The Passage of Love by Alex Miller

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Reviewed by Rod McLary

Alex Miller is one of Australia’s finest writers – although like Patrick White before him, Alex Miller was born in England.  He came to Australia as a teenager and worked on a property in North Queensland.  His experiences there inform much of his writing as it is from working on the land with Aboriginal ringers and stockmen that he developed his deep love and understanding of the country and its indigenous people.  One only needs to read Miller’s Journey to the Stone Country, Landscape of Farewell or Coal Creek to appreciate the depth of this understanding.  It is, however, an understanding which does not claim ownership of indigenous culture and history.  As he says in The Passage of Love: a web of belief of the country and its ways I would never share and had no wish to trespass on.  The story belonged to Frankie.  It was never to belong to me. [292]

The Passage of Love is – in Miller’s own words – a mixture of memory and imagination; or in Virginia Woolf’s – autobiographical fiction.  That is, it fictionalises Miller’s own story from when he leaves North Queensland and his work on the station and conceives an ambition to become a writer.  While the essence of Miller’s own story is there, certain elements have been changed in response to the dramatic demands of the novel.  The Passage of Love chronicles the first emerging of his desire to write and then his struggle to achieve it; and, as the book’s title suggests, explores the key relationships in his life at that time.

The Passage of Love opens as Miller visits a prison to speak with some of the inmates about his books.  Reflecting later that his desire to write was no longer present, Miller reads a collection of essays by John Berger.  In one, Berger quotes ‘the novel … was born of a yearning for what now lay beyond the horizon’. [26].  This sentence crystallises for Miller the purpose of writing – to record what is now past and ‘beyond the horizon’. Consequently, Miller begins to write the story of how he became a writer.

The novel is bookended by two relatively brief sections where Alex Miller speaks as himself – a writer then in his eightieth year – reflecting on the path which led him to this point in his life.  The major part of the book – the autobiographical fiction – concerns Robert Crofts finding his way into becoming a writer.  Robert Crofts is the name which Miller has given his fictionalised self.  Coincidentally – or maybe not – this is also the name of the protagonist in Miller’s first novel Watching the Climbers on the Mountain.  In that novel, Crofts is the young English stockman who changes the lives of the owner of the station and his young wife forever.

Crofts – working as a stockman in Queensland – reflects on his close friendship with Frankie – an Aboriginal ringer.  After he leaves the station to pursue his ambition to be a writer, his desire to capture the friendship in the written word becomes his purpose.  The writing burst upon him.  He didn’t struggle with it but let it take him and it rolled out ahead of him; he knew it, it was written in his heart.  He didn’t resist. [289]

However, in the process of writing, Crofts has neglected his wife Lena and the consequence of this neglect is the abandonment of his incomplete novel as he and Lena relocate to Canberra.  He begins work as a public servant and this leads to his meeting Ann.  While Ann is soon to move to Boston with her husband, there is a connection between them which finds its ultimate expression only later in the novel.  At this point though, they have to be satisfied with a touch.  At this he felt her fingers move against his, not holding his hand but touching him.  No touch had ever felt so intimate to him, so gratifying, or so exciting. [348]

Again, he and Lena move – this time to farmland where he was at once in love with this wild little patch of country [376].  After struggling for some time to find her purpose in life, Lena enrols in an art course in Melbourne and moves away from the farm.  Crofts continues there and completes his first novel.

The final section of the novel – narrated by Miller – he reflects on his writing The Passage of Love.  He speaks of the ‘strange diffusion of memory and imagination’ from which he drew to write the book.  With an emotional honesty which is a mark of all his novels, he also speaks of those unwelcome memories which refuse to be discarded and for which he is regretful.

As always, there is a beautiful rhythm and cadence in Miller’s writing:

Standing there looking at the scene, the situation of the cottage and the barn seemed to Robert more tightly enclosed by the densely timbered hills than he remembered from their first visit, the buildings and the yards clustered into this narrow pocket of cleared land at the bottom of the valley, the immense stillness of the morning, birds making a racket in the timber. [393]

Miller has written a novel which, while perhaps not reaching the heights of his [say] Autumn Laing or Journey to the Stone Country, can certainly take its place confidently within his oeuvre.  It chronicles both his journey towards being a writer and his romances and friendships – each of whom in his or her own way has contributed to his being a writer.

Alex Miller has written twelve novels all of which have won awards including two Miles Franklin Literary Awards and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.  He is now 81 and lives in country Victoria with Stephanie his wife of 43 years.

The Passage of Love

[2017]

by Alex Miller

Allen & Unwin

ISBN 978 1 76029 734 3

584pp; $32.99

 

 

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Draw Yourself Happy by Alex Beeching

Reviewed by Angela Marie

What does United Nations Resolution 66/281 have in common with artist and author,  Alex Beeching?

Both are on a mission to create and foster something amazing. A state of happiness.

