non-fiction

Book Review: The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Claire Wright (Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014)

This year I am reading and rereading children and young adult ‘classics’ written by Australian women. Read more here. However, I am taking a short break from them to read some of the books from the Stella Prize Longlist. Read more about that here

forgotten rebels of Eureka

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Claire Wright
(2013, Text Publishing)

Own copy

Even thought the Eureka Stockade is supposed to be one of those events ‘everyone’ learns about at school, I must admit that I learned very little about it during my 12 years of schooling. Maybe it’s a Queensland thing. So, I approached The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka with just a little bit of background knowledge – which turned out to be a great way to appreciate this history.

Claire Wright has compiled a vast and impressive history of the situation around and events leading up to the Eureka Stockade. She (successfully) challenges the long held myth that the gold fields were a ‘place of men’, introducing us instead to the many women and families who lived around the gold fields of Victoria- as diggers, shop keepers, theatre owners and writers.

The social history – often including primary sources written by women – of the time is particularly interesting. For so many this was a time of change, with women taking more freedoms than they’d ever had before – freedom from far away families and social expectations, freedom to make money as shop keepers, freedom to take part in the emerging political atmosphere.

With this background, Wright brings us through the chaotic chain of events leading to the Eureka Stockade, showing us that women were there – not just as wives – but as agitators, financial supporters and spies. At times there feels like the point is laboured a bit (the ovulation speculation feels a little out of place) but it is incredibly clear that Eureka is not the ‘men’s story’ so often repeated – that women were both there and vital to the events.

This history is the culmination of 10 years odd work, and it really is impressive. It is strongest when we follow individual women and their circumstances at the goldfields. At times the author moves from a historical/academic style language to a current affairs tone – which pulled me out of the narrative a bit – but the book as a whole is an amazing piece of work and a valuable edition to Australia’s history.

 

 

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Book Review: Moving Among Strangers by Gabrielle Carey (Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014)

This year I am reading and rereading children and young adult ‘classics’ written by Australian women. Read more here. However, I am taking a short break from them to read some of the books from the Stella Prize Longlist. Read more about that here

moving among strangers

Moving Among Strangers: Randolph Stow and My Family by Gabrielle Carey
(2013, University of Queensland Press)

Own copy

When I saw this book on the Stella Longlist, I knew I needed to read it. Midnite by Randolph Stow was  one of the favourite books of my Year 6 teacher, and he read it aloud to our class, as he had read it aloud to my sister’s class the year before. When I became a teacher, I tracked Midnite down at the Lifeline Book Fest and made it part of my classroom library – it was always exciting when a new student discovered this excellent book about a very bad bushranger.

So, a book which was connected to Randolph Stow was an exciting idea. But I had no idea that it was going to be such a wonderful, moving, whimsical and real story of Stow and his connection to the Carey family. Gabrielle Carey opens with a letter that she wrote to Stow when her mother was dying, a letter which sets up a chain of events leading to a literary pilgrimage. Along the way there’s books and poetry and shipwrecks and Australian (specifically Western Australian) history. And it’s sad and uplifting and beautiful.

This isn’t an easy book to summarise, there’s no neat and easy way to explain it. It’s like listening to a wonderful lecture by someone who doesn’t always stay on the same path, but somehow manages to make it all connect anyway. (That reminds me of some of my favourite Ancient History lecturers at the University of Queensland – maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much). It’s a glimpse into the life of a prolific Australian author who has sadly been forgotten by a lot of Australia and a wonderful, rich family story at the same time.

Carey’s writing style is immensely readable. I devoured this while staying with my in-laws at the beach. Often I take books when we head there with the best intentions of reading them, but get sucked into the allure of napping and come home with a lot of unread books. Moving Among Strangers, though, was stronger than the nap, and I made my way through it quickly (a little too quick – I really wanted more!). I thoroughly recommend this book and hope it gets a big boost with readers thanks to the Stella Prize recognition.

Book Review: The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers (Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014)

This year I am reading and rereading children and young adult ‘classics’ written by Australian women. Read more here. However, I am taking a short break from them to read some of the books from the Stella Prize Longlist. Read more about that here

misogyny factor

The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers
(2013, NewSouth Publishing)

Own copy

This was the first of the Stella Prize Longlist I have read, and it was a good introduction to the 12 books selected this year.

Summers tackles the economic aspects of feminism in Australia, detailing the fascinating history of the ‘Equality Project’ through different federal governments, as well as examining the extraordinary treatment of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the subsequent feminist revival.

This is a short, but beautifully written book, particularly the history chapter which brings political to-ing and fro-ing to life. It can be very easy to get bogged down in details and definitions and Summers avoids that for the most part.

While the writing is engaging, the content is at times problematic. Summers refuses to deal with race, religion or sexuality, leading to a strong impression that this is a book for straight, white, middle/upper class women. Her focus on economic factors leaves one feeling that feminism is all about money – not enough money to be safe or comfortable in the future, but the amounts paid to CEOs and top company board members. (Plus, the impression that we should all be heading for CEO/Board member positions, instead of being happy with ‘lesser’ jobs). To focus on child care did little to offer solutions or alternatives (I really wish we’d talk more about family daycare in those discussions – I have 2 friends with their sons in family daycare – they’re happy and less inclined to get sick than in the big centres, plus it costs a lot less for the parents (and therefore the taxpayer with the rebates) and is a lot more flexible. Worth learning more about)

Particularly insulting was Summer’s attack on women who choose to stay home with children. This is the only time Summers chooses to attack a particular group of women, and it is an attack full of tired stereotypes and generalisations. In the following section, Summers writes that we can judge feminist progress by the respect given to women – while she refused to respect a whole group of diverse women (disclaimer – this group includes me).

This is very much a ‘now’ book – I think its time is already over. The history section was good, but it feels really outdated, considering how much has changed in Australia since January 2013 (The undermining and ‘comeback’ of Kevin Rudd. The amazing grassroots campaign in Indi which unseated one of two women in the then-Opposition ‘line up’. Julia Gillard’s graceful move away from public life) Personally, I’d prefer this book if it had been written more from a historical perspective – it feels a little rushed into publication.

Would I recommend this book. Yes for good non-fiction writing and the historical chapter. Otherwise, hold on for the inevitable books about the Gillard era – a little distance will make for better books in this case.