Joseph and Harriet Blackstone emigrate from Norfolk to New Zealand in search of new beginnings and prosperity. But the harsh land near Christchurch threatens to destroy them almost before they begin. When Joseph finds gold in the creek he is seized by a rapturous obsession with the voluptuous riches awaiting him deep in the earth. Abandoning his farm and family, he sets off alone for the new gold-fields over the Southern Alps, a moral wilderness where many others, under the seductive dreams of ‘the colour’, are violently rushing to their destinies.
Happy New Year from everyone at FOBL!
We are currently working on an exciting program of Speaker Events for 2018…………so watch this space!
This year marks the 10th Anniversary of FOBL’s Open Book Group. In 2007 Jan, Annette and I put up a notice inviting FOBL members, and anyone else, to come along and talk books. Would they come? Yes, they did, and 10 years on they still do. Well done all!
I was pleased to moderate The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes.
Barnes presents us with a fictional biography of Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich born on 12 September 1906 in St Petersberg and regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century. Barnes uses Shostakovich’s voice to describe his life against the background of a tumultuous period in Russian history. The main theme of the novel is how the Soviet State or “The Power” used its influence to control the artistic expression of its composers.
Shostakovich lived in fear of his life following numerous interrogations by The Power when composing every one of his fifteen symphonies, six concertos, quintets, three operas, and film music. He was continually accused of dangerous personal expression rather than writing for the glory of the proletariat……..but, as the group discussed, what and how exactly did The Power want him to compose? The sands were continually shifting depending on Stalin’s whims.
There was unanimous agreement that the writing is sublime. Barnes divided the Novel into three parts covering the years from 1936, when Shostakovich first raised Stalin’s ire with a performance of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, to his death in 1975. The last section was particularly harrowing as Shostakovich is forced to join the Party. The Power argued the world can see just how enlightened they are now that a person of Shostakovich’s stature is “willing” join the fold. Trump, someone ruefully pointed out, is using similar tactics with “good” Republicans.
Each section starts with a quote referencing the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities without the balancing Best of Times. Members also noted Barnes describing the Lady Macbeth review in Pravda as by someone who knew as much about music “as a pig knows about oranges”…….referencing Orwell’s Animal Farm, in turn, a satire of the Russian Revolution.
Another member brought our attention to her favourite passage; a description of the natural pessimism of Russians and Stalin’s aim to make the Soviet Union optimistic (even if he did have to kill millions in the process). Others praised Barnes’ building up the sense of terror within which Shostakovich lived his whole life. “I really had to break for a cup of tea, it was all too much”.
The suspicion was raised about how much was true in the telling and how much is fiction? Some may have preferred a factual biography……….but then any history is only ever the interpretation of the author. Barnes’ treatment allowed his considerable imagination to get inside Shostakovich’s head and attempt to describe his thought processes.
There was also some criticism that there was too little focus on the masses dying without the protection Shostakovich’s art did, ironically, provide him……..but Barnes was focussing on the plight of the intelligentsia.
The musical buffs amongst us were able to shed light in this area where I am sadly lacking. They commented that he can be discordant, but several had witnessed thrilling nights at the Opera House where the audience had lifted as one at the end of the performance of his symphony.
Interesting the Novel is bookended with passages about Shostakovich and friend meeting and drinking vodka with a beggar at the train station. I had been bemused by this, but the group came to my rescue. In the clicking of the three glasses, Shostakovich hears a perfect Triad note. Notes which, ultimately, like other great works of literature and art will survive The Noise of Time. Barnes argues that in the end, this is all that matters. Plenty of food for thought.
In conclusion, we agreed that not only was it a great read, but also we had learned loads. Many of us knew nothing of his life and works, and foresaw much browsing on YouTube to rectify the matter.
We are delighted to present The Last Literary Editor, a talk by Susan Wyndham.
Susan Wyndham was literary editor of the Sydney Morning Herald in 1996 – 1999 and 2008 – 2017.
In her career as a journalist she has also been a news reporter, feature writer, editor of Good Weekend magazine, New York correspondent for The Australian, and deputy editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. She is the author of Life in His Hands: the true story of a neurosurgeon and a pianist (Picador, 2009) editor of My Mother, My Father: on losing a parent (Allen & Unwin, 2013) and contributor to several other books.
