Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Legacy – Kirsten Tranter

You remember where you were when you heard of them – events so momentous you just know the world would never be the same again. For the Kennedy assassination I was asleep, woken by a teary mother with the sad news. For the death of Elvis, on my birthday I might add, I was enjoying a celebratory sudsy bath, but that soon changed when the radio told me of his untimely passing. With Whitlam’s dismissal, I had just come off class for the morning break when a teaching colleague, heading out to playground duty, imparted the news on passing. For this one, though, I was away from home, helping out on a school trip to the big island across the water. Someone had turned the tele on that morning in the staff quarters just as we were about to go out and wake up the students in their cabins at the Canberra camp-site. That was delayed as we took in the events and the repeated shocking images of the towers collapsing. As we eventually did the rounds, waking up the troops, we imparted the tragic tidings to our charges. I remember on the bus heading south to our next destination, Echuca, the driver had the wireless on a news channel so we could keep abreast of what was happening. Soon the students started ya-yaing for their music tapes, so I was in blackout till we reached the Murray. I felt as though my throat had been cut. Had it occurred today I’d be rivetted to some hand device en route.

So she was obliterated, wasn’t she, on that day? Ingrid had an appointment with her accountant during those fateful hours, either somewhere in the Twin Towers or nearby. After that date, she wasn’t seen or heard from again by those who loved her back in Oz. No remains were found. Gay and ailing Ralph, nonetheless, still yearned for her touch as he had been transfixed by her. He was appalled when she headed Stateside to marry the much older, super-sleek gallery owner, Gil Grey. Too ill to travel, he sent off Julia to do some sleuthing for him. He wanted to know every last detail about her life in NYC before the catastrophic event. What our heroine gradually discovered initially unsettled and confused. Then she really started to smell a rat. As she collected evidence Julia came across some very interesting, if flawed, companions of Ingrid’s during her final days. There’s the decipherer of writing who thinks he knows who that rat may be. There is one of Ingrid’s professors, noted for bedding students and colleagues, who succeeds with Julia as well. And what does the mysterious Trinh, another academic, who moonlights as a dominatrix, know about it all? Finally we have Fleur, Ingrid’s stepdaughter who, at four, was a child prodigy with a paintbrush, only to chuck it all in for the camera during her teen years. The more Julia delves, the more she discovers all is not how it seems.

The-Legacy

‘ Days of Our Lives’ soap it would seem on the surface, but Kirsten Tranter’s ‘The Legacy’ is in another realm completely compared to that mush. To come by the book I was actually reading a review of her latest, ‘Hold’, which seemed intriguing. It began to niggle me that the author’s name rang a bell. I checked on Goodreads to see it I had read anything by her in recent times, but nothing came up. Then, perusing my bookshelves, I discovered ‘The Legacy’ waiting patiently for me to get to it. So, before I shelled out on her third novel, I decided to see if she had potential by reading this her first, published in 2010.

I found ‘The Legacy’ quite masterful. It’s almost impossible to put down as the mystery of Ingrid’s departure deepens. The pacing is deliciously unhurried, all minutiae examined closely. Therefore it’s a slow-burning thriller and all the better for it – a cut above airport fodder I would imagine. Tranter is far more pre-occupied with the inter-relationships between the characters than she is with the bells and whistles of the genre. As Peter Craven, writing in ‘The Monthly’, opines, it also is ‘…full of suave and stunning evocations of Sydney and Manhattan.’ and as an added bonus, he continues, ‘…, this sparkling and spacious novel captures the smell and sap of young people half in love with everyone they’re vividly aware of, and groping to find themselves like an answer to an erotic enigma.’

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I am now in possession of ‘Hold’, as a result, as well as seeking out Kirsten T’s sophomore effort, ‘A Common Loss’. They will not linger on my shelves as long as ‘The Legacy’.

The author’s website = http://www.kirstentranter.com/

Young Odessa

Talk about a mutual admiration society. Writing in the Oz, venerable reviewer/’The Movie Show’ host David Stratton opined, ‘I don’t usually like to make predictions…But for once I’ll stick my neck out…Odessa Young will be an international star.’ On radio, during an interview for the ABC, the tender-yeared Ms Young told of her time at the Venice and Toronto film festivals last year. She reflected on the fact that she met and chatted with some of the world’s best known film celebrities, but when Stratton approached her she became tongue-tied in awe. Here, in real life, was the man she grew up with during her fixation on hearing his opinion on the latest of moving-picture releases.

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Attending two film festivals with her first two movies – what an amazing experience for a mere seventeen year-old. But the actress is no ingenue when it comes to acting. She has had a long apprenticeship in the television industry, most notably as a lead in Auntie’s adaptation, for teens, of ‘My Place’.

The two local products being showcased at the aforementioned exotic locales were both competently made – one considerably more worthy of a film festival than the other, in this humble scribe’s view.

The lesser offering was ‘Looking for Grace’, the better ‘Daughter’. In both Odessa Y could be said to have upstaged more seasoned old hands, such as Richard Roxburgh, Radha Mitchell and Terry Norris in the former. In the latter there was an even more stellar cast including Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill and Miranda Otto. But whether she’ll be our next Nicole Kidman/Cate Blanchett remains to be seen. But she’s certainly off to a flyer.

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Sadly, neither of her newly released vehicles seem to be setting the world alight at the box office, although ‘Daughter’ is still in the cinemas and may pick up through word of mouth. It would be a pity for it to not get the bums on seats it deserves.

