Scrublands by Chris Hammer: Book Review

Author : Chris Hammer

Published 2018 ( softcover)

About the author:
Chris Hammer is a seasoned Australian journalist of thirty plus years experience specialising in International Affairs and Politics. His career obviously provided much fuel for this novel.

Twelve months after a mass murder in a rural Australian town journalist, Martin Scarsden, arrives in Riversend to report on any flow on effect that the local priest shooting five locals may have had on the community.

Riversend could be any isolated country town suffering the effects of drought, bushfires, and a dying economy. The only Hotel in town is now Closed for business, a sure sign that the town is on its last legs.

Scarsden, a damaged character, investigates further into the horrific event that occurred on the church steps and becomes involved with other developments. These tragedies bring hordes of journalists to the sleepy town sniffing out a story for the benefit of city people expecting news with their daily breakfast and dinner. I suspect that the author is every bit as cynical and jaded as Martin Scarsden and his description of the media throng is right on the money.

Riversend is a parade of odd characters with secrets. Have they escaped to the quiet of the country to hide secret lives or better enjoy their lives in secret?

This is another novel which casts the harsh Australian landscape as a character in itself. It is one of those rural towns we’ve all driven through. You know those towns you would rather drive right through than stop for a bathroom break ? We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

Scrublands is a tightly wound page turner with lots of twists and turns and covers multiple themes. Once again I am fully aware why I never entertained being in the Police Force. I simply have no mystery solving skills.

Read this one in a single sitting too. Oops, don’t think the floors will ever get mopped again.

Tip :

Another one for under the Xmas tree. Make sure you put your name on the gift tag.

Australian Author Jon Cleary and The Sundowners.

Way back in 1969 when I was attending a little primary school in Sydney’s bushland in a suburb dominated by War Service Homes I found myself interested in reading books written for adult entertainment. Instead of “sugar and spice and all things nice” I was brought up on a diet of Robinson Caruso, Treasure Island, and all things Kipling. My favourite tale, The Last of the Mohicans, probably accounts in part for the the cowboy tent in my backyard which I shared with Edward, the cat.

So at ten years of age when I borrowed a book from the school library the teachers were a bit shocked by my selection. Before releasing it, the Librarian sent a note home to my parents asking for for parental permission because it contained “adult themes”.

The book that caused so much kerfuffle? A lovely tale about a family in the 1920’s that live a nomadic lifestyle travelling from one rural town to another around Australia, picking up work where ever they can, including sheep shearing with the wife doing her bit as the shearer’s cook. The Sundowners by Jon Cleary was later adapted into a movie starring Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr and Peter Ustinov, filmed in Australia in 1960.

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At the 33rd Academy Awards, The Sundowners was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Deborah Kerr), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Glynis Johns), Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

Although I haven’t seen this movie for thirty odd years it has stuck with me – I can still clearly see the book cover. Firstly, I was mad keen on Mitchum, and also because it was a story of simple folk, with a simple life, who took pleasure from simple things. There’s a Life Lesson in that……….

In hindsight it was probably my first recollection of  an onscreen Australia. Back in those days you couldn’t get more Dinky Di than Chips Rafferty and John Meillion, and both get a run in this one.

I’ve just read another of Jon Cleary’s novels, Degrees Of Connection, the last in a series of crime books based on the character, Scobie Malone. Never heard of Scobie Malone? Neither had I!

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Malone is a fictional Sydney homicide copper. The first book in the series was published in 1966, and Degrees Of Connection has Scobie promoted to Superintendent of Police, published in 2003, seven years before the author’s death.

One of the author’s trademarks is an unusual first line in each Malone book. This one didn’t disappoint. “She’s had more facelifts than the Strand Arcade” said Clements.

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I enjoyed this book as an easy read and the trivia orientated information about Sydney suburbs was both familiar and nostalgic. It also made good use of Sydney’s tribalism which made me smile, as now an observer rather than a resident. “ Rooty Hill ? Where’s that? In the outback?”  (Sydneysiders will appreciate this, not so non locals. She’s a beautiful, exciting city but there exists invisible walls depending on your socio-economic standing and geographical situation. Not P C? Maybe, but dead right).

