Book Review: Scrublands by Chris Hammer

Book Review: Scrublands by Chris Hammer

Review by PMI Volunteer Renee Rollestone



Scrublands follows Martin Scarsend, a reporter who is visiting a rural town. His purpose is to write an article about how the town of Riversend (a fictional Riverina Town) is healing 1 year after a mass shooting in a local church. Martin has covered many intense situations such as the Gaza Strip but finds himself in many unexpected circumstances in the town in Riversend.

The protagonist is not convinced of the claims that previous journalists have made about the shooter, a  young priest. While trying to identify perpetrators of fresh scandal that arrives at the town, he attempts to find out the truth about the shooting.

Hammer skilfully weaves many storylines together at a good pace. New truths are revealed at a rate that keeps the reader intrigued and anxious to learn the truth. The author’s previous journalism career gives great insight to the role the press plays when reporting and solving crime. Also explored the line between helpful press coverage and unhelpful sensationalist news that is written to a deadline and the consequences. The characters in this book are well written and complex. Delightfully human characters that have compelling backstories. Hammer also confronts some of the realities of a rural life such as a struggling economy, lack of employment, bushfires and domestic violence. This book is one the most engaging books I’ve had the fortune of reading in recent times. Excellent page turner that kept myself reading late into the night!



Cataloguing Under Covid 3

Cataloguing Under Covid 3

It’s the end of the working week for me, so I thought I’d do another update on how the PMI’s collection is being grown. That way you can all have a further idea of what will be waiting for you when we open again.

I began today by pulling together the Recent Additions for April, which is a full list of all the new material that has been added to the collection during April. This has been sent off to be designed by another PMI staff member, and you can expect to see it in you mailboxes in the coming weeks.

For the rest of the day I’ve been cataloguing and indexing. The indexing was largely back issues of the Friends of St Kilda Cemetery newsletters, so I thought I’d focus on profiling some of the books that I’ve been working on.

It was a really mixed collection today, with everything from church histories,  to art books, to indigenous histories, to urban planning.

I thought I’d talk about examples of three of these. I have intentionally left the indigenous books out of the discussion because they are old books that are indicative of the times in which they are written, and as such hold views about indigenous people that  are extremely culturally insensitive. We keep this type of material because sometimes, sadly, it is the only source of information, but also because to leave it out of the collection would be to hide the views expressed within and thus sanitise history.

As it says on our website:

Please be aware that items in our collection may contain words, descriptions, names, sounds, images, videos and audio recordings which may be culturally sensitive and which might not normally be used in certain public or community contexts. Terms and annotations which reflect the author’s attitude or that of the period in which the item was written may not be considered appropriate today.

But this doesn’t mean that I feel comfortable taking photos of them and putting them up on this blog. If you wish to view the material they will be available in the library.

The other three categories are interesting to examine though. I wanted to start with the report.


This one is a masterplan for Prahran and is one of many such documents that PMI holds. This particular work was created in 2014 and sets out what the Victorian Government hoped the future of Prahran would be. These sorts of works are invaluable additions to the collection because they not only show what was in the locality when the report was written, they also give a clear idea of the planned direction- even if it never came to fruition.


Now we have the church history. This work is an excellent example of the literally hundreds of the church histories that the PMI holds. We are working on a couple of projects to try to collect histories of other religious buildings, but it is a slow process as often they simply haven’t been written. This one is of the history of the Presbyterian Church in Surrey Hills and it’s typical of such church histories. It outlines how the church was founded and the main players involved over the years. These histories can be fantastic for family history, because if your ancestor was involved in a community then there’s a pretty good chance they would have been involved in a church.

Finally the art book:


We collect art books because we see art as an integral part of the history of Victoria and Australia and believe it should be a part of all historical research. If you want to know more about our art resources and why we collect them, Collection Corner in June’s newsletter last year covers it in much greater depth.

This particular book is about Mambo, which I’m sure many of you will be familiar with. Mambo is very much part of Australian and Victorian culture and we’ve kept this book to reflect that. As you can see it already has some library stamps on it. This one was a donation from Parade College Library. We quite often are lucky enough to receive donations from other libraries, who don’t have the space or who weed on circulation. We are proud that we are able to preserve these works and make them accessible.

Well, that’s just a brief rundown of the some of the material I’ve been working on today. I’ve got a little bit of cataloguing left for next week and some tracking down of books from the National Library. Then it will be back up to the PMI to collect more material.

Hope you found today’s cataloguing under COVID interesting.



