Monthly Archives: January 2016


And then I turned the page in The Age – it was a while back now – and saw it. I was, to be honest, mildly shocked. Had I been standing, I would have taken, I think, a backward step. I shouldn’t have initially recoiled in that manner in this day and age, but I did. Showing my advanced years, I guess. Two women kissing – what’s that now? It was deemed fit to print in a daily newspaper so my reaction should have been more matter of fact. And, once I caught my breath and examined it more closely, I realised that this had none of the salaciousness that’s only a click away on-line. In fact, the image was nothing if not beautiful. But it still sent a frisson through me – and continues to intrigue, so much so I’ve been back to it repeatedly. Eventually I had to find out more.

sophia hewson

I still think to shock was the artist’s aim. Yes, artist. It’s not, as I assumed, a photograph. In fact it was a finalist for the Archibald Prize for Portraiture in 2014. And it seems I wasn’t the only one to sit up and take notice. It was a talking point at the time in artistic circles – but it didn’t achieve the ultimate gong in the awards. Pity.

A certain amount of its notoriety, if that’s the right word, came from the identity of one of the subjects of ‘The Artist Kisses’ being songstress Missy Higgins. I remember at the time there was a fair amount of conjecture around Missy’s sexuality – as if that’s anyone’s business but her own. She had been, up till then, coy on the subject – so what was she saying agreeing to sit for the portrait? These days she is married, heterosexually.

sophia hewson01

The other, the bespectacled figure, is the artist herself, Sophia Hewson. Explaining her goals in submitting the piece for judgement in the award she states the aim was to ‘…create something equally portrait, self portrait, and examination of post-feminist self-objectification(??)’ Why Ms Higgins? ‘I sought out working with Missy because I belt out her songs in the car (I understand that bit). ‘I know her to be genuinely egoless with a deep respect for the artisitc autonomy, which meant she was willing to work with me outside the traditional portrait structure.’ She certainly did that.

Sophia Hewson 20

Sophia H only graduated, with a first class honours degree from the Victorian College of the Arts, in 2007. Already ‘Art Collector’ magazine has listed her as one of its top 50 collectable artists. She’s a multi-disciplinarian, engaging in sculpting and installations, as well as daubing. She has had a six month residency in NYC, met pornography stars in LA in research for future works and exhibited within her home state and without. She is not hugely represented in on-line galleries that I could discern, but she is obviously a talent to watch going forward. As to why she is an artist? Here’s how she responded in a 2010 interview:-
‘It seems to me artists need to get something out of themselves, I suppose they call it expression, but I don’t think it’s as pleasant a process as that, perhaps it is like that quote, a kind of exorcism. I think also for me there is a need to try and get down to the core of things, and there is a freedom I associate with being an artist or at least the possibility of a freedom.’

sophia hewson

The artist’s web-site =


Despite being marketed as a dramedy (get it?), ultimately the movie leaves the viewer, if he/she is on the same wavelength as your scribe, depressed. I have been blessed by the films I’ve already seen in this mint new year. Several have been truly excellent – but this is the one that has had the most impact. One fears for society if this is what is still occurring – and the afterword before the end credits assured us all that it is. Of course it is America at the helm – who else? We in Oz were protected by some savvy enactments from our lawmakers back then, bless them, as well as the soft landing that China provided. Now China is out of the equation, will Australia, too, be dragged down next time?

Unlike the odious lot in Scorsese’s magnificent ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, these guys didn’t get their kicks from a laid on lavish lifestyle of naked strippers, alcohol and drugs. These Wall Street warriors were more moderate in their private lives. Their adrenalin highs came from sober pursuits – those involved in making squillions. They’d do so, though, with nary a thought as to how their wheeler-dealerings affected anything else – whether that be the national economy or the countless mum and dad investors they were ruining in the process.


Director Adam McKay, best known previously for the silly delights of ‘The Anchorman’ franchise, has been nominated for an Oscar with this offering. ‘The Big Short’ will probably not win best movie category if the odds (albeit now shortening) are to be believed, but I will be chuffed if he brings home the bacon as best director. What McKay has dished up here is full of laughs – and I think that is the nub of why it works so well. We’re laughing at a terrible event. We’re laughing even though it can happen again. We’re laughing when we’re also informed that the US banking system has Washington so much by the short and curlies that nothing, in retrospect, has been put in place to prevent future system meltdown.

