The First World War is the fourth in my Adventures in Time series, and in many ways was the most exciting to write. It’s a colossal, epic tale, telling the story of the war from the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in the summer of 1914 to the moment the guns fell silent on the Western Front on 11 November 1918.

We often remember the First World War as a muddy, bloody, tragic waste, and in many ways it was. But purely as a story, it could hardly be bettered. The cast of characters includes everybody from Kaiser Wilhelm II, Edith Cavell, Rasputin and the Red Baron to Wilfred Owen, T. E. Lawrence and J. R. R. Tolkien.

There are some breathtakingly dramatic moments: the German attack on Scarborough, the sinking of the Lusitania, the first day of the Somme and the outbreak of the Russian Revolution. There are Sikhs and Cossacks, dashing air aces and footballing Tommies.

And at its heart, as in all the Adventures in Time, are the stories of ordinary people themselves: teenage heroines and plucky Boy Scouts, plunged into a clash of empires that would change the course of history for ever.

THE FIRST WORLD WAR – Adven­tures in Time

With The First World War – Adven­tures in Time, Dominic Sandbrook carves his way through the First World War, zooming in and out throughout. I think that what makes this a ‘children’s book’ is that Sandbrook does not get bogged down in nuisance and complexity. Instead, the book picks out some interesting bits and pieces, such as Franz Ferdinand shooting 275,000 animals, including kangaroos, taxis driving soldiers to the Battle of the Marne, and coffee made from sand, that make it more than a jump from one battle to the next.

What I enjoyed the most about the book is Sandbrooks ability to pick particular individuals and situations that helps us appreciate the human side of the war. In some part this approach reminded me of Anthony Hill’s Soldier Boy and the fictional recreation of the past.

I think that it is a useful book in grasping the main parts of the First World War and offers a useful jumping off point for readers who then want to explore various elements further.

The Rest Is History Club”
in The Rest Is History | Membership ()

Read For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls is a novel by Ernest Hemingway published in 1940. It tells the story of Robert Jordan, a young American volunteer attached to a Republican “Republican faction (Spanish Civil War)”) guerrilla unit during the Spanish Civil War. As a dynamiter, he is assigned to blow up a bridge during an attack on the city of Segovia.

It was published just after the end of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), whose general lines were well known at the time. It assumes the reader knows that the war was between the government of the Second Spanish Republic, which many foreigners went to Spain to help and which was supported by the Communist Soviet Union, and the Nationalist faction “Nationalist faction (Spanish Civil War)”), which was supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy “Fascist Italy (1922–1943)”). In 1940, the year the book was published, the United States had not yet entered World War II, which began on September 1, 1939, with Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland.[1]

I decided to read For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway after my grandfather said that he was interested in the audiobook when I was helping him search for books to listen to. There are many authors I feel I know about, but have not actually read. I was not exactly sure what to expect with this novel. I did not really do any pre-reading.

I found that it was one of those novels that percolates long afterwards. It would be easy to summarise it as a novel about “blowing up a bridge”, which it literally is. However, that takes away from the real point, the thoughts of a soldier in preparing to blow a bridge, ‘grace under fire’.

Turn off the thinking now, old timer, old comrade. You’re a bridge-blower now. Not a thinker. Man, I’m hungry, he thought. I hope Pablo eats well.

As Mark Cirino touches on:

Mark Cirino: So Hemingway once said, “The worst thing that a soldier can have is imagination, but it’s the most important thing that a writer must have.”

Source: Podcast #922: For Whom the Bell Tolls by Brett & Kate McKay

Overall, Cirino provides a good discussion of the book on the Art of Manliness podcast. For Cirino, the novel represents Hemingway’s concerted effort to present a picture of humanity from both sides, observing life through the good things and bad. For example, he does not hide from violence perpetuated by either side of the conflict. This focus on humanity is framed from the beginning through the reference to John Donne’s poem:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
As well as if a promontory were:
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were.

Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Source: No Man Is an Island by John Donne

The story revolves around Robert Jordan, a character with many similarities to Hemingway. He is cramming life and love into three days. It uses free indirect style to cycle the god’s eye view through the mind of the protagonist.

After reading the novel and recently reading All Quiet on the Western Front I was left wondering if it is easier to know history as a series of dates, numbers and characters, but harder to appreciate what it all actually means in the moment?

Continue reading “📚 For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway)”

Read All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

All Quiet on the Western Front (German: Im Westen nichts Neues, lit. ’In the West, nothing new’) is a novel by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of World War I. The book describes the German soldiers’ extreme physical and mental trauma during the war as well as the detachment from civilian life felt by many upon returning home from the war.

The novel was first published in November and December 1928 in the German newspaper Vossische Zeitung and in book form in late January 1929. The book and its sequel, The Road Back (1930), were among the books banned and burned in Nazi Germany. All Quiet on the Western Front sold 2.5 million copies in 22 languages in its first 18 months in print

All Quiet on the Western Front by Wikipedia

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque centers on Paul Bäumer and his experience of the Western Front during World War 1. Through the journey of the novel, Remarque manages to captures so many facets of war, whether it be training, food, lice, gas, hunger and recovery for a generation “destroyed by the war”.

Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine-guns, hand-grenades–words, words, but they hold the horror of the world.

