‘Who will I be, if I’m not here, on this land, under these skies?’
This is Tanya Heaslip’s memoir of childhood, about growing up in Australia’s remote outback during the 1960s and 1970s. Tanya was the eldest of Grant and Janice Heaslip’s four children, and with her siblings M’Lis, Brett and Benny, grew up on remote cattle stations in the Northern Territory. This memoir ends when Tanya went to boarding school aged 12.
The Heaslips were hardworking pioneers who developed Bond Springs Station in an environment where water is scarce, the temperature can exceed 45 degrees Celsius in summer, and everything from visiting neighbours to obtaining supplies requires considerable travel.
The children grew up with schooling provided by governesses and through The School of the Air. Tanya loved her lessons (except for maths) and schooling was often fitted around the demands of the cattle station. Janice ran the household, keeping family and stockmen fed, while Grant managed the property.
For me, as a city dweller who needs green spaces and access to rivers and the ocean, living in Australia’s hot interior is almost unimaginable. I admire those who do and enjoyed reading Tanya’s memories of growing up. The children grew up together, playing, looking out for each other, and helping their father with the cattle droving and mustering.
I learned more about The School of the Air, and of Adelaide Miethke’s role in its establishment. I read about the challenges involved in remote learning and the shyness of children who rarely saw anyone outside their own family. I finished the book full of admiration for Janice and Grant Heaslip, and keen to find out what happened next in Tanya’s life.
‘I will go away and live in the other places I’ve read about in my beloved books. I will do exciting things. Then, one day, I will write about this life and the land, so it’s always with me forever.’
‘But it’s like this – every time we make a choice, that creates new universes.’
If you have read some of Mr Rayner’s earlier novels, then you will be acquainted with Maximilian Tundra. Well, one or two aspects of him anyway. But in this book, there’s so much more to Max. So, there he is, in his living room when the impossible happens: a physical duplicate of Max appears, wearing that most flattering of outfits, a tight-fitting silver lamé unitard. Imagine. Max knows that something bad is going to happen.
‘Is it possible we’re between realities?’
Max is, it appears, the only person who can prevent the end of the world. Not just on planet Earth: in the multiverse there are an infinite number of Earths. And they will all be destroyed if Max doesn’t save them. Gulp.
‘The clock ticks for all of us, whether we see time as a cycle or a river. Our lives will end. We know this intellectually.’
Perhaps the most important existential question is: how? Max does have assistance. Sort of. There are aliens and there are also (seemingly countless) versions of Max himself. Hmm.
‘Exactly. Consciousness and time are connected. You humans will never be able to let go of your egotistic idea that you exist.’
Once you get into it (and that tight-fitting silver lamé unitard is hard to unsee) this is a ridiculously funny story where a superhero emerges (sort of) as saviour. A unique blend of dark humour, satire, and science fiction. Think about it.
Thank you, Mr Rayner, for the laughs.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley, the author and Monkeyjoy Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
Prussia, 1836. Johanne (Hanne) Nussbaum is almost 15 years old, living with her family in the village of Kay. Her family are part of a community of Old Lutherans, which the King wants to reform. Bound by their interpretation of God’s law, the community seeks to move to a place where they will not be further persecuted. Hanne is different. She does not fit easily into the community because she does not conform to their expectations. She is close to her twin brother Matthias but has no close friends until Dorothea (Thea) Eichenwald and her family arrive. Hanne and Thea become close.
The families of Kay are finally granted permission to leave Prussia, their voyage to South Australia is arranged, and in 1838 they board a ship. All aboard are looking forward to new beginnings. Hanne and Thea are inseparable. They love each other. But the ship is overcrowded, and the six-month journey will take its toll. Illness and poor food in cramped unhygienic conditions means that not all will survive the journey.
There are some magical moments on this horrific journey: Hanne is in touch with nature wherever she is. One of the most memorable scenes is when Hanne, on the deck of the ship, sees a whale breach. She hears the songs in nature and appreciates them.
