Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Crows

I was moseying around art sites in the ether when I spotted them – crows. Crows are important in our family – even if they’re prone to masquerade as ravens on occasion. Here on my island, in the southern seas, a murder of them are commonly referred to as the ‘highway patrol’, due to their penchant for cleaning up the copious road kill we humans daily inflict on the native wildlife.

But for my beautiful, writerly daughter crows represent her paternal grandfather – my dad. A crow is his totem if you like. She never met him, he was sadly gone before she was born – but she feels his spirit watches over her in the form of any single crow espied. Now he has the added pleasure of watching over our precious Tessa Tiger too. Whenever the pair of them are out and about adventuring and the little one spots a black feathered avian, she asks her Mummy if it’s Grandpa Fred – invariably it is. It’s good knowing he’s keeping her safe, as he did me, once upon a time.

I love the notion of a totem. I’ve always regarded the sea eagle, the one that often swoops by our house here on the river, riding the air-currents from further up the valley, as mine. Perhaps it means that a portion of my heart resides with the First Peoples – who knows? But an eagle free in the wild never ceases to move me. And for Tess her totem is obvious – be it Tasmanian or Indian.

So when crows put in an appearance as I happened on some examples of Trisha Lambi’s art work stumbling through cyberspace, well, obviously, I took notice. In one painting a crow was perched on the knee of a semi-clad model, in another a duo of them were patrolling around a pair of legs in high heels. Yep, I liked Lambi’s crows. I wondered if they had some significance for the artist. I’m not into art wankery, just knowing what I like and don’t. When I took a closer look at TL’s work, I was taken in by it – and perhaps you will too, although there is some mild NSFW that comes with some of her output.

Her oeuvre has been routinely described as sensual and that would be the word that immediately springs to my mind too. But Lambi claims it is not for the ‘…gratification of all or any of the senses...’ that compels her to paint the feminine form. What interests her is ‘…light on skin, light on inanimate objects and light on anything really.’

She claims to have been drawing her gender ever since she was old enough to hold a pencil and with artistic endeavour seemingly running in her family, it would have a been an obvious vocational choice for her too. She was born in Warwick, Queensland, being a member of a very large family by today’s standards. It wasn’t, though, till her own children were born that she became serious about her painting. In conquering the medium she’s reached the heights of representing Australia in exhibitions all over the world. But she’s had a rough couple of years of late, losing both parents in quick succession in 2014, so she has thrown herself into her output as a salve to her grieving. She currently resides in the Sunshine State on the rurban fringe of Ipswich. There she finds the tranquility she craves.

So it’s true that it was a crow that first caught my attention, but it was her human subjects that kept my eye lingering in her site. She has stated it is important for art lovers to feel her work rather than really understand it – she says she cannot even do the latter herself. To me it’s just beautifully and wonderfully wrought so as to be so attractive to at least one of my senses. That alone’s enough, isn’t it?

The artist’s website =

Full Bore – William McInnes

Crocs. I mean crocs as in footwear. Now here’s a fact about them you may or may not know. They are banned at my local casino here in Hobart. And that’s not the only place. Seems the local council responsible for keeping the natives in an acceptable state of dress have banned them in the little seaside resort of Bridport. How do I know? Well, my son told me so. I was visiting him and his lovely wife and we were preparing to saunter down the aptly named Main Street to the pub for a counter meal. When I emerged, casually dressed for the occasion, my son pointed to my comfy crocs and stated, ‘You can’t wear those down the street here Dad’. Well, who am I to flaunt what are obviously local regulations, so I quickly changed into sandals, which it appears the local governance have no objection to whatsoever.

So I guess there are those who are not as enamoured of crocs as footwear as I am – and author William McInnes. And it is thanks to him that I now have perhaps a handle on the origin of my love of them. He claims his comes from the fact that, back in the day, come summer, thongs were his main foot apparel – and that was the case for me too before age and common sense caught up with me. Here’s the man himself on the subject – ‘My love of thongs probably led to my affair with the much maligned crocs.
I love a pair of crocs; weird, clunky bits of foamy whatever they are, they were originally designed as a spa shoe. Well, that says it all. My mother called them ‘formal thongs’ and I have committed many footwear sins with crocs.
I wore them once to an awards ceremony, simply because I forgot to have them on. Too comfortable by half.
A word to the wise: they’re not very functional in wet weather, especially when you run out to the bin in early morning drizzle trying to catch the rubbish truck.
Slipping is an understatement. I went Torvill and Dean-ing down the footpath as if the bin and I were going for gold in the pairs figure-skating.

And like slipping one’s feet into a cherished pair of crocs, dipping into a new William McInnes memoir is like returning to an old mate who will give you value for money. As with ‘A Man’s Got to Have a Hobby’ and ‘Holidays’ before it, ‘Full Bore’ entertains with a cycle of yarns that are sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes poignant, sometimes full of love for fellow humanity and invariably chortle-inducing. These days, like my trusty (except in stormy weather) crocs, you know what you’ll get with this fellow and he delivers in spades.

