Monthly Archives: December 2009

Miss D’s big New Year Celebrations

You might remember that I’ve snaffled myself a copy of Miss D and Miss N, edited by Bev Roberts.- and yes, you’re still waiting for a blogpost that reviews it.  So, how did Anne Drysdale see in the New Year?  Well, definitely her New Year celebrations on the ship out were the feistiest she wrote about!

January 3rd 1840- New Year celebrations

I feel very thankful that all the rejoicing days are over.  Monday the 30th December was the 6th anniversary of Mr and Mrs Gibson’s marriage.  On that account the Capt ordered a better dinner than usual & the gentlemen had an extra quantity of wine & grog.  The consequence was they all got tipsy.  Mr Baird very drunk.  There was a great deal of fighting.  Mr Clark &  the Dr. revived the subject of their duel, which they still intend shall take place when they get on shore.  The drinking this day was a beginning of what was so soon to follow on New Year’s morning, & such a scene that was!! The ship was running right before the wind at 7 1/2 knots.  Whenever 8 bells rung, intermediate & steerage passengers rushed into the cabin with bottles of spirits & all who were in their beds were roused out, then such a noise & drinking went on.  Passengers of all ranks & sailors fighting & flying about. It was fearful.

The 2nd mate was I believe the only sober man on board, mercifully the wind was aft & [the ship] drove before the wind as there was none to manage it. While it was yet dark one of the steerage passengers discovered a ship close to us.  The 2nd mate got a light put up & we escaped & have great reason to be thankful that all passed over without any serious accident.  Nearly all are cut and bruised more or less & their cloathes in tatters, but it might have been worse.  (p. 50)

Her partying days over,  and it’s God, church and work from here on:

1843 [January] Monday 2nd- strong resolutions

Yesterday wind variable, thunder & a little rain.  All went to church except myself. Made strong resolutions, with the grace of God, of amendment for the future.  This day fine, wind S. Men finished reaping wheat & oats.  Armstrong worked with pegs for hurdles & lounged Betty. Dr & Mrs Thomson & Jane came to dinner.  Capt. P… (p. 154)

Made strong resolutions, eh? Hah! don’t we all?

1844- Monday January 1st

Yesterday all went to the chapel, Mr Smith preached.  In the evening, Dr B gave us a beautiful & most impressive address on the necessity of being regenerated.  All the men & the shearers attended.  This day fine. Shearing lambs began. Robert gone to look for horses…  (p. 179)

1846 January 1st Thursday- An unfortunate day

Storm of thunder & lightning all day with heavy rain.  Ned kept holy day but rode to Corio to know if Mr Cunningham’s cattle had come.  Mr Sproat came to dinner.  Robert came up from the marsh & announced that Di was killed by the lightning.  Colin also died & 18 young turkeys & chickens were drowned in the pen. An unfortunate day… (p207)

No, I don’t know who Di and Colin are either.

1846 Thursday 31st [December]- All things richly to enjoy

Gloomy, hot & a little rain. Again we have come to the close of another year & by the blessing of God, are still surrounded with comforts & have all things richly to enjoy.  We have indeed much cause for gratitude.  May we continue to grow in grace & in love to God & our neighbours.  Ned & Robert jobbed, Moylan went. Henry remains. (p. 215)

And so say all of us.

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Oh, alright then…

Everybody else is doing it, so here are my eleven top reads for 2009. Why eleven? Because I had three 10/10s, one 9.5/10 and the rest were 9/10 and it seemed churlish to omit one just to get to ten.  I notice that I haven’t read as much this year as in previous years- 53 compared to over 100 in other years.  I shall attribute this to actually doing some writing on my thesis (as distinct from reading away merrily in the meadows of literature) and an improvement in health in the second half of the year.  Both thoroughly good things.

So here they are, folks with links to the posts if I’ve written them:

1. Nam Le  The Boat 10/10

2. Leo Tolstoy War and Peace 10/10

3. Richard Holmes The Age of Wonder 10/10

4. Grace Karskens The Colony 9.5/10

5. Peter Godwin When a Crocodile Eats the Sun 9/10

6. Richard Flanagan Wanting 9/10

7. Kate Atkinson Case Histories 9/10

8. Louis Nowra Ice 9/10

9. F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby 9/10

10. E. P. Thompson Whigs and Hunters 9/10

11. Wendy Moore Wedlock 9/10

Not a bad little list, if I say so myself.  A few of the classics there- Tolstoy and Fitzgerald; three recent Australian fictions – Le, Flanagan and Nowra; and a historian/biographer or two- Thompson, Holmes, Karskens.

‘Document Z’ by Andrew Croome

2009, 345 p.

‘Document Z’ opens with an image instantly recognizable to Australians-of-a-certain age, even if we were not born at the time.  It’s the image of Evdokia Petrov on the tarmac of Mascot Airport, flanked by a burly man each side of her, clutching her handbag, hand across her chest as if she is heaving, with one shoe lost.  For those of us brought up in the black-and-white certainties of Menzies’ world, it captures the fear of the Communist enemy: that they’ll come and get you and hustle you onto an aeroplane.

