‘Hesse slipped his board into the rack on the side of his bike and swept down the Russell Street Hill.’
Seventeen-year-old Hesse Templeton lives with his mother Imogen at Shelbourne, a small coastal town in Victoria. The town is dominated by an ageing coal-fired power station and a coal mine which are two of the town’s major employers. The power station is for sale. Some members of the community, increasingly concerned about the impact of climate change, would like to see both the coal mine and the power station closed.
Hesse’s mother, Imogen, is a member of the local environmental group lobbying for closure. Hesse’s major interest, outside his weekend work at the surf shop and keeping up with his schoolwork, is surfing (and dodging the town bully). That is until he meets Fenna de Vries, a new exchange student from The Netherlands. Along with his interest in Fenna, Hesse’s awareness of climate issues is growing.
‘He was writing an essay on climate change for English. The more research he’d done, the angrier he’d become.’
But as Hesse knows, closure of the mine and power station will lead to job losses. And those job losses will have a direct effect on some of his friends and their parents. Hesse is initially reluctant to get involved in the campaign but decides that he must make a stand. Fenna encourages him. A protest meeting is arranged, and Hesse agrees to speak:
‘My name’s Hesse, and I’m part of the generation that’s going to have to’—he stopped to clear his throat and swallow hard—to live with the effects of climate change.’
The town divides. Hadron, the owner of the power station has been a supporter of many activities in the town, and job losses loom. A brick is thrown through Imogen’s window, and Hesse is threatened with violence. But footage of the meeting (filmed by Fenna on her ‘phone) is shared to social media and goes viral. Suddenly the issue of the pollution caused by the Shelbourne coal mine and power station is no longer local.
This is a terrific YA novel which deals realistically with the local challenges of climate change. I can imagine how those locals employed by Hadron would feel, and I liked the way the teenagers made their feelings known. There’s a touch of romance as well, and humour, as well as evocative descriptions of surfing.
This is the first of Mr Smith’s novels I have read, and I’ll be seeking out his earlier novels.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Text Publishing for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
Calabria, Italy, 1936. Guilia Tallariti lives with her family (parents and four siblings) in a remote farming village. She dreams of being a healer, like her grandmother, but her father is determined to see each of his three daughters married. Guilia spends some time at a monastery where, unknown to her father, she learns some of the skills of healing with a famous herbalist. But after she returns to the village, she is married at seventeen and then widowed two years later.
Beyond Calabria, Mussolini and his National Fascist Party are in power in Italy and the world is edging towards World War II. Calabria is no longer safe from the fascist agenda of northern Italy and Guilia’s family will be torn apart. Guilia remarries: her husband, father and brother are called up to serve in the armed forces. By now, Guilia is a trusted healer: even her father has accepted her skills.
And after the war, many of those who have survived can no longer make a living on their farms. Many will emigrate.
Ms Blanchard has drawn on her grandfather’s life in writing this novel: deftly drawing history into fiction and enabling the reader to experience the customs of Calabria and the challenges faced. I enjoyed this novel and learned more about the impact of Mussolini and of World War II in this part of Italy. The characters and story held my attention from beginning to end.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
‘Eve Monk would never forget where she was and what she was doing the day she got the call to say her husband had been killed.’
That was in 1988. And now, in the middle of 2021, Eve is one of the matriarchs of South Australia’s (fictional) Wallaby Bay and a long-time partner in the Wallaby Bay prawn fishing fleet. Town gossip has seen Eve withdraw from her position on the town’s committee and now her partner Spiro wants to sell out. Eve is not sure, and then a shoulder injury shatters her independence.
Lucy, her husband Alec and children Noah and Poppy have moved to Wallaby Bay. Alec’s parents live there as well, which is helpful. But while Lucy is grateful for their support because Alec is a FIFO worker, she really doesn’t want to rely on them too much. Lucy is a very protective mother. While Lucy has a nursing background, she’s reluctant to return to nursing. For now, she is happy to do cleaning work.
Julia, Eve’s goddaughter, has been working on a research project in Melbourne. But, with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, priorities have changed leaving Julia out of a job. While she considers what to do next, Julia decides to surprise Eve by visiting Wallaby Bay. Julia has had one failed relationship, and wary of commitment, she is also seeking a break from her current partner Glen while she works out whether she wants the relationship to continue.
