Seen five years ago

Images from August 2013. All Wollongong. Top three are of/from Illawarra Brewery.






Naplan, apples and oranges?

I am somewhat of a NAPLAN sceptic: see for example This is the Naplan post that wasn’t… and NAPLAN craplan… And on M’s anniversary. This year NAPLAN trialled online testing. In their FAQ they anticipate an issue with this but respond rather blandly: “Following extensive research undertaken by ACARA, NAPLAN online and paper forms have been explicitly designed to be comparable. Results for both paper and online tests will be reported on the same NAPLAN assessment scale for each test. The use of a common assessment scale, covering Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in each of the areas of conventions of language, numeracy, reading and writing, allows for an individual student’s achievement to be mapped as the student progresses through his or her schooling.” Trouble, as I see it, is the cunning trick whereby student response in the online version actually adds to/changes the test: makes me suspect the concern about comparability hasn’t really been answered.

As the  Australian Education Union has said:

Victoria’s Education Minister James Merlino said he was “extremely concerned” about reports that the results from the pen-and-paper version of the test and NAPLAN online version may be “not comparable”. NSW Department of Education Secretary Mark Scott said that while parents would be able to see how their own children scored, ACARA might not be able to compare system-wide student performance from this year to last year or previous years.

The AEU has led the call for a comprehensive review of NAPLAN. This has been joined by parent and principal associations around the country. The AEU has also called on Min. Birmingham to immediately give a full explanation of what went wrong with the NAPLAN online trial, and whether the data comparison issue can be rectified.

In the Sydney Morning Herald:

Almost 200,000 Australian students sat NAPLAN online this year and the rest did a pen-and-paper version, but state education ministers and directors general are concerned  the two sets of results are not statistically comparable.

Ministers in two states said they were considering withdrawing from NAPLAN online until their confidence was restored….

The Herald understands the main problem with differing results relates to the grammar and punctuation test.

One of the innovations of NAPLAN online is that the test adapts to the child’s ability. If the students get the first set of answers correct, the questions get harder. These tests give a more accurate diagnosis of strengths and weaknesses.

But this year, strong performers in the reading test were given difficult questions from the beginning of the grammar and punctuation test. They did not get the so-called “confidence building” questions, a key part of test design.

The students who sat the written version did have those confidence-builders. As a result, the top-performing students in schools that ran the test online did not perform as well as the students who sat the written version.

Because the online version is more accurate, it also more effectively separates the very top and bottom-performing students across all the tests, so some of the highest performers might appear to have not performed as well as they did last time….

Apples and oranges?

See also NAPLAN is dangerous and limited: expert panelists, and NAPLAN results delayed over concerns national data could be invalid.

More of those Wollongong Library books…

penguinThis one is outstanding: Penguin and The Lane Brothers by Stuart Kells (2015). I had, I thought, a fair idea of the story behind Penguin Books, one of the 20th century’s great blessings, but this book convinced me that I didn’t know the half of it. Nor did I know the Australian connection.

The back page of every low-cost reprint in Australia tells the story of how Allen Lane was stuck for a decent paperback to read at a train station.

Allen then came up with the idea of cheap, high-volume publishing, and Penguin, with its famous logo, was born.

Except, Stuart’s extensive research revealed that isn’t what happened at all, and the truth is far more interesting.

The real story of Penguin involves three pioneering brothers, a highlife in London, wife-swapping, cocktails, bathroom board meetings, tragedy and betrayal.

Graham Greene, Agatha Christie and George Bernard Shaw all play bit parts in this tale of a publishing revolution.

howlNext some Southern Gothic in Taylor Brown’s Gods of Howl Mountain (2018):

In Gods of Howl Mountain, award-winning author Taylor Brown explores a world of folk healers, whiskey-runners, and dark family secrets in the high country of 1950s North Carolina.

Bootlegger Rory Docherty has returned home to the fabled mountain of his childhood – a misty wilderness that holds its secrets close and keeps the outside world at gunpoint. Slowed by a wooden leg and haunted by memories of the Korean War, Rory runs bootleg whiskey for a powerful mountain clan in a retro-fitted ’40 Ford coupe. Between deliveries to roadhouses, brothels, and private clients, he lives with his formidable grandmother, evades federal agents, and stokes the wrath of a rival runner.

In the mill town at the foot of the mountains – a hotbed of violence, moonshine, and the burgeoning sport of stock-car racing – Rory is bewitched by the mysterious daughter of a snake-handling preacher. His grandmother, Maybelline “Granny May” Docherty, opposes this match for her own reasons, believing that “some things are best left buried.” A folk healer whose powers are rumored to rival those of a wood witch, she concocts potions and cures for the people of the mountains while harboring an explosive secret about Rory’s mother – the truth behind her long confinement in a mental hospital, during which time she has not spoken one word. When Rory’s life is threatened, Granny must decide whether to reveal what she knows…or protect her only grandson from the past.

With gritty and atmospheric prose, Taylor Brown brings to life a perilous mountain and the family who rules it.

I really enjoyed it.

indexPPZ6BXFGThird, a thriller: Scottish author Alexander Lindsay, The Naked Soul (2015). Worth the effort.

