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….


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


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


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.

Feedback can be nice

Had an email concerning Family stories 4 — A Guringai Family Story — Warren Whitfield:

I have just come across your web story concerning the Guringai Family and in particular the part of your story about Joseph Ashby born in 1810 Colchester Essex UK.

As you see above my name is also Ashby, I am 81 and I live in Colchester. Joseph Ashby 1810 was my Gt Gt Uncle. Until I read your story I had no idea of his life after his release, so as you can imagine my interest was instant.

Joseph was one of eleven children born to Joseph Ashby born 1776 in Ellingham Norfolk UK and his wife Lydia Hardy of whom only five survived their teenage years. Three girls and two boys. Joseph 1810 and William 1814. They were both convicted of larceny and transported to Australia.

William stole a silver watch and was sentenced to seven years on 11 Oct 1834 arriving in NSW on 3 Nov1835 on the ” Westmorland” He gained his certificate of freedom 4/4366 in 1841.

Later he wed Caroline Lee in Melbourne in 1841 and that is all that I know of him.
If this little bit is of interest I would appreciate any info on William if you have any.

Tony Ashby

Time: February 28, 2017 at 12:25 am

I can’t add anything though. Nice bit of history in Tony’s letter. If you check the post Tony refers to you will see a correction that came from another email a short while ago.

NOTE  16 Feb 2017: “The photo of Charlotte Webb is in fact Hannah Ashby.” Thanks to Carolyn Cartan by email. Last week Warren told me on the phone that he had erred in attributing that photo.

More emails, this concerning my mother’s family. See Neil’s personal decades: 23 –- 1915 — Christisons and More tales from my mother 2 — Felled Timber Creek.

Just after the outbreak of World War 1 Dad [my grandfather] was sent to a place with the lovely name of “Felled Timber Creek” which was six miles — walking — from Dalton and about twelve miles from Gunning, the nearest rail head.

I remember as a very small girl being taken from the train at some ungodly hour and then a long drive on a Cobb & Co Coach over rough roads until in the early dawn we were set down as close as the coach could take us to our new home. We trudged wearily about a mile down a bush track, and again, as at Spencer, the school was a slab built building, beside which was a mud floored slab hut which was the kitchen of the residence. The Department had out of the goodness of its heart erected a four room building of timber containing three bedrooms and a dining room, with the ever present verandah across the front where the lucky schoolie and his family were to live. The kitchen-cum-laundry — it had been used as a shearer’s hut originally — was some distance from the main house. I know it was mighty cold going from the kitchen to bed in winter when the south-west wind blew, and in the summer in that area of red clay country the heat came down as only the heat can in the real “Outback”.

The emails from Bob:

  1. I have just purchased Felled Timber on Offely’s Lane. I have been told the part of the house is the original Felled Timber School. It is only about 500m from the school grounds. Do you have any pics that you would share with me of the School buildings..
  2. I took pics at the old school grounds the other day and have some of the house as it is today. I’m in the middle of moving but I will get a collection together and send them to you it may take a few weeks to get sorted.
    If you don’t hear from me a reminder would be good.

Darwin 1942-3

The things that were happening as I prepared to enter this world!


That telegram from my father arrived soon after I was born. Meanwhile, Japanese air raids were continuing in our north, though the main one was 75 years ago today.

  • 20 Jun 1943 – Raid No. 55.
    Three killed and eleven wounded.
    Winnellie area hit, also RAAF.

  • 28 Jun 1943 – Raid No. 56.
    Nil casualties.
    Three huts damaged.

  • 30 Jun 1943 – Raid No. 57.
    Two wounded.
    Aircraft and vehicles damaged.

  • 06 Jul 1943 – Raid No. 58.
    Nil casualties.
    Four aircraft damaged.

  • 13 Aug 1943 – Raids No. 59 & 60.
    Nil casualties.
    Nil damage.

Today’s Sun-Herald: Bombing of Darwin: 75th anniversary brings new recognition of attacks.

