Saturday, November 06, 2004

Not looking

To say the US election was disappointing is an understatement. It was not, however, a surprise. Interesting to see the American electoral map - civilization was blue and redneck was, well, red. As The Australian pointed out, most visitors to the US will not set foot in Bush territory. I hope I will, insofar as there are many of those central states I would like to explore. And politics will not be my companion. I prefer to travel with curiosity - and even wonderment.

And so life will go on, with conservatism entrenched in both countries. While I try to grin and bear it, the weather has turned sour since the election. Cold, wet, windy - fierce and bitter, throwing petals into the streets and slamming infant fruit onto the ground . Could it be God protesting? Hmm. And they said he was on the other side.

Friday, October 29, 2004

The smoker

We were sitting at the window of a country town cafe tucking into a breakfast of bacon, eggs and grilled tomatoes, gazing out into the street at the morning activities when a man who seemed to have been walking fairly briskly down the footpath, stopped abruptly right in front of our window, took a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, extracted a cigarette and lit it. He then stood quite still, his weight on one leg, the other with the knee slightly bent - a fairly elegant posture - and proceeded to smoke. He smoked in very rapid puffs. Small, speedy puffs, one after another. His eyes darted around but he moved no other muscle, just hand tight to mouth and the cigarette going in and out and in a out - the smoke pluming and clouding, the red ember flaring. He did not look our way, although he was standing directly in front of us, quite close. Occasionally he tapped the ash, a momentary pause in the almost mechanical rhythm of the smoking. It was not frenetic, but it was compulsive. And incredibly intense and swift. There seemed no time to inhale before he was sucking again. I have never seen anyone smoke like that. Usually it is a form of relaxation. But not for this man. It was an exercise in express smoking. Of course it did not take long to efficiently finish the cigarette, at which point he dropped the butt on the ground, stepped on it, and went on his way. Most odd.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

The eye of the beholder

The sound of running water is what gives serenity to a garden. I have always had a tiered pond with water gently cascading over it. Some years ago, with the help of dear James, my mother's staunch and talented gardener, we built a real grotto - a large, enclosed stone arch in which a Buddha statue stood amid shade plants with a pleasant cascading fall of water into a small pond. Because The House of the Raising Sons is a colonial house with a central hallway leading from front to back, feng shui ordains that running water is the proper seal for wellbeing. So, when the pump gave out, I started to nag the kids, who now have possession of the garden, about the importance of getting it up and running again. They were pretty slack and indifferent, so I asked James to give me a hand and get something organised. This put a bomb under the kids - and off they went. The result is - no pond, no waterfall. Instead, we have a mahogony-coloured ceramic head, a sort of gloomy Easter Island head. Water runs from his eyes! He weeps in the grotto. But worse. Smoke comes out of his mouth. He is the most dismal and afflicted creature. Anything but serene. He is clearly deeply depressed.
The kids, however, love him!! The are proud as punch and have restructed the interior of the grotto to complement him.
I really don't know what to say. So I say nothing.
After all, the only thing I specified was running water. Water runs.

Post post post mortems

An immense weariness overcomes me at the very thought of politics. I have kept up to date with Kerry/Bush, and I have explored every aspect of the post and post-post mortems on the Australian election - and it is all perplexing.
The young are voting conservative. The religious are voting conservative. The politically indifferent are voting conservative. The educated middle classes are voting for social justice. Not quite what was expected.
The only way to have the masses see reason is to teach them reason. Education. But with the conservative policy of making tertiary students pay for the rest of their lives for their qualifications, we can't look to a more educated country. Catch 22.

So, for a while, I retreat from the very thought of politics. Have a little rest from it. It is not good for the soul.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


It is now a strangely bruised and quiet country. Postmortems of the election bring people together in sad and puzzled groups. I have yet to meet anyone who admits to having voted for John Howard. My colleagues, kids and friends say the same. Everyone seems simply baffled. One radio station, having observed the same thing, put out a call asking anyone who had voted Liberal to ring in. The phone lines were silent. And yet the country has had a massive swing.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Oh, well

It confounds me to see this world swinging to the right. It would seem to mirror a society which has lost the ability to care about people, one disinterested in healthcare, education, the environment, human rights... Speaking to people individually, though, they clearly do care. Yet when it comes to voting, they choose the interests of big business over their own.
Truly it is very Orwellian. The media has a vested interest in the Right and it also has blanket infiltration into the community. Gradually it has been able to abandon all pretence at the old rules of objectivity and fairplay and to project its agenda in a relentless stream of propaganda. The people, for whom the media is "soma", are hapless vessels of their message. And so it comes to pass that they willingly and, with a sense of right (no pun intended), can act against their own interests, thus empowering goverments to continue to disempower them.
It is frightening. Democracy is a fine principle - but the thought-power control of a ubiquitous media has managed to make its processes token.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Short long weekends

The rest of the world has another day - but I must hasten back to town in the morning, for public holidays do not belong to journalists. It has been incredible to see the deluge of people who descended onto this resort town for the long weekend. Traffic jams in the main street - although, in sweetest serendipity, there was a prime car park waiting for me when I ventured down. All the holiday houses are occupied. Suddenly I had neighbors on both sides. And packs of society people, all so perfectly groomed for being seen at leisure, were taking the walks and converging on the cafes. An epidemic of garage sales broke out. And, of course, the market was in full swing, the stallholders relishing fresh crowds.
I decided to plant a row of hebes along the side fence because I am sick of the farmer neighbors coming down and hacking the oleanders into stumps. It is ugly. I want some autonomy in the hedge department, and hebes are tough enough to survive on the seafront here, or so I was advised by the darling man with the heavenly garden around the corner. He sold me the hebes at $3 each - and I spent an hour or so digging holes and planting them, interrupted frequently by people stopping to say hi.
With so many people walking the foreshore, Paul suggested we walk a lovely bush road he had discovered - and so we did, among cockatoos and yakkas and wonderful gnarled gums and sheoaks. The local cows, who clearly don't see too many people, were very curious and came to their fences to greet us when the dirt road sloped between pastures, with a vista of the ocean across the fields.
Now, with the window open, the sea is loud with breakers rolling in across the reef. Lovely. But it is late - despite intentions for an early night. Time just slithers away - and the very need to sleep seems to be a nuisance.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Debate and escape

Of course the first great debate was in worktime. I prowled the office looking for a cable connected telly where I could sneak a look without disturbing work. There was none, but film critic neighbour, Ben, offered me his headphones with long cord - and they just reached from the high wall telly to my desk. So I was set. The only person in the entire newspaper office watching this event in the US, I may add. The only one who cared passionately, of course.
And I watched, with immense agitation. Bush was smirking and repetitive. He had his catchcry on Kerry "changing positions" and he uttered the word "position" with a special sibilance. He repeated "American people" as often as he could. He had been well trained for the event. Kerry kept the higher ground, took no baits, extrapolated. But he seemed nervous and he barely glanced at the camera, unlike Bush, who hunched over his podium and looked directly at the people, rather than the interviewer. The analysts on Sky called the debate a draw. I suppose it was. The problem is that both men are speaking to the converted. They need to draw some rabbits out of the hat. If one compares the support system - the massive wealth, sophisticated marketing machinery and the media domination of the Bush administration with the defensive and modest campaign of the Dems - Kerry is severely back-footed. I have no faith that the American people will wise up to the corruption and mendaciousness of their administration. They are subjects of the marketing machine - media brainwashed into aquiescent mindset. They are believers. It is like trying to talk science to creationists to make them see reality. And thus it remains deeply worrying.

And, as I ponder this, it is to the sound of the sea softly lapping. It is a calm night and the window is open.
I managed an early escape - having done all work, every last bit of my list. And I managed an en route appointment with the doctor to see why I am having pain in my hips. I am now on Glucosamine. *sigh*
And the long weekend traffic was behind us as Annie and I hummed along the highway and down the winding country roads to this scene of tranquility - just in time for that exquisite, soft sunset, when the still sea shimmers in shades of mauve and pink.
And we bought fresh, succulent oysters redolent with the scent of the sea. And fresh Coorong mullet, asparagus, Charlotte potatoes and salad. And we opened a bottle of good red wine. And we drifted contentedly into the evening.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Taut flesh pots

It is ever so fashionable to belong to the Next Generation gym. You pay an arm and a leg to tone an arm and a leg. Toney toning. I know a lot of people who pay the ransom of membership - most of them assuming that belonging is enough. They barely ever go. It is fitness by association.
When my mate, Annie, suggested that, instead of a Sunday walk on the beach, we go to this gym for a swim, my curiosity got the best of me. Why not have a look at the place. Annie has a Platinum membership which comes complete with guest passes - so out with the old swim togs and off we went, into the exclusive underground carpark and up into fitness deluxe world. They wanted a lot of information just to let me have a swim, so I filled in forms dutifully - and off we went to the inner sanctum of Platinum, where only those who pay most may go. Well, for that price, they get three fake venetian glass mosaic recliners with central heating - plus two spas, a steam room, a sauna and an ice room. Wow - not. But it was swim I sought, so off we trotted to another section - indoor and outdoor pools. Outdoor was a bit cold, so we retreated to the warm pool where lines were allocated for different speeds of lap swimming. The water is shallow. No treading water, which is a favored exercise of mine. Oh well. We swam some laps in the quietest lane. I hate splashing, so I was not pleased to find some idiot lapping in butterfly strokes beside me. In a shared pool, butterfly strikes me as plain bad manners. But, hey, I'm not a member, who am I to complain? So I just observed with amusement the sleazy middle-aged men sitting about in the spa to perv on the women around the pool. And the odd sense of superiority people assume when at the gym. Mostly they are alone and looking as if the are terribly important. The one thing one does not see is enjoyment. Instead, it is a mask of exclusivity - and I suppose a sense of narcissitic purpose.
We finished off with a coffee in the big lounge area, which was fairly pleasant, looking onto the indoor pool. And, as we handed back the plastic passes which take one through the sections, I told the receptionist that I was sorry I could never join a gym which did not have a smoking room.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Flatulent politics

How does anyone take these politicians seriously. Prime Minister John Howard has just promised the earth in exchange for his re-election. He promises everything to everyone. Ironically, it is a litany of the things he should have done in his term of office. Now he says he will fund them. Disgraceful, unbearable hypocrisy. And yet the faithful are wide-eyed and impressed.