‘Looking for Grace’ came to us from Sue Brooks, who presented with the marvellous ‘Japanese Story’ back in ’03 – still one of my favs of the local product. Paul Byrnes, Age film critic, awarded ‘Looking for Grace’ a high rating of 4.5 stars, claiming it was as good, if not better, than ‘JS’. Wrong Paul. ‘Looking for Grace’ isn’t within a bull’s roar. Saying that, it was watchable and did have its moments of pleasure – Roxburgh doing his almost, by now, compulsory rumpled/addled shtick, as well as when Norris was on screen. But it lacked the magic ingredient of ‘Japanese Story’ that audiences responded to. It lacked heart. Still, it was Young’s debut and if Stratton is correct about her, that may be enough for it to be remembered and revisited.

‘Daughter’, on the other hand, is a different beast entirely. Novice director Simon Stone, as the great David S also predicts, is destined for greater glory based on the quality of this offering. It’s very much an Aussie take on Scandi-noir – chilly landscapes and life-battered characters. And it’s based on Norwegian playwright Ibsen’s ‘Wild Duck’ – somewhat loosely. The drama is taught, tight and bleak. In a high country timber town, populated by brittle denizens, the local saw mill closing down impacts majorly. As well, some are carrying deep, dark secrets that come to the fore when wretchedly self-centred and alcoholic Christian (Paul Schneider) returns to Oz to attend the wedding of the town squire (Rush). His bride is a much younger woman, his former housekeeper in fact. It’s an engaging turn from Anna Torv. His arrival sets in motion a series of revelations that will tear lives asunder. The climax is almost unwatchable; the ending not at all happy-ever-afters, nor are strands tied up neatly in a bow. This, though, unlike ‘Looking for Grace’, will stay with the viewer.

The-Daughter-AU-Poster

So David Stratton and I will watch Ms Young’s future career with much interest. I suspect he’s right. Obviously he’s made a mark by being mostly right about such matters. And she is very at ease on the big screen, with her performances, particularly in ‘Daughter’, very brave. Worth seeing the movie for that alone. And she is still so very, well, young. If ‘Daughter’ does go the way of ‘Looking for Grace’ maybe Hollywood will come calling and will place her in something to make the wider world sit up and take notice. Odessa Young is the future.

Trailer -‘ Looking for Grace’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KboDXLZM3o

Trailer – ‘Daughter’ =https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaC-SrFdRZg

Pug in the Landscape

It’s a fair point Corwin makes, during an interview for ‘Inside Art’, when he states, ‘The really amazing and really terrible thing about the internet is how easy it has become to find new artists, and see everything they have done. Many people don’t see the need to support the artists they enjoy on the internet, which makes things even more difficult.’

And I, along with millions of others, fit that category. Of course, had I the necessary, I could see myself as a financial benefactor to people like him – but that will never be. But I do try to share my enthusiasms with others, albeit in a very limited way. Those writers, musicians, artists and photographers out there in the ether give me so much pleasure and I do attempt to spread the word – which brings me to pugs.

It seems of late, if one walks into a gift or card shop, there’s many a pug regarding you, tempting you with that adorable squashed-faced cuteness. I am a pug lover from way-back though – before they became canine flavour of the month. The inspiration – well, her name was Cleo.

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These days, although I don’t have the privilege of having my own hound, there is still plenty of doggy love in my world. At my second home, my son and daughter-in-law’s pets make up for it. Oscar has been part of my life for so long now, with his constant companion, Memphis, a joy to be around. There is also next door’s Bella, as well as the other dogs we visit – Summer, Bronson, Ada and Jasper to mention a few.

Why no dog? Well, I guess owning a dog is not as easy as it used to be. There is expense involved, especially when we head off on travels. And then there are all the dos and don’ts petty officialdom have introduced – following a dog around with a plastic bag and scooper is not for me. It was far more lax when I was a kid and I seem to remember there were always animals to love in our Burnie home – cats, various bird species, rabbits, tortoises, blue-tongues and my father, bless him, had a thing for tropical fish. As an adult there was Jeannie. Named after a favoured pupil, this springer spaniel was so loved in the days before Katie and Rich arrived on the scene. I was devastated when she came off second best to an automobile.

But it has been Cleo that has left the lasting impression down through the years. I am pretty sure I once wrote a poem about her for a school magazine. I’d also be pretty sure that my dear mother, knowing her, would have that ode stored away somewhere in her extensive family archives and could readily produce it if asked. And I think Cleo was pretty liberal in her favours around the neighbourhood as she always seemed, in my mind, to be pregnant or suckling a litter. Her offspring were always of indeterminate breed – I don’t think we ever hooked her up with one of her own kind. Despite their rough pedigree, we never seemed to have trouble disposing of her offspring – and it was fun trying to guess from their appearance the local ‘tramp’ responsible for the outcome. But I also know, that without doubt, Cleo was family and at the time it would have been impossible to imagine life without her.

I have no recollection of what ended her life. I am hoping it was old age – maybe that occurred during my uni or early teaching years – but I couldn’t be sure. Undoubtedly Nan will fill me in once she reads this. Cleo, though, left a through-line that continues to this day. Sister Frith has owned another beloved pug, Barney – and her daughter Peta has her Mia. And she would be loved to bits too. And this brings me back to Corwin.

Yellowstone

Corwin Prescott owns a pug – Franco. He – Corwin, not the pug – is an internationally exhibited and published photographer. He’s known for his fine art nudes, particularly taken in landscape, as well as portraiture. But it wasn’t either of those genres that initially attracted my eye – it was his magnificent vistas of wilderness, minus any human form. They really made me sit up and take notice. I know a small laptop screen didn’t do them their full justice. But I envisaged them in huge scale, occupying considerable gallery wall space. Even so, what I did espy gave this armchair traveller an inkling of the grandeur of the places he visited to capture his magnificent images. It’s remarkably fine camera-smithery. The one that held my attention, in particular, was that of a buffalo emerging from the mists of Yellowstone National Park. It took my breath away, particularly knowing the history of those magnificent bovines.

