Our River Days and the Croker Island kids


I mentioned this book a few days back: see Croker Island Exodus. As you can see I secured a copy from Wollongong Library and have now read it. I also saw Croker Island Exodus last night.

Alice Briston and Jessie Lyons, in their 80s, still recall their group canoeing across a crocodile-infested river, tussling over who would eat a dead goanna, discovering leeches in a waterhole they were drinking from and walking barefoot for days across rugged terrain…

The two women had been forcibly removed from their parents and wound up with other youngsters from the stolen generations in a Methodist mission on Croker Island. Its supplies were running out after the Darwin bombing and the group had to evacuate, starting with a boat to the mainland but having to then bypass Darwin.

At one stage, the children walked single file almost 100 kilometres across Kakadu after the government trucks sent to pick them up became stuck. ”It seemed a long way … no shoes, nothin’,” Briston said softly. But ”I didn’t even take notice of my feet”, she added with typical understatement. ”I just enjoyed myself walking around with other children.”

At that age – many were under 12 – it seemed more a big excursion than frightening experience. ”I don’t think we were scared,” Lyons said. Returning to Kakadu as an adult, ”I got more scared just going back there and seeing what we went through.” A boy died along the way.

One of the missionary carers, Sister Margaret Somerville, 99, was recently reunited with some from the journey. The emotional scenes are captured in Croker Island Exodus, which weaves historical footage with interviews and re-enactments.

Somerville told their story in a book, They Crossed a Continent.

The Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, said: ”This is one of the greatest of all Australian stories of love and compassion.”…


The documentary lived up to its promise. While it did not go into all that much detail about the children’s time at Otford there certainly were pictures worth the proverbial thousand words, especially colour footage of the children at Otford.

Betty Bezant’s book is even more an account of her childhood – and her family – in Otford than it is about the Croker Island children. It is a little repetitive, but nonetheless a good read and as memoirs go very accurate, I would say. One detail I found fascinating is that Clarence Greentree, originally the one teacher at Otford’s one room school – before the arrival of 76 Croker Island kids – went back to Croker Island after the war with the children and remained there as teacher. See also another memoir, Lorna "Nanna Nungala" Fejo.

Lorna was born in the late 1920’s to an aboriginal mother and a white father.

Lorna’s bush name is Minpirmngully.

She is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon).

Lorna was taken as a 4 year old, 1932, from her mother and became a part of the “Stolen Generation”. She was sent to Alice Springs to the bungalows. From here she was sent to Goulburn Island then to Croker Island in the early 1940’s.

She remained there until being evacuated to Sydney via Oenpelli and Pine Creek, after the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese. (They Crossed a Continent by Margaret Somerville) Photos contained in this book.

While in Sydney, Lorna attended primary school at Haberfield Primary School then moved to join the other children from Croker Island at Otford. She attended the Wollongong High School until the end of the war.

All of the younger children returned to Darwin on board the “Reynella”

After the war, Lorna returned to Croker Island, where more houses had been built to house the children. Schooling was provided by Mr Greentree. She was studying her 3rd year high school while also helping to teach children in grades 1-3. Her time at Croker was enjoyable…

See also Paint Me Black: Memories Of Croker Island And Other Journeys by Claire Henty-Gebert and Man with a mission: Alec Ross – House Parent at Wangkana Kari Aboriginal Hostel tells of his early years.

I was born at Barrow Creek in 1936, but I grew up in Sydney. I’m of Scottish descent, my father’s three quarters Scots. I work at Wangkana Kari Aboriginal Hostel as a house parent.

I was living at Neutral Junction with my mother when I was a baby and in those days they had a ruling that if you fathered a half-caste child, you weren’t allowed to be a father to it or stay with the child. My father was classed as a white man, he looked white but he wasn’t a white man. Then they took me away because my mother had me in the camp. The reason they gave my father for taking me away was that it was the law and that my father couldn’t do anything about it.

Because my father was classed as a white man, he couldn’t have an Aboriginal partner and so the child would therefore be taken away. They wanted us to grow up like a ‘normal’ white person I suppose and give us a better education and a better living.

