Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mary MacKillop - a tough, smart saint

Mary MacKillop - Australia's first saint.
One does not need to be a Catholic to be thrilled to bits with this news.
Its symbology is more far-reaching.
Mary MacKillop long has been hailed for the exceptional woman she was - but this recognition has been largely from and within the religious world she avowed.
She was a nun who created her own order, using the Catholic system as a way of spreading not just the word of God but the word itself - literacy.
Her brown-clad Josephites, affectionately known as Brown Joeys, opened and ran schools wherever they went. They provided an education for the downtrodden and repressed of the time - girls.

Mary MacKillop was a feminist - way before the word was coined.

Among her wonderful nuns were women for whom life had been harsh, for whom other opportunities may never have arrived, among them women of the street. One could say that she saved them or made them - just as she saved and made all those girls who otherwise would never have had the emancipation of education.

Her schools are still outstanding and progressive.

They are, of course, Catholic schools,  but they accept Muslim and Buddhists and Secular students. In Mary's spirit, they are without prejudice.

With all this erudition there is one wild irony in the years and years of waiting for Mary MacKillop's Sainthood.
The highly patriarchal old Church of Rome, which once excommunicated Mary MacKillop for her fiesty disobedience - has rules, absurd archaic canonical rules. It decrees that, to be a saint, one must have performed miracles.
Miracles must be directly related to the act of prayer to the saint-to-be. They must involve cures of the incurable. They must be accompanied by medical "proof".
This sort of thinking seems incongruous when set against the principles of enlightenment Mary MacKillop represents.

Well, I think so. The fact that Australia has had to wait for decades until a woman emerged with the claim that praying to Mother Mary had cured her cancer is to oddly sideline the wonderful works and meaning of Mary MacKillop.
The woman in question clearly thinks this, too. She has refused to be identified saying that she does not want her cure to detract from the Saint herself and her pioneering work. One likes this woman.

I love Mary MacKillop.
Just as my late father, Max Harris, did.
He campaigned through the national media for recognition of Mary MacKillop as the brilliant pioneer educator that she was. He was a boy raised in the South East of South Australia, near Penola where Mary MacKillop's work with her mentor, priest and scientist Father Julian Tenison Woods all began. Penola is where Mary's first school was - a lovely wee town which is about to boom with tourism.
Max had an immense respect for early female achievers. He read all there was to read about Mary MacKillop and he cited her as one of the great (then) unknown Australians while doing his utmost to ensure that she was not just known but properly celebrated. He adored her spirit and her legacy and used his high media profile to champion her.

The Josephite nuns, an order of particularly interesting and intelligent women, were quick to take note and make themselves known to Max and so the bond became formed between the poet/columnist campaigner and the women who today represent the work and ethos of Mary MacKillop.
Those nuns were to give Max extraordinary comfort and support through his years of illness and, after his death, they were to tuck him under their eternal wing. Hence, his ashes are interred beneath a memorial rock between Mary MacKillop College and the Josephite Nunnery. The Mary MacKillop Centre museum is right there, too.

Max recognised Mary MacKillop's religion - and also the battle she had with that religion's patriarchy to do her work. She had to take on those fusty old Bishops. They excommunicated her. She had to live in hiding and plead to do her wonderful work. She succeeded and her work went on - away from Penola and Adelaide where it all began - across the country. Mary suffered Dysmenorrhea for which she needed analgesic nips of brandy. One always hoped it was St Agnes brandy, a saintly cure if ever one there was. But Mary was in no way airy fairy. She lived a tough life and she was a fighter. She worked truly and humbly for the benefit of others - for girls and education, for Aboriginal children and their cultural displacement, for the poor and their needs and for the sick and aged and their comfort.

Religion or no religion, one could not fail to recognise the extraordinary qualities of this wonderful woman. Her work was 19th Century but it remains vital and contemporary. She was a true pioneer. She is a role model for us all. And, as my late father so perfectly put it all those years ago, she is:


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Clockwork Orange is on steriods

It is so easy to feel enveloped in the comfort zone. I think of my narrow world - gentle home life amid educated people, theatre, looking forward to a good white wine at the end of the day, the pleasure of cooking wholesome and interesting food...
It is a fortunate world.
But it must not be blinkered.
The world is changing. Demographics is changing. Even here in this pleasant city of a million, the status quo is shifting.

Even if only from time-to-time, we really must turn our minds to the horror stories of other lives, of kids on crime sprees because they have squalid and unloving home lives - drunks, dropouts and addicts as their role models.
More and more we have created a whole society of people who have never worked. Never held a job at all. Just been supported by the system and now believes that this is the only way and, further, that this is an entitlement which should be providing rather better income and standard of living, rather more like that of the people who work.
They are arising as a restless, angry and growing underclass - now boosted by immigration policies of recent years.
We are surrounded by a generation of idle people, bored, lacking in interests, unable to find distraction between the covers of a book or in tending a garden or helping others. They are the market for violent video games and porn websites.

Teachers despair, unable to control them, influence them. Teachers have breakdowns. Fewer people want to be teachers because of them.
Education is the solution - but it has failed.
Clockwork Orange is on steriods.

