Australian & NZ Publishers Release New Histories During Covid-19

Australian governments don’t want people to wear masks outside for numerous reasons. However, if you are even slightly unwell and travelling to a testing centre to be tested for the virus you must wear a mask. This is a photo of us on the way to get tested for Covid-19. We live within walking distance from a testing centre but were told to drive there and wear masks. Our test results were negative.

In the upside-down world of the Covid-19 pandemic business have closed or are running with skeleton staff, queues of newly unemployed people have stretched around the block from Centrelink offices and people have stopped spending money. Well-functioning economies require a healthy population. The economy declines if a rampant disease is affecting society.

In times like these many bookshops are struggling and have had to close their physical shops due to the stringent social-distancing regulations introduced. We may be reading more now that we are confined at home, but buying books is the kind of discretionary spending that you would think that people who are worried about their jobs would be cutting out.

Running a business is very difficult under the new regulations and in the current economic climate. I would understand if publishers were pausing the publication of new books so I was delighted when I saw news this morning that Australian publishers are continuing to publish new Australian history books and even sign up new authors!

Now more than ever, authors, bookshops and publishers need to be supported. In this post I highlight some new histories which have been published by Australasian publishers this year that you may want to consider buying. I include New Zealand publishers because I think Australians should support New Zealand as they support us. New Zealanders have made a wonderful contribution to Australian arts and our society generally. Continue reading

War, Business and Orchids – the Smith Story

 

We did it! I was part of an international research project that has led to the publication of this book. No Substitute for Kindness: The Story of May and Stanley Smith (May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust, 2017).

Stanley Smith was an Australian businessman, WWII operative in China and expert horticulturalist. His life took him from a comfortable Brisbane upbringing to the danger of war and finally to a life half-way across the world. His Chinese-born wife, May Wong, grew up during the civil war in China and the fighting against Japanese occupation. May and Stanley met through their work for British propaganda and intelligence in the Chinese wartime capital of the city then known as Chungking (Chongqing).

Together the lives of Stanley and May Smith make a gripping read in the newly published book, No Substitute for Kindness. Commissioned by one of the philanthropic funds established by the couple, a team of researchers and writers from the United States, England and Australia have pieced together a fascinating biography.

I was one of the historians who worked on the book. My principal task was to research the early years of Stanley Smith’s life. He was born in Brisbane in 1907 and was a student at Eagle Junction State School. Stanley then won a state scholarship to the Church of England Grammar School or ‘Churchie’ as it is commonly known. Continue reading

Review: Waging Peace by Anne Deveson

Book Cover of Waging Peace

Waging Peace by Anne Deveson (Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2013).

Anne Deveson was a highly regarded journalist, film-maker and human rights activist who died late last year. Her last book was a memoir titled Waging Peace and was published in 2013. Anne Deveson was a groundbreaker in many ways. She helped Australian society grapple with serious issues that people experienced silently such as mental illness, poverty and abuse. As I expected this book caused me to think.

Deveson was born into a family of the British Empire. Her father lived in the colony of Malaya as a rubber planter while Deveson spent her early childhood in England. Her comfortable life was upturned when World War II was declared. She was nine years old.

France fell to the Nazis in the middle of 1940. England was alone and bombs rained down on the cities and towns throughout the country. Deveson’s father was working in Malaya, far away from the hostilities. It was prior to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour and the British still thought the sun would not set on their empire. Deveson’s father urged his family to flee to the safety of Malaya so Deveson, her brother and mother left England on a passenger ship. Their ship was part of a convoy that sailed through dangerous waters hoping to escape the German U-boats circling the British Isles. They arrived safely in Malaya but a few months later they had to evacuate again, this time to Australia. Continue reading

Debut Author Chat: Jayne Persian and the Beautiful Balts

Today I am delighted to publish a post written by Jayne Persian, lecturer in history at the University of Southern Queensland, and author of Beautiful Balts: From displaced persons to new Australians. Her book was published this month by Small Publisher of the Year, NewSouth Books. This post is part of my ‘Debut Author Chat‘ series where authors who have recently published their first history discuss their book. 

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Head and shoulders of Jayne Persian

Jayne Persian, author of Beautiful Balts and lecturer in history at the University of Southern Queensland.

Beautiful Balts: From displaced persons to new Australians tells the story of the first mass intake of refugees accepted into Australia: the 170,000 Central and Eastern Europeans who arrived in Australia between 1947 and 1952. Characterised as ‘Beautiful Balts’, they were recruited in Europe by the Australian government, under the slogan of ‘populate or perish’: migrants were needed to bulk up the Australian population, and to solve a post-war labour shortage.

I open the book in Austria’s Drau Valley in May 1945. A 70,000-strong Russian Cossack force was waiting to discover its fate. They had fought with the Germans against the Soviet Union, had surrendered to the British and were hoping to remain in Austria as anti-Soviet refugees. What happened next is now infamous. Many of these men, women and children were forcefully handed over to the Soviets: there are allegations of brutality, automatic fire, suicides. Some people were trampled to death.

Small groups of Cossacks, including Ivan and Nastasia, managed to escape the round-up. Ivan, a Don Cossack, met Nastasia in 1943, when she was working as a forced labourer in eastern Ukraine under the Nazis. Ivan was much older, around 53 years old to her 17, but had offered her an escape from forced labour if she would marry and join him in his journey across Europe. They left Ukraine on 31 December 1943, travelling with the Cossack Army to Italy via Romania, Poland and Hungary. In Italy, in a shed during a bomb attack, her first son was born. Little Maxim died at 14 weeks of age, of malnutrition. From Italy, Nastasia and Ivan journeyed over mountain ranges, evading Italian partisans, to apparent safety with the Cossack camp outside Lienz.  After witnessing the merciless repatriation of their camp, the small groups fled up the snow-covered mountains and hid in ravines, surviving by killing sheep at night, while evading British patrols. After three months of this, Ivan and Nastasia were caught by Austrian police and sent to Kapfenberg displaced persons’ camp. Continue reading

Review: The Anzacs by Patsy Adam-Smith

Cover of the Anzacs

The Anzacs by Patsy Adam-Smith, (Melbourne: Thomas Nelson Australia, 1985)

The fog rolled down the river and engulf our house. The cold and damp penetrated the walls and windows. Our only view, an opaque whiteness. Through the stillness, the sound of a lone bugler playing the Last Post reached us from the nearby cemetery. Another old soldier had died.

This was the house our family was living in when Patsy Adam-Smith published The Anzacs, her iconic history of Australian participation in World War I. Adam-Smith recognised that the 1970s were the last chance to talk to many of the surviving soldiers, so she interviewed veterans for her book as well as reading copious letters and diaries written during the War.

The Anzacs sold over 100,000 copies after it was published in 1978, at a time when Australia’s population was 14 million. But like other popular books, publishers were not very keen on it when Patsy Adam-Smith approached them seeking a contract. “It won’t sell. It’s about war,” one publisher said. This was the era of the peace movement and revulsion about the war in Vietnam. Compared to now, war histories were not prominent in bookshops. Continue reading