Castaway by Robert Macklin

Reviewed by Rod McLary

Robert Macklin is the author of 29 books – a number of which address the history of Australia.  In his most recent book – Castaway – he has written a critical examination of the ‘Frontier Wars’ which took place in the 19th century between the advancing European settlers and the Aboriginal peoples.

In an interesting approach, the author juxtaposes the history of the wars, with a particular focus on those in Queensland, against the story of Narcisse Pelletier.  This is a particular challenge for the reviewer as the two threads of Castaway are quite different from each other; and there is no cross-over between the two.  However, the unrelenting violence in the history of the wars requires the counter-balance of Narcisse’s story to sustain the reader to the conclusion.

In 1858, the fourteen-year-old cabin boy Narcisse sailed on the Saint Paul en route to Hong Kong and then Australia.  Sometime after leaving Hong Kong, the Saint Paul sailed into heavy fog.  Narcisse was on watch and he did not see the looming rocks until too late.  The ship ran aground on the eastern tip of New Guinea.  Blamed by the captain and crew for the shipwreck, Narcisse lived through a kind of hell as the longboat sailed towards land.  In his words ‘And never for a minute was he allowed to forget his part in the events which brought his companions to their plight’ [20]. 

Landing just north of the Daintree, the captain and the crew abandoned Narcisse to his fate and continued their journey to Java.  Narcisse was found by members of the Night Island peoples [the Uutaalnganu tribe] and taken in by them.  

How Narcisse was assimilated into the tribe and spent the next 17 years as a full member of the tribe makes for engrossing reading.  The author – through describing Narcisse’s day-to-day experiences – sets out with respect and sensitivity the rituals and practices of the tribe.  Consequently, the reader gains considerable understanding of those rituals and the social structure of the tribe. 

One of the first contacts with the aboriginal peoples was made by Captain James Cook who said – in a backhanded complimentary way – ‘They may appear to be some of the most wretched people upon Earth but in reality they are far more happier than we Europeans’ [30].

Earlier contact between Europeans and the aboriginal peoples was worse.  In 1606, Willem Janszoon – according to local people – landed on the western side of Cape York and attempted to kidnap a young woman.  After a brief but bloody encounter with the men of her clan, Janszoon and his crew retreated to Java.  In 1688, William Dampier landed on the western coast and was ‘scathing in his description of the inhabitants’ [32]; he described them as ‘the miserablest people in the world’ [32].

Perhaps the views of these explorers were somehow embedded in the minds of those who followed because, by and large, contact between them and the Aboriginal peoples was violent and abusive.  There was an explicit belief that the settlers ‘had a right’ to occupy the country.  In 1836, this belief was confirmed by the British government’s official declaration that Australia was ‘terra nullius’ – that is, the land belonged to no one before British possession.  In a single stroke, 60,000 years of attachment to the land by the Aboriginal peoples was nullified.

Henry Reynolds is quoted as saying in his book The Other Side of the Frontier – ‘while conflict was ubiquitous in traditional societies, territorial conquest was virtually unknown.  Alienation of land was not only unthinkable, it was literally impossible’ [39]. As alluded to in the quote, there are disputes with neighbouring tribes but not to gain territory. 

The confused and frightened responses of the Aboriginal people to what they saw as an invasion is captured in the following few sentences.

When the gaudily dressed intruders arrived with their teams of slaves to be cruelly whipped when they disobeyed … they were at first nonplussed.

And when the soldiers turned their magic firesticks upon them to deal death at impossible distances, the people were terrified. [39]

There is no end to the horrors perpetrated on the Aboriginal peoples.  The author pays particular attention to the atrocities which occurred in Queensland at the hands of the settlers and the Native Police.  The chapters which address these atrocities, undertaken to disperse any Aborigine who impeded the movement of the settlers into new territories, are heart-wrenching to read and the author does not shy away from the harsh realities of the ‘Frontier Wars’.

In counter-point to the violence perpetrated upon the Aboriginal peoples elsewhere in Queensland, Narcisse becomes more and more at one with the Night Islanders.

But, in April 1875, the pearler John Bell sailed into the Night Islanders territory and sent a longboat ashore for fresh water.  When back on board the John Bell, those who collected the water spoke of the ‘white man’ they saw.  In a masterstroke of mistaken good intention, the captain believed that the ‘white man’ would welcome rescue.  By deception, Narcisse was enticed into the longboat and taken to the John Bell which then set sail for Java and then England.

Eventually, Narcisse is returned to his hometown Saint-Gilles in France where his parents still lived.  As would be expected, he could not adjust to village life nor could he forget his family back with the Night Island people.  Prejudice from the local people drove his family to seek exorcism from the local priest Monsieur le Curè.  Inevitably, the exorcism failed – ‘Narcisse remained mute.  The sea was lapping on a distant shore’. [279]

After a descent into mental and physical breakdown, Narcisse died on 28 September 1894 aged 50.

Robert Macklin has dedicated Castaway to the late Donald Thomson – ‘one of Australia’s greatest Aboriginal anthropologists’ [xii].  The author has in his own words written ‘the story of Aboriginal society in Far North Queensland as … it was lived before the white man destroyed it’ [xiii].

In chronicling Narcisse’s story, the author clearly sets out the deep affinity between the Aboriginal peoples and the land, the cultural norms and practices of their society, and, through the eyes and ears of Narcisse, demonstrates to the reader the rich cultural heritage of the Aboriginal peoples which so many are ready to deny.

The juxtapositioning of Narcisse’s story and the abuses perpetrated on the Aborigines by some white settlers and both the Queensland and British governments can be quite challenging at first.  The extent to which the settlers and the Native Police went to clear the land of the Aborigines is almost beyond belief.  The reader needs time to reflect on the history before the author’s intent becomes clear.  Robert Macklin set out to ‘acknowledge the terrible carnage wrought by bullets, poison and despair that the First Australians suffered’ [xiv].  He has achieved this in no small measure.

