Thursday, October 21, 2010


Spring is well and truly here, and my garden again looks like my header picture. The roses are bursting into their October flush.

"I'll tell you a secret," I sometimes tell the teens. "Life gets better the older and older you get."
They often laugh, (with me)....Are the young still told that being young is the happiest time of their life?
I don't think that many older adults look back on it as such.

When I was a teen, the most enviable female in the world - not that I envied her, her life was too dazzling to be yearned for - was someone who suffered from anorexia nervosa, alcoholism, depression, throat cancer and kidney disease.
Not that she did at the time, of course... that all lay in the future for Sandra Dee. She died at the age of only 63. Or perhaps 61: her son says that her mother inflated her age so that she could start work at 2, rather than the 4 years old that her mother claimed.
"Youth is like Spring....," my father quoted to me back then, at a loss when he found me in floods of tears about ...nothing. I had no idea why I was crying. "....a much overrated season."
I heartily agree. Blissful bits. Storms. Cold snaps. Unpredictable.


Twelve years old Oscar looked up from his punctuation excercise and asked, "Are you French?" "No," I said.
"You're not?" he said. "No."
"Are you sure?" he said. "Yes, " I said.
"You're like Australian Australian?" "Yes".
"You're sort of...," Dionee waved her hands around, worryingly leaving the interpretation to my imagination.

One half of my ancestry is centuries old English. One half equally Irish .... except for one great great something who left Corsica with Napoleon. Perhaps I look like him.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I withdrew a submission to a university alumni magazine this week, because the editor misread an acerbic, ironic phrase as literal, and objected to it.
As, read literally, the phrase offended her political viewpoint, I saw this as not only misreading, but censorship.
It reminded me of Max Harris being found guilty of indecency for publishing the Ern Malley poems, because the police found indecency in the narrator's intentions in "shall rest snug and know what he means". In another instance, "the indecency lay in the fact that the 'events took place in a park at night'". As well as for using the word "genitals" and "incestuous" - the prosecuting policeman said that he did not know what the latter meant, but felt confident that it was indecent. It's strange to think that such was the world I was born in to.
Fortunately, withdrawal meant that I did not have to object to her wish to change "wheel" to "turn", "skeletons" to "frames", or change some punctuation which destroyed a deliberate rythmn. This trivia made me aware that as an editor she is paid to alter someone's writing.
How odd. Her initial reaction to the piece was "absolutely lovely". When an artist takes a painting to a gallery, does the owner say, "Absolutely lovely. I'll just paint out this bit here and here, and change these bits around"?
Ironically, I think that if, in the offending bit, she had edited "was" to "seems", it may have overcome her objections.


One week, I was unable to go, which had unforseen consequences.
A's mother, brooding about what we were "getting up to" - (which amounted to revelling in the beauty, the isolation) - had evidently come to the conclusion that I, the girl whom she didn't know, must be "good".
She made a surprise swoop on the little shack.
That I, the good girl, was not there proved that the other three were bad: why else would I stay away?
Having proved that the three were bad, therefore confirmed her opinion that I was good.
A was a lovely, serene girl; immersed in poetry and history and literature. She endured her mother's mental illness with such grace and kindness and good temper. I don't know how she did it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Times past

In my last year at university I was friends with A, B and C, who were old school friends of each other, but not of me. My school was more downmarket....not only that, it was, yuk, catholic...(although I was not: an uncomfortable perch). My parents were less well-heeled - ie, poorer. Culturally, we were sort of the same : my parents'education possibly eclipsed theirs. Values,etc were in common, and traditional........ I enjoyed AB and C hugely.

A invited us to stay at her father's south coast getaway. We jumped at the chance: we were carried by her in her mini several hours south of Sydney, to stay in this tycoon's getaway - a fibro shack. It faced north, ie sunwards, across two vast empty inlets/beaches. Divine. There was no other dwelling in sight.
It was known but unspoken that A's mother had mental health issues: that's why A had a car: what horrible assault might happen if she had to take public transport?
A's mother, in her confusion, had insisted that A go on an "outward bound" course. A said that it had all been boring - if you had to abseil down a cliff, then you would abseil down a cliff, or do whatever silly physical stuff they valued - and that the only positive she got from the experience was that it was pleasant to swim naked.
So, we gave it a try. And, after initial coyness, it was very soporific, to wander nude along the pristine lengths of these two beaches: the untouched sand, the clean breakers washing in. Miles of beach and bush and emptiness: isolation, solitude. It was quite blissful.
Until the day we looked behind us, and saw waves of people gradually emerging from the coastal shrubbery as we retreated. We had forgotten that there are weekends. And, that on weekends people travel to surf and fish and whatever.
Today the whole place is, of course, a mass of development. I'm pleased that I remember it when, but I wonder whether there are any old locals who remember four naked young women loitering along the shore while the locals hid in the bushes.

