Monthly Archives: July 2015

Cooking up a storm for Cooking for Copyright

Here’s my little contribution to Cooking for Copyright Day.


They’re Ruby Borrowdale’s Rolled Oat Biscuits and the recipe made mountains of the things.  As you’ll see, Ms Borrowdale has given us a very…um….stripped-back recipe consisting merely of ingredients with nairy a mention of method or cooking instructions. (was there another page I wonder?) I melted the generous quantity of butter and added it to the other ingredients and cooked at 180C for about 12 minutes.

So who was Ruby Borrowdale and why I am posting a picture of her biscuits? (not cookies, note!)  Ruby Borrowdale was Queensland’s best known cookery expert.  From 1932 she was the Chief Instructress, and later the superintendent of the test kitchen at Simpson Brothers, well-known Queensland manufacturers of flour and baking powder. Simpson Brothers published an annual cooking book featuring their baking products.  The John Oxley library have produced a video on Ruby and their collection of the Borrowdale papers.

She also wrote a weekly cooking column under the name of Patricia Dale for the Brisbane Telegraph and wrote columns for other regional  newspapers. If you do a Google search, you’ll find much reference to her book The Golden Circle Tropical Recipe Book which I can only imagine would be the source of much merriment today for its imaginative use of pineapple rings and beetroot  (as you can see in this blog here).  She also featured on the radio and was the first Queensland cook to appear on television.

But why my sudden interest in Ruby Borrowdale and Queensland cuisine? Ruby Borrowdale’s recipes are featured as part of the FAIR (Freedom of Access to Information and Resources) campaign today regarding the status of unpublished manuscripts in Australian libraries, museums and historical societies. Unlike in other countries, in Australia,  copyright on unpublished sources lasts forever.  As a point of comparison, in Canada and New Zealand it is the life of the author plus 50 years and in the EU generally it’s the life of the author plus 70 years.  In the UK, works unpublished by 1989 whose authors died before 1969 will be in copyright until 2039, and otherwise it is life plus 70 years.  In US it is also life plus 70 years, or 120 years where the author is unknown.

FAIR are campaigning for all published and unpublished works in Australia to have the same copyright term, in line with international norms.  As part of their campaign today, they have broken copyright by posting recipes on their website and ask people to bake them and photograph their efforts  — hence the rolled oat biscuits above.  Of course, ironies abound:  the YouTube video above was produced by the John Oxley library which holds the Borrowdale collection and uses images of published works but none of their manuscript collection. And, strictly speaking, given that Ruby Borrowdale died in 1997, her works would still be in copyright anyway (although she may have granted it to the library perhaps?).

Ah, but it’s all a new world, isn’t it, and this provision is ridiculous and out of line with international practice.  So, please,  have a biscuit or two for Cooking for Copyright Day.

‘Savage or Civilized? Manners in Colonial Australia’ by Penny Russell

You may remember a number of years back when Prime Minister Paul Keating had the audacity to place his hand on Her Majesty’s back to gently steer her in a crowd.


He was quickly dubbed “The Lizard of Oz” by the English press, always quick to jump on colonial brashness with a snort of derision at ex-convict temerity (a taunt which carries little significance in Australia itself).  Historically, however, the colonial/convict trope was far more influential, as demonstrated in Penny Russell’s book Savage or Civilized? Manners in Colonial Australia.

This book is about the complicated rules and the even more complicated lived experience of colonial manners (p 5)….Manners are not only about the different observances of form and ritual that make a past (or a foreign) society seem quaintly strange.  They are also about the ways we acknowledge and respect the humanity of others, extending due consideration to their feelings, preferences, prejudices and sense of how things should be done.  The ultimate rudeness is to deny a fellow human being that degree of consideration. (p. 14)

Not everybody cared about manners, but this book concentrates on those who did.  It explores what she calls four ‘contexts’: the pastoral frontier; convict society; the domestic world and the new public space that opened up in the the latter part of the nineteenth century.  The book is not necessarily chronological, as these ‘contexts’ were continuous throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth century time period, but there is nonetheless a chronological trajectory in the narrative.  She describes this as “layered” rather than chronological, and is at pains to stress that she is not discussing the rules of civility as spelled out by the imported ‘politeness’ literature that flooded the empire, but instead looks at

how manners affected the daily lives of individuals, how they played out not in principle but in practice, not in precept but in people. (p 13)

In other words, the sort of history I enjoy most.


