Thursday, 8 August 2019

Black Cockatoo

Black Cockatoo was an immediate cover buy for me as soon as I saw it long listed for the CBCA Awards earlier in the year. I'm not having my best reading year and I think that this is the only book I've read from the longlist, and I didn't even make my usual post about all the long listed books. Now it's Book Week and the winners will be announced tomorrow.

Black Cockatoo tells the story of Mia, a thirteen year old girl living with her extended family in a remote Kimberley town. I really wasn't expecting the brutal start. 
The hit came hard, sending the young dirrarn black cockatoo reeling from his roost in the large gum tree. The boy approached cautiously, shanghai dangling from his hand, to inspect his catch. The dirrarn lay sprawled amongst the smaller birds he'd been using as target practice. 
The boy is Mia's older brother. Jy is 15, and loosing his way as many teenage boys do, he's not respecting his elders, or his country. He's killing birds for fun, not going to school. Mia rescues the bird and looks after it in her room. 
Mia let her mind wander to all the places she had dreamt of seeing. No one in her family had ever left the west coast, let alone travelled over oceans. In days past there was no need to, the family had everything they needed on their country. She imagined soaring high above the coastline, red cliffs below, as the waves crashed onto golden shores- even in her imagination she could not fly out over the waves. 
I don't think that I've ever read a book set in a remote Western Australian town like this one. I really enjoyed that aspect of the book. I've never even travelled to that area, these are stories and lives I've never encountered. I enjoyed learning more about Aboriginal family constructs. I knew that elder women would be called aunty, and men uncle, and that family is a very inclusive term. But I'd never heard of cousin-sisters and cousin-brothers before. 

I enjoyed the themes of family, country, tradition and freedom. Of course with any story like this the Stolen Generation is never far away. 
Jawiji had met Mia's jaja on the station when they were teenagers. Her family had been rounded up and forced to live there. Jaja rarely talked about the little sister her family had lost when the government and police rounded up the lighter-skinned kids. One the rare occasion she did, the pain was raw in her words and plain across her face. 
Black Cockatoo is as beautiful inside as it is out. Each chapter has a stunning full page illustration by Dub Leffler- an illustrator that I need to see more from. There is a sprinkling of Jaru and Aboriginal English/Kriol words throughout the text as you can see in my quotes, and they have supplied a glossary at the end (although I aways think these should be at the front). I've read a couple of books from Magabala Books  now, they're always impressive, and well worth seeking out.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Plastic Free July 2019

 230 million people participated in Plastic Free July world wide in 2019! This year I was one of them. I've been working towards being plastic free and reducing waste for a while. I've used reusable grocery bags for ages, long before the changes last year. I've pretty much sorted out the big four. 

I don't drink coffee, so avoiding takeaway coffee cups is easy. I carry my own straw and water bottle. Indeed I have a zero waste kit in my handbag. I've started using cloth serviettes, I love having one in my handbag for when I'm out and about. I even have a couple of those little plastic gelato spoons in there- you never know when you might come across gelato that needs eating. 

Like at Cow and the Moon

I've started buying staples like oats, hemp seeds, chia seeds, dried fruits, nuts etc from my local bulk store. I've bought meat straight into containers from local suppliers. Not that I buy meat very often. So I decided to extend myself for Plastic Free July and look at some things that I was using and try to change things. I've been using more milk recently (something to do with the amazing milk frother that I got for my birthday in June). Milk and dairy products generally come in plastic. You can still buy sour cream in cardboard, and while I like that, I don't buy it all that often. I've stopped buying yoghurt for some time because of the plastic packaging. But I enjoy milk, and cream. I have a couple of local options for both in glass. 

The Little Big Dairy Company are local to me in NSW, and they have most of their products in plastic. But some are also available in glass. The Double Cream is amazing! Expensive, but well worth it, a little goes a long way, and it lasts pretty well. I've taken to having some in the fridge at all times. I've also taken to Non-Homogenised milk in the past few years. They have a small 750ml bottle in glass. It's more than $5 though, so not feasible for families, but ok for me. 

A cheaper option, but one that takes a bit more work is the Single Herd Milk On Tap at Harris Farm. I'd wanted to try this for a while, but was hesitant wondering if it was too fiddly, or if I'd poison myself. I used Plastic Free July to give me the push to give it a go. It isn't too fiddly at all, and I haven't had any troubles with it so far. The shelf life of the milk is shorter (4 days), and it's $3 a litre. I have to organise myself to go early in the day, because they clean the machine in the evening- which is when I tend to do my shopping. So, like much of the plastic free shopping it takes a little bit more organisation, but it's certainly very doable. And I've basically eliminated plastic milk bottles from my house. 

