Friday, July 4, 2014

7 tips for writing history by John Hirst

“The documents are not the world; they are the surviving traces of the world you have to imagine.” – John Hirst

1. In research don’t start at the beginning and hope to reach the end; work over the whole period the whole of the time.

2. If all the books agree, look at the evidence again (they may have been copying each other).

3. Play with titles and tables of contents soon after you start—the research will change these and then they will guide the research. 

4. Use the documents to find the passions and preoccupations of your people—and write about those.

5. Don’t refer to organisations by acronyms; use short titles. The longer the list of abbreviations, the worse the book.

6. Don’t write with your notes close at hand. The documents are not the world; they are the surviving traces of the world you have to imagine.

7. Read over your notes for the next part—and then sleep. Don’t get up until you have decided on an opening sentence.

John Hirst’s latest book Australian History in 7 Questions is available now in all good bookstores.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

7 Surprising Things about Australian History

In Australian History in 7 Questions, historian John Hirst asks and answers the questions that get to the heart of Australia’s history.

Here John shares 7 surprising things about Australian history as found in Australian History in 7 Questions.

1. Australians are a very compliant people: they do what the government says.

2. Who paid for the convicts’ rum? Answer: The British taxpayer.

3. The House of Lords was a friend to democracy in Australia.

4. Who put on the biggest show for the opening of the first Federal Parliament? Answer: The Chinese.

5. The convicts are not the source of Australian anti-authoritarian attitudes.

6. In World War II it was Robert Menzies, not John Curtin, who first said we must look to America.

7. Multicultural society in Australia is becoming less diverse.

You can read about these surprising things and much more in John Hirst's Australian History in 7 Questions, available now in all good bookstores.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

10 Found Foods
In My Year Without Matches: Escaping the city in search of the wild, Claire Dunn tells her story of spending a year living off the grid in a wilderness survival program. Here she writes about some of the wild foods that she lived off.

In 2010 I embarked on a year of bush immersion, learning the arts of indigenous living, such as primitive fire lighting, tracking, basketry, bird language and building a shelter from natural materials. Bush food was a priority. While this wasn't Survivor, I wanted to eat as much as possible from the land. While initially a wall of green, gradually my forest home became a supermarket as I discovered the wild foods at my thatched doorstep. Here are ten of my favourites.

1. Native Grape  (Cissus hypoglauca)
Despite hanging in dark bunches of berries in late summer and autumn, comparing the five-leaf water vine to a grape is drawing a long straw. Tart, and with a bitter crunch if you fail to spit the seed, the rainforest native is still one of the more satisfying of bush berries, if only due to its abundance. It boils up into a great jam – even better when sweetened with bush honey.

2. Geebung (Persoonia virgata)
Affectionately known as a snotty-gobble, the pea-green fruit of the geebung are the all day suckers of the bush food world. Littering the ground in summer, I would fill my pockets and pop a couple in my mouth whenever I passed. Spit out the skin, and suck away on the sweet, fleshy seed coating.

3. Mountain Devil Flower (Lambertia formosa)
Devilishly spiky, the fire-engine-red flowers of the mountain devil also hold delicious nectar. Without the advantage of a honeyeater's long beak, you have to wrap your entire mouth over a flower in the early morning when the nectar runs thick, or steep it in water along with banksia flowers for a cordial.
4. Seaweed
A three-day solo mission to a remote beach tested my hunting and gathering skills. The variety of soft seaweeds in the rock pools provided excellent greens. Boiling them up with some pippies and a smudge of miso, I was a happy camper when I fell into my swag under a pandanus tree that night.

5. Roly-poly (Billardiera scandens)
When our local Gumbaynggirr guide spied the unripe oblong fruits of the roly-poly vine, his eyes gleamed. According to him, it is the holy grail of bush food, but near impossible to source before the possums do. It was therefore with some excitement that I stumbled upon a single ripe grey fruit on the ground in early summer. After removing the skin, the flesh was a cross between a kiwi and a blueberry, and by far the sweetest wild fruit I encountered.

6. Native Sarsaparilla (Smilax glyciphylla)
The new red leaves of the native sarsaparilla vine seem to illicit either love or hate. While slightly astringent, for me the Dr Pepper sarsaparilla flavour was a taste sensation. Apparently a great blood cleanser, it was great addition to a wild salad and worked just as well to delay thirst.

7. Flax Lily (Dianella)
The stunning indigo of the dianella berries look too good to be true. They're much more than eye candy though, and I had to remind myself to leave some for the birds when they fruited in abundance during summer. This versatile plant also offered me leaves for basket-weaving and string, and while the fruits can also be used as a blue dye, I wasn't about to waste them on such frivolities.

8. Sour Currant Bush (Leptomeria acida)
This nondescript spiky plant which scratched its name on my skin daily, redeemed itself when it sprouted dozens of tiny translucent edible berries. Aptly named, they reminded me of the sour candies I favoured as a kid. Still, apparently higher in vitamin C than any citrus, I snacked as I went – at least I wouldn't die of scurvy!

