Wednesday 25 July 2018

An Australian Classic: The Shiralee by D’Arcy Niland (1955)

D’Arcy Niland (1917-1967) was an Australian author who is probably best known for his classic book, The Shiralee, although he also wrote over five hundred short stories.
The Shiralee was a best-seller both in Australia and overseas and has never been out of print since it was first published in 1955.
Now that I’ve read it I’m not surprised at its success. It is a raw story of fatherhood, rejection, betrayal, and the human heart’s response to these. The author was in his teens during the Great Depression and although the time period of the story isn’t directly referenced, the setting seems to be during or around that time.

The Story

Macauley was a swagman (a labourer who walked his way from job to job, carrying a swag which contained his bedding and all his belongings) and he worked all over New South Wales. He had been married for five years and his wife and their three and a half year old daughter lived in the city while he worked in country towns or in the outback.
One day he returned home unexpectedly and found his wife with another man. In his rage, he beat up the interloper, grabbed Buster, his daughter, and made his way out on the road again.
Six months later he is still on the road and resentful that he is lumbered with his shiralee, his swag, the burden that he took on himself to spite his wife.

He had had no word from his wife since that time but she turned up in a town where he was working and tried to take Buster back to the city. Her plan was one of revenge. She didn’t want to be lumbered with the child and planned to get back at her ex-husband by putting her daughter into an orphanage without his knowledge. Macauley discovered she had taken the child and took her back but he was unaware of her real intention at that time.

It had come to this, the two of them wrangling over a scrap of humanity, like dogs wrangling over a bone; only dogs wrangle for the same reason: her reason and his were totally different. He was sure of that.

Macauley began to realise just how attached he had become to his little girl. This burden that he had to carry with him had compelled him to consider someone else besides himself. Begrudgingly he had had to adapt himself to a little person’s needs and in so doing he had become tethered. The swag that felt like a burden in the heat of the day, became a shelter at the end of it. And now he could not bear to be parted from her.

This book is unusual in its depiction of a single father. I know its extremely difficult for anyone in a single parent situation, but in the few instances I’ve known where the father is the solo parent, it seems doubly hard.
Macauley found it almost impossible to get suitable work. He was considered to be incompetent to raise a child, especially a female one. The type of work he did, the sort of people he associated with, the conditions of travelling on the road, were all considered totally unsuitable for a child.

Macauley wasn’t the most likeable sort of fellow when first encountered in this book. He lived by his fists and acted before he thought, if he thought at all. Thinking only brought him the pain of memory. He was aggressive, surly, and had a devil-may-care attitude. There were a few flashbacks to his own childhood and they were not pretty, but they helped to reveal how the man had become who he was. He had entered his marriage wanting the woman but not the life. He had no great love for his daughter and only took her with him to get back at his wife, not knowing that his wife didn’t want to be burdened with a child.

The developing relationship between father and daughter is poignantly portrayed but without sentimentality. Niland’s writing is terse, real and downright moving at times. He takes a total jerk, gets between the chinks of his armour and his angry exterior, takes him through a refining fire and reveals his humanity and heart.

Life on the road was also shown in its highs and lows. There were some dangerous and nasty characters but there were also others who would stand with you in trouble and still others who would lay down their lives for a friend.

Some practical points:

There are no chapter breaks in this book of 257 pages, but apart from the temptation to keep reading because there were no enforced breaks, it didn’t bother me.
Niland uses colloquialisms and Australian slang, some of them outdated now, that may be a hindrance to some readers - but then maybe not, judging by the international appeal of the book.
Parts of the book may cause offence to some readers . Macauley has many negative things to say about women, police, and Aboriginals, for example. But then, he is angry at just about everyone, even his own child, and has a basic distrust of people in general. However, I think the author has written honestly about the life of an itinerant worker in the early 1900’s in Australia. It wasn’t an easy life and it was a very different generation that had been through an atrocious world war and a world-wide depression. I appreciate books that honestly depict a time period without trying to impose a more modern worldview upon it.

The Shiralee is a true Australian classic but is definitely for a mature or adult audience.
D’Arcy Niland was married to the New Zealand author, Ruth Park, and they lived in Sydney where they raised their five children. She wrote a ballad, an extract of which I found in my copy of The Shiralee pictured above:

The swagman crawls across the plain;
The drought it prowls beside him,
A hundred miles from rim to rim,
And a shadow-stick to guide him.
The crow speaks from the broken branch,
And he replies, delirious;
But in the dark he drinks the dew,
Beneath the stare of Sirius,
And from his shoulder drops the swag,
The shiralee, the tether,
That through the cruel, stumbling day,
Drove all his bones together.
The load too heavy to be borne -
He cursed it in the swelter,
But now unrolls with humble hands
And lies within its shelter.

