Monthly Archives: January 2016

‘Beauty is a Wound’ by Eka Kurniawan


2002, (released in translation 2015),498 P.  Translator: Annie Tucker

Publisher’s site:

Well, the opening sentence gives you a pretty good sense of how this book is going to go:

One afternoon on a weekend in March, Dewi Ayu rolse from her grave after being dead for twenty one years.

I have not been the only reader to recognize the resonances with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude,  and just as when I read that book for the first of what turned out to be many, many times, I just didn’t want to leave this magical world.  I didn’t understand what was going on, but I just loved it.

Dewi Aya was descended from Dutch Indonesian stock. That side of her heritage was not particularly important to her, and when the colonists left after WWII, she stayed on working as a prostitute, by choice this time, after being forced into prostitution by the occupying Japanese soldiers. She gave birth to four daughters, all with different and unknown fathers: Alamanda, Adinda, Maya Dewi and Beauty.  The first three daughters were beautiful, but their beauty entangled them into strained and strange relationships with powerful men.  When Dewi Aya fell pregnant for the final time, she wished for an ugly child, and her wish was fulfilled.  This, then, is the story of these four daughters and the men who love them, within the small fictional village of Halimunda. At the same time, it is a bawdy and funny satirical critique of colonialism and repression.

There is a fairy tale quality to this book, where women marry dogs, men can meditate themselves into atoms, and the dead live on as both ghosts and physical presences.  One story unfolds into another, and there is an Arabian Nights quality that runs throughout.  In interviews the author, Eka Kurniawan has noted the influence of Indonesian puppet-play and folk tales, and it’s detectable in its ‘once upon a time’ quality,  and the picaresque good-and-evil dilemmas and retributions that play through the lives of the main characters.

At the same time, there’s a very clear historical narrative that underpins the story as the Dutch, Japanese, Communists and anti-Communists pass through. The massacre of the communists drenches the middle part of the book, and there is mention of the Indonesian military involvement in East Timor.  There are few dates, and I’m certain that the historical commentary and allusions to actual characters would be far more meaningful to someone with a good understanding of Indonesian history (and to my shame, that’s not me).  In fact, that was one of the strongest feelings that I came away with: my embarrassment that I had never read an Indonesian book before, or known of an Indonesian author in this huge, populous country to our north. Apparently the translator received a PEN grant for the translation, and it highlighted for me that translation is so important in stretching our literary imaginations.  It’s a good translation too, with a light lyricism and humour that seemed part of the work itself.

I had to quell my uneasiness that I was missing the metaphors and allusions that would be woven into this book for its Indonesian audience. Even in my ignorance, I was drawn into the stories of each of the daughters, delighted in the unpredictability of a magical world, and felt satisfied by the the ending which came full circle and drew it all together.

My rating: 10/10

Sourced from : Yarra Plenty Regional Library


Podcast: The Octoroon and Other Fantasies

I wish I could just pop over to The Jewish Museum of London to see their current exhibition ‘Blood’, which is open until 28 February 2016. Being on the other side of the world, there’s little chance of that happening, but it looks fascinating.

The next best option is to listen to Professor Roger Luckhurst, Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literature at Birbeck, University of London. He  gave a presentation there on 26 November 2015 which riffed on the topic of blood, called ‘Blood Fractions: The Octoroon and Other Fantasies’.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the slave trade, colonial administration and racial science developed a whole structure and language for calculating the precise mixture of blood in the offspring of white Europeans and their subject populations. The official line was that mixing was impossible, but the improvised language of ‘half-bloods’, ‘quadroons’, ‘octoroons’, and other terms suggested otherwise. This was the vast mixed population that existed ‘beyond the pale.’ In Victorian culture, the octoroon (a person with one-eighth black blood) was a kind of vanishing point, a focus of anxiety about detecting the taint of ‘bad’ blood. While in the twentieth century, the Nazis sought to protect ‘pure’ German blood from becoming tainted by the blood of Jews. In this talk Professor Luckhurst explores literary and cultural representations of mixed bloods.

