20th June, 1909

This time nine years ago I flew into Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. Now some of you may be shaking your heads in wonder that anyone would travel to Tassie in the heart of winter. Located 240 km to the south of the Australian mainland, and separated by Bass Strait, Tassie is simply beautiful with an abundance of magnificent scenery. It can also be wretchedly cold.

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But my trip nine years ago had nothing to do with tourism or recreation. You see, I was a girl on a mission.

This day, nine years ago, Hobart celebrated what would have been Errol Flynn’s 100th Birthday, being the township of his birth.(An aside : some would argue commiserate rather than celebrate as young Errol was a bit of a lad and upset many of the boring, old farts of Hobart. Tassie, being the Island that holds the six degrees of separation true is still home to many with a grudge).

Although Hobart couldn’t be any further away from Hollywood Errol’s daughter from his marriage to Nora Eddington, Rory Flynn, was in town to share the celebrations.

I won’t bore you with the details. I am sure that none of you would have been mesmerised by a pair of Flynn’s woollen swimming trunks being exhibited in the Hobart Museum, nor interested in the star laid in the footpath outside the local theatre. Okay, so I admit to being a tad eccentric……..

However, one of my favourite memories was an evening shared with my 23 year old daughter (proving that eccentricity must be genetic), watching a 1938 black and white movie on the big screen. Drinking champagne.

The Dawn Patrol is one of my favourite Flynn movies, which also starred Basil Rathbone and David Niven. Major Brand (Basil Rathbone), the commander of the 59th division of the British Royal Flying Corps in 1915 France, is frantic over the many casualties his squadron has suffered. When Captain Courtney (Errol Flynn) and his buddy Scott (David Niven) lose another of their best friends in a dangerous mission, Courtney lashes out at Brand, who hands Courtney the reins. Now in control, Captain Courtney soon sees things from Brand’s perspective as more good men are killed in the line of duty.

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Of course there is all the usual melodrama, and all the baffoonery expected between Errol and Niven, though for a movie with a message, a movie with a tragic ending, it was the simple joy of watching such an old flick together that gave us both much pleasure. And the champagne, of course.

So on 20th June, 2018, “here’s looking of you, kid”. Oops. Wrong movie.

Book Review : The Searchers, The Making Of An American Legend by Glenn Frankel.

Discovery of the year and bargain buy for $5 on a throw out table: The Searchers, The Making Of An American Legend, by Glenn Frankel.

Let’s start with an admission : my knowledge of American History is minimal. What we learned Down Under in our formative years was pretty much limited to what we watched on TV. Lots of Daniel Boone, Tarzan, and Combat. I don’t think it’s changed much over time as my own daughters see the USA through the programs Band Of Brothers and West Wing. If it makes you feel any better at school in the 60s we didn’t learn much about our own country either.

So although I was quite familiar with the John Ford movie, The Searchers, starring John Wayne, I was excited to find the history behind this movie on a table of cheap books in brand spanking new condition. You couldn’t leave it there, could you?

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This book is divided into four parts. Firstly, we learn the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, the daughter of settlers to Missouri in the 1830’s, who was captured during an Indian raid and grew up as a Comanche, later bearing two sons to a Indian warrior. She is eventually located by the Calvary and returned to her white relatives, though this is more problematic than anticipated. It also includes an outline of other white children captured by Indians previously, although much of this earlier history was not recorded.

The next section of the book refers to Cynthia’s son, Quanah, who was a young boy when separated from his mother due to circumstances. Although they never reconnected Quanah embraced living as a white man as a young man, and was able to live comfortably with a foot in each door. He was instrumental in bringing understanding to both indigenous and white populations. All these years later, there is still an annual family reunion in which relatives from both branches of his family tree reconnect.

We then move on to the author of the novel, The Searchers, Alan LeMay. LeMay, who specialised in the Western genre, was himself a descendent of early settlers to Kansas and grew up on tales handed down from the pioneers. Also a screenwriter, the author refused to be involved in transposing this book, a conglomeration of stories he had learned as a child, into a movie, and wanted nothing to do with Director, John Ford.

