Blogging the 2010s — 15 — February 2012

“…the most truthful and disturbing image one can find of Australia in literature.”–Simon Leys

Not one to use words lightly is Simon Leys, but that is what he wrote of D H Lawrence’s Kangaroo in The New York Review of Books in 1994.

Lawrence arrived in Australia almost by chance; his stay lasted merely three months; he barely got to know half a dozen Australians and only examined a few acres of a continent as big as Europe. Most of his visit was spent in a nondescript little town stuck between an empty ocean on the one side and the emptiness of the bush on the other. There he locked himself in a small suburban bungalow where he kept writing day after day, seeing nothing and meeting with no one. One might truly say that he was so busy imagining Australia that he never found the time to look at it.

Of course, such an attitude is by no means unique: the traveling writer who shuts himself in his ship’s cabin or in his hotel room, and tosses off the description of a country he does not even bother to visit, is a type probably less original than he himself fancies. In Lawrence’s case, however, what is more intriguing is that, when he eventually put a final full stop to the thick manuscript of Kangaroo, he had in fact just completed what still remains, three quarters of a century later, the most penetrating portrait, the most truthful and disturbing image one can find of Australia in literature.

Although most connoisseurs readily agree to place Kangaroo among Lawrence’s major works, it is not one of his most widely read novels. In the eyes of many readers, it suffers perhaps from its makeshift structure and from the heteroclite and ill-fitting nature of its various elements—not to mention the fact that some of its political views reeked of fascism. The book is supposed to be a novel, but in fact, it is a hybrid creature that escapes all classification. Lawrence stitched together some autobiographical reminiscences (there is a long and harrowing narrative of the time he spent with his wife in a Cornwall village during the Great War, surrounded by the moronic and watchful hatred of the local population, who could not forgive him for being a pacifist and for having a German wife), lengthy mystico-political considerations, sometimes muddled, sometimes sinister, reflecting the ascent of fascism in the early Twenties (a phenomenon which Lawrence had just observed in Italy with ambiguous fascination, and which he encountered again in Australia in circumstances that were to remain a riddle till quite recently), an amazing and vivid portrait of his married life…

As Lawrence himself says again and again in the novel – even at one point inviting the reader to leave if they don’t like it! – the work is a “thought adventure”. Unfortunately I find Lawrence/Somers on the “dark god” rather hard to take – the idea really does strike me now in 2012 as total piffle. But I would still urge you to read this not quite forgotten classic. So easy to do now as all you need is the eBook, which is free!

It came on to rain, streaming down the carriage windows. Jack lit a cigarette, and offered one to Harriet. She, though she knew Somers disliked it intensely when she smoked, particularly in a public place like this long, open railway carriage, accepted, and sat by the closed window smoking.

The train ran for a long time through Sydney, or the endless outsides of Sydney. The town took almost as much leaving as London does. But it was different. Instead of solid rows of houses, solid streets like London, it was mostly innumerable detached bungalows and cottages, spreading for great distances, scattering over hills, low hills and shallow inclines. And then waste marshy places, and old iron, and abortive corrugated iron “works”— all like the Last Day of creation, instead of a new country. Away to the left they saw the shallow waters of the big opening where Botany Bay is: the sandy shores, the factory chimneys, the lonely places where it is still Bush. And the weary half established straggling of more suburb.

“Como”, said the station sign. And they ran on bridges over two arms of water from the sea, and they saw what looked like a long lake with wooded shores and bungalows: a bit like Lake Como, but oh, so unlike. That curious sombreness of Australia, the sense of oldness, with the forms all worn down low and blunt, squat. The squat-seeming earth. And then they ran at last into real country, rather rocky, dark old rocks, and sombre bush with its different pale-stemmed dull-leaved gumtrees standing graceful, and various healthy-looking undergrowth, and great spiky things like zuccas. As they turned south they saw tree-ferns standing on one knobbly leg among the gums, and among the rocks ordinary ferns and small bushes spreading in glades and up sharp hill-slopes….

