Sunday, April 25, 2010

Who Killed Betty Shanks?

Book Review

Who Killed Betty Shanks? by Ken Blanch

This is a very short (120pp) easy to read and interesting account of the murder of Betty Shanks. It is one of Brisbane's most famous un-solved crimes to date. This account was published in 2006 and written by Ken Blanch, one of the reporters from The Brisbane Telegraph at the time of the murder. The introduction is by Des Sturgess Q.C. - one of Betty Shanks' friends at University of Queensland. It is part of a True Crime series published by Jack Sims.

The book is interesting in a number of ways. It reflects the social mores of the time and Blanch says that the murder transformed the lifestyle of Brisbane forever..."in twenty-four hours...the city was changed from a place of unlocked doors and open windows, where women walked the night streets without a care to a place of shutters and bolts where they did not dare to venture out unescorted." And...."The effect of the crime on Brisbane social life was immediate. Within days of the murder, picture theatres were reporting massive declines audiences, city restaurants were complaining of dwindling dinner patronage, and taxi companies were experiencing a boom in business. Both new car distributors and used car yards reported a sales boom as young men invested in vehicles that would ensure the safe movement of their female companions at night, and the City Council and railway authorities noticed a sudden decline in night bus, tram and train patronage.' (page. 52)

This was an era when women wore gloves to work (even in the steamy heat of Brisbane) and when the trams were still running. It was an era when Lottery winners' names were published in the paper. This practice ceased shortly after the murder as this was one of the suspected motives behind the crime; Shanks having won a share of First Division earlier in the year.

The account is also interesting because it attempts to reveal as much as possible about the personal life of Betty Shanks. Whilst there was no evidence of rape, the body was left in such a manner as to indicate an attempt at sexual crime. Ms Shanks' virtue, as always seems to be the case in sexual crimes, was the subject of much debate. Her friends staunchly defended her honour, as did the pathologist.

There was also much rumour and innuendo regarding her membership of the Queensland Civil Liberties League and the University Radical Club. This was the Menzies era of fear of "reds under the bed" and the like.

The book concludes that heinous crimes such as this affect not only those close to the victims but also the rest of society in many ways.  One of Betty's friends included Barbara Blackman, first wife of famous Australian artist Charles Blackman.  Blanch says "The unsolved murder of said to have affected Ms Blackman deeply." (p. 104)  This in turn is alleged to have had "a profound influence on the life and fortunes of her former husband, who was in Melbourne at the time. "  His well-known Schoolgirl series of paintings/sketches was inspired by an unrelated murder over 30 years earlier in Melbourne - the rape and murder of a 12-year old schoolgirl Alma Tirtschke in a lane in Melbourne's old Eastern markets.

Charles Blackman - Schoolgirl

The book cannot offer a solution to the crime. Many possibilities are posited e.g. Betty Shanks was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I am forced to conclude that it was most likely a case of mistaken identity or sheer bad luck. I look forward to the release of the official police files of the case (one of the most extensive files in the CIB's collection) in 2017.

Blanch is to be commended for his multi-faceted account and also for the inclusion of detailed maps and murder trails of the crime scene, which may seem gruesome to some, but are invaluable to local historians and those interested in the history of Brisbane.

The book is available at the Brisbane City Council Library or if you would like to purchase others in the series click on this link

Saturday, April 24, 2010

To market market...

to buy a fat pug?

No we admired the pug...and moved on....

This morning, dear friend Deb and I hit the New Farm markets.. and oh what fun we had....

with our trolleys.  They are not old lady trolleys...they are sensible and necessary...otherwise one gets tired and fractious lugging around baskets of stuff.  They are useful as battering rams against all the prams....which my friend remarked contained an extraordinary number of TWINS!!

We saw and bought amazing things...not this....

beehive ginger...amazing isn't it?   But I did buy some bitter-melon......and then we went and sat under the big moreton bay fig tree.....I rushed back for figs but they had sold out....

Do you like my gerberas?  What's your favourite flower and why?

Here's the latest progress shot of modern primitive....I told you he was BIG!!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Beneath Hill 60

I was invited to see a preview of this on Wednesday night and was very excited to see it.  Brendan Cowell is one of my favourite actors.  The series Love My Way did it for me.  I have never seen a more expressive face.  He's just fantastic.  

We've been waiting for this movie for a while.  I remember driving Cas to school in the mornings last year while the JJJ brekkie show was trying to get an interview with him for weeks.  We heard all about the horror of the trenches and steamy life in Townsville then.  