The character of Malone is more brain over brawn and I appreciated the sarcasm and wit over the vulgarity and profanities from some of our other home grown crime writers. I’m no prude, and can drop ‘em with the best of them, but how much can a koala bear?

The second Scobie Malone book in the series was adapted to movie back in 1975, with a young Australian, Jack Thompson, playing Malone. With the title Helga’s Web or alternatively Murder At The Opera House it was by all accounts a stinker.

The author was shown the film at a private screening and was not happy with the result. “When I saw Scobie nibbling on the fourth nipple I thoughtthat’s not my Scobie“. And I walked out”, Cleary said.

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I think I will give that one a miss.

Trivia :

The same shearing shed at Carriewerloo Station was later used in the South Australian Film Corporation film Sunday Too Far Away (1975).

And I reiterate: if you have any notion of visiting a shearing shed for Bucket List purposes, forget it. Putrid things.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper and a Brisi Heatwave.

Queensland is in heatwave mode so the boss asked me to stay home this week. No air conditioning you see. She knows full well I would incite the troops with tales of 14 yr olds being sent down the coal mines for 12 hour shifts. No matter – breakfast in the garden each morning has been delightful, and I’ve caught up on some reading.

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Title : The Lost Man

Author : Jane Harper

Published : October 2018

Jane Harper is an Australian Author, whose two previous books, The Dry and Force Of Nature, went straight to the top of the bestsellers list. These books gained a following of Aaron Falk fans, the protagonist in these novels

This stand alone novel is set in rural and remote Queensland, and begins with two brothers meeting at the boundary of their neighbouring properties following the death of a third brother in strange circumstances.

Nathan Bright, a loner and outsider, tries to understand why his much respected and younger brother died from the heat of the Australian sun, having walked 9 kilometres away from his air conditioned car.

The biggest character in this book is the harsh, red dust landscape of outback Australia. The story may seem slow but that’s the pace you have to maintain under a huge Qld sun.

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There is just so much happening in this book with so many topical themes being covered including the high rate of suicide amongst farmers. It is a story about family secrets, and how those secrets can cross the generations.

Forget Falk – he’s a wet sock. Nathan Bright is my boyo. This is a great read – I had to finish it in one sitting and did not come close to solving the mystery of Cameron Bright’s death.

TIP.
Make sure you put a treat for yourself under the Christmas Tree as I have being doing so for twenty years. This book is the perfect, slow burning holiday read:)

William McInnes and local Trivia.

Attended a literary luncheon at my local, The Grand View Hotel, this week. The Grandy is the oldest licensed hotel in Qld, and has Brisbane’s best beer garden with sweeping views across Moreton Bay to Straddie ( North Stradbroke Island). She is a fine host and I have enjoyed many celebrations under the palm trees over the years : Graduations, Birthdays, and Engagement Parties.

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William McInnes is an Australian television and stage actor, although my personal experience of his thespian talents is limited to an ABC miniseries twenty years ago when he poured himself into a wetsuit. And poured himself so very well, may I add.

McInnes is also an author and writes a weekly column in the weekend paper. He gently touches on social commentary with a dash of whimsy and nostalgia.This weekends article was about undertaking trombone lessons at high school and only ever achieving sounds reminiscent of flatulence. Stupid but we’ve all been there, haven’t we?

Born in Brisbane when she really was a country town McInnes speaks with a distinctive deep voice. When you read McInnes you can hear that voice. He tends to write about nothing in particular and includes memories of growing up by the bay, when times were totally different; when fishing off the Redcliffe Jetty with mates was a top afternoon, as was eating hot chips wrapped in newspaper. These were the days when you were thrilled to receive a watch or a pen with your name inscribed for your 18th birthday, and not a brand new car from Mum and Dad like today’s Muppets.

I read his first book over ten years ago, “A Mans Got To Have A Hobby”, which was literally, advice handed down by his father. Like how to master the handshake.Important stuff.

His latest book is based on a subject that is very close to his heart. Fatherhood is about family, about memories of his father and the memories he’s creating as a Dad himself, with his own son and daughter.

