An Australian author who provides insight into the human condition.

Feature Article

Good Reading Magazine, February 2015

The Songstress of Oz

Stardom is a complex and taxing experience, compounded by paparazzi scrums and constant media attention. In Song Bird, Mavis Mills – who has taken the stage name of Nikki – must battle the challenges of fame while caring for her son and family, and searching for love while surrounded by the misleading and manipulative personalities of the music industry. ANGUS DALTON asks novelist CHRISTINE M KNIGHT about the experiences that allowed her to write convincingly about her character’s whirlwind rise to fame.

‘Did you know,’ Christine M Knight asks, ‘that in the original stories of The Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man was once a character made of flesh and bone?’ I admit that, despite being coerced into watching the movie multiple times in my childhood that I did not. She explains that in the book series by L Frank Baum, on which the classic movie was based, a woodsman named Nick Chopper has his axe cursed by the Wicked Witch of the East. The bewitched axe turned on him each time he swung it, severing his limbs in quick succession, which he replaced with prosthetic appendages forged from tin. All his flesh and organs were eventually hacked away – including his heart – to be replaced with cold, hard metal.

‘In order to survive and succeed and prosper as the woodsman,’ Christine says, ‘he became a manufactured man, a tin man. In the process of pursuing his career, he lost his heart.’

‘It’s never ceased to amaze me that the brighter and more talented the girl, the more likely it is that she will tend to be insecure.’

Christine explains that in her novels she explores the Faustian choices that many people make in their lives that cause them to go astray. Faust is an infamous character in German folklore, popularized by Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus in 1592, who makes a pact with the devil; he offers up his soul to Satan in return for limitless pleasure and knowledge. Faustus and the ‘Faustian choice’ are now synonymous with a decision made by a person who forgoes personal morality and integrity in order to achieve a certain ambition or success, just like the Tin Man.

It’s this kind of choice that songstress Mavis Mills struggles with in Christine’s novel Life Song, and it’s recently released sequel, Song Bird. In Life Song, Mavis is torn by a tug-of-war choice between succumbing to the consequences of bad choices she’s made in her life – abusive relationships, insecurity, drug abuse and the challenges of pregnancy and motherhood – or stepping above the challenges and rising to success and fame by pursuing her talent as a musician, a path that is plagued with pitfalls. Mavis was an immensely talented teenager, brimming with promise, but, heartbreakingly, she lost her way.

‘It’s never ceased to amaze me that the brighter and more talented the girl, the more likely it is that she will tend to be insecure,’ Christine says. ‘Teenage girls don’t know about the women’s movement – they want a partner. They want someone to belong to, and they want the status that comes from having a boyfriend and from being popular. So I gave these qualities to Mavis: she’s bright, talented, came from struggling but supportive parents, but she hides her light and downplays her talents.’

Song Bird picks up two years after Life Song, and Mavis has now well and truly found her path (or ‘the golden road’, as Christine describes it). She’s a gold recording artist, well on her way to hitting platinum off the back of a world tour that has reached success that would be unfathomable to her younger, insecure self.

‘To me she was very much like Sleeping Beauty. She had a sleeping talent. But she’s not awakened by a prince.’ Christine says that she’s not interested in those kind of stories; men can be an important part of a woman’s life, but in her stories, they are pointedly not the central aspect of a woman’s existence. ‘Instead of the kiss of a prince that brings her to life, it’s the kiss of life, the kiss of talent, the kiss of music.’

The most glaring demarcation between the Mavis we meet at the beginning of Life Song and the Mavis in Song Bird is her decision to be referred to exclusively – save for a small group of immediate family – by her stage name, Nikki.

The names of the characters in Christine’s books hold significant symbolism and meaning. The reason behind Christine’s particularity with names is explained through the backstory of the mysterious ‘M’ initial that stands between her first and last names. Christine’s father wanted to pay homage to his mother, Anne, by endowing Christine with the middle name of Mari-Anne. Fortunately, her father had a hearing problem, and didn’t realise his mother’s name was actually Agnes, a name that Christine isn’t particularly fond of.

‘I’ve always wondered if I would be different if I was named Christine Mary-Agnes. There’s an awful lot of research about how names shape the way we perceive and think about ourselves.’