You can hear it at Backdoor Broadcasting at

After warning that much of his talk would be offensive and placed in air quotes, he starts with a digression on Dracula before moving on to the gradations of colour described in the literature of slave owners.  Calculations down to 1/512th ‘negro’ heritage were reflected in some of the sensation literature of the day, but were revisited in the research justifying the anti-semitism of Nazi Germany.  Lest we think that such concepts are firmly cemented in the past, he closes by looking at the blood quantum laws that define membership in some Native American nations today.

A wide-ranging and interesting podcast.

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: January 24-31


Of course, to us today this week is dominated by Australia Day on January 26th.  As I’ve written about before, Australia Day as a national day is of relatively recent origin (1946, and on the day itself 1994) and until then was known as Anniversary Day. In Port Phillip in January 1841, where the Separation Movement was stirring and beginning to agitate for Port Phillip as a separate colony from New South Wales,there was some resentment at celebrating “their” Anniversary:

We have received too much injustice already from head quarters to make it at all palpable to the Port Phillipians to celebrate the foundation of their colony, with which we want nothing to do.

The Port Phillip Gazette and Port Phillip Herald offered two other dates for celebration that would be more acceptable for the colonists of Port Phillip:

We would, however, suggest that instead of taking the foundation of Port Phillip from the 29th August 1835 as the Patriot recommends, that we should say the 1st June 1836, the day on which the first sale of Port Phillip lands were held, and which gave the Port Phillipians the first legal title to property in our fine country.

Interestingly, the good burghers of our present-day Melbourne have lighted on 30 August as ‘Melbourne Day’, commemorating the day that those on board the Enterprize disembarked onto land.

Whichever way you look at it, it’s dispossession.


During late 1840 and early 1841 landowners were pressuring the government to increase its intake of emigrants as a way of alleviating the shortage of farm and domestic labourers, thereby reducing what appeared to employers to be exorbitant wages.   A bounty scheme was established whereby the NSW government would pay for the emigrants’ passage, either through a government scheme, or by a privatized scheme. Under the private scheme, agents in Britain would select eligible applicants and provide their passage and on their arrival, the £19 fare would be refunded by the government.  The bounty scheme was being funded largely through the sale of land in the Port Phillip District.

The table below was drawn up by the Port Phillip Herald on 8th January to support the argument that bounty migrants (i.e. those that the NSW government paid to come here) should be directed to Port Phillip, rather than sent up to Sydney.  Wages were higher in Melbourne, they argued, because of the labour shortage.

As the Herald itself admits, the methodology is questionable: the Sydney wage rates were affirmed on oath before Magistrates, Commissioners of Requests, Chairmen of Quarter Sessions and Judges or from the lips of workmen. In Melbourne, the rates were not attested on oath but had been “obtained from some of the most respectable masters in Port Phillip” and may have even understated the wages given.  (‘per diem= per day’, There were 12 pence [d] to the shilling; and twenty shillings to the pound)

Brickmakers 10/- to 15/- per diem. Piecework 10/- to 16/- per diem None employed by the day. Piecework 20/- to 25/- per diem
Bricklayers 8/- to 10/- per diem 13/ 6 ½ per diem
Blacksmiths 35/- to £3 per week £3/12s to £4/4s per week
Compositors 8/- per diem 12/- per diem
Cabinet makers and upholsterers 6/- to 8/- per diem 14/- per diem
Farriers 30/- to 50/- per week £3/12 to £4/4 per week
Fencers 3d to 4d per rod 4/6d per rod
Field Labourers 2/9d to 5/- per diem independent of lodgings, vegetables, firing water etc. 7/- per diem without board
Glaziers 8/- to 9/- per diem 10/- per diem
Harness makers 5/6d to 6/- per diem 8/- to [?] per diem
Joiners 8/- to 10/- per diem 12/- to 14/- per diem
Plasterers 7/- to 9/- per diem 12/- per diem
Ploughmen £30 to £40 per year with rations and lodging £52- £60 per year with boarding and lodging
Quarrymen 6/- to 8/- per diem 10/- per diem
Sawyers 8/4d. to 11/- per 100 feet 17/- to 21/- per 100 feet
Shoemakers Shoes 5/6d Boots 15/- Shoes 7/6, Boots 21/-
Shepherds £20 to £35 per year with rations £40 to £50 per year with rations
Wheelwrights £25 to £50 per year with rations £3/15s to £5 per week without rations.