Australia marks the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin on Sunday but for generations the country was kept in the dark about the true dimensions of the Japanese attack.

At 9.58am on February 19, 1942, just four days after the supposedly impregnable British garrison in Singapore collapsed, Japanese bombers escorted by Zero fighters appeared in the skies above Darwin…

Military historian Tom Lewis’ new book, The Empire Strikes South Japan’s Air War Against Northern Australia 1942-45,  reveals new information about the war.

He told Fairfax Media that contrary to enduring claims there had been 64 raids in the Northern Territory, his research of Japanese war records found 77, while 208 enemy combat flights were carried out in northern Australia.

“In wartime, some truths get lost, viewed through different prisms, changed or forgotten,” he said.

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See also The bombing of Darwin – Fact sheet 195.

On 19 February 1942 mainland Australia came under attack for the first time when Japanese forces mounted two air raids on Darwin. The two attacks, which were planned and led by the commander responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor ten weeks earlier, involved 188 attack aircraft which were launched from four Japanese aircraft-carriers in the Timor Sea, and a second raid of 54 land-based bombers. The carrier battle group consisted additionally of two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, seven destroyers, three submarines, and two other heavy cruisers on distant cover.

What was I up to in February 2007?

A selection from Monthly Archives: February 2007. Strictly speaking the previous post should have been February 2002, but unfortunately that vanished long ago when Diary-X failed. These retro selections are meant to be at five year intervals, so the next will deal with 2012.

Why I have “banned” the term “political correctness”…

05 FEB 2007

Not that I have, but I am certainly taking pains to avoid it. It was one of my New Year Blog Resolutions. (Another was to write less… 😉 ) Why? Because I suspect the term conceals more than it reveals these days, and hinders discussion.

I just did a search on this and found an interesting post: “Political Correctness” and Privilege on Definition — A Feminist Weblog. [Links no longer available.]

…This is in no way an effort to force others to agree with me or conform with my worldview; in all honesty, some of the people I insist on showing respect to would not return the favor. I am not attempting to tell others what they can and cannot say; it would be nice if other people agreed with my priorities and sympathized with my opinions. I believe in absolute freedom of speech, but also that decent people should have a few limits on what they will allow themselves to say. And freedom of speech is not freedom from critical analysis, freedom from criticism, freedom from opposition.

Freedom of speech is also a responsibility. Since I have the power to say whatever I like, I also have the responsibility to say things that I think are well-reasoned and respectful. This does not mean that I will not argue, will not disagree, will not pass judgment. This does not mean that I will not express ideas which many people probably find offensive, radical, or objectionable. It simply means I will try to express these ideas while avoiding any unnecessary use of terms purposely designed to marginalize or misrepresent already oppressed people.

Anyone who is remotely interested in justice and human rights needs to adopt the same attitude. And those who claim not to care at least need to understand the horrific gravity of what they are saying.

I can live with that.

The way to defeat terrorism…

09 FEB

According to Meghnad Desai on Open Democracy, one of the excellent links there on the right, this is the way to go:

We need to say loudly that while Islam has one book and one God, it also has a rich diversity of manifestations around the world. We need to point out that Muslims around the world live in harmony with other people and share the common concerns about leading a happy prosperous life, caring for their children’s future and ensuring a safe and healthy old age for their elders.

Faith is a private concern; where it enters the public realm and creates dispute, the resulting problems are resolved more by negotiations and diplomacy around matters of disagreement than by violence or threats of violence.

The way to defeat terrorism conducted in the name of religious belief is to distinguish between religion and ideology. Then you fight the terrorist while leaving the devout alone to pursue her or his faith.

Read the article itself to see how he reaches this conclusion.

One thing I noticed at SBHS today, where I did some work, is that the Islamic Students Society is thriving. I guess a point is that as so many rhetorical bombs are thrown at Muslims in the media and so on the more they feel constrained to identify and stand up for themselves. Human nature, when you come to think about it.