Olympic-National-Park

‘As soon as I started taking photos I was doing portraits in the woods I would escape to when I was a kid. I’ve always felt safer surrounded by trees than people, so my photos of landscapes and nudes in nature are sort of my own meditation. They help me to relax and try to share all of these special places people tend to overlook with others.‘ Obviously, as this quote would indicate, checking out his website and galleries on-line, there is much that is NSFW, but his figurative work is worth a gander if nudity doesn’t trouble. But in many, if not all his journeys into the realm of nature at its wildest, there may be another companion, apart from his muses. He is worthy of a gallery or two of his own; an annual calendar even. I looked at Franco and memories of Cleo came flooding back.

pug in the wild

Prescott is a Philadelphian, graduating from the Antonelli Art Institute in 2008. Over the last five years he’s criss-crossed the US, attempting to travel and take images of every state in the union. The national park system is another fixation. And I’d like to think Franco is always with him on his adventures. ‘As a species we have drifted so far from the forest that just to hang out…in nature means exposing yourself to so many elements we aren’t equipped to handle any more.’

Grand-Teton

So here I am Corwin, doing my little bit, putting your name out there amongst the small circle who read my scriblings. Accompanying my words will be tangible proof of your talent – and one never knows, it just might lead to something tangible to your benefit. More than likely not, but it’s my way of saying thanks for what you have placed in the ether for us ordinary, financially challenged art lovers to take pleasure in. And give Franco a pat from me – a denizen of an island not without its own attractions, nature-wise.

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Corwin Prescott’s web-site = http://www.corwinprescott.com/

corwin

Van Diemen's Land – Murray Johnson + Ian McFarlane

The frontier wars around our country have been a cause, in recent decades, for fervent debate between historians, played out in the media and in books. On our island the years of the so-called Black War caused fear on both sides of the conflict, but ‘war’, given the numbers involved, stretches the definition. Rather, it seems to have been a series of skirmishes, frightening nonetheless; often violently savage for the combatants and civilian populations. It was a battle the First Tasmanians were never going to win, given their decreasing population, internecine warfare, the ravages of disease and lack of fire-power. This was followed by a sad-beyond-words demise for them, only to rise as a recognised entity to again be a force to be reckoned with, in another sense, in more recent times.

Murray Johnson and Ian McFarlane, both steeped in the history of our first peoples, trace their story further in the one volume than has previously been the case, to my knowledge. Much of what ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ contains has been covered before, but the authors take the history from pre-contact times right up to the modern day – in fact to the recent controversy over the Brighton Bypass. The tome included accounts of the atrocious treatment of the Aborigines by the Bass Strait sealers around the time when the first European settlements on the island were being established; the second ‘war’ on the island between the local North West clans and the VDL company which lasted long after hostilities had ceased in other areas; as well as what happened on the islands after the cessation of Wybalenna. This last section was particularly welcome as it covered a stage that I knew scant detail about, a period from 1850 to1970 being accounted for. The traditional story, as I learnt at school many moons ago, ended with Oyster Cove and the death of Truganini. We now know, of course, that the presence of people of Aboriginal descent had a history that continued on.

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All of the book is couched in prose that is eminently readable, patently well researched – as well as being, in parts, immensely disturbing. It also introduced me to some new players. The two Georges (Arthur and Robinson) are well known, as are Truganini and William Lanne. Those interested in the history of our state will know of the dark side of John Batman, thanks to Rohan Wilson’s novel ‘The Roving Party’. On the other side there are the resistance leaders such as Woorrady, Mannalargenna, Umerrah and the import, Musquito. And in present times there is a warrior of a different nature, Michael Mansell. But the newcomers to the list are as equal in fascination, as far as I am concerned, as the aforementioned.

Firstly the two scribes introduced me to the combination of Gilbert Robertson and Black Tom. Robertson (1794–1851), coloured colonialist and newspaper editor, was the son of a West Indies planter and his slave mistress. He was raised and educated by his well-connected grandfather in Scotland. Robertson arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1822 as a free settler. In 1828 he led the first ‘roving party’ to bring in Aborigines who had been waging attacks on white settlers. He was appointed chief constable of the Richmond district, but was remarkable in that he saw the Aborigines as patriots engaged in a war of resistance against the invaders. This is despite the fact that his party may have killed outright a number a number of them. He incurred the wrath of the establishment by standing up for the rights of the indigenous people, arguing that they should not be hung for their ‘crimes’, but treated as prisoners-of-war – not a popular opinion at the time. Given that, in at least one case he was successful in saving a life. As a whole the roving parties, with Batman to the fore, generally killed more than they bought in, even after Arthur put a bounty on those captured to be taken, initially, into incarceration. Robertson’s relationship with the Governor was frosty, but he absolutely despised Robinson. Robertson was the first to suggest a conciliator be appointed to go into the bush and peacefully bring out those remaining original inhabitants still scattered around the island. He obviously saw himself in that role. Arthur dismissed this idea, preferring the notoriously unsuccessful notion of the Black Line. Later, as it was obvious what a folly the Line was, Robinson put himself forward as Protector and swore it was his idea alone, even if his eminence vaguely remembered he had heard it all before. Robertson was livid, particularly when his right hand men were stripped from his service to go bush with Robinson; the latter having convinced the Governor to give him the gig. One of these was Black Tom. As editor of a local newspaper Robertson vented his spleen, with the result he was several times imprisoned for libel. All of this angst caused him to quit Van Diemen’s Land to become the agricultural superintendent for the Norfolk Island penal station. He was a newspaper editor in the Western District of Victoria when he died of a sudden heart attack in the middle of a heated political campaign.

His off-sider, Black Bob, was a white-raised Aboriginal who became involved in Musquito’s rampages early in the conflict. When captured he was spared the noose and sent to Macquarie Harbour to serve time. After his release, he became a skilled tracker for Robertson. He was then ‘seconded’ to Robinson’s mob as they trawled the back blocks for native inhabitants. He eventually ran out of steam at the fledging settlement of Emu Bay where he died of dysentery in 1832.

