Enid Lyons: Leading Lady to a Nation by Anne Henderson

‘Who would have imagined that a woman born in 1897, married at seventeen, and the mother of twelve children, would be an achiever ahead of her time?’

Dame Enid Muriel Lyons (1897-1981) was born on 9 July 1897 at Duck River (Smithton) in Tasmania. She was the second of four children born to Eliza (née Taggart) and William Burnell. In this book, Ms Henderson raises the possibility that Dame Enid’s real father may have been Aloysius Joyce, the son of a wealth landowner in the Burnie district. I found this possibility difficult to reconcile with the character of Eliza Burnell contained in the book, but I guess it is possible. Does it matter? Not to me: Dame Enid has long been a hero of mine.

Moving beyond Dame Enid’s parentage, Ms Henderson describes her childhood and upbringing. Later, when the family moved to Cooee (now a western suburb of Burnie) where Eliza opened a store and a post office, Enid attended the Burnie State School. Enid and her older sister Nell attended Teacher Training College in Hobart and it was in Hobart at the age of 15 that Enid first met Joseph Aloysius Lyons, then the Labor member for the Tasmanian state seat of Wilmot. They married in Wynyard, on the 28th of April 1915: Joe was 35 and Enid 17.

And so began a partnership, which ended when Joe Lyons, Prime Minister of Australia, died in office on 7 April 1939. Joe and Enid had twelve children, the youngest of whom was born in 1933. Enid and Joe had been effective partners in life and politics: they supported each other.

On 21 August 1943, Enid Lyons was elected member for the Tasmanian federal seat of Darwin (now Braddon). She was the first female member of the House of Representatives. In her maiden speech on 29 September 1943, she spoke about social security, the declining birth rate, and the need for an extension of child endowment. She also spoke about the family, about housing and the need to look ahead to policies for the post-war period.

Ms Henderson covers in detail Enid Lyon’s life and legacy. After she left politics in March 1951, she remained active: including writing three books of her own, as well as serving as a commissioner of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

On moral issues Dame Enid was conservative, in keeping with her Catholic faith. Some of her children described her as remote. But it is clear that Dame Enid worked hard, and in her first parliamentary term could take some credit for the extension of child endowment and free medical treatment for pensioners.

This is the second time I have read this book. In between reads I have visited both Home Hill (the Lyons family home in Devonport) and the small cottage in Stanley where Joe Lyons lived with his aunts. Joe and Enid Lyons were a formidable team.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about Enid and Joe Lyons and their achievements.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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The Others by Mark Brandi

‘I don’t really think of you much anymore.’

When Jacob turns eleven, his father gives him a diary to write in. A way of practicing writing while recording what happens as Jacob and his father go about life on their isolated farm in Tasmania. Jacob writes about their sheep; about the goats they hunt for food and the drought. Jacob has questions about his dead mother (whom he cannot remember), about the plague that and ‘the Others’ he and his father are avoiding. And he wonders about the town and when he will be able to visit it. But Jacob knows that there are some questions his father will not answer, and he knows when to be careful.

We see this narrow, constrained world entirely through Jacob’s eyes. His father is the source of his knowledge, supplemented by a dictionary, a partial encyclopaedia, and an old magazine. There are hints, as Jacob tells us what he hears and sees, that his father is hiding information from him. And, naturally, Jacob becomes curious. His father has told him not to go beyond certain boundaries, and Jacob’s fear when he does so is palpable. He is not sure whether to be more afraid of his father, or of ‘the Others’.

And the ending? It is perfectly unsettling.

‘In case you’re coming. Just in case you’re coming for me.’

This is Mr Brandi’s third novel, and I have enjoyed each of them.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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The Last of the Apple Blossom by Mary-Lou Stephens

‘Catherine though the beach would be safe, with its slim arc of sand and the cool water just beyond.’

Hobart, 7 February 1967. Young schoolteacher Catherine Turner is teaching her young Grade One students in Hobart’s Sandy Bay Infant School on a day when much of southern Tasmania is reduced to ash. After the children are sent home, Catherine rushes to the family orchard in the Huon Valley. Disaster has struck the Turner family: the apple orchard has been destroyed, and Catherine’s brother Peter lost his life as the family home burned.

