Monthly Archives: November 2015


‘You know he promised me, don’t you Mr Gainsborough. Promised me the world he did – my prince, my Florizel. And now he’s thrown me over for that wicked slattern, that foul strumpet Elizabeth Armistead. But you’d know all about that wouldn’t you, Mr Gainsborough? It’s been in the daily gazettes. They’re doing well from my woes, they are. I’ve made sure of that. I have connections you know. And I have his letters too, Mr Gainsborough. Those letters are a godsend to me. And very saucy they are too. He was absolutely besotted – and I will use them too if needs be, Mr Gainsborough. If needs be I’ll cause much embarrassment for his royal person. Him a future king and all. Why, he’ll be a laughing stock forever and a day. Some of the things, sir, that young scallywag wanted me to do you would not believe. Fair maiden that I am, I could hardly contemplate them myself. Begged me to do them, he did. But I am a proper girl with a proper upbringing, as you can no doubt tell, Mr Gainsborough, being a well lived man yourself, sir. And that young hare-brain knows I will tell. Tell all I will. I’ll hold nothing back if I do not get what has been guaranteed to me. If I cannot return to him he’ll rue the day what he promised me after he saw me on Mr Garrick’s stage and wished for some favours from me. Conspired to meet me he did. Made it his business then to insure that we were alone before he put his proposition to me. What was a fair maid to do in that situation? I told him, I did, that I was a married woman with a daughter, but he insisted, he truly did. Twenty thousand pounds he promised if I were to fulfil his needs, Mr Gainsborough. Twenty thousand on him reaching his coming of age he would pass to me in bank notes for my labours. Have I seen a penny of it, sir? Wretchedly done by I am. Wretchedly treated by him. He’s reneged and I want justice. He was so very green back then. Only seventeen. I taught him well in the boudoir, I did, perhaps too well. Methinks I shouldn’t be talking to you like this, but you are of an age to be worldly, Mr Gainsborough. Surely you do not object. And that is why I am here, Mr Gainsborough. I am imploring you to assist me in getting back what is rightfully mine.


And now, look what has become of me. That bitch only had to flash her boobies and what-not at him and he was goggle-eyed for her, he was. He treated me like a fat tub of lard, he did. I am not having it, sir! He tells me I’m finished, he does. And after all I done for him. Silly fool. But I’ll not be bettered Mr Gainsborough, I will not.

Now, as to why I am here in your studio, Mr Gainsborough, you ask? Well I want to show him, I do. Show him what he is missing, for you see, I still have feelings for my Florizel, good sir. You are the greatest painter in the land. No, don’t shake your head at me. You are and I am not the only one who says it. You have painted many a pretty woman and made them bedazzle, made them most comely indeed. And many not so pretty, I dare say, as well. You’d made them appear ever so beautiful too, although no doubt it took great mastery of your art to do so. Tizzy them up you do and make them look fit for a king. Now I don’t need too much of that dabbing here and dabbing there to improve my looks, Mr Gainsborough. I just ask you to paint what you see and I will do the rest. I want the whole of London to see what that silly boy has done to me, tossing me aside for that scarlet floozy. And if he still hasn’t come to his senses after he appraises my painting when it is finished, I’ll publish those letters. I truly will Mr Gainsborough. He’ll be red-faced. He’ll be a laughing stock. He will. I’ll not be bettered by him – or anyone else.

Maybe it went something like that – maybe it was completely different. There’s no way of knowing, but the above is my imagining of it – the conversation between the most famous mistress in the land and a renowned artist, one whose fame lasts till this day. The outcome was an art work that helped symbolise an age.


Mary Robinson, Mrs Robinson – known to all as Perdita, was the future George IV’s first mistress, well before the Regency and his eventual crowning as king. The woman, born Mary Darby, was around the twenty mark when she returned to London. Her triumph was in the David Garrick’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘The Winter’s Tale’. As well as all of the city, she dazzled the young prince and he made it his business to arrange a clandestine meeting with the beguiling actress. Mary, disastrously married to a gold-digging wastrel to whom she had borne a daughter, jumped at the opportunities such a connection would provide for her. He became her Florziel, after the play’s hero. He also made generous monetary promises to her in return for her presence in his chamber, on the proviso she left the stage. Her star rose very quickly, but only for a few brief years was she a future monarch’s plaything. Her fame, as opposed to infamy, was to lay elsewhere – after she acquired a more sophisticated relationship with the language of her realm. But it was during these years on a prince’s arm, however, that she became a trend-setter, equivalent to today’s celebrities. She introduced to society ladies a looser style of fashion, the Perdita. This eponymous item was a flowing Grecian-style gown revolutionising the look of a woman of society.

The Prince, now educated, soon tired of her and began his liaisons with a long list of beauties out to make the most of their charms while they still possessed them. Later on this was to even involve a secret marriage with a commoner (Mrs Herbert), before he gained the throne with poor Caroline of Brunswick as his Queen. He loathed her.


But Mrs Robinson, like her famous cinematic namesake last century, was a force to be reckoned with. Gainsborough, for whatever reason, painted her – several times. Look closely in the  image and one can see a miniature held in Perdita’s hand – this in turn a likeness of the lover who jilted her, her prince. That sent a powerful message to the future highness concerning his promises made to her, as well as to the public who’d soon pick up on a certain fact. This lady never forgets.

