Re-reading Lawrence 55 years on

Using my Calibre reader on HP Junior I am rereading Sons and Lovers, having first read it in 1962. It holds up well. But how little of it did I really understand at the age of 18 in 1962?

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Hard to believe it was first published over a century ago! See Blake Morrison, Sons and Lovers: a century on.

Sons and Lovers is a great novel. A century of readers have reached for the same adjective. FR Leavis did, when he enrolled Lawrence in the “great tradition” of the English novel, comprising Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James and Joseph Conrad. And Philip Larkin did so, too, describing Lawrence as “England’s greatest novelist” and Sons and Lovers as his finest achievement: “Cock me! Nearly every page of it is absolutely perfect.” The perfection wasn’t apparent to those close to Lawrence at the time, including his childhood sweetheart Jessie Chambers, his editor Garnett, and his wife-to-be Frieda, all of whom suggested improvements and left their mark on the finished text. But the reviews were good, and 100 years later the novel’s reputation holds up, despite the recent dip in Lawrence’s critical standing.

To anyone of my generation, that dip is a puzzle…

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Jonathan Littell’s Nazi Oresteia

Wikipedia notes:

The Kindly Ones (French: Les Bienveillantes) is a historical fiction novel written in French by American-born author Jonathan Littell. The book is narrated by its fictional protagonist Maximilien Aue, a former SS officer of French and German ancestry who helped to carry out the Holocaust and was present during several major events of World War II.

The 983-page book became a bestseller in France and was widely discussed in newspapers, magazines, academic journals, books and seminars. It was also awarded two of the most prestigious French literary awards, the Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie françaiseand the Prix Goncourt in 2006, and has been translated into several languages.

I borrowed The Kindly Ones from Wollongong Library on Wednesday and am now well into it. I am finding it horrific but fascinating. Littell, born in New York, is a bi-lingual (English / French) writer living in Barcelona. He is a dual citizen of the United States and France and is of Jewish background.  One reviewer on Goodreads wrote: “This is a hard book to review. It is like walking out of a David Lynch movie and feeling brain raped by the artist. How exactly to you attempt to explore the depths of Nazi Germany without feeling dark, abused, and sick afterwards?” I note there also that more recently Littell has written Syrian Notebooks: Inside the Homs Uprising. One reader says:

Must read, must read, everything’s a must read these days. But this is a ‘must read’ that it seems like nobody has read. To his credit, Littell mostly contains his righteous anger on that account, in the prologue and epilogue he added in 2012, when it was already too late. Now it’s even later than too late, and Assadist propaganda has thoroughly overtaken the discourse, leaving firsthand accounts such as this and those of revolutionaries and refugees for all intents and purposes useless…

So divided are readers! On Goodreads reviews of The Kindly Ones range from five stars to one! I am rather of the 4-5 star persuasion. See also opinions gathered at this dedicated blog, a review by Andrew Hussey, Professor of French and Comparative Literature at the University of London Institute in Paris, another by David Gates in the New York Times, and another by historian Samuel Moyn in The Nation.

 Jonathan Littell’s novel The Kindly Ones took France by storm in the fall of 2006, when it won the Prix Goncourt–the nation’s most prestigious literary prize–and sold many hundreds of thousands of copies. Commercial success fed the heat of scandal, which followed the book to Germany in 2008, vaulting it to the top of the bestseller list. The furor revolved around nothing less than the governing conceit of Littell’s thousand-page roman-fleuve: the novel pretends to be the memoir of a Nazi SS officer who witnessed the different stages of the Holocaust as it was being perpetrated. The dispute over the book was another round in the cycle of Holocaust controversies that have marked time since the end of World War II with the regularity of a metronome. Tempestuous quarrels may have raised public consciousness about the Holocaust; but even so, subsequent battles over its representation can feel no less unseemly. “Silence over the murder, scandal over the books,” George Steiner worried in response to one of the first such imbroglios, forty years before Littell’s intentionally sickening but unquestionably brilliant success.

Finally, from HaaretzThe Executioner’s Song.

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Littell smiled. The discussion that ensued, in which Littell spoke in French – he does not speak German – was held with a panel of two historians and a researcher of anti-Semitism. Littell rejected comparisons with Dostoevsky or Joyce. He shrugged his shoulders at questions about why his book concentrates so heavily on sex and homosexual fantasies, choosing to speak instead about historical theories and the work of Holocaust scholars. Clearly, Littell does not like to have interpretations foisted on his book or to talk about the personal motives that led him to write it over the course of a Moscow winter, by hand, in a single draft.

