Blooming Marvellous

Alison Lloyd's Scroll #8

This newsletter is a celebration of Spring. It rambles like a jasmine vine over:

  • the history of a favourite picnic spot

  • the language of flowers

  • an eighteenth century woman’s contribution to public health

  • a luscious piece of writing about roses

Did you know there’s a connection between vaccination and Victorian floral messaging? You’ll find it below.

Coming Soon!

No fiction this edition, sorry! But I’m entering another 24 hour challenge this weekend to write a short story (only 250 words) on a yet-to-be-revealed topic. Should be fun. I hope to share the results with you later.

Also coming soon is Where’s the Red Button?

The manuscript has now gone to the designer! So exciting to see this story become a book. More news about release dates in November.

‘The most beautiful place I have ever seen’

Spring has sent my neighbourhood into a mad flurry of flowering. And we are allowed out for picnics!

One of Melbourne’s favourite picnic spots dates back to the heady days of the late nineteenth century when the city was rich on old gold rush money, and known as ‘Marvellous Melbourne’.

Land was set aside in 1846 for a botanic garden by the Yarra River. The first person in charge of development was an indomitable botanist, Ferdinand von Mueller, who liked to line up plant specimens in straight rows. All very neat and scientific — more ‘botanic’ than ‘garden’. Von Mueller resisted pressure to erect statues and ‘works of art’. He was immensely offended when he was replaced in 1873 by an Australian-educated nurseryman, William Guilfoyle.

Guilfoyle was energetic, enthusiastic and had an eye for landscape. The garden’s ‘prim, geometrical polygons, the stiff, straight lines were ruthlessly invaded,’ as he later wrote. Guilfoyle laid plans before the Garden’s governing board. He wanted to create a new lake, smooth the angle of the lawn, and transplant trees to reflect in the water. The board was impressed by Guilfoyle’s vision. They didn’t want to ‘quibble over a few pounds’, but they warned the director that the re-design would have to wait until the board found the resources.

‘What d’you say to that?’ they asked him.

Guilfoyle flushed. ‘I’m happy to say,’ he answered, ‘that the lake project was brought to completion yesterday morning.’

Melbournians and visitors have been appreciating his work ever since.

When the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, visited Melbourne in 1920, he said the Botanic Gardens were ‘absolutely the most beautiful place I have ever seen.’

‘Tone poems that quieten down to depths of silence.’

Touring concert pianist, and later Polish Prime Minister Paderewski, on the landscaping of the Botanic Gardens, 1904.

Doesn’t that make you want to find your rug and hamper?

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Love letters and Saving Lives

From the same period, The Language of Flowers (1884 edition) is a cute and popular little book.

It lists the romantic ‘meaning’ of hundreds of flower varieties that could be included in a ‘tussy-mussy’, or posy, for a beloved or friend. A damask rose, for example, is a complement to the receiver’s lovely complexion. Not so sure about the code for lavender though — why ‘distrust’? Because of the happy swarm of bees I mind out for when I pick a few stalks? Personally I’ve found the bees accommodating. There’s plenty of lavender for us both.

The idea of floral communications was brought to Europe from Turkey, well before the 1884 book, by a Lady Mary Wortly Montagu.

In 1711, when Lady Mary was an unmarried woman of 22, illicit love letters between her and a young aristocrat, Edward Montagu, were passed to her father. (A secret flower code might have been useful to them, but she didn’t know of it yet.) Marriage negotiations between her angry father and her prospective suitor broke down over money. Lady Mary’s father found her another match, who went by the clunky title of Clotworthy Skeffington. Evidently Clotworthy was as unappealing as his name, because Mary and Lord Montagu eloped.

In 1715, Mary survived smallpox, though not without scars. Her portraits don’t show them, but perhaps the painters were being kind. Shortly afterwards, Lord Montagu was sent as British Ambassador to Constantinople. There Mary associated with the women of the palace harem. She found out about the courtly messages coded into flower gifts. She also enjoyed Turkish bathing, and noticed that none of the Turkish women were scarred like she was. They told her how they had been inoculated as children, having a small amount of live smallpox pus rubbed into a small scratch on their arms. Sounds yuck, but it actually worked.

Smallpox broke out in England again in 1721. By this time Lady Mary and family had returned home. Lady Mary took the daring step of having a surgeon inoculate her three-year-old daughter. She invited doctors and ‘ladies of distinction’ to come and see. The Princess of Wales heard of the event, and the little girl’s quick recovery, and eventually the royal children were also inoculated. After that the practice became common across Britain. It wasn’t always successful — unlike the Turkish women, British doctors didn’t insist on patients self-isolating for a period to prevent infecting others. Seventy years later, Edward Jenner made the process safer by using cox pox virus instead. Jenner had been treated as a boy with the Turkish method introduced by Lady Mary.