Castaway needs to be read by every Australian who has a genuine interest in the country’s history before white settlement.

Castaway

[2019]

by Robert Macklin

Hachette Australia

ISBN 978 0 7336 3849 7

320pp; $32.99

Advertisements

Dear Dad edited by Samuel Johnson OAM

Reviewed by Gerald Healy

A great collection of letters from a diverse group of Australians to their dads. In the vast majority of cases these are positive tributes to the man who inspired and nurtured them while growing up. In some cases, these dads have provided the role model for their own parenting attempts.

The book is replete with stories of men who devoted the time and had the skill to guide their off-spring in the right direction. Hilde Hinton (5) wrote about her dad’s sage advice to wait 24 hours before replying to emotive messages (and if that doesn’t work- wait another 24!). Kurt Fearnley, the champion Para-Olympian, cited his dad’s admission to be true to your word (13). This sentiment is echoed by several others including Jeremy Lachlan (139) and Neil Croker (153). Neil tells of the cut-throat world of entertainment and his encounters with the less honest. In the end, he thinks he’s better off, “with loyalty, being able to look people in the eye… and being able to sleep easily at night.”

Trent Dalton, author of ‘Boy Swallows Universe’, pays tribute to his late father in a wonderful way (1). He treasures the last note he received from him which simply said, “You have done all the right things.” A deep mutual respect seems to lie at the heart of their relationship.

Conversely, a couple of the stand-out letters come from the opposite end of the respect scale. Catherine Deveny (70) tears into her late father with a long simmering anger over his perceived failings and Nikki Moyes (96) recounts her childhood under the thundercloud of a violent father. Both women remind us that not all fathers are good men.

Of course, fathers come in all shapes and sizes and whether they are biological or adoptive they can have an influence outside the immediate family. Greg Champion (142) tells of an uncle and two neighbouring dads who stepped in when his own dad left his mum with three young boys. Another writer was slightly resentful of his dad’s support for the other teenagers in his footie team, until he realised that they needed him more than he did.

The contributors, who all volunteered their efforts freely for charity, are evenly split on gender lines and come mainly from writing, musical or acting backgrounds. There are a handful from sport (e.g. Steve Waugh 7) and academia but only a few from a non-Anglo heritage: Michelle Law (127) and Airi Ingram (102) who is from PNG.

The editor on the cover is listed as Samuel Johnson OAM, a well-known actor, but in his own acknowledgements on page 165 he tells us it was actually Jacquie Brown. His earlier book, ‘Dear Santa’ provided the impetus for this collection. Mention must be made of Shaun Tan’s drawings throughout the book- they add a strong visual coda to many of the letters.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to readers. There’s something here for everyone and it prompts a reflection on your own dad’s role in your life.

The Editor, Samuel Johnson OAM, is a much-loved Australian actor, who has appeared in ‘The Secret Life of Us’, ‘Crackerjack’ and ‘Molly’- for which he won the Gold Logie in 2017.

Dear Dad

(2019)

Edited by Samuel Johnson

Hachette Australia

ISBN: 9780733643149

180 pp; $22.99

Griffith Review 65: Crimes and Punishments

Crimes and Punishments

Reviewed by E.B.Heath

 Pamela M Lombard, banking executive,
For charging fees upon the dead,
Shall be exhumed before her time
And her head garlanded with worms.
Adjudged
Philip Dean

Griffith Review 65: Crimes and Punishments features multi-faceted issues of crime and changing ideas of justice. The diverse contributions of essay, memoir, reportage, poetry and fiction, sit alongside two evocative photo stories.  The subject matter ranges from how the constitution influences the high court to political corruption.  From domestic abuse and racial injustice to ecological murder.  There are personal accounts of how families are left to cope when a relative is murdered, or imprisoned.  Some accounts are confronting, so readers will appreciate the light relief of Philip Dean’s poem ‘Adjudged’, where he imagines creative punishments that fit misdemeanours.

Typographical errors are noted: p.15 ‘… to be (to be) called to dinner … and p.253 ‘…wished he’d (been) given us…’

The essay by Paul Williams ‘Enduring change: detoxifying Queensland’s political system’ examines why Queensland fell into corruption and the outcomes of the Fitzgerald Inquiry.  It is a most informative essay, highlighting the importance of an educated electorate and a vigilant non-restrained media. From its earliest days, impoverished Queensland favoured pragmatic materialism over liberal accountability. The focus was on getting infrastructure in place rapidly; power was mainly invested in the governor and colonial secretary.   There were no complaints from the electorate in 1922 when a Labor government abolished the Legislative council.  These lacklustre attitudes to Westminster ideas of democracy seem to be the foundation that allowed corruption to flourish. While rumours of police dishonesty circulated as early as the 1950s, no real action was taken.  Eventually an Inquiry was held in 1963 only to exonerate the police of all corruption.  Gary Crooke’s ‘Unmasking a culture of corruption: Reflections on the Fitzgerald inquiry’, gives a useful analysis of the procedures followed in 1963, revealing that Mr. Justice Gibbs was hampered by the narrow terms of reference, based on Lord Salmon’s principles of inquiry, known as the ‘Six Salmon Principles’. Fitzgerald’s redesign of the Act was responsible for the successful outcome of the Inquiry.  When Premier Ahern took over from Bjelke-Petersen, he was determined to adopt the recommendations of the Fitzgerald Inquiry ‘lock, stock and barrel’.

