fbook icon 60Review: A World Without Downton

The Final Episode of 'Downton Abbey'


Warning: This article contains mild spoilers. Don’t read it if you haven’t seen the finale yet.


Last Monday night, at 11.15pm Australian Eastern Standard Time, we farewelled Downton Abbey forever. For his movie-length finale, creator and writer, Julian Fellowes (who became Lord Fellowes during the life of the show) gave us a succession of fairytale moments which neatly resolved each of the multiple storylines. There was a wedding, the birth of a baby and the announcement of a pregnancy, plus a myriad of blossoming romances, confirmed by mutual smiles and meaningful looks – Mrs Patmore and Mr Mason, Daisy and Andy, Mr Moseley and Miss Baxter, Branson and the glamorous editor of Lady Edith’s magazine. 

In the job department, Barrow got a very big promotion at the expense of poor Mr Carson (see below), while Mr Talbot, Lady Mary’s new husband, and Branson, the former chauffeur, started a used car business together. 

Along the way, Fellowes threw in a couple of serious illnesses, one of which turned out to be misdiagnosed by a Harley Street specialist as pernicious anaemia when it was actually of the treatable iron deficiency kind. Relieved sighs from Lord Merton and his baroness, formerly Isobel Crawley. The other illness was more mysterious, afflicting Mr Carson, the ever-faithful butler and master of the cynically raised eyebrow, who could no longer continue in his job. Perhaps to compensate for his meanness to one of our favourite characters, Fellowes arranged for Lord Grantham to endow Carson with a lifetime sinecure.

In the fashion department, kitchen maid Daisy was given a makeover which transformed her into a Clara Bow lookalike. Meanwhile, above stairs, the ‘plain’ sister, Lady Edith, shone in a stunning handkerchief-hemmed wedding gown. 

Every character who’s ever appeared in the series (and has lived to tell the tale) made a cameo appearance, except for Mrs Levinson (Shirley MacLaine), Cora’s American mother-in-law, who couldn’t be there but sent a droll telegram instead. Also missing was Richard E. Grant who played an oily art dealer in an earlier season and wouldn’t be welcome at Downton after his attempts at seducing the Earl’s wife. I also expected to see the ghosts of Matthew Crawley and Lady Sybil but to his credit, Lord Fellowes must have thought better of it. 

As usual, a story containing a disparate assortment of subplots was held together by the ascerbic wit of the Dowager Countess aka Maggie Smith. In the final episode Fellowes gave her some rather superficial and syrupy lines to deliver (such as: ‘It’s good to be in love, whatever the age’), yet she managed to make them sound both profound and pithy. 

But for all my nitpicking, I will sorely miss Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes, Anna and Mr Bates, and the aforesaid Dowager Countess. I’ll miss the wonderful opening piano music by John Lunn. And most of all, I’ll miss that exquisite building (Highclere Castle) which we have come to know and love in all its moods and seasons, both upstairs and down. Monday night’s Christmas incarnation, complete with a dusting of snow, was the ultimate decoration to top off Lord Fellowes’ confection.

Vale Downton Abbey.


Deborah O'Brien

April 20, 2016

fbook icon 60A Gallipoli Story: Finding Uncle Arthur


Grandad soldier cropped resized

For years I’ve been searching for a picture of my great uncle Uncle Arthur, who died at Gallipoli in June 1915, less than six months after he enlisted. Last year I wrote a blog about Arthur and used a photo of my grandfather in uniform (at left) because I didn't have a picture of his older brother. 

Not long ago I received a phone call from my brother Mark and his wife Jo. In the process of cleaning out an old wardrobe at my aunt’s place, they’d made an interesting discovery – a large portrait of a World War I soldier wrapped in ageing brown paper. The picture had been torn in half but thankfully the soldier’s face remained intact. It wasn’t a photo of our grandfather though, Mark was certain of that.  So who was this mysterious young man, we wondered. Could it possibly be Grandad’s long-lost older brother?

