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!



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.





Book Review: The Man Who Lost Himself

Book Review: The Man Who Lost Himself

Review by Michael Canavan
the man who lost himself

Be they Nigerian or phony Tax Officers, they invariably seek to cheat you. Invariably, occasionally, one comes along so cheeky that it becomes a Ripping Yarn, immortal even.

Such was the Tichborne Inheritance. Feckless young Roger Tichborne disappears at sea, believed drown-then again, maybe not. Years later, newspaper adverts appear seeking details: in Wagga, Tom Castro [or is that Arthur Horton?] takes note.

Boldly going forth, and acquiring friends and bankrollers, he stakes his claim to the sizeable inheritance. After a solid start, doubts arise: does he resemble Roger? [facially-mmm; girthwise-no]. He cannot speak French. Indecision.

Two trials later, lasting a collective 291 days [the Final Addresses in the second trial occupied a collective 62 days], the final verdict was delivered in 35 minutes.

A comedown from the time that pictures of The Claimant outsold those of the Monarch.

Robyn Annear’s The Man Who Lost Himself takes us from Villa Castro to Tichborne Hall, from the mountains of South America to the flats of the Murrumbidgee:  the pace is maintained as various opportunists seek to get their dibs on a slice of the inheritance.

It was an Event: nothing was left undone to secure the 140kg “Jolly Sir Roger” his inheritance. Crowd funding supplied the creature comforts of The Claimant [as he was referred to once legal proceedings get underway] and, in an outstanding PR coup, 1500 Tichborne Bonds were issued to enable wealthy True Believers to contribute. A superb potboiler, “The Tichborne Romance” titillated the lower orders. The British populace was enthralled, being treated daily to saturation press coverage of [well recompensed] Colourful Colonials bearing, often wildly contradictory, evidence for and against. Sorting the wheat from the chaff, then as now, was immensely entertaining

Beneath the bluff and bluster, who was The Claimant? He grew into the role, refining his public persona, charming supporters and drawing in doubters. Only those close to him harboured lingering doubts

The Man Who Lost Himself is superb, a single-sitting read. Like a good detective thriller, the reader is gently guided into making-up their own mind regarding the evidence regarding The Claimant. There is never any real doubt as to the final outcome, but, as in any Ripping Yarn, it was done [and written about] with style and panache. The verbosity and colourful language from all concerned made me wonder: if it wasn’t so serious it would make a wonderful comedy.

It remains so well-known because it seems so modern: a core group of supporters sustaining the faith, combined with a flair for publicity has its modern counterpart, alas, not nearly as colourful as the original.

It finally ended in 1898.

The Claimant died on April Fool’s Day.

Book Review: Blooms and Brushstrokes by Penelope Curtin and Tansy Curtin

Book Review: Blooms and Brushstrokes by Penelope Curtin and Tansy Curtin

Review by Penny Wooodward


Subtitled A floral history of Australian Art, this glorious book celebrates and identifies the flowers in artworks by Australian artists. An A-Z of flowers, anemone to zinnia, with nearly 100 beautiful reproductions of paintings and photographs by well-known artists such as Tom Roberts, Margaret Olley and Ellis Rowan and less well-known painters such as ex-convict artist WB Gould and his stunning vase of poppies.

A diverse range of both introduced and native flowers are depicted, from a single button hole carnation in a self-portrait by William Dobell, to a huge cottage garden with hollyhocks painted in 1835 by John Glover. It’s hard to pick favourites, but two of mine are photographs. The first by Christian Thompson, a Bidjara man from Mount Tambor, Queensland. Titled Purified by Fire it is a self-portrait, depicting iconic and beautiful Australian flowers and foliage, like everlasting daisies, and banksias, and in the middle we can just see a face with flames in his eyes.  The second is the cover photo, Blinded, by Polixeni Papapetrou. This luscious highly coloured photo is part of a series called Eden.

The text discusses the flower/s and their history, the painting and the artist. Mother and daughter authors Penelope and Tansy Curtin, provide a detailed background story of the chosen flowers and comment on the part each artist has played in Australian art more generally and the relevance of each painting depicted. This gives deep insights into why the art works are important, how they were created and the artist who created them.  If you want to actually look at any of the original works, a comprehensive List of Works is found at the end of the book, including in which gallery each artwork is hung (although some are from private collections).

I have learnt so much about the flowers, the artworks and especially the artists. As a botanist it is usually the flowers that interest me when I see floral art, but dipping into this book has ensured that I will look differently at floral art, every time I visit a gallery in the future. An important, engaging, beautiful book for lovers of gardens, nature, history and art.

Book Review: All Mine by Peter Edwards

Book Review: All Mine by Peter Edwards

Review by Renee Rollestone

All mine

The story opens in a rural New South Wales town in the mid-eighties. We are introduced to the Caruso Family who are a major organised crime family with ties to every government agency in the country.

We are then taken to present day where Carlo Caruso is in hiding in Canada, wanted for a grisly double murder of two undercover policeman. After seven years, it is decided that a risky transfer back home is necessary for Carlo as his mother is dying and wants to see her youngest son one last time.

What follows is an intricately written story with a formerly famous model, a widowed hermit architect and bikie gangs all coming together thanks to the actions of Carlo Caruso in his past and his present form. The Great Ocean Road and inner-city Melbourne are an evocative backdrop to this saga of obsession, crime and inner demons.

Edwards makes a strong point with his characters that it is the actions and choices that they make throughout their life which define their future happiness. Not opportunities, fame or money. Carlo’s inability to fully recognise his family’s efforts and risks in bringing him home are a common theme throughout the book. It is also a great observation on the consequences of obsession, the horrific impact on the object of it and how one person’s single-minded focus can shatter the lives of many, with lasting scars.

Edwards introduces the characters with care, taking the time for the reader to get to know the protagonists and their pasts. The tension picks up throughout the novel, leaving the reader desperate to get to the end and find out what will be the ending for our characters.

An enjoyable read, a bit slow to start but worth pushing through to the end.

4 out 5 stars.



There’s your quote, mate. An anthology of outrageous interviews from the mixed-up, muddled up music scene / Antonino Tati (New Holland, 2019)

There’s your quote, mate. An anthology of outrageous interviews from the mixed-up, muddled up music scene / Antonino Tati (New Holland, 2019)

A review by Steven Haby, Secretary Librarian


there's your quote mate

Cream magazine established in 1997 by the author of this book soon developed a reputation for scoring some pretty decent interviews from bands, songwriters, producers and others in the music scene. Many interviews were with Australian talent but also Antonino was able to sit down or call some of the more famous overseas people in the business as well.

This book is a collection, selected by the author, of some of the more memorable (or in some cases less so – ‘train wreck’ comes to mind) interviews. Many of the interviews include a postscript by the author which presents a reflective perspective on the session with the person in question.

Nick Cave is the first artist on the playlist so to speak and the interview was indeed a ‘train wreck’ of epic proportions. Nick was at his difficult best and the author comes across as completely flummoxed by the Prince of Darkness. To Nick’s credit he was very positive about Kylie Minogue!

Other artists who get a run include Meat Loaf, Simon Le Bon, Dave Grohl and Delta Goodrem. Kath and Kim and Dame Edna Everage are included and are at their acerbic and intellectual best.

The interviews are interspersed with chapters on various musical trivia relating to the Australian scene. An interesting and quick read which can be one of those books you can ‘dip into’ from time to time. A downside was the author’s cataloguing of their imbibing of various illicit drugs which perhaps helped (and hindered) their journalistic abilities which becomes rather tiresome after a while.