Having given myself permission to skip DS9, I started watching select episodes of Voyager for my “Trek to catch if you’re new and liked Disco” series. But then I thought, well, I don’t have much to blog about on a week-to-week basis right now, and this is one hundred and seventy-odd hours of television…
So I guess we’re doing this! Mostly weekly, real life and other distractions permitting, and with the understanding that it’s fine to take breaks, and getting bored and giving up doesn’t mean I’m a big failure. (Keep your expectations reasonable and your self-talk kind, that’s my motto.)
History is full of women who, among their other unheralded achievements, don’t get nearly enough credit for not murdering their husbands.
Such is Elizabeth Macarthur, the first “gentlewoman” in the newly-formed colony of New South Wales. She grew up in a middle class English family, married a man who was only just barely a gentleman, gave birth to a son five months later, and was loyal to him as he spent the following decades trying to make his fortune and, along the way, alienating just about everyone he met.
Not that John Macarthur was a terrible person! In Michelle Scott Tucker’s account, he initially comes across as a lesser Austen villain, but his real sins are perfectly unremarkable. He’s proud, ambitious, has a thin skin when it comes to slights on his honour, and accordingly gets into duels which, had he been killed, would have left his wife and young children destitute and with little to no support network.
“Hey,” you say, having a peripheral awareness of American history via musical theatre, “that makes John Macarthur sound like Australia’s Alexander Hamilton.”
Oh dear. If only.
My real beef with this book is not with the subject, or the author, or anything that’s actually reasonable to complain about. It’s with the nature of Australian history, especially in the early days of colonisation. It’s all so small and petty and —
Put it this way: a few decades after the American War of Independence, certain Australians also sought to rise up against tyranny, which in this case took the form of Governor Bligh giving handouts of land to the wrong type of people.
(“The wrong type of people” included a Scottish farmer named John Turnbull, who was so grateful for Bligh’s support that he named his son after the governor. This became a family tradition, and that’s how the current prime minister came to be named Malcolm Bligh Turnbull. This is Peak Lolstralia, and would no doubt be a gift to satirists if the PM ever did anything decisive enough to evoke Bligh.)
Setting aside my cultural cringe around early white Australian history, Scott Tucker has done a wonderful job of finding Elizabeth Macarthur. Which is harder than it sounds — although she was a prolific correspondent, she tended towards the most optimistic interpretation of events, if not actual self-censorship.
This means there’s a lot of “she must have felt…” and “surely she thought…”, which I always find frustrating in a biography, even when the conclusions drawn are perfectly reasonable. (Which, here, they are.)
Nevertheless, Macarthur’s life is interesting, even if you’re not into agricultural or ovine history. (Ovine history is a thing, right?) Macarthur was in the right time and place to unconsciously participate in the devolving relations between Aboriginal Australians and the white invaders, from mutual curiosity to the frontier wars. Scott Tucker doesn’t shy away from exploring that, or the fact that part of Elizabeth’s social isolation came from her unwillingness to associate with former convicts.
Though her husband has traditionally been credited with the introduction of wool exports to Australia’s economy, Scott Tucker points out that it was Elizabeth who did a lot of the work, John Macarthur himself having spent extended periods in England having a sulk making connections and giving Elizabeth useless advice which she politely ignored. Because empires may rise and fall, but mansplaining is eternal.
The crowdfunding campaign coincides with a blog tour celebrating various cranky women in history, so if you enjoy history, feminism or good stories, this is your lucky month.
Which brings me to today’s Cranky Lady, Janet Kincaid.
You probably haven’t heard of Janet. The problem with history is that, by and large, we mostly know about the wealthy and powerful. Monarchs and aristocrats and people who happened to be in the right place at the right time and were remarkable enough that others paid attention and wrote about them.
