iPad Mum

ipad loveAs each year of motherhood passes I find myself more grateful than ever that my non-denominational god has blessed me with a daughter (a girly girl, no less) who doesn’t like sport. I’d even go so far as to say she hates it.

And right now, as Victoria (where I live) is being deluged, my gratitude is verging on fervour. Wet is an understatement. Soaking is probably more appropriate a term for the kind of rain we are experiencing at the moment. And as I drive by miserable parents crowding under umbrellas, bracing the cold and knee deep in mud at local football fields, I can’t help but feel smug. I send up a non-denominational prayer to my non-denominational god for delivering to me a child who prefers more genteel activities that are generally conducted indoors.

At the beginning of her second year at school I asked my daughter what activities she’d like to do outside of school. ‘Nothing with balls, Mummy,’ was her response. To my great relief.

Balls and I have had a stand-offish relationship all my life. We have never really gotten along. After a series of awkward mishandlings, and by mutual agreement, we decided it best to leave each other alone when I reached puberty. So I was hardly torn apart by the news that Little Miss didn’t want to run about chasing them for fun.

There are a multitude of benefits to this arrangement. Aside from the obvious aid to my personal comfort, my washing machine doesn’t get clogged with mud, I don’t have to spend money on expensive uniforms and boots, and I get to relax on a chair indoors while Little Miss does drama or whatever and indulge in my favourite pastime.

My iPad.

Yes, shamefully I must admit, I am one of those despicable ‘device’ mum’s. You know the ones. Disinterested, self-absorbed. Occasionally glancing up to give Little Miss an encouraging nod and mouth ‘Yes, I’m watching’ before returning to my inane and pointless tweeting, facebooking and writing smug blog posts about how damned first world lucky I am.

In fact, now when selecting activities I unconsciously steer Little Miss toward activities that lend themselves to an indulgent hour of social media intercourse. Classes where talking between parents is prohibited as it distracts from the little ones concentration. Or even better (and here’s a discovery for you) classes that start after 5pm, because they are the ones dads are roped into and dads simply can’t be bothered wasting their time on friendly idle chit chat with strangers. They prefer to sit and stare at their shoes. Or walk around examining the walls for imperfections. (I’ve learned a lot about anti-social behaviour by watching dads).

All round, it’s a most suitable situation for a couple of ball-hating, sport averse females. The only down side is Little Miss’s somewhat tense relationship with her PE teacher. She can’t meet this sport fanatics expectations, no matter how hard she tries. At first it upset her (she is a goody two shoes like her mum was before her). She desperately wanted this lady’s approval. But more recently she’s become philosophical and got it into perspective.

‘I think when Mrs X sees a ball, she goes mad.’

Good point. She is a sports nut after all. And everyone knows mad people aren’t sane, right? So there’s no point trying to please them, because they’re just not rational, yes?  Yes. It’s a logic I have to applaud, especially when I’m benefiting so well from it.


ANZAC Day: No ordinary day in an Australian suburb

There are no medals in my family. That my father, five uncles and both grandfather’s escaped conscription is something of a small miracle. There are Australian families who lost all their men to war in the last century, so my family I think is unusual. And fortunate.

I grew up not thinking at all about ANZAC Day. But things have changed. Since my daughter joined the Scouting movement, ANZAC Day has become a tradition in our family calendar, and I’m not sorry for it.

This morning, for the fourth year in a row, I observed our local ANZAC ceremony, which grows a little larger every year. The march begins at the local RSL (Retired Serviceman’s League) with an ever dwindling gathering of local servicemen and veterans. There are a few World War 2 men among them. It’s sobering to see these dignified, suited gentlemen with their vast array of medals adorning their chests.

The march is led by a bagpipe band and I appreciate the melancholy edge the music gives to the occasion. Those who can walk behind do accompanied by grandchildren, children, brothers in arms. Others, for whom the walk up the hill has become too great an effort for their old legs, are ferried by minibus to the Greensborough War Memorial.

