‘That Dangerous and Persuasive Woman: Vida Goldstein’ by Janette M. Bomford

Bomford

1993, 226 p & notes.

Vida Goldstein is remembered as a suffragist, social reformer and pacifist. The picture on the front Bomford’s biography encapsulates what we tend to think of as the quintessential first-wave feminist, in her Edwardian clothing and earnest demeanour. It’s a photograph of Vida Goldstein, taken by T. Humphrey and Co Photographers, holding a placard dated 28 June 1912 about the English suffragist campaign. At this time, Vida Goldstein would stand in the Melbourne streets – a shocking sight- posters pinned to her skirt, selling the newspaper ‘Votes for Women’ and her own  ‘Woman Voter’ publication.

Vida Goldstein selling Votes for Women newspaper.

Vida Goldstein selling “Votes for Women” newspaper. State Library of Victoria, Maurice Blackburn, Papers, MS 11749, http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/360742

Vida Goldstein’s internationalism was just one aspect of her life that Janette Bomford highlights for us in this biography. At a time when women elsewhere in the Empire were still fighting for the right to vote, New Zealand and Australian women (who received the vote in 1893 and 1902 respectively) were feted in suffragist circles as an example of the new world to come (similar I suppose, to the way that Irish pro-marriage equality campaigners have advised during the current wrong-headed same-sex marriage ‘survey’).  She travelled to America as Australian delegate to the International Woman Suffrage Conference Fed 1902, aged 32 and was the delegate from the NSW chapter of National Council of Women to the Conference of International Council of Women, held immediately afterwards. She was elected Secretary to the International Woman Suffrage Committee,  serving alongside the 82 year old American feminist Susan B. Anthony who was President. While in America she undertook research into youth justice and criminology, two interests that she was to pursue throughout her life.

Nearly ten years later Vida Goldstein travelled to England in 1911 as a guest of the Pankhursts and the Womens Social and Political Union, spoke to 10,000 people in the Albert Hall and organized a contingent of ‘overseas’ women in the Great Suffrage Procession in June 1911. As Bomford points out, her contact with the most eminent suffrage workers in the United States and Britain brought her a sense of sisterhood and camaraderie that she never quite felt in Australia (p.219)

Goldstein’s commitment to women as voters and politicians in their own right dominated much of her public career. Born in 1869 in Portland Victoria, her mother had been involved in the Victorian Womens Suffrage Society in 1884, and young Vida cut her teeth as a committee member and organizer with the United Council for Women’s Suffrage and the Women’s Federal Political Association.  It was this last group, later renamed the Women’s Political Association that proclaimed itself to be unaligned to any political party, a stance which probably cost Goldstein electoral support in her three attempts to stand for the Senate as a Victorian representative, and two attempts at the House of Representatives seat of Kooyong.  She was the first woman in the Empire to stand for political office, even though she was never successful.  During the election held between the two Conscription referenda in 1916 and 1917, she was accused (with good reason) of splitting the anti-conscription vote, even though she was herself an ardent pacifist.

Her commitment to pacifism split the Women’s Political Association in the early years of the war, when there was strong support generally for Australia’s involvement. It led her to split with the Pankhursts in England, despite her involvement in the suffrage campaign there  less than five years earlier. It brought her into the spotlight of public attention as she campaigned with the Women’s Peace Army, of which she was a founding and highly visible member (I’m sure that her selection of the same initials as the Women’s Political Association was no accident- and it made taking notes on this book a nightmare!) She was mainstream middle-class, stylishly dressed  and a very capable public speaker, and she spearheaded the ‘No’ case during the Conscription referendum campaigns.

