Monthly Archives: April 2014

A photo in the paper

There was a striking photograph in yesterday’s ‘Sunday Life’. It’s a double page spread as you open the magazine,  showing a smiling, short-haired, blonde topless woman sitting on a chair, with her daughter in a ballet tutu playing on the floor beside her. The woman has had a double mastectomy.

It’s a breath-catching image. At first I felt guilty even looking at it, and turned the page quickly with an ‘Oh! as if I’d disturbed her, and seen something that I shouldn’t. Then I turned back the page and looked more closely. I’ve never seen a double mastectomy before. It’s confronting, but became less so the longer I looked.  You see her smile more clearly than anything else.

The caption reads:

This is what matters to Lisa Wilkinson. Lisa took this photo of Marina and her daughter Sydney to capture the beauty and incredible strength of women. Visit canon.com.au/shine to upload your own image and shine a light on what matters to you.

I really don’t know what to think.  It’s a beautiful image: stark, positive and you sense that Marina is in charge of the situation.  But I wish it wasn’t produced as part of some advertising campaign by a camera company.

What is the camera company’s purpose in paying for  this campaign?  (quite apart from the licensing and ownership questions that arise from the photos produced by participants). Would a photograph of someone with a colostomy bag have had the same effect from an advertising point of view?  It probably would have on me as a viewer- that instant flash of feeling like an intruder, followed by an almost guilty sense of curiosity – but would the camera company so ready to embrace it?

I’m trying to imagine the conversation around the board table when planning this campaign. I suspect that this blog post is exactly the reaction they were hoping for.  That (and not the photograph itself)  makes me uncomfortable.

‘What’s Wrong with Anzac?’ Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds.

whatswrongwithanzac

2010, 167 p.
I doubt that this book will be reissued in the next two years. I’m sure that the publishers have had an asterisk against 2014 and 2015 as bumper years for military history, with the centenary of WW I in 2014 and the Gallipoli centenary in 2015. This book, originally published in 2010, is not likely to sit comfortably on the shelves with big books with big blokey authors that would have been scheduled specially to take advantage of all this interest. But many of the sentiments expressed by the historians who have contributed to it will continue to bubble along underneath all the ceremony, emotion and hyperbole.  You can find it manifested in the Honest History website.

In 2009 historian Marilyn Lake was invited by the History Teachers Association of Victoria and the University of Melbourne to give a lecture on ‘The Myth of Anzac’ in a series on mythologies. A condensed version of the address was published in The Age soon afterwards.

In it, she argued that in the 21st century Australia should reclaim the values of equality and justice which in an earlier era was thought to define a distinctive ‘Australian’ ethos. She suggested that it was inappropriate for “a modern democratic nation to adopt an Imperial, masculinist, militarist event as the focus of our national self-definition in the twenty-first century.” (p.3)

A furore erupted online- a “mixture of hostility and support, personal abuse and thoughtful reflection”. In her introduction to this book, she briefly mentions the abuse but outlines in more detail some of the more reflective responses posted onto the Comments section of the Age website.

This book is a compilation, then, of chapters written by a number of authors (both male and female) in response to the questions raised by Lake’s article and the commentary that surrounded it. Continue reading

Banyule Homestead on the market!

Well, well, I see that Banyule Homestead is on the market with expressions of interest closing on the 8th May 2014.  It looks absolutely magnificent.

I note with some concern that the advertisement refers to “scope for a 3/4 lot land sub-division (STCA). “  I hope that any new buyer of Banyule Homestead knows that it is a property loved and valued by many, many people in the community.  My dearest wish is that the new purchaser nurtures the property in its entireity as a landmark of Melbourne, splendid in its surroundings.

We watch.

For more about Banyule Homestead, visit my other blog at

http://banyulehomestead.wordpress.com

‘The Man from Primrose Lane’ by James Renner

manfromprimrose

2012, 400p.

I’m going to be very old-fashioned and curmudgeonly, but I REALLY didn’t like this book.  I really can’t talk very much about it without divulging spoilers.