Monday, October 4, 2010

for oh, the wolf is nigh

Rachel stitched this in 1842. It occurs to me that, to do the equivalent, I would need someone staring at my work in 21 78.
It's quite common to read of people whose motivation is how future generations might regard them. Not my interest at all, but these bits from the past are both poignant and intriguing.
Rachel is a long gone relative, and I know nothing about her: but, I have her childish work here in my hand. How odd.

And yes, just as in 1842, the wolf is nigh. Maybe.

Jesus great shepherd of thy sheep, (funny looking and one-eyed as they might be).

Dummy spit

I apologise for such. I have not returned to my blog for so long because I did not want to read my own embarrassing behaviour.
The emotionally reactive part of my brain structure seems to have more influence than the rational side would choose or prefer....(thereby shucks of responsibility for own behaviour).
Many thanks for the kind, concerned and understanding responses.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


misunderstanding, difficulty, issues, problems, sadness, grief, loss, tragedy.
Are these life's realities?
Growth, hope, optimism can seem to be cerebral abberations that keep us keeping on in spite of the evidence that life is real, life is harsh, life is often sad, unrewarding and disappointing.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Never Learn To Milk a Cow

Virley Dunning is a local older woman - (well, so am I, but Virley is older again) - who writes. In a short piece, she warmly recalls her mother, who, coming from a Victorian upbringing, had great difficulty in talking about sex.
Virley recounts how when she was about 13 she was out walking with her mother, who suddenly said, "Have you noticed that Alison doesn't go in swimming some days?"
"No," I answered.
That was all. We kept walking.
And that was the totality of her mother's information to her daughter.

Similarly, on the eve of Virley's wedding, her mother's sole piece of advice was not about sex or even housekeeping, but: "Never learn to milk a cow."
Virley writes of her life as a farmer's wife, and the chores from endless feeding and cleaning to replacing ewes' retroverted uteruses -uteri?-, resuscitating lambs - with brandy as a last resort -, mustering bullocks - (even, in desperation, barking at them).
But, she didn't milk the cow. As she witnessed the gritty, mundane imperative of the twice daily rounding up and milking of a reluctant cow, she says that: "Thank you," I'd silently say to my mother. "It was great advice."
Affection. It's always a pleasure to read of, witness, or experience.

Friday, June 25, 2010


Looking through my bank statements I saw that, at one stage I had a balance that earned 0.03 cents in interest for the month.
That it would have cost me about $60+ per month, or thereabouts, to borrow this sum from the same bank irked me considerably, as did knowing that if I owed someone 3 cents, I would be obliged to round it up to 5 cents.
The banks, whose billion dollar profits escalate each half-year, don't have to round up. Why?
It reminded me of other grievances, such as energy-saving light bulbs. "40 watts = 80 watts"or somesuch, they trumpet.
I've come to the conclusion that, re light globes, when they put up these equivalences, they are talking about the COST of having these things, not the output of light. My standard lamp has 3 bulbs, by which I should be able to discern the germs under my toenails, but instead I find myself peering at, and trying to decipher, the written word. I don't think, for a minute, that the three of them churn out more than about 60watts. But, my electricity bill continues to climb, so I assume that when they speak of equivalence, they don't mean that 40 watts provides the illumination of 80 watts, they mean that the cost of 40 watts of this new stuff is equivalent to the cost of 80 watts of the old.
Of course the new ones carry the exciting possibility of occasionally exploding and showering you with glass shards.
Paying more for supposedly using less electricity, makes me feel exploited, just as the bank makes me feel exploited. I feel that we are all being squeezed just a little too much.
These are, I suppose typical small grumbles of "small people", as the BP executive recently referred to the populace at large.

I read that BP is going ahead in autumn with a new well in the Beaufort Sea that is far riskier than its Gulf of Mexico one. BP has "been implicated in each of the worst oil disasters in American history, dating back to the Exxon Valdez". BP was also the biggest donor to Obama's campaign, and I am inclined to think that multinationals run the world. Or destroy they choose.
No wonder so many of our "leaders" resort to advising us to pray: governments can really do nothing, as Frank Rich explains (NYT 18/6/2010). Our power has slipped away.

And when I read that the newly nominated candidates for Senate for Kentucky and Nevada have marked for elimination or privatisation the Department of Education, The Federal reserve, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and also marked the Energy Dept; the Environmental Protection Agency; Social Security, the Dept of Veteran Affairs, and Medicare, I feel that we are entering the uncharted territory of the robber barons. Alas, where the U.S. goes, we tend to follow.

