This morning, we went for a drive along the Yaouk Road. We went much further than the Little River Road, which is where I turn on my morning walk. It’s a beautiful drive with quite a few contrasts in scenery.
The first photograph is of the road itself, on the Shannon Flat side of the Murrumbidgee River. The other two photographs are of the Murrumbidgee River at Yaouk.
A beautiful summer day here in the Snowy Mountains.
For those who take only an ordinary interest in politics, the drama over citizenship and eligibility to be a member of parliament has been puzzling. Surely these people looked at the rule book, the Australian Constitution, before deciding to stand for election? Why were their nominations accepted if they weren’t qualified?
Well, it’s not quite that simple. The constitution is not the rule book, but the record of a deal between the leaders of six self-governing colonies to form a federation; it covers what they wanted to cover, and it means what relevant people make it mean.
It doesn’t say that there has to be a prime minister, but it does say that “there shall be an Inter-State Commission”. That we do have a prime minister and don’t have an inter-state commission reflects the way relevant people have used the words in the constitution.
What did the constitution writers think they were doing?
The constitution was put together by many hands over ten years. The qualifications for candidature were drafted by the Tasmanian attorney-general, Andrew Inglis Clark, in a straightforward and inclusive way: at least 21 years old, resident of the electorate, and a subject of the Queen (which would have included New Zealanders, Canadians and Britons).
But Samuel Griffith, the Queensland prime minister (as they were then called), wanted a section on disqualification. This would cover felony, bankruptcy and:
any person who has taken an oath or made a declaration or affirmation of allegiance to a Foreign Power or done any act whereby he becomes a subject or citizen … of a Foreign Power.
So there were separate sections on qualifications and disqualifications, from different sources and reflecting different values, and they took this form in the successive drafts of the constitution.
In the smoke-filled room: the drafting committee
The final session of the constitutional convention was held in Melbourne early in 1898. There was no further discussion of what became the now-infamous section 44, and a drafting committee took over to prepare a final draft.
Edmund Barton – soon to become Australia’s first prime minister – was the chair and dominant figure. He insisted on working till 4 or 5am, even though the other two members of the committee had gone to bed and only Robert Garran, the secretary, was left to maintain the illusion of a committee.
After four days of drafting, Barton presented the convention, on its second-last day, with 400 amendments. He proposed a three-hour break for the delegates to study them, after which they could be put to the vote en bloc.
Barton assured the convention that there was only one amendment of substance – to section 44(ii). What he did not say was that section 44(i) had been completely rewritten, changing it from an active voice (“done any act whereby”) to a passive voice (“is a subject or citizen … or is entitled to”).
No attention was drawn to this change, there was no explanation of it, and there was no time for debate on any clause unless someone objected to it. The constitutional text that proved so significant more than a century later was a last-minute change, drafted in private and accepted out of weariness.
it may one day interest a curious lawyer to inquire whether judicial review has lingered with significant consequences on new words approved on trust and intended … merely ‘to put the wishes of the convention in more complete and concise form’.
As it turned out, it interested more than the curious lawyer, and created a problem which has yet to be adequately managed.
Appealing to the umpire?
The constitution was rather unclear about how these provisions would be enforced. It said both that questions about qualification could be settled by each house, but also that “any person” who believed that an elected representative was disqualified by section 44 could sue them in “any court of competent jurisdiction”.
Even then it refused to hear a case calling for Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard to produce evidence they had renounced their UK citizenship, on the basis that they had declared that they were qualified, and so the court should presume that they were. To do otherwise would be a vexation and an abuse of the court’s time.
But when the court did deign to interest itself in the matter, it took the traditional High Court view that it was not interested in the problem, or what the writers of the constitution were trying to do, but only with the possible meaning that a black-letter lawyer could squeeze from these words, irrespective of its impact on the governing of Australia.
Where does this leave us?
