An Independent Heart by Elizabeth Grant
Snow melted on the horses’ necks and tangled their manes with glistening icicles.
My Brother Jack by George Johnson
My brother Jack does not come into the story straight away. Nobody ever does, of course, because a person doesn’t begin to exist without parents and an environment and legendary tales told about ancestors and dark dusty vines growing over outhouses where remarkable insects might always drop out of hidden crevices.
End of the Bay by Kate Vane
He was holding a shovel by the neck. Like a hatchet.
This month after finishing My Brother Jack I watched (via Prime Video) the miniseries of the same name broadcast in 2001 starring Matt Day as David Meredith and Simon Lyndon as Jack. It was a reasonably faithful retelling though, as is to be expected with a film adaptation, some characters, such as David’s grandmother, were left out and the storyline compressed in parts. The novel itself did something similar; it is semi-autobiographical fiction and combined people into single characters and compressed and embellished other elements of George Johnson’s life. (Notes to Australian Classics edition 2013, p.262) As the notes explain, Jack never went to South America and his greatest walking feat was from Flinders Street Station to Elsternwick on an exceptionally hot day (a similar distance to Coburg, which I walked often in the summer of 1989/90 during the long tram strike so I am not impressed). Such changes were made, apparently to ‘inflate Jack’s character to heroic proportions’. There are glimpses of Melbourne landmarks such as the Argus building doubling for the Morning Post which is a nice touch as Johnson actually worked for the Argus. There are also occasional shifts to the island of Hydra in the ‘present’ where Meredith/Johnson lived for ten years from 1954. The series has the feel of the period it covers, especially the language of the time. I believe a lot of the dialogue was taken straight from the novel. The novel was one of the first to honestly present the burdens brought home by even the physically intact soldiers returning from the Great War and visited on their families over the ensuing decades. While the series shows us the rages and violence of David and Jack’s father, it provides a mere glimpse of the full horror found in the book of what some families endured. As is usually the case, I would say that the book is better and has more depth but the series is well worth watching.
I’m not sure how it was presented when it was first released but Prime Video has My Brother Jack as a three part series. Parts 1 and 2 follow the story but Part 3 is a 25 minute interview with a World War 1 veteran talking honestly about his experiences.