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The history, art history and architecture of Britain and its Empire, Europe, the Mediterranean and North America, 1640-1940.
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    The Ionian island of Corfu, off the west coast of Greece, is 56 ks long but only 18 ks wide.

    Now some quick and messy history. Before the French Revolutionary Wars, the Ionian Islands had been part of the Republic of Venice. Then the 1797 treaty dissolved the Republic of Ven­ice, and Corfu was ann­ex­ed to the French Republic as the French depart­ments of Greece. In 1798-9, the French were driven out by a joint Russo-Ottoman force. The occupying forces founded an island republic which enjoyed relative independence under Ottoman and Russian control from 1800-7; Greek was to be the primary local language.

    The Ionian Islands were briefly re-occupied by the French, but very soon after, in 1809-10, the UK defeated the French fleet and capt­ured some Greek Islands. After Napoleon, many countries were inter­ested in the control of the prize island, Corfu island. Thanks to the aid of a Greek General, a treaty was signed in Paris in 1815 that recog­nis­­ed autonomous Ionian islands under exclusive British control.

    Venetian buildings in Corfu Town

    A formal federation, the United States of the 7 Ionian Islands, was created in Aug 1817 via a Parliament with a 2-house legislature. The gov­ernment was organised under the direction of a Lord High Com­m­is­sion­er, appointed by the British monarch on the advice of the Brit­ish government. Then the Supreme Council of Justice was established.

    The first (1815-23) British high commissioner (and Governor of Malta) was Sir Thomas Mait­land, a rather repressive dictator who quickly stir­ring strong complaints from the locals. Yet the British era (815-64) was probably the most flourishing period in the history of Corfu. Corfu established the first Greek University, the Ionian Academy, which was established by Frederick North, 5th Earl Guil­ford in 1824. Its 3 faculties included Med­icine. The estab­lish­ment of schools, which had been neglected by the Venetians, was imp­roved and by 1850 there were 200 schools. Corfu gain­ed its first Philharmonic Orchestra and the first School of Fine Arts.

    There were extensive public works providing prisons, hospit­als, marsh clear­ance, a widened road network and a public aqueduct water-supply system that still operates. Commerce with the neighbouring countries grew impressively.

    Despite these benefits, the islanders came to resent British rule. And it all came to an end when a 1863 treaty demanded Britain renounce the Ionian islands. In March 1864, representatives of the UK, Greece, France and Russia pledged the transfer of sovereignty to Greece, under the newly install­ed King George I of the Hellenes. And in May 1864, by proclamation of the Lord High Commissioner, the Ionian Islands were united with Greece. The city of Corfu lost power in favour of Athens, but the rest of the island began to pros­per both polit­ically and economically.


    Image result for corfu beaches
    The Durrells' White House (top)                               Beautiful Corfu beaches (bottom)

    Even then, British influence continued. Way back in 1823, a cricket match was held in Corfu between Royal Navy officers and men in the British Garrison. Thus began a lasting union of this most British of games and the Greek island of Corfu. Of the many cricket clubs drawing excited crowds on the island these days, the loveliest field is Spianada square in town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a view of the Old Fortress. Also organised by local British-ex pats, Corfu was where the first tennis clubs opened in Greece.

    But the biggest attraction for British tourists now seems to be the tv series The Durrells (2016). Based on The Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell and set in 1935, the Durrell family left home in Britain and settled near Corfu Town. So modern tourists want to rent a villa in the pretty NE corner, where The Durrells was filmed, or stay in the flats at the White House in nearby Kalami, where Law­ren­ce wrote. The lovely bay of San Stefano has the tortoises that fascinated young Gerald, especially in late June. Plus pods of dolphins and sea-turtles.

    The quotation inscribed at the foot of a statue of author and naturalist Gerald Durrell in these beautiful gardens was dedicated to him and his brother Lawrence. The brothers’ writing, especially ‘My Family and Other Animals’, popularised this green isle in the world’s imagination.

    Corfu Town is a unique blend of histories, with a nod to all the nations that controlled it during its mixed history. On arrival in Mandracchio harbour, the Old Fort can be seen from the water. Fit visitors climb to the top of the fort and can enjoy the magnificent view over the town. Then the fit and the unfit can visit the black­ened remains of St Spyridon, Corfu’s patron saint, in his church. The public buildings of the Venetian rule blend well with narrow winding streets, lovely little bars and shops, and small secluded squares.

    Cultural sites are everywhere. Once home to Greece’s King George I, the elegant Saint Michael and George Palace sits on top of a hill outside Corfu Town. The Pal­ace, also the birthplace of Britain’s Prince Philip, opens its elegant interiors to the public and hosts a museum dis­pl­aying artworks, statues, historical and arch­aeological treasures.

    The British Cemetery is near San Rocco square. Founded in 1814 by the British Protectorate it was used as a garden cemetery where the British officials, soldiers and residents were interred. After the departure of the British, the cemetery served as the graveyard for the foreign families who stayed on (and it is still being used as a cemetery for the Anglican residents of Corfu today). Note the monument to the seamen of the two Royal Navy destroyers mined by the Albanians in The Corfu Channel Incident of 1946.

    100 cricket matches are played each year, 
    against local Corfu teams and against touring sides

    Visit Greece proudly notes that Corfu became part of the European world rather than part of the Levant.

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    Ludwig Guttmann (1899-1980) was born in Upper Silesia Germany/now Poland, into a religious Jewish family. His parents were Bernhard and Dorothea, and his sisters were Margarethe Guttmann, Alice Bamberger and Liesel Karger. He started studying medicine at the University of Breslau in 1918 and continued his studies in Würzberg and Freiburg, graduating in 1924.

    Guttmann returned to Breslau and worked with Europe’s leading neur­ologist Prof Otfrid Foerster from 1924-8. In 1928, he was in­vited to start a neuro-surgical unit in Hamburg but this post only last­ed a year as Foerster asked him to return to Breslau as his assistant. Guttmann remained in this job until 1933 when the Nazis forced all Jewish staff and patients to leave Aryan hos­p­it­als. Fortunately Guttmann became a neurologist in Breslau's Jewish Hos­p­ital for 6 years.

    On Kristallnacht (9th November 1938), Guttmann gave orders that any male person entering the hospital was to be treated, despite the racial laws specifying that Jewish doctors could only treat Jewish patients.  The next morning, he had to justify to the Gestapo the large number of admissions. In fact he saved 60 Jews from certain death by telling German officers they were too sick to be transported.

    Like all Jews, Gutt­mann's passport had been confiscated and he was not allowed to travel, yet in Dec 1938 he was ordered by von Ribbentrop to travel to Lisbon! Perhaps it was to treat Portugal’s prime minister, Antonio Salazar.

    There must be a God in heaven; Guttmann was already in contact with the British Society for the Protection of Science and Learning, and was suddenly offered a position in Britain, plus visas. Ludwig left Germany in March 1939 with his wife Else and children, and went to live in Oxford. [His parents and relatives all died in Germany in 1943, except for Curt and Alice Bamberger who survived by escaping to the USA].

    Stoke Mandeville Games,1948
    Photo credit: Dialogo

    In 1939 Gut­tmann worked at the Radcliffe Infirmary and at St Hugh’s Coll­ege Military Hospital for Head Injuries. But as WW2 con­tinued, the British Government became acutely aware of the influx of paralysed servicemen. So in Sept 1943, they asked Guttmann to become Direc­t­or of the new National Spinal Injury Centre at the Emergency Medical Ser­­vices Hospital, Stoke Mandeville in Aylesbury.

    When the centre opened in Feb 1944, Guttman did not like what had been the typical care for spinal patients in Britain – flat on their backs, full body plaster casts and pain relief. As director of the UK's first specialist unit for treating spinal in­jur­ies, Guttmann believed that physical activity was the major meth­od of therapy for injured servicemen and car accidents, helping them build up both strength and self-confidence. Thus he was the neurologist who revolut­ion­ised the treat­ment­ for, and lives of those with spinal injuries.

    Of course Guttman was seen as a bit of a radical neurologist, and his many conflicts with colleagues and the hospital adminis­t­ration were loud. But he was an attractive doctor, and compassionate. And his relation­ships with his patients were heartfelt. He challenged the old-fashioned staff and insisted his patients participate in their own recovery. Central to His Big Plan, Guttmann introduced the idea of physio­therapy as a medical treat­ment. Physiotherapy was the way to build strength and to fight depression. He hired an army physical trainer to lift weights with patients and practise movements.

    Within months, his Spinal Unit became a place of optimistic noise and activity. In a few years he had transformed the treatment of spinal patients, first in Stoke Mand­eville then across Britain. The knowledge, gained in treating and preventing complications to young soldiers and traffic accident victims, forced Stoke Mandeville’s Spinal Unit to expand rapidly. Only one productive thing had come out of WW2 - Guttmann and his staff gave paralysed patients the skills and treatments to face a useful future and to be reintegrated back into normal society.

    To coincide with the opening of the 1948 London Olympics, Dr Ludwig Guttmann held the first Stoke Mandeville Games on the lawns of the hospital. He presided over a wheel chair archery com­petition where the comp­et­itors, 16 ex-servicemen, were young people with severe spinal injuries. 

    The games were held again at the same location in 1952 where dis­abled Dutch WW2 ex-servicemen took part along side the British in archery, table tennis, darts and snooker. The games were the first step in Ludwig Guttman’s dream. At first he used the term Paraplegic Games, in order to encourage his patients to take part. Later they were called Paralympic Games.

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    The queen and Dr Guttmann presenting a medal to an Israeli champion
    Stoke Mandeville Sports Stadium, 1969

    By 1960, 400 athletes from many countries* participated in the first Olympic Games For the Disabled which were held in Rome, alongside the Rome Olympics. In Toronto in 1976, two other disability groups (blind and amputee athletes) were added and a truly international sports competition took place. In the same year, the first Paralympic Winter Games took place in Sweden.

    After retirement, Guttmann wrote Textbook of Sport for the Disabled (published in 1976, Aylesbury).

    The Stoke Mandeville Stadium is the National Centre for Disability Sport in Britain. Located alongside Stoke Mandeville Hospital, the stadium was formally opened in August 1969. When Ludwig Guttmann died in 1980, it was renamed Ludwig Guttmann Sports Centre, Stoke Mandeville.

    *Argentine, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, South Rhodesia, Sweden, Switzerland, USA and Yugoslavia

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    Melbourne girl Kylie Maybury (born 1978) was abducted and murdered, during the Melbourne Cup Day holiday on 6th Nov 1984.  Kylie was with her mother, Julie, visiting a neighbour when she was sent to a nearby shop to buy sugar. She was walking home along Plenty Rd Preston when she was taken. At 12.45am the next day her body was found in a gutter, not far from the flats where Kylie lived with her mother. The six year old had been raped and possibly strangled.

    Police released a composite image of Kylie Maybury as she may have looked on the day she died. And police released an image of the Mayburys' neighbour, Lorna Simpson, in the hope that it would jog a key witness's memory. This potent­ially crucial witness approached Simpson while she was searching for the girl on the corner of Gregory Grove and Plenty Road at the time she was taken. The witness, a slim young Italian girl, told Ms Simp­son she saw a child fitting Kylie's description in a white stat­ion wagon. A man was driving the car, which turned left onto Murray Rd. The girl then crossed Plenty Road and walked towards a pizza shop. That girl would be a woman aged about 50 now.

    The story was much bigger than the victory of Ronald Reagan in the USA.
    The Melbourne Sun newspaper, 7/11/1984

    Two more anonymous callers contacted the police. The first witness called police in Nov 1984, and told them a Holden Kingswood station wagon was in­volved. The second caller phoned Crime Stoppers in May 1997 and gave the name of a potential suspect. Investigators have also released an image of a similar vehicle described by witnesses.

    The crime was so horrible that police always worked on the basis that there were few suspects capable of such a thing. So dozens of dedicated police investigated the case for a very long time. It was taking so long that some of the detectives who had originally invest­igated the murder had since died. But the beauty of cold forensic science is it can be used to catch killers from years back, and it can be used to clear those wrongly accused.

    As would be expected, the victim's clothing showed obvious signs of the nature of the attack, but it was in pre-DNA days and any forensic examinations took the police no closer to the killer. Two relatives of Kylie, her grandfather (in Oct 1985) and her paternal uncle (in his cell at Pentridge Prison in Feb 1987), committed suicide in separate incidents after the murder. Homicide investigations had already totally cleared these two men of any involvement in Kylie’s death.

    The block of flats in Preston where Kylie lived with her mother
    Photo credit: The Age

    The local shop where Kylie bought a packet of sugar
    Photo credit: The Age

    School children walking past Herald Newspaper headlines,
    warning of a 6 year old body in the gutter.
    Photo credit: The Age 

    Before Australia had a Cold Case Squad, Canada had already developed a new police science and offered to help detectives on the Maybury case (3AW 28/12/2016). Canadian police forces had already begun using DNA tests in the early 1990s, but only rarely; the proced­ure was pricy, time-consuming and used up the entire biological sample. In the mid-90s, a new polymerase chain reaction technology allowed tests to be conducted on much smaller samples. And it seems the Canadians taught us the Automated Finger Print Identification System. It compared finger and palm prints from people who were charged with crimes with those found at crime scenes.

    These new developments in DNA and fingerprint technology allowed cold case investigators to revisit old cases and come to scient­if­ically reliable conclusions. As we will see.

    Seven years after the Maybury murder, there was a remarkably similar crime against another six-year-old Melbourne girl, Sheree Beasley, who was abducted in June 1991 near her Rosebud home. Her body was found in a drain on Sep 1991 in Red Hill. Former church elder Robert Arthur Selby Lowe was convicted of the Beasley murder and sentenced to life in prison.

    But by 1995 the similarities between the two old murders grabbed detect­ives’ attention. Both 6 year old girls had been abducted while returning from errands at local shops. Both died from asphyxiation. One victim was dumped in a gutter and one in a drain. Kylie was abducted on a public holiday and Sheree on a Saturday when Lowe was not working.

    A re-examination of the Maybury case now made Lowe the main suspect for the 1984 murder as well! Police found Lowe was offending against 3 young girls in the Preston area, around the time Kylie was killed, less than 1k from where Kylie's body was found! Lowe's psychotherapist said Lowe was fascinated with little girls wearing pink. Sheree Beas­ley was dressed in pink and Kylie Maybury carried a pink bag. It was a compelling circumstantial case and, with similar factual evidence, some police believed they had their man. 

    In 1995 experts found there was enough DNA material on the clothing to identify the killer, using the new DNA tests. But when the police finally got a sample, Lowe was fully cleared of Kylie’s rape and murder. Lowe, who is still serving his first life sentence for Sheree’s rape and murder, has since recruited criminals to smuggle child porn into Ararat prison.

    Witnesses came forward with new information about Kylie and a middle aged man in his early 1970s Holden. Now a 73-year-old man, Gregory Keith Davies was charged in June 2016 over the 1984 murder of six-year-old Kylie Maybury in Preston. The accused had been taken to the Spencer St police complex in the CBD, where he was interviewed by detectives.

    Homicide squad detectives alleged the then-42-year-old Mr Davies ab­ducted and raped Kylie on the night of 6th Nov and murdered her on 7th Nov when her body was discovered. Detectives did not confirm whether police still had a DNA sample taken from Kylie's body back in 1984 - clearly charges would not have been laid, had the DNA evidence eliminated Davies. But they did say that in 1894 Davies lived in his parents’ Preston home, only 500m from where Kylie’s body was found.

    Davies was first arrested at his country home near Kilmore. Then he was ch­arged and remanded in cust­ody to appear at the Melb­ourne Magis­t­rates' Court. He faced a brief out-of-sessions court over the abduct­ion, rape and murder of six-year-old Kylie Maybury. Davies was further remanded to face a committal hearing next in May 2017.


    Gregory Davies was charged  this week (May 2017) over the 1984 rape and murder of six-year-old Kylie Maybury. 33 years after the unsolved murder, Davies immediately pleased guilty and was remanded in custody to appear before the Supreme Court for sentencing.

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    Post Impressionism is a term initially used to refer to the styles developed during the last two decades of the C19th by French painters like Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin and Georges Seurat. The most famous Post Impressionists independently dev­eloped their styles, yet all were united in their rej­ection of Impressionism. Impressionism recorded Nature in terms of light and colour, while Post impressionists rejected these limitat­ions and instead sought to be more expressive and less idyllic.

    The term Post Impressionism was invented by English artist and art critic Roger Fry in Nov 1910, calling his London exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists. The exhibition was held after many of the Post Impress­ion­ists art­ists had died; none of them ever used the term them­sel­ves.

    The Post-Impressionists stressed their personal view of the visual world and preferred a freely expressive use of colour and form to de­scribe emotions and movement. The bold, intense colours and very expressive work stood out, particularly in Gauguin. But I had never thought of the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh as a Post Impressionist, at least in the early years of his very short, 10-year career.

    Still Life with Wildflowers and Carnations, 1887
    private collection, Paris

    Nor had I thought of van Gogh as a painter of flowers in a vase. The current exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne suggested that flowers had become an obsession in Paris, grown in local hothouses or freighted in from the southern Midi region of France by train. The art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel fost­ered a vogue for floral paintings, in particular by Claude Monet, to go into Durand-Ruel’s own home. Van Gogh certainly had visited this site.