Curiously, I first thumbed through Draw Yourself Happy on March 20. Unbeknownst to me at the time, but discovered later on during that day, this was the United Nations International Day of Happiness. Spawned from a conceptualisation by prominent United Nations special advisor, Jayme Illien, to generate and promote a global happiness movement, this day was first declared in 2013.

In the words of Ban Ki Moon, ” Happiness for the entire human family is one of the main goals of the United Nations.”

That happiness is a fascination, and a sought-after product and concept, is indisputable. Google the word. Which of the 172 million entries will you choose?

Draw Yourself Happy is a book of secret pleasures. I will unashamedly say that I love this book. And that was from the moment that I started to peruse it. It made me smile. It made me feel happy. And that was before I undertook any artistic endeavours. I marvelled at the intricacy and the intimacy of communication. Yes,  Alex was talking to me. In a wonderful atmosphere of acceptance, encouraging me to have a go. Without having to prove myself, I was being drawn in and welcomed to the band of artists. As an individual.

This is not a colouring book,although that may play a part. This is not a ‘How to draw’ book, although that too may play a part. This is not a simple book, although some activities may be simple. Draw Yourself Happy is described as ‘an activity book like no other’ and I have to agree. There is a seemingly endless volume and variety of activities to choose from. One could almost fill a year from one International Day of Happiness to the next. That is, if one could limit oneself to one activity per day.

The inherent beauty of this book is that it has been created from a lateral thinking perspective. It is not intended as a progressive exercise. The reader/ drawer is encouraged to jump about through the pages until alighting upon something that appeals at the instance. Activities range from simplistic to challenging, catering to the spectrum of happiness from quiet contentment to overwhelming joy. You have permission to be a child with a box of colours again. It’s playtime.

Alex Beeching does not say how to do something. He offers up helpful tips and ideas to encourage us towards our own style and our own ideas. He is supportive whilst challenging us and stretching our preconceptions of what we are capable of drawing. I have no doubt that Draw Yourself Happy is the end product of many, many hours of deliberation and honing. Pedestrian objects become intriguing and a candidate for investigation and contemplation.

Which activities are my favourites? Hard to limit but special mention to the triangle, peacocks, terrarium, patchwork tree, venn diagrams, abstraction challenge….. I think I had better stop.

For me, Draw Yourself Happy evokes a reminder that true happiness lies within us and we have the power to let it bloom. I was not anticipating how calm/ happy/ reflective I would feel through the act of drawing. That was an extra gift.

Alex Beeching acknowledges that he is “first and last a lateral thinker”. He strives to incorporate both his Iranian and his English heritage within his works. He is an award-winning artist and author, highly sought after for commissions, collaborative projects and installations. Think the University of London, and the Cheltenham and Bloomsbury festivals, among others.

Draw Yourself Happy

(2017)

by Alex Beeching

ILEX/Hachette

ISBN: 978-1-78157-368-6

$16.99; 192 pp

 

Over is Out by Lachlan and Sarah Creagh

Reviewed by Angela Marie

What do you get when you cross a speech pathologist with a freelance illustrator? You get Over is Out.

Australian authors, Sarah and Lachlan Creagh, have delivered an appealing and beautifully-illustrated picture story book in their first literary collaboration.

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Together the authors have harnessed the power of the visual to deliver concept learning in a fun format. They have used common positional prepositions, including between, under and behind, amongst others, with clarity and simplicity.

Yet this is not a simple book. Sarah and Lachlan Creagh have used the classic storytelling device of the fable to add subtle layers about friendship, trust, reserving judgement of others and embracing differences. We see a problem and we see a resolution.

This picture story book will be enjoyed within the home, yet has the substance to be investigated within the Prep and Year One classrooms, finding footing within the language, maths, science, social sciences and art curricula.

Time to test out Over is Out. Who better than five year old twins, Dario and Dante?

Angela: Let’s talk about dinosaurs. Why do you think young children love dinosaurs?

Dario: Because they’re scary.

Dante: Because they look like they’re fun!

Angela: What do you know about dinosaurs?

The descriptions tumble out……They have sharp teeth. They’re scary. They have giant feet. They only have two fingers. They have tails. They don’t have squared heads…..

Angela: Where would we find a dinosaur?

Dante: In the Jurassic period. Dario nods and adds: In a cave.

Angela: Would I ever meet a real dinosaur?

Dario and Dante: No… because they died… because of a asteroid or something…

Eager faces as I unveil and read aloud Over is Out by Lachlan Creagh and Sarah Creagh.

“You hit the ball over the fence.

You know what that means…

Over is Out!” 

The comments from Dario and Dante fly thick and fast: Someone bats and someone bowls and if you hit the wicket you’re out!… They have dinosaur neighbours… Their neighbours aren’t nice…The dinosaur’s hungry… He’s a T-Rex so he eats a lot.. I thought he was going to be eaten!

A little rounding up chat and then the verdict? Two thumbs up!

After the reading, younger brother, two and a half year old Luka, could not wait to get his hands on the picture book. “He’s scary,” he shared, looking up with a big grin before settling down to enjoy the illustrations. Yes, children love dinosaurs.

