Book review: Eureka – The Unfinished Revolution by Peter Fitzsimons

“In 1854, Victorian miners fought a deadly battle under the flag of the Southern Cross at the Eureka Stockade. Though brief and doomed to fail, the battle is legend in both our history and in the Australian mind. Henry Lawson wrote poems about it, its symbolic flag is still raised, and even the nineteenth-century visitor Mark Twain called it: ‘a strike for liberty’.”

Eureka, Peter Fitzsimons, book review, Australian author, midlife, boomer, book club


Sometimes you build a relationship with a book before you even begin reading. Sometimes, it’s once you’ve finished and have had a chance to reflect and review.

I began to love Peter Fitzsimons’s Eureka midway through its prologue. With only a skeleton knowledge of the Eureka rebellion – gleaned from sketchy Australian History classes – I hoped this tome would put some flesh on the bones. The prologue, with its international political context and teasingly close local references had me hooked. I loved being reminded that Melbourne came stonkingly close to being known as Batmania and that William Buckley, the larger-than-life escaped convict, had wandered these parts with the indigenous Wautharung people for 35 years. There was even a Charles Dickens reference in there. I sensed the story about to unfold was one of substance and detail, and I anticipated the read with eagerness. I was not disappointed.

At 696 pages, Eureka is a daunting adventure – one I would probably not have embarked on had it not been a prescribed book club read. And isn’t that the true gift of book clubs, that you tackle books you would otherwise not?

Peter Fitzsimons has a remarkable gift for weaving historical narrative rich with primary source documentation and commentary. I’d wondered how the characters might come alive but they were carefully drawn in an astutely researched montage of media, court and official documentation of their day. They were, in a sense, peer reviewed in the language and the context of their times, potently capturing the spirit of the 1850s goldfields and the troubles of those who lived and governed. Amplifying tensions were gloriously played out in newspaper articles, official reports and conversation accounts.

Fitzsimons’s lively commentary held me engaged and involved. Often I felt as if I were reading a novel, rather than a historical recount. I knew what was coming, but I knew not how and became totally immersed in the unfolding story and the myriad of “sliding doors” moments in the lead-up to the tragic outcome. And then came the Epilogue – a whole other level of understanding of the main characters and their post-event lives.

I found myself carrying this book with me everywhere, lest I should miss an opportunity to read a few pages. Mid-way through, I felt compelled to visit Ballarat (where the events took place) and spent several hours exploring the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE), which is purportedly built on the site of the original Eureka Stockade (within an hour’s drive of my home).

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I even persuaded my accomplice to snap a no-flash photo of me in front of the original Eureka Flag on display there. That silhouetted figure is me ignoring the “No Photography” signs. Call me rebellious.

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On that same day, the local Ballarat newspaper ran a story about a rare copy of Raphaello Carboni’s The Eureka Stockade coming up for auction. Carboni was a key protagonist in Eureka and, after the rebellion, penned a book, which has become an important reference for researchers and those interested in the events.

Peter Fitzsimons has gotten in my head and under my skin with Eureka. I’m certain my future holds more adventures into history when I dive into some of his other renowned books. For now, I have Kokoda in my reader crosshairs and can’t wait for the November 2014 release of Gallipoli.

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My year of buying nothing new

Since 1 January, I’ve been on a secret little mission to make 2014 my year of buying nothing new.

Why haven’t I shared before now?

Because I feared my commitment would be lost amongst the white noise and emptiness of a barrage of New Year’s resolutions.

Because I didn’t want to get all preachy-preachy about it.

Because I wasn’t sure I could sustain it.

The very same reasons why I’m sharing now, in July, when I’m more than half way through. *high five

I set myself some ground rules. Food and normal household consumables were exempt, along with plants and books … because, well, books. Oh, and experiences. So movie tickets, travel, festival entry fees, live performance, dinners out and wine are also exempt. (Date night is safe.)

Even with these exemptions I’ve been more mindful.

Where I can, I’ve avoided the supermarket duopoly (you know who I mean) in favour of my local independent supermarket, butcher and fruit & veg. I’m certain the big supermarket hasn’t missed me one iota. I’m just as certain that my patronage has made a difference to my local shop owners.