Not as cute as floral messages, but more significant from our perspective.

From my bookshelf

Michelle de Kretser’s novel The Rose Grower, set in revolutionary France, has a gorgeous three-page chapter describing roses, in prose as floriferous as a floribunda:

June brings roses. Roses that show carmine in the bud and open to reveal petals of the palest shell pink. Roses in every shade of white: ivory, cream, parchment, chalk, snow, milk, pearl, bone.

Roses with nodding, globular flowers, large as teacups… The thick, red-purple petals of Tuscany, a very old rose, suggest the rich glow of velvet… Roses that smell like cinnamon, like myrrh, lemon, balsam, musk. Rose-scented roses.

So many roses. You’d think they would satisfy anyone.

But Sophie, tense as a cat, prowls her rose-crowded garden and sees only what isn’t there:

Dark-red roses.

Beware the thorns. Not a happy story, this one, though I recommend it.

While smallpox is no longer the threat it was, we now have another virus sneaking around, playing invisble tiggy in our community. Life is rarely perfect. Discomfort, difficulty and even death are frequent realities. But so are beauty, and seasons of abundance. I know the language of flowers is a bit contrived, but ‘perfected loveliness’, the 1884 translation for my white camellia (above), seems right to me.

‘He has made everything beautiful in its time.’ Ecclesiastes 3:11

Wishing you an outbreak of Spring exuberance!

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Buried Treasure and other Lockdown Pleasures

Alison Lloyd's Scroll #7

Still under Covid restrictions? My city is heading for the dubious honour of longest in lockdown. However, if you count pre-modern sieges, the north African town of Ceuta takes the prize for enduring a 30 year blockade (1694-1727)! History has a way of putting the present in perspective.

But enough of that. This edition of the Scroll is making lemonade with lockdown lemons, and offers you pleasures from my immediate vicinity. You might like:

  • a short suburban tale of buried treasure

  • to brew up a taste of colonial history

  • a new source of free audiobooks

First of all, thank you! Particularly if you were one of the many who told me they enjoyed last edition’s short story, Nest Egg. I was really encouraged. I’ve been keeping your feedback in mind, as I plan another novel. I’m thinking of a romance aspect… It’s early days, but the story might involve a housekeeper in a wealthy colonial household, who’s facing a lifetime alone in the servants quarters, while upstairs the state politicians try to figure out whether they will go it alone at the state level, or join together in federation. There will be an unexpected love interest for the housekeeper, but he hasn’t morphed onto my mental scene yet.

Secondly, apologies. Last edition, the ‘comment’ links misfired. Let’s try again, if you like. Suggest who might fall for the housekeeper, or anything else you’d like to see in a turn-of-the-century story:

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Buried Treasure

An update on the ‘room of her own’

Since the last Scroll, spring blew into my backyard with a burst of warmth, then sulked behind scudding clouds and fits of rain. My new writing cabin was reached only by tromping through a patch of mud. Not good for yet-unpainted floorboards. Spring here in Melbourne is brash and fickle. It tempts me into backyard projects, then pours cold water on them. I searched Youtube to learn how to pave.

Our backyard had a pile of half-buried bricks leftover from landscaping by previous owners. Thrifty me thought it would be a good idea to use these — anyway, they match the existing paving. And guess what I found?

A piece of history. A dated brick, with raised Olympic rings, from 1956, when the Melbourne Olympic village was just a few kilometres down the road.

You can see the bricks, the same colour as mine, behind the Hungarian athletes in the middle picture above. The village set ‘a new standard in Olympic housing’, according to the ABC in 1956. ‘Every athlete and official will sleep in a new modern brick and concrete home unit. This has cost a lot of money.’1 Looks like the cost may have been offset by repurposing bricks further out in suburbia.

You can’t tell from their poses, but the Hungarian team had just left their homeland in chaos, following the uprising and Soviet invasion. Imagine the pressure those athletes were under, wondering what was happening to their loved ones and deciding whether to defect. (About half didn’t return home) The middle, dark-haired guy above even looks like the Hungarian water polo player on the right. That third photo was taken at the same Olympics, during the infamous ‘blood in the water’ semi-final between Hungary and the Soviet Union. The Hungarians beat the Soviets and went on to win the gold medal.

