Read A Waltz for Matilda

In 1894, twelve-year-old Matilda flees the city slums to find her unknown father and his farm.

But drought grips the land, and the shearers are on strike. Her father has turned swaggie and he’s wanted by the troopers. In front of his terrified daughter, he makes a stand against them, defiant to the last. ‘You’ll never catch me alive, said he…’

Set against a backdrop of bushfire, flood, war and jubilation, this is the story of one girl’s journey towards independence. It is also the story of others who had no vote and very little but their dreams. Drawing on the well-known poem by A.B. Paterson and from events rooted in actual history, this is the untold story behind Australia’s early years as an emerging nation.

Source: A Waltz for Matilda | Jackie French

Jackie French’s A Waltz for Matilda builds out a story of life in rural Australia based on the ballad Waltzing Matilda. It captures various facets, whether it be the role of Chinese gardeners, indigenous relations, federation, droughts, floods and fires.

A Waltz for Matilda was meant to be a short book, but it became a saga, an adventure, a tale of rags to riches. A story of indomitable women and extraordinary men, set against a sweeping background that ranges from factories where children sweated for almost no wages and rarely saw the sun, to the farms of the western plains; the Boer War; Federation; and ending as the first letters trickle home from Gallipoli. It is a love story, but not just about a girl and boy, and an old man and a woman. It is a love song to Australia. It is the story of how – and why – we became a nation. And – more than any other book – it’s a story from my heart.

Source: A Waltz for Matilda | Jackie French

One of the interesting commentaries was the impact of drought:

‘If there had been no drought there’d have been no shearers’ strike, no union. If times had been better no one would have worried about tariffs between the states or kanakas coming in to take white men’s jobs. Without all of that we’d still be a collection of states, bumbling along side by side. The drought gave us Australia.’

Source: A Waltz for Matilda by Jackie French

This reminded me of Scott Reynolds Nelson’s new book, Oceans of Grain, and the way in which nature impacts so much of life.

The style of the novel, with the joining of the dots of history reminded me of James A. Michener.

via BorrowBox


Lolita is a 1955 novel written by Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov written in first-person narrative. The narrator, a French literature professor who moves to New England and writes under the pseudonym Humbert Humbert, becomes infatuated with a 12 year old girl named Dolores. Privately, he calls her “Lolita”, the Spanish nickname for Dolores. The novel was originally written in English, but fear of censorship in the U.S. (where Nabokov lived) and Britain led to it being first published in Paris, France, in 1955 by Olympia Press.

Source: Lolita (Wikipedia)

As a book, I felt like I knew what Lolita was about, love of a young girl. But then again, I had no idea what sort of journey I was in for. I think that I was caught up in the myth around the book and had never considered the reality.

I was intrigued to read Lolita after Nick Cave mentioned his father reading it to him when he was a child.

‘I can still remember the things he would say where he placed an emphasis on the importance of style. Style over content. I’m the same now. I’ve always been a style-over-content man, really. It’s not so much the content that interests me as the way it is said. Anyway, when Dad first read me Lolita he was excited by the sheer use of language, not what it was about. In some respects, it’s very inappropriate to turn a twelve-year-old boy on to Lolita. It’s an adult book. But my father would say there is more benefit than harm in it.’

Source: Boy on Fire by Mark Mordue

Thinking that seemed weird, I thought I would dive in.

Personally, I was often unsure whether to laugh or cry. For on the one hand, as a character, Hubbert is just so serious at times that he seems almost absurd, but on the other hand, how can somebody laugh at rape?

Above all Lolita seems to me an assertion of the power of the comic spirit to wrest delight and truth from the most outlandish materials. It is one of the funniest serious novels I have ever read; and the vision of its abominable hero, who never deludes or excuses himself, brings into grotesque relief the cant, the vulgarity, and the hypocritical conventions that pervade the human comedy.

Source: Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov – Review from September 1958 by Charles J. Rolo

The first time I read Lolita I thought it was one of the funniest books I’d ever come on. (This was the abbreviated version published in the Anchor Review last year.) The second time I read it, uncut, I thought it was one of the saddest. I mention this personal reaction only because Lolita is one of those occasional books which arrive swishing behind them a long tail of opinion and reputation which can knock the unwary reader off his feet.

Source: The Tragedy of Man Driven by Desire by Elizabeth Janeway

With scarifying wit and masterly descriptive power, he excoriates the materialist monstrosities of our civilization – from progressive education to motel architecture, and back again through the middle-brow culture racket to the incredible vulgarity and moral nihilism in which our children of all classes are raised, and on to psychoanalysis and the literary scene. He stamps indelibly on every page of his book the revulsion and disgust with which he is inspired, by loathsomely dwelling upon a loathsome plot: a detailed unfolding of the long-continued captivity and sexual abuse of a 12-year-old girl. To drive home the macabre grotesquerie of what he sees about him, he climaxes the novel with a murder that is at the same time horrible and ridiculous, poised between Grand Guignol and Punch & Judy.

Source: A Lance Into Cotton Wool by Frank S. Meyer

I was left thinking about Elizabeth Janeway’s argument that, “Humbert is all of us.”

In the first place, its illicit nature will both shock the reader into paying attention and prevent sentimentally false sympathy from distorting his judgment. Contrariwise, I believe, Mr. Nabokov is slyly exploiting the American emphasis on the attraction of youth and the importance devoted to the ‘teen-ager’ in order to promote an unconscious identification with Humbert’s agonies. Both techniques are entirely valid. But neither, I hope, will obscure the purpose of the device: namely, to underline the essential, inefficient, painstaking and pain-giving selfishness of all passion, all greed—of all urges, whatever they may be, that insist on being satisfied without regard to the effect their satisfaction has upon the outside world. Humbert is all of us.

Source: The Tragedy of Man Driven by Desire by Elizabeth Janeway

One of the strange things about the book is how it oddly manages to grip you as a reader.

The shocking subject matter, gleefully punning unreliable narrator, and Nabokov’s spellbinding sentence-level prowess combined to create a book as repulsive as it was inviting—comic and horrific and utterly absorbing.

Source: Sick, Scandalous, Spectacular: The First Reviews of Lolita

There is a lot said about the language (this is why Nick Cave was introduced to the novel), but I was also caught up in the cinematic nature of the novel and the way that it captures the world.

I remember reading that Thomas Pynchon went to the same university where Vladimir Nabokov taught and never really understood why that was so important until I read Lolita. There is something about blurring the line in both writers.

Read Captain Cook’s Epic Voyage by Geoffrey Blainey

The story of the astonishing voyage of Captain James Cook and the Endeavour, to mark the 250th anniversary of that voyage, and Cook’s claim to sovereignty.

I was looking through the books available via the BorrowBox app and stumbled upon Geoffrey Blainey’s Captain Cook’s Epic Voyage. After reading Stan Grant’s conflicted thoughts on James Cook and often passing Cook’s relocated cottage in Fitzroy Gardens, I thought it would be interesting to actually read about his journey in detail, rather than live with the myth.

Blainey’s book provides a glimpse into the miracle of the journey, as well as the luck involved, especially regarding scurvy and fresh food. He manages to tie various voices together, whether it be different diaries and the snippets of stories that had been picked up through journeys. What was intriguing was the way in which information that we take for granted these days was often kept secret, such as Torres Strait, due to the strategic benefits.

In the conclusion, Blainey discusses the theory that the Chinese actually discovered Australia prior to Europeans. He argues that whether this is true or not, ‘discovery’ is more that finding a place, it is actually doing something with the place.

Joel Selwood’s autobiography exploring his life in football and the world of leadership. I have written a longer reflection here.


Chapter 3 Resilience and challenge

my career-long exercises to activate and strengthen the vastus medialis oblique (VMO), one of the four big muscles in the thigh, a process critical to drive the rehabilitation of my knee. The exercise was repetitive but I knew its importance and my athletics training helped me stick with such drills.
I swam one day and did weights the next. I was anal about keeping my leg stiff in the pool, always swimming with a buoy so only my upper body was doing the work.

Chapter 6 Redemption

One of our values was to be ruthless but I understood that such a word can be used as an excuse for being thoughtless unless the leadership is on the ball.
‘Ruthless’ was appropriate as a value at that time but around 2012, as the playing group transitioned, it was not so important. By then, we needed to do things differently, to play to the strengths of a new crop of players, to establish a framework but to let players be themselves within that framework. Surely in a high-performance sport being both ruthless and caring can co-exist. Perhaps it should be about being relentless in the pursuit of improvement rather than being ruthless.

Chapter 8 New coach, new direction

I eventually learnt that when issues affecting me and others needed to be resolved, it was best to rely on experts rather than thinking it was my job to resolve everything. That took time and was not without mistakes as I did not always adhere to that philosophy, but it eventually did sink in.
The game also taught me that rigid preparation was not always possible. What was possible was that I could switch on as soon as I dragged the jumper over my head. Eventually the assistants would refer to me as Sir William Wallace, the hero of the Mel Gibson film Braveheart, when they saw me put on the jumper and joke whether I would be able to go over the hill one more time. They knew that was my cue to put all aside and concentrate on the game. It became a habit for me. They thought that trait was remarkable.

Chapter 9 Tackling tacklers

It didn’t take me long to recognise I could gain an advantage over my opposition by exploiting the difficult skill of tackling. And, in my opinion, tackling is the worst executed skill in football. That isn’t because players aren’t good at tackling. It’s just difficult to run 12 or 15 kilometres in a game and also execute such a technical skill when an opponent, with the whole ground to work with, is carrying the ball and running quickly at you or away from you. I identified this as a real weakness in our game and took advantage of that. I prided myself on knowing the rule book better than most and I knew exactly what the umpires were expected to adjudicate when it came to head-high contact. As a competitive professional, knowing every angle mattered.

