|Swanning Around Perth by Alex George and Charmaine Cave|
To 17th-century Europeans, the thought of a black swan was beyond comprehension — until Dutch explorers visited a river in Western Australia, later called the ‘Swane Rivier’, where they found the unimaginable: black swans. Today, this distinctive bird is a symbol synonymous with Perth life.
Swanning around Perth is a photographic celebration of Perth’s many cultural and historical links with the black swan. The book explores more than 160 examples of the bird’s use in art, design and architecture, showing how it has been adopted as an insignia by government, education, sport and the performing arts.
The book is an interesting and novel way of showing how this serene bird has been associated with the Perth region ever since it was colonised in 1829, appearing on everything from official coats of arms to fine art, coins and countless souvenirs.
Available from Four Gables Press, $20 – click to view.
|Underground Australia by Michael McKernan|
This outsized book of colour and black and white photographs goes literally below the surface of Australia, documenting relics from convict days to the quite recent past.
Michael McKernan provides a brief introduction and overview, but really this book is all about the pictures — and what a range they cover. There is the haunting beauty of Frank Hurley’s interior of one of the Jenolan Caves; a startling image of a white man using his rifle to point out rock paintings to his two young Aboriginal companions; and the cruel convict ‘dumb cells’, where prisoners were held underground.
Much of what goes on underground in Australia is utilitarian — giant engineering projects that provide electricity, sewerage, and transport, and there is a strong representation of these activities, too, as well as mining. This is an eclectic and revealing miscellany of underground work and life, beautifully presented.
Available from National Library of Australia, $39.99 – click to view.
|John Vane: Biography of a Bushranger by Craig Bratby|
John Vane may lack the notoriety of his fellow bushranger and ‘gang-mate’ Ben Hall but, as the outlaw come (almost) good, he is a fascinating historical figure in his own right. Rather than ending his bushranging stint by noose or bullet, Vane surrendered; the long, peaceful decades that followed his criminal youth render him all the more intriguing.
This deftly researched and authoritatively written biography brings to life not only Vane’s complex character and riveting exploits but also, essentially, his world. Bratby creates a real sense of the man and his network: Vane’s convict forebears, extended family, fellow bushrangers, victims and opponents alike all emerge as three-dimensional figures. It’s a family history wrapped into a community history of New South Wales’ Western districts.
Rich in detail, anecdotes and interconnections, this book is an interesting snapshot of colonial Australia across several generations.
Available from Craig Bratby, $40 + postage – click to view.
|Dirty Secrets: Our ASIO files edited by Meredith Burgmann
Meredith Burgmann’s Introduction to this fascinating book foreshadows some of the themes that emerge repeatedly as the contributors discuss their own or their families’ ASIO files. One is the ‘waste of resources’ allocated to the surveillance of people who weren’t in any way threatening to the state, but simply exercising their democratic rights to free association, to membership of groups and political parties and to public criticism of social inequity and political oppression.
Covering five decades, from the early 1950s to the 1990s, the book is a must-read for anyone who cares about our dissenting past or our potentially oppressive present.
|First Victory 1914 by Mike Carlton|
Mike Carlton is an impassioned writer on whatever subject he turns his attention to, mainly Australian politics and society. But when it comes to the Royal Australian Navy, he hoists the battle ensign and hits full steam ahead.
With First Victory 1914, Carlton wants to tell a ripping yarn, but he also wants to make a point. The exploits of HMAS Sydney and her quarry, the German raider Emden, are worthy enough material, but Carlton uses the book to argue that Australia had no choice but to become engaged in World War One.
He points out that before the outbreak of war, Germany had developed a flourishing colonial empire in Asia and the Pacific, including German New Guinea. Moreover, as war grew ever more likely between European powers in the early 1900s, Germany was drawing up plans to choke the lucrative and vital shipping trade between Australia and Britain.
Available from William Heinemann, $45 – click to view.
|My Ancestor Was A Woman At War by Emma Jolly |
This guide gives a broad yet meticulous overview of useful sources in researching your woman at war. With every chapter underpinned by an explanation of historical context, you can gain a more comprehensive understanding of the events and organisations in
which your relative may have been involved. Although the guide targets those researching British women, there is a chapter dedicated to war women across the entire Commonwealth. All in all, it’s a handy and easy-to-read guide for those new to war research.
Available from Society of Genealogists, approx. $18- click to view.
|The Black War: Fear, Sex and Resistance in Tasmania by Nicholas Clements|
The Black War is a definitive work on colonial Tasmania’s frontier conflict, meticulously researched and compellingly argued.
First and foremost, this is a social history. Each chapter — and, hence, every event — is covered from both the colonists’ perspective and the Aboriginals’. This striking dual approach nuances the conflict between these societies and humanises its protagonists.
As such, it’s all the more unsettling to read of the sexual violence that Aboriginal women suffered at the hands of colonial settlers, the guerrilla campaigns of the Tasmanian tribes, and the horrific mass killings and murders that marred each side. This book forces us to look beyond the binary of black and white, of good and bad, to appreciate the intrinsically human layers of grey. A gripping, essential read.
Available from UQP, $34.95 – click to view.
|Sydney’s Hard Rock Story: The Cultural Heritage of Trachyte by Robert Irving, Ron Powell and Noel Irving|
Setting out to examine the ‘life and times’ of a building material makes for an unusual history book but, niche topic aside, this is an accessible and interesting read. Bowral trachyte remains little-known amongst laypersons yet, as the authors demonstrate, proved a crucial building block in Sydney’s urban landscape.
Sydney’s Hard Rock Story traces trachyte from its early quarrying to its heyday between the 1880s and 1920s and beyond. A trachyte walk in the city centre draws attention to the myriad examples of its uses on grand facades, obscure memorials, fountains, sepulchres, kerbs and gutters alike that would otherwise go unnoticed.
Perfect for architecture aficionados with an interest in social history.
