Down from the Mountain

Rich-Land-Wasteland-240Some time ago Knocklofty reviewed The Woman on the Mountain by Sharyn Munro, a book which explained why she retreated from city life in Australia to a remote peak a long way away from the nearest town, there to become a nature writer and found a wildlife refuge.

But for the last three years, she has been often away from her mountain, initially travelling the width and depth of this huge continent by air and road, and lately finding herself still on the road in the glare of television lights and the eyes of crowds who have come to listen to her. This shy and introspective woman came out of her chosen seclusion because she began to see that a monster was devouring the world where her grandchildren were growing up — a monster fully endorsed by myopic governments and heads-we-win, tails-you-lose laws.

The monster is the coal industry and its offspring, coal seam gas. The result of her journeying and talking to hundreds of people affected by its untrammelled advance is another book, Rich Land, Wasteland — how coal is killing Australia.

Every Australian politician ought be locked up with this book and not let out until they’ve read it; and then they should all be frog-marched around the devastated moonscapes that the mining industry has made while they were looking in some other direction.

Indeed, its impact on readers has been such that several have bought as many as a hundred copies, which they have posted to politicians in the hope that the small voices of a multitude of Australians might be heard through the roar of subsidised diesel machinery, money that doesn’t talk but rather swears at the top of its stentorian voice.

I have known the author for more than twenty years and I’ve been in regular communication with her during the more than two years that this book monopolised her life from conception to publication, so I have an idea of what she’s been through and how much the task damaged her spirit and drained her energy.

But I also know how indomitable she is; one lone woman to whom the smell of an oily rag is a luxury, with no background in investigative jourmalism and fortunately backed by a small and courageous independent publisher (and later a large international house as the book’s significance was recognised) has done the job our news media should have been doing instead of inane lifestyle supplements, wall-to-wall sport, tabloid ‘news’ and snarling shockjockery.

The result is a harrowing read. It’s an account of how the people who are the true backbone of Australia have been betrayed by the very politicians they have voted in for generations, of the astonishing cynicism of big business and the heartless flacks and gun-for-hire lawyers who represent it, and of the grief, loss and plain bodily suffering as an entire way of life has been trashed in less than one of those generations.

She’s not a fringe deep-greenie. She isn’t anti-mining — she agrees that any civilisation depends on the resources of the earth and on their judicious use. What shocked her — and her readers — are the scale, speed and consequences of the devastation.

An early and just as appropriate working title for the book was Coal Wars, appropriate because of the ravaged, polluted land the industry leaves behind looks like the aftermath of a titanic battle. And where it isn’t digging monstrous holes, it’s claiming huge tracts of prime agricultural land to sink fracking wells and link them with a web of pipelines and pumping stations, creating a nightmare for the broad-acre farmers on whom our food security depends.

Attempts to stop it, or at least to restrain its appetite, are rarely successful, and then only at the cost of what to ordinary people are heavy costs — mere pocket change for the Palmers and Rineharts — and the disruption of normal life by not only the need to organise and campaign but also by the dread of losing their lives’ work and their families’ futures.

The book is thus an account of the unseen side of the Faustian bargain Australia has made with big business; but the difference in this bargain is that only a minority of Australians are forced to pay the price — their livelihoods, their health and the soul of the land they live on. Solastalgia, a term coined by Glenn Albrecht, is the genuine sorrow for the loss of all the benefits provided by a living, sustainable environment, benefits that don’t figure on corporate balance sheets or the arid calculations of conventional economists.

It’s a big book and although it’s written with the author’s characteristic clarity and directness, it isn’t easy to read because of the inherently depressing picture it draws of a gigantic process seemingly run out of control and crushing the life out of the land. It cries out for photographs, but that would have made it too expensive for many readers. Fortunately, the internet has solved that dilemma; the book has its own website with photographic slideshows which tell the story of devastated landscapes, poisoned rivers, disappearing creeks and blighted lives in great breadth and great detail.

Governments at all levels have simply looked away and pocketed short-term revenues, often a mere token reward, while the industry has gone barging with their support into more and more territory, including federally funded nature reserves like Queensland’s Bimblebox.

When you read this book, it will be hard not to feel anger — because the damage they and the media don’t care to tell you about is being done in your name. In her conclusion, the writer reminds us that ‘we need not be helpless to stop it’.

Visit her own site where she tells not only of coal but also of the wild things with whom she shares her mountain.

