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Queensland Literary Awards 2018 winners announced

October 23, 2018

Hot off tonight’s twitter feed are this year’s winners of the Queensland Literary Awards. They combine specific state awards and awards for which all Australian writers are eligible.

Here is the whole suite of winners in the order they were announced:

  • Queensland Premier’s Award for a work of State Significance: Jackie Ryan’s Expo 88
  • Bri Lee, Eggshell skullYoung Publishers and Writers Award: Bri Lee’s Eggshell skull and Anna Jacobson, whose debut poetry collection will be published by UQP in 2019.
  • Queensland Writing Fellows: Michael Gerard Bauer, Laura Elvery and Jackie Ryan.
  • State Library of Queensland Poetry Collection — Judith Wright Calanthe Award: Michael Farrell’s I love poetry (Giramondo), which, says the Twitter feed, the judges found to be “a truly inventive book” 
  • Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer: Melanie Myers for her manuscript Garrison Town. The judges, says Twitter, described it as “a polished, multi-layered narrative”.
  • David Unaipon Award for an Unpublished Indigenous Writer: Kirstie Parker for her manuscript The making of Ruby Champion, which impressed the judges for the way it “seamlessly draws together the outback Aboriginal grassroots experience with the urban Black story”. The David Unaipon Award has brought us some wonderful writers in the past, of which, to date, I’ve reviewed four here.
  • QUT Digital Literature Award: David Henry Thomas Wright & Chris Arnold’s Little Emperor syndrome. The judges noted its “elegantly simple execution of a wickedly complex narrative”. 
  • Griffith University Children’s Book Award: Peter Carnavas’ The elephant (UQP).
  • Griffith University Young Adult Book Award: Cally Black’s In the dark spaces (Hardie Grant Egmont)
  • University of Southern Queensland Short Story Collection-Steele Rudd Award: Jennifer Down’s Pulse points (Text Publishing), which the judges described as “a daring, compelling and refreshing collection” 
  • University of Southern Queensland History Book Award: Jackie Ryan’s Expo 88: We’ll show the world (UQP), which the judges praised for its “achievement in analysing the many dimensions of the Expo story…with such pacey economy is extraordinary” 
  • University of Queensland Non-Fiction Book Award: Alexis Wright’s Tracker (Giramondo) which the judges said “is stunningly innovative in the way it brings the life and story of Tracker Tilmouth to the printed page”
  • Kim Scott, TabooUniversity of Queensland Fiction Book Award: Kim Scott’s Taboo (Pan Macmillan) which the judges described as “a confronting but ultimately hopeful book that probes Australia’s heart of darkness in poetic and masterly prose.” (Still on my TBR but Lisa has read!)
  • Courier-Mail People’s Choice Queensland Book of the Year Award: Beth Wilson’s Brisbane houses with gardens.

Jackie Ryan, Expo 88

Some interesting awards and books here, but Jackie Ryan is clearly the winner of the night, having won the Award for a work of State Significance, the History Book Award, and a Writing Fellowship. I should say that publisher UQP shows her books full title as We’ll show the world: Expo 88 – Brisbane’s almighty struggle for a little bit of cred.

I particularly love that these Awards include one for Digital Literature (since 2017, I believe). It’s not surprising, though, given the work being done in keeping up with new writing and publishing technologies by the Queensland Writers Centre. You may remember that last year I reviewed the Writing black digital collection edited by Ellen van Neerven and supported by the Centre’s If:book arm.

Anyhow, as always, congratulations to all the winners. What a thrill it must be.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Memorable homes in Aussie novels

October 22, 2018

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” is a novel opener that many of us will recognise, I’m sure. It comes, of course, from Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. For some reason it popped into my head recently, and it got me thinking, not about first lines, but about famous fictional houses – and whether we have any in Australia. I’m meaning houses that are (somewhat universally) known by their name – and/or by their strong presence – in the novel. There are many, in fact, throughout literature, and some are listed on a Wikipedia page for Fictional houses, like 221B Baker Street, Bag End, Howards End, and Thornfield Hall. One of the big ones for me is, you won’t be surprised, Pemberley in Pride and prejudice. It was when she saw Pemberley, Elizabeth Bennet cheekily tells sister Jane, that she started to change her mind about Mr. Darcy.

However, when I started thinking about memorable houses (or homes) in Australian fiction I came a bit unstuck. I’ve been pondering this – on and off – for a few weeks but, although I came up with all sorts of memorable places or locations, I’ve only come up with three identifiable homes (so you know what I’m going to ask you at the end of this post, don’t you!?) I’m listing them in chronological order of publication.


Ethel Turner, Seven Little AustraliansFrom Ethel Turner’s Seven little Australians (1894). It was inspired by her family’s home in Sydney’s Killara and its then bushland setting.

Misrule is introduced in Chapter 1:

Indeed at Misrule—that is the name their house always went by, though I believe there was a different one painted above the balcony—

The name, of course, reflects the unruly nature of the family life that happens within and around it. As the novel ends, and after the tragedy that my Aussie reading friends will remember, stepmother Esther wishes

there might be some chance, then, of Misrule resuming its baptismal and unexciting name of The River House.

