Vale Jill Roe

Head and shoulders of Jill Roe with sandstone background

Jill Roe 1940-2017

It is with sadness we heard about the passing of Australian historian Jill Roe late last week. During her life she made a significant contribution to Australian history. Through her passing Australia has lost a great contributor to our society, but her work lives on and enriches our lives.

Jill Roe is best known for her biography of Australian literary icon, Miles Franklin. Stella Miles Franklin: a biography is the book she is most renowned for, and for good reason. It is not only a literary biography, it provides a window through which we can understand what it was like for an enterprising Australian woman to work and support themselves during the first half of the twentieth century. Stella Miles Franklin took Jill Roe twenty-six years to research and write. It is both highly regarded as an academic work and an engaging read for people wanting to read it for leisure. You can read the review I wrote of this impressive book in 2012.

Jill Roe dedicated much of her life to biography. She was the chairperson of the editorial board of the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) between 1996 and 2006. During this period the organisation won a substantial grant which allowed it to make the biographical entries freely available online. She is described in ‘The ADB’s Story‘ as “energetic, decisive and knowledgeable” and during her period at the helm observers noted she was an “effective negotiator”. During her life she contributed twenty entries for the ADB either as sole author or collaboratively. Just two months ago the ADB presented her with a medal for her services.

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Noise, Newcastle and the Challenge

Walking along the breakwater at the entrance to the Newcastle Harbour.

Walking along the breakwater at the entrance to the Newcastle Harbour.

A pounding base was thundering across the large park in front of our house as I started writing this post on Sunday night. Any music that accompanied the relentless thud had largely dropped by the wayside. We were left with the remnants. Tuneless reverberations reached every corner of our house. That morning, when the noise started, we decided to evacuate for the day.

We just wanted out, but we couldn’t think of anywhere we wanted to go. Some quick googling revealed that Newcastle is undergoing some rejuvenation so we decided to check it out. After a couple of boring hours on the freeway we reached Darby St, near the central business district of Newcastle. Continue reading

Challenge Completed!

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 logo

This review is part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

One of the joys after I finished my history degree was reading a book from cover to cover. This is the way most authors expect people to read their books, but when studying or working I found the pressure of deadlines meant that I simply mined a book for information through the index or a reference in another article or book. Worse still, my reading was terribly skewed towards male authors. At the beginning of 2012 writer, Elizabeth Lhuede started the Australian Women Writers Challenge to encourage bloggers to read more books by Australian women and to write reviews on their blogs and Good Reads. I joined and have enjoyed reading and reviewing histories, biographies and memoirs by Australian women for the last five years.

This year I have been working and have also been researching for my book about the beliefs of Australian men during World War I. I thought it would be a quiet year for book reviewing on this blog, but the universe had other plans. At the tail end of 2015 I stayed at a Canberra hotel which just happened to supply a history about the hotel written by Australian women historians in each room. So I started 2016 on this blog with a review for the Challenge – ‘A Quirky Hotel with a History’. Continue reading

Review: The Riddle of Father Hackett by Brenda Niall

The Riddle of Father Hackett: A Life in Ireland and Australia by Brenda Niall (NLA Publishing: 2009)

The Riddle of Father Hackett: A Life in Ireland and Australia by Brenda Niall (NLA Publishing: 2009)

Brenda Niall’s biography of Irish-Australian Jesuit priest, Father Hackett, is absorbing from the start. Niall starts by sharing her musings as she walks through Kew cemetery in Melbourne where Father Hackett is buried. She shares some memories of the cleric who often visited her home when she was a child and her thoughts as she sifts through that third cemetery in which the lives of a chosen few are interred – the archive. Father Hackett springs out from the pages as a vibrant, warm person but with deep sorrows in his heart. The Riddle of Father Hackett lies in Ireland in the sad and violent early twentieth century.

Like Melbourne’s Archbishop Mannix, Father Hackett lived a significant part of his life in Ireland, arriving in Australia when he was in his early forties, but he was far more enmeshed in the dangerous politics of Ireland than the senior cleric. The first third of The Riddle of Father Hackett is an engrossing introduction to early twentieth-century Irish politics. As a priest Father Hackett was close to men of the Easter Uprising and the civil war of the early 1920s such as Robert Barton, Eamon de Valera, Padraig Pearse, Robert Barton and Erskine Childers. He used his influence to shine light on Ireland’s plight by inviting English Quakers and Americans to tour the scenes of atrocities. His clerical garb protected him from unwanted British attention. Then in the midst of this dark turmoil Father Hackett was sent by the Jesuits to Australia. Continue reading

A Lesson in Life: Book Review of Auntie Rita

Warning: This post contains references to Aboriginal people who are now deceased. The books and links referred to in this post may also contain references and images of deceased Aboriginal people.

ilw-2016Each July, book blogger Lisa Hill encourages bloggers to review books written by indigenous authors from around the world. She chooses ‘Indigenous Literature Week’ to coincide with the Australian annual celebration of indigenous culture, NAIDOC Week.