That there is much explanation of the financial procedures taking place on the screen has been criticised by some reviewers. Although I failed to understand much of it, for me it didn’t detract one iota, nor the methods used by the director to present such info.

the big short0

Some of Hollywood’s best thespians were recruited for this project – Christian Bale (charmless and oozing body odour – you could almost smell him reek), Brad Pitt (rustic and reluctant until the crunch), Ryan Gosling (sleekly oiling out bad-ass vibes). All were sublimely good. Despite the vision of Margot Robbie in bubbles and sipping bubbly as she explained to us the finer points of shonky, but not illegal, financial practices these fellows indulged in, women didn’t figure strongly in ‘The Big Short’. Men ran the show, with none more initially ruthless than Steve Carell’s Mark Baum. For me his performance was the highlight. The Forty Year Old Virgin acted his socks off as the only one who developed any sort of a conscience over what he was about to do – but, in the end, even he hesitated only briefly. He knew the mayhem that was about to unfold, but as well the profits to be made when it did.

the big short

So what did these finance bods do? Well, between them they worked out that the ‘sub-prime’ business going on between the banks in the US was rotten to the core – so much so that it would bring the whole shebang tumbling down. They not only knew this, but also exactly what would happen as it occurred and the exact date it would all unfold. They weren’t exactly right in the end, but it didn’t matter. They had manoeuvred for all they were worth to be in best position to benefit. The few in the know were all going to be very, very wealthy – despite the chaos almost culminating in the bankruptcy of the system when it did. And all what they did was perfectly permissible under law. A panic hit the financial markets of the world, bringing some countries teetering to the brink, but the American tax payer was forced to bail out the big banks, saving their skins. Much of these rescue packages were taken up with the bonuses paid to the high-flyers who were responsible for the whole mess. Thousands and thousands of average Joes and Josephines were left homeless as a result. There was no bail out for them. And our heroes – well they made the killing they expected.

It basically made me feel sick to the stomach. So much greed. Just greed.

Official trailer =

Six Bedrooms – Tegan Bennett Daylight

The headline described them as ‘Pungent Observations on the Twists of Modern Life’. Pungent? Well, yes. She pulls no punches, does Tegan Bennett Daylight, with some of her descriptiveness – the death of a friend; the truly awful taste of that diabolical elixir we all drank back in our formative years (Brandivino); the fragility of friendship as we first attempt to reject individuality to be accepted by the herd. And one could not fault the writing.


The headline capped a review by critic and editor Peter Pierce. He lauds the author of these ten tales for being a ‘…morally astute, technically adroit, anti-formulaic and unsentimental practitioner of the short story craft.’ Tegan BD is all that, but for me there was something missing. Perhaps Pierce summed it up when he stated the collection exhibits ‘…virtuous skills but no flashiness throughout.’ He intended it as a compliment, but is that what it needed to have more of an impact on this reader – a dollop of flashiness?

I initially discovered this writer some time ago. I cannot recall which of her previous novels (‘Bombora’, ‘What Falls Away’, ‘Safety’) it was – too many years have passed and I cannot locate the record. It may have been the first listed as I have a vague recollection it centred around surfing. I do know I liked it very much and made a mental note to watch out for future publications. But sadly, they have been a while in the making. ‘Bombora’ was twenty years ago – it won the Vogel. ‘Safety’, almost a decade.

The stories in her latest reportedly did contain linkages with past books. And in some the characters make repeat appearances. They are slices of life taken from various stages of the journey we all make – childhood and through the teens to adulthood. A few characters are seen, as from above, in multiple stages. Conclusions, deliberately, are sometimes open to more possibility for, after all, that is life. They’re not sewn up neatly as a package. Just when this peruser was getting to know a protagonist and settling in, though, often a tale would terminate and we were on to the next. But I will say that with what the author has started here there is plenty of fodder for an extension into the longer form. There are novels awaiting within, Ms Daylight.

Despite the coolness of her observations, for me, this offering did not fully satisfy. Talent abounds – that’s easy to discern – and I do trust it is not another decade before the next title is placed on a shelf in a book store to tempt me.


The author’s website =

Reckoning – Magda Szubanski

‘Is there anyone left who isn’t totally in love with Magda Szubanski?’ Well, yes in fact. Me. It is not that I dislike her. How could anyone do that after reading ‘Reckoning’? It’s just that, apart from her role as Sharon in the beloved ‘Kath and Kim’, she hasn’t been on my radar much. I have never seen ‘Babe’, nor her various shows (‘The D Generation’, ‘Fast Forward’, ‘Big Girl’s Blouse’) on the small screen. And yes, before you ask, I have nothing against females who make their living by making us laugh in one way or another. I very much love Kitty Flanagan, Fiona O’Loughlin, Denise Scott, Hannah Gadsby, Celia Pacquola – the list goes on. But later, in a review I found on-line, is the following statement, ‘Anyone who doesn’t adore Magda Szubanski the clown will be awed by Szubanski the A-grade non-fiction writer.’ Well, again I wouldn’t perhaps use the word ‘awed’ in this context, but there’s no doubt her memoir is totally deserving of all the accolades it has garnered to date. This lady has decided literary chops. But I am in ‘awe’ of her for another reason. It’s for her bravery, a few years back, when she came out on ‘The Project’. To do so was all class – and the supportive reaction of the bulk of the Australian public shows that we, as a nation, are ready for the next step. Come on Mr Turnbull.


