An afternoon with ALIA

I was fortunate to be able to attend the final afternoon session of this year’s ALIA Conference in Melbourne.

Here is my summary:

eSmart Libraries Sallyanne English presented an overview of the Esmart Libraries program. Hume Libraries have recently been accredited. The eSmart program offers a framework for libraries so they can work towards incorporating cyber-safety into policies, procedures, training and technology use by staff and customers.

The Big Projects – update From the successful National Year of Reading in 2012, the Love2Read brand continues as a nationwide marketing effort. The Reading Hour is a current effort they  promote. They invite stories and stats from Australian libraries to spread the message.

Return On Investment Demonstrating the value of libraries is an ongoing need and there are many reports and advocacy tools available on the ALIA and PLVN websites. Of note in Victoria are these reports: Libraries 2030Creative Communities Cultural Benefits: and Dollars and Sense. These reports can be found here. NSW libraries offer this report for future planning.

ALIA PD Scheme Judy Brookner talked about the value of becoming a certified professional through the ALIA PD scheme.

IFLA update Marian Morgan Minden talked about the Lyon Declaration which highlights the need for open access to ICT. IFLA invite people to nominate a must-see library to the list of 1001 libraries to see before you die.

Digital Capability An overview of digital capability of libraries was presented by Sarah Slade of the NSLA Digital Preservation Group. This project has allowed an shared understanding of the needs and capabilities of libraries to manage digital materials.

It was also great to catch with colleagues/friends from across the State.

How it feels

How it feels? I’ll tell you how it feels Brendan Cowell! It feels annoying, depressing, disappointing, shameful, hopeless, and puts me in a really bad mood, when I am trying to relax whilst on my precious annual leave. That’s how it feels to me. What are you trying to prove with this work of fiction Brendan? Attempting to be the modern version of J.D. Salinger perhaps? (OK I’ll stop talking directly to Brendan now.)

If you want to read a book with lots of sex, drugs, bad language and a life of wasted liberty, then this book may be for you, along with these others:

Indelible ink by Fiona McGregor

The Romantic by Kate Holden

How it feels by Brendan Cowell

These are not my usual choice for reading material that’s for sure, but as a Librarian in a public library I like to stay current with what is going around, and what is being mentioned and promoted in the media. I like to see what is new in contemporary Australian literature. I don’t choose fiction much and personally prefer travel writing and memoir, but not biography. I respect the diversity of choice by authors and readers, and it is with these things in mind I will share my opinion here – for what it’s worth.

Recently I read the three books in the order as listed above, and had read The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas a year or so ago. The three books above have similarities to The Slap, but the book by Tsiolkas stands apart in my view. Perhaps it is the forerunner to this genre of writing. 

My first thoughts are that with Melbourne and Sydney as the starting points for these stories, it makes me wonder at the culture. All of these books I found to be depressing, soul-less, crude, obscene, misguided, immoral, unintelligent and immature. The people in them are feral, egotistical, self-gratifying, immature, shallow, and without consideration to anyone but themselves. The behaviour and language by the people in the books (are they characters?) is appalling.

The “F” word appears as frequently as the necessary “the” and “and”. I read an article by Kate Holden where she bragged proudly about her frequent use of and love of the “F” word. Why? So?! What is intelligent about that? It is just a word and not an intelligent word at that. It is not helpful or descriptive. It is an arrogant and abusive word that halts honest and open communication. There are cleverer words to use in literature and everyday conversation.

Brendan Cowell uses the “F” word as well as the “C” word throughout his novel and really those two words are a good representation of the whole feel of his book. It is a base, soul-less, egotistical, troubled, feral, misguided, depressing portrait of a society I hope does not exist. 

These three books provide scenes of a culture in Australia that is low; unintelligent; lacking morality, class, substance, and beauty; immature; misguided; and without any social structure at all. Immediate self-gratification seems to be the only aim. Are these true representations of the society we live in? I would hope not. And why are these pieces of literature and authors applauded? I don’t understand that.

