in fact “the best-selling mystery novel of the Victorian era”, for £50, and never received another penny. He went on to write 140 novels and a small number of plays.

Fergusson Wright Hume (1859-1932) was born in England, raised and educated in New Zealand, came to Melbourne in 1885 or 6 and returned to England in 1888 (ADB). For the short time he was here he shows a remarkably intimate knowledge of Melbourne life and of underground mining at Ballarat. But he betrays himself in the opening chapter when two French convicts escaped from New Caledonia drift in their stolen boat to the coast of Queensland.

A bleak-looking coast, with huge water-worn promontories jutting out into the sea, daring the tempestuous fury of the waves, which dashed furiously in sheets of foam against the iron rocks.. At the back the cliffs rose in a kind of semi-circle, black and precipitous, to the height of about a hundred feet… At the top of these inhospitable-looking cliffs a line of pale green betrayed the presence of vegetation, and from thence it spread inland into vast rolling pastures ending far away at the outskirts of the bush, above which could be seen giant mountains with snow-covered ranges.

The Madame Midas of the title is a real woman, known to the author, Alice Cornwell, who owned and made a fortune from the Midas Mine in Ballarat. Clare Wright devotes her Introduction to her, another Independent Woman to add to my list, though here she has the name Mrs Villiers. As it is an important part of the plot that Villiers defrauds and deserts her, it is no wonder the real husband sued Hume. Unsuccessfully apparently.

Although The Mystery of the Hansom Cab was reputedly the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet (1887) Madame Midas is not a detective novel. Prior to Sherlock Holmes it was common for the role of detective to be split amongst a number of characters, see Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1860) for instance, but even that is not really the case here. About halfway through the novel Villiers attacks his estranged wife and steals from her an enormous gold nugget. Mrs Villiers knocks him down but we know he was still alive later in the night, after which he disappears, and although various people’ including the police, look for him, life goes on.

The two French escapees are a Parisian playboy convicted of poisoning his mistress, who adopts the name Gaston Vandeloup and a big, mute man, unable to read or write, or understand English, whom Vandeloup is constantly worried will reveal his secrets. After we have been introduced to Mrs Villiers and her mine, which is following a promising lead – the bed of a stream buried eons since which contains alluvial gold – the two Frenchmen turn up and are given jobs, Vandeloup as office manager.

Villiers is hanging around Ballarat looking to intimidate his estranged wife into sharing with him her new fortune, after having run through the fortune she inherited from her father. And we get to meet the pretty and innocent Kitty, daughter of a non-conformist minister. There’s also a family of travelling players who pop up as needed, and various others, mostly upper-middle class loafers and socialites.

Vandeloup persuades Kitty to fall in love with him, takes her to Melbourne, but puts off marrying her because the big prize is Mrs Villiers, if Villiers is finally gone. Mrs Villiers makes her fortune and moves to a big house in (Melbourne bayside suburb) St Kilda previously featured in The Mystery of the Hansom Cab. After a year Kitty and Vandeloup break up and Kitty ends up living with Mrs Villiers. Kitty plans to poison Mrs Villiers to stop Vandeloup from marrying her, Vandeloup plans to poison Kitty. Someone puts poison in a glass by Mrs Villiers’ bed. Her companion Selina drinks it and dies.

I won’t tell you any more. It’s an entertaining enough story, with the expected convoluted ending, of general rather than literary fiction quality, but an interesting view of Melbourne after the goldrushes when it was for a while the richest city in the world.

A note for Emma/Book Around the Corner, Fergus Hume’s early novels were apparently inspired by the works of French detective fiction pioneer Émile Gaboriau (1832-1873) who was at that time very popular in Melbourne (in translation).

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Fergus Hume, Madame Midas, self-pub. Melbourne, 1888. My edition Text Classics, Melbourne, 2017.

Cosmo Cosmolino, Helen Garner

On Melbourne summer mornings the green trams go rolling in stately progress down tunnels thick with leaves: the bright air carries along the avenues their patient chime, the chattering of their wheels.

I might stop my review right there. How Melbourne is Helen Garner!

I should have stopped there. The much praised Cosmo Cosmolino, as far as I was concerned, was almost completely incomprehensible. Not the individual words and sentences, not of course Garner’s always perceptive accounts of Melbourne inner suburban share-house life, but where the hell was she going with it.

