Stuck in the Middle

Journal: 100

Western Australia

Last weekend I was 1200 km north of Perth in the desolate country north east of Geraldton, sheep stations once but now running cattle at maybe one beast per sq. mile; bounded on the west by the North West Coastal Hwy (and Shark Bay), on the east by the Great Northern Hwy; say 800 km south to north and 400 km west to east; traversed by only the meanest of dirt roads. Home to KSP’s Coonardoo and Neville Schute’s Beyond the Black Stump; the epic buggy journey by Daisy Bates (driven by her husband Jack, though she doesn’t say so) probably following the dry bed of the Gascoyne River, from Jigalong to Carnarvon; the last part of Robyn Davidson’s camel trek (Tracks); and home also to the trucking memoir I reviewed a little while ago, Wheel Tracks.

This is Yamaji country, though the language quoted by KSP in Coonardoo appears to be Martu, whose land is centred on Jigalong, further to the west (past Newman, on the WA map).

I had a load of cement and weldmesh for a new mine 300 km north of Carnarvon and 200 km inland. I would have gone via the little community of Gascoyne Junction but the local council stipulated otherwise. My instructions were to turn off the NWCH 5 km before the bridge and rest area at Barradale, a roadhouse that hasn’t existed these last 30 years, and my landmarks after that were to be various stations at 40-50km intervals.

At which turnoff I arrived 3.00pm Friday, having spent a considerable time persuading Milly and Gee that even in the best of circumstances I would be out of phone range for 24 hours and if they hadn’t heard from me by Sunday here were my contacts and if they couldn’t help, CALL THE POLICE.

For once, the situation on the ground was pretty much as the map said it would be. By sunset I was at a parking bay just past where my road joined the road from Gascoyne Junction and there I spent the night. Unfortunately, the rain storm threatening in that photo arrived almost as soon as I pulled up.

Within an hour of taking off in the morning, and only 16 km from the mine, or from the access road in anyway, I was bogged. Luckily, I could hear traffic on the two way and was able to get someone to come out to me. After maybe 3 hours, that guy returned with a big 4wd loader to tow me out, which he did with some difficulty. I followed him in to the mine, unloaded, and by afternoon the road had dried out enough that I didn’t have any trouble driving out.

Back to the highway – and phone service – about 4.00pm, to 15 missed messages just on the family site (Psyche has been seeing a physio who is successfully ‘rewiring’ the connections between her brain and her legs meaning she’s finding walking a bit easier). I’d phoned Gee on a borrowed satellite phone from the mine, but I was happy to let them know I’d come out ok as well.

Me: Thanks for keeping an eye out.

Gee: It’s nice to have the mild excitement!

Me: It’s fun to BE the mild excitement.

Milly: Hmm…

Dragan had a pickup for me to do in Geraldton which I knocked off on the Sunday and here I am back at home, expecting to hear that I’ll shortly be asked to do it all again [not yet].

At various places along the ‘road’ in there were signs to Mount Augustus, which seems to have come into tourist consciousness only in the last few years. It is apparently a big red rock twice the size of Uluru. At a high point on the mine access road I looked out across the plain to see in the distance a mountain towering over the horizon, and I guess that was it. Wiki says “The local Wadjari people call it Burringurrah”. At this time I am struggling with the distinction between Wadjari and Yamaji. More homework needed.

Over the course of the trip I listened to JM Coetzee’s Boyhood, which made no impression on me at all; to an international thriller by the late Melbourne crime (and MF winning) writer Peter Temple whom I discover was born and raised in South Africa; and an interesting coming of age debut, Electric and Mad and Brave by Tom Pitts, set in Hastings on Melbourne’s outer eastern fringe, and which deserves more attention than I am paying it here.

I see ‘Stuck in the Middle’ is/was a US tv series, but what I had in mind was the early 70s pop song.


Recent audiobooks 

JM Coetzee (M, SAf), Boyhood (1997)
Katie Sise (F, USA), Open House (2020) – Crime
Tom Pitts (M, Aus/Vic), Electric and Mad and Brave (2022)
Peter Temple (M, Aus/Vic), In the Evil Day (2002)
Nick Spalding (M, Eng), Logging Off (2020) – ‘Humour’ DNF What was I thinking!
Lisa Unger (F, USA), Fragile (2010) – Crime

Currently Reading 

Samuel Butler (M, Eng), The Way of All Flesh (1903)
Arkady & Boris Strugatsky (M, Rus), One Billion Years to the End of the World (1977)
Stella Gibbons (F, Eng), Cold Comfort Farm (1932) – I’m enjoying it so far. Is the humour a bit forced? Maybe.

AWWC Mar. 2023

Wed 1Elizabeth LhuedeBella Guerin, From imperialistic butterfly to democratic grub
Fri 3Stories FTABella Lavender, Mrs Pankhurst: sonnet
Wed 8EmmaCatherine Helen Spence, An Autobiography (review)
Fri 10Stories FTACatherine Helen Spence, A week in the future (fiction extract)
Wed 15Bill HollowayCatherine Helen Spence, Clara Morison (review)
Fri 17Stories FTACatherine Helen Spence, Clara Morison (extract)
Wed 22Teresa PittAgnes G. Murphy
Fri 24Stories FTAAgnes Murphy, To Aimee (poetry)
Wed 29Whispering GumsLouise Mack, The world is round
Fri 31Stories FTALouise Mack, My valley (nonfiction)

EOY 2022

Journal: 095

What is the best book I read this year. Undoubtedly the most important was Chelsea Watego’s Another Day in the Colony whose publication, in my opinion, marks the moment Aboriginal ‘public thinkers’ took control of the debate over Australian Black-white relations. I should say the ‘best’ was Voss, but that honour probably goes to James Baldwin’s Just Above My Head. And the most exciting? undoubtedly Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson.

