The stories keep on coming, the stories, I mean, of indigenous children stolen from their families and what happened to them afterwards. I’ve posted on Carmel Bird’s compilation of stories from the Bringing them home report, The stolen children: Their stories, and also on Ali Cobby Eckermann’s memoir Too afraid to cry. Now it’s Marie Munkara’s turn with her excruciatingly honest, but also frequently laugh-out-loud-funny memoir, Of ashes and rivers that run to the sea.
Late in her memoir, Munkara learns that she was born “under a tree on the banks of the Mainoru River in Western Arnhem Land.” But, what she writes next is shocking
‘Too white,’ my Nanna Clara said as they checked me out by the camp-fire light, and everyone knew what that meant. Back in those days any coloured babies in my family were given to the crocs because dealing with these things right…
‘Here in this garden was the proof: while some lives ended, the rest of the world marched relentlessly on.’
There are two strands to the story within this novel. The first, set in the 1880s features Elizabeth Trebithick in Cornwall. Elizabeth’s father was seeking a rare plant in South America. The plant is considered to have miraculous powers, and after her father dies, Elizabeth takes up his quest. Elizabeth, with her servant Daisy, travels from Cornwall to Valparaiso in Chile. The second strand of the story starts in Sydney in 2017. Anna Jenkins’s grandmother has recently died, and Anna is renovating the house which her grandmother left to her. As walls and shelves are removed, Anna discovers first a notebook and then a mysterious metal box containing a sketchbook of watercolours, a photograph, and a small bag of seeds. Anna is a botanist and is intrigued by her find.
Two different journeys in two separate centuries. We accompany Elizabeth as she travels from Cornwall to Valparaiso, while she looks for this wondrous plant, and as she finds a new life. We accompany Anna as she travels to London and then to Cornwall in search of answers. Who was responsible for the watercolours, and how did they end up in her grandmother’s home? And, as we accompany these two women on their separate journeys, we see some of the best and worst of human nature on display.
‘She had much to find out and she must tread carefully.’
I found this novel intriguing. For me, working out the connections between the two stories became less important as I turned the pages. I wanted to know what happened to Elizabeth, and I wanted Anna to find happiness. While some aspects of the story are sad, the presentation of the story held my attention from beginning to end.
‘There are always flowers for those that want to see them.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Hachette Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
Zap! Zap! Zap! The machine gun bullets thudded into Jamie’s knapsack …’
This novel, the first in a trilogy, follows the friendship that develops between Jamie Munro and Jack ‘Jacko’ O’Brien during the Syrian campaign against the Vichy French in World War II. Both are serving with the Australian Army when the story opens: Jamie is an officer, Jacko is an NCO. Their friendship and then a working partnership begins when Jacko rescues Jamie after he is wounded. Jamie is from New South Wales while Jacko identifies as part-Aboriginal, a Warramunga from the Tennant Creek region.
After Jamie recovers from his injuries, Jacko and Jamie become part of an MI6 team in Cairo. The main objective of this team is to disrupt German operations in the desert west of Cairo. Local entertainers are some of the undercover agents used, misleading radio messages using German codes are sent, and Jacko meets Monique a beautiful young French-Syrian woman.
When the desert war is finished, Jamie and Jacko are assigned to wartime intelligence work in Southeast Asia. Once the Pacific War concludes, Jamie and Jacko are involved in the Darwin operations of the Commonwealth Investigation Service. While on the trail of suspected German agents, they discover a connection with someone they had known in Cairo.
What can I say about this novel? I dislike references to Aboriginal people as ‘half-caste’, although I appreciate that the term may have been considered less offensive in the 1940s than it is now. While I found the story easy to follow, there were quite a few people (and quite a lot of action) to keep track of. I liked that Jacko and Jamie were equally important in the story, which demonstrated very clearly the novel’s central themes of loyalty and mateship.
As soon as I finished, I started reading the second novel in the trilogy, because I wanted to know what would happen next.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and BooksGoSocial for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
This is Anna Mazzola’s second novel, following her debut, The Unseeing, which I read last year. There are some similarities between the two – they are both set in the 19th century and they are both inspired by true crimes – but the stories are very different and, of the two, I found this new one much more enjoyable.
It’s 1857 and Audrey Hart is desperate to get away from London following a traumatic experience at the orphanage where she has been volunteering. Audrey’s mother, who disappeared while out walking many years earlier, had an interest in folklore, so when Audrey sees a job advertised for a collector of folk tales on the Isle of Skye, she applies at once. After arriving on the island and meeting her new employer, Miss Buchanan, she becomes aware that her task is going to be much more difficult than she had expected…
It means the death of Fairfax and is the most consequential change in Australian media ownership in 31 years.
It also means that three of Australia’s best and biggest newspapers – The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review – are now subsumed into a media conglomerate whose editorial culture is characterised by mediocre journalism.
