Monthly Archives: September 2016

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 17-25 September 1841

Census tales

The 2106 Australian census is just finishing up here in Australia, and an ill-starred census it has been with website difficulties, inadequate phone assistance and a general loss of goodwill all round. The 1841 census was conducted in March 1841 after quite a bit of judicial bickering over the propriety of asking about convict origins which I wrote about here. The census was compiled in person by an appointed collector. On September 21 the Port Phillip Herald published an article purporting to be from ‘Pencilling in the Bush’ by a Collector of the Census 17 March 1841′.  I can find no record in Trove of this publication, but the Sydney Gazette also published a column on 25 November 1841 in its Port Phillip section, claiming to be from the same publication.

The book, if indeed there ever was one, seems to be a compilation of humorous ‘tales from the trenches’ of a census collector charged with collecting census information in the Port Phillip district.  It’s quite odd reading with our 21st century what passed as humour in 1841.

Here’s the Port Phillip Herald extract. It picks up on the common trope of Irish-bashing that often runs through the Port Phillip Herald columns, reflecting not only the English/Scots prejudice against the Irish generally, but an anxiety about the influx of Irish immigrants into New South Wales in particular.


“Good morning ma’am! who is the proprietor of this establishment?” I said to a fat, fair and jolly-looking woman into whose domicile on the River ___ I was just intruding myself. “Musha the top’of the mornin to ye sir, but ye’re early afut this blessed and holy mornin’,” said she- “Not very early ma’am- It is the fittest time for travelling now the weather is so hot- Pray ma’am, who is the proprietor here?” “Musha sure I wouldn’t be after telling you a lie this blessed day; and the throoth I couldn’t tell you; so I couldn’t, but it’s not me or mine that’s the owner, nor Therry either, so it isn’t- Surra long we’re here, neather of us- only three months or there- we came in the Andrew Mackey (Andromache), so we did.” Here were no less than half-a dozen points of voluntary information for me, yet not one of them even remotely directed to my simple enquiry. “You came from Ireland Ma’am?” “Augh aye- I did, I did, sure enough come from it, and its sorry am I for it, so I am.” “Which are you sorry for ma’am?- being Irish, or leaving Ireland?” “Neither o’them,” she replied “only to be stuck up in a sentry-box like this on the blessed Patrick’s own day when – augh! but there’s no use talking so there isn’t.  May be ye’d like a dhrop o’tay sir- surra better I have to give ye or I’d be shame-faced to offer it this holy mornin, so I would.” “Tea is a very good beverage ma’am, this weather.” “Musha throth an its a poor baveritch for a day like this- It’s not that ye’d be drowing you shamrock in it ye were in sweet Loughrea this mornin.” “Is your husband at home, ma’am?” “Faith he isn’t an he’ll have more luck than his over if ever he see’t again, so he will – at home!– Musha!” “What’s his name, ma’am?” “Therry’s his name sir, – Therry Connor.” “How many children have you?” “Fourteen sir- six at home and eight here- three boys and three girls and two childer,” (Eh? Malthus.)  “Well ma’am, who is the owner of this place?” “Sorry know I know, they say it’s come into other hands now- the master’s not well at all, at all, and more’s the pity. Terry says he’s laid up in the Rules in Melbourne, but myself doesn’t undertand the diases o’ this country much yet. Is the Rules a taking disease sir?” “It is indeed ma’am.” “Is it like a favor sir or the molera corbis? God save us!” “It is not like either ma’am, particularly the first. It’s a contraction of the movements, caused by a vacuum in the chest”- Can I see your husband ma’am?” “Sure enough you can sir- step this way if you please,- look over the ‘tother end o’ the stockyard younder, dye’ see the boy with the white jacket?” “Yes!” “Well that’s not him- now dye’ see the t’other boy with the red waistcoat?” “Yes.” “Well that’s not him neather, so it isn’t.” “Well, but which is he ma’am?” “Augh its yerself that’s in a hurry now- have ye any business with Terry Connor?” There was a look of severe apprehension with this enquiry that showed me the poor woman was afraid of the papers I held in my hand- I replied “yes ma’am but no private or unpleasant business; I am collecting the census- the population of the district- and in the master’s absence I require some person in the place to sign a paper, that’s all.” “Augh, sure an if that be all,” she said, “I’ll bring Therry to you in a wink;” in saying so she disappeared, and Therry soon made his appearance, which was a remarkably fine specimen of the peasantry. Moreover, Therry was a sensible, intelligent man.  He comprehended the matter at once, gave me all the information I desired, and ample directions for the accuracy of my movements, concluding with a hope that the collection of the census would have a tendency to promote the public good. “After all the good that can be said of it,” said Therry, “it is no place for a man of a family– there is no way here of getting the childer educated- for my own part I would rather live on potatoes and buttermilk and have my childer at school than all the tay and mutton we can make use of.” This afforded another proof of one national characteristic of the Irish Peasantry, an indelible anxiety to give their children education.  (PPH 21/9/41)

The extract from the Sydney Gazette of 25 November 1841 purports to come from the same publication. A warning-  its language about a practical joke based on racial views of aborigines does not sit well today.