His tales commence and finish in an auction house, as is entirely suitable as McInnes was once host of an ABC series with the moniker ‘Auction House’ (2012). A friend of mine happened to be producer of that series and relates that WMcI was a bit of a funny bugger to be around, with this sure reflected in his wordsmithery. I reckon my old Dad, had he still been with us, would have loved his yarns. Now my father was a dab hand at the old bush art of brewing billy tea and would have had a giggle at Will’s own dad’s attempt at the dying art – ‘He picked up the tea towel, carefully folded it over a few times and wrapped it around the billy’s handle and said casually, ‘Show you a trick to get a good cup of tea.’
My mother looked up from distributing egg sandwiches with a slightly anxious note, ‘Colin?’
‘I know what I’m about love.’ He stood, carefully, positioning his legs wide apart and staggering them slightly with his front leg bent at the knee.
‘Watch yourself,’ he said with a look at us, and then to himself, ‘Here we go.’ He slowly started to turn his stiffened right arm around in a full circle, and the steaming billy went with it.
‘Colin!’ my mother said again.
‘It’s right, don’t bend the elbow, that’s the trick!’ grunted my father. He kept rotating his arm and then for a bit of fun, I think, he went faster and faster. The billy became a blur.
‘Colin!’ my mother shouted.
‘It’s right!’ my father yelled back happily.
‘It looks like you’re about to take off!’
My father giggled and was about to speak back to my mother when something did take off – the billy.
‘Christ almighty!’ yelled my father and staggered forward in little steps, the handle of the billy still wrapped in the tea towel clutched in his hands sans the billy.
‘Lift off!!’ cried my mother and we kids ran screaming in all directions as the billy soared up into the air with a graceful arc; courtesy of the handle giving out at the bottom of one of my father’s great swings, and landed in the carpark with a thud as it spat tea everywhere.
After that tea-bags, and occasionally coffee, were taken on the picnics.’
I bet my dear old Dad would not have ever made such a schmozzle of it as Will’s father did in the early pages of ‘Full Bore’.

Further into the memoir there’s both poignancy for himself and his brother involved as their mother approaches death – ‘On one occasion I walked into her room and a sister on a pastoral visit sat beside her. I thought my mum was sleeping but the sister smiled up at me and waved a little and then said to my mother gently, ‘Iris, your son is here.’
My mother didn’t move.
‘Iris?’ said the sister again, just as gently, but a little louder.
I looked down at my mum, a big wonderful woman, not always perfect, sometimes shy and prone to quick judgement, but always there whenever any of her children might have needed her.
The woman whose arms had held me, whose voice had soothed me and whose love had surrounded me all my life, now diminished and stricken in bed.
‘Iris,’ said the sister again. ‘Your son.’
My mother’s mouth opened slightly and she said, ‘Is it the fat one or the stupid one?’
The look on the sister’s face I will always remember, it was all she could do not to laugh, a hint of a smile was there as she just as quietly and gently, while keeping her eyes on me, ‘I’m not sure, Iris.’
My mum’s head slowly turned and one eye opened and took me in and then she sighed. ‘Bound to happen, the stupid one’s gotten fat.’

I loved it when he got into the sharing of music with his daughter – something that I adore doing with my own treasured, beautiful, writerly one – My daughter said something. I didn’t hear. I kept driving and she said something again so I nodded.
Music began to play. The music from my daughter’s phone was booming through the car’s system. Music collected from her life. I drove along with traffic on the freeway…
The first three songs were all Beatles; she sang along with them. ‘Love Me Do’, ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ and ‘Revolution’. ‘This is really good, this one,’ she said as ‘Revolution’ howled away…
‘Really good,’ said my daughter, bopping away beside me in her school uniform.
Next was Florence and the Machine. Then a UK Squeeze song, ‘Another Nail in My Heart’. I sang along with her. She laughed and then clicked ahead a bit and it was dear old Mental as Anything with ‘If You Leave Me Can I Come Too?’ I laughed.
‘Your mum and I loved this song.’ I told her.
‘I know,’ she said.
Then a group I didn’t know.
I said this to my daughter and she laughed. ‘Of Monsters and Men.’
She clicked again and let me have a Dean Martin. ‘On an Evening in Roma’.
We sang along, the way her mother and I used to.
‘You can hear his smile,’ said my daughter.’

My daughter is about to have a rite of passage for every mother when, in a few weeks, our beloved Tessa Tiger, with much anticipation and excitement, will pass through the gates to her first school day. McInnes has that covered too – ‘I remember walking her up to school. She was wearing the big, green broad-brimmed hat that barely stayed on her head and, just before she walked into the assembly hall, holding my hand so tight I thought she might break something, she looked up to me and gave me a little smile.
Then she let go and disappeared into the lines of children who all looked like green-topped mushrooms in their big hats. I looked at my hand, at the marks her little nails had made and, by the time I was halfway back down the street the marks had disappeared and I felt a little odd. Not sad, but as if some part of my life was changing, as if something had left.’

At one stage he gets on to dead people – the ones that have left an imprint on our collective lives, such as the many who left us during the last twelve months. He riffed on the touchstones of further back such as John Wayne and Bing Crosby. But for William, perhaps the one who meant the most was fellow Aussie thespian Wendy Hughes who passed in 2014 – ‘As he stalked off down a tunnel to obscurity (in the film) Wendy Hughes gave a wonderful, unexplainable look of love and admiration towards him and said in her warm, lovely Australian voice, ‘He’s just old-fashioned.’
At the age of thirteen I thought her beautiful and smart and strong, and I hoped somewhere in my adolescent dreams that someday someone would say something like that about me… somehow that moment on screen buried itself deep in my mind. Perhaps it was the look she gave, perhaps it was the film. Perhaps it was just a moment.
At a friend’s party one New Year’s Eve (much later) I met Wendy Hughes. ‘Met’ is too big a word. We were both introduced as we headed in different directions.
Wendy Hughes. Nineteen seventy-eight was a long time ago by then, but when she turned to me and said hello, I just stared, a little in shock. And then said, like a loon, ‘Good evening.’
Wendy Hughes laughed and looked a bit surprised at the formal phrase, especially on New Year’s Eve.
My friend said, ‘You’ve got to forgive William, he’s from Queensland.’
Wendy Hughes looked at me, smiled, and said, ‘He’s just old-fashioned.’
I don’t mind admitting, I nearly cried.’

