It was an odd weekend. I spent Saturday at the Queensland Writers Centre with the author Matthew Condon, whose latest books, based on the diaries of former Police Commissioner Terry Lewis, record in forensic detail the long history of police corruption in Queensland. Then on Sunday, I went to a lecture at police headquarters, where I heard an entirely different aspect of police history – and forensics, for that matter – when the curator of the Police Museum, Lisa Jones, told the story of the Modus Operandi section within the Criminal Investigation Bureau, which operated between 1935 and 1972.
Criminal Investigation Bureau, 1912 – much too early for the MO unit, but it’s such a lovely building. It was torn down (as so many lovely Queensland buildings were) at the end of the 1960s.
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 contribute; the 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.
We all remembered in our childhood that every night’s dinner ended with something sweet – as often as not tinned fruit. Continue reading
Henry Kissinger once said that he had never visited Australia because he had never been on his way to Antarctica! Or so it is said – I can’t find the statement on Google. Apocryphal or not, the rest of the world does tend to think of Australia as utterly remote and isolated from the world.
In Australia too, the idea of ‘the tyranny of distance’ is pervasive – there’s something about sitting for 24 hours or more in an economy seat that tends to reinforce this perspective. Yet our sense of isolation is coloured by the fact that most of us live in the southeast quadrant of the continent – the last 5 to 6 hours of that gruelling economy flight is spent flying across Australia.
In North of Capricorn (2003), Henry Reynolds argued persuasively that if you go north, the situation is very different. North of the Tropic of Capricorn, in an arc stretching roughly between Rockhampton and Broome, there has always been another Australia, one that is multi-racial, with Aboriginal, Islander, Asian and European threads intertwining in fascinating ways, where white settlers were in a minority, though a politically powerful one. That arc passes through Torres Strait, where Australia’s border with the rest of the world almost touches the New Guinea coastline (thanks to some highly inequitable colonial map making).
Torres Strait was always an important, if dangerous, maritime route between the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. It is named after Luis Vaez de Torres, the first European to sail through the region in the early 16th century, but who knows how many other sailors passed this way in earlier times? It was certainly a crossroads well before Lieutenant James Cook raised a flag on Possession Island in 1770.
For a new perspective I can really recommend a wonderful memoir that illustrates Reynolds’ thesis well: Ina’s Story: The Memoir of a Torres Strait Islander Woman (2012).
Posted in australian history, Australian Womens Writers Challenge 2014, biography, maritime history, women's history
Tagged #aww2014, Catherine Titasey, Ina titasey, Queensland Department of Native Affairs, Thursday Island, Torres Strait, world war II
I haven’t been writing my blog lately because I’ve been busy writing my book. At the moment I’m wrestling with chapters 6 and 7. It’s 1822. Walter has arrived back in Britain, having made a fortune – over £100,000! – in China. I’m trying to set the scene for this transition point, and I keep tripping over Jane Austen.
In many ways, at this point in his life Walter Davidson was a quintessential ‘single man of good fortune…in want of a wife’. It’s a real phenomenon, and one that Jane Austen obviously knew: first, you make your fortune in some far off outpost of empire (or Yorkshire, in the case of the Bingleys), then you return to your local community, or a friend’s community, and shortly afterwards marry an appropriate girl within the extended family circle. Men like this are peppered throughout her novels. Continue reading
Posted in biography, european history, historiography, Uncategorized, Walter Stevenson Davidson, women's history
Tagged D'Arcy Wentworth, history of marriage, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Walter Farquhar Hook, Walter Stevenson Davidson, writing