9. Mat Rush (Lomandra longifolia)
A trip to the waterhole was never complete without a chew on a lomandra leaf. While not exactly curbing a carb craving, the base of the inner leaves delivers a good starch hit and has a sweet bok choy kind of taste. The remainder of the leaf joined the bunch drying in my shelter for basket-weaving.

10. Bulrush (Typhus)
This is one of those uber survival plants with more uses than I have space to list. The fresh roots and tubers were delicious when roasted on the coals, and necessitated a fun, muddy adventure to harvest. The fluffy 'cotton' in the seed head made excellent tinder for fire lighting.

My Year Without Matches: Escaping the city in search of the wild by Claire Dunn is available now in all good bookstores.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mother's Day Gift Guide

Are you looking for the perfect gift for your Mum for Mother's Day? Look no further!

Gazing at the Stars: Memories of a Child Survivor by Eva Slonim
Gazing at the Stars, Eva Slonim’s story of surviving the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, is told with the heartbreaking innocence of a thirteen-year-old girl and the wisdom of a woman of eighty-three. Eva’s lifelong commitment to educating the world about the Holocaust is an inspiration. If your Mum is a fan of memoirs like Night by Elie Wiesel, she'll love this.

Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty by Diane Keaton

Diane Keaton's candid, hilarious and deeply affecting look at beauty, aging and the importance of staying true to yourself. If your cinema-loving Mum liked A Story Lately Told by Anjelica Huston, she'll love this.

North of Normal: My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family and How I Survived Both by Cea Sunrise Person
From nature child in the Canadian wilderness to international model by the age of 13, North of Normal tells Cea Sunrise Person's story of extreme family dysfunction and ultimate triumph. If your Mum liked The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, she'll love this.

Sh*t Asian Mothers Say by Benjamin Law and Michelle Law, illustrated by Oslo Davis.
Benjamin Law and Michelle Law, the long-suffering children of an Asian Mother, bring you the hilarious Sh*t Asian Mothers Say, featuring the wisdom of Asian Mothers the world over. If your irreverent Mum likes cheeky blogs like When Parents Text, she'll love this.

Welcome to Your New Life by Anna Goldsworthy
Welcome to Your New Life captures the shock of leaving behind the life that you know and the thrill of starting the great adventure that is parenthood. If your Mum liked A Life's Work by Rachel Cusk, she'll love this.

Quarterly Essay 53 That Sinking Feeling: Asylum Seekers and the Search for the Indonesian Solution by Paul Toohey
Paul Toohey looks at one of Tony Abbott's signature election promises: to stop the boats. Has his government succeeded? At what cost? If your politically savvy Mum liked Political Animal by David Marr, she'll love this.

The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow by A.J. Mackinnon
Join A.J. Mackinnon, your charming and eccentric guide, on an unforgettable voyage in a boat called Jack de Crow. If your Mum liked Tracks by Robyn Davidson, she'll love this.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Robyn Annear's 5 Favourite Places in Melbourne

This month, we are delighted to be re-releasing Robyn Annear's much loved histories of Melbourne, Bearbrass: Imagining Early Melbourne and A City Lost and Found: Whelan the Wrecker's Melbourne. We gave Robyn the difficult task of choosing her five favourite places in Melbourne:

Monument to indignation
A pillar of Stawell sandstone stands in the lee of the Exhibition Building, placed there c. 1880 at the insistence of John Woods, MP, “to express his indignation at the choice of New South Wales stone for Parliament House & to show the enduring qualities of the local stone”.

Photo from The Tumbrel Diaries
Behind the Windsor Hotel
Laneway behind the Hotel Windsor where you can see in the hotel’s rear wall (at the Bourke Street end), bricks from the demolished Eastern Market used in constructing the hotel extension in 1960. (But be quick – this wall too is soon due for demolition.)

Parliament House
Climbing the steps feels grand; inside, the parliamentary chambers are surprisingly bijou.

Parliament House

Ghost Ship of Wills Street
Mid-to late morning, depending on the season, plant yourself in La Trobe Street downhill from William and cast your gaze up and northwards. You just might see a ghost ship high on a west-facing wall in Wills Street, its uncanny square-rigged sails formed by reflected sunlight from windows in the building opposite. (Flagstaff Hill, adjacent, was in former times the city’s vantage point for shipping. Nowadays, for a comparable nautical thrill, you have to turn your back on the Bay.)

Slice of the city
Little William Street runs between Bourke and Little Bourke, the dome of the Supreme Court library floating above one end. Lanes like this one convey a sense of the topography that underlies the city. The narrower the aperture, the better for reading the tilt of the land.

Bearbrass and A City Lost and Found are now available in print and electronic editions.