My Text edition (not the one pictured – the Text edition has a boring black cover with a few stars) has an Introduction by Melbourne biologist and radio presenter Ramona Koval, which I didn’t read, two short stories – Recording Angel (25pp) and A Vigil (27pp) – and then Cosmo Cosmolino (217pp).

Recording Angel

The narrator is unnamed. Let’s call her Helen. Helen’s friend Patrick lives in Sydney with his wife and son. On a visit Patrick tells Helen he has brain cancer. Helen is devastated.

.. Patrick recited my life like a poem he had learnt by heart; and over the years of our friendship I had come to endure his version without open rebellion ..

They discuss Helen’s friend Ursula who Patrick had filed under ‘Became an Alcoholic and a Prostitute’ and who threw herself under a tram after the death of her daughter. A visit or two later and Helen is at Patrick’s to support Natalie while Patrick undergoes an operation. The night before, they talk and talk. After Patrick comes out of the operation the two women gape “with shock and fear at the foot of the bed” then rush out of the hospital.

A Vigil

Kim was hanging on by a thread, taking pills, waiting endless months for her father to come down from Queensland, pay her uni fees, take her away. Raymond, living with her, or in the same house anyway, uses her

The nightdress was twisted up round her waist and her skin was loose, like old sacking. She had about as much life in her as a half-deflated dummy, but without complaint she opened her legs, and he kept his face turned away, to avoid her breath.

Raymond stays away for four days, at his brother’s in a rooming house in another part of the city. When he comes back he passes Kim’s mother in the street, a man tagging along. Ursula. Kim is dead. He finds her, still in bed, her face flyblown, and rushes back to his brother’s, where Ursula finds him a few days later to drag him to the funeral. And then to be punished.

Cosmo Cosmolino

Janet has an old two storey terrace house that used to be a vibrant share-house. Those years are long gone. She’s been married. The stain is still on the wall from the saucepan of beetroot soup she flung at him as she told him to get out. Now she works from home with a battered typewriter, making a living knocking out short pieces for magazines, the decaying house an albatross around her neck. Over the years she had ..

retreated before chaos, closing doors as she went, leaving timber half-stripped and plaster unpainted, until only in the kitchen was any kind of order maintained.

Maxine “lived in a shed and called herself a carpenter”. For money she did cleaning, ironing, mowing. But the property she lives on is sold, and she is homeless. She ends up at Janet’s, in the shed at the end of the garden.

And there’s a guy, Ray, who is taken in the same day, down from the North where his brother, Alby, has fed him stories of communal living, half naked women, food always on the table in vast quantities. He takes Alby’s old room, upstairs at the back. Is disappointed to discover they buy their food separately, and eat at different times, hurriedly, “in a kitchen corner, or bowed over a newspaper at the white table”.

So far, so Helen Garner. But the story develops a fanastical element. Where did that come from?

Something tells Maxine that she will have a baby. Fathered by Ray.

Janet swallowed. ‘And – Ray does know about this, I suppose?’
‘Perhaps not with his conscious mind, yet,’ said Maxine. ‘That depends on the number of his incarnations.’
‘Sorry?’ said Janet.
‘Oh, everybody,’ said Maxine, ‘at some stage has to do a spell on earth.’…
‘I know it sounds strange at first’ … ‘See – angelic beings aren’t necessarily aware of their status.’

Ray, on the other hand (being a Queenslander) “knows Jesus”. Sure, Garner is making fun of them, but somewhere along the line she buys into it.

Life goes on. Maxine makes a ‘bride’ out of straw and Ray’s best shirt (a doll with magic powers) which assumes an importance I don’t understand. Ray somehow gets a job, saves money, hides a grand at the bottom of his dirty clothes basket. Maxine gets involved with a pyramid scheme for getting rich. ‘Borrows’ Ray’s grand and blows it on the scheme. Alby arrives with a truckload of worthless second-hand furniture. Maxine floats away in a cloud of jonquils.

If an author, as Garner has done here, declares a collection of pieces to be a novel, then that is how I will read it. But these pieces don’t speak to each other at all. If this is a novel, then as far as I am concerned, it is a failed novel.