But, oddly enough, no one echoed the wish.

Thank goodness for that … Ethel Turner’s sequel was, in fact, titled The family at Misrule, reassuring us that life for the Woolcot family will, again, not be “unexciting” in this follow-up story!

Appleyard College

Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging RockFrom Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1967). OK, so not a house exactly, but as the boarding school in Joan Lindsay’s gothic-influenced novel it was the school-year home for the novel’s girls, and featured its formidable (eponymous) principal, Mrs Appleyard. The Victorian-era formality of the school and the strict controls placed on its female students are set against the sense of freedom offered by picnic fun and the mysterious, alluring Hanging Rock. Unfortunately, though, I don’t have the book so can’t share any quotes or descriptions.


Tim Winton, CloudstreetFrom Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet (1991). This is, perhaps, Australia’s most famous fictional house, being the home, from the 1940s to the 1960s, of Tim Winton’s two families, the Pickles and the Lambs. There are many lovely descriptions of the house, but here is Rose Pickles just after they’ve moved into the big empty house left in a will to her father Sam:

Well, she thought, the old man had a win. Cloud Street. It had a good sound to it. Well, depending on how you looked at it. And right now she preferred to think of the big win and not the losses she knew would probably come. (p. 38)

The wins and losses, in other words, that big family homes, like Misrule for example, know all about. After this follows a physical description of the house as the family moves in, cleans it up, and explores its many nooks and crannies. How on earth, they wonder, will they fill up “this great continent of a house.” And then, along come the Lambs and the rest, as they say, is history.

So, a short – and I hope – fun post this week after last week’s bunch of rather long, earnest ones.

And now, I’d love to hear of your favourite fictional homes – Australian or otherwise – but if you are one of my Australian readers, I’d really like to hear your Australian ones. I bet you’ll come up with some that make me say, “Of course!”


Nadia Wheatley, Her mother’s daughter: A memoir (#BookReview)

October 21, 2018

Nadia Wheatley, Her mother's daughterIn Her mother’s daughter: A memoir, Australian writer Nadia Wheatley has written the sort of hybrid biography-memoir that I’ve reviewed a few times in this blog. All of them, as I mentioned in my recent Meet the Author post, have been mother-daughter stories, Susan Varga’s Heddy and me, Anna Rosner Blay’s Sister, sister, and Halina Rubin’s Journeys with my mother. It’s this hybrid form that I’d particularly like to explore in this post.

And the hybrid I’m talking about is one where the biography is of the subject (mothers, in these cases) and the memoir is of the writer (the daughters.) This is the more common form of hybrid biography-memoir, though my research did turn up others, such as Room to dream by Kristine McKenna and David Lynch in which McKenna’s biographical chapters on Lynch are followed by Lynch’s responses to those.

The biographer’s question

There are, of course, many memoirs by people who, in order to tell their own story, need to figure out their relationships with others, particularly their parents. However, these books remain primarily about the writer. Hybrid biography-memoirs, on the other hand, tend to be as much, if not more, about the other person as the writer. The end result might be the writer understanding themselves more, but the focus tends to be the other. This was clearly Wheatley’s intention. Indeed she told us that her biographer’s question was “Why would a nice person like Neen marry an awful person like my father?”

So, her book’s main focus, then is her mother. Nina (Neen) Wheatley, nee Watkin, was born in northern New South Wales in 1906, and died in Sydney in 1958. She lost her own mother when she was five years old. She and her siblings were separated when her father remarried, with Nina and her younger sister Boo, staying with their father and his new wife. It became clear that the family expected Nina to be the parents’ carer in their old age. However, Nina managed to train as a nurse, and go overseas during the war as an enlisted nurse with the 6th AGH (Australian General Hospital), where she worked in Greece and Palestine. She returned to Europe after the war to work with UNRRA and then IRO, caring for Displaced Persons. It was during this time that she met the man – English doctor, John Wheatley – she ended up marrying. It was a bad decision: he was a womaniser, possessive and controlling, and, according to Wheatley, sadistic. Indeed, it’s very likely that, had he – and the medical fraternity more broadly – taken women’s health seriously, Nina would not have died when she did. After her mother’s death when Wheatley was 9 years old, she, an only child, lived with a local family known to her (and chosen by her mother before her death.) This was, for Wheatley, a problematic situation – but this part of the story occupies just the last 20 or so pages of the book, but, while it’s important to the overall memoir, I do want to move onto other points.

So, back to the form. Unlike Wheatley, those other three biographers-cum-memoirsts, Varga, Blay and Rubin, were able, as adults, to question their mothers. They could bring an adult’s eye to their mothers, and ask the sorts of questions an adult might ask. They all tape-recorded their mothers. Wheatley’s mother, however, died when Wheatley was nine, so concocting her mother’s story was a very different challenge. Fortunately – and how prescient of her – she realised that her memories wouldn’t last so, at 10 years old, she started writing down her memories of the happy times she spent with her mother and also the stories her mother had told her about her life. At times I wondered how she could possibly have remembered as much detail as she does. However, given Wheatley was clearly a writer from the start and given what she experienced was so powerful, it wasn’t hard to trust her authenticity. It’s these stories and  memories, together with letters, journals and interviews with family members and friends, and official records, that provide the facts for her mother’s biography.

