BEHIND THE BOOK: Valerie Volk and her search for Anna

In a new series on the Wakefield Press blog, we’ve asked authors to write about the background, inspiration, research and work that goes into writing a book.

This week, Valerie Volk writes about her search for her distant relative Anna Werner, who in 1889 left the German town of Lewin to search for her son in the distant colonies of Australia. This search culminated in Valerie’s novel, In Search of Anna, a story that Valerie describes as a journey book, historical fiction, a study of motherhood, a detective novel, and a romantic tale all rolled into one.

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BEHIND THE BOOK: Anne Black on George Isaacs

Anne Black, George Isaacs and Pendragon

In a new series on the Wakefield Press blog, we’ve asked authors to write about the background, inspiration, research and work that goes into writing a book.

This week features Anne Black, author of Pendragon: The life of George Isaacs, Colonial wordsmith. Anne writes about her first encounter with little-known literary icon George Isaacs, and the death certificate that sparked an obsession and a biography.

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GUEST POST: Stephen Orr on Auschwitz, guilt, and responsibility

Stephen Orr on Auschwitz, guilt , and responsibility

What right do I have to talk about this place? What do I know about it? How much can I feel, can I see and smell and hear the suffering?

These are the questions author and teacher Stephen Orr asked himself after visiting the remains of the Auschwitz prison camp. In this guest post, Stephen writes of the importance of feeling pain that is not necessarily yours, and of remembering what has happened in the past as a way of improving the future.

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Book Launch: The First Wave

Gillian Dooley is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at Flinders University, South Australia. Gillian is also a journal editor and the author of books and articles on literary subjects from Jane Austen to J.M. Coetzee. In this guest post she writes about the launch of The First Wave: Exploring early coastal contact history in Australia, and the book’s importance in our understanding of Australian history.

On 20 June, The First Wave: Exploring Early Coastal Contact History in Australia, edited by The First Wave coverDanielle Clode and myself, was launched in London. This was the result of a happy convergence of circumstances: I was in the UK on an extended visit, presenting at several conferences and giving the odd lecture and seminar, and Flinders University was looking for an excuse to hold an alumni event in London. The Alumni Office at Flinders organised a splendid event in the sumptuous Downer Room at Australia House, with help from the South Australian Agent-General’s office. The Vice-chancellor, Professor Colin Stirling, flew in for the occasion, and nearly 100 people, including Flinders Alumni and many UK-based friends and colleagues, were present to see The First Wave launched into the world – a few weeks before it was even published in Australia – by the incomparable Elleke Boehmer, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Professor of World Literature at Oxford, novelist, prominent and prodigious scholar of the South and of colonial and post-colonial encounters.

The First Wave draws together 26 essays, stories, and poems from a range of authors, some of Aboriginal heritage – poets, novelists, historians, literary scholars, art historians, anthropologists, musicologists, linguists, ecologists. We wanted to include multiple perspectives on multiple encounters, in a variety of genres – concentrating on meetings with explorers – temporary visitors, rather than the settlers or invaders who came later, though it’s not so easy to draw these kinds of boundaries.

Elleke spoke at the launch with even more than her customary grace and acuity. She read some passages, including an extract from Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance and a poem by Ali Cobby Eckermann. Referring to the genesis of the book in my exploration of the encounters described in Matthew Flinders’ accounts of his voyage, she noted

the complex fractal pattern of perspectives, observations and silent sight-lines both Indigenous and European that the co-editors Dooley and Clode had delicately constructed around Flinders’ 1801-3 journey of Australian circumnavigation. Many of these observations crystallised out from the crucial meeting on the beach, that classic zone of colonial encounter, yet at a fragile time before that encounter became violent and destructive. The First Wave also beautifully demonstrates how those observations were then recorded not only in the explorers’ journals and logbooks but also in Indigenous song and dance, so making a very different yet equally telling historical record. Dooley and Clode had achieved this fine balance by drawing together an extensive generic range of writings including some resonant contemporary poetry and were to be especially congratulated about this.

Elleke’s speech made me see the work we had done in a new light, not as merely a heterogenous collection of a variety of perspectives – which it undoubtedly is, and which was our intention – but as something which appeared, in a way, complete – which had an integrity of its own, perhaps beyond the sum of its parts. I found her words extraordinarily moving and extremely gratifying.

Alastair Niven, LVO, OBE, formerly Director of Literature at the both the British Arts Council and the British Council, now of Harris Manchester College, Oxford, kindly agreed to make some closing remarks:

‘It is a genuine privilege to take part in the launch of The First Wave. That’s the sort of politely conventional thing one says on this sort of occasion, but tonight it is really true. This is a monumental book, and I don’t just mean in terms of weight. It is an essential work of true scholarship. This book matters, re-visiting old episodes and in the process re-visioning them.’

