Apple Island Wife by Fiona Stocker : Book Review

Published in 2018 I’ve had my eye on this book for the past couple of months having holidayed in Tasmania, our Island state at the southern end of the mainland, on numerous occasions. The Apple Isle, as she was affectionately known a generation ago when that fruit was its prime produce, was the destination for my honeymoon, and a couple of Wedding Anniversaries. (Yes, we know how well that ended, don’t we…..just don’t lump any blame onto Tassie).

Twenty years down the track I came upon a Tasmanian whose eccentricities matched my own and we’ve been making the annual pilgrimage to the farm on the East Coast of Tassie ever since. I share all this as I feel it to be relevant to my feelings about this memoir.


The author, Fiona Stocker, is Australian by birth but grew up in the UK where she met her partner and they later immigrated to Brisbane, Queensland, in search of a lifestyle with more “space”. Seven years in Brisvegas and the couple realise they’ve merely swapped one city for another, and partner, Oliver, has never adjusted to Qld’s summer humidity. Ollie, mate, you are not on your own – feeling your pain.

They sell up and buy a five acre bush block out of Launceston, northern Tasmania, moving into a house which requires renovations and with septic tank issues. With two toddlers they embark on a totally different way of life, attempting to become self sufficient of sorts, as hobby farmers do.

Fiona shares the trials encountered in their first years on their property : scorpions, snakes, wallabies eating the vegetable patch, chickens that won’t lay, guinea fowl, and neighbours who are three or fourth generation Taswegian farmers – their own special breed, let me tell you. There are mistakes to learn from and celebrations to share, such as mastering the art of lighting a wood fire, cooking wallaby patties, stocking a wood pile, the formation of lasting friendships, and playing midwife to an alpaca.

Fiona admits that her mindset slowly changed to that of a country woman, bartering and swapping produce, considering bush regeneration, growing and cooking the bulk of family meals, and attending stock and farm machinery clearance sales for pleasure.

There are a lot of gentle laughs in this book and I feel those readers unfamiliar with life in rural Tasmania would really enjoy and gain from Fiona’s stories. A Must Read for City Slickers to appreciate their country cousins…..

One of my Tasmanian sisters-in-law butchers her Alpacas when they become recalcitrant and swears by Alpaca chops. The brother-in-law does not serve Turkey at Christmas, but rather Roasted Peacock which are in abundance on his property.

My limited artistic efforts include this plate I painted for the alpaca butcher in the family. My attempt at sarcasm as I was appalled. The alpacas had names for God’s sake.

Ten years ago I would have jumped at the opportunity to hobby farm in beautiful Tassie. These days I need the reassurance that I can get a pizza delivered and it’s a cheap taxi ride to visit Uncle Dan, (as in Murphy, the wine cellar).

This book most certainly resonates and I envy the Stocker’s their move and the realignment of their dreams.

I look forward to Fiona’s next book in which she shares how they become Pig Farmers. Personally, I’de love the author to include some recipes as these country women seem to have mastered the art of creating a meal out of absolutely nothing and turning it into something magnificent. Wallaby Patties anyone?

The Bee Gees & March 1988

You know how mumma lions get when their cubs are threatened? Well, I’m like that with my LP (vinyl) record collection. In numbers it’s only small – in memories it’s huge. The good, the bad, and the ugly. All have been placed on disks and there are moments when a girl gets a little sentimental, a wee nostalgic, and the music takes me back.

One of my first LPs was the Best of The Bee Gees Volume 1 followed by Best of The Bee Gees Volume 2. (Note : Not the first. I have to retain some semblance of pride, so that one shall remain nameless).

I mention this because I recently read The Bee Gees, Tales of The Brothers Gibb. Over a 1000 pages and way out of date it was hugely informative. Did you know the nicknames for the three Gibb brothers that formed the group were Pissy, Potty and Pilly after their respective addictions?