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Helen Garner, Cosmo Cosmolino, first pub. 1992. My edition Text, Melbourne, 2012. 283pp.

The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas

Christos Tsiolkas (1965 – ) might have started out all rebellious, inner suburban and edgy, but The Slap (2008) has him situated with all he pretends to despise in middle class middlebrow Australian/Melbournian leafy suburban life and writing. The Slap is a waste, a waste of my limited reading time, a waste of his talent.

I will say the worst thing I can about The Slap. It was not written to be read, it was written to be marketed, to generate argument, to generate sales. It is not a novel, just a list of issues wrapped around a thin story. I could say good luck to him. Perhaps he looked at Liane Moriarty’s sales and felt envious. But I expected more.

What are the issues? Corporal punishment, of course, by a person not the child’s parent or teacher; paedophilia; domestic violence; multi-ethnic relationships; homosexuality; abortion; adultery; suburban tedium; they all get a run. Some of them I have opinions about, well all of them really, but not in the context of this review. Interestingly, in light of Loaded, drugs are not an ‘issue’, everyone just takes them.

The story starts with a backyard bbq hosted by Hector and his wife Aisha. Hector is a Greek-Australian public servant, boring as batshit; Aisha, despite her Muslim name, is an Anglo-Indian with her own veterinary practice. Both are fortyish. They live in Northcote, a gentrified northern suburb of Melbourne, not inner and trendy like the adjacent Fitzroy, but more than ok. In fact the only joy of this book is that Tsiolkas knows Melbourne and gets all the suburbs just right.

It was a tacky pokies pub in the middle of nowhere, boganville. Every street looked the same, every house looked the same, everybody looked the same. It was where you came to die. Zombies lived here. He could hear them monotonously tapping away at the machines.

Richie: And as he subsequently ends up at a flat in Whitehorse Rd, he’s presumably talking about the Blackburn Hotel.

At the party are Hector’s cousin Harry a successful mechanic/garage owner who lives in an expensive bayside MacMansion (think Shane Warne); Hector’s parents; Aisha’s brother (who plays no part in the story); Aisha’s besties, Rosie and Anouk, from her schooldays in Perth’s Scarborough Beach; various wives, husbands and children; and two teenagers who are in year 12 together – Connie who works part-time in Aisha’s surgery, and Richie whose mother does likewise. I seem to have left out the token Indigenous guy who with his wife has converted to Islam, they pop up occasionally playing bit-parts.

Rosie and her alcoholic husband have a three year old boy, Hugo, who is still breast-fed and who is totally unrestrained. Hugo when given out at cricket lifts a bat at Harry’s older and larger son Rocco. Harry instinctively smacks him on the bum. The party breaks up in outrage and disbelief. Rosie goes to the police, who lay charges.

The story, being told initially by Hector, is carried forward in turns by most of the people named above, which leads to a lot of unnecessary digression.

Anouk for instance is a screen-writer for what is obviously Neighbours – Tsiolkas even has her driving out to Channel Ten’s outer eastern suburban studios, just across the paddocks from my parents’ first Melbourne house, in Blackburn South – with a younger lover who is an actor in the series.

And so while Hector (40) lech’s over Connie (17); Harry restrains his violence with a mistress in the (working class) western suburbs; Anouk gets pregnant, has an abortion, starts work on the Great Australian Novel; Richie deals with his gayness; Connie chooses a boyfriend and becomes, with Richie, Hugo’s babysitter; Hector’s father deals with being retired and being Greek; Aisha attends a conference in Thailand, gets laid and discovers that apart from still being extremely good looking Hector doesn’t have much going for him; they all take sides, with all the Greeks on Harry’s side and everyone else on Rosie’s. There’s the court case. There’s lots of subsidiary drama, yes I know, all straight out of the Neighbours playbook; and after the best part of a year everyone seems to be no further ahead than they were.

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Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2008


Melanie/Grab the Lapels and I read this as a buddy read. She doesn’t review men writers on GTL but she has written to me with her responses and I will put them up in a couple of days (just as soon as I get home). Meanwhile, I have turned off Comments and I hope you will save them up till you have read us both.


