Richard Zachariah’s Vanished Land is an ode to what once was within the picturesque Western Districts of Victoria. His rich language frames anecdotes of rose-tinted childhood musings alongside despairing soliloquies on the modern state of the once majestic region. With a balance and pace that immerses the reader within the author’s thoughts and understanding, Zachariah opens up a world that has been lost.
A keen July wind touches us. I’m standing at the entrance to Hexham Park, which my old friend David Armstrong sold at a time of rural recession a decade ago. The paddocks are invisible under a plague of pine trees. A hundred and fifty years of the Armstrongs’ Western District hegemony has faded like a rainbow in the sky. The Camelot of my boyhood dreams is gone. No one at this moment feels safe from talk of grief.
When he greets us, David is amiable and brave. Artist Robert Whitson is there with me to paint what is left of the beloved place.
David’s key to the gate doesn’t work. The locks have been changed by the new owners, one of the timber companies whose tax-driven tree ventures have disfigured the Western District. Hexham Park, once a haven of undulating paddocks and river flats, is now a vivid scar of pine trees over sprayed weeds.
David is apologetic as we climb the locked gate and walk the mile long red gravel drive to his forsaken birthplace.
When I think of the towns to the northwest, the contrast is stark.
As a teenager, I knew Streatham, Skipton and Lake Bolac as the heart of a grazing and cropping nirvana, but today those towns are bereft and sinking, while proximity to a big city has handed Birregurra freshly painted cottages, organic cafes, a destination restaurant and a burgeoning future in lifestyle real estate.
Then I see the miracle of crops. Vast areas of sheep country have gone under the plough, defying traditional claims that the wet, heavy soil would drown any monetary return. Farmers have confounded the rules by raising the beds 15 centimetres and creating depressions between them to drain water. Once drained, the rich volcanic soil pushes up white and red wheat in unprecedented quantities interspersed with ripening canola in swathes of ludicrous hi-vis yellow.
Steel mammoths with rubber legs rumble through widened gates where utes once bumped along. Workers give way to machines ruled by laptops and satellites, driven by GPS-RTK auto steer, replacing manpower and emptying the towns.
Visiting outback Australia, the English writer Bruce Chatwin discovered the Aboriginal custom of measuring a journey in songs rather than kilometres. Out of this visit came The Songlines (1987), which lit up an ancient culture by interpreting the dreamtime as a parallel reality that exists alongside our quotidian existence, preceding us and lasting long after our deaths. Chatwin believed that our time-challenged lives would be enhanced if we discarded the angst of measuring kilometres so that a destination became a way of seeing and redefining ourselves.
The Songlines mythology came to me travelling in a car with Peter Learmonth, a fifth-generation Western District dictionary of ownership, bibliography of people and compendium of history. In the spirit of Chatwin, he measured our trips by properties passed and people remembered. Kilometres were irrelevant, never mentioned.
Find out more about this bestseller here.
The Miles Franklin announcement is not far away. This award is arguably the most important on the Australian literary scene. In his Brief Take on the Australian Novel, Jean François-Vernay structures his approach by borrowing from another popular art form: film. Here we have his ‘Low-angle shot of the Miles Franklin Award’.
In line with the wishes of Stella Franklin, who bequeathed almost all of her estate estimated at £8,996 to establish this literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award must give preference to a published work ‘of the highest literary merit and which must present Australian Life in any of its phases’. Founded in 1957, the award has ever since crowned 58 novels with glory and increased their sales.
As is the case with any respected prize, the Miles Franklin has had its share of controversies. In 1994, the jurors unleashed a debate by excluding Frank Moorhouse’s novel Grand Days (1993) from the competition, claiming that its Australian content was practically insignificant. The story traces the career of a young Australian woman who, after the Great War, works for the United Nations in Geneva. In 1995, the committee tried to make amends by celebrating The Hand That Signed the Paper by Helen Demidenko, but it later transpired that the author was a Ukrainian-impersonating plagiarist. After this scandal, the jury decided to play it safe in 1996 with Highways to a War by Christopher Koch. Pocketing the prize money, Koch started another controversy when he revealed his uncharitable thoughts about academia.