The north-western frontier features again through a female warrior, a Tommeginner woman, Walyer. She’s been sometimes described as the Tasmanian Amazon. Born in the Table Cape area, she spent her teenage years with the Straits sealers; whether willingly or abducted is open to conjecture. There she picked up a command of English. She later returned to her home area with a mini-arsenal of firearms. It’s possible she first used weapons on her own people during her time on the islands, but on returning back to the mainland it seems she was ready to inflict some pain on the whites for their many injuries to her kind, although again historians are conflicted on her exact motivation. She was soon joined by like-minded souls to become the only female resistance leader ever recorded on the island. But she didn’t evade the sealers for long and they caught up with her in 1830 – or again, did she flee back to them in response to the whites, none to happy with her after her rampages along the mainland coast, turning up the heat. When she attempted to kill one of their number the sealers gave her up to the authorities. Robinson, whose progress had been impacted on by this amazing woman, on hearing of this, stated in his diaries that it was ‘…a matter of considerable importance to the peace and tranquillity of those districts where she and her formidable coadjutors had made themselves so conspicuous in their wanton and barbarous aggression‘. It was, he thought, a ‘…most fortunate thing that this woman is apprehended and stopped in her murderous career…The dire atrocities she would have occasioned would be the most dreadful that can possibly be conceived.’ She died in 1831 of influenza. At a time when Aboriginal women were regarded by most whites they had contact with as chattels to be used for sexual purposes and traded, her defiance was remarkable, despite much of her story being unclear.

wayler tasmanianaborigine

Even if they didn’t become warrior-women like Walyer, there were others of the female gender prominent in the history of these times. Richard Flanagan wrote a novel based around the unfortunate Mathinna; Dolly Dalrymple’s achievements are well chronicled as are those of Fanny Cochrane, who made the first sound recordings of her people’s language. Another great voice for the First Tasmanians – and whose story I had not previously encountered – was Lucy Beedon, the Queen of the Isles. She initially came to light when Francis Nixon, the first Anglican bishop of Van Diemen’s Land, visited the isles of eastern Bass Strait in 1856. He was most impressed with her as she had taken on the responsibility of educating the islander children. Daughter of sealer Thomas Beedon and his partner Emerenna, she was schooled on mainland Tasmania whilst her parents were settled on Badger Island. Here she embraced the Christian religion, learned to read and write as well as, eventually, developing a head for business. When she returned to the Furneaux Group she became a force to be reckoned with by all those ‘outsiders’ trying to take advantage of her people, especially in the dealings over the mutton birding rights. By her early twenties she was already a formidable woman due to her massive size and intelligence. She became lessee of Badger island, remained unmarried all her life and devoted herself to managing the islanders’ financial affairs. During her time in the area she transformed it from its perception as being populated byan idle, alcohol-sodden population to one of sober industry where, most importantly, women were treated as equals. Eventually her duties took her away from teaching so she set up a school with an employed instructor. Family fragmentation became, for the most, a feature of the past for now, under her guidance, a future could be had without leaving home. It was a sad day when she passed on, age 58, in 1886.

Lucy Beedon

There are so many other interesting ‘characters’ to be met between the covers of ‘Van Diemen’s Land’. Read of Deloraine’s Paddy Heagon, alleged to have possessed a swivel gun (a small type of cannon) to dispense with the local first peoples. Discover what was the shocking incident that took place at Cooee Point, near Burnie, that almost blew the lid off the VDL Company’s covert policy of extermination in those parts it held sway over. What was the impact of Bishop Montgomery (who produced a famous son you may of heard of) on Aboriginal affairs during his tenure in Tasmania? What was the cause of the feud that schoolteacher Edward Stephens, half addled with drink, had with the community’s policeman on Cape Barren Island to caused shots to be fired? How was it possible for the islanders to cope for so long without any modern conveniences, or any assistance from the powers to be? And in these pages you can read stories of the forced removals of children from their families – another tale sad-beyond-words. Lastly, there was that terrible word – ‘octoroon’.

But times change and in our new millennium, to be of Aboriginal ancestry, is a badge of honour. There is no more of that nonsense of Truganini being the last of her kind, as was so often referred to in school curriculum when I was growing up. Some of what was so wrongfully taken away has been reinstated, although much more needs to be done. Conciliation is afoot on our island, as it is on the big one across the water. Hopefully that will soon be ratified in the constitution. The two authors are to be commended for their wide ranging account of a story that should never be lost in the mists again. It is an account that the venerable Henry Reynolds has rightly described as, ‘A study that will remain essential and relevant for years to come’.

Elbow Room

As is my wont on trips to Yarra City, I went all snap-happy with my camera. And I did manage to produce a couple I was quite happy with. But the image from the five days in Melbourne that stands out for me wasn’t taken with my reasonably expensive apparatus, but by my daughter on her mobile phone. I do wonder if the days of cameras, like mine, are numbered. It seems what I can do with it she can do as well, if not better, on her phone. I’ve even noticed that UTAS is now offering an associate degree in arts, teaching, amongst other aspects, ‘…how to get the most out of…mobile phones (and) tablets…’ for photography. But that’s an aside. The image in question was taken at the end of a most pleasant restaurant experience on Fitzroy Street’s Elbow Room.