See Also:
Bill curates: Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap, (Whispering Gums)
Melanie’s response: A letter from America (here)

Covid-19, Testing, Testing

Journal: 054

SF Naked Women

Why have I commenced with three naked women? Because I can? Maybe. Or because WG and I and Neil@ Kallaroo diverted ourselves in the Comments on a recent Monday Musings to a discussion of old time SF covers and naked women in bubble helmets. A quick survey of my shelves brought up these just in the Vs and Ws but not any bubble helmets, and in fact I would say the majority of my 1960s and 70s covers were space ships, as below.

Jack Vance The Face

So, does this presage a change in direction of my reviewing. In short, no. I’ve been blogging more than five years without exhausting my stocks of pre-War Australian women writers, and with judicious up-topping will easily manage another five. To even make a dent in my shelves of SF would take me another lifetime.

But to the matter at hand. I am home, in Perth. Let us put up a truck pic and restart.

IMG20200730142558

When last we spoke I was masked up in Melbourne, loading for home, looking forward with some trepidation to crossing from Victoria into SA and more particularly from SA into WA. I loaded three trailers with steel, topped up with cars and set out once more, on Thursday, up through the Mallee to Ouyen and into SA at Pinnaroo. SA require drivers to obtain an entry permit on line. I’d submitted an application but been refused. I complained. Two very nice clerks from SAPol phoned me separately to get me going. Turns out my permit for my previous trip was valid for six months. Problem solved.

The WA border was just as easy. In the two or three weeks since my last crossing WA had instituted an online permit called G2G, presumably Good to Go. I got one. The policeman at the border – police people are so young these days – scanned my phone with his phone, issued me stern instructions to get a virus test within 48 hours of that minute, 9pm Friday, and another on the eleventh day – I was given a chart showing that the eleventh day after a Friday is a Tuesday – on pain of a $50,000 fine.

I forgot to say I’m not allowed in SA without a test every seven days. Seems to me the chances of WA’s eleventh day and SA’s seventh day being the same day are pretty slim.

I had my 48 hour test this afternoon (Sunday) at Royal Perth where I was met at the door – separate from the main door of course – by two preliminary surveyors, passed on to a receptionist who took down much the same info and then after a short wait, to a serious senior woman, nurse or doctor I don’t know, who was at some pains to discuss my situation, the situation of truck drivers in general, and to explain the procedure – swabs from the back of my throat and from each nostril. It’s meant to be uncomfortable rather than painful but the back of my nose was still stinging an hour later.

I had been concerned that if I was ever going to get infected it would be in a waiting room full of people waiting to be tested, but as I should have guessed from WA’s usual daily zero cases, I was the only customer.

Homer, the friendly manager of the transport company I load out of Melbourne for, has a new client and wants me to do the first load from Perth to Melbourne (probably because his own drivers refused). I’m loading one trailer tomorrow just as soon as I can get it unloaded and I think I’m expected in Melbourne Friday. I hope he’s not reading this because I can’t get away early enough to be there before the following Monday.

The big problem of course is that as of last night Victoria has declared a ‘State of Disaster’ and tomorrow will start closing businesses. I can always unload at the transport depot if the client is unable to receive me, but will I then find a load home? And having loaded will SA let me transit, will WA let me back in?

Tune in this time in ten days for the next exciting episode. Chicken Man! (oops, sorry, wrong promo).

Covid-19, the Second Wave

Journal: 053

IMG20200727183405

All masked up in Melbourne. I didn’t know selfies were reversed, which you can tell, well I can, by the name on the truck behind me. Melbourne is up to 500 new Covid cases a day, the rest of Australia maybe 20. Melbourne is in lockdown while Sydney partys. They’ll get theirs.

I set out on this current trip last Thursday. The Victorian government had already made masks mandatory in Melbourne, but the big new development (for me) is WA’s announcement that drivers from Melbourne and Sydney will be tested for Covid at the border and not allowed to proceed until the test results are returned a couple of days later. I’m not sure how this is going to work, there’s no where to park on the WA side of the border until Mundrabilla roadhouse, nearly 100 km further on (and it’s illegal to carry fresh food with you!). I’m hoping we’ll be allowed to proceed to Norseman, another 600 km and the first town on the WA side of the Nullarbor. I should be there by Friday, I’ll let you know what happens.