It dawned on the Prince that she was fully prepared to bring him down. He initiated discussions to prevent his name being further dragged through the mud. Eventually the two came to an agreement over the letters – but she only ended up receiving a minuscule amount compared to the sum signed off on. But by then she had other irons in the fire – she had moved on.

Despite being partially paralysed by an infection, caused by a miscarriage, Mrs Robinson was now engaged in a long, lust-ridden affair with a hero of the American Revolutionary Wars, one Banastre Tarleton – she was later to base her novel, ‘The Patriot’, around his exploits. This relationship didn’t end happily for her either, but at least it took fifteen years to play out. Tarleton took a less blemished maiden to the altar.

And then she had this:- London’s Summer Morning

Who has not waked to list the busy sounds
Of summer’s morning, in the sultry smoke
Of noisy London? On the pavement hot
The sooty chimney-boy, with dingy face
And tattered covering, shrilly bawls his trade,
Rousing the sleepy housemaid. At the door
The milk-pail rattles, and the tinkling bell
Proclaims the dustman’s office; while the street
Is lost in clouds impervious. Now begins
The din of hackney-coaches, waggons, carts;
While tinmen’s shops, and noisy trunk-makers,
Knife-grinders, coopers, squeaking cork-cutters,
Fruit-barrows, and the hunger-giving cries
Of vegetable-vendors, fill the air.
Now every shop displays its varied trade,
And the fresh-sprinkled pavement cools the feet
Of early walkers. At the private door
The ruddy housemaid twirls the busy mop,
Annoying the smart ’prentice, or neat girl,
Tripping with band-box lightly. Now the sun
Darts burning splendor on the glittering pane,

Save where the canvas awning throws a shade
On the gay merchandise. Now, spruce and trim,
In shops (where beauty smiles with industry)
Sits the smart damsel; while the passenger
Peeps through the window, watching every charm.
Now pastry dainties catch the eye minute
Of humming insects, while the limy snare
Waits to enthrall them. Now the lamp-lighter
Mounts the tall ladder, nimbly venturous,
To trim the half-filled lamps, while at his feet
The pot-boy yells discordant! All along
The sultry pavement, the old-clothes-man cries
In tone monotonous, while sidelong views
The area for his traffic: now the bag
Is slyly opened, and the half-worn suit
(Sometimes the pilfered treasure of the base
Domestic spoiler), for one half its worth,
Sinks in the green abyss. The porter now
Bears his huge load along the burning way;
And the poor poet wakes from busy dreams,
To paint the summer morning

In later life she became known, by one and all, not for her Kardashian lifestyle, but for her literary achievements. Perdita was put aside for a new appellation, the ‘English Sappho’, in tribute of her poetry. In all she penned six novels on top of her versifying. Her crowning glory is that, along with her contemporary, Mary Wollstonecraft, she was a leading advocate for women’s rights of the era. Eventually, though, her affliction worsened. In 1800 she succumbed to it.

hoppner mary robinson

For us there is a certain notoriety attached to the name Mrs Robinson, but I doubt that even the subject of Benjamin Braddock’s ardour in ‘The Graduate’ could match the original Mrs Robinson’s place in the annals of women to be reckoned with.

The Collage-ist

Where I found him some would argue perhaps he shouldn’t have been there. Initially, I too thought he was a camera-pointer, being on a site for esteemed snappers – but no, he works in the medium of collage, integrating the images of others to create his product.

Sammy Slabbnick comes from an artistic family, but dropped out of art school himself, eventually ending up starting a postcard company. It’s still going today. This enterprise gave Sammy S the genesis for his own claim to fame now. He found his love for postcards and vintage magazines could be combined into what quickly became an obsession for him. He reigned this in so it now doesn’t totally dominate his existence – he became more disciplined with beneficial results in terms of success.

sammy Slabbinck - specs

He adores garage sales as this is where he can often pick up the raw materials for his product. A picture in any mag could trigger his creative spark and away he goes. He loves stuff from the fifties through to the seventies, focusing on those decades to build up his collages. He attempts to juxtaposition pictures from the advertising of those times with what he finds in both retro men’s and women’s publications to create surprising effects. Sometimes his results may carry a political message, but mostly he’s just looking to surprise and intrigue. He certainly did that for me when I clicked on his name to expose an on-line gallery of his offerings. This quickly led down the googling path until I had accessed more about this unique artist.

sammy slabbinck - vantage point

Now approaching forty, the Belgian is in demand by a new generation of magazine editors, as well as by gallery owners. He tries to keep what he produces as simple as possible, using far fewer images than many other operators in his field. Those others seem to believe in the notion that the more individual components they can squeeze in the better the outcome. Slabbnick uses his sense of humour, as well as a love of pop-art and surrealism, to influence his own take on the world around us. He aims at what he refers to as a complex appreciation of simplicity from the viewer, but most of all he hopes to put a smile on faces when he or she eventually ‘gets it’. That might require some time standing before one of his collages pondering ‘what’s this all about?’ I invite you to do the same in the ether and engage in a little pondering of your own.


Sammy S’s website =

sammy slabnick self p

'One True Thing' – Nicole Hayes

Unlike in my teaching days, there is no earthly reason for me to continue to read YA, particularly as there’s so much quality adult fiction beckoning me. Point is, I enjoy it and I am lucky enough to have a daughter who cherry picks the best for me – and Nicole Hayes’ ‘One True Thing’ is certainly up there with that best. I admit it that this tome occasionally gave me the irrits, especially when it came to the kids involved and their music – but I also openly admit that, in places, especially towards the end when a family witnessed an event no family should, it also had me somewhat misty eyed. And it never ceased to have me eagerly turning the pages.


