Monthly Archives: August 2018

I Hear With My Little Ear: Podcasts 23/8 – 30/8

I’ve taken to walking from home to the museum in Heidelberg on Mondays, and to and from the library in Watsonia for Spanish on Wednesdays.  Plenty of time to listen to podcasts! This week I listened to:

In Our Time (Stitcher)  The Salem Witch Trials . Featuring Susan Castillo Street (King’s College London); Simon Middleton at the (University of Sheffield); Marion Gibson (University of Exeter). Gives an interesting economic perspective on why Salem Village generated these trials, as distinct from Salem Town. And the girls were only 11 and 9 ! Quite a different view to ‘The Crucible’!

Russia If You’re Listening (ABC Listen). I love listening to Matt Bevan on RN Breakfast each morning as he does a round-up of local and international news (that’s why I get up at 6.45 a.m.- I wait until his segment is finished before I get out of bed). Ever since Trump was elected, he’s been fascinated by events in America and now he has his own podcast that goes right back to the beginning. This week, episode 15 ‘Felix Sater: Criminal, informant, developer, spy.

The History Listen (ABC Listen). Not as good as Hindsight, but still a good listen. This week I listened to the four-part series Gone Mallee, a flat, marginal area in north-west Victoria. My favourite episode, dealing with a small town population 7,  was #3 The Mantung Yearbook

Rear Vision (ABC Listen). This week Radio National are featuring Australia’s relationship with China, and this program Modern China and the Legacy of the Opium Wars looks at the Opium Wars, and their lingering effects on how China views its own history and future.

Duolingo Podcast These podcasts are about 2/3 English and 1/3 Spanish, slow enough for me to understand straight off. You could follow it even if you didn’t speak Spanish, and there’s a transcript on the website.Episode 10, Los guerrilleros is about a journalist who meets with the FARC guerillas in their jungle camp.

News In Slow Spanish. A paid program that has a weekly round-up of news and commentary. I listened to Episode #492 dated 16th August. It dealt with the tensions between Turkey and the US; the World Rankings study where Melbourne slipped to second after Vienna; a study about the strategies to get someone to respond to your message on dating sites, and a snail race in England.

Movie: Summer 1993


This film, set in Catalonia and directed by Carla Simon, is autobiographical, telling the story of six-year old Frida whose mother has died. She is sent to live with her uncle and his wife and young daughter in the countryside, even though she is very close to a single aunt who remains in the city.  The young actress Laia Artigas is excellent, capturing both the deep sadness and passivity of a young bereaved child, and the joy of just being alive and feeling loved. The film is very much taken from the child’s point of view, and yet you can so easily empathize with the uncle’s wife who has most of the care of her husband’s niece; with the aunt who loves Frida so much, and with the grandparents who are now so distant. The movie is in Catalan with subtitles, and it’s a very quiet film where things move very slowly, with a sense of impending danger.  The sadness at the end snuck up on me -just as it did the characters in the film- and I found myself crying again when telling my husband about it.

My rating: 4.5/5

‘The Battle Within: POWs in postwar Australia’ by Christina Twomey


2018, 320 p

Over the last few years, there has been a steady flow of books by historians written to counter the tidal wave of WWI centenary ‘celebration’. The ANZAC legend, which has been contentious for some decades, has been given a good working-over, and there will probably be further retrospectives once the various centenaries are over.

But although it’s not yet possible to know how and if opinion about the ANZACs will be resolved, there are some other questions about the relationships between the Australian military overseas and broader society ‘at home’ where the tide of opinion has already swung.  In her book The Battle Within,  Christina Twomey focuses on the WWII  prisoners-of-war, particularly those imprisoned by the Japanese, and traces through the changes in society’s reception and recognition of them. Unlike the WWI re-evaluation still under way, the trajectory of opinion about POWs can already be discerned and has probably settled, although who knows what a centenary in 2039-45 will bring. Her title The Battle Within is a neat one. Not only did individual POWs have their own own internal battle, but there was a public-relations and repatriation battle among POWs themselves too.

