Monthly Archives: October 2013

‘The Ivory Swing’ by Janette Turner Hospital


1982 (1991 reprint)252 p.

I don’t tend to think of Janette Turner Hospital as an Australian writer. She has lived in Canada and America for many years,  and is claimed in Canada as a Canadian writer- in fact this book won Canada’s $50,000 Seal Award for Best First Novel in 1982.  To be rather petty, even her name doesn’t sound particularly Australian (and it’s not a pseudonym: she married Clifford Hospital in 1965).  She is Melbourne born, and taught in outback schools in Queensland, but moved with her husband to Canada and then America, living at various times in Britain, France and also spent a year in India where her husband undertook study leave.  She’s not particularly part of the Australian writer’s circuit of  literary festivals and writer’s talks, even though she visits Australia frequently in a private capacity.

The Canadian/Indian connection emerges from the pages of this book.  Juliet has married her older, academic husband David partially out of -frustration with the non-commitment offered by her tom-catting lover Jeremy.  With David she shifted to Winston, Ontario as a faculty wife, where she had two children, feeling increasingly oppressed by the small-town life and the weight of expectations of the other faculty matrons.  When David went to India for study purposes, she and the children followed.  Jeremy remains in her consciousness as the road not travelled, always off to the corner as a possible option for another way of living.

In India they encounter the stolidity of patriarchal gender roles and the uncompromising rigidity of the caste system.  In their rented house, Juliet tries to challenge them by including a young servant Prabhakaran as part of her family, and both she and David take an interest (for different motivations) in Yashoda, a beautiful young widow who is at the mercy of her wealthy and tradition-bound brother-in-law Shivaraman Nair.  Juliet’s sister Annie arrives, untrammelled by family and commitments and living the life that Juliet still years for.  Where Juliet and David are wary of blundering in with Western values, Annie is fearless.  All of them, in their various ways, trigger consequences that fall more heavily on others.

This is a very ‘interior’ book, with page after page of internal dialogue as Hospital shifts her attention from one character to another.  I found myself wondering whether I even wanted to be inside these characters’ heads, and the short answer is ‘no’.  The narrative is an insistent voice-over, and as a reader you become so deadened by its drone that when action occurs, you need to stop yourself and re-read to work out what is actually happening.  Hospital’s descriptions of setting are very good and capture well the lassitude and sticky humidity of their environment, and it is mirrored in the pace of the novel as well….slow…very slow.  The imagery of the Ivory Swing is heavy-handed and at times the writing is overwrought.

This was a book-group selection.  One thing about a bookgroup is that you read books that you wouldn’t choose yourself, which can be a good and bad thing.  Many of the books in the CAE catalogue (like this one) are fairly old, which means that they outlast the frenetic marketing merry-go-round of modern bookselling.  I’ve read books that have largely disappeared from bookshops and library shelves (with their rather ruthless culling these days) and been glad to have done so.  But without my sense that I  ‘should’ struggle on with the book as a commitment to my fellow book-clubbers , I probably wouldn’t have finished reading the book. I wouldn’t rush to recommend it.

My rating: 6/10

Sourced from:  CAE bookgroup

Read because: it is our October book for bookgroup.  Who chose THIS book, I wonder?

awwbadge_2013This is a book by an Australian woman writer, so I’ll count it towards the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge.

‘A Spy in the Archives’ by Sheila Fitzpatrick


2013,  345 p.

I have been the first person in my immediate family to go to university, although several of my cousins did as well.  I find it hard to imagine what it would be like to grow up as the child of academics and intellectuals. Part of my fascination with this book was reading about the child of historians becoming a historian herself.  Sheila Fitzpatrick’s father was the left-wing historian and public intellectual Brian Fitzpatrick and her mother Dorothy Fitzpatrick taught history at Monash University.

This book is the second memoir written by Sheila Fitzpatrick, noted Soviet Historian, and now Honorary Professor at the University of Sydney after a long academic career overseas. Her first memoir was called My Father’s Daughter  which, from the title,  I assume explores the generational issue further.