Chapter 10 New deal, new job

if a player does something wrong, he has let the club down (and probably himself) rather than it being anything personal against the captain or a teammate. Most of the time the guilty party knows it too.


Understanding the bigger picture became something I had to consider and develop in order to lead effectively.

Chapter 11 Leading and learning

Sometimes I would take matters up with him but he was not only a ‘bush physio’ when it came to fitness issues, he was a ‘bush lawyer’ too and he would passionately defend what he had done. I grew to love the way he could argue his way out of anything because he would present his case in a manner that made me smile.


I was wearing a tracksuit bottom on the early flight to Adelaide because I was recovering from a corkie as we headed to meet Travis in secret, realising when we were door-stopped before we had left Adelaide airport that we had created a media storm through pure naivety.

Chapter 12 A near miss

I fuelled the perception that my game was built on brawn, when I told the Herald Sun in 2011: ‘I am not a pretty footballer. I am slow. I don’t kick it as well as the good kicks. I am what you would say an olden-day footballer in so many ways.’ In reality it indicated my thinking that I needed to work harder than most for my talent to be realised.


I’d arranged for Kathryn Cotsopoulos to attend the Brownlow medal with me the following Monday as a bit of fun, checking with her new boyfriend – now husband, Daniel De Lulio – that he wouldn’t be fussed before I’d even asked Kathryn. He was fine but then poor Kathryn had to answer texts all night from friends watching the count on television, asking whether she and Daniel had broken up!

Chapter 13 In transition

My intent was never in question but when you carry that view of leadership – that success was your responsibility – the danger is that when something goes wrong, you look to blame someone else. If you are not careful you can become a cop, rather than a teammate, and forget that the group that had won premierships had changed and other methods might be needed to give different – and new – individuals a prod.

Chapter 23 Bring the love

One of the phrases we came up with early was ‘Connect to WIFI’ with WIFI an acronym for ‘What If, Fuck It’ which would help me attack what was ahead of me with a sense of freedom.

Chapter 26 Getting it right

When reading his eulogy, I said that I fell in love with Vic Fuller the day I met him. His approach to life was spot on – leave the ego at the door and you might learn something. Bloody hell, did I learn something along the way?
The club fostered my belief that if you are open enough to listen you can learn from anyone. It’s part of why jumping in the car with a first-year player to attend a school visit was never a chore for me. They might give up a little bit of dirt on their teammates to me, or reveal a dry sense of humour in a different setting.


Some people can work themselves up way too much. They think you need to do this, or you need to read that. I keep it simple: what about just generally being half a decent person? Have your eye out a little bit for everyone and make sure you have a bit of fun along the way. That was the basis of everything I strived to do.

Read A Shorter History of Australia by Geoffrey Blainey

A broad, concise and inclusive vision of Australia and Australians by one our most renowned historians

I stumbled upon Geoffrey Blainey’s A Shorter History of Australia via BorrowBox. It does what it says, provides a short history of Australia. One of the things that intrigued me was Blainey’s ability to tie so many desperate stories together into a coherent narrative.

I think it would be an interesting exercise to do something of a meta analysis, reading different histories, such as Manning Clark and Stuart McIntyre, and doing a comparison.

Read 1835 by James Boyce

With the founding of Melbourne in 1835, a flood of settlers began spreading out across the Australian continent. In three years more land – and more people – was conquered than in the preceding fifty.

With 1835, James Boyce takes us into the early years of Melbourne, before the gold boom in the 1850s when there was spectacular growth, when the initial timber buildings were rebuilt in solid stone and brick.

The book begins by setting the scene for the settlement, discussing the geography of the region, the impact of other settlements in Van Diemen’s Land and Sydney, as well as the political conditions in London. It then moves onto the initial settlement, led by the Port Phillip Association, the treaty with the local indigenous people and the initial settlement. Building on from the initial settlement, Boyce explores the first year and the interactions with the indigenous people, including early conflict. After initially rejecting the idea of a new settlement, the Melbourne experiment is accepted, leading to explosive growth.

What was interesting about this book was how the settlement in Melbourne differed to that in Van Diemen’s Land. Whether it be the attempt to reject or deny any influence of convicts in Melbourne or the change in relations with the local indigenous people. The other thing that I had never really considered was the speed of impact that settlement had on local populations. I was always aware of the spread of disease, but it had never really occurred to me the impact on hunting and gathering of taking away the best land from grazing purposes. Made me think about all the supermarket’s were destroyed overnight and replaced with a field of vegetables. I imagine our lives would change pretty dramatically too. Although not necessarily questioning the settlement, as it was something that was always going to happen, Boyce asks the question of how things might have been done differently?

Part of the reason that the founding fables have endured is that there is truth and legitimate sentiment to be found in them. The speed with which Melbourne grew and Victoria was settled is, when seen from the victor’s perspective, ‘one of the romances of modern colonisation.’43 If anything, perhaps in part out of sensitivity to Aboriginal people, historians now tend to downplay what an extraordinary settlement story the founding of Melbourne represents.

Source: 1835 by James Boyce

Read Australia Day

As uncomfortable as it is, we need to reckon with our history. On January 26, no Australian can really look away. There are the hard questions we ask of ourselves on Australia Day. Since publishing his critically acclaimed, Walkley Award-winning, bestselling memoir Talking to My Country in early 2016, Stan Grant has been crossing the country, talking to huge crowds everywhere about how racism is at the heart of our history and the Australian dream. But Stan knows this is not where the story ends. In this book, Australia Day, his long-awaited follow up to Talking to My Country, Stan talks about reconciliation and the indigenous struggle for belonging and identity in Australia, and about what it means to be Australian. A sad, wise, beautiful, reflective and troubled book, Australia Day asks the questions that have to be asked, that no else seems to be asking. Who are we? What is our country? How do we move forward from here?

With Australia Day, Stan Grant continues on from his previous book Speaking to my Country, collecting a range of pieces and ideas tied together, addressing land, family, race, history and nation to answer the question: who are we? The book is a mixture of personal memoir and philosophical exploration. It builds on his earlier book The Australian Dream.

I wrote a longer discussion here.

A Room of One’s Own is an extended essay by Virginia Woolf, first published in September 1929. The work is based on two lectures Woolf delivered in October 1928 at Newnham College and Girton College, women’s colleges at the University of Cambridge.

The essay dives into what is involved with being a female writer. Whether it be balancing raising a family:

Making a fortune and bearing thirteen children – no human being could stand it.

Depending upon a husband for funds:

It is only for the last forty-eight years that Mrs Seton has had a penny of her own. For all the centuries before that it would have been her husband’s property – a thought which, perhaps, may have had its share in keeping Mrs Seton and her mothers off the Stock Exchange.

Or writing in privately in public:

I wondered, would Pride and Prejudice have been a better novel if Jane Austen had not thought it necessary to hide her manuscript from visitors?

It is out of this that we get the famous quote:

A Woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.

Responding to these challenges, Woolf points out that nothing is known about women before the eighteenth century. With this in mind, she discusses William Shakespear’s fictitious sister Judith.

Let me imagine, since facts are so hard to come by, what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say. Shakespeare himself went, very probably – his mother was an heiress – to the grammar school, where he may have learnt Latin – Ovid, Virgil, and Horace – and the elements of grammar and logic. He was, it is well known, a wild boy who poached rabbits, perhaps shot a deer, and had, rather sooner than he should have done, to marry a woman in the neighbourhood, who bore him a child rather quicker than was right. That escapade sent him to seek his fortune in London. He had, it seemed, a taste for the theatre; he began by holding horses at the stage door. Very soon he got work in the theatre, became a successful actor, and lived at the hub of the universe, meeting everybody, knowing everybody, practising his art on the boards, exercising his wits in the streets, and even getting access to the palace of the queen. Meanwhile his extraordinarily gifted sister, let us suppose, remained at home. She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now and then, one of her brother’s perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers. They would have spoken sharply but kindly, for they were substantial people who knew the conditions of life for a woman and loved their daughter – indeed, more likely than not she was the apple of her father’s eye. Perhaps she scribbled some pages up in an apple loft on the sly, but was careful to hide them or set fire to them. Soon, however, before she was out of her teens, she was to be betrothed to the son of a neighbouring wool-stapler. She cried out that marriage was hateful to her, and for that she was severely beaten by her father. Then he ceased to scold her. He begged her instead not to hurt him, not to shame him in this matter of her marriage. He would give her a chain of beads or a fine petticoat, he said; and there were tears in his eyes. How could she disobey him? How could she break his heart? The force of her own gift alone drove her to it. She made up a small parcel of her belongings, let herself down by a rope one summer’s night and took the road to London. She was not seventeen. The birds that sang in the hedge were not more musical than she was. She had the quickest fancy, a gift like her brother’s, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for the theatre. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said. Men laughed in her face. The manager – a fat, loose-lipped man – guffawed. He bellowed something about poodles dancing and women acting – no woman, he said, could possibly be an actress.

Before then exploring what it means to write like a woman and a woman’s experience.

