Monday, August 27, 2012

Making friends with Dorothy

I love the backhanded compliment, reportedly made by a National Times reviewer on reading the 1967 play This Old Man Comes Rolling Home: “Surely management must recognize here, for God’s sake, is a writer – even if a woman’.
The play’s writer – most assuredly a woman – was Dorothy Hewett, whom I’m afraid to admit I’d never heard of until a couple of weeks ago.
Last week I reviewed a cabaret-style conglomeration of her work called Miss Hewett’s Shenanigans, so I did some digging beforehand – and I was so intrigued (and confused) by the performance that I did even more afterwards. It was presented to mark the 10th anniversary of her death, but was originally performed in 1975 when she was so alive that she even made a cameo appearance onstage. Which must have blurred the lines between autobiography and fiction even more, as the main character of each (seemingly unrelated) scene is a blonde, outspoken, melodramatic woman with a large bust and even larger love of life. And sex.
A quick squiz at any photo of Miss Hewett, and a glance through her wikibiography, quickly reveals the similarities.
Dorothy in Perth in 1972

But Dorothy Coade Hewett (21 May 1923 –25 Aug ’02) was more than just a playwright.
·      Brought up on a remote Western Australian sheep farm, she was home-schooled and had her first poem published at nine.
·      Later educated by nuns, she was atheist all her life.
·      A member of the communist party of Australia, she is one of the few Australian writers to have been translated into Russian during the Cold War, but later resigned in disgust over the Soviet suppression of the 1968 Czech uprising.
·      First married to a communist lawyer Lloyd Davies, whom she met at university in Perth, she left him for a Sydney boilermaker called Les Flood (seriously!), with whom life was such a struggle (they had three sons) that she had no time to write. However, her experiences inspired much of her later work.
·      Lloyd Davies later sued her (successfully) for libel over a collection of poems and two plays she wrote; they still cannot be performed in WA.
·      Her third marriage was finally happy and she had two daughters with Merv Lilley.
·      Her autobiography, Wild Card (1990) apparently deals with her lifelong quest for sexual freedom, which might explain the three marriages.
·      As well as bringing up six children (her first died aged 3 from leukaemia) and writing prolifically, her jobs ranged from laboring in a spinning factory and lecturing in English at university.
·      In 1990 she was also the subject of a portrait by artist Geoffrey Proud that won the Archibald Prize.
·      Awards include prizes for a national poetry competition (1968), a lifetime Emeritus Fellowship from the literature Board and in 1986 she was made a Member of the Order of Australia.
Dorothy in Perth with her children 
Reading an interview with her from 1986 (with Candida Baker - see here) I was interested to see that she felt leaving the communist party actually liberated her writing - escaping from the dogma, partly.
  • That she used a typewriter to write plays but had to write her poetry by hand.
  • She gained enormous therapeutic value from writing.
  • She suffered self doubts even when she was a successful writer: “I always thought the woman who tried to reach me French - who was still there (at university in WA) all those years later - would come in and say, ‘Dorothy Hewett, you are a fraud. I tried to teach you and you could never pass French. Leave now’.”
  • And of why her poems are more violent than her plays: “Sometimes I get a bit of a shock, because I’m not in my life a particularly violent person, but there must be a great residue of violence and obsession and – what else – maybe guilt and maybe anger hidden away there which comes out in the poetry. Poetry taps all these hidden things in oneself more than any other form of writing. It’s more difficult to hide things as a poet. So I suppose in many ways I do find writing poetry the most important form of writing that I’ve taken part in, and also the one I can least control.”

I love that idea of her being out of control when writing.
I can’t write poetry but I know what she means.
Think I would have got on well with this woman, and now I need to hunt down more of her work.
Hope your interest in her has been stirred a little, too.

Guide to Dorothy’s papers in the National Library:

Photos courtesy of the Estate of Dorothy Hewett.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Melbourne's wild harvest

Beautiful borage:
Weed or wonderful?
Melbourne's wild harvest

Last week a small Italian lady challenged the way I think about plants. Again.

The first time my brain was botanically challenged was moving to Australia and seeing pristine environments for the first time. Growing up in Europe, every patch of land has been so exposed to such a wide range of human activity for so long that even most remote areas have been altered in some way.

By contrast, the combination of Australia's vast size, the fact it is an island continent, and the Aboriginal culture of living with the land rather than trying to overpower it, has meant it has only subject to minimal mining, agriculture or introduced species over thousands of years.

As a result, I've come to classify all plants in Australia as either 'native' or 'exotic' (i.e. introduced since European settlement) and, while not all exotics are necessarily bad, I have no love for those introduced plants that tend to weediness and have spread rampantly across the country, displacing the original flora. And causing me to spend many hours weeding.