Rich Land, Wasteland — how coal is killing Australia

Pan McMillan Australia

ISBN 978-1-7426-1099-3

$A29.99 RRP

Didactic Pastoral and the Authentic Australian Ratbag

Review: The Woman on the Mountain

Sharyn Munro • Exisle Publishing • ISBN 9780908988770-9

sharynbook.jpgIt’s easy just to take this book at face value and see it as the slightly unusual autobiography of a decidedly odd woman who turned her back on civilisation to live alone in a frightening wilderness, battling unruly weather, the vicissitudes of love and family, wildfire, recalcitrant machinery and the aches and pains of advancing age to achieve an ascetic solitude with only quolls and wallabies for company.

Australians display a marked ambivalence about the bush. The huge majority of the people, tightly huddled on the coastal fringes of this empty continent, rarely think about it despite the bush paintings adorning so many loungeroom walls. The bush is a vast and threatening place which only intrudes into the urban consciousness as alarming reports of huge bushfires, droughts, floods and helicopters winching hapless stray walkers to safety. Only a ratbag would want to live there. She wrote this book to tell us why.

Most reviewers so far have looked no deeper, but books like this one are so rare they can hardly be blamed for that.

Its underlying context is a long tradition of radical dissent that extends past Thoreau, Tom Paine and David Hume, all the way back to Diogenes – but we need go no further back than Thoreau to show that this book carries on that tradition and does so magnificently. Sharyn Munro’s life has been one long act of dissent and being a full-time dissenter is far from easy; if you are looking for the path of least resistance, you would be ill-advised to follow her.

Read more…

At last: a book to make you laugh

museum-cover240The Museum
by Julian Halls
ISBN 978 0 9805482 0 4

This is a most unfashionable book: it’s funny, it’s well written and constructed — and it has a happy ending.

It’s that rarest of things in an increasingly sad and troubled world: a comic novel, a genre which has almost disappeared under the weight of political correctness, post-modernist claptrap and the self-regarding seriousness of far too many authors.

Julian Halls has created an unlikely assortment of oddball characters — and they’re all people we’ve met or close to it — and placed them in and around a mouldering, half-forgotten regional museum in Tasmania.

The complex main plot concerns the relationships between two same-sex couples, one male, one female, and the whole thing is set in motion by a blowfly; it gets even more bizarre after that, although it’s never incredible—just like real life. Several curious sub-plots emerge and they are skillfully woven into a surprising conclusion.

The story is replete with intrigue, passion and downright skulduggery, as well as the finely observed petty tyrannies and bureaucratic absurdities of life in a museum.

A central theme is that things are never what they seem to be; questions of forgery and authenticity are the mainsprings of the novel, and they apply as much to the people as to the exhibits in the museum.

Halls, author of a well-received collection of short stories, Death of a Drag Queen, has a good ear for dialogue and bitchy banter, as well as the ability to drive an elaborate story along at a cheerful pace.

The Museum will appeal to the general reader as well as to those interested in another of the book’s themes, the need for same-sex marriage to be recognised as being as valid a way of life as any.

Available from bookshops in Tasmania and from The Bookshop in Darlinghurst, Sydney.

Author discovers eBooks

sharyn munroAustralian writer Sharyn Munro has become a convert to eBooks.

She lives in her wildlife sanctuary on a remote mountain top in the wilds of New South Wales, many miles away from the nearest bookshop along roads that are more like training ranges for tanks.

And like many writers, she can’t always afford to buy as many books as she’d like.

All writers are book addicts and they crave the physical presence and influence of books.

She didn’t think eBooks were for her—until she came across a collection of short stories by another Australian writer, Rachael Treasure.

The conversion was rather prompt, as she says in her review of Treasure’s Tales:

As a lover of the physical fact of books—their weight and feel, their look and smell, and their cumulative presence as they cover my walls—I have not been in favour of eBooks.

But I have just downloaded my first eBook, a collection of short stories by Rachael Treasure, and appropriately called Treasure’s Tales. It seems I had forgotten that what’s inside the book is after all the greatest pleasure.

As a keen short story writer and reader, I think this is a lovely collection of a writer’s progression, with finely observed details so that characters and settings are vividly real.

The stories themselves are surprising, quirky, perceptive, funny or moving, and whether set in rural or urban Australia, their human truths are universal. I thought the personal intro to each one was a great idea too.

The good plain prose makes them very accessible, as does this instant and inexpensive e-method of delivery from writer to reader. Terrific for isolated bushies like me. I can now see there’s a place for both types of publishing.

The A4 format means I’ll store Treasure’s Tales vertically, as I do magazines, and I won’t be re-reading them in bed—but I’ll certainly be re-reading them!

Sharyn Munro is the author of The Woman on the Mountain, reviewed by Knocklofty here and which can be ordered from your bookshop or from the publishers, Exisle.