The world, and the "small people" in it need a Wat Tyler. Now.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

And further....

all names in this and every other post on this site, are not the real names of any person in the incident.
If we are making mistakes about how we categorise people, does it matter?
Well, maybe we could adopt other values that might lead to different paths. At present we are locked into some fractal Mandelbrot set that is neither advancing us nor getting us what we want. We need to change the equations.

I thought it wrong that Glen was sent to Iraq, because he is the sole parent of a 7 year old child.
Equivalence sent him there, because equivalence looks at the adults, not the child.

More contraversially, I was shocked that Anna, a police officer and mother of 4 under 8 years old, was sent out at 3.30 am into malicious, demonic seas erupting out of the icy antarctic rampage to attempt rescue of some in that particularly deadly annual Sydney-Hobart yacht race. She received a bravery award for this.
Her husband, also a police officer, could have been sent, but wasn't. ...but, that's equivalence, isn't it? Anna certainly wouldn't object, but I would. If her children had been 10 years older, I would have a different point of view.
But our regulations have no time for these or any other subtleties.
Once I knew a man who had worked in logging camps in Canada in the 1920s. He said that when a log jam occurred, a very dangerous condition, the cry went out for all single or childless men to get to safety, before the situation was tackled.
The uncalled for gallantry of this appeals to me: but, it also reinforces my suggestion that the divisions within society that we have set up and endorsed are arbitrary, and perhaps do not reflect our basic values.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Wot's the difference?

There is an understanding that people are 3rd world or 1st world, "white" or other, male or female, rich or poor, literate or not, primary, 2ndary, tertiary educated or not, married or single, hetero or homo. And no doubt more dichotomies. But are these the best way to sort people, if that is what you need to do?
In our society "married" or "single" seems to have become fairly irrelevant. Once I used to, from curiosity, discreetly gawp for a wedding ring: I don't think that I have even thought about doing that for about seven years.
Once, a hyphenated name was a rather snobbish indication of exalted status. Now, I just assume that it means that the parents are not married, and I couldn't give a figurative.
The biggest differences now seem to me to be between the aggressive and non, the vindictive and non, the competitive and non,........but mostly, the ambitious and non.

"Fling away ambition," says one of Shakespeare's bods. "By that sin fell the angels. How can man then, the image of his Maker hope to win by it?"
Irrespective of whether or not you are hoping to win the image of your maker, I find a piquant attraction in the idea that competition, aggression and ambition are inborn negative traits that we should aim to educate out of children.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Of Mice and Me

I saw a mouse in my kitchen.
I am going to have to kill it, because I have found that we can't cohabit.
I would prefer not to slaughter.
Give you a little leeway, Mouse, a little tolerance, and you run rampant through my cupboards, drawers, shelves, ledges and floorspace, defecating liberally as you ramble. I understand that the odours from the house are delectable, but I put perfectly edible and delicious food into the compost heap. You are free to enjoy it all, and your poop would only help things along.
I understand that my home's attraction now is that it is warm, while winter leers outside. So, you really have to choose warmth or death, Mouse. You have a fur coat, and there are heaps of you - or you can manufacture heaps fairly quickly - so, I can only tell you what I would advise.

I am not going to kill you with bare hands or bare teeth, but with discreetly placed poison pellets, and I understand that your death is not sweet.
Once, when the front of our dishwasher was removed during repair, I saw the skeleton of an adult mouse - mum? - in an embrace with a crouching skeleton child. That still saddens me, Mouse.
Do go away. It's nuclear against spears, Mouse. Retreat and live. Please.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

There is a lot that I don't understand

Why, if healthy gums mean healthy teeth, do skulls have teeth?

Why do people who value unspoiled places visit them?

If sex is an industry, will they have vocational courses in high school ?

Why is correctness "political"?

Are conservative women born with better-behaved hair?

Why can't I give $5 a week to sponsor a scientist?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hee-haw: It's the Law

Recently a man here was sentenced to a gaol term, for driving a car after his licence had been cancelled.
Usually, the penalty for this is to have the cancellation extended. Gaol is regarded as a very severe penalty, a last resort. The magistrate resorted to it because of his many previous convictions.
How many? I don't know, but I do know that they were sufficient to mean that his licence had been cancelled until 2065.
How unfortunate he was to come across so many tender-hearted magistrates, determined to give him another chance, and to keep him out of gaol.
I wonder if he had been sent to gaol early on, so giving him both a short sharp lesson and the possibility of regaining his licence, whether he might have changed his ways.
I wonder how long it will be, once he's released, before he takes a chance and drives again.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Vita Brevis