I also suspect, given time, the striking initial line to her memoir will be recognised as one of the best opening hooks in Aussie lit. ‘If you had met my father you would never, not for an instant, have thought he was an assassin.’ Her father, indeed, casts a giant shadow over this tome, as he does the author’s life. And he was a good man – a good man carrying the burden of memory. As a Polish freedom fighter he did back to the Nazis what they did in spades to everyone else.

Yep, some of the stuff in ‘Reckoning’ is pretty grim, but overall the book’s tone is uplifting – even inspiring in places. Magda’s spirit shines through, even when it seems the odds are stacked against her. And she has had some real battles to wage too – failed projects, her weight issues, her sexuality. Maybe the latter two shouldn’t be such, but sadly, in today’s media climate, they are – particularly for those in the spotlight. All are elaborated on frankly, but there are tales of levity as well. There is much of interest for this particular reader in her recallings – the contrast in her twin visits to Warsaw between pre the end of the Cold War and post. I enjoyed her taking us behind the scenes of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ – I have often wondered about the mechanics of putting together that wonderful show. But it’s the concluding chapters that are the most intensely moving of the whole exercise – especially the description of her final unpacking of what made her father tick.

magda and kate

For a first-timer ‘Reckoning’ is an achievement. It holds interest throughout and is a book this scribe looked forward to returning to after daily impediments intruded. And I concur with the final sentence of that aforementioned on-line review, ‘Let’s hope the books keep coming.’

magda s

Atmosphere of Hope – Tim Flannery

It looks as though I was born just at the right time – lived my life when the living was, relatively speaking, easy – at least for those of us lucky enough not to be a citizen of a third world country. My generation missed the most traumatic events of the last century, saw the Cold War off without nuclear catastrophe, then ushered in the digital age – for better or worse. That being said, we also did just enough to bugger up our planet for the generations that follow. But then, we will be gone before the real crunch hits. Our ineptitude and our belief in deforestation, dirty coal and petrol guzzling machines is now certainly starting to make our atmosphere an unhappy place. And it’s already paying us back for that. Those who come after us will need to clean up our mess if humanity is to survive in a manner we’ve grown accustomed to on our planet. Or find a way to cope with a very altered environment. They’ll be able to do that, won’t they?

Will those gifted scientists, following the not so gifted ones who were like a wrecking ball for the Earth over the last five decades or so, be able to find a way to suck all that deleterious CO2 out of the sky? Will they find somewhere safe then to put it all – or perhaps even make something useful to humankind out of it?


Tim Flannery thinks that those brainiacs who are working on it now and down the track; the politicians in charge presently and into the future; as well as a more environmentally savvy general populace will have the combined nous to do this. Fingers crossed. There is much to be optimistic about, as reflected in ‘Atmosphere of Hope’. In general, though, it does make for some pretty depressing reading. Everything will have to go exactly right. At least, since the tome was written, there has been the hoped for positive outcomes from Paris. The two world leaders who were road-blocking progress for all they were worth – our own head-in-the-sand man Abbott and his mate, Canada’s Harper, have both been consigned to the dustbin of history. In Trudeau and Turnbull we at least have guys who think that the science has got it right.

Yes, Flannery reports, this science is on the march, starting to grapple and make some headway with the solutions required. And the greed of the vested interests in the ways of the past? Well, it is now being shown as what it truly has been all along – profit at all costs to benefit a small minority to the detriment of the masses. Despite this, it will still be touch and go.

I must admit, reading this, some of that aforementioned science had me glassy eyed with the plethora of figures Flannery used to make his various cases. He did his best to put it all in layman’s terms, but my difficulties with it didn’t detract from the impact his writings had on this reader. Some sections I truly found engrossing reading, such as the chapter entitled ‘The Great Disconnect’, discussing the gap between where the politicians are at as compared to those endeavouring to save us all. It is narrowing, but there’s still work to be done. And what’s to be done includes this – and it’s sobering. ‘The latest research…(has) found that more than 80 percent of known coal reserves, 33 percent of oil and 50 percent of gas must stay in the ground if we are to remain within budget.’ to get the emissions down to the Paris limits. Can you see the multi-nationals out there, plundering the Earth’s resources, laying down and taking that? Well, it’ll have to happen.