Available from Heritage Publications, $40 – click to view.
|My Ancestor Was in the Royal Navy by Ian Waller|
Tracing an ancestor through military records can be hindered by an unfamiliarity with military organisations and jargon. My Ancestor Was in the Royal Navy is designed to be a comprehensive tool for understanding the history and structure of the Royal Navy to better navigate the swathes of military records that are often complex and full of varied abbreviations.
The book’s 24 chapters progress clearly and logically through the technicalities of rankings, hierarchy, divisions, different uniforms and insignia before leading on to a breakdown of the many different avenues of research. Covering everything from service records, personal papers and diaries to tracing prisoners of war, this guide is a great aid for genealogy beginners.
Available from Society of Genealogists, approx. A$23 – click to view.
|Sheila: The Australian Beauty Who Bewitched British Society by Robert Wainwright|
More social history than biography, this fascinating book brings to life the glamorous years between the world wars.
Born in 1895 on a property near Goulburn, New South Wales, Sheila Chisholm spent her childhood like most other Australians: cavorting outdoors, getting into scrapes and terrifying her parents. She was doted on by her mum and dad, teased by her older brothers and given the best education available to girls at the time. In 1914, her mother felt that Sheila’s education would be best completed by attending the Season in London.
In the following years Sheila threw herself into society events, making friends and gaining admirers. Among these were the heir to the British throne, Prince Edward, and his brother Prince Albert, to whom Sheila grew particularly close.
Robert Wainwright has painstakingly researched Sheila Chisholm’s life and has put his research to excellent use in producing a fascinating document of an opulent, uninhibited world that ended with the beginning of World War Two.
Available from Allen & Unwin, A$32.99 – click to view.
|The Poet’s Wife by Mandy Sayer|
The award-winning author of Velocity and Dreamtime Alice returns with the soul-baring memoir of her marriage to Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa.
Australian Mandy Sayer is 22 and tap dancing on street corners when she meets Yusef Komunyakaa in New Orleans in 1985. He is African-American, a poet, and almost 20 years older. A friendship develops between them and soon they fall in love. But even before they marry, Sayer realises their relationship is haunted by Komunyakaa’s secretive and controlling nature.
They return to Australia, and as Sayer’s writing career flourishes, so do Komunyakaa’s attempts to control her. The Poet’s Wife is a tale of passion, of love and betrayal, of jealousy and control. It is a tale of commonplace cruelty; of an emotional cage the captive can only see with the benefit of hindsight. It is a compelling account of the kind of abusive relationship that leaves little physical evidence, but it is also a beacon of hope that shows escape and recovery are possible.
Available from Allen & Unwin, A$32.99 – click to view.
|The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan|
Inspired by both his father’s experiences as a prisoner-of-war and the life of Weary Dunlop, Richard Flanagan’s new novel explores trauma and heroism on the Thai-Burma railway.
Dorrigo Evans is the novel’s central figure. Divided into five parts, the story moves seamlessly back and forth between Dorrigo’s youth in Tasmania, his pre-deployment, his time in the camps, and the fame that follows. Other voices take over the narrative at times, including those of his lover Amy, prisoners Darky Gardiner and Jimmy Bigelow, and the Japanese commandant Major Nakamura.
While this novel has much insight into heroism and the trauma of the men who lived through the camps, its critique of national mythologies extends only to the treatment of the Japanese after the war. Mateship and its place in Australian identity go largely unquestioned. But perhaps this should not matter. After all, Flanagan’s purpose is to convey the suffering that men endured on the Line and the price they paid in later life. It is for his readers – and for Australia – to decide what that means for who we were, who we are, and who we want to be.
Available from Vintage, A$32.95 – click to view.
|Patchwork Prisoners: The Rajah Quilt and the Women Who Made It by Trudy Cowley & Dianne Snowden|
The Rajah sailed from England to Hobart in 1841 with 180 prisoners and 10 children. The ship also carried a ‘matron’, Kezia Hayter, a follower of prison reformer Elizabeth Fry. Hayter designed a quilt and organised the women to make it during the voyage. The Rajah quilt now resides in the National Gallery of Australia.
Although it was not possible to identify the actual quilters, the writers have singled out 17 women who had some sewing skills before they were transported. They examine the lives of many of the female convicts on board, from before their crimes and sentencing to their subsequent careers, with a great attention to detail, and place their stories within the larger narrative of transportation itself. It’s interesting that the writers claim at least two of the women on the Rajah deliberately committed a crime in order to be transported, and they suggest this is an area that needs more examination.
Patchwork Prisoners provides excellent source material for those interested in the topic of female transportation.
Available from Research Tasmania, A$59 – click to view.
|1914: The Year the World Ended by Paul Ham|
If you have ever stood by the grave of a soldier who died in World War I and wondered at the waste of it all and how it came about, then this is a book for you.
A century after the start of that carnage, the history wars are on us again. This time the battle is over who started the Great War, what caused it and whether the British and their empire were justified in getting into it. According to Ham (and Churchill), and with the benefit of hindsight, 1914 was the year when Germany and its allies really lost the war, and when modern wartime slaughter came into its own. Ham offers a profound denunciation of the war and its consequences, and condemns virtually all the key leaders of all the nations involved.
This is very readable and provides a useful armoury against the cacophony of competing ideologists and their war by proxy that is getting louder.
Available from William Heinemann, AU$49.99 – click to view.
|Born in a Tent: How Camping Makes Us Australian by Bill Garner|
Bill Garner’s Born in a Tent was born in a PhD, but you won’t find any impenetrable academic prose here. Garner writes intelligently but straightforwardly about history, letting his personal experiences weave their way through the text. His research, on how the act of camping has shaped our nation, offers endless nuggets of pure delight, such as the image of Arthur Upfield, author of the Napoleon Bonaparte detective books, cycling out into the bush on a bike without pedals, carrying a shotgun, fishing lines, a light tent and ‘perhaps a cat or a pup in a sugar bag’.
