Saturday, 9 January 2021


As well as being a writer, I’m a readaholic. Are you a readaholic too? If so, are you a member of Goodreads? It’s a fascinating and easy-to-join website, originally set up by an American couple to help readers find and share information about the books they love. Now owned by Amazon, it caters to around 90 million readers worldwide, give or take the odd million.

I use Goodreads as a central reference point to keep track of the books and authors I read each year, all tabulated neatly by the website. Since I joined Goodreads I’ve added 544 books to my ‘Read’ list. I also use Goodreads to help me remember to read books recommended by friends or receiving high ratings from a global audience. Each December Goodreads publishes its best books of the year by genre, based on reader nominations and ratings, not sales. For time-poor readers like me, this helps me keep abreast of market trends. Currently I have the rather daunting number of 68 books on my ‘Want to Read’ list.

Every reader knows instinctively what he or she thinks of a book as the last page is reached, so it's fun to bestow one's instant judgment via Goodreads. For the books I like to read, mainly non-fiction, histories, biographies and historical romance, a quick and easy click of a mouse assigns my favourites a four or five-star rating. Usually I remain quiet when a book doesn't appeal to me but very occasionally I give a low rating to books I actively dislike, even if they are popular titles.

Frequently I also leave a brief review or a few words of feedback for the author. To date these reviews total 113 in number. Given the countless hours authors spend on producing a book for publication, they generally deserve and crave every bit of feedback possible.

Goodreads does not restrict its listings to books sold by Amazon and unlike other online sites, you don't need to have 'proof of purchase' to add your rating or book review to Goodreads.

As Goodreads attracts a readership base well beyond the network I currently reach, I've also joined the site as an author. I’ve entered all of my non-fiction works (written as Louise Wilson) and my women’s fiction works (written as Louisa Valentine), allowing me to bring them to the attention of international readers. (Those books are listed on my website.)

Unfortunately, most of the readers of my special-focus history books are not members of Goodreads, while most of my current Goodreads friends are contacts from the romance writing world and not my readers. In the small Venn-diagram space where the two groups overlap, I’m happy to say that readers have given my books excellent ratings. Thank you.

Why not join me on Goodreads? Once you belong, I invite you to 'follow' me and to rate and/or review my books. I might regret issuing this invitation, but I hope you'll be kind.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

ABC Blues

I’ve been a rusted-on ABC listener since ‘The Children’s Hour’ of my childhood. In recent years I've even attended two street protests in Melbourne in favour of the ABC. But in recent months the ABC has steadily lost me as a fan.

ABC Melbourne
Aside from my other gripes about its declining standards of intellectual rigor, its Sydney-centric  ‘let’s get Dan’ campaign during the current COVID-19 pandemic has turned me right off. So has its constant focus on stories breeding community discontent. In the face of a unique global health crisis, both story angles make a mockery of the ABC’s supposed focus on improving our mental health.

Where does the ABC source its news in Victoria? Disgruntled talkback callers?  Who may or may not be doing the orchestrated bidding of the LNP? Consider my neighbours. My next door neighbour is well past thirty-five and he has just been retrenched from a Melbourne company providing technical services to an American company. The latter has failed during the out-of-control COVID situation in the US and has cancelled its Australian contract. My neighbour is sad to lose a good job but hopes to find another by Christmas. Next to him lives a senior Qantas pilot – the Federal government has closed our borders and international flights are not on his horizon for some years. Next door on my other side lives a kindergarten teacher and her partner, a tourism operator. They’ve mostly been surviving on Jobkeeper. Next door again lives a woman who’s been working from home for a legal firm and simultaneously home-schooling her two daughters. Across the road lives a restauranteur who’s held on for many months by the skin of his teeth, offering takeaway meals, but has sold his flash car and replaced it with secondhand basic transport. Melbourne has a huge population of international students, meaning that the income I rely on in retirement from the student accommodation unit I own may disappear next year. None of this diverse group of neighbours are critical of the current government’s approach. We are resigned but not rebellious. We live a short walk from the ABC's Melbourne offices but we never see an ABC reporter round here.

