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A visit to the Lifeline Bookfest, Brisbane, January 20-24.

If you can manage to get to Brisbane in June, 2007, the Lifeline Bookfest will be on again at the Brisbane Convention Centre. Said to be the biggest book sale of its kind in the world, the twice-yearly Bookfest will have another 1.5 million second-hand books on sale - from as little as 20 cents each. Proceeds go to funding the charity Lifeline, which provides services like phone counselling.Reporter, and fictional character, Norman Wallis attended the recent Lifeline Bookfest, held from January 20-24.

I would like to share the titles of the books I found at the recent Lifeline Bookfest. Lest this sound self-indulgent, my motive is purely to show how some of your most obscure interests can be satisfied at this nirvana for book-lovers.

I headed to the Brisbane Convention Centre, South Brisbane, on Saturday, January 20, the first day of the Bookfest. It was held in the same hall as last time, which was about the size of a football field and was divided into the usual three sections: High Quality, Priced, and Unpriced. Each section was full of long wooden tables full of books, with signs describing the books at each table: Childrens, Travel, Humour and Oddities, Penguins, Literature, Computers, etc. I went to the High Quality section and started scouring the hardbacks at the Collectibles tables. It was about twelve-thirty, but I still found some interesting, and cheap, tomes.

Patrick Logan. Tyrant of Brisbane Town, by Charles Bateson, published 1966, was a well-written find, that satisfied my curiosity about Brisbane’s early days. A veteran of the Napoleanic Wars, Captain Patrick Logan was made commandant of the penal settlement of Moreton Bay, an outpost that eventually became the city of Brisbane.
The banks of the Brisbane River were heavily wooded in the 1820s, and the main city streets of the present Brisbane were just tracks along which convicts were marched to some horrible slave labor in the tropical sun. Captain Logan reportedly ordered anything from 50 to 300 lashes as punishment. He was obliged to report to the governor in Sydney on whatever punishment he meted out – but he didn’t always bother sending these reports.

I also indulged my interest in obscure books of humor at the Bookfest, like Cole’s Fun Doctor, the Funniest Book in the World, which looked Victorian. E.W. Cole opened Cole’s Book Arcade in Bourke Street, Melbourne, in 1883. He acquired leases and freeholds of neighbouring property and by 1896 the arcade stretched from Bourke Street to Little Collins Street. He also had attractions at the arcade, like a Wonderland of multiple-reflection optical illusions; a Smiling Gallery of mirrors; a penny-in-the-slot Hen that Laid the Golden Eggs; and a few weird things, too, like a cage full of live monkeys. An expert at marketing, he met his wife by taking an ad out in a newspaper.

E.W. Cole bought what are now known as remaindered books, from England, and put his own covers on them; and he’d include his own writing in these books, about his visions for a federated world. My copy has no publication date but this book was originally published in 1886.

Laugh Magazine was another good find, an English magazine which looked like it was from the 1950s or 60s. It was full of jokes, anecdotes and cartoons, and would have really kept its readers occupied.

I’ve always been curious about Victorian-era societies, too, so I picked up Spiritualism and Theosophy by C.W. Leadbetter, published 1928.This book is full of reports on seances and other spectral stuff, and I couldn’t resist it.

The History of Magic by Eliphas Levi, was another interesting book: a 384-page hardback published in 1948, originally purchased by a Robert Palmer at Bourne and Hollingsworth Ltd, Oxford Street, London. W.1.
Bourne and Hollingworth Ltd no longer exists.

The book had a lot of interesting anecdotes about mystical characters and strange events throughout history.

Also I found an interesting old bookmark inside the book: a negative of a country road with a small hotel, the George and Dragon. Bookmarks are a bonus of Bookfest books. After I’ve taken books home and started reading, I’ve found old tram tickets, a business card from the 1920s, and a postcard of an x-ray of a hand.

I picked up a couple of Blackwood’s Magazine anthologies, too, including Travellers’ Tales from ‘Blackwood’. This 1969 book included stories like Zanzibar by Sir Richard Burton. This was an extract from his journal Zanzibar; and two months in East Africa, which was serialized in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1858.

Blackwoods, established in Edinburgh, then based in London, published memoirs and works of fiction set in countries throughout the British empire, from 1817-1980.

Blackwoods had a mention in another book I found: Our Sandhill Country, published 1933. The author, A.M. Duncan-Kemp, said people on cattle stations in South-West Queensland sometimes had copies of Blackwoods Magazine on their tables.

I picked up Our Sandhill Country because my grandmother grew up on a cattle station in this area at this time (1920s), and lived out there for a few decades after that. If not for this book, I would probably have never known that much about that part of her life. And I doubt I’d have found this book anywhere else.

Arnold’s Latin Prose Composition, a hardback for students, published in 1927 by Longman’s. A well-written and well-made book, too: solid and sturdy, like it was new.

Aesop’s Fables. A hardback from the late 1800s or early 1900s, featuring some nice ink line drawings and good old-fashioned wisdom.

Then I returned on the Tuesday and picked up a few more nice ones, including:

Anything for a Laugh, a collection of jokes and tightly written anecdotes edited by Bennett Cerf, a humorist who founded Random House. 1946 edition.

An 1894 edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost with some excellent ink line drawings by Gustave Dore. It needed a repair job – the cover is coming off the spine – but a great book. Inside there was a label awarding the book to a Rockhampton Grammar student back in the 1890s: J. or L. Richards. You’ll often find this sort of thing in these old books, and you can’t help wondering about these people and their lives.

William Blackwood and His Sons, Volume 3, by Mrs. Gerald Porter. 1898 edition. The third volume in a story of the Blackwood publishing dynasty, written by the daughter of John Blackwood. Published by Blackwoods.

The Trial of John George Haigh (The Acid Bath Murder), edited by Lord Dunboyne. 1953. I’d seen the movie A is for Acid, based on this story.This book is a factual account of the murders and subsequent trial of this pathetic fellow.

Plots of the Operas, 266 Stories of the Operas, Oscar Thompson, editor. 1943 edition. This book had act-by-act breakdowns of just about any opera you could think of.

I did a quick recon of the Unpriced section, too, and picked up the satire The Good Soldier Schweik by Jaroslav Hasek.

The books from the High Quality section of the Bookfest weren’t dirt-cheap, but they were certainly good value. And I am quite certain I would never have found many of these books anywhere else, or even books on many of these topics.
The writing is a lot better in some of these older books, too. It’s often meatier, with more facts. And they often seem more trustworthy to me. I get the feeling a lot of authors these days have too much of a conflict of interests when it comes to truth and ideology.
I heard a couple of people comment wistfully on how beautiful and well-made books used to be, too. This showed that people still appreciated quality, while you’re led to believe people don’t value it that much these days.

Bookfests are like some kind of treasure chest for readers. If you’re a book-lover, I’m telling you, it does not get any better than this. The next Bookfest is in June at the Brisbane Convention Centre, South Brisbane. Bring a big bag.

-Story by Norman Wallis.