A Stray Leaf.-From ” Pencillings in the Bush, October, 1 Oil.”-In one of my rambles between Melbourne and Mount Macedon, I called at a settlement on the ___  Creek, to procure a drink. Here I observed a number of persons around a man, poking his naked back and target in what I conceived to be a very unprofessional manner. The person on whom they were operating, or the pokes, appeared to have been wounded behind by small shot, for he was bleeding rather copiously. As I could perceive that the bystanders wore struggling to suppress their laughter. I had the curiosity to make some enquiry as to what had happened, and the thing was so farcical, though nearly spoiled by a dash of the tragic, that I thought it worth taking a note of. after my departure.

It was this, two female servants at the station had got permission to take a walk-it being Sunday-and a resident at the station took it into his head to disguise himself in tin old rug and a piece of crape over his head and face in order to give the girls a fright by personifying a blackfellow. Well, he sallied forth, and about half a mile from tho station he made his appearance with a spear on his shoulder. The girls, who, it appears, began to think of  “Home, sweet home,” fled onwards ; but Blackey, like an able general, intercepted their retreat,jabbering and figuring like an ouraug outang- The fears of the terror-struck damsels were unutterable.’ In this dilemma then Don Quixote made his appearance in the shape of a man servant, at the station, with a dog ; and he,not knowing the prank, ran up to the release of the paralyzed handmaidens whom he found quailing very successfully. The blackfellow flings his spear at the true knight ; and just at this moment the proprietor comes up with a gun, and seeing blackey in attitude, and the girls with their drapery tucked up in front, churning their flight through the long grass, he fires his piece bung at Snow-ball, who had not seen him approaching. Luckily it was but small shot, and a happy distance but it had effected a neat carification in the reverse of the man’s countenance,and then they were poking and jerking at hi.with pins and needles as if they were stitching an oppossum cloak.

I thought of the old song –

At this disaster

Up came the master,

And gave the hero such a cursed crack :

Ob murdher o murdher !-.

It went no further

Like  a flitch of bacon, boy, they left his back.  [Sydney Gazette 25/11/41]

More cricket

The cricketers seem to have got their act together.

CRICKET- The fine weather having now set in, the lovers of cricket may be seen practising nearly every day.  We have been requested to state that the afternoons of Tuesdays and Saturdays have been fixed upon for regular practice.  The club will be regularly organized in the early part of next month, when the principal players are expected in town to attend the first of the Melbourne Assembly Balls. (PPH 21/9/41)


Given that this blog is dedicated, both through its title and its impetus, to John Walpole Willis, the resident judge of Port Phillip it would be remiss of me to let this September date pass without mentioning the Bon Jon case, which could have been the most important case in Judge Willis’ career.  I did write a paper about it in the ANZLHS e-journal (which has since been swallowed by the internet), and I recently gave a similar paper at the conference to accompany the launch of the Judging for the People book, for which I wrote the first chapter.

During this week in 1841 the case of R v Bonjon came before Judge Willis.

Put simply, Judge Willis’ opening speech before the Bonjon case was a foretaste of the Mabo judgement 150 odd years later.  The case involved a young man, Bonjon who was at the time working as the ‘boy’ accompanying Crown Land Commisioner Foster Fyans. He was accused of the inter-tribal murder of another indigenous man in a dispute over a woman, in a manifestation of the long-standing emnity between the Wada.wurr.ang/balug tribe (to which Bonjon belonged) and the Gulidjan tribe of the murdered man. Bonjon moved in that liminal space between his own tribe and attachment to a white official, and the murder took place outside a tent occupied by Bonjon, the victim and two white men.  When the case came before Judge Willis, he started off with a very long address where he raised the question of whether he, as a British judge, had jurisdiction over a murder that had taken place under indigenous law. He pointed out that the Aborigines, as the native sovereigns of the soil  had neither been conquered nor acquiesced; that a treaty should have been made with them, and that they had their own law.

So why don’t we all know about this? Why did it take the law 150 years to come to the same conclusion? Mainly because the case collapsed and so this ‘address’ never got to be an actual ‘decision’. The  Sydney Judges dismissed its significance, even though some ten years earlier the previous Chief Justice had been moving in the same direction. The Sydney newspapers didn’t pick it up, and it didn’t get written up in the early summaries of colonial cases.

