Back to the Classics Challenge: Classic from a place you’ve lived: The Shiralee (Australia)

This might be my favourite book read for this challenge. In the Australian idiom, a shiralee is a swag or a burden. Macauley was a swagman who walked around the backroads of western New South Wales, who suddenly found himself encumbered with his small four year old daughter on the road. She started out as his Shiralee, but became much more.
The author of the book, D’Arcy Niland, grew up in Glen Innes, in NSW. His father was a cooper and wool classer. Following a brief stint as a reporter, the Great Depression saw D’Arcy travelling the countryside turning his hand to a variety of jobs: farm labourer, opal miner, circus hand, potato digger, and shearing shed rouseabout. Niland had an intimate knowledge of the lifestyle that Macauley, too, led.

Ruth Park and D’Arcy Niland working together.

Later, when Niland married renowned author Ruth Park, they travelled over many parts of western NSW, too. They had 5 children. Their youngest, twins, Deborah and Kilmeny Niland wrote and illustrated children’s book. I loved Mulga Bill’s Bicycle, and When the Wind Changed, with my own children.

D’Arcy Niland died tragically young at 49 from a heart conditions. His wife wrote two books which were autobiographical of her childhood in New Zealand their lives together respectively: A Fence around the Cookoo (1992); and Fishing in the Styx (1993).

Some of the towns and place names mentioned in the book are:
Coonamble; the banks of the Castlereagh; Gilgandra; Dunedoo; Guyra; Dorrigo; Ulmarra; Collarenabri; ”walking across the Gallatherha Plains in the black soil country; Walgett; Potaroo, Moree; the Barwon (river); the Murrumbidgee (river).

A lot of the idiom and thinking used by Macauley is iconically Australian. For example:

No rain at the right time, too much at the wrong. Macauley forced the door shut. He ate a meal out of a tin with bread and butter. He drank the lukewarm tea. He made up his bed and lay on it. He wished the tick were filled with gumleaves. There was nothing better. Straw had a stink, and it broke up and the fluff irritated your nose.

There was a notice on the wall from last year; it was scribbled in pencil and headed up: Craphouse Duties. It gave a list of men’s names and their rostered days. It ended up with the injunction in snaggled capitals: Kangarooing it Not Allowed. And in smaller letters: Remember others have to sit where you shat. The notice was signed by the shearers’ rep. Chalked on a weatherboard slab at the far end of the room was an inscription: Fang Davis shore here in ’37. Underneath it was a postscript added by some other hand: Yes, the moaning bastard.

he was surprised that the old man, too, had seen Buster as a burden to him: a swag to be taken, and often carried, wherever he went.

all she had to do was keep an eye on the billycan and tell them when it was boiling.

This was the man Macauley wanted, this hit-run driver, the dingo of the highway.

From her I found this out: to live is not easy and often by the time a man has learnt how to live his life is over. She had a home with me. It wasn’t much, but she didn’t grumble. She put the hobbles on me. She had a rope round my neck and she wouldn’t let go. I didn’t have to be frightened of her getting away from me. She was frightened of me getting away from her.

Beautiful use of complex English:

He found the sulky among a sargasso of derelicts in the blacksmith’s yard. (Sargasso – banks of tropical seaweed)
All that flightiness was gone, and the cultured guyver. (affected speech)

He told him of the stories the river had told him: of the drover’s horse that whickered in the moonlight, galloping along the river bed, under the surging waters that played music in its nostrils and teased out its tail like a golden bush.

The black earth was a lurry (a confused jumble) of cracks.

I get to give you the best that money can buy buckshee. (free).

I think this book will stay with me always, a deeply rewarding read. I would love to see the two film versions of the story: the 1957 movie starring Peter Finch as Macauley and the 1987 mini-series starring Bryan Brown as Macauley.

Back to the Classics Challenge: a Classic Play: I am a Camera

This was a quick enjoyable read. The story of the play is a working of Christopher Isherwood’s book The Berlin Stories. In his books and the play, Isherwood is an English writer struggling to survive in Berlin just as Hitler is rising, as Isherwood had. Sally Bowles was based on the real cabaret singer Jean Ross. Christopher and Sally lived in adjacent boarding house rooms. Sally Bowles character was only a character in one of the stories in The Berlin Stories, but became the focus of John Van Druten’s play, along with Christopher Isherwood (Her Issyvoo) himself. The play is published by the Dramatists Play Service Inc., and includes an introduction by John Van Druten which is very interesting. The play was first performed in 1951, with the film starring Julie Harris and Peter Harvey following in 1955.

