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It's Raining In Mango : Popular Penguins - Thea Astley

It's Raining In Mango : Popular Penguins

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Published: 28th June 2010
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Wresting his family from the easy living of nineteenth-century Sydney, Cornelius Laffey takes them to northern Queensland where thousands of hopefuls are digging for gold in the mud. They confront the horror of Aboriginal dispossession, and Cornelius is sacked for reporting the slaughter. This is an unforgettable tale of the other side of Australia's heritage.

About the Author

Thea Astley was one of Australia's most respected and acclaimed novelists. Born in Brisbane in 1925, Astley studied arts at the University of Queensland. She held a position as Fellow in Australian Literature at Macquarie University until 1980, when she retired to write full time. In 1989 she was granted an honorary doctorate of letters from the University of Queensland.

She won the Miles Franklin Award four times - in 1962 for The Well Dressed Explorer, in 1965 for The Slow Natives, in 1972 for The Acolyte and in 2000 for Drylands. In 1989 she was award the Patrick White Award. Other awards include 1975 The Age Book of the Year Award for A Kindness Cup, the 1980 James Cook Foundation of Australian Literature Studies Award for Hunting the Wild Pineapple, the 1986 ALS Gold Medal for Beachmasters, the 1988 Steele Rudd Award for It's Raining in Mango, the 1990 NSW Premier's Prize for Reaching Tin River, and the 1996 Age Book of the Year Award and the FAW Australian Unity Award for The Multiple Effects of Rainshadow.

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It's Raining In Mango : Popular Penguins
 
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5.0

Australian writing at it's best

By jillyburger

from sydney

About Me Bookworm

Verified Buyer

Pros

  • Characters come to life
  • Engaging Characters
  • Page Turner
  • Well Written

Cons

    Best Uses

    • Gift
    • Teens To Twilight Years

    Comments about It's Raining In Mango : Popular Penguins:

    this book is a quick read but a great read

    Comment on this review

    Cornelius Laffey had slipped ashore, father told her often enough, from the dinghy of the sailing ship Jeannie Dove, one steamy late March day, onto burning sand in a place that would later be called Bowen. The nothingness appalled him, quite apart from the heat, the man­groves, the flies.

    His soft northern skin, attuned to the Canadian maritime provinces, crisped as if it had been placed on a griddle. He thought momentarily of the grey waterfront of St. John, but flies alone kept him busy. For days the ship's party had been camped offshore on Stone Island, because the mainland natives-foolishly, all the crew agreed-were preventing their landing.

    Stone Island was nothing like the tropical nirvana his dreamy Celtic soul had imagined. His hands were pulpy from trapping fish in reef pools, his feet skinned and bleeding from coral. He was con­vinced of error, of misjudgement. He had celebrated his twenty fourth birthday gutting mackerel hauled from the shallows of the most vir­ulent blue waters he had ever seen. His scaling knife slipped and cut his thumb. Scales clung like spangles. From across the channel came the sound of rifle fire as officious colonisers showed the indigenous people what's what in a ratatat, idiot anticipation of another civil war half a world and half a week away.

    It was 1861.

    That early day in April when the township, cleared of black land­owners, was proclaimed, Cornelius was looking for and expecting a frontier magic he still failed to find a month later. Scowling at the hopeless canvas village that scabbed the bay-line, he resolved his stay would be the shortest. He had come to this new southern land as a journalist, trained for something more than sandflies and heat, he thought aggrievedly. With a yearning affection he recalled his old newspaper offices in St. John.

    He'd brought with him a small Columbian press that had been dumped in its crate outside his tent. Visionary plans for a journal unravelled as his days spent themselves in helping other settlers peg out land, dig storm drains and raise pole frames for the first of the slab-and-tin shanties. More distressing was to watch departing squat­ters riding north and west to select their kingdoms.

    Should he follow?

    At the end of four weeks he managed to bring out a broadsheet, the copy written by candlelight, the type agonisingly hand-set between building bouts in a half-finished shed he had whacked together. The broadsheet was a gossipy farrago of personal encounter and the sort of ferocious political complaint he imagined new settlers expected. He was wrong. They wanted encouragement. They wanted to be amused. His sympathy for the dispossessed blacks infuriated the eighty set­tlers left in town, and someone threatened to horsewhip him.

    Cornelius pulled down his tent, repacked his little press and with the last of his money took passage on a ketch returning to Sydney.