Three very different women, drawn together by circumstances. Eve needs assistance after her shoulder injury and then after the surgery required to fix it. Lucy is employed by Eve to help her, but she and Julia really do not get on. Each of the women is battling past demons. As the women talk to each other about their fears and concerns, an unlikely but supportive friendship is formed.
I really enjoyed this novel, with its coverage of topical issues (including the Covid-19 pandemic, the challenges faced by FIFO families, and life after retirement). Ms Stringer brings her characters to life, as well as the sometimes claustrophobic ‘feel’ of a small town.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin Australia, HQ Fiction for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
Failing at college and lacking any other clear direction, Chris Martin’s obsession with Alexander the Great led him to join the US Marines. Chris had to work hard at boot camp but thinking about Alexander helped keep him focussed. While his family supported him, they didn’t understand his desire to join the Marines. After a deployment to Iraq, Chris and his unit were deployed to Marjah ‘the bleeding ulcer’ of Afghanistan.
‘It finally sunk in. This is it. I’m in a war.’
It is this part of Chris’s memoir which captured and held my attention. His account of fighting in Afghanistan: the logistical problems of obtaining sufficient fuel and ammunition, the shortcomings of the military hierarchy, the difficulty in fighting the Taliban. As well, Chris describes the heat, the fleas, the difficulty in telling friend from foe amongst the Afghanis. And then there is the camaraderie of brothers in arms, the tragic loss of life and devastating injuries.
Chris Martin’s account of his journey across Iraq and Afghanistan is worth reading. This is not an official history: it is one man’s account of his experiences. It is bittersweet reading this after the recent disastrous withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. All those brave soldiers who fought in a war which sadly seems to have achieved nothing.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Notional Books for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
With the AUKUS treaty, Australia may have hitched its fate to a nation soon to be led by people who make Trump seem competent. Britain and Australia’s democracies are under threat; America’s future is in dire peril. In 2024, there is a strong chance that the damage done to US political systems, courts, media and Continue reading »
In this memoir, first published in 2011, Mary Groves writes of her life in the Top End of Australia. When she was fourteen, Mary and her family moved from Melbourne to the Northern Territory. The family included Mary, her parents and seven of her siblings.
‘It took our family convoy ten days, in two cars, to travel well over 2000 miles from our corner store in South Melbourne to our general store at Mataranka in the Top End of Australia in 1959.’
In a fascinating memoir, which ends in 1999 when Mary moves to Queensland, she tells of the challenges and hardships she and her family faced. In her early 20s, Mary met Joe Groves – a cattleman, horse breaker, drover, and rodeo rider. They fell in love, had four children, and worked together on several different cattle stations across northern Australia. The nature of Joe’s work meant that he and Mary were often separated, and the isolation meant that Mary acquired an array of survival skills.
I read of the challenges Mary faced and admired the humour with which she (mostly) faced them. The stories are peopled with interesting characters and ingenious solutions to issues. Mary and Joe worked hard, as did their children. I was pleased to read that they found some success along the way.
In her author’s note, Mary writes: ‘I have not used real names in these stories and the terminology I use is that of the 1960s and 1970s. I apologise for any remarks that may seem sexist or racist; they are not intended to be derogatory, but were the terms used by the black and white people in the Territory in my time there.’
Recommended reading for anyone interested in life on Australian cattle stations in the second half of the twentieth century.
Anna, aged 62, is the sole survivor of a terrorist attack in Sydney. Eleven others were murdered. Nat, aged 35, is an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan. Both are suffering because of their experiences; both have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Once Anna is well enough to leave hospital, she retreats into herself, into her home as a fortress. Anna is widowed with adult children and while they try to help her, the only comfort she can find is with her young grandson. Nat’s wife Gen is worried about him. He has outbursts of anger which he cannot explain. Why can’t he tell her what is worrying him?
Nat’s initial approach to Anna is rebuffed: she thinks he is just another person who does not understand what she has been though. But a chance meeting on the beach leads to a tentative friendship. And as their friendship builds, Nat takes what he believes is a terrible risk: he tells Anna his story. There is more to the story than this as you will find if you read it for yourself.
‘They told us we were going over to stamp out terrorism and keep Australia safe … and … well, we didn’t.’
Reading this novel barely weeks after the US and its allies have withdrawn from Afghanistan, leaving the country once again in the hands of the Taliban makes this an even more uncomfortable read. Ms Frith’s novel takes us beyond the impact of terrorist acts on the individuals concerned into an appreciation of the concomitant impact on their loved ones. Anna’s family feel helpless, as does Nat’s wife. Anna and Nat (eventually) can talk to each other because their shared experience gives them understanding. Words are sometimes not enough.