In many ways, the different aspects of her political life often clashed up against each other: the support for militant suffragism and yet strong pacifism; her determination not to align herself with a political party, even though it hurt the left of politics to which she more naturally leaned. As Bomford explains, she was a strong but inflexible character. Her parents had given her a good education, first at home with a very capable governess, and then at PLC. However, in a foretaste of what was to come, the family split over the issue of women’s suffrage when her parents publicly took diametrically opposed views. Through her parents, she became involved in the Charity Organisation Society of which they were founding members, which took a ‘case study’ and causal approach to poverty, and championed dignity in work rather than handouts to ‘deserving’ cases as practised by the Ladies Benevolent Society.  It was to her family that she looked for emotional sustenance, living with her sisters and brother-in-law in South Yarra for the last thirty years of her life.  Despite her name (which she always pronounced with ‘eye’ in both her first and surnames) she was not Jewish. Her religious and spiritual life was nurtured through Rev Charles Strong’s ministry first at Scots Presbyterian and then the Australia Church, and increasingly through Christian Science, to which she devoted her passion post WWI.

As Bomford explains, with Vida Goldstein there is no cache of personal papers for the biographer to mine. Fortunately, her correspondents often did keep her letters, most particularly her friend Stella Miles Franklin.  As a result, Bomford has had to rely on newspaper reports, Vida’s own writing in her various newspapers and speeches, and the reports of the government censors and security organizations. The constraints of material have constrained Bomford to write mainly of Goldstein as a public figure.  Nonetheless, I think that Bomford does a good job in giving an internal logic and unity to Goldstein’s politics, even though her inflexibility so often worked against the causes she believed in, and cost her many allies.

This is an academic text, with quite a few initials for organizations, which is just as much part of the territory in discussing political activism today as it was at the turn of the twentieth century.  It takes a strictly chronological approach, and most of the character analysis takes place in the ‘Afterword’ that closes the book.  It is probably not widely available today, given the ferocious culling of texts in libraries and short shelf-life of books in bookshops, but Vida herself has taken on even more prominence with the recent interest in the conscription debates of WWI and the toxic politics around Julia Gillard’s Prime Ministership.  ABC’s Hindsight program had an excellent episode about her in 2009 which is available as podcast and transcript here . Claire Wright also discusses Vida on a Podcast from La Trobe University’s Biography series available at https://player.fm/series/biography/vida-goldstein  (the text is similar to Wright’s entry on Goldstein at the Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth Century Australia).  She also wrote a very good essay ‘Birth of a Nation?’ in Griffith Review 51 available here.

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I have posted this review to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

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‘Australian Lives: An Intimate History’ by Anisa Puri and Alistair Thomson

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2017, 425 p.

It’s hard to know how to review this book and, indeed, it was hard to know quite how to read it, too. It is the print-based outcome of the Australian Generations Oral History Project, a collaboration between historians at Monash and La Trobe Universities, the National Library of Australia and ABC Radio National. It has been well-mined by the various partners, with the ABC producing five episodes on their much-missed Hindsight program and a rich page produced on Monash University’s Arts Online portal.  Much of the base material can be accessed through the National Library of Australia site, where by accessing the ‘Related Records’ field of the catalogue entry, you can listen to the original oral histories and read the entire transcripts, subject to the access conditions stipulated by each interviewee.

So why then would you bother to read the book, if it’s all online? Well, apart from the portability of a book, the 300 life histories produced as part of the project have been curated here into a more manageable 50, all of which have permissions allowing access to the sound file and transcript now (rather than at some future date) on the NLA site. They are arranged in chapters of two types. The first type are life course chapters (Ancestry, Childhood, Youth, Midlife and Laterlife) and the other chapters are thematic (Faith, Migrants, Activism and Telling My Story). Within each chapter, there are further subdivisions that group oral histories by topic.

There is a chronological spread of interviewees, spanning from one born in  1923 through to participants born in 1989. There are indigenous respondents, Australian-born respondents and participants from many other places: Bosnia, Batavia, Cairo, Malta and Sudan.