In this second memoir we are taken on the first steps of the author’s academic journey as she travels first to Oxford University to undertake her doctorate in Russian history. Her dissertation topic was Anatoly Vasilyevich Lunarcharsky, the Russian author and politician who was appointed Commissar of Enlightenment between 1917 and 1929.  Her thesis was titled ‘Lunarcharsky as Philosopher  and Administrator of the Arts’ and it ended up being published by Cambridge University Press as The Commissar of Enlightenment in 1970.  It was the stepping stone to Fitzpatrick’s eminent career as a historian of Russia.

It was not surprising that a daughter of Brian Fitzpatrick would be attracted to such a topic, but she claims that “Becoming a Soviet historian wasn’t a foregone conclusion, even with a left-wing father and a bit of Russian” and that from the age of about 13 she had become “less of a true believer in my father’s causes than earlier” (p.7).  Fitzpatrick’s father had died by the time she embarked on her academic career, and yet one senses that she continued to have an intellectual argument with him in her head at least.  The book is not so much a ‘ coming-of-age ‘story , as a story of  ‘coming-as-historian’ as she finds her own mentors and develops her own confident intellectual stance as a historian.

In the 1960s it was common for first class honours students in history to undertake their doctorates overseas, and so she trod a well-worn path. She was not terribly impressed with St Anthony’s College at Oxford and the supervision she received there.  In 1966 she applied for a British Council exchange scholarship to enable her to live in Moscow and to use the archives there for her research. Her application was refused initially but eventually received after she embarked on a rather utilitarian marriage to a fellow British student.  As part of the preparation for her stay in Moscow, she and her cohort of fellow researchers were warned against spies- indeed, against friendships with Russian people, full stop.  Like her fellow students  she ignored this advice, and this book describes her friendship with Igor, a middle-age friend of the now-dead Lunarcharsky, and Irini, Lunarcharsky’s daughter,  that developed as she delved deeper into her research.

This book emerged from a long article that she wrote in the London Review of Books, and you can get the flavour and much of the content from reading this article alone (which is often the case with LRB articles).  In fact, it’s such a detailed article that you barely need to read the book!  I must admit that, with little knowledge of post-revolutionary and Cold War Russia (or at least, I’ve forgotten what I ever did know), I found the content aspects of this article easier to follow than the book.  But it’s well worth going to the book itself because her research is only one facet of her story: it’s also about friendships, authenticity, insecurity in a clandestine world, and history-writing.

She writes of the joy that all historians feel when working in archives, but to her, working in the Soviet archives was particularly pleasurable- in fact, she pitied those British historians who would roll up to the PRO, ask for a file, and have it handed over instantly.  In Moscow, not only was there the challenge of even getting access to the archive,  but once admitted, there were strict limits on what was made available because the thesis topic is treated like a straitjacket.  There’s no chasing off down rabbit holes and false leads and serendipitous rainbows here: if a file was not directly related to the topic as you first conceptualized it, then you couldn’t see it.  Foreign researchers were not given access to catalogues,  so there was no way of knowing what to ask for.  Contact between foreign researchers and  their Russian counterparts was strictly forbidden, and the archivists held enormous power over what you could see and what you could not.  It all became a bit of cat-and-mouse, albeit playing with a cat with sharp eyes and sharp claws that you could not always assume would remain sheathed.

However, one aspect in the book that does not come through in her article is the process of the historian writing a memoir.  She mentions at one stage that one of her husbands had returned the letters she had written to him, in order for her to write this memoir.  She uses the correspondence between her mother and herself as well, triangulating it against the diary that she wrote at the time.  She often says that she cannot remember certain events that are documented, and is often nonplussed to explain things that she had written at the time.  As a result, it is a careful memoir that has a sense of distance between the writer and what she remembers  (or does not remember)  about the events she experienced.

