Monthly Archives: October 2015

Apple and Rain – Sarah Crossan

She boobled down to the dirreny sonce
Alone, unarmed, her tickery jonced.
“What me? What my? What cooliers lie here?”
She whinnied furverly in the ghoulian ear.

And up he rose like a miney bront,
Waving his tammons in a sleery flont,
“Don’t wake me, don’t shake me,” the ghoulian gristled,
And piped his phantoms across the spistles.

A ploon bellowed out over the sheel
And she ran as fast as her miggens could reel,
“No more dirrenies,” she whispered aloud
And sluped back down to sleep on her mound.

The above is Sarah Crossan’s take on Lewis Carroll’s nonsense-but-makes-total-sense versifying in ‘The Jabberwocky’, as composed by her mouthpiece in her novel, ‘Apple and Rain’. Her eponymous heroine (Apple) constructs this verse to entertain step-sister Rain, but excels at non-jibberish poetry as well, a fact she keeps very much to herself.


It’s a very fine novel, short-listed for this year’s Carnegie Medal. Some critics have likened its writer to UK YA legend, Jacqueline Wilson – and it is easy to see the similarity. In itself this is high praise. Ultimately Ms Crossan missed out to Tanya Landman’s ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ for the gong. Another title by Sarah C, ‘The Weight of Water’, had similarly been previously listed.

‘Apple and Rain’ deals with a splintered family trying to bring itself together, only to create new fractures. Apple is a sensitive soul – delighted, on one hand, to have her mum back after a long period of estrangement, but devastated to lose her one true school friend to the ‘in-crowd’, led by a particularly bitchy piece of work. Rain is the strange little sister our Apple never knew she had until her mother returned skint and deflated from chasing the rainbow on the other side of the Atlantic. We can forgive Apple, in her excitement at her parent’s reappearance, for treading all over the feelings of her nan who has largely, as well as strictly, raised her. The freedom under her mother’s control is at first heady, but she soon realises it comes at a cost.

Apple’s hoped for romantic entanglement with a much older boy doesn’t, to her embarrassment, eventuate, but she finds a much more worthy and age-appropriate soul mate soon after. This latter lad is a delightful creation by Crossan, one of the best features of the work. In the end both young gentlemen come through with flying colours, helping to put Apple’s world to rights.

When asked, in a recent interview, what prompted this particular narrative the author explained, ‘I wanted to write a book about just how important grandparents are but wanted to look at what would prompt a parent to leave a child. I have a child myself and I can’t imagine abandoning her ever, but people do this all the time. Why and how? These are the questions I wanted to explore.’

Although the answer to those queries are complex, the novel is anything but. It’s not a taxing read and nor does it wallow in sentimentality. Apple eventually finds she is no powder puff and with some help, finds the feistiness to snub her nose at her detractors. Unfortunately the device she uses to conspire this to happen is somewhat hackneyed – I was hoping for a less ‘Home and Away’ and more originality.

That being said, this is still a marvellously engrossing tale being told. I particularly enjoyed the character of Apple’s English teacher – a kind soul addicted to poetry, trying to inspire his students with the Brit greats. He’s on Apple’s wavelength and appreciates her own fine attempts at poetsmithing, once he unearths them. He is attuned and caring enough to step in when his talented pupil is about to sink.

Time flew as I powered through the pages of ‘Apple and Rain’, so it is with interest I await the arrival of SC’s new offering. She has set herself an impressive challenge with the subject matter – conjoined twins. I’m sure she’ll be up to it.

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Sarah Crossan’s website =

Those Gummer Girls

I was fooled. When she popped up again on the screen in the second of two movies I’d seen consecutively in recent times, I assumed it was the same actress. In both she had supporting roles. But my assumption was incorrect, but at least the two co-stars shared the same genes, so I wasn’t going completely ga-ga. I only discovered they weren’t the identical person when I took to the ether after the second film and wondered why the actress concerned didn’t receive a credit for the first production in her filmography. Finally I twigged – sisters. And what’s more, daughters of Hollywood royalty.

The eldest, Mamie (Mary Willa) Gummer was born in 1983 and has acted since she was a kid, occasionally in her mother’s movies. When I delved into it she had quite a resume of significant roles – as ‘Emily Owens MD’; in ‘The Good Wife’, ‘Off the Map’ and the wonderful ‘John Adams’ – all for the small screen. As well there’d been a spattering of movies, but it was in ‘Ricki and the Flash’ that she really caught my attention. I’d journeyed to this offering after a pleasant exile from movie going – hastening to add that partaking of the menu at the State is never a chore. There was something about Mamie G that made me really hone in on her after my enforced absence. Playing a jilted wife in the course of a meltdown, returning to the family home, I thought she was the best thing in the Jonathan Demme directed feature. That and her mum’s glorious belting it out as a minor league rock queen. I’d read Meryl Streep’s real life daughter had a role in it. Straight away one could notice something of her mother’s features in her but, in this, there were a few very rough edges thrown in as well.

mamie gummer

As well as a muted performance from the always watchable Kevin Kline, this unrealised gem also gave us our own Rick Springfield supporting Ms Streep in her band and as her love interest – finally. Although at times he seemed to be acting in a different movie than Meryl S, I still enjoyed his presence immensely. The actress has serenaded us before, most recently in the lamentable ‘Mama Mia’, but here she really lets rip – and she’s not bad. She’s a goodly set of pipes on her.

The movie itself has received a luke-warm response from the viewing public, as well as the critics, being in my judgement no earth-shaker – but neither is it without some serious charm. It has a pleasant vibe and the watcher knows it’ll all work out in the end from the get-go. But there are an array of toe-tappin’ tunes and it did introduce me to one of the great lady’s progeny in which long term hubby and sculptor, Don Gummer, also had a hand. I’ll watch out for her in other offerings, as I will for daughter number two.

In ‘Learning to Drive’ I thought I was casting my eyes over Mamie again, although in a lesser role in terms of screen time. I watched the credits at the end just to make sure, saw the name Gummer so felt I was. I knew that link between the two films could be the basis for this scribbling – as it still turned out despite the humble author completely having the wrong end of the stick for a while. But I did my research and discovered it before I had egg on my face.

grace g02

Grace was born in ’86. She’s had roles in ‘American Horror’, ‘The Newsroom’ and ‘Extant’. Out of Tinsel Town she’s featured in in a few roles, occasionally alongside her mum. She was also in ‘Frances Ha’, a movie I enjoyed very much.

In ‘Learning to Drive’ she has bookended appearances as Wendy’s (Patricia Clarkson) daughter – and gee, she bears a striking resemblance to her older sibling, thus my befuddlement. Again this is another sweet indie that deserved a better response all round. It’s faults, though, were more obvious than the aforementioned vehicle for elder sister and Ms Streep. For my money the ‘ghosts’ that regularly appeared did not add anything at all and Ben Kingsley was unconvincing as the Indian Sikh American trying to teach Wendy to handle a car. He has obviously played Indian before and it is part of his heritage, but he seemed very stilted and uncomfortable in the role. Wendy is again a jilted wife falling to pieces and the driving instructor, in a way, becomes her main means to cling on to reality – before he falls in love with her. The cultural divide, though, is too much, Wendy’s feelings are fluctuating, so in the end he enters into an arranged marriage – one that seems certain to flounder as another cultural divide emerges. Director Isobel Coixet manages her ensemble cast with aplomb – better than the make up artists did with Kingsley’s beard and hair do. For me it was a distraction, trying to workout out how it had all been affixed to his stately head.