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In culinary terms, this trip to Melbourne saw some firsts for me, which probably indicates how in the Dark Ages, food wise, I am. I was introduced to edamame beans, tapas, Singapore noodles and fajitas. The beans and tapas, I found, were much to my liking in their deliciousness. As for the noodles, I’ve since discovered they’re amongst my lovely lady’s favourite dishes. She has had some unfortunate experiences with ordering them at local eateries so no longer does, so I have resolved to have a go at making the dish myself – fingers crossed. And at the Elbow Room I ordered something I’d never heard of prior to that night – fajitas.
Perhaps if you’re as ignorant of these as I was, here’s Wikipedia on that new (for me) delight:-
A fajita is a term found in Tex-Mex cuisine, commonly referring to any grilled meat usually served as a taco on a flour or corn tortilla. The term originally referred to the cut of beef used in the dish which is known as skirt steak. Popular meats today also include chicken, pork, shrimp, and all cuts of beef. In restaurants, the meat is usually cooked with onions and bell peppers. Popular condiments are shredded lettuce, sour cream, guacamole, cheese, and tomato. The northern Mexican variant of the dish name is arrachera. The first culinary evidence of the fajitas with the cut of meat, the cooking style (directly on a campfire or on a grill), and the Spanish nickname goes back as far as the 1930s in the ranch lands of South and West Texas. During cattle roundups, cows were butchered regularly to feed the hands. Throwaway items such as the hide, the head, the entrails, and meat trimmings, such as the skirt, were given to the Mexican cowboys called vaqueros as part of their pay. Hearty border dishes like barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew), and fajitas or arracheras (grilled skirt steak) have their roots in this practice. Considering the limited number of skirts per carcass and the fact the meat wasn’t available commercially, the fajita tradition remained regional and relatively obscure for many years, probably only familiar to vaqueros, butchers, and their families. The food was popularised by various businesses such as Ninfa’s in Houston, the Hyatt Regency in Austin and numerous restaurants in San Antonio. In southern Arizona the term was unknown except as a cut of meat until the 1990s when Mexican fast food restaurants started using the word in their marketing. In recent years, fajitas have become popular at American casual dining restaurants as well as in home cooking. In many restaurants, the fajita meat is brought to the table sizzling loudly on a metal platter or skillet, with the tortillas and condiments.
So I’m not sure how authentic the beef variety were at the Elbow Room that balmy Melbourne eve, but they had a zing that was spot on, were satisfyingly filling and made me wish I was a local so I could go back for more.
So how come the Elbow Room with the plethora of choices to be had around where we were staying? Well here’s its web-site descriptor:-
The Elbow Room is a fashionable restaurant/cafe/bar nestled between the palm trees at 19 Fitzroy Street, just metres From St Kilda Beach. Relax in the weekend St Kilda sunshine on our comfy outdoor timber furniture with an antipasto and a glass of wine or cold beer. Sip cocktails from our extensive list whilst watching the sun go down across the bay. Step inside our restaurant and find a candle lit, ambient space. Let our friendly staff guide you through our large menu and enjoy affordable, modern Australian cuisine.
The Elbow Room offers a great selection of local seafood, steaks, and fresh salads, with our menu identifying a number of vegetarian, celiac and gluten free options. The restaurant is fully licensed, stocked with a wide range of wines, spirits and cocktails.
Here are some comments from satisfied customers:-
Steve D – Fitzroy – I heard about the Elbow Room from my neighbour. I gave it a go and was very happy I did. If you want great food in a relaxed environment, then book now.
Lisa T – Bundoora – We were on holidays in Melbourne during November and we visited lots of restaurants. The last one we visited was the Elbow Room, wish it was the first! We’ll be back again some day.
Simon R – London – To be honest, I thought it was just going to be another night out with OK meals and lousy service. How wrong was I. Plates were full and staff were so kind I could’ve stayed there all night. Give it try, you won’t be disappointed
Mary L – Flemington – I took my business clients to the Elbow Room and we all had a wonderful time. I am happy to report we negotiated a new deal over a fine bottle of red. Good work guys!

elbow-room

I was staying in St Kilda with the little North Hobart family. Before venturing out each evening Kate and Leigh-lad would work their hand apparatus, scouting the vicintiy in search of a venue for our evening meal together. One or the other must of hit on the Elbow Room and we were soon heading down Fitzroy Street at a quick clip. Many other prospective diners were parading up and down, also on the hunt for a great spot for tucker, but Kate expressed satisfaction with the menu as displayed on the frontage of the Elbow Room, nodded her pretty head towards us and in we sauntered. Outside there were some diners in place, but in the interior we were the first arrivals. The night was still young and if the restaurant was up to scratch we knew others would follow, as they did in a steady stream during our time there. We were soon seated comfortably with a smiling waiter happily chatting away to us as he distributed menus and organised drinks. Our Tessa was in her element. Detailed discussion had ensued about her order during which she was an extremely active participant, considering all proffered options with due seriousness before she made a final verdict. When our food arrived we found it generous in quantity and tasty on the palate. After consumption, Tiges too gave it all her imprimatur of approval. Of course, having our young miss with us added to the pleasure – as I would have expected having shared previous dining experiences with her.

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And the photograph? Sadly I only came in on the tail end of its occurrence. Our meal had wound down so Katie went up to the counter across the way to settle the bill. Tess reckoned she needed to part of that action and followed in her wake. She clamoured up on one of the tall bar stools, craning her neck to see what was going on and to examine all the very interesting stuff that was actually behind the counter. It was the guy taking our monies who asked permission to actually lift her up onto the bar so she could have a better view of her surroundings. Then the lovely fellow set about explaining to her what he did in his role as bartender/barista, much to the fascination of Tiges. This, for Kate, was a photo opportunity not to be missed and the image was duly captured.

I know I am hopelessly biased when it comes to my granddaughter, but for me the image is not so much about her but more the blue-shirted bloke who took time away from his duties to make the night of a little girl. She was so eager to have knowledge about the workings of his vocational world – and he cheerily complied.

