11/11/1918 One Hundred Years + One Day.

And a live, more anarchic version of the song I posted yesterday.

Advertisements

Australian Heist by James Phelps

Australian heistAustralian Heist is partially “local” history.

In 1862 a gang of bushrangers held up the gold escort travelling from the gold fields of Forbes to the town of Orange, stealing a large amount of gold and banknotes; the largest single robbery in Australian history.

The gang hid among the Eugowra rocks, after partially blocking the nearby road with an overturned bullock dray. As the poorly guarded gold escort diverted closer to the rocks to avoid the obstacle, the bushrangers opened fire on the coach, wounding two of the police guards, before escaping with its gold and money.

They were led by Frank Gardiner.  His accomplices are assumed to have included Ben Hall, John Gilbert and John O’Meally. Gardiner “retired” from his life of crime after the robbery, but was soon replaced, and perhaps surpassed, in Australian bushranger mythology by those three, whose criminal exploits extended over a wide territory including the towns of Forbes, Bathurst, Carcoar, Lambing Flats (now Young) Murrumburrah, and Jugiong.

After covering the robbery itself and the ensuing trial of the few gang members who were apprehended,  Phelps continues with a highly abridged account of the survivors, including the Hall/Gilbert gang and its changing membership. The book culminates with the fate of Frank Gardiner and rumours about his share of the stolen treasure.

Hall and Gilbert Graves

Ben Hall’s grave at Forbes and  John Gilbert’s grave at Binalong. (photos by Onesimus)

Phelp’s book comes across as a semi-fictionalised account of a true story. He draws on historical documents about the event , in particular accounts of trials that followed the robbery, but clearly uses his imagination to recreate interaction between the participants during parts of the story where there would be no record of their conversations or their specific actions. He acknowledges this in the Author’s note preceding the story, by saying:

I have also used and recreated historically accurate dialogue based on court transcripts and police reports where available. Some details and scenes have, however, been re-imagined, with  a deliberately modern spin.

While that approach is probably intended to make the story more compelling, it raises questions about what is truth and what has been assumed. That question regularly came to mind as I was reading.  The “deliberately modern spin” didn’t work for me, at times created a jarring anachronistic effect.

One day I hope to read a more authoritative, historical account of the Eugowra robbery that will hopefully help me to distinguish the line between history and Phelps’ embellishments. 

Some time ago I read Game, a fictional look at the latter part of Ben Hall’s life. That was also based on historical accounts, but made no claim to be a historical record. However, I found Game had a more convincing authenticity of the period it depicted

I have a slight personal connection to this story. It was during a short trip around the territory of these bushrangers that the possibility of moving from Sydney started to develop as an option, and eventually Gloria and I moved to an area associated with this story.

The following songs portray some of the Hall/Gilbert mythology.

I met Jason and Chloe Roweth many years ago when they performed at a folk club near my then Sydney home. The last time I had contact with them they were living in a town near to my current home, in the region once frequented by the Hall/Gilbert gang.

 

Wednesday’s Child by Peter Robinson

wednesdays childBack to back DCI Banks.

I started reading Wednesday’s Child as my immediate follow up to Past Reason Hated.

Seven year old Gemma Scupham is abducted from her home by a couple posing as social workers allegedly investigating reports that Gemma was being abused.

Alan Banks’ boss, Detective Superintendent Gristhorpe takes a personal interest in the case. Having been involved in the 1960′ s Moors murder investigations, he fears they may have the start of a similar scenario on their hands.

Then, nearby, the body of a young man is found at an abandoned mine, the victim of a very brutal murder.

While Gristhorpe leads the investigation into Gemma’s disappearance, Banks is given the murder case.

Could two dissimilar serious crimes be related?

While reading through the DCI Banks’ books, in order, from the beginning of the series, I’m interesting in seeing how Robinson’s writing develops. In previous “reviews” of his books I’ve mentioned how parts of these early books seem a little dated in the attitudes portrayed, specifically with regard to gender. I’m assuming certain things might change within the writing as I get closer to the present day.
I’ve read two other, much more recent,  Robinson books, not associated with the Banks series, and found a better quality of writing that seems to justify that assumption.

Regarding Wednesday’s Child, it may seem a little pedantic to point out a couple of examples of what I consider poor writing, considering I enjoyed the overall story. However, the following two sections jumped out, in a bad way, as I read them.