I was always a fan of Robin, the twin with the goofy face. Hated the eldest, Barry, who was too flashy and the falsetto gave me the pips. Unfortunately, I learned things about Robin in the biography that I really didn’t need to know and had to keep reminding myself that the magnificent monument in London dedicated to Bomber Command may not have happened without his attention and focus.

Their younger brother, Andy, was also an entertainer. Andy died suddenly in March 1988 which I heard on the radio coming out of a drug induced daze in the maternity wing of the St George Hospital in Sydney. Happy birthday my gorgeous Cat Balou.

Heading north to Redcliffe to see a Gene Pitney covers band. (Who, you ask? Think the song “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”). Redcliffe was where the Gibb family lived in their early days in Australia and a laneway is dedicated to their musical journey.

And here’s my brush with fame : I know a lad who stole Barry’s vegemite and cheese sandwich when they were attending Humpybong Primary School all those years ago.

Bee Gee Way, Redcliffe

Les Darcy And That Urban Myth.

I do have a basic understanding of the sport of boxing having been raised by a father who was an A Grade sportsman in his day: cricket, golf, football, swimming, tennis, and even Pennant lawn bowls in his dotage. It peeved him no end that neither of his daughters had any athletic flair nor interest though he did try to instil in us an appreciation of the athletic animal.

Not sure how that did either of us any good. Looking back to my teenage years I was enraptured not by the athlete but rather how they wore their uniform.

So I was aware of the name Les Darcy, a boxing legend from the early 1900’s, a young man who went to America to find fame and fortune. Myth has it Darcy was poisoned by Yank boxing promoters, just as Phar Lap, the racehorse that captured Australia’s attention during the Depression, was murdered.

Les Darcy is one of the Hunter Valley’s favourite sons, having been born in Maitland. He is honoured with a Highway named after him, a bronze statue in a local reserve, memorabilia in a sports club, as well as being featured on the outside wall of the *Maitland Art Gallery.

So I just had to read Peter Fitzsimon’s , The Ballad Of Les Darcy, and guess what? Darcy wasn’t murdered at all – he died of septicaemia following a dental issue caused in a fight two years previously when his front teeth were knocked out. I know. SO disappointing, hey…….

Darcy was the Australian middleweight champion, and at twenty years of age also captured the heavyweight title.

There was a glitch in his “good lad” reputation in that he was vocal in his antipathy towards enlisting in WW1 citing the needs of his eleven dependants. Thus his journey to America as a stowaway to make some big dollars on the boxing circuit to set the family up at home before agreeing to participate in the war effort.**

So much for the best laid plans. Darcy died at 21 years of age. No such conspiracy theories. He just didn’t take care of his gums. There’s a LIFE LESSON in that!

One of my father’s favourite movies, was Somebody Up There Likes Me, based on boxer Rocky Graziano’s autobiography which he used to make me sit and watch with him. Thank God there were no movies featuring lawn bowls.

*Maitland Art Gallery is most certainly worth a visit and make time for coffee and cake.


**This is where it became messy. Les enlisted in the American Army on the basis that he could have two months off for Boxing tournaments and to make big money, and to encourage American civilians to enlist also. He was made a Sgt and after the two months was up was supposed to be transferred to the Australian Army. Didn’t happen. He just wasn’t into dental hygiene.

The Scandalous Freddie McEvoy by Frank Walker : Book Review

“Swashbuckler, daredevil racing-car champion, Winter Olympian, gambler, smuggler, scoundrel and suspected spy – this is the fascinating story of scandalous Freddie McEvoy.”

Who?

The first sentence of the Prologue threw me with “ Freddie McEvoy was many things: the first Australian to win a medal at any Winter Olympics…..” Hey, was Zaria Steggall chopped liver?

