Australians tend to have an ambivalent attitude to their respective police forces. We automatically expect that they will be there in an emergency. We share their grief when one of their number is killed while on duty, yet we regard Ned Kelly as a folk hero, even though he was responsible for the murder of three policemen in 1878. Many of us are affected either directly or indirectly by serious road accidents, yet we will curse under our breath the police officer who pulls us over for speeding or using our mobile phone while driving.

Robert Haldane was a career policeman. He retired in 2001 with the rank of superintendent after nearly thirty years in the force. While a constable, he undertook a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) followed by a PhD on the history of the Victorian police force, the genesis of the first (1985) and subsequent editions of this book. This new edition revises the text where appropriate and chronicles the twenty-one years since the second edition was published in 1996.

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  • Custom Article Title John Arnold reviews 'The People’s Force: A History of Victoria Police' by Robert Haldane
  • Contents Category Society
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    Australians tend to have an ambivalent attitude to their respective police forces. We automat- ically expect that they will be there in an emergency. We share their grief when one of their number is killed while on duty, yet we regard Ned Kelly as a folk hero, even though he was responsible for the murder of three policemen in ...

  • Book Title The People’s Force
  • Book Author Robert Haldane
  • Book Subtitle A history of Victoria Police
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Melbourne University Press, $49.99 pb, 544 pp, 9780522864953

Victorians know the name La Trobe through the eponymous university, La Trobe Street in the city of Melbourne, and the Latrobe Valley in Gippsland. Tasmanians are familiar with the town of Latrobe in the north-west of their state. But how many are aware that all the above were named after Charles Joseph La Trobe, the first superintendent of the European settlement of Port Phillip, one-time acting governor of Tasmania, and the first lieutenant-governor of the new British colony of Victoria?

La Trobe’s reputation has been a mixed one. Few of his Melbourne contemporaries questioned his personal qualities, but they, and later historians, regularly contrasted these with his perceived inefficiencies and weaknesses as an administrator. In this sympathetic biography, John Barnes balances the ledger. Whilst not uncritical or shying away from what he sees as La Trobe’s weaknesses, Barnes argues strongly – and elegantly – for La Trobe being both a man of fine personal qualities and, for most of his time in Victoria, a competent and good administrator.

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  • Custom Article Title John Arnold reviews 'La Trobe: Traveller, writer, governor' by John Barnes
  • Contents Category Australian History
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    Victorians know the name La Trobe through the eponymous university, La Trobe Street in the city of Melbourne, and the Latrobe Valley in Gippsland. Tasmanians are familiar with the town of Latrobe in the north-west of their state. But how many are aware that all the above were named after Charles Joseph La Trobe, the first ...

  • Book Title La Trobe
  • Book Author John Barnes
  • Book Subtitle Traveller, writer, governor
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Halstead Press, $59.95 hb, 384 pp, 9781925043334

At the launch of Up Came a Squatter, Geoffrey Blainey reflected on how important the wool industry was to Australia for more than a hundred years. He noted that forty or fifty years ago you would not have bothered to mention the fact: it was as understood as the vagaries of Melbourne’s weather. Now wool is not even among Australia’s twenty top exports. Many of those present listening to Blainey and the author speak were from the Western District, descendants of Niel Black and others who established squatting runs in the 1830s and 1840s on the lands of Australia Felix ‘discovered’ by Major Mitchell during his overland expedition of 1836. An inevitable result of the land’s rapid occupation by squatters was the dispossession and near destruction of the local indigenous peoples.

Niel Black was a Scot from Argyll shire with extensive farming experience. He came to Australia in 1839 having formed Niel Black & Co with his own capital and that of two Scottish partners, one a first cousin of the future statesman William Ewart Gladstone. Black developed their land holdings on two core principles. He would not borrow money but only use the partners’ capital, and he would not break the sixth commandment. He deplored the boasting of some of his fellow squatters about how they had killed Aborigines on their runs who had stolen sheep or speared a shepherd. To overcome his moral dilemma, he made a conscious decision to buy an established run where the Aboriginal ‘problem’ had been solved by others before him.