I love this movie because it is a different story and yet reminds us of the things that never change about war.  

I know I am obsessed with knitting but one of the more poignant moments for me....even though I laughed out loud....was when one of the soldiers wryly commented that his wife would probably have knitted herself a husband by the time he came back.  So while women are not very much in evidence in this in most war movies I've least they are acknowledged very much in the evidence of mittens and socks.  Sounds trite but it was one of the ways the girls could stay close to the boys in these awful times.  That and the all important letters.  

Another scene that stayed with me was when the contingent finally arrives in Belgium at Hill 60.  It's chaos.  Bombs and bullets are dropping and flying.  The truck dumps the men and then rushes off.  Where do they go?    The officer in charge gets directions and waves his men forward.  It's raining - real rain and real bullets - it's night-time.  Madness.  One of the younger soldiers slips and falls in the rain...his two mates help him up and they stumble forward dodging bullets.  After a while they realise they've lost the rest of the troops....where are they?  On the wrong side of the line...that's where....It made me realise it's a miracle anyone came home alive at all.

So many little stories in this movie help make the big story great.  That and a fantastic ensemble cast.  I won't spoil it for you.  Do go and see it.  And this week stop and have a chat to the guys selling Anzac Day badges and buy a badge.  No greater gift and all that.....

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Happy Birthday Alice!

I do like getting flowers for my birthday - don't you?  And having a cup of tea with friends....

We caught up with Aunt Alice over Easter and I showed her Really Wild Tea Cosies.

She gasped with delight at Garden Party when she saw it....which inspired me to finish this UFO which I started at the lovely workshop all those months ago at Wool Addiction in Bowral.

"At last!" I can hear Grand Purl Baa proclaim.

Happy Birthday Alice.....

Now on to Modern Primitive.......

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Cliffhanger Challenge

Freddie knocked on the door.  The knob turned.  It was locked.  

Tom picked up a heavy glass ashtray.  He couldn't get his hand across it, and he had to hold it by the edge.  He tried to think just for two seconds more: wasn't there another way out?  What would he do with the body?  He couldn't think.  This was the only way out.  He opened the door with his left hand.  His right hand with the ashtray was drawn back and down.  

Freddie came into the room.  "Listen, would you mind telling...."

The Talented Mr Ripley - Patricia Highsmith

Go know you want to more....

Well my second book is down and I'll start the next .... High Fidelity...I doubt that I will finish it by the end of the Read-a-thon but I'm not complaining....two books down is better than none !  I'm even thinking I might do a Read-a-thon every Sunday to get through the never-ending pile of TBR.

S'pose I Die is not for everyone - it is a biography set in the Atherton Tablelands about the Maunsell family.  So it is a story of pioneer stock and it is very much a white woman's story and perhaps in this day and age not very politically correct.  But the world is made up of different views and I think it is so important to remind ourselves of what older generations went through just to live from day to day....this woman faced everything.  Queensland is not for the faint-hearted and she saw it all....survived unbearable heat, cyclones, snakes of all shapes and sizes, spiders, rats, cane toads, green ants, stinging nettles and of course humankind in all its glory...not to mention a couple of world wars.  Note to self - stop complaining about housework.

To a degree the book is a series of anecdotes - I will be trying out pawpaw flavoured with sherry to be sure....I thought this was the most poignant paragraph...

"The Boss (this is what everyone called the narrator's husband and she refers to him frequently in this way) must have thought I looked upset when I said good-bye to him, because he came back and found me crying.  I was ashamed to have been caught, because I knew there was nothing he could do about it.  The cattle had to be worked.  But he comforted me and tried to explain things.  Then he said if I could stick it out in the bush for ten years he would take me back to England to see my family again."    Imagine if you said that to a young wife today!! Ten years!!!!!

The Read-athon has been an interesting experience for me.  Despite thinking I was prepared I got myself mightily distracted...particularly with wretched housework....I loathe housework and avoid it at all costs but when the housecleaning bug gets me in its grip....well there's no stopping me...and something happened at 11am and I didn't stop til nearly much valuable reading time was lost and then there was dinner to be cooked and the kid wanted to be tested on his Kanji characters or whatever they are....I've been reading since 6pm so that's about 150 pages in 3 hours I guess.