    In summer 1887 in Paris, van Gogh painted Still Life with Wildflowers and Carnations and three other canvases, all featuring summer blooms in a vase. Note his chromatic brilliance in the high keyed contrasts of crimson, cobalt blue and pure white. And note the heavily textured surface and vibrancy that might have been modelled on Adolphe Mont­ic­elli, a French painter who died just a year before (1886).

    Van Gogh admired Gauguin enormously but couldn’t get Gauguin to join him in Arles until the end of 1880, when the two finally painted tog­ether. Van Gogh and Gauguin visited Montpellier in December 1888, where they saw works by Courbet and Delacroix in the Musée Fabre. As we know now, their relationship was doomed. Gauguin was arrogant and domineering while Van Gogh was depressed and anxious.

    Their fighting was bound to lead to a crisis. van Gogh returned alone to his home in Arles, where he was overwhelmed by voices and severed his left ear with a razor. van Gogh voluntarily admitted himself to an asylum in Saint-Rémy de Provence for a year (May 1889-May 1890). I mention it because the year was probably the most difficult of his entire life, filled with personal demons. And possibly because Post Impressionism used expressive use of colour and form to describe strong emotions, the year was also one of his most creative and pro­ductive years. Amazingly he completed 142 paintings in that time.
    Vase with Irises Against a Yellow Background, 1890
    painted in the asylum.
    Now in Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam 

    Red Poppies and Daisies, 1890
    painted in Dr Gachet's Paris home.
    Now in Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY

    Examine Still Life: Vase with Irises Against a Yellow Background (May 1890). In a letter, van Gogh wrote: At present all goes well, the whole horrible attack has disappeared like a thunderstorm and I am working to give a last stroke of the brush here with a calm and steady enthusiasm. I am doing a canvas of roses with a light green background and two canvases representing big bunches of violet irises, one lot against a pink background in which the effect is soft and harmonious because of the combination of greens, pinks, violets. On the other hand, the other violet bunch (carmine to pure Prussian blue) stands out against a startling citron background, with other yellow tones in the vase and the stand on which it rests, so it is an effect of tremendously disparate complementaries, which strengthen each other by their juxtaposition. And note that Van Gogh's interest in the specific colour contrast of violet and yellow dated back to his Paris period, when he wanted to “to harmonise brutal extremes”.

    Theo Van Gogh was searching for a home for his brother on his release from the Saint-Rémy asylum in May 1890. Camille Pissarro, a former patient of Dr Paul Gachet, told Theo about Gachet's interests in working with artists, so Theo sent Vincent to the doctor's second home in Auvers, Paris. Thus Vase with Daises and Poppies (mid 1890) was VERY late in Van Gogh’s career - only months before the artist’s death. The painting featured brilliantly coloured poppies and some small daisies, in addition to other meadow flowers. 

    The stunning Portrait of Dr Gachet was painted as a thank-you in June 1890. It was sad but gentle, clear and intelligent. The ultramarine blue coat of Gachet was set against a lighter blue background of hills; two bright yellow books were displayed on the table, alongside the purple medicinal herb foxglove. Despite Vincent having sold only one work in his life time, his paintings are now very valuable. In 1990 Christ­ie's sold this original Portrait of Dr Gachet, with van Gogh's signature, for $82.5 million.

    Vincent Van Gogh died in Auvers in July 1890 and was buried in the municipal cemetery there. He was 37.

    Portrait of Dr Gachet, 1890
    painted in Dr Gachet's Paris home.
    Now in a private collection

    Pablo Picasso's first major exhibition was held at the dealer Ambroise Vollard's gallery in June 1901. The exhibition pictures showed how Picasso was absorbing the influences around him, especially Edgar Degas, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Gauguin. But it was Vincent Van Gogh whose art meant more to Picasso than any of the other artists.

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    Queen Victoria gave royal assent to the British North America Act, so that Canadian Confederation could oc­cur. 150 years ago in July 1867 the old province of Canada was divided into Ontario and Quebec; and along with the British colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Feder­ation appeared. One Dominion of Can­ada, consisting of the 4 provinces!

    Manitoba joined in July 1870, British Columbia joined in July 1871. The Terms of Union negotiated by the governments of Canada and Brit­ish Columbia included a Federal commitment to quickly build a rail­way connecting British Columbia to the railway system of Can­ada. Prince Edward Island joined in July 1873, once there was a guarantee by the federal government to operate a ferry link or, later, Confederation Bridge in 1997. Alberta and Saskatchewan finally con­federated in September 1905 and New­found­land in March 1949. Nunavut officially separated from Northwest Territories in 1999.

    Over the years since Confederation, Canada has seen numerous territ­orial changes and exp­an­sions, resulting in the final union of ten provinces and three territories in 1999. It became a unified nation by gradual consent, not by war.

    In 1925, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King established a committee to design a truly Canadian flag. Despite the failure of that committee, citizens still wanted to fix the flag problem and new designs were proposed for decades later. After comm­it­­tee meetings in the early 1960s, Elizabeth II Queen of Canada proclaimed the new flag in January 1965.

    The Centennial in 1967 was when most people believed they were look­ing at being distinctively Canadian and actively creating a Canadian identity. So Expo 67 was a World's Fair held in Montreal from Ap-Oct 1967. With pavilions from 62 nations and 50.3 million visitors, Expo 67 was con­sid­ered to be one of the most successful World's Fairs of the C20th.

    Canada Day in Victoria BC

    Recently Doug Saunders reviewed the 1967 Centennial. The postwar decades, he said, were defined by large-scale decolonisation around the world: Across Africa, Asia and the Americas, scores of countries were freeing them­selves from centuries of control by European masters and struggling, sometimes violently, to find ways to govern themselves as independent entities. People were learning to think of themselves not as colonial subjects but as autonomous communities in self-created states.

    But the battle over symbols was one small manifestation of a larger shift. After the Centennial, Canada started to seriously con­front the divisions and gross inequities that had been masked in the past, ben­eath a patina of colonial gloss. Canada would have, over the next 50 years, two secession crises - a battle over the North American econ­omic identity and a hard-fought political reawakening of Canada’s indig­enous nations. Yet these were the crucial struggles of becoming a real country, of finding a governing mechanism and a common culture to bring together those long-disparate peoples.

    Leaders liked to believe that starting in the late 1960s, a series of political decisions, parl­iam­entary votes, court rulings and royal commissions descended upon an innocent, paternalistic, resource-economy Canada and forced upon it an awkward jumble of novelties: non-white immigration, bilingualism, multiculturalism, refugees, indigenous nationhood, liberation of women and gays, the seeds of free trade, individual rights and relig­ious diversity. But the great majority of Canadians had already moved on; one could see the 1967 centennial struggling to catch up with them.


    So the 150th celebrations will need to be different from the 50th. This year, 2017, the Celebrate Canada festivities will be bigger than ever! They will highlight the evolution of the country from its Indig­enous origins; the history with the French and the birth of Canada’s Francophone heritage; through to more recent waves of immigration that have led to the development of a modern society. Diverse, inclusive and democratic!

    In cooperation with national Indigenous organisations, the Government of Canada designated 21st June as National Aboriginal Day, a celeb­rat­ion of Indigenous culture and heritage. This date was chosen because it corresponds to the summer solstice, the day many Indigenous groups celebrated their culture and heritage. National Aboriginal Day is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the cultural diversity of Inuit, Métis and First Nations peop­les, and discover their unique accomp­lishments in the arts, agriculture and the environment. Colour­ful performances will be held in 8 Canadian cities as part of National Aboriginal Day Live.

      A new silver $1 coin that celebrates the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation.

    The Government of Canada, by Royal Proclamation, designated 27th June as Canadian Multi-culturalism Day. This is an opportunity to celebrate diversity and commitment to demo­c­racy, equality and mutual respect, and to value the contributions of the various multicultural communities to Canadian society. This year, major celebrations will be in three Canadian cities with live perform­ances.

    The cultural pride and heritage of Canada’s Francophones are expressed in the colourful parades and festivities that mark Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, Fête nationale du Québec et de la Fran­cophonie canadienne. Celebrate Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, especially in Quebec, where 24th June is an officially declared National Holiday. Major performances showcasing Francophone artists will be held in six Canadian cities.

    These major celebrations will culminate in Canada Day (1st July), a time to celebrate the heritage passed down through the works of authors, poets, artists and performers. It is a time to rejoice in the discoveries of scientific research­ers, in the success of entre­preneurs, and to commemorate the nation’s history. A full weekend of activities is planned for Canada’s Capital Region (Ottawa–Gatineau metropolitan area) to celeb­r­ate Canada Day. Celebrate the shared achieve­ments which were born in the ancestors’ vision and which are voiced in every language through the contribution of New Canadians.

    As the birthplace of Confederation, Charlottetown always enthusiast­ic­ally celebrates Canada Day. A ten-hour concert will showcase Prince Edward Island’s musical talent with everything from jazz to fiddles to rock. The city’s harbour will also be a guest port in a trans-Atlantic 150th Celebration Regatta, bringing forty tall ships and a waterfront festival focusing on Canada’s historical seafaring.

    For an authentically Canadian experience that’s boisterous and historic, pack up the Klondike regalia for Dawson City. The pancake breakfast, parade, paddle races, country picnic, stern-wheeler tours, bannock fry up, Cancan girls and gold panning competitions will reawaken the gold rush days.

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    Edith Newbold Jones (b1862) grew up in a privileged Massachusetts society that barred women from achieving any­th­ing other than a suit­able marr­iage. Her education was limited since she never went to a prop­er school or univ­ers­ity, and her mother maintained a strict literary censorship over Edith’s reading. Yet this woman of the Gilded Age (Civil War-WW1) trav­el­led to Europe many times and became fluent in three European languages.

    Because Edith wasn’t pretty, getting married wasn’t going to be easy. Nonetheless in 1885 she married Edward Wharton. Despite Teddy being an affable dud of modest means and a man who was displaying early symptoms of mental illness, the couple filled their early years with travel, houses and dogs (but no sex). 

                                                                 Edith Wharton

    The Whartons purchased The Mount estatein West Ma in 1902 from Georgiana Sargent, artist-cousin of painter John Singer Sargent. Edith’s mother had just died, and the chief executor (her brother) ensured mother’s will would never be divided equally. Wharton hadn’t yet reached the height of her fame at the time and her funds were very tight, so I wonder who paid for the 113 original acres

    The Berkshires worked as a place where wealthy families relaxed each summer. A sep­arate and poorer community of writers and artists also lived in Lenox, including Nathaniel Hawth­orne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Herman Melville.

    Writing years earlier in the Newport Daily News about Georgian style, Wharton had noted that in America “the Georgian house does not affect to be a castle, a fortress or a farmhouse possesses the important merit of affording more space, light and comfort for a given price than any other structure with the slightest architectural pretensions”.

    Wharton had outlined her house design according to the principles in her book The Decoration of Houses (1897). The house and gardens were an integral part of her life and she was proud of her achieve­ments. “The core of my life was under my roof, among my books and my intimate friends ... I am amazed at the success of my efforts. Decidedly, I’m a better landscape gardener than novelist.

    The exterior architects that Edith chose, Hoppin & Koen, used the Georgian-style Belton House (1684-1686) in the British county of Lincolnshire as a model for The Mount.

    The Mount, with its 35 rooms, four floors and formal gardens, was said to be a tad modest for a Gilded Age home!! So Wharton hired her friend Ogden Codman to do the building’s Italian and French interiors. This was appropriate since Codman was both a practising architect-interior decorator AND he had co-authored her The Décor­at­ion of Houses book. But he did not get along with the increasingly psychotic Teddy Wharton.

    Wharton usually work­ed in the morning while lying in bed.. so her bedroom was an important space. Visitors can still enjoy afternoon tea on the expansive terrace, an Italian element requested by Wharton. Then visitors enter the wood-panelled library where Edith worked in the after­noon. Her closest cultural friends – Sinclair Lewis, Henry James, Bern­ard Berenson and F Scott Fitzgerald– met her in this library. Her literary hero was Walt Whitman and the library still holds her annotated copies of his poetry books.

    Though the marriage eventually fell apart, the house succeeded - it helped her work. While living there Wharton wrote a book a year, in­cl­uding the big novel that would launch her into fame and wealth, The House of Mirth 1905. In it Lily Bart was a well-bred woman with­out money in New York’s fin de siècle high society. Wharton wrote of a stunning beauty who, though raised and educated to marry well, was running out of marrying years.

    Edith also wrote the following novels while living at the Mount: The Touchstone 1900; The Valley of Decision 1902; Sanctuary 1903; Madame de Treymes, 1906; The Fruit of the Tree 1907 and Ethan Frome 1911. She also wrote at least three important works of non-fiction: Italian Villas and Their Gardens, 1904; Italian Backgrounds, 1905 and A Motor-Flight Through France, 1908.

    So The Mount sustained Edith in that important and creative period, until Teddy’s mental ins­t­ab­­il­ity led to divorce. She sold the estate in 1911 and the couple div­orced two years later. Teddy moved in with his sister in a different Lenox house and Edith moved permanent­ly to France. “It was only at the Mount that I was really happy,” she later wrote in her memoir, A Backward Glance.

    Foxhollow School for Girls, which took over The Mount, closed down in 1976. For the next two decades, the property was taken over by Edith Wharton Restoration, used as the home of Shakespeare & Co.

    The Mount and its gardens, in Lenox, Ma

    Edith Wharton's library, The Mount

    Restoration of the estate did not begin until 1997. After years of hard use and little maintenance, the buildings were falling apart and the gardens were overgrown. In 2008 the Mount’s debt stood at $8.5m, owed to the bank that was threatening to foreclose on the house. A public Save the Mount campaign was urgently required. Eventually the Mount raised enough money to pay off its entire debt. Thankfully the $2.6m purchase of a coll­ect­ion of books Wharton had once owned herself, while exorbitant, brought her books back home.

    The Mount be­came a National Histor­ic Landmark; and it also became an autobio­graph­ical house that specifically embodied the soul of its creator. Now the Mount is available to anyone who wants to drive across New England to Lenox. And so far 40,000+ people have visited this year, following the tours listed. Additionally the Mount invited theat­re comp­anies, prominent writers and int­el­l­ectuals to come and give lectures to sold-out auditoriums. Clearly there was a great hunger for intellectual content in Lenox.

    Edith Wharton wrote 40+ books throughout her career, including important works on interior design, architecture and gardens. She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1921 and she achieved full membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1926. She died in France in 1937 and was buried in the Protestant cemetery at Versailles.

    Thank you Edith. You were one of my role models from the world of English literature written by women.

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    Three men believed that aviation could benefit the outback commun­ities of rural Queensland. They were Hudson Fysh (1895-1974), Paul McGinness (1896-1952) and Fergus McMaster (1879-1950). Based on their air force experience in WW1, McGinness and Fysh surveyed an air route across northern Australia in 1919 using a Model T Ford. A fourth man, Arthur Baird (1889-1954) later established the company’s reputation for engineering excellence.

    Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services/Qantas was formed in Nov 1920, centred in Winton, Queensland. The very next year they moved the company’s headquarters to Longreach in Queen­sland. And in 1922 the first scheduled Qantas mail and passeng­er flight flew from Charleville to Cloncurry, Queensland.

    Qantas didn’t build its own aircraft until 1926, once again based in Longreach.

    In 1928, a Qantas DH50 aircraft was leased to John Flynn and the Australian Inland Mission; it was the first flying ambulance for the Australian Aerial Medical Service. And right in the depths of the Depression (1930), Qantas established its headquarters in Brisbane. From there, Qantas carried airmail to Darwin, as part of an exper­imental mail service to the UK.

    The flying kangaroo helped revolutionise long-haul travel

    Jim Eames' book The Flying Kangaroo: Great Untold Stories of Qantas (Allen and Unwin, 2015) reminded us why Qantas remained such an im­portant part of Australiana. But I wanted far less on the tech­nical issues and near accidents, and far more on nationalism, ad­vertising, colours and symbols. For example the Australian car­rier adopted the flying kang­aroo only in 1944. The symbol was itself adapted from the Australian one penny coin, back in those pre-decimal days.

    Qantas supported the war effort from 1939 on, evacuating personnel who risked being captured by advancing Japanese forces and dropping supplies to troops in New Guinea. The airline pioneered history-making flights of 30+ hours in Catalina aircraft between Perth and Ceylon, maintaining a crucial link with the Allied Forces. Endless pilots and engineers led a very large workforce, maintaining and flying DC3s, Catalinas and single-engine bush aeroplanes.

    Post-war aircraft appraisals in the airline’s most formative years saw Qantas leading in fleet decision-making. Eames recounted the way Qantas steered itself through or around political pressures to maintain loyalty to the UK. The book shared new insights into the ever-shifting ground surrounding Qantas’ ownership, mergers, management inter­actions and its ultimate privatisation.