But whatever misconceptions we attach to the picture, it is not the full story.  She was not so much frightened of the men, as frightened of the crowd surrounding the plane, and she was a woman torn just as much by conflicting emotions as the physical presence of the people surrounding her.  What a dreadful situation to be in. Her husband and fellow-spy had defected and was no doubt talking to the Australian agents about her;  she was frightened for her family back in Russia, and she was wary of official censure when she returned irrespective of her husband’s actions.

The title ‘Document Z’ plays on Documents H and J that were tendered to the Royal Commission that followed the Petrov defection.  I wonder if it is, as the title rather cheekily suggests, the last word- certainly since Robert Manne’s book The Petrov Affair, the debate seems to be over.

The book is a fictionally reimagined telling of the Petrov defection from the perspectives of the participants- Evdokia, her husband Vladimir,  Michael Bialaguski the doctor go-between and the various agents on both sides.  Croome has obviously done his homework (occasionally a little too obviously) and I marvel at his courage in describing a time long before he was born that is still within living memory today- lots of scope for slips and false notes there.  He captures well the sterility of 1950s Canberra with the claustrophobic and enmeshed atmosphere of the Soviet Embassy enclave.

I’m not sure if it’s a failing of the book, or the nature of the relationship he is describing, but there is a flatness to the relationship between the Petrovs themselves.  They worked alongside each other, and they shared the same career trajectory for better and for worse but there’s an emptiness at the core of their marriage as Croome depicts it.  And again we run up against the dilemma with writing within a historical event, but I feel that Croome has shaken free of those restraints.  I was puzzled that he didn’t use ‘that’ picture on his front cover (cost? copyright?) but it liberates him from having to stick only to the historical sources.  If the relationship is sterile perhaps he meant it to be, or perhaps he could not, for whatever reason,  make it otherwise.

I enjoyed this book, and this is from someone who loathes spy-novels.  I liked the atmosphere- the juxtaposition between the bright light outside and the whispers and fears inside.

The Resident Judge Reckons 30 Dec 2009

Is Santa actually the Grim Reaper in drag?  What is it with Christmas and death?  As you may know, one of my daily activities is to carefully peruse the death notices in the newspaper.  I reassure myself that people who read The Age live to a ripe old age because most of the notices are for elderly people: I do acknowledge, however, that my reasoning may be a bit suspect here.

But did you see how many death notices there are in today’s paper??  A whole page of them!!  There are a few recording deaths before Christmas, but most of them are for deaths in the days immediately following.  Come to think of it, my aunt died on Christmas Day, waiting to be picked up to go to church- rather a positive, engaged way to go really, although very difficult for her family.  But  I don’t think I’ve seen a whole page like this before!  I wonder if there’s a statistical correlation between Christmas and death rates, or whether it’s a function of classified deadlines (no pun intended).

Anne Drysdale’s Christmas 1841

There shall be more about Anne Drysdale anon, as I have bought Bev Robert’s recent book Miss D & Miss N: an extraordinary partnership.  Enough for now to say that, emigrating at 47 from Scotland and taking up land near Geelong in partnership with another woman (Caroline Newcomb) ,  Anne Drysdale is an inspiration to  ladies of a certain age like myself.

So, picking up on my timeworn (well, last year’s) theme of Christmas in Port Phillip, how did Anne Drysdale spend her Christmas in 1841?

On Friday last Dr & Mrs Thomson came down to tea & insisted on our going with them as the next day was Christmas, so we drove up with them, had roast goose & plumb pudding. Mr Tuckfield and Capt Pollock dined, the latter was with us on Thursday night.  As the next day was Sunday we remained & went to church.  On Monday morning Caroline rode down early.  Jane & I walked down after breakfast.  Dr & Mrs Thomson have given Caroline as a Xmas box the present of a mare called Fanny which she had been riding for some time.  It had a filly foal some days since.  She is to return the foal when it is weaned.  Fanny is a handsome black mare, a very pleasant ladies horse to ride & has been tried in harness & is perfectly quiet, so if we ever get a pony chair she will do nicely.  On Monday we expected Mr & Mrs Fisher to dinner to bring down Charlotte.  After dinner Mr F &  she arrived on horseback.  They had all got into a gig with in the intention of coming to dinner but the horse wouldnot go.  Mr F remained to tea & left Charlotte.

… Mr & Mrs Love & 2 children came to tea.  Capt Pollock was here Monday night. This morning before breakfast a party from Corio arrived on their way to the lakes for a pic nic. The 2nd carriage or cart had not come up, so the contents of the 1st 8 in number, breakfasted with us.  They have had a very hot day for their pic nic.

So-  a traditional hot Christmas dinner on a hot Australian day and people popping in on the way to a pic nic.  Sounds familiar really.  But this is the only Christmas day described in any detail in the diary, which becomes more business-like each year with sheep, sheep, sheep.

