Presumed Guilty by Margaret Dakin

Margaret Dakin is a lass from Brisbane’s Redlands district, neighbouring the beautiful Moreton Bay, whose writing career only started once she retired at 65 years of age. Not only did she have success winning numerous awards with her short stories Margaret took to becoming a playwright which included song writing. She utilises her love of history to share stories of an early Australia which I have mentioned previously – see A Bonnet For Eliza.

Margaret continues to research and write and her most recent play, performed at some of the local museums in South East Queensland, has now been published in book format.

Presumed Guilty is loosely based on the trial of Ellen Thomson and John Harrison and the event which led up to it – the shooting of Ellen’s husband, William Thomson in October 1886.

More importantly, the particularly ugly death by hanging of Thomson, with the rope severing her jugular vein, began the social push to end hangings. “Blood trickling down her body and patterning in large drops on the hard cement floor. It increases in quantity and (soon) the whole floor is covered with a woman’s blood,” the newspaper reported.

By 1899, a powerful community mood had grown to abolish capital punishment and by 1922 Queensland became the first place in the British Commonwealth to end the practice.

Even in its written format Presumed Guilty is an interesting read which I believe would be an invaluable teaching tool for middle year school students. It covers pioneer life in the goldfields, the influx of Chinese miners, racism, sexism and class distinctions. The arrogant and pompous judge marks Ellen Thomson as a troublemaker having placarded for schools for the children of north Queensland.

Was she innocent or guilty in the death of her drunken and violent husband? We really don’t know………..

Never one for learning history from dates written on a chalkboard my fondest memories of Primary School days are the musicians and theatrical troupes who would visit the little school in the midst of bushland in Sydney. Surrounded by Eucalypts, Wattle and wildflowers history came alive in song, dance and movement. Alex Hood, folk singer, writer, actor, educator and folklorist immediately comes to mind even some fifty years later.

Well done, Margaret. Can’t wait to see what you come up with for your 85th birthday!

• available on kindle or paperback from Amazon


Thomson and Harrison were executed at Boggo Road Gaol in Brisbane. The remaining prison building has been Heritage Listed and is currently open for tours and selected movie nights. I watched Brubaker with Robert Redford surrounded by high fences topped with razor wire and was totally freaked.

The gaol was Australia’s most notorious prison and was the site of numerous hunger strikes and rooftop protests until the 1980’s. I was horrified to discover that the cells had no toilet facilities right up until closure.

Developers have targeted the city fringe property for fine dining, wine bars and night clubs. Not on your life – the joint reeks of other worldly presences……….

Books Can Be Friends.

My interest in the Second World War started after hearing an ex POW being interviewed on the radio one rainy Sunday morning way back in 1982. Looking back that sounds odd because as a child I was aware that my father as a younger man had flown in Bomber Command and had a War Bride from Brighton. Said bride remained in England and my father never boarded a plane, any plane, ever again. It was simply not discussed – all very stiff upper lip and a house full of females…..that kind of thing.

A young Stan Arneil was a Prisoner Of War in Changi following the Fall of Singapore. He wrote One Man’s War for his family’s benefit as they had no inkling of his earlier life. He went on to become a family and Church man with a successful career.

Listening to this interview I tuned into the hardships he and his fellow POWS endured and wondered how could someone who suffered so much speak with such positivity.

That was the beginning of my interest in POW autobiographies and biographies. I love reading of those whose resiliance and mental strength saw them through such dreadful times. I wonder how they moved past the darkness to find their peace and build upon their lives. I wonder too about luck, the luck of the draw.

I still have my copy of One Man’s War which is written in diary format. It’s one of those books that I am unable to part with. It is older than my children and outlasted a marriage, as has Of Love And War, a collection of letters to and from Captain Adrian Curlewis and his family.

Another Changi POW Sir Adrian Curlewis returned to civilian life becoming a Judge as well as being instrumental in implementing the Australian Life Saving movement.

His mother was Ethel Turner, author of the classic children’s book, Seven Little Australians, first published in 1894.

At a recent charity book sale I was saddened to see multiple preloved copies of Edward ‘Weary ‘ Dunlop’s War Diaries available for $1 each. Another survivor of Changi and the Burma Railway, Weary was not only a leader of men but a medical man who successfully completed hundreds of life saving procedures with very basic instruments and medicine.

I was saddened on so many levels : this is the kind of a book lauded by a particular generation with an age group decreasing in numbers, and I also wondered if the loss of these books meant that this part of our history would be lost in years to come.

I’ve informed the daughters that there are a carton of my favourite books joining me in that last journey when they cart me out of the house in a long wooden box, together with a dozen CDs – because music is important even on bad days – and my Errol Flynn movie collection. You never know if they might come in handy. The girls can hang on to the concrete possum collection.