And was she a spy?  In the end the Soviets thought so and clumsily ‘outed’ her, and she herself is not completely sure. She certainly was not an MI6-type spy but, as she admits, it would have been plausible for her to have turned out to be one after all:

Was I, in some sense, a spy? If the Soviets couldn’t make up their minds, it’s not surprising that I had trouble.  I can certainly recognize some spy-like characteristics in myself, starting with my intention to find out everything about Soviet history, including the things that the Soviets wanted to keep hidden.  If a spy is a chameleon who can speak two languages and doesn’t know what his ultimate allegiance is, that partly fits. (p. 342)

I enjoyed this book, and the undercurrent of Cold War tension that runs underneath it. I liked the reflexivity of her writing and the caution with which she treats the memoir genre.  I wish that I knew more about Russia, because I did find the details of her research rather overwhelming at times but not so much that I was ever tempted to give up.  I resisted the temptation to Google, trusting her to take me on the journey, and she did not let me down.

awwbadge_2013I’m posting this to the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge under the History/Memoir/Biography section- and, for this book at least, it fits all three categories!

‘Perilous Question’ by Antonia Fraser


Perilous Question: The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832,

2013, 278 p.

By coincidence, I have been reading this book during the week that the world was watching with bemused concern as the American economy seemed as if it were going to jump off a cliff through the single-minded intransigence of the Tea Party wing of the Republican party.  Will they/won’t they? What if..? Surely not?  It strikes me that much the same questions could have been framed by the political commentators after the 1830 election. For as Antonia Fraser reminds us, just as the financial world hasn’t known quite how the brinksmanship in Congress was going to work out, so too those watching the negotiations and brinkmanship over the 1832 Reform Bill didn’t know how it was going to work out either.

I have borne in mind the words of F. W. Maitland, which are at the heart of writing history: ‘We should always be aware that what now lies in the past, once lay in the future’: that is to say, we know the Reform Bill will pass, but the people who fought for it did not (p. xiii)

It was customary that an election be held after a monarch died. In the election held after William IV came to the throne, the Tories, who had been in power for nearly 60 years scraped in with a bare majority.  In a country already heaving with unrest with the Captain Swing riots in the wake of rapid industrialization,  Prime Minister Wellington declared in the House of Lords his trenchant opposition to any reform of the outdated voting arrangements for Parliament.  As a man whose political career  was founded on his military success after the French Revolution, he only had to look across the Channel to France where in the wake of the 1830 Revolution King Louis-Phillipe had abolished the hereditary upper house in 1831.  And so the stage was set:  the House of Lords bitterly resisted any reform that would challenge the personal control of parliamentary seats, but in the House of Commons, amongst the Whigs in both houses, and in the streets and fields outside, the momentum was on for reform.

It took two years, a fall of government, another election, and the threat of the King creating additional peers before  the Reform Bill was finally and grudgingly passed by  the House of Lords.  What followed was a decade of political swings and roundabouts, with governments changing, falling, and resurrecting in rapid succession.  From a colonial Australian perspective, you can see it in the succession of Secretaries of State for the Colonies who came and went in the 1830s and 1840s so often that Governors must have hesitated over addressing their despatches lest the recipient be ousted by the time it was received.

This book marks somewhat of a departure for Antonia Fraser, who is probably more famous for her books on individual French and English royals- Marie Antoinette, Henry’s wives, Mary Queen of Scots etc. (although she has also written on Cromwell, women in 17century England and the Gunpowder Plot). It’s the first of her books to be set in the 19th century as distinct from the 17th, but like all of her other books she looks at individuals within wider political movements.  This book centres on the action in and around Parliament in the two years that it took the Reform Bill to finally pass, and ‘the people’ (a much less threatening description than ‘the mob’) are a shadowy presence outside Parliament.  It’s a book about Lords a-plenty, both Whig and Tory, supported by Thomas Attwood, the middle-class banker from Birmingham who agitated the middling classes, and the so-called ‘Radical Tailor’ Francis Place who kept ‘the people’ as a restless weapon at the ready.