Bill Wilke’s reportage ‘Paradise lost: the Cedar Bay raid’ complements Williams and Crooke’s essays in showing what heavy-handed policing looks like at a grass roots level. It also details the struggle of Police Commissioner Ray Whitrod who resisted Bjelke-Petersen using the police force as a political tool.  Whitrod resigned on 15 November 1976 fearing the role of police commissioner was being reduced to one of a political puppet.

The above three contributions illustrate the need for appropriate legislation for the issues at hand, a vigorous media, an educated public that does not privilege ‘hip pocket’ issues over liberal democracy, and ethical politicians, such as Ahern.  (Where have all the good pollies gone?).  Together they make good reading as a prescient message for the current political environment.

Domestic abuse is reported in a memoir entitled ‘The trauma of discipline’ by Yen-Rong Wong, and Gideon Haigh’s report ‘This is how I will strangle you’. Both contributions detail inappropriate parental behaviour.  Whereas the treatment Yen-Rong Wong received at the hands of her parents was overly harsh, it was more in line with the norms of the time and, perhaps, the culture.   Her father did apologise later in life, wishing he had acted differently, but, of course, the emotional scars remain. 

However, Haigh’s report of a father using his daughter as a sexual slave from age three was, and is, a heinous crime.  The details of this poor woman’s suffering, as a child, and her continued suffering from physical and mental illness are confronting.  But confront it we must.  It is estimated that 90 per cent of sexual abuse takes place within the family setting.  This strongly suggests that domestic sexual abuse should have its own royal commission.  Haigh’s historical and current analysis of the situation needs to be read by medical, legal and educational professionals.  Training is needed so the appropriate professionals can read the signs and take action to protect the victim.  Easier said than done, especially when the victim is only three years old.  The women in Haigh’s report have received compensation of sorts, thanks to the determined efforts of a few people who helped her pursue a claim in Victoria’s Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal.  But what of all the other victims of incest, the children that make up 90 per cent of all sexual abuse?   This is a most timely report – I do hope that Haigh will continue to write about these issues until that all-important royal commission is put in place.

Ross Homel details the economic, social, and emotional strain that families ‘at risk’ are experiencing in ‘As if children mattered … Creating pathways to wellbeing’.   He writes about the programmes designed to bridge the divide between families and schools in disadvantaged communities.  Of particular interest is the innovative work of Dr. Kate Freiberg.  Freiberg who has designed an interactive computer game for primary-aged children (Rumble’s Quest) that gives children a framework to discuss how they feel about their lives.  I could not help but think this might be adapted for use in detecting if children are being subjected to incest, as detailed above.   To quote Homel ‘We dare to believe that such powerful systems of support, implemented by communities guided by accurate and meaningful data, might strengthen the work of caring groups of people who will be there to look out for children when families can’t do it alone.’

The idea in the essay ‘Bringing in the bystander: Preventing violence and abuse’ by Paul Mazerolle, Shaan Ross-Smith and Anoushka Dowling is to train individuals in the community to act together to address violence and abuse.  The authors detail several programs being used to combat violence within the community by training individual community members how to stand up against perpetrators, without endangering their own safety.  Most importantly the link between gender inequality and violence against women is explored.  To quote the authors: ‘It’s not just about imagining a world where we are all leaders; it’s about believing in it’.

Whereas word limits have been wildly exceeded I must mention the photo story ‘All men choose the path they walk: art and the scales of justice’ by Fiona Foley.  This powerful work is challenging us to remember our history in its entirety, hopefully inspiring a better future.  Foley is a contemporary Indigenous Australian artist from Badtjala, Fraser Island, Queensland.  She studied at the Sydney College of the Arts and has travelled as an artist internationally and to remote communities in Northern Territory.

While only a small sample are discussed here, collectively these insightful essays shed light on the justice system and offers research-based ideas on how we might advance in the management and prevention of crime.

Griffith Review 65: Crimes and Punishments

(August 2019)

Edited by Ashley Hay

Text Publishing

ISBN:  9 781925 773798

Pp.291; $27.99 

Don Dunstan The visionary politician who changed Australia by Angela Woollacott

9781760631819.jpg

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Speaking of politicians in the pubs of Australia is not really a very good idea. Australians in general don’t venture approving opinions about our elected representatives. But speak of Don Dunstan and some will praise and others cringe. Australians are uncomfortable with the existence of gays and lesbians (the pub crowd do not distinguish further) in their community, and his bisexuality is just never spoken about. However, those who understand his contribution to our political freedom can do nothing but applaud. Dunstan is the sort of figure that supplies the grounds for an interesting biography.

Writers know too well how quickly readers’ eyes glaze over when the talk comes around to politicians. Their subject has to have been controversial, of the calibre of Bob Hawke or Gough Whitlam or, for a different reason, Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Don Dunstan joined that crew because his appeal was wider than that of a chief minister of an Australian State.  The newspapers refer to him as one who changed Australian attitudes, that through his efforts the 1960s and 1970s became a watershed in Australian politics. They forget, in their admiration for the man, that individuals alone do not make great changes but lead others to combine efforts to get the job done. They forget very conveniently their avid support for the Playford gerrymander in South Australia and their efforts to quell Dunstan’s ideas.

In Angela Woollacott’s biography, Don Dunstan is revealed as a solitary child with the temerity to befriend children who were passed over by better-placed pupils in his primary schools in Murray Bridge and in Fiji. He was the boy who took elocution lessons, the one who took his share of academic prizes but never tried out for the school football team, the boy who earned the wrath of his infant teacher for wetting his pants and may have had to repeat a year of pre-school because of the infant mistress’s vindictiveness; above all, throughout his childhood he is portrayed by biographer Angela Woollacott as a fearless boy who was intolerant of unfair treatment and stood up for social justice though it earned him a fat lip or two for his trouble.