Apart from the 'let's get Dan' focus by the media, there has been virtually no media coverage of the fact that before this pandemic we were over-supplied with some forms of small business. Nor have we been told that the business model relying on continuous growth was always faulty and will now fail, given the expected reduction in Australia’s total population. The media should be encouraging small business operators to get smart and look around for creative opportunities beyond, for example, opening up yet another café. Too often this has been the strategy in the past, ending up turning a cluster of four or five successful cafés into six marginal cafés.

In my part of Melbourne in recent months I’ve noticed nothing but kindness and a determined sense of community spirit. The masked people who walk their dogs and children along our street say ‘hello, how are you going?’ as they pass by. On my own daily walks I don’t overhear snatches of bitchy complaints about the situation in Victoria. Frequently I pass someone tending a garden out on the street, pruning, planting or weeding a garden in the public domain, not their own garden. 

A Community-Minded Citizen during Melbourne's Lockdown

Perhaps we are noticing what has happened in the UK and practising gratitude, as all Australians should, for the sacrifices made by Victorians. In late July Victoria and the UK both recorded similar daily case numbers for COVID-19, in the mid-700s. Victoria went into strict lockdown, the UK didn’t. Today Victoria has recorded 5 new cases (zero yesterday) and the UK has 26,688 new cases.

On the Sydney-Melbourne 'divide', I have a foot in both camps, being a resident of Melbourne since 1987 but born and bred in Sydney. My daughter and only grandchildren live there. I spent ten weeks with them in Sydney a few months ago, listening to the ABC (of course) and noticing the regular digs at the situation unfolding in Melbourne. Sydney-siders too often display a complete lack of understanding about how different the two cities are, and why they are so different. 

Back in Melbourne, I for one have switched my radio’s preset button from ABC Melbourne to the witty commentary and soothing tones of ABC Classic FM. In front of the TV I’m just hanging on to watching ‘The Drum’ and the 7pm news, ever-ready with my remote button to switch off in despair. ‘Insiders’ has lost me completely, 7.30 nearly so, through their lack of balance and outright bias in programme coverage. Not watching TV is a much better approach to improving my mental health and lowering my blood pressure. 

So far, my bedside radio channel has not been reset and my old habits continue, so I wake up to SammyJ’s cheerful, heart-warming and amazing creativity and I go to sleep listening to the interesting variety of informative, apolitical guest interviews on ‘Nightlife’.

Yesterday I noticed a big change in the ABC’s approach. Suddenly the ABC was supportive of Victoria. Why? Instead of relentless criticism we had coverage of Lindsay Fox, a major business operator, praising the Victorian leader. ‘The Drum’ carried positive stories showing us how we’ve survived worse over human history and giving us all hope for our future. After the 7pm news I waited for Leigh Sales to introduce yet another negative story about Victoria. Hallelujah! Nothing! So I didn’t switch off straight away. At 10pm Philip Clark devoted an hour of his national ‘Nightlife’ programme to ‘let’s wrap our arms around Victoria’.

I’m proud of living through this pandemic and seeing the example set in Victoria of a genuine political leader encouraging and overseeing an overwhelming community effort to do what’s right for all Australians. Meanwhile the ABC has lost me as a dedicated follower of its news and current affairs offerings, although I continue to support some other aspects of its work. Australia needs a reliable, balanced, unbiased and trustworthy source of news and current affairs but, to my mind, the ABC is failing to deliver the required standards of an essential public broadcaster.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Coronavirus, South Melbourne Style, Autumn 2020

Australians won't easily forget the year 2020. It opened with the 'black summer' of catastrophic bushfires nationwide. Almost immediately the novel coronavirus named COVID-19 caused a global pandemic and the 'lockdown' of societies around the world, accompanied by #StayAtHome and #WashYourHands public health campaigns. So far, everyone living in Australia can be grateful that we live where we do, and not in the many other countries where the virus has raged out of control.