It’s always confusing reading British Parliamentary History because although the titles remain constant, the men who bear them change as fathers die and sons shuffle up the chain of titles to take their place.  So I was startled to read that Earl Grey was an old man when he stood up in Parliament in 1830 to push for Reform- and yet he was Secretary of State in the 1840s- how could this be? – until I remembered that there was a 2nd and a 3rd Earl Grey, and that Howick and 3rd Earl Grey were the same man. I must admit that I hadn’t realized that the House of Commons was such a holding-pen for sons waiting to succeed their fathers in the House of Lords, and that socially, the two houses were so intertwined. There’s many familiar names- Brougham, Lord Althorp (3rd Earl Spencer and Princess Diana’s forebear), Sir Robert Peel, Lord John Russell, Durham (of Canadian history fame), Queen Adelaide (the capital city of South Australia, the wine) and even court reporter Charles Dickens.  Fraser does well to give this huge cast of characters clear identities and a visual image, and if you do forget who’s who, the index is very helpful.

Because the interest of this book is based so much on the debates and tensions in Parliament, it’s a book dominated by politics and individuals.  In this way, it’s quite similar to the journalism that has surrounded the machinations in Congress over the passing of the debt ceiling in the last week.   It’s a book for political junkies of the 19th century, but it has lessons for us today as well. For those of us who want quick fixes through Parliament, it’s a sobering lesson.  When those who hold power are being asked to vote against their own interests (think the Abolition of Slavery, the Reform Bill, putting a price on carbon), things take time.   Change is often incremental, as well.  After all the debating, the pressure, the muffled threats of popular dissent, the Reform Bill of 1832 made only relatively small changes. The number of electors increased from 478,000 to 813,000 out of population of 24 million.  It took two further Reform Bills, then the final acknowledgment of female suffrage after WWI, before universal voting rights were achieved.

The subtitle of the book is “The Drama of the Great Reform Bill”.   For those of us who like reading about politics, it is drama indeed.

Walter and Marion Griffin in Heidelberg

As you probably know, 2013 is being celebrated as the centenary of Canberra.  These celebrations have included a retrospective look at the vision of  a new capital, for a new nation,  that was produced in the designs of American architect Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahony Griffin.    But the Griffins’ influence extended further than just Canberra.  Central Melbourne and surrounding suburbs and Heidelberg/Eaglemont in particular,  bear traces of the Griffins’ influence in buildings, homes, industrial constructions and subdivisions that they designed. Heidelberg Historical Society has an exhibition until November 24 that addresses the other designs of the Griffins in Sydney, Melbourne and even India

There are four Griffin houses in Heidelberg and Eaglemont and over the past few years I’ve been lucky enough to go into all of them.  The Murray Griffin House was on the market a few years ago and I saw through it then, and Lippincott House was open some time ago.  Earlier this year Pholiota in Glenard Drive and the Skipper House in Outlook Drive were  also open.  What a privilege to see inside.

Pholiota and another Griffin House, Lippincott house are side-by-side in Glenard Drive.  Lippincott is a striking house with a very steep roof and characteristic ‘Griffin-esque’ windows.  The house has a lot of dark wood in it and it feels very snug.  Yet the abundance of windows offsets the darkness and brings the garden into the house.  (Click to enlarge any of the pictures)

Pholiota is not visible from the street because a 1940s red brick house has engulfed it completely. It’s difficult to photograph because it’s not visible at all from the front and  it’s hard to get enough distance from it in the backyard.  It is an unusually pinky-red colour with, again, those Griffin windows.

You need to walk through the 1940s house to get to Pholiota.  It’s almost a bit like Anne Frank’s Secret Annexe- a house within a house.