So, if this is what people earned, then what did things cost?  The Port Phillip Herald of 29 January 1841 listed the following prices for local goods:


Imported goods (as you might expect) were more expensive again


Speaking of buying and selling, there was a meeting at the Police Court on Friday 29 January 1841 to discuss a new location for the market. There had been a site set aside for a market in- you guessed it- Market Street, but the market wasn’t yet formally established at this time, and people weren’t happy with the proposed location. They didn’t actually get round to deciding where the market should be at this meeting, just that another spot other than the present market reserve should be found.


The 19th January was the hottest day, with a maximum of 91 degrees (33 celsuis) but the rest of the week was pretty mild.


The Government Gazette reports that the week had “dry weather, generally clear of clouds, but very hazy; strong winds from the south continuing.”


‘Hello Beautiful! Scenes from a Life’ by Hannie Rayson


2015, 255p.

“Why on earth did they choose THAT cover?  Or that name? It’s awful!” said my son.  I looked at it more closely.  Even though the title whispers ‘self-help’ book for women of a certain age, that picture was too honest. What I saw was a confident, clearly middle-aged woman, actually getting her hair wet, swimming at the beach.  I can hardly bear to think of what my son saw: it obviously didn’t attract a thirty-one year old male reader. Never mind- this book clearly isn’t aimed at that demographic.  The book and its cover are directly aimed at another demographic: that of the middle-aged, Australian, RN-listening female reader who would constitute, I should imagine, a fairly healthy slice of the book-buying public.  The author, playwright Hannie Rayson admits as much:

I just have to imagine you, tucked up in bed, wanting something companionable and consoling. Irish Murdoch said literature should never console. I think that’s bollocks.

My women friends have big jobs. They have families. At night when they climb into bed they read two pages of the novel on the bedside table and fall asleep. The next night they have to reread those two pages. They creep forwards slowly, page by page, until Saturday. Then, because they are optimists, they buy another novel.

An idea began to take shape.  I could write those two pages. Three would be manageable. But once I started, I found I had more to say.

Some of these stories began their lives as articles in the Age or HQ magazine.  All of them have been reworked with a simple rule: everything has to be true. More or less. (p. 2)

And that’s pretty much it. As promised, the chapters are short and all have the ring of authenticity. It’s just the sort of book you want to read when you can’t handle anything too heavy before you fall asleep, or when you’re stretched out in the shade on a summer’s day.  Like Crabbe/Sales’ podcast Chat10Looks3, it’s a bit like sitting alongside friends who are full of gossip.  In this case, it’s writerly, arts world gossip with her husband Michael Cathcart (or MC as she often calls him) in a droll walk-in, walk-off role, and snippets of Helen Garner and Carrie Tiffany- a world that her readership peers through the window at, somewhat enviously.

The chapters are arranged more or less chronologically, starting with her childhood in a rented house in East Brighton (and hence, not the other Brightons) in the 1960s, with her real-estate agent father and home duties mother.  She kept an adolescent diary, and while cringing at the person she finds in its pages, she uses it to good effect.  She attends the Victorian College of the Arts and discovers that she’s not an actress and finds herself as a playwright instead.  She walks straight into a full-time acting job with TheatreWorks, a community theatre company with a mandate “to create theatre for the people of the eastern suburbs”. So there she is, driving with her colleagues to the outer reaches of Burwood from centre-of-the-universe Fitzroy; playing Storming Mont Albert by Tram, a piece of location theatre on the Number 42 tram.  There are large, unexplained gaps and jumps in the chronology taken as a whole, but each chapter is neatly self-contained, and there is a refreshing humility and down-to-earthness about success that could have turned into pretension and name-dropping in other hands.  We leapfrog from first marriage, to childbirth, to amicable breakup, to repartnering, to waving off an adult child as he heads of overseas, to settling into mature professionalism- all with humour and humanity.

No, dear son, that picture on the front of the book is just right.  It’s self-assured with a healthy tinge of anxiety and a dollop of self-depredation. This is a book that knows what it’s doing and who it’s doing it for, and it does it well.



