On a new (old) road

Journal: 073

Bron, if you’re planning on settling down to read this with a glass of wine you’d better make it a small one. I was working on a different post when I got a phone call 8am Thurs to offer me a load from Perth to Pt Hedland [Ok, they’ve emailed pick up instructions. Must dash.] So this is going to be a short one just to let you know where I’m at.

[Now it’s 7.00 pm. I’ve spent all day loading in the rain. One more pick up first thing tomorrow and then I’m off. Actually then I might come home, put some stuff together, do some shopping, and then I’ll be off.]

The thing is, I’ve given up crossing the Nullarbor, given up being in permanent isolation, and I’m chasing work up north. You can probably tell by the number of books I’ve read/reviewed recently that ‘chasing work’ involves a lot of sitting round waiting for the phone to ring, but things are slowly coming together.

Ten days ago I did a one off job to a new iron ore mine north of Newman (Koodiatery). You can see in the photo above that I pulled up at the Tropic of Capricorn sign outside Newman to take a celebratory snap. But this current load is from people who have ‘promised’ me regular work. Fingers crossed!

Some history: One hundred and twenty years ago Daisy Bates was in Western Australia, having returned from a five year visit to England, to be reunited with her husband Jack, who was then working at Roy Hill station, and her son Arnold, whom she had dumped in a Catholic boarding school. Daisy had what was left of her father’s money after the bank crash of the previous decade and Jack had been offered the lease of a station (all outback properties are grazing leases), Ethel Creek, between Roy Hill and Jigalong (of Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence fame, though this was around 30 years earlier).

Daisy caught a coastal steamer from Perth to Cossack (1,500 km north) where Jack met her in a buggy, and they spent the next few months together, first making the trip up the course of the Fortescue River to Roy Hill, then inspecting and purchasing Ethel Creek and finally back across country, probably following the course of the Gascoyne River, to Carnarvon.

These days Roy Hill is an iron ore mine, 120 km north of Newman on the Nullagine road which runs through to Marble Bar (but which is too rough for trucks, which must take a roundabout route via Pt Hedland).

When I first started running north, say 15 years ago, Roy Hill was still a cattle station. If you came out of Newman on the highway to Port Hedland, when you crossed the Karajini Range to Auski Roadhouse/Munjina there was a dirt track heading east out to Roy Hill (map), which was more or less the path taken by Daisy and Jack coming from Cossack. A few years ago 160 tonne trucks laden with iron ore started using that track as a short cut between Roy Hill and Pt Hedland, and just recently 40 km from Munjina was bitumised to service a new mine, Koodiatery. To which I went for the first time, last week (I was probably the only person on it thinking about Daisy Bates).

[Fri night, getting on for 9.00. Stopped at Paynes Find, a speck on the map in the endless desert north of Perth, 150 kms from the nearest town, an old pub/roadhouse and a gold mine operated by a couple of old men with pickaxes.]

Last trip Maya Angelou, 4 hours, and Salman Rushdie, 18 hours, took up all my driving/listening time. Mom & Me & Mom was Angelou’s last, an overview of her life concentrating on her relationship with her mother, and I think it will give me some insight as I (eventually) listen to the rest of her life.

The Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, however hasn’t stuck, for all its fame. I remember thinking it was more straightforward than I expected – my previous Rushdie was Midnight’s Children – but I’m going to have to check with Wiki before I can write any more.

[Sat. night. Got to Auski/Munjina and the Koodiatery turnoff around 5.00pm. Helped a guy out and he bought me a beer. Had to persuade him one was enough! Dark now, and I’d better finish this post. Tomorrow, after my Koodiatery delivery. I should be in Port Hedland around lunchtime for one delivery in the afternoon – mines don’t take Sunday off – and one delivery Monday morning. Another contact has offered me some freight home which should pay the (very expensive) fuel bill].

Ok. I looked up The Satanic Verses in Wiki which reminds me it’s the story of two Indian actors in England plus three mystical stories interwoven in a way which makes a lot of sense. I enjoyed it (particularly the brothel where the prostitutes adopted the personas of the women of the prophet’s harem).

Today I was listening to another Nikki Gemmell, Rapture, a YA fable about the descent of an unnamed country into male-dominated authoritarianism. Tomorrow evening I should have time to finish writing up KSP’s autobiography, Child of the Hurricane.