The soldiers are followed by local Air Force cadets, Scouting groups and family. The cadets look no more than sixteen and are polished and nervous in their crisp blue uniforms. I can see how seriously they take their role in the parade, trying hard to keep in tidy step. Later I will notice the lad who lays the wreath, his head held high and proud, a small smile of pleasure on his face at being chosen for this honour.

As I stand taking in the reverence of the ceremony I realise how very Australian this event is. The rising sun glints through dewy gum leaves and the Salvation Army band plays softly amid the cries of magpies and rosellas. Those who are not part of the formal ceremony dress casually. The crowd is scattered across the surrounding park and the top of the nearby climbing equipment in the playground is crowded with children of all ages, claiming the best vantage point to watch proceedings.

The master of ceremonies has a strong voice. An army voice, trained to give orders. His words ring clearly over the PA system, the distinctive Australian twang resonating among the gum trees. Nearby three long trestle tables are loaded with wreaths soon to be laid at the base of the memorial, setting it ablaze with colour.

Even though I have no personal connection with ANZAC Day, I am moved as the ceremony reaches a close and the The Ode is read. Tears sting my eyes in the silence that surrounds the playing of the Last Post. I think of all the young, able, good men and women who volunteered, or were lawfully forced, to do the most frightening thing in the world – go to war. All the flesh and bone of generations lying far from their homeland. The Aboriginal servicemen who fought and returned still unacknowledged as citizens of their own land.

People prepare to leave and I notice the area around the trestle tables is littered with trodden flower petals. The image leaves a poignant and irrevocably sad impression. I feel now, it’s important to be part of this day. I am glad that my daughter is growing up with these memories. These annual national acts of melancholy and remembrance will become part of her identity as an Australian. Her generation will at least have some awareness of the terrible legacy war leaves. Destruction. Devastation. Loss. Damage. Awful things difficult for children to understand, but important for them to remember lest they make the same mistakes when they are grown.

 The Ode

They went with songs to the battle, they were young, straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted, they fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

Lest we forget.


Heartbreaking & necessary: Fire anthology review

Last month I had the great fortune to be part of a launch of this profound anthology hosted by Eltham Bookshop and the Eltham Library. The event was well attended, booked out, standing room only in fact. Five of the seven Victorian authors included in the anthology were in attendance, three of us gave readings. The readings held the audience  in thrall.

Fire - published by Margaret River Press

Fire – published by Margaret River Press

Part of the magic of the kind of work presented in this anthology is voice. Each piece presented is unique, whether it be poetry, short story, photography or an artwork. Within each piece is a clearly articulated voice, carrying it’s own weight and tone, conveying it’s own message. A new voice emerged with each reading from Fire. As each author’s voice resonated around the room the scent of smoke seemed to manifest and emotion ran high. Each of us felt and heard the experience of waiting, of fearing, of deciding, descend upon us with every uttered word. Eyes were damp, hearts were blown open and we were reminded, again, of our human frailty.

The work contained in Fire: a collection of stories, poems and visual images, is not confined simply to the human experience of bushfire, although that is a prevailing theme. The voices within this anthology speak of interactions with fire in the present and past. David Milroy’s Warlardu and Karla imbues a contemporary man’s grief with a beautiful, ancient Aboriginal myth of love, Cassandra Atherton’s Raining Blood and Money… gives a bone-chilling account of the 1911 Shirtwaist fire in the US, Brooke Dunnell explores the devastating consequences of our contact with fire in The Pressure Suit.

Images are striking, even heart-stopping at times. John Gollings’ aerial photo of Kinglake after Black Saturday shows ‘red strokes…the residual ash from burnt out and fallen limbs and trunks of particular genus of pine tree whose ash is red/orange’. It is beautiful, stark and tragic.