The Griffins themselves lived in this house and they were very fond of it- in fact, Marion described it as “the cheapest and most perfect house ever built”.   Where we today design a house to suit our lifestyle, I think that anyone living in Pholiota  today would find that the house would dominate their lifestyle completely.  On the other hand, only someone willing to fall under the spell of the house would live there.  The house itself is a simple square.  There are not rooms as such: instead there are alcoves.  Click on this link  to  a picture of the room in use as the Griffins intended it here it’s the Walter Burley Griffin site- well worth a look!

This drawing shows the original design of the house:


The middle of the house is now dominated by a large table and this really is the beating heart of the house.  The kitchen is rather rudimentary.  This would be a rather demanding house to live in, but I should imagine that it would give much pleasure.  It would change you.

The Skipper House is some distance from the two other houses.  What a beautiful, light house this is! It’s amazing to think that it was designed in 1927. I think that this is my favourite.

What is often overlooked is the Griffins’ work in landscape. Griffin designed both the Mount Eagle and Glenard estates with shared communal parkland space. The parks have a rather anomalous status and are not public but not entirely private either.  Some are very well cared for, while others are barely more than car parks which I guess reflects the diversity of attitudes towards landscape and space generally.  But the whole concept of communal open space, shared with neighbours, yet with a sense of ownership and responsibility reflects a philosophical attitude towards ‘how we should live’ that flows through many of their residential designs.

And remember- Heidelberg Historical Society’s exhibition is on until 24th November.

‘Cairo’ by Chris Womersley


2013, 295 p.

There’s a special pleasure in reading a book set in your own home town.  You recognize streets and places, and you paint them in your mind with the descriptions of weather that any book about Melbourne will provide, because it is Melbourne!  But in this case, my pleasure in reading this book was multiplied because I’ve even been in the flats that give the book its title and also experienced the feeling of other world-ness and even superiority of being in such an exotic, hidden-in-plain-sight place that the narrator of the book describes so well.

‘Cairo’ is located directly across the road from the Exhibition Buildings and Melbourne Museum in Nicholson Street.  You could drive past it a million times and not notice it.  It’s a C-shaped set of two-storey flats that surround a lush, chaotic jungle of greenery.  There are some excellent before-and-after photographs at Fitzroyalty blog.  You can click on the photos below to enlarge them.

We had a friend who lived in one of the units closest to Nicholson Street. It was a tiny flat, although I think that it might have been larger than these ones on real estate agents’ pages here and here.   As it happens, he was an artist as well.  My overwhelming impression was one of light, flooding through the large windows, suffused through the green of the leaves outside. It was as if Cairo was a secret place, with the world rattling past outside, oblivious.

In Womersley’s Cairo this is very much the way that young Tom Button found it too, shifting down to Melbourne Uni from a small country town and taking up residence at Cairo in a small flat formerly owned by his now-deceased aunt Helen.  He never did make it to uni.  Instead, he fell under the spell of his older, more exotic neighbours, and their round of parties, gallery openings and cafes.  In this, the book is very much a coming-of-age novel where, on the cusp of adulthood, other peoples’ lives and relationships are laid out for the observing and there is almost a sense of disbelief that space is being opened up for you to join in as well.  Drinking too much; falling in love with unattainable women; the fascination with heroin; the lack of responsibility of being eighteen again – they’re all here.

The second, very Melbourne theme revolves around the theft of Picasso’s Weeping Woman painting from the National Gallery of Victoria in 1986.  The “Australian Cultural Terrorists” claimed responsibility for the heist of the gallery’s recent $1.6 million acquisition, demanding increased arts funding and dubbing the benighted Arts Minister, Race Matthews,  the “minister of Plod”, “a tiresome old bag of swamp-gas” and a “pompous fathead”. There was poor old Patrick McCaughey in his bow-tie, frantic at its loss,  then beaming away again when it was returned a fortnight later, wrapped in brown paper in a locker at Spencer Street railway station.

I’ve read several of Womersley’s books (The Low Road and his more recent Bereft). Their settings vary markedly, but there are similarities in their themes of escape and masculinity.