Clarkson’s character, taking the step of trying to get her life in order by buying a car and learning to drive it, is all fragility and bitterness. She is a fine actor, is Clarkson, usually in small movies such as this. She is underused by the industry. It’s been a journey(wo)man career, but she garnered awards for her roles in ‘The Station Agent’ and ‘Pieces of April’. She doesn’t miss a beat in this outing, but I must admit I was disappointed with Kingsley, fine thesp that he is. It was no wonder his love was unrequited in the end, if that’s not giving too much away. It is worth, though, perusal on the small screen as it’s run on the larger was over almost before it began.

And, to round matters out, there is yet one more Gummer girl. Louisa is a model.

louisa g

Official trailer ‘Ricki and the Flash’ =

Official Trailer ‘Learning to Drive’ =

A Guide to Berlin – Gail Jones

Mitsuko was from Hagi, Japan. Her father was a potter, the last of thirteen generations excelling in producing the pots his town was nationally noted for. His daughter, instead, became a Lolita Girl. By sixteen she had moved to Tokyo, rebelled against an overly strict guardian aunt and joined street sub-culture. Young ladies, in her chosen group, dressed in the presumed style of Nabokov’s main claim to fame, although Ms M had no idea that her chosen icon had any origin other than Japanese. Even within this genre their were sub-sects. Mitsuko chose to be a goth Lolita.


Mitsuko also became a rental-sister. It is a real job – a much needed one. Just Google it if you are in disbelief. Their calling is to work with hikikomori – young people, usually male, who lock themselves for years sometimes in their rooms, obviously causing great concern for their families. Girls such as Mitsuko are hired to coax them out. They offer nothing of a sexual nature, but trust that the procedures they employ will arose so much curiosity the lads will emerge blinking into daylight. It is largely a nocturnal profession as this is when the young recluses are active in their digital worlds. Such a hikikomori was Yukio. Mitsko charmed him out – but then the relationship became much more and the two fell in love. By this time, to her surprise, she had discovered the true origin of the notion of Lolita and soon she and her partner became devotees of the Russian master. Before he became a resident of the US, the author lived in Berlin for a short period and the Japanese pair travelled to the snow-blitzed German capital to check out the landmarks of the writer’s time there. Whilst visiting one of these they were cajoled into joining a small group who met regularly to share their impressions of the various works by the great man. These gatherings form the basis for Gail Jones’ evocative novel, ‘A Guide to Berlin’, taking its title from a Nabokovian short story.

Cass, an Australian, Victor (American), as well as an Italian pair, Marco and Gino, make up the remainder of the group. Initially they spend time pontificating on the author’s oeuvre, but eventually they branch into their own tales, courtesy of their ‘memory speak’, a play of words on the name of the author’s autobiography. These are a particularly compelling mechanism to set us up for a love affair within the group, some jealousy over that – and ultimately a tragedy that tears the group asunder.

Jones’ wrote the novel during her own visit to a Berlin quaking under the weight of one of the cruellest winters in memory. Her own little flat, over looking a cemetery – see cover photo – is also Cass’ base for her stay. The abode where Nabokov lived during his Weimar years was close by.

My first encounter with the sixty year old novelist was ‘Five Bells’. It could almost be a companion piece to ‘AGTB’. As the title of that book may indicate, it was set in Sydney, but followed the same template – that of relating the stories of a quintet who link up in a random manner. In this case, instead of all being followers of a particular literary giant, they all happened to be in the environs of Circular Quay on a particular day. In this Jones’ newbie, it’s a sextet. This relates to the symbolism scattered throughout – the six pointed Star of David, the shape of snowflakes – as well as being the author’s sixth offering.

Gail J, as with Nabokov, is a sublime wordsmith. I’ll be honest – I tried to read ‘Lolita’ once apon a time and had to give it away. But through Jones’ book his love of wonderful, largely redundant, words shone through. Here’s a few examples to try on for size: leminscate – the shape of infinity; conchometrist – one who measures the curves of seashells; drisk – a particularly European type of drizzle; ophryon – the third eye, site of headaches, migraines and epilepsy; – ensellure (the one I particularly like) – the concave depression formed in the lower back.

Interestingly, in reading some of the background to the book in the media, it was pointed out that there are far more courses in Australian literature available in Germany than here in Oz – one university even specialising on Gail Jones herself.

Jones, Gail

The telling of the this tale by the Australian is coolish, almost reserved in tone as befits the numbing chill of the darkest season in Mittel Europe. She almost holds her characters at arm’s length, making the reader feel little warmth for them. As this is a deliberate device, methinks, the novel loses nothing for that approach. Her prose is skilfully composed and that is the attraction. Her clever eloquence ensures that reading ‘A Guide to Berlin’ is never less than fascinating. And I suspect, as with ‘Five Bells’, it will linger in one’s mind eye longer than many a warmer tome.

Under the Cloak at Night

Every time I see a photographer use the dispersion effect I always think how it’d work really well with bats. With a bat theme in mind I set out to photograph a cave, settling on Kweebani Cave at Binna Burra National Park. I photographed myself in costume in my garage and Frankenstein-ed different body parts, hair, dress and cape flicks to make the final girl. I composited in a moon and a new sky from photos I’d shot separately. To create the bats I used different bat brushes found on DeviantArt and the dispersion effect, which you can learn about at

hayley roberts Under-the-Cloak-of-Night-

That’s how the Brisbane photographer describes the process involved in putting together her digitally manipulated photograph bearing the title of this piece. Similar ‘how tos’ can be found for many of her images at the listed URL. Her own website is fascinating as well, with links to her blog.

But it wasn’t that particular image that first took me to her. That one was of a mermaid in a purple-scaled sheath, seaweed clutched to her breasts, seemingly stranded beneath a wreck of a vessel, birds circling. When I investigated further I was strangely surprised that the creator of these surprising images – deliberate repetition there for effect – was Australian. No doubt I shouldn’t of been, but I’d recently been immersed in so many European stylists of similar ilk I was genuinely delighted to discover a local contributor. Perhaps I’m showing my age; my world had its formative years in the cultural cringe. Anyway, it is obvious that Hayley Roberts is extremely skilled in the magicking of her wonderful illusions. Books taking flight from library shelves as a white clad feminine form approaches down an aisle; a young lady of indiscriminate age wiping away a tear as a clipper ship commences its descent to Davy Jones in a very contained sea; a fairy on a unicorn taking a chilly rest-stop at Winterglen, with dragon in attendance are only a few examples of her engaging inventiveness.

hayley roberts

One can see Tim Burton and Shaun Tan in all of this and Ms Roberts does note that they have influenced her oeuvre. But the photos she produces are decidedly stamped with her own individual imprint.

hayley roberts - 793.8-

It doesn’t take an Einstein to work out that she is also under the spell of the possibilities that Photoshop allows for as she pays homage to concepts evoked by magic realism. Hayley, like many, in no way suspected she had the wherewithal to be in any way creative, but her increasing mastery of camerasmithing has enabled her to push the envelope away from her staples – event and nature photography. So now she knows how to tantalise her viewer with her eerily beguiling visual world. Ms Roberts is yet to make a full-time living from her artistic pursuit, working part-time, surrounded by her other great love, in a library. Her dream is to be in a position ‘ travel around Australia taking creative portraits in rural and iconic locations.’ As she says,’…finding your passion makes anything possible.’

