Book reviews

The happy phrase: Everyday conversation made easily
Shane Maloney and Guy Rundle. Text, 2004
isbn 1 920 88546 3, rrp $17.95

Don’t be fooled by the compact size of The Happy Phrase. Its content is large in vernacular and enormous in levity. This book is best digested in small bites, to appreciate the pithy, full flavour of this jovial compendium on the English language.
I imagine that writing this ‘how to’ guide was not an onerous task for Shane Maloney and Guy Rundle. The sharp wit juxtaposed with the absurd, invites the reader to move from laughter to admiration for the wild imagination behind such genius.

The gauntlet is thrown down as the reader is challenged to ‘simply commit [the phrases] to heart and you will always have just the right phrase at your fingertips for any social or professional interaction’.

No event or circumstance is sacrosanct. The humour moves between the factually ridiculous to the believably fictitious. Whilst the chapter headings evidence judicious advice, the sub-headings and subsequent dot-points elude sensible response. Chapter 8 ‘Getting a Purchase’ provides but one example. Following the assurance of the authors, I look forward to the day at a flea market when I am able to utilise the expressions, ‘These lederhosen are a tad snug’ or ‘I give not a fig for your filthy spondulicks’.

The Happy Phrase is small enough to fit in a handbag or jacket pocket for ready reference in moments otherwise lacking in quick wittedness or in order to impress that special someone.

Lee Beasley

In pursuit of plants: Experiences of nineteenth and early twentieth century plant collectors
Philip Short. University of Western Australia Press, 2003
isbn 1 876 26898 0, rrp $54.95

The olfactory-challenging durian enjoyed by Frederick Burbidge in Borneo in 1880; Friedrich Leichhardt’s desperate eating of the leather hide that had housed his botanical collection in the wilds of Australia in 1847 and Joseph Hooker’s ‘indescribable loathing’ of parasitic ticks in Darjeeling in 1848 are brought together, with many other botanical adventures and experiences in In Pursuit of Plants. A botanist himself, Philip Short has compiled a set of contemporary accounts from botanists, explorers and other plant collectors who ranged across all continents at the height of imperialism, discovering, collecting and classifying.

Collectors tell their own stories, many of which read like ripping yarns. A comprehensive set of appendices includes an explanation of botanical nomenclature and taxonomic ranking and a fascinating historical description of botanical collecting and preservation techniques.

There is however, a disappointing lack of women’s plant collecting reflected in the book. According to Short, a tally of Australian collectors born before 1901 indicated that men outnumbered women seven to one in collecting activities. This being so, it is surprising that amongst the 38 collectors represented in this book, only one woman has been included. Short’s dismissal of the possible inclusion of Marianne North and Ellis Rowan as ‘essentially flower painters’ and already well known, makes little sense. Many of the men who have been included were essentially civil engineers, surgeons or surveyors rather than professional botanists. With the inclusion of men of such eminence and fame as Leichhardt and Baron Von Mueller, it is unclear why the much less well-known North and Rowan should be excluded.

Rebecca Marsh


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