I never read many new releases but was very pleased this year to have new books, new SF! (as was the Hopkinson), from Jane Rawson, A History of Dreams and Claire G Coleman, Enclave. I’ve also, belatedly ordered the latest from Jamie Marina Lau, Grunk Baby – I see on searching, it was released 1 Jan ’21, so I’m late!

On the non-fiction side, still in the area of Indigenous-relations, we also had Michelle Scott Tucker’s collaboration with Torres Strait Islander, Aaron Fa’Aoso for his memoir So Far, So Good and Claire G Coleman’s Lies Damned Lies. It is difficult to separate what I happen to notice and read from what is generally available, but it seems to me that both the quality and the quantity of arguments from Indigenous writers have reached the point where it is impossible for white society not to deal with them on equal terms, and I think Prime Minister Albanese recognises this, which is why he is spending so much political capital on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

Then of course, still on the recent releases front, there was Nathan Hobby’s important biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard, The Red Witch, and some not so important general fiction because they came out as audiobooks and I happened to pick them up in the library. I wonder what I missed. I don’t really recall any Australian books making a splash, or is that just me not paying attention.

I should not overlook the relaunch this year of the Australian Women Writers Challenge as a site to discuss earlier AWWs – up to the 1950s – and to reprint long overlooked stories and articles from Trove – which this federal government will surely not defund, as is half expected (The Conversation, 23 Dec. 2022). Sue/Whispering Gums’ AWWC end-of-year summary (here).

For the year, I read 108 books, down from 145 last year, and 164 the year before. What is going on! My female/male (author) balance was 75/33; sadly, USA/Aust/UK/rest of world went 37/35/19/12. Category-wise I read Crime 26, SF 20, non-fiction 16, ‘literature’ 18, other 26. Looking along my date categories, a third of the books I read were from the last three years and only one was pre-C20th. My spreadsheet didn’t have a column for audiobooks, which was remiss of me, but the ratio of audio to real books was probably 80:20.

Counting this one, I put up 83 posts for the year, of which 15 were Journals, 4 were reposts of your contributions for AWW Gen 4 Week, and 11 reposts/intros for my reviews on AWWC. I guess the rest were reviews, including 10 for my North America First Nations/African-American project, which I really enjoyed.

For xmas, Milly, Ms 19 and I drove down to Denmark on the south coast, to Gee’s bush block, which is on a steep slope in dense forest. It doesn’t look like it in the top photo, but it is relatively clear around the house, though the undergrowth between the trees needs lots of work. I did two part days of slashing and two days of resting, and on our last full day we went to the beach – the coast along there consists of a series of protected inlets, backed by steep hills – and now I’m back home. Lou came down separately by plane and bus; Psyche spent the week moving house – there was a lot of that this year – with her new live-in carer; and Mum, and her travel companion, my cousin Kay, were in Sydney with Mr and Mrs B4. Hopefully, next xmas, we’ll all be together.

Recent audiobooks 

Deborah Moggach (F, Eng), The Black Dress (2021) – Romance (I think) DNF
Dervla McTiernan (F, Ire), The Ruin (2018) – Crime
Neal Stephenson (M, USA), Termination Shock (2021) – SF (23 hours!)
Toni Morrison (F, USA), Paradise (1998)

Currently Reading 

Jamie Marina Lau (F, Aus/Vic), Gunk Baby (2021)
Elena Ferrante (F, Ita), The Story of a New Name (2012)

Yes, that’s me heading for my chair (and Mr One, getting ready for a lifetime of kayaking). Milly must be holding the camera.


AWWC Dec. 2022

Fri 02Stories FTA“Tasma”, The Rubria Ghost (short story)
Wed 07Elizabeth LhuedeMrs Bode and a Question of Irony
Fri 09Stories FTAMrs J A Bode, Lubra (poem)
Wed 14BronwynMary Gaunt (2)
Fri 16Stories FTAMary Gaunt, Alone in West Africa (nonfiction extract)
Wed 21Bill HollowayKylie Tennant, Ma Jones and the Little White Cannibals
Fri 23Stories FTAApril Hersey, Back to the battling (nonfiction extract)
Wed 28Whispering GumsBush Book Club
Fri 30Stories FTALady Poore, Bush Book Club (letter to the editor)

The Toucher, Dorothy Hewett

Dorothy Hewett (1923-2002) “was an Australian playwright, poet and author, and a romantic feminist icon. In writing and in her life, Hewett was an experimenter. As her circumstances and beliefs changed, she progressed through different literary styles: modernism, socialist realism, expressionism and avant garde.” I liked that description from wiki, but I must say I would have had ‘Communist’ in between Australian and playwright, and I imagine she would have too.

It’s interesting how many writers of Hewett’s generation (AWW Gen 3, of course) were confirmed Communists, at least for a while, and how many since are just wishy-washy liberals.

Hewett was born in WA, on a prosperous wheat farm. Wiki doesn’t say where, but that it was “cleared by 15 year old Albert Facey” (for non-Australians, author of the hugely popular memoir A Fortunate Life) which I think puts it in the Narrogin region, south east of Perth. When she was 12 her parents moved to the city and Hewett went to PLC (Perth) and on to UWA.

In adulthood Hewett joined the CPA and with them went to the USSR, then under Stalin, and to early Communist China. The protagonist of The Toucher recalls being in a parade in Moscow, with Stalin waving from a balcony.

Hewett had a number of marriages and lived mostly in Perth – on attempting a return to education, she was expelled from Graylands Teachers College for having been married and divorced – till, when she was 50, she moved permanently to Sydney. While she was better known as a playwright and poet, she wrote three novels –
Bobbin’ Up (1959)
The Toucher (1993)
Neap Tide (1999)
and the first volume of her autobiography –
Wild Card: an autobiography, 1923–1958 (1990)

In The Toucher the protagonist, Esther, like Hewett in her later years, is overweight and wheelchair bound, but she has retired to a large house on the ‘French’ River in south-west WA. This fictional location seems to be based on the Frankland River which enters the sea at Walpole, on the south coast, west of Albany (mentioned only obliquely, as “the safest harbour in Australia”).