The interviews are arranged chronologically within each chapter, but it’s not always the same subject.  It is possible to follow through the same character by looking them up in the Narrator Index, where there is a very brief synopsis of the character and a list of the pages of the book where you can find their interviews. However, I read the book straight through, in the order in which it is published. At first I wondered how I was going to keep all these people straight, but fortunately each extract has a small italicized prompt, providing brief contextualizing information.

Each chapter starts with an overview, written by the authors, which provides a twentieth-century historical context and points towards the salient contributions in the interviews.  I enjoyed these as a way of giving shape to the volume.  Alistair Thomson is well-known as one of Australia’s pre-eminent oral historians, and Anisa Puri is President of Oral History NSW and a PhD candidate.  In the acknowledgements you can see the wide range of historians who have participated in the project.

If you’re the sort of person who likes listening to people tell their stories, then this book may well appeal. It’s the sort of book that you can pick up and put down quite easily. There is no overarching argument, beyond the diversity and uniqueness of each person’s story and the  interactions between individuals and society.  This comes through the extracts that they have selected:

…we selected extracts that illuminate change and continuity and how individuals lived with and against the economic forces, cultural expectations and legal constraints of their times.  We also chose extracts that highlight how different types of Australians – male or female, city or country, poor or prosperous – have managed their lives and faced distinctive challenges and opportunities.  And, of course, we picked stories that evoke the humour, drama and pathos of human life. (p.xii)

Sourced from : Yarra Plenty Regional Library

 

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I have recorded this on the Australian Women Writers Challenge website.

 

 

‘La Mujer sins Lagrimas’ by Mayra A. Diaz

LaMujerSinLagrimas

88 pages, alternating Spanish and English

Well, I’d been frustrated by Easy Spanish retellings of longer, classic stories that moved too quickly in a stripped-down fashion (for example, the Easy Spanish versions of  Alice in Wonderland and Don Quixote) but this book went to the other extreme with an excruciatingly slow story in much detail.

Sixty-five year old Ana, who has three adult sons and grandchildren, has been going from doctor to doctor, trying to find relief for her dry eyes that cannot shed tears.  Her son Paco finally takes her to see Dr Rodriguez, who quickly realizes that Ana’s inability to cry is more psychological than physiological. Eventually Ana divulges a secret that she has kept from her husband and family.

Actually, the level of this was just right. The chapters were long enough – about twenty lines in length – and they were followed immediately by the English translation. On the Kindle app on my tablet I was able to make the text large enough that the Spanish took up the whole page so there was no surreptitious cheating. The English version made you realize how choppy the tenses were (I hadn’t noticed in Spanish) or perhaps it’s a clunky translation.

And it was, at least, an adult story that actually captured my interest somewhat. It’s a rather low bar on these Easy Spanish books, I must admit. Anyway, this was quite good, considering.

 

‘Living the 1960s’ by Noeline Brown

living-the-1960s

2017, 177 p. NLA Publishing

In choosing Noeline Brown to write this book, the NLA was obviously going for popular culture and a dry sense of humour- and they got it. I can remember Noeline Brown in the Mavis Bramston show : indeed, she was Mavis Bramston in the pilot and first five shows. When she went off to England (as most 1960s show business and music people did) she was  replaced by Maggie Dence who became better known as the face (and hat) of Mavis Bramston.

I must confess that this slap-stick style of humour doesn’t really appeal to me, and Noeline Brown’s career, most of which was on commercial television, mostly passed me by.  I remember her in Gough Whitlam’s ‘It’s Time’ advertisement and I was aware of her in the support that she gave to Graeme Kennedy as his health failed. She has been an Ambassador for the Aging, and recently received a lifetime achievement award from Actors Equity.

There are eight chapters in the book: politics, the arts, music, fashion, family life, our town, women and sport. The text is conversational in tone, and interweaves  Brown’s own personal anecdotes between snippets of information.  It’s largely a young-person-at-the-time’s guide to the social life of the 1960s, and as might be expected from a stage and television personality, very much based in the realm of music and the popular arts.  It’s a very light touch, with no theoretical framework or bibliography at all. It’s an easy and undemanding read and the sort of book that can be picked up for a chapter or two, then put down.