Other products I've tried recently have been compostable dog poo bags from Onya. They hold dog poo very well. 

I've also been using cellulose sponges in the kitchen and am totally in love with Safix Coconut Fibre Scourers and have been giving them to friends and family who love them too. I've been using mine for months, it still looks great, doesn't smell, and I can just put it in the green bin when it finally does wear out. 

I've been trying to make other changes too. I've made suggestions to the cafes at my work on how to reduce plastic packaging. It worked with one, but not the other yet. 

So, all in all I had a pretty good month and great progress was made. I'm not perfect at it, but anyone can decrease their plastic waste with rather little effort. I was devastated to receive a smoothie in a plastic takeaway cup when dining in at a local cafe, and the response of the owner was awful when I pointed this out. I won't be going back until they change. 

You don't need to wait til Plastic Free July to make some changes. Do it today. 

Monday, 5 August 2019

Captain Rosalie

I've been meaning to read Timothée de Fombelle for some time. He's probably most famous for his Toby Alone series, about little folk living in trees, which I have in the house somewhere, but it's a big chunky book and I knew I wouldn't get it finished for Paris in July. Captain Rosalie is a delightful little morsel, and I easily read it in July, but then dragged the chain with blogging about it. An illustrated story for older readers, Captain Rosalie is not a picture book in the traditional sense.

Captain Rosalie is a young French girl, 5 and a half years old. Her father is away fighting in the trenches of the First World War. Her mother works at the munitions factory. Rosalie is not yet old enough for school, but her mother has nowhere else to take her, so Rosalie spends her days sitting at the back of the school room drawing pictures in her notebook. Or so it seems. Rosalie has other plans. 
.... I am a soldier on a mission. I am spying on the enemy. I am preparing my plan. 
It is 1917, and every morning the schoolmaster reads aloud progress of the war from the front page of the newspaper. "The master always gives us good news, never bad."
He tells them that they must think of our soldiers who are giving up their youth, their lives. 
At night Rosalie's mother reads her the letters her father has written home from the front line. 

Delightfully illustrated by French Canadian Isabelle Arsenault, who makes the most of Rosalie's flame red hair. It was initially published in French in 2014, and in English in 2018. 

Timothée de Fombelle talking about Captain Rosalie
(in French)

Saturday, 20 July 2019

French Film Festival

I live in a small town in rural Australia. We don't get a lot of foreign films here. The local film society screens one film a month at the local cinema. I can't always go though.

Of course all of Australia can watch foreign language films on the joy that is SBS. They've just started their SBS World Movies as free to air, which is fantastic. Well I'm sure it would be if I could access the channel. I haven't quite managed that yet.

Each year though there is the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival. And one weekend in winter we get 4 of those French films screened over two days as part of the travelling film festival.

I made it to two of them this year. I hadn't heard of either of them before this event.

Family Photo

The Trouble With You

I enjoyed Family Photo much more than The Trouble With You. Family Photo is an engaging family drama, covering 4 generations, a dementing nana, separated parents, three adult siblings with the daily problems of adult life, and at time tricky interactions with their own children. It was touching and funny, and set in Paris. 

The Trouble With You was a rather bizarre French farce. It was apparently the standout hit of Cannes 2018. Set in Marseilles, it tells a strange story of Yvonne, recently bereaved, and bringing up her young son. She is a policewoman, and her police captain husband died a hero. But all is not what it seems. There were definitely laugh out loud moments and situations, and I really liked our two leading ladies, Adèle Haenel and Audrey Tatou, but the action scenes were too violent for me, and there was a lot of cringing and squinting. 

I missed out on two films. 

Clare Darling
I'd really like to catch up on  both of those, but Clare Darling appealed more. 

Finding those trailers on Youtube I just discovered that there's already a movie of Heal the Living. Another book in my TBR that is already a movie.

The struggle is real. It's never ending...

Friday, 19 July 2019


I was so looking forward to reading this book. I'd bought the book, and I'd bought into the hype back when it was newly released. We all know what happens next don't we? Yes, of course I ultimately found this a disappointing read.

