Category Archives: birds

Another year

Wicket_cardAnother year down, and all is well! I’m still here and my numbers are still nice and low – 12 last time we looked. For this, I thank modern medicine and the wizardry of my two surgeons. I’m happy but never entirely out of the woods. I walk in the wooded valley of the shadow of the Rainbow Bridge. People think the Rainbow Bridge is just for pets but it’s not; it takes bookings from anyone. Actually none of us ever gets out of the woods. There’s always more woods. And woods are beautiful places, buzzing with life…

Anyway, I’m getting carried away by my own metaphors, so let’s move on.

While last year was all about taxol, carboplatin and long stretches of time on the couch, this year was a bit of whirl as I got back into Life at 100km an hour. Teaching was weird. I’m probably a bit like Samson, taking strength from my hair. I felt I didn’t have quite enough hair to stand in front of a room of 19 year olds and hold my own.  Meanwhile, I was sewing three giant turquoise dresses and learning my steps for the Invisible Body performance in May, where three of us did nifty moves on stage while someone else read out our personal accounts of living in bodies. We did this twice and then on the last day of the Bathurst outpost of the Sydney Writer’s Festival I got to be on a little panel of bloggers talking about our blogs. I said I blogged every Thursday, no matter what. This commitment has now begun to unravel, as you may have noticed.

What else went on this year? Check the photos on the computer. Oh, a LOT! There was a little campaign to save the Tremain silos in Keppel Street (saved!); Tracey Carpenter’s campaign for the state seat of Bathurst (retained by Paul Toole); the giant Diffenbacchia pot plant reached the level of the ceiling fan and then FELL OVER. I cut it off to its stump, leaving its two daughter plants to replace their mother (they are going very well); we had an Afternoon Teal to raise money for ovarian cancer at which Deb and Bernie, Max and Joey auctioned small items and we made lots of money (and Larissa baked cakes using the neighbour’s stove because ours was on the blink); there was the trip to Kandos to help Karen Golland poke pom poms into the ground, and then a day at Cementa; a school hols visit including nephews and a random kid they brought along; a trip to Shelley beach with Bertie and his cousin Wicket; painting ring-pulls for this year’s Waste to Art exhibition; an attempt to make sauerkraut (it looked the part but we never ate it); making Nicole Welch’s promotional video; getting more hair; going to TASMANIA (Maria Island and Hobart and a bit of the east coast) with Ranger Steve; experiencing a day of snow in the streets of Bathurst; experiencing, with all of Bathurst, the shock of the murder-suicide of cafe proprietor Elie Issa and beautiful real estate agent Nadia Cameron; more hair; following along as Mum constructed a separate wing at the back of Deb’s place to move in to; and then the grand flurry of the 200 Plants and Animals exhibition in the Bathurst CBD, followed by a battle to stop a gold mine sucking water out of the Macquarie River. Steve’s sudden obsession with kayaks. Whoa! No wonder I’m tired! And that’s not to mention the first steps into a PhD and the most amazing thing I haven’t mentioned yet but will mention now.

Over the last half of this year, I was mentored by the totally amazing and brilliant Charlotte Wood, author of The Submerged Cathedral and The Natural Way of Things as I made one last charge up over the trench and into the enemy lines of Finishing This Wretched Novel for Once and For All. (I’d finished it before, a couple of times, but not really. It still had essential problems, problems I was hoping some editor, somewhere, would help me fix.) Charlotte gave me some big guns. Howitzers. These will be handy in future battles. So as 2015 comes to a close The Lucky Galah, the novel I’ve been working on forever, is now really, truly, ruly finished, except for some typos and tiny touch-ups. And I’m so glad I didn’t settle for faulty earlier drafts. This novel is not quite the perfect thing I had in mind, but it is as good as it’s ever going to get, so that’s that. Done. Line ruled under. All over.

Meanwhile, out in the bigger picture, I just want to take a moment to savour the moment Tony Abbot was ousted. I know all the stuff about Malcolm carrying on most of the same policies, only in a more smooth-talking way, but I tell you what, that moment of waking up the next day was pure bliss. It was like a weight dropping off the shoulders of the nation.

Finally, little Wicket the long-haired dog really did step over the Rainbow Bridge recently. Vale Wicket. And Vonnie, my sister’s Mother in Law, with whom I spent many Christmas days. And thinking of Dad, too, who is sitting on a chair on a deck somewhere over the Rainbow Bridge, with his big white Maremma dog at his feet, looking through his binoculars at all the native Australian birds in the tree canopies.

