Monthly Archives: August 2016

A Call to Peace- Heidelberg Chorale Society


I went to a beautiful concert last night by the Heidelberg Chorale Society.  It was the world premiere of a piece called ‘When the Bugle Calls’ written by Australian composer Nicholas Buc to a libretto by one of the chorale members, Leigh Hay.  It commemorates two battles: the July 1916 battle at Pozieres, and the battle only fifty years later at Long Tan.  The motifs of the bugle, the army chaplain and the nurse combine the two battles, and the spine-tingling final movement asks:

They fought for home and country, not for an empty fame

Ask of your hearts, which shall we do- rejoice or mourn for them?

It’s a strange feeling, knowing that you’re hearing something performed in public for the first time.  It’s a beautiful piece- and you can hear it again at the Melbourne Recital Centre next Saturday 20th August, along with Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace. They sang a couple of pieces from that last night, too, and I realized that I had heard fragments of it before.  It should be a lovely concert and you can find out more about it here.

There’s an associated photographic exhibition at Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar school this week until Thursday 18th in their Hillsley Centre, Noel Street Ivanhoe. Called Cameras at War, it features an exhibition from Bendigo RSL of  WWI images taken by the local Grinton brothers, which were discovered in a biscuit tin in a farm shed ninety years later. These photographs are supplemented by images from Long Tan, including some of the Little Pattie and Col Joye concert that was held that very day (I hadn’t realized that), and photographs from Heidelberg Historical Society showing the military presence on homefront Heidelberg during WWI.  It’s on between 15-18 August inclusive between 10.00 and 3.oo.

‘The Tsar of Love and Techno’ by Anthony Marra


2015, 318.  (How odd- there’s hundreds of images of this front cover online, but none of the front cover that sits on the desk behind me, which shos a leopard and a cossack. I think mine’s the UK version)

I just loved this book.  It is marketed as ‘Stories’, but they are all interconnected through recurring characters and objects. This interconnection is more integrated than, say, Olive Kitteridge, where Olive has a walk-in, walk-off role in some of the stories.  Instead, this is more like a jigsaw when you realize with a satisfying ‘click’ that you’ve placed another piece in the puzzle; or like a family history search when all of a sudden a connection comes clear.

Each story is self-contained and yet cumulative.  The settings span Leningrad in 1937 , a labour camp in Kirovsk at the same time and Kirovsk sixty years later, Grozny in in 2003, in the midst of the Chechen Wars and St Petersburg in 2001, 2011 and 2013.  Of these settings, two in particular are memorable. The first is the heavily polluted northern industrial city of Kirovsk where every second person dies of lung cancer, the lake is full of mercury, the twelve smokestacks that belch out filth are dubbed ‘The Twelve Apostles’ and an artificial forest of metal trees has been created because nothing will grow there.  The second is in the Chechen Highlands, most particularly whitewashed cottage nestled against a hillside with a vegetable patch beyond.  This cottage has been captured in a painting, which is changed by later artists and curators, just as the picture of a ballerina’s hand is the only thing left after a Party censor has been charged with expunging the now-disfavoured ballerina. But people and things are not just removed from paintings, but can be inserted into them as well.  Anguished by guilt at his brother’s arrest, the Party censor inserts his brother’s face into paintings as well, as a haunting act of insubordination.

We meet the Party Censor, Roman Osipovich Martin, in 1937 and we will find him sixty years later as the subject of a retrospective exhibition.  Galina the ballerina marries the 13th richest man in the former Soviet Union before she is disgraced. Lydia marries a piano-tuner as a mail-order bride before returning to Kirovsk to live with her impoverished mother. Kolya is captured and held hostage near the whitewashed cottage beside the hill: his brother is the creator of the mix-tape.

The book is structured in three parts: Side 1, Intermission, and Side 2- an allusion to the cassette tape containing a mix-tape of techno music made by a younger brother for his older brother bound for Checyna in the Russian army. The Intermission section is the longest, and it is this story that helps put the chronology into some order.   I enjoyed each story, and soon learned not to be disappointed at the end of one story, because the next one would be just as good too.  With the exception, perhaps, of the last story which just seemed silly, although in a book using this narrative structure, there has to be some way of definitively finishing it, I suppose.

