Writing, words and written work

Posts tagged ‘Australia’

Persian Plantings

Recently, a chance mention of a ship called Persian by fellow writer and storyteller, Jackie Kerin, led to the discovery of an intriguing coincidence.

Jackie uses the Kamishibai format to tell the story of the historic voyage of the Persian in 1833 when it transported seeds and plants such as ferns, grasses and grape vines from England to Australia. The plants survived this long and arduous journey thanks to terrarium style glass boxes called Wardian cases.

The 1833 voyage carried an experiment by amateur horticulturist, Dr Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, who wanted to see if the boxes he had designed could successfully transport plants and seeds across the oceans of the world when all other methods had failed.The experiment was a resounding success. After six months at sea enduring temperatures from  -7°C   to 40°C  (19.4°F to 104°F), the plants arrived ‘alive and vigorous’.

The Wardian cases were on the third voyage the Persian had made to Australia. The coincidence we discovered relates to the Persian’s second journey in 1830. This time, my paternal convict ancestor John Rowley was on board.

In 1830, John Rowley, an eighteen-year-old labourer from Leeds, and his partner in crime, twenty-two -year-old William Thackrah, were sentenced to death for breaking into a premises and stealing goods and chattels (such as  spoons,  sheets,  aprons, table-cloths & fabric).

Why the death sentence despite the fact the men had not hurt anyone? Crimes against property (and the Crown) were considered the most heinous by the British Government of the time, and no doubt the privileged class that owned property held the same view. So while thieves were hanged, a man found guilty of manslaughter was fined as little as one shilling.

Eventually, the death sentences imposed on Rowley and Thackrah were commuted to fourteen years transportation to Australia. Both men were on the Persian in 1830 when the ship transported 198 convicts (all male) to Van Diemen’s Land.

Three years earlier in 1827, the Persian had made her first voyage to Australia as a female convict ship carrying sixty convicted women including, to give an example, sixteen-year-old Charlotte Williams who had received a life sentence for a first offence of ‘stealing a watch from the person’.

All three voyages brought foreign transplants to the Australian continent.

Not all of the convict ‘plants’ had a beneficial impact but most of the 160 000 plus men, women and children who were transported across the oceans and transplanted on the Australian continent made positive contributions to the building of Modern Australia. When my ancestor, John Rowley, had served his time, he left Tasmania to take up land allotments in Gippsland, Victoria and played a significant role in the development of the township of Rosedale. Without convicts like him we would not have the Australia we know today.

Like the convict transplants, not all the exotic plants (or the microorganisms that travelled with them in the soil) transported in Wardian cases made a positive contribution to the Australian continent. However, without Dr Ward’s amazing case we would not be enjoying the health benefits of the Cavendish banana or locally grown delicious mangoes. In the 1840s the Wardian cases brought grafted mango trees to Australia from India, generating the establishment of mango production in Queensland.

The Wardian cases were so successful worldwide they revolutionised the transportation of plants and were even used in botanical espionage. In the19th century, China’s tea monopoly came to a halt when Wardian cases were used to successfully move nearly 20,000 tea plants from China to India. Likewise, Brazil’s monopoly on rubber ended when the Wardian cases facilitated the successful transportation of 70,000 germinated rubber tree seeds to Ceylon.

After bringing the first Wardian cases to Australia, the Persian returned to England in 1834, once again successfully carrying plants, such as the coral fern and the black wattle, across the oceans.

My ancestor was not free to return to his homeland but in his new land he planted many, many more plants starting with his own eight children who went on to ‘propagate’ numerous more Rowley ‘plants’.

Don’t miss The Amazing Case of Dr Ward at the 2018 Williamstown Literary Festival on June 17.

Until next time….JB 🙂


The Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases by N.B. Ward

A Commonwealth of Thieves by Thomas Keneally, Anchor Books 2007


Having fun with haiku

September 1st
Trees are green no more
Spring is throwing confetti
Splash! Golden wattle.

Haiku, a form of poetry made popular in Japan, traditionally paints a picture of nature and is constructed with a limited number of syllables, e.g. 17 syllables in three phrases of 5 7 5. However, there are variations to the form and content.

