Refugees – Some Comments

It began about a year ago when I read Andrew Bishops account of a wild winter circuit around the Bogong region one winter.

Ever since a walk across the high plains from Falls Creek to Bogong  when Gavin and I were teenagers, I had always wanted to return in winter. Andrew’s comments made it all the more ‘do-able’, so that was the plan…

The team;


Scott Vawser (Team Leader – Perth)

Stuart - Big RiverStuart Young (Perth)

GavGavin Riches (Busselton)

Ropers HutCasey Ellery (Perth)

Ryders YardsRoss Lambert (Perth)

DaveDavid Gemmell (Alexandria, Vic)

The Trip

Day 1 (Saturday 6th July 2013)

After logistics and planning were complete we headed to our rendezvous point in Bright in our borrowed ute. We found Ross and Dave wandering the wet streets of town looking for a good spot to eat before heading off to Mountain Creek campground just past Mount Beauty.

Our Mountain Creek camp was established on the same evening that a group of Scouts were being evacuated from a car park just a few km from Falls Creek in a wild snow storm. The weather had unleashed all its fury in a giant snow dump with some massive winds.

Mountain CreekBack down in Mountain Creek we wore just the tail end of this bad weather in the form of constant all night rain…rain that was later to turn to ice as we pitched our tents outside of Ropers hut on our second night on the trail.

Day 2 – Sunday

Our car was left at Mountain Creek to be picked up by friends in Bright and parked somewhere safe for our return there in a week. We headed off into a cloudy day with light occasional showers. It was not long before we saw our first snow. We needed to fit our snow shoes at Bivouac Hut where we encountered 2 day-walkers deciding to stay or go, the weather was turning, the temperature dropping.

On BogongBy the time we were adjacent to the summit of Bogong, the temp had dropped to about -11 or -12 with the wind chill. Visibility down to less than 20/30m, snow poles hard to find.

Cleve Cole HutThe decision not to ‘peak bag’ was a good one, people were wet tired, very cold and Cleve Cole hut was a welcome site after walking from 9 to 5…a good days work! My great lesson from the day is that Seal Skin socks keep your base layer warm and dry! I loved them.

Day 3 – Monday

The day was cold yet clear. We didn’t take off until 9.30am and lost all yesterdays altitude by descending deep into the Big River Valley. It was here that Gavin gave us the best laughs of the trip by inflating a pink “Barbie Raft” to transport his pack then himself…almost successfully across the 1 foot deep, biting cold river.

The Barbie BoatThe other side of the bank introduced us to the other side of the valley and a steep painful climb back up into the snow line. Ropers hut was small and occupied by a lovely German couple in ‘old school’ ski gear.

Ropers CampWe pitched our tents and I personally experienced the coldest night of my life. The temp was -5. My shoes froze, my water froze…everything froze, especially our wet tent! Stuart managed to eat something that ‘disturbed’ him. He spend the night with vomiting and diarrhea.Ropers Hut

Ropers HutHere’s a tip from today – Turn your water bottle up side down in freezing conditions. The top freezes…which is the bottom…get it?

Day 4 – Tuesday

We left Ropers at 8.30am into an even more stunning day, long views of snow for as far as the eye could see.  Stuart dragged himself around with nothing in his tank after such a violent night. He still had diarrhea and nausea, we pumped as much hydro lite into him as he could take. He loaded up his pack and just walked and walked and walked, at lunch break he laid in the snow and slept for 20 minutes in the warm sun. We were aiming for Wallace or Cope Hut, but were all feeling the pinch of a very hard days walking in steep and deep conditions.

2013-07-09 07.51.46

Ice on poleWhen Stuart saw the sign indicating ‘just’ 5km to go until we reached the hut his F******* exclamation summed up what we all felt…that although we knew we had it in us to make the hut, a walk in after dark would just be a killer that we didn’t need. The decision was made to set up camp at the Langford East Aqueduct SES emergency hut.

Langford GapTents were pitched, toilets dug and some wood collected for a small fire to keep us warm before heading to the tents. Stuart…missed the fire part, and the dinner part, he was sound asleep after a full day of running on empty in what he referred to as “the hurt locker’! He slept 12 hours through a -7 degree night! Gavin and I chickened out and decided freezing on the floor of the small hut was better than freezing in the tent.

