Monthly Archives: July 2019

Movie: An Unexpected Love (El Amor Menos Pensado)

Very much an over-60s film, this Argentian movie looks at a long-term marriage that breaks up after the only son leaves home. Like all good comedies, it has a bit of an edge to it, as these middle aged characters negotiate Tindr, Instagram and the complexities of pulling apart two lives that have become integrated after years of marriage.  I guess you’d call it a rom-com, which is not my normal fare, but I really enjoyed it.

Spanish with English subtitles

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.


I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 8-15 July 2019

Revolutions podcast: Once again, an excellent podcast about Marxism, this time looking at Historical Materialism. I wish that I had heard this back in the 1970s doing undergraduate European history! If you’ve ever been a bit fuzzy about Marxism, this and the preceding podcasts are must-listens.

Earshot (ABC) In November last year, we began hearing about the ‘caravan’ of refugees heading towards the Mexican/American border. This episode Life on the Border:Tijuana migrant stories features interviews with people who joined this ‘caravan’, counting on the strength of numbers for safety and as a tactic for safe passage. Very human.

Rear Vision (ABC) When we think of slavery, we tend to think of the southern states of America and the British slave trade in the West Indies.  Less often do we think of the Dutch, and even less often do we think of Denmark. But Denmark did have its own slave trading and sugar plantation economy. Hans Jonathan was born in 1784 the son of a white Danish colonist on the island St Croix and a slave mother. After being brought to Copenhagen, he decided to escape to Iceland. The blue man was black: Hans Jonathan’s slave saga captures this unknown perspective on slavery and colour.

Rear Vision has also had two features on the signing of the treaty of Versailles. They are repeats from 2009. The first one, the Paris Peace Conference, looks at the various motivations of the different participants, including Australia.  The second episode, also first aired in 2009 explores The Impact of the Versailles Treaty. It’s a bit repetitive of the first episode, but it’s interesting in that Margaret Macmillan rebuts the idea that the Treaty directly led to the Second World War, and Robert Fisk gives a good perspective on the Middle East.

Duolingo. Duolingo’s Spanish podcasts are roughly 50/50 English/Spanish and at intermediate level. There are transcripts on their webpage, and Google Translate could help you with the Spanish if you’re stuck.  Mi Dos Papas (My Two Dads) is about a Colombian woman who decides to look for her ‘real’ father, only to find a father in another place.

rubbleHistory Hour (BBC) This program advertises itself as ‘historical reporting by the people who were there’. As a result, it focuses on 20th century history, drawing on the huge archives of the BBC. There are about four stories in each episode. I was drawn to this podcast by the feature on the burning of Kenya’s ivory stockpile (the remains of which are still in the Nairobi National Park in this picture). There was also a story about the execution of high-ranking colleagues of Castro in Cuba; the historian who translated Ann Lister’s journals; and an experimental facility where they deliberately gave people the common cold in order to research it. But the most fascinating of all was a segment on the introduction of tampons to China in the 1980s. It was a difficult product to market and even now only 2% of Chinese women use tampons.

New Books in History. This time the podcast is within the field Mormon Studies- who would have thunk that there was such a thing? The rather gushy interviewer talks with Quincy D. Newell, the (female) author of “Your Sister in the Gospel: The Life of Jane Manning James, a Nineteenth Century Black Mormon“.  In 1842 free woman Afro-American Jane Manning James joined the Mormon church after being raised a Congregationalist, at a time when the Mormons encouraged pentecostalism – talking in tongues etc.  In a largely white church, she was a bit like Forrest Gump in that she had connections with all the Smiths and the big-daddies of Mormonism, but she was excluded from the ritual of endowment (a type of priesthood) and adoption (a form of sealing making sure that relationships are for eternity) probably on the basis of colour. She was, however, allowed to be adopted as a servant! She was finally endowed posthumously, 75 years after her death!  Like all New Books in History, this is very low-tech and aimed at an academic audience.

Article: ‘Ethel’ by Kath McKay

I enjoy reading essays and articles, and so I’ve decided to write about them on my blog. Apart from the fact that they interest me, one of my criteria for selection is that they are available online or through a State Library library card. Provenance is the online journal of the Public Records Office of Victoria, and it has terrific essays that draw on the resources of the PRO.