Cabaret, the movie, a further iteration of the play starring Liza Minnelli and Joel Gray. Sally in the play was a failed singer, with a tragic motif through her life. Sally played by Liza Minnelli was consummately talented, and rises triumphant at the end.

Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986) was one of the most celebrated writers of his generation. He left Cambridge without graduating, briefly studied medicine and then turned to writing his first novels, All the Conspirators and The Memorial. Between 1929 and 1939 he lived mainly abroad, spending four years in Berlin and writing the novels Mr Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin on which the musical Cabaret was based.

John Van Druten was an English playwright who had moved to the USA by the time he wrote I am a Camera in 1951.

I did enjoy reading this, including it’s format as a play. I look forward to re-watching Cabaret, the movie and also the 1955 film I am a Camera.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque…a Classic in Translation

I am so late in life reading classics which others would have read earlier in life, no doubt due to focus on study in other areas and life focus in other areas. This delicious post-retirement space has opened up, where reading has come into focus again……so glad I did not miss out on this Classic.

Throughout life I have I have had a strong identification with the vulnerability and, too often, the tragedy of young men going to war. World War One epitomised the large scale waste of youth and the devastation of a generation. The small brushes of war in my own life have been…

seeing a cousin drafted into the Army, off to Vietnam at Central Station as a teenager

being aware that my father had had a “long” war in New Guinea in World War Two (Itape to Wewak Trail) making him an older father when he married

The impact of the loss of my mothers young brother-in-law during WW2

watching numerous WW2. Movies with my mother on Sunday afternoons, growing up

researching the death of My father’s older cousin who enlisted in WW1 early, went first to Gallipoli, then to France. He was injured severely three times, and sent back to the Front each time, to be killed a couple of months before the end of the war

always finding ANZAC day Commemoration deeply moving, to weeping

Remembering Rudyard Kipling’s loss of his son, who he foolishly signed consent to join up, his death on the front after rapid field promotions. His grave site not being found till after Kipling’s death. Kipling had looked for it the rest of his life

the poor aftercare that Veterans get too often

a need to augment my small bunch of poppy flowers which my mother (deceased) initiated, in a dish on her sideboard

the poppies at the Australian War Memorial…

Dulce et Decorum est by Wilfred Owen (The old Lie!)…the Old Lie being that old men in faraway rooms decide and manage wars, the young men are thrown as fodder into it….

wonderful movies made by the Australian and British film industries commemorating the 100 years since

I have completed my two WW1 commemoration knitted rug throws…

Virginia Woolf’s book, Mrs Dalloway. Also movie, starring Vanessa Redgrave as the older Mrs Dalloway, and Natascha McElhone playing the younger. A close description of the annihilation of those killed as well as the survivors

All a little tangential to the topic…

I read All Quiet on the Western Front as an audiobook as well. It was stark in its portrayal of the reality for young German men in WW1 at the Front. Aside from a few references to the German forces or the Allied forces, the work could as well have been about British or Australian soldiers. They were all thrown mercilessly from trenches into no-man’s land. I was devastated by the ending, which was very naive of me.

It was first published in Germany in 1929; then 2.5 million copies sold in 22 languages in the first 18 months.

The author, Erich Maria Remarque, was himself traumatised, by his time at the Front as an 18 year old, thus able to portray the tragedy, bleakness and loneliness if being at war. He was injured, and lost companions.

This book was one of the books which were burned at Hitler’s Book banning and burning. It was stigmatised as subversive in Hitler’s Germany and was rendered poorly available. At the same time, it became and remains a classic in the rest of the world.

Remarque changed his name back from Remark (a Germanified form) to reflect the French origin of his father’s family. He replaced his middle name with Maria to honour his mother. Before WW2, he moved to Switzerland to live; later, he became a US citizen, but finished his life back in Switzerland. Later in life he married movie star Paulette Goddard. He wrote other books, but this is the world famous classic.
The book w

A.W. Wheen translated the book into English very early in 1930 for British publishers. His age and war experience was very similar to Remarque’s. Wheen was an almost exact contemporary of Remarque. Born in New South Wales in 1897, Wheen enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) in October 1915. He was quite severely injured and was not well enough to be discharged till 1920. His is regarded as the best text, translated with the knowledge of the experience. There was another translation which is more word for word, but stilted (Murdoch). Then there were two American translations which deleted significant parts to sanitize it for the American reader, the first more than the second.

