Category Archives: Uncategorized

Movie: I, Daniel Blake

At a time when our government is sending out computer-generated demands for repayments of debts that may or may not be owed by Newstart clients, every member of Parliament should be made to sit down and watch this film. “Just get online and fix up your details” flows so easily from the lips of a politician,  but as we see with older worker Daniel Blake, it’s not so easy. Mr Bumble the Beadle from Oliver Twist might be a figure from the past, but the oily, formulaic weasel-speak of the employment centre staff is just as patronizing.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars

‘Looking Through You: Rare and Unseen Photographs from the Beatles Book Archive’ by Leslie Bryce

lookingthroughyou

192 p. 2016

As part of my nostalgic after-glow from seeing Eight Days a Week, I snapped up this book at my library when I saw it on the New Non Fiction shelves.  It features beautifully clear photographs that were taken by photographer Leslie Bryce who, along with published Sean O’Mahony, issued a small monthly booklet called ‘The Beatles Monthly Magazine’ during the Beatles phenomenon of the 1960s.

beatlesmonthlybook

Now fetching about $30 each on E-Bay, they originally cost 1/6d (15 cents for those readers who are P.D. [pre-decimal]) and there were 77 editions issued between 1963 and 1969. It was resuscitated in 1976 and finally ceased publication in 2003.

They were a bit of a hack-job, replicating the format of other similar fan magazines, and filled with pictures and articles that purported to be interviews.  It contained a letters page with the occasional ghost-written Beatles reply,  a Beatles  News page and the lyrics of the month’s Beatles Song. However, they were given unprecedented access to the Beatles backstage and in the recording studio, and were part of the team.  Pages 4 and 5 of the magazine were devoted to the National Fan Club newsletter, with its fictitious secretary Anne Collingham, a made-up name to cover the rotating team of staff who answered the fan mail that arrived at the Offical Beatles Fan Club  organized through the Beatles’ press officer.  The Beatles Book was distributed to over a million people world wide, and Official Beatles Fan Club membership reached a peak of 80,000 world wide.

At first,The Beatles Book contained biographical articles to introduce ‘the boys’ to their fans, but increasingly it became a way of keeping the world at bay.  The Beatles of 1963 and 1964 welcomed the photographic publicity, but by late 1966/early 1967 the torrent of photographs had slowed to a trickle.  The final photographs in the book are mainly taken at recording sessions – Sgt Peppers, Revolver etc- where the tension between them  is palpable.

Ah, but those younger photos are so clear and exuberant!  Did they brush their hair specially each time the camera came out, I wonder?- it’s certainly shiny clean hair, and suit and tie were their ‘brand’.  The earliest photographs in the book were taken in 1963 when the Beatles played at summer seaside locations (Margate and Bournemouth) before heading to London in December 1963- then Paris, New York, Washington, Florida, Europe- no Australia here.

The photographs have interesting little captions and snippets of fascinating facts. Did you know, for instance, that the last note in the gobbledegook at the end of Sgt Peppers can only be heard by dogs? [I don’t have a dog to try it out on anymore].

Anyway- beautiful photos that I certainly hadn’t seen before and an interesting flip-through if you’re in the mood for some innocent nostalgia.

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

My rating: 7/10 (difficult to rate, really)

‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ by Jon Ronson

ronson

2015,  269 P.

One of the problems with a media-savvy author who travels the world promoting his book is that by the time you get round to reading it, you feel as if you’ve already done so.

This was the case for me with this book, which I had heard about through multiple interviews on different Radio National programs. The author, who had his own taste of being the victim of cyber-stalking, becomes fascinated by the phenomenon of shaming over the Internet as a modern manifestation of an older form of punishment and social control.  In particular, he tells the stories of Jonah Lehrer who fabricated quotes in an article on Bob Dylan, and Justine Sacco whose flippant sarcasm in a tweet about being white and the likelihood of catching AIDS went viral. Both were deluged with internet outrage and it’s no exaggeration to say that their lives were destroyed.