Hayley Roberts’ website =

Margaret Watkins, Anne Quirk

‘It was wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string. I had no idea what was inside, but I had to promise not to open it till she died.’

And he kept his promise, did journalist and later gallery owner, Joseph Mulholland. Until he opened that gift to him he had no idea who she had been. She never spoke of it during their friendship. At the time she passed over the present to him Joe’s daughter was battling leukaemia so he had much on his mind as he stashed the parcel away in the back of a linen cupboard. It was later, in 1969, when his neighbour did finally succumb to mother time, that Joe, who in the meantime had been invited to be executor of her will, remembered his vow from years before. What he found when he retrieved that package eventually bought Margaret Watkins back from obscurity – so much so that in 2013 Canada Post commemorated her on a stamp issue.

He thought he knew her back story pretty well. Margaret and Joe had become firm friends and on many occasions, over the years, had talked long into the night about their lives – but she never let on. To him she was the sweet elderly lady who shared the street with him. Nothing in her tales prepared him for what was revealed the day of the opening of her gift to him; her gift to two nations. Inside were thousands of photographs and negatives – a treasure trove of memories, a treasure trove of art. Joe Mulholland is now in his seventies and is Margaret Watkins’ champion; the keeper of her flame. Thanks to his efforts to bring her in from the chill of obscurity Watkins is now recognised as being ‘…a highly distinguished and important figure…’ in the story of photography. It is significant that two countries, Canada and Scotland, claim her as their own as galleries line up to display her oeuvre – an oeuvre partially contained in that package.

Watkins was born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1884. In 1913 she moved to Boston, gaining employment at a photographic studio. From that point on the art became her life – until circumstances took a more notable future in it away from her. But even after she ceased snapping, later events showed it was never far from her mind. She took photography seriously from the start, enrolling in Clarence H White’s Maine Summer School. White was a notable practitioner and not adverse to having relations with his students as well. That may or may not have been the case with Margaret, but he quickly caught on that she had the chops to make a name for herself and became her mentor. This led to one of her career setbacks. He willed her his artistic legacy, but was challenged in court by his widow. Bizarrely it was found that Margaret was entitled to his photographic images but she was ordered to sell them to the spouse for a fraction of their worth.

margaret watkins01

By 1920 Watkins was the editor of a leading journal as photography became increasingly well regarded as an art. She was also freelancing for advertising agencies. She taught her skills as well, passing on her knowledge to others who, like her, could see photography as their calling.

But then family called and she felt obliged to leave all she had achieved behind her and start anew across the Atlantic. Four aged aunts were in dire need of a carer and Margaret felt obligated. For a time she could continue on, establishing herself in Glasgow and taking on commissions that saw her travel around Britain and across the Channel. As the aunts became even more frail, though, she was forced to restrict herself to snapping industrial Glaswegian landscapes and the city’s denizens.


After Joe opened his package he wondered if more lay in her large residence opposite. It did – an incredible cache was found, much of it now housed in Mulholland’s own shop-front for her talent – Glasgow’s Hidden Lane Gallery. He found advertising images, her work in social commentary and luminously lit nudes. He also unearthed an image of her as a young lady and found it difficult to reconcile this ‘…imperious…’ self portrait with ‘…her dark hair tied in a chignon, looking down her nose, regally, at the camera.’ with the old dear of his friendship.

margaret watkins_stamp

The images he uncovered proved that Margaret W was a most versatile practitioner. Her early still lifes, such as the one featured on the Canadian stamp in her honour, ‘The Kitchen Sink’ (1919), caused some controversy amongst critics. Most, though, were of the opinion that, what she produced with these, were ‘…composed like a painter and tended to see ordinary things as very beautiful.’ There were also her portraits of the celebrities of the day taken in her Greenwich Village studio, including that of great composer Rachmaninoff. After being removed from the New York scene she was more limited in what she could produce. Now it tended to be more the everyday recording of what she discerned around her. Eventually her nursing duties made even this difficult and she more or less gave the game away, disappearing from view until her recent rediscovery. But her moment had really passed the day she left the US.

margaret watkins

Outwardly, according to Joe, she remained chipper till the end. He did find evidence in her abode that all was not as it seemed. There was a scribbled note that gave an insight to the real condition of her mind, to the effect that she ‘…was living in a state of curdled despair…I’m doing the utmost to cope with a well-nigh hopeless situation.’ He also found she had packed her bags to return to the scene of her days of photographic pomp – to return to New York.

Anne Quirk is Margaret Watkins. The sublime novel, ‘The Illuminations’, has bought Watkins’ story back and to a wider audience in the guise of a fictional protagonist. Anne has dementia. Her memories of the past are fragmentary. She is struggling to remain semi-independent – not in a fine house next door to Joe M, but in supported accommodation. Here there is also a neighbour who takes her in hand, helping her through the day so she can cope. Maureen has had her troubles too, but she has commenced to piece together Anne’s back-story. Anne’s aggrieved daughter Alice fills in some gaps too, but it is with conflict-damaged soldier Luke, her grandson, that she shares her greatest bond. Through Luke, author Andrew O’Hagan presents all the ugliness of our current Middle East involvements. Luke has returned from Afghanistan battered and bruised mentally. He takes to the Mulholland task, once he discovers a similar trove of photographic images, to bring Anne back in from the cold. So it is potentially win-win. Anne’s legacy gives him something to focus on, he gives her one final escape from the fog that is enveloping her mind.


And then there’s Harry, her mysterious lover from the post war years who encouraged her with her artistic pursuit. When it really counted, though, he left her in the lurch. A terrible tragedy followed that caused Anne to lose much of her will for a while. In her memory Blackpool, where her liaisons with the married beau occurred, was the place where she was happiest. So, at the end, that’s where Luke takes her. In doing so the remainder of her story is unravelled. Even the Beatles get a cameo. The pair arrive in time for the famous illuminations that light up the resort each year. By now the reader realises that the future of both these characters is on the up and up, even if poor Anne no longer has the wherewithal to fully realise that. This is helped immensely by a letter from a Canadian gallery, one that had cottoned on to her historical worth as well.

Through Anne Quirk, Andrew O’Hagan, together with good neighbour Joseph Mulholland, have seen to it that a champion of early women photographers has re-emerged and taken her rightful place. As for the novel itself, it is a fine and worthy book. By the end it is, as well, a compelling read. It was long listed for the Man Booker, but sadly didn’t make the final cut. Pity that. O’Hagan’s ultimately very moving and positive tome is thoroughly recommended by this reader.


Holidays – William McInnes

Who you gunna turn to if you need a good belly-laugh from a book??? Well, Mr McInnes is as capable as anyone writing in Oz today to entice great guffaws from me and his latest did not let me down.

It is an art-form, is writing comedic prose. It’s been a while since I’ve emitted even chuckles from my book-reading. Probably the last to induce such-like was Nick Earls’ glorious publication from last year, ‘Analogue Man’. Earls writes fiction. So does McInnes – and he does okay at that too, but it’s his volumes of memoirs that really do the trick for me. ‘A Man’s Got to Have a Hobby’ was such a complete joy. I laughed so much it bought tears to the eyes. Tears featured as well with ‘Worst Things Happen at Sea’ – but for a very different reason. It was co-written with his now deceased wife, Sarah Watt – and for the delight in question the author delves into his past again. Tears came for both happy and sad reasons in ‘Holidays’.