Reverend Jack Mallund knows his SAS regimental reunion party won’t be for the faint-hearted. When a pornographic movie is played, he turns away, but before doing so, the face of one jumps out at him with a familiarity that makes him sick: it is his teenage daughter, missing, presumed dead. That night turns Jack’s life upside down all over again. With police reluctant to reopen the case, Jack must go it alone. His faith is pushed to the extreme and his conscience to the precipice of insanity as he fights to find his daughter.

Of those Wollongong Library books…

hutcheonSo inspiring! I have long admired Jane Hutcheon’s ABC series One plus One. China Baby Love (2017) is about Gympie woman Linda McCarthy Shum’s Chinese Orphans Assistance Team and their quest

…to help orphans, many with multiple disabilities, reveals the hidden human aftermath of the One-Child Policy. A tentative visit to an orphanage in a small Chinese city turned into many over a period of twenty years. Linda’s curiosity transformed into sheer determination to battle superstition, bureaucracy and a constant lack of funds, to found foster homes and a special needs school that has transformed hundreds of lives, including her own. What Jane intended as a five-minute ‘human interest’ segment in a news broadcast inspired an unexpected friendship and the writing of a book, that would take Jane back to China. Through the story of Linda Shum’s life and work, Jane gets to the heart of some painful truths behind modern Chinese families living in a one-party state.

5 stars!

morrisonBlake Morrison’ s The Executor (2018) was a novel I expected to enjoy, and did.

What matters most: marriage or friendship? Fidelity or art? The wishes of the living or the talents of the dead? Matt Holmes finds himself considering these questions sooner than he thinks when his friend, the poet Robert Pope, dies unexpectedly. Rob had invited Matt to become his literary executor at their annual boozy lunch, pointing out that, at 60, he was likely to be around for some time yet. And Matt, having played devotee and apprentice to ‘the bow-tie poet’ for so long, hadn’t the heart (or the gumption) to deny him. Now, after a frosty welcome from his widow, Matt sits at Rob’s rosewood desk and ponders his friend’s motives. He has never understood Rob’s conventional life with Jill, who seems to have no interest in her late husband’s work. But he soon finds himself in an ethical minefield, making shocking and scabrous discoveries that overturn everything he thought he knew about his friend. As Jill gets to work in the back garden, Matt is forced to weigh up the merits of art and truth. Should he conceal what he has found or share it?

The poems appear in stages throughout the novel, with the final “published edition” at the end. They are not half bad either! You will be encouraged to explore Ovid again….

4 stars. See also The Executor by Blake Morrison review – a novel with poetic vision.

I could not help but think of Laurie Duggan’s smart Martial’s Epigrams (1987). Duggan is an Australian poet. Do explore.

indexJK5EIT18And for something completely different: Drinking in America : our secret history (2015) by Susan Cheever, who turns out to be the daughter of  John Cheever. Well worth a look.

Goes back to earliest colonial times, but this extract is from a chapter on Prohibition:

The intersection of writers with Prohibition was at its most intense in New York City — the mecca for all talented young men and women in the 1920s. Seven thousand arrests for alcohol possession in New York City between 1921 and 1923 (when enforcement was more or less openly abandoned) resulted in only seventeen convictions.

For some writers, Manhattan, with its habitual speakeasies and after-hours clubs as well as its famous flouting of the law even in restaurants, became synonymous with drinking too much. Eugene O’Neill and F. Scott Fitzgerald were two writers who were only able to stop drinking, or at least moderate their drinking, after they left what one minister called “Satan’s Seat.”

It is a truth universally acknowledged that writers drink too much and that, at least in America, writing goes hand in hand with a bottle or a brew, a bad liver, and a very bad temper. “Of course you’re a rummy,” Ernest Hemingway comforted his friend Scott Fitzgerald, “but no more than most good writers are.” In the mid-twentieth century, five of the seven Americans who won the Nobel Prize were alcoholics—Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O’Neill, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck. The writer Ring Lardner once listed every writer he knew and concluded that at least a third were alcoholics. “There is no question that alcohol ran through the lives and works of great writers,” notes journalist Kelly Boler. “Stories of the grand boozy excesses of twentieth-century literature provide a substantial part of our cultural currency.”

So prevalent was the combination of writing and alcoholism that when Dorothy Parker went to a famous writer’s funeral and a friend commented on how well the man looked in his coffin, Parker remarked that of course he looked well — “he hasn’t had a drink in three days.”

Tipping and reading

Lately I have done OK at footy tipping at City Diggers, coming equal third, but not so well at Steelers, though last time I looked I was still in the top six there. I do have an occasional bet each way — no money actually changes hands, I should add — by choosing an opposing team at Steelers compared with Diggers. Last week my two each-way bets at Steelers both lost! One of them being St George/Illawarra — i.e., Steelers themselves.

So far this week there has been one match. I got it wrong. So, I suspect, did just about everyone else! Here I am as of Wednesday at Steelers, cogitating on my choices.


Not that I mention it as often as I once did, but I still do a lot of reading. This is the current batch from Wollongong Library. I have now read then all. I will note what I thought of them in later posts. There were some expected — and unexpected — treasures in that lot!