“Reminiscences”: A New Look at an Old Document by Richard Carroll

Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of Early Queensland, written by his daughter Constance, provides detailed accounts of many aspects of Aboriginal culture and relates the experiences and adventures of Tom and his family from the 1830s to the 1860s. Reminiscences first appeared in serial form in the Queenslander from 26 April 1902 to 7 August 1903, though not in its entirety; it was published in book form in 1904. For a work that is extensively cited and recognised as an authority on Aboriginal and settler history in southeast Queensland, Reminiscences has attracted little critical analysis apart from Mark Cryle’s Introduction to the 1992 edition.

Reminiscences is a mix of several genres, including autobiography, biography, ethnology and anecdote, all of which rely on oral evidence. In 1905, A. G. Stevens called it “one of the most interesting and valuable books yet printed in Australia.” While it is an important historical document it contains elements of the colonial adventure romance. Reminiscences portrays a drama of the brave, enterprising settler/pioneer struggling to make a life for himself on a violent frontier. The story reinforces the positive image of a humanitarian, larrikin ancestor/colonist against the backdrop of a wild and savage land, perhaps satisfying the urge to recognise that which is best in ourselves in our “glorious” past.

Whether or not Reminiscences is accurate in every aspect, it has been accepted and lauded as an authentic account of life in early Brisbane. It was one of many memoirs of this type, written by squatters in their later years. W. H. Wilde and David Headon state in The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature that:

“the stream of memoirs and reminiscences continued undiminished in the second  half of the nineteenth century. The writers, usually erstwhile squatters,          government officials and public figures, reflected, often from heightened imagination of their twilight years, on the lively colonial times they had lived through.”

According to Cryle, Reminiscences is important as a source because it is impartial and tells the past as Petrie saw it, and that “Petrie offers a rare glimpse—a ‘non-official’ perspective with no vested interest in reporting what ought to have happened. Rather it relates what did happen.” Perhaps one of the strongest declarations in Reminiscence’s favour was made by F. W. S. Cumbrae-Stewart in the Presidential Address he delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Historical Society of Queensland in 1918: “Mr Petrie’s book consists of two parts, the first of which relates to the blacks of Moreton Bay. On this subject it is the authority. No one knew more about the native inhabitant of this country than Thomas Petrie, or was on better terms with them.” As a historical source, Reminiscences is cited extensively in The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane (1992) by Dimity Dornan and Denis Cryle and appears in the Select Bibliography of The Commissariat Store (2001) by Tania Cleary and published by the Royal Historical Society of Queensland. However, it ranks no mention in historian Raymond Evans’ A History of Queensland (2007).

Constance’s inclusion of her own research, such as in the form of botanical names of plants, enhanced the perception of Reminiscences as being written in the scientific mode, thereby increasing its perceived authority and authenticity. An example of this appears on page 107 of Reminiscences: “Other dillies were made from bark-string, such as that of the ‘ngoa-nga’ (Moreton Bay fig-tree), the ‘braggain’ (Laportea sp.), the ‘nannam’ vine (Malaisia tortuosa), and the ‘cotton bush’ or ‘talwalpin’ (Hibiscus tiliaceus), found on the beach at Wynnum or elsewhere.”

Tom & Constance

Constance paints a picture of her father as a benevolent “master” or “brother” to the Turrbal who supposedly adored him, and he reveals himself to be a mischievous type who enjoyed sharing stories and jokes. Seen through Constance’s eyes, her father is a hero, an almost mythical personage she has constructed from the stories he had told her since her birth. To be sure, Constance was never going to write anything that would bring disrepute on her family; on the contrary, Reminiscences was written to reinforce the public image of the Petries, especially her father, as paragons of virtue and great pioneering heroes in Queensland’s history. Reminiscences is a collection of narratives, many of which were passed on to Tom by convicts, squatters and Aboriginal people.

Arguably the greatest acclaim for Tom Petrie and Reminiscences comes from Maroochy Barambah, Turrbal songwoman and law-woman, a direct descendant of Kulkarawa, whom Tom knew and mentions in the book. In her speech at the unveiling of the Tom Petrie Memorial in Petrie in 2010, she acknowledged the value of Tom’s accounts of the Turrbal people and his experience of them as “one of the most invaluable sources of information about life in the Moreton Bay penal colony.”