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The blurb says that this book “contains memories of hot summer days and cooling off under the sprinkler while Dad works in the garden with the radio tuned to the sports results; that time Dad tried to teach you to drive – and then got out of the car and kissed the ground; or taking your own kids on a family road trip.”

McInnes is a storyteller. He is genuine, modest, and I don’t think he is aware that his stories are so funny. Coming from salt of the earth, hardworking stock his family life has provided the basis for many of his stories. It’s the commonality that makes him so endearing.

This is a tale he shares of his dying mother, which I think sums McInnes’ upbringing in a nutshell.

I walked into the hospital one day to visit Mum and found a Sister of Mercy beside her. She leaned in to tell Mum her son was here. Mum asked, without opening her eyes, “Which one? The fat one or the stupid one?” The sister half-smiled and said, “I don’t know.” Then Mum opened one eye and looked at me and said, “The stupid one has gotten fat.”

I grew up in a household of similar ilk.

McInnes’ wife died when the kiddies were School age.

I was brought up by a Storyteller, a storyteller who flew Lancaster’s over Germany during WW2 yet suffered horrific nose bleeds every time he took me out for a driving lesson. A storyteller who listened to the races on the radio whilst gardening and who taught his daughters about equine bloodlines, how to fix a lawnmower, and who encouraged us to run under a sprinkler on those stinking hot summer days because people who had backyard pools were poseurs. I also lost a mother far too young and was shaped by my family.

I’m probably also the stupid one who has gotten fat.

Great afternoon, thanks Bill.

PS. Some trivia :

This waterway is where Angelina Jolie had the actor playing Louis Zamparini in Unbroken cast adrift in a raft until the Japs picked him up, where Johnny Depp filmed parts of Pirates of The Carribean number 2, and the second Narnia movie was filmed. But that’s another story…..

When it’s in the stars…..

The Astrology forecast for Gemini’s this week is “to take the time to read an enlightening book or listen to some uplifting music”.

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I’ve just finished reading Jasper Jones by Aussie author Craig Silvey. Fantastic coming of age book based in rural Australia in the 90’s and since adapted into a movie and a theatrical production. It covers incest, murder, domestic violence, race issues, and infidelity. In spite of all that, it is a gently positive tale full of hope, love and friendships. Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringold is another beautifully crafted book which captures all the beauty of Australian wildflowers, the various belief systems of different cultures, and the brutality of domestic violence.

Confined indoors because of much needed rain all weekend I also indulged in a card reading. Why? A girl is allowed to be frivolous, isn’t she? The cards suggested that I should read an uplifting book. I get the hint…..

Interestingly, regardless of the bleak themes of both these books they were quietly uplifting. Naturally, there was non stop music playing in the background and Harry Connick Jr definitely filled the brief.

I’m not really into horoscopes – they are not something I refer to on a regular basis despite being surrounded by chakra, crystal, and aura fanatics – though I do have a favourite astrologist who I read on my birth date each year and who always includes a quote. This years quote totally resonates:

Follow your inner moonlight, don’t hide the madness”
( Allen Ginsberg)

NOTE : Enlightening Books?

Not sure what makes one of these, although I have just filled a handbag full of personal products for women fleeing from a violent situation as part of Share The Dignity’s “It’s In The Bag” Christmas Cause. Refer http://www.sharethedignity.com.au.

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.

The Returning by Russell J Perry – Australian Author Challenge 2018

If you’ve even spent any length of time in Queensland, Australia, this book will tease all your senses. From the mango trees, the smell of cane fires burning, to the views across to Hichinbrook Island – goodness, I could even taste the cold ale at The Breakfast Creek Hotel in Brisbane.

The book opens with the death of an elderly gent. Elsewhere, within minutes, a baby boy is born, and we just know there has to be some sort of connection.

We then jump ahead 30 odd years and meet Jacob Shaunessy, a young man in his early thirties, who is dissatisfied with his lot in life. Jacob has vivid dreams, which include exotic landscapes, and an even more exotic young woman. He resigns from his job in the city and heads to Far North Queensland to start a new life and to chase  the source of his dreams.

Jacob becomes involved with the local sugar cane community in which he lives and works. His dreams lead him to the secrets of a previous generation, to mystery, and mayhem in this sleepy little township in the deep north.

