Category Archives: AWW2012

Reflections on the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012

I hadn’t initially planned on writing a post reflecting on my participation in the AWWC 2012. I confess it hadn’t occurred to me, even though, no doubt, it’s something the organisers planned all along. I think this is symptomatic of my overall involvement in the AWWC 2012. I’ve been a bit haphazard in my approach, never really sure what level of involvement I’d committed to:  Stella, Miles, or Franklin-fantastic. (Indeed, this is more broadly symptomatic of my approach to life, if the truth be told.)

I do know I seized on the challenge as a way of furthering my participation in the LibriVox project of making available recordings of all works in the public domain. I decided I would record four works by Australian women writers and make notes about the books and the recording process along the way.

To that end, I suppose my first AWWC 2012 achievement was that I established this blog after a hiatus from blogging of about two years.  I don’t know that I’ve networked consistently with other AWWC 2012 bloggers, but for myself I’ve rather enjoyed having a very narrowly defined blog project. If I’ve gone off topic at all, it’s only been to talk about my teaching and other reading and writing related things.

It’s difficult to say how many reviews I did, since for a couple of the books I recorded—Katharine Susannah Prichard’s The Pioneers and Maud Jean Franc’s Two Sides to Every QuestionI wrote multiple posts. It was with these two novels that I settled into the recording process. To that point I had only contributed chapters to group projects at LibriVox, which is an entirely different level of commitment. I felt extra responsibility doing the solo recordings; I wanted my recordings to stand as good audiobooks.

Throughout this settling-in period, I worried about character voices and accents; whether to sing or not when characters did; getting the recording levels right; and minimising bird, traffic and other noises that were audible in the recordings. I think I’m more relaxed about all of these now, although I do have to stick to recording in the evenings to avoid most extraneous noises.

As for my judgement of the books themselves, I enjoyed aspects of them, insofar as they’re historical documents of colonial Australian life from the perspective of women, but I did find both Prichard and Franc’s works a bit sentimental for my tastes. To some extent, I wonder if the sentimental leanings in both authors works weren’t of the time? For example, I’m fairly sure anyone writing these days would very firmly be told to cease and desist from flowery descriptions of the particular shade of their heroine’s blushes. It may be a matter of genre.

When I began my third recording—Rosa Praed’s Lady Bridget in the Never-never LandI established a dedicated Twitter account, @ReadingSheilas. I use it in the sense that Twitter was originally described – as a microblogging site. I transcribe quotes from what I’m reading, that I want to share because I find them moving or funny. I use it to express the thoughts that occur to me as I’m reading—many inane, but others that will inform my eventual reviews on this blog.

It was after I established the Twitter account that I live-tweeted one of my book club meetings. I participated in the AWWC 2012 through my book club too. Each of us selected a book and there was a plan to blog a summary of every book club meeting. In all we selected nine books – the first two months were taken up with previously nominated books and we always have December off. I did write a post on the January book: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 541 because I thought it raised a number of issues about literary values that were pertinent to the then-forthcoming challenge. It’s quite telling that  the Fahrenheit 451 post is the most visited post I’ve written.

As part of the book club I read Jessica Rudd’s Campaign Ruby and enjoyed it as a good example of its genre. I find it difficult to get excited about shoes and shopping though and I suppose I often resent this assumption about women as a group. I’d already read Addition by Toni Jordan and I probably should have read it again, but when I’d first read it, I’d gotten annoyed about its stance on medication for mental illnesses and disorders (Who needs it? All mental illnesses are social constructions!) and I didn’t feel like revisiting it. Although I can’t include it in my 2012 reading, I much preferred Sophie Cunningham’s Geography when it touches on this topic. There are a few lines in that novel that I like to return to again and again. I live-tweeted Janet Turner-Hospital’s Orpheus Lost using the hashtags #bookworms and #aww2012. I really enjoyed that book, partly out of nostalgia for Far North Queensland, but also for its subtle exploration of terrorism, its characterisation, and its intertextual use of the Orpheus myth and counter-tenor aria.

I reviewed Nicole Watson’s The Boundary as part of my book-club reading and nominate it the book of my reading year.

