ANZAC GIRLS by Peter Rees

In Primary School days, way back in the 60’s, one of the things that made the annual Anzac Day Ceremony so special was that you could wear your Cubs or Brownies uniform to school. My sister and her friends wore their white aprons with red capes and little hats bearing a Red Cross. My Annie Oakley outfit and cap guns were unacceptable.

Tragically, throughout my entire schooling, there was never any other mention of the magnificent work of the nursing services during either World War 1 or 2. Florence Nightingale was it.

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I read Anzac Girls after watching the 2014 ABC Mini series of the same name, as well as attending a one act theatre production called The Girls in Grey, both of which were based on Peter Rees’ book.

Using diaries and letters, Peter Rees takes us into the hospital camps and the wards, and the tent surgeries on the edge of some of the most horrific battle fronts of human history. But he also allows the friendships and loves of these compassionate women to shine through and to enrich our experience.

This is a brilliant read. Forgetting about the courage, strength and humanity of these magnificent women amid all the expected carnage, there were some other factors that made this such a fascinating book.

Firstly, Rees cleverly wove other stories into the fabric of the Anzac Nurses which fleshed out Australian history and highlighting the time line and providing perspective. This included references to Banjo Paterson, poet and war correspondent, as well as C J Dennis, another poet who immortalised a “situation” regarding the AIF and brothels in Cairo in his poem , The Battle Of The Wazzir. http://www.middlemiss.org/lit/authors/denniscj/gmick/wazzir.html.

There was little recognition for these women at the time. Despite working in a theatre of war for over four years there was no financial assistance for housing, although soldiers were entitled. Some nurses had to work their passage home attending to soldier’s wives and children on board, and others had to depend on their families paying the passage home even though the British Government was paying the costs for transporting war brides. Woeful, absolutely woeful.

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Lastly, and what I found particularly inspiring, is that many of these women went on to do magnificent things in civilian life regardless of the terrible things that they had endured. They were indeed trail blazers.

Best read for the year, and I will just add that I made a much better cowgirl than nurse.

There’s a Rose that grows in No Man’s Land,
And it’s wonderful to see.
Tho’ it’s sprayed with tears,
It will live for years
In my garden of memory.
It’s the one red rose
That the soldier knows,
It’s the work of the Master’s Hand;
In the War’s great curse stands the Red Cross Nurse,
She’s the rose of No Man’s Land.
(American song)

Book Week.

This week is Book Week.

Each year across Australia, the Children’s Book Council of Australia brings children and books together celebrating CBCA Book Week.

During this time schools, libraries, booksellers, authors, illustrators and children celebrate Australian children’s literature. The CBCA winners of Book of the Year are announced at this time.

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The highlight of the week for most of our Little People of Primary School age is the opportunity to dress up as their favourite book character and parade around the playground.

Many years ago I remember my sister and I creating outfits for Book Week in a little bush school on the outskirts of Sydney. Funds were short, though enthusiasm and ingenuity were in great supply. Wrapped in a sheet of silver cardboard my sibling created her own outfit at 8 or 9 years of age as the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz.

Twenty odd years later my own daughters spent hours contemplating costumes for a parade of book characters in a little school on the outskirts of Adelaide. They were closeted in their bedrooms for hours with this task and I can still hear their laughter, and frustration, from the other end of the house.

One spent the next day at school as Angelina Ballerina, whilst the youngest one dressed as a golfer. Following on from my previous, Bagger Vance, some things just don’t change…….

There will be playground parades across the nation this week, and I have no doubt there will be a plethora of Harry Potters, Cats In The Hat, and Alice in Wonderlands.I hope the kiddies have heaps of fun!

I adore children’s books and relish the opportunity to gift them to Little People whenever the opportunity arises. Some of these books have “stayed” with me for years.

Do you have a favourite Children’s Book?

Note : The CBCA is advocating that really Little People between the ages of 0 to 5 years be read 3000 books in that period to encourage a love of words, stories and reading. Book readings can be repeated, and books in good supply are available from Libraries. In my area we have a Mobile Bus that travels to parklands on a weekly basis, and of course, you can visit any Community Library.

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

My Next Book Collection – “Bony”.

After my fascination with the Tarzan series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, I gained an interest in books by Arthur Upfield.

Arthur William Upfield (1 September 1890 – 12 February 1964) was an English born Australian writer of detective fiction.

Following his war service in World War 1 Upfield travelled extensively throughout outback Australia, obtaining a knowledge of Australian Aboriginal culture that he would later use in his written works. He is best known for the series of twenty nine books featuring Detective Inspector Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte of the Queensland Police Force. Bony is of mixed parentage, with an English father and an Aboriginal mother.

My interest was piqued by an Australian television series from the early 1970’s based on the Bony series of books and starring James Laurenson. Laurenson, a New Zealander in fact, was indeed my reason to finish all homework in record time on a Tuesday evening. Tall and dark, my tastes were nothing but consistent.

