Two Over Achievers

Never heard of Florence Violet McKenzie, affectionately known as Mrs Mac or Violet? Well neither had I until reading Radio Girl by David Duffy.

You know how there is this current movement to encourage girls into S.T.E.M subjects at school – read: Science, Maths, Engineering and Technology-then this is one fascinating read about a woman born in 1890 well before her time.

The list of some of her achievements include :
⁃ First female Electrical Engineer in Australia
⁃ With the money made as an entrepreneur selling radios she established her own Signalling School for women in Sydney
⁃ Wrote a bestselling cookbook explaining how to cook with an electric stove – because it had been all wood stoves ( get your head around that!)
⁃ A Presenter for the ABC in its first year of existence
⁃ Persuaded the Australian Navy to set up the WRANS
⁃ First woman in NSW branch of Wireless of Institute of Australia
⁃ Started an amateur Radio Club
⁃ Organised the second ever World Wireless Exhibition held in Australia
⁃ Started the Wireless Weekly magazine which has since become Electronics Australia
⁃ Opened her own Radio College to educate women in radio related technical skills to assist with tasks during WW2
⁃ Trained women to serve in the Women’s Emergency Signalling Corps who then went on to train as Morse Code Instructors, who themselves trained men in the Navy.

OMG! I look back at all of the screaming matches over the dinner table because the entire concept of long division and fractions escaped me. And don’t talk to me about Trigonometry. What a wasted year of my life and so many tears. My youngest daughter, on the other hand, has an agenda of quietly pushing her friend’s daughters down the STEM route and routinely gifts tractors, hi vis jackets and lab kits.

#mathssux#sciencesux#stemmakesmecry.

PAYNE VC by Mike Coleman

Every Australian over a certain age would have heard the name Keith Payne, the most decorated Aussie that served in the Vietnam War. Well into his eighties now ( he served in Korea also) this is an interesting read that tells the story of a country kid that grew up in Far North Queensland shooting bunnies to help put food on the table and went on to become a leader of men.

I enjoyed learning about the support Payne received from his wife and five sons, and the impact that war – and the Victoria Cross – had on this soldiers family.

He came home troubled in the days before the term PTDS was even coined, but fought his demons and won, later to become an advocate for veterans requiring support.

Keith Payne is still visible on special occasions such as ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day and is a regular speaker at school and RSL functions. He was awarded the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star.

Without being disrespectful I truly think the wives of these men could do with an award of some sort in recognition of the work they do in the background……….

A Positive Beginning To The New Week

Firstly, a new children’s book: Tippy and Jellybean by Sophie Cunningham.

Based on the true story of Tippy the koala, and her baby, Jellybean, which was one of the tales that broke hearts all around Australia during our devastating bushfires last summer.

Tippy was found by rescuers in the Snowy River National Park just after the fires raged through the area with a burnt back and paws. She was crouched over her joey, Jellybean, who was unscathed.

Sadly, many of our koalas were lost when they made the mistake of scrambling for the top tree branches when fires went through, offering them absolutely no protection whatsoever.

Tippy and Jellybean have since recovered and have been released back to an area with eucalyptus trees.

Proceeds from this book will raise money for the Bushfire Emergency Wildlife Fund.

Meet the real Tippy and Jellybean

And another Iso-Project successfully completed.

The Last Bushranger by Mike Munro & Cemetery Tour

Just before the world went down like a bag of spuds with Covid 19 I joined an organised evening tour of South Brisbane Cemetery.

Also known as Dutton Park Cemetery and Heritage Listed it was established in 1866 and remained in active use until the 1960’s when it ran out of space.

I like the history that can be found in cemeteries – what else can I say?

The memorials in Dutton Park cemetery range from those of prominent early residents, displaying fine examples of the mason’s skill, to those of prisoners from nearby Boggo Road Gaol. Others reflect post World War 2 immigration and the cultural mix of the South Brisbane area in the second half of the 20th century. These include Greek and Italian graves and those of the many Russians who first settled around Woolloongabba and South Brisbane in the 1920s, following the Communist takeover in Russia. There are 52 Commonwealth service personnel buried in this cemetery whose graves are registered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, 13 from World War I and 39 from World War II.

Having heard the story and stood by the grave of Patrick Kenniff, who was hanged at Boggo Road in 1902  (and which is purportedly haunted) I was fascinated by Kenniff’s life as a bushranger, as infamous in Queensland as Ned Kelly.