Our faces are encrusted, our thoughts are devastated, we are weary to death; when the attack comes we shall have to strike many of the men with our fists to waken them and make them come with us–our eyes are burnt, our hands are torn, our knees bleed, our elbows are raw.

I think that this all well represented in the 2022 film version, even if there are some adaptive changes.

In some respects the attempt to capture so many different facets feels similar to Peter Jackson’s documentary They Shall Not Grow Old. However, where they differ is that by focusing on a single individual, I feel Remarque is able to take us further inside some of the thoughts and feelings of the soldier.

Terror can be endured so long as a man simply ducks;–but it kills, if a man thinks about it.

It is interesting to compare Paul’s return home on leave with the account of soldiers returning home after the war in The Road Back.

Continue reading “📚 All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque)”

Read The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan

From the winner of the Man Booker Prize. What would you do if you turned on the television and saw you were the most wanted terrorist in the country?

After spending a night with an attractive stranger, Gina Davies becomes a prime suspect in an attempted terrorist attack. When police find three unexploded bombs at a stadium, Gina goes on the run and witnesses every truth of her life turned into a betrayal.

A devastating picture of a world where the ceaseless drumbeat of terror alerts, news breaks, and fear of the unknown push one woman ever closer to breaking point, The Unknown Terrorist is a novel that with each passing year seems more relevant and more prophetic.

The Unknown Terrorist, the fourth novel by the Australian novelist Richard Flanagan, tells the story of Gina ‘Doll’ Davies, a stripper who becomes embroiled in a terrorist plot. The various elements of her life, whether it be not having a bank account or the job that she chooses to do, mean that she is made the scapegoat for a terrorist threat.

I wrote a longer reflection here.

Continue reading “📚 The Unknown Terrorist (Richard Flanagan)”

Read Lola In The Mirror by SupaduDevSupaduDev

A girl and her mother have been on the run for sixteen years, from police and the monster they left in their kitchen with a knife in his throat. They’ve found themselves a home inside a van with four flat tyres parked in a scrapyard by the edge of the Brisbane River.

The girl has no name because names are dangerous when you’re on the run. But the girl has a dream. A vision of a life as an artist of international acclaim. A life outside the grip of the Brisbane underworld drug queen ‘Lady’ Flora Box. A life of love with the boy who’s waiting for her on the bridge that stretches across a flooding, deadly river. A life beyond the bullet that has her name on it. And now that the storm clouds are rising, there’s only one person who can help make her dreams come true. That person is Lola and she carries all the answers. But to find Lola, the girl with no name must first do one of the hardest things we can ever do. She must look in the mirror.

I wrote a longer review here.


Mr and Mrs Finlay

France has the Mona Lisa. Egypt has the pyramids. Queensland has Moreton Bay bugs.

Santa Claus with Sore Head

Nothing. Not a single acknowledgement. And that makes perfect sense. For I do not exist. For I am nobody. For I am nothing. But then, truth be blurted, there’s power in being nobody. When you’re nobody, you are free to be anybody. Astronaut. Actress. Archaeologist. Or even a lowdown, dirty, send-her-straight-to-hell, suburban drug-slinger. Because if nobody can see you, then nobody can see your shame. Nobody can see your sorrow. And nobody can catch you crying your heart out.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

‘Her name is Phoebe Gould,’ Topping says. ‘Phoebe is the woman who wants to tell you who you really are. She’s asked to be the one who tells you everything. She’s convinced the story will be easier to . . . digest . . . if it comes from her. We tend to agree,’ he continues, ‘but we’re gonna play it how you wanna play it.’
‘It’s that bad, huh?’ I ask.
Millar leans forward at the desk. ‘It will be a difficult story for you to hear,’ he says.
‘I can handle difficult.’
‘Maybe difficult isn’t the right word,’ Millar says.
‘What’s a better word for it, Cameron?’ I ask. ‘Traumatising? Brutal? Impossible? Unbelievable? If it’s any of those, don’t sweat it. I can swallow any of those.’
He nods. Tucks his right thumb inside his fist and squeezes it three times.
‘Sad,’ Topping says. ‘Sad is the word for it.’
‘You must see a bit of it.’
‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘I see a bit of it. Too much.’
‘I’m sorry to add to the pile.’
He shakes his head. ‘I’m sorry you’ll have to hear such a sad story.’
‘How sad is it?’
‘Might be the saddest story I’ve ever heard. That’s why I’m not sure you should hear it from us.’

The Hunter and the Prey

Dark rooms are good for dreaming when you’re awake

Nothing real to be seen in darkness, she said, and nothing real to see you. You can be invisible down here. When you’re invisible, you’re no one. When you’re no one, you can be anyone.

‘I told you,’ Lola says, ‘your past is an unimaginable horror show of tragedy and intrigue. But, please remember this, the past has nothing to do with who you are. And the past has nothing to do with who you will be.’

The mirror was never magic,’ Lola says.
‘It wasn’t?’
‘Of course it wasn’t. Magic mirrors don’t exist.’
‘Then how come I can see you now?’
‘Because you are magic,’ Lola says. ‘You’ve always been magic. You’ve never needed a mirror to see who you are.’

Who Are You?