Firstly, Gemma’s stepfather, Les Poole, mentions the following about another character:

“All I know is his name is Chivers. It’s pronounced with a ‘sh’ like in shivers…”

This is dialogue where the character is speaking – surely the pronunciation of the name would have been evident. He SAID the name, and therefore would have pronounced it as ‘Shivers’. If there had been any need to point out the difference between the sound and the spelling, it would have made more sense to say something along the lines of “his name is ‘Shivers’ spelled with a ‘Ch'”.

The second example that slightly irritated me is describing a scene where one night Les has been locked out of his house. His noisy demands to be let in wakes the neighbours,  providing an audience.

His partner, Gemma’s mum, throws a suitcase containing his clothes and toiletries out of the upstairs window. For some reason she also enclosed a packet of tampons among his things. The falling suitcase burst open scattering contents around Les, who:

…put his hands up to try and stop [the case] hitting him, but all he managed to do catch was the packet of tampons. It spilled its contents on his shoes as he grasped it too tightly. One of the neighbours noticed and started laughing.

I found a clumsiness in this attempted humour, especially the unlikeliness of a neighbour being able to see the implied detail of the tampons being scattered around Les’s feet – something that would even be unlikely in daylight, and therefore more unlikely at night.

While those two incidents stood out as examples of poorly thought out logic, I’ll just mention another case of something I found irritating. This example is probably more of a personal gripe than anything else.

The police staff of Eastvale seem to spend a lot of time in the local pubs, which are often their preferred places to have lunch – usually sandwiches of some kind that are always “washed down” with a pint of their preferred beer. As I said, it is more of a personal gripe, but after a few times that term “washed down” started to aggravate me.

Despite those negative comments, I still found it had an interesting story and I continue to enjoy the ongoing contact with the characters. This book is the second appearance of DC Susan Gay who made her debut in the previous book. She has settled into her new position as a detective, however this time her role is less prominent than in Past Reason Hated where she had a stronger presence in the investigation of that book’s murder case.

It will be interesting to see how her role develops. My introduction to the DCI Banks stories was through the TV series based upon the (later) books.
In the series there was a strong female presence, with two significant women detectives being given important roles in the stories. Even though I think one of them was created for the TV version and wasn’t in the books, I’d like to see the female element increase as I progress through the rest of the Banks stories.

Again there are many musical references, including a few related to the music of Ivor Gurney, including this one “In Flanders”. While this song doesn’t have any specific relevance to the story, its subject has a poignance at this particular time, a week before the centenary of the end of the first World War.

In Flanders

I’m homesick for my hills again –
My hills again!
I see above the Severn plain,
Unscabbarded against the sky,
The blue high blade of Cotswold lie;
The giant clouds go royally
By jagged Malvern with a train
Of shadows.
Where the land is low
Like a huge imprisoning O
I hear a heart that’s sound and high,
I hear the heart within me cry:
“I’m homesick for my hills again –
My hills again!
Cotswold or Malvern, sun or rain!
My hills again!”

Music: Ivor Gurney
Text: Frank W. Harvey

Past Reason Hated by Peter Robinson

past reason hated

When Caroline Hartley is discovered savagely murdered in her living room, an LP record of Vivaldi’s Laudate pueri sung by Magda Kalmar is playing, set on repeat. The victim had never liked classical music and her partner claims she had never seen the record before.

Where did the record come from? Why was it playing? Did it have any significance to the murder?

Banks walked back to the window and lit a cigarette. What the hell was it about the music that bothered him? Why did it have to mean something? He would find out as much as he could about Vivaldi’s Laudate pueri

It’s been a while since I read one of Robinson’s DCI Banks books, and this one has been a welcome change from the “True Crime” I’ve been reading recently. It was good to get back to a story with an element of the unknown, a “page-turner” that I could read without knowing the outcome before I started, and also have the “comfort” of knowing that it wasn’t portraying the crimes and resulting suffering of real people.

This is the fifth of the DCI Banks books and its not a coincidence that the majority of crime books I’ve been reading are parts of various series. Most of them have been more than merely crime mysteries and their resolution. In the best of them the returning characters grow and develop through their experiences.

While Past Reason Hated was a “good read”, it wasn’t free of problems.

The book was first published in 1991, and I think like some of the previous Banks books, the writing shows its age.
For example, I’m not sure that a description of

“groups of female office workers [laughing] about the way the mailroom boys hands had roamed during the office party”

stands up very well almost 30 years later.