The book has somehow to be adapted to the body, and at a venture one would say that women’s books should be shorter, more concentrated, than those of men, and framed so that they do not need long hours of steady and uninterrupted work. For interruptions there will always be. Again, the nerves that feed the brain would seem to differ in men and women, and if you are going to make them work their best and hardest, you must find out what treatment suits them – whether these hours of lectures, for instance, which the monks devised, presumably, hundreds of years ago, suit them – what alternations of work and rest they need, interpreting rest not as doing nothing but as doing something but something that is different; and what should that difference be?

One of the things that really struck me rereading this essay was the significance of Jane Austen. I am not sure that occurred to me reading Austen growing up, let alone the work of Fanny Burney. It just makes me want to dive back in again.

I was led back to this essay via two podcast discussions: A Room of One’s Own (In Our Time) and What’s behind the anger? On Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” (The Minefield).


A Room of One’s Own (In Our Time)


Melvyn Bragg speaks with Hermione Lee, Michele Barrett and Alexandra Harris about Virginia Woolf’s essay A Room of One’s Own.

What’s behind the anger? On Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”

Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens speak with Charlotte Wood about what Virginia Woolf’s essay tells us about the nature of power, the sentiments that feed contempt, the conditions of creative freedom, and the possibility of moral transformation.


Chapter 1

A Woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.

One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold. One can only give one’s audience the chance of drawing their own conclusions as they observe the limitations, the prejudices, the idiosyncrasies of the speaker.

Making a fortune and bearing thirteen children – no human being could stand it.

It is only for the last forty-eight years that Mrs Seton has had a penny of her own. For all the centuries before that it would have been her husband’s property – a thought which, perhaps, may have had its share in keeping Mrs Seton and her mothers off the Stock Exchange.

At any rate, whether or not the blame rested on the old lady who was looking at the spaniel, there could be no doubt that for some reason or other our mothers had mismanaged their affairs very gravely. Not a penny could be spared for ‘amenities’; for partridges and wine, beadles and turf, books and cigars, libraries and leisure. To raise bare walls out of the bare earth was the utmost they could do.

Chapter 2

Why are women, judging from this catalogue, so much more interesting to men than men are to women?

Nobody in their senses could fail to detect the dominance of the professor. His was the power and the money and the influence. He was the proprietor of the paper and its editor and sub-editor. He was the Foreign Secretary and the Judge. He was the cricketer; he owned the racehorses and the yachts. He was the director of the company that pays two hundred per cent to its shareholders. He left millions to charities and colleges that were ruled by himself. He suspended the film actress in mid-air. He will decide if the hair on the meat axe is human; he it is who will acquit or convict the murderer, and hang him, or let him go free. With the exception of the fog he seemed to control everything. Yet he was angry

Chapter 3

fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible; Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, seem to hang there complete by themselves. But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge, torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun in mid-air by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human beings, and are attached to grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in.

what I find deplorable, I continued, looking about the bookshelves again, is that nothing is known about women before the eighteenth century. I have no model in my mind to turn about this way and that. Here am I asking why women did not write poetry in the Elizabethan age, and I am not sure how they were educated; whether they were taught to write; whether they had sitting-rooms to themselves; how many women had children before they were twenty-one; what, in short, they did from eight in the morning till eight at night.

Let me imagine, since facts are so hard to come by, what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say. Shakespeare himself went, very probably – his mother was an heiress – to the grammar school, where he may have learnt Latin – Ovid, Virgil, and Horace – and the elements of grammar and logic. He was, it is well known, a wild boy who poached rabbits, perhaps shot a deer, and had, rather sooner than he should have done, to marry a woman in the neighbourhood, who bore him a child rather quicker than was right. That escapade sent him to seek his fortune in London. He had, it seemed, a taste for the theatre; he began by holding horses at the stage door. Very soon he got work in the theatre, became a successful actor, and lived at the hub of the universe, meeting everybody, knowing everybody, practising his art on the boards, exercising his wits in the streets, and even getting access to the palace of the queen. Meanwhile his extraordinarily gifted sister, let us suppose, remained at home. She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now and then, one of her brother’s perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers. They would have spoken sharply but kindly, for they were substantial people who knew the conditions of life for a woman and loved their daughter – indeed, more likely than not she was the apple of her father’s eye. Perhaps she scribbled some pages up in an apple loft on the sly, but was careful to hide them or set fire to them. Soon, however, before she was out of her teens, she was to be betrothed to the son of a neighbouring wool-stapler. She cried out that marriage was hateful to her, and for that she was severely beaten by her father. Then he ceased to scold her. He begged her instead not to hurt him, not to shame him in this matter of her marriage. He would give her a chain of beads or a fine petticoat, he said; and there were tears in his eyes. How could she disobey him? How could she break his heart? The force of her own gift alone drove her to it. She made up a small parcel of her belongings, let herself down by a rope one summer’s night and took the road to London. She was not seventeen. The birds that sang in the hedge were not more musical than she was. She had the quickest fancy, a gift like her brother’s, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for the theatre. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said. Men laughed in her face. The manager – a fat, loose-lipped man – guffawed. He bellowed something about poodles dancing and women acting – no woman, he said, could possibly be an actress.

Chapter 4

Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for. It might still be well to sneer at ‘blue stockings with an itch for scribbling’, but it could not be denied that they could put money in their purses. Thus, towards the end of the eighteenth century a change came about which, if I were rewriting history, I should describe more fully and think of greater importance than the Crusades or the Wars of the Roses. The middle-class woman began to write. For if Pride and Prejudice matters, and Middlemarch and Villette and Wuthering Heights matter, then it matters far more than I can prove in an hour’s discourse that women generally, and not merely the lonely aristocrat shut up in her country house among her folios and her flatterers, took to writing.

I wondered, would Pride and Prejudice have been a better novel if Jane Austen had not thought it necessary to hide her manuscript from visitors?

One could not but play for a moment with the thought of what might have happened if Charlotte Brontë had possessed say three hundred a year – but the foolish woman sold the copyright of her novels outright for fifteen hundred pounds; had somehow possessed more knowledge of the busy world and towns and regions full of life; more practical experience, and intercourse with her kind and acquaintance with a variety of character

Only Jane Austen did it and Emily Brontë. It is another feather, perhaps the finest, in their caps. They wrote as women write, not as men write. Of all the thousand women who wrote novels then, they alone entirely ignored the perpetual admonitions of the eternal pedagogue – write this, think that. They alone were deaf to that persistent voice, now grumbling, now patronizing, now domineering, now grieved, now shocked, now angry, now avuncular, that voice which cannot let women alone, but must be at them, like some too conscientious governess, adjuring them, like Sir Egerton Brydges, to be refined; dragging even into the criticism of poetry criticism of sex;* admonishing them, if they would be good and win, as I suppose, some shiny prize, to keep within certain limits which the gentleman in question thinks suitable – ‘…female novelists should only aspire to excellence by courageously acknowledging the limitations of their sex’.

The book has somehow to be adapted to the body, and at a venture one would say that women’s books should be shorter, more concentrated, than those of men, and framed so that they do not need long hours of steady and uninterrupted work. For interruptions there will always be. Again, the nerves that feed the brain would seem to differ in men and women, and if you are going to make them work their best and hardest, you must find out what treatment suits them – whether these hours of lectures, for instance, which the monks devised, presumably, hundreds of years ago, suit them – what alternations of work and rest they need, interpreting rest not as doing nothing but as doing something but something that is different; and what should that difference be?

Chapter 5

almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen’s day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman’s life is that; and how little can a man know even of that when he observes it through the black or rosy spectacles which sex puts upon his nose.

Considering that Mary Carmichael was no genius, but an unknown girl writing her first novel in a bed-sitting-room, without enough of those desirable things, time, money, and idleness, she did not do so badly, I thought.
Give her another hundred years, I concluded, reading the last chapter – people’s noses and bare shoulders showed naked against a starry sky, for someone had twitched the curtain in the drawing-room – give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days. She will be a poet, I said, putting Life’s Adventure, by Mary Carmichael, at the end of the shelf, in another hundred years’ time.

Chapter 6

The Fascist poem, one may fear, will be a horrid little abortion such as one sees in a glass jar in the museum of some county town. Such monsters never live long, it is said; one has never seen a prodigy of that sort cropping grass in a field. Two heads on one body do not make for length of life.

Read The Hacienda

Peter Hook, as co-founder of Joy Division and New Order, has been shaping the course of popular music for thirty years. He provided the propulsive …

Watching documentaries like The Hacienda – The Club that Shook Britain (BBC Documentary), one is left thinking about the ‘halycon’ days of The Hacienda. However, Peter Hook pulls back the sheet to reveal the reality of running a club. Although Hook is happy to engage with the usual talking points, such as Madonna playing there or the rise of House music, he also provides insight into the disaster it was from a business point of view and the impact it had.

The Haçienda was, as Hook says, in many ways the perfect example of how not to run a club – if you view a nightclub as a money-making business. But if, like the baggy trousered philanthropists Factory, you see it as an altruistic gift to your hometown and a breeding ground for the next generation of youth culture, it was, accidentally, purposefully, shambolically, anarchically, thrillingly, scarily, inspirationally, perfect. Hook appreciated the need to give something back but, he jokes, he didn’t realise that you had to give it all back. But then, as Wilson remarked: “Some people make money, others make history.”

Source: Review – The Haçienda: How Not to Run a Club by Peter Hook by Luke Bainbridge

This reminded me of something that Brian Eno said in a conversation with Daniel Lanois, that ‘beautiful things grow out of shit’.