I’ve posted this review for the 2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge.


A pergola anniversary

A year ago I wrote about the sad demise of my pergola on the back deck, brought down (literally) by a rampant wisteria.  I grieved its loss.  It was a verdant, shady space and it seemed stark and uninviting once the pergola and greenery were removed.


The original wisteria in all its glory


Oh dear. All fall down

But time heals all things, even pergolas, and Mr Judge has built a pergola that will outlast me. It will outlast the house.  It may well outlast the apocalypse.  It has a small shade sail that will have to suffice until the greenery re-establishes itself.



Having learnt at first hand the ferocity of a feral wisteria, we opted for an ornamental grape instead. Hopefully it will turn a rich shade of red during autumn.  Its growth has been phenomenal.  We only planted it in October and it has grown about 3 cm a day and is still growing. We’re now starting to train it along the wires.





‘Certain Admissions’ by Gideon Haigh


2015, 293 p.

Spoiler alert.

Mass journalism and crime have gone together, ever since those lurid, shrieking sensation newspapers of nineteenth-century England.  Certain crimes draw attention, especially those involving children and beautiful young women and  the whole case, from arrest through courtroom to punishment, becomes a media sensation in itself.  Journalists and writers are drawn to such cases: think, for instance of Helen Garner turning up in court day after day for her book on Robert Farquarhson This House of Grief , or John Bryson’s book Evil Angels on Lindy Chamberlain which ended up a feature-length film (and one which bestowed on us Meryl Streep’s classic “a dingo took my boi-boi”).  Gideon Haigh is a prolific journalist with thirty books to his credit. Many of these relate to his great love, cricket, but several examine corporate business life as well, with books on BHP, Bankers Trust and James Hardie. With this book Certain Admissions: A Beach, a Body and a Lifetime of Secrets, he turns to the true crime genre, in a book that echoes Garners’ work, and also that of Senior Crown Prosecutor Mark Tedeschi and biographer Suzanne Falkiner with their books on Eugenia Falleni .


I hadn’t heard of John Bryan Kerr or the murder of Beth Williams on Albert Park Beach in December 1949.  Apparently though, the case is well-known amongst the legal profession and police and it became a trope of popular culture- Graham Kennedy, for instance, joked about it many decades later in a reference that obviously went over my head.  Twenty-four year old John Bryan Kerr- handsome, with a mellifluous voice and confident bearing- was accused of murdering the twenty-year old typist, whom he had met under the Flinders Street clocks and whose body was found dragged into the shallows of Albert Park Beach. A confession was tendered by the police, but refuted by Kerr; the case went to the courts three times; Kerr continued to maintain his innocence throughout his imprisonment where he became a poster-boy for rehabilitation, and he was dogged by notoriety for the rest of his life.

Haigh starts  his narrative on the steps of Flinders Street Station, the quintessential Melbourne meeting place.  Witness statements are able to reconstruct Beth Williams’ interactions with various people as she stood there waiting, but from that point there are two different narratives.  The first is the one produced after questioning by two old-school coppers, Bluey Adams and Cyril Cutter.  It was a  remarkably short confession statement, considering the time that it took to elicit it, and Kerr disclaimed any involvement with it from the start.  The second narrative was the one that he gave the court, three times, with barely a deviation, and the one that he maintained in the many newspaper articles and letters that were written after his release from jail.

The pictures in the middle of the book reinforced the sensational nature of the trial and its aftermath.  People crowded to get into the courthouse and newspapers ran long series publishing his letters to his parents.  Even in jail, where usually the identity of prisoners is suppressed in any publicity, he featured in stories about rehabilitation programs being introduced into the prison system.  Always handsome, he photographed well.

The story is told chronologically over fifty years, but like all good journalists, Haigh teases out complications and counter-narratives.  He looks at the accused and the victim, but also at the police and the milieu in which they operated, and the legal counsel and judges who were involved in all three cases.  As a reader you lean one way and then another (and I suspect, Haigh as an author did the same thing).  There are no footnotes- that would have made it a different sort of story- although he does give his sources at the back of the book, many of which reside at the Public Record Office.