Sydney Writers Walk

Home after spending a few days in the old hometown of Sydney catching up with the daughters. Our girlie weekends tend to consist of champagne breakfasts, too much good chocolate, dumplings, laughs, and a trip to the theatre.

And lots of walking. 27,000 plus steps on Saturday alone. ( Thank God for old pubs with harbour views and cold ciders).

The Sydney Writers Walk is a series of 60 circular metal plaques embedded in the footpath between Overseas Passenger Terminal on West Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House forecourt on East Circular Quay.

The plaques were installed to honour and celebrate the lives and works of well-known Australian writers, as well as notable overseas authors, such as D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad and Mark Twain, who lived in or visited Australia. Quotes from a significant work and some biographical information about the writer are stamped onto each plaque,along with an excerpt of the author’s writing.

It’s a perfect walk along the harbour with an ice cream in your hand. Boysenberry.

I was born, schooled, worked, married and had my two babies in Sydney and have been returning on a yearly basis forever. Stupidly, I introduced the daughters to theatre at an early age. And champagne breakfasts.

The old homestead was demolished nearly thirty years ago and replaced by a McMansion so I’ve never had the heart to revisit.

Interestingly, the apartment where we stayed in the city was two doors down from my office from 1980 where a client picked up a chair and threw it at me. But that’s another story…….

She’s a whole different city since those days.

Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko : Book Review

Published in 2018 by University of Queensland Press.

A few years ago I was a regular attendee at a local Bookclub. Lovely women though lots of Jane Austen and Alice Walker novels and strictly no consumption of food or alcohol. Not even a coffee. These old dears took their reading very seriously…….

When it was my turn to nominate a book I suggested something recent and by an Australian author : Melissa Lucashenko, an Indigenous Australian writer of adult literary fiction and non-fiction, and novels for teenagers.  Can’t get more Dinky-Di than that, can you?

I thoroughly enjoyed Mullumbimby as it was familiar in both location and context as well as being contemporary. It did not go down well with the old dears who were appalled by the language and the sex scenes. 

That marked the end of my Bookclub period.

Lucashenko’s latest book Too Much Lip won the 2019 Miles Franklin Award, awarded to “a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases”.

This is one confrontational novel with an uncomfortable depiction of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I’m even more uncomfortable in that as a non- Indigenous person I would be made a pariah if I even suggested some of the things which are in the book.

Protagonist Kerry returns to her hometown of Durrongo, just over the Qld border, on a stolen Harley to bid farewell to her dying grandfather. A fugitive with warrants out for her arrest, she intends to stay in town for the funeral only. However she soon becomes embroiled in dramas with regards to her family, her local family history, and the overdevelopment of the local community, and unexpectedly finds love with a white fella despite previously being a proud lesbian.

All of the characters are flawed and totally devoid of charm. There’s domestic violence, fraud, alcoholism, welfare, pedophilia and child neglect issues. There’s White colonisation, aboriginal massacres and the Stolen Generation issues to boot. Yet within all this ugliness and brutality entwined are beautiful things such as Dreamtime stories, connection to country, communication with animals (totems) and ancestors.

In the Afterword Lucashenko writes that while Too Much Lip is a work of fiction “lest any readers assume this portrayal of Aboriginal lives is exaggerated, I would add that virtually every incidence of violence in these pages has occurred within my extended family at least once. The (very) few exceptions are drawn either from the historical record or from Aboriginal oral history”.


Compelling reading.

Warning : I must be getting old. The language is more contemporary than contemporary. But not too old – if my daughters spoke like this they’d still cop a hiding.

Books By Aussie Authors and a Glass of Plonk With Michael Robotham

Recently in Australia we celebrated Love Your Bookshop Day and Book Week. Here are some books by Australian authors that I’ve recently completed. Interestingly, my tastes are changing: I have a preference for non fiction these days.

The Girl On The Page by John Purcell.

A beautiful,young and wealthy editor is given the task of assisting an elderly author, married to another author, to write a contemporary novel that will sell. The crux of the novel is what makes “great literature” versus today’s Best Seller. “There’s uphill reading and downhill reading. As you can imagine, uphill reading requires more effort. Downhill, less so. Readers will do both in their reading lives.”

All this protagonist needed was a father who owned a pub, right? This could have been a really good story with its insight into the world of publishing with the author being a bigwig at Booktopia. The sex scenes ruined it.  I’m no prude but we’re talking multiple cheap and nasty episodes and I suspect the author got his rocks off writing it. Erotic? In your dreams, matey.