To stitch and bitch

Mixed media galah digestive tractOkay, so what’s this? Well, thanks for asking. It’s the digestive system of the pink and grey galah rendered in felt, crochet and embroidery. It’s a work in progress, something I’m working on in a Friday afternoon stitch-and-bitch group here in Bathurst. I wouldn’t have called it that, except a friend, when I explained what I was doing, said, “Oh, a stitch and bitch.” It’s actually an experiment in using textile art to reinforce resilience in a group of women who are clients at the Busby Medical Centre. The group is run by psychologist Dr Suzanne Alder. As soon as I found out about the group I threw my hand in the air, shouting Miss! Miss! I just had to go. I got my GP to add it to my mental health care plan. I said I needed to reinforce my resilience as I recovered from major body-altering surgeries. That might be true but actually I just wanted to sit in a group and do craft and talk about stuff. That would have to be one of the very definitions of bliss, for me. Everyone in the group has hair-raising problems. I can’t mention any of them because we’re all sworn to secrecy. But I don’t mind letting you see my creation.

As some of you will know, last year I crocheted my own digestive tract, so this year I wanted to branch out. As the galah is my fave bird, with whom I identify, I thought I’d try making its digestive system. A lot to learn about, there. I’ve been learning about the crop, which is sort of a get-back-to-you-later holding pouch in the neck; then there’s the gizzard, which is a very muscular organ indeed. Inside the gizzard, there are stones (people who have chooks might know about this) that help grind up seeds and whatever it is the bird is eating. There’s a liver and a pancreas that behave more or less like our own. And then the famous cloaca, from which we get the colloquial clacker.

Manure from the cloaca fertilises the ground upon which a magnificent sunflower grows. The galah eats the sunflower seeds and the cycle of life continues. After the initial flurry of research, working on this piece has been very relaxing. I watch television while I’m doing it, although it’s more like listening to television because my eyes are on the work on my lap.

Being here

Mt Panorama, Bathurst, in the middle of the Antarctic vortex, Sunday July 12, 2015.

This blog post is coming to you from the midst of a polar vortex. That’s right, we are living through a weekend of weather that is visiting us from the Antarctic. It is cold. There is snow. (Note to my northern hemisphere readers: yes, we do think tiny scraps of snow are a big deal.) Actually, here in South Bathurst, it’s not anywhere near as enchanting as it is in surrounding districts, where the snow is staying on the ground, turning everything into fairyland. It’s just dark and cold and raining on and off. Today Steve and I drove to the top of Mt Panorama to take Bertie for a run. On the way up, we saw hundreds of sulphur crested cockatoos standing in a paddock, looking cold. They – along with their cousins, the little correllas – have been hanging around town for few days, some sort of cockatoo convention. Up on top of the mountain, we got out of the car and the cold air attacked my face, freezing my sinuses. It made me think of a winter in Prague, many moons ago, when I walked across a couple of suburbs to our soviet-era flat in the dark, in December, and my face just about froze off. (That was when I was with Steve the First.) Bertie leaped out of the car and bounded about, invigorated. I picked up five vintage ring pulls for my collection. Always rich pickings after it rains.

This is where I live, now. At the foot of Mt Panorama, known for thousands of years as Wahluu, not far from the Macquarie River, known for thousands of yeas as the Wambool.

I live here, but these days I’m always cross-referencing back to Carnarvon, where I lived as a child and teenager. It’s so easy to do this, now. There’s a constant drip of information coming from the I Grew Up in Carnarvon Facebook group. Time collapses. In the middle of winter I can keep one part of my mind in the sunshine that pours down on the red earth and the glittering Indian Ocean; a place where snow is just an idea. As I write this, it’s 19 degrees Celsius in Carnarvon (it’s 3 degrees, here). At the moment Carnarvon is witnessing a mass break-out of native burrowing bees. The shire council has blocked off the road to allow the bees to do their thing. The Facebook group, made up of residents and ex-residents alike, is following along as Antoinette Roe gives updates on progress. These bees are new to me. I never knew them when I actually lived in Carnarvon. But I did know the bird flower and the chiming wedgebill (the “Did y’ get drunk?” bird), two local living things that are often reminisced about on the site.

I’ve been living here in Bathurst for over ten years. Gradually, I’m getting to know the plants and animals that live here. I’m actually on a forced march at the moment, having dobbed myself in to help organise an exhibition of local plants and animals for later this year. The other day, I went out to the launch of a new landcare group at Napoleon Reef, about fifteen minutes out of town on the road to Sydney. You turn left off the highway, follow the road to the end, and park. It’s a matter of walking down – quite a steep walk down – into the reserve. That day, cold but sunny, the white trunks of gum trees stood all around us. Aboriginal elders Dinawan Gerribang (aka Bill Allen) and Jill Bower performed a smoking ceremony and dabbed us all in white ochre to celebrate the group’s beginning.

