Libraries and creativity

I love troveWhen I first started writing Taken At Night, the National Library’s wonderful digital collection Trove was not available. The only way to research the history of bubonic plague in 1900  was to trawl through microfilm copies of newspapers at the Mitchell Library in Sydney, looking for headlines that seemed relevant.

Now I can type in “plague” and come up with articles, images and unknown surprises, without leaving my desk, at any time that inspiration strikes.

Sadly, Trove and other operations of the National Library of Australia are being cut by the Commonwealth Government. Budget cuts and “efficiency” dividends are resulting in:

  • Loss of more than 20 jobs by June 30 with additional redundancies to follow in 2017-18
  • Fewer international print and online subscriptions
  • The quarterly National Library of Australia magazine will cease
  • A stop to aggregating content in Trove from museums and universities unless it is fully funded to do so

The Library’s Director General has said these cuts will have a “grave impact”.

Australia’s libraries and cultural institutions are essential to researchers and writers who are attempting to bring Australian history to a wider audience. A nation’s cultural inheritance is part of its identity, and its neglect and loss is irreversible. We can see this in the tragic destruction of cultural artefacts in Syria. According to one Guardian commentator, the Government’s cultural focus is increasingly military in nature – at the same time as these institutions are being forced to sack staff, $330 million was spent on the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landing, $32 million was spent on the Australian War Memorial and $100 million is to be spent on an ANZAC interpretive centre in France.

On becoming Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Australia had to be “agile” and “creative”. Trove is the epitome of this. Its existence derives from lateral thinking and its digital collections are resources waiting to be turned into new creative business endeavours, whether these are books, apps, movies, design, tourism or education. We are very short sighted indeed if we let so-called efficiency stand in the way of creativity.





The Chinese in Sydney in 1900

Kung Hei Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year!lanterns

“Two Chinese men were waiting for Fergus outside his front door the next morning. Their suits and bowler hats indicated they were not market gardeners selling goods, nor common labourers, but businessmen on a formal errand. Fergus knew one of them as Yuen Le, an official of the Loong Yee Tong and a well to do Chinese merchant. The Tong was a Chinese society. Some said it worked as a respectable funeral fund; others that it was an illegal gambling gang. Fergus thought it was probably both.”

(extract from Taken At Night)

Chinese The Chinese have had an important role in Sydney’s growth and history, and were prominent in Sydney in 1900, when Taken At Night is set. Accordingly several Chinese characters feature in the story.  Fergus Blair has a close relationship with a Chinese businesswoman, An Hing. Although readers don’t meet An in person, they will learn she has a mind of her own and is a significant presence in Fergus’ life.

By 1900, the historic district of The Rocks in Sydney had a number of Chinese businesses, but a second Chinatown in the Haymarket area was also established. In researching my novel I read the report of the 1891 Royal Commission into the Chinese of Sydney, which visited opium dens and heard evidence from Chinese and police about gambling practices.  Chinese stores were often bases for clan tongs, societies which supported Chinese men who had migrated to Sydney. One of the Commissioners was the well known merchant and tea impresario, Mei Quong Tart.

In 2016 Sydney’s Chinese New Year celebrations will feature a trail of Chinese Zodiac lanterns, with 2016 being the Year of the Monkey. Monkeys are cheeky, fun loving and wise, as any fan of the cult TV series Monkey! will know.

You can read more about the history of the Chinese in Sydney in the Dictionary of Sydney.


Taken At Night has hit the streets!

Taken At Night has hit the streets!

Beatrix the intrepid photographer is out on the Sydney streets with her camera! Read her adventures in Taken At Night, available in paperback and Kindle.


The year is 1900, and photographer Beatrix Spencer has just opened her photographic studio in the bustling colonial metropolis of Sydney. But it is a turbulent time to start a new business. A deadly outbreak of bubonic plague is threatening the city, causing public panic, putting ships into quarantine and causing unrest on the wharves. The colony is preparing to send soldiers to the Boer War. Women are struggling to gain rights and recognition.

When a mysterious passenger disappears from a quarantined ship, Beatrix is drawn into the investigation led by Detective Fergus Blair, who has secrets of his own. Against a backdrop of disease, politics and violence, Fergus and Beatrix find that their city has an underworld that is more dangerous than either of them realized. And somewhere, another more sinister photographer is at work…

Taken at Night recreates a dangerous and fascinating era of colonial history, interwoven with a complex historical mystery and intriguing characters.