Frankie’s music got to me. I suppose if I was again back teaching sixteen year olds I would enquire, after reading this, as to how many of them knew of the bands from another generation that the novel’s heroine was so in thrall to. I suspect the average teen of that age would more likely be wholly into the latest here-one-minute-gone-the-next ‘X-Factor’ sensation and ‘Ten Minutes of Spring’ or whatever the name of that band is with members still barely out of short pants. But then, what would I know? Besides, Frankie is no ordinary young lady and here’s where the book was so interesting to me. You see, she’s the daughter of the Premier of Victoria no-less. Also, that person isn’t her dad. So here Ms Hayes’ focus is on what happens to their family if their publicly prominent mother becomes involved in a seemingly tawdry sex scandal – and with a much younger fellow. In this we have involved an odious shock-joke making salacious accusations based on some photos of a secret rendezvous taken of the couple by budding journalist Jake – who just happens to be Frankie’s love interest. All this places the family in deep crisis, just as Premier Mum faces the biggest challenge of her career – a chance to become the first elected female leader of her state.

With all this going on around her, our heroine still has time to participate in her rock-group’s rehearsals for a battle of the bands style competition and attempt to stymie her bestie’s relationship with a fellow band member – the first keeper her gay mate has had.

It’s a given that it is up to Frankie to come to terms not only with, but as well sort out, the mess that is confronting her life and that of those she loves. How she goes about this makes for a terrific read – but for me it’s the political aspects that are the real attraction of the book. Will Jake redeem himself? Just who is the subject of her mother’s extra-marital affections? Will Frankie achieve a life ambition and see her musical heroes in concert? Will the oily broadcaster get his just desserts? Will our girl resolve the fracturing of her band in time to win the competition? And, most of all, will the Premier emerge triumphant? She’s somewhat self absorbed, is our Frankie, but one cannot but admire her spunk.

And congrats to Nicole H for melding all the strands together to make a juicy read for girls of Frankie’s ilk as they emerge from their teenage years to make their own imprint on our world.

nicole hayes

Author’s website =

Frenchified Spice

The only fault in it was the smoking. They were both smokers. It’s a disgusting habit, truly disgusting – until you see her smoke. Sexy. Seriously sexy. A woman with her lips clenched around a fag is usually such a turn-off for me. But there’s nothing that Arielle does that does not ooze allure. And her smile, my lord her smile! I was smitten by Arielle (Bérénice Marlohe) from go to whoa – and to top it off, she’s French and reeking of Frenchiness. The movie is ‘5 to 7’.

Her love interest is considerably younger, by nine years, at twenty-four. He is very droll, somewhat naive and a novice – as in yet to be published – writer. He’s played by Anton Yelchen. There’s a Allenesque touch to this offering from director Victor Levin, or perhaps it’s a throwback to the fluffy screw-ball comedies of manners from a past golden age. And it just goes to show that a movie doesn’t have to have their main protagonists ripping their clothing off at the drop of a hat to get the blood pulsing. By the end I realised this, for me – a movie about falling in love and never out of it – was a true treat for all my senses.

5 to 7 movie

As for the title – of course, being a French woman, she is married but not adverse to a little more spice in her life, particularly as hubby (Lambert Wilson) has a similar proclivity. But they are only available for dalliances between the hours of five to seven, their remaining ones taken up by work and family. His mistress (Olivia Thirlby) is a bouncy, beguiling young editor for a leading publishing house – see where this is going?

Of course the central relationship has to end badly once the five to seven rule is broken and Blind Freddy could see that the young man will end up with the cute and caring soon-to-be ex-mistress. Then it’ll be Hollywood happy ever-afters for all concerned. But just remember, although this is an American production, it takes its cues from elsewhere. What starts as a sort of arrangement of mutual benefit becomes much more and the binds of love they discover in each other are not so straight forward in breaking free from. How could one ever throw off the appeal of the ministrations of such a striking woman – and such a clichéd French one to boot?

Actress Marlohe is a former Bond girl (Skyfall), but the only recognisable faces for me in the movie were his parents, Glenn Close and Frank Lagella. Both have the most delightful fun with their roles. Mother was soon in thrall of her boy’s older woman, but his gruff father, who nonetheless displayed a touching love for his wayward son, was less sure that their relationship could finish up as being in any way beneficial for the lad.


In the end the young editor comes to his rescue, once the obvious occurs, with the denouement involving marriage and kids. When our two former lovers accidentally collide, some years down the track from their inevitable parting, we discover that what they once had is still as fresh as the day they met. This spoiler, I assure you, will not detract from the enjoyment any viewer will take from this beguiling gem. Arielle would be impossible for any man to forget – and maybe I’ll have to suffer a James Bond to see Bérénice Marlohe again. As Brian, our young, hopelessly in love hero, states ‘Some of the best writing in New York won’t be found in books, or movies, or plays, but on the benches of Central Park. Read the benches, and you understand.’ Yes you will.