Step one, then, is the research, but next comes how to marshall it all into a narrative. Varga and Rubin, like Wheatley, take us on a journey of discovery. As Wheatley said during the conversation with Halligan, she wanted to take the reader on the quest with her. She wanted to share the detective story of her unravelling her mother’s story, and not just present the evidence. Varga and Rubin do something similar, but they tell their story first person, sharing when their mother is reticent, when they, as daughters, are challenged, and so on. Varga makes it clear to her mother – and us – that this means “it won’t be her life story, not properly” but would be “filtered” through her “reactions and thoughts”, her “second generation eyes.”

Blay, however, is more formal, presenting her mother Hela and aunt Janka’s stories in their words as transcribed from her interviews with them. She intersperses these with her own perspective in italics. The three voices are thus distinct.

Wheatley, though, uses a different approach again. She tells her mother’s story third person, but, intermittently, will suddenly switch to first person to present her own role in the research or the story, removing us from Nina’s chronology to her own time-frame. Chapter 9, which relates her mother’s life immediately postwar, is a good example. The first 10 pages read like a standard biography, describing what Nina was doing, quoting from letters and journals to support the information, then, suddenly, after a reference to Nina’s father’s death, she flashes to nine years after Nina’s own death (and over twenty years after the time we’ve been in.) Nadia is dining with her Auntie Boo, and casually asks if she knows where Nina’s wedding ring is. Her aunt bursts into tears, saying:

‘Daddy’s will was so unfair! To leave everything to Neen! Not just Glenorie, but everything in it!’ As my aunt moved on in her attack, it turned out that I too was guilty as charged: ‘All those things that Nina and you had in that house at Strathfield, you had no right to them.’

Now, Nina’s father had left “other real estate to his other children” but leaving the family home to Nina rankled so much, writes Nadia, that “some of her siblings would never get over it.” After a page on all this, we are returned to Nina’s life, and the third person voice.

This approach ensures that as well as travelling the journey with Nadia, we also see the impact on her, and he sense of guilt, as she is growing up. There are many insertions like this, including one later in the book when Nadia remembers a time with her father when she was three years old. With this approach, Nina’s story is told chronologically, but Nadia’s is disjointed until after Nadia is born when her story is gradually folded in to the main narrative. It’s a tricky approach, but Wheatley, an experienced novelist and biographer, makes it work, resulting in something that provides both a coherent biography of her mother, and how it affected her. It doesn’t necessarily work if you are expecting a detailed memoir of Wheatley’s life, but that wasn’t Wheatley’s goal.

Defining moments

Interesting as all this is, however, the main joy in reading Her mother’s daughter lies in its social history of the first half of the twentieth century. Wheatley’s story of her mother’s experience as an active participant in World War 2 is vivid, and makes a significant contribution to a less covered aspect of that war. Her story of her mother’s  life in Sydney during 1950s is significant too – but terribly so.

Nina’s War “story” was fascinating. Her reports of her early experience are cheerful, full of a sense of adventure and camaraderie, but that soon changes as her real war experience starts. She sees the impact of bombing on civilians in Greece, and she nurses casualties of the Syrian campaigns including El Alamein. She already cared about social justice before going to war, but her desire to help others firmed afterwards. Her experience of forced repatriations, of seeing “Poles packed like cattle in trucks” during her work with UNRRA, was “a defining moment” writes Wheatley. Nina wrote in her journal that “This experience will have an intense influence on all my life.”

Wheatley’s description of her mother’s work with Displaced Persons is inspiring, showing Nina to be a resourceful and empathetic woman who managed to create harmony in extremely difficult circumstances. However, her marriage to Dr Wheatley saw this confident, warm woman brought undone. Her husband’s cruel, self-centred behaviour soon soured all Nina’s hopes of a happy marriage of equals. Nadia writes that he either “provoked arguments” with her mother, or set up “elaborate games in which I was the pawn he used to take the queen.” That – and his womanising – were bad enough but, when in 1956 Nina started feeling unwell, the situation became dire because Nina fell prey to a male-dominated medical system, actively supported by her doctor husband. The belief that the ills women of Nina’s now middle-age felt were all “in the mind” resulted in her eventual destruction. It’s devastating for Nina (of course) and for Nadia from whom so much, before and after, was kept secret – but, for anyone who knows or lived through the 50s, it’s only too believable.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, not all the defining moments of Nina’s life were positive ones.

Now, once again, I’ve outstayed my welcome, so I’ll conclude by saying that Her mother’s daughter is a great read for two reasons. Firstly, it provides a thoughtful, authentic – sometimes exciting, sometimes disturbing – social history of the times. And secondly, with Wheatley’s ability to write engaging narratives, it makes for engrossing, moving, provocative reading. I do recommend it.