Over is Out has been presented with care, from its embossed lettering to its reassuring inside covers, depicting happy interactions with friendly dinosaurs.

Note to the authors: Hoping to see our little friends emerge on yet another adventure.

Over is Out

(2018)

By Lachlan Creagh and Sarah Creagh

Hachette

ISBN: 13579108642

30 pp; $16.99

 

The Presidency of Barack Obama by Julian E. Zelizer (ed.)

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

If anyone reads this book hoping to find a page-turner then they will quickly discover that this is not it. Edited by Julian E. Zelizer with articles supplied by people with deep knowledge of American politics, the book could have been a great book. The former President’s policies are ‘diced and sliced’ in depth. The writers are all learned men, and appear to be as humourless as any Superior Court judge in Washington D.C. The book has consummate judgments but is boring in the telling.

Zelizer has a point when he argues that Obama could never accept just how ugly American politics had become. Visionary in many ways and preferring to instigate and implement in an understated fashion, he failed to let the public in on the great steps he was steadily putting in place. His confidence in the American people was misplaced, for out there among his political opponents were people who would bring a black man down at any cost. Obama’s election in 2008 was supposed to signal the value in all people.

Yet when Obama left office in 2017 he knew that conservative forces had control in Congress and the Senate, that his reforms would remain tenuous, that most would be axed by the buffoon now in power. Since he had instituted reform in many areas through executive power, there was no group with a vested interest in retaining them. When discussing Obama’s record on inequality Paul Starr makes the important statement that “Progressive changes in the submerged state might amount only to a ‘submerged success’” (60) from which the president would gain little credit. There’s something to be said for the truth of the maxim: “Achievements without public credit impair the achievements themselves” (Starr, 61).

When discussing Obama’s legacy on climate change, Meg Jacobs follows the same line. Obama had taken aggressive executive actions to slow emissions and force a substantial change in policy. He deployed his political capital where he thought it would be most effective. Executive decisions are not the same as written into law and voted upon in Congress and the Senate. There is always the pressing uncertainty that a successor could alter or remove them at will. Trump denounced climate change as “a hoax” and his lackey Scott Pruitt rejected the Paris agreement as one of his first tasks.

Critiques expressed in the essays by the contributors find common expression in praising Obama for his intelligence and broad thinking but are critical of his implementation of his policies. Peniel E. Joseph, writing about the movement for black lives, makes a rather poetic statement about the situation he perceives, “those unheard voices demanding justice grew exponentially louder, while in many ways remaining invisible, during the time of the nation’s first black president” (143). Thomas Sugrue’s analysis of Obama’s urban policy concludes that it has only feebly responded to the ongoing crises on the streets of major cities.

Matthew D. Lassiter is very outspoken in his assessment of Obama’s presidency and the treatment of America’s drug problems:

The Obama administration continued to reject the policies of legalization or even decriminalization, promoting reforms of discriminatory policing and excessive sentencing rather than confronting the racial inequalities and imperialist violence inherent in drug war interdiction at home and abroad (178).

Sarah R. Coleman is every bit as damning. “Failing to effectively read the changing politics of immigration policy and manage congressional opposition, Obama turned to executive action to achieve substantive reform, a move that lacked the consensus building required of comprehensive reform and fuelled the growing anti-immigrant sentiment among conservatives” (194).

Jeremi Suri argues:

The future will be determined by the contest between liberal internationalism and militaristic protectionism that Obama’s presidency opened. [Obama] began an international reconstruction movement – with all the partisanship, violence, and uncertainty of prior reconstructions (211).

Not a voice expressing confidence in the ex-President’s policy.

In the 1970s, according to Kathryn Olmsted, the CIA had defended itself against charges that it was a “rogue elephant on a rampage”. By 2010 a large group of people discussed assassination almost every week, “and the US president routinely put his orders to kill in writing” (227). For Obama these were the “unpleasant necessities of the post 9/11 state” (227).

After all this condemnation, Gary Gerstle supplies a little ray of optimism. He finds that Obama had successes too. Hampered by the Lilliputian thinking of right wing politicians and the knee-jerk criticisms of a Trump that’s replaced its melody with brassy unthought-through pronouncements, Obama’s accomplishments are substantial. Economic recovery compared with European countries was robust; his campaign for national health insurance was finally achieved; African American middle class men and women occupied a larger stage than before, and millions of non-whites saw a future in a truly democratic America. Obama showed that the country could change dramatically in population terms and yet still be American in its dreams and aspirations.

Gerstle claims that Obama’s presidency has “demonstrated the tenacity of America’s racial nationalist tradition. Tens of millions of white Americans were simply unable to accept him as their president,” (278) and went out of their way to discredit him. “That Obama exited the presidency without blemish in his personal life is itself an impressive achievement” (278) but is hardly likely to give him comfort as his successor tears down the executive decisions he made as president.