I am love. I am forgiveness. I am memory. I am misfortune. I am pain. I am art. I am friendship. I am family. I am sorrow. I am hate. I am rage. I am beauty. I am wonder. I am ink. I am blood. I am learning. I am longing. I am action. I am courage. I am laughter. I am joy. I am gratitude. I am fire. I am water. I am dirt. I am past. I am future. I am fate. I am taken. I am lost. I am returned. I am found. I am heard. I am seen. I am home. I am here.


Cat’s Cradle is a satirical postmodern novel, with science fiction elements, by American writer Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut’s fourth novel, it was first published in 1963, exploring and satirizing issues of science, technology, the purpose of religion, and the arms race, often through the use of morbid humor.

I had never read any of Kurt Vonnegut’s work and had little idea of what to expect. I could tell you that he wrote Slaughter House Five, but have no knowledge what the novel is about. I was watching The Deadliest Infectious Disease of All Time | Crash Course Lecture and John Green referenced a poem from Cat’s Cradle.

“Don’t try,” he said. “Just pretend you understand.”

“That’s—that’s very good advice,” I went limp.

Castle quoted another poem:

Tiger got to hunt,

Bird got to fly;

Man got to sit and wonder, “Why, why, why?”

Tiger got to sleep,

Bird got to land;

Man got to tell himself he understand.

This led me to the library and borrowing the book.

The book traces the narrator’s effort to write a book about the day of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. This leads him (and us) down one rabbit hole after another, from Felix Hoenikker’s creation of ‘ice-nine’, the island of San Lorenzo, Bokononism and the destruction of the world where all the world’s oceans are turned to ice.

There is so much to take in with Cat’s Cradle, whether it be the science, the absurdity and the modern world. Some novels capture their time, while others send messages that linger on. I had to check when it was written (1963) as so much of it still seemed relevant, especially working on a complex project. I now respond to colleagues about my work with ‘Busy, busy, busy’.

Had I been a Bokononist then, pondering the miraculously intricate chain of events that had brought dynamite money to that particular tombstone company, I might have whispered, “Busy, busy, busy.”

Busy, busy, busy, is what we Bokononists whisper whenever we think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.

But all I could say as a Christian then was, “Life is sure funny sometimes.”

It is much better than talking about magic.

Vonnegut has explained the short chapters as a ‘mosaic of tiny jokes’:

Cat’s Cradle, despite its relatively short length, contains 127 discrete chapters, some of which are verses from the Book of Bokonon. Vonnegut himself claimed that his books “are essentially mosaics made up of a whole bunch of tiny little chips… and each chip is a joke.”[1]

Cat’s Cradle by Wikipedia

Alternatively, Kleon claims Vonnegut wrote ‘everything for his sister’:

Vonnegut said that in hindsight he realized that he wrote everything he wrote for his sister, just trying to make her laugh…

Be a Good Date by Austin Kleon

The fear I had was that the greatest joke in the end was us as a reader in taking the world so seriously at times?

Stylistically, the way in which the narrator incidentally unpacks Bokononism reminded me of the creative way in which Thomas More explores Utopia. I was also left wondering whether I am missing the modern humourist in my reading, as I would place Vonnegut along side other modern authors, such as Paul Auster, Thomas Pynchon and Joseph Heller. To me they all encapsulates the saying, “Cartoon descriptions? How else to describe a cartoon world?” However, someone else made the case to me that the best way to explain these authors is drugs. Think I will stick to cartoon descriptions.

In the end, I feel that Cat’s Cradle is one of those books that I could come back to again and again and get something different each time as it is so overloaded with information that we can never quite understand everything all at once. Of course this is the case with all readings, but I feel Vonnegut makes us strangely aware of this.



It isn’t looking for a better cigarette filter or a softer face tissue or a longer-lasting house paint, God help us. Everybody talks about research and practically nobody in this country’s doing it.


Had I been a Bokononist then, pondering the miraculously intricate chain of events that had brought dynamite money to that particular tombstone company, I might have whispered, “Busy, busy, busy.”

Busy, busy, busy, is what we Bokononists whisper whenever we think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.

But all I could say as a Christian then was, “Life is sure funny sometimes.”


My second wife had left me on the grounds that I was too pessimistic for an optimist to live with.


There was a quotation from The Books of Bokonon on the page before me. Those words leapt from the page and into my mind, and they were welcomed there.
The words were a paraphrase of the suggestion by Jesus: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.”
Bokonon’s paraphrase was this:
“Pay no attention to Caesar. Caesar doesn’t have the slightest idea what’s really going on.”


You’ll forget it when you’re dead, and so will I. When I’m dead, I’m going to forget everything—and I advise you to do the same.”
“Has she been posing for this or are you working from photographs or what?”
“I’m working from or what.”
“I’m working from or what.” He tapped his temple. “It’s all in this enviable head of mine.”


Truth was the enemy of the people, because the truth was so terrible, so Bokonon made it his business to provide the people with better and better lies.”


“Don’t try,” he said. “Just pretend you understand.”
“That’s—that’s very good advice,” I went limp.
Castle quoted another poem:
Tiger got to hunt,
Bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder, “Why, why, why?”
Tiger got to sleep,
Bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.

Read The Midnight Zoo

The Midnight Zoo is a 2010 novel by Sonya Hartnett. It was first published on 1 November 2010 in Australia and was then released in the United States a year later. It follows the story of two gypsy boys that find an abandoned zoo after fleeing a traditional celebration. The novella has gained critical praise for its “lyrical” prose and for the illustrations in the United States version, done by artist Andrea Offermann.