    What were the crises? In Aug 1960 a Constellation crashed and burned when an engine failed on takeoff at Mauritius (with no fatalities). The handling of this accident was later hailed as a model of safety management and a credit to Qantas’ crew training. Nonetheless Jim Eames gave a painful and honest version of how all on board escaped alive. 

    In 1966 a Boeing 707, en route from Sydney to Brisbane then Honolulu, violently started to porpoise up and down. So concerned were the pilots that they ordered an oceanic return path lest the problem return and cause them to crash over inhabited land. The cause was a fault in the horizontal stabilisers in its tail.

    In Feb 1969, there was a temporary loss of control in a Boeing 707 high over the Persian Gulf (with no fatalities). It suddenly dis­played incon­sistent flight information in the cockpit and was put into a 5 km spiral dive so stressful that the airframe nearly ruptured. The post incident analysis offered major lessons that improved the safety of the newly booming industry across the world. In 2010 near Singapore the most fam­ous of all of Qantas’ heroic saves was QF32, when an Airbus A380 was very damaged by an uncontained engine failure.

    Jim Eames' book, 2015

    The air traffic controllers were also learning quickly, including a near-collision over Thailand in Sep 1990. A giant US Air Force C5A Galaxy air transport JUST missed a Qantas B747, in civilian air­space. The US military seemed to have suppressed the evidence.

    Eames highlighted the leadership role that Qantas developed through its history, partially because its route distances were among the world’s longest and most demanding. The distance fact­or went right back to the 1920s when Qantas had to build its own biplanes in Long­reach to keep its fleet well-maintained with distant spare parts.

    The book also documented the tyranny of seniority in the flying ranks; the entire hierarchy of humiliation that applied to law, pub­lic administration, the ABC and the strong manufacturers and ship­ping lines of post-war Australia.

    The Flying Kangaroo also revealed much of the thinking and score settling that characterised the merging of Australian Airlines/TAA and Qantas in mid-1995. The book discussed the polit­ically complex factors of Bob Hawkes personal friendship with Sir Peter Abeles at Ansett and the abandonment of the late 80s infat­uation in Canberra with a three way merger of Qantas, Australian and Air New Zealand. One wonders what might have otherwise happened? 


    The publishers noted the brilliant risk takers who made Qantas the safest airline in the world, the special demands of flying VIPs, the hazards of overseas postings, and the ever present dangers of the skies. But above all, these were the stories of how a uniquely Australian style shaped the best airline in the English-speaking world.  November 2020 should be a time of great celebration at Qantas!

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    In my Gap Year programme abroad in 1966, there were 13 English speakers and 110 Spanish speakers, so I had to learn enough Spanish to survive. And quickly! The reward would be that eventually I could travel around South America and would be shown the joys of Argentina, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay. The trip didn’t happen, but I have always been alert to South American history and architecture ever since.

    Italian immigrant and cotton businessman Luis Barolo (1869-1922) arrived in Argentina in 1890. Believing that Europe had begun drift­ing towards a collapse, Luis Barolo wanted to build in the New World. So he commis­sion­ed the It­al­­ian architect Mario Palanti (1885–1978) to design a fabulous build­ing in Buenos Aires. Palanti had been educated in Milan and moved to Buenos Aires in 1909. Together Barolo and Palanti would pro­vide a place to house the bones of the jewel of European culture, Dante Alighieri. If that failed, they would have at least created a safe hav­en for the poet’s soul. The building would be called Palacio Barolo, based on the C14th epic poem Divine Comedy.

    Palacio Barolo
    Avenida de Mayo
    Buenos Aires

    In 1918 construction began and by the time it was completed four years later, Palacio Barolo was the tallest building in South Amer­ica. It quickly became a landmark building, located in Avenida de Mayo in Monserrat, Buenos Aires, only two blocks away from Plaza del Congreso.

    Luis Barolo and Mario Palanti’s shared admiration for Dante could be seen throughout the entire structure of the building and in every refer­ence. The enormous height of 100 ms corresponded to the 100 cantos of Dante’s work. The height of the building wa 100 ms because there were 100 songs in Dante’s work.

    In the central space, the gorgeous ground floor marble lobby had nine access vaults that represented the nine steps of initiation and the nine infernal hierarchies (Hell): for Dante, this was the start­ing point for the eventual ar­rival in Paradise. And each of the six trans­verse vaults, as well as the two lateral ones, contained inscriptions in Latin.

    The building’s 22 floors reflected the number of stanzas in the Divine Comedy, and like the text, the building was divided into three sections: Hell, Purgat­ory and Paradise. As people moved from the bottom to the top, they thus climbed out of Hell and on until Heaven.

    The entire Palace was a commercial enterprise, so Barolo requested hidden lifts, to move from its offices to the basement. Thus he avoided con­tact with the tenants who occupied most of the floors. When the building ended in 1923, it was blessed on 7th July by the apostolic nuncio Monsignor Giovanni Beda Cardinali.

    part of Palacio Barolo's lobby

    one of the original lifts

    In some ways, the building was very modern; Palacio Barolo for example was the first major building in Argentina to have been made entirely from reinforced concrete. Yet the building’s ornate façade set it dramatically apart from the more austere architecture that was common then, evoking the expres­sionist architecture of Spain’s Gaudí.

    A working lighthouse was placed on the build­ing’s roof, symbolising the nine angelic choirs to be found in paradise. Over the lighthouse was the Southern Cross constellation, aligned with the actual constellation on July 9th, Argentine Independence Day.

    The palace may have been a symbol of the City architecturally, but it began to fill with legends about boxing, early death and stolen sculpture. In 1923, there was a historic boxing match between the Argentinian Luis Angel Firpo and the American Jack Dempsey for the World Heavyweight Title held at Madison Square Garden in New York. If the light at the top of Barolo Palace turned white, it meant that the nasty American was the winner, while a green light would represented the triumph of the godly Argentinian. Firpo took Dempsey out of the ring and the top light did turn green, but after only 19 seconds, the rival came back up and knocked Firpo out. The light quickly turned to white and millions of Argentinians felt betrayed by God, the Catholic church and the entire sporting world.

    Barolo himself never lived to see the finished building that bears his name: he died suspiciously in 1922 at age 52. Was it a suicide, a poisoning or a heart attack. Perhaps Barolo committed suicide not only because the building was not finished, but because the sculp­ture that represented Dante climbing to the sky made by Palanti disappeared. After all, people asked, why did Palanti return to Italy to create the sculpture when he could have done it locally?

    Later, the missing sculpture was found in the hands of a collector in Mar del Plata, who refused to sell it. Eventually the sculpture was mutilated and disappeared altogether. Was it Barolo’s relationship with The Divine Comedy and the mystery of the sculpture that caused his early death in 1922?

    Palacio Barolo's lighthouse
    It represented Empyrean Heaven, the highest heaven, for Dante

    Dante’s bones remain interred in Ravenna in Italy, but the building he inspired is still impressive. Declared a national historic monument in 1997, Palacio Barolo was once South Amer­ica’s tallest building. It is not the tallest now, but the Palacio still towers above Argentina’s capital city. It is a unique example of a collab­oration between literature and architecture; medieval poetry re-created in concrete and marble.

    Organised daytime tours are offered on weekdays every hour from 4-7pm in both Spanish and English. Evening tours start at 8pm, and included a visit to the lighthouse and wine. Towards the end of the tour, visitors can take photos from the dizzying heights of Par­adise. Not me! I don’t do dizzying heights!

    In the Uruguayan city of Montevideo, there is a building in Plaza Independencia that is very similar to Barolo, called Palacio Salvo. Also designed by Mario Palanti, the idea was to reflect the the mouth of the Rio de la Plata as a welcome to foreign visitors arriving by boat from the Atlantic.

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    James Les Darcy (1895-1917) was born near Maitland in NSW, one of ten children of a struggling Irish Catholic family. Leaving primary school in 1907, Les worked then was apprenticed at 15 to a local black­smith. As his father was at times unemployed, and his elder brother was partly crippled, Les had to help his very large family.

    Darcy made his first money in the boxing ring at 14. In 1912-13 he won several fights at Newcastle and Maitland. In Nov 1913 he lost to the Australian welterweight champion Robert Whitelaw, but his performance did att­ract­ the attention of the Sydney promoters. In July 1914 he appeared for the first time at the Sydney Stadium, against the Amer­ican Fritz Holl­and. Darcy was already a local hero — his supporters came from Maitland in two special trains. When Holland won on points there was a riot. But the experts need not have worried since Darcy had impressed the sports promoter Snowy Baker. He became the stadium's leading draw-card.

    WW1 did not slow him down. In Jan 1915 Darcy fought the American Jeff Smith in a world welter­weight championship. He lost sensationally, but this only enhanced his fame. That defeat was his last: by Sept 1916 he had won 22 consecutive fights! He was now comparatively well off — each contest was netting him c£300, and he was also being paid for exhibitions and for acting in a film.

    Teenage success story, Les Darcy
    Photo credit: State Library of New South Wales

    The political atmosphere was radically altered by the Easter Week Rising in Dublin and the Australian prime minister’s commitment to conscription. Passports were being refused to men of military age. Darcy began to come under pressure to enlist, but his ambivalence to war was aggravated by his Irish-Catholic background.

    He wanted 4-5 fights in the USA to make his family financially secure, and then he would go to Canada or England to enlist. He sailed clandestinely from Newcastle in Oct 1916, the day before the national conscript­ion referendum. The patriotic press denounced him as a shirker.

    In New York a major fight was arranged, but it was banned by New York Gov­ern­or Whitman, because of the manner in which Darcy had left Aust­ral­ia. The decision was disastrous for Darcy: American promoters began to lose interest in him, so he gave some vaudeville exhib­itions instead. After a bout he had arranged in Louisiana was also banned, Darcy took out US citizenship and vol­unteered for the American army. Yet another fight was arranged in Memphis Tennessee, and Darcy's call-up was deferred so that he could train.

    In late April 1917 Darcy collapsed. He was admitted to hospital with septicaemia and endocarditis; his tonsils were removed but he developed pneumonia and died, aged 21; his fiancée by his side. His body was brought back to Australia and, after immense funeral processions in San Francisco and Sydney, was buried in the East Maitland cemetery.

    Darcy had all the makings of a folk hero. His remarkable ring record, losing only 4 professional fights and never being knocked out, was associated with his extraordinary physique: a muscular body apparently impervious to the heaviest blows and a reach greater than his height (170 cm) suggested. He neither smoked nor drank, he spent most of his income on his family and he attended Mass most mornings.

    His decision to leave Australia secretly, in breach of the War Prec­aut­ions Act, provided the controversy and the enemies, without which no hero-figure is complete: his lonely death gave him an aura of martyrdom. So powerful a legend did he become that fifty years after his death, flags flew at half-mast.. and a memorial at his birth­place was unveiled by a former Governor-General.


    Three separate issues seemed to me to have worked against Darcy enlist­ing. Firstly he was seen as having been maligned due to his Irish-Catholic working-class heritage. Secondly he said he tried to enlist but he was under-age and his mother refused her consent. Thirdly he was one of 10 children of an Irish Catholic share-farming family, so family money would always be desperately needed. Only winning boxing championships would guarantee that income.

    Was Darcy eluding conscription in Australia? No! A conscription referendum provoked furious debate, and when people voted in Oct 1916, the proposal was narrowly defeated. In 1917 the Prime Minister called for yet another conscription referendum. This cam­paign was just as heated as the first, with the most prom­in­ent anti-conscription activist being the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Mannix. In Dec 1917 the nation again voted No.

    Only by fighting in the USA, Darcy believed, could he further his career and finally guarantee his family’s financial future. Even though the press vilified him as a coward and deserter! But let us be clear - when he secretly stowed away to the USA on an oil tanker, the SS Cushing, there was NO conscription in Australia. Darcy may well have been leaving his homeland without a passport, but he was hardly in breach of critical wartime regulat­ions.

    It was said that Americans were also caught up in war fever in 1916. Definitely it was the American State Governor who banned him from boxing! Definitely the American promoters abandoned him and American boxing fans sent him white feathers! This does not make sense at all. The USA was neutral in WW1 (until April 1917) and did not have conscription for its own citizens. What did Americans care if a Maitland lad did or did not enlist in the Australian army?

    It must have been effective. Darcy volunteered for the US Army to avoid further criticism.

    Darcy's grave
    Maitland Cemetery
    Photo credit: Maitland City Council

    When Darcy died, he lay in state in a Sydney chapel. Seen as having been targeted by the Establishment due to his Irish-Catholic heritage, the funeral became an occasion for massive anti-conscription protest. Some 700,000 citizens followed his funeral procession from Sydney to Maitland (165 ks). A monument over Darcy’s grave in Maitland Cemet­ery was erected in his memory later that year. Darcy was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993 and was one of the first inducted into the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003.

    My question remains. How did Darcy go so quickly from a heroic boxing success (in 1914-15) to a vilified coward and shirker (1916), a secret escapee to the USA (Oct 1916) and new citizen of that country (April 1917), and finally death and national sporting hero status back in Australia (April 1917)?

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    The Cliveden House land in the Chiltern Hills Bucks was owned by Geoffrey de Clyve­den in 1237. By 1300 it had passed to his son William who owned mills along the tree-less chalk escarp­ment high above the Thames. By 1569 a lodge existed on the site along with many acres of land.

    It was on this very high, expos­ed site that George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham (1628–1687) chose to build the first Clive­den house. The Duke of Buckingham pulled down the ear­l­ier buildings and chose Captain William Winde as his architect. Winde designed a four-storey house above an arcaded terrace.

    Although the Duke's intention was to use Cliveden as a hunting lodge, he later housed his mistress Anna, Countess of Shrewsbury there. In the Duke's eastern garden, flints have been laid in the lawn as a rap­ier dated 1668, to commemorate the duel between the Duke and his mistress' husband Lord Shrewsbury. Lord Shrews­bury died of his wounds, as told by Samuel Pepys in his diary.

    John Evelyn, another diarist, visited the Duke at Cliveden in 1679 and recorded the following impression in his diary: "I went to Clifden of the Duke of Buckingham. On the terrace is a circular view of the utmost verge of the Horizon which with the serpen­tining of the Thames, is admir­able and surprising. The cloisters, gardens and avenue through the wood august and stately.”

    Cliveden House, 2013

    There were other significant renovations done to the house after the original 1666 version. But the most important was that designed by Sir Charles Barry in 1851, to replace the house destroyed by a terr­ible fire in 1795. Barry was a perfect choice; he had won the com­mission to design the new Palace of Westminster, way back in 1836.

    The present Cliveden House is a blend of the English and Italian Palladian styles. The Victorian three-storey mansion sits on a 120m long, 6m high arcaded terrace/viewing platform which remains from the mid-C17t house. The house facade is covered in Roman cement, with terracotta balusters, capitals, keystones and finials. The roof of the man­sion is for strolling, and there is a circular view, above the tree-line, that includ­es Windsor Castle.

    Whereas Charles Barry's original interior showed off a square entr­an­ce hall, a morning room and a separate stairwell, Lord Astor want­ed a more impressive entrance to Cliveden. He chose to have all three rooms enlarged into one, very large Great Hall. His aim was to make the interior as much like an Italian palazzo as possible. Most English of all is the library, panelled in gorgeous cedar wood.

    Cliveden House, Great Hall

    In 1984–86 the exterior of the mansion was overhauled and a new lead roof installed by the National Trust, while interior repairs were carried out by Cliveden Hotel. In 2013 further restoration work on the main house was carried out including the windows and doors.


    I knew all about Cliveden’s architecture and decorative arts from both lec­tures and a tour. But I had forgotten about the Cliveden Set. After their marriage, American expats Nancy (nee Langhorne) and 2nd Vis­count Wal­dorf Astor married in 1906 and moved in­to Cliveden, a wedding gift from Astor's father. Nancy Astor became a prominent hostess at Clive­den House for a social elite; she att­racted a group of upper class and very in­fl­uential people in post-WW1.

    Nancy Astor was the first female MP in Brit­ain, Waldorf Astor owned The Observer, Geof­frey Dawson was edit­or of The Times, Samuel Hoare was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Edward Wood Lord Halifax was a government minister and Edward Fitzroy was Speaker of the Commons. Alas Nancy Astor was anti-black, anti-Semitic and, as the 1930s went on, increasingly pro-German. So were her most of her powerful colleagues in the Cliveden Set.

    Profumo and Keeler

    And I had forgotten that the Profumo Affair, an event that rocked all British countries in 1961, had started at Cliveden. There was a summer party at the Cliveden estate of 3rd Viscount William Astor in 1961; this was the very same weekend that Stephen Ward, Astor’s resid­ential osteopath, had a party. Lord Astor’s friends were mainly aristoc­ratic eg the Conservative politician and British Secretary of State for War John Profumo (1915–2006). Ward’s friends were less than aristo­cratic, including the sexy dancer Christine Keeler and her lover, the Russian military attaché Yevgeny Ivanov.

    To cool down from the summer heat, Lord Astor walked his guests to over to the family pool where Profumo caught a sight of Christine Keeler swimming naked. It was love at first sight! Through Ward’s connections, the very married Profumo began an affair with Keeler, and rumours of their involvement soon began to spread. In March 1963 Profumo lied about the affair to Parliament, stating that he had never had sexual relations with that woman, with Miss Keeler. A short time later Profumo resigned, admitting with deep remorse that he had deceived the House of Commons.