Lullaby was never going to be an easy read. The cover gives us a major clue with the first two sentences of the text.

The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds. 
But it gets off to a sizzling start.
The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds. The doctor said he didn't suffer. The broken body, surrounded by toys, was put inside a grey bag, which they zipped shut. The little girl was still alive when the ambulance arrived. She'd fought like a wild animal. They found signs of a struggle, bits of skin under her soft fingernails. On the way to hospital she was agitated, her body shaken by convulsions. Eyes bulging, she seemed to be gasping for air. Her throat was filled with blood. Her lungs had been punctured, her head smashed violently against the blue chest of drawers. 
And that's certainly a first paragraph to make you sit up and pay attention. Even if you don't recognise how terribly she is being managed in the back of that ambulance. Like my recent read Scrublands (see my review) this is another whydunit. The crime is once again graphically portrayed in the first few pages. There is no mistaking what has happened, only why. But I never got to why.

After that arresting, short first chapter we go back to fill in the story of how these two young children came to be dead.  It starts with Myriam and Paul, their parents selecting a nanny.

'No illegal immigrants, agreed? For a cleaning lady or a decorator, it doesn't bother me. Those people have to work, after all. But to look after the little ones, it's too dangerous. I don't want someone who'd be afraid to call the police or go to the hospital if there was a problem. Apart from that ... not too old, no veils and no smokers. The important thing is that she's energetic and available. That she works so we can work.'
Soon Louise is hired with glowing references. Yes the murderous nanny is called Louise which makes Lullaby the second book in a row for me with a main character, the baddie, called Louise. See my recent post on State of the Union. Louise has smooth features, an open smile, and lips that do not tremble. "She appears imperturbable. She looks like a woman able to understand and forgive everything."

Soon Louise has become invaluable to the household.

'My nanny is a miracle-worker.' That is what Myriam says when she describes Louise's sudden entrance into their lives. She must have magical powers to have transformed this stifling, cramped apartment into a calm, light-filled place. Louise has pushed back the walls. She has made the cupboards deeper, the drawers wider. She has let the sun in. 
Of course no honeymoon can last, and it is the same with this one. Cracks appear, and the relationship between the family and the nanny deteriorates. 

I found Lullaby ultimately disappointing as a psychological crime novel. I didn't understand Louise, or her motivations, how she came to do what she did. Yes, Louise has a sad backstory and a sad current reality, and she comes under new pressures, but still, horrificly killing the kids is where that takes her? I did enjoy the Parisian slice of life aspect of it. The glimpse into the life of a nanny in Paris. 

Around the children- who all look alike, often wearing the same clothes bought in the same shops, with their names written on the labels by their mothers to avoid any confusion - buzzes this swarm of women. There are young black women in veils, who have to be even gentler, cleaner and more punctual than the others. There are the ones who change wigs every week. 
Louise keeps to herself even here, and they wonder about her like we do.  
About Louise, the nannies know very little..... The white nanny intrigues them .... They wonder who she is this fragile, perfect woman...
Lullaby won the Prix Goncourt in 2016. The Prix Goncourt is the most prestigious and well known of the French literary prizes. I have to wonder about that. I doesn't seem literary enough to be a literary prize winner in English.  Lullaby was inspired by a real life American crime

The New Yorker did a big profile piece on Leïla Slimani in 2018. I read two American articles about her, both made the point that she was "laying claim" to an American story, or "cashing in" on it. Yes, I realise that second one is from the New York Post but it's an interesting view that they take on it. 

Lullaby was my first read for Paris in July 2019.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

State of the Union

I love walking into your bookshop and picking up a book you've never heard of. Even better is when you take it home and read it very soon, and really quickly. 

So it was with Nick Hornby's latest, State of the Union. Especially when I saw that yellow cover. It's clearly about a marriage not going so well. A topic I've been quite familiar with in recent times. And then I read the back cover. Tom and Louise meet up in the pub across the road from their marriage counsellor just before they go to their weekly session. And have a drink. Sometimes more than one. An idea which is GENIUS. I wish I'd thought of that. My marriage would probably have ended up in the same place, but at least we'd have had a drink before the sessions. Might have taken the edge off some of the agony. 

