Monthly Archives: August 2012

Into the UK…and beyond?

I had some exciting news this week.  My novel 8 States of Catastrophe  has been sold into the UK!  According to my English friends, the ‘Poms’ will love it and I am thrilled that they will have the chance to purchase it without the burden of postage and freight.

No release date yet but I believe it is just a matter of months.

I confess to lying awake at night picturing my ‘baby’ jostling for space on a shelf somewhere far from home.  I imagine someone on the other side of the world reading about MV and his faithful dog Rider as they travel into the outback and it lifts my writerly spirit which needed a bit of elevation around about now.

 Champagne anyone?

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The Sex Lives of Australians: a history by Frank Bongiorno – Book Review

If you find yourself questioning the worth of an historical work on the subject of one nation’s sexuality, Michael Kirby’s considered foreword to Frank Bongiorno’s The Sex Lives of Australians: a history might give you the answer.  Kirby points out that by knowing more about our past ‘Australians may become wiser and more accepting of sexual differences at present and in the future.’ (xi) 

I was lucky enough to win a copy of Bongiorno’s scholarly yet entertaining historical work through the publishers ‘Black Inc’ and found plenty to amuse and inform between its substantial 352 pages (including endnotes). 

Bongiorno casts a spotlight on some wonderful characters: we meet loveable cross-dressers, S&M aficionados and distasteful quacks with some pretty stitched-up ideas toward sexuality.   I was particularly entranced by the honesty and forwardness of the composer and musician Percy Grainger who talked openly it would seem about his enthusiastic sadomasochistic indulgences. 

When touring, Grainger invariably took a selection of whips along with him, and he usually had to wash his own shirts rather than having them laundered commercially because they were covered in blood. (119)

There is a considerable amount of discussion on homosexuality (or more particularly, on our nation’s reactions to it) which is understandable, given that it has caused so much angst to so many people through generations.  And it is quite amazing that the ‘deviousness’ that was so feared in the early days of white settlement, is still (despite inch-by-inch changes in the country’s laws) the subject of heated debate, misconception and intolerance.   Regardless of the distance we have come, there are many within our society for whom homosexuality is still as ‘unmentionable’ as it was in the late seventeen hundreds.

 In his 1985 book Gender Trouble Down Under: Australian Masculinities (Presses Universitaires de Valienciennes), David Coad notes that Australia’s function as a penal colony for over fifty years led to an imbalance of the sexes (88% of the convicts were male) which in turn created ideal conditions for sexual and gender confusion.  There’s no doubt that confusion abounded and Bongiorno gives a good overview of these variances in this convict society.

Sex and marriage, during war and peace, contraception, rape: there is some serious reading here I would recommend to those young women who choose to thumb their noses at their feminist mothers and grandmothers.  They might count themselves lucky to live in an age that recognizes the legitimacy of female sexual desire and a society which – for the most part – protects their rights as equal citizens.

 Bongiorno’s book seems to be an important work that shows us how far we have come, while casting a spotlight on the distance we still have to travel.  I suspect it will be quoted often and it may indeed help us to become further enlightened by looking back.

 BOOK DETAIL: 
Bongiorno, Frank. The Sex Lives of Australians: a history. Black Inc, Collingwood, Vic., 2012.
ISBN: 9 781863 955676

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Purple Threads by Jeanine Leane: Book Review

Many thanks to ANZ LitLovers for the opportunity to read Purple Threads, winner of the David Unaipon Award.  Check out Lisa Hill’s Review and also Sue’s on Whispering Gums.

Purple Threads brought to mind some of those feminine-centric American stories that focus on the resilience and camaraderie of women.  Stories like Fried Green Tomatoes and How to make an American Quilt, the sort of tales that remind me how inspiring and loyal women can be.

In Leane’s novel, the characters are strong Aboriginal women, Aunties and a Nan who are made of strong stuff, who know how to laugh and how to love, women who adopt and nurture stray or injured animals, in particular the little black lambs not prized by the farmers.

 A fair portion of Leane’s debut novel is told through dialogue and what lively and convincing dialogue it is:

 ‘…youse hafta look respectable jus’ like me an’ Bubby an’ all the other Aunties did when we were little.  An’ white people, they think churches are respectable an’ sometimes ya hafta go along with what other people think, jus’ to stay outta trouble.’ (12)

 That was Auntie’s standard reply when Sunny (from whose viewpoint the story is told) questions why she and her sister Star have to go to church. The fear of being taken, the spectre of the stolen generation, is never far from the surface.  When Sunny persists in her questioning, Auntie admits that the grown-ups don’t have to go to church because ‘big people can’t get taken’.

Occasionally I wished for more background narrative, something that Leane can nail when she wants to:

Sometimes the howling gales from the south rattled and shook the flimsy tin on our roof like paper, and our house groaned and shifted so much that the tin mugs and plates on the dresser jangled and clanged as the women’s voices rose and fell.’ (41)

The love of ‘place’ – of ‘home’ – is clear in Leane’s poignant portrait of Sunny’s homesickness:

Sometimes the snowy breeze from the Brindabella Mountains catches the thin bleat of a new winter lamb and carries it clear across the frosty paddocks to the outskirts of my city. I hear it and it takes me home. (156)

 Leane paints her women with love and a great dollop of humour so that I came to care about them all deeply, even Petal the wayward mother who seems so callous in her abandonment of her two children.  The vibrant personalities of Nan and the Aunties linger long after the final page.

BOOK DETAIL:
Leane, Jeanine. Purple Threads, University of Queensland Pres, St Lucia, 2011.
ISBN 9-780702-238956

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