    The real tragedy was not that extra-marital sex took place at Clive­den House, nor that the British Secretary of State for War was forc­ed to admit that he had deceived Mrs Profumo. The real tragedy for the Conservatives was that the scandal led to the eventual downfall of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s government. The op­p­os­ition Lab­our Party soon defeated the Conservatives in a national elec­tion.

    The personal results were strangely unequal. Profumo began a career in charity and was honoured by the queen in 1975 for his work. He never spoke about politics in public again. Step­hen Ward was con­victed on two counts of living off immoral ear­nings, took an over-dose of sleeping pills and died three days later. After Christ­ine Keeler’s release from prison in 1964 and two brief marriages, the ex-showgirl largely lived alone.

    It was never proven that Yevgeny Ivanov had attempted to entrap Pro­fumo or to use Keeler as an agent. And Profumo’s relationship with Ms Keeler was never proven to lead to a breach of British national sec­urity in Russia. Ivanov was recalled to Moscow in Dec 1962 and although his naval career continued back in the Soviet Union, he was assigned to a distant fleet well away from the centres of power.

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    The film A Quiet Passion depicts the poet Emily Dickinson entirely inside her home. Before seeing the film, I needed to understand Emily's inner life & family experience. Thank you Biography.

    Let's start with Emily's father. Educated at Amherst and Yale, Edward Dickinson returned home, joined the family law practice and moved into the family house, The Homestead (1813). He was el­ect­ed to Massachusetts State Legislature (1837-9) and the State Senate (1842-3). Be­tween 1852-5 he served as a state represent­ative in the Congress and treasurer of Amherst College. Edward’s wife was represented as the passive wife of a domineering husb­and.

    There were three Dickinson children: Austin, middle child Emily and younger sister Lavinia. All three child­ren attended the tiny primary school in Amherst and then moved on to Am­herst Academy, the school out of which Amherst College had grown. Austin was later sent to Williston Seminary.

    Emily was at Amherst Academy until 1847. Her time at the Academy provided her with her first Master, the principal Leonard Humphrey. Although Dickinson quite admired him while she was a student, her response to his unexpected death in 1850 identified her grow­ing interest in passionate poetry. The other significant figure was Edward Hitchcock, president of Amherst College. a man devoted his life to main­taining the connection between the natural world and its divine Creator. He was a frequent lecturer at the Academy, and Emily often heard him speak.

    Emily Dickinson 1847. 
    Amherst College Collections.

    At the Academy Emily developed a group of close friends. As was common for young, mid­dle class women, the formal schooling they received in the academies provided them with some autonomy and intellectual rigour. Many of the women’s academies required full-day attend­ance, with the same curriculum as young men’s educ­at­ion.

    In the 1847-8 academic year, Emily attended Mount Holy­oke Female Sem­inary in South Hadley, a school noted for its religious stance. The school also prided itself on its connection with Amherst Col­l­ege, offering students college lectures in astronomy, botany, chem­istry, geol­ogy, mathematics etc. Later the curriculum’s C19th emph­asis on science reappeared often in Emily’s poems and letters.
    So why was Emily’s stay at Mount Holyoke shortened from two years to one - reclusive­ness? home­sick­ness? lack of intimates? not fully part of school activities? father forbade it? lack of faith? No-one knew.

    Just then Amherst was having a religious revival. The community loved the ministers’ strong preach­ing and the Dickin­son household was affected eg Vinnie and Edward Dick­inson soon counted them­selves among the saved. Austin join­ed the church in 1856, his marriage year. Christ was calling everyone; only Emily was standing alone in rebellion.

    Emily’s departure from Mount Holyoke marked the end of her form­al schooling and prompted the dissatis­faction typical of educated young women in the mid C19th. Back at home, unmarried daught­ers were expected to resume their duti­ful, selfless nature ☹

    Since receiving and paying visits were ess­ential to social standing, Vinnie and Emily Dickinson got busy. In a 1855 visit, the sisters stay­ed with an old Amherst friend in Philadelphia, and attended church with her. The minister was Rev Charles Wadsworth, famous for both his preaching and pastoral care! Short­ly after a visit to Em­ily’s home in 1860, Rev Wadsworth left town, and this led to the heart­sick flow of verse from Emily. The nature of her poetic love, to Wad­sworth and others, still prompts scholars to ask: what did Dickin­son’s passionate language signify?

    Emily’s ambivalence toward marriage was telling. Married women, including her mother, had failing health and unmet demands that were parts of the husband-wife relationship. Writ­ing to Susan Gilbert in the midst of Susan’s courtship with Austin Dickinson, Emily distinguished between the supposed joy of marriage and the parched life of the married woman. Emily clearly looked to her future sister-in-law as one of her most trusted readers.

    With their father’s move to Washington, Austin gradually took over his father’s role. His marriage to Sus­an Gilbert in July 1856 brought a new sis­t­er into the family, one with whom Emily had much in com­m­on. Dad Edward eventually returned his family to the Homestead, Emily’s childhood home. Now she was writing hundreds of poems and letters in the rooms she had known for most of her life. Even bett­er, Austin and Susan Dickinson settled in The Homestead, the new house next door to The Evergreens.

    Emily never liked to visit others and didn’t invite people to visit her because the energy that visits required was mind-numbing. Was she a real recluse, or was she sim­ply being practical? Instead letter-writing was visiting at its best!

    The late 1850s saw Dickinson’s greatest poetic period. Those 1,100 poems already carried the familiar metric pattern of the hymn. Clearly her years were filled with both poems and letters. And reading. Emily read the contem­porary authors on both sides of the Atlantic: Romantic poets, Charles Darwin, Brontë sisters, the Brownings, Thomas Carlyle, Matthew Arnold and George Eliot (UK) and Longfellow, Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Emerson (USA).

    The Homestead was the birthplace and home of the poet Emily Dickinson.
    The Evergreens, next door, was home to her brother Austin and sister in law Susan.

    In 1862 she wrote to literary man Thomas Higginson in re­sponse to his Atlantic Monthly, and sent him four poems. Hig­g­in­son was curious, but he didn’t yet see a published poet emerging from her “poorly structured” poetry. Instead he counselled her to work harder on her poetry before she tried pub­lishing it. None­the­less Em­ily’s unpublished poems circulated widely among her family and friends, since this audience was part of women’s liter­ary culture in the mid C19th.

    Emily Dickinson died in Amherst in 1886, not publicly recognised during her lifetime. Only when her family discovered vol­umes of poems and posthumously published them in 1890 did she find acclaim.


    Once I had read everything that was ever written about Emily Dick­inson, it was time to see the film A Quiet Passion. Cynthia Nixon’s role as Emily Dickinson was very moving, an intelligent woman who displayed her bizarre mixture of humour, wit, free thought and a pained soul. Emily's important attachment to her close knit fam­ily was lovingly displayed in the film, even when the pain caused by her father and brother limited her life even more. Only the sister Vinnie and the female friends were constantly supportive, regardless of 1850s religious values in the USA.

    In the film, the reverend led the family in prayer. Only Emily remained seated while the rest of the Dickinson family got down on their knees.

    The photography was lush, detailed and sensitively handled. The clothes were beautifully recreated, as were the architecture and decorative arts in The Homestead. And best of all, Emily’s poetry was recited through­out the film which was excellent for those in the audience who did not study Dickinson at university. But except for one editor who said women could never write well, it was not clear at all why Emily’s special talent was only recognised and published four years after her death.

    The film was 2 hours and 10 minutes long. I would have eliminated the last death scene which was irrelevant to the Dickinson story and would have re­duc­ed the film by 10-14 minutes.

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    Anglican Canon Sidney Chambers (played by James Norton) had had a very tough WW2 with the tank regiment of the Scot Guards. After the war, he resumed civilian life and resilient faith, soon living as a canon in Grantchester near Cambridge. His life was sup­p­osed to be divided between teaching at Cambridge and running his green, peace­ful Grantchester parish.

    So how did Sidney Chambers manage his time, able to preach and comfort parishioners while still getting involved in solving local crimes? Fortunately he lived in a comfortable vicarage, with a full-time housekeeper Mrs Maguire (played by Tessa Peake-Jones). Thus Sidney could afford to pace himself, not having to run both the parish and the vicarage. Without over­doing it, the stories explored priestly loneliness, the sense of living in cons­tant public view, and the true fulfilment that a vocation can bring.

    It was 1953 and Chambers was young, handsome, redheaded and relig­ious. He presided over the peaceful local church but, every so often, a crime shook Grantchester from its sleepy self-confid­ence. Sidney unexpectedly became close friends with the local police ins­pector, Geordie Keating (played by Robson Green), another WW2 ex-servicemen.

    Geordie encouraged Sidney to step over the normal bound­aries of pastoral care. The detective became Sidney’s best friend, a regular backgammon partner and a fellow drinker. Perhaps Geordie was aware of the class difference between the two men. But for me, Geordie’s sceptical comments and unemotional expressions added realism to Grantchester.

    Chambers had the tricky task of hosting the funerals after susp­icious deaths, but he still had to del­iv­er a sermon on the nat­ure of forgiveness. I wonder if the Church thought the good rever­end’s duties, clerical and quasi-legal, were complimentary or clashing.

    But because he was a cleric, Chamb­ers bel­ieved in his parishioners and they believed in him. He could thus exploit his standing in the Church to gain access to the be­reaved. Perhaps also because of his handsome face and body, he successfully obtained information about crimes. Not reliable enough inform­at­ion to take to court perhaps, but enough to convince Keating to let him see the case folders.

    Sidney (James Norton) and Geordie (Robson Green) in Grantchester

    Chambers was flawed, of course. He was in love with a woman who was engaged and then married to another man, did questionable things during investigations, suffered from PTSD after WW2, and his love of whiskey was the subject of parishioner wonder. But his flaws were not given too much weight, and were instead swiftly turned into a resolution by his holier-than-thou housekeeper. Actually Mrs Maguire was in the story specifically to keep the vicar in check!

    Sidney turned out to be a very progressive 1950s vicar; he saw through stereotypes and immediately accepted that the parish’s new archdeacon Leonard Finch (played by Al Weaver) was gay. When Leonard fled Grantchester, afraid that he couldn’t fulfil the more demanding aspects of the priesthood, Sidney gave Leonard morale-boosting support. He emphasised the happy aspects of their profession as well as the difficult aspects. Of course Leonard did return to the cosy vicarage! The hapless, heartbroken curate had to look for romance elsewhere after Daniel Marlowe (played by Oliver Dimsdale) left him for another man.

    Men being sensitive? Imagine that!

    I had no idea about Granchester’s literary inspirations. Clearly the series understood the life of parish priests because of its source material - the books written by James Runcie. Runcie was the son of Robert Runcie (1921–2000), who became the Archbishop of Canter­bury. Like Arch­bishop Run­cie, Sidney served in WW2. The two men shared ap­palling war-experiences inside the Scots Guards, univers­ity life and careers in the Church of England.

    Note also the English poet Rupert Brooke rented rooms in the real Grantchester vicarage before WW1. He wrote The Old Vicarage Grantchester (1912), a now-lyrical reference to the Cam­bridg­e­shire hamlet. When Brooke died in the war, Brooke's mother bought the house in 1916 and gave it to Rupert's best friend, the economist-parliamentarian-aristocrat Dudley Ward. Brooke's poem’s nos­t­algic yearning may have been another literary source for James Runcie.

    The original vicarage was built in the late 17th century.
    Rupert Brooke rented part of the house in 1910 and after he died in the war, Brooke's mother bought the house in 1916 in his honour.

    Let me repeat that Sidney Chambers was VERY handsome in a cassock. And note his normal, non-clerical love of jazz rec­ords. Bromance, a core of programmes like Midsomer Murders, Inspector Lewis, Insp­ector Morse and Sherlock, grew. But this was bromance between very different types of men (as it was in my absolutely favourite tv programme, Lewis). Cham­b­ers was probably extricating himself from duller parish duties to sneak off for an afternoon of drinks and backgammon with Geordie. Keating, a rough copper with little time for church-going himself, learnt the value of having a decent cleric on his side. So was Chambers, a man of faith based on Godly good­ness, drawn to explore the darker side of human nature? This was an assured blend of mannered sleuthing and errant flock-tending!

    I thought I would not like the tendency to end many episode of Grantchester with a sermon, which usually referred obliquely to the anti-Christian mot­ives behind Grantchester’s crimes. But it worked well in reinforcing the canon’s true vocation. He might have drunk whisky rather than the traditional sherry, and might have fallen for att­ractive women, but Sidney’s faith was port­rayed as a strength rath­er than a weakness, a rather radical notion.

    The conflict between duty and love was best seen in Sidney and Amanda’s relationship. Amanda Kendall (played by Morven Christie) was Sidney’s forbidden lover. Sidney was not presented as a saintly stereotype but he was plagued by knowing that as a clergy­man must put duty above his own needs and lead by example. The couple was battling the impending decision: If Amanda div­orced her miserable husband, she could not mar­ry Sidney; and she could not have a relat­ion­ship with Sidney unless he left the church.

    The programme found ways to illustrate that the godly do not need to be insulated from the world eg Chambers truly related to those who were in crisis eg ex-servicemen. Real faith encompassed the whole of life, not just the religious bits. He drank, worried and had his heart broken. He had scars, both physical and emotion­al.

    Because everything was a priest’s business, Grantchester was not a theology-powered drama. In any case, Brit­ain did not have had an official separation of Church and State. But Sidney Chambers worried about the separation between the roles that he and Geordie shared together. Confession to Sidney would be protected; confession to Geordie could lead to arrest and trial.

    Lewis is my absolutely favourite tv programme. Granchester is my second favourite.

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    Friedrich Drumpf (1869-1918) grew up in Kallstadt in rural southwest Germany, with a regular income but no savings. His father had died when Friedrich was a young school boy so there was no support there. In 1885, facing imminent mandatory military service, Friedrich said goodbye to his mother and hopped on a ship for the USA. He landed in New York, and moved in with an older sister and brother-in-law, both of whom had immigrated earlier.

    Friedrich moved to the West Coast and opened a restaurant, with a curtained-off area that served as a low-rent bordello. And Frederick Trump, as he was called by then, became an American citizen.

    Frederick sold his restaurant/bordello and set up a new business. On a piece of land owned by the mining Rockefel­lers and without the owners’ consent, Frederick went ahead and built a hotel that rented by the hour. In time the mining project was running out and only a few got out with decent profits. Among them was Frederick Trump! Clev­er man that he was, Frederick heard about the Klondike gold rush and headed to Canada’s Yukon Territory. He was not seeking the hard physical labour of panning for gold in icy streams; instead Freder­ick serviced the miners with food, drinks and prostitutes. His arr­iv­al at the height of the gold rush was either brilliantly timed or blissfully lucky.

    By the time the Klonike gold was running out, Frederick had al­ready made a small fortune to take with him as he returned to the USA. A pattern had emerged. As long as Frederick’s busin­ess­es thrived, he stayed put and worked hard. When profits began to waver, he would quickly move on to other, more lucrative busin­esses.

    Friedrich and Elizabeth Drumpf/Trump

    In 1901 Frederick Trump returned to Germany, where his mother in­troduced her rich, single son in his 30s to suitable German ladies. But Frederick fancied a young, busty blond woman his mother disliked, Elizabeth Christ. Frederick took his new bride to America and searched for opportunities to increase his fortune. But Eliz­ab­eth disliked living in a metropolis and wanted to return to her family in Germany. In 1904, Frederick, Elizabeth and their baby sailed home.

    Alas his old conscription-avoidance problem remained. Hoping the fortune he brought into the country would impress the authorities, in September 1904 he explained his absence to the government in writ­ing: “I did not immigrate to America in order to avoid military service, but to establish for myself a profitable livelihood and to enable myself to support my mother” in Kallstadt. Despite him having been German born and raised, the German authorities ordered this “American migrant” to leave.

    Frederick’s death certificate showed that he died of the Spanish flu outbreak that devastated the world in 1918. He left behind a solid estate. Along with the hefty support of his wife Elizabeth Christ Trump in the family businesses, it had been this liquor-selling, brothel-keeping Frederick who laid the foundation for the Trump dyn­asty in the late C19th. Very hard working and opport­un­ist­ic, but not criminal.

    Soon after his father’s death, teenager Fred Christ Trump (1905-1999) went into the real estate and construction business with his widowed mother. Their company, Elizabeth Trump & Son Co., grew steadily in the post-WWI years. The most successful group of projects was building barracks and garden flats for Navy personnel, near the main East Coast shipyards.

    During the 1920s and 30s, Trump focused on building affordable single-family houses in Brooklyn and Queens. He was both obsessive and tight with his money, personally supervising the quality of materials and his crews closely.

    Fred’s reputation as a moral businessman was first questioned when he was arrested after a Ku Klux Klan riot between 1,000 Klansmen and 100 policemen in New York. By June 1927 the New York Times had pub­lished the names and addresses of the arrested men (including Trump), at the very time when New York authorities were trying to halt the KKK’s growing pres­ence there. The New York Police Commissioner described how the Klansmen wore gowns and had scary hoods cov­er­ing their faces.

