Spring blossom was the pick-me-up I needed. A broken tooth-crown and consequent gappy grin (still under repair). Falling on a busy street. A head wound and concussion. They’d taken their toll and left me grumpy and out-of-sorts.
Scary hours spent in public hospital emergency departments seem to be the norm in Perth. We’ve been proud of our ‘world class hospital system’, but that description no longer holds.
People with experience in other states assure me this condition is widespread across Australia. Several people, including a child, have died recently while waiting for an ambulance or hospital treatment.
I’m one of the lucky people. My injury, in the scheme of things, was not devastating and I had good support and care.
Domestic drama has had its wicked way with John and me over the past month. While I like change and novelty, I also like to pick and choose what happens. Holidays. Outings. New people. I’d like to keep all serious drama on the pages of books, or on television. That way we wouldn’t have to deal with it.
The Silence of Water by first-time author Sharron Booth is an historial novel set in Adelaide and Fremantle. It was short-listed for the 2020 City of Fremantle Hungerford Award. The story spans three generations of the family of a convict who arrived in Australia in 1861. Meticulously researched, the novel is based on the life of Edwin Salt, a one-time tailor, convicted of a heinous crime in England.
Complexity of The Silence of Water
The novel moves backwards and forwards in time between 1848 and 1907. Movement between England and Australia, Adelaide and Fremante, as well as a large number of interesting characters create a plot which tantalises the reader with its complexity.
At one point, I felt tempted to imitate a close friend who’d encountered a similarly complex novel (I forget which one). We belonged to fairly sophisticated bookclub. My friend confessed that she’d had to read that month’s book, ‘story-by-story’ or character-by-character. She then put the whole story together when she re-read the novel.
While at first I found the structure of The Silence of Water confusing, it soon made sense. Details of the lives of three generations are braided, adding to the plot, and this also added to my enjoyment.
Agnes and George and their three children find themselves in chaos when asked to move from Adelaide where they are well-settled to Fremantle. Edwin Salt’s third wife, Annie, has summonsed Agnes to care for her father. Annie says she will no longer put up with the drunken behaviour of the eighty-year-old.
Changing location upsets everyone. In particular, Fan (Frances), the only daughter and oldest child of Agnes and George, seems to take the move especially hard. Over time, however, she bonds with her grandfather. They enjoy each other’s company. Fan is curious about Edwin’s life, and he discloses information about it. Snooping for even more secrets, the girl discovers that her grandfather’s first wife died in childbirth and that he murdered his second wife before marrying Annie.
In The Silence of Watewr, Sharron Booth develops the main characters with sympathy and depth. One can feel the angst of the young Fan, uprooted from the place where her childhood has been spent beside the ocean which she loves.
One can almost understand the belief of Edwin Salt. He thinks, in spite of the evil he has done, he is a ‘good man’. This belief was supported by the penal system in England at the time. Because his wife drank alcohol and provoked him, the law considered this a mitigating circumstance. Although he murdered his wife, his conviction was changed from murder to manslaughter with the lesser penalty of transportation.
Here is one of many possible examples, of Sharron Booth’s ability to paint a character. It describes Agnes’s husband, George Johnson.
…George Johnson wasn’t so much born as hammered together with nails and rivets in the Sunderland shipyards. The teacher at the church school had sid he was missing ‘apptitude’, mostly because of his gubby face and the holes in his trousers, but in truth George was sharp as flint.
Serious themes written with empathy make this novel an important addition to writing about the life of colonial Australia, and especially of Western Australia. Well-researched history includes the difficulties of living in colonial Australia at the end of the nineteenth century. Poverty and hardship underly the lives of ordinary people, who struggle to get work. I thought it particularly poignant that for Agnes and George, her father Edwin became a ‘boarder’ in their home.
The lives of women and girls must have been particularly difficult, as they struggled to ‘make-do’ with the little they had. Alcoholism and family and domestic violence sit at the heart of the story.
There are echoes in this novel of the concept: ‘See what you made me do.’ This has been documented by Australian journalist Jess Hill in a book and television documentary series of the same name. The work of Jess Hill deals with the complexity of domestic violence which in Australia leads to the murder of around one woman a week. News reports often contain comments from neighbours and friends about the murderers, saying in essence, ‘He was a good bloke.’
Setting in The Silence of Water
I thoroughly enjoyed the settings in this novel, particularly descriptions of Fremantle which is a few kilometres from where I live. Fan and Agnes like to swim and the beaches of Western Australia and South Australia come to life with Booth’s descriptions. The beaches run through the novel like a signature tune, adding much to the texture of the novel.
Anyone who enjoys historical, and especially Australian historical fiction would welcome the addition of this book to their library.
Bookclub members will find much to discuss, including themes, writing style, plot and characters.
Teachers would find much of value to discuss with students, including plot, themes, characterisation, language and writing skills.
I recently reviewed Kate Grenville’s novel, A Room Made of Leaves, also about colonial Australia. You can access the article by clicking here.
This review is linked to the weekly challenge of my friends, SueW who blogs at nans.farm.net and her blogging partner, CG, who blogs at themainaisle It would be good if you’d check out their websites by clicking on the highlighs.
Everyone has the right to decide about their own healthcare, including what medications they take. But, all too often, the opinions of doctors and other health care professionals influence us heavily. We can take responsibility for making informed choices for our own care, taking into consideration the benefits and consequences of our actions.
As substitute decision-makers for other people, we are sometimes also required to make decisions on their behalf.
In my early seventies, a general practitioner diagnosed mild hypertension (raised blood pressure). I agreed to medication. A year or so later, I moved house and entered a particularly stressful period in my life. I found another GP closer to where I lived.
