Sunday, 29 November 2015

Plain-Speaking Jane by Jane Caro

In the 90's there was a fabulous TV show on SBS called Front Up hosted by Andrew Urban.

He wandered the streets and cities of Australia and simply started chatting to people that he met along the way. In a short period of time, under Urban's open-ended, genuinely caring prompts and questions, these people would open up and reveal their story.

Every day Australians exposed some of their deepest darkest secrets of the soul.
Most of the time these stories were simply the everyday sorrows and joys we all experience.
But that was the secret of the success of Front Up.

We all have a story, but most of us don't bother to find them out. We often pre-judge someone by their look, their job, their accent, their address, their manner....Urban striped away these blinkers and allowed the stories to shine.

When I started this post, I did a little research on the Front Up series. I was delighted to discover that SBS have uploaded the entire series on youtube.

What does any of this have to with Jane Caro's Plain-Speaking Jane?

Front Up was a form of street memoir. The best kind of memoir, the kind that gets in under someone else's skin and allows the observer to walk in their shoes for a moment. It created a safe place for sympathy, empathy and authenticity to flourish.
This type of everyday memoir reminded us that we all have a story to tell.
All our ordinary lives are extraordinary because they are our lives.

We all have things to deal with, to get through, to survive.

We celebrate, we mourn, we make mistakes, we analyse, we learn, we fail, we try again, we love, we don't, we move on, we get stuck, we change, we remember, we reinterpret, we reinvent, we go on.

It is this everyday ordinary life lived large that Jane Caro celebrates in her memoir as well.

And like all such stories there is always a moment when you go, "I didn't know that!" or "who knew?"

In Caro's case it's an anxiety disorder that affected her from late teens through her twenties. Who knew? Someone who seems so confident and sure of herself?

It's this story behind the social facade we all present that can be so fascinating. It's what makes us human. It's our vulnerability. We all have a lesson to learn. We just have to listen to our bodies and the stories they're trying to tell us to work out what that lesson is.

In Jane's case it was learning to let go control:
safety is an illusion and danger is reality. You are not special and nor is anyone else. Terrible things can happen and they can happen to anyone.
I suspect that sharing her story with us, is part of her process of letting go.

This post is part of #AusREadingMonth #nonficnov and my Australian Women Writers challenge.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

The Reef: A Passionate History by Iain McCalman

The Reef: A Passionate History does exactly as its cover promises - it delivers 12 'extraordinary tales' about Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

The only thing it missed to my mind, was a thirteenth chapter where McCalman included some of the local Indigenous tribes stories about the reef. There must be Dreamtime stories, rock paintings and oral traditions that could have been unearthed for such a chapter.

The majority of Indigenous stories in this book about life on the reef only existed through the lens of the white explorers and settlers - they only appeared as helpers or hindrances to the white exploration and discovery process.

Sadly perhaps, this is all that is available to the modern researcher. Whatever the reason, the Aboriginal perspective was missed.

The reefs story begins with Captain Cook's 'discovery' and end in modern times with Charlie Vernon, Chief Marine Scientist who has predicted an imminent 'reef apocalypse'. The book is full of fascinating snippets about the history, geography, biology, geology, politics, sociology, psychology, ecology and environmental aspects of the reef.

However, the truly disturbing chapter is the last one that highlights Vernon's findings on coral bleaching. He observed his first patch of coral bleaching in the early 80's, quickly followed by the first global mass bleaching event on 1981-82. The next major mass bleaching occurred in 1997-98 and an even worse one occurred in 2001-02. As it turns out,
reef-growing corals, which seemed peculiarly susceptible to increases in heat and light, were alerting scientists to climatic changes....
These damaged corals are capable of regeneration if water temperature returns to normal and water quality remains good, but the frequency and intensity of bleaching outbreaks is now such that the percentage of reef loss from coral deaths will increase dramatically....
[Reefs] are complex data banks that record evidence of environmental changes from millions of years ago up to the present. Imprinted in fossil typography are the stories of the mass-extinction events of the geological past, including their likely causes. These archives tell us that four out of the five previous mass extinctions of coral reefs on our planet were linked to the carbon cycle. They were caused by changes to the ocean's chemistry brought about by absorption of carbon dioxide and methane, through a process of 'acidification'.
Today's culprits are the same gases - carbon dioxide and methane - though their increased presence is not due to massive meteor strikes of volcanic eruptions that caused earlier catastrophes....
Already the oceans...have reached a third of their capacity to soak them up and balance them chemically. Stealthily, the oceans of the world have begun the process that scientists call 'commitment', which in this case refers to the 'unstoppable inevitability' of acidification that presages destruction long before it is clearly visible.