The situation now is that the qualifications for candidature for the Australian parliament are set by the parliament, but the disqualifications are largely set by foreign governments via the High Court. This diminishes the ability of electorates to choose the representative they want (though, when given the chance, electorates show what they think of the High Court’s action by returning the ousted members in the ensuing byelection).
And the High Court’s escapade in the china shop is not yet over, for it has yet to rule on the disqualification of those who are “entitled to” foreign citizenship, even if they have not applied for it. If the court applied the same logic that it has used in the cases already decided, this would disqualify not only any Jew, but also anyone with a Jewish parent, grandparent or spouse, all of whom are entitled to Israeli citizenship under the Israeli Law of Return.
The best course would be to start with recognising the problem, rather than searching for a preferred solution. In contemporary Australia, identities are often complex, and citizenship entitlements may be multiple and overlapping. How these are to be recognised in the qualifications for candidature demands a period of public discussion culminating in political action.
The only way we could get this is to take the matter out of the hands of the High Court and foreign governments and return the task of defining qualifications and disqualifications for candidature to parliament. This could be done by adding to section 44 the phrase “until the parliament otherwise provides”, which is used in section 30 on qualifications, and at a number of other points in the constitution.
This would be a logical and constitutional response to the political problem that has landed on us. If the five main parties in the parliament (all of which have had their parliamentary representation threatened by the High Court’s actions) supported a referendum to achieve this change, it would probably be carried.
The voters, too, as they showed in New England and Bennelong, have had enough. They want the political leaders to lead.
Sex work was one of the major ways poor women could earn a reasonable income in the 19th century. Especially unmarried women with babies. But we don’t hear people say “my great-great-grandmother was a sex worker”. Nor do we often meet these women in our history books. Social stigma belies the importance of prostitution in providing an independent living, and even property ownership, for numerous women in this period.
Prostitution is often lumped together with crime and slums in the historical imagination, but it wasn’t illegal in gold rush Victoria. Nevertheless neighbours in the “respectable” suburbs complained if women danced in the streets or appeared without a bonnet or showed their petticoats, so the police tried to confine sex workers to particular areas.
“These women must live somewhere”, the police said in the superintendent’s 1874 report, and that “somewhere” was the Little Lon district in Melbourne CBD’s north east corner, where the “dressed girls” were kitted out and lived in the “flash brothels” under the supervision of madams, and the less expensive street-walkers took their customers to the “short-time houses” and timber cottages in the back lanes.
Clientele came from everywhere and every class, but proximity to the all-male enclave of parliament and treasury was a distinct advantage for these fancy brothels. Despite being legal, though, women had to keep quiet or risk arrest and imprisonment under laws against “disorderly behaviour” and “vagrancy”.
The area has been extensively excavated by a series of archaeological projects over the last 30 years, and our recent intensive research on the artefacts recovered (held at Museum Victoria and Heritage Victoria) is revealing much more about the brothels and the women who owned them that had disappeared from memory.
Mrs Bond’s flash brothel
The brothel owned by one Mrs Bond on Lonsdale Street was so quiet that no-one knew it was there until archaeologists dug up her back yard in 1988. The excavators speculated that the site had been a brothel and our work on the artefacts has confirmed it.
Alicia Bond arrived in Little Lon from Ireland as a widow but with a de facto husband suffering from tuberculosis. In 1862 she had three young children to support, and when her son attacked her de facto husband she reported at the trial that “she could not see her children starve”.
She “had at first taken in washing”, she said to the court, “and then had to keep a brothel to support the family”. She started by renting a back lane cottage for a brothel, and eventually bought her own house on the main street and opened a grocery shop. She then poured her earnings into buying cottages which she rented out to other sex workers.
This cover was very effective and the only reason we know about her brothel is because the artefacts recovered included an uncommonly large number of bottles (champagne (77), imported spirits (4) and absinthe (10)) amongst the rubbish in her back yard, together with over 300 oyster shells. Archaeological evidence shows Melburnians often ate oysters at this time, but they seemed particularly popular at brothels.