There is a crucial if brief sentence in Gillian Dooley’s and Danielle Clode’s excellent introduction. ‘What were the Europeans NOT seeing?’ These essays examine the not seen, which includes how they were themselves viewed by the indigenous peoples they found on arrival in Australia. I don’t usually spatter my talks with Biblical references, but it’s hard not to be reminded of words we have all grown up with and know as evidence of what we define as our civilisation: ‘Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.’ This book helps us clarify our opaque vision.

‘Throughout The First Wave words are given new shades of meaning as a consequence of their post-colonial interrogation.  Take as an example Valerie Munt’s essay ‘Sense or Sensibility? Encountering a “Savage” Land in a Romantic Era’, where every word of her title is ironic or nuanced: ‘sense’, ‘sensibility’, ‘encountering’, ‘”savage”‘ (placed in inverted commas), ‘land’, ‘Romantic’, ‘era’, even ‘or’.   This is a book full of such upendings. Encounters and exchanges, footprints and landing parties are all seen afresh. Books like Robinson Crusoe, Coral Island and Lord of the Flies will never seem the same again.’

Once again, I was touched, flattered and surprised by Alastair’s kind words. I have learned a huge amount during this project. When I first conceived of this book project, I knew I’d need a co-editor and the multi-talented Danielle Clode was my first choice, given her expertise on the French voyages to Australia and her wide and varied experience in writing and publishing. Luckily she agreed despite her overflowing schedule and she has been a wonderful partner in this enterprise, in addition to contributing her own beautifully crafted and carefully researched story about whaling on Australia’s east coast. I am grateful to every single one of the contributors for their unique accounts of a myriad of meetings, sightings and exchanges. Only one of them, Patrick Kaye, was able to be present at the London launch, but we look forward to celebrating its publication with many of the others in Adelaide soon – watch this space.

The First Wave, at over 450 pages, has turned out to be a big book, but I hope you will agree with me that its size is justified by the richness of the insights it provides.

Many thanks to Flinders University, Australia House, Elleke Boehmer, and Peter Livingstone, photographer, for their involvement in this wonderful evening.

To purchase a copy of the book, give us a call on (08) 8352 4455, visit us at our Mile End Bookshop, or find it in our online web store.

Extract: The Australian War Memorial

In The Australian War Memorial: A century on from the vision, Steve Gower, the highly successful director of the Australian War Memorial from 1996 to 2012, gives a comprehensive account of the development of the Memorial from its inception just over a century ago.

Australian War Memorial, Steve GowerThe book recounts the many challenges in establishing the Memorial and then in developing further its galleries and displays, the extensive collection, associated events and the overall supporting facilities. It also goes behind the scenes to provide insights into the many facets of a major, modern cultural institution.

In this extract from the final chapter of the book, Gower reflects on the importance of the Memorial, as well as the way the Australian people. have interacted with the Memorial over the years; some with disdain and contempt, others with a sense of solemn pride. He notes that directors past, present and future have always had the betterment and preservation of the Memorial at the front of their mind.


It seems relevant to ask why so many people are interested in what happens at the Australian War Memorial and why such passion is aroused at different times. I would suggest the reason is that the Memorial deals unmistakably with an agreed, major Australian narrative, not the only one but. arguably the principal one, which had its origins in the Gallipoli campaign and which has resonated with successive generations. That narrative has been challenged and dismissed by some: others demand that it be interpreted their way. Minorities have attached what they believe it stands for and have confidently predicted its imminent demise. Notwithstanding, the narrative has survived and is probably stronger now than it has ever been. It belongs to the Australian people, with all their strengths, weaknesses, pride, foibles. and innate decency, who by their support have expressed their satisfaction with its very essence. it comes from the people voluntarily, not imposed from above.

The Australian War Memorial, as a custodian of the narrative, belongs to all Australians. It’s not owned by the defence force, whose members carry the burden of the nation’s expectations that they live up to the values implicitly recorded there. I have no doubt that can be a source of strength and resolution for them in fulfilling their duty. The .institution is not owned by veterans, despite their service and sacrifice and the fact that some regard it as the sacred cathedra of a secular Anzac religion. And it’s certainly not owned by the staff of the Memorial, the Director, historians, curators, or the like. Having said that, every Director and staff member down the ages has believed strongly in the Memorial and had its interests and advancement to the forefront of their minds.