There is no happy ever after ending here but there is hope that with the right support the future will be more comfortable for both Anna and Nat and their families.
I was deeply moved by this story and after finishing my review copy, bought a copy for myself. This is Ms Frith’s first novel, and I recommend it highly.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
The announcement of a new strategic alliance between Australia, the US and UK (AUKUS) has caught many by surprise. Besides France, which reacted with fury over Australia’s scrapping of a major submarine deal with a French company, few countries were as surprised as Australia’s neighbours to the north, the ASEAN members.
In particular, Indonesia and Malaysia have come out strongly against Australia’s plan to acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines with the help of the US and UK. Even Singapore, Australia’s most reliable ally in the region, has expressed concern.
The Afghanistan debacle has left a bad taste among many Indo-Pacific countries, and some are wondering if the timing of the AUKUS announcement was intended as a show of US power in the region to reassure jittery partners.
Fear of a nuclear arms race
To understand the deep anxiety in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and other ASEAN capitals requires some context on where they are coming from.
First, many of them think there is no such thing as acquiring nuclear-powered submarines without the prospect of acquiring nuclear weapons in the future.
Australia has not joined the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which requires parties to agree not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile or threaten to use nuclear weapons.
The Morrison government says the treaty would be inconsistent with its alliance with the US, a nuclear weapon power.
However, Australia did ratify the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1973 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1998. And Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week Australia has “no plans” to pursue nuclear weapons.
Yet, some ASEAN countries are worried the AUKUS agreement is a clear signal the West will take a more aggressive stand towards China by admitting Australia to the nuclear club.
Both Indonesia (the unofficial leader of ASEAN) and Malaysia fear AUKUS will also lead to a major arms race in the wider Indo-Pacific region.
The potential for conflict in South China Sea
The new agreement also signals that the US, Australia and UK view the South China Sea as a key venue for this contest against China.
Although everyone knows China, the US, Britain and France have ignored these protocols by manoeuvring armed warships through the South China Sea — not to mention China’s building of military bases on disputed islands there — ASEAN does not want to see this number grow.
Australian nuclear-powered submarines have the potential to change the dynamics in the South China Sea and make the Chinese much more nervous. There have already been plenty of “close encounter” incidents between the Chinese and US navies in the disputed waters, as well as the Chinese navy and ships belonging to ASEAN members. The region doesn’t need yet another potential “close encounter” to worry about.
The ASEAN states are already very worried about the China-US rivalry playing out in its backyard. And the new AUKUS agreement reinforces the idea that the opinions of the ASEAN members matter little when it comes to the superpowers and how they operate in the region.
The region has always insisted on the idea of “ASEAN centrality” in their relations with the world — that ASEAN members must decide what is best for Southeast Asia — but as AUKUS shows, nuclear nations play a different game.
Indonesia is especially unhappy with Australia given the new agreement will affect it directly, given their common maritime border.
Morrison had already been forced to cancel his upcoming trip to Jakarta after Prime Minister Joko Widodo said he would be unavailable to meet — a decision that was made before the AUKUS announcement. This will add another layer to the strained relationship.
Is there anyone happy about the deal?
While in public, most southeast Asian governments have expressed uneasiness with AUKUS, there is a school of thought that says the more hawkish voices in the region will probably accept the agreement in the long term, as it will help keep China’s aggression in check.
For those in the “hawk” camp, the number one long-term threat to regional security is China. Many think the strategic balance of power has been tilting too much in Beijing’s favour in the past decade, especially after China started rushing to build military bases in the South China Sea and using its navy to protect Chinese fishing vessels in disputed waters.
So, they believe any moves to remind China it does not have a carte blanche to do what it wants in Southeast Asia is a good thing.
Japan and South Korea are clearly in this camp and their muted reaction to AUKUS suggests they are in favour of a “re-balancing” in the region. Taiwan and Vietnam are probably on this side, as well.
The only downside is that Australia may use its nuclear-powered submarines to bully ASEAN countries. If Canberra uses its nuclear submarines as a bargaining chip, it will simply turn public opinion in the region against Australia.
Implications for Australia-ASEAN relations
If anything, the AUKUS move reinforced the widely held perception that Australia’s mantra of being “part of the region” is, in fact, “empty talk”. Australia has firmly signalled its intentions to put its Anglo allies in the US and UK first.
