Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Reviews / July 2014

Part family history, part memoir, part novel The Worst Country in the World is the story of Mary Pitt, a 53-year-old widow and mother of five, who left her home in the UK in 1801 to sail across the world to live in the  penal colony of New South Wales. The settlement (Sydney) was then just thirteen years old and an experiment that seemed on the verge of failure. What made her go there?
The colony was initially a mix of military personnel, government servants and convicts. Free Settlers were needed for expansion, self sufficiency and commerce. She thought the opportunity to migrate might provide her and her family with a better future than existed at home for a penniless yeoman’s widow. .
Together with other early settlers, who lived lives of hardship and great uncertainty in a country where the climate was wild and unpredictable and daily life was a matter of improvisation and experimentation, she became a woman of some standing,

The author, Patsy Trench, is Mary’s great great great great granddaughter.
She says the facts of the story are based on careful research by herself, family genealogists over the centuries, her English and Australian cousins and most notably, her late aunt Barbara Lamble.
But she has filled in the gaps, giving her ancestors characteristics, physical and personal, they may or more likely may not have had. She invented the circumstances in which they met their spouses and their deaths. She describes the book as a ‘dramatised’ story.
For me it was a fascinating tale of early colonial Sydney and the settlement of the area around the upper Hawkesbury River, now Windsor/ Pitt Town / Wilberforce which are on the outskirts of the suburban sprawl of today's city.
Well worth reading for anyone interested in that era in Australia.
In Home Front the wife is a combat helicopter pilot, the husband a defense attorney.
He does not connect with her military life, she is at odds with his workaholicism. The only thing keeping them together are the children....just
So when she is unexpectedly deployed in Iraq a huge relationship cavern opens up with the kids left teetering on the edge.
Then she comes home severely injured with her best friend and neighbour killed in the same action.


An interesting novel that manages to just keep its head above the melodramatic. The battle and trauma hospital scenarios are quite compelling. The author even manages to insert a war related post traumatic stress disorder sub plot which is extremely relevant these days.
This is a story about marriage, war, loneliness, honor and hope.
I feel like this book caters to a much broader audience than Kristin Hanna's normal chick-lit dramas do and it made good reading.
Bootleg is the story about the rise and fall of the disastrous social experiment known as Prohibition.
It began with the best of intentions. Mothers, wives and civic leaders, concerned about the affects of alcohol on American families, began a movement to outlaw drinking in public places. Eventually their protests, petitions and activism paid off when a Constitutional Amendment banning the sale and consumption of alcohol was ratified.

This was supposed to end public drunkenness, alcoholism and a host of other social problems caused by grog. Instead, it began a decade of lawlessness, when children smuggled and drank illegal alcohol, the most upright citizens broke the law with impunity and a host of notorious gangsters entered the public arena.
This short but fascinating book contains period art and photographs, anecdotes and portraits of the unique characters of the era. 
Set mostly in an English village during World War II (although the USA South and Austria also get a 'run'), War Brides tells the story of five women from completely different backgrounds who are evacuated from London for their safety.
There is the clergyman's daughter Alice who was dumped by her fiance for the American Evangeline with a secret, Tanni, a Jewish woman who escaped from Austria as the Nazis closed in, Elsie, the Cockney-speaking Londoner and Frances a rich girl on a patriotic mission. 
But the war starts to encroach on their small world with hunger, bombing raids and the threat of a Nazi invasion being constant companions. And there appears to be a traitor in their midst.

Fifty years on at a VE Day Commemoration, four of the five women meet up in the village with more than a reunion on their minds and that is revenge.
A good story, well written which keeps you pretty much eager to turn to the next page. You might just have to suspend belief at little at some of the plot lines however.
Maybe a book aimed at female readers but, then again, maybe not.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Moreton Bay Figs

During my exploration of Rose Bay while in Sydney I came across a nice stand of Moreton Bay fig trees (Ficus macrophylla).
The Moreton Bay fig is a large evergreen banyan tree and is a native of most of the eastern coast of Australia from the Atherton Tableland in far north Queensland to the Illawarra on the south coast of New South Wales

 It is best known for its beautiful buttress roots.
This is just one of the many native fig trees which grow around the country.

 Others start their life as epiphytes (or stranglers) and when their roots reach the ground they begin to envelope their host tree eventually killing it.
Others produce adventitious roots which hang from the branches and, when they reach the ground, thicken and appear as secondary trunks.
The fruit of these trees is very attractive to bird life and flying foxes ie. fruit bats.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Trip to Sydney / Rose Bay Flying Boat Base

We went to Sydney for an overnight stay to celebrate the daughter's engagement to Nick with a lovely dinner at the Chiswick Restaurant in Woollahra. The slow cooked shoulder of lamb was to die for.
We also drank two bottles of nice wine. A Sangiovese from Tuscany and an unusual white from the Between Five Bells winery in Geelong which is a blend of almost equal qualities of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Meunier. Apparently only 2700 bottles were produced of the 2012 vintage so guess we won't be able to buy a follow up bottle on the open market.
Next morning, before heading home, the co driver had a massage appointment in Rose Bay, a swish Sydney Harbour beach side suburb.
I had a few hours to fill in so walked a bit ending up at the site of the old QANTAS flying boat base.
In 1938, large luxury flying boats began to operate a 10 day service between Sydney and Europe. A ticket cost more than the average yearly wage. Today it takes around 22 hours and costs about a week's average earnings.

C Class Empire flying boats set out for Singapore via Brisbane, Gladstone, Townsville (where they stopped for the night), across the Cape York Peninsula, to Karumba, Groote Eyelandt and on to Darwin. The aircraft then crossed the Timor Sea, flying to Kupang, Bima, Surabaya and Jakarta, before finally arriving in Singapore. There, the service was taken over by British Imperial Airlines, who flew the rest of the route to London via India, the Middle East and Egypt.

QANTAS Empire Airways (and the iconic Sydney to London Kangaroo Route) was born and Sydney's first international airport was in its harbour, at Rose Bay, to the east of Sydney Harbour Bridge
After the war, these services increased access to the South Pacific but their place gradually diminished due to the wartime construction of land airports.
In 1974 the last regular Australian flying boat passenger service, between Sydney Harbour and the beautiful  Lord Howe Island, finished and the 50-year era of the Australian flying boats was over.
Rose Bay, the last major flying boat terminal in the world, closed.
Today the old base is home to a small commuter and tourist seaplane venture.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Ready for the 4th July

Australia obviously doesn't celebrate the 4th July.
And we are yet to completely shed the British shackles with Elizabeth II still being Queen of Australia.
The last referendum in 1999 with a 95% voter turnout was 55:45 against cutting ties.
Hopefully one day it will happen!
But there is a large American expat population living in the country and many gather at their respective clubs eg. American Australian Association, regular haunts or privately to capture a bit of 'home' during major events like the 4th and Thanksgiving.
Surprisingly in our small community there are quite a few and a lady even organizes a Thanksgiving buffet lunch for one of the quilting groups in November.
There must be quite a demand for American food too during the year as an online shop, USA Foods, has been in operation for many years and has just expanded into retail premises in Melbourne.
We buy a few essentials (at extremely exorbitant prices) to satisfy our cravings.
Aunt Jemima pancake mix and Louisiana Wing Sauce are just two.
They have a huge range of Mexican grocery items as well which is also a bonus.
So I guess we will have a pancake brekkie and a chicken wing dinner with corn muffins on the side on the 4th. We will put the tiny American flags on our gate posts just to confuse the neighbours.
No fireworks however.