Geo-engineering seems to be the great hope – but it comes at a ginormous cost in monetary terms – and maybe also in the experimentation to get it right. It seems there are plenty of theories around to cool the planet by this means – from space sunshades to all buildings having white roofs. These range from sensible, no-brainer actions to those worthy of Dr Strangelove. Flannery examines the more plausible of these, declares some to be viable – but the cost, the cost. ‘Drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere is, at the moment, an extraordinarily complex process involving mind-blowing quantum mechanics.’ But the Aussie climatologist is hoping that where there’s a will, there is also a way. He takes us through some models for this.

Yep, it seems, there is hope. It’s all not lost – but sadly he has given up on the Great Barrier Reef. He reckons it is gone for all money. As for many of the species we share this planet with, mega-numbers are on a quick path to extinction in the wild. They’ll find it impossible to adapt to the changes besetting them in the time they have left. We are already seeing it – think polar bears, orangutans, frogs. The list is long and salutary.

Yes, I am glad I read this book. I feel more informed and even a little more optimistic than beforehand. I have a fair grasp on the challenges ahead thanks to Tim F. I know the planet will survive the onslaught we have made on its checks and balances – and hopefully humankind will too, in one form or another.



It’s the one of Valentino and his wife that catches the eye, I think, in any on-line gallery of his work. It’s so redolent of an era – that of the first of the golden ages of Hollywood. This was the period that was the harbinger of our own age of the celebrity. As now, back then photographers were to the fore in satisfying the cravings of the public to get closer to the celebrities they adored. Look at that particular photo – she (Natacha Rambova) is exquisite – but Rudy, well he was something else.

james abbe valentino and wife

And the snapper to the stars who caught that now everlasting moment? That was one James Abbe. Reading his story it seems he was a ground-breaker in the art of capturing the essence of those early icons of the silver screens.

Abbe was first and foremost a photojournalist. Later in his career he was one of the trickle of western reporters to be allowed into Stalinist Russia to capture life under a dictator. He even met and shot the communist leader – many would have preferred that to have been with a gun. But for a fleeting few years he set the pace as the movie making business started to morph into the mega-dollar industry it became our lifetimes. He was quick to realise that making and selling prints of the performers, those who tantalised the imagination of Joe Everyone, could be a nice little earner in itself.

Growing up in Newport News, Virginia the young James Abbe began his infatuation with photography early. His father owned a bookshop and the lad, born in 1883, earned some pocket money taking snaps of the ships that came into the town’s harbour and then selling them behind his dad’s counter. By 1916 he was competent enough to have his pictures placed in various periodicals as the publishing industry started to realise actual photographs could enhance a narrative. He soon found it worth his while to move to the big smoke, NYC. His major break came with a photograph of prominent stage actors the Barrymore Brothers, at the time the kings of Broadway and soon to be seen in moving pictures. Following their trajectory, Abbe discovered there was money to be made in photographing theatrical types. For a while he specialised in capturing them in costume, but later diversified into what we today would term publicity stills. But it soon became evident that the eastern seaboard city wasn’t where it was at – he would soon have to heed the call to ‘go west young man’ where LA was the happening place. In 1919 Abbe became only the third camerasmith to seek his fortune in Hollywood, making an impact with Mack Sennett and others. He commuted between there and New York on a regular basis fulfilling engagements – the first bi-coastal lensman.

james abbe mary pickford

By this time he was a family man, but the trappings of fame ensnared him. He became very involved with emerging superstar Lillian Gish. In 1922 he upended his marriage and followed Gish to Italy where she was filming. Thereafter followed eight years in Paris. Again he pointed his camera at the stars of the local stage and cinema, as well as visiting celebrities from all over. In 1927 he was off to Russia and from that point on photo-journalism became his chief priotity with his photographic apparatus..

But history will remember him for his renderings of the entertainment greats in those earlier years. He was, from the outset, a master of lighting. Initially photographers just used what was immediately available, usually that already present to light stage or screen performances. But Abbe was more innovative, placing banks of portable lamps adroitly to garner the texture he was after. His competitors, seeing his quality of product, were soon following suit.


James Abbe passed away in 1973 after three marriages and an adventurous life. He was 91. Abbe was a recorder for an age that was a prelude to the present day’s contemporary media saturation – that dealing with the comings and goings of identities who are perceived to exude talent – and a few that seriously don’t. His images gave the fans back then a personal context to the thespians that they viewed on stage or screen. He allowed one to own a piece of the action. The masses could possess something linking them to those they fawned over from the cheap stalls of the early movie houses or worshipped from the posh private boxes of Broadway.

James Abbe on-line =

by Howard Coster, half-plate film negative, 1933


France and Switzerland

In the first week of this mint new year the Blue Room visited the above two nations courtesy of the silver screens at the State. In ‘Youth’ and ‘The Bélier Family’, 2016 took off to a rip-roaring start with this pair of diverse movies. They both entranced – they were mutually of the highest order.