“Now I don’t know why, but Morrissey had always hated Joy Division. Maybe Rob got it right when after a lively debate as the cameras were turned off he turned to Morrissey and said, ‘The trouble with you, Morrissey, is that you’ve never had the guts to kill yourself like Ian. You’re fucking jealous.’ You should have seen his face as he stormed off. I laughed me bollocks off.”

I recently returned to An Imaginary Life. I vaguely remember reading this as a part of David Tacey’s Jungian class at university. It tells the story of Ovid and his journey into exile.

It tells the story of the Roman poet Ovid, during his exile in Tomis.

While there, Ovid lives with the natives, although he doesn’t understand their language, and forms a bond with a wild boy who is found living wild in nature. The relationship between Ovid and the boy, at first one of protector and protected, becomes an alliance between two people in a foreign land.

Ovid comes to Tomis enculturated with a Roman world view and through his attempts at teaching the boy language is able to free himself from the constrictions of Latin and the encompassing perception of reality that is his only barrier against transcendence.

Ovid is continually searching for the Child and what he represents to him. He goes so far as to capture him in an attempt to learn from him, and to teach him language and conventions.

Source: An Imaginary Life by David Malouf

Although I probably wrote some essay at the time about the psychological journey of awakening, I am not sure that I made the connection between Ovid and his journey into a new country with being an ‘Australian novel’ as Pema Düddul suggests:

Ovid’s great epiphany is that the untamed world is not a hostile place, but a new home where he can be free of the rigid structures of Imperial Rome. By venturing into an even further place, a greater exile, he becomes free.

An Imaginary Life is, in part, about an individual journey from a state of being cut off and apart from the environment – of wishing to tame and exploit nature, of being totally entangled in language and culture – to a state of being in intimate contact with the untrained, wild things of the world. It is also about a poet, in thrall of civilisation, realising that there are other ways to live and experience; ways that are beautiful and fulfilling.

Ovid comes to this realisation by following the example of the wild boy, someone for whom the environment is not something outside of himself but an expression of his own nature.

Source: The case for David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life by Pema Düddul

I feel this is another one of those novels that I did not fully appreciate when I first read it. Then again, maybe my reading now is simply a ‘new beginning’:

What else should our lives be but a continual series of beginnings, of painful settings out into the unknown, pushing off from the edges of consciousness into the mystery of what we have not yet become, except in dreams that blow in from out there bearing the fragrance of islands we have not yet sighted in our waking hours, as in voyaging sometimes the first blossoming branches of our next landfall come bumping against the keel, even in the dark, whole days before the real land rises to meet us.

SOURCE: An Imaginary Life by David Malouf

With the discussion of becoming, I was also left thinking about the connections between this novel and the work of Gilles Deleuze.

Continue reading “📚 An Imaginary Life (David Malouf)”


The Island of Doctor Moreau is an 1896 science fiction novel by English author H. G. Wells. The text of the novel is the narration of Edward Prendick, a shipwrecked man rescued by a passing boat. He is left on the island home of Doctor Moreau, a mad scientist who creates human-like hybrid beings from animals via vivisection. The novel deals with a number of themes, including pain and cruelty, moral responsibility, human identity, human interference with nature, and the effects of trauma.[2] Wells described it as “an exercise in youthful blasphemy.”[3]

The Island of Doctor Moreau is a classic work of early science fiction[4] and remains one of Wells’s best-known books. The novel is the earliest depiction of the science fiction motif “uplift” in which a more advanced race intervenes in the evolution of an animal species to bring the latter to a higher level of intelligence.[5] It has been adapted to film and other media on many occasions.

The Island of Dr Moreau, by H.G. Wells, tells the story of Edward Prendick and his experience visiting the island of Dr Moreau,  located somewhere in the Pacific. Dr Moreau is a scientist experimenting with creating human-like hybrid beings from animals via vivisection.

Was this the same Moreau? He had published some very astonishing facts in connection with the transfusion of blood, and in addition was known to be doing valuable work on morbid growths. Then suddenly his career was closed. He had to leave England. A journalist obtained access to his laboratory in the capacity of laboratory-assistant, with the deliberate intention of making sensational exposures; and by the help of a shocking accident (if it was an accident), his gruesome pamphlet became notorious. On the day of its publication a wretched dog, flayed and otherwise mutilated, escaped from Moreau’s house. It was in the silly season, and a prominent editor, a cousin of the temporary laboratory-assistant, appealed to the conscience of the nation. It was not the first time that conscience has turned against the methods of research. The doctor was simply howled out of the country.

Through Moreau’s creations, the novel explores what it means to be human, it is epitomised by the chant:

“Not to go on all-fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

“Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

“Not to eat Fish or Flesh; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

“Not to claw the Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

“Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?”

Wells makes comparisons between Moreau’s Beast Men and those living in colonies. For example, Montgomery finds it hard to discern between Moreau’s creations and the people they trade with in the colonies.

At first I had a shivering horror of the brutes, felt all too keenly that they were still brutes; but insensibly I became a little habituated to the idea of them, and moreover I was affected by Montgomery’s attitude towards them. He had been with them so long that he had come to regard them as almost normal human beings. His London days seemed a glorious, impossible past to him. Only once in a year or so did he go to Arica to deal with Moreau’s agent, a trader in animals there. He hardly met the finest type of mankind in that seafaring village of Spanish mongrels. The men aboard-ship, he told me, seemed at first just as strange to him as the Beast Men seemed to me,—unnaturally long in the leg, flat in the face, prominent in the forehead, suspicious, dangerous, and cold-hearted. In fact, he did not like men: his heart had warmed to me, he thought, because he had saved my life. I fancied even then that he had a sneaking kindness for some of these metamorphosed brutes, a vicious sympathy with some of their ways, but that he attempted to veil it from me at first.

This is something that Andrew Cunningham and Craig Getting discuss on the Overdue podcast.  An example of such analysis is Matthew Thompson’s exploration of the tendency to racialise and the supposed journey from beast to civilised man.

In distinctly racialising the characters of the Beast People, Wells parallels the discourses of evolutionary science that use race as a means of distinguishing a narrative of human progression from primitiveness to civilisation. Such a narrative not only features to further the casting of the racialised Other as ‘primitive’, but, in the case of Moreau and other evolutionary scientists such as T. H. Huxley, to cast these subjectivities as animalistic.

Source: “The White Face of Moreau”: Race, Gender, and Animalism in the Literature of the Imperial Campaign by Matthew Thompson

The novel ends with Prendick sharing his enduring trauma from having survived the island.

My trouble took the strangest form. I could not persuade myself that the men and women I met were not also another Beast People, animals half wrought into the outward image of human souls, and that they would presently begin to revert,—to show first this bestial mark and then that. But I have confided my case to a strangely able man,—a man who had known Moreau, and seemed half to credit my story; a mental specialist,—and he has helped me mightily, though I do not expect that the terror of that island will ever altogether leave me. At most times it lies far in the back of my mind, a mere distant cloud, a memory, and a faint distrust; but there are times when the little cloud spreads until it obscures the whole sky. Then I look about me at my fellow-men; and I go in fear. I see faces, keen and bright; others dull or dangerous; others, unsteady, insincere,—none that have the calm authority of a reasonable soul. I feel as though the animal was surging up through them; that presently the degradation of the Islanders will be played over again on a larger scale. I know this is an illusion; that these seeming men and women about me are indeed men and women,—men and women for ever, perfectly reasonable creatures, full of human desires and tender solicitude, emancipated from instinct and the slaves of no fantastic Law,—beings altogether different from the Beast Folk. Yet I shrink from them, from their curious glances, their inquiries and assistance, and long to be away from them and alone. For that reason I live near the broad free downland, and can escape thither when this shadow is over my soul; and very sweet is the empty downland then, under the wind-swept sky.

This dual world where Prendick struggles to reintegrate within supposed civilised society reminded me of ending of The Heart of Darkness where the truth is surpressed in order to survive.

“‘His last word—to live with,’ she insisted. ‘Don’t you understand I loved him—I loved him—I loved him!’

“I pulled myself together and spoke slowly.

“‘The last word he pronounced was—your name.’

Source: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Stylistically, I was also reminded of the narrative style of Thomas More’s Utopia, where we are provided a perspective of place through the eyes of a visitor.

Continue reading “📚 The Island of Doctor Moreau (H. G. Wells)”

Read The In-Between by Christos Tsiolkas

The tender, sensual and moving new novel from the award-winning and bestselling author of The Slap and Damascus. A compelling contemporary love story between two middle-aged men, told with grace, heart and wisdom.

No life is simple, and no life is without sorrow. No life is perfect.

Two middle-aged men meet on an internet date. Each has been scarred by a previous relationship; each has his own compelling reasons for giving up on the idea of finding love.

But still they both turn up for the dinner, feel the spark and the possibility of something more. Feel the fear of failing again, of being hurt and humiliated and further annihilated by love.

How can they take the risk of falling in love again. How can they not?

A tender, affecting novel of love, of hope, of forgiveness by one of our most fearless and truthful interpreters of the human heart, the acclaimed bestselling author of The Slap and Damascus.

I wrote a longer response to The In-Between here.


