Birthday of Literary Luminaries – Miles Franklin, Katherine Mansfield, Hannah Arendt,

Drawing of a woman in early 19thC dress carrying a suitcase approaching a home with extensive verandahs.

Google Doodle in honour of Miles Franklin, 14/10/2014.

Today, 14th October, marks the birth dates of three literary luminaries of the twentieth century – Miles Franklin, Katherine Mansfield and Hannah Arendt. These three women have made a big impact on western cultural life and thought and continue to do so.

Miles Franklin’s, novel, My Brilliant Career, has a secure place in Australia’s literary canon. This is extraordinary for a book written by a woman, first published in 1901 and coming from the pen of a twenty-one year old. Miles Franklin threw herself into life and writing, taking herself off to live in the United States before World War I, moving to England, nursing soldiers in dangerous circumstances in Macedonia before moving back to Australia. In the words of her biographer, “Miles was no wimp”. She did not make her fortune but through frugal living she conceived and endowed Australia’s premier literary award through her will. Continue reading

Review: A Doctor’s Dream

Book cover of A Doctor's Dream

A Doctor’s Dream: A story of hope from the Top End by Dr Buddhi Lokuge and Tanya Burke, (Allen & Unwin, 2014).

A Doctor’s Dream is about a microscopic mite, a huge health issue and the fraught nature of ongoing injustices towards Aboriginal people in Australia. It is a very Australian story. Both white and Aboriginal people are tired of the same intractable problems and tired of announcements of quick fixes that never work. In this book Dr Buddhi Lokuge and Tanya Burke offer a way through this mire, but only through hard, time-consuming commitment and respect.

Scabies is a mite that is a scourge in some outback Aboriginal communities. It causes itching which leads to skin infections in the tropical environment of northern Australia. Some people do not have any natural resistance to the mite which leads to huge colonies living on their skin causing the disfiguring and serious health condition known as crusted scabies.

The chronic skin infections caused by recurrent outbreaks of scabies can lead to abscesses and in some cases, amputations. It is the underlying cause that has led to remote Aboriginal communities in Australia having some of the highest rates of kidney and rheumatic heart disease in the world. The constant sores on a child can give the appearance that the child is suffering from neglect at home. Lokuge and Burke explain that this health condition can be horribly misunderstood by the authorities and lead to the removal of the child from their family. Despite what we have learned from the Stolen Generations, removal of children from Aboriginal families is still occurring.

Dr Lokuge drew on his experience working for international medical humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières to design and deliver a program to eliminate scabies in Arnhem Land. The not for profit organisation Lokuge worked for, One Disease, offered him the freedom and support to devise and implement a solution that enabled Aboriginal people to tackle the issue. Their overall management and support of Lokuge’s work is a crucial element in the success of the program. Continue reading

Review: A History of Australian Schooling

Book cover of A History of Australian Schooling

A History of Australian Schooling by Craig Campbell and Helen Proctor (Crows Nest, NSW:Allen & Unwin, 2014).

For over a century Australian schools have acted as future-shapers. Since the era of compulsory schooling emerged in the Australian colonies during the late nineteenth-century, every Australian child has spent a number of years in school. Children take at least some of the ideas and behaviours that are developed in the classroom and in the playground with them for the rest of their lives. As such it surprises me that education history is seen as a ‘special interest’ and not a field that is part of the core of Australian history.

A History of Australian Schooling by Craig Campbell and Helen Proctor is a chance for people to catch up on the latest research in Australia’s schooling history in one readable volume. It is long overdue. When I started exploring the history of education in Australia seven years ago I had to turn to books published in the 1970s for the overview I needed to become grounded in this history. Those books were good but forty years later our society has changed and a substantial amount of historical research into many different themes has been conducted. A History of Australian Schooling encompasses a broad range of themes in Australian education history including those that have not been previously collected in one volume. Continue reading

Review: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

Book cover of Dark Emu

Dark Emu: Black seeds agriculture or accident by Bruce Pascoe (Broome, WA: Magabala Books, 2014).