Such luxury items were typical of the higher class brothels, where the selection of dinner services and drinking glasses projected middle class status in order to create a familiar environment and attracted a wealthier clientele than the back lane cottages. Mrs Bond’s brothel was not in the class of Madame Brussels’, but it had at least eight rooms and a prominent Lonsdale Street frontage.
Mary Williams’s disorderly house
Around the corner and down a side street, Mary Williams rented two very basic, detached two-room cottages from Mrs Bond. Rubbish discarded in her cesspit indicates a very different class of brothel. There were no imported champagne or absinthe bottles here, only beer/wine bottles (90), two gin/schnapps bottles, one cognac bottle and 165 oyster shells.
Mary came from Ireland via a brief marriage in Adelaide, but in 1870, when she was still in her twenties, she left South Australia with George Williams and found herself in Little Lon. Within months George was in prison for theft and in 1872 Mary was described by a policeman as a “drunkard” running one of the most disorderly houses in the lane. She had two babies while she was there, but both died in infancy.
Mary Williams’ brothel doubtless attracted less well-to-do clients than Mrs Bond’s and Madame Brussels’, but sex work provided her with a better standard of living than domestic service or factory work could have done.
A working community
Sex work in the Little Lon district was fraught with dangers, but it also had its upside. Women worked on their own, with friends, or in brothels run by madams (not by men). There was a community of support around the women, often including relatives and the publicans, pawn brokers, grocers and dressmakers they patronised.
Both sides of the coin are evident in the story of Mary Murray, who rented one of Mrs Bond’s cottages. She died after being badly beaten by a client, but it was a friend who took her to hospital. The women relied on each other and there are many other stories of support. For example, when Mary Williams went into labour, she was attended by a neighbour.
For some women in this era, sex work was about survival, but for others it was a way of life that offered a rare measure of income and independence. Wages for the kind of domestic work available to women with children (like Mrs Bond) were extremely low, and even lower for girls. In 1878 two young women earning 12 shillings a week as domestic servants told a policeman their wages “wouldn’t keep them in boots”, and they earned more from street work on their nights off.
After her de facto husband’s death, Mrs Bond raised her three sons on the proceeds of her brothel. At the same time, she poured her earnings into property, living and running her grocery/brothel in one house, and renting others to sex workers like Mary Williams and Mary Murray. When Mrs Bond died her property portfolio would have been the envy of many.
This era of relative independence for female sex workers was not to last. The idea of “respectability” was growing and groups like the Salvation Army and the church missions saw prostitution as primarily a moral issue rather than an economic one.
Soliciting in the streets was criminalised in 1891, and the Police Offences Act 1907 made it illegal for landlords and madams to profit from prostitution. This effectively put the flash brothels out of business and sent Victoria into an era of protection rackets and women working under the surveillance and control of men.
Are you an academic with an idea for our sexual histories series? Please contact email@example.com if so.
I started this piece towards the end of October 2017, so it really hasn’t taken me very long to do. This is a James Himsworth design (‘Jewels of the Orient’) and once framed will go on my wall next to the Samurai I worked some years ago.
Now, I just need to decide which piece to do next.
‘Everybody has a story and a history. Here I offer mine with a memoir of my body and my hunger .’
This memoir was recommended to me, and when I picked it up I knew nothing about Roxane Gay. I read that Roxane, born 28 October 1974, is the daughter of prosperous Haitian immigrants to the USA. She is 6’3” (190.5 centimetres) tall, and at her heaviest weighed 577 pounds (261.7 kilograms). Who is this woman, and why is her story important?
I found this memoir is both about being fat, and how our experiences (particularly traumatic experiences) can shape our lives. Roxane Gay was raped as a twelve-year old. She did not tell anyone and responded by eating: ‘I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe.’ While I understand that response, my heart ached for the twelve-year old girl who thought that she needed to punish herself, who thought that by being fat (and therefore less attractive) she’d be less visible and therefore safe.
