5 Surprising Facts from Australian History

‘Australian history… is full of surprises, and adventures, and incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all true, they all happened.’ Mark Twain

I read the above quote as a fairly accurate description of our hurly-burly, courageous, messy, spectacular and sinister history. Below are five snippets of that history that I have come across in my reading that have both surprised and amused me.


Royal Assassination Attempt


While Queen Elizabeth II is the only reigning monarch to have visited Australia, there have been plenty of visits from members of the British royal household in the history of Australia. The first was made by Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh in 1867 and included an attempt on his life. Queen Victoria’s second son was picnicking on the beach at Clontarf (Sydney) when he was shot by Henry James O’Farrell, an impoverished Irishman suffering from mental illness.

Henry James O’Farrell. There were rumours of a Fenian conspiracy after the Irishman’s attempted assassination attempt.

The Duke was wounded but not fatally, and hospitalised for two weeks. Prince Alfred tried to have the life of Henry O’Farrell spared, but the latter was executed in April of 1868.


Franco-Prussian Media War


Vietnam has often been referred to as the TV war, but the Franco-Prussian War has been dubbed ‘the first media war’. This conflict erupted in Europe in 1870-71, the first major conflict to break on European soil since the end on the Napoleonic wars, and the first to take place after Europe and America were connected via the telegraph. For the first time, people in Britain and America could know the outcome of a battle on the same day it had been fought.

The Franco-Prussian war: the first media war.

The Australians had yet to be so closely connected to Europe as the Americans, and the quickest way to receive up-to-date information on the war was via the fastest mail boats from the US. This caused quite an air of anticipation as the people of the colonies awaited each fresh snippet of information.

‘The entire population was in upheaval until the whole town was in possession of the news. The War Intelligence was the subject of animated discussion in the business marts and under the veranda in the afternoon, and in the evening the clubs, cafes and bars resounded with varied comments on the credibility of the telegrams.’

Sensational Melbourne: Reading, Sensation Fiction and Lady Audley’s Secret in the Victorian Metropolis. Susan K Martin and Kylie Mirmohamadi


Russian War Ships in Adelaide


The ‘Russian threat’ was a very real concern in nineteenth century Australia. There was a feeling in the late 1870s that war was imminent between England and Russia, and the Australian Colonies were terrified of becoming a victim of this potential conflict, lying vulnerable, undefended and wealthy at the bottom of the globe. Therefore, when the residents of the seaside town of Glenelg in South Australia awoke to find a Russian fleet anchored on their doorstep in February of 1882, the initial reaction was one of panic.

Port Adelaide in 1888 from The Picturesque Atlas of Australia 1888

The Civic Authorities, however, were in a pickle. War between Britain and Russia had not been declared, so they had no choice but to invite the unwelcome visitors ashore, and throw a ball in their honour.

As the Russians sailed away a few weeks later (without having plundered Adelaide) it was decided that perhaps some defence measures ought to be put in place along the South Australian coast.


The Block


It seems incredible to any twenty-first century resident of Melbourne, but in the late nineteenth century, the Saturday AFL game took second place to another social institution. This was known as ‘the Block’.

‘Doing the Block’ was a social must for the upper classes of Colonial Melbourne, and took place on Thursday and Saturday afternoons between two and four o’clock.

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‘Doing the block’ c1905 from The Streets of Melbourne by Joe Murray and Peter McIntosh


The Block was essentially a promenade that was enjoyed along the North side of Collins street, between Elizabeth and Swanston streets, and one ‘did the Block’ in order to see and be seen (preferably arrayed in the latest fashions) and to meet friends and beaux (under the strict eye of a chaperone of course). The beaux even had a fashionable lamppost, on the corner of Swanston and Collins streets, that they gathered under as they appraised the fair parade that passed by.

Japanese Invasion Currency


In the museum of the small Northern Victorian town of Benalla, I came across a Japanese Australian one shilling note. This money formed part of what was known as the ‘Japanese invasion currency’, currency issued by the Japanese Military Authority as a replacement for local currencies after conquest was achieved during the second world war. According to the Australian War Memorial website, the philosophy behind the currency was ‘to maintain stability within the occupied country and to abolish all traces of Western influence and establish Japan as the dominant economic influence’.