In shock. Catherine visits her friend and neighbour Annie Pearson. Annie has recently had her sixth child: a daughter, after five sons. While the Pearson orchard has sustained damage, it has not been destroyed. Dave Pearson’s friend Mark and his young son Charlie were staying at the Pearson orchard when the fire hit. Mark’s wife has left, and he is waiting for her to return. Even though Mark is helping repair the damage to the orchard, Annie wants him gone.

 Catherine wants to help her father rebuild the orchard, but he does not see this as a role for a woman. Her mother is devastated by her brother’s death, and both parents seem angry with Catherine. Meanwhile, Catherine becomes fond of Charlie and becomes friendly with Mark.

The story unfolds between 1967 and the present. Into the 1970s, there are small-town prejudices to overcome, and several secrets involving the key characters. Ms Stephens captures the small-town atmosphere and attitudes as well as the struggles of the Tasmanian apple industry.

I really enjoyed reading this novel: it took me ‘home’ to Tasmania. I remember the 1967 Black Tuesday bushfires: I was ten at the time and living in Launceston. I also remember the restructuring of the apple industry during the early 1970s: members of my extended family had orchards in the Spreyton district. But I digress. This is a beautifully written novel, peopled with finely realised characters in a well-described historical setting.

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

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Convict-era Port Arthur: Misery of the deepest dye by David W. Cameron

‘In all, close to 13,000 convicts spent time at Port Arthur during its 47-year history (with around 8 per cent of serving convicts buried there).’

In this book, Mr Cameron provides background to the establishment of Port Arthur, the history of its operation as a penal colony and its closure in 1877. We learn about the differing approaches to the treatment of convicts. about the semaphore system used to convey messages, about the ships built there as well as the coal mines, the convict operated railway and the attempts at escape. In telling the story of Port Arthur, Mr Cameron incorporates the stories of several individuals within the history, including Charles O’Hara Booth (Commandant of Port Arthur from 1833 to 1844); Mark Jeffrey (a convict who was the gravedigger on the Isle of the Dead between 1874 and 1877); and William Thompson (a cobbler transported for life in 1841 who spent a year working in the underground coal mines).

The responsibility for Port Arthur was transferred from the British government to Tasmania in 1870 and the penal settlement closed in 1877.

‘It was on that day, Monday, 17 September 1877, that the seven remaining convicts were transported to Hobart on board the schooner Harriet and the doors to buildings were locked – Port Arthur ceased to exist as a penal settlement.’

These days, Port Arthur is a tourist destination. I visited twice during the 1970s, trying to imagine convict life amongst the peaceful ruins that remain. I walked around the shell of the church and the remnants of the penitentiary, around to the dockyards. I have not been to the Coal Mine site. And I feel a need, now, to include Mr Cameron’s epilogue:

‘The most pathetic and cowardly criminal to arrive at Port Arthur entered the site on Sunday, 28 April 1996 – he killed 35 innocent people, and physically and emotionally wounded another 23 along with the psychological scarring of surviving witnesses.’

This is a comprehensive account of both the events leading to the establishment of the penal settlement of Port Arthur and its operation. I knew some of this history and learned more. This book is an important addition to Tasmania’s complicated colonial history. Recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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Secrets of the Sea by Nicholas Shakespeare

‘There was one road into Wellington Point and one road out.’

Alex Dove has returned to (the fictional town of) Wellington Point on the east coast of Tasmania after twelve years in England. He was eleven years old when he was sent to school in England after his parents were killed in a car accident. Alex has inherited his parents’ unprofitable farm and his father’s collection of ships in bottles.

‘The weekend Alex met Merridy he had driven to Wellington Point to look for ice-cream sticks in the school rubbish tins.’

Merridy comes to Wellington Point with her own parents: her father in a wheelchair needing care, her mother there from a sense of duty. Merridy has abandoned her studies in Melbourne to help her parents. Merridy and Alex are drawn together. They marry and are determined to make a success of life on Alex’s farm with the family they intend to have. Merridy finds a flair for oyster farming, which helps relieve financial pressures.

But things do not go according to plan and they are already becoming strangers to each other when the sinking of a ship in a storm brings Kish into their lives. Kish is part of a semi-literate crew of young offenders serving on a replica brigantine as part of a rehabilitation programme. Though the young delinquent seems truculent and disturbed, the couple take him into their home, which allows Alex to ‘indulge the extravagant idea that he had plucked from the sea a child he never had’, while Merridy finds him reminiscent of her lost brother, Hector.

