Perth Writers Festival 2017-The Historical Highlights

Mechanica Bug courtesy of my daughter and REmida

Mechanica Bug courtesy of my daughter and REmida

This weekend was the Perth Writers Festival on the beautiful grounds of the University of Western Australia. As always I’ve come away with more ideas than I know what to do with and more stimulation than my brain can handle.

There were so many wonderful speakers and engaging authors.
Friday was all about me, Sunday was all about Family Fun and encouraging my daughter’s creativity

These are my Friday highlights. (Click the picture captions to have a closer look at the books)

1880’s Girl’s Top 4 Historical Picks

In order of appearance, not importance

Much Ado About Shakespeare
by Donovan Bixley

A beautiful and hilarious picture book for grown-ups, trust me the pictures really are for grownups.

Bixley turns William Shakespeare into a living-breathing-flawed human being, the human being we can see in his work.

I appreciate the way Bixley approached “the black hole” that is Shakespeare (Bixley’s words not mine): He combined the dry, irrefutable facts of Shakespeare’s paper trail: receipts, business dealings and legal documents ( of which lawsuits for misbehaviour were not uncommon) with the historical context of life in the theatre and the lifestyle of actors/producers/playwrights.


Georgiana Molloy the mind that shines
By Bernice Barry

I was thrilled to discover Bernice Berry and her book on Georgiana Molloy because you see Georgiana was a person who immediately sparked my interest when I first heard of her in the collective biography Great Pioneer Women of the Outback by Susanna De Vries.

Georgiana Malloy was the first West Australian botanist to begin identifying and cataloguing the vast biodiversity of Australia’s South West. This is a meticulously researched biography and I am looking forward to immersing myself in Georgiana’s world and combing through the 600 references at the back of the book.

The Birdman’s Wife
by Melissa Ashley

You can’t go wrong with a cover that features the beautiful art of Elizabeth Gould. If you aren’t familiar with her work, think Darwin’s finches, Yep she painted those.

Like most people I assumed the famous John Gould was famous because of his bird paintings but it turns out he was just the ornithologist, his wife was the artist, . If not for Elizabeth Gould’s extraordinary talent Mr Gould would have remained an obscure historical figure known only in ornithological circles.

I am really looking forward to reading this book, a novelization of Elizabeth Gould’s life.


Dark Emu, Black seeds: agriculture or accident
by Bruce Pascoe

This is perhaps not an obvious choice for 1880’s Girl but you see my love of the Victorian age does not blind me to its faults. The Victorian Age saw the peak of the British Empire and with colonisation comes abuse.

This book is a scholarly look at the truth about the aboriginal society as it was when the first white explorers landed on its shores. (Yes this was a good while before Victoria but it is how the empire was built.)

The Aborigional people were not uncivilised, without law or culture. They were not aimless wanders at the mercy of the seasons “picking a grub here a berry there” as Pascoe put it.

These were a highly ingenious and organised people. I am sure I have heard multiple interviews with Pascoe and other researchers on RN (Australia’s Radio National station) because this book contains all the information I have heard but could never remember the details about.

This includes records of aboriginal farming methods, and land care, the building of stone aquifers and irrigation canals. Early explorers recorded harvesting and planting and bread making on a par with Europeans and Native Americans. Facts that even today are glossed over, ignored or deliberately hidden.

My question is: If explorers like Thomas Mitchell and Charles Sturt recognized and recorded this civilization, if people like Georgiana Molloy benefited from the wisdom and humanity of indigenous people, how and why did the narrative change? How were the voices of reason and compassion drowned out by the ignorant and fearful?

I suppose we know the answers but…

Think how history would be different if reason, respect and compassion had won the day over  power, pride and greed!

If I were a sci-fi writer I would write that alternative reality. But I’m not.

So I model  my characters after wise and compassionate real people like Georgiana Molloy and Abigail March.

The Writers Festival has me chomping at the bit to jump back into my full writing routine.