But last week Lina Siciliano from Rose Creek Winery challenged all that.
Mark Dymiotis harvesting mallow

At a Smart Gardening workshop on Wild Greens, led by Mark Dymiotis and held at the Rose Creek Estate in Keilor East, many of the plants that I curse for spreading too rampantly through my garden and the river valley beyond were held up as prized crops to harvest and value. Which I can pretty much cope with - I’ve eaten nettles and purslane and samphire before.

No, the most challenging moment came when Lina kindly picked me a handful of wild broccolini seeds – so I could actually encourage this weed in my garden. As she does. There’s a healthy crop of broccolini, thistles, mallow, chicory and even nettles filling the gaps between her neat rows of mustard, fennel, beans and artichokes, and it isn’t there by accident or because she runs the farm organically and won’t spray weeds; to her they’re not weeds, but part of the crop.

SO REALLY? You want me to actually encourage these plants??

Lina's patch of broccolini
That was a bit too much. I kept the seeds for about a week – the cats played with them for a while and my laid-back family shuffled them from one end of the kitchen bench to the other, without questioning why mum had yet another weird-looking bit of plant material dagging about the house.

But then I couldn’t bring myself to actually spread weeds and I threw them out.

However, I have been down the river gathering some of the ‘weeds’ that Mark and Lina introduced us to – many of which I would never have thought of as food. Some, like mallow, were a bit too moth-eaten to try; the nettles were just too painful to pick after a few attempts (Mark reckons he doesn’t use gloves but my fingers tingled from the stings for about 24 hours afterwards), and others I trimmed off the bits I’d been instructed to use – usually the growing tips or, in the case of wild broccolini, the flower buds – and pulled out the rest of the plant.

I’m not that much of a convert.

Later, I cooked them up using one of the recipes Mark had shown us and it did get eaten, eventually, but the family didn’t embrace it with the gusto I’d hoped for. Still, I’ll try again and sneak some bits in here and there and see how I go.

Mark and Lina cooked us three main dishes to try: a bean casserole, a pastry-lined pie (with rice included to soak up the juices from the greens) and stir-fried greens with a dressing. Lina also sliced up some of her wood-fire oven baked bread and dressed it with chopped parsley, oregano and her best home-made olive oil, and that was the yummiest of the lot! The oil is expensive but nothing like any other I’ve ever tried.
One of the many edible thistles

While Mark is of Greek descent and Lina's family is from Italy, their cooking methods were pretty much the same – except Mark adds lemon to everything! 

The rule Mark follows when cooking with greens is to make the bulk of the meal ‘filler’ greens – silverbeet, nettles, thistles, broccolini, cat’s ear, chicory, dandelion, mallow (on their own or a combination of a few) – and add in a smaller amount of herbs and other greens for taste. These might include mint (good with nettles), fennel fronds (either Florence fennel or the wild plant), parsley, mustard, rape, or the tender shoots of radish or zucchini.

Mustard - great colour; fierce taste!
He showed us a few basic cooking rules but, in most cases, you use them in the same way as you would spinach.

The notes for the talk, with photos, can be found at the Moonee Valley Council website, here

If you decide to give this recipe a try, good luck, but please don’t pick and eat any plants unless you’re familiar with them and are 100% sure of what you’re gathering.

If you’re interested in learning more, I’m happy to go out with Melburnian readers, and we run occasional weed walks during open days at Werribee Park Heritage Orchard (see, and Mark also runs courses via the CAE. For details check with the CAE or visit Mark’s website at:
Bean casserole

1 cup of black-eyed beans, (prepared as per below) or 1 tin of pre-cooked beans
Virgin olive oil, for cooking
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 x 400g tin of tomatoes
2-3 handfuls of wild greens, chopped in roughly 2cm lengths

If preparing beans from raw, soak them overnight in salted water. Bring to boil in fresh water the next day. When beans just start to split their skins, drain them and start again with more fresh water. When beans are soft, drain and rinse.
Cover the base of a large, heavy-based fry pan with virgin olive oil and bring to heat. When oil is fragrant, add onions and reduce temperature. When onion is soft add the garlic and cook for a further two minutes.
Add diced tomatoes and cook for a few minutes, then add pre-cooked beans to heat through.
When combined, add the greens (which should be damp from being washed; if not, add a dash of water).
Stir through then cover and allow to cook for 2-5 minutes until soft, stirring occasionally.
Serve warm or cold, on its own or as a side dish.

Marigold flowers are edible.


Rose Creek Estate is next open to the public as part of the Sunbury Wine Festival, on Sunday August 26, from 11am-4.30pm. It's at 2 Craig St, Keilor East. SEE:

My Smart Garden events and notes from other workshops can be found here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Win a morning-after gift with Wallis

I recently stumbled across a new phrase I had to check online: Morganatic marriage.

