Monthly Archives: March 2012

Book 14 – “Speaking our Language”

“Speaking our Language” by Bruce Moore (2008)

This book was a gift from my Mum’s dear friend, Liz, who is a book distributor. It is the story of Australian English – an examination of the evolution of the use of words and the sounds that make our accent. It explores the ‘flattening’ of words caused by the melting pot of English accents dumped on Australian shores in the colonial period. It considers the influence of Aboriginal words. It discusses influences during the gold rush and the significance in the early twentieth century of the process of examining accents in Britain and the consequent close examination of the Australian accent, leading to a division in our language, from ‘broad’ Australian to ‘cultured’ Australian accents. It considers the future of the Australian accent, based on more recent American influences.

I often describe books as dry. This one was like sandpaper. Nevertheless, it was a generous gift and I appreciate owning it.

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Book 13 – “Poppy Comes Home”

“Poppy Comes Home” by Gabrielle Wang (2011)

Last year I embarked on the journey through four books about Poppy. I’m sharing my previous 3 blogs about the series first, then I’ll tell you about this final instalment.

“Meet Poppy” by Gabrielle Wang (2011)
In 1997, when I went to uni, I was determined to write young adult fiction based on Australian history. Well, you know what they say about life being what you do while you’re busy making other plans…
So, Penguin have finally had the same idea and have published a whole series of books under the banner ‘Our Australian Girl’. Meet Poppy is the first of 4 books about a half Chinese, half Aboriginal girl in 1846, living in an orphanage in South Australia.
There are 4 sets of 4 books in total. This is my first foray into the series but I can imagine reading them all and adding them to my reading box at school. The 4 authors have all got a connection to the books they are writing. in this series, Wang, the author, is 4th generation Australian Chinese.
In “Meet Poppy”, Poppy’s brother has run away to the Victorian gold fields and Poppy sets out to find him before the nasty governess can assign her as a servant to a family bound for Sydney town. Along the way she survives on bush tucker, befriends a wild dog and accidentally has dinner with the notorious bushranger, Harry Power.
Well written and fun to read, I’m going to buy the other 3 books about Poppy today. I’ll certainly collect the other 12 Our Australian Girl books at some stage too.

“Poppy at Summerhill” by Gabrielle Wang (2011)
Book 2 of the Poppy books in the Our Australian Girls series continues the story of Poppy heading for the gold fields in search of her brother. We left Poppy still finding her way through north-west Victoria. She is dressed as a boy, to avoid arousing suspicion and this book starts with Poppy stumbling upon some Aboriginal people cooking a sheep on their fire. She is too scared to come out of her hiding place, even though she is starving, when suddenly some white men on horses arrive and shoot at the Aboriginal people. Poppy hears them yelling that the sheep was stolen as she starts running away. She steps in a trap and is certain she will be shot but an Aboriginal man scoops her up and takes her to the homestead he works for, called Summerhill. The settlers there are very kind to Poppy, or Kal, as they think ‘he’s’ called, and nurse her back to health. But, of course, Poppy is in search of her brother, and in this book she learns some important things that will help her on her quest when it comes time to leave Summerhill. But can she get away before anyone works out who she really is?

“Poppy and the Thief” by Gabrielle Wang (2011)
The third of four books. Poppy is still on the hunt for her brother. In this installment, Poppy gets help from a kind Chinese businessman, a camp of Aboriginal people and her loyal dog, Fisher. A fun read that my year 7 girls will be pleased I’ve finished.

And so we come to “Poppy Comes Home”, the last few adventures for our incredibly fortuitous heroine. Having survived so much, Poppy is finally in Beechworth, where she hopes to find her brother. Having been tricked into working for a snake oil merchant…

But wait… that would be spoiling it all…

These books are lovely, but I don’t think I will buy the other sets after all. I’ve had enough of a good thing, I think.

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Book 12 – “The North Pole Employee Handbook”

“The Northpole Employee Handbook” A Guide to policies, rules, regulations, and daily operations for the workers at North Pole Industries (a division of Claus Manufacturing, LLC) (2008)

If you’ve been keeping track of my promise in 2012, to read books in a cycle of non-fiction, then adult fiction, then young adult fiction, you might be wondering why this appears to be the second non-fiction in a row… unless you don’t believe in Father Christmas, in which case you would accept this book, as the book shop owner did, as a work of fiction. Either way, after the last book, I needed cheering up, so this was next.

According to the first page of this book, a bitter ex-employee of Claus Manufacturing, LLC, named Snarky, left this handbook among costumes and decorations in a box of Christmas things in the storeroom of a department store in New Jersey, USA. It would seem that Snarky was dismissed from his employment at the North Pole and relegated to the lowly rank of a department store Santa helper.

