Black, White and Exempt: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lives under Exemption by Lucinda Aberdeen (Editor), Jennifer A. Jones (Editor)

‘For a great part of the twentieth century one could argue that Aboriginal people operated in a police state.’

What was ‘exemption’ and what did it mean? Before I read this book, I really did not have a clear idea of what ‘exemption’ meant. From the back cover of this book:

‘In 1957, Ella Simon of Purfleet mission near Taree, New South Wales, applied for and was granted a certificate of exemption. Exemption gave her legal freedoms denied to other Indigenous Australians at that time: she could travel freely, open a bank account, and live and work where she wanted. In the eyes of the law she became a non-Aboriginal, but in return she could not associate with other Aboriginal people even her own family or community.

It ‘stank in my nostrils’ – Ella Simon 1978.

These personal and often painful histories uncovered in archives, family stories and lived experiences reveal new perspectives on exemption. Black, White and Exempt describes the resourcefulness of those who sought exemption to obtain freedom from hardship and oppressive regulation of their lives as Aboriginal Australians. It celebrates their resilience and explores how they negotiated exemption to protect their families and increase opportunities for them. The book also charts exemptees who struggled to advance Aboriginal rights, resist state control and abolish the exemption system.

Contributions by Lucinda Aberdeen, Katherine Ellinghaus, Ashlen Francisco, Jessica Horton, Karen Hughes, Jennifer Jones, Beth Marsden, John Maynard, Kella Robinson, Leonie Stevens and Judi Wickes.’

I opened the book and started reading. I kept reading, through feelings of outrage and sadness at the processes and consequences of a system designed to have people deny their indigeneity, lose connection to their family and community on the basis that ‘exemption’ was ‘good’.


‘Exemption allowed people to apply for official release from the legal provisions which constrained the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.’

Yes, people could apply. ‘Exemption’ might not always be granted, and it could be withdrawn. And this process existed in various states of Australia until the 1960s?

I have no polite, well-thought words to describe how this makes me feel. All I can suggest is that you read this book for yourself.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



A History Of The Great War by Peter McConnell

‘The Sabbath, for Mrs Mitton, was always something in the nature of a red letter day.’

Mrs Mitton is an elderly lady, when the story opens, living in her home outside Bairnsdale. She looks forward to church on Sunday, followed by her preparations for a roast dinner. And she remembers.

She remembers her parents, emigrants from Britain, farmers in East Gippsland. She remembers 1914, when as Ida Hallam and working as a shop assistant in Bairnsdale, she meets Ralph Mitton a land surveyor. Their plans to marry are put on hold when Ralph enlists to fight in the Great War. Ralph returns, a changed and damaged man. He is in constant pain because of the shrapnel fragments in his legs. He and Ida marry, they have two sons. Ralph is unable to work: he is bad-tempered and drinks too much but his pension and the money Ida makes from her needlework keeps them going.

Reading this novel transports me back sixty years, to the home of my grandparents in Launceston: net curtains catching the breeze, the wooden kitchen table scrubbed white, my grandmother’s exquisite needlework stored in the linen press. They were born around the same time as the Fittons and were each shaped by their experiences of the Great War. My grandfather was in the First AIF, he was medically discharged and returned to Tasmania before the war ended. My grandmother lost her intended husband in the conflict: my grandparents met and married in 1918.

I bring myself back to the novel, to the Fittons, to hardship and tragedy. And to Ida Fitton’s mysterious trunk in the parlour. We learn, at the end, what is in that trunk. I hoped that Ida’s work would survive long enough for her granddaughter to understand, value, and keep it.

I found this novel very moving. Yes, it is a low-key, detached telling of a story which would be repeated in many homes in every state of Australia. Ironically, I think it is the detached telling of Ida’s story which made it resonate so strongly for me. Images and mannerisms that remind me of loved ones long gone.

‘Time can never be stopped.’

And thank you, Lisa, for drawing my attention to this novel.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


The Chase by Candice Fox

‘The monsters were gone. All of them.’

A sniper threatens a bus load of civilians just within site of the Pronghorn Correctional Facility in the Nevada Desert. They will be killed unless the warden releases all the inmates.  And, because some of them have family on that bus, the staff release the prisoners. Over 600 of them, including those on death row. Death Row Supervisor Celine Osbourne, who did not release anyone, is horrified.

And so begins the biggest manhunt in US history. While some are trying to work out who masterminded this release and how much help (and from whom) they received on the inside, law enforcement forces are mobilised to recapture the fugitives.

John Kradle is one of those fugitives. This is his chance to prove his innocence – if he can stay ahead of his pursuers. Celine Osbourne is part of the pursuit. She has personal reasons for wanting to recapture John Kradle, and she knows where he will head.

The story unfolds through multiple perspectives. Some prisoners are recaptured quickly, others will leave a trail of destruction (and sometimes death) behind them. Political games will distract some law enforcement officials while conflicting intelligence reports will shape both the investigation and the hunt.