I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed this book- I just wanted it to go on and on (even though I predicted the ending).  Like the middle-aged narrator, looking back on this period of his youth, I felt an affection tinged with deep anxiety for the lad.  It’s a beautiful, authentic depiction of Melbourne and the 1980s, told with love.

My score: 10/10  (but hey, I’m a middle-aged Melbourne woman who grew up with all this)

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library.

Read because: I’m a middle aged Melbourne woman who grew up with all this.

‘Wellington’s Men in Australia’ by Christine Wright


Wellington’s Men in Australia: Peninsular War Veterans and the Making of Empire c1820-1840 by Christine Wright

2011,  178 p and appendices

I often found myself closing the book while I was reading it to look closely at the striking image on the front.   It’s a miniature of James Thomas Morisset (1780-1852), painted when he was about eighteen years old.  Those who loved him must have later regarded it with wistful sorrow, because he was shockingly disfigured at the battle of Albuera in 1811 as part of Wellington’s Peninsular campaign at the age of 21.  He is such a beautifully formed boy, and not at all like the description that the second in command, Foster Fyans, gave of his commandant on Norfolk Island some thirty-odd years later:

The Commandant, a gruff old gentleman with a strange face, on one side considerably longer than the other, with a stationary eye as if sealed on his forehead; his mouth was large, running diagonal to his eye, filled with a mass of useless bones; I liked the old gentleman, he was friendly and affable, and thought time might wear off his face affliction, which was most revolting: the one side I could only compare to a large yellow over-ripe melon  ( Fyans, ‘Memoirs Recorded at Geelong’ cited on p. 169)

Morisset is one of the men that Christine Wright deals with in her prosopographical study of men who served during Wellington’s Peninsular campaigns on the Iberian peninsular from 1808 to 1814.  Prosopography  was defined by the historian Lawrence Stone in a foundational article as “the investigation of the common background characteristics of a group of actors in history by means of a collective study of their lives”.  As such, it falls half-way between rather sketchy biography and a more statistical analysis.  I’ve read several legal prosopographies, and one or two about bureaucrats: it seems to be used mainly in the context of writing about careers (although it could just as easily be applied to any group of people).  It is well suited to Christine Wright’s endeavour. When reading local histories sited in the British colonies during the 1820s, 30s and 40’s you come across ex-military figures again and again, and in this book Wright takes this cohort of soldiers, bonded by their experience in the Peninsular campaigns, and traces the rest of their careers throughout the empire.

During the Napoleonic Wars the need for manpower rendered the old system of purchasing of commissions inadequate.  Young soldiers of limited means, who would not normally have had the capital to purchase their  positions not only had a career pathway open up for them during the war, but also were eligible for half-pay and land grants after the war.   As veterans, they were able to draw on the networks of influence to gain positions across an empire which was calling out for their skills in logistics, engineering and surveying.  The half-pay entitlement was insufficient to live on in Britain which drove veterans to look for employment overseas, and from the British Government’s point of view it was a way of cutting the cost of numbers on the half-pay list while filling appointments with skilled men and their families.

In the colonies, veterans in garrison regiments and ex-soldiers who had sold their commissions fitted particularly well into the military structures of early NSW and Van Diemen’s land.  As the colonies evolved away from penal settlements to free colonies, these ex-military men were well placed to take up civil positions of power and authority in the community.  They obtained large grants of land complete with convict labour and accrued the status that accompanied being a landowner- something that they probably never would have been able to achieve in Britain.

But the army had given them more than just military skills.  The drawing and surveying skills developed during the war were put to use in colonies that were still exploring their spaces.  Beyond their practical uses, these skills flowed into art as well, where ex-veteran painters, alert to the stark light and harshness of the Spanish terrain, were able to capture the light of  Australian landscape  in a way not seen amongst painters who had spent all their lives in the soft lights of England or wooded European settings.  Accustomed to making written reports, many of the veterans wrote their memoirs of the Peninsular campaign but extended their memoirs into their new settings as well.