It’s all lovely, lovely stuff, like the extracts above. I admit I’ve used William’s own words to compliment his work in ‘Full Bore’ rather than my own praises – but I think it speaks for itself. So if you’re in the market for a bonzer yarn-spinner of the laconic Aussie variety you’d be hard up to better this guy. He can produce belly laughs and tears of sadness on the same page such is his magic. He has the knack. He makes the ordinary and everyday for those of us, lucky enough to live in this wonderful country, simply extraordinary.

Bill and the Two Hoofers

In another age I loved Jerry Jeff Walker – firstly because of his music and secondly, the fact he was the man who drove Jimmy Buffett to Key West to commence my favourite songster’s climb to fame. But that, my friends. is another story – stay tuned for ‘Jimmy and Jerry’ perhaps. This one is a tale of connections, real and presumed. I love connections.

If Jerry Jeff is known at all it is usually on the back of a single song he put together, ‘Mr Bojangles’. Now this tune is presumed to be the tale of a legendary dancer, but really it’s genesis is much more complicated than that – a saga again for another time. But we’re getting closer to the nub of this one.

As with Jerry Jeff, for most Bill ‘Mr Bojangles’ Robinson has only one major claim to fame, although he is deserving of being remembered for so much more. He is the black tap-dancer who shared equal billing with Shirley Temple in a dance routine for a film, ‘The Little Colonel’ (1935). Fewer would know how ground-breaking this was. With this movie he became the first black American to share the lead in an inter-racial dance scene for a Hollywood film. But Bill Robinson was ahead of the times in so many more ways than just that and is worth checking out for his whole story, easily available in the ether, if you have the time.

Bill, though, is only the connector in this piece which began life when my beautiful, writerly daughter sent me a link to a site with the appellation of ‘The Most Influential Women You’ve Never Heard Of”. One so listed, in particular, caught my attention and gave me the start to find these interconnections, real or possible.

She was born in 1880. She died this year.

The first ‘she’ was the woman on that list Katie pointed in my direction – Aida Overton Walker. So what link did she have with Mr Robinson? Well, nothing that I could directly discern through research, but logically, for reasons that will become clear, there would have been something. To start with, they were both black and vaudevillian performers. Bill R commenced his career in in 1886, when he was a mere stripling of nine. He toured constantly from that point on, achieving ever increasing fame for his dancing skills as he went, at least with Afro-American audiences. It would seem unlikely that their paths did not cross. Bill lived a long life, dying in 1949, Aida was sadly not so fortunate. She was, though, the most famous performer of her race in the fist decades of the last century. Bill would have certainly known of her, perhaps even been inspired by her breaking of glass ceilings back in their day. And, it pleases me to think they may have trodden the boards together too.

Aida Overton entered the world in 1880. She was Virginian, but grew up in NYC and just like Bill, commenced her career young, touring with Black Patti’s Troubadours in the chorus line. She soon teamed up with a pair of comedians, Bert Williams and George Walker. She married the latter in 1899. By this stage the two men were moving into the production side of the vaudeville circuit, an entertainment form starting to enter a golden period in the States. Walker saw to it that Aida quickly became their star attraction and greatest asset, especially once her skill as a choreographer came to the fore.

In 1900 came her first smash hit – yes, they also had them back then – with the ditty ‘Miss Hannah from Savannah’. She was also prominent in the duo’s productions such as ‘Sons of Ham’, ‘In Dahomey’ and ‘Bandana Land’ – snappy titles, aren’t they? But husband George took ill in 1909, passing two years later. At that time the Boston Globe described George, Bert and Aida as ‘…the most popular trio of coloured actors in the world.’

But, after her hubby’s demise she, as an independent woman, continued her climb into the stratosphere of popular entertainment. By now she was even performing to white audiences, previously unheard of – particularly with her take on ‘Salome’. In other hands this was a very risque dance. White hoofers had even morphed it into the more notorious ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’. But, for Walker, there were no scanty costumes or hints of the nudity that lay beneath. She knew, in the eyes of whites, that would confirm their regard of negro women as being ‘immoral and over-sexed’. To ape the erotic interpretations of ‘Salome’ would only encourage that notion. In the years leading up to World War One she was now sharing the stage with Caucasian dancers and the punters flocked to see her do so, despite the lack of titillation on her part. She became the first black dancer to be invited to perform at many a theatre with a whites only audience.

Due to her prominence, Aida found herself able to advance the cause of the downtrodden of her race, performing many benefits for her people, still treated as little better than slaves. But the constant touring was taking its toll and she died suddenly, in New York, of kidney failure in 1914. Laudatory obituaries appeared across the country, a tribute to the stature she had attained. She was known to many as the ‘Queen of the Cakewalk’, after a popular dance form with its origins in the plantations. Since those times her name had all but disappeared from history. Under a President with another amazing black woman by his side, she is again starting to emerge from obscurity.

