jennie diplock-storer

Love of Country: The Power of Bones

I really have to thank Jennie for sharing her feelings on today’s book, Keelan Mailman’s autobiography The Power of Bones, (Allen and Unwin). It sounds very much as though this book had Jennie seriously reflecting on many issues that are still, to this day, faced by Aboriginal Australians, brought to bear in many ways by Australians (collectively and individually). Nothing brings these challenges to life quite like a real-life story of strength and perseverance.

Thanks Jennie, I look forward to reading this book myself…

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The Power of Bones is Keelan Mailman’s autobiography, a memoir that managed to evoke pretty much every emotion in me as I read it. Now 48 years old, Keelan writes as she speaks, in a broad Australian accent (as I read it), leaving the letter ‘g’ off many words. It takes you straight into her land and her life.

The Power of BonesKeelan’s life has been an extraordinary one. The fourth child of a family of seven, for the first seven years of her life she was raised by her single mother, Betty.

The family lived on the outskirts of a town named Augathella, approximately 750 km West North East of Brisbane, Queensland, with a population of 400. They were the only indigenous family in the area and Keelan and her siblings were subjected to much taunting and racial abuse. It’s clear that this abuse has had a lasting effect on Keelan, especially as she recalls one particular occasion when the mother of a child from school, designated to drive Keelan to an important athletic meeting, refuses to take her. At the time Keelan was twelve years old and an avid runner, and she has never forgotten this missed opportunity.

From the beginning, land, traditional language (or lingo), Indigenous culture and knowledge of bush tucker were an integral part of her life. Her mother, Betty, stressed the importance of the knowledge of the Elders being passed on to each generation. This became a life long passion and commitment for Keelan, who has since spent long periods of time speaking to Elders, learning about Dreamtime, finding beautiful ancient Aboriginal art work in secret caves on Bidjara land – Keelan’s mob.

Keelan remembers a happy childhood where she was accepted as who she was – a tomboy. Forget dresses, dolls and tutus, Keelan loved the slugs, slingshots and marbles. She loved her sport, running and football and hated shoes! Hard work was part of growing up too. Betty worked two jobs and as a result, the children were in charge of household and garden duties. In this community, normally once a child reaches Grade 5 or 6, they are removed from school to work at home and take care of their younger siblings. Keelan recalls proudly that she made it halfway through Year 8 before having the leave school.

Life was fairly ideal for the family until Betty met Elimore and they move in together. Elimore brought alcohol into Betty’s life and unfortunately, from this point on, alcohol dominated her household. The dichotomy between the proud, loving, attentive and caring mother that Keelan spoke so adoringly of, and the mother who spent a lot of her time in a drunken stupor, is obvious and Betty’s new behaviour is extremely destructive to the whole family. From this point the children basically taking care of everything, they have to move into a rented house in town where the racist taunts get worse. Up until this point, the Mailman children had always happily accepted hand-me-down clothes from neighbours but now that they lived in town, they often ran into the previous owners of the clothes. As you can imagine, this meant that the bullying increased and Keelan found no solace in her mother, for obvious reasons.

From the age of eight, Keelan was repeatedly sexually abused by an uncle. He threatened to hurt both her and her family unless she kept his secret and, as a result, the abuse continued for four years. When she was twelve, Keelan finally found the courage to stand up to this man, telling him angrily to leave her alone and to never touch the younger girls in the family. Although the uncle tried again on a couple of occasions, Keelan stood her ground and eventually he left the girls alone.

When Betty was 38 years old, she began experiencing a series of strokes related to her alcoholism. It was at this point that Keelan was required to leave school and care for her mother and younger siblings, the youngest fathered by Elimore. Within months, Elimore left the family.

During this time, spending so much time with Betty, Keelan heard more stories of the days past, of the land of the Bidjara mob, recalling family holidays out at the old Yumba homestead where the Elders used to gather. The Lost City was in this area, a Spiritual place of the Bidjars, where old Aboriginal cave drawings could be found and the spirits of Elders past dwelled. Keelan’s passion for country and Bidjara history and land, the history of her people, was fuelled to a bonfire during this time.

Keelan had her first child, a son named Allan, at the age of 16 and found herself caring for her mother, her siblings and her own child. Fortunately, others stepped up – her elder sister, who is married, an aunt, and an uncle all pitch in. Keelan stresses that this is the way of the blackfella – family look out for family and this is strongly reiterated throughout the book. It is obviously a fact that Keelan is immensely proud of.