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Japanese Invasion Currency: Japenese-Australian one shilling note

I must admit, I was impressed by the confidence and organisation of the Japanese, even while being grateful that the currency, in Australia at least, never got the chance to be used.


This list could be a whole lot longer.

The history of Australia is nothing if not interesting. If you have any facts of your own that you’d like to add, post them in the comments below, or let me know on Facebook or Twitter.

Next week on the Blog

I’ll be sharing some more research with you-this time on the limitations and restrictions of life in Nazi occupied Rome. To make sure you don’t miss this, or any of my posts, be sure to subscribe to the blog using the box at the bottom of the home page. If you’d like to get in touch between posts, or take a peek into the world of my writing, reading and mothering, then you can find me most days on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Happy Australia Day everyone, I’ll see you next week!



The Letter Allure

What do you talk about in letters that your correspondent hasn’t already seen on your Facebook page or on that of your mutual friends? You can’t actually share news via letter anymore, and because of that, that the letter loses something of its magic.

‘Sarah, my love for you is deathless… the memories of the blissful moments I have enjoyed with you come crowding over me, and I feel most deeply grateful to God and you that I have enjoyed them so long. And how hard is it for me to give them up; and burn to ashes the hopes of future years when God willing we might have still loved and loved together and see our boys grow up to honourable manhood around us.’

So goes one of my all-time favourite letters. I first heard it read aloud on the ABC radio as I was driving to work one morning. It was written by a man called Sullivan Ballou to his wife, Sarah, in July of 1861, as his company prepared for the first major battle of the American Civil War. Sullivan wrote this letter because he was ‘suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart’. As I listened to the presenter read the letter with all its haunting tenderness, I was desperate to hear that the story had a happy ending. Sullivan, however, was right in his premonition; he was killed two weeks later, his 24-year-old widow never re-married and I arrived at work a blubbering mess.

I have always loved letters. I love their ability to capture the essence of a writer unlike any other medium. There is something about having an expanse of paper laid out before you that invites a plumbing of your thoughts, bringing to light confidences you might not otherwise have thought to share. Often times, passion is more easily expressed via a letter, which is why letters are the favourite weapon of lovers and haters alike.

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Letters: the weapon of choice of lovers and haters alike.


The Age of Letters is Over

Even though I write and receive more letters than most (and yes, I hear you languishing epistolarians — the writing of the letters has been in sad proportion to the receiving of late, but I’m writing a novel for crying out loud. I’ll get on it, I promise) I see that the need for letters is shrinking with the advent of each new social media platform and the ever-increasing ease of information sharing. What do you talk about in letters that your correspondent hasn’t already seen on your Facebook page or on that of your mutual friends? You can’t actually share news via letter anymore, and because of that, that the letter loses something of its magic.

This fact was born home to me recently as I was — get this — writing a letter. I have a friend whose circumstances have recently changed dramatically. She has left her highly connected, social media saturated world and joined a convent. In another country. There is no social media allowed. No mobiles and only a few phone calls a week that naturally go to her family.

I have to be honest, at first I was (rather selfishly) depressed by the reduction in communication. Obviously this change was much harder for my friend than it was for me, but I still got a pang of sadness every time I had to skip over her name in my Snapchat kid-spam list, or refrain from sharing a post I knew she would like on Facebook, or sending her yet another Trump meme.

But then I got her first letter.

I was not prepared for the utter joy and anticipation receiving that missive brought me. Finally, I could hear her thoughts, find out what the convent was like, the other sisters, the food, the accommodation, the rules. How she was enjoying it, her studies — what were they like? And I could share again, pour onto paper all the things I’d been holding back for her because I could no longer send aimless thoughts her way with a half-conscious click of a button.

