Monthly Archives: September 2018

Movie: RBG

With the State Judiciary Committee hearing into Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, it seemed  particularly apposite to go to see RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsberg) in its last days.  An intelligent lawyer (and strikingly beautiful as a young woman) she worked quietly in the courts, steadily building up cases that showed that everyone loses by discrimination – women in particular.  Nothing came easily to her: the quotas of female students at university (5 male students to every female student), her difficulty in getting a job even though she was an outstanding student because she was a woman – there’s no entitlement here. The documentary does touch on her inappropriate comments about Trump’s nomination, and the question of whether she should have resigned while Obama was still in power. Who knows? Look at the Republican stonewalling over Merrick Garland. But with the prospect of two men on the Supreme Court with sexual assault or harassment allegations, to say nothing of the President, I’m glad she’s there.

Update: Serenading Adela

The best-laid plans of mice and men….

The full length version of Serenading Adela will not be shown after all, because of technical difficulties. They’ll still be showing the other short film, and the cut-down version of Serenading Adela that had already been released online.…and there will still  be cake.

Serenading Adela: The Film Launch


Update: The full-length film of the performance will not be available for the event. They will still show ‘Against the Odds’ and the shorter version of the film already released online.

You might remember that earlier this year I was involved in the ‘Serenading Adela’ project. It commemorated the night, one hundred years earlier, when women marched up Sydney Rd to Pentridge Prison to ‘serenade’ Adela Pankhurst, who was incarcerated there under the War Precautions Act.  They made a film of our performance, and they’re launching it tomorrow Friday 28th September at the Brunswick Scout Hall, 213a Weston St Brunswick at 2.30 p.m.  As well as the film of the performance, there will be a short feature ”Against the Odds: The Victory over Conscription in World War I’

Surely that’s better than watching two footy teams that we don’t care about – indeed, may even actively dislike- marching in the city!

See the Facebook event at

Or if you’re boycotting Facebook, here’s the blurb:

Did you love “Serenading Adela, A Street Opera” and want to watch it again? Or were you one of the many who were too late for tickets?

Please join us to launch our new full-length archival video of the Centenary Performance of Serenading Adela, a Street Opera. It’s being edited from footage of four cameras there on the day, by Jeannie Marsh and Bernard Peasley.

In the best matinee tradition, we’ll show a short first: ‘Against the Odds: The Victory over Conscription in World War I’ tells how diverse groups and individuals collectively defeated conscription and left a lasting legacy for Australia. From the Living Peace Museum, with a Brunswick focus.

We’ll be serving a delicious afternoon tea to follow the film.

FREE ENTRY but donations towards film costs and future projects will be enthusiastically solicited.

The Scout Hall is 213A Weston Street Brunswick. Note as this is the Grand Final Public Holiday, crossing the city by tram may be a challenge – a train to Parliament, then the 96 tram to Miller Street, recommended (or check PTV for updates).

I Hear with my Little Ear: podcasts 16/9/18 -23/9/18

In Our Time (BBC). At least Melvyn Bragg has stopped coughing. Making Montesquieu exciting is a big ask, but the two Richards and a Rachel did a fairly good job.  Even though he died in 1755, Montesquieu’s ideas about liberty and constitutions affected the compilation of the American constitution and provided an intellectual basis for Robespierre during the French revolution.

I Have to Ask (Slate). I’ve been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates recently, and this podcast suggested that it would be about his book ‘We Were Eight Years In Power’. It’s rather rambly, and there’s not really that much about the book as such. A bit disappointing.

Conversations (ABC) I always enjoyed listening to Bea Campbell (Communist, feminist, writer on Princess Diana) on Philip Adams’ Late Night Live, and in this episode she is interviewed by Sarah Kanowski.  Oh- it’s a repeat! Oh well.  Then there’s the interview with Tim Minchin, who has featured on this blog before here and here.  And finally, an interview with Gwynne Dyer, a journalist whose work I’ve enjoyed. Here he is not as pessimistic about democracy as one might have thought he would be.

Revolutions Podcast  Old Porfirio Diaz just kept on keeping on, until he said that he wouldn’t. Episode 9.05 The Creelman Interview.

News in Slow Spanish (Latino) Episode 273 had a fascinating segment on Blanca Luz Brum, who I’ve decided to talk about (in Spanish) at my Spanish class. The only problem is that everything on the internet is also in Spanish (hello Google Translate). Episode 274 had segments on NAFTA and the new figures for fatalities in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and the protests about labelling the drink mezcal.