I loved the setting of this novel, on the east coast of Tasmania, near the town of Swansea. This is a beautiful part of Tasmania, rich in history and naturally beautiful. I envisaged Talbot’s Store as Morris’ Store in Swansea, with its views over the main road and across the bay. The story moved slowly at times, but I did not mind, until Kish entered the story. Kish’s presence jarred, for me, and while I kept reading, my interest waned.

I finished the novel, delighted by the description of Wellington Point and the surrounding country, and hoping that the future would be kinder for the main characters.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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The Vandemonian War by Nick Brodie

‘The secret history of Britain’s Tasmanian invasion.’

I read an article by Nick Brodie which led me indirectly to this book. I was curious. I grew up in Tasmania, and colonial history was rarely touched on during my education during the 1960s and early 1970s. The Tasmanian Aboriginals are all dead, we were told, the race is extinct. Questions about how and why were neither encouraged nor answered. I moved away from Tasmania in 1974 and have since learned more.

‘The Vandemonian War was the British Empire’s best kept secret. Invasion was called settlement. Ethnic cleansing was called conciliation. Genocide was naturalised as extinction. Even Van Diemen’s Land was renamed Tasmania.’

What had Nick Brodie discovered, and how does it change our understanding of history?

‘My discovery of the truth about the Vandemonian War started with a certain manuscript volume in the Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office in Hobart. It is labelled ‘No7/Records relating to the Aboriginals’, and has the archival designation CSO1/1/320 (7878).  It comes from the records of the Colonial Secretary’s Office, and contains hundreds of pages of inbound correspondence only a tiny fraction of which has ever been previously examined, analysed or cited by historians.  These letters detail military and paramilitary operations against Aboriginal people in the interior of Van Diemen’s Land in the 1820s and 1830s.’

Until I read this book, I had (mostly) believed that while individuals and small local groups had killed Aborigines, that the colonial government had tried (however ineffectually) to protect them. It is confronting to read that was not the case, that the military and paramilitary forces deliberately drove the Aboriginal peoples from the lands they had occupied for centuries. This was no accident.

I finished this book with very mixed feelings. It is never comfortable having to revisit what was taught as truth and is now exposed – via the colonial records of the time – as inaccurate and incomplete. Documented fact, not an issue of interpretation.

‘Unearthed after nearly two centuries of established history, the Vandemonian War allows us to see that a society can be led to do almost anything – and then come to believe it did not do it at all.’

Uncomfortable, but important reading.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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Historic Tasmania Sketchbook by Patsy Adam Smith and Joan Woodberry (text) Max Angus, Frank Mather and Arthur Phillips (drawings)

‘There is only one reason for Tasmania retaining so many splendid buildings: they have been lived in by people who appreciate them and are determined to preserve them.’

I have a copy of the 1977 edition of this book. Whenever I get homesick for Tasmania, I browse through the sketches and reacquaint myself with some of the magnificent nineteenth buildings I recognise. But it isn’t just sketches of buildings contained in this book, there’s a sketch of Kelly’s Steps between Salamanca Place and Battery Point, and of the iron hull of the ‘Otago’ (remember Joseph Conrad?) on the east bank of the Derwent.

I am pleased I was able to visit the Church of St John the Baptist (consecrated in 1850) last time I was in Buckland (page 58). And the Morris Store building (now housing the everyday IGA) in Swansea (page 54) is superb.

While some buildings are in private hands, others are part of the National Trust including Franklin House (Launceston); Entally (Hadspen)and Clarendon (Evandale). And a visit to Richmond would not be complete without walking through the historic village, over the bridge and up to St John’s Church in Richmond (built in 1836).

On each page, there is a reminder of Tasmania’s colonial past: from the prosperous estates and mansions owned by the wealthy to the buildings of Port Arthur associated with convict transportation. I walk along St John Street in Launceston, past St John’s Church (page 186) where my grandparents were married in 1918, past the Dorset Terrace (page 164) where I’d love to live.  Launceston also has many beautiful civic buildings, built during its prosperous past: the Albert Hall (page 150) (where I sat examinations during the early 1970s); the Town Hall (page 168) and the Custom House (page174).