Fascinated by Catherine McKinnon’s “Storyland”

Or rather, by the review I read in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

Catherine McKinnon’s Storyland opens with Lieutenant Matthew Flinders and George Bass as they set out on a fair day in March 1796 to explore the white, uncharted  land south of Sydney Cove.

The nine day sea voyage in the Tom Thumb begins ominously with the spoiling of the boat’s water that sets the intrepid explorers off in search of fresh supplies.

On their second shore landing, the explorers are welcomed by two Indigenous men, one of whom is known as Dilba, a man ”born of the earth itself”, who trades them fish and fresh water for two potatoes and a handkerchief.

It’s the first of a series of meetings in which Flinders is trusted enough to cut off the men’s beards with scissors, before confusion reigns and a warning shot is fired and the nascent goodwill between nations evaporates in musket smoke…

See also ‘Fascinating’ Lake Illawarra inspires author’s new book (2013).

The beauty of Lake Illawarra inspired Eugene Von Guerard to paint it in 1860, and now the saltwater lake has inspired Jamberoo author and playwright Catherine McKinnon.

Her second novel, Storyland, is set on the banks of Lake Illawarra and spans four centuries. The web connecting the five storylines is the lake’s natural environment, including the abundant wildlife. McKinnon weaves together her stories up to a climatic event – starting in the present, travelling into the future and skipping back to the past.

Von Guerard’s painting shows much of the lake’s surrounds stripped of their cedar and used for farmland almost 80 years after settlement.

McKinnon’s work stretches back even further, to Matthew Flinders’ exploration of the area in 1796. His account of that journey is the only historical record of the first encounter with the area’s Wadi Wadi people.

In researching the book, McKinnon explores the validity of Flinders’ two accounts of the journey and examines the influences and pressures he may have felt in writing them.

Flinders describes how they struggled to find fresh drinking water, had difficulty landing the boat and traded goods with two Koori men, who guided the explorers to Canoe Rivulet, a stream off Lake Illawarra, where they met with more locals. At some point Flinders believed the Kooris began to act suspiciously. Fearing for his life, he decided to use deceit to retreat back to the boat.

In Storyland, McKinnon challenges Flinders’ accounts by offering an alternative, imaginary perspective, from the point of view of an English servant, taking the reader on the same journey as they sailed up Lake Illawarra in the small boat, the Tom Thumb, through to Canoe Rivulet.

‘‘The book is partly based on real, historical events and part imagination,’’ explains McKinnon….

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Bass And Flinders In The “Tom Thumb”, c1930s. Colour lithograph. Pritchard.

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See my 2013 post Tom Thumb Lagoon. There is also a PDF file of an authoritative local  history available from the University of Wollongong: W.G. McDonald, (1975), The First Footers – Bass and Flinders in Illawarra.

In a moment of aberration Meehan in 1816 identified Tom Thumb’s Lagoon with the lagoon between Throsby’s stockman’s hut (near Brighton Beach at Wollongong) and Red Point, and the name stuck until “ the Thumb” was converted into Port Kembla Inner Harbour. Then, to conform with this, Allan Cunningham identified Hat Hill with Mount Keira, and labelled Mount Kembla Cap Hill or Molle Hill, making a molehill out of a mountain, and confusion worse confounded. These identifications are quite untenable; so are the theories which identify Tom Thumb’s Lagoon with Coomaditchy and with Little Lake at Warilla. Tom Thumb’s Lagoon can only be Lake Illawarra, and Canoe River its entrance; and there is a scintilla of  evidence that the blacks were shorn on the southern rather than on the northern side. Oddly Flinders makes no mention of Windang Island, which is such a striking feature of the entrance – the one piece of solid land in miles of sand. The map shows a hammer-headed peninsula on the south side to the entrance, which presumably represents Windang Island joined to the mainland by a sandspit, as it often is. Whether the channel is to the north or south of the island, or both, depends on the vagaries of wind and tide. Hat Hill is said by Flinders to be five miles W.N.W. from Red Point. He was over a mile short in his estimate of the distance, but the bearing is dead right for Mount K embla. For Mount Keira the bearing is wrong, and the discrepancy in distance even greater. The adventurers spent a third uncomfortable night in the boat, under the lee of the inner of the two northern islands, which they called Martin’s Isles

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Percy Lindsay’s 1925 watercolour of the story While the Powder Dried, which was used to illustrate the story of how Bass and Flinders diverted the attention of Aboriginals at Lake Illawarra by cutting their hair.

What was I up to in March 2012?

Five years on from the post before last.