Sorry for the long quote, but I knew I couldn't trust myself to paraphrase all of that as precisely as McCalman did.

It has had a profound impact on me.

By 2050, the coral reefs could be melting into the waters like a 'giant antacid tablet' heralding an unstoppable 'succession of ecosystem disasters'. The point of no return is close at hand and the only real hope we have is that some of the key micro-organisms like plankton, algae and polyps evolve fast enough to become resilient to this new threat to their environment (and ours) or that the pattern of mass extinction doesn't follow that of the previous five.

It is a tragedy to think that this beautiful area of the world could disappear forever (or at least for enough lifetimes to make it seem like forever). And it is impossible to imagine what other changes this loss will incur.

We visited the area around the Low Isles 18 months ago, not long after a cyclone had battered the coral. Our youngest had control of the hired underwater camera; he took some beautiful photos despite the obvious damage all around us.

This post is part of #AusReadingMonth and #NonFicNov

Friday, 27 November 2015

Christmas in Summer

I love this time of year.

The fast approaching holidays, the warmer weather, the longer evenings.

Christmas in summer is all about catching up with family and friends, watching the sunset with an ice cold beer and eating ripe mangoes.

Christmas in summer means lazy days by the pool or at the beach. It's the time for cute summer dresses, sandals and slip, slop, slap with the sunscreen.

Working in a bookshop in the lead up to Christmas is fun too - crazy-busy fun!

I love ALL the new releases, I adore the special gift editions - I even love the overstock!
I enjoy the frantic festive vibe, discussions about holiday reading plans and gift wrapping.

With so much talk at work at the moment about good holiday reads I thought it might be fun to create my own summer book list.

Most of the time I prefer to go with the flow and mood read. But when I know that I'm going to be away, I also like to plan which books will go with me - I don't want to waste luggage space on a dud!

So Christmas in Summer is born.

A book for each letter of CHRISTMAS IN SUMMER.

17 books in three months.

Some smudging, fudging and cadging is allowed to make the holiday read of choice fit into the model.

Those in the Northern Hemisphere may like to try a CHRISTMAS IN WINTER list and tell us why a white Christmas or a cold Christmas is special and fun.

My Christmas in Summer reading list* looks something like this:

C - Chamber of Secrets (for EstellaSociety's Harry Potter binge readalong)
H - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (ditto HP readalong)
R - Reckoning by Magda Szubanski (for my Australian Women Writers challenge)
I - I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (for my Classics Women's Literature challenge)
S - Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante (for fun)
T - Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante (more fun)
M - Marlon James' A Brief History of Seven Killings (although it doesn't look that brief to me!)
A - Azkaban, Prisoner of (for HP readalong)
S - Summer (for my Edith Wharton review in January)

I - Indiana by George Sand (for my Classics Women's Literature challenge)
N - Night and Day (Woolf-a-long with Heavenali)

S - Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante (to finish the series)
U - Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro (the only unread U book on my TBR pile)
M - Man and Wife by Wilkie Collins (for my Classics Club challenge)
M - Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff (because I really should read one of my ARC teen books for work)
E - Edith Wharton bio by Hermione Lee (for my Wharton review in January)
R - Rivers of Ink by Helen Dennis (ditto ARC teen read for work)

*I reserve the right to change any of these books for a new release at any time.