The haiku in this post are all about spring. In my haiku I have not always honoured the traditional use of a ‘cut’ word to signal the juxtaposition which is designed to cause the reader to reflect. I have also broken the traditional ‘without title’ structure by giving each haiku a title.

Australians are familiar with the glorious yellow of the golden wattle tree in spring (subject of my haiku above). The green of the trees’ phyllodes are barely noticeable when the trees bloom because the large fluffy golden-yellow flower heads are so profuse that the trees look predominantly yellow. Thanks to fellow writer Sara Jarrold who endorsed my use of the word ‘confetti’ as fortuitous and felicitous by pointing out that in some countries wattle (aka mimosa) and confetti are both part of wedding ceremonies.


I tried to fashion this haiku in a similar style to that of Basho Matsuo (1644-1694), considered one of the greatest haiku poets. Here’s one of his:

In the twilight rain
these brilliant-hued hibiscus
A lovely sunset.

Here are my other spring haiku.

September Final
Light rain is falling
Wild tribes swarm to hallowed ground
Oval ball is bounced

October Arts
Naked bodies fall
On stage, painted faces smile
Celebrating art

November Tuesday
Crowds surge at The Rails
Horses’ hooves pound the home stretch
Golden Cup held high

November Oaks
Royal roses blush
Fair fillies model vogue hats
Proud steeds leave the stalls

Feel free to add your own spring haiku in the comments section. JB 🙂


Stars for Galahs

Galahs use the internet for malicious mischief. I’m using the word galah with its slang meaning: a loud-mouthed idiot or silly person. (For those not familiar with the word, galah is pronounced g’LAH with the emphasis on the last syllable so the word rhymes with ‘star’.) This term evolved from the noisy antics of the pink and grey Australian cockatoo called a galah.

Aussie galahs, feathered and non-feathered, are usually harmless but the internet galahs are not. Like the pink and grey cockatoos, they peck at things and, just as with the feathered variety, a single galah is often followed by a gaggle of galahs.

My focus today is with the way those internet galahs damage the review status of a book on Amazon.

In my case a galah gave one of my books a one-star rating even though he hadn’t even read the book! He simply didn’t like books in series. A book’s review status is one of its major selling points. This galah’s one-star rating meant that the review status of my book was reduced, through no fault of the book. That’s what I call bloody unfair! Immediately after he had posted, a gaggle of galahs swooped down and used their nasty beaks to mark his ‘review’ as ‘helpful’ which gave it authenticity and credibility thus further negatively impacting on the book. Despite the fact that this individual admitted to not reading the book and despite the fact that his comment did not even come close to being a review of my book, and despite the fact that several kind fellow authors complained about his so-called review, Amazon refused to remove it.

I subsequently found that many other authors have had to endure this sort of Mephistophelian review posting. I know life wasn’t meant to be fair, but readers can help to minimise the unfair action of galahs and therefore support the hard work of authors by doing the following:

You are posting a review of a book that you liked and you’d like to give it 3.5  stars but there are no half stars on Amazon. In such cases, rather than click 3 stars, lean to the positive side and click 4 stars. The same applies if you think you’d like to give a book 4.5 stars; rather than click on 4 stars, click on 5 stars. In other words, add a star to cancel out a galah!

Naturally you will not wish to ‘add a star for a galah’ for every book you read. I’m just suggesting you bear in mind that your stars might not have the impact they should because of the activity of galahs. Of course, it is possible that galahs will not attack the particular book you are reviewing but either way you will have supported an author whose book you enjoyed reading.

You might also consider koalas when wondering whether to add another star. Koalas are not at all malicious.  No, they are wonderful people who read a book, like it and take the time to post a review on Amazon. BUT they sometimes press 1 star even though they loved the book (evidenced by their comments). They don’t understand how the review system works or perhaps they’re just a bit sleepy – koalas sleep up to 20 hours a day. I know how easy it is to be a koala because I’ve been one myself.

So now you know about galahs and koalas I hope some of you dear readers of books will keep them in mind when posting reviews. Thank you so much.