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas was perhaps the successful forerunner to these three attempts to follow in his successful path. His book too was depressing and left me with a feeling of shame to even belong to the society he illustrated. But I found his book cleverly crafted. The way his story progressed through different characters in the aftermath of “the slap” gave a depth to the story that illustrated modern day multi-cultural Melbourne. 

The Romantic by Kate Holden holds no resemblance to anything romantic at all. She is a tragic immature lost soul with nothing to guide her aimless wanderings. She needs help. And unfortunately, if we are to believe the tales in these stories, modern Australian society is ill equipped to offer that help.

Neil Cronk, the main character in How it feels, is supposedly an actor, an artist, but the only glimpse we get of any “art” in the book is when Neil goes to the Tate gallery in London. His work in theatre is not evident except to create a veneer of an “artistic” type of character. He could be anything.

Indelible Ink is a book hardly worth reading at all, in my view. Empty of content, plot, character, emotion, and point, I do not recommend it. The title and the premise point towards a story about tattoos, which it is sort of, but it fails to reach any point to the tale.

If these three books are the best Australian contemporary work around then that is disappointing. If they represent the society in which we live then that is extremely worrying. Fortunately I don’t move in these tragic circles and I think these books misrepresent our culture in so many ways.

As far as literature goes, personally I prefer stories to be uplifting and with a point to the narrative. I look for beauty, spirituality, generosity and a gentle kindness that speaks of honesty, humility, openness, maturity and intelligence. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is a perfect example of a great piece of contemporary literature. OK, so it is set in Paris and not Sydney for a start. But I can’t recall the “F” word being used at all. There was no need. The last scene stays with me as the author cleverly weaves some beautiful classical music by Satie into the scene, enriching the experience masterfully.

I implore contemporary Australian authors to get out of the gutter and for publishers to please find us some relevant Australian stories worth reading – something uplifting. Something that has the power to inspire a misguided culture to read, to be kind, and to lift itself out of this depressing, shameful culture portrayed in these dismal stories.

 “Because that’s what I see when I come home to Cronulla, a bunch of white people who believe what they want to believe and see only what they want to see – which is more white people who believe what they want to believe and see what they want to see.” ~ Neil Cronk in How it feels by Brendan Cowell

Perhaps there is some truth in this quote but when I read a book at my leisure I will not persist with it if I am not enjoying it. These three books I did persist with wondering if there was a point to the dismal story and hoping there would be some form of redemption or wisdom gained from the turmoil. I am disappointed to find none, and annoyed I wasted precious time reading to the end. More than that though, there is real power in the self creation of mood, environment, health, attitude, and ultimately lifestyle when individuals take responsibility for themselves. So perhaps I am guilty of only seeing what I want to see, but I understand the impact negative images, language, attitudes have on me personally but also to shaping the culture at large as we contribute to it.

Put that in your crack pipe and smoke it Neil (or Brendan)!

Gang Gangs

I awoke and thought I was in heaven. I felt at peace. My head was clear after a nights sleep free from The Hum.

A perfect symphony of bird calls rang out from the bush. There were no screeching divas with the absence of magpies, wattle birds, crows, seagulls and corellas. The subtle call of the Gang Gang Cockatoos could be heard. It has a quieter squawk than its cockatoo cousins. It is more of a croak. We had seen three Gang Gangs the day before. They are distinguished by their grey feathers and red crests.

I had slept well in the tent despite frequent interruptions from snarling possums fossicking about for food and the occasional wallaby bounding by.

The Glenelg River in south west Victoria is beautiful. Surrounded by Australian bushland, it is protected by its National Park status, amid the ugly pine plantations that go on for kilometers and spoil this environment. The river is large enough for power boats, but favoured by canoeists and kayakers. There are no rapids but a swift current moves the slightly salty water to the estuary downstream at Nelson. Bream are often caught by the fishermen who frequent this place.