All small beer compared with the preparations for civil war in the US. Trump’s troops trained to fanaticism on the southern border, Black Water mercenaries, US Marine wannabees and dropouts, airlifted into Democrat controlled cities, ostensibly to control anarchist protesters (and moms) but really to intimidate POC/workers attempting to vote in person in November – 98 days to go. Republicans mobilising tens of thousands of “poll watchers”, reinforced by ex-Navy Seals, in support, the defence forces hopefully lining up with the government but police forces – looking at you Seattle – showing signs of swinging the other way.

Trump you’ll notice is barely campaigning, he obviously believes he doesn’t have to. And then there’s Facebook and Russia. Meanwhile Covid-19 is a firestorm raging through the populations of the USA and all the other poor or poorly managed nations (I read somewhere that the US is a third world nation with a very rich plutocracy and a shrinking and increasingly irrelevant middle class).

I follow Trump news on the internet obsessively. Obviously! And it struck me as I began to write this in the few hours before I go out to load home just how much has changed in the two weeks since the last Journal. One word – Portland. I really hope that in another two weeks I’m just another crazed conspiracy theorist. And I really, really hope that by my 70th in March it is all over – Trump, Covid-19, Recession. Don’t like my chances.

What else have I been doing? I was nearly at the end of my 14 days quarantine in Perth when a very nicely paying road train load came together, even when one customer cancelled another popped up straight away. I took my time and toddled over to Victoria, arrived at the weekend, unloaded Sunday/Monday and here I am, masked up in the truckstop, after a big vegie breakfast, waiting for Homer to call me back with my first pickup.

I finished listening to Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (1898) – from Proj. Gutenberg with one very pleasant reader – I’m sure it’s a standard in American Lit classes but I had no expectations and boy, the ending comes as a shock.

Then a standard US murder mystery thriller, and a short, very well written memoir by [I’ll look this name up when I get back in the truck, Annie Ernaux] a French woman writing about her mother’s descent into Alzheimers. The most interesting bit for me was her writing about writing.

Now I’m in the middle of Jasper Fffforde’s Shades of Grey, an amusing take on steampunk SF. The young male protagonist is surrounded by marriage prospects and what I’ve been thinking about most – goes off to load…

that’s one trailer done. Two to go.

… is the sort of girl or woman I find attractive in books (and in life, as it happens). It’s nearly always the bright, annoying one on the edge of the crowd at school, and the lead guy’s friend, not girlfriend – Jamie Lee Curtis and not Elle Macpherson, though the one that really springs to mind is Roseanne’s second daughter. The reason’s obvious when you think about it, who is more likely to write books, the outsider or the prom queen? So I’m pretty sure the permanently angry working class (‘grey’) girl who is seemingly trying to kill the hero will be the one he ends up with.

Ok, I’ve got another trailer to load. More anon.

Melbourne and Sydney

This post went up yesterday as a guest post on Whispering Gums’ Monday Musings series.

Norman Lindsay

In the 1870s and 1880s Melbourne was both Australia’s largest and wealthiest city and its literary centre – around figures like Marcus Clarke, George McCrae (son of Georgianna), Adam Lindsay Gordon, Henry Kendall, Ada Cambridge, Tasma.

What I want to discuss here is the movement of the literary centre to Sydney and how that worked out, during the first half of the twentieth century. This is an opinion piece rather than the result of any great research so feel free to add to what I say and to correct my mistakes.

Sue (Whispering Gums) has always been interested in the women of this period of Australian writing, and over the past few years we, the Australian Lit.Blogging community, have done a lot to establish in our own minds at least, who the women writers were and to review their work. On my blog, I broke Australian writing into ‘Generations’ more or less in line with HM Green’s ‘Periods’ in his History of Australian Literature, so: Gen 1 1788-1890, Gen 2 1890-1918, Gen 3 1919-1960.

Gen 2 and the first years of Gen 3 were characterized by being both Sydney-centred and seriously misogynist. Gen 2 covered the years of the Sydney Bulletin magazine’s greatest influence, Federation, rising nationalism, WWI.  The Bulletin‘s stable of writers: Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson, Steele Rudd, Joseph Furphy and a host of bush poets, and the drawings of Lindsay Norman (who moved up from Melbourne after leaving art school) followed by the War reporting of Keith Murdoch and CEW Bean left us with an indelible image of ourselves as resourceful bushmen, and larrikin fighting men. An image which both excluded women and around which they had to work.