    'That's your grandfather, muttonchopped splendid, the cheeky devil,' Jessica Olive had pointed out to four-year-old Connie, who had been nagging for a face, the photograph album dog-eared, pic­tures spotting with mould from too many Wets, grandfather caught up with after all those years in a magazine clipping of Sydney bohemians her brother had cut out and posted to Jessica Olive when it was too late for forgiveness.

    Found! Sprung! The only non stayer, sprung! Aging in Darlinghurst Road, some one-roomer lodging boxed round him, chilling in his underwear, the family all loyally hoped, when the plane trees dropped their leaves down the length of Hyde Park.

    Look at him.

    Take a good look. A nice face, really, and always a gentleman, George said Jessica Olive said, even when drunk, the Canadian ac­cent thickening but still lilting. It was those toss pot evenings in Bowen started it, father explained to a glue-eyed Connie, those all­night sprees with drunken packers back from an overland stint. Or farewelling those about to go, dragging sticks and bottles across ripple­iron walls to cheer themselves up while they belted out choruses of 'Blow the Man Down.'

    What a training ground!

    Father could still remember dapper Cornelius rolling home along Charlotte Street from the Cradler's Joy, shantying away in a pleasant tenor between the tent rows of Charco Harbour to tuck a little tune, as he put it, into Jessica Olive's next pregnancy.

    Connie flicks over portraits in her half-daze between struggles to rise from the bed, mumbling warnings about Reever and Will. There was something to do with Will. She was more afraid for him than for Reever. She couldn't sort sense from it. Concerned neighbours keep pressing her back with stifling kindness into memories of that an­cestor to whom she had never spoken.

    He's a sepia stranger there, with those other strangers; but this photo, she understood, was taken just after the wedding, grandmother convent-fresh under his arm with five hundred and seventy-two weekly communions behind her and precious little else to come.

    He'd charm the halo off a saint, Jessica Olive had insisted to Connie's small-girl dubious face as she dabbed at those muttonchops with a small damp finger. Or at least make the saint wear it tipped sideways.

    How? the small girl had asked.

    Oh easily, with his songs and his poems and his gallantries. When he sang 'Macushla, ' Connie dear, I used to become quite faint. And Nana would laugh for the girl she once was.

    These words were Cornelius Laffey's last testimony from the one who had known his early manhood best, for he died soon after the clipping unmasked him, and two thousand miles away Jessica Olive, perhaps missing the spleen that had sustained her, followed not long after, as she reached for the breakfast jam.

    'I've come all the way from Canada, halfway across the world to find you,' he'd flattered Jessica Olive, blushing in a Sydney tearoom, her brother watchdogging them both through a screen of manly laugh­ter. It wasn't true, grandmother admitted. He'd come to make his fortune. But he had a way-a poet's way-of inflating the moment. These inflationary processes-summertime lunches in the Botanic Gardens, strolling the windy beachfront at Bondi, horse-and-buggy picnics at Lane Cove-quickly became courting ploys.

    There were single flowers with the emotive force of bombs. There were poems. 'A little trifle, my dear, a little trifle for a nontrifling occasion.' He turned a neat quatrain. 'He's deep,' Jessica Olive's mother had warned. But he wasn't. Jessica Olive was captivated by shallows. Her father, a barrister with a silken Trinity College, Dublin accent beautifully preserved for the colonies, toasted his bum before the fire in their Balmain house and swayed, hands in pockets, to and fro on feet cemented in reality, so used to being paid for opinions he had become socially reluctant.

    'Newspapers!' Jessica Olive's mother nagged over toast, over morning tea, over lunch, over . .. 'A journalist! My dear child, it's too ...'

    Nevertheless, there she was, dear Nana, in a spring cloud of white silk, orange-blossomed, virginal, nestled under the big Canadian shoulder like a white mouse. They moved to Birchgrove when it was fashionable and the Harbour was blue.

    Instantly pregnant, poor Nana, with Aunt Nadine. About whom the family rarely spoke. Connie moans enviously in her half sleep, recall­ing a photograph somewhere of a ringleted puss with one of those heart-stopping mouths so fashionably drooping. Nadine at twelve, two years before she ran away.

    'Where to?'

    A compression of lips.

    'But Nana, couldn't the police. ?'

    'We don't talk about it, Connie. Not to little girls. Not about things like that.' Rocking fifty years of resentment.

    'But Nana!'

    And after Nadine, George. Cornelius smiling, tipsy, down the late­night length of the four-poster, threatening with its rattles.