It is the POWs of the Japanese who most starkly captured the Australian imagination on their return after the war. Cameras captured their skeletal frames and their 36% death rate was much higher than WWI POWs (9%) or those who had been taken prisoner in Europe during WWII (3%).  Donald Trump’s 2015 jibe at John McCain (“I like people who weren’t captured”) goes to the ambivalence about the reception of the returning POW back in 1945. Even though it was broadly recognized that the Australian forces in Asia had surrendered as a consequence of decisions made by British and Dutch commanders, there was still an internalized and tacit suspicion that POWs were ‘second-class’ soldiers.  As prisoners, they were removed from the masculine arena of aggression and valour; they were unable to protect the women who were taken prisoner too, and worse still, they were humiliated by being taken captive by Asian forces. WWII propaganda had depicted the Japanese as small, short sighted, simian and Asian (p. 27).  To be treat as a ‘white coolie’ triggered resonances of slavery and indentured Indian and Chinese labour.

Twomey’s book has four sections. In Part I she examines official attitudes to Prisoners of War; in Part II she looks to the former-POWs themselves as they tried to rebuild their lives and take up marriages. Part III ‘Coming to Terms with Asia’ looks at post-war Australian relations with Japan and Asia in general, and Part IV ‘The battle resolved’ traces changes in official and public perceptions of the POW experience.

The authorities were determined not to make a special case of the POWs, as distinct from other soldiers and the post-war campaign for a subsistence allowance for each day of captivity failed. Nor did medical understanding following the war help their cause. After WWI, governments and psychiatrists had largely abandoned ‘shell-shock’ as a way of understanding the psychiatric casualties of war, instead defining it as ‘neurosis’ that arose among people predisposed to mental illness through existing weakness, imprisonment or not.  If pre-existing mental weakness did not exist, then medical problems were explained as tropical bacterial and intestinal illnesses.

In this, POWs were not served well by those other POWs from the officer corps who had the ear of government, who strongly resisted the idea of ‘barbed wire disease’.  This class aspect comes through strongly. The death rate of 37% in ‘other ranks’ of POWs of the Japanese dropped to close to 10% among  officers, many of whom spent their war years separated from other prisoners. Through pre-existing networks and dynamics of education, opportunity and wealth, it was men of the officer class who were appointed as the spokesmen of POWs and served as their representatives on different consultative bodies.  Some of the most prominent, e.g. Ted Fisher from the Council of the 8th Division, were dismissive of ‘sob stuff’.

The Prisoners of War Trust Fund was established by Prime Minister Menzies in October 1950, after the failure of the campaign for subsistence payments. It was open to former POWs from both the Pacific and European theatres of the Second World War.  The Repatriation Department held the line that POWs were not to be treated as a ‘class apart’ from other ex-service personnel, but there was constant pressure from ex-service organizations and parliamentarians to take some action towards former POWs. The Prisoners of War Trust Fund was more like a charity than a government service, with rigorous vetting of applicants and no avenue of appeal.  The board of the fund, which oversaw its distribution, comprised two senior public servants and three former POWs, all from the officer class.

The letters of application to this fund forms the archival basis of Twomey’s book, most particularly in Part II.   In the absence of  POW repatriation files  (which are not yet available), the application letters to the fund provide her with an available and valuable resource that reflects both how the POWs conceptualized their needs, and the board’s concern for respectability and determination not to be ‘taken in’ by spurious claims. As she notes,

The applicants to the fund were, by and large, from the ‘other ranks’: men of limited education who often had menial jobs and sometimes lives blighted by alcoholism, depression, marriage breakdown or loneliness. Yet many of them took the opportunity, in shaky handwriting or in bold, capital letters, to make known their views about the treatment meted out to former prisoners, their family troubles and their struggles to rehabilitate. (p.xvi)

The ex-POW board representatives were from the officer class, and their class perspective  came through in the rejections and restrictions imposed by the board when administering the fund.