With a little fire going, Bill said the smoking ceremony was a way of expressing yindyamarra. He said this Wiradyuri word means “respect, honour, go slow, be polite and be honorable about it.” He said this sort of respect was not just for each other but for “everything around us”.

Bill Allen at Napoleon Reef

He said Europeans came to this land and saw timber and grazing land, whereas Aboriginal people were steeped in the idea of yindyamarra.

“That’s what people have to understand,” he said. “We had two completely opposing types of ideas on how to use the land.”

He said Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people could try to work together by building a bridge. “That’s what the Bathurst Aboriginal Community Elders are wanting to do, is build that bridge.”

He said he preferred the word “bridge” to the word “reconciliation” because “there was never ever any relationship with each other in the first place. It was just, one lot was already here and the other lot come here on their boats and they just clashed with each other over the land.

“So, I can’t call it reconciliation. We’d prefer to use the term bridge- building so we get an understanding of each other so then we can connect, which is what a bridge does.”

As he used bunches of eucaplyptus leaves to create a thick, billowing smoke, Bill said it was important to do a smoking ceremony as you go into a new area in the bush. “It’s to show respect to the spirits, it opens your mind so you can see what’s around you.”

There were bittersweet moments in the ceremony, with reminders of a dispossession that wasn’t so very long ago and the vastly different socio-economic position of the small Aboriginal group standing behind the fire and the group of mostly white middle-class homeowners and landowners assembled in front of it. Bill said he loved to be on the land, but he didn’t own any. And then there was an old memory from school, of being chided for not turning up, for “going walkabout”.

“I say to people, well youse go walkabout more than I do because I can’t afford to go on holiday. You’ve got a big caravan you take it all up there wherever you go. That’s your little sacred site!”

He ended his speech by urging us to be more considerate of nature. “We want to take out all the resources and make it all for the now and make ourselves feel like we’re important more than everything else. Well, we are important, but we’ve got to remember that everything around us, too, is important.”

After this gentle lecture, we were invited to walk through the smoke and then to get three dabs of wet white ochre on the forehead. It was wonderful to walk through that smoke and to receive my dabs, so generously given. I’ll never really be a local here, but it made me feel so much more a part of this place.

The black cockies of the Blayney Road Common


I remember Mum saying that pierced ears were common – this is a very long time ago, and I don’t think she still holds this view. This retro opinion came back to me as I wrote the title for this piece, because I quite like the word common. It’s friendly, democratic, all-in, non-snooty. And it can even be a bit trashy. The Blayney Road Common, just out of Bathurst on the road to Blayney, is all of the above. The Blayney Road Common is a bit of land on the side of the road, with trees in it, and a lot of weeds, a lot of rubbish. It’s a place where people might throw an old mattress or sit under a tree and smoke a bong (I have evidence of this – see below). Nearby, there’s public toilets that are always locked these days but are well known as a gay “beat”.

There’s a greyhound practice track there; it has obviously been there a long time. Generations of rusting old numbered dog boxes are there, as well as the current, new, aluminium spring-loaded new one. Before I got sick, I used to race Bertie to the end. He’d always win if he didn’t get distracted by a smell or a suspicious movement in the grass.

As you get out of the car, a mob of kangaroos silently hops away. The big buck kangaroo – macho chest of rippling muscles – might wait, standing there to watch your movements, letting you get quite close before turning on his thin angles and bounding away after his mates. The earth is a mass of round rabbit droppings just a little smaller in diameter than the marbles you used to play with at school. There are rabbit scratchings everywhere – shallow holes.

Lately, the Blayney Road Common has been undergoing a health and beauty regime. Weeds are being cleared, native plants planted, rubbish collected. Areas that were so thick with blackberry and other weeds that you couldn’t see through them or walk through them have been cleared, bringing the long-hidden detritus of generations to light. Some of it is just recent rubbishy rubbish; other items are so old that they’ve becoming interesting, collectable. I picked up an old glass bottle stamped with the following:


The “ALWAYS” seems brave, now. How long was always, for Scott’s detergent company? A couple of decades? A hundred years? Last time I saw this bottle I left it there, under the theory that this was the commons, and the commons are for everyone, and this includes old bottles in old middens. When I went back today, to a little spot near the black cockies’ roosting tree, it was still there. I took it. I decided it was “rubbish”, and rubbish should be tidied up, shouldn’t it?

I’m not so sure rubbish should be tidied up, or privatised. I don’t mind eyesores. So-called eyesores – abandoned houses, old industrial sites – get the imagination going. Look at this improvised bong, made from a plastic drink bottle and a bit of garden hose, found under a tree.