    Instead of emotional stasis, the birth of a son stimulated wan­derlust, a dream of frontiers. His newspaper was full of longwinded concern about the empty spaces to the north, a region ripe with possibility. There were arguments in the house in Birchgrove, and a Pontius Pilate washing of the hands at Balmain. For three years Cornelius grumbled and agitated and finally managed to persuade Jessica Olive, her will weakened by two miscarriages, that city life was bad for them all.

    Victorious, he swept his family onto the steamship Florence lroing and watched them vomit their seasickness all the way from Sydney to Cooktown.

    'It's a state of mind,' he said.

    'What is?'

    'Vomiting.' And intoned, gloriously Irish, 'Oh this wine-dark sea.' There were lots of Byron, Nana recalled at those moments she was inclined to look on the funny side of things, and snatches of brogue-ridden Ovid.

    'They need newsmen up there,' he had reasoned. 'Correspon­dents. Journals. Exciting times, my dear, and we must be there to catch the excitement.' He thought about Bowen and put the thought quickly aside. 'And there are other things. We'll make our fortunes.' And he waltzed her skittishly between their reeking bunks.

    'It's the gold,' Nana had accused. 'Nothing but that. Haring off, Cornelius, like any mad boy. And with two young children. What about their schooling?'

    'Now there's a touch of nagging, my dear,' Cornelius cautioned. 'This trip alone is a liberal education. And you're wrong about the gold. Can you see me digging, mavourneen, can you? No, we'll find our own gold through honest enterprise.'

    Oh God, Nana had complained to her four-year-old listener, God in heaven he was such a dreamer.

    It had taken them half an hour to fight their way off the Florence lroing, for it was being stormed by longfaced diggers busting to es­cape failed EI Dorados. Clutching the children, jostled by shoving and tussling bodies in a heat beyond belief, Jessica Olive hoped briefly and disloyally that they might be swept back on board and this nonsense for better, for definitely worse, would be over. The township she had glimpsed from the rocking deck was nothing more than a canvas slum of hundreds of tents packed along the waterfront. Then Cornelius, overhearty with adventure, shouldered George, and there was no escape as he thrust his dressy stomach down the gangplank. For ten placatory yards a seaman trundled their cabin bags along the road and then forgot about them. In all this broiler heat boats jostled for anchorage space, men elbowed and punched through a racket of voices, while at one side of the mud road oppressed coolies were being counted out like parcels by Chinese merchants.

    'What colour!' Cornelius whispered admiringly. 'What atmo­sphere!'

    Jessica Olive dabbed at sweat.

    Three thousand diggers were camping in Charlotte Street and along the temporary back roads from the river, and there was Jessica Olive picking her way delicately through slush past makeshift pubs, broth­els, stores and rachitic shanties after the worst season of the year. The children whined and were bitten by flies but Cornelius was inclined to swagger under the jaunty skies, furtively easing the sweat-scarf about his throat, panama tilted rakishly back from his curls. The sky was no bluer than his eyes.

    For a month they lodged at the Empire Hotel, and while JessicaOlive was obsessed with George's yowls and Nadine's whimpers,Cornelius was busily investigating the possibilities of yet anotherbroadsheet in a township that already had two newspapers made for riots and politics, for workers, whingers and bludgers, for purple­ prosed dogmatism and morsels of social snobbery for the better-class people who were already settling the slopes of Grassy Hill. In the end Cornelius channed his way onto the Charco Herald with permission to act as a stringer for a Sydney daily.

    He cut a dash. He drank at French Charley's. There were more than a score of grog shops in town and in his tireless pursuit of copy he drank at them too. Jessica Olive brooded. He interviewed returned packers from Maytown, ships' masters, survivors from the Palmer Road and skinnishes at the Gates. He had a way of fixing his subjects with a richly interested eye, and discovered that generosity with liquor loosened their tongues and liberated fables. Jessica Olive closed her lips tight.

    His silk hat had been abandoned in Sydney. He had three white linen suits, a panama, and a pith helmet. ('There won't be lions!' Jessica Olive suggested. 'Always do it properly, my dear,' Cornelius said, ignoring smiles.) He wrote mood pieces for the Queenslander in velvet prose. Under the skulls of Coongoon and Janell-ganell, whose rocky scarps cast no shadow on his day, he throve as a personality in a town packed with characters. There were parties of unspeakable re­finement at the wealthier settlers' homes, where he strutted doggily while Jessica Olive winced. 'Do sing for us, Mr. Laffey,' heatworn hostesses pleaded, unknowingly twinning the requests of the frolick­ing girls of Charlotte Street, who loved him as much for his good looks, his fruitily slanted vowels, his jokes, and his fatuous habit of quotation as for his stupidity with money. 'Give us a song, love. Go on, there's a dear.'