And, complex man that he was, it’s not possible to paint Judge Willis as a before-his-time Aboriginal activist either.  There are other times when his court was actively hostile to indigenous interests, most particularly over the right of access for aboriginal people over leased landholdings. Nor is it impossible that this was another maneuver in Willis’ ongoing dispute with the Sydney judges.  Nonetheless, this was an important case both for Willis personally and in the annals of European-Indigenous relations in Port Phillip as well.

And the weather?

There was a heavy gale on the 19th and 20th with rain and hail, and it was cloudy up to the 24th. The highest temperature was a balmy 72 (22C) and the lowest a bracing 37 (2.7C)


‘No One Writes to the Colonel’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez


1961, 68 p.

This is the second book examined in the online Coursera course I’m following on the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  I say ‘following’ because I’m reading the books in English and rather slowly translating (sort of) the Spanish video transcripts on the site.  Responding to the forums in Spanish is completely beyond me.

The elderly Colonel lives with his unnamed wife in a small isolated village on a river. Each Friday the Colonel goes to wait on the delivery of mail from the riverboat, waiting for news of the pension he was promised in return for his leadership in the War of the Thousand Days.  He has been waiting fifteen years, and he and his wife are being submerged by a grinding poverty. Too proud to admit their poverty, he scrapes out the rust from the coffee can and adds it to the coffee, and his wife, more practical than he, badgers him to sell the clock, or the rooster.  But the rooster is not just a rooster: it is a fighting cock that belonged to their now-deceased son.

The village is unnamed and there is no specified time, although the filtering through of news of the Suez Canal places it in the late 1950s. The sense of menace builds up quietly as you become aware of the curfew and the  circumscribed communications.  It emerges most  starkly one Friday when the Colonel decided not to wait for the mail, but to go to the cock-fight instead.  There he encounters the man who shot his son.  It is his dignity and sense of hierarchy that emboldens him to disregard the gun pointed at him and to leave untouched.

The story is very much one of waiting and of time stretching out without end- similar to Waiting for Godot. I had been lulled into its somnolent rhythm and was quite surprised by the abrupt ending- an ending that leaves me rather nonplussed, I must admit.

‘The Heart Goes Last’ by Margaret Atwood


2015, 306 p.

I’m really not quite sure what to make of Margaret Atwood’s recent book The Heart Goes Last. It fits into the ‘dystopian fiction’ genre that she explored in The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake which, although set in a recognizable but off-kilter future, explored human themes as well as sociological and ecological ones as well.  The Heart Goes Last  seemed to start in a similar vein, but became almost a futuristic farce as she piled one scenario onto another until the whole edifice threatened to fall down.

It all started recognizably enough. Stan and Charmain (we never learn their surname) were living in their car, having lost their home and well-paid jobs in what we would recognize as the 2007 global financial crisis. Living in their cramped car, tired, smelly, and frightened of marauding gangs, they jump at the chance to join the Positron Project which offers them a stable job and a fully-furnished house in the town of Consilience – half of the time.  The other half of the time they are prisoners in the Positron jail, a large prison complex that is the major economic driver of Consilience. Not that Sam and Charmain are criminals, and nor are most of the people in the jail.  The real criminals had been gradually weeded out earlier. What was more important than guilt or innocence was that they were consumers of prison services, and you don’t need to be a prisoner to do that.  So that the facilities are fully utilized, their house is occupied by their ‘alternate’ couple who have signed up for the same deal, shifting in and out of the house/prison arrangement.  So far so good, as far as I am concerned: there’s whole country-town economies in Australia based around jails and detention centres.  It is when both Charmain and Stan, independently, become infatuated with their alternates, that things become more complicated.

While taking her turn in prison, Charmain’s job involves the dispatch of bound and drugged prisoners, which she does with as much gentleness as she can without thinking too deeply about what she’s doing.  Stan is charged with looking after the Positron Project poultry farms, turning a blind eye to the men who pay to have sex with the chickens.  ‘What???’ I think, as Atwood lays down one of her farce cards.  Positron runs many enterprises out of its prison complex, including the manufacture of sex-bots, made to look as authentic as possible- evoking shades of the ‘synths’ in the recent television program Humans;  or built as Elvis or Marilyn Monroe look-alikes. But Positron goes further, pioneering surgery on living women to wipe their memories and ‘imprinting’ them onto their purchasing lovers, much as baby chickens are said to be imprinted, ensuring that they are completely loyal and acquiescent lovers.  ‘What???’ I think, as Atwood lays down yet another farce card.