I think of the power of those people not only in disrupting and undermining urban life in an immediate physical and cultural sense but also in being able to wield political clout. They vote.

I simply don't know what to do about this alarming growth. I see it is an obstacle to saving the environment, to the economy even to peace.

Ignorance is a very, very scary enemy.

Where is that sand? I want to bury my head.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Calm alarm - one of the greatest inventions

"Not a morning person" doesn't begin to cover it.
Or it didn't once.
That was my mantra.

All has changed. Technology has made me a morning person.

I wake up softly these days, gently roused by sweet sounds.

No longer am I shocked into consciousness by strident, jangling, aggressive, head-hammering clocks.
Nope, it's my handy mobile phone.
My darling iPhone. Before that it was my Nokia.

The pretty wake-up calls available on the mobile phone are one of the significant inventions of our time.
For all the great technological advances of our time, the way in which mobile phones have transformed wake-up calls would seem to have been the least appreciated.
I wonder has anyone really contemplated how many marital arguments did not happen because couples were not jangled into the new day? How many bosses did not bite the heads of employees because their wake-up was non-aggressive?
What larger differences may there be in our world when people's wakening is greeted by beauty instead of abrasive alarm?

I know that my cellphone alarm has absolutely improved the way I meet the day.
I wake up relaxed - not rattled into awareness. I hear the gentle sounds and my mind reaches out, at first wondering as one does out of sleep, and then identifying this as the tune of the dawn.

It is years since I had to wake up just to grasp out and stop the noise, to kill the ugly bell.
And I realise that a whole new lucky world will have known nothing other than cellphone wakeup calls - and perhaps may be a better community for it.

Whoever thought of programming harmonious wake-ups into cellphone technology might well deserve a Nobel Peace Prize.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Feedback, the tragedy

What is it with feedback?
Why does it bring out the worst in so many people?
Not all, I hasten to add. Not all.

But a whole new breed as been unleashed.

It is as if the anonymity of the Internet gives permission for behaviour your parents would never sanction. It is an excuse for releasing all the bile one has never dared expel, for fear of the terrible consequences.

So many people seem to have this inner anger.
All it takes is a blog or even an online newspaper report to fire up the demons of feedback, the instinct to tell the writer where to get off.

I recall when the LA Times tried the grand Internet experiment of opening up its editorials for the people to have their say. True equality. Absolute respect for the views of the readership.

But what did the paper get?
It got a deluge of vitriol. Such tirades of unspeakable spite and hatred that it gave up on the grand idea of the people's editorials and went back to the old ways.

People online are not content to disagree. They have to bellow personal insults.
As if they, themselves, are paragons of some sort, that they stand all-knowing in judgement, talented and wise. Well, the sort of paragons that can't frame a sentence let alone spell one.

Literacy and feedback do not go hand-in-hand.
And the worse the literacy, the more adamant the feedback sender is that they can tell the thinking writer that he or she is not worth the time of day.
Is it jealousy? Is it the tall poppy syndrome? The classic hostility of the under-achiever?

Whatever it is, it is bloody sad.
The feedback writers show a lot of cowardice. They think they can't be identified although, especially when it comes to newspaper feedback posts, guess what? They can.

The odd thing is that these people who have so much anger and such paucity of articulation also are out there actually reading.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Silly meditations on the hybrid car

Hybrid cars are too quiet.
So say the reports about the new era of eco-friendly vehicles. They are so quiet that they can just come up on one from nowhere.
One is not prepared. One gets a fright. If one is not flattened by the oncoming silent vehicle, one may die of fright.
Truly, silent cars are a serious hazard.

Sound is a vital part of our world and of our danger warning system.
It is basic to human communication.

We like and need to hear things and people coming. Noises alert us. We find stealth threatening.
Well, stealth IS threatening. Think panthers stalking prey. Think cat burglars. Think stealth bombers and submarines.

Bikes have bells so cyclists can ping one as they come up from behind on the seaside trails. I mention this since it is a bane of my life.
We put bells on cats to help save hapless birds and marsupials.

So, should they put bells on hybrid cars to save hapless pedestrians and animals?
If so, how would the city streets sound? Oh, be-jangles. Ring-a-bloody-infernal-din of a ding.
Tinkle traffic all the way.
And if the urban soundscape turned into a constant mighty cacophonic windchime, how mad would we go? Come to think of it, just driving in tinkerbell cars would drive one a bit nuts.

So perhaps not bells for cars.

How about horns? But would that be a quiet constant horn from oncoming cars or lots of blasts every time another car or a person gets within striking range? Like those reverse beeps on trucks and SUVs? A constant hoot of traffic?

How dire would that be? Could pedestrians hear each other speaking?

Or maybe pedestrians could hear the cars speaking. Hybrid cars could have voices. They could talk, warning people of their passage. They could say "here I come", "I think I can", "I'm a travelling man", "I'm on a mission", "get off the road", "yoohoo I'm a hoon" or just "car-car-car-car" or "shopping, shopping, shopping"... Self-centred cars could just say "me me me".
Cars could have electronic programmed voices or they could even have the voices of the drivers on recorded loops, just like phone messages.

Wouldn't traffic be a riot!
Everybody talking at once. Which way to look? Who is talking to whom?