While he was there my father actually took care of me but he had to go to Adelaide with R.M. Williams, the clothes manufacturer. They were good mates so he went to business in Adelaide with R.M. Williams and he said he couldn’t look after me, he left me with my mother and so the authorities came about a week later and took me away.

We all went to the Bungalow, the old Telegraph Station in Alice Springs, actually I think it was the Cullen Compound first and then moved to Alice. They kept us there for about two or three weeks, I’m not to sure and I was probably three or three and a half or something.

They then split us up into religious groups, Methodist, Catholic, Church of England and so on and they moved us south. They said, "You go with them and you go with them," and I ended up in a place called Croker Island in 1941.

The Japs started bombing there in ’42 so they had to move us in a hurry – they couldn’t find a place in Sydney, but they did eventually find somewhere at a place called Otford, about an hour outside of Sydney. We stayed there until the War was over. I remember all the Jap’s subs coming in and getting knocked out in the Harbour and that sort of thing. I remember the Japs flying over us at Croker and before we had to leave and then when they bombed Darwin.

We had to walk practically all the way from a place called Barklay Bay on the Arnhem Land coast right over to Pine Creek through the bush. It would have been two or three hundred miles and there were about eighty kids and three or four missionaries. We had two old trucks, an old Chevrolet truck and a couple of horses and that’s how we travelled through crocodile infested waters.

We went right through the Arnhem Gully across to Pine Creek and when we got there we met up with the Army. We put on an impromptu concert for them, I was one of the ten green bottles. I fell over and cut my lip on the stage!…

On the Island [Croker] they had taught us everything – gardening, fencing, anything that was there you had to try and learn to do. I think in my case it was very good thing because I look back at my family now and see them, the way they’re living and my half brothers and sisters. All the black fella side, my mother’s side, I mean they’re not the same, they’ve got no work, they’re just living out in the bush and coming in when they want to. They’re on the dole and they can’t get a job. But I’ve been working ever since I was ready to work and it was very seldom that I got on the dole queue…

Maybe some people are inclined to be angry and maybe they’re looking for money or some compensation from the government and that’s the big problem. Some of them did suffer more than I did because a lot of the older kids probably knew their parents better than me, I didn’t. Being so young, I was taken away and I hadn’t known my parents, so therefore it didn’t matter to me. All these kids who were running with me in the same age group would be like brothers and sisters…

Passing through the Otford Valley, Christmas 2010

mais où sont les neiges d’antan?



Wollongong High’s Class of 1983 – looking towards thirty years on

There are a few people who read this blog who were in that class! I had gone by 1983, 1980 being my last year at Wollongong High – but I did teach some of these people in Years 8 or 9.

My time at Wollongong High teaching English, History and, would you believe, Photography was in two segments: 1975 to 1976 and 1979 to 1980. 1977 and 1978 I was working in Dip Ed at Sydney University.

But today I want to focus on 1979.

1979: Annus Mirabilis Horribilisque

There’s something about me and 9 years. 1989 was another case in point, 1959 was my last year of school, and 1969 my last year as a teacher at Cronulla High School. In 1979 I returned to Wollongong High after my Sydney secondment and the year was in fact pretty good in most ways. I had a very memorable Year 12 Class in 1979.

[There were rumours last year that Mr Smith was having it off with a Year 12 girl.]

– Would you like some coffee?

[There were rumours last year that Mr Smith was having it off with that spunky librarian.]

– Thanks, J.

[There were rumours last year that Mr Smith was having it off with the milkman. "Had your cream this morning?" the class wit, Carcase, used to ask him.]

That fictional version is true to the extent that there were such rumours which in fact were about me. None of the rumours was actually true, however, though I was in the company of the Librarian – a 20-something – and her friends more than once. And there was a boy nicknamed “Carcase”, though I fancy he spelled it “Carcass”…. And he was one of the more memorable people I ever taught.