SES Hut2013-07-08 09.13.42

Day 5 – Wednesday

Gavin woke and packed but was tentative, a sore groin and knee and no doubt a weary mind, battling the decision to stay or go for some time. We were on the track by 8.30 and by 8.50 Gavin made the decision to turn back to the exit point at Langford Gap West, The Bogong High Plains Rd into Falls Creek. Some deep emotions felt as farewell ‘man hugs’ given and we went one way and Gavin went the other.

Scout ChaletNot long down the road we came to the impressive Scout Chalet where the group left from last Saturday and were evacuated from Langford Gap Rd just a few hours later. We chatted with one of the residents for a while and turned down a look inside in favour of keeping up our new found momentum and pace. This pace continued into the stunning day.

Through the deep clean powder we saw many footprints, we think we saw roo prints, deer prints, many rabbit prints and even a horse print, but rabbits were the only animals we encountered ‘live’.

2013-07-11 06.58.322013-07-10 15.31.29After some discussion around the interpretation of the map we turned left (not right!) and into what is known as Ryders Yards by 2pm, a beautiful picturesque campsite with about 3 tin shacks, one good for food prep and staying warm around the fire, one normally locked and another good for sleeping in. Here we met Pete alecturer in computing at TAFE who was a great talker and even out talked me! He loved his light weight outdoor hiking gear and prided himself on staying warm in dangerously cold conditions.

Day 6 – Thursday

We headed off at 8.30am. After filling up from the aqueduct and blasting the water with our Steri-pen we moved on into yet another blue sky day, Ross singing a song for every comment made, me trying to work out which band it was, the album and the song title.

2013-07-11 09.51.132013-07-09 07.58.17After a few minor malfunctions Dave’s snow shoe broke and so did his patience. Whilst taking a 2km short cut across a beautiful snow covered plain Dave dropped back and sorted out his shoe…and his bad attitude :-)

2013-07-10 11.02.00


We came across 2 Park Rangers on snow patrol who pulled over and told us how impressed they were with our journey, took our photos and asked if they could write our story in the next Vic Parks Magazine.

2013-07-11 12.03.45It was the toilet that first appeared at Dibbins Hut in the Cobungra Valley around 3pm. The toilet was almost 600 m from the hut! A great night was had chatting and reflecting on the previous week.2013-07-12 11.36.09

Day 7 – Friday

After some strange antics and video making, we headed up Swindlers Spur at 8.30, a final killer climb into Hotham, not before some spectacular view of Feathertop and a relaxing ‘last supper lunch’ sitting in the smart looking Derrick Hut. 2013-07-12 10.55.20We placed every last bit of food on the table and had a feast.

2013-07-12 12.31.27 We arrived in Hotham around 3.30pm with enough time to change our bus from 9.30pm to 5pm, we also had time to move to the pub for some well earned beers.

Photo 12-07-13 3 52 06 PMAfter a meal…Indian feast in Bright we settled down to a showers and real beds in Poreopunka.

Day 8 – Saturday

We fare-welled Dave, a great new friend and a valuable guy to have in the mountains. We drove back to the airport to meet Neale Meredith for dinner, he had arranged our vehicle.