She sat quite still in her wheelchair in the very centre of the house, the coastline spun out around her, the estuary with its great body of water sliding past to the sea. She had come back three years ago, pulling house, garden and river around her like a cocoon, imagining that one day she could emerge, remade into the outer air. But there had been no healing …

Opening lines

Esther had grown up in this part of the south west, in a hut in the karri (very tall eucalypts) forests where her father painted. Now she has returned, initially with a husband, but is soon a widow; finding herself and her father remembered; the same old fishing families still in their cottages; Maxie Crowe, the bad-boy love of her school days now a decrepit grandfather.

Her carers/housekeeper/handyman are (oldish) husband and wife Clarrie and Fred. Clarrie goes off to another country town to stay with her daughter, initially for the birth of a grandchild, but soon, it appears, indefinitely. Esther’s own children are variously ignoring her and living in other parts of the world.

Into the picture come, first the very young Iris, filling in for Clarrie, then Iris’s boyfriend: “‘Hello’, he said, ‘I’m Billy Crowe.’ They breed like flies, she thought.” Yes, he’s Maxie’s grandson, and just as much a bad boy, skilled at fishing and bushcraft and entirely uneducated.

‘I used to sit next to your grandfather in primary school. You’re a lot like him.’
‘All us Crowes look alike. Can I borrow one of y’ books to take home, one y’ wrote y’self?’
‘I don’t think you’d like them’
He bristled. ‘Why not?’
‘I don’t think they’d be quite your cup of tea.’
‘Because I’m too dumb. That’s what y’ think, isn’t it?’
‘No, it’s not that.’
‘Yes it is, but I’m not stupid. I can learn quick. I could find out a lot from y’ if you’d teach me.’
‘What could I teach you?’ she said wearily.
‘Oh, I dunno, about books an’ life an’ that, but you’re too much of a snob, aren’t y’?’

She gives in, gives him some hours of work; lets him drive the Merc; employs him to type the ms of her latest novel, an autofiction of past loves and adulteries; lets him put her in the bath, as Iris watches on helplessly; and so begins a strange love affair, and eventually a murder mystery. Well written, in no style at all really, certainly no hint of the socialist realism of Bobbin’ Up, and some hints that Hewett, or her protagonist at least, is past all that.

For all you who loved Charlotte Wood’s The Weekend, a wildly different look at one older woman’s desires and motivations.


Dorothy Hewett, The Toucher, McPhee Gribble, Melbourne, 1993. 300pp

The Great Australian Loneliness, Ernestine Hill

You know that I am fascinated by intertextual geography. So, for instance, last month’s AWWC subject, Ada Cambridge, on her first excursion into the bush, was caught up in exactly the same loops of the Murray River in 1870 as Tom Collins (Such is Life) a decade later.

Ernestine Hill (1899-1972) is one writer who intersects many others. The journey around northern Australia she describes in The Great Australian Loneliness criss-crosses the paths of a number of notable Australian writers and books. She hitches a lift with Michael Durack, father of Mary (Kings in Grass Castles) and Elizabeth (“Eddie Burrup”), in northern WA (and later becomes friends with both, and her son Robert maybe becomes Elizabeth’s lover); she hears about the Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence girls in a pub in Marble Bar, and their epic walk home to Jigalong; Daisy Bates owned a cattle leasehold near Jigalong, to which she had famously driven cattle south from Roebuck near Broome, 900 kms north (“3000 Miles on Side-Saddle”); Hill later catches up with Bates at Ooldea in outback South Australia and does the work on Bates’ papers which leads to the publication of The Passing of the Aborigines; four or five years earlier, Katharine Susannah Prichard had been at Turee Creek, a couple of hundred kms south west of Jigalong, writing Coonardoo; later, Hill and Henrietta Drake Brockman travel in Hill’s ex-army amoured personnel carrier to Kalgoorlie to catch up with KSP who is there writing her Goldfields trilogy.

Then there is the mystery of who did Kim Scott’s aunty (Kayang & Me) see driving an apc across the Nullabor to meet with Daisy Bates? Hill’s condemnation of Aboriginal slavery in the WA pearling industry; Chris Owen’s excoriation of the Duracks’ complicity in Aboriginal massacres in Every Mothers’ Son is Guilty; Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis’ account of her family coming in from the desert (Pictures from my Memory) – she was at school for a while at Karalundi mission where Daisy, one of the Rabbit Proof Fence girls was working, in 1972; and of course, Robyn Davidson’s journey by camel across the desert (Tracks) whose beginning and end points, Alice Springs and Hamelin Pool, Shark Bay, mirror those of Hill, who started from Hamelin Pool and ends her account two years later riding a camel into Alice Springs.

This is all by way of an introduction to my review this month of The Great Australian Loneliness on the Australian Women Writers Challenge site. Read on …

Mt Catherine Massacre

Buried in Print and I are read-alonging Katherine Susannah Prichard’s Goldfields trilogy in which, Nathan Hobby in his recent biography of Prichard says, KSP made a serious attempt to tell the Aboriginal side of the story, as well as that of all the white (mainly) men who rushed out to Southern Cross, Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie and beyond, into the dry, mostly scrub country east of Perth, in search of gold.

Interestingly, her POV in book 1, The Roaring Nineties, at least, is a woman, Sally Gough who insists on accompanying her husband, Morrie. Sally, while camped at Hannan’s (Kalgoorlie) in 1895, makes friends with an Aboriginal girl who is the mistress of Morrie’s then partner, Frisco [the young woman, Maritana, is left with Frisco, off and on, by her older husband in return for food]; and she is later rescued while suffering typhoid on a trek north (to the new Darlot discovery), by Maritana’s mother Kalgoorla and is returned to Kalgoorlie in the care of Kalgoorla’s tribal group.

