A Couple of Recently Released Aussie Books…

Between 1947 and 1971, more than 320,000 migrants passed through Bonegilla Migrant Camp on the banks of the Murray River in rural Victoria making it Australia’s largest post-war migrant centre. It’s estimated that one in twenty Australians has links to Bonegilla.

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The novel, The Last Of The Bonegilla Girls by Victoria Purman, commences with four young teenagers forming a friendship and sharing their lives within this Camp; a Greek, Hungarian, Italian and the daughter of the Australian Camp Director. It starts strongly by highlighting the difficulties experienced by each these families upon their arrival in a new country: language barriers, segregation, cramped living conditions, limited employment opportunities, and a mix of cultural beliefs. Despite these differences these lasses remain friends as their families move forward into Australian society and remain in contact for the next fifty years.

Although these families are assimilating they also retain their own cultural identities and customs – arranged marriages, working in the family business, dating from your own ethnicity.

This could have been a really good and educational book but it deteriorated midway to just another soap opera episode with flings left, right and centre.

I have fond memories of northern Italian neighbours snatching the bread rusks off my teething babies and giving them chunks of salami to suck on instead. Greasy and full of garlic but it certainly stopped the grizzling.(umm, I probably shouldn’t mention that said babes had their first taste of Lumbrusco on their first birthday. Hands up those for the Mediterranean diet!)

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Well Done, Those Men: Memoirs of a Vietnam Veteran by Barry Heard is a difficult read, made more so as it was written as part of his journey to recovery from PTSD. It’s rawness made me flinch.

This memoir covers several versions of Barry: the naive and young country boy, smart arse Barry at boot camp, Barry the soldier of Vietnam, and the Barry who returned home a different man.

This is another one that had me asking why did we not learn anything about this conflict in High School history classes. You know, I don’t even have any memories of discussions about Vietnam around the dinner table.

I would not recommend this book as a fun read, but by God I think it a wonderful reminder of the strength of the wives, sweethearts, and family members who support these old blokes.

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Lastly, Liz Byrski’s A Month of Sundays is about four women from an online book club, who meet up and holiday together for four weeks to talk books and memories (with an illness thrown in for good measure).

Byrski is a journalist and writer who gears her books to an audience of women over the age of fifty and/or retired.

I’m just letting it be known now that if the highlight of my life becomes a weekly yoga class, as in this book, I’de be popping a cyanide pill.

Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig

First published in 2007 Rhett Butler’s People gives us Rhett’s side of the story in his relationship with Scarlett O’Hara of Gone With The Wind notoriety.

GWTW was written by Margaret Mitchell in the 1930’s, and was turned into an epic American Civil War movie with bucket loads of southern charm and elegance in 1939.

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I’m not going to discuss either the book nor the movie. There has been so very much written about both that if you are ignorant about one or the other you might as well get back under that rock and hide away with your unicorn friends.

(My copy of the book was a gift for my 21st birthday, as was the vinyl LP of the soundtrack, both of which I’ve been carting along on my travels for twenty, thirty, some years. My father told me when death was closing in on him that waltzing with Vivienne Leigh, who played Miss O’Hara in the film, in the UK at wars end was one of his fondest memories.The birth of a girl child didn’t rate a mention).

But back to the book, Rhett Butler’s People.

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Two things here to remember :

0. Gone With The Wind is a fictional novel. Fictional – it’s not real. It is a novel that has been created by a writer with an imagination based on some historical reference points.So if we want to pull Rhett Butler’s People apart please remember that it too is fiction.
0. Do not read the reviews. The Reviewers all seem to have forgotten that these books are a work of fiction. How come these Reviewers have so much spare time that they can pull a novel apart, a piece of creative writing, page by wretched page. Imagine sharing a life with someone who does that for a living. How joyless can life be, I have to ask?

Rhett Butler’s People begins with a duel between Rhett and Shad Watling, Belle’s brother, which leaves readers in no doubt that this is the Butler we adored in the original novel. We then go back to Rhett’s childhood, meet boyhood friends and influences, and learn why he was expelled from West Point and is considered the black sheep of his family. It provides Rhett’s backstory which we didn’t get in GWTW. More importantly, his relationship with house madam and confidante, Belle Watling, is revealed.