I’m sorry that all you guys are in lockdown and that I am able to sidestep it by remaining in Western Australia, but having been in isolation for nearly eleven of the past twelve months I just couldn’t do it any more.

Already I am being called on to resume my role as the family’s driver – I’ve got out of bed to drive an hour to ‘rescue’ teenage granddaughter from her boyfriend (she was back with him last time I asked); I’ve driven Milly to and from her drumming class (she is unable to drive after dark); and I’ve been booked by one of my many sisters in law to help with an upcoming move. At some stage NSW’s failure to control the virus will result in its spread Australia-wide, but until it takes hold in WA, I’m taking the chance to live a ‘normal’ life.

.

Recent audiobooks 

Maya Angelou (F, USA), Mom & Me & Mom (2013) – Memoir
Salman Rushdie (M, Eng), The Satanic Verses (1988)

Currently reading

Katharine Susannah Prichard (F, Aus/WA), Child of the Hurricane
Georgette Heyer (F, Eng), The Talisman Ring
Elizabeth Jolley (F, Aus/WA), Lovesong
CJ Dennis (M, Aus/Vic), The Sentimental Bloke
Nikki Gemmell (F, Aus/NSW), The Ripping Tree
Minae Mizumura (F, Jap), An I-Novel
Belinda Castles ed. (F, Aus), Reading Like an Australian Writer

Lovesong, Elizabeth Jolley

The edition I actually read was not the paperback pictured above but a Viking hardback with the most luxurious-feeling semi gloss paper and a little woven bookmark. Which means I couldn’t cart it around with me, for fear of damage, but I’ve had some time off and so got it finished.

Elizabeth Jolley (1923-2007) as we all know, was born in Birmingham, England where she worked as a nurse, had a complicated married life, came to Western Australia, where she bought a little farm in the hills outside Perth, and quite late, began to teach creative writing and publish novels. This is important to keep in mind because it usually forms the basis of what she writes about. But not this time.

Lovesong (1997), one of her later works, is a difficult work to come to grips with, set in an unnamed (Australian) city with a male protagonist who appears to have been released into the community from an institution for the criminally insane (that is, for people who commit a crime and plead mental illness, or sometimes for people who are at risk of committing a crime, usually sexual). I found it very slow to get into, though I gradually became engrossed, and I think Jolley may have been concentrating on imagining/reproducing the thought processes of someone who was a bit bewildered to find himself where he was. That is, the problem she set herself was not ‘how do I tell this story?’, but ‘how can I best write what/how this man is thinking?’.

I still haven’t read Brian Dibble’s biography of Jolley, Doing Life, but I thought I should at least look up what he has to say about Lovesong. Jolley said, in an interview with Ramona Koval, “she was inspired to write the book by work she had done with women inmates at Perth’s Bandyup Prison and male prisoners in Fremantles’s maximum security jail; she was moved when she thought of the loneliness such men faced when they returned to the community.”

Dibble writes: “While some readers might regard Jolley’s last three books [Lovesong, An Accommodating Spouse, An Innocent Gentleman] as chaotic, lacking structure and control and more, what is remarkable about them is how they recapitulate Jolley’s entire oeuvre from three different points of view, the first focusing on the sexual outsider and the other two on the family.”

Dalton Foster, still lingering in his doorway, straightens his tie and wondering why his mother and aunt Dalton should come, all at once, into his mind, goes downstairs in search of the dining room and breakfast. He has not thought of his mother or aunt Dalton for some time. Perhaps the memories are a part of the experience of coming back into the community after working meticulously for half his life through a sentence and a cure in various special institutions.

This is not quite the beginning of the book. We have already spent some time, half a dozen pages, in Foster’s mind as he idly considers music, his mother and his aunt, and his new lodgings. And this is how we continue – we meet Mrs Porter, the landlady, and her lodgers; we meet another family, do-gooders who take in Foster one night a week; a young girl, in rags, in the park where he walks, who Foster follows -yes, that’s as creepy as it sounds – dreaming of befriending, helping. But all along Foster’s mind returns to his childhood, his ineffectual father, his mother, his father’s sister, aunt Dalton, who form a strange menage mostly ganged up on Foster senior; and to his years in Cambridge, studying, singing; circling round to/lightly touching on the choirboy whose approach seemingly leads to his imprisonment.