Susan has also contributed essays to two more recent books Rebellious Daughters edited by Maria Katsonis and Lee Kofman (Ventura, 2016) and Unbreakable, edited by Jan Caro (UQ, 2017).
She is now a freelance journalist, book reviewer, moderator at literary events, and working at another book.
Susan Wyndham’s essay titled The Last Editor will appear on the December 2017 issue of Meanjin.
We are thrilled and excited to have the chance to hear Susan talk about her experience and share her thoughts with us all.
Date: Friday 24th November 2017
Location: Balmain Town Hall Small Meeting Room
Time: 7pm for 7.30pm
Cost (incl. light supper):
Tickets are not available for purchase on-line.
Welcome Caroline and thank you to Sylvia for moderating We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.
Getting into a book sometimes creates a challenge and the first 76 pages of this one certainly did.
The story commences in the present with protagonist Rosemary recounting memories of her happy, very loving, if somewhat chaotic, upbringing with sister Fern, brother Lowell, mother, and father a behavioural psychologist.
Rosemary is a difficult turbulent character with the writing bouncing all over the place to reflect her voice. As her mother declared “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” in this household. Intriguingly Rosemary also alludes to great sadness in her early life when Fern and Lowell suddenly both disappear from the family. We were confused, did they die?
At this early stage, for some members, frustration was seriously setting in. For others, the account reinforced the fact that happiness is not state in itself but is a product of being loved and surrounded by people who care.
Then we reached page 77 and the big reveal.
Fern is a Chimp and Rosemary was brought up in tandem as her “twin” until Fern disappeared. This totally unforeseen twist gave us all a jolt. We reassessed, and some reread, the first 76 pages with fresh eyes. Fern through the experiments undertaken by her father and the graduate students, had taken on human characteristics. Rosemary’s early play with Fern meant Rosemary’s chattering incessantly, biting, pulling hair, jumping on tables etc. was also considered acceptable.
Our attention now truly captured, the book took on a darker turn. Fern had been taken away to live, caged up, in a Laboratory when she became too big and dangerous to reside in a human home. The family fell apart. Lowell left, ending all contact with his parents. He became heavily involved and subsequently incarcerated for his Animal Liberation activities.
We all agreed that it was a plot of great imagination and the writing very successfully captured her “monkey-girl” character. It was also a novel about memories, how selective they are – Rosemary hardly mentions her father….although presumably as the instigator of the animal experiments he would have been a powerful force in the family – and how reliable those memories, like all memories, actually were.
Fowler referenced the real-life cases in the 60s and 70s where Chimps had been subject to similar experiments. Fowler’s accounts were brief but prompted one member to say she would have almost rather read a non-fiction analysis of these experiments. Totally inappropriate as they were, maybe their tragic results did result in the understanding we have today?…….a difficult call.
The OBG discussion moved onto the whole topic of the arrogance humans hold over animals. Many animal lovers in the group, including a volunteer at Taronga Zoo, had heart warming accounts clearly demonstrating their intelligence.
One member noted the Great Ape Project seeking to legislate Primate rights. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Ape_Project How far do you go? “Would you worry about your goldfish?” quipped a member. We touched upon the challenge of using animals in medical research. Yes easy to have an outcry against animal testing of mascara and lip gloss, but the more tricky debate of their use in a cure for cancer was left hanging. Each of us reflected on our position privately.
Swinging back to the book Sylvia noted there were several in-jokes which none of us would have got without her help…..the name plays of Rosemary’s equally anarchic friend Harlow and of Madame Deferage, the puppet. What exactly was the point of the Ventriloquist dummy anyway? We didn’t understand that plot line. Some felt Lowell’s story was perhaps more interesting and would have liked to have seen it developed from his viewpoint..
In conclusion, we agreed that it was a book well suited to OBG. The discussion of the challenging issues it raised greatly enhanced the original read. Happy participants moved on to Tea and Tim Tams.
It was a full, excited, house on Friday 6th October to hear Kate McClymont speak to FOBL. Her talk was entitled The Bold, The Belligerent and the Bagmen.