He was tall, blond, stunningly good-looking. An ex student of a famous and expensive school, he was studying the combined degree of arts- law. My self-estimation rose when I knew him well enough to have a fleeting chat: I would never have dared aspire to more.
Then he deliberately shot and killed himself.
For the first time I recognised that there could be a vast difference between outward appearance and internal life, although I was a master of this myself...who isn't, at 19?
For the next x years, a suicide brought on - I saw this in others, as well as myself - the thoughts of what could I have done: why was I so blind: if I had only, etc etc. even of people known only peripherally.
But David died around 1960. In the early 1990s here, suicides became so frequent - several mothers, but mainly teenagers - that one didn't question them, or wonder, and their peers normalised and minimised it as "he topped himself". "Topping"? Why that word? The old Vietnam -era word of "wasting" seems more appropriate to me, about these sad children.

David's suicide made headlines on page 3 of national newspapers. Was youth suicide then so rare? Later, it became encoded in the death notices. "18 years old. Died of natural causes." Ah. Despair. A natural cause of death. RIP babes.

Friday, May 28, 2010

We take glory where we can

"I can burp the alphabet," boasts Caleb, aged 7.
I declined the demonstration.
He took it manfully in his stride.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Egg and I

was one of the books I bought at yesterday's Book Fair, an annual Rotary event, where 30000 books are on sale for mainly $1 or $2 each.
I suppose that many are books from estates: they have noticeably changed over the last few years. There are few now by Taylor Caldwell, Robert Penn Warren, Lloyd C. Douglas, Daphne du Maurier, Irwin Shaw and such. How grand their titles were: "Dear and Glorious Physician", "A Many Splendored Thing", "The Robe", "The Citadel".
I had read "The Egg and I" years ago, and thought it hilarious. Her neighbours, Ma and Pa Kettle, became characters of comedy in their own right.
Re-reading it, I see it as a funny, brave and bright spin over hardship and disappointment.

Rising at 4 a.m. each day was a necessity. Having to walk 4 miles to the neighbours to borrow matches or such, she blames on her own forgetfulness. But I resented very much, on her behalf, (tho' she did too) ,that she had to scrub her white pine floor every day, because of her husband's insistence that "it was a badge of fine housekeeping, a labour of love, and a woman's duty to her husband."
When she says elsewhere, that she will never again feel more ecstatic than on hearing the distant sound of her husband's truck returning from town, we see the clash of love and frustration that shattered the marriage.
There is far more description - of sunrises and mountains and panoramas - than would be allowed now. But few readers then, I suppose, would have had any knowledge of the Olympic Mountains or Washington State, so I speculate that it may have been of general interest.

She writes with an easy, warm and witty voice, and with deftness. Of the winter monotony, she says: "The days slipped down like junket, leaving no taste on the tongue."
I salute you, Betty MacDonald. I feel fortunate to have found you again at the Book Fair.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ambushed by a Little Old Lady

"Oh, dog food has gone up again," she said. She was elderly - 80+? -erect, smiling, meticulously groomed.
I had rushed into the supermarket to grab some printer paper, which, because of some rationale that I can't fathom, is next to the dog food. But, instead of answering and hurrying away, I responded to her age, grace and the whiff of loneliness I scented, and smiled. My doom was sealed.
I still can't work out how she seamlessly segued into the following, in no particular order: her father had his hearing damaged from WW1, when he was leading his half-wild horse from Tumbarumba that balked at getting on the ship in Sydney. The youngest brother lied about his age, went to ww1 too young, and was killed. Her father went into hairdressing, and made enough money to buy their "beautiful farm" at Oberne,where she was "from." Her father's name was Hartnett - they were called "hardnuts" at school, which led to many a scuffle: but she and her sister had dark red hair, (from their Irish mother, who was an O'Hanratty) and tempers to match. They had 90 cows, and her father used to buy new bulls from Dapto, because of, you know... but, they milked 50. The four of them would hand milk them morning and night, into kerosene tins that her father had boiled and inserted handles into, they would pour the milk into a 90 gallon drum, and father would leave them to milking while he went off to separate. Nearby was the old Cobb and Co staging post, a 3 story building with cellars and iron lace around the balconies. Now she lived nearby in a house with a giant river red gum in the backyard, and neighbours who had erected a 12 ft high brick fence. She pays her rates by installments, because she's not going to have the council getting interest from her money. Her dog, a border collie, is a wonderful watchdog: but, no one could get close without being detected by her 40 year old pet galah, anyway.
Yes, I made several futile efforts to extract myself: but, it took most of 30 minutes before I got away.
She was expert enough to not make it a monologue. Do you know Oberne? Do you know what a separator is? etc etc
I found her fascinating and very likeable. I have doubts that Cobb and Co ever went to Oberne - a place that there are no roads to, according to google maps, but perhaps they did when there was a gold rush at Adelong. I wanted to know whether the half wild horses were the boys own, or supplied by the army, but she couldn't understand my question.
Iwill walk the street where she lives, tomorrow - it is only 5 or 6 blocks long. I have the feeling that I will see no giant river red gum, and no 12 ft brick fence. I hope that I am wrong.

