Derham Groves’ foreword for the as yet unpublished Australian crime novel, Duck Season Death by June Wright
The crime novels by the Australian author, June Wright (née Healy), are not known as well as they should be in my view. She was born in 1919 in Malvern, Victoria, and educated locally at Kildara College, Loreto College and Manderville Hall. After leaving school and briefly studying commercial art, June got a job as a telephonist at the Central Telephone Exchange in Melbourne (she is pictured operating a switchboard, above). In 1941 she married Stewart Wright, a cost accountant. They had six children: Patrick; Rosemary; Nicholas; Anthony; Brenda; and Stephen. June wrote eight crime novels, six of which were published between 1948 and 1966. Her ability to successfully juggle crime fiction writing and motherhood was the subject of several colourfully named articles in magazines and newspapers, such as “Wrote Thriller with Her Baby on Her Knee” (1948) and “Books Between Babies” (1948).
When June’s first child, Patrick, was one year old, she began writing her first crime novel, Murder in the Telephone Exchange (1948), which was set in her former workplace. Sarah Compton, a supervisor at the Central Telephone Exchange, is bashed to death with a “buttinski,” a gadget used by telephone operators to interrupt telephone conversations. Maggie Byrnes, a spirited young telephonist, who June emphatically denies was modelled on herself (but I don’t believe her!), narrates the Dorothy L. Sayers-style whodunit. (At the time, Sayers’ Gaudy Night (1935) was her favourite detective novel.)
While wrapping up vegetable scraps in an old newspaper, June happened to see an advertisement for an international literary competition run by the London publisher, Hutchinson. She entered Murder in the Telephone Exchange in the competition, and while it did not win the £10,000 first prize, Hutchinson agreed to publish it. Australian crime fiction reviewers were generally full of praise for June’s first book, often singling out its quirky local setting, which she described in minute detail as only an insider could do. For example, one reviewer wrote: “Perhaps it was the Melbourne setting that gave a new freshness to the form. (One almost expected to meet the characters walking down the streets, to hear their voices over the phone.) But I think there were other factors, too. The atmosphere, the plot, the characterization, all are good.” June energetically promoted Murder at the Telephone Exchange in the press, on radio and at a number of literary events. The book was a bestseller, which “outsold even Agatha Christie and other world-famous authors in Australia” in 1948, according to The Advertiser in Adelaide. With the royalties from the book, June bought herself a fur coat and remodelled the Wright’s kitchen.
June’s second crime novel, So Bad a Death (1949)—the title is a line from King Henry VI by William Shakespeare—once again features Maggie Byrnes from Murder at the Telephone Exchange, who is now married to John Matheson, a police inspector who she met during the investigation of Sarah Compton’s murder. The newly weds are frustrated by the post-World War Two housing shortage until they finally manage to rent “Dower House,” an “Elizabethan solecism” according to Maggie, which is located in Middleburn, a fictitious country town that seems to have been based on real-life Berwick, near Melbourne. Despite its apparent gentility, Middleburn turns out to be a hotbed of criminals. The crime fiction reviewer for the Daily Telegraph in Sydney, “Dr. Watson Junior” (a.k.a. Richard Hughes, the renowned China watcher), thought that So Bad a Death was “perhaps the first Australian will murder,” while The Advertiser claimed that it had been “already voted one of the finest Australian thrillers ever written.” So Bad a Death was serialised on A.B.C. radio and in the popular women’s magazine, The Australian Women’s Weekly. June had written another hit!
By this time, June had four children—Patrick aged five, Rosemary aged three and the twins, Anthony and Nicholas, aged almost two—and two bestselling crime novels. People wanted to know how she managed to do it. “With washing to do three days a week, I never get up later than a quarter to seven,” June told The Australian Women’s Weekly on the eve of the serialization of So Bad a Death in the magazine. “On Monday, the biggest wash day, I rise at 5.30, light the copper, and have the washing on the line before breakfast. The twins are dressed in time for their breakfast at 7.30. Then come the other two, who have their meals with us. Monday is kitchen-cleaning day, Tuesday bedroom day. On Wednesday I scrub the back verandah and bathroom, and clean the two play rooms. On Thursday the lounge and study are done. Friday it’s back to the washtub, and the front verandah gets scrubbed. I cook an especially nice hot meal on Saturday morning, but like to sew or garden in the afternoon. Oh yes, I have to spend one night ironing, but I write on the others.”