The Bulletin openly scorned home life and dismissed the popular women writers of the previous generation as ‘Melbourne-based romance writers’.

“The Sydney Bulletin liked to believe that in ‘virile cultures’ where ‘home-life [had] not become so all absorbing: ‘men live and struggle and fight out in the open most of the time. When they go to their homes they go to beat their wives…’{3 Nov. 1888} According to the Bulletin, home life trammelled a man’s spirit and sapped his masculinity. And it robbed him of his independence.” Marilyn Lake, 1986

This bled into Gen 3 and the Lindsay-led Sydney Push of the 1920s, an antipodean Bohemia where women were only of use as models and for sex.

For those of us over say, 50 our history, including such literary history as got past the anglophile gatekeepers, was written and taught by returned servicemen, and they very much bought into the myths of the lone bushman, mateship etc. So it is important to realise that there is another history, that of strong, independent women, which is not taught. In the 1890s both Melbourne and Sydney had vibrant women’s movements focussed on (white) female suffrage, yes, but also on domestic violence, temperance, and women’s welfare. The Melbourne movement coalesced around Annette Bear and Vida Goldstein, and Sydney around Rosa Scott and Louisa Lawson, and Lawson’s newspaper, Dawn.

Miles Franklin is the prime example of a woman writer who was influenced by the nationalism of the Bulletin but wrote with a definite pro-woman and anti-marriage slant. After the publication and instant success of My Brilliant Career in 1901 Franklin was taken up by Rosa Scott, and then subsequently fell in with Goldstein’s lot when she moved to Melbourne and became life-long friends with Melbourne suffragists Mary Fullerton and Mabel Singleton. Her fictionalised biographies My Career Goes Bung and Cockatoos describe her year in the Sydney literary set, living with Scott, flirting with AB Paterson, and meeting Lindsay and (Bulletin editor) Archibald.

Franklin lived overseas for many years, from 1906 to the 1930s and when she came back for good, to her mother’s house in Sydney it was to a changed literary scene, one dominated by women. During the 20s women had been excluded from the Sydney Push’s literary magazine, Vision and maybe only Zora Cross with her erotic poems fitted in with the times. Anne Brennan, daughter of drunken poet Christopher Brennan, who hung around the Lindsay push for grog and sex, and tried to write, tried to fit in and failed. Christina Stead was tempted to join the Push, but her compulsion to earn enough to flee overseas saved her.

The Melbourne scene gathered around Nettie and Vance Palmer. Vance, originally a Queenslander, tried hard to be a writer in the Bulletin tradition but hasn’t stood the test of time. They were friends with Louis and Hilda Esson and with the poet Maurice Furnley. But more importantly Nettie and Hilda had been at school together at Melbourne’s Presbyterian Ladies College, and subsequently at university. Hilda had been neighbours with Katherine Susannah Prichard’s family and introduced KSP to Nettie. Earlier alumni of PLC included Vida Goldstein and Henry Handel Richardson who of course wrote about the school in The Getting of Wisdom.

Nettie, a poet and scholar, maintained an enormous correspondence with a great many Australian writers and was important in maintaining links with expatriates like Richardson.

Sydney women wrote from their homes, isolated from each other until the formation of the Fellowship of Australian Writers in 1928 by Mary Gilmore, Steele Rudd and John le Gay Brereton. Later in the 30s the FAW’s most prominent members were Miles Franklin, Marjorie Barnard and Frank Dalby Davidson [Sue says I should include here that the FAW’s first female president was Flora Eldershaw in 1935].

So what can I say about that fixture of Australian life: Melbourne-Sydney rivalry. Melbourne ‘had’ Katherine Susannah Prichard, but she was living in Perth; Henry Handel Richardson, acknowledged for years as Australia’s best writer, but long since based in England; (the late) Joseph Furphy, writer of the Great Australian Novel, Such is Life; and Nettie Palmer.

Sydney, by the outbreak of WWII, had a blossoming of writers: Kylie Tennant, Marjorie Barnard, Flora Eldershaw, Dymphna Cusack, Eleanor Dark, Ernestine Hill, and Patrick White just setting out. You be the judge.