Christos Tsiolkas’s ‘The In-Between’ (Review)

Though of course plenty of writers can supply the smaller details, what makes Tsiolkas exceptional is his ability to show how excessive and unstable our senses are, how we never just enjoy our perceptions in some benign way, but find them turning continuously into greed, and then shame, and then greed again.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’s ‘The In-Between’ (Review) by Sean O’Beirne

What we want is always irresponsible, or immoral, or impossible.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’s ‘The In-Between’ (Review) by Sean O’Beirne

The middle-class, left-liberal, virtue-signalling people who will mostly read this book (and I include myself in this) do badly need to be told a story about how many problems won’t have a solution, exactly, and how much insane desire lies in every human heart.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’s ‘The In-Between’ (Review) by Sean O’Beirne

Christos Tsiolkas The In-Between

There’s a trick Christos Tsiolkas does in his eighth novel, The In-Between. At several points in the action, as the central drama plays out in the foreground, the focus drifts away. Tsiolkas brings our attention instead to a passing youth on the street or the gaze of another commuter.
Despite these glances away, The In-Between is an intensely interior book with Tsiolkas’s trademark unflinching intimacy and access to the thoughts, fears, rages and lusts of his characters. It makes these other moments all the more acute when they occur. They offer us an external view of proceedings, giving us the distance to see our protagonists afresh

Source: Christos Tsiolkas
The In-Between
by Michael Williams

Christos Tsiolkas’ new novel The In-Between

An idea is louder than snoring

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’ new novel The In-Between – ABC Listen by ABC Radio Melbourne

What I want from fiction is that it sets up questions.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’ new novel The In-Between – ABC Listen by ABC Radio Melbourne

Fiction puts you in shoes that are not comfortable.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’ new novel The In-Between – ABC Listen by ABC Radio Melbourne

I was inspired to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by the Overdue podcast. I enjoy Andrew Cunningham and Craig Getting’s discussions, the way in which they bounce off each other. Although I had seen both the original Blade Runner (I actually studied it in Year 12) and the remake, I do not remember ever reading the book before.

Coming at the book via the film, I could not help but compare. I was particularly intrigued with the description of the ‘chicken heads’ and the androids and the idea of humanity. This reminded me of H.G. Wells comparison of the animals and the people in foreign ports in The Island of Dr Moreau.

As with the film, the book asks many questions. How do we know what is real? What does it mean to be human? How do we know who we can trust?

Read Product Details by SupaduDevSupaduDev
I was not sure what to expect when I took on Gulpilil by Terry Rielly. I assumed it would delve into the story of indigenous artist and actor, David Gulpilil, but I was unsure how it would be done. Interestingly, rather than a biography of “all that David Copperfield kind of crap”, Rielly chose to tell the tale through other people’s eyes. As Bernard Whimpress touches on:

How to write the book presents a challenge. De Heer tells the author that getting a dozen words out of Gulpilil will be difficult, so he determines to talk to actors, directors, friends and others who know him well to build the picture of why he matters ‘and still matters’.

Source: Gulpilil Review by Bernard Whimpress

Those who shared their insight include film critic Margaret Pomeranz; artists George Gittoes and Craig Ruddy (who won the Archibald, controversially, with a portrait of Gulpilil in 2004 that some claimed was a drawing, not a painting); directors Philippe Mora (Mad Dog Morgan) and Phillip Noyce (Rabbit-Proof Fence); and actors Damon Gameau, Gary Sweet, Jack Thompson and Paul Hogan.

The style of a different perspective each chapter reminded me in part of the old TV show This Is Your Life,

In which the presenter surprises celebrity guests with a show documenting their lives, with audience participation from their friends and family.

Source: This Is Your Life (Australian TV series)) by Wikipedia

While intermingled throughout the conversations, Rielly fills out elements of Gulpilil’s life. However, what was interesting that there were few Indigenous voices in the book. As Stephen Bennetts explains, Gulpilil’s story is complicated:

Fêted by European society, like Bennelong and Namatjira before him, Gulpilil represents for white Australians the embodiment of traditional Aboriginal culture. Yet Trudgen claims that after being discovered as a young man by British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg for the 1971 film Walkabout, Gulpilil lost connection with his traditional culture ‘because it just wasn’t part of his practice when he was out with Europeans talking with them all the time. The great disappointment of Gulpilil’s parents was his lack of traditional knowledge.’

Source: Stephen Bennetts reviews ‘Gulpilil’ by Derek Rielly by Stephen Bennetts

Overall, Terry Rielly’s Gulpilil provides an insight into some of the challenges associated with traversing two cultures. Although Gulpilil may have been five stars on the screen, life was not so simple away from the camera.

Read The Boy from Boomerang Crescent

How does a self-described ‘skinny Aboriginal kid’ overcome a legacy of family tragedy to become an AFL legend? One thing’s for sure: it’s not easy. But then, there’s always been something special about Eddie Betts.

Betts grew up in Port Lincoln and Kalgoorlie, in environments where the destructive legacies of colonialism – racism, police targeting of Aboriginal people, drug and alcohol misuse, family violence – were sadly normalised. His childhood was defined by family closeness as well as family strife, plus a wonderful freedom that he and his cousins exploited to the full – for better and for worse.

When he made the decision to take his talents across the Nullarbor to Melbourne to chase his footballing dreams – homesickness be damned – everything changed. Over the ensuing years, Betts became a true giant of the sport: 350-plus games, 600-plus goals, multiple All-Australian nods and Goal of the Year awards, and a league-wide popularity rarely seen in the hyper-tribal AFL.

Along the way, he battled his demons before his turbulent youth settled into responsible maturity. Today, the man the Melbourne tabloids once dubbed ‘bad boy Betts’ is a dedicated husband and father, a respected community leader and an increasingly outspoken social activist.

Sometimes funny, sometimes tragic and always honest – often laceratingly so – The Boy from Boomerang Crescent is the inspirational life story of a champion, in his own words. Whether he’s narrating one of his trademark gravity-defying goals from the pocket, the discrimination he’s faced as an Aboriginal person or the birth of his first child, Betts’s voice – intelligent, soulful, unpretentious – rings through on every page.

The very human story behind the plaudits is one that will surprise, move and inspire.

Whether it be growing up under the eye of police, being away from family, living under the treat of racism and the challenges of educating others about culture, The Boy from Boomerang Crescent celebrates how Eddie Betts has managed to achieve greatness in the face of adversity.

Listening to Luke Carroll’s reading of the book, this was one of those books that you did not want to put down or pause. I think it was Betts’ humility, generousity and honesty. At no point is he selling tickets to the Betts show.  Although there are stories of racism in football or police, this only seems to fuel his perseverance and resiliance.

On finishing the book, I could not help but think how many chances and sacrifices have been involved for Betts to make it. He often comes back to the statement ‘It takes a village’. Even with all of his instinctual talent, it feels like there are so many points where he might have missed a training session, a game, a club expectation, that could of had him missing out.

Although I saw various headlines about this book when it was released, I was particularly drawn to it after listening to Betts’ discussion with Hamish Blake on How Other Dad’s Dad.

Read CONVERSATIONS – a new book by Steve Reich by Steve ReichSteve Reich

A surprising, enlightening series of conversations that shed new light on the music and career of “our greatest living composer” (New York Times).

Steve Reich is a living legend in the world of contemporary classical music. As a leader of the minimalist movement in the 1960s, his works have become central to the musical landscape worldwide, influencing generations of younger musicians, choreographers and visual artists. He has explored non-Western music and American vernacular music from jazz to rock, as well as groundbreaking music and video pieces. He toured the world with his own ensemble and his compositions are performed internationally by major orchestras and ensembles.

I remember playing Steve Reich’s Different Trains for my Year 11 student’s when studying the Holocaust. I used it as a means of exploring how we represent a topic, such as the past. after reading Conversations, I wonder if I really understood the complexity of the piece at the time, let alone what my students thought.

Through conversations held during the peek of COVID lockdowns, as well as some pieces from the past, Steve Reich speaks with various people who have been a part of his music over time, including:

  • David Lang
  • Brian Eno
  • Richard Serra
  • Michael Gordon
  • Michael Tilson Thomas
  • Russell Hartenberger
  • Robert Hurwitz
  • Stephen Sondheim
  • Jonny Greenwood
  • David Harrington
  • Elizabeth Lim-Dutton
  • David Robertson
  • Micaela Haslam
  • Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
  • Julia Wolfe
  • Nico Muhly
  • Beryl Korot
  • Colin Currie
  • Brad Lubman

Whether it be a part of creating it, reproducing it or engaging with it, each of the conversations adds a different perspective to Reich’s music.

The book was inspired by Conversations with Igor Stravinsky. Like that book, it provides a means of looking back at a long and distinguished career.

What fascinates me about such a long career is how technology had changed and evolved and the impact that this has had. It is interesting to listen to discussions about phasing associated with It’s Gonna Rain and thinking about someone like Fred Again and his use of everyday samples. I would love to know Reich’s thoughts on this.

I recently read Tony Cohen’s Half Deaf, Completely Mad and was left thinking that there is so much about music that I just overlook. I think books like this, which dive into some more complex and technical topics, are useful in gaining a peek behind the curtain.


Chapter 3. Richard Serra

“Best to do what you have been assigned to do. I have been given my assignment just as everyone has his or her assignment.”

Chapter 4. Michael Gordon

I think of harmony like rocket fuel. It’s such a big event.

I think we all meet who we’re supposed to meet and encounter what we’re supposed to encounter, and how that works, we don’t exactly know.

Chapter 5. Michael Tilson Thomas

MTT: I think a lot of the time what a conductor does is to confirm things that are happening. That’s a very important role.

I was talking with Sondheim, and I asked him, “How do you get this marvelous continuity, it seems to just pour out of you.” He said, “I could ask you the same question. It takes an infinite amount of hard work to make something sound like it’s effortless.” And I totally agree. There is more in my garbage can, whether it’s on the Mac desktop or the one filled with paper, than there is on a printed page. And it’s always been that way. I am my own worst critic. There is no critic who can compare to the criticism that I have inflicted on myself.