In this recalling of the past he again displays what a memory he has – I wonder if he kept a diary. For the life of me I can only remember childhood incidents in broad stokes. He brings them to us in fine detail. Most of the gut-clenching humour came in the first half – it tendered to peter out as he started to become a tad more deep and meaningful – but this is not to say the final chapters were lesser for that. They just spoke more of the human condition. And the ending – the final stanza, was, well, just heart-wrenchingly beautiful.

The man can write and it helps that you can picture him in the scenarios he weaved as the central figure. He’s graced our screens for a few decades now, first coming to my attention in the never-to- be-forgotten marvel that was ‘SeaChange’.

The book opens on Brisbane’s Redcliffe Peninsula, setting of William’s childhood and his scallywag adventures. His yarn about the Kosy Korner Karavan Park was priceless, a rib-tickler of the first order. For our young hero the Peter Stuyvesant fag ads on tele in those days were the height of sophistication. The only place he could imagine in his world as a possible location for such-like to be made in Brissy would be said Kosy Korner. It would surely be where the international jet-setters would go to smoke and drink martinis, served to them by the pool by stunningly sexy women in bikinis. Or so he thought till he actually braved the grounds of the place.

Another adventure of his youth – this time of an amorous nature, when he was obviously much older, involved being naked and draped in beauty contest sashes. His love interest led him to meet a certain Mr Tait, the travel agent who never travelled. Why would he? He had visited the opening of Wrest Point Casino down in Hobart and saw Jerry Lewis perform. No holiday could surely top that so why waste money. His life ambition now was to sell some punter a Scandinavian vacation. I wonder, as does McInnes, whether he actually succeeded.

It seems the television star has a soft spot for Hobs. ‘Hobart is a beautiful city, perhaps the prettiest of Australian capitals, with marvellous restaurants and glorious landscapes.’ Of course these days the jewel in the crown of the city’s gems is MONA. One day, at a loose end in our burb, he sought advice at reception. ‘The bloke behind the desk brushed one side of his porn-star moustache with his forefinger and then said, ‘Go to the museum mate. The museum’s a good place.’ And so it turned out, although he was bemused at the number of kiddies that were on the loose in a place supposedly just for grown-ups. He reported the place was, in his estimation, most impressive. ‘The eclectic scale and verve of the collection is stupefying, moving and glorious.’


Being such a public figure, our author on vacation is recognised by many – but sometimes the punters get it confused. At various times they thought they had been greeting him as bonkers former Labor leader Mark Latham, sex-god Colin Firth, ‘Wait There’s More’ Demtel Man (Tim Shaw) and even, not Jeff Kennett, but his brother!!! The one that was much to his horror was being mistaken for execrable Sam Newman of ‘Footy Show’ infamy.

So many glorious stories William McI tells in this tome. There’s the bush pilot, on being informed that stormy weather lay ahead in the flight, offered to play Patsy Cline, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper for the already nervous author. Then there is the perennial problem of what to give up for Lent. One year he decided it should be his propensity for swearing. To get around the difficulties that involved he decided to insert a more suitable word instead. For some reason he hit on yallop – the surname of a former test cricket captain – but of course he spun this yarn out too to make it hilarious.

It’s a bonza book this. McInnes gets my recommendation for a guernsey in our National Living Treasures list and I’ll be yalloped if you’ll find a funnier read this year. It’s full of all that’s wonderful about our great, taking the yallop, national sense of humour.

Stay With Me – Maureen McCarthy

‘A seven year old and his grandmother allegedly murdered by an uncle in Western Sydney – my home town. A mother allegedly belted to death by her enraged husband on the Gold Coast. A woman shot dead at a McDonalds nearby. This is not the Australian way. There is a huge problem lurking behind the front doors of Australia and its name is domestic violence. To me there is simply no excuse, no reason to ever hurt a woman. For someone to hurt a woman is a thought process I can’t comprehend.’ Michael Clarke, September, 2015.

So the recently retired test captain wrote for the press after returning from a post-Ashes holiday with his wife Kyly. He’s only one of a number of prominent Aussie blokes ‘manning-up’ to make their revulsion clear. Our Australian of the Year, the remarkable Rosie Batty, has become the face of this one of the scourges of the nation, along with obesity and the so-called ice epidemic. The latter two are newish and seemingly intractable issues needing to be confronted. Domestic violence has always existed and maybe always at this present day level – but that doesn’t mean it is in any way acceptable. That it’s being dragged out into the light and into our collective consciousness can only be beneficial – a start.

And domestic violence features prominently in Maureen McCarthy’s new offering ‘Stay With Me’. It is quite a read; quite a journey the author takes her many, many fans on with this.

stay with me

Tess, emanating from a not entirely functional family situation herself, leaves Melbourne for a schoolies-type break up in Byron. There she encounters a much older man in Jay – he’s not a toolie as such, but is a local with similar intent. And he focuses on young Tess. He is quite unsavoury. We can pick it but she is too naive to know – despite her new found friends on the far north coast trying to warn her off him. With his car, a ready supply of dollars and attentive charm she is quite smitten and decides her future is with this fellow. Big mistake. In the blink of an eye she is trapped and realises too late his true controlling colours. A child, Nellie, comes along. Far from improving matters, Jay’s behaviour becomes more drug addled and violent – not only towards her, but the little one as well. Jay’s whole family is dodgy, but for a while his mother provides the only none-to-sympathetic refuge. However, a chance meeting provides the most unlikely of ways out, thus commencing a road trip back to family and a possible escape from the horrors of life with a truly horrible man. But can she really hide from her vicious partner with distance? Or will this new male, who takes her under her wing, cause more problems than he solves?. Can she trust any male?

Harry, who has the makings of her saviour, is somewhat battered too in ways – but eventually delivers her to the succour of the remains of her family. Now, finally, is she safe, particularly as Jay’s past has caught up with him? Even though she knows he’s under lock and key, his threat still casts an unnerving shadow over the remainder of the tale. The reader is fully aware that how it all pans out may not be pretty. We expect the odious fellow to reappear at any tick of the clock. In this case, fiction is little different to reality.


‘Stay With Me’ is compulsive reading. Previously McCarthy has gifted the nation the irrepressible young women of ‘Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get a Life’, but as a character Tess wins our hearts as much. If the prose is a little over-cooked initially, once the novel is in its stride this scribe was reluctant to put it down. McCarthy has been a tad uneven in her offerings of late – but here she is at her out and out best. I defy any reader not to be riveted, willing Tess on as she, Harry and Nellie wend their way down inland highways to the perceived safety of the family homestead outside Leongatha. We all delight as her formerly estranged rellies gather around to shield her from her constant fear of her worst imagined outcome. Unfortunately many women, as scarred and scared as the courageous Tess, have no out. In the real world, as in the fictional, total safety may only be fleeting. I know this book will surely ‘stay with me’. In our current climate it is almost essential reading.


Yes, we’ll call him Chern. I reckon most English speakers would call him that to his face in any case. His name’s a real mouthful – Gennadiy Chernomashintsev. See what I mean?

One of the joys of my on-line perusings is looking at professional photography websites. I’d never be as expert at pointing the camera as those guys, but a fella can dream. There are countless out there in the ether so it takes something special to stand out. His did. Chern’s.


With those that tease my senses I then tend to delve a tad deeper. In doing so I found an article about Chern. It stated that he was a throwback to a golden age of fashion photography – the period the great Bailey encapsulated. In Chern’s work there was ‘…not a drop of colour to be found, plenty of grain and a style that was immediately recognisable.’ This photographer takes his cues from the past, from the ’50s through to the ’80s, but unlike many purists he does not eschew digital technology. He reckons both can co-exist, so when the new paraphernalia came along he worked assiduously to ensure that, for him, the change over would be seamless.