    Fred married a Scottish migrant Mary MacLeod in 1936 and had four children together, born between 1937 and 1946. Fortunately for Don­ald, his only competition for Fred’s wealth was his older brother (Freddy Jr) who never wanted to be part of the family business and died in any case at 43.

    Fred built the public housing complex, Beach Haven, using federal loans and made huge profits from the project. He pocketed most of a fee (5% of the complex’s development’s cost) that was ear-marked for arch­it­ectural work. Trump also borrowed more in fed­er­ally subsidised funds than he actually needed. Thus he became the sub­ject of a federal investigation for over-stating the cost of dev­eloping Beach Haven and pocketing the $3.7m difference. (Was this the war-time profiteering charge that is often mentioned?)

    The truly racist foundations of Fred’s real estate empire did not get exposed until well after WW2 ended and the soldiers returned home. Beach Haven, for example, was built near Coney Island and al­most exclusively housed white tenants in a lily-white neighbourhood.

    Wilshire Apartments in Jamaica Estates, Queens, 1973
    Built and managed by Fred Trump 

    Fred Trump was singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie’s landlord for two years in the 1950s, and he suffered like many of the other renters. In 1952, Woody Guthrie created the song Old Man Trump, hoping to get listeners to think deeply about race and segregation in the USA:

    I suppose that Old Man Trump knows just how much racial hate
    He stirred up in that bloodpot of human hearts
    When he drawed that colour line
    Here at his Beach Haven family project

    Beach Haven ain't my home!
    No, I just can't pay this rent!
    My money's down the drain,
    And my soul is badly bent!
    Beach Haven is Trump’s Tower
    Where no black folks come to roam,
    No, no, Old Man Trump!
    Old Beach Haven ain't my home!

    Fred Trump’s fortune was made mostly in building low-income housing with FHA funds! Yet he had repeated confrontations with civil rights groups about racial discrimination in his housing allocations. In fact in 1973 the fam­ily was defending Fred’s company, Trump Manage­ment, from charges that they discriminated against potential black tenants. The USA Justice Department alleged racially discrim­in­atory conduct by Trump agents, by outright refusing flats to black fam­il­ies solely on the grounds of skin colour.

    Fred and Mary Trump, 1993

    At his death in 1999, Fred Trump’s net worth was $250–300 million. He was very hard working, racist, opportunistic and charged with criminal offences.

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    Prater­strasse in Leopoldstadt was a thriving cul­tural scene and business district in Vienna. The Nestroyhof Theatre that was financed, designed, owned and patronised by the most acculturated Austrian Jews in the early C20th. This special site of Vienna’s her­itage was an example of arch­it­ect­ure that championed C20th urban design. Alas some Nestroyhof shows were forbidden by state censor­ship, due to its Jewish stars and the radical themes.

    In 1904 the Munich playwright Franz Wedekind wrote one of his Lulu plays, called Pandora's Box, which depicted a society divided by greed. Karl Kraus was a Jewish born Vien­nese play­wright and poet who, in 1905, arranged for in­vitation-only performan­ces of Franz Wede­kind's play at Nes­troyhof. The censors were on alert!

    The first motion pictures became very styl­ised, in­fluenced by pro­v­ocat­ive German expressionists. Wedekind’s 1904 play formed the basis for Viennese director G W Pabst's famous silent film Pand­ora's Box in 1929. star­ring Louise Brooks as Lulu [as well as Alban Berg's opera Lulu 1937, one of the masterpieces of C20th opera]. Fritz Kohn-Kortner (1892–1970) was a Jewish Austrian stage-actor who became one of the Weimar Rep­ub­lic's most famous silent actors, appearing in clas­sics during 1920-21. But it was his role as Dr Schön in GW Pabst's silent film Pandora's Box 1929 that turned him into a star.

    Louise Brooks and GW Pabst
    Pandora's Box, 1929

    Pandora’s Box was the German film in which the American Louise Brooks (1906–1985) first starred, but who was this Louise Brooks? Born in Kansas, Louise Brooks began her creative life as a dancer. At 15 she left home to travel to New York to study with a modern dance company. She progressed swiftly and took some lead roles. But she was asked to leave, apparently because of either her behaviour or her attitude!! She found work first as a showgirl and then in 1925 she had started in cinema, albeit in small roles.

    The bob hairdo had started during WWI when women workers cut their hair short for practical purposes. Post-war, the bob emerged as a modern and fash­ion trend, and soon Coco Chanel, Clara Bow and Louise Brooks all cut their hair short. 1920s Flappers’ style began to re­flect a break from restrict­ing trad­itions - hemlines rose, waist­lines dropped and shapes became boyish.

    Brooks’ career in the USA was limited. Enticed to Europe, she liked what she saw. In the 1920s Brooks wrote: Sex was the bus­in­ess of the town. At Berlin’s Eden Hotel where I lived, the cafe bar was lined with higher-priced trollops. The economy girls walked the street outside. On the corner stood the girls in boots, advert­ising flagellation. Actor's agents pimped for the ladies in luxury apart­ments in the Bav­arian Quarter. Race track touts at the Hoppe­garten arranged org­ies for sportsmen. Josephine Baker wore just bananas!

    It was the films she made in Europe, just before the sound era, that gave Brooks a fixed part of cinema history. In 1928 she was in a sil­­ent film called A Girl in Every Port, playing a carn­ival perf­ormer who almost destroyed the relationship between two men. German director GW Pabst saw the film and was con­vin­ced he had found the right actress for his controversial new film, Pand­ora’s Box.

    Brooks was still under contract to Paramount: the director GW Pabst contacted the studio, ask­ing for permission to use her in the film. When Paramount’s chief told Brooks about Pabst’s offer, she accepted it immediately, without reading the script. Timing is everything! Pabst had almost given up on finding his ideal Lulu and was about to offer the role to the worldly Marlene Dietrich, reluctantly.

    In the film, Brooks’ hair was cut in a graceful black bob. Lulu was kept by a middle-aged newspaper magnate, Schon (Fritz Kort­ner), whose son was equally infatuated with her. Clearly Pabst found an actress who could capture all of Lulu’s paradoxes.

    Thank you to Roger Ebert’s book Great Movies. Life could not permit women much freedom, so Brooks had to be ground down and punished for her joy in her films. At the end of Pandora's Box, she was killed while in the embrace of Jack the Ripper! It implied that any wo­man who looked that great was bound to fail.

    The film was poorly received when it was rel­eased, and Brooks was singled out for criticism. Nonetheless she made two more films in Europe: Diary of a Lost Girl, a tale of sexual hypocrisy and redemption with Pabst, and Prix de Beaute, co-writ­ten by Pabst.

    Diary of a Lost Girl, poster

    The arrival of talkies in late 1929 produced a final artistic flour­ish of German film, before the collapse of the Weimar Republic in 1933. Sound production and distribution were quickly taken up and soon Germany had 3,800 cinemas with sound. Pabst's version of Bertolt Brecht's The Three-penny Opera 1931 and Lang's M 1931 were landmark talkies.

    But Brooks saw no future for herself in Europe in the talkies era.  Despite having left Hollywood a few years earlier in a bad sit­uat­ion, she returned to the USA in 1931.

    Hollywood was changing. A strong relat­ion­ship between popular fas­h­ion and Hollywood films started in the 1930s when many more families were going to the pictures than ever before, even during the Dep­r­es­sion. Hollywood was encouraging lipstick and trousers for women. The impact of strong-willed celeb­rit­ies on women might have been an escape from the diff­iculties of the Depres­s­ion.

    Brooks’ lovers included Charles Chaplin and CBS president William Paley, plus the clients of a New York escort agency she work­ed for in the 1940s. She was too wild before going to Europe and she drank too much after returning home ☹ Brooks moved to Roch­ester in 1956, leading a reclusive life ded­ic­ated to writing for film journals. She wrote Lulu in Hollywood, publ­ish­ed in 1982 and died at 78 in 1985.


    Brooks’ great films that were made in Germany, Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl, have been restored and are available in black and white video. Brooks’ influence, particularly on the character of Lulu, continued to flourish for decades. The two main document­aries that came out were Look­ing for Lulu narrated by Shirley MacLaine, and Lulu in Berlin.

    A newly digit­ally restored version of Pandora’s Box, with a string quart­et score from local composer Jen Anderson, is now in Australia. The first scree­ning was at Melbourne’s Astor Theatre, a grand art deco cinema. Now see Pandora’s Box in Can­berra in July or Port Fairy in October 2017. In London the Classic Cinema Club of Ealing already screened the film this year, while Paris is showing the film at La cinémathèque française, this week.

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    From 1725, when Russian Czar Peter the Great sent Vit­us Bering to explore the Alaskan coast, Russia started to focus on the reg­ion. So it surprised no-one that into the C19th, Russian Alaska be­came a centre of international trade. Russian merchants were drawn to Alaska for the treasured walrus iv­ory and the valuable sea otter fur, acquired by trading with the reg­ion’s indig­enous peoples. The Russian-American Company/RAC, Russia's first joint-stock company, was started by C18th Russian businessmen, risk-taking travellers and entre­preneurs.

    Like the East India Co. and the Hudson Bay Co. in Canada, the RAC controlled all of Alaska’s mines and minerals and could in­dep­end­ently enter into trade agree­ments with other count­ries. These privileges were granted by the Russian imperial govern­ment and in return, the govern­ment collected massive taxes from the com­pany. Even the tsars and their family members were among the share-holders.

    Alaska: between Canada to the east and Russia to the west

    The first governor of the Russian settlements in America had been a mer­chant called Alexander Baranov (1747–1819). He built schools and fact­ories, taught the native people to plant potatoes, expanded the sea otter trade and built shipyards. Under the first governor, the Company brought in enormous revenues. When Baranov resigned in 1817, he was replaced by Navy Captain Ludwig von Hagemeister, who brought with him new employees and shareholders from milit­ary circles. The new masters set HUGE salaries for themselves.

    The Russians bought fur from the local population for half price, so over the next 20 years, almost all the sea otters disappeared. When Alaska lost its most profitable trade, the locals staged uprisings that the Russians quickly quashed. Then the officers had to look for other sources of revenue – Chinese fabrics, ice, coal and tea in part­icular. And, it was suggested, people already knew about poss­ible gold deposits in the area. These were products that the southern parts of the USA needed.

    In the capital, Novo Arkhangelsk, Russians were doing well. Ships and factories were built, and coal was mined. But as the USA expand­ed westward in the early 1800s, Amer­ic­ans set themselves up in competit­ion with Russian expl­orers and traders. Unfortunately for St Petersburg, Russia lacked the financial resources to support major settlements or a military presence along North America’s Pacific coast; permanent Russian settlers in Alaska rarely rose above 400.

    Then the Crimean War broke out in October 1853, and Britain, France and Turkey went into an alliance against Russia. It became clear that Russia could neith­er supply nor defend Alaska, given that the sea routes were controlled by the allies’ ships. Defeat in the Crim­ean War in Feb 1856 further reduced Russian confidence in the north Pacific.. to the point where the Russians had a realistic fear that the British would totally block Alaska.

    At the very time that tension between Russia and Britain grew, Russian relations with the American authorities were warming up. And since the idea of selling Alaska seemed to be mutually beneficial to both Russia and the USA, Russia offered to sell Alaska to the USA in 1859. Anything that would block Russia’s greatest rival in the Pacific, Great Brit­ain! But the time was not right for the USA. The looming American Civil War (1861-5) delayed the sale.

    Why didn’t Russia offer Alaska to the more sensible, neighbouring country, Canada? I can think of two reasons. Firstly there was no central government on the West side of Canada yet, even though four eastern provinces already confederated in 1867. Secondly Canada was part of the British Empire, Russia’s worst enemy at the time.

    While the Russian and American officials were working on a deal, public opinion in both coun­tries expressed opposition. The Russians asked how they could give away land that they had put so much effort and time into dev­el­oping, the land where gold mines had been found. The Americans asked why they needed a frozen, useless land with 50,000 wild indigenous people. The American Congress may have also dis­ap­proved of the purchase. 

    Alaska Treaty of Cessation, 30th March 1867. 
    Signed by Secretary of State William Seward and Russian minister Eduard de Stoeckl

    It was only after the Civil War that Russia’s envoy in Washington, Baron Eduard de Stoeckl, could move ahead on behalf of the Tsar. Stoeckl got together with American Secretary of State William Seward in Washing­ton. In March 1867, Seward formally agreed to a proposal to purchase the 1.5 million hec­tares of Russian prop­er­ty in Al­aska for $7.2 million. The Senate approved the treaty of purchase and President Andrew Johnson signed the treaty in May. Alaska was form­ally trans­fer­red to the USA in Oct 1867. This $7.2 million deal, a rid­ic­ulously small sum, ended Russia’s presence in North America and ensured American access to the Pacific northern rim.

    The formal handover of the land took place in Novo Arkhang­el­sk. The Am­eric­an and Russian soldiers lined up next to the flagpole, the Russian flag went down and the canons fired. Afterward, the Americ­ans started requisitioning the town’s buildings, and renamed the town as Sitka. The hundreds of Russians who decided not to take American citizenship had to flee on mer­chant ships.

    For decades after its purchase, the USA paid little attention to Al­aska; the area was governed under military, naval or Treasury rule. Seeking a way to impose American mining laws, the USA only const­ituted a civil gov­ernment in 1884. The timing was perfect, given that a gold rush was exploding in Alaska. The Klond­ike Gold Rush started in 1896, bring­ing the USA hundreds of mill­ions of dollars. Of course the Rus­sians were devast­ated.  Even the previously scept­ical Am­er­ic­ans were thrilled. William Seward had really only been vin­dic­ated when Alaska became the gateway to the Klondike gold fields!

    I would argue that the Russians had made the correct decision back in 1867; Alaska had never been “stolen” by American soldiers or pol­it­icians. How often, in the light of subsequent events, do nations look back at earlier decisions with regret?

    The sale of Alaska had clearly marked the end of Russian efforts to expand trade and settlements to the Pacific coast of North America; it was therefore an important step in the USA’s rise as a great power in the Asia-Pacific region. But that begs another question. How would relations between the world’s largest powers have develop­ed, had Russia not sold Alaska in its time of military and financial difficulties?

    Alaska became an American state in Jan 1959.

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    Australia's most famous modern artist, Brett Whiteley, married Wendy Julius in 1962; their only child Arkie (1964-2001) became a talented actress. After the traumatic law case over her late father's will, Arkie developed cancers in her lungs and liver, tragically dying aged 37.

    In the meantime, Brett’s career as a painter blossomed. His Sydney Harbour scenes appeared in the collections of all the large Australian galleries, and was twice winner of the presitigious Archibald Prize. He held many exhibitions, living and painting in Australia, Britain and Italy.

    In 1967 Whiteley won a scholarship to study and work in the USA. There he met other artists and musicians while he lived at the Hotel Chelsea New York, befriending musicians Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan. Perhaps in New York, Whiteley became increasingly addicted to her­oin and alcohol.

    Back in Australia his work output began to decline, al­though its market value continued to climb. He made several attempts to elim­inate drugs completely, alas unsuccessfully. In 1989, he and Wendy, whom he had always credited as his muse, divorced. Al­th­ough they div­orced three years before Brett’s death from a heroin overdose in 1992, Wendy Whiteley al­ways controlled Brett's estate, including the copyright to his works. She went on to play an imp­or­t­ant role in the estab­lishment of the Brett Whiteley Studio in Surry Hills, part of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

    Mark Russell discussed two art men in Melbourne who were found guilty of Austral­ia's biggest art fraud, after selling forged paintings in the style of Brett Whiteley for a total of $3.6 million. In April 2016, the Crown claimed art conservator Mohamed Siddique painted the artworks in his Collingwood studio. Art dealer Peter Gant then passed them off to unsuspecting buyers as or­iginal 1988 Whiteley paintings. At some time in the past Mr Gant had indeed bought a real Whiteley painting, View From The Sitting Room Window Lav­ender Bay for $1.7 mill. This authentic work was then sent to Mr Siddique a short time later, to use as a blue­print to create fake paintings.

    Theirs was a joint criminal enterprise for the creation of paintings in the style of Brett Whiteley: Big Blue Lavender Bay, Orange Lavender Bay and Through the Window Lavender Bay. Blue Lavender Bay was sold for $2.5 million to Sydney Swans chairman in 2007 and Orange Laven­d­er Bay sold for $1.1 m to a Sydney luxury car dealer in 2009. The Crown claimed the third fake, Through the Window, was offered for sale by Mr Gant for $950,000.

    Brett Whiteley
    Blue Lavender Bay, 1988 
    sold for $2.5 million. 
    Was it a fake?

    Brett Whiteley
    Orange Lavender Bay, 1988 
    sold for $1.1 million. 
    Was it also a fake?

    The men's defence barristers argued that the sold paintings were Whiteley originals, bought from the artist's manager by Mr Gant and kept in storage for nearly 20 years. And photographer Jeremy James told the court that he had snapped both Big Blue and Orange Lavender Bay for a 1989 Gant catalogue. While the two art dealers readily admitted that the three paintings were not Whiteley's best work, they explained to the court that Whiteley had been a heroin addict in 1988.