And so, a great whacking five out of five for me.  I only wish that I could have the pleasure of reading it again for the first time!

This Month in Port Phillip: July 1841

Oh dear, all my good intentions of writing a weekly report have all turned to dust! I think I’ll just do a quick skate through July 1841 and then take up again in August 1841.

So what did happen in July 1841?


With our own emphasis on roads and across-land transport, we tend to overlook the steamers that plied their way across Port Phillip and Westernport Bays. In July 1841 the coal steamer Aphrasia joined three other regular steamers based in Port Phillip.

There’s a picture of the Aphrasia here.

The Aphrasia plied between Melbourne and Geelong, a 45 mile journey that took about five hours. When the service started in July 1841, it was planned to run twice a week to Geelong on Monday and Thursday mornings and return the following evening.  It was hoped that an extra service could be introduced shortly.  The Aphrasia was captained by Capt. Henry Lawler, and is commemorated in Geelong in Aphrasia Street.

Interestingly, in the last year or so, two new ferry services have commenced in Melbourne. One runs from Werribee South to Docklands, and the other which commenced last week goes from Portarlington to Docklands.


DUEL EXTRAORDINARY.  On Saturday night last, a hostile meeting took place between Mr S___ and Mr D’M_____ near the Flagstaff.  The quarrel originated after dinner, in consequence of a tumbler of whisky toddy having been thrown in the face of the latter gentleman, which not being taken in the Pickwickian scene as intended, a challenge was the immediate consequence.  Mr S. was attended by Mr B., and Mr D’M by Mr R. when by the full ‘light of the moon’ two shots each were exchanged, but happily without effect.  The parties then returned to the house where the quarrel took place, and spent the evening with much conviviality as if nothing had occurred. – It is only necessary to add, that the seconds, unknown to the principals, had adopted the necessary precuation of loading the pistols with powder only! (PPH 6 July 1841)

I assume that Mr S____ was Peter Snodgrass, who was rather fond of the odd duel here and there. Paul de Serville has D’M written as D.Mc____.


Judge Willis had only been in Melbourne since April, but already by July people were starting to grumble about him.  The barrister Edward Brewster and the Police Magistrate James Simpson both fell under his animadversion (what a splendid word!) and public opinion was very much on Simpsons’ side.  When Willis first arrived in Melbourne, there had been gossip about his ‘lack of dignity’ and ‘injudicious temper’ on the bench, but it was largely overlooked in the excitement of opening a Supreme Court in the district. But now, Willis’s “lamentable deficiency of that uniform temperament so desirable in all, but so absolutely important, and in fact indispensable in a Judge upon the Bench” came more clearly into view. (PPH 23/7/41)  The Port Phillip Herald wrote:

A very short period of the continuance of His Honor’s course will be sufficient to render it imperative upon our fellow-colonists, out of justice to themselves, to address His Excellency the Governor upon the subject, and although such petition may not have the direct effect of obtaining the removal of the judge, still the result will be indirectly the same, for it is not probable His Honor could feel comfortable in presiding in the court of a province after the public expression of the colonists’ dissatisfaction with his manner, and under these circumstances we may reasonably infer, that an immediate and voluntary resignation of his seat will be the necessary consequence. ( PPH 27/7/41)

As the good people of Melbourne were to discover, it wasn’t quite that simple….


Land was advertised on the corner of Lonsdale and King Streets. I hadn’t noticed advertisements for this part of town before.

Here’s a Google map street view of it today.

The situation of this valuable property is almost unequalled- being in the most beautiful, healthy and respectable part of the town, and within 150 yards of the telegraph, which is becoming a most FASHIONABLE PROMENADE. This part of Melbourne promises to become in a few years the most eligible part of the town, from the considerable reserves devoted to public buildings, the church, market and others; and this neighborhood has escaped being filled with a dense population, living in skillions, and congregated into rookeries, to the great detriment of public health. Gentlemen desirous of a site for a house in a respectable, quiet, airy and healthy situation are requested to attend this sale.  (PPH 6/7/41)

I don’t think that this was ever the most eligible part of town! However, I noted that ‘Anonymous’ in Graeme Davison’s article thought that the Flagstaff area should become a city square.  I’m interested that so early in Melbourne’s history – after only six years-  there is already being promulgated an almost Dickensian view of Melbourne as a crowded, unhealthy urban space.