AWW Badge 2018Nadia Wheatley
Her mother’s daughter: A memoir
Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2018
ISBN: 9781925603491

Dymphna Clark Lecture: Clare Wright and You daughters of freedom

October 18, 2018

According to the University of Melbourne website, the Dymphna Clark Lecture “is delivered annually by a lecturer who exemplifies the deep commitment Dymphna Clark showed to Australia’s intellectual and cultural life.” Strangely, I can’t find a description of the lecture series on the Manning Clark House site which, I believe, is behind the lecture series. I can, however, find a list of the Manning Clark Lectures up to and including 2019 on their About Us page. Poor form I think, particularly given it was Dymphna, I understand, “who bequeathed the family home to the intellectual and cultural community with the wish that it be used to support artists and public intellectuals and provide a safe haven for the entire community.”

On Facebook I discovered that Drusilla Modjeska gave the 2016 lecture; on the above-linked University of Melbourne site that Anna Funder gave 2013’s; and on Virginia Haussegger’s site that David Headon was 2009. Drilling down to page 3 of my Google search, I found at honestyhistory that Bill Gammage was it for 2014 and on safecom that Eva Sallis was 2007. But, why can’t I easily find a list of all the Dymphna Clark lectures, as I can of the Manning Clark lectures? We could take exception to this, seeing it as, once again, sexism in action, but I’m inclined to think the reason is more mundane, and that it’s a sin of omission, not of commission. So, I now respectfully suggest that they create a new page for the two lecture series and maintain a list, with relevant links, of both series, because they are serious lectures. Clare Wright’s 2018 talk, for example, was being recorded for ABC RN’s Big Ideas program. But now, having made my point, I’ll move on to the lecture.

You daughters of freedom

Technological troubles

It was held in a lecture theatre at the ANU. Unfortunately, despite many people trying for over half an hour to get the technology working, the lecture went ahead without Wright’s accompanying slideshow. A real shame but, luckily, Wright is an excellent, engaging speaker, and easily kept our attention for the 50 minutes or so that she spoke. The lecture was, of course, inspired by Wright’s latest book, You daughters of freedom, the second in her Democracy Trilogy, she told us. Manning Clark House’s promotion for the lecture said the book:

brings to life a time when Australian democracy was the envy of the world—and the standard bearer for progress in a shining new century. For the ten years from 1902, when Australia’s feminist activists won the vote for white women, the world looked to this trailblazing young democracy for inspiration.

This epic new history tells the story of that victory—and of Australia’s role in the subsequent international struggle—through the eyes of five remarkable players: the redoubtable Vida Goldstein, the flamboyant Nellie Martel, indomitable Dora Montefiore, daring Muriel Matters, and the artist Dora Meeson Coates, who painted the controversial Australian banner carried in the British feminist activist marches of 1908 and 1911.   

I’ve started reading the book, and while I’ve only read some 40 of its 500 or so pages, I’m finding it wonderfully readable.

Anyhow, now, really, the lecture! Wright was briefly introduced by Sebastian Clark, President of the Manning Clark House and son of Dymphna and Manning Clark, and then we were off. She started by describing that famous restaurant scene in When Harry met Sally – you all know the one – which concludes with the woman at the next table saying to the server, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Wright teased out some meanings and implications of that scene in terms of women’s freedom, the #metoo movement, and, of course, her lecture’s subject, the granting of the vote to women in Australia in 1902.

“In the noonday glare”

Clare Wright, You daughters of freedomWhen Wright stated that this legislation made Australian women the most franchised women in the world, there were mutterings in the audience about, for example, New Zealand – and was followed up in the Q&A. But, I had already read Wright’s Author’s Note that opens her book, where she explains her claim. Australia was the first nation to give (white) adult women full suffrage – meaning not only could they vote on equal par with men (that is, without property qualifications, and with the same age and residency requirements) but they could also sit in parliament. New Zealand granted women the vote in 1893, but New Zealand was not a nation until 1947, and women could not sit in parliament until 1919. Finland was, in fact, the next nation to grant full suffrage to women – in 1906. I loved that she refers in this Note to something that we’d discovered on our US travels back in the 1990s, which was that women were granted the vote in Wyoming in 1869! But, Wyoming is a state, not a nation. Similarly the colony of South Australia enacted universal suffrage in 1895, including allowing women to stand for the colonial parliament, but again, it was not a nation. It was the fact that a nation had granted suffrage that apparently became a beacon for the world. Of course, proclaiming “firsts” is always risky, but Wright’s definition seems perfectly valid to me in terms of her book’s thesis.

Wright explained in her lecture that this same Act disenfranchised indigenous people. Some parliamentarians did apparently demur on this point, but those who demurred gave way to ensure that at least women got the rights. Consequently, race not gender became the dividing line. As Wright said, “white” Australia was very much the game from Federation, and, while later, some women started fighting for their “black sisters”, their first priority, after gaining suffrage for themselves, was to go to England to support the mother country’s sisters. Such were the times. Later in her lecture, Wright said that it may not be pleasing to know this about our “heroines” but it’s historically accurate!

I should confess at this point, that I’m not reporting on this lecture exactly in the order that Wright gave it but in an order suiting my main takings from it.