Official Trailer =

'And What Do You Do Mr Gable?' 'The Australian Disease' – Richard Flanagan

Although neither of us these days reside there, I suspect that he, like I, still regards the North West Coast as the homelands. So I liked this bit:- ‘She would sometimes halt our car…on the side of a new highway cutting that had sliced open the red earth of Tasmania’s north west coast, a flick-knife (great metaphor RF) of progress slashing the land. After looking furtively up and down the road, she would get out of the boot old fertiliser bags and order us children to fill them with that rich and sweating red earth. We would take that dirt all the way south to our Hobart home, where she would empty it over that part of our backyard she decreed would be a vegetable garden…With her foot she would scuff back the surface of some of the sour grey clay of southern Tasmania, and say:
‘Smell that son.’
And we would smell the richness together as she let it fall through her fingers, a shower of red earth saying:
‘Now that’s what I call soil.’

That red earth is the stuff of miracles; the same red earth that grows the world’s best spuds. I’ve a good life here in the sour-soiled south, but that dirt from the opposite end of the state, good enough to be placed on a plate and be served as a meal – well, I miss it, I really do. That, as well as the homeland’s accompanying fecundity, lushness, greenness. It’s a part of my soul, as it is for Richard Flanagan.


‘The Australian Disease’ is a short – and cheap at less than ten bucks – mash-up of several of the essays featured in the Man-Booker winning author’s ‘And What Do You Do Mr Gable? Much of the latter, particularly his railing against the obscenity that was the hold Gunns had on both sides of government here on our island for many years, I’d read before. And I do admit I found some of the other offerings too cerebral for my aged and addled brain. Others, though, I enjoyed immensely – some even moving me to the core, such as the reminiscence that contained the extract I used in the intro, simply entitled ‘Bread’. In this the great man writes of his fondness for ‘roo and wallaby chorizo (I wonder where he sources that from?) and gives us his own recipe for a loaf – so simple; its perfection being in the love imparted from maker to dough. And then there’s the view that the rot first set in on humankind when we transformed ourselves from hunter-gatherers to reapers of grains. Hmmm!


He also gifts us his reflection on how Peter Dombrovskis’ images of wilderness changed the way we looked at wild places, Tasmanian or otherwise. In turn that camerasmith took his cues from the ground-breaking Olegas Truchanas – and uncannily both died in much the same way, out doing what they loved. ‘They created another Tasmania; an invitation to a dream open to all.‘Another image poignantly features in his ‘Family is Everything’, his take on the 2001 election campaign when a Kim Beazley decision to align his party to Howard’s hard-line attitude to legal refugee seekers, trying to find a better life for themselves and their children in our previously welcoming country, grew into the great shame that was the culmination of that policy under the thankfully now departed Abbott. Shorten has attached himself to that too – it is to be hoped that Turnbull can usher in a softer stance.

In ‘Sheep Management’ Flanagan makes a case for fiction as opposed to the prevailing plethora of factual tomes. Yet another campaign is covered when he joins the media pack following a Mark Latham trying to convince that being a nut case shouldn’t exclude one from being PM (‘The Rohypnol Decade’).

Flanagan, Richard

‘The Australian Disease’ gives a synopsis of the bigger collection, being the transcript to his Alan Missen Oration’, again from 2011. Back then there was a possibility, that he touches on, of a ticket of Putin/Palin ruling the world. What could be worse? Dare I suggest – Putin/Trump?

Richard Flanagan’s website =

The Lecturer and the Thirk

He made his appearance in 1931. Let’s see. That’s exactly twenty years before my good self so that’d make him 84. And as far as I know, he’s still on the planet. Born Owen, he obviously preferred his second name of Michael. His first publication was in 1963 – a book on an early governor of colonial Oz, Philip Gidley King. His last recorded, around forty years later, detailed the wreck of a vessel back in early settlement days, the George the Third. He is credited with helping ‘…inspire the revival of scholarly interest in Tasmanian history.’ He departed from academia in 1996 – I’m hoping my retirement years will be as numerous as his. He was a lecturer of mine.

Soaking in fragrant suds this morning I endeavoured to recall the names of all the others who attempted to inspire me from a lectern during my own university days in the fervent early seventies. There were Johnston and Guiler in biology; also Rose in history; Boyce in political science and Cotgrove in geography. I know there are more – some I can picture – but their names are lost to me. The most awesome figure on campus back then was James McAuley – a versifier of exquisite quality and an Angry Penguins survivor. By then he had a reputation as a crabby old bugger but, to my later regret, he never addressed a lecture room I was seated in. But I certainly recollect Professor (gained at Cambridge and the ANU) Michael Roe. Tweedy in dress – as so many were – bespectacled, blonde-ish, upright in stance and invariably dour of expression, he was neither performer nor waffler. But he was thorough. With Roe you were getting value for the money, back then, that taxpayers were sinking into your tertiary education. No, he wasn’t inspirational, but he was well grounded and copiously prepared in his areas of historical expertise. In other words, he knew his stuff and did his level best to ensure that you did too.


Now to the Thirk. I first encountered him, not in real life, as with Professor Roe, but in print. This took the form of a weighty tome entitled ‘The Sex Lives of Australians’. Despite its subject manner and a cover recommendation from no less of a figure than Michael Kirby, I found it a bit of a plod. The author, Frank Bongiorno, has since written a definitive history of our country in the eighties that’s meant to be the last word on the decade, but I won’t be buying into it. ‘TSLOA’ was pretty scholarly – evidenced by a dozen or so footnotes per page. Now and again, though, its dullness was enlivened by tantalising titbits that I felt, with some more filling out, could make for pretty good yarns for blogging purposes. And it was reading the fifth chapter, entitled ‘Tabbies, Amateurs and the Cream of Australian Manhood’ that I was introduced to the Thirk. What immediately attracted me to him was that he was obviously a Tasmanian who went on to have a most interesting life. As was stated in said book, quoting Hobart’s daily newspaper, ‘For a man from a downwardly mobile family living in an untidy suburb (Foster Street, New Town to be exact) where yesterday’s ‘Mercury’ (aforementioned daily) was today’s dunny paper…’ our hero had a very promising coming of age during the Great War years, particularly on the soil of the mother country. During that era he married into fame – but then it all went belly up.