Physically he was a stereotyped blond surfie, of South African background (or was it Dutch?), and a person with a long record of run-ins with authority. I had taught him before I went to Sydney, and in fact he was in a class I was inspected on for my dreaded “List 2” promotion in 1976. “That boy doesn’t like authority,” the inspector, Tom Dobinson, said afterwards – but congratulated me for the way I had handled him. And strangely enough when I found myself with a senior class of not the keenest students Wollongong High could offer, Carcase was in it. He had been skating on thin ice for some time, apparently, and there were rumours he had spent at least part of Year 10 working for Wollongong Council as a labourer while still at school. I won’t swear to the truth of that, but I can well imagine it.

I was younger and enthusiastic and determined to win this group over. In 1978 I had been in the Balmain Theatre Group, playing Clarrie, a Rugby League commentator, in Alex Buzo’s The Roy Murphy Show.


Good to see it getting a run more recently.

Back in Wollongong with that senior class, we had something very daring for the time on our text list: David Williamson’s The Removalists. I thought it would play well with the group and it did, especially after a book-in-hand rehearsed class reading that almost went wrong but in fact went very right.

That’s the scene, but watered down somewhat.

In the original Kenny is handcuffed to the door when  the corrupt cop knees him in the nuts, to which Kenny replies with the C-word. Naturally I had cast Carcase as Kenny and myself as the corrupt cop. We didn’t actually have handcuffs and I didn’t actually knee him in the nuts, but Carcase, who was a great actor, gave a very loud and convincing response.

I had forgotten I was next to the Social Science staff room. The Head of Department, father of another ex-student of mine who is currently a Fairfax journalist, came in with several colleagues to rescue me, Carcase’s line not having lacked in projection. I held the book up and pointed to the line, while the class rolled on the floor laughing – well almost! Subsequent discussion with staff  along the lines of “Jeez mate, that was a bit fucken rude! You’ve got to remember there’s women about…” was somewhat ironic really, a fact I shared with the class later on before setting them an essay on whether the text was suitable for school study.

Carcase’s essay was so good it was later published in the English Teachers Association Newsletter.

Meanwhile the Balmain Theatre Group was putting on another Buzo play, Coralie Lansdowne Says No. To extend my class’s understanding of theatre and their knowledge of Australian drama, I arranged with the director for the whole class to travel up to Sydney several times to follow the play from casting to first night.

On the casting night I was wandering about by myself on the stage feeling more than a bit nostalgic – as I would have been in the play myself had I stayed in Sydney. Carcase appeared and said something totally unexpected: “You belong here, don’t you…”

Later  after the first night performance the class and I attended some of the after party. Alex Buzo was there and I spotted him and Carcase having quite a conversation about the nature of dramatic language. “What a lovely boy,” Alex said. I assured him very many people at Wollongong High would be shocked to hear such a thing.

Then came the HSC and one of the worst events in my career, as the students found – as did I – in the exam room that even though the fact had been known and indeed publicised that we were doing Huckleberry Finn, there was no question about Huckleberry Finn on the paper. Our texts had been chosen from the previous year’s list – easy to do as they were not very well signposted in those days. It is an English teacher’s nightmare and I was upset more than you might imagine. I was of course investigated but the Head of English is the one who was really hauled over the coals. Not a good time.

In the midst of all this when I was alone back in Church Street North Wollongong and feeling very low, there was a knock on my door late one night. It was Carcase and his then girlfriend, who just happened to be the Regional Director of Education’s daughter. Carcase had come to tell me that no matter what some might be thinking, as far as he was concerned I had been a fantastic teacher and I shouldn’t worry.  Of course in the end the students were not disadvantaged as “misadventure” provisions evened out the marks.

That was the last I saw or heard of Carcase, and I have no idea what he went on to do, though I have heard some of it involved music and he ended up in Queensland.

Earlier this month Stewart Holt, another Wollongong High ex-student who, had he stayed on, would have been in the class photo above, told me he had heard Carcase had died.

Saturday’s Mercury confirms that Mark Bosman, aged 51, had indeed passed away and the funeral is next week.

Hence these stories. RIP.

And also I note Friends mourn death of beloved GP. Condolences to the Khan family.

The Cartographer– Peter Twohig 2012


Linked to book web site.

QI – for Quite Intriguing. It is set in 1959, a year I remember well, but in Richmond and Melbourne with which I am less familiar – though I did know Sydney’s Surry Hills (shades of Ruth Park) at that time. Much in Peter Twohig’s highly imaginative recreation I found chimed well with my memory, though the presence still of World War 2 less so, even if it still astounds me that the war, during which I was born, really was still so close then.


