Tag Archives: research

Research: The (invented) Hobart Kites

In the new Duo Ex Machina novella, Kiss and Crycurrently being serialised on my Patreon – I have my muso couple, Frank and Milo, hitting their late thirties and a bumpy patch in their relationship.

While Frank is working long hours as a producer now, Milo is burning the candle at both ends keeping his charitable foundation running. One way he’s doing that is by competing on an ice dancing show – Icing it!

One of Milo’s fellow celebrity contestants is Adam Wills, Indigenous star mid-fielder for the Hobart Kites, Tasmania’s Australian Rules Football team.

Sharp-eyed Australians will know that at present in real life, Tasmania does not have an Australian Football League (AFL) team playing in the nationals.

I decided to invent an AFL team for this story because of the kind of off-field shenanigans some of Adam’s team-mates get up to. Real life AFL is full of scandals and misbehaviour, but I felt for Kiss and Cry, it would be better if I assigned any such activity to a not-real club, so that I wouldn’t be perceived to be accusing anyone of anything.

Thus the Hobart Kites were born – the club coming from Tasmania’s capital and given a bird motif (common among the clubs). Tasmania has four kinds of native kite – a predator bird. Tassie boasts eagles and hawks as predator birds as well, but other clubs in the AFL have already adopted those as mascots. So far, no Kites are in the big league.

(The Tasmanian Devil or the Tasmanian Tiger might have worked too, but of course such obvious names are already in use by other sporting teams in Tasmania and/or those mascots are also already claimed within the AFL!)

The colours for the Hobart Kites –  green, yellow and maroon – are the state colours of Tasmania, so it made sense for the Kites jerseys to be in those hues. I’ve attempted to make a mock-up of the jersey (using a template) but please excuse my terrible Paint skills. 

Tasmania would LOVE to have an AFL team and have a website to promote it – I’ve no idea when or if it will ever happen. I honestly don’t know that much about the rules or the current AFL ladder, though I’ve been to games in the past and support the Richmond Tigers because that’s where I lived when I first moved to Melbourne (and they have the best club song!).

tl;dr – Tasmania does not currently have a team in the AFL. I invented one to use in Kiss and Cry to avoid any unpleasantness with real people and clubs and reiterate that the Hobart Kites are not based on anyone or anything in particular. 🙂 

If you want to find out more about Frank and Milo’s relationship crisis, the Icing It! dance competition or the Hobart Kites shenanigans, you can either sign up to my Patreon at the Backstage Pass level for fortnightly updates (and loads more) or wait until the novella ha run its course there and is available for sale.

In the meantime, you can look at getting the first three novellas in the Duo Ex Machina series!

My Library: Such is Life by Joseph Furphy

In my research about Victorian-era society in the UK and Australia, I sometimes pick up 19th century fiction. Such Is Life – an Australian classic, I’m told – is set in the 1880s, was written in 1897 and not published till 1903. The title comes from what were reputedly Ned Kelly’s last words before he was hanged in 1880, and the phrase pops up periodically as an ironic literary shrug about the whims of fate.

Such is Life is a series of anecdotes about the people government worker Tom Collins meets in his travels in rural Australia. That makes it sound straightforward, which is certainly isn’t, as the novel is punctuated with long and rambling side stories. A tale may start with a campfire story, diverge onto discussions of other, slightly related stories, philosophical tracts and adept interpretations of Shakespeare, before finally meandering back to the original point. The style makes it challenging to read but provides a lot of its charm too. 

The narrator, Tom Collins (his name itself a 19th century term for a tall story) spends time with bullock drivers, boundary riders, itinerant workers, graziers and the like. There’s lots of swearing but it’s all signified by terms like “What the (sheol)” (hell) and phrases like “good (ensanguined) shot!” and “poor (fellow)”. I no doubt substituted even fruitier language than he intended while reading, and the use of the substituted terms could be coy but is often very funny in its context.