A similar bifurcation, with some class and education overtones, emerged in the decades after the war when some former POWs publicly supported the need for reconciliation with Japan. In some cases, this was for political reasons, especially amongst those from the ex-officer cohort who were politically aligned with conservative parties, when the fear of Chinese communism meant that alliances had to be formed with the Japanese as a way of countering the sweep of communism. Other considerations were economic, especially in the 1970s and 1980s in Queensland with Japanese-oriented tourist developments and with the mooted Multi-Function Polis in Adelaide, where the Japanese were seen as a lucrative market.  Other POWs acted out of spiritual or conscientious motives. However, this only served to throw into relief those POWs who did not feel this way, and who could not forget, much less forgive. This characterization of the POW as bitter and back-ward looking remnant became a trope for exploring Australia’s xenophobic past.

So what changed?  Opposition to the Vietnam War undermined the national mythology of Anzac and questioned Australia’s role in Asian wars. In the 1980s and 1990s a wave of prisoner diaries and memoirs was published, most particularly Arneil’s One Man’s War which was an instant success, praised by left-wing historians as a means by which to complicate the “jingoes and militarists” (p. 219) whom they believed had come to dominate Anzac Day.  In 1980 the U.S. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders recognized post-traumatic stress disorder, and new understandings of trauma replaced the older view of a pre-existing mental weakness. In 1984 the ABC Radio National documentary P.OW. Australians under Nippon was published as a book and has been repeated as recently as February 2017 (listen here).  As Twomey notes:

In this confluence of events, POWs emerged as historical figures capable of expressing contemporary tensions about war, identity, race and region. By the 1970s the POW story could pull in many directions at one: as a metaphor to express ongoing anxiety about the potential for domination by Asia, as evidence that forgiveness and racial tolerance were possible, and as a reflection of outdated attitudes towards racial difference. As a victim of war’s terror, ultimately the POW was perfectly placed to revive interest, in a non-belligerent way, in the military history of a country that had, but for a short period, been particularly attached to war as an essential element of its national story. (p. 215)

I very much enjoyed this book.  It is well written and engaging, and refreshingly clean of military ra-ra. She makes good use of her resources in bringing former POWs to life, while acknowledging the class and political influences that affected their treatment by both bureaucracies and the public at large.  She starts and finishes her book with a personal reflection on the Thai-Burma railway, which has come to epitomize the place of the POWs of Japan in the Australian memory of WWII.  It’s a powerful image:

Just as a visitor to Hellfire Pass can pick out the railway line by glimpsing the sleepers beneath the gravel, as a historian I have dug deep in the archive to reveal the foundations of the POW story in Australian culture. It is tempting to see the current veneration of former POWs as running along clean iron rails, from the past to the present.  This book suggests that the sidings were many, that the tracks were buckled and warped, and that the burden of this difficult journey fell most heavily on the people with the least social, cultural and economic resources to carry it. (p.xviii)

My rating: 9/10

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

[An update: My attention was taken by the recent decision to award the Commendation for Gallantry Award for POWs who were killed escaping or after capture. As Monteath noted in his book Captured Lives on internment in Australia, to seek to escape was seen to be a legitimate act of an imprisoned soldier. Nonetheless, it has taken 75 years for them to be recognized. And is there still an implicit question-mark over those who did not escape? The tension remains.]

AWW-2018-badge-rose-199x300 I have added this book to the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Banyule Homestead- another victory

Banyule Homestead (a)_PeterCrone

Excellent news! VCAT today upheld Banyule Council’s refusal to grant a permit for a function centre at Banyule Homestead in Heidelberg.  The VCAT decision highlighted the significance of Banyule Homestead and the many problems with parking, noise etc. engendered by the operation of a function centre in a quiet neighbourhood area.  The neighbours really took the running on presenting a well-founded, disciplined campaign, and the Council support was staunch. They are certainly to be congratulated.