Rhett begins blockade running off the Carolina coast, launches a lucrative shipping concern in New Orleans, and seeks his fortune in San Fransisco during the days of the gold rush. In the last days of the war between North and South Rhett amazes himself by joining in the fight and the scenes written about the battlefields are truly harrowing.

Then there is Scarlett, still the petulant, narcissistic, beautiful Scarlett. But Rhett Butler’s People is not about Scarlett, but rather the cast of characters, both black and white, that enrich and encroach on Rhett’s life, and provide a deeper understanding of the troubled times of the Civil War.

I really enjoyed this book. I didn’t pick it to pieces and read it for what it was – a most entertaining and fast paced story. There may well be some loose ends from one book to another, but you know what? This is not an episode of This Is My Life.

My only misgivings? Rhett goes awfully ga ga over this chick, Scarlett. Not sure if that’s normal but then I’ve never been ruled by the heart.

And is a 16 inch waist really feasible without the removal of a rib or two?

The weather forecast for the weekend is 27degrees C. I think I will prepare barbeque and test my Mint Julep making skills. My last effort was thirty odd years ago and I remember gaining an understanding why those southern belles were so in need of an afternoon nap.

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Calamity Jane and High Fives.

My eldest daughter works with children. Not as a childcare worker or educator, but rather as one of those courageous folk who save kiddies in harms way; those born in crack dens, who don’t get a decent meal for a month, and those who suffer all sorts of unthinkable atrocities. She is so busy rescuing that she does not have her own little ones, unless you include Bentley, my beautiful Grand Furbaby.

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Little People love my daughter and she is Godmother and “Aunty” to several. This child of mine, deemed an old soul at birth, and one who reversed our mother-daughter roles when still in her late teens, has recently validated my worth as a parent.

How, you may ask?

When asked for sage parenting advice by friends, such as a good DVD to keep the young ones interested and content, does my daughter recommend Transformers, The Wiggles, or anything slightly superhero related?

No. Josie is slowly introducing the 1953 movie, Calamity Jane, a light hearted western musical starring Doris Day and Howard Keel, to a whole new generation. One lounge room at a time.

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Way to go, girl !

From IMDB:
In the lonely Deadwood, Dakota, territory, sharpshooter Calamity Jane (Doris Day) falls for cavalry Lt. Danny Gilmartin (Philip Carey) when she is forced to rescue him from the Indians. Recognizing that the women-starved townsmen long for a “real” woman, Calamity journeys to Chicago to bring back famous singer Adelaid Adams, but mistakenly brings her maid Katie instead. Heartbroken when Danny falls for Katie, Calamity all but ignores her jovial friend Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel).

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Doris Day is just beautiful, whether dressed in animal skins or in flouncy petticoats, and this is a joyful little flick full of fun. It requires no intellectual dissection – hanging the brain at the door along with the hat is compulsory.

Imagine, a movie that can hold the attention of our most vulnerable and impressionable, without a Hemsworth in sight.

Now that’s a win for Mother, I would say. High Fives all around please.

UPDATE : My other daughter tells me that Calamity Jane, the stage production, is coming to theatres in the ACT.
Now that’s worth some thought.We won’t tell Jo as she is inclined to break into song with “The Black Hills Dakota”.

Louis de Bernieres and Nicholas Cage.

My youngest daughter and I share an interest in the author, Louis de Bernières. Born in 1954 he is a British novelist most famous for his fourth novel, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book in 1994 and in the same year was shortlisted for the Sunday Express Book of the Year.

In 2001 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was turned into a film in which Nicholas Cage played an Italian soldier who is part of the occupying force on the Greek island of Cephalonia during the Second World War. He falls in love with Greek lass, portrayed by Penelope Cruz, and blah, blah, blah.

I enjoyed the book. The movie would have been better 1) without Cage, 2) without Cage hamming it up with his woeful Italian accent and 3) Repeat 1.