This is very good non-fiction, but it’s not history, nor is it the cutting, reflective, literary rumination of a Helen Garner (see here her July 2015 essay on darkness and crime).  The links between sources and his assertions are not specific enough for history and the narrative rambles off into digressions and asides before returning to the main story.  He offers observations and raises broader questions about the nature of confession and celebrity, but these are not mounted into an overarching argument. Frustratingly, the book lacks the index that would mark out the bare bones of his search, and a ‘search’ is very much the way the story is framed. Increasingly as the narrative nears recent decades, he inserts himself into the story, and it comes as a jolt to recognize familiar names -Ron Iddles, Barry Beach- as the story is brought forward into the spotlight of more recent crimes, most particularly that of Jill Meagher. These are not criticisms: instead, they are the hallmarks of the journalistic approach that Haigh employs so skillfully.

As time goes on, people ail and die; the case splutters back to life with media attention then fades again; there is in the end no definitive answer.  A lesser writer would have seen this as defeat, but Haigh takes this in his stride.  The consummate journalist, he is thorough and clear and  he admits to his limitations, making you feel as a reader that you are in the hands of a professional.  It’s a very good book.

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: January 16-23 1841


On the 15th and 16th January, the two ships sent to rescue the Clonmel survivors arrived back in Port Phillip, after the wreck of the Clonmel a fortnight earlier.

MELBOURNE   THE CLONMEL. The Sisters, from the Clonmel, arrived on Friday, and the Will Watch on Saturday, bringing up the crew and passengers of that ill fated vessel. From what we can learn, it seems that the steamer having gone ashore during a spring tide, is now embedded in the sand at some considerable distance from the outer edge of the sand spit at low water mark; she is consequently comparatively safe from the waves. Her hull is sunk in the sand so that there is ten feet water in the hold, the cargo, it least so much of it as would damage from salt water, is consequently destroyed. As she swings at high water, and had not when the vessel left sustained any very material injury, sanguine hopes are entertained that she will ultimately be got off. We confess however, that there is but a remote possibility that a consummation so devoutly to be wished will ever be effected. The engines at all events are safe, and it may be that when the cargo is removed, the Clonmel will float again ; this. however, is rather to be hoped than expected. The rumours regarding the misconduct of the crew which have been afloat since the intelligence of her loss arrived have, we are glad to say, proved to be groundless. Some trifling peculations were committed, and one individual is in custody, charged with the commission of a petty theft but no robberies of such magnitude as were stated ever occurred. The natives made their appearance only once to the shipwrecked mariners, just before the Sisters and Will Watch sailed, but they offered no molestation of any description. What brought the steamer into such a predicament remains still unexplained. It is obvious even to persons unacquainted with nautical matters, that provided the vessel had been steered her course, she never could have been carried so far out of the way by the force of the current. We refrained from observations of this nature when Captain Tollervey and his officers were not present to answer for themselves, but we are conscious we are only giving utterance to the general feeling, when we say, that if as much attention had been paid to the navigation of the vessel as to the the comforts of the saloon, a catastrophe so very injurious to the interests of this community could not have occurred. The goods on board were chiefly the property of Messrs. J. M. Chisholm & Co., Mr. Cashmore & Co., Hamilton & Goodwin, Turnbull Orr & Co., and Capt. Cain. A small portion only, we fear, was insured

Geelong Advertiser 23 January 1841


But the wreck of the Clonmel wasn’t bad for everyone. Captain Lewis, who captained one of the ships that picked up the survivors, entered Corner Inlet and noticed a huge expanse of water.  In a reminder to us of how new the white settlement of Port Phillip was, hopes of the mythical inland sea were kindled:
Captain Lewis is all but certain that this Inlet communicates with a large inland sea, which he discovered and entered from shallow inlet, where the Clonmel at present lies. Time did not permit to examine the communication between corner inlet and the inland sea, but from his observations from the mast head, he is of opinion it is about a mile wide without a bar…. Thus, then, there is every probability of a most valuable tract of country being made available for colonial enterprise, should the Government order the necessary surveys.
Port Phillip Herald 19 January 1841
The wreck of the Clonmel wasn’t good for Mrs Beard though, who had previously worked as Superintendent on the vessel. She now had to find a new position.
Mrs Beard, lately Stewardess of the Steamer Clonmel begs to inform the respectable portion of Melbourne, that having, in consequent of the wreck of that vessel, lost all she possessed, and being a Widow without incumbrance, she will be most willing to engage herself as either a Lady’s Maid, Housekeeper, or Forewoman in a shop. The most respectable references can be given
Port Phillip Herald 19 January 1841