The greatest privilege conferred on all staff is holding temporary stewardship of the narrative. and its contemporary meaning. In accepting this task, it’s their challenge to meet the collective high expectations the general public has of this great. and uniquely Australian institution. This sometimes requires a degree of resilience and fortitude not usually associated with museums and a sensitivity to nuances and subtleties.

In 2015 I asked Peter Burness, that long-serving. servant of the Memorial, what he thought Bean’s reaction would be were he to come back now. Burness thought he’d be thrilled. Bean’s vision had not only blossomed. but flourished, perhaps well beyond his original dreams. he might even be a little surprised by. the esteem with which it is held by the public, and its prominence as the central repository of .Australia’s remembrance of war. The Memorial is a great tribute to his. determination, persistence, and powers of persuasion in seeking the fulfilment of his vision.

As for Treloar, I believe he, too, would be pleased, but as an undemonstrative, hard-working, self-contained man, it is probable that he would suppress any satisfied smile. But inwardly, he’d be very proud of seeing how the place to which he’d devoted his life had progressed. His life’s work has become a lasting legacy, as he had hoped.

Both would be well pleased with how the record has been guarded over the last century. And so should anyone else who has been associated with the Memorial, in whatever capacity.

Steve Gower was Director of the Australian War Memorial between 1996 and 2012. He is a Duntroon graduate and Vietnam veteran who gained an Honours degree in Engineering from the University of Adelaide, followed by a Masters degree by research. He spent 37 years in the Australian Army, attaining the rank of major general before resigning to become the ninth Director of the Australian War Memorial, a position he held for over 16 years.

To purchase a copy of The Australian War Memorial: A century on from the vision, visit us in our Mile End bookshop, give us a call on (08) 8352 4455, or find the book in our online web shop.

ANZAC Day titles for the historian in us all

ANZAC Day is a solemn reminder to generations young and old of the pain and loss of war. But with the number of surviving veterans declining, it’s important for younger generations to keep their memory alive. With that in mind, here are five historical titles to read this ANZAC Day.


Don Longo, Pens and Bayonets: Letters from the Front by soldiers of Yorke Peninsula during the Great WarPens and Bayonets, Don Longo

Pens and Bayonets gives voice to the young Australia soldiers who volunteered to fight for our freedom in the Great War. They answered the call willingly, with many thinking it may be all over before they got there. How wrong they were. Author Don Longo gathered many of the moving letters sent to the fronts, and set them in their historical context, to bring these soldiers back to life.



Allison Reynolds, Anzac Biscuits: The power and spirit of an everyday national icon

Anzac Biscuits, Allison ReynoldsAnzac biscuits, baked in Australia and New Zealand for over a century, have a powerful connection to the national identity and culture of both countries. But what is the story of this national icon? Were they eaten by troops during the First World War? When did coconut make an appearance?

Author Allison Reynolds traces the origins of the humble Anzac Biscuit, delving into war files and family cookbooks to investigate the provenance of this extraordinary everyday biscuit.



Cheryl Williss, Miss Marryat’s Circle: A not so distant past

Miss Marryats Circle, Cheryl WillissIn 1915, the second year of the Great War, Mabel Marryat joined the newly-formed League of Loyal Women. Mabel was active in the League’s emergency corps, ‘women who are prepared to give their service in any need that may arise’.

This book gives voice to the women of South Australia’s first 110 years of European settlement and opportunity to reflect on the changing position of women in society. But the spotlight shines on Mabel. Her long and devoted community service – particularly to her ‘Diggers’ – was extraordinary.


Sharon Cleary and Robert Kearney, Valour and Violets: South Australia in the Great War

Valour & Violets, Sharon Cleary and Robert kearneyClose to 35,000 South Australians enlisted for service overseas during the Great War. Around 5500 never came back. Countless more returned with physical and psychological injuries that would affect them for the rest of their lives.

Drawing on the work of the many who have written on the subject previously, Valour and Violets provides a wholly South Australian perspective on the impact of the Great War on individuals, on families and on our state’s coastal, regional, and outback communities.


Melanie Oppenheimer, Margaret Anderson, and Mandy Paul, South Australia on the Eve of War

Sa on the Eve of War, multipleIn August 1914 South Australians – much like their fellow Australians around the country – enthusiastically displayed their patriotism when war was announced. It’s a story we know well, but what do we know of South Australia in the lead up to the First World War? What was it like to live there at the time? What were South Australians talking about?