The View from Nine Years Old

"Did you do anything special at school today, Izzy?" I asked.
Her face lit up. "Yes, we learned about the world thousands and thousands of years ago."
"That sounds interesting," I said, thinking of primordial ooze.
"Oh yes it was," she said. "We learned all about World War 1."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Boys With Guns

It seems very odd now that, in the days when schools had cadet corps (only for boys, of course), it was quite commonplace to see school boys - how old? 14 to 17? - carrying .303 rifles to school. It was as unremarkable as them carrying school bags.

It also seems piquant that blue hair was the prerogative of many mature and very respectable ladies.
When I was a child I sometimes heard the comment mutton dressed as lamb. I was unsure what it meant, but it obviously suggested poor judgement and possibly questionable morals. Dyeing greying hair a more youthful shade definitely fell into this category.

Hooray for nowadays!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

"The World Beneath"

I was late for work on Friday, because I just HAD to finish this book. (Fortunately, I am self-employed, so the boss took it in her stride).
Cate Kennedy has won many awards for her short stories, which she evidently (grits teeth) finds easy to write. This is her first novel.
If it wasn't for her distinction, I doubt that I would have continued reading past the first third or so of the book. Having three tedious and unlikeable main characters is high risk indeed.
However, as the fourth character, the Tasmanian wilderness, enters, the tension slowly rises and the story becomes absolutely compelling.
I would highly recommend it.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Under the doona with Rome

It was in the late 60s, that Aoife was engulfed in giggles when she told me.
Carmen's husband, Frank, had in desperation appealed to her christian sense of charity, that Aoife might have sex with him...(sleep with him, was the euphemism).
Poor Frank. Carmen had two children, a boy and a girl, and had medical advice that another child might kill her.
I've always wondered about, and never discovered, what kind of medical or physiological condition leads to this diagnosis.
However, that's what they said, and, as vatican2? proscribed contraception, there poor little, skinny, (rich), Frank was, an honourable and idealistic young man facing 30, 40 or 50 years of celibacy, and quite out of his mind with desire. Testosterone doesn't flag on vatican command. There were "bad girls" around, but Frank would have been too naive to know of them, and brothels were illegal. It may have been fortunate for him that he died young, and significant that it was of cancer: so often a disease reflecting an insuperable resentment, anger or difficulty, that gnaws away: gnaws away: gnaws away: in the mind, then in the heart, then in the body.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Some women find being confined to household tasks unendurably stifling and boring. My mother was one of these, and she had an unusual attitude to childcare, in that she solved it by leaving me, the youngest, at home by myself when I was 3 1/2.

It would be easy to say "poor me", but I can't recall feeling in any way bad about it. Not lonely, not bored, not afraid: maybe peripheral, at the worst.
As an adult, I was appalled, but she defended it valiantly, pointing out that she was accessible in the school in the photo. Our house was some distance behind the photographer: not far, but it seemed quite a trek to me.
She must have had a lot of confidence in her children.

Oh: Do let us be correct at all costs

In my final year at school our poetry book had an (unstudied) poem, called "Y Ddraig Goch", that my teenage self wistfully loved.
Y Ddraig Goch is the red Welsh dragon - that St George slew? slayed? My ignorance is immense.
The poem fundamentally has the story that I came across later in "Puff the Magic Dragon": the dragon as the friend and familiar of children, who inevitably grow and leave him. (Maybe a parable for some relationships?)
"Ho, Ddraig Goch, my pretty, pretty friend!
We were his children, knowing all his ways."

But,children grow, so, finally:
"Ho, Ddraig Goch, they tell me you are dead;
They say they heard you weeping in the hills
For all your children gone to London Town."

When I googled and found the poem again, there was something abrupt and truncated about the ending. Thinking of it, I'm fairly sure that there were two more lines, one of which said something like, "I'll bring you little boys to love."

Is that enough to have the lines censored? Oh dear.

When I drove through Wales, I thought that I could see the little dragon perched on fences everywhere. With a curly tail - rather like the dragon in "My Friend Mr Leakey", about which I remember nothing else at all.