This is fascinating as Frankel, a Pulitzer winning Journalist, takes the reader through the changes from book version to movie, and how and why these changes were accommodated. I was astounded to learn that in the book Wayne’s character is killed by a woman. Hard to fathom, isn’t it?

The last section is an absolute joy for movie buffs, where we are taken through all the ins and outs of the making of the movie, with tantalising trivia all along the way. From the celebrities who vied for a role, the connection between those who did gain roles, as well as everything you wanted to know about Monument Valley and Ford’s passion for the site.

Many others who are far better equipped have commented on the movie. This book by Frankel is just so well written and well researched that it is an absolute joy to read. My next project is to track down a copy of LeMay’s novel through second hand book stores – starting now!

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“Myths are neither true nor untrue, but the product and process of man’s yearning. As such, they’re the most primal thing bonding us to other people. Yet the phenomenon is much more than a snake feeding on its own tail. Myths gather momentum because they provide hope”.

Cynthia Buchanan “Come Home John Wayne, And Speak For Us”

The Bookshop – Movie Review

The movie, The Bookshop, was released in Australia only last week and sounded like a worthy view with its promise of quaint English seaside scenery. Sadly, even the scenery lands flat.

Florence Green, played by Emily Mortimer, is a widow who lost her husband during World War 2. They met in a Bookshop and her memories of their relationship are highlighted by out of focus shots with Vaseline smeared on the camera lens. Sixteen years later Florence is fed up just reading books, and decides to follow her dream of selling them.

She buys a derelict old building which has been sitting vacant for seven years on High Street which she makes her home and in which she sets up business as a Bookshop.

This does not go down well with the local doyen of society, Violet Gamart ( Patricia Clarkson), who envisaged this building as an Arts Centre, though not whilst it was empty, apparently.

Violet holds all the power within the community, and thus the other businesses follow her lead and are keen to see the Bookshop fail. 

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Florence’s only real friend is Bill Nighy, playing Bill Nighy with a total lack of humour, as the recluse, Brundish, and they share a common interest in their love of books. When Lolita is published Florence lends Brundish a copy of the book for his opinion on whether Lolita will sell well in this conservative ‘50s hamlet (read: backwater where no one reads). This is all a bit creepy as Bill Nighy is no spring chicken, and a later scene has hints of a “moment” in spite of a 30 to 40 year age difference.

Honor Kneafsey plays Christine, the young girl who assists Florence in the shop after school. She is worth watching, though there are clues as to the outcome of the storyline midway through the movie thanks to the Director being so heavy handed.

The soundtrack to this movie is unsettling. It has a distinctly European flavour, and in no way harbours any nostalgia for 1950’s England. ( I believe the production company were a combination of English, German and Spanish influences, and it shows).

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The protagonist bored me witless as I felt no emotional warmth and I felt like reaching into the screen, grabbing her by the shoulders and calling her a useless sap. The other characters were mostly stereotypes with Clarkson obviously on a sugar high for most of the proceedings and overacting throughout the entire proceedings. Her every movement was exaggerated and if I had a blowtorch I would have felt compelled to use it.

I came out of the cinema with more questions than answers. That can be a good thing in that it means it has maintained the attention. Or perhaps I am just grasping for straws….

Based on the book by the same name, and written by Penelope Fitzgerald in the ‘70’s, my favourite review reads:

The Bookshop ends up as a fine advertisement for its namesake. Buy the book and stay home.

– Graeme Tuckett, New Zealand

Cheeta and Tarzan.

So I was in dire need of a laugh. Dealing with taxation, superannuation and insurance companies is just no fun at all. Agreed?

Me Cheeta by James Lever is Cheeta the Chimps memoir. Yes, you read that right. Cheeta, the chimpanzee that featured alongside Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan movies back in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Of course you remember Cheeta, don’t you? He and Maureen Sullivan, Tarzan’s Jane, we’re forever jostling for Tarzan’s attention. I don’t believe he was very fond of Ms Sullivan at all.

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Cheeta’s role in the Tarzan films and TV series was to provide comic relief, convey messages between Tarzan and his allies, and occasionally lead Tarzan’s other animal friends to his aid.