Beyond upholding the Petrie reputation, one of the principal reasons Tom and Constance wrote Reminiscences was to defend the Aboriginal people by providing justifications for their behaviour and to refute their portrayal as a treacherous and barbaric race. One example of this is when Constance presents a long dialogue between Dalaipi, the epitome of the “Noble Savage” who has refused the temptations offered by the whites, and Tom (182/83):

“Before the whitefellow came,” Dalaipi said, “we wore no dress, but knew no shame, and were all free and happy; there was plenty to eat, and it was a pleasure to hunt for food. Then when the white man came among us, we were hunted from our ground, shot, poisoned, and had our daughters, sisters, and wives taken from us. Could you blame us if we killed the white man? If we had done likewise to them, would they not have murdered us?”

Reminiscences was written at a time of a decline in fortune for Tom and his family due mainly to drought, and must have produced sorely-needed income. The book was the catalyst for the recognition Constance sought for her father and which came about when Governor William MacGregor unveiled a monument to honour Tom’s deeds in 1911, the year after his death. The ceremony was accompanied by the change of name of the community from North Pine to Petrie. Unfortunately, this decision sparked controversy and opposition from the local population for many years after the event and was one factor that ultimately led to Constance’s decline in health and her incarceration in the Goodna Asylum where she died in 1924, her father’s greatest defender.

“WHITE GHOSTS” By Richard Carroll – A review by Tony Cole

I have just finished reading this book by a local writer and I am happy to say that I enjoyed it enormously, and also that it gave me a lot of food for thought about how the European occupation of this country was managed and Queensland came to be the place it is.

At its root, this is historical fiction based on the lives of a real local family, the Petrie family, but as they were a very significant part of the history of this part of Queensland and were also very closely involved with the Aboriginal people of the area, it is also a history of Queensland, and more significantly, Brisbane.

The story is told through the experiences of a rich cast of characters starting with the first convicts to be sent here until the end of the first world war, so it is a huge canvas that Richard uses, and in fact it is a pretty large book as well.   But he manages his story remarkably well, and it remains spellbinding right up to the last page and our sympathies with the various characters, both European and Aboriginal, remain to the very end.

The characterisation of these people, mostly actually real people, is intriguing and for my part, I found that I cared about them all, both evil and “normal”, to the end of the book, and as an Englishman who obviously didn’t grow up in Australia, it gave me a much better insight into why things are as they are here – so a useful book on a number of fronts.

White Ghosts deals unflinchingly with the horrible way that both the convicts and the Aboriginal people were treated by their masters, and gave me a much better understanding of the horrors of both colonialism and the idea that you can create a functioning country by means of convicting your poorest people and sending them there.

Altogether an intriguing and highly readable book, that held my attention till the very last page, and left me in a thoughtful state as I mulled over in my mind the many points it made about the events that happened here over the last couple of hundred years.

So I can recommend it unreservedly as an enjoyable read, a way to discover a large chunk of local history and to give you a better understanding of the relationships which we all have with the land and each other.

White Ghosts is a book that should be read and thought about by everyone in Oz.


Selected Stories, by Mary Mageau – Reviewed by Tony Cole

Mary Mageau, a well-known local writer, has just brought out a collection of her short stories, under the title Selected Stories which I have just read with pleasure.

The stories that Mary has included in this book range over a very wide range of styles and content, from a short novella to a collection of extremely short stories, some only 50 words long, some being happy and some being sad, and all in one way or another intriguing and enjoyable.

Mary also uses the entire world as an inspiration for her writing, these stories deal with just about the whole world, some being about people living in the USA, and others about natives of Eritrea or Scotland, or, reasonably enough, Australia – but what stands out about them all, is that they are centered on people, and their experiences in living, so one comes away from reading this collection of stories even more convinced of the common humanity of us all, no matter where and when we live.

What I also took from this collection of writings was how thoughtful Mary is and her very light touch in dealing with serious matters – she never becomes ponderous even when her characters are embroiled in huge problems in their lives.

So, without hesitation I can happily recommend this collection of stories to you, thoughtful, insightful and probably the most important of all, thoroughly enjoyable. In fact my only complaint about this book is that it is too short – I would have been happy if it had been twice as long!
We have a copy in our library, which you are most welcome to borrow, but I would actually recommend that you go out and buy yourself a copy, as these stories are the sort that grow on you.