I was so excited to ‘talk’ to her again that (please glance aside neglected correspondents) I immediately pulled out my writing set and spent the next week replying to her, filling her in on all the little dramas that had unfolded during my domestic week, savouring particularly entertaining news items, and anything about our common friends that I did not think she would have heard through her family. It was such a joy to be able to disseminate information that one knew would be novel to the reader, rather than just stating yet another opinion on a topic already well canvassed online. A nice, comfortable, newsy (read gossipy) letter.

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A whole pile of gossip.


Two of my sisters, my mother, my grandmother and an aunt of mine all keep up a semi-regular correspondence.

I am sadly in debt, having received mail from all of them which has gone unanswered since as far back as September, but we’ve texted, talked, and caught up in the mean-time, so it is easy to forget the urgency. The letter from my friend in the convent has made me realise what a pale excuse of a letter they have all been receiving from me to date. I have spent some time thinking over this during the preparation for this blog post and I see now that I need to formulate a better plan for our correspondence, that my letters to them need to include unique pieces of information and request the same in return.

I need to raise the stakes.

Think of Pride and Prejudice’s Lizzy Bennet’s impatience in waiting for her Aunt Gardener’s response to her request for information regarding Mr Darcy’s presence at Lydia’s wedding. That’s the sort of anticipation I want for my future letter-writing efforts.

How to achieve this? What should I put in my letters to increase the drama and expectation? Do you have any suggestions? What news would you like to receive in your letterbox?

Next week, to celebrate Australia Day, I’ll be sharing a list of my top five most surprising discoveries about colonial Australia. To make sure you don’t miss it, or any of my posts, be sure to subscribe to my blog using the box at the bottom of the home page. If you’d like to get in touch between posts, or take a peek into the world of my writing, reading and mothering, then you can find me most days on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Have a great weekend everyone, I’ll see you next week!

Author Interview: Carolyn Denham on her debut novel Songlines

I recently finished reading Songlines, the first Young Adult book I’ve read in a long time. It’s a genre that I’ve always loved, and conveniently I have younger siblings who quit that age group much more recently than I did to keep me abreast of what’s good in the YA field. Like everything though, I phase in and out of it. I’ve been focussing on reading a lot more in my own genre this year (Historical Fiction/Women’s fiction) and it was nice to pick up a book to read for reading’s sake alone again.

Songlines is the story of Lainie, a country girl who is just trying to finish year twelve. But there’s a problem. When a big mining company starts exploring on Lainie’s sheep farm, strange things start happening, to Lainie and to the people around her. Suddenly year twelve is the least of her problems as she has to come to grips with a family secret that is about to change the whole course of her life.

I could not put this book down (not strictly true, I did put it down to feed the children and sleep occasionally, but I wasn’t happy about it) and once I was finished I immediately stalked Carolyn to find out when the next one would be out — which happily, is soon-ish. April 2017! The main character Lainie is such fun company and her growing tribe of fellow victims of the mining interruption are an endearing bunch to spend your days with. Carolyn has taken a fantasy theme and layered it in casual rural Australiana to produce a story that is a compelling mix of intensity and laid-back humour.

The more time I spend in the Australian bush, the more I realise that this is a country made for fantasy stories of raw power and brutal passions, and Carolyn has captured that perfectly in her debut novel Songlines.

If you would like a taste of Lainie’s world, there is a free prequel Barramundi Triangle Available to read. There is also a book trailer for Songlines available to view via YouTube.


I had a chat with Carolyn after I’d finished Songlines, just to make sure that she was working hard to get the next book out, and to find out some more about her and her writing. The details of that chat are below, but first, a little about Carolyn herself:

Carolyn lives on a small hobby farm on the outskirts of Melbourne. She has a science degree, far too many pets and a fear of the ocean that makes her Mauritian mother roll her eyes. Somehow between her mortgage-broking job, driving her kids crazy (mostly by asking their friends’ opinions about the Singularity) and feeding 63 baby axolotls, she has managed to write short stories for Aurealis and Andromeda Spaceways magazines. She is currently working to complete the fourth and final book in The Sentinels of Eden and after that she has promised that she will finally vacuum the bedrooms.


Carolyn, when did the idea for the Sentinels of Eden first occur to you? Did you think it would be just one book or were you always planning a series?