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  • Custom Article Title John Arnold reviews 'Up Came a Squatter: Niel Black of Glenormiston, 1839–1880' by Maggie Black
  • Contents Category Biography
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    At the launch of Up Came a Squatter, Geoffrey Blainey reflected on how important the wool industry was to Australia for more than a hundred years ...

  • Book Title Up Came a Squatter
  • Book Author Maggie Black
  • Book Subtitle Niel Black of Glenormiston, 1839–1880
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio NewSouth $49.99 pb, 328 pp, 9781742235066

In March 2016 the Royal Historical Society of Victoria hosted a function to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Michael Cannon's The Land Boomers, first issued in 1966 and several times since. The various speakers paid tribute to Cannon's work as a freelance historian and editor whose many books provided fresh and accessible insights into nineteenth-century Australian life.

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  • Custom Article Title John Arnold reviews 'The Vagabond Papers' by John Stanley James
  • Contents Category Australian History
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    In March 2016 the Royal Historical Society of Victoria hosted a function to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Michael Cannon's The Land Boomers, first issued ...

  • Book Title The Vagabond Papers
  • Book Author John Stanley James
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Monash University Publishing $34.95 pb, 332 pp, 9781922235985

George Marshall-Hall was a towering figure both physically and intellectually in Melbourne in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth. Standing six-foot-three in his socks, the English-born and -educated musician was appointed the inaugural Ormond Professor of Music at the University of Melbourne in 1890. Following his arrival from London, he soon made friends with kindred bohemian spirits such as Lionel and Norman Lindsay, and with artists Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton, regularly camping with them on their plein air painting expeditions.

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  • Custom Article Title John Arnold reviews 'Passions of a mighty heart: The selected letters of G.W.L. Marshall-Hall' edited by Suzanne Robinson
  • Contents Category Letters
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    George Marshall-Hall was a towering figure both physically and intellectually in Melbourne in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth ...

  • Book Title Passions of a Mighty Heart
  • Book Author Suzanne Robinson
  • Book Subtitle Selected letters of G.W.L. Marshall-Hall
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Lyrebird Press $55 pb, 240 pp, 9780734037800

In Blockbuster! Lucy Sussex deftly relates the story of Fergus Hume and his great Melbourne detective novel, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. First published in 1886, it has never been out of print and has been translated into many languages and adapted for the theatre. There have been three silent film treatments (all sadly lost), and also an ABC telemovie. Yet despite its fame and longevity, the story of its writing, publication, and the life of the author have all been something of a mystery. Sussex’s background makes her an ideal candidate to try and solve these puzzles. Like Hume, she was raised in New Zealand before moving to Melbourne, is the discoverer of the first Australian detective writer, Mary Fortune, has edited anthologies of crime writing, and is a published novelist and short story writer.

Fergus William Hume was born in England in 1859, the son of a manager of a lunatic asylum who moved his family to Dunedin in New Zealand in 1862 to take up a similar position. Hume studied law at the University of Otago, worked as a law clerk, and qualified as a solicitor. He had a strong ambition to be a dramatist and cultivated the image of a dandy and a flâneur: the picture of him on the back cover of Blockbuster! shows him with a bow tie, a flower in his lapel, pocket handkerchief, and sporting a waxed handlebar moustache.

In 1885 Hume crossed the Tasman to Marvellous Melbourne with the aim of furthering his theatrical career. Despite his best efforts, he could not get beyond the fringes of the competitive Melbourne theatrical world. Although he mixed with the right people and wrote for the weekly Table Talk, no one showed any real interest in his plays. But he did have success with his novel about a night-time murder in a hansom cab travelling down St Kilda Road.

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  • Custom Article Title John Arnold reviews 'Blockbuster' by Lucy Sussex
  • Contents Category Literary Studies
  • Book Title Blockbuster
  • Book Author Lucy Sussex
  • Book Subtitle Fergus Hume and the Mystery of a Hansom Cab
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Text Publishing, $32.99 pb, 298 pp, 9781922147943

The Great War produced its own idiom and slang. Many of the new words and phrases created during the long conflict, such as ‘tank’ and ‘barrage’, became part of standard English, although often with a different nuance of meaning.