Poetry touches places other forms can’t. Carmel Macdonald Grahame’s Coming Down to Earth reflects on the sense of esoteric pointlessness of choosing new bathroom fittings. Miriam Wei Wei Lo uses words like lassoes and whips in her shimmering poem, Playing with Fire, drawing the reader in then shocking them back out again.

Fire is not a book to be consumed all at once. It’s chocolate is way to dark for that. It’s best read in small bites, followed by time for digestion and reflection. It is an important piece of work, reminding us that we live in a dangerous time in our history and we are less in control of our surroundings than we believe ourselves to be.

My own copy has become quite dog-eared, it’s been carted around so often from place to place, which is why I recommend it.

Purchase Fire: a collection of stories, poems and visual images from Margaret River Press or your local indie bookshop.

Fire: an anthology

We live about 30km from Kinglake, one of the places most severely affected by the Black Saturday bushfires. Even without the firestorm that occurred that day, I will always remember it. My small family went for a walk early in the morning for a coffee at the BEST cafe (Were St Cafe Montmorency for those who want to know) in the NE city suburbs and came home at 9.30am already sweltering, sweat pooling in places I didn’t know had sweat glands.

We spent the day inside, dipping in and out of a cool bath, icecream container sized blocks of ice in front of fans. Our air conditioner had packed up a few days before and there was zero chance of getting it fixed anytime soon. Victoria was in the grip a 40 degree heatwave that was melting our pink Southern skins.

Fire - published by Margaret River Press

Fire – published by Margaret River Press

As we withdrew behind heavy curtains, 774 ABC radio became our only link to the outside world. We listened anxiously as the radio announcers voices became more and more concerned, a sense of urgency and suppressed panic in every word. Weekday announcers appeared as ABC switched into emergency broadcast mode.

At about 4pm we heard an urgent ember warning for nearby Hurstbridge. Too close for comfort. My partner and I exchanged worried looks. Surely it wouldn’t reach here, into the outer suburbs? Little did we know that at that moment a horror akin to war was unfolding in nearby Kinglake. People were dying, watching their houses explode into flames, fleeing, all of them desperately underprepared for what they were facing.

In the aftermath we, like so many others, remained glued to the radio, desperate for news of friends and relatives who lived in fire affected areas, trying to make sense of what had just happened. Every morning we turned the radio on to hear that the death toll has risen overnight. It went of for days and we, along with the rest of the nation, reeled in the face of the overwhelming destruction and devastating loss.

About 3 days after we had learned that our beloved Marysville and Kinglake had been razed to the ground, I was listening to Jon Faine who was broadcasting from the Whittlesea recovery centre. He took a call from an older woman who was believed to be missing. She had managed to escape Marysville to find shelter with her sister in Alexandra, leaving behind her home, her pets and her husband, who had refused to leave. It was a memorable conversation for many reasons, not least of which was when she was listing her potential losses her husband came last. Faine’s response was sensitive and appropriate, but I could tell that he was as surprised by the turn of the conversation as I was.

This lady, in her 70’s, couldn’t drive. She made a decision to leave and did so on foot, not knowing if she would survive. It later emerged that her husband of over 50 years, Marysville’s oldest and longest resident, had indeed perished trying to defend his property. I was struck by the power of this story. What does it take to decide to leave your life long partner and home in the hope you will live rather than die?

As the days and weeks passed I heard similar stories over and again. Many couples were torn apart, both at the time of the fire and afterwards, by the decision to stay or leave. I returned to Faine’s conversation with this lady many times (it was loaded on the ABC’s bushfire community website) and my wondering coalesced into a short story, which won the 2011 Southern Cross Literary Award and is now published in this anthology entitled Fire.

Fire is a collection of short stories, essays, poems and images that explore our complex and evolving relationship to fire.

