Rosaleen Norton ‘The Witch of Kings Cross’

Rosaleen Norton aka ‘The Witch of Kings Cross’

I was familiar with the name Rosaleen Norton long before I watched Sonia Bible’s excellent documentary about her, which takes as its title Norton’s long running nickname, The Witch of Kings Cross.

In an attempt to cash in on the upsurge of public interest in the occult that occurred throughout the west in the 1960s, the long defunct Sydney pulp publisher Horwitz Publications put together a number of salacious tabloid style non-fiction books on the so-called rise of witchcraft and Satanism in Australia. My favourite of these, which I wrote about on this site some years ago, the 1965 book Kings Cross Black Magic, was a direct attempt to piggyback on Norton’s fame.

Norton was also a semi-regular presence in the bachelor and barbershop magazines that proliferated on the shelves of Australia’s newsagents in the 1960s, titles like Adam, Man, Pix and Australasian Post. These magazines, incredibly tame by today’s standards, were once seen as very risqué. The activities of Norton slotted in well with their steady diet of stories about UFO sightings, white slavery, heroic Anzacs, shark hunting and out of control teens.

So great was interest in the occult in mid-1960s Australia that the subject even featured in a 1965 episode of the high rating locally produced Crawford TV crime show, Homicide.… Read more

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Projection Booth episode #505: White Sands (1992)

Episode 505 of the Projection Booth podcast is live to put into your eas and hearts. Mike While, Jedidiah Ayres and myself talk New Zealand director Roger Donaldson’s 1992 neo noir thriller, White Sands. I didn’t dig the movie as much as Mike and Jed, but always enjoy talking film with these two gents. We also discussed Donaldson’s broader career, the merits or otherwise of No Way Out (1987) and gave some love to a film I had not seen until I watched it for this episode, Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger (1975).

The episode can listened to in full here.Read more

2021 mid-summer reading report back

I’m conscious that I did not do a post on my top 10 reads at the end of last year, as is my usual habit. To make up for this, here is a quick update on what I’ve been getting into, reading-wise, over the first half of summer in Melbourne.

Shore Leave, David Whish-Wilson

Shore Leave is the fourth book to feature the character of ex-Perth cop turned PI, Frank Swann. This latest instalment is set largely in the Perth seaside suburb of Fremantle. Swann is battling poor health from a mystery ailment and is involved in a variety of complications arising from a US aircraft carrier, Carl Vinson, that has docked in town. These problems include the disappearance of a cache of M16 rifles from the ship that may have found their way into the hands of a local neo-Nazi group, and the murder of two women by what could be a serial killer among the crew. To top things off, as has been the case throughout the entire series, Swann has to deal with problems arising from his chequered past as a cop. Nothing in Shore Leave has dissuaded me from my oft stated opinion on this site that Whish-Wilson is the most underrated crime writer working in Australia today.… Read more

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Pulp Friday: Cover Me: The Vintage Art of Pan Books 1950-1965

Pan paperbacks are among the first adult books I can remember making a serious impression on me. My father had a number of Pan editions of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books in the collection of paperbacks he had in his den and from an early age I was entranced by their colourful, energetic, somewhat carnal covers.

Colin Larkin’s Cover Me: The Vintage Art of Pan Books: 1950-1965 notes the Fleming series was, not surprisingly, a huge seller for Pan. The books my father owned, which I still have, include cover art by Pat Owen and ‘Peff’ or Samuel John Peff, the latter one of Pan’s most used artists in the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s. I also discovered from Larkin’s book that the small drawing of a suave looking Bond holding a pistol that appears in a banner at the bottom of the main cover design in some of the Fleming Pan editions, was an illustration of Ralph Vernon-Hunt, the company’s managing director at the time.

Pan paperbacks appeared in Australia in large numbers in the three decades after World War II, and can still be found relatively easily in second-hand bookstores and thrift shops throughout the country. I have a fairly large collection, including I am happy to say, many of those that appear in Larkin’s simply sumptuous work.… Read more

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John le Carre, my 2020 and The Looking Glass War

It is fitting that my last post on this site for 2020 is a short tribute to the passing of a writer who has given me an enormous amount of pleasure during this difficult year, David John Moore Cornwell or as he is better known, John le Carré. Since his death on December 12, a sea of ink has been spilt on le Carré’s influence on the spy novel and his undoubted merits as a writer. I don’t intend to go over this territory again. Instead, I want to briefly discuss what it is about his George Smiley series I have found so fascinating. I also want to talk about one of the films based on his work that I believe does not get nearly enough praise, Frank R Pierson’s 1970 adaptation of le Carré’s 1965 novel, The Looking Glass War.

Melbourne, the city I live in, spent the better part of 2020 in hard lockdown in response to the Covid 19 virus. Reading was one of my many responses to suddenly finding myself with more free time. One very wet, cold Saturday morning at the outset of winter I picked up a paperback I bought ages ago – I can’t even remember when and where – the 1964 Penguin Crime edition of Call for the Dead.… Read more

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