It’s just as well that someone was still boosting the economy because prices are falling, land auctions are faltering and wages are being reduced.  And then two more ships arrived…

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 24 June-30 June 1841


You might remember that on May 1-7 the Port PHillip Herald announced that construction was to begin on a water-driven mill at what we now know as Dight’s Falls. Work had continued apace:

NEW FLOUR MILLS. Mr Dight, a gentleman lately arrived in our province from Sydney, has commenced operations for the erection of a flour mill, at the junction of the Merri Creek and Yarra Yarra.  This will be an inducement for the settlers in the neighbourhood to cultivate more extensively than hitherto, as they will now be enabled to have their wheat ground without the necessity of exporting it to V. Diemen’s Land, or any other of the neighbouring colonies, and being at the additional expense of importing flour in return.  The back or “tail” race has already been cut, and the building itself will be commenced in about six weeks; and as almost all the fittings up, and other requisites are already provided, we may expect that the mill will be in full operation before many months. The situation has been well selected, and the government have promised every encouragement which such undertaking so richly merits.  We heartily wish the spirited proprietor, who is a native of the colony, every success; and we embrace the opportunity of congratulating our fellow-colonists upon the prospect of being enabled to produce facts in refutation of the jealous misrepresentations of such productions as Murray’s Review, in which the province is said to be entirely “unfitted for agriculture”.(PPH 25/6/41)

Ceres Mills on the Yarra

Ceres Mill on the Yarra by George Alexander Gilbert, 1846-7 SLV (or possibly by one of his pupils)


The same inactivity which existed in our markets last week has still continued and no expectation of a rise can be entertained when a comparison is made between the present stock of all articles of general consumption and what it was at this present period in 1840 (PPH 25/6/41)

Wages for recently arrived emigrants were falling. Several recently arrived emigrants engaged at £25 per anuum for single farming men; their wages used to be from £35-40. However, at this stage it was perceived that

This is to be attributed solely to the pressure of the times, and not to the labour market being over stocked. (PPH 25/6/41)

Not only were wages falling, but prices were falling as well. A  4lb loaf of bread fell from 1s.6d to 1. 3d, and meat could now be purchased at 4d. a lb instead of the 5d and 6d a pound that was the going price in May. (PPH 29/6/41)


IMPORTANT LAND SALE. On Friday morning last, it was generally known in Melbourne, that Sir George Gipps had given notice of his intention to throw open for selection, on the uniform-price system of 1 pound per acres, a very large quantity of Port Phillip land.  The consequence was, that during the whole of that and subsequent day the Survey Office was thronged by parties desirous of obtaining information on the subject. We are indebted to Mr Hoddle for the following particulars, and are requested by that gentleman to state, he will feel obliged if parties will not call at the Survey Office to make enquiries relative to the sale until after tomorrow, as the clerks are all busily engaged in making out the descriptions which are very lengthy. The land will be advertised in the usual way, either at the end of this or the beginning of next week. It may be as well to remind our readers that the following are the conditions under which the land will be disposed of. Immediately after it has been advertised, parties who pay in their money first will be entitled to first choice, that is if they are in attendance at the time appointed by the Government for the selection to be made; provided always that no land order from England of previous date be presented at the same time.  The allotments vary in size from 35 to 800 acres, but the majority of them are about 150 acres each.  The sale will not take place before three months from the date of it being first advertised; at the expiration of which period there will doubtless be a considerable rush on the opening of the door of the Treasury.