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This is an interesting novel in that it does makes you think about the relevance of dreams and the question of reincarnation. The back stories of all the characters are believable and interesting, and it is an easy book to read.

The author has successfully conveyed the essence of North Queensland, right down to the elderly Italian widows dressed all in black for mourning, without being overly wordy. The sudden downpours of rainfall, the heat that makes clothes stick to your body, and even the seemingly laid back policeman pursuing justice, are all very authentic.

Yes, my familiarity with the landscape probably garnered my interest quickly, though it’s the storytelling that maintained it.

Reincarnation? Up for debate. Vivid Dreams? Now those I understand. Every night is like a eight hour movie session in technicolor at my place.

High Five for an other Australian Indie Author!

 

Pacific, by Judy Nunn. My most expensive book purchase…..ever!

I’ve been back at work now a total of five weeks. Why does it feel like five months? Breaking it down further, and taking into consideration my reduced hours, that’s a total of only fifteen days. And I’m already feeling the need for a break.

My two hours a day spent in transit to and from my work place is prime reading time – usually when I consume my share of “light and fluffy”. With the current workload the light and fluffies are a treat. How tragic is this?

I recently picked up from a charity sale a book by Australian author, Judy Nunn. Nunn is a prolific writer, though as she had starred in an Australian television soapie in a previous life, I had been avoiding her books like the plague. Pacific had a nice cover, was in excellent nick, and I was feeling mellow. Blame the hot weather……

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It was wonderful to be totally surprised. What an entertaining read. Doesn’t it just throw you when your preconceived ideas are completely off the mark?

Samantha is an Australian actress (who started out in soapies), who succeeds on the stage at West End, and follows on in a role as leading lady in an American blockbuster to be filmed in Vanuatu, an island in the Pacific Ocean.

The film, “Torpedo Junction”, is based in Vanuatu during WW2 and is the story of Samantha’s character, Jane Thackeray, the wife of a missionary who becomes much loved by the locals for her own humanitarian deeds, and is known as Mama Tack by all.

It was only having read Pacific that I learned that after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during WW2, the island was used by Allied forces as a military supply and support base, naval harbor, and airfield. This later contributed to the island’s diving tourism, as the United States dumped most of their equipment and refuse at what is now known as ‘Million Dollar Point’.

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I spent a week in Vanuatu back in the early 1980’s. It was the first time I had visited a country outside of Australia that was different to my norm. Locals bathed under waterfalls, travelled to work by canoe, and the dead were on platforms high in the trees, covered by vegetation. The landscape was beautiful with its lush greenery and golden beaches, and its giant Coconut Crabs scared the hell out of me but we’re fine eating. I was very young and madly in love at the time. The Ni Vanuatu’s had only just grasped power of their country from the French and I had a penchant for swimming on top of the water, not under.

Anyway, Mama Tack has a fling with an American gent in uniform, which is all very honourable. He returns stateside and the novel follows through to the years of Vanuatu’s independence, with Mama Tack continuously aiding her beloved natives. Her story entwines with Samantha’s in real life, and is an enjoyable read that could easily be turned into a movie. One of those old fashioned movies of course, the ones that depend on clever conversation, without any special effects, and definately no car chases! (Won’t happen, will it?)

Unable to face another five weeks of work without the prospect of a decent break my youngest daughter has agreed to accompany me on a short holiday to Vanuatu. Can you believe that the time it takes  me to get from A to B is less than two days travel for me to work and back?*Shaking head.

So my bargain book purchase from a Charity Store has proved rather an expensive exercise.

I’m looking forward to showing my child the place where her mother learnt how to concoct a damn fine Champagne and Brandy Cocktail, as well as visiting Santos where there is still much evidence of habitation by the Americans, apparently.

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Where Things Can Take You….

A few years back the High School I attended celebrated its 50th year with an array of celebrations, including a series of Class Reunions. Although I was unable to attend any of the events the festivities provided the opportunity to reminisce with many neighbours, friends and acquaintances from all those years ago via social media. The beauty of the internet is that I have since enjoyed catching up over a meal with people with whom I shared my ratty teenage years, as well as a play mate from the sand pit in kindy.