Anzac drainage tunnel flowing into the Yarra with Melbourne Boy’s High School in the background.

This features in The Cartographer. You may care to click on the image to find out what the tunnels really were about!

An eleven-year-old boy witnesses a violent crime. Just one year before, he looked on helplessly as his identical twin died a violently. His determination that he himself is the link changes his life.

The Cartographer is a captivating novel about a tragic figure in a dark place. The nameless child who tells the story handles the terrors of his life by adopting the strengths of fictional pop culture characters he admires, drawing on comics, radio and television dramas, and movies, finally recreating himself as a superhero who saves himself by mapping, and who attempts to redeem himself by giving up his persona so that another may live again. His only mentors are a professional standover man, his shady grandfather, and an incongruous neighbourhood couple who intervene in an oddly coincidental way. 

In the dark, dangerous lanes and underground drains of grimy 1959 Melbourne, The Cartographer is a story bristling with outrageous wit and irony about an innocent who refuses to give in, a story peopled with a richness of shifty, dodgy and downright malicious bastards, mixed with a modicum of pseudo-aunts, astonishing super heroes, and a few coincidentally loving characters, some of whom are found in the most unlikely places.

See also Announcing: The Cartographer! and How to tell lies from Peter Twohig’s excellent writer’s blog.

Fiction writers are a bunch of liars. I don’t care how well you know them, which monastery they live in, which brand of polygraph they routinely flatline. Those people lie in their teeth. And what’s more, they’re damned good at it. Otherwise, you’d be reading their stories and saying to yourself with each turn of the page, ‘Oh my god, does she expect me to believe this drivel?’

Let me tell you something about the author: she doesn’t have to expect you to swallow it: she knows you will. She knows that you want to believe, that you want to be lied to. That you want to be conned — make that lulled. She knows you because she remembers all the times she allowed some author to enchant her. And how she didn’t want it to stop.

I could have danced all night,

I could have danced all night,

And still have asked for more

And so on.

Just occasionally, in my opinion, The Cartographer goes just that bit too far over the top…. But did I enjoy it? Sure did. And is there a hell of a lot of truth in its lies? Sure is! And the language is generally spot on.

See Patricia Maunder in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Indeed, The Cartographer is a genuinely dark tale at times. Richmond was a dangerous and depressed part of town when Twohig grew up there in the 1950s and ’60s, so placing his child protagonist in the thick of it sometimes reads like a cathartic nightmare. Yet this book oozes gentle humour, particularly through colourful, vintage turns of phrase and the boy’s observations of the adult world, which are either amusingly naive or hilariously on the money. It can also be a disarmingly poignant story.

The Cartographer is a remarkable first novel whose vivid descriptions, original, engaging voice and surprising hero-in-the-rough draws the reader into a labyrinth of danger and discovery.

Back then but in The Gong

This lovely shot appeared in the historical feature in today’s Illawarra Mercury.


Yes, a C32 – remember them well – passing by Clifton in 1960. Note the Holden. Train travel was quite an adventure still in those days. Sitting in a train like that reading Sherlock Holmes went down rather well.

The Mystery of a Hansom Cab

Chapter III.
One Hundred Pounds Reward.


“Whereas, on Friday, the 27th day of July, the body of a man, name unknown, was found in a hansom cab. AND WHEREAS, at an inquest held at St. Kilda, on the 30th day of July, a verdict of wilful murder, against some person unknown, was brought in by the jury. The deceased is of medium height, with a dark complexion, dark hair, clean shaved, has a mole on the left temple, and was dressed in evening dress. Notice is hereby given that a reward of 100 pounds will be paid by the Government for such information as will lead to the conviction of the murderer, who is presumed to be a man who entered the hansom cab with the deceased at the corner of Collins and Russell Streets, on the morning of the 27th day of July.”


Coming up on ABC1 next Sunday.