The handbook makes for entertaining reading… it seems Santa might not be the jolly old fat guy we think he is. Let me share some of my favourite bits…

In the Equal Employment Opportunity section:

…we will not discriminate based on sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. As to the latter, we assume that if you are willing to pull on a pair of striped tights and wear a waistcoat cinched with a wide leather belt, you are at the very least open-minded.

In the Harassment Policy:

The following behaviours constitute harassment:

a. Flicking of stocking-cap pom-pom

b. Inappropriate use of the phrase “jingle bells”

c. Unwanted straightening of curly-toe booties

d. Recitation of limericks that begin with the phrase “There once was an elf from Nantucket…”

e. Whistling, other than while you work

f. Suggestive comments involving the words “sleigh ride”

My favourite job, in the Position Titles section:

Bow-Finger Technician –

The B-FT holds his or her index finger down on the ribbon while the Gift Wrapper ties off each delightful bow on each beautifully wrapped package.

The ‘He Sees You When You’re Sleeping’ section:

Owing to pending legal action, this section temporarily omitted.

Activities and Committees: under the Elf Socials heading:

Banned music includes: Good King Wenceslas, banned by Santa, who knew Mr Wenceslas and found him insufferably pious; The Nutcracker Suite, banned by Santa who never bought the whole toys-coming-to-life premise; Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime, banned by Santa, Mrs Claus and the parent company, Bowl Full of Jelly, Inc. because it makes their ears bleed; Frosty the Snowman, banned by Santa because a minor mythological figure is hardly deserving of his own song; and Santa Baby, banned by Mrs Claus because it is ‘way too close to home’.

Also in the Activities section:

Yuletide Yoga – Santa first discovered yoga while delivering a toy elephant to the son of Akbar the Great in 1556. Ever since, he has encouraged the formation of an extra-curricular committee that offers its teachings to our staff. Come in, pick a chakra, find your prana, chant a mantra, and tap into the ancient energy-restoring powers of this deeply spiritual practice. Then get back onto the assembly line and serve the forces of market-driven capitalism from a place of renewal and maximum efficiency. (Lab fee of $50 includes yoga mat, aromatherapy candle, and CD of wind chimes.)

In the Cafeteria section:

Christmas is, of course, a time for over-indulging in sweets.

Breakfast: $8.95 – oatmeal cookies, egg nog, pumpkin pie, chef’s own figgy pudding

Lunch: $11.95 – yule log, rum and milk, squash pie, fruitcake, more fruitcake

Dinner: $15.95 – pound cake, cheesecake, zucchini cake, cranberry cake, pecan cake (all 5 food groups, as nuts constitute a meat-substitute)

I should confess, this book didn’t take long to read. In fact, Patrick would argue that it shouldn’t even count. But it’s 140 pages long and it gave me a laugh, and we’re not in a competition any way, so it counts.

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Book 11 – “Pitcairn, Paradise Lost”

“Pitcairn, Paradise Lost” by Kathy Marks (2008)

I have had an interest in Pitcairn ever since my teens, when I read everything I could get my hands on about William Bligh, the mutiny on the Bounty and the settlement of Fletcher Christian and the mutineers on Pitcairn island. In the 80s, I was partly suckered in to a sympathy with Christian, based entirely on Mel Gibson’s portrayal. In truth, Hollywood has a lot to answer for with regard to the mythologising of dear Fletcher. Nevertheless, I also fell quite hard for Bligh as a teen, having read the ten-book series of fictionalised Australian history called The Australians series, by William Stuart Long. As a consequence, I read all the non-fiction texts I could get my hands on and realised that Bligh was, in reality, a man of courage, conviction and incredible fortitude, who pulled off one of the greatest naval survivals in history.

So, this all brings me to the purchase last year, in a bargain bin, of the book that is the subject of this review. “Pitcairn, Paradise Lost” is a book about the island’s first trials in 200 years, the building of its first jail, and the almost decade-long legal process that saw almost every man aged between 20 and 50 on the island charged with rape, indecent assault or child molestation. Lovely topic for a book, hey!

In reality, this book was an enlightening and engaging, if somewhat dry read. Marks, as a journalist who stayed on the island for 8 weeks during the trials and who dedicated most of the ten years from 1999-2009 on writing about the island and Operation Unique, tries to remain objective. Nevertheless, the evidence would make most commentators show their bias. The island ‘practice’, where girls as young as 7, but routinely by the age of 12, are ‘broken in’ by men in their 20s and 30s, is quite obviously not a topic people need to go away and have a good long think about. But that’s not really the point of the book. The book is much more interesting in terms of its exploration of life on the island during the 20th century. This more modern history was something I had not previously read about. The idea of 50 – 70 adults and children living alone on a rock in the middle of the ocean, with no communication tools and very limited contact with an occasional passing ship or boat, makes for fascinating reading. Marks makes more than one reference to Lord of the Flies, and there’s good reason to.

I have to say that unless you have the same fascination with all things Bligh/Christian related as I do you probably won’t want to wade through this book, but I’m glad I read it.

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