It was only after delving deeper that we learn that Freddie McEvoy was indeed born in Australia but emigrated to Europe with family at the age of six following his father’s death, and represented the United Kingdom in a medal winning bobsled team in the Winter Olympics of 1936. Slightly different connotation………

McEvoy returned to Australia in his late teens where he became friendly with a young lad with similar interests and personality by the name of Errol Flynn, though returned to Europe within 3 years.

A quote from Flynn about McEvoy, as well as a photo of the two men together some twenty years later when they renewed their friendship in Hollywood in the 1940’s, graces the front cover. The author frequently comments that the two men look very similar, something else that I don’t get. Tall, dark and with a moustache. That’s it. All other photos within the book are so grainy and unflattering that you can’t tell. McEvoy doesn’t even wear his trousers well…truely…..

So Freddie is well educated, plays the ladies on the French Riviera, is athletic and a risk taker. He chases wealthy women to fund his lifestyle, and mixes with the “in crowd”, with lots of European Society and Hollywood names being bandied about, as well as the odd fling with known Nazi spy’s.

Always chasing money, McEvoy smuggled diamonds and guns on his yacht between California and Mexico and he too was targeted by the FBI as a Nazi spy. He died when his yacht crashed into a reef and in the process of rescuing his latest wife, though the circumstances were somewhat mysterious.

This is an easy read that goes in one ear and out the other. “Australia’s daredevil Lothario” whose mantra was “ Pleasure is my Business”.

Who? And does anybody care?

One Crowded Hour by Tim Bowden

One Crowded Hour, by Tim Bowden, details over twenty years, from the early 1960s, when Australian photographer and war correspondent, Neil Davis, brought images of the full horror of war directly from the battlefront to the world’s television screens.

Davis is best remembered for the years covering the conflict in Indo-China. He was the only western cameraman to film within the South Vietnamese army and actually managed to cross over battle lines to film with the Viet Cong. He also covered the war in Cambodia and Laos, and in 1975 scooped the world’s press by filming the taking of Saigon’s Presidential Palace.

This is an absolutely fascinating read, once again because it covered a period not mentioned by the Education Department at that time. (One daughter studied Modern History in the late ‘90’s. Ask her about the Korean conflict and she’ll talk for hours.  Not so this one. An aside : she actually met her future husband in a debate about Korea. Funny how things work out, hey…)

Davis must have been an interesting character, coming from a pioneering farming family in Tasmania. He was an athlete and had a quick brain, and from all accounts, had a fondness for the ladies.

This recount of his life is from his diaries, conversations with friends, newspaper cuttings, and some delightful letters to and from his Aunt Lillian from which he comes across as genuine and down to earth, despite some of his derring-do tendencies.

He has an artist’s eye when describing the beauty of Balinese women in the rice fields and the ancient temples and I just loved his commentary about Australian Government Officials before they had any power.

From 1967 in Saigon:
The Australian Minister for the Army, Malcom Fraser, is here at the moment – young and impressive looking but really a dreary bore with little intelligence to look further than he is officially shown. Which is in contrast to another young MP, Andrew Peacock, who recently visited at his own expense.

Fraser. Boring ? Can’t believe that, can you?

Like a lot of men that like to live on the edge, Davis had varied interests. He was a partner in a nightclub on the Mekong River and availed himself of the beautiful “dancing” girls, and had cards printed that said “I think I could fall in love with you. Ring me on xxxxxxxxx. Neil,” which he had on his person at all times. Sounds like a bloke you want to tip a glass of water over or what! But wait, there’s more….

He also set up and supported an orphanage.         Sigh…….

Davis’ personal motto, which he inscribed to the front of each of his diaries was the last two lines of this stanza :

Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife,
Throughout the sensual world proclaim,
One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth an age without a name

Thomas Morduant

In September 1985, having survived so much war, Davis was killed while filming an attempted coup in the streets of Bangkok. Incredibly his still-running camera captured his own death.

There is a music version of these events called An Ode To Neil Davis if you are interested. Go to : https://youtu.be/kLZ_K51yZLM.