I guess that this was my problem with this book. I’d go along quite happily, and then Atwood would just put one more element into the scenario, tipping it over into parody. Apparently it was written as an online serial, and perhaps that accounts for the feeling I had that Atwood was just playing with the reader, escalating the implausibility and adding yet another thing. Perhaps the need to keep stacking on the shocks is one of the perils of the serial genre.  To have a faceless corporate conglomerate leveraging the prison system for profit, and it becoming an end in itself, would have been enough for me.  I didn’t need the sex-bots, the sexual imprinting and the kinky sex as well.

My ranking: 7/10

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 9-16 September 1841

Once the worst of winter had been left behind, thoughts turned to CRICKET! Of course, there was no VFL footy to fill in September, so let the cricket season begin!

The season has now set in for cricket playing, and we are right glad to see that the Melbournites are bestirring themselves to carry on the game with something like spirit.  The tradesmen, we learn, are about forming a cricket club; and we learn, also, that the members of the Melbourne and Port Phillip Clubs are about establishing another. This is as it should be: the two clubs will, we hope, have several matches during the season and may the best men win, say we.  We would strongly recommend these clubs to the attention of our fellow-colonists, as cricket is not only the very best description of gymnastic exercise, but even in a moral point of view it has its pleasures, by carrying the mind back the “the days of former years” in “merry England” and by “the association of ideas” bringing before us the companions of our youth, in whose society our cares were forgotten and our joys increased.  His Honor Mr La Trobe is known to be passionately fond of cricket, and we feel confident (as ‘a Batsman’ remarks in another column) that he will willingly follow in the footsteps of Sir Richard Bourke, and set apart a portion of land in the immediate vicinity of the town as a cricket-ground. A deputation should wait on him for that purpose immediately.” (PPH 10/9/41 p.2)

The aforementioned ‘a Batsman’ (who may well have been one of the writers of the Port Phillip Herald themselves) wrote in a letter to the Editor:

SIR- As I have with much pleasure observed that you take considerable interest in Cricket, and as the season for its practice is approaching I trust I need make no apology for affording, through the medium of your columns, a few remarks with may prove acceptable to all who feel anxious to see this manly, healthy and truly British game fairly established amongst us.  I would suggest to the gentlemen of the town and district the propriety of forming a Club, who should establish regular days for play, and who should make the laws of the Mary-le-Bone Club their guide, and adhere to them strictly at practice, as well as when playing matches.  The necessity of strict attention to the laws, even at ordinary practice, must be apparent to all who know any thing of the game.

In the event of the establishment of such a Club, I should hope that our much respected Superintendent might be induced to follow the example of Sir Richard Bourke, who appropriated a piece of ground in the town of Sydney for the use of players, and might ultimately patronize an institution formed for the encouragement of this noble game.

The want of public amusements has long been felt and acknowledged, and I feel assured that an attempt by the gentlemen of Melbourne to establish a manly and rational recreation, will be imitated by the humbler classes of the community, and will have the effect of enrolling amongst it supporters many who would otherwise have wasted their health and means in less legitimate sources of enjoyment.  I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant, ‘A Batsman’.  (PPH 10 Sept p.3)

Edmund Finn, writing as ‘Garryowen’ tells us that the first informal cricket match took place on 22 November 1838 on the flat land at the foot of Batman’s Hill (i.e. roughly where Southern Cross Railway Station is now).  Following this match a number of the gentlemen from the Melbourne Club decided to form a club, with a subscription of one guinea which served well to keep the riff-raff out. Familiar names emerge here: A. Powlett, George Brunswick Smyth, William Meek, William Ryrie and William Highett and Peter Snodgrass.  An opposing club, the Melbourne Union Cricket Club was formed from men involved in retail lines of business and tradesmen and on 12 January 1839 the Gentlemen of the District took on the Tradesmen of the Town and were soundly beaten.  A second series in March 1839 pitted the Marrieds against the Bachelors.

These murmurings in September were to bear fruit on 1 November 1841 when the Melbourne Cricket Club was formed at the Exchange Hotel. In case I overlook it in November,  this club had a rather illustrious committee of management, chaired by  F.A Powlett as President,Henry F. Gurner as secretary and George Cavenagh the editor of the Port Phillip Herald (who always gave racing and cricket generous attention in his newspaper columns) as secretary. The committee included, among others, D.S. Campbell and Redmond Barry. They continued to play on the flat below Batman’s Hill until they took over a “more commodious and convenient” spot on the south of the Yarra, between the river and Emerald Hill (i.e. South Melbourne) [Garryowen p. 737-9].

