Scrublands by Chris Hammer: Book Review

Author : Chris Hammer

Published 2018 ( softcover)

About the author:
Chris Hammer is a seasoned Australian journalist of thirty plus years experience specialising in International Affairs and Politics. His career obviously provided much fuel for this novel.

Twelve months after a mass murder in a rural Australian town journalist, Martin Scarsden, arrives in Riversend to report on any flow on effect that the local priest shooting five locals may have had on the community.

Riversend could be any isolated country town suffering the effects of drought, bushfires, and a dying economy. The only Hotel in town is now Closed for business, a sure sign that the town is on its last legs.

Scarsden, a damaged character, investigates further into the horrific event that occurred on the church steps and becomes involved with other developments. These tragedies bring hordes of journalists to the sleepy town sniffing out a story for the benefit of city people expecting news with their daily breakfast and dinner. I suspect that the author is every bit as cynical and jaded as Martin Scarsden and his description of the media throng is right on the money.

Riversend is a parade of odd characters with secrets. Have they escaped to the quiet of the country to hide secret lives or better enjoy their lives in secret?

This is another novel which casts the harsh Australian landscape as a character in itself. It is one of those rural towns we’ve all driven through. You know those towns you would rather drive right through than stop for a bathroom break ? We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

Scrublands is a tightly wound page turner with lots of twists and turns and covers multiple themes. Once again I am fully aware why I never entertained being in the Police Force. I simply have no mystery solving skills.

Read this one in a single sitting too. Oops, don’t think the floors will ever get mopped again.

Tip :

Another one for under the Xmas tree. Make sure you put your name on the gift tag.

Australian Author Jon Cleary and The Sundowners.

Way back in 1969 when I was attending a little primary school in Sydney’s bushland in a suburb dominated by War Service Homes I found myself interested in reading books written for adult entertainment. Instead of “sugar and spice and all things nice” I was brought up on a diet of Robinson Caruso, Treasure Island, and all things Kipling. My favourite tale, The Last of the Mohicans, probably accounts in part for the the cowboy tent in my backyard which I shared with Edward, the cat.

So at ten years of age when I borrowed a book from the school library the teachers were a bit shocked by my selection. Before releasing it, the Librarian sent a note home to my parents asking for for parental permission because it contained “adult themes”.

The book that caused so much kerfuffle? A lovely tale about a family in the 1920’s that live a nomadic lifestyle travelling from one rural town to another around Australia, picking up work where ever they can, including sheep shearing with the wife doing her bit as the shearer’s cook. The Sundowners by Jon Cleary was later adapted into a movie starring Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr and Peter Ustinov, filmed in Australia in 1960.

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At the 33rd Academy Awards, The Sundowners was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Deborah Kerr), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Glynis Johns), Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

Although I haven’t seen this movie for thirty odd years it has stuck with me – I can still clearly see the book cover. Firstly, I was mad keen on Mitchum, and also because it was a story of simple folk, with a simple life, who took pleasure from simple things. There’s a Life Lesson in that……….

In hindsight it was probably my first recollection of  an onscreen Australia. Back in those days you couldn’t get more Dinky Di than Chips Rafferty and John Meillion, and both get a run in this one.

I’ve just read another of Jon Cleary’s novels, Degrees Of Connection, the last in a series of crime books based on the character, Scobie Malone. Never heard of Scobie Malone? Neither had I!

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Malone is a fictional Sydney homicide copper. The first book in the series was published in 1966, and Degrees Of Connection has Scobie promoted to Superintendent of Police, published in 2003, seven years before the author’s death.

One of the author’s trademarks is an unusual first line in each Malone book. This one didn’t disappoint. “She’s had more facelifts than the Strand Arcade” said Clements.

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I enjoyed this book as an easy read and the trivia orientated information about Sydney suburbs was both familiar and nostalgic. It also made good use of Sydney’s tribalism which made me smile, as now an observer rather than a resident. “ Rooty Hill ? Where’s that? In the outback?”  (Sydneysiders will appreciate this, not so non locals. She’s a beautiful, exciting city but there exists invisible walls depending on your socio-economic standing and geographical situation. Not P C? Maybe, but dead right).

The character of Malone is more brain over brawn and I appreciated the sarcasm and wit over the vulgarity and profanities from some of our other home grown crime writers. I’m no prude, and can drop ‘em with the best of them, but how much can a koala bear?