My badge is a photo of my neighbours glorious Christmas Bush, Ceratopetalum gummiferum. It is not part of the gum tree family. Gummiferum refers to the gummy substance the appears around the cut bark. 

#XmasinSummer #XmasinWinter

Thursday, 26 November 2015

TBR Thursday

TBR Thursday with She is Too Fond of Books is a meme to highlight all those hidden gems languishing in our out-of-control TBR piles.

They can be "books that I physically own, be it arc, bought, paperback or ebook.  It could have been there for months or just acquired it yesterday."

My little twist is to highlight one new release and one classic each week.

This month I have focused on the Australian books lurking in my TBR in honour of AusReadingMonth.

The White Earth by Andrew McGahan is a Miles Franklin Award winning book that has been on my TBR pile for several years now.

After his father’s death, young William is cast upon the charity of an unknown great-uncle, John McIvor. The old man was brought up expecting to marry the heiress to Kuran Station—a grand estate in the Australian Outback—only to be disappointed by his rejection and the selling off of the land. He has devoted his life to putting the estate back together and has moved into the once-elegant mansion. 
McIvor tries to imbue William with his obsession, but his hold on the land is threatened by laws entitling the Aborigines to reclaim sacred sites. William’s mother desperately wants her son to become John McIvor’s heir, but no one realizes that William is ill and his condition is worsening.

Ruth Cracknell's memoir Journey from Venice is a recent find from a second hand book shop in the Blue Mountains. I've heard wonderful, heart-warming things about this book over the years and couldn't resist it when I spotted it. First published in 2000, this grief journal becomes even more poignant when Ruth Cracknell also died in May 2002.

The Serene City beckons, promising Paradise regained for Ruth Cracknell and her husband, Eric, as they set forth on a carefully planned holiday. 

What they are seeking is time. Time to think, time to gaze, time for each other. But from the moment the holiday becomes an uncharted journey, their time is measured.

Journey From Venice is confronting yet deeply comforting – an acknowledgement of the miracle that is unconditional love.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Bad Guys: Episode 2 Mission Unpluckable by Aaron Blabey

"Go be a hero"

What a great line.

Sadly for The Bad Guys (Mr Wolf, Snake, Piranha and Shark) their idea to show the world that they are, in fact, good guys hasn't quite gone to plan. News reports of their first event have completely misrepresented what actually happened.

They decide they need to do something more dramatic to show the world that they really are good guys - they decide to release all the caged chickens from the local chicken farm back into the wild. What could possibly go wrong?

The first problem for Mr Shark is the new bad guy turned good guy - I.T. genius Legs, the tarantula. As it turns out Mr Shark is terrified of spiders!

Mr Snake is also struggling to overcome his chicken eating tendencies and Piranha keeps being mistaken for tuna! But what will happen to our loveable bad guys when they finally meet up with a REALLY bad guy?

Full of Blabey's trademark humour, intelligence and quirkiness, Episode 2 is fun from start to finish.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Seagull by Danny Snell

Seagulls can be quite annoying at the beach, especially if you have some hot chips or a bag of prawns with you. But they are such an iconic part of our beach-side experience it's hard to not to feel some affection for them.

I also grew up watching the cricket. Some days it was more entertaining to watch the seagulls strutting around the outfield than to watch the game!

Snell manages to capture this sense of affection in his beautiful illustrations in Seagull.

The big, soft blue sky dominates each page. The sand squeaks between your toes and the salty tang of the sea wafts by every time you turn a page.

Seagull has a simple environmental message wrapped up in a story that rewards persistence, patience and those who ask for help.

Danny Snell illustrated one of my favourite picture books from last year - Jeremy by Chris Faille and reminded me of my other favourite seagull story - Max by Marc Martin.

This post is part of #AusReadingMonth.

Gratuitous seagull photo's on pilings at Pyrmont!

Monday, 23 November 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo

I'm a convert!

I was sceptical and also a little snooty about the idea that someone could instruct me on how to tidy.

The queen of tidy and declutter with years and years of practice!