Simon Caterson’s “Introduction” to the Text Classics edition of The Mystery of the Hansom Cab:

THE bestselling crime novel of the nineteenth century was not written by Arthur Conan Doyle or Wilkie Collins. That distinction belongs to Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, which appeared in the year before Sherlock Holmes made what was, by comparison, a rather unspectacular debut in A Study in Scarlet.

The Hansom Cab was an overnight sensation when published in Melbourne in 1886, and it rapidly found readers around the world, especially in Britain. As many as 750,000 copies were sold during Hume’s lifetime, nearly half that number within the first six months of publication in London in 1887.

Advertised in its first English edition as “a startling and realistic story of Melbourne social life,” The Hansom Cab was a first novel which had been written almost by accident and was self-published. Despite these modest beginnings the book became a huge international success and was translated into eleven languages. In its obituary for Hume in 1932, the Times was to note that “everybody read it eagerly and in fact it went all over the world.”…

You can get a free eBook from the University of Adelaide.

humeMrs. Hableton’s particular grievance was want of money. Not by any means an uncommon one, you might remind her; but she snappishly would tell you that “she knowd that, but some people weren’t like other people.” In time one came to learn what she meant by this. She had come to the Colonies in the early days — days when the making of money in appreciable quantity was an easier matter than it is now. Owing to a bad husband, she had failed to save any. The late Mr. Hableton — for he had long since departed this life — had been addicted to alcohol, and at those times when he should have been earning, he was usually to be found in a drinking shanty spending his wife’s earnings in “shouting” for himself and his friends. The constant drinking, and the hot Victorian climate, soon carried him off, and when Mrs. Hableton had seen him safely under the ground in the Melbourne Cemetery, she returned home to survey her position, and see how it could be bettered. She gathered together a little money from the wreck of her fortune, and land being cheap, purchased a small “section” at St. Kilda, and built a house on it. She supported herself by going out charing, taking in sewing, and acting as a sick nurse, So, among this multiplicity of occupations, she managed to exist fairly well.

And in truth it was somewhat hard upon Mrs. Hableton. For at the time when she should have been resting and reaping the fruit of her early industry, she was obliged to toil more assiduously than ever. It was little consolation to her that she was but a type of many women, who, hardworking and thrifty themselves, are married to men who are nothing but an incubus to their wives and to their families. Small wonder, then, that Mrs. Hableton should condense all her knowledge of the male sex into the one bitter aphorism, “Men is brutes.”

Possum Villa was an unpretentious-looking place, with one, bow-window and a narrow verandah in front. It was surrounded by a small garden in which were a few sparse flowers — the especial delight of Mrs. Hableton. It was, her way to tie an old handkerchief round her head and to go out into the garden and dig and water her beloved flowers until, from sheer desperation at the overwhelming odds, they gave up all attempt to grow. She was engaged in this favourite occupation about a week after her lodger had gone. She wondered where he was.

“Lyin’ drunk in a public-’ouse, I’ll be bound,” she said, viciously pulling up a weed, “a-spendin’ ’is, rent and a-spilin’ ’is inside with beer — ah, men is brutes, drat ’em!”

Just as she said this, a shadow fell across the garden, and on looking up, she saw a man leaning over the fence, staring at her.

“Git out,” she said, sharply, rising from her knees and shaking her trowel at the intruder. “I don’t want no apples to-day, an’ I don’t care how cheap you sells ’em.”

Mrs. Hableton evidently laboured under the delusion that the man was a hawker, but seeing no hand-cart with him, she changed her mind.

“You’re takin’ a plan of the ’ouse to rob it, are you?” she said. “Well, you needn’t, ’cause there ain’t nothin’ to rob, the silver spoons as belonged to my father’s mother ’avin’ gone down my ’usband’s, throat long ago, an’ I ain’t ’ad money to buy more. I’m a lone pusson as is put on by brutes like you, an’ I’ll thank you to leave the fence I bought with my own ’ard earned money alone, and git out.”

Mrs. Hableton stopped short for want of breath, and stood shaking her trowel, and gasping like a fish out of water.

“My dear lady,” said the man at the fence, mildly, “are you — ”

“No, I ain’t,” retorted Mrs. Hableton, fiercely, “I ain’t neither a member of the ‘Ouse, nor a school teacher, to answer your questions. I’m a woman as pays my rates an’ taxes, and don’t gossip nor read yer rubbishin’ newspapers, nor care for the Russings, no how, so git out.”