The recording of Australian soldier slang was seen as important at the end of the war. It was recognised as being integral to the unique character of the Australian soldier and linked to the official war historian C.E.W. Bean’s characterisation of the Australian soldier as the bronzed bushman and an outstanding fighter with a disdain for authority. In 1919, W.H. Downing published Digger Dialects; he described the slang he had collected as ‘a by-product of the collective imagination of the A.I.F.’. In the early 1920s, A.G. Pretty, chief librarian at the Australian War Museum, later the Australian War Memorial, compiled a ‘Glossary of Slang and Peculiar Terms in Use in the A.I.F.’. Amanda Laugesen (now the director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the Australian National University) has previously edited an online version of Pretty’s ‘Glossary’ and in 2005 published Diggerspeak: The Language of Australians at War.

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  • Custom Article Title John Arnold reviews 'Furphies and Whizz-Bangs' by Amanda Laugesen
  • Contents Category Language
  • Book Title Furphies and Whizz-Bangs: ANZAC slang from the Great War
  • Book Author by Amanda Laugesen
  • Biblio Oxford University Press, $32.95 pb, 254 pp, 9780195597356
Monday, 25 March 2013 20:06

The fortunes of HHR’s father

Helen Garner, speaking about Nora, the main character in her iconic novel Monkey Grip (1977), once said that, although she had seen and experienced many of the things that had happened to Nora, she was not Nora. In a similar vein, Bruce Steele argues in this short biography of Walter Lindesay Richardson that although there are many similarities between the lives of Richardson and Richard Mahony, the main character in Henry Handel Richardson’s great trilogy (1917–29), Walter Lindesay Richardson is not Richard Mahony. One was a real person, the other a fictional character, and Steele is keen to point out the differences between the two men’s lives.

The biography is a postscript to the massive Henry Handel Richardson project undertaken over fifteen years by Steele and his colleague Clive Probyn at Monash University. Their collaboration resulted in scholarly editions of Richardson’s Maurice Guest (1998), The Getting of Wisdom (2001), and The Young Cosima (2004), a three-volume critical edition of her classic The Fortunes of Richard Mahony (2007), and a three-volume edition of her letters (2001).

Another outcome from the Monash Richardson project was Marriage Lines (2000), a collection edited by Meg Probyn of Walter Lindesay Richardson’s two hundred-plus letters to his wife. For various reasons, including Mary Richardson’s frail health, the couple were often apart; the letters span some twenty-four years (1854–77). Steele has used them along with all other known sources to piece together an outline of Walter Lindesay Richardson’s life.

Marriage Lines and some of the above titles from the Richardson project were, like this biography, published by Australian Scholarly Publishing. Over the past decade, ASP has been one of the main, if not the main, publisher of titles that could be broadly classed under the rubric of ‘Australian Studies’. It has been willing to publish both revamped theses and books on specialised Australian subjects which other mainstream publishers are unwilling to touch due to the perceived (and likely) small market. Bruce Steele’s biography of Richardson is one of these small print-run titles.

The production here is modest and copy-editing apparently minimal. Baron von Mueller’s name is spelt incorrectly at the beginning, correctly in the middle, and then incorrectly again at the end of the book. The book itself should have been given a wider gutter margin, as the tight binding makes the text on the inner page difficult to read. But these are probably things that one has to accept in small print runs published relatively cheaply, and ASP is to be commended for including this biography in its publishing program.

One of the things that becomes clear from reading Steele’s book is that Richardson was an interesting nineteenth-century figure who had a life and career outside of being the father of Ethel Florence Richardson and a model for Richard Mahony. His obituary in the Australian Medical Journal (quoted in full in the book) begins:

Dr Richardson … seemed likely, at one time, to be a foremost man in the profession of this colony. He was unusually gifted, and had many personal advantages in his favour. His literary qualifications were greatly above average, and he was a fluent and impressive speaker.