And now I will stop telling you about the story because to fully appreciate Ms Kent’s magic, you need to read it unspoiled. The historical setting for this novel is based on the real-life settlement of Old Lutherans at Hahndorf in South Australia’s Barossa Valley. This provides the framework for a beautifully imagined story of transcendent love and devotion.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Pan Macmillan Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
I feel confident that I can say, after sharing my life with him for almost 17 years, that the late, great, Sir Bruce the Battle Rat would have loved these stories. Sir Bruce, an inquisitive Jack Russell, solved more than a few mysteries during his time on this earth. Alas, he was not always impartial. Sir Bruce as quick to blame any cat within range for any misdemeanour as well as his younger companion, Max, also known as Sir Other Little Dog. Max, a Tenterfield Terrier who lived to the great age of 17 years and 6 months, was suspicious of all other creatures. He’d have made a great detective. So, in my home, dogs ruled. Now that I’ve made that clear (channelling Sir Bruce and Max) I can move onto the stories in this delightful collection.
Lindy Cameron has edited a collection of nineteen different stories featuring an eclectic collection of animal heroes. Sir Bruce would be shocked to think that cats could be heroes but would be delighted to hear about a weredog. I, as the responsible human trying to be objective, loved Fin J Ross’s story about Mrs Hudson’s cats: Sherlock, and Watson. And I particularly enjoyed the role played by the little penguin in Meg Keneally’s story about the bubonic plague in Sydney in 1900.
Other stories include hawks, rats, mice, pigs, foxes, chipmunks, bears, spiders, and Great Horned Owls. Their roles differ: some actively solve crimes; others act as intermediaries. I enjoyed watching the stories unfold, seeing the part each protagonist had to play in solving the crime.
If you like animals, if you enjoy whimsical stories then you may enjoy this as much as I did. Although crime is the focus, these are gentle stories. And I really must mention the beautiful cover and illustrations by Judith Rossell.
While I am familiar with other work by seven of the authors (Fin J Ross, Kerry Greenwood, Lindy Cameron, Kerry Greenwood, LJM Owen, Meg Keneally and Narrelle M Harris), I’ve added the other authors to my reading list (Atlin Merrick, Chuck McKenzie, CJ McGumbleberry, Craig Hilton, David Greagg, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, GV Pearce, Jack Fennell, Kat Clay, Livia Day, Louisa Bennet, Tor Roxburgh and Vikki Petraitis).
For the past three months, because of COVID-19 related lockdowns in either (or both) the ACT and NSW, we have been unable to travel to our holiday home in Adaminaby. Last Friday, we were able to travel there and mow the (overgrown) grass and attend to some home maintenance issues.
Each morning on Saturday, Sunday and Monday I set out on my favourite 11km (return) walk along the Yaouk Road. The photographs below were taken at the beginning of two of the walks, when the sun was just peeping over the hills.
I was pleased to be back: I have missed the town and these walks.
Vaccines save lives, and have been doing so since the development of the smallpox vaccine more than 200 years ago.
However, for vaccines to keep entire communities safe they need to be taken up by very large proportions of the population. Only then can the vaccinated offer protection to the unvaccinated, known as “herd immunity”.
The article also claimed “vaccine fears have plunged to a record low”.
However, while the data were real, in our view, the interpretation of them was flawed.
Fear hasn’t substantially diminished. Instead, mandatory vaccination of certain groups in the community, and significant disadvantages for those who refuse to be vaccinated, is driving increases in vaccination uptake.
What’s more, politicians have foreshadowed various freedoms for the vaccinated. For example, the freedoms currently afforded to fully vaccinated Sydneysiders, but not the unvaccinated, include: visitors to your home and access to gyms, pools, retail stores, hairdressers, nail salons, pubs, zoos, cinemas, theatres, museums and galleries.
If people weren’t vaccine hesitant, mandatory vaccinations and incentives wouldn’t be necessary. A substantial portion of the community don’t want to be vaccinated, and would choose not to be vaccinated, if it wasn’t for the strong arm of government.
So why do people delay or refuse to get vaccinated?
The WHO lists complacency among the leading reasons for vaccine hesitancy.