Collecting Under Covid

Collecting Under Covid


The National Library of Australia puts out a list of all the recent publications that have been added to their collection. We go through this list each month and determine which resources fit with the PMI Collection Policy.

That is the simple part of the process, the slightly more complicated part is finding a source to acquire the resources from. The PMI is not a legal deposit library, the way the NLA is, so we are not automatically sent all published resources. We have to track them down and that’s what I’ve been working on this afternoon.

Sometimes, it is incredibly straight forward. If the book is a mainstream publication such as Freedom Lost: A history of newspapers, journalism and press censorship in Australia by Robert Pullman, which was on my list, then it is uncomplicated. In this case we either source it from our local bookstore or from Bookworld, the online remains of Angus and Robertson, who have a really good range of Australian titles.

Others aren’t so easy, and can require some detective work. My favourite example of this is actually from a year or so ago. I found a family history called Before the Trumpet Sounds by John Oldmeadow by tracking him through an inquest on Google to the business he had owned in Hobart and finding that he was in his 90s, still owned the business and was delighted to be able to sell us his family history.

None of today’s books were that curly with such a satisfactory answer, but there were a couple of tricky ones. I spent twenty minutes trying to find somewhere to buy a 19 page history of Francis Knox Orme, who was a police magistrate in the late 1800s. Unusually for a book that was listed on Libraries Australia, it wasn’t on Trove and I only had the title and the author. It took a lot of digging, but I managed to find that it was published in Castlemaine- so once we are buying books again I will be contacting the Castlemaine Historical Society to see if they know where I might be able to obtain a copy from.

Another interesting one, is more a case of technology and contact. The Bunbartha Tennis club has a book on its 100 year history. Their only point of contact is their Facebook page and it doesn’t have a seperate email address, only the postal address. From experience, sending them a message on messenger will probably not be very effective so I will most likely end up writing to them. Yes we still send out hardcopy letters enquiring after books.

Another excellent source of book contact information is local newspapers. Today I found that a family history called 1838 Settlers: A history of the family of James McLaurin and his descendants was written up in the Deniliquin Pastoral Times. Sometimes I have to contact the paper directly to see if they have contact information in regards to the author of the book. Fortunately this time, there was a contact for purchasing listed at the end of the article.

So even with Covid meaning we can’t buy books at the moment, we can still track them down and make lists on where we can obtain them from. Going through the NLA list is always one of my favourite jobs, because it is a bit like being a detective and you jump through a fantastic array of books. Today I’ve gone through everything from Mornington Cemetery to an in-depth look at Australian radio history (this one I found in a free Ebook so we’ll be able to add it to the collection a little sooner). You never know what you are going to come across next.



Cataloguing under Covid 2

Cataloguing under Covid 2

On this cold and wet day, I thought I’d provide some further reflections on the books going into the collection, that will be waiting for you when the PMI reopens.

I have collected another box of books to work my way through from home so I’m hoping I’ll be able to continue to provide a few snippets as I go along

I’ve been helping finish off a grant application today, so the cataloguing pile is by necessity a little smaller, but there are still some very interesting books worthy of discussion, though I’m just going to highlight one today.

It’s another botanical book, this time by Baron Ferdinand Von Mueller. Von Mueller was the Government Botanist and the first Director of the Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens. He was a fascinating figure and you can find more about him here

This particular book is Introduction to Botanic Teachings at the Schools of Victoria


It dates to 1877 and aims to introduce the story of plants into elementary schools. It has some lovely illustrations, like the one of the Eucalyptus Melliodora below.


The book introduces a variety of plants. What is really interesting about it, is that the government botanist is making sure that native Australian plants – not just European plants were being taught in schools as early as 1877. Von Mueller states his aim (not for this particular book but overall) as ‘any child of average mental capacity, even without the aid of a teacher, to name and classify a large number of local indigenous plants’.

It’s just a lovely little window into the beginnings of the education system, and identifying with our native plants.

This is a shorter post than usual, but I still thought an introduction to one of the newly added books would be nice


Indexing and grant writing under COVID

Indexing and grant writing under COVID


Another instalment- today has been a day of indexing a whole variety of stories from our periodical collection. Today in indexing I’ve travelled through: Bendigo, Brighton, Brunswick, Bungaree, Carlton, Coburg, Footscray, St Kilda, Kinglake, Knox, Lilydale, Malvern, Mildura, Sorrento, Diamond Creek, Orbost, Plenty, Port Melbourne, Warragul, Warrandyte, Warrnambool, Williamstown, Smythesdale and Wonthaggi. As well as learning more new things about Adam Lindsay Gordon.