Another theme running throughout The Power of Bones is Keelan’s passionate hatred for alcohol and what it had done to her people. She never drinks herself, and has raised her children with a knowledge of the damage she has seen alcohol do. There is a palpable anger against the immense damage alcohol is doing to many young people in the indigenous community, as she experienced both as she was growing up and still today.

Throughout all of the childhood and teenage challenges Keelan faced, there is a constant – her love for country. In her own words she says; “I am this country and it is me.” Within this love is a committed goal to learn from the Elders, ensuring that all they know does not die with them. The protection of sacred Bidjara sites is also part of Keelan’s passion. Thus, when at the age of 30, Keelan is offered the job of managing Mt Tabor, 190,000 hectares of Bidjara country and cattle station, she jumps at the chance – on this station is the ancient indigenous cultural site called Lost City and her beloved homestead Yumba, where she, her mother and siblings spent so many camping holidays.

This is, quite obviously, a huge job. Wiring fences, checking on cattle, putting out feed and ensuring that no site of Bidjara importance is interfered with by pipes or electrical poles. There are several outlying Bidjara sites that she also manages. Of course the community doubts that an indigenous woman can do this work! But, if I learnt anything from reading Keelan’s story, I learnt that she is fearless and a fighter. These cultural sites could not be in better hands.

The Power Of Bones taught me a lot. We hear about Indigenous communities being ravaged by “the drink”, and through Keelan’s eyes I saw the reality and pain it brings her people. I am ashamed to say that Keelan has taught me that White Australia still struggles with the societal position of the Indigenous people. This saddens me greatly, and through personal experience, I know that it’s true.

Keelan also taught me about the power of family and the extreme respect of the Elders in the Indigenous world. What a leaf we could take out of their book!

The love of country means sustainability, living off the land and protection of the sacred past. How beautiful and extraordinary that the Indigenous world is so rich with this!

Keelan Mailman is an incredible woman doing incredible work. She has grown within her important job and achieves several “firsts” for not only an Aborigine, but an Aboriginal woman. I felt pride with each achievement and shed tears during several episodes.

I highly recommend The Power of Bones to anyone who is interested in learning more about Indigenous Australia. To anyone who wants to read the story of a woman who refused to let anything define her or defeat her. To anyone who is prepared to face the fact that perhaps white Australians have a long way to go before they too venerate the country that is our home.

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Find out more about The Power of Bones, by Keelan Mailman’s here…

A Lucky Life: Where Earth Meets Water

It always amazes me how some authors are able to capture colour, movement and feeling, to tell a story so rich and real. Today’s review from Jennie Diplock-Storer tells us of a story that captures all these things and more. Here’s her thoughts on Where Earth Meets Water by Pia Padukone (Harlequin)…

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Pai Padukone’s debut novel, Where Earth Meets Water, takes us to dichotomous parts of the world and introduces us to the lives of four intrinsically linked people. Pia has written a novel that successfully wraps the reader around it’s finger, and all within the first few paragraphs.

where earth meets waterTelling the story of Karom Seth involves more than Karom alone. His life holds several traumatic events, some of which we are made aware of very early in the book. Despite this trauma, if fact almost as a result of it, Karom appears to have lived a very lucky life. As a college student in New York, he remains behind on campus when his class attends a conference at Tower One on September 11th, 2001. That day the world is changed for ever by two planes hitting the Twin Towers. Karom, of course, survives, but loses many friends from his student group.

As a senior at college, with his final exams coming up, a family reunion is organised at the coastal town of Bhupal in India. Seth relatives are flying and travelling from all parts of the world and Karom is excited at the prospect of meeting all of these blood kin, many of whom he has never met before. As fate would have it, he delays his arrival in India by one day, so as to complete his study. When he gets to the airport he finds flights to India cancelled but can find no information as to why. Phone calls to family members are unanswered and he ultimately returns to college.

After a time, Karom is notified by a cousin that a “freak wave”, emanating from an underwater earthquake has hit coastal areas of Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka & India, decimating the region. His parents and most of his relatives are lost in this disaster.

Fortunately, Karom’s room-mate, Lloyd, is there for him during this time. He hears the nightmares and Karom’s cries in the night and supports him as best he can. This relationship is a pleasure for the reader to share. The two men become best friends and years later, Karom is to be Lloyd’s best man in his wedding to Malina.