It bugs me that the novel has no definite location. It could be Perth – the lodging house backing on to the rail line in the relatively poor inner suburb of North Perth; his walks through parks and to the consul’s house in a better suburb, maybe Subiaco; the homeless sleeping under the bridges where a major roadway crosses from the north bank, to an island and then to the south bank of the river, which sounds like the Swan and Herrison Island. But Jolley doesn’t say, and she has “mile long” grain trains thundering behind the house, which is nice image but the suburban Fremantle line has probably not been used by freight trains for more than 50 years*.

Foster’s father was a consul for trade – his wife and sister, who formed a couple, with Foster’s father a distant third, were very contemptuous of “trade” – so they moved constantly, though never apparently to the most interesting European cities, and for a while were in Australia, in this city, and living in the same house as the do-gooder family, not that he tells them, or barely anything else either. Just sits quietly in the company of the teenage children, staying over sometimes on a bed made up on a sofa.

There is no plot, just a short chain of events – the two men in the room next to his introduce themselves, and may follow him when he walks in the park in the dark; Mrs Porter attempts to set him up with the ever hopeful Miss Vale; he makes a number of attempts to follow the little girl, eventually successfully, which leads to him being beaten up by the homeless community under the bridge; the teenage boy of the do-gooder family stands before him naked, apparently in invitation, and he flees; things come to a head with Miss Vale.

He is deeply sorry now. Sorry for Miss Vales because he is silently irritated with her the whole time. He is sorry that he has no qualities fit for a bridegroom. His dealings with women have always been mainly by accident.

Elizabeth Jolley is a stunning writer, and she slowly immerses us in the mind of this unlikeable person who nevertheless engages our interest and sometimes our sympathy. Your heart is constantly in your mouth in fear that he will do something grotesque, which thank goodness, he eventually does not.

.

Elizabeth Jolley, Lovesong, Viking/Penguin, Melbourne, 1997. 240pp. ex libris J. Terry

see also:
All our E. Jolley reviews at ANZLitLovers’ Elizabeth Jolley page (here)


*Railway stuff: A dual gauge rail line for freight was constructed through Perth’s outer southern suburbs in the 1960s to connect the ports at Fremantle and Kwinana (south-west of the city), via the freight terminal at Kewdale, to Midland Junction (east of the city) for all the narrow gauge wheatbelt lines, and on to Kalgoorlie to meet the standard gauge Trans Australia line. It is possible that prior to that, freight from the country came to the wharves at Fremantle via the city. I can think of a couple of earlier literary mentions of Perth’s rail system. One in Xavier Herbert’s memoir Disturbing Element when their furniture was brought from a country town to Fremantle by train (Herbert’s father worked on the railways); and when DH Lawrence travelled up from Fremantle to the city in a wood-fired steam train). And of course there’s the Dorothy Hewett poem In Midland Where the Trains go by.

Smart Ovens for Lonely People, Elizabeth Tan

How many writers am I waiting for their next book? I suppose that should be How many writers are there whose next book I am waiting for? I wonder if I can get that for away from the end. How many writers are there for whose next book I am waiting? It feels like it should be for whom’s. Grammar’s not my strong point.

Elizabeth Tan is the only one I can think of I said I was waiting for (sorry, for whom I said I was waiting) but if you said Kim Scott, Claire Coleman, Alexis Wright, Gerald Murnane had a new book out I’d be down the street in a flash – the iso rules for truck drivers in WA permit essential shopping. I wonder who else. There can’t be many.

As it happens the flash was a bit muted for Tan. Smart Ovens has been out about six months.

I could die happy with Tan and Coleman writing (good) Western Australia based SF. I suppose there are others. I wonder what happened to … . DuckDuckGoes “WA SF”. There’s a Western Australian Science Fiction Foundation! With its own radio show!

You might remember Tan’s last (and first) was Rubik, a novel of loosely connected episodes, set in Perth WA, up the surreal end of SF. Smart Ovens is the same but the ‘episodes’ aren’t connected.