We’ve been growing our own vegies and have mostly bought our seedlings from a lovely lady at the local farmers market. They don’t have fancy labels or instructions or brightly coloured plastic pots. They don’t have chemicals either … she raises them organically.

vegie patch, grow your own, midlife, fifty-something

For Mother’s Day I dropped big hints around a pair of dwarf lemon trees for the twin pots near my front verandah. They magically appeared.

And I haven’t ended up buying a new book yet (other than several author-signed copies at author talks/book launches, which I consider payment for experiences).

arnold zable, author talk, midlife, boomer, fifty something

My Book Club uses multiple book sets provided by the local library and I’ve managed to pick up my other preferred titles second-hand at the market. One Sunday morning, Harper Lee was calling to me at the market and I ended up bringing home a one dollar copy of To Kill A Mockingbird with only a vague intention of re-reading it. The next morning I enrolled in an online course and discovered that To Kill A Mockingbird was the only required reading. Serendipitous.

And it’s been a lot like that, this year of buying nothing new. I’ve found if I step back and think about what I need (or want) there is usually an alternative that doesn’t require me to hand over fists full of dollars to big chain retailers for mass-manufactured items. Very often it’s about making do with what I’ve got, reinventing something to work, repairing something or finding a second-hand alternative. And it’s amazing what you find when you actually put some time into looking.

Don’t think I haven’t been tempted …

When I saw, on super-sale, the Florence Broadhurst bedlinen I’d been envy-eying at my sister’s new house.

When the weather turned wintery and my two-season old black boots were pronounced dead.

When my 12 year old lemon brocade wingback chairs succumbed to severe, uncleanable grubbiness (the professional cleaner even gave them last rites).

That’s just three of dozens.

I survived those three temptations like this:

Slapped myself to the upside of the head for my monkey-see-monkey-want mentality. My old doona cover is perfectly fine (and not so old).

Mr P secretly took my lifeless black boots to the shoemaker who revived them to live again another day. A week later I found a gorgeous, near-new, top brand pair (in black leather) in a thrift shop for $8.

I put one tired wing-backed chair on the footpath of our busy road with a “FREE TO GOOD HOME” sign. It disappeared within ten minutes. Boy Wonder claimed the other as a “reading” chair and seems oblivious to the grubbiness. Within a day I’d found a fabulous vintage recliner in a thrift shop and snapped it up for $90. The following week, Mr P phoned to say he’d seen a matching recliner in the window of another thrift shop as he cycled past on his way to work. I was there when the doors opened and picked that one up for $40.

vintage rocker, thrifting, midlife, boomer, fifty-something

The only times I’ve surrendered and purchased something new have been for gifts. On both occasions, I’ve headed to local independent retailers, rather than the big chain conglomerates. I’ve taken advantage of free gift-wrapping services and am putting my upcycled gift tags to good use.

At other times I’ve hand made gifts – vintage preserving jars stocked chock-full with home-baked goods, fridge magnets made from rescued vintage scrabble tiles, or stationery sets and bunting I’ve upcycled from vintage atlas pages.

atlas bunting, vintage atlas, upcycled, fifty-something, boomer, midlife

Over half-way through and I’m still enjoying the challenge of stringing together a whole year of buying nothing new. It’s satisfying to know I’m contributing less to landfill and that I’m not wasting money on doodads I don’t need. I’m very much a believer in that maxim: “Stop buying stuff you don’t need with money you don’t have to impress people you don’t know, love or even like”.

Stepping off the consumer bandwagon has been fun and (dare I say it?) empowering. It feels like I’ve broken the back of what was pretty much a habit and I can’t see myself jumping back on that sleek-shiny wagon anytime soon.

Now … how many days until Christmas?


Walking the talk … Surf Coast Walk #2

Slowly and not-so-surely we are working our way through the sections of the amazing Surf Coast Walk. You may have read, over here, about our “use it or lose it” approach to walking and our commitment to completing every centimetre of this 44km walk.

We can now tick off Section 12, a shortish stint that packs a lot of punch into its 2.1 kilometres (each way) on a well-formed track with gentle hills and a few steps.