Friday, September 24, 2004

The rewriter of history

The dreaded Janine Bourke has struck again - another book on Heide, the cultural enclave in which I was conceived. Another tome, this one with yet more editorial arrogance than ever. A woman who writes so-called biography but has never sought to speak to the one person still living who was a part of the culture she reports. Apparently she knows it all without extending her research. Especially as she has a fierce aversion to any history which may reach across the border. Ironic really since this last survivor, my mother, retains the spirit of Bourke's subject, Sunday Reed - for my mother was, in many ways, moulded by this woman. And thus is my impression of this so-called biographer something akin to disdain. Some quasi-academic carving herself a reputation out of the lives of others. And each time, doing it shabbily. She has not even a shadow of the brilliance of her subjects. Poor mediocre parasite.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Fox fixations

I turned on the telly when I woke this morning to see how badly the massive hurricane Ivan had ravaged the Southern States. I saw a bit last night, which was just dawn in the US. Now at 6 in the evening there, I expect to see the full story. Instead I see what I have seen for days and days and days - yet ANOTHER panel of right-wingers obsessing over CBS's forged or not forged documents on Bush's national service. They were on about it when I went to sleep. They were on about it the day before and the day before. How much can they gnaw at this bone? They have a national disaster - an unprecedented string of devastating hurricanes - and they are nit-picking for hour upon hour of air time about a well-known issue, attempting to deny Bush's privilege in the armed forces 30 plus years ago. It is so tedious. Surely their fan-base also must be feeling a certain degree of ennui by now - or are they all so blinkered that the reiterative analysis of this issue truly engrosses them? Fair, balanced and uninteresting, I'd say. And for those of us seeking some real news from across the globe, they are short-change.
Back to Google News for some real information.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The politics of acrimony

Which of the two elections is the worse, Australia's or America's? Apart from the fact that I simply can't comprehend the rise and rise of the mean-minded right, I am finding the game-playing increasingly repulsive. One is beset by biased media thrusting aggressively for the right. There is something in this disease of political aggression which reflects a degeneracy in society, a moral and ethical decline. It reminds me of the way in which the Internet was immediately kidnapped by the pornographers and sexual predators, the spoilers. They rule and ruin. Just as the greedy and corrupt have harnessed politics. Whichever way one turns, one has to sidestep ugliness.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Right to the left

How the media plays it down. But the truth is that the debate between Prime Minister and his opponent for the Federal election was something of a watershed. In my week "embedded" in the community to ascertain the public's feelings about the election, I discovered what I believe is an unprecedented number of "swinging" voters who felt alienated by the incumbent Prime Minister but uncertain about his opponent. Mark Latham, the Labor leader, has been poorly presented by a purposely unsupportive media. The result is as the media intended - a public feeling of suspicion about this mystery man, this "inexperienced" man. I could relate to this. He has struck me as a fairly unappealing man and a poor choice. Then came the debate and Latham at last was able to represent himself unedited. And he was impressive - a rational, intelligent, articulate, calm and confident man who could think on his feet. He ran rings around the PM. He won me - and I do believe he won a mass of those swinging voters.
Of course, the race is far from run. It promises to be dirty. Politics isn't pretty. It is no place for the good.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

A sucker's born every minute

Well, the old sucker thing takes on a new slant when one has a couple of teeth extracted. With stitches in the gum and a sense of extreme tenderness, I'm strictly on the sucky food. And when the dentist, ringing next day to check how I was coping after the particularly arduous and extended surgical nasties, told me that she'd had two more extraction patients that day and one of them had made mine look like a picnic, I thought of the poor sods, like me, looking for sucky food and feeling oh so wounded and traumatised - and realised that, yes, it's true. If not born, a sucker is made every minute.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Back to school

I had not set foot in the junior campus of my old school since I left - so there was much I did not recognise when I found myself there today to review some in-schools theatre - chore I perform periodically to keep abreast of the theatre-in-education programs. Where we used to walk on our hands, skip and play poison ball - the big lawn and paved areas - were no longer there. Nor was the headmistress's house. Or the corrugated iron bike shed where we used to swap scraps, eat lunch and play name games (I remember it was a big fad to list as many car names as possible). Instead, there was a massive round hall with a row of excessively decorated and jolly classrooms - a far cry from the formal rows of desks with inkwells of my time. The uniform remains the same - and the girls much the same, I suppose. Some of them seemed so tiny. But I was just four when I started there and 17 when I left for Uni. As I left the grounds, I finally recognised a building. The kindergarten building was still there. My very first classroom. A little stone building with a slate patio and a sunken lawn. We performed the Nativity Play on that patio and the parents sat on chairs on the lawn. I was a shepherd - and disappointed at such a non-role, I recall.
But most of all what the sight of that little building did was to bring surging up from somewhere deep within me a huge, primal rage. For, as I looked at the exterior, a kaleidescope of vivid memories of my experiences therein came pouring back, among them the day thar Miss Dawe, the kindie mistress, made me sit behind the piano for an entire afternoon as a punishment for not eating my lunch. I had explained to her that my tomato sandwich had gone soggy and disgusting in the lunchbox and I did not like it. It was repulsive. She insisted that I eat it. I refused. I was put behind the piano with the sandwich and told I could not join the activities until I had eaten it. So I spent the afternoon behind the piano, my falling tears adding to the soggy mess of a sandwich, as the other children played class games, had their nap, and played more. It was a baffling and mindless piece of teacher cruelty. I did not eat another tomato sandwich for many years - even now, I prefer tomato on toast. And, as I looked at the classroom today, I wanted to resurrect that horrid Miss Dawe and give her a lovely, fresh knuckle sandwich.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Trust me. Hah!

Says the Prime Minister in announcing his Octobeer 9 election date, "trust me". I trust him alright. I trust him to lie and lie and lie. Mendacious, dangerous, self-serving politician.
But, sadly, the public will trust like hapless voting lemmings and this era of war-making and economic rationalism will go on. An American critic put it perfectly when commenting on the aquiescence of the American public under the Bush regime of fear and deception. He surmised that the public has succumbed to "an Orwellian false reality".
Thus is it here, too. And it is deeply disturbing and very depressing.


My idea of perfection. Hours spent reading in a seat by the window with the islands outside and the sea reaching into the ever yonder. And a long walk around to the old screwpile jetty with the bay still and sheltered and the water a sheet of reflected sky. There were six shags sitting on one rock - all looking in the same direction. Like an audience. And the Pacific gulls were perched on crags of the bluff, posing for the world to admire how handsome they are. Only two desultry pelicans were at the boat ramp, although lots of boats had been out fishing on this perfect day. Not much of a catch, said one fisherman. But it was so lovely out in the bay, he said he did not care. Lovely it was - with fishermen on the rocks in each little inlet, happily casting their lines, sipping on a beer, gazing at the sea.
Tonight there has been some steady, nourishing rain. Crickets are singing a rhythmic song outside with the waves providing periodic percussion.
The city does not lure me back - but return I must. Sigh.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Aahhh Friday

TGIF. I've fled the city driving a very snazzy Lexus RX330 which really came into its own when I hit the country roads. Now, with a coffee and a ciggie, I let go of the wicked week. Too much work in it to think straight. Taking on a freelance job which consumed two nights of writing was the straw on this camel's back. Getting too old to hack the pace, methinks. But perhaps it was a tough week by anyone's standards. But now, the sea is outside and all is calm.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

What writers do

Carlos Ruiz Zafon was our celebrity author last night - and a magical man of vivid words he turned out to be. So often writers are very separate entities from their works. But this Spaniard inspired and delighted - even in a second language. Oh, the wicked things he had to say about his years as a Hollywood scriptwriter. And the reasons why he would not sell screen rights to his book "Shadow of the Wind". Which were linked, of course, to his experiences of the cannibal world of screenwriting.

From Carlos's fanciful gothic world, I am now immersed in that of Mark D'Arbanville who is "The Naked Husband" - and I read with revulsion, loathing the man from deep within my gut, as many female readers will. His book is an explanation of his infidelity to his wife, of his discontent with a perfect life, and his need for another. I thought, in reading this book, that I would gain some enlightenment about the male of the species, or particularly about the ex-husband who betrayed me in a similar way. What I have understood from this man's attempt at controversial paperback writing is that men can be brutally selfish and feel sorry for themselves at the same time. I knew that already. But the wounds of all that are far behind me. Faded old scars. And the negative turned into a positive. For had life not taken that turn back yon in England, I never would have found my Bruce.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Chocolate Intensity

An assignment to judge chocolate for the Royal Show. Oh, how the colleagues oozed their envy. I must say I was not displeased with the challenge.
Equipped with a very prestigous judge's badge and a lab coat, I was one of three judges - head judge being a leading retired chef and culinary teacher, the other being a confectioner and speciality cake maker. My only qualification was my choc snobbery, being one who refuses to eat couverture or compound chocolates and who believes that Belgium's Leonidas chocolates with their fresh cream centres are the best in the world.
Chocolates were laid out in categories on trestle tables. 66 samplings in 12 categories.
Sadly, we had to start with the worst and work our way up to my favorite - chocolate ginger. This, said the head judge, because we work from mild flavors through to the strong.
Shaving slivers of chocolate bars and cutting centred chocolates, we let each sample melt naturally on the tongue to explore its qualities after examining the appearance of each offering. I had not realised how many things there were to be considered. But I caught on. The head judge was a wonderful teacher. And, hey, it's hardly an unappetising subject.
Well, it took four hours to go through all those chocolates. Four hours of nothing but chocolate and water.
I had not had breakfast, apart from the usual coffee and cigarette. But the chocolate did nicely as first food of the day. In fact, as the hours wore on, I found I was feeling charged and a little high with all the chocolate. It is good energy food, after all. The process, however, was incredibly intense - so much so that one hardly noticed the time passing. It was an adventure in subtleties puctuated by thrills of excellence. The top chocolates were world class. They rivalled Godiva and Hefty. They were sublime. Two in particular - neither of which I am permitted to reveal until the results are announced. But both are made in Adelaide.

After the judging I had thought maybe I would feel sickly. But no. Instead I had a passionate craving for salad.
And I absolutely could not face another chocolate. For at least a few hours.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Sharing friends

Never again will I tell one friend of another "you'll love him/her". No, sir! I will make no assumptions that friends with things in common will get on with each other. Not after last weekend when, thinking I was delivering the gift of potential friendship, I brought two interesting friends together as houseguests, only to see them go for each other's jugulars in a steamy dinner table argument about, of all things, the atrocities that King Leopold inflicted on the Congolese. Friend A, who has lived in Africa, attempted to tell the Friend B that some of the techniques of utter cruelty used by Leopold's minions were adoped from Congolese tribal punishments and that colonial Africa and colonies generally had been rife with brutality and genocide. Friend B took this as an expat Third World colonialist apologia for Leopold and went into a state of deepest, grim hostility - from which he refused to emerge. And thus was our jolly weekend a complete disaster.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

O, Lympics!

Thank heavens for Roy & H.G. and their nightly Dream show from Athens - that uniquely Australian sense of nonsense, the high art of taking nothing seriously. How else to deal with an international sporting extravaganza set against a backdrop of empty seats? The awful truth must be coming home to the IOC, that real people just aren't interested in a mass of esoteric sporting activities. They don't know the rules. They don't care. And they don't want to sit for hours on end in the blazing sun.
Athenians, of course, have always most sensibly had siesta in the afternoons. They are night people. And their national sport is conviviality. From what I gather on the Olympic blogs, the Plaka is one of the most interesting spots where they seem to have set up some do-it-yourself games for people to play between coffees and retsinas. It is clearly much more fun than the official venues where the catering seems to be junk food with McDonalds in a starring role.
Fortunately there are thousands of athletes, officials, volunteers and security people to keep the event looking busy - because, obviously, the general public came for the theatre of the opening ceremony and promptly left.
Maybe the Olympics should be scaled down - just competitions for which country can hold the best opening ceremony.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The job on Kerry

Trying to help a colleague learn about John Kerry's policies, I did a quick Google - to find that all searches now are loaded to the negative to such an extent that it is hard to find anything else. Now that really is an efficient demolition job. And a (propagandist) marketing strategy, methinks.