As for me, when I found the brick, I felt like an archaeologist who’d discovered buried treasure. Why do I like old stuff so much? If I can philosophise for a moment: we’re all bricks, connected in a human mosaic, back into the past and forward into the future… So, I washed off my find, turned it face up and gave it pride of place. A yellow brick road now leads to my cabin door. It’s my own bit of Olympic gold.

A taste of our colonial past

I have been researching the history of Australia’s Federation. (See intro above for why). Federation, and Australia as we know it, almost didn’t happen. In 1847, Britain’s Secretary of State for the Colonies was the first to suggest an Australian federation, amongst other political reforms. However his proposals were howled down by the colonials. Partly this was because the Secretary also wanted to send convicts out here again. Nobody in the antipodes was having a bar of that. It took another 54 years of argy-bargy to establish the nation of Australia.

The Secretary, or at least his family, made another, more welcome, contribution to Australian life. Colonial Australians were prodigious tea-drinkers. In the days of cholera epidemics, it was safer to boil water, for one thing. Also, early nineteenth century colonials often collected their water off bark roofs into a barrel. This imparted a strong tannin flavour, but was still better than what the sheep had puddled around in, down at the billabong. People had to drink, and tea improved the taste.

The 1847 Colonial Secretary went by the aristocratic title of Earl Grey. The tea blend was probably named for him or his politician father — a nineteenth-century celebrity brand.

I love the fragrance of a steaming mug of Earl Grey. Below I’m sharing a recipe that uses the tea in another staple of colonial cuisine — a pudding.

On voyages to Australia, puddings sometimes got boiled in salt water, if fresh water supplies were running low on board. I don’t know how anyone ate such a briny beast. I promise this old recipe involves no sea water and is definitely comfort food. It cuts down washing up, too, by not using a mixing bowl.

All-in-together Earl Grey Pudding

1 cup dates, chopped

1 t grated lemon rind

30g (1oz) butter

1 cup strong, fresh Earl Grey tea

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups self-raising flour (or plain flour with 1 1/2 t baking powder)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 t mixed spice

extra 2/3 cup brown sugar

extra cup hot Earl Grey tea

Sprinkle dates over base of a round casserole dish. Add lemon rind and butter and pour over warm tea. Stir to melt butter. Add sugar, flour, spice and eggs and mix thoroughly. Scrape down sides of dish. Sprinkle over extra brown sugar and gently pour extra cup of tea over the top (do NOT mix this time — the batter will rise up through the liquid as it cooks, like Nessie from the loch, and you’ll get a sticky-sweet sauce under the pud). Bake 180C (375F) for 40 minutes. Serve hot with cream.

From my Bookshelf

If you missed my ‘Nest Egg’ story last month, it is now officially published! If you like reading short stories — all new, all Australian — I recommend the Newcastle Short Story Award 2021 collection, in which it was shortlisted. Not just because I’m in it ;) , but because I think the overall standard was really readable. (Although I couldn’t quite figure out the winning story. My favourite is probably ‘Baby Oil.)

You can buy the book on Amazon, or my contribution can be downloaded from my website:

Books to Bike/Walk/Cook with

If you haven’t got time to sit and read a book, you can to listen to one. I was happy to discover that ABC radio has launched a set of 36 Australian audiobooks. They range from Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, set in early colonial Australia, to the true story behind the film Lion, and lots more. For free! And no expiry date, unlike a local library loan.

Find them on the ABC Listen app via your device or click below:

I’m open to suggestions about what you’d like to read or know about in the Scroll. And of course you’re welcome to pass this newsletter on.

Best wishes until next time — may you find gold in your own garden!

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1

ABC Weekly, 1 September 1956. https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-1241644043/view?sectionId=nla.obj-1317691084&searchTerm=Heidelberg+Olympic+brick&partId=nla.obj-1241695884#page/n10/mode/1up/search/Heidelberg+Olympic+brick

A Cosy Escape from Lockdown

Alison Lloyd's Scroll #6

It’s midwinter and we aren’t going anywhere here in Australia. Currently, millions of us are limited to 5 kilometres from home, including me. So let’s cosy up and make the most of it. Scroll down to escape with:

  • a chirpy flirty EXCLUSIVE for you

  • a hearty old recipe

  • a historical perspective on lockdown

  • a ‘Room of One’s Own’

The Romance is on!

The short story I wrote a couple of months ago has been shortlisted for the Newcastle Short Story award. Yay - I do love a bit of affirmation.