George Lancelot Allnutt Thirkell was born, in 1891, in today’s tourist town of Richmond and was educated at Hutchins, the island’s premier school. This fact would lead one to believe that his family circumstances weren’t totally poverty stricken. On both sides his parents were several generations Tasmanian. His father’s people had been here since the 1820s, building a fine estate in the Midlands, Darlington Park, making him a descendant of local squattocracy. His mother’s forebears ran the coaching service between the colony’s two cities.

Come the conflict our man, with such lineage, was from early on seen as worthy of a commission – a lieutenant in the Engineers no less, based on the slant his education and talents took. A photo of him, published in the Tasmanian Mail, just before embarkation, shows a fellow described as ‘…a youth in chocolate soldier uniform, intent expression, an air of simplicity, even sweetness…rather long and sharp featured with slightly protruding ears, a strong face rather than handsome.’ And it was his very good fortune to be wounded at Gallipoli.

His brief few paragraphs in ‘The Sex Lives of Australians’ also describes him as feckless (def- useless, worthless, incompetent, inept, good-for-nothing, ne’er-do-well), but none-the-less charming. The author was able to deduce this as he had researched the man’s war diaries, held by the War Museum in Canberra.

His wounds in the nation’s revered campaign were serious enough to have him removed to England. There part of his recuperation was spent at Glamis Castle in Scotland, the seat of the Strathmores. Here the Thirk was under the charge of the Earl and his wife. Their daughter, Bongiorno reports, was ‘..a great admirer of men in uniform.’ and she and the Thirk became friends. I was interested to know if there was more to it that just friendship, as around this time this particular man in uniform was starting to garner some sort of reputation with the ladies. This blue-blooded daughter was none other than Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, a comely seventeen year old who would no doubt have attracted other desires in the charismatic Taswegian. As we all know, this lass later went on to marry the future George VI, himself having to be rescued by the Firm from the clutches of an antipodean temptress, causing the necessity to find a sweet diversion of a more suitable nature – Elizabeth. Our future Queen Mum, one would imagine, would have had to have been pure and unsullied to wed a prince – but as, at that stage, he wasn’t the heir to the throne, would that have mattered so much? I resolved to delve into cyberspace to see if there was any evidence of ‘impropriety’ between the two.


What I discovered was that Elizabeth’s family became so enamoured of our Hobart charmer that, once his wounds had sufficiently healed enough for him to depart their care, he was constantly invited back for sleepovers – a break from encampment life on the Salisbury Plain. There was a brief taking of leave back to Australia, but from his base on the Plain the Thirk made many forays to London. His newly acquired connections provided entry into the high society of the capital and there he attracted the eye of many a bejewelled damsel. His eventually fell on one belle, Hinda, who had French royal blood in her veins. There is all sorts of innuendo of what he got up to with Hinda in his diaries – references to dalliances in the back seat of taxis and when she was left in his ‘…tender care…’ by her ever-trusting parents. Why the feckless fellow even described the nature of her knickers, presumably as comfort for what lay ahead in the trenches of the Western Front. All this was occurring whilst he was receiving mail from his sweetheart back in Hobs. Then, towards the last year of the war, the Thirk met Angela McInnes and Borngiorno moved on to other matters. But I needed to know what became of the Tasmanian thereafter.

The ether told me that McInnes was a soon-to-be divorced woman, mother of two sons and it seemed a very rushed business her meeting of, squiring by and marriage to the Thirk. But then it was war-time, one never knew what was around the corner, so time was of the essence. The now Angela Thirkell was soon to become a noted author, far more in the limelight, on-line, than her husband who, after 1918, recedes into the background. He became a mere footnote to her. But we do know that the marriage was a disaster, as so many were, organised in such haste in uncertain times. Angela herself was of prominent stock, being related to Edward Burne-Jones of New Romantics fame, as well as Rudyard Kipling and PM Stanley Baldwin. In 1911 she was wedded to Campbell McInnes, a man with a reputation for promiscuity. She divorced him in 1919, citing his adultery, alcoholism and wife-beating. With the Thirk she was obviously on the rebound.

angela thirkell

In 1920 the couple left Old Blighty for the Thirk’s homeland. After a brief stay in Hobs – maybe too provincial for Mrs Thirkell’s tastes – they settled down in Melbourne and proceeded to have a son of their own, Lance. But it all soon soured. The Thirk’s missus was never one to withhold her abhorrence of her new environs and its denizens – uncouth colonial clods. It was only a matter of time. The draw of her own drizzly birth-land was eventually too much and she headed for home with their son. Her husband did not follow. They never saw each other again nor divorced – although she was not adverse to later affairs. With her return came literary fame. She, in thinly veiled form, recorded her time with the Australian in her novel ‘Trooper for the Southern Cross’. Her son, Colin, later added to the descriptions of their years together in his seminal ‘Road to Gundagai’. Neither were entirely unfavourable to the man, but obviously the distance between husband and wife was not aided by his own shortcomings. A noted historian stated, ‘The fevers of sex and war had done their work.’ on the relationship.