    Yet no art dealers had the same intimate knowledge of Brett White­ley's work as his widow, Wendy, who was adamant the paintings were fakes. Having lived with Brett’s art since 1962, she was shocked and stunned by the defendants. Her worse fear was that had Gant and Siddique been found not guilty, Brett's real legacy would be negatively affected.

    When the 2016 trial heard the evidence, the jury was not allowed to hear about artists Bob Dickerson and Charles Blackman’s successful court case against Peter Gant for selling fake copies of their works. Unfortunately for the artists, Gant was soon declared bank­rupt and wasn’t able to pay them back for their losses.

    In the Whiteley case, Justice Michael Croucher ruled the lack of proof had so seriously damaged the Crown's case, the jury could have leave to immediately acquit the men. However the jury still found them guilty: Mr Gant was guilty of two counts of obtaining a finan­cial advantage by deception and one of attempting to obtain a financial advantage by deception involving the three other artworks. Mr Siddique was found guilty of two counts of ob­taining a financial advantage by deception and one count of attempt­ing to obtain a financial advantage by deception.

    At the pre-sentence hearing for the two men, Gant got five years and Siddique got three years. In the meantime Justice Croucher provided a detailed report to the Court of Appeal on why he bel­ieved the jury should have acquitted Gant and Siddique of the nation’s biggest alleged art fraud.

    Brett Whiteley
    Self Portrait in the Studio, 1976
    Art Gallery of NSW.

    In 2016, both Gant and Suddique had unsuccessfully professed their inn­ocence. So imagine the shock when, as Rebecca Urban reported,  the case fell over in April 2017. After a last-minute concession from prosecutors, the three presiding judges returned to the court and quashed the convictions of Mr Gant and Mr Siddique. The two men walked free from Court of Appeal.

    The decision by the Victorian Court of Appeal sent shock­-waves through the art industry. And yet I still cannot find any police officers in this country specifically responsible for tracking art crime nor can I find an effective database for record­ing stolen art. The Whiteley, Dickerson and Blackman cases were not the only art crimes in Australia of course:  in 1977 twenty-seven works by Grace Cossington Smithwere stolen from the Macquarie Gallery in NSW and have never been recovered.

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    Britain and India are not the only nations making claim to the amaz­ing Koh-i-Noor diamond. Half the nations in Central Asia have been, or will be in court over this treasure.

    Up until 1304 the diamond was held by the Indian Rajas of Malwa. By 1304 the diamond came into the possession of the Emperor of Delhi, Allaudin Khilji. Then in 1339 the diamond was taken to the city of Samarkand (now in Uzbekistan), where it stayed for centuries.

    Clearly the diamond variously belonged to all the Indian and Persian rul­ers who fought bitter battles throughout history. In 1526 the Mog­­ul ruler Babur mentioned the diamond, gifted to him by the Sultan Ib­rahim Lodi of Delhi, in his writings. At 793 carats, it must have looked superb.

    Shah Jahan (1592–1666) was the ruler who commissioned the Taj Mahal mausoleum. But he also commissioned the very glamorous Peacock Throne, the Mughal throne of India in Delhi. The Koh-I-Noor was mounted on this very special piece of furniture. When he was imprisoned by his son Aurangazeb, Shah Jahan could only ever see his beloved Taj Mahal via the reflection in the diamond.

    Aurangzeb might have been cruel to his own father, but at least he protected the diamond by having it cut down by a Venetian specialist to 186 carats, then brought the Koh-I-Noor to the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore. Aurangzeb passed the jewel on to his heirs but Mahamad, Aurangzeb’s grandson, was not a great ruler like his grandfather. Sultan Mahamad lost a decisive battle to Nader.

    Queen Alexandra's corontation 1902, 
    with the Koh-i-Noor in the centre of her crown

    Emperor Nader Shah, Shah of Persia (1736–47) and the founder of the Afsharid dynasty of Persia, invaded the Mughal Empire, event­ually attacking Delhi in March 1739. So Nader Shah took the diamond back to Persia and gave it its current name, Koh-i-noor/Mountain of Light. But Nader Shah did not live for long, because in 1747 he was assass­in­ated and the diamond went to his general, Ahmad Shah Durrani.

    The defeated ruler of Afghanistan Shah Shuja Durrani brought the Koh-i-noor back to the Punjab in India in 1813 and gave it to Ranjit Singh, founder of the Sikh Empire. Durrani made a deal: he would surrender the diamond to the Sikhs in exchange for help in winning back his Afghan throne.

    Most of the Punjab region (including Delhi and Lahore) was annexed by Britain’s East India Company in 1849, and then moved to British cont­rol. The last Maharajah of the Sikhs, the 10 year old child Duleep Singh, wept when land and treasures of the Sikh Empire were confiscated by governor-general of India, Lord Dalhousie, and taken as war compen­sat­ion.  The diamond, the most tragic theft of all, was formally transferred to the treasury of the Brit­ish East India Co in Lahore! Even the Treaty of Lahore specifically discussed the fate of the Koh-i-Noor, in writing.

    The diamond was proudly shipped by Lord Dalhousie to Queen Victoria in July 1850. It was a symbol of Victorian Britain's imperial domination of the world and its ability to take the most desirable objects from across the Empire... to display in British triumph.

    And then it was exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Crys­tal Palace, in the south­ern central gallery. World Fairs were of­ten used to display a country’s greatest treasures. So, as expected, there was enormous excite­ment in Crystal Palace when official com­mentators and the general public first saw the jewel. Although there were 100,000 other exhibits displayed in Crystal Palace, the queues to see Queen Victoria’s diamond were the longest of all.

    In 1852 the Queen decided to reshape the diamond and it was taken to a Dutch jeweller to re-cut it. The Koh-i-Noor had originally been one of the world’s largest uncut diamonds, but by 1852 the size had been reduced again to 106 carats. Queen Victoria wore the diamond occasionally afterwards. She wrote in her will that the Koh-i-noor should only be worn by queens.

    After Queen Victoria died, the Koh-i-Noor diamond was crafted into the Crown Jew­els and displayed at the Tower of London.

    The Koh i Noor diamond, set in the Maltese Cross at the front of the crown
    It had been reduced from 793 carats down to 106 carats during Victoria's reign.

    In 1947, the partition of India led to the Punjab being divided into the newly created Union of India and Dominion of Pakistan. This partition has influenced the cases brought in Brit­ish courts over the last few years. Recently the descendants of the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire said they were forced to hand over the Koh-i-Noor diamond to the British; they launched a court action in the UK to get the diamond back in Sept 2012. The case depended on the diamond being one of the many artefacts taken from India under ugly circumstances. The Indian lawyers claimed the British colon­isation of India had stolen wealth and destroyed the country’s psyche. Their court case failed.

    But India was not the only nation with a historical claim to the diamond – it had passed through Persian, Hindu, Mughal, Turkic, Afghan and Sikh owners centuries before it was seized by the British in the C19th. So expect the British to face another legal battle, after a Pakistani judge accepted a petition de­manding that the Queen hand the $200 million stone back to them. Mind you, in 2013 the Prime Minister David Cameron said that returning the stone was out of the question. Will the next prime minister say the same to Persia/Iran?

    Historians last question is "what is the proper response to imperial looting?" Read the brand new book Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World's Most Infamous Diamond by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand, published by Bloomsbury in 2017. The history of the Koh-i-Noor, that was accepted by the Brit­ish, is no longer a glorious piece of the nation’s colonial past. That history is finally challenged! The resulting version, now pub­lished, is one of greed, murder, wars, torture, colonialism and approp­riation.

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  • 07/21/17--13:00: Mae West - anyone for sex?!
  • Mae West (1893–1980) was born in Brooklyn, the daughter of a professional boxer. She made her first ap­pearance in Vaude­ville at 14, under the name Baby Mae. But although she always wanted to work in show business profess­ion­ally, her parents had her trained for a career as a garment worker instead. Per­haps that was why underage lass and the vaudeville song-and-dance man Frank Wallace were secretly mar­ried by a justice of the peace in Milwaukee in 1911.

    Mae West got her big break in 1918 in the revue Sometime. Her character, Mayme, danced the shimmy, a brazen sexy dance that shook the top half of the female body. As more parts came her way, West began to shape her characters, often rewriting dialogue or character descriptions to better suit her roles. She eventually began writing her own plays, initially using the pen name Jane Mast.

    Fame arrived with the play Sex, a provocatively titled Broadway production that “Jane Mast” wrote, produced and starred in. Mae cast herself in the role of a prostit­ute named Margie La Monte who wanted to improve her life by finding a well-to-do man to marry. 325,000 people flocked to the theatre to see Sex, once the season debuted in late 1926.

    One night in Feb 1927 the puritanical New York city authorities decided to raid the theatre and arrest West and some of the other actors. Apparently fearing that Sex corrupted the morals of the youth, West was charged with obscenity, and sentenced to ten days in gaol on Welfare-Roos­ev­elt Island. She travelled there in style, garlanded in roses and riding in a limousine.

    The sentence went re­m­arkably well: She dined with the warden, who she charmed; excited the press with cheeky tales of how she wore her silk undies in her cell; and was even all­owed out two days early for exemp­lary behaviour. In fact, she attracted so much media attention that her career was greatly enhanced, not diminished by her prison days.

    Her great gift was her ability to satirise the prevailing soc­ial attitudes then, particularly America’s prudish public att­itude towards sex. That West had become a glamorous American sex symbol of the inter-war years suggested that she never shied away from taboo-breaking naughtin­ess. And got away with it!

    One of Mae West's spectacular costumes in the film
    I'm No Angel, 1933

    West found further notoriety from her three sub­sequent plays: a] Drag 1927 (later renamed The Pleasure Man for Broadway), a play dealing with homosexuality; b] Diamond Lil 1928, which established her signature character in her later career; and c] The Constant Sin­ner 1931, which was shut down after just two performances by the district att­orney. The Pleasure Man ran for only one showing before also being shut down after West and the cast were arrested for obscenity, but this time getting off thanks to a hung jury.

    Her plays showed how West could claim power within the con­fines of being a woman and a sex worker in the 1920s. In the plays, every woman was reduced to offering sex – that’s why it her first play was called Sex. But claiming power was not only ON the stage. Mae West was such a big star that she really did control­ her own image. If she could hold control in her own hands, then other women stars could do it too. Iron­ic­ally her naughty plays made the rising star not only fam­ous, but also one of the highest paid women in the USA.

    Her controversies and successes soon drew the attention of Hol­lywood executives and it was only then that she took her bawdy app­roach across the country to Hollywood. Despite being 38 at the time, when glamour actresses started to wind down their car­eers, West found herself starting a movie career. Para­mount Pic­tures off­ered her a contract at $5,000 a week!! They also let her re-write her lines in the films.

    Mae West looked wonderful and sounded witty

    Night After Night, her first film, started in 1932.  A young handsome Cary Grant was her leading man in her second film, She Done Him Wrong  (1933) I'm No Angel (1933) was Mae West's third motion picture, again with Cary Grant. West received sole story and screenplay credit! Made before the "Hays Code" landed with a shudder in mid-1934., these were the three Mae West films that were not heavily censored. Thus it was on the silver screen that West reached the greatest heights of her fame.

    Even on radio in the mid-late 1930s, her clever double-entendre lines and sly delivery got Mae West into trouble eg when she appeared alongside Don Ameche and Charlie McCarthy in 1937 in a popular NBC radio variety programme. The Radio Act had given the Federal Communications Commission the power of grant­ing licenses to broadcasters, which in turn largely controlled content. Featuring Mae West on a Sunday evening radio show tested the limits of what The Legion of Dec­ency and others were prepared to tolerate. In response, the FCC opened an in­vestigation and reprimanded NBC on the grounds of indecency. So NBC barred West from ANY network programmes; she would not return to radio again until 1950.

    Nonetheless Mae West was still performing in her old age, with her last major production being the 1978 Sex­tette musical. She died in 1980 at 87 from a stroke.

    Her sex appeal influenced culture all around the world, and can still be seen today: her image appeared on the cover of the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; her lips inspired Sal­vador Dali’s iconic Mae West Lips Sofa; and during WW2 the life vests worn by Allied Air Force personnel were nicknamed Mae Wests. I love the name of her 1959 autobiography - Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It. And I loved her explanation for her success - “I climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong”.

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    Harold Holt (1908–1967) completed high school in Melbourne and a law degree at Melbourne University. Holt worked as a solicitor, and pursued his interests in sport and politics. He won a seat in parliament in 1935 for the conservatives, and first became a minister at  the young age of 30!

    Harold Holt had met Zara Dickins when he was a student. Unable to persuade Holt to marry before his income grew, she departed on a round-the-world cruise to England where Zara met & married British army officer James Fell in 1935. For the next four years they lived in India and had a son. After the birth in 1939 of her twins, she lived in Melbourne.

    Because the family all knew the twins were Holt’s sons, the Fells were amicably divorced in 1946. In Oct that same year, she married Harold Holt, now a well established solicitor and Parliamentarian. Is it an exag­geration to say that he was already being touted as a future leader of the conservatives? Certainly he had well placed friends, including Sir Norman and Lady Mabel Brookes, and Robert Menzies, then Victoria’s Attorney-General.

    In opposition from 1941-49, Robert Menzies was elected prime minister in 1949 and young Harold Holt became a high profile member of his cabinet. Holt held senior port­folios during the next 16 years of the Menzies government including Minister for: Immigrat­ion, Labour and National Service, The Melbourne Olympics and finally Treasurer. Holt was ready for the prime ministership in 1960, but he had a long wait. Menzies did not retire until 1966!

    Harold Holt (right) with President Lyndon and Mrs Ladybird Johnson
    Oct 1966
    Photo credit: National Archives

    Channel 9 News wrote the definitive analysis of these events. It was a very hot day in Dec 1967 when the Prime Minister Harold Holt went for a swim, and vanished. A fit, keen swimmer and spear fisherman, he loved the rough waters off Victoria's Cheviot Beach behind Portsea, off Victoria’s Port Phillip Bay.

    Holt's former Press Secretary and close personal friend, Tony Eggle­ton, remembered it was a very hot afternoon in Canberra when a phone call from a journalist came. There was a report of a VIP missing at Portsea. Eggleton phoned the Prime Minister’s Lodge, and the housekeeper at Holt's holiday home at Portsea, but noone knew anything. Finally he phoned the police in Melbourne who said they did believe that the missing person in the water was the Prime Minister.

    Someone had to tell Harold's wife, Zara, who they tracked her down at a Christmas Party in Canberra. Soon Zara and Eggleton flew to Mel­b­ourne where police were lined up, providing them with a fast escort on the 200 ks journey to Portsea.

    By this time the news that the PM was missing became public. Hor­des of people on the Mornington Peninsula headed to the beach or lined the streets. All the media were waiting outside the army bar­racks. Zara was escort­ed down to the search zone, accompanied by her three adult sons.

    Police divers, who leaped into the waters scouring the area for any sign of the Prime Minister, were joined by helicopters. Regular media conferences kept Australian and the world updated on the search. The search continued for 20 days but even by Day 2, everyone concluded that the tides had carried Holt out into the open ocean.

    As the mystery deepened, another story emer­ged: that the PM had been at the beach with his lover Marjorie Gillespie. Mrs Gillespie later told the police that she looked back, wishing Harold would come out of the water. The water suddenly became turb­ul­ent around him and  swamped him. She did not see him again and even Holt’s two personal body guards could add no useful information.

    Front page coverage in every newspaper
    The Sun, 18th Dec 1967

    According to the newspapers later, Holt was Australia's answer to John F Kennedy during the sexually permissive 1960s. Both men were spirited, charming, adventurous and handsome. Strangely, the PM's staff said they had never been aware of Holt’s affairs but Zara said she was very clear her husband was a womaniser. Nonetheless, she said, it was love that kept the Holts together. They had a nice holiday home in Queensland, and hoped to eventually retire there.

    Because the disappearance was a tragedy Australia had never seen, conspiracy theories were rampant. Many people thought Holt was whisked away by a Chinese submarine near Cheviot Beach and had become a Communist spy. Others suggested that, at the height of the Red Scare, he'd been spotted in Russia as a defector. And there were many dark rumours of suicide.

    Note that I have added pub­lished histories about Zara’s pregnancies and Harold’s many mistresses, in case there was a personal (as opposed to a political) element to the PM’s death. Note that  Channel 9 News did not mention any personal misbehaviour by the prime minister or his wife.

    Holt had been Prime Minister for less than two years when he van­ished. He had campaigned for election on the basis of the Vietnam War, proudly declaring to his American allies that Australia was a staunch friend that would Go All The Way With L.B.J. It was a phrase that would go down in history. And Holt had formed a close personal friendship with Lyndon Baines Johnson.

    Holt led Australia out of imperial measurements and into decimal currency. Plus he held one of the most historic referenda in Aust­ral­ia's history, guaranteeing Aboriginal Australians the right to vote. Most importantly he abolished the White Australia policy. The one thing the prime minister wanted to do (but died before he achiev­ed it) was to visit European capital cities; he’d show that South-East Asia & the Pacific were going to be The Powerhouse Of The Future.