A letter from Simon Moyle via Jarod Mc Kenna

Defense Minister Stephen Smith recently took a trip to Afghanistan, with a range of reasons cited in the Defense Department media release. What wasn’t mentioned there – or anywhere else by the Gillard government – was the finalising of a draft Australian/Afghan Strategic Agreement for post 2014, due to be signed in just five weeks. That I discovered in a tweet from TOLOnews, an Afghan news organisation. It appears the Gillard government is keeping this agreement under wraps, hoping no one will notice.
The good news is that thanks to an email to some journos the story ran in the Age today. There are also a couple of us trying to get the attention of other media outlets. I’ve also talked to Adam Bandt’s PA so the Greens can ask some sticky questions.
If you can all post the Age article to social media, and tell everyone you know that this is happening, we have about a month to cause a ruckus that might bring some transparency, and then accountability.
I’m also thinking of putting together an email/social media appeal for people to contact their MPs, etc. so that there’s at least some wider knowledge and a modicum of accountability.
Just so people are aware of the significance of this:
1. In these kinds of agreements there’s always a “status of forces agreement”, which details how that particular military will be permitted to relate to the country post withdrawal. There is a good possibility that Australian SAS will continue to operate in Afghanistan post 2014. In particular it has already been said that while the mentoring task force (those training Afghan troops) are likely to drawdown and leave before the 2014 deadline, SAS will still be conducting capture and kill raids up to that deadline. Remember that just last November Gillard insisted that Australia will have a presence in Afghanistan “until the end of the decade at least”. It would be quite a turnaround in six months to bring that date forward so dramatically. So one question is: will SAS stay doing capture and kill raids for whatever criminal syndicate is in central government by 2014? (Karzai is already considering breaking his own election rules by seeking a third term, and to give himself the best chance is looking at bringing the election forward from the scheduled 2014 date to 2013)
2. The other big factor is aid, and in particular military aid. We already know that the force that we’re supposed to be training will likely cost around $6 billion a year, in a country which has a GDP of $1.6 billion, meaning the force we’re training will rely on massive ongoing military aid for the foreseeable future. Either that, or if the amount drops (and you can bet it will post withdrawal, particularly given financial crises and such) Afghanistan ends up with thousands of armed and trained men with no job. This is the disaster-in-waiting we’ve created.
3. The Australian agreement sits alongside (and no doubt works in with) the US/NATO Strategic Partnership Declaration, which some Afghans are describing as “slavery” and consigning them to “permanent terrorism”. It essentially allows for permanent US bases.
So, I think we have an opportunity, over the next five weeks, to let the government know that we know about this agreement, and call for accountability.
Please contact your MP and ask them what the Australian Afghan Strategic Agreement contains.

To start, a story.

A few years ago a female student wanted to visit with me about some difficulties she was having, mainly with her family life. As is my practice, we walked around campus as we talked.

After talking for some time about her family situation we turned to other areas of her life. When she reached spiritual matters we had the following exchange:

“I need to spend more time working on my relationship with God.”

I responded, “Why would you want to do that?”

Startled she says, “What do you mean?”

“Well, why would you want to spend any time at all on working on your relationship with God?”

“Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?”

“Let me answer by asking you a question. Can you think of anyone, right now, to whom you need to apologize? Anyone you’ve wronged?”

She thinks and answers, “Yes.”

“Well, why don’t you give them a call today and ask for their forgiveness. That might be a better use of your time than working on your relationship with God.”

Obviously, I was being a bit provocative with the student. And I did go on to clarify. But I was trying to push back on a strain of Christianity I see in both my students and the larger Christian culture. Specifically, when the student said “I need to work on my relationship with God” I knew exactly what she meant. It meant praying more, getting up early to study the bible, to start going back to church. Things along those lines. The goal of these activities is to get “closer” to God. To “waste time with Jesus.” Of course, please hear me on this point, nothing is wrong with those activities. Personal acts of piety and devotion are vital to a vibrant spiritual life and continued spiritual formation. But all too often “working on my relationship with God” has almost nothing to do with trying to become a more decent human being.

The trouble with contemporary Christianity is that a massive bait and switch is going on. “Christianity” has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with something else, an endorsed “spiritual” substitute. For example, rather than being a decent human being the following is a list of some commonly acceptable substitutes:

•Going to church
•Spiritual disciplines (e.g., fasting)
•Bible study
•Voting Republican
•Going on spiritual retreats
•Reading religious books
•Arguing with evolutionists
•Sending your child to a Christian school or providing education at home
•Using religious language
•Avoiding R-rated movies
•Not reading Harry Potter.
The point is that one can fill a life full of spiritual activities without ever, actually, trying to become a more decent human being. Much of this activity can actually distract one from becoming a more decent human being. In fact, some of these activities make you worse, interpersonally speaking. Many churches are jerk factories.

