Our first meeting for 2018 proved to be another popular and well attended one with over eighty people there and which began with the AGM. This resulted in one change of committee members as our Secretary Catherine Barker stepped down; in her place Catherine du Peloux Menagé took on the role.
Catherine Barker, has been on the committee since 2008 – three as Vice President to Sandra Faulkner’s Presidency, three as our President followed by five as Secretary – a total of eleven years. President Louise Owens congratulated Catherine for the excellent service she had given to the Society, presenting her with a beautiful potted geranium, plus a Book Token from Abbey’s Bookshop as a token of our appreciation. Thanks for your sterling service Catherine!
President Louise Owens spoke about our celebration of Dickens’ birthday to take place in front of his statue in Sydney’s Centennial Park on Wednesday 7 February which is also to be the launch of our October Dickens Fellowship International Conference – Boz in Oz: Charles Dickens’ Colonial Connections. It’s also when our new information and booking website – bozinoz.com – goes online.
A reading from our Book of the Year The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit was read by Vanessa Berry whose own book Mirror Sydney – consisting of essays and hand-drawn maps at a time when Sydney is being disassembled and rebuilt at an alarming rate – was published in 2017.
Member Susannah Fullerton presented the ‘Show & Tell’ section of the meeting, having brought along some of her Dickens’ related stamp collection in which she only collects stamps related to writers and their novels. It was fascinating to see that many such stamps came from differing parts of the world. Susannah also gave us a potted history of postage stamps, the first of which, the British Penny Black, was issued in Dickens’ time in May 1840.
President Louise Owens then introduced our main speaker Brian Powyer, President of the National Trust of Australia (NSW) who gave us a very interesting take on Dickens as a novelist and social activist within the Australian context. Brian focused on six of Dickens’ novels – Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, Bleak House & Great Expectations – because the context and characters are linked to Australia, noting that the earlier novels reflected the impression of Australia as a place of banishment and punishment but that, over time, they included a stronger moral purpose for both convict and free settler making good in a new land. During Dickens time, knowledge of the new world including Australia emerged. Brian asked us to consider the possibilities of whether or not what took place in Dickens’ novels – such as Magwitch who was transported for the term of his natural life making his fortune in Australia – was pure fiction or could it be seen as fact. Brian came to the conclusion that such a scenario could definitely have been fact. Talking of Dickens’ social advocacy Brian noted the he highlighted the lives of the forgotten poor and disadvantaged; the popularity of his novels ensuring that the Victorian public confronted issues of social justice which had commonly been ignored. Brian finished his talk by explaining how the political and social structure of Australia was determined by the British Parliament, the Home Office and various other groups, concluding that Dickens’ well informed fiction was consistent with the realities of his time.
Following Brian’s talk Vice President Walter Mason presented him with a potted geranium, a Book Token and various publications about the NSWDS and future meetings. The final flourish came when Geoff Usher read his now legendary limerick for Brian.
Meeting over, Louise invited those who wished to stay for lunch to do so and enjoy some more Dickensian Fellowship.