State of the Union documents ten of these weekly meetings. We only see Tom and Louise at the pub, we don't see them in their sessions or at home or anywhere else. Tom and Louise talk A LOT for people going to marriage counselling. The book is essentially all dialogue. Some of it was uncanny, like a distant echo, words that I felt that I might have said, or have heard. There were even more parallels, Louise is a geriatrician, and her husband Tom a music critic. Not direct parallels, but close enough. 

As you'd expect from Nick Hornby there are insights into life and marriage, it's clever and witty, but true to life with moments of tragedy and quite a bit of humour.
"He doesn't have to watch it. He just has to not go on about how much he hates it."
"I had to watch it."
"Once. And only because you kept slagging it off without having seen it."
"So he's got to watch it once."
"And I'm sure if he does he'll respect my enjoyment and not make puking noises all the way through."
And no book can come out of the UK these days without mentioning Brexit. Anyone who has been married, or in a long term relationship, happily or not, will get something from State of the Union.
" ... We're married. It's different. We have created a whole life together despite everything. A language. A family. Some kind of understanding..."
I hadn't heard of the book or the tv adaptation (complete series already on ABC iView for those of us in Australia) before I found the book a few days ago. The series is pretty much the book word for word. Odd that the series is already out just as the book is released. Maybe the series came first? Nick Hornby does a bit of work with screenplays these days. Anyway, of course I've also now watched the series. It's delightful. Starring Rosamund Pike and Chris O'Dowd. 

State of the Union trailer

I read quite a lot of Nick Hornby's early work back in the day but for some reason lost the habit of reading him somewhere along the track. I know I have at least some of his books still in the house, I think I'll revisit some of them, and seek out the others.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Paris in July 2019

Can it really be time for Paris in July again? Seems so. It's certainly snuck up on me this year.

Paris in July is a month long celebration of all things Parisian (or French really) hosted by Tamara at Thyme for Tea. Her sign up post is here.

I had a momentary panic when I realised it was time for Paris in July. I hadn't made any plans for it. What would I read/watch/blog? I'm sure I can find something.

As with every July I will spend 3 weeks staying up late into the night watching the Tour de France. I'm sure there's lots of other French things I could watch on SBS. They even have a new free-to-air World Movies channel with lots of French content (but it seems I'm having trouble accessing it, I need to fix it).

I can go to any of my bookshelves/bookstacks and find some Parisian inspiration, so I quickly bundled some together for this month ....

There is more, a lot more

But the number one thing that I should try and finish reading is Les Mis! To my great shame I never finished it last year with the marvellous Les Mis Readalong. I got 900 pages or so into it. Then I haven't touched it since Dec 31 2018. Quite a while ago now. I need to crack on and finish it. I'm hoping that Paris in July will be the perfect push in the right direction. Even James Corden is pushing me in the right direction...

Wednesday, 3 July 2019


Aussie Noir is another trend having a moment just now. Scrublands came out last year to much fan fare, and it caught my attention. I'd fondled it in bookshops and read the prologue. It seemed a bit much, a bit far fetched, so I put it back down.

Recently I saw Chris Hammer speak at Newcastle Writers Festival 2019 and my interest was piqued again. Chris read that prologue and this time I was intrigued. Soon after I found the Scrublands audiobook downloaded on my phone.

That prologue recounts the Sunday morning when  a small town priest takes aim at his congregation and kills five men. From the start we know what has happen, but we can't imagine why.

The day is still. The heat, having eased during the night, is building again; the sky is cloudless and unforgiving, the sun punishing. Across the road, down by what's left of the river, the cicadas are generating a wall of noise, but there's silence surrounding the church. Parishioners begin to arrive for the eleven o'clock service, parking across the road in the shade of the trees. Once three or four cars have arrived, their occupants emerge into the brightness of the morning and cross the road, gathering outside St James to make small talk: stock prices, the scarcity of farm water, the punitive weather. The young priest, Byron Swift, is there, still dressed casually, chatting amiably with his elderly congregation. Nothing seems more amiss; everything appears normal. 
So many Australian books mention cicadas at the start! They must be great scene setters. Scrublands then is a powerful whydunnit, not a whodunnit. A year after the massacre a journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald travels to Riversend, a small fictional Riverina town made famous by their murderous priest. Martin Scarsden is there to write about the town one year on.