Each visit to the new GP seemed to result in an increase in medications of different kinds. Because I was anxious to improve my health, and most importantly to feel better, I didn’t query the decisions he made. Stressors in my life increased, and I suffered from increasing anxiety, poor decision-making, dizziness and abdominal cramping.
I’d worked as an advocate for older people, completed a PhD and published a book a few years before. Out with my daughter one day, I found myself holding on to a fence, dizzy and unable to walk further. I felt unable even to talk about what was wrong.
My daughter took me to a physician, whose first question,
‘Who’s in charge here?‘ alarmed and shocked me.
‘My mother is very much in charge of her life,’ my daughter responded for me. ‘But she’s ill and I’m here to support her.’
An emergency admission to hospital and cessation of all medications followed. Within days, I again became my articulate, competent, decision-making self. A week later, on fewer drugs and very small doses, I went home a different person. All these years later, I take tiny quantities of prescribed medication, three times a week. The regime serves me well. I exercise and eat well and remain fit and healthy
Since I discovered that chronic pain almost always occurs in response to childhood trauma and current stress, I rarely take even paracetamol. You can read more about that in my article, ‘Brain plasticity, new science and chronic pain.’
I’m careful, if not wary, of taking medical advice without proper consideration, and sometimes a second opinion. I’ve also become a passionate advocate for informed choices around health care.
All medications can be harmful
Of course, all medications have benefits and can improve our health and well-being. Some can be life-saving. Conversely, all medications have the potential to cause harm, especially for older people.
They can have multiple, sometimes serious side effects.
The danger can increase with dosage. A medication often has several names, and if more than one prescriber or pharmacy is involved, multiple doses can be taken by unwary patients.
There can be unwanted interactions between drugs.
They can impact on one’s day-to-day life because they cause drowsiness or dizziness.
Medications can cause older people to fall and injure themselves, often seriously.
Sometimes medications change thoughts or behaviour (eg. psychotrophics). These are occasionally used as chemical restraints in aged care facilities to control aggressive behaviour.
Questions to ask to be well-informed about medications
We have every right to ask questions about any medications suggested or prescribed for us. If the prescriber seems reluctant to answer questions, everyone in Australia can change their doctor. My blog, ‘Doctor shopping to combat ageism’ talks more about this.
The following list of questions to ask your health professionals. It comes from the pamphlet, ‘Medication: It’s Your Choice’ from the Older People’s Advocacy Network.
What am I taking?
How should it help me?
Please explain the side effects?
What could happen if I don’t take it?
What alternatives exist (including non-medication alternatives)?
When will my medications be reviewed?
How else can you make sound decisions about drugs
These sources may be helpful in the decision-making process.
Your prescribing doctor should provide full information.
You can ask for a second opinion or a specialist review.
Pharmacists provide sound information and advice about the medications they dispense.
If you or your loved one lives in an aged care facility or receives clinical home care, you can ask for a formal review of your medications.
The member agencies of the Older Persons Advocacy Network provide free independent support. Contact details below.
This article has not been medically reviewed. For more detailed information about rights and responsibilities for older people in Australia you can contact the Older Person’s Advocacy Network on 1800 700 600. As well, each of the States and Territories has its own older persons’ advocacy agency.
In Western Australia Advocare Inc provides advocacy and support. I’m proud to have been the first Chief Executive of Advocare, which started 25 years ago. Their phone number is 1800 655 566.
Perth Royal Show has been held at the Claremont Showgrounds for as long as I can remember. It’s seven kilometres from the centre of Perth, a few kilometres, and three train stops, from our apartment. It’s not the sort of place I think about often.
But memories of my last trip to the Royal Show surfaced today on the birthday of my daughter Anne. She and I often went places together, including football games at the Perth Stadium and on holidays. A few years ago we went by train to the Show, just for the fun of it. I hadn’t been for many years, and then always with my children or grandchildren. Anne and I had a lovely, adult day.
Ruth Wilson turned her back on her successful and conventional life when she turned seventy years of age. She left her traditional husband and moved to the Southern Highlands of New South Wales.
With the help of an unexpected inheritance, she had previously bought a cottage. She painted it bright yellow, and called it ‘Lantern Hill,’ after the novel Jane of Lantern Hill by LM Montgomery. She lived there for ten years, alone but not lonely, supported by her daughters and the local community.
Winter ‘blah’ seems to attack me every year. Each time, it catches me unawares and sends me into a spin until I work out what’s happening. Sometimes, I catch it early, but not this year. July 2022 treated many of my family to COVID-19 in one or other of its variations.
My son and daughter-in-law. My brother. John’s granddaughter. Renee’s partner. Several dear friends. I worry about them and like everone else, wish this would pass.
Abortion legislation, very much in the news this week, matters to me. I believe women have the right to make decisions about their own bodies and what happens to them. For too long, patriarchal institutions like medicine, the law, the media and religion have dictated to women.
The recent overturning of the Roe vs Wade legislation in the USA on Constitutional grounds makes me sad. Abortion laws in that country are now decided on a state by state basis. This is also the case in Australia where all states allow abortion, but with restrictions.
Curiosity, the desire to know things, is a necessary human trait. Strong in young animals and children, it propels them to learn about the world and their place in it. They question, explore, play and have fun. Curiosity is essential for all kinds of learning.
It is enables and encourages creativity, learning and problem-solving skills.
People who excel display unlimited curiosity and they question continually. It keeps them, and us, interested and interesting. But, unless constantly fed, curiosity can fade. When that happens, people become less involved in living. Their learning skills diminish.