Granny's Good Reads 

Sonia Lee is one of our most treasured customers and a voracious reader.

May 2020

 - Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Mrs Delany: A Life by Clarissa Campbell Orr is a delightful book—beautifully produced and with a stunning cover—about Mary (née Granville) Delany, the 18th-century English  gentlewoman who, at the age of seventy-two, invented a new art form. One afternoon when a sore foot prevented her from walking, Mary picked up her scissors and cut out pieces of coloured paper, which she then stuck on to black paper with flour-and-water paste to imitate the flower on her desk. Over the next seventeen years she made almost a thousand of her ‘flower mosaics’, neatly arranging them in the albums which are now one of the British Museum’s favourite exhibitions. Mary called her art ‘frippery’, but its admirers, who included the Duchess of Portland and Queen Charlotte, thought more favourably of it. The flowers in the duchess’s magnificent Bulstrode gardens in Buckinghamshire had been Mary’s early inspiration, and when the duchess died King George III gave her a grace and favour residence at Windsor and a pension of £300. Mary’s life is every bit as interesting as her art. Her sister said that she was born to ‘cheer as well as charm’ and she needed all her cheer and charm when, in a fruitless attempt by her uncle to shore up the Granville family’s fortunes, she was disastrously married off, at the tender age of seventeen, to Alexander Pendarves, a sixty-year-old Tory M.P. who died six years later without updating his will in her favour. After this sobering event Mary stayed resolutely single for twenty years, despite receiving at least eight proposals of marriage. She nevertheless had many platonic friendships with men such as John Wesley, Jonathan Swift and Horace Walpole, while Sir Joseph Banks gave her flowers to copy. Finally, when she was safely over forty, she accepted the marriage proposal of an Irish clergyman named Patrick Delany, with whom she got on a treat and was very happy. It was four years after Patrick’s death when she picked up those scissors and bequeathed us her Flora Delanica. While this is not the first time that Mrs Delany’s paper flowers have been celebrated in print, Clarissa Campbell Orr’s beautifully illustrated volume is a winner. Readers may also like The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock which shows many of the flower mosaics.

Anne Scrimgeour’s On Red Earth Walking (Monash U.P) tells the story of the Pilbara aboriginal strike in Western Australia from 1946 to 1949 and will, I hope, make your blood boil. Today, surely, it must defy comprehension that, even in the 1940s, aboriginal men could be forced to work for pastoralists for a pittance—a few shillings plus a bag of tea and sugar, some bread and a few morsels of meat, while their wives worked for nothing in the station homestead. Those who tried to move, even to other stations, were brought back to their employers by the police. According to many of the pastoralists, the ‘natives’ were useless, one white man being worth ten of them, but when these ‘useless’ employees  withdrew their labour and set up camps at the Twelve Mile and near the Moolyella tin mines, pastoralists urged the police and the Native Affairs Department to use all methods, no matter what, to bring them back. Encouraged by Don McLeod, one of their white supporters, they asked for better employment conditions or, preferably, a pastoral lease of their own. The response of the government was to gaol McLeod and the strike leaders, call the strikers ‘communists’, and threaten them with removal to a place of confinement. Although, within the memories of some of the strikers, such disputes would once have been ‘settled’ at gunpoint, the pastoralists now hoped to succeed by intimidation and threats of removal. Shortly afterwards, matters improved somewhat when officials who had been commissioners in New Guinea were appointed to WA’s Native Affairs Department: they were horrified by the racism they witnessed and the pitiful conditions of many of the Aboriginal people. Even so, seventeen strikers were removed at gunpoint in 1949 and made to walk twelve miles in chains. This came to the attention of the Anti-Slavery Society in London, and the Seamens’ Union threatened to ban the export of wool if such inhumane measures were again resorted to. One vivid memory I take from this book is of a school, built from tin cans and with logs for seats, which Tom Sampie, an Aboriginal man with some limited education, ran for four years at the Twelve Mile. Sampie’s requests for correspondence courses and books were denied.

Another recent Monash book is Gene Bawden’s Comfort and Judgment, which is all about 19th century Melburnian house furnishings. Bawden cites books by W H Rocke, Harriet Wicken and Wilhelmina Rawson. These three authors wrote, respectively, for the gold-fuelled upper class, those middle-class types who wanted a ‘good room’, done up to the nines that no one ever used, and bush-dwellers, who had to knock up their furnishings from whatever came to hand. The photographs are fascinating, of rooms crammed with furniture, and paintings by Minnie (a-Beckett) Boyd.