Movie: The Breaker Upperers

I suspect that this is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it movie, and I’m afraid that I lean more towards the latter.   Two best friends work together to organize an ‘out’ for people who want to break up a relationship, by deception, confrontation or other devious means. It was too loud and in your face for my liking. It’s a New Zealand film, with layers of Maori-Pakeha relations, and an exploration of female friendship. I did laugh in places, but it didn’t have the quirkiness of ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’.

My rating: 2.5

“And the Women Came Too: the Families of the Founders of the Melbourne Mechanics’ Institution” by Anne Marsden


2018, 187p.

This book is one of a pair, the author having released The Making of the Melbourne Mechanics’ Institution some two years ago. In that earlier book, Anne Marsden looked at the men who were elected to the committee of what later became (and still is) the Melbourne Athenaeum. The Melbourne Mechanics’ Institution (established 1840) was one of the very early cultural and educational institutions in Melbourne. Through her enquiry into the men who were movers and shakers in pre-Gold Rush society, we see the networks and practices that supported nineteenth-century masculine respectability in a new colony.

It’s not hard to find many of the most prominent of these men in the newspapers, churches and business world of Port Phillip: indeed, many of them are interlaced through the pages of this blog that relate to Port Phillip.  Ah- but the women and families of these men! There‘s another degree of difficulty altogether.  In a very few cases there are diaries and letters, as in Georgiana McCrae’s family, but much of Marsden’s information has had to be gleaned from snippets of information. There are brief allusions to the women in the biographies of their husbands and sons, or tangential mentions in newspaper articles and personal notices. Marsden’s challenge has been to integrate these biographies of the families of the founders of the Melbourne Mechanics’ Institution into a perspective on the lives of women and children in Port Phillip. It’s a task long overdue.

The book is divided into two parts. Part I, ‘The Challenges faced by immigrant women’ looks at early Port Phillip from the perspective of women, who were expected to operate within the domestic sphere, support without question her husband’s career aspirations and performance, and most of all, have children. Many of these women had travelled to Port Phillip either from Sydney or Van Diemen’s Land, or had emigrated with their husbands or families.

The book takes a little while to get going with an introduction, a second introduction,  and a prologue addressed in the second person to Barbara Dalrymple, who will marry Dr Alexander Thomson and arrive in Port Phillip in 1836, the first of the women of the Melbourne Mechanics’ Institution.  Introductions over, the text starts off with leaving home and follows the women on the journey, generally cabin class rather than steerage. There is a short chapter about Port Phillip’s brief European history ‘The Settlement’s Early Months’ to set the scene, then she moves onto the ‘Growth of Early Melbourne’. This is in two parts:  (i) the administrative and physical environment, and (ii) the people and community. The final chapter of this section is titled ‘The Early Melbourne Community: divisions and diversions’.  Each chapter is headed with a quote from either Finn’s Chronicles of Early Melbourne, a letter, or a contemporary newspaper.

This section does tend to be rather ‘bitty’. Marsden has used subheadings liberally, and while it makes information easy to locate, it does interrupt the flow of the narrative.  The chapter headings, complete with numbering (i) and (ii) and numerous subheadings give the sense that you are reading from notes, rather than an integrated text. Nor are the separate chapters conceptually distinct from each other.  ‘Community amenities and pleasures’ could fit equally suitably in the ‘Growth’ chapter (where she has, indeed placed it) or the ‘Early Melbourne Community’ chapter.   Nonetheless, there is a life-cycle logic to the information that she has selected, with its focus on finding housing and making it bearable, health and the bearing of children, and educating children – thus bringing to the fore the issues that Port Phillip women had to negotiate.