Oh, alright – just the start then….an old recluse is murdered.  He had been shot in the stomach and his fingers had been cut off and minced in the blender.  He always wore mittens and seemed to have no friends or family.  David Neff, who had written a best-selling true crime book some years earlier is alerted to the case by his publisher, who is concerned that David is spiralling into depression after the apparent suicide of his wife four years earlier.  Who is this old man? Why does he always wear mittens?…..and then you’ll have to read the rest (if you still want to after this review).

The book is a mash-up, I suppose, of several different writing genres.  It’s all very self-referential and tricksy, but at the end of it, that’s just how I felt- tricked. Call me thin-skinned, but having the author jeering at the reader for wanting some sort of resolution at the end is a bit rich.

It is, apparently, going to be made into a film and it will probably work better on the screen than it does on the page.

The book is a one-off.  The blurb on the front brags that ‘you’ve never read anything like this before!’.  Well, that’s for sure and I certainly won’t in the future.  It’s the equivalent of a sight gag: it only works the first time.

My rating: 3/10

Sourced from: CAE bookgroups.

Read because: it was a bookgroup selection with The Ladies Who Say Oooh. In this case, the Ladies Said “Eeewwww”. Boy, I’m glad that I didn’t choose this book!

 

 

‘Housewife Superstar’ by Danielle Wood

housewifesuperstar

2011, 209 p.

I happened to hear Shannon Lush on the radio the other day- she of the handy household hint and stain removal. How Olde Worlde, I thought: household advice on the ‘wireless’! It brought to mind my mother, who listened religiously to Martha Gardner on the radio. My mother was of the class and generation of women for whom ‘housewife’ was a conscious career choice, a source of pride, learning and improvement. There were new products to try and master, old skills to polish and pass on, recipes to experiment with, and new trends and fashions to encompass. The household hint genre of newspaper columns, books and radio and television programs fed right into this view of housework.
I have never heard of Marjorie Bligh, who seems to have been a Tasmanian phenomenon. I guess that each Australian capital city had their own version. Tasmania’s Marjorie Bligh is said to have been the origin of Barry Humphrey’s Edna Everage, before she became a Dame (humph!) and while she was still Norm’s wife, Valmai’s friend and Kenny’s mother. One of the author’s quests in this book was to probe this claim.


Marjorie had three authorial name changes from Marjorie Blackwell to Marjorie Cooper to Marjorie Bligh as she moved through three marriages. It is a sign of her own individual presence and what we would now call her ‘brand’ that her followers recognized her and followed her through these different guises. Her first marriage was an unhappy one ending in divorce, something more devastating and noteworthy then than now, and she was widowed twice. The author, Danielle Wood, treats these marriages with respect but with a clear eye as well. She allows Marjorie to tell her own story, to withhold and to embellish, but it is quite easy for the reader to fill in the silences and to imagine the other perspectives that others in her story might tell.
Marjorie Pearsall was born in 1917 in Ross, in the Tasmanian midlands. The convict architectural heritage of the town would not have been a tourist drawcard at that time. Her father died when Marjorie was three. Marjorie, as she told it in her own autobiographical writings, was always an industrious homebody, making money for the straitened family through running errands for the teachers, cleaning the school room, knitting and sewing. She was a perfectionist and had ‘stickability’ (p. 31). After leaving school she worked as a ‘help’ until she met her first husband Cliff, whom she married in 1938. In a world seemingly untouched by war, they shifted to Campbelltown.

It was there that she set her sights on the Agricultural Show. In 1958 she surpassed her record of the preceding two years, winning prizes in seventy-eight categories. Her passion was the creation of her dream home, Climar (the combination of Cliff and Marjorie’s names), an Art-Deco inspired brick house, now on the Heritage register (for all the good that will do, as Banyule has taught me) and rather oddly dated for its completion date of 1955. My ex-husband’s family lived in a very similar house that was built in the late 30s-early 1940s- perhaps architectural trends took longer to reach Tasmania?  You can see a photo of Climar here (there are many other photographs related to Marjorie Bligh on this site as well.)