Janet Kincaid is not one of those people. In the mid-nineteenth century, her husband went to try his luck on the Victorian goldfields, leaving Janet in Glasgow to care for their six children. By sheer luck, one of her letters to her feckless husband survived, leaving us with a vivid impression of a very cranky woman:
You left to better your family, you don’t need to write that any more, we have had enough of that talk. You had better do something for them. You left the ship to better your self and to get your money to your self. You never earned much for your family, far less for your Wife, you sent five Pounds, two years and a half ago. You mention in a letter to me that you made more money at the digging than ever you made at home. You might have sent us the half of what you made. You are a hard hearted Father when you could sit down and eat up your children’s meat your self. I was a poor unfortunate Wretch, little did I think when I was young what I had to come through with your conduck. We might have been the happiest couple in Greenock, you got a good wife and many a good job at home if you had been inclined to do well but folks that cante do well at home is not to be trusted Abroad … poor Duncan does not know what sort of thing a Father is, he thinks it is something for eating … find a proper place where I will send my letters. No more at present from your deserted Wife Janet Kincaid.
The letter is in the archives at the State Library of Victoria, so it presumably reached the elusive Mr Kincaid. How he replied, if at all, is unknown.
The narrative of the Victorian goldfields, when I was growing up, was about the Brave Single Man, Seeking His Fortune. Janet’s letter was printed in Clare Wright’s The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, a book rich with cranky ladies, which points out that many of those gold diggers had families left behind — and many others brought their families to the camps. It’s a shame Janet Kincaid and her six children didn’t come to Australia — or maybe they did, and the record is lost.
“You left to better your family, you don’t need to write that any more, we have had enough of that talk.” Ladies and gentlemen, an 1850s Skyler White. Respect.
This post is written as part of the Women’s History Month Cranky Ladies of History blog tour. If you would like to read more about cranky ladies from the past, you might like to support the FableCroft Publishing Pozible campaign, crowd-funding an anthology of short stories about Cranky Ladies of History from all over the world.
I hope it’s not a spoiler to say that No Award has some bird-related guest posts coming up. I’m in favour of guest posts in general, but I do have to take a moment to express my feelings about birds.
They are horrible.
THERE, I SAID IT.
I didn’t always hate birds — I used to be quite indifferent — but I was swooped by one too many magpies as a teen, and now I flinch if I hear wings flapping behind me. It isn’t easy, walking home from school after a bird has flown off with a chunk of your scalp. Not to mention some hair which it no doubt used to line its nest and signal to other birds that it was a great nestmaker. I begrudge every hair that magpie took.
Many years ago, when I worked in a book store, our back room was invaded by a pigeon. It perched high atop the shelves and stared down at us, daring us to come and get it. “Just try it,” it seemed to say, “and I’ll shit on some new releases.” It had beady little eyes that burned with hatred for humanity and books. We eventually chased it out with a broom, but I’ve been strongly anti-bird ever since.
My mother has a pet budgie named Charlie. Charlie seems harmless enough, but Mum bought her thinking she was a boy budgie. Then Charlie began laying eggs. An innocent mistake on the part of a pet store owner? Or a nefarious budgerigar conspiracy to expand its population? Well, the joke’s on Charlie, since Mum only bought the one bird.
Mum lets Charlie out of her cage to walk around the kitchen table. “Pock, pock, pock,” go her talons as she marches over my laptop, examining the keyboard like it was composing an essay on birds rights activism.
Birds are basically miniature dinosaurs — the exception being, of course, that miniature dinosaurs are ADORABLE, and also don’t exist anymore. Except in the form of birds. And birds remember. “Liz,” you say, “they’re not that bright. There is no way birds have a genetic memory of their lives as dinosaurs. And avian reincarnation is theologically dubious on a number of grounds.” Sure. That’s just what they want you to think.
How do I know there’s a vast bird conspiracy? Because we live in an age when you can put a bird on something and just call it art. Portlandia was a warning, people! One that we didn’t hear, because we were distracted by twee bird prints and plush owls and flying ducks!
Chickens will eat each other if you give them a chance. They also eat their own eggs. THAT IS NOT COOL BEHAVIOUR. Frankly it’s a little troubling, and I think chickens should seek counselling for their cannibalist urges, though obviously not from this guy. In the meantime, buy organic chicken and free range eggs, and under no circumstances trust a chicken.