Chern was born in the old USSR back in 1968. His father purchased him a camera at a young age and he was immediately captivated. On leaving school he found himself trying a variety of ways to earn a crust – as a poet (as if), composing music (maybe); before ending up in advertising (jackpot). In this he gradually realised that, with photography, a future was there for him to grasp.

After Russia lost the Cold War Chern moved to Ukraine – to Donetsk in fact. Not a place to be, I would have thought, at the present time. But these days his fame has allowed him to practise his art globally, but still one cannot but hope he has not been caught up in the mess that is the eastern part of his country. At present, as well as taking up freelance jobs for fashion houses and mags, he’s an art director for one of the latter – ‘Domino’, popular in his homeland.


Beautiful women in beautiful attire are his bread and butter, but he also likes to use his signature high contrast black and white to dabble in the nude – and here he aims at being provocative so, be warned, some galleries of his work on-line are NSFW. You can also find Chern at his calling in the fashion field on YouTube. He’d like to become more involved in film-making, but concedes the scope for that is limited in Ukraine in the present climate. However, he has produced some shorts, attainable on Vimeo – but the aforementioned proviso applies. In all this there’s nothing shabby or salacious. With Chern be assured – it’s class all the way.


A Chern Gallery – one of many on-line =

Chern on YouTube =

Chern on Vimeo =

Honey Brown and Hobart

‘It was the green dress that did it,’ I responded. ‘The green dress, plus you were just too lovely and vivacious that night to pass up. As well, I think I was ready. Ready, I guess, for more life in my life. I can’t in all honesty say there was much wrong with the life I was living – just that spending that evening in your company I figured, for the first time, I could have more, sweetheart. You turned my world upside down back then – and repeated doing so again more recently. I’ll thank you forever for that – and thank you forever for taking me up to your room that night.’

That first morning away I had woken up to another hotel room – but as usual waking up next to Judy meant turning to see her already with her nose in a book. That was okay – we were in no hurry to get out and about on our first morning in Hobart. At our ages helter-skeltering wasn’t our scene any more. Once we’d come in from the airport last evening and settled in to our accommodation on the IXL side of the city’s waterfront, we’d chatted what we might do today. In the end we decided we’d take the grey-camouflaged river-cat up-stream to MONA. I’d been before, when it first opened and knew it was a must-see. It had turned tourism on its head to the island of both our births and I was keen to show her it. Judy hadn’t been to the state’s southern capital in decades. Both being North West Coasters in our youth, it was far easier hopping on a plane across to Melbourne than making the torturous road trip to Hobs. At least that wasn’t so bad these days, but back in the day it seemed to take forever – and someone always became car-sick. The Casino had livened the small city on the Derwent up for a while, but mostly back then Hobart seemed as sleepy as Burnie.

Judy was a bookaholic. Every chance she’d get she was turning pages. The daily paper and a good whodunit, now and again, did me. I’d also read sporting biographies of AFL stars and cricketers – but no more than a couple a year. Jude would devour a dozen or so books a month. She reckoned they kept her going when her kids were younger, stuck down the Mornington Peninsula for most of her married life. Reading, so she said, was now ingrained in her.

AFL had a fair amount to do with us being together in the first place. I met her by chance on a footy trip across the Strait with the lads. Then I used it, or the cricket, as an excuse for scuttling off to Melbourne several times a year to catch up with her. For my sake she was always discreet and knew where to meet away from the usual tourist traps. In this way I concealed the affair for so long. But, coming back to her books – one aspect of her obsession is that she loved talking about them to me. And I enjoyed listening. It had only been a year or so now since I made the decision to up and leave my Burnie existence and Raissa to strike out on a new life with my Melbourne love, now that she was free. In those months she always kept me appraised of her latest novel – for it was fiction she usually read. I could see that one in Hobart that morning was something entitled ‘Honey Brown’, or so I thought.

When I enquired as to what ‘Honey Brown’ was about she laughed. ‘No Jim, that’s the author’s name. The book itself is called ‘Six Degrees’. As to what it’s about…Well, how should I put this? It’s about sex, my love – first time sex with someone. It’s short stories. Let me give you their titles – that’ll give you the idea. Here, I’ll flip back through – I’m almost finished. There’s ‘Threesome’, ‘Two Women’, ‘Older’, ‘Younger’, ‘Two Men’ – you’d love that one Jim. Not. And the one still to go is ‘First Time’. And they’re pretty erotic tales too, let me tell you, my love. Almost too much for this good Christian girl. They get me all hot and bothered.’

six degrees

She gave a slightly embarrassed laugh, but I asked her to tell me about those she’d already read. She put the book to one side and asked if I was sure I wanted to know. When I nodded she snuggled down beside me into the crook of my arm and placed a hand strategically on my upper thigh. ‘Sure you’re up for this old fella? It might get you a bit worked up too. Anyway, it might be all about the act, but it’s still well written, I reckon. She does sex well, does Honey Brown. All the stories have a kind of link to tie them together and they all end with the two involved making love. Actually, with the first episode there’s three in the mix. It’s Valentines Day and a café owner receives a bouquet of flowers from the love of her life who’s a famous cook. But they have never really taken action on their mutual affection – each reckoning the other is not interested in turning friendship into something more. Anyway, the chef turns up at the woman’s flat above the café, only to catch her just after being in said act with one of her wait staff. One thing leads to another and in the end a threesome changes her life and brings the two together, the renowned chef and the object of his yearnings. It all seems unlikely, I know, but in Honey’s capable hands it makes sense – sort of. The lesbian story starts off in a Kalgoorlie skimpy bar – you know what that is Jim?’

‘Thought so. I didn’t before this book. I’ve led a sheltered life you see. Anyway she’s not really one of the skimpies – but still dances for the men and manages to get their appreciation without actually taking any of her clothes off. But in a mining town there’s not really much action for someone of her persuasion, until there’s a night she eventually realises that one the punters she’s serving is actually a woman. From the time she passes across her frothy their eyes meet continuously across the crowded room and you can probably guess the rest sweetheart. The story I liked best, well so far anyway, was of the older man and a young twenty something, set in the high country somewhere. He was fifty, Jim, hardly past it. How old are you again? Sorry, don’t look at me like that. Anyway, she’s a fishing guide, being the one who was initially attracted and made all the running. The older bloke’s a real gentleman and she can tell he has issues that he’s perhaps taking a break from. What they are become clearer as we progress. She just finds him so different to the younger guys, who seem to her just to have one thing on their minds. This mature male seems cut from a different cloth to those of around her age she’d been associating with in recent times. He does his best to resist her flirting during the hours they spend together by brook and stream – but of course in the end he succumbs. But it’s all very lovely and I really think you can tell it’s a woman writing this. She doesn’t pull back when it comes to descriptions of the lovemaking part, but I imagine it’s softer than if a man wrote it. That being said – it’s all a hell of a lot better than that ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ stuff. I’m still trying to work out why I just had to read all three. Might be a bit more to me than you figured, Jim. Watch out, I say. You getting sick of this? You want to me to carry on?’