The brochure blurb says:

Lighthouse Discovery. Aireys Lighthouse –  Fairhaven. Discovery stroll from the Split Point Lighthouse and lookouts past whale sighting spots, through traditional Wathaurung country. Cross an ancient tribal boundary to the western reach of the Surf Coast Walk. Learn as you go with the insights of the Lighthouse Discovery Trail and several well-signed viewing platforms.”

Yes, there is lots to see on this section. Allow an hour or so at the lighthouse precinct for exploring the trails, interpretative signage, cliffs and … for snapping some memorable pic’s.

lighthouse, great ocean road, surf coast walk, split point lighthouse

split point lighthouse, great ocean road, surf coast walk

Wander west through the big car park, following alongside the Great Ocean Road and across Painkalac Creek, a favourite food harvesting spot for the Wathaurung aborigines, the traditional landowners.

surf coast walk, fairhaven beach, great ocean road

The gravel path takes you through a shady ti-tree forest.

Fairhaven beach, surf coast walk, great ocean road

Soon you lift up into the sun and find yourself high above Fairhaven Beach, stretching invitingly ahead of you.

fairhaven beach, great ocean road, surf coa

We were here on a quiet Monday so shared the beach with just a couple of other walkers. It’s a spectacular beach walk, with the lighthouse commanding one end and stunning ochre cliffs rising up at the other. Your beach stroll takes you beneath the famous Pole House and the new Fairhaven Surf Life Saving Club … both amazing buildings in their own right.

It’s a leisurely saunter back to the car park. Nearby, the Aireys Inlet “bottom shops” are worth a browse – there’s a book shop, retro diner and plenty more.

We settled for a peppermint tea served in this gorgeous cast iron pot on a rustic outdoor table with a vista over the Great Ocean Road.

great ocean road, surf coast walk



Quip While You’re Ahead

It’s no secret that I love supporting local creatives. Friday night, My Girl and I wandered along to the opening night of a new exhibition in the Wonderwall Gallery at Courthouse Arts, Geelong.

Titled Quip While You’re Ahead – words by MOLUCK . art by OTHERS, this little one-room show is a collaborative exhibition between author and artist.

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All the creatives are under twenty-six years of age. Each artwork is a response to one of MOLUCK’s evocative poems, some Haiku-style short and others much longer narratives in verse. The creative responses are varied and fascinating. There are installations, detailed mixed media collages, photographic interpretations and more.

quip while you're ahead, moluck, geelong arts, courthouse arts, midlife, boomers

The exhibition is on until 20 July 2014 and well worth an hour of discovery time, to allow for reading of MOLUCK’s beautifully crafted poems, each displayed beside its appropriate art.

You can see more of MOLUCK’s work over here:

Why not get out there and discover some emerging creative talent?


Ardbeg Day 2014 – Ardbeg Whisky World Cup

Ardbeg Day has become one of the biggest events on our annual calendar. It’s when we get together with our like-minded single malt whisky loving friends (let’s call them GOB SMACT) and celebrate one of our favourite whisky brands.

The Ardbeg distillery is located in single malt heartland, on the island of Islay, just off the west coast of Scotland. Ardbeg Day is an international celebration with events organised around the globe. This year, the theme is football (the World Cup has a lot to answer for) and we’ve been alerted to an Ardbeg Day foosball championship (or Ardbeg Whisky World Cup) at Melbourne’s Whisky and Alement.

After a sumptuous yumcha lunch at the Shark Fin Inn beneath a dazzling chandelier …

shark fin inn, chandelier, melbourne chinatown, midlife, boomers, fiftysomething

… our crew of fifteen wanders the few blocks to Whisky and Alement only to learn we’re an hour early for the official event.

“Give us five minutes,” says Julian, the proprietor.

True to his word, within five minutes Julian is ushering us inside. We pay homage to the breathtaking “wall of whisky” and eagerly watch our first drams being poured from a giant golden bottle of Auriverdes, Ardbeg’s latest release expression.

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It’s ear-to-ear grins and slaintes all round as we sample the new drop. At $10 a pour, it’s hard to be anything but delighted.