The Cock House at Fellsgarth

Given this is Mardi Gras weekend you may well wonder, but in fact this is a school story by Talbot Baines Reed which I have just read as an eBook. More years ago than I care to admit to I read his The Fifth Form at St Dominic’s but had never encountered The Cock House before, so naturally I was curious. In brief it is tosh and rubbish, but not entirely a waste of time. Having been a teacher for so long I would have to fail Reed on mere educational grounds. The schools he describes would never cut it in NAPLAN! They really are quite awful places really, seriously…

I see there is a Facebook page for the COOK House at Felsgarth… Hmmm.

Much more worthwhile is Alec Waugh’s The Loom of Youth, which I am currently reading on Baby Toshiba.

My eBook collection of freebies now exceeds 500 titles!

Alas poor Baby Toshiba

My companion in hospital last year, and a faithful little servant in the tail end of my tuition in Chinatown, latterly to be seen in my company in clubs and pubs from Surry Hills to The Gong.

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Oh Baby Toshiba, why won’t you boot up any more? You just turn on and almost instantly turn off again…!

Only on the Internet: back to 1954

Had an email the other day from the son of my Year 6 teacher at Sutherland Boys Primary in 1954. He had found 09 — My Teachers in my Ninglun’s Specials archive.

Grade 6 1954

The second principle Andrew Metcalfe and Ann Game derive from their corpus of interviews is:

Good teaching recognises the unique potential of each student. This is not the same as an expectation or a prediction; it is seeing students in their wholeness, as they are now. The teacher’s responsibility is to nurture students and draw out their potential by opening them to new worlds. Thus teaching is inherently ethical, allowing students to find their place in and to contribute to the world.


I would like to name Mister O’Neil, my Year 6 teacher at Sutherland Public School (or Sutherland Boys Primary as it was then, now a “special” school) in 1954, the year of the Royal Visit. I still vividly remember (among other things) going with my maternal grandfather — another inspiring teacher — through the fence and beside the track to wait for the (then) sheer magic of seeing the Royal Train go through, and Mister O’Neil rehearsed us over and over to perform appropriate songs, including a late Vera Lynn called “She’s the Queen of Everyone’s Hearts”, at the Sutherland School of Arts, where my mother won an electric jug in a raffle.

World War II was after all less than ten years before; indeed I was enrolled at Sutherland in 1949. My father had been in the RAAF.

The thing about Mister O’Neil is that he had a class of fifty or so students, all in a portable class room that baked in summer. Hardly any of the boys had shoes. Cast-off bits of military uniform were fashionable; no such thing as a school uniform, or (I may add indelicately) underpants. There were a few quite talented kids in 6A; I was a bit up myself, I’m afraid, because even though I took every August off to have bronchitis, and also that year had mumps followed by orchitis (nasty) and pancreatitis, I still managed to top the class, despite my rather alarming (and continuing) innumeracy. He let us have our heads, really. We produced school newspapers, in which I wrote and illustrated serials that were rather like Biggles, and also devised crossword puzzles. Every Friday we “broadcast” our plays over the school’s PA system.

When I was selected to go to Sydney Boys High my parents were against it, mainly because of the travelling which, combined with my absent-mindedness that led to my once almost being run over at a pedestrian crossing, they felt would not suit me. I guess they were also worried about my health. My mother at that time, I might add, was invalided with a clot in the leg, so I was also cooking dinner every night, following instructions emanating from my mother’s bedroom. She used to say what I cooked for the dogs smelt more appetising than what I made for the family — chops and three veg usually. Can’t go too wrong with that. Well, Mister O’Neil I found one afternoon when I came in from playing with the Dawson boys down the road sitting by my Mum’s bed in earnest conversation. Result: I went to Sydney Boys High. Apparently I had the highest IQ ever recorded at Sutherland Primary to that point… That may not be saying too much, of course, and I certainly found myself a small fish in a big pond at SBHS the following year.

But hats off to Mr O’Neil. Not only was he just a fascinating teacher, but so dedicated. By his complexion I suspect he may have enjoyed the odd bevvie too… At a time when many schools, especially boys schools, were “houses of swinging bamboo”, I can’t recall seeing him actually cane anyone either. I remember him with gratitude. Mind you, I don’t think I ever have quite fulfilled that potential, and at going on 65 it may be a bit late…

You will see the use Michael O’Neil made of my reminiscence on his family site: Edgar Ronald O’Neill (1918-1994) & Sheila Hudson (1919-1948)

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There he is: Eddie O’Neil, my Year 6 1954 teacher – in 1957

Gives you a good idea of what school in The Shire was like back then too…

Check the dunnies behind him… Yes, pans!

Only on the Internet, eh! What would the chances have been of making this sort of contact before the Net came along?

Back from Sydney

Sirdan came down from Gympie today, just for part of the day! He, P and I dined at a swank Italian place in the old GPO.

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Sirdan had to be on the 2.30 plane back to Queensland, and P to work I assume. I decided to revisit old haunts.