To warm the cockles of your heart a little, you can take a sneak peek of the full story here, for a short time only. (Technically, it will be first published in the annual Newcastle Writers book, so I can’t leave it up online.)

Read the story here

Cook yourself a Babylonian banquet

If words don’t warm you, maybe food will. You may not be allowed out to dinner, but you can enjoy the exotic, epicurean riches of ancient Babylon at home.

What/when/who/where exactly was Babylon? The city-state of Babylon was in modern Iraq, close to modern Baghdad. If you read the Bible, it’s where the Israelites were carted off as slaves in 598 BC. 1200 years before that, Babylon was already a sophisticated kingdom with some of history’s earliest written laws, the code of Hammurabi.

Not only did the Babylonians have written laws, they also had cookbooks. This recipe is translated from the clay tablet above:

There must be the flesh from a leg of lamb. Prepare the water. Add fat, [ … ], salt, beer, onions, [a herb called] spiney, coriander, samīdu [possibly semolina], cumin, and beetroot to throw into the pot. Then, crush garlic and leeks, and add them. Let the whole cook into a stew, onto which you sprinkle coriander and šuḫtinnū.”

Let me re-interpret that into a recognisable modern recipe for you:

Tuh’u Lamb

1 leg of lamb OR 3-4 lamb shanks

2-3 onions, quartered

5 cloves of garlic

1 T cumin seed

1 leek, sliced

1 can beer

sprig rosemary (that’s a ‘spiney’ herb)

4 beetroot, peeled and quartered

1/4 cup semolina or 1/2 cup pearl barley

Fresh coriander

Brown the lamb shanks or leg in oil or lard. Fry garlic, leek and cumin seed. Add onions, beer, rosemary, leeks, beetroot and semolina or barley. Put the lid on and cook for 2-3 hours or until tender. Add salt to taste. Serve sprinkled with coriander.1

And eat like a king! Let me know how it goes:

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With a side serve of historical public health advice

‘Unprecedented’ was the most overused word of 2020. But actually doctors and officials have dealt with many mass outbreaks of disease in the past. Some of it sounds familiar:

  • A thousand years ago, Persian court physician Ibn Sina (aka Avicenna) recognised contagion caused by ‘traces’ left in the air by a sick person, and recommended their separation from others.

    • Quarantine was first introduced by the Croatian port of Dubrovnik in 1377, to stop the spread of plague from ships. Other European ports later built ‘lazaretto’ facilities to isolate sick passengers and crew for 40 days. In Venice, infected ships signalled with a white flag that could be seen from the San Marco tower. Only the captain was allowed to disembark to speak to authorities, and he had to maintain what we call ‘social distancing’. 2

    • When cholera broke out in Europe and the US after 1830, authorities set up quarantine and disinfection stations at borders, and clamped down on the movement of undesirables like prostitutes and beggars. This failed to stop the waterborn disease.

  • By 1911, the eleventh edition of Encyclopedia Britannica opined that “the old sanitary preventive system of detention of ships and men [was] a thing of the past”. Until along came the 1918 influenza, novel influenza, SARS etc…

From the long perspective of history, we have more in common with people of the past than we might think.

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A Room of Her Own

To return to cosiness, I am getting my very own actual escape hatch. I’m pretty excited for the new writing studio being built in our garden.

L-R: the sun sets on our old garden shed; the new foundation is built; the new studio under construction in the morning sun. Sounds kind of metaphorical — we could all do with a renovation :)

Virginia Woolf famously said ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’.3 I have always loved having my own space, ever since I was a little girl. Maybe you have a beloved, quiet space of your own too.

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The building project inspired me to read Virginia Woolf’s essay. I discovered that it’s a meandering, lyrical piece, less polemical than I expected. I love this bit where she describes musing by a river bank. Isn’t this what inspiration feels like?

Thought… had let its line down into the stream. It swayed hither and thither among the reflections and the weeds, letting the water lift it and sink it, until — you know the little tug — the sudden conglomeration of an idea at the end of one’s line… However small it was, it had, nevertheless, the mysterious property of its kind… it became at once very exciting and important; as it darted and sank, and flashed…4

Wishing you moments to muse, and bright ideas at the end of your line, despite restrictions, wherever you may be!

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1

This recipe is based on this article https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/daily-life-and-practice/bar-test-kitchen-tahu-stew/#note01, with refinements suggested by https://archive.aramcoworld.com/issue/201206/new.flavors.for.the.oldest.recipes.htm and my own tastebuds.