In the second part of the book ‘The Women’s Stories’, Anne Marsden looks at individual women whose husbands were influential in establishing the Melbourne Mechanics’ Institution. She starts chronologically, with Martha Lonsdale, who accompanied her husband Capt Lonsdale down from Sydney to be the first police magistrate in Melbourne, the earliest form of administration from Sydney. Her second chapter involves Sophie La Trobe, the French-born wife of Port Phillip’s first superintendent. Much of the information (and scuttlebutt) about Sophie La Trobe comes from the (compromised) but very useful journals of Georgiana McCrae, who is dealt with in the third chapter. Familial relations are also important in her chapter ‘A tale of two sisters’ which covers Henrietta Yaldwyn and Caroline Simpson/Braim.  The fifth chapter ‘The minister’s wife’ involves Margaret Clow, whose husband the Rev James Clow arrived in 1839. Mamie Graham, ‘The merchant’s wife’, also had a connection with the McCrae family, thus highlighting the familial as well as professional networks within this small community. She married James Graham, whose extensive archives of correspondence give us  an insight into the family’s domestic life. This is followed by another chapter about sisters – or at least sisters-in-law, Caroline Wright and Elizabeth Kirby, who married brothers David and Donald McArthur. Their husband’s (and thus their own) fortunes varied, with David becoming a highly-prominent banker, while Donald’s  career as a surveyor faltered. So too did the marriage, and Elizabeth McArthur became a well-known and respectable school proprietor.  The final two stories are of more shadowy relationships: Celia Reibey (daughter of Mary Reibey who featured on the $20 note) who died soon after marrying Thomas Wills, then his two partners Mary Ann Barry and Mary Anne Mellard.  Four ‘more elusive women’ complete the analysis: Mary Anne Peers, Mary Wintle (the jailer’s wife), Elizabeth Beaver and Hester Hurlstone. These brief biographies highlight the difficulties of finding sources and reading between the lines of the public record. The final chapter ‘Out of the shadows and into the half-light’ serves largely as a summary of the book.

Marsden has been very faithful to her sources. While speculating and assuming in places where the documentary record falls silent, she has tethered her analysis of early Port Phillip society to the lives and experiences of these women. While I respect her fidelity to primary sources, I wish that she’d roamed a little further into the secondary literature. She cites Penny Russell’s Savage or Civilized, but I think that she could have used Russell’s analysis of ‘manners’ more fully and explored the meaning of ‘the visit’ and the nature and implication of chain migration in family clusters. As a British colonial outpost, Port Phillip did not differ greatly from other such port towns, and she could have drawn on Kirsten Mckenzie’s work, and sources from Upper Canada that also explore the women’s world, with its own stringent expectations, that existed underneath the more publicly-documented world of their husbands.  In addition, by tethering her analysis of Port Phillip in Part I to the experience of these particular women, there is also a fair bit of repetition when the same details are retold in Part II. The final chapter summarized the preceding text, but did not prod the reader into new questions.

Notwithstanding, Anne Marsden’s book is a testament to her patient digging as a historian and her recognition that all these ‘mover and shaker’ men starting up new enterprises and institutions in an infant colonial town, had women behind them. It reminds you that Port Phillip was a town for women and children as well as for the ambitious new arrivals, and that even though it might not be readily visible in the public record,  the domestic always underpins the civic.

Sourced from: Melbourne Athenaeum Library. $20.00 – well worth it.


I have posted this review to the Australian Women Writers Challenge Database.


I Hear with my Little Ear: Podcasts 8/9/18- 15/9/18

Sandra continues….but hold on! It just stops! Episode 7 then nothing! I haven’t felt this betrayed since the last episode of The Hour ( where I still don’t know -did Freddy die or not?) What ever happened to the obligation to round something off???

Revolutions. Episode 9.03 conservative-liberal-conservative (sounds a bit like Australian politics at the moment). No wonder Gabriel Garcia Marquez had so many clapped-out old generals to write about. But in Episode 9.04 all of a sudden – I remember from Revolutions 1 in first-year uni! Portfirio Diaz!

Russia If You’re Listening (ABC). Oh no! The last one in the series. Episode #17 Robert Mueller: ‘Trump’s Worst Nightmare’

The History Listen: (ABC). Plane Crash 1940: Living with the dead.  The plane crash ‘belongs’ to history and grandchildren now. What are the responsibilities in revisiting an event when the participants are still in living memory of a later generation?

Chat 10 Looks 3 Ep. 88: A Square Inch of Unkissed Arse. Of course, Leigh Sales and Anabelle Crabb are talking about the Liberal leadership change. What else would they talk about?

Movie: Working Class Boy


A few weeks back, this doco was everywhere, but it’s disappearing fast. It’s fantastic. You don’t need to be a Cold Chisel fan (although it helps) because you’ll see his present-day renditions of songs, backed and accompanied by his brilliant daughter Mahalia, in a whole new light. Born in Glasgow into a poor, violent home, he emigrated with his family to Australia, to live in the working class, industrial suburb of Elizabeth in South Australia.  There he embarked upon -and survived- a rough rock-and-roll life that we know replicated the alcoholism and dysfunction of his childhood. He came to be the lead singer of one of the best-known bands in Australia. It’s a mixture of film footage, archival footage about Glasgow and Elizabeth, talking head interviews, a who-do-you-think-you-are-like return to significant places, extracts from his stage show based on the book, and studio recordings.  There were only about five of us in the cinema when I saw it, applauding away vigorously in the dark. Go see it before it disappears.