15 August, 2017: As I mention in JB’s Blog, I feel blessed by the number of readers who take the time to leave comments after reading Whisper My Secret and Mother of Ten Comments that express compassion for my mother and empathy toward my half siblings touch my heart. All the reviews (except the ones from galahs) validate and motivate me as a writer. And it’s not just those two books (both #1 Amazon Best Sellers); the Dusty Kent Murder Mysteries written under the pen name Brigid George have also been read by generous people who take the time to leave comments in the review section. It’s such a thrill for me as a writer to see this tangible evidence of readers connecting with my books.


The Woman at the Back of the Room

The woman at the back of the room paved the way for Quentin Bryce to become Australia’s Governor-General and Julia Gillard to become Australia’s Prime Minister. Back in those days men scoffed at ‘this nonsensical idea of giving women the vote’. They exposed their own foolishness by objecting to the idea of women having the right to stand for Federal Parliament with the argument that ‘members would not do their work if ladies sat beside them’. However, for Louisa Lawson it was simply ‘a just privilege so long denied’.

The following story about Louisa Lawson’s role in yanking out the weeds of prejudice on the path to women’s suffrage won me an award and publication in Marngrook.

The Woman at the Back of the Room

In an auditorium packed with women eager to celebrate the historic occasion one woman in a high-collared dress, her dark hair swept up in a style more functional than fashionable sat unnoticed in the back row.

It is September 1902. Golden wattles hint at a bright new dawn, spring rains generate hope that the drought might soon be over and the world’s greatest opera singer, Australia’s Dame Nellie Melba, has returned home for a triumphant concert season. The women who pack the hall of the School of Arts in Sydney are there to celebrate something more important than the start of a new season, more significant than the breaking of the drought, more momentous even than the world-wide success of their compatriot. They are there to rejoice the blossoming of a new world for women.

“It has taken years of struggle,” said one speaker from the platform at the front of the hall, “but the Commonwealth Franchise Act has finally granted us what should have been our right from the beginning; the right to vote.”

The crowd cheered and applauded. The speaker continued.

“The Act also gives women the right to stand for election to the Federal Parliament, making Australian women the first in the world to be able to do so.”

More enthusiastic applause and cheering almost drowned out her final words. The exhilaration of the occasion rippled through the hall but the woman sitting at the back of the room seemed detached from the excitement. Her dark eyes reflected signs of disappointment. Her mouth was set in a firm line of dissatisfaction.

She glared at the official podium overcrowded with special guests and politicians, as well as office bearers from the Womanhood Suffrage League. Why hadn’t she been invited to be up there? She had worked harder for this day than any of those people on the podium.

The woman’s disappointment took her back to a time when she had first experienced such profound disenchantment. She was thirteen years old again, standing on the dirt floor of the slab hut in Mudgee that had been home for her, her numerous siblings and her parents.

Mr Allpass, her teacher, had suggested that when she turned fourteen she could train as a pupil teacher. Wanting very much to take up this opportunity she had waited impatiently for her parents to sign the necessary papers but they had not done so. She could not understand why her mother was opposed to the idea.

“It won’t interfere with my schooling, Mother. The training is done after lessons.”

Her mother turned from the old wood stove, waved away a hovering fly and swept back loose strands of hair that had fallen over her eyes before she answered with a stern look.

“You’ll do the training after lessons, will you? And who do you think is going to help me with the children if you are at the school house till all hours.”

“It’s only for a couple of extra hours, Mother. Anyway, what about Emma? She’s the eldest, why can’t she help you when I am not here?”

“Your sister has her hands full looking after the babies, as well you know, young lady.”

“But Mother, after two years I will get paid. I can help you by earning money.”

“Earn money? Earn money, indeed. A woman’s place is in the home. What man will want you if you go around giving yourself airs above your station. Men do not want to marry women who are smarter than they are. Your fanciful ideas will ruin your chances of making a good marriage.”

“But Mother, getting married is not enough for me. I want to do things, I want to achieve things. Mr Allpass says I could be a fine writer one day.”

A sharp look of disapproval crossed her mother’s face. “A fine writer is it? Writing such nonsense as this, I suppose.” She reached into her apron pocket, retrieved a piece of paper and held it aloft between her thumb and forefinger as though she were holding a dead mouse by the tail. She eyed it with the same distaste she might bestow on the rodent. “I’ve told you before; this nonsense you are writing is not fit for respectable people to set eyes on.” Her mother screwed the piece of paper up into a tight ball, enclosing it in her clenched fist.

