I did this last month and enjoyed it, so I’ll do it again! See the ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ meme over at BooksAreMyFavouriteandBest. This month we start off with S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. I’ve never read it and I confess that I had to look it up on Wikipedia to see what it was about. I knew that it was ‘young adult’, but I thought it was science-fiction. It’s not- instead it’s about gangs in 1960s Oklahoma.
Ah! they’re a gang of larrikins – such a beautifully Australian word!- which is explored in Melissa Bellanta’s history Larrikins: A History. Bellanta’s book takes larrikins like Steve Irwin, the forgettable (and best forgotten) Corey Worthington, the Beaconsfield miners and former Prime Minister Bob Hawke and explores the concept of the larrikin throughout Australia’s history.
Bob Hawke was a bit of a larrikin, and played up to the image. His America’s Cup jacket and white bathrobe were a bit cringe-inducing, but many Australians had a soft spot for his wife, Hazel. She was a dignified Prime Minister’s wife, especially after he left her for a younger woman, and she was courageous in her openness about her battle with Alzheimer’s (or ‘The Big A’ as she called it), documented in her daughter Sue Pieters-Hawke’s book Hazel’s Journey.
Before there were Australian Prime Ministers, there were Governors, and Lady Jane Franklin was the wife of Governor Sir John Franklin in Van Diemen’s Land in the late 1830s and 1840s, before he sailed off into the Arctic in the Erebus, never to be seen again. On a much smaller scale, Jane Franklin was pretty intrepid too, traveling alone to Port Phillip and Sydney, and in An Errant Lady, historian Penny Russell presents Jane Franklin’s diaries.
Jane Franklin has spawned a number of biographies and has been incorporated into fiction as well, most recently in Richard Flanagan’s Wanting where Flanagan draws together a whole cast of mid-century ‘historical’ characters – Charles Dickens, Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin, George Augustus Robinson, Wilkie Collins – into the fictionalized rendering of the true-life story of the young Aboriginal girl Mathinna in Van Diemen’s Land.
Peripatetic English author Nicholas Shakespeare was not born in Tasmania, but felt drawn to it by its beauty, only to find that he had family connections there as well: Army officer and merchant Anthony Fenn Kemp and Petre Hordern, a failed alcoholic from a wealthy family, who submerged himself in the bush and dragged his family into poverty. In his book In Tasmania, he uses these two characters as bookends to explore a narrative of Tasmania.
And with a surname like ‘Shakespeare’, of course one thinks of plays – especially ‘Hamlet’. The play-within-a-play is a motif that Sue Miller, whose books I’ve been reading for decades, uses in her The Lake Shore Limited, set in Boston. Not quite Oklahoma where I began, but a round trip from America to Australia and back again.