But how can this be the case? After all, COVID has already killed nearly five million people globally and infected over 240 million. In the face of these numbers, how could anyone remain complacent? Why do we see unmasked protesters, apparently oblivious to the threat?
The psychological theory that best explains these behaviours is “terror management theory”. According to this theory, humans are unable to face the stark reality of death, and often engage in various forms of denial.
We see ourselves as grander than the animals, immune to many of their problems, and destined for immortality with our gods. As one group of researchers put it, humans
could not function with equanimity if they believed that they were not inherently more significant and enduring than apes, lizards, or lima beans.
Hundreds of studies in social psychology laboratories have shown that subtle reminders of death (known as “death primes”) lead participants to vigorously defend their religious and cultural beliefs, and their freedoms.
In the process, we may defy the warnings of modern medicine, convinced of our own superiority. Researchers at the University of Chicago Divinity School reported half of their participants, all of whom indicated some religious affiliation, agreed with the statement “God will protect me from being infected”. To cope with our dread of death, we delude ourselves into thinking we are invincible: death might happen to other people, but not to me.
This effect will be magnified even further if the social groups to which we belong also endorse similar views. Reminders of death lead people to fiercely defend the values and beliefs of their group. In the context of COVID, this means we may become more individualistic, more distrustful of science or government, or more trusting in our god’s ability to protect us, if these attitudes are valued and shared by our culture or subgroup.
The formation of Australia’s federation in 1901 was both practical and sentimental. Pressing policy matters in the areas of immigration, trade and defence required the coordination of a federal government. As important was the growing nationalist feeling that the people in the different colonies were defined by the challenges and opportunities of the great south land. They were Australians, as well as Tasmanians, Queenslanders, Victorians and so on.
Nationalism is a modernising project, building identities and moral communities which transcend regional and parochial identifications. Compared with the regional identities of the old world, the colonial identities of Australia’s 19th century European settlers were weak, but they existed nonetheless.
The enthusiastic young men of the Australian Natives’ Association, which pushed hard for federation in the late 19th century, may have thought of themselves first and foremost as Australians, but colonial identities persisted after federation, due to their roots in the different histories, economies and social worlds of the six colonies. Time and again during the first decade of the new Commonwealth, Alfred Deakin, the country’s second prime minister, would conjure up the map of Australia and tell people they needed to think of themselves as Australians first and to approach political problems from a national perspective.
An intriguing historical question is when people’s identities as Australians transcended their state-based identities. I have always thought it was during the second world war. Prior to the war, the decisions and policies of state governments had greater effect on people’s day-to-day lives than those of the federal government. Health, education, transport, law and order, land management, local government, roads, sewerage, water and power were all state responsibilities. As yet, Commonwealth welfare responsibilities were limited and there was no federal income tax.
When Australia was threatened by Japan, the federal government assumed primacy. In addition to responsibility for defence, the Commonwealth assumed the power to re-allocate resources, including labour, to support the war effort, as well as taxing people’s incomes.
The different experiences of the states and territories with the COVID pandemic and the closure of state borders raise the question of whether state-based identities are stronger now than they were, say, 20 years ago. I’d suggest three reasons this might be the case, based on historical observations, rather than hard quantitative data.
Sydney and Melbourne have also maintained their inherent political differences. In The Sydney Melbourne Book, political scientist James Jupp contrasts the reformist, Protestant, middle-class political culture of Melbourne with the hard-nosed materialism of Sydney. Melbourne was patrician, idealistic and internationalist; Sydney proletarian, masculinist and cynical.
For much of the 20th century, this made Victoria the natural home of the Liberal Party, until the early 1970s when Gough Whitlam lured a section of the moral middle class over to a social democratic Labor Party.
Victoria’s political culture is still more progressive than that of New South Wales, but this now tilts it towards Labor and the Greens rather than the Liberals. The Liberals’ centre of gravity, meanwhile, has shifted to the more proletarian and anti-intellectual culture of Sydney.
The second reason state-based identities might be strengthening is the differing impact of neoliberalism on our two levels of government. After the second world war, Australia had three decades of confident, government-led nation-building: the postwar immigration and Snowy Mountains schemes, the development of manufacturing, and the expansion of the nation’s universities and scientific capacities. The effort culminated in the cultural nationalism of the Whitlam government.