2010, 362 p.

In Part One, she starts on the frontier, that site of colonial theatricality so well explored in Inga Clendinnen’s Dancing With Strangers.  Handshakes, in particular, are the focus of attention (as they are also in Tiffany Shellam’s Shaking Hands on the Fringe). In each section, she presents a small number of characters to exemplify the arguments she is making, almost as if she is bringing them onto the stage for us.  Robert Dawson was an employee of the Australian Agricultural Society who was viewed as a “good man” and the author of The Present State of Australia in 1830 where he sought to rescue the reputation of Indigenous people at Port Stephen. It was, however, a respect overlaid by paternalism, praising docility, tractability and goodwill- and in the final analysis, he took their land. Neil Black, on the other hand, felt adrift within the moral wilderness of settler society, rejecting the commonly-held premise that a young gentleman could break out of the expectations of his class and status and then take them up again at will.

Part Two, “High Society”makes the point that British manners were themselves evolving at the beginning of the 19th century. Although there was still a belief in a social pyramid, this view was challenged by the rising bourgeoisie and evangelical domesticity which placed great store on reputation, good name, and ‘credit’.  The networks between the colonies ensured that this strategically reimagined ‘England’ was a common reference point as the colonies erected their own strictly-policed social boundaries to mirror what they conceived to be the situation at ‘home’.  Government House in the colony served as a microcosm of these relationships , as Russell demonstrates with the example of the much-studied Lady Jane Franklin in Tasmania (a theme she also explored in her book This Errant Lady which I viewed here.)  When Sir John Franklin fell out with his private secretary Alexander Maconochie, it not only caused a split in society, but also leached into the personal relationships within the domestic sphere, as the two families lived in close proximity.  Professionalism was another arena of conflict, as she shows with her example of two doctors: Dr Farquahar McCrae (the brother-in-law of Georgiana McCrae in Port Phillip) and Dr William Bland, an emancipist who had been transported to the colonies for a duel.  When the two doctors disagreed about the appropriate treatment for a patient, the dispute was played out through the newspaper columns of the Sydney Herald, spilling into a meeting of the Benevolent Asylum Society, one of those philanthropic organizations through which middle-class men underscored their respectability.

Part Three examines ‘Domestic Worlds’, and while I found this an emotionally engaging section, I did find myself wondering whether enough was made of the effect of colonialism on domestic relationships.  This was not so much with the dissatisfied governess Margaret Youngman, who reminded me of Sybilla in My Brilliant Career, which was itself an Australian working of the governess story.  It was more with the the story of Mary Ann Tankard who was deserted by her older, often-absent husband, and the wife of the Reverend Andrew Ramsay who was left behind to ‘keep up appearances’ while her husband sailed back to Scotland to deal with church business. Both these stories of desertion could have easily been mirrored by deserted women in England.

The final section moves more into the second half of the nineteenth century and the burgeoning of a public and  political sphere where women and aspiring working men  became more visible.  Transport and urbanization brought the courtesies of meeting strangers to the forefront of public discourse, especially for ‘girls’ during the 1890s.  The fiesty Annie Britton, who was arrested for parading in the volunteer uniform of Captain Gilbee, brought the captain’s family into the public arena, while the arrival of the Duke of Edinburgh brought colonial manners under the censure of the ‘home’ reading public- or at least, it was imagined that it would-just as Paul Keating was to do 130-odd years later. In the midst of the celebrations Henry Parkes, chair of the organizing committee, stepped forward to shake the Duke’s hand.  Parkes was himself of dubious background and doubtful morality given the indecent haste with which he married his mistress after his first wife’s death, and the new Governor the Earl of Jersey and his wife later ensured that the new Lady Parkes was excluded from Government House.