Nine’s news bulletins consist largely of police stories with a tincture of politics, and highlights of colourful or violent events overseas.
Its current affairs program, A Current Affair, is a formulaic procession of stories about consumer rorts and personal tragedies, enlivened occasionally by such misadventures as the attempted kidnapping of two children in Beirut.
So there is a huge question mark over the future editorial quality of the newspapers.
A particularly pressing question is: what will happen to The Age’s investigative unit?
It is led by two of the best investigative reporters Australia has produced, Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker.
In addition to breaking an extraordinary range of major stories on subjects like organised crime and scandals in the banking industry, they have developed a highly successful collaboration with the ABC’s Four Corners team.
It seems very unlikely Nine would allow this collaboration to continue, since it involves a rival television channel.
There is also a question about editorial independence.
Fairfax has a charter of editorial independence, which all owners since 1990 have signed up to. Will Nine sign up to it? Will the charter have any meaning when the newspapers are owned by a company whose chairman, Peter Costello, was treasurer in the Liberal-National Coalition government of former Prime Minister John Howard?
The answers to these questions will not be known for some time. They will depend largely on who is given editorial control of the combined operation. Since the Nine CEO, Hugh Marks, is to be CEO of the combined operation, it seems more likely than not that it will be a Nine executive who calls the editorial shots, too.
The takeover also means a further loss of diversity in an already highly concentrated media-ownership landscape. The big players are now down to four: News Corp, Nine, Seven West Media and the ABC.
And it is almost certain to mean the loss of yet more journalists’ jobs.
Since 2012, more than 3,000 jobs have been lost across Australian journalism. Yet, if the takeover is really going to represent “compelling value” for shareholders, as Fairfax chairman Nick Falloon says, then newsroom “synergies” – to borrow the corporate jargon – are likely to be essential.
The Fairfax company’s death throes have been painful and prolonged.
They began in 1987, when the younger son of Sir Warwick Fairfax, “young Warwick”, privatised it. That meant buying out all the public shareholders, for which purpose “young Warwick” borrowed AU$1.6 billion from the National Australia Bank.
Even with the revenue from the “rivers of gold” then flowing in from the classified ads of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, “young Warwick” could not meet his debts to the bank, which promptly sold him up.
In a highly politicised auction, during which Paul Keating and the then-Labor prime minister, Bob Hawke, sought assurances from prospective buyers concerning political outlook, the company fell into the hands of a London-based Canadian, Conrad Black.
There followed a procession of ownership changes, board reshuffles and short-lived chief executives that left the company rudderless and vulnerable.
Shortly after the turn of the millennium, when the digital revolution began to engulf the media, a weakened and incompetently managed Fairfax was ill-equipped to respond.
A series of disastrous mistakes by successive boards resulted in Fairfax missing out on opportunities to buy into the new online advertising platforms in cars, jobs and real estate.
Hubris and arrogance led incumbent board members to believe that these markets could not function without the mountains of classified advertisements carried by The Age and Herald on Saturdays.
By 2005, the shift in revenue to online platforms was discernible, and the trend has been accelerating ever since.
As a result, the company was increasingly unable to meet the demands of the share market for profit growth, and so became the object of sustained takeover speculation.
When the federal government changed the laws in September last year to allow once again cross-media ownership between newspapers, radio, television and online, speculation about a merger between Nine and Fairfax grew stronger.
Today that speculation became a reality.
The Fairfax story has all the elements of Greek tragedy: heroism in the creation of the company, then a combination of comedy, pride, stupidity, greed, arrogance and hubris to bring it down.
By the time I reach the end of Blackwall Point Road in Chiswick, the view of the harbour expands to a panorama. I’m facing north, towards the concrete arch of the Gladesville Bridge, and to the east, a glimpse of the Harbour Bridge can be seen above the trees. On this sunny day, the water sparkles, and the yachts moored on it hint at the leisurely life that is one of the city’s presiding dreams.
But there’s something in the foreground that’s distracting me from this wide harbour view. It came into sight after the final rise, where the road widens to make a bus terminus and turning-circle. A curved strip of shops, with ten concrete loops dividing up the awnings, like a row of dropped stitches.
The shopping centre was built in 1972, after a former box factory site on the headland was developed into apartment buildings in 1968…
Set in Toronto, this book was published in 1993. Three female friends, Tony (Antoinette), Charis and Roz are having lunch together when another woman enters the restaurant: Zenia, a mutual ‘friend’ who was supposed to have died several years earlier. Each of these women has her own history with Zenia, a charismatic woman who variously lied, cajoled, blackmailed and bullied her friends. The title comes from a Grimm Brothers fairytale ‘The Robber Bridegroom’ where a young woman was threatened by her betrothed and his gang of men. In an inversion of the fairytale, Zenia steals the husbands and partners of her friends.
