Posts Tagged ‘history’
At the age of 40, former Jesuit priest, Michael McGirr – armed with not much more than a copy of Anna Karenina, some spare clothes and a less than state-of-the-art Chinese built bicycle – set out to ride the 880 kilometres (547 miles) of the Hume Highway which links Sydney and Melbourne.
While the ride forms the backdrop to McGirr’s book Bypass: The Story of a Road, like all good travelogue’s the ride itself is really just a frame to hang the real story around, which as the title suggests, is the story of the Hume Highway. From its humble beginnings as a rough track across the Great Dividing Range, to its current state as a modern dual carriageway, the Highway continues to serve as the major thoroughfare linking’s two largest cities.
Bypass takes you on a wonderful journey covering theof the Hume, and the politics that helped shape it. Along the way you meet some great – and not so great – n characters that have helped imprint the name of the highway into the n psyche. People like the 61 year old Cliff Young (great), who in 1983 won the inaugural Sydney to Melbourne foot race against competitors half his age. And men like Ivan Milat (not so great) who was convicted of the murder of seven young backpackers and hitch-hikers, all of whom he buried in the Belanglo State Forest.
Then there are the explorers Hamilton Hume (after whom the Highway was eventually named) and William Hovell, who in 1824 along with at least six others, set of from Appin (near the present day Sydney suburb of Campbelltown) for the first successful quest to reach Melbourne. We also meet truckies; the bushrangers Ben Hall and Ned Kelly; and the poets ‘Banjo’ Paterson and Henry Lawson. We attend a Catholic Mass in Tarcutta – officially the halfway point between Sydney and Melbourne – where apart from the priest and two parishoners, the only other people in attendance are the author of Bypass and his companion Jenny, who has by this time joined him on his ride to Melbourne.
We visit almost every country town along the route of the Hume Highway, and learn something about each of them. Towns like Goulburn, famous for the Big Merino and Goulburn Jail (where Ivan Milat is currently serving seven life sentences). We visit Holbrook and learn why the outer shell of the Oberon Class submarine HMAS Otway now sits in a public park in the middle of town. In Chiltern we pass by the childhood home of the Australian writer Henry Handel Richardson, and learn that Henry’s real name was Ethel Florence. We learn too, that like other female writers have done throughout, Ethel wrote under a male nom de plume because at the time it was felt that women didn’t have what it took to be great writers. And we also visit the town of Yass, and drop by the Liberty Café for a meal before continuing on our journey.
Now, I have to confess this section of the book took me completely by surprise, and was one of the great unexpected pleasures I got out of Bypass. Let me explain why.
Some years ago, I was returning to Adelaide from Australia’s national capital, Canberra, and on a whim decided to pass through the town of Yass, which is some 60 kilometres or so from Canberra. Because I had been on the road less than an hour, and because I could see no reason to stop in Yass, I simply left the Hume Highway, drove into town and up along Yass’s main street, while all the time looking left and right taking a mental snapshot of the landscape. I then headed back out onto the Hume and continued on my way.
It may seem such an odd thing to do, but then I am prone to do odd things on no more than a whim, and this was one of those occasions. The reason I write about it now is that as I drove up Comur Street, Yass’s main thoroughfare, my gaze fell on a small dining establishment called the Liberty Café.
At this point I should mention that apart from putting this blog together, one of the other ‘strings’ I’ve added to my ‘bow’ is songwriting. So within minutes of passing through Yass I began writing a song called The Liberty Café*. This song subsequently appeared on my second album American Dream*, and remains one of my favourite songs. Never the less, I had always regretted not stopping in at the café as I drove through town. I’m pleased to say I made amends for that lapse earlier this year, when in April, I again drove to Sydney, and this time I did stop at the Liberty Café for a meal break. In fact, I stopped there for a second time on my way back to Adelaide. So, as I say, it was a delightful surprise to read about the Café in Bypass, and know that of all the restaurants and cafés in Yass, Michael McGirr had also been drawn to the Liberty.
Across its many short chapters, Bypass also introduces us to some of the thousands of bumper stickers that adorn the rear ends of many Australian vehicles. In fact, McGirr uses stickers as chapter headings to introduce us to every aspect of his journey. Thus, the bumper sticker THE OLDER I GET THE BETTER I WAS, allows him to explain some of his own personal story and the reasons for his decision to ride the Hume Highway. In the chapter THE GODDESS IS DANCING, McGirr introduces us to his riding partner Jenny, and in DEATH IS THE MANUFACTURER’S RECALL NOTICE, we pause to learn about some of the many roadside memorials that mark the sites of fatal road accidents that line the Highway.