‘Are You Somebody?’ by Nuala O’Faolain


1998 edition, 356 pages

A few years back this book was on the bestseller list week after week.  I remember at the time picking it up, seeing the blurb from Frank McCourt, then putting it down again. Although I had been transfixed by McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, I didn’t feel that I needed to read another Irish Misery Memoir. And so, some twenty or so years later, I came to Are You Somebody? as a bookgroup selection. And yes, there’s the feckless father, the despondent mother, the poverty, the pregnancies and the power of the Catholic Church – just as I anticipated there would be-  but there’s so much more. I just loved this book.

The subtitle of some editions of this book calls it an ‘accidental memoir’. Even though Nuala O’Faolain was very well known in Ireland, especially for her newspaper columns, I suspect I’m not alone in saying that I had never heard of her here in Australia.  But for her readers in Ireland, as elsewhere in the world, the relationship between a newspaper columnist and his/her readers is a strange one. There is a veneer of companionship and familiarity but it is all controlled on the author’s side. As a reader, you feel as if you know them, but you don’t.  And an editorial reshuffle or lost contract can sever the connection forever.

This book was intended to be a collection of her newspaper columns. She was asked to write an autobiographical introduction, but it grew beyond that.  In the ‘extended’ edition I read, roughly half of the resulting book is her introduction, followed by an ‘afterword’ reflecting on the response to the publication of the first edition, and the rest is her columns, arranged by theme.

This book really suffered for the lack of a good glossary or footnotes. As an Irish ‘personality’, writer and academic, she is enmeshed in Irish literary society and she name-drops liberally. As she becomes increasingly enchanted with the recovery of the Irish language, she also cites phrases and sentences that are not translated.  I didn’t ever lose the sense that I was reading about a different culture in a different country, (which, transposed, means that Irish readers would be strongly affirmed in their sense that this was their story). I had to google many of the references to then-current events in the newspaper columns. Of course, written almost 20 years ago, events have moved on, most particularly with the recent referendum on abortion, and the rise and fall (and recovery again?) of the Celtic Tiger economy.

Nuala was one of nine living children; her father was a gossip columnist who anglicized his name to ‘Terry O’Sullivan’. He was serially unfaithful and often absent. Her mother was an alcoholic and money was tight. Nuala escaped this life through education and the jobs that became available through the opening up of media opportunities, but underlying all this was her assumption that she would marry and have children. She never did. She had a string of liaisons, often with married men, and looking back at her life acknowledges that had she had a child when she was younger, she would have been a poor mother.  It shocked her to realize that she was inadvertently repeating her mother’s own self-destructiveness.

I found it somewhat difficult to get into her memoir. It is very well and artistically written, at a far more abstract level than her newspaper columns, and while it moves chronologically, there is a fair bit of movement back and forth in the early chapters. But by the middle of the book, and particularly at the end of her introduction and through her ‘afterword’, there was a shift. I felt stripped bare by her candour. This is a middle-aged woman, looking back without sentiment, at her choices, her body, her relationships, her sense of self. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything so honest.

I’m not alone in thinking that. As she explains in her ‘afterword’ she was deluged with responses – probably many from other middle-aged women like me. This raw directness is even more apparent in an interview she gave just a few weeks before she died, after receiving a diagnosis of cancer that gave her mere weeks to live.  The interview comes with trigger warnings, as it certainly needed, because I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything so articulate, so bleak, so honest, from someone so close to death.  It is one of the most searing interviews I have ever heard: absolutely unforgettable.

I loved this book. I am of the right age and the right demographic to love it, I suppose. Perhaps it’s just as well that it took me twenty years to find it.  It will be right up there for my best reads of 2018.

Sourced from: CAE as a bookgroup read

My rating: 10/10

Movie: The Wife


Glenn Close is absolutely brilliant in this film as the wife of a Nobel-Prize winning writer. He is receiving plaudits for his body of literature while she, as a once-aspiring writer, has been at his side. She glowers with barely-repressed anger and disdain at her philandering, egotistical husband, and while the film is a bit predictable, it’s a pleasure to watch Close’s performance. The overwhelmingly-female audience with whom I watched it groaned and audibly hissed at times. The casting of the young and older wife character was sensitive,and it was not hard to accept that the older actress was playing the same character as the younger one.  Glenn Close herself was beautiful and complex.  Loved it.