Dunstan’s academic record is presented in the biography as something highly praiseworthy. To my way of thinking it was solid, but not outstanding, except in areas such as scouting (a particular interest of his) and in debating at school level and in wider circles, and in the performance of school plays. It is always easy to disagree over what is excellent and what is good, and I would not belabour the point that Woollacott has been overly generous. Woollacott’s revelation (38) that Dunstan was never actively gay when at school earns a bouquet for balanced and interesting writing, her facts and views assembled such as to bring joy to a master debater’s heart.

It was at university that Dunstan progressed a social justice agenda most strongly. Woollacott covers his years at the University of Adelaide in some considerable detail. She shows his development as a speaker and advocate for the right to freedom of speech and his acumen as a leader in his executive responsibilities with the Socialist Club and the Fabian Society. His education was certainly geared towards evolving political ideas, in which Woollacott holds to the belief that he was probably taught by the legendary Professor Jerry Portus. Woollacott’s book is not completely about serious matters like political memberships and club or party membership entanglements. Possible ASIO surveillance of activists and the midnight burning of files gives way at one stage to a debate over whether or not Don Dunstan should be thrown into the Torrens. “War tensions had created ‘a bitter edge’ in student politics with ‘student activists … forcibly thrown into the River Torrens’. Seemingly, this bitterness continued into the post-war period” (51).

Woollacott is a major writer, known for her disciplined prose and her nose for sniffing out what is royal and what is dross. She is aware that telling her subject’s story involves detailing less than exciting material. The drama of personal attacks by forces opposing Dunstan’s support for the native people of Suva that led to the young man’s near breakdown could have been pursued with vigour but was not. The scandal (shock! horror!) of being gay could have been emblazoned through this biography but was not. The routine of a politician’s life might have been treated in a more general fashion by a less fastidious biographer who saw value only in areas of controversy. This is not Woollacott’s mode of operation. She demonstrates that you get to know a politician through attention to ordinary things, those daily events that grind away at your tolerance, unless you have the skills, and the strategies, to accommodate them. It would be tedious in the extreme to tell once again the hard fought battles Dunstan faced when he took on the established conservative forces in South Australia and wrenched government from their hands. Woollacott has done that admirably. In fact, her history of Dunstan’s parliamentary endeavours and the spotlight-loving, social justice driven politician make enjoyable, if not engrossing reading.

Details of Dunstan’s fights for the rights of aborigines and his cooperation with the reforming politician Gough Whitlam are mentioned in Chapter Six but not belaboured. Opposition in the form of Thomas Playford is told with the wry humour of an anecdote. Dunstan might well have felt privileged to be listed alongside “ne’er-do-wells, rogues, prostitutes and vagabonds” (127). Dunstan’s loss of religious faith is reported upon but not given much discussion room (85). In his view “both Marx and the Catholic Church were wrong to see society as static…Churches should not intervene in politics, but concern themselves with moral welfare and seek to remedy social evils” (84 – 85). Offered membership of the Adelaide diocesan synod, Dunstan informed the vicar that he believed only parts of the accepted liturgy. However, his agnosticism was acceptable, as he was, to the synod. As Premier, he did not attend state church services, and made no secret of his irreligion (85). His non-attendance at a church service on the occasion of a visit by a reigning queen was no different from his absence on any other Sunday. Every worshipper knew his views and expected nothing else. The newspapers of the day milked the issue. I question, therefore, why Woollacott felt obliged to tell us again that Dunstan was no longer a believer in the Christian faith (131). Sloppy editing is one explanation.

Something else I really did like about Woollacott’s book were the photographs presented between pages 160 and 161. There is much to like about this particular book but I think the photographs are special. They bring a living, breathing man into the sometimes overly cerebral discussion. We see Don Dunstan with family and friends, at functions, taking himself less-than-seriously, and we see, recorded for all time, those famous pink shorts. These pictures say as much on their own about the man who led South Australia as they do about the political leader. They share with us the intellectual might as well as a picture of the fun-loving man about town. They turn an excellent account into a portrait of a widely-respected human being.

No warts are painted over in this biography. Vilified and loved, scandal-ridden and adored, and ardent supporter of the arts and an expert raconteur – this was Don Dunstan. Woollacott’s book is a testimony to a humble bloke but a great bloke nevertheless.

Don Dunstan: the visionary politician who changed Australia

(2019)

By Angela Woollacott

Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 978-1-76063-181-9

343pp; $32.99

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

Reviewed by Rod McLary

Most of us – at some time in our lives – would have received what was known as a ‘chain letter’.  They were letters which, if you did not follow the instructions in the letter, threatened to cause some harm – often just described as ‘bad luck’ or ‘misfortune’.  Some chain letters though demanded money.

The Chain, Adrian McKinty’s most recent book, has its genesis in a chain letter that he received as a child in Ireland.  Fortunately, his teacher – a nun – told him and the other children who had received one to bring their letters to school.  The letters were then put in the fire and the children collectively breathed a sigh of relief and got back to being children.  The experience stayed with the author and led eventually to this gripping and thrilling story of what parents are capable of doing to protect their children.

Even though Adrian McKinty is proudly Irish, the novel is set in the United States – and in New Hampshire in particular.

Rachel is a single mother with a twelve-year-old daughter Kylie.  As on every other school-day morning, Rachel drops Kylie at the bus stop and continues on.  This one day, shortly after dropping Kylie, Rachel receives a phone call to say that Kylie has been kidnapped and, unless Rachel follows strict and comprehensive instructions, Kylie will be killed.  As always in these sorts of matters, no police or any kind of law-enforcement agency is to be contacted at any time.

Within the first few pages of The Chain, the author has created a nightmare for the reader.  Tapping into every parent’s worst fears, Adrian McKinty succinctly and cleverly engages the reader’s attention and does not let it go for 351 pages.

