AWW2013 in Review


My Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2013 started off with the completion of a large Librivox project, where I  found and recorded ten short stories by Mary Fortune (aka Waif Wander) published in The Australian Journal in 1880. The stories were from a long-running series by Fortune, The Detective’s Album, mostly narrated by Victorian detective, Mark Sinclair. The stories are less about an idiosyncratic detective, however, than a detailed account of a series of crimes from inception through discovery, investigation, trial and punishment. So, to make a comparison with more familiar detective fiction, the series is less like the Sherlock Holmes stories than Law & Order: Criminal Intent, based on the conceit that these are real cases investigated by the Victorian police at the time. There are investigations on the goldfields and in vineyards, of  bush rangers in hiding, and femme fatales. The stories are Victorian, in the sense of the era, too, with contemporary concerns about the social scourge of alcohol, and the link between crime and madness is ever-present. 

Stories from The Detective’s Album is freely available for download from the Librivox site and the Internet Archive

While completing  ‘Stories from The Detective’s Album‘, I listened to a Librivox recording of Henry Handel Richardson’s Australia Felix, the first in her three part series, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony. I very much enjoyed tabithat’s reading, as well as the story itself, which begins on the gold fields of Ballarat on the eve of the Eureka Stockade rebellion. Here, the character of Richard Mahony, trained as a doctor in Edinburgh, is running a grocery store–with very little aptitude, it must be said. Richardson conveys the goldfields of Colonial Australia as a place populated by people of  multiple classes, ethnicities, religions, and political persuasions, who, while not entirely living in harmony, are united in their opposition to the corrupt authority of the law. Mahony is, at heart, an intellectual and very much out of place, difficult in his relations with others and often unwell with depression. Nevertheless, he meets and marries Polly, who encourages him to return to his medical practice. Together, the Mahonys build a life in Ballarat, Polly growing into a consummate diplomat and hostess for her husband, as well as her brother’s political aspirations. Two things have stayed with me about Australia Felix. The first is Richardson’s talent for drawing difficult characters via niggardly, everyday interactions; and the second is the evolution of Polly from a teenage bride to a remarkably poised young woman, signified in her later use of Mary, to avoid confusion with her new sister-in-law.

In part, I listened to Australia Felix, in anticipation of reading The Getting of Wisdom, also by Henry Handel Richardson, which was my first full recording for AWW2013. It was also one of my book club’s novels for this year. While not everyone in the book club liked Richardson’s coming of age tale, it’s here that her talent for drawing difficult personalities is first evident in the character of Laura Tweedle Rambotham. Again, this recording is available at Librivox and the Internet Archive. At the time of writing this post, the recording had been downloaded over 100, 000 times, a statistic of which I’m very proud.

In between reading and listening to Librivox audiobooks, I read a memoir by Michelle Dicinoski.  Ghost Wife is Michelle’s telling of her and her partner Heather’s decision to travel to Canada to get married, a union that would have no legal status on their return to Australia. In between are woven other stories from Michelle’s family history of events and persons never acknowledged by institutions and their documentations, present only in hearts, memories and anecdotes. While I can’t review this book, I can and will recommend you read it as a way of thinking through one of contemporary Australia’s most pressing ethical issues.

Before discussing the final book I recorded for the year, it’s worth mentioning a seminar I attended as part of the University of Queensland’s events for the 2013 Brisbane Writers Festival, where Rob Spillman, the editor of Tin House magazine, spoke about his publication’s response to VIDA’s campaign and survey of bias against women in US literature. I made some notes and tweeted a summary of them afterwards:

Bush Studies by Barbara Baynton was the final complete recording I did in 2013. In preparation, I listened to a recording of Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife by way of seeing what Baynton’s writing was responding to in the national cultural imagination of the time, since, after the number of her marriages, her reaction to the writers of The Bulletin School, seems to be the next most frequent way of discussing her (work).  Lawson’s wife is hard working and often alone with her children, but she is ultimately safe and content in her life. In contrast, the women in Baynton’s stories are used and abused by their husbands and itinerant swagmen. Similarly, the bush man is intolerant and exploitative of Aboriginals and (principally) Chinese settlers, while the bush itself is full of dangers. For me, The Chosen Vessel was utterly chilling, while Bush Church runs the gamut from charming, amusing moments where the naivety of a newly arrived clergyman is exploited by the less God-faring population (I was going to use citizenry, but that would be inaccurate), to the grimness of everyday violence.

Upon reflection, I had a good, if sporadic AWW year in 2013. From reading over my first post for the year, I basically set my own challenge and I seem to have covered everything I mentioned in that, if I didn’t say much more about the poetry. But more on that in the 2014 challenge. See you there!


About Kirsty Leishman

Currently enrolled in a Grad Dip of Teaching and Learning in anticipation of teaching English and Film, TV & New Media to high school students. Abandoned a PhD in television. Completed an MPhil on zines. Honours in Australian grunge literature. Long time university tutor of media, communications, cultural studies and academic writing. Opinionated. View all posts by Kirsty Leishman

3 responses to “AWW2013 in Review

  • whisperinggums

    I didn’t see your tweets, readingsheilas, but this is interesting. Women seem to not have the confidence to keep pushing on. Fascinating isn’t it?

    • Kirsty

      Yes, it is interesting. Spillman said that this was still the case when authors were invited to submit work in the future. I would probably interpret that as someone being nice, a kind of social gesture, rather than a literal invitation. Perhaps that’s part of it?

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