Such a worthwhile read, conveying the true pall of war.

The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott…a very long classic

The Jewel in the Crown is the first novel in a set of four books called the Raj Quartet written by Paul Scott. (Raj refers to the occupation of India by the British Crown from 1857 to 1947. Prior to that The British East India “ran” the country.
Book 1: The Jewel in the Crown (1966).
Book 2: The Day of the Scorpion (1968).
Book 3: The Towers of Silence (1971).
Book 4: A Division of the Spoils (1975).

A further book, with some of the same characters and settings was called Staying On, referring to the few British who decided to stay on after the independence of India from Britain in 1947. It won the Booker Prize for 1977.

Scott first went to India in the Armed Forces in 1943 during World War 2. He knew the soldiers life, both private and later commissioned, the social heirarchy amongst British and Indians, as well as the politics and cultural context. He returned to India several times after the war. There is an excellent Wikipedia entry about Scott. The author comments that his entries regarding Scott’s writing career were original research.

“Scott’s novels persistently draw on his experiences of India and service in the armed forces with strong subtexts of uneasy relationships between male friends or brothers; both the social privilege and the oppressive class and racial strata of the empire are represented, and novel by novel the canvas broadens.”

I first came to know this story as a British 1984 series of the same name, on the ABC TV. There were fourteen episodes, and I understand the story encompassed the four books of the Raj Quartet. I loved the series then, and have watched it several times. I chose to “read” this long book as an Audible book, starting early in the year, slowly plying though the 33 hours on morning walks.

Reading The Jewel in the Crown gave wonderful depth to the characters and a greater feel for the historical and social context of the book, over and above the television series.

Hari, an Indian young man, raised and educated in Britain was out of place in India. Daphne Manners was a young English woman, who felt at odds with the class system, and racism. The two were very drawn to each other. In the wake of their coming together, a tragedy unfolds, and we hear in depth about them and the many other players in the tragedy from many different speakers.

The book is beautifully constructed, giving us in depth understanding of all the characters and the political and class restraints on all. I am so pleased I have read this book. I also loved learning about Paul Scott’s life. I think he was an interesting man, but also flawed, giving his wife and daughters a hard time with his temper. I would like to read his biography by Hilary Spurling: Paul Scott, A Life of the Author of the Raj Quartet.
A rewarding read.

True Grit by Charles Portis: A Classic Novella, Back to the Classics 2019 Challenge

Arkansas novelist, Charles Portis’ classic tale turned 50 last year.

My version of the book was a 50th Anniversary Edition published by Overlook Press New York, 208 pages long, with an additional Introduction, Afterward, and Essays.

I really loved this novel. Charles Portis published it in 1968. (The movie rights were snapped up before the book was published!) It is narrated by the iconic heroine Mattie Ross as she recalls, from the vantage point of old age, events which occurred she was 14 in about 1880. Mattie’s family lived on a farming property near the town of Dardanelle, Yell County, Arkansas. Her father had gone about 70 miles west to Fort Smith to buy ponies for hunting in rough country. While in Fort Smith, he was murdered needlessly by his wastrel farmhand Tom Chaney, a man to whom her father had previously shown great kindness.

Mattie’s home was near Dardanelle on the right-hand side of the map. Her father, then herself, rode 70 miles to Fort Smith. Both towns were in Arkansas.
Tracking the outlaw Tom Chaney Lead into the Winding Stair Mountain in Choctaw Country, in Oklahoma. In 1880, however, there were yet no State lines.

Independent, strident, forthright, Mattie, who was also gifted with being able to drive a hard bargain, and having a strong sense of justice, travels to Fort Smith searching for a Federal Marshall to take her into Indian Territory (Choctaw Country, also a haven for renegades) to either arrest Chaney and return him to stand trial and hang for he father’s murder, or to shoot him herself with her father’s gun. She is looking for a man with True Grit to lead her into the Indian Territory and she chooses Rooster Cogburn. 

LaBoef, a Texas Ranger, also in pursuit of Chaney, completed the trio……. 

