Sunday, October 27, 2013

moving off in detachments since the commencement

ZMKC, in the comments not so long ago, wondered where I found the books I'd been reading and I said, "The internet" (all out of print and many on Project Gutenberg) but to give out a slightly fuller answer I thought I'd write short descriptions of some of them and link to the places where they can be downloaded. I'll say two per post and carry this on for a little while.

A Mother's Offering to her Children: By a Lady, Long Resident in New South Wales by Charlotte Barton (1841)

This, the first children's book published in Australia, is a dialogue between a mother named Mrs Saville ("engaged at her needle") and her four children, Clara, Emma, Julius, and Lucy. Where is father? He is dead. The author had already escaped from her real husband, who was mad and drunk. "In 1839 Charlotte fled from him with her children down the precipitous Meryla Pass through the wild gorges of the Shoalhaven River to a coastal outstation at Budgong where she continued their education, particularly inculcating a love of nature," states the Australian Dictionary of Biography. "Charlotte maintained a close-knit family life in an atmosphere of learning and scholarship." Mrs Saville, as per the word offering in the title, is completely generous and will talk to her children about whatever they like so they end up on volcanoes and cannibalism.

Julius. --
What became of George D'Oyley and George Sexton, Mamma?

Mrs. S. --
They remained at Boydamy with the cruel natives about three months, when these bad people added to their crimes by murdering the defenceless boys. Master D'Oyley was a very handsome child, and they cut off his head to adorn the front of a canoe.

Emma. --
This is monstrous! How could such thoughts enter their heads?

Clara. --
Were they cannibals, Mamma?

Mrs. S. --
Yes, my dear. They ate the eyes and cheeks of the shipwrecked people.

Mrs S. pays the kind of attention to nature that people in the nineteenth century seemed to think was a normal part of being an educated thoughtful adult, taking the time to recognise that the spiders she sees murdering a purple beetle are "of a drab, or fawn color," and that their action can be described with the word "bustle." Likewise she takes the time to point out the exact location of Master D'Oyley's head, and to indicate the parts of the shipwrecked people that the cannibals ate. A habit like that is a gun: you point it and it fires.

(Ruskin believed in moral goodness and moral noticing. "I repeat then, generalization, as the word is commonly understood, is the act of a vulgar, incapable, and unthinking mind. To see in all mountains nothing but similar heaps of earth; in all rocks, nothing but similar concretions of solid matter; in all trees, nothing but similar accumulations of leaves, is no sign of high feeling or extended thought." (Modern Painters, Vol. 1))

Shearing in the Riverina, New South Wales, by Rolf Boldrewood (1871)

His real name was Thomas Browne and he was a squatter and a magistrate, which I did not know, as well as an author; he wrote Robbery Under Arms and somewhere along the way he wrote this long essay or short nonfiction book about a season at a shearing shed in the Riverina district on the border between Victoria and New South Wales. He likes his nonfiction to sound like a story, with characters for the different shearers, and the characters leading into facts: "I must here explain that the cook of a large shearing-shed is a highly paid and tolerably irresponsible official. He is paid and provided by the shearers. Payment is generally arranged on the scale of half-a-crown a head weekly from each shearer ..." So there is a moment of solitary human action and then the outspread picture: "'Shearing commences to-morrow!' These apparently simple words were spoken by Hugh Gordon, the manager of Anabanco station, in the district of Riverina, in the colony of New South Wales, one Monday morning in the month of August." He must like that technique because there's a variation of it at the start of Robbery as well. "My name's Dick Marston ..." followed by the history.

Every event is a character-event. (Suggest that he particularises his characters, and, by doing so, generalises about the nature of life. He introduces a literary structure into a nonfictional arena. Maybe this was inevitable.)

There is rain, and we discover that long periods of rain can be disastrous in your shearing season because the shearers can't shear, and then there's an attempt at a strike, which is quashed, not unexpectedly, because Boldrewood signalled his respect for authority as early as the second paragraph when he described the station owner as "a shepherd-king, so to speak, of shrewdness, energy, and capital."

After a while the shearing ends and he respects this natural point of completion by telling us that it's all over and stopping the book.

The long train of drays and wagons, with loads varying from twenty to forty-five bales, has been moving off in detachments since the commencement. In a day or two the last of them will have rolled heavily away. The 1400 bales, averaging three and a half hundredweight, are distributed, slow journeying, along the road, which they mark from afar, standing huge and columnar like guide tumuli, from Anabanco to the waters of the Murray. Between the two points there is neither a hill nor a stone. All is the vast monotonous sea of plain--at this season a prairie-meadow exuberant with vegetation; in the late summer, or in the occasional and dreaded phenomenon of a DRY WINTER, dusty, and herbless as a brickfield, for hundreds of miles.

Silence falls on the plains and waters of Anabanco for the next six months. The woolshed, the washpen, and all the huts connected with them are lone and voiceless as caravanserais in a city of the plague.


  1. Your reading is impressive, DKS. As you know I've sussed most of these out but have read few. I do have one book by Tasma (in print form), whom you mention in the next post, in my TBR pile but each time I think it's next something intervenes. So glad you've been getting stuck into them.

    1. Which one is it? I've tried A Sydney Sovereign and The Penance of Portia James as well as Piper but I don't know if I'll write about the other two. Portia James takes a weird swerve near the end, as if the author saw the way the story was going, suddenly felt terrified, and flinched.