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Empire Day

de Diane Armstrong

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215865,499 (3.8)3
Bondi Junction in the late 1940s is a microcosm of changing Australia, and life is changing too fast for locals like salt-of-the-earth Pop Wilson, prickly Miss McNulty and feisty single mum Kath, all of whom resent the European reffos' who have moved in.
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Exibindo 5 de 5
EMPIRE DAY opens one evening in 1948, with the air full of the sound of exploding fireworks as the residents of Wattle Street (located in the back streets of Bondi in Sydney) celebrate Empire day. The post war years are a time of change. New Australians arrive by the boatload to escape the horrors that the war in Europe had wreaked on them, they all want to rebuild their lives. Wattle Street is now a mixture of long time Australians and the new immigrants. There is no telling the new arrivals to go home, nearly all of them had no home to go back to, no family left alive, they had no choice but to put down roots and start a new life.

So as the fireworks go off at the start of the story, the long time residents eye off the new arrivals. There is the mysterious and solitary Mr Emil who arouses his neighbours suspicions; the lovely Lilija a Ukrainian who falls in love with an Australian boy; Hania, an angry Polish girl struggling to cope with her hated mother and not wanting to be Jewish; and Sala, a newly, and unhappily, married woman. However, the Australians have their problems too. There is single mum Kath who works as a barmaid to raise her boys, a job made even harder when her eldest son Meggsie comes down with polio. Ted is a reporter and is looking for a big story so he can be taken seriously, but what if the story is about a crime so big it can only hurt the one person he loves. Miss McNulty is cranky and unfriendly for a good reason; and even the affable Pop Wilson has a secret.

This is the first book by Diane Armstrong that I have read, and what an outstanding writer she is. The only weakness for me (and the ailing memory is my problem not the authors) is that there are an awful lot of characters for me to keep track of and remember. All very interesting characters don’t get me wrong, and each had a tale to tell, but was very confusing trying to remember where they all fit in, and who they were connected to, until I finally settled into the story. I did have to keep my notebook nearby and jot the names down, but it is an example of how good a writer she is that let me rise above my confusion and find the story beneath.

( )
  sally906 | Apr 3, 2013 |
It’s a sad indictment on education of Australians of their own history that I had never heard of Empire Day (read more about it here) until reading this book. Once celebrated on the 24th May usually with bonfires, crackers, parades and street parties It had fizzled out in the 1960′s, long before I was born.
Armstrong begins her novel with the occupants of Wattle Street, in a northern beach suburb of Sydney, on the night of the festivities. While the Australian born families gossip together, watching the children delight in the exploding crackers, the newest residents of Wattle Street are reluctant to join them. Hania’s mother at first thought the explosions were gunfire and pulled her daughter away from the window terrified, Emil Bronstein can barely breathe, the smell of cordite triggering horrific memories while others remain behind closed curtains, silent and watchful.
Empire Day is a novel that explores the changes in Australian society after WW2 when the Australian government invited large numbers of refuges to settle in the country. Known as ‘reffo’s', with the characteristic habit of Australian’s assigning everyone and everything a nickname, the majority of migrants were survivors of the Nazi regime in Eastern Europe. Many hoped Australia would provide a haven and having lost everything, migrating was an opportunity to start fresh and escape the horrific memories of death and destruction. Yet adjusting was rarely easy, everything was unfamiliar from the landscape to the expectations to the language and Armstrong’s characters are representative of the struggle the New Australian’s faced to establish a new life. While many Australians welcomed the reffo’s there were those who were suspicious of them simply because they were foreign. Armstrong gives a balanced account of their experiences, as well as giving each an individual story.
The size of the cast is quite ambitious but they are a pleasure to get to know. Sala married Szymon in haste and is regretting the impulse to migrate, Emil mourns the loss of his children and his quiet manner makes him a target of suspicion, Eda hides a painful secret while her daughter, Hania, barely tolerates her and Lilijana’s father refuses to let her date.
The New Australian’s are not the only characters having trouble in Empire Day, Kath is a single mother of four whose oldest son contracts Polio, Ted is looking for his big break as a rookie reporter and all the while, elderly Ms McNulty stirs up trouble.
My only complaint stems from the plot conveniences that link several events and characters just a little too neatly but it is a minor quibble given the richness of the story.

Empire Day is a enjoyable and insightful glimpse into Australian society in the early 1950′s. Based in part I am sure on the experiences of Armstrong’s immigrant family who she wrote about in Mosaic: A Chronicle of Five Generations ,this is a wonderful Australians novel ( )
  shelleyraec | Jan 13, 2012 |
Empire Day by Diane Armstrong

Norriel wanted an Australian book. She looked at a couple before she found this one. She liked it and liked the people in it. Didn't like the writing it was like a kid's essay. All very familiar happenings.
Others: The nostalgia was very laboured . The point of the storyline was well done. The differences between European & Australian society was brought out well.
Thought I was being lectured. Which was quite annoying but I enjoyed it.
She kept pointing out similarities between the cultures.
Glad she avoided a happy ending, it just wouldn't have happened.
Haven't finished it but I'm now into it and enjoying it.
Slow to get going the second half was better. It didn't finish off properly. The editing could have been better.
Hard to start so I read some of the middle then went back to the beginning and quite enjoyed it.
Really liked it, the writing was economical. Liked all the different people. It was a complete book. Liked the history.
An accurate reflection of the times, quite factual.
Almost two books. The first part all Australiana & recognition of bygone times, fairly stilted. When she got to the Jewish side it flowed.
Quite contrived, enjoyed it though.
Characters didn't do a lot for me.
She was confused was it a refugee problem or a murder/mystery?
She didn't identify with Aussies.
Kept feeling I had read it before – maybe that was Judy Nunn's Snowy River story.