Kate McClymont is an investigative journalist currently reporting for the Sydney Morning Herald. In the late 1980s, McClymont worked for two years as a junior reporter on Four Corners. In 2002, she won a Gold Walkley, an investigative journalism award, with Anne Davies for coverage of a rugby league salary cap scandal associated with the Canterbury Bulldogs. She presented the 2014 Andrew Olle Media Lecture. She is the co-author, with Linton Besser, of He who must be Obeid,an unauthorised biography of former NSW Minister Eddie Obeid.
A generous, witty and informative speaker. Kate is pictured here with FOBL Chair, Dr Mariella Totaro-Genevois.
We were delighted Kate also enjoyed her visit to Balmain “That was one of the most enjoyable talks I have done. The audience was well informed and so receptive!”
Tonight we will announce the finalists and winners of the FOBL Writing Competition for year 5 and 6 students in the Balmain area.
Viv Nicoll-Hatton who was awarded the 2013 Lady Cutler Award, an award presented annually for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature in New South Wales will be discussing the young writers’ entries.
Come along and join in the buzz in the room as the Awards are announced!
Date: Friday 15th September 2017
Location: Balmain Town Hall Small Meeting Room
Time: 7pm for 7.30pm
Tonight we will announce the winners of the FOBL Writing Competition for Balmain Secondary College. Winners and Highly commended entries will be selected from two separate groups. The first group consist of years 7 and 8 students and the second group years 9 and 10 students.
The task for the students was to write on the theme of Justice.
Come along and join in the excitement of the Awards Ceremony!
Date: Wednesday 23rd August 2017
Location: Balmain Town Hall Small Meeting Room
Time: 6pm for 6.30pm
Thank you to Gerry for moderating Swing Time by Zadie Smith.
After Smith, aged 24, burst on to the literary scene with the wonderful White Teeth fans always await her latest novel with great anticipation, and so it was for many of us who gathered on Tuesday.
Opening chapters rewarded our hopes. The developing friendship between two working class, mixed race, brown girls growing up on a council estate in London did not disappoint. The unnamed narrator shared the giggling, the confidences, the jealousies, the falling out and competitive tensions of her friendship with feisty talented dancer Tracey as they negotiated the throes of adolescence. Tracey was a well-drawn character, if not a particularly likeable one.
The narrator then leaves the estate for a minor university and, on graduation, gets a job as a PA to millionaire pop star Aimee ( aka Madonna/Kylie??). When Aimee sweeps into the Gambia to “fix” its problems by building a girls school and adopting/buying a black baby all completely oblivious its culture mores, we found ourselves on a roller coaster ride with as the narrative swings from London, to New York, to Africa and round and round and back again. Many lost interest finding the text confusing and littered with too many characters whose circumstances were not always fully explored or resolved.
Smith’s ideas poured off the page addressing themes of race, class, belonging, friendship, daughter/parents relationships (secrets and lies), third world development politics, biological clocks, what defines happiness – are the poor community-rich natives constrained by boundaries they are unaware of, and therefore are not troubled by, happier than Aimee with untold riches and stressed out by too many choices. While there were pearls of insight, there was a lot of clutter in the way to find them.
A long term OBG member, with a strong visual arts background, commented that as a group we often concentrate on the plot of our books rather than the structure. We need to try to stand back looking at the work from afar. She referenced Monet’s and Matisse’s analysis that the blank spaces in a picture are just as important as the drawn parts to give satisfaction when viewing the whole picture. Using this as a metaphor she argued Smith’s writing had no quiet spaces in it where we could breathe and recover before rushing off again. Admiring glances around the table as she nailed our thoughts.
There was, however, plenty to like and learn particularly all the reference to dancing motivating us to open YouTube, sigh at Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, discover Jeni Le Gon and watch Michael Jackson, with his shoes hammered his shoes to the floor, perform the “anti-gravity lean” in Smooth Criminals.
During our conversation, many compared to Smith’s friendship characterisations unfavourably to those portrayed in My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Quelle surprise that is our next book, so we can compare and contrast.
Please see the link below for an engaging conversation with Zadie Smith. You may (or may not) wish to fast forward the first 20 minutes when she reads from Swing Time.