After The Boundary, the wheels fell off my book club reading as, suddenly, I seemed to do nothing but mark assignments from one university or another. That didn’t stop me from reading the first chapter of Delia Falconer’s Sydney, however, and complaining bitterly.  I did read a few more chapters, but I never did get over feeling alienated, as someone not from Sydney, by the tone of the first chapter. My reading of Sydney resonated with other members of the book club. Indeed, I confess that one member was struggling with it, read my blog, and then felt entirely vindicated in abandoning it.  Our objections did seem to arise from not being Sydney-siders. One of the other book club members had read Matthew Condon’s Brisbane and thought that everything claimed for Sydney had already been claimed for Brisbane, especially humidity and jacaranda trees. I must say, the claims for humidity in Sydney put me in mind of the time I thought that Brisbane’s humidity was as bad as Cairns’s–until I went back over the summer holidays once. The same person who had read Brisbane did note, however, they’d attempted to read it before  coming to Brisbane and had abandoned it unfinished until they lived here. This led to speculation about the series as a whole, at which point I will stop writing on this topic because I have contributed to a group blog with three of the authors of the other books in the series.

I didn’t read the books nominated for September and November and while I didn’t attend the October book club, I had already read the book, Charlotte Wood’s Animal People. Again, through social media, I have conversed with Charlotte on subjects entirely unrelated to her work as an author, but still, it feels like a conflict of interest  to review her work. Let’s just say, I’ve been known to blurt out, ‘They’re not chef pants; I got them from Aldi!’

Finally, I haven’t entirely finished my final recording for the AWWC 2012, a selection  of ten short stories from The Detective’s Album series published in The Australian Journal  in 1880 by Mary Fortune.  I have managed to blog about it though, so I’m hoping for the purposes of the challenge that counts as a review? I did make a controversial comparison with the Sherlock Holmes series that, just a couple of recorded stories later, I’m rescinding. I’ve tweeted my thoughts, but I’ll write a more thorough consideration in the new year.

So, that’s my Australian Women Writers challenge 2012 year in review. I think I made the Franklin-fantastic category? Is there a category for writing more reviews than books you’ve read? I’ll let you judge if I completed the mission.

I’ll continue to record books for Librivox as part of the challenge in 2013. I hope some of you will listen to the recordings I’ve done for the challenge in 2012 in the year ahead and would welcome your feedback on them as well as suggestions for future recordings.


Detective Work

The final recording I’m doing for the Australian Women Writers’ challenge for this year is a selection of short stories by Mary Fortune. This isn’t the review proper, as I’m only part way through the full recording, but I did want to say something about choosing and finding the stories I decided to record, because that story is, I think, a little more interesting than for my previous recordings where I easily found the works on Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive.

When I was thinking about what my next recording would be, I knew I wanted to read something distinctly different from the books I’d done so far. In my wanderings around the web, I happened on Mary Fortune, also known variously as Mary Helena Fortune, Waif Wander, or W.W. for short. Like so many female writers, Fortune published under a pseudonym so her writing was more marketable. Another aspect to Fortune’s pseudonymity was, no  doubt, that she wrote in the detective genre and, from what I’ve read so far, her work is decidedly gory, which was no doubt deemed an unsuitable subject for ladies to write about.

What really sparked my decision to pursue recording some of Fortune’s work was the fact she remains virtually unknown and out of print, despite the fact that for forty years—forty years—her stories, featuring Melbourne detective, Mark Sinclair, appeared in The Australian Journal The Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) entry on Fortune, notes that her identity as the author of The Detective’s Album series wasn’t revealed until 1950, quite some time after her death in 1910, so I suppose it makes some kind of sense that she faded into anonymity.

In recent years, the author of the ADB entry, Lucy Sussex, has written a biography and edited a couple of collections of Fortune’s writing, which I’m yet to look at. (To be honest, I didn’t think the library had any of Sussex’s works, but I guess I wasn’t looking properly, because, just now, I found several in the catalogue, as well as—O joy!—a bibliography of Fortune’s work that Sussex compiled with Elizabeth Gibson.) So, Mary Fortune is slowly being drawn in to share the light of Australia’s significant writers.