Cricket, rain, the Irish pub, Lord Malcolm

11 FEB

Bringing my shopping home from Woolies just now I thought, “They’ll be lucky!” I mean lucky to get the final one-dayer between England and Australia played, and the live scorecard now sits thus: Rain Delay: England lead by 59 runs with 9 wickets in hand. England have been doing rather well lately, as you probably know, having won three in a row. Australia must win this one.

building02.jpgI’d been to the Porterhouse Irish Pub in “Sydney’s fashionable Surry Hills” for one of their very generous $11 roast beef lunches. Sirdan (and Lord Malcolm) and I used to go there quite often at one time, but Sirdan and I hadn’t been there for maybe two years, so we were happy to go there today. We were unable to eat all the roast lunch! And for anyone out there who knows the place: they have learned how to serve the beer chilled! It’s a very pleasant pub, and there were some very pleasant English Cricket fans at the next table too.

I remember once telling the barman at the Porterhouse that my ancestors came from County Cavan. He looked at me as if I had just said my ancestors tended to have two heads… 😉

Sirdan went on to visit Lord Malcolm at St Vincents Hospital; I went shopping, and plan to go to the hospital tomorrow. There’s a fair chance Lord Malcolm may be sent home on Tuesday, but partly because there isn’t much the hospital can do for him now. They probably would have returned him to the hospice, but he has argued for being at home in his own bed. A lot of support has had to be organised. In fact, Lord Malcolm got the “green light” last Wednesday. I was there at the the time.

Jim Belshaw has replied to my Silencing Dissent entry: see The Howard Government, Dissent and the Pattern of Change in Australia. We agree and disagree. Jim’s perspective is interesting and well-informed, while I am quite passionate about what I regard as total intellectual and social havoc wrought by the Howardites. The discussion should be worthwhile.

On Silencing Dissent: you may purchase it from The Australia Institute, and may also see some of the ideas canvassed by Clive Hamilton in Quarterly Essay 21: What’s Left? – The death of social democracy (2006) which I have read.


And the rain has held off enough, it seems. Australia is on the chase as I write. Oh dear, 1/25…

On the Smell of an Oily Rag: speaking English, thinking Chinese and living Australian

13 FEB

That is such a good title!

It is Ouyang Yu’s latest book, forthcoming with Wakefield Press in South Australia, 2007. Back in June 2006 I discussed his The Eastern Slope Chronicle, you may recall. Marcel still has my copy. 😉

Sunday there is a Chinese New Year Party at M’s. Sirdan, Simon H and David Humphries are going too — well, that is the understanding at the moment. I wish I could tell you more about it, but M likes his privacy. What I can tell you is that the party will be a total demonstration of what multiculturalism can actually mean. M has done amazingly well since arriving from China hardly able to speak English and with just one suitcase in late 1989.


Guan Wei: Ned Kelly encounters the troopers in the mystic mountains

Guan Wei (the picture links to his site) was born in Beijing in 1957. He now lives and works in Sydney. By coincidence, he received his Australian citizenship at the same ceremony as M.

Clash of intolerant minorities

19 FEB

That rather than a “clash of civilisations” is what most Australians believe we are witnessing at the moment, according to a BBC-Sydney Morning Herald survey, details of which were published today.

IT IS bad news for radio shock jocks and clash of civilisation theorists. A poll of 28,000 people in 27 countries has found most believe political and economic interests – not religious and cultural diversity – are the underlying cause of violent conflict in the world today.

In the joint BBC World Service- Sydney Morning Herald poll, 52 per cent said conflicting interests were the primary reason for tensions between Islam and the West, compared with 29 per cent who thought religion and culture were to blame.

A global majority, according to the poll, rejects the idea, popularised by the American academic Samuel P. Huntington, of an inevitable clash of civilisations based on religion and culture.