The Last Bushranger by media celebrity Mike Munro – who just happens to be related to Kenniff – was my first new Post Iso book to read. I’m not sure whether I enjoyed it so much because it was just so lovely to hold a real book in my hands after so many digitals, or because of the subject matter.

Oh, and the cemetery tour is well worth doing too, except cover your bits in Aeroguard first. It’s swampy after rain down by the sites near the river which is also where you really will be creeped out.

Victory In The Pacific : 75 Stories in 75 Days.

Just like the 6th of June, (D Day), the 15th of August is another date that was ingrained into our brains as Primary School students way back in the days when Sydney was full of quarter acre blocks and nearly everyone drove a Holden.

This year is the 75th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War, also known as Victory in the Pacific Day.

Commencing as from the 2nd of June the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (DVA) has been sharing the stories of Australians from the period of World War 2 by way of a social media and a radio series called 75 Stories In 75 Days.

The radio segments are available for listening at http://www.dva.gov.au/75stories or you can choose to read the snippet instead. A new segment is made available each day. 

Not all the snippets are from soldiers. Some stories are from those who experienced life in Australia at the time, such as Nancy Eddy, who along with her two children was given only two hours notice before being evacuated from Darwin. Upon returning to Darwin at wars end her house was gone……

This is a fascinating look back at a different time and a reminder of the sacrifices of a previous generation. I found hearing the voices of those long since gone a little unnerving, though it certainly made the history all the more real.

What a great little initiative which unfortunately seems to have been lost under a plethora of Government Directives and depressing media reports.

Around The World Reading Challenge : Japan

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami.

This book did little to change my perceptions of Japan. God, that sounds so judgemental, but it’s true. Cherry blossoms, cramped living quarters,  bath houses, and fast train travel figured highly. What caught me by surprise was the amount of beer young Japanese women consumed.

This book is in two parts, though were originally published separately.

In Book 1 Natsuko, a twenty year old journalist living in Tokyo, is visited by her older sister, Makiko accompanied by her adolescent daughter from Osako, for a breast enhancement consultation. The teenager is appalled by her mother’s pursuit of cosmetic surgery whilst having her own issues about her changing body. She doesn’t speak to her mother and communicates only by writing notes. Natsuko isn’t the coolest sandwich in the esky as she detests sex. This is one dysfunctional family, I tell you.

By the end of the weekend there is a breakthrough of sorts, but you have to wade through a lot of jabber about nipples and fertility issues to get there.

Book 2 takes place ten years later and Natsuko spends far too much time trying to make a decision about whether or not to have a baby. She walks us through all the various pathways to conceive a child without both sex nor a partner.

We catch up with Makiko, still working at a bar – so the boob job hasn’t weaved any magic – though the daughter appears to have survived both her mother and her aunt and is at University and has a loving, supportive partner. Yay!


This meanders off theme at several points and I just wished there was one of those Japanese beers handy to ease me through the whole process.

I’m no therapist but I wondered if this was a reflection of contemporary womanhood in Japan. No need for an Aussie version: we seem to be obsessed with Reality TV productions which are of a similar ilk.

What I did enjoy about this novel – and maybe it was totally psychosomatic – was that I heard the characters speaking in my head in their soft little Japanese voices.

About The Author :

Mieko (born August 29, 1976) is a Japanese writer and poet from Osaka. Her work has won prestigious Japanese literary awards in several genres, including the 138th Akutagawa Prize for her novella Breasts and Eggs),the 2013 Tanizaki Prizefor her short story collection Ai no yume to ka (Dreams of Love, etc.), and the 2008 Nakahara Chūya Prize for Contemporary Poetry for Sentan de, sasuwa sasareruwa soraeewa .

Around The World Reading Challenge : Mexico

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is an edge-of-the-seat read that will have you cancelling any dreams of holiday travel to Mexico. It is because of this negativity, and the fact that the author is neither Latino nor Hispanic, that this novel has become the subject of much controversy in America.

Lydia runs a bookshop where she becomes emotionally entangled with a fellow lover of literature. Her husband is a journalist and it pans out that the charming lover of books is head of a cartel.

When sixteen members of her family are slaughtered at a family barbeque Lydia goes on the run with her 8 year old son. To escape the tendrils of the cartel she flees to America in a journey which is both frightening and brazen, and always with a machete strapped to her leg to protect her son.

