To Censor or not to Censor – that is the question.

Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.”

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

The Little Community Library in the parkland near my home continues to gain momentum. I put a call out for more children’s books at the beginning of the school holidays and the neighbourhood came good with DVDs, small toys, and colouring in sets as well as a variety of reading material.

Over the past weeks there has also been the donation of numerous LGBT Romance novels. Often they are sneakily hidden between the pages of other books.

Personally, I’m not offended, but as this communal Library is frequented by children of all ages who utilise the reserve with its playground equipment I have been taking these books out of circulation. Effectively I’ve played Censor. It doesn’t sit well but I have genuine concerns that if a 7 year old goes home with one of these novels a parent could go into meltdown. This could possibly result in the loss of this resource.

A friend has questioned my stance, given that I’m not so zealous with the plethora of religious books that are donated.

None of these books are tossed into the garbage bin. They are donated to an organisation where they can be better appreciated. The plethora of religious books are given two weeks on the shelves before they are removed. I think that’s generous.

Am I becoming a Book Nazi?

The National Archives in Canberra has updated its cafe with a new display on banned books. You can read about the secret history of Australian censorship as you sip your coffee. You can also examine a censor’s report or flip through a copy of a book or magazine once prohibited in Australia. This Cafe is going on my Must Do List For when I next visit the ACT.

Ride Like A Girl

Michelle Payne became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, Australia’s most prestigious horse race. As she came off the course in Flemington, Victoria, she told waiting media: “I want to say to everyone else, get stuffed, because women can do anything and we can beat the world.” Go girlfriend!

Ride Like A Girl hit the cinemas last week telling the story of Michelle’s big win in 2015. 

I had expectations that this would be just another feel-good film about a young girl who managed to overcome the odds in a male-dominated industry to win horseracing’s biggest prize. Just another National Velvet.

It was more than that in that it is so totally Australian. It’s not particularly clever, it’s charm is that it is simply Dinky Di to its bootstraps. Sam Neil plays patriarch, Paddy, a horse trainer and the father of ten children, eight of whom become jockeys. Michelle’s mother died in a car accident whilst she was still in nappies, her sister Brigette died in a race fall, and Michelle herself nearly died after a fall in 2001.

Teresa Palmer ( Hacksaw Ridge) plays Michelle and despite being of fragile appearance is determined and headstrong. She had dreamed of winning a Melbourne Cup since childhood.

Michelle’s horse on the day, Prince of Penzance, was 100-1 prior to the race, and of course we all love a story of the underdog getting up. Michelle’s brother, Stevie, played himself in the movie and he was the strapper on the day in real life. A Downs Syndrome kiddie it is the Michelle-Stevie relationship which really works and to this day they own a farm where they train horses together.

There were two things that disappointed me about Ride Like A Girl: firstly, actress Magda Szubanski. There have to be other middle aged character actresses in the country chasing work, and it’s not like customers are queuing up for a five minute performance from Magda. Magda playing Magda has been done like a dinner. 

And honestly, would this movie have worked if it wasn’t so close to the first Tuesday in November and new frocks, eyebrow shaping and lunches weren’t in full swing?

I’ve never been to a Melbourne Cup. I nearly went on a 5 day cruise from Sydney to Melbourne for the event with a young man when I was 17 but my father spat chips ( as well as a lot of other things) so that never eventuated.

Over my working life I’ve only attended one Melbourne Cup Luncheon. Now cop this : work commitments meant I never even watched or listened to the race live for all those years. How UnAustralian is this? And you wonder why I retired early……

My youngest (currently in New Delhi) will be peeved that I’ve already seen the movie as she was at Flemington for the Cup when Payne rode the winner. That’s what happens when you don’t invite your mother along…..

I’ve just ordered the autobiography, Life As I Know It, from the Library.

Next week : Last Blood-Rambo 5. * Hanging head in shame……….

Note: Ride Like A Girl has been getting attention from both sides of the Horse Racing Industry – both negative and positive.



