Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 7, 2019

Author Event: Rosalie Ham at the Booroondara Literary Festival

Tonight it was my pleasure to attend an author talk at the Booroondara Literary Festival. It was held at the Camberwell Library’s Parkview Room, and the speaker was much loved Australian author Rosalie Ham, author of four novels all set in quixotic rural communities:

  • The Dressmaker (2000), made into a film of the same name and starring Kate Winslet
  • Summer at Mount Hope (2005)
  • There Should Be More Dancing (2011, see my review)
  • The Year of the Farmer (2018, see my review)


I’ve read all of Ham’s novels, and I’ve read quite a few articles about her in the media too, but she was as fresh and funny as if I’d never heard of her before.  She told droll anecdotes from her own experience of farm life and her uncommunicative father,, telling us that he never spoke unless it was to say something important, and what was important to him was the importance of farming, the weather, and the unreasonableness of banks, water boards and people who don’t appreciate their own dependence on farming.  When after her father died her brother delivered exactly the same lecture, she decided that it was time to tell the story of the man on the land, a story to correct the misconceptions that people have about rural life.

Even though she was told repeatedly that the sections about water and irrigation were boring and that no one would buy a book with the word ‘farmer’ in the title!

The disconnect between perception and reality is fuelled by shows like The Farmer Wants a Wife (which I correctly guessed is a rural version of The Bachelor) and McLeod’s Daughters. But one aspect of McLeod’s Daughters that might be apt is that women had the lead roles.  I’ve never actually seen this TV series because of my antipathy to advertising on TV, but Ham says that the role of rural women, who tend to be neglected in literature, has changed.  Australian farms—contrary to perception—are mostly owned by not by foreign corporations but by families, yet they don’t support families as they used to.  So women usually have to supplement the family income with paid work, and dad tends to be the one looking after the children, fitting it in around the farming.  Isabel in The Year of the Farmer is typical: many rural women get up at four in the morning, run a business from home as well as handling the farm administration, and manage domestic responsibilities as well.  (Readers might remember that Michelle Scott Tucker in Elizabeth Macarthur, A Life at the Edge of the World made frequent mention of the number of women who had primary responsibility for a farm in Australia’s early colonial history, yet it is usually men who are credited with being agricultural pioneers.)

Ham finished up her talk about The Year of the Farmer with an entertaining slide show featuring her adventures with the filming of The Dressmaker.  She has a wickedly funny sense of humour!

Many thanks to the Camberwell Library staff for hosting this event.  I have tickets for another author talk at the festival: biographer Ann Blainey talking about her new book King of the Air, and we are looking forward to that.

PS We enjoyed a very nice meal afterwards at Con Noi Italian Trattoria.  Delicious food, prompt service and very reasonably priced!


  1. I concur with you about Rosalie Ham being a great interviewee at these sorts of events. I saw her at the Canberra Writers Festival a couple of years ago, and really enjoyed her. She and Marion Halligan were interviewed by Karen Viggers.

    I’ve just checked it to remind myself. She said she was working on a novel about irrigation at the time, and that if it didn’t work she’d “return to family squabbles”! And, a propos our conversation on my blog about “secrets”, the issue of secret came up – brought up by Halligan. Viggers asked why secrets are so good in novels, and Ham’s answer was because they relate to power, and that she’d seen the way secrets work in life this way – in staff rooms, sports clubs, and country towns! They are right of course about secrets being good in novels. It’s just the cliched way that blurb writers dramatise them that gets me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL I asked her what she was working on now, but she was (understandably) cagey about it.
      Re secrets: my problem is that the secrets are rarely anything original.


      • That’s interesting cos a he wasn’t cagey about the irrigation novel. I wonder why that was? Maybe it’s to do with how far down the path the story is.

        Re secrets, that’s true, though I’d say there’s little really that’s truly original. It’s how it’s written and developed that makes the difference, don’t you think? The problem is the way blurbs build these things, like secrets up, rather than the things themselves. In Featherstone’s book there are secrets and risks, of course, as there are in most war stories, but it’s the characters’ interiors that Featherstone focuses on.


        • Agreed that the way ‘secrets’ are written is the key, but a lot of semi-commercial fiction fails on that count too IMO. You rarely hear on this blog about the books I give up on because they are just so clichéd or banal, and after the requisite 50 pages I give up. Anyway, I’m looking forward to Featherstone’s book, I haven’t read him before and it’s always nice to discover a beaut ‘new’ author.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Haha, Lisa – but I do see some of those on your GoodReads account. At least, I have seen SOME of those. I don’t go looking but every now and then they pop up if it’s a book I’m reading or am looking up, because, you know, they show your friends’ activities first. The last book I gave up on was about 4 years ago, and that was the first in years. I don’t spend as much time reading as you so I’m very careful about what I choose to read in the first place because I can’t really afford to waste my precious reading time! (This means I don’t find some of the treasures you do, of course. It’s all a compromise isn’t it!)


  2. Hope you are doing great, Lisa .:-)


    • Hello Celestine:) All’s well here, I hope you are too.


  3. I watched McLeod’s Daughters religiously when it was on and loved the strong female leads. Ham sounds delightful and I imagine that slide show would have been quite a treat. Sounds like quite a night.


    • She was great: had us all in stitches about the corsets she had to wear to fit into the designer dress as an extra. She showed us still of herself as one of the dowdy frumpy women at the start, and then dolled up at the end. It was brilliant.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Don’t people come up with some ridiculous statements – no-one would buy a book with the word farmer in the title! On that basis I suppose no-one would buy On Sheep: Diary of a Swedish Shepherd, just because it has the word sheep in the title (it’s had great reviews here….)


  5. This would have been fantastic!


  6. […] Rosalie Ham is a Melbourne writer and teacher. I’ve read everything she’s written, starting with her debut novel, The Dressmaker, (2000) which was adapted to film in 2015 and starred Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving and Liam Hemsworth, then Summer at Mt Hope (2005), and two more, reviewed here on the blog, There Should Be More Dancing (2011) and The Year of the Farmer (2018).  (You might remember that I posted about to a Booroondara Library author event about that one…) […]


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