Two old friends, chewing the fat whilst having a soak in the spa’s pool, are rudely – or perhaps not so rudely – interrupted from their musings on the state of the world and their respective bladders by something that leaves them open mouthed. In fact it completely takes their minds off the issues involved in taking a regular piss at their age. Dipping her toe in before joining them is the recently crowned Miss International (Madalina Diana Ghenea). They are gobsmacked. She isn’t wearing a stitch of clothing. One remarks to the other that what they are viewing is probably the last idyll of their lives.
This was only one of the memorable moments in a film overloaded with stunningly beautiful – and at times startlingly whimsical – imagery. A few years ago Paolo Sorrento delivered something just as wondrous with his hugely successful ‘The Great Beauty’. This English language offering is perhaps more accessible than its predecessor, but also maybe the lesser, just, for it. Both engorge our senses.


‘Youth’ is set in a rejuvenation centre for the rich and famous in the shadow of the Swiss Alps. Michael Caine is one of the old fellows being pampered and pummelled to within an inch of himself there, as well as being granted the sublime vision of that very generous and sultry young lady. He is also being pestered by an emissary from no less than the Queen to come out of retirement and provide her birthday pressie to her hubby. You see MC plays Fred Ballinger, a noted composer/conductor whom Her Majesty desperately wants to conduct, for her prince, some of his famous ‘Simple Songs’.

Michael Caine is not only a British national treasure, he’s a global one. He’s appeared in around 115 features and shows no sign of slowing down. I remember first seeing him in something called ‘Zulu’ (1964). But the movie that initially made this scribe sit up and take notice was the ‘Ipcress File’, his take on James Bond in the form of Harry Palmer There were several sequels. Of course his signature outing from this early period was 1966’s ‘Alfie’. It was remarkable for its time and his cockney lead protagonist is an indelible memento of a decade when a bright new Britain emerged from the dowdy shadows of the war-worn fifties.


Caine’s character has no desire to return to the stage, irrespective of who is requesting it happens. He’s lost a bit of life-interest since his wife’s departure from the world, despite the best efforts of his daughter/secretary (Rachel Weisz) to gee him up. She’s wedded to the wastrel son of his mate (Harvey Keitel). The hedonistic offspring is busy breaking up the marriage by flinging with pop-star Paloma Faith, playing herself. The two ageing buddies, through talk and surreal dreams, spend their days revisiting a time when they were in their pomp. Keitel’s Mick Boyle, a director, still reckons he is back there, busily writing his swansong which he trusts will mark the pinnacle of a long career. Enter a very revealing Jane Fonda to stymie this particular flight of fancy. Paul Dano is superb in his role as an actor about to play a great dictator. We are also delighted with visions of Caine conducting a field of cows, diners who refuse to utter a word to each other and the glorious Sumi Jo, also stupendously playing herself, in the closing scene of this fabulous cinema attraction. Described as a ‘…poignant story of friendship, family, love and loss, and yearning to make sense of it’, this took my breath away from the get-go. The Blue Room loved this ‘…swooningly beautiful dramatic comedy.’


As it did the French offering. Television talent quests are an ubiquitous staple these days. ‘(Insert country) Got Talent’, ‘The X-Factor’ and ‘The Voice’ are franchises that occasionally can deliver more than mediocrity – cite Jessica Mauboy here, Susan Boyle in the UK and Katy Perry Stateside. As terrific as these ladies may be, none have stolen away my heart in the same way as a semi-finalist from the French version of ‘The Voice’, Louane Emera. She turned heads in her country’s break-out movie of ’15, ‘The Bélier Family’, winning for herself a César Award in the process. She ‘…shines with the intensity of a thousand suns…’ in her role as Paula, a sixteen year old struggling with an infatuation for the new kid on the block at school and the late arrival of her periods. Compounding those adversities is the fact that she is the mouthpiece for her family as her parents and brother are aurally challenged. Then her music teacher (Eric Elmosnino) discovers she can sing. Boy, can she sing! His aspirations for her throw the family dynamic completely out of kilter. Karin Viard over-acts for all she is worth as the overtly ditsy mother, as well as one having to contend with the increasing spread of a vaginal infection as the movie proceeds. The audience will respond in the positive to her despite all this, as it will for a father, François Damiens, who, despite his handicap, gets it into his head that he would be ideal as their community’s next mayor. He gives a terrific performance and is responsible for much of this gem’s poignancy – which it dishes out in spades. It is a tad slow, in the beginning, to pick up speed, but once it does, it would give even the most flinty-hearted viewer a cause to reach for something to dry tear duct secretions. The French-speaking world loved it and I have no doubt it will make an impact on the art house circuit here. Its finale is pure Hollywood, but oh so life affirming – and ‘hearing’ a concert from the perspective of a deaf person was a master-stroke by director Eric Lartigau. This film lifts the spirits and I left the State in a state of almost blissfulness.