Friday, April 23, 2010


"Is your mother picking you up?" I asked Oscar.
"No, Oma is, I think," he said, taking for granted that I knew he was speaking of his grandmama, as indeed I did. As would plenty of others.
"Oma" is the only non-Anglo word I know (in Australia_) which is used and widely understood, and is still "foreign".
Obviously, words from boomerang to zeppelin have been shanghaied into English: "Oma" is different from these. Anglo-Austs use variations of nannas and grands: when someone has an Oma, I assume that they have a Dutch heritage.
Why did "oma" survive with people who have mums, dads, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and cousins?

Oscar's Oma is a smiling, crisp, well-groomed , grey haired figure: her pleasingly round shape seems to offer grandmotherly comfort, but she has no problem with gently chiding Oscar, or his cousin Hannah, when she comes to collect them. "Hannah," she sighs, "Here I am just trying to help you to become a lady." I find it desirably old-fashioned. Oma sets the family standards. That a family member actually comes up stairs to collect these 13 year old children, rather than have them conveniently wait on a darkening pavement, seems to be a part of these standards.

This Oma was, she tells me, one of 14 siblings. She says that her mother used to sit the children down in a semicircle, after dinner, and drill them in such as the multiplication tables. 14 children! What heroines these mothers were.

My mother taught school, at one time, in a "migrant hostel" - actually a grim and dismal collection of corrugated iron huts. I recall her telling us of a Dutch mother of 12 who had just walked out and left her family. "Wasn't there even one of them that she liked enough to take with her?" my mother said.
I still find this an unsettling attitude. Still, it's easy to love and value your children equally when, like me, you have only two.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Bomen is a small industrial area in southern rural NSW.
As the train passes through Bomen, one sometimes sees shipping containers.

It is enjoyably surreal to see them, stamped Hamburg, Zeebrugge, Rotterdam, Bremen: so far from home, forlornly waiting in apparently empty, dry paddocks that roll away into distant hills.
They look lost: more like unhappy exiles than like immigrants or refugees.

Moved to folly by a train

While I was waiting at the railway station, a goods train barreled through. Three immense locomotives were hauling 73 wagons, carriages and flat beds, loaded with girders, and massive pipes and machinery. With its power and purpose, it was an oddly moving sight.
My reaction reminded me of T.E. Lawrence, (him of Arabia): "The trumpets came out brazenly with the Last Post. Our eyes smarted against our wills. A man hates to be moved to folly by a noise." What stoics they were.

Last weekend the annual "Great Train Race" was held. Three old steam locomotives race between Broadmeadow and Maitland, (about 30 km, I think), taking up the Northern and Southern Lines, as well as a coal line. That's a sight I would love to see. Trains...mmmmm. Love them.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Men of Harlech 2

Watching rugby, Wales vs Aust, with two exiled Welshmen, I was surprised that I was the only one of the three who knew the Welsh national anthem - "O Land of My Fathers" - learned at primary school, of course.
"Men of Harlech", also...but my memory has been short circuited by university songs.

Learned in primary school:
"Men of Harlech in the hollow, Do you hear the ---......ow,Wave on wave, like rushing billow? Battle's distant sound.
"Tis the sound of Saxon foemen, Saxon spearmen, Saxon bowmen. Be they knights, or hinds or yeoman, They shall bite the ground".

Now, I used to know the rest, as I learned it, but, as the melody changes, the memory has been totally supplanted by University songs:
"Some of us are mining. Some in Arts reclining. More and more embrace the law and revel in its method of refining.
Some are fools and some are clever, Faculties divide and sever,
Still, we all belong for ever, to our varsity."

That, in the 15th century, Harlech was beseiged by Saxons, sums up about all I know of Wesh history, so thank you to those who prescribed that song back then.

Universities have changed immeasurably since the 60s. I assume that "university songs" may be a part of history also.

Men of Harlech

In retrospect, I can see that an amount of material from the Department of Education, in my childhood, was about giving us a British cultural input.
Why else give little bush urchins such as "The Road to the Isles"? With incomprehensible words such as Cuillin, cromach, Tummel, Loch Rannock, Lochaber, Skerries, Lewes, Shiel waters, Aillort, Morrar, no wonder we used to get to the chorus and belt out in relief:
"if it's thinkin' in your inner heart, there's braggarts in my step, You've never smelled the tangle of the Isles.

As an adult, it was "aha", to visit or even read about these places, and know that one had known them before.
It's not a bad thing to get information or knowledge in childhood, that only makes sense when you've grown a bit.

In high school, I went to a Catholic "college": and everything changed, of course. The songs became very nationalistically Australian, from "The Morning Sunrise" to "No foe shall gather our harvest, or sit on our stockyard rails."