2

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/19/2/12-0312_article#r31

3

A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf, Penguin 2002, p14

4

Ibid, p18

Healing Powers of Sisterhood

Author Alison Lloyd's newsletter #5

Scroll down for a double dose of sisters, and more:

  • a portrait of the Stone sisters in colonial Melbourne

  • a link to a new short story

  • Romans from my reading

  • an update on the cover dilemma

  • and a new Australian film

Doctor, doctor

One of my sisters, who is a doctor, had a birthday this week. To celebrate sisterhood, and women doctors, this newsletter’s portrait is of a pair of pioneering Australians.

Clara and Constance were the daughters of a Melbourne builder. Constance, the older sister, wanted to study medicine, but the University of Melbourne would not let women into the course. Undeterred, Constance went off to study in the USA and Canada instead. On return to Melbourne in 1890, she became the first woman to register as a medical practioner in Australia. The following year her sister Clara was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Melbourne’s medical school.

The sisters set up in private practice together. Some of their early cases must have been confronting. The Argus newspaper reported in 1891 on the post-mortem of a 6-month old baby. The child’s single mother had paid a ‘nurse’ 10 shillings a week ‘for its keep’, presumably because the mother had to go out and work for a living. By the time Constance Stone was called in to see the baby boy, he was so ‘dirty and emaciated’ that he died the next day.1

Constance also examined a nine-year-old girl who accused an adult man of rape. (Again, he was supposed to be her carer. The tradition of evil step-parents and abused orphans found in fairytales and Charles Dickens had a basis in reality, it seems.) Dr Stone attested to ‘partial rupture’, physical evidence of the crime, but the jury found the accused not guilty.2

In 1896, Constance, Clara, their cousin Emily and eight other female doctors set up Australia’s first hospital ‘for women, by women’. It began as a clinic in a church hall, became the Queen Victoria Hospital in 1899, and served Australian women for almost a century.

You could say the Stone sisters made a rock-solid contribution. They were caring and enterprising, like my modern sister. Happy birthday Caroline! And much gratitude to all those working in the cause of women’s health.

Like a short story to read?

I’ve written a new piece of historical fiction featuring another pair of sisters. Here it is, if you feel like a trip back in time. Or if you like thoughtful, hopeful stories :)

Your comments are welcome! Reader feedback helps me know when my writing is good, or not there yet.

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From my Bookshelf

I really do love ancient settings. I settled into the opening chapters of the latest bedside book with a sigh of pleasure. A Man at Arms by Steven Pressfield is about a mercenary sent by the Roman army to capture a secret letter. His quest becomes entangled with a teenage boy and a mute girl. It gets bloody, and a little improbable, but I enjoyed the adventure. In Chapter 2 an omniscient narrator (unusual in modern novels) gives a four page explanation of the historical setting, which I liked:

Rome built roads… The Romans dug wells… They constructed forts… They bound the land with strongholds and arteries of military transport as a jailer binds a prisoner with manacles and chains. Then there was Roman administration. To her armies of foot and horse were appended battalions of clerks and functionaries… But the most revolutionary reordering was neither hewn from stone nor enforced by the sword. It was this:

Mail.

The daily post.

Rome brought the mail, and the mail brought the world.3

Where’s the Red Button? update

Thank you everyone who gave your views on the cover options posted in the last newsletter. It’s always enlightening to hear opinions other than your own. Apologies for the technical glitches some had with the images.

Turns out there are a lot of elements to juggle on a book cover. After considering everyone’s feedback, we ended up using a different image. Then the never-ending tweaks we made felt like Alice-in-Wonderland nibbling on her mushroom, trying to reach the right size — bigger, smaller, up a bit, down a bit… But finally we’ve settled on this:

Hope you like it!

Now to get the inside right. I’m not kidding — while the book is written, it’s about to be edited, and then it gets its own interior design. More on this project later…

The Drover’s Wife

In edition #4, I talked about Louisa Lawson, mother of Henry Lawson, and likely inspiration for ‘The Drover’s Wife’. Indigenous writer Leah Purcell has done her own take on that classic story. Her version is more about marauding men than actual snakes. See the movie trailer by clicking on the image.

If you liked anything in this newsletter, you are welcome to share it with others:

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2

A longer account of this 1895 case, written by the granddaughter of victim Ethel Wilkinson, is online

3

Abbreviated extract from A Man at Arms, by Steven Pressfield, W.W. Norton, 2021, pp12-14.

The romance is off. But...

Alison Lloyd's newsletter #4

Sadly my romance story, mentioned in the last newsletter, didn’t make it to the next round of the competition :( (Though I got feedback from the judges to fix it up.)

