Category Archives: Uncategorized

An Australian beach summer


I’ve always loved summer, but it has an edge now.  I know why that sunset is so orange. For the first time in my life, I think, I heard a forecast of a 35 degree day as being a “bad” day instead of a beautiful day, a stunning day, a fantastic day.  I’ve been down by the beach – a somewhat unprepossessing bayside beach, really – and I’ve been aware of those Australians whose summer holiday dream has become a nightmare, and those whose retreat in the country has been blasted by flame. And it just keeps going on, day after day.

‘La Distance Entre Nosotros’ by Reyna Grande


2012,  354 pages

Yes! 354 pages in Spanish! I read this book as part of my Parceros participation with Spanishland School. Our teacher Andrea held a weekly podcast where she would ask questions and discuss one or two chapters, but I fell behind on the podcasts and just kept reading, two pages per night.

The book is probably aimed at Year 7 and 8 kids in American schools. It was written in English by the author, who was born in Mexico and learned English as a second language, and then translated into Spanish.

The author, Reyna, was born in a small village in Mexico and both her parents left in order to work illegally on the ‘other side’ (i.e. America) when she was a very young child. First her father left, then he called for his wife to join him, so the children were left with their paternal grandmother, who because of her clear dislike for the children’s mother, distrusted that they were indeed even her own grandchildren. Their mother returned alone, when she found that her husband was cheating on her, and the children ended up with their maternal grandmother while their mother went back to America with another man.

In Part 2 of the book, their father returns with his new wife and grudgingly takes the three children over the border. A violent and hard man, their lives are still hard and it is only Reyna who breaks free of the poverty in which they are living. Through it all, she desperately wants her father’s approval.

Reading only 2 pages a night meant that Reyna’s long howl of abandonment wore a little thin by the end, but I came away with a much richer understanding of the ‘Dreamers’ and the desperation with which illegal immigrants try to achieve a better life.

The level was JUST right for someone who has Intermediate level Spanish. I generally had to look up about 4 or 5 words per page, which was not enough to slow me down, and I found that I could easily guess many unfamiliar words.  It is well written and poignant- I really enjoyed it.


Challenging myself again…

I’ll be doing the Australian Women Writers Challenge again for 2020, hoping to read twenty books during 2020. I’ll try to read a little more fiction this time.

And while I’m at it, I’ll nominate the same number of books on the Goodreads challenge – sixty- which I achieved this year by the skin of my teeth.

So off I go into 2020…..

Movie: The Nightingale

Yep, it sure is violent. I was forewarned that the first ten minutes were particularly violent, but I didn’t realize that the violence continued throughout the film. It’s a vivid and gritty depiction of 1820s Tasmania, a place steeped in violence and killing.  It’s more than just tricking-up a horror film with historical artefacts: it’s also about powerlessness and dispossession and revenge. I thought that the ending was going to descend into bathos, but the last two seconds saved it from that fate.

Larissa Behrendt has written an interesting review of it.

It’s now down to one showing a day at the Nova, so it will soon disappear.

My rating: 4 stars

‘Charles Hotham: A Biography’ by Shirley Roberts


1985, 201 p.

Even though I’m a historian of Victoria, I confess to drawing rather a blank when it comes to all but the most recent Governors of the state. La Trobe springs to mind immediately, but many of the others I ‘know’ only by things that have been named after them, especially hotels and public buildings.  I was aware that Hotham had taken over from La Trobe, and that he has been characterized as the villain in the Eureka Stockade story.  There’s a street named after him, a pub in Geelong and a mountain… but that’s about all I could have come up with before I read Shirley Roberts’ biography of Charles Hotham.

In her opening pages, Shirley Roberts announces that “Hotham appears as a man who has been most unfairly denigrated”. Clearly her intention in writing this book is to rescue him from this fate.  Of course, historians mount arguments about individuals all the time, making judgements “from the enormous condescension of posterity” as E. P. Thompson put it.  In this case, however, Roberts’ intention to scrub the mud from Charles Hotham detracts from her book as history. She accepts uncritically certain sources and cherry picks from others, and when actions contradict her argument she brushes them off as inexplicable or strange.

However, despite these flaws, Roberts has written what seems to be the only biography of a man whose short 15 month governorship coincided with a political flashpoint in a colony on the verge of receiving self-government.  It starts in a workman-like fashion, with a family tree – the kiss of death for a biography.  Probably the book would be written very differently today, with more emphasis on the networks of empire and the significance of patronage links, and a widening of the focus from white politicians to include protestors’ and women’s forms of influence. But given that we are reading the book we are holding, and not a book as we would wish it written 35 years later, she has captured well the far-flung nature of the British Empire, and the circuits along which colonial authorities and civil servants travelled.

Charles Hotham never aspired to be a colonial governor. He far preferred his naval role, and the command of ships and navy personnel without the complications of representative democracy and colonial elite structures. His work took him to Argentina, where the British Navy at first played a type of peace-keeping role between Argentina and what is now Uruguay, before intervening to protect their trade routes along the rivers that bordered the two countries. After the putative abolition of slavery, he was sent to West Africa (generally seen as a grave-yard posting) to harass slave shipping along the trade routes, especially en route to Brazil. He demanded, and received, loyalty from his crews in an established hierarchy of authority and obedience.