    '''Trip no farther, pretty sweetings, Journeys end in lovers' meet­ings,'' his rum-moist lips might misquote in some waterfront shanty towards the close of day.

    The girls marvelled under sweat-lank curls.

    'Just a trifle, my dears, a little trifle. 'In delay there lies no plenty, Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty . . .''

    'Oh Mr. Laffey! Naughty!'

    'And you're naughty gals,' he would cry, delighted. 'But terrible pretty, God love us!'

    It was impossible for Jessica Olive not to discover.

    Yet unremittingly he courted her too. That failed smile was a challenge. '''What is love? 'tis not hereafter, ', he would offer her stubborn accusing mouth. And when that failed he would subside into his most succulent brogue. '''0 western wind, when wilt thou blow, That the small rain down can rain? Christ, that my love were in my arms ...', The words might have had him weeping as well, but­ -

    'Go back,' Jessica Olive would suggest angrily from the far side of the bed. 'Go back to Charlotte Street.'

    She persevered through another sopping summer while Nadine and George lugged schoolbags to the new two-room building in the middle of town. She learnt to snub the smiling ladies of Charlotte Street when they waited together at trading store counters. She was waiting for something other - she was not sure what.

    Poor Cornelius. He was never actually unfaithful to Jessica Olive, not in the physical sense. He was simply a verbal philanderer whom the prostitutes fleeced as if they felt lending an ear to be of as much value as any other part of their bodies. Looking for redemption from drudgery, poverty, family responsibility, he'd try any diversion, any. Under the prod of his own bonhomie!

    'Try something else,' Jessica Olive kept nagging. 'Journalism isn't the only thing.' 'I'm not a digger, dear,' Cornelius insisted over the children's nodding heads. 'Not.'

    They were living by now in a box of a house on one of the back streets of Charco. In temperatures of ninety degrees, the rudimentary qualities of wood stove and water-drip canvas safe absorbed much of Jessica Olive's good nature. Her prettiness was being startled into something else.

    'You might be,' she said ambiguously.

    In her restless bed two hundred miles south of Jessica Olive's purgatory Connie is coughing out her amused despair. She calls to sounds in the kitchen, calls her anxiety about Reever, about Will. Or thinks she is calling.

    No one comes. The afternoon emptiness of the house intensifies and settles behind the pad of feet running down the back steps. Her body is crippled with memory.

    That's the packer's dray outside the Sovereign Hotel, just on the point of leaving for the Palmer.

    Overdressed as usual, an adventuring dandy, Cornelius is leaning against the dray. His wife stands under the awning of the Sovereign, a parasol up against morning sun slashing in across the river. Nadine sulks somewhere at the back of the dray, trying to catch the eye, while pretending not, of Toddy the packer, a flashy chap in snowy mole­skins, a scarlet silk shirt and a wide-brimmed Yankee. She's ob­sessed by the Colt revolver at his hip. Ifshe looked more closely, she could catch the glint of a Snider rifle packed carelessly behind the driving seat. Her brother is so excited his nose has blocked with snuffles. One of the men on the upstairs veranda of the Sovereign waves and tosses him a little packet.

    'What's that, George?' Cornelius asks, backing off from the dray where he has rammed Jessica Olive's all-purpose bag. George unwraps the newspaper. Inside there's a lump of washed, gold-flecked quartz. 'That's what you're after, mate!' the man on the veranda yells down.

    Cornelius touches his panama in a gallant way. 'My gold's in my pen, sir.' Jessica Olive quails, lowering her parasol till it cuts off her face from her husband's. 'He's so stupid,' Nadine mutters sulkily, coming up beside. 'Al­ways showing off. Why show off here in this awful town?' 'It helps, I suppose,' her mother says, unexpectedly benign. Per­haps it is the thought of leaving.

    Poor Cornelius. Poor Jessica Olive.

    Maytown will be worse.

    ISBN: 9780143204749
    ISBN-10: 0143204742
    Series: Popular Penguins
    Audience: General
    Format: Paperback
    Language: English
    Number Of Pages: 240
    Published: 28th June 2010
    Dimensions (cm): 18.0 x 11.2  x 1.4
    Weight (kg): 18.0