Thanks to the 'lockdown', a sense of community has grown in my street. My lovely neighbours know I live alone, with my daughter and grandkids in far-off Sydney. I'm on 'helping' terms already with three close neighbours but to date the young man living next door has just smiled, said hello and chatted briefly with me in the street. On the first day of the 'lockdown' he knocked on my door, offered help in case I needed it, and asked that we exchange phone numbers in case of an emergency.

Next day it was a 40-ish mother, with kids around the same age as my grandchildren and renting a house a few doors away. She put a note in my letter box, also offering help with shopping, spare toilet rolls and her phone number in case of need. So the 'black cloud' of social distancing required for COVID-19 also offers glimpses of a 'silver lining' by bringing some of us closer, emotionally, via small acts of random kindness.
It's hard to imagine that one day we may need some reminders of how things were during 2020. Just in case I forget, here's a small sample of 'the new normal' I've noticed during my walks to the South Melbourne shops and South Melbourne Beach during the autumn of 2020.
Queues of unemployed workers keeping their social distance
outside Centrelink, York St, South Melbourne, 26 March 2020
People quickly appreciate essential services workers, 6 April 2020
Doctors continue to operate, with strict infection control precautions in place
Trams follow normal timetable but are largely empty.
This tram is about to collect its only two passengers, 15 April 2020
Instructions at the entrance to Woolworths, South Melbourne
Hand sanitiser dispenser outside Woolworths, South Melbourne
Instructions for standing in queues at supermarket checkouts
My neighbour and I continue our regular, socially-distanced walks
from home via quiet suburban streets to South Melbourne Beach, which remains closed
20 May 2020 - Cafes have long since worked out ways to stay open,
organising takeaway menu displays and pickup tables outside their premises
Some cafes have moved their food offerings from the counter to the front window,
to tempt passers by during their daily walks, which are permitted for exercise reasons
No cafe tables with chairs are permitted outside - so cafe customers have to stand around,
well spaced out, to enjoy drinking their coffees in the welcome late autumn sunshine
A bit of pro-active, eye-catching marketing
outside the Hunky Dory fish shop in Clarendon St, South Melbourne
To enter this smash repair shop you first need to ring
the office number displayed on the notice
The Op-Shop for the Sacred Heart Mission at 365 Clarendon St
is still operating under limited conditions
Only the food stalls are allowed to operate inside South Melbourne Market.
Other stalls are barricaded off. The usual 'vibe' is sadly lacking.
'Ghost' stall holders inside South Melbourne Market
Staff holding hand counters control the traffic flow
into the Food Hall section inside South Melbourne Market
Customer control measures apply within the Food Hall of South Melbourne Market
One-way traffic flows apply even for stall holders on the outside of South Melbourne Market
Some residents have retained a sense of humour.
Public authorities are now employing teams of cleaning staff
for high touch points like railings, pedestrian buttons
Meanwhile, life goes on pretty much unchanged for a writer like me,
used to being tied to a desk day in and day out.
My latest book is 'Sentenced to Debt: Robert Forrester, First Fleeter', published in May 2020. It can be purchased online here.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Isabella Ramsay, Brave Colonial Woman

Isabella (Bella) Ramsay, a farm servant girl from Cumberland in England, made her mark on Australian history.

Found guilty of stealing wearing apparel in August 1790, sixteen-year-old Bella was incarcerated at the Carlisle Citadel. With English prisons being scoured for women of marriageable age who could be sent to the fledgling penal colony of New South Wales, she was scooped up. Women like Bella were needed as 'partners' for the preponderance of males who'd arrived in the colony on the First and Second Fleets.