A children’s slide ups and runs away; mermaids kept in a restaurant fish tank, in the casino of course, metamorphose, find freedom; long after pens are a thing Ira gives one to a homeless man who scrawls kilometres of ink on the subway walls before stepping in front of a train; Pikelet was born in the Year of the Rabbit after the Year of Unprecedented Ecological Terror, her family moved to New Zealand following the Year of Seven Different Prime Ministers, and she now works at “Eighteen Bells Karaoke Castle, Perth’s premiere karaoke destination, in the heart of the city with a view of Old Swan River”; Tom and Ant are lovers, Tom knows that Ant is a spy but Ant doesn’t; and so the stories go on, lots of them concepts you wouldn’t dream of and yet Tan makes them real, spins them out for 5 or ten pages. In Would You Rather things start to disappear:

What did it look like? A flaw in the morning, a hanging pixel. An iridescent chip in the shape of a rhombus, shimmering in the sky. Unnoticed for days, until all the bicycles lifted up on one wheel, and then the other; turned counter-clockwise in the air, handlebars raised like the antlers of a stag, sliding riders from their seats; floated towards the hole, and then through the hole, and then …

So it’s not just the ideas, it’s the writing; writing and ideas and stories and Perth and young Asian-Australian women and a post eco-apocalyptic future of decay and magic.

And the smart ovens? “After that day at the overpass I was assigned an oven.” That day at the overpass, she of course jumped, and so was assigned an oven for a year to be her friend in the kitchen. With an extra six months if the oven’s end-of-year report was unsatisfactory.

After Neko Oven had been activated for two weeks she [for Neko Oven was programmed with a female voice] sent a recommendation to Biljana to let me return to work…

On my lunchbreak I used the kitchenette microwave to heat up a little plastic container of Neko Oven’s leftovers (some kind of casserole she’d improvised from tinned chick-peas, bacon, and gin) and took it to the food court to eat alone.

When she runs into the guy who chose that overpass, that day, that same minute to jump, they discuss ‘why’.

When people asked ‘How are you?’ did they really mean ‘Why did you?’

Because I was tired.
Because I wanted to die, the same way you might want a drink of water, or want to sleep, or want someone to love you back.

That last is it of course. But with a smart oven life goes on.

.

Elizabeth Tan, Smart Ovens for Lonely People, Brio, Sydney, 2020. 244pp.


*The SF book I was thinking of [… Hal Spacejock by Simon Haynes. I found it, randomly shelved, when I got home, and he has 12 more, going by ‘images’] involves a young entrepreneur with a bucket of bolts space ship and an android pilot. The name Matt is in there somewhere. I used to know the book’s editor. Fremantle Press. I DDG Fremantle Press, they don’t have SF as one of their genres! They do have a new Dave Warner. One of you is having a crime fiction month soon [Kim/Reading Matters in March], so that’s my book sorted. They’re also still advertising Robert Edeson, so there is at least some SF (here and here). From two or three years ago.

Coonardoo, Katharine Susannah Prichard

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

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Lisa Hill/ANZLitLovers, for this our second year looking at the writers of Gen 3, has produced a scholarly take on what is probably Katharine Susannah Prichard’s best known and most important novel.


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I’ve departed from my usual practice in reviewing Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Coonardoo from 1929: I’ve read other opinions about it, both before and after reading it.  I also re-read Mairi Neil’s post about the play Brumby Innes and its place in the history of Australian drama because Prichard first used the theme of the novel in the play.

I did this additional reading because this work has a contentious place in the history of Australian literature.  Coonardoo is the first detailed representation of Indigeneity in Australian fiction, but the author was not Indigenous herself. Read on …

Katharine Susannah Prichard in the 1940s and 1950s

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

intimate-strangers

Nathan Hobby’s biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard, with the working title The Red Witch, is due out from MUP later this year. While completing his PhD with the very meta topic of writing about writing a biog of KSP, he was a frequent blogger. Getting the book finished and being the stay at home father to two young children slowed him down a bit, but let’s hope as the nappy haze dissipates we see him back here more often.