Ronson examines the use of shaming in formal legal settings. He discusses Judge Ted Poe who orders deliberately shaming punishments for the offenders who appeared in his court, and he fact-checks the Stanford Prison Experiment which has been offered up  as ‘evidence’ that we are all capable  of evil actions once a social-media crowd phenomenon gets started. He meets people who have started internet fire-storms, and attends a shame eradication workshop established by an enterprising psychotherapist. Finally, in a hopeful sign that there can be redemption, he meets representatives of a company which specializes in white-washing Google search results for people who have been subjected to public shaming.

Of course, through his book Ronson shames these people again by publicizing their plights anew and I found his smug voyeurism rather off-putting. Nonetheless, many of his points resonated.  I found myself thinking of Monica Lewinsky’s powerful TED talk The Price of Shame and Waleed Aly’s recent Andrew Olle lecture where he noted the rush to emote rather than to think.

The book was an easy enough read. I just felt that I’d already heard it all before.

Source: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

My rating: 7/10

‘The Noise of Time’ by Julian Barnes

barnes_noise

2016, 180p.

I must confess that it took me some time to work out that the subject of this small novella is Dimitri Shostavkovich. In the first part of the book, Shostakovich is an unnamed ‘he’, waiting by the lift outside his apartment, a small suitcase at his knee, expecting to be arrested. “All he knew was that this was the worst time.” (p. 7) His composition, Lady Macbth of Mtsensk had been denounced by Pravda, and critics who had previously praised it quickly distanced themselves from it.

They always came for you in the middle of the night. And so, rather than be dragged from the apartment in his pyjamas, or forced to dress in front of some contemptuously impassive NKVD man, he would go to bed fully clothed, lying on top of the blankets, a small case already packed on the floor beside him. He barely slept, and lay there imagining the worst things a man could imagine.  His restlessness in turn prevented Nita from sleeping.  Each would lie there, pretending; also, pretending not to hear and small the other’s terror. (p. 15)

We meet him again on a plane, returning home from a trip from America twelve years later. In front of the world’s media, he has been humiliated as a Soviet stooge. “All he knew was that this was the worst time.  One fear drives out another, as one nail drives out another.” (p. 61).

And then we meet him again, another twelve years on, in 1960, when he is being pressured to join the Communist party,  repeatedly, strongly and with the threat of violence. The violence is always suspended – for now.

All he knew was that this was the worst time of all.  The worst time was not the same as the most dangerous time.  Because the most dangerous time was not the time when you were in most danger.  This was something he hadn’t understood before. (p. 115)

We often read books of courage and resistance, but less often of extorted compliance. As the Shostakovich character reflects, anti-communist sympathizers wanted martyrs, thus themselves becoming like Power (always written with a capital letter and never specified) in that whatever he gave, more was always demanded.

Under the pressure of Power, the self cracks and splits.  The public coward lives with the private hero. Or vice versa. Or, more usually, the public coward lives with the private coward. But that was too simple: the idea of a man split into two by a dividing axe. Better: a man crushed into a hundred pieces of rubble, vainly trying to remember how they- he- had once fitted together. (p. 155)

I often tend to think that cowardice is an easier option than bravery: when I hear of acts of heroism, I often wonder if I would have it in myself to act in the same way. But if this is a book about ‘cowardice’, it’s a cowardice that has no upside. Instead it deadens and leaches the joy from life:

… But it was not easy being a coward.  Being a hero was much easier than being a coward.  To be a hero, you only had to be brave for a moment- when you took out the gun, threw the bomb, pressed the detonator, did away with the tyrant, and with yourself as well. But to be a coward was to embark on a career that lasted a lifetime.  You couldn’t ever relax. You had to anticipate the next occasion when you would have to make excuses for yourself, dither, cringe, reacquaint yourself with the taste of rubber boots and the state of your own fallen, abject character.  Being a coward required pertinacity, persistence, a refusal to change- which made it, in a way, a kind of courage. He smiled to himself and lit another cigarette. The pleasures of irony had not yet deserted him. (p 158)

This book is written in this quiet manner, in the third person, in a somewhat stilted language that only barely masks rage and frustration. The sentences are brief, as are the paragraphs, and the three sections of the book are broken up into asterisked sections.  For a book about a composer, there was little music: instead there were words, muttered and issued through clenched teeth.