I’m excited about this publication not just because my story is included in it, but because it is timely and necessary. Fire is a poignant reflection on our future as a nation as we face the effects of climate change. These frightening events are now happening with alarming frequency and we must accept that they are to be expected in our future climate landscape. Our weather has changed. Every year, from one end of the country to the other, Australian summers are bringing more frequent, more severe fire (and flood) events . If we are to cope with these dangerous events in the future, we must find a way comprehending them, of coming to terms with how they affect us personally, socially, economically and environmentally.

Fire serves this purpose. And I’m proud as punch to be part of it.

Fire is available from Margaret River Press and through Eltham Bookshop

The UnAustralian Australian (or why Jan 26th isn’t worthy of being called Australia Day)

I’m going to make this quick because it’s painful. And I know it’s likely to ruffle a few feathers.

January 26th signifies the day that Western immigration started in this country. The people who lived here at the time had no say in it. My (our) ancestors just lobbed in on their shores with their nasty diseases, their grog and their funny attitudes toward people of darker colour and set up camp. Pioneering? Yes, I suppose they were. Many were also cruel and inhumane and used their self-entitled whiteness as an excuse to run around slaughtering, raping and enslaving other human beings without due recourse.

Is this the event we really want to base our celebration of national pride on?

In the 220 years that followed some things have changed, but the fundamentals haven’t. It’s a bit tragic that we see fit as a nation to dance around wrapped in our flag (another issue of decorum entirely) singing Aussie, Aussie, Aussie Oi Oi Oi on a day that many Australian’s see as signifying the beginning of the demise of their culture and loss of their freedom. To celebrate the day our people lost their identity, language, self-respect isn’t Australian. There are plenty of words to describe it, but Australian isn’t one of them.

I’m not against celebrating being a part of this great nation. I love it here so much I feel no need to travel far beyond it’s beautiful boundaries. I love the diversity of it, the expanse of it, the irony of it. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating national pride – I just don’t think we should be doing it on January 26th.
So today, Australia Day 2013, I’m not celebrating at all. Which, to me, seems the most Australian thing I can do.

Being a female writer in Australia is a tough gig. Tougher if you’re Aboriginal. That’s why when I joined the 2012 Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, I made sure I included Aboriginal writers in my list. It wasn’t hard, there are plenty on my shelves and it gave me the push I needed to read them sooner rather than later. I’m yet to finish the challenge with my review summary (it’s been a busy couple of months with upcoming work to be published in 2013), but I will get to it – eventually. In the meantime I thought I’d share this. It’s an informed wrap up of how diversity was reflected in the 2012 challenge, with Aboriginal writing front and centre (where it should be). Even if you’re not particularly interested in the wrap up per se – the links to reviews of Aboriginal writers and Aboriginal writing are worthy of a good look.
With thanks to Jessica White (http://www.jessicawhite.com.au) for reference to two of my reviews.

5 Things I’ve already learned in 2013

1. The largest number in the world is googolplex. Not to be confused with Googleplex, the true seat of power in this electronic world, where Google stretches out its tentacles into every computer and device known to humans.

2. Infinity is a concept – not a number. At my mature age this was a surprise to me. Leading to the discovery of number 1.

3. Love has a smell. It has several actually, but one in particular I discovered on holidays. It’s called a ‘Blackboy’ rose and it’s divine. It was served up as decoration on a plate of lemon tart, and I couldn’t stop smelling it.

4. You can live to a sprightly 92 by blatantly ignoring all the good advice given you. My mother-in-law is of this ripe age and has not allowed age to defeat her in anyway. She still sunbakes without sunscreen, mows lawns in spite of breaking her hip 3 years ago, fixes holes in her concrete driveway (badly) and puts her lipstick on by feel. She hasn’t looked in a mirror since she turned 70 because she can’t face seeing what age has done to her face, and so has no clue how old she looks.

5. Every single opportunity shop and second hand bookshop has at least one Danielle Steel book. (I only know this because my mother-in-law loves DS and has read every title in her local library so we are on a mission to expand her collection – which has been surprisingly easy!)

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