Nathan Hobby, a biographer in Perth Nathan Hobby

Katharine Susannah Prichard spent the 1940s working on her Western Australian goldfields trilogy, which finally appeared as The Roaring Nineties (1946), Golden Miles (1948), and Winged Seeds (1950). It’s a saga that tells the story of the development of the goldfields through the fortunes of one family, and interwoven with folklore, historical events, and technical descriptions. It is Katharine’s attempt at writing faithful to her communist convictions … Read on …

(Not) Going Places

Journal: 062

It astonishes me just how ignorant public speakers – journalists, politicians, writers – are of spelling, vocabulary, general knowledge, and how infrequently they are called out for it. It’s a long time since I listened to the ABC’s “local” network – except for football of course – but the self-important pronouncements of men and women whose only qualification is that they have mellow voices is constantly off-putting, not to mention the ABC’s official “non-partisan” stance of giving right-wing lies equal billing with proven science.

The following, not ABC, examples came up this morning while I was reading on-line

Trump fans are calling for “succession” when they mean secession, and that’s pretty much how their night is going. It’s also a reminder that we need to invest more in education.

Palmer Report, 11 Dec 2020

The punishment metered (sic) out to both banks resulted in board and senior management changes, massive fines and reputational damage.

Adele Ferguson, The Age, “Casinos Lose”, 12 Dec 2020

Of course my own spelling is not the best and the number of times I have typed slef instead of self … The quotes were unplanned, what really got my goat was Lindsey Davis in The Ides of April who not once but repeatedly used opaque to mean see-through. As in Flavia Albia, the heroine, standing up to address a crowd in an “opaque” dress and everyone could see her legs. Remember back in the day when editors read what they were publishing.

So here I am, home at last, sitting at the computer, bookwork neglected, waffling on. Just reading odd stories mostly, or getting up to make a sandwich. My next post will be a book review. Promise! It has taken all day, 8 hours at least, to get this far. A proper Perth summer day, stinking hot, me sitting in shorts and nothing else sweating in front of an inadequate fan.

I crossed the border Wednesday latish, so, with a whole day up my sleeve (to do 14 days iso and make it to xmas dinner). Unloaded yesterday, Friday. Milly will drop in tomorrow, she has the grandkids tonight, yet another pancake breakfast I have to forego. She’s five years younger than me (yes I know, than I, but who says than I), already retired and now, moving into a retirement village. My mother’s in a retirement village! And way down the coast. Milly’s retirement village I mean. I have a house down that way so I may have to move to stay in touch.

I’ve been writing (and thinking) a lot about place. Perth is a long, narrow city of 1.1 million people, stretching 100 km along endless white Indian Ocean beaches, on a 20 km wide stretch of sandflats between the ocean and the low hills of the Darling Range, bisected by the Swan River, an insignificant stream opening up in front of the CBD to the lovely expanse of Perth Water. Milly’s new home will be at the southern end of the conurbation, on the estuary of another small waterway, the Peel. Why, I wonder, am I the only one who writes like this. Well, not only, Pam is probably even more passionate about Hobart.

Very early in my blogging life I wrote about an idea I called Intertextual Geography, and more recently I posted on a Tony Hughes-d’Aeth essay on Regional Literature. This is where I’m up to so far on the subject of ‘Place’:

  1. Our knowledge of a given place influences how we read fiction set there; and what we read influences how we see/experience that place.
  2. Writers in a place are influenced by each other, hence Regional Literature.
  3. A regional writer is an ambassador, for good or evil!, presenting his/her place to others.
  4. Much more importantly, our regional writers present our place to us, giving us new ways of experiencing and understanding it.

Now do you see why I get so angry when writers get places wrong? No? I thought not, but I’ll keep chewing away at it anyway.

In comments after the Hughes-d’Aeth review, WG raises the interesting question of how we deal with the different relationship of Indigenous writers to places with which we whites also have a relationship. More to think about. Perhaps I should say:

5. There is no place in Australia (or Canada or the USA) which was not for millenia before our arrival significant to the indigenous people of that place.

Which is trite, but then we’re not proving very good at sharing, are we. Which is as good a segue as any to this story from today’s New York Times: “Of the 7,124 books [widely read, major publishers, 1950-2018] for which we identified the author’s race, 95 percent were written by white people.” (NYT, 11 Dec 2020, Why is Publishing so White?)