Today, some people think it is high time the overly restrictive selection criteria of this award should be revised in order to take into account novels whose characters, settings, themes and plots are located outside Australia. The list of recipients of the Miles Franklin is also widely criticised for comprising chiefly middleaged novelists, few of whom are women (approximately one third of all prize-winners), let alone Aboriginal (Kim Scott and Alexis Wright being the exceptions). There is a sneaking suspicion that the judging panel might almost be guilty of ageism, sexism and racism. Despite the criticism, this national and nationalistic prize is still regarded as a reliable benchmark for identifying great Australian novels. The winner in 2010, Peter Temple’s Truth, indicated that popular genres like crime novels are now taken seriously.
For more close-ups, panoramic views and special features on the Australian novel, see here.
For NAIDOC Week, we are sharing this story from Phoebe and Savannah Brice, two of the many inspirational activists in Breaking the Boundaries.
We live in South Australia in a small, close-knit community about 200 kilometres north of Adelaide.
Our story started in 2007 when our Mum explained to us what being Aboriginal meant. She told us we were different from other people. When we asked how, she said, ‘It’s simply because our skin colour is different and we have a different flag. When you’re older you will understand better.’
We went to school the next day and when I noticed that our flag wasn’t flying proudly next to the Australian flag I started asking questions. I asked my classroom teacher why and she decided to follow it up. She spoke with our principal and they both decided I should contact Mr Rowan Ramsey, our federal Member of Parliament, and ask for an Aboriginal flag. I was successful and also received a medal for my achievement and initiative. Sadly, the flag was never flown because we didn’t have a flagpole to fly it on, and later, mysteriously, the flag disappeared.
After a few years, in 2012, my sister Savannah and I wanted to review this problem. We discussed it with our new principal, Maceij Jankowski, and our new classroom teacher, Katie Deverall, and decided that we would again write to Mr Ramsey asking for a new Aboriginal flag and an Australian flag too, as the old one had been put through quite a bit. But to prevent the dilemma we were earlier faced with, Savannah wrote to Mr Ramsey also asking for a flagpole.
About two weeks later we received a letter in the mail each and a parcel containing an Australian and Aboriginal flag. We had successfully gained two new flags for our school. But there was still the problem of the flagpole.
Phoebe was lucky. Her letter came with a parcel of two flags. My letter was a disappointment. It said that the flagpole fund had ceased but the good news was that my request had been forwarded onto Mr Geoff Brock, our state MP, to see whether he could be of assistance.
I waited for around two months to get a reply from Geoff, and when I finally got one it said that he was trying and he had sent my letter on to other people.
Then it was the September school holidays and my family and I went to the Port Pirie Smelters Picnic. As we were walking along Sideshow Alley my mum spotted Geoff Brock and she told Phoebe and me to go over and talk to him. So we did. We shook his hand and told him about the school and the flagpole. He told us that he was planning to visit our school in the last term. When school started again, I told my teacher and the principal and they were very excited.
It was Monday of the last week of term for the year and Geoff Brock still hadn’t come to visit, so I asked my teacher and principal for permission to send an email telling him how upset I was that he hadn’t come. The next day the principal asked for me in his office. I thought I was in trouble but it turned out that Geoff Brock was going to be at my school at 10 am that day. When he arrived, the principal, Geoff and I had a short meeting updating me on what was happening.
Then it was 2013. Phoebe had started at high school. We didn’t hear from Geoff until early in term two, when the principal called me into his office. He said that we had finally got the pole. I was so happy I started crying. A few weeks later the pole arrived and by that time some of the local reporters heard about the story and by the eighth week of term two, I had already been in six newspapers. In the last week of school we had a NAIDOC celebration where one of the other Rocky River schools came to celebrate with us. We had a huge flagpole ceremony. All the parents came, and both Geoff Brock and Rowan Ramsey were there along with news reporters. After Rowan and Geoff read their speeches, the school captain and I raised both the Australian and Aboriginal flags. For the first time in all my life at that school I saw my flag rise.