The horses need a special mention. Rooster’s “tall” horse was called Bo…he is felled in the classic shootout.

Matty’s choice of pony, which she bought back from the horse trader, was named by her, Little Blackie. Little Blackie was probably on the way to the soap factory if not for this. Later in the book, Little Blackie and LaBoef pull Mattie from the snakepit.

Mattie states, “Then I saw the horse. It was Little Blackie. The scrub pony had saved us! My thought was: The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner.”

 Then, Rooster rides her lovely black pony to death to save the snake-bitten Mattie. 

The written and spoken language of the story was contemporary to the time of the events, with many intriguing colloquialisms.

There is a very good review of the book in The Daily Beast by Allen Barra, which reflects on the language. 

“The cadence and rhythms of Portis’s prose in True Grit were shaped by the speech of his older neighbors in rural Arkansas—people who grew up speaking English that owed much to the King James Bible with echoes of Shakespeare’s English and traces of the oral traditions of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. It’s a speech light on contractions and Latinate words, largely unaffected by television or even radio. It’s the resonance of the Old Testament, lightly seasoned, on occasion, with classical allusion. Portis’s ear never lost it. Willie Morris once told me about the old folks where he grew up in Yazoo, Mississippi: “They didn’t read much poetry but knew how to speak it.”  

While in college, he (Portis) had a part-time job at a small paper, editing the stringers in tiny communities, typing up their handwritten reports. All of the color of their idiosyncratic imagery found its way into his notebooks and, eventually, into Mattie and True Grit’s other characters.”

“The language of True Grit influenced scriptwriters of the best westerns of the last few decades, including Tombstone (1993) and the HBO series Deadwood (2004-2006).”

Viewing both the movies of True Grit is also well worthwhile. The 1969 version stars John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, Glen Campbell as LaBoef, and introducing Kim Darby as Mattie. This version was regarded as a vehicle more for John Wayne. I love that John Wayne rode the horse he always rode in his Western movies. Wayne insisted on doing the final scene hurdle of the four-post fence himself on his characters replacement “tall” horse, ie., his own regular movie horse. It was exhilarating to watch.

The 2010 version is regarded as more complex, and sticking more closely to the book. It starred Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn, Matt Damon as LaBoef, and Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie.

Below is Allen Barra’s list of the rise of the Great American Western Novel.

“The first shot, so to speak, was Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man (1964), a tall tale told by the only white man to survive Custer’s Last Stand. Then came Michael Ondaatje’s Neruda-inspired book-length poem The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (1970), Ron Hansen’s novels about the Dalton Gang, Desperadoes (1979) and the James Gang, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (1983), Larry McMurtry’s epic story of a cattle drive from Texas, Lonesome Dove (1985), Cormac McCarthy’s novel of Bruegelian carnage in the early Southwest, Blood Meridian (1985), Pete Dexter’s elegiac tale of the last days of Wild Bill Hickok, Deadwood (1986), and most recently, Daniel Woodrell’s Civil War-era novel of Quantrell’s Raiders, Woe To Live On (1987) and Mary Doria Russell’s fictional account of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the O.K. Corral, Epitaph (2015). Next week, The Library of America is releasing Elmore Leonard: Westerns, which includes the original stories for classic western films Valdez Is Coming, Hombre, and 3:10 to Yuma.”

A SEPARATE PEACE by John Knowles (A Classic Tragic Novel)

I selected “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles to read as my choice for A Classic Tragic Novel. This was one of three books which I purchased from Barnes and Noble, 7th Avenue, New York, each written by American authors. It is a coming-of-age novel first published in 1959, regarded as an American Classic, and which has been a set book for study in American schools over the years since it was published. It is set in the Summer of 1942 at a wealthy boarding school in New Hampshire.

The story focuses of a small group of boys who have a further time at school before graduating; however, enlisting looms for all of them. Gene is an introverted academic, sharing a room with the outgoing, adventurous, athletic Finny. Gene becomes jealous of Finny, unbeknownst to Finny. During a dare-devil game participate in by a group of the boys, Gene manages to cause Finny to lose balance on a high tree branch causing him to fall to the ground, instead of into the river below. The book follows the reactions of Gene, the eventual realisation by Finny and the reaction of other boys. A second accident for Finny has the ultimate consequence, with disturbance into the future for many of them. Feelings are admixed with the pervasive sentiments regarding war and peace. Finny had a separate peace.