Garner’s definition of ‘Australian’ encompasses much more than a laconic bloke in a hat with dangling corks. It includes eccentrics like Daisy Bates, the well-dressed Irishwoman who spent decades camping alongside Aboriginal camps, and the people who set up and still continue to camp in the Aboriginal tent embassy outside Old Parliament House.
This is visceral history, alive with biting insects, dripping clothes and the blessed relief of billy-boiled tea. In Garner’s hands, history is alive and itchy.
Available from New South, AU$39.99 – click to view.
|East Indies by Ian Burnet|
Ian Burnet journeys through the East Indies, from Calcutta and Goa to Timor and Malacca, as far as Nagasaki, Canton and Hong Kong. Europe’s desire for goods from the East — spices such as cloves and nutmeg, textiles, tea, opium, porcelain, gunpowder and more — led to a fiercely contested ongoing battle between the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English for supremacy in the region’s trade routes. East Indies charts the course of history over two centuries with sections devoted to each of the three major players containing short chapters focusing on individual cities or ports. The result is a manageable, accessible and engaging history of this vast topic. Peppered with accounts by past travellers as well as evocative descriptions from the author’s own travels, each port city is brought to life with descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of places like Malacca, the crossroads of the East Indies. This scholarly, intensively researched and well illustrated book will satisfy the taste buds of the armchair traveller as well as the world history buff.
Available from Rosenberg, AU$39.99 – click to view.
|The Baby Farmers by Annie Cossins
John and Sarah Makin were two of the most notorious baby farmers in Sydney, convicted of the murder of baby Horace Amber Murray in 1893. John Makin was hanged; his wife was sentenced to life imprisonment. The corpses of 13 babies were found buried in the backyard of the house they had briefly rented in Burren Street, Macdonaldtown, in Sydney’s inner west. Investigations by Sergeant James Joyce of the Newtown police found more babies buried in the yards of other houses the Makins had occupied.
This book is a fascinating slice of social history, and engages with its portraits of the relinquishing mothers and the unstinting efforts of Sergeant Joyce to uncover the Makins’ crimes. Cossins unfolds her narrative with energy and passion, and isn’t afraid of colourful language: convicts are ‘slave labourers’, babies are ‘bought and sold like cats and dogs’ and baby farmers ‘effectively operated as kennels for babies
|The Peculiar Case of the Electric Constable: A True Tale of Passion, Poison & Pursuit by Carol Baxter|
John Tawell, a Quaker (though not a very good one) was transported to New South Wales for forgery. On his release he built a lucrative pharmacy empire in Sydney and returned to England a rich man. On 1 January 1885 he boarded a train from Slough to Paddington, dressed in the traditional Quaker garb. The Great Western Railway, trying out its prototype electric telegraph system, sent a history-making message to London that a ‘Kwaker’ man (the system couldn’t transmit ‘Q’), suspected of murder, was on the run and on the train. Tawell was apprehended and later tried and convicted for the poisoning of his mistress although his wife asserted his innocence. His trial became a sensation.
This thoroughly researched and wonderfully fascinating book describes the dawn of the electronic era and the stirrings of modern forensic procedures as well as taking us down the twisting byways of 19th century crime and justice. It also provides an intriguing picture of a complex man, whose desire to be a good Quaker ironically led to his downfall.
Available from Oneworld Publications, AU$17.95 – click to view.
|Weight of Evidence by Matt Murphy
The notorious and long-running Newtown Ejectment case of the 1850s turned on the ownership of 210 acres of land that now comprises Sydney’s inner-city suburbs of Newtown and Erskineville. Matt Murphy’s lively account is both an efficient description of the main events and colourful cast, and a snapshot of colonial life. It is a story rich in prejudice — class, sectarian and racial — as well as forgery, conniving and drunkenness. The land in question was originally granted to Nicholas Devine, the Superintendent of Convicts. However, in later life Devine became quite debilitated and allowed a convict named Bernard Rochford into his life. And here the complications began. After Devine’s death, his family in Ireland took steps to secure the land. But by then a number of parcels had been sold off by Rochford — many of them to persons of standing in the colony, who fought vigorously to keep ‘their’ land. Murphy includes some ‘Digressions and Postscripts’ of further snippets of local history not directly related to the case, including a fascinating — and damning — analysis of the evidence for local Newtown identity Eliza Donnithorne being the inspiration for Charles Dickens’s Miss Havisham in Great Expectations.
| Koombana Days by Annie Boyd
There is an almost romantic fascination with ships that disappear without trace. The story of the SS Koombana is a case in point. Once described “… as luxurious as the Titanic …”, this vessel operated between Fremantle and northwest Western Australia from 1909. After only three years of Nor’-West service, the ship and her entire complement disappeared in a summer cyclone off the Pilbara coast. The vessel has never been found and the tragedy remains unexplained. Koombana Days is the enthralling story of a ship and the people in whose lives she figured so large. It is beautifully told by Annie Boyd in a masterpiece which is the result of 10 years of painstaking research. This lavishly produced book is a must for anyone interested in Australian nautical history.
|The Reef: A Passionate History by Iain McCalman|
Passionate is certainly the right word for this enthralling history of the Great Barrier Reef. Eloquently written and comprehensively researched, The Reef: A Passionate History is just as captivating as its iconic subject. McCalman masterfully entwines the Reef’s environmental and social histories, tracing its evolution through 12 diverse episodes: from Captain James Cook’s navigational nightmare, to the instigator of culture contact between Indigenous locals and shipwreck castaways, to a wondrous ecological and ethnographic riddle for generations of scientists and researchers. Here, the Great Barrier Reef emerges as not merely the backdrop but a forceful character in its own right — making the current threats it faces all the more distressing. Overall, a fascinating and urgent summer read.