Uncle Arthur Hill original torn phot 420

When I saw the picture for the first time, I knew instantly who it was. He looked just like my grandfather, only taller. Six feet one quarter inch, in fact, as attested in Arthur's enlistment records. I have to confess that I shed quite a few tears at seeing the heroic uncle I’d heard about ever since I was a small child.

Arthur Hill scan cropped 420

So here he is – the 22-year-old shearer from Parkes NSW who joined up on 30 January 1915. He looks so young, doesn’t he? A bit of a larrikin perhaps. His army records certainly indicate he had a healthy disregard for authority. He began his training at Liverpool Barracks on the outskirts of Sydney. For a country boy, it must have been quite an experience – away from home for the first time and raring to embark on a ‘great adventure’. Three weeks later he overstayed his leave by twelve hours and was fined five shillings. His commanding officer noted that his general character was good. By April Fools Day his skylarking had escalated. This time he was found guilty of riotous behavior, obscene language, breaking camp and using a forged pass. Major Baxter fined him forty shillings (a huge sum in those days) but deemed his general character ‘fair’.

On 10 April Arthur embarked on the HMAT ‘Argyllshire’ for the Dardanelles. On 7 June he was killed in action. His military records give no indication of what happened in the eight weeks between leaving port in Sydney and his death at Gallipoli. He was buried at Brown’s Dip (also known as Victoria Gully) just behind Lone Pine. In 1923 all 140 soldiers buried at Brown’s Dip were disinterred in the presence of chaplains, and moved to the Lone Pine Cemetery. 

Lone Pine Cemetery 2013.07.26 Gary Blakeley

Lone Pine pic: Gary Blakeley

Arthur was just starting his life. No wife, no children, therefore no direct descendants. After his death, the army sent his father two brown paper parcels containing a disc, a purse and a personal letter. Now we also have his photograph.


Arthur John Hill


Poppy: DOB 

Deborah O’Brien

23 April 2016

fbook icon 60'Reader's Digest' Interview: 

'The Trivia Man' by Deborah O'Brien

Kirsty People 420

'The Trivia Man' explores the theme of being different and trying to fit in. Was there a particular motivation that led you to write about these matters?

As a child, I was a bookish little girl who desperately wanted to be like her peers but didn’t know how. I think that’s why the need to belong is a theme which has emerged in all my novels, but in differing ways.

I really enjoyed the contrast between the characters of Kevin and Maggie. Where did the inspiration for your main characters come from?

I suppose you could say that they reflect two different aspects of my own personality – Kevin is the nerdy ‘quiz kid’ side and Maggie the empathetic side. However, I wasn’t aware of those connections when I was writing the manuscript. It was only when I read the first draft that I realised why those two characters were so easy to write!

Both Kevin and Patrick could be characterised as being on the autism spectrum. Do you have experience with people who are, to use a popular term, ‘on the spectrum’? Or were there other reasons that prompted you to create characters with these sorts of issues?

In my teaching career I encountered a number of young people with special needs including some on the so-called ‘autism spectrum’. tried verhard to view my students as individuals and not to define them by their ‘condition’. So ofteI’ve heard someone say: ‘He’s ADHD’ or ‘She’s Asperger’s’ and Ive longed to retort: ‘No, they’re not! They happen to be someone diagnosed with that disorder. Theres a big difference.

What led you to base your story around a trivia competition?

On a personal level, I’ve always been a trivia buff, even as a child. From a writer’s point of view, a trivia competition provides the perfect structure and framework for a novel. That’s important for me because I don’t plan my plots so I need those kind of constraints to keep me in line. Every chapter is a week of the competition, culminating in the big reveal at the end of the season when the winners are announced.

Have you been involved in a weekly trivia competition?

Years ago I took part in a seasonal trivia competition in which there was a karaoke session at interval. On the first night I was caught off guard and found myself up on the stage with the rest of my team, singing a Tina Turner song. The following week I disappeared into the loo at the end of round four and didn’t emerge until the singing was over! After that, I used to slip outside at interval, only to find the smokers in the audience had done the same thing. In my novel the karaoke session affords Kevin and Maggie a chance to have a conversation away from the other members of the team.

What was the most difficult question that you were able to answer?