Now that I’ve been recording some of Fortune’s stories from The Detective’s Album series that appeared in The Australian Journal throughout 1880, I’m especially glad that Sussex has done the work she has, and that I can, through my recordings for Librivox, make further accessible some of this pioneering crime writer’s work. I found a bound collection of some of Fortune’s stories, photocopied from The Australian Journal, in the special collections Fryer Library at the University of Queensland.  Normally readers would have to visit the library themselves, but I was able to photocopy the photocopies and now I’m using them to record from home.


A photocopy of a photocopy of ‘The Window Among the Willows’ by W.W. in The Australian Journal, March 1880

While reading this, you may have been able to gather that I’m enjoying the stories I’ve read so far. I want to say that she’s a better writer than Arthur Conan Doyle—the most obvious comparison one might make in this genre. I’m sure that’s sacrilege to some, which is why I’m a bit hesitant to declare it without reserve, but honestly some of the revelations and resolutions in the Sherlock Holmes’ series are in my opinion quite ridiculous, and I was very pleased to read Fortune’s finely wrought stories, none of which, so far, have sacrificed logic for an ending.

Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land

Following a failed love affair in England, Lady Bridget O’Hara accepts an invitation to travel to colonial Australia as companion to Lady Rosamund Tallant, the wife of the newly-appointed governor of Leichardt’s Land. In Leichardt’s Town, Lady Bridget, also known as Biddy, is reunited with her old friend and collaborator, Joan Gildea, special correspondent for The Imperialist newspaper. While visiting Joan, Biddy meets Colin McKeith, a roughly-hewn, Scottish-born pioneer, drover, miner, sometime-politician, and magistrate in the north-eastern colony. Biddy and Colin fall in love: she with the adventure a life with him promises, he with an ideal of her noble heritage. In spite of Joan Gildea’s misgivings, Biddy and Colin are soon married and leave Leichardt’s Town to travel several days north to Colin’s cattle property in a region known as the Leura. As Biddy and Colin embark on their life together, the contemporary issues of colonial Australia are revealed: the extreme environment, labour shortages and organisation, police brutality, immigration policy, and the plight of Australia’s First Peoples. The couple discover fundamental differences in their perspectives on many topics. When Bridget’s former love, Willoughby Maule, newly-widowed and affluent, visits her in the Leura, the couple’s strained relationship is further tested.

That’s the summary I wrote for the Librivox catalogue of  my next audiobook, Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land by Rosa Praed (aka Mrs Campbell Praed). I’ve just finished uploading the final chapters to the Librivox database for proof-listening and cataloguing, which makes it time to write my reflection for the AWW2012 Challenge.

I took a different approach to documenting my experience  of recording this book than I adopted for the previous two audiobooks. I decided to create a dedicated Reading Sheilas Twitter account to make shorter observations about the book along the way, with the aim of looking back over the tweets to inform my writing of the final review. You can see the most recent tweets from that account in the right-hand margin here, or click through to read back further over the time-line.  I’ll be doing the latter myself, while I write this post, because it’s taken me four months on-and-off to complete this recording;  I got distracted by book club novels in between, so I often went off-topic.

I can see from one of my earliest tweets about Lady Bridget that I was immediately taken with Biddy’s propensity for grand statements. She said the following in reference to the mores of the upper class marriage market that dogged her independent spirit:

Certainly, later in the novel, during Biddy and Colin’s courtship, I did wonder whether Bridget might never have married if it weren’t for  social pressure on a woman of her rank to do so. Indeed, much of her motivation for travelling to Australia seems to have been to escape from the sense that her family and society regarded her as something of a lost cause in that endeavour. Without any marriage prospects, she had little choice but to serve as a companion to Lady Rosamund Tallant in order to secure her keep.

