Monthly Archives: January 2019

‘The History of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria’ by Rev. Robert Sutherland

1877, 516p.

“Why on earth is she reading this?” you may ask. It’s the first of a few books that I’ll be reading over the next month about the Presbyterian Church and Scots immigration to Victoria, in preparation for an exhibition that Heidelberg Historical Society will be putting on later in 2019.

This book was published in 1877. At the time, it would have been very current as it covers the time “from the foundation of the colony down to the abolition of State Aid in 1875”.  It is steeped in the Presbyterian attitudes of the time in relation to Sunday observance and temperance, and many of the ministers of whom Sutherland writes in a historical sense were still alive (and no doubt, readers of his book) when it was published.  He is careful to note the illustrious sons – always sons- of early ministers of the church who became wealthy contributors to the Presbyterian church and/or members of the Legislative Council of state Parliament. Being an MLC was obviously the ultimate form of success.

In Chapter 1, several women are named. The first is Mrs Turnbull, who was a friend of Rev James Forbes, the first Presbyterian minister appointed to Port Phillip. Mrs Turnbull was

a lady of vigorous understanding, of religious character, and thoroughly acquainted with business. She fully returned to the minister as much information as she received from him, and they were both mutually edified (p. 14)

Then there was Mrs Cumming, whose husband was a fellow-countryman of Rev Forbes:

After speaking a few words with Mr Cumming, the conversation was afterwards principally engrossed by Mrs Cumming, who was a lady fully equal in mental powers to Mrs Turnbull, and of as much firmness. (p. 14)

Miss Drysdale and Miss Newcombe of Geelong get a mention too. “That’s a good start!” I thought.  Unfortunately, after Chapter 1 there are no other women at all in this book, which seems quite amazing, given the emphasis on family in 19th century Christianity.

The attitudes towards aboriginal people are of their time. Given recent research on indigenous land practices described by Bill Gammage in The Biggest Estate on Earth and Bruce Pascoe in Dark Emu, this description of Rev. Clow’s journey to Port Phillip in 1837 is rather discordant:

Moving slowly along the windings of the Yarra Yarra, he saw its broad meadows covered with sterility under the gaze of savagedom, but soon to be clothed with fertility by the hand of civilization (p.10)

In speaking of missions to indigenous people, Sutherland subscribes to a view that Australian aborigines had descended (in both senses) from races with a highly developed civilization. Although now debased, it was felt that on the basis of their complexity of language and marriage practices, there must have been a more sophisticated earlier culture. He supposed that

It is most likely that the aboriginal settlers of Australia were of the poorer classes, who had drifted to the land, in consequence of having lost their way at sea. (p. 424)

Much of the book deals with the Australian replication of the Great Disruption that occurred within the Church of Scotland in 1843.  Just as in Scotland, the Victorian Presbyterian church split: one group adhering to the Established Church of Scotland, another to the Free Church of Scotland and a third distinguishing itself from the other two by eschewing any government financial aid. There are pages and pages of letters and resolutions going one way and then the other.  It seemed as if the schism was about to be resolved in 1855 but no – it all blew up again until 1867 when finally union was achieved (well, nearly completely).  In 1870 when State Aid to churches was discontinued, there was another gathering-in of Presbyterians.  I’ve heard talk of “stiff-necked Presbyterians” and it’s certainly an apt description of these disputes.

There’s much talk of church buildings, particularly in rural areas. In the late 1860s and early 1870s covered by the book, many suburban churches were rebuilt, replacing the earlier wooden buildings that had first been constructed. I was interested to read of St Enoch’s in Collins Street, directly across the road from the current Scots Church. During the schism St Enoch’s was part of the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland bloc, whereas Scots’ Church was aligned the Established Church of Scotland group.

St. Enochs United Presbyterian Church 96 Collins Street East Melbourne

St Enoch’s 1864. State Library of Victoria http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/403500

St. Enoch’s was built in 1851 and renovated and enlarged in 1864. Once the different branches of the Presbyterian Church re-united in 1867 there was little need for two large Presbyterian Churches directly across the road from each other, so it was turned into an Assembly Hall instead. It was demolished in 1911 and replaced by The Auditorium, while a new Assembly Hall was built on the Scots Church side of Collins Street.

 

 

 

 

 

‘The Valley at the Centre of the World’ by Malachy Tallack

tallach

2018, 352p.