We are delighted to present Prof Munjed Al Muderis who will be talking about his book Walking Free .
Prof Al Muderis is not only a Sydney surgeon celebrated for his pioneering technique which enables amputees to be Walking Free, but he, as a young doctor in 1997, had to flee from Saddam Hussein’s Iran or face certain death for refusing to mutilate the ears of army deserters. Coming to Australia in an overcrowded boat, held in Curtin Detention Centre for 10 months, he was finally able to find himself Walking Free in 2000.
Today, to add to his impressive medical career, he also gives generously of his time to many humanitarian organisations including Amnesty International, The Red Cross and UNHCR.
Do join us to hear to the remarkable story of a truly remarkable man.
Date: Friday 28th July 2017
Location: Balmain Town Hall Small Meeting Room
Time: 7pm for 7.30pm
Cost (incl. light supper):
FOBL AGM – 2nd June 2017
Good evening and a very warm welcome to everyone here tonight. This is the 19th Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Balmain Library (FOBL). My name is Mariella Totaro-Genevois and I have been Chair of the FOBL Committee for the last ten years. I am really sad to announce that Annette Waterworth, our invaluable Treasurer since 2002, has lost her brother in a light plane crash and has gone to Adelaide to join her family there. FOBL Committee member Rosa Saladino has kindly agreed to read the Treasurer’s Report, while Shirley Allen, another helpful Committee member is standing in for Fiona Chapman, our Secretary, who is unable to be here tonight.
FOBL, as most of you know, is an independent, non-profit organization, founded in 1998 to fight for Balmain Library’s inclusion within the restoration plan of the Balmain Town Hall. Since achieving that goal all following FOBL Committees – including the current one – have been devoted to supporting, promoting and enhancing the services of Balmain Library.
But, coming to the present, while Annette’s report will mostly focus on financial issues, I will endeavour to present a concise but comprehensive account of FOBL’s work, initiatives and projects from May 2016 to May 2017. My Report includes three sections addressing the main areas of interest we have covered in this financial year: education, culture, and communication and interaction with our members and the Balmain community at large.
Of course not everything can be categorised in absolute terms, for instance our 2016 AGM when Shirley Allen, Convenor of the NSW Support Association for Women of Afghanistan (SAWA), gave an informative and inspiring talk about the long-standing and successful work of her Association, this could come under culture because of its edifying content, but could also fit into the area of communication & interaction with FOBL members and the general public. So I hope you will allow me to be a bit flexible.
I’ll start with FOBL commitment to educational projects.
In June we held the fifth School Writing Competition Awards Night for students of the Sydney Secondary College in Balmain. This is one of two annual creative-writing contests run by FOBL. The second Awards Night for the Primary School Writing Competition was held in mid October. The atmosphere at both events was vibrant and joyful, with our venue full of bright excited students, smiling teachers and proud parents and grandparents. Soon after the Primary Schools Awards Night the celebrated writer and distinguished education expert Nadia Wheatley conducted a creative-writing workshop for the lucky winners and the highly commended schoolchildren.
As you may know since 2010, when our Committee launched the first FOBL Primary School Writing Competition these contests have occupied a central place in our annual calendar, thanks also to the generous financial backing of Bendigo Bank, to which we are and always will be deeply grateful.
Unfortunately we have recently been informed that the Bank won’t be able to continue supporting us in the future. Let me say that notwithstanding this unexpected drawback, the FOBL Committee would like to continue running its writing competitions for the schools; I am confident we will eventually find support from other community-minded organizations.
Finally in the education area I want to take this opportunity to warmly thank Vivienne Nicoll-Hatton, Maryellen Galbally, Bronwyn Monro and Fiona Chapman, the four highly competent and dedicated judges of the School Writing Competitions. The amount of work required by these contests is huge. It’s not just a question of professional qualifications, but as in most things relating to education qualities such as flexibility, empathy, experience and above all passion are essential, and the FOBL team of judges have all these qualities.
Let me move now to cultural initiatives and events.