After a too-long opening section which places the three women at the restaurant, the book then turns to each of the friends in turn. Tony is a military historian, a rare woman in a male-heavy academic field, who sees the world through her historical consciousness…
Desperate Remedies (1871) was Thomas Hardy’s first published novel, following an earlier manuscript which failed to find a publisher and was later destroyed. I love Thomas Hardy’s books and have been looking forward to reading this one as it has been described as a sensation novel, a genre of Victorian fiction that I’ve enjoyed since I first discovered authors like Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Ellen Wood, in the years before I started my blog.
At the beginning of the novel, we learn that our heroine, Cytherea Graye, was named after her father’s one true love, a woman who disappeared without explanation and left him heartbroken. Mr Graye later married and had two children – Cytherea and her brother Owen – whom he raised alone after his wife’s death. When Mr Graye himself dies, having made some poor business decisions in the final years of his life, Cytherea and…
The My Health Record opt-out period begins today, and you have until October 15 to decide whether or not to be part of the scheme. You can read the case for opting out of My Health Record here.
The My Health Record (MHR) system promises to make Australia a leader in providing citizens with access to their own health records.
The scheme gives health care professionals access to information on your medications and allergies, immunisation records, summaries of hospital and GP care, investigation reports, and advance care plans.
This information could save lives in emergencies by providing health workers with information about drug allergies, medications, and medical history. Better continuity in the management of this information would help reduce the 27% of clinical incidents in Australian hospitals currently caused by medication (mis)management.
This mirrored international experience. Many countries suffered expensive disasters in building e-health systems from the top down. E-health appeared to serve the interests of administrators, not clinicians and patients.
Not surprisingly, patients showed little interest. British critics of a similar expensive failure warned:
We need fewer grand plans and more learning communities.
The Australian experience has run the full gamut from failed top-down “grand plan” to a version that is more responsive to consumers and health professionals.
Linking up the fragmented health system
Large trials in the Nepean-Blue Mountains and North Queensland Primary Health Networks tested a more user-friendly system. In both trials, the opt-out rate was low: less than 2%. The engagement of clinicians also increased.
In the Blue Mountains fewer than 15% of GPs had registered with the PCEHR. By the end of the trial, with extensive education and training, this figure has risen to 70%.
MHR offers new possibilities for linking up the fragmented health system, making it easier to navigate. Just as importantly, it can help you to become more informed and engaged with your own health care. And better health literacy is a necessary step in shifting the balance of the system towards patients.
The Consumers’ Health Forum – a supporter of MHR – has stated that patients are:
…more likely to give permission to share their data if they understand how their data will be used and any benefits that will come from its use.
However, active participation in MHR will remain a challenge for many people, especially those who struggle with digital literacy.
Addressing security concerns
Any system that contains health information must be built on trust. Most of the criticisms of MHR rest on fears of inappropriate use or hacking of data.
However, critics have not pointed to any breach of the PCHR in its five years of operation. Rather, examples are often drawn from commercial operations which have succumbed to the temptation to commercialise data – an offence that could lead to prison under MHR.
Uncertainty is inherent in many facets of modern life, such as the use of credit card information for online purchases. Most surveys of popular attitudes towards the use of digital health information has shown a consistent, but nuanced concern.
Concerns identified in the two major trials were mainly focused on individuals’ lack of computer skills. But almost all consumers thought the benefits greatly outweighed any potential privacy risks.
The system will only succeed if concerns about protection of confidentiality are respected. A weak link is the digital skills and awareness of health practitioners, particularly GPs.
A large amount of health data is already out there in Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) data, the Australian Immunisation Register, and the Australian Organ Donor Register. These data are increasingly linked together, with great potential benefits. Data from Medicare, hospital records and other sources can be linked to improve our knowledge of causes of diseases and risk factors, and the best forms of intervention.
Rather than protesting about a horse that has long since bolted, we need more scrutiny and improvement of current systems.
MHR is a small step towards empowering patients with greater knowledge about their health. Pressures to present records in terms that are comprehensible to consumers may even take us towards interactive “learning communities” – the basis of a more people-centred health system. Better-informed patients can enable more effective communication and mutual learning from health professionals.
If you choose not to opt out of MHR, a record will be created for you automatically. You can log into the system here to set controls on who has access to your data and set restrictions on the types of data that will be included. You can change your mind at any time and close access to your data.
It’s Melbourne Writers Festival program launch day!
Having had to keep #ALLTHESECRETS for the last few months (I have had the privilege of being on the Audience Advocate committee this year), I was busting for tonight’s launch so that I could start talking events. The program is a ripper and I can’t tell you how much I love this year’s theme – ‘A matter of life and death’ (that’s Virginia Gay in the pic, launching the Festival).