A poll-topping 68 per cent of Australians blamed “intolerant minorities on both sides” of the Islam/West divide for stirring up tensions. Only one in 10 Australians surveyed blamed intolerant Muslims exclusively.

“Two out of three people in Australia understand that there are those on all sides of this question who just love to stir,” said Paul Korbel, of Market Focus International, the pollster that conducted the survey here.

Of all people surveyed, twice as many (56 per cent) believe “common ground can be found” as those who see violent conflict between Islam and the West as inevitable (28 per cent).

The worried minority are still a worry though.

“If a quarter of the Australian population believes violent conflict is inevitable, and over a third think religious and cultural difference is the reason, then that’s cause for concern,” Mr Korbel said. “Perhaps education programs aimed at the intolerant minority should be boosted.”

But it is worse elsewhere. In Indonesia, most (51 per cent) see violent conflict between Islam and the West as inevitable. People in Egypt (43 per cent) and Germany (39 per cent) agreed.

Bridge builders still have plenty of work to do. In the case of Indonesia, see The Wahid Institute for one example of bridge building.

I loved the photo accompanying the article today. It was taken on Harmony Day last year. I call that positive appropriation…


Celebration of an amazing man

22  FEB

procession.jpgI arrived at St James Church an hour before Phil Day’s funeral only to find the church already filling up. What an amazing talent the man had for sustaining circles of friendship over decades, and how deeply was he appreciated by generations of students! St James seats 1,000 or more and it was packed, with hundreds standing in the side aisles. Australian of the Year Tim Flannery read the Old Testament Lesson (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-9). The readings and hymns had been chosen by Phil himself, I was told. I saw so many young men who used to be kids I (and Phil) taught… Young men of many ethnicities and faiths whose lives he had touched. Many bore witness to that, such as that anonymous reviewer on RateMyTeachers.com: “5 5 5 Best teacher. Ever.”

Today was a total reminder of what some teachers are and what they give. It is not often one sees this so spectacularly demonstrated as it was today.

Phil was a person of faith too and St James was his church.

And what a historical site that church is, designed by convict architect Francis Greenaway, facing his Hyde Park Convict Barracks across Queen’s Square. I found myself seated by the wall plaque for explorer Edmund Kennedy (1818 – 1848).

I had to leave before the service was over — it was a full High Church Requiem Eucharist — as coaching in Chinatown had to go on.

There was some Cheney-related trouble in the city today, but I managed to avoid it.

There were four eulogies yesterday…

23 FEB

At Phil Day’s Anglo-Catholic Requiem Eucharist four people spoke of him: one who had known him all his life, one who had known him from university, a colleague from Sydney High (Con Barris) and Subdeacon Graeme Bailey who spoke of Phil as a churchman. The first two had us laughing. Con’s speech was heartfelt and very moving. Graeme Bailey told me more of this side of Phil than I had known before, as Phil was someone who, as Subdeacon Bailey said, did not shout his faith from the mountain top though neither did he hide it under a bushel. I felt these were a right and proper part of a thanksgiving service.

Such a shame then to read Cardinal Pell today, not that he has anything directly to do with St James Church yet. See Bell tolls on saucy detail in eulogies.

Sydney Liturgy Office director, Father Timothy Deeter, blames increasing secularisation and unfamiliarity with church rituals for the creeping practice of turning the Catholic funeral Mass into an extended eulogy.

“We have to remind people funerals are to worship God and we are asking God’s blessing and help for those who have passed away,” Father Deeter said.

“There is a current trend to focus on the life of the deceased and celebrate the past, to look back, but in the Mass we have to look forward to the eternal life and put God back into the funeral like we keep God in Christmas.”

I doubt Jesus would be cheering that one.

Speaking of being unnecessarily po-faced, I (almost) feel sorry for the SMS-ing Liberal candidate in Wyong. See Sex text sinks the loveless Lib. Hardly comparable with Labor’s woes in certain Central Coast constituencies, is it?