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”.

Gulp!

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.


Maracas, Bushfires and The Breaker – Part 2

This time last year I spent several days in Tenterfield, New South Wales, for the inaugural Peter Allen Festival. Less than twenty kilometres across the border from Queensland and with a population of less than 5,000 you wouldn’t think there would be much more to learn about a rural township.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

This trip was a whole different kettle of fish and included a tour of the town with a local historian. So much information to take in when a girl has a head full of music, local Sav Blanc, and sore muscles earned on the dance floor.

I was already aware that Solicitor, Major James Francis Thomas, who defended Harry Harbord Morant at his court-martial for war crimes during the Boer War, was a Tenterfield lad. Thomas was portrayed by Jack Thompson in the 1980 film Breaker Morant.

Thomas died in the 1940’s a rather broken man though well regarded. Only within the last ten years a sugar bag full of Thomas’ military memorabilia was found at the local Tenterfield Tip having been stored at an old rural property just out of town.

What was in the sugar bag?

A penny on a leather string inscribed H H Morant which was worn by The Breaker around his neck when he was executed by a British firing squad in 1902 and bears the mark of a bullet hole.

An Australian red ensign bearing the names of Morant and his co-accused, Peter Handcock. Their birth and execution dates are inked into the Southern Cross stars on the design. It reads: “Utter scapegoats of the Empire”. There is a grainy 1902 photograph of Thomas standing by the flag-draped grave in Pretoria of the dead Anglo-Australian horseman, bush poet and military officer, and this is believed to be that same flag.

A first edition, signed copy of George Whitton’s book, Scapegoats of the Empire, the Lieutenant’s account of court proceedings. ( He was sentenced to Life Imprisonment).

All artefacts are available for viewing at the School of Arts in Tenterfield.

LIFE LESSON: Always expect the unexpected.

Note : Tenterfield is just one of many rural towns suffering severe drought with dam levels down to 30 per cent. Much of the district was engulfed in flames during our visit, with no power and two major highways cut.

Thank you to the wonderful people of Tenterfield for their hospitality over the Peter Allen Festival weekend. Thank you all so much for your grace under fire – literally. Thank you for sharing your stories, your hearts, and your history.

A huge thank you to the organising team. You are all “the sons and daughters” and we’ll be back again next year. May the coming months be kinder to you all.

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 🙂

Maryborough and a Touch of Whimsey : Part 1

Maryborough is 300kms north of Brisbane, inland on the Mary River, and positioned between those tourist mecca’s, Hervey Bay and the Sunshine Coast. Founded in 1847, proclaimed a municipality in 1861, it became a city in 1905. During the second half of the 19th-century, the city was an entry point for immigrants arriving in Queensland from all parts of the world.

Maryborough’s income comes from numerous farming and station prospects in and around the city and it’s healthy fishing industry. Tourism also plays a significant part in the economy and sells itself as the Heritage City of Queensland  holding heritage markets each Thursday. Many 19th and 20th century buildings have been preserved and the suburbs are littered with the quintessential old Queenslander homes, ( which a Danish friend described as a “wooden s***box on stilts”) and which are worth a small fortune.

However, Maryborough’s real claim to fame is as the birth place of whom? Here’s a clue……

And another, in case that one was a little obtuse….

Yep, P L Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books lived in Maryborough before moving elsewhere at age eight. Her father managed a bank, in the building where, in a room on the second storey, she was born. This is in the centre of town and still in use, no longer as a bank but as a retail shop. A life-size bronze statue of Mary Poppins, as P.L. Travers described her, complete with umbrella was erected outside the old bank premises at 331 Kent Street, on the corner of Richmond Street, in 2005. 

It is now one of Maryborough’s most famous and photographed icons.

From dusk till 9pm every night there is an illuminated mural that is simply enchanting. ( I was between tea and a show so without camera – Damn!) Here’s another mural – the joint is jumping with them!