She arrived in Sydney in July 1791 aboard the Third Fleet vessel Mary Ann, three months short of her eighteenth birthday. She was 'selected' by the First Fleet marine settler James Manning and in 1792 she married him but in 1793 she apparently exercised her free choice of partner. Manning gave up farming and returned to soldiering and she took up with Robert Forrester, an industrious First Fleet convict and a former member of Sydney’s night watch. Bella and Robert had nine children together.
Convicts in New South Wales, lithograph, 1793, Juan Ravenet,
from wash drawings collected by Felipe Bauza on the Spanish Scientific Expedition
to Australia and the Pacific, 1789-1794, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW
By August 1794 Bella and Robert were settled at the Hawkesbury where Bella was among the first white women pioneers to live on the frontier of settlement, unguarded by the soldiers living at Parramatta and Sydney Cove.
Detail from 'A View of the River Hawkesbury, NSW, c 1810’,
Watercolour drawing by John William Lewin,
Image a3531001, By Permission State Library of NSW
In October 1794, in the first case of its kind, Robert was ‘interviewed' at Parramatta by John Macarthur over the killing of an Aborigine at the Hawkesbury but no charges were laid.

In September 1799 Bella enters the history books in her own right. In front of her five young children, she played a prominent role in standing up to her neighbours (a group estimated to involve nine men including the local constable Edward Powell, her next-door neighbour) against the execution of three Aboriginal boys in her home. Robert Forrester was away at the time. Her neighbours ended up taking the boys away from her home and killed two of them while the third escaped.
Original sketch by Julia Woodhouse
The ensuing court case in October 1799 led to the first policeman in Australia’s history being charged and found guilty of killing an Aboriginal person. Powell was initially demoted but was eventually pardoned, as were the other four men charged. Despite many Aboriginal deaths in custody after that, his charge was the last for several hundred years, until a Queensland case in 2007.

Bella was rescued from the March 1806 floods at Windsor and was still alive when Marsden’s Muster of Women was recorded in August 1806 but seems to have died by early 1807, as her youngest child, an infant born in March 1806, was raised by foster parents (the Second Fleet convict Paul Bushell and his wife Jane Sharp).

Bella stands out as an early example of a courageous woman willing to stand her ground in a tough man’s world. In May 2020 she was accepted as a nomination for the Australian Dictionary of Biography's 'Colonial Women' project. It's to be hoped that she makes it through to the finals of the selection process.

Read her full story in 'Sentenced to Debt: Robert Forrester, First Fleeter', available from BookPOD.

Monday, 4 May 2020

My 13-yr-old granddaughter’s text diary of a COVID-19 experience?

Last week my granddaughter rediscovered in her phone a text diary sounding suspiciously like a COVID-19 experience. Everything she writes below, as a 13-year-old, came weeks before the world knew anything about COVID-19. If so, it shows the symptoms suffered by children and the transmission issues.
18 Dec 2019 - Leaves Sydney for Hong Kong to see her father. (She’s an unaccompanied minor, but she has made many international flights since infancy and lived in HK for eight years.)
23 Dec 2019 - Visit with father to Disneyland, Hong Kong. Disneyland is a major attraction for tourists from mainland China, many of whom travel via the transport hub at Wuhan. It is winter, people are coughing, standing in queues at Disneyland and gripping the rails and handles on all the rides.
26 Dec 2019 - Father sick.
27 Dec 2019 - ‘dad sick again so can’t do anything again today, he has a really high temperature and rlly sick so we didn’t do anything yesterday we just stayed home and he slept and I watched tv but he still sick today’
29 Dec 2019 - ‘maybe change my flight and stay in hong kong because dad's been sick and he’s only getting better now’
30 Dec 2019 – Li Wenliang warns his colleagues at Wuhan Central Hospital about possible outbreak of an illness resembling SARS (Source: Wikipedia)
31 Dec 2019 – Granddaughter getting sick? (very irritable in text exchanges with her mother)
31 Dec 2019 - Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, China, reported a cluster of cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, Hubei Province. A novel coronavirus was eventually identified. (Source: WHO website)
2 Jan 2020 - Father out and about again but still unwell
3 Jan 2020 – The following was written on plane back to Sydney, so my granddaughter could tell her mother when she got home. She doesn’t ask the flight crew for help, or ask for a supply of tissues! Rediscovered in her notes on 28 April 2020 (with a few commas added by me to aid the reader):
so snotty!!!! whole jumper drenched, whole flight nose was leaking
short of breath, hard to breathe (feels like no oxygen, and shorter faster breaths) head feeling a bit warm all around with a headache mainly at front of head
random sneezing attacks – sneezing like 10 times in one minute, happened about 5 times on the flight, everyone a little pissed off
really tired, not like tired because of sleep but just really not there and can barely walk to bathroom because i feel so tired
sore throat and flemmy, not aching, just like coarse and dry but not dry because covered in flem and yucky snot 