Some stories are full of humour – like the one where Tom loses all his clothes in the river and his skulking about naked, trying to resolve the issue without scandalising anyone. (The repercussions of this misadventure are discovered some chapters later.) Others are full of the sad, grim reality of bush life with the campfire stories of children lost in the wilderness, some discovered too late or not at all. 

(Frederick McCubbin produced several paintings about this deep anxiety for white settlers in this country.) 

But there’s more to Such is Life than a relatively realistic though rambunctious look at rural life in Australia at the time.

In my 19th century research, I’m looking for hints and examples of queer life, representation and perception, since contemporaneous accounts keep queerness hidden or coded when it’s not being excoriated. So colour me pleasantly surprised when I discovered that Such is Life is open to queer interpretation in no uncertain terms.

In the first chapter, two men with the bullock teams are noted as disappearing in the night for an unknown reason – Dixon and a fellow called Bummer (the colloquial term for a loafer or layabout).  Nothing is explicit, but you can’t convince me that 19th century readers weren’t fully alive to a filthy pun when they read it.

More frequent is a playful and curious sense of gender switching that permeates the story. Tom’s horse Cleopatra is actually a stallion; in the naked escapade, he’s hiding at a farm and hears someone call for ‘Jim’ who turns out to be a young woman named Jemima. Clearest of all is the long sequence where Tom is talking to the disfigured misanthrope, Nosey Alf, and it’s clear to the reader (if not to Tom) that Alf is a woman. Because of previous chapters we can discern who Alf Jones really is and perhaps interpret their reasons for living in men’s clothes, but Tom’s obliviousness means we’ll never fully learn Nosey Alf’s own reasons (or what pronouns are most appropriate).

Such is Life can be hard work to read because of all these lengthy off-piste passages, as well as some pretty convoluted writing. The book is full of difficult to follow dialogue written phonemically, reflecting the multicultural nature of the life. I’d feel the dialect of the Chinese boundary rider’s English was a lot more racist if it weren’t for the fact that Furphy gives exactly the same treatment to the Dutch, Irish, Scottish and even posh English characters throughout. 

A book of its time, Such is Life has the expected baseline sexism and racism – yet there’s an egalitarian streak that runs through it, noting at one point: “Better no religion at all – if such lack be possible – than one which concedes equal rights beyond the grave, and denies them here”. In between rough bush talk and rougher bush lives, Tom frequently philosophises on deep questions, including the nature of free will (referencing Hamlet and Macbeth) and notions of love.

For anyone wanting social insight into 19th century rural Australia and to explore some attitudes to queerness, Such is Life is worth a look. It might be best to read it in small bites however, to better digest the strange divergences, dense colloquialisms and long literary discourses

Telling a furphy

As a curious aside, Australian vernacular has a term – a furphy – to refer to a rumour or a false story. You’d think it derived from Joseph’s book but in fact the etymology experts note that it comes from the water carts belonging to Joseph’s brother John: people would gather round John’s water carts for ablutions and gossip, and thus the term gained use. 


Further reading

My Library: Victorian Ladies at Work by Lee Holcombe

I can never pass a second-hand bookshop without at least browsing to see what they might have on 19th century social history, and on a recent rural sojourn, I spotted Victorian Ladies at Work by Lee Holcombe.

From a quick glance, I’d expected (and admittedly wanted) a rich history of the working lives of women from the poorest to the highest, with illustrative examples from the papers of the time or Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor.

That is not this book. Instead, Victorian Ladies at Work is a detailed look at 19th century feminism and the movement for middle class women to find their place in the workforce. Their working class sisters had been toiling away for a long time, but if a woman had the misfortune to be middle class but suddenly poor, she had few skills to fall back on to earn money and survive.

Despite women’s often limited education – their future security was meant to rely on marriage alone – many had to find work as governesses, a vaguely respectable way to keep from the last resort of prostitution. The work was inconsistently and poorly paid – no wonder Violet Hunter was so excited at the prospect at going from £4 a month to £100 a year for the trifling inconvenience of wearing an electric blue dress and cutting her hair off in the Holmes tale, “The Copper Beeches”.