    Holt's memorial service in Melbourne in Jan 1968 was an honour roll of world political leaders and heads of state. Soon after Zara left for a two-month world trip, during which time she lunched with the Queen at Sandringham and stayed with the Lyndon Johnsons at the White House. Her autobiography, My Life and Harry, was launched in 1968 and she was created a dame that same year. In February 1969 Dame Zara married another federal politician, Jeff Bate.

    Memorial plaque
    Cheviot Beach

    38 years after the disappearance a coroner finally ended all conspiracy theories in 2005, declaring that although his body was never found, Harold Holt probably drowned. A memorial plaque now lies on the sea floor in Cheviot Beach.

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    Edvard Radzinsky wrote Stalin: The First In-depth Biography in 1997. From the archives, he told the story of Stalin's search for total domination, first within the Communist Party and then across the Soviet Union. He des­cribed young Stal­in's long-denied involve­ment with terrorism; the importance of his behind-the-scenes role during the October Revolution; his often hostile relationship with Lenin; the infamous show trials of the 1930s; his secret dealings with Hitler; and his plans to deport all the Soviet Union's Jewish doctors. Radzinsky also examined Stalin's rough relationship with his suicidal wife Nadezhda. All archive-based but shockingly brutal nontheless!

    I wanted to read a more recently published history for a modern, balanced review of Stalin. So here is Stalin’s Cult of Personality: its Origins and Progression (2015) by Julia Kenny. Stalin was born as Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili (1878-1953) in the then-Russian town of Gori, now Georgia. His father was a rough, alcoholic worker who savagely used his fists on young Jos­ef. His mother, soon an impoverished peasant widow, took in washing to feed the children. Worst of all Josef caught smallpox in primary school.

    The Geor­g­ian married his first wife Ekaterina Svanidze in 1906, but she died of typhus in 1907. [Their one son, Yakov, later died in Sachsenhausen con­cent­ration camp in 1943]. In 1919 Stalin married his second wife Nad­ezhda Alliluyeva who died by suicide from mental illness in 1932. The son and daughter of the second marriage both survived Daddy Stalin.

    Poster of Stalin "Life is getting better", 
    Poster of  Stalin, Lenin and 'Long live the Komsomol generation!'

    Though the term “Cult of Personality” was a C19th term, it was re-pop­ul­arised for Stalin’s regime. The term meant the vener­at­ion of one omnipotent, infallible leader, in­grained visually and cultur­ally in society via propaganda! I have used the term many times in history lectures, particularly for power-hungry leaders like the Sun God, King Louis XIV of France. 

    It was clear that modern Russia already had a history of aut­o­cr­at­ic rule i.e citizens were used to support­ing a strong leader. The 1832 Fundamental Laws made the "Emperor of all the Russias" an ab­sol­ute mon­arch. Sec­ur­ed by the Imper­ial line of succ­es­sion, the Tsar also became the guar­d­­ian and defender of the Orthodox Church. Visually the power of the Tsar was reinforced in architecture eg the Kremlin or Winter Palace.

    The very intelligent Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov/Lenin (1870–1924) enjoyed cult-like status, given that he was the legitimate leader of the Revolution and the found­er of Marxist-Leninism. This status only intensif­ied after Len­in died in Jan 1924. He was embalmed and placed in a Maus­oleum that still stands. Small shrines were placed in factor­ies and villages, design­ed according to guidelines issued by the party in Feb 1924.

    Stalin had climbed up party ranks by working his way into Lenin’s inner circle. As Lenin’s right-hand man, he had indeed been app­ointed General Secretary of the Communist party in Apr 1922. Litt­le did Stalin know that, in old age, Lenin had begun compiling a political rec­ord that expres­sed horror of Stalin’s vul­garity and violence. Lenin urged that Stalin be removed from his pos­ition as General Secretary.

    Lev Davidovich Bronstein/Leon Trotsky (1879–1940), Stalin’s main political rival, couldn’t attend Lenin’s funeral in 1924. Stalin wanted to emerge as Lenin’s in­heritor, so the Georgian pounced. Trotsky was expelled from the Communist Party (1927), exiled to Kazakhstan (1928) and finally exiled from the Soviet Union. As head of the Fourth International, Trotsky could continue to oppose the Stalinist bureaucracy from exile. But on Stalin's orders, he was assassinated in Mexico.

    Because of Lenin’s views, Stalin had to re­write his own past. By portraying himself as the embod­iment of Marxist-Leninism, Stalin could transfer the admiration and trust that Lenin had enjoyed as a leader figure, and could create his own cult. Stalin upheld the core prin­cip­les of Marxist-Leninism: a] a centralised govern­ment and b] the ideology of a class-struggle on both a domestic and global scale. Stalin seemed in tune with the public sentiment.

    Before 1932, most Soviet propaganda posters showed Lenin and Stalin together. Then Stalin propaganda was everywhere, program­ming citiz­ens to be­lieving that Stalin was working to achieve per­fect socialism for the nation. There were Stalin icons in every home; marches and parades involv­­ed giant Stalin banners. Cin­em­as dis­played Soviet docum­ent­aries, and Stalinist posters were common­. His prop­aganda served well in masking Stalin’s darker side.

    Yalta Conference, Feb 1945
    in Yalta, Crimean Peninsula
    Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin

    Stalin’s displayed himself as a modest but public figure, mys­tif­ying his private life. He used Lenin’s post-Revolution youth movements, Komsomol and Young Pion­eers, to create a new generation of be­l­ievers. Being part of the Pion­eers was pop­ul­ar and they wore their red scarfs with pride, giv­ing them a sense of social incl­us­ion. The youth movements encouraged children to behave like adult Party Members.

    If Stalin had a brutal reputation, why did citizens trust his leader­ship? Citizens did NOT know that during the Great Terror of 1936-8, Stalin ordered hundreds of thousands of exec­ut­ions. As in the French Revol­ution, Russians were under con­st­ant threat of being monitored by the secret police NKVD and arr­est­ed. Stalin also had the power to have party officials arr­est­ed and replaced. And many people were interned in prisons. And the cruel famines in Ukraine were certainly Stalin-controlled.

    Mainly they trusted Stalin be­cause his regime generated success! Russian children were learning at good schools, and quality science education was actively promot­ed. Fam­ilies were guaranteed top quality health care. Industrial develop­ment was rapid, un­emp­loyment was rare, and cultural and art fac­ilities were well supported. How ironic that while the capitalist world was ex­per­iencing the Great De­pres­sion and grinding work­ing-class pov­erty, Rus­sia emerged as the second biggest modern industrial nation.

    Stalin consolidated his power even more after WW2, with some very fine moments. He recognised that vic­tory over the Nazis had been won by the tragic loss of 27 million Russ­ian lives (and other Allies). And Stalin also played a vital role in the creation of the Jewish state in Israel. At the UN he had his Ambassador Andrei Gromyko give an fervent speech in 1947 on the catastrophe suffered by Europe’s Jews and their need to have a safe haven. Stalin had also organised the Eastern European Communist states to vote unanimously for the creation of Israel.

    Even now it is diffic­ult to know how gen­uinely popular Stal­­in was in his own country, because everyone who didn't agree with him became an Enemy of the Peop­le. Thus he remained leader of the Soviet Union until his 1953 death.

    At the 1956 Party Congress the next party leader, Nikita Khrush­chev, denounced Josef Stalin in a long speech and demolished his pre­dec­essor’s reputation. He proved that Stalin intended to use the Doct­ors' Trial to launch a massive party purge. Under Khrush­chev, Soviet pros­ecut­ors further investigated the brutality of Stalin's later years.

    I also recommend Simon Montefiore’s book Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2012) .

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    Nancy Wake (1912-2011) was born in the New Zealand city of Well­ing­ton, last child of Charles Augustus Wake and Ella Rosieur. The fam­ily moved to Sydney when Nancy was a toddler. Shortly afterwards, her father abandoned the family, so she rebelled and ran away as soon as she could leave home. With financial help from an aunt in 1932, Nancy sailed for Europe and trained as a journal­ist in London. Two years later she settled in Paris, starting work for the Hearst group of newspapers as a journalist.

    I don’t think this New Zealand-Australian knew much about Fascism. In 1935 she was a tourist in Vienna and Berlin, having a pleasant time, when the violent anti-Semitism of Nazism became crystal clear to her for the first time.

    In November 1939 she married Henri Fiocca, a cute and weal­thy industrialist. It was a great life in Marseilles, filled with love, champagne, caviar and travel.

    Nancy Wake's autobiography, published in 1985.

    Six months later in 1940 Germany in­vaded France, so Fiocca and Wake joined the fledgling Resistance. Their growing involvement in the Res­istance saw the couple helping Allied servicemen and Jewish ref­ug­ees escape from France, across the north of Spain and onto the Portuguese coast.

    After Henri was called up for service, Nancy enrolled as an ambul­ance driver. She began to help British soldiers trapped in Occupied France to escape back home, and this led to her risky undercover work with the famous escape line organised by Pat O'Leary.

    Ms Wake was placed at the top of the Gestapo's most wanted list so she planned to flee France for England, as advised by husband Henri in May 1943. After several failed escape attempts and 4 days of inter­rog­ation in a Vichy prison, Wake escaped across the Pyrenees. The White Mouse, a nickname given to Nancy by the Gestapo for her slipperi­n­ess, had escaped their clutches again.

    Husband Henri promised to leave France as well. But he was picked up by the Gestapo and shot in August 1943. For decades she blamed her­self for his death, given she was more hated by the Gestapo than Henri was.

    In June 1943 she reached Britain and began training in the Fr­en­ch Section of the Special Operations Executive/SOE as a spy and cour­ier. Her training reports record that she was a very good and fast shot.

    Wake then returned to Nazi-occupied France to work with the Resist­ance in pre­paration for the D-Day landings in Norm­an­dy on 6th June 1944. Parach­uted back into France, Wake's job was to dis­tribute arms among Resistance fighters hiding in the mountains. She was in the Auverg­ne region along with Major John Farmer, leader of the Free­lance resist­ance circuit. Her orders were to help organise and arm the local maquis/a band of rural guerrilla French Resistance fight­ers, and soon Wake was fighting alongside them in pitched battles against the Germans.

    A fortnight after D-day in June, a major attack by 10,000 Germ­ans in tanks and aircraft was made on their positions, during the time when they became separated from the group's radio operator. To try to re-estab­lish contact with London, Wake rode 500 kms by bike to make contact with a radio operator from another SOE group. Later, working with two Amer­ican officers when the Germans launched an attack on another maquis group, she took command of a section whose leader had been killed and coolly got the rest of the group out safely. This was not a woman who worried about her nail polish being chipped or her lipstick smudged.

    Henri Fiocca and Nancy Wake in the happy days, 1937

    Post war
    Nancy Wake was regarded as an absolute heroine in France, the nation that dec­orated her with its highest military honour, Legion d'Honneur, as well as three Croix de Guerre and a French Resistance Medal. After the lib­eration of France, Wake returned to London, where she was awarded the George Medal. The Americans awarded her the Medal of Freedom. [So why did it take 60 years for Australia to honour her service, awarding her the Companion of the Order of Aust­ralia only in 2004??]

    Nancy never quite adjusted to peace. She worked at the Air Min­istry in Whitehall, but was bored witless. She resigned in 1957 and immed­iately married John Forward, an Australian bomber pil­ot. He liked a drink or five, and they were well matched. They returned to Aust­ral­ia and had a sociable and sporty life with trips back to Europe and interviews with journalists about WW2 history.

    This ex-resistance fighter became a member of the conserv­ative party’s NSW executive and stood for Parliament in the 1949 federal election. She stood for the seat of Barton, held by the Chif­­ley Labour govern­ment External Aff­airs Minister Dr Herbert Evatt, unsuccessfully. In 1951 she again stood for parliament against Dr Evatt - who was by then deputy opposition leader, unsuc­cessfully. After a per­iod living over­seas, Wake again unsuccessfully contested the seat of Kingsford Smith for the conservatives at the 1966 federal election. Finally the couple retired to Port Macquarie.

    Wake’s own book, The Autobiography of the Woman the Gestapo Called the White Mouse, was published in 1985, leading to a television drama in the late 80s. Several serious histories have been written about her since. Appropriately Wakes' med­als are on public display in Austral­ia’s most important War Memorial Museum, in Canberra.

    John Forward sadly died in 1997, so Nancy returned to live in Lon­d­on. Well into her 90s, seated on her res­erved bar stool in the Staf­ford Hotel bar, she remained as energetic and gutsy as she had been when fighting for women’s action back in her younger years.

    Nancy Wake was undoubtedly the bravest women I know. She must have understood that her chances of survival were small, when she chose to return to France during the war as a resistance leader. But she was so energetic, so committed to women playing a full role in the war and so adventurous.. that she seemed oblivious to the risks.

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    In 1939 the German U-boat U47, under the command of Lt Gun­ther Prien, slipped undetected into Scapa Flow. Prien launched a tor­pedo attack on the battleship HMS Royal Oak which was lying at anchor in Scapa Bay and instantly the huge ship sank to the bottom of Scapa Flow with 833 crew deaths. U47 slipped away undet­ected.

    The tragic terrible loss of life and failures of the Scapa Flow defences prompted the call for a substantial eas­tern blockage. In March 1940 Winston Churchill approved the building of causeways, to link the south isles to Mainland Orkney and to seal off the eastern approaches to of the naval port. Work soon started but was painfully slow; a shortage of local labour was causing delays. So 550 Italian prisoners of war, captured in the North African camp­aign, came to Orkney in 1942. These Italian POWs were shipped in specifically to work on the huge causeway building project, known as the Churchill Barriers to the east of Scapa Flow.

    Map of Scotland with Orkney Islands marked in red

    As a result, camps had to be estab­lished for the Italians on the previously uninhabited island. The biggest of them was Camp 60 on Lamb Holm.

    The Italians POW status changed only in Sep 1943 when Italy left the Axis Powers, and instead joined the British and their Allies. The Italian workers in Orkney were given more freedom and began to be paid properly for their labours.

    The It­alians needed a proper place of Catholic worship. With the help of the camp's Catholic priest Father Giacobazzi, they pers­uaded Camp 60’s commandant, Major Thomas Buckland, to allow them to build a chapel on Lamb Holm. Permission was granted on the condition that all work on the church would be carried out AFTER working hours on the barriers. Thus the Chapel was built by tired Italian prisoners during 1943 and 1944. Thank you to the Spirit of Orkney and to The Guardian.

    The Catholic Italian Chapel was a highly ornate building, surp­ris­ingly constructed by the prisoners from very limited materials. Two Nissen huts were joined end-to-end. The corrug­at­ed interior was then covered with plaster board and the altar was constructed from concrete left over from work on the barriers.

    Most of the interior decoration was done by Domenico Chiocchetti (1910-99), a talented pris­oner from Moena in Italy. He painted the sanctuary end of the chapel and fellow-prisoners de­corated the rest of the interior.  The light holders were made from food tins. The baptismal font was made from the inside of a car exhaust, covered in a layer of concrete. One end of the hut was lined with plaster board to form a sanctuary; an altar, altar-rail and holy water stoop were expertly fashioned from concrete. With the success of the adornment in the sanctuary it was felt the whole chapel should be lined, then painted the walls to appear as if they had bricks, carved stone, vaulted ceilings and buttresses.

     Gothic facade in front of two Nissen huts

    Altar, glass panels, frescoes

    The paintwork was completed with frescos of angelic figures, stained glass windows and an altar piece depicting the Madonna and Child surrounded by cherubic figures. Two painted glass panels flanked the Madonna and Child, depicting St Francis of Assisi and St Catherine of Siena. The Italian artist frescoed the sanctuary vault with symbols of the four evangelists; low on either side, he painted two Cherubim and two Sepraphim with a white dove in the very centre of the vault.

    All the materials for the decoration were scavenged from wherever possible. Wood was sourced from a wrecked ship for the tabernacle. A rod-screen and gates encl­osing the sanctuary were expertly fashioned from scrap metal. They also made two candelabras which stood on the alter.

    The POWs created a fac­ade out of concrete, conceal­ing the shape of the hut and making the building look more like a church. Then as work progressed inside, it was decided to construct a more beautiful façade for the front of the church with pillars, Gothic pinnacles, archway and bell-tower. Directly above the door on the front of the archway, a head of Christ was sculpted from red clay, complete with thorn crown. Finally a thick layer of cement was applied to the outside walls of the Nissen huts, to protect them from the Orkney weather.

    When his fellow pris­oners were released in Sept 1944, Chiocchetti rem­ained on the island for a few weeks to finish dec­or­ating the newly consecrated chapel, particularly the font. The rest of the chapel was completed after WW2 ended. Given the restrict­ions on time and materials, the chapel became a clear statement of ded­ication to the Catholic faith.

    Appropriately a statue of St George was plac­ed in the grounds of the Italian Chapel as a war memorial. It was built from barbed wire and concrete.