To conclude, Bypass is a book that ticks a lot of boxes in terms of my personal criteria for a good travelogue. The book is immensely readable, always entertaining and informative, often surprising, and constantly filled with odd facts and humourous anecdotes. These keep the story moving along smoothly and effortlessly – which can not always be said of Michael McGirr’s monumental bike ride.
I began this review by writing “like all good travelogue’s the ride itself is really just a frame to hang the real story around, which as the title suggests, is the story of the Hume Highway.” But it should also be said, that Bypass: The Story of a Road is not merely the story of one relatively short (by Australian standards) stretch of highway. It is also about the history of this country, and about the people who have helped build and shape it into the modern land it has now become.
Would you desire to peer inside the mind and thoughts of a godly woman? Interested in reading aal story of how godly react to the various events of their lives?
The Salt Garden by Cindy Martinusen is adventure into the minds of threefrom the small town of Harper’s Bay and the providential events centering around the discovery of the of a survivor.
Presented in 1st person narrative, reading this book is like sitting along with theseand watching their lives unfold before you. Memories of the past, thoughts of the present, and the ever changing plans for the future are all found in this novel.
There is Sophia…
The reclusive novelist and prayer warrior with the adventurous thoughts that fill notebook after notebook of al stories that may never be published. Reading of her thoughts and recounting the memories of her life reminding me of the character Wendy in the novel Peter Pan. Sophia is defined in this novel with this comment “Contemplation has been my companion.”
There is Jospehine…
The romantic, enduring, steadfast wife of the shipbuilder. A survivor, it is Josephine’s Sophia discovers during a ocean side walk. Her papers, donated after her death to the local historical society, spark media interest to seek more answers to what really happened the night the ‘Josephine’ sank. Reading from her thoughts sparks devotion, strength and empathy. Josephine is defined in this novel with this comment “I would have followed him anywhere”.
There is Claire…
The young news reporter that suffers a comical string of providential events that prevent her from leaving the small town and pursuing her politically correct ambitions and goals. Accepting of these events and starting over after coming home, Claire finds that she is not as reluctant to stay as she once was. Her faith develops in this story as she begins again at home, finding a reunited family, a genuine friend and a love interest through it all. Claire is defined in this novel with the comment “I didn’t want to be here”.
I truly enjoyed Cindy Martinusen’s writing style. Beautiful landscape descriptions, authentic dialogue, and true struggles make this a novel well worth the time spent.
Evocative. WANTING by Richard Flanagan is a story that will move even the most hardened of souls. Flanagan dares to ask the question, what is the difference between savagery and civilisation?
This work of fiction is set in the late 1800s based on the lives of actual historical figures of that time that readers will no doubt be familiar with – author Charles Dickens and explorer Sir John Franklin. Flanagan has masterfully blurred the line where fact becomes fiction. It was such a joy to read of historical figures in their appropriate historical context – for instance, Wilkie Collins features as Dickens’ young friend and confidante in this novel just as in life. There are other well known historical figures that are mentioned throughout the novel too but I won’t spoil the surprise for readers by disclosing them in this review. I have never before seen historical fact used to such great effect to tell a story of fiction. The realities of those lives once lived act as an anchor for the story being told – reminding the reader that just as those people really lived, the atrocities described within this work of fiction really did take place.
The question of what makes one civilised as compared to ones deemed savage is explored on multiple levels. In a direct sense, this tension is illuminated through the plight of a young Aboriginal girl named Mathinna in the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land. The governor of the penal colony Sir John Franklin and his wife Lady Jane adopt this little girl in a grand experiment in civilisation that is intended to show that science, Christianity and reason can be imposed in place of what they consider savagery, impulse and desire. On another level this concept is explored in through the internal struggles of the creative mind of Charles Dickens, a ‘boy made good’ and lauded in British society for the morality and family values espoused in his popular novels. On a broader level, the savagery of the colonising powers and further still the savagery of civilised society is laid bare for the reader to reflect upon.
Flanagan’s writing style is masterful, grabbing the reader by the shoulders and forcing them to delve into their own ideologies and beliefs on good and evil, discipline and desire, right and wrong. The story is told through powerful imagery. The juxtaposition of a barefootgirl wearing a red silk dress sitting for her portrait gives one pause for thought, as does the confronting descriptions of the brutality suffered by the native inhabitants of what we now know as Tasmania, at the hands of the colonising powers. Flanagan’s writing style is also artful and melodic, the following description of Dickens in late 1800s London being just one example:
‘…he walked miles and miles, ever deeper into the mysterious labyrinth of the greatest city in the world. As clatter, hovels, cries and stench filled his being, he would keep on walking, the filthy dross of the everyday stirring in his alchemist’s head and transforming into the pure gold of his fancy.’