Chapter 6. Russell Hartenberger

I’ve often thought, it’s as if some artists of the same generation have receivers built into their brains, so to speak, and if they tune in to the same stations, they bond together. There is something literally in the air. Artists will pick up on that, and for all kinds of reasons, whether they’re listening to non-Western music or early Bob Dylan or Junior Walker with a repeating bass line or the first prelude of the Well-Tempered Clavier with the same rhythmic pattern repeated or Pérotin with those long held tones. All kinds of things seem to lock in.

Chapter 10. David Harrington

If I’m channeling it, I’m just the channel, I just work here!

Chapter 19. Brad Lubman

Well, to tell you the truth, I have always written both in a manuscript book and worked in real sound. Earlier on I had tape recorders. For Piano Phase, I recorded the pattern, made a tape loop of it and then sat down and played against it. In Drumming, say in the marimba section, which phase position works best? One beat ahead, two beats? Try it. Record it. Overdub it. I have always worked in real sound. And during the process, I would play back those prerecorded sections and critique them, as well. When I was writing Tehillim and didn’t play strings or winds, I would play them on a synth. Also, during that period of time I worked with my ensemble, I would compose so much and then we’d get into rehearsal right away. So, my music was rehearsed and corrections made while composing. That way of working continued up through The Desert Music in 1984, where I could only rehearse [a] small group of instruments. I started using computer notation in ’85 with Electric Counterpoint. And I mocked up the guitar using a sampling keyboard with a guitar sample. Then, a couple of years later, I started using Sibelius computer notation software with midi playback. So, in a way, it’s been smoothly continuous, always rooted in sound and always rooted in revision en route.

Read Jack Charles by Jack Charles

Jack Charles has worn many hats throughout his life: actor, cat burglar, musician, heroin addict, activist, even Senior Victorian Australian of the Year. But the title he’s most proud to claim is that of Aboriginal Elder.

I wrote my review of Jack Charles here.


CHAPTER 1: Stolen

Back in the day, Box Hill Boys’ Home had a good reputation as an open institution that housed the city’s forgotten children. But, as was only revealed many years later, it was a place that also housed forbidden, dark secrets; unspeakable crimes committed against the children placed in its care.

Despite being a willing learner, I was often overlooked for educational opportunities. Other kids would be taught things like geography, or arithmetic – which I didn’t do well at – while I was sent off to clean the quadrangle, or to spend an hour watering the gardens instead. Most of my assigned jobs would include quite menial tasks.

Though I wasn’t encouraged to be academic, I did have the benefit of one particular teacher, my favourite, who took it upon himself to give me elocution lessons. I think because I was Aboriginal he thought I needed to be assimilated. And what better way to do it than to teach me the Queen’s English?

One member of staff had a room directly opposite my bed. He was one of my abusers. He often came to my bed to do painful and humiliating things in the middle of the night. It wasn’t just me, either. He used to take one or two boys at a time into his room.

There was an older boy who molested me in the home. Thanks to my job as school cleaner, I knew how to sneak into the building and slide the lock so he couldn’t get in. That was a small measure of protection. I liked to be alone in the school. I knew how spotless the floor was, having just cleaned it myself, and I loved the feeling of lying there quietly and peacefully. My other escape from this boy was to go to the back of the school and climb the pine trees.

I didn’t realise until recent years, but the gym at Box Hill Boys’ Home is what sparked my interest in acting.

I counselled myself through those terrible times. That silencing of my pain and anguish led to a heroin addiction, which took over much of my adult life.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give to anybody struggling with the trauma of past abuse is to talk about it. It’s difficult to open up, but I try to encourage folks to reflect on themselves during those moments of suffering – without a sense of blame and shame. What you were subjected to is a part of your lived experience and, as unfortunate as it is, it happened. Come what may, you have to relegate it to a section of the old grey matter up top. Leave it there, until you wanna talk about it in a group session or it comes up naturally in conversation.

CHAPTER 2: Kinship Connections

I can’t be certain why I ended up with Mrs Murphy instead of Norma and Kevin, but I think she wanted me for herself. I’ve got letters written by her to the Aborigines Welfare Board, explaining that she’d become fond of ‘young Jacky’ and asking if I could live with them permanently. The letters don’t mention another pertinent detail: that when it came to fostering children, people got a bit more money if they took on an Aboriginal kid. This was another way the government enacted its Assimilation Policy.

I remember one particular evening, I saw a bunch of kids getting off the train at Blackburn station, joining the masses in the village. The numbers kept growing. The air was thick with tension and testosterone. The boys were all ribbing each other and carrying on, and it got quite intense. People started tearing palings off nearby shops, using other bits of wood and grabbing iron bars and just going at each other. It was like something out of a movie. I legged it out of there quick smart, before anyone could clock me.

‘Jack Charles, meet Don Bradman. Don Bradman, meet Jack Charles.’ There I was, minding my own business at the factory, when all of a sudden I was shaking hands with one of Australia’s biggest sporting legends. At the time I didn’t appreciate just how big a deal this was.

My Aboriginality was rarely discussed with the Murphys. On the odd occasion it came up with Mum, she would simply insist I was an orphan and that was the end of the story.

Connecting to culture and kin would complete the wonderful stage I was finally at in my life, after the damage done in the home. I’d landed on my feet and things were going well. As the old-style tram rattled heavily along the tracks, I was nervous and blissfully unaware of the danger of what I was doing. I had no idea at the time, but because I was still a ward of state, it was actually a criminal act to seek out my birth family. It was something you could be imprisoned for.

Over the years, I’ve had dreams of what would’ve happened if Mrs Murphy had accepted my news and bounced around joyously with me, holding my hand. What if she had celebrated my discovery, rather than punishing me? Where would I have ended up then? Instead, the night I discovered my blood kin, I lost my foster family. That night, I stopped believing in God.

CHAPTER 3: Comrades

I was released from Turana thanks to my RMS Glass boss, Alf. He’d called up Mrs Murphy asking for his ‘favourite little worker’, and found out I’d been sent away. I don’t know the details of their conversation; all I know is that Alf offered to take care of me. He was as good as his word and bailed me out of Turana that same day.

Feeling unwanted by the Aboriginal community, I turned to my old friends from Box Hill to fill the gap in my heart. A notable number of the lads, however, were heading for a life of crime and I was young and immature. It was hard to speak up and I found myself getting influenced by them a lot.

CHAPTER 4: Locked Up

Jail is a place that reflects a significant binary in my life. It represents the damage done to me as part of systemic racism, but it has also been a place of strength and empowerment. It’s easy to be cynical about gaining empowerment from an institution designed for punishment, but for me jail was a place of respite. I could rest my weary head and draw on my lived experiences and education to be of service to other prisoners. Jail was where I completed my fourth, fifth and sixth form secondary education. It was also where I had time and space to indulge in my love of reading.

It was always whitefellas getting me to write their letters. I don’t remember any blakfellas asking me to write for them. I’d make sure to use just the right language and phrases so these unsuspecting women back home would know they were number one. And the payment for my efforts? Tobacco and chocolate. This letter-writing business held me in good stead. I always rolled out of prison having gained a few pounds.

CHAPTER 5: The Prodigal Son

My friends pointed out that I could write the letter to my mother and address it care of the Swan Hill police. So I did. The sergeant wrote back saying, ‘It would be good to see you. I know your mum well.’

The publican at the Federal let me keep my luggage behind the bar, as it was too early for check-in. I had never drunk alcohol at this point, but I bought a carton of Melbourne Bitter. I kept it with my suitcase. It was a hot day, so I decided I’d go for a swim. I quickly downed a lemon squash and then off I went to the Swan Hill Baths. When I arrived there, I patiently lined up, got my togs ready and when it was my turn to enter, was told I couldn’t come in.
I looked at them, shocked. ‘What?’ I asked. ‘I can’t swim here?’ My brain was scrambling to understand.
The staff members shook their head. ‘No. You’re not allowed in. If you wanna swim, you have to go to the Murray down there.’

CHAPTER 6: Head Over Heels

The second I was on stage in front of those bright lights – mate, I loved it. I felt I belonged. I paid the five shillings required to join the New Theatre and stayed with them for about seven years.

Truth be told, I wasn’t certain of my own political beliefs. I didn’t understand, or care about, the difference between Marxism and Leninism. All I knew was that I loved the theatre, and the theatre loved me.

I learned a lot working for the New Theatre for those seven years. I credit that joint with my acting training, and I consider it as good as any NIDA course. I got to play a whole range of different characters. I played a West African, West Indian, South African and others. Funnily enough, I never played an Aboriginal.

Jack kind of plucked me out of semi-obscurity. He and his friends introduced me to a bigger world of art and art lovers. He even got me into jazz – a favourite haunt of ours was a traditional jazz club on Franklin Street, at Frank Trainers, in Melbourne’s CBD. Jack was great company. He was also kind and very gentle. I got to know his family and friends, and soon enough I was kicking around with his old schoolmates from a Melbourne private school, and their girlfriends. This was the gang we mucked around with in those days.

I hadn’t any idea about how to look after a car and didn’t know you had to actually wash it, polish it and start the motor from time to time. So the car sat there for a period with no one driving it. In time, I organised to have it dropped off to his old man, which I should’ve done earlier. By the time it was driven there, Jack’s car was a bit of a wreck.