The book is generously illustrated with images from the National Library’s collection, and includes political ephemera, photographs by Rennie Ellis and Wolfgang Seivers, and magazine advertisements and photographs ( drawn most particularly The Australian Women’s Weekly). The layout is beautiful, as is the case with most NLA books. There are small breakout boxes of timelines and facts, and page-length featured topics, but the photographs do most of the work. It focuses mainly on Sydney and Melbourne, is probably more focused towards women, and rural life is barely touched at all.

The book, with Brown’s narrative as voice-over, felt very much like a back-to-the-sixties television documentary, full of nostalgia and wry amusement.

Source: NLA publishing review copy through Quikmark Media

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I have posted this review to the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge site.

[P.S.  A little plug for something close to my heart:  If you’re interested in local history of the ’60s in Melbourne, and if it’s still November 2017, why not visit Heidelberg Historical Society’s ‘Remembering ’67’ exhibition? It’s open on Sundays 2p.m. – 5.p.m on 12th, 19th, 26th November at the Heidelberg Historical Society Museum, Jika St Heidelberg, entry $5.00]

 

 

 

‘The Philosopher’s Doll’ by Amanda Lohrey

Lohrey_Philosopher

2004, 306 p

It’s a strange thing, re-reading a book. You’re not the same reader that you were the first time and the context in which you’re reading the book is often very different. I read Amanda Lohrey’s The Philosopher’s Doll soon after it was released back in 2004, straight after reading two big, fat books: The Sotweed Factor and Tristam Shandy. At the time I leapt on it because it was local, domestic and female in comparison to the two hefty tomes that preceded it. Now, twelve years later I’m reading it again, this time for my face-to-face bookgroup. I didn’t view it quite as kindly the second time round.

The book is set in Northcote  with social worker Kirsten trying to summon up the courage to tell her husband Lindsay about her pregnancy. Lindsay does not want children, (or at least, not yet) and Kirsten is aware that she has fallen pregnant in benignly deceptive circumstances. Her philosophy lecturer husband Lindsay, on the other hand, thinks that all she needs is a dog to settle her maternal urges and so he embarks on a secret plan to buy a pure-bred Chow, a breed whose aloofness appeals to him. The dog is not Lindsay’s only secret: he is also receiving letters from an infatuated doctoral student, Sonia,  that he just puts away for now, not telling anyone about them.

The book is presented in four parts, and this part of the storyline plays out in the first two parts over a matter of several weeks. It is told in the third-person present tense (a tense that I don’t enjoy much) and the two perspectives are interwoven. Then, abruptly, in the third section, the infatuated student Sonia is speaking in the first person, past tense, some ten or more years after the events first part of the book.  Things have changed, and we see them in their new form, but not how they arrived at that point. Coincidences may be more planned than they appear, some mistakes are replicated and new ways of being are learned and embraced.

This is a very Melbourne book, and as a resident of the northern suburbs, I could pinpoint almost to the street – James Street, Northcote do you reckon?- where Kirsten and Lindsay lived. In this regard, the book has Garnesque features, but it is burdened with a didactism that you don’t find in Garner’s work. Lindsay’s occupation as philosophy lecturer gives scope for digressions into the emotional capacities of humans v. animals, and the question of the rhetorics of the heart. The final section of the book launches into a discussion of stunt -no – precision flying that almost sinks the book, if the lengthy retelling of dreams hasn’t already done so.

Does the book need all this philosophy trowelled onto it? I tend to think not. I felt a little betrayed as a reader by the abrupt change half way through, and as if I were sitting through a boring, one-sided conversation in the philosophical parts.