After I belatedly realized that “he” was an actual figure, Shostakovich, I wondered if, in this information-rich world I should go off and google him before I proceeded. I didn’t, but I do wonder if I might have got more from the book if I had done so.  Sheila Fitzpatrick, the Australian historian of Russia, wrote an excellent and highly informed review of the book in the LRB where she demonstrates that she, at least, understood the allusions and references to other Russian composers and historical characters that flew right past me.

Instead, because of my ignorance of the real-life historical figure and his biography, I almost had to read the book as an allegory and the use of ‘he’ and capital-P ‘Power’ and the interiority of the narrative lent itself to such a reading.  Its three parts had a strong chronological structure within which flashbacks shuttled back and forth, and the recurrence of a new demand or challenge every twelve years racheted up the tension.  As such, then,  its brevity was a real strength. I don’t really now if I would have wanted it to go on for much longer.

Source: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

My rating: 8.5/10

 

 

 

‘Only Daughter’ by Anna Snoekstra

snoekstra

2016, 250 p

The hugely successful Gone Girl with its taut and if somewhat implausible double narrative has spawned quite a few imitators, and this is one of them.  In 2003 Rebecca Winter disappeared, prompting a huge but ultimately fruitless police investigation. Eleven years later, a young woman on the verge of being arrested, blurts out that she is the missing Bec. We (and she)  know that she is not.  Her family and friends welcome her back, but she is soon uneasy about them as she pieces together what might have happened to the real Rebecca Winter.

The book is ostensibly set in Canberra, with reference to Canberra landmarks, but is peppered with Americanisms, most particularly ‘Mom’ which jarred every time, and a house that sounds far more like a double-storey American weatherboard house than a Canberra one.   Beyond the double narrative, there’s a back-story to the Bec-imposter as well, which is probably one storyline too many.  The book has a rather adolescent voice, using alternating past and present tense and third and first person in the two time periods, and relies heavily on dialogue. It tended to get rather flabby in the middle, and I was finding the banality of description and dialogue rather wearing.  However, the ending came as a surprise, not only in the ‘whodunnitness’ but also in the rapid change of pace in the last twenty pages or so. It doesn’t surprise me at all that it has been optioned by American producers for a film release.

The book was published by Harlequin, not one of my usual publishers. The book itself finished 3/4 of the way through with the remainder of the pages is made up of teasers from some of their other publications. It felt a bit like commercial television and did a disservice to Only Daughter by firmly reinforcing its place within the romantic/ domestic thriller genre.

aww2016

I’ve posted this review on the Australian Women Writers Challenge website

 

Movie: ‘Ruin’

On Saturday afternoon (3 December 2016) I caught the final screening of ‘Ruin’ at ACMI.  This Australian film is filmed and set entirely in Cambodia and although described as a ‘romance’, it’s a very bleak one. A volatile, violent young man meets a very young prostitute who has escaped from her pimp who bashes her and threatens to kill her. In a gritty, violent road movie- or more correctly, river movie- and in the midst of brutality and exploitation, they gradually fall in love.  If you watch the trailer, you’ll see that there’s lots of slow-motion shots, lots of water, a nausea-inducing hand-held camera throughout and unsettling, droning music.  I suspect that it’s going to stay with me for far longer than I want it to.

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 9-16 November 1841

Mr Arden breathes again

You might remember that back in early October, Judge Willis had George Arden, the editor of the Port Phillip Gazette, ‘bound over’ with recognizances of £400 and two lots of sureties of £200 pounds as a form of editorial good behaviour bond to ensure that he stopped printing attacks on Judge Willis in his newspaper.