Anyhow, back to the granting of suffrage. Wright quoted American-born Australian suffragist Jessie Ackermann who said that this act of the new Australian nation put it/us “in the noonday glare.” Suffrage was, she said, the biggest news in the early years of the twentieth century and was simply known as “the Cause”. Australia’s actions made it/us a test site for universal suffrage and the other socially progressive laws Australia enacted in those days. Could it work? Everyone was watching – particularly of course men who feared loss of power. As Wright said near the end of the lecture:

Power never concedes anything without a fight.

Wright briefly introduced the five main women she features in her book, Vida Goldstein, Nellie Martel, Dora Montefiore, Muriel Matters, and Dora Meeson Coates, and characterised their approach to activism by giving them a canine archetype! Goldstein, the “born activist”, she described as a kelpie, for example, while Meeson Coates is a “reluctant activist” and a Weimaraner! (As past owners of Weimaraner, Mr Gums and I chuckled here.) Again, near the end of the lecture, Wright explained that she did this canine breakdown to show that these women were not all one type, and that difference is critical to the movement’s internal gatekeeping.

Wright also spoke about the challenge she faced in making suffrage, citizenship and federation exciting, particularly at this time when democracy is under attack. She quoted the recently reported Lowy Institute poll showing the surprising level of ambivalence in Australia about democracy. It’s hard to imagine in this environment, she said, that democracy and all that it involves was the hottest topic on the planet in the late 19th century. Why did Aussie women travel to England to fight for the rights for others?

Well, they were different times, of course, as Wright made clear. The turn of the century was a time of optimism. In Australia it was a trinity – new year, new nation, new century. People believed the past was being left behind; they had new Utopian visions. Women’s suffrage encapsulated all this – the ideas of rebellion, emancipation, restructuring society. Suffrage was seen as the key to unlocking repression. If women could vote, and if women could sit in parliament, women’s needs might be better cared for. As Jessie Ackermann said, the freest girls were in Australia.

The women’s suffrage banner

As she does in her book’s Introduction, Wright walked us through (our current) Parliament House to a narrow corridor past the Members’ Hall where, if you get there, you find a large banner. It was created by that Weimaraner Dora Meeson Coates in 1908 and was carried in the 1911 suffragette-organised Women’s Coronation Procession. Wright took us through its iconography/symbolism, through the implications of its depiction of Mother Britannia with Daughter Minerva. It shows, she said, the daughter Australia speaking to the mother England, the banner headline reading “Trust the Women Mother As I Have Done.” This was, she said, “allegorical effrontery.” Why had she not known about this banner, she wondered, given she calls herself a feminist historian?

Now, I could go on, but I’ve probably lost half of you by now and will soon lose the rest, so I’m going to try to become even briefer. Wright explained that one-third of her book is about how Australian women won the vote, and two-thirds about how Australian women inspired the world, In this context, she told a wonderful story about Bulldog Dora Montefiore, another Aussie woman who went to England, and her “Siege of Hammersmith”, a 6-weeks long passive resistance protest again paying taxes without representation. (She was, says Wright, seen by a young Indian man, Mahatma Gandhi!) A wonderful story. It was part of something called the Women’s Tax Resistance League. Wright also described the passive resistance campaigns against the 1911 Census: Women argued that if they don’t count, they shouldn’t be counted.

The irony of history

And so, Australian women were leaders in the suffrage movement and yet, today, British suffragettes are icons of rebellion and bravado but our Australian activists are relegated to the footnotes of academic history. BUT, she argued, Dora Meeson Coates’ banner challenges the view that this history of women’s activism is niche. The big picture is, she said, that Federation and Feminism went hand-in-glove: the banner is about colonialism, about old and new, the enfranchised and disenfranchised, about men in Australia who championed women’s suffrage and those in England who didn’t, and more …

Why then are women not sufficiently accounted for in Australian history? Because, she said, of the First World War. Federation’s optimism, she argues, was soon overshadowed by the War, which, as we all know now, precipitated a “new narrative.” So, whilst before the War, our role in the world was being seen in terms of our achievements in terms of democratic idealism, suddenly it was being seen in military terms. It was our bravery, our contribution to the war effort, that now defined us as a nation – and the rest, as they say, is history! (Particularly given, I’d add, that, as Jane Austen said one hundred years ago, “Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story … the pen has been in their hands.”) From Wright’s point of view, the War represented not the birth of a nation, but the death of the nation we were becoming. Something to think about, eh?

Clare WrightThere was still more, but even I’m running out of puff now. Wright concluded by talking about the importance of stories. The stories we choose to tell are the ones that define who (we think) we are. Why, for example, she asked, is there no statue in Melbourne memorialising that significant suffragist and social reformer, Vida Goldstein? Why, too, is Prime Minister Fisher remembered more for his statements about war (about our defending the mother country “to the last man, and the last shilling”) but not his argument about “true democracy” requiring the inclusion of “women as well as men in the electorate of the country”?

Wright said she’s wary of “learning lessons” from history, preferring to think about legacies. The legacy of the suffragists is that resistance, that grass-roots movements, can create real and lasting change. Her mantra, she said, is Dora Montefiore’s exhortion: #trustthewomen. And with that, her true colours, already advertised in the borrowed suffragette scarf she was wearing, were shown!

