Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Australia's Second Chance by George Megalogenis

Inspiration rating: 9/10
This book has inspired me to have faith in the humanity of our country to overcome our racial prejudice and welcome many cultures into our society

Finally a book that celebrates our multiculturalism!  With all the political rhetoric about asylum seekers, this book is a refreshing perspective of our real culture in Australia and how much our nation has thrived through immigration.
Megalogenis does not include indigenous Australian heritage, but instead spans the history of Australia (post colonialisation) making reference to the 'impact on the 'locals' in the early chapters.  It is also a nice change to see the reference to the Chinese culture in Australia, which runs quite deeply through our history.  I would love to see an equivalent book marking the indigenous multiculturalism in Australia acknowledging the diverse language groups and the external influx to the composition of our indigeneity. 
This book has a particular focus on the economic impact of migration and I believe the author does this deliberately, to give the book a central focus.  But in doing so, it does miss important details of the social impacts of the changes at each stage.
This book is easy to read yet does not compromise on facts: he has the evidence to back up his claims.  There are wall-to-wall statistics, humbling anecdotal stories and cringe-worthy references to our past mistakes.  But overall, Megalogenis leaves the reader with a strong sense of hope for social change in Australia, appealing to our financial greed to open our borders and enable us to embrace our multiculturalism, especially with our Asian neighbours.  Let's face it we have more in common with Asia than we do of the motherland...

Except from the book (p.196-7)
Sidney had a knack for riding out the global busts.  In 1921, he anticipated the post-war slump in import prices and threw a 'million pound master sale' to clear his old stock.  He lost half his fortune but was able to restock with cheaper imports and trade back into profitability.
His strategy to cope with the Great Depression elevated him to national legend.  In 1930, Sidney shouted Christmas lunch for ten thousand unemployed people and gave each child a present.  He undertook an expensive reconstruction of his Bourke Street store in 1931 to provide jobs and boost confidence.  'All staff, himself included - except for those affected by a wages board - endured a 20% pay-cut for eighteen months, so that no employee need be retrenched', historian Anthea Hyslop wrote. 
He urged the business community to promote jobs, and to donate funds to public works programs, saying, 'It is a responsibility of capital to provide work.  If it fails to do this it fails to justify itself.'  The Myer method in the Great Depression was the digger's own Gallipoli: self sacrifice and good humour.
A friend once advised him, 'You spendthrift - you are wearing yourself out.  You will soon have nothing left to give.'  Sidney replied, 'He gets most who gives most.'
He died suddenly in 1934, at the age of fifty-six, leaving behind a business of 5300 employees and 10% of his fortune donated to a trust, to assist 'the community in which I made my fortune'.  More than 100 000 mourners lined the city streets to observe the funeral procession and 25 000 people attended his funeral at Box Hill cemetery.
The young Robert Menzies, who was both Sidney's friend and his local member of parliament, wrote in 1936 that Myer was a true Australian pioneer.  'He rose from being an obscure alien peddler to being one of the great merchant princes of Australia.'
The Myer brothers were an anomaly in Australia.  They had fled the nineteenth-century Russian pogroms against the Jews when many of their countrymen had already settled in the United States.  If they had delayed their migration until federation, the dictation test might have denied them entry.
(I believe these are the stories we should be telling our children about Australia's history.) 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Little Life by Hanya Yanigihara

Inspiration rating 10/10
This book has inspired me to realise that when we do not accept compliments, it affects those who love us.

This is the sort of book that you prepare yourself for, because you know you will be held emotionally hostage for a number of days until you finish reading (because once you start, it is very difficult to stop) and at 720 pages, it is not something you can skim through.

It focuses on the most important thing in life: relationships.
Hanya is very deliberate in the way she captures this, by creating a small close-knit number of people who are focused around a single tragic and beautiful character named Jude.  The writing is clever because it brings you into the group with the nuanced gestures and explains the significance of the simple inanimate objects, to the story of a person’s life.  For example, the secret non-verbal vocabulary of scratching your ear at a party so that your friend knows to come and rescue you from a terrible conversation (so no-one else knows).  Like a professional she leaves little treasures along the way to be discovered in the closing pages with heartbreaking sadness.  Throughout the book Hanya talks around the subject, giving the reader intelligence to know what is going on, but not throwing it into your face. 

The book was not without its frustrations for me.  I found the character's resistance to professional help (for people who clearly needed it) really irritating, but then again I think this is a reflection of how much the group rely on each other.

I have always admired people who can keep friendships from their early years and this group is all those kinds of people. Although it is unspoken, they all truly know and love each other.  This genuine sincerity is what makes each of the characters so appealing.  For example, Malcolm the architect knows that Jude feels clean when a space is filled with light and JB, the artist, knows the exact colour of Jude's hair in the sunlight.  Imagine knowing someone that intimately for almost your whole life...

Sample of the text: (p. 437)
But to Jude, he wasn't an actor: he was a friend, and that identity supplanted everything else.  It was a role he had inhabited for so long that it had become, indelibly, who he was.  To Jude, he was no more primarily an actor than Jude was primarily a lawyer - it was never the first or second or third way that either of them would describe each other.  It was Jude who had remembered who he had been before he had made a life pretending to be other people: someone with a brother, someone so impressive and beguiling.  He knew other actors who didn't want anyone to remember them as they'd been, as someone so determined to be someone else, but he wasn't that person.  He wanted to be reminded of who he was; he wanted to be around someone for whom his career would never be the most interesting thing about him.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


I write this at my favourite cafe in Palm Cove, because I am lucky enough to live here and I am on holidays.  One of the simple pleasures of being a North Queenslander is experiencing the holiday-feel even when I am not on holidays - because everyone around me is on holidays and it is impossible not to get swept up into this feeling...

As a high school teacher I am fortunate to get school holidays and one of the good things about the summer holiday is it is a long time.  Time to empty my head of the clutter and busy-ness of the school term and the roller coaster pace of student’s lives and time to allow fresh and new ideas to enter - hence here is my new blog.

My passion is geography, which means I am interested in people, places, culture and solutions to social and environmental issues.  Which means I read and try to read widely.  But here's the thing ... I am a really slow reader.  It takes me ages to read a book.  I think it is because I think about the ideas the book generates in my mind and chew over these; rather than seeing a book as something to complete and tick off a list, I really enjoy reading for pleasure. 

I also have the memory of a goldfish, so want to try and hold my thoughts and enjoyable moments in any way I can, so am embarking on a blog to capture these ideas and to share thoughts to create discussion.

My wish is that students also join in on this blog and share their literary discoveries, as you are my inspiration to find new and interesting books to add to the bookshelf.  My greatest pleasure is when a student 'finds their book' and begins the lifelong journey of reading for pleasure.  I hope you can join me in sharing your inspiring reads and perhaps the not-so-inspiring ones too, so we know what to avoid:)

Welcome to the blog...