Reading back on the review that I wrote on this book back in 2004 (before I started this blog), I didn’t mention any of these criticisms. Did I just read it as a Melbourne-based story, and did I skip the philosophy? Or did I enjoy the philosophy perhaps?  Have I changed since then? Or am I more conscious of Lohrey’s earnest spiritual intentions in writing now after reading A Short History of Richard Klein, which I found even more didactic than this book?

Sourced from: C.A.E. Bookgroup

Rating: 6.5/10

aww2017-badge I have posted this review to the Australian Women Writers Challenge site.

Popping up at the Globe

The Pop-Up Globe Theatre has arrived on the lawns outside the Myer Music Bowl. It’s a full sized replica of the second Globe Theatre, which opened in 1614 after the first Globe burnt to the ground.

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It has three covered tiers, with the open area in front of the stage for the groundlings exposed to the weather and whatever (fake) bodily or other fluids the actors might spit, spew or fling at those who have opted to stand for over two hours for a very much reduced price. The theatre is only small and it’s all delivered live and with no microphones on the actors. They use the whole theatre: scaling up the three-tiered set, running amongst the groundlings, and clambering over boxes.

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We saw ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. It was absolutely fantastic. I always feel a prickle of anxiety that the dialogue is moving too quickly and that I’m not ‘getting it’ when watching  Shakespeare plays that I’m not familiar with. But always, by the end of the play it all makes sense. And what really made sense here were the parts of the plays that tend to drag when reading them on paper, where the actors are interacting with those sodden groundlings, making up time in soliloquies or slapstick, so that other characters can locate themselves on different levels of the set.

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This particular reading of the play had a strong Maori/Islander influence. The singing was excellent. There’s lots of audience interaction and it’s a damned fine performance.

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Don’t hesitate- go and see it! In fact, they have a 2-for-1 offer in November. If you’re young and with stamina, being a groundling would be fun. If you’re old and creaky, shell out for a seat. It’s right up there with a performance of Richard II in Stratford-on-Avon ten years ago as one of the best Shakespeare experiences I’ve had.

All a-twitter

No, not Donald Trump’s past-time, but the real twitter, with wings and beak etc. I may not have mentioned here that I have always had an interest in birds. Right from joining the Gould League of Bird Lovers in primary school, I’ve been alert to rustles in the bush and the sound of birds around me. I was over in Adelaide recently, and was hoping to see some Eastern Spinebills that enjoyed a particular bush in the garden where I was staying but alas – no sighting. And this week there has been news that the Scarlet Honeyeater has been seen in Melbourne gardens but not, unfortunately, in mine.

Scarlet Honeyeater

Scarlet Honeyeater. Image by Greg Miles Wikimedia Commons. https://www.flickr.com/photos/gregbm/5449916547/ Scarlet Honeyeater

But what I did have in my garden, or nearby, was a bird that I couldn’t see but could hear as it made a repeating call like the first four notes from ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. (And now you’re all humming the notes yourself, or scrabbling to look them up on Google, aren’t you?) I, too, looked up on Google to see if I could find ‘bird that sounds like Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ but without success.  What I needed was a Shazam for bird sounds, I decided, and it appears that there are some apps that claim to be just that.

When I read about the Scarlet Honeyeater, I thought “Aha! Perhaps that’s what I heard” and turned yet again to Professor Google to find the call of the Scarlet Honeyeater. Which is how I stumbled onto Graeme Chapman’s excellent site at http://www.graemechapman.com.au/index.php

What a wonderful resource! Beautiful pictures of birds and a huge sound library.  Was my Close Encounters bird (which obviously wasn’t close enough!) a pied butcherbird perhaps??  I suspect that Anthea might pop up in the comments and know exactly which bird I was hearing.

Later: And look! – IF it is a pied butcherbird, then the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra is playing a special piece which incorporates its call. The composer, Hollis Taylor, describes the pied butcherbird as “perhaps the world’s finest songbird”.