Kalgoorlie and the Goldfields is Wangkatja country, of the Western Desert peoples, though immediately to the south (and east) was/is the smaller Ngadjunmaya nation (map).

Prichard, who researched this work in the 1940s, explains that men prospecting as far north as present-day Laverton had antagonised the locals by polluting their waterholes and stealing their women, and that isolated prospectors would quite often come under attack.

In Chapter XXVI, Sally hears of a prospector, ‘Mick Gerald’ who has discovered ‘a mountain of gold’ a couple of hundred miles north east

He and Bill and Syd Parry struck a big quartz hill … and called the place Mt Catherine… further on [they] discovered another reef which they intended to register as Daisy Bell.

While they were out prospecting, natives raided the camp, and speared the pack horses. They went out after the natives and met Ned Robbins who had struck the far end of the Daisy Bell reef and pegged a lease there. Ned went with them to settle with the natives.

[Back in Kalgoorlie ‘Gerald’ and the Parry’s register their claim to Daisy Bell, cutting Robbins out]. Robbins swore to get even with them.

He gave information to the police about that massacre of the blacks. [Mick] Gerald and Bill Parry were arrested. Syd Parry [subsequently] gave himself up.

The Coolgardie Miner came out with an article drawing attention to the ill-treatment of natives by certain unscrupulous prospectors. “Blacks had been killed wholesale”, it declared, “without regard to age or sex. Infants had been taken from their mothers and the brains battered out of their tiny bodies with rocks, innumerable outrages were perpetrated on the women and the unfortunate savages slaughtered ruthlessly.”

It was easy enough to find that story again, in Trove, in The Coolgardie Miner of 12 Feb 1895, and days following. Interestingly though, there is no massacre at that time/location on the Newcastle University ‘Colonial Frontier Massacres’ map (here).

Prichard had changed the names of the miners just slighty, so that ‘Mick Gerald’ was actually Michael Fitzgerald and ‘Ned Robbins’ was ___ Robinson. The words Prichard used above, “without regards to age or sex etc.” are Robinson’s (“The Mount Catherine find”, The Coolgardie Miner, 16 Feb 1895, p.6).

The Mount Catherine find was made on 7 Jan 1895. But a couple of weeks earlier, according to the Miner

a raid by blacks took place at the camp at Eucalyptus, where a part of the party was stationed. The natives stole a great quantity of provisions, clothes, ammunition etc. and speared a horse. On the return of the prospectors (who here consisted of Fitzgerald and the two Parrys) they started in pursuit of the n*ggers and tracked them to where their trail joined that of a big tribe. It was deemed prudent to go on to the Pendinni camp, find reinforcements and horses, and then proceed in pursuit of the thieves. [Robinson joins them]

The pursuit was continued until after New Years Day and what occurred in that time is not clearly stated. The party however, recovered none of the stolen goods.

When Robinson returns to the site of the massacre with the police, they are only able to find two bodies, of two young men who have been shot. The police charge Fitzgerald and the two Parrys with murder, with the case being heard by the Resident Magistrate at Coolgardie on Mon 25 Feb., 1895. Only Robinson gives evidence as to the events leading to the deaths, and the defendants are discharged. Robinson is arrested and held overnight, before he too is discharged.

It is interesting that Prichard would include this story in her work. And sad too that its publication in 1895, and its republication by Prichard, had so little effect on the Australian public, who even today are largely happy to accept the myth of ‘peaceful settlement’.

By the 1940s there was some sympathetic writing about ‘Aborigines’ – Prichard was clearly angry about the taking and rape of Aboriginal women, which she approaches first in Coonardoo (1928) then again here; Daisy Bates was in the newspapers from the early 1900s on, with her anthology, The Passing of the Aborigines coming out in 1938; then there’s Ion Idriess – Drums of Mer, Man Tracks, Nermaluk; Xavier Herbert, Capricornia (1938); and Eleanor Dark, The Timeless Land (1941).

Ernestine Hill brings up Aboriginal slavery in The Great Australian Loneliness (1940), but Prichard’s The Roaring Nineties seems to be the first – outside of actual newspaper accounts, of which there are plenty – to include a massacre.


Katherine Susannah Prichard, The Roaring Nineties, first pub. 1946
Coolgardie Miner (WA : 1894 – 1911) –
Tue 12 Feb 1895, Page 3, ‘THE LATEST FIND’ (here)
Sat 2 Mar 1895, Page 6, ‘RESIDENT MAGISTRATES COURT/ALLEGED MURDER’ (here) – a full transcript of the evidence from the trial.

see also my posts:
Australian Genocide, Sydney NSW, 1779 (here)
The ‘Battle’ of Pinjarra, Pinjarra WA, 1834 (here)
Wardandi Massacre, Wonnerup/Lake Mininup WA, 1841 (here)
Cocanarup (Kukenarup) Massacre, Cocanarup Station, Ravensthorpe WA, 1880s (here)
Kimberley Massacres, 1886-1924 (here)
also in WA:
Flying Foam Massacre, in the Pilbara, 1868 (here)
Forrest River massacres, 1926 (Wiki here)

Wheel Tracks, WW Ammon

This is of course pure indulgence, but my recent adventures up dirt roads reminded my of this book of early Western Australian trucking which someone with a very neat hand gave me in 1985, my father, I guess. It has since led a hard life and not many of the pages are still attached to the spine.

Though Carnarvon, on the coast of Western Australia, has firmly established itself as the banana town of the west, it was not always so. Once wool was its only industry; and those who carried the wool from the out-lying stations were the truck drivers who are the theme of this book.

… trucks had come to stay, chiefly through the resourcefulness and initiative of that peculiar breed of person, the truck driver. What makes a young man love a motor so?

The trucks, little high-pressure-tyred vehicles always grossly overloaded, were pitted against those hundreds of miles of rutted wheel tracks, endless loose sandhills, washed-out river crossings, tropical deluges and a pitiless sun.