The Chain is the story of how Rachel – with help from her brother-in-law Pete – responds to the chain’s demands.  To say anymore would be a spoiler of the first degree.

Rachel asks the logical question – why me? and why Kylie?  The answers to those questions become apparent as Rachel struggles to meet the demands of the chain.

Rachel finds that she has hidden reserves of fortitude and courage – and that she is prepared to kill if it means that Kylie will be rescued.  As a lecturer in philosophy, her knowledge makes her very aware of the wrongness of what she is doing as in the following example –

And you know in your heart that you would have let Amelia die.  The intent was there and that’s what counts in moral philosophy, in law and in life. [163]

This knowledge frightens her but sometimes – when it counts the most – she is glad of it.  As she says of herself at one stage –

You’re in the cage plummeting to hell.  And it’s going to get worse.  It always gets worse.  First comes the cancer, then the divorce, then your daughter gets kidnapped, then you become the monster. [163]

Being a retired Marine, Pete is familiar with death and dying and, in the fight to save Kylie, he causes one and almost suffers the other.

There are one or two coincidences which may stretch the reader’s credulity a little.  Pete is not only a retired Marine but is also an expert in cyber-security and, by extension, in computers and social media.  Along the way, Rachel meets a college professor [another victim of the chain] who is a mathematician and who is developing a system to track the location of ‘burner’ mobile phones.  Burner phones play a large part in the novel and Rachel has an endless supply of them.  So, both Pete’s and the professor’s expertise assist Rachel very significantly in her search for Kylie.

Fortunately, there are some lighter moments to allow the reader to catch breath.  Seamlessly woven into the plot is Rachel’s backstory.  It never dominates but provides depth and offers an emotional connection to Rachel and Kylie.  Similarly, there is an emerging romance.  In crime novels, close proximity between the protagonists – especially when in stressful situations – will always lead to romance and The Chain is no exception.

As an aficionado of crime novels – and English crime novels in particular – I would not have thought that an Irish writer could create such a story.  While Irish writers generally are excellent storytellers, crime is not usually their area of interest.  However, I am pleased to be shown to be incorrect.  What’s of more interest is that Adrian McKinty’s earlier novels – of which there are ten – have won a string of awards.  Included in the awards are two Ned Kelly Awards [2014 and 2017] and the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger [2016].

In addition to his novels, Adrian McKinty writes reviews for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Irish Times and The Guardian.  Although born and raised in Belfast, he now lives in New York City with his family.

Adrian McKinty has written a crime novel in The Chain which will stand alongside some of the best.  It is well worth reading for its tension, imaginative storyline and engaging characters.

The Chain

[2019]

by Adrian McKinty

Hachette Australia

ISBN 978 0 7336 4251 7

352pp; $32.99

The Library Window by Margaret Oliphant

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

I had not heard of Margaret Oliphant before I delved into The Library Window and the thoughts or imaginings of a young woman who sits each day at her window gazing across the street to what some say is a window and some say is not. I’m told that Oliphant was a prolific writer in the nineteenth century and wrote to earn enough to raise a family on her own.

The story traces the young woman’s fixation with the window in which she begins to make out one feature after another until she sees the figure of a man, a vision that no older person is able to see. Pen portraits of a small number of older folk, most of whom we glimpse in their narrow role of disturbing and disbelieving the young woman, have been supplied by the author. They are cast as personae, representations of a point of view. There is Lady Carnbee, the assertive ‘better class’ woman whose opinion is, like Britain itself, master of what it sees and to the devil with evidence, no matter how impartial it may be. There is one male among a bevy of females, whose role is to be fussed over since, being male he is, by virtue of his nature, innately superior. Some sort of an attempt has been made to make Mr Pitmilly memorable – his fussiness gives him some colour, but he is best represented by his insignificant shallowness of thought, expressing what he fails to understand as if he were a spring, gushing with original thought.

“For my part, it is my opinion that there is no window there at all,” he said. “It’s very like the thing that’s called in scienteefic language an optical illusion” (19).

He goes on to link the illusion with a human liver that is not functioning properly.

It is pseudo-science and Sir David Brewster (appearing later in the book) would have reckoned it as such. It is Lady Carnbee, the only other character who appears to have a level of intelligence, who challenges Pitmilly with a question whether the Library is itself an optical illusion.

Since 1896 some commentators have argued that The Library Window reveals the tale of a mentally frail young woman, whose urge to compete on equal grounds with males in the authorship stakes, is denied by the rigorous mores of Victorian society. I see no evidence to support such a view. Its source lies, I suspect, in the feminist movement that surfaced something like seventy years after the book was published. It’s possible that a young woman might find a tingle or two in a relationship that never was with a young stranger who is about as remote as a stranger may be. The probability is heightened when the only man she has had any dealings with is the effete Mr Pitmilly, not the tingly sort I would have thought.

The emphasis is not on the folk (other than the young woman) except as tools to achieve the writer’s purpose i.e. to alienate the young from the older characters, and portray the young woman as mentally unstable. What we have come to view as ‘types’ in much Victorian fiction are on display here, as is the reality of life that Victorian writers managed to not see. Oliphant is a woman of her times, a writer of little significance, and I’m left puzzled why Broadview Press bothered to disinter her writing. The saving grace is to be found in some of the patchy supporting material at the close of the story.  

In the light of what we now know about the anatomy of the eye and the way in which it functions, we should be struck by the excellence of Sir David Brewster’s views on the organ’s functionality and his speculations about how one comes to misperceive objects that, to a healthy mind, are just not there. It is a groping explanation of one type of misapprehension. He has one glorious statement when speaking about an eye.