The three newspaper editors spoke to Governor Gipps about the matter when he was in Melbourne, and on 8 November, now that the ‘excitement’ had subsided and in a spirit of post-Gubnatorial bonhomie, Willis announced that he would annul the recognizances:

My object, which was peace, is accomplished… I will only say, that [the recognizances] they have ever appeared to me inconsistent with the respect due to the office of the Resident Judge, and contrary to that due and equal administration of justice, which the Resident Judge is bound to see observed. I am quite willing, however that they should be buried in oblivion; I merely refer to them that my conduct may in every respect be understood.  I wish to act on all occasions with that candour, which I hope to meet with from others, and which should ever pervade all intercourse in civilized society..[ PPH 9/11/41]

George Arden himself wrote in his own newspaper in an editorial headed ‘The Last Defence of Judge Willis’:

…the feud existing between the Press and the Resident Judge is apparently closed. Mr Justice Willis has placed himself on his last defence and, although his remarks were utterly uncalled for, and certainly unrequired, we have no wish that he should not enjoy the full benefit of his explanation… We do not place that extreme value on enjoying the ultimate position of an argument- which is evidently clung to in the most tenacious manner by Mr Willis- and care not, therefore, if he have, as he desires to have, the last word… We have all, however, our imperfections- none more so than the gentleman who has in this instance been brought into so protracted a struggle with the power of a Judge and the talent of a Willis… [PPG 10/11/41]

So, all’s well that ends well.  For now.

The Commissioners for the Melbourne Market

The elections over, the new Commissioners for the Melbourne Market met to discuss future prospects for the market.  At the time there was only one general market (later known as the Western Market), taking up the city block bounded by Market, Collins and William Streets and Flinders Lane. It would remain there for ninety years. There was an informal arrangement that cattleyards close to Flagstaff Hill could be used as a temporary cattle market and La Trobe agreed that a site for a permanent cattle market should be selected on the Sydney Road, in a line with Elizabeth Street.  Land was set aside on the present site of St Paul’s Cathedral for a Hay and Corn Market, but this later shifted to a site  known as ‘Haymarket’ on the corner of Exhibition (then Stephen Street) and Little Collins Street on 1 August 1846. This expanded to a larger market known as the Eastern Market on the block bounded by Exhibition (Stephen), Little Collins and Bourke Street.

In the short term, it was decided to fence in the Market Reserve at the Market/Collins/William/Flinders Lane site  (i.e. the Western Market) and to divide it into two or more compartments and allow stands to be erected. Rules for the market were promulgated. The market would open by the ringing of a bell at 7.00 a.m. from 1 September- 28 (or 29th in leap year) February, and an hour later at 8.00 a.m. from 1 March- 31 August.  The market would close at sunset, but articles for sale on the Wednesday and Saturday market days could be admitted at any hours of the night before.  The north-east portion of the market would be set aside for the sale of apparel, hardware, crockery and groceries; the south-east portion would house butchers and dairy foods, eggs and fish.  Potatoes would be sold at the north west corner, and in the south west corner would be fruit, vegetables and garden produce.

The second municipal body in Port Phillip

As a proud Heidelbergian, I wish I could brag that the Heidelberg Road Trust was the oldest municipal body in the Port Phillip District.  Unfortunately it’s not true.  But it does run a close second, with the election of the Trustees on 16 November taking place just fourteen days after the election of the Market Commissioners on 2 November.  As Max Lay writes in the e-melbourne encyclopedia:

The road to Heidelberg was Melbourne’s first major road. It originally began at the top of Bourke Street, tracked across to Smith Street, followed the top of the Collingwood escarpment and then (as Plenty Road and later Great Heidelberg Road) followed the current routes of Queen’s Parade, Heidelberg Road, Upper Heidelberg Road and Lower Plenty Road. The route was well established by 1839, surveyed through to Eltham by Townsend in 1840 and opened in 1841.

On 17th November, the Port Phillip Gazette reported:

HEIDELBERG ROAD In pursuance of an advertisement from the Police Magistrate, convening a meeting of the proprietors along the line of the Plenty Road, for the purpose of electing trustees for the same, a meeting was held at the Exchange Rooms yesterday at two p.m. W Verner, Esq. JP presiding magistrate.  The following gentlemen were duly elected trustees in conformity with the Act of Council:- T. Wills Esq, W. Verner Esq, G Porter Esq. We believe this to be the first and only instance of the Act of Council having been brought into operation, with reference to the construction of  parish roads.