My dad was a bankie - we moved around a lot when I was growing up - we learnt to travel light to save on packing up.
But I'm only a queen with a little 'q' - I'm not a fanatic. Stuff can build up; I've also learnt to live with a certain amount of messiness over time.
However my default position is clean and tidy.

So what on earth could Marie Kondo in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying possibly tell me that I didn't already know about clean and tidy?

In some ways not a lot.
Her philosophy of keeping only the things that bring you joy (or that you specifically need) is how I already decide what to keep and what to toss (although my words over the years have been 'bliss' and 'beauty').

However, the secret to Kondo's success lies in her system.
Her KonMari method is simple, easy to follow and do, logical and it works.

I started folding my clothes to her method simply by following the brief one page of instructions in the book.

It worked exactly as she said it would.
There is a 'sweet spot' that tells you when you've folded a piece just the right way. Handling each item of clothing does make it easier to decide which ones to keep and which ones to toss. I can now see all my jumpers and long-sleeved tops in one go and I have more space (to buy more!! yay!)

I googled the folding method this morning to see if I was doing it the right way. Google images is now full of people photographing their drawers full of KonMari folded clothes. We've all done it the same way. It works. It's easy.

The main thing though that I have got from the KonMari Method is about the art of letting go.

I already understand the zen-like pleasure of tidying and decluttering. Kondo has simply given me a specific set of principles to hang this feeling on.

I often struggle to throw out clothes I have never worn or only worn once. Kondo simply says:
'Thank you for giving me joy when I bought you', or 'Thank you for teaching me what doesn't suit me', and let it go....By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order. In the end, all that will remain are the things that you really treasure.
For me, this was the final step I needed to make the throwing out decision even easier than I already found it.

The real test will be whether I can apply this method to all my photo albums!
But that it one of the last categories on Kondo's list to declutter as it is the hardest for all of us.

During our recent move I used the 'will I reread this book?' as my method for what to keep and what to give away. Kondo's method is even easier than that.
Forget about whether you think you'll read it again or whether you've mastered what's inside. Instead, take each book in your hand and decide whether it moves you or not. Keep only those books that will make you happy just to see them on your shelves, the ones that you really love....Books like this, which fall into one's personal Book Hall of Fame, are simple to identify.
To only keep the stuff that brings me joy is a really liberating thought.

Gone are those clothes that make me feel frumpy, that barely used lipstick colour that just doesn't suit me, that broken cup given to me by a friend who is no longer with us - I will always remember her; I don't need a broken cup to prompt me to do so.
Gone are those knick-knacky things that gave me pleasure once, but now just gather dust. The pleasure I got from them was in the past; not now.
It's time.

You can do it too.
Yes you can!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Cleo Stories: A Friend and A Pet by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood

After the popular and critical success of the first Cleo Stories, Gleeson and Blackwood have followed up with a second book featuring young Cleo.

The two stories act as two chapters that encourage emerging readers to try their first chapter book.

Cleo is just a regular everyday kid.

In A Friend and A Pet she is a little naughty and defiant - not listening to her parents, ignoring her chores, doing things she knows she shouldn't be doing, whinging and complaining.

Gleeson elevates these everyday dramas to story-worthy status - the good times and the not so good - rainy days, grumpy out-of-sorts days, no-one to play with days and boring days.

Blackwood's illustrations add a homey touch and allow Cleo's quirky personality to be revealed. her choice of clothing and accessories makes me smile.

The Cleo Stories are a celebration of imagination. Patience and problem-solving are encouraged. The stories and illustrations are authentic, warm-hearted and generous.

And we learn that Cleo's favourite story is Harry the Dirty Dog - what's not to love!

This review is part of #AusReadingMonth and my Australian Women Writer's challenge.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony - The Way Home

Book two of Henry Handel Richardson's The Fortunes of Richard Mahony trilogy is called The Way Home.

A few spoilers will no doubt appear as I ramble my way through this review. So be warned!
Spoilers and a ramble - I'm not sure which is worse?

The idea of home is one of the major themes throughout the trilogy.