It was used in the context of a book on that black sheep of the House of Windsor, Edward VII – you know the one who abdicated so he could marry twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson.

Duke of Wales and Wallis Simpson in Kitzbuhel, 1935.

Apparently he requested permission to make a Morganatic marriage, which would have allowed him to remain on the throne but denied the title of Queen to Wallis. Famously, this never happened and he instead decamped to Paris, elevating his stuttering, shy brother to the throne instead, thus creating another great role for Geoffrey Rush and giving us the wonderful Elizabeth II (although, as Edward and Wallis never had children, she would arguably have been next in line anyway).

So what is a Morganatic Marriage?

According to Wikipedia: "In the context of European royalty, a morganatic marriage is a marriage between people of unequal social rank, which prevents the passage of the husband's titles and privileges to the wife and any children born of the marriage. Now rare, it is also known as a left-handed marriage because in the wedding ceremony the groom traditionally held his bride's right hand with his left hand instead of his right."

This raised a whole load more questions for me.

  • Why is it called morganatic? 
  • As most royal land and 'bling' is 'borrowed', not owned, what's the downside?
  • With so many royal rules being diluted or changed, does this still happen?

So the word apparently comes via a German variation on a Latin phrase that refers to the morning gift  or dowry, which was traditionally given to a bride on the morning after her wedding. A morganatic marriage is, according to 17th Century historian and philolgist Charles du Fresne, "a marriage by which the wife and the children that may be born are entitled to no share in the husband's possessions beyond the 'morning gift' ".

Hold on a minute - a morning gift? All I remember from the morning after my wedding is a massive headache.
I'm guessing few other girls get 'morning after' presents nowadays, either, unless a coffee on the way to your surprise honeymoon counts (and the chances are you booked the honeymoon anyway, right?).

This is an oversight I believe girls should remedy – and soon. But back to morganatic matrimony.
There's a good reason dowries were stopped...

It was more common on continental Europe – Germany, Luxembourg, Russia, Denmark etc – where the rules were stricter about royalty marrying royalty. In the UK, it seems, we're quite happy to have commoners as queens (and consorts, as the Duke of Edinburgh is himself descended from a morganatic union – the 1851 marriage of Prince Alexander and German-Polish noblewoman Countess Julia von Hauke, later made Princess of Battenberg – So, ironically, Prince Charles and his sons are also descendants of a morganatic marriage.)

One of the more famous morganatic marriages of recent times was in 1900 between the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and Bohemia aristocrat Countess Sophie Chotek von Chotkowa. His father initially forbade it but eventually relented (although he refused to go to the wedding himself). Sophie was made Princess of Hohenberg and her children inherited that name and rank but were excluded from imperial succession. Sadly she was pregnant with their third child when the pair was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914 – the event that triggered World War I.
Franz Ferdinand, Sophie and their children, 1904

When you see the list of all the other cases in history when these marriages were later recognised – or the children eventually succeeded to a throne somewhere, a neighbouring country if not their own – then it all seems a bit silly.

The enforced interbreeding and likelihood of creating unhappy marriages (and, consequently, increasing the risk of affairs and subsequent challenges to the throne from illegitimate offspring) is probably what fuelled many of Europe's 19th and 20th century revolutions.

It certainly didn't help Russian Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich, who eloped to Paris to marry a commoner Olga Valerianovna Karnovichin in 1902. You'd think he'd be happy enough staying there, but he loyally returned to serve in the Russian army during WWI and his nephew Tsar Nicholas II rewarded him by elevating Olga and her children to Princess and Princes Paley in 1915. Sadly that act got Paul and his son Vladimir killed by revolutionaries in 1919, although his wife and daughters escaped to Paris.

Sophie of Merenberg. How about that waist? 
Tsar Nicholar II also banished his cousin Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich of Russia to England when he insisted on marrying Sophia of Merenberg, herself the product of a morganatic marriage. Unwittingly he saved them from the Russian Revolution and one of their daughters went on to marry the wonderfully named Marquess of Milford Haven, aka Prince George of Battenberg, part of the family later known as the Mountbattens, related to QEII.

While Britain still hasn't really worked out what will happen when Good Queen Elizabeth II dies (will divorcee Camilla be allowed anywhere near the throne? will she be Queen Consort? Will Charles pass the baton directly to Wills?), these issues are still being kicked around.

And even if Australia is a republic by then, you can bet your bottom dollar they will be examined ad nauseum, whether you're interested or not.

In the mean time, I suggest all you married ladies bring up the subject of the morning after pressie, and maybe suggest you'll give up all claims to his title if that generous tradition is reinstated.

Source: Wikipedia

Would Wallis have been a good queen?