Visit her beautifully written website.

And if you’d like to try your first eBook, you can buy Treasure’s Tales here.

A treasury of tales

tales coverBest-selling Tasmanian author Rachael Treasure has released her first eBook, Treasure’s Tales — a collection of new short stories in her own humorous, earthy style, published by local firm Summerhill Publishing.

The collection shows how her writing has developed from the beginning as a 17-year-old university student until now as a still-young farmer and mother of two.

One of the stories introduces Rebecca, the central character in her first novel, Jillaroo, and another is an opportunity to meet Emily from her new book, The Cattlemen, a work now in progress.

Visit Rachael Treasure’s entertaining website to buy the eBook — it’s a bargain at only AUD$9.90 — or buy directly from our site.

Quotable 4

Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.
—Dr Samuel Johnson

Authors are easy to get on with — if you’re fond of children
—British publisher Michael Joseph

There can hardly be a stranger commodity in the world than books. Printed by people who don’t understand them; sold by people who don’t understand them; criticised and read by people who don’t understand them; and now even written by people who don’t understand them.
—German physicist and writer Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742—1799)

Why typography matters

Returning from a shopping expedition on the bus, two old ladies were enjoying a chat.”I always buy the Bushell’s tea because of the lovely Garamond typeface on the packet,” one of them observed.”Yairss,” agreed her companion. “I’d have bought that bloody soap if they hadn’t set the body copy in 9/10 Bembo.”

Look out! The eBook is coming…


When papyrus was introduced by progressive scribes in ancient Egypt, it is certain that the more conservative elements in the profession held that it would never replace the clay tablet.

In medieval times, the printed book was regarded as a frivolous innovation which could never replace the hand-made book. The spasms of persecution following its introduction are commonly attributed to the church’s fear of the spread of independent thought, but another underlying reason was annoyance at the loss of the considerable revenue derived from its monopoly on the production of books.

Much later, it was asserted that television would never catch on because no-one would want to sit at home watching a little box in the corner. A chairman of IBM estimated the world market for computers at about a dozen machines.

Something similar is happening again, according to members of Knocklofty’s eBook development division. At parties and other gatherings, many of them now tell fibs about what they do.

“It’s worse than admitting you’re a doctor,” one of them complained. “Every time I say ‘electronic book’, back comes the riposte ‘Ah, but it’ll never replace a real book’, or ‘I don’t want to sit at a computer to read a book’. So now I just say I’m an actuary; they lose interest at once and I can get on with some serious drinking.’

Others say it’s like trying to explain the virtues of soap to those brought up to believe that the wire brush and carbolic method is the last word in personal hygiene.

Read more…

Tasmania’s literary Treasure


Congratulations to Tasmanian author Rachael Treasure. Her publisher, Penguin, is reprinting The Rouseabout, her latest novel, only two days after the release of the first printing.

An earthy and humorous writer, Rachael Treasure is gaining a substantial following through her website, Treasure’s Tales, where she keeps up a lively running commentary on living and literature.

Film producers, she says, are circling already for the rights to The Rouseabout – but she’s determined not to let just any Harry O Selznick give the story the usual Hollywood makeover.

Software to save your sanity


At last there’s a program for writers designed by a writer rather than by a gaggle of geeks in Seattle. Scrivener takes a lot of the pain and fuss out of writing by letting you write, edit and rearrange at will.

It means an end to boxes of scruffy, dog-eared index cards, teetering piles of manilla folders and finding that Post-it note you lost stuck to the sole of one of your writing boots.

The interface is clean and friendly and because, unlike Microsoft bloody Word, the package isn’t cluttered with dozens of useless bells and whistles, it’s very easy to use.

Scrivener lets you have lots of documents in the same place and allows you to edit them separately or as a whole; a corkboard, possibly the most pleasant and useful feature, uses virtual index cards to store a synopsis of each document in your project and you can shuffle them around any way you like.

An outliner helps you to see the structure of your work as it develops and keywords are invaluable in keeping track of characters, themes and ideas. Full screen editing removes distractions and you can export finished work to a word processor or a design program for formatting.

You can try it free for 30 days from developer Literature and Latte. And here’s the best part – if you like it enough to want to keep it, you pay a very modest $AUD46.00. A lively website provides support, a forum and a blog about writing.

Sadly, for those poor demented wights burdened by the ownership of a PC, it only works on Macintosh (OS 10.4) so that’s one more reason for getting rid of your Windows-driven Antikythera mechanism, which will do at least as much to repair your sanity as Scrivener itself.