Martin is 40, single, damaged from his time as a foreign correspondent, and is at a low point of his career. He comes to this very small town, remarkably a town with no wifi and no phone reception, and a lot of secrets. Scrublands is a big, chunky book, 481 pages, and there's a lot of plot. Perhaps too much really. But the writing was so compelling that even when it all got a bit much, when it became even more implausible, I was still compulsively listening. I just couldn't stop. I would sneak in another chapter whenever I found a few spare minutes. Chris Hammer would use conversations and Martin mulling over the events to recap, and refresh the story for the reader/listener. This was a great technique and worked really well, especially for such a plot dense story. I greatly appreciated these breaks in the story moving forward, to give me enough time to process what had been going on and keep up as it all got even more intricate.

Chris Hammer was a journalist for over 30 years. Naturally, he wrote about his transition from journalist to author, a difference I'd not really thought about before. But there are clear and important differences between the two. His experience as a journalist really showed in Scrublands, the dynamics between the different types of media, each striving to make the story their own. And I just loved that he used actual names of real Australian newspapers and TV stations. Yes, it's a work of fiction, but it made it feel much more real, that he was writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, whilst his rival wrote for The Age. Instead of disguising things with fake media names. 

I've listened to Jane Harper's first two crime novels this year, and enjoyed the blokey, masculine voice of Steve Shanahan telling me those tales. Here, Dorje Swallow is even more laconic, his voice as parched as Riversend. He did a great job reading  although I think it pretty much never works when blokey men do women's voices. I always find that grating. 

I listened to a lot of Scrublands on a road trip to the coast in May and the mood and story has really stayed with me. I'll certainly be lining up early for Chris Hammer's next novel. Oooh, it's a sequel called Silver and is coming in October. 

Saturday, 22 June 2019

The Joyful Frugalista

Serina Bird wants to reclaim frugality. "Once upon a time, thrift and frugality were celebrated as virtues."
Instead of being equated with negative words such as poor, meagre, paltry, cheap, insufficient or even skimpy, I want frugality to be associated with concepts such as creativity, appreciation, abundance, choice, empowerment and being enterprising and environmentally sound. 
For her the frugalista lifestyle is about financial empowerment. Don't live a life of FOMO and debt. 
There is a better way. And that way is to take control of your finances, to learn to live within your means, to aim to create more wealth and to develop a savings plan. 
Her underlying themes of self-worth, abidance and gratitude 
It is about being authentic and true to myself, and striving (in small, everyday ways) to make the world a better place. 
And our lives a better place too. Serina provides us with lots of inventive ways to find cheap or free goods and services. And to not be ashamed about that. 
It is ok to accept with gratitude the abundance that the universe provides. Something free is not automatically substandard, nor is it wrong (unless, of course, you stole it).
Naturally, Serina takes all of this very seriously. She has recorded every dollar she has spent for over 10 years! I couldn't tell you what I spent yesterday, or last week. She even makes a monthly income/expenses report. Like she is a business. While I can see how that makes sense to do that, I can't ever see me doing it. She juggles multiple investment properties, and has for many years, through her first marriage, and then divorce, and now into her second marriage. 

I particularly liked the section on The Power of Little Savings, teaching us that every dollar counts. I've been doing something similar for a while. I make lots of small extra payments to my mortgage and superannuation whenever I buy something and make a saving. A trick I learned from the $1000 Project. Serina talks the talk, and walks the walk. She buys second hand clothes and goes urban foraging. She maintained a $50 weekly food budget for herself and her two sons for over a year! I pretty much drop 50 bucks every time I go to the supermarket. Well, not every time, but often. 

I also liked the more personal chapters where she recounted her own story. Her marriages. Her habits. Her goals- she wants to be a billionaire! And yet doesn't like FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early). It's a sad day when you realise you're already too old to set FIRE to your life...

Serina lives in Canberra, a city that has four distinct season, with a real winter. Well, as real as it gets in Australia. My town does too. She likes embracing the seasons and suggests that we think of our homes as a chalet. She uses the German word gemütlich to convert this sense of wintery cosiness, I'm more used to the Danish term hygge

But I've been interested in making my life more hygge for a while now. I turn on a sparkly light, day or night, just because it gives me joy. I've bought (and actually use) scented candles. I'm using a furry, soft fake fur blanket (the dog likes that too, dogs have an innate sense of hygge, though perhaps not so much as cats).

Each chapter ends with a Frugalista Challenge. Some of them would be easy peasy. Don't buy any new clothes or shoes for a month. Done. Try to reduce your grocery expenditure to $25 per person per week. I just broke out in a cold sweat. I am going to try and record every dollar that I spend. For a month! I've tried doing this sort of thing before, but have rarely gone beyond a day. We'll see how it goes. I think I might try it as a project for July. 

