Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Restorer

Michael Sala has written a novel about a dysfunctional family who move to Newcastle to restore not only a house but also a broken relationship. Maryanne  had left her husband, Roy, and taken the children to live with her mother in Sydney. However when twelve months later Roy arrived to ask Maryanne to join him in Newcastle Maryanne tentatively agreed. Teenage daughter, Freyer, and eight year old Daniel were not happy about this relocation but Maryanne thought that she needed to try and restore her relationship with Roy and bring the family back together.

The story is primarily told through the eyes of Maryanne and Freyer with Roy ever present in the background. Newcastle also plays a major factor in the novel as the author provides descriptions of the streets, beaches, cliffs and general landscape in which the characters go about their lives in this city. The novel is set in the year 1989 and the author uses world and local events of the time such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Tianamen Square Massacre and the murder of a fourteen year old girl in Newcastle as discussion points within the novel. This was also the year of the Newcastle earthquake with the destruction of parts of the city providing an analogy with the deterioration and destruction of a relationship.

Not only does the relationship between Maryanne and Roy deteriorate but the impact of this relationship causes Freyer to experiment with outside, and often dangerous, influences to try to achieve independence from her the family.

As the story unfolds we discover why Maryanne initially left Roy and watch as aspects of Roy's character are revealed. This is a well written novel that kept me wanting to keep reading to discover more about the characters and the inevitable outcome. I suspect that it will become a very popular book with book clubs.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Soldier's Curse

A series of crime novels set in 1820s New South Wales has been written by Meg Kenealy with her father, Tom Kenealy. The first book in the Monsarrat Series is The Soldier's Curse, published in 2016.

Set in the convict settlement at Port Macquarie the novel provides detailed description of life in a convict settlement including the demarcation between convicts, former convicts and the free (usually soldiers).This convict settlement is for those who have been convicted twice for offences. Hugh Monsarrat has been assigned as a clerk in the office of the Commandant of the settlement while he awaits his ticket of leave and transcribes the many documents relating to the management of the settlement. Working at Government House he befriends the house keeper, Mrs Mulrooney, as well a a young soldier who regularly visits the house.

The plot centres around the gradual decline in health and eventual death of the Commandant's wife, Honora. When the housekeeper is accused of murdering her mistress Monsarrat is left with the task of exposing the killer.

At times I suspected that the authors were not sure whether they were writing primarily about life in the convict system or writing a crime novel as the plot is intertwined with detailed descriptions of convict life. Being the first book in a series it also contains copious back stories providing information about the main characters which slow down the unravelling of the story. Hopefully other titles in the series will concentrate a little more on the plot if they are meant to be crime novels.

The book does provide an interesting fictional account of convict life in New South Wales. The second book in the series, The Unmourned, published earlier this year is set in the Parramatta Female Factory. Hopefully the storyline will move a little faster than in The Soldier's Curse. It will be interesting to watch the development of this series.

Review in The Australian 27 February 2016

Saturday, March 18, 2017

True Girt: the unauthorised history of Australia - volume 2

The sequel to Girt: the unauthorised history of Australia by David Hunt has arrived providing readers with another chance to explore the alternative history of our country. This time topics examined include the European settlement of Tasmania, New South Wales after Macquarie (briefly), European settlement of Victoria, gold, bushrangers, explorers and the treatment of Aborigines.

David Hunt continues his irreverent investigation of events in Australian history with copious footnotes often referring to possibly parallel recent events. Like the first volume the book provides a usually humorous interpretation of history though some of the incidents described, particularly the treatment of indigenous Australians, may make the reader feel uncomfortable. However other sections make entertaining reading and may encourage readers to explore Australian history more thoroughly.

The Australian reviewed this book in November.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Botany Bay: the real story

In 2011 Alan Frost published his book, Botany Bay: the real story, based on a thirty-five year study of original documents relating to the establishment of a colony in New South Wales. In his research he discovered records that had not been explored thoroughly by other historians and consequently some of his findings differ from previous research.