This nation-building momentum was stalled by the onset of stagflation in the mid-1970s, and it gradually petered out as governments turned to neoliberal remedies to restore economic growth.
A major casualty of neoliberalism has been the capacity of the federal government to deliver services, as it privatised and outsourced many of its responsibilities. Steering not rowing was the mantra. Government would pay the bills for the private sector to do the work.
In the September issue of The Monthly, John Quiggin ponders how the Commonwealth government of 50 years ago would have handled the pandemic. Back then, it operated quarantine facilities, had a Department of Works that was able to expand them as needed, owned an airline that could have flown Australians home, ran a network of repatriation hospitals and owned the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories.
Above all, mid-century federal governments had the confidence and capacity to lead. They were, writes Quiggin, far better equipped to deal with the pandemic and would have seen themselves as having the obvious responsibility to do so. Quarantine management would not have been handballed to the states, and the vaccine rollout would have been less shambolic.
Pretty well the entire political class subscribed to the neoliberalism of the 1970s and ‘80s, but state governments have been far less successful than the federal government in offloading their core responsibilities, such as health, education, policing and emergency services. Hence, state governments have retained more capacity. As they have become more effective in these regards, and the federal government less so, people have been drawn back into their orbit. Differences between the states in people’s political experiences have been enhanced, along with people’s sense of the distinctiveness of their state.
The third reason Australians’ state-based identifications may have strengthened is the development of the two-speed economy since the 1980s. The reduction of tariffs since the 1980s damaged the economies of the manufacturing states, especially Victoria and South Australia, which turned to services such as education and tourism. At the same time, mining boomed in Queensland, Western Australia and parts of NSW. People in the different states have experienced very different economies. Horizontal fiscal equalisation, the transfer of resources between jurisdictions, softened the impact of this on the service delivery capacities of the states, but we were not all in the same economic boat.
The political impact of this has played out most obviously and destructively in the inability of our federal governments since 2000 to develop a coherent response to climate change. Coal has been weaponised, with effective policy held to ransom by mining electorates, especially in Queensland.
At the 2019 election, the number of Australians voting for Labor and the Greens was marginally higher than the number voting for the Coalition, although this did not translate into a majority of seats. In Queensland, for example, the Coalition won 23 of the 30 seats. In the winner-takes-all commentary, election victories are interpreted as telling us something about all Australians, the country at large. But they don’t.
Perhaps I am speaking as a Victorian here, but for the past decade or so I have been feeling more strongly identified with Victoria and its progressive politics, as Labor loses federal elections in Queensland and Western Australia. COVID has simply strengthened a pre-existing feeling.
The author will be appearing on a panel to discuss federalism in the time of COVID on Friday, October 22, as part of Australian Catholic University’s Friday Forum series. Please email IHSS@acu.edu.au for more information.
Many authors dream of overseas success for their work, but how Australian books find publication in other territories and languages is not well understood even in the publishing industry.
Our new research has found that between 2008 and 2018, the number of international book rights deals made for Australian titles grew by almost 25%. This was driven, in part, by the international success of adult fiction titles from 2012 onwards and increased demand for Australian books in China.
Interestingly, during this time, over half of all deals were for children’s books. Still, there was a significant increase in the number of deals struck for adult fiction, which now accounts for around 30% of deals each year. More than 9,000 deals were made over the decade.
While almost one in five deals specified the title would remain in English, 13.7% were made for Chinese translations, followed by Korean (7% of deals). The data also reveals the increasing importance of Eastern European markets such as the Czech Republic and Slovenia, along with decreased demand for German, Dutch and Spanish translations.
This is the first major attempt to measure the scale of Australia’s international book rights sales. Advances from them deliver a total of around $10 million each year to Australian writers, providing a valuable additional income stream.
Rights management involves a seller (who could be a publisher, literary agent or author) licensing the right to make and sell copies of a print, ebook or audiobook, and adaptation rights such as television, film and theatre.
