Those Who Perish, Emma Viskic

Back in the 1950s, which sometimes still feels like yesterday, ‘people’ would complain, about Doris Day movies, that breaking into song at critical moments was ‘unrealistic’. It took me a long time to understand that musical theatre was an art form with particular rules into which the story was made to fit, and longer to realise that all modes of story telling have rules which of course skillful story tellers modify as they go along.

What brought this to mind today was the extraordinary, “unrealistic” – for ‘real’ life, not for thrillers – number of violent deaths which deaf PI Caleb Zelic has to deal with over the course of this novel. I’m sure action thrillers are also an art form, but killing for art’s sake is not a concept that turns me on.

Nevertheless, except for one sequence which seemed to me was going to be all ‘action’, I listened all the way through to the end and in places even experienced mild enjoyment. One of the great improvements in crime fiction over time has been the increased emphasis on character development, and that is the case here.

Caleb Zelic lives in Melbourne but his Indigenous wife comes from a fictional Victorian coastal town, three and a half hours away, population 3,000, with a small, habitable island nearby. Let’s deal with the geography first (non-Victorians can skip the next para.)

The town is probably based on a mix of Port Fairy and Warrnambool: the distance is right; there’s a fishing fleet; Port Fairy is about that size; Warrnambool is bigger but the Framlingham Mission – a ‘miss.’ is mentioned – is nearby; and so on. Neither has an island, though the uninhabited Lady Julia Percy Is. is down the coast from Port Fairy; and the ferry which plays a central part in the story is clearly based on the cable drawn ferries over the Murray River that would sink if ever put to sea.

The next issue to get out of the way is cultural appropriation. WG, I’m sure, would applaud Viskic for using Aboriginal characters – Zelic’s wife, Kat, his mother in law, Mick, his friend and neighbour – in important roles in the story. For once I tend to side with her, though I think Viskic goes a little too far in describing Kat’s eagle totem, the cultural significance of mutton birds, stuff like that.

The other ‘cultural’ idea which slides along is the significant Yugoslav community in Australia. Viskic herself has a ‘Dalmatian’ father (Wiki). Zelic’s father’s ancestry is unstated and his sternness, the failure to acknowledge/express feelings isn’t restricted to (former) Yugoslavs.

Melanie, meanwhile is going “deaf PI, deaf PI, how does that work?” I can only imagine Viskic has a deaf (indeed a Deaf) family member. Caleb had meningitis at 5 years which destroyed his hearing. Despite the opposition of his father, he was taught Auslan and attended Deaf school, and is a member of the Deaf community in Melbourne. He insists on meeting hearing friends and informants in a Deaf community cafe, convincingly described.

His brother and his wife are both fluent in Auslan, but he deals with others, and of course his job involves a great deal of listening, by lip-reading with the aid of hearing aids which inflict on him high levels of tinnitus. His deafness is an element in nearly every interaction in the novel, and is very well done.

So, on to Those Who Perish (2022), the fourth in a series – don’t genre novels always hunt in series – featuring Caleb Zelic and his (recovering) drug addict brother Anton.

Kat, an artist, is living with her parents in ____ Bay, which is also the town Caleb and Anton grew up in, surrounded by family, while she sees out the last 8 weeks or so of her pregnancy.

Anton is in a rehabilitation clinic on the island. At the beginning of the novel Caleb has received an anonymous text stating that his brother is in danger and has rushed to the Bay where he discovers his brother pinned down by a sniper on the beach. He rescues him by crashing a tip truck, conveniently parked nearby with the keys in the ignition, into the toilet block in which the sniper is concealed.

A dead man is fished from the sea, shot through the forehead. He turns out to be another patient from the rehab. facility. Caleb spends the next few weeks mostly on the island, thinking up reasons why he shouldn’t tell the police what’s going on, as more people are shot, including the local policeman; surviving (by the skin of his teeth, of course) numerous attempts on his own life; and also thinking up new ways to piss off his wife who clearly loves him, while fighting off the temptations of the island’s token blonde beauty of loose virtue.

There’s also a totally irrelevant subplot about Caleb being asked to solve the mystery of who is publishing incriminating photos of members of the local football team; which leads him to having a long discussion, for no logical reason, with his doctor mother in law about bent dicks. And no, the comic subplot doesn’t merge with the serious murder plot in the last chapter, as you might expect, but is ‘solved’ in an unnecessary epilogue.

I don’t review crime fiction often but I listen to far too many. This one was at least Australian, though the Victorian element was not up there with, say Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh. The characters were interesting; Caleb’s inability to not be jealous of Kat’s handsome, Indigenous, smooooth workmate was totally believable; the crime plot was maybe 6 out of 10 (the comic subplot was 3/10). Add it to your list Melanie, I’d be interested to hear what you say about Viskic’s treatment of deafness.

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Emma Viskic, Those Who Perish, 2022 (Book might not be out yet), read by Lewis Fitz-Gerald

Melanie/Grab the Lapels doesn’t (yet) have a heading for Deaf.Lit but here is her latest review: Deaf & Sober by Betty G Miller

Son News Pictorial

Journal: 085

I was going to do this yesterday, when I pulled up for the night, but it was too late. Tonight (Sunday) I got in to Perth, from Melbourne, after 6.00pm and, feeling slack, put it off to tomorrow. But I’ve just (8.30pm) had a message asking me to commence unloading first thing in the morning. So here we go.