Bridget’s initial attraction to Colin is surely largely physical and perhaps metaphysical, in an esoteric fashion,  for they rarely agree on matters of social justice affecting Australian life in the colonial era. From the beginning, they are at odds over his attitude towards Aboriginal people generally and his treatment of particular individuals who work for him. Praed gives Colin a back-story which explains his animosity to the ‘blacks’ in part; but, in colonial society, surely  no individual settler’s  personal tragedy is sufficient to expurgate the systematic dispossession of Aboriginal people upon which European settlement is founded. As Biddy protests in a conversation on the occasion of their first meeting: ‘How cruelly unjust! It was his country you were stealing.‘ And moments later:

While Praed, through Lady Bridget, offers a necessary and still relevant criticism of established colonial practices in the figure Colin McKeith, her writing also bears evidence of the less transparently discriminatory attitudes of her era (and perhaps ours). The narrator refers abstractedly  to  the ‘less developed brain’ of Oola, a young Aboriginal woman, and  the spoken dialect of the Indigenous characters is on par with that of the housekeeper’s small son.

I suppose the similarities between the infantile English of Oola, Wombo, and Cudgee and that of Tommy Hensor struck me particularly as I had to vocalise  the utterances of each character. I felt embarrassed as my mouth formed the broken, pleading utterances of Oola and Wombo as they sought protection at the McKeiths’ property. The same is true of the voices of other non-white characters in McKeith’s employ: the ‘Chinamen’ cook and gardener, Chen Sing and Fo Wung; and Kuppi, ‘the Malay boy’, as they performed unstinting servitude. Like every textual form, Lady Bridget is a product of its social and cultural context, so perhaps what is most important for now is that this characterisation, even as it was sympathetic and progressive for its day, does jar, just as many widely-held convictions today will be revealed as prejudices to future generations.

By way of contrast, there were some parts of Lady Bridget that I felt immediately at home with. When I read the opening chapter, I knew the setting was Brisbane by another name:

From where Mrs Gildea sat, she had a view of almost the whole reach of the river where it circles Emu Point. For, as is known to all who know Leichardt’s Town, the river winds in two great loops girdling two low points, so that, in striking a bee-line across the whole town, business and residential, one must cross the river three times. Mrs Gildea could see the plan of the main street in the Middle Point and the roofs of shops and offices. The busy wharves of the Leichardt’s Land Steam Navigation Company—familiarly, the L.L.S.N. Co.—lay opposite on her right, while leftward, across the water, she could trace, as far as the grape-vine would allow, the boundary of the Botanical Gardens and get a sight of the white stone and grey slate end of the big Parliamentary Buildings.

Later, when Lady Bridget is rowing around the point from Government House to Joan Gildea’s home, I could picture in my mind’s eye the spike of land, fringed with mangroves, on which the city campus of  QUT now sits, abutted by the Queensland Parliament on one side and and the Botanical Gardens on the other. I think Joan Gildea must have lived somewhere on Kangaroo Point (indeed, I’ve just realised the name Emu Point is a clear allusion).

You can explore this map on which I’ve marked my understanding of the places mentioned in the description of Joan’s view.

Of course the other clue that Lady Bridget is set in Queensland is the reference to the explorer Ludvig Leichhardt in the colony’s name. As I was reading, I wondered whether McKeith’s property wasn’t somewhere in the Darling Downs region, from where Leichhardt embarked on his first expedition that took him from Moreton Bay, inland up to the Gulf of Carpenteria and eventually to  Port Essington in the Northern Territory.  There’s mention of Bunya nuts at one point too, which further narrows the location down to the Bunya Mountains area.  If you’re interested in seeing some photos of that area, a few years ago now I wrote a series of blog posts about a long weekend I spent in the Bunya Mountains, which ended with a visit to the property (and now winery) Jimbour Estate–Leichhardt’s official departure point.

Overall, I found Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land to be a somewhat mixed read. For me, the romance between Biddy and Colin wasn’t compelling, but the middle-section of the novel, where Bridget becomes increasingly isolated from her husband–who hitherto has been her only ally at the property–moved me immensely.

Two Sides to Every Question: 8-20

Oh, the power of a bad write-up.

While I was looking for a synopsis for Two Sides To Every Question:  From a South Australian Standpoint, to accompany the recording on the Librivox site, I came across a rather condemning summary of Franc’s novel.  I thought it was on Gutenberg Australia, but when I went back to find it, recognising how much it had affected my attitude towards completing the recording of Two Sides, and wanting to explore that further, I couldn’t locate it again.