But there’s more – we Aussies are adept at flogging a dead horse, you see.

Every winter school holidays for the past ten years Maryborough has held a Mary Poppins Festival. The Festival offers something for all the family. The ‘Art of Storytelling’ program includes film, art, music, performance and literature during the 10-day event. Events are held in various locations across the CBD as well as heritage-listed Queens Park.

Maryborough, thank you for your hospitality. It was a lovely visit.

I do so love our country towns and learn something new at each and every one.LIFE LESSON : Get away from the cricket on the telly and help our farmers and country cousins by spending a few bob in their towns. You’ll be blown away by some of the stories these townships can share.

Danger Close: The Battle Of Long Tan

I’m currently wading through David Cameron’s The Battle Of Long Tan to better gauge the historical accuracy of the movie released this week, Danger Close: The Battle Of Long Tan.

Set in Vietnam in 1966 the 1st Australian Task Force headed by Brigadier David Jackson (Richard Roxburgh) is set up in Nui Dat where patrols are sent out into the local countryside. One night the camp is attacked by mortars and while the Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery are able to target them, the 1st Field Regiment need to follow up the next day to find the source. Alpha Company don’t find anything, so Harry Smith’s (Travis Fimmel) Delta Company is sent out to chase them down while a rock show – with Little Pattie and Col Joye and the Joy Boys- is happening back at camp and with monsoonal rain forecast.

All goes well until at the rubber plantation at Long Tan the 11th Platoon of D Company comes under heavy fire and it is soon discovered that this is not just a raiding party but a full battalion of the North Vietnamese Army. 108 young and inexperienced Australian and New Zealand soldiers fight for their lives against 2000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers.

My initial qualms were about how this would stack up against the big money American movies. And you know what? There was plenty of blood and guts though the point that war is ugly was made without the focus on missing body parts. Bravo.

The Battle is also told through the eyes of Harry Smith and the other leaders on the ground which means that the audience is in on the tactics. Thank you, producers, for taking into consideration that we don’t all have military backgrounds.

This is a very Australian (and Kiwi) movie and the young larrikins come across as brash until they find themselves under fire. The language is littered with colloquialisms  though I admit to being thrown by “ we’re not here to **** a spider”.

Strong performances by all concerned. Reviews are raving about Travis Fimmel’s performance. I found his eyes so mesmerising that I tended to lose focus for a moment or two – a bit Paul Newman-ish.

Whilst this movie didn’t enlighten me any as to the whys and wherefores of this war, it did perpetuate the ANZAC ideals of mateship, larrikinism, and sheer courage.

What I did learn was that the Artillery at Nui Dat fired almost non-stop for 5 hours in support of the battle and that artillery fire was eventually being brought in “Danger Close” to within 50 metres of the Australian position.

And also that the helicopter pilots were as mad as cut snakes.  I’m now chasing a copy of (pilot) Dr Bob Grandin’s book. See here: 

https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/a-helicopter-pilot-remembers-the-terrifying-battle-of-long-tan-as-new-film-premieres-20190613-p51xkx.html

I like a movie which leaves me curious. Vietnam was not discussed in schools back in the day. No political agendas. How things have changed….

I hope that these (now old) men receive the respect that they perhaps did not have previously.

Tip: Don’t rush out of the theatre. Read the screen right till the end. This is when you’ll be privy to a few sobs. Sitting in the dark in the quiet, I felt as if I’de been winded. 

***********

Vietnam Veterans Day is commemorated on the 18th of August, the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan for the men of D Company, 6RAR.

On the third anniversary of Long Tan, 18 August 1969, a cross was raised on the site of the battle by the men of 6RAR, honouring the 18 Australians who lost their lives.

In 2017 the Vietnamese Government made the decision to hand the cross back to Australia, as a gesture of “goodwill” (following a political incident which barred Veterans from visiting the cross in Vietnam for the 50th anniversary of the event. Just one of those little “incidents” that we must gloss over). It is now on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.