Blame Melanie. It was her suggestion that when I’m pushed for time I should do a post in pictures. In this case, my trip to Victoria for Mum’s 90th birthday shindig at B3’s farm outside Bendigo last weekend.

Top: no freight, so put middle trailer on back trailer and ran over empty.

Parked the Volvo behind the shed’s on B3’s farm. Dropped the trailers in a paddock a few kms closer to the highway.

The big day. Mum surrounded by great grandchildren.

Bendigo School of Mines is one of Australia’s oldest tertiary education institutions, these days in sad decline, the unwanted outpost of a Melbourne western suburbs TAFE. This is the upper level of the original domed reading room, which houses the rare book collection but is otherwise unused.

The original Library and School of Mines buildings. My librarian cousin showed me round on Monday.

Seeing as we were still all (nearly all) in town we older generations went to an Italian restaurant for dinner.

Tuesday I drove Milly to the airport and Lou into town. I was meant to drive Psyche on Weds but B3 was taking Mum home so he did that for me and I went off to load. You’ve seen pictures of my standard load, cars over the top of steel, so I’ll save you from another. Homer wants me back running Melbourne Perth and paid me a substantial increase as inducement. I’ll think about it.

Karen/Booker Talk says WP is reducing/charging more for media storage so I’m going to have to come back and shrink all these 3Mb photos. And looking at the preview, I probably should stick to writing anyway.

Tamarisk Row, Gerald Murnane

Tamarisk Row (1974), Gerald Murnane’s first published novel, is a fictionalised account of his boyhood in Bendigo (here called ‘Basset’) in the late 1940s. Murnane was born in 1939, so these are his primary school years. His second novel, covering his high school years in Melbourne, and a year in a Catholic seminary, was A Lifetime on Clouds (1976), which was only recently expanded and republished as A Season on Earth (2019).

In a Foreword dated 2007 Murnane writes that it took him years to get started, that he first had to discard any literary theory he had learned: “Even after I seemed to myself to have grasped something of the literary theory then fashionable, that theory remained wholly unrelated to my experiences as a reader of fiction, let alone a would-be writer of it.”

I complained in my review that A Season on Earth begins quite conventionally. That is not true of Tamarisk Row whose writing is immediately familiar to the reader of his later works, A Million Windows, Border Districts.

I have my own term for the sort of narration that I used in Tamarisk Row. I call it considered narration. It might be said of some works of fiction that they bring to life certain characters. I would hope that the text of Tamarisk Row could be said to have brought to life the fictional personage responsible for it: the narrator through whose mind the text is reflected.

All of Murnane’s familiar themes are right there in the first few pages – his fascination with the plains of central Victoria and the Mallee stretching endlessly to the north and west; his immersion in Roman Catholic doctrine; his endless curiosity (and ignorance) about girls; the way he experiences light through glass; the life his protagonist, Clement Killeaton, lives in his imagination

Clement sees strange creatures in coloured glass

When the sun is low in the sky west of Basset a peculiar light shines in the panel of the greenish/gold glass in the Killeatons’ front door. Creatures neither green nor gold but more richly coloured than any grass or sun try to find their way home through a land where cities of unpredictable shapes and colours rise up on plains of fiery haze …

Of course Murnane’s most famous fascination, in life, is with horse racing, as spectacle I think, though here Clement’s father is both a hopeless gambler, and in a small way, a racehorse owner-trainer. ‘Tamarisk Row’ is in fact the name of an imaginary horse and also of an imaginary farm in the far back corner of Clement’s back yard where the wife waits for her husband to return from the races and will remove all her clothes and lie naked with him if the horse has done well.

There is a narrative arc – Clement progresses through St Bridget’s school, run by nuns, and into the first year of the boys school run by the Brothers; he doesn’t grow out of wanting to see girls’ knickers, though the few times he is successful in persuading a girl to remove them, I am not sure he believes or understand what he sees; Clement’s father travels the state laying bets for a big Melbourne gambler, with the sting that will set him up for life always in the future, and meanwhile falling increasingly in debt; their own horse, obtained cheaply after failing in Melbourne, is slowly trained up to cause a surprise on a distant country racetrack.

Clement’s father teaches him that a real stayer takes up a comfortable position near the rear of the field, waiting until the winning post is in sight before making his run and closing in on the leaders, which strategy Clement applies not just to the imaginary races he runs in the backyard, with marbles for horses, or to his own efforts as a runner at school, but also to his exams, passing up easy marks in the earlier tests to close on the class leader in Geography, his best subject, only to fall agonizingly short.

As his debts grow Clement’s father’s position becomes increasingly untenable. He enters his horse, Sternie, in a maiden handicap in a distant town, over a distance that doesn’t suit it, and without the money to back it anyway, but persuades ‘friends’ to back it for him

He knows that if Sternie is beaten he might never load another horse onto a float in the early morning and travel with him to some town where all the mystery and uncertainty of far northern distances gathers for one afternoon at the far side of a racecourse. [The jockey] will go on riding other men’s horses and men like [his ‘friends’] will cheer home winners that land them bets of hundreds of pounds, but Killeaton might never again send his colours out towards an imprecise horizon and watch them being shifted about by forces he has no control over and wait to see swept back towards him a great jumble of colours and signs and patterns …

I love the flow of Murnane’s writing, could follow it forever irrespective of the presence or absence of meaning, or of my understanding of its meaning, but there is the added attraction that Clement, in Catholic schools, and I a protestant in the state school system, seemingly shared great chunks of our childhood and adolescence, in country Victoria, only occasionally aware of adults, misunderstanding girls, living in books and our imaginations, in that distant time before “the sixties”.