An intelligent Q&A lasting nearly half an hour followed, but eventually we had to finish. It was a wonderful lecture. I love that not only is Wright such an accessible, engaging historian, but that she linked the past to the present, because that is the main reason I like to read history. The past is interesting, but its true value lies in how it can enlighten the present.

And now, if you made it to the end – I thank and salute you!

Dymphna Clark Lecture
RN Robertson Theatre, ANU
17 October 2018

Prime Minister’s Literary Awards Shortlist, 2018, announced

October 17, 2018

I don’t always announce all literary awards shortlists, but have decided to announce the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards shortlist this year. The press release says that over 500 books were submitted across the 6 categories. Is that all? I guess I would have expected more, but it is somewhat expensive to submit, particularly for small publishers. There is NO entry fee, but 10 copies of each book submitted must be provided.

Over the years, the number of categories offered under the award, which was introduced in 2008 by Kevin Rudd, has increased, which is excellent I’d say for Australian writers, given the value of the award. Winners receive $80K, and shortlisted authors $5K.

I also don’t always announce all the categories covered by awards, but this year I’m gonna, starting with Fiction of course!

Michelle de Kretser, The life to comeFiction

  • A long way from home, Peter Carey (Penguin Random House): on my TBR (Lisa’s review)
  • Border districts, Gerald Murnane (Giramondo): on my TBR (Lisa’s review)
  • First person, Richard Flanagan (Penguin Random House): my review
  • Taboo, Kim Scott (Pan Macmillan): on my TBR (Lisa’s review)
  • The life to come, Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin): my review (and winner of this year’s Miles Franklin Award)

Quite a male-dominated list this year, and generally conservative, as it sticks with tried and true authors, but nonetheless these are all, from what I’ve read or ascertained from others, good books. Still, I have liked that this award has often introduced us to something a bit different (like Stephen Daisley, and Lisa Gorton) from the other awards, but not so here. It would be lovely to see Gerald Murnane win – the only one among these not to have won a significant Australian award – given his significant contribution to Australian letters, but, will he?

I have not read any of the rest of the shortlisted books, I’m afraid.


  • Archipelago, Adam Aitken (Vagabond Press)
  • Blindness and rage: A phantasmagoria, Brian Castro (Giramondo Publishing)
  • Chatelaine, Bonny Cassidy (Giramondo Publishing)
  • Domestic interior, Fiona Wright (Giramondo Publishing)
  • Transparencies, Stephen Edgar (Black Pepper)

Looks like that wonderful independent publisher Giramondo is one of this year’s winners, regardless of WHO wins the awards in the end. Good on them, in particular, for supporting poetry so well.


  • Asia’s reckoning, Richard McGregor (Penguin Random House UK)
  • Mischka’s war: A European odyssey of the 1940s, Sheila Fitzpatrick (University of Melbourne Publishing)
  • No front line: Australia’s special forces at war in Afghanistan, Chris Masters (Allen & Unwin)
  • The library: A catalogue of wonders, Stuart Kells (Text Publishing)
  • Unbreakable, Jelena Dokic and Jessica Halloran (Penguin Random House): my report of an In Conversation event

Australian history

  • Beautiful Balts: From Displaced Persons to New Australians, Jayne Persian (NewSouth Publishing)
  • Hidden in plain view: The Aboriginal people of coastal Sydney, Paul Irish (NewSouth Publishing)
  • Indigenous and other Australians since 1901, Timothy Rowse (NewSouth Publishing)
  • John Curtin’s war: The coming of war in the Pacific, and reinventing Australia, Volume 1, John Edwards (Penguin Random House
  • The enigmatic Mr Deakin, Judith Brett (Text Publishing)

And here, NewSouth Publishing, the publishing arm of the University New South Wales, has strut its stuff. They also did well at this year’s New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards, where they won two prizes, including Paul Irish’s Hidden in plain view for the NSW Community and Regional History Prize. As I’ve said before, it’s excellent to see university presses publishing and doing well.

Children’s literature

  • Feathers, by Phil Cummings and Phil Lesnie (Scholastic Australia)
  • Figgy takes the city, Tamsin Janu (Scholastic Australia)
  • Hark, it’s me, Ruby Lee!, Lisa Shanahan and Binny Talib (Hachette Australia)
  • Pea pod lullaby, Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King (Allen & Unwin)
  • Storm whale, Sarah Brennan and Jane Tanner (Allen & Unwin)

Young Adult literature

  • Living on Hope Street, Demet Divaroren (Allen & Unwin)
  • My lovely Frankie, Judith Clarke (Allen & Unwin)
  • Ruben, Bruce Whatley (Scholastic Australia)
  • The ones that disappeared, Zana Fraillon (Hachette Australia)
  • This is my song, Richard Yaxley (Scholastic Australia)

And, in the youth literature area, congrats to Allen and Unwin, Hachette Australia and Scholastic Australia who have scooped the pool. I don’t know enough about this area to know how representative this is, but I do know that indigenous publisher Magabala Books publish children’s books. I wonder if they submitted.

