Archive for August, 2016

Not quite winter’s end, the garden is stirring in Victoria.

August 28, 2016 - 1:27 pm 2 Comments
The yellow blooms of this bush were here right through the winter, where many others were of course, missing.

The yellow blooms of this bush were here right through the winter, where many others were of course, missing.

But the divine passiflora, Australian native passion fruit, does not like the cold

But the divine passiflora, Australian native passion fruit, does not like the cold

As you can see.

As you can see.



Sub-tropical Brisbane vs Mid-Victorian flora.

August 28, 2016 - 12:34 pm No Comments
And this is the passiflora. a native Australian passionfruit. Though the fruit is not edible, the flower is stunning.

And this is the passiflora. a native Australian passionfruit. Though the fruit is not edible, the flower is stunning. It grew prolifically on a vine running along the Eastern fence around my Brisbane home.

This ever-radiant hibiscus grew outside of my Brisbane house and always made me glad because there was always at least one full  bloom on the bush and one or several waiting to unfold.

This ever-radiant hibiscus grew outside of my Brisbane house and always made me glad because there was always at least one full bloom on the bush and one or several waiting to unfold.

For my Brisbane Friends and Anyone Else Who May Be Interested

August 24, 2016 - 10:40 pm 6 Comments

What can you say about a life-changing experience to give others the flavour of it? Mere facts can at times be deceiving.

After what could be described as an extended stay in Brisbane, I’ve decided to move some 10 degrees south into the cooler, historical goldfields of Victoria.  I’d been feeling for some time—years, actually—that I’d come to the end of something in Queensland. After some torrid “weather” when first I moved there, things settled down, but then the halcyon days had become the doldrums, and I found myself becalmed in them.

You probably know it is in my character to stick things out—sometimes even when it is not in my best interests to do so. Some might describe it as being over-adapted to a fixed position, like an oyster. And anybody with a taste for oysters and a knife, knows what happens to them. Some kind of gut feeling had told me it was time to unfasten myself from that rock and seek the unknown—if not an actual adventure or two—which at this time of life can be more of an inconvenience than a pleasure.

The initial stages of my move were pretty horrible: I had to rationally assess the real estate that had been my comfortable, beloved home, to see if I could engineer a swap with another such abode. Money, or rather its lack, is always the spectre of such a proposition. There was also the accumulation of much junk in a life which had encouraged stockpiling. So for six months I culled: thousands of books, literally, but other stuff as well.

Here I will digress. There was a brush turkey. You know, one of those big, presumptuous things with  red head and neck, a yellow, crinkled wattle, a glazed but determined eye, and a body black as pitch. He took up residence in my backyard the year before last, destroying, in his insatiable urge to build his empire there, my herbs and spices garden, my vegetable and flower gardens, even my bromeliads—which he often kicked onto his pile with the sang-froid of a serial killer. This arrogant  cove possessed an air of entitlement, because he knew, absolutely knew, that as a law-abiding citizen, I couldn’t do a damn thing about him. Clearly he’d sussed me out.

He built his mound about 1.5 metres high with a circumference of 15 metres, and waited for the love of his life to turn up. She never did. So after about 5 destructive months, he seemed to give up and move back to from whence he came—Hades, I presumed. 1.5 metres by 15 metres of compacted leaf litter is a hell of a lot of green bins. It took me six months to finally get my backyard back to its usual topography and to restore and replace my gardens. Six months of hard yakka. And guess what! The day I had finally decided that the beast had returned to its underworld forever, it returned instead to my place.

This time I put a few obstacles in the way of its megalomania: wire mesh, garbage bins, shade cloth, rocks, rubber snakes, etc. It persisted. But so did I. For months, every day I raked up all the junk the hellish, feathered automaton had kicked into my place with its weird, backwards-scraping shuffle. Every day for months! There was a kind of a truce. It decided to take up residence in my deceased next-door neighbour’s yard that had become an overgrown wilderness to delight the heart of any natural creature. (It was here it attacked someone from the office of the Public Trustee, giving him a nasty bite on the nose.) But it still had its baleful eye on my place. Once when I went to Victoria for a few days, I came back to find all of my side gate and fence piled high with leaf litter. A trail from houses on the other side of my street indicated the sources of its new attack. I was put in mind of Kokoda.

Other residents in my street were getting pissed off by this turkey. There were meetings about how we should deal with it. One helpful chap told us that he believed the same turkey had come back to his family farm annually for 30 years! When asked how he had finally quitted himself of the beast and its ever-increasing progeny, he said his mother did a tolerable bush turkey roast. Apparently during the Great Depression in the 1930s, people cooked and ate the turkeys. He told us you cook a brush turkey with a rock in the same pot.  When the rock has considerably softened, the turkey is almost ready to eat.

