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Over My Dead Body
Jim Brigginshaw

Marked by the events of the Great Flood of 1893 and the formation of the first miners’ unions, Over My Dead Body is an Australian epic; a literary feat exemplifying a writer’s craftsmanship and dedication to bringing history alive. It puts Australia’s current resource-driven prosperity into context by showing the day to day struggles of ordinary workers just trying to get by for themselves and their families at a time when the individual was virtually power-less against the arrogance of his employer, and expendable if work-related illness overtook him.

With panoramic themes reminiscent of Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, this thoroughly researched, award-winning retrospective certainly reminds us of the important place unions have earned in today’s society.

Over My Dead Body won the IP Picks 08 Best Fiction Award.

 

ISBN 9781921479113 (PB)
Historical Fiction

AU
$30

US
$24
NZ
$33
CA
$27
GB
£16
€19

JimB

Jim Brigginshaw

 

Jim Brigginshaw was born in Ipswich, Queensland and now lives in Iluka, New South Wales.

He has 60 years of all facets of newspaper journalism at nine major dailies in three States. He is a Walkley Award winner and was runner-up in the Australian Journalist of the Year award. He also has won Sir Harry Budd and Prodi awards for journalism.

A newspaper column, “Our Crazy World”, was published from June 1978 to April 2000, mostly six days a week. A new series resumed in 2006 and still appears fortnightly. A selection of his columns has been the basis of two books, A Ferret in Your Pants, and The Lure of the Treasured Tuft.

His previous books include Shimpu-san Healer of Hate; The Dream That Wouldn’t Die and Fishing the NSW North Coast.

Samples

from Monument to Misery

Coal dust ravaged the miners’ lungs. Coughing and spitting were the inevitable legacy of their lives in the appalling conditions underground. Disgusting as the spitting was, they had no choice, except when they laid eyes on the mansion on the hill. When they spat then, it was done with malicious intent—the black gobs of mucus expressing what they thought about this lavish reminder of their own squalor and poverty.

The miners called the object of their contempt Taffy Jones’s Castle. The name, meant to further denigrate the monument to their misery, found favour with coal baron Gareth Jones, who thought it meant his workers were accepting what he’d set out to achieve.

When he had the mansion built, he copied the ancient castles of his native land Wales. Towering stone walls topped by parapets and battlements, tall stained-glass windows, huge oak doors with studded brass hinges—there was nothing remotely like it anywhere in the infant colony of Queensland.

The difficult building work was done by convicts, whose labour was obtained through Jones’ generosity towards the right people in the right places. Emaciated, gaunt men, their rough clothing branded with the broad arrow marking them as prisoners, hacked the stone from quarries with picks and crowbars. They hauled the blocks through the bush on handcarts, chiselled them to size and manhandled them into position. When the mansion was finished, it was as close to a real castle as ego and money could get.

[Read more on GoogleBooks]

Links

eNews 37: Winner of IP Picks 08, Best Fiction.

 

 


 

 

Reviews

BILLY is a schoolboy who wants to be a journalist but at 16, family hardship forces him to find work. Even as his father sits on the veranda of the family's modest Ipswich home, coughing up disgusting phlegm from his worn-out lungs – the result of a working life in coal-dust - Billy packs his crib-billy and follows in his footsteps.

The hardships of mining and the betrayals of greedy men, capitalist and rank-and-file alike, are themes of this novel. It begins in the 1880s with the immigration of Billy's grandfather to colonial Queensland. The Brisbane River flood of 1893 devastates the Walkinton family and they leave farming. The novel then traces the family fortunes over three generations as they entangle with Taffy Jones, the nouveau-rich coal magnate for whom they toil.

While the coal-mining conditions described seem authentic, gaffes are easily spotted. The blurb's claim of thorough research is wishful thinking.
Three examples: there were no convicts building replica castles (or anything else) in the 1880s; Taffy Jones's rich wife was unlikely to have used words like "shit" and "crap" when berating her seamstress in 1890; and when workers sang The Red Flag in the 1912 general strike, they were sure to have got the chorus right.

The blurb says Over My Dead Body is reminiscent of D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers. I wish. Lawrence's literary genius is not so easily won. Nor does this novel get within coo-ee of Katherine Susannah Pritchard's goldmining trilogy set in Kalgoorlie. Still, it brings local mining history alive.

Given the paucity of workers' novels about
Queensland, it becomes, in this light, quite special.

– Lesley Synge, The Courier-Mail

Editor's Comment: Our policy is to publish reviews in their entirety rather than edit them, but in this case the reviewer got some of the facts wrong, so we have given the author a right of reply. However, before that, I need to correct an error that Ms Synge made in attacking the blurb on the back cover. The comparison to DH Lawrence was restricted to the author's use of "panoramic themes" in depicting the lot of coal miners in Queensland.

Mr Brigginshaw's reply:

The so-called 'gaffes' mentioned by the Courier-Mail reviewer indicate she should do some research herself.

Her assertion that convicts wouldn't have built 'castles or anything else' in Ipswich in the 1880s, for instance. Within a short walk of the Ipswich school I attended in the '30s was at least one old stone house built by convicts. There were many more, built when Ipswich was called Limestone, named after the white rock that was mined there by the convicts and used in cement and mortar for building.

The castle seems to test her credulity, too. The real replica castle Brynhyfryd, known locally as Lewie Thomas's Castle, was built on Blackstone Hill by the real Welsh mining magnate Lewis Thomas in 1890 and dynamited in 1936 after subsidence into mine tunnels.

Her claim that 'shit' and 'crap' wouldn't have been in the 1890 vocabulary is no more accurate. My miner father was born in 1871 and I can assure the reviewer he was familiar with the terms.

Also, the rich man's wife was serving beer in a rough waterfront tavern when he met her, so it is more than likely that she, too, had come in contact with such language.

Concerning the suggestion that I wrongly quoted the union song, The Red Flag: Like most songs of the masses, words change over the years. I quoted the one I remembered the miners singing.

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