I replied in the affirmative and she laughed. She asked if it was making me feel any awakening down below. I told her that maybe that could be the case. ‘Well, I’d better continue then. The next tale is the reverse of the previous. Seems this young fellow has always had a crush on the older woman next door. While hubby is no longer a factor he seizes the opportunity and finds his desired MILF is just as eager as he is. The story is told from her point of view and sort of gives the woman the kick start to get on with the rest of her life. She has a fair idea the youngster needs to be just a one off for she’s no cougar – and she has a fair idea too who a more suitable candidate could be. The next not-so-sexy one is about this woman’s estranged hubby. Seems he’s moved over to the gay side, meets a certain someone at a writers’ retreat. Being two guys it was the one I related to the least. You’d hate it Jim. I know you are all for their rights, but you’re still very much the old fashioned heterosexual, aren’t you, my darling?’

six degrees

By this time Jude’s hand had moved to another position and we ended up making love – the first time in quite a while. ‘Must be being back in Hobs,’ Judy quipped. ‘I can’t imagine what else may have bought that on. You could almost be fifty again.’

Despite it being a return visit, MONA was still an eye-opener. Stuff I remembered from my first time was no longer on exhibition and there was plenty that I hadn’t seen to keep me fascinated. Last time was after my enforced stay down here following my turn in the main street of Burnie, so I didn’t get to see it all in any case. I conked out about half-way and had to have a spell. It was during that period of time that I confessed to Raissa what had been going on all those years with Jude. For a while she seemed to take it well and I resolved to try and make it up to her. But once we were back in Burnie it was obvious the dynamics of our marriage had changed and I was finding myself still hankering for Judy, even though, by this time, it wasn’t the passionate affair it had once been. Going to Melbourne meant I’d have great company with somebody I was very quickly coming to adore. The great sex, if it happened, was a bonus..

Judy kept emailing me and that didn’t help me trying to wean myself off her. For a while I refrained from answering, but she was persistent and eventually my promise to myself crumbled. For a while we just communicated about our daily doings – but even so it soon became apparent she wasn’t the same old Judy. Something was going on in her world too. I certainly wasn’t the same Franksy my mates would recognise either. They’d reckoned I had changed – and I didn’t need my pals telling me to buck up, so for a while I distanced myself from them. I knew exactly what was needed to get me out of my funk. Judy had long given up her other ‘regulars’ when she travelled to the city. I knew that, but I was nonetheless surprised when she let me know that now, perhaps following my lead, she and hubby Tom had had a heart to heart as well. It turns out he’d found someone else too – and he had also been seeing her for some time unbeknown to Jude. Seems when she also confessed he already had a fair idea what was going on with her. He was happy to move to Portsea where his lady lived, leaving her with their abode. Looking back over it all, it’s hard to imagine that these days I contentedly reside here with Judy. It all seemed to happen so quickly. It so did the trick, though. These days I’m more than happy with my lot in life.

Of course I knew nothing of her confession until Judy emailed me with the details of her conversation with her spouse. The final line of her account read, ‘No pressure, Jim. I am here if you want me.’ Simple as that – and I couldn’t wait to get to her. I still have the guilts about up and leaving as suddenly as I did after that. But then I knew Raissa was not in a good place. I had betrayed her and she resented me for it. Perfectly understandable. I thought it was in our best interests to part. I told her face to face, my Raissa. She said she’d been expecting it. All in all I just figured life’s too short to be miserable. For as much as my wife once meant to me there was now someone else who meant more – and she was available. I would have to take it easy, I knew that. Any physical exertion, even love making, still takes it out of me, so I take life very slowly these days. Judy is all go, go, go and she has plenty to be on the go with in her community – and she has her overnighters in Melbourne. I know these days her only interest is in the shopping. Occasionally, on my better days, I go up with her on the train – but frankly, I’m just as happy pottering around the house. Hobart is a sort of tester as we’d both like to do a bit more travel – maybe a cruise or an island resort up north. I should be up for that, shouldn’t I?

It helps too that I’ve recently been made aware that Raissa has someone in her life too now – a younger man she calls ‘Lad’. I suppose it’s a tad like the MILF story Jude was describing to me. I’ve no idea who this guy is, but Kylie tells me she’s happy as all get out. Good on her I reckon – I wouldn’t want her otherwise.

Showing my lovely lady around MONA just re-enforced my view about what a special place it is. It is justifiably deserving of all the glowing reports written about it, but still I was a little wary. Despite her facility for giving and receiving a good time in the bedroom, my Jude can be a bit prudish about overt displays of sex and nudity – but I needn’t of worried. She loved it. She reckoned it left the NGV for dead. Nothing on offer at MONA fazed her – and there’s still plenty of weird in-your-face-stuff there.

That afternoon we pottered around, caught the tail end of Salamanca Market and then headed up to the restaurant strip in North Hobart. We had a fine repast at a place called Capital and decided to walk back to the hotel, being such a mild night. By a couple of blocks, however, I was done in and we took a cab the remainder of the way.

It was around seven the following Sunday that I emerged from the land of nod to find my wonderful partner-for-the-rest-of-my-life immersed in a book. I tapped her shoulder and said I thought it was a different one to yesterday. ‘No good mornings then?’ she chided.
‘Sorry, sorry – all that with bells on. Only I’m keen to find out what happened with ‘First Time’. That’s what you were reading when we went to bed, wasn’t it?’
‘It was my treasure. Good memory love. You’re not losing it after all. And all that snoring you did overnight. We had a big day yesterday, didn’t we? I enjoyed it. Bet I snored a bit too. Let me just finish this little bit and I’ll cosy up and tell you about it.’

I needed the loo, but when I tried to hop out of bed the old bod wasn’t so keen to follow instructions. I realised then that on that second day I’d have to take it quietly in what I planned. I also knew I was having trouble with my short term memory and that was concerning me. Judy had obviously picked up on it too. I tried to tell her yesterday the new/old name for Mt Wellington – what the first Tasmanians called it back before colonisation. But think I could recall it? I had only read about it in one of the guides shortly before we left the hotel and made a mental note, or so I’d thought. It wasn’t as if it was a difficult word either. Still I could recall the previous day’s activity under the sheets all right – so that was something. With that and all the walking – no wonder a bloke was stuffed.

On my return Jude was waiting for me and snuggled in, placing her hand in its welcome position on my upper leg. She proceeded to give me an account of the final instalment. ‘Jim, it’s about young girl losing her cherry at a rural eighteenth birthday shindig. The guy involved was also a virgin, a former neighbour. She had witnessed a horrific accident he was involved in outside his front gate, causing him to lose his father. He disappeared after that, so it was a chance reconnection at the party, in more ways than one. I was a bit ho-hum in truth, my love, compared to some of the others. Bit it did link up nicely to the other tales and rounded the whole book off .’

When she finished she took her hand away, placing it on my chest instead. She knew I’d be overdoing it if we had a repeat performance. In doing so, though, she asked that initial question, ‘How much do you remember of our first time, my love?’

six degrees

I told her then the impact the green dress had on me – it was something she was not unaware of. I’d repeated my love of her in it so often over the years. Jude and I had known each other in our early days in Burnie. Our paths had crossed in the months before Raissa entered my world. Had she not – well, let’s just say for a while there I liked what I saw in Judy, although she was a bit on the young side for me at that stage. Once my wife-to-be came along I lost all interest though. We’d see each other out and about – Burnie was too small a place not to. We’d say hello or wave and that was just about that. Then she too disappeared. I learnt later that she’d met a fellow in Victoria. Then, back in the early nineties, I was on one of my footy trips and wandering around Brunswick Street when she passed me. I knew it was her as soon as I saw her so I called out. She turned and was nonplussed till I shouted my name. She came running back and gave me a glorious hug. I took in her perfume, her eyes – still with the twinkle I remembered from our tender years – and, I must admit, her breasts pressed up against me, if only ever so briefly. We had coffee and bought ourselves up to date with each other’s journey in the mean time. Then she explained her reason for being in the city – retail therapy – and asked if I would enjoy dining with her that evening.