Some of these were older journals, so from before Covid forced the closure of any of the historical societies that had a museum, or rooms, or public access. It was nice to see the gatherings being planned and the outings being discussed, it gives us hope for a future where physical rather than virtual historical exploration is back on the cards.

I wanted to talk briefly about one journal in particular, while most of the journals today were about a place or a district one stood out, and always stands out whenever it comes across my desk. The Wayfarer: the official newsletter of the Adam Lindsay Gordon Commemorative Committee. I love that there is a committee that is dedicated to continuing to tell the story of Adam Lindsay Gordon who in his 37 years did make his mark on Australian poetry, but has also been dead since 1870. But each newsletter they find something new to write about, another story to tell- in this case the Dingley Dell Cottage memorial gates (Dingley Dell was Lindsay Gordon’s home) and a discussion about the Green Room Club where the Adam Lindsay Gordon public organisation began. I appreciate their dedication to a poet who most people will know very little about- as well as poetry his other claim to fame was as a horseman including a very dangerous jump in Mount Gambier (which there is a monument to)

You may recognise Lindsay Gordon from his statue near Parliament in Melbourne (you can see it in the photo above)

The other task I’ve been undertaking today is drafting a grant application for a significance assessment. This has been quite odd to do from home, as I am not surrounded by the collections whose virtues I am extolling. It has been worthwhile though as we believe the PMI’s collection is of national significance and hopefully (if we’re successful with the grant) it will be assessed as being so. It is the only for loan collection of its type anywhere in Australia and seeks to ensure that all the voices of multifaceted Victorian history are accessible, discoverable and preserved. The PMI is about protecting the small pieces of history that get lost in the broader narrative, and we hope that its significance can be recognised.





Indexing Under Covid

Indexing Under Covid

thumbnail_IMG_7591I’m still working from home, and today’s work has been a mixture of indexing and cataloguing. But I thought today I’d talk a little more about indexing.

We collect the periodicals of historical societies from across Victoria and we index them. These are then keyword searchable on our catalogue. The point of this is that the small local stories suddenly become accessible to our members. One of my favourite examples was last year when a lady came into the library trying to find information about a mansion in Mt Eliza that was demolished sometime in the 70s. We looked it up on the catalogue and discovered that we had a National Trust newsletter from the 1960s, which had an article about the CWA visiting the mansion. The member was delighted, and it was because of the indexing work that we do, that this tiny piece of information was discoverable.

So today I have indexed journals from: Apollo Bay, Colac, Daylesford, East Melbourne, Frankston, Gisborne and Mount Macedon, Korumburra, Middle Park, Moe, Narre Warren, Port Melbourne, Sebastopol and the Maltese Historical Society

All sorts of smaller stories have now made their way onto our catalogue. We now have information on the Heathfield Reformatory in Apollo Bay, Warrion House in Colac, Robert Bodkin’s bluestone bridge in Gisborne, Dame Annie Jean Macnamara and her connections to Middle Park, the Waterfront Place Foodstore development in Port Melbourne, the Douglas Family in Sebastopol and Moe Camembert Industries- to just list a few.

These journals are currently sitting on a shelf in my study, so technically they aren’t available in the PMI at the moment. They will, however, soon be joining the rest of the extensive periodical collection, and you just never know when we’ll have someone making an enquiry into exactly what I’ve just indexed. It might be just after we reopen after Covid, or it might be in twenty years, but the information will be there. That is the purpose of the PMI, to tell the small stories that get lost in the broader narrative and to make sure they are discoverable.

So that’s the end of my thoughts on indexing, it’s slower working from home, but the process is still important and there is a real satisfaction in knowing that my work today will be a part of the collection.

Friday Flashsback… Picnic vans

Friday Flashsback… Picnic vans

Who remembers the picnic vans that were common up until the 1980s?

These were furniture vans that had windows installed in the van with removable bench seats and provided a cheap alternative for mass transport by scout groups, bushwalking clubs and the like.

By their very nature picnic vans could technically be hired only on Sundays and there was legislation in place to ensure that they did not encroach on the more expensive (and obviously more comfortable) charter bus operations.

For some years furniture removalists that had such vans could advertise in the Pink (now Yellow) pages. There was a long running dispute between the bus proprietors and furniture removalists respective associations in regards to this lucrative business.