Available from Penguin, AU$45.00 – click to view.
| The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton|
Equal parts ghost tale, suspense thriller, gripping mystery, seafaring adventure, tender young romance and double crossing crime fiction, The Luminaries is a finely wrought epic tale set at the peak of New Zealand’s Hokitika gold rush in 1866. Devotees of history will appreciate (or be agog at!) the diligent research Catton has artfully applied to her portrayal of the characters, hotels, shacks, tents, pubs, theatres, wharves and shopfronts which populate one of the great gold rushes of the antipodes. At 832 pages, its length is daunting, but its breathtaking scope immerses the reader in a gripping yarn, as the unraveling of one mystery leads to the revelation of another. Only the second New Zealand novel to win the Man Booker Prize (the first was Kylie Hulme’s iconic The Bone People), The Luminaries is required reading for any fan of historical fiction at its very finest.
Available from Victoria University, AU$45.00 – click to view.
|Game by Trevor Shearston
Trevor Shearston presents a fresh view of bushranger Ben Hall in this spare and beautifully written novel. It is 1863 and Ben is no longer riding with Frank Gardiner. Now he rides with John Dunn and Jack Gilbert, who have each killed a man, thus placing a noose around his own neck if he’s caught alive. Ben wants to quit the game: takings aren’t as easy as they used to be; his own bank is substantial, but diminishing, and troopers and trackers are out in force following his trail and harassing his known associates and family. In his last year Ben contemplates a new life with his son and tries to make an emotional connection with the seven-year-old. While Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang is the story of the struggle between the English settlers and the Irish workers, Shearston looks at the inner struggle of a man trying to gain control of his life and weigh up meaning in his existence. Game is the story of a man who seeks to understand his own life and choices, find his place in the world and foil his destiny; it can speak to us all.
|The Wallpapered Manse by Peter Freeman
Anyone who has restored an historic property will not only know the frustrations and difficulties that can be involved, but also the sheer joy, once the project is complete, of giving an old property new life. Such joy shines through this book, as conservation architect Peter Freeman tells the story of a former Presbyterian Manse in Moruya, New South Wales, and how it was rescued by Sydney Living Museums and given new life as a private residence. In so doing, Peter not only traces the history of a delightful 1860s cottage, but also tells the story of the town and its community in a very engaging manner. Lavishly illustrated, well researched and beautifully written, this is my book of 2013. By sharing Freeman’s story, this book makes it a gift for everyone, reminding us that we can and should be actively protecting buildings such as this one, because they add so much to our sense of place.
Available from Watermark Press, AU$49.95 – click to view.
|Pardon me for mentioning. Unpublished letters to The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald Edited by Alex Kaplan, Julie Lewis and Catharine Munro
Those who (like me) read the letters to the editor before turning to the front page of the newspaper will understand the appeal of this book, which reveals, for the first time, letters submitted to the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that were deemed ‘too odd, politically incorrect or kooky’ for inclusion in the nation’s dailies. The wry wit, subtle ironies and cheeky swagger of the letters transcend whatever news item caused the letter writers to put pen to paper.
Perfect for reading selections aloud (which is inevitable) to gathered company to share in a belly laugh.
Available from Allen & Unwin, AU$24.99 – click to view.
|Looking for Clancy by Robert Ingpen
Marking Banjo Paterson’s 150th birthday, this rich publication offers four of Paterson’s ballads accompanied by thought-provoking commentary and evocative illustrations by Robert Ingpen. Ingpen invites the reader to gaze into the liminal space between fact and fiction, to contemplate the character of Clancy of the Overflow and what he means as a folklore figure in defining Australian-ness. This is a beautiful work of contemplation and imagination which will be enjoyed by all ages.
Available from National Library of Australia, AU$34.99 – click to view.
|In Search of Captain Moonlite by Paul Terry
Andrew George Scott was the son of Irish gentlefolk who migrated to New Zealand when he was 17. By the time he was 23 he’d fought in the New Zealand Wars and had been decommissioned for malingering after a wound. Already known as Captain Moonlite (he spelt it Moonlight), he set off for Australia, where he would become one of our most enigmatic and complex outlaws. A charismatic lay preacher, a surveyor, conman, charming companion and bushranger, George Scott betrayed most of his business partners and stole from others, spending the money on fine clothes and drink. He served time for fraud and bank robbery. He was homosexual and possibly bisexual — he seems to have had several relationships with women. His dying wish, to be buried next to his lover James Nesbitt, was not granted until 100 years later. This highly readable book sources newly discovered archival material to flesh out the life and personality of the mysterious Moonlite.
Available from Allen & Unwin, AU$29.99 – click to view.
|Dark Paradise: Norfolk Island — Isolation, Savagery, Mystery and Murder
Robert Macklin has successfully woven together the stories of the colonial settlement of New South Wales, the history of Norfolk Island and the saga of the Bounty mutineers. This is rich material tapped by other writers, but Macklin shines new light on each. His account of the mutiny and its sad aftermath is graphic. He candidly characterises most of the mutineers as an unsavoury bunch. Matthew Quintal, in particular, the man who burnt the Bounty once the mutineers had settled on Pitcairn Island, he describes, probably justifiably, as a ‘thug’. Anyone interested in early Australia and beautiful Norfolk Island should read this book. As Macklin notes, there is evidence Polynesians occupied both islands long before Europeans entered the Pacific. For reasons unknown they departed. Europeans stayed and, on balance, have been seriously, sometimes fatally, unkind to each other in both places ever since.
|Not the Same Sky by Evelyn Conlon
In this moving novel Conlon takes as her starting point — after a brief, present-time prologue — the tragic aftermath of the Irish famine that saw more than 4,000 Irish girls shipped to Australia. The narrative concerns one group of girls who left England on 28 October 1849 on the Thomas Arbuthnot under the able care of Surgeon Superintendent Charles Strutt. At its best, historical fiction gives flesh and blood to factual stories, and makes us feel that yes, this is how the characters would behave, this is what they’d do under these circumstances. Conlon achieves this difficult task admirably. She wears her attention to detail and research as the lightest of cloaks, bringing to life the daily routine on board ship with moments of poignancy and humour. This beautifully formed novel is about journeys – both external and internal. We undertake our quests because we must, and all of them lead to the ultimate, unknowable journey.
|The Art of Science – Remarkable Natural History Illustrations by John Kean
Drawing on the Victorian Museum Library’s collection of rare natural history books (notes on which are included), The Art of Science explores the collaboration of these two disciplines since the 18th century, focusing on Australian and Victorian subjects primarily, though a global context is provided.