That night I escaped my mates and headed for the diner date she had arranged near the Crown Casino. I knew as soon as I spotted her waiting for me in that dress what else would be on offer that evening if I should choose to take her up on it. I had few qualms in doing so.

I told Judy all of what I remembered of that first evening by the Yarra on our last morning in Hobart as she moved her hand back and forwards across my chest. I told her how magnificent I thought her breasts were, obviously unencumbered by any bra, the material so silken, almost sheer. ‘Too bad the boobs are so far gone to be such a hussy these days.’ was her response.

I placed a hand on one of her still appetising globes and reassured her that they’re the only breasts in the world for me – that I still found something quite remarkable in their beauty. She laughed and moved in a little closer, calling me an old devil and that it was just as well as I was too pooped to do anything about it.’But maybe we could play around a bit in other ways. What do you reckon?’

It did occur to me, that night, to wonder why she would need such a beguiling outfit on a shopping trip to the CBD. When I enquired, a little further down the track, she wasn’t reticent in coming forward with the news that there were other men-friends she met up with, on occasion, in the city. She quickly ruled out the fleeting notion I had that she might do a bit of high-end escort work on the side. ‘No,’ she explained. ‘They are just random men I’ve met in my Melbourne stays that I like and want to see more of. Sometimes sex is involved – but more often than not they also just want some discreet company when they are in town. And I often like somebody to spend a few hours with after being on my tod all day in the shops.’

I remembered when I asked about her hubby she guffawed, ‘Tom! He’d have conniptions if he knew the half of what I got up to when not in his presence, the good Christian fella he is. His mind’s just on making the money I spend. We do all right down the Peninsula, but life’s a tad on the dull side with all his church mates. I refuse to get involved these days. I’ve seen the light. Ha! I’m sure he’d kill me if he knew. Not really. He’d find an explanation for it in God’s will and want me to pray with him for my eternal soul.’ Turns out she was wrong about that, but I can’t complain when I am so much the beneficiary.

Judy drifted off back to sleep that Hobart morning so I continued to lie there, thinking back to that first night. After being a one woman man all my adult life, being with another was a revelation. Raissa had, no doubt about it, been a great wife and mother. And she was still a marvellously attractive woman. But the passion had long since gone – not a bad thing in itself, but I guess I was then vulnerable if somebody else came along and displayed a little interest. Jude certainly did that. Footy trips became a break from routine, but I always demurred when some of the others trooped off to the King Street fleshpots. I wasn’t interested in that sort of thing – so when that stunning vision in Fitzroy caught my eye and I realised who she was, a whole new world opened up to me.

That first date Jude and I did imbibe a fair bit with our meal – me for Dutch courage as I knew what was coming. Then she took me, hand in hand, to her room up in the Casino’s tower. Once inside she shimmied out of her green dress, pressed up against me with those glorious breasts and gave me a lingering kiss. That decided it. In a flash we both were completely disrobed and under the sheets. What followed was a night I’ll never forget. As we prepared to go our separate ways the next morning she whispered in my my ear, ‘Come to Melbourne often, Jim?’ I knew an invitation when I heard it, especially when she slipped a card with her phone number into my hand.

So that began our decade long relationship. I kept the footy trips going, most times slipping away and meeting up with Jude. Then they became just a cover for spending as much time as we could together. I am sure Raissa never twigged and I figured it kept me happy so what was the problem? Judy and I both knew its boundaries and were careful to be discreet, turning to the inner suburbs for our meetings rather than in the centre of town where there was more chance we could be spotted. As time went on it became more Judy’s company I craved, as much as her body – and then the latter became almost secondary. She, at some stage, dispensed with her other gentleman, reckoning she was getting too old for all that nonsense, as she called it. She confided I was the special one, that we rubbed along pretty well and she was never obliged to do anything she didn’t feel like with me. That was a real ego boost – silly man that I am. Then came my heart turn and its associated attack of the guilts, leading me to this point in time, spending my autumn years with the lovely Jude.

I was smiling, Judy’s beautiful head was on my chest and I realised she must be worn out too from the previous day’s Hobartian exertions. When she did stir she asked what I had arranged for the last day. She knew I had something planned, but I wanted it to be a surprise. We rose, toileted and dressed, after which she found I had organised for a hire car to be delivered to the hotel. I drove her out along the Cambridge Road to Richmond, stopping at the wineries and other attractions en route. We dined al fresco at the Richmond Wine Centre, under the branches of a tree, for lunch – thoroughly recommended, before heading west up the Coal Valley. By the time we finished Judy had arranged for a couple of dozen crates of lovely cool climate drops to be sent to our home – as well as a bag of cheeses and other assorted produce to take back with us on the plane that evening. The eponymous new Coal River Farm was a highlight, and we noted Zoodoo for our next trip when we’d make sure we had a bit more time. Judy had done well out of her newly minted divorce and continued her love affair with treating herself, as well as yours truly, to all that was good in life. It was a magnificent day. The spring weather was sublime, the sky a flawless blue and Judy was radiantly happy as we toured about. That afternoon life didn’t get much better. I was with a woman I cherished and now they knew her, my Kylie and Shane thoroughly approved. That Raissa was in a good place too helped.

six degrees

Late that evening, on our Virgin flight back to Tullamarine, I leant over to my love and inquired, ‘You’ve packed that book, haven’t you?’
‘What? You mean the Honey Brown?’
‘Sure do. Seems to me she helped make our Hobart jaunt truly memorable. The least I can do to repay her is read her book.’
‘Jim, you never cease to amaze me. Are you sure the old ticker of yours will stand it?’
And just to prove I wasn’t completely past it, I had another word for her too. ‘That’s it. I’ve remembered – kunyani.’
‘What on earth are you on about?’
‘The mountain. Mount Wellington. I’ve been trying to recall it’s Aboriginal name. It’s only just come to me – kunyani, with a little k.’
Judy shook her head, gave my hand a squeeze and turned to look out over the lights of Melbourne as we came into land.

Florence and the Odious, Odious Man

It was a small gallery – pictures of women from long ago. Some were clothed, most were not. But it was a portrait that caught the eye most – a portrait in close-up that was the first I clicked on to enlarge. Above the set of images was the name Robert Wilson Shufeldt. I bookmarked it, as I do anything I discover in the ether that may have the potential of a bit of a yarn to it. In theory the plan is always to return later. When I eventually did so, with this image, just recently and dug a little deeper, I was quite amazed at what I discovered.


More often than not I find dead-ends, but this small beginning produced a gothic tale worthy of Hollywood – although it did take a little finding. There is, though, sadly no proof, one way or the other, as to whether the portrait was her. Perhaps the ‘colouring’ is right, but maybe this was of a younger woman? But, by the end, I had it fixed in my mind that it was of the heroine of the piece – that it was Florence.

There are quite despicable excuses for humanity in our own digital age, mostly male of course, who think it is fine to place private photographs on-line of former partners/wives/girl-friends/one night stands/whoever naked, or in compromising positions, for others to gawk at – predominantly male too. But if you think this is a thoroughly modern phenomena – think again. Robert Wilson Shufeldt was at it too – but obviously not in the same way. Here’s his story – and that of his victim – the remarkable Florence.