The Presidency of Barack Obama

(2018)

By Julian E. Zelizer

Princeton UP

ISBN: 978-0-691-18210-0

$US24.95; 360pp

 

To order a copy of Presidency of Barack Obama: A First Historical Assessment at the Footprint Books Website with a 15% discount click here  or visit www.footprint.com.au

 

Please use discount voucher code BCLUB18 at the checkout to apply the discount.

 

 

 

The Pastor and the Painter by Cindy Wockner

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

Many Australian readers will be well aware of the Bali Nine would- be drug smugglers and the controversy surrounding the execution, after ten years in Kerobokan Prison, of the masterminds Australian Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Cindy Wockner’s book, The Pastor and the Painter, is not about the smuggling of drugs, although this theme is ever present, instead it is about two young men who came to realise how their earlier actions and attitudes had negatively impacted on innocent people, particularly their own families, and who tried to turn their lives around in the ten years in their Indonesian prison. However, what was ever-present was the knowledge that they had received the death penalty for their crime and Indonesia was well known for following through on this penalty especially for non- Indonesian drug criminals.

Working as the Indonesian correspondent for News Limited, Cindy Wockner was ideally placed to cover their story. They let her into their lives and she was on hand to watch them transform from angry, defiant young inmates to fully rehabilitated, good men.

This book follows the journey as Andrew Chan discovered a faith that led him to studying and passing his exams to become a Christian minister and to his dedication to helping other inmates with their problems. For Myuran his journey followed a different path. He dedicated his time to fighting for and introducing various classes for the inmates. In the process he discovered a talent for painting. Many of his paintings were sold to provide much needed funds to run the classes and to provide medical assistance for inmates and their families. As he said when he was nearing his final days, “ I came in here as a criminal and I leave as a successful artist. Now I know that my Mum and Dad will be proud of me” (260). For both of these young men it was important that they atone for the misery they had heaped on their families especially their parents.

Throughout their story the spotlight has been shone on the Indonesian legal system and all countries who still insist on using the ‘death penalty’ as well as the plight of the poor who are powerless to alter their situation even if they had no criminal intent but were still sentenced.  Myuran’s last request was to Cindy was “that you help fight them (Indonesian JokoWidodo and the Indonesian  attorney-general) for what they do that they never do this to another person again, and also bring attention to the others (the remaining Bali 7) as they shouldn’t have to spend the rest of their lives in jail; ten years is already more than enough time. They shouldn’t get extra punishment time just because they’re Aussies. Please help – at least that way I can rest easy “ (293).

Trying to give equal writing to both men would not have been easy. Both men were so different in temperament  – Myuran tended to be more prone to times of depression, while Andrew was a larrikin to the end. In his goodbye letter to Cindy he shared how he “locked a guard in the cell as he was using one of the empty cells toilets. I had just been unlocked briefly for our 30 min exercise when I saw him inside. So I locked him inside for about 10m to 15 mins. I told him it wasn’t time for him to be let out – that he must wait” (298).

At times I found that swapping from one protagonist to the other became a bit predictable and sometimes confusing as to which was the focus. Also, including large parts of personal letters from the prisoners and their various family members, and slipping back to things that had happened previously, made the story lose its flow in places.

This was a very emotional book as we were reading about two young men, knowing they were about to die, but never knowing exactly when, knowing also that the tension would be having a heart-wrenching effect on family especially the mothers of the two boys. But it was also a very uplifting book when watching, through the text, how many lives were positively influenced by the actions of the Pastor and the Painter, who went to their maker with a hymn on their lips and at peace with how they had tried to rehabilitate themselves. They did not do this all on their own and the Acknowledgements section of the book gives some idea of just how many people were involved with trying to save the lives of the Pastor and the Painter.

This is a book well worth reading and a lesson to all who might be lured by drugs, money, excitement and fast cars. It is also a testament to the fact that no matter what mistakes we make in life we can find redemption and peace of mind through actions that have positive effects on the lives of others.

The Pastor and the Painter

(2018)

By Cindy Wockner

Hachette

ISBN: 978-0-7336-3694-3

$32.99; 339pp

 

The Lebs by Michael Mohammed Ahmad

Reviewed by Rod McLary

In 2000, Australia was outraged by a number of rapes in Sydney perpetrated by young members of the Lebanese community.  The perpetrators were later convicted and sentenced to lengthy terms in prison.  There were consequent changes to the sentencing laws in New South Wales.

On 11 September 2001, two planes were flown into the World Trade Centre in New York and over 3000 people died.  The planes had been hijacked and flown by Islamic extremists.

These two events are referred to in The Lebs – a novel largely set in the Western Sydney Punchbowl Boys High School at the end of the twentieth century.  Lebanese students at the school refer from time to time to the trials of the men and boys charged with the rapes and express their concern that the ringleader would be found guilty.  Similarly, there are references to 9/11 and descriptions of the boys’ anger when the school flag is flown at half-mast.