At the end of Australia Felix we see Mahony and Polly set sail for England.

Mahony is yearning to be in Mother England once again but Polly is reluctant to leave the country and friends of the home that she now loves - Australia.

The Way Home begins with an abundance of home references and phrases - homeward bound vessel, home waters, the homing wanderer, his island home.

Mahony is convinced he will find what he is looking for here. Polly simply puts on her brave face.

HHR foreshadows what is to come in the Proem as she has Mahony gazing on the iron-grey sky, the emerald belt...painted in greenness. The adorable littleness, of the English countryside as seen from the ship, this miniature perfection.
Upon seeing the familiar atmosphere of his childhood Mahony say, "It looks too good to be true, my dear."

By now we know enough of Mahony's contrary nature to feel sure that these words will be prophetic indeed.

The Way Home proves to Polly  (and us, the concerned and slightly frustrated reader) that it doesn't matter which environment her husband is in, Mahony will still be the same man. Restless, insecure, impulsive, fatalistic, dissatisfied and let's be frank, just plain annoying!

Polly (she will always be Polly to me no matter how many people call her Mary instead!) already understands that home is where the heart is. And, of course, her heart is with her husband. She therefore spends the first part of this book making the best of every situation he gets them into.

Even when Mahony finds the house of his dreams in Buddlecombe, things sour quickly. He finds himself comparing Australia and England and catches himself saying "where I come from.." He quickly finds the streets dingy, dirty, cold and cheerless and full of strange faces.

He chafes at the strict social order, yet feels the slur of being called a Colonial (curiously a derogatory term the English still liked to fling about when I was there in 1991!)
He is frustrated by the slow-thinking, slow-moving country and yearns for ordinary decent feelings and a little kindness instead of breeding and blue blood.

Henry C Gritten

Mahony is still convinced that the Hand of Providence, fate and chance are at play in his life as his expectations of life in Mother England are thwarted at every turn. Dear Polly is not fooled though, as she muses a little wryly, that the "fates" to which he so jauntily referred were, after all, but another name for his own caprices.

The Way Home sees Polly lose her trust in Mahony's judgement. Her faith and loyalty are constantly tested by his poor decisions and faulty logic.

When Mahony finally admits failure and agrees to return to Australia he tells himself that no place could now be "home" to him as long as he lived. He was once more an outcast and a wanderer.

Bourke St Melbourne - Charles Nettleton 1879

Prophetic words once again from HHR.

Even as the ecstatic welcome home from their family and friends proves that they are not, in fact, outcasts, Mahony chooses to see it is as only being for Polly and keeps himself at an emotional distance from all the goodwill.
He craves more from life, but is unwilling to put in anything in return.
It almost seems like he unconsciously creates dramas by acting rashly and impulsively to make life more exciting.

And each time he finds himself saying to Polly, if only I'd had the good sense to take your advice!

It was obviously Mahony who named their new Melbourne home Ultima Thule after the classical reference to the northern most region of the habitable world according to ancient geographers.

I was curious to see that ultima thule's other two meanings were:

2. A distant destination or territory. 
3. A remote goal or ideal.

All three meanings sum up Mahony's attitude to Australia and his personal philosophy perfectly.

Port Melbourne steam train - William Burn 1870

The final chapters of The Way Home, see Mahony once again reeling from the effects of his poor choices and Polly doing the best she can to pick up the pieces.

How much more can she take?
Will Mahony ever find peace of mind or learn the art of gratefulness?

There are so many more issues to cover - women's rights, colonial history, spiritualism, child name a few.
I loved seeing old Melbourne. I now have family in the Brighton area where Ultima Thule was built. I loved seeing it as open pastures and gardens on the outer edge of the city.
Brighton is still full of the big, old colonial homes, but most of the open spaces have gone. It is a regular, albeit, wealthy, city suburb. You can still smell the sea.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

TBR Thursday

TBR Thursday with She is Too Fond of Books is a meme to highlight all those hidden gems languishing in our out-of-control TBR piles.