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

Well that would have to be between 1 and 3 am this morning - thank goodness for the cheer-leaders and all the lovely posts on my blog - I was just dumbstruck.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

The Talented Mr Ripley was a great choice - highly suspenseful and a really interesting character - pyschotic of course but interesting nonetheless.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
You guys rock - I can't think of any improvements - oh except that for a first timer it took me 12 hours to figure out how to get from the 1st hour page to the 2nd hour and so about slow!!!!

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
The mini-challenges were good for me to re-focus.

5. How many books did you read?

Only two - just like Noah and that Ark

6. What were the names of the books you read?
The Talented Mr Ripley and S'pose I Die

7. Which book did you enjoy most?
Very different books but probably Ripley of the two.

8. Which did you enjoy least? my kids would's unfair to say I enjoyed it least because it was just as worthy...just very different.

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
Those haikus and poems cracked me up.  You did a great job.

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
Oh I'll be back - don't you worry.....and the housework will be done in advance this time.

Bookish Movies

A Read-a-thon Mini Challenge

A lot of us seemed to have read The Help by Kathryn Stockett this year.  I reckon for sure that this will be made into a movie....but who to cast?????   Well because I'm an Aussie....I'll go for Abbie Cornish as Skeeter

and Josh Helman as Stuart Whitworth

Deborah Mailman as Minny

and Rachel Maza as Aibileen 

Waddya reckon?  Bonza?

The High Life

Well, aren't we having fun today?  Leading the high life and the life of luxury - lolling around reading books all day.  At long last I have finished The Talented Mr Ripley.  I went to bed at 2:45 am and slept for three hours and then read some more and have just finished.  This is my first Patricia Highsmith novel and I thought it was great.  Her character study of Thomas Ripley was really felt like you were living and breathing inside his body.  I started to fantasise that my bottle of Gin Fizz (as pictured here) could become a lethal weapon if necessary.  So beautiful and yet it could be something else in different circumstances.  What an imagination!  This was her fourth novel written at the age of 34.  She sounds like she had a very complicated relationship with her mother...well just about everyone must have been quite a shocking novel in its day...some of the language...the violence and the references to homosexuality.  She preferred the company of animals to people down to keeping pet snails which at first I thought odd and then remembered how much I enjoyed the water snails we used to have in our fish tank....industrious little critters and much better at housekeeping than always feels so satisfied watching someone else doing a great job, yes?!!  Hope you're all doing a great job out there in the read-a-thon.

On to the next book.....yes, I know you think it should be Perfume but I just want a break from murder at the moment....let's make it S'pose I Die !!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

First Book

Right - kettle's boiled - I'm a bit late cos I had to get the kid from the bus-stop.  He went to see Kick-Ass at Southbank and thought it was great.

First book to read is The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.  Wish me luck !

Three facts about me - um -

I laugh loudly

I like pearls

I adore the perfume Gin Fizz by Lubin

There are 15 books in my TBR pile.  My eyes are bigger than my stomach, brain etc.....

Only goals I have for the read-athon I suppose is to read The Talented Mr Ripley and get to work on time on Monday!!


Just under13 hours to the Read-a-thon!!

And the books are....

  1. The Talented Mr Ripley - Patricia Highsmith (which Helen lent me)
  2. Last Seen in Lhasa - Claire Scobie (which Karen lent me)
  3. Perfume - Patrick Suskind (which Patricia lent me)
  4. S'pose I Die - Hector Holthouse (which Patricia's mother-in-law lent me - sort of)
  5. High Fidelity - Nick Hornby (which Lynda lent me)
  6. Whisper Me Your Secrets - Brenda Hall-Taylor (which Lynda also lent me)
  7. Let the Great World Spin - Colum McCann (from the library)
  8. Have Mercy on Us All - Fred Vargas (from the library)
  9. The Radetzy March - Joseph Roth (from the library)
  10. The Return of the Native - Thomas Hardy (from the library)
  11. The Boy in Red - Violet Needham (wot I bought on e-bay)
  12. Beware of Pity - Stefan Zweig (wot I bought from the Book Depository)
  13. The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver (from the library)
  14. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Stieg Larsson (wot I bought from Myer)and most fittingly - last but not least
  15. Why Should anyone be Led by You ? - Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones
And having just moved from obese to overweight, the snacks will be :

  • low-fat yoghurt
  • rabbit food and hommus
  • peaches
  • light cheese
  • peanut butter and rice cakes
  • crunchy muesli bars
The guinea pigs are excited already - they got the celery tops and carrot trimmings.