All this was symptomatic of the random acts of kindness Tessa met with from working Melburnians during her adventurings in the city. Of course they all couldn’t be caught on camera in the manner of the Elbow Room that night. It was just a mini-moment, but with all the harshness there is out there in the big picture, it tells what a lovely place the world of ordinary folk can be. But being so attuned to that little presence in his vicinity, the guy behind the bar the evening of the Elbow Room was anything but ordinary.

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To check-out the Elbow Room’s menu = http://www.elbowroomstkilda.com/

Cracking Up

That’s how Rampling describes it – as ‘cracking up’. Charlotte R is ruminating on her latest filmatic venture to be released here. In it a long standing wife is trying to hold it all together. Her husband is not always there in the present for her. But hold it together she does – well almost. Right at the end, maybe she has finally lost it.

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We first meet Kate when she is out walking her beloved dog, Tessa, on the Broads where she resides with hubby of forty-five years, Geoff (Tom Courtney). She’s planning a big village bash to celebrate that anniversary as the one for the fortieth had to be postponed due to his health. Although he hasn’t been quite the same since, Geoff now seems robust enough for an event of that nature, if not overly enthusiastic about it all. He’s grizzled, dishevelled and very vague, but has promised to make an effort for the occasion. It’s been a childless marriage but contented enough. The childlessness, though, comes back to haunt when Geoff receives a letter from Switzerland.. It knocks Kate’s husband for six – he becomes mentally all over the shop, far worse than normal and Kate is determined to get to the bottom of why that should be so.

As the days head towards their weekend celebration the letter starts to dominate proceedings and not in a positive way. As Kate delves deeper the solid core of her relationship is shattered by what she finds.

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The film counts down the days as it becomes obvious that the climax of the piece will occur at the event now neither really wants to take place, but it is too late to back out. Although all is far from well in their idyll on the Broads, they both try to put a smile on their dial as they face a multitude of friends. Knowing the background, it is not easy to watch and by the time ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ rolls onto the turntable Kate has reached crisis point.

Rampling won a Silver Bear at last year’s Berlin Film Festival for her performance as Kate. The veteran actress herself was coming out of a period of grief after the death of her own husband of seventeen years. Her counter to this was to continue working, including on this vehicle. She delivers a bravura performance, but for this viewer it was the equally venerable Tom Courtney’s nailing of the befuddled, rudderless Geoff that really stood out in what is essentially a two-hander. In Geoff, am I seeing a future not too far away now?

’45 Years’ continues the recent trend of the makers of movies waking up to the fact that, in greydom, there is a whole demographic, largely ignored in the past, still enamoured with actually going to the cinema. That is, as long as what they see is not kidnapped by CGI, superheroes and ear-drum splitting din. That many recent releases of a more subtle nature reflect their own stage in life is a bonus. This particular effort is also the antithesis of the light-hearted and fluffy fare also catering to this scribbler’s age group. Delightful as many of these are, ’45 Years’ is more cerebral. You could do worse than spend an hour and a half in Kate and Geoff’s company receiving a reality check.

’45 Years’ Trailer = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXAnjA9tAnQ

Grace, Life and Loomis

Grace: We all know her. She was luminous. Her time in Tinsel Town was truncated because she was soon wedded to a prince. Yet she still found time for some legendary movies – ‘High Noon’, ‘Rear Window’, ‘Dial M for Murder’ – and to win an Oscar for ‘Mogambo’. She met a tragic end in 1982. And he, Loomis, reflected the beauty of her and bought it into our lives.

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Life: I remember my family had a subscription for a while. I vaguely recall it as an Australian edition, but when I checked the ether I could find no mention of there being such a thing. For decades Life was the vehicle for the best in photojournalism world wide. It was also, I suspect, a contributory factor to my lifelong fascination with the photographic image. When I think back, I know I was always excited when it arrived in our mail box. I have a specific memory of taking an issue to the beach, to peruse, one summer’s day. That was long ago, that time of yore when ‘the beach was the place to go’ for myself as well as the Wilson Brothers. All this occurred in my youthful pre-uni Burnie days. Such quality, even then, would have been cruelly expensive to print and Life Magazine didn’t see much of the new millennium before folding – but, of course, on-line is the place to go these days for what this mag once provided. It started life (poor pun) in 1883, but it wasn’t until Henry Luce took over in 1936 that it gained its reputation for excellence. At its height Luce made sure it was staffed by the best in the business – and he, Loomis, was certainly up there in the mix. This employee, unlike some of his colleagues, wasn’t interested in the fripperies of camera-smithery. Just getting an image up to the standard the editors expected was his sole aim. He was the go-to guy when a photo of the greats of Hollywood or of European royalty was required. His bosses knew he would make them look human, accessible even – with just a hint of show-biz to mark them out from the rest of us. And he presented Grace to us, numerous times, via Life. And look at his capturings of her. Wasn’t she something? She was special and he only enhanced her specialness, turning her into the sublime.

Obituary photo of Loomis Dean.
Obituary photo of Loomis Dean.

Loomis: Good name, isn’t it. It’s his Christian name, not surname. Loomis Dean. Googling him, he often comes up as Dean Loomis, but that’s not right. Loomis Dean it is.

Grace’s photographic capturer was born in Florida in 1917. His dad ran a museum celebrating circuses – and that was an early fascination for Loomis too as a lad. Circuses were big business back then – having their own museums, schools even. In fact Loomis studied at one – the Ringling Bros Art School. He couldn’t draw to save himself, but he later stated it gave him an eye for composition. He then moved on to engineering – and that was even less to his liking. But during that time came his light-bulb moment when a fellow student took him into his darkroom and Loomis watched as a print emerged from a bath of chemicals. He was hooked. He was soon enrolling at the Mechanics Institute of Rochester, NY to study at its famous photography department. On graduation, what was his first job? Why, working as a camera-snapper for circuses. With Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey he started to develop his signature style, a style a critic once described as ‘…photography with a twinkle in the eye.’ Then along came the war and he signed up with the army air force – as an aerial photographer. This had the side effect of giving him a life long fear of flying. Of course many future assignments meant doing just that.