But this presents more problems. Overseas, cars would be speaking in different languages. One may hear them coming but not understand them.

So how about music? Singing cars? Mozart cars? Hip hop cars?
It all ends up with noise.

So what is the answer for the silent hybrid?
A special noise of its own. A hum? A purr?

And full circle we come. Silent eco-friendly cars are only going to be people-friendly if they sound like cars.

Welcome to the new car engine recording industry.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Loxton the lovely - a travelogue

In an era when history seems to have been made redundant by by the phrase "that was before my time", it is heartening to find official, state-wide celebrations of the past - reminders of our roots and both the triumphs and failures of what we like to call heritage.
I was charmed and honoured to be invited to a town called Loxton to given the opening address for History Week. I was assigned the topic of "Pioneer Women" and instructed to speak on this subject for an hour. I could have wished for less of a maelstrom of a domestic and working life to make the writing of such an epic somewhat easier. Elective time has become elusive. This is a reflection on the history we are living now - the era of information overload wherein the days grow shorter and more pressure cooker, work presses and thinking time has vanished into the archives.
Irony, irony.

However, thanks to History Week and a Loxton man called Bert Haslam, I earmarked my owed overtime from work to pilgrimage to Loxton.
What a revelatory experience.

It is about a three-hour drive from Adelaide -beginning by heading up the freeway to lovely Tailem Bend. This town on a bend of the River Murray has a fabulous roadhouse with a stunning view and decent food - not to mention wireless Internet. Heading out the Karoonda Road we suddenly were in another world - we were in the almost remote countryside. Wheat country with railway lines and tiny silo towns. Marvellous mallee groves along smooth, open road. We saw few cars. But we did see ruins and bleak little settlements.
Approaching a place which was called Sandalwood, and which had nothing much more than the sign saying it was called Sandalwood, we found a roadside pallet with a mound of pumpkins for sale with a wee honour box. We bought one of the $3 ones.

It was a beautiful road, but there was a strange spirit of desolation to its environs, sometimes uncomfortably so. We turned off at a semi-derelict settlement which, incomprehensibly, bragged a racecourse. I wanted to see this racecourse. We drove past cracked and abandoned tennis courts with knee-high weeds, past a lovely but very sadly abandoned house with its rainwater tanks toppled alongside it.

We bumped onto a dirt track with, of all things, a 15k speed sign marker. Not a car in sight, but I slowed from my wild and crazy 25kph to the required speed we wound our way to a fenced compound, at its gate, a corrugated iron ticket booth with $10 entry fee signed. Within, there was a fairly respectable country racing set up - all made of corrugated iron. There was a grandstand, horse boxes and parading ring. One wondered how often it was used. It seemed a bit surreal out there in the desolation of disuse. Like a ghost racetrack.
However, as we were turning back onto the main road of this little ghost town, a big white ute crept out of a road on the other side, one of those big vehicles with bull bars, spotlights, huge tyres... And it drove behind us. It drove close behind us. And we started to feel rather oppressed by it. If I drove fast, it drove fast. If I slowed, it slowed. Eventually we hit another sad little settlement and I pulled over outside a rusty General Store. The white ute went on by and turned down a side road. I thought it may emerge again when we continued, but it didn't. Twas all in the imagination. Too many movies about weirdos in rustic country towns.

There were many ruins and abandoned buildings along the road - telling tales of droughts and lost dreams. There was even a side road signposted "Deferred Works Road".
But the countryside generally is lovely out there. Beautiful mallee.

Loxton was a surprise. A massively wide main road with a huge median strip leads down towards glorious meandering bends of the grand old River Murray. Loxton is, or was, a citrus town. It is surrounded by "fruit blocks" created by a post-war irrigation system which provided opportunities for returned servicemen. The town itself was originally German-settled, however. There are lots of German names in the community, but now also Greek and multicultural ones. It is a famously sunny town and, despite the dire economic crisis which besets it as the river water allocations dry up the once-lush fruit blocks and vineyards, it still seems to have a thriving and progressive atmosphere. At least, that was the impression that big-hearted Bert Haslam, a former school headmaster and now a member of the Loxton Council, conveyed to us as he took us around the sights. Retirement communities are big business in Loxton. A very wise move by the council in a time when Baby Boomers are looking for alternative lifestyles. Loxton is attractive for tree changers.

The fruit blocks are a sorry sight, however. It is heartbreaking to see dead orchards and piles of bulldozed dry orange trees, abandoned fruit drying racks and sadly shuttered houses.

Fortunately some alternative crops are emerging - olives and almonds among them.
We were to meet some of the grape and fruit growers at the History Week opening and to learn that they had been paying something like $300,000 a year for water to keep their orchards and vineyards cropping. They are deeply in debt.