 It’s so hard to pinpoint an exact moment when random thought turns into an ‘idea’. I was having many discussions with my brother regarding Christian apologetics at the same time as I was trying to encourage my daughter to write a spec fiction story. Thinking through what a perfect God (whose nature is the very definition of Love) would have intended for the human race… who wouldn’t get caught up in the possibilities? And no, at the start I wasn’t even confident that my ramblings would turn into a whole story, let alone a series. I was just trying to get my girl started. Whoops.

What sort of research did you have to undertake to write this book?

Other than a crash course (by pulling other books off the shelf) in how to structure my writing, the research took me all sorts of places. Farm life – I live on a small acreage, so that part was easy and fun to explore (although my first editor did say it sounded like it was set on a hobby farm – I wonder why?) Aboriginal culture – I never set out to write about it, but I quickly realised it would be an unforgiveable tragedy to disregard. Certainly that research made me ask questions that every Australian should be asking. Get curious. Ask questions, share stories appropriately, keep those complex and beautiful cultures as relevant as possible.

How long did it take you to write your first book?

The first draft took me just a few weeks to finish. Then four years to get right!

What was your biggest learning curve?

Mastering all those apps, platforms and marketing tools. I think I created about 20 new accounts in the space of 2 months. All easy to learn, but there were just so many. 

What was the biggest surprise about writing?

How addictive it can be. And embarassing. Yeah, when someone asks how your day has been and you reply with: ‘Stressful! You wouldn’t believe what Noah did last night!’

What is your favourite thing about being a writer?

 Playing out conversations in your head between characters you’ve made up. If only I could control both sides of real life conversations the same way. Life would be much more interesting.

And your least favourite?  

Self-doubt. Happens to everyone. It will make me a better writer though, so it’s necessary. Just keep swimming.

I really enjoyed reading this story through Lainie’s perspective, she cracks me up. Is her character inspired by anyone?

 Not intentionally, but she does have a lot of similarities to my eldest daughter. Also to me, so I’ve been told. It worries me a little, because it’s important to write characters with their own ‘voice’, but what if Lainie has my voice and all future characters I write just end up sounding like me too? Good thing I’m so likeable…

How do you manage to juggle your family, your work, your farm and your writing?

 Badly! I can smell the scent of burning gnocchi as we speak… Or is that simply my secret way of encouraging the kids to start helping out with dinner more often? The truth is, you will always find time for the things you enjoy, and that’s exactly as it should be.

Have your kids read your book? What do they think of it?

 They hounded me for each new chapter of the first draft – four years ago, but apparently the novelty has since worn off. Possibly because this journey has turned them into talented editors. Oh… I’ve ruined reading for them forever! (Sob) So much for my original intention.

The note in the back of Songlines mentions that you are working on the final book of Eden, What’s next?

 That’s easy. I’m hanging out to sink my teeth into a fresh story. First draft of book 1 is done, but remember, it took me years to get Songlines right. Hopefully I’ve learnt enough that it will be a bit quicker now. I hope so, because this post-singularity-time-distortion-romance-adventure needs to be out in the world. Or at least out of my head.

And finally, when can we get our hands on book two?

Release is scheduled for April 2017. First I need my amazing beta-readers to tell me things like ‘wattle trees don’t flower at that time of year’ and ‘myna bird populations haven’t spread that far north yet, pick a different species’. Yeah, I am blessed with some very clever (and patient) helpers.


If you have any questions of your own for Carolyn, or if you would like to keep an eye on Carolyn’s progress you can find her at the following places:



Facebook: Carolyn J Denman

Twitter: @CDenmanAuthor

Email: carolyn@carolyndenman.com



Songlines is available in paperback or ebook form and can be purchased from Amazon.    

Jane Austen on Editing

There is a wealth of differing information in the two choices of phrasing. A woman who is mortified suggests and entirely different social situation than a woman who is angry.

It is a truth universally (if somewhat despairingly) acknowledged that a manuscript once written is no more fit for the eyes of a publisher or agent than a manuscript half written. One does not get to hit the send button simply because one has slogged it out until typing The End. The simple (and occasionally depressing) fact is that just because it is written, does not mean that it is finished. There are the edits.