June abandoned the feisty and popular Maggie Byrnes/Matheson in her third crime novel, The Devil’s Caress (1952), which is more of a psychological thriller than a whodunit, in favour of a brand new character, Marsh Mowbray, a pretty young female doctor. In this book Marsh finds herself unwittingly pitted against an unlikeable group of Melbourne’s leading medicos, including her boss, Katherine Waring, a Senior Honorary Physician at the hospital where she works, and Katherine’s husband, Kingsley Waring, a prominent surgeon, while they are staying at the Warings’ holiday house at Matthews, a fictitious coastal town in Victoria. One critic suggested that The Devil’s Caress made June’s first two books “read like bedtime stories,” however the book was not as well received as her previous two. A.R. McElwain, the crime fiction reviewer from The Advertiser, who June had corresponded with a number of times following the publication of Murder in the Telephone Exchange, wrote in his newspaper column: “Mrs. Wright’s reportage is as ever brisk and competent. But I eagerly await the day when she concentrates more upon genuine, plausible detection and less upon melodramatic situations.”
Hutchinson rejected June’s fourth crime novel, The Law Courts Mystery, explaining to her that: “The readers reported that although your book was likeable, with humour and movement, it was spoilt by the plot, which was unconvincing and rather muddled. Also, the relationship between the characters, even when they have a lot to do with each other, is always too remote and bloodless.” She locked The Law Courts Mystery in a drawer somewhere and threw away the key.
Undaunted by this rejection, June bounced back with her fifth crime novel, Reservation for Murder (1958). For this book she created a truly inspired character, the unassuming but strong willed Catholic nun-detective, Mother Mary St. Paul of the Cross, or Mother Paul for short, who in many respects is the female equivalent of G.K. Chesterton’s Catholic priest-detective, Father Brown. Mother Paul was based on the real-life Mother Mary Dorothea Devine (1900-1990), a Sister of Charity who was the head of the maternity ward at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne when June gave birth to Anthony and Nicholas there in the mid-1940s. In Reservation for Murder, which was originally going to be called A Hostel for Homicide, Mother Paul is in charge of “Kilcomoden,” a hostel for office girls and secretaries near Melbourne, the scene of a murder and an apparent suicide. John Long, an imprint of Hutchinson, published the book. The royalties from Reservation for Murder paid for the installation of sliding doors in the Wrights’ living room.
June’s sixth crime novel, Duck Season Death, was a psychological thriller rather similar in style to The Devil’s Caress. However, Hutchinson rejected it on the basis of three unfavourable reviewers’ reports. Typically, one reviewer said: “Quite candidly, this isn’t as good a book as the author’s previous work … There are very good features here, but the author has failed to capture the unusual atmosphere of Reservation for Murder, and has in effect produced a rather stock-box novel of the whodunit house party variety. Certainly she manages to spring a surprise at the end, but it comes rather too late, and there has been too little previous emphasis on the actual killer. In effect, a quite passable and unusual plot has been disguised with the banal tricks of rather outmoded detective fiction, and the author certainly hasn’t done herself justice.” As with her previous “failure,” June shelved Duck Season Death, never to return to it, and moved on to her next book.
June’s seventh and eighth crime novels, Faculty of Murder (1961) and Make-Up for Murder (1966), also feature the inimitable Mother Paul. In Faculty of Murder, she is running Brigit Moore Hall, a fictitious Catholic women’s college at the University of Melbourne. (Having worked at the university for several years, I cannot think of a better location for a murder!) Mother Paul investigates after a girl disappears from the college and a professor’s wife is found dead in the bath. In Make-Up for Murder, Mother Paul is now in charge of Maryhill Girls’ School in Melbourne. She investigates the murder of a former student and the disappearance of a famous TV singer.