They can be "books that I physically own, be it arc, bought, paperback or ebook.  It could have been there for months or just acquired it yesterday."

My little twist is to highlight one new release and one classic each week.

This month I will also focus on the Australian books lurking in my TBR in honour of AusReadingMonth.

Just a Queen by Jane Caro is the follow up to Just A Girl from 2011. I've been waiting a long time for this YA sequel about Elizabeth and hope it's a good as the first.
A gripping and page-turning young adult book about one of history’s greatest women.

'The Queen of Scots is dead and they say I killed her. They lie!'

Just a girl to those around her, Elizabeth is now the Queen of England. She has outsmarted her enemies and risen above a lifetime of hurt and betrayal – a mother executed by her father, a beloved brother who died too young and an enemy sister whose death made her queen.

Not knowing whom she can trust, Elizabeth is surrounded by men who give her compliments and advice but may be hiding daggers and poison behind their backs. Elizabeth must use her head and ignore her heart to be the queen her people need. But what if that leads to doing the one thing she swore she would never do: betray a fellow queen, her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots? 

The Railwayman's Wife was one of my favourite reads of 2014. Gum is the 2002 non-fiction classic by Ashley Hay.
No matter where you look in Australia you're more than likely to see a eucalyptus tree. Scrawny or majestic, smooth as pearl or rough as a pub brawl, they have defined a continent for thousands of years, and still shape our imagination.

Indigenous Australians have long woven myths about the abilities of the eucalyptus. Since Australia was colonised, botanists have battled for more than two hundred years in a race to count, classify and own the species. This is the story of that battle and of other eucalyptographers – explorers, poets, painters, foresters, conservationists, scientists (and engine drivers) – who have been obsessed by them, championing their powers. Gum trees have promised to cure malaria, solve the drainage problems that had defeated the Roman emperors, forest the Sahara and divine gold.

Gum is about a magical, mythical, medicinal tree. More than that, it's the story of new worlds, strange people and big ideas.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Piranhas Don't Eat Bananas by Aaron Blabey

Aaron Blabey certainly has the magic touch right now.

Pig the Fibber, Thelma the Unicorn, the Bad Guys series...and now Piranhas Don't Eat Bananas.

Brian is no 'bad guy' piranha.
He's a fruit-loving, vegetarian piranha!

And like all health-conscious folk the world over, he's keen to convert his buddies to his nutritious diet.

Piranhas Don't Eat Bananas is a humorous, silly, rhyming romp to find out what piranhas really like to eat....I'll give you a rhymes with 'plum'!

Are you beginning to see why this book is racing off the shelves at work and into the eager hands of every six year old in my suburb!

This is such a fun read-aloud, you won't mind reading it over and over and over again!

This post is part of #AusReadingMonth

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Green Nomads by Bob Brown

I confess that I began Green Nomads with a cynical attitude - why would anyone think they could publish a glossy coffee table book about their recent camping trip and expect people to buy it?

I could do that surely? All I had to do was raid my instagram account for all those sunsets, macro flowers and panoramas!

But of course, this particular camping book is not just by any old body interested in taking a few snaps of pretty things. It is by Bob Brown and his partner, Paul.

For those of you on the other side of the world, Bob Brown was a doctor, politician and the leader of the Greens Party from its inception to his retirement in 2012.

Brown's environmental activism is legendary and his practical, significant contribution to the cause continues to this day. If anyone has the right or kudos to produce a glossy book about the Australian environment, it is Bob Brown.

Once I got over myself and my cynical attitude, I quickly found that I was mesmerised by the beautiful places photographed by Bob and Paul.
They both have a lovely eye for colour and detail and some of their panoramic shots were breath-taking. They have the knack for seeing the simple, unique and peaceful nature of each environment they explored.

I also learnt about Bush Heritage Australia - an organisation dedicated to protecting wildlife and endangered habitats - that Brown helped to establish in 1990 in Tasmania. Starting with two forest blocks near Oura Oura in Tasmania, Bush Heritage Australia now owns and manages one million hectares of reclaimed land around Australia.

