Adaminaby, NSW 21/11/2020

I enjoyed my 11 km walk this morning… except for the tumble I took at the beginning. Bruised pride, scraped knees and hands and impressive bruising on my left hand and lower arm. Nothing broken as far as I can tell.

Around 5.45 am
Just before 6 am
And on the way back to Adaminaby

I love this walk. And, if I do it again tomorrow, I’ll try to remain upright.

A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville

‘Dearest, he said, and I was immediately wary. ‘

In this novel, Ms Grenville reimagines aspects of the life of Elizabeth Macarthur, the wife of John Macarthur.  In her reimagination, Ms Grenville discovers a secret memoir written by Elizabeth Macarthur, one which brings her out of the shadows.

First, a few facts.  Elizabeth Macarthur (1766-1850) was born on 14 August 1766 in Devon, England, daughter of Richard Veale, farmer, and his wife Grace.  She married John Macarthur in October 1788.  In June 1789 he joined the New South Wales Corps and Elizabeth and their son Edward (born in March 1789) accompanied him when he sailed to take up his position in the colony.  Mrs Macarthur’s letters to her family written during the journey to New South Wales are one of the outstanding records of early voyages on convict transports.  John Macarthur (c1767-1834), soldier, entrepreneur and pastoralist was a prominent figure in colonial Australia.

Around these facts (and others) Ms Grenville portrays Elizabeth Macarthur as a passionate woman who learns how to manage marriage to an opinionated and ruthless bully.

‘As I copied out his words I noticed that the word we never appeared.  In Mr Macarthur’s lonely cosmology, there was no such pronoun.  Only me, myself, I.’

While I read this novel and enjoyed the imagined Elizabeth Macarthur’s view of and opinions about the role of women and colonial settlement, aspects made me uneasy.  How many people will read this novel and believe it is fact instead of fiction, despite Ms Grenville’s disclaimer?  Despite my unease, I enjoyed the opportunity to view colonial settlement through a different perspective.

‘Down beside the river I had a spot of my own, where now and then I could slip out of the skin of Mrs John Macarthur.  It was screened by bushes that framed a view up and down the stream: another airy room made of leaves.’

I suspect that the real Mrs John Macarthur will always remain elusive.  We know of her from her letters, written within the strictures of the society of the time.  But the person behind the letters?  Ms Grenville presents us with some interesting possibilities.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2020

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The Cartographer’s Secret by Téa Cooper

‘The time has come to collate my notes and make them available to the world.’

Set in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, this novel involves two timelines, two women, some intriguing family mysteries, and a map.

In 1880, Evie Ludgrove went missing from her home at the Yellow Rock estate without a trace.  Her father had been obsessed with Dr Ludwig Leichhardt, and when The Bulletin magazine offered a £1,000 reward for proof of where he met his fate, Evie was determined to work it out.  She had her father’s papers to draw on, as well as information in the archives of the Royal Geographical Society.  Evie set off on her secret mission but was never seen again.

In 1911, Letitia Rawlings arrives at the Yellow Rock estate to advise her Great Aunt Olivia of a family bereavement.  Letitia, driving her Model T Ford may appear to be independent, but she has some problems of her own.  Her brother has died suddenly, and she is not happy with her mother’s plans.  But Letitia finds that things at Yellow Rock are not exactly as her mother has portrayed them.  And when she finds a map in her grandfather’s study, she wonders if she can solve the mystery of Evie’s disappearance.

I really enjoyed this novel, with its interesting female characters (especially Great Aunt Olivia) and its mysteries.  There is a touch of romance as well.

If you enjoy Australian historical fiction with strong female characters, with family mysteries to puzzle and with a hint of romance, I can recommend ‘The Cartographer’s Secret’.

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2020

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The Killing Streets by Tanya Bretherton

‘It was early morning on Saturday, 10 December 1932 when a forest-green dress was spotted, hooked in a spiky thicket of lantana in Queens Park.’

In her third true crime book, Ms Bretherton writes about a series of horrific murders that began in Sydney during the 1930s. The first body was found in Queens Park on 10 December 1932.  A woman violently murdered in a popular park, and no-one noticed anything.  Other women were found murdered: their bodies left in public places.  But it was not until the body of a young aspiring Olympic swimmer was found that an arrest was made.

Eric Craig was arrested, and eventually charged over the deaths of two women.  He was gaoled.  But similar murders occurred.  Was Eric Craig guilty?  And why were some of the murders apparently considered worse than others?

‘Bad police work, inconsistent witness statements and gendered assumptions plagued all of these investigations.’

Sydney in 1932 was in the grip of the Great Depression.  Jobs were scarce and, for some women, sex work was one of the few ways in which they could make money to feed, clothe and house their families.  Some of the murdered women were sex workers.  Assumptions were made, judgements followed.

I wonder how many deaths could have been prevented if the initial murder had been investigated more thoroughly?  Granted, much of the forensic science we now take for granted was not available.  I still feel that more could have been done.

I was unaware of these murders before reading this book.  I appreciate the effort Ms Bretherton has gone to in providing the socio-economic background for these murders in eastern Sydney during the Great Depression.  If you have an interest in true crime, then I recommend this book.  Was this killer Australia’s first serial killer (as stated on the cover of the book)?  I wonder.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2020

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Back on the Wool Track by Michelle Grattan

‘The wool track has become the tourist route.’

In this book, Michelle Grattan follows in the footsteps of C.E.W Bean’s journey through western New South Wales in the early twentieth century.  In 1909, Bean was commissioned by the Sydney Morning Herald to write a series of articles on the wool industry.  Those articles were complied into a book ‘On the Wool Track’ (which I’ve not read).

A friend mentioned this book to me recently, then another recommended it.  I picked it up, wondering what had changed over almost a century.  This is country I’ve not (yet) visited, country that has suffered severely from drought and from the drift of (younger) people away from the land.

‘Even the best providers, the most effective managers, can’t fully insulate themselves against the rainless years.’

Ms Grattan tracks down descendants of some of the people that Bean met.  She writes of the challenges in these remote parts of New South Wales where distance and aridity shape life.  Wool was the staple in Bean’s time, but this is marginal land and drought has had an impact.  Ms Grattan visits shearing sheds (some of which are no longer used).  And shearing, an old job with some changes in a more modern world.

As I read this book and learned some of the history of this vast area, I added some towns to my ‘want to visit’ list.  The country itself will be foreign to me: I grew up near the lush green dairy country of northern Tasmania, and even though I’ve not lived there for over forty years, it’s the country where I feel most at home.

Ms Grattan’s book is worth reading, especially for those of us who’ve not ventured into the western part of New South Wales.

‘The people of the outback would see their lives as ordinary.  To the observer from the city, or from the ‘inside country, they are remarkable.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2020

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Adaminaby, NSW

My last full day in Adaminaby this trip. It’s lovely to see some green fields, some water in the dams and creeks. We’ve not ventured into the parts near the town burned by bushfire but we’ve seen burned patches.

The impact of the fires will be felt throughout this and other communities for years.