Monthly Archives: January 2018

Strange things from the box of photos No.2

We’re going through photos that we can show at Dad’s memorial.  One Australia Day several years ago I wrote about the Bicentennial Beacon, and Dad’s fortuitous involvement. And lo and behold, I found a photo!

You can read about it and see the newly discovered photo here.

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Strange things from the box of photos No.1

We’re going through boxes of photographs, in preparing for Dad’s memorial service. We started doing it the other day and rushed through it, because we were finding it hard. We did put aside a pile of photographs that have since inadvertently been placed back into the pile of boxes, so I’m going through them again, more slowly. Very slowly. It’s hard to stop being the historian!

I was interested by this leaflet, issued by the Father and Son Welfare Movement. It starts off in the mother’s voice, but seems to become very abstract and third-person by the end. “The opening in front of my body” seems an odd place to be born from: no wonder some children thought they came from their mother’s belly button!  It was presumably a different place from “your private part” (singular).  It reads as if this little letter was designed to be left somewhere to be discovered by the young daughter.

I’m mystified to know why and by whom this leaflet was kept. It was in an old case of photos and documents belonging to my parents, but everything in it predates their wedding (and my birth as their daughter). Curiouser and curiouser.

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John Lumley 22.2.29- 25.1.18

My dad died last week from congestive heart failure and renal failure. He lived with us, in the back unit adjoining ours, and I feel as if he is present everywhere I look.  With the assistance of Banksia Palliative Care and Kincare, we nursed him at home to the end. We will miss him so much.

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Movie: Loving Vincent

Loving Vincent is the story of a young man who, charged with delivering a letter between the now-deceased Vincent Van Gogh and his brother, tries to find out how Vincent died.  Story-wise, it’s a bit of a whodunnit, questioning the assumption that it was suicide.

But you’re not here for the story, which is lacklustre. Instead, you’re here for the animation, which is just amazing.  You can detect who the actors through their voices and posture but they, along with the backgrounds, are painted with trademark Van Gogh brushstrokes. Each of the 65,000 frames has been painted by one of 125 artists, organized into 125 teams

It’s not a long movie at 95 minutes, but originally it was conceived as a short 17 minute film. It could possibly have remained at the shorter length and made a similar impression on the watcher.  I use the term ‘watcher’ deliberately, because this is very much a visual experience rather than an intellectual or emotional one.

Worth seeing for the spectacle.

Movie: Darkest Hour

I always stay to watch the credits at the end of a film, even with the cinema staff sweeping around me. The credits at the end of ‘Darkest Hour’ list 93-year-old historian John Lukacs, and I found myself wondering just how he feels about this movie. He was the author of the absolutely brilliant Five Days in London: May 1940, which tells in almost hour-by-hour detail the decisions faced by the British government as France and Belgium fell to the Nazis.  I  think he would have fully supported the film’s emphasis on Churchill’s personality and the uncertainty that surrounded the decision to stand up to Hitler, I wonder how he felt about some of the scenes in the movie.

I’ve often quoted the adage that I gleaned from somewhere when watching a film ‘based on true events’: think of the most dramatic scene in the movie and that’s the bit that’s made up. It certainly holds true here. About 2/3 of the way through a scene on the Underground made me think “Oh hold on – surely this isn’t true”- and sure enough, it’s not.

It’s a beautifully lit film and Gary Oldman is brilliant – although I think it’s easier to ‘nail’ a well-known, true-life character by impersonation than to build a completely fictional character up from scratch.  The music was perhaps a little too obtrusive.

I found myself looking for current-day political statements in the film. I don’t think that it necessarily set out to bring a message, but the funding decisions for films surely look for resonances amongst their audience.  So the message here? Perhaps the paucity of modern courage and leadership (although, of course, if the whole thing had gone pear-shaped …..) and a reassuring message that ‘the people know best’. A message for Brexit times, maybe?

‘Six-Bob-a-Day Tourist’ by Janet Morice

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1985,  86p.

It didn’t take long for Thomas Gardner of  117 George Street East Melbourne to enlist in what was to become  the Great War. Due to the time difference, news of Britain’s declaration of war reached Australia on the same day that it was made (5 August 1914). Just three weeks later, Thomas Gardner, aged 33, had joined the AIF, E Company, 7th battalion as one of the ‘Six Bob-a-Day Tourists’, the deprecating term given to the highly paid Australian soldier, whose generous pay outstripped that of many working men at home and the soldiers of allied countries.  Without wanting to diminish it in any way,  Tom’s story ticks all the WWI narrative features that have come to be associated with ‘our ANZACs’ : sent out to the Training Camp in Broadmeadows; the sea voyage; waiting around in Egypt; Gallipoli; Lone Pine; France; hospital in England; back to France; sent home; discharged on grounds of ill-health; dead.  You can read about Thomas Gardner’s war and see pictures of him at the National Anzac Centre website.