A cut above the rest

It was blessed relief to get a call from the surgeon's rooms saying that the removed mole was benign - and no more cutting would be necessary. A couple of hours later, I did the cutting myself - trying to cut a recalcitrant mangosteen which skidded off my desk and across the floor, leaving the knife with my weight on it to gouge down into my finger. Later, realising the wound was a bit nastier than my first assessment, I got Sam to drive me to the private hospital A&E where, in lieu of stitches, an overworked Irish doctor glued the injury together - and his tattooed and hearty male nurse, Rick, popped a dressing and bandage on it. Only problem is that the dressing is now glued to the wound.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Butler did it

Distinguished weapons inspector. Australian diplomat abroad. At home, Richard Butler is immersed in controversy as he resigns from the post of Tasmanian Governor amid accusations and derision. What was his sin that he offended the Tasmanian Government House flunkies to the extent that they resigned and set the media a-frenzy? Arrogance, they said. Oh deary me. How terrible. Fie.

Of course I know no more than the rest of the country, exposed only to what the media chooses to report. However, my interpretation has it that Butler simply did not take the post of Governor, of Queen's representative to the little Apple Isle, so seriously. He is a declared opponent of the Monarchy for Australia and a supporter of the moves to make the nation a republic. Not the ideal choice for an absurdly pompous, ribbon-cutting archaic role. Indeed, it was aberrant of him to accept the job and downright silly of Tasmania's government to appoint him.
He was right, however, to cut the pretentions of the institution down to size. I hope it leaves a mark on this arch colonial tradition. It is long past its use-by date.
That he is being paid some $650,000 on top of his $350,000 salary by way of a golden handshake sticks in the craw a bit. That's easy money for 10 months of not work.
Now let's just hope they find something more constructive to do with a smart man who should be an asset to the country.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Under the knife

A nasty little mole in a difficult spot. The GP referred me to a plastic surgeon. His rooms were a picture of elegance, upstairs in a handsome colonial mansion on the edge of the parklands. Rich wood panelling, gracious windows with lovely aspects, collections of artworks on the walls, classical music tinkling through the air...
Arriving for my surgery, it was a long wait in an overheated waiting room. But valuable for reading. Finally to the operating theatre, as spartan and ugly as the consulting suite was lavish. Off with my top and laid out on an operating table under huge lights in the centre of the room - looking at huge, ugly brown-painted doors. The surgeon gave me a local anaesthetic injection and asked me to hold some gauze over it while it took effect. And he vanished, as did his nurse. And for the next 15 or so minutes I lay there alone, my book out of reach, listening with increasing irritation to the perky strains of some ballet score. Around me was a mass of equipment which, I realised as I passed time gazing at it, was largely for medical emergency. Oxygen cylinders, emergency stretcher, defibrillator... It all loomed large. "I'm only here for a mole," I reassured myself. I could hear voices in the next room and wondered if it was another operating room. I had images of an operations factory. And I wondered why it was that the medical world always had this way of unnerving and dehumanising its patients with this sort of solitude. My mind drifted back to the horror story of the birth of my first son - the last time I was left alone in an operating theatre. Jacked up in stirrups with an epidural which had only partially worked, ongoing contractions, and no sign of delivery after 18 increasingly frightening hours.
Finally the surgeon returned in his whites and busied himself with the hand sterilising rituals. Lovely hands, of course. And he painted my breast bone in hibitane and centred a hole in a green cloth over the mole and told me to look away. I did not have to be told twice. It did not hurt exactly. But it did not not hurt. It felt. And it felt nasty. After cauterising, he proceeded with the stitching and that felt really nasty. Piercing and dragging. I felt as if the skin of my chest was being hoisted. I felt like the performance artist, Stelarc, being raised in an art gallery on meat hooks. It was a particularly repugnant sensation. Disproportionate, considering the size of the mole. I did as I do at the dentist, went into "it-has-to-finish-some-time" mode - and, of course, it did. And I went off into a day punctuated by involuntary shudders of revulsion as the sensations were recalled.
So much unpleasantness for such a little thing.

In praise of the aged

Old people are wonderful. Today I addressed 50 something members of the Over 60s Education Group, all of them over 70. They have problems getting the young 60s members, they said. Looking out at their faces, I saw sensibility, intelligence and curiosity. People with stories to tell. People with knowledge and experience. And yet, they are somehow adrift in our society, filling time learning more, but not being used as a resource by society. It seems wasteful. For indeed, our society is ruthlessly youth-oriented and, if anything, there is a disdain for age. The young, of course, think it has nothing to do with them. It is as if the old are another species. Oh, indestructible youth, you will find out soon enough.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Apres le deluge

And when will that be? The rain goes on and on. I have given up on my hair. It occurs to me that Adelaideans are always poorly prepared for weather - probably because they don't see much of it, this being such a temperate place. So people in the streets are dressed for the office rather than the rain. Men go out in the cold and rain in their business suits. Some are in shirtsleeves. They may carry umbrellas, but no one has a real raincoat or proper hooded jacket. Well, I saw one woman in a proper waterproof jacket but she had nothing on her head and her hair was drenched into rat-tails. I am just as bad as the rest. I go out between the showers believing that the rain has gone away - and then it starts and I am unprepared. I've managed three soakings. Hence the big hair.
I don't remember this much rain, constantly, day after day. From our verandah we can hear the rushing torrent of the creek over the road, It is like brown rapids, surging and roaring, raging at the banks and attacking the tree roots. Trees will fall.
But the reservoirs are filling and for this dry place, we offset our sodden, scampering discomfort with the knowledge that we are lucky.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Here comes the bride

Who would have thought that way up the Main North road and down a non-descript semi-industrial road would lie a magnificent Greek Orthodox church. Not only grand in its exterior but within, a shimmering wonderworld of golden icons - on every wall, on the ceiling, even small icons interspersed with the crystals of the huge chandeliers.
The bride, a Cypriot Greek colleague, was sung into the church by the priest. No music. And we had to stand. Not just for her entrance, but for the entire ceremony - which was lengthy since it was sung and spoken in both Greek and English.
We were a small group of work colleagues among the crowd of Greeks. We were the ones who did not know the protocols - but followed the few cues. But we were happy to see our fiesty colleague wed.

Friday, July 30, 2004


OK. It has happened. A young colleague, a very talented and savvy finance journalist, recoiled from me today raising his hands defensively as if to ward me off. "You Mac people are weird," he gasped. "You're possessed."
I was just telling him he should not tolerate his shonky old PC when he could get himself a Mac. What's weird about that?

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Aversion therapy?

I like to shop. But it turns out that I am a lacklustre shopper when put in the company of a serious shopaholic. After today I understand that "shop until you drop" is not a joke. It is a genuine phenomenon. My idea of poking around a couple of junk shops on a Saturday morning was put into shade by Peter's attack on the local shops. We did every op shop, second-hand shop, furniture shop, bookshop, oriental tat shop and garage sale in three towns! How many can there be! You never realise until you look. There are zillions of the buggers. Mostly staffed by nice old ladies wearing nametags. " Madge" is a popular name among charity shop volunteers, I discovered. I was starving, craving coffee and exhausted - and he was still filled with the fervor. I found myself hanging around the footpaths, gazing into windows and thinking what a thrill it would be to be at home cleaning a bathroom. Anything but another Aladdin's cave of old consumables. Anything.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Tati town

The dryest state in the dryest continent was wet today. It rained solidly all day long. Most unusual and, of course, generally appreciated. But the city is not accustomed to such lengthy deluges and, as I scuttled across town under my silver brolly to renew car registration, it was to splash through puddles formed on the footpaths and to leap over torrents rushing towards gulping stormdrains. And with the heavy rain clouds also was the dim, grey light - not dark exactly, but dull. No shadows.
The motor vehicle registration office was interesting. I had forgotten how quaintly Orwellian it was with its austere sweeps of faintly vulgar minimalist design, vast curves of counters with officials tucked behind their glass walls, above them digital banners numbering each official and also each client. I was client 122. This identity was presented to me by a darting little information officer in a central booth. She snapped to and fro behind her high, sleek counter, diminutive and neat, like a character in a Jacques Tati film. Oh, Tati would have loved this place,. And we clients sat and waited on very uncomfortable ultra modern chairs, set rather impractically, I thought, in curved rows dispersed here and there - so the waiting clientele was less aware of their own numbers. An electronic voice crooned out the calls - "Number 97 to counter 14..." - and the turnover was quite efficient. The officials were pleasantly impersonal. Mine was a trainee called Daniel. I explained that my real intention on traipsing down in the rain was to register a change of address for the car. The Department's website had stubbornly refused to recognise my client number, so I had been unable to complete the process electronically. I presented him with the form the little Tati woman had given me. "I can't take this," he said. "It needs your husband's siganture." I explained that he was in the US and it was a simple address change for the car's garaging. "It still needs your husband's signature because it is in his name," insisted the official. "But one is supposed to be able to do this online. I am only here because your website was not recognising your numerical system," I explained. "This function is designed to be done electronically - in a way that does not require a signature. So why do you need a signature when I come in person?" He had no answer except to say that he had never seen the website. I gave up, paid the registration and went back into the rain. I did not need to make that trip at all. So it goes in the world of bureaucracy.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Toothaches and overwork

I am so tired I am sideways. In bed with the laptop - at least able to let go of the day at last. I have just completed the two net columns - which are due tomorrow. The workload has been almost beyond possible - trying to be two people, to do two full-time jobs. And, of course, coming home is not a rest for there is the shopping to do on the way home, the meal to cook, Mama to visit, Peter's late meal - and the pop-ins which invariably punctuate the evening. No wonder toothache comes to add its mean burden. And I take the painkillers and do the gel treatments and wonder when I am going to lose these teeth which my body seems intent on rejecting so cruelly. I wonder what false teeth are like. No one tells one these things.I wonder how long it will be before I find out for myself.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Weekends are too short