Playing with the Block Editor/Slideshow: Some images of Perth Water (mine, to forestall copyright issues, and one of Milly’s of South Beach, Freo at sunset)

Recent audiobooks 

Margaret Atwood (F, Can), Cat’s Eye (1988)
Suzanne Enoch (F, USA), Angel’s Devil (1995) – Romance
Michael Connelly (M, USA), The Black Echo (1992) – Crime
Leah Fleming (F, Eng), The Girl under the Olive Tree (2013) – Hist.Fic.
Christopher Spielberg (M, Ger), 101 Nights (2003) – Crime
Emma Hart (F, Eng), The Roommate Agreement (2019) – Romance
Mary Anna Evans (F, USA), Floodgates (2009) – Crime
Lindsey Davis (F, Eng), The Ides of April (2013) – Hist.Fic/Crime
Ruth Downie (F, Eng), Vita Brevis (2016) – Hist.Fic/Crime
Pilip K Dick (M, USA), Our Friends from Frolix 8 (1970) – SF
Donna Milner (F, Can), The Promise of Rain (2010) – Hist.Fic (WWII)
Alain de Botton (M, UK), The Course of Love (2016) – a very long lecture
Lydia Millet (F, USA), Mermaids in Paradise (2014) – Gen.Fic
John Marrs (M, UK), The Good Samaritan (2017) – Crime
Isabel Miller (F, USA), Patience & Sarah (1969)
Paolo Bacigalupi (M, USA), Pump Six & Other Stories (2008) – SF
JD Robb (F, USA), Wonderment in Death (2015) – SF/Crime
Martha Mitchell (F, USA), Gone with the Wind (1936) DNF
Fern Michaels (F, USA), Fancy Dancer (2012) – Romance
Norman Mailer (M, USA), Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1984)– Crime
John Connolly (M, Ire), The Unquiet (2007) – Crime
Adam Mitzner (M, USA), The Girl from Home (2016)– Crime

I also started Dickens’ Dombey & Son, 39 hours!, but the publisher, Brilliance Audio, had made a hash of the first disc, replacing some chapters with unrelated medieval history, so I was forced to give up.

Currently reading, planning to read

Ursula Le Guin (F, USA), The Unreal & the Real
Christina Stead (F, Aust/NSW), The Little Hotel
Kylie Tennant (F, Aust/NSW), Tell Morning This
Ernestine Hill (F, Aust/NSW), The Great Australian Loneliness
Joseph Furphy (M, Aust/Vic), Such is Life

Thinking in a Regional Accent

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Thinking in a Regional Accent: New Ways of Contemplating Australian Writers is a recent essay by WA academic, Tony Hughes-d’Aeth in the ABR which I no longer get, but a copy of which was sent by a friend. HdA was the editor of Like Nothing on this Earth, a compilation of WA Wheatbelt writing which I reviewed a few years ago, so he is an advocate for investigating ‘regional difference’ when analyzing Australian writing.

But what is regional difference? Certainly, one feels that regional
difference is at most a weak factor when compared to the forms of
difference that most occupy us today: race, gender, class, ethnicity, and, increasingly, sectarian political affiliations.

Yet regional difference is one of the first things I look for in a novel, and the failure or success of the author in delineating it is often where I begin my criticism. I like my novels to be grounded in a particular location, for the author and the reader, to know where they stand.

For [Marxist critic Raymond Williams], what emerged under the name of ‘regions’ in nineteenth-century Britain was essentially a geographical spatialisation of class. Regions were economically subservient peripheries of production. This meant that, for Williams, regional consciousness was a form of class consciousness. With this in mind, it is interesting to go back to how accents work in Australia, where they follow class rather than regional lines.

Is this true in Australia, about class and regions? Not really. Not that I don’t think class is important for understanding Australian writing. The different perspectives of Lawson and Paterson for instance are not just urban and rural; they are the polar opposites of working poor and landed gentry.

So what are Australia’s literary regions? HdA speaks as a Western Australian and the regions he cites are within WA, but I think the first important divide is urban – Melbourne and Sydney really, but if you like, that sliver of coast from Adelaide to Brisbane to which clings 80% of our population – and the rest, the Outback which occupies so much of our imagination. And a close second of course comes Melbourne and Sydney, as in Melbourne v Sydney.

After those two, it is clear the states themselves are regions. Much of our literature is state based. I imagine that Gerald Murnane could have written in Perth, or Thea Astley could have in South Australia (but maybe not that Patrick White could have written outside of Sydney) but the point is they didn’t. Their novels are firmly situated in the places they knew. And if regionalism has any meaning then the bodies of writing around those places is different from the writing around other places.