The words from the summary that lodged in my mind were ‘didactic’ and ‘Christian’, and the tone was decidedly pejorative in both cases. When I read that summary, my heart sank.  Oh, I thought, I don’t want to read a novel that will preach to people.  I don’t want to endorse, or appear to endorse, a novel that preaches or seeks to convert.

I had originally chosen to record Two Sides because it was different to The Pioneers, principally in terms of its location and setting: South Australia and urban, as opposed to Victoria and bush or rural.  However, I was also interested in the promise of some insight into the lives of colonial textile workers through the figure of Nettie Alton, who, following the death of her father, helps support her mother by taking in sewing.

Well, whatever I had initially expected, and however reading the errant summary had tarnished my subsequent expectations of Two Sides, I had made a commitment to complete  the recording.  I procrastinated for a month or so and then began again in earnest.

The quote in the title of Two Sides to Every Question is referred to in the novel as one of the invalid Mrs Alton’s quirks to which her children, Tom and the aforementioned Nettie, are subjected. On every occasion she urges them to think more deeply about why people make particular decisions and act the way they do and, thus, reserve judgement. Mrs Alton’s constant questioning, her allowance for context and motivations is  a source of affectionate humour for her children, but her philosophy is also evident in the narrative voice of the novel; indeed, it informs the very structure of this meditation on life and fortune in colonial South Australia, where individual characters embody the state of  wealth (the Clintons) or poverty (the Altons), or represent the ethical issues that arise from pursuing the former (Arthur Delta).

I’ve used ‘philosophy’ quite deliberately in the previous paragraph because, although the novel does ultimately settle on a belief and trust in Him as a way of resolving the questions raised throughout Arthur Delta’s story, in particular, it is, most often, the Sophist philosopher, Protagoras, who is credited with the ‘two sides’ quote through his ‘man-measure statement: the notion that knowledge is relative to the knower’.

By embracing the ethical questions at the heart of this novel, then, I found enough to engage me as an atheist. I was interested, for example, in the discussion of mining shares, simply because mining and who should benefit from it is still such an issue in Australia. (I also tend to be a bit sceptical about the ultimate social cost of shares, if  for workers and the traditional land-owners rather than the well-being of the share-holder.) Similarly, there are some meditations on housing in Franc’s novel that I think are still very relevant to the issues around housing affordability now. I did enjoy the insight into how Nettie earned a living from her sewing machine, working from home while caring for her mother. And I confess, I don’t mind endless descriptions of flowers, although all the sweetness and perfection attributed to Nettie and some of the other women did become cloying.

The charge of didacticism is not entirely without substance. Two Sides does wear its Protestant morality on its sleeve. For example, no empathy is evident for the very poor;  you could be forgiven for concluding that the inhabitants of the back streets of inner city Adelaide were all populated by drunken ne’er-do-wells and their feral offspring. Here, the Sophist philosophy seemed to be put aside in favour of fire, brimstone, and the injunction of an honest day’s work.

Overall, I don’t think Two Sides will suit the  tastes of many contemporary readers, but there is enough to be gleaned about the social and economic history of some sections of pre-Federation Australian society, along with its interest as a novel by one of colonial Australia’s most popular and reprinted authors, to make it worth a glance (or an ear, as the case may be).


The summary of Two Sides to Every Question: From a South Australian Standpoint that I wrote for the Librivox catalogue:

Two Sides to Every Question’: From a South Australian Standpoint is a meditation on poverty, wealth, and social aspiration set in the free settlement of Adelaide in pre-Federation Australia. The novel follows the lives of a cast of characters from different social classes as they negotiate the twists and turns in their respective fortunes. The newly-bereaved Alton family—an invalid widow and her two grown children, Tom and Nettie—sell their rural property and move to the slovenly back streets of the inner-city; they are determined to hold onto their dignity and values as they turn to earning a living for the first time. The wealthy Clinton family runs the stock supply business where Tom finds employment as a clerk. Tom’s boss, Robert Clinton, supplements his business income through trading mining shares. His financial success ensures his wife and daughters, Elsie and Lily, have access to the higher echelons of colonial society. Meanwhile, the Clintons’ cousin, Arthur Delta, arrives from England to take a position in his uncle’s business. Arthur’s mother has called on her brother’s charity to help her family in their time of need. When Arthur and Elsie fall in love, the scene is set as he attempts to build his fortune to secure her father’s favour and, so, her hand in marriage.