The strange thing about Brisbane at this time was that it was literally being overrun by bush—or brush—turkeys, while other, more comely  animals and birds seemed to be being edged into extinction. Coal seam gas mines were on the increase in the Sunshine State and so were brush turkeys. Perhaps there was a connection? Once when I visited a sick friend at the Wesley Hospital I almost stepped on one as I got out of my car. In the short walk to the wards—approximately 150 metres—I counted 3 turkeys in this high-rise belt of the inner city: something of a de-inducement to staying in Brisbane.

Now I have never, before now, lived in Victoria. So when I saw the extremely dilapidated house described as “a miner’s cottage” with its beautiful, if unkempt, extensive gardens and not a brush turkey in sight, I decided I had found my new home. A cynic amongst my new friends suggested that everybody wants a miner’s cottage on the goldfields these days, so that my real estate agent may have been a little cavalier with the truth. However, a couple of hours of researching titles and rates notices at the local Historical Society archives, proved he was wrong in his suspicions. The house is at least 150 years old and was indeed built by a gold miner, a Mr Phillip Ball. Okay, I have a huge job ahead of me in restoring it, but this house has a story which I have no doubt is worth telling.

For instance, when I was re-stumping the house, a secret passage was discovered under it. This was accessed by a cleverly disguised trapdoor in the bottom of a dreadful old cupboard in the bathroom. The tunnel was reached by a flight of stairs underneath the trapdoor opening. There are several explanations for this tunnel—the most romantic being that it was a place to hide from the “traps”, the goldfields police who were themselves often recruited from the criminal classes and inclined to be bullies. Secondly, the tunnel could have been the place to hide any gold found by the miner. . . Or it may have just served as a cellar to keep the milk, butter, and other perishables cool in the hot weather. But if this was so, why the hidden trapdoor?

The re-stumpers, against my wishes, filled in the tunnel with rubble, but my daughter had the foresight to remove the very heavy wooden stairs and place them out of their reach in my shed. I managed to find and keep the corroded metal ring by which the trapdoor (which they also destroyed) was lifted.

The other remarkable find when the re-stumpers were around, was the still-elegant, mummified remains of an enormous cat with golden striped fur. The slightly unsettling thing about this was that there was an old broom by the exotic feline’s body and a rotted rubber ball. Was the cat lured into the narrow space under the kitchen with the ball? If not, surely the animal’s demise would have been apparent to the occupants of the house. Was this evidence of a pagan rite pointing to witchcraft with the cat as sacrificial witch’s familiar? This idea is not as outlandish as it sounds in the early days of European settlement. Unfortunately the age of the cat and the things around it could not be ascertained; they all  disappeared on the  day they were found, with the tunnel.

Of course I miss my lovely friends from Brisbane, but once I have a guest room ready, some of you will come down to visit. Kayleen and Laurie have already done so, leaping intrepidly from joist to joist before the new floors were put down.

Cheers for now. Watch this space, for here I intend to keep you all posted.

Two Fringe Activities from the Bendigo Writers Festival

August 20, 2016 - 11:21 pm 4 Comments


Bendarts founder, Hugh Waller, invited writers and artists to work collaboratively on a project and then exhibit at the Colab exhibition, which opened the week before the Bendigo Arts Festival, at the Bendigo library in Hargreaves Street. Either the writer or the visual artist produced a work, then invited a response from his or her Colab partner.

As most artists and writers are very interested in what prompts a creative act, this collaboration invited a kind of meta-creativity, that is, the process of the creation was observed, even examined, before the work had begun. Many creative people prefer to work intuitively, so the very fact that two had to work together, called the creative process into question. This is why I think the Colab idea so clever. . . Full marks Hugh!

Now, only able  to speak with authority about my own experience, I will recount my collaboration with visual artist, Karleng Lim.

It has only been a few months since I moved from Brisbane to the Victorian goldfields. Karleng, who didn’t know my work, but did know I was a published author, asked me to collaborate with her. (I was, however, her second choice. The first writer she asked was involved in studying for exams). I’d heard good things about Karleng’s work yet hadn’t seen any of it, but was happy to accept. I filled in the entry forms, sent them off to Hugh, then, caught up in the many dramas of renovating a very old house, completely forgot about Colab.

Karleng phoned me about two weeks before  our deadline.  We sat in front of the heater at my place, trying to figure out what we would do. Karleng said she was interested in the photographic portrayal of time, so “Time” became our theme.

That blustery winters night I was thinking about time, with the words “Time’s ruin and the seven deadly sins” going round and round in my brain, when an old sepia photograph on the mantelpiece caught my eye. Five young soldiers, including my grandfather, taken just before they were sent to Gallipoli, are in this picture. With a jolt I realised that the original postcard from which my photograph had been enlarged of the soldiers posed before the Sphinx in Egypt, had been taken 101 years ago! Here was the subject of my poem.