From 'The Ballad of the Shiralee’ by Ruth Park

If you scroll down this page, there are some lovely photos of Niland with his twin daughters and his wife.

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Handicrafts with Children: Reversible Bunting

We've hosted birthday parties, engagements, baby showers, and other events at our place and a bit of decoration using fabric bunting has helped to pretty things up, especially out of doors. Below is a section of our verandah the girls decorated when we held my daughter's baby shower here last year.

Our second daughter, Zana, is getting married in September. It's an outdoor wedding and she asked her younger sister to make her some bunting to help decorate the venue. Zana chose a tone on tone white fabric & gave us 5 metres (about 5½ yards) of material which was sufficient for 150 double triangles with some fabric left over (about half a metre).
We used the bunting we had to make a diamond-shaped cardboard template.

Moozle traced around the diamond-shaped template and then cut the shapes out. The diamond fabric was then folded in half, wrong sides together, and ironed.

Width of triangle at the top when folded in half - 16 cm (6​ 1/4 in)
Sides - 22 cm (about 8½ in)

Each triangle was sewn with a 1.5cm (½ in) seam across the top - the seam allowance can be adjusted depending on the thickness of the cord you use:

Using a safety pin, cord was threaded through the seam allowance of each triangle

A small stitch sewn on each triangle can help to keep it in place but we left them unstitched so they can be moved apart or brought closer together. 

This is an ideal way to use up scraps of fabric, as you can see from the top photo where this was done. I like the scrappy look, but I think the white will look lovely in a garden setting for a wedding.

Thursday 12 July 2018

Ambleside Online Year 7 Highlights

Year 7 has finished up for the seventh time in our home, although this was only the second time we've used Ambleside Online for Year 7.  As I usually do, I asked my daughter which books were her favourites from this year's work, but I gave her a limit of ten. These are the books she chose:

I read aloud The Brendan Voyage, The Daughter of Time, and All Creatures Great and Small (which we are only half way through. It’s an omnibus edition and isn't scheduled in AO year 7.) She read the others on her own. The Magna Carta was a book we had that I added in - she really enjoyed this. The Daughter of Time and Fallacy Detective sparked a lot of interest, conversation, and ‘that’s a red herring’ type of comment on a regular basis!

As I mentioned, this is the second time we've done AO Year 7, and when I asked my next child up, Benj, who did Year 7 in 2014, what books were highlights for him. These are the books he chose:

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy
Watership Down
The Age of Chivalry
Eric Sloane's Weather Book
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
The Talisman
Hereward the Wake
The Birth of Britain 

They almost have opposite tastes in reading. Ivanhoe, Watership Down, and Eric Sloane's Weather Book were not among Moozle's favourites and she still hasn't read The Talisman because she says she does not like Sir Walter Scott. Actually The Talisman was everyone else's favourite Scott novel.
Moozle loved the science selections but Eric Sloane's Weather Book went above her head at times - it was one of Benj's favourites. He didn't care for The Life of the Spider by Fabre (we have one of the world's deadliest spiders in our area so that probably didn't help) but Moozle got right into it and just about every reading was accompanied by a science journal entry.
However, they both loved The Lord of the Rings trilogy!

This verse from Ecclesiastes, that Charlotte Mason quotes in Volume 6, is very apt:

'In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.'

Ecclesiastes 11:6

One child may imbibe certain ideas from a book, while a different child won't, but we can't predict what ideas will inspire them. Our job is to provide a wide variety of books the same way we would provide food for a scrumptious smorgasbord. I've been quite surprised at some of the books that have been the trigger for ideas; books that I wouldn't have expected to charm them, but they have. Having children who've had almost opposite reactions to books has made this observation even more apparent to me:

Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin...we must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food. Probably he will reject nine-tenths of the ideas we offer, as he makes use of only a small proportion of his bodily food, rejecting the rest. He is an eclectic; he may choose this or that; our business is to supply him with due abundance and variety and his to take what he needs...out of a whole big book he may not get more than half a dozen of those ideas upon which his spirit thrives; and they come in unexpected places and unrecognised forms...