So there we have it – one movie featuring an old hand who has been giving his innumerable fans pleasure for decades – whilst the other gives us a luminous new star who lights up the screen and will hopefully give pleasure for decades to come.


Trailer for ‘Youth’ =

Trailer for ”The Bélier Family’ =

Dark Lady

We have just one image of her, a miniature, painted by Nicholas Hilliard, noted at the time for his mini-images of the shakers and movers of the Elizabethan world. Who was she? Well she was/is in the mix with the likes of Christopher Marlowe, Edward de Vere, Francis Bacon and others. A woman you might cry, as others have! A woman suspected of ghost writing Shakespeare’s plays! Preposterous has been the common refrain to the notion. But why not? Given, the evidence is by and large circumstantial as with all the other candidates – but, it is there. As there is for an affair with the playwright in 1598 – perhaps in doing so giving the poor fellow a dose of the clap. There is increasing suggestion that she was the ‘Dark Lady’ he refers to in his sonnets, produced the following year – the ‘dark’ being a linkage because of her Mediterranean complexion. It is not unknown for a famous man in his middle age – age 33 was considered this back then – to be bewitched by a known beauty. Think, dare I say it, Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall. Shakespeare had made certain promises to his Anne back in Stratford, but he was a low ebb through these years due to the death of his son. He’d be no doubt susceptible to her advances – and she certainly was not backward in coming forward, as we know from her history in contemporary sources. It is all certainly very interesting.

Emilia lanier01

Emilia Lanier was, from all accounts, stunningly beautiful and out to use her assets to work her way to the top of the pile – to the degree a maiden could in those times. Much of what we know of her wantonness comes from her doctor. Doctor was a very loose term back then – they were as much astrologists as medical practitioners and it is possible that the good Dr Simon Foreman was also very keen to bed her as well. It is thought he was rebuffed. He was one of the first to religiously keep notes on his patients, but there weren’t too many scruples involved in the information those notes contained. He refers to the young miss as one ‘to lie upon’ – women of easy virtue were termed ‘mattresses’ in the common vernacular. Lanier, around the time in question, was certainly moving in the same circles as William S. With her looks and being forward by disposition, there would be no doubt she’d be known to him – but many suggest there was far more to their relationship. Some of these ‘many’ are experts, particularly of his sonnets. But there is a great deal of drawing of a long bow between having a fling and the woman actually penning some of his plays. But she did have another string to her bow. At a time when it was frowned on for one of the fairer gender being engaged in such pursuits, in 1611 Emilia came out of the shadows and published her own book of poetry – the first English lady to do so. She was 42 by this stage – and ‘Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum’ (‘Hail, God, King of the Jews’) is a milestone. So, she had literary chops – but did she employ them on the great bard’s behalf. Even if there is not nearly enough evidence for this admittedly far-fetched claim, surely for the feat of being Britain’s first recognised poetess, it would be enough to have her join the pantheon of ground-breaking protofeminists (definition – the term is applied to a woman in a philosophical tradition anticipating modern feminist concepts, who lived in an era when the term “feminist” was unknown, that is, prior to the 20th century). There is, as well, much we do not know about her. Decades of her life are lost to the record. So here’s what we have ascertained about the ‘Dark Lady’ – and it is fascinating.

Lanier was born Aemilia Bassano in Bishopsgate in 1570-ish. Her father was an Italian – and possibly Jewish, hence her looks. He was a musician at Elizabeth’s court. Her mother was one Margret Johnson. When her father died at age six or seven she was sent to live with, or to serve, Susan Berlie, the Countess of Kent. For the rest of her childhood she resided with a number of the influential women of her time – thus possibly her strong streak of independence exhibited later in life? Soon after turning eighteen Ms Bassano became the mistress of Henry Carey, a baron some forty-five years her senior. She became pregnant to him, which was unfortunate as the imminent birth caused her to be palmed off to marry a cousin, Alfonso Lanier, another court musician. By this stage Mrs Lanier, as a heavyweight’s bit on the side, had accrued a fair amount of capital. But her wastrel hubby soon disposed of that in a short period of time, exercising his rights as a man. This found her heavily in debt. Needless to say the marriage was not a happy one – as the good Doctor Foreman was only too willing to report in his notes. A son was born to her in ’93, followed by a short-lived daughter. She was by now, though, a regular at court, as was the dramatist – and so the speculation begins. Into the picture comes a younger paramour, one William Herbert, whom Shakespeare also adored. Some have suggested it was a triangular tryst, others that the Bard was insanely jealous of Emilia’s relationship and of being usurped in her affections. All rumour, mind you, but where there’s smoke there may well be fire. William Herbert also figures in his sonnets.