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Gerald Murnane, Tamarisk Row, first pub. 1974. This edition, Giramondo, 2008. 285pp.


Tamarix are deciduous shrubs or trees imported from Asia, possibly via the US, growing 1–18 m in height and forming dense thickets. They usually grow on saline soils (wiki) and are weeds in Australia, displacing native flora. The largest, Athel Pine (Tamarix aphylla), found throughout the outback, is an evergreen tree that can grow to 18 m tall, but Murnane was more likely referring to Saltcedar (Tamarix ramosissima) – pictured – which is more common in Victoria.

1976

Journal: 075

1976 is in the air right now as those of you who read for #19xx Club put up your reviews. The three years centred on 1976 are not years I remember in any detail, but on 17 December 1977 I met Milly and things took a turn for the better (and for the more lucid).

I was living, sort of, in Stawell, 140 miles west of Melbourne. It must be about the year we switched to kilometres. The young bride had left me and was either living with her aunt in Melbourne or we’d scraped up the money to send her to join her mum and dad in Holland. The caravan we’d lived in was sold and I was sleeping in the car, camping at a mate’s place, spending odd nights at the Bricks Hotel. Or working. I had two old trucks but for much of the year neither of them was on the road.

For a while I had a job doing changeovers at Nhill, up the road a bit from Stawell, halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide. The company had a flat above a shop in the main street, a nice old Federation building, I still go past it from time to time, or did before Covid. I would watch Days of Our Lives until the truck got in from Adelaide after lunch, run down to Melbourne, swap trailers, be back before midnight, handing over to Terry who did the Adelaide half. It was a cruisy job and paid all right, but the police in Horsham, the next major town, knew me, knew when to expect me. I started to accumulate points and soon I didn’t have a Victorian licence.

Of course drivers then always had a second licence, in my case from South Australia, so I took one of my old trucks to Murray Bridge, outside Adelaide, and began running Adelaide – Sydney. If that involved crossing the top left hand corner of Victoria I would just hold my breath, or go the other way, through Broken Hill, and anyway, after three months I had my Vic licence back.

Mostly I remember being young and stupid and single and broke. My hands perpetually black from pulling apart and putting back together one old engine or another. Or changing tyres. Old rag tyres, overloaded and run for too long, would blow at the drop of a hat. I don’t think I bought my first set of tubeless steel radials until the following year.

What I don’t remember is reading, I don’t even remember where my books were. They’d followed me round in boxes for years, weighing down one side of the caravan, perhaps I left them for a while at mum and dad’s, anyway I’ve still got them.

What would I have read if I could afford new books? Le Guin’s most recent was The Dispossessed (1974) and before that The Word for World is Forest (1972) which I think I read for the first time a few years later with Milly. John Sladek was writing mostly short stories. His most recent novel was The Muller-Fokker Effect (1970). Robert Sheckley, my third equal favourite writer, hits the jackpot with The Status Civilization, brought out by Gollancz in 1976.

What about Australians? I didn’t really make a start on them until the 1980s. Any purchases I made in those days, and for many years after except for a few special exceptions, David Ireland and Peter Carey mostly, were necessarily second hand.

I’ve since read most of the best of 1976 I think. Here’s a list (hopefully you’ll have forgotten by the time I re-use it for my 2026 end of year) –

Kenneth Cook, Eliza Fraser
Robert Drewe, The Savage Crows (review)
David Ireland, The Glass Canoe (review)
Elizabeth Jolley, Five Acre Virgin (short stories)
Thomas Keneally, Season in Purgatory
Frank Moorhouse, Conferenceville
Gerald Murane, A Lifetime on Clouds
Christina Stead, Miss Herbert (The Suburban Wife) (review)
Patrick White, A Fringe of Leaves

So, I’ve reviewed three, definitely read the White and probably the Moorhouse. I own Five Acre Virgin, so that’s a start. I’d like to own the Murnane. A Lifetime on Clouds is his second and I don’t think I’ve ever heard the name before, ditto Season in Purgatory, but then Keneally writes so many (it was his twelfth in twelve years). Interesting that Cook and White wrote about the same historical figure in the same year.

That was my 1976, a year of desperate poverty and youthful optimism. I was never going to be a successful owner driver on zero capital, but it was fun trying. I lasted four years, and four years (mostly) without a boss is worth working at.

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Recent audiobooks 

Anne Tyler (F, USA), The Beginner’s Goodbye (2012)
Christina Dodd (F, USA), Wrong Alibi (2020) – Crime
Kim Kelly (F, Aust/NSW), Her Last Words (2020)
Dervla McTiernan (F, Ire), The Scholar (2019) – Crime

Currently reading

Mudrooroo (M, Aus/WA), Tripping with Jenny
Sheri S Tepper, The Gate to Women’s Country

Small Town Rising, Bill Green

Note: This review talks about rape and sex with children.

A couple of years ago a post of mine about the Mallee (Victoria’s semi desert north-west, if I haven’t made that clear by now) inspired Lisa/ANZLL to buy and read Small Town Rising. She then sent it on to me and now I’ve read it. For that reason I went back to her review before writing my own – I am sometimes careful about what I say. Lisa’s verdict was “This is a well-intentioned novel but there are some flaws.” My verdict is that this is a racist and misogynist book, which should not be excused for being of its time -1981 – and I intensely disliked reading it.