Google Robert Wilson Shufeldt and most references are for this fellow’s father. He has the same appellation (of course) – and was more historically famous than his son. He was an admiral on the Union side in the war that tore the nation apart. But Robert junior is there if one looks carefully. Delve deeper and his whole miserable existence can be exposed.

He was a bright lad, was Robert. He grew to become a Renaissance man of sorts – but with none if the enlightenment usually associated with that accolade. He was an ornithologist and it was his study of the avian species that led him to Florence. It has even been reported that he was the man who dissected the very last specimen of passenger pigeon on the planet – and what a sorrowful story that poor creature’s demise is. As well, this fellow was a renowned osteologist (expert on bones), myologist (of muscular systems), museologist (of museums and their systems) and ethnographist (of people and cultures). And he dabbled in the photography of the nude – purely for scientific purposes, you understand.


The younger Shufeldt was born in 1850 and spent the Civil War serving on one of his father’s vessels. In 1872 he enrolled at Cornell University, studying medicine. On graduation he joined the army and RWS went on to serve as a surgeon in the Indian Wars. It was at this time he commenced collecting. From that point on and throughout the remainder of his life he put together a vast trove of biological specimens, but eventually started to specialise in denizens of the air. Human anatomy also became his forte. Over the course of his career he published over a thousand books, articles and papers on a widely diverse range of subjects. One such was entitled ‘America’s Greatest Problem – the Negro’. He was, not unusually for the time, in the firm belief of the racial supremacy of whiter peoples. Determined to assist in proving that notion he took to exhuming the skeletons of North American Indians – something that we know from our own island’s bleak history wasn’t so unusual for the time either. For all these fine works, or so they were considered, RWS was appointed to the august post of Honorary Curator of the Smithsonian Institute.


But it was with his private life that Shufeldt, inadvertently, made his greatest contribution to society. His outrageous behaviour so shocked the powers to be at the time that it changed the way the American legal system viewed the rights of women and increased the move away from them being regarded as mere chattels of their husbands. Agonisingly slowly, the march for equality in the eyes of the law was starting to commence around that time – Shufeldt assisting it to get traction.

The scientist was wedded three times, firstly to one Catherine Badcock. Back in that period, when divorce was frowned on, many unscrupulous men, on finding their married situation holding them back in any way, would conspire to have their unwanted appendage certified as insane on the flimsiest of excuses. The next step would see these unfortunate souls installed in a lunatic asylum. That was Catherine’s fate. She had no means of fighting back so she took an also not uncommon path – she committed suicide. Why Catherine displeased her hubby I was not able to discern – but there seems no doubt she was very much the wronged party.

While all this was occurring Shufeldt continued his writing, with his ornithological work bringing him into contact with Maria Audubon. Now any twitcher worth his/her salt would recognise that surname. John James Audubon, Maria’s grandfather, is god to American bird-lovers. Shufeldt was a member of the Audubon Ornithologists’ Union (AOU). He and Maria published papers together in its journal. She was a spinster – thank heavens that term is disappearing from our language. Her sister, forty-two year old Florence, was also a reluctant member of the spinsterhood.

And so Maria bought sister Florence and RWS together. Being the type of self-aggrandising person he allegedly was, it would be quite a feather in his cap, excuse the pun, to be wedded to an Aubudon. He wasn’t really serious about her for, as soon as the nuptials were over, he was having it off with the home help, Scandinavian Alfhild Dagny Cowum. He wasn’t at all subtle about it, assuming he’d sort Florence out later if she presented any problems. He obviously didn’t know his new wife at all well. Two months into the marriage she was suing for divorce on the grounds of adultery – an unusual and brave step for a woman to take back then. Initially Robert thought all this mattered little. Being a man (of sorts) of his times, he took it as gospel the notion that the male of the species was entitled to affairs on the side. It was only to be expected of a fellow as virile as he. And normally this would be the case – but Florence was not as much a woman of her times as he took for granted. She would not be subjected by him. She was persistent and she never gave up. It was a long, tedious, demeaning and convoluted process she had to endure to see justice – but she fought bitterly to attain it. She was bold enough to convince court after court to see it her way. This, despite all the mud that her husband could throw at her; despite the despicable act he perpetrated when the mud didn’t stick. In the midst of all of it he did find time to take his mistress as his third wife. Florence gave him the wherewithal to do that – not that in any way is he deserving of any form of sympathy. She was also vital in his fall from grace.

What was shocking were the lengths Shufeldt went to to get his own back on Florence, once his wife was granted a divorce by the Maryland courts. It shocked him to the core that it was ruled he also was required to pay alimony. In the usual manner of men back then, with a rare adverse decision going against them, he simply took the common step and filed for bankruptcy. The thinking was that would put paid to any financial call she could have on him. He hadn’t figured, though, with his former wife’s determination to prove that this ploy was patently unfair. After all, he was still receiving a perfectly fine pension from the US army – surely she had a right to that, if indeed he was in dire monetary straits. She very much doubted this to be the true. She took her case all the way to the US Supreme Court – and in doing so took on the US Army as well. Compounding her problems there were the boffins at the AOU who were concerned what the impending scandal would do to their organisation’s standing. They took legal means to try and get her to desist. She refused. All this caused great publicity but again, with the bit between her teeth, she was unswerving in her campaign for her rights – and she ultimately prevailed. The loophole of bankruptcy was closed and the precedent had been set to apply that judgement to all future women in similar circumstances.

Now, what of the link to the abhorrent practice of placing intimate images on-line of women who have had the effrontery to displease their men folk in some way? Well, it was what Shufeldt published during these proceedings that caused him to lose all sympathy from those in positions of judgement. It was considered that he had well and truly crossed the line – even for that misogynist era.

It was not unknown for him to publish nude photos of women in his various scientific writings. His book, ‘Studies of the Human Form for Artists, Sculptors and Scientists’, was full of them. But when ‘On Female Impotency’ came out and it transpired that the nudes enclosed within were of his wife Florence, all hell broke loose for the slime-ball that was RWS. Supposedly a piece in the guise of being ‘scientific’, he wrote of a woman who had left a physician, who shall remain nameless, describing this anonymous wife as ‘…immoral, hysterical and not a virgin when she married.’ He also submitted that, shockingly, said woman also possessed the blood of a mulatto – a clear reference to the great bird-painter’s own mother. This outraged the AOU and the Smithsonian – they disowned him immediately. This only caused a fit of pique from Robert S who promptly marched up to their doors demanding all his specimens back. What a cheek they had not taking his side!

So what do we take out of all this? Probably that there is nothing new under the sun in this world. That it rebounded and the odious man received his just desserts is a plus. Hopefully that can happen to most of Shufeldt’s present day equivalents. All of this unseemly carry-on took it’s toll on the poor possum’s health. Most of his final years he was to be found brooding and wheezing in various sanatoriums before he did the planet a favour by dying in 1934.

It took years and years for Florence to obtain her legal win with, as a spin off, ever so slowly she assisted in setting in motion the creaky wheels of justice to make life more tolerable for the women of her time. She is worthy of greater recognition for this – and I still cannot help but wonder if that portrait that so intrigued me is indeed of her.


I’ll leave the final word to one of her supporters during her lengthy ordeal, Elliott Coves, who wrote – ‘Dr Shufeldt is morally a cancer – the most vilest and most depraved wretch I ever met. His former wife had committed suicide in an insane asylum to which his brutalities had consigned her. The horrors of poor Florence Audubon’s situation I never saw surpassed.’