Mightily chuffed and honoured to have my supernatural/historical short story SHARK’S ISLAND swim into this year’s THE YELLOW BOOKE, the annual collection of “original horror, ghost stories and weird fiction” from US-based Oldstyle Press. Shark’s Island (pages 123-132) transports you to the wildest outer limits of Australia’s convict past. Follow the link to read The Yellow Booke (vol iv) free online, or buy a print copy from Amazon at an Amazingly good price.

As well as putting out the annual Yellow Booke, Oldstyle Press publishes handsomely illustrated and annotated editions representing many of the great masters of classic weird and supernatural fiction – Poe, Shelley, Blackwood, Stoker, Bierce, Dickens, James, RLS and more. Well worth sinking your teeth into!

I have a weird interest in tracing the Australian colloquialism ‘Buckley’s chance’ (i.e virtually no chance), mainly because it has been plausibly linked to the remarkable 19th-century convict escapee William Buckley to whom I devote a chapter in my book Tour To Hell.tourhellbookcover

William Buckley

The Trove online newspaper archive continues to claw back the history of ‘Buckley’s chance’. The first time I checked Trove the earliest printed mention of the saying was 1894. Then a mention from ’92 appeared, then ’88, but now the earliest is from 1887. It’s interesting to note that all of these mentions appear in sporting contexts – yachting, horse racing and now Aussie Rules football, almost a decade before the launch of what is now the AFL (Australian Football League).

Anyhow, to quote the 22 September 1887 issue of Melbourne Punch

In our sporting columns, in the Fitzroy team appears the name of Bracken. It should have been BUCKLEY. “Olympus” explains that he altered it because he didn’t want the Fitzroy men to have “Buckley’s chance”.

Three more points of interest (apart from noting Carlton won that year – belated congratulations): Firstly, it’s clear from the context that ‘Buckley’s Chance’ is already a well-known cliché. Secondly, its early appearance in a Melbourne paper strengthens the case for a Melbourne origin (likely a combination of Buckley’s survival and a pun on the Melbourne department store Buckley & Nunn). Thirdly, our current government’s mindless axing of the Trove budget gives us Buckley’s of finding those earlier mentions now.

The Great Barrier Reef is without doubt one of the most mind-swimmingly superlative travel destinations of our modest blue planet, and two of my favourite spots there are Heron Island and Lady Elliot Island. Here’s a travel story I did for the Sunday ‘Escape’ supplement which somehow escaped being plugged by me here, until now:

GBR001.Heron Island starfish.Levell

The Weekend Australian Travel & Indulgence supplement (August 27-28, page 16 ) has my ‘Perfect 10’ column feature covering Australia’s 10 best aquatic wildlife encounters for non-divers. Plenty of cetaceans, pinnipeds and elasmobranchs. Jump in!

Link to the online version is here


Two features I have in magazines out right now – grab ’em!


READER’S DIGEST (Aug 2016): Travel deep into Australia’s prehistoric past with the Australian Age of Dinosaurs team as they dig for dinosaurs, way out in the Queensland outback.

AUSTRALIAN TRAVELLER (Aug-Sep 2016): Like three separately bound volumes of a Georgian gothic thriller, Tasmania’s trio of historic convict-built bridges – three of the four oldest bridges in Australia – are rich in atmosphere, character and stories.


Elaborately decorative Ross Bridge (1836) in Tasmania’s Midlands

GBR008.LadyElliotIsland lagoon.LevellLong time, no post. I’m surfacing to say my feature story on the Great Barrier Reef is in the current issue of the wonderful Australian Traveller  magazine (Megan Gale on cover).

The story covers the Capricornia Cays, the Reef’s southern end, a tropical paradise of coral islands brimming with colourful fish, seabirds, pisonia forests, manta rays and green turtles. Heron Island and Lady Elliot Island (left) are the resort islands. Both are coral cays, right on the reef itself. The diving is superb!







From 1933 to 1953 Patrick Putnam was the eccentric overlord of Camp Putnam – part guesthouse, part medical clinic – deep in the Belgian Congo’s Ituri Forest. If you wanted pygmies or okapis in your African adventure, Putnam was your man. He still is, at least on paper.

An American expat from a wealthy Boston family, Putnam remade himself in a remote corner of colonial Africa. When his sanity lapsed towards the end, Camp Putnam devolved from jungle Eden into Heart of Darkness weirdness.

Some regret that Putnam forsook a promising career in academic anthropology but he was much more than a dude-ranch dilettante, as he once described himself. His sincere, lifelong and utterly reciprocated friendship with several pygmy/Mbuti clans was the critical enabler of Western study of their culture.

I first encountered Putnam in On Safari, the autobiography of pioneer wildlife documentary maker Armand Denis. Putnam’s second wife, the painter Anne Eisner Putnam, wrote a bestseller in the 1950s, Eight Years With Congo Pigmies, which, for all its strengths, glosses over intriguing irregularities (such as separate huts) in their relationship. Joan Mark’s book fills in these gaps (which is quite a jungle soap opera) while exploring Putnam’s unusual position amid the ambiguities of colonialism. It’s all relentlessly interesting.

One unshakeably memorable anecdote tells how Putnam dealt with his beloved pet chimpanzee Mr Fataki, who went vicious in his dotage and put several house servants in hospital. Options were limited and Putnam did not quail from the responsibility. After a last supper with his favourite chimp he drew a revolver and shot Mr Fataki dead at the dinner table.