As Russell notes in concluding her book, hers is not a discussion of ‘real’ Australian values and nationalism- not then, and not by historians later. Instead, these carefully and sensitively drawn people and their dilemmas and social and domestic dramas

…were telling representations of the hundreds of thousands of individuals who moved into, and sometimes out of, the Australian continent; tiny atoms in the sprawling world of settler colonialism, but constituent atoms nonetheless.  At the end of the nineteenth century, as much as at its beginning, many if not most colonists understood themselves a privileged members of the Anglo world, and yearned to blend unnoticed with a cosmopolitan community upon terms of cultural and social equality, not to be marked out an uncouth barbarians or brash colonials. (p. 259)

aww-badge-2015-200x300My review is linked to the Australian Women Writers Challenge site.

It’s also 1/20 of my TBR20 Reading Challenge- my vow to read twenty of the books I already have on my shelves.

The power of one X 2

Two young women have stood up for a principle recently. More power to them.

Stand up woman #1

The first is Kahlani Pyrah who has taken legal action against Grill’d burgers who sacked her after she raised questions about payrates.


Not only was the company using a Howard-era 2005 Workchoices era enterprise agreement which paid many staff below the award rate, but Grill’d burgers  also made their so-called ‘traineeships’  a compulsory element of  employment in their hamburger chains.  This scam is rife throughout the fast-food industry. Kids are put onto ‘traineeships’, often designed by the enterprise itself, with little real training, limited transferability, and no follow-through. These ‘traineeships’ use up the kids’  entitlement to vocational training and enable their placement onto a lower ‘training’ wage by their employer.  If, later down the track, the employee approaches a TAFE for vocational training that they want to do, this earlier arrangement is counted as their national training entitlement.

The company has since announced that it will review its employment conditions. Good one, Kahlani.

Stand Up Woman #2

The second is Natalie Collins, who started a petition on to protest the inclusion of Mark Driscoll on the program for the Hillsong church conferences in Australia and the UK.  Mark Driscoll, among other things, came up with these tasteful little insights during a sermon he delivered to the Mars Hill Church in Seattle:

Ultimately, God created you and it is His penis. You are simply borrowing it for a while.Knowing that His penis would need a home, God created a woman to be your wife. And when you marry her and look down you will notice that your wife is shaped differently than you and makes a very nice home.

For a while, it seemed that her petition had been successful, but then Hillsong decided to beam in a pre-recorded interview with Driscoll instead during their Australian conference.  The UK conference featuring the Driscoll video again is taking place at the moment at the 02 arena, no less, and she has decided to mount a one-woman protest outside the arena.


No doubt she would have appreciated a few more fellow-protesters, but because of social media, she’s been able to secure much more publicity than just one single person standing in the allocated ‘pen’ outside the arena.  She tweeted her experience and posted it on Storify, and you can read about it here.

Good one, Natalie.

‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ by Richard Flanagan


2014, 480 p.

There are spoilers in this review

I haven’t been writing this blog long enough for it to capture my deep admiration for Richard Flanagan. Only his recent book Wanting has made it into this blog.  Over the last twenty years I’ve read all his books, with the exception of The Unknown Terrorist, which I have on my shelves and which may surface as part of my #TBR20 challenge (once I start it!). For me,  Gould’s Book of Fish is right up near the top of my list of best Australian novels.  So I was delighted that Flanagan won the Booker Prize for this book, although I must admit that my praise of it is not completely unalloyed.

The main character in The Narrow Road to the Deep North is Dorrigo Evans, met in the opening pages as an elderly, famous doctor, lionized for his role in tending to the men on the Burma Railway.  He is uncomfortable about the acclaim that has attached to him but not enough to eschew it completely.He enjoys women and has had a series of extramarital affairs throughout his life. He doesn’t really like himself very much.  One’s mind turns immediately to  ‘Weary’ Dunlop – the iconic war-hero doctor of the Thai-Burma railway-  although I’m in no position to know how closely the fictional book parallels the real-life.