Take, for example, how Christians tip and behave in restaurants. If you have ever worked in the restaurant industry you know the reputation of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Millions of Christians go to lunch after church on Sundays and their behavior is abysmal. The single most damaging phenomenon to the witness of Christianity in America today is the collective behavior of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Never has a more well-dressed, entitled, dismissive, haughty or cheap collection of Christians been seen on the face of the earth.

I exaggerate of course. But I hope you see my point. Rather than pouring our efforts into two hours of worship, bible study and Christian fellowship on Sunday why don’t we just take a moment and a few extra bucks to act like a decent human being when we go to lunch afterwards? Just think about it. What if the entire restaurant industry actually began to look forward to working Sunday lunch? If they said amongst themselves, “I love the church crowd. They are kind, patient and very generous. It’s my favorite part of the week waiting on Christians.” How might such a change affect the way the world sees us? Think about it. Just being a decent human being for one hour each Sunday and the world sees us in a whole new way.

But it’s not going to happen. Because behavior at lunch isn’t considered to be “working on your relationship with God.” Behavior at lunch isn’t spiritual. Going to church, well, that is working on your relationship with God. But, as we all know, any jerk can sit in a pew. But you can’t be a jerk if you take the time to treat your waitress as if she were your friend, daughter or mother.

My point in all this is that contemporary Christianity has lost its way. Christians don’t wake up every morning thinking about how to become a more decent human being. Instead, they wake up trying to “work on their relationship with God” which very often has nothing to do with treating people better. How could such a confusion have occurred? How did we end up going so wrong? I’m sure there are lots of answers, but at the end of the day we need to face up to our collective failure. I’m not saying we need to do anything dramatic. A baby step would do to start. Waking up trying to be a little more kind, more generous, more interruptible, more forgiving, more humble, more civil, more tolerant. Do these things and prayer and worship will come alongside to support us.

I truly want people to spend time working on their relationship with God. I just want them to do it by taking the time to care about the person standing right in front of them.

Richard Beck is Professor and Department Chair of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. He is the author of Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality and Mortality. Richard’s area of interest — be it research, writing, or blogging — is on the interface of Christian theology and psychology, with a particular focus on how existential issues affect Christian belief and practice. Richard’s published research covers topics as diverse as the psychology of profanity to why Christian bookstore art is so bad. He blogs at Experimental Theology, where this post originally appeared.

Well, it’s finished! Yes…it floats!

Well, lets see where we were…agh yes I had just glassed the inside. Well I trimmed the excess glass as I did for the outside. I did the 2 recommended coats instead of the three the outside got, But unfortunately I laid it on too think and missed the textured finish intended.

It was around this time (or in fact some weeks before) I had picked up all my timber from am old guy I knew from my days at Whitford Church. He had a shed full of nice Sheoak, great grain and various lengths. He cut it all and thined it to size – Thanks Ken!

I played with the gunnel lengths against the side and in doing so discovered that this Sheoak is a bit brittle. I snapped a length. Well, I had multiple lengths as they were not long enough to go the full 16ft. So a knew I had to join (and now steam bend) them.

But after shaping them and cutting the scupper holes into the inwales It seemed more flexible and indeed, when it came to fitting them the bent nicely with no cracking. (I stll steam bents the outwales) I tapered them at the ends so there are nice lines and used resin and lots of clamps! I was careful to clean up the excess as I knew how hard dried resin was to get rid off! Once I took off the clamps, I was getting excited. In fact it was this fittings process that sent me into the worst obsessive stage of the whole project. It was deeply satisfying seeing this wood shaped, sanded and watching the grain come out in it. It was also great plaining the actual shear line of the canoe down to meet the top of the gunnel. I wake up at 3am thinking about building boats!

Whilst the gunnels were doing their drying thing I gave the thwart carving a go. I tried downloading plans as I wanted a yolked thwart. But nothing seemed easy…until I put a cake tin and coffee cup on a piece of paper, traced out a design, then just doubled it over so it was a perfect mirror. I spent ages getting the shape and used the router table (free hand) to trim the edges. In fact I forgot to mention how the router ripped into some of the scupper holes…I need some serious repairs done…and repending for bad language in the shed! I must say, the thwart is my highlight. It came up a treat, really nice.