And Tweetie is standing by ready to ring the bell!!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Alexander Pushkin

Imagine my delight when I received this slim volume published by Hesperus. Hesperus is, according to their blog, "a small London based independent publisher committed to their motto ET REMOTISSIMA PROPE - or bringing near what is far. That is to say, introducing to the English speaking world authors who have been unjustly neglected or inaccessible. They seem to specialise in short classic works - no more than 100 pages.
Adam Thirlwell - named by Granta magazine in 2003 as one of Britain's twenty best young novelists - provides a Foreword to this edition and Hugh Aplin provides the Introduction. Aplin studied Russian at the University of East Anglia and is now the Head of Russian at Westminster School, London. He has translated Chekhov, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgeneve and Zamyatin for Hesperus previously.

I have not read Alexander Pushkin to date, I am ashamed to say. He is described on the inside back flap as Russia's greatest poet. (Note to self....put Eugene Onegin on the TBR pile.) The Tales of Belkin is, however, prose and Pushkin wrote them in 1830 just before he got married. This was his first work of prose fiction and he published it anonymously the following year. Verse was more prestigious in those days apparently. Pushkin's goals with prose fiction were "Precision and brevity..." But more importantly he wanted to challenge notions about fiction.

The Tales of Belkin was originally published with an introduction by the Publisher, known only as A.P. attributing the tales to Ivan Petrovich Belkin. The introduction includes a letter from a neighbour in response to a request for a biography of Belkin from the Publisher. Belkin is described by the neighbour as inexperienced, soft-hearted, weak and perniciously remiss when it came to managing his estate. He also described him as leading a moderate life - avoiding excess and when it came to women, exhibiting a bashfulness that was "truly maidenly".

And so we are presented with The Tales of Belkin - five short stories and two other small pieces - The History of the village of Goryukhino and A Fragment. Does our reading of them change if we don't know Pushkin is writing them? How much of our reading is informed by what we think we know of the author? The tales seem simple enough - stories of thwarted love or deceived maidens. I found myself checking the notes which are by and large very helpful. However in the process I smiled wryly to myself that I was probably doing exactly what Pushkin was rebelling against most - checking for authenticity/scholarship. What makes a good story? Or indeed a good storyteller? Is there such a thing as a new story or are there only a certain number of stories in this world and it depends on the storyteller and how well they tell them? What does the reader bring to a story? His or her own experience is as important as the storyteller in determining what they find in the story.

For my money, and let's be honest - the book cost me nothing but this review - I enjoyed the story of The Undertaker the most. This story was written nearly 200 years ago and yet nothing changes about the world and the characters we find therein.....An Undertaker moves house and is surprised when he is not as happy as he thought he might be if he changed location. He drinks cups of tea endlessly and is morose as befits "his sombre trade". His neighbour, the cobbler, comes over with an invitation to dinner the next day. They chew the fat - "How's business?" ....."Can't complain..." and so on. The dinner is a great success - many toasts are proposed - to the health of the hosts, to the health of the guests, to the health of Moscow, to the health of the guilds, to the health of the masters, to the health of the apprentices and finally to the health of the customers....and this is when things turn sour for the undertaker. Everyone finds this intensely amusing in his case but he feels insulted and goes home cranky...."In what way is my trade more dishonourable than others?.... Is the undertaker a pantomime clown?" he bleats as his domestic helps him get ready for bed. He declares to the Universe that rather than invite his neighbours to a housewarming, he invites the Orthodox dead and then falls into bed in a drunken stupor. You'll have to read the rest...but I can guarantee, it's most entertaining.

Thanks Hesperus for an informative and delightful introduction to Pushkin.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Book Review

Singing God's Work- The Inspirational Music, People and Stories of the Harlem Gospel Choir by Allen Bailey founder and director with Penelope Holt

Hallelujah!  I have finally finished reading this book and can now review it for Librarything.  Really it should not have taken me so very long as it is a slim volume of only 159 pages. 

The book was written by Allen Bailey, founder and director of the Choir with Penelope Holt.  Penelope has written two other books - The Apple and The Painter's Gift.  Her other two books are described as "visionary fiction that explore dreams and the power of the creative unconscious to create personal reality."  While Singing God's Work is non-fiction, I think a similar theme runs through this work.

Singing God's Work is published by York House Press.  York House Press seems to publish mostly business and management books so this publication seems an exception to their usual bill of fare.