The Midnight Zoo, a zoo of talking animals taken out of their original habitat, but left unattended after an invading army takes the owner away. Three Romany children, Andrej, 12, his brother Tomas, 9, and baby sister Wilma, stumble upon the zoo while escaping the soldiers. The rest of the novel occurs over one night, exploring ideas of freedom and responsibility. All in all, Sonya Hartnett is the children’s author for children who want things a little different.


Alex Baugh provides an interesting commentary on the ending:

Hartnett does not spare the reader any of the horrors of war in her descriptions.  Knowing this, when I came to the end of the novel, I didn’t not see it as hopeful or life affirming.  At the end, when the figure of a woman in a dark cape appears, the children and animals see who they want to see, someone they believe will take care of them.   For Tomas, she is his mother, for Andrej, she is Saint Sarah, patron saint of the Romany; for the animals, she is Alice.   And when I thought back on the sentence “They had journeyed to the final edge of life beyond which there were no walls,”(pg 214) my initial reaction was that the planes had returned with their bombs and it was the moment of death when the woman called the children come and eagle prepares to fly, but it was also the moment when they have found true freedom in death.

The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett, illustrated by Andrea Offermann by Alex Baugh

Note, Dr Pam Macintyre has created a useful teaching resources associated with the text.


Picnic at Hanging Rock is an Australian historical fiction novel by Joan Lindsay. The novel, set in 1900, is about a group of female students at an Australian girls’ boarding school who vanish at Hanging Rock while on a Valentine’s Day picnic, and the effects the disappearances have on the school and local community. The novel was first published in 1967 in Australia by Cheshire Publishing and was reprinted by Penguin in 1975. It is widely considered by critics to be one of the greatest Australian novels. In 2022, it was included on the “Big Jubilee Read” list of 70 books by Commonwealth authors, selected to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II.[1]

Picnic at Hanging Rock (novel) by Wikipedia

I remember watching Peter Weir’s The Picnic at Hanging Rock, well I definitely can recall the girls and the soundtrack, but what surprised me was how little of Joan Lindsay’s story the picnic actually takes up. It is a fascinating story that unravels as it goes on. Romy Ash touches on the dream-like element to the narrative.

Picnic at Hanging Rock was written quickly, after Lindsay had a particularly vivid dream, and it’s a dream state that permeates the narrative. The characters fall in and out of sleep, daydreaming in a way that suggests they may have woken up in a different reality. We see this just before the girls disappear.

On the Unpublished Ending of Picnic at Hanging Rock, and Other Mysteries by Romy Ash

I wonder if the story would have had the same impact if the final chapter with the girls travelling through a ‘hole in space’ had not been removed?

“Stan Grant” in REVIEW: Australia Day (Stan Grant) – Read Write Respond ()


Fight Club is a 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk. It follows the experiences of an unnamed protagonist struggling with insomnia. The protagonist finds relief by impersonating a seriously ill person in several support groups, after his doctor remarks that insomnia is not “real suffering” and that he should find out what it is really like to suffer. The protagonist then meets a mysterious man named Tyler Durden and establishes an underground fighting club as radical psychotherapy.

Fight Club (novel) by Wikipedia

Imagine if Joseph Conrad’s Kurtz was your split personality? While instead of becoming the police after their time as ‘droogs’ as is the case with A Clockwork Orange the nihilists are the police. This is the world that Chuck Palahniuk brings us into. Just as we might say that everything, whether it be our jobs, IKEA furniture, cinema, colonisation of space, is *political* , the question I feel Fight Club grapples with is what is life beyond all this?


Chapter 1

We have sort of a triangle thing going here. I want Tyler. Tyler wants Marla. Marla wants me.

I don’t want Marla, and Tyler doesn’t want me around, not anymore. This isn’t about love as in caring. This is about property as in ownership.

Chapter 4

The people I know who used to sit in the bathroom with pornography, now they sit in the bathroom with their IKEA furniture catalogue.

Chapter 5

I just don’t want to die without a few scars, I say.

It used to be enough that when I came home angry and knowing that my life wasn’t toeing my fiveyear plan, I could clean my condominium or detail my car. Someday I’d be dead without a scar and there would be a really nice condo and car. Really, really nice, until the dust settled or the next owner. Nothing is static. Even the Mona Lira is falling apart. Since fight club, I can wiggle half the teeth in my jaw.

There’s grunting and noise at fight club like at the gym, but fight club isn’t about looking good. There’s hysterical shouting in tongues like at church, and when you wake up Sunday afternoon you feel saved.

Chapter 10

Me, when I go to the beach, I always sit with my right foot tucked under me. Australia and New Zealand, or I keep it buried in the sand. My fear is that people will see my foot and I’ll start to die in their minds. The cancer I don’t have is everywhere now. I don’t tell Marla that.

Chapter 11

I tell the detective, no, I did not leave the gas on and then leave town. I loved my life. I loved that condo. I loved every stick of furniture
That was my whole life. Everything, the lamps, the chairs, the rugs were me. The dishes in the cabinets were me. The plants were me. The television was me. It was me that blew up. Couldn’t he see that?