I went to bed, but slept fitfully. Two hours later, I woke up and sat in front of my computer, wrote for about an hour, then tried to go back to sleep. I probably dreamed about that photograph, for, several hours still later, I’d given up all attempts at sleeping, writing down the rest of my ideas instead. They formed a shambling, two foolscap-pages but had the bones of something decent in them.

Next day and for several days after that, I tweaked my poem until I was happy with it, then sent Ruins and Resurrections off to Hugh, who kindly produced it on pristine white laminate for the exhibition. (How’d you do that, Hugh?)

Anyway, I didn’t see Karleng’s response until the Colab exhibition, on Friday, August 5, because I became very sick with the ’flu. But what a surprise! Though Karleng told me she had researched Australia’s involvement in WW1, her response was entirely her own, as it should have been. It was, as I did expect, a very professional job and I liked it a lot. Thank you Karleng. As a writer, I am always interested in how people respond to the written word, because reading is such an intensely creative and personal act.

Treated right royally at the Colab opening in beautiful Bendigo library, we writers and artists were offered delicious food and drink by gracious librarians. Networking with artists and writers and meeting the Mayor of Bendigo, were a few of its other delights—not to mention having some of our own special friends there who had travelled at least 37 ks to support us. It was a great night. I am looking forward to Colab Number 6.


Who could resist a name like “The Doomsday Tuna”? Well, I couldn’t, even though I had been to a couple of blogging lectures in the past which didn’t much enlighten me. But the title of Stef Cola’s excellent presentation was Creating a Digital Presence Through Blogging, which seemed to offer a lot more than just learning how to write a blog.

Stef gave all her students a handout. This asked us about our motives. We needed to understand why we wanted to start a blog, and then set goals. The handout was interactive: we were supposed to answer a lot of questions about ourselves, but since no one else would see what we wrote, we were in no imminent danger of anyone else’s scorn or disbelief.

It contained inspirational quotations, like this one, from Harvey Mackay: A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline. When you think about it, plans and deadlines are kind of key to creating a digital presence. . . The best thing I found about this session was the consideration of the blogger’s Ideal Reader. An Ideal Reader? This is the person who becomes the blogger’s biggest fan. Trying to describe such a person is rather difficult at first, I think, because you have only a blurred idea of such a presence. But familiarity with the blogging genre may bring this identity into sharper focus. At least, I hope this will be the case.

Useful tools, such as tracking the number of visitors to your website, a free image editing suite, free high-resolution photographs to put into your blog, and a grammar checker, were also included in the handout.

Stef’s audience was so engaged by her presentation that we ran over time. Having heard about heavy fines for parking misdemeanours, I excused myself, and hurried out of the Bendigo library to my car. Only to discover that it wasn’t where I thought I had left it.

I must have looked confused, because a young woman wearing a bright orange vest, asked me if she could be of any help.

“I can’t find my car,” I said.

“Do you remember where you left it?”

“On a corner opposite the library, near a roundabout,” I said. “But not that roundabout.” Suddenly it dawned on me that I must have come out of the library via a different door than the one by which I had entered. I think the same thought occurred to her.

“Come on,” she said, “we’ll find it,” striding off in a different direction.

I hurried to keep up with her as we rounded a corner and saw my car.

“Are the parking cops very strict here?” I asked breathlessly, “Because I think I’m about 5 or 10 minutes over time.”

“Well, I’m one,” she said, indicating the bright orange, and amused at my embarrassment. “They wear boring grey in Melbourne, we don’t mind being seen. No, I think you’ll be all right.”

She gave me a sweet smile and wished me a pleasant day.

If the parking police are so nice, I thought, there can’t be too much wrong with Bendigo!

Putting another dollar-sixty in the parking machine, I hurried back to the library to catch the last few minutes of Stef’s workshop.

A Writers Festival that not only has authors we love and admire come and talk about their latest work, but inspires local communities to write their own words, offering a platform for their work, is doing us all a wonderful service. Bendigo did all of this and more. I thought Stef’s workshop excellent. It inspired me to commit to writing regularly in order to create that elusive digital presence I’m seeking. And I guess you will be the ultimate judge of its success.

The Bendigo Writers Festival

August 14, 2016 - 11:42 pm 5 Comments

Walking down View Street in Bendigo with its seductive coffee aromas and relaxed alfresco eating, I sensed the weather gods must be in favour of Writers Festivals. It was a perfect early Spring day. Or maybe it was just the Bendigo Writers Festival that had earned their blessing, for here was an indisputably spectacular line-up of writing talent.

