Tony’s Notes From The Bony Novels (Part 5)

Posted on Sat 12/04/2010 by


Topical things from the Bony books.

Upfield may unwittingly have painted himself into a corner at times with his books. Why I say this is that knowing how popular his books had become, there was always the idea to just keep pumping them out as fast as he could put pen to paper, and by placing some things in his text in those books that were topical at the time, then it became a little difficult to insert new books out of sequence. As it was, when he started to become really popular, after the Second World War, there was a new novel coming out every year or so, and his inserting something topical at the time did not become too much of a problem.

Considering that the first novel was written in the mid to late 1920’s and the last came out in the early 60’s then some of those topical things place a fairly accurate time on when the setting was.

By doing this, in a subtle way as part of the text of the novel, Upfield could effectively include what was really just a pesonal point of view on whatever it was he was commenting about.

Upfield mentions the introduction of Television licences, which places that novel in the late 50’s. With the introduction of TV in Australia, after the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956. the Government also introduced legislation that if you owned a TV, then you had to have a licence to view it, along the lines of a yearly driver’s licence. It was a bone of contention for many years as it was considered just to a tax, which in effect it was.

The launch of Sputnik in late 1957 also gets more than just a passing mention in two novels from around that time, mainly the fear campaign involved with the fact that if Russia could put something like this into Space, then there was the thought that could also launch weapons into Space, and this fear was fairly widespread in the early years of The Cold War.

Upfield also mentions that some of his characters had returned from the War, and as his books covered such a long period, there are people coming back from The Great War, The Second World War, and also from Korea.

In his early novels, he also introduces air travel, while still in its infancy here in Australia prior to The Second World War, while air travel was still nowhere near as common as it is now. In some of his novels, Upfield details the differences between some of the aircraft involved, again showing the research he went to, in a time when there would have been very little knowledge about aircraft.

He has a few recurring themes throughout his novels.

One of those was the problem with the introduced pest, the rabbit, and the huge explosion in their population, considering they all came from a couple of rabbits brought to Australia as pets, and then released into the wild. They then spread across the Country, and became a major problem. The rabbit disease Myxomatosis was introduced in an effort to control the rabbits, but Upfield’s strong opinion on that was that nothing, not even Myxo could control the spread of the rabbit. He introduced his opinion through a variety of characters spread through quite a number of his novels, treating it in a variety of forms, all of them disparaging towards Myxo, and even that term, Myxo, was given different pronunciations in those novels, in much the same manner as it was disparagingly treated by nearly everyone outside of the major built up cities.

As it proved, he was correct in his opinion, as rabbits did in fact breed resistance to Myxo in themselves over the years.

In some of his novels, Upfield also mentions, and in some intricate detail, the manual trapping of rabbits, by trappers who made a fairly solid living from doing that. Those passages are quite evocative and take us back to a time when life was hard work for these people who made a small living from extreme hard work in what can only be described as marginal living conditions for long periods of time.

Having travelled extensively himself, Upfield introduces the effects of flooding into his novels. This was something of a rare thing in Outback Australia, and when it did happen, it always proved to be an extensive disaster. Of little understanding, even in Australia, is that these floods are not something of a short passing nature, but can last for anything up to months in time. Upfield mentions the floods coming from the North mainly, in that vast system of Rivers that flow from the North to the South of the Country, and those floods are always very slow moving and are not contained to the River itself, but over a vast area, the waters creeping South.

Upfield also expresses his opinion of the Justice System, throughout most of his novels in fact, mainly through Bony himself, but also through other characters as well. He has Bony expressing very strong views that he does everything possible to bring the perpetrator of the crime to a position where he is placed before the courts, and then smart lawyers, and the Justice System itself seem to treat the crime as almost something in passing, and not delivering the punishment that such a crime deserves. At times he becomes downright strident in that opinion, and it’s quite plain to see that Upfield, through his character Bony especially, has very little feeling towards all those concerned on the Justice side of the crimes he investigates.

Upfield, again through his characters, consistently shows his outright disrespect for any and every politician, and he showed no fear or favour of any side of the political fence. At no stage in any of those 29 novels did anyone ever have a kind word to say about any politician. They are portrayed at every turn as people from the lowest rung of the ladder, imposing laws and taxes that have no effect whatever on them, but that the people always end up suffering from everything they do. A continuing theme is that they always seem to be travelling on the public purse on matters unrelated to anything of a political purpose whatsoever, while those engaged in public service as a result of politics have to justify every penny they spend, and in most cases are denied funding to do the work they are required to do. There is also a time factor coming into this, in that they are always being hurried up for a result, when those politicians can take as much time as they want on the most trivial of matters, and spend vast sums of money doing it, while those working for them are always asked to do more with less.

Unlike a lot of other crime fiction novels, especially in these days of the late 1990’s, and into the next Century, Upfield rarely has Bony carrying a weapon of any sort. In fact, you have to read very closely to find any mention of Bony carrying a personal weapon.

He refers in one novel to Bony having the backup of his ‘trusted automatic’, obviously a reference to a Pistol in this case. In another he has a revolver, but again, these are just two mentions throughout 29 novels. This doesn’t mean to say Upfield has as his character Bony, someone who is not very knowledgeable about the use of weapons, because where there are cases of Bony investigating a case where someone has been shot, he has remarkable knowledge about what different types of weapons can do, and just what that person was shot with.

In another case he shows remarkable knowledge about the intricacies of different types of rifles when he is forced into a situation where he is pinned down by someone shooting at him. Bony knows the rifle this person is shooting with, so he gets into cover just out of range of that weapon, while having a rifle of lesser calibre, but of greater range, so he can shoot accurately, and with better effect than the person shooting at him. This needs to be remembered when prior to actually setting out, he specifically selected this rifle of lesser calibre, knowing that if there was a possibility of a situation developing where there was to be shooting, then Bony would be the one with the advantage. Again, this may be a passage only in passing, but it indicates Upfield’s knowledge of weapons, even though they are rarely used in many of his novels.

Again, as with all mentions of those topical things in his novels, they are done in a manner that the reader might just tend to not even notice, so subtle is the way Upfield introduces them into his text for that novel.