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Sydney Boys High this afternoon.

I have nothing against a good belly button…

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Don’t know them, but they are Aussies…

But this guy elevated the belly button to cosmic heights…

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Wikipedia: “Philip Henry Gosse (6 April 1810 – 23 August 1888) was an English naturalist and popularizer of natural science, virtually the inventor of the seawater aquarium, and a painstaking innovator in the study of marine biology. Gosse is perhaps best known today as the author of Omphalos, an attempt to reconcile the immense geological ages presupposed by Charles Lyell with the biblical account of creation.

After his death, Gosse was portrayed as a despotic and fanatically religious father in Father and Son (1907), the literary masterpiece of his son, poet and critic Edmund Gosse

The gist of the Omphalos theory is that just as Adam. though not “born”, would have had a false history stamped on him via his belly button – think about it – so the fossil record etc represents a false history preloaded, as we might say today, by God at the time of creation. Ingenious, except that there is nothing to say the false history began two seconds ago and this entry was preloaded by God….

At the moment I am reading Father and Son. Just how true it is people have disputed, but whatever the case the book is a real treasure. Thanks to Project Gutenberg and my Kobo.

Meanwhile, capable as I was of reading, I found my greatest pleasure in the pages of books. The range of these was limited, for story-books of every description were sternly excluded. No fiction of any kind, religious or secular, was admitted into the house. In this it was to my Mother, not to my Father, that the prohibition was due. She had a remarkable, I confess to me still somewhat unaccountable impression that to ‘tell a story’, that is, to compose fictitious narrative of any kind, was a sin. She carried this conviction to extreme lengths. My Father, in later years, gave me some interesting examples of her firmness. As a young man in America, he had been deeply impressed by ‘Salathiel’, a pious prose romance by that then popular writer, the Rev. George Croly. When he first met my Mother, he recommended it to her, but she would not consent to open it. Nor would she read the chivalrous tales in verse of Sir Walter Scott, obstinately alleging that they were not ‘true’. She would read none but lyrical and subjective poetry. Her secret diary reveals the history of this singular aversion to the fictitious, although it cannot be said to explain the cause of it. As a child, however, she had possessed a passion for making up stories, and so considerable a skill in it that she was constantly being begged to indulge others with its exercise. But I will, on so curious a point, leave her to speak for herself:

‘When I was a very little child, I used to amuse myself and my brothers with inventing stories, such as I read. Having, as I suppose, naturally a restless mind and busy imagination, this soon became the chief pleasure of my life. Unfortunately, my brothers were always fond of encouraging this propensity, and I found in Taylor, my maid, a still greater tempter. I had not known there was any harm in it, until Miss Shore [a Calvinist governess], finding it out, lectured me severely, and told me it was wicked. From that time forth I considered that to invent a story of any kind was a sin. But the desire to do so was too deeply rooted in my affections to be resisted in my own strength [she was at that time nine years of age], and unfortunately I knew neither my corruption nor my weakness, nor did I know where to gain strength. The longing to invent stories grew with violence; everything I heard or read became food for my distemper. The simplicity of truth was not sufficient for me; I must needs embroider imagination upon it, and the folly, vanity and wickedness which disgraced my heart are more than I am able to express. Even now [at the age of twenty-nine], tho’ watched, prayed and striven against, this is still the sin that most easily besets me. It has hindered my prayers and prevented my improvement, and therefore, has humbled me very much.’

This is, surely, a very painful instance of the repression of an instinct. There seems to have been, in this case, a vocation such as is rarely heard, and still less often wilfully disregarded and silenced. Was my Mother intended by nature to be a novelist? I have often thought so, and her talents and vigour of purpose, directed along the line which was ready to form ‘the chief pleasure of her life’, could hardly have failed to conduct her to great success. She was a little younger than Bulwer Lytton, a little older than Mrs. Gaskell—but these are vain and trivial speculations!

From my week’s reading: Edmund Gosse, “Father and Son” — 1907

Still relevant after all those years.

My holidays, however, and all my personal relations with my Father were poisoned by this insistency. I was never at my ease in his company; I never knew when I might not be subjected to a series of searching questions which I should not be allowed to evade. Meanwhile, on every other stage of experience I was gaining the reliance upon self and the respect for the opinion of others which come naturally to a young man of sober habits who earns his own living and lives his own life. For this kind of independence my Father had no respect or consideration, when questions of religion were introduced, although he handsomely conceded it on other points. And now first there occurred to me the reflection, which in years to come I was to repeat over and over, with an ever sadder emphasis,—what a charming companion, what a delightful parent, what a courteous and engaging friend my Father would have been, and would pre-eminently have been to me, if it had not been for this stringent piety which ruined it all.