‘Ethel’, Provenance: The Journal of Public Record Office Victoria, issue no. 16, 2018. ISSN 1832-2522.  Available here

In November 1895,  a little 9 year old girl stood before the Essendon Court of Petty Sessions, giving evidence against the man accused of raping her. The accused was Edwin Worrall, who had ‘taken in’ little Ethel and her two brothers while her sole-parent father worked in the city. She had been assaulted several times over a number of months, and it was only when she told her father that she had ‘a secret’ that the assaults were revealed. The case came before four justices of the peace at the Essendon court, who found the father not guilty. When the case was referred by the police prosecutor to the Victorian attorney-general, the JPs were asked to explain their reasoning for acquittal. It’s a sad litany of prejudices: the girl’s statement was too good to be believed and she had probably been coached; she was too intelligent; when she began to cry after cross-examination, that led to doubt; she never told the accused’s wife.  We’ve heard too many such statements in child sexual abuse cases in recent decades.

And so the case went to the Supreme Court- and I’ll leave you to follow up and find out what happened. This beautifully told and achingly sad essay is written by her grand-daughter, many years later, who found it hard to believe that her beautiful ‘little Gran’ had been this same little, abused child.

‘How Australia led the way: Dora Meeson Coates and British Suffrage’ by Myra Scott


2018 reprint (original 2003 Commonwealth Office of the Status of Women), 120 p.

This book was originally launched in December 2003 at a ceremony in Parliament House Canberra where two crucial documents of Australia’s democracy were put on public display. The first was the Australian Constitution and the second was the Commonwealth Franchise Act of 1902, which gave the vote at Federal elections and the right to stand for Parliament to white Australian women on the same terms as men. Placed adjacent was the “Trust the Women” banner, made by Dora Meeson Coates in 1911 (which can be seen here) which, 77 years after its creation, was purchased from the Fawcett Library, London by the National Women’s Consultative Council as a Bicentennial Gift to the Women of Australia in 1988. In 2002 it was donated to the Parliament House Gift Collection for permanent display (although it sometimes travels to other museums).

This small book tells the story of the banner, its creator Dora Meeson Coates, and the context in which the banner was produced. Its author, art historian Myra Scott, had already written a thesis in 1992 on George James Coates and his wife Dora Meeson Coates where she described their role in founding a group of expatriate Australian artists in London, which became the base for successive generations of Australian artists seeking to establish themselves internationally. She was well placed, then, to write on Dora Meeson’s activities amongst the suffragists and suffragettes in England, where parliamentary approval for women’s suffrage lagged behind New Zealand and Australia’s pioneering legislation. The book has the British political system as its setting and focus and describes how, after the success of the Australian suffrage campaigns (even in laggardly Victoria) Australians travelled to ‘the mother country’ to encourage the British Parliament to pass similar legislation.

The creator of the banner, Dora Meeson was born in Melbourne in 1869. Her father, the founder and headmaster of the now defunct Hawthorn Grammar School, returned to London when Dora was ten years old in order to study law. The family then migrated to New Zealand, and in 1895 moved to Melbourne where Dora studied art at the National Gallery School. There she met fellow artist George Coates, and when he won a scholarship to study art in Paris, Meeson and her family also travelled to Paris. George and Dora married in 1903 and, leaving behind the comfortable economic milieu of her parents, they struggled to become part of the art world in London. After the death of her parents, she became increasing involved in the suffrage movement, most particularly through the Women’s Freedom League where she was founder-member.

Legislation for female suffrage had been presented to the British Parliament several times, but each time was blocked after the second reading. After one of these failures in 1908, they were advised by Home Secretary Herbert Gladstone that the success of the other Reform Bills in 1832, 1867 and 1884 had only occurred after large rallies forced the government’s hand.  It was here that Dora Meeson stepped up.  She was highly active in the Artisans Suffrage League, producing banners, postcards, booklets for womens suffrage – including her “Trust the Women” banner, which featured in the 1911 Women’s Suffrage Coronation Procession.

What surprised me in this book that it was not just Australian suffragists who lent their support to their British sisters, but (male) Australian politicians also very publicly supported the campaign as well. Prime Minister Andrew Fisher spoke in support at the International Women’s Franchise Club and at an all-male Labour banquet.   The Australian Senate sent a ‘resolution’ praising the influence of women’s suffrage to the British Parliament in 1910, but it was promptly buried by the British Prime Minister who did not want to publicize it. The proponents of suffrage reform could point to evidence from the Australian experience: women had not been turned into harridans; instead they had influenced important social legislation to benefit women and children. And even though the British Parliament might sniff at the presumption of the colonies to comment on the composition and suffrage of the House of Commons, the colonies and dominions had skin in the game. The proposed Naturalization Bill, whereby a woman’s nationality on marriage would change to match that of her husband’s (even if they were divorced or if the husband had died) was originally planned to extend across the empire, affecting Australia as well. (In the end, the dominions were allowed to grant local nationality under their own terms of qualification.)