I started on the 2 little decks. I had decided this simple task would be my first attempt at laminating. It worked! In fact I chose not to round the decks as the guy on the DVD does. I just kept it plain, but the effect of the strip of ask down the middle looks sweet.

As I am just using webbing (like seat belt straps) I just made plain seats with right angles. I did not drill a big enough hole into the end grain on one of them and it split. A quick trip to Ken’s to grab some more (no such thing as a quick visit to Ken!) and I was home again giving it another go. Later the other seat that I made first was to crack in my hand, effected by the same mistake. It had set (resin) so I could not pull it apart even though one join was loose as a result of the crack. I made a resin brace…lets home it holds!

They look and feel great, it was good to use the router here to round all the edges. I like router :)

Couple of challenges around this point;

1) The decks did not just neatly slide into place. I think I should have been more careful making up my little cardboard templates. It took ages and in the end I just left it to the thickened epoxy resin to fill my gaps. They do look nice still.

2) The seats were hard to hang. I am still thinking something is wrong about the whole seat thing. I have this bad feeling that in its maiden voyage if something will go wrong it will that the seats snap or something like this.

I made little spacer blocks that the seat bolts slide through. They took a while, were fiddly, but kind of fun.

Once the seats were fitted, the bolts drilled into the gunnels and counter sunk, I then did the same for the thwart. But before I set where the thwart was to go Mikaela and I stood either side of the boat and lifted it by the thwart to determine where the boat balanced. It was not meant to balance perfectly, but rather tip to the rear a little, this is so when you are carrying the boat on your shoulder by yourself, the front lifts up a little to be able to see. I counter sunk the bolts then buried them all in some of my tinted resin. When it was dry I sanded it all back to the gunnels.

I then pulled all the fittings off, seats and thwart, to get ready for the big paint.

The varnish was long winded. I sanded, then varnished, then sanded the varnished. I did this 3 times on the inside and 6 times on the outside. The fittings all got three each. The outside hull gets beat up pretty bad so 6 coats are needed.

Oh by the way I finally tracked down brass strip. Half round brass strip is rare in Australia. I ordered some from the UK but they failed to contact me about price. I emailed twice, but they failed me, and lost my business…not so bad as I ended up finding some in Henderson, so off I go for a long drive…and it turned out to be the wrong stuff! So I will get the strip from the UK when I can afford it.

The other thing I picked up was some neat fonted signs for the front. I decided to coat over them with a couple of layers of varnish just to protect the sign writing – she is called Bonnie Doon.

The varnish ran, plus when I tried to re-coat I did so before the previous coat was properly dry and it blistered (see pic).

I was running too late to care, so I will come back and do another few coats later. I had to launch on the 1st of Oct at our family holiday in Walpole. But I had no paddles!

I was impressed with how a very rough paddle together, I am definitely wanting to make some more.

The paddle still a little wet, we loaded Bonnie onto the car and headed to Walpole – it’s LAUNCH DAY!

Check it out here -

She floats! Thanks for the good times…now the adventures begin!

By the way – This is my 1000th post to this blog!

(See Part I here)

Part II of The Canoe Building Saga

Well last time I typed in here about the Canoe Build was on the 10th of December last year (2010). I was 6 strips of Cedar into a very large project. If I thought I had had some challenges to that point I was dreaming! I have seen some real tough challenges as well as some very creative recoveries, I have invented some cool little jigs to help out in tough corners as well as discovering how to use resin to fill in big mistakes!

I have just finished fibre glassing the inside and started building my gunwales, I thought I may have finished by now, hence my last post suggesting I would do this in two posts…Ok so I thought I was half way through back then…I guess that depends on how fast you go and how many breaks you take.

Where was I?

Just outside of this picture (on the right) is the end stem. The careful shaping of this stem with block plane and spoke shave as well as the occassional hack with a sharp chisel proved to be a challenge, but a satisfying one…no lets face it it was BLOODY frustrating at times. You had to shape it just right to recieve the strips coming in on the angle.

The higher the strips went up the more they began to twist. They were verticle in the middle, but as they moved to the end stems they began to twist to horizontal, as they were meant to…but this pulled out the staples and made the strips want to pop off the frame.