I was pleased I read this book. I thought it captured the effect and foreboding of the War on these very young men, juxtaposed with the further imprint on them all of a stupid act born of immaturity and jealousy with tragic consequences. It was curious to me that seemingly there were no mature adults having any presence or impact on the psyches of these young men; but perhaps this is the norm for essentially teenagers to be anxious about and aspiring to their own sense of agency without adults. I felt affected by the tragedy myself.

The author, John Knowles, had himself attended Phillips Exeter Academy, on which he based the school in the novel called Devon. Knowles then spent time in the US Army Air Forces at the end of WW11 – in the novel some of the boys considered leaving school at their 17th birthday to join the Air Force, rather that wait to be drafted into the Army on finishing school. Finny was based on friend he met at a summer session, as in the novel; that friend was a friend of Robert Kennedy. Gore Vidal claims that Knowles told him that the character of Brinker was based on him.

Knowles other significant book was Peace Breaks Out, set just after the war, at the same school. but written in 1981, so long after A Separate Peace. Knowles seems to have been processing his own response to youth, camaraderie, war, peace and loss.

I was able to buy the movie of the same name in Google Play. I enjoyed the movie as well, another interpretation of the novel.

The African Queen

The African Queen by C S Forester

I acquired this beautiful little volume of The African Queen (MacMillan Collector’s Library) a couple of years ago, having been additionally attracted by its special presentation. It held comfortably in the hand, felt luxurious with its little blue ribbon book mark, and fine gold embossed pages – augmenting the great satisfaction of this “read”.

The story of The African Queen would be well-known to many, having been immortalised in the 1951 film made by John Huston, starring Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, with some of it made near location in Uganda and The Congo. 

C S Forester wrote this novel in 1935, just before he started the Hornblower series. The story is set early in World War 1, 1915, when German East Africa had control of Lake Tanganyika, in the west, and also had control of the adjacent Indian Ocean on its eastern border via the port of Dar es Salaam. Forester changed the names of the real name places and boats, giving us fictionalised, but thinly veiled versions of these real places, boats, and events leading to the loss of control of Lake Tanganyika by Germany to the British Forces.

Forester’s names and places in The African Queen:

Lake Tanganyika became Lake Wittelsbach.

The Ulanga River was probably the Ugalla River, with its source on today’s Ugalla Game Reserve.

The Königen Luise was the fictional name for the real ship patrolling the Lake, the Graf von Götzen. (The Graf Von Gøtzen was sunk by the British in real life; then, at Winston Churchill’s orders was refloated and rebuilt and re-launched in 1927, as The Liemba. This was the old name for Lake Tanganyika from Livingstone’s time. She still plies Lake Tanganyika.)

Our completely fictionalised protagonists were Rose (Sayer), a unmarried 33 year old woman “approaching middle age”!!, who, at the beginning of the story, had been helpmate for the previous 10 years, to her missionary brother, in the forest of German Central Africa, and (Charlie) Allnutt . Allnutt is a Cockney engineer employed by the Belgian gold-mining company a couple of hundred miles up the river. He and Rose are thrown together by circumstance just as Rose’s brother has died of fever, exhaustion and the devastation of his life’s work buy the arrival of the German military. 

“It was at this very moment that Rose looked out across the veranda of the bungalow and saw Opportunity peering cautiously at her. She did not recognise it as Opportunity; she had no idea that the man who appeared there would be the instrument she would employ to strike a blow for England. All she recognised at the moment was that it was Allnutt……-a man her brother had been inclined to set his face sternly against as an un-Christian example.”

To escape the further incursions of the German Military, Rose and Allnutt set off in the dilapidated African Queen down the Ulanga River, and quickly contrive, that if they survive the perilous journey down-river they will attempt to destroy the Konigen Luise, the German patrol boat plying Lake Tanganyika, striking their blow for England. 

The story is beautifully written with rich descriptive language. Rose takes to the tiller with aplomb, and guides the African Queen through numerous treacherous rapids, while Allnutt stokes and manages the engine. The description of their deprivation (except for Allnutt’s Gin and cigarettes), what each are doing and thinking, the state of the waters, banks, the boat, the mosquitoes and leeches, the heat, and eventually, the malaria, make the story compelling. I often felt I was Rose, revelling in her new skill and adventure, steering the African Queen through rapids. I could almost smell the water and hear its thunder.