Is John Kradle innocent, and if so, how can he prove it? Will he survive? Celine Osbourne enlists a former inmate to help her track down John Kradle. While Kradle and Osbourne are the central figures, with flashbacks shedding light on each of their pasts, there are memorable characters in the mix. There is a serial killer (‘The North Nevada Strangler’) who shadows Kradle, a white supremacist with both an agenda and a following, and an elderly escapee who may look harmless, but certainly is not.

This is a standalone novel, full of action and tension. Recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



The Window Seat: Notes from a Life in Motion by Aminatta Forna

‘To fly alone as a child was my first taste of what it might feel like to be on my own in the world.’

What can I tell you about this beautiful collection of non-fiction essays? Ms Forna writes about the past, of significant events, of her own experiences. She invites you to think about colonialism, to revisit your own childhood experiences while reading hers. I see Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979 through different eyes, I think about the importance of sleep while reading of Ms Forna’s experiences of insomnia.

‘Sleep left me in the year 2001. I realise now that my sleeplessness coincided with my decision to become a writer.’

 I am taken on journeys around the world (in the window seat, of course) and am reminded of the importance of ancestry and the pain of displacement. I see a different view of the Trump inauguration and read about the only qualified vet in private practice in Freetown. Diverse topics indeed.

I finished this compilation of beautifully written reflective pieces, take a deep breath, and return to my own world.

So far, the only other work of Ms Forna’s I have read is ‘Happiness’. I have added Ms Forna’s other books to my reading list.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Grove Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Franklin’s Felony (Sandal Castle Medieval Thrillers Book 3) by Keith Moray

‘So much bloodshed this poor country has had these last few years.’

1324, Kilkenny, Ireland. On 3 November 1324, Petronella of Meath is burned at the stake as a witch.  Her former mistress Alice Kyteler and her companion, Robin Artisson, have disappeared. As she dies, Petronella sees a face.

‘May you be the hand that will avenge me, was one of her final thoughts.’

1327, Yorkshire, England.

Edward II has been deposed. His young son, Edward III is now king, guided by his mother Queen Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer. The country is divided about this.

Sir Richard Lee, Circuit Judge of the King’s Northern Realm, has a lot on his mind. His wife, Wilhelmina is pregnant, his mother-in-law, the Lady Alicia, has recently died and his father-in-law, Sir Thomas is unwell. Sir Richard is troubled about a recent court case: was he too harsh in sentencing a man to hang? Was there more to the case? Sir Richard calls an Irish physician, Dr Brandon Flynn to treat his father-in-law.

Then, amidst rumours of witchcraft, a series of sudden deaths occur. Sir Richard is convinced that there is more to each case, and he and his assistant Hubert of Loxley investigate. They’ll need to uncover more than a few secrets before they discover the truth.

This is the third book in Mr Moray’s excellent Sandal Castle Medieval Thriller series and is just as absorbing as the others. The descriptions of medieval medical treatments, the places and the people bring the story to life. Sir Richard is starting to feel like an old friend. A very old friend.  If you enjoy medieval mystery, then I recommend this series.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Sapere Books for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Tussaud by Belinda Lyons-Lee

‘Touching the dead brought good luck.’

Paris, 1794. Marie Tussaud, though to be a royal sympathiser, has avoided the guillotine by agreeing to make death masks of those famous people, including Marie Antoinette, who were executed during the Reign of Terror.

‘Surely, if she could endure just a little longer, there would come a time when she could win a game of her own design.’

Sixteen years later, Philidor, a famous magician, offers her the chance to accompany him to London. His plan is that they will create a wax automaton, which will bring them both money and fame. Marie Tussaud knows he is a charlatan, but the possibilities offered by this opportunity are too good to resist.

The opening night of their performance (the Phantasmagoria) is a disaster: Philidor allows the show to go on for too long, and the wax on the automaton melts. This disaster places the pair under financial pressure, and they are being closely watched by their Baker Street landlady Mrs Druce. But then, an unlikely lifeline is offered.

William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Portland, invites them to his estate, Welbeck. In return for a private commission, he offers them accommodation and the use of his underground ballroom for a new show. He wants them to make, to his specifications, a wax automaton in the likeness of a girl named Elanor.

What a delightful gothic novel this is, full of mysterious secrets, unexpected twists and turns. Who was Elanor, and what happened to her? And why is the Duke being so secretive? Can Marie Tussaud keep one step (or more) ahead of Philidor?

Yes, I know it is fiction, but I really enjoyed Ms Lyons-Lee’s depiction of Marie Tussaud as a strong, determined woman, clear-eyed about the world she was part of and the people she was working with. Except, perhaps, for her involvement with Regington.

An assured debut novel and a very enjoyable read contained within a stunning cover, reminiscent of the toxic green wallpaper popular during the era.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



Debesa, the story of Frank and Katie Rodriguez by Cindy Solonec

‘As I read through my father’s diaries, I often wondered how he ever managed to fit everything in .’