Let me speak plainly. After my long experience, after my patience and forbearance, I have surely the right to protest against the untruth (would that I could apply to it any other word!) that evangelical religion, or any religion in a violent form, is a wholesome or valuable or desirable adjunct to human life. It divides heart from heart. It sets up a vain, chimerical ideal, in the barren pursuit of which all the tender, indulgent affections, all the genial play of life, all the exquisite pleasures and soft resignations of the body, all that enlarges and calms the soul are exchanged for what is harsh and void and negative. It encourages a stern and ignorant spirit of condemnation; it throws altogether out of gear the healthy movement of the conscience; it invents virtues which are sterile and cruel; it invents sins which are no sins at all, but which darken the heaven of innocent joy with futile clouds of remorse. There is something horrible, if we will bring ourselves to face it, in the fanaticism that can do nothing with this pathetic and fugitive existence of ours but treat it as if it were the uncomfortable ante-chamber to a palace which no one has explored and of the plan of which we know absolutely nothing. My Father, it is true, believed that he was intimately acquainted with the form and furniture of this habitation, and he wished me to think of nothing else but of the advantages of an eternal residence in it.

Then came a moment when my self-sufficiency revolted against the police-inspection to which my ‘views’ were incessantly subjected. There was a morning, in the hot-house at home, among the gorgeous waxen orchids which reminded my Father of the tropics in his youth, when my forbearance or my timidity gave way. The enervated air, soaked with the intoxicating perfumes of all those voluptuous flowers, may have been partly responsible for my outburst. My Father had once more put to me the customary interrogatory. Was I ‘walking closely with God’? Was my sense of the efficacy of the Atonement clear and sound? Had the Holy Scriptures still their full authority with me? My replies on this occasion were violent and hysterical. I have no clear recollection what it was that I said,—I desire not to recall the whimpering sentences in which I begged to be let alone, in which I demanded the right to think for myself, in which I repudiated the idea that my Father was responsible to God for my secret thoughts and my most intimate convictions.

He made no answer; I broke from the odorous furnace of the conservatory, and buried my face in the cold grass upon the lawn. My visit to Devonshire, already near its close, was hurried to an end. …

“Gosse’s Father and Son is a superb and sometimes quite beautiful book…” — Brian A. Oard

Sunrise

What was I up to in November 2001?

These entries via the Web Archive (my old Angelfire site). Some names have been edited to conform with my later practice.

November 1 2001: The past is another country

Past and to come seem best; things present worst. — William Shakespeare, Henry IV Part 2 II iii 108

A momentous step in my life occurred today…but that’s all on that!

When I was a boy I loved to quiz my grandfather about things that happened in the unimaginable past, way back in the 1890s through to the 1930s, and he would always oblige with a fund of stories. My mother too had the gifts of recall and nostalgia and told me many things; in her case she even wrote many of them down in the 1960s in an exercise book I now treasure, given that she is gone.

Young people, now that I am the old man, ask me to tell stories now. I am distant enough from them to lend a certain exoticism to my memories of that other country, one Sydney suburb, indeed a few streets in that suburb, and the lives of Protestant boys in that suburb (as I would have then had no idea what the Catholics did) in the early 1950s–half a century ago. John Howard’s golden age, one might say.

There were golden things about it too. It is true, unless one was away for very long stretches of time, that houses were never locked. If I came home from school and my mother was at the neighbour’s place, the house would be open even though no-one was home. I do not remember a house being robbed in our neighbourhood at any time during that entire decade.

On the other hand alcoholism was rife and so was domestic violence–the latter almost accepted. Neither happened in my own family. Some husbands were severely disturbed “because of the war”; having seen Changi recently on ABC-TV, I understand that better.

Kids were not taken to and from school. We walked, sometimes quite long distances, unsupervised. The worst that happened was seeing a drunk behaving very oddly. For macabre thrills we might inspect the crashed cars in the grounds of the Police Station for traces of blood; once we saw a tooth.

After school until dusk was our time, as were weekends. It was an outer suburb, so plenty of bush was nearby, where we would play unsupervised. By 5 or 5.30 pm we were all home having dinner and (in my case) listening to the Argonauts’ Club on ABC Radio. After dinner I read, or listened to the radio with the family. There was no TV, no organised play groups or clubs aside from Scouts (to which I did not belong) or Church groups, to which I did not yet go.

It may well be that the reading and radio were greater stimulants to the imagination, but that is debatable. The Argonauts gave valuable introductions to the worlds of literature, history, art and music, but in many ways our horizons were limited. I am sure the present generation knows much more of the outside world than we did.