We have no idea how all this panned out, or if indeed there really is any substance to the allegations at all. The next we know she is publishing her poetry. And again, after that, little is to be found. It has been discerned her husband departed this earth and she tried to support herself by running a school, but that all came to zilch when she became involved in legal action over some unpaid rent money, causing a fall from grace. In 1630 she sued a relative of her deceased husband’s over more owed monies. She died in 1645, being described on the death certificate as a pensioner.

Summing up, it would be a strange kettle of fish to discover that the hand that held the quill penning some of WS’s works was in fact that of a woman. But I reckon we’ll never conclusively know that, as is the case with the other pretenders. But whatever she may or may not have been to William S, I am of the opinion that as a flag-bearer for the cause of women, in a period that decidedly was a man’s world, she deserves credit and greater fame – as opposed to infamy. There is more than a tinge of mystery with this woman who, through her verse, attempted to give advice to her gender about loyalty to each other and the rampant male misogyny of the time. Here’s her take on my gender:-

Forgetting they were born of woman, nourished of women, and that if it were not by the means of women they would be quite extinguished out of the world, and a final end of them all, do like vipers deface the wombes wherein they were bred.
And here’s a taste of her work in ‘Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum’ :-


Thrice happy women ! that obtain’d such grace
From Him whose worth the world could not containe,
Immediately to turne about his face,
As not remembering his great griefe and paine,
To comfort you, whose teares povvr’d forth apace
On Flora’s bankes, like showers of April’s raine :
Your cries inforced mercie, grace, and loue,
From Him whom greatest princes would not moue.

To speake one word, nor once to lift his eyes,
Vnto proud Pilate—no, nor Herod, king,
By all the questions that they would deuise,
Could make him answere to no manner of thing:
Yet these poore women, by their piteous cries,
Did mooue their Lord, their louer, and their king,
To take compassion, turne about and speake
To them whose hearts were ready now to breake.

Archipelago of Souls – Gregory Day

‘…, that day the storyteller and the listener were in an unlikely type of tuning, on either side of the roadside fire, as clouds went by seeking the east, and airy florets of moisture anointed them as they passed, the solid ground they were on as brief a reprieve as life itself from the sea of deeper time.’

Wesley Cress was camped by a King Island roadside, escaping the past by going to the unknown. She came cycling by, an ex-wild child, now wild-woman, giving Wes a future. But before all that could occur, he had a story to tell, but to only her. Yes, only her. And the island itself, this foreign bit of Tasmania? ‘…: the mist rises from the strait to meet the lenticular hovering like a halo above the swatch of land. The result is a sticky density of a dream. You can see the motion of the mist like a sculptured thing, the light too, streaming past as you cut the wood, or pouring down the gullies with the mobility of solid water itself…’

I recall, once upon a time, a Charles – at least that was his name as I remember it. He left uni to go a-teaching and his first appointment was Currie – or it could have been Grassy. He was only intending to stay awhile. But stayed a lifetime – the place hooked him. Such outliers sometimes do. He was drawn to its wildness and otherness. A certain place has hooked me too, being drawn to it by a beloved son. Not as isolated maybe, but isolated enough. I know the feeling. It happens. And this and more happened to Wesley.

And Gregory Day is some storyteller too. He’s been likened to Winton and called our best writer of nature. But I think he is more akin to Miller myself. Day is best known for his gong garnering ‘The Patron Saint of Eels’ from back in ’06. ‘Archipelago of Souls’ is my first Day – and hopefully not my last.


The writer had a story he wanted to tell. It had been hovering around in his mind for a while but he needed a fulcrum to pin it down. He wanted to construct a tale involving our nation’s conflict experience – not by any stretch a novel notion. It was not to be about Gallipoli or Kokoda, but more ‘… the Australian male psyche in relation to trauma and war…’ In his travels, as a younger man, Day had visited and fallen in love with Crete, its people and the fact that so many cafés had, on their white-washed walls, old tattered images of Aussie serviceman arm in arm with local resistance fighters. He, as an Australian, was embraced by the natives. His German travelling companion – not so much. And that actual World War 2 campaign, in itself, was unusual. It was an unseemly, chaotic affair with the Nazis drifting down from above.

Still he needed that nub. It came with a tale he was told of the British evacuation from Crete. One of the ships, the Imperial, lost its steering. All the troops were taken off and the ship was sunk by friendly fire to stop it falling into enemy hands. Only trouble was there were a few Australian soldiers, below decks, comatose from the drink. They drowned. Now Day had the trigger for Wes to behave the way he did. His hero missed the evacuation because he was busy with a local lass behind a wall. He was thus stranded on the Mediterranean island.

