The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

The Dressmaker by Rosalie HamIt’s a few weeks since I finished reading The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham but it is still on my mind.  It’s a popular kind  of book with me – a straightforward tale of life in a small Australian rural town. The author has let her imagination run wild to include  many variations  of human behavior in her range of characters.

Forced to leave town as a teenager  Myrtle Dunnage, known as Tilly, returns to care for her mother who lives on a rise on the outskirts of town. The teenager has matured and become a dressmaker of couture standard, quite different to the girl who went away.  Gradually some of the town come to use her skills as a dressmaker  but do not welcome her back into the life of the town.

I smiled and  I laughed at a lovely sense of oneupmanship.   I wept when there was a death as I moved through the book.

But then  a sense of unease started to sneak into my feelings.  This book is so deceptive.  It reels you in  with its sense of humour and beautiful clothes while all the time a tragedy of classic proportions is slowly taking shape.

My friends laugh and smile when asked how they enjoyed the book.  They talk of the clothes which Tilly makes. But time has leeched the humour and the clothes from my memory of the book and all I am left with is this feeling of doom.

It is a small town.  Everyone knows everyone.  And they seem unable to face the truth about a tragic accident years earlier. Tilly was blamed  whereas the town needs to take one step further back and look at the bully who was the real cause of the accident. They seemed unable to do that. So much easier to blame the misfit than the son of a “respectable” family.

Tilly cares for her aging mother, she makes beautiful clothes for all who ask her, and she proffers well-founded advice which is rejected.  The tension is building for the townspeople to be humiliated and Tilly’s final act before leaving town has unexpected far-reaching tragic effects.

Am I reading more into it than the author  intended ? Perhaps it is the same for everyone – it is what is inside us that makes us interpret the book in different ways. But I judge a book by what remains with me after the details have leeched away and in this case it was the way the author lulled me into a warm and comfortable feeling, wallowing in the nostalgia of small town life, while all the time the destruction of a town is bubbling away underneath

But then that’s just my opinion.  And what  do I know.  But then I do know that I will be re-reading this book and that I look forward to seeing how the upcoming movie with Kate Winslett will interpret the story and how the reviewers will rave about the clothes  !

 

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Grandpa and his bushfire

At this time of the year Down Under there are many reports of bushfires.  Some are quickly controlled but others go on for days or weeks.   My grandfather was caught by one but that was a long while ago..  The dry weather had brought swarms of locusts and by February 1, 1898  Beech Forest was described as being ablaze, just one of the many fires that had been devastating the Otways, turning day into night.

Grandpa and his father and brother had come down each year from central Victoria in the off season to clear land for a dairy farm.  It was in the hills above Apollo Bay, then still known by its original name of Krambruk.  They had built a house and Grandpa was settling in well.

The Otway Forest was fast coming into prominence as a coastal tourist resort. That summer distinguished visitors to the various small communities were reported, as were the balls and Sports Days. On Tuesday, February 8, 1898 it wasn’t a particularly hot morning, but the wind was gusty. And when the wind swung to the north the burning-off which had been  started by the Beech Forrest settlers as a precaution got out of control and headed towards Apollo Bay.

About 11.30 in the morning my grandfather was helping his next door neighbour, William Methven. They saw the fire making for their houses at the top of the ridge so they began to hurry home.  Grandpa reached Mr Methven’s house first and stopped briefly for a drink of milk, the older man having lagged behind, then hurried to his own home.

There was little Charles Fricke could do to save his home.  The fire was so intense he crouched behind a table with a bucket of water for five hours, tearing the back out of his waistcoat to dip in the water and cover his mouth.  The table was too small to cover his feet and the heat drew the nails out of his boots.  His horse was the only one of his animals to survive the fire, even though his mane had been burnt off.

Alone, blinded by the heat, he decided he would rather die on the road to the township where his body would be found more quickly.  And so, feeling his way with a stick, he set off on the three miles to Apollo Bay.  Mrs Costin took him in and put him to bed and nursed him back to health but his neighbour had died trying to reach the sanctuary of the creek.

As the telegraph line was burnt down the news of the fire had to be taken out by horseback.  The coaches could not get through as the track became blocked and the corduroy was burning. So it was Friday before the outside world knew what had happened.

After eight years of clearing scrub, splitting palings, fencing, building, and creating a farm, it was a case of start again.  First priority was shelter. Grandpa built a  temporary humpy using the roofing iron from his burnt home.  .  And so, full circle, he started again. Dear Grandpa.

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Grandpa and his humpy