Veterans were often deployed on the frontier in various roles: explorers, magistrates, Mounted Police, Border Police and as military commandants of penal stations.  The term ‘frontier’ means different things to different groups: there were different frontiers depending on whether you are talking about ‘big man’ sheep farms, ‘small man’ cattle farms and agricultural mixed farming. Some historians prefer the term ‘contact zone’ rather than ‘frontier’. Missionaries saw it as the advancement of civilization.  In military terms, though, the frontier was

a strategic boundary, a defensive line, and the front  line of colonial order.  The military saw it as the shifting boundary of British civilisation that had to be defended. (p. 152)

On this basis, Wright gives an insightful re-reading of the Waterloo Creek massacre from a strictly military viewpoint. The British Army ceased fighting on the frontier in the latter half of 1838 and it was left to the settlers or to Border or Mounted Police which, although joined by many ex-soldiers, were not counted as part of the British Army regiment numbers.  She suggests that this changed the nature of frontier ‘clashes’ and not necessarily for the better.

The real grunt-work of this book comes in the appendices which lists influential British Army Officers in the Australian colonies who were veterans of the Peninsular War.  They are listed by name, regiment, date and place of arrival, place of death, with a brief summary of the military and civil positions they occupied in Australia.  There’s many familiar names there: several governors (George Gawler in South Australia; Governors Darling, Brisbane, Gipps, Bourke, in NSW), explorers (Sturt, Major Mitchell, Lockyer), commissariats (Logan up in Moreton Bay, G.T.W.B Boyes in NSW and VDL) and commandants (Thomas Bunbury, Joseph Childs, poor damaged James Morissett in Norfolk Island), surveyors (Light in South Australia,  and many magistrates and crown land commissioners (Fyans).

The chapters are arranged thematically, each headed by a quote:

  1. ’emigration is a matter of necessity’: The aftermath of the Peninsular War
  2. ‘they make Ancestry’: Veterans as Officers and Gentlemen
  3. ‘we are in sight of each other’: The Social Networks of Veterans
  4. ‘attached to the Protestant succession’: The Religious Influence of Veterans
  5. ‘an art which owes its perfection to War’: Skills of Veterans
  6. ‘with all the authority of Eastern despots’: Veterans as Men of Authority
  7. ‘in the midst of the Goths’: The Artistic, Literary and Cultural Legacy of Veterans
  8. ‘to pave the way for the free settler’: British Soldiers on the Frontier.

The book emerges out of the author’s PhD and I think that it is still detectable there.  At times the language was a little stilted and the author’s interventions rather forced. I was mystified by the capitalization (or lack thereof) of certain names, especially the Duke/duke of Wellington.

The reader meets many of these veterans in several chapters in different guises.  The backgrounding for individual characters comes in various places.  For example, Archibald Innes’ background story comes at p. 44;  G.T.W. Boyes’ comes at p. 132 even though they have been mentioned briefly in many other places.  While spreading her net wide, there is no one place where she introduces key figures as, for example, Inga Clendinnen did in Dancing with Strangers. I found myself wondering if perhaps this might not have been a better strategy:  I found myself more interested in characters once I’d been formally introduced to them.  Certainly the ‘networked’ aspect comes through clearly as people are appointed to one position after another, often through the sticky web of the Darling/Dumaresque connections in Sydney, or through the good graces of Secretary of State for the Colonies Sir George Murray in London, himself a Peninsular veteran.

It is telling that the book takes such a short timespan  (twenty years) as its period of analysis.  By 1840 the militarized nature of Australian society had been overlaid by move towards civil appointments, bureaucratic rather than martial procedures and even representative government.

As often happens, once you’ve been alerted to a phenomenon, you tend to see it everywhere, and this is the case with this book.  If you flip through the entries for early settlers in the Australian Dictionary of Biography you’ll see the military connections with new eyes and wonder why it wasn’t more apparent before.

awwbadge_2013I am posting this for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge under the History/Biography/Memoir section.  It is an academic text, and needs to be read that way.