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Some are a little taken aback by my true accounts of what you could call pre-sexual experimentation among the boys, given that I was referring to ages 8 to 10. Yes, this was widespread in my peer group, partly through the “leadership” of one boy, who in retrospect I suspect may have been a victim of sexual abuse, but such things were never mentioned. I actually participated in much less than some of my peers, particularly as I got older. “Self-abuse” became a regular but guilt-ridden habit, however, and laid a foundation for a sense of sin that became a most formative experience. Paradoxically it also became a pleasure, but I will spare you details. Of course the nexus pleasure=bad was to become crippling in time. I still recall a few years later that the first time I ejaculated I thought I had broken something through my nastiness, and was pleased to learn I hadn’t!

Yes, all boys; yet the idea “gay” was simply not there at that time. Perhaps we had a vague notion this was something that “girls” would become part of when we grew older and could do it “properly”. Teenage pregnancies and shotgun marriages were a fact of life. Older kids got up to all sorts of things in the dark of the Saturday movie matinees, unless the dreaded Miss Collins, the usherette, sprung them with her torch, in which event they were unceremoniously ordered out. All of us, the kids, the teens with the hots, would stop eating and/or throwing sweets, smoking, groping (or whatever) at the end, and stand to absolute attention while “God Save the Queen” was played. I neither groped nor threw sweets, as I really was a rather good little boy 😉

Lest you see Sutherland circa 1953 as a seething orgy of prepubescent humping and stroking, I should mention that Meccano sets, Biggles books, cowboys and Indians, toy guns, trains (toy and real), pigeon hunting (never successful), billy-cart racing (often suicidal!) and looking for Russian spies were as important elements of our lives as comparing dicks or discovering their properties 😉

Some of this stuff I would tell only the most trusted of friends–or you, dear reader! I do think it is important in recalling the past to recall it honestly, though; it is instructive to find that the present is in some ways no more (perhaps less) depraved, gross, puzzling, diverse…

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In Canberra 1955. I am looking across the path at my Uncle Neil and Aunt Fay.

Idealising the past as a “golden age” can be most misleading. I experienced fear at the end of a bully’s fist. I saw women with black eyes. I knew kids who were beaten regularly. And yet there was an innocence too–those open houses, the absence in our milieu of drugs (except for two, alcohol and tobacco–not to mention the women addicted to painkillers that crystallised their kidneys –phenacatin in Bex and Vincents APC–and, beginning then, “mother’s little helpers”–early generation tranquillisers that were highly addictive.) But we lived more safely in some respects.
Guess I am glad I lived then, really, and glad I can share this with younger people.:-)

November 7: Australian elections on 10th… and I am praying for a change of government

I have had the vote now for 37 years.

For the first half (approximately) of that time, being of mainly Scots/Ulster Protestant background, I voted Liberal, as did my parents and grandparents before me. For most of the second half I have voted Labor, except in the Senate where I have favoured one or other of the minor parties. For the first time ever I will not be voting for either major party in either House.

As Ian McPhee rightly observed today, there are no Liberals left in the Liberal Party. What we have are conservatives (like Costello) and reactionaries (like the Prime Minister). Of course there are precious few Labor politicians in the Labor Party either, and the crunch issue separating me from them, and the government, has been the obscene asylum-seekers “crisis”. I have canvassed that issue before on this diary, so do not propose to do so again tonight.

Further, while not excusing those responsible for the attacks of September 11, I find myself increasingly appalled by the crudeness of the response by the United States and by our government’s alacrity (supported by Labor) to leap into the action. (Of course I also wish our ADF members well.) Our “non-evil” weapons, to paraphrase George Bush, are likely directly and indirectly to exact a human cost far in excess of the 6000 in the twin towers. I just hope the causes of terrorism are addressed by the world community more effectively at some time in the future. I fear the present course will in sum probably increase the appeal of terrorism in those parts of the world that currently feel, for whatever reasons, obliged to take that path.

I hope that liberal and secularist religionists of all faiths will become stronger in their opposition to fundamentalism and fanaticism.

Back home again, I am impressed with much of the argument in Quarterly Essay 3:2001: “The Opportunist: John Howard and the Triumph of Reaction” by Guy Rundle. If you want an image of the kind of prat the Liberal Party throws up (and in this case out, after he fell on his face) look no further than Jonathan Shier. He embodied the mindset beautifully. He was just too nakedly prattish to succeed, but he was their man, very much their man.

You are free to disagree with any of the above.

I do lean more towards the Labor Party in certain policy areas, especially social welfare, health and education. I feel they could form quite a respectable government, if not an adventurous one. I also feel they will be quite conservative in terms of economic management this time around; their options are limited there anyway.

