My father was a man of feeling who always wanted his family to show their feelings for each other too. That was why he started a sociable little custom we observed every morning without fail. We always shook hands at breakfast. None of your half-hearted shakes neither, but firm grasps to show how glad we were to see one another again after a good night’s sleep… “I don’t hold with reserve. Reserve is for Scandinavians,” my father said. “If we can’t express the emotions God give us then we don’t deserve them. We’re only on loan to one another, so let’s show our feelings while we can.”
-Peter De Vries, Reuben, Reuben (1964), 1.
Today, in an act of biographer pride, I brought together all my biographies from around the house onto one shelf, displacing a random selection that had been occupying this hall shelf unhappily for a couple of years. I had more important things to do, but I don’t regret it at all. I’m going to look at this diverse collection of biographies many times each day as I pass and it’s going to inspire me. My arrangement of books – the double-stacked shelf of fiction in another prominent place – will no longer reinforce the hierarchy the literary community tries to impose. Continue reading
There was a grand old house in Greenmount called ‘Wandu’. A teenage girl accidentally shot the surveyor-general there in 1915. Katharine Susannah Prichard rented it in 1919. Then, for decades, it was a guest-house and social hub for the district. I wrote a piece on it for my monthly KSP Writers’ Centre column; I’d love to uncover a photo of it.
UPDATE 11 OCTOBER 2017
I’ve uncovered a photograph, under the alternative spelling ‘Wandoo’. It’s not quite as grand looking as I imagined, but here’s a 1931 ad for the house Katharine and Hugo lived in when they first moved to Perth.
Over at “The Australian Legend”, Bill has an interesting interview with biographer Sarah Goldman, author of Caroline Chisholm: An Irresistible Force. I started out my biography in fear someone else would publish one on my subject before me; that actually happened to Goldman, and it was still okay, as she explains in answer to one of Bill’s questions.
Caroline Chisholm: An Irresistible Force by Sarah Goldman is the recently released biography of one of the most interesting and influential women in Australia’s early history. My review copy arrived with a letter suggesting Sarah would be happy to be interviewed, so I sent her some questions to which she has been kind enough to give extensive answers. I didn’t let on, but this is my first interview.
What a character Kylie Tennant was. Her strength and distinctiveness leap out from the pages of Jane Grant’s biography, right from the opening where she walks 500 miles at age twenty during the Depression to visit her university friend Lewis Rodd. Impulsively, they marry. Continue reading
Athletics carnivals of course, that’s the first thing which comes to mind – the primary school ones. First the faction carnival and then the inter-school. Allanson wasn’t big enough to hold our own faction carnival; we competed as one faction against four Wilson Park factions and we still always, reliably came last. But then we would sometimes win the Forrest District Small Schools Association carnival held on the double-geed ovals of little country localities in southwest WA. Continue reading
I’ve never lived in Adelaide, but it has a sense of home for me. It’s the city the Hobbys come from; my ancestor Thomas Hobby, who bears the same name as my son, was one of the early settlers of the suburb of Norwood in 1849. It’s also where my in-laws grew up and now they’ve returned there, we’ve visited quite a few times over the last decade. From them, I’ve learned some of the peculiarities and lore of the place and had a sense of the pride Adelaidians hold about their distinctiveness. Continue reading
To my dear member of parliament,
I am very concerned by your government’s move to drug testing for welfare recipients. In 2003 when I graduated from university, I was on Newstart allowance for six months while I looked for work and I found dealing with Centrelink alienating and dehumanising. The attitude of the system toward welfare recipients already feels so harsh. I wasn’t on any drugs but the addition of testing would have increased my sense of disillusionment with a state which treated me with suspicion and heavy-handedness.
I can’t believe this measure comes the same week Tony Abbott admits to being too drunk to vote in a crucial bill. It feels to me that your government risks seeming hypocritical. I’m not convinced this measure is actually concerned with helping people with addiction problems – if this is your real concern, increase funding for addiction services.
Yours sincerely, Nathan Hobby.
I didn’t remind my MP of the fact that he was caught drink-driving without a licence two years ago. I don’t know why this testing measure bothers me so much, but it seems just a little fascist and also yet another move of a government which despises the underclass. There are no jobs for people to be getting at the moment. There are actually so many activities / classes of people who receive subsidies or concessions from the government – as someone tweeted, why aren’t the negative gearers being tested for drugs?
Like many biographers, I have a list of possible future subjects. One of my ten names has been Australia’s second prime-minister, Alfred Deakin (1856-1919). While researching his interactions with Katharine Susannah Prichard, I found him a fascinating character. I was surprised that the only comprehensive biography appeared fifty years ago. But I’ve removed Deakin from my list because Judith Brett has written a superb account of his life in The Enigmatic Mr Deakin, out this month.
Brett begins her biography with a comparison to a more famous Victorian born two years earlier, Ned Kelly:
Deakin is remembered too, but not so vividly, more as a bearded worthy than a national icon. He was Australia’s most important prime minister in its first ten years after federation, but he sits uneasily as a representative Australian figure. He is too intellectual, too respectable, for the larrikin masculinity of the Australian legend… Deakin was never a mate. He didn’t swear and rarely drank. He didn’t play organised sport nor fight in the Great War…. In short, he was middle-class, well-educated, urbane and supremely self-confident, like the city and the colony in which he grew to manhood. (3)
Australia needs more heroes like this, and Brett lays out a strong case for his significance and his achievements, while always alert to the ambivalence which marks him and his legacy. Continue reading
The first season of The Man in the High Castle (2015) isn’t perfect but it’s my favourite television show of the year so far, a moving, engrossing drama which sheds light on our reality by depicting an alternative one. Set in 1962, years after the Axis powers won World War Two, the Japanese control the western Pacific States of America while the Nazis control the east coast. The two empires have their own cold war, and the background of season one is a crisis point as a group within the Nazi regime attempt to provoke Japan into a war Japan cannot win. In an incredible twist of sympathies and political intrigue, by the end the creators have the audience hoping that the aging Hitler will not be assassinated. Continue reading