“This wonderful organ may be considered as the sentinel which guards the pass between the worlds of matter and of spirit, and through which all their communications are interchanged” (63).

Brewster provides an example of the best Victorian scientific writing.

If Brewster is admirable, Margaret Oliphant’s “Scotland and Her Accusers” misses the mark for me. She identifies two Scottish types, I think! It’s difficult to raise the energy to interpret what it is she’s in a snit about. Confused as she appears in the Scotland article, she is astute and observant when she writes about Charlotte Bronte and her sisters. She exhibits a pleasure in the overly long sentence, something Victorian writers were prone to, but her sentences convey sensitive and acute observations on the plight of women in her own society. Her empty old darlings in The Library Window, I suspect, are Oliphant’s way of commenting.

Jane Ellen Panton’s article, or perhaps excerpt from a book, is daunting. I think it is a description of what an obsessive woman would change in a room into which she is peering (as if through a window perhaps). The style is convoluted as one would expect. To the male reader it is a purgatorial punishment, the reader seeing his only release from perdition in the slowly approaching book’s back cover. E.J. Tilt’s views on the right management of pre-menstrual girls is something I dream about reading. The article’s best quality is its brevity. Articles by Stanley Hall and Oliphant herself are readable and also able works, and these lead into a series of nineteenth century photographs that have no discernible purpose.

I support the idea that the young woman is undergoing mental stress. I’ve sheeted its cause to the older adults in the tale. Because people can make connections between two or more ideas, no matter how rational or bizarre, I can support a view that connections could be made between a text and the late Victorian idea of ‘adolescent insanity’, whatever that might be. However, to believe that such connections are extant in this case is wishful thinking, possibly stemming from a deep desire to end one’s own torment over such a vexing young woman. (There, at no charge, is a connection of my own). There is another argument that the woman is sexually repressed. That idea has been given no credibility in this review since there are no grounds to support or deny any such claim.

A woman who has slipped into such a fragile state as to require treatment for insanity is not a woman who can make a judgment in these terms:

There was not a soul to be seen, up or down, from the Abbey to the West Port: and the trees stood like ghosts, and the silence was terrible, and everything as clear as day.  You don’t know what silence is till you find it in the light like that, not morning but night, no sunrising, no shadow, but everything as clear as day (58).

That I have levelled some trenchant criticisms at various aspects of this book is true. Some other reader, especially a female, may find something more worthy than I was able to. I could not enjoy The Library Window as a story because the older characters kept on blurring my vision. I think the young woman descended into a search for a spiritual male to lean on, one who might ease the pressure the old folk were carelessly inflicting on her. The alternative for her is to make her real feelings known and be classified by some ignorant authority figure as insane.

This is a book that cannot do other than tantalise its reading public.

The Library Window

(2019)

By Margaret Oliphant

Broadview Press

ISBN: 978-1-55481-418-3

108pp; $27.99

To order a copy of Library Window  at the Footprint Books Website with a 15% discount click here  or visit www.footprint.com.au

Please use discount voucher code BCLUB19 at the checkout to apply the discount.

out of time by Steve Hawke

Out of Time

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

When one reads the words ‘out of time’ the mind switches immediately to finishing a test or project, rushing to be at a certain place at a certain time, the parking meter or maybe something even more sinister.

In Steve Hawke’s novel, ‘out of time’ refers to Joe, an older man who fears he might end up with dementia like his uncle because he has started to forget things, such as where he parked the car. To make things worse his aunt cannot cope with her situation, as she said in her suicide note, ‘If I could do anything useful for George of course I would stay….But I can’t even get out there under my own steam any more. And to find my dearest man in nappies was too much’ (88).

Joe becomes obsessed with this fear which he tries to keep to himself. ‘If uncle Georgeness lies ahead, I refuse to go there’ (179). ‘The bit that freaks me out is the when. The when, the when, the when. Having the capacity – and the courage – to recognise it’ (180). When he eventually shares his fears with his wife, Anne, the months that follow bring a cycle of anger and recrimination, then reconciliation and sorrowful loving.

This story is not just about the fear of getting dementia.  The author uses this older couple and Joe’s best mate, Eric, to address several other issues that bring anger, frustration, shame, loss of confidence and feelings of being used in the older generation as well as retirement and interacting with Centrelink and Superannuation bodies. Also presented is the family dynamic when children choose a spouse who does not fit with parent’s expectations.

Joe’s wife, Anne, is worried for her husband and supports him in every way she can, but the bag he has prepared for ‘when’, really worries her and she is often loathe to leave him for long periods of time on his own. She is still teaching but yearns to go bush to study nature. The daughter, Claire, steps in to ensure that some of her parent’s desires can be met but she has problems of her own to work through. When she moves back home, Anne finds that she is living ‘one day at a time’. ‘Who’d have thought that having her girl back home would be so …So?… Between managing Joe, the needs of Claire, and of the kids, it seems that she is on the go every minute of the day; too many balls in the air, too many sensitivities to be catered for, too many contingencies to be considered. She feels frazzled nearly all the time’ (248).

Eric and Joe have been friends for a long time so Joe is surprised when Eric decides to take on a job in Sri Lanka. But greater surprises are in store for both of these men.

Steve Hawke presents believable characters, who could be the reader’s own parents or even the people next door. The storyline is presented in short chapters with sometimes quirky titles like, Mea Culpa, Maudlin, The Ficus and The Quease. The text is well spaced on the pages and broken up with dialogue or short paragraphs making it extremely easy to read. Within each chapter there are blocks of paragraphs separated by the infinity sign. This I thought added some humour considering the title of the novel. 