We follow Evans from his childhood in Tasmania, his move from humble beginnings  into ‘society’ as the handsome young medical student and then his sudden encounter in a bookshop with Amy- a young woman who, he later learns, is his uncle’s wife. Interwoven with this love story is the muddy, oppressive heat and downpours of the Burma jungle as Evans,  now a Prisoner of War, is placed in an unsought leadership position because of his medical skills.  He holds the power to order men to stay in the rudimentary camp hospital, but he is forced into a nightmarish bargaining ritual with their Japanese captors who demand men to work on the railway.

Flanagan is a writer of images, and in all his books (and particularly in this one) he luxuriates in the visual and the visceral.  We can envisage the gnarled gums that the young Dorrigo sees above him as he lies back in a horse-drawn dray, jolting through the bush as he joins his older brother in a bush camp.  We see the golden dust-motes swirling in the still air of a first-floor bookshop when he first sees Amy; we hear the sigh of the waves outside the beachside pub that Amy manages with her husband.  We can see – and our imagination flinches away from –  the mud, pus and shit of the Burmese camp.  Parts of the book are disturbingly violent: so much so that I found myself unable to sleep after reading some sections of it.

The book is consciously literary, with small extracts of Japanese verse separating the different parts of the book. The Japanese guards are monsters: the Japanese guards are also cultured men.  It is this paradox that he explores in the latter part of the book, as the war ends and somehow these men- both Australian and Japanese- are somehow meant to rejoin life again.  Memory smooths and distorts; men on both sides grapple with questions of goodness and evil.

I mentioned that my praise is somewhat tempered in this book.  There are too many coincidences, and too much squeezed into the last quarter of the book. Flanagan himself in interviews said that he had started with the scenario of two people who had been lovers long ago catching sight of each other in a crowd, and I felt as if this scenario, which appears near the end of the book,  was a writing exercise in its own right.  So, too, the bushfire scenes near the end felt like a self-contained piece of descriptive writing, undertaken as a set piece and not particularly germane to the narrative. I found that the ending was messy- almost as if Flanagan wanted to tie everything up and yet couldn’t quite bring himself to bring the book to a close either.

That said, these are just qualms and not at all the demolition job that Michael Hofman unleashed in the London Review of Books.   No-  I was overwhelmed by the bigness of the book and its themes.  The love scenes were tender, physical, and finely crafted, and so too, paradoxically,  were the war scenes: both part of being human.  In interviews, Richard Flanagan seems to think of this as the book he’s been driven to write, all along throughout his writing career. I think he might be right.

‘Someone Knows My Name’ by Lawrence Hill


2007,  486 p.

After too many times being blindsided by spoilers, I have made it one of my little rules to never read the Introduction to a fiction book until I’ve finished it. Maybe I should also make it a rule to read the Acknowledgments and ‘About’ section that comes at the end of a book before I read it. Perhaps it’s the historian in me craving footnotes and references, but I think that it’s more that I like to know whether the author is dancing exuberantly on a wide stage, or whether instead I’m reading a closely-embroidered canvas with careful attention to each stitch.

Someone Knows My Name falls into the first category, where the author has taken an artefact and a situation and woven a story around it.  In this case, the artefact is the “Book of Negroes” compiled as a list of 3000 former slaves who had fought with the British during the American War of Independence and who thus qualified for removal to Nova Scotia Canada after the war.   In reality, although it is known that the 150 page book was compiled by a British officer under the orders of the Governor-General of British North America, no-one is sure about how or by whom it was written.  As was common practice for colonial documents at the time, there are two versions: one now in England, the other in America.

Lawrence Hill, however, has created a female protagonist to be the author of the Book of Negroes. Aminata Diallo, the daughter of a Muslim jeweller father and midwife mother, was kidnapped at the age of 11 from her village in West Africa and forced to walk to the coast. After the horrific middle passage voyage, she was sold in poor condition to an  indigo plantation in South Carolina from which she escapes when her master takes her to New York.  She is illegally taught to read and write, a skill which the British put to use in recording the names and details of Black Loyalists in preparation for the evacuation to Nova Scotia after the war.  Aminata travels to Nova Scotia, hoping that her husband, with whom she had conceived two children- both taken under varying circumstances- will be there as well. She follows John Clarkson, a young humanitarian  British officer charged with encouraging a further shift to Sierra Leone where, in theory, the Black Loyalists could create their own community.  The final phase of her journey finds her in England, agitating for her people.