Interesting local settings, feisty female protagonists and credible social situations characterize June’s six published crime novels. Some experts, notably David Latta, the author of Sand on the Gumshoe: A Century of Australian Crime Writing (1989), and Stephen Knight, the author of Continent of Mystery: A Thematic History of Australian Crime Fiction (1997), have gently criticised her for “a tendency to cram her stories full of needless detail and […] leaning towards the Gothic,” however I will happily forgive her for that! June stopped writing crime fiction altogether when her husband, Stewart, suddenly became ill and could not work and she had to earn a regular salary. This was a real pity, because I am sure that she had more crime novels in her. The good news is that we can now read Duck Season Death—albeit 53 years after June wrote it. What a time capsule it represents! Let’s hope that June’s family will be able to discover The Law Courts Mystery and publish that too some day.
Samples of Laurie Baker’s architecture:
(1) The Laurie Baker Centre, Trivandrum
Ms. Shailaja Nair talking to the first-year students about Laurie Baker and his architecture.
(2) The Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum
(3) The Indian Coffee House, Trivandrum
(4) The Hamlet (Laurie Baker’s own house), Trivandrum
(5) Loyola College, Trivandrum
(6) Buildings by some of Laurie Baker’s “disciples”
Brickmaking in Kerala
The first-year student workshop:
(1) “Playing” with bricks
(2) The College of Engineering Trivandrum wall
(Angel Varghese, Anuja J., Archana, Anna Baby, and Nisha Nelson)
(3) The elephant/butterfly wall
(Muhammed Jiyad, Hisham A.A., Amalraj P., Ahmad Thaneem Abdul Majeed, Muhammed Naseem, Sankasnath P.M., Sai Prasad C., and Suneer K.K.)
Bricklayer Joy Francis showing the students how to use a plumb bob
Joy Francis and the students using a “homemade” spirit level
Is it two elephant heads or a butterfly?
(4) The brick jali wall
(Soumya S. Warrier, Deepthi B., Anutpama Warrier, Saijith M.S., Nikitha, and Nikita Jimmington)
A cement bucket made from old tyres
(5) The herringbone and stepped wall
(Parvathi P., Prasanth R., Najeeb T., and Rahul Sarovthaman)
Testing the wall’s stability. No worries!
(6) The fish wall
(Dheeraj K., Abraham Philip, Richard Lalduhsaka, Vignesh Sajeev, and Abhijath Ajay)
(7) The little house wall
(Gitanjiali V.R., Harsha Hareendran, Roshni Maria George, Athira P., Akshaya K., Aryaa, Mizna Reem, Aafreen Fathima, and Reshma Cherian
(8) The double-curved wall
(Magna George and Jisa George)
(9) Feedback session
After testing the tarpaulin’s strength, Wally needed a jar of “Pileless — Wonder Relief for Piles” …
Joseph Stalin — Still a hero in Kerala!
These felt pen sketches were influenced by the drawings and paintings of Maira Kalman, the author of The Principles of Uncertainty (2007), etc.
In 2010 I visited Iran, courtesy of a travel grant from the Iran Heritage Foundation, to look at Iranian brickwork. What marvellous brickwork I discovered there! But that is another story.
Travelling around Iran (which I found to be quite different to that usually depicted on the six o’clock news, by the way), photographing some spectacular brick walls, naturally I stopped to eat from time to time, and as a result I found myself unexpectedly examining something else besides the country’s brickwork—Iran’s ubiquitous kebab shops.
The differences between say Melbourne, where I live, and Tehran, the capital of Iran, are in the main truly vast, but here was one tiny thing that both cities have in common.
This got me thinking after I returned home: if I found the kebab shops in Iran so interesting then perhaps I should look more closely at the kebab shops in Melbourne.