While I'll never be a Frugalista anywhere near Serina Bird level we can always learn things from such books. 
You can afford anything, but you can't afford everything.
I borrowed The Joyful Frugalista from my library. And so I've just transferred $29.99 into my super. The lessons from this book will take me into retirement. I hope Serina would be proud. 

Serina Bird blogs at Joyful Frugalista

Sunday, 16 June 2019


I've just started using Borrow Box from my library, and I'm in love. Borrow Box is an app that you use via your library to borrow eaudiobooks and ebooks. The app is super easy to use. Once was the first audiobook I listened to with Borrow Box. It was such a fab reading experience. I listened to most of it on a train trip, some whilst out walking the dogs, some driving the car to work. All so easy.

At this stage I'm only planning to use it for audiobooks (because I'm using it on my phone and I don't really like ebooks so much, especially reading phone size ebooks). I can borrow four audiobooks at a time (and four ebooks if I choose to), which is enough to keep me out of trouble I guess, although there are so many there that I want to inhale.

I'd been meaning to read Once for some time. It's a very well known book, and I've had a copy sitting about the house in the TBR for quite a while. Although I didn't know all that much about it. I knew that it was about a boy called Felix and set during the Second World War, but not really much more than that.

Felix is a nine year old boy living in a remote Polish orphanage in 1942. Although he isn't an orphan, or he wasn't when his parents left him there three years and eight months ago. As you might expect things are rather grim in a Polish orphanage during the war- watery soup, shared baths and bullying amongst the kids. But things change enormously for Felix when he leaves the orphanage one day to return home to find his parents.

Of course Felix's Jewish bookseller parents are no longer keeping their small town shop. They have been displaced by a Polish family, and Felix starts a larger quest to find them. We visit the Warsaw Ghetto, and witness so much brutality (and some kindness) at the hands of Nazi soldiers. I may have cried at times. It's hard not to.

As an adult reader it is impossible not to be aware of what Poland 1942 means as a setting. I guess as a child you would have less of an awareness, and less of an understanding of the historical and political context. When groups of people are being marched down a road or pushed onto a train you know where they are going. Felix doesn't.

Morris Gleitzman is such a prolific Australian author, who is just taking on his role as our fifth Australian Children's Laureate. I've seen him speak quite a few times. I've read a few of his books. Loyal Creatures, which I loved (see my review), and Two Weeks With the Queen, which I don't remember loving so much.

Once was tremendously successful and popular and has now grown into a series of six books. Once. Then. Now. Soon. After. Maybe. I'm planning on listening to all of them. Indeed I have Then all downloaded and ready to go next.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Speaking Up

I really have been straying out of my comfort zone lately. So much nonfiction! I saw Gillian Triggs speak at Newcastle Writers Festival recently, she was very impressive, and so when her audiobook Speaking Up popped on my BorrowBox I was there.

Because of my general head in the sand approach to life I only heard of Gillian and her work last year. She gave a keynote at a conference I attended, unfortunately I missed that session, but everyone there raved about it. Then I saw her in Newcastle April. Speaking Up was the overall best seller at the festival bookshop. Which is intriguing, as it's not a super easy read.

Gillian has had an extraordinary life and career. Born in the UK, her family migrated to Melbourne in 1958. Gillian remembers seeing refugees on the streets of London after the war, and feels her sense of social justice was forged by the war and her parents visions of freedom, non-discrimination and racial equality, "the values for which their war had been fought". She studied law at Melbourne Uni in the 60s and went on to have an international career specialising in International Maritime Law. She worked and lived in Texas, Singapore, Paris, London and Sydney. She has had two marriages, the first to the Dean of her law school, and with the second she became a diplomatic wife to the Australian Ambassador in Singapore then Paris. Yes I got a little bit jealous around that part. She had three children, the third of whom was profoundly disabled by Edwards Syndrome.