A Philosophy of Education, Pg. 109

I don't think a child has to love a book. They might find it difficult, and we may be tempted to drop it, but there needs to be some books that make them work a bit harder, build some more muscle, or they won't grow. It's not a cruel & unusual punishment to require them to persevere.

Many children are fussy eaters but we don't allow them to just eat junk because that's what they like & it will help avoid conflict for us if we just give them what they desire. If a child is sick or is convalescing, we make allowances by giving them the food they desire, within reason, but a well and healthy child doesn't get the same treatment.
A child may not be ready for some of the ideas presented in a book, but they will seize some of them while others may give them a foretaste that could develop at a later time. Smoked salmon, haloumi, and blue vein cheese might be passed over for other better known foods the first or second time around, but then one day they decide to try them and find they are very moreish. The other thing we need to consider is if overall the material is at a suitable level for them. If every book is difficult, perhaps we need to rethink our choice of books or grade level. 
Something I've made a point of doing this last year is to stretch Moozle's reading so that she's just not reading books with lots of action. She is a good reader but doesn't like slow books. A couple of those books I've mentioned towards the end of this post.

Other Highlights From This Year

In my original plans for Moozle's Year 7, I mentioned we were doing Apologia's Anatomy & Physiology. We finished that and then continued with The Way We Work by David Macaulay. Moozle loves Macaulay's illustrations in this book and I was surprised at how in depth the text is.

This section covered lipids and Macaulay used a number of technical terms that she wasn't familiar with. I found a video on lipids to help out. We'll be continuing with this book in Year 8.

A notebook page 

When my children get to about 15 or 16 years of age, I have them do a Senior First Aid course. In the past I've organised this and opened it up to some other families with older children & it's an intensive 2 day course. A few months ago, a homeschooling friend organised a course that ran over 4 weeks, one afternoon per week. Both Moozle and I did the course (a refresher for me) & I thought that spreading it out over a month was a good way to do it. There is so much information and doing it this way was much easier & left more time to let it all soak in.

Another focus this year was on Natural History Illustration which I wrote about here and here.

Handicrafts - the past few months have been devoted to patchwork and quilting. This is her major project.

Cello - this year she's preparing for the AMEB Grade 7 exam and has also had the opportunity to play in church a few times.

On the family front, the role of Aunty has come very naturally & she is a favourite with her little niece. We're all looking forward to the birth of our son and his wife's first child due in October and the wedding of our second daughter in September.

Some of Moozle's reading this year:

The Refugees by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - 'Quite a good book but the main character behaved stupidly at times. Conan Doyle tends to make the Frenchmen excitable little wimps, while in books like this the Frenchmen always think the English are calm cool and collected, with no emotions whatsoever.' 4 out of 5

Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore - scheduled in AO Year 8 as a free read. 'It took ages to get into the book, rambled on at times, but it was a good story.' 4 out of 5
An illustrated kindle version is here.

The Spy by James Fenimore Cooper - set during the American Revolutionary War and written by an author who lived around that time period. This was Moozle's first book by Cooper and she didn't mind it, but I think she'll appreciate some of his other books a bit more later on. 3 out of 5

Midwinter by John Buchan - a little different to his Richard Hannay series. Midwinter is a tale of the  Jacobite rising set in 1745. John Buchan always gets a good rap in our house. 4½ out of 5:

'The Jacobite army marches on into England and Alastair Maclean, close confident of Charles Edward Stewart, embarks on a secret mission to raise support for the cause in the west. He soon begins to suspect someone close to the Prince is passing information to the Government, but just as he closes in on the traitor his own life is put in danger.'

The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley - this is a series that Moozle has enjoyed for a few years now and she added a couple more to her collection recently. 4½ out of 5.  

I've been thinking about the next year's work and my plan is to cover AO Years 8 & 9 over eighteen months. I have a couple of reasons for this. One is that the school year here in Australia goes from February to December with a fairly long break over Christmas. We've never followed the school terms but I'm finding more and more that our outside activities do. Just about everything shuts down for the school holidays and the Christmas break and we often end up catching up with people during the official school holidays. There's also much less traffic at those times so it's easier to get out and about.
The other reason is so that Moozle isn't straddling two years - she started Year 7 in the middle of last year. At the end of next year she will have completed Year 9 and then she'll start Year 10 at the beginning of the next year...if that makes sense!  Anyhow, that's the plan & I'm looking at the AO schedule here - starting at Week 25, which will take us through to the end of the year and then continuing with this next year. So instead of doing AO Years 7, 8, & 9 in two years, we'll be doing Years 8 & 9 in one and a half years. Clear as mud?