The pelicans have moved. Usually they roost on rocks near the boat ramp jetty. But there have been gales this week. It is the coldest it gets and the wind howls around the house at night. But in the lee of the Bluff, it is sheltered - so the pelicans have mooved to rocks very near the shore in the shadow of the Bluff. There, they hunch up against the weather, beaks tucked under wings. And, like us, they wait for this blasted winter to be over.
It's been a girls weekend, just Annie and me. We have achieved some productive work - and a lot of knitting. But once one gets the working juices going, the scarey thing is the way in which time slithers from beneath one. I have so much more to do. I worked on one commission. There is another, albeit with a deadline next week. And then there are the five books I have to assess and the mighty tome I am supposed to have finished before interview its author in the morning. More than a person can do on their time off - so the weekend also is burdened with that sense of "where did the hours go?"
So, I can't afford to sit here thinking about it...I had better pick up that over-fat book and read myself to sleep. Back to town in the morning - the cruel wrench away from my lovely stormy sea.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Farenheit incendiary

At last the film has been seen - and riveting it was. The media preview was enthusiastically attended, not just by media but by the film world, too. Scott Hicks was among them, his hair growing once again, now long pageboy.
People sat literally on the edge of their seats throughout the film. I was surprised to learn afterwards how many people were unaware of many of the revelations in the film. I guess my interest and intimacy with US politics is somewhat above average. So there were many people shocked and, as in the US, people wanted to hang around a talk rather than make the usual quick exit from the cinema.
I think the film was too long. Moore dwelt too long on the grieving Flint mother. It was overkill and it detracted from the intensity of the documentary. That said, it was well researched and balanced with just enough savage irony to break the gravity with levity.
Bush at the primary school after being told of the attack was what disturbed many people most, they told me. Bruce says it was the same in the US. The "deer in the headlights" idiocy one observed.
I was disturbed by the servicemen in Iraq, particularly in hearing the kick-head music they pipe through their helmets to hype them into attack. I did not know about this and I find it sinister.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Night birds

Who would know it was the middle of winter. I lie here in my bed, windows open onto a still, still night. The sea is calm like a mirror in the inky dark - the perfect dark for, without the moon, the stars can star - and star they do tonight. The Southern Cross hangs high above, the Milky Way sprawls, Scorpio coils... And, if you stand at the water's edge, you can see them again, a twinkle in the sea. The islands are barest dark mounds out there in the darkness. But occasionally one can hear the birds on Wright Island, a disturbance or a fairy penguin squabble. A while ago some cockatoos flew over. I wonder what marauder set them into flight at this hour. Queale and I walked down onto the beach a while ago to soak in the perfection of this winter night. There were lights of the fishermen out on the jetty beneath The Bluff - and there was a white shape drifting in the water close to the shore. But as it came closer, it divided and one could see that, oh so bright a white, it was two pelicans silently gliding down the shoreline. I did not know they cruised about by night. They seemed to be in perfect harmony - ghost birds in the dark. Beautiful. And now I shall put aside the computer and fall asleep to the sound of the water lapping, the occasional thud of a sweet it is.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Bravo for Edwards

I was sure within myself, so very sure, that John Edwards was the right man to run with John Kerry. I looked them all over thoroughly, all those Dem presidential candidates during the NH Primaries, and was taken with Edwards' qualities and his passion. He is the man. I tipped him and sat back to wait. I was not surprised at the annoucement, only pleased. Now the scales are balanced and the campaign will begin. This continues the training ground for John Edwards cos I feel in my waters that he one day also will become President.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Michael Moore

The frustration of waiting for the Australian release of Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11!
I have kept track of Moore's work since long before he became fashionable and adored the courage and integrity of the man. Now I read all about the film and the responses it is gleaning in the US - with a sense of delighted amazement that Moore's time truly has come. The American people are responding. They are going to see the film en masse - and they are being stirred from apathy. Perchance they will vote, for the percentage of that population which actually goes out and votes is pitiful. I think the rise and rise of Michael Moore represents a sea change in the US. A messiah of the left is risen. The people see that he is good. The groundswell has begun. The future has a glimmer of hope.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Full moon

What a strange day. Tonight the brilliance of the full moon offers a glorious sky layered in bright, white back-lit clouds. But perhaps it is the pull of the moon which has made people rather odd all day. First my delightful and adored periodontist, racing the clock and on the hop, who gave me two weeks to choose between two very depressing solutions to the root problem which has me miserably swallowing antibiotics. The devil or the deep blue sea? I may take the sea.
Then, in the office, more people breathless on the hop. A hopping day. A sense of rush - personal rush rather than the usual quiet urgency which is life against the daily deadline. Agitation. Lost copy. Disarray. And for some reason, people wanting to disclose things. Telling their stories, their worries. One, in fact, pouring his heart out about his secret lover who has taken another man just when he was ready to leave his wife and marry her.
I finished the working day by opening an art exhibition. Wonderful art. Lovely artist. Good people. It all went down rather well, considering I was a toothachey old thing who really wanted to be home and prone. One astonishes oneself when one rallies at the sight of a sea of expectant faces.
But now I have my wish. It is my Friday night at last. I am in my sanctuary and the moon is my friend.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Winter in the country

Driving the winding country roads from the coast in my divine new Forester, it was the symphony of greens which was the delight of this day. There are myriad greens in this landscape but in winter the new growth brings forth a richer than rich green - a vibrant, exuberant, vivid celebration of green. A shrill cheer of green. It sings from the trees and shrubs, saying that winter is lush and alive. And along those roads amid those greens are also the showy splashes of brightest yellow - the wattles coming into bloom. No wonder the birds are so happy. Winter is beautiful.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Another Festival Over

There was only one free night left in my week and the boss decided that was the night he would take his staff out for a team-bonding dinner - since he had a free table for 10 at a master chef dinner. I was not excited by the prospect and said I would rather be knitting, but Simon is a lovely boss and, oh well, team spirit and all that. So I went. And wasn't I glad. What a divine repast. Course after course of delicate, imaginative morsels of absolute excellence. With luscious wines. Lots of wonderous culinary treats but never too much. And we co-workers got to chat and swap life stories and see each other as individuals outside the work place. After all, we are a sort of family and we spend more time with each other than we do with our blood families. Yet we don't really know each other all that well. Just within the work context. We see each other under stress. We know each other's strengths and talents. Yet not much of the private selves at all. I "met" a couple of my workmates that night and, tired as I was, I was loathe to leave - although I was the first to do so.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Vale Milan Ivezich

Milan died today. The memories cascade around me. I never wanted to see Milan again. And I won't. That is not to say that I did not have abiding love for the man. He was one of the loves of my life. He wanted to marry me. I turned him down. He was too dangerous for me. He liked to live on the edge. I am a creature who likes to be earthed. So I had the distinction of being the only woman who had ever turned him down although I thought he was the most beautiful looking man in the world - dark-skinned and velvet-eyed. He was highly charismatic. He was brilliant, a genius. He was dazzling, glamorous. In his heyday. Until he discovered heroin.
As a geo-physicist Milan made millions in the Poseidon boom. He lived like a movie star and he had star presence. Heads turned when he entered a restaurant. The first words he uttered to me when we met in the early 70s was an invitation to go to bed. I thought him impertinent and proceeded to ignore him. But when he phoned and offered to give me a lift to a party with his friend Christopher a few days later, I accepted. He rocked up in the back of the car with Xtopher at the wheel, music playing, joint burning. Xtopher chauffeured us a rather roundabout way until I realised that we were going nowhere near the party. "You've been kidnapped," said Milan. We ended up at his house and I did not come up for air for many days - finally going home just for clothes and returning to the surreal world where Xtopher waited on us as people came and went and quite often we received them sitting up in bed like John and Yoko.
But I had to leave. I had commitments. I was only visiting Adelaide. And so I flew away, on a long route back to Edinburgh where I had been living with the doctor who was later to become my first husband.
Milan followed me with love letters miraculously delivered to every place I visited and he caught up in person on the island of Rhodes where he insisted on hiring the biggest motorbike on the island - which we promptly crashed and spent our romantic time holding hands from single beds across a garret room as we recovered from our bruises and grazes.
Then Milan went to his native Yugoslavia while I went away back to the island of Halki where I had been staying with my old friend and travelling companion, Dimitris.
When I arrived in London, so did Milan, desperate to stop me from returning to Edinburgh. For days and days he dazzled and he promised and he wove dreams around me as only Milan could. It was an intense time for both of us - but all my instincts warned me away from him. I bade him an agonised farewell, advising him to lick his wounds by discovering my precious Bali. Which he did, ending up making Bali his home for many years.
And I went back to Scotland and the doctor.
Milan, who had divorced his first wife, subsequently met Bronwen and married her. His demise began when they were in Thailand and his father died. There were expectations that Milan would return to Melbourne and take over the Yugoslav newspapeer his father edited. Milan did not return. His distraught mother took an overdose and hanged herself from the rotary clothes line. Milan spiralled into pain and guilt - and found the panacea of heroin. And he began to shoot his fortune down his veins.
He was a wonderful artist and he left geology and adopted the artist's lifestyle, chumming up with Brett Whitely and having heroin-high painting sessions. He lived a while in Bali and then settled in Byron Bay where Bronwen gave birth to their son Misko. He said that Bronwen never succumbed to the drugs. But one night she did - and died, with her wee child beside her.
I had been back in Adelaide for a little over a year and was having dinner in a Chinese restaurant with Xtopher the night that happened. We had looked forward to that dinner - and then we could not eat it, both of us feeling strange and down. We left the restaurant early and returned to my house - and the phone call came. A desperate Milan crying for help. We told him to come to us - and he did, with child. Bronwen's sister, Megan, took Misko and I took the broken Milan. He stayed for a year and I tried to help him get off the heroin. He turned my world upside down with the darkness and light of his being. He could not sleep alone. We were never lovers again, but I took him into my bed and kept him company. Like brother and sister. I promised him that I would take him back to Bali once he had kicked the heroin.
That was tough. He ate deloxyn like lollies and hid drugs all over the house. Brett Whitley made calls offering to send him "care parcels". Heroin dealers zeroed in on him whenever we went out. He would go off the heroin, endure the savage demons of withdrawal, sparkle with pride in himself - and then drop back into the mire. It was a big dipper. But throughout it, he was loving and good to my children and also to me and my housemates. He was always protective towards the children, interested in teaching them and ever ready to play. We all loved him and wished him to be well.
He still had the charisma. He still had the brilliance. He was still a larger-than-life individual. People wanted to know him and to be with him.
Finally, he stayed clean. I took him to Bali. I was preparing to move there at that time, having been spending regular times there working with a friend and colleague on English-language publications. I had been studying the language and I had a place there. This trip was to organise resident visas and school for the boys. And to part ways with Milan who was planning to find a place in the mountains and focus on painting.
We were no sooner settled in Bali than a Dutch woman called Yoka arrived to claim Milan. Milan ran away and hid in the hills. Yoka clung to me for day after day in torrents of tears raving about her dreams of perfect life with Milan. It was all a bit much. The boys couldn't stand her and nor could I. Milan, in his way, was always enriching to us all. But this woman was disruptive. I managed to locate Milan and force him to deal with her. She wanted to take him to Europe. We waved them goodbye, relieved.
It was a couple of years later that I saw Milan again. He turned up in Bali when I was back there on a visit. He had dumped the Dutch woman and found a beautiful German girl called Erika, a sculptor. I adored her instantly. He seemed to be doing really well. They settled in Bali and lived the artists' life for some years. Their son Odin was born there. But Milan had never really left the drugs. His life became more complicated and he was forced to leave the island under dire circumstances.
The family turned up in Adelaide to be near Misko - and ended up staying with me and the boys. We lived together for a year. For Milan it was a mercurial year with assorted drug phases. Erika and I bonded like sisters and our children melded into a big happy family. Milan retured to geology and opal mining ventures, then eventually they moved to Kalgoorlie and gold mining. He sent me money to repay me for things he had stolen from me on his drug binges over the years. They later moved to Cairns and Milan, mining ventures all failed, sank deeper into his drugs, disappearing to Bali for years on end. Erika discovered, as she supported him through Narcotics Anonymous, that she had been "an enabler" for all those years. She began to draw away from him, finally completely. She was doing well as an artist and at raising Odin. They had a life without Milan and saw him only occasionally.
Milan, she would tell me in our long phone calls, was looking shrivelled and prematurely aged. He had shrunk. His body had been ravaged by the drugs. He was a compulsive liar. He was a lost soul with illusions, endlessly drying out from drugs and then going back on them. His sparkling brilliance was drugged away.
And we had all stepped back from him. Milan was trouble. We had all tried to help him. We had all failed.
"I am glad you never saw him in these last years," said Erika tonight. "He was such an old man."
Milan collapsed and died in the street. They say it was a heart attack. He could not be revived. He was still taking drugs.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Another Festival