For many of us, the most exciting guest was Julian Assange, who was interviewed last night by Emeritus Professor Robert Manne of La Trobe university, in the Ulumbarra Theatre, a glorious resurrection of arts space in the old Bendigo gaol.

Perhaps, after the disastrous Census night just gone, it was the possibility of the technology failing—the video link-up from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to the Ulumbarra Theatre in Bendigo—which added an extra frisson of excitement last night, for the charge was electric. More likely though, it was the persona of Mr Assange himself, who spoke with clarity and reason, but was clearly moved by his reception in Bendigo. At times he seemed to fight back tears.

Professor Manne has appeared at other Writers Festivals—I’ve seen him several times in Brisbane—but on Saturday night he excelled himself under very difficult conditions. For instance, the empathy that eye contact offers in a face-to-face interview is difficult to establish on a video link. Yet he asked the important questions, so that we know the status of the rape charge against Assange (it no longer exists), the legality of the Americans to issue a warrant to extradite him (questionable since Assange is an Australian citizen who does not publish in the USA) and what can be done to support him.

Julian Assange is a champion of freedom of speech, which every person who has attended an Australian school knows is a right and a responsibility of democracy. The United Nations has found that his detention without trial for six years is illegal, yet no Australian Prime Minister has called for his release. Commercial media—especially the New York Times—has excoriated him. Assange claims this is because when military secrets were released into the public domain, the media moguls who are close to the Establishment, could not bury or slant their reportage to avoid embarrassing it. He asks that people support him by talking  about WikiLeaks publications to correct the commercial media’s self-censorship and misinformation.


Kerry O’Brien was first on the bill for me today, speaking with Peter Kennedy, the Managing Editor of The Bendigo Star, about his biography of Paul Keating.

This award-winning journalist reminds me of a line in the Tennyson poem, Ullyses, when the old man describes his son, Telemachus, as “decent not to fail.” This could equally apply to Mr O’Brien, whose investigative journalism on the ABC’s The 7.30 Report and 4 Corners has always been of the highest quality.

O’Brien had his audience roaring with laughter at some of Keating’s descriptions of his Parliamentary colleagues. For instance he referred to Malcolm Turnbull as “the cherry on top of the compost heap” and John Hewson as “a shiver looking for a spine to run up.”

During question time, O’Brien was asked about pivotal moments in his career. There was a case in 1975 when five young Aboriginal men were arrested and imprisoned for the murder of an Aboriginal woman—a crime they did not commit since it became apparent that the actual murderer was the victim’s white de facto husband. Racism created that miscarriage of justice and is no doubt responsible for the mistreatment of  Indigenous children in the Northern Territory, revealed in a recent 4 Corners program, forty-one years later.

O’Brien concluded his session with a suggestion that the PM read the passage about Mabo in his book, to see how it can be used in respect of Asylum Seeker policy.


Anne Summers, author of Damned Whores and God’s Police in 1975, plus seven other books, was next on today’s program. Always generous about other writers’ work, M/s Summers referred her audience to the work of Anna Goldsworthy, and Clare Wright’s new book, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, which I bought when I discovered both her own and Kerry O’Brien’s books had quickly sold out of the Festival bookshop. Sharon Kemp interviewed her about her writing and her work in establishing Elsie, the first women’s refuge in Australia.

“Violence to women is men’s inability to accept women as peers,” she said, then spoke of a recently established private refuge in Sydney that was fully booked out three months before it was open. The government is not providing enough refuges for women, and is trading off one set of rights—like paid parental leave—for another.

Speaking of the Government’s poor record for gender equity, she points to a mere 12% of female representation in Parliament, as opposed to Labor’s 42%. “Labor has Affirmative action,” she said, “whereas the Liberals do not. And with fewer women in government,” she added, “it’s likely to remain that way for a generation.”

Anne Summers is a national treasure. She always gives good value, so it was lovely seeing her again at Bendigo. She mentioned another writer—Clementine Ford—who has written about the sexualisation of young women—certainly something worth looking at.

Anna Goldsworthy, John Bell, Clare Wright and Frank Brennan were four more writers whose sessions I would love to have attended. However I found there were difficulties ordering tickets online. Perhaps the system was overloaded. I certainly hope other people did not miss out as I almost did. A helpful librarian from the Bendigo library gave me the phone number of the Capital Theatre where I was able to make telephone bookings for the sessions I did manage to attend.

For my next blog I will talk about a couple of fringe activities associated with The Bendigo Writers Festival which effectively encouraged people in the community to get writing: the Colab Exhibition,  a collaboration between writers and visual artists, plus the Doomsday Tuna’s Session which inspired this blog. In the meantime let me say, “Well done Bendigo, you’ve excelled yourself!”