I’m off to Fish Creek for a couple of days with some of my postgrad colleagues for a writing retreat. The Gods are smiling on us by sending lots of rain our way, hopefully enforcing an inside long-weekend. Several of us attended a retreat conducted by Ron Adams from La Trobe last year, and we decided we’d like to do it again.
As one of the activities we’ve planned, we were asked to bring a couple of pages from a historian whose writing we admired. So who to choose? There is of course my beloved Richard Holmes, but then I realized that even though I gobbled up his Footsteps and Sidetracks, I haven’t actually read any of the biographies that he used as the basis for his meditations on biography and history.
What about Inga Clendinnen then? Certainly right up there in my constellation of historian stars, but Ron’s workshop made much of the Clendinnen-Isaacs-Dening triumvirate, and I’d like to choose someone different.
Tom Griffiths I considered, and Lisa Ford too. But in the end, I went for Kirsten McKenzie. I haven’t reviewed her work in this blog because I read it before I started writing here. Her book ‘Scandal in the Colonies’ was the book that made me start thinking about how I could deal with Judge Willis. She combines incisive observations about colonial life, status and behaviour with real-life, sympathetically drawn examples. The book is replete with beautifully crafted, pithy sentences, but the overall effect is light and readable. You feel as if you’d like to meet the author, that there’s a sense of humour there. She deals, as I want to do, with the nuances of behaviour as perceived by others at the time, that rumble underneath the official correspondence and are magnified and parodied through the rumour mills and the hysteria of the press.
So, off to Fish Creek I go- laptop in hand, no internet access (I hope) and Kirsten McKenzie tucked under my arm.