Showing posts with the label Australian history

Reading journal: Victory on Gallipoli and other what-ifs of Australian History edited by Peter Stanley

Genre: Non-fiction Published: 2017 Date read: July 2018 I’m interested in alternate history. It’s a bit like studying history in reverse. In the study of history, the European approach is to examine primary sources to establish facts, and then retro-fit an interpretation onto that information. The interpretation changes as society and our current pre-occupations change. Alternate history is different. It postulates a change in “known” facts, then  tries to deduce what would have changed as a result. Of course some retro-fitted interpretation must still be present, but is usually not explicitly stated. In this volume, the authors do exactly this. I have a couple of complaints. Firstly, the events they have examined all fall into the traditional ‘famous men’ theme — military history, political events, and you guessed it, famous men. There are 24 stories, two are about women, and they are both political women (Vida Goldstein and Edith Cowan). Secondly, the interpretation. I

Book review: Running Down: Water in a changing land by Mary E White

Genre: Nonfiction Published: 2000 Date read: March 2018 This book explores the evolution of Australia’s river systems and how they have changed since European settlement. The book is packed full of wonderful photographs, maps, diagrams, and anecdotes, and a sobering message. White doesn’t paint a very optimistic picture. Our farming practices have created immense damage that most of us are not even aware of, since what we see now is what we assume was always there. There’s a truly awful story told by an old farmer from the Riverina. He describes how, on the advice of the Department of Agriculture of the time, they kept their land plowed and fallow. One heavy storm later, and most of their topsoil flowed into local rivers and creeks, filling them to the brim with mud and killing all the fish and other wildlife within. None of those rivers or creeks ever recovered to their previous condition, and neither did the farms. A tragedy. Publication of this book was sponsored by a g

Reading journal: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

Genre: Nonfiction Published: 2014 Read: March 2018 This book is subtitled “Black seeds: agriculture or accident?” Pascoe’s short and readable book summarises the output of a range of primary and secondary sources that examined the economy of Indigenous people in Australia before European settlement destroyed that economy forever. Most convincing are the quotes and illustrations from the diaries and reports of early inland explorers, describing flourishing grain production and harvesting, robust houses, fishtraps on rivers, smoking fish and other meats for preservation, yam planting and harvesting, maintenance and protection of wells and the use of fire to maintain the environment in a useful grassy state. All these methods of making a living from Australia’s intermittent rivers and thin infertile soils were gone within a few years of the arrival of European stock animals and crops, and the environmental degradation continues. Pascoe argues that it is the Europeans who w

Reading journal: The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry Greenwood

Genre: Crime Published: 2003 Series: Phryne Fisher Read: December 2017 In 1920s Australia, the gold rush days of the 1850s seem far in the past, but two mysteries from the Castlemaine goldfields come back to threaten amateur sleuth Phryne Fisher and her lover Lin Chung. Phryne’s mystery relates to a lost heir and a great inheritance. Lin Chung’s comes from a family feud, goldfield riots, and lost gold, and is far more interesting. There were riots at Castlemaine in 1854; many Chinese lives were saved through the bravery of Senior Constable Thomas Cooke, see memorial here. At Lambing Flat (now Young) in New South Wales, there were disgraceful riots and Chinese deaths in 1861, although many people were given refuge by a local landowner, James Roberts. There is an interesting recent essay about this by Gabrielle Chan, Race and the Golden Age [paywall, Meanjin magazine].   Threads of racism, and of courage in confronting it, continue in Australia today. 

Book review: A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill

My favourite read for 2016 was Australian author Sulari Gentill’s Rowland Sinclair series. Highly recommended. The first book in the wonderful Rowland Sinclair series Rowland Sinclair is an artist living in Sydney, Australia, in the 1930s. He has a straight-laced wealthy grazier family pushing him in one direction and his own inclinations, aided and abetted by an eclectic and unsuitable collection of friends, pushing him the other way, into trouble. 1930s Sydney wasn’t for the fainthearted. From politics (communists, right wing militias, the Riverina separatist movement) to street gangs, criminal opportunists, and social upheaval resulting from the economic Depression, Rowland Sinclair finds a way to get into difficulty no matter which way he turns. Alternate cover for A Few Right Thinking Men. I prefer the other one. The author has woven interesting historical facts into the stories, especially intriguing for those of us with little knowledge of Australian history. Sa