Victorian Ladies at Work goes on to explore the drivers of change in elementary and secondary education for girls and women in the late Victorian era (making them fitter to teach), the institutions established to argue for women’s right to work and all the difficulties on the way – some of which clung to women in the workforce well into the 20th century and even persist in some forms today, most particularly unequal pay.

Holcombe looks at the specific histories of roles for middle class women in employment and their development as professions: governessing and teaching; nursing; shopgirls; clerical roles and the civil service.

See all my sticky notes!

Florence Nightingale gets her usual spotlight for helping to turn nursing into a respectable profession for women (rather than a refuge for drink-riven ‘gamps’, named for an incompetent Dickensian nurse). The plight of shopgirls’ dreadful accommodation and pay is examined alongside the growing trade union movement for fair pay and better conditions.

The Victorian era introduced the notion that single women might hold positions – and were often preferred because they’d often do the same work as a man (and were often thought to be more stable and therefore better than young men at some work) but for less pay. At the same time, the moment that single woman married she lost her job, because her security was now supposed to derive from her husband.

I know this thinking was around into the 20th century because my own mother, who was the in RAAF, had to resign from the service as soon as she married my dad. I don’t think she personally minded, but there must have been many women who did, and kept their marriages secret for as long as possible.

The absolute favourite thing I learned, however, was the 1859 founding of the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women.

That’s right – S.P.E.W.

I have to assume JK Rowling knew about them when she had Hermione establish the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

The real S.P.E.W. was led by Barbara Leigh Smith, who also encouraged the English parliament to reform women’s property law and presented petitions for women’s suffrage.

This wasn’t a cover-to-cover book for me, but I’ll be dipping in and out of it when writing period stories to reflect working conditions and pay rates. Anyone interested in 19th century feminism and the development of the rights of working women might find it useful

Research: Music Folklore and History

With Kitty and Cadaver book scheduled for a June release, I thought I’d share some of my reference books on music that I dip into for it. (And will continue to use for a sequel!)

Apart from the medieval research I did for “Hoorfrost” (which is in the Scar Tissue and Other Stories collection) and my reading on water-related British folklore (that’s for the as yet unwritten second K&C book), I need from time to time to refer to music-related folklore that I might adapt for the history of the band, as well as more practical references to musical instruments and trends throughout the ages.

Music Through the Looking Glass is a kind of modern lexicon – perhaps it can be seen as ‘folklore’ if you squint. It’s “a very personal dictionary of Musician’s jargon, shop-talk and nicknames, and a mine of information about musical curiosities, strange instruments, word origins, odd facts, orchestral players’ lore and wicked stories about the music profession’.

For example, there is a condition called “cellist’s nipple’ (cured through the use of a more padded bra) and “flautist’s chin” (an allergic reaction to the silver) and “fiddler’s neck”, which can look like a love bite.

Apparently “domino thumper” was a 19th century music hall slang term for a pianist and “licorice stick” was an American nickname for the clarinet.

The Larousse Encyclopedia of Music is a much more sensible book, and I got it so I could look at more historically accurate elements of music when I’m writing stories set during the band’s 700 year history. I haven’t had to use it much yet.

I’m more fond of Troubadour’s Storybag, as I’m looking for folk tales that I can adapt as having a “true story” involving a band with the magic gift of the Minstrel Tongue.

The stories retold come from all over the world – Nigeria, Greece, New Zealand, Japan, the US and Turkey, among others. The Dancing Shoes are there, and The Pied Piper, but also stories of singing bones, magic fiddles, nightingales and flutes.

All in all, I wish I’d had more call to dip into these research books. Perhaps I need to randomly select entries and use them as prompts for some short stories set in the Kitty and Cadaver universe.

Do you have any favourite musical folklore to share?