Cheeta was just a baby when snatched from the African jungle by an animal importer who at one time supplied NASA with monkeys for its space program. He was forced to earn his keep by making movies amongst the fake jungles of Hollywood. Just like many Hollywood stars both before and after him, Cheeta suffered addictions of both drinks and cigars.

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Cheeta’s social commentary of the 30s and 40s is what makes this such a fun read. His dislike of Rex Harrison, Mickey Rooney, and Charlie Chaplin borders on plain bitchiness. He shares tales of the shenanigans at Hollywood parties and is quite the raconteur.

But it’s not all Samantha Markle : Cheetah shares his fondness for Mr Weissmuller over their many years together, despite the stars predilection for fiery partnerships, which included Lupe Velez, the Mexican Spitfire, who died with her head in the toilet bowl.

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Cheeta outlived both Sullivan and Weissmuller. Retirement in Palm Springs brought him contentment and an interest in artwork.

Well worth the read. I have no idea what is fact or fiction, and it doesn’t matter. It made me forget all that adult stuff for a while…..

The Tarzan books, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, were actually my first book collection. Every birthday and Christmas I would spend any Gift Certificates at the local bookshop on the next instalment in the series. Paperbacks only, and they were $2.00 a book.

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And, be honest: who didn’t watch the Saturday afternoon Tarzan movie on the telly?And Jungle Jim every afternoon after school?

 

The Power Of Words

There are some great Bloggers out there in the Blogosphere who write wonderful reviews about books and movies. Even if what they are actually reviewing isn’t to their personal taste, these Bloggers are always generous in that they acknowledge positive aspects of the film/book. They might also add comments about what they found disconcerting and lacking cohesiveness, but most bloggers are entertaining, educational, and more importantly, balanced. Well, maybe they themselves aren’t balanced, but their views are…..you get the picture, anyway.

Where am I going with this?

Australian Author, Tim Winton, has written the screenplay for one of his recent novels, Breath, which was filmed off the coast of Western Australia, and transposed into a movie starring Aussie actor, and dare I say, good sort, Simon Baker of Mentalist fame. Only recently released I was very keen to see Baker in his board shorts. (Hey, at least I’m honest).

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I also have an interest in the Australian film industry and have been watching its stop-start progress since the mid 70’s. The coastline of Western Australia is also another major attraction. This is a beautiful and wild part of the world, and it’s one of those places that you can just sit and watch the water for hours as it forever changes. It’s beauty is hypnotic, meditative, and sometimes just plain scary.

Tim Winton? Very well regarded. I lack sophistication, my mother-in-law used to tell me, and find him a bit wordy. So many layers to his onions, when I just want to gobble it up whole.

Again I digress…….

I was all set to see this movie over the weekend until I read a review in the local paper. It was vitriolic. Scathing. Like one of those religious tirades from the pulpit. It was so horrible it was like a weight that pressed against my chest. So penny dreadful that I decided against going to the flicks and mopped the floors instead. Yep, that’s how horrendous the movie was made to sound.

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I’ve since read reviews here which are totally the opposite. Bone and Silver said,

It made me want to get surfing lessons. It made me want to ride a dragster bike down a dirt lane without a care in the world. It made me want to rent a beachside shack with a lover, and sit reading beside the fire while it poured with rain outside, then make love under a mosquito net. It made me want to be 15 again. It made me want to smoke a joint and tell tall stories!”

The power of words is just so incredible.

Some my own reviews have been dismissive, though never scathing or vitriolic. I am now totally ashamed of my worst:

“I was extremely disappointed with this read. It reminded me of one of those cheap paperbacks you could buy thirty years ago that was relegated to a box of reading material kept in the outhouse, the kind of reading that was then relegated to the boot of the car in case you were caught short and needed to do a “bushie”. Yes, as Les would say, this book was crap.”

( I can see you nodding in agreement with the mother in law).

Reminded of my mother, if I can’t say something nice I will in future keep my big trap closed.

And Breath?  Maybe when it comes out on DVD.