The second Scobie Malone book in the series was adapted to movie back in 1975, with a young Australian, Jack Thompson, playing Malone. With the title Helga’s Web or alternatively Murder At The Opera House it was by all accounts a stinker.

The author was shown the film at a private screening and was not happy with the result. “When I saw Scobie nibbling on the fourth nipple I thoughtthat’s not my Scobie“. And I walked out”, Cleary said.

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I think I will give that one a miss.

Trivia :

The same shearing shed at Carriewerloo Station was later used in the South Australian Film Corporation film Sunday Too Far Away (1975).

And I reiterate: if you have any notion of visiting a shearing shed for Bucket List purposes, forget it. Putrid things.

Freddy Mercury or Col Porter?

When I told the daughter of my intention to see the movie, Bohemian Rhapsody, this week she said , “ Mo, you’de be better off getting Thai Takeaway, opening a bottle of wine, and listening to a CD.”

Always good advice.

Enjoyed the Villanova Players production of High Society instead.

When said daughter graduated from University with a couple of degrees, as well as dark rings under the eyes, we celebrated with a fine meal in the city and some Bubbles. As you do. Did I hand her a set a car keys or a pair of diamond earrings as a gift for four years of study?

Of course not! What kind of mother do you think I am! My eldest daughter and I located a movie poster for High Society and had it professionally framed. Looked schmiko too. Cait is a huge fan of both Bing and Cranky Frankie, and this movie also ignited her interest in the music of Satchmo.    (Louis Armstrong).

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High Society was released in 1956 with a simple storyline :” Jazz artist C.K. Dexter Haven (Bing Crosby) is still hung up on his ex-wife and neighbor, socialite Tracy Samantha Lord (Grace Kelly), however Tracy is engaged to another man (John Lund). Matters are complicated even further when a magazine reporter (Frank Sinatra), in town to cover Tracy’s wedding, also winds up falling for the beautiful bride-to-be. As Tracy tries to decide on the ideal husband, each suitor works hard to convince her he is the best choice.” – wikipeadia

Supported by great music and lyrics by Col Porter as well as some truly gorgeous gowns this movie was nominated for Academy Award for Best Story, Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written Musical, and Academy Award for Best Original Musical.

So you think Col Porter music is no longer relevant? Pop star, Robbie Williams, has been reintroducing these tunes to a new generation. And doing it so damn well too.

I took both my daughters to see Williams perform in 2006 at Suncorp Stadium. Suncorp is a sporting venue, affectionately known as The Cauldron, but its beauty is that regardless of where you sit you are right on top of the action. I took an out-of-towner there once and he was more interested in the sound from the roaring crowd than any on field action.

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So we’re way up high in the bleachers, almost touching the stars. Robbie’s on stage doing his thing, and my girls are moving with the music. The eldest loses herself completely. ( My fault. I did that hippie thing and placed head phones on my tummy whilst pregnant). Spent the night holding said child around the waist as I was so fearful she would take a tumble and we would lose her. Literally.

Here’s to another community theatre group bringing great entertainment to the locals, and a stage band putting life back into the music of Porter. The music is in the bones…

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Yep, Caitlin, good advice.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper and a Brisi Heatwave.

Queensland is in heatwave mode so the boss asked me to stay home this week. No air conditioning you see. She knows full well I would incite the troops with tales of 14 yr olds being sent down the coal mines for 12 hour shifts. No matter – breakfast in the garden each morning has been delightful, and I’ve caught up on some reading.

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Title : The Lost Man

Author : Jane Harper

Published : October 2018

Jane Harper is an Australian Author, whose two previous books, The Dry and Force Of Nature, went straight to the top of the bestsellers list. These books gained a following of Aaron Falk fans, the protagonist in these novels

This stand alone novel is set in rural and remote Queensland, and begins with two brothers meeting at the boundary of their neighbouring properties following the death of a third brother in strange circumstances.

Nathan Bright, a loner and outsider, tries to understand why his much respected and younger brother died from the heat of the Australian sun, having walked 9 kilometres away from his air conditioned car.

The biggest character in this book is the harsh, red dust landscape of outback Australia. The story may seem slow but that’s the pace you have to maintain under a huge Qld sun.