While the Australian Historical Association conference was being held this week an important annual national celebration was taking place. This year the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Day of Commemoration Week, commonly known as NAIDOC Week runs from 6th to 13th July. Lisa Hill at the ANZ LitLovers Lit Blog runs the Indigenous Literature Week book reviewing challenge to coincide with NAIDOC Week each year.

It is tricky as I want to participate but each year it coincides with the Australian Historical Association Conference. There is nothing like a bit of determination to find a way though. Each year I choose two books to review, one by a female author and another by a male author. I read the first one in the weeks leading up to NAIDOC Week and post the review right at the beginning of the Week, but the other I struggle to read and review in NAIDOC Week. The review often comes out later… but I’ve managed to fit it in this year!

I had a wonderful day reading Dark Emu: Black seeds: agriculture of accident? by Bruce Pascoe. Engagingly written, full of interesting material and a modest 176 pages , it was the ideal end-of-conference read. Continue reading

The Power of Bones by Keelen Mailman

Book cover of The Power of Bones

The Power of Bones by Keelen Mailman, (Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2014).

“I chose survival” says Keelen Mailman in her memoir, The Power of Bones. Powerful, painful and memorable, The Power of Bones lays bare the struggles and achievements of Aboriginal life in  Australia during the late twentieth century and more recently.

Mailman is an Aboriginal woman from south-west Queensland near Charleville. She had a hard childhood and a poor education but she has risen from this to be the first Aboriginal woman to run a commercial cattle station. This book is a lesson in never writing a person off, no matter how bleak their background appears to be.

Mailman is proud of her Bidjara culture. Her knowledge and commitment to the Bidjara people was recognised by one of the community elders who asked her to manage the Mount Tabor cattle station for the Bidjara. The work at the station is mentioned in passing, the focus of this memoir is family and culture. Continue reading

Sydney Writers’ Festival 2014: What I learned

A glorious day at the hub of the Sydney Writers' Festival at Walsh Bay.

A glorious day at the hub of the Sydney Writers’ Festival at Walsh Bay.

The Sydney Writers’ Festival is one of my favourite events of the year. It is a wonderful celebration of books. Who says the book is dead when over 80,000 people flocked to hear writers talk about their work! The program featured 450 writers talking at sixty venues throughout Sydney. I only heard six authors at the Festival but I was happy. Just attending two sessions allowed me to come away with a little more understanding about books.

Adrian McKinty, PM Newton and Malla Nunn are crime writers with a lot to say. They have good rapport with each other making the ‘Keeping it Real: Crime as Social History’ session an enjoyable event. Their discussion touched on the reasons why I like the novels of PM Newton so much. Place is very important in her work. She explores what I call the ‘real Sydney’, the one that is grimy, slightly dysfunctional and people living life hard.

Malla Nunn said that the work of all three authors is a good example of the ‘social novel’ or the ‘social problem novel’. These types of novels explore real social issues in real places. The work of Charles Dickens such as Oliver Twist is a good example of the social novel, as is John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Newton pointed out that the modern social novel is most often seen in crime fiction. Continue reading

National Book Bloggers Forum

six books

Participants at the National Book Bloggers Forum received a pile of Random House/Penguin books.

This week Random House and Penguin organised a National Book Bloggers Forum in Sydney. Held in the week of the Sydney Writers Festival, staff from the largest publishing house in the world mixed with over thirty book bloggers for a day of book talk. I was fortunate to be one of the bloggers who attended the Forum.

Bloggers are writers and they are writers who know how to engage their audience.  Random House recognises this said the publisher’s Managing Editor, Brett VanOver. Random House regards bloggers as having the kind of potential that would make them authors of books people want to read.

VanOver pointed out that the days of publishers nurturing authors while they hone their writing skills through several books are gone. Now publishers need writers to be fully formed by the time they publish their first book. Publishers regard blogging as a process where budding authors can develop their skills. Through blogging writers develop a confident voice VanOver observed. Bloggers are already published authors, they already write on a theme. The challenge that VanOver identified is that bloggers have to move from a personal perspective to a universal one if they are to have a book published. Continue reading