THE TRADESMEN’S BALL  After so much excitement in the last week (the regatta, the races, the cricket, the ball) , on Wednesday 18th January the inaugural Tradesmen’s Annual Ball was held at the Caledonian Hotel. This hotel, which was located somewhat out of town on the south-west corner of  Swanston and Lonsdale Streets, had originally been the large residence of the Rev.Clow and comprised 13 rooms as well as outhouses.  It was a commonly-used venue for large entertainments.  As might be deduced from the name of the ball, it was not a vice-regal occasion, and did not attract the clientele of ‘good’ Port Phillip Society. Nonetheless, a good time seems to have been had by all:

There were upwards of 80 couples present, dancing commenced at 9 o’clock, and after enjoying the pleasures of the ballroom until 12, the whole party partook of a rich banquet served up in that sumptuous and tasteful style for which my host of the Caledonians is so justly celebrated. Dancing, in all its varieties, was renewed and kept up with, if possible increased animation, until the golden tints which streaked the instant horizon proclaimed that the night was spent… Throughout the entire evening not the least commotion or unpleasant consequences took place.

Port Phillip Herald 19 January 1841


But it was a very bad start of the year for Mr William Ker Senr. and his family when their New Year’s vacation was cut short by an untimely death on Saturday 16th January

SUDDEN DEATH.  On Saturday last, Mr Ker proceeded to the beach with his family intending to erect a tent for their temporary residence during the summer. He left his family at the Marine Hotel and went for the purpose of erecting the tent. Being absent for some time, Mrs Ker walked in the direction he went and not far from the Marine Hotel she discovered the body of her husband in the water, rolling about in the surf.”

Port Phillip Herald 19 January 1841

The Marine Hotel at this time was in Sandridge (Port Melbourne), and I’m rather amused by the description of the water there as ‘surf’.  A post-mortem was carried out by Dr Cussen, the colonial surgeon, who found “very extensive tubercular disease of the brain, accompanied by a serious effusion.”

At first I wondered whether this was a holiday-trip-gone-wrong, with Mr Ker the fore-runner of those Mornington Peninsula campers in their tents and caravans on the foreshore today? Or were Mr Ker and his family homeless and taking advantage of the balmy summer weather to live by the sea instead of in the township?  After all, as Bill Garner reminds us in his book Born in a Tent, living under canvas remained an important form of housing in Australia for much longer than we realize.  On reflection, I think the former. Some days later a well-attended funeral service was held for Mr Ker in the newly opened Independent Chapel, so it would seem that the family was well-established in Port Phillip and that it was likely to have been a beach-side holiday.


On 22 January the foundation stone was laid for the Scottish Presbyterian Church on the corner of Collins and Russell Street, the site of the present Scots Church (constructed between 1871-1874 to replace this 1841 building). Although they had been in Port Phillip right from the start, the Presbyterians were the last to establish a permanent church, after holding services in several other locations (including this one) up until this time. See an image of the original church here and the plans and ground elevation here.

The Port Phillip Herald of 26th of January reported that it was a rainy day but that a “goodly concourse of the Presbyterian population and friends of the cause” attended, including several ladies who had come a considerable distance to be present. During the ceremony a bottle was deposited below the foundation stone with a copy of Mr Kerr’s Almanac for 1841, copies of the daily newspapers and a certificate.


No daily weather report this time, but the Meteorological Journal reprinted in the Government Gazette shows that the highest temperature for the week was 94 degrees (34.4 celsius) on the 19th January with the lowest recorded 55 (12.8 degrees). The week was described as “dry clear weather, but horizon seldom free from clouds; strong winds and squalls from South still frequent”.