The complete shortlist with judges’ comments can be seen on the website. And now, I apologise for the rushed post, but I’m running late for my afternoon commitments and will be out this evening too.

Thoughts, anyone?

Monday Musings on Australian literature: the Australasian Home Reading Union et al (2)

October 15, 2018
Shared Reading Sign

Shared Reading (Courtesy: Amy via Clker.Com)

You may remember that a couple of weeks ago I wrote a Monday Musings post on the Australasian Home Reading Union – and said at the time that I’d probably write more because I’d like to see what happened to it. Well, here is the next instalment. Please note, though, that my research isn’t as thorough as it could be – partly because I’m focusing on newspapers which, strangely enough, don’t think about what people in the future might want to know! Consequently, this “history” I’m gradually concocting should be seen as tentative rather than definitive.

Collapse of the AHRU

So, as I continued to search Trove, I found a bit of a gap in discussions of the Union in the early 1900s, though there were scattered references, such as to the meeting of a South Australian group in 1900. Then, suddenly, articles starting appearing around 1906 about something called the National Home Reading Union. Was this the same beast I wondered, or something different? This 1906 activity seemed to be mostly occurring in Western Australia. Was this simply that WA was now joining the east in the home-reading union movement? With just a little more digging, however, I found an article that explained it all …

The article appeared in Perth’s Western Mail on 11 August 1906 and concerned the visit to Australia of one Dr Hill, Master of Downing College, Cambridge. It commences by describing at some length Dr Hill’s “hobby” – the National Home Reading Union. He was one of the original founders in England and, he tells “the interviewer”, it had spread through various parts of the Empire, including Canada and South Africa. But what of Australia?

Well, you might also remember from my first post that the Australasian Home Reading Union started in Tasmania? Here is what Dr Hill says:

“When Bishop Montgomery first went to his See in Tasmania, I asked him to try to establish an Australian branch of the N.H.R.U. His efforts were only too successful. Why, in New South Wales the then Governor, Lord Jersey, took the chair at an inaugural meeting, and the Premier and several bishops were on the platform. The movement started with such eclat that the committee felt themselves strong enough to establish an Australasian Reading Union, with their own book lists, their own magazine, etc. But they did not reckon that whereas we in England can obtain an unlimited supply of scholars to write for the magazines the conditions are not equally favourable in Australia. After a short, though meteoric existence, the Australasian Union came to an end. Had it remained as it started – a colonial branch of the N.H.R.U. – it would still be flourishing. We have strong centres in Canada and South Africa, and in other parts of the Empire, and I should greatly like, before I leave, to see a branch established for Western Australia.”

Interesting, eh? Sounds like we, unlike other parts of the empire, decided to go it alone. Good on us for being independent! Anyhow, he goes on to suggest how to go about organising a new WA branch:

“It has been strongly borne in upon me since I came to Perth … that it is far less easy here to find men of leisure in need of a congenial occupation of this kind than at home. But this work is, perhaps, rather ladies’ work than men’s. It is the ladies who have the leisure to read, and they have their children to encourage in habits of reading. Many of our strongest committees at home are composed chiefly of ladies. If some of the ladies of Perth would organise themselves into a branch of the N.H.R.U., they would, I think, find that it not only immensely increased their interest in reading, but that it afforded them an effective means of advancing the cause of civilisation.”

Fascinating. Is it that we had fewer men of leisure – it probably is – or that we had fewer “in need of a congenial occupation of this kind”? And, did women (oops, “ladies”) have more time or, were they more motivated? There are, in fact, many issues we could unpick in his statement regarding class and gender, but that’s not my focus here, so let’s move on.

The interviewer then asked Dr Hill whether the Union focused on “serious works, and books of the dry-as-dust series.” Absolutely not, replied Dr Hill:

our whole object is to render reading recreative. We have, this year, courses on Stevenson, Browning, George Meredith, French novels, and many other subjects, which cannot be termed academic, and we never miss an opportunity of introducing into our lists novels, biographies, and essays, or other lighter forms or reading. We are not technical. We keep as far away as possible from bread and butter studies, and we absolutely decline to institute examinations. Our object is culture.

WA gets under way

A month later, on 15 September 1906, the Western Mail reported that a temporary committee had already been formed and that while they could not obtain all the material needed from England for some months, this committee would endeavour to put a proposal tighter “for a course of reading.”

Then, on 27 February 1907, the West Australian announced that the National Home-Reading Union was underway, though it does not provide specific details, beyond giving some examples of courses from the NHRU’s magazine. However, the very next month, another WA newspaper, The Northam Advertiser states that “A ‘men’s “circle” has been started in a small way in our midst, and some half dozen members have been enrolled. Mr. A. H. Greenwood is secretary, and the meetings are fortnightly at the Rectory.” (It’s notable, in fact, the degree to which the church seemed to be involved in this activity.) The article lists the course of reading – do click on the link to see what you think – and concludes by stating that:

The cost of the books will run from 9d to 1 /6 each, and about one or two books a month is all that will be required, so that it is within the reach of everyone to join, and the reading at home and the meetings are sure to be interesting and instructive. It is hoped to start a ladies’ “circle” as well, and Miss Janet Rickey will be glad to receive names of persons willing to join.

