The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Holidays Afloat -

Night Haunts Sukhdev Sandhu (Verso Books, $35) WHAT has hap­pened to the Lon­don night? Is it a spent force? Has the gaslit Vic­to­rian ver­sion mor­phed into some­thing far more bland? Th­ese are the ques­tions Sukhdev Sandhu seeks to an­swer as he boldly steps out on his noc­tur­nal for­ays, seek­ing those who go about their busi­ness in the city as dark­ness falls: po­lice, se­cu­rity guards, mini­cab driv­ers, ur­ban fox hunters, clean­ers, graf­fiti artists and ex­or­cists. He goes un­der­ground to wade through rivers of con­gealed grease and ef­flu­ent and takes to the sky in mil­i­tary he­li­copters equipped with night-vi­sion cam­eras. He even joins nuns who spend the night pray­ing for the souls of Lon­don’s in­hab­i­tants. The ques­tions aren’t re­ally an­swered but Sandhu does un­cover a part of the city that many, hap­pily tucked up in their beds, are un­aware of. This could have been a dark, de­press­ing jour­ney dwelling on the city’s seamier side, but with Sandhu at the helm it be­comes an up­lift­ing se­ries of beau­ti­fully writ­ten es­says. Barry Oliver



Phnom Penh: A Cul­tural and Lit­er­ary His­tory Mil­ton Os­borne (Sig­nal Books-Unireps, $29.95) A FOR­MER diplo­mat, and an oc­ca­sional con­trib­u­tor to Travel&In­dul­gence , Mil­ton Os­borne has had a fas­ci­na­tion with the Cam­bo­dian cap­i­tal since be­ing posted to the Aus­tralian em­bassy there in 1959. He has worked with the UN High Com­mis­sioner on Refugees, specif­i­cally on Cam­bo­dian is­sues, and is an ad­junct pro­fes­sor in the fac­ulty of Asian Stud­ies at the Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity in Can­berra. So his qual­i­fi­ca­tions to write a schol­arly guide to Phnom Penh are with­out re­proach. What may sur­prise read­ers is his ac­ces­si­ble style and tal­ent for en­liven­ing oth­er­wise dry data. The book is a mix of per­sonal nar­ra­tive and a thor­ough his­tory of Phnom Penh from its days as a 16th-cen­tury out­post of ‘‘ Ibe­rian mis­sion­ar­ies and free­boot­ers’’ and French pro­tec­torate to the hideous rule of the Kh­mer Rouge and the city’s re­vival in the post-Pol Pot era. Os­borne ob­vi­ously loves Cam­bo­dia but his glasses are not roset­inted and this is a dili­gent ad­di­tion to Bri­tish-based Sig­nal Books’s fine Citiesof theImag­i­na­tion se­ries. www.unireps.com.au. Susan Kuro­sawa


A Place in the Rocks Anna Cossu (His­toric Houses Trust, $39.95) IT’S fas­ci­nat­ing to study the old pho­to­graphs ac­com­pa­ny­ing Anna Cossu’s jour­ney through Syd­ney’s old­est area. There are bare­foot chil­dren with scraped knees and grubby faces, many sport­ing hats at jaunty an­gles, some of whom are smil­ing but most face the cam­era with a de­fi­ant stare. You can’t help but won­der about their lives in those early days. Cossu gives an in­sight by fo­cus­ing on a row of four ter­race houses— No 58, 60, 62 and 64 Glouces­ter St — now known as Su­san­nah Place. For nearly 150 years th­ese ter­races were home to more than 100 fam­i­lies (they’re listed, with dates, in the back of the book). All have left their mark in some way: a layer of paint, wall­pa­per, linoleum, re­pairs, mod­i­fi­ca­tions. Cossu, cu­ra­tor of Su­san­nah Place Mu­seum, is a well-qual­i­fied guide. She even lived at No 62 from 1995 to 2006. Through her knowl­edge and in­ter­views with for­mer ten­ants, she is able to give us an in­sight into life from the area’s colo­nial be­gin­nings through the trauma of bubonic plague and the build­ing of the Syd­ney Har­bour Bridge (which saw the de­mo­li­tion of a whole street). Not just for his­tory buffs. Barry Oliver

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