Probably different cities, different regions have a different feel and that permeates the writing (Lisa yesterday wrote about the imporatance of cylcones in Queensland). But also writers work together and influence each other; and increasingly writers pass through the universities and so are influenced by the writers they find there – Elizabeth Jolley, Kim Scott, John Kinsella in WA (though not all at the same uni) – how could they not be?

The WA Wheatbelt is not really my home region, though I live on the edge of it, and work there, and drive backwards and forwards through it, and so experience a sense of familiarity when I read works which are not just plonked down there but which explore what it means to be in that place – from the memoir A Fortunate Life, to Dorothy Hewett’s fictional Muckinupin, to Arthur Upfield’s spell at Burracoppin, to The Fringe Dwellers, to Jolley’s The Well, to the poetry of Kinsella and Charmaine Papertalk-Green.

Hughes-d’Aeth also discusses regional literature in a slightly different sense

.. it has been inspiring to watch the Wirlomin Noongar grouping (Kim Scott, Clint Bracknell, Claire G. Coleman, and others), who trace their belonging to the south coast of Western Australia, become a nodal point of Noongar cultural and language renaissance, and seriously influence the national imaginary.

Noongar country and the Wheatbelt are more or less the same geographically (the former includes Perth and the latter extends north a little way into Yamaji country and excludes the heavily forested south-west corner), but ‘Wheatbelt’ is such a White concept that I have trouble treating them as one. Do Indigenous Lit and White Lit belong in the same region? Same space, opposite perspectives.

Cutting back across the emergence of bio-regionalist sensibilities in literature and criticism has been the advent of second-wave Indigenous authors like Alexis Wright, Kim Scott, and Tony Birch and of the powerful insinuation of the concept of ‘Country’ into wider Australian discourse

I hadn’t thought of these writers as ‘second-wave’. I guess the implication is that Jack Davis (1917-2000), Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) (1920-1993) and Mudrooroo (Colin Johnson) (1938 – 2019) were the first wave. Davis and Johnson were from WA, were there others over east?

“.. literary regionalism is a critical stance that I find myself adopting,
whether I want to or not” is not Hughes-d’Aeth’s conclusion, but I think it makes a good one.

.

Tony Hughes-d’Aeth, Thinking in a Regional Accent: New Ways of Contemplating Australian Writers, Australian Book Review, Nov. 2020, no. 426.

Lisa/ANZLL – Cyclone Country: The Language of Place and Disaster in Australian Literature (here)

A Curious Intimacy, Jessica White

Jess White is an Australian writer, aged 29 when this, her first novel came out in 2007. I hesitate to assign her to a state. She’s now Brisbane, Qld based, was born and raised in rural NSW, and has spent a fair amount of time in WA, where this book is set, researching Georgiana Molloy (1805-1843).

We know Jess well in this corner of the blogosphere from her work with the Australian Women Writers Challenge where she was disability editor (she’s deaf); she and I have been irregular correspondents for a few years though we are yet to be in the same place at the same time for coffee; she has contributed guest posts here (listed below); and I reviewed her most recent work, Hearing Maud, last year.

I didn’t know I had A Curious Intimacy or I would have read it ages ago, but came upon it last week looking for something else in the shelves in the lounge room which mostly house books I’ve had for years, 40 or 50 mostly, plus some of my father’s and even a few of my grandfathers’. It’s inscribed on the flyleaf to my most recent ex-wife for her birthday in 2007. She must have left it behind. The previous year I gave her Robert Drewe’s The Shark Net which described people and situations she knew or knew of, so it was a big success. This one maybe not so much so.

The novel is set in the 1870s apparently, though I’m not sure that is clear from the text, on a partially cleared property near Busselton, 220 km south of Perth, WA. The English took possession of WA in 1829 and the Busselton region, on the south west coast, which is hilly, well watered and heavily forested with giant jarrah, tuart and marri trees, was occupied by white setllers, including the Molloys, in 1832, though European settlement in WA didn’t really take off until the Kalgoorlie/Coolgardie goldrushes in the 1890s.