The book itself enjoys a well-balanced collaboration between its sumptuous illustrations and the engaging text, which includes vignettes about voyages of discovery, scientific discoveries and the personalities behind the illustrations, using language and artworks that are easily accessible to the non-specialist. This is a splendid publication and one that is sure to reward multiple perusals.
Available from Museum Victoria Publishing, AU$50.00 – click to view.
|Love and Hunger by Charlotte Wood
The best food writers are those who delight in the preparation of food and in sharing it with loved ones, and Charlotte Wood is one such writer. In her memoir, Love and Hunger, Charlotte writes about her passion for cooking in the plain-spoken lyricism readers of her novels have come to love. She refers to the idea of food as consolation, and writes thoughtfully on why this is so and how a gift of food, even in the worst of times, can bring comfort and a sense of community.
Charlotte writes so openly about her history and her thoughts about the ethics of good eating that it’s impossible not to be swept up in her enthusiasm. Novice and experienced cooks alike will find something to inspire them here, as Wood has included a range of wonderful, tempting recipes. Reading Love and Hunger is like being invited into Charlotte’s home, seated at a table crowded with delectable dishes and encouraged to eat until you burst.
|Three Crooked Kings by Matthew Condon
With his new non-fiction book Three Crooked Kings published earlier this year and an instant bestseller in Queensland, Condon is an expert on secrets and lies. He has lived and breathed them, researching the era of the Rat Pack, especially Terry Lewis, the very high-ranking cop who went down on corruption charges resulting from the Fitzgerald Inquiry in the 1980s.
Three Crooked Kings delivers its promised ‘explosive true story’ as Condon marshals all his accomplished fiction techniques to recount the complex chain of events that led a young man into temptation. Lewis did time for corruption but still maintains his innocence, and Condon is careful to let the record speak loudest, which often throws up more questions than it answers. The book is underpinned by the idea that history and the past are rarely what they seem. They are always up for review and revision by those interested in the truth.
|Benevolent and Strangers’ Friend Society 1849-2012 by Rob Linn
Founded just over a decade after the colony of South Australia, the Adelaide Benevolent Society’s history is innately tied to that of the state. The worldwide depression of the 1840s saw widespread destitution, and prompted the founding of the Society to see to the needs of recent migrants to the colony, and to provide welfare for the needy.
This illustrated and fully reference history by South Australian-based historian Rob Linn is a fascinating reflection on the power of compassion and a timely reminder of how our forebears provided for the needs of new arrivals to Australian shores..
Available from The Benevolent Society for AU$40 – click to view.
|Crossing the Divide by Janice Cooper
Janice Cooper revisits the areas in which she spent her childhood — the Alpha and Jericho districts in Queensland’s central west — to write a comprehensive and meticulous history of the area. It’s the story of the pastoral industry, of transport and communication and the rural communities, as well as local government. Read about the roles played by more than 800 men, women and children from the early days of European settlement until 2008. The well-researched narrative is supported with more than 80 photographs, 55 archival extracts, 24 maps, plans and tables, plus detailed appendices and index.
Available from Barcaldine Regional Council, AU$30
To order a copy, contact Barcaldine Regional Council by calling 07 4985 1166, or emailing robb[at]barcaldinerc.qld.gov.au
|The Holiday Murders by Robert Gott
Robert Gott has delivered another masterful crime novel steeped in Australia’s past. It’s Christmas 1943 and the authorities in Melbourne are dealing with the difficulties of a workforce greatly depleted by the number of men serving in the war. That lack of manpower, however, does not affect the seriousness with which Inspector Lambert regards every case that crosses his desk, and none more so than the violent killing of a young man and his father. There’s been a clumsy and half-hearted attempt to set the scene as a murder-suicide, but it takes no time whatsoever for Lambert to see through that.
The author’s notes indicate that parts of this plot are based on reality. Issues of the Publicist, the journal of a group known as Australia First, active around 1936 to 1942, provided the genesis of the ideas that Gott expands in this novel.
|The Marriage Knot: Marriage and Divorce in Colonial Western Australia 1829–1900 by Penelope Hetherington
In the first months of the Swan River colony survival took priority over everything, including marriage. As a result, the first recorded marriage in the colony did not take place until January 1830. Initially English laws, adapted to local conditions, were followed for marriage ceremonies, but new laws were introduced in 1841 and revised thrice between 1847 and 1856.
In her very readable book, The Marriage Knot, Penelope Hetherington explores the history of marriage and divorce in fledgling Western Australia. How did the rules apply differently for men and women? Why were the laws revised so often in the mid 1800s? Penelope explores these questions and many more, including the importance of the 1892 Married Women’s Property Act and looks at how the laws affected everyday life in the colony.
Available from UWA Publishing for AU$24.99 – click to view.
|Margaret Catchpole: Her Life and Her Letters by Laurie Chater Forth
Margaret Catchpole was convicted of horse-stealing in Suffolk in 1797 and sentenced to death. This was commuted to transportation to New South Wales for seven years, but she escaped from Ipswich Gaol (to rendezvous with her lover) and on recapture her sentence was altered to life. Margaret was pardoned in 1814 but remained in the Hawkesbury area, working as a nurse, midwife and shopkeeper. Her life inspired a play that enthralled audiences in England. This book imagines her life and shows us her eyewitness accounts of the hardships faced by the earliest settlers, providing a rare glimpse into the mind of an uneducated but perceptive observer. ‘Time hear is long’ she wrote in one letter, and in her last ‘On March the fourteen is my Barth day, then I am fifty years’.