Chapter 13

For thousands of years, human beings had screwed up and trashed and crapped on this planet, and now history expected me to clean up after everyone. I have to wash out and flatten my soup cans. And account for every drop of used motor oil.
And I have to foot the bill for nuclear waste and buried gasoline tanks and landfilled toxic sludge dumped a generation before I was born.

“Recycling and speed limits are bullshit,” Tyler said. “They’re like someone who quits smoking on his deathbed.”

Chapter 15

The mechanic says, “If you’re male and you’re Christian and living in America, your father is your model for God. And if you never know your father, if your father bails out or dies oris never at home, what do you believe about God?”
This is all Tyler Durden dogma. Scrawled on bits of paper while I was asleep and given to me to type and photocopy at work. I’ve read it all. Even my boss has probably read it all.
“What you end up doing,” the mechanic says, “is you spend your life searching for a father and God.”
“What you have to consider,” he says, “is the possibility that God doesn’t like you. Could be, God hates us. This is not the worst thing that can happen.”
How Tyler saw it was that getting God’s attention for being bad was better than getting no attention at all. Maybe because God’s hate
better than His indifference.

My tiny life. My little shit job. My Swedish furniture. I never, no, never told anyone this, but before I met Tyler, I was planning to buy a dog and name it “Entourage.”

Chapter 18

If you can wake up in a different place. If you can wake up in a different time. Why can’t you wake up as a different person?

Chapter 19

You’ve got to find Tyler.
You’ve got to get some sleep.
Then you’re awake, and Tyler’s standing in the dark next to the bed.

“Every time you fall asleep,” Tyler says, “I run off and do something wild, something crazy, something completely out of my mind.”

We both use the same body, but at different times.

“Remember this,” Tyler said. “The people you’re trying to step on, we’re everyone you depend on. We’re the people who do your laundry and cook your food and serve your dinner. We make your bed. We guard you while you’re asleep. We drive the ambulances. We direct your call. We are cooks and taxi drivers and we know everything about you. We process your insurance claims and credit card charges. We control every part of your life.
“We are the middle children of history, raised by television to believe that someday we’ll be millionaires and movie stars and rock stars, but we won’t. And we’re just learning this fact,” Tyler said. “So don’t fuck with us.”

I was here first.
Tyler says, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, well let’s just see who’s here last.”
This isn’t real. This is a dream, and I’ll wake up.
“Then wake up.”
And then the telephone’s ringing, and Tyler’s gone.

Chapter 20

This way, when deepspace exploitation ramps up, it will probably be the megatonic corporations that discover all the new planets and map them.
The IBM Stellar Sphere.
The Philip Morris Galaxy.
Planet Denny’s.
Every planet will take on the corporate identity of whoever rapes it first.
Budweiser World.

Chapter 21

Only in death will we have our own names since only in death are we no longer part of the effort. In death we become heroes.
And the crowds yell, “Robert Paulson.”

Read A Clockwork Orange – The International Anthony Burgess Foundation

A Clockwork Orange is a dystopian satirical black comedy novella by English writer Anthony Burgess, published in 1962. It is set in a near-future society that has a youth subculture of extreme violence. The teenage protagonist, Alex, narrates his violent exploits and his experiences with state authorities intent on reforming him.[1] The book is partially written in a Russian-influenced argot called “Nadsat“, which takes its name from the Russian suffix that is equivalent to ‘-teen’ in English.[2] According to Burgess, the novel was a jeu d’esprit written in just three weeks.

A Clockwork Orange (Novel) by Wikipedia

Although I saw A Clockwork Orange years ago, I had never read Burgess’ book. I was intrigued by the two versions, US and British. Although I agreed with leaving off the ‘final chapter’ of Picnic at Hanging Rock where Lindsay explained what happened with the girls travelling through a hole in space, I am not sure if I missed something, but I thought that original version where the book ends with the narrator settling down asked more questions than ending with . It all makes me appreciate the achievement of Stanley Kubrick more and more.

There are so many aspects to reflect upon, whether it be the classical music, the violence, the aversion therapy, the use of language.

Upon its release, A Clockwork Orange received mixed reviews. While some complained about its violence and language, others noted that the novel raised important ethical questions, such as whether it is better for a person to decide to be bad than to be forced to be good and if forcibly suppressing free will is acceptable.

A Clockwork Orange by Britannica


But, brothers, this biting of their toe-nails over what is the cause of badness is what turns me into a fine laughing malchick. They don’t go into what is the cause of goodness, so why of the other shop? If lewdies are good that’s because they like it, and I wouldn’t ever interfere with their pleasures, and so of the other shop. And I was patronizing the other shop. More, badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty. But the not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self. And is not our modern history, my brothers, the story of brave malenky selves fighting these big machines? I am serious with you, brothers, over this. But what I do I do because I like to do.

Read All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses is a novel by American author Cormac McCarthy published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1992. It was a bestseller, winning both the U.S. National Book Award[1]
and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It is the first of McCarthy’s “Border Trilogy“.

All the Pretty Horses is another Cormac McCarthy novel where they kept on riding. I feel that there are different ways to enter the novel, whether it be an exploration of place, characters or ideas. In some ways McCarthy’s novels are otherworldly, they exist in a space that seems parallel to a semblance of normality. They offer a means of reflecting upon the everyday from a different perspective. I wonder if in a different lifetime if McCarthy could have written novels set in say an otherworldly New York?