Another festival in the festival state - more late, late nights and erratic meals. It's only the Cabaret Festival which is relatively small with fairly superficial reviewing demands. But it means two weeks without a night at home.
It's rather a nice thing to do in winter. It is heartening to see the Festival Centre swarming with people while the rain pelts down outside. And, since it's all light entertainment, it brings out a broad demographic. For once, I know hardly anyone in the foyers. Ah, yes, foyers - my natural habitat. I realise that I have "foyer friends" - people I regularly meet in theatre foyers and see nowhere else. Ah, maybe foyers are another dimension.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Big Brother shock

The live Big Brother show went into disarray. Something terrible had happened. An intelligent political statement had taken place. Political conscience on trash reality TV? Heavens above. How shocking.
Merlin, the evictee, had taped his mouth and held up a sign saying "Release the refugees". He refused to participate in the trite chit-chat and bitchery which is the routine content of the weekly eviction show. He simply sat there with his rather tatty sign...and a massive audience.
Of course the Queensland rednecks in the live audience did their bit of booing and the cretin footballer in the house showed his disapproval. Dimwits united.
But it was a brave, brave use of a mass audience to communicate a serious message, shared by many of us.
The next night Merlin apologised for putting the show's glib host in a difficult position and he apologised for offending children in the audience. Eh? Children were offended by a humanitarian statement?
They are not offended by the sexual innuendo, the brainlessness and profanity of the show. They are not offended by a trans-sexual being sent into the house to flirt with the men? But they are offended by a gesture of compassion towards broken people detained in almost concentration camp-like circumstances?
Now that really is shocking.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Science strikes again

How much money are these researchers spending to establish that dogs have a vocabulary?
We now have the scientific "finding" on Rico the border collie - it asserts that this dog can indeed learn and maybe even draw conclusions. But it suggests that this dog may be an exception, an Einstein dog, even.

This is a case of scientists wasting our time and money. Anyone who has had anything to do with dogs knows that they learn human vocabulary. They also can tell the time, albeit not in the same way as we do. Furthermore, they have added senses beyond ours.
No, they can't talk. But they certainly express themselves.
All the dogs I have owned have not ony learned the spoken commands, but the peripheral language around them. Our present family dog, a 9-year-old doberman, knows the names of all the family members and friends, of all his toys, and of a series of commands, some of them different phrasings of the same command. If asked to go and locate a certain toy, he will get that specific toy. He has a lot of toys. The house sometimes seems to be an obstacle course of his possessions. They all have names - ball, ring, bear, teletubby, rope, chook... He also learned to pee on spoken command. He is not an Einsten dog. He is just a dog from one of the smarter breeds.
We don't need teams of scientists to tell us that dogs learn language.
If they really want to add to the body of knowledge about dogs, let them tell us what dogs think.
That is the mystery.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

A drive in the country

A beautiful assignment - out in the countryside on a sunny winter's day. The new Forester loved it for it was a first chance to be off road - along dirt tracks, through gates and across the landscape to a eucalyptus arboretum. 900 varieties of eucalypts and 7000 trees. What diversity. Such splendid, extraordinary trees are eucalypts. They look so ancient and their seed pods often look primeval, but they turn out to be one of the more recent species around - still speciating, said the eucalyptologist.
It was a joyful day to be out there among that splendid vegetation - and, oh, the scent! The air of the landscape was heady with it - that fresh perfume which somehow we feel is in our blood. The fragrance of Australia.

Friday, June 11, 2004

A bad night at the theatre

So much work. So much hope.
They don't always pull it off.
Of course art needs experiment. Risks must be taken. Failure is part of the process.
But understanding that does not make it easier to sit through.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Church crisises everywhere

Boston is still reeling over its church scandals. It has been an epidemic of disgraced priests. What is the problem with these men of God?
I return to Adelaide - and here it is again.
They have been calling for the resignation of the Anglican Archbishop of Adelaide for some time - but he has held on doggedly waiting the couple of weeks left for his retirement. It's all about paedophilia coverup at the city's top boys' school. The Archbishop's idea of dealing with a sinful priest would seem to have been to visit him as he packed to leave the country, worried for the man's welfare and not, it would seem, the boy/boys. I listened to his description of this meeting as he was interviewed on ABC radio. He remained supercilious, I thought, as if he was a bit above it all. It did not surprise me. This archbishop has, in my opinion, been a vain and self-aggrandising man throughout. And thus does his downfall look to me suspiciously like karma.

And it's time they let the women take over the church.

Calm before the storm

I watched the transit of Venus on my computer at work - fairly underwhelming aesthetic really, a black dot moving across a white sphere. But it had to be watched, if only out of respect for Captain Cook and his mapping of Australia - which would not have happened without the scientific expedition to see this phenomenon.
Of course there was no sign of the astral dust cloud predicted by the prophesy ratbags under the stolen identity of my mate Grant Gartrell. But, in their defence, it has to be said that we all seemed to have a somewhat addled sort of a day. One of those sideways days which are not awful but just awkward.
Here in Adelaide the weather was perfect - considering it is winter. Sunny with temp in the 20s. The evening has been positively balmy and I took a pleasant walk around the neighborhood and down The Parade which was bubbling with life, the sidewalk cafes full of happy people. Even the icecream parlors were doing brisk business.
Now, after midnight, the sky is flashing lightning and there are rumbles of thunder.
I am sure the doomsayers would see something in it. Post-transit storms. Oooh.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Identity Theft

What an ordeal for my old friend Grant Gartrell. Suddenly he is in the middle of prophecy hysteria - attributed on websites and forums with predicting the cataclysmic impact of comets on the earth - beginning tomorrow.
Someone on the end-of-the-world bandwagon has found and used the retired physicist's credentials. It is true that Grant is an expert on comets. He did his thesis on the subject - a zillion years ago. It is also true that he is long retired and has not involved himself in that sphere for many years. He is now blueberry grower and, as he has always been, a passionate caver who lobbies for the protection of caves.
And suddenly there he is all over websites and forums. Except that it is not him. Someone has done a lot of homework about him and is using his credentials to generate panic about impending comet impact on earth. What is in it for the imposter? Why would someone go to all this trouble?

Saturday, June 05, 2004


Good grief. George Bush is campaigning for the Australian Prime Minister's re-election. Telling Australians not to vote for Latham of the Labor Party. That is beyond not one but many pales. Impertinent arrogance pales by comparison. I go pale with indignation. Etc with the bad gags. But it is bad.

Meanwhile, it is Friday - yesssss. I have churned out a lot of words through this week. Two columns, four feature stories and two reviews. And I've caught up on the backlog of emails. Phew.

Now I am late to bed after a packed night. I executed a painting for the Florey medical research foundation fundraiser exhibition tonight - with borrowed acrylic paints on a canvas provided by the foundation. It's a portrait of a pelican. of course. I love those birds with a passion.

In the morning I will pack the Forester and head down to Fleurieu Peninsula - stopping at the Willunga Farmer's market to get some fresh goodies - and spend some time adoring the colors of the sea.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Big Brothering

I am not ashamed to admit my fascination with Big Brother. Our household always has had a "thing" for the rats in the lab reality TV phenomenon. It brings us together. A ritual of people-watching over dinner - and onwards since one or other of us usually has it streaming on the computer.
The Aussie BB is vastly different from the American version which I find very hard to watch and even harder to care about. The American production pits the housemates against each other and encourages factions and power games. A great deal of energy is expended on expressions of hatred, one housemate for another. It is all very bitter, backstabbing and ambitious, the eye always on the money at the end.
The Aussies, on the other hand, seem to bond in the house. The big problem they have is finding reasons to nominate each other for eviction and quite often their nominations are accompanied by apology. They weep buckets whenever one of their number is evicted. They put up affectionate little memorials to them. There may be disputes in the house, but mainly it turns into an almost filial love fest.
And thus are our cultures different. Just as we can't produce the sort of characters who populate the Jerry Springer Show, we can't produce a BB house of nastiness. Does this mean we are a nicer culture? Perhaps. Certainly a less uptight one.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Going Mac-wards

Pooh. The pic blogger bot is only for PCs. We Maccies are out in the cold. And I so wanted to do a piccie thing.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Pax on earth