nose and sore throat/chest main issue, nose dripping while i write this!!'
At Sydney Airport, 3 Jan 2020
3 Jan 2020 - text from queue at Sydney Airport Immigration to her mother waiting in the Arrivals Hall ‘i am [expletive] sick and i have to stand here for like 40 minutes i reckon'  Her mother asks ‘did you get a ticket for the automatic one?’ and granddaughter replies ‘no u have to be 16 … literally like heathrow … god I miss hk’
Returns home and sleeps for 24 hours. How many people did my granddaughter infect with her ‘bug’ on this flight and at Sydney airport? She said later that her Dad was much sicker than she ever was.
4 Jan 2020 - On social media WHO reports a cluster of pneumonia cases – with no deaths – in Wuhan, Hubei province. (Source: WHO website)’
4-9 Jan 2020 – In following days, granddaughter too sick to go to rowing training. One of her three brothers becomes noticeably unwell, while her mother and two other brothers feeling very tired. One brother sleeps for days.
10 -12 Jan 2020 – whole family at Rowing NSW Summer Regatta at Taree. A few days later my granddaughter’s rowing coach (fifty-plus) becomes ‘sicker than she’s ever been in her life’. Another girl who rowed with my granddaughter is also very sick.
12 Jan 2020 - China publicly shared the genetic sequence of COVID-19. (Source: WHO website)
13 Jan 2020 - Officials confirm a case of COVID-19 in Thailand, the first recorded case outside of China. (Source: WHO website)
16 Jan 2020 – My daughter and her four children have driven from Taree to visit friends in QLD and shortly afterwards one woman, in her forties, complains of being unwell and then also becomes ‘sicker than she’s ever been in her life’.
25 Jan 2020 – First reported case of COVID-19 in Australia – man returning to Victoria from Wuhan. (Source: Wikipedia)

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Quirky Genealogy

Every writer knows that the title of a book and the picture on the cover is crucial in attracting readers. Family history writers, too, are in the business of attracting readers, although their genre is a difficult one. A widespread view that family history books are 'boring' means its authors are too often bashful, humble and self-effacing about their work.

Stop right there .... we could be injecting a bit of fun into our titles.

Here are some witty examples from some published genealogical material:
  • A Lot about a Little, edited by John G Jennings
  • Over-Halling the Colony, George Hall - Pioneer, edited by Russell Mackenzie Warner
  • The family of Mann, by James Dargan
  • Pickett lines : descendants of Samuel Piggot/Pickett and Mary Thompson, by Penny Ferguson
  • Sailing on .... The Hibbs Line, by Allen Maunder
  • Lore of the Roses - Thomas and Jane Rose Family Descendants
  • In Morse Code: tracing the family histories of James, Charles & Edwin Morse who migrated to Van Diemen's Land between 1842 & 1855, by Alan F. Dyer.
  • Unravelling the Code: The Coads and Coodes of Cornwall and Devon, by Dr Joe Flood
  • Can't See the Woods .... for the Woods, the search for one Henry Woods, by Catherine Meyrick
Think of the fun you could have with book titles for the following family names:
  • Case Studies
  • The Wide Brown Land
  • Keen & Able
  • White Lies
  • Black Humour
  • Ridge Lines
  • Farr Horizons.
We family history researchers already know how to inject a bit of fun into, and find joy from, our work and how to share a bit of humour with others. For instance residents of Australia who were born overseas, yet the details of how or when they arrived can't be traced, are called ‘the swimmers’. Australians do love irony.