And its with their parting that cyberspace ends its recollection of the Thirk. Most of the above was garnered from various biographical articles on Angela. Of course, what I also desired to know, given there was still a long life ahead of the man, was how it all turned out for him. And here Michael Roe, my old lecturer, as well as the ‘noted historian’ from the previous paragraph, rides to the rescue. One of the aforementioned articles came with a reference to an article the good professor had written for the Meanjin Quarterly in December, 1969 – the year before I commenced my university studies at today’s UTAS. The excellent ladies at the State Library delved into their archives for me and produced what I required, for, with ‘Thirk: A Tragic Australian’, Roe takes the tale through to its conclusion.

From his account I discovered the Thirk completed his war as a captain and witnessed the end of Baron von Richthofen – in his diaries recording he believed the great German ace to have been shot down from the ground by a fellow digger. He also enlightens on just how our colonial lad met his future ‘…archetype of the English upper middle class..’ of a wife. He even pinpoints the date of this occurrence – September 9th, 1917. Roe refers to the man’s diaries, stating how the Thirk found his future stepsons to be ‘…two dear little kiddies.’ whilst referring to her ex with the words ‘…it beats me how a fellow can neglect such a lovely little soul (Angela) and such glorious kids.’ One of these kids later wrote of the occasion that his mother was entranced by GAL Thirkell’s looks, he being, in her view, ‘…a handsome captain with dark brown hair and freckles in the irises of his eyes.’ His ‘…strange, twangy lilt.’ helped win her over; not the only time the Aussie accent has worked its magic on hearts from the other hemisphere.

But, as we have seen, the rosiness of the couple’s first meeting was not to last. On the way home Thirkell displayed some gallantry in defusing a mutiny by fellow troopers at the conditions on board their ship. This placed him in an admirable light as far as his wife was concerned. In Melbourne, though, he soon went to seed. Angela herself won few friends with her reported peevishness and putting-down of most souls the couple came in contact with socially. The Thirk sought solace in the whiskey bottle. He spent most of his free time away from his shrewish wife, either at his club or with his nose buried in his stamp collection – a lifelong infatuation. As the bitterness between husband and wife increased, so did the Thirk’s girth. He, for a time, did okay in the workforce, being the managing director of an engineering firm – he is credited with patenting a tennis net stretching mechanism as a claim to fame. But, as with so many, when the Great Depression hit, his business closed. It was at this time Angela signalled she had had enough and deserted him. With these combined failures Roe reports he became ‘…an increasingly pathetic figure.’

Angela’s son Graham continued to remain in contact with him, stating that throughout his troubles his charm won a few favours back from old army mates in the form of some employment. By nature, it seems, he remained extremely generous with what little monies he was still able to accrue. But, eventually, his lack of funds started to show. His suits were shiny with age, his cuffs frayed, his homburg hat ancient and stained. One day stepfather and stepson met for lunch in a Melbourne hostelry. Over plates of oysters the younger informed the elder that he was next off to Canada to search for his real father. On hearing this the Thirk reached over and placed his hand on Colin’s arm and asked of him that, after chasing down his parent in the land of the maple leaf, please could he ‘… go on to see …(his) Mother (in the UK)… and just tell her I want her to come back.’ McInnes left with a vision of ‘…his sad brown face and long bloodhound nose…’ watching him go.

But a tragedy Michael Roe? Had his life continued its downward spiral then, yes, that would have been the case. But sometime during the years of the second worldwide conflict last century the Thirk found a soul-mate. Roe wasn’t forthcoming with many details – perhaps there was simply not any historical record pointing to her identity. But they were together, in one form or another, for nineteen years – up till his death in 1959. The woman inherited his estate of around one thousand pounds – his beloved stamp collection went to Lance. He suffered from diabetes, as well, in his final years. At least he seems he had someone by his side to share his life. So a tragedy? No, I don’t think so.

Still it remains that the days of his pomp came early during those years he helped defend the Empire. The Hobartian had hobnobbed within the top echelons of the English upper classes for a blissful period, although undoubtedly the fighting on the Western Front provided a sobering counter. He married a woman, destined for fame, with top-notch antecedents, if somewhat on the hoity-toity side when it came to her view of her station in life. And as for the initial reason for examining my fellow islander’s life? Well there was no hint of anything improper between a future Queen and the ‘feckless’ Taswegian. But it does seem to me that, as with another lad from Hobart who cut a swathe through the international jet-set a little later in the century just past, the Thirk deserves a bit more exposure. And it’s the type of synchronicity I just love that it was Michael Roe who rounded off his life for me, providing a Tasmanian yarn to savour.


My Old Professor

Retro Portlanders – Ake and Bidegain

Wet-collodion process, also called collodion process, is an early photographic technique invented by Englishman Frederick Scott Archer in 1851. The process involved adding a soluble iodide to a solution of collodion (cellulose nitrate) and coating a glass plate with the mixture. In the darkroom the plate was immersed in a solution of silver nitrate to form silver iodine. The plate, still wet, was exposed in the camera. It was then developed by pouring a solution of pyrogallic acid over it and was fixed with a strong solution of sodium thiosulfate, for which potassium cyanide was later substituted. Immediate developing and fixing were necessary because, after the collodion film had dried, it became waterproof and the reagent solutions could not penetrate it. The process was valued for the level of detail and clarity it allowed. A modification of the process, in which an underexposed negative was backed with black paper or velvet to form what was called an ambrotype, became very popular from the mid-to late 19th century, as did a version on black lacquered metal known as a tintype, or ferrotype.