Available from Laurie P Forth, AU$15.00 – email laurie2756[at]bigpond.com
|The Hanging of Minnie Thwaites by Judith Rodriguez
The execution of a 19th-century baby farmer inspired award-winning poet Judith Rodriguez to tell the story in a variety of literary forms. Using a combination of ballad, lyrics and narrative non-fiction, this is the story of the tragic unravelling of a young woman’s life. Frances Knorr, also known as Minnie Thwaites or more notoriously as the Brunswick Baby Farmer, was hanged at Melbourne Gaol on 15 January 1894 after confessing to killing two babies found buried in the yards of houses she’d lived in. Factual and moving, the story takes place during the Depression of the 1880s, which hit a previously booming Melbourne, and reflects the desperate situation of many of Minnie’s female contemporaries. Successfully capturing an important time in Australia’s history, it’s a book for anyone interested in true crime and women’s history.
|The Mind of a Thief by Patti Miller
A return to Patti Miller’s childhood home in country New South Wales sparks this investigation of place, identity and dispossession. Part reflection, part local history and part analysis of the bitter ironies that abound in contemporary Aboriginal politics, Miller’s book quietly poses a loaded and complex question: what does it mean to be native to Australia today?
Miller follows many lines of enquiry: from her possible blood connection to the Aboriginal side of town, to the colonial European and Irish squatters of her other ancestors, to the missionary journals of the 1830s, and to reflections on her bittersweet relationships to the land and people of Wellington. But it is how these enquiries then branch out into the area’s Native Title fights that lead to the book’s surprising outcomes. This is a muted, thoughtful journey of identity.
|Court & Camera by J. O’Brien & P. Statham-Drew
There have been few books in recent years charting the history of pre-gold rush Perth. This omission is now rectified with Court & Camera, a biography of pioneer Alfred Hawes Stone. Alfred set sail from England for Western Australia in 1829 in search of a new life. Towards the end of an illustrious legal career he took up photography as a hobby. Using some of the stunning photos he took between 1859 and 1869, and excerpts from Alfred’s 1850-52 diary, we are offered a fascinating insight into life in Perth during the first few decades after settlement. Complete with an explanation of the processes involved in early photography, this beautifully written and illustrated book is a must for anyone interested in how Perth began to grow from an encampment on a beach to the city we know today.
Available from Fremantle Press for AU$49.99 – click to view.
|The Burial by Courtney Collins
Men have returned from the Great War to hard times and meagre living, many out on worthless selections with ‘a few skinny cows’. At the dawn of the 20th century, Jessie is on the run. She has done a dreadful, unspeakable thing, but before she can flee she must bury the evidence — part of herself. But then, she has always done that.
Inspired by the life of Jessie Hickman, legendary 20th-century bushranger, The Burial tells the fictional story of a desperate drover’s wife. Gradually, we learn that Jessie is on release from prison and assigned (sold) to Fitz, a man who beats, blackmails and rapes her repeatedly. Sure, it sounds like the same old story, and it is, but it’s all in the telling and that is what this book does so inventively, and with such dark humour and beautifully polished prose.
|Chasing the Light by Jesse Blackadder
Chasing the Light is a fascinating fictionalised account of the first women to land on Antarctica. In Jesse Blackadder’s skilled hands, Ingrid, Lillemor and Mathilde come to life as complex, layered characters. These are women who need more than a pioneering spirit to make their dreams come true: they must scheme, manipulate and inveigle to be given a fraction of the chances that the men around them accept as their birthright.
Blackadder beautifully recounts the long-forgotten stories of a trio of determined Norwegian women, adventurers despite the obstacles placed in their paths. It gives passionate voices to the women, who return from their journey different people, stronger and more determined, changed by a world few of their contemporaries would ever see.
|Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet by Chris Paton
This guide by Scotland-based genealogist Chris Paton is well worth adding to your collection if you’re searching for Irish ancestors. And given that nearly 40 per cent of Antipodeans have Irish ancestry (me included), I’m thinking that recommendation is relevant for quite a few of you! Tracing Your Irish Ancestry on the Internet is well set out and easy to follow. It covers historical sources across both the north and south of Ireland, from the earliest times to the present day. This detailed book includes help on finding vital records such as civil registration, adoption, parish registers, burials and probate, land records, census data and occupations to name just a few. There is also a chapter devoted to the Irish diaspora. Plus each category is supported with case studies that are sure to help you with your own research.’
|Social Sketches of Australia 1888-2001 by Humphrey McQueen
‘History-making is not confined to prime ministers and generals, gold medallists and prima donnas’, writes Humphrey McQueen, and in this meticulously compiled book, he looks at life in Australia from the first centenary of white settlement in 1888 to 2001. This is the kind of book that invites you to revisit it again and again. McQueen’s writing is lively and the bite-size presentation makes it easy to navigate. Not least of all, it challenges what we consider important in our history. For McQueen, the defeat of the conscription referenda for overseas military service in 1916 and 1917, and the defeat of the referendum to outlaw the Communist Party in 1951 are ‘three democratic triumphs [that] had done more to keep Australia an open society than had either the Federation plebiscites or the Gallipoli campaign.’
|The Recluse by Evelyn Juers
There are several urban myths about Sydney’s famous reclusive spinster, Elizabeth (Eliza) Emily Donnithorne. The most persistent, and attractive, is that she was one of the models for Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. In this fascinating book, Evelyn Juers sets out first to discover the truth behind the myth and second to discover Eliza Donnithorne herself. Juers carefully examines how firsthand knowledge and acquaintance has been exaggerated and distorted as it passed through the generations. The image of lace is used several times in The Recluse — how it is a symbol of brides (as in Miss Havisham’s wedding finery), and the enticing way lace reveals and at the same time conceals. The story of the real Eliza is just as delicate and elusive, set into a densely wrought frame of social and family history.
