Big Sir John Forrest

I came across this item while looking for information about John Forrest and the mail shipping services in the 1890s. It appeared in the West Australian on 5 February 1895.

Sir John Forrest was both Premier and Treasurer of Western Australia at the time. He and his colleagues were in Hobart for the Postal Conference, after attending the Federal Council meeting.

No-one who had seen John Forrest in the flesh would doubt that he was a big man. He stood six feet tall. In his twenties he had led three surveying expeditions, crossing Western Australia from west to east, through uncharted territory. His ventures gave him the stature of a hero among the colonists. In those days he had been muscular, sturdy even.

John Forrest and his team leaving Geraldton for Adelaide in 1874
John Forrest and his team leaving Geraldton for Adelaide in 1874

But once he left exploring and entered politics he began to gain weight. By the time he became the first Premier of the West Australian colony in 1891, his size was already a cause for amused comment. In 1897, one newspaper reported that he weighed sixteen stone (102 kg).

John Forrest as portrayed by Julius Mendes Price for Vanity Fair, 1897
John Forrest as portrayed by Julius Mendes Price for Vanity Fair, 1897

To his credit, the climb up Mount Wellington (Kunanyi) wasn’t an easy stroll. The mount rises 1,271 metres above the Hobart port. Forrest and his party tackled it in the middle of summer. The Weekly Times of Melbourne reported that the ‘visit of the Premiers to the top of Mount Wellington at Hobart resolves itself into Sir John Forrest’s ascent alone. All the other Premiers declined the feat, and Westralia’s political leader was for the nonce monarch of ail he surveyed.’ Still, the West Australian was probably correct about him being the heaviest man to ever make the top.

Seven things I’ve learned about giving an author talk

Authors are often asked to talk about their books. Sometimes that means doing an interview one-on-one for an article or podcast. But it might mean presenting an ‘author talk’ to a live audience.

Stella Budrikis holding her book

Recently I spoke about my book, The Edward Street Baby Farm, at a local library. It was in a suburb where I once went to high school. As I sat waiting for the train on my way home, I wondered what my teenage self would have thought, if someone had told her that one day she would be giving a forty-five minute talk to an audience of strangers. She would surely have laughed in disbelief. ‘Spoken English’ was my least favourite subject at school. I was a shy teenager with more than the average anxiety about public speaking.

I’m still very much a novice at speaking to an audience, but I feel much less nervous now. Here are some of the things I’ve learned from experience over the past year or so that might be helpful to anyone else who is invited to give an author talk:

1. Make sure you know where the venue is actually located. I looked on a map for the library and thought I had the address. But when I got to the street, I couldn’t find it. It turned out to be in the middle of a shopping centre. A great place for a library to be, but it wasn’t where I’d expected.

2. Arrive in good time. Allow time to familiarise yourself with the set up and the technology provided. Meet the organisers and the person who will be introducing you, if you don’t already know them. Make sure you can remember their names. (I write them at the top of my outline notes.)

3. Let the organisers know what you need and ask in advance about how the room will be set up. If you prefer to speak with a microphone, ask for one. If you want a lectern or desk to hold your notes, let them know. Ask what the equipment will be for showing slides if you plan to use them.

4. Assume the technology is going to fail. If you’re going to use Power Point, have more than one copy of your presentation available, either on separate USBs or online. Be prepared to give your talk without slides if necessary. (This hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’m sure it will one day.)

5. When you arrive, mingle with the audience beforehand and get to know some of them. Then you’ll have some familiar faces to look at when you speak.

6. Take a deep breath before you start and speak slightly slower than you would normally. Write “take a deep breath and speak slowly” at the top of your notes.

7. Prepare well, practise a lot, and then have fun. Your talk might be a bit rough around the edges the first of the second time, or even the seventh or eighth, but you’ll learn something every time. If you want more hints, YouTube is a good place to look.