No, I definitely went glassy eyed at the above. It sounds complicated and reportedly is. Film, of course, made it and other early processes quickly obsolete. If you’re a mere pointer and shooter, as I am, you’d be so pleased to see the end of the wastefulness of snapping to your heart’s content with film. I could never afford to do that pre-digitally – now I can.

But there are a growing posse of camerasmiths around the world going back to film – some in fact never left it behind. A smaller group are going way retro – back to the early days of the art and the processes, as well as the equipment, that marked the early years. One such is a revival of wet-collodion.

I found Ray Bidegain first, then via a link, Jody Ake. Now, when looking at their images, it takes some time to realise what is logical – that one is indeed looking at contemporary work. Then there’s the automatic jump to the conclusion that what they achieve is down to the gee-wizardry of Photoshop, or something equivalent. But no, these two have gone right back to the source. They are – and do excuse my use of this word – authentic.

Jody Ake uses the process for his – yes, his despite the name – gorgeous portraits, still lifes, nudes and landscapes. – even to the degree of painstakingly mixing all the above chemicals. Initially he trained at the University of Oregon and later moved to NYC to explore his potential in the photographic industry of the big smoke, but now resides back in Portland. The deaths of three close friends in an accident twenty years ago, followed by a near death experience of his own, behind the wheel of a car, only a few months later, caused him to reassess his life and his values. He claims he still feels guilty over his survival, but sees the laborious way he goes about his photography calms him and is a salve to his pain. He claims a camera takes one under the surface of reality and this is therapeutic as it ‘…can see more than the naked eye, moving us past our persona and catching a glimpse of who we actually are.’


Now, to me, that’s just so much hairy-fairy, mumbo-psycho-babble until one looks at his output – then you could think there is actually something to it. Atmospheric, with a degree of the intangible, his is sure an eye-catchingly stark and beautiful product.


As is Bidegain’s, who also works using a platinum plate technique in conjunction. Both artists have images held in galleries around the Americas and beyond, also exhibiting on a regular basis. As their hometown is also shared, presumably they are known to each other. Ray B’s oeuvre has been described as exuding a ‘…glow as from an inner light.’


Initially he was a wedding photographer, a job Ray eventually found didn’t offer him the challenges he craved. So he spread his wings and began toying with old redundant processes and now has great acclaim for his mastery of them. He spends much time passing on his knowledge of these outmoded ways so they are not lost forever. To him, his images ‘…serve as visual reminders of moments and feelings I have experienced, signifying both the passage of time and the reverberation of consistency in all our lives.’


Yes, his work does have an inner peace about it, soothing the eye of those who will come and gaze and wonder about what we may have lost with the world so maniacally speeding up since his methods were in vogue. Inner peace, the old ways – should be more of it I reckon. Peering at the works of Bidegain and Ake are a positive advertisement for that notion.

Jody Ake’s website =

Ray Bidegain’s website =

Caleb's Crossing – Geraldine Brooks

Christmas is coming and any author worth their salt knows this is the time to have a new offering in the display windows of bookshops all around the country – and this year is no exception. Conversely to what you may think, it is a time I dread. Perhaps it makes it easier for buying pressies, but I despair when favoured wordsmiths have new wares to sell, sitting there, tantalisingly under my nose, sort of demanding to be purchased for myself. And they’re there – newbies from some of my favourites: Winton, Theroux, Bryson, Douglas Kennedy and Seb Faulks. As to why I hate it? Well invariably their previous best seller is waiting in a pile in the man cave for me to get around to reading and low and behold, before I’m on to their last – well you get the idea.

But I avoided it with Geraldine Brooks. I put that to rights. Yes I did. Her latest, a biblical opus about King David, ‘The Secret Chord’ (not so sure I’m wholly tempted by the subject matter), is in the stores and I’ve just put down ‘Caleb’s Crossing’. But please don’t tell anyone – her ‘March’ is still in one those piles. But at least I’ve read her last. It seems like only yesterday I was at her book signing in Hobs for that offering, but when I checked its publication date I saw 2011. Golly gosh, I couldn’t believe it.

calebs crossing

But, gee, she’s very good with ‘Caleb’s Crossing’, is the Pulitzer Prize winner. Her prose fair zings off the page; a prose that may just represent the form of the language as spoken circa 1660 in the English colonies of the New World, with glorious words from the local Indian dialect thrown in as well.

As she states in her author’s note, the story as told is inspired by her discovery of, as well as being intrigued by, one Caleb Cheeshahteaumack of the Wôpanâak tribe, the traditional owners of Noepe – better known these days as Martha’s Vineyard. Brooks’ novel is largely set there, as well as on the mainland, at Cambridge. It’s the home of that august learning institution, Harvard.

Little is known of Caleb, but our author places fictional meat on what is there. She imparts the saga from the viewpoint of Bethia Mayfield from one of the of the settler families on the island. At the commencement she is a mere slip of a girl, meeting the salvage (savage) out in the wilderness that’s on her doorstep. As they nurture each other in their respective ways a bond builds between the two – she’s later his champion and semi-carer. He gradually makes the transition into white man’s society – and a man’s world it decidedly was then. As Ms Brooks tells it – what he left, though, had much to recommend it.