63% of senior agents and publishers told us they felt there had been an increase in international interest in Australian authored books over the ten-year sample period.
Our findings include a report and case studies that aim to shed light on this important commercial and cultural aspect of the book industry.
The kids are alright
Titles aimed at younger readers (picture books up to young adult) were very popular with overseas buyers.
The reasons are not entirely clear: ultimately, the books themselves must work on their own terms in overseas markets. In addition to well-known series such as the Treehouse books by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton, Judith Rossell’s books featuring Stella Montgomery, and John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband adventure series, there are hundreds of lower-profile titles which have “travelled”.
The decades-long expertise of Australian authors, publishers and agents in specialist children’s genres (often overlooked in the industry before the success of the Harry Potter series) is also likely to be a factor.
Since the 1980s, Australian publishers and literary agents have quietly been building international networks based on years of attendance at key book fairs in Frankfurt, Bologna, New York, London and more recently, Shanghai. These fairs, along with welcoming delegations of publishing executives and other strategies, help them find exactly who might be receptive to a pitch about their latest Australian books.
As Libby O’Donnell, Head of International Rights and International Business Development at HarperCollins Australia, puts it, “Every book can potentially have some readers overseas but not every book can have a market overseas that makes it viable to publish.”
While attendance at book fairs and personal relationships are key to successful deals, we observed different models of deal-making. O’Donnell was involved in international auctions for Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe and Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss.
She describes developing a carefully timed international campaign to draw out the biggest bids for these books. Six groups competed for the television rights to Boy Swallows Universe.
But rights sellers who work for some of the largest Australian publishers also described their passion for finding overseas publishers for books with less commercial potential. For Ivor Indyk at the highly respected literary press, Giramondo Publishing, it’s about forming alliances with like-minded literary publishers enabling overseas publication of Australian books that may become part of a literary canon.
Although publishers and agents benefit financially and in terms of prestige, ultimately, the biggest beneficiaries are authors. For most authors, the majority of their income will be from the Australia and New Zealand market. Rights income is “icing on the cake”.
A small proportion of Australian authors can live off their rights income, or sell substantially more books overseas than here. But most authors are excited by the opportunity to have their work read and appreciated overseas; offering another income stream and enhancing their international reputations.
However, the pandemic has hit the international book industry hard – with international travel on hold for so long.
Our report recommends initiatives such as mentoring arrangements and continued investment by industry and government in outgoing and incoming trade delegations (including to key book fairs). This will be more important than ever as publishers and agents re-establish connections after a hiatus of nearly two years.
‘Somewhere along the way, something had gone wrong.’
December 1989, Camp Hill, Victoria. Seventeen-year-old Tracie Reed goes missing. The police think she is just another runaway who will turn up in a couple of days. But neither her mother Nancy, nor her father Owen, believe that. The Reeds are divorcing and while that has unsettled Tracie, neither of them thinks she has run away.
Camp Hill is a small suburb, the kind of neighbourhood where most neighbours know each other. There is an active neighbourhood watch, and no shortage of people who observe those around them. Oil leaks under cars, missing garden gnomes are important topics of conversation, as are rumours about satanic rituals. When Tracie goes missing, other parents are concerned. Teenagers are told not to venture into the Wild Place, the community forest behind several homes (including Tracie Reed’s).
When the Keel Street Neighbourhood Watch meets after Tracie’s disappearance, local schoolteacher, Tom Witter, married father of two sons, is tasked with posting missing person flyers. Tom is surprised that both his sons claim only vague knowledge of Tracie, but he quickly becomes focussed on a local youth. Tom and Tracie’s father Owen go on a hunt of their own which will not end well.
The search for Tracie puts this small suburban community under the microscope. Everyone, it seems, has something to hide. An old school friend of Tom’s, Detective Sharon Guffey, becomes involved in the case, bringing back memories for both.
There are plenty of twists and quite a few surprises as this story moves to its conclusion. While a couple of aspects can be figured out fairly easily, I was surprised by the final twist.
This is Mr White’s third novel, and the second I have read. Highly recommended.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Affirm Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.