Bill Green (1940-2011) grew up in the Mallee, went away to school at Geelong College, worked in Australia and overseas as a journalist before settling in a small country town down south (Camperdown, Vic) with his wife and children. I look that stuff up because I always wonder what sort of feel the author has for his subject.

Now, to be fair to Lisa I think the author’s intention was to shine a light on small town racism, not something we generally think about in Victoria. And that he was just totally ham-fisted about it. There’s an Indigenous family, the Stirlings, – who might “pass for white” – living in town. The local police sergeant would like to pin something on them. There’s an Aboriginal community living in a camp on the NSW side of the river. The sergeant would like to stop them hanging around the town and Mayor Blossoms is willing to go along with him. Doctor Cavett, thinks ‘something should be done’ about police racism. His son John aged about 11, is friends with Chasa, the youngest Stirling.

Green is uninhibited about the racist language used by the cops, the mayor, and anyone else they rope in for assistance and we might put that down to that’s just the way people speak (unfortunate but true). Where he comes completely unstuck is in his treatment of women. He has a thing about legs. Girls barely in their teens have short skirts and long legs; a girl getting a lift home lets her skirt ride up which the driver, the doctor I think, totally gets off on; a teacher in her twenties sits so that her 11 and 12 year old pupils can see up to the tops of her stockings. The same teacher, called in to babysit, wrestles with John in his bed, and goes back for a second go when he, did I say he’s only 11, gets an erection.

This is all made worse by the author’s third person omniscient point of view which means we get told what everyone, mothers and daughters, victims and perpetrators are thinking.

The plot is basically this: John and Chasa do various YA things. John thinks more about sex than an 11 year old should. The mayor’s daughter Kay, in John and Chasa’s class at school, wanders away from an evening picnic…

[Mayor Blossoms] had flushed and shifted uncomfortably as the boong had passed his girls in their short dresses. Their long straight legs were beginning to give them problems: Kay’s especially. He had seen her looking at the boong as he passed.

Once in a childish game he had moved his hands beneath her knickers and over the tiny perfection of her buttocks. It could have been an affectionate fatherly caress, but he now thought of it as uncontrolled masculinity. Her cry of delight had affronted and frightened him.

… When Mayor Blossoms comes looking for her, Kay’s lying on the river bank some metres from Linny, Chasa’s older brother. The mayor rushes at Linny, treading on his daughter, and Linny understandably dives in the river. Kay says nothing happened. The doctor determines Kay is still a virgin and is unmarked (except for the bruise caused by her father). Linny is charged with molesting her.

The police sergeant gets up a party to burn down the Aboriginal camp on the other side of the river, ie. not in his jurisdiction. Chasa’s sister aged maybe 14, is invited to the movies by her young boss, who takes her home and rapes her. She tells her parents, who have been expecting it to happen sooner or later, and she’s not sure she feels terribly bad about it. The next picnic Kay is at she invites John down the river bank and they do some mutual touching inside knickers etc. Chasa goes missing. Life goes on.

I’ve thought a bit about the setting and it’s probably the early 1960s (John goes to see a re-release of The Maltese Falcon which first came out in 1941), and that Strong Lake is most likely based on Swan Hill, which as it happens I occasionally visited at that time, from my grandparents’ farm, and remember seeing Aboriginal people in the street and sitting in the parks, the only place in Victoria I ever did so.

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Bill Green, Small Town Rising, Macmillan, Melbourne, 1981. 167 pp. Cover illustration – it wraps around the back -‘Monto in Landscape’, Gil Jamieson (1978) [as it happens, Monto is in Queensland, near Bundaberg, and 2,000 km north of the Mallee]

see also: A Literary Tour of the Mallee (here)

A Literary Tour of the Mallee

Sue/Whispering Gums a year or so BC set me the task of devising a literary tour of the Mallee – the northwest corner of Victoria, a triangle bounded by the Murray River to the north and northeast, the South Australia border to the west and let’s say to the south the 36th parallel, so a line from a bit north of Route A8 to the Murray north of Echuca.

This country is all sand over limestone, rainfall around ten inches (250mm) per year, and of course mallee gums along all the roads and throughout the desert national parks which comprise probably half its area. In the towns and around farms the most common trees are sugar gums, peppercorns (introduced from South America, probably via California) and jacarandas (ditto) and along the river, river red gums. Though I should probably include red flowering gums (from WA) which schools seemed fond of planting.

I am struggling to identify the region’s Indigenous people. It seems the Wergaia occupied the main part, with a number of other groups along the river, before they were forced onto Ebenezer Mission to the south and then, later to Lake Tyers way over in eastern Victoria. The Indigenous people along the river most likely retreated to the NSW side which was much less settled.

The arable country was broken up into square mile (640 acre) blocks in the 1890s and allocated to selectors on easy terms – as long as they established a home and began clearing and fencing they could repay the government over 40 years. Most farms were mixed sheep and wheat (though my grandmother’s family, the Coxes, had a Clydesdale horse stud at Culgoa). Mum was indignant to learn at school that the Mallee was flat when she could see that it had hills, albeit gently rolling sandhills which when stripped of cover move across paddocks engulfing fences and becoming the source of choking sandstorms.