M, who experiences nausea everytime he sees John Howard, asks: “Why does Australia want tough leaders? What Australia needs is wise leaders, compassionate leaders.” Amen to that–but I can’t recall many: John Curtin maybe? Gough Whitlam? Not wise. Paul Keating? Flashes of wisdom but too much folly. Malcolm Fraser? Only since he retired. Who? Menzies? No, too deep a concept to sum him up, but he was much more of a Liberal than the current crop. Bob Hawke? Plenty of compassion, less wisdom. It’s a lot to ask, M. Depressing isn’t it?

If you want some idea of what wisdom looks like, revisit the International Declaration on Human Rights.

November 10: Australia votes…and so does Ninglun

So, I have just recently done my democratic duty. Now we wait. I am not optimistic about the outcome, though I do hope we may achieve the minor change that a Labor victory would bring, including (among other things) a somewhat harder ride for the present government’s rich and powerful friends–though they will continue to do very well I am sure– and a more liberal (in the true sense) approach to issues of multiculturalism, national identity, indigenous issues and social issues generally. I’ll stop boring you now.

On the way back from the polling booth I saw the almost terminally cute recent vice-captain of our school setting off to make his first vote. I urged him to vote the right way, which he said of course he would do. We did not actually discuss what the right way might be. (I do hope he did not misinterpret my words.) Another new voter of my acquaintance is in another electorate, in fact the same electorate, curiously enough, in which I voted Liberal on a number of occasions. (Come to think of it, even before I had the vote I scrutineered for the bastards–sorry!–in a local election; it was interesting, but I am not sure if it was legal, but the candidate wanted bodies on the tally room floor.) He was a local developer–you know the scene–and my father was a real estate agent in Jannali.

Curiouser still is that my old Presbyterian Church is a polling booth in that electorate.

With respect to yesterday’s diary, which may have seemed uncharitable, I should point out that I actually quite like Prof. Flint as a conversation partner and fellow-guest at a dinner. Pompous, indeed, but not without humour. I even agree with him that the Westminster system of government is better than the American model. However, while he seemed yesterday to rejoice in the fact that the American system stymied “elites” (or “pointy-headed intellectuals”/”eggheads” and other delightful American expressions), I actually think that is one of the things wrong with it.

I also do not want Australia to have an elected president; in fact I don’t want Australia to have any kind of president with the powers of an American one. If we become a republic (and there are still good symbolic reasons for that, even practical ones further down the track) I hope it is a minimalist model that gets up. Prime Minister Costello would probably see us right on that one 😉

Imagine what I might have said about Prof. Flint if I didn’t like him!

Finally, I decided to cheer myself and others up by buying a car. It had to be within budget, and although I won’t be driving it myself (though I may be allowed to use it), it had to be something a bit classic, I felt, and expressive of machismo. I think I have succeeded, and got change out of a ten-note too!

It is beside me as I write 🙂

November 11: Howard wins…wish the Melbourne Cup tips had been as good! Oh yes: 1815 Hansard!

Well, you can look forward to me getting back to book reviews rather than political rants now.

It’s over, but life goes on. The Senate could prove interesting with an increased Green presence.

I saw on NineMSN that there was in the New York Times some fairly scandalous reporting of our virtual reassertion of a White Australia Policy; I have looked, but all I get is this. And it isn’t too shocking. I do think we are going to regret the smarty-pants “solution” to the asylum seekers situation. (NB change of terminology, Mr R.) There is the cost, the fact that they will not be able to stay forever in Nauru etc. and will probably end up, many of them, back here, and the fact that we will run out of viable dumping grounds.

Pauline Hanson is down and out at least. Bliss, joy!

Still, a government that brought us some honour over East Timor is not all bad. Let’s hope they respond to some of the serious criticism, especially that from eminent community members of whom many have been members of or supporters of the governing party in the past.

Kim Beazely, the Labor leader, has just conceded and spoke very well.

The car is a success I feel. Sirdan thought it looked nice. (See last entry.)

All examinees–good luck over the next few weeks…

November 14: About books…it’s been a while

I have in fact been reading quite a few lighter things, as well as more poetry than usual–but there has been an excellent reason for the latter.

Lately I have just read an early Sue Grafton, B is for Burglar (1986), and agree with something I read somewhere about the earlier ones being wittier. She is certainly among my favourite writers of detective fiction.

I also read an absolutely hilarious and odd book, Yeats is Dead–a Novel by Fifteen Irish Writers, edited by Joseph O’Connor (2001). It was commissioned by Amnesty International as a fund raiser. Writers include, aside from O’Connor, Roddy Doyle, Marian Keyes, Pauline McLynn (of Father Ted fame) and, the last chapter, Frank McCourt. The extraordinary plot (if it can be called that) involves corrupt police, a female crime boss named Mrs Bloom and her partner Karen Blixen, and a red-headed Irish lad who wants to be black:

Micky McManus’s day turned out badly and got worse.