“Rose silently took hold of the iron rod; it was so hot that it seemed to burn her hand. She held it resolutely, with almost a thrill at feeling the African Queen waver obediently in her course as she shifted the tiller ever so little.”

“Outside she could hear the noise of the African night, the howling of the monkeys, the shriek of some beast of prey, and the bellow of crocodiles down by the river, with, as an accompaniment to it all – so familiar that she did not notice it – the continuous high-pitched whine of the cloud of mosquitos outside her curtains.”

Rose had previously led a very ordered, confined life, with no prospect of personal happiness. Allnutt, also had an isolated and lonely life. In the intensity of their efforts to survive, they find each other as lovers. Forester is so deft with so few words, in conveying the deep comfort they experience in their eroticism. Allnutt becomes “Charlie” to Rose, and Rose is his new and familiar “Old girl”, in his Cockney accent.

The river finally descends from the highlands into the reeds, and then the waterlilies of the lowland, and finally, the restrictions of the river delta. With Rose’s determination and Charlie’s engineering skill, they make their chance to strike their blow for England.

My edition of The African Queen had a very informative afterward by author and academic Giles Foden. He tells us that there were three different endings for the book – the  original ending which Forester himself preferred in which Allnutt dies in the last events of the book; the version which I read, in which Rose and Allnutt both survive, without the exact fulfilment of their mission for which they had hoped; and the third, which was the Hollywood version of that final event. I think I prefer the version which I read, which yet leaves us imagining further about Rose and Charlie.

Reading The African Queen was exhilarating. 

The African Queen history

The African Queen today

The Story Behind The African Queen

Old Cowra

For years, I have been scanning and then Photoshop-cleaning an enormous trove of photos from Warwick’s family, which include photos going back five generations. Warwick grew up on a farm, Braedene, at Barryrenie, some 20km outside Cowra. At age 8 and a half years, Warwick was sent to school in Cowra, having done some distance education at home before that. A small selection of those photos follows.


This was a family trip to Taronga Park Zoo. R to L: Little Warwick is on the knee of Uncle Jim, Allan on ground in shadows, Graham, father George, little Marnie, behind Uncle Wal, mother Beth, then Aunty Joan.

Aunty Ollie, Warwick and scarecrow. Warwick.

The old Hillman….

Farm cats near the tank stand

On property of eccentric friend way up in the hills from Braedene…..

W’s mother, Beth, father, George, and Aunt, Joan at Braedene

Brother Allan

Rest from building the “new” house

George shearing sheep. Warwick later did a painting of his father from this photo.

Warwick pillioned his father on a road-trip to Cairns from Cowra

Warwick on the MZ250. Photo taken by Warwick on his round-Australia roadtrip at Julia Creek in late 1975.

The Moonlight State

In May 1987, Four Corners presented Chris Masters’ investigation into Queensland police corruption, which reached all the way up to the Police Commissioner, Terry Lewis. An inquiry was announced the following day, becoming the Fitzgerald Inquiry, resulting in over a hundred covictions, a jail term for the Commissioner, and the end of Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s Premiership. Dear Andrew Olley, long since departed from a brain tumour, was the presenter.

Recently, Four Corners presented a programme called Breaking the Brotherhood, which, now, thirty years later, brought to us the whistle blower police and investigators who gave their stories to Chris Masters. It also explored the frightening consequences for those se whistle blowers, at the time, as well as the severe impacts on their subsequent lives.

Four Corners remains part of the essential eternal vigilance.

I received 2 tickets to Joh for PM, the musical for my  birthday from M, R, H, and M, and had J accompanying me. We watched from a front row table…..’glorious fun’ as described by one reviewer…..apparently Mike Ahern, in the audience, now 75, was laughing his head off.

James Dobinson was the one man band….at Stage Right, doing the musical direction and orchestration. Sitting so close to the front it was an added embellishment watching the music production so closely.


The Song List included:

Accidentally (Member for Nanango, then Premier)

Feed the Chooks

We don’t do that nonsense here!

Don’t you worry about that!

Pumpkin scone diplomacy


and finishing with the rousing I will stand, complete with all characters in Maroon t-shirts and calls of “Queenslander”! with the audience responding in unison with an identfying standing ovation.