Banrock wine flowed, however, for the opening event.
It was held in a large marquee in the grounds of The Pines, which is Loxton's simply gorgeous old heritage house open to the public. The house was left to the people of Loxton and is lovingly maintained by the council and staffed by keen volunteers. Built by the Thiele family in 1909, it was handed down to Ella who married a car dealer called Kingdon. It would seem to have been an odd, childless marriage but Ella outlived her chainsmoking husband by a long time and was to become beloved of the townsfolk for her gracious ways and her regular, brandy-soaked tea parties. The house has been kept as she left it - a window to a more gracious era which, for some, is still in living memory. It was another thing one had to love about Loxton, another thing that makes it different and better than most country towns. The fact that it also maintains an historic village is another. And then there are the mammoth old gums along the river and the sandy river shores which won the award of Best Inland Beach in Australia. And there is The Big Pelican, a piece of glorious fibreglass folk art which was made originally for a street parade and now sits in all its naif glory on a big water-motif plinth at the entrance to the riverside campgrounds. It is a cultural treasure.

I was a bit anxious about speaking to the people of Loxton on the requested subject of Pioneer Women. It was my feeling, rightly, that Loxton people are already very well informed about their own and the country's history and that, whatever I said, it would seem like teaching granny to suck eggs. I angled my address to pioneer women journalists which meant that I could move through time from first settlers to my own experiences as the first woman journalist on the news floor at two newspapers.

A wonderful array of people turned up to fill the marquee and the school prefects did a sterling job of serving drinks and nibbles. There was even a jolly pioneer folk trio. I was made to feel really welcome and, indeed, despite some very unusual improvised lighting at the lectern and a bit of trouble with the mike, it as all rather good fun and the audience seemed engaged. They were certainly responsive and I had a lovely time talking to lots of them afterwards. They presented me with a hamper of superb local produce - quandong syrup, olive oil, fruit conserve...
My general impression was that it was a really civilized place full of interesting, intelligent and community-minded people. It added to my sense that Loxton was a place a person could happliy live.

With Bert and Kath Haslam, we repaired to the Loxton Community Hotel for an agreeable, albeit not gastronomically brilliant, dinner and a last glass of wine.

Again, it was the pleasure of the people. The Haslams are special - both lifelong career teachers now retired. Bert is one of those golden men whose energy, enthusiasm, knowhow and warmhearted skill with people is the glue which sticks a rural community together. He is a doer and he makes doers of everyone around him. As Kath says, he has two speeds, full-on and stopped.
In the morning, we took a beautiful stroll along the banks of the River Murray. Slow, brown and beautiful. Bird life vivid and raucous. Oh, those ancient eucalypts. Reeds and duckweed...
Bert and Kath met us after our walk and we drove around to see places where Daisy Bates had come to live and work after her famous years of working with the Aboriginals at Ooldea. We explored little backroads, some of them impassable, and saw all sorts of fruit blocks and stretches of the river before arriving at Banrock Station where the wonderful wetlands were dry and there were no waterbirds to be seen.

More evidence of the seriously sad state of the River.
Banrock Station is a very impressive enterprise way out there in the Riverland - an elegant upmarket restaurant with the best possible art and a produce store and wonderful views as well as a conservation enterprise.
Many times living in New Hampshire I have pulled up its webcams to look at the birdlife.

It was disappointing not to see it in real life. We continue to hope for long, drenching and reviving rain to resupply the rivers.
And perhaps the Government could start buying up those cotton farms and rice fields upriver and in the eastern states which have been allowed to divert our precious water.

For Banrock. For the fruit growers. For all.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Shore thing

Encounter Bay will never recover its lyrical picture postcard beauty now that the classic little wooden jetty is gone.
Modern boaters demand modern facilities - so, with loud justifications about sea rescue, we now have the pontoon style metal boat ramp with its priapic stability poles and room for boats to come and go four at a time. Heaven forfend a boatie should queue.
I remain disappointed that the Council chose to bulldoze earth onto the beach to create more parking and to change the shoreline. I continue to think that the pontoons are downright dangerous as well as ugly. And I can't say how sad I was when I wandered down there to find a boatie throwing stones at the pelicans who roost on the huge and ancient Erratic rocks (dropped by the Permian glaciers 240 million years ago).

I actually stopped and said; "I don't believe what I am seeing. Why would you want to throw stones at those beautiful birds?" The lad, aged late teens, looked at me with dumb insolence. Then his father popped his head up from whatever he was doing with the boat and laughed: "He couldn't hit them if he tried! He's just seeing how close he can get a stone without hitting them."
The logic of this dumbfounded me. The psychology of it sickened me.
I have always liked boaties, albeit that I have not liked the fact that they have been allowed to vandalise the coast with the ugliness of these now ubiquitous pontoon ramps. Some marketing person has done a major coup flogging those to councils right across the land. They must be very rich indeed by now.
But, while I like boats and fishing and fishing people, I definitely did not like these particular boaties - who may symbolise the tip of the iceberg of ugly new people attracted to launch boats and jet skis from our new multilane ramp.

Despite the fact that Encounter Bay is as sheltered and quiet a water as there is in the world, they have built a massive breakwater beside the new boat ramp. This, apparently, is because the pontoons are dangerous if there is water movement. They are unstable. you see. They roll up and down and undulate with waves, making them hard to balance upon if there is a hint of weather. Well, there is rarely a hint of weather in this gentle and shallow bay - but millions of massive rocks have been carted in and a giant breakwater now reaches out into the bay.
Fortunately, the Council has done something I have not seen on other boat ramp breakwaters. It has ordained a path to be made on top of it so the real people, the locals who walk dogs and stroll the shore, can actually walk out as they did on the old jetty. It is not yet finished, but it is a positive - and I am looking forward to spending many hours out there as the years roll on. I do hope they put a bench there.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Well, oil be darned

Scouring the WWW for signs of manufacturers still using partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils and thus encumbering hapless people with poisonous trans fats (one of my campaigns - trying to pressure the Australian government into labelling products) I came upon these.
Well, we knew the Obamas were foodies!