Just Another Digger by John-Thomas Francis

Poems about war by a local author with sixteen years of military service behind  him including service in Korea. Enjoyed this one; his poetry tells of stories which are full of feeling without getting maudlin.

I took a few weeks to get through this one despite it being a slim volume. I’m just a pleb having grown up in a country that worships the doggerel.

Fortune Cookie by Bryce Courtney

Fourth generation Chinese-Australian man goes to Singapore to work as a creative director in an Ad agency. Triads, drugs, human trafficking, prostitution, sleazy businessmen are all included in spades. A saga that commences with the Chinese in the Gold fields in 1850’s Australia.

Fascinating history but would have benefited from the work of a decent edit. Repetitious and a good 100 pages too long.

Snake Island by Ben Hobson

Vern’s son is doing time for numerous episodes of domestic violence. When Vern hears that the son of the local drug lord is bashing his son in prison, he attempts to rectify the situation, at first peaceably, and later using his skills as a WW2 soldier in New Guinea. It becomes a train wreck.

This is an interesting read as every single character is flawed and unlikable. I think we’ve met them all! Extremely Australian in flavour, I guess I’m just a little over Domestic Violence as a theme. This blokey psyche that has men thinking that just because they don’t beat their women makes them a good fella makes my blood pressure soar. Where’s that garden hoe?

A good read.

Crime Writer, Michael Robotham, gave a presentation on his latest release, Good Girl, Bad Girl, at my local watering hole the other week.

With a dozen books as a ghost writer under his belt – including Rolf Harris ( which he didn’t see coming) – as well as his crime novels this chappie is fascinating and full of stories. It’s actually a bit disconcerting to find that authors that deal in horrendous crimes, blood and gore, are really such funny buggers in real life.

I’m hoping to find a copy of this one under the Xmas tree 🙂

What Have I Been Reading?

I’ve been focusing on independent authors, local to my area in the Redlands City area of Brisbane.  

Margaret Dakin was born and lived most of her life in Brisbane. She came to writing comparatively late after an adventurous life working in various occupations. After retiring in 2002, she joined a writing group and discovered a love of short stories. 

Margaret has had stage and radio plays produced as well as a musical titled A Bonnet For Eliza which was performed earlier this year. Blogged about it here:

Margaret was one of six grandmothers local to the Redlands Coast in Brisbane who, having a little spare time on their hands, collaborated on a novel, The Written Word.

This novel is very topical as it covers overdevelopment and reclaiming of the mangroves ( despite being under the environmental protection of RAMSAR).*

*what a bloody farce

**available from Amazon Australia

Why am I sharing this one with you? Because Retirement does not mean one stops living and the grey matter does not dissipate. There is heaps to do and though I am no longer ruled by daily achievements it is nice to think that there is still enough blood pumping to rattle a few chains. So, there’s now a day in the works for all local authors to present their books to the community ( and hopefully make a few quid), and I’m chatting with those who know about such things about a local Government grant to get a local writer’s competition off the ground.

Why didn’t my mother teach me to knit or sew or even crochet? Might have been easier:)

Umm, I lied. I still measure my days by achievements, but then I classify having breakfast a win.

Villers-Bretonneux, #kindjuly and nuts.

I’ve just booked into an Author-In-Action presentation at the local Library. Can’t wait to learn more about Vicki Bennett’s children’s book, Two Pennies.

In April, 1918 the village of Villers-Bretonneux in France was the scene of the world’s first tank battle between British and German troops which the Germans would win, occupying the township.

The Ecole de Garcons (Boys School) was destroyed along with much of the town on the 25th April 1918 when the Australian 13th and 15th Brigades recaptured it from the Germans in a battle in which over 1,200 Australian soldiers were killed.

The school was rebuilt with donations from Australia. School children and their teachers helped the effort by asking for pennies- in what became known as the Penny Drive -while the Victorian Department of Education contributed 12,000 pounds to the War Relief Fund. The school was appropriately renamed ‘Victoria’. The inauguration of the new school occurred on ANZAC Day in 1927. “N’oublions jamais l’Australie“ (Never forget Australia) is inscribed in the school hall.

The Rugrats have just returned to school after a fortnight of holidays here in Queensland.

The Little Community Library proved a huge success with the generous addition of CDs, DVDs and books for the older kiddies to ease them through the break.

A fellow Little Library Custodian shared with me that it was #kindjuly. Did you know this? (Marketing gurus: aren’t they precious…..)

Kind July – Stay Kind
If every Australian did one act of kindness a day for the month of July, that would be 775 million acts of kindness in Kind July (and 9.3 billion acts of kindness every year).

And I’m off for a dose of Community Theatre tonight : My Husbands Nuts. Honestly, I’m too intimidated to add an apostrophe in case I get it wrong.

Happy Trails:)