You can buy it in ebook format at Amazon by following this link: Amazon
Or from Lulu by following this link: Lulu

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Review by Richard Carroll

In Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko writes from the perspective of an Indigenous American and explores the theme of change as a necessity for continuity and survival. Indigenous people acknowledge that humans are different from other forms of life. However, Silko says: “Yet we are all from the same source: the awareness never deteriorated into Cartesian duality, cutting off the human from the natural world.”

Ceremony is a story of a man and his people seeking a place in the turbulent world. Silko weaves a powerful tale of survival, her words colour the pages, you can sense her love for everything she describes with such exquisite beauty. Throughout Ceremony, Silko imbues the pages with constant descriptions of the country and the elements, which are at the heart of what the Indians are:

The wind was practicing with small gusts of hot air that fluttered the leaves on the elm tree in the yard. The wind was warming up for the afternoon, and within a few hours the sky over the valley would be dense with red dust, and along the ground the wind would catch waves of reddish sand and make them race across the dry red clay flats.

According to the character Josiah, a native American: “This is where we come from, see. This sand, this stone, these trees, the vines, all the wildflowers. This earth keeps us going.” With simple words, Silko succeeds in putting the reader in the landscape, while also awakening us to a sense of its spiritual content. The Western definition of “landscape” underlines the separateness of humans and nature; the land is seen as a view or vista of scenery, which humans can improve through adornment and contouring. Silko manages to suffuse tragedy with hope – as long as the land is there and we respect it, there is hope, because the land belongs to no-one, we belong to it. Through Betonie, Silko contrasts the way white people and the Indians see the land: “They only fool themselves when they think it is theirs. The deeds and papers don’t mean anything. It is the people who belong to the mountain”.

Tayo’s journey allows Silko to show the role stories and ritual play in traditional Indian life. The book highlights the Indian/white-man polarity, depicting Westerners as victims as much as the Indians – the witchery has embroiled them all; the whites are on a path towards oblivion because they do not respect the land nor the animals and plants they take or destroy without thanks. But they suffer the pain of knowing that their wealth is based on theft of a land that belonged to others:

It was the white people who had nothing; it was the white people who were suffering as thieves do, never able to forget that their pride was wrapped in something stolen, something that had never been, and could never be, theirs.

Yet, humans continue to consume the earth in a process of mindless self-destruction. The white god is money and possessions, we always want more. We are into having instead of being within the world, we stand apart from it, at a distance from its centre and consequently from our inner self. The Australian Aborigines believe that “those who destroy their country destroy themselves.”

Right from the start of Ceremony, Tayo senses his connection to the land and disagrees strongly with Emo when he says “’Look what is here for us. Look. Here’s the Indians’ mother earth! Old dried-up thing!”  This outburst from Emo made Tayo angry and highlights the way many Indians no longer relate to their traditions – they have lost touch with an essential part of their nature in their pursuit of the white way of life. Tayo’s healing process through immersion in the natural world symbolises the healing needed in the greater Indian community, which has to embrace their traditional culture to survive.

The cultural conflict between whites and Indians is etched in the story of the spotted cattle. Josiah wanted Ulibarri’s cattle because they “were descendants of generations of desert cattle” and were thus better adapted to the harsh local conditions. Josiah goes on to say: “See, I’m not going to make the mistake other guys made, buying those Hereford, white-face cattle. If it’s going to be a drought these next few years, then we need some special breed of cattle”. Josiah rejects the scientific books on cattle breeding which were “written by white people who did not think about drought or winter blizzards or dry thistles, which the cattle had to live with.”

Silko has Betonie explain to Tayo the necessity of adapting ceremonies (which have been changing anyway) if the Indians are to survive:

But long ago when the people were given these ceremonies, the changing began, if only in the aging of the yellow gourd rattle or the shrinking of the skin around the eagle’s claw, if only in the different voices from generation to generation, singing the chants… I have made changes in the rituals. The people mistrust this greatly, but only this growth keeps the ceremonies strong.

If the Indians succumb to the witchery which would have them keep the ceremonies unchanged, Betonie says that “the people will be no more.”  

Angela’s Reviews

Christmas at the Beach Cafe by Lucy Diamond

This is pure poolside/ rainy afternoon fodder. Not difficult to read and lovely characters – set in an off-beat place that leaves you feeling happy and content.

Evie has inherited her aunt’s beach-side cafe in some lonely spot in the UK.  The story follows the compilation of a recipe book: some of her aunt’s recipes, some from other sources. 