But… I am still riding dauntless into the fray! Scroll down to:

  • help me out with a quick opinion

  • read a micro adventure story

  • discover the woman behind the ‘Drover’s Wife’

Help me out - your opinion please!

I’m working on the true life story of a friend, to be self-published later this year. We’re figuring out a cover design, and I’d love your opinion.

Which option do you like best? Which might entice you to read the book? Flick me a quick 1, 2 or 3 by return email or hit the comment button. If you’ve got time, tell me why — what does or doesn’t appeal to you?

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Your feedback is much appreciated.

Hold up! Take a short adventure

This month I also wrote a new story for a ‘microfiction’ competition. In only 100 words, my assignment was to tell an adventure story, including characters eating cake and the word ‘distance’. Thought you might enjoy what I came up with:

Leaving the Goldfields

The coach jolted to a stop, in dust-speckled forest mid-nowhere. A musket’s black nostril thrust through the window. Ginny clutched her son’s hand, her shawl and the square bundle.

The masked man pointed. ‘What’s that?’

She unwrapped the tea-cloth, offered the burnt block. ‘Fruitcake.’

‘Bloody charcoal.’

‘I can’t afford to waste,’ she said.

He waved it aside, then made her turn out her skinny purse.

Hours later, in the distance, she saw the roofs of town – bank, government, barracks.

Ginny sighed. ‘Now for cake.’

She broke away the black crust. The boy’s wide eyes reflected her secret ingredient, gleaming.

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Parliamentary Portrait #3

You may have read the classic Australian story ‘The Drover’s Wife’, by Henry Lawson, in high school. I did. But we weren’t taught anything about the woman it was quite likely based on, despite her achievements.

Louisa Lawson — Henry’s mother — grew up in outback NSW in the Gold Rush years of the 1850s. She was forced to leave school at 13 to look after her 11 siblings. She married at 18, moving into a tent for her first home. Like ‘The Drover’s Wife’, Louisa’s husband was often absent, and ‘sometimes forgot that he was married’. In 1883 she left him and brought three of her children to Sydney. Son Henry joined her shortly after.

In Sydney, the tall, energetic Louisa Lawson earned her own living by sewing, washing, and running a boarding house. In 1888 she wrote and published Australia’s first magazine for women, on her own printing press. The Dawn declared itself to be ‘the printing ink champion of mankind’s better half’. It aimed to ‘fight women’s battles’ on issues like divorce, childcare and suffrage. The magazine was also happy to share poetry and household tips, such as how to clean wallpaper. (Iron it, if you were wondering).

The Dawn was a commercial success. However in 1900, Louisa was thrown from a tram, and never fully recovered from the accident. She was forced to close the magazine in 1905. After women were given the vote in NSW in 1902, Louisa Lawson was publicly recognised as the originator of the suffrage campaign. Unlike her writer son Henry, she was not given a state funeral when she died in 1920. She left only a modest estate of £629. But I think she’s worthy of a portrait in Parliamen, for the substantial heritage she bequeathed, creating a public voice for Australian women.

From the bookshelf

I thought we’d revisit ‘The Drover’s Wife’, in honour of Louisa Lawson and rural women. And because it’s great writing. How’s this for a sparse, evocative setting, the monotony reinforced by the rhythm of repeated words:

Bush all around — bush with no horizon, for the country is flat. No ranges in the distance. The bush consists of stunted, rotten native apple trees. No undergrowth. Nothing to relieve the eye save the darker green of a few sheoaks which are sighing above the narrow, almost waterless creek…

Four ragged, dried-up-looking children are playing about the house. Suddenly one of them yells: ‘Snake! Mother, here’s a snake!’

The gaunt, sun-browned bushwoman dashes from the kitchen, snatches her baby from the ground, holds it on her left hip, and reaches for a stick.

She ends up guarding her children in an all-night vigil, thinking about her life:

Tears spring to her eyes as she sits down again by the table. She takes up a handkerchief to wipe the tears away, but pokes her eyes with her bare fingers instead. The handkerchief is full of holes, and she finds that she has put her thumb through one, and her forefinger through another. This makes her laugh, to the surprise of the dog. 1

You can read the whole story in the Bulletin magazine of 1892 on the National Library’s Trove website.

Thank you for reading my random writer thoughts! I’m very happy when you enjoy my writing, and when you like it enough to share with someone else.

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1

The Penguin Henry Lawson Short Stories, 2009, p25.

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