Salam Pax has charmed his way around Australia. Poor man has not seen much of the country or the culture. Emily Booth, his publisher publicist, has given him a heavy schedule which means that if you ask him what he thinks of the country he will reply: "Your hotels are very good. Room service is good." He has mainly seen the insides of bookshops and CD stores, he says. And radio and TV studios. And, for us tonight, a large hall where the Salam Pax Big Book Club event attracted an enthusiastic capacity crowd.
Salam arrived and gratefully accepted a glass of white wine, mingling easily, albeit slightly confused when one gentleman came to deliver him greetings from a certain sheik in London. That man, like several others in the audience, had been to Iraq. But he had serious dealings with the redevelopment of the country. I don't think Salam realised this but, then again, there were so many people vying for his attention.
Having interviewed him on the phone for the Saturday magazine feature, we were already relaxed and on a kindred wavelength with blogging in common. For this event, we sat together at a table on stage - the interview process being more relaxed and conversational.
Salam was a deleriously easy interview, although he says he finds the "being interviewed" process very weird indeed. Our format makes it more like a chat - and it felt very comfortable. Salam says he hates being made into some sort of pundit on the politics of Iraq, but of course his insights are craved. I had to ask at least some questions about war and peace, for this is what has made him so famous. But he was most at home enthusing about the blogsphere.
I had a show of hands on bloggers in the audience. Only four. We think there will be more tonight - since we have encouraged them to come here to blogger and get into it, now they understand that it is another rich world of communications and self-expression.
Salam was a little taller than I had expected. I don't know why. He is pleasant looking, balding, with a neat, groomed beard. He is slightly rounded in physique - and makes clear, honest eye-contact when talking with one. His English is superb - with an interesting, cultured accent. Of course he was educated in Vienna.
The audience was absolutely rapt with interest in all he had to say. It is magnificent to look out on a sea of sentient faces. Gives one hope for the world. And having Salam was, I observed, like having a little window through which to see into the real Iraq. Not that he is a typical Iraqi, as he is first to admit. But his European education forced him to examine his culture and see it through an objective lens. This makes him no less of a patriot. He is a brilliant ambassador for his country. He tries to assert a sense of optimism for it, grateful that Saddam is gone, adamant that the coalition should listen to more Iraqis. He communicates well the sense of disruption and fear in which the people live, saying that when a car backfired in Sydney, he immediately felt a flashback to Iraq and feared where the bullets were going.
He also is funny - a lovely, ironic humor, familiar to all of us who have read his blog.
Our evening with him ran over time. Everyone had questions to ask. We did not want to let him go. So much we want to know.
Bravo, Salam. You are a delightful man and it was simply marvellous to connect in person with you. In your wake go waves of new understanding.
Please don't stop blogging.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Salam Pax

What a pleasure to interview the Baghdad Blogger as I did on the phone today to write the forward feature for his impending visit. What a cherub he is. Lively, bubbly and interesting. Immensely likeable. He said that he never for a moment imagined, as he tapped out that historic blog from the crumbling chaos of falling Baghdad, that he would end up talking to the likes of me. And I have to say that, as I checked in to that famous Baghdad blog during those terrible times, I, too, never imagined that I would be talking to its author.

car car car

It's big deal. Just a few times in a lifetime. For some, never. So I have been pretty excited about taking delivery of my very own brand new car. It's a Subaru Forester, green. I have had my eye on this model of car for several years and test driving two of the latest Foresters last year sealed my resolve that this was "the" car for me and us. I held off and held off, until the ancient Subaru Liberty I call Wanda was making me nervous - that gnawing feeling that she may not get me where I was going. And I stood on my little hind legs, so to speak, and asserted that I would not and could not add stress about a car to the many demands in life. I am past it. I am at a time of life when one must and will have certain civilized and comfortable facilities - i.e. a safe and dependable car. Fortunately, my darling Bruce concurred. And so the deed is done.
Yesterday I collected the car from Eblens where they made an extended celebratory ritual of the purchase - and off I drove, all pristine and only 16 klicks on the dial. I have to run her in, of course. Or is it him? I have yet to give the car its identity.
At present I mainly gaze upon it with a sense of incredulity and delight. Waiting for the weekend when I can take her out to the country and really spend some time with her. And I will really have to make the most of that because for the rest of the week I will not be able to drive her. I will be test driving the new Mazda3 for the paper.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

A rumpled office

Rain rattles against the window and I see my banana palms lurching in the stormy wind. Brrr. This old house has no heating and I stay in bed rather than turn on a heater. My bed, now I am wireless, has become an office - piled with books and, of course, the ever-handy laptop. I made coffee at 6 am, when it was still dark, and went on reading the book version of Salam Pax, cross-referencing to websites he mentions. I don't know why, as a dedicated netizen, I stick to the book and do not return to his website, which, after all, is the "real" world. But I am engrossed in this retrospective which is all the more fascinating now, with all the wisdoms of hindsight. Of course I can make notations in the book - things which I can use as I spread the word to the blogless population.

I am annoyed that I have never been to Iraq and that I get confused by the cultural/tribal complexities. I am a shallow student - always skimming information in an effort to keep broadly informed. Coping with the information overload as best I can. Who can work and cook and wash and shop - and also keep abreast of a zillion news sources and blogs?
Let alone write a meaningful blog? Well, I am not competing with the champion bloggers. I have words to churn elsewhere - and I am way more fascinated with what other bloggers have to say than with musings of my own.

I will have to go to work soon - that lively place with its diverse "family" of co-workers. We are a bit nervous about the demolition beside our building. We look forward to the end product which will be our state-of-the-art new premises - but we worry that the shaking of our old building will dislodge the asbestos. They have put in monitors to check this out.
Meanwhile, I dread going out in the rain and getting into my old car with its leaking sunroof. Water will dump on me the moment I start moving. I had hoped to get my new car before the rains. But with just one day to go, fate spites me with a deluge and I shall drive to work draped in towels and with a cap on my head.
A petty hardship when I contemplate Iraq. How pitiful of me to dare to complain.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Sweet Adelaide

Riven between my two worlds, I have been trying to adjust to being back in Adelaide through a process of immersion. Going for walks as a cultural sponge. Loosening the thought processes and allowing the body to be a sensory receptor.
A neurasthenic approach, perhaps.
Perhaps just a wallow.
My favorite place is the central market where on Saturday I firstly lunched on fish curry and then, soothed by the comfort of familiar Asian food, I meandered among the stalls where the stallholders were shouting down the prices. "Dollar, dollar, dollar," rang through the air from all directions and people huddled around barrows freshly loaded with the end-of-week bargains. And into the fish market I roamed where people clustered around the high counters waiting for the shout-down specials. And the shouts roared from the fish counters and from the poultry stands and the people, laden with bags of provisions, jostled and called back. And it was raucous and jubilant and wildly alive. I stood in the midst of it all and let it reverberate through my body. Lovely. A dose of vibrant humanity. Like floating in delicious people soup.
The Continental delicatessan was shouting down prices, too. I bought some extravagant custard confections for a song - and a batard. I was not there for shopping, after all. Just the ambience. And I wandered on among the fresh fruit and veg, the colors and fragrances. Barrows of vivid sliced watermelon, piles of salad vegetables, boxes of pears, citrus....
The Asian groceries with their mountains of greens.
And, of course, the sense that we now are also an Asian market, for our population is now strongly Asian. Which makes me feel comfortable and optimistic for our country.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Where is Raed?

I will ask that question, since Raed has always been somewhere else. But Salam Pax will be here - promoting the book of his famous blog, doing the world book tour thing. It has been chosen as our paper's Big Book Club feature for May.
I have been sitting up in bed with jet lag and the book. I have, of course, made periodic visits to the blog over the years - and it is a strange thing but blogs seem better to me in blog form. As a book it is bitsy and somehow cold and distant. Perhaps one of potentcies of blogs is the sense that they are alive and shared online, that others are reading them at the same time as oneself. That they are part of the great connectivity. That we online readers constitute some sort of community and that there is an immediacy and intimacy in blog communications.
But even though I have written innumerable column recommendations of various blogs and even an extensive magazine feature on the world of blogging, I find a world out there which has never heard the word "blog". So putting the Pax blog into print form will cerrtainly broaden awareness among those whose online reach extends no further than email.

The Pax assignment was my greeting back to work on Thursday - when I arrived in the office straight from the epic flight from Boston. It was a good trip as such world crossings go. My frequent flyer points had earned me an upgrade to Business - and it divine to be able to extend the legs, not to mention have power for the laptop, which is not available in the cheap seats.
Pax, the publicist tells me, is having a far more difficult and epic journey from Baghdad. Many days and a circuitous route. He arrives in Sydney on Monday and on Tuesday faces a non-stop barrage of media interviews, mine among them. Poor bastard. But I get a second, more leisurely, slice of his cake when he comes to Adelaide for the Book Club and I conduct a live interview in front of an audience.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Administrative contrition

Hearing Donald Rumsfelt oozing contrition about the mistreatment of Iraqi POWs is nothing more than irritating. It is all too late. It is after the fact.
The culture was already established. First an administration which outsources POW guarding. Outsources!!!!! Employs contractors. Civilians. And who adopts such contracts? Rednecks, of course
But the redneck culture is entrenched in the military anyway. Never clearer when I met the marines on R&R in Darwin and hearing their savage attacks on war veterans. How Vietnam Vets and Gulf War Vets were cowardly and soft. Unlike the services of today who know how to "kick butt".
Somewhere these young people are being drilled in this attitude. It is part of the culture of toughness. It is the attitude of the government of the day.

I hear people on IRC saying how tough is this country and how it will show the other countries. It needs no friends. The rest of the world is irrelevent.
This attitude, also conditioned by the propaganda of the present administration, is suicidal in terms of world politics let alone Islamic psychology. The loathing of Islam is fuelled by the atrocities in Iraq. One hears the American contractor who escaped from detention with the Iraqis saying that he was given civilized treatment during his imprisonment. What an irony.
The next lot of kidnapped westerners will not fare as well, methinks.

Meanwhile, I realise why so many of the devotees of Nostradamus now are circulating the email with reminders of his prophecies.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Kindred Strangers

This is a fascinating apartment complex. Some 600 apartments spread through a vast acreage of New Hampshire woodlands and streams - set out as a mock Tudor village complete with beams and round turrets, winding roads, some along high restraining walls. Squirrels and chipmunks scuttle around the place. It's all quite charming. The buildings are just three-storeys tall. We are in a middle floor apartment with a wee balcony which gets next to no sun but manges at least to grow impatiens in pots during summer.
Today, with the sun at last out, I was playing my favourite Chieftans CD, rather loudly, and there was that wonderful anthem, Long Journey Home. Suddenly various pennies dropped - as I thought of how far away was my other home. And I glanced out the window and saw two strapping young Brazilian men with pails and mops, coming to wash the laundry. They are far from home, too, beginning at the bottom for a new life, I pondered. They were talking in Portugese. Just as the Latino groundsmen who swarm around the property with fertilisers and leaf blowers seem only to talk in Spanish. None of these workers seems to have any English at all. Unlike the Indians who live in most of the apartments. Their English is exemplary, for India is the last bastion of English at its most correct. The Indian women swan around the compound in vivid saris while their high tech PhD husbands are at work and tantalising scents of curries waft onto the apartment landings. And they, too, are far from home. As are the Chinese and Taiwanese who also live in this complex. And the few Swiss and Germans. For, indeed, this is the truest form of multicultural community. There are more foreigners than Americans in this bit of America. We are all far from home - strangers in every sense of the word, for we don't know each other more than to nod on passing. And yet, in many senses, this is American grassroots - for the country long has absorbed the people of the world in mind-boggling numbers. There's one helluva lot of people here. Actually, it's a pretty mind-boggling place.

Thursday, April 29, 2004


For years I have stepped back from the American passion for peanut butter. I never cared for the stuff and was appalled at the idea of having it with jelly.
Then, one day, I was lured into eating some Reece's Pieces. "You won't be able to eat just one," said step-daughter, Cathy. She was right. Peanut butter and chocolate, for heaven's sake. Disgusting idea. Delicious result.
Now I've succumbed to cheese cracker biscuits with peanut butter filling. Yum.
Where will it all end?