The map, though of course Ammon doesn’t say so, is all Yamaji country, bordering on Noongar at the bottom. Geraldton, which dates back to 1851, is not shown but it is more or less opposite the name ‘Indian Ocean’. The North West Coastal Hwy which is the road I use to go that way, now comes up from Perth between Three Springs and the coast, through Greenough to Geraldton, crosses the Murchison R at the Galena bridge and then follows the route labelled Sandalwood Track to Carnarvon, Minilya, Winning and northwards on to Karratha today, and back then, the 1920s, to Roebourne and Cossack (WA map).

Which reminds me, I am still unable to recognise sandalwood whose harvest was once an important WA industry, nor most of the other trees and shrubs the author casually mentions, “thickets of jam-trees … with cork-trees, mulga and beefwood, while a tangle of wild wattle, bluebush, quandongs, and a species of wild plum grew in abundance.”

And just for Melanie, “scorpions, six inches long with claws on them like the gilgies [fresh water crays] down south. And centipedes half as long as your arm, that can run like the very devil … Lizards won’t hurt you, but there are plenty of nasty little spinifex snakes about …”

On his first trip he learns to charge up sandhills, making multiple attempts and laying brush down to stop those hard, narrow tyres from digging in. Then someone invents trailers! First with one axle and only carrying a few more wool bales, then with two and carrying up to 18, or 3 tons. So now a hill they may have charged over, they are dragging this dead weight and are bogged all the time.

Of course these new-fangled trucks were fiercely resented by camel team drivers – a team of 23 camels, a wagon and all the gear might represent an investment of two to three thousand pounds. Nevertheless the camel teamsters lost contract after contract, hence the ferals I photographed the other day (maybe 400 km due east).

These days you see signs along the road about Charles Kingsford Smith, our most famous pioneer aviator. He made his start in this region delivering mail and the author for a while is driving a truck which once belonged to him.

Realizing the great potential for air transport in Australia, Kingsford Smith formed a partnership in 1924 with fellow pilot Keith Anderson. They raised the capital to buy two Bristol Tourers by operating a trucking business from Carnarvon, the Gascoyne Transport Co. ADB

I have to have a truck photo, so here’s a Graham truck manufactured in Evansville, Indiana, in the 1920s and the first truck Ammon drove.

Some things never change. Ammon was on trip rates, 3d a mile, no matter how long he spent loading/unloading or broken down repairing his truck on the road. Sixteen hours averaging 5mph would get you one pound/day. Today you might earn 44c/km, and average 90 kph for 14 hours, let’s say $500/day or 250 times as much. If that matches inflation then an average Perth house, $500K today would be the same as one thousand pounds then. I can’t find any figures to suggest whether or not that was the case. I suspect the 1925 house price might have been less.

And of course, other drivers “never passed another driver on the road without stopping for a yarn or boiling the billy with him. If he was in trouble they stayed …” I’m pleased to say drivers out here still stop, if you’re in trouble anyway.

There’s always a sad story in Australian bush yarns. Jimmy Stewart who taught Ammon the ropes, on his last trip before going home to Edinburgh to marry his sweetheart, was found dead on the track. He’d leaned out to look back at a dodgy tyre on his trailer, had lost his grip, fallen, hit his head, and the truck had carried on without him.

Carnarvon is at the mouth of the Gascoyne River, which is often dry for months at a time – “nothing but a sandy watercourse 500 miles long.” Carnarvon only has around 10 inches of rain/year so when the river floods it is generally from rain hundreds of kms inland. The streets of the town are quite low compared with the river and these days are protected by a long levee. Even so, one xmas 10 or 12 years ago I was held up there for a week, water all round so that they finally sent us dozen or so trucks an early xmas dinner by helicopter to keep us going. When the water went down the road south was so badly cut that we had to go home the long way (picture: the convoy setting out north along the river), 400 kms north, 400 kms inland, then 1400 kms south to accomplish what should have been a 900 km journey. Ammon describes getting across swimming, by boat and as the river went down, in trucks towed by camels.

As trucks got quicker, roads got worse, broken up by corrugations. Within a few years and before he was thirty, “Snow” Ammon was out of trucking for good, his back destroyed. Now, before I end I want to return to the Yamaji. How the West was won was pretty brutal – and the excerpt below is describing the situation, not so long ago, in my, and maybe your, grandparents’ time.


WW Ammon, Wheel Tracks: Trucking accross the great north-west, Angus & Robertson, 1966. 220pp.

Early on, the author gives a lift to “a pair of young aborigines returning to Bigemia Station”.

“One of these boys answered to the name of Charcoal, the other to Jumbo. These were the white man’s names for them and illustrated, I thought, the status they held in the white man’s world – a brand by which they answered the crack of the white man’s whip and did his bidding in return for a few shabby clothes and the scraps from his kitchen … a kerosene tin [into which went] all the left-overs, the slops and the scrapings from the dishes, the tea leaves … At the end of the day an old gin came from the native camp … and carried it away to be shared as the evening meal.

In the north I was often told that an aboriginal only understands what you bash into his head with a piece of wood. And while I have seen plenty of this kind of thing done, I never have believed, and never will believe, that the native appreciated it…” [!]

The Red Witch, Nathan Hobby

Back in 2015, when MST told me she had started a blog, Adventures in Biography, I started following the people she was following – Whispering Gums, ANZLitLovers, Nathan Hobby (then A Biographer in Perth), The Resident Judge, Stumbling through the Past, Historians are Past Caring (Marion Diamond and my favourite blog name ever). They were kind enough to follow me when I started blogging and soon, mostly of course through WG and ANZLL, I had met all of you.

It has been a great privilege to follow the progress of Michelle (MST) and Nathan as their books, first Michelle’s and now Nathan’s, in 2015 only a gleam in their eyes, have made it through to publication.