So I asked the Master of Architecture students who took my Popular Architecture and Design course in 2011 at the University of Melbourne, where I teach, to pair off; to each select a kebab shop in Melbourne; and to record the following basic information about them:
• The kebab shop’s name and address
• A plan of the kebab shop, including its fittings and furniture
• A photograph of the front façade of the kebab shop
• A photograph of the kebab shop next to the other shops in the street
• A photograph of the kebab shop at night
• A photograph of the other side and rear facades of the kebab shop (where they were accessible)
• Photographs of the interior of the kebab shop
• Photographs of the kebab shop’s advertising/signage
• A copy of the kebab shop’s menu
• A brief description of the kebab shop
• A brief interview with the shopkeeper and perhaps some customers
Kebab Shops in Melbourne: An Architectural Survey, a new book published by the Custom Book Centre at the University of Melbourne, contains all of this data exactly as collected by the architecture students and given to me.
The idea of compiling an eclectic-style, uncritical and unedited “encyclopaedia” like this was suggested by the 800-page The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping (2002) by the Dutch “starchitect” Rem Koolhaas et al.
Several people have looked at and written about everyday places that are usually taken for granted and not given a second thought. One of the most interesting is the late French author, Georges Perec (1936 – 1982), whose work I introduced to the Master of Architecture students-cum-“kebab shop detectives.” His little book, An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris (first translated into English in 2010), is a quirky masterpiece in my view.
Another source/sauce of inspiration was Reyner Banham’s brief but amusing and surprisingly insightful assessment of hamburgers and hamburger shops contained in his classic study of Los Angeles, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971).
In light of some of the recent scary exchanges between America and Iran, it is oddly comforting to realize that fast food is fast food no matter whether it comes from Los Angeles or Tehran.
I hope that Kebab Shops in Melbourne: An Architectural Survey will encourage further and more detailed research into the humble kebab shop, which is an interesting and ubiquitous—nevertheless almost “invisible”—part of the urban built environment not only in Australia and Iran, but also elsewhere (for example, on a recent trip to Auckland, New Zealand, I spotted many kebab shops there too).
To sum up then, Kebab Shops in Melbourne: An Architectural Survey describes over 40 kebab shops in various Melbourne suburbs by means of descriptive prose, line drawings, black and white photographs, and interviews with shopkeepers and customers. This data was collected by Master of Architecture students at the University of Melbourne and compiled, warts and all, by Derham Groves. This quirky 500-plus-page book is perhaps best described as The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping meets Georges Perec.
The cover of Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes designed by Huey Groves
The book is published by the Culicidae Press and is available via Amazon.com or Culicidaepress.com
A review of the book by Zoe Nikakis in Voice in The Age, 10 October 2011
ANNA MAY WONG’S LUCKY SHOES: 1939 AUSTRALIA THROUGH THE EYES OF AN ART DECO DIVA, DERHAM GROVES (2011)
Ames, IA: Culicidae Press, pp. 103,
ISBN: 978-1-257-71315-8, Paperback, AUD $39.95
Reviewed by Andrew Chrystall, Massey University, New Zealand.
Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes interfaces a chronological biography (cum-histography) of the Chinese-American film star, Anna May Wong’s 107-day visit to Australia in 1939 with the documentation of 52 design-as-biography projects by students at the University of Melbourne. The effect(s) is uncanny. Groves demonstrates a different approach to writing biography that is as challenging to the historian as his approach to design-as-biography is to the designer and architect and his mode of pedagogy to the teacher. While operating just outside the realm of the readily classifiable, due in large measure to the work’s hybridity and Groves’ multidisciplinary transgressions, Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes makes a contribution not only to our understanding of the popular and material cultural history of pre-World War II Australia. Arguably, Groves can also be read here as having created something of an anti-manifesto for dialogic, sustainable design that is of immediate relevance.
At the level of surfaces, Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes appears simple and unpretentious, if not parochial and banal. However, when read in light of the interplay between the two sections—biography and the documentation of design-as-biography projects —it becomes apparent that the materials have been organised to give the work a circuit-like quality. Surface simplicity gives way to a subtle complexity. Groves’ biography nurses the reader into an encounter with the design-as-biography projects and the projects draw the reader back to rediscover the biography of Wong—text begets image(s) and the image(s) beget a re-energized and re-configured text.