So, gendered groups, which is probably not surprising. And an overt reference to cost, which tells us something about their intended audience – “everyone”, not just the well-to-do.

There is more to this AHRU/NHRU story because it did seem to take off – but I’ll leave that for the next instalment.

Sue Williams, Live and let fry (#BookReview)

October 13, 2018

Sue Williams, Live and let fryWell, 2018 is clearly “the year of the Mallee” here at Whispering Gums, with Sue Williams’ Rusty Bore Mystery, Live and let fry, being my third Mallee-set book so far this year. The others are Jenny Ackland’s Little gods (my review) and Charlie Archbold’s Mallee boys (my review). By the time I visit the Mallee – next year I hope – I should know it well, though I might stay away from Rusty Bore. Fortunately, that won’t be hard as Rusty Bore is fictional. I say fortunately, because who wants to visit a place known for murders? It would be like choosing to visit Midsomer!

Seriously though, on with the book, starting with the fact that it’s the third in the Rusty Bore Mystery series. I haven’t read the first two, but I’d say this one stands alone well. There’s enough recap for the new reader to quickly pick up the main characters and their relationship with the protagonist, Cass Tuplin, who’s an unlicensed private investigator as well as the owner-operator of the Rusty Bore Takeaway. I’m not a big reader of crime fiction, but I do watch a bit on TV, and I can say that Cass fits the mould of many TV detectives – private or not, licensed or not – in that she has a messy personal life. She’s clearly had a fling with Vern, the owner of the town’s only other shop, but is now with Leo, who’s doing good works in Bolivia but is staying away significantly longer than he’d told her he would. Cass also has two sons – Dean, a not-very-successful policeman in Mildura (a real place), and the-not-very-sensible Brad who’s waiting his court case for “disseminating false information to the market.” There’s affection between mother and sons, but it’s not without tensions – either because Dean is fussing over his mother’s safety, not to mention her unlicensed detecting, or because Cass is too focused on this detecting to listen to Brad well enough to hear what’s happening in his life.

None of this need be taken too seriously, though. As the back cover blurb says, Williams is “Australia’s answer to New Jersey’s Janet Evanovich.” I haven’t, I admit, read Evanovich – shock! horror! – but Daughter Gums has, so I know enough to realise that her crime novels are bright, breezy affairs. And so, certainly, is Live and let fry.

Now, what to say? This is rural crime, and it starts with the disappearance of the aforesaid Vern’s new lady friend, Joanne, from the neighbouring town of Sheep Dip. (There’s nothing subtle in the town names here – Rusty Bore, Sheep Dip, Muddy Soak, Hustle.) Cass, like any self-respecting unlicensed private detective, is reluctant to become involved but, of course, you know she will – and she does. Pretty soon, a murder occurs – not Joanne’s though – and the plot rapidly thickens as we move into the murky world of developers and environmental protection. This has our intrepid Cass driving backwards and forwards across the Mallee in her “little Corolla”, getting into more and more serious scrapes, worrying her sons, irritating the police, and not always making the right calls – as you’d expect.

All this gives Williams the opportunity to provide us with a picture of the Mallee and its inhabitants, which she does in language somewhat different from that we’ve seen in those other Mallee books I’ve read. Here is the Mallee, for example:

As I got closer to Mildura the eucalypt-and-orange desolation gave way to irrigation green, the dark green of orange groves, the brighter, flamboyant green of grapevines, the camouflage khaki of olive trees. I drink it in – green’s not a colour we get that much of in Rusty Bore.

And here is one of its inhabitants:

Nola’s eighty-two and usually quite mentally robust, with opinions carefully cryo-preserved since 1953.

The writing is peppered with gentle, affectionate mocking like this, along with broad satire of various contemporary issues and preoccupations, such as “coffee condescension” from city-siders, and Cass’s own “artisanal” food. We’re also told that

Leo’s import-export business in Muddy Soak folded after the African knick-knack trade fell victim to the decluttering trend.

And there are digs at politics and politicians, such as:

I stood at the desk and waited. A TV flickering behind Taylah showed a surging crowd of middle-aged people in suits. Mostly men, looked like politicians. Another leadership spill? A new Royal Commission? There’d been a lot of debate lately about whether air exists. “If you can’t see it, can’t smell it, it can’t be there.” The slogan of one of the newer political parties.

It’s not subtle, but then Williams’ goal is less social or political commentary than maintaining a light breezy tone and conveying character.

Now, though, back to Cass. Does she get her man (or, not to be sexist, woman)? Well, this is what I’d call “cheery crime”, so yes, one way or another, she does. In other words, without spoiling anything, it all comes out right(ish) in the end and Cass lives to fight (or not, as she chooses) another day. I’m not sure I’ll read another Rusty Bore mystery as I feel I’ve got its measure now, but for those who love light-hearted crime, particularly with an Australian flavour, then Rusty Bore could be just the ticket.

AWW Badge 2018Sue Williams
Live and let fry
Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2018
ISBN: 9781925603514

(Review copy courtesy Text Publishing)