26th January – Invasion Day, Australia.

So I made up the first of quite a few little jigs. (pictured)

These stayed put for just enough time to let the glue grab while I was putting the strip on the other side and doing some end stem trimming, then I would take them off and lay on my next strip.

Speaking of end stem trimming…it was here I made my biggest mistake. I trimmed the strips back too far up the stem so that I was kind of trimming on the keel, not meant to happen. You are meant to bevel out a kind of trench into the strip ends there at the keel and seat the new outer end stem into the trench. I was left with some gaping holes I needed to later fill with resin, at first I thought it was the end of the world, but resin covers over a multitude of sins!





This picture show the outer stem after fitting with the gaps.










Meanwhile (got out of order there for a second!) I was puting the low short strips on, then drawing my curved line and then cutting off excess with a sharp chisel and block plane…my tool of choice!

Here you can see before and after the trimming and shaping.

This end jig was made as the wood strips began to twist. I used it in conjunction with the little stip jigs pictured above. It was awkward, but I don’t think I could have got the end of the strips to stay down without it. (Max the Border Collie  in the background, lives pretty much under my feet in the shed).








Once I turned the corner and my strips left the end stem I had to work only on one side, as aposed to the way I had been working, left then right then left then right. You do all of them until the  very middle of the boat is covered. A centre string (in pretty pink) is laid down the hay diddle diddle and a line drawn. A sharp chisel (sweet feeling!) is used to cut away all the excess over the centre line and my sweet little block plane to trim it down to the centre line. This looked great.

Now here is where I began to REALLY go mad. Matching the strips end to end along the centre line on the other side was very difficult, in fact I was all out of alignment and had to keep triming the ends and at one point I inserted a unique little strip just so I could rematch the 2 sides. The other challenge was the joining at the ends, this was a great challenge for someone with endless patience … but for someone like me…I just swore a lot! There are still  some little spots of light coming through the hull, but now the glass is on, it will only be light – not water!

26the Feb

The last piece/s get glued together and shaped before being ‘dropped’ into place. This process was quite complicated, too detailed to explain here, but it was clever, much respect for Bear Mountain Boat designs! But I tell you this…each stage of building has ‘sweet’ moments, sanding, glassing, etc. Dropping the keystone piece into place was one of those moments – sweet!




The very last part of this process was cleaning up the end stems and putting the outer stem layer and shaping it. Nice process, might have been made easier if I knew how to use the spoke shave properly…or at all, but the block plane was my friend again…my best friend.






March 2011

Fairing the hull was another beautiful moment. After some three months of laying strips around the mould stations, I was desperate to do something different, and different it was…days and days of endless…different! Neighbour annoying, family destroying orbital sanding…for days.

By March 19th I was over all the sanding. In fact I sanded first, then did some patching with resin…then sanded again..a mistake. I should have patched then sanded, then did some little patches after the first sand. Hard, resin is like sanding steel.

So towards the end of the process I took a few hours off to build some little stands in preparation for the big flip!




The Glassing Begins!

April 26th, after waiting for perfect weather conditions and good help in the form of my brother-in-law Scotty amongst others! In fact on the day every man and their dog came past to visit. I was so focused I didn’t notice who was there nor what the time was. The word “harrowing” comes to mind. In fact I still think that the fiberglassing has been the most stressful aspect of the whole build. The timing, the fact that if the resin goes off its all over, the fibre glass cloth moving… aghhh just typing this I get stressed. I had to join the glass down the middle as they don’t sell it big enough to go over the whole boat.










I did 2 coats on the one day, a third a week or so later, but was not happy with that so I did another day of sanding and cut it back to the second coat, then bought a roller. This worked better, less runs.









Then one morning, whilst still in our P.J’s Sophie and I flipped the baby! It took a bit to get it off, the glue had stuck to the mould in a few places. Booy it felt great to finally see the inside!







Lots more fairing, then sanding. Only this time the sanding took longer as it had to be done manually as the sander didn’t work in the concave surface without cutting into the sides, so – LOTS OF LONG WEEKENDS hand sanding!











We are now up to August 19th.