I accepted this novel as a piece of fiction and took from it the view of how a mother would react to protect her cub, what a mother would do to cope with the grief, as well as the search for a better life. That I read it whilst the world has been rioting because of inequality added an additional layer.

When the Library is back in action I will look for a book with an alternative view of Mexico. Any recommendations are welcome.

About The Author:

Jeanine Cummins is an American author.She has written four books: a memoir entitled A Rip in Heaven and three novels: The Outside Boy, The Crooked Branch, and American Dirt. She says of American Dirt that “ her goal was only to redeem the humanity of migrants, to tell a story of singular individuals separate from their representation as a ‘‘faceless brown mass’’.

“Jeanine Cummins spent five years of her life writing this book with the intent to shine a spotlight on tragedies facing immigrants,” said Bob Miller, president and publisher of Flatiron Books,”We are saddened that a work of fiction that was well-intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor.”

From further reading I suggest there are others issues at play here. Mexican American writers have been among those criticising American Dirt for stereotypical depictions of Mexicans and the large profit the author stands to make from the story. There is debate moving on to representation of Latino authors in general. #DignidadLiteraria, a movement set up by the novel’s critics, is in discussion with the publishing industry regarding the approach to Latino literature.

June 6th and Nancy Wake

In a little bush school in Sydney many years ago Primary School children greeted each new day with a rendition of “God Save The Queen” and a “salute to the flag”. Back then June 6th was always commemorated as the Anniversary of D Day.

Thirty years later in a school across the border Primary School children sing a different anthem about land “girt by sea”. On June 6th these kiddies celebrate Queensland  Day, which is the official birthday of the Australian state of Queensland. Part of these celebrations include presenting “Queensland Great Awards” to outstanding Queenslanders for their lifetime of dedication and contribution to the development of the state and their role in strengthening and shaping the community in Queensland.

Award Winners at Roma Street Parklands, Brisbane City.

When my eldest, Pocahontas, was in Primary School her class was called to assembly for each of them to declare an Australian, dead or alive, who should be recognised as an outstanding citizen. Sports stars figured highly: tennis players, crickets, footy players as well as a handful of rock stars, actors and models.

Pocahontas, proving that eccentricity is hereditary, suggested The White Mouse as a worthy candidate. Her class mates giggled and teachers looked at each other boggled. The White Mouse was one of the codenames of Nancy Wake, the expat Australian and underground operative during World War 2.

I was reminded of this reading Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon.


From Goodreads:

In 1936 intrepid young Australian journalist Nancy Wake is living in Paris after witnessing firsthand the terror of Hitler’s rise in Europe, firing her resolve to fight against the Nazis. When Nancy falls in love with handsome French industrialist Henri Fiocca, no sooner has she become Mrs Fiocca than the Germans invade France and Nancy takes yet another name, a codename – the first of many.

As the elusive Lucienne Carlier she smuggles people across borders and earns a new name ‘The White Mouse’ along with a five million franc bounty on her head, courtesy of the Gestapo. Forced to flee France, Nancy is trained by an elite espionage group under the codename Hélène. Finally, with mission in hand, she is airdropped back into France as the deadly Madame Andrée. But the closer to liberation France gets, the more exposed Nancy – and the people she loves – will become.

Based on a true story this is a fascinating look at a gutsy woman who liked her G &T’s and *lipstick. A little long and convoluted perhaps, with flashbacks and parallel timelines, though the information comes from Wake’s autobiography (of 1985) and numerous biographies. Well worth the read 🙂

Born: 30 August 1912.   Died:  7 August 2011

Awards : George Medal, 1939-45 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, British War Medal 1939-45, French Officer of the Legion of Honour, French Croix de Guerre with Star and two Palms, US Medal for Freedom with Palm, French Medaille de la Resistance, Companion of the Order Of Australia and New Zealand’s Badge in Gold. 

Wake’s medals are on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

*Said to be Victory Red from the Elizabeth Arden range.

Ulladulla, Books and Empty Esky

My connection with the south coast of New South Wales goes way back. The beautiful coast is an area that was featured on the media over Christmas and New Year because of the apocalyptic bushfires. It was peak tourist season which made it both an environmental and economic disaster.

In normal years Easter would have been the perfect tonic for a semblance of financial recovery as families from Sydney and Canberra flock to the area for school holidays – and Ulladulla’s annual Blessing Of The Fleet celebrations. This is a ceremony which started back in the mid 1950’s when Ulladulla, which means “safe harbour”, was the port for the largest fishing fleet on the south coast and run by Italian immigrants who brought the centuries old tradition over from Sicily.