Before I link to my review on the AWWC site, I want to update you on my ongoing interest in Prichard’s trip to Turee Creek in 1926 to gather the material for the novel Coonardoo, which I first wrote about in one of my earliest posts Ventured North by Train and Truck (1 Jul, 2015).

From The Red Witch I get that KSP’s husband, Hugo Throssell, had worked on neighbouring station Ashburton, in the Peak Hill region, before WWI. And it was the Ashburton Road, past Peak Hill that I travelled last week, taking me to within about 50 km of Turee Creek. Nathan writes, “Joe Maguiure [Turee’s owner] described the location of Turee in a letter to a British newspaper: ‘We are just 198 miles from Peak Hill, our nearest post office. Our nearest neighbour is 80 miles away, our nearest railway 267, and nearest port 300 miles …'”

I can only imagine Maguire was prone to exaggeration. And that Prichard was mistaken when she wrote (and her son Ric later repeated) that she “travelled four hundred miles beyond the end of the railway” (Meekatharra according to Ric, who was at the time aged 4) in the station’s T-model Ford Truck to reach Turee Creek.

The distance from Meekatharra to Turee is near enough 320 km (200 miles). Peak Hill is roughly half way, so 100 miles. The nearest ports, Carnarvon or Onslow (KSP went home via Onslow), might be “300 miles”, they’re about 400 km/250 miles as the crow flies.

I was hoping Nathan would find something to clear up this little obsession of mine, but sadly, not.

The-Author-3-225x300 by Bill Holloway

A comprehensive literary biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard (1883-1969) is long overdue. We, Nathan’s fellow bloggers, have waited long years through his PhD, fatherhood, being taken up by Melbourne University Press, and finally a year’s delay due to ‘Covid’, for this month to arrive. We have learnt a lot about Prichard in the meanwhile, but that doesn’t compare with finally seeing the book in the hands of readers. Read on …

Going Round in Circles

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Trucking is always ‘going round in circles’ for the simple reason that you like to get home occasionally, though I suppose if you didn’t mind ‘boring’ you could just go out and back. The other reason for ‘going round in circles’ is that I keep thinking I’m getting on top of my blog reading and writing, and then I’m not.

The road above, 180 kms of (well maintained) dirt is emblematic of both. It is the road to a mine I was sent to after being sent mistakenly to another mine in a completely different direction 600 kms away; and it is the, or very close to the, route – there wouldn’t have been a road back then, just wheel tracks – taken by Katherine Susannah Prichard when she went to Turee Creek station, where she wrote Coonardoo.

I’ve written about this a few times. I’m always conscious of the books I’ve read which populate the roads I travel. This trip just past, I loaded at a mine on the coast north of Geraldton (let’s reference Lisa’s recent review of The Islands) came back to Geraldton (The Fringe Dwellers, The Merry Go-Round by the Sea) and headed west through Mullewa (False Claims of Colonial Thieves), following the now defunct Northern rail line (May Holman) through Mt Magnet, Sandstone (I could reference Daisy Bates all through here) to Leinster, 900 kms and a day later, where I was asked ‘Why are you there?’ (“Because you sent me written directions.”), and was redirected to a new mine, of which I had never heard, 260kms mostly dirt road north west of Meekatharra, itself 450 kms away and a third of that dirt (map).

Northern Line east of Mullewa

KSP wrote “I travelled four hundred miles beyond the end of the railway” and her son, Ric Throssell, added in his biography that by ‘end of the railway’ she meant Meekatharra, where the Northern line turns east to Wiluna (Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence). But as I have written, and discussed with Nathan Hobby, 400 miles takes you way beyond Turee Creek, 150 kms beyond present day Newman. I wonder if she actually took the train to Mullewa – there is a line north from Northam, outside Perth, and her husband’s home town – and was met by a truck from Turee Creek there. But that’s another story.

Assuming she trained to Meekatharra and went the last 300 km/200 miles from there by truck then the route they would have followed, the Ashburton Road, is the one I took to Abra Mine, about 50 kms south of Turee Creek.

To close that particular circle, I am currently reading Nathan’s new biography of KSP and am scheduled to have it read and written up by 6.00 am AEST next Wednesday. And tomorrow I have another trip.

It took me three hours, out of phone range the whole time, to follow that dirt road to Abra all the while wondering if there was a turnoff I had missed and when I came over the last rise and could hear chatter on the CB you can imagine my relief. Before I move on, wild camels are relatively common in the outback but you don’t often see them. I had to pull up while these three got themselves off the road.

For much of the trip I listened to State of Terror by Hilary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny. Penny is apparently a well known Canadian author of crime fiction set in Quebec. State of Terror is a mediocre thriller notable only for what it says about Clinton – that she as Secretary of State was a mixture of Wonder Woman and an Enid Blyton heroine (ie. no adults get in the way of solving the crime); that immediate past President Eric Dumb, sorry Dunn, was a Russian asset; that the US has moved so far to the right that left-over elements of the Dunn administration would be willing to set off a nuclear warhead in the White House; that the Russian Mafia was founded and is still headed by the Russian President, and so on.

AWWC April 2022

Fri 01ELMarie Pitt, Aust Women Poets and “sex-prejudice”
Wed 06Elizabeth LhuedeFinding Forgotten Authors: the case of “Eucalypta”
Fri 08ELMrs H E Russell, “Womanhood Suffrage”
Wed 13Bill HollowayMiles Franklin, My Career Goes Bung (review)
Fri 15ELMiles Franklin, Australian Writers Need Courage
Wed 20Nathan HobbyKatharine Susannah Prichard
Fri 22ELKatharine Susannah Prichard, Working Women of Note 1
Wed 27Whispering GumsLouisa Atkinson Pioneer Woman Journalist
Fri 29ELLouisa Atkinson, The Kurrajong Waterfalls

All the Friday posts are stories, or extracts from stories, written by the authors mentioned.