The Lebs is narrated by Bani Adam – a student at Punchbowl Boys High School – who is a misfit among the predominantly Lebanese student body.  Bani is also Lebanese but, in his own words, ‘thinks he is better than the others’.  Bani is 15 years old and is struggling to find his place in a school where hyper-masculinity is de rigueur.  In contrast to the overwhelming sexist attitudes of most of his fellow students, Bani memorises the last sentences of classic English novels to recite to his English teacher with whom he is infatuated.  Erroneously but touchingly, he believes the teacher’s suggestion that he read the Nabokov book Lolita is a subliminal message of love to him.

While Bani continues in his infatuation, the other students are more concerned with finding young Australian women from whom they can receive sexual favours.  These young women are disparagingly referred to as ‘lowies’ – that is, they are low enough to go with the Lebs.  It is culturally inappropriate for these young men to seek sexual favours from Muslim women – they are for marriage only.

There is little room for sensitivity at Punchbowl High as Bani knows from experience as he resists the pull towards drug use, opportunistic sexual adventures and violence.  After leaving school, Bani further distances himself from his fellow past students and takes up boxing as a protection against them.  When later confronted by one of them who subsequently backs down, Bani joyfully proclaims that he is ‘free at last’.

In his desire to associate with ‘a different race and class of people than Lebs’, Bani enrols in a community arts course but finds ultimately that he cannot escape his culture or his history.  He discovers that, while he has tried hard to be ‘White’, the other members of the course want nothing more from him than to be ‘a dirty Arab’.  In one exercise, he was forced – distressingly for him – to read aloud anti-Muslim graffiti.

Ultimately, Bani realises that he cannot escape his culture but can only hope that he will be accepted as he is – a ‘Leb’.

Bani may be the alter ego of the author who claims a ‘moral responsibility as a writer to speak [his] version of the truth regardless of the consequences’.  The consequences could well be the perception readers will have of Lebanese youth and in particular male youth after reading this novel.  By fictionalising his own experiences, the author cleverly distances himself from the behaviours and attitudes described at length in the book.  The author is steeped in identity politics which at its simplest can be defined as ‘political arguments that focus upon the interest and perspectives of groups with which people identify’.  Identity politics also claims an authority arising from the lived experience.  In this case, it means that only a Lebanese teenager can know what it is like to be a Lebanese teenager.

The cultural context in which this book is set is a challenging one to enter even vicariously by means of the book.  While the book is fast-paced and the author has a keen ear for the language and rhythms of adolescent dialogue, the underlying attitudes of the Lebanese boys to education and women – and even at times to each other – are confronting and challenging.  To this reviewer at least, the book seems only to present a snapshot of a particular time in Australia when Australians were grappling with complex issues of religion and the refugee crisis – and the spectre of terrorism.

Michael Mohammad Ahmad is an Arab-Australian writer and community arts worker.  He is the founder and a director of Sweatshop which is a literary movement in Western Sydney devoted to empowering culturally and linguistically diverse artists.  He has written essays and short stories and his debut novel The Tribe received the 2015 Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelists of the Year Award.  The Tribe – set four years before the Lebs – introduces Bani and his extended family.

 

The Lebs

[2018]

by Michael Mohammed Ahmad

Hachette Australia

ISBN 978 0 7336 3901 2

263pp; $27.99

Dogs with Jobs by Laura Greaves

Image with no description

Reviewed by Antonella Townsend

Hairy humans, best known as dogs, are such pleasant people.   In her new book, Dogs with Jobs, Laura introduces the reader to some outstandingly clever dogs so typical of their species.   Without indulging in a finger-wagging lecture, Laura gently suggests that dogs are a gift that humans may not deserve.   It is easy to heartily agree; if a human exhibited half the love, compassion, and devotion of most dogs they would achieve sainthood in their own lunchtime!

Within the twenty-four chapters of this book there are some great characters along with a gallery of photographs.   Here’s a small sample from a large pool of talent.

There’s Viking, the arson dog, who can, from considerable distance, detect a drop of petrol.  Figo, a guide dog put his own life on the line to protect his owner.  A mini bus careered around a corner, as he and his sixty-four year old owner were midway across the road.   Figo’s reaction was to attack, biting the mini bus tyres.  He nearly died saving the life of his owner.   You might need a tissue or two when reading this one.

Molly Polly, a breathtakingly clever Australian silky Terrier, is both a diabetes alert and mental health support dog.   She takes her dual roles in her stride, accompanying her twin girls to school.  The twins have Type 1 Diabetes; it is Molly Polly’s job to detect sugar highs or lows, which she does with amazing accuracy.   This clever little dog also knows how to comfort the girls during an anxiety attack.  Acquiring a dog trained to do this work costs a small fortune, so Molly Polly’s owner, Adrienne, trained her with the help of a video purchased from the Diabetic Alert Dog University (DADU) in the USA. The ten-week course was completed in six weeks!   Needless to say, Molly Polly is a treasured member of the family.