My rating: 5/5

Movie: Mary Shelley

It’s the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and so there’s been quite a bit about both the book and its author around this year.  This film, directed by Saudi filmmaker Haifaa al-Mansour looks at Mary Shelley as daughter, sister and partner as well as writer. I liked the way that it emphasized the importance of Shelley’s impoverished father William Godwin and mother Mary Wollstonecraft as intellectuals, although their radicalism was downplayed. The film finishes on rather a high note with the publication of the second edition, although it could have extended even further where the loss and poverty of Shelley’s life became even more tragic.  However, while mentally cheering inside, I don’t know that I actually buy the suggestion that the book was written as Shelley’s jab at the two monstrous men in her life, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron (who is particularly creepy in the this film.) Elle Fanning is luminous, and it’s beautifully staged.

My rating: 3.5 stars (of 5)

‘Captured Lives: Australia’s Wartime Internment Camps’ by Peter Monteath


2018  239 p & notes

Six faces stare out at us from the front of Peter Monteath’s Captured Lives. For me, the most striking is the young woman at centre bottom, her curled hair caught up into a scarf, smiling as she holds up a hand-written sign reading ‘163’. She was Maria Vagarini, the wife of an Italian fresco painter who had been arrested and interned in Palestine before being sent, along with her husband, to Australia during WW2. Up in the top left hand corner is Anton Gueth, a German Buddhist monk, interned in Ceylon and sent to Australia during WWI.  On the top right hand side, in suit and tie, looking like an earnest bank teller is Karl Moeller, the captain of a German ship captured during WWI. Below him on the bottom right is Hajime Toyoshima of Japan, still bearing the facial injuries he sustained when his aircraft was shot down over Darwin on 19 February 1942.

The variety of these photos, from both world wars, of combatants, naval officers, pilots and internees, reflects the diversity of those who ended up in Australia’s wartime internment camps. In this book Monteath explores the range of people who were deemed to be threats to Australia’s security:  those who were born in Australia to ‘foreign’ parents or who held suspect political views, others captured as part of military activity (e.g. the naval officers and seamen on the Emden in WWI and the Kormoran in WW2) and others who were part of the circuit of POWs being shifted from one country to another among the Allies as the war-front changed.

The book is divided into four parts: WWI, the two aspects of WW2 captivity (i.e. ‘enemy aliens’ and Prisoners of War) and the final release after WW2.  The text is broken up with vignettes of individuals, which keeps the emphasis on the fact that internment happened to real people with prior histories, who went on usually to live out their lives with these years of internment just one part of their longer life story.

In both WWI and WW2, the act of internment was facilitated through legislation. During WWI it was the War Precautions Act of 1914 which was introduced in the early months of the war, and in WW2 the National Security Act of 1939. During WWI, everyone was called a ‘prisoner of war’, even though many in the camps were naturalized citizens who the minister of defence had reason to believe were “disaffected or disloyal” (p.12). Some men submitted themselves for internment because, if their families could make a compelling case of financial adversity, their families could claim a meagre allowance. Most were German, Austro-Hungarian or Bulgarian, with a few Turks. They were not required to work, but they often chose to do so. At first there were internment camps in each of the states, but over time these were consolidated mainly in New South Wales.

Between the two wars, the Geneva Convention had spelled out the distinction between internees and prisoners of war, and as a signatory Australia respected this policy during WW2 and arranged access for  Official Visitors (often judges), the Red Cross and YMCA. During WW2, internees were provided with food and accommodation which from 1940 onwards was provided through large purpose-built camps, usually in rural areas, in each state. For German and Japanese nationals, their  governments made provision for ‘pocket money’, which involved the swearing of allegiance to the German or Japanese government, a practice which surprised me. It did not extend to Australian internees whose German, Italian or Japanese origin had brought them under surveillance.  Internees were not allowed to work, and many found the boredom onerous. However, ‘enemy aliens’ who were not interned could be required to work, and in labour-hungry rural Australia, Italians  in particular were in demand for agricultural work. They were channelled into the Civil Alien Corps and although not behind wire, they were subject to a strict regime as they were viewed as a flight risk.