What's the bet President Obama has not the faintest idea of this bizarre namesake!
At least they seem to be trans-fat free.
Now I'm trying to work out the 90 countries where this is supposed to be best-selling. Not this one.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cornelia Rau and the irony of freedom

Australia's most famous detainee, Cornelia Rau, is in trouble again. Now she is detained in Jordan, of all places.
I feel profoundly sorry for her - and cross with her.
She was given $2.6 million compensation for being wrongfully detained as an illegal immigrant in a hideous Australian detention centre after she was picked up wandering in Queensland and concealing her identity as an Australian citizen. She is, in fact, a joint German and Australian citizen but she has psychological problems. They would seem to have been exacerbated by a traumatic experience which she explained to me when I did a huge "Cornelia Rau - her own story" feature on her a few years ago. The magazine section in which that was published was not included on the website but Cornelia refers to it on her own website.

The problem with Cornelia is that, so long as she is taking her medication, she feels as if she does not need medication.

This is an issue with many people with psychotic disorders.

On medication, Cornelia is one of the most delightful people you could meet. It is truly impossible to dislike her. I took to her immediately - and subsequently spent time with her both on the quest of getting to the bottom of her story and, just for the pleasure of it, walking the beach with her or talking on the phone when she needed someone to talk to.

It was clear to me from the outset that Cornelia needed the medication she so resented having to have. She said it clouded her world, made her feel hazed.
But she claimed to have no recollection of the psychotic episodes that led to her incarceration. These were all blanks - the only memory being a sense of shock and injustice at police intervention. Over and over again, I plied her for clues about those pivotal incidents. It was always the same nothingness. Just Cornelia's indignation at the situation in which she found herself - under the Guardianship Board's supervision with a psychiatriast she had to see fortnightly and medication to which she was compelled to submit.

Cornelia, or Conny, as she prefers to be called, confuses physical health with mental health. She is a fitness freak, swimming in the sea every day whatever the weather, jogging miles on the beach... She had a lovely apartment within walking distance of the beach.

The calm of her disposition was clearly medication-related, and it made for a really pleasant companion, albeit one preoccupied with being free of all medication.

Conny was absolutely confident of her ability to get back into the working world but she had enrolled in several courses over the time I knew her and had not seemed to go through to the end with any of them. One was a sort of justice course, another a language course. She was obsessed with being able to get out of the country, go back to Germany, get back into air hostessing...

Clearly intelligent, charming, interesting, warm - she felt caged by the limitations placed upon her. She had friends, but was also rather lonely. Her family have stuck by her throughout. I met her parents briefly and the family relationship I saw in those minutes seemed very strong and loving. Perchance Conny could not accept what a worry she is to her family any more than she can accept that her stability is dependent on the drugs she so loathes.

Anyway, the Government compensated her for her wrongful detention and she is now a wealthy woman. I worried that she would become an instant target for exploitation but she said that the money was not available to her in bulk but that she could draw upon it.

At that stage, she was being "managed" all of a sudden by a colourful woman lawyer who told me she thought Conny had "celebrity" value she could make more of. This arrangement did not last very long. The "manager" had disappeared from the scene the last time I heard from Conny. She was on her own again and still trying to get her passport back.

Clearly, she did not pause to tell me when she got it back. She must have been at that airport within minutes. And out of Guardianship jurisdiction - away from anyone who could force her to take the medication she despised.

Catch 22, poor Conny. She gained that freedom which has so obsessed her. The gift the freedom has given her is more detention.

If only she would accept the meds. Dear girl. If only.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Exploring Yorke Peninsula - a travelogue

Thanks to a work assignment, a weekend on South Australia's Yorke Peninusula.
Moonta is an old copper town, part of South Australia's Copper Triangle. It is a popular holiday town on the quiet waters of Spencer Gulf. It is about two hours north of Adelaide - not the most pleasant of drives. One sets out amid heavy transports and rather scatty and impatient traffic which gradually branches off to rural destinations or interstate highways, until one is almost alone on the scrub-lined country road.
Moonta is a very neat country town which treasures its copper history with a tourism focus but it soon becomes apparent that the intervening generations have lacked forward thought and an astonishing percentage of the cottage-dense historic areas is simply gone, the land reclaimed by scrub creeping around rock piles and scattered shards of glass and china. This, apparently, is legacy of the dominance of the mining companies which owned all the land upon which the miners built their solid little stone cottages. When the mines closed, they lost not only jobs but the right to live on the land. Some exceptions seemed to occur since some cottages remain, one of them restored as a National Trust exhibit.