AUKUS also reinforces the view that Australia cannot be accepted as a regional partner or player. This, of course, is nothing new. For years, the ASEAN bloc has seen Australia as “deputy sheriff” to the US, though this view would not necessarily be shared in public.
So, while AUKUS came as a surprise to many in the region, an alliance of this sort was probably bound to happen. It’s just that nobody expected it to happen so soon.
‘The Thursday Murder Club has concluded its latest meeting.’
Remember the Thursday Murder Club (TMC)? Four elderly sleuths from the Kent retirement community of Coopers Chase: Joyce, a former nurse and intrepid journal writer; Elizabeth, a former intelligence officer; Ibrahim, a psychiatrist; and Ron, a former union man.
And as Joyce seeks advice from the others about getting a dog, Elizabeth’s thoughts are elsewhere. She’s received a letter from an old colleague. He has made a big mistake, and he needs her help. The letter is signed by her old friend Marcus Carmichael, who is seeking a meeting with her tomorrow. Does Elizabeth remember him, the letter asks?
‘What a ridiculous question. She had found Marcus Carmichael’s dead body slumped against a Thames bridge at low tide.’
Buckle up. In addition to Elizabeth’s former colleague needing help over an opportunistic theft of £20 million pounds of diamonds, Ibrahim is mugged and injured. And then the murders start. Will the team be able to solve the crime? Can they get justice for Ibrahim? And what kind of dog will Joyce get?
‘Elizabeth taps her head. ‘My palace has many rooms. Some are dustier than others.’
How delightful it is to join the TMC again, together with their favourite police officers DCI Chris Hudson and PC Donna De Freitas, Elizabeth’s husband Stephen, and the resourceful Bogdan.
Joyce’s journal brings us much of the story, with various asides. Elizabeth works through the facts methodically and is occasionally surprised by Joyce’s insights, and Ron rises magnificently to the occasion as the various strands are pulled together. And Ibrahim? He and Ron’s grandson do some sleuthing of their own. All is not lost, even though Ibrahim’s phone was stolen when he had achieved level 127 (of 200) playing Tetris.
I have really enjoyed both books so far published in this series. The characters are well developed, there are plenty of different threads to untangle, and I though the ending was perfect.
‘‘And there’s the clue!’ The short-sighted lean further forward, and the long-sighted lean further back.’
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
At the beginning of the book, at the end of her Author’s Note, Ms Gorrie writes:
‘Please be aware that this book contains material that readers may find confronting and disturbing, and that could cause sadness or distress, or trigger traumatic memories, especially for Aboriginal people, and those who have survived past abuse, violence, or childhood trauma.’
I thank Ms Gorrie for this warning: being forewarned enables a reader to proceed with caution into what is a confronting, important but uncomfortable read. The book is split into two parts. The first part deals with Ms Gorrie’s life before joining the Queensland Police Service, the second with her experience of ten years in the Queensland Police Service, and beyond.
This is a very personal story, of growing up in a society which (to my shame) makes judgements about people based on colour and ethnicity often without considering culture, family ties and responsibilities. Some people sink beneath the burden of abuse and mistreatment, others will find a path through to achieve a more meaningful life for themselves, but all are scarred by their experiences.
In telling us her story, Ms Gorrie gives context. We learn about why, for example, her grandparents lived the way they did. We learn (or remember) the impact of alcohol abuse and violence on families.
‘When you are getting beaten, it does something to you. It takes away your self-esteem, your confidence, your self-respect and your self-worth. But more importantly, it takes away your voice.’
Disempowerment and abuse can become entrenched within family groups and across generations. Most of us will copy the behaviour of those responsible for our upbringing. Most, but not all. And this, for me, is one of the reasons why Ms Gorrie’s book is important.
‘I joined the police for many reasons: first, to see if I could get in, and more importantly, because I had seen the way the police mistreated my people and naively thought that if I joined, I would be able to stop this.’
Sadly, Ms Gorrie’s idealism is undermined by the reality she worked within. And injury forces retirement.
‘When I first joined the police, I had this idea that I could change the attitude of the Aboriginal community towards police. Little did I know I couldn’t do that until I changed the police attitude towards Aboriginal people.’
As I read this book, my admiration for Ms Gorrie increased. She tells a difficult story with humour and insight and in doing so provides hope for others.
‘The pain and suffering of the stolen generations is passed down from generation to generation. My grandmother lived this fear, my father experienced the fear, and I feared the experience.’