Prisoners of war were sent to Australia from Allied theatres, and indeed there were more prisoners of war than internees.  They could be used for labour, as long as it was not on war-related activities and on condition that they were paid, fed, accommodated and treated the same as civilians. They might be prisoners of war, but class still counted, and officers were accommodated separately. The  German naval survivors of the Kormoran, which sank the Sydney with such a huge loss of Australian life, were accommodated in Dhurringile mansion, in Victoria (now a minimum security prison). Japanese prisoners, however, were always treated with distrust, and were rarely allowed outside their camps.

For POWs of all nationalities (Australian as well), escape was “the legitimate act of a man imprisoned”  and the punishment for attempted escape was relatively mild (p. 202). However, Japanese attitudes to the shame of capture and imprisonment were quite different to those of Italians and Germans, as evidenced by the huge loss of 234 lives when Japanese prisoners broke out of Cowra POW camp.

After the war, it took some time to clear the camps. They were not allowed to stay in Australia, even if they wanted to, but had to return home and could then re-apply to come to Australia.  Quite a few did; others picked up their lives at ‘home’, whether it be in Australia or overseas.

This book is not about the present-day internment of refugees on Manus Island, but their shadows are everywhere: in the discussion of international conventions, and in the descriptions of boredom and lost, listless years of indeterminate imprisonment.  This book describes policies and provision, but its focus is just as much on people – something that current refugee policy tries its best to obscure.  We see these wartime internees through their life histories, through the photographs that, surprisingly, they were allowed to take within the camp, and through their sketches and paintings – all of which are distributed generously throughout the book. We see these WWI and WW2 internees far more clearly than we see Manus Island internees today, despite the ubiquity of social media and mobile phone cameras.   The final paragraph of Monteath’s book in particular evokes present-day events, and stands as a warning:

This absurdity of the detention of men like these, of condemning otherwise productive lives to unknown months and years of isolation and desolation, echoes through the history of Australia’s home front in the two world wars. More than that, it speaks to the twenty-first century and to the ever-present danger of allowing unfounded fears to stain the lives of prisoners and their captors alike (p.239)

Other reviews:  See Lisa’s review at ANZLitLovers:

My rating: 8/10

Sourced from: Review copy from NLA Publishing through Quikmark Media

‘Our Man Elsewhere’ by Thornton McCamish


2016. 336 p & notes

One of the marketing points of Thornton McCamish’s biography of Alan Moorehead is that Moorehead is a forgotten writer, and that he has been re-discovered through this biography.  Not for me: I’d actually read an Alan Moorehead book within the last 15 years, and I knew who he was. Back in 2002 I had just finished reading Sarah Murgatroyd’s book ‘Dig’, then I noticed that I had a lurid-tinted old paperback copy Cooper’s Creek on my bookshelves.


I started reading it, and was impressed by its evocation of landscape and explorations of personal loyalties. The book was from a different time, and its language was dated, but it certainly gave Murgatroyd’s book a good run for its money. I’d started reading it, thinking of Moorehead as an also-ran, but by the end of the book I found myself reviewing my opinion.