The book is divided into four parts:

Nineteenth Century Tasmania

Hobart

Launceston

Port Arthur

Superb sketches by Max Angus, Frank Mather and Arthur Phillips are accompanied by text by Patsy Adam Smith and Joan Woodberry.

If you are interested in Tasmania’s colonial past, this book (if you can find a copy) is worth exploring.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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Launceston Municipal Transport 1911-1955 by Ian G Cooper

A snapshot of public transport in Launceston between 1911 and 1955

I confess. I bought a copy of this book because it contains (on page 121) a photograph of my maternal grandfather, C.W. Cameron. He was the motorman on the last official tram service in Launceston on 13 December 1952 and is pictured, with conductor M.R. Harvey. Although the trams were long gone by the time my family moved to Launceston in 1960, some of the tramlines were still in place.

As I flicked though the book, I recognised the trolley buses (which were still in use until 1968). And then I read the book from cover to cover, fascinated by the history of public transport in Launceston during this period and enjoying the glimpse into the past provided by the photographs. There is technical detail of the various trams and buses, photographs of different tickets used, and details of the routes used.

The book also mentions the  Launceston Tramway Museum which is well worth visiting.

Those interested in technical detail will find this book interesting, as will those interested in the history of public transport.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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Wild Orchard by Isabel Dick

‘If Harriat Bracken on that fine April morning in the year 1840 had turned to the left and gone, as she had been bidden to do, straight up to her bedroom, all that is recorded here would never have happened.’

Harriat ‘Harry’ Bracken did not do as she was bidden, and instead met ‘Jan’ Halifax, a young man who had been sent to England from Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) to learn about growing hops. Harriat, the spirited daughter of a clergyman, falls in love. Jan is soon to return home to Van Diemen’s Land and he and Harriat marry, with her parents’ permission, after a very quick courtship.

Harriat leaves behind a conventional, genteel family, one in which class is important, to travel to the colonial frontier of Van Diemen’s Land. She knows nothing about Van Diemen’s Land, but she loves Jan and would follow him anywhere.  And 17-year-old Harry and 20-year-old Jan, married, eventually arrive in Hobart. They do not stay there long, moving quickly to the land that Jan’s father has left to him when he turns twenty-one.

What follows is a heart-warming tale of survival against the odds, of triumph against adversity, of the power of friendship. Harry may not know much about living in the bush without assistance, but she quickly learns. She contends with an assigned servant who becomes a danger to her and her new-born child, she makes friends with the other settlers who live near by and she supports Jan. Jan has his own tribulations: family members who have taken his property require him to relocate to Hobart for a while.

Ms Dick ‘s novel touches briefly on the dispossession of the Indigenous occupants.  She also has Harry meeting one of Tasmania’s more infamous bushrangers, Martin Cash. The novel ends as the Halifaxes are on the path to success. They complement each other perfectly, they are surrounded by good neighbours, and the land is full of promise.

This novel was published in 1946, and while it glosses over some of the negative aspects of colonial settlement, it does not ignore them. It is an easy, heart-warming read, which left me wondering what might happen next.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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On the Town by Dianne J.E Cassidy

‘Life as a prostitute in Launceston was nothing if not eventful.’

In her preface, Ms Cassidy writes: ‘This book does not, and cannot, in any way mention all of the brothels and prostitutes operating in Launceston in the 1800s. It merely tries to bring to light some of the more notorious characters living at that time so that their lives and tales are not lost to history.’

Ms Cassidy draws on public records (usually from newspaper accounts) to write about the experiences of women who ‘lived on the town’ in nineteenth century Launceston. This is a part of Tasmanian history about which I know little, in part because most accounts of the time focus on the historically well-known figures. Newspaper accounts only provide a partial story, of course, but those records have enabled Ms Cassidy to provide a social history of the lives and times of some of the women involved. I found the photographs interesting as well: some of the buildings that formerly housed brothels still exist.

As I read through Ms Cassidy’s book, I was drawn to parallels with elements of Dickensian London: the poor trying to survive however they could; violence; and the role of alcohol. And, of course, the moralistic judgments made.

This book is a valuable addition to the history of Launceston, especially as it covers people and events generally ignored in historical accounts.  And when I next return to Launceston, I will visit some of the graves at Carr Villa, and I will walk around central Launceston in the streets where some of these women walked.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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