|The Wills of Our Ancestors by Stuart A. Raymond
Stuart Raymond’s handbook looks at probate records across the British Isles, and the various methods by which a person’s estate could historically be conveyed to the next of kin after death. For almost 500 years the legal system of inheritance in England and Wales has differed to that in Scotland, but the author’s well-crafted introduction provides an important starting point in describing how the system was almost universal in pre-Reformation feudal Britain. From this point the author takes the reader through what a will is, what the processes involved were in disposing of moveable estate, and the types of records generated, using exemplary case studies to illustrate the tasks at hand. The final third of the book is packed with useful appendices, including a summary of pre-1858 probate courts for England and Wales, and a Latin glossary. This is an essential guide.
Available from Pen & Sword for AU$35 – click to view.
|Lancaster Men: The Aussie Heroes of Bomber Command by Peter Rees
They were a highly trained band of elite flyers, yet their bravery has barely been recognised. More than 10,000 Australians served in Bomber Command in World War II, and although more than 30 per cent of them perished in the air, the survivors were greeted with scorn when they returned to Aussie shores.
Accused of not doing their bit while the nation struggled with the possibility of Japanese invasion, their stories of battle went largely unnoticed. Peter Rees aims to rectify this with his latest terrific work. Told from the viewpoint of the aviators themselves, often through family memoirs, diaries and personal interviews, Lancaster Men is a compelling and engaging read.
Available from Allen & Unwin for AU$32.99 – click to view.
|Curious Minds: The Discoveries of Australian Naturalists by Peter Macinnis
Award-winning author Peter Mcinnis describes himself as a science writer with a curious mind. Who better then to pen this fascinating resource on Australia’s naturalists, published by the National Library of Australia. Peter brings to life the contributions these scientists and settlers made to our understanding of the natural environment. Well-known names such as Joseph Banks, Charles Darwin, Amalie Dietrich, Ludwig Leichhardt, Ferdinand von Mueller, Ellis Rowan, John Lewin and John and Elizabeth Gould feature in this tribute to their courageous and pioneering work. Beautifully illustrated and with a terrific bibliography, this resource is a worthwhile addition to your library.
Available from National Library of Australia for AU$39.99 – click to view.
|Capturing Time: Panoramas of Old Australia by Edwin Barnard
I have a fascination with historical panoramas. I think it’s because they allow me to imagine what a landscape or cityscape looked like as my ancestors would have seen it. Long before technology allowed us to capture a view at the click of a button, artists toiled for hours upon hours to illustrate their surrounds. Edwin Barnard has rummaged through archives and other collections around Australia and unearthed 23 wonderful panoramas and other images of Australia’s capital cities in their early years — from Sydney in 1820 to Canberra in 1911. Alongside these are detailed maps, notes and other images identifying various features and describing their significance. This is a book to pore over, and one worth returning to as something new is sure to catch your eye each time you read it.
Available from National Library of Australia for AU$49.95 – click to view.
|Finding Ancestors in Church Records by Shauna Hicks (Unlock the Past)
A concise yet useful guide to Australian and New Zealand religious records, this book is a valuable addition to the family history researcher’s bookshelf.Genealogist and Inside History contributor Shauna Hicks shares her insights into religious archives, covering an impressive range of records (mostly of Christian denominations, plus some Jewish ones). The book’s many tips and pointers suggest not only where and how to search but also, importantly, what questions to ask of the material. The anecdotes featured from Shauna’s own extensive research demonstrate the exciting possibilities potentially awaiting you in religious records — including some listed here you might not have ever heard of (many were new to me at least)! A sure bet to inspire new angles in your research and guide you along the way.
Available from Gould Genealogy for AU$17 – click to view.
|A Sappers’ War by Jimmy Thomson with Sandy MacGregor (Allen & Unwin)
Tunnel rats, mine clearers, bridge builders and booby trap dismantlers: it took a special breed of soldier to support the Australian deployment in South Vietnam. Imagine crawling down a Viet Cong tunnel, pistol in one hand and torch in another, not knowing if an enemy soldier will suddenly pop up. Or slowly prodding a minefield to clear the way to a mate badly wounded.The authors have captured brilliantly the experiences of sappers during their tours of Vietnam — from the sharp end fighting support infantry and tanks to construction tasks to help Vietnamese villagers. Not to mention their use of “Sappernuity” — sapper ingenuity to find solutions to problems experienced in the field in the shortest time possible. This is well written, easy to read and is highly recommended.
Available from Allen & Unwin for AU$27.99 – click to view.
|The Great Race by David Hill (Random House)
Using journals and other sources to describe 200 years of exploration by the Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and the English, David Hill tells the gripping story of how Terra Australis Incognita became Australia. A grand adventure featuring a large cast of courageous and ambitious explorers, it follows the lives of those who risked everything to map unknown territory and document the world’s natural history.Against the backdrop of war between France and England, Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders had been sent to map the uncharted southern coastline of Australia and to establish if the east and west coasts, 4,000km apart, were part of the same island. Ultimately a story of endurance, it’s about the race between two men who met at sea in a chance encounter in 1802 while trying to fulfil the same mission. Highly recommended.
Available from Random House for AU$34.95 – click to view.
|Australia’s Asia by D. Walker and A. Sobocinska (eds) (UWA Publishing)
Australia’s Asia leads us through the complex history of interactions between Australians and Asians over the past 150 years. There is the 1939 visit of a glamorous Chinese American film star to Australia. A prime minister fascinated by theosophy and India. Stories of Australian servicemen and their families in post-war Japan. A Sydney boy with smallpox. And Australian wives of Chinese men making new lives in their husbands’ homeland.Edited by David Walker, inaugural BHP Chair of Australian Studies at Peking University, and young historian Agnieszka Sobocinska, the book brings together 14 carefully selected chapters from some of Australia’s leading researchers. The book has important things to say about how Australia has, and does, imagine Asia, but it’s also a compelling and, at times, surprising read.