The Mallee country along the Murray, known as Sunraysia, is heavily irrigated for citrus, stone fruits and grapes. As we all learnt at school, irrigation was begun in 1887 by the Chaffey brothers. There is no other fresh water except bore water which was ok when we lived at Murrayville but was elsewhere mostly salty. During the Depression channels were built to carry water from reservoirs in the Grampians (a couple of hundred kilometres south). These were replaced by pipelines in 2010 which, as we are learning, greatly reduces water to the environment, though I’m pleased to hear Green Lake (one of a number of ‘Green Lakes’) near my grandfather’s old farm south of Sea Lake is once again being filled for recreation and to preserve the surrounding woodlands (mainly sheoaks from memory).

Sea Lake is named for Lake Tyrell, a large salt pan and one of a number throughout the Mallee, most notably Pink Lakes near Underbool, between Murrayville and Ouyen.

The tour for the Gums begins in Melbourne where they wave goodbye to younger Gums and head out through the western suburbs towards Bendigo. Bourke and Wills set off in this direction on 20 Aug. 1860, camping the first night at Moonee Ponds (about 10 kms out) so the flamboyantly incompetent Robert O’Hara Bourke could ride back into town to farewell (again) opera star Julia Matthews (Frank Clune, Dig, 1937), and maybe because a number of the wagons were bogged and/or broken down. The expedition with its 27 camels and six wagons passed a little east of Bendigo after 6 days and reached Swan Hill – where they camped at Booths & Holloway’s Station – on 6 Sept. (Alan Moorehead, Cooper’s Creek, 1963) And from there they headed north into eternal notoriety (and are much criticised for their incompetence in the first chapter of Such is Life).

There had been two earlier explorers through the Mallee. Major Mitchell in 1836 came down the lower reaches of the Murrumbidgee to its junction with the Murray (between Swan Hill and Mildura), down the Murray to the junction with the Darling (just west of Mildura) and then back up the Murray – where he attacked and killed a party of local Kureinji and Barkandji peoples at Mt Dispersion (so-named by him) on the NSW side of the river – to the Loddon, past Swan Hill, from whence he headed south. (Mitchell wrote his own account of these expeditions but there must be others).

In 1838 Joseph Hawdon drove a mob of cattle almost the entire length of the Murray River, on the Victorian side until Mildura, eventually delivering them in Adelaide (Joseph Hawdon, The Journal of a Journey from New South Wales to Adelaide, 1952).

Meanwhile, the Gums have probably stopped already to have coffee with Michelle Scott Tucker, author of Elizabeth Macarthur, who lives that way, not far out of town. In the distance they can see the looming shape of Mt Macedon, named by Major Mitchell on his way home, and just past it Hanging Rock (Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1967). Still not 100 kms out of Melbourne, we should mention Kyneton, home (for a while) of turn of the century authors Joseph Furphy and Tasma, and a little further on Malmsbury, the setting for Tasma’s Uncle Piper of Pipers Hill (1888). Closer to Bendigo, and off the highway a bit, are old gold mining towns Castlemaine (Mt Alexander in Catherine Helen Spence’s Clara Morrison, 1854) and Maldon, childhood home of Henry Handel Richardson. In Bendigo my cousin Kay gives the Gums a tour of the School of Mines’ famous domed library, then it’s back on the road and at last we’re in the Mallee.

From here I’m a bit lost, not as to where to go: Big Desert Wilderness Park (no glamping, sorry WG) , Pink Lakes, Lake Tyrell, the Murray River, Wycheproof where the steam trains once ran down the main street (which fascinated me as a boy); but what books I can reference.

My Auntie Win wrote an account of the early days of Berriwillock (south of Sea Lake): Winifred Nixon, While the Mallee Roots Blaze, 1965. My father’s books include another account of early settlement: Allan Keating, And then the Mallee Fringe, 1983. Fiction seems a bit light on. Two courtesy of Lisa/ANZLL are Bill Green’s Small Town Rising (1981) and Wearing Paper Dresses (2019) by Anne Brinsden. I gather Sophie Laguna’s The Choke is set on the river but further east. There must be stories set at Lake Boga, where Milly’s grandmother’s boyfriend worked on Catalinas during the War, or Mildura or somewhere. Help me out!

In 2019 I wrote a post about Sea Lake, which is when the idea of a literary tour came up, and there followed a quite extensive discussion. Sue put up Mallee Boys (2017) by Charlie Archbold, which seems to be yet another set on the river. Lisa put in the hard yards and “consulted Peter Pierce’s Oxford Literary Guide to Australia” for the following list:
Boort: (80 km west of Echuca) birthplace of poet, short-story writer and novelist Myra Morris, 1893
Chinkapook: (a tiny locality between Ouyen and Swan Hill) John Shaw Neilson’s family farmed here. Also mentioned in Douglas Stewart’s poem about the 1917 mice plague ‘The Mice of Chinkapook’
Hattah (between Mildura, Ouyen and the river): Ben Eggleton was a ranger in the national park and wrote such titles The Bull Ant Country (1980) and The Little People of the Kulkyne’(1983). Alan Marshall often visited [his The Aborigines’ Grave appears to be set there]. Mary Chandler wrote ‘Tribal Lands to National Park, 1980.
Murrabit (on the Murray, 50 km upstream of Swan Hill): Rolf Boldrewood had a sheep farm there from 1858 until forced to sell out in 1863. JJ Healy, Literature and the Aborigine in Australia (1978) makes the case that Boldrewood covers up the realities of squatter/Aboriginal confrontation in his fiction and dates this from his time in the Western District in the 1840s. But Boldrewood would also have had to deal with local Indigenous people at Murrabit.
Red Cliffs (40km south of Mildura): Site of the largest of the soldier settlement schemes after the Great War. Mary Chandler wrote its history in Against the Odds (1979). See also Marilyn Lake, The Limits of Hope (1987).
Sea Lake: John ShawNeilson and his father took up uncleared land north of Sea Lake in 1895 and saw ‘rabbits by the hundred thousand’, before moving after 5 years to 2400 acres at nearby Chinkapook (parish of Eureka).