They were tough days, the 1850s-80s and the largely Cornish mining population suffered no end of privation and exploitation in carving out their lives. In one add-on room at the show cottage was a huge wooden wringer with a big black winding handle. This, apparently, was the gift that the mining company would give to women whose husbands had been killed in the mines. Wringing washing and becoming a laundress, was the gift of a widow's potential livelihood.
What "compensation" for a heartbroken woman!

While I pursued my work day, hooking up with an historian and, later, with the photographer who was to illustrate my feature, Bruce drove off and explored the old mines and museums. We reunited late in the day at the charming Henry on George's cafe.

We overnighted in Moonta Bay. It's a shallow gulf bay with an immensely long jetty - characteristic of the peninsula's history of grain exports via mighty sailing ships. Our motel, the Patio, was perched on a hill looking down to the jetty and the bay with its rocks and and rocky dark waters juxtaposed against the almost lime brightness of the shallow waters over white sands. The patio must be the most trusting hotel in the world. I'd made a phone reservation, told it was the last room in the place (summer school holidays) and when we arrived to check in, the receptionist sitting with her back to a breathtaking view and surrounded by the most lavish and long out of date Christmas decorations, simply pushed a key across the counter and told us how to get to the room. "You want a credit card?" we asked. "Why?" she responded. "Do you want to pay now rather than when you are leaving?"
The room was utterly adequate in every way for a cheap Aussie country motel. Good fridge. Soaps and shampoo, extra pillows and towels, kettle, toaster, good telly, tea and coffee, a double and a single bed, room service...and very clean with chilled wine glasses waiting in the fridge. After a restorative glass of icy white wine, we strolled down the slope to the very new and modern ..... restaurant with its array of window tables looking to the sea view.Oops. Afternoon sun was so fierce that the windows had to be covered with dark blinds, cutting the fabulous sea views to an impressionistic shaded vista.
A friendly place. We sampled some lovely Grant Burge Barossa wine and gorged at leisure on an interesting starter of chorizo sausage in balsamic-glazed onions as a form of bruschetta, followed by an over-creamy chicken dish and a sublime rice pudding with stewed apricots.
We truly needed our after-dinner walk down the gusty jetty in the fierce pre-sunset light. If only weather had been less windy, there was a lovely area netted in half way down the jetty for shark-safe deep-water swimming. How nice. Intrepid fisherman rugged up against the wind lined up on the jetty railings with half a dozen rods each plus a few crab pots.

Friday morning, after paying our super-honest motel and having the room maid chase the car to give us B's belt, which he had somehow managed to cast off behind the curtain, we paid an exploratory visit to Port Hughes to see what attracted Greg Norman to create a golf course and housing development there. It is a pleasant little port township - mainly jetty.We walked the long jetty which, despite a brisk wind, was crowded with fishermen. The only convivial ones we encountered, some Greeks at the end of the jetty, were pulling in squid and blue swimmer crabs which they were carefully measuring to ensure they were legal scale.

Port Hughes is not much of a township or anything much else - but a lot of housing development with and without Greg Norman. Mostly, away from the lovely coastline, the land seemed dry, dry, dry. The drought has cut hard on Yorke Peninsula as we were about to observe more and more as we took to the road south. There was a lot of pretty relentless long, straight road passing through vast expanses of stubble - parched yellow wheat-lands. Struggling native vegetation gave some relief to the harsh landscape, but abandoned farmhouses and the ruins of old farm buildings were regular melancholy reminders of the tough conditions and dreams laid waste through drought years just like this one.

Maitland was a fairly welcoming site, a sedate little country town in the peninsula's hinterland. A very neat and tidy town with a broad main street . We found a cafe for lunch - a large and welcoming place, albeit that the food was a bit primitive. I thought they could not go too far wrong with a hamburger. They did. It was just edible. Bruce ordered half a chicken - one of those ready-roast numbers. It was very oily and very salty. Best thing, I think, was my cup of tea. I was to find this in most meals.
We checked out the local market in a vast corrugated iron shed set way back across an immense brick-paved parking lot. It was lots of very unremarkable crafty things and assorted Ikea vases and things on resale. The only people there were a couple of stall-holders drinking coffee, Certainly, I could find nothing worth buying. I sought, instead, the public lavatory which, to my surprise, bore a name plaque honouring some local personage. First time I've seen a loo block with a name plaque. It was an interesting loo block, too. Very spacious. Well, it had one very spacious room with a long, broad shelf on which one could change at least half a dozen babies. It had two small sinks and, tucked in the corner, were two lavatory cubicles. They were so tiny that one could barely close the door when one went inside. One had to shuffle sideways against the toilet pedestal. I am not exactly a fat person so I wondered how obese country women ever managed to get in for a pee. This meagre size seemed extremely odd considering the very large expanse of unused space in the rest of the building. But, in a perverse way, it matched the vast parking lot outside, all so beautifully paved, with a pavilion in the centre. Why the big fancy parking lot in this small country town?

The Chatt centre purported Internet access - and, indeed, it had a couple of PCs on which one could access the Internet. I was looking for a hotspot for my laptop. A pleasant chap there said that there were wireless accesses so I took in the lappy and sure enough, the local council had an open network. All very well, though. I could not access the net on it - and I decided it was not important to keep trying.