 

 

Mother’s Day 2018

It’s Mother’s Day in Australia this weekend.

I was going to rant about the commercialisation of this date on the calendar and how these days have become mere marketing tools. But I am mellowing as I get older, so instead I will share some fun things.

First of all, my gift through the post from my youngest daughter, who writes Government policy for a living. WARNING : if you are feint hearted – don’t look.

A card from the eldest daughter thanked me for “ teaching us all the important things in life, like how to make a platter, the Hollywood Classics, and the best reads. Thankyou also for sharing with us your love of music and introducing us to Carole King”.

Platters. My kids were brought up on platters : good food, good wine, good social skills whilst grazing. What could be better? Here is a recent Easter platter.

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The Hollywood Classics. Some people have replicated Monet’s on their walls – I’ve always had Errol Flynn lobby cards. Now both kids have a collection that rivals mine, with one owning a collection of singing Bing Crosby dolls. I kid you not. They’ve both told me that everything but my Errol’s is going to the dump when I’m dead.

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Books. Because we all live in different parts of the country the youngest instigated a book club amongst the three of us, so each time we met up for a long weekend, we would sit around a champagne breakfast on the Sunday chatting about the designated book. This went really well for several years until the eldest nominated Book 1 of Game of Thrones. 1052 pages. I can remember the battle to get through each and every page. What a struggle, but mother can’t let the side down, can she? So, when we finally get to discuss this epic, number 2 intelligently discusses themes,
comparative history lessons, politics and feminism. I am gobsmacked but manage to comment. Number 1? Informs us she watched the television version instead.

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Music. Soothes the soul and suits all moods. My father eased each loss with music, as have I. Music has also been celebratory which I have shared with both daughters. Music and Theatre. Expensive interests, but “you’re a long time dead”. ( Thank you, Father Bear, for my mantra) . After our recent Queen with Adam Lambert Concert we made a pact to travel anywhere in the world to be at their last ever concert. Brian May is looking so damn good that might be another fifty years down the track.

So Happy Days to all mums and dads, grandparents, uncles and aunts, sisters and brothers, and all those who have had a hand in shaping our younger ones. With the grey hair comes the great memories.

Oh, and I’m off to see Beautiful, The Carole King Story.

PS I still have no grey hair.

My weekend with Jimmy Stewart.

Watched an old James Stewart movie today; old in that it was released in 1965, and because Stewart was nudging sixty when it was made. I remember having seen Shenandoah as a child in the days of black and white TV so it was good to revisit in colour. For some reason the haunting theme song had remained in my head all these years.

Despite it being a civil war flick some of the scenery is just beautiful. (I seem to be attracted to cornfields. Is there a name for that, I wonder?)

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Stewart plays a widower on 500 acres of fertile farmland in Virginia, with half a dozen strapping sons and a daughter, and is reluctant to involve his family in the war happening on their front doorstep. There are all the usual Jimmy Stewart homilies, delivered just as one would expect, and of course once his youngest son is captured by the Union, Jimmy gets his dander up ……as he does…..and gets well and truly involved.

Doug McClure plays Stewart’s son-in-law, a Confederate Army officer. He was my mad crush when he played Trampis in a television series many moons ago, and when I saw him in this it reminded me why I swore off blondes.

Which takes me to this great find – Jimmy Stewart, Bomber Pilot by Starr Smith. What a fascinating read!

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Stewart had always had a love of flying even before his acting career, and when war broke out he was keen to get amongst it. Initially the Studio bosses were not eager for him to get involved (not only because of his fan base but because he would have a price on his head) and so he bided his time as a flight instructor. However, Stewart did get to fly missions as a bomber pilot over Germany and was considered both a good pilot and Leader of men. He reached the rank of Colonel in 1945 and was the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with Oak Cluster, the Croix de Guerre with Palm and seven Battle Stars.

More interesting are the remembrances of his men which quote Stewart as collectively calling them “ Fella’s” in any meeting, just as he did in his role in Shenandoah. Some of these tales really are the measure of the man. Well worth the read.

At Stewart’s funeral, the Shenandoah soundtrack was played as the pall bearers carried the coffin out to the car.*

Another Movie That Shattered This Child.