Recent audiobooks 

Christos Tsiolkas (M, Aus/Vic), Barracuda (2013)
Marina J Lostetter (F, USA), Activation Degradation (2021) – SF
Louise Erdrich (F, USA), The Plague of Doves (2008)
Abigail Wilson (F, USA), Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey (2020) – Regency Romance
Ian Rankin (M, Sco), Exit Music (2007) – Crime
John Banville (M, Ire), Snow (2005) – Crime/Hist.Fic.
Hilary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny (F, Can), State of Terror (2021) – Crime
Henning Mankell (M, Swe), Before the Frost (2002) – Crime
Terry Pratchett (M, Eng), Hogfather (1998) – SF/Fantasy

Currently Reading:

Doris Lessing (F, Eng), Shikasta (1981) – SF (Still! But I’m at the end)
Ada Cambridge (F, Aus/Vic), A Mere Chance (1882)
Nathan Hobby (M, Aus/WA), The Red Witch (2022)


Journal: 083

Ok, I’m home. Before my most recent trip I let Melanie/GTL know that I was “dropping behind” with my posts and might be off the radar for a while -which indeed I was – and she wrote back, “Posts don’t have to be hard. If you take some photos, including ones of yourself, you can just share those and say they’re from a trip when you went from Perth to wherever. Sometimes it’s nice to just see someone.”

Well, I don’t do selfies and no one seems to have captured me anytime this year, so we’ll just have to make do with my truck.

This is how my week went. I get most of my work from two carriers, Sam & Dragan being one, and Anthony, who specializes in heavy haulage within WA being the other. The previous week I pulled a triple for Dragan, grossing 100 tonne which was a bit hard on the truck, so last week I accepted a load from Anthony. He made up a B double load for me in his yard and on Sunday morning I just had to chain it down and I was away. On Monday afternoon I met one of his trucks in Pt Hedland and transferred the load to him (it was all driveable machinery). And the fun began.

My first assignment was to move a machine from Iron Bridge to Eliwana, both FMG mines. Iron Bridge, 100 kms south of Pt Hedland and 50 km of dirt roads inland I’d been to once before. I rolled up in the morning, spent two hours dealing with my vaccination passport – which the federal government had sent me and which FMG deemed insufficient – took both trailers into the mine and up a very steep incline, spent another two hours loading and bringing them down one at a time (having all the weight on the back trailer would have caused them to slide in the gravel and jackknife), returned to the highway and by late afternoon was another 100 km south at Munjina roadhouse (Auski).

Eliwana was somewhere west of me but no one could give me directions. Eventually I got Anthony’s senior driver on the phone, was told to head past Wittenoom, past Solomon mine to the turnoff for Solomon airport and then just follow my nose for 130 kms, all dirt, and the nearest town and for all I knew the nearest phone tower, hundreds of kms distant.

I stopped on the edge of the road outside Solomon and got enough signal to edit that night’s post for the Australian Women Writers Challenge; saw that a scrub fire was burning some kms behind me and decided to move on; almost took a wrong turn averted at the last minute by a frantic call to Anthony’s driver, both of us on one bar; pulled up through the spectacular Hammersly Gorge and came to Solomon airport (all mines have their own airport) where at last I could sleep.

In the morning I pulled into an outpost of the mine, dropped my empty front trailer (top picture) and got directions. As it turned out, the next 130 kms followed the FMG rail line; the Eliwana gatehouse waved me through with the briefest glance at my “passport”; and by late afternoon I was back at Munjina.

Assignment 2 was to make my way 800 kms south and then inland another 150 kms mostly dirt to do two B double loads out of Penny West gold mine – no, I’d never heard of it either – one to Mt Magnet and one to Perth. For once I had excellent directions from Mt Magnet to Penny West (46.5 km east on bitumen, turn right Challa Station, 82.5 km south, turn right 1.7 km … 26 km past Youanmi mine).

I got back to Mt Magnet at 4.00 pm (by now it’s Thurs), with permission to unload on night shift. Advised Anthony – home in bed with Coivd – that I was on my way back to Penny West and he said “it’s cancelled”. He asked me to do a different load on Friday from another mine in a different part of the bush and I said no. I was hot from an endless succession of 38 deg days, dirty, covered in as much red dust as my equipment, and tired from rushing from one job to the next.

I contrived to get cleaned up, got into Perth midday Friday, picked up my other trailer which was getting some work done, and by tea time was at Milly’s with Mr 11, Ms 10 and Mr 2. We got Mr 2 settled – thanks mostly to his sister – and at 6am this morning I was back, ready for pancake duty, while Milly got on with Red Cross work.

In the middle of all that – all these dirt roads, rush jobs and dodgy internet connections – I was corresponding with the “junior publicist” at Melbourne University Press with regards to Nathan Hobby’s upcoming KSP biography. I had an extract prepared, from Nathan’s PhD thesis, to run on the AWWC site for which as you know, I am the editor of guest contributions. JP’s final word was, “We currently have publicity procedures and agreements in place for this title blah blah”. So that’s one spot I’ll have to find something else for, and if she continues not to send me a review copy (and the first reviews are already out) then that will be two. I’m guessing lit.bloggers are not serious enough for the new, serious MUP.


Recent audiobooks 

Rosalie Ham (F, Aus/Vic), The Dressmaker’s Secret (2020) – deserves a review. Over the top in what seems to be true Ham style. Thoroughly enjoyable Hist.Fic. (but boy! am I getting sick of Caroline Lee)
Salman Rushdie (M, Eng), Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (2015)
Tao Lin (M, USA), Taipei (2013)
Clementine Ford (F, Aust/Vic), Fight Like a Girl (2016) – NF (another I enjoyed and should review)
Ian McEwan (M, Eng), Machines Like Me (2019) – Mediocre SF
John Banville (M, Ire), The Sea (2005)
Hans Rosenfeldt (M, Swe), Cry Wolf (2021) – Crime (more Scandanavian noir, set interestingly on Sweden’s border with Finland, but with too much blood and too obviously written by a movie script writer).