On June 10 2016 children’s literature star and collage artist Jeannie Baker fascinated her audience illustrating the genesis and development of her latest book Circle. At the same time the book’s original artwork was on display in a traveling exhibition at the Sydney Maritime Museum. I must also mention that since then Circle has attracted national acclaim for its powerful, environmental message and artistic merit, and has been chosen as the best picture book for children by the Independent Bookshops NSW. It has earned Jeannie Baker the honour of being chosen by the International Board on Books for young people (IBBI) as the Australian nominee for the prestigious 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration.
At the end of July Emeritus Professor Nerida Newbigin from the University of Sydney, a specialist in Italian Renaissance Studies, captivated us with the story of the discovery and subsequent transformation of a 15th century Florentine manuscript firstly into the PhD of her postgraduate student Kathleen Olive, and later into a magnificent book that was given to Pope Francis on his first visit to Florence. A facsimile of this precious and splendidly illustrated volume was on display for the audience to inspect on the night.
In November we decided to present a daytime function, a well attended and well-received talk by Anne McCloud, who presented her recently published biography of Marie Byles, the first female solicitor to practice in NSW. A lively question time followed ending only because there was a delicious lunch waiting to be enjoyed.
Our end of the year function in early December was called Carols, Carousing and Cooking: a Medieval Christmas. Vivienne Nicoll-Hatton, who had put in a tremendous effort organising it, gave us a lively introduction to this special celebration. The event also included traditional carols sung by the local small choir PerSona. On this occasion our customary generous supper featured tasty examples of medieval finger foods.
Do I need to add that the FOBL crowd had a highly successful and fun night?
Coming now to this year, FOBL’s cultural program for 2017 was inaugurated in March with the best selling author and well-known memoir-writing teacher Patti Miller. Her topic was Truth Telling in Memoir, and her thought provoking presentation fully engaged the audience.
If we move now to FOBL’s interaction with its membership and the wider community, first on the list is of course the increasingly popular Open Book Group. Its regular meetings take place on the second Tuesday of the month. Discussions are always lively and stimulating, a great achievement by inspirational convenors Gillian O’Mulloy and Jan Atkin.
Still on the subject of connecting with the public FOBL’s website, www.fobl.org. au, keeps expanding its content and is regularly and meticulously updated. This is a time consuming and specialised task that our wonderful Gillian carries out in her usual generous and understated style.
Our regular publication, Bookworm, on the other hand, remains a reliable and valuable source of information about matters of interest for FOBL members, always presenting it in a very appealing format. The Committee is deeply grateful to Rosa Saladino, its accomplished Editor. In addition, as unfortunately Rosa is not nominating for next year’s committee, I wish to publicly express our deep gratitude for her skilled and generous contribution to the FOBL Committee work in the past four years.
As for Hill of Content, our local bookshop, FOBL is truly grateful for its generous support. The collaboration is not only very welcome but also very enjoyable for us all.
Finally, and still on the subject of the FOBL Committee connecting with people, we have a new initiative, in the form of a quarterly morning tea for the Staff of Balmain Library, when they join us for a brief break, which offers the chance for a quiet chat over a cup of tea and home-made cake.
And now, having concluded my 2017 AGM Report, once more as in the past ten years, and most importantly with the same enthusiasm as the first time, I wish to sincerely thank every member of the FOBL Committee for their amazing and resourceful work.
For me it has been not only a wonderful experience but also a real privilege to be part of the team!
Friends of Balmain Library workers had a very happy time presiding over our Third Book Boost. We spent almost $5,000.00 buying books for the Library on the weekend of 17/18 October.
This is how it works: we ask the Library staff which areas need a top up. Last year it was non-fiction which resulted in a very colourful supply of cookbooks. This year it was children’s books and fiction. There was a particular need for board books for the littlies who do use them for teething and tearing practice.
Then the public are invited in to choose what books they would like to see on the shelves. People usually are quite surprised and cheerful that they can choose a book without spending a dollar of their own money. The kids are delighted to rummage through the collection and of course want to take their book home straight away. The idea of waiting a couple of weeks for the staff to process them is not always well received.
We FOBLers have a great time chatting to old friends, making new ones, joining up new members and watching the beautiful kids enjoying the beautiful books.
A special thanks to the Hill of Content staff who provide us with a really good selection of titles at very good prices and of course to the Library staff who grabbed the selections for processing ASAP and also kept us supplied with tea and chocky biccies.