We climb onto stools towards the front of the dimly lit bar, discussing the merits of Auriverdes. Punters battle out the foosball comp down the back, in the bowels of the bar, but we’re oblivious to the cheering. We’re more interested in the $10 pours and the “special” bottle of 10-year old Ardbeg someone has carefully secreted in a shopping bag. Deals are done with the legendary Super Procurer. Fists full of dollars are handed over on the promise of rare bottles to be had and harboured.

As the afternoon drifts on, the pours get more generous and the laughter more hearty. The foosball winners are announced and we toast their success (with more drams). The Ardbeg brand rep makes a cameo appearance. We toast to him, the giant golden bottle of Auriverdes, Ardbeg Day and the warm company of whisky loving friends.

Single malt whisky just makes life better. And never more so than on Ardbeg Day.

gobsmact, single malt, ardbeg day 2014, ardbeg auriverdes


ardbeg day 2014, melbourne, whisky and alement, ardbeg aurive


I’ve been contacted by The Whisky Club, a new group of single malt whisky purveyors that offer members specially-selected and sourced monthly bottles of whisky. Looks like a great way to sample whiskies you might not normally try. Check it out if you’re keen. Bertie Cason, the Whisky Club founder thought you (my readers) might be interested. In his words: “The Whisky Club is for whisky lovers at all stages of their whisky journey. Whether you are curious about learning more about the category or are a seasoned traveller just looking for something a little different each month, then this is for you.”


***This is not a sponsored post.

Grain to Grass – a June weekend of whisky events (Melbourne)

I don’t usually promote events here but this one is too good not to share, especially on the eve of Ardbeg Day celebrations. It combines two of my favourite things in the world: fine whisky and grand heritage buildings.

whisky, single malt, single malt whisky

The National Trust of Australia (Victoria) is partnering with Whisky and Alement (a Melbourne whisky destination like no other – you might remember them from here) to create a weekend of whisky worship you’re unlikely to see again. Think: rare drams, whisky celebrities, intriguing historical spaces.

There are four events:

Rare and Limited Edition Whisky Tasting – Thursday 19 June at Tasma Terrace

Whisky Pop Up Bar – Friday 20 June at Old Melbourne Gaol (eeeek!)

Exclusive Australian Whisky Dinner – Saturday 21 June at The Ballroom Rippon Lea (rubbing shoulders with whisky royalty)

Whisky on the Lawn – Sunday 22 June at Rippon Lea (kids welcome to this one)

If you love a dram or two, these events are definitely worth checking out. If any of those brand logos below set your heart aflutter, consider this a must-do.

Discover more and book online over at the National Trust website.

whisky, whiskey, single malt whiskey, single malt whisky

**This is NOT a sponsored post.



Boy Wonder bought an umbrella

Boy Wonder bought an umbrella.

I know … hardly life-changing. Bigger things have happened today. And yesterday. But in my world, Boy Wonder buying an umbrella is a sure sign he’s growing up.

being fifty something, boomers, midlife, umbrella, fifty plus

Never mind that he’s writing a PhD and working at the university.

Nevermind that he’s moved out of home (and come back again).

Nevermind that he’s been in (and out of) adult relationships.

Nevermind that he’s been train commuting to Melbourne most weekdays for more than four years.

Nevermind that he’s already explored more foreign countries than I’m ever likely to.

Just stand up and take notice that on this day, Boy Wonder bought an umbrella.

Forget the wintry days I’ve chased after him calling “don’t you need a jacket?”

Forget the dreary mornings I’ve offered to drive him to the train station or proffered my own over-loved brolly.

Forget my ad nauseum protestations of weather forecasts, gale warnings, average mean temperatures and expected annual rainfalls.

Attention: today Boy Wonder bought an umbrella. And not just any umbrella. Not a $2 Shop will-last-through-two-showers brolly. He took himself off to a CBD department store (yes, the one of the black and white houndstooth) and stood midst Melbourne’s other gentlemen and chose himself a stylish, black traditional umbrella. Of the gentlemanly kind. With a shapely hook handle. It’s a serious investment.

Buying one’s own umbrella is a rite of passage. A signal of independence.

Yes, Boy Wonder is all grown up, in a way that many other grown men aren’t.

It appears my work here is done.



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