Les White 1

Les White (later run by his son Norm White) was a well know furniture removalist and picnic van operator in Yarravaille. Here their Bedford TK with R. E. Mee bodywork is hard at work in 2004, Williamstown. Note the windows along the body and side door. Image (c) Steven Haby

Les White 2

Another picture of Les White’s fleet taken in Echuca after the business ceased. To the left there is the Bedford TK and on the right is a Bedford J series truck. Note the impressive front bumper bar arrangement. Photographer unknown, Steven Haby collection.

Les White 3

Here’s an advertisement from ‘Ruskin All-About’ Footscray edition in the 1950s.


Apparently one of the largest furniture / picnic vans in use in the 1950s was this magnificent beast belonging to J. Gronow of St Kilda. Image (c) Denis Barson.

Other well known furniture / picnic van operators including Gronow of St Kilda and J. Baxter and Sons of Bentleigh. The Melbourne Bushwalking Club – a regular user of J. Baxter’s van acquired it following the passing of John in the late 1980s.

Cataloguing under Covid

Cataloguing under Covid

As a Collections Librarian, managing a collection under Covid is a new way of thinking.

I’m working from home at the moment, going into the library occasionally to collect more books. It’s an excellent chance to work through some of the older material that has been sitting awaiting cataloguing. So I thought I’d write a short post highlighting a few of the books that are making their way into the collection and will be available for you to borrow once the library is open again.

The winner for best title is: Riding Bareback Backwards On A Pig: A book about the Collingwood Children’s Farm. It tells the story of the Collingwood Children’s Farm based on interviews with farm workers, volunteers, gardeners, children, local residents and workers in Collingwood.

riding bareback backwards on a pig

The winner for most engaging cover is: The Wintringham Story by Elaine Farrelly

It explores the foundation of Wintringham-specialst aged care for the elderly who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness. Telling the stories of some of the most vulnerable members of our community. An essentially important part of the collection.


The oldest book I’ve catalogued over the last week is A Census of the Plants of Victoria,  written by the Field Naturalists’ Club of Victoria in 1923. As well as some lovely maps of Victoria it has a comprehensive list of plants from across Victoria. The natural history of Victoria is an important part of the PMI’s collection.

a census on plants

So that’s just three of the books that I’ve been working on for the last couple of days. The others range from everything from family histories, to calendars, annual reports, biographies, historic  walks, guidebooks and much more.

I’ve also been indexing periodicals from the historical societies that are still putting them out. The last couple of days I’ve worked my way through the Genealogist

And the Australian Book Review- which is always a great source of new material we will eventually be purchasing for the library.

I’ve also been indexing a number of local historical society periodicals, which are being put out due to the sterling effort of groups of volunteers, working out new ways to work together remotely in these uncertain times.

So life at the PMI goes on, the collection is still being tended to- even if from a distance -and when we open there’ll be lots of new and exciting material for you to borrow.


Collections Librarian



Book Review: Fire Country by Victor Steffensen

Book Review: Fire Country by Victor Steffensen


This timely book from Victor Steffensen, a descendant of the Tagalaka people of Northern Queensland, combines history, story telling, autobiography and Aboriginal science. Like Bruce Pascoe in Dark Emu, Victor maintains that traditional culture sees the big picture, the connection of people to the land, and the importance of this to everyone in Australia.

For 27 years, Victor has been working to prevent major bushfires by using Indigenous fire management practices. After the cataclysmic fires over the 2019/20 summer, people from all levels of forest management, and the population more generally, are looking for alternatives to the way we have managed forests in the past. Victor has been saying for a long time that we should look at our land differently.

In relation to fire, he advocates traditional cool burning that sustains ecosystems, rather than just reducing fuel. Knowing what and when to burn comes from a deep understanding of these ecosystems. Managers need to be able to read the country and know the right times to  burn, taking into account climate conditions and specific attributes of each ecosystem. By doing this it means that post fire there is new growth that sustains native wildlife with food and habitat, while doing little damage.

In the book, Victor clearly acknowledges the Awu-Laya men, George Musgrave (Poppy) and Tommy George (TG) as the source of his fire knowledge (and so much more). Victor explains, ‘Poppy was the main man for the fire, his understanding of fire and the country was a special gift. He made sure to teach me well at every opportunity we had together. From place to place, both old men would stop and tell the fire stories for each different landscape. They would talk about the right time to burn, how all the animals fitted in, what plants lived where, and the types of soils.’ Later Victor emphasises, ‘You have to know how to read the country and learn the knowledge before you can light a fire.’