With all the nostalgia someone recommended a book called “Goodnight, Crackernight” by young Australian Author, Justin Sheedy. This book was always going to resonate with me as Cracker Night, in Sydney, was originally celebrated on Empire Day, May 24th, the day after my birth date. I grew up believing, with assistance from my parents, that the fireworks were in honour of my birthday.

Yes, I also believed in fairies at the bottom of the garden, leprechauns, and Unicorns. Didn’t you?

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The blurb on the back of the book sums it up :

“Crackernight! One night a year, the infinite normality of the suburbs is shot with utter magic. Goodbye, Crackernight is the story of one boy’s childhood in 1970s Australia. It is a story of fireworks, of fun that cost nothing, of second-hand bikes, UFO-crowded skies, streakers, lime green Valiants, half-sucked Sunny Boys and electric pink hotpants. It is a story of growing up and innocence left behind – at a three-day swimming pool party. It is the tale of an era, of far simpler times, of an annual neighbourhood festival and an Australia long since gone”.

“Goodbye Crackernight”: A portrait of growing up when a child’s proudest possession was not a Playstation but a second-hand bike.”

So, I became a fan of young Justin Sheedy, who just happened to be a military aviation tragic, and who had written two books of a Second World War trilogy, and was busy working on the final instalment.

My old Da had served in Bomber Command during WW2, but did not talk about his exploits. A house full of women, and the stiff upper lip attitude as was expected, you see.

So I naturally gravitated towards Sheedy’s fictional military history books. Firstly, because I had a need to learn more about how and why young Australians were excited to head to the other side of the world to fight the Nazis in the sky, and also because Sheedy spins a darn good yarn.

Sheedy’s books have taken me on a journey that was never anticipated. After using his fictional characters in historically correct situations I have learnt so much about the Empire Air Training Scheme, London’s Kangaroo Club, the amazing Guinea Pig Club, the female pilots who ferried aircraft, and most recently, Malta’s role during the hostilities. WOW – all great stuff. This interest has led to the hunting down of further reading material on these subjects which is another task which gives me a total buzz. I guess, in a small way, it gave me insight into my Da as a young man, before he had the quarter acre block, the mortgage and me.

So now that I have settled on my new Christmas lunch recipes – Smashed Brussel Sprouts and a Cous Cous and Roast Pumpkin and Feta Salad – I am looking forward to the coming recluse time, when the blinds are pulled down, the music plays quietly, and recovery from another frantic year can commence.

Number one priority is to complete this Airfix Kit. It’s a Halifax from WW2. Bizarrely, the nose art on this Kit plane is exactly the same as the nose art on my Da’s plane.
A sponsored ad for Airfix Kits just popped up on social media just over twelve months ago when I was sitting up reading late one night. Let’s just say apoplexy set in.

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Where things can take you, hey….

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Basil, Ghosts, Cat, Carpets and Some Me Time Soon.

Still another week at the coal face before I can stop for a fortnight. So looking forward to the break and catching up on things. Is it dreadfully sad to be looking forward to shampooing the carpets on your holiday?

My Basil Plant is in need of a massive prune so I’ve been making Basil Salt as small Christmas gifts for friends. Although we generally don’t use table salt, this makes a nice addition to steak or barbecued meats. I’ll make a couple of jars of Pesto this week. As the daughter of depression parents I detest wasting my homegrown herbs.

I occassionly review Events for an international organisation. Last night I was sent on a Ghost Walking Tour of Brisbane to review. That’s why I am up so late : unable to sleep because of all the images in my head.

Saw Cat Stevens in concert. Who of you out there muttered “ who?”. Still sounds like Cat, though no longer smouldering. Bit confrontational really to see one of the loves of your youth up on stage looking every inch a grandfather. * refusing to look into mirror ever again.

So, still no time for reading, though these two recent releases, and Australian to boot, are diarised for breaks between carpet cleaning.

http://www.centralbureau.com.au/2017/12/08/australias-forgotten-women-code-breakers

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https://www.arts.gov.au/pm-literary-awards/current-awards/atomic-thunder-maralinga-story

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One more week, right. I can do this.