We are introduced to Gita, Karom’s long term girlfriend. Although she wasn’t in Karom’s life during these earth-shattering events, she is certainly impacted by them. They are a very happy couple and enjoy their life together – all but for one behaviour pattern of Karom’s. He plays, with worrying regularity, what he terms “a game”. We see an example of this ‘game’ in the first few pages of the book…

While waiting at a train station in India with Gita, Karom edges himself closer and closer to the edge of the platform until finally, he jumps down onto the track and walks up the train line. It takes some time before Gita realises what he has done and drama ensues as Karom returns to the platform unharmed. His words of reassurance to Gita fall on deaf ears, as she is scared and sick of the game, behaviour which she only sees ending in tragedy.

new york trainWe learn that in New York Karom often stands as close as possible to the edge of the station platform and also plays “chicken” with cars on the road. It appears that in escaping death, dodging terrorists and earthquakes, Karom feels he is either invincible or he is tempting fate.

Where Earth Meets Water is written in components dedicated to the major characters involved in Karom’s world.

We start in India, where Gita and Karom are staying with Gita’s Ammama, her Grandmother. Gita shares her anxieties about Karom’s behaviour to Ammama and Ammama herself sets upon the problem in her own way. There is much love and colour here and we are fortunate to be gifted  by the author, Ammama’s story.

We learn about Lloyd’s relationship with Karom also, how Karom’s fears have influenced their friendship.

Gita’s story shares with us the complexities and vulnerabilities involved in being in a long term relationship with Karom. What does this mean to her? How is his fears and behaviour affecting them as a couple?

As a reader I was grabbed by Where Earth Meets Water in the first paragraphs. Padukone writes with colour, melody, vibrations and deeply exposed emotions. Many sections of the book are pure prose. We, the reader, are where the characters are, at any given moment. On occasions I found myself holding my breath, unable to turn pages fast enough. At other times I was wary moving on, scared to travel with a character on the path they had chosen.

There are phrases of pure beauty, with Padukone having the gift of putting on paper movement and touch that the reader can feel.

Every character is so completely developed, it is impossible not to be fully invested in them. This makes the reading of the last half of this book riveting. Secrets are exposed, fears are shared and feelings confessed. I raced to the last pages and was not in the least bit disappointed.

I highly recommend Where Earth Meets Water. Although intense feelings and events are contained, there is nothing threatening or difficult in the reading of this book. I truly hope that this is the first of many for Pia Padukone.

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You can find out more about Where Earth Meets Water by Pia Padukone here…

Changes: Through the Farm Gate

It took reviewer Jennie a little time to come around to Angela Goode’s Through the Farm Gate (Allen and Unwin) but by the end of this tale, this city-girl reader came to understand why the telling of this famer’s wife was so worth telling. Here’s more on Angela’s story…

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The saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” really hit home for me when reading this book, although it wasn’t so much the cover – showing the lovely, smiling face of the author and cows happily grazing in the foreground of a lush countryside, it was the title. Mainly the tagline; “A Life on the Land.”

through the farm gateMy first thought was that this was not a book I would buy or read. The blurb didn’t help. What did I, a city girl, want to know about country land prices, livestock prices and ruined crops?

With this attitude foremost in my mind, I straggled my way unenthusiastically through the first 100 pages. This book is Angela Goode’s story. A story of a city girl marrying a country man and uprooting her life to the farm.

Angela, in the 1970’s, is working as a journalist at Adelaide’s The Advertiser. Aged 30, she has lived a career and experience-driven life. This has included 3 months mustering buffalo in the Northern Territory, as a State administrator of Youth Centres around South Australia, and a variety of of jobs in journalism. Freelance writing, working as a researcher for This Day Tonight on the ABC and freelancing for ABC radio’s South Australian Country Hour.

I started to get a little interested. Angela’s life seems anchored to the city, despite the occasionally rural adventure. Maybe I could find common ground with this storyteller. I became curious as to how Angela could go from her life in her 30s, to a life on the land.

Interestingly, Angela has both farming experience and family heritage, perhaps going someone to explaining her transition. Her country genes hail from a mottled collection of rural ancestors from Germany, Wiltshire and Ireland. Her mother took Angela and her three siblings to the country every school holiday. Always to a working farm where she rode her horse, learnt to drive tractors, experienced the slaughtering of sheep and basically learning about life on the land.

This love of the land stays with Angela, and when she meets Charlie, the manager of a 10,000 acre sheep & cattle property, at a friend’s dinner party in 1979, her life changes forever.

After a rough start – a few successful dates followed by Angela being “stood up” at a New Years Eve party, then a year of ignoring his calls and throwing herself into work – Angela and Charlie are engaged and married within a short period. Charlie is a widower and has two young daughters, so city girl Angela becomes a mother and a farmer’s wife all at once.

To Angela’s credit she throws herself fully into every aspect of her new husband’s life cooking for the farm hands, joining the community life, asking questions and learning farming tasks daily and mothering Charlie’s two girls. There are adventures and misadventures. Angela’s city dog and horse love their new life and adapt quickly. Angela’s garrulous nature & natural curiosity and tendency to question is capable of rubbing some of her country neighbours up the wrong way.

