Snugglepot and Cuddlepie – the Gumnut Babies.

With the recent unpacking of cartons containing the books of my children’s childhood, I have been a little reflective of late. Let’s blame May Gibbs, shall we.

May Gibbs was an English-born Australian children’s author, illustrator, and cartoonist. She is best known for her gumnut babies ( also known as bush babies) and the series of books about Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.

As a child May lived in rural communities in both South Australia and Western Australia spending much of her time observing the beauty of the Australian bush.

I grew up on the stories of the beautiful little gumnut babies who were always being chased by the wicked Banksia men. To this day, when I am going past a Banksia tree in the wild I acknowledge a slight fear because I know full well the intentions of those “ big, bad Banksia men”.

My eldest daughter has always been a huge fan of the gumnut babies, and as a baby chewed threw her first copy of the book. Literally. When she left here recently she took the replacement copy along with her, teeth marks and all.

My ex father-in-law was a worldly man. A Liverpool Scouse who had travelled the world as a Merchant Seaman and Master Mariner, and towards the end of his career was working to keep the unions in line.

It was only when the grand daughters entered his sphere that this tough old bugger became acquainted with Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and he became enchanted with the artwork of Gibbs. I still remember a Devonshire Tea at Gibbs’ house in Sydney surrounded by her beloved bushland many, many years ago. “ Charming”, I can hear him say in an accent that took me three years to decipher. Charming is not an often used word from an old sea dog……

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie remain much loved figures to this day. One hundred years on their images are to be splashed over Customs House in Sydney during the coming Vivid (Arts) Festival.

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Theses are the stories we need to keep alive……

A Distant Journey by Di Morrissey.

Back to work and it’s been a total shock to the system. Must have completely unwound over the break as I felt I required some retraining. Plus the heat is relentless: bitumen roads are melting and Flying Foxes (bats) are falling out of trees broiled. I have fresh water out for the wildlife and the word is out that there is a new cafe in town – the variety of patrons is wonderful.

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So starting the year with some light reading, and Book 1 for the Australian Author Challenge – A Distant Journey by Di Morrissey.

Di Morrissey (born 18 March 1943)is one of the most successful novelists of Australia with 25 best-selling novels and five children’s books published.In May 2017 Di was inducted into the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA) Hall of Fame and given the Lloyd O’Neil Award for service to the Australian book industry.

The novel opens in Palm Springs in the 1960’s with Babs, a young woman with a child whom has relocated because of domestic violence issues. The initial 100 pages are dedicated to Babs and her new life, which is really quite odd because she isn’t the protagonist. There are also lots of references to Old Hollywood with lots of name dropping such as Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jnr. I’m not sure of its relevance at all….

Pressing on, Babs’ niece, Cindy, runs away from home and seeks shelter with her Aunt. Cindy goes off to College with no real idea what she wants to do with her life except get married to her boyfriend. He, on the other hand, has career aspirations and the couple split. Within weeks heartbroken Cindy has met an an older man, an  Australian sheep farmer, and on a whim, as she “wants some adventure”, marries him in Vegas.

They return to Murray’s farm which has been in the family several generations and which is still ruled by the autocratic elder Parnell.

Cindy battles various challenges with the relocation to a rural and remote property as can be expected : loneliness, Mother Nature, a miscarriage, and a father-in-law who dislikes her immensely.

Murray’s mother left the property when he was a young boy so his ties to his father are very strong and he seems incapable of questioning his authority or supporting his own wife. Murray, you are pretty insipid, mate…..

The novel then seems to skip years very quickly. There are children, and then we have children thinking about children and their own lives and careers. These years quickly touch upon droughts, economic growth and the price of wool, Picnic races, friendships, and some news of Babs at last – dying of cancer back in the good old US of A.

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Parnell Senior continues to be a blot on the landscape, and as an octagarian, is every bit as rude as ever. He seems to have poorly invested the family fortune, requiring the sale of assets including the old boys plane.

There is a plane crash during its relocation to the new owner. On the very same day a forty year old skeleton is found on the property, and there is also a suicide. So much happening within two pages, when the reader has had to wade through pages and pages of nothingness to get to the crux of the matter.

Murray at last “mans up”, but poor old Babs is dead.

I think I earned a Purple Heart by finishing this book.

 

 

 

Australian Author Challenge: Lancaster Men by Peter Rees

In June 2012, the Bomber Command Memorial was dedicated in London. Those present witnessed 55,573 poppies tumbling from a Lancaster, one for every Bomber Command man killed during the war, the iconic red flower symbolising the souls of those lost to Bomber Command operations during World War 2.

Australian journalist of long standing, Peter Rees, mingled with the 106 Australian survivors attending this event, and went on to write this book as a collective experience of the Australians who fought, survived and died in the RAF’s bomber war.

This book works as Rees has made so many of these stories personal. We meet the air crew in training camps and learn what made them join up. We meet some of their families and their sweethearts. We meet their mates in the RAF and learned how they took care of each other in times of much stress. We hear how many of these young men never made it home.

It covers mundane occurrences such as writing home to sweethearts, first ops, the drinking culture, and living life as if there were no tomorrow. It also mentions planes crashing into the sea, air crew as Prisoners of War, and so many of their heroic deeds.

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There are many historical references to the war, including the Dambusters, Pathfinders, the bombing of Dresden, and even a mention of Q for Queenie’s cheeky flight under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The name of the book is a bit of a misnomer, as many of these fly boys also flew Halifaxes, Wellington’s, and Stirlings.

You don’t have to be either a military or aviation fan to enjoy this book. It’s a good read with the historical background not being overly dry. Indeed, much of it was very interesting. I learned that many of those that served in Bomber Command were treated with disdain by other exservicemen at wars end as they were considered “Jap Dodgers” who were “hiding over in England”.

Well worth the read.