For Marcellous, after his series on the Sydney International Piano Competition. All the pieces below are mentioned in that series, but not of course these performances.
Daily Archives: July 26, 2008
… but in need of a really ruthless editor, I’m afraid.
I am referring to Garry McDougall, Belonging — a Photo Novel (Hightor Trading 2007). From the Introduction:
This is an account of the life and times of Dr. Charles Louis Gabriel. It incorporates quotes from the Gundagai Times and Gundagai Independent (shown in small print), a selection of Gabriel’s photographs, three reenactments, and many local and national events. Some Gundagai names are used and their characters depicted as accurately as possible, while others do not necessarily correspond to their profession, appearance or personality. Certain events and characters are entirely fictional, yet consistent with the wider historical context. Gabriel’s personal relationships are speculative but backed by material gathered over twenty years of research. Nevertheless the story remains fictionalised history.
In Search of our Louis Gabriel
Charles Louis Gabriel [above] was born in Kempsey, New South Wales in 1857, son to Dr. Charles Gabriel and Emma Rudder. Like his father and grandfather before him, Louis became a physician, gaining additional medical qualifications at prestigious Edinburgh University. He probably practiced his new skills at sea as a ship’s doctor, then briefly in Sydney, before leaving in 1887. He then set up practice in Gundagai, and stayed for the remainder of his life.
Records show that he dedicated himself to his medical work, only taking up the fashionable hobby of photography around 1899. In the following ten years he produced over eight hundred glass plate negatives, many quite astonishing and accomplished, yet with a mysterious “x” factor that noone could explain. The images are now in the National Library of Australia (NLA), a valued and astute record of Gundagai, that most iconic Australian town, and a crucial component of the Australian mythology.
In documentaries and publications Louis Gabriel has been presented as a typical country doctor and amateur photographer. His story appears both dignified and mundane, yet his photographs suggest at a far more interesting story. Little significance has been given to the Gabriel family’s French, West Indian and African heritage. Always sidestepped, Gabriel’s physical features were always important in a colonial Australia engaged in a debate on nation, race and identity. In this book it is assumed that anyone identified as a “black” would have a question mark over their social status, and be at risk of being judged bottom-of-the-heap. In contrast, a physician and surgeon could look forward to a future at the top of any town’s elite. So the questions quickly arose: how did Louis Gabriel fit into turn-of-the-century Gundagai? Did he adapt, survive and prosper, or not? Did he meet any opposition to his residency? And if he did, why did he stay in Gundagai?
On thing was clear: Louis Gabriel’s residence coincided with a crucial historical period when Gundagai was cemented into the Australian mythology- through stories, poetry and news reportage. The town asserted itself, perhaps vaguely at first, to be typically Australian: democratic, equal, rugged and practical. But where did Gabriel fit? Did he receive the Australian”fair go.” Did he belong?…
It is a great tale, and I would say material for a great miniseries on, say, ABC. Unfortunately, the execution varies. There are times the author’s relentless pursuit of metaphor lets him down, and a few occasions where historical clangers pass unnoticed: for example, a doctor in the 1880s would have been hardly likely to refer to “polio”, an Americanism first appearing, according to the Oxford Dictionary, in the 1930s. He just may have said “poliomyelitis”, but would even more likely have said “infantile paralysis.” But such historical blemishes are few, as the novel lovingly but unromantically recreates a fascinating slice of Australia’s past.
There’s a link to a photo album of Gundagai below the fold.