Como 2010

Lawrence in Thirroul

D H Lawrence in Thirroul

There has been no end of interest in the novel, especially perhaps down here in the Illawarra. An old friend, Raymond Southall, edited in the the late 1980s, for example. A very attractive illustrated edition with the Garry Shead paintings appeared in 1995.

Back fifty years when as a 19-year-old I first read the then 40-year-old book with some appreciation of the descriptive bits but little else in the way of comprehension, the general view was that this was an extraordinarily messy novel in which Lawrence worked out hang-ups about having his anus examined during WW1 and otherwise imported into Australia ruminations about Italian politics under Mussolini. Today Lawrence’s observations about what was going on in Sydney in the early 1920s are treated with more respect. See Bruce Steele’s Cambridge Edition (2001) – pdf file opening in new window.

More: In the Footsteps of LawrencePlace, colour and sedition: D. H. Lawrence’s Kangaroo, a study in environmental values‘Kangaroo’ D.H. Lawrence.

Richard Lovat Somers, described by Lawrence as “a smallish man, pale faced with a dark beard”, who is only a lightly fictionalised version of Lawrence himself, arrives in Australia with his wife Harriet bearing the scars of a war in which he never fought. Ironically he soon begins to mix with a group of belligerent ex-servicemen who feel let down by the arrival of peace and hanker after the sense of belonging and camaraderie that they enjoyed while fighting in France. Following the leadership of Ben Cooley, whose nickname is Kangaroo, they have formed clubs and societies of old soldiers who, under the pretence of meeting for social or sporting activities, are actually preparing to take over the government by coup d’etat. Somers is attracted to them and their political ideas as well to their rugged individualism but eventually, in his vanity, he decides that he himself is both too rugged and too individualistic himself to join any one side, and leaves Australia after only a brief stay. In Somers Lawrence has drawn a hugely flattering self portrait, or at least what he probably believed to be one!

Much of the novel is devoted to conversations between Somers and his ‘mates’  Jack Calcott, Jaz Trewhella and Ben Cooley in which they debate the nature of democracy and government. Somers’ reputation has preceded him and Kangaroo is keen to recruit him to their cause. That these discussions of ideas dominate the novel was sensed by Lawrence as a weakness and one which he tries to defend within  its own pages writing towards the end “now a novel is supposed to be a mere record of emotion-adventures, flounderings in feelings. We insist that a novel is, or should be, also a thought adventure if it is to be anything at all”. Indeed if ‘Kangaroo’ is anything at all it is precisely that, although thought and thinking do not, on their own, necessarily make for a good novel.

Last year there was a play down here in The Gong which I missed….

M’s Wollongong visit


M in Mylan studying the menu.

Last month, and December 2001

Here’s a summary of the top places this blog reached (for whatever reasons) in November 2019.

Screenshot (343)

Pretty modest really, but last month was up on October.

Now of course I am an Ancient Mariner of blogging, in proof whereof let us revisit December 2001 — except for some embarrassing bits. (If you want to see them they are there at that Internet Archive link!)

1 December: World AIDS Day: Stay safe and avoid complacency

Having said that, I mention that Ian Smith had some good news about a sometime Yum Cha friend whose recent visit to hospital caused much concern.

I reread December 2000 Diary (see Diary Key Page), and find it hard to credit the twelve months that have passed. One cryptic entry there is now cryptic for me too, as I do not recall what it referred to!

I have made additions both to the Gateway Page and to the page on Asylum Seekers. You will note a change to the subtitles of the Gateway Page, and alterations in my favourites. In its cryptic way, the third one is a tribute to the true highlight of my 2001. To which I just add: thank you, thank you, thank you!!! It continues to mean more to me than I can possibly say.