Land was offered on the Werribee River, Geelong, Lake Colac and at Doutagalla parish “between the Salt Creek and the Moonee Moonie chain of ponds”. In the parish of Bulleen, 7635 acres was put up for sale:

The land in the Parish of Bulleen is for the most part thickly timbered with stringy bark, and is also very hilly. There are however several extensive patches of “good grassy hills” (as laid down in the chart at the survey office). The land for sale is immediately adjoining Mr Unwin’s special survey, near Dr McDermard’s cattle station and about seven miles distant from Melbourne, on the South bank of the Yarra.” (29/6/41)


Well, it’s winter. A maximum for the week of 60 (15.5C) and a minimum of 42 (5.5C). The weather continued variable, with a gale on 26th.




‘Reckoning’ by Magda Szubanski


2015, 371 pages

I wonder if some of the very positive response to this book springs from a sense of surprise that such a familiar comedian could take us to such varied and dark places.  This is not your usual celebrity memoir. Instead it is Magda Szubanski’s story of second-generation survivor guilt and  the proclamation of her homosexuality, alongside a social history of suburban Melbourne life and the comedy scene in Australia during the last decades of the twentieth century and the first decades of the twenty-first.

Magda Szubanski, for those who may not know her – and indeed, most Australians DO know her- is a much-loved comedian who has starred as everyone’s “second-best friend” in Kath and Kim, and as Esme Hoggett in the 1995 move Babe.  Like most other female comedians in the country, she’s done her stint on ABC productions like ‘Big Girls Blouse’ and Working Dog productions for the ABC.  She’s smiling out at us at every supermarket in the country this month from the front of the Women’s Weekly. But the photograph on the front of this book is more tremulous- she looks resigned and on the verge of tears, even- and it’s not just a story of stardom.

Her opening pages mark out the theme by which she has shaped her story

If you had met my father you would never, not for an instant, have thought he was an assassin….He was born in 1924. He was a boy of fifteen when Hitler invaded his homeland and the war began, and as soon as he was able he joined the fighting.  All through our growing up he would say, ‘I was judge, jury and executioner.’  And I could never imagine- cannot imagine even now- what it feels like to have that responsibility, that guilt. ..He spent the rest of his life trying to come to terms with what he had done.  I grew up in the shadow of that reckoning.” (p.1-2)

If they are to be something more than a recitation of dates and events, memoirs need an overarching narrative shape to give some sense of tension or contingency to the story.The question of what her father had actually done as a teenager assassin the Polish Resistance  is the thread that draws the reader through this story, as well as a count-down to her coming-out to her family and the wider public. I must confess a shifting discomfort with the child exposing her parent like this.  I felt it with Biff Ward’s memoir, and with the recent documentary The Silences  that I’ve reviewed previously. Yes, I can understand that in understanding yourself, you search to understand the emotional influences on your life, most particularly through your parents.  Yes, I can understand the craving to put emotional meat on the bones of a family tree.  Yes, I do think that there can be a mixture of love and condemnation in such attempts. But then I think of the way that we all hold ourselves together with a mixture of pride, shame, self-delusion, elision and half-remembered, often-retold and rehearsed stories. There’s a shared dignity in the act of fashioning our construction of ourselves because we all do it. It discomfits me that children are given carte blanche to unpick it, (often as part of their own construction of themselves)  and then broadcast it to the world. Or is this just my own old-fashioned and idiosyncratic holding on to a privacy that we no longer seem to have?

Quite apart from this larger historical/biographical mystery, Szubanski draws a good picture of the tensions of the  father-daughter relationship, where the daughter feels that she’s not quite good enough. This is the relationship that defines where she feels she fits in her family, even though in many ways her sister and mother were the supports that held her up.  The book is a good depiction of suburbia and adolescence, of coming-of-age and coming-out, threaded through with family history explorations.

I enjoyed reading this book and happily took it up night after night.  I did feel less satisfied coming back to the last quarter or so of the book after a few days away, and I don’t know if it was me or the book.  That said, I think that it would have been wrong for it to have won the National Biography Award, for which it was shortlisted (the award was given to Brenda Niall’s Mannix).  Conflating memoir and biography as an awards category is a fraught exercise, and although there are commonalities between the two, there are important differences as well. Taken on its own terms, Reckoning is engagingly written, honest and human but somehow I think that those are just as much the qualities of the author, as much as of the work.

aww2016 Posted in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016.