No sheep for me- Happy Christmas everyone

And I’ve now read Bev Roberts’ book Miss D & Miss N and you can read my review here.

The Rechabites might get me yet

When I was twelve years old and  in grade six at Heidelberg Primary School, a crusty old gentleman from the Independent Order of Rechabites came weekly to instruct us about the evils of alcohol.  There was a statewide exam at the end of it, and I’m rather proud to say that I won the state prize with a score of 91%.  I was awarded a book which I have since lost without regret and a beautiful certificate which I do regret losing because from memory it was a highly ornate document with beautiful copperplate writing.  Prize notwithstanding, I have never been a teetotaller; I  am not one now and I find the whole idea of the Rechabites rather quaint.

But I’ve got to say that I’m finding the emphasis on alcohol over the last few years rather overwhelming.   I know that I’m hypocritical here- looking back I don’t know why we felt we had to drink champagne at our children’s birthday parties and I don’t think I’d do it now.  I am disconcerted that every celebration of a sporting triumph, a career achievement, an opening of some civic building or service etc. needs to be marked with alcohol.  I don’t know why bars and bottleshops  have to stay open all night.  I find the idea of going to work in the morning while the nightclubs are disgorging the last of their patrons quite unnecessary.

I was puzzled to find this advertisement on the label of Spring Valley apple juice.

When a bender begins and when it ends is not an exact science.  However, our not so rigorous testing proves that when the bender has been and gone, it leaves behind a primordial need to consume something of substance, something so angelic and good, it probably grew on a tree- and preferably for that something to be almost like an apple in liquid form.

This is APPLE JUICE, remember…consumed by children, old people, people who are just plain thirsty and not necessarily recovering from a bender. Why does it have to market itself this way to everyone who buys it?

Then in the weekend’s paper there was a rather trite column about “how to decorate a Christmas tree” by Kate Duthie This is the last thing I need to read, given that  I have decorated my Christmas tree three times this year so far after it has fallen down twice this year (or maybe I do need to read that article, particularly the part where it tells you to make sure that the tree is stable before putting anything on it).   But the last paragraph particularly grated:

Whatever you do, make it fun.  Involve your family and friends, pop some champers and make it an event.

An event? Champagne? It’s a CHRISTMAS TREE for Christ’s sake! (I feel I can say that without blasphemy).  Why do you need a drink to put up a Christmas tree?

Bah. Humbug.

‘Wedlock’ by Wendy Moore

2009, 310p + notes

The author of this book is a journalist, not an historian, but she’s certainly done her homework.  It is the story of Mary Eleanor Bowes-Lyon, daughter of the Earl of Strathmore, and her violent marriage to Andrew Robinson Stoney.  Stoney was the inspiration for Thackeray’s book The Luck of Barry Lyndon, which was turned into film by Stanley Kubrick.  ( I strongly encourage you to follow these Wikipedia links- it will give you a much better idea of the plot than I could).

But Barry Lyndon the book was fiction: this was true life, even if it reads like fiction today.  There’s everything here: scandal, kidnapping and duping of heiresses, midnight horseback rides through the Pennines, coffee shop pamphlets, court cases etc.  Wendy Moore does this rich material proud, starting her story with a mysterious duel in a public house, and introducing each of the main characters one by one before turning around to deconstruct the duel completely and expose it as a completely faked scenario, intended to lure the wealthy heiress Mary into an ill-advised marriage.  Andrew Robinson Stoney, who changed his name to Bowes in order to access Mary Eleanor’s fortune, was almost unbelievably cruel, vindictive and scheming and a thorough rotter.

Moore is firmly on Mary’s side and portrays her as the victim both  of domestic violence and a legal system that strongly favoured rich men.  But the sources that Moore draws on are deeply problematic and themselves part of an ongoing propanda war, played out in the full glare of publicity.   She relies heavily on Jesse Foot, the author of The lives of Andrew Robinson Bowes Esq and the Countess of Strathmore who was himself deeply implicated in Stoney’s schemes, and seems to have changed his allegiences several times.  Mary’s “confession”, which was also published, was apparently forced from her at the point of a gun but was also published. In fact, the whole scenario brought domestic violence amongst the aristocracy out into the public domain, and it played out through, and itself fed,  the appetite for gossip and innuendo. Mary, however, was no innocent and could play the game of gossip and publicity just as well as her husband could: while not cruel or violent, she was just as cavalier with her emotions and children as her husband was.

The story is carefully and well told.  After its particularly well-constructed beginning, it is a fairly straight chronological account and, to its credit, the story is so well told that you rarely lose track.  A family tree would have been useful, but no doubt it would have ended up looking like a family thicket!  The author wanders off into some interesting little byways- e.g. contraception in the late 1700s; the coffee-shop culture etc., but I do wish that she’d picked up more on the nature of her sources, the 18th century public sphere and the expectations of the aristocracy.   I think that she could have upped the analysis, but then perhaps it would alienated its bodice-ripper audience. As it stands, it’s a rattling good read, with the edginess of knowing that it was based on a real marriage among real people.