3 March 2022

The Canberra Bookshelf: paintings, pioneering tales and muddy puddles full of frogs

| Barbie Robinson
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Deanna Copeland on cover of book 'Reluctant Pioneer'

Deanna Copeland’s Reluctant Pioneer draws on her family history. Image: Supplied.

As I write, Canberra is in the fourth week of our 2021 COVID-19 lockdown but at least spring is upon us. There may not be Floriade or Nightfest to cheer us, but at least now the gardens are blossom-scented and bulbs are popping up everywhere.

Also, cheeringly for those of us who can manage to buy some books for solace and joy, bookstore owners are now once again allowed on their premises and can post stock to us, or we can click and collect.

This month, a departure from my usual practice of only talking about books already available because I want to alert you to an upcoming publication due for launch in December 2021 at The Street Theatre. It’s a biography of Canberra theatre identity David Branson, written by Joel Swadling. Keep an eye on The Street website for news of this closer to the time.

The author has undertaken extensive research as well as having a hand in sorting David’s vast store of files at the Heritage Library.

I recorded a chat with Joel about this multi-year project and suggest that people with an interest in Canberra’s cultural history put this event in their diaries, crossing fingers that live events will once again be possible by December.

Meanwhile, you can look up David’s background here.

Cover of book 'The Painting'

The Painting by Alison Booth. Image: Supplied.

If you fancy some superb 20th century European-focused historical fiction for lockdown reading, I thoroughly recommend Alison Booth’s The Painting (RedDoor Press, UK, 2021). This is a fine piece of literary fiction; its plot deftly constructed to snare the reader, its characters instantly intriguing, and its themes challenging and thought-provoking.

Alison has chosen post-war Hungary as her European story site, contrasting it with Sydney of the 1980s as her heroine, Anika, flees the oppressive regime to live with her émigré aunt and take up part-time architecture studies.

The story takes us up to the time of Hungary’s ‘reopening’ with an art theft mystery, tangled family relationships, the long-binding trauma of oppressive regimes, and the eternal plight of the migrant, never home in one place or the other, at its core.

Alison writes beautifully – do not be fooled by the ease of reading this work as it’s clever and elegant writing.

Local visual artist Deanna Copeland has self-published two works of fiction. The first, Reluctant Pioneer (Australia, 2016, 2019 and 2020) draws on the experiences of her mother and, to a lesser extent, her father, who came together to Australia from England in the late 1940s and worked on a rural property. The plot is held together by an enduring love story and the saga of the challenges of its heroine’s life on the land in the 1950s.

The author has included many actual events of the day in her tale and tackles a number of important social issues, but essentially it is a homage to the grit and perseverance of her mother and women like her, and a song of praise to the Australian landscape in all its beauty and terror.

Cover of book 'A Land of Muddy Puddles'

A Land of Muddy Puddles by Jennifer Bardsley and Mez Thomas. Image: Supplied.

Parents back to home schooling and home childcaring will no doubt be happy to see the publication of plenty of new kids’ books by local writers. Two particularly happy books for littlies this month are A Land of Muddy Puddles by Jennifer Bardsley and Mez Thomas (Bardsley Books, Canberra, 2021), and All Dogs Bark by Catherine Meatheringham and Deb Hudson (Windy Hollow Books, Australia, 2021).

While we cannot travel overseas, in the latter book we can enjoy a collection of onomatopoeic barking words from around the world. The pleasure so many people have in their relationships with their doggy friends is cheerily depicted in this picture book, one that will surely be added to many home and school bookshelves.

A Land of Muddy Puddles reminds us of the simple joys of childhood – splashing about in garden puddles, delighting in the flowers and frogs, and coming in for hot drinks and blanket-wrapped daytime sleeps. Told in the voice of a small boy, the book recounts the excitement of a day at home with his dad – reminding us that if we have a garden, we really need very little else to find happiness.

Barbie Robinson is co-founder and a content creator for Living Arts Canberra, a not-for-profit media outfit supporting arts and community in the Canberra region, and books worldwide through its website, podcast interviews and a 24/7 internet radio station at Living Arts Canberra.

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