I have many fond memories of the Blessing Of The Fleet festivities including the year my sister and I were forced to get out of our cossies and to frock up in our Sunday best to meet the Special Navy Guest for the occasion, Admiral Crabbe, whom my  ten year old sister greeted with a “Welcome Admiral Crap”.

2020 has been anything but normal. We spent Easter in lockdown.

Back in the 70’s my Dad won enough money on a galloper named Rajah Sahib to buy a block of land on the hill overlooking Ulladulla harbour. In later years he would wait for the trawlers to return and watch the unloading of their catches from the comfort of his lounge room. Both his and my sister’s ashes were scattered in the ocean just outside the harbour and close to a favoured fishing spot.

Ulladulla, approximately 230 kms south of Sydney, is doing it tough just like so many other townships all along the coast.

Empty Esky is an initiative on social media firstly to promote business devastated by the fires and to encourage visits from tourists when allowed. They’ve highlighted breweries, bakeries, gift shops, jewellers and all manner of local produce to a broad audience.

My money is going to small business this year. I‘m a 1000 kilometres from the south coast so am unable to do much, but I can do a bit……….

………. starting with the Harbour Bookshop in Ulladulla, an independent book store on the highway that runs through the middle of town, which has an easy to manoeuvre website and posts all book orders over $60 at no additional cost. 

Thank you to my two Book Fairies for organising some new books for their old Mo and introducing me to this retail outlet on the coast.

Next month I’ll look into a boutique Gin Distillery I’ve discovered on Empty Esky just a little further down the coast.


Two Things : Magabala Books and the Little Library.

It was recently announced that Magabala Books won the Australian Book Industry Small Publisher of the Year Award.

Based in Broome, Western Australia, Magabala publish Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors, artists and illustrators from all over Australia. An independent, not-for-profit Indigenous Corporation, Magabala is governed by a dedicated Board of Kimberley Aboriginal cultural leaders, educators, business professionals and creative practitioners.

Magabala publishes up to 15 new titles annually across a range of genres: children’s picture books, memoir, fiction (junior, YA and adult), non-fiction, graphic novels, social history and poetry.

What I found interesting was that Magabala also delivers a range of social and cultural initiatives, including providing books to parents in correctional centres so that they can record the stories for their children whilst in isolation. What a wonderful concept!


Restrictions were eased last weekend allowing parks and playground equipment to reopen. This called for a dose of disinfectant to the Little Community Library located in our local parkland which has been much utilised over the past months with our Council Libraries closed and only re-opening last week (for ten people at a time).

Many thanks to the Rotary Club of Capalaba who came to the rescue with much needed children’s books to restock our Library in the park. Little People aren’t fond of ebooks or kindles……as it should be…..

Around The World Reading Challenge : France

Little Thomas didn’t have time to finish his stewed apple. His mother hadn’t given him the slightest chance. The speed with which the poison circulated through his blood simply meant he didn’t suffer when he died.”

These are the opening lines of Ines Bayard’s debut novel, This Little Family. Intrigued? It certainly had me hooked.

Marie and Laurent are a young, career couple living in an apartment in Paris and are discussing starting a family. Her contentment and comfort with life is shattered when Marie experiences a violent encounter with her new manager at the office which threatens to derail her life.

Less than two years later, the family’s apartment is cordoned off by police tape as forensic officers examine a horrific scene in the family apartment. Three bodies around a dining table. Marie, Laurent and their little toddler, Thomas, in his high chair. All three of them have been poisoned by Marie.

Over this two year period we watch Marie slowly spiral out of control as she is driven by extremes of disgust and dread in the aftermath of a rape.  

This is quite a harrowing read as Marie descends into madness. The story is tightly written which only exacerbates Marie’s mental health. Just when you think that the situation can’t get any worse, it does. 

This is a dark, compelling read. For all her wrong doings I still bled for Marie. And of course there’s a twist!

About The Author

Inès Bayard was born in Toulouse, France, in 1991. She lived and studied in Paris for several years before relocating in 2017 to Berlin, where she is currently based. 

Nominations: Prix Goncourt des LycéensGoncourt List, Poland’s ChoiceGoncourt List, Romania’s ChoiceGoncourt List, Belgium’s ChoiceGoncourt List, Italy’s ChoiceGoncourt List, Switzerland’s Choice