In 2012 Gillian Triggs became President of the Australian Human Rights Commission and "discovered her public voice and that she had something useful to say." She certainly has a lot of useful things to say. 
Human rights apply to everyone, all the time. Those whose human rights need protecting are not always socially worthy citizens. Human rights defenders do not pick and chose whom to protect and this is the point. Vulnerable people, usually minorities, and sometimes unpopular people all have the right to enjoy fundamental freedoms and respect as human beings. 
I really enjoyed these early, more biographical chapters, but the majority of the book is much more academic and scholarly. Law for the nonlawyer is quite often dry and boring. And how long can anyone really think about Senate Estimates? Gillian Triggs does her best to make this accessible for the average reader, but still my eyes and consciousness glazed over at times. Quite literally one day on a long distance drive.

Yet the subjects that Gillian Triggs addresses are interesting, and clearly important. Family violence, economic empowerment of women, constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians, Aboriginal deaths in custody, refugees, mandatory detention, racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, youth suicide, metadata, marriage equality. Gillian wants nothing more than for us to join her in speaking up for human rights. 
Australia is the only democratic nation in the world and the only common law country that does not have a bill or charter of rights to ensure the freedom of its citizens and residents. Australia is also the only Commonwealth country not to have a treaty with its indigenous people...
Gillian Triggs dates the decline of human rights in Australia from 2001. A lot of things changed around the world that year of course, but she sites particularly Tampa, Children Overboard and September 11 as causing Australia to change course. 
How is it that the sovereign nation of Australia, one of the architects of international human rights agreements following World War II and a globally recognised good international citizen has regressed so far in failing to respect human rights in the 21st century?
It is shocking that Gillian finds human rights to have regressed further over her five years at the Commission. 

It's fair to say that most Australians (myself included) know next to nothing about our Constitution, and indeed we would hardly ever consider it, unless wishing to quote The Castle. 
The Australian Constitution does not prohibit torture, slavery or racial or sexual discrimination. The rights of children, the disabled or aged are not mentioned.
I guess none of this is too surprising given that it was set out in the dying years of the 19th century. Our Constitution does not even grant us the right to vote! Which is interesting given we have compulsory voting. Oh dear, perhaps I'm going to have to read that book too... (From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage)

I was especially interested in the sections on Aboriginal deaths in custody, on the Northern Territory Intervention, and other factors affecting Australia's Aboriginal people. Gillian recommends Ali Cobby Eckerman's poem Intervention Payback.

Juxtaposing human rights with child protection is a false binary. Australia can both protect its vulnerable children and respect the fundamental rights of our First Nations peoples to dignity and to consent to laws that affect their lives. 
Sadly, Australia can't always protect our vulnerable children though. I am glad to have learnt about the Uluru Statement from the Heart. What apart from politics can stand in the way of a First Nations Voice to be enshrined in the Constitution?
Indigenous deaths in custody are reported to have increased 150% since 1991 numbering 340 in 2017.
While this number is still shocking, this sentence is badly worded. I initially thought it suggested that 340 Aboriginal people died in custody in the year 2017 which stopped me in my tracks. What she means is that 340 Aboriginal people died in the 25 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991. An appalling number. 

Similarly, the section on refugees were enlightening, and damning. 

Road signs warned that the (Christmas) islands giant robber crabs had protected status, asylum seekers are not similarly cared for here. 
Currently there are 65 million displaced people in the world, 1/3 of whom are refugees.
Australia's responses to this global tragedy have been exceptionally harsh, illegal and inhumane attracting international condemnation. 
I was reminded that Mandatory Detention was started in 1992 by the Keating government. It is interesting that in 2016 the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea found that detention of adult male refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island is in violation of its (relatively new) constitution. 

Naturally, Speaking Up gives us an idea of the work of the Human Rights Commission. I was most surprised that "Overwhelming people come to the Commission alleging employment discrimination." I had thought the day to day workings would be on more general social concerns, not specific complaints by individuals. But they do a lot of conciliation work. 

The protection of minorities is fundamental to our democracy. 
In the end Speaking Up is quite a lengthy argument for an Australian Charter of Rights. Gillian Triggs makes no secret of her opinion, she argues for it many times due the text and her final chapter is entitled The Time is Now, A Charter of Rights for Australia. Apparently it will help counter our "dysfunctional parliament and disempowered courts".
The real value of human rights acts lies in their symbolic, educative and informative roles restraining parliaments from passing laws that infringe fundamental rights and ensuring administrators do not impose policies that do so. When protections for human rights get legislative expression they form the scaffolding for a social structure that respects rights for communities and individuals. 
As a random fact I was fascinated to hear Gillian say that the UK had television soon after the war. I took that to mean that television started broadcasting there after the war, but the BBC actually started broadcasting regularly in 1936, and then British TV was shut down in 1939 at the start of WWII. Broadcasting then resumed in 1946. Television came to Australia in 1956 for the Melbourne Olympic Games. Not that I was there for that, but I didn't realise Australia at that time was a full 20 years behind.