Not completely the dog’s fault

Richard Broome, in his book Aboriginal Victorians, reminds us that indigenous people were a common sight in Melbourne during these first years of settlement.  The Port Phillip Herald of 10 September carried a report about a bulldog attacking a group of Aboriginal people in Flinder’s Lane- and, while reporting on the injuries sustained by a young indigenous woman, the article reveals quite a bit of sympathy for the dog:

FEROCIOUS BULL DOG: On Monday last a number of the natives, who daily throng the town, were congregated in Flinder’s-lane.  Unfortunately for humanity, a large and ferocious bull dog, excited by their yells, made a rush at them.  One of the Aborigines, a woman of about 20 years of age, was very seriously injured: her face, throat, neck and limbs being dreadfully lacerated: and it is more than likely that she would not have excaped with life had it not been for the timely and energetic assistance rendered by District Constable O’Neil who was passing at the moment.  The unfortunate woman was immediately conveyed to the hospital, where her wounds were dressed, and every assistance afforded her.  The bull dog was a splendid animal of the kind, and very large. (PPH 10/9/41 p. 2)


I’ve been fascinated by an advertisement that appeared in several consecutive editions of the Port Phillip Herald:

WANTED: a Female Kangaroo.  Apply at the Herald office

A pet perhaps? Or did the advertiser have plans to send the kangaroo back ‘home’ as a curiosity – dead or alive?

How’s the weather?

Windy, it seems.  On 14 September the Port Phillip Herald reported that

The equinoctial gales have set in this season much earlier than usual.  On Saturday night, the storm was so severe that several large trees were blown down and the William lying in Hobson’s Bay drifted from her anchorage, but, we are glad to state, suffered no damage.  The gale was only partial not have extended even so far as Heidelberg but was in some places the severest felt for the past two years. (PPH p. 2)

The official weather report for 8th-14 September described it as

Fine, agreeable weather with light winds 8th, 9th, 10th, strong winds and gales with cloudy and rainy weather afterwards.

The top temperature for the period was 64 degrees (17.7), and the lowest 35 degrees (1.6- that’s cold for September), with the coldest day of the month falling on 13 September.

‘Mothering Sunday’ by Graham Swift


2016, 132 p.

This small novella by Graham Swift is an exemplar of the genre, written by a master.  Swift takes a small image and spins it into something tight and intricate, but with threads that could lead into something larger.  In this case, the image is a woman lying naked among the tangled sheets in a sun-filled room in an empty house.

Her lover Paul has just stood up from the bed, and he looks back at her as he dresses.  It is 1924, Mothering Sunday.  In the drab and aching days after WWI, Paul is the only remaining son of the Sheringham family, with his two older brothers killed in the war. Jane is an orphan, a housemaid in a neighbouring house. Their relationship is an illicit secret, impossible to bring into the open.

For those few gentry families still clinging to a vanishing world of big houses and servants, Mothering Sunday is always an inconvenience. Their hired help are given the whole day off to visit their own mothers, leaving their employers to make their own arrangements. But, as an orphan, Jane has no mother to visit and so she has the whole day to herself- or so she thought.  Paul has other ideas.

This book is only 132 pages in length, and it is just right.  The language is explicit and fruity, but the narrative voice wistful and melancholy.  Swift foreshadows the ending right from the start, and the tension in moving towards that ending is so painful that I wouldn’t have wanted it to go for another page longer. It was so beautifully written, however, than I wouldn’t wish for a single page less, either.

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

My rating: 9/10

‘In the Darkroom’ by Susan Faludi


2016, 417p

As it happens I found myself reading, almost end-to-end, two memoirs written by daughters about their fathers.  Both fathers experienced World War II and both daughters, in their own ways, were affected at second-generation remove, by their fathers’ responses to the war.  Much as I enjoyed Magda Szubanski’s book, Reckoning,  I did find myself thinking once I started Susan Faludi’s book “now this woman can write!”  As authors, they’re not really comparable. Szubanski writes from the heart, where Faludi writes from the head, and Faludi’s skill in crafting her story is that of the polemicist as well as the story-teller.

Faludi’s father only really came back into her life in 2004 after decades of estrangement. As she says in her opening paragraph:

In the summer of 2004 I set out to investigate someone I scarcely knew, my father,  The project began with a grievance, the grievance of a daughter whose parent had absconded from her life.  I was in pursuit of a scofflaw, an artful dodger who had skipped out on so many things- obligation, affection, culpability, contrition. I was preparing an indictment, amassing discovery for a trial.  But somewhere along the line, the prosecutor became a witness. (p.1)

In the summer of 2004 she received an email from her father telling her that “I have had enough of impersonating a macho aggressive man that I have never been inside” and that he had had gender reassignment surgery. Now, instead of Stefan (or, when he was in America, Steven) he was now Stefanie. It was the first email she had received from her father in years. He had left the family while she was a teenager in 1977, and had returned to his birthplace Hungary after the fall of communism in 1989. “You said you were going to write my life story, and you never did” he taunted her. “It could be like Hans Christian Andersen,” he later told her, “When Andersen wrote a fairy tale, everything he put in it was real, but he surrounded it with fantasy.” (p. 21, p.1).