So then, who was the other ‘she’? Now we have Alice. In contrast to Aida’s short time on the planet, Alice’s lasted more than a century. As a dancer, she wasn’t the huge star that her predecessor was – she being unable to make the transition from chorus to front of stage. Her moment of fame came late, largely as a result of her longevity. But still, hers is a wonderful story – and its culmination can be watched on YouTube. And one factor we do know for sure, as we have the evidence. Alice shared a stage with Mister Bojangles himself.

Alice Barker was born in Chicago, but like Aida moved to the Big Apple to further her career as a dancer. She related, late in life, that there was never anything else she wanted to do. Practically as soon as she walked she felt the urge to dance. Her earliest memory was, as a toddler, prancing around for her mother as her bath was being run. But fame at her chosen vocation eluded her for, on stage, she was forever in the background. Prior to WW2 she kicked up her legs in legendary clubs, such as the Apollo and Cotton, as part of the Zanzibeauts troupe. Out front of her would be the stars, such as Robinson and later on, Sinatra and Gene Kelly. Alice married twice but had no children – and after she retired she kept in contact with many of her dancing buddies. But sadly, as time went on, she became far too frail to maintain an independent lifestyle and spent the last couple of decades of her life in a nursing home – by which time all of her pals from her heyday had passed on. With her long life narrowing down to a single room, she let go most of her memorabilia, so in the last years had little to remind herself of her days mixing with Broadway celebrities, making movies and appearing in ads in the early days of television. She vaguely recalled seeing herself in a few of the latter and in the background of scenes in films, but there was nothing from the many ‘soundies’ she knew she had appeared in. That is, until one man decided to make it his goal to change all that. In doing so, he gave her a modicum of fame.

As to the soundies – well they were the equivalent of music video clips today, short films of the hot songs from the popular performers of the day. They were played on special machines in bars, clubs and at racetracks back in the thirties and forties. Some of them carried Alice as part of background choruses and dancers. Cameramen would lug their heavy equipment around to various venues to make them in the nightclubs of the day. It was one of the ways the masses could get a taste of the real thing, of the lifestyle they could never have.

David Shuff owned a beloved therapy dog and he would do the rounds, with his canine mate, of his local nursing homes to bring joy to the elderly residing there. One day he happened on the centurion, got to chatting with her and discovered her back story – particularly the bit about the soundies. With David Alice was in luck. David’s main calling was his work as a film music archivist, so he set himself the task of seeing if he could track down any evidence of Alice in those soundies that remained in existence. And in an on-line file marked Barker, he eventually found what he was looking for. Together, with his partner Mark Cantor, he seamed together all the bits that featured a good view of her to make a visual collage of her past career and took it to her room to show her. She was delighted with the result, exclaiming it made her ‘...wish that I could get out of this bed and do it all over again.‘ Of course, being the digital age, we can see the results on YouTube where it went viral.

Thanks to that medium, Alice Barker developed a devoted fan club, many of whom wrote her letters that bought her immense pleasure in her final months, Some were descendants of those troupers who were with her on the stages she hoofed her stuff on for several decades, way back when. Her followers even included the Obamas who also graciously sent a missive off to her expressing their appreciation of her contribution. For her final birthday a group of dancers performed some of her old routines in her room to her joy. Soon after that 103rd celebration, Alice Barker passed away in her sleep, happy in the knowledge that she was no longer a forgotten relic of a golden age.

But unlike many I didn’t discover her through the YouTube clip, but as a by-product of researching the life of another – and to link them together I had Bill ‘Mr Bojangles’ Robinson. Both are belatedly having their moment in the sun – one once forgotten and now remembered; one who never amounted to enough to be forgotten, with now her legacy burning brightly. Thank you Katie.

She has never before seen herself on film – the YouTube video is shown to Alice Barker in her room =

I Don't Like Cricket, I Love It

‘Selection Day’ – Aravid Adiga and ‘The Rules of Backyard Cricket’ – Jock Serong

Once upon a time a tranny had a different definition – short for one’s transistor radio. In days of pimply yore I’d take my tranny with me everywhere. Usually it was tuned into Melbourne radio station 3UZ as it supposedly had the very latest in hit music. On Saturday arvos it would be the local 7BU when the game from West Park would be called, even if I was actually present at the ground. I often was, even in the foulest of weather, with sleeting rain and a gale blowing in from the west. But during the summer months the dial would be on 7NT, the Launceston ABC broadcaster, because 7NT had the cricket. At the beach, playing tennis or down the wharf fishing, the background would be McGilvray telling my mates and myself, in his authoritarian tones, about the action from the WACA, the ‘Gabba or the ‘G. Of course, back then it was only test match cricket. Did NT carry the Shield? I cannot recall, but probably not, as Tassie was still a long way off participating – and also it was well before the Packer schism that introduced ‘hit and giggle’. And don’t get me started on the travesty that is twenty20 – but I guess they both serve the purpose of introducing fresh punters to the game, some of them, hopefully, rising above the short attention spans required for those formats to the more cerebral world of the real game. Of course I jest, but back then I was addicted to test cricket. I have no idea why. My family weren’t remotely interested. Maybe it could have been from the enthusiasm of a pal, but I think it more likely it was the fact that, even as early as those far away days, I was an avid newspaper reader. For half a year cricket would dominate the back page of the Advocate, the local footy for the remainder of the year – yes, local footy, the VFL relegated to somewhere inside.

What ever the cause, by the time Simpson and Lawry were opening for Australia, I was hooked. I subscribed to a monthly cricket mag, purchased books on the history of the game and when not out and about with my tranny, I was fixated on a grainy black and white small screen of the ABC’s very primitive coverage of the tests – that is, compared to today’s whizzbangery and ultra-analysis). Yes! The ABC! Imagine cricket without the ads – what bliss.