Friday, April 16, 2004

Here comes the sun

The last night of frost tonight, says the weather forecast. The sun has come out. Crocuses are peeking up. Squirrels, looking plump and fluffy in their winter coats, are vigorously foraging everywhere. The female Canada goose on the lake has made herself a little downy nest on the shore and sits patiently while her male cruises up and down bullying the ducks away. Green buds are bursting on the first trees.
My days are passing terrifyingly fast. I am busy as anything - and yet I don't feel productive. Many hours vanish on email alone. I just filed two columns - and still I feel as if I have not done enough. Stircrazy, perhaps?

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

With time to read

Rainy days help. But it is a treat to be able to sit down with a book during the daytime. I've never been good at it. Almost any time I sit down with a book I am consumed with guilt and mental listings of things I really should be doing - as if reading is some sort of self-indulgent sin. And, within 15 minutes or so, I am usually up and doing some chore or other. Always as a quick preface to the reading session, something I will just get out of the way now there is the chance. I do some of my best housework whenever I try to read a book in the daytime.
But here we are with some real time and most of the chores done. That's the big plus of apartment living. I have finished the books I am reviewing and have come to the magic moment when I get to choose some reading matter.
First choice was Richard Clark's "Against All Enemies". What an engrossing and disturbing read. But this is the moment for such a book. This book fills in many of the spaces in the jigsaw of media coverage - by going under the skin of events, behind the scenes of bureaucracy and politics. It teaches and reminds one of the history of recent years - spreads out a decade of interlocking events and makes it all make sense. And it leaves one even more worried and frustrated - but at least advisedly so.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

April Fool's Day

The year's April 1 marked 19 years of my working for my paper. Nothing funny about that. Scarey - the years rolling by so easily, busy weeks skittering from beneath me. I don't regret. It has been richly interesting and, in many ways it has defined my identity. Of course there have been frustrations and times of stress. Hell, the job, by deadline definition, is pressured. But it also has been fun - none more, I realise, than in the days when I was the one who played the April Fool's Day pranks in the paper.
In these earnest years, April Fool pranks have gone out of style. Howard Stern played a doozey this year, removing himself from the air. And John Kerry's team did a lovely mock press release announcing that George Bush was outsourcing the national debt.
They reminded me of my favorite prank - the year I declared, with particularly ugly artist illustrations, that the city's handsome old Town Hall clock was going digital.
There was a wonderful outcry of indignation among those who had not noticed what day it was. The switchboard was jammed. The Lord Mayor was ropable. He was out for my hide. was a most successful jape.
Those were the days.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Spring cometh

They took away the sand containers and shovels today. Two burly blokes, singing on the job as they heaved the sand bags onto the back of their truck. And the sand vacuum machines have been sucking up the gritty layers, now all the snow is gone and the sun is bursting through. First signs of spring, which I welcome with my first American cold. They do everything bigger and better in the USofA. So it has been quite some cold.

The darling little chipmunks are out and about, chipping merrily in the woods. Squirrels cavort, looking terribly busy. There are signs of their diggings all over the place - hunting for their nut stashes. The red-winged blackbirds are back from their migratory adventures. Ditto the Canada geese. And we even saw a lone swan gliding in among the ducks and geese on the lake in Mine Falls Park.
One forgets the profundity of spring when one lives in Australia. Without a harsh winter, there really is no spring. Just new growth. Here, the stark, leafless trees are showing their first spring life, thrusting forth buds of triumphant red.
In the forthcoming weeks, they will burst with green and this verdant landscape will become impenetrable once more.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

On movies

Of course I love the Coen Brothers. And, just recently, I discovered the Polish Brothers and "Northfork" - a surreal meditation on frontiers and death. But, pondering the film industry and just which director would have me lining up at the box office in a state of great excitement, I realise it is Christopher Guest who is my hero.
And that I crave another movie from him.

Saturday, March 20, 2004


It is a week since I disembarked from the 24-hour expedition which brings me to New Hampshire. I think I'm on the clock. I've been thinking that for some days. I've done this trip many time before. I am used to it. Or so I like to think. In fact I harbour the same self-delusion every time. I've come to think it is part of the process. It's a facet of jet lag. And there is no way around jet lag. If you think you have beaten it, it will creep up behind you and slam you into a new miasma.
Holding the kind hand of valium, I had six whole hours sleep over the Pacific last Friday. I have never had such a glorious big sleep in the air. I arrived oh, so perky and full of optimism that a real sleep surely would undermine the old jet lag. Watch me get right on the clock.
Saturday afternoon as we drove home from a lengthy and fairly energetic expedition, I grew noddy in the car. It was pre-dawn in Australia. Naturally my body wanted to acknowledge it. I demanded a large coffee and fought back valiantly. Jet lag be damned.
I woke a little early on the first couple of mornings here, but generally, apart from my digestive system, I seem to be nicely on the northern clock clock. In the afternoons, however, I run out of steam and seemed to squander time in some sort of amotivated haze. The result, of course, is an attack of self-loathing and guilt because there is much I should be doing, that I want to do, I have promised myself to get done... And yet I feel too floppy. Blah. Soporific. Is it the central heating? On Wednesday, returning from a delightful lunch in snowy Nashua with my friend Janet, I almost feel asleep on the couch later afternoon. Bruce came home and found me wrapped in a blanket in a state of torpor. I was quite embarrassed. As if I had been caught being lazy. Today I have no energy and don't want to do anything. I drank three coffees and forced myself out for a brisk walk to photograph the dripping icicles before they melt. It is bracing out there and it helped. But truth is that I am still not myself. I am sluggish and stupid. I know the old power will return. It always does. Eventually. But it is a myth that the west-east jet lag takes only three days. It is a myth I disprove year after year. It is a myth which punishes anyone who is naive enough to believe it. Jet lag takes at least a week. It simply won't be hurried. Ask your bowels. And one of its prime characteristics is that one always gets disoriented about how disoriented one is and how long one has been that way.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Up up and away

With the Festival rolling to a close and the body only just holding up to the double shifts and erratic meals, I leapt on a plane and returned to my other home - New Hampshire.
So, from the hot late Aussie summer to the cold New England late winter.
I never get over the general astonishment at making these huge transitions from one culture and world to another. Here there are big solid rather dirty piles of old snow lying in car park corners - apparently they were 10 ft tall not so long ago. But the air is dry and just seriously brisk with cold. Gloves weather. And my ears get cold. Bruce laughs at my complaints, since it is pussycat cold in his terms. And I have seen New Englanders out there in t-shirts for heavens sake. To them, the worst of the winter is over. Phhtt. I rushed to the stores and grabbed some warm gear from the bargain racks - and I don't care how silly I look, but I am rugging up. Then, of course, one goes indoors and it is all so heated one is sweating. Confusing. I have not had much experience with this clothes-on, clothes-off syndrome since my years in the Uk where I hated it, too. But at least it is a really comfy indoors and I can sit abouty in my sarong as usual. Unlike Australian winter in houses which we don't heat - and go around layered to the nines. I wear windcheaters and ugg boots with my sarongs there.
On the ground here, the presidential challenge is the hottest thing around. At last I have been able to see some of the Bush/Kerry advertising conflict. Bush's strategy seems pretty desperate and transparent to me - but it remains to be seen how much of the population still believes in him. One suspects that, just as Australians are turning against Howard, so are Americans turning against Bush. But politics is a strange beast. We must watch and wait.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Light at the end of the tunnel

Driving home towards a rising moon so huge that it looked as if it would crash into the earth. So many nights in black boxes watching theatre, the world looks miraculous. Then again, there was the weekend of Womad with all the good spirit and alternative culture - and that same wonderous moon hanging over the park with music rising up to meet it.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Boredom envy

Hurtling past town houses in the city en route to yet another show, I heard the sound of a TV set and realised that there is another life. Some people are sitting around snug at home and not going anywhere. Comfortable lounges and cups of tea, feet up. Meals on time, too. I had not had time to eat that night. Throughout the festival meals are grabbed on the run at very odd hours. That night, as I recall, I took the rumble tum for a fast walk to a service station at interval. I bought a banana. Dinner was consumed hours later at home where the choices were not too thrilling. It was some bought pasta stodge devoured at 11.30 hunched over the laptop.
A night at home suddenly becomes the most delicious luxury at Festival time.
It is Sunday night and I have such a treat - the first since the arts orgy began. I did spend 5 hours in the office today catching up on reviews and columns - but I also managed to cook and clean the kitchen and water the garden. Chores become pleasures. How ironic. But at least the battery feels somewhat recharged and ready for the rest of the onslaught.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Shameless Overdosing

Four days and nine shows. The Festival is just begun. The Fringe, that is. The official Fester starts on Friday. And we have a lot to see before we turn our attention to the serious, high-budget international fare. Not that the Fringe is not international. I have already excoriated a very charming and large Canadian company, sniped fondly at some American "Fakespeareans" and picked a single favorite from among the British comics.
There have been some stunning shows and some disappointments. As always.
There are so many shows the we have to keep the reviews very short and concise. It is the only way to accommodate the volume of them - and our track record of covering everything.
The weather has cooled, which is sheer pleasure for us locals and is very disappointing for the overseas acts who have come from winters. But it beats sitting with a fan in a hot venue - which I have done too often at too many Fringes.
It is hard enough to sustain the stamina without battling heat as well.
And then there is illness - the terror of the critic on this sort of agenda. And those audiences are always littered with sick people. Why do they come out and spread their virulent viruses in enclosed spaces? I hate them with a vengeance - coughing and sneezing from behind me. There is always one there! Always.
So many perils in the arts, eh.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

The party has begun

A perfect, hot summer night. People five deep made snake formation through the city as they lined the route for the Fringe Festival opening parade. And what a beautiful parade it was, transluscent shimmering fantasy confections, stilt walkers in glitter, lights twinkling and myriad zany, colorful performers. Even a transluscent camel and a large grouping of Afghan refugees - a good political statement about detention centres for a people who helped to pioneer this country.
I could not stay for the whole parade - since it took 3/4 hour to pass a given point and I was scheduled to be in a theatre reviewing a Canadian musical production. Its promotional material bulged with radiant rave reviews. I'm afraid it did not get one from me.
After the show, Gawain and I meandered down to the Fringe Hub to check out the action. The place was jam-packed. Rock band in deep marquee under vivid lights and masses of people dancing. Lawns and grounds solid with people. Another sound stage with a DJ and music with a visceral beat. More lawns carpeted with people. Bars and food stands. In the cloisters, a zillion people, many in fantasy costumes, drinking and watching sequences of buskers. Much laughter and clapping. Beer bottles absolutely everywhere - which alarmed me until I discovered that they were all plastic. And everywhere, an easy-going happy mood. A lovely mood for such a massive crowd.
And the Fringe has begun.
The city is out at play.
And that is what makes it different from Fringes and festivals anywhere else. The size and the cohesion of the city makes it an event for all. Old and young. Conservative and playful. Adelaide is artsing and partying...and so it will go on until mid-March.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

On information overload

The coffee drips through the filter as I go out to reach under the car, which is where the newspaper delivery man always throws the paper. With first coffee it is the speed read of the paper accompanied by latest news on the radio. News on the radio in the car on the way to work with the head spinning ahead to the to-do list of the day. Then the phone messages from PR people, contacts, readers - all on different subjects. Deal with those, turn to the email. Same deal plus newsletters and headlines with added spam. Deal with those. Papers being delivered to desk. Mail. Try to get writing. Sink mind into the subject. Answer phone. Try to resume train of thought. Chat from fellow staff - comments on news or politics. Interrupted by phone. Try to resume train of thought. Boss wants something. Leave desk. May as well have coffee.
Back to desk. More phone messages. More email. Try to resume train of thought. A burst of productive writing. Section editor comes to ask for work for new pages. Discuss and agree. Try to resume train of thought. Another section editor with a request. Add to list. Phone request from associate editor. Chase up request. Try to resume train of thought. Person arrives downstairs for appointment. Go down and sign in. Bring up and deal with. Dispatch. Try to resume train of thought. Phone. Realise that hunger is gnawing. Go out and have quick lunch - special dish being assessed for food article. Very nice. Iced coffee. Back to work. A large burst of productive writing. Deadline met.
Change subject - next assignment.
And so it goes on...

