The Good, The Bad and The Unlikely

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Good drinkers, bad swimmers and unlikely heroes. Since Australia’s birth in 1901, twenty-seven politicians have run the national show. Their time at the top has ranged from eight days for Frank Forde to eighteen years for Bob Menzies.

But whatever the length of their term, each Prime Minister has a story worth sharing. Edmund Barton united the bickering states in a federation; Billy Hughes forced US President Woodrow Wilson to take notice of Australia. The unlucky Jimmy Scullin took office days before Wall Street crashed into the Great Depression, while John Curtin faced the ultimate challenge of wartime leadership. John Gorton, Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating each shook up their parties’ policies so vigorously that none lasted much longer than a single term in office.

With characteristic wit and expert knowledge, Mungo MacCallum brings the nation’s leaders to vivid life. The Good, the Bad and the Unlikely tells the tale of the many men and one woman who’ve had a crack at running the country. It is a wonderfully entertaining education.

‘The most informative and entertaining book about Australian politics since Don Watson’s Recollection of a Bleeding Heart.’ The Sydney Morning Herald ‘Vintage Mungo.’ The Australian.

Woolsheds Volume 2

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Andrew Chapman is one of Australias foremost rural documentary photographers. He has been taking pictures of woolsheds and other elements of the wool industry in Australia and New Zealand for the best part of 40 years. The first volume of Woolsheds, published in 2012, was a huge success, selling more than 20,000 copies.

Great Expectations

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Teach your protégées to emigrate; send them where
the men want wives, the mothers want governesses

Teach your protégées to emigrate; send them where the men want wives, the mothers want governesses

For educated middle-class women in nineteenth-century Britain, options were limited. Marry and bear children, accept the drudgery of keeping house for relatives or friends, or attempt to find a position in one of the very few industries that would employ women. This is the story of a group of intrepid ladies who found a different solution on the other side of the world.

Wanted, a Governess competent to teach music, dancing, and the usual branches of education. Respectable references required.

The Female Middle Class Emigration Society scheme helped governesses and would-be governesses emigrate to the colonies from 1861 to 1886. The women who participated were encouraged to write back to the society, and it is their letters—sometimes plaintive, sometimes upbeat—that form the heart of this book. Written by women who were often fluent in multiple foreign languages, skilled artists and musicians, able to teach the liberal arts, as well as algebra and geometry, the letters describe wildly different experiences and stories of culture clash abound.

In my new home I shall make acquaintance with a new class of people—the nouveaux riches, but I may consider myself now colonized

Some women gained employment with well-established families even before their ships had docked, formed close relationships with their employers or found husbands. Dublin-born Mary Bayly had a heavy workload teaching the six Hills children of Cooks River, New South Wales, English, French, German, Latin, music and singing, but her employers were ‘very kind’, she found the Australian scenery beautiful—’As to the Harbour and the views over the sea, they can never to me lose their charming freshness and attractiveness’—and she eventually married an Australian-born teacher who would rise to the position of headmaster, thereby retaining her middle-class status.

Be sensible, undergo a little domestic training and come out here to take your chance

Some women battled extreme loneliness, wild colonial boys and girls, unsupportive employers, poverty and disillusionment. Rosa Phayne, daughter of an accountant, considered her fellow ship passengers ‘so very low and horrid a set’, described Melbourne as ‘beyond anything abominable in every respect’ and, despite finding a position on a sheep station in the Victorian Wimmera, wrote that her employer had ‘not one feeling like a lady, although one ostensibly’ and declared life in Australia for a governess one of ‘intense loneliness and unprotectedness, utter friendlessness’.

I am very glad I came to Australia, but I cannot say I like it very much, it is such an out-of-the-world place and so monotonous

Others were great observers of the Australian character. According to Gertrude Gooch, ‘All Australians ride like Arabs, love luxury and money. They live very much out of doors and eat great quantities of fruit’. The women ‘are certainly very indolent and untidy’, which explained their offspring: ‘Australian children are just like the vegetation here for neither appear to submit to much control. Pineapples, peaches and the finest fruit grow in open air without care and the children are equally wild and impetuous’.