The aim of this book was for Bob and Paul to visit each of the properties now under the Bush Heritage umbrella. It took them three months to travel around Tasmania, through Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and NSW.

Many of the photos stopped me in my tracks with their glorious colours or natural serenity. Brown included a smattering of text to let us know where we were and what particular issues affected this area.

For the rest, he let the pictures tell the story.

Green Nomads is a story of respect, protection and naturalness.
It's also a timely tale of hope.

If you'd like to see a few more of the photos from the book (and not just my photo of a photo!), Brown has a website with some of them on display and available for purchase - here.

Friday, 13 November 2015

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony Readalong - Australia Felix

"Wife, I've a grave suspicion!" said Mahony, and took her by the chin. "While I've sat here my head in the clouds, you've been worrying over ways and means, and over having such an unpractical old dreamer for a husband. Now, child, that won't do. I didn't marry to have my girl puzzling her little brains where her next day's dinner was to come from. Away with you, to your stitching! Things will be all right, trust to me."
And Polly did trust him, and was so satisfied with what she had effected that, raising her face for a kiss, she retired with an easy mind.
This one brief paragraph half way through Australia Felix tells us almost everything we need to know about Richard and Polly Mahony.

This one paragraph not only shows us the power imbalance inherent in their relationship - Polly was only 16 when she married 30 yr old Dick but also the casual sexism of the times. It shows us Polly's awareness and acceptance of her dependence. We also see that Mahony is self-aware enough about his own character to acknowledge it, even joke about it, but not enough to do actually anything about it. We also see his 'trust to fate' attitude.

I'm very glad that I read Clare Wright's The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka last year.

Her stories about life on the gold diggings for women helped to create a much fuller picture of Polly's situation than I would have otherwise had.

It certainly gave the night of the Eureka Stockade, as experienced by Polly and Richard, extra colour and significance.

Our history books tend to infer that almost everyone on the Diggings participated in the rebellion. Reading this novel (written only about fifty years after the event) highlights that that was not the case at all. The rebels were a small group with a common cause, with some popular sympathy, but very few committed to actually rebelling.

(this is my pairing of a fiction & non-fiction book for #NonFicNov)

At the beginning of the month I posed a few questions to ponder as we read The Fortunes of Richard Mahony:

What have you learnt about the Australian way of life and history during this reading?

I was reminded of why Australian soldiers are called 'Diggers'. It's not just because of the tunnels they had to dig on the side of the hills at Gallipoli or the trenches in France during WWI. 'Digger' goes back to the time of the Gold Rush when they dug for gold side by side.

I was also harshly reminded of the differences in childhood experiences for so many during this period of history - infant mortality, illness, death, poverty and neglect. The case of Polly's niece and nephew in particular is heart-breaking - the death of their mother after the birth of the second child, the complete lack of interest in their subsequent emotional development by their father, moved from aunt to aunt at the whim of their stern father, left in the care of strangers when Polly loses her own baby at birth. Young Johnny is then sent off by himself at age six from Ballarat to Melbourne in a coach with strangers. When he heads off down the 'wrong track' as a teen, it is the fault of his bad personality and character.

And Polly's friend, Agnes, whose son is turned against her by her alcoholic, abusive husband. She is unable to do anything  or turn to anyone to stop her son also becoming an alcoholic at age nine!

Ballarat 1853-54 Eugene von Guerard
Displacement - internal and external - is a central theme - what or where is home? Is it a place? An attitude? A person? An unattainable goal?

Mahony is certainly one of those early Australians who considered Mother England home. Many of the First Fleeters always considered England home and never considered their life in Australia to be a 'proper' one. 
They yearned for a place they were torn from and could never return to. Even when their convict terms were over, most could not afford to return to England. Australia was never embraced as 'home'. It was always second rate. Very few attempted to embrace their new home in Australia. Most simply tried to supplant Mother England on Australian soil.

It wasn't until they had children that attitudes about Australia as home began to shift. These Australian born children only knew Australia as home. They couldn't see the point of pining for another place across the seas that they would never visit.