Edited to add our weekly schedule. This is what I've done for many years - give the schedule out at the beginning of the week and let them decide which books to do each day. I check each day to see what's been done and if I find they've gotten a bit lax, I'll give them a list of things I'd like completed. Each of my children has had a preference for certain subjects so I make sure they haven't left things out and if they have, get them to attend to it the first thing the next day. 
They have all tended to like doing a book chapter in one hit & not spreading it out over a week - even the longer reads such as Churchill's Histories.

My original plan for Moozle's Year 7 - I made some modifications especially with Devotional reading and Science. 

Highlights from Term 1

Australian content

Apart from what I mentioned in my original plans, Moozle read & re-read some Australian titles this year. Many of the books I want to use I've either used in earlier years or plan to use later on when she's a little older. I picked up a couple of Nan Chauncy books we didn't haveTiger in the Bush & Tangara and she read those but they were easy for her. 
The Silver Brumby series are some she re-read and enjoyed doing so. They are excellent reading.

I have a page at the top of this blog where I record some of the Australian titles we've read.

My Homeschool
has some options for Australian families that includes assistance for those needing to register with the government.

Tuesday 3 July 2018

Back to the Classics: Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset (1882-1949)

My monthly book club scheduled The Wreath, the first book in Sigrid Undset’s trilogy, Kristin Lavransdatter, for the month of May.
I didn’t have the book and had no idea if it could be read as a stand-alone, so I decided to order the Penguin Classic Deluxe Edition which includes all three titles in the trilogy. I’m thankful I did because The Wreath doesn’t have a satisfying end! Each book deals with a different time in Kristin’s life and The Wreath ends with Kristin’s marriage and the revelation of a secret her mother had kept hidden from Kristin’s father. If you decide to read Kristin L, make sure to get either the book above or the individual books - 'The Wreath,' ‘The Wife,’ and ‘The Cross.’

Kristin Lavransdatter is Sigrid Undset’s most famous work and is set in medieval Norway. It is a saga, the pilgrimage of a woman from childhood to the end of her life, transporting the reader back in time and place to 14th Century Scandinavia. Despite its setting, and the peculiarities of the time period, this story could fit right into our own times. There is nothing new under the sun and time doesn't alter the fact that we all struggle with wrong decisions, weakness of character, and our own wilfulness.

Kristin Lavransdatter was originally written in Norwegian between 1921 and 1923. It was translated into English soon after but the result was considered to be severely flawed with omissions, archaic language, and misunderstandings. The Penguin Classics' Edition is the first unabridged English translation of the trilogy and I found it easy to read - all 1,144 pages of it. The only difficulty I experienced was keeping up with the different Scandinavian names and some vagueness as to what the author meant or implied in a couple of instances but it certainly wasn’t something that marred the story.

Regardless of whether you were wealthy or poor, life was harsh in that northern clime. Lice, plague, feuds, superstition, the bitter cold, were either constant companions or looming threats. I sat by the fire as I read a good part of this book thinking about Kristin getting up from under her pile of skins in the dark to get the fire going for the household. That alone would have been enough to kill me!
The overarching theme of Kristin Lavransdatter is that of actions and consequences - sowing and reaping. Following your heart isn't a recipe for a happy life, despite what we are told.

Kristin was betrothed to a young, steady man named Simon but she asked to go to a cloister for a short time before they married. It was while she was away from home that she met the charismatic and impulsive Erlend and secretly began a relationship with him.

She began looking for evidence that other people, like herself, were not without sin. She paid more attention to gossip, and she took note of all the little things hints around her which indicated that not even the sisters in the convent were completely holy and unworldly.

She deceived her father, persuaded him to break off her betrothal to Simon and he reluctantly agreed to her marrying Erlend. The deception she played upon her father was to haunt her ever afterwards and much of her anguish over her own children was to stem from this act.