“Don’t read the papers?” repeated the man, in a satisfied tone, “ah! that accounts for it.”

Mrs. Hableton stared suspiciously at the intruder. He was a burly-looking man, with a jovial red face, clean shaven, and his sharp, shrewd-looking grey eyes twinkled like two stars. He was, well-dressed in a suit of light clothes, and wore a stiffly-starched white waistcoat, with a massive gold chain stretched across it. Altogether he gave Mrs. Hableton finally the impression of being a well-to-do tradesman, and she mentally wondered what he wanted.

“What d’y want?” she asked, abruptly.

“Does Mr. Oliver Whyte live here?” asked the stranger.

“He do, an’ he don’t,” answered Mrs. Hableton, epigrammatically. “I ain’t seen ’im for over a week, so I s’pose ’e’s gone on the drink, like the rest of ’em, but I’ve put sumthin’ in the paper as ’ill pull him up pretty sharp, and let ’im know I ain’t a carpet to be trod on, an’ if you’re a friend of ’im, you can tell ’im from me ’e’s a brute, an’ it’s no more but what I expected of ’im, ’e bein’ a male.”…

I’ll leave you to your own judgement of that, but why did I inadvertently find myself thinking “Gillard” for some reason? You may ignore that if you like.

So I am rereading my eBook version. Can’t say it is the world’s greatest book, but it is interesting. I am sure the adaptation on Sunday will be well worth a look.

See also Hume, Fergusson Wright (Fergus) (1859–1932) and The Case of the "Growler" and the Handsome Hansom which is not directly relevant but introduces a nice blog from a Tasmanian historian.

Are we living in a television golden age in Australia?

You wouldn’t think so if you consider the struggles some of the commercial networks have been having lately merely to stay afloat. Nor would you think so from the vast amounts of total sewage that fill up the ever-expanding spaces even free-to-air now offers.

But even so, take just lately:


Jack Irish

I thoroughly enjoyed last night’s Black Tide, the second of two adaptations of Peter Temple’s Jack Irish novels on ABC1. I have to confess I am not as familiar with Temple’s novels as I should be. And my only quibble with either of the two adaptations I have seen thus far is probably down to the books as well – a slightly cheesy plot device whereby the vital bits of evidence are hidden in unlikely places which in turn are divined in rather unlikely ways through “the luck of the Irish”, as it was expressed last night. That aside, what a great addition to Oz film and TV these have been! As Sydney bookshop owner Jon Page says:

I think the Jack Irish series by Peter Temple is not just the best crime series in Australia but rivals any crime fiction series in the world. When I first heard they were turning the books into a TV series I was very excited because I knew it would bring more readers to the series and to Peter Temple’s other books. However my excitement was met with apprehension when I heard that Guy Pearce was cast in the role of Jack Irish. I like Guy Pearce and think he has done some fantastic work, in particular his role in HBO’s Mildred Pierce but for me he just didn’t embody the character of Jack Irish that I had in my mind.

The Jack Irish character I had from reading the books was Jack Thompson-esque: laconic, strong, rugged. My mind began to change though after seeing Animal Kingdom, in which Guy Pearce played a detective. For the first time I thought there was a possibility he could pull the role off.

I was lucky enough to get a preview copy of both Jack Irish telemovies, Bad Debts and Black Tide, and I can say unequivocally that Guy Pearce is Jack Irish. Not only does he embody the role, he completely owns it. The whole production is also pitch perfect. You couldn’t imagine a better support cast, in every role. Melbourne and rural Victoria, which is evoked so well in the books is also filmed nice and darkly. Both telemovies are true to the books and the only negative I can think of is that Dead Point and White Dog aren’t filmed yet!…

Well, aside from the fact Jack Thompson is now far too old… I agree about Guy Pearce, though – he is brilliant. Of course now if I read the books I will be seeing Guy Pearce!

The dialogue is just brilliant, the vernacular just right, and the casting spot on. How could it be better, my plot quibble aside?