So let us fast forward to today then. It’s all changed. It’s not that I have completely lost my love of it, it’s just the time it takes out of one’s life to watch a complete test as used to be the go for me. As my life span becomes shorter and shorter, it seems reprehensible to give up all these hours to focus on a game. My lovely Leigh is no fan, so it would never be a shared pursuit – me valuing so much my time spent with her. Now I simply follow it on a hand held device at intervals, turning to the tele if there’s an Aussie century or hat trick in the offing. Even my former habit of devouring the cricket reports in the Age has lessened. I always loved Peter Roebuck’s assessment of a day’s play, but now he’s gone. And on the airwaves, no more do we hear Kerry O’Keefe’s chortle. It all just doesn’t seem quite the same.

So when I was alerted (firstly by Leigh, secondly by said Age) to that fact of not one, but two, fictional tomes being published with cricket at their centre, off I went to Fullers to make purchases. Maybe, deep down, I was hoping they might reignite the spark in me.

Synchronised publishing dates were not the only aspect the two books had in common. Aravid Adiga’s ‘Selection Day’ and Jock Serong’s ‘The Rules of Backyard Cricket’ both featured the tales of two brothers, the first Indian, the second pair home grown. These cricketing wizards had immense talent as potential stars for their respective countries, but only one brother was seemingly in it for the long haul – the other being too wayward to knuckle down. The Indian book is very, well, Indian, putting the committed sibling to the fore; the Australian one focuses very much on the larrikin brother. Both publications had a fair bit going for them, but as to which won the test, it was the Aussie effort hands down.

And I’m not the only one to hit on the notion of casting my opinion on the two novels in the one piece. Katharine England had the same idea, writing in the Mercury’s Saturday Magazine. She describes ‘Selection Day’ as the ‘messier’ of the two – and I can only concur. She is one-up on me, though, as she has read the author’s other works, most notably the Man Booker winning ‘White Tiger’. She reckons this one is his least ‘coherent’ to date.

Both books start off with the cricketers as children, relaying their battles in the dusty parklands of Mumbai or the backyard of an Altona home. Manju and elder brother Kumar are motherless and dominated by their driven father. He insists that everything else should be secondary to perfecting their prowess with the willow as a means of escaping the poverty cycle. Eventually the boys are ‘sold off’ to an unscrupulous mentor who is attempting to produce India’s next Gavaskar or Tendulkar. The elder of the duo, although perhaps the most prodigious talent, eventually falls by the wayside, but Manju presses on in an attempt to be the chosen one come selection day. But he has another tedious issue to contend with and that is the nature of his sexuality. Will his attraction to another star in the making, this one of Muslim persuasion and attracted to the wilder side of life, be his undoing? And can he wriggle out from under the thumb of his dad and the shady business men who hope to make copious coin if success comes his way? And as in the case of Serong’s tale, somewhere on the periphery is the modern day cancer of the game that will not go away – match fixing.

In ‘The Rules of Backyard Cricket’ it is the younger brother who is at the core of the work of fiction. As it opens he’s trapped in the boot of a car heading, he presumes, to an isolated place of execution somewhere down the Geelong Road. The novel alternates between Darren Keefe’s improbable attempts to escape his predicament with a review of his career to show how he eventually came to be in that dire situation. I suppose, if you combine the more outlandish boganisms of Shane Warne and the talent unfulfilled of Glenn Maxwell, then you have some idea of what the younger Keefe is all about, that is, sex drugs and some rollicking good times. For older brother Wally, perhaps read AB or Steve Waugh – more stodgy at the crease, seemingly able to do what Darren cannot for all his gifts – to dig in in all aspects of life. Wally gets to wear the baggy-green and rises high – but tragedy strikes both brothers. Darrren loses part of his anatomy, which restricts his game, but Wally’s loss is far, far worse. As we follow this tale it seems both brothers are getting what they deserve – but there’s a twist. Hints to it are given sparingly by the author, it is true; but how the mighty fall.

Serong’s first publication was the award winning ‘Quota’. He’ll perhaps never reach the stratospheric heights of Adiga, but it was his rip-roaring yarn I far more enjoyed. It was also my first book of a mint new year whereas the Indian’s was like so many I read in ’16 – plenty of promise but ultimately disappointing – a bit of a slog. Serong’s I eagerly digested in a few sittings as I raced to see how it would all pan out.

So sadly the tests have finished for another year and the Big Bash is in full swing (poor pun – sorry) with the hit-and-giggle about to commence – ho hum. But battling those magnificent Indians in tests on their home turf is another matter. The Aussie won this little affair of the cricket books – I have my doubts whether our lads will do the same on the tour – but bring it on.

Thelma and Louise, a CGI Dwarf and Rosalie

There was just something about Rosalie – you wouldn’t call her beautiful with her mop of unruly hair, sallow complexion; her chain-smoking and tendency to over-imbibe at her watering hole of choice. Yep, on first impressions, the galloping years have not been overly kind to her, but she intrigued Vincent with a sense of where have I seen you before – and she intrigued me. ‘Rosalie Blum’ was my first film of this mint new year and it certainly was, as one reviewer put it, ‘An absolute pleasure to watch. Warm funny and up-lifting. A perfect pick-me-up movie’ (Adam Fleet ‘The Reel World’). It was by far the best of the trio featured in the piece; the other two being viewed before I headed north for the festive season as the old year dimmed – so we’ll get to Rosalie later.