Also, the book’s opening scenes, at wedding reception, include excerpts  of  what used to be known as “rugby songs” – crude, often misoginistic ditties associated with men’s sporting teams. Again this tended to add an out-dated feel to the book.

And annoyingly, Robinson also revisits an earlier facination with breasts – this time when Banks visits a Soho night club with topless barmaids.
In more recent books (not part of this series) those “dated” elements aren’t there – or are not as noticeable

As a contrast, the book also visits territory that would have had a different political charge to it  almost 30 years ago, before LGBTIQA+ became a fashionable, ever expanding acronym.
Two of the major characters , including the murder victim were lesbians, and other characters express an assortment of attitudes towards them, some of which wouldn’t be acceptable in current western secular societies, but  the narrative itself leans more towards a live and let live attitude.

One thing made clear in all of Robinson’s work is his deep and eclectic love of music. Alan Banks shares that love and throughout the books references are made to various pieces of music, of many genres, that he plays while driving or walking.  Part of the pleasure beyond the books is tracking down examples of the tracks Banks plays.

 

The video above is one part of the recording playing at the murder scene.
It is based upon Psalm 112.

Psalm 112
Praise the LORD.
Blessed are those who fear the LORD,
who find great delight in his commands.
Their children will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses,
and their righteousness endures forever.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
who conduct their affairs with justice.
Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,
their righteousness endures forever;
their horn will be lifted high in honor.
The wicked will see and be vexed,
they will gnash their teeth and waste away;
the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

Someone Else’s Daughter, Julia Sheppard

I could wish it was someone else’s daughter, but I can’t can I? They would then have to go through what we’re going through. (Garry Lynch, Anita’s father)

someone-else-s-daughterI have now read two books and seen two documentaries* about Anita Cobby’s murder,  and the effect it had on individuals close to her and wider Australian society.

I’ve seen there is a  third book available, but I’m not sure what more it could offer that wasn’t covered in Mark Morri’s Remembering Anita, or in this one.

Written by a journalist who followed the case closely, and developed a good relationship with Anita Cobby’s family, Someone Else’s Daughter gives a wider perspective to the story of Anita Cobby.

Sheppard looks at most aspects of the case, apart from the effects on Anita’s husband John. That isn’t surprising considering John shut himself off from the wider world and did what he could to avoid everything to do with the investigation and subsequent publicity surrounding his wife’s murder.

There is a brief mention of him at the beginning of the book, but some of the details given differ from those in John’s account of events. Sheppard says John was driving to Wollongong to see some friends when he heard on the radio about the discovery a woman’s body that he suspected could be that of his missing wife.

John’s own account, as reported in Mark Morri’s book, Remembering Anita, is that he was driving in the opposite direction, to the central coast where he and Anita had planned to meet up with John’s sister.

Sheppard also states that there was no chance of Anita getting back with John after they had separated, however John’s side of the story is that in the following week they had been planning on looking at a house where they could reconcile and resume their marriage.

These discrepancies could probably be attributed to the fact that John’s withdrawal into himself after the murder, also removed his opportunity to contribute to the inevitable narrative others would create without him.

Sheppard’s wider examination of this case gives the reader details of the police and how the case took a personal toll on some of them, putting strain on their marriages and even leading to the end of the career of at least one as they struggled to cope with what they’d witnessed. She also heads into territory that Morri avoided:  details of the five perpetrators and their background.

She writes about the dysfunction of their families and how the lives of the men who were ultimately convicted of the crime, had already shown a disregard for the law. One of them, John Travers,  had already boasted to others of violent rapes of men, women and animals , and in the case of the latter he had already violently killed the victim afterwards with a knife.

He was the only one of the five to plead guilty at trial. The others all claimed personal innocence and pointed the finger of blame at the other four. To me, the fact that three of that four were brothers – willing to throw their siblings “under the bus” – adds an even more unpalatable aspect to an already repugnant situation.

Sheppard doesn’t back away from reporting some of the brutal aspects of what Anita Cobby endured prior to her murder. But I suspect a lot has been held back (many years ago I heard rumours of some things that hadn’t been made known to the public). But who would want to imagine what she was subjected to? Any select descriptions or list of facts would be inadequate to convey the reality  – and would any of us really want to know more ?

___________

* I posted the better of the documentaries earlier on my blog. The other one is available on YouTube, but while it was interesting, I found it’s more graphic re-enactments of the crime a little unsavoury.