Still young Gillian watched BBC documentaries on the liberation of concentration camps and recounts that her sense of social justice had its origins in her parents commitment to the values of freedom, non-discrimination and racial equality. "A choice is not binary in favour of one right or the other, rather as shown by amendments to the marriage act it is possible both to achieve marriage equality and to provide protection to those religious views that would condemn it."

There is no hierarchy of rights. One freedom does not trump another.
I had to rush towards the end to read this book. Borrowing e-audiobooks is a rigid process. You can't hang onto it for a day or so if you haven't finished with it. An e-audibook just vanishes from your phone (or device) at the allocated time. So I had to find 6 hours in a few days. I wasn't sure that I'd make it- especially when I have many other draws on my time (as we all do). I'm also halfway through the Aussie Noir thriller Scrublands, and trying to watch Season 2 of The Handmaid's Tale before June 6 when Series 3 starts. Plus living a life from time to time. I tried speeding it up to 1.25 but Speaking Up is dense, and you need to concentrate properly so that didn't work for me at all. I made my deadline with a few hours to spare.

Monday, 27 May 2019


Wundersmith is the second book in a series, spoilers to the first book will inevitably follow.

Quite recently I finished the audiobook of Nevermoor (see my review). I loved it so much that very soon after when I was tucking earphones into my ears to go out with the dog I found I was listening to the sequel Wundersmith. Very soon after that, I was turning to it when doing the dishes, or the ironing, or when out tending the garden... you get the idea. My listening pace accelerated rapidly throughout the book. Today, I listened to some in the car, and then realised I was very close to the end, only had a few chapters more to go really ... so I listened some more whilst doing more menial household tasks, and then was only two chapters from the end, so I plonked myself on the bed to finish it off. 

Wundersmith tells the story of Morrigan Crow's first year at the Wundrous Society. Morrigan and her eight fellow classmates form Unit 919 of Wunsoc. They are the most junior scholars, split into students of either the Mundane or Arcane Arts. Starting at a new school is full of much excitement, and many details,  how to get there, the buildings, the classes you'll take, and this is all brilliantly set up in Wundersmith. 
Morrigan didn’t like the sound of the Goal-Setting and Achieving Club for Highly Ambitious Youth, which met on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and all day Sunday. But she thought she could probably get on board with Introverts Utterly Anonymous, which promised no meetings or gatherings of any sort, ever.
I get that a magical school story will draw comparisons with Harry Potter, but school novels were written well before Harry Potter, and well before Enid Blyton even. Some sections of this book reminded me much more of Roald Dahl's Matilda, but naturally I won't point out why. You'll know if you've read them both. 

Amongst all this action are great themes of friendship, loyalty, treachery, suspicion, doubt and evil. How do you know who to trust really? There are mysterious disappearances and secrets abound. There are once again bigger themes that are so important in the real world - slavery, death, dying and compassion. There are great twists and turns and glimpses of the stories still to come.

And just so many wondrous fantastical elements. Jessica Townsend has an extraordinary imagination.  There are so many delicious, delightful details. It's all so imaginative. I particularly loved the building made of water. The Museum of Stolen Moments. Genius. And the Skeletal Legion- skeletons cobbled together from body parts! Wow. 
The “Skeletal Legion”, they’re also called.’ He rolled his eyes. ‘Proper bogeyman stuff. Supposedly they used to emerge from dark, lonelyplaces where carcasses were plentiful – graveyards, battlefields, you know – spontaneously assembling themselves from the jumbled leftovers of the dead.’
I think Wundersmith has even more plot and action than Nevermoor. I've never been much of a series reader, but maybe Nevermoor will change that? 

Now that I've listened to Wundersmith I'm in a rather unusual position. I'm up to date with a series, and so now I'm waiting with bated breath for the publication of the third book in the Nevermoor series! I think it's coming in October 2019, but there's very few clues about it online at this stage. Bookdepository says it's due October 29. I'll hope that's true for  now.

Once again I listened to the brilliant audiobook narrated by Gemma Whelan. I do hope that she's doing the narration for the whole series, I can't imagine it without her considerable vocal talents. 

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