Interestingly,  the money guys had to change the spelling to make the title easier to pronounce for the mums and dads at home.  Which just goes to show that having money does not equate to having brains…..

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Being a born and bred city lass I was fascinated by the outback scenery on the tv. Vast open spaces, red dirt, the scrub, big blue skies, the strength of the people who managed to survive and thrive in such remote and brutal landscapes: it was all new to me and I was captivated. Not so impressed by the flies nor snakes, this was the birth of my next book collection. I must have kept Angus and Robertson in business in the late 60s with all those Gift Certificates!

Bony maintained my interest for several years, not because of any interest in crime or mystery, but because Upfield included much Aboriginal lore into his novels. As a primary school student my introduction to our indigenous peoples was limited to what we learned from social history books, which was minimal and totally unflattering. Sadly, I don’t think as a nation that view has changed much, though I was schooled never to discuss politics, religion, or sex at the table.

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I’ve just reread the sixth book in the series, The Bone Is Pointed, some forty years after my first effort. Bony, university educated, comes across as arrogant, and a tad pompous, and his language stilted and far more English that Australian. All these years later I still enjoyed his Aboriginal tracking skills and the way he reads the lay of the land, as well as the spirituality of our first people.

For example :
The ceremony of bone pointing is a common ritual for bringing sickness among the [Australian] Arunta. The pointing bone or pointing stick is usually about nine inches in length, pointed at one end, and tipped with a lump of resin at the other. The stick is endowed with magical power by being ‘sung over,’ that is, curses are muttered over it, such as ‘may your heart be rent asunder’ and ‘may your head and throat be split open.’ On the evening of the day on which the bone has been ‘sung’ the wizard creeps stealthily in the shadows until he can see the victim’s face clearly by the firelight. He then points the bone in the victim’s direction and utters in a low tone the curses with which the stick was endowed earlier in the day. The victim is supposed to sicken and die within a month at the most. Two men may cooperate in the pointing operation. Spears may also be endowed with magic by ‘singing’ over them. A person who knows that he has been injured, even slightly, with a spear thus prepared will be likely to waste away through fear unless counter magic can be brought to his aid.
–from “Primitive Theories of Disease” by Spencer L. Rogers in Ciba Symposia (April 1942)

Unfortunately, I think Upfield’s books are very much dated with political correctness  madness having taken over our world, but I remember them fondly as a snapshot of an earlier Australia, when rabbits out numbered people, and our forefathers lived off the land.

I guess the really big questions have to be asked : why the heck did I marry (and divorce) a blond?

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And who wears a white shirt in the Australian outback?

Answer: someone who has never washed or ironed in their life!

 

It Takes A Village To Raise A Child

When my daughters visited from interstate a few weeks ago I subtly asked them about the 17 large packing cartons that I have been storing for them in my garage. Being subtle with girls who are both taller and brighter than their mother is an art form. We managed to unpack and sort through seven cartons, making only another ten to wade through on their next trip.

Fluffy toys, board games, letters from first boyfriends, and a collection of snow domes surfaced from within these boxes, as did a disco ball, karaoke machine and at least one hundred children’s books.

Most of these treasures have been rehomed. Well, except for the pink LEGO set. I have always had great fun with LEGO and this was the first developed with females in mind. I think I can have fun with this one Friday night with a glass of plonk.

The local High School is having a massive Garage Sale this coming Saturday and were only too pleased to be the recipients of much of this gear.

Funds raised will be going towards the Schools Chaplaincy program. The Chaplains are not wholly funded by the Government and as they are non denominational I truly believe they provide a respite, a quiet haven, a listening post, to many a student in need.

My tall, bright daughters attended this school over ten years ago. It is a tough school, a State School. It was the first High School in Queensland where the students held a sit-in on the school oval. I don’t mind a little Bolshoi. Indeed, I think these times call for more of it, but I digress…..

My girls did not utilise the services the Chaplains provided but I was always pleased to know there was an avenue for them should it be required. The vibe was very much “ it takes a village to raise a child”.

Some of the funds raised from this Garage Sale, which will have the local Community Centre full to the brim with furniture, brick a brac, plants, and an additional 100 children’s books thanks to our tidy up, will be donated elsewhere. And I just love this:-

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Funds will be donated to The Library Project which is a group of local schools, churches and community service organizations who have banded together to provide libraries on the South Pacific Island of Vanuatu. This beautiful but poor little Island ranked last in Literacy and Numeracy in a list of South Pacific countries. The Library Project states that “the journey of a lifetime starts with the turning of a page”.

WOW, is that powerful stuff or what?

Talk about it taking a village to raise a child……And there is a lot more space in my garage too.

 

 

 

Refer http://www.thelibraryproject.com.au