There seems to have been a falling out with the Agricultural Show committee in 1958 over the awarding of the W. T. Findlay cup for most points awarded, and she withdrew from exhibitions in 1960, 1961 and 1962 and in this hiatus in her show career she turned to writing. Marjorie Blackwell at Home was her first book, published in 1965. It was to be republished in three editions . In 1973 under the name At Home with Marjorie Cooper, and then again in 1998 as At Home with Marjorie Bligh. The first edition was 310 pages in length, comprising 44 sections covering food, flowers, gardens, children’s parties, pets and stains. “All these things” Marjorie wrote assertively in the foreword “are dear to the heart and the majority of all women.”

“Assertively” is the operative word here. Danielle Wood’s book is sprinkled with the dictates and aphorisms of Marjorie Blackwell/Cooper/Bligh, gleaned from this and her other publications. There’s a rather threatening confidence in the way that Marjorie frames her advice implying that of course you would WANT to prevent the cock from crowing (by placing a lath above his head so that his comb brushes against it) or WANT TO walk to country dances wearing a rubbish bag with two holes cut in it, drawn up to your waist with the pull-tie to protect the hem of your gown from the mud.

They’re small slices of life from another world. Some examples:  try putting sticky tape on your toddler’s hands and watching ‘him’ being delightful as he tries to pull it off; use a slice of beetroot to rub on your cheeks if you run out of rouge; make a nice apron for yourself by sewing together nine men’s ties. Her worldview is that of “wilful waste brings woeful want” (a family aphorism that I grew up with as well) borne not only from straitened circumstances but also almost as a form of resistance to the deluge of manufactured consumerist goods that now engulf us. However, I still struggle to imagine WHY you would want to crochet a cover for a 5 litre icecream container (so handy for transporting small cakes and scones) out of used bread wraps.

Wood (or her publishers) have decided that these excerpts from Marjorie’s writings drawn from her books and autobiographies should be inserted throughout the book. Hence, as well as small break-out boxes on the side of the text, the narrative is interrupted for pages at a time with a lengthy extract. I’m not sure if I liked it or not. I found myself distracted by reading the excerpt, but on the other hand it captured well this nagging, insistent soundtrack of what I perceived as Marjorie’s imperious, bossy narrative voice.

IMG_0935
By the end of Marjorie’s long career, I think that she had become an unwitting parody of herself. Danielle Wood obviously has great affection for her, but is somewhat wary of her as well. In the foreword, she describes her as “formidable”.

 As I write, she is ninety four years old, and almost certainly muttering into her coffee cup about the dire consequences that will befall me if I fail to finish this book before she dies.

She did. The book was published in 2011 and Marjorie died in September 2013.
In her conclusion, Wood reflects on her own ambivalent feelings about Marjorie (p.206)

Though I have spent hundreds of hours with her books and diaries, and talked with her, I still struggle to get a fix on Marjorie. At times on the page, I have found her difficult to warm to. But while she is often self-serving in her explanations of past events, she is also honest enough to supply the facts that allow readers to construct alternative understandings. In person, I have always enjoyed her frankness, humour and generosity. But I have always known, too, that she would have me on toast in a flash if I vexed her or let her down. It has been difficult to reconcile the written Marjorie with the living one, and simultaneously to understand the multiple versions of Marjorie that have manifested during her ninety four years.

The book is lightly written and yet insightful. It’s quite a difficult task to render gently and with respect someone who has, with the passing of time, almost become a spoof. Wood lets Marjorie speak for herself, and lets the reader fill in the silences and omissions. Ironically, with the return to ‘natural’ products and deep-green environmentalism, Marjorie could become an unlikely poster-girl for sustainability, and some may wish that there was an index to this book to locate an unlikely household hint. It is a book which chuckles to itself, but quietly.

awwbadge_2014I’m posting this review to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.