‘The Tasmanians’ or ‘Van Diemen’s Land Blacks’

Over the last few weeks, news had been percolating into Melbourne about an “outrage” at the Coal Mining Company’s station at Cape Paterson where two of the “Van Diemen’s Land aborigines”  named Bob and Jack, brought over by the Chief Inspector George Augustus Robinson, had burnt settlers’ huts and turned out the women (PPH 15/10/41).  This was one of the first newspaper references to the small group of Tasmanian indigenous people that Kate Auty and Lynette Russell have called ‘The Tasmanians’ in their recent book Hunt Them, Hang Them, instead of the term ‘Van Diemen’s Land Blacks’ which was more current at the time. ‘Bob’ and ‘Jack’ were Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener, of whom I have written previously.

On 11 November, the Port Phillip Patriot reported:

THE BLACKS. Mr Powlett, the Commissioner of Crown Lands, returned to town on Friday evening last, after having been unsuccessful in the attempt to capture Mr Robinson’s Van Diemen’s Land blacks, who have recently been committing serious depredations in the neighbourhood of Western Port.  On one occasion Mr Powlett and his party had the ruffians actually in view, but the intervention of a low swampy scrub between the pursuers and pursued, enabled the blacks to make their escape.  Mr Powlett has again resumed the search, and there is every reason to believe many days will not elapse ere the marauders will be captured or destroyed [PPP 11/11/41]

The Port Phillip Herald gave a fuller description:

THE VAN DIEMENS LAND BLACKS. Mr Powlett, the Commissioner,  returned to town on Friday evening, unsuccessful in his endeavours to take the blacks.  It appears, however, that they have had a narrow escape from capture: after tracking for two days, Mr Powlett, at the head of a strong detachment of police and natives,  got sight of the parties late in the evening of a wet day,  at the edge of a low swampy scrub; every possible exertion was made to come up with them, but ineffectually, owing to the nature of the ground, in which the horses sank to their knees, and the thick scrub into which they escaped; in the pursuit, it seems they must have separated for their whistling was heard by the police while searching the scrub, making signals to one and other; their escape was greatly owing to the late hour of the evening at which they were seen. Finding themselves so hard pushed, the natives have seized a whale boat of Mr Anderson, and put to sea: information has, however been received by Mr. Powlett since his arrival in town, that they have returned to the main land, and he started for the scene of action yesterday; the police and natives had been left in the vicinity of the place where the outrages have been committed.  It now appears certain that this party, which consists of two  men and three women have committed two murders, wounded one  man dangerously and three  slightly; their capture, however, Mr Powlett expects will be effected in the course of the ensuing week, as the police are determined to run them down. [PPH 9/11/41]

The Port Phillip Gazette was particularly critical that the aborigines had been ‘imported’ from Van Diemen’s Land by George Augustus Robinson:

THE NATIVES. The outrages which have of late been committed in the neighbourhood of Western Port by a party of aborigines, are incontestably traced to have been perpetuated by a gang of imported blacks. As if it were not sufficient for our settlers to be harassed by some of the turbulent tribes of their own shores, they have now to guard themselves against the experienced and semi-educated savages of a neighbouring colony, who were expelled from their native haunts in consequence of their atrocities. If this is to be the sole benefit of a Protector General being appointed, to travel with his predatory tribes wheresoever he may list, the sooner the Government grant promotion to that officer the better for this province.  A Protector “Field Marshal” might perhaps cause the whole of this band to decamp northward [PPG 10/11/41]

This isn’t the end of this story either- we’ll be following this one through

But here IS the end of a good story (narratively speaking)

I generally endeavour to write about things that DID happen in Port Phillip, but I just can’t resist this event that didn’t happen. During the 1840s ‘the boy Jones’ was so notorious throughout the Empire  that it wasn’t even necessary for a newspaper article to name him- just ‘the boy Jones’ was enough.

boyjones1

Edmund (Edward) Jones was a recurrent intruder into Buckingham Palace between 1838 and 1841.  His first incursion was in 1838 when, at the age of about 14, he entered the place disguised as a chimney sweep. After a chase he was captured with Queen Victoria’s underwear stuffed down his trousers. He was acquitted by a jury but on 30 November 1840, nine days after the birth of Queen Victoria’s first child, he was back, entering and leaving the palace undetected.  The next day he broke in again and was arrested after being discovered under a sofa.  He was sentenced to three months in prison. He was released on 2 March 1841 and within a fortnight was back in the royal apartments yet again.  This time he was sentenced to 3 months hard labour.

