Monday, April 25, 2016

Archer's Melbourne Cup

This is a children's book in the My Australian Story series. Vashti Farrer has written the story of the lead up to and the running of the first Melbourne Cup in 1861. The book is written in diary form by a young strapper, Robby, who works for Mr de Mestre on his property which is largely used for training horses. In the book we learn about racing in the early 1860s and the life of the young boys who look after the horses. Robby spends much of his time looking after Archer and is allowed to accompany Mr de Mestre and the other staff who take three horses to Melbourne by steamer to run in the racing carnival which includes the new race which is to become famous throughout the country.

This is a well written book which can be enjoyed by anyone interested in the history of Australian horse racing in the nineteenth century, not just children. At the back of the book Vashti Farrer provides a summary of the actual events leading up to the horse race and dispels some of the myths which grew up around the story of Archer.

Etienne de Mestre was a grandson of my great (x3) grandmother.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Blockbuster! Fergus Hume & the mystery of the Hansom cab

The mystery of the hansom cab is one of the major works in early crime fiction. Lucy Sussex describes the novel by Fergus Hume as Australia's first literary block buster.

In this book Lucy Sussex writes about what is known of Fergus Hume, the author, particularly in relation to what became a block buster, not just in Australia but also in England and other countries throughout the world. As well as the editions of the book published in English the book has been translated into French, German and Scandinavian languages. First published in Melbourne in 1886, the book has never been out of print.

Fergus Hume, born in Scotland, moved with his family to New Zealand when a child before trying his luck in Melbourne. He had studied to be a lawyer but preferred writing and tried his hand writing pieces for newspapers. He wanted to write drama but there was a preference for overseas productions and he found it difficult to find anyone to seriously look at his plays. He therefore began writing books. The mystery of the hansom cab was first published in Melbourne and then in London where it became a best seller. Unfortunately Hume had sold his rights to the book for a small sum so he did not make a fortune from the book. This was to be his most successful work though he wrote 130 titles. His work was influencial on crime writing in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The book was made into a film in 1911, 1915, 1925 and 1936. The story was adapted for radio, became a play and was shown as a telemovie on the ABC in 2012.

A brief review of The mystery of a hansom cab appeared in this blog in 2011.

Fergusson Wright Ume - ADB
Article in Inside Story 8 May 2012
Review of Block Buster! in Sydney Morning Herald June 27 2015

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Girt: the unauthorised history of Australia

Australians, generally, have a reputation for the ability to see humour in most situations so why not history. Some historians aside who appear to be upset when allusions to Australia's history appear in novel form - such as Kate Grenville's The Secret River, most other readers will enjoy this irreverent look at the history of our country until the end of Macquarie's term as Governor.

David Hunt starts his account with the first Europeans credited with bumping into the coast of Australia, Aborigines in Australia prior to 1788 and then the decision by the British to set up a colony on the other side of the world. The rest of the book deals with the trials and tribulations of the early settlement, the convicts and their leaders until Macquarie left the colony in 1821- nothing is safe. The author sets out to write a satire on Australian history and succeeds.

This book is recommended reading for anyone interested in the history of Australia but it is particularly recommended for those who think that Australian history is boring. The author is currently working on volume two so beware.

A review of Girt in The Australian 5 April 2014

Ireland - Easter Rising 1916

2016 marks the centenary of the Easter Rising in parts of Dublin and other areas in Ireland.

There had been a move for the establishment of an Ireland free from English rule for many years and political negotiations were under way, however these had been hampered and slowed down by the events of World War I. Some groups were not happy with the progress of negotiations so there were also plans for militant action by groups such as the Irish Republican Brotherhood. It had been hoped that there might be some assistance from Germany in this operation but when these plans fell through a section of the IRB decided to still go ahead with the planned insurrection. On 24 April key buildings in Dublin and other locations were seized by small groups of the IRB and members of other nationalist groups.Two of these locations were the General Post Office and the Four Courts. The rebellion lasted for a week and during that time 450 people died and approximately 2000, often civilians, were injured. The rebels had hoped that the general populace would rise and support them but this did not happen. Reprisals from the English were swift and severe which contributed to simmering antagonism against English rule. This all came to a head in the Irish Civil War from 28 June 1922 to 24 May 1923.

A quick look in the library catalogue located a number of books on this period of Irish history. They are just a few of the many publications available on this topic.

General books on the history of Ireland
Understanding Irish History by F J M Maden (Teach yourself series) (2010)
Although this work concentrates on the history of Ireland from 1500, most of the book deals with the political development of the country from the nineteenth century onwards. At the end of each chapter there is a summary of the main points covered in the chapter which is useful for quick reference.
A Brief History of Ireland by Paul F State (2009)
A general history of Ireland is provided in this book with the last five chapters covering the period from the beginning of the nineteenth century onwards. The book is well set out with maps, illustrations and separate biographies of prominent participants in Irish history. Good for an overview of the topic.

The Easter Rising and the Irish Civil War
The War for Ireland 1913-1923 edited by Peter Cottrell (2009)
As the title suggests this book covers events between 1913 and 1923 leading to the establishment of Eire at the end of the Irish Civil War. A detailed, illustrated, approachable account of this period of Irish history. At the front of the book is a detailed chronology. A clear overview of this period of Irish history.

A Nation and Not a Rabble: the Irish Revolution 1913-1923 by Diarmaid Ferriter (2015)
This book also covers the period 1913 to 1923 providing a detailed study of the period.

1916 the Morning After - From the Courts Martial to the Tribunals by Tim Pat Coogan (2015)
A detailed study of the Easter Rising and its aftermath. Although the initial focus is on the Easter Rising the author investigates the issues affecting the history of Ireland over the following one hundred years, including corruption and institutional and clerical abuse.

Cumann Na MBan and the Irish Revolution by Cal McCarthy (2014)
Women were also involved in the struggle for independence and many belonged to the organisation Cumann Na MBan established in 1914 to support the Irish Volunteers. The role of this group in opposing English rule in Ireland, providing arms for Irishmen wanting to fight and later assisting with intelligence, nursing the wounded and providing safe houses is discussed in this book. Members of the group proved that women could also be politically active.

A small selection of websites providing an overview of the topic
Easter Rising - British History
Ireland Easter Rising 1916
Why there was a civil war in Ireland - 1916 Rebellion Walking Tour
Irish Civil War - a brief overview - The Irish Story

Monday, April 4, 2016

No! I don't want to join a book club

Yes, I did choose this book because of its title. I came across it when shelving some books in the library and decided I had to read it.

Marie Sharp is about to turn 60. She has never regularly kept a diary but decides that this is the time to start in order to record the significant events at this stage of her life. It is soon obvious that Marie has definite ideas about aging and has a list of things she does not intend to do including taking an Open University degree, learning Italian or joining a book club.

The diary records events in the lives of Marie and her friends. Much of the work does reflect on growing older, but is is also a celebration of being free, the joys, and fears, experienced when first becoming a grandmother, and of relationships made by older people. The acceptance of the death of a friend is discussed in the second part of the book but there is also the possibility of a new relationship and hope for a happier future.

The book is often quirky and amusing as the account of eighteen months in the life of Marie Sharp and her friends is recorded. Although Marie did not join a book club there are a number of literary allusions throughout the novel. Penguin has also published a Reader's Guide on the novel as an aid for members of book clubs.

This book had mixed reviews in Good Reads however many of the readers who did not enjoy the book were American and may not have appreciated the English humour.