Poems set in the Mallee generally, include: CA Sherard, Lost in the Mallee (1884), Nancy Cato, Mallee Farmer (1950), and Tractor Driver in the Mallee; by Cyril Goode (ADB).

I checked Nancy Cato’s All the Rivers Run (1958) and it’s set just outside our area, at Echuca, as are parts of Furphy’s Such is Life and Rigby’s Romance.

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Picture credits: Map is a screenshot from Google Maps. Bendigo TAFE library by Kay Smith.

The Pea Pickers, Eve Langley

Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week, Part II, 17-23 Jan. 2021

Brona of Brona’s Books has set herself an ambitious schedule for AWW Gen 3 Week for which I am extremely grateful. First up she has written about one of my favourite authors, Eve Langley, and her first and most famous novel.


178d3c9b3c81ff378159e63c4ba1500a Brona’s Books

My first illness was that one most common to the children of the poor…a bad education and, like the bite of a goanna, it was incurable and ran for years.

Ethel Jane (Eve) Langley was born in Forbes on the 1st September 1904. After her father, Arthur died in 1915, her mother, Myra moved her small family back to Victoria…

In 1924, Eve and her sister June … travelled and worked around the Gippsland countryside as farm labourers and pickers for the next four years. She kept a diary during this whole time of her doings, her thoughts, poems and stories. Read on …

The Pioneers, Katharine Susannah Prichard

KSP writes in the preface to the 1963 edition: “Notes for The Pioneers were made in 1903 when I was twenty and living in South Gippsland. But it was not until 1913, in London, that I was able to take six months off earning my living as a journalist to write the story …”. The novel, her first, was published in 1915 and was a success. Nathan Hobby, whose Prichard biography is at this moment at the printers, has more to say about the book’s origins here.

She goes on: “It grew from the yarns and gossip I heard at Port Albert, Yarram, Taraville, and my wanderings in the lovely ranges beyond them. The Wirree river referred to may be recognised as the Tara, which was an escape route for convicts from Van Dieman’s Land [Tasmania] in the early days.” And hence we may infer that Wirreeford stands in for Yarram.

For the benefit of foreigners, Gippsland is that part of Victoria to the east of Melbourne and south of the Victorian Alps (map, Yarram out to the east, near the coast). It is hilly, damp, fertile and green, home once to enormous eucalypts, their range now greatly restricted by clear felling for farming and timber milling. Though, as I remember from my childhood there, the sandy coastal regions feature mostly scrubby paper barks. South Gippsland is Gunai country, though Prichard doesn’t pay the original inhabitants much attention. The Gunai were dispersed by a series of massacres of which you may read more here.

The Pioneers is historical fiction covering the early days of white settlement, which began, in this area, in the 1840s. Miles Franklin claimed in the 1930s (I can’t locate a source for this statement) that she and Steele Rudd were the progenitors of a uniquely Australian school of fiction dealing with the lives of ordinary families in the Bush, which she distinguishes from the ‘mateship’/Lone Hand/ Bulletin school (Gen 2); from the urban modernism and social realism of the years between the Wars (Gen 3); and from earlier ‘upper class’ novels of bush life, such as those by Henry Kingsley and Ada Cambridge (Gen 1).

I have written before that in the 1970s, John Hirst and Judith Godden posited that the myth of the Independent Bushman/Lone Hand (“the Australian Legend”) had been ameliorated in the 1930s by the general adoption of a Pioneer myth. Miles Franklin was a big part of that, but it is clear that The Pioneers, which predates MF’s re-flowering as a writer of pioneer fiction by a couple of decades, must earn KSP at least co-progenitor status.

That said, The Pioneers is more Robbery Under Arms than All That Swagger, but with an admirable dash of Independent Woman thrown in, and some lovely descriptive prose.

The novel begins with Donald and Mary Cameron making their way inland from ‘Port Southern’ into hilly, forested country. Donald is a Scot and Mary is Welsh. Sticking closely to ethnic stereotypes, Donald is as well known for being tight-fisted and Mary tells stories about fairies. I’m not sure that without the notes we’d know where or when we are. It is clear that the couple are pioneers, squatting on uncleared land in the bush but the nearest we get to locating ourselves is the arrival of escaped convicts from Port Arthur/Hobart Town over the water (though that’s hardly specific as Mary Bryant for instance escaped by boat as far as Jakarta).

A few months later .. A one-roomed hut, built of long, rough-barked saplings, ranged one above the other, and thatched with coarse reddish-brown bark, laid on in slabs, stood on the brow of the hill not far from the dray’s first resting place.

A light under the door indicates a restless night and in the morning Donald emerges with a bundle wrapped in a shawl, his son Davey. Unlike most pioneer families, that’s it for issue and Davey remains an only child.

The convicts above are important because they arrive when Donald is away, but Mary, apparently unafraid, helps them, making of one a friend for life, who when he returns a few years later with his daughter Deidre, becomes the local schoolmaster.

