Encore brings together the stories of 50 prominent West Australians, or people whose lives were significant to the state, and is constructed around obituaries written by the two authors – Patrick Cornish and David Hough – between 2000 and 2015 while they were working at The West Australian newspaper.
It is complemented by a selection of photographs and a photo essay written by graphic designer Joanne West Cornish, the former bringing to life the eras mentioned in the book: the Edwardian fashions are there, as are academic gowns, the wardrobe of professional women or the comfortable attire of the aged.
The decorated war heroes and the resolute faces of those in business are depicted, as are those from the sports arena.
The evocative title invites the reader to again applaud the endeavours of those who were once eulogised by family and friends.
The personalities and the deeds of the deceased do return to centre stage, but while respectful of the circumstances that may have surrounded their death or shaped their lives, the sensitive accounts are not hagiographies. They provide perception and invite admiration.
The foreword provided by Kim Beazley AO (Order of Australia) introduces the reader to the scope and interest of the work of two very able exponents of the art of writing an obituary, and in this instance, publishing their reflections on the lives of 50 West Australians drawn from across the community.
The authors’ introduction provides plain statements of intent which, apart from wanting to provide accuracy and break from some of the constraints imposed by subeditors zealously controlling the amount of space used, declare that their prime criterion was to tell a good story.
In Encore that ‘good story’ has become a very instructive compendium. Cornish cites historian Stephanie Tarbin when noting it is “an unusual skill to connect with people in the past”. While that observation was made in reflecting upon the life of former UWA academic, Philippa Maddern, it can be applied in full to this collation of essays, which so very easily connect the reader to the state and the Commonwealth of the 20th century and the international events that impacted upon the lives of West Australians.
Encore offers 50 obituaries, with the authors selecting 25 each. Many of the names will be familiar to members of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society (RWAHS) particularly, including that of past presidents Professor Geoffrey Bolton AO, Reg Withers, Margaret Feilman OBE, Harold Birch, Tom Gibbons and Philippa Maddern.
Joy Bignell, David Blenkinsop CBE AM, Reg Bolton, Kira Bousloff AO, Ken Kelsall AM and Murray Mason were well known in the wider Perth community; Joseph Walley, Jan Omerod and John Toohey AC QC are recognised for their promotion of Aboriginal culture.
The life story of Alice Murray, “Centenarian of the Wheatbelt”, stretched from 1893 to 2000, while the unusual work St John of God nurse, Sister Francis Dunne, was in the Kimberley, including the leprosarium in Derby.
Other names that may be recognised by country readers would include that of Jack Italiano from Harvey-Benger, Les Simms from Brunswick Junction and later manager of Peters Ice Cream (WA), and Ross Payton and Guy Castieau of Bunbury.
Stella Rowley BEM nursed briefly at St John of God Hospital, Bicton, but would spend twenty years as the Silver Chain nurse at Shark Bay.
Encore includes some practical expressions of interfaith and ecumenism: the Orthodox Jewish parents of Eric Silbert AO DFC chose a convent schooling for Eric’s early years while he celebrated his bar mitzvah during his third year at CBC Fremantle.
Sylvia Box, well known for her role in fostering Australian ballet, espoused ecumenism after enrolling in the Franciscan International Centre at the University of Kent in Canterbury.
True to its title, Encore responds to the demands of the discerning reader; it offers enjoyment that one can turn to time and again due to the deft writing of the contributors who have woven the storyline of each subject into the rich texture of daily life in WA homes, churches, businesses, professions, cultural and physical recreational endeavours.
Published by iPrint Plus, Perth, in 2016, Encore has 97 pages, including a list of contents, photographs and portraits (some coloured), and a map; the format is redolent of an earlier era.
It is priced at $35 (plus $15 postage), and is available through RWAHS, contactable at: email@example.com or on: (08) 93863841.