Puppy Tuna had been callously dumped on the side of the road outside San Diego before he found his forever home with Courtney Dasher.  Tuna has a pronounced underbite, a wrinkly neck, and bulbous eyes; in a human this would probably lead to a successful career as comedian.  Courtney, so proud of her little chap, began posting photos on Instagram for the benefit of her friends and family, and before long, Tuna, as they say, went viral.  Managing Tuna’s fame is a full time job for Courtney.

The chapter ‘Lexie and Fly: Stock Guardians’, details the life and times of two Maremmas, or Abruzzese Sheepdogs.  These dogs are remarkable, not really suitable as pets in the average home, rather they are highly intelligent, independent working dogs.   This chapter really illustrates the difference between breeds and the enormous scope of the species.   Maremmas will protect any animal if introduced when young, from penguins to farm stock; they are a fox’s worst enemy.  Laura advises prospective owners to research and understand the breed thoroughly.

Kate Henning and husband Simon Dunstone took an on-line questionnaire in order to research which breed would be compatible with their lifestyle.   The result came up as the Samoyed.  Their Samoyed Dogs became ambassadors, hosts and hostesses in Kate and Simon’s microbrewery and restaurant ‘Smiling Samoyed’.   This story illustrates how much dogs understand and want to participate in their environment as fellow workers.  And these Samoyed Dogs were so very good at charming customers and promoting the brewery.

Emma, the German Short Haired Pointer, whose ability to sniff out feral fox dens, even if underground, is incredible.   She can also tell the difference between fox scat and possum poo.  It is essential that the feral animals, particularly foxes, be eliminated as they are causing the extinction of many species in Australia.   Brisbane is very lucky to have Emma on the job!

Frankie, a Labrador, makes traumatised children smile at the hospice where she works.   This is a heart-warming chapter that shows how brilliant dogs are at working with stressed humans an emotional level.  Like Holly the greyhound, beginning life on the racetrack, then given to a vet when her racing days were over and obliged as a blood donor before the organisation Friends of the Hound, found a home with Petra and Tom.  At this point Holly became a Story Dog.   Apparently, children struggling with reading improve greatly if reading to a laid back dog like Holly.

There are so many amazing dogs detailed in Dogs with Jobs, – To quote Laura – ‘they understand us so well’.  I hope this book inspires readers of all ages to put in the effort to understand and deserve our precious dog friends.

Dogs with Jobs, twenty-four amazing dog stories, with photographs, is heart-warming and educational.  Highly recommended as a great book for all ages.

 

Dogs with Jobs

By Laura Greaves

November, 2017

Penguin Random House Australia

ISBN:   9780143784807   –  paperback

$35.00; 320pp

 

 

A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facey

A Fortunate Life

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

A.B. Facey’s book A Fortunate Life is a classic piece of Australian literature. It was first published by Fremantle Press in 1981 and promoted under the Penguin name for thirty years. It has now returned to its native roots, Western Australia, to be cared for by Fremantle Press once more.

A.B. Facey was born in Victoria but moved to the West as a small child. Nobody could be more Australian than this writer. Cared for by his grandmother in the wheat belt of Western Australia he was working full time from the age of eight. He had many jobs which included droving, hammering spikes on the railway line, and boxing in a travelling troupe. He fought at Gallipoli and, after the war, became a farmer until the economic depression of the 1930s forced him off his land. He joined the tramways and was active in the Tramways Union.

Having never received a formal education he taught himself to read and write. With the end of World War 1 Facey began making notes of his life and soon filled notebooks with his experiences. At the urging of his grandchildren, he submitted his handwritten manuscript to a publisher, the Fremantle Arts Centre Press. The result was an enormous degree of interest. He died in 1982, nine months after the birth of this Australian classic.

This is the sort of book that makes me feel comfortable and warm. It’s a companion and friend, much, much more than a collection of words. It’s the story of a boy who gets into more than his share of odd experiences. For example, he is virtually kidnapped and forced to work for a gang of thieves who made it a habit of getting blind drunk each Christmas and fighting amongst themselves until the drink renders them unconscious. One year Bert and one other worker decide to hide some of the grog. Through a number of incidents Bert rescues the grog from its hiding place and feeds it to the pigs. The result is pure Dad and Dave comedy underwritten by the tragedy that follows. Bert is severely whipped but weeks later, when his body has recovered, he escapes and returns home.

The book becomes a series of noteworthy events, such as one would expect given the circumstances in which the book was written. There is a deeply moving account of an attempt on the part of a farmer and his wife whose plans to adopt Bert are stymied by Bert’s mother, there is an hilarious account of a boar pig with a raging temper, there is the mystery of the apple thief who never left a trail or even a single track. The secret of how it was done is revealed to the reader.