What are these edits that everyone talks about with hushed voices and glazed stares? What makes them so daunting and universally loathed? Well, there is of course the structural edit, there might be something more after that, and then there is the line edit, see?

No? I didn’t either.

Since finishing my second draft (an almost complete re-write of the first) I’ve been trawling the internet and doing a bit of poking about in my various writing books to try and discover what is involved in this horrible task of editing that lies ahead of me.

I decided to start with the purpose of the edits. What exactly am I trying to achieve by reading my manuscript over and over and over until I’m heartily sick of the thing? In the introduction to the Wordsworth Classics edition of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan and Other Works Nicholas Seager describes Austen’s revision process as ‘the art of controlling readers’ responses to characters and situations’. He gives some examples of Austen’s edits to show the power of choosing the right words for a given situation. In an excerpt from The Watsons (an unfinished manuscript by Austen) there is a line in which a woman is shown ‘stifling her own angry feelings [mortification]’. There is a wealth of differing information in the two choices of phrasing. A woman who is mortified suggests and entirely different social situation than a woman who is angry. Nicholas Seager makes the point that you can be angered by your inferiors, but not your superiors. Which goes on to change our opinion, not only of the victim, but of the perpetrator as well. To anger someone is different, and perhaps more forgivable than to mortify them.


So, I had an aim: to control responses to the characters and situations I had created, but how to go about it exactly? I had lots of little scraps of information about things that needed to be cut from first (or second first) drafts, but the whole thing was still a terribly confusing mass of formless information that was as overwhelming as the edits I was supposed – somehow — to be doing.


That was when I stumbled upon a gem of a blog post by Zachery Petit on writersdigest.com called What to Look for When Editing Your Manuscript. In it he details a list of edits (and I mean details) that need to be considered before sending your work off to an agent or publisher. The list is not his own, he got it from the Crime Writer Patricia Gussin, and I am in turn stealing it from him. I won’t give the full details of the list here, for that you should check out the blog post, but I’ll give a brief overview of what is involved. The editing method is called the 5 Reread Program, in which you re-read your manuscript five separate times looking for specific flaws and doing specific edits each time.

Read 1: The content (I think this is what is also known as structural edit. Does your manuscript make sense? What can you cut out of it?)

Read 2: The enhancement (this will be the part where I’ll be cracking out the Thesaurus of Emotions so that my characters can show surprise by more than a lift of their eyebrows every second page)

Read 3: The sentence level (also known as a line edit. Do you really mean that sentence? Do you? Can it be said any better? Agonise over it… and repeat. For Every Sentence. Just like Jane did.)

Read 4: The little things (I have a Margaret who somehow became a Moira by the end of the book — stuff like that)

Read 5: Read out loud (my husband can’t wait for this one, although I suspect it will be my new little baby who will be the privileged recipient of most of this edit.)


The original list is much more extensive, there is a beautiful structure to it and I love having a game plan once more, rather the vague aim of ‘making this manuscript better’. I highly recommend checking it out if you’d like to demystify the editing process.


Today I started Read 1 in earnest. I have already completed bits and pieces of this one along the way, so I’m hoping it won’t be too painful. My aim is to cut a whole lot of words and iron out some time-line issues that have cropped up along the way. There are also quite a few notes peppered throughout my manuscript to the tune of ‘insert vital-yet-to-be-determined piece of information here’, so hopefully I work those out while I’m at it. I would like to get Read 1 finished by the end of January. Any fingers crossed on my behalf would be very much appreciated!


Next week on the blog is my very first Author Interview! I’ll be interviewing Carolyn Denman, the super talented author of Songlines, a YA novel, the first in the Sentinels of Eden series, and a cracking great read. To make sure you don’t miss it, or any of my posts, be sure to subscribe to my blog using the box at the bottom of the home page. If you’d like to get in touch between posts, or take a peek into the world of my writing, reading and mothering, then you can find me most days on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Happy New Year everyone, I’ll see you next week!