But these very qualities made his posting to Victoria, already seen as a problematic colony, even less appropriate and bound to end in tears. The discovery of gold had led to a deluge of new arrivals, the complete disruption of the bureaucracy, and a crying need for infrastructure. The economy was wobbly, and running at a deficit. In true economic technocrat style, he pronounced and held to hard-line economic prescriptions, announced and implemented without consultation. The colony, like those in the other Australian states, was holding its breath waiting for the legislation for self-government (see Peter Cochrane’s Colonial Ambition) and this return to authoritarian, centralized rule was not likely to please anyone – even those who had craved a more ‘governor’-like presence than La Trobe had cast.

Roberts explains the origin of Hotham’s world-view in terms of his naval background, but uses it to excuse his too-quick turn to repression, and recourse to delay through ordering a Royal Commission (that old standby to gain time). She portrays him as a man surrounded by flawed men, who let him down.

In filling out Hotham’s early career, which she does very well, she draws on a biographical sketch written by Hotham’s sister as a gift to his sister-in-law on their marriage. Although no doubt drawing Hotham in a good light, it has been gift to his  biographer, too. In her analysis of Hotham’s time in Melbourne, she draws strongly on the conservative, pro-Hotham Argus with little reference to opposing newspapers. As an author, she is mounting a pro-Hotham argument, although she does not make it clear exactly what or who she is arguing against.

I was very impressed with her ability to summarize a scenario or event clearly and succinctly, without overwhelming the reader with detail.  This was especially true of Hotham’s time in South America and Africa, which I knew absolutely nothing about.  She is not an academic historian – and the paucity of her reference list attests to this – and her book is more a matter of setting things out, rather than complicating by nuance.

Hotham only governed the colony between June 1854 and November 1855. This short period of time is largely dominated by the Eureka uprising, and Hotham’s role in it. This short, pragmatic book fleshes out his career more fully, and portrays him as more than just the villain of the Eureka rebellion. But Roberts’ determination to rescue Hotham from blame has led her to mount a polemic, rather than write a biography.  The reader should approach this book with admiration at the job she has done, and appreciation for filling in otherwise little known information. At the same time, however, this book needs to read with care and a raised, sceptical eyebrow.

And look at this – I was half-way through the book when I found this plaque at Flinders Street Railway Station!  So he did leave a mark on Melbourne after all!


From this place the Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay Railway Company’s service to Sandridge (Port Melbourne) was inaugurated by His Excellency Sir Charles Hotham K.C.B., R.N. Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria on September 12 1854, when Australia’s first steam train departed for Sandridge at 12.20 P.M.

My rating: 6.5/10

Sourced from: CAE bookgroups. You’ll have trouble tracking it down, I suspect.


I have included this on the Australian Women Writers Challenge database.



I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 17-25 December 2019

annear_nothing_on_TVNothing on TV I’ve just started listening to Robyn Annear’s podcast series ‘Nothing on TV’. It’s great. Annear is a Victorian historian, whose book Bearbrass largely sparked my interest in Melbourne, and she is wry, funny, and quirky. As is this podcast. She draws on the marvellous resources of the online Trove database to chase down odd events, and researches them further. In Episode 1 Enter the Elephant, she takes the story of a tragic drowning of a young boy in Cremorne in 1854 whose body was finally recovered by the elephant at Cremorne Gardens nearby- or was it? She then goes on to a discussion of elephants in 1850s Australia and the phenomenon of the Pleasure Garden. All accompanied by the pop of a champagne cork, and a lovely, broad Australian accent.

RevolutionsPodcast. Well, the revolutionary ‘People’s Will’  assassinated Csar Alexander II in 1881, hoping that it would launch the revolution but it didn’t. All it did was unleash another wave of repression. But by the late 1890s, the stars were aligning for the socialists again. In Episode 10.21 The Socialist Revolutionaries, Mike Duncan identifies four different groups who come under the ‘Socialist Revolutionary’ umbrella, although it’s almost Monty Pythonesque “Peoples Front of Judea” overtones. He talks about Catherine Breshkovsky – what a fascinating life! I wish I could find a biography of her.

In Our Time (BBC) I always thought that the Rapture was an American Evangelical thing, but it originated with Irish Anglican minister John Nelson Darby, who was influential amongst the Plymouth Brethren in England in 1832 and founded the Exclusive Brethren in 1848. He travelled and preached in America, where his ideas about pre-tribulation rapture theory was embraced (i.e. that God would take up the elect and whisk them up to heaven, away from the seven years of tribulation which will end when Jesus returns, ushering in 1000 years of Gods reign on earth). In this program, The Rapture, Melvyn Bragg discusses the Rapture, and its political and theological consequences.  Perhaps not for everyone – it gets pretty hard going theologically, although the second half is more interesting.

Chewy, chewy


My brother is no Marie Kondo. He finds it very hard to throw anything out, which is why he brought this 45 rpm record back to me yesterday. Yep, it has my name on it. Chewy, chewy? The Ohio Express? Do you even remember that song? We started humming ‘Sugar, Sugar’ until we realized that we had the wrong song, and then we were stumped. What was Chewy, Chewy???

Ye Gods.

In 1968 I received 25 cents pocket money per week. Singles like this cost 99 cents. That’s a month of saving. I have been robbed.