“…history doesn’t happen in the past tense.”

That line is key to Kim Sherwood, Testament (2018), which I recently read courtesy of Wollongong Library. I also read a fitting companion.


Consider the stories I retold in my previous post, especially of my 1959 classmates Herbert Huppert and Peter Deli. How little I really understood of their stories, and so many others in that class of 1959. Eric, for example, who unaccountably had relatives in the Dominican Republic.

Fact is, as I played with my teddy-bear Sookle (yes, I know!) in Sutherland in the 1940s there were things going on elsewhere in the world which we still haven’t fully recovered from, things which affected those classmates-to-be far more directly.

And quite frightening is where we find ourselves now, as Kim Sherwood writes:

I tell Silk now, I am Jewish historically, but history doesn’t happen in the past tense. The pain you inflicted on those you loved hurts me now. The pain you felt hurts me now,,,

But I am your granddaughter always… My grief is a private grief, but here are the demands of stones and poems and ribbons left at altars, of mass graves without names. I will go to Prague. I will buy a museum ticket and walk the silent streets of Theresienstadt, past tired men selling army surplus from barracks with smashed windows, to the cellar painted red with the Star of David, where I will pray… My small film will gain attention as security at Jewish institutions is at high alert, as shootings in Paris wake us up, as refugees are made to plea at barred ports, as the Mediterranean swallows lives, as a ‘Beware Jews” sign goes up in north London. as tickets to the Blue Room sell out, as the UK closes its doors to Europe, as neo-Nazis attack our leaders and our citizens, as protesters take to the streets of Budapest in their thousands….

The other novel, The Last of Our Kind by Adélaïde de Clermont-Tonnerre was the winner of both the Académie Francaise Grand Prix du Roman and the 2016 inaugural Filigranes prize, awarded to the book with the widest general appeal.

Werner Zilch was adopted as an infant, and knows nothing of his biological family. But when, in 1970s New York, he meets the family of Rebecca, the woman he has fallen in love with, a mysterious link means he must uncover the truth of his past, or run the risk of losing her.

Spanning 1945 Dresden, the Bavarian Alps and uncovering Operation Paperclip, this is a riveting novel of family and love that seamlessly blends fact with fiction.

Werner von Braun plays a key role in the plot. On Operation Paperclip.

The Last of Our Kind is a fascinating journey through much key 20th century history, though perhaps at times too clever! And I have one pedantic note: characters at one point in 1948 play 45 rpm records, one year before that format was released! But do read this novel. The author’s background story is also most interesting.


One thing leads to another … treasure!

This post caused a slight stir as I was rather dismissive of Dyson Heydon’s “The New Struggle for Religious Freedom”, recycled in the current number of Quadrant. However, that lecture has prompted some interesting further reading, including Civilising a colony? Sir Richard Bourke and the Church Act, NSW, 1836 ~ Siobhan Whelan. Must explore that blog further!

I also was reminded what treasures exist in our various universities in the form of Ph.D. theses, often readily available for free download. Such a treasure is this from the University of Newcastle (1991).

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Dr Patrick, who passed away in 2013, was a treasure of the Adventist Church — hence one strand of that thesis. And a great thesis it is, remarkably clear-eyed and objective.

The adherents of an ideology usually possess common ideas and values, and tend to cluster together as a subculture. Consequently they often experience difficulty in relating to the wider society which exists in the same time and place. Early in its history, Christianity encountered relational problems with Jews and pagans; controversies also developed amongst rival Christian groups. The persistence of this
conflict caused H. Richard Niebuhr to call it ‘the enduring problem’; he also identified a range of typical responses, particularly in Western civilisation. On the two extremes are those Christians who withdraw and accommodate; occupying the middle ground are dualists, synthesists and conversionists. These solutions may be held in their pure form or in a variety of combinations. They may be influenced by a range of ideas about salvation, the church, eschatology, the relations of church and state, Christian history and patterns of thought in society.

The Christianity which was transplanted into colonial Australia was derived from Northern Hemisphere denominations, and experienced the persistent effects of distance, dependence and sectarianism. Divided by national and religious loyalties and antipathies, and challenged by a desacralised society, the churches . tended to develop a conservative ethos which failed to address crucial religious and social questions. Denominational attitudes toward educational, economic and political issues may be used to identify the various stances which were present in New South Wales near the end of the colonial period. Selected Roman Catholic, Church of England, Wesleyan Methodist and Seventh-day Adventists perspectives are explored in the light of Niebuhr’s typologies….

A sane book on energy

Yes, I am reading heaps, library books and ebooks, moderns and classics —  but I am not bothering to document it all here. Some I will mention, including this latest: A History of the Energy We Have Consumed. In fact it is:


It’s quite fascinating, and so refreshing in contrast to the partisan claptrap we have had from our PM du jour down through the buffoons who fester on the pages of the Murdoch tabloids or lurk at night on Sky. Shocked to discover Rhodes is 81 years old too! You’d never guess!

Lots of who’d-a-thought moments. Did you know there was a link between bird-shit on islands off Chile and the Irish potato famine of the 1840s? Did you know that burning coal “with its ubiquitous content of radium and thorium, releases more radioactivity into the environment… than any other fuel”?

Rhodes makes an intelligent case for properly managed nuclear power.  He cites the capacity factor (pp. 330-1) of various power sources in the USA, that is how much of the time they actually generate electricity. “Even plants powered with coal or natural gas generate electricity only about half the time.”




Lately we have had the latest report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) , the response to which by Scott Morrison was south of pathetic. See also Coal is on the way out, the only question is how quickly.

A supplementary thought from my cousin Ray, from the Mining Museum at Lithgow NSW. “This happened at the Lithgow State Mine site. Lithgow has the credit of hosting Australia’s first privately owned wind farm, and the world’s first solar powered train. People should never question my coalmining town’s environmental credentials.” He is referring to Lithgow Railway Workshop gets national engineering nod for solar train.

War and Peace

SBS is about to screen the 2016 BBC adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.


I’m looking forward to it. In preparation I am rereading the novel, which I last read some twenty years ago. I am really enjoying it, more so I think than last time.

Happens I am reading the Project Gutenberg e-book version on my laptop, using Calibre. Something I have noticed before: long works seem less daunting this way, and I seem to read them faster!  I am about half-way through.

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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.