Available from UWA Publishing for AU$39.95 – click to view.
|100 Stories from the ANMM (New South Books)
Utterly absorbing and well-written, 100 Stories dives into Australia’s maritime heritage, from early exploration, immigration and wartime through to modern beach culture. Compiled by the Museum’s senior curators, the book features photos, maps and engravings from the museum’s vast 30,000-plus collection. These include Indigenous watercraft, remnants of 17th century Dutch ships and Captain Cook’s voyages, and destroyer HMAS Vampire, to name but a few.By sharing the human stories behind the artefacts — and the social context behind both — this book proves a noteworthy history work in its own right, testifying to how the tides of Australia’s culture have been shaped by the seas that girt our shores. Plus you can download a free digital copy from iBookstore.
Available from Australian National Maritime Museum – click to view.
|Hell’s Bells & Mademoiselles by Joe Maxwell VC (HarperCollins)
LT Joe Maxwell VC — Australian hero and larrikin — wrote in 1932 about his wartime experiences as a memoir of his service in Gallipoli and France. It’s a delight to announce that his colourful exploits have been reprinted after many years. Joe enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 8 February 1915. In just over 12 months he was commissioned and decorated four times for his bravery and became Australia’s second most decorated soldier of WWI.This entertaining memoir is a unique record of life as a WWI digger. Joe saw action in most of the major battles of the Western Front and describes his experience in combat. He also gives a great account of the notorious adventures of the off-duty diggers in England and France.
Available from Regimental Books for AU$24.95 – click to view.
|Fighting Nineteenth by W. Matthews & D. Wilson (AMHP)
The 19th Battalion AIF was one of Australia’s finest infantry battalions during WWI, but for more than 90 years its active service history has gone unrecorded — until now. A well overdue and comprehensively researched account of the 19th Battalion from its formation in 1915 in Sydney onwards, the book covers in amazing detail the battles it participated in, from the attack on Hill 60 at Gallipoli, through to fighting on the trenches of the Western Front.Essential for anyone whose relative served in the 19th Battalion, this book includes a comprehensive Nominal Roll of its members. Using private photographs, letters and war diaries to collate ordinary soldiers’ stories with the official history, this is a classic account of Australian soldiers at war.
Available from Regimental Books for AU$49.95 – click to view.
|Discover Scottish Land Records by Chris Paton (Unlock the Past)
This is an excellent reference for those wishing to delve into the wonderful set of records available that traces possession and inheritance of land in Scotland back to the 16th century. The feudal system of land tenure wasn’t abolished until 2004 and the documents of land conveyance and inheritance are completely different to others in the UK.Chris leads the researcher through the complicated land records series to enable them to discover more about their families, the land they occupied, and place them in historical context. He explains terms such as alloidal tenure, conquest, feu duty, precept of clare constat, retour, and skat — terms that are probably unfamiliar to most researchers but which are common in Scottish land documents. A must for those with Scottish heritage who want to go beyond BMD and census records.
Available from Gould Genealogy for AU$20 – click to view.
|WW2 Lives: A Guide for Family Historians by J. Goulty (Pen & Sword)
When we think of WWII, we tend to think big: the climactic battles, the famous generals, the unspeakable Axis war crimes. This book refocusses our attention on the diverse individuals who, like cogs in the British war machine, helped win the war. Each chapter is a snapshot into the wartime experiences of a particular individual involved in the war effort. Several non-combatant personnel are profiled, including a medical officer, signalman and, my personal favourite, a “Co-Ed Gun Girl”. Goulty’s background in military history draws the stories together, providing broader insight into the war’s campaigns.
Though centred upon British servicemen and women, family historians from any Allied nation will appreciate the detailed research guides concluding each chapter, which outline many lesser-known resources and archives.
Available from Booktopia for AU$34.99 – click to view.
|Gastronomic Heritage by Barbara Santich (Wakefield Press)
“From the earliest days, Australian cooks improvised and substituted, invented and innovated. Sometimes from necessity, sometimes by serendipity and occasionally by using unorthodox methods…” Written by Professor Barbara Santich, an award-winning culinary historian, Bold Palates draws on an extensive range of sources including magazines (Trove gets a special mention), cookbooks, photographs and advertisements and is dedicated to “all the librarians and all the libraries throughout Australia”.
Along the road towards the ‘Australianisation’ of our cuisine, we encounter the influence of other cultures, home cooking, bush tucker, lamingtons, dehydrated mutton, Milo, and pumpkin scones to name a few. This is a beautifully presented and well-researched exploration of our gastronomic heritage and a fascinating quest to find our “national” cuisine.
Available from Wakefield Press for AU$49.95 – click to view.
|My Father’s Islands by C. Mattingley (National Library of Australia)
Many of us probably haven’t heard much about the remarkable Abel Janszoon Tasman (c.1603–1659) since primary school, when we were listening to boring history lessons about “the great explorers”. Sailing across the world’s oceans in unreliable ships, Tasman not only discovered Tasmania, New Zealand, and many Pacific islands but also mapped a large section of the north and west coasts of Australia. I’d much rather have learned about his life through this charming little gem published by the National Library of Australia.
Inspired by a 1637 family portrait depicting Tasman, his second wife Janettje and his daughter Claesgen and based on his stunning journals, this children’s book has appeal for all ages. Mattingley’s richly illustrated imagining of Tasman’s voyages brings to life wonderful stories about remote islands, indigenous peoples, perilous seas and pirates.
Available from National Library of Australia for AU$16.95 – click to view.