After the war he started off doing some freelance work and soon came on Life’s radar. His second commission for them landed him a coveted cover – and it was so Loomis, a giraffe peering over the shoulder of a clown. Yes, he had been commissioned to do a series on circuses. Realising his talent, the editors at Life soon had him on permanent staff, operating out of their LA office. He didn’t take a backward step after that. He was the first photographer at the scene when the liner Andrea Doria went down in the Atlantic. He photographed Hemingway in his beloved Spain not long before his self-induced death. His crowning glory was to convince a mad Englishman, Noel Coward, to indeed go out, dressed to the nines, into the midday sun of Nevada to help promote a certain song into being a world-wide hit.

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In all Loomis Dean contributed fifty-two covers for Life. He left the organisation in 1961 only to return five years later. He stayed with them until 1969, then again went freelance. One of his favourite jobs later in his career was a gig as set photographer for James Bond movies.

In 2005 he passed away, aged 88. Just before his death he was asked what was the greatest moment in a long, illustrious career. He answered it was a photograph from a series he did on the Vatican. The Pope, Paul VI, obviously liked it too for he awarded LD a medal for it as well as granting him an audience. The snap in question showed white-robed bishops, bearing the Pope’s tiara, marching through St Peter’s Square.

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This camera-smith had, in the days before television really took a stranglehold on the public’s imagination, one of the most glamorous jobs in the business. Although he hobnobbed with the world’s glitterati, he never lost his common touch. He was just as happy capturing images of, as he put it, the ‘…ski bums and the beach bums…’ of his world. He loved people of any persuasion and his photos, whether they be of rich or poor, demonstrate his affinity with all humankind – that’s what really shines. And he certainly made Grace shine for Life – and I thank him for that.

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An on-line Loomis Dean gallery = https://www.photographersgallery.com/by_artist.asp?id=215

From NYC to LA, Fifties Style

Both vehicles were strong releases – one even strong enough to garner an Academy nomination. Both were dominated by leads who, without doubt, were also worthy of their respective consideration for gold statues due to their fine performances. As I have seen neither ‘The Room’ nor ‘The Revenant’ I cannot pronounce on the decision to go with their stars for the top acting gongs, but without doubt DiCaprio has been overdue for some time. As for ‘Spotlight’ being the best film of the last twelve months, I really have my doubts. It was a story that needed to be told, but the telling thereof had its faults in my view. It lacked the quality of the other nominated offerings I have viewed – indeed it lacked the quality of the two examined here – one set in the famous New York borough of Brooklyn in the 50s, the other in a quite well known suburb of Los Angeles, also in the 50s. Increasing the pleasure of going to the cinema to take in these two movies, I was accompanied my my lovely lady. It always makes for a better experience receiving her opinions on what was projected up there on the silver screens at the State.

Let’s start with the one that took us back to a dark period in the story of last century’s film-making – the blacklisting of the Hollywood 10. I guess the climate in those years would be similar to our own present one with the so-called Wall on Terror. As is the case today with Muslim extremism, many pollies back then saw it was in their political interest to beat up the threat of communism for all it was worth. It was the Cold War. ‘Reds under the bed’, ‘the only good commie a dead commie’ and all that nonsense. They were all undesirables to be ferreted out and at all costs, revealed for all to see. Even if the connection was only tenuous, or there had been a mere flirtation with the Communist Party in the heady days of youth, it mattered not. And some of Hollywood’s finest became caught up in the net. Many were imprisoned and all were blacklisted, i.e. they lost their livelihoods. One of the victims was Dalton Trumbo, a scriptwriter with a golden touch.

Trumbo

Although perhaps a tad slow to get going, once this movie had a head of steam up it was quite a ride. ‘Breaking Bad’s’ Bryan Cranston was superb as the idiosyncratic, workaholic Trumbo – a whiskey fuelled wordsmith and force of nature. He often produced his scripts in the bath due to a bad back. Many, I find, like Trumbo, do their best work in a sudsy tub. But then, almost stealing the show, was John Goodman as a B-grade movie mogul. He didn’t give a toss about who he should or shouldn’t employ. He just needed people to churn out scripts that only had to be literate to get the thumbs up. Enter Trumbo, fresh out of prison, in desperate need of work so he took on all Goodman’s character had to offer. And some of what he produced turned out to be purlers – so word started getting around. Goodman provides most of the levity in what otherwise could have been a pretty depressing journey, despite the ultimate outcome. Diane Lane is solid as Trumbo’s loyal, stoic wife and as we’d expect, Helen Mirren is all class as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. She’s a red hater from way back. Her part in the movie, though, was historically inaccurate.

Paul Byrnes makes this point in a recent review and marks ‘Trumbo’ down as a result. He objected to the fact that the film introduced characters that didn’t exist in real life, ignoring others who had a major role in proceedings. Regular readers will know my take on all that. John Wayne doesn’t come out smelling of roses here and we get an interesting performance from Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G Robinson, caught between a rock and a hard place as the McCarthy hearings probe the communist affiliations of the film world. No doubt Michael Douglas would be rapt as it turns out his venerable dad (Dean O’Gorman) truly was the great American hero (in this telling, that is).