( I’ve just spent twenty minutes on hands and knees searching for both the DVD and the book in the She-Shack. It appears, once again, those little birdies who flew the coop did not leave empty handed. Cait : I still have Windtalkers. Please come and get Cage out of my house, and be quick about it please.)

De Bernieres’ other fun book, Red Dog, was inspired by a statue of a dog he saw during a visit to the Pilbara region of Western Australia and was adapted as a film of the same name in Australia in 2011. This is a great little movie with an even better soundtrack, full of top rock tunes. Highly recommended if you are looking for motivation to mop floors.

So, where am I going with this?

Well, I lashed out today. Stumbled across a DVD I’ve been keeping an eye out for twelve months having read In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton
Here– about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.

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With a full belly and satisfactorily hydrated I don’t think I have the intestinal fortitude to watch Nicholas Cage tonight. Maybe even ever again. He is just so hard going, and reminds me of my first child, Bonnie, the Bassett Hound.

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Sorry, Nick. Some other time. Just not strong enough for Men Of Courage tonight…..

Holy Guacamole and Other Things.

Flags Of Our Fathers by James Bradley, the son of John “Doc”Bradley, one of the six flagraisers at Iwo Jima, was co-authored with Ron Powers. The photo of U.S. servicemen raising the flag on Mount Suribachi became an iconic symbol of victory to a war-weary nation, and the image was used as propaganda to sell war bonds.

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I saw the Clint Eastwood directed movie of the same name before reading the book, and loved it. Having finally read the book I can advise you that the book is so very much better.

Doc Bradley never talked about the war and it wasn’t until he was in his mid 60s that information about the part he played became known to his family. “The real heroes of Iwo Jima were the guys who didn’t come back”, he said.

The dissemination of this information is what makes this book such an interesting and heartfelt read.

So, of course, I’m about to read Letters from Iwo Jima by Kumiko Kakehashi, telling the story of Iwo Jima from the Japanese point of view. This too was made into a movie, again directed by Eastwood, and I remember being dumbstruck after watching it, having never previously considered the opposing view.

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Talking propaganda, my youngest foisted a DVD onto me which I had been ignoring for weeks. You have to understand that this child of mine collects singing Bing Crosby dolls.

Their Finest, starring Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, and Bill Nighy takes us back to the 1940’s in London. It tells the story of a British Ministry of Information film team making a morale-boosting film about the Dunkirk evacuation during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz using the input of the female voice.

What a surprising little flick which alternatively had me smiling and crying. I even enjoyed Bill Nighy’s performance( I apologise for doubting you, my gorgeous one. No, I still don’t want to watch your Police Academy collection).

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You’ll be pleased that for a change of pace a girlfriend has lent me her dog eared copy of Open Your Mind To Prosperity by Catherine Ponder.

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Holy Guacamole. I may just have to make that a Gin and Tonic evening to give myself any chance of surviving this one…..

Flibbertigibbets

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I’ve been a flibbertigibbet this week. Haven’t even picked up one book to read.

Putting it down to getting so close to Retirement. It’s a subconscious thing, but all of a sudden I’ve stopped jumping out of bed by 5am, a habit I’ve been trying to break for twenty years. When the boss rings on my day off I ignore it. Not only that, I don’t even hear the phone ring. Yesterday, I didn’t crawl out of my pjs till after lunch. Marketing meetings at work go right over my head.Who cares?

Yep, my head is elsewhere and I’m just loving being irresponsible, something I have never, ever, been in my entire life.

And talk about serendipitous, some amazing doors have opened for me in the past few days :

0. I am pet and house sitting in the Hunter Valley for a month. Australians are all on a “help a local farmer program” because of the ongoing drought. Viticulturalists are farmers. I aim to do by best to assist the Hunter Valley wine industry
0. Won a scholarship to Open University as one of the “new faces” to Retirement for a specialist retirement organisation. New face – I hope that includes plenty of Spakfiller.
0. By sheer fluke I stopped at a Garage Sale last weekend – picked up some more cheap classic DVDs and books to ease me through long days and nights – only to discover the people are involved with the local retirement scene and welcome my skills as a publicity officer.
0. A girlfriend from 40 years ago wants me to attend her birthday function in another part of my world. If I was working I couldn’t consider it. Guess what? It’s my retirement gift to myself.