In many ways the farm world is very much a man’s world with the wife a silent, yet very active partner. Even in the 1980’s, her role is expected to be a domestic one. Cooking, cleaning, some farm chores, but basically looking after the man of the house & raising the family. It can also be a very isolating life with social functions occasional only and nearest neighbours often many kilometres away.

Angela continues to contribute a regular article to The Adelaide Advertiser, regaling the readers with stories of her new country life, and it is this engaging storytelling that had me captivated by about two-thirds of the way through the book. I was really going along for the ride.

As situations change, such as Nyroca, the property Charlie manages being sold by the owner, Charlie and Angela take on new farming opportunities. Their family grows, they experience major highs and lows as Charlie dreams big with innovative breeding and farming ideas and the country fights droughts, the plummeting of land prices, livestock prices and increased rates on country properties, higher than those in the city. Angela attempts to bring the city and country closer by platforming these topics in her newspaper articles.

Through The Farm Gate is a beautifully written book. Angela’s writing skills paint the reader clear pictures of sprawling fields, trees on the brink of extinction, the stress and strain felt by not only the farmers but also their wives, who often have little opportunity to share their fears and are frequently unaware of the true financial pressures on their farms. We learn about conservation, government policies, tragedies and celebrations and at times Angela focuses heavily on political displacements between city and country funding. I found some of these sections less inviting to read, but it certainly informed and educated me.

Angela’s story would strongly appeal to people who have experienced farm life or are living on the land. Having lived in the country myself for seven years and seen droughts, its effect on people and country towns, I could relate to parts of Angela’s passion. Her compassion, sense of humour and dedication to her beliefs are endearing and inspiring and bring a shine to her stories.

Through The Farm Gate is a story of joy and sorrow – the reality of life on the land.

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If you’d like to find out more about Angela Goode’s Through the Farm Gate visit the Allen and Unwin website here…

Secrets: The Good House

If you’re looking for a book to gift to a bookish friend this Christmas, it sounds like Ann Leary’s The Good House (Allen and Unwin) might be just the ticket! Thanks to Jennie for this great review, wonderful teaser for a intriguing story…

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Ann Leary is the author of a memoir & two novels, The Good House (Allen and Unwin) being the second. I was unfamiliar with her work until now, but will be seeking out her previous books.

the good houseThe Good House is written in the first person, the voice of our protagonist Hildy Good. Hildy is a woman in her 60’s, a divorcé, a mother of two daughters, a grandmother, a realtor & an alcoholic.

She lives in the small town, Wendover Crossing, where she was born & raised. Her family indeed trace back eight generations in the town, with her eighth great-grandmother one of the accused witches tried & hanged in Salem. Due to this piece of history it is generally rumoured by locals that Hildy herself has psychic powers, a rumour she likes to play with.

Hildy makes it her business to know everyone else’s business. She shares an office building with the town Psychiatrist, Peter Newbold. She confidently  tells him that she can learn more about a person by walking through their house than he can in a session with a patient.

We enter Hildy’s life two years following an intervention by her daughters regarding her alcoholism. This is, of course, not a reality that Hildy accepts! She’s not an alcoholic! She enjoys a drink or two at social events like everyone else. Well, there may have been a DUI, but that was just one! And phonecalls to people late at night – she just likes to chat with her friends after a few drinks, she’s a gregarious person, it’s lonely in her house when she gets home!

Despite her very rational, heartfelt arguments, her family talk her into a 28 day Rehabilitation session at Hazelden Clinic.

The entire town of Wendover Crossing know that a 28 day disappearance from town means that Hildy was in rehab. So, at every public function thereafter, Hildy is a cheerful teetotaller, knowing that every eye in town is upon her!

This is where our book of secrecy begins. A labyrinth of secrets involving several people in this close knit town.

Very early on we learn that Hildy has, as many alcoholics do, two lives. She is a veritable puritan at social events. She is funny, occasionally does her psychic tricks at dinner parties & “reads minds”, she is the perfect guest.

When she gets home to her two dogs however, she indulges in her ritual visit to her cellar & her secret supply of wine where she imbibes in “1 or 2” glasses. It is more like one or two bottles & she happily walks with her dogs to the nearby lake, strips off & plunges nude into the water. It is her beautiful escape.

Hildy feels she is putting on a pretty charade but is happily maintaining her alcoholic lifestyle.