Of course, there were some early settlers who were only too happy to escape England and start a new life in a new country. But so many of the new settlers struggled in the harsh conditions. The extreme weather, the strange environment, the huge 'uncivilised' expanse of this beautiful country frightened and overwhelmed many of them. 

If they had only been able to value the Indigenous community living here, the early settlers could have learnt how to live more comfortably - local food, how to manage the seasons and bush etc. They could have learnt how to love this country for what it really is rather than to constantly to see it for what it was lacking.

Is it fate or fortune at work in Mahony's life?

Mahony tends to be a pessimist - 'it looks as if I were in for a run of real bad luck, all along the line.'
In spite of the natural gifts fortune had showered on him, Richard was not what you would call a happy man.
He also struggles to take control of his own life, letting things happen to him and around him rather than dealing with it or getting on with it or making the changes he might need to get on. 
Was it straining a point to see in the whole affair the workings of a Power outside himself - against himself, in so far as it took no count of his poor earth-blind vision?

He has a belief that fate and fortune are things that happen to you - 'Fortunes were made, and lost, and made again, before you could say Jack Robinson.'
That was another shabby trick Fate had played on Richard in not endowing him with worldly wisdom, and a healthy itch to succeed. Instead of that, he had been blessed with ideas and impulses that stood directly in his way.

What other issues or themes are explored by the author?

Some of the other themes that reoccur throughout Australia Felix are:

  • the rights and roles of women
"But when I look round me, or think back, and see what we women put up with! There was poor old ma; she 'had to be man for both. And Jinn, who didn't dare to call 'er soul 'er own. And milady Agnes is travelling the selfsame road - why she 'as to cock 'er eye at Henry nowadays to say whether it's beef or mutton she's eating! And now 'ere's you, love, carted off with never a with-your-leave or by-your-leave, just because the doctor's tired of it and thinks 'e'd like change."
  • new (country & way of life) versus the old/youth versus maturity 
"But I think youth's a fine name for a sort o' piggish mess. What's the good, one 'ud like to know, of gettin' old, and learnin' wisdom, and knowin' the good from the bad, when ev'ry lousy young fathead that's born inter the world starts out againto muddle through it for 'imself, in 'is own way."
  • and the perennial favourite of so many authors - the meaning of life!
"Ah, there's a lot of bunkum talked about life," returned Tangye dryly, and settled his glasses on his nose. "And as a man gets near the end of it, he sees just what bunkum it is. Life's only got one meanin', doctor; seen plain, there's only one object in everything we do; and that's to keep a sound roof over our heads and a bit in our mouths - and in those of the helpless creatures who depend on us."
...the haunting fear that one had squeezed life dry; worse still, that it had not been worth the squeezing.
Now, each individual year was precious to him; he parted with it lingeringly, unwillingly.

For me there were a few flaws in the writing. 
HHR uses stereotypes to describe some of her characters. We now also consider some of her terms to be derogatory or political incorrect.

The occasional character pops up conveniently to make a point (like Tangye above) then is never seen or heard of again.

There is also a wordiness or perhaps a tendency towards ponderousness that infects many of the books longer passages. This affects the smooth flow of information and ideas at times.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of the Australian environment and weather - I could picture the bush, the heat, the flies, the creeks, the frosty mornings, the birds etc. I also really liked seeing the birth of Ballarat and the views of early life in Melbourne.

Now it's time to jump into The Way Home
What trials and fortunes wait for the Mahony's in the old world?

Book I - Australia Felix - pg 3 -383   (380pgs)     1st -12th Nov

Book II - The Way Home - pg 387 - 657   (270pgs)     13th - 21st Nov

Book III - Ultima Thule - pg 661 - 941   (280pgs)     22nd- 30th Nov

In January 2007 we had a family visit to Ballarat and the Sovereign Hill museum. Below are a couple of pictures of our visit to the gold diggings village, including moi panning for gold!

Tweet your favourite quotes & take a photo of where in the world you're reading The Fortunes of Richard Mahony 

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