Just as Hollywood’s leading man, John Wayne, exacerbated my seaweed phobia as recently shared, another of Cinema’s leading men from the 40’s changed my attitude towards play and life in general.

I must have been very impressionable as a child, although at no time did I pick up any of my mother’s genteel interests such as lacework, tapestry or sewing. I remember being gifted an old Singer sewing machine when I was twelve. Eventually it made a half decent decoration in the garden.

Back to this particular leading man, another tall chap with swagger.

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The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex was released in 1939 and starred Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth 1, a simpering Olivia de Havilland, and Errol Flynn as the Earl of Essex. The circumstances don’t matter much for this exercise. What countered was the fact that a dashing Earl of Essex, lost his head. Literally. Chop, chop, chop, it fell into the basket beside the chopping block.

It must have been a few years before the dreaded giant squid episode – Go here – and I remember being devastated and screaming like a banshee. Poor Captain Blood. Oh, my precious Robin Hood.

It’s okay. I did recover my sensibilities. Of a sort.

I took to decapitating the heads of the few dolls possessed by other family members. The original Wednesday Adams. Headless Barbie’s were de rigour in my home.

My mother was aghast. My father bought me a cap gun and an Indian teepee for the back garden. Too much TV, he said.

Have any movies shaped your life? Please share……..

NB Apologies for the lack of Literary references. Having one of those spells when every book you pick up is just……dreadful. Thank goodness for the charity book sale this weekend!

 

John Wayne, Seaweed and Phobias.

I admit to several major fears.

I don’t like spiders. I particularly don’t like spiders when you are standing naked under the shower shampooing your hair, and one of those eight legged hairy arachnids is sitting on the shower curtain spying on you. You know, the ones that follow you with their eyes and can jump at any moment. I must apologise to those house guests who have witnessed my naked, screaming self retreat into other, safer, parts of the household.

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Visits to the Dentist are another thing I really don’t enjoy. I have a superior Gag Reflex and refuse to open my mouth when Dentists need to probe the interior of my mouth.

Thankfully, I have the ability to face these fears and am more than capable to suck any spiders in my way up the vacuum cleaner .

Dentists. If a glass of Rum and Milk before bed doesn’t allow eight hours solid sleep then I do find the intestinal fortitude to visit the Dentist. It may not be fun, but I can rally enough courage to make an appointment. I may burst into tears when I get to the Dental surgery but I get there, okay.

And then there are phobias. Phobias are totally different to being merely fearful of something. According to Wikipedia , “ a phobia is a type of anxiety disorder, defined by a persistent fear of an object or situation.The phobia typically results in a rapid onset of fear and is present for more than six months.The affected person will go to great lengths to avoid the situation or object, typically to a degree greater than the actual danger posed.If the feared object or situation cannot be avoided, the affected person will have significant distress. Typically onset is around the age of 10 to 17 years of age.”

I suffer a Seaweed phobia. Terrified of the stuff and always have been. For the daughter of a Surf Life Saver who learnt to swim at Sydney’s foremost beach at Bondi this is not a good thing.

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On my latest fishing excursion I was reminded that although I can can catch fish, gut fish, clean, scale and fillet fish, if there is seaweed in attendance, my skills are invalidated.

And I lay the blame squarely on John ( Duke) Wayne.

When I was a child, back in the days of black and white TV, we would watch the Friday night movie as a family. A box of Fantail lollies to share, knee rugs on chilly nights, and usually a cat or dog, or both, on our laps demanding attention.

One of those movies, a 1942 black and white, crippled me for life. Reap The Wild Wind starred Susan Hayward, Ray Milland, and a very young John Wayne. Always a family favourite the Duke played a part in the salvage business thriving on the lost cargo of wrecked ships. This movie contained all the usual suspects : a beautiful and busty female, the suspicion of foul play, and a gorgeous 6 foot 4 John Wayne. ( Aside : I have also always blamed my personal preference for tall men on Wayne).

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Bottom line, the Duke ends up getting killed by a giant squid on the ocean floor.