The author’s narrative alternates between Crete and events on King. Essentially it deals with what the lone soldier had to do to survive – that is murder, man and beast. He assists, at various stages, in attacks against the invaders by the Cretan guerillas. This results in the Germans trying to counter through the auspices of repeated atrocity. It’s not pretty reading. It’s been likened to Flanagan’s ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’, but decidedly, for this reader, doesn’t have nearly the same impact. That being stated, some of what half-addled Wes does to ensure he stays living is truly terrible – and in some cases, terribly futile. But on the Bass Strait island time is on his side to try and come to terms with it all.

Leonie Fermoy, a generationally entrenched islander, has some forgetting to do too. She is wayward and perhaps she is a tad mad as well. Before Wes can convince her to love him he must unburden himself – open out to her the darker side that shrouds his mind. He’s hoping the King Island weather will leach it all out of him and that she’ll take care of the rest. Tentatively, in fits and starts, the pair come together – and the telling of it is terrific wordsmithery.

Gregory Day lives on a spot just sixty-four kilometres north of the Bass Strait island he writes about in this tome. He’s a frequent visitor and he loves the place – is transfixed by it. And I have been too, these days, by the aforementioned location of my son’s residence – by a place also attuned to the briny. We are so lucky that our island, in the southern seas, affords such bolt holes where nature is in balance with the incursions of mankind. Wes found it led to his salvation.

gregory day

Hallmark Cards? What's Wrong With Them Turi?

Those who know me know of my generous support of the greeting card industry. I love purchasing what catches my attention, mailing them off to the folks I care about. So, I’m wondering Turi, what’s wrong with the Hallmark variety – apart from their ever escalating cost? Yes, yes – I agree that some of the artwork is quite twee, or to use her word – sentimental; so much so they border on being kitsch. And those are not my cup of tea either. But there’s variety with Hallmark – and many of them carry art or photographic work that is tasteful; pleasantly engaging the finer of our senses.

But Turi was worried that her response to the difficult months of her annus horribilis skirted the very fine line between Hallmarkish sentimentality and something that was acceptable to the more discerning buying public. Would they appreciate her ravens circling various beasts?


The worst year in Turi’s longish life saw the death of her husband as well as her forty year old daughter. Even more shattering, perhaps, was the decision of her son-in-law to take her beloved grandchild away from her locality. With all this – her past, present and future, in a short span, had been impacted on, leaving her reeling.

Turi did the sensible thing and sought guidance from a shock that would have sent many spiralling to a dark place. A counsellor put to her that she needed to take on a task that would offer a challenge, that would take her mind off her woes. Something, in other words, that would also have real meaning for her.

And thus she came up with ravens – angry ravens. Ravens attacking, or at least worrying at, various beasts. The latter, admittedly, seemed to be just bemused by all the attention. It helped. As time passed her canvases for this series morphed into a more benign tone as her mind settled. And, despite her doubts about them, these large scale paintings – their majesty so difficult to pick up just with an on-line perusal – did strike a chord with many. So the death of loved ones did have an up in the end. It gave her artistic pursuits a new lease of life.


And what makes her offerings to us in this series so special? It’s the lack of sky – or, conversely, the large amount of blank whiteness. Turi MacCombie is the first to admit she has issues with sky – therefore much simpler to leave it out completely. Doing so tends to give the works more immediacy, the critics opined. Perhaps sky would have made them more generic, perhaps even sentimental.

It was the gift of a book on birds, illustrated, that gave Turi the impetus for a life long infatuation – and this occurred around age ten. When she attempted to draw the avians for herself, to her eyes she didn’t make such a bad fist of it. She began to think that maybe some sort of artistic pursuit could be her vocation. It was a while before her dream was fully realised.

In school she displayed talent and later on, during her painterly education at Syracuse University School of Art, New York State, she came under the influence of a mentor in Douglas Unger. He showed her how to instil more depth in her work with a defter use of watercolours, fast becoming her favoured medium. She started gaining some success as an illustrator of children’s books, her work on display in an edition of Margery Williams’ classic ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’, as well as other co-productions with writers and some put together solely under her own name. And then she fell in love, marrying her Bruce, a composer and academic. Much later, when he was promoted to dean, she was at last free to pursue her dream. She now had the financial security to move from illustrating to the big canvas.


Today Turi lives in Amherst Massachusetts and thanks to that sage advice from her counsellor, she continues to work on the aforementioned series she terms ‘Confrontations’. And if Hallmark ever decide to commission her skills for a series of their own, then I’d reckon they’d be onto a good thing. I’d buy them, for to me they’re not at all .

turi macc

On-line galleries of Turi’s work =