I speak with some authority about birds, because once a bird tried to use me as a mule in its attempt to escape a pet store. There I was, innocently admiring some kittens, when I felt something move … and when I looked down, there was a budgie attached to my skirt. Attempting to blend in, so I’d carry it away from the pet store and into Ikea.
Don’t worry, though. I single-handedly prevented the avian invasion of Sweden by yelping and jumping, and then making high-pitched squeaking noises until a shop assistant took the bird away.
Some particularly evil birds
Bird apologists will tell you that emus are just inquisitive birds whose habit of pecking at anything they find interesting is easily mistaken for aggression. THAT IS A LIE. And even if it was true, what do emus even need to be curious about?! Are they the intelligence-gathering vanguard of an invasion?
Okay, yes, Flappy Bird went from “explosive meme” to “old meme” in, like, three days. This monstrous game was basically unwinnable, and if anyone tells you otherwise, they are a sneaky bird appeaser. Now it’s come out that some of the knock-offs contain malware. So that’s great. Please hold while I delete some stuff from my phone…
While we’re on the subject of birds that make people want to throw their smartphones…
Look, Angry Birds, I get it. Pigs have stolen your eggs, and that makes you mad. But then, you avian hypocrites, you send your hens off with explosive eggs! To save your children, you must kill them! You are well over the moral event horizon, birds. Not to mention that it’s totally problematic how the hens are the weakest of you. Let’s talk about the unexamined misogyny inherent in Angry Birds. Let’s think about your bird privilege. I’m calling you out on Tumblr as we speak, that’s how strongly I feel about this.
I’m not racist. I don’t hate all birds. Why, some of my best friends are birds! Like that time my BFF jumped up on the futon and pretended to be a bird. Although that was horrible. She made her hands into talons and had the wild-eyed look of a person who would stop at nothing to get a reaction. It was remarkably like that episode of The Carrie Diaries where Freema Agyeman’s character mixes ecstasy and LSD and hallucinates that she’s a bird, only it happened eight years earlier and my BFF isn’t Freema Agyeman.
Anyway, the point was, I don’t hate all birdkind.
Here are some birds which aren’t terrible
Look, I’m not a monster. How could anyone hate Big Bird?
Although I do find it troubling that he’s basically a giant four year old running around Sesame Street without a guardian.
I’m in favour of Muppet birds generally, as a matter of fact, because all the evil of birds is concentrated in Sam the Eagle, and he’s really not around that much. However, I do think Bert needs a better hobby than pigeons. Paperclips are where it’s at, Bert!
The Pigeon is actually my very favourite bird ever. I wouldn’t let him drive the bus, but I’d probably share my hot dog with him.
Galahs just crack me up. I see them hanging around, all puffed up, like they’re some kind of credible bird, and they have no idea they’re basically the same colour as Barbie’s Dreamhouse. No one takes you seriously, galahs. But I like you, I guess.
IN CONCLUSION, birds are mostly evil, but some are okay. If a bird has infiltrated your home in the guise of a pet, I recommend approaching it with caution, treating it with affection, but maintaining CONSTANT VIGILANCE so you’ll be ready when it turns against you.
Short fiction for Hallowe’en seems to have exploded in the last few years, or maybe I’m only just starting to notice it. I don’t care much for horror, or creepypasta in general — my BFF is obsessed with the NoSleep boards on Reddit, and I’m like, BUT I WANT TO SLEEP! — but I do enjoy a good ghost story now and then.
“Over the River” by Katherine Traylor is a really excellent, atmospheric, creepy story. It reminded me of one of the Hugo-nominated novellas of this year, except it wasn’t sexist or annoying, and also I can remember the title. OKAY, THAT SOUNDS LIKE FAINT PRAISE. Despite a superficial similarity to that story, “Over the River” is really good. It felt like the set-up for a novel, but also stands on its own. You should go and read it and stuff.