"Come, little one, and sing to me, A song a great wide land to bless", was one of 'John O'Brien's.
All this, to my mind, also wasn't A Bad Thing.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mermaids, unicorns, dragons and dodos

Once we used to have boring schoolwork, interlaced with frequent musical interludes. Robert Dessaix describes this very well.
The traditional songs, that we sang lustily, were often incomprehensible - but that didn't matter: I believe that the emotion that the songs conveyed said all.
'Vair me O, O ro van o. Vair me o oh ro van ee ; - sad I am, without thee,'

Sad am I without thee. We understood that bit.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

It's Better for Girls Now

Blanche Mitchell was the youngest child of Thomas, who surveyed the streets of my town, naming them after old compatriots from the Peninsula wars of 1809, (whatever they were).

Born about 100 years before me, she lived in the massive, impressive "Carthona", Darling Point, which her immensely successful father had built for him. Her diary records the privileges and pleasures of being an elite darling in the colony.

Unfortunately, Thomas Mitchell died prematurely, leaving his finances in disarray: Carthona was sold, and the family moved to Woolloomooloo.

Blanche knew the way the system worked. She no longer had a dowry, so she had no prospects of marriage. She and her mother were still received socially, but all the young officers and such that she met needed a wife with an income. They could not marry her, and she knew it. Her life was blighted., and again, her diary records her realistic understanding of this.

How cruel, to grow up in a life of such privilege and happiness, to not only have this all taken away from you by your father's death, when you are 12 years old, but to have the expectation and hope of a happy future sliced from you as well. Blanche died when she was only 26 years old.
I think of her like William Allingham's poem:

"They thought that she was fast asleep,
But she was dead from sorrow."

As far as I can see, none of Thomas Mitchell's six children had any living descendants.
Tragedy. It's just a word, unless it's your word.

Today is the 20th anniversary of my husband's death. He did not leave us in this position. I prefer "rest in the light" to "rest in peace." Vale Phillip: much beloved.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Elisabeth reminded me of my childhood. During my primary years we were in Sydney suburbs: a Sydney awash with immigrants. And yes, I certainly heard people grumbling about malts, balts and wogs. I don't think that I took much notice, or that people did anything more than grumble.
But what I saw were the whitest, or palest babies and young children that I had ever seen, so that their blue veins were quite noticeable. Now, I have never seen any of this pallor since: why is this so? It did not look like underprivilege, or neglect, nor was it. I assume that it is how many of us might look like if we were not sun worshippers.

The children were well cared for, and looked treasured, but I regretted the lapse in taste that allowed them to dress their little boys with inappropriately short shorts, just passing the groin, like baby pants. Why couldn't their parents see that these well groomed little boys, with their neat hair and long socks were just...wrong? I knew that even little boys needed to look tough. And, the little girls' dresses were too short also. Both costumes showed long white thighs: not a familiar look.

Similarly, at the beach, women frolicked with curly hair running unabashed from inner thigh to knees. (Admittedly, when I recounted this to Andre, he nearly wept from nostalgia and desire).

My mother took me to visit a nice German family that she had met. As I wandered the room, in boredom, I saw "Mein Kampf" in their bookcase. I didn't mention it to my mother, but years and years later I mentioned this to another post war immigrant, who erupted in a rage. Why shouldn't these people have a book that had been so precious to them? Like a bible? He told me later that his mum had worked very closely with Hitler.

Also quite common at the time were children making their painful way in calipers, a consequence of the polio epidemic. Just another part of life, one judged at the time: thankfully, this was not so.

And, sometimes forgotten: men simply did not wear deodorant. The most aware may have used a useless powder: but no, men did not use such sissy stuff anymore than they used eyeliner. It created quite a different atmosphere, literally.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

I went shopping for a cocktail outfit to wear to L's wedding. A grim task.

It seems that manufacturers assume that as a woman ages she will grow bigger, taller and huskier: so, what may have been suitable are in quite immense sizes.

In smaller sizes, the clothes were short, strapless, ruched, rhinestoned, glittery and garish, and looked as if designed for ladyboys, rather than for nice young women. Poor girls: how fortunate was I to be young in the age of Courreges et al.

All that was left were indistict dark print, shapeless, loose things that looked suitable to wear at the Bide-a-Wee Distressed Gentlefolks free afternoon teas and fellowship. And they would do for intermittent funerals, as well.

I ended up longing for a naqib. With an extra opening - I imagine it rather like a post office slot - for a little discreet imbibing.

Friday, March 19, 2010

He approached me like Santa opening his Christmas sack, and slipped the glasses over my nose.