Read The Passenger

The Passenger is a 2022 novel by the American writer Cormac McCarthy.[1] It was released six weeks before its companion novel Stella Maris. The plot of both The Passenger and Stella Maris follows Bobby and Alicia Western, two siblings whose father helped develop the atomic bomb.

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The novel follows Bobby Western, a salvage diver, across the Gulf of Mexico and the American South.[2][1] Western is haunted by his father’s contributions to the development of the atomic bomb,[2] and tormented by his inability to save his sister Alicia—the protagonist of the novel’s proto-sequel, Stella Maris—from suicide, which happens a decade before The Passenger takes place.[3] Alicia was a mathematics prodigy who worked under the tutelage of Alexander Grothendieck (a real mathematician who shunned the field at the peak of his influence and chose to live in relative seclusion[4]). The Western siblings grow up in east Tennessee as their father works at Oak Ridge on the Manhattan Project (with luminary physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer).[5] Both children are math prodigies; Alicia studies at the University of Chicago while Bobby drops out of Caltech to pursue a career as a Formula 2 race car driver in Europe, though a serious crash puts him in a temporary coma and ends his driving career.[6] The events of the novel are punctuated with short, italicized chapters about Alicia’s treatment for schizophrenia due to hallucinations of a deformed figure the narrator named “Thalidomide Kid” who perpetually teases and belittles her and summons his ghostly cohorts to perform unwanted and garish entertainment acts.

Following a salvage dive to recover any survivors from a submerged airplane, Bobby discovers that the pilot’s flight bag and data box are missing. Within a few days, he returns to his apartment to find two agents of some kind who ask questions about the submerged airplane and the missing items, and Western learns there was also a missing tenth passenger.

Western spends time in bars and restaurants in New Orleans with old friends discussing truths philosophical and scientific. He visits his grandmother in Tennessee. Her house had been ransacked two years prior, and his father’s research papers and all family records were taken. Now in hiding from the authorities on the advice of Kline (a private investigator), Western has his 1973 Maserati Bora seized and his bank account frozen by the I.R.S., ostensibly for failing to record in his taxes the money he inherited from his paternal grandmother. Left destitute, Western drifts across the country as a transient, eventually coming to reside in Formentera. At the end of the novel, Western lies in his bed in a windmill penning a letter to his sister, the love of his life. He has forgotten her face and believes he will see it again when he dies.

The Passenger by Wikipedia

As is often the way with McCarthy, The Passenger is a book about characters and their journey through the world. As Peggy Ellsberg captures, the book explores identity, legacy and death and lose.

After Alicia’s suicide, Bobby loses his mooring and works for a while as a salvage diver in the Gulf of Mexico, a spooky enterprise involving deep descents into dark waters. He visits bars in New Orleans, lives in single rooms with his cat, hides out at the beach in an abandoned shack, eats roadkill, becomes so skinny that his clothes “hang on him.” As the story proceeds, Bobby also winters over in an unheated house in remote Idaho, cogitating on particle physics. He is a physicist but also a passenger, carried through the narrative by love, grief, and sheer stamina.

Source: No Prayer for Such a Thing: On Cormac McCarthy’s “The Passenger” By Peggy Ellsberg

Although it offers possible narrative elements … missing passenger, Nuclear father, finding a golden inheritance … these moments often serve other purposes. As Graeme Wood touches on, the focus is about contending with life.

The novels McCarthy published in 2022, at the age of 89, permanently resolve the question of whether McCarthy is a great novelist, or Louis L’Amour with a thesaurus. The booming, omnipotent narrative voice, which first appeared in McCarthy’s Western novels of the 1980s and had already begun to fade in No Country for Old Men (2005) and The Road (2006), has ebbed almost entirely in these books—perhaps like the voice of Yahweh himself, as he transitioned from interventionist to absentee in the Old Testament. What remain are human voices, which is to say characters, contending with one another and with their own fears and regrets, as they face the prospect of the godless void that awaits them. The result is heavy but pleasurable, and together the books are the richest and strongest work of McCarthy’s career.

Source: The Incandescent Wisdom of Cormac McCarthy By Graeme Wood

This has similarities with Shakespeare, where it is the characters that matter.

The Shakespeare is no coincidence—and of course Shakespeare, too, was weak on plot; as William Hazlitt and later Bloom affirmed, the characters are what matter. McCarthy’s Sheddan is an elongated Falstaff, skinny where Falstaff is fat, despite dining out constantly in the French Quarter on credit cards stolen from tourists. But like Falstaff, he is witty, and capable of uttering only the deepest verities whenever he is not telling outright lies. Bobby Western regularly shares in his stolen food and drink, and their dialogue—mostly Sheddan’s side of it—provides the sharpest statement of Bobby’s bind.

Source: The Incandescent Wisdom of Cormac McCarthy By Graeme Wood

It is a novel about ‘human concerns … scrutinized on the highest existential plane’.