I don’t think I will have a problem recognising the reference there in twelve months time, assuming I am still on the planet. George Harrison, let it be remembered, was only six months older than I.

I am told George was an 80-a-day person.

I am pleased to report that despite a rather large number of hairy moments with withdrawal symptoms, I am still on track. The number of cigarettes is still zero. I feel the support of those who love me or care about me, and also value the good folk on Quitnet.

I promise to cease being boring on the subject of smoking in due course. Meanwhile, tracking my progress in public like this actually helps.

As I have said before, It took another TEN years before I finally gave up smoking!

6 December: Calmer…but not yet tranquil

Beware of a man giving up smoking, especially in the first week or two thereof. Do not confront him with sudden change or with anything that might tip his delicate balance. The result can be messy.

Friends need to be especially tolerant of aberrant behaviour. If they have supported the man in his project of giving up, they may be regretting their decison right now. They may be tempted to say “Please, start smoking again! We can’t stand this!” Do not give in to the temptation, but think of your friend’s better moments or track record over time, and remember that before long your friend will reappear as you remember him, and not as the writhing obsessive you see right now.

Yes, a good night’s sleep has helped. But I still need to be treated with delicacy… And on the subject of sleep, I blamed the 3-4 hours only I had on Tuesday night on two things: racing thoughts and leaving a patch on. Quitnet offers this on the latter: “Sleep disturbance almost always occurs in people who use the twenty four hour patch. Since your mind is unaccustomed to receiving nicotine while asleep, it can cause strange effects, including vivid, colorful dreams and difficulty sleeping.”

My best wishes to you all 🙂


10 December: Looking back over the week…and quite a busy day

I have found myself is the extremely odd position, as someone who was terrified of computers even until late 1999, that I am increasingly regarded by the English Department at my school as something of an IT expert. I actually did talk to a real one tonight, Malcolm, about some issues regarding our school LAN, and this may lead to a new perception of me at large! The Librarian is still amazed at the (rather easy) accomplishment of being able to tell her which kids have loaded games onto the Library machines and when!

Malcolm yesterday awarded his Quality Sustained Evil Award for 2001 (10 out of 10 score) to one of our fellow-diners. I can only concur!

Should my knickers get particularly into a knot in future, just say “Thumbelina” to me. If that doesn’t work, shoot me.

Over the past week one plus has been learning that I have some very remarkable friends that I need to treasure carefully. I have also found my feelings to be truly deep, and learned that needs to be husbanded carefully too–with an eye to the good of all involved. Wise but cryptic tonight, but one day all may be revealed. Not now though. I am very happy though, in the event… And so I bloody well should be.

15 December: My brother.

My brother and his partner have been living in Tasmania for many years now; I am not quite sure how many, but certainly more than five. Before that they lived in various parts of Queensland.

One of the ironies of their life together was that they were both married on the same day in Sutherland, way back in 1955, but in two different churches and to two different people. My brother’s first marriage lasted ten years, and it was after the end of that that he and Norma got together. I remember once saying to them that they could have saved a lot of trouble by getting it right on that day back in 1955, to which my brother replied, “Oh well, we still celebrate our wedding anniversary.”

While my brother and I have been in regular contact by phone, especially since our mother died 1n 1996, I have not seen him for many years, and Norma even longer. Unfortunately there is no way I can go down to Tasmania either, not that I could do much.

Ian and Norma were together for over thirty years. A second attempt at partnership suited both of them. They were kindred spirits, and were very lucky to have found each other. In the past few years Norma was basically bedridden, constantly on oxygen for her emphysema. My brother could not have been more loving and more devoted. He certainly had more peace and happiness with Norma over the greater part of thirty years than he had ever had before.

He’s not a young man now; neither of us is. I am not sure what he will do eventually–stay in Tasmania or move back up north. At one time he said he might move back to Queensland, should anything happen to Norma.