Immediately his face loomed huge, covered with deep, unsightly pores. I could see each angle the razor had taken as it clipped his whiskers. The lines of his face turned to furrows.

"Um", I said, unwilling to throw cold water on his glee, and trying not to recoil. But, there was no doubt that the world looked better without these specs.
"Read this, " he said triumphantly. "I can read it without the glasses," was the truth, though I tried to soften it for him.

Why did I get them, anyway? Well, I thought it was about time, and there is no doubt that I can't read the fine print that I used to.

Truth is, the $2 shop ones that someone gave me do a better job.

"If you read much without glasses you would get headaches," he said.

Right. I only read 4 or 5 books a week, so I will try not to read more. I'm assuming that web hours don't count.

It seems to me that all kinds of perfectly fit and able people assume that their eyes are a bodypart that will fail them at an early age? Why is this?
Once upon a time I had a poem published in Quadrant. It was the first and only poem I have ever submitted - just as the 1st novel I submitted was published. I didn't pursue either path: maybe I felt I had had my share of fortune, or maybe it's the fact that I am just not ambitious.

I actually remember little of the poem, - and, don't seem to have a copy - except for the title "Takeaway Soulfood", which the then editor, Les Murray, rejected and replaced. Dear Les: I've always been so fond of him: a man with a profound, light and loving touch on the landscape; a kindly, bitter, poignant view of us, including himself.

This small poem was written because I found Europe to be crass, immensely materialistic, aggressively competitive, and blood soaked.

This is not a popular opinion.

Myth is, that despite the multimillions of their fellow Europeans that they have slaughtered in less than 100 years, that Europe is a source of reason and culture.
Myth is, that despite the cruel and depraved male and church dominated history of the last few hundred years, that Europe is a centre of reason and culture.

These are not myths that I subscribe to.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Me to X: "I think that I deserve extra time because it has taken me so long to work out what it's all about."
X - (who is about half my age): "That doesn't augur well for my lifespan then, does it?"

Friday, January 22, 2010

Being Equal

I don't quite know what people mean when they say that women and men are equal. It seems to imply that they are the same. 2=2. When they then proceed to talk about a female perspective, though, it suggests a difference, at odds with the word "equal".

Perhaps they mean that they are of equal value, or have equal rights.
I am unsure about the concept of human rights - these seem more to be gifts that people in a particular society give to each other, rather than an innate consequence of being human. But, if humans do have rights, a fundamental one in my value system is the right of women to raise their own children.

Of course, this right is rapidly disappearing in our society. Young women don't have a right to work: generally,they have an obligation to work.

I can see that I am not of equal value compared to, say, Marie Curie. Hillary Clinton yes, Marie Curie, no.

Restaurant Tofu

is how the restaurant critic Matthew Evans describes himself: absorbing all the tastes, smells, flavours and ambience of restaurants.
He explains how, although he may particularly dislike a certain food or dish, he has to be able to know what it should taste like, and discern the quality of the ingredients, flavours, cooking, and as, DG said, whether the chef has added something special to it or not. And then praise it or not, accordingly.

This seems to me to be analogous to what a literary critic or lecturer has to do.
Fortunately, I am not in those positions, so I can romp around among what gives me pleasure.

Alan Bradley

quotes Seneca.
"Hang on to your youthful enthusiasms. You'll be able to use them better when you are older."

Blog Block

Evidently January has been the month for this for many bloggers.

I have wallowed in reading. In the last two weeks I read:
As many Agatha Raisin or Hamish Mcbeth as I could get my hands on...short, light, amusing detective stories...(why are these called "mysteries"?)
Two by Ann Granger - but I won't be looking for more.
At Some Disputed Barricade - Anne Perry. Excellent.
Never Order Chicken on a Monday - Matthew Evans. Light and enjoyable
All Our Worldly Good - Irene Nemirovsky...will definitely read more.
Women of the Beat Generation - bits of, satisfies curiosity; fills in blanks from the autobio of Caralyn Cassady
Winter Close - Hugh Mackay. Engaging, with interesting insights.

Tuvalu - Andrew O'Connor
Smoke in the Room - Emily Maguire
These two, being about young people and contemporary young culture had limited interest for me.
I began "Deaf Sentence" byDavid Lodge. Excellent writing, but the story seemed to suggest that the protagonist was innocently being drawn into a disastrous situation, so I declined to read further. I will look for others by him.


Oriental, opium, Iceland, Californian ....vivid, glowing, gay*. I don't wish to be a poppy chopper, but my post on "The Slap"suggests such. I blame it on the over the top back-cover hype: one can only react, "Well, it's not that good."
Poppies are not perennials in much of Australia.

*I am campaigning to reclaim this joyous word.