First off, he woke up to find that he was still Caucasian. Despite the picture of Coolio sellotaped to his bedsit wall, there was no getting away from the stubborn fact that he was still the big-ass ol’ white boy he had always been.

Micky McManus wanted to be black. He knew that eveything in his miserable, inadequate life would be somehow okay if he were big and shiny and graceful and ebony. Instead of short and stubby and freckled and ginger…

Micky’s sex life was unsatisfactory and unsettling. On the rare occasions he persuaded women to sleep with him — and money usually had to change hands — he suspected they did so just to see if he had ginger pubes, or to see if his lad was freckled. (It was.) To be fair, though, Kelly hadn’t taken much interest in the colour of Micky’s pubes. In fact, she couldn’t have cared less. She’d only slept with him because she couldn’t afford the taxi fare home to Bray.

Micky’s appearance and language become more and more bizarre as the story progresses. He ends up in a gay relationship with the very fat son of an old man who was murdered because, among other things, he possessed the manuscript of James Joyce’s previously unknown last novel, Yeats is Dead.

Mad book.

November 16: An ex-student in UNHCR

I had a delightful lunch yesterday with an ex-student who was recently working in Pakistan with UNHCR among the Afghan refugees. What he said did not change my views on the subject; rather the reverse.

We also talked a lot about school issues and gay issues.

I have revamped and added to my page about the refugees and related matters. I had admittedly thrown the thing together quickly the other day, and have taken the opportunity to revise and add. There is a much more wicked cartoon of John Howard.

November 18: Wettish Sunday..but yesterday was fine

Now when you are reduced to talking about the weather…

But it was quite lovely yesterday, although I spent a bit of it working. At lunch I ran into a colleague, M.S., who was attending a Teachers’ Federation Council Meeting. After work at the Midnight Shift (a venue I am not normally all that fond of) I saw Clive and a few others, and had a very interesting conversation with someone I had seen around for ages but rarely talked to. It concerned family dynamics among other things. It is nice when people talk about their lives with honesty and seriousness.

The warm weather brought out some pleasing sights for such as I. Out in the suburbs they were washing their cars and going swimming, I am told, and I am sure that would be just as pleasing.

November 19: Life changes for some…

You may recall my nephew, Warren, who is an “exhibit” at the State Library of NSW as part of the Flinders Exhibition; he is there in virtual form as a lineal descendent of the family of Bungaree, the Guringai Aborigine who sailed with Flinders in his voyages of exploration about 200 years ago. I had a call from Warren at the weekend.

He has moved, with his partner, down to the Sydney region from Queensland and is now living on Guringai traditional land, as his mother’s family has continuously since settlement. Since it is Warren’s historical research that demonstrated the previously unacknowledged continuity of the descendents of the Guringai in that area, he is about to play a rather significant political role. There is a chance you may read about him in next weekend’s Australian. You can certainly see a lot of him now in the Cadigal Room at the Museum of Sydney.

I wonder if he would like yum cha.

Father John rang also with the sad but not unexpected news that his 98 years old mother recently died. I met her years ago when she was holidaying from Bellingen, where she lived until recently, and a very feisty old lady she was. She rather enjoyed the Albury!

November 21: Havens…from the cold

I have been working a little less lately–one day less in theory, since an HSC student I was shepherding has now successfully negotiated the year. So today I taught just one lesson, then went to the Library, then on to a particular coffee shop that has become a favourite in recent times.

Places acquire associations. It is not just that this is an extremely pleasant shop with a charming if dotty owner, but that going there makes me particularly happy, as I associate the place with being happy. I gather I am not alone, as I hear other customers go there perhaps for similar reasons; it can be a haven on cold wet days like today or yesterday, a place to read quietly, or to settle the nerves before some stress.

I should mention that last Sunday I called in there and saw the proprietor’s youngest son, who is red-headed as well as cute, though that is for me an aesthetic and academic judgment I hasten to add.

I am reading two books, as it happens, and will tell you about each in more detail later on. The first is very rich indeed; it won the Booker Prize last year: Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin. The second is angry in places, but also very honest and in places just right: Paul Monette, Becoming a Man (1992), a gay autobiography. Lined up are a number of others, including in my leisure reading field of crime fiction/thriller The Bannerman Affair (1997) by Australian writer Gareth Harvey. Another reason for choosing that last one is that (my God!) thirty years ago I taught Gareth Harvey in Wollongong.

Well, tomorrow is a total work-free day, so I look forward to the coffee shop again 🙂