Ingrid, thirtyish, the narrator, is on a one-woman expedition to collect and illustrate flowers from WA’s south west for a book her father is writing back in Adelaide, SA. She has disembarked at Albany on the south coast and is slowly making her way north with her horse, Thistle. This is the country of Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance whose Indigenous hero, Bobby, Ingrid may have bumped into in his old age. In fact Ingrid briefly mentions collecting wildflowers at Esperance, 600 km east of Albany, though I’m guessing she only disembarked there during a stopover rather than riding between the two settlements, which would have been an expedition on its own that might have given her the opportunity of meeting Kim Scott’s (and Claire G. Coleman’s) great grandmother, Benang on the way.

However, the local Indigenous people, the Nyungar, are only lightly touched on in this story, some are servants, and there are still some moving around the bush who call in occasionally for rations, which is I think an accurate representation of how things were at that time (the 1901 census counted just 1,500 Indigenous people in the whole of the South-West (here)).

The scenery, and the flowers particularly, are lovingly and accurately described, so Jess must already have commenced her Georgiana Molloy project which should finally result in an eco-biography next year (2021).

The evening before I’d redrawn my rough illustrations of a lemon-scented Darwinia I’d found on granite outcrop near Albany. It was an odd plant, with a bell-shaped flower head surrounded by red bracts and cupped by sharp leaves. Four long styles extended from the bell like yellow needles.

In the first few pages Ingrid is attacked, escapes, abandons her pack horse, and makes her way to a farm seeking refuge. There she finds a woman of her own age and class, Ellyn, whose husband has been forced by drought to go cattle droving up north, while the farm manager left behind has taken off with all their money, her money really, given on her marriage by her wealthy father back in England. And there she stays.

I thought the writing started out awkwardly, but the author soon hits her stride as Ingrid and Ellyn feel each other out. Ellyn has had a baby which has died, is severely depressed and has behaved irrationally, leading to her being (or feeling) ostracized by her fellows.

Slowly, Ingrid brings Ellyn out of herself and we become familiar with her neighbours, who are all, mostly, understanding and forgiving. Slowly also, we become aware of Ingrid’s backstory. She has come on this adventure to get over the loss (to marriage) of her friend Helena

“Please hold me, Miss Markham”, she [Ellyn] begged. “No one has touched me since Amy died! Oh, how I miss her!” I crawled under the covers and gathered her to me. Her breath blew against my neck and soon I felt awkward; the last person I had held like this had been Helena.

Their relationship grows. Their closest friends in the town help them suppress rumours. The husband returns. Ingrid flees back to Adelaide where she finds Helena has returned from her honeymoon in Europe. Ingrid mixes once more in Adelaide society. I was hoping she would run into if not Catherine Martin who might have been a bit young then at least Catherine Helen Spence and her companion Jeannie Lewis, but that’s not the story Jess is telling (Hey Jess, In all those books that Ingrid and Ellyn shared you might at least have included CHS’s Clara Morrison (1854)).

This is a contemplative, sometimes erotic novel and I greatly enjoyed it.

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Jessica White, A Curious Intimacy, Viking, Melbourne, 2007. 300pp.

See Also:
“It’s Still in my Heart, this is my Country”: The Single Noongar Claim History (here)
Wardandi Massacre, Wonnerup/Lake Mininup WA, 1841 (here)
Jessica White, Georgiana Molloy: Collector of Seeds and Words (here)
Sister Sorrow, Rosa Praed (Jess White’s review)
The Mysterious Box, Dorothy Cottrell (Jess White’s review)
Hearing Maud, Jessica White (review)


I did all this using the block editor and ok, it wasn’t too bad. The wildflowers, which are photos I’ve taken over the years, from country north of Perth to which Ingrid makes an excursion before leaving WA, I put in just to try out image size, alignment and flowing text. The middle one’s a xmas tree, which comes up in the story.

You can probably see I used quote blocks which aren’t perfect but they’ll do.

The only way I could NOT have text around the cover was to not align it (apparently then it gets no HTML). Once you’ve aligned it you can’t go back – I had to delete one draft and start again.

I struggled to make the cover the ‘featured image’, I selected it 3 or 4 times before it finally appeared in the sidebar.

These last para.s I used a classic block just so I could have a horizontal line above them. I don’t see that line anywhere else.

Sorry for all the whingeing!

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.

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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.