The Women’s Suffrage Coronation Procession of 1911 was held to coincide with the Coronation of King George V. At the same time the Imperial Conference was held,  bringing politicians from across the empire to London. Margaret Fisher, the Prime Minister’s wife and Emily McGowen, the wife of the New South Wales Premier attended the Women’s Suffrage Coronation Procession, which took three hours to pass by, with 40,000 women marching five abreast, representing 28 women’s organizations. It was a highly visible march with music, floats and banners. Differences between the varied women’s groups, some of which focussed on parliamentary lobbying while others turned to direct action, were put aside for the march.

Dora Meeson’s banner representing Australia was big, requiring four people to carry it. Unlike other embroidered banners, this one was painted on an olive green background. The image, Scott suggests, references one of the paintings on the walls of the Exhibition Building in Melbourne, created for the Federation ceremony conducted there ten years earlier, which depicted Britannia as Minerva. In what could be- and was- interpreted as ‘colonial upstartness’, the banner depicted a younger woman beseeching a highly unamused Mother England to ‘Trust the Women’ who had received the suffrage in Australia. Far from the ‘aggressive rabble’ as suffragists/suffragettes were often depicted, these are ‘womanly women’, and the image appealed to statesmanship at the highest level.

But none of this agitation, or the urgings of Australian and New Zealand personalities and politicians, swayed the British Government. When war broke out, the campaign for suffrage was suspended and Dora Meeson joined Nina Boyle of the Women’s Freedom League in forming the Women’s Police Force to fill the positions of men who were at the front.  She continued to be a member of the Australian and New Zealand Women’s Voters Association, whose members promoted themselves as the only enfranchised women in Britain. After the provision of  partial suffrage in 1918, it was not until 1928 that Britain finally granted the full suffrage to women.

This book was re-released in 2018. During 2018 another book about the influence of Australian suffragists on the British campaign was also released – that of You Daughters of Freedom by Clare Wright. From my brief perusal of Wright’s book (which I have not yet read), they are two very different propositions. Wright’s book is large, at over 500 pages and weaves a tapestry of many women, told in a warm and colloquial tone. Scott’s book is much smaller, with an emphasis on the banner and its creator, in a more restrained narrative tone.

The story of Australia’s early 20th century progressivism is a good one, and it bears retelling many times, especially in today’s context of increasing conservatism. The actions of Australian women on the international stage, and the willingness of Australian male politicians to champion female suffrage once they found that there was nothing to fear, show Australia as a new nation, bristling with confidence and action.  There’s room enough for many stories celebrating this.

Sourced from: review copy from Australian Scholarly Publishing.

AWW2019 I have added this book to my tally in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019.

Movie: Red Joan

Usually I rail and rant when a film ostensibly ‘based on a true story’ makes changes, but I didn’t feel this way with this film. ‘Red Joan’ is based on the true story of Melita Norwood, who used her position as secretary at the innocuous-sounding Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association to pass nuclear secrets to Russia. The film has shifted the action to Cambridge University, and made ‘Joan’ a brilliant student, rather than a secretary. But in this case, I didn’t mind. It’s usually the most dramatic scene of the film that prompts the most egregious truestory-to-film changes, and in this case it’s the scene of an elderly woman giving a press conference in her garden. There was a fidelity both to this event and the impetus behind it, so if the producers decided to go for Cambridge scenery and a bit of a feminist nudge, that’s okay with me.  Judy Dench doesn’t appear much in the film, which is a series of present day/ flashback sequences, and really the film belongs more to Sophie Cookson, who plays the young Joan. The two actresses are well cast because it didn’t strain credulity to believe that they were playing the same character.

My rating: 4 stars.


I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1-7 July 2019

Who Runs This Place? (ABC) Another very good episode –the States– this time looking at the states of Australia and the power networks that operate in that state. Think NSW- pokies, Alan Jones and Peter V’Landys and the racing industry; think Tasmania – Federal Hotels (pokies); think Western Australia- mining; think Victoria AFL etc.  I feel like having a good hot shower to wash off the grunge.

Earshot (ABC) With the one year anniversary of Ireland’s referendum result that overturned the constitutional ban on abortion, ‘A Sense of Quietness‘ looks at four women who spoke out – a journalist, a radio producer, the founder of a woman’s clinic, and a woman travelling from Ireland to the UK –  and the consequences of their stance. Very sobering.


The man himself: Karl Marx (Source: Wikipedia)

Revolutions Podcast. We’re heading towards the Russian Revolution, but Mike Duncan is taking pains to really lay the foundations of Marxism first, and these podcasts are excellent.  Episode 2 The Adventures of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels is just what the title says- a biographical sketch of the different lives of these two men, drawn together by ideas.  In Episode 3, The Three Pillars of Marxism, (i.e. classical German philosophy, classical English political economy, and French socialism and revolutionary theory) he explains really clearly the Labour Theory of Value. Excellent.