South Australia on the Eve of War considers unique aspects of the state in this pre-war period, including the political reverberations of Federation, the town planning of what was then Australia’s third-largest capital, Adelaide, and the shifting social positions of women, Indigenous Australians and minority groups.

lest we forget


To read more about any of these books, or to find other related titles, find our entire history list here on our website.

To purchase copies of any of these books, visit us in our Mile End bookshop, give us a call on (08) 8352 4455, or find them in our online web shop.

An Interview with: Claire Morey, Intern

Meet our wonderful intern, Claire, who recently completed her Honours degree in history (and then plunged right into a two-week stint at Wakefield Press!). Claire talks about the importance of self-aware history writers and the impact university has on reading habits.


What is the first book you ever read?

One of the first novel-sized books I can remember reading is probably Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. It seems to be the most memorable, maybe because I loved the edition and Quentin Blake’s illustrations so much.

What attracted you to doing your internship at Wakefield Press?

I’ve wanted to work in publishing for quite a long time but I hadn’t really thought to pursue it while I was studying. Now that I’ve graduated and have a lot more spare time I thought it would be a great opportunity to get involved with the publishing industry.

At the end of your internship, what are your thoughts about working in publishing?

I really enjoyed the internship! It’s helped me to solidify my interest in editing and proofreading, but it was also very interesting learning about other roles and how things operate behind-the-scenes.

You’ve done an Honours degree in history, so you must have read a few history books. What makes a history book engaging? And do you think history can tell us about the present as well as the past?

I really enjoy history books and historians that acknowledge their subjectivity and their inability to present a set of complete truths. In particular, history books that really cleverly weave together narrative and history with the past and present are the most engaging to me. A good example of this is Slicing the Silence by Australian historian Tom Griffiths. He is really fantastic at communicating history through interconnecting stories and historical figures in a constant conversation between past and present. Engaging historical writing can often read much like a novel.

What’s the last book you read and loved? What did you love about it?

Mary Lee: The life and times of a ‘turbulent anarchist’ and her battke for women’s rights by Denise George (published by Wakefield Press)! I really loved learning about a woman who, despite being so integral to the women’s suffrage movement of both South Australia and Australia as a whole, is hardly remembered or talked about in schools or general society. Reading such a captivating book has me thinking that primary and secondary school history could be far more interesting if we focus on incredible local historical events, such as women’s suffrage in South Australia and the women who fought so hard for it, rather than learning about the First Fleet over and over again.

What’s the last book you read and hated? what did you hate about it?

I don’t think I ever really hate books! It’s possible I only pick things up that I think I will like at least a little bit, so maybe I’m not that experimental in my reading choices. One book that I remember really struggling with was The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. Perhaps it was a bit too postmodern for me back in first year university, I think I could handle it a bit better now (maybe).

How do you find out about books you want to read?

I get a lot of recommendations through friends, family, my boyfriend and uni. I also follow a YouTuber (Leena Norms) who works in publishing in London, so that has been a great way to discover contemporary titles that are being published.

Where do you buy your books? (In a bookshop, online, second-hand … Or do you use libraries?)

A combination of all of them! If there’s a book I really want then I’ll buy it, and if it’s a lot cheaper online then I am a bit guilty of buying books from Book Depository. I do like finding second-books and recently I’ve been trying to use libraries more often, but I do enjoy owning books, especially if I’ve really enjoyed it and want to reread it.

Does studying influence the kinds of books you read? (Other than set texts, of course!) If so, how? 

Yes, I did English and History at uni so studying English got me very interested in a lot of classics as well as postcolonial literature.

Only in the last few years have I read many history books, which I never would have known about if it weren’t for studying history at uni. Studying history has also given me a far greater understanding and interest in Australian history.

How do you feel about reading on-screen? Do you read e-books as well as print books? (And if you do both, what’s the split, time-wise?)

I much prefer reading print books, I only really read e-books if a print book isn’t available.

If you were banished to a desert island and could take three books with you, what would they be and why?

This is very hard! First I think I’d pick The Art of Time Travel  by Tom Griffiths because it’s a great compilation of Australian and Indigenous history and it’s really well written. Next maybe The Story of Art by EH Gombrich because it is so incredibly packed with information so would use up a lot of time while stuck on an island. The last one would probably be Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë as it is such a lovely, easy read that never gets old.

Claire recently reviewed Mary Lee: The life and times of a ‘turbulent anarchist’ and her fight for women’s rights by Denise George. Lauded by Natasha Stott Despoja as a book that should be in all schools, click here to find out what Claire thought!

An introduction to Ashton’s Hotel

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.

The cover of Ashton's Hotel, by Rhondda Harris

Find out more about Ashton’s Hotel here.