If Blood Should Stain the Wattle

y648This doesn’t happen nearly as often as I would like, but I can honestly say that I loved this book! I’ve only ever really thought of Jackie French in terms of children’s and young adult fiction so was pleasantly surprised to see her grown up offering – If Blood Should Stain the Wattle.

Now it is probably the Australian in me, but I especially loved how Jackie uses famous Australian poetry and folklore that brought a ‘familiar’ spark to the story for me.

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle is full of wonderful, well established characters that have appeared in Jackie French’s earlier ‘Matilda’ series. I haven’t read any of these books yet but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this one; instead it made me want to experience them all.

There are fabulous strong female characters who are making their mark in Gibber’s Creek, finding love and setting their sights on conquering the world. Okay, maybe just Australia. Then we have the odd spiritual moment where they converse with ghosts and even manage to peek through time itself. But this is the seventies so the story wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t a hippy commune on the edge of Gibber’s Creek and a ‘cult leader’ who is receiving messages from aliens. Did I mention that this is also the story of the Whitlam government coming to power?

Stop, come back! Don’t be put off by the inclusion of politicians and their shenanigans within the pages. Jackie French has cleverly woven the information into short excerpts from newspaper reports, and by having characters Jed Kelly and Matilda campaigning to support a Labor government. No boring political twaddle in sight; instead we get to experience first hand what it was like when the Whitlam Government came to power in early 1970s Australia and the subsequent historic dismissal of Gough Whitlam by then Governor-General Sir John Kerr.
This book really does have something for everyone and it won’t disappoint.

The Matilda series began as a trilogy, became a quartet. It was meant to be a history of our nation told from one country town, and the viewpoints of those who had no political voice in 1892, when the series begins: women, indigenous people, Chinese, Afghans.
But, by book four, I realised that history didn’t stop just because I was born, and that the series will continue as long as I live.” (Jackie French)

The quartet Jackie French is referring to is now a sextet – and who knows how many more there may be. So if you want to start at the very beginning the titles in order are:

  1. A Waltz for Matilda
  2. The Girl From Snowy River
  3. The Road to Gundagai
  4. To Love a Sunburnt Country
  5. The Ghost by the Billabong
  6. If Blood Should Stain the Wattle

Cover of A waltz for MatildaCover of the girl from Snowy Riverimage_proxy[3]Cover of To love a sunburnt countryCover of The ghost by the billabongCover of If Blood should stain the wattle

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle
by Jackie French
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781460753118

Photo Hunt October: At the pub, 1970s

At the Pub..
Entry in the Christchurch City Libraries 2008 Photo Hunt, Kete Christchurch HW08-IMG-CE099. CC-BY-NC-SA-3.0 NZ.

Anne Kelly and John (Mungo) Tamaira socialising in a Christchurch pub (probably the Star & Garter) in the early 1970s.

Christchurch City Libraries has been running an annual Photo Hunt in conjunction with the city’s Heritage Week since 2008. The 2016 Photo Hunt is running again from 1 – 31 October. During the month of October we will be posting a series of images from earlier Photo Hunts.

Enter the 2016 hunt online or at your local library.

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch & Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

Photo Hunt October: Little Kaye gets on a plane

Kaye Neely from Wellington leaving from Christchurch Airport with an NAC air hostess.
One of the winning entries in the 2015 Christchurch City Libraries Photo Hunt. PH15-055. CC-BY-NC-ND- 3.0 NZ

Kaye Neely from Miramar Wellington, departing at Christchurch Airport with an NAC air hostess. Kaye had come down for a holiday with her older cousins. As she was only four at the time she’d had to tell a “little white lie” saying she was five (the minimum age to travel unaccompanied. She was beautifully dressed in the new dress her mum had made for the occasion and wearing a hat and matching bag. Date: 1974.

Christchurch City Libraries has been running an annual Photo Hunt in conjunction with the city’s Heritage Week since 2008.  The 2016 Photo Hunt is running again from 1 – 31 October. During the month of October we will be posting a series of images from earlier Photo Hunts.

Enter the 2016 hunt online or at your local library.

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch & Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

Snowfall on Riccarton Road : Picturing Canterbury

ph13-271_medium
Looking east towards the Riccarton Mall. Lots of telephone poles & above-ground wiring. 1950s Morris Oxford, 1960s Singer Gazelle. Old Riccarton Mall “R” sign, Caltex sign. The Man from the Prudential on the top storey. McKenzies shop in the mall front corner. Rub-a-dub car wash sign, concrete slab fences. Photo taken 21 June 1976. Entry in the 2013 Christchurch City Libraries Photo Hunt, Kete Christchurch. CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 NZ.

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch and Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

Music and memory

Recently a colleague and I were driving back from a meeting when some very familiar music came from the car radio. The National Programme was playing a piece about Joni Mitchell’s Blue and its importance in popular music.

I was instantly transported back to buying Blue with my first pay from Woolworth’s in New Brighton.  This was in the days when  New Brighton was the only place in New Zealand where general retail shops could  open on Saturdays.

If you lived in the east of Christchurch and you needed a part-time job you went and put your name down at Woolworth’s, McKenzies and any other shop you could think of. Then you waited a few weeks until your name got to the top of the list, they rang you, you went down to the shop and did an addition test (how did I pass that, I wonder) and you started the next Saturday. It was a whole other world.

Anyway, back to Joni Mitchell. Knowing every word of every song  on Blue set me off on a Joni jag and I found myself telling my colleague  that I planned to have The Last Time I Saw Richard played at my funeral. She plans on having Mendocino, by those other talented Canadians the McGarrigles. Then we fell to discussing how Leonard Cohen‘s (what is it with these Canadians?) Hallelujah is the funeral song of choice for a certain demographic.

Funny how some songs on the radio can take you back to 1970s New Brighton and forward to your own funeral.

What music takes you back to a certain place or time? More morbidly, do you have any special requests lodged for your final send-off?

Photo of Seaview Road New Brighton - Looking West - Saturday Trading by Kevin Hill
Seaview Road, New Brighton from Kete Christchurch (photo by Kevin Hill)

Dead Dudes: J.G. Farrell 1935-1979

As a companion to our Dead Dames series, I thought I’d sneak in a quick blog to celebrate dead dude J.G. Farrell, who last month posthumously won The Lost Man-Booker prize. A change to the Booker prize rules resulted in titles published in 1970 being ineligible for consideration, but forty years later Farrell beat out literary luminaries Muriel Spark, Nina Bawden, Shirley Hazzard, Patrick White and Mary Renault to collect the big prize with his novel The troubles.

Sadly, James Gordon Farrell died in 1979 after a comparatively brief career which saw him win both the Booker Prize in 1973 with The siege of Krishnapur, and The Faber Memorial Prize in 1971, also for The troubles.  Best known for his historical fiction, The Singapore Grip was prescribed reading in my Colonial History course at Edinburgh University, Farrell’s early novels tackled a variety of topics; Martin Sands, the central character in The Lung (1965) had like Farrell contracted polio and been forced to spend long, gloomy periods recuperating in hospital, while A girl in the head (1967) featured a Nabokovian character called Boris, and was set in a fictional English seaside town.

Farrell drowned while fishing near his home at Bantry Bay in Cork.  An editor acquaintance James Hale said “the memorial service was full of the best looking women in publishing”, a charming but perhaps meaningless observation on a creative life cut cruelly short.

For more on J.G Farrell’s life, Lavinia Greacen’s biography is worth a peek, so too is Farrell’s unfinished novel The hill station; while only 19 chapters and fifty-thousand words, it gives an indication of what would have been the next step in his literary story.