The first two chapters are about crime and punishment in eighteenth century England. Dealing with convict problems via the use of hulks and enlistment 1776-1783 is followed by chapters on proposals to reintroduce transportation to a number of countries in various parts of the world. One chapter looks at the possibility of forthcoming war while another chapter examines investment and return resulting from having an overseas convict colony. In the final chapters Alan Frost examines the arguments made leading to the final decision of Botany Bay as the site for a convict colony including:

Botany Bay had been recommended by James Cook and Joseph Banks and Pitt respected their judgement.
This was not a hasty decision as it had taken seven years to develop between 1779 and 1786.
Sending the First Fleet was an expensive way of relocating convicts but it became more cost efficient by the time of the Third Fleet.
The new colony would be suitable for providing supplies for the navy, especially timber and flax from Norfolk Island.
There was a need to establish a colony in the region before the French did.

This book is useful for the information it provides on the background for the implementation of transportation to New South Wales.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The art of time travel: historians and their craft

In this work Tom Griffiths studies the work of fourteen historians who present different perspectives of Australian history. Beginning with the work of Eleanor Dark in her book, The timeless land, he moves on to the work of Keith Hancock, John Mulvaney, Geoffrey Blainey, Judith Wright, Greg Dening, Henry Reynolds, Eric Rolls, Stephen Murray-Smith, Donna Merwick, Graeme Davison, Inga Clendinnen, Grace Karskens and Mike Smith. As seen by this list 'historian' in this book is not just interpreted as an historian working in a university but can also be someone portraying history through literature or art.

The chapters are not necessarily confined to the person listed in the chapter title. The chapter, History and fiction: Inga Clendinnen, for example, includes several pages of discussion on the work of Kate Grenville, especially her books, The secret river and The making of the secret river. Tom Griffiths provides an interesting study of how writers have interpreted the past in Australia's story.

Writing family history

A number of books have been published about writing family history, a topic becoming increasingly popular with older Australians. Two titles I have recently looked at include Writing family history made very easy: a beginner's guide by Noeline Kyle and Writing your family history: a guide for family historians by Gill Blanchard.

Chapters in Noeline Kyle's book include Becoming a writer, Research and writing go together, Who are you writing for? Asking questions and finding ideas, Characters, Nostalgia, Historical context is what? as well as chapters on publishing your work. This Australian book provides useful clues to writing and publishing your family story. The section on publishing concentrates on producing a print publication which is probably not surprising as the text was completed in 2006. It is still, however a useful guide with ideas to consider when writing a family history.

British author, Gill Blanchard, published her book in December 2014. Chapters include Who, what, where, when, why and how, What kind of ancestral story, When to stop researching, Developing writing skills, Make it interesting - 'bringing the past to life', The nitty-gritty - from editing, proofreading and acknowledgements to copyright and Publishing. Useful tips and exercises are included in each chapter making this a practical step-by-step guide which is easy to follow. The section on publishing includes publishing online as well as publishing in book form. 

Both of these authors have published family histories as well as other material on writing family history. A Google search provides additional information about the authors and their publications.
I also found this link to lecture notes by Noeline Kyle on the topic.

Minding her own business

In 2015 Catherine Bishop's book, Minding her own business: Colonial businesswomen in Sydney, was published. In this work the author attempts to dismiss the theory that women were only background figures in Colonial Sydney with activities confined to minding the home and family. In fact, she has discovered that women ran many of the businesses in the colony, although this has become lost in history.

Women in business in Colonial Australia should not be a surprise. By just looking through lists of colonial publican licensees it is apparent that many publicans were female. Catherine Bishop looks at many businesses in early Sydney which were run and usually owned by women. Sometimes they worked in partnership with their husbands but often the businesses were run by females, sometimes for several generations. Creating fashionable clothes for the ladies of the colony was one industry where women excelled. However women also ran schools for girls, some ran boarding houses while some worked in retail and the food industry. Women were also entertainers and writers.

Sometimes women were forced to work to support their family when their husband died or if his business failed. It was not unusual for women to run their own business independent of their husband's business interests. However there are also cases of women taking over the family business after the death of their husband. The new colony had provided the opportunity for economic independence for a number of women.

Over time, however, the achievements of these women have been forgotten. Catherine Bishop 's study attempts to rectify this situation.