The author's intention was to give fans "a better understanding of the Choir, its mission, its music, its ministry, its joyful noise."

Each chapter opens with a tribute to the Harlem Gospel Choir from fans all over the world - from Australia to the Czech Republic.  The Choir has been going for 23 years now and Allen has logged over two million miles with them as their manager.

When I started this book, I got about 50 pages in and then lost interest.  I felt like I was reading a book the subtitle of which should have been - Famous People I have Met. Allen Bailey does acknowledge that not everyone he mentions in his book will be well-known to others (particularly those not from the US) and so he helps us by describing them as "best-known", "prominent", "influential", "legend" and so on.  Phrases like "he never forgot his roots or where he came from" is the highest praise he bestows.  I found much of the prose repetitive and tiresome.

But not finishing the book is unfair and so I made a concerted effort to do so.  I think it is fair to say that the book continued in much the same fashion with a few exceptions.  It was about two thirds of the way through that I realised what my expectations were ....I wanted to know about the choir itself.  Chapters Seventeen through to Nineteen go some way to addressing this need.  One chapter highlights about eight of the singers or former singers, another talks about the fans and their response to the music and the last chapter talks about the challenges of being on tour.  I was most interested to learn that "the three countries with the greatest appetite for the classic gospel...are Japan, Italy and Ireland."  I kind of get Ireland and maybe even Italy, but Japan???  I would have liked to know more about this interesting phenomenon.

Allen Bailey is to be commended for taking the time to document the work of the Choir.  We need more stories of how ideas or dreams are made real. "It takes a team to create a dream" is one of his favourite quotes from Uncle Pigmeat.  Unfortunately, I think he has forgotten this in creating this particular record.  A choir is a concert of many voices but I could hear only one voice and only one note.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


This must be the year of -athons.  Last month I went on a walk-athon...and this Saturday (well Sunday really) I plan to participate in a Read-athon....


To get through my TBR pile.  TBR for the non-bibliophiles amongst us..means To Be Read...

And I'm on holi-diddly-days so I can do what I like...which is to read...and I'm sick of knitting jackets for babies that for some reason have one sleeve longer than the other....sorry babies...must have been distracted by Michael Jackson's dancing in This is It - which was so worth really...I always liked Michael Jackson's dancing...

And so, what's on the TBR pile??

  1. The Talented Mr Ripley - Patricia Highsmith (which Helen lent me)
  2. Last Seen in Lhasa - Claire Scobie (which Karen lent me)
  3. Perfume - Patrick Suskind (which Patricia lent me)
  4. S'pose I Die - Hector Holthouse (which Patricia's mother-in-law lent me - sort of)
  5. High Fidelity - Nick Hornby (which Lynda lent me)
  6. Whisper Me Your Secrets - Brenda Hall-Taylor (which Lynda also lent me)
  7. Let the Great World Spin - Colum McCann (from the library)
  8. Have Mercy on Us All - Fred Vargas (from the library)
  9. The Radetzy March - Joseph Roth (from the library)
  10. The Return of the Native - Thomas Hardy (from the library)
  11. The Boy in Red - Violet Needham (wot I bought on e-bay)
  12. Beware of Pity - Stefan Zweig (wot I bought from the Book Depository)
  13. The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver (from the library)
  14. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Stieg Larsson (wot I bought from Myer)and most fittingly - last but not least
  15. Why Should anyone be Led by You ? - Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones

If I read the first three I'll be very happy.  How many do you think I can read?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

On yer bike

You'd better get on your bike if you want to catch APT 6 before it closes tomorrow.  Karen and I went yesterday and I had a fabulous time.  I dragged her off to the string room first....stone cold sober in the morning is not as effective as after having had a couple of glasses of wine on a Friday night after a big week at work ...but was fun.  Karen was taken with the mosaic...and then of course we were inspired to place ourselves within the art, creating art, if you get my drift...reflections on reflections...a perspective on perspective...and all that....then we had to go and have a reviving cup of coffee and share a brownie (having just gone from obese to overweight, one wants to watch one's figure)...and then we checked out the Hats!!  You've got tons of time to check this exhibition's on until 27 June and I will be going back for grandmother was rather partial to hats...she wanted to be a milliner when she was a girl...she had to settle for wearing them rather than making them though.  This exhibition is all the way from the V & A - bless them and Stephen Jones.  Home to Karen's for a lovely lunch and to see the adoring pooches...