Monthly Archives: March 2015

Nothing much happened and I loathed/loved it

I was about to write two blog posts about two separate works- a book and a film- until I realized that they were in many ways very similar.  For both of them, I’d have to say that not much happened, really.  Yet I had a totally different response to them: the book I loathed with a vengeance; the film I loved and even now will probably put right up top of the films I’ll see in 2015. The loathed one first….


Indelible Ink, Fiona McGregor, 2013, 464 p.

My heart sank when this book was announced with a flourish at my book group as our next read.  I have read it previously and disliked it.  After reading it a second time, (now that’s dedication)  I dislike it just as much.  I didn’t blog about it the first time, even though I was doing the Australian Women Writers Challenge.  Although my little review would not make any difference to anything, I didn’t feel right about bagging out a young novelist and so I just let it subside without trace on my blog. But it’s two years on, now; the dust has settled and I don’t have the same qualms about being critical.

I just didn’t buy the premise of this book from the start.  I don’t need to like the characters in a book (and I found them all completely unlikeable) but in the midst of a contemporary, realist book I need to be persuaded that there’s a core of plausibility in the actions of the characters.   The book has been likened favourably to The Slap and -how ’bout that- Christos Tsiolkas provided the front-cover blurb- and I can see the parallels of a family story, set in Sydney rather than Melbourne, with all the left-leaning, Radio National-type anxieties of affluent and self-absorbed inner suburban life.  All of that’s true of Indelible Ink as well, but at least The Slap moved from character to character, and there was enough variety that you’d find one person at least that you’d recognize (and probably dislike).   I think that it was the banality of the conversation that I bridled most against. Who’d want to be around these people?  I felt that the author was looming over all, pressing all the ‘luvvie’ hot-buttons, just to get a rise out of her reader.  Once again I found myself wishing that someone had ordered ‘cut! cut!’ by about 150 pages because this is a 300-page plot that doesn’t have 460 pages in it.

I know that many readers I respect have enjoyed this book- Lisa at ANZLitLovers thought highly of it; reviewers at the Australian Women Writers Challenge liked it; dammit, it even won the Age Book of the Year for 2011.  I am so outnumbered here than I was relieved to find that Marieke Hardy from the First Tuesday Book Group and I are as one on this  – thank God I’m not alone!

And so, on to what I loved….


I’d heard this book mentioned in all the pre-Oscar hype and couldn’t quite see how you could make a film over twelve years. Well, you can – because here it is. It’s not like the 7-up series, where there are clear breaks between filming schedules.  Instead, the boy Mason grows imperceptibly older, changing before your eyes.

Nothing happens, and yet much does.  Perhaps it says something about my pessimistic, anxiety-driven nature but I kept expecting something to go wrong to impose some sort of narrative arc onto the film.  I will confess that I did find myself checking my watch a few times during the film, although that was largely because I was wondering how much longer it would go before there was a climax of some sort.  There was something rather omnipotent about looking down, watching time elapse, mistakes occur and resolve, expectations rise and subside, plans falter and opportunities arise.

My enjoyment of this film was confirmed the next day when I heard friends talking about their little grandson, who is determined to be one of the first kids at school each day.  I thought back to the young Mason, and his little ways, and found myself washed over with affection both for the film character and for this little boy I’ve never met who wants to get to school early.  I’ve thought of the film many times, as if I’ve lived someone else’s life.  Quite apart from the hook of the twelve-year span, it was an intimate epic- big and small at the same time- and right up there as one of the best films I’ve seen in ages.

And a very good Banyule Festival was had by all….

Yes, it’s March and so it’s Banyule Festival again.  And so there we were, all frocked up for Twilight Sounds at Sills Bend, my favourite place in the world and which should be on the Victorian Heritage Register.  The weather was absolutely perfect: a still night, not cold.  The crowds were there- probably the biggest turn-up in all the time I’ve been going. As you know, from my blog posts about Twilight Sounds in 20102011,  and 2013 I usually specialize in taking photographs of empty chairs at this gig, but not this year….

Excellent acts- all of them.  Sweethearts first up- an all-girls big band from Geelong; then Emma Donovan  (excellent!!)  followed by Miss Murphy (who apparently won The Voice, but as popular culture tends to pass me by, I’d never heard of her).  Much laughter and fun was elicited by Anna’s Go-Go dancing, when she had probably 700 people up dancing, with their Saturday Night Fever moves and Hillsong Hands waving in the air.  Terrific idea; great fun.