For more serious review and reflection on this era, Matthew Condon’s books are fascinating…….a review of Queensland politics and corruption through most of my early and young adult life. Condon is a Brisbane based author and journalist. Brother J put me on to these.





Gloriana, Hallelujah!

Gloriana, Hallelujah, the principal soundtrack to the series gets into your head, sung by The Mediaeval Baebes…….

Watching Season 1 of Victoria has been an absolute treat, dare I say it, even better than The Crown. (BTW, Men, eg W and TG, seem to really enjoy these royal biodramas!!). The settings of Buckingham Palace and Westmister Abbey and Windsor Castle have been substituted by other breathtaking palaces and churches. As with The Crown, the cast, the costumes (royal dress, mens and womens, and jewellery), the transport – in this case, horses and carriages, are outstanding; the politics of the day, fascinating to get a take on.

Jenna Coleman, recently from Dr Who, is more classically beautiful and slimmer than Victoria was, but similarly small at 5 feet 2 inches, whereas Victoria was 4 feet 11 inches, some 11 inches shorter than her reasonably elegant Prince Albert. Victoria was not a classical beauty, and was not driven by a focus on matters of her own physical appearance. However, she was very taken by Albert’s appearance, in many scenarios……

‘He is so sensible, so kind, and so good, and so amiable too,’ she writes, adding: ‘He has besides, the most pleasing and delightful exterior and appearance, you can possibly see.’

‘He is extremely handsome, his hair about the same colour as mine. His eyes are large and blue and he has a beautiful nose and very sweet mouth with fine teeth. But the charm of his countenance is his expression, which is most delightful.’

‘I just saw my dearest Albert in his white cashmere breeches, with nothing on underneath,’ – her journal recollection of inspecting a military parade in Hyde Park!

And Albert to Victoria prior to marriage:

Dearest, deeply loved Victoria,
I need not tell you that since we left, all my thoughts have been with you at Windsor, and that your image fills my whole soul.
Even in my dreams I never imagined that I should find so much love on earth. How that moment shines for me when I was close to you, with your hand in mine. Those days flew by so quickly, but our separation will fly equally so. Heaven has sent me an angel whose brightness shall illumine my life. Body and soul ever your slave,


……every girl’s dream……..

Rufus Sewell plays Lord Melbourne, with whom Victoria had an intense and adoring relationship, in the first two years of her reign, prior to marrying Albert. The series suggests it was romantic, but Victoria’s letters relating to that period, (the ones that DID survive the redacting and burning of originals by her daughter Beatrice upon her death) affirm it was not romantic on her part. Lord Melbourne was forty years older than Victoria, and overweight in this later part of life. There is no doubt he was charming to her, as well as instructive and supportive, all very appealing to her as she had not known her own father, and had been cosseted from society til then. However, one biographer suggests that HE WAS romantically involved with her, and suffered from it to the end, some 11 year after her ascension to the throne. He had, earlier in his life suffered the scandal of his wife’s affair with Byron, (and the death of his son). He had had many liaisons since then, but never allowed himself a committed love again, til his role with the new young Queen (not to suggest the romantic notion in the head was ever enacted in any way – safe it was within the constraints of their roles). Melbourne managed to live at the Palace for a couple of years during this early time, and was devasted as Victoria became otherwise focussed following his retirement and her marriage. She wrote to him regularly for several years then, but this, too, faded, discouraged, as seen inappropriate.

Victoria was a very good horsewoman……..Jenna looks wonderful at side-saddle rides for pleasure, often daily (later dining) with Lord Melbourne, as well as for ceremonial parades. She was an accomplished drawer and painter, having been taught as part of her education, an accomplished musician and singer (sometimes with Albert), able to speak German (first language), English, French, Italian, and Hindustani (learning in 1876, on becoming Empress of India).

Queen Victorias Scrapbook online has been provided by the Royal Household, with compelling excerpts of her letters, her and others art works.


There is a surfeit of potential further spin-off reading…..

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin (script-writer for the Series)                     The Victoria Letters: The Official Companion to the ITV Victoria Series by Helen Rappaport

Victoria: The Queen. An Inimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird (Also of The Drum, Our ABC)

Victoria: A Life by A. N. Wilson

Melbourne by Lord David Cecil, incorporating Young Melbourne and Lord M