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Some don't like it hot

There is a little coolth in the breeze. I am sitting on the balcony watching the soft pink and mauve sunset colors over the sea and little Seal Island. It is very quiet. People have come down to the water's edge to walk and paddle - seeking relief after the day's heat. They are subdued and glad to be outside. Glad to feel the soft, cool water and glad that the sun has gone away. It was 44 degrees down here - and hotter in the city. The hottest February day on record. Doing the morning shopping was slow. The heat seemed to sear the skin. Air conditioners laboured in the stores. By noon, most people had gone home to sit under fans or airconditioners. We did. Put the fans on full and lay about reading. Passive is the only way to go. But still the sweat poured from our bodies and, late afternoon, we decided to go and lie in the shallow waters of the reef. The water was not cold, but it was cooling. We wallowed happily like old seals. There were a couple of children squealing and playing at the water's edge - but otherwise the beach was deserted. No one fishing from the jetty, either. Just too hot for man and beast.
But now, with delicate pink streaks in the sky and a darkening blue beginning to merge with the hues of the sea, dogs are being walked and cars are coming to let their people out for the magic sea breeze. It's bedtime for the birds. Galahs and lorikeets are shrilling and squawking over their territory in the old Norfolk Island pines and everyone is glad that night, finally, has rescued us from the sun's brutal strength.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Making history across Australia

The huge train sat in three portions at different platforms. At 1.069 km, it
was too long for any one platform.
With bands playing and flags waving, we the lucky inaugural Ghan passengers
trundled our luggage to our cabin allocations, watched by the envious crowds
settled in camp chairs and picnicking under trees around Keswick railway

The place thrilled with a sense of history in the making.

And Great Southern Railways was making sure that it was properly celebrated
- so much so that every passenger was photographed for the record books
before boarding the train. Even the undercover police!

Each of us was given an Inaugural Ghan souvenir pack - a canvas tote bag
containing a framed commemorative certificate with our names in beautiful
calligraphy upon them, an Inaugural Ghan passenger trip medallion, badges
and a first day cover.
Our carriage stewards welcomed us aboard. In M carriage, Gold Kangaroo, my
man was Kurao (pronounced `Crow'), a Japanese-Australian whose bi-linguality
was invaluable for the Japanese film crew on board and whose calm efficiency
at the media bar kept all 45 national and international media travellers
extremely happy.

The cabins are not state of the art. They are the same as they have always
been - comfortable sleepers with compact little en suites. I had no
complaints. In fact I loved my little compartment with its large expanse of
Of course Gough and Margaret Whitlam had it rather more plush, albeit more
ancient. Theirs was the Prince of Wales carriage, an historic carriage of de
luxe suites which smelt of cedar polish. The Premier, Mike Rann, Governor
Marjorie Jackson-Nelson and NT Chief Minister Clare Martin had the
Chairman's carriage which had lovely double beds, a formal dining room and a
rather 60s armchair lounge room.
Generally, the sleeper carriages were interspersed with lounge and dining
cars - so there was a lot of convivialising.
Indeed, it was to the lounge cars we poured as the train heaved its way
slowly out of Keswick. And if we thought the send-off there was
enthusiastic, we had not bargained on the crowds which lined the track. Not
just through Adelaide, either. Out over the plains and clear up through the
Flinders people clustered at crossings, waved from hilltops, bridges,
roadsides, farmlands... Of course we had to wave back to them. In fact we
waved our way to Port Augusta.

That was the first stop and the first official function. There were buses to
ferry VIP passengers who had paid $12,000 for this voyage into history,
along with the huge gaggle of pollies who wanted to be part of the action 
but many chose to walk to the waterside marquee. They had to run the
gauntlet of anti detention centre protesters pointing out in banners that
the detainees were, after all, AfGHANs!
This stop was a chance for the first time to see the whole train - well,
almost. There were only a few moments on slow bends, for example, when one
could glimpse the incredible length of the Ghan - 45 carriages and two
bright red locomotives.
This also was a meeting with the original Ghan, now a Pitchi Ritchi steam
engine. The Pitchi boys had brought her up with passenger carriages and a
cargo of vintage cars to show the new Ghan passengers how things used to be.
The old engine was bedecked with gumleaves and looked divine. Everyone
wanted to be photographed with her. But few of the inaurugal Ghan passengers
realised the tenuous life of the old pioneer train - now run entirely by
devoted volunteers and at risk thanks to the exorbitance of public liability
insurance. Pitchi Ritchi had to pay $115,000 last year. When that policy
runs out in July they are not sure when they will stand. They hope for more
State government and regional local government support.
``We've managed to keep the trains running for 30 years, we will manage
somehow,'' said a sterling volunteer.
In Port Augusta there was another set of speeches from the pollies with
Mayor Joy Baluch throwing in her colorful twopence to the delight of the
local crowd.
And there was singing. James Blundell and Joe Camilleri were the train
troubadors seeming to enjoy every last moment of the experience.

Back on the Ghan it was wave, wave, wave again. In cars, on motorbikes, on
the back of utes the people were out there cheering the train's first
Astounding enthusiasm. All of us on board were touched by the scale of
public response.
The bar was open so long as the train was in progress and coffee machines in
the lounge cars availed all of chosen refreshments. But mealtimes were the
thing. The Ghan has made wining and dining the big ticket. Daybreak
breakfasts to the fresh morning light - fruits and cereals, eggs and
sausages, even coconut panckaes with banana and passionfruit syrup. Lunches
were substantial and aklways interesting - some lovely curries among the
selections and sinful desserts. The meals had names - Finke River lunch,
Davenport Range dinner, Katherine Gorge breakfast. But it was the sunset
dinners which blew the senses. Butternut pumpkin and Bunya nut soup with
sour cream and gremolata, followed by perhaps steamed kingfish with
lemongrass-coconut sauce or maybe herb-stuffed galantine of Barossa chicken
with roasted veggies and Chardonnay cream sauce... Oh yes, and a warm apple
and Munthari berry crumble tart with cinnamon creme anglaise. All this as
the sun softly sinks over the horizon and the dusty pinks transform into
ruddy streaks - with garish yellow, orange and reds giving a last-hurrah to
After the lingering dinner, passengers repaired to the lounge cars and a few
drinks. The train carried five dining cars and five lounge cars. We, the
media, had our own section and by night we could chew the fat and discuss
what angles we could find for the coming day. Between us we must have
interviewed every last soul on the train - well, with the exclusion of the
American Ambassador, perhaps. He proved elusive.
We were able to visit the VIPs up front and also the sit-up passengers down
the back. Between you and me, the sit-ups seemed to have the most fun. Old
and young, they bonded and joked and partied all the way.

At Alice Springs everyone was bussed off to a five star lunch on
entertainments in the new Convention Centre. No flies in the Alice when it
comes to turning on the ritz.
And then it was the really exciting part of the Ghan journey - the new $1.3
billion seamless track north to Darwin.
And no more did the train clack or give those lilttle forward lurches. Just
a slight sideways rock and a smooth whooshing sound on the rail.

The rich ochres and blue-green scrubland of the red heart softly easy into
tropical lushness - palmettos, magnetic ant hills and flood plains - as the
Ghan hummed sedately into brand new territory.
Through the picture windows the landscape passed like a living documentary
revealing wild escaprments, drive river beds, rocky hillsides, lonely
station outbuildings and dirt roads leading somewhere nowhere. We could only
wonder, for there is a lot of landscape out there and not too many signs of
human habitation. And yet, at surprising spots along the 2979 journey there
were gatherings of people, the outback dwellers who had driven who knows how
far to see the first Ghan passenger journey from coast to coast.

Tennant Creek was Aboriginal dances by night  and more speechs from the
Premier Mike Rann by this time was waxing lyrical. His journalistic
background sang forth as he spoke of dreams fulfilled, the true spirit of
Australia reaching out to the inland.

And there was plenty to bring out the poet in us all.
BY night, lying in one's bunk in the dark cabin, the moonlit landscape
purred past - silver silhouettes of trees and contoured landscape. An
endless shadowplay of natural wonder.

By Katherine, we had entered the tropics and the world was swampy and
Despite a sea of red mud, the townsfolk turned out en masse to greet the
trainsfolk - bringing displays of all their attractions and displays of
their accomplishments. Kids danced, stockmen whip cracked, air force dogs
leapt through hoops of fire, Rotary ladies made cups of tea, arts and crafts
were sold, Aboriginal performers did ceremonial dances, tourism people
showed photos and brochures - and the Katherine bookshop displayed an
impressive range of books about the area. Katherine, population 11,000, has
the highest per capita percentage of tertiary educated people in the NT.

With outback bods on horses and in their RMs and oilskins, with the standard
of the bookshop and tales of the hot springs of nearby Mataranka, I think I
fell in love with Katherine. I want to go back.

But it was away on the Ghan for the last leg - a last stunning repast, some
last interviews.
And the through the tropical deluge we hummed, getting dripped upon as we
moved from carriage to carriage. In some places flood lagoons were so great
it seemed as if we were driving through lakes.

And as we neared Darwin and the rain eased, the waving crowds grew thicker
and we felt obliged to interrupt our packing to wave back.
And suddenly there they were. The unnoffical Top End welcome - which was a
rear end display. A long line of bare buttocks! Hard to say how many -
between 40 and 60. A lot of bot. Many whoops and waves from the train. It
was not taken as offensive - just cheeky.
A true display of backs to the future.

At the end of the line there was a large marquee seom distance from the
platform - and the pollies were giving their speeches again.
We had come the historic 2979 kilometres from the south - but, oddly, there
were still 15 to go to get from the station at Palmerston into Darwin
We boarded a bus  and, for the first time in three days, we stopped waving.