    War memorial with a statue of St George

    More mdern events
    In 1958, the Chapel Preservation Committee was set up by a group of Orkney residents. In 1960, Domenico Chiocchetti returned to assist in the restor­at­ion. He returned to Orkeney a second time in 1964 with his wife. Before going back to Italy this time, he wrote a warm, tear­ful letter of thanks to the people of Orkney.

    When some of the other prisoners returned in 1992 to commemorate the 50th ann­iv­ersary of their arrival on the island, Chiocchetti was too ill to travel. In 1996, a declaration was jointly signed by offic­ials in Orkney and Chiocchetti's hometown of Moena, poignantly reinforcing the war time ties between the two places.

    Sadly he died in 1999. In the same year, the Chiocchetti family attended a memorial requiem mass at the Orkney Chapel in his honour.

    Today, the tabernacle is still used as a chapel and remains a popular tourist attraction, receiving 100,000+ British and foreign visitors every year. It has become one of the best-known and most moving symbols of reconciliation in the British Isles. And has a category A listing.

    2014 marked the 70th anniv­ersary of the chapel's completion and at a commemorative mass the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Mennini read a message from Pope Francis. His Holiness said he was praying that the Chapel, built in times of terrible war, would continue to be a sign of peace and reconciliation. At that special mass in 2014, Domenico’s daughter Angela Chiochetti sang Panis Angelicus.

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    Born in South Africa in 1959, Deborah Levy’s family exiled themselves to London in 1968 as opponents of Apartheid. She started writing poems, plays and novels in the 1980s. Her 2011 novel, Swimming Home, a dark fable about a famous poet holidaying in the French Riviera, was eventually published after having been turned down by mainstream publishers. It went on to be nominated for the Man Booker prize. Last year she published a collection of short stories, Black Vodka. Now Penguin is reprinting her old novels.

    Swimming Home depicted a sun-bleached, Mediterranean setting; explor­ations of troubled familial bonds, of sexuality and an examination of exile. Hot Milk shared these themes and obsessions with Swimming Home.

    Levy’s Hot Milk 2016 (publisher Hamish Hamilton) sounded like an ironic title, given the connect­ion with cosy and bland toddler food. Yet Sofia  Papastergiadis was spending a night­mare holid­ay in a rented beach house with her mother Rose, in southern Spain. Rose had voluntarily re-mortgaged her London flat to live in Spain, to be­come a patient at a famous clinic run by a man called Dr Gómez. But her daughter-slave Sofia involuntarily had to abandon her PhD in anthropology, to work instead as a barrista in a London cafe.

    Image of a lithe young woman in a red bikini
    on the cover of Hot Milk by Deborah Levy 
    Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, 2016

    Despite Dr Gómez’s clinic being built from rich material, there seemed to be no other patients being cared for. So why did the doctor need more staff? His daughter worked just as intensely with the patient(s) as Gomez did.

    Dr Gomez treated ailments by unknown means, perfectly sensible since Rose was an arrangement of rapidly changing ailments. But could Dr Góm­ez cure the mysterious paralysis that confined Rose to a wheel chair and bound her daughter with chains of control and dependency? There was no clear cure in the book – only strange assertions from a doctor who might have been a charlatan; a relentlessly noisy dog on the beach that was forever chained up; boiling hot sun and a sea full of medusas i.e poisonous jellyfish.

    Only the sea offered relief from Almeria’s summer sun but the sea was infested with medusa jelly fish. Note that in Greek mythology, Medusa was a monster, a winged female with living, venomous snakes in place of hair. Gazers upon her hideous face would turn to stone. Did the elusive, alien jellyfish in Spanish waters (and in this novel) refer to the ancient and monstrous Greek Medusa? Sofia was badly stung on her very first day in the sea!!

    The 25 year old threw a vase on the floor in Almeria. The vase was a replica of an ancient Greek krater, a bogus reminder of Rose’s ex-husband and Sofia’s Greek father, Christos Papastergiadis. He was the man who had aban­d­­oned mother and daughter when Sofia was a toddler. Sofia looked at the shattered vase and saw the ruins that were once a whole civil­isation, an image of her mother’s shattered life. And her own! Sofia’s trip to Spain with her mother marked a shattering of her life, a life that has been on hold because of her mother’s moment by moment demands. 

    In Spain Sofia became closely involved with a German seamstress, In­grid Bauer, whose body was long and hard like an autobahn. I wond­ered why the enticing Ingrid was included in the story - to test Sofia’s sex­ual­ity, or to present more stinging of her damaged heart and body?

    Medusa of Greek literature  (above)         Medusa jellyfish, Spain (below)

    Sofia was floating through her life, like the slimy medusa jellyfish that drove the tourists away from the white-hot beach. When Sofia was stung by those despicable jellyfish, a young medical student called Juan looked after her injury – and her sexual needs as well.

    It came as a shock when Sofia suddenly deserted her mother in Spain to visit her estranged elderly father in Greece. If her father had truly been a wealthy man, why did he limit Sofia to a storeroom with no window and a temporary camp bed? Why did he have to marry a second wife who was barely out of her teens and start a second family in economically impoverished Athens? If he couldn’t love his first daughter, was he going to love his second baby daughter?

    I was sadder reading about Sofia’s negligent father than I was read­ing about her manipulative mother. While her mother’s relentless and demanding illnesses overwhelmed Sofia’s life, her father’s new family wiped out her own past. Erica Wagner added another thought. What Sofia had built in the present, with Ingrid, Juan and Dr Gómez, was unstable and could pour away like sand at any moment.

    Sofia’s life had been on hold because of her mother’s incessant demands and her confusion of her mother with herself. So to me Hot Milk was a powerful novel of the interior life, using the mother-daughter relationship to explore the nature of the feminine. But I disagree with Helen Elliot that this novel is as luscious, cruel and funny as it is revelatory. It is cruel and revelatory, but not funny!

    I read the book only 18 months after my beloved mother died. Thankfully the book was easy to read, as well as being rich with meaning, research with truth and identity. However I am still not sure that the terrible jellyfish stings that made Sofia’s Spanish life a misery were not equally as painful for the reader. If the female reader loved her mother, or even if she did not, be warned: it is difficult not to absorb the mother’s suffering, just as Sofia did.

    I personally agree with what Deborah Levy said about her own love of swimming. “I swim every day. It's good for thought-drifts and suits novel writing”. Especially with emotional, and sometimes toxic characters.

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    Both the book and film A River Runs Through It were set in Missoula Montana. The Maclean brothers, Norman 1902-90 (Craig Sheffer) and Paul 1906–38 (Brad Pitt), lived a rural life in the fresh air of Montana, spending much of their childhood running wherever they liked. The sons of a stoic Scot­tish Presbyterian minister (Tom Skerritt) and stoic wife (Blenda Blethyn), the boys eventually separated when well behaved Norman moved east to attend college. When Norman finally returned after 6 years away, the siblings resumed family life again.

    Maclean grew up in the western Rocky Mountains in the first decades of the C20th. As a young man, he worked many summers in logging camps and for the United States Forest Service. Jessie 1931–1968 (Emily Lloyd) eventually became Norman's pretty and energetic wife in 1931.

     Norman and Paul Maclean, and their father Rev Maclean
    in the film A River Runs Through It.

    The book, 1976

    According to Rev Maclean, fishing provided spiritual education to men. And the natural world really did form an essential motif in the novel, symbolising spiritual power and healing fellow­ship. If you liked Robert Ebert’s view, fishing stood for Life in this film - the river, fish and the natural world were God's gifts to use wisely. I preferred to think that fly fishing stood for Male Bond­ing, esp­ecially where males were not verbally skilled or emotionally open.

    A student of Norman Maclean,  Andrew Rosenheim, explained that after deciding to become a lecturer of English literature at the Univ­ersity of Chicago instead of a forest ranger, Norman bonded with his students. They’d walk in the Palos Park Pre­serve in Chicago, sharing literary conversations. But Norman had published almost nothing through­out his career. When his wife Jessie died, Norman was lonely, volatile and drunk. Then his children suggested he recreate their old bedtime stories of Montana.

    Thus these Montana stories were written long after Maclean retired. The book, published by Chicago UP in 1976, soon sold very well. At 70 Maclean produced what became a classic C20th American novel.

    In the book Paul Maclean was shown to be a talented fly fishermen. I agree with Rosenheim that the spectacle of man engaged with nature was not usually pretty, but Norman managed to show the extraordinary grace of his otherwise messy brother waist deep in the cold, surging waters of the Black­foot River. 

    The film, 1991
    Redford's film was set in the inter-war era. Serious Nor­man learned to write in to his father's study every morning. The good reverend sent his son back to rewrite the work, until it was correct. Young brother Paul didn’t seem to be burd­en­ed by study, so each afternoon they ran around the countryside tog­ether. A cute young man who drank and gambled too much, Paul was happy stay­ing in Montana all of his life, working for a newspaper. Norman want­ed to lecture in liter­at­ure in a big city university, far from Montana.

    The cinematography reflected the natural, lush beauty of the Western states in the early C20th and the towns still looked Victorian. As the boys grew up, they did the shimmy with young flappers and plan­ned their futures. Paul’s rebelliousness was shown in his closeness to a young Indian girl, in defiance of town opinion.

    Director Robert Redford said the two boys understood that Rev Maclean's lessons and sermons asked the congregants to behave well. The manual labour was hard, the drinkers and prostitutes cunning, the bushfires dangerous, the public racist and the climate untrust­worthy. But no matter what life brought, they should wade into the uncertain stream and greet events with courage and honesty.

    The rural metaphors were not accidental! It was the tale of a male-dominated family in Montana, unable to ever fully express their love for each other in words or hugs. The mother was almost silent, busy making tasty food. The men were much louder and sporty, showing their familial bonds in the outdoors. And learning discipline.

    Some of the men in the story looked hopeless. His brother-in-law Neal who was far worse than Paul – drunk, drugged, rude, self centred and a consummate liar. Paul and Neal’s mothers certainly loved their troubled sons, so it was difficult for the viewers to watch these men fall apart. Sometimes there was humour, but it was a sad humour.

    Norman was unable to help his brother with gambling debts and alcoholism. The next May, Paul was beaten to death by a revolver handle in a drunken brawl. The whole family was devast­ated but given Paul’s history, no one was shocked.

    Montana landscape
    shown in the film

    Many years ago I decided to never see a film first and then read the subsequent book second. Even if the film was well done, a film can never recreate the original author’s motivations and insights. It is not that I didn’t enjoy the film A River Runs Through It; I did! But I would have hated to not fully appreciate Maclean’s vision first.

    Dan’s Reviews said that this was one of the most significant books in his life. It spoke to a subterranean level of spirituality that he believed all people possess, but men find nearly impossible to express. I would not use the word spirituality, but I agree the book addressed men’s yearning in a subtle, emotional way. Few films could manage that.

    And another thing. I normally do not enjoy the use of the first person narrating books and films. The characters and events tend to be seen exclus­ive­ly through the eyes of the narrator, reducing the world. This film chronicled their intertwin­ing and often conflicting lives, focusing only on Norman's perspective. However Maclean won my heart at the beginning: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”

    Personal narratives are only useful when viewers/readers can share them. Older brother Norman was constantly filled with a frustrating sense of helplessness concerning his loved baby brother and with his unloved brother in law. I understood totally ☹

    Paul was arrested for drunken­ness and brawling more than once, and the family knew he had large gambling debts. Norman tried to intervene, failing every time. Then in 1938 Paul was found murdered, his body dumped in a bar’s alley. Decades later the elderly Norman Maclean still needed to under­stand the tragedy of his brother’s death, to honour him, and to thank the late Reverend for his fatherly wisdom.

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    British historian Suzannah Lipscomb was interested in how film makers did, or did not analyse hist­orical evidence accurately in their films. A review of David Rieff’s book In Praise of Forgetting was rightly scornful of the practicality of forgetting past atrocities, just for modern audiences’ comfort. Remembering, not forgetting, was im­por­tant in the pursuit of recog­nit­ion and restitution and, ultimately, reconciliation.

    Two recent films were designed to remember histor­ical atrocities. Both were love stories set against geo­political events. Viceroy’s House by Gurinder Chadha told of the Partition that accompanied the granting of independence to India in 1947, in which a million people died and c12 million were displaced. Bitter Harvest by George Mendeluk recalled one of the least-known tragedies of recent history; the Holod­omor, the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine in which 3-9 million people died.

    Both examples achieved one of the purposes of historical films: they left Lipscomb with the desire to know more. But each step has taken her into murkier territory, for both films told contested histories.

    For a discussion of the British Raj, Jon Wilson’s fine 2016 book India Conquered, challenged the idea that there was ever a civilising mission. Shashi Tharoor’s new books, Inglor­ious Empire in Britain and An Era of Darkness, gave an even more damning verdict. Viceroy’s House played fair with its depiction of British divide-and-rule policies on one side and growing Hindu-Muslim tensions on the other. It dodged one allegation i.e the affair between Edwina Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru. But it made another i.e that Winston Churchill was personally responsible for the catastrophically shoddy division of British India into India and Pakistan.

    Bitter Harvest told an even more charged interpret­at­ion of the past. As the first English-language film, it espoused many historians’ view that the Hol­odomor was genocide by starvat­ion, a man-made famine imposed by Stalin’s collectivisation policies. Soviet and Russian histories, by contrast, consid­ered it to be a tragedy, but not man-made or intentional. This historical interpret­ation was therefore politically loaded and tied to Ukrainian national identity. This film was motivated by a desire to get this atrocity ‘the recognition that history demands’.

    The film depicted Stalin as the agent of evil, imp­os­ing starvation on millions because he is frustrated by dis­obedience. What made Lipscomb uneasy was that these things were almost certainly true, but the desire to tell the story in such piebald terms rendered the atrocity almost unbelievable.  Lipscomb wrote the way films remembered historic events was troubling. A film can convey a convincing interpretation that cannot be rebutted or it can make even the truest of events far-fetched.

    Poster for the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation
    Note the fiery cross of the Ku Klux Klan, in image and text

    The Birth of a Nation was an excellent 1915 American silent drama, directed by DW Griffith, with actress Lillian Gish in the lead role. The screenplay was adapted from Thomas Dixon's novel The Clansman. The film recounted the relationship of two families in the American Civil War and Reconstruction era: one pro-Union and one pro-Confederacy. 

    Despite African-American rallies against racism, the film opened in April 1915 to delighted white audiences. So how can we in 2017 know how controversial the film was 102 years ago, for its port­rayal of black men as unintell­ig­ent and sexually aggres­sive towards white women? Was the film’s por­trayal of the Ku Klux Klan as a heroic force truly believed back then? Apparently yes.

    Certainly Rev Thomas Dixon's 1905 book The Clansmen paid warm tribute to the Ku Klux Klan. And the director DW Griffith was also an admirer of the Klan. As Griffith said in his auto-biography and as he championed in the film: “The members of the Klan ran to the rescue of the downtrodden South after the Civil War.” The actress Lillian Gish explained “The idea was to tell the truth about the War between the States. It hasn't been told accurately in history books”.

    We have to assume from contemporary documents that the film's storyline was mostly accepted as histor­ically accurate. To reinforce this view, a message from Griffith flickered on the screen as the orchestra started: "This is an historical presentation of the Civil War and Recon­struction Period, and is not meant to reflect on any race or people of today."

    The KKK was delighted! The film's release was cred­ited as being a factor that stimulated the second coming of the Ku Klux Klan at Stone Mountain Georgia. Along with a 1913 trial and lynching in Atlanta, this film was specifically used as a recruiting tool for the KKK. To celebrate the opening of The Birth of a Nation, a dramatic Rev William Simmons took 15 racist whites up Stone Mountain, made declarations about purity and honour, then lit a cross and re-ign­ited the KKK. “The occasion will be remembered long by the participants,” the Atlanta Constitution boomed, “KLAN IS ESTABLISHED WITH IMPRESSIVENESS.”

    To ban The Birth of a Nation, blacks could not just show that the film knowingly dist­orted African American history. Boston's National Association for the Advance­ment of Coloured People and newspaper editor William Trotter argued that the film was a threat to public safety, it heightened racial tensions and could incite violence. Boston’s mayor responded by holding a public hearing where the mayor claimed he could only censor the film if it was indecent and immoral, but not if it was racist. After the film­maker agreed to cut explicitly sexual scenes, the film opened in Boston.

    Ironically the film had one empowering effect against the KKK. Across the country, blacks filed petitions, appealed to legis­latures, met with mayors, picketed theatres and organised protest marches, to ban the film. Even when they failed, the film brought national att­ent­ion to the NAACP and black Americans had an opportunity at least to be heard. And three states did eventually ban the film.

    Did the writers of The Birth of a Nation not realise that their presentation of the Civil War and the Ku Klux Klan was only one side of a vigorously contested history? I assume they deliberately chose to depict life after the Civil War in a way that glorified Klansmen as the "Saviours of the White South". Since the film makers wanted to attract a large white audience to cinemas across the country, it would have been financially counter-productive and ideolog­ically unsound for them to have remembered historical events more accurately. This 1915 film was therefore as politically loaded, and as tied to just one national identity, as the film Bitter Harvest later became.