There are some real laugh-out-loud moments, and lots of warm fuzzy moments too. The Chocolate Log Recipe is fantastic – I made it over the Christmas break.

I read this in an e-book but I did copy the recipes into my recipe folder. I love a book that leaves you with something tangible.

Singularity by Bill DeSmedt

This book is essentially a thriller set in contemporary times.

Throwing together some global warming – some,  let’s say “dodgy” but plausible-in-theory physics, a beautiful girl, a ruggedly handsome bloke, a luxury super yacht – and it’s basically James Bond and his chick against the forces of evil.

But it is well written – the moments when they are somewhere where they shouldn’t be are described so well that you feel nervous for them and if you are like me you read faster – lol.

It won’t win a prize but it’s a great story with a really innovative premise at its core.

Maybe not a poolside book but if you love the Ludlum/LeCarre style you will enjoy this.

The Sisters by Kate Forster

Not a literary classic by any means but a thoroughly enjoyable feel good storyline with some laugh out loud moments.

Basically the sort of three sisters: the spoiled brat, the aloof one, and the hard working conscientious one. Enter family upheaval and what ensues is a delightful tale about adults growing up.

The characters are interesting and engaging but there is no real depth to either them or this book; it’s just a great read, the perfect escape from a frantically busy work week or that mountain of ironing.

Warrior by Libby Connors

Review by Richard Carroll

Connor’s work is a significant contribution to this state’s historical record and while non-fiction may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I can thoroughly recommend Warrior if you are an amateur of Australia’s past and the “non-war” the Aboriginal people waged against the invaders of their country.

Connors explains how the different tribal groups of South-east Queensland interacted and reacted to the white presence on their lands. She points out that British policy was to treat the Indigenous people as citizens of the empire and therefore subject to colonial law. However, the majority of politicians, bureaucrats and ordinary citizens were incapable of recognising, let alone understanding, that the native peoples had their own system of traditional law with all-encompassing guidelines that had to be followed. Neither could the Aboriginal people understand the whites who came unbidden to their lands, an unthinkable breach of etiquette under Indigenous law.

With the closing of the penal colony and the opening of Brisbane to the general public in 1842 came an influx of new settlers which led to an increase in conflicts between the opposing factors. Dundalli, the central figure in Warrior, was a Dalla man from the Blackall Range inland from the Sunshine Coast. He was a lawman given the task of resisting the invaders and organising payback for crimes committed by the whites against his people. The notion of payback is central to Aboriginal thinking as it preserves the carefully constructed balance of their culture and society. If harmony is not restored through an act of retribution, the door to chaos and the disintegration of their way of life is thrown open.

Connors skilfully outlines Aboriginal and white politics, highlighting the conflicts between the different Aboriginal groups themselves and how this led to certain tribes using the whites to punish their traditional enemies. Dundalli was a big, powerful man greatly feared by both the whites and the Brisbane Aboriginal people – it was a member of this last group who eventually betrayed Dundalli to the police. Dundalli, a hero to the Aboriginal people to the north of Brisbane, was arrested and imprisoned for six months before being brought to trial. Evidence of a dubious nature was presented and deemed enough to sentence him to death. He was hung in Queen St where the GPO stands today, exhorting his people to exact revenge on the man who denounced him.

Life on Queensland’s early frontier was fraught with uncertainty and danger, fear and violence. Connors has done a wonderful job of unravelling the complexities and nuances of the white invasion and Aboriginal resistance, the writing is fluent, the narrative compelling.

A Review Of Isabel Allende’s “The Japanese Lover”

Our resident book reviewer (Angela Galvin) has just given us several book reviews, so the start the ball rolling, here is the first of them.

The Japanese Lover, By Isabel Allende – A Review

I spent a lot of my adult years not reading anything written by women because the stuff I had read lacked depth and colour – or if they had depth and colour they waffled on and lived there instead of getting on with the story. Then someone gifted me a copy of ‘A Portrait in Sepia” and my mind was changed for ever.

Keeping the descriptions of people and places tight and in small chunks then moving effortlessly through the narrative to the next snippet – so you build a complete picture over the course of the book – is Allende’s particular genius for me.

This is another wonderfully compelling story by Allende. A historical account of two families through the turbulent pre and post-World War ll years, the story of a young woman coming to terms with a dark past, three love stories and a brutal poignant account of old age.