Mavis’s decision to relinquish her original name, which is a reference to a European songbird, and be known as Nikki is therefore a monumental step in her growth, and a major theme in Song Bird is the continuing duel between her old and new selves.

‘Mavis represents to her the person she no longer wants to be – the woman with poor judgement, the woman who stuffed up her life, the woman who got trapped and abused, the woman whose heart was broken. Her life changed when she became Nikki Mills.’

The two names the character is known by also distinguish between her personal self, still referred to as Mavis by her close family, and her public persona, lead singer of the Nikki Mills Band and a freshly discovered celebrity with a rapidly rising media profile.

Christine herself had a taste of a musician’s largely nocturnal gigging lifestyle when she was younger and played keyboard for a rock band. She sang in the band too, but admits that she was only tuneful in a very specific range – the other band members used to wait until their audience was appropriately intoxicated before surreptitiously allowing her microphone to be plugged in.

‘I would love to be able to sing,’ she sighs, raising her arms theatrically, her eyes closed. ‘I would love to be a female version of Andrea Bocelli. I would love to be able to soar …’ She returns abruptly from her brief flight of fancy. ‘So I gave the voice that I wanted to Nikki.’

The passion of playing live music translates to the page in the descriptions of the live performances expertly delivered by the Nikki Mills Band, as do Christine’s darker experiences. The lead guitarist of her band was tragically lost to a drug overdose, so she knows that the pursuit of success in the music industry is not the idyllic and romanticised lifestyle often portrayed. She’s watched many movies and TV shows about music and dance, including reality programs such as The Voice and The X-Factor. With a little help from an auto-tuned microphone and a carefully fabricated backstory tailored to be as tear-jerking as possible, new stars can be produced overnight on these shows, albeit ones that burn out quickly. ‘They all make it seem so easy and don’t really give an honest look into what trying to break it and make it in the music industry is really like. They’re all about short-cutting the journey.’

Christine believes that many talented people are reshaped into clones, and that everything that makes them uniquely wonderful gets cut away. It’s that Faustian choice, the dilemma of the Tin Man – how much of themselves are they willing to give away before they make it?

Christine views Nikki’s story as a more accurate, Aussie-battleresque portrayal of the fight for creative success, as someone who never had the artificial leverage of a reality TV show or affluent parents. Nikki is resolute in the face of the paparazzi. She unyieldingly stands up for herself, her family, and her son, Dan, who is particularly vulnerable to the invasive effects of his mother’s fame. Another subtle reference to The Wizard of Oz acts as a metaphor for Nikki’s determination to stay grounded and true to herself. Whenever she is overseas or away from her family and in performance mode, she wears red shoes. It’s a nod to the magical ruby shoes sported by Dorothy that eventually whisk her back to the safety of Kansas. Whenever Nikki has the red shoes on, she knows her way home, back to her coastal town of Keimera, back to who she truly is, safe from being eroded by egotism or whisked away by the whirlwind of media. She refuses to sell her soul. She refuses to become the Tin Man. But can she really survive the tribulations of stardom, motherhood and love with her heart intact?

Song Bird by Christine M Knight is published by Highlight Publishing, rrp$24.99. Order it online or from your local bookshop. You can follow Christine M Knight at


Download PDF of original article and cover.



    Thursday, March 16, 2017

    An era, a show and a legendary album

    Thursday, March 16, 2017

    John Shortis and Moya Simpson’s playful sense of humour was evident from the moment I entered their Bungendore property. Their next-door neighbour’s gates featured a sign that read 'Ironing done here'. The wall plaque near Shortis and Simpson’s front door read 'Irony done here'.

    Over a steaming mug of coffee, we discussed the inspiration behind their current cabaret show Fifty Years Ago Today.

    Cobargo Folk Festival commissioned the cabaret after Shortis and Simpson’s acclaimed festival performance about Eurovision and the context out of which it evolved.

    John said, ‘That show was really an entertaining look at the history of Europe post World War 2 linked by bad songs.’

    Fifty Years Ago Today
    marks the anniversary of the launch of the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album in June 1967 in the northern hemisphere.