I was looking forward to ‘Like Crazy’ because of Valeria. I’d seen Ms Bruni Tedeschi, an actress of a certain number of years, in Ozon’s ‘5×2’ and ‘Time to Leave’. She’s fearless and alluring in those, and this offering was being billed as Italy’s take on Hollywood’s classic ‘Thelma and Louise’, so I thought I was in for fine fare from director Paolo Virzì. I was disappointed. By the end I couldn’t give a hoot about whether or not Beatrice and Donatella did indeed drive their jalopy off a cliff; not one hoot.

The initial action takes place in a psychiatric facility where loquacious Beatrice ( Bruni Tedeschi) is a blowsy busy-body with allusions of grandeur. She takes quite an unhealthy interest in new arrival Donatella (Micaela Ramazzotti), pretending at first to examine her as Villa Biondi’s welcoming doctor. The tattooed, scrawny newbie at first rejects her attentions, but when they both escape the institution, during a supervised outing to a nursery, by bus, obviously their relationship deepens. Then ensues mayhem across the Tuscan countryside as staff members from the facility try to track them down, but ‘Thelma and Louise’ this ain’t. It’s a dud, fell very flat for this scribe and Ms Bruni Tedeschi just simply ended up giving me the irits with her over the top performance. Many critics enthused, so maybe you shouldn’t just take my word for it.

For my tastes your time would be better spent with ‘Up for Love’, a movie that received a fair amount of criticism for the decision to use CGI instead of employing a height-challenged actor in the role of Alexandre, a fellow who does not allow his short-comings (oh dear, this film does leave itself open to a plethora of puns) to prevent him from getting the most out of life – or trying to attract the ladies. He cleverly sets up a meeting with beautiful, successful lawyer Diane (Virginnie Efira) whose mobile he finds after his quarry has a blue with her current beau. Alexandre makes contact, manipulates a meeting and Diane, despite her initial reluctance, finds herself being attracted to his joie de vivre and his not miniscule charm. Of course, out in public view, they make an awkward couple – and just how will her family and friends react? She tries to keep it all a secret, but Alexandre has other ideas. As we continue to observe his wooing of her we gradually stop watching for the faults that reportedly do exist with the transformation of actor Jean Dajardin (remember him from the world-wide hit ‘The Artist’?) into a very small person. We just enjoy it for what it is, a funny and sweet rom-com. Director Laurent Tirard gets plenty of laughs out of it and the audience, who shared my viewing room at the State, enjoyed it immensely – as I did. CGI or no CGI, this lovely outing really works.

And now back to ‘Rosalie Blum’. Vincent (Kyan Khojandi) can’t get his sense of déjà vu regarding Rosalie out of his head and resorts to stalking. Rosalie is a wake up to him and convinces her niece Aude (Alice Isaaz) to lead her zany bunch of mates – and assorted animals – to discover more about him. She uncovers the bald hairdresser is dominated by an overbearing mother (Anémone), who may or may not be still alive; leading a very small, confined life. Eventually he’s open to a bit of adventure as the three main protagonists come together and romance does develop, but do we discover the source of Vincent’s initial attraction to her? No, I will leave that potential spoiler alone in an effort to encourage you to drop your prejudices about sub-titled foreign offerings to see it. A huge hit in France for director Julien Rappeneau, Noémie Lvovsky is perfect as the imperfect Rosalie – there is just something about her and you will thoroughly enjoy getting to know Rosalie better in this terrific, oh-so-French delight.

‘Like Crazy’ trailer =

‘Up for Love’ trailer =

‘Rosalie Blum’ trailer =

The Blue Room's Year in Books 2016

This year there wasn’t, to head my list, the stand-out tome like last’s year’s ‘The Illuminations’ from Andrew O’Hagan, ’14’s ‘Analogue Men’ (Nick Earls) or Richard Flanagan’s truly remarkable ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ the previous year. Over the last 12 months I seemed to have embarked on many titles I really struggled to get through, but persevered with and found I really needn’t have bothered. Still, there were some gems that certainly gave me much pleasure. So here we go:-

1. The Road to Little Dribbling – Bill Bryson – a joy from go to whoa as Bryson makes his way around a Britain far different from the one he delighted us with his first journey to his later adopted homeland. As is his way, he ruminates on all and sundry en route and there are many laughs to be had as well. Thanks Nan.

2. Modern Love – Leslie Harding and Kendrah Morgan – this couple give us an engrossing account of life at Heide, the home and artistic retreat outside Melbourne of John and Sunday Reed. The inter-relationships between the various artists who lived there, before and after the war years, more reflect modern attitudes, thus the name, than the social morays of the period.

3. Another Night in Mullet Town – Steven Herrick – the master of the YA verse novel is in typical form in this short delight. As with his 2011 ‘Black Painted Fingernails’, he has yet again enchanted this reader with his skills in a book that deserves a much wider readership than its target audience.

4. Hope Farm – Peggy Frew – this, the author’s second novel, is set in the 80’s, garnering shortlistings for several Australian literary gongs. It deals with fraught lives in a hippie-like community.

5. Summer of ’82 – Dave O’Neil – his whimsical column is sorely missed from the Age, but this memoir, a more than adequate replacement, tells of a suburban boy on the cusp of escaping the ‘burbs. A delight.

6. The Strays – Emily Bitto – loosely based on the Reeds at Heide, this is a fictional delving into the lives of three sisters and an outsider who have a different sort of upbringing, due to bohemian parenting.