CHAPTER 7: Collecting Rent

Even though hanging out with the Box Hill boys led me back down the path of crime, I was mostly carrying out the burgs on my own, late at night. It was quiet in those leafy, dark suburbs. In those days, there weren’t as many streetlights. It was much easier to not be seen. I kept myself company by singing as I prowled the streets. And I’d rehearse my lines while going from one place to another. Walking, walking, power walking; I did a shitload of it. To this day, I credit walking for my longevity, despite being a regular smoker.

I remember spotting one of the first three-in-one TV, cassette player and radios that came into Australia. It was in a house in Kew. Not only did I spot it, but I stole and sold it. Now that I knew this house was particularly well stocked with goods, I decided to go back the following month. I couldn’t believe it: they’d bought another set! They would’ve had to order it from overseas. I stole that one too.

In the middle of the night, when you’re doing a burg, your senses become heightened. And not just for me, but also for those sleeping. Invariably, it’s the woman who senses that something’s not right. They have a sixth sense that kicks in even when they’re asleep.
That stillness in the air can be stirred merely by opening a door, so entry has to be extremely quick. It’s an art, shutting that door as quietly and quickly as you can, so as not to change the atmosphere of a room. Sometimes people can detect the very air being disturbed in their sleep and that’s enough to wake them.

When I discovered my connection to this traditional land, I started thinking of my burgs as ‘collecting rent’; taking back just a small piece of what had been cruelly stolen from me and my people.

‘Yeah,’ he said, not taking his eyes off me. ‘He’s here in the bedroom. Call the police.’
‘No. I want to see him first,’ she replied, and entered the room. She took one look at me and exclaimed, ‘You’re Jack Charles!’ I shrank at the recognition. This woman had seen me in a show. And thank goodness for that. She happened to also be an enthusiastic supporter of the arts, so she didn’t call the cops. Instead, she invited me to sit in their kitchen for a cup of tea and a chat.
‘Jack,’ she said softly. ‘Why are you doing this? Why are you robbing people’s places?’
I struggled to give her an answer. ‘Well, the theatre only employs me when they want an Aboriginal. And those gigs are few and far between.’
She looked at me kindly. ‘All right, Jack. We won’t call the police, but please don’t rob us again.’

There were times when I was tired of doing burgs and wanted to be caught. Just so I could get some rest in jail.

CHAPTER 8: Psycho Ceramica

Within a year or two of starting pottery classes at Castlemaine, I was tasked with running the workshops. I named the shop ‘Psycho Ceramica’ because you had to be a crackpot to be in the nick in the first place. When prisoners stepped into my workspace, they abided by the rules. You couldn’t muck up, fuck up or be stuck up. If you did, you’d be out. It was that simple. Which isn’t to say the fellas didn’t try it. Every now and then, you’d get some cheeky bugger trying his luck making a bong. Before it went in the kiln, I’d secretly chuck some water on it, making it explode. I’d innocently say, ‘Oh geez, mate – not sure what happened there. Must’ve been an air bubble. Shame, eh?’ Whatever tomfoolery went on in Psycho Ceramica, I had no tolerance for it and would put an end to it. I knew what the space meant, not just for me, but for others. I couldn’t risk the possibility of the workshops being shut down because of one person’s fuck-up.

In jail, sometimes you put your name down to see the prison doctor, just for something to do. You’ve got to go through a couple of different sections of the jail to find the medical centre. It helps break the monotony and gives you a change of scene.

The trick to surviving prison is to never involve yourself in anything. If you feel slighted or unhappy about a comment or incident, you act deaf. Show no reaction. But there are times when you need to show that you’re tough.

Showing fear in jail only makes your life harder. I’ve seen others succumb to it. One poor young fella in F division was picked on, raped and assaulted by the others to the point where he expected it every night. He was resigned to it.

CHAPTER 9: Taking Rage to the Stage

When the Arts Council gave me a grant to start an Aboriginal theatre, I co-founded it with Bob. We wanted to develop a modern blak theatre movement – the first blak theatre company in Australia. I remember flipping through a small Aboriginal language book and coming across the word ‘Nindethana’, which means ‘ours’

In 1972, The Pram Factory produced the play Bastardy, written by John Romeril and directed by Bruce Spence. It was based loosely on my alcoholic memories of meeting my mother for the first time, and was well reviewed as a fine example of Romeril’s powerful writing and a significant tale of the Stolen Generations.

The Opera House waited until the very last moment before finally calling me and agreeing to pay all the girls the correct fee. I told them, ‘I’m so pissed off with you, ya bastards. Y’know, making those girls wait so long.’ I paused but there was no response. Time to pull out the big guns. ‘Okay, I’ll stay, but I’m going to do Bennelong naked. Fuck yas.’ It seemed like a fair exchange for the stress we’d been put under. And so I did it. Wandered on stage and performed the show with me willy dangling on the Opera House stage.

I still wasn’t drinking. I’d go into pubs to check out music and for the social aspect of it but didn’t touch so much as a drop. Instead, I got into heroin because I needed some foible, as you do.

heroin soon had me in its grip. It was straight out of the frying pan and into the fire.

CHAPTER 10: My Brother Archie

Discovering family gave me a new lease on life and sense of purpose. It was nice to instantly become an uncle. And a brother.

Folks will find themselves in a space together and they’ll look at each other and say, ‘’Scuse me, what’s your name? What mob are you from?’ They’re the first questions we ask if we see another blak person. It’s a meaningful way to establish a connection of sorts – profound or otherwise. White people see themselves everywhere and so their sense of identity is such that they don’t need to necessarily go searching for that connection. But for blakfellas, that yearning for culture, kin and community runs deep.

Archie wandered around Fitzroy asking strangers for money to support his drug habit. He was a good coal-biter; forceful and very insistent, and you could hear him coming from a long way away. Coal-biting is when you’re begging and not trying to offer anything in return (unlike, say, a pan-handler or a busker). He was very forceful and would sometimes grab people’s arms as they walked past. I told him, ‘Don’t do that, Archie. It’s abusive.’ But he didn’t give it a second thought to encroach on a person’s space. You know, people would be sitting enjoying their latté and brunch down on Smith Street or Brunswick Street and he’d approach them and spray saliva all over them while asking for spare change. They’d give him a note to get him to piss off so he wouldn’t be spitting all over their food and drink.

Turns out Archie had been busted doing over many of the same houses I’d done, particularly around the Kooyong area.

From all along the east coast, New South Wales, to Victoria and South Australia, ‘moom’ was a well-known word for ‘bum’ and ‘Moomba’ means ‘up ya bum’. God, we bloody hooted. We laughed our tits off.

I didn’t know Archie had that arrangement with those three Yugoslavs. I never met or spoke with them. They injected poisonous shit into my brother that meant he was never the same. Years later, when I asked Archie what’d been injected into him he frantically and loudly cried out in his staccato manner of speaking, ‘They. Gave. Me. Bon Ami!’ That’s the powder you clean your sinks with. That’s what they injected into Archie. My brother. A brutal combination of heroin and Bon Ami that went straight into his veins and forever changed him. Bloody shocking.

I was living in the George Wright Hostel when Archie came out of Aradale and he came directly to me. Seeing him really shocked me because physically he’d changed so much. He was limping, had a hunched back and his arm was often stretched up and curled over his head. Someone said it was a sign of Archie trying to protect himself from bashings but I knew it was something more than that and was likely an overload of the psych drugs they’d given him. My heart sank with sadness and fear.

A couple of months later I was told that they’d tried to get the medical records from Pentridge, but they couldn’t find them.
They tried to get the records from Aradale, but they couldn’t find them.
They tried to get the records from H Division. But they couldn’t find them.
I don’t know if the records were destroyed or what happened, but to this day I still want answers.

CHAPTER 11: The Raging Brer Rabbit

There were two or three others with drug habits, but I was the only one on heroin. We ended up looking out for each other.

One of the actors stood up one day and said, ‘You know, they say actors should never work with children and animals? Well, I’ve got a new saying: “Never work with children, animals and Jack Charles”!’ and everyone screamed with laughter, including myself.

CHAPTER 12: The Fairy Kingdom and a Funeral

Creatively, Bastardy was a risky undertaking for both of us. I was deep in the throes of addiction at that time and the story could very well have ended tragically. As I say in the film, ‘If I hide anything, it wouldn’t be a true depiction.’ Well, nothing was hidden. No stone was left unturned. You see me burgs, you see me shooting up, sleeping on a cardboard box under a stairwell – getting busted, heading into jail, leaving jail. Amiel captured it all during those seven years and shared it with the world. The very last burg I did was captured there in that doco. There’s a scene where Amiel tells me he’s received a phone call. The homeowner’s security camera had busted me.

I’m not sure what compels a person to rob a friend of a friend, but in my case all I can say is it was borderline kleptomania.

Despite Bastardy’s success, I couldn’t escape my past. Sometimes it didn’t just come back to haunt me, it straight up bit me on the moom. In 2010 I was invited to do two Q and A’s at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival in the United Kingdom. I’d just acquired my brand-spanking-new passport to travel over and we were set to take Sheffield by storm, except that I had forgotten about my extensive rap sheet. Four days before I was to fly out, the British High Commission refused my visa.
I was beside myself. In a panic, I called Amiel, who was in London, to update him on this dilemma. He was shocked. But life has a funny way of turning things around. When I called Amiel, he happened to be in the company of Australian singer-songwriter Missy Higgins. Concerned, she listened to Amiel’s conversation with me and heard my plaintive cry. Missy didn’t skip a beat. She hopped on the blower and rang Peter Garrett, who was the Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts at that time, to see if he could intervene on my behalf. How’s that for a bit of luck? I had two rockers getting together to make a pathway for me. I waited impatiently and nervously to see what the outcome would be.

