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Cloudland: Queen of the Dance Halls - Book Review

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by Alison Muirhead (subscribe)
Doting grandmother and grey nomad who should join Volunteers Anonymous and is greatly in favour of a ten day week. So much to do, so little time.
Published December 27th 2013
Dancing in the Clouds
A Promising Cover


Is it ethical to review a book before finishing it, or even getting through the preface? In the case of Cloudland: Queen of the Dance Halls, I'm afraid it is. As someone who delights in taking visitors around Brisbane's iconic heritage sites, I was excited to discover a book which promised so much, but through poor editing, incorrect facts, and a style akin to a Grade Eight assignment, I have been sorely disappointed. I'm not sure whether this set out to be an historical record or an entertainment. It is such a mishmash of both that it fails on either count. Content and style let it down badly.

The preface contains examples of all the faults which mar this book from the very beginning. On the surface, it is crammed with photos, usually an asset to an historical tale, but in an age of photographic technology which can reproduce historic photographs with amazing clarity, this is not the case here. Also many of the photos are totally irrelevant. I understand that the author is setting the historic scene, but why a photographed excerpt from the Courier Mail in which the only decipherable words are "Tshombe is nobody's fool" is featured, I have absolutely no idea. To further cloud this mystery it is captioned "The Courier Mail's reference to this innovation". What?

To flesh out my historic stories for visitors, I'm always on the lookout for new slants on old themes, but this must include correct facts. If the author is intent on giving heaps of facts and figures, sometimes to the point of sheer boredom, they must be correct. On page vii of the preface I'm told that the Brisbane City Hall was completed in 1940. Since its reopening in April 2013, I've been telling folk it was 1930. This book forced me to consult Mr Google, and fortunately he thoroughly agrees with me. Perhaps a professional historian should have been on the editorial panel. I'm happy to stand corrected, but were the Gasworks at Teneriffe originally known as Gassworks with a double "s"? Mr Google doesn't think so, but both of us could be wrong.

Any book which purports to be a written history should acknowledge all quotes. This does not happen often, and some quotes seem to be simply space fillers. Referring to the opening of the "very first Drive-In Shopping Centre" (why the italics?), "the State's 'biggest' cars apparently lined up". There is no acknowledgement of this information, nor does it appear to have any relevance.

My husband has managed to make his way through to Chapter One, a valiant attempt from my point of view. We will soldier on in case there are some interesting facts to relay to our visitors, but the compilation of this history of one of Brisbane's sentimental icons can only be described as "shoddy". If we find it has any redeeming qualities at book's end, I will add it to the comments notes at a future date. I've optimistically borrowed the author's Great Southern Land: Origins of the early New South Wales colony in an attempt to shed some light on my husband's First Fleet ancestor, but I won't hold my breath. Just as well I haven't had to pay for either of these books. That would have been a very poor investment.
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Update February 23rd 2014
I've finally finished this book and stand by everything I said. My husband says I just persevered so I could whinge. How many ways can the Deen brothers be spelled? At least two in this case. There were many shady unacknowledged quotes which makes me suspect they were made up on the spot. I took so long to finish this that my loan expired on the other book of his. I'll get it out again when a ten day week comes into vogue. Or I get dementia.
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Why? To trawl for the history of the Cloudland Ballroom
When: Any time
Where: Anywhere
Cost: $29.95
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