7. Archipelago of the Souls – Gregory Day – a troubled WW2 vet finds refuge and eventually love on a Bass Strait Island. The best of several Tasmanian-centric novels I read in 2016.

8. Sing Fox for Me – Sarah Kanake – set on a pluvial Tasmanian mountainside, this is a tale of family disharmony and tigers that lurk, just beyond the shadows.

9. When Michael Met Mina – Randa Abdel Fattah – two worlds collide in this multicultural YA love story that reflects much of the racial and religious divide of modern day Oz.

10. Words in Deep Blue – Cath Crowley – another charming YA product about finding real love and climbing out of an abyss of sorrow.

HMs – The Last Train to Zona Verde – Paul Theroux, The Boy Behind the Curtain – Tim Winton, Reckoning – Magda Szubanski.

The Blue Room's Best Television 2016

There was much that stuck in the mind from the small screen in the past twelve months – and I hasten to add that what follows are the shows we, Leigh and I, either watched on free-to-air, placed on hard drive from that platform or, in a new development this year, accessed from our T-Box, which gave us ABC’s i-View or SBS’s On Demand. My goodness me, technology in this day and age!

There were individual one-offs that stuck in the mind. For instance, the hopelessness of the Syria debacle bought home to Simon Reeve, one of my favourites of tele-travellers, on a Greek island close to Turkey. He found himself confronting a column of refugees from that benighted country, knowing there was little he could do to ease their burden. When one man pointed to his cameraman and told Simon that that was his occupation before his nation became a hell hole, poor Simon was rendered speechless – as we all are over the atrocities from the senselessness that is still occurring as I type. It is bought home nightly to us on the news. It is an abomination.

There was the wonderful documentary ‘Richard Flanagan – Life After Death.’ In it, at one stage, the great Tasmanian author relates the cruel death of his father’s best mate on the Burma Railroad. He travelled to find the poor fellow’s grave in an Asian war cemetery shortly after the death of his dad; his father lucky to survive the obsentities he witnessed and endured as a POW under such a cruel regime. Flanagan’s reaction to the burial site was beyond description in words – it certainly made me shed tears over my own father who served, as well, in that terrible conflict.

There was Joanna Lumley’s finding herself also speechless in the tunnels of Okinawa where hundreds of young Japanese soldiers committed suicide rather than facing the shame of surrender to the Americans in the same war. Then there was the inspiring, empowering Australian Story on star Collingwood female marquee player Moana Hope. This was the tale of her rise to become an out-and-out superstar of the AFL Women’s League. The obstacles that she’s overcome to reach that point would inspire either gender.

But below, though, for my money, are the best shows that graced the small screen in 2016

1. The Missing (SBS) – you take your eyes off a child for a moment and it can change your life. This, James Nesmith’s character found out, in what turned out to be an edge of your seat journey after a little boy disappears whilst on a European holiday with his family. Frances O’Connor is exceptional as the mother, as was Tcheky Karyo, the French police inspector, who couldn’t let the case go. Returns for a second season with David Morrissey and Keely Hawes as the leads.

2. Dr Thorne (ABC) – adapted by Julian Fellows from the pen of Trollope, this, to my mind, was the best period drama since Downton. Helmed by a sublime Tom Hollander, it’s such a pity that it seems to be a one off.

3. Rake S4 (ABC) – perhaps the best season to date as Cleaver Greene creates mayhem in the courtrooms of Oz. In a role just made for Richard Roxburgh, the thought of Greene creating similar chaos in the Senate is delicious.

4. DCI Banks S5 (ABC) – Stephen Tomlinson, Andrea Lowe and Caroline Catz are the trio that head up this engrossing police procedural now into its fifth season. Is Alan Banks the saddest, most hang-dog looking copper ever?

5. The Bridge S3(SBS) – Although Kim Bodnia is sorely missed, we still have the socially inept Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) to keep us entranced as she commits faux pas after faux pas in her bulldog, single-minded approach to solving crime. Sadly the next series will be the last we’ll see of this unique creation.

6. Molly (7) – in this two-parter Samuel Johnson gets the Australian National Living Treasure down pat. Can’t wait for the promised bio-pic on the Easybeats.

7. Cold Feet (7) – this much loved series from the turn of the millennium is fast forwarded thirteen years, losing one cast member but none of its allure. James Nesbitt and the rest of the crew again shine as they navigate the pitfalls of the digital age.

8. National Treasure (ABC) – in this biting take on Operation Yewtree, Robbie Coltrane, supposedly exposed as a serial pedophile, is simply amazing. Can this man act or what?

9. Deep Water (SBS) – another police procedural, this one investigating the murder of gays in Sydney; quite brilliant in its moody depiction of the city on the harbour. And it’s based on the real events. Yael Stone and Noah Taylor return from American duty to play the leads – William McInnes is also at his mesmerising best.

10. Rosehaven (ABC) – some delightful Taswegian whimsy to round off the list, brought to us by Luke MacGregor and Celia Pacquola, the latter going from strength to strength in this acting caper. Come on Auntie – give us another series please.

HMs – The Secret, Tony Robinson’s Wild West, Italy 1992, Billy Connolly’s Tracks Around America, Undercover Bosses, Offspring, The Legacy, Janet King, Would I Lie to You, Graham Norton, The Third Leg, Hard Quiz, The Code, Modus.

GPs – House Husbands, 800 Words, Doctor Doctor.

Words in Deep Blue – Cath Crowley

…thanks to the booksellers – old and new – and thanks to the writers, without who, the world would be a terrible place, bleak beyond imagining.’