We headed off to find a service station to clean the gluey suicidal remains of some poor insect off the car windscreen and top up the tank. Couldn't find one in the main drag but a Toyota dealership had petrol pumps - plus a very nice dealer who came out and cleaned the windscreen with Windex. Yet another lovely person on Yorke Peninsula. If the landscape was benighted, the people were turning out to be uniformly delightful.

Our destination was Port Victoria - a wee coastal town of which I had fond childhood memories. I'd stayed in the country pub there with my parents on a holiday - and my father had taught both my mother and me to swim in the shallow bay beside the jetty. I particularly recalled a seal coming to play with us in the water there - and getting to know an Aboriginal girl who worked at the pub.
The pub is still there much as it was - except that it has motel rooms out the back and poker machines inside.
We popped in to buy a bottle of wine. But we were staying at a cabin in the camp ground. Since I had booked at the last minute, it was not a sea-front cabin but, set back one row, there were goodly sea glimpses from the little deck of the cabin and, inside, with a full kitchen and satellite TV, there was not much we missed. Well, mobile phone coverage would have been handy. I didn't even bother to pull out the laptop. Instead, we lolled on our deck with books. The pub menu had not looked too impressive. More fried everything. So we took a walk down the main street to see it there was a cafe. Another very broad main street, albeit a tiny wee town. There was a cafe but, guess what? More fried frozen everything. It seemed ironic with all the emphasis on fishing - fishing boats all over the camp grounds, people fishing and crabbing off jetties - that there was no fresh seafood to be found. But we did find the fresh fish on sale just off the main street - and Amanda, a small, tough girl in black wellington boots and white overalls. She skippers a fishing boat. She is a third generation fisher. And she was selling fish she had caught herself. We bought a big fillet of snapper - and then went to the funny little grocery store cafe and purchased garlic,frozen peas, olive oil, dried herbs, a courgette and some spaghetti. With a lemon, some home-grown tomatoes and chillies, I later turned this into an unspeakably delicious pasta dinner which we consumed with lovely, cold Hollick wines from the Coonawarra. Oh it was a relief to escape a meal of fried everything.

We spent the afternoon lolling on the deck and reading, going for walks, marvelling at the vivid greens of the sandy-bottomed sea and watching all the people in the camp site. Again, everything was friendliness - and there was generally a very convivial spirit in the camp ground.

We were out, as the instructions dictated, by 10 am and on the road. As we drove south, the landscape seemed slightly less godforsaken. Perhaps because the terrain was not so flat, perhaps because the roads were better and not so straight... There was evidence of the felling of pine trees along the roads. Lots of evidence in the form of lots of chain-sawed pines piled up. There is a general policy among councils of eradicating pines because they are not native and because nothing grows beneath them. Ironically, however, there would seem to be a disease afflicting a lot of the native vegetation on the peninsula and the pines thrive and a relief of greenery beside sad, dying and dead eucalypts.

Minlaton is another very neat and tidy country town with a very, very wide main street. They even have picnic tables on the generous medians in the main street. Picnic tables with plaques in honour of local dignitaries, even. Bruce was glad to score a copy of The Weekend Australian from the friendly newsagent and I visited the local arts, craft and Internet centre where, eschewing the possibility of connecting to their broadband, I actually found some lovely local craft and oils and did a spot of shopping. Even Bruce made a purchase - a lovely redgum bowl. A wonderfully olde-worlde bakery, very popular among the locals, turned out to be still using trans fats so we did not stop for brunch there - nor across the road in the cafe where the scent of ancient and overused deep frying oil was overwhelming. We drove on to Yorketown.

Yorketown is set on the edge of a salt lake.
Blinding white. It is like an ice lake but whiter.
The town itself is odd. It is really just a big junction with the peninsula's main roads intersecting asymmetrically. We chose one of the two pubs for lunch. Probably the wrong one. The handsome old two-storey corner pub was huge and a man, finding us wandering through its corridors, escorted us to the dining room which was immense. A very elderly couple sat there dining in silence, dwarfed by the cavernous proportions. They were all dressed up, I noticed. A large and brightly-lit salad bar adorned one wall. The salads seemed very cold and fresh. But where were the people? It was a bit surreal.
We ordered from the "specials" menu on a blackboard. Fish and Chips for me - and when the waitress asked if I wanted the fish battered, crumbed or grilled, I jumped at the grilled option. Bruce ordered chicken breast in satay sauce. My fish was terrible. It was one of those awful frozen Vietnamese imports, I think. The chips were not too good, either. I enjoyed my cup of tea while Bruce wolfed down his chicken.

A few miles down the road, Edithburgh was a much better little town with a great big ocean grain terminal and extremely broad streets. It had some nice cafes - but on closer inspection, they were closed.-

We paused outside Edithburgh pausing to detour for a close up look at the Wattle Range Wind Farm.
Those great minimalist windmills are so linear and elegant - I have long wanted to get in among them. People tell me of bird strike and of noise. I saw sheep, gratefully lined up in the shade of the windmills. A quirky site, actually. And I listened to the soft machine hum and realised why people were never quite able to describe that sound. I can't describe it, either. It was not unpleasant, though.