Victor has spent much of his working life based in the arts (filmmaker and musician) and recording and reviving traditional knowledge with mentoring and leadership, as well as on ground training. He co-founded the National Indigenous Fire Workshops that have been run in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. In this book Victor tells the story of how it all started, what happened along the way and where we are today. Some of this story was also told on a recent episode of Australian Story Fighting Fire with Fire, which can be seen here

Anyone who cares about our land and our native ecosystems should read this book, not only to comprehend how much our Indigenous people have to offer us in all levels of society, but specifically to understand what might be possible with a different approach to fire, based on First Nations knowledge.

Playing Their Part: Vice-Regal consorts of NSW

Playing Their Part: Vice-Regal consorts of NSW

Vice_Regal_book_cover_FAA book about the Vice-Regal consorts of NSW might seem like an odd choice for a Victorian History Library. The PMI, however, specifically collects material that covers NSW before Victoria became a seperate state. Additionally, a number of the consorts themselves were Victorian.

While all of the consorts, and I don’t say wives because there is one husband and some sisters and daughters, played an important role, I also have a personal reason for adding this book to the PMI’s collection. One of the consorts is my Great Grandmother. So I wanted to take the opportunity to write a little bit about the book, but also about the woman who inspired its addition to the PMI’s collection.

The book itself came together to tell the stories of the consorts who have no specific official role, and no job description but who still play an influential role. There are short biographies of all of the consorts from 1778-2019. They played a wide variety of roles and lived immensely varied lives. Each contributed something different to NSW and Australia more broadly. You can view the catalogue entry at including a full list of the consorts whose stories are in the book. Some readers will find familiar names because of the tradition of naming Sydney ferries after consorts.

My connection to this book is to Amy, Lady Woodward (and yes there was a Lady Woodward ferry- it is currently a houseboat in Queensland). She was born in Victoria as Amy Freame Weller at 221 Burke Road Malvern. The house was a federation style bungalow built in 1913 for Alfred Levy. You can see its statement of significance here:

She was the daughter of the Mayor of Malvern and grew up in an environment where her mother’s role as Lady Mayoress was seen as an important civic duty. Her nickname growing up was Bud and it stuck into later life. She married Flying Officer Eric Woodward in 1927 in Caulfield. Eric moved to join the army and Amy became very familiar with the life of the military wife saying ‘I learnt very soon that it was useless to plant lettuce and expect that it would ever grace my table.’ With Eric away in WWII Amy raised her children and worked on many boards and committees for the war effort, roles she continued when Eric returned.

When Lieutenant-General Woodward was appointed Governor of New South Wales in 1957 the Governor General said “I do not think a better choice could have been made than of you or your wife. I include her for, as I am sure you know, the wife is at least half, and in many things more than half, responsible for the success of the team.”

Eric and Amy were very much a team, with Amy heavily involved in all the social sides of the role of Governor General. They travelled a lot as well, trying to meet as many people as possible. Every Christmas their son Ted Woodward (my Grandad) and his family would come up for Christmas. My Mum remembers Government House as a happy place, they roller-skated in the grounds, put on performances on the stage and played in the pool. One particularly rememberable evening the butler ceremoniously presented a giant covered silver platter, and then lifted the lid to reveal a single grape in the middle of the platter. You can see a picture of Amy in the Government House gardens below.

Photo014 Bud in front of Government House , garden and harbour in background

Eric used to joke that he had ferries at the bottom of the garden.

Amy was patron of nearly every major woman’s organisation in NSW and she attended every AGM to which she was invited. She also had a rose named after her, the Lady Woodward. Which you can see in the photo below.

Lady woodward rose

When her private secretary was interviewed for this book and asked what part of her role gave Amy the most satisfaction she replied “definitely the contact with people, that was quite outstanding…and I think she will always be remembered for that. She was so warm, so understanding, interested in people and what they did and how they felt and that always came across.”

Eric’s term came to an end on the 31st of July 1965 and Amy and Eric moved into Wahroonga on Sydney’s upper north shore. Sadly Eric died on the 29 of December 1967 and Amy moved into a flat in Sydney where she stayed involved in the local community. She died on the 22nd of September 1984.

You can see the full recording of the interview with my mother Penny Woodward about her memories of Amy below.

This is only one story from this remarkable book- my favourite for obvious reasons- but there’s lots more to explore and it only goes to show the important role consorts play.