My brother had four children by his first marriage, some of whom I see from time to time. Norma had at least one daughter, whom I met, by her first marriage. Ian and Norma had no children by their relationship.

And yes, I won’t harp on it, but Benson and Hedges had a hand in Norma’s suffering and death.


The deep blue skies wax dusky and the tall green trees grow dim
The sward beneath me seems to heave and fall
And sickly, smoky shadows through the sleepy sunlight swim
And on the very sun’s face weave their pall

Let me slumber in the hollow where the wattle blossoms wave
With never stone or rail to fence my bed
Should the sturdy station children pull the bush flowers on my grave
I may chance to hear them romping overhead.

–Adam Lindsay Gordon

And finally:

23 December: Almost Christmas

Yes, so close, but I still haven’t done my cards! Looks like I will be making a few phone calls, sending email or ICQ, visiting some (hopefully) and, a last resort, sending late cards.

Yesterday I went to the Green Park Hotel with Sirdan; in time PK, James, Sailor A, and a number of others, joined us. PK gave me a very nice bottle of whisky.

Today is another Christmas gathering at the Forresters Hotel, and it would appear quite a few are coming to that. The gathering there a couple of weeks ago was very pleasant indeed.

I received a lovely card from “Master Fu”, an ex-student (class of 2000) who has been doing well in Advanced Mathematics at Sydney University. He has a delightful way of expressing himself:

There are many thanks for many things, none of them comes easily with words, for gratitude is the heart’s memory: thank you for everything you have done. Yours, Xiang

Really nice.

If yours is a family Christmas today, have a really good one; treasure those times, as they do pass.



The Forresters offered T-bone and mash as their $5 grill today, and it is so long since I have indulged in something so decadently Western; it was delicious. Company comprised Sirdan, James, Malcolm, the Empress, Bruce, Sailor A, Dark Cloud (a rare manifestation) and myself.

Diving down to 2005 and even 1999!

From one of my more ancient archives!

So what happened near this day?


While looking for evidence on my old diaries about scintillating scotoma (see previous entry) I decided to review what was happening in my life around this day since 1999! That’s a lot of diary, not all of it online. Below you can read what I found, the last two years being linked as they are still archived online.

22 November 1999: Went to city today for first time since the agoraphobia started. Unfortunately also smoked. Object of exercise Year 11/12 Study Day at Sydney Hilton– Robert Gray, et al. Two light beers at Flinders with Colin on way home. Survived the ordeal of city, but walking, not bus or train. Next challenge Erskineville next week. Noticed on Saturday Chinatown now pretty much OK. Reflect on fact M now been away six months. Nothing heard since letter to A dated one month ago from Kathmandu.

Monday, November 20 2000: in which Ninglun does not solve the world’s problems 😉 If we take a theme that has been emerging here in recent days, prompted by the end of the HSC and the conversations I’ve been having with eighteen-year-olds about being eighteen.

It is an interesting world that eighteen-year-olds have inherited, but a glance at history shows the world I inhabited (but largely ignored thanks to fundamentalist religion) was just as fraught: a month after my 18th birthday Britain applied to join the EEC; the Berlin Wall went up — there was a hit song at the time called “West of the Wall” the USSR tested a 30 megaton bomb; Eichmann was sentenced to death five months after my birthday; US troops entered Laos; and the day after I turned 19 the first satellite TV link between Europe and the US was made — another hit song was called Telstar

So now I think of globalisation and its impact, of the seeming triumph of a particularly rampant form of capitalism. I am still convinced that the marriage of morality and politics/economics leads straight to some form of democratic socialism; it is greed alone that prevents the rich and powerful from conceding that — and sadly the fact that socialism was brought into bad odour by its bastard child Marxism-Leninism.