I would like to thank all of the people who were involved with getting the flags and pole, and all of my friends for their support, my teacher and my principal and, most importantly, my mum, dad, sisters Phoebe and Samantha, and my older brother Mathew. At primary school it’s a tradition that the Year 7s leave their mark. As I go into my last year here, I feel my mark has already been made.
Find out more about Breaking the Boundaries here.
Rhondda Harris came across something fascinating when researching in the State Records of South Australia at Gepps Cross for an archaeological dig at the old Adelaide Gaol: a long-lost journal written by the gaol’s first governor, William Baker Ashton. But we’ll let Rhondda introduce the journal herself through this short preamble from her book, Ashton’s Hotel. This includes an excerpt from the journal itself which, yes, may contain some ‘mistakes’. As Rhondda says in the book, ‘I have turned off the autocorrect and transcribed it just as it is in the original. It is an editor’s nightmare but an authentic read.’
June 11 Wednesday: A Poor Woman Named Wilkinson Supposed to be Insane was found at 71/2 this Morning with 2 Small Children Nearly Dead from wet and Cold at the end of the ditch Near the Gaol the Poor Children were in a Dreadful State their Arms and legs being quite Stiff from the Wet & Cold I had the Woman & Children brot into the TurnKeys lodge by a good fire and Mrs. Ashton and Mr Perry took their Wet Clothes off and put warm Blankets on them and they Soon got better . . .
– Sheriff Visited the Gaol Saw the Prisoners and Saw the poor woman & children found in the Water this Morning, wished her to Remain in the Gaol and he would Report the Circumstances to the Government her Husband was for some years in the Government Employ at the port but have left the Colony Since and this Poor woman has no home for herself or Children.
June 12 Thursday: Mrs Wilkinson Still in Gaol and her children Supplied from the Gaol Rations by order of the Sheriff.
This story is from an old journal, written in Adelaide, South Australia. The date was 1845, in the sixth year of this extraordinary journal and in the ninth year of the South Australian colony. This incident, so briefly recorded, is in itself an ordinary story, yet it hints at the far-from-ordinary character of the writer, William Baker Ashton, first governor of the Adelaide Gaol.
There are many such stories in his journal. They provide entry into the little-known underclass of early Adelaide, a world where many of the poor, the inebriates, the prostitutes, the debtors, as well as many Aboriginal people, mentally ill people, children who stole or absconded from their masters, sailors, runaway convicts, petty criminals and serious criminals, including bushrangers and murderers, were collected in the confines of the first Adelaide gaols. Some of these people escaped and were recaptured. Some were hanged. Many were transported by sea to be punished in the penal colonies of Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land, out of Adelaide’s sight. They were all looked after for a time by the governor of the gaol, William Ashton; his wife Charlotte; the guards and turnkeys and sometimes their wives; and by visiting officials – doctors, nurses, the protector for the Aboriginal people, the sheriff, religious ministers, and the colonial governor. It is a fascinating journal, a real treasure, and now that it is known, it is a fabulous addition to the story of early Adelaide.
Find out more about Ashton’s Hotel here.
Christine V. Courtney’s Venetian Voices takes you on a stroll over bridges and under cloisters, following Venetian locals and visitors as they pass through centuries.
On Saturday 24 June, Wakefield Press is joining with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra to launch Venetian Voices with a unique afternoon of music and poetry. Graham Abbott (ABC Classic FM) will be conducting members of the orchestra in a Venetian-inspired program, interspersed with readings from Christine.
The program includes Richard Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, which we recommend listening to while you enjoy a taste of Christine’s poetry.
Late in 1882, an odd-looking couple
on their daily pilgrimage
stroll through St Mark’s Square.
Liszt’s daughter Cosima
and the master Richard Wagner pause;
listening to a haunting refrain
from his masterpiece:
the Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde.
Music of wondrous beauty drifts aloft,
heard with rapture by the locals
and played in tribute
by humble musicians of the Café Florian.