I took some photos of the big old dead eucalyptus tree where every dusk, black cockies come in for landing. They come in dribs and drabs, squealing and squeaking like rusty doors.


Probably because I have a big pile of marking to do, I didn’t want to leave the Blayney Road Common today. I wanted to stay, and to botanise.

In her book White Beech, Germaine Greer remarks that when women of a certain age fall for botanising, they fall hard. I am in danger of this. I look at all the plants and feel the vast depths of my ignorance. What is this? What is its name? I feel the urge to catalogue, taxonomise, process all these living things.


Bertie and I arrived at the deep dip behind the Starting point of the practice greyhound track (with its hand-painted sign, Please Empty Dogs Before Entering Track) and looked down into the filthy bit of water below. You couldn’t even see this before; now it has been cleared. We heard the frogs talking. And then Bertie decided that a bit of water, no matter how lousy, was always worth a try. He slithered down the bank and sat in it, amongst the bits of abandoned things. The frogs went silent. Bertie churned up the greenish water, made it go brown. He closed his jaws over a large stick, scrambled up the bank. The frogs started up again.

Ring pulls, rabbit knees and cream of tartar

Larissas_cushion_aI’ve finally finished Larissa’s cushion: a zebra finch in the middle (she’s doing a PhD on animal personality); her four kelpies around the edges with decorative guppies (Larissa has also studied the personality of guppies). All rendered in Hobbytex. The blue and red edging is old bias binding tape found in a sewing box inherited from her paternal grandmother. That’s one for the Completion files. Completion feels good.

And there were rich pickings on the ring pull fields today. I went up to the top of Mount Panorama late this afternoon. It was all grey and gloomy. The earth was damp with fungi rising. Some hoons had been through, leaving two great circular patches of rough dirt. The grinding motion of the tyres had turned over the top centimetre or two of topsoil, bringing long-buried ring-pulls to the surface. They lay there in the poor light, ripe for the picking. I felt like one of those birds that follow tractors, going for the worms.

I struggled with my bad right knee. I bent down and rubbed at it and tried to ease the kneecap into the right spot. That seemed to help. I told Steve about the knee book I’m reading. It’s the memoir of a man who buggered his knees cycling up hills and eventually found his own way to a cure. His thesis is that a lot of light movement is better for bad knees than heavy intermittent workouts to build up the quadriceps. To support this he quotes a study in which three sets of teen rabbits were treated for bad knees in different ways. (The rabbits did not show up in the lab with bad knees; they were given them. Under anaesthetic, they each had small holes drilled directly

Rabbit knees

into the cartilage.) When they woke up from their operations, the rabbits were either in a plaster cast (immobilisation) or rigged up in a contraption that lightly, continuously, bent and unbent their bad knees. A third group was given heavy, intermittent exercise (simulating a regular workout at the gym). The group that had their knees gently bent and unbent for them did a lot better than the other two.1 This was discovered by killing all of them and pulling apart their tiny knees to examine the rates of healing of the cartilage. I told Steve about this tragedy and he said, “Well, you want good knees”, as if to say, “To make an omelette you have  to break eggs.” Or: “Cartilage research has its costs and benefits.”

Earlier in the day, I rested my knee on the coffee table as I spoke to my old school friend, Tricia Fong. She asked what the thing with the green dresses was all about. Oh yes, the Invisible Bodies performance, only a week ago but now rapidly receding in my mind. I told her about it, and she said the teal dresses had made her think of the fund-raising stalls we’d had in primary school. For one of these, Mum had made tiny teal dresses for Barbie dolls. These were simple affairs involving a bit of shirring over the ample plastic bust creating a gathered skirt. I said I couldn’t remember this at all, but as I said it, the hint of a possible memory began to awaken. These are little gifts,  bits of my own life given back to me. Which brought us around to toffees, also sold on these stalls, which I do remember. I used to love making them. Tricia said she remembered how, at my house, we added a pinch of cream of tartar, but that her own mother didn’t have any in the house and toffees made there weren’t as good. So after our phone call I went on a cream of tartar research mission. Cream of tartar is the acidic crystalline substance that spontaneously forms during wine making. In cooking it can stabilise whipped egg white and it prevents crystalisation in toffee. Yes. Our cake-stall toffees were the clearest, purest red, like thick glass.


1. Salter, R. B., Simmonds, D. F., Malcolm, B. W., Rumble, E. J., MacMichael, D., & Clements, N. D. (1980). The biological effect of continuous passive motion on the healing of full-thickness defects in articular cartilage. An experimental investigation in the rabbit. The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, 62(8), 1232-1251.