Saturday, January 27, 2007

Australia Day

Australia Day dog

It was Australia Day and even Julie's dog was celebrating the occasion. (No Photoshop tricks here!) Julie and I shared a special dinner to mark the day -- a meat pie with sauce followed by a lamington. The only thing missing was a cold stubbie but I'm not a beer drinker.

The mouse plague hasn't quite reached the alarming degree depicted in some science fiction tales (for example the 1961 potboiler by R.L. Fanthorpe depicted above) but so far we've managed to trap and release five of the little critters.

Field mice are very tiny and very cute but we're heartily tired of them running around the place as though they owned it. I've had to learn to lock up the bread every time I leave the kitchen so as not to find that somebody has been sampling it when I pick it up next time.

We won't mention the ants. That's a story for another time.

A couple of interesting items on Thursday night television. The Archive Project on ABC was about the Melbourne Realist Film Unit. It wanted to spur political action by showing what life was like for the working classes after World War II. "This inequality must end," urges the film A Place to Live, about Melbourne’s housing shortage. But the Melbourne Realists were not fundamentalists and became increasingly sceptical about Stalin’s cult of personality.

The group believed first and foremost in film’s potential for social change and they soon broke with the Communist Party. This didn't stop them from being kept under surveillance by the security agencies. Indeed, that will be the most interesting part for many viewers; earlier parts of this special featuring footage rescued from the cutting-room floor set to sombre classical music will bore most laymen.

Keenly anticipated was the documentary on SBS titled In Search of Bony. This looked at the remarkable story of Arthur Upfield, dubbed by one critic Australia's forgotten bestseller. Starting in the 1920s he wrote a successful series of detective stories about Inspector Bonaparte of the Queensland Police. The unique thing about the character was that he was of mixed racial background at a time in history when the "half-caste" was routinely the villain or at best an unsympathetic bit-player.

Upfield's achievement in making this character not only acceptable but fascinating to the mass audience is mostly forgotten today. Those who remember the character automatically dismiss him because they are books about a black man written by a dead white male. This skips over the fact that at the time many aborigines were fascinated by the depiction of an educated professional black man.

The character of Bony was idealised, of course. But it's a tragedy that Australia is about the only country in the world where Upfield is out of print. In many countries, his are the only books about Australia that most people will have read.

Time to bring Bony back into print.

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