Then there is Rake, also brilliant and Sydney to Jack Irish’s Melbourne.  To look forward we soon have…

Having lived in Redfern and Surry Hills for so long I am waiting to see what this is like, but the signs are good.

Produced by Blackfella Films (Mabo, First Australians), the 6 x 1 hr drama series has been directed by Rachel Perkins (Mabo, Bran Nue Dae) and Catriona McKenzie (Satellite Boy), with Wayne Blair (The Sapphires, Wish You Were Here) and Leah Purcell (Somersault, Jindabyne, Lantana) both starring in and directing one of the stories.

Starring Deborah Mailman (Mabo, The Sapphires), Leah Purcell, Dean Daley-Jones (Toomelah, Mad Bastards), Miranda Tapsell (The Sapphires), Jimi Bani (Mabo, The Straits), Shari Sebbens (The Sapphires), Wayne Blair and Kelton Pell (Cloudstreet, The Circuit), REDFERN NOW has been produced by Blackfella Films in association with ABC TV, Screen Australia and Screen NSW.

With internationally acclaimed British writer Jimmy McGovern (The Street, Cracker, The Lakes) working closely with the scriptwriters as Story Producer, the series tells the powerful stories of six inner city households whose lives are changed by a seemingly insignificant incident.

I have also become more and more attached to ABC News 24 – not to watch it all day by any means, but to go there at 6pm when there is nothing more appealing on ABC1 – so I currently exclude Tuesdays (Time Team) and Thursdays (Griff Jones).  On Saturdays and Sundays the hour or so from 5pm is well worth looking at. One highlight is the modest but very informative One Plus One.

Here is one from last year.


Here at The Bates Motel yesterday was warmish.


A writer’s yesterday

Helen Garner has a rather lovely unsent letter to a former teacher in the Fairfax press Sunday Supplement today.

One day you listed the functions of the adverb. You said, "An ad­verb can modify an adjective." Until that moment I had known only that adverbs modified verbs: they laughed loudly; sadly she hung her head. I knew I was supposed to be scratching away with my dip pen, copying the list into my exercise book, but I was so excited by this new idea that I put up my hand and said, "Mrs Dunkley. How can an adverb modify an adjective?"

You paused, up there in front of the board with the pointer in your hand. My cheeks were just about to start burning when I saw on your face a mysterious thing. It was a tiny, crooked smile. You looked at me for a long moment – a slow, careful, serious look. You looked at me, and for the first time, I knew that you had seen me.

"Here’s an example," you said, in an almost intimate tone. "The wind was terribly cold."

I got it, and you saw me get it. Then your face snapped shut.

I never lost my terror of you, nor you your savage contempt. But if arithmetic lessons continued to be a hell of failure and derision, your English classes were a paradise of branching and blossoming knowledge.

Robert Hughes “Things I Didn’t Know”–an autobiography

I loved it, enjoyed it in fact more than I did The Fatal Shore. It is monumentally digressive, but I really didn’t mind those journeys – and they are relevant to the man/the voice that emerges so strongly. It seems there was to be a sequel, but that won’t be now, of course. And maybe it’s a generational thing – Hughes was born just five years before me – but I rather agree with what he has to say about the hippies and the 60s.


A wartime childhood.

This review is a really good starting point.

‘Of course I am completely an elitist, in the cultural but emphatically not the social sense’, asserts Hughes in characteristically combative style:

I prefer the good to the bad, the articulate to the mumbling, the aesthetically developed to the merely primitive, and full to partial consciousness.  I love the spectacle of skill … I don’t think stupid or ill-read people are as good to be with as wise and fully literate ones. … Consequently, most of the human race doesn’t matter much to me, outside the normal and necessary frame of courtesy and the obligation to respect human rights.  I see no reason to squirm around apologizing for this.  I am, after all, a cultural critic, and my main job is to distinguish the good from the second-rate, pretentious, sentimental, and boring stuff that saturates culture today.