The character of the farmers during Bert’s growing from childhood to a youth varied considerably. As the book proceeds, we gain an insight into the innocence of the Australian aborigine in his natural state. There is ignorance among the whites because next to nobody studied their ways. I am thinking of the incidents that occurred when Bert was lost after a cattle stampede. “The lightning and thunder were terrific. I followed the sound I was sure was the cattle” (208), but it was not and he soon realized he was lost. His story unfolds until, “Then I saw something. For a few minutes I couldn’t make out what it was…Then I was scared stiff. It was a black man, very wild-looking, with a long bushy beard. His only dress was a loin cloth – a real wild one if I ever I (sic) saw one” (213). When he awakened on the morning of the seventh day he was jumped by aborigines. They put him on his horse and led him northward on horseback. “I had been scared many times in my short life, but nothing like I was now” (217).

As Bert comes to realise after his ordeal, the aborigines might have looked different with their black skins and mode of dress, but were, after all, little different from many white men.

At no time is there any suggestion that the book was written with publication in mind. There is a chapter that deals with digging a trench in wartime. Digging with a pick and shovel was hard work, made more uncomfortable by the possibility of an invasion by the Turks who had their own trenches close to and facing the Allied line. Invasion did come – by millions of body lice that gave the soldiers hell (342). This chapter is as good a description of a World War 1 soldier’s life as I have ever read.

His novel is written in a style that is plain-spoken and easily identified as early twentieth century. The chapters don’t become longer or more sophisticated as their soldier-author ages. Their charm lies in the sincerity of the author, a man that one finds so easy to admire through his writing alone. I feel very privileged to have been given a peep into A Fortunate Life.

A Fortunate Life

(2018)

By A.B. Facey

Fremantle Press

ISBN: 9781925591408  (paperback)

$26.99; 424pp

Plants that Kill by Elizabeth A. Dauncey and Sonny Larsson

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Elizabeth Dauncey and Sonny Larsson have provided the world with a book that is detailed and comprehensive in the information it supplies while, at the same time, is a model of simplicity in its outlay and in allowing the reader to find quickly the particular piece of information being sought. It has been a long time since I was as impressed as I am by Plants that Kill.

The reason for the clarity of the presentation may lie in the fact that Elizabeth Dauncey is a freelance toxicologist and the author of a volume that guides parents and child care providers about poisonous plants. Her co-writer Sonny Larsson is a licensed pharmacist at the Swedish Poisons Information Centre. Hence both authors are well qualified to write about plants that can cause suffering.

The structure of the book is pretty simple. There is an introduction which uses both language and diagrams to explain how the material is assembled. Ten chapters follow. Chapter One explains why some plants are toxic. The argument is this: plants cannot run away from herbivores, so they need alternative ways to deter predators. “One such strategy is by chemical means, producing poisonous and noxious compounds that deter feeding and infection” (11). The chapter explains what a plant is and how scientists describe plant diversity, it explains why and how plants produce toxins, and why the plants themselves are immune to the poison.

The chapter tackles head-on the issue of how to distinguish plants from animals. This seems trite until we recall that we know of organisms such as the sessile that are more closely related to animals than to plants. ‘What is a plant’ is answered in a double page spread and this same structure is maintained, with the exception of the treatment of cardiac glucosides – cardenolides (57 – 58) that requires more than the two-page spread. So Chapter One continues with classification and nomenclature, evolution with its principles of heredity, root to leaf, flowers, fruits and seeds, photosynthesis and metabolic pathways, finishing with small molecular compounds.

It is important that the layout of the book and the treatment of the material in each chapter be understood. On pages 26 -27 Dauncey et.al. in an introductory couple of sentences explain that chemical compounds are divided into groups but “there is no evidence that chemical groups are hierarchical or evolutionary, in the sense that we cannot trace all compounds back to a single common ancestral substance” (26). The authors then group substances based on their chemical properties or how organisms synthesize them. What follows are discussions of polyketides and acetogenins, terpenes, alkaloids and saponins. There are diagrams showing chemical structures and photographs of edible palm oil and the source of the drug Radix Polygalae Tenuifoliae. Polygala tenuifoliae is a saponin, and the authors do not shirk from admitting that the mechanisms by which saponins operate is unclear.

I have gone to some depth to explain how the chapters in this book are laid out. Chapter Two is called Targets in the Body and, as in Chapter One, the contents of the chapter are laid out before the chapter begins. Here the authors intend to give an overview of how the human organism functions and its array of targets for plant poisons. The normal functions of human systems are linked to the potential mechanisms of toxins, while the chapter considers differential effects of toxins on animals. As an example of this last point the authors say, “Plants produce compounds that provide protection, while animals, fungi and bacteria develop ways of evading these toxins. But it is not always that straightforward; sometimes, a kind of collaboration evolves” (42).

Chapter Three looks at the plants and toxins that threaten the rhythm of the heart, Chapter Four explores examples of poisons affecting the brain and central nervous system, while other chapters in turn deal with the effects on nerve-signalling, on the skin, and in the gut. Chapter Eight explores examples of inhibition, stimulation, and tricking of the normal functions of the liver or kidneys, while Chaptr Nine takes a conservative approach to reporting on cell poisons, and the last chapter reports that some poisonous plants can be utilized for medicinal purposes.