It turned out Archie came out of Aradale with a sexually transmitted disease – HIV. He also had kidney disease due to hepatitis C. If all of that wasn’t enough, he had tuberculosis – which beggars belief. The only blakfella I know in Melbourne who had tuberculosis. Poor fella.

They had to know full well that I, Jack Charles, was too far up meself to audition. It’s true. When it comes to acting roles, auditioning and getting knocked back just won’t do. I’m very lucky to be in the unique position where I’m not forced to audition in order to be seriously considered for roles. The great Australian actor Bill Hunter never auditioned either, so I take my lead from him. He told me once, ‘I get away with it so often, Jack. Thing is, I can’t act but everybody reckons I can.’ It was a relief to hear someone of his calibre say that, not to mention his advice that I should be more assertive. I responded, ‘Well, I’m in the same boat, Bill. So long as we know our lines and create the illusion of being someone else, then we’ll get across the line. You know, if it works for us, it’ll work for the audience.’

My criminal record was more than twenty pages long and Warner Brothers wanted me on their set in a week. But such is the influence of Warner Brothers that my visa was approved in twenty-four hours. It had taken eighteen months to have my visa approved in order to get me over to London to do my Jack Charles v The Crown show, but there I was in next to no time with a visa.

CHAPTER 13: Senior Victorian Australian of the Year

Hair is not the same as race. It’s not. That there could even be a correlation made between the two beggars belief, but there you have it. This dismissiveness, denial and unwillingness to listen and show genuine empathy is in itself a form of racism. I said in response that, no, Goodes was not being sensitive. I described Australia as being ‘uniquely racist’, particularly towards First Nations Australians. I stand by that.

Daniel Andrews, stood up in front of me. He’s a big fella with an extremely large moom, so I got up and hid behind that! If you were looking front on, you wouldn’t have been able to see my hair on either side of his body. I shrank behind him and thought, ‘This is good. Thank you, Danny boy.’

‘I’ve never been asked to pay a sum of money upfront. I believe you’re being a racist, mate. You’re racially vilifying me.’ We refused to pay the driver upfront and I told him what he was doing was against the law. Furthermore, I told him I’d take photos of him and make a complaint.

Seeing a row of taxis, I noticed the bloke waiting in my allocated bay. He spotted me, but as I began to wander over to him he took a good look at me in the rearview mirror, then started up the cab and drove off.

CHAPTER 14: Healing

I’m still pissed off over the fact that those of us of the Stolen Generations are still doing hard time in prisons. It’s intergenerational. If your father or mother was ripped from their family, they never got to learn about tribal lore or customs. Things like nurturing a child by wrapping them in a possum-skin cloak, or learning the basic necessities of the trees your feet brush past and where to find food or medicine in nature.

Heads of government don’t like the word ‘Treaty’. Then again, they don’t like the words ‘racism’ or ‘genocide’, either. They talk about ‘discovery’ and avoid the word ‘invasion’. These word choices seem small, but they go to show how unwilling the government is to be accountable and face the difficult truths of this nation’s history.

EPILOGUE: The Journey Never-ending

I am Jack Charles, son of Blanchie Charles. I am Boon Wurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Woiwurrung and Yorta Yorta. I’m not merely Koorie, not ‘just’ an Aboriginal.

For many Aboriginal people, the only time we get to see a doctor is when we’re in jail.

When you’re Stolen, not only is the system looking to eradicate your culture, it also messes up your personal history. Having your identity and sense of belonging ripped to shreds is an unspeakable horror. You feel bloody hoodwinked not even knowing your own life story. You might go years thinking events in your early life happened a particular way, only to discover there’s another version of events. Then you might find out that neither of those versions is correct. For instance, I thought I’d been taken when I was two months old. As an adult I found out that I was actually four months. It’s difficult to explain to those who don’t understand how this mucks up your head. When you’re Stolen, you desperately try to piece together the shattered fragments of your life story. When you’re given incorrect details, it’s infuriating. Among the lies, the deceit, misinformation and no information, you’re trying to identify what is actually real and correct.

Ultimately, the essence of being a Stolen person is that you’re always trying to find out who the hell you are.

Read book by Moby by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

Porcelain: A Memoir is a 2016 memoir by American house musician Moby. Covering his youth in the 1970s until his worldwide success in the late 1990s with Play, the book also discusses the author’s spiritual struggles as a Christian, initial avoidance of and eventual recreational drug use,[1] and interest in animal rights and veganism. The book has been met favorably by critics. He had plans for a future volume covering the following decade, which he eventually released in 2019 under the title Then It Fell Apart.[2][3]

Growing up, I remember hearing Moby’s music, but I never owned (or even downloaded) any albums. To be honest, my memory of Moby is as much via TISM’s Moby-Dick Head:

Dear Moby

Having read your liner notes, I now violently oppose pain, death, famine, disease, slaughter, war, youth suicide, pollution, hitting your finger with the hammer, parking in disabled car parks, the industrial military complex, the death of innocent third world people, especially the children.

By the way, I’d like to thank Mohammed and the Dalai Lama, safari suits and stating the fucking obvious.

I stumbled upon Moby’s memoir Porcelain in the local libraries BorrowBox platform and .

After reading (or listening to Moby read) the book, I was left conflicted how I felt about Moby as both a person and an artist. I guess I went into the book hoping for some insight into the creative process, but instead came away wondering about the creative.

As a narrative, the memoir traces Moby’s life from the late eighties when he was living in a factory, until the release of Play at the end of nineties. For me, it has all the expectations of a memoir. A regular smattering of other famous people such as Jeff Buckley, Trent Reznor and Robert Downey Jnr. Coming from nowhere to seemingly succeed. Coming to some sort of realisation about life. In some ways, this felt similar to Bobby Gillespie’s Tenement Kid.

The style of the book was often very matter of fact, contradictions and all. For example, in the beginning he recounts leading bible studies and contemplating giving up all his worldly possessions to follow God, like some sort of modern St Francis of Assisi. While the book ends in a world awash with alcohol and sex, and no prayers for forgiveness afterwards. It was interesting thinking about this alongside Tom Tilley’s memoir, where he turned away from Pentecostal church. The difference was I found Tilley’s account to be more believable, whereas Moby almost came across as a fractured character out of some sort of modern Francis O’Conner story.

Overall, Porclein is another reminder of how many repetitions it often takes to get to any semblance of success. Therefore, the challenge as Austin Kleon would suggest is to ‘just keep going’.

Read series of books by Enid Blyton by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

The Faraway Tree is a series of popular novels for children by British author Enid Blyton. The titles in the series are The Enchanted Wood (1939), The Magic Faraway Tree (1943), The Folk of the Faraway Tree (1946) and Up the Faraway Tree (1951).

We recently went on a driving holiday and I borrowed out an audiobook reading of Enid Blyton’s The Enchanted Wood, read by Kate Winslet. Although we did not get around to listening to it in the car as I thought, I listened to it personally. I was left wondering if there was anything as comparable in today’s books, maybe the Rainbow Magic series?

The Children’s Bach (1984) is a novella by Australian writer Helen Garner. It was her third published book and her second novel. It was well received critically both in Australia and abroad.

I recently read Murray Bail’s Eucalypt and discovered he was married to Helen Garner. I had never actually read any of Garner’s work, so found The Children’s Bach on the local library’s audiobook app.

Like Raymond Carver, Frank Moorhouse, David Williamson, it feels like Helen Garner’s writing captures a zeitgeist through everyday ordinariness of small moments or ‘eventlets’ that are often caught in glimpses. This might be an overheard conversation, a passing comment or a chance observation. Take for example the comment about concerts:

‘Dexter!’ she said. ‘Nobody dances with anybody any more!’

Interestingly, I think that Garner’s writing style is best summarised by Philip, one of the characters in the book, who provides some feedback to a fellow artist, just replace ‘song’ with book:

Listen. I like your song. Look, I’ll give you a tip. Go home and write it again. Take out the clichés. Everybody knows ‘‘It always happens this way’’ or ‘‘I went in with my eyes wide open’’. Cut that stuff out. Just leave in the images. Know what I mean? You have to steer a line between what you understand and what you don’t. Between cliché and the other thing. Make gaps. Don’t chew on it. Don’t explain everything. Leave holes. The music will do the rest.’

Ben Lerner describes this as a mixture of ‘intimacy and distance’.

What a summary of the plot can’t capture is how the point of view moves rapidly but somehow seamlessly among various characters, focussing on and through them, before it alights on someone else. But this ability to depict multiple perspectives is cut with a sense of how little access we really have to other minds and motivations; Garner’s prose is a singular mixture of intimacy and distance.

Source: Unheard Melodies: On Helen Garner’s “The Children’s Bach” by Ben Lerner

The world is presented in a non-judgemental way, with Garner both celebrating and critiquing the world of responsibility and commitment.

Peter Hayes has highlighted how this can sometimes be confusing or inconsistent.

There’s a hollowness to The Children’s Bach that is ultimately what makes it so tiresome to read: it isn’t really about anything, nor does it tell the entertaining story that would redeem it to that extent.

Source: The Children’s Bach Reconsidered by Peter Hayes

I wonder though if this is maybe how life is? Is the reality produced through the reading, rather than the book itself?

I vaguely remember my grandmother talking about Garner’s non-fiction writing, but really cannot imagine her reading this. Maybe I just did not really know my grandmother that well.