The story is set in Western Australia, an area well known by the author who lived there for many years, first in the Kimberly region and later in Perth. Both of these areas feature in this novel and the storyline covers a period of four years, 2003 – 2007.

out of time is the second novel by Steve Hawke, his first, The Valley, was published in 2018. He has also written stage plays and a children’s book, Barefoot Kids, which was published in 2007. His non-fiction works include Noonkanbah: Whose Land, Whose Law (1989), the biography Polly Farmer (1994) and A Town is Born: The Fitzroy Crossing Story (2013). This novel, out of time, dedicated to his mother, Hazel Hawke, who faced a very public battle with Alzheimer’s disease, is to be published next month.

I found this to be an honest look at life for people getting to retirement age. It is obvious that Steve Hawke has walked beside someone who has trod this trail, as the story is told with deep understanding of the issues presented. I am sure that readers of any age will gain a clearer insight into what life could really entail as we grow older. With this awareness and understanding of the emotional impacts on our older generation, maybe relationships between the different generations would be less bumpy.

out of time

2019

Steve Hawke

Fremantle Press

IBN:9 781925 815283

$27.99; 296pp

The New Kid: Very Popular Me by James O’Loghlin

James O'Loghlin: The New Kid: Very Popular Me

Reviewed by Antonella Townsend and Willow

James O’Loghlin’s latest book The New Kid: Very Popular Me is an easy and most amusing read for 8-11 year olds.   Should older readers leaf through, they will probably get hooked and feel as though, sentence by sentence, they are walking through a weird time warp tunnel back to 6th Grade.   The dialogue and thought processes feel so authentic that readers could be forgiven in thinking that James O’Loghlin is in 6th Grade, along with his main character Sam.  

Sam is the new kid at school, now starting to enjoy being popular thanks to the magnetic power of Swirly (must read book to find out who or what is Swirly), which leads to having a girlfriend.  Another variable in his popularity is the fact that his best friend Gary has a swimming pool and invitations are hotly sought after.   But it seems his popularity hangs on Swirly and Swirly has to go (must read book to find out why).

Through various comedic turns, readers learn:  that popularity, like the tide, washes in and out – best not to take it too seriously; that life changes a bit when a baby sister is born into the family; and that parents are doing their best but often get it wrong.  

Throughout this book Sam’s mum is either having a baby or just had one, and, apparently, hormones have turned her into a dippy state.  Well, that’s the explanation Sam’s dad gives him.   I hesitate to say … but … bit sexist?  Personally, I haven’t met any would-be mothers in such an emotionally charged condition as Sam’s poor mother.  But, I have been in awe of women who complete a PhD. a few days before producing a human.  

So I asked Willow to read The New Kid: Very Popular Me and tell me what she thought of it.   The feedback was very encouraging:  ‘I liked Sam and I liked Swirly.  I thought it was funny.   Yes, I did enjoy it.’

Willow can be congratulated for her succinct approach, but I just had to ask her about Sam’s pregnant mum.  Did she think her mother was as dippy as Sam’s mum when her brother was being born?   The answer was a thoughtful ‘No’.   I decided it was best not to probe for any more comments on this subject fearing I might launch into a feminist lecture.  Never mind, pregnant mummy stereotypes aside, this is a fun book, and the illustrations by Matthew Martin add to its appeal.  

James O’Loghlin is multi-talented – an author, broadcaster and businessman advising companies on innovation. He has also been a criminal lawyer, a stand-up comedian, and an ABC radio broadcaster, and, he has hosted over 300 episodes of The New Inventors on ABC-TV.

O’Loghlin is the author of nine books, including five novels for children. The Adventures of Sir Roderick the not-very-Brave won the 2014 Speech Pathology Australia award for best book for 8 to 10-year-olds, and Daisy Malone and the Blue Glowing Stone was published in 2015.  The New Kid: Very Popular Me is his sixth book for children and the second book in The New Kid series, the first being The New Kid: Unpopular Me.  James lives in Sydney with his wife and three daughters, who tell him when his jokes work and when they don’t.

Matthew Martin is an internationally known cartoonist and illustrator. His work has appeared regularly in the Sydney Morning HeraldTimeRolling StoneThe Times of London, and The New York Times.

The New Kid: Very Popular Me

By James O’Loghlin

Illustrated by Matthew Martin

(2019)

Pan Macmillan Australia

ISBN: 9781760554835

Pps. 224

Price: $14.99

Man’s Best Friend by Luke Warburton with Simon Bouda

Reviewed by Antonella Townsend

It is heard on the news that a policeman has been shot and is in a critical condition.  But that’s it!   No follow up; the story behind the story.  There should be a special edition of the news once a month letting us know what has happened.   Thankfully Luke Warburton has given the public just that; an account of his life before and after he was seriously injured defending a doctor, whose life was being threatened by a drug crazed individual that she was attending in the emergency ward. 

Man’s Best Friend  provides an inspiring message for young and old alike, gives readers inside information regarding an institution that protects us, is an example of a life well lived, and provides understanding of another species. 

Luke Warburton’s life is a classic example of the power of being a decent bloke.  Not doing that well at school, he left early without completing his leaving certificate and worked in a fast food chain.  But his ambition was to be a policeman.  So that goal was written and framed on his bedroom wall. 

Ah, the power of a visible goal.  

Luke worked hard and got into the police force!   His next goal was to be accepted into the dog squad.   And apparently that is not so easy; there were hundreds of applicants and only ten places on offer.  Again, determination and hard work got him where he wanted to be.  Luke passed the training proudly becoming member of the Dog Squad.  It is an inspiring and often amusing read. 

But that’s just the beginning of the story.  