“What’s wrong with it? It’s just a poem about the bush. Mr Allpass said it was a good poem.”

“Mr Allpass indeed!”

Protecting her hand from the heat with an old cloth set aside for the purpose, her mother turned the handle of the small iron door at the front of the stove and flung the crumpled piece of paper into the fire chamber. The flames devoured her beautiful poem. Her mother closed the chamber door firmly, straightened and turned back to her daughter.

“You need to get your thoughts in order, young lady. This world is for men not women. You will only create misery for yourself with your foolish dreams.”

“Why, Mother? Why? Why can’t women do more than just look after babies?

“Because that’s the way it is and the sooner you accept it the better.”

“Well, that is not the way it’s going to be for me. If a job doesn’t need muscles and brawn a woman can do it just as well as any man. One day I’ll show you. I’ll show everyone. I’m going to do something to make the world a better place for women.”

“That’s enough from you, young lady. There’s work to be done and you can start by peeling the potatoes.”

Loud cheers and applause brought the woman from her reverie. When she realised who the crowd was cheering she sat forward with alert interest. It was Vida Goldstein. By starting a newspaper in Victoria advocating women’s rights, Vida had copied what she herself had already done in NSW.  She listened in anticipation of hearing her name mentioned, her thick dark eyebrows coming together in concentration. Vida Goldstein spoke about the history of the women’s suffrage movement and mentioned several people who had contributed to the good fight. Each person’s name was greeted with applause and cheers. However, Goldstein finished her triumphant victory speech without referring to the woman who sat at the back of the hall.

The anguish from her childhood memory was transferred to the present with bitter thoughts. She was the first to start a newspaper for women but Goldstein has conveniently forgotten that. And have they all forgotten she was also the first to publicly call for women to have the vote? That was back in 1888 through her Ladies Column in The Republican. Ever since then she had fought for women’s rights. She had also been one of the founding members of the Womanhood Suffrage League.

Waiting around to endure the indignity of further indifference was something she did not propose to do so while the official speeches continued the woman pulled on her gloves and picked up her bag. With cat-like disdain, she rose from her seat and crossed the room. A strong, tall physique was revealed, the puffed sleeves of her floor length dress accentuating her height and adding to the width of her ample shoulders. Despite her commanding physical presence the women in the audience, who were giving their full attention to those on the front stage, did not see her as she made her way to the door. However, on reaching the exit her departure was stalled by a woman dressed in a lace-collared satin gown with immaculately coiffed hair who stepped in front of her.

“Louisa,” said Margaret Windeyer, gently taking her arm. “Please do not leave yet.”

Someone in the crowd turned and, recognising the woman in the doorway, called out.

“Mrs Lawson! Louisa Lawson is here.”

Others in the crowd called her name.


“Louisa Lawson.”

A startled expression which quickly turned to pleasure crossed the woman’s face. She stepped back into the room. Hands began to clap.
The speeches had ceased. All those on the podium joined in the applause. A wave of enthusiasm brought the whole audience to its feet. Long, voluminous skirts swished as the women rose from their seats and turned toward the back of the room.

Louisa Lawson was swept by a torrent of excitement down the aisle and up to the podium. Miss Rose Scott, a genteel lady and secretary of the Womanhood Suffrage League, applauded her onto the platform. Miss Scott, her fair hair curling out from under a pert hat, raised her hand to silence the audience After following the customary protocol of acknowledging honourable and distinguished guests she then focused on Louisa Lawson.

“This lady is the pioneer who started our journey. She was the first to give public voice to our cause. By the time she joined us as a founding member of the League she had already fought fiercely for womanhood suffrage through her excellent newspaper, The Dawn, and later the Dawn Club. It gives me much pleasure to welcome, Mrs Louisa Lawson, the mother of womanhood suffrage in NSW.”

A storm of applause broke forth and thundered through the room. As she stepped forward, her bearing radiating dignity and pride, Louisa Lawson sent a silent message to a departed one. I told you I would make the world a better place for women, Mother.


JB 🙂 Murder in Murloo

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