The book concludes with an extremely valuable glossary, examples of further reading, some online resources and a comprehensive index.

Somebody described this book as “stunningly illustrated”. I would have to agree. The pictures are not so small as to be useless for detailed study, nor too large so as to be brash and unrestrained. A happy medium has been reached so that the book presents itself as a serious, dignified publication. It supplies references to figures in history and to current events. It is an excellent text for the academic and general reader alike. I love it!

Plants that Kill

(2018)

By Elizabeth A. Dauncey and Sonny Larsson

Princeton University Press

ISBN: 978-0-691-17876-9

Hard Cover

$US29.95; 224 pp

 

Hangman by Daniel Cole

Reviewed by Rod McLary

There is a fine tradition of crime novels written by English and Scottish authors – consider the novels of Ruth Rendell, PD James, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Colin Dexter just to name a few.  Each of these authors created a police officer as his/her protagonist – respectively Chief Inspector Wexford, Commander Adam Dalgleish, Inspector John Rebus, Chief Inspector Carol Jordan and Inspector Morse.  All commanding characters with more than a touch of humanity who engage the reader at both the literary and personal level.

Daniel Cole is also an English crime writer and Hangman is his second book in the trilogy entitled Ragdoll.  He has created his police officer – Chief Inspector Emily Baxter – who was ‘catapulted’ into promotion as a result of solving a major crime described in the first book also called Ragdoll.  Unfortunately, neither the book nor its police officer quite measures up to the standard set by the authors above.

Cole’s CI Baxter is brash, impulsive, opinionated, difficult to manage and has poor social skills – and is rather clumsy.  It almost seems that the author has created an anti-hero in counterpoint to the police officers referred to above.  If this is the case, then unfortunately it results in the reader not engaging with or caring too much about the character.

Baxter is in a relationship with a lawyer who seems willing to accommodate her shortcomings.  She also has – almost de rigueur in the genre – a ‘best friend’ who is prepared to break the law to provide Baxter with information she is not entitled to have.  She engages her friend in the Fraud Squad to provide her with weekly statements about her partner’s financial situation – a request which is illegal and which places her friend at risk of criminal charges as well as disciplinary proceedings.  The fact that these potential consequences mean nothing to her says a great deal about her character.

The ‘crime’ at the heart of the book is particularly heinous.  In fact, it almost defies belief.  Eighteen months after the ‘Ragdoll’ murders – which form the basis of the first book – a body is found hanging from New York’s Brooklyn Bridge.  In London, a copycat murder occurs.  These two murders, similar but a continent apart, require Baxter to work closely but uneasily with two United States Special Agents.  Baxter trusts neither of them and, with one of them in particular, goes to great lengths to discover his secret.  When she does – much to his distress – she seems unable to express any remorse for her intrusive behaviour.

Rather than having one villain, the author has created numerous villains all of whom are charged with the responsibility of killing one person first and then as many others as she/he can manage.  As further killings occur on both sides of the Atlantic, the tense and unhelpful relationship between Baxter and the Special Agents does nothing to assist in identifying the person behind the killings.

The body count is alarming – it exceeds two hundred – and the manner of many of the deaths is bizarre to say the least.  This is not a book for the fainthearted.

Chief Inspector Baxter seems to be a free agent.  She travels from London to New York on more than one occasion and apparently reports to no one.  Unfortunately, she also seems to be one step behind the mastermind and many people die in the process of tracking him down.  It is difficult to muster up any sympathy for her as she is drawn as a rather unpleasant character who constantly puts her superiors and colleagues offside.

This book is a crowded one with multiple victims, numerous characters some of whom appear and disappear with little impact, references to the previous book, multiple storylines which are somewhat confusing and distracting; and – at the heart of the book – a rather unlikeable protagonist.  The novel would have benefitted from a paring down of the characters and storylines and perhaps a better book may have emerged.

The author claims the novel can be read independently of its predecessor, but this turns out to be more difficult than it seems.  There are frequent references to the first book – Ragdoll – and the story follows on sequentially.  Some of these references are meaningless without some knowledge of the first book.  In addition, there are references to a character who is clearly significant in terms of both the storyline and his relationship with Baxter but of whom little detail is provided.

In the Author Q&A at the end of the book, the author acknowledges that ‘there’s no way to get around the fact that people will get far more out of the book if they’ve read Ragdoll’.  It would be advisable for any reader considering this book to read Ragdoll first – it will assist in the understanding of the storyline.

There will be a third book to follow and it is clear from the inconclusive ending to Hangman that the storyline will continue.

Daniel Cole has worked as a paramedic and seems to have drawn on this experience in describing some of the injuries incurred by the characters.  While this adds a frisson of horror to the story, it does not make Hangman a better book.

Hangman

[2018]

by Daniel Cole

Hachette Australia

ISBN 978 1 4091 6880 5

368pp; $29.99