Two Sides To Every Question: 1-7

Oh dear, I’ve fallen behind schedule on only my second solo LibriVox recording.  I suppose I was flush with the success of finishing The Pioneers in so timely a fashion when I set the deadline for my next recording for the 30th of March–only a month from when I started it.

Well, you live and learn.  I’ll be more circumspect when I set the deadline for the third book. I’ll put aside three months as the standard period to record a work and if I finish earlier, I’ll consider that a bonus.  And if I finish the next three books in a couple of months each and happen to record a fifth book this year, well, that’s another bonus.

A-a-a-and, I’m getting ahead of myself again. Back to the current book I’m recording. (Don’t forget you can follow my progress, chapter by chapter (!), via the ‘Books‘ page.)


Two Sides to Every Question’: From a South Australian Standpoint begins with the story of the Alton family, following the death of their husband and father, and the unpleasant discovery of their dire financial situation. Brother and sister, Tom and Nettie, sell the family’s country homestead and property and relocate with their invalid mother to the back streets of colonial-era Adelaide.  Nettie turns to the ‘Wheeler and Wilson’, a sewing machine, to work from home while she tends to her mother’s needs, and Tom takes advantage of an opportunity extended to him through his old country neighbour’s influence, as a clerk in a stock supply business. Thus the scene is set for a meditation on the nature of poverty.

Before the reader can settle down to this rumination, however, another family enters the narrative. The Clintons are shepherded  by Robert, the owner of the stock supply business where Tom is employed.  Robert emigrated from England to Australia where his financial ability is likened to that of King Midas. In addition to his business, Robert speculates in stocks, most notably mining stocks, very successfully, and he has little patience for anyone who isn’t successful or who eschews the kind of success that he values. His attitude has resulted in his estrangement from the favourite sister of his youth, who chose marriage to a lowly curate over other more affluent prospects.  Nevertheless, Robert agrees, in his sister’s time of need, to take on her son, Arthur Delta, and provide a position for him in his Australian business. Soon after Arthur arrives in Australia, he falls in love with his cousin, Elsie, prompting Robert  to employ every method at his disposal to keep the two young lovers apart. Thus the scene is set for a meditation on the nature of wealth.

Arthur Delta, however, knows that in order to pursue Elsie’s affections he must be successful in her father’s eyes and, so, another thread in this story, which does not limit itself to the ‘two sides’ of its title, is that of social and financial aspiration, not only Arthur’s, but also that of those who co-habit with him in his lodgings –both his landlady and her family and three other boarders too.

Thus the scene is set for a meditation on wealth, poverty, social aspiration, and, it would seem, everything in between. Hold on!

Chercher les Livres

I noted when I began this project that I wasn’t especially versed in writing by  Australian women whose works have made it into the public domain, which they must be for inclusion in this hybrid AWW2012-LibriVox challenge I’ve fashioned for myself.

Initially, I relied on an article in Meanjin about women’s writing and literary value as a resource to identify writers whom I might read.  My thinking here was that even if I didn’t know–beyond two or three–who Australia’s classic female writers were then I would rely on those who did know and trust their judgement about their merit when making my selection.  Now that I’m recording, however, I’ve noticed concerns, other than those of authorship, about which books I might choose to read, coming to the fore.

In the first instance, it seems I’m interested in recording books that portray a range of settings.  After I finished The Pioneers and began looking for the next book to read, I noticed a preponderance of stories with bush settings. Given the time period I’m restricted to–works published before 1923–from a relatively small pool of writers, in a country whose national literature has traditionally lionised the bush, this discovery was perhaps not unexpected, but I didn’t want to read another one straight away.

For my next recording, then, I deliberately sought a book with an urban setting and one that was set in somewhere other than Victoria, which is where The Pioneers was set, even though its author, Katharine Susannah Prichard, is generally considered to be a Western Australian. Thus, as I searched for a novel with an urban setting, I stumbled across another criterion for my selections: I also hope to read a range of works that represent as many of Australia’s states and territories as possible.

