Thursday, March 30, 2006

Geoffrey Chaucer

I love the blogosphere. There are so many interesting, imaginative, talented people out there.

And now, Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog. Yes, it's in Middle English (of sorts!) but it is well worth it - an absolute hoot!

Fyghten togeder we dide, this valet and ich, in Rethel-toune whanne the Frensshe layde waste to yt to letten the Prince Noir from crossinge, and in the melee we were scatterede from the hoste, and we two dide runne like eye makeupe on a televangelistes wyf.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Mariner's tales

I spent a couple of hours yesterday dallying at the website Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters. This site includes transcripts of crew and passenger lists of ships arriving in Sydney in the latter half of the 19th century. With more than 700 ships a year arriving - from all over the world, including other Australian colonies - it was a busy, bustling port.

The historian in me loves these old records - and so does the novelist! The historian wants to pull the records into a database, so they can be sorted, analysed in an effective way. How often did individual ships make the journey to Sydney? Were crews relatively stable, the same men with the same masters?

The writer in me is constantly inspired - in this case, especially by the glimpses of women. Mrs James, wife of the Oliver Cromwell's captain, Donald James, made two voyages from the UK to Sydney on her husband's ship. James captained the ship for a number of years - are these two journeys that Mrs James made indicative of the early years of a marriage? Did she accompany her husband until she was pregnant with their first child, and afterwards stay at home, only seeing him in the short spaces between long voyages?

A captain's wife is one thing; but I'm also fascinated by mentions of women in the crew lists. They're not common, but they're not as rare as one might expect. Take, for example, Emma Lindsay. She was a crew member of the Salsette, which voyaged from Suez to Sydney three times in 1860. She was 33 years old, and listed as a stewardess - the only female crew member. The Salsette was a steamship of 965 tons, with a large crew - about 60 named crew on each trip, plus 100 or more merely listed as 'Asian'. In 1860, the Salsette docked at Sydney in January, July and October - and Emma is listed as crew each time. Passenger numbers ranged from 16 in January, to 31 in July, to '106 Asians' in October. In Aug 1861, the steamer arrived again, this time from Point de Galle, rather than Suez, and this time Emma is not listed; but there is a new stewardess, J.A. Corbett, aged 23.

What must it have been like, being the only woman in such a masculine environment? How did a youngish woman become a stewardess, and why? I did wonder if it was a euphemism for 'Captain's mistress', but given the way it's listed, in amongst the other crew, I doubt it. I also doubt the position translated to 'ship's whore'; if this was acceptable practice, then I'd expect more than one woman on the occasional ship.

Steam ships were a more luxurious way for passengers to travel, and presumably having a stewardess to assist the female passengers would have made the journey more tolerable for the ladies. In that circumstance, I'd guess that there would need to be at least some degree of propriety around the position in order for it to be acceptable.

I confess I'm fascinated by Emma and others; and yes, I can see a story line or 3! However, I can also see the need for more research - as always!

Update: I spent an hour in the uni library at lunchtime, reading microfilmed old newspapers, and I noticed on several adverts for ships travelling to London from Melbourne that 'a stewardess is on board for attendance on ladies'.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Four things meme

Yes, yes, it's been deathly quiet in here. Work and general life have been way too busy, and the brain cell fused way back a week or two ago.

This meme's been going around, so I figured I'd be lazy and use it as a blog entry.

Four jobs you have had in your life:
1. Pay clerk in a hospital
2. Youth refuge coordinator
3. YMCA manager
4. Organisational development manager

Four movies you would watch over and over:
1. Little Women (the Wynona Rider version, directed by Gillian Armstrong)
2. Shadowlands
Hmm, can't think of any others.

Four places you have lived:
1. near the Dandenongs, east of Melbourne
2. Canberra
3. Glebe, inner Sydney
4. assorted rural places around Armidale

Four TV shows you love to watch:
1. Spooks (called MI5 in the US?)
2. Silent Witness
3. Maccallum
4. Dr Who (the new series)

Four places you have been on vacation:
1. the UK
2. New Zealand
3. Jerusalem
4. New York (long time ago....)

Four websites I visit daily:
1. the Bat Cave at
2. SmartBitchesTrashyBooks
3. Kate Rothwell's blog
4. my bloglines page

Four of my favorite foods: (in no particular order)
1. chocolate
2. a good steak
3. the seafood charentaise at Jean Pierre's restaurant
4. roast lamb cooked with rosemary and honey and baked vegetables

Four places I would rather be right now:
1. here, but settling down for a day of writing instead of running late for work
2. on holiday in some beautiful place
3. accepting a cheque for winning the lottery
4. sleeping

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree...

Living in the bush, we have a fair few kookaburras around our place. If you've never heard a kookaburra's laugh, there's a recording of a pair here.

There are days when hearing one, or two or more kookaburras bursting into their chortle is a wonderful, life-is-good kind of sound.

Then there are days when hearing a group of birds bursting into their cackling right outside the window reminds me more of MacBeth's mad witches, and I know they're laughing at me, not with me.

Today was one of those mornings. Work's been a shit 'challenging' lately, every step forward seems to be followed by either two steps backwards or a stumble, and I'm going to have to work most of the weekend instead of writing. Bleurgh.

However, on the plus side of life, I booked the DH's and my tickets to Perth to see his family in May yesterday, and plans for our outback trip in August are coming along well. That's two trips away with the DH in the space of a few months. I will miss the RWAus conference in August, unfortunately, but two weeks in the outback with the DH and our friends will be great!

Yes, yes, I'm trying to talk myself into being cheerful. Not sure it's working entirely, but at least I haven't whined for the entire post!

And now the kookaburras have gone, and there's only the sweet, simple whistle of a rosella, and I'd better get some work out of the way.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Living history

People often ask me why, with an Honours degree in history, I'm not writing historicals. Well, I probably will, one day, but in the meantime, I'm not because there's waaayyy to much research to do. My problem is that I'm interested in everyday history, in the practicalities of life for ordinary people in earlier times. I don't want to write about lords and ladies, and I don't want to just go along with the Hollywood notions of historical life.

I'm also a spinner and weaver, and every time I'm reading an historical and a hapless heroine gets stranded in a castle/fort/cottage after being drenched in a thunderstorm, and someone produces a garment, I think - 'oh, yes, and where did that come from, huh?'. While occasionally a book will refer to peasants/villagers/trades people weaving or spinning, I've never yet come across a heroine who picks up a spindle or winds a warp. Nor does anyone much seem to worry about the seasons, the planting, harvesting, grinding, retting, etc, or what produce is available for the table when, or the phases of the moon and whether it's light enough outside at night - all of which were integral to survival in times not so long ago.

Anyway, at Easter I'm going to be getting some real-life practice at medieval life. The local medieval arts society holds a camp every second year at the pine forest outside town, complete with a long house, and people come from all over Australia to camp in authentic Dark Ages/Viking style. I've visited once before to demonstrate spinning with a drop spindle, but this year, a friend and I are making a warp-weighted loom, so I'll be spending a couple of days in the long house weaving on that. Which means I've got only a few weeks to work out how exactly to warp a warp-weighted loom - it's more complicated than the 'modern', 1000 year-old loom types I'm more used to working with.

And I'm sure that spending a couple of days with plenty of young, energetic warriors around will give me a story idea or two... ;-)

Belfry blog day

I blogged over at The Belfry today.

I also put some photos up on my photoblog last night.

At some stage, I may even post something here...