We swam, dived and jumped off jetties, fished, sat, cruised in the boat, cooked at the campfire, and looked for satellites and meteors in the star filled sky. The next day we left the clear hot day behind and descended into the cool dark underground interior of the Princess Margaret Rose Cave to be amazed by the stalactites and stalagmites.

Alex Miller

Alex Miller has been a prominent Australian author for some time now and I am aware of this. But I have only just discovered him myself. Better late than never I guess especially when you are rewarded with such beautiful writing as his.

Landscape of Farewell (2007) is the first of his that I have read only this week. It is a poetic and moving story of two old men sharing a shack in the Australian outback, while trying to come to terms with the loss of their wives, as well as sorting out the shameful curse of their very different family stories.

Lovesong (2009) is one of the books on this year’s list for the Summer Read organised by the State Library of Victoria. I had read a brief review somewhere and immediately wanted to read it, mostly because it begins in a cafe on the outskirts of Paris. Anything about France and I am sold. So far I love it. Our library staff are reading the books on the Summer Read list so that we can be well informed for our customers.

I am aware of his other novels and know he is a prize winner, so he was an author on my mental list of must-reads. I am delightfully surprised to find he writes beautiful, gentle stories that are cleverly woven around love, family, landscape, and culture. He explores the human relationship in all its complexities, especially where cultures collide. You quickly warm to his very human characters.

Reading his stories now is pertinent for me because I am living in a landscape that is new and foreign to me, while also having left important family members behind. I too am missing loved ones while trying to adjust to an unfamiliar new life. His stories resonate within me in a profound way.

The Aussie Fire Beast

One tiny spark from a cigarette butt thrown thoughtlessly from a car into drought-dried mulch, whipped by the winds from the Northerly furnace and in seconds the scrub is alight. The orange fire demon springs from the ground, licks then devours grass, shrubs, trees, fences, houses, cars. It grows, building smoke towers into the sky; brown and grey bulbous silos of smoke move like a Godzilla come to life. People flee or stay, trying to damp down the edges of the inferno. Fire-fighters arrive with all their gear, naively confident with well rehearsed drills. Helicopters circle, with TV crews filming the chaos, while others drop water from above. Frantic efforts follow the fire beast, trying to tame it and bring it to the ground.

I was holed up at home staying inside trying to shelter from the 45°C heat outside. I was concentrating, sorting through some papers, when finally the sounds of the sirens and helicopters registered in my awareness. I thought, “They sound close!” I immediately opened the blinds and looked at the ridge nearby – no sign of smoke. So I went to the front room and was stunned to see the familiar sight of an Aussie bushfire in full flight. Black, grey and brown towers of smoke billowed up into the blue sky. The orange flames leapt from treetops. Trees exploded. Three helicopters circled and hovered. Sirens announced the arrival of fire engines from all directions.

From my previous experience with the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983 I knew the first thing I had to do was change my clothes from the long loose cotton summer dress and bare feet to boots and full coverings. If you don’t change your clothes at the beginning there may not be another chance. Fighting fires in a cream office skirt and wedge-heeled sandals is not very practical (as I did in 1983). And we see too often refugees from these bushfires left with only the clothes they stand in.

I then phoned my husband to let him know. I organised buckets, hoses, mops, towels, and put the ladder to the roof. I climbed up to get a better view of the fire and cleaned out the recently fallen dead leaves from the gutters. It was a surreal moment as I relived the identical situation from 1983 when I stood on a different metal roof in another location with smoke billowing overhead, helicopters chopping through the smoke, and tress exploding. Luckily for me and my family on both occasions the fire past us by, but being in the ember fall means that you need to be on guard for spot fires and wind changes.

