Saturday, 25 May 2013


I have been mildly chastised for the recent post about my desert island must-haves. Some readers have complained I haven’t said what the books are about and why I delight in them. Pedants. Must be teachers.  Don’t they trust my enthusiasm? Apparently not. So…sigh…I will oblige, even though it feels like I’m spoon-feeding year 10 students who won’t read a book without first seeing the movie of it. 

At this point I must digress to confess that the latest screen adaption of The Great Gatsby may be the only reason I bring myself to read that book. F. Scott Fitzgerald is on a par with Patrick White, in my estimation.

Now for a quick prĂ©cis of some of the blurbs. The rest, you’ll have to google.

Dirt Music: Georgie is 40, near alcoholic, on the run from her past and living in a relationship of convenience with a widowed fisherman.  A chance meeting with an abalone poacher has her on the run again.  Like all Winton’s writing, this one, too, has forgiveness and redemption at its core.

Oyster: Arriving at an opal mining community, two strangers search for family members who have disappeared. They are drawn into the twin cultures of rough-as guts bushies and religious fundamentalists. But no one wants to talk about the cult messiah, Oyster.

The Playmaker: This story is based on historical fact, and concerns a group of convicts in Sydney Cove in 1789, who stage a performance of ‘The Recruiting Officer’, a comedy by George Farquhar, to honour the King’s birthday. The convicts lives begin to parallel the characters in the play.

The Ancestor Game: Writer, Steven, sets out to discover the mysterious background of his friend, Chinese- Australian artist, Lang Tzu. The mystery links past to present and takes Steven on a journey between Melbourne and Shanghai as he unravels the meaning of family and homeland.

People of the Book: Hannah, a renowned book conservator, travels to Bosnia to work on The Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish prayer book. As she traces its amazing survival she is drawn into the dangerous life of the young librarian who has risked everything to save it from the ruins of the war-torn city.

The Water Boys: Set several decades into the future, the conflict between indiginous and European Australians is about water, not land. Every water source is militantly governed and guarded and there is a fierce, underground war for access. The action alternates between dreamtime, colonial times and present reality. It is eerily prophetic.

I forgot to include The Ballad of Les Darcy in part 1.This is a biography of the famous boxer in the early part of the last century. While it’s not fiction, it is nevertheless fine story-telling and meets my criteria for great Australian writing.

All the titles listed have a powerful sense of place and time, and that sense of poetry in language that makes me as proud as all else of my literary heritage.

Friday, 17 May 2013


Maybe the title of this piece should be ‘Inspired Australians’; I can’t decide. The point is, there is a body of work by Australian writers that gets my creative juices going and makes me as envious as all else!

Before 1991 I had barely read any Australian writers. I had tried Patrick White’s Voss,  hated it, and tried another of his titles (from memory, something with Mrs in the title) in the interests of giving him a fair go, but that one did nothing to change my opinion. Mind you, that was forty years ago; maybe I should try again.  Nah!! Why bother when there is just so much fine Australian fiction to be read.

Australian Literature was a compulsory unit in my first year at Uni. We began with some colonial classics, but when we moved on to more contemporary writing I was hooked. I was inspired by these authors to write with the same empathy and passion for Australia and with that sense of identity and belonging. Readers world wide weren’t put off American novels, or English ones, because they had obvious national settings and flavour, so why would they reject Australian novels for that reason? But, back then, that was the hurdle Australian writers had to jump. 

I began with Thomas Keneally, and I read everything he wrote up to and including his latest, at the time, Woman of the Inner Sea, and used them to write my final year’s English  assignment. I fell in love with Tim Winton and David Malouf. Later, I found Shirley Hazzard, Kate Grenville and Janette Turner Hospital.
So, here is my list of all-time favourite Australian reads. My desert island must-haves.

Anything written by Tim Winton, but my ten star rave is for Dirt Music.
Janette Turner Hospital: Oyster
Alex Miller: Journey to the Stone Country (I might have to take The Ancestor Game, too).
David Malouf: Remembering Babylon.
Thomas Keneally: The Playmaker
Geraldine Brooks: People of the Book (not set in Australia, but has an Aussie protagonist)
Peter Docker: The Water Boys. I discovered this book only a few weeks ago and already I have a library hold on it for a second read. In my estimation, this book should be up the top of this list with Dirt Music.

Saturday, 4 May 2013


I find it hard to believe I haven’t posted since the end of December 2012. Where has the year gone? Heck, where has my life gone! I’m reminded of something I read in a prophetic journal earlier this year:  “Expect surprise detours this year.” Aha! That’s where my life has gone…it’s been detouring.

But there have been pleasant, even enriching, detours. One of them was a ferry trip across Backstairs Passage (got to love that name!) to Kangaroo Island. It is eleven years since I last visited the Island and I couldn’t help noticing the changes. Kingscote now has a layer of the cosmopolitan on its country town core and everywhere, the message, “get the tourist”, is loud and clear. The rustic atmosphere is still there, but it’s calculated rather than hick.

We weren't there long enough for a repeat viewing of the Remarkable Rocks or the desolate grandeur of Cape du Couedic, or a dozen other delights, but  one thing I did make time for was the pelicans at feeding time. The magic of sitting cheek to bill with these ugly/awkward/amazing birds has remained with me for a decade, and I made my way to the Kingscote wharf in great anticipation. I can’t describe my disappointment when I saw that a sterile, black plastic platform of tiered seating had replaced the sandstone rocks I had perched on all those years ago. Must be hell on a hot day for tourists in shorts. And the pelicans are no longer within reach, either, but I took my seat and paid my money, anyway.  And I’m so glad I did. The pelicans are still amazing and their feeder is still enthusiastic and informative, and I was glad the audience was still enthralled, with no idea of the added joys it had been deprived of.  

Island hospitality and generosity hasn’t gone AWOL in the new sophistication, either. The gentleman from the Lion’s Club opened up, after hours, the huge shed which is their Op Shop, so that we could purchase some urgently needed items for our daughter’s new abode. In the process, we enjoyed an interesting conversation with a true ‘character’.

I’m positive it won’t be a decade before the next visit, especially when we won’t have to pay for accommodation!