I can’t remember quite why I borrowed this book when I saw it on the ‘New Books’ shelf at the library. Perhaps I’d heard good reviews of it or maybe it was its setting in Shetland that attracted me. I enjoy Shetlands on the ABC and I heard a cracking interview with the author of Vera and Shetlands, Anne Cleeves. What ever drew me to it, it’s a beautiful book that I almost didn’t want to end. It surprises me that the author is a young man. The book felt as if it were written by an older person (think, perhaps Marilyn Robinson’s Gilead or perhaps Elizabeth Strout’s work) in terms of its treatment of the relationships between people, infused with a sensitivity to place and space.

The Valley at the centre of the world is exactly that – a single valley with just five houses clinging to The Road that runs above and parallel to ‘The Burn’, the waterway that runs to the sea. The use of ‘The’ is intentional: there is only one. In its harsh but beautiful isolation, there is a timelessness about The Valley, although people are coming and going. Older man David has lived there all his life, as did his father and grandfather before him. Although he does not consciously think of it this way, he owns the valley.  His wife Mary, came there thirty years ago and their daughters Kate and Emma have both shifted away.  Sandy, a newcomer, was their daughter Emma’s partner and came back with her to the Valley but the relationship has broken up. He stayed on when Emma left, and with a respectful relationship to his inlaws (do you have inlaws if you’re not married?) and now landlords, he takes over the cottage and croft left vacant when Maggie, a very old inhabitant dies. There is Terry, a morose alcoholic single father, and Jo and Ryan, who have shifted into the Red House from the city, with Ryan a go-getter spiv taking advantage of the cheap rent. Finally, there is Alice, a crime writer (who reminded me not a little of Anne Cleeves herself) who has moved to the valley after the death of her husband. She has decided, somewhat presumptuously I think, to write about the Valley and is particularly drawn to Maggie as a character, hoping to find some secret or depth about this woman who had spent her whole life in the Valley.

The book revolves around the lives of this small group of people, who each have their griefs and flaws. It is a slow book, just as life itself in The Valley is slow. Soap opera? Perhaps, but it’s soap opera written with insight and generosity.

What is striking is the use of dialect in the conversation. There’s a glossary at the front, but it’s more the sentence construction and small words that slows you down as a reader. I don’t subvocalise or even mentally vocalise when I read, so this was a strangely auditory reading experience for me.

I really loved this book, and didn’t want it to finish.

My rating: 9/10

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

 

Movie: The Favourite

What a hoot! The historical bio-pic is given an eccentric and irreverent treatment in The Favourite.  Set in the court of Queen Anne (i.e. 1702-1714) , it tells of the power struggle and changing dynamics between three female protagonists: Sarah Churchill the Duchess of Marlborough, Abigail Masham and Queen Anne herself. To be honest, I knew nothing about Queen Anne (except the furniture) and in this film she is ’embodied’  in the same way that the many depictions have ’embodied’ Henry VIII. It is often filmed through a warping fish-eye perspective, and the music is scratchy and discordant.  The humour, language and costumes are deliberately anachronistic. Olivia Colman is absolutely brilliant, with her face conveying myriad emotions, often within the one shot. I’m not absolutely convinced about the lesbianism – female friendships are notoriously hard to read, especially at a distance of 350 years – and I’m not sure about all these murder attempts. But, it seems that the basic facts of the story are accurate but fooled around with, very prettily and archly, for a 21st century audience.

My rating: 4/5

Looking forward: 2019

These are not resolutions- they’re challenges!

  1. To read twenty books in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019
  2. To read sixty books overall in my Goodreads challenge.
  3. To finally finish reading Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal in Spanish (it’s taken about six months so far)

Looking back: 2018 in review

This seems to be the time of year when people review their reading and viewing progress over the last year, so I’ll add my two-bits.

During 2018 I read 57 books that I reviewed on this blog (I actually read more but I’m ‘saving’ them for when I have no posts). Of these 36/57 were by women, which doesn’t surprise me. I’m involved in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, and that tends to steer me towards women writers.

I mainly read Australian works, with 35/57 being written by Australians, although not necessarily set in Australia. Of these 35, 24 were written by Australian Women, again probably reflecting the AWW challenge.

I lean towards non-fiction, with 37/57 falling into the non-fiction category. Of these 37, twenty were ‘academic’ non-fiction, both history and biography, which I distinguish from other non-fiction by the presence of footnotes and/or a bibliography.

As far as most memorable reads go, I started the year well with Phillipe Sands’ East-West Street and finished it with David Sornig’s Blue Lake.  Along the way and with hindsight, I really enjoyed Janet McCalman’s Journeyings, Sarah Krasnostein’s The Trauma Cleaner, and Judith Brett’s The Enigmatic Mr Deakin.

I saw 27 movies over the year, eight of which were subtitled. If I were to nominate a New Year’s resolution (which I won’t) then it would be to see more international films.

And that was the year that was.