Monthly Archives: June 2012

Things that are found in trees & other stories, edited by Richard Rossiter: Book Review

Margaret River Press  should be mightily proud of this little production which packs quite an aesthetic punch. 

Early followers of this blog would know me to be a self-confessed bibliophile bordering on bibliomaniac so those with similar leanings will understand my delight at receiving this beautiful 11 x 16cm (yes!) glossy soft-back that fits perfectly into my hand.  As it nestles there, my fingers just curling over its edges, I stare at the title.  Yes, I’m a sucker for a good title as well.

 Things that are found in trees
& other stories

It should come as no surprise that Margaret River (south of Perth, Western Australia) would have a thriving arts scene, their slow food and wine culture being something to behold.  Following the 2011 Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival in 2011 (the inaugural being held in 2009), Arts Margaret River joined forces with Margaret River Press and – voila! – the Margaret River Short Story Competition was born which led to the publication of these select entries.  The collection is edited by Richard Rossiter who, together with Nicole Sinclair and Robert Wood, judged the competition.

Let’s look at the title story, Things that are found in trees. Beverly Lello paints a small town picture onto a world canvas as she connects a photograph of a dead elephant calf marooned in a tree in Sri Lanka with the narrator’s memories of her boyfriend.  It’s a poignant tale that, despite our fears for the worst, keeps us hoping for an alternative. 

The narrator and her Mother put up posters in their search for the young man but it is hard to see the missing Michael in the picture:

His bland, serious, photo face was just a blip between crazy clown and snorting idiot.  He could crack me open and turn me inside out.  It was my crazy clown I was looking for and I didn’t think anyone would recognise him from this photo. (27-28)

Catherine Moffat provides a perfect sense of time, space and place in Waiting for the Wheels to Fall Off like the city car dealer with ‘a cappuccino machine and Marie-Claire in the waiting room [where] the cars were laid out in shiny, complementary colours like the lipstick counter at David Jones.’ (102)

One of my favourite stories is Kerry Whalen’s ‘Its Her Place’.  Next door neighbours Hazel and Ruby come to life through their dialogue:

‘Why do you collect things, Rube?’ Hazel had once asked.
Her friend sucked her gums, face wreathed in wrinkles.  ‘It’s a hobby. Like saving stamps.’ (142-3)

Ruby’s compulsion to collect is so great that she loses sight of the line between taking something unwanted and outright theft.  Twelve tiny pages and I loved Ruby.  I cared about Hazel too (emotions that that can take a writer half a novel to achieve) and wondered what made her such a kind and forgiving neighbour.  The ending surprised me, answered my question and left me smiling.

Rajasree Variyar gets a gong for this sentence in Men don’t cry: ‘And the nightmares that stalk my midnights bared their dark faces in the day’ (50). Tight. Superb.

The other writers in this compact treasure trove are:-
Georgina Luck, William Lane, Christine Piper, Liliane Grace, Jane Skelton, Jacqueline Winn and Bernice Barry.

I was pleased to find notes about the contributors included at the end and, whilst the Editor’s comments on the stories provided in the introduction were interesting and insightful, I would have liked to see them placed at the end also so that inadvertent spoilers or preconceived notions couldn’t influence the reader’s enjoyment.  It’s a small quibble and, because of my preferences in this matter, I simply skipped the intro and read it later.

You can find out more about Things that are found in trees & other stories on the publisher’s website.

Congratulations to the winners and huge applause and cries of ‘More! More!’ toward Margaret River Press.

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Doctor Wooreddy’s Prescription for Enduring the Ending of the World by Mudrooroo Nyoongah: Book Review

Warning:  This post contains the names of deceased persons.

 I am delighted to be involved in the ANZ LitLovers ‘2012 Indigenous Literature Week’, this review being my humble contribution.

I first read Dr Wooreddy’s Prescription for Enduring the Ending of the World by Mudrooroo (Colin Johnson) around fifteen years ago and it left such an impression that when I heard about this Indigenous Literature Week initiative, I thought it would be great to revisit this historical novel.

There is controversy surrounding Mudrooroo’s Aboriginality but my understanding is that he strongly identifies as Aboriginal.  I am far from an expert on Indigenous culture and not up with the modern politics of identification but, as the novel provides a searching critique of the prejudices of white history, I think it deserves a place in any study of Indigenous literature.

I have recommended this book to many people so I was relieved to find it just as entertaining and intriguing when I reread it. I guess it resonates strongly with me because it is set in Tasmania where I grew up and my Island home is at once familiar and like a foreign land, when seen through the eyes of Wooreddy.

Wooreddy’s homeland is Bruny Island: ‘two craggy fists of land connected by a narrow twisting of murky water’ (1) but, as he learns by surreptitiously listening to his elders, the ending of the world has begun, precipitated by the first sighting of the ships carting the ghost-like ‘num’ (white people).  The boy Wooreddy knows that he will live on to witness the end.