There’s no weight loss success story here. Success takes a different form as Ms Gay writes about her experiences, about her body and what has happened to it, and how she views it. Alongside the personal journey, Ms Gay writes about perceptions of women, about what is seen as attractive and desirable.
‘Why do we view the boundaries people create for themselves as challenges ?’
I agree with much of what Ms Gay writes about the various forms hunger can take and the unrealistic expectations placed on so many women. Women are frequently criticised for their looks, their weight and their shape. It’s logical to conclude that a woman’s body is her own responsibility. But what does that responsibility entail? I need to think more about that. I need to think about my own response to weight issues, about what is healthy.
Ms Gay writes that: ‘Writing this book is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done .’
I can believe that. This kind of self-analysis is incredibly difficult and confronting. For me, this book is a starting point, an invitation to think. Some hunger can never really be satisfied.
‘Edie had a plan. She’d written it in her notebook and once something was written in her notebook, Edie knew it would happen.’
This novel opens in Ballarat, on Sunday 5 November 1905. Edie Cottingham is 19 years old, living with her parents. While some of the local gossips consider Edie too outspoken, too modern and too stubborn to get a husband, Edie’s plan is to marry Theo Hooley. Theo plays the organ at the church Edie and her family attend. He’s a quiet man, a veteran of the Boer War. Edie and Theo form an understanding, and Theo will visit the Cottingham home to ask Paul Cottingham for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Theo’s mother, Lilly, is delighted.
But Edie’s mother dies, leaving Paul with a new daughter, Gracie, and Edie with a new set of responsibilities. How can Edie marry Theo, and leave?
Theo is patient. He’s prepared to wait for Edie. Every Sunday at three, he calls on Edie, with a rose. Every Sunday, Edie refuse to walk around the lake with him. Every Sunday, Theo decides to wait longer. Many in the town are fascinated. How long will Theo wait? Will Edie change her mind as Gracie becomes older? It seems like Theo is prepared to wait for ever. But Theo and Edie are not the only characters in this novel and theirs are not the only stories to be told. Lives are about to be changed, first by an unexpected event and then by the onset of the Great War.
This novel spans the period from 1905 to 1924, and the story will take some unexpected turns. Beth, the Cottingham’s maidservant will make several critical decisions, and Gracie will continue to charm everyone with her delightful smile. Theo will leave Australia to fight in the Great War, other characters will enter the story.
This is not a typical romance, although there are certainly romantic elements. Patience is a central theme, as is a sense of duty and family obligation. The world changes in many ways during and after the Great War and people change as well.
‘A week could be a very long time. It could take from one Sunday afternoon to the following Saturday and a whole life could be lived in the middle.’
There are so many components to this story, so many pieces that fit together. I’m finding it difficult to assemble the right words to do the novel justice. At times I was frustrated by decisions made, by inaction (so often followed by dutiful reaction) that I thought I’d stop reading. Then an image would take and hold my attention, or there’d be a reminder of life in regional centres when two of my grandparents were of a similar age to Edie. And once again I’d be swept up in the novel. Just when I thought I’d worked it out, there’s be another twist to negotiate.
This is by no means a straightforward romance, but it is an interesting (if at times frustrating) and ultimately rewarding read.
‘Come to Paradise Island and leave your cares behind .’
Anna, Sue, Bianca and Rachael each see an advertisement for Paradise Island, a luxury resort in tropical North Queensland. Each of the women has a different reason for seeing a holiday on Paradise Island as attractive. Anna, in her early 60s, sees an opportunity to rekindle romance in her marriage to Ken. Sue, about to turn 50, is single after a failed marriage and wonders if she’ll ever experience romantic love. Bianca, just married, hopes that a romantic holiday will help her husband Joel overcome problems with intimacy. Rachael and her husband Harry have not had a holiday alone in ten years of marriage: an opportunity for a holiday without their three children would be marvellous!