The first section of Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes documents the movements of the now little-known Wong to, around and from Australia just prior to World War II. Groves briefly establishes his personal appreciation of the enigmatic, Lady Gaga-esque Wong in the first person. But he quickly abandons a point of view and his writing takes on some of the characteristics of American novelist, Thomas Pynchon. Like Pynchon, Groves has the meticulous eye of the sleuth or the roving tactile-eye of the virtual camera for detail. Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes if full of detailed lists: passenger lists, guest lists, menus, and filmography. Around the movements of Wong Groves builds an inventory of Australian material and popular culture just prior to the war. His camera eye, panning and zooming incessantly, is quick to focus on concrete, individual particulars of the material culture of the day: time, date, places, street names and numbers, transactions, costs, makes, models, colours, patterns and textures. In addition to offering insight into Australian architecture, entertainment, fashion, food and politics, Groves provides a lens through which to view of racism in Australia and the racial politics of film production, homophobia, the rising cult of celebrity, (beautiful-) freak aesthetics, and the milieu of Australia’s social aristocracy. In short, Groves’ inspection captures everything that is going on—by means of a close inspection of the most common, everyday and banal—not merely what some people think should be going on. In this respect Groves’ operation is something of a prose equivalent for what his fellow Australian artist Reg Mombassa achieves in paint. And it is for this reason that the long-dead Marshall McLuhan might have said that Groves succeeds where F. R. Leavis failed. “The trouble with Leavis,” noted McLuhan (1987), was that his “passion for important work forbids him to look for the sun in the egg-tarnished spoons of the daily table […] [this] cuts him off from the relevant pabulum” (166).
In the second section, Groves, with the help of photography by Lee McRae, documents and offers a brief reflection on 52 pairs of shoes designed by his students enrolled in the Popular Architecture and Design paper. Groves set his students the task of designing a pair of (lucky?) shoes for Wong by altering an old pair of shoes purchased from an opportunity shop. Groves’ reflections here, however, do not interfere with documentation of the shoes on display. Rather his mode, tradition or sensible orientation towards art and art history appears to have some affinity with the humanism of Burkhardt, carried on in the 20th century by figures such as Wölfflin, Giedion and Moholy-Nagy. While Groves might disown the connection to these figures it is worth mentioning here as it may open up a way of reading Groves and help illuminate why he has sought to showcase the work of these young Australian designers.
The crux of the matter is that Groves does not turn away from objects or art nor does he use either as a platform to illustrate or argue a set of ideas (in the mode, say, of the social-engineer who sets design the task of changing people). Rather, for Groves, it is art that matters and he extracts himself to make a space for “objects” and the “art” to speak for themselves on their own terms. Subsequently, and this may be another reason why Groves eludes convenient categorisation, if he has anything to say beyond showcasing a motivational and fun pedagogical activity it is said at the level of demonstration. Design, as Groves presents it, can be a deeply dialogic activity with and in service of unique human individuals (with a history and somewhat messy relationship to material artefacts that can be, simultaneously, practical, emotional, irrational, calculated, and ever-changing). His mode of demonstration that eschews linear, logical and hypothesis-drive rational argument is entirely consistent with his goal(s). If we allow, then, Groves to demonstrate what design is, can and should be we find design (inclusive of architecture) can be a form of biography. It emerges from story—rich and concrete encounters between peoples, places and material culture. Design maximizes diversity and, therefore, minimizes competition (which is predicated on a large degree of sameness). Design is also transmutative and realised in and through a dialogue with pre-existing materials that are as historically conditioned as the client. Subsequently, design, neither has to result in the creation of more stuff, which is what Andrew Milner argues needs to be avoided for the realisation of a sustainable future, nor has to set itself the task of promoting a bloodless, or perhaps glamour-less, austerity ill befitting an art deco diva.
McLuhan, Marshall. (1987), ‘Letter to Walter Ong and Clement J. McNaspy, December 23, 1944.’ in M. Molinaro, C. McLuhan, & W. Toye (eds.), The Letters of Marshall McLuhan. Toronto, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press,
Geelong was almost “gone” in the second quarter — three goals down and Podsiadly stretchered off — but the champion side that it is, the Cats fought back and overran Collingwood in the final quarter by six goals — SIX GOALS! — a blow out! But it stood to reason really: Collingwood lost only three games in 2011; Geelong beat Collingwood three times in 2011. And three premierships in five years — how good is that? “Fairdinkum unbelievable.” GO CATTERS!