Faludi has not indulged the fantasy, but she has surrounded her father’s story with an extended reflection on identity: personal, gendered, racial and national. She is well placed as a feminist theorist to analyze the permutations of gender in her father’s  hyper-feminized Stefanie identity, and there is a rather creepy hint that her father was flaunting and almost flirting with his daughter. Her father is Jewish but during WWII, he refused to identify as such, and slipped across racial boundaries to pose as an Arrow Cross partisan, thereby rescuing his parents as his final act of filial responsibility to parents he resented and then rejected. She reflects on her father’s assertion of a latent female identity, and draws parallels with the recent reassertion of Magyar identity at a national level since the fall of Communism.  These observations and questions are framed at a theoretical level, and although the book does not have notes or footnotes, they draw on the writings and interviews with theorists, historians and medical and psychological practitioners, as well as other people who have undergone gender reassignment.

She describes her father as a ‘shape shifter’ and it is not lost on her that, as a photographer employed to touch-up photographs in pre-Photoshop days of the mid-twentieth century, her father has always played with ‘erasure and exposure'(p.35).  He shows her photographs where he has photoshopped his own features onto women’s bodies; he tells half-truths and he affects a vacuous neutrality as he distances himself from his own history.  I am reminded of the loss experienced by people who were close to the pre-operative person undergoing gender reassignment, as in the recent film and book The Danish Girl that I have reviewed previously.

As she points out Magyar (the Hungarian language) does not have gendered pronouns, and her father had always mixed them up in English. Faludi follows the practice of referring  to her father each time she mention him first as ‘my father’ and then ‘she’. It’s a bit disorienting at first, but it keeps you, like Faludi herself, constantly aware of this duality.

When reviewing Szubanski’s book, I mentioned my own sense of guilty complicity in the author’s minute scrutiny of her parent.  I didn’t feel the same way in this book.  Perhaps the historical, political, psychological and sociological theorizing with which Faludi laces the book removes it from the emotional to the intellectual realm, or perhaps it’s that Stefanie has clearly co-operated with, and even goaded, her daughter to write it.  In her preface, Faludi braced herself for her father’s response to the news that she had completed her first draft, assuming that

My father, who had made a career in commercial photography out of altering images and devoted a lifetime to self-alteration, would hate, I assumed, being depicted warts and all.

His response?

“I’m glad. You know more about my life than I do”.

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

Read because: Book review in newspaper

My rating: 9/10


Movie: ‘Tickled’

This is REALLY good! It’s a documentary about a NZ journalist who, while doodling around on the internet, stumbles onto a website about ‘competitive endurance tickling’. Watching people being tickled tickled his sense of humour and curiosity as well, so he emailed the owner of the site with a view to doing a documentary about it.  His investigations about something so ostensibly quirky and amusing took him into some very dark places.  It’s a very unnerving, discomfiting film and one of the best docos I’ve seen in a long time.

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 1-8 September 1841


The newspapers in Port Phillip often reported on Judge Willis’ performance on the Supreme Court bench, largely because there was little other ‘hard’ news to fill the columns with. Nonetheless, he did give them plenty to write about, especially when getting stuck into the barristers and attorneys who appeared before him. He took his responsibility for keeping the bar in line very seriously – and indeed, that was part of his judicial duty- but often made theatrical threats and gestures that make it easy to see him as a figure of fun.  His attacks on the court personnel make good newspaper copy, but it is telling that many of the people who were the recipients of his tongue-lashings signed petitions against him once there were moves to remove him.

One of Willis’ more theatrical outbursts was against Archibald Cuninghame – also spelled Cunninghame and Cunningham.  He had practiced at the Scottish bar for seven years when he emigrated to Sydney with his brother and two sisters in 1839, an example of the sibling migration patterns that I have spoken about earlier. While he did not necessarily see New South Wales as his permanent home, he did see the financial opportunities it offered, writing to his mother “I see a prospect not of making, a rapid fortune, but yet, of very good returns for my Capital”.  After overlanding down from Sydney, he quickly took out a licence to depasture stock and bought up 139 acres around Northcote (in Melbourne) at the 1840 government land auctions.  His two sisters travelled down to Melbourne in the Bright Planet (the ship that Peter Mews used as the springboard for his excellent book of the same name), while his brother took up the management of the station Wanregarwan, up on the Goulburn River. Archibald joined Redmond Barry, Edward Brewster, James Croke and Robert Pohlman as the first barristers admitted to the Port Phillip bar in April 1841.