I was attracted to reading this book not so much for Tom’s story on the front, but for the interactions with his family back home.  Tom had been rather peripatetic in the years leading up to the war, travelling from town to town as a wood-turner, but he returned often to 117 George Street to visit his mother, sisters Mabel, Adeline and Edith, and niece Cecily and nephew Guy.  His widowed sister Mabel re-married in June 1914, just before war was declared.  She had matriculated from PLC, and after returning to Melbourne following her first husband’s death after just four years of marriage, worked as a secretary, learned Esperanto, and was involved in debating and literary societies.

As Morice notes:

Two months after their wedding, war was declared, and at home the verbal battles raged. Tom was a volunteer and his mother and two of his sisters took the patriotic stance. Mabel and [husband] Will, however, took the opposite view. Will did not volunteer partly because he had just married, but mainly because he and Mabel were both pacifists (p.45)

Mabel and Will were drawn to the lectures and anti-war stance of Dr Charles Strong of the Australian Church.  Mabel, and her childhood friend Eleanor Moore, were present at the inaugural meeting of the Sisterhood for International Peace at the Russell Street Australian Church, and became the correspondence secretaries for the Sisterhood. She also joined the Free Religious Fellowship, an organization with a literary base that included Vance and Nettie Palmer, Louis Essen, Frank Wilmot (Furnley Maurice) and Alan Villiers.  It was headed by Mr Frederick Sinclaire, the former minister of the Unitarian church in East Melbourne.  She used her elocution skills by lecturing on pacifism for the Peace Movement, and hosted sewing groups and letter-writing and pamphlet-printing sessions at her home in East Melbourne. During the conscription debates she attended meetings and marches for anti-conscription.

Her mother and sisters, as strong patriots, disapproved of her political activism but how did her brother Tom – serving in the same way that she was protesting-  feel about this anti-war political involvement? In a letter from November 1916, after the conscription proposal had been defeated, he wrote that he was sorry that politics had led to tension between Mabel and her sister Adeline:

I was very glad to see Hughes’s proposal ousted….If conscription had been carried, goodness knows where it would have stopped.  And you can tell Addie this- that were I a married man in Australia (I am not speaking of Belgium or France) and had children who were depended on me, I would not deem it my duty to enlist until every eligible single male had gone… Re your conscription remarks.  You are very violent, my dear, peace-loving sister.  Well, let me lower “me breff” while I tell you that a fellow named Tom who lived at 117 George Street, East Melbourne, also voted ‘No’. And he knew a lot of other fellows, who knew a couple of thousand other fellows who voted ‘No.’ So I’m blest if I know.  (p. 55)

This book features only Tom’s letters, not those sent by his family.  The book is organized chronologically, with the focus on Tom’s war, intersected by Mabel’s peace activities back home. Through Tom’s letters, we see him becoming increasingly disillusioned by the war, until by June 1918, at the age of 38 he described himself as “so nervy I can’t bother about anything.”  You just know that this is not going to end well.

At only 85 pages, this is not a long book, and it rattles along at a pace.  It combines imagined scenes with excerpts from Tom’s letters, illustrations, and contextual information.  The author,  the grand-daughter of Mabel, has rather delicately omitted the details of Tom’s encounter with venereal disease which is mentioned on the National Anzac page, and as a reader you can sense her sympathy for both Tom and Mabel.

The book is not easily available today, and you’ll need to turn to secondhand sellers if you want to find it.  It puts a very human face on WWI, and it complicates the image we have of the family left ‘at home’.  Family members could love and grieve for their ‘boy’ overseas, and they could campaign for peace back home as well. Some family members expressed their love through patriotism; others through fighting to put an end to war.

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This is my first review for 2018 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Movie: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

It’s violent, it’s funny in places, it presents cliches and then subverts them.  It’s a rather Coen-Brothers-ish movie, and Frances McDormand (who has starred in several Coen Brothers movies) fully deserves the acclaim that she is receiving.

My rating: 4.5 stars.