The serious secrets start leaping from the pages from this point. As Hildy knows everybody in Wendover Crossing, she knows the details of very many family lives. She detects any changes very quickly. She also becomes friends with a new couple in town & a confidante to the wife.

The beauty of The Good House is in the descriptions of the town & the people through the eyes of Hildy who knows both intimately. It’s a colourful cast of characters in this small town & Hildy brings them all beautifully to life in exquisite detail.

There is Frankie, briefly Hildy’s High School beau, who tells it like it is and plays a large role in the town; Callie & Patch with their autistic son Jake who desperately want to sell their house (which is severely damaged by Jake’s outbursts); Peter Newbold, who she also knows from school & Rebecca McAllister, new to town but quickly close to Hildy.

The strength of the developing secrets in the book lie in the fact that we are strongly invested in these people. The Good House is gripping, wonderfully detailed & funny. Sometimes laugh out loud funny (which I did!). I wanted to turn the pages as fast as I possibly could by halfway through the book as secrets became exposed. I eagerly read to find out how each piece of the puzzle fitted together.

The ending has profound implosive impact as it all comes together. Unbelievably a massive surprise awaits us at the very end.

I highly recommend The Good House. It’s a lovely light read, gripping & funny. A good stocking-filler for the readers in your life.

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You can find out more about The Good House, by Ann Leary here…

 

In the wilds of Maine: The Poacher’s Son

Over the last month, I’ve been really lucky, recruiting a bunch of new TBYL Reviewers who, without exception love to read, read and read!

Today’s review is from our newest additions to the crew, Jennie Diplock-Storer. You can find out more about Jennie here, and today, you can read all about what she thought of The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron (Allen and Unwin)…

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I have a litmus test when it comes to assessing whether I’ll read books by authors unknown to me: I read the first couple of paragraphs. They have to grab me. Paul Doiron’s, The Poacher’s Son, did just that!

the poacher's sonSet in the wilds of Maine, this is an explosive tale of an estranged son thrust into the hunt for a murderous fugitive – his own father. Game warden Mike Bowditch returns home one evening to find an alarming voice from the past on his answering machine: his father Jack, a hard-drinking womanizer who makes his living from poaching illegal game. An even more frightening call comes the next morning from the police: they are searching for a cop-killer – and Mike’s father is their prime suspect.

Now, alienated from the woman he loves and shunned by colleagues who have no sympathy for the suspected cop killer, Mike must come to terms with his haunted past. He knows firsthand of his father’s brutality, but is he capable of murder? Desperate and alone, the only way for Mike to save his father is to find the real killer – which could mean putting everyone he loves into the line of fire…

The Poacher’s Son is placed in the genre of crime, but Doiron’s manner of writing makes it much more than that. His beautiful and detailed description of the Maine countryside through the eyes of the protagonist Mike Bowditch, is displayed throughout the book and adds much to it’s readability.

There is also much humour, a wonderful use of analogies, fulfilling descriptions of characters, (often making me smile), and a gentle prose.

Mike Bowditch is a Warden in Maine, legally protecting flora and fauna, and ensuring law abidence in waterways and hunting. Here is the obvious difference between father and son. Jack Bowditch is a poacher, estranged from his son since Mike was nine. The two occasions on which they were reunited stay stained in the memory of Mike by alcohol, violence, disrespect and blood.

It is obvious from the start that Mike has purposefully chosen a career in complete opposition to all his father stands for. Yet they both share a desire for seclusion, even if for different reasons. Jack has pathological differences with people of all walks of life and Mike chooses a “solitary & morbid profession” to avoid looking into himself and his past. Much of Mike’s decision to become a Law Officer was to make amends for his father’s petty crimes and violence.

So why then, when Jack Bowditch is accused of a double homicide, including the murder of a police officer known to Mike, then aggravated assault of a second officer as he escapes arrest, does Jack reach out to Mike and Mike fervently defend his father’s innocence?

Here is where things speed up, as Mike makes decisions impacting everything in his life to prove his father innocent.

History and storytelling amidst the chase of a suspect colours the book beautifully and is a bonus for the reader. The incredible description of the nature of Maine and the precise attention to detail stops this being a black and white crime book. We follow Mike Bowditch, who sees himself as not on the side of his dad or the cops but ” the rope in a tug of war”, as he tries to find the truth. It’s fast-paced, as Mike tries to find his father before the police do.

Published overseas in 2010, this was Doiron’s debut novel, met with much acclaim. He has since written two more. Now, with this Australian publication I highly recommend The Poacher’s Son to crime lovers, and to those who enjoy a good, well written book. Doiron hs certainly made it to my list of authors.

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If you’d like to find out more about The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron visit the Allen and Unwin website here…