Debesa is a rich family history set in the West Kimberley region of Western Australia. Ms Solonec starts her family history in the 1880s, when her maternal great-grandfather, Jimmy Casim arrived in Fremantle from India. He moved north, met, and lived with Nigena woman, Lucy Muninga on Yeeda Station near Derby. Her father, Francisco (Frank) Rodriguez, arrived in Fremantle on 17 August 1937 as a Benedictine novitiate. He met Katie Fraser, formerly a novitiate at a convent for ‘black’ women, in 1946 and they married later that year. Not everyone supported their marriage. In Australia in the 1940s interracial marriages were opposed by many.

But from 1946 until Katie’s death in 1994, Frank and Katie worked together. They worked hard, raised a family, established their small sheep station at Debesa and remained connected to their own cultures.

‘Regardless of the overriding thrust by governments that all Australians would eventually live an Anglo-Australian way of life, our parents continued to embrace their respective cultures.’

This is an uplifting story of love, of cultural difference, of devotion and hard work set against a background of social challenge and change. Ms Solonec writes of two mutually respectful people working together to provide the best they could for their family and their community. An inspirational story drawn from Frank Rodriguez’s diaries, research and family interviews conducted by Ms Solonec.

Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



Triple Cross (Kate Henderson #3) by Tom Bradby

‘What do you think I should do?’

Kate Henderson has left MI6 and is attempting to rebuild her life in the south of France with her children, Fiona, and Gus, who are hoping to see her reunite with their father Stuart. A visit from the British Prime Minister changes her plans.

A Russian agent has come forward with news that the Prime Minister has been set up, that there is a special KGB unit with a single purpose. This unit exists to process intelligence provided by ‘Agent Dante’. And the information that Agent Dante provides clearly has come from senior levels within MI6. If it isn’t the Prime Minister, who is it?

The Prime Minister wants her help (again) to prove that he is not a Russian agent. Kate wants to say no, but he makes her an offer that she cannot refuse.

Once again, Kate is drawn back into the high stakes, dangerous world of espionage. There is a Russian agent at the heart of British Intelligence, and there are a couple of possibilities. It could be the Prime Minister, it could be the current head of MI6 or his predecessor, or is it someone else? Kate has both limited time and limited resources to try to find the agent. The Prime Minister’s position is under threat, as are the lives of those who try to help Kate.

Another fine novel from Mr Bradby, with more than enough red herrings to keep the reader busy. While it is possible to make sense of this novel as a standalone, I recommend reading the three books of the series in order, for the character development and the action.

I finished the novel, took a deep breath, and wondered: is this really the end?

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Transworld Publishers for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison by Meredith Jaffé

‘When Sharon enters the room, Derek doesn’t know where to look.’

Derek Brown, a prisoner at the Yarrandarrah Correctional Centre for embezzling funds, learns that his daughter Debbie is getting married when his (former) sister-in-law Sharon visits him. Derek’s been imprisoned for five years and still has two to serve. Sharon is the first visitor he has had except for his lawyer. Derek writes to his daughter every week, but he has never heard back from her. Debbie is 21, and she is planning to marry in seven months.

Derek cannot be present and has no money. How can he prove to his daughter that he loves her?

Derek is part of a prison sewing group called Backtackers, a group run by a charity which teaches male prisoners quilting and embroidery. Jane is the teacher for Yarrandarrah, and Derek seeks her advice.

Eventually, with time ticking by and after discussion and agonising about what to do, the Backtackers decide to make a wedding dress. At times, Derek is the least committed to this project but other men in the group are caught up by the idea. Decisions need to be made about fabric and the length of the veil, and Jane approaches Lorraine and Debbie to try to get Debbie’s measurements.

But there are plenty of twists in this tale. Being part of Backtackers is a privilege, and men move into and out of the group as privileges are revoked or transfers occur. Can Jane win Lorraine and Debbie over? Can the prisoners work together for long enough to make and embroider a wedding dress and veil?

I really enjoyed this novel: watching Derek become more self-aware, realising that the other inmates had more in common with him than he thought. There are a few laugh out loud moments as well as both romance and tragedy as this story unfolds.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Publishers Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



You Need to Know by Nicola Moriarty

‘Secrets can be dangerous.’

Sydney, Australia. An extended family is heading away for the Christmas holidays. There’s Jill, the family matriarch, her three sons, Pete, Tony and Darren, her daughters-in-law Mimi and Andrea and her grandchildren Callie, Tara, and twin girls Elliot and James. Jill, recently widowed, is still grieving her husband Frank’s unexpected death.

The story unfolds through multiple points of view, mostly in the month leaving up to Christmas. Each of the families has issues. Mimi is struggling with four children, especially as her eldest daughter Callie has become remote and moody. Tony and Andrea have decided not to have children, but Andrea might want to revisit that. Darren’s partner has left him, although he has not yet accepted it. Each of the brothers is a published author, but right now both Tony and Darren are struggling to write. Every family has secrets: some secrets are more toxic, more dangerous than others.

Jill insists that the family travel in convoy: she is trying to keep them all safe. But an accident along the way leads to tragedy, and to some painful secrets being revealed.

Ms Moriarty has delivered a fast paced, utterly engrossing story full of surprises. Highly recommended if you enjoy domestic drama with a twist.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Publishers Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith