Category Archives: personal and self-indulgent

Old Friends, Old Meals

I had lunch yesterday with 2 old friends, both former colleagues from the university.  It was great to catch up, as we do every few months, though on reflection, from the time we decided to eat outside because of the noise level in the air-conditioned interior, I think the script was by Kingsley Amis, the production BBC, and I hope I was played by Judy Dench. My friends could easily double for Michael Caine (The Quiet American, rather than Alfie) and Ian McClellan (Gandalf, definitely).

We put the world to rights, in furious agreement about current government policy, but nostalgia intervened when we got to the debate over the closure of SPC Ardmona, Australia’s last fruit canning factory.

Ardmona is in the Goulburn valley in Victoria.  It has been a fruit growing area since the 19th century, and there has been a factory there since 1917 when – irony of ironies – the local fruit growers asked the Victorian Minister of Agriculture to contribute £100,000 towards a canning factory. [Shepparton News, 28 May 1917, from Trove]

The factory is the largest employer in a declining region with little other work available, and it faces closure without government support.  The Federal government refused to contributethe State government has offered something to keep it going for now, so there will still be Goulburn Valley tinned peaches available for the foreseeable future.

Goulburn Valley diced peaches We all remembered in our childhood that every night’s dinner ended with something sweet – as often as not tinned fruit. Continue reading

Reading Old Letters

Towards the end of Pride and Prejudice there’s an odd phrase. Lydia has gone with the militia to Brighton, as a guest of the Colonel’s wife, and the Bennet family are waiting for her letters,

but her letters were always long expected, and always very short.  Those to her mother, contained little else, than …the library …officers … a new gown… a new parasol …was obliged to leave off in a violent hurry.

Her letters to her sister Kitty are rather longer but ‘were much too full of lines under the words to be made public.’ (vol. 2, ch 19)

The phrase is usually taken to mean underlining as a form of emphasis – if Lydia was emailing today, I just know she would use Comic Sans and too many exclamation marks!!! – but it always puzzled me, and I think I discovered exactly what Jane Austen meant one day back in the 1990s when I was reading some family letters outside Braidwood. Continue reading

Dead Darlings

Kill your darlings!

There seems to be an Anglo-American dispute over this quote, with some attributing it to the American novelist William Faulkner:

In writing, you must kill your darlings!

while others go for the older English writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch:

Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.

Either way, it’s good advice. We all overwrite at times, and for writers of non-fiction, there’s an additional menace: the fascinating sidetrack. Continue reading

The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

I was in England on study leave when my first book came out in 1988.  Thrilled to see all that hard work finally between hard covers, I showed it to one of my English cousins. With his customary chutzpah, he decided that it should be reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement, and with his customary networking skills, he immediately rang a friend with some sort of connection to the TLS.

I only heard one side of the phone call, but it was clear that his friend didn’t want a review of my book.  I’m not at all surprised.  I was an unknown first time author with a book on an Australian subject, published by an Australian press with limited distribution facilities in England. He could have put off my cousin in a variety of ways: they had enough books for the next year, they weren’t publishing reviews on Australian topics, they weren’t reviewing authors whose birthdays had an R in the month.

Instead, he explained apparently seriously that the TLS didn’t review non-fiction by women authors.  Fiction yes, but not non-fiction. I have no idea if this was true or just an excuse.  In a way it doesn’t matter. It was the specificity of the explanation that got to me. I felt staggered and belittled as an academic and a writer of serious history, even though I had initially begged my cousin not to make what I thought was a presumptuous request. Continue reading

2013 in review

This morning WordPress has sent me a summary of my year in blogging – complete with fireworks. I think I’ve done okay, if I say so myself – especially since I couldn’t write anything for the first 5 months of the year.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 51,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 19 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Now I have to say in all honesty, that statistic is dodgy – because 10 percent of my viewers arrived on a single day, 12 December 2013, when somebody posted a link to The Habsburg Inheritance on Reddit.  Not just any Reddit thread, either, but a salacious and gossipy one about incestuous families. As a result 7000+ social media tragics descended on my blog to gawk at the admittedly amazing breeding habits of one of Europe’s most important families.

It made for an exciting 24 hours – but I’m really much more grateful for my small, loyal band of followers, who encourage and stimulate me with their comments and suggestions, and make writing this blog worthwhile. Happy New Year to you all!

Click here to see the complete report.

A New Year’s Resolution

I have a theory that the key to a successfully kept New Year’s Resolution is to aim low.  One New Year many years ago, my husband and I formally resolved to hang up the bathmat after a shower – and we’ve been doing it every since.

Big projects are harder: losing weight, doing more exercise, cutting down the booze, giving up Candy Crush – finishing the book.