Which brings up to the middle of 1841.  And adding about three months for a journey from England to Port Phillip…could he have arrived HERE? Well, the Port Phillip Patriot thought so when it announced the arrival of the Boy Jones as an immigrant by the Diamond on 4 November:

the Government having availed themselves of this plan to rid themselves effectually of the presence of a youth whom no precaution they could take sufficed to exclude from the presence of royalty, and from whom danger to the person of our most gracious Sovereign was with some reason apprehended. Jones was offered a handsome salary to exhibit temporarily on the boards of some theatre some time before his departure from London, but his father very wisely objected to the engagement unless the agreement were more permanent.  We have not heard how Master Jones is to dispose of his services in the colony, but as we have no Queen here, nor anyone who may not be approached without difficulty, we apprehend his peculiar talent for undertakings of this nature will avail him very little [PPP 11/11/41]

Alas [?] it wasn’t true, the the Port Phillip Patriot itself admitted a few weeks later when later editions of the London papers arrived (PPP 29/11/41 p.2)  Although Jones did end up in Victoria eventually, dying in Bairnsdale in 1893 when he fell from a bridge, drunk. However, the prospect of young Jones coming out on the Diamond was rumoured in England as well.  As the Sydney Herald reported on 18 November 1841, the Times published the following article:

The boy Edward Jones, who, it will be remembered, has on three different occasions effected a mysterious entrance into Buckingham Palace (and, according to his own account, a fourth, but on which occasion he escaped without detection), was on the 14th of last month liberated from Tothill-street gaol; his period of imprisonment having expired.  While in prison he was quiet and orderly, and even exemplary in his conduct, so much so, that the governor had not in any one instance cause of complaint.

Since the liberation of this youth, who has gained so much notoriety, he has been frequently seen on Constitution-hill, and in the immediate neighbourhood of Buckingham Palace, which being communicated to the authorities, orders were given to the police to watch his movements, which was accordingly done; but there was nothing in his manner or behaviour different from those who daily frequent the parks in hopes of gaining a sight of royalty.  Still it appears he was deemed a dangerous character, and meditated another entrance into the palace.  Without, therefore, going into details and rumours of suspicion, we may state that Edward Jones the uninvited visitor Queen Victoria, has been taken quietly in hand by the proper authorities, and placed on board the Diamond emigration ship, bound to Australia, or some other of the English colonies, being apprenticed as a seaman for five years. His father thinks it is only for three years, that he is going to Port William, and will in a twelvemonth return, when he will receive wages, and be allowed to remain at home with his friends for a short time.  He (the boy’s father) also thinks that his son left London for Gravesend on Friday last, but it is stated by others that, although the Diamond sailed from Gravesend on Friday, Jones, accompanied by an officer of the Thames Police, only left London by railway on Monday last, and that orders were given to those in whose charge he was, not to lose sight of him until he was place on board the Diamond in the harbour of Cork. On the day Jones left the prison, one of the agents or manager of a minor theatre (his father says) called and offered him £4 per week to appear on the stage for a fortnight and, at the end of that time a “benefit”, but the boy declined exhibiting himself for so short a period. Jones complains of the mode in which he was treated in Tothill-street prison, and attributes it entirely to the orders of the Government.

The Port Phillip Patriot backtracked from its claim on 20 December 1841, when it cited the Waterford Mail which had recently arrived via the Agostina:

The boy Jones of Palace-visiting notoriety would not be taken on board the Diamond at Cork for Port Phillip.  The master, Captain Taylor refused a handsome sum as an apprentice fee, which the Bow-street officer who accompanied him here offered. [PPP 20/12/41]

[There’s a book about The Boy Jones- Jan Bondeson. Queen Victoria’s Stalker: The Strange Story of the Boy Jones. Amberley, 2010.  There’s also a How Stuff Works podcast here and here (24/8/16) that seems to be based on the information in the book if you can stand the flippant presentation and the advertisements]

And the weather?

Fresh and strong breezes generally, fine agreeable weather. Top temperature for the week 78 (25.5C) and lowest 43 (6.1C)