Scores: 7, 7.5, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7.5, 7, 7. Av. 7
  Warriapendibookclub | Oct 17, 2011 |
When I reached the end of this book, I was still unclear about what the author was trying to achieve with it. Was it a story about post war working class Sydney - with some contrived and clunky use of "product placement" to make sure that we knew that she knew her social history - Reckitts Blue, Capstan cigarettes, the Women's Weekly, Kraft Cheese Spread etc ? Was it a story about the post war European refugee experience of Australia? Was it a somewhat obtuse parable to reassure those misled and made scared by the brazen tactics of 21st century politicians to leverage the "refugee issue" for their own politiclal ends, that eventually, all will be well for Australia with the current intake of Middle Eastern refugees? My conclusion was that she tried to make the book all of these and for me, that was its weakness. There were too many characters and not enough character development. That, and the predictable, steropetypical development of most of the issues each of the characters faced meant that it couldn't raise itself to the level of the company to which it aspired. It was a pleasant enough read but contrary to the cover blurb, not in the league of either Cloudstreet or Harp in the South. ( )
  barbaretta | Sep 28, 2011 |
I love Australian historical fiction, but the late 1940s and 50s is somewhat devoid of books. It was a time of great change, but perhaps it’s too recent in the minds of our grandparents and parents to reflect yet with must nostalgia. There was still rationing but Australia was changing. The entry of many ‘New Australians’, displaced people from World War II was changing the Australian landscape from one of 6pm pub closing and tea drinking to coffee lounges and exotic food. Many of these immigrants simply had no home to go to – Italians, Russians, Latvians, Ukrainians, the Polish and the Jewish people – and ended up here, sometimes not by choice as there was nothing for them – no home, no family, no friends. This is their story and those of those already settled in Australia. Empire Day has particular relevance to me as my paternal grandparents arrived on such a ship to Australia from devastated Eastern Europe via a refugee camp in Germany – they didn’t (and still don’t) know what became of their family. My maternal grandparents were already ‘Aussie’ so it was really interesting to hear the stories of those in Wattle Street and compare them to that of my own family.

As you’d expect, there are many characters in this book as it’s the residents of the street and it can be difficult to keep up initially with who’s who, particularly the Polish and Latvian residents (my genes lack that ability!). But the established Australian residents soon typically give them nicknames and for the majority, embrace the differences and warmly welcome the refugees. There are several topics covered that are still relevant in Australia today – do the refugees accept the ways of the new country or maintain the ways of the old? Should they forget their horrific past or share it with others? Do they mingle outside their ethnic group? Different characters have different reactions to these – for Ted, it’s falling in love with a Latvian girl; but for her father, dating an Australian boy is something he can’t forgive.

Other topics of the time covered well in Empire Day are the polio epidemic (Meggsie, a red-headed larrikin is told he’ll never walk again), rationing post war (I didn’t know Australia still rationed butter then), the lack of decent coffee (we were still a nation of tea drinkers) and the leftovers of ‘Razorhurst’ (as seen on Underbelly: Razor). I didn’t even know about Empire Day until I read this book!

The Australian spirit of ‘having a go’ and generosity really come through in this book. Whether it’s Miss McNulty helping out Kath or Mr Emil befriending Meggsie, it demonstrates the lack of a class system and the way the ‘New Australians’ were increasingly accepted by the current residents.

This book in general makes me proud to be Australian – Armstrong has perfectly captured the spirit of Australia (better than Qantas anyway!) and it’s a heartwarming read with great characters and very well researched. Bonzer job, mate! ( )
  birdsam0610 | Sep 4, 2011 |
Exibindo 5 de 5

Empire Day by Diane Armstrong

Norriel wanted an Australian book. She looked at a couple before she found this one. She liked it and liked the people in it. Didn't like the writing it was like a kid's essay. All very familiar happenings.
Others: The nostalgia was very laboured . The point of the storyline was well done. The differences between European & Australian society was brought out well.
Thought I was being lectured. Which was quite annoying but I enjoyed it.
She kept pointing out similarities between the cultures.
Glad she avoided a happy ending, it just wouldn't have happened.
Haven't finished it but I'm now into it and enjoying it.
Slow to get going the second half was better. It didn't finish off properly. The editing could have been better.
Hard to start so I read some of the middle then went back to the beginning and quite enjoyed it.
Really liked it, the writing was economical. Liked all the different people. It was a complete book. Liked the history.
An accurate reflection of the times, quite factual.
Almost two books. The first part all Australiana & recognition of bygone times, fairly stilted. When she got to the Jewish side it flowed.
Quite contrived, enjoyed it though.
Characters didn't do a lot for me.
She was confused was it a refugee problem or a murder/mystery?
She didn't identify with Aussies.
Kept feeling I had read it before – maybe that was Judy Nunn's Snowy River story.

Scores: 7, 7.5, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7.5, 7, 7. Av. 7
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Bondi Junction in the late 1940s is a microcosm of changing Australia, and life is changing too fast for locals like salt-of-the-earth Pop Wilson, prickly Miss McNulty and feisty single mum Kath, all of whom resent the European reffos' who have moved in.

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