My rating: 5

‘First Person’ by Richard Flanagan


2017, 392 p.

Near the end of Richard Flanagan’s First Person, there’s an interaction between the narrator, the jaded reality-TV producer Kif Kehlmann and a late-twenties writer Emily Coppin in a New York restaurant. Kif asks her what she writes.  Autobiography, she answers:

It’s what everyone writes now. Knausgaard, Lerner, Cust, Carrère. All the best writers taking literature somewhere new…It’s fake inventing stories as if they explain things…Plot, character, Jack and Jill going up the hill. Just the thought of a fabricated character doing fabricated things in a fabricated story makes me want to gag. I am totally hoping never to read another novel again….Everyone wants to be the first person. Autobiography is all we have… (p. 361)

This book is a wry, knowing riff on the act of writing and the literary imagination. It is written in the form of a memoir penned by the writer Kif Kehlmann who was employed to ghost-write the memoir of a con-man Siegfried Heidl.  Heidl had somehow inveigled himself into directorship of a shadowy para-military outfit under an innocuous public safety name. He had defrauded the banks of $700 million, and he was evasive and slippery. He had received a hefty advance from his publishers to write a memoir, but he had no intention of doing so. Aspiring but unpublished writer Kif Kehlmann was tapped on the shoulder for the job, only because he was recommended by Heidl’s bodyguard, Ray who grew up with Kif in Tasmania. Offered $10,000 to pull together a ghost-written memoir, Kif is given six weeks – and then less- to get the book out before Heidl goes to trial. He does not like Heidl, who is erratic, manipulative and dangerous. Ray warns him not to let Heidl into his head, but Heidl manages to do so anyway. Kif, lured by the money, leaves his heavily-pregnant wife in Tasmania while he comes across to Melbourne where he tries to pin Heidl down.

If Siegfried Heidl sounds familiar, it’s because he is. He is based on John Friedrich, who became the director of the National Safety Council of Australia (Victorian division) which collapsed with debts of a quarter of a billion dollars. He wrote, with Richard Flanagan (i.e. the author of this book) himself as ghost writer, Codename Iago: The Story of John Friedrich. And so, this book which appears to be a novel framed as a memoir, is probably more memoir than it appears, although it is not true.  As Richard Flanagan cheerfully admits in interviews, he was given a six week contract to ghost-write Friedrich’s memoir, leaving his pregnant wife back in Tasmania and he grappled with the erratic, manipulative and dangerous Friedrich.

Too tricksy? Possibly, although while you’re reading it, it all seems quite uncomplicated at first.  Kif’s voice is confessional and appealing enough, until he reveals himself as a bastard towards his wife.  The tension builds in the book as the six-week deadline approaches, and I found myself reading late into the night about 2/3 of the way through the book.  In many ways, I wish that the book had stopped at that point, because I found the denouement rather tedious – although Flanagan is such a clever writer than I’m not sure that this is exactly what he intended.

The real pleasure of this book was knowing its tortured relationship with ‘truth’, and I had a little chuckle out loud when Kif referred to his ultimately-rejected first novel about a drowning river guide, knowing full well that this is Death of a River Guide, Flanagan’s debut novel now viewed as a classic.  I wondered how a reader unfamiliar with Flanagan and his work would read this book.  For those of us who have followed Flanagan’s work, it’s a little nod and wink in our direction.

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library.

My rating: 8.5/10 (it would have been higher if it hadn’t gone on for too long)

Find out more: There’s an excellent review by Roslyn Jolly at the Sydney Review of Books and of course, it’s worth listening to the wonderful Richard Fidler interviewing Flanagan on Conversations.

Movie: On Chesil Beach

This film is taken from Ian McEwans novella, which ran to only 160 odd pages. From memory, it was an excruciating painful book to read, full of silences and the lack of language. I was left with a feeling of the small tragedy and pathos of it all.

That novella has been padded for this film, and everywhere the padding is, it veers off course. Even though Ian McEwan himself was involved in the production of the film, the ending is just awful and all I could do was look at the prosthetics and think about how implausible the whole scenario was.  Despite excellent acting from the wonderful Saoirse Ronan, the film’s a bit of a slow dud.

My rating: 2.5/5 (or may be 3 once I get over my annoyance at the ending)