Book cover of Auntie Rita

Auntie Rita by Rita Huggins and Jackie Huggins (Aboriginal Studies Press, 1994).

This week was NAIDOC Week so I searched my book shelves for a book to read by an indigenous author. As I have already reviewed two new books by Australian Aboriginal authors this year (Finding Eliza by Larissa Behrendt and Pictures from my memory by Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis) I decided to review a highly regarded book from the 1990s. Twenty-two years after it was first published I have finally read Auntie Rita by Rita Huggins and Jackie Huggins.

Rita Huggins shares her life from her earliest years living on her country in what we know as Carnarvon Gorge in Queensland. The land sustained her Bidjara-Pitjara people but born in 1922, Rita Huggins and her people were in the sights of a government which was forcibly removing Aboriginal people from their land and into reserves. Rita Huggins tells of the traumatic day when she and her family were herded onto a crowded cattle truck and taken on a long journey south to what became known as the Cherbourg Aboriginal Reserve. She never lived on her country again.

This book is not a standard memoir. It is also a dialogue between Rita Huggins and her daughter Jackie. At various points through the narrative Jackie Huggins expands on points her mother makes, add her memories and sometimes challenges her mother. In doing this both mother and daughter are unsettling the memoir genre. We are all social beings. We not only live in a social context, we are challenged and have to adjust our thoughts and behaviours in response to those we live and work with. Yet writing a memoir is one of the most solitary practices. The dialogue in this memoir gives us a peek into a mother/daughter relationship. While Auntie Rita quite rightly dominates the book, the reader at times has the feeling that they are at a kitchen table listening to Auntie Rita talk about her life with Jackie sometimes chiming in with a comment about what her mother is saying. Auntie Rita says: Continue reading

National Reconciliation Week Review: Pictures from my memory

Book cover

Pictures from my memory: My story as a Ngaatjatjarra woman by Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis (Aboriginal Studies Press, 2016).

It is Reconciliation Week this week. An important aspect of the act of reconciliation in Australia is non-indigenous Australians listening, pondering and accepting the experiences of the first Australians. There are many ways we can participate. I chose to read the recently published memoir of a woman from the centre of Australia – Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis.

Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis is a Ngaatjatjarra woman who was born near the border of Western Australia and Northern Territory. Her parents met white people for the first time around the time she was born. Ellis explains that it was a time of extended drought in the desert which is why Ngaatjatjarra people decided to live in white people’s settlements. This is a reminder that first contact and colonialism occurred unevenly across the Australian continent.

Pictures from my memory is a story of achievement. Marrkilyi Ellis tells her story in a straight-forward manner. She proved adept at straddling the cultural divide from a young age. “I loved school”, she says. “I loved learning to read and write.” But she was also learning much from her family and community. While sharing her life story she explains to the reader some aspects of her culture in chapters about “belief systems”, “working and sharing”, “Aboriginal nights”. These chapters fit well within the narrative flow of her story. Continue reading

Reading Purrfection

Cat lying on verandah balustrade. In foreground is book, notebook, pen and bookmark

Our cat Whispy, keeping me company while I sit on the verandah reading.

It has been glorious weather in Sydney albeit unseasonably warm and dry. I have been enjoying sitting outside and reading. The photo above sums up my ideal reading environment – a good book, bookmark, reading journal, pen and a cat.

Where would we be without good books? I am struggling to imagine my life without regular reading. Even during my reading drought during university and my early twenties (reading economics and accounting text books does not count!), I loved reading the weekend newspapers with their long book reviews, travel pieces and articles giving rich background to the news. That has largely gone now, replaced by websites. I snuggle up to my tablet for weekend news reading but it is not quite the same.

I don’t review anywhere near the number of books I read. Among the books I have enjoyed this year but not reviewed is Lost Relations by Graeme Davison, a well known historian who in this book wrote about his own family history.  I have also enjoyed reading Awakening: Four Lives in Art by Eileen Chanin and Steven Miller which is about four women artists born in late nineteenth century Victoria each of whom had successful careers in Europe and the United States. The book in the photo is From Moree to Mabo: The Mary Gaudron Story. I remembered Janine Rizzetti’s review when I found the book in a second-hand bookshop recently. I became very absorbed reading about the legal and political history of the late twentieth century – a time when Mary Gaudron was involved in some significant court cases in various capacities as a legal professional and then as a High Court judge.

A bookmark of some sort is essential for reading, but I don’t like to grab any old slip of paper to mark my place. I like a beautifully designed bookmark and have quite a stash of them, often given away for free. It is an ideal way for an organisation to advertise a website if it is aimed at book readers. The bookmark I am currently using advertises ‘The Encyclopedia of Women & Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia’. As well as telling me the URL for the site, the bookmark tells me that the website is edited by Judith Smart and Shurlee Swain and lists the sponsors. A bookmark is a much more effective form of advertising for people like me than an annoying television advertisement. Continue reading