Great Expectations tells of the colonial experiences of a particular group of emigrant women, but it also tells a broader story, of emigration, education, class prejudice and the development of Australian society.

Defiant Voices

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Between 1788 and 1868, approximately 25,000 women were transported to Australia. For nearly 200 years, there has been a chorus of outrage at their vulgarity, their depravity and their promiscuity.

Between 1788 and 1868, approximately 25,000 women were transported to Australia. For nearly 200 years, there has been a chorus of outrage at their vulgarity, their depravity and their promiscuity. 

Babette Smith takes the reader beyond this traditional casting of convict women, looking for evidence of their humanity and individuality. Certainly some were desperate, overwhelmed by a relentless chain of criminal convictions, drunkenness and despair. But others were heroic, defiant. Smith offers fresh insights: the women’s use of sound and voice to harass officials, for example; the extent of their deliberate resistance against authority. This resistance, she argues, has contributed significantly to broader Australian culture. 

The women’s stories begin when their fates are decided by the British Crown. We are introduced to women who stole, set fires, rioted, committed insurance fraud, murdered; mothers of six and 12-year-old girls; women who refused to show deference to the Court, instead giving mock curtsies, ‘jumping and capering about’.

‘A sailor’, wrote ship’s surgeon Peter Cunningham, was ‘more an object of pity than wrath. To see twenty wicked fingers beckoning to him, and twenty wicked eyes winking at him, at one and the same time, no wonder his virtue should sometimes experience a fall!’. Among the hysterical accounts of bad behaviour aboard female convict ships written by concerned reverends, surgeons and others are scenes that show female camaraderie, fun and intrepid spirit. Washing clothes became ‘a grand water party’; caught in a storm, women came up on deck to help their fellow convicts haul water; women sang and danced before bed, putting on concerts for each other, ‘dressed out in their gayest plumage’. This camaraderie continued in Australia. In Tasmania’s overcrowded Cascades factory, the superintendent complained about women ‘corrupting each other’ in nightly conversation laced with ‘obscenity’. Another interpretation is that women sought the comfort of sharing their woes with one another, telling ‘war stories’ of life on assignment and generally enjoying each other’s company in language that was everyday for them.

Defiant Voices tells the story of the Crown trying and failing to make its prisoners subservient to a harsh penal system. Convict women challenged the authorities by living in perpetual disobedience, which was often flagrant, sometimes sexual and always loud. They were not all ‘the most abandoned prostitutes’, but their sexual mores were certainly different from the observers who labelled them. From factory rioters to individuals like Ann Wilson, whose response-‘That will not hurt me’-provoked a magistrate to pile punishment after punishment onto her, the women of Defiant Voices fought like tigers and drove men to breaking point with their collective voices, the lewd songs and ‘disorderly shouting’ resounding from the page.

Illustrating the Antipodes

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George French Angas (1822-1886) spent 18 months sketching and observing in Australia and New Zealand between 1844 and 1845. It was a period of decisive and irreversible cultural change. The young Angas excelled at capturing the minute detail of plants and people, objects and landscapes, and rapidly assembled a portfolio of 250 fine watercolours.

In this fully illustrated volume, Philip Jones has used Angas’s sketches, watercolours, lithographs and journal accounts to retrace his Antipodean journeys in vivid detail. Set in the context of his time, Angas emerges both as a brilliant artist and as a flawed Romantic idealist, rebelling against his father’s mercantilism while entirely reliant upon the colonial project enabling him to depict pre- and early colonial ways of life.

Philip Jones has researched and written about Australian colonial frontiers since the 1980s, when he joined the South Australian Museum as a curator focused upon Indigenous Australian material culture.

Ochre and Rust, his 2007 book of essays on museum objects and the Australian frontier, won the inaugural Prime Minister’s Literary Award for non-fiction.