    Apparently, the album’s release date in Australia was delayed until July 1967 because the British producers did not trust Australian printers to faithfully reproduce the elaborate artwork of the Sgt Peppers album cover. The covers were produced and printed in England and shipped here via the Suez Canal. Regrettably, the six-day Arab Israeli war broke out and so the shipment was detoured around the South African cape. The album was launched in Australia at the end of July.

    The cabaret’s story line positions the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album in the context of what was happening globally at the time. It also provides fascinating insights into the backstory of the album’s creation, dating back to the early 1960s when the Beatles were mop tops, in the heyday of swinging London.

    John said, ‘You can’t tell the story of the Sgt Peppers album without showing the Beatles’ evolution from catchy pop rock songs to complex artful experiments in music.’

    Sgt Peppers
    is the first Beatles’ album after they gave up touring.  The album marks The Beatles’ arrival as recording artists instead or touring musicians. For instance, ‘Ringo’s drumming is more orchestral in its approach. McCartney’s bass work transitioned from simple bass lines that filled out the pop rock sound to complex, intricate bass countermelodies that actually featured on the Sgt Peppers album rather than being fill.’

    Shortis and Simpson’s Fifty Years Ago Today incorporates humour and poignant stories as well as songs of different tempos and styles from that Beatles’ milestone album as well as songs by other famous musicians from that era.

    I was fascinated to learn that the Beatles’ celebrated producer, George Martin, used his background in producing Peter Sellers’ Indian characters on comedy records to bring together Indian and orchestral musicians to produce George Harrison’s Within You Without You.

    John said, ‘While the lyrics are hippy trippy, the music is quite extraordinary because it follows the traditional rhythms and scales of Indian music.’ 

    Moya said, ‘It was a nightmare to learn!’

    John admits to scoring the music into a computer software program and practicing to it every day for ages so that he could synchronize his keyboard part with the rhythms.

    Another interesting aside is that, in celebration of the link between the Beatles and Peter Sellers, Moya sings the Sophia Loren and Peter Sellers’ hit Goodness Gracious Me in the cabaret as part of the side story to the Sgt Peppers album.

    Fifty Years Ago Today was not designed as a nostalgic trip down memory lane, although people who lived through that era may relish the show as such. It provides insight into a seminal moment in music and world history when world music influenced the Beatles music not only in composition but also in performance.

    As we talked, it struck me that the show was very much like a great meal: lavish, prepared with great care, nutritious and good for the soul, and an experience not easily forgotten. The cabaret utilises the rich harmonies of a large choir, the vocal skills of its musicians, and the rocking talent of a hot backing band. It has appeal for all ages.  I also realised that Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album prepared audiences for the emergence of another musical phenomenon, Queen, masters of pomp-rock with its diverse rock styles and intricate vocal harmonies.

    This cabaret should not be missed when the show comes to  your part of the country.

    © Christine M Knight

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    Friday, November 25, 2016

    Acknowledging Indigenous Heritage in the Palerang region

    Friday, November 25, 2016

    Recently, I wrote a blog about the restoration of The Carrington Inn. My article about the inn also appears in the District Bulletin's December issue. The District Bulletin reports on country living in the Palerang region. I feel it would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the importance of Indigenous heritage as a side bar to the Carrington article.

    Heritage places are a visible reminder of Australia’s history and identity. If they are neglected or demolished, then part of our history and identity is lost. When they are protected and restored, they add value and dimension to our community. This applies equally to the heritage represented by the traditional owners of the land. It is important to acknowledge that Indigenous heritage when promoting awareness of colonial heritage as it shows respect for Indigenous culture.

    Before European settlement, Indigenous people represented an unbroken culture that was inextricably linked to the land and history of the continent. That relationship and life as Indigenous people knew it changed drastically as a consequence of Dr Charles Throsby and Hamilton Hume's exploration of the region in 1820.

    By the end of 1821, Europeans had settled the region. The provision of a mail service in 1837 formally made the settlement a town while the arrival of train services in 1885 resulted in the town becoming the hub of the region. Cobb and Co coaches transported travellers to far flung settlements. 

    During this period and into the twentieth century, Indigenous people experienced a history of exclusion, denial, and were silenced. Many Indigenous people many died as a result of white settlement (disease and conflict). Indigenous heritage is in the land, in sacred places, lore and values. By contrast, colonial heritage is in buildings and property and its laws.