I cannot praise this novel enough. It will become a classic. It is one that makes us reflect on the fundamental questions of right and wrong, good and evil, and the meaning of life itself.
The Author: Richard Flanagan was born in Tasmania in 1961. He is a Rhodes Scholar and an author and film director. His other works of fiction include Death of a River Guide, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Gould’s Book of Fish and The Unknown Terrorist.
Give me a bloody sword and a loaded gun and put me on the deck of a tall ship, guns blazing, the sails cracking and men yelling defiance as the decks run red. –All of course in a book.
Finishing All of C.S. Forrester’s Hornblowers is only the beginning of some exciting and well written stories of the sea. The Royal navy and the tyrant Napoleon provide enough drama and action to fuel several of my favorite historical series.
Ramage begins on the deck of a sinking ship with all the other officers dead. In the face of enemy guns Ramage must step up and take command, navel battles, beautiful women, fights with the admiralty ensue.
Some stories of the sea have an uneven balance as they present the
in the time of Napoleon. Some want us to know every navel term, pull on all the running rigging and memorize the chain of command; others throw their heroes into one deadly trap after another. Pope’s stores satisfy our need for authentic will providing a believable and imaginative story that does not bog down in detail.
For purists, Ramage may be a bit too romantic. There is actually a strong female in the first book as a major character and essential part of the story. Ramage is well liked by his men and doesn’t believe in flogging or wasting their lives. Pope does not dwell on the stricter side of the royal navy. But, as an action“Good Read” it works.
Each writer develops a unique character with personality traits he hopes will appeal to the reader and yet provide for logical decisions and actions that fuel the tensions in the story. When I read that Ramage was another aristocrat in command, I approached the book with a weather eye. But, Ramage has “good character”. He is loyal to his men who he values as more than a means to furthering his career. So, the men under his command are present as rounded and interesting people who look up to their commander and further our interest in the story.
I like Ramage and his action filled stories. While rich, Ramage is not well connected and his family history puts him at odds with the admiralty. Ramage must watch out for the French on one side and his superiors on the other.
Dudley Pope was a historian who knew his business and yet knew how to tell a story of action and. He puts in people we want to read about while giving us an authentic creation of an age. Ramage is history that’s a lot of fun to read.
Having read Michael Levey’s From Giotto to Cezanne and A History of Western, I approached Florence – A Portrait thinking I knew what to expect. I did find the attention to detail, the keen critical evaluation and aesthetics that I expected. I did not envisage the book would turn out also to be quite the gargantuan work of scholarship and erudition that it is. Florence – A Portrait is much more than a of art in the city state. It is almost a biography of the place, replete with historical, economic and political detail. What is missing, of course, is a picture of Florentine life from the point of view of the ordinary citizen, but we cannot criticize Michael Levey for not including what probably does not exist.
I visited Florence thirty years ago and have never returned. At the time, memories of Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation were very clear in my mind and I focused onFlorence, almost to the derision of the rest. Even after such time I found my memories of the architecture, s and s were still fresh, however, when I read Michael Levey’s descriptions. But his descriptions do more than merely list a presence or critique a style. He offers context, critical evaluation, origins and influences when he considers these – and any – works of art. He identifies flattery or criticism, idolatry or satire where an untutored eye would see only colours and shapes.
The book is presented chronologically. It walks us through the early years of theand deals with the extent of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in minute detail. Then, as a more anonymous baroque era dawns, the account speeds up somewhat.
Michael Levey also makes crucial and important points about the nature of Florentine government in this later era, an era that is so often dismissed as decadent when compared to the golden age that preceded it. The account is comprehensive, detailed and illuminating, but is written in a lively style which is never dull. It’s a book that would be more interesting after a visit than before and would not work as a guide book on grounds of size and weight! But it is a truly rewarding read.
It is noteworthy in its treatment of the baroque era. Most visitors to Florence are there for the, and this later work is often dismissed as over-ornate, opulence for opulence sake, over-stated, crass bad taste. Michael Levey corrects this view by evaluating this later period in the context of and as a development of its precursor. While reading his account, I was interested to learn just how much those who commissioned works simply wanted to make a grandiloquent statement about wealth and power. So Damien Hearst’s skull is conceptually right within the tradition of Western art. Michael Level, incidentally, also pointed out that late medieval and early renaissance artists were often pressured into using greater quantities of gold leaf to endow as much value as possible to their work. There is, after all, very little that’s new under this sun.