I repeat : John Wayne, six foot four, gets taken by a giant squid. Gone. Dead. Finito.

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And this little black duck has never, ever, trusted seaweed in her life since in case there is a giant squid lying in wait…..lurking in the shallows…..

Illogical, irrational.

Thankyou, Hollywood, although I don’t have any issues with the occasional meal of Calamari and Chips

 

 

 

 

 

“An Awkward Truth”, Vegemite on Toast, Basil Plants & Cheongsums.

Breakfast in the garden this morning which was lovely. Nothing beats the old Vegemite on Toast. We are supposed to be in our second month of Autumn, and though the mornings and evenings are just perfect the daytime temperatures are still hot and humid. It’s those cyclones floating around the far north and Coral Sea causing the havoc.* already wiping sweat from brow.

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Disappointed not to move any plants over the weekend particularly as there will be no further opportunities till next month. When I get back from the Deep South where I’ll be playing mother, I’m heading north to play father’s daughter. Yep, I’m going fishing for a few days.

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( Photo taken 196……*    Oooooops, brain fog)

The Rosemary plants which I was hoping to sell for Anzac Day will now require replanting into bigger pots which is this mornings task.

Then I’m lunching with the Geranium Lady who fundraisers for the same organisation. She has a Christmas in July dinner and trivia night in the works and has approval from the organisation to use their banner for the function. I hope to hold a small plant table on the night which will include the Rosemary bushes and the Basil which are taking over my garden like Triffids. I thought I would add a jar of my Basil salt with these plants as so many people don’t seem to know just how versatile this herb can be. If I’m brave enough I will also try my hand at Rosemary infused Olive Oil.

Have also a couple of flowering exotics on the go which, fingers crossed, in a nice pot will make a half decent raffle prize, as will some Roses pilfered from one of the neighbours garden waste bags.

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I haven’t packed any books for my travels yet and will drop by the library later today.  I’m currently reading about the bombing of Darwin during WW2; An Awkward Truth by Peter Grose. I really don’t know what to make of this one as it defies the very little we learnt about this event in our history.

And I mean very little. Embarrassingly, most of my knowledge came from that dreadful Kidman/Jackman movie titled “Australia”. If you’ve never seen it, don’t bother. Best thing about sitting through this three hours of wasteland was Our Nic’s Cheongsum. Just gorgeous but I can’t wear one – I’de look like a wine barrel!

The raid by the Japanese was bigger and more destructive than that of Pearl Harbour only weeks earlier. Although there was much bravery exhibited saving the seamen blown into the waters of Darwin Harbour, as well as a handful of courageous aircrew and civilians, including a prisoner from the local Gaol with ambulance training, the incident in reality was a blot on the landscape with looting, drunkenness, total ineptitude by Authorities, and an Administrator who lacked integrity, was selfish and an utter…..well, you get the picture.

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This is the Goodreads blurb:

The people of Darwin abandoned their town, leaving it to looters, a few anti-aircraft batteries and a handful of dogged defenders with single-shot .303 rifles. Yet the story has remained in the shadows.

Drawing on long-hidden documents and first-person accounts, Peter Grose tells what really happened and takes us into the lives of the people who were there. There was much to be proud of in Darwin that day: courage, mateship, determination and improvisation. But the dark side of the story involves looting, desertion and a calamitous failure of leadership. Australians ran away because they did not know what else to do.

Absorbing, spirited and fast-paced, An Awkward Truth is a compelling and revealing story of the day war really came to Australia, and the motley bunch of soldiers and civilians who were left to defend the nation.

Fascinating stuff, but I’m finding it difficult to get my head around it. Darwin nearly eighty years ago had only dirt roads and a population of less than 6,000,  the army only had one round of live ammunition per man, sharing their guns in the evenings with those standing guard, and communications were limited. The first sighting of the Japanese planes over the ocean were even identified as Kitty Hawks.

When I visited this northern-most Australian City last winter I felt there was much pride in their military history. I had no inkling of anything other than the general folklore so am feeling a bit conflicted.

 

 

Remind me to order the documentary of the same name from the Library too, please.