    To better appreciate the impact of the European arrival in Australia and related issues, click on  The Dispossessed.


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    Sunday, November 20, 2016

    The Restoration of the Carrington Inn, Bungendore

    Sunday, November 20, 2016

    Late October, I met Innkeeper, Richard Graham in the motel carpark of The Carrington Inn a few weeks after it had reopened.

    Originally known as The Lord Carrington Hotel, the property was built between 1884-85. It was named after the newly appointed governor of NSW. When the governor retired, the inn became The Carrington Hotel.

    In the 20th century, descendants of the Winters sold the property to Toni Dale who reverted the property to its original function from a domestic residence. It later changed hands until Richard bought it eight years ago.

    As we walked through the half acre of man-made gardens' entrance to the Wintergarden complex, I was struck by their intrinsic naturalness and the patterns of dappled light. Richard said they are ‘one of the largest publicly accessible private gardens in the region.’ He credits the illusion of a much larger space to the use of meandering sinuous paths.

    There are three distinct themed locations within the Wintergarden complex: The Tom Wills Tavern, The Empire Hall and Salons – fine dining, and Myee’s Tearoom. Myee is pronounced my. The tavern’s namesake and a local, Tom Wills was a leading Australian cricketer from 1856 and is said to be the founder of Australian Rules football. Heavy drinking was apparently part of the sport's culture at that time and purportedly played a role in his tragic death in 1880.


    Maria Myee Gallagher, 1889-1967, was the granddaughter of the original owner, William Daniel Winter. ‘An educated woman of many talents, Maria Myee never married and lived in the hotel throughout her life.’ She was a skilled pianist and taught the piano as well as the sewing arts and painting to locals. She was also well-known for her charitable work in the town.

    The interview and tour began in Myee’s tearoom. Its décor, like the rest of the complex, ‘pays deference to the 19th century colonial Victorian nature of the Carrington Inn.’ An airy and serene space, the tearoom’s authentic hand-painted stencilled wallpaper, pale green wainscoting, slate floor, furnishings, and hanging baskets suggest a Victorian garden conservatory.

    When I asked about the ideas underpinning the renovation process, Richard explained the choice before him. Restore the inn to look like the property as it had been in 1885 or restore it to reflect the Victorian era from 1885 but have modern restaurant equipment. For commercial reasons, he opted for the latter.

    After much research, Richard and his team distilled the Victorian period to a single restoration intention: ‘allow modern-day patrons to appreciate the aspirational nature of the Victorian era’ and witness a different lifestyle.

    The aspirational mood of the period is clearly visible in the style of ceilings in the tavern and the Empire Hall and Salons. The tavern’s patterned copper ceiling is reminiscent of Tudor ceilings and represents the revival of British styles during the Victorian era. The decorative tin ceiling in one of the salons is another popular architectural element from that period as are the subtly lit, rounded vaulted plaster ceilings in the Empire Hall.


    The Victorian theme is evident in the use of decoratively etched glass mirrors, beautiful period-styled drapery, luxurious furnishings, dining settings, and décor accents. Thirty-three hand-painted artwork reproductions tell the colonial story, including artwork by Tom Roberts. In the tradition of the time, a picture of Queen Victoria dominates the Empire Hall.

    The attention to authentic detail is also seen in the use of deeply embossed wall covering (Lincrusta) in  the Empire Hall. Lincrusta was invented in Britain in 1877 by the same man who invented linoleum floor covering some years before.


     Having visited many famous historic sites, I found The Carrington Inn as striking as places like Chatsworth House and Hampton Court in UK. Of course, The Carrington's pristine interior décor  and the inn are much smaller in scale than those other historic UK properties.

    As Richard told the stories behind each room’s décor, I realised that he is more than the owner and operator of an enterprise that happens to exist in a heritage property. He is keenly aware of his custodial role in restoring, documenting, and protecting heritage.

    As I left that afternoon, I realised that heritage places not only add dimension to the character of a community and its diversity but to its unique features of streetscapes as well.


    Left to right: Mark Summers, General Manager; Edwina Fitzgerald, Accommodation Manager; Me, Innkeeper; Merili Pihlamäe, Venues Manager; and Andrew Stansbie, Executive Chef.


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