Put another way, the early novels took place on a human scale, and Blood Meridian was about contests among humanoid creatures so violent and warlike that they might be gods and demons, a Western Götterdämmerung. The protagonist of the Border Trilogy was like a human on an expedition through this inhuman landscape. And the late novels featured humans forsaken by the gods and pitted against one another, or in the case of No Country, contending with demons and losing. McCarthy’s latest, and probably last, novels represent a return to human concerns, but ones—love, death, guilt, illusion—experienced and scrutinized on the highest existential plane.

Source: The Incandescent Wisdom of Cormac McCarthy By Graeme Wood

The Passenger is not a meandering tale like Blood Meridian or The Road, but it is still a journey. In some respects I was left thinking of Don Delilo and even Samuel Beckett, but feel the more I scratch at the surface, Flannery O’Conner might be a better comparison. (The trans character felt like they had just walked off the set of Wise Blood.) For Xan Brooks, it is a wreck of an idea:

Published a full 16 years after the Pulitzer prize-winning The Road, The Passenger is like a submerged ship itself; a gorgeous ruin in the shape of a hardboiled noir thriller. McCarthy’s generational saga covers everything from the atomic bomb to the Kennedy assassination to the principles of quantum mechanics. It’s by turns muscular and maudlin, immersive and indulgent. Every novel, said Iris Murdoch, is the wreck of a perfect idea. This one is enormous. It’s got locked doors and blind turns. It contains skeletons and buried gold.

Source: The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy review – a deep dive into the abyss By Xan Brooks

Brooks talks about the attempt to escape history:

High-concept plots take on water; machine-tooled narratives break down. And so it is with The Passenger, which sets out as an existential chase thriller in the mould of No Country for Old Men before collapsing in on itself. Western might outpace his pursuers but he can’t escape his own history. So he heads into the desert, alone, to watch the oil refineries burning in the distance and observe the carpet-coloured vipers coiled in the grass at his feet. “The abyss of the past into which the world is falling,” he thinks. “Everything vanishing as if it had never been.”

Source: The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy review – a deep dive into the abyss By Xan Brooks

Along with Stella Maris, these novels linger long after they are finished.



Being wrong is the worst thing a physicist can be. It’s up there with being dead.

You cant illustrate the unknown.


Even if all news of the world was a lie it would not then follow that there is some counterfactual truth for it to be a lie about.
I suppose I would agree. If it does have a somewhat lampish smell to it. The Greeks, I suppose.
I suppose. Possibly of course of humbler origins.
Such as Mossy Creek.
Such as. Do you ever think what it would be like to meet a person you’ve known for a long time for the first time in these later years? To meet them anew.


All right. It’s not just that I dont have to write things down. There’s more to it than that. What you write down becomes fixed. It takes on the constraints of any tangible entity. It collapses into a reality estranged from the realm of its creation. It’s a marker. A roadsign. You have stopped to get your bearings, but at a price. You’ll never know where it might have gone if you’d left it alone to go there. In any conjecture you’re always looking for weaknesses. But sometimes you have the sense that you should hold off. Be patient. Have a little faith. You really want to see what the conjecture itself is going to drag up out of the murk. I dont know how one does mathematics. I dont know that there is a way. The idea is always struggling against its own realization. Ideas come with an innate skepticism, they dont just go barreling ahead. And these doubts have their origin in the same world as the idea itself. And that’s not something you really have access to. So the reservations that you yourself in your world of struggle bring to the table may actually be alien to the path of these emerging structures. Their own intrinsic doubts are steering-mechanisms while yours are more like brakes. Of course the idea is going to come to an end anyway. Once a mathematical conjecture is formalized into a theory it may have a certain luster to it but with rare exceptions you can no longer entertain the illusion that it holds some deep insight into the core of reality. It has in fact begun to look like a tool.

I dont know what’s going to happen. I’m not sure that I want to. Know. If I could plan my life I wouldnt want to live it. I probably dont want to live it anyway. I know that the characters in the story can be either real or imaginary and that after they are all dead it wont make any difference. If imaginary beings die an imaginary death they will be dead nonetheless. You think that you can create a history of what has been. Present artifacts. A clutch of letters. A sachet in a dressingtable drawer. But that’s not what’s at the heart of the tale. The problem is that what drives the tale will not survive the tale. As the room dims and the sound of voices fades you understand that the world and all in it will soon cease to be. You believe that it will begin again. You point to other lives. But their world was never yours.

I dont believe anything about God. I just believe in God. Kant had it right about the stars above and the truth within. The last light the nonbeliever will see will not be the dimming of the sun. It will be the dimming of God. Everyone is born with the faculty to see the miraculous. You have to choose not to.

History is a collection of paper. A few fading recollections. After a while what is not written never happened.


If you’d never been anyplace before and you didnt know where it was that you were going or why it was that you were going there then how excited would you be about going?
Not very I suppose.


It’s the idea of loss. It subsumes the class of all possible lost things. It’s our primal fear, and you get to assign to it what you will. It doesnt invade your life. It was always there. Awaiting your indulgence. Awaiting your concession. And still I feel I sold you short. How to sort your tale from out the commons. It must surely be true that there is no such collective domain of joy as there is of sorrow. You cant be sure that another man’s happiness resembles your own. But where the collective of pain is concerned there can be little doubt at all. If we are not after the essence, Squire, then what are we after? And I’ll defer to your view that we cannot uncover such a thing without putting our stamp upon it. And I’ll even grant you that you may have drawn the darker cards. But listen to me, Squire. Where the substance of a thing is an uncertain business the form can hardly command more ground. All reality is loss and all loss is eternal. There is no other kind. And that reality into which we inquire must first contain ourselves. And what are we? Ten percent biology and ninety percent nightrumor.