At the end of August 1841, an advertisement appeared in several editions of the Port Phillip newspapers.


Contact with horses was part of the gentlemanly image – and indeed, Judge Willis himself was an enthusiastic horse-rider while in British Guiana and certainly had his own horses in New South Wales.  However, that was riding them, not hawking them for stud services, and Willis took exception to the difference.

THE LAW AND THE ASS- On Friday last, previous to the commencement of the trials at the Supreme Court, his Honor, Judge Willis, produced a copy of the Herald Newspaper in which appeared an advertisement of an entire house, Hound’s Foot “to stand this season,” signed by Mr Cuninghame. His Honor expressed a hope (to the Crown Prosecutor) that this horse was not the property of Mr Cuninghame, the Barrister, who was an Officer of the Court. Mr Croke being unable to satisfy the interrogatory, his Honor proceeded to say that, if such was the case, it was exceedingly derogatory to the respectability of the bar, that it would look rather curious to see written upon the door of the “Horse and Jockey” “Law business transacted here”, and that he considered one as bad as the other.  Judge Willis proceeded to make some further remarks on the subject, but before concluding, requested to know from the gentlemen of the bar, how it would look to see an advertisement in the public papers headed “Montezuma, this splendid ass, will stand for the season at the stables of His Honor, Judge Willis, Heidelberg” would this add dignity to the bench. (PPH 31 August 1841)

Judge Willis certainly did live at Heidelberg, but I’m not aware whether he had an ass called Montezuma. But nor did Archibald Cuninghame have a stallion called Hounds Foot- it was his brother John up on the Goulburn.

THE JUDGE AND MR CUNINGHAME – As reported in our last number, his Honor Judge Willis remarked to Mr Croke that he hoped the celebrated imported horse “Hounds Foot” had not been advertised “for the season” by Mr Cuninghame the barrister, as such a circumstance would not add respectability to the bar.  The impression produced by His Honor’s remarks was that Mr Cunninghame the barrister had so advertised “Hounds Foot”. To shew that even Judges may err in their opinion of matters of this kind as well as in others, we may state that Mr Cuninghame has a brother residing on the Goulburn river; and as the advertisement, which attracted his Honor’s attention particularly states that the horse “will stand this season at the station of the proprietor, Mr Cuninghame, on the Goulburn river” (where Mr Cuninghame’s brother actually resides), we infer that the barrister of that name, who resides in town and follows his profession, is not the Mr Cuninghame “of the Goulburn river.” But Editors, like Judges, may err- who is wrong? (PPH 3 Sept 1841)

Humour by a powerful person is a dangerous thing.  Sometimes when I look at some of Willis’ more outrageous antics from the bench, I wonder if he was performing for the audience, in the same way that our politicians do before the despatch box.

Certainly Willis was very strict about any involvement in ‘trade’ amongst those solicitors and barristers who came before him seeking admittance to the court.  Probably the major fact that led to Willis’ dismissal was the campaign he waged against public officers and members being involved in land speculation and bill-trading. Neither of these activities were illegal, and in a new frontier colony, most people with capital deployed it in either land or financing in this way. Willis’ criticisms of high-ranking people in Melbourne for their involvement in such activities was, I believe, a direct cause for his dismissal.

But Willis’ riff on the Ass Montezuma suggests that he’s enjoying himself here at Cuninghame’s expense. I think of footage of powerful people making a joke, and the forced laughter of their minions around them. Historian Greg Dening wrote about William Bligh’s “bad language” in that people didn’t know how to take it. I would argue that Willis had “bad language” too, and the Hounds Foot incident, while farcical, highlights the difficulty of humour from the bench.