Conversations (ABC) In Australia’s Romani Gypsies, the ever-interesting Richard Fidler interviews Mandy Sayer who wrote   Australian Gypsies: Their Secret History. It sure is secret- I had very little awareness of the Romani community in Australia. The interview was first broadcast in September 2017.

Duolingo Podcasts  These are just the right level for me, and I can understand them without the transcript, which is very conveniently placed on the Duolingo website. This episode El Regalo (the Gift) is about a young Colombian boy who accompanies his parents on a bus trip to the coast to share Christmas with the extended family. But when three young men board the bus, there is trouble as they steal all the possessions of the passengers.  The transcript has enough English for you to follow along, even if you don’t speak Spanish

‘On Identity’ by Stan Grant


2019, 95 p.

This essay is published as one of Melbourne University Press’ Little Books on Big Ideas  series. The essays, all of which are titled with “On….” have stellar authors, sometimes writing in their areas of expertise (e.g. former Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane ‘On Hate’ or Germaine Greer ‘On Rape), sometimes not (e.g. David Malouf ‘On Experience’, Anne Summers ‘On Luck’).

Stan Grant, journalist and commentator, has dealt with the themes on this ‘On Identity’ essay through his other recent publications as well with Talking to My Country in 2016 and Australia Day in 2019. The biographical outline at the start of the book (which I assume he approved) describes him as a “self-identified Indigenous Australian who counts himself among the Wiradjuri, Kamilaroi, Dharrawal and Irish.”

In this book, Grant pushes back against being asked to tick the box which appears on so many forms asking ‘Are you Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander?” By ticking the box, he writes, he is forced to deny the other parts of his identity- most particularly his white grandmother who was exposed to the virulence of the racism of the 1940s when she married his indigenous grandfather.

It is so simple I can say it in plain English and in one sentence: I will not be anything that does not include my grandmother. I don’t wish to be anything that sets me apart from my wife, or any of my ancestors, long lost to history, but whose blood still flows somewhere in me.  I will not put a mark in a box that someone has decided contains me. That box shrinks the endless mystery and possibility of the universe. I will always choose the side of love. (p.83)

As he points out, the question ‘Are you Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander’ is one that the nation pushes back onto the individual (p. 16).  John McCorquodale, the legal historian counted sixty-seven definitions, and Grant cites a series of statements from the High Court of Australia in the 1980s and 1990s that tried to definite Indigenous identity. He writes of the author Kim Scott, whose book Kayang and Me traced his own search for Noongar identity.  While claiming to be captivated by Scott’s work, Grant admits that he reads him now “with both eyes open and I realize that we are worlds apart” (p. 40)  Grant writes he has been long troubled about identity:

…how easily it morphs into tyranny. Scott is being asked if he is black or white, he can’t be both…It comes with the same assumptions of power: we will tell you who you are and whether you belong; we will determine your identity; you will answer to us. (p 26)

Instead, he claims love and freedom- something that he doesn’t find in Scott’s work.

This is a very poetic book, woven through with allusions to various writers and philosophers – none of whom are cited directly or referenced, so you just have to take his word for it. There is certainly the resonance of The Preacher in his writing, which I find rather off-putting.  Paradoxically, I read this book because I was preparing a talk to my Unitarian-Universalist fellowship on the theme of ‘identity’, a topic that I’m even more confused about now than when I started.  The book reads out loud beautifully (particularly for a spiritually-inclined gathering), but then I found myself wondering “but what does that actually mean?”

None of us likes to be defined by one thing only, and we are all aware of our own complexity and contradictions. Perhaps identity, and its attractions at various stages of the life cycle, is a malleable thing that is useful in different senses at different times. It has a personal meaning, but at certain junctures its political and historical uses are more pertinent.  Sometimes identity has a ‘conversion’ aspect, as when someone ‘comes out’, ‘comes to Jesus’  or discovers an indigenous heritage of which they had been previously unaware.  At such times, it is understandable that one aspect of identity overshadows the rest. Moreover, often the simplistic tick-the-box questions of indigenous identity or having a disability have funding and political implications that have been hard won.

As you can possibly tell, I found myself confused by knowing what to do with this book. Janna Thompson in ‘The Identity Trap’, at Inside Story, has done a much better job than I could ever do of grappling with this small, slippery volume.

My rating: 7/10 ?

Sourced from: Purchased at Readings.