I couldn’t put this one down and read it over two nights. The characters are contemporary and believable, the setting is beautifully described and the story is a gem. Keeping the descriptions of people and places tight and in small chunks then moving effortlessly through the narrative to the next snippet so you build a complete picture over the course of the book is Allende’s particular genius for me.

Vanity Fair – Book Review By Angela Galvin.

Our resident book reviewer – Angela Galvin, has just given us a review of an old, but much loved book, Vanity Fair by the splendidly named author, William Makepeace Thackeray.

Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

Spurred on by the recent miniseries of this book I decided to read it again after many, many years. I remember thinking the first time I read it ( I might have been 17?) that I didn’t think very much of it. 

First up I read this over Christmas where I read lots of simple “Feel
Good”  novels with bright covers and simple stories, or engaging spy thrillers, and the odd biography – none of which have overly effusive prose.

William Makepeace Thackeray – wow – getting used to your writing style and the language took literally chapters for me.  Fortunately I had seen the first installment of the television miniseries so I got the gist of it pretty quickly.  

Funny thing I actually didn’t recall any of the story from my first reading – maybe at 17 I just couldn’t be bothered deciphering it. 

Once you get passed the weird spelling – the story is quite a lark. The main character Miss Sharp is both likeable and revolting.   

You can’t help thinking that WMT was the Monty Python of his day – poking fun at all the institutions and class structure – while writing a book to appeal to those very people. 

If you haven’t read it it’s worth a couple of hours.  

My favourite author, Sebastian Faulks. Margie Riley.

Photograph: Martin Godwin

An adored aunt, an avid reader, recommended Birdsong to me; my copy was printed in 1994. Once I had read it (and I’ve re-read a number of times) I was hooked. The only one of Faulks’ books I haven’t enjoyed as much as the others is Girl at the Lion D’Or; I seem to remember it lacked as much punch (a flimsy protagonist perhaps?) as the others. I need to re-read it as I suspect I was endowing the girl with more sophistication than she had.

I went searching for my copy of The Fatal Englishman; alas alack, I cannot locate it! The book is, though, a trilogy of the stories of three young men who died young; it is poignant. Faulks manages to get right into the heart of his subjects and his ability to weave meaningful and exquisite tales around them is, for me, the epitome of literature.

The human condition seems to drive his writing. He writes about war, anguish, love, betrayal, reconciliation and is fascinated by the establishment of psychiatry and psychotherapy (Human Traces). His research is wonderful and his ability to live in other times — thus bringing them to life for us — is admirable. I have yet to catch up with a couple of his more recent releases. Shame on me. He wrote in the style of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, for that author’s centenary and it’s wonderful (Devil May Care).

Do not, please, watch the television version of Birdsong. Despite starring the talented Eddie Redmayne, it made a dog’s breakfast of the story. I understand there has been a recent project to film the book and Faulks said he was pleased with it, diplomatically side-stepping comments on the TV version!

I have a signed copy of A Possible Life. It’s coming with me when I step off the planet!

Check him out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sebastian_Faulks

A Free eBook Offer “For the Love of Trees” Mary Mageau

A free ebook offer from one of our main contributing writers, Mary Mageau. If this brief introduction to her book on trees intrigues you, please follow the link at the bottom of the text to obtain the actual ebook.


For The Love Of Trees

So many people love and enjoy trees. Dame Judi Dench has recently narrated a BBC documentary, “My Passion for Trees,” and Queen Elizabeth launched a landmark Commonwealth Canopy project. During the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2015, the Queen made her appeal to all 53 Commonwealth nations – to contribute areas of indigenous forests to be preserved in perpetuity. This aim will eventually link all Commonwealth countries in a canopy of sustainable forest conservation for future generations. Since then, 35 Commonwealth countries have dedicated forestry projects or are planting new forests. What a wonderful initiative this has become for the future benefit of all humanity!

For years I have studied, written about, and photographed numerous trees. Recently my short eBook, “For the Love of Trees,” has been published by naturewriting.com, one of the premier nature websites in the USA. Its editor has created a dedicated page wherein the book can be offered to a global audience. Click on this link: https://naturewriting.com/for-the-love-of-trees/ and scroll to the bottom of the page. Another link will open the PDF file that will allow you to read, download, or print my book. This is a free offer and I hope you will enjoy its contents.

Mary Mageau © 2019

If you are not happy reading ebooks in PDF format, you can always download and install the free ebook management program (click here), which will enable you to easily convert the PDF file to any of the standard ereader file formats.

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