I’ve been able to discover details–like the novels’ settings–of works I’ve hitherto been unaware of by using the AustLit database, which I’m fortunate enough to have access to through the library of the university where I’m writing my PhD.  Through a combination of key terms entered into various fields in that database, I’ve  been able to get some sense of the focus of each of the novels that are returned in my searches. Of course, normally, I’d rely on blurbs or synopses, but I’ve discovered throughout this challenge that it’s nigh on impossible to find a synopsis of any but the most well-known works by Australian women writers (at least on the Internet).  That might also be the case for works by Australian male writers of yore, I don’t know, but the lack of detail has been decidedly frustrating.

And so, I encounter yet another compelling reason for the AWW 2012 challenge.

Anyway, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer; the next novel I’m reading–indeed, have already begun–is the rather cumbersomely titled Two Sides to Every Question’: From a South Australian Standpoint by Maud Jean Franc (aka Matilda Jane Evans nėe Congreve).

You can follow the progress of my recording via the ‘Books‘ tab and I’ll post further on Two Sides shortly.

The Pioneers: 31 – 48

I finished recording The Pioneers on Saturday, well ahead of my mid-April schedule for completion. Even the tea incident didn’t deter me!  I put the unexpected rapidity of my progress down to the fact that I really enjoyed Katharine Susannah Prichard’s first novel.  I’d get to the end of a chapter and think, just one more! Sometimes it was only the fact I kept tripping over my hapless tongue that I would stop.

In my posts on the earlier chapters, I noted how well Prichard conveyed the atmosphere of the colonial settlement and that continued throughout the remainder of the novel.  As someone who’s obsessed with food, I was especially interested to read at one point about blackened hams and bushels of herbs hanging over the hearth.  Now that made me drool in a way that weak tea and thin gruel porridge in another scene did not.

While Prichard went on to write Coonardoo, whose eponymous Aboriginal heroine is the central character, in The Pioneers, the character of Teddy, a stock-hand, is minor. He’s represented very much in, what was no doubt then (perhaps even still), a fairly common way to view Australia’s First Peoples: he is child-like and superstitious, not to be trusted, but at the same time relied upon entirely for his knowledge of country as it served the pioneers. The only time anyone addresses a direct comment to Teddy it’s in  broken, simplified English:

  You go back, tell boss—cows all right—Davey very sick man, here.

[spoiler alert]

At the heart of this novel is an ambivalence about the pioneering project.  While many of the characters reflect on the achievements of Donald Cameron as the first settler to open up the hill country, when Deidre contemplates the manner of his death, the possibility of a very different reading emerges:

She wondered if he had ring-barked the tree—score its living green wood—if he had killed it, and in turn it had killed him, pinning him to the earth with its great bulk of dead and rotting timber. She could see Davey’s father, heavy, squarely-built, in shabby, dark clothes, lying beneath it, his grey hair blood-dabbled, his face bruised and blackened. The man who had conquered the wilderness had lain there, on the very road he had made, broken, cast aside—a thing that life had done with. It was as if the wilderness had taken its revenge.

This observation, in addition to Cameron’s miserly, dissatisfied character, ensures we don’t admire him unreservedly.

In the end, it is the women who endure despite the folly and treachery of their menfolk.


Meanwhile, following up on my earlier question about how The Pioneers was received at the time of its first publication, I found a contemporary review of The Pioneers at Trove via the National Library of Australia. The review was in The Queenslander Newspaper, 13 November 1915, and if it reveals a major incident in the plot without warning (!), is complimentary:

This and other exciting incidents give a sensational cast to the story and sustain the interest when the struggles of the pioneer period have ended.  The story is one of very considerable merit and interest.

If we described a novel as having a ‘sensational cast’ today, I’m not sure it would be a compliment, but I’m interpreting the final line of the review to suggest that in the historical context it is.  Perhaps the true test, however, would be to track down a copy of the review in The Bulletin (Vol.36 No. 861,  2) to see what those blokes thought.


My recording of The Pioneers is currently being catalogued and will be available shortly via LibriVox.  I’ll let you know.

UPDATE 28 FEB: Well, that was a far speedier process than I thought it would be. The audiobook is now available for download here.  Would love to know what you think.

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