We sort of get a double whammy with this title. The initially civil relationships between the Indians and the interlopers has, by the end of Bethia’s life, morphed into open warfare (no guesses who wins that one). So it is a take on the constant that whenever Christian Europeans (be they empire-builders, escapees from another form of religious intolerance or fired with missionary zeal) and native populations collide, it it devastating for the latter. As well, in writing it from the position of a female inhabitant, we see the subjugated role of women during those times. Seems the natives were somewhat less so in that regard. Bethia comes from a reasonably enlightened family situation, but she is still stifled and all the important decisions about her are made by the men-folk. Her life in the most is protestantly bleak and confined, where the one god of her beliefs is all demanding. In contrast, the island’s original peoples are polytheist, but the big guns and better medicines of the newcomers convince them that they would be better off converting. But by the end Bethia is not so certain this is entirely as it should be.

In the final pages of the book Geraldine B relates, in more detail, how much of the tale had a factual basis. Little remains of Caleb’s existence though – a single example of his hand in Latin, which form the book’s endpapers, as well as some writings from contemporary observers. But it is an amazing construct the former Aussie has built around that. Rich in the detail of the period, it is sourced from perhaps what is a neglected era of America’s history, pre-Revolutionary War. In these years the nation’s future was also in the balance in terms of how it would all pan out with the clash of cultures. In the end the pagans were forcibly bent to the will of superior force. Nothing much changes.


Author’s website =

Our Toni Shines On

It was interesting going to an evening session, as I did recently at the State, to belatedly show my support for its leg of the Italian Film Festival. On this Tuesday eve the Hobartian institution was pumping. The place was jam-packed – foyer, café – upstairs and down – and when I reached it, early-ish as usual – there were already only a handful of seats left in my viewing room. The audience ensconced there seemed to be all happily murmuring to each other, sipping on wines or partaking of flat whites. The clients were decidedly better dressed than I, even if I wasn’t in my usual garb of trackies and crocs. In other words, I had made an effort – but even so, I felt slightly out of place when the other cinema goers obviously felt that, even in this day and age, attending the movies at night required dressing to the nines. But that’s all good, I reckon.

It was such a contrast when I ventured to the same venue last Monday. It is my usual wont to attend the first screening of the day of my film of choice. ‘Miss You Already’, the UK set latest vehicle of now veteran Toni Collette, was it on that day. I was one of only four viewees – another loner, female, and a middle-aged couple up the back. Sometimes, at this hour, I am the sole attendee in one the State’s eight or so cinemas. I like being early – having a coffee before hand, or puddling around in the attached bookshop. I carry a newspaper to peruse until the lights go down. I am quite happy and feel not at all self-conscious at being unpartnered. Any conversation by my fellow buffs seems to be amplified at that time of day, possibly due to diminished numbers. So, when the other loner received a call on her mobile, perfectly okay as the feature hadn’t started, I could not help but overhear. She proceeded to explain to the other party where she was and what she was about to see. She continued on that she had heard that our chosen movie was one that was terribly tragic and she’d been warned to have copious tissues in possession. So I therefore feared the worse. I notoriously tear-up at the drop of the hat.


I knew, of course, that the subject matter was no laughing matter – although our lead did her best to keep on cracking funnies, despite the ordeal she was progressing through. Battling breast cancer is the situation Toni Collette finds herself in. Her character, Milly, was facing the cruellest of cruel outcomes. I reckon I had my hankie out by the ten minute mark and by the end of the first half hour I had shed more tears than in all the titles I’d seen so far in ’15 combined. Then it got better after that. No, her situation remained dire – but I seemed to be able to cope without being a blathering wreck as the heartstrings were pulled even tighter. Perhaps I’d simply run out of tears. The prognosis for Millie became bleaker and bleaker the longer the movie ran.

Before and in the early stages of the disease Milly was the life of the party. She was a ditzy and scatty; a thoroughly adorable high-flyer – but once the awfulness of her affliction took away her hair and then her breasts she, naturally, found it harder to keep up the pretence. Milly was married to a rock star who, as the disease progressed, found it difficult to cope with the triple whammy of her deterioration, her mood-swings and the two confused kiddies. He really blew it the first time the couple attempted intimacy after her mastectomy, which led our heroine into a fling before her condition made any of that sort of thing near impossible. It was with a bartender on the Yorkshire moors, no less.


Until said fling, her bestie had been there for her. Jess (Drew Barrymore – expressly asked for by Collette to play the role) had issues of her own – in the conceiving department. As the news became worse for her mate, it became better and better for a Jess now on IVF. Barrymore was the grounded counter to Toni C’s zaniness and I enjoyed her considered performance. There were also fine turns from the men-folk involved – Dominic Cooper as struggling hubby and singer Tyson Ritter as her handsome, devil-may-care lover. I was especially impressed with Paddy Considine as the ever tolerant partner to Jess. He tries to hold it all together as the womenfolk veer off in all directions.

To my mind only the great Blanchett can match Collette as our best female product on the big screen – sorry Nicole. I enjoyed TC in last year’s ‘Lucky Them’ immensely – and of course there’s the roles she’s most noted for: ‘Muriel’s Wedding’, ‘About a Boy’ and a personal fav – ‘Japanese Story’.


On the smaller screen she’s made the ground-breaking ‘The United States of Tara’. I suspect by the time my scribbling on it makes it to print this movie will have left the multiplexes. If you’ve missed it, no doubt it’ll be just as powerful on your very own small domestic platform – that’s the right up-to-date lingo, isn’t it?

Trailer for ‘Miss You Already’ =