I hadn’t encountered the story of the Black Loyalists and the settlement of Sierra Leone until I read Simon Schama’s book Rough Crossings Hill’s book traverses the same territory in a fictional vein, with a nod to 21st century sensibilities through his literate, Muslim, female protagonist.  There are some anachronisms- I’m sure that no-one ever thought of a church as a ‘community centre’, for instance- but the book is well-researched and has garnered much praise, including the Commonwealth Writers Prize om 2008.  If at times the story seems too incredible, there are the nuggets of similarly extraordinary fact that tether it in the historical realm: the slave narrative of, for example,  Olaudah Equiano   published in England in 1789, the blighted betrayal of the promise of Sierra Leone (‘Liberia’), and the very existence of the Book of Negroes itself. Hill does not resile from the psychic trauma of slavery, but nor does he indulge in gratuitous violence either.  Has he been too squeamish in avoiding rape and punishment,  I wonder? Or, like the convict trope in Australian history, is there a more banal experience of slavery, less about blood, but more about deprivation, exhaustion and indignity?

It’s interesting that the book was published under the title ‘Someone Knows My Name’ in America because of sensitivity over the word ‘Negro’ and yet the television series which screened in both Canada and the United States went under the name ‘Book of Negroes’.  This rather self-reflexive detail in itself reminds us that this is a book that is written from a twenty-first political consciousness, with both the insights and infelicities that such a perspective carries.

My rating: 8.5/10

Read because: I read a review of it somewhere (who knows where….)

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library


So, we’re about to get a good look at Pluto.  I heard a very enthusiastic man talking on the radio this morning.

[CSIRO Spokesman ]Mr Nagle likens the imminent close encounter with Pluto to Neil Armstrong’s historic Moon walk and the recent Mars Curiosity Rover mission.

“New Horizons is another one of those moments,” Mr Nagle said. “You will remember where you were and what you were doing on that day when the whole world sees a brand new place in our solar system for the very first time. You will take a deep breath and go: ‘Wow this is something that no human has ever seen before.’ A world that has been out there for 5 billion years, waiting for human eyes to stare and ponder its mysteries for decades and centuries to come.”

I don’t think so.

We have become jaded by images, especially those fantastical images generated by computer. What made the moon images so transfixing was the presence of a real, live, moving MAN there.  We were watching it unfold: no-one really knew what was going to happen. Would he sink into sand the moment he put foot to the surface? Was he going to be safe?   Even though that blurred, black-and-white video footage was, of course, repeated on the news, it was not a video clip  that could be re-played again and again on YouTube at our whim.


Where was I during the moon landing? I was in Form 2 (Year 8) at Banyule High School.  The school only had one television, perched on a high stand on wheels in the corner of room 4 (I think), which had black-out curtains.   We were permitted (encouraged?) to go to watch it at home, which I did.  We were supposed to come back to school afterwards, although knowing what I do now, I can’t really imagine that any of the staff really wanted us to do so.   I can’t actually remember the act of watching it, but I do remember closing the curtains and fearing that the ferocious Miss Crewther, the girls’ principal, would come to the front door to berate me for not returning to school as instructed.  As if!

AHA Conference 10 July

Plenary panel: Historicizing International Law

I must confess to feeling completely out of my depth in trying to write about this session.  Not only was it an intellectually complex area, but my background knowledge of the area is wafer thin.  Any observations I make will be inadequate, so if you’re interested in a fuller representation of what was said, I suggest that you look at the abstracts in the Conference Program.

If the plenary yesterday was about the relevance of history to contemporary life, then this one, at the most basic level, was about the relevance of history to international law. Ian Hunter opened the session by describing two ways of historicizing international law.  The first is the dialectical approach which draws on Kant and Hegel, and sees international law only beginning in the second half of the 19th century and passing through stages towards a telos of possible harmony amongst the international community. The second, more contextual approach (e.g. Lauren Benton, Mark Hickford) postulates that international law has emerged through treaty making, and that the 17th and 18th century writings of Puffendorf, Vattel etc which were so heavily drawn upon in debates over sovereignty and conquest, were  themselves post-facto rationalizations arising from universities attached to sovereign interests.  The two views, Hunter claims, are irreconcilable.