Mercy is the province of the person alone. There is mass hatred and there is mass grief. Mass vengeance and even mass suicide. But there is no mass forgiveness. There is only you.

Read Boy Swallows Universe

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Boy Swallows Universe is the debut novel from Australian author, Trent Dalton. Set in Brisbane’s violent working class suburban fringe in the 1980’s, the story tells the tale of Eli Bell, a child finding his way in an often chaotic world. Throughout, it explores ideas of family, friendship and fate in a fantastical world. You

You can find a longer reflection here.


Boy Writes Words

Lyle doesn’t believe in much, but he believes in the circumstance-shifting power of a broken nose.

Boy Receives Letter

That’s Slim’s favourite nugget of porridge wisdom.

Do your time before it does you.

Boy Seeks Help

The concealer. The concealers. The concealed.

A bee sting smarts like a bitch until someone clubs you with a cricket bat.

Boy Steals Ocean

I tore the paper away to find the gift inside. It was no book. It was a block of paper, maybe 500 blank pages of A4. On the first page was a brief message.

To burn this house down or set the world on fire. Up to you, Eli. Merry Christmas. Dad.

Boy Takes Flight

‘I had some dark periods inside,’ he says. ‘Everybody just assumes the head of an organisation like mine would be flooded with letters from friends on the outside. But the reality is, in fact, the complete opposite. No bastard writes to ya because they think every other bastard is writin’ to ya. But no man is an island, ya know, not the Prime Minister of Australia, not fuckin’ Michael Jackson, and not the Queensland sergeant-at-arms of the Rebels outlaw motorcycle gang.’

Boy Conquers Moon

Forward to the beginning. I like that. That’s all I’ve ever been doing. Moving forward to the start.

She looks out from the foyer to Mum, Dad and August, now waiting at the edge of King George Square.

‘I thought they’d look different, your mum and dad,’ she says.
I laugh. ‘You did?’
‘They’re so nice,’ she says. ‘They just look like any normal mum and dad.’
‘They’ve been working on normal for quite some time now.’

Read The Bezzle

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Money-laundering, cyber-knavery and shell-company chicanery: Marty Hench is an expert in them all. He’s Silicon Valley’s most accomplished forensic accountant and well versed in the devious ways of Fortune 500s, divorcing oligarchs, and international drug cartels alike (and there’s more crossover than you might imagine).
Cory Doctorow’s hard-charging, read-in-one-sitting, techno take on the classic PI pulp novel.
**It’s 2006, and Marty Hench is at the top of his game as a self-employed forensic accountant, a veteran of the long guerrilla war between the people who want to hide money and the people who want to find it.
He spends his downtime holidaying on Catalina Island, where scenic, imported bison wander the bluffs and frozen, reheated fast food burgers cost $25. (Wait, what?)
When, during one vacation, Marty disrupts a seemingly innocuous scheme, he has no idea he’s kicked off a chain of events that will overtake the next decade of his life.
Because he’s made his most dangerous mistake yet. He’s trespassed into the playgrounds of the ultra-wealthy and identified their latest target: California’s Department of Corrections, who manage the state’s prison system.
Secure in the knowledge that they’re living behind far too many firewalls to be identified, the tycoons have hundreds of thousands of prisoners at their mercy, and the potential of millions of pounds to make off them.
But now, Marty is about to ruin their fun…

Source: The Bezzle by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow has a way of holding up a mirror that helps make the world around feel that bit stranger, in a good way. The Martin Hench series explores the world through the eyes of forensic accountant. With The Bezzle, Doctorow dives into the world of the US prison system and the way that anyone can be held guilty of something. Marlene argues that the book is a ‘bezzle within a bezzle’:

The story in The Bezzle is a bezzle within a bezzle in a kind of möbius strip of bezzling that doesn’t so much end as shift into a state of mutually assured destruction. A state that Marty, fortunately for him, is finally able to observe from the outside looking in, instead of either from the inside of a jail cell looking out the way that his friend Scott ends up, or up from six feet under, as the villain of this story certainly intended.


However, I was left wondering if we are always-already interpellated within the bezzle and that we are never truly outside of this?

I enjoyed the book and as always was left thinking about everything from pyramid schemes, open access and privitisation. I liked Tavendale’s suggestion that it is part novel and part cautionary tale.

It reads partly as a novel and partly a cautionary tale on the excesses of the worlds of business and finance, and on the toothlessness of governmental oversight.

Source: Book Review: The Bezzle by Cory Doctorow by Tavendale

This is probably a good way of discussing most of Doctorow’s writing as he shines a light on certain elements of life around us to help us think differently.

My only frustration was with who is Martin Hench. Yes there were similarities with The Red Team Blues, but there were times it felt like a different characters. I kind of wondered if this was some sort of quantum fiction where the same character is able to live out different realities in different worlds that are both related and unrelated. For example, in Red Team Blues, Hench is in his late 60’s. However, in the ten years that this book spans, I am unsure how old Hench is or is meant to be. With all that aside, I felt it was a thought provoking read and enjoyed reading it.

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