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There is just so much happening in this book with so many topical themes being covered including the high rate of suicide amongst farmers. It is a story about family secrets, and how those secrets can cross the generations.

Forget Falk – he’s a wet sock. Nathan Bright is my boyo. This is a great read – I had to finish it in one sitting and did not come close to solving the mystery of Cameron Bright’s death.

TIP.
Make sure you put a treat for yourself under the Christmas Tree as I have being doing so for twenty years. This book is the perfect, slow burning holiday read:)

Self Indulgence : The Australian War Memorial

The Australian War Memorial is Australia’s national memorial to the members of its armed forces and supporting organisations who have died or participated in wars involving the Commonwealth of Australia, and some conflicts involving personnel from the Australian colonies prior to Federation. The memorial includes an extensive national military museum. The Australian War Memorial was opened in 1941, and is widely regarded as one of the most significant memorials of its type in the world.
-From Wikipedia.

Situated in Canberra, our Capital, the AWM draws thousands of international and domestic tourists each year. Aussie’s have an uneasy relationship with Canberra, being the location of Parliament and with a very high percentage of Public Servants. Personally I love Canberra. Our bush Capital is a Foodies Delight, with an abundance of wineries, magnificent gardens and reserves, and there are so many interesting places to visit. With Remembrance Day only days away here are a few of my favourite photos from my last visit to the AWM.

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From the AWM looking towards Parliament House. The avenue is full of touching memorials and makes for an interesting walk.

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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

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The Pool of Remembrance. Every evening at 5 pm there is a Closing Ceremony on these steps, including bagpipes, which includes a memorial to a nominated exservice person.

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Afghanistan Memorial. Each of these marble sculptures represents a young life lost. You have to walk past them to exit the building.Talk about emotional!

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Time for a coffee at Poppy’s Cafe.

There is also a well stocked military bookshop which gleans money from me each and every visit.

The grounds are full of bronze sculptures and the odd tank, as well as local wildlife. It is suggested that a minimum of two days is required to see it all. Exhibits change on a regular basis. I’ve never had time to work my way through the naval displays and try to avoid the RAAF area because it is just too easy to get distracted.

The AWM is a Must Do for any visitor to the ‘Berra, and Entry is at No Cost. Pick me up along the way……….

It’s In The Bag and Constance Hall’s Queens.

I recently shared how I had read two Australian novels that included amongst their common themes, domestic violence. These books motivated me to participate in Share The Dignity’s “ It’s In The Bag” Christmas Promotion.

The concept behind this promotion is that women fleeing from violence often leave the scene with absolutely nothing. By filling a handbag with some basic daily necessities, such as a hair brush, tooth paste and brush, shampoo and personal hygiene products you give these women something that is theirs, something to help get them back on an even keel, something to remind them that we care. Refer http://www.sharethedignity.com.au.

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Amongst the essentials I’ve also included a diary, calendar for appointments, and pens. I really struggled to find an appropriate book to include for those down times over the holiday season, and finally settled on Like A Queen by Constance Hall.

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Controversial, I know. Not sure if women over fifty will appreciate as the language is pretty confrontational and colourful. Hall not only calls a spade a spade, she calls it a f******* shovel. Younger women seem to think this is “authentic” and “real”.

Not heard of Constance Hall? She is a blogger with half a million followers on her page, Queens of Constance, and has shared her thoughts on parenting, body image, post natal depression and sex, all totally without filters. No topic is off limits which has been polarising especially with a recent marriage breakdown, new relationship and new baby.

At one stage Hall and her followers, known as Queens, were involved in a slinging match with another Mummy Blogger who tagged Constance, “Slummy Mummy”. No comment from this end.

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Like A Queen is not an easy read in that it seems to need a good edit. Hall tends to get her message across better in short blog pieces, though I do believe that Hall’s genuine intent is to “keep inspiring women to treat themselves better and treat other women better too!” It’s the self esteem message that won me over…..

It’s not an easy task finding an appropriate Self Help book for the victims of Domestic Violence, a book with a message yet is still light and fun. I should know – my work environment has me surrounded by books about the benefits of drinking your own urine, eating the placenta after childbirth, and finding your inner child.

Is there a book that you would recommend?

NOTE:
Since the beginning of 2018, 67 women and 18 children have been killed in this manner in Australia.