Through Dr Wooreddy’s eyes, Mudrooroo shows us the store of knowledge and the level of intelligence required under an oral culture. The narrative turns the idea of a superior literate culture on its head and the white colonisers are left looking simplistic and barbaric compared to the indigenous land owners.

Trugernanna
The school syllabus of the sixties and seventies was not big on local history and there was a dearth of information about Tasmania’s indigenous population. I do remember one history class that touched – ever so briefly – on the name of the ‘last Tasmanian Aborigine’ – Trugannini’.  It seems ironic that no attempt was made to alert students to the various spellings and pronunciation variations of her name and, in fact, Trugernanna is considered more likely to be phonetically correct.
     By all accounts, Trugernanna was a beauty who enjoyed the limelight.  The daughter of Mangana witnesses the kidnapping of her sisters and relays the news to her father: ‘Three ghosts came rowing into the bay.  They took first and second sister away’ (11). Despite this, Trugernanna seems to adapt well to the European ways.
     Through Trugernanna’s reliance on the num and in particular on George Robinson, we see the power shift from her father and her husband to the Chief Protector.

 Mangana
Trugernanna’s father is representative of the alienation and despair of the indigenous peoples, consequent to the num invasion, described in passages like these:-

+Mangana looked across and smiled, not a smile of greeting but one of resignation…
+Mangana seemed to have become all grey – his hair, his beard even his skin was grey…
+In reply to sentences he usually grunted or muttered a single word or strung words together in meaningless sentences…
+Mangana was too listless to play the role of both father and mother, or even just the father…

 George Robertson
Known to many of the aborigines as ‘Fader’, Meeter Ro-bin-un is a bumbling fool of a ‘ghost’ and yet it is clear to Wooreddy that he holds some power over other ghosts so the Doctor is initially elated to find ‘a protector and also a subject of study’ (31).
     White history recounts George Augustus Robertson as either:-
     a)      Conceited, ignorant and incompetent
     b)      A petty crook
     c)       A humane and well-intentioned public servant
     Mudrooroo’s novel casts him in a completely different light and it is interesting to compare the Meeter Rob-in-un in the book to the written historical records of the man and his actions.

 Doctor Wooreddy
The good doctor is a complex character with clear ideas and goals.  He is best summed up by this reaction to his first sighting of the ships:

Another boy would have turned tail or collapsed in a quivering heap of shock, but Wooreddy had been born for such sights.  He watched the fog patches shift as they tugged the tiny dark island along.  Such visions were rare and set a person apart.  (3)

 The writing is evocative and powerful.  Here, Mangana speaks to Wooreddy of his daughter:-

 Trugernanna, an ocean girl, a sea girl, a lover of ghosts.  A ghost girl, a pale girl, she will live on longer than all of us.  Go and eat her food, go and love her loveless body, go and share whatever she will offer.  You and she are both foolish enough to want life. (38)

The story ends as we know it will but there are surprises along the way, as we come to grips with the bewilderment experienced by the native Tasmanians while understanding the hidden strength that accompanies them through to the ‘Ending of the World’.

BOOK DETAIL:
Nyoongah, Mudrooroo (Colin Johnson). Doctor Wooreddy’s Prescription for Enduring the Ending of the World, Hyland House Publishing, Flemington, Victoria, 1983.
ISBN: 0 94702062 02 5

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Rapunzel Competition: Runner Up

Poet Betsy Chape was the runner up in our Rapunzel competition with ‘Rapunzel’s Lament’.

Woe is me! Alas! Alack!
My love is gone, will he come back?
I am locked away in this lonely tower,
Far from garden, bloom and bower;
With naught to do but pace this cell,
And dream of one I love so well.

But should my love come back to me,
What can he do to set me free?
Beneath my window, no ivy grows,
Not even stems of climbing rose;
And my heart o’erflows with sheer despair
For it takes so long to grow one’s hair!

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Winner of the Rapunzel Competition

Thanks to publishers Random House Australia and the author Kate Forsyth, members of the Stanthorpe Writers Group were given the opportunity to win a copy of Bitter Greens by entering a 100 words or less competition on what it would feel like to be trapped in a tower Rapunzel-like. 

We had some terrific entries which were scored, in true Aussie egalitarian fashion, by fellow members.

And the winner is … drumroll …

Jeanette Harvey.

The prisoner longed for the warmth of human touch and words, softly spoken.  Her friends now were the birds who ate the crumbs on the tower floor and gathered strands of her silken hair for their nests.  Rapunzel lay quite still – her face close to the tiny creatures – absorbing the lightness of the warm, feathered bodies and fragile legs.  In their bright, beaded eyes, she saw reflected the freedom of the sky and rode the wind’s spirals with these, her fellow travellers.  Such freedom rendered her speechless with joy, but then she had little need for words.

It is rather fitting that Jeanette – an emerging historical novelist – wrote the winning entry.  I know she will enjoy it.  Thanks to everyone who entered.  And thank you to Kate Forsyth for suggesting the theme. 

Bitter Greens,  which I reviewed here, is a lavish feast of fairytale, history and fiction.

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