The monotonous drone of the waterfalls resonated through her overwrought body and soul. It kept reminding her of something, of a time that was an eternity ago; even back then she realised that she would not have the strength to bear the fate she had chosen for herself. She had laid bare her protected, gentle girl’s life to a ravaging, fleshly love; she had lived in anguish, anguish, anguish ever since - an unfree woman from the first moment she became a mother. She had given herself up to the world in her youth, and the more she squirmed and struggled against the bonds of the world, the more fiercely she felt herself imprisoned and fettered by them. She struggled to protect her sons with wings that were bound by the constraints of earthly care...

But always with that secret, breathless anguish: If things go badly for them, I won’t be able to bear it. And deep in her heart she wailed at the memory of her father and mother. They had borne anguish and sorrow over their children, day after day, until their deaths; they had been able to carry this burden, and it was not because they loved their children any less but because they loved with a better kind of love.

There is much about motherhood in this book. Kristin struggles with hopes and fears in the midst of  her tumultuous relationship with her husband and his influence on their seven sons. Her upbringing was so different to Erlend's and she didn't value the stability and love she grew up with until she became a mother herself. She reflected much on the path she had chosen for herself by following her own desires and rejecting her parent's choices.

Was this how she would see her struggle end? Had she conceived in her womb a flock of restless fledgling hawks that simply lay in her nest, waiting impatiently for the hour when their wings were strong enough to carry them beyond the most distant blue peaks?
...They would take with them bloody threads from the roots of her heart when they flew off, and wouldn’t even know it.

Simon remains on the scene throughout and although he eventually marries twice, he always retains a place for Kristin in his heart. He proves himself a loyal friend and is a contrast in character to Erlend.
Another character who plays a major part in Kristin’s life is Ulf Haldorsson, Erlend’s kinsman. For a while he seemed to be a surly, unreliable sort of character but he turns out to be a true friend of both Kristin and Erlend and has a fatherly relationship with their boys. He loved Kristin but didn't allow his feelings to manifest. They only come to the surface when he confides in a priest many years later.

Undset magnificently portrays the historical events and Norway’s religious climate of those times. The reader feels the bitter cold, smells the smoke of the cooking fires, cringes at the lice ridden beds, and grasps the uncertainty of the political and family feuds.
Although the Christian faith came to Norway in the 9th Century, the old pagan practices arose from time to time. Superstition was still ingrained in people’s minds and became mixed up with religious beliefs. These beliefs tended to surface during such events such as childbirth e.g. it was thought that if a pregnant woman looked upon a burning building her child would be born with a blood-red birthmark.
There is a melancholy feel to the writing which stems partly from the medieval setting and also from the Kristin's emotional turmoil.

She had seen the water from the well back home. It looked so clean and pure when it was in the wooden cups. But her father owned a glass goblet, and when he filled it with water and the sun shone through, the water was muddy and full of impurities.

Her eyes had been open to the fact that after the burdens and toil of a young mother comes a new kind of fear and concern for the aging mother.

Judging by some of the reactions from others who have either read this trilogy, or started and never finished, there is possibly a time of life when reading this epic would be difficult. Maybe it should be read after you’ve weathered a good number of years of marriage, or when your children have grown up; when the reality of life has softened your idealism. I think I may have found it depressing had I read it twenty years ago, but at this stage of my life, I was able to be absorbed in the story without it burdening my thoughts.
On the other hand, Kristin’s choice to follow her heart is a cautionary tale. She knew so little of Erlend to begin with and their relationship which began in haste leaves her repenting in her leisure. Perhaps it is a good book to read prior to entering marriage.....

I glanced over some literary reviews of the book and I thought they were a bit over the top and made the book sound almost R-rated. It was no more like that than something that came from Thomas Hardy’s pen. Madame Bovary was more discomfiting for me than Kristin Lavransdatter. Kristin at least had a brain and a conscience.

Some background context:

Sigrid Undset converted to Catholicism in 1924 after writing Kristin Lavransdatter and received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928, at the age of forty-six, "Principally for her powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages."
She was involved with the Underground during WWII and when the Nazis invaded Norway she fled to the USA travelling by train through Russian and Japan to get there. Undset must have put an enormous amount of research into her writing. Here are some of the people, places & events she mentioned in her trilogy:

The Church in Norway

Some Norwegian history - many of these people were mentioned in Kristin Lavransdatter

Ingeborg of Norway

Magnus IV of Sweden & Norway

Erling Vidkunsson - Norwegian nobleman and regent of Norway

Norway's Black Plague also here

Kristin Lavransdatter is my choice for the Back to the Classics Challenge, 2018  : A Classic in Translation