We drove on up the coast past the towering white grain silos and gleaming white conveyors which take the grain out to modern boats resting at the modern facilities. It was a pleasure to encounter a coastal road - the first sealed coastal road we had found on the peninsula. So many of the roads are unsealed, dusty with sharp stones and, in many places, bone-shattering corrugations. We had hit them a number of times, most recently to and from the wind farm. It is astounding how much of this peninsula functions on graded dirt roads, "metal", I think they call them. Plumes of dust announce all cars which venture onto them. My dark green Forester is now a very dusty beast, thanks to those roads.

Our destination for the night was Stansbury and its Holiday Motel.
Stansbury was instantly likeable - and obviously much-liked since its camp ground, which wraps around a little promontory called Oyster Point and provides dozens of campers with million dollar foreshore sea views, was crowded with holiday makers.

We found our motel, perched up on a hill. At first glimpse it looked a bit downmarket and kids seemed to be swarming everywhere and squealing from the enclosed swimming pool.

"You'll like your room," the proprietor, Iain, promised as he handed over the key. He was right. We liked our spacious and well-equipped room, we liked our hosts, we liked their part-Aboriginal grandkids, we liked the spirit of the place -- despite the fact hat a massive phone tower loomed over the buildings and that the police Drug and Alcohol Unit bus was parked across a series of rooms which, said Iain, were occupied by a large party of police who were on operations down here. We'd be well protected, he said. Too true. When I woke next morning, there were about six cop cars lined up outside.

The grandkids had caught a mass of blue swimmer crabs that morning, Iain said. They were cooking them up and serving them at $10 a kilo, if we would care for some. So we ordered a kilo and went out to buy another bottle of wine and have a meander around Stansbury. A beach walk was an essential - so we walked the coast in front of the camp ground from heaven, looking at the campers.

They lolled under canvas awnings beside caravans or family tents, groups around tables, very comfortable ensconced while children played on the beach. The tide was out and, as we crossed over the point, it was to the most extraordinary expanse of tidal flats occupied by a few kids digging, a few pelicans hanging about and, far out in thigh-deep water, people crabbing. We could not believe how far out the tide had gone - when we turned around to see the shore, it was miles away.
There were vast shoals of shells we traversed and, further out, crystal clear pools of water which danced with tiny crabs and darting fingerling fish.
We were falling in love with Stansbury. And when we walked the long cement jetty, it was to get another thrill - two of the most immense stingrays you could ever imagine, softly cruising the shallows. This was their territory, Iain later told us. One of them was known as Harold. I wondered if the other was Maude.

We sat on the steps at the front of the motel to drink our wine with the mighty view of fishing boats coming and going - and repaired to the room in time to get a lesson in little crabs from the granddaughters, Chantal and Destiny. When our platter of crabs arrived complete with nutcrackers, newspaper, herbed vinegar and a rubbish bag, we simply feasted and swooned and made a mighty mess. Oh, they were good. We finished our dinner with some excellent watermelon we had purchased at the Stansbury IGA - and drifted into the night.

I had a glorious swim in the pool before leaving in the morning. It was very nippy - but heavenly. I love a swim - especially with no one else in the pool to splash me. Bruce read his paper and kept me company - and the motel kittens came and scrutinised my activity. 'Twas all rather pleasant - and I was a bit sad to leave this sweet niche.
Ironically, we were in quest of some fresh local fish to take back to town but found the quest disheartening. Seems one really needs to catch one's own. Perhaps that is why everyone takes their rods.

We drove up the coast, popping in on Port Vincent, Black Point, Pine Point and, finally, Ardrossan. No fresh fish to be found. We paused at Ardrossan's award winning bakery where they the make the award-winning best pasties in the state, asking, before we purchased, if they use a trans-fat-free shortening. They did. The baker himself came out to tell us - and to say that we were the first people who had ever enquired.

We took our trans-fat-free pies and pasties in their paper bags and sat on the point, looking out at the red cliffs and the boats coming and going and shared bits of pastry with raucous seagulls before hitting the road for the push back to the city.
All quite smooth - via the carwash to rid the Forester of its dusty coat.
And back to get ready for the working week.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Still not finished

The boat ramp is still not finished. The pontoons are in. But the pontoons seem to have problems. They move around on the water. They do not stay still like a jetty. Nor do they have any rails to hang on to.
Little Rosetta Bay, the corner of Encounter Bay, is arguably the quietest piece of water on the south coast of South Australia, but it is not quiet enough for the floating pontoon.
So a huge breakwater of dirt sits across the peaceful edge of the bay. This, they say, will be replaced by a huge breakwater of rocks - because a huge breakwater is needed to ensure that no movement of water rocks the metal pontoons.

Meanwhile, no one can walk down the pontoons and enjoy a view. They are a bit scary. They are not stable.
The metal tie-up lugs are a real tripping threat if one raises one's eyes from the metal floor.
But, of course, the pontoons are not meant for the non-boating people, for the walkers who used to like to stand on the wooden jetty and watch the sea grasses, the fish, sometimes a squid and ever the optimistic pelicans, not to mention the mirrored stars at night.

Who the hell came up with the idea that unstable floating pontoons were better than the jetties enjoyed and safely used by generation upon generation?