He dips his head in acknowledgment.
An imperceptible down beat, and pause
from the sick master quavering,
crotchety on his final walk.
A lifetime subject of notoriety,
and gossip, he senses
an unknown conductor
hovering in the wings, waiting
to conduct his Liebestod.
In the Palazzo early in 1883,
the stranger calls in the dying day
to dim the rays, to snuff his light.
Wagner’s lifetime of creativity
paid the ferryman in full.
As Charon led the funeral cortege,
the gondoliers raised oars in a ‘Piscopian’ salute,
when the procession
passed Palazzo Vendramin Calergi,
where the masterpiece was completed.
It moved slowly, respectfully
pianissimo along the Grand Canal,
towards his final resting place,
the Pantheon of Bayreuth.
Opening this coming weekend, the Discovering Dobell exhibition at Tarrawarra – and its accompanying book – features the artist’s controversial and recognisable portraits of Joshua Smith, Dame Mary Gilmore and, as we see here, Helena Rubinstein, alongside other vital strands of his output, introducing the creative achievements of this great Australian painter for a new generation of art lovers.
The cosmetics manufacturer Helena Rubinstein became an obsession for William Dobell. He fretted over her portrait for six years, producing many versions in an effort to portray what he considered an allusive personality. She had led a chequered and colourful career. Having arrived in Australia from Poland in 1902, and speaking almost no English, she went to live with relatives who ran a store in the rural Victorian town of Coleraine. Affected by Australia’s dry heat, Rubinstein tried to make a moisturiser by experimenting with lanolin, which was in plentiful supply in the sheep district. Within twelve months she was selling homemade beauty creams to an expanding clientele; a Collins Street cosmetics salon opened in Melbourne the following year, then she expanded to Sydney. Leaving her sister running Australian operations, Rubinstein moved to London in 1908 and progressively became one of the leading cosmetics manufacturer – and richest women – in the world.
Helena Rubinstein was in her late eighties when William Dobell began work on her portrait. Having made several drawings in her Sydney hotel room, he went home to Wangi and dashed down five very small oil sketches on board, which conveyed her posture and skin pallor. He thought about them for some time, actually several months, then made an initial large portrait. There would be seven more in following years.
Sketch portrait of Helena Rubinstein 1957
What baffled the artist is how Rubinstein had alternate personalities she applied to situations as needed. In personal terms he found her shy and diffident, but in the workplace she was an efficient and resourceful businesswoman: the private and the public Helena Rubinstein were so different. How to convey this psychological complexity via a painting? Added to this paradox was her size, because Rubinstein was a tiny 4 feet 10 inches (147 centimetres), although by pressure of personality she seemed taller, even large-framed. The solution he reached was to contrast her delicate face (carefully made-up, eyes distracted, quite feminine) with her powerful hands (very large, professional looking, strong). Each informs us about the sitter’s temperament. Rubinstein may appear in different gowns, different jewellery, different interiors across the eight finished portraits; and Dobell’s summary brushwork alters as he presents the sitter as either vulnerable or tough, that is, as either a private person or canny executive. But underpinning all is the ‘character’ of face and of hands, and what they reveal about the inner life of Rubenstein and her strength.
Find out more about Discovering Dobell here.
On a Clare Day might be one of our favourite pun titles, but it’s also a wonderful book, and is launching today as part of the Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend. Jeni and Burt Surmon’s tale of leaving their city life to start a winery includes a number of delicious recipes, a few which of course incorporate some of their Mt Surmon wines! These beef cheeks sound like exactly the thing for an Autumn Sunday lunch.
Beef (calf) cheeks in red wine
Ingredients for 4 servings
4 beef cheeks
150 mL olive oil
1 x 400 g tin of tomatoes
2 tbs tomato paste
1 onion, chopped
1 red capsicum, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
handful of parsley, chopped
2 springs of sage, chopped
2 sprigs of rosemary, chopped
4 sprigs of thyme, chopped
salt, pepper, grated nutmeg
250 mL beef stock
half a bottle of Nebbiolo (Mt Surmon or otherwise!)