With these words Cath Crowley completed her acknowledgments for ‘Words in Deep Blue’ – and for a time this world was ‘…bleak beyond imaging,…’ for Rachel Sweetie. She’d just about given up on life after the death of her brother Cal.

Once upon a time she was in love with Henry, but he was in the thrall of Amy. Amy’s sort of keen on Henry, but only as a back-up. When school jock Greg shows some interest, she drops him like a hot potato. George, Henry’s sister, is entranced by an unknown letter writer (yes, old style letters. Yay) Could the mystery lad of letters be stolid Martin who definitely has the hots for her? Also there’s a parental relationship under strain, that of Henry’s dad Michael’s with his wife. As well there are musicians to factor in – Lola and Hiroko, who are having a tough time in their dealings with each other. Phew!

But Crowley, whose father’s death was in part the inspiration for this lovely tome, weaves it all perfectly. And yes, there is a Hollywood ending, but the journey getting there was a most engaging one.

Michael runs Howling Books, largely second hand, but with a permanent collection of treasures in a room designed as a place where letters can be left between the covers, as well as a garden for quiet perusing. Sounds delightful, but its struggling financially and the developers are circling. Some of the aforementioned characters are employed in the family business and are imbued with an intimate knowledge of the literary giants, past and present. And for them poetry is not a forgotten art.

As well as grieving for her father, Cath C wrote this fine fare as she was falling in love with the man she was soon to marry, so the book is imbued not only with sadness, but sees the effect that the love of those around her can have on Rachel as she climbs up from her abyss. In this she is aided by a change in location, working in the shop with Henry and a love of books. Amy and Greg provide the counter-points to the more nuanced personalities of the two main protagonists as the latter get their bearings in life ready to move on. I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent with them and was sorry to leave as they readied to take the next step.

The Blue Room's Pick of the Movies of 2016

I often remark that, since retirement, the years seem to pass in a blink. But when I sat down to produce the year’s best from the big screen, it turns out that the top three were from way back at the beginning of 2016 – and seeing them seems so very long ago now here we are on the cusp of Christmas. The State Cinema has recently announced another expansion with more viewing rooms added. For me, it’s one of the city’s gems and it seems it is about to become even more so. Typing this up during my Devonport stay for the festive season, I am so looking forward to getting back to Hobs to see such Boxing Day fare such as ‘La La Land’ and ‘Rosalie Blum’. Will they make the cut for next year? Time will tell, but here’s my pick for the last 12 months :-

1. The Big Short– for the performances of Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale and especially Steve Carell – and, yes, Margot Robbie in the bath tub too – it was worthy of a top gong alone. But the story it told of the greed that almost bought the world to its knees financially – and the fact that those responsible remain unpunished and still feeding off the system with their snouts in the trough is salutary – even more so as we are about to enter the brave new world of the Trumpster.

2. Youth – this two-hander from director Paulo Sorrentino, starring Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, is a visual treatise to the foibles of ageing. When the naked girl enters the swimming pool, the looks on the two old codgers faces just about says it all.

3. The Bélier Family – Louane Emera – I defy anyone not to fall in love with her on screen. She’s the daughter of profoundly deaf parents who are unable to hear her do what she does so well – sing. ‘Le Parisien’ stated it was ‘Outstanding. A film that makes you laugh, think and cry.’ It truly does.

4. I, Daniel Blake – the saddest feature I saw all year – and with the increasing divide between the ruling class/rich and average Joe, it’s probably happening here. Ken Loach has always been an agent for change and going into bat for life’s battlers, but he’s excelled himself with this heart-breaker.

5. The Nice Guys – here Russell Crowe plays straight man to a maniacal Ryan Gosling, with it being the movie of the year that got the most belly laughs from me. Angourie Rice as Ryan’s character’s sensible daughter steals a few scenes from her on-screen father.

6. Hell or High Water – this movie tells why Trump won middle America. A fast paced contemporary western or cops and robbers – take your pick, Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine are great as they lock horns across magnificent Texan vistas.

7. Goldstone – transfer the above to Outback Oz and you have the same vibe here, except it’s a greedy corporation that’s the villain of the piece. Alcohol sodden Aaron Pedersen is sensational. Best local product.

8. ‘Hunt for the Wilder People‘ – ranking with ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ as the funniest movie ever out of NZ, this ran for forever at the State. It has its faults, but it will charm your socks off.

9. ‘Sing Street’ – loved this Irish production about the power of music, with some terrific performances from a cast of young actors.

10. The Beatles Eight Days a Week – took me back to when I was going to be forever young. Another time – but the foursome really were marvels.

HMs – Trumbo, The Daughter, The Danish Girl, Florence Foster Jenkins, The Founder, God Willing, The Light Between Oceans, Testament of Youth, Brooklyn, Bridget Jones’ Baby, Sully, Me Before You.

Stinkers-The Arrival, Like Crazy

Reviewers give their Top Tens =
Leigh Paatsch – the Mercury : La La Land, Hell or High Water, Hunt for the Wilder People, Spotlight, Mustang, Brooklyn, Queen of Katwe, I Daniel Blake, Zootopia, Doctor Strange
Sandra Hall – the Age : I Daniel Blake, Hail Caesar, Mustang, Snowden, The Founder, Margueritte, Weiner, Room, Hunt for the Wilder People
Craig Mathieson – the Age : La La Land, Arrival, Carol, Hell or High Water, Son of Saul, The Handmaiden, Elle, A Bigger Splash, The Fits, Under the Shadow