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As well as dissing director Jay Roach for the film’s historical porkies, the Age critic also had a go at the screenwriter John McNamara’s failure in making Louis CK’s fictional role a composite of the other nine victims imprisoned for their political leanings. So, out of five stars, here are the ratings:-

Paul Byrnes ***½ Lovely Lady ****½ Blue Room ****

Now lets jump across to the Atlantic side of the US of A to NYC where, in the post-war years, that country, as well as persecuting undesirables, was allowing in many desirables in the guise of refugees from yet another Irish diaspora. It was hard times back in Eire and Eilis Lacey was hoping it would all be better for her across the ocean. She’s a reserved, small town gal – bit of a mouse to look at, you’d think, on first impressions. But look closely, especially at those eyes. There’s verification if one needs it that first impressions can deceive. Almost as soon as she’s through those Ellis Island doors a gorgeousness emerges that’s plain for all the world to see. Mentoring her on the other side is warm-hearted priest Father Flood (a warm-heated turn from Jim Broadbent) and soon she is set with accommodation, boarding-house style, with a job thrown in. Julie Walter’s landlady is a star performance, so much so that it’s reportedly the basis for a new television series being developed for the Beeb. Mad Man’s Jessica Paré also catches the eye as her soft-centred floor-walking overseer, keeping her on her toes behind a department store counter. Miss Fortini knows more about her charges than they could ever suspect.

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The movie has, in itself, been described as a throwback to those golden years of Tinsel Town in the fifties when its product did not require lashings of beneath the sheets activity to establish a relationship between the leads in a movie with romantic pretensions. The first of Eilis’ beaux is not a fellow Irish fella but Tony (Emory Cohen), a plumber of Italian stock. His role, for me, is one of this offering’s highlights. How could she not be charmed by him? Our bonny lass is eventually, but it took some doing on Tony’s part. As the relationship develops director John Crowley warms up the film’s colour palette and Eilis emerges from dowdy garb to become quite the girl about town.

But a sudden death back home changes all this, causing Eilis to rush back to the Emerald Isle. Now she stands out for her sophistication in her grey little burb. Soon she’s the centre of attention with one and all conspiring to keep her away from boarding a liner back to the New World. And it’s made harder to do so by the entry of another love interest, played with sensitivity by up-and-comer Domhnall Gleeson. We know Eilis has taken a secret with her back to Erin. And that really puts a spanner in the works.

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As with yours truly, Paul B fell head over heels for the charms of this recent release, one that missed out on the best picture gong at the Oscars. I would have been joyous if it had bettered the lacklustre ‘Spotlight’, but that was not to be. Byrnes describes Nick Hornby’s script work, based on Colm Toibin’s 2009 novel as ‘…one of his best: economic, unforced, expressive, not in the least theatrical.’ He states that Hornby left room for ‘…shiploads (pun?) of emotion, distributed widely across the characters.’ ‘Brooklyn’ was, for this viewer, one lovely cinematic experience. If only there were more of its ilk.

Paul Brynes ****½ Lovely Lady ***½ Blue Room ****½

‘Trumbo’ trailer = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_y_Pj–igG4

‘Brooklyn’ trailer = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szRFS4NO6f8

Hope Farm – Peggy Frew

He’s a greasy little sleazeball, is the young Charlie Manson – as portrayed in ‘Aquarius’. But he is seemingly a charismatic figure to the impressionable young maidens who bound around him. They hang out and do the drug thing at his urban commune – such a happening place. Eventually he coerces his teenage acolytes to do deeds for him that he perceives will contribute to him reaching his destiny – later on these will become the epitome of evil. For now his vicious streak is already starting to show – he’s not a person you cross without expecting retribution. I’ve only watched one episode of the series to date. It seemed somewhat cheesy in places, but I’ll stick with it. For you see it stars David Duchovny as your stereotypical rumpled cop, and after ‘Californication’, I am besotted by David D and the roles he makes his own.

But, I suppose, in the strictest sense, Gippsland’s Hope Farm, back in the eighties, was not a commune. It labelled itself an ashram, and I presume there is a difference, despite both being filled with a loose idea about boundaries within personal relationships. In Frew’s eponymous novel the height of flower power is long past, but a group of disparate, mostly ageing, hippies are hanging on at Hope Farm. The place has seen better days, as have most of its communards, but in the novel they are being introduced to New Age mumbo-jumbo by another charismatic figure – Miller. In contrast to Manson, his intent was purer, but still he seemed to have an effect on the ladies, managing to wheedle money out of them. He’s a big hairy bear of a man. Ishtar was soon in his thrall.

frew hope farm

Mostly, in Peggy Frew’s ‘Hope Farm’, the hardscrabble life at the commune was seen through the eyes of an adult Silver, casting her mind back to her childhood there. Then she wanted a normal existence and she wanted a loving touch, but what she received from her distant mother, Ishtar, was a transitory existence. She moved from one ashram to another as her parent followed her dreams and men of uncertain quality. But at least at Hope Farm it all improved somewhat for Silver. She meets a mysterious boy down by the creek and he becomes a yearned-for friend of sorts. At the farm she experiences her first crush on a guy who, in turn, is besotted by Ishtar. And in the end an abandoned mine-shaft became Silver’s salvation, leading to an anchored life.

Frew displayed, with her first novel, ‘House of Sticks’, an ability to present a story of the human condition that looks at fractured relationships amongst urban Australians who haven’t quite made it into the mainstream. ‘Hope Farm’ is a very strong follow-up. It kept this reader engaged from cover to cover. I’m not completely sure if the device of having the diary entries of semi-literate Ishtah, interspersed throughout most of Silver’s narrative, is completely convincing. That aside, Frew has shown that she is a vibrant new voice on our recent national condition, conveyed in fiction form.

In the end Miller was no Charlie Manson. The hold he had over those around him was no where near as total as Manson’s, so errors along the way soon caused his world start to unravel. Once he lost control of those he expected to pander to his mental well-being – they being never fully convinced in the first place – his end is inglorious. The put-upon figure of Ian, the lad by the creek, comes out of it all very well as maybe the hero of the piece. Help arrives for Silver from an unlikely source. Frew is skilled with juggling all the threads and is considerate to her readers in not allowing any to dangle. She leaves her surely growing list of fans well sated. I like her for that. Roll on novel three.

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