Donald prospers. Davey and Deidre grow up side by side. A little township forms. A bushfire sweeps through while Donald is away (again) and Mary is saved by the Schoolmaster. The pioneer side of the story declines in importance and instead, as we concentrate on the second generation we get into Walter Scott territory with villainous publicans, rival lovers and cattle rustling.

Deidre watched Davey going out of Narrow Valley in dim starlight of the early spring morning, the mob, hustled by Teddy and the dogs, a stream of red and brown and dappled hides before him.

I’ve read a few KSP’s – Working Bullocks, Coonardoo, Haxby’s Circus that I can think of – and I’ve generally found her prose awkward, stilted. That is not the case here. Perhaps as is so often the case, her first book was her best book. The descriptions flow. The action flows. It’s a good story, well told.

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Katharine Susannah Prichard, The Pioneers, first pub. 1915. Revised edition (pictured) Rigby, 1963. Kindly loaned to me by Lisa/ANZLL.

For other KSP reviews see AWW Gen 2 page (here)

In Quarantine, Again

Journal: 052

Nyabing S

Yes, I’m back in quarantine. The Covid-19 blow-up in Victoria has caught up with me. No, I’m not ill, but the understandable response of the other states has been to allow truck drivers from Victoria to drive and unload etc., but to otherwise be isolated.

Here are some figures, those for Indiana, USA and Birmingham, UK are for our friends Melanie (GTL) and Liz (Adventures in Reading etc..)

Victoria (pop. 6.5m)       New cases/deaths: 273/1   Total: 3,799/24 (source)
Rest of Aust. (pop. 19m)   New cases/deaths: 6/0    Total: 6,000/84
Indiana (pop. 6.7m)         New cases/deaths: 793/8  Total: 51,079/2,563 (source)
Birmingham (pop. 4.3m) New cases/deaths: ?/4     Total:  ?/3,145 (source)

Of course the situations in USA and UK are an ongoing, unmitigated disaster, as they also seem to be in Brazil, India and sub-Saharan Africa, though the Australian media don’t pay them much attention. I’ve commented before that we are living in an age that confirms the prescience of Science Fiction. This trip I listened to Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos (1985) about the future of the human race after a bug wipes out everyone except some castaways on a Galapagos island.

Science fact rather than science fiction. No-one seems to remember David Suzuki any more. Remember he said 30 years ago that it was simple mathematics that with the population of the world doubling every few decades, from 1 bil. to 2 to 4 to 8 to 16, we would very quickly get to a level the planet was unable to support. Well, now we are there. Yes, we can still theoretically grow enough food, but population densities and mobility are now such that the spread of new viruses is becoming uncontainable. I thought I might be dead before the inevitable Malthusian implosion, but seems not.

It would have been interesting if the virus had come in a non-election year, because I think that the forces of reason, such as they are in the US, may have overthrown the president and attempted to contain the spread. But of course the forces of reason may in turn have been overthrown by the forces of naked capitalism, as indeed they have.

What I really meant to write, before I started running around crying ‘the end of the world is nigh’ (I have a white beard, I really should let it flow) is that 8 or 9 days ago, after a couple of weeks home and getting some work done on the truck, a customer popped up with a B Double load to Victoria, involving a detour to a farm down south which is my excuse for the photo above (it’s a Fargo, from the 1950s, and still a goer).

My delivery was to Leongatha in fertile, hilly Gippsland east of Melbourne where – speaking of ‘home’, as my last Journal did – we lived for five years in the 1950s, out past the milk factory which I used to see (and smell) across the paddocks from our little row of housing commission weatherboards down a gravel lane, and now surrounded by light industry. The paddocks so shockingly green after the mallee and desert country I’m used to.

My mate Homer who has loaded me out every trip for 15 months now since Dragan left me stranded in Melbourne on my first trip with my own trailers, was ready for me and I was in Melbourne for not much more than 24 hours before I was on my way home again. I was expecting trouble at the SA border (Yamba, near Renmark) and had been keeping a log of my contacts in Victoria, as required. That was ok but they also needed me to log onto SAPol and generate an entry number. Tedious at 10 o’clock at night, but soon done.

Twenty four hours later I was at the WA border, which had had the most formal entry requirements right from the beginning. An apologetic policeman told me that the rules had changed even as he was coming onto this shift and that as I was coming from Victoria he was obliged to put me under conditional quarantine. I, and he, signed some papers and then he requested that I photograph them as he had no copies.

WA border quarantine doc 4

I was to travel straight home by the most direct route, and there I must stay for 14 days unless “conducting authorised business as a specialist within your scope of work.” Apparently, I am permitted to leave if the house catches fire, but I must stay nearby and return as soon as possible. It was about 2 deg C in the middle of the night in mid winter on the cliffs above the Southern Ocean, though briefly not raining, as the poor bugger read all this out to me.

Now it’s Sunday, I’m home. Milly came round yesterday afternoon before I arrived and stocked me up with much better provisions than I would buy myself, to make up for the fact I guess, that if I continue running to Victoria it might be some months before I can go round to her place for dinner, let alone take her out.

This afternoon I will catch up on the Indigenous Lit Week posts I have missed (most of them), start writing up one of my own (Tues or Weds I hope, Lisa), catch up with the rest of you, do my EOFY bookwork (just joking, though I’d better do my end of quarter GST), tomorrow I will unload and Friday, I hope, I will be on my way again.