Getting all that off my chest I’m going to attempt a new book :Origin by Dan Brown.

Well, maybe not.

It’s just so exciting when all your ducks line up.

Sunday, Too Far Away with Jack Thompson

The first movie I saw at the Drive In, which I believe was later demolished to build a hotel, shopping complex and units (as all goods things are), was in Sydney’s Caringbah. It was January 1976 and it was hot, both in and out of the car, yet a wonderful way to finish a day having spent ten hours sunning oneself on the sand and skipping the waves at Eloura Beach. If you’ve ever read Kathy Lette’s Puberty Blues the imagery is not wasted……

A young Jack Thompson headlined in this movie which made it interesting as everyone over the age of 40 seemed to be mortified by this gentleman’s antics. He was the first nude male centrefold for Australia’s women’s magazine, Cleo, long since defunct, and the matrons tut tutted at his cohabitation with two sisters. Yep, you read that right: two sisters.

Jack Thompson played the knock-about, Foley, a heavy drinking gun shearer around whom the movie is based. It’s very much a bloke orientated film which quietly covers much of the male culture of rural Australia in the 1950s.- hard work and hard play, heavy drinking, mateship, and not having two bob to rub together from one stint in the sheds to the next. The film’s title “Sunday Too Far Away” is reportedly the lament of a shearer’s wife: “Friday night [he’s] too tired; Saturday night too drunk; Sunday, too far away”.

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Filmed on the edge of the Flinders Rangers in South Australia the scenery is at once beautiful with its red dust and towering gums, and bleak in its heat and isolation. If you have visited this part of the world at all you would appreciate the authentic depiction. The movie should have perhaps been called “Flys, Never Too Far Away”.

Poor Jack copped more flack from the Matrons with a naked bum dance scene in the washroom, before movement of this kind became on trend with Big Brother. Forty years later I am just grateful that John Ewart kept his towel on.

Viewing this movie again recently after such a long time was very interesting on a more personal level. My father, who spoke Latin and French, came home from Bomber Command requiring peace and quiet. He went bush for twelve months shearing sheep. I now understand why at barbecues he would boil a tin Billy on the fire and twirl the pot around his head to mix the tea leaves. Really, who does that, right? He would have also enjoyed that the only women around were barmaids and Cocky’s wives.

Back in the days of tea trolley ladies I worked with a woman in her ‘70’s who was a magnificent cook- cakes, sausage rolls, and other crowd pleases. Her secret was that she had once been a shearer’s cook, and if the shearer’s didn’t like the tucker the cook was sent packing. I was forever encouraging her to write a book – she could always turn nothing into something delicious.

It’s these little moments in Sunday, Too Far Away, that make this movie memorable.The cook gets the boot, with the aid of Lemon Essence, because the shearers don’t like what he dishes up. Old Garth, a gun shearer back in the day who was given the boot by his wife because of his absences from home, is now an alcoholic and his dead body is loaded onto the tray of a Ute. The sheep station owner (or Cocky) is banned from the shearing sheds, and the testosterone levels rise to coincide with the number of sheep shorn in a day.

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The last ten minutes deals with a Shearer’s strike back in the 50’s. To be honest this was wasted on me. Australian public school education: what, you thought we learnt Australian history? Hilarious. It does allow for a decent pub brawl, however.

A young Jack Thompson in a Jackie Howe never really worked for me, though on this occasion he was pleasing to the eye. A tad churlish perhaps, but I did cheer when he got squashed in a cow stampede in Australia thirty years later.

Lastly, if you’ve never been into a working shearing shed let me tell you that they stink. Putrid things. Watch the movie instead – shearing sheds are not the stuff of bucket lists.

Sunday Too Far Away won three 1975 Australian Film Institute awards: Best Film, Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actor in a Supporting Role.