Will they all find what they are seeking on Paradise Island? Will a week of sand, sex and sun change their lives?
There’s a lot to like in Ms Ollman’s novel and while certain aspects are predictable, that’s part of the comfort of an escapist read. It’s a quick, easy read, even though it’s over 400 pages. But, like many self-published novels, it really needs editing. It is one thing to substitute ‘ridicules’ for ‘ridiculous’, to have a ‘fibular’ instead of a ‘fibula’, to have ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’ but when occasionally ‘Harry’ becomes ‘Jack’, ‘Lily’ becomes ‘Ruby’ and ‘’Bianca’ is referred to as ‘Rachael’ it becomes annoying. I chuckled at ‘ante depressants’ but I’m fairly sure that it was really ‘anti depressants’. And while ‘making love to venerable women’ could be a worthy objective, making love to vulnerable women wouldn’t be. What do you think?
Does editing matter if the story is good? It does to me, and if it does to you, then you may also find aspects of this novel irritating. Consider this sentence, quoted as written:
‘She’d see a load of different area’s Yellow Pages in Reception and decided she would go there after lunch and look up a Specialist, if they had a Sydney copy.’ (pages 223-224)
The problem for me is that once I start focussing on poor editing, it jerks me out of the story and reduces my enjoyment of it. Not very romantic. But I am keen to find ‘Thingwall Beach’ near Wollongong (although I wonder if it’s really ‘Thirroul’). Ms Ollman has set the book up nicely for another romantic instalment and, yes, I will probably read it.
‘There are no complete secrets in Homeville. Everybody knows part of the story.’
In 1932, Bead Baker was murdered in Homeville, Virginia. There was plenty of speculation, but the murder was never solved. Forty years later, in 1972, Bead Baker’s granddaughter Little Mary is found murdered on her front porch. Who killed Little Mary, and why?
Little Mary’s friend, Cotton Lee Penn, becomes involved in the investigation at the request of Attorney Max Mayfair. Mayfair has been retained by Little Mary’s fiancé Walker because he’s afraid he’ll be blamed for the murder. Cotton Lee accepts the request: while she thinks Walker may be guilty, she’s convinced that there is a connection between the two murders.
Cotton Lee Penn is an intelligent and attractive woman. She survived a childhood bout of polio which left her with a limp and a disfigured leg. Many of the townspeople, unable to see beyond Cotton Lee’s physical disability, underestimate her. Naturally, Cotton Lee uses this to her advantage.
‘You don’t ever keep your place, do you, Cotton Lee? You always try to be more than you are.’
The story shifts between 1932 and 1972. As Cotton Lee investigates the events around both murders, we come to know more about the lives of Bead and Little Mary, more about who might have murdered each of them, and why. The more Cotton Lee digs, the more secrets or partial secrets she uncovers. The lives of members of the Baker family, the black servants who work for them and the townspeople they knew. As the story shifts back and forth, it becomes clear that there’s more than one suspect and more than one motive to be considered. So many secrets for such a small town; so much kept hidden; so many assumptions about individuals based on rumour or skin colour. And a couple of nasty people as well: especially Sharp Dorn, the local minister in 1932. All of this leads to tension in the present, as some townspeople want the past left alone.
‘Maybe the past is alive and well in the present.’
I found this novel intriguing. While I was happy, by the end, to know who killed whom and why, it was the journey to that knowledge I most enjoyed. One of the reasons that this journey works so well is that many of the suspects in 1972 are also connected in some way to 1932, and there are several possibilities. There’s a view here of racism, violence and sexism that is uncomfortable but realistic. Cotton Lee Penn is an interesting character, able to tease facts out of rumour, able to uncover information because most people see her physical limitations rather than her enquiring mind. An unlikely hero.
I understand that this novel is the first in a series to feature Cotton Lee Penn. I’ll certainly be looking out for the next in the series.
Note: My thanks to the author, Tower Lowe, for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel for review purpose.