 

For a compilation of posts on Australian (mostly) women’s writing up to 1960 see

theaustralianlegend, AWW Gen 1, 1788-1890 (here)
theaustralianlegend, AWW Gen 2, 1890-1918 (here)
theaustralianlegend, AWW Gen 3, 1919-1960 (here)

The Rosie Result, Graeme Simsion

Brona’s AusReadingMonth Bingo, November 2019 – [Vic]

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Simsion’s “screenplay for The Rosie Project is in development with Sony Pictures”. Do I feel I have been sucked in by the hype for this series or should I be pleased that Australian authors, Lianne Moriarty (here and here) is another, are getting some reward for effort? I fall somewhere in between.

I reviewed The Rosie Project (here), which I enjoyed, and later read the sequel, The Rosie Effect, which I found forced and derivative. The Rosie Result regains some of the life and originality of The Rosie Project, at least in part by concentrating on the developmental issues encountered by Don and Rosie’s son, Hudson, who is very similar to Don, over the course of his last year in Primary school.

The great strength of the book is the way Simsion raises and deals with issues from the debates around Aspergers Syndrome and the Austism spectrum by explicitly discussing, having the protagonists, including Hudson, discuss, how they apply or don’t apply to Hudson.

Briefly, and I hope I get this right, I listened to the audiobook last week, and don’t have a hard copy to look up, Don and Rosie are living and working in NY. Their son and only child Hudson is aged about 11. Rosie, a medical doctor with a PhD in psychology, is offered a prestigious research position back home in Melbourne. Don, a mathematician working in genetics, is happy for her career to take precedence and in any case expects to and does find a suitable position at Melbourne Uni. Hudson is not happy about changing schools but doesn’t get a vote. The audiobook reader gives Hudson a generic American accent throughout, emphasising the difficulty Hudson has in adjusting to school in Australia.

In Melbouren, Hudson is put into a private school, makes friends with a girl with albinism, is misunderstood by his teacher – who starts out as the “villian”, but is more sympathetic towards the end, gets transferred to another class where he gradually blossoms.

The premise of the story is that Hudson’s problems at school lead to the conclusion that he needs a stay-at-home parent. Logically (of course) Don adopts that role and gives up his professorship (after giving a lecture on genetics where he asks students to place themselves on a race/colour spectrum to prove something – I forget what – in answer to a query from a student who is setting him up).

But this leaves the family short of money, so Don opens a cocktail bar which is specified so as to be only suitable for people with autism, and which should only occupy his time when Hudson is in bed. Except he very rarely is, often sleeps behind the bar, and has an official position as greeter and trainer (you’re meant to order your drinks using a complicated app).

Don meanwhile becomes friends with Hudson’s friend’s mother, who is in an abusive relationship – which is a polite way of saying she is dominated by and sometimes belted by her husband and seems to like it – which eventually leads to Don being able to do some he-man stuff at a school function.

All the old characters are back. Don continues to be supported by Claudia, his ex-best friend’s ex-wife; and by his men’s group from NY, until they end up in Melbourne. Hudson gets his own support group, Gene and Claudia’s son and daughter. There’s a little running joke about damage to his father in law’s Porsche, which Don is driving, being blamed on Rosie. And so on. Rosie still seems to be the one who must adapt to Don’s logical idiocies.

The Rosie Result is worth reading/listening to just for, maybe only for, the considered debate about autism. But of course, despite the fact the kids and I all think we’re somewhere on the spectrum, it’s a subject I know nothing about and Simsion may for all I know be completely wrong. I hope not because he’s going to get millions of readers.

 

Graeme Simsion, The Rosie Result, Text, Melbourne, 2019. Audiobook read by Dan O’Grady.

Islands, Peggy Frew

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My purchase and review of Peggy Frew’s recently released Islands are to make up for my blowing off a review of Frew’s “best selling” Hope Farm (2015) (here). I don’t regret it. Frew seems to me an innovative and interesting writer, and a writer who writes out of places and personal situations that she knows – which you know I prefer. The “Islands” of the title refer in the first place to Phillip Island, a semi rural family holiday spot at the mouth of Westernport Bay, an hour or two east of Melbourne. I guess the title also alludes to the separateness of the protagonists, but that sort of thing generally eludes me.