The trouble with academic work, particularly the important stuff, which is research and writing, is that it is so huge and amorphous.  All those filing cabinets (real or virtual), all those words to write, all those versions of the same chapter already written – gah!  It needs to be broken down into manageable gobbets.

Walter Stevenson Davidson - my boy! Portrait by Ferdinand Mulnier in Mitchell Library, Sydney

Walter Stevenson Davidson.Portrait by Ferdinand Mulnier in Mitchell Library, Sydney

So here’s the plan.  As the blogosphere is my witness, I have resolved to spend a minimum of one Pomodoro a day working on my book. Continue reading

Farewell to the Colindale Newspaper Library

Another straw in the wind – or perhaps, rather, a scrap of paper blown away.  The British Library has closed its newspaper library at Colindale in north London, and is moving the newspaper collection to Boston Spa in Yorkshire, where a ‘new purpose-built Newspaper Storage Building (NSB)’ has been built.

Many historians of my generation will remember working at Colindale, and will greet its closure without much regret. Colindale is on the Northern Line.  When I worked there in the late 1970s, it was a featureless dormitory suburb completely lacking in charm. The library was just far enough from the tube station to regret forgetting an umbrella, but there was nothing you could do about the wind. Continue reading

The return of the childhood killers: measles, mumps and the rest

Measles is coming back.  According to the Courier Mail, since August 16 people have contracted it in southeast Queensland, and the Chief Health Officer is writing to families of unvaccinated children urging them to get their children vaccinated.  A boy came back from overseas recently with measles, and yesterday there were radio warnings for people who had been at Movieworld – Movieworld! – on 2 October to go to their doctors if they felt ill.

I had measles when I was 6 or so, and trust me, you will feel ill.  For nearly 2 weeks, I lay in a darkened room because my eyes hurt so – measles causes blindness – and the rash, the high temperature and general disability made me utterly dependent on my very non-non-working mother to nurse me through it. I also remember going back to school, and having trouble catching up – in geography they had ‘done’ Continents and Peninsulas while I was away, and I gave up geography soon afterwards.

I wasn’t here for the polio epidemic that hit southeast Queensland in the early 1950s, but I had a friend with a withered arm from the disease they still called ‘infantile paralysis’.  Another friend remembered how she had a friend for a sleepover, who was diagnosed a few days later with polio.  Her mother stripped her room of everything – sheets, bedding, clothes, rugs, toys – and burnt them in the backyard.  She doesn’t remember what happened to her friend.  What she remembers was her toys piled on the bonfire, and the terror in her mother’s eyes.

Continue reading

An archive to mark a milestone

One year ago this week, I began chemotherapy, following an operation for breast cancer that I alluded to here.  I managed to keep my blog going for another month or so, but eventually it was just too hard, and I gave it up in early December 2012.  After I finished radiotherapy in April, I started blogging again here in May this year. That means that there is a gap of nearly 5 months during which I wrote no posts, which made it awkward to start adding a ‘This time last year’ link to the bottom of posts, as I had done in 2012.

So I’ve been meaning for some time to put together links to all my blog posts in a single file. You can now find any of my posts through the ‘All Posts’ link above the header, which takes you to a drop down menu by year.

It has been interesting going through the whole run of posts.  I’ve found a few broken links, which I have/will fix, but please alert me to any others you may find.  I realise I have a terrible enthusiasm for puns in my titles, which seem hilarious at the time, but now just mean that readers will have no idea what the theme of the post was.  Can I recommend Her Dedication and Our Sedentary Ways as examples of this?

Some of the posts are dated – who cares about Sarah Palin any more? Others made depressingly accurate predictions about the decline of the Australian Labor Party or the rise of the military in Egypt. In general, I don’t make any claim for the predictive power of history, though I stand by the quote on my header:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

My doctors, on the other hand, have been able to give a much less depressing prediction for my own future. I had various scans a fortnight ago and things are going well.

Cherries

Treasures of Afghanistan at the Queensland Museum

A special exhibition at the Queensland Museum makes me realise, not for the first time, how much better the Queensland Art Gallery does these things. QAG has just closed Quilts 1700-1945.  I went at the end of June, and wrote about it here.

The Queensland Museum has just opened Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum Kabul.  A few of these items were on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City when I was there in 2010.  Although they belong in Afghanistan, and will eventually return to its National Museum, at present they are touring the world.  They have already been to Melbourne and will go on from Brisbane (until 27 January) to Sydney and Perth during 2014.

Treasures of Afghanistan

Hair pendant in gold and turquoise from Tillya Tepe

The treasures themselves are wonderful.  Continue reading