Currently Reading:

Doris Lessing (F, Eng), Shikasta (1981) – SF (Still! It’s slow going)
Madelaine Ryan (F, Aus/Vic), A Room Called Earth (2020) – review coming.

The map is of course from Google Maps, I didn’t mean to crop their logo. To give you an idea of scale, Perth to Pt Hedland is 1,600 km.

FMG is Fortescue Metals Group, now Australia’s third largest iron ore miner after Andrew Forrest finally managed to launch a winner on the stockmarket (and is now of course considered an oracle on all things to do with anything).

KSP Katharine Susannah Prichard (1883 – 1969). Australian author

The Australian Women Writers Challenge

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I like last year’s logo, though one of my friends thinks poor Miles (it is of course Miles Franklin’s silhouette) is losing all her thoughts, or all her sense more likely, out the top of her head. We don’t have one for this year, and we are using the heading from an earlier year again. We – I say we, as I am now on the AWWC editorial team, with the site’s founder, Elizabeth Lhuede, and Sue (Whispering Gums) – will try and update the site’s appearance as we go along.

Over the past ten years they have built up a considerable database of reviews of Australian women’s writing (a lot of it contemporary of course); and also Elizabeth has been/is building an archive of out of copyright stories and novels. To complement that, I hope I can consolidate the work we have done here with AWW Gens 1 2 and 3 – which is roughly the period AWWC will cover from now on – onto the AWWC site as well.

Those of you who enjoyed the challenge of setting -and meeting – a target, may still, I hope will, post reviews on the Facebook page Love Reading Books by Aussie Women. I know, it’s not the same thrill as being mentioned in Summaries.

My reason for writing this post is to encourage conversation about the site. The reviews database needs a lot of work to make it friendlier to update and to search on. We are concentrating on the ‘magazine’ side at the moment – I think it’s looking good, don’t you – but we will definitely get back to the database side, though perhaps ‘eventually’ rather than ‘soon’.

For those of you I haven’t persuaded to subscribe, I will put up a list each month of the previous months posts.

AWWC February 2022

Wed02Elizabeth LhuedeA new year and a new focus
Wed09Michelle Scott TuckerAustralia’s First Women Writers
Fri11ELElizabeth Fenton, The Journal of Mrs. Fenton (extract)
Wed16Bill HollowayLouisa Atkinson, Gertrude the Emigrant (review)
Fri18wadHLouisa Atkinson, Gertrude the Emigrant (extract)
Wed23Whispering GumsEarly Australian women writers, 1: Primary sources
Fri25ELLouisa Anne Meredith, Voyage out, 1839 (extract)

I’m thoroughly enjoying being part of AWWC, the to and fro as we get stuff sorted, and the contact with other bloggers as I source guest posts. I’ve always dreamed of being involved with a literary magazine and this is pretty close.

Somehow, the gaps in my real work have aligned to allow me to get well ahead with my AWWC posts and even a little ahead with posts here. Today, as I write, is Sunday. Last week I did a milk run up north, with a final delivery east of Marble Bar (Australia’s hottest town, on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert), had radiator problems, got going using black pepper as ‘Bars Leak’, then broke down again almost directly outside Volvo, Port Hedland. They, despite being booked a fortnight in advance, replaced my fan, fan belt and pulleys while I waited and got me on my way home.

Yesterday, the Milly’s Moving project had me up a ladder painting; and tomorrow I will be (on Monday I was, you know what I mean) on my way again, first with a machine to Kalgoorlie and then a road train load back up past Marble Bar to Telfer.

The wet season (Summer) means roads up north are routinely under water – though not to compare at the moment with the east coast – the photo is of the Shaw River between Port Hedland and Marble Bar, and there’ll probably be a couple of more crossings between Marble Bar and Telfer.

[Weds night as I post this I am stuck in Port Hedland waiting out Cycllone Anika which is due to cross directly over Telfer, my destination, some time tomorrow.]

Just to slip in a literary reference, Ernestine Hill took a detour to Marble Bar (1932 ish), I think on her way back from Darwin to Port Hedland. Nullagine, 90 km of barely driveable dirt road south, was then the principal town of the region, and I believe Hill heard in one of Marble Bar’s many pubs about the escape of the Rabbit-Proof Fence girls back to Jigalong which came under Nullagine’s jurisdiction, and so made her way to Jigalong to meet them (The Great Australian Loneliness, 1937).


Recent audiobooks 

Helen Garner (F, Aus/Vic), Stories (2019)
Suzanne Collins (F, USA), The Hunger Games (2008) – SF
Suzanne Collins (F, USA), Catching Fire (2009) – SF
Suzanne Collins (F, USA), Mocking Jay (2010) – SF
Claire Fuller (F, Eng), Bitter Orange (2018) – more drama than Crime

Currently Reading:

Doris Lessing (F, Eng), Shikasta (1981) – SF
Madelaine Ryan (F, Aus/Vic), A Room Called Earth (2020)

More for the TBR:

Speaking of Milly’s Moving, I took some bags of clothes to a local Anglicare and, having not been in a secondhand store since Covid, came out with 13 books, for less than the price of one new one, nearly all Virago Modern Classics. Hopefully, you can tell me where I should start.

Eliot Bliss, Saraband (1931)
F Tennyson Jesse, The Lacquer Lady (1929)
Laura Talbot, The Gentlewoman (1952)
MJ Farrell (Molly Keane), The Rising Tide (1937)
Rosamond Lehman, Invitation to the Waltz (1932)
EM Mayor, The Squire’s Daughter (1929)
EH Young, Jenny Wren (1932)
Elizabeth Jenkins, The Tortoise and the Hare (1954)
Ellen Wilkinson, Clash (1929)
Rosamond Lehman, A Note in Music (1930)
May Sinclair, The Three Sisters (1914)
Sunetra Gupta, A Sin of Colour (1999)
Hanif Kureishi, The Bhudda of Suburbia (1990)