Then bright and early on Sunday morning, there I was all ready to march in the Arty-Farty Parade down Burgundy Street, representing Heidelberg Historical Society.  What do we want? HISTORY! When do we want it? YESTERDAY!  Oh, you mean it’s not that sort of march?

After milling around on the oval for a while, waiting for the festival to be officially opened, over we trotted to Sills Bend itself which was all set up for the Arty Farty Festival.

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But wait- there’s more!

Heidelberg Historical Society had its annual Bus Tour that afternoon and this time we headed off across town to the Essendon Incinerator.  Yes. An Incinerator.

The Essendon Incinerator was designed by Walter Burley Griffin and opened in 1930.  It was one of 13 that Griffin designed in Australia –  seven of which are still standing- and the only one left in Victoria.   The post-WWI  influenza epidemic had raised anxieties about the dangers of tips, and when a young engineer called John Boadle invented a new form of incineration, it attracted the attention of a number of councils.  Called the ‘reverbatory incineration’ technique, it involved dessicating the garbage before firing it at 2000 degrees in a closed furnace whose heat was intensified by being bounced back or ‘reverberated’ from a brick arch.  The process generated little smoke or smell.

The garbage was conveyed onto the site in trucks which drove straight into the building. The load would be tipped into hoppers and hot air piped over it to dry out all moisture.  Gravity dropped it into the incinerator where it would be fired, with the ash raked out from the bottom.  Heat from the process was used to make and heat bitumen made from  the ashes. The showers provided onsite for the workers (which was rather revolutionary at the time) were heated by the incinerators, and the hospital used the heat to sterilize bedpans.

The incinerator is on the site of the old Essendon tip.  No-one wanted the incinerator built near them, and when it was argued that the people already living near the tip had paid cheap prices for their land anyway, it was decided to build it there.  However, the first very bland and ugly design for the incinerator caused an uproar, and so Griffin and his partner Nicholls were called upon to redesign it. And so they did.

The building is quite beautiful- almost churchlike.  It has many Griffin-esque touches like the raked roofline, cut-out geometric shapes in the windows, interesting plumbing details, and the use of reinforced concrete.

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Despite its innovative design, it was not used for long.  It required fuel-injection to light the incinerators and during WWII, shortages of fuel forced them to stop using it.  After the war, they commencing tipping again into landfill sites, and the incinerator was not used again.

It’s fortunate that it has survived: many of them have not. Neighbouring Brunswick had one, but it has been demolished.   The most famous one was at Pyrmont, and there was much unhappiness when it was demolished as its chimney was one of the landmarks of the harbour.  The incinerator at Willoughby has been turned into an art centre, as has the Essendon one.  It’s surrounded by trees and is a beautiful building.

You can read more about the Griffin incinerators here.

Peace in Australia: From Federation to the Aftermath of War


So there I was at a packed Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church on Monday night for the second forum presented by the ANZAC Centenary Peace Coalition.  Chaired by the Quakers, the night started with Joy Damousi who reminded us of the progressive social policies  by which Australia defined herself at Federation: progressive social policy,  female suffrage, the eight hour day, the basic wage, pensions.  However, from 1907 onwards there was an increasing militarism, with compulsory military training for males between 12 -25 years of age from 1911. Both conscription and the peace movement existed prior to World War I.

The speakers were separated by a musical interlude by Morgan Phillips and his guitar accompanist.   At this point they gave a rendition of that 1915 hit, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier”

Val Noone was next, speaking about the Australian Peace Movement between 1914-18. He did this through seven snapshots of activists including Mark Feinberg from the International Workers of the World (IWW), Margaret Thorp the Quaker leader of the Womens Peace Army, Archbishop Daniel Mannix and a number of conscientious objectors.  He noted that over time there was a change in attitude amongst the population at large, with a higher proportion voting against conscription in the second referendum.

The musical interlude to close off Val’s presentation was a song about the Christmas Truce in 1914.  I’m not sure if this is the song that was sung, but it’s quite beautiful nonetheless:

Finally Bruce Scates, leader of the One Hundred Stories project,  gave an emotional account of the True Cost of War, based on the repatriation records of WW I soldiers which have been digitized by the National Archives.  What a rich historical resource they are- it’s amazing to think that they were slated for destruction, but fortunately saved.  Monash University will be conducting a free online course commencing 13 April 2015 based on these  archives to “forever change the way you see the Great War”. Have a look at Monash University’s One Hundred Stories site. You can sign up there for the course, or just spend some time looking at the stories which are presented as silent slides.  He spoke of Frank Wilkinson (Story 11).  For Frank, the war didn’t end on 11 November 1918.