 

Recent audiobooks 

Kurt Vonnegut (M, USA), Galapagos (1985) – SF
David Quammen (M, USA), The Soul of Viktor Tronko (1987)
Peter Temple (M, Aust/Vic), The Broken Shore (2005) – Crime
Chevy Stevens (F, Can), That Night (2014) – Crime
JD Robb (F, USA), Kindred in Death (2009) – SF/Crime
Henry James (M, USA), The Turn of the Screw (1898) – Horror

Currently reading

Martin Boyd, The Cardboard Crown
Anita Heiss (F, Aust/NSW), Not Meeting Mr Right
Sally Rooney (F, Ire), Normal People
Elizabeth Gaskell (F, Eng), Cranford
Anita Heiss ed. (F, Aust/NSW), Growing up Aboriginal in Australia
Meredith Lake (F, Aust/NSW), The Bible in Australia. Don’t Ask!

Home is where the heart is

Journal: 051

Sunset country

Sunday. Here I am home, so no excuses for not keeping up with your posts, for a week or so anyway. I actually got to the outskirts of Perth last night, but it takes a few hours to run two trailers down to the yard, go back, get the other one, get the ute going, unpack my gear from the truck, and my body seems to prefer Victorian time to WA time, which just makes it all another two hours later, and I was already looking at midnight, so I pulled over, slept one more night in the truck and did it all this morning then wandered over to Milly’s, too late for pancakes but there’s always toast.

She of course wanted to go shopping, so I went home and got cleaned up. We both need new stovetops, mine’s not working at all, Lou making do with the oven and an electric frypan. I think we found what I want. I did the regulation traipsing while she looked at stuff she might want, then diverted her to a local Greek for an excellent lunch – saganaki, honey, walnuts how do I moan in text – (we did eat other stuff as well) and a bottle of white. I’m not properly home till I have that first bottle. I was feeling so mellow I drove half an hour to a native garden centre and helped her spend a couple of hundred hard-earned.

That’s boring I know. Stuff you do all the time. Well all the time there’s not a deadly virus raging through your community. But I spend days and weeks on my own (willingly!), on zero blood alcohol, and boring days doing stuff with Millie, the kids, the grandkids is what I look forward to. And sitting at the computer writing, reading. It might take me a day to talk myself out and after that I’m back to solitary stuff.

The other side of ‘home’ is that this trip, for the first time, I road trained through home territory, Victoria, where I grew up, the last mainland state to hold out. Going over, I dipped a toe in the water and crossed the northern tip, to Mildura, but coming back I went the whole hog, assembled the road train at Charlton north of Bendigo (map), ran straight up the highway through Berriwillock and Sea Lake where mum went to school, and her parents before her, and a cousin still farms, then Ouyen, Underbool, Murrayville, all tiny farming towns where a brother was born, dad taught, I went to school, Sunset country, Mallee country. Home.

My uncle Les, mum’s youngest brother (and father of the cousin who still farms there) ran trucks from the family farm between Berriwillock and Sea Lake, bought his first when he was 20 and I was 16, set me on the path I still follow. He married a year or so later, telling me that if I washed his stock crate I could come to the wedding. I did but Grandma vetoed me. If I came, all the cousins would have to come and there were too many. I’d been at my other uncle’s wedding a few years earlier aged 10 maybe, one of only four or five weddings I’ve been to in my whole life, though for my youngest aunty’s I was stuck in the car with my brothers, outside the church hall, fed sausage rolls through the car window by the ladies of the church auxiliary.

les's truck aaco

Les started off carting sheep. My first job as an owner driver was carting cattle. I ran into him a few times at Newmarket, the Melbourne saleyards across the road from Flemington, posh terrace housing now. I remember telling him one time I’d broken down and he was too busy to stop and help. He took over the family farm and we loss contact except at big family get-togethers but in later years I think his older daughter was happy to take over the tractor work and he ran a few trucks, trading and carting grain. It’s a while now since he died in an accident, but I think of him each time I run up that way, he could have hooked up a couple of trailers behind his biggest Mack and road trained right out the farm gate, and I’m sure he would have.

I should think of dad, too, though he was a very reluctant truck driver. Either the summer before he married mum, or the summer after, Granddad made him get his truck licence so he could take the old ex-army International 7 tonner, rocking and groaning with ten ton of wheat over the dirt roads to the Boigbeat silo, a few miles up the line from Berriwillock where coincidentally I took the ‘sunset’ photo above.

 

Recent audiobooks 

Loren Estleman (F, USA), The Sundown Speech (2016) – Crime
Paolo Bacigalupi (M, USA), Pump Six and other stories (2008) – SF
Erica Wright (F, USA), The Granite Moth (2015) – Crime
Elizabeth Aston (F, Eng), Miss Althea Darcy (2004) – Romance
Dan Simmons (M, USA), Endymion (1996) – SF
Dave Barry (M, USA), Tricky Business (2002) – Crime
Kirstin Chen (F, Sing/USA), Soy Sauce for Beginners (2013)
Will Wiles (M, Eng), Care of Wooden Floors (2012)
Lee Child (M, Eng), The Midnight Line (2017) – Crime

Currently reading

Patrick White, The Cockatoos
Martin Boyd, The Cardboard Crown
Christine Merrill, Regency Liasons. Milly’s working a few days a week at a Red Cross shop and brought this home so of course I started it while she was cooking tea and will finish it before I do anything else. Like choose a book for ANZLL’s Indigenous Literature Week (July 5-12, 2020) for instance.


“Home is where the heart is”. Proverb. Origin uncertain.