Anne Orford also drew on this distinction, noting that from the 1990s onwards there has been the emergence  of scholarly writing intent on disrupting the celebratory nature of international law. Third World Approaches to International Law argue that imperialism is ingrained in international law; while disciplinary histories of international law see international law as a profession and a human construct. A maximal contextual approach to international law would argue that we must not look at how the law has been modified over time, whereas international justice relies exactly on that argument: that concepts change over time.

Jessica Whyte used the recent revision of the United States Department of Defence Law Manual as an example.  In an update of the 1956 manual, the new version argues, citing in particular Augustine and Aquinas, that there is a ‘just war’ tradition that this new revision is based upon. This is a marked change from the United States’ disavowal of ‘just war’  as a medieval construct when it was during the 1970s in the context of wars of national liberation (like Vietnam).

The questions that followed ranged across a number of current events: the invocation of the Treaty of Waitangi in the context of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, and the approaches taken by Indian and Irish commissions into famine in the face of food security in a Free Trade world.

Panel: Indigenous Foundation Histories?

The final session I attended noted the publication over the last decade of two ‘foundational’ Indigenous texts: The First Australians  documentary series and book for Australian Indigenous people in 2008,  and a very handsome (and large) recent volume Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History.

Common to these texts was a depiction of identity in historical terms, and an assumption of Indigenous agency. In this panel, indigenous authors who had been involved in writing these or other ‘foundational texts’  addressed the question of whether these books were, in fact ‘foundational’ at all, their methodology, and their intended audience.

Aroha Harris, one of the authors of Tangata Whenua noted that the book was a collective enterprise, which tried to write a ‘general’ Maori history.  This endeavour, however, is in tension with the focus on iwi (community).  The book uses many images, but there were limitations on the images that could be used e.g. images of dead people lying in state.  In making decisions about the writing and portrayal of events, she used what she anticipated the response would be from  her cousins and aunties as a form of mental guidance. She demurred at the idea that Tangata Whenua might be ‘foundational’: perhaps it is more correct to say that it is overdue.

Heidi Norman is the author of What Do We Want?  an analysis of lands right protest in NSW , a specific, fine-grained story from the 1970s onwards of the enduring but changing demands for land.

norman It was prompted by events in 2004  when Howard had dismantled ATSIC and the Sydney Morning Herald maintained a steady campaign against individuals in the state Aboriginal Land Council.  There was no response to this: what had happened, she wondered, to the protest of the 1970s?  Her book is an exploration of a new governmentality amongst a new generation of educated Aboriginal people with an ever-expanding conception of land.

Michael Stevens was a contributor of Tangata Whenua and he picked up on the idea of ‘foundational’ not so much in historical terms, but as his grandfather- a builder- would understand it: that without a strong foundation, things can fall down; that any mistake you make at the bottom will follow you up. His contribution, a section titled ‘Fat meat for the winter’ was based on his PhD thesis and drew on his own iwi and family photographs of mutton-bird harvesting and the connection between land and genealogy.

Vicky Grieves responded to these three speakers pointing out that Indigenous histories needed to change the mix, to include genealogy, languages, different ideas of time, ‘everywhen’ and the complexity of identity. Such histories would be a basis for building new histories  (often written by non-Indigenous historians) through critique by Indigenous people.

And at this point, my conference came to an end. I had a plane to catch so I wasn’t able to catch the screening of  Message from Mungo, an award-winning 2014 documentary.

It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable (if cold) four days: a beautiful setting, terrific food [always important!], well organized and stimulating.

They’ve just unpacked the entries for the Archibald Prize here at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.  To which presentations would I award my conference version of the Packers Prize?  For the keynotes, Jill Matthews reflection on the writing of Good and Mad Women on 8th July, and for the papers, I think it would have to be Nick Brodie’s presentation on the pictorial boards in Van Diemen’s Land, which I heard on 9th July.  Congratulations and thanks all round!