'Which animal doesn’t belong: wombat, koala, kangaroo or echidna?'

This question wasn’t necessarily the most difficult I’ve ever encountered but it certainly created a lot of conflict among our team members. Everyone except me chose the koala because it’s the only tree-dwelling creature in the list. I nominated the echidna as it’s the only monotreme. Being the team recorder, I wrote down ‘echidna’ – against the wishes of the rest of the team. Thank goodness it turned out to be the answer that the quizmaster had on his card, or I would have been in big trouble!

Are you currently working on a new book?

Yes, it’s called 'The Rarest Thing' and is set in the Victorian High Country in 1966. The story is inspired by a true event – the discovery of a live mountain pygmy possum, a creature thought to have been extinct for millennia. My protagonists are a female palaeontologist and an international wildlife photographer thrown together in a quest to locate and photograph the tiny possums in the wild.

Where do you generally find inspiration for your novels?

The inspiration comes from many different sources, including my own experiences mixed with a good dose of imagination. I always begin with a strong premise which propels me through the story. In the case of 'The Trivia Man', it was the idea of a middle-aged quiz champion who is always on the outside looking in. That concept gave me so many intriguing possibilities to work with.

Do you have a particular writing routine and why do you think it works for you?

When it comes to routine, I’d love to say that I disappear into my ‘writing cave’ for three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon and write 2000 words a day. But I have no routine. Writing fits into my life whenever I have free time. I wish it was the other way around!

If you could invite three of your favourite authors to dinner—living or dead—who would you choose to invite?

What an intriguing question! My first guest would be the inimitable Neil Gaiman who writes across a range of genres and happens to be one of the most compelling and entertaining speakers I’ve ever heard. As my second guest, I’d choose someone whose writing has been a great influence on me – Lewis Carroll. Even today, in spite of the swag of biographies written about him, he remains an enigmatic figure. And finally I’d love to meet F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of one of my favourite novels, 'The Great Gatsby'. I’m sure he would have some incredible stories to tell about the halcyon days of the 1920s.

Interview with Alison Fraser in conjunction with the publication of the 'Reader's Digest' condensed version of 'The Trivia Man' in the April 'Special Edition'.

Recipe: Yummy Chocolate Mousse

Choc mousse 1 large cropped 420

Back in the Seventies, chocolate mousse was everyone's favourite dessert. Then, like beef stroganoff, it went out of fashion. But what goes around comes around and now it's back, bigger than ever. All the celebrity chefs have a take on it - George Colombaris, for example, makes his mousse with olive oil while Heston Blumenthal uses only two ingredients: chocolate and water!

My own chocolate mousse is an adaptation of a recipe from 'The Terrace Times Cookbook' and I've been making it for yonks. The secret is the marshmallows.

As you can see in the photo, I serve my mousse in vintage tea cups. I'd like to say I thought of this myself but actually I stole it from Shannon Bennett on MasterChef. But it's a great way to show off your tea cups or demitasses, particularly if, like me, you have a collection!

Chocolate mousse 4



(inspired by the 'Terrace Times Paddington Cookbook')

  • About 180 to 200 grams best quality dark cooking chocolate (broken into pieces)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (less if you like)
  • 3/4 cup full cream milk
  • 22 white marshmallows
  • 1 and a half teaspoons instant coffee
  • 2 cups whipped cream (approx.) You can always serve any leftover cream as an accompaniment.


Melt the first five ingredients in a double boiler (but NOT the cream)
choc mousse 2

Stir continuously and ensure the marshmallows are fully melted - otherwise the mixture will be grainy.

Allow to cool. (Continue stirring regularly while cooling to avoid graininess.)

Gently fold in whipped cream until you are happy with the colour and texture.

Spoon the mix carefully into tea cups. Chill in the refrigerator to set. 

I decorated with grated white chocolate and fresh raspberries. This is also great served with vanilla bean ice-cream to break through the richness of the mousse.

Serves six approx. depending on size of the cups and how high you fill them. If you have some mousse left over, all the better for a midnight feast!

Deborah O'Brien

23 July 2016