Mum watching the Cats win the 2011 premiership at home. “Don’t look so worried Mum. We’ll win!”
The suite of six letterboxes in front of Holmesglen Institute of TAFE
En Yee Teh
Nur Zainal Abidin
NOT JUST ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL
An innovative program at the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning has seen students design unique letterboxes which were then built by bricklaying apprentices at Holmesglen TAFE. Zoe Nikakis reports.
As part of the Popular Architecture and Design subject, students created a brick wall or letterbox and wrote clear design briefs for the apprentices to follow.
Lecturer Dr Derham Groves said the subject was about teaching the students how to put theory into practice.
“We have all these students with so many ideas, who just need a vehicle for them,” he says.
Dr Groves chose letterboxes as the focus of the project because he has always been interested in their symbolic qualities.
“I focused on letterboxes and the Australian D.I.Y. movement in my PhD thesis,” he says.
“In past decades in Australia, if you were to go crazy in terms of the built environment, if you were to do something bizarre, you could do it with your letterbox and people would be forgiving.
“You could have one area of unfettered creativity, unfettered madness, where people wouldn’t hold it against you.”
Seven students’ designs were chosen for construction: Lachlan Michael, Muhummad Abid, En Yee The, Audrey Zerafa, David Young, Rubina Barooah and Nur Zainal Abidin all created highly original designs which ranged from a multicoloured Pacman letterbox to one featuring a brickwork prawn.
Pacman letterbox designer Nur Zainal Abidin says the project was very interesting, because she got to design something besides buildings and could be wacky in that design.
“Although the brief said we had to use bricks, it didn’t stop me being creative. I took it as a challenge to create interesting shapes, and I came up with a Pacman shape,” she says.
She says she enjoyed the challenge very much. “I really like the design I’ve produced, and it felt really amazing to have it chosen to be built. The guys in Holmesglen did a very good job in putting it together. I was thrilled.”
She says also that letterboxes can actually be part of the house design.
“It could be something hilarious and unthinkably unique that people would be amused by. Letterboxes can inform the character of the house owners, some might choose to be bold and go the extra mile in designing it, but some might not.”
She says her idea for the Pacman letterbox came to her during a lecture.
“Derham gave a lecture about brick pattern designs using image pixilation, and I thought it was actually a great method, but I didn’t just want to pixilate a picture and design the letterbox shaped like a skinny brick wall, I wanted it to have a shape, so then I thought of other pixilated things, which made me think of video graphics, which then led to those old-school video games that I used to play.
“I love the Pacman game, so I decided to use the Pacman in its ghost shape.”
The University and Holmesglen have now collaborated on four student projects in the past decade.
Dr Groves says it was truly a win-win situation.
“The students and the apprentices take so much pride in completing these projects, because it really forces them to think.
“On the day the letterboxes were launched, the pride on the students’ faces was great to see.
“For many architecture students, the letterboxes are the first things they’ve designed which have been built. They’re never going to forget it.”
Sherlock Holmes – A Post-modern live radio play
The iconic detective as you’ve never seen … or heard him before—reincarnated in the weird world of ‘foley’ sound effects, visual and vocal gymnastics. Sherlock Holmes confronts his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty, in a tale of suspense, terror and bizarre Victorian morality—complete with French maids, cockney safe-crackers, Hackney cabs and … a gas chamber! With advice (in person) from the University of Melbourne’s own Sherlock Holmes expert, Dr Derham Groves, don’t miss this one-off event!
22 August 2pm
Union Theatre, ground floor, Union House
Tickets: $10/$5 SU Members at the door
Part of Mudfest 2011
Josiah Lulham as Holmes and Jemma Wiseman as Alice
Matthew Ducza as Bassick, David Harris as Watson, Michael Fee as Moriarty, Andrew Wong as Craigin, and Josiah Lulham as Holmes
Josiah Lulham as Holmes, Clancy Moore as Larrabee and Anrew Wong as Craigin
Some old ham