Wash the cheeks well. Put half of the oil into a large saucepan and sauté the cheeks until brown on both sides. Remove the cheeks.
Add the remaining oil, vegetables, tinned tomatoes and tomato paste to the pot, cook for a few minutes then add the garlic, spices and herbs, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop from sticking, in which case add a little stock.
Now add the cheeks, stock and red wine. Reduce the heat, put the lid on and cook gently for 5 hours.
Want to know what it’s like to start a winery? Find our more about On a Clare Day here.
It’s difficult to know how to begin talking about a book as beautiful as this. Tracing Australian Dance Theatre’s often tumultuous and always interesting fifty-year history, Fifty contains interviews, archival research, and stunning photography.
Did you think I was exaggerating?
Read an excerpt below, or find out more about the book here.
The beginnings of Australian Dance Theatre were radical, daring and new. The company was created in Adelaide, South Australia in 1965 with a vision to support Australian dancers, choreographers, composers, and musicians, as well as visual and other associated artists. We planned to pioneer contemporary dance throughout Australia and across the world. Through our dance we wanted to inspire people everywhere with the philosophies of the modern art movement that encouraged an awakening in consciousness and an honouring of our shared humanity.
By 1970 ADT had become a visible force in the theatrical landscape of Australia and was considered to be the national contemporary dance company. How did we do this? In the beginning ADT accepted every opportunity to perform – in theatres, outdoor venues, fashion parades, social functions, school halls and on television talent shows. I constantly sought performance opportunities locally, nationally and internationally, and during the first 10 years we presented regular seasons in Adelaide, toured regionally throughout South Australia, and made regular tours to Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Hobart, Brisbane and regional Queensland and Tasmania. Additionally, the company presented dance workshops, lecture demonstrations, forums and some of the first dance-ineducation programs in Australia, quickly building up audiences for modern dance. Company records for 1971–1973, for example, show that the number of performance attendees was over 58,000. Records show that the number of performances varied each year, ranging between 68 and 173 in the years 1965 to 1975.
It was a struggle all the way, but I believed passionately in the validity of dance as a powerful art form and an essential part of our humanity. I saw the modern art movement as a vehicle for the expression of contemporary ideas and hoped that it would help lift Australia out of its colonial stagnation. I also believed that modern dance was an excellent way for Australian dancers and choreographers to express themselves as artists, particularly as Australian artists. Through all of its work ADT contributed greatly to the exciting revolutionary social changes that were happening during the 1960s and 1970s both in Australia and internationally. The fruits of the seeds sown by the company in those years are still visible today in both professional dance and educational arenas.
Founder of ADT, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman
(Photos top to bottom: Creation. 1969. Dancers: Bert Terborgh, Jennifer Barry, Roc Ta-peng Lei. Choreographer: Elizabeth Cameron Dalman. Photo: Jan Dalman. This Train, 1966, photo taken 1970. Dancers, left to right: Cheryl Stock, Bert Terborgh, Delwyn Rouse, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Jennifer Barry, Neville Burns. Choreographer: Elizabeth Cameron Dalman. Photo: Jan Dalman. Be Your Self. Dancer: Troy Honeysett. Photo: Chris Herzfeld, Camlight Productions.)
Sally van Gent has lived adventurously. She’s dined with the Bedouin, dived deep into the Arabian Sea, and climbed aboard a tanker for a midnight rendezvous. Her latest memoir, The Navy-blue Suitcase, is a collection of stories from her travelling life told with ‘optimism, humour, an indefatigable faith in a better future, and a powerful sense that life is what you make of it, no matter what cards you’ve been dealt’ (ANZ LitLovers LitBlog). Today we’re sharing a little snippet from the years that Sally spent living in Doha, Qatar.
Patterns in the rock
There are no fancy restaurants or indoor cinemas in Doha. Those Westerners who work for the oil company have their own pool and sporting facilities, but for the rest of us, our social life centres around a modest sailing club and whatever home entertainment we can devise.