Laying on the 2 sheets on glass looked easy…until resin was added.

The inside was meant to remain with the rough textured surface that 2 coats gives. But obviously my second coat was too think and I ended up with a bit of a patch work of resin. I am not upset, but I know it could have come out much better.

After the resin is almost dry…tacky I think, well a bit after tacky, you go inside and pinch your wife’s best dress making scissors (again) and begin trimming off the excess.

This was the end of the glassing, in fact it was the end of making what I might call the shell or the basic hull.

I think I will post it here, even though I am ahead of this at the time of typing. It seems appropriate to make a separate post for the trim; that is the seats, the decks, the gunnels and the thwart…then the finishing varnish, which I bought today…along with all these really expensive stainless steel screws and bolts and nuts!

Christine is almost still talking to me, I have spent the family savings…and food budget…

This blog is becoming my dumping ground for cut and paste book reviews, but – whatever!

The White Earth by Andrew McGahan has been one of the best reads for the year. I am not sure who recommended it to me, but I picked it up in a new little bookshop in William St Northbridge – SECONDHAND! Yes I love a bargain and this I found for $4. I carry a list of books I wantto read and if I find a shop that stocks second hand books I pull out the iPhone and search my list until I find one on the shelf, and this was found! I seem to be reading into a bit of a rut in the past year. An enjoyable one though. The theme seems to be around either early Australian white settlement/invasion and the interaction with indigenous Aussies or more recent history (still Australian) and (again) white fella interaction with black fellas, like this one around the Mabo issue and land rights in the early ’90′s. Some ugly history we have, obvioulsy good fodder for the stuff novels are made of, but what I like is that the books I have been reading reveal something of the truth behind the ugliness and bloody mindedness of white settlers, pioneers and explorers. I know that it can be passed off as ‘culture’, ‘the way things were’, ‘the times’ or whatever, and some say we would have done the same in the time…but I hope not! I love that many if not all the books I have read lately have shown the one or two stand out European characters that have stood their ground, stood for the Aboriginal, built relationship with one or many. Usually what follows for the white is rejection, isolation and sometimes even punishment and death for the stand taken for the plight of the Aboriginal. I plan to read an auto biography next…wait and see.


The White Earth

(Miles Franklin Award 2005)

William is only eight when he sees a huge smoke cloud erupt on the family farm. He is confused by the events that follow – the smell of smoke, the ringing of the telephone, the appearance of neighbour’s vehicles. But eventually he realises his father has been killed in a tractor fire. William and his mother are left destitute by his father’s passing, and with the unstable mother unable to either care properly for William or work for a living, they are forced to accept the charity of an uncle William didn’t know existed.

Moving into his uncle’s home, Kuran House, does not provide the stability William needs. His uncle has spent his life in an obsessed quest to own Kuran Station and now needs an heir to continue his life’s work. He is not, however, prepared to simply name William in his will. He wants the boy to prove himself. William’s mother, desperate for security and a better life, expects William to perform for his uncle. And, while William works to try to balance the competing needs of these two unbalanced adults, he is also battling a health problem which no one around seems at all concerned with.

Alongside the personal struggles of William and the unstable grown ups who seem to occupy his world is the story of the Mabo case and the land rights debates of the late 20th century. The novel is set in 1992, the year the Mabo case was playing out in the nation’s courtrooms and television sets. William’s uncle is involved in the White Australia movement, through the Australian Independence League and has William assist him in his work. William is a boy desperate for love, acceptance and order and he is drawn into what he sees the League offering him. It is much later in the novel that he is forced to question both the League and his uncle’s beliefs and action.

The White Earth is a complex story, with parallel plots involving William’s present and his Uncle John’s past. As William’s story unfolds we also learn what has brought his uncle to this place in his life – both physically and emotionally. It is a novel with many shocks, gripping the reader with its sheer awfulness. Those who have read Dickens will draw parallels between Uncle John and Miss Havisham and be aware of the Dickensian feel to both the progression of the tale and the overall tone.

That said, this is a very Australian novel, with a very Australian setting and cast.


The White Earth, by Andrew McGahan
Allen & Unwin, 2004

Review ref here


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