After arriving in Victoria in 1852 in his late twenties, Richardson was a storekeeper on the goldfields before becoming a doctor in Ballarat for a decade. He was a pioneer in obstetric practice in Victoria and published numerous articles in leading medical journals of the time as well as in the wider press. He was an amateur botanist, a founding vice-president of the Ballarat Horticultural Society, and a friend of the great colonial man in the field, Baron von Mueller.

Richardson and his wife returned to England for two years in the late 1860s. Upon his return to Melbourne, Richardson became both a father and a man of leisure, having made enough money from his mining investments to retire. He enjoyed the life of a gentleman in a large house he had built in St Kilda. While a man of leisure, he became, like others in colonial Melbourne, an active spiritualist. Richardson was the inaugural president of the Melbourne Branch of the Victorian Association of Progressive Spiritualists and, as appendices, Steele includes three of Richardson’s addresses on spiritualism.

Richardson took his family to England for another extended stay in the early 1870s. While touring Europe, he learnt that his investments were deteriorating rapidly due to a downturn in the mining industry. He decided to return to Melbourne as quickly as possible to try and sort out his finances, leaving his wife and two young daughters to make their own way home.

But Richardson had put too many, if not all, of his eggs into the one basket and soon realised upon his return to Melbourne that his life as a gentleman was over. He sold his house in St Kilda and then unwisely built and over-capitalised on a smaller one in Hawthorn (now the site of the Glenferrie Hotel). His circumstances forced him to return to earning an income as a doctor, firstly on a seemingly casual basis in Melbourne, then at Chiltern in northern Victoria, followed by another attempt at Queenscliff.

Neither of these practices worked out, and while at Chiltern Richardson evinced the first signs of the debilitating illness that was to destroy him. In a letter to Mary he wrote, ‘I was posting a letter … and found myself unable to articulate.’ Such attacks and related queer behaviour increased at Queenscliff and the family was forced to move back to the city. Soon afterward, Richardson was admitted to the insane asylum at Yarra Bend.

Some critics have suggested that Richardson’s insanity was the result of his having contracted syphilis when young. At the time there was a causal link between syphilis and insanity, but there was no annotation to that effect on his asylum admittance card, whereas there is on the records for other residents. The definite link between the two diseases was not formally discovered until 1913. Since then some critics have adduced this link to explain Richardson’s demise. Steele argues that there is not a shred of evidence that Richardson ever had syphilis and that his personal way of life suggests otherwise. Still, it is possible that he picked up a secondary infection while practising obstetrics on the Ballarat goldfields. Steele believes that Dorothy Green, author of the major study on Henry Handel Richardson, Ulysses Bound (1973), got it right when she wrote in 1985 that no ‘proof of the cause of dementia was possible in 1879 …’ and ‘none is possible now, with a handful of bones 106 years old’.

Once her husband was too ill to work, let alone run a medical practice, Mary Richardson was forced to train as a postmistress and took up a position running the Koroit Post Office in western Victoria. She collected her husband from the lunatic asylum and he spent his last days in her care at Koroit, dying there on 1 August 1879, thirty years to the day since he had graduated in medicine from the University of Edinburgh.

His wife, somewhat surprisingly given Richardson’s financial problems, was left with more than £2000. She continued to run the post office but the money enabled the two daughters to attend Presbyterian Ladies’ College in East Melbourne. One, very musically talented, went to Europe to further her piano studies before turning to writing and marrying a very supportive husband, who was able to provide her with the necessary £500 a year and a room of her own so that she could concentrate on her writing.

Walter Lindesay Richardson has, until now, been known solely as the father of Ethel Florence Richardson and as a model for her most famous character. Bruce Steele has in this biography succeeded in his aim of giving Richardson a life of his own. It should be read in conjunction with the published collection of his letters to his wife. She, too, deserves a biography.

 

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  • Custom Article Title The fortunes of HHR’s father
  • Subheading A model of sorts for Richard Mahony
  • Contents Category Biography
  • Book Title Walter Lindesay Richardson MD: A Victorian Seeker
  • Book Author Bruce Steele
  • Biblio Australian Scholarly Publishing, $39.95 pb, 200 pp, 9781921875977