How’s that for simplistic nostrums, boys and girls? But I’m a poor old thing who hasn’t been eighteen for a very long time 😉

November 21 2001: 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 🙂

Wednesday, November 20, 2002: Yes, a Shakespeare play I had never read before — King John — which we, The Rabbit and I, finished reading today, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Perhaps this line appeals more:

There is so hot a summer in my bosom,
That all my bowels crumble up to dust:
I am a scribbled form, drawn with a pen
Upon a parchment, and against this fire
Do I shrink up.

Which is what you say when a monk has just poisoned you. I was disappointed though that Robin Hood did not appear in the play once, but there was a Bastard, and (at least as I understood him) a rather camp assassin named Hubert.

Sunday, November 23, 2003: Diary-X Ninglun pulls it off, avec Agneau du Printemps de Nouvelle-Zeland!

I refer, of course, to my amazingly accurate prediction yesterday, though I had no money riding on it. Yes, the Rugby World Cup, won deservedly by England in a last-minute field goal. Sirdan, Malcolm, Kevin and I watched it at Sirdan’s place and found ourselves thoroughly enjoying it; the Empress was also there but tended to fall asleep a bit.

I’ll tell you what, Sirdan knows a thing or two about lamb. All those years in New Zealand, I suppose. The New Zealand lamb leg he baked last night was, we all agreed, probably the best lamb we have ever had, real melt-in-the-mouth stuff. The 1999 McLaren Vale Shiraz didn’t go too badly either.

20 November 2004: Diary-X Another hot one in Sydney yesterday, chilling afterwards at The Shakespeare again but this time with Sirdan who has, wait for it, been invited to THE Sydney Christmas Party – Saatchi and Saatchi. He’s going too. Last year it was reported thus in the Sydney Morning Herald: “…access to last night’s invitation-only Saatchi & Saatchi end-of-year party – a highlight of the social calendar – was strictly limited so that select staff and guests could ‘relax and enjoy’ themselves…” A somewhat different aspect is reported on Interview with the Cleaner:

“I will never forget the Xmas party at Saatchi & Saatchi, Sydney (us media chicks used to get Snatchi & Snatchi) when some pissed idiot took a steaming dump in the lift thinking it would be funny. It was.”

Will Thorpie be there???

Still, despite this elevation to the ranks of The Invited, Sirdan is still available to give advice on pickling and brewing, among other things… Such as growing pumpkins on an inner-city balcony…

So there you go! What a geek I have become!

English Teacher moments

19 NOV 2005


English Teacher moments

The link above takes you back to August, when I mentioned Scott Poynting, an ex-student from Wollongong who is now at the University of Western Sydney. Imagine how pleased I was to receive this email the other day.

I had heard from a 1972 classmate about your blog site, but only came across it googling to see whether anyone was mentioning our books (the sort of thing one does when there’s marking to be done). Thank you for the nice things you said about them.

Teaching is far too thankless a pursuit (in comparison to its value). With your extensive networks now, however, you must hear from more ex-students than most. This one wants to thank you for reading aloud to us from ‘The Sound and the Fury’ in 1972, and the love of literature to which that contributed. I went on (after a false start – a floating life, if you like) to study English at UNSW, and studied this novel in first year. I later read all the Faulkner I could get my hands on. Later still, I studied American Literature at Macquarie. Another false start, but a floating I don’t regret.

Thank you, also, for reading to us in 1972 from ‘The Outcasts of Foolgarah’. I later went on to read all the Frank Hardy novels I could get my hands on (and most were better than ‘Outcasts’, though the politics attracted me). By that time I was teaching mathematics – another false start. I read a bit of ‘Outcasts’ to my students last year, in a subject on ‘Social Inequalities’, during a week in which we contrast Woollahra and Bankstown.

Yes, you taught me English. Thank you.

Then after coaching today Ben returned a few books and gave me enough free yum chas to sustain an army; I will be sharing with M, but there is enough in the pot to cover one of the Sunday lunches with Sirdan and Lord Malcolm as well! I also had an email from another coachee, Erwin, who is reading “Paradise Lost”. Indeed, indeed….