Some family history researchers actually make you laugh out loud. At an archives office in Sydney I’ll never forget one woman who discovered something unpalatable, a lie told to her by her father. She slammed the microfiche slide reader shut and shouted ‘If he was alive, I’d kill him'. Lovely black humour.

I'm trying to practise what I preach with my next book, 'Sentenced to Debt', due out in a few weeks. It's much more than a family history and is intended for general readers of Australian history. I've found a relevant cartoon-like picture to work into the cover. It depicts a scene at the Old Bailey in 1807, where a famous barrister named William Garrow was a noted defence counsel from 1783.
More miseries. Being nervous and cross examined by Mr Garrow, 1 Apr 1807, one of 49 etchings by Thomas Rowlandson, published on 1 Dec 1808 in ‘The Miseries of Human Life’ by R Ackermann, Repository of Arts, 101 Strand, London
While the book's title is not humorous, neither is it boring. It's somewhat quirky, as it has three meanings.
  • It's a play on words for the First Fleet convict Robert Forrester who was 'sentenced to death' at the Old Bailey in 1783. 
  • It describes the outcome of Robert's life in Australia, virtually sentenced to debt, resulting in a unique case study of an archetypal 'Aussie battler' coping with a string of natural disasters, and 
  • It recognises the debt all Australians must acknowledge as Aboriginal land was claimed by the Crown according to the terra nullius principle and given away, sold or leased to incoming settlers.
To purchase this forthcoming book, due out on 18 May 2020, click here.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Radar's and Thea's Running Away Book

About 40 years ago a little 'Mr Happy' booklet came home with my young daughter Thea after she'd spent the weekend with her Dad. The handwriting belonged to her stepsister Radar, a year older. I opened it with trepidation. Was I going to discover some unpleasant truths?
The lack of apostrophes on the title page was quickly ignored when page 2 proved they had no intention of getting lost. Radar helpfully provided her home address and phone number.
Thea wasn't quite sure of hers:
It was pleasing to see that the primary safety lesson instilled in both girls had been absorbed - 'stay together'. And it seems they were a bit scared of the dark.
They planned to keep warm:
And they did not intend to starve:
Hmm, we must have done something right as the parents of young children, as their food preferences were encouraging:
No squatting on the ground for this pair - chairs would be much more comfortable. I heaved a sigh of relief at this point as the 'pads and pencils' item proved they intended to stay in touch, even if they were running away.
They'd keep boredom at bay with a spot of reading, planned to keep themselves clean and, being good little Aussie kids, they knew they had to be Sun Smart.
No finger food for this pair - tableware was needed. By now it had almost reached the stage where a removalist would be needed to transport the load:
They paid impressive attention to personal grooming issues and first aid supplies:
They'd learned to count without making a mistake, even if their spelling was a little haphazard:
Craft activities were in order, with sticky tape, a pencil sharpener, a rubber and glue on the list. And last but not least was the most important thing, made evident during this COVID-19 pandemic:

It was a relief to reach the end and discover that they just wanted an adventure. No mention of wicked stepmothers or stepfathers.

This little booklet remains one of my treasured possessions. I love it. Thank you girls. Now that COVID-19 has struck and you're confined to barracks with your own children, I hope this story will amuse them for a moment or two.