We know all of the expatriates in Doha who drink and want to let off steam: the Lebanese, the Armenians and French, the Germans, Brits and South Americans, Singaporeans and Aussies. Between them they throw some wonderfully wild and varied parties – so good that no one wants to fly home for Christmas.
There’s no work on Fridays, and in summer we sail or swim. Winter brings with it mild, balmy days, and we take our children into the desert to explore old forts or to slide down sand dunes on cheap tin trays.
We’re heading north one afternoon, driving along a track parallel to the beach, when there’s a flash of pink and we spot a dozen flamingos wading through the shallows. To our left a limestone outcrop rises from the sand, and we drive over and park beside it. The children in the group run off to play on its slopes while we adults lay out the rugs,
unpack the picnic baskets and pour coffee.
Before we can drink it, Angus and his friend Hamish wave to us from the top of the hill and cry out, ‘Come and see what we’ve found!’
I climb up the slope and the boys lead me to where a rectangle has been cut deep into the rock, perhaps for the purpose of catching rainwater. Strange indentations spread out around it – circles, and holes set out in rows, reminiscent of a board game the locals play. There are boat-shapes with what look like oars. I call out to my friends and for an hour we search the rocks, finding more and more carvings. Who would do this? And why?
As evening unfolds the wind stills, and the late-afternoon light casts a rosy glow onto the desert. I look out over its vast sameness and am reminded of how the Bedouin pick out subtle variations in the sand, recognising landmarks that we Westerners will never see.
It’s time to pack up the picnic things and take our children home. The sun is going down and on our way back to the city we pass cars pulled over to the side of the road so their owners can turn to Mecca. They prostrate themselves on the ground and pray.
Later we ask our Qatari friends about the carvings in the rock but few have seen them. Those who have tell us they are very old, ancient even, but as to who made them or for what reason, they have no idea.
Find out more about The Navy-blue Suitcase here.
May marks the annual South Australia’s History Festival. South Australia on the Eve of War was launched on Tuesday as part of the festival. Here we have an excerpt from book’s introduction, written by Melanie Oppenheimer and Margrette Kleinig.
Three individuals – David Unaipon, Catherine Helen Spence and Douglas Mawson – encapsulate the spirit of South Australia in the years between Federation in 1901 and the eve of war. All, too, have graced our paper currency at one point or another, an indication of their national importance. Catherine Helen Spence, who died in Adelaide in 1910, was described as ‘the leading woman in public affairs at the turn of the century in Australia’: South Australia’s Chief Justice further described her as ‘the most distinguished woman they had had in Australia’. At the forefront of the first-wave feminist movement, which included ensuring South Australia was the first Australian state to secure voting rights for women in 1894, Spence became Australia’s first female political candidate, standing unsuccessfully for election as a delegate to the 1897 Australasian Federal Convention.
‘Preacher, author and inventor’ David Unaipon was once described as the ‘best-known Aborigine in the Commonwealth’ in the early twentieth century. Born in 1872 at the Point McLeay Mission (now Raukkan) on the edge of the River Murray Lower Lakes, Unaipon was, on the eve of war, in his early forties. Interested in ‘philosophy, science and music’ and in recording his people’s oral stories and traditions, Unaipon had ‘led a deputation urging government control of Point McLeay Mission’ in 1912, and the following year gave evidence to a state government Royal Commission into Aboriginal matters.
In early 1914 Douglas Mawson triumphantly returned from the Antarctic, where he had led Australia’s ‘first scientific exploring endeavour beyond the Australian continent’. Lecturer in mineralogy and petrology at the University of Adelaide, Mawson was physicist on the Shackleton expedition (1907–1909) that aimed to reach the South Geographic Pole. While leading the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911–1914, he made scientific advances in ‘cartography, geology, meteorology, aurora, geomagnetism, biology and marine science’.
These three remarkable people, who pushed the boundaries in their own particular spheres in unexpected and very different ways, point to important social, political and cultural developments in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century South Australia that had an impact both nationally and internationally.
Find out more about South Australia on the Eve of War here.