Biographer Thornton McCamish came to Alan Moorehead in his late twenties, through Moorehead’s autobiography A Late Education,which was assembled by his wife from three separate manuscripts. From that, he went on to read Moorehead’s eighteen other books

It was the germ that led, slowly at first, then with a feverish rush, to something like an obsession…I couldn’t get enough. Moorehead seemed to speak out of the past with a voice that felt astonishingly contemporary: alert, curious about everything, companionable.  It was like getting letters from a rather brilliant friend…Long letters that you didn’t want to end, letters steaming with atmosphere, thick with vivid detail that raced from thought to thought with just one intention: to make you see how amazingly interesting it all is. (p. 12)

There’s another reason that I read this biography. I’d recently read Hotel Florida, about war correspondents in the Spanish Civil War, and Moorehead was mentioned in passing. I hadn’t realized that Moorehead even was a war correspondent, and I certainly didn’t realize that he’d gone to Spain.

In fact, Moorehead left his native Australia in 1936 and he spent almost all his career overseas.  From Spain, he then became a war correspondent in WWII, most particularly in the Middle East.  Cutting most of his social (although not familial) ties with Australia, he became the British Daily Express‘s “Our Man in Spain; Our Man in Cairo” etc.  As far as Australia was concerned, he was “Our Man Elsewhere”, constantly on the move and afraid of the constrictions that marriage, family and home ownership bring.  He was hailed internationally as the pre-eminent war correspondent.

As a war correspondent, he experienced the duality of a war correspondent’s behind-the-lines and front line experience. Behind the lines, he enjoyed a social life among other correspondents that intersected with writers, politicians and public figures. On the front line he observed death, deprivation and actual physical danger. McCamish notes that Moorehead was disgusted by war, but at the same time, he was attracted to the soldier’s almost mystical ennoblement that emerged from facing death directly, again and again.

But what does a war correspondent do when the war ends? McCamish doesn’t bail out once the exciting bits dry up, but instead stays with Moorehead as he tries, with only mediocre success, to move into fiction writing. He becomes a magazine travel writer- another form of ‘elsewhereness’ – which while lucrative, was not particularly career-enhancing.

Moorehead would have been a difficult husband. His wife Lucy, who was the women’s fashion editor at the Daily Express, tended to be ‘elsewhere’ from him, trailing along occasionally but mainly bringing up their three children while he travelled and engaged in various affairs.

Moorehead’s career took off again when he turned to popular history. He wrote about Gallipoli and Africa, and then turned to his native Australia – and this is where my lurid copy of Coopers Creek comes in. His books were best-sellers, even though they were treated rather condescendingly by some- but not all- in the academy.

Although he was Melbourne born and bred, he joined the ex-Sydney expatriate group in England that included Clive James, Robert Hughes and  fellow-Melburnian Sidney Nolan and others. After so many years away, he was looking forward to returning to Australia in 1967 to take up a placement with the history department at Monash University, when he suffered a debilitating stroke. He could not write; he could not talk. He lingered for years, surviving a car crash that killed his wife Lucy.  This was no tragic, untimely, ‘young’ death: instead it was a slow, silent disappearance.

The author, Thornton McCamish, is present in this book, right from the opening pages. In the places where Moorehead’s career seems to bog down, as it did for years, it is McCamish’s enthusiasm and faith in Moorehead that draws you along as a reader.  It’s an honest literary biography that admits that not all writing is spun gold.  I don’t think that you need to have read any of Moorehead’s work to enjoy this book. McCamish gives you enough of the flavour of Moorehead’s writing for you to see what he is so excited about.

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library as an e-book

My rating: 8/10

The Statement from the Heart

The Garma festival, held each year in Arnhem Land, took place last week. In its own words,

Garma attracts an exclusive gathering of 2,500 political and business leaders from across the globe. YYF is committed to improving the state of Indigenous disadvantage by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.

This year the theme was “Truth Telling”.  A number of speakers made reference to the ‘Uluru Statement’, a beautifully written, important report from the Referendum Council, which had been appointed by the government and comprising indigenous and non-indigenous representatives. You can read the Final Report of the Referendum Council here. Even if you don’t read the whole report, read the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

It was delivered to government in May 2018 and almost immediately quashed.  The speed and apparent finality of its dismissal by the government was damning. The Great Australian Silence descends again.

But there’s talk. Noel Pearson  spoke. And Richard Flanagan wrote.  Read it.