This recent fire happened one week before the massive and tragic fires that occurred on Saturday 7th February 2009. It was a day that reached over 46°C and the authorities had warned everyone and were on high alert. Unfortunately the fires erupted on many fronts across the states of Victoria and New South Wales. There were none near us on this day, but our son was attending a wedding at a winery in the Yarra Valley. He phoned us as the fire approached. They were surrounded by raging fires. He spent a worrying evening stranded inside the winery while helicopters water-bombed the building and surroundings. They were eventually allowed to travel home after the fires had passed.

Not all were lucky on that evening. The death toll sadly reaches towards 200. Yesterday the count was 173 with many still not found. Never before have so many people lost their lives in Australian bushfires. The speed and ferocity of these fire monsters seem to defy all plans of escape.

I heard a man on the radio today describe how the fire passed over their town: literally travelled over the town above them in the sky and landed further along to wreak its havoc. He said the sound of the fireball roaring overheard was extraordinary. His town was untouched. While meanwhile the townships of Marysville and Kinglake are completely devastated and nothing remains.


Have you seen Baz Luhrmann’s epic Australia yet? I know that Aussies may feel compelled to see it, but my advice is to save your money. What a disappointment and embarrassment! And I love his other movies like Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge.


It seems to me that Baz could not decide if he wanted to make a musical again, a comedy, an epic, a war movie, or some kind of Australian classic. He failed in all. Perhaps if he had indeed made if a musical the movie as it stands would have succeeded. It is full of cringe value for all Australians. The graphics are woeful. The dialogue is stilted, and the accents are overly exaggerated. The performances of some great actors are shallow and terrible. The only actor who was good was the young actor who was the narrator of the tale – Brandon Walters.


The scenes about the bombing of Darwin seemed to be over-the-top and aimed at a Hollywood audience rather than depicting the truth. But then I questioned myself and knew that my knowledge of the bombing of Darwin was scant. I did a little research in the library to try to discover what the facts were. The Australian War Memorial website has one short page devoted to the attacks. I found one book titled “Darwin’s battle for Australia: a history of Darwin’s role in the defence of Australian in WW2” by the Darwin Defenders and published in 2005. This 294 page book contains witness accounts and photographs from the events in Darwin at that time. Once again the local library manages to provide information that is relevant and of high quality content.


P.S. The power of the blogging world – very soon after I posted this I received the comment direct from the Australian War Memorial who pointed me in the direction of more of their resources. Thank you. My excuse is that it wasn’t because I was not being thorough in my research of their website, but because I had located the excellent book in my local library on the subject. I value their input and the power of Web 2.0.

I love a sunburnt country

Dorothea MacKellar’s famous ode to Australia echoes loudly down through the generations.


The harsh Australian sun has taken its toll on my fair freckled skin after a youth spent outdoors. This week I have had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my forehead.


Bay swim about 1991Spending my childhood and teenage years outdoors without a hat or sunscreen was normal for me and my generation. I spent most of my free daylight hours outside playing tennis, swimming, and water-skiing. Cracked lips, peeling noses, and sun burnt skulls were badges of honour as proof of sun-worship. My skin did tan to a light golden colour and to me this was some kind of validation of my Australian identity, shunning my English, Scottish and French ancestry. I inherited my skin type from my mother and aunt and they both have had many nasty things cut and burnt from their skin. My aunt who will turn 90 years of age this year has had so many cuts made to her face that she looks like she has been in a car accident. She is not the slightest bit vain about it and I admire her common-sense and practical attitude.


I still enjoy an active outdoor life but nowadays I wear a hat and sunscreen. Unfortunately the damage is already done and I fear this little operation may be the first of many.


The recent Web 2.0 conference resulted in some new connections with suggestions and requests for more work. With a couple of days off work I know my workload is piling up. I have lots to do. I need to report on the conference; think about writing an article for an organisation whose representative approached me after my presentation, create more wikis, find some appropriate videos for classroom projects, transfer the library content from our intranet to the new content management system, as well as my usual library work. Not to mention catching up on reading the email, blogs and twitters that will be accumulating.