Luke worked with a few amazing dogs (aren’t they all?) before being matched with Chuck, a beautiful black German Shepherd, with the heart of a lion. Together they bravely served the community.   Luke and Chuck were part of the team that eventually apprehended the infamous Malcolm Naden.  And Naden has the scars to prove that he has met Chuck!  Again, the account the public get from news bulletins does not begin to tell the hardship the police endured in order to capture this dangerous man.   There were days and days of suffering in extreme heat, dealing with leeches and avoiding Red Belly Black Snakes.  Luke tells this most gripping story well.  In fact, I read this book in one day and one night – it’s one of those ‘can’t-put-down’ books. 

But, sadly, came the day that changed Luke’s life when he was, almost fatally, shot.  Thankfully the incident occurred in a hospital or Luke would not be writing Man’s Best Friend.   It is a story that should be read as Luke tells it, not rehashed in a review.  All I will say is that I feel so grateful that there are men like Luke protecting us all. 

His recovery took time and so much of his famous determination, during which he had to be separated from Chuck.   There are sad moments, very sad moments (have tissues to the ready).  Of course, he suffered from PTSD after such a traumatic event and it is here that the book becomes valuable to anyone who needs help with trauma. It is a helpful report of recovery, both mental and physical.  Luke gives an honest, readable account of his long recuperation. His message – Get Help!  Don’t be ashamed. 

Luke ends by saying that being in the police force is a wonderful career; he has loved the camaraderie, being part of an institution that is so important to society.  

There are books that just have to be read.   Man’s Best Friend is one of those books.

Man’s Best Friend:  The inspiring true story of Sergeant Luke Warburton, his police dog Chuck and the crime-busting Dog Unit

By Luke Warburton with Simon Bouda

(2019)

Hachette Australia

Paperback                  9780733641817        rrp:      $32.99

e-Book                        9780733641824        RRRP:   $14.99

Pp. 260

See you at the Toxteth by Peter Corris

9781760875633.jpg

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

The name of Peter Corris ranks high in the annals of Australia crime writing. Of his ninety odd books published between 1973 and 2017, forty-two feature his private eye, somewhat damaged, hero Cliff Hardy.  Other fiction include the ‘Creepy’ Crawley and Browning series and a number of non-fiction books that include biographies of Fred Hollows and Ray Barrett. There is also A Round of Golf featuring himself.

Peter Corris was a simple man with a simple taste in writing. I do not mean that he was slow of mental functioning. Rather I mean just the opposite. A highly intelligent writer he learned quickly where his strengths lay, and he capitalised upon them. He chose crime writing, and he chose a hero who was destined to remain a simple man himself.

Cliff Hardy – the fictional Cliff Hardy – is a boxer who got out of belting people for a living when an opponent, with a superior use of his fists, showed him another career. Hardy has a simple approach to solving crime, which he does invariably by consulting with authorities, drinking heavily, and taking life as it comes. Each story places no strain on the reader, who can absorb what is being read without concentrating too much. Having finished the story, it can be put aside, the reader feeling quite contented with what he has read.

The first of the short stories that appear, one after another, is called ‘Man’s Best Friend’, an excerpt from Heroin Annie, published in 1984. It begins:

I was walking along Vincent Street in Balmain,, down near the soapworks, minding someone else’s business, when a brick hit me, then another brick hit me, then another and I lost count; it felt as if a brick wall had moved out of line and wrapped itself around Cliff Hardy.

When I woke up Terry Kenneally was sitting beside my bed (3).

Within a few lines we have found out: the names of the street and suburb, then the location in the street, and that he is an investigator of some sort (in fact, a private detective). We discover he is being hit by flying bricks, (so someone does not approve of his involvement in somebody else’s activities), and that his ironic humour does not guard him from an attack that renders him unconscious. Then we find he awakens in hospital with his girlfriend waiting patiently for him to return to consciousness.

What follows is, not a tradesman-like working through of a series of phases in a criminal investigation, but a polished, in-character performance in which original quirks form a very readable account. At the taking down of the killer, Hardy is on the brink of extermination when the killer is attacked by his own dog that rips into his throat. Shot in the leg and in intense pain and, having killed the dog that had turn its attentions towards himself, Hardy makes his way to normalcy once again.

The individual stories in this collection are well worth the effort of reading. They are, in general terms, well-constructed examples of an era that is passing. However, when placed together in a collection like this, their sameness takes away the originality of the author. His stories should be collected, they should be a source of comfort to the family and friends left behind after Peter Corris’s death, but on the open market, they do not add to the writer’s considerable reputation.

Something more is needed to raise the expectations of readers, and the ABC of Crime Writing which begins on page 221 is not it. So many trite definitions! We are told;

I wanted to provide a kind of tour through the work of crime writers I’m familiar with drawing attention to some of the key ideas, styles and devices they use to write their stories. I found myself occasionally offering advice, suggestions, a strategy, preferring one way of doing things to another but that was still a very secondary motive (221).

Peter Corris must have known that a superficial treatment was hardly likely to attract anybody to this section. “A is for Action”, “A is also for Adultery,” “A is also for age,” and “A is also for alcohol” and “P is for passion (see L for Love and S for Sex)” – several of the sub-items that inhabit this section of the book. Some entries attract half a page, some only one line, many offering information that is at least debatable, and none of sufficient interest to raise this book from the subterranean level to which it has fallen.

The book offers other sections such as Crime and Crime Writing, the Columns (289), [most often appearing in the Newtown Review of Books which Corris founded]. This is followed by a series of essays on a variety of topics. However, I had lost patience, skim reading them and quickly deciding that they were not likely to change my mind.

A reviewer is supposed to provide an impartial view of the qualities of each book he reviews. I have to admit anger at the insensitive way in which Peter Corris’s work has been remembered. Peter Corris was a fine writer whose memory requires something of more substance than this ragbag of tales and definitions.

See You at the Toxteth

(2019)

By Peter Corris

Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 978-1-76087-563-3

336pp; $29.99