A fillum about the fillums (II) ‘Women He’s Undressed’

I don’t know why it took me so long to see this film. Perhaps it’s because I’m not really a fan of black-and-white musicals and comedies of the 1940s and 1950s. I hadn’t heard of Orry-Kelly at all, but I guess I’m not alone in that.  It’s largely because Orry-Kelly, three time Oscar winner for costume design is largely unknown in his home country that film maker Gillian Armstrong was drawn to make this documentary about him.

Orry George Kelly (his name was shortened and hyphenated as part of the Hollywood branding: he was ‘Jack’ to his friends) was born and grew up in small-town Kiama on the NSW coast in 1897, at a time and place not friendly to men attracted to gorgeousness and other men.  He was drawn to America to pursue an acting career, where he lived for some time with the actor who would become Cary Grant.  It was not made public at the time, or for decades afterwards, that he was in a relationship with Cary Grant, and interestingly, his Wikipedia entry is likewise delicate about the liaison.  It was through Grant’s influence that Orry-Kelly became Chief Costume designer at Warner Brothers.He designed the costumes for 285 films; at one stage he did fifty films in a year.

Orry-Kelly wrote his memoirs, which have only recently been published. I think that it would be a fascinating read.  ACMI,  which is screening Women He’s Undressed for a few weeks more is showing an accompanying exhibition.  Many of the photographs are annotated by quotes from his memoir, where he displays an incisive, if lacerating wit.

Women He’s Undressed is a documentary, framed by a rather dorky but affectionate current-day staging of the biographical aspects (you are never in any doubt at all that you’re watching a re-creation!), supplemented by talking heads including Jane Fonda, Angela Lansbury, Catherine Martin and other costume designers. And there’s film clips- lots of them- from the movies that featured his designs: Some Like it Hot, 42nd Street, Casablanca, Auntie Mame.  You look at the clips with new eyes.

It’s only on at ACMI for two more Saturdays, I think. Pop into the free exhibition while you’re there.

Swanning around

I headed down to the caravan at West Rosebud for a lovely day by the seaside.  My family has gone down there for the past fifty-six years.  Unfortunately Mr Judge is not a beach person, which saddens me, because I’d love to spend a week or two down there, especially once the crowds go.

But what’s with all the black swans? There’s often one or two swans doing swanny things, but I’ve never before seen quite this many.


As I am the fount of all wisdom about conical sand-snails, I felt duty-bound to investigate the presence of so many black swans, so up to the Rangers’ Office I went. Apparently they are attracted to the sea-grass beds which have grown particularly well this year.  The mild weather leading up to Christmas has also encouraged them.


I didn’t realize that there were so many swans in Port Phillip.  However, I’ve since learned Swan Bay is across the bay on the Bellarine Peninsula opposite, so named by Matthew Flinders for the huge number of black swans he found there. Apparently they continue to frequent the place in their thousands.

I’m quietly amused at the title of David Mitchell’s book Black Swan Green, and the excitement with which something is acclaimed as a “black swan event”.  There’s nothing unusual about a black swan in Australia.



A fillum about the fillums (I): Tehran Taxi

A movie shot almost completely inside a tax from a dashboard mounted camera? Ah, but this is not any ordinary taxi, and the driver is no ordinary taxi-driver (indeed, he’s not a taxi-driver at all).  Instead, he is the Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi, who in 2010 was placed under house arrest and banned from making films for twenty years by the Iranian authorities.

He drives his car as a taxi, people get in and people get out. One is his niece (who actually accepted the award for this film at the Berlin International Film Festival on her uncle’s behalf) but the others are unnamed, amateur actors.  The car door opens and shuts, as people enter and leave the taxi. A petty thief, an undercover video seller, a teacher, a lawyer, two women with goldfish, a couple injured in a motorcycle accident all share the taxi, sometimes interacting with each other, other times staring out the window. I stared out the window too, fascinated by glimpses of Tehran through the windows- such a European city, with sealed roads, traffic lights, tunnels- all the infrastructure of a modern city.

But gradually things are not as they seem.  I won’t say more.  If there’s any chance of catching it- do.  (It’s on at ACMI in Melbourne at the moment.) Very, very good-  4.5 stars