His presentation was closed with “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”.

The night ended with a very Quaker-ish minute of silence.  A fitting end.

Back ‘er up

What is it with all these books with a woman’s back on them?  Perhaps images are cheaper if they’re facing the other way.  I shall make a collection, I think.

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ANZAC Centenary Peace Coalition – Second forum

Where I’ll be tonight:  Melbourne Peace Memorial Unitarian Church, Grey Street, East Melbourne


‘When We Have Wings’ by Claire Corbett


2011, 480 p.

I must confess that I’m not a great speculative-fiction reader, although my husband is.  I like the idea of it- the interplay of scenario, plot and character- but somehow one of them seems to miss out.

The scenario that underpins When We Have Wings is that medical technology and genetic manipulation has enabled those with the finances and desire to have wings grafted onto their backs. This self-selected elite is able to soar, literally, above the rather brutish and ugly city below, giving only grudging access to their beautiful architecture and affluent culture to the wingless, earth-bound masses below.  It’s not clear what country the book is set in, although the reference to RARA (Rural and Regional Areas) suggests that it’s Australia, although obviously nation is no longer important in a society so hierarchically ordered by the class and status denoted by wings.  Access to the city is limited and those without wings are relegated to service positions only, while outside the city boundaries, environmental change and the stripping out of wealth leaves a grubby and increasingly violent and deprived underclass. It’s set in the future, but it’s a future that is highly recognizable to us.

The book is told from two perspectives.  The first is that of Peri, a young girl employed as a carer for baby Hugo, although it’s a much darker arrangement than this  She is rewarded by her employers with wings, and it is with these wings that she absconds with Hugo.  She is rescued by a group of rebel flyers who, while revelling in their wings, are resisting the corruption of the flying elite. The second perspective is that of Zeke, the wingless private detective who has been employed by Hugo’s father,  to search for her.

The book has many things going for it: an engaging and rich premise; a female main character who reveals tenderness and fear; a bit of sex; a bit of a detective thread. Unfortunately, it’s also very long.  I found myself wishing that there had been a sharper editorial pen deployed here, slashing some of the description of flight mechanics in particular.  It’s 480 pages in length, and I’m just not sure that there’s enough emotional meat here- as distinct from ideas- to sustain such a long book.

aww-badge-2015-200x300I read this as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2015.

The Little Free Library comes to….Macleod

Welcome to Macleod shopping centre, Little Free Library.  May you stand tall, ungraffitied and unvandalized, opening your little door to readers on their way to and from the station.  What a lovely idea.

Little Free Libraries started in Wisconsin in 2009. Apparently by January 2015 there were 25,000 of them worldwide.

‘This House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial’ by Helen Garner


2014, 288 p.

This has been yet another of the  books  that I’ve purchased and had sitting in its little brown paper ‘Readings’ bag waiting for a self-indulgent Christmas-time read, long after everyone else seems to have read it. Helen Garner seems to evoke strong reactions in her readers. I don’t think that it’s just that she chooses controversial topics: I think that it’s Helen Garner herself that some readers object to.  As for me- I wish I knew her, although I suspect that she’d bridle against the thought that she could be claimed by a reader, and I think I’d feel a bit intimidated by her. I like the way that she puts her head on one side and considers hard…but then comes to a decided opinion.  I like her occasional tartness and her willingness to revisit her own judgments.

Any Melburnian could tell you about the Farquharson case- an appalling “accident” on Fathers Day 2005, where three young boys drowned when the car driven by their father after an access visit went off the road and ran into a dam. The father suffered a coughing fit, he said; an explanation accepted at first by his ex-wife at the first trial, but she later changed her mind. It was a convoluted legal process, involving a trial, an appeal and then a retrial and Helen Garner attended it throughout, drawn by equal parts of fascination and incredulity.

The subtitle to Garner’s book is “The Story of a Murder Trial” and the book largely consists of her observations of the theatre of the court as this performance of administering justice wends its slow, deceptively soporific way through questions that go to the heart of love, family, obsession and betrayal.  What a good observer she is-  the square faces that people pull when they’re trying not to yawn; the impatient ‘come along’ grasp of a sister pulling her adult brother through the press pack that sets itself up along the Melbourne footpath outside the court for the nightly news. Garner has her opinions: she judges.  I wonder if the witnesses who appeared in the stand have read this book and found themselves stripped bare by her eagle eye.

She’s very good.

aww-badge-2015-200x300I’ve posted this to the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2015.