Certainly, the Port Phillip Gazette in its editorial columns, was becoming increasingly critical of Willis.  Its editor, the young George Arden, was clashing with Willis and within weeks publish a letter signed ‘Scrutator’ which would lead to an open conflict with the Judge.  But here’s the Gazette editorial on 4 September:

Mr Justice Willis has certainly the merit of being singular, if not sensible, in his opinions on matters connected with his own department, and he occasionally expresses his conceits in a manner and language that is equally awful to the officers of the Court and amusing to the public…If, however, it will serve the purpose of Mr Willis equally well, and he will condescend to permit us, with all just and proper humility, to tender our opinion on the subject, we will observe that it would be no matter of surprise to the public to hear that there was an ASS connected with the Bench, or that the amiable quadruped resided at Heidelberg, but the attempt of Mr Willis, trivial and vexatious as it was, considering the scanty foundations he had for his extraordinary comments, is viewed on every side with marked and universal disapprobation. (PPG 4 September 1841)

Mr Cuninghame recovered from his unmerited dressing-down and continued to serve in Willis’ court. As an equity lawyer (like Judge Willis himself), he was involved in discussions about the introduction of usury laws, and he was involved in many of the philanthropic and civic organisations of Melbourne.  He went to London in 1846 to represent the Port Phillip colonists in their campaign for Separation, and died there unmarried in 1856.

In fact, the whole little contretemps probably more harm to Willis’ reputation than it did to Cuninghame.

More information on Archibald Cuninghame: Marion Amies and Martin Sullivan ‘Manuscript: 3 Letters from Christian Cuninghame to Agnes Cochrane-Patrick Describing Life in the Port Phillip District’ LaTrobe Journal No. 30, December 1982


“Strong winds on the 3rd 4th and 5th; weather cloudy and uncertain; rain several days but inconsiderable in quantity.” Highest temperature 66F (18.8); lowest 38 (3.3)


Franklin ship ‘Terror’ found

I’m sitting here looking at the video of the discovery of Sir John Franklin’s ship, Terror that was found in – how appropriate- Terror Bay. Amazing- even the glass in the windows! Two years ago the Erebus was found, in much poorer condition than this most recent discovery and I wrote about it at the time here.  Academic Russell Potter, who released his book Finding Franklin: The Untold Story of a 165-Year Search on July 26, has written about the discovery on his blog and the Guardian has a very full report.

It’s all very exciting!


‘Leaf Storm’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez


1955, (originally published as La Hojarasca)

Have I mentioned here that I am learning Spanish?  Not content with bursting my brain with learning verb conjugations (it has taken me an inordinately long time to move on from the present tense- quite a drawback for a historian!), or sitting puzzled over News in Slow Spanish (which although slow, is not slow enough for me!), I have enrolled in a Coursera course on the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez which begins today.  One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of my favourite books and it seemed a good way to struggle with Spanish while reading something that interests me. No, I am not reading the books in Spanish: I’m having enough trouble reading the lecture notes and following the videos on the course because the ‘translate’ function doesn’t seem to be working for the subtitles.  As a result, if I get through even one week’s work in the six weeks allocated, I’ll be doing well. However, it has prompted me to plunge into a cram-reading of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

It seems fitting, therefore, to start off with his novella Leaf Storm, which was his first published work.  It appeared in 1955 after a seven year search for a publisher. It is only short: about 90 pages although it is hard to tell on an e-reader. I kept feeling that I had read it before, which I have, because he picked up the same themes in much of his other work.  It’s as if he was trying the story on for size in novella form, which he later expanded into a whole body of work. It is set in Maconda, the fictional village to which he returns again and again.

The story starts with an epigraph from Antigone, and this short novella, like the earlier Greek story, focusess on a contested funeral. It is told from three perspectives: an unnamed small boy, his mother Isabel, and his grandfather, the Colonel.  The three people are sitting in a closed room with the body of the doctor, who had committed suicide, each with their own thoughts.  The child is preoccupied with the discomfort of his formal clothes and the wonder that he’d been kept from school to come sit with this body.  The daughter thinks about the dead doctor, and his strained relationships with the villagers, and his generally disapproved concubinage with their former servant.  The colonel gives the widest perspective of all, as he reflects on the hatred of the village for this doctor because of his refusal to treat wounded soldiers during one of the civil wars that convulsed the country after the arrival of industrialization.

It is hard now to appreciate the novelty of a multi-perspectival narrative because it is relatively common now.  However, the frequent references- even now, 66 years later,  to the 1950 film Rashamon as the prime example of a multi-perspective work, highlight the strangeness of the narrative technique that Gabriel Garcia Marquez developed at much the same time.

The novella itself is easy to read (in English!) but I must confess to not being able to easily detect the difference in voice between the Colonel and his daughter Isabel. However, as I often find with my favourite authors, Garcia Marquez is a master in being able to slip seamlessly between past and future without interrupting the narrative with asterisks or chapter headings.  The element of an eerie timelessness is here, and a sense of the teeming physicality of the village- both memorable features of his other work.

And so- onward to the next book!

Read because:  I’ve enrolled in the ‘Leer a Macondo’ Coursera course to challenge my budding Spanish.

Format: e-book The Gabriel Garcia Marquez Library: Fifteen of his best-loved books.