The Age/SMH review I’ve linked to below (if you can access it) seems to refer to Frew’s connections to Phillip Island and to the history of the ms in relation to both her childhood and to her other writing. I didn’t read it all. But going by Hope Farm and Islands, Frew does seem to be working through a problem with distant mothering – a mother, not necessarily her own I hasten to add, who takes frequent, inappropriate lovers, the protagonist/daughter excluded, more or less abandoned.

Islands‘ principle protagonist is Junie Worth but at the core of the novel is the disappearance of Junie’s younger sister Anna when she, Anna is 15. Frew works hard to vary both the points of view and the nature of the excerpts that gradually build up into pictures of first Junie, mostly as she sees herself, and then Anna as others saw her.

In my opinion, the story-telling works best when Frew is closest to her subject matter, ie the details of Junie’s childhood, adolesence and marriage and least well when Frew is more ambitious, for instance when she reports as monologue John Worth’s – the girls’ father’s – therapy.

It’s been three years. There was a police investigation. And they found nothing, they were fucking useless, pardon me. And they just seemed to give up really fast. They were saying things like, If someone doesn’t want to be found there’s not a lot we can do. This is a child we’re talking about!

She was fifteen. I said that; didn’t you scribble it down in your secret little notes?

Okay, maybe I didn’t say it. Sorry. Sorry about that. I just get fired up when I think about the cops. Phew, okay, sorry.

John has married the beautiful Helen at university. He is anal, she is a free spirit. His mother has a house on the island – not named, though the principal town, Cowes is, late in the book – where they spend much of their time. They have two girls. Helen takes a lover. Leaves to live with the lover. Takes the girls. Leaves the lover. Takes a flat, men coming and going.

When Junie’s in year 12 she lives permanently with her father, to do her matric without distractions. Anna dislikes her father, his agonizing over the failed marriage, stays with Helen. We – the reader – know from the beginning that Anna is/goes missing.

You were a girl, thin and young, with veins that showed blue through your pale, pale skin and you hair was reddish-gold and really you were still a kid when we saw you last [opening lines].

The back cover blurb gives away this and more. I resent/resist reading blurbs, all blurbs, but especially those like this one that in summarizing the story release all the early ‘secrets’.

The excerpts, mostly dated, swirl around as the author gradually builds a picture of life for these people – from John’s childhood through to Junie’s children –  on this island, and in their home suburb. An effect which is spoiled to some extent by giving us Helen’s childhood in one big chunk late in the book.

Even as Helen is looking up langorously from the latest lover to wonder lazily where Anna might be; as Junie goes from uni to marriage to motherhood; as John searches dementedly city streets and railway stations; we begin to see more of Anna as teenage schoolgirl. Short skirts, cigarettes, dope, bare scarred legs, missed classes, late nights. Acting out. See her through the eyes of classmates, more distantly through Junie.

Junie can look back on the past, when Anna was there. She can see, behind her, that world, where things were aligned. And then there is a signpost, a marker, which is Anna being gone. And after that the void opens… you wake each day in the world of No Anna.

Slowly, John settles with a new, sensible wife; Helen moves to Noosa with her guru/partner; Junie (now June) stays clear of Helen, her own marriage coming apart.

There are resolutions. In an unfortunate final chapter Frew suggests an ending for Anna, which might have been better left up in the air. I admire Frew, for the risks she has taken in telling the story this way, and yet I believe that if she were to focus on one protagonist – herself of course – and her relationship with her mother, however fictionalised, and were just to write and write her way through that, with the most limited externalities, then she would better achieve her potential as a writer of character-based literary fiction.

But perhaps I’m wrong.  Maybe the mother-daughter stuff’s all done with now and the next book is about something else altogether. We’ll see. You might not think so, but I do understand that novels need ‘stories’ to be saleable, I just, mostly, find stories uninteresting. Meanwhile, read it for yourself. I enjoyed it, and despite the reservations some of you expressed about Hope Farm, I think you will too.

 

Peggy Frew, Islands, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2019

Age/SMH review, Melanie Kembrey, 22 March 2019 (here)