So begins a memoir in which Hughes’ prime objective is to explore the extent to which his Australianness is the most important thing about him, or only one attribute in an evolving life.  He begins with his elite origins, the grandson of the first lord mayor of Sydney, and the son of a successful lawyer and war hero.  His older brother was a lawyer who went on to be Attorney-General. Growing up in the Sydney of the 1940s and 1950s the young Hughes did not ‘talk Australian’ and was singled out as a ‘pom’ by bullies at the tough Jesuit boarding school he attended. Coming to terms with the strict Catholicism and conservatism of his upbringing is another theme that recurs throughout the book…

…a chapter on London in the sixties which is both entertaining for Hughes’ usually disparaging  thumbnail portraits of leading lights of the underground (Timothy Leary was ‘a coarse, middle-aged Irish whiskey priest’; Jerry Rubin ‘a semi-educated liar with invincible self-esteem, the attention span of a flea, and a disgustingly inflated ego to match’) and disturbing for his account of the disaster of his first marriage to a woman he portrays as emotionally out of control and self-obsessed, who apparently slept with just about every counterculture icon in London at the time.  She was so promiscuous that Hughes believes that Eldridge Cleaver was one of the ‘few male radical celebs with whom, in 1968 and ’69, she had not had sex’.  The role call included Jimi Hendrix,  from whom as a consequence Hughes acquired a case of the clap. ‘I was a cuckold going cuckoo’, he laments, describing at one point how he comforted his wife after her return to their home and young child from one of her regular debauches.  Stroking her hair, he encountered ‘a crusty patch of some stranger’s dried semen’…

Following reviewers through Google I came upon this:

… his first wife, Danne, a hippy dingbat to whom he injudiciously hooked himself during the Sixties. She was, he announces, a ‘white witch’ and living with her was like cohabiting with ‘a deranged alley cat’. Luckily, Danne cannot sue: having converted to lesbianism, she died – grossly overweight, as Hughes ungallantly notes – in 2003. Their only child, a son called Danton, had ‘gassed himself with carbon monoxide from his car in his far older lover’s house’ the year before.

That is all Hughes says about this particular loss, which must have been tragic and tormenting, and the obliquity reveals a blind spot in his character and in his book. He is confessional, having been trained to blurt out his squalid carnal misdemeanours to a priest, but he is rarely confidential. After he has vented his grievance against ingrate Australia, his memoir becomes frustratingly impersonal. He snarls at poseurs like Julian Schnabel and Jeff Koons, whom he has often lambasted before; he fills reams of paper with essays on Leonardo da Vinci and Piero della Francesca that read like extracts salvaged from books he never wrote; he doggedly retraverses his early Italian travels and limply describes Porto Ercole as ‘a huge living postcard’.

A memoir, however, should be more than an anthology of anecdotes or a digest of rankling grudges. ‘Know thyself’, the command of the Delphic oracle, is the autobiographer’s injunction. That self may be one of the very few things that the polymathic, uproariously eloquent Hughes does not know.


Much to be preferred is Christopher Hitchens:

…And this is why I stress Hughes’s addiction to understatement. He describes the utter boredom and pointlessness of much of the crash-pad-and-hash life into which he plunged, and it is only his attempt to make light of the experience that shoves it into a piercingly sharp relief. Many people had narrow escapes from the Sixties, when relationships could be dropped and picked up as quickly as callow opinions or tabs of acid, but it was Hughes’s bad luck to form a kind of matrimony with a true drifter and dilettante (and evident sack-artist) who once gave him the very pox that she had caught from Jimi Hendrix. That could be a funny story at some remove: What makes it unfunny is her preference for hard drugs and needles over their only son, Danton Vidal Hughes. This boy later committed suicide. Hughes mentions the death almost as gruffly–and as briefly–as did Kipling in noting the passing of "my boy Jack" in Something of Myself.


See also: Geoff Dyer, Aussie Brawler (NY TImes); Craig Sherborne, Some Things We Don’t Yet Know: Robert Hughes’s "Things I Didn’t Know"; Peter Craven, Time’s Arrow: An interview with Robert Hughes; Tim Flannery, The Naked Critic: Memories of Robert Hughes; and Fatal Shore author Robert Hughes dies at 74.


Now I am going to look for Barcelona (2001), Goya (2004) and Rome: A Cultural, Visual and Personal History (2011) in Wollongong Library!