Category Archives: Carnarvon

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.

Who do I think I am?

It was the night before the flight to Tasmania. I still had a pile of marking to get through. I was procrastinating by trawling through the ancestor-hunting Ancestry.com.au. I’d trawled before, but always signed out before they got my credit card. Now, I’d finally succumbed. Once I had, I wished I’d signed up earlier*. So here it was, the full story on my computer screen:

Dawes

Dawes Who Rode

During the American Revolution, my ancestor, William Dawes, had teamed up with Paul Revere to ride through the night and across rivers and streams, warning, “The British are coming!” This ancestor is now known as Dawes Who Rode. A few begats down the line and we arrive at a John Pomeroy Dawes who sailed for Australia on the Golden West in 1858, aged 23. He begat Sidney Dawes, father of my Nana, Doris May Dawes. She married Francis Sorensen and had Dad, and Dad had Deb and me, and Deb had Max and Joe. There are two interesting middle names that appear through the family tree: Pomeroy for boys and May for girls. Both are the maiden surnames of the wives of earlier Dawes.

Growing up, we knew none of this, and nor did Dad – at that time. He found out in the early 2000s when a friend of my sister Deb began trawling Ancestry.com. It would appear that even Dad’s mother, Doris, was ignorant of her family’s past. If she’d known about the outstanding historical personage in her family tree, she might have made something of it. Or perhaps not. Was there any cachet, in a still very British nineteenth Australia, in saying your ancestors had fought the British? Instead of passing on facts, Nana appears to have made stuff up. She apparently liked to say the snake skeletons on the ground where she grew up were so big that you had to jump over them on your way to school. She said the kangaroos where she grew up were so tall that they could look over the tops of train carriages. The generations of Boston Dawes appear to have been well-to-do, establishment families. By Dad’s generation, there was no hint of that. He knew his family on his mother’s side as Queensland timber-getters. His father, Francis Sorensen, was a carpenter. Dad left school at 14 to become an apprentice suitcase-maker (a project that didn’t last long). When we went to sprinkle Dad’s ashes around Moreton Bay, we caught up with our cousin Sandra. Sandra, unlike us, had grown up around Nana. She said there’d been a point in late childhood at which she’d stopped believing Nana’s stories. Dad never got on with his mother. Perhaps that’s why we grew up on the other side of Australia, in Carnarvon, as far away as you could get from Brisbane without actually leaving the country. I remember Nana sitting on my bed during a visit to Carnarvon when she’d tried to talk Dad into going back to Brisbane. She’d come with her other son, our Uncle Frank, and his girlfriend Lorrie. I looked at the vertical lines on Nana’s top lip. She spoke vigorously, emphatically. I noticed she said “orf” instead of “off”. That’s the last I saw of her.

I do have a couple of earlier memories of her. In one I’m lying on what might have been a window seat in what must have been her house at Ormiston. I can only be about three years old;  it’s before we left Brisbane. Across the room, a black and white television is on. I’m going in and out of sleep. I have a strong, eerie sense of deja vu or perhaps premonition. I dream that a pipe or cylinder will rise up out of the ground and there will be an old, admonishing man in it, waggling his finger at me, and this will be terrifying. This is exactly what happens, on the TV.

SnapdragonAnd then, a few years later, on a trip back to Brisbane from Carnarvon – it must have been the trip where we drove across the continent to see Pop, Dad’s father, in hospital – Nana is showing me her snap dragons. She’s growing carnations and snapdragons at commercial scale on the property at Ormiston, or nearby. She squeezes the snapdragon to show how it opens its dragon mouth.

But Dad didn’t get on with her. He got on with his Dad. They’d worked together on Stradbroke Island, working for the sand mining company, making functional asbestos buildings. Pop died at 64 of something wrong with his lungs. Dad died at 72, held together by modern medicine, also of lung disease. They were both heavy smokers, but maybe asbestos filaments were also part of the story. Dad never had a biopsy, only X-rays that showed the creeping fibrosis. I typed Dad’s details into Ancestry.com. It killed me to add the end date, now known: June 18, 2013.

Steve came and stood next to the computer, looking over my shoulder at what I was doing. I was brooding over the births and deaths. Not marking. Not getting ready for Tasmania.

The next morning, I did finally get ready. We spent two rich weeks in Tasmania.

And now we’re back. Today, I have bedraggled, frost-bitten snapdragons out the front of my house. I’m dragging away the remains of last summer’s veges and herbs and masses of nasturtiums from the garden just out of the back door. It’s cold here, just as Tasmania was cold. We’ll be adding chook manure to the garden and digging it in, ready for Spring.

* This is not a sponsored post for Ancestry.com!

Channeling my mother

I’ve been channeling my mother. Let me hasten to add that she has not gone over to the other side. She’s alive and well and doing some renovations. I’m channeling an earlier incarnation of my mother, the one in her 20s and 30s, the one that used to lay out yards of fabric and, with a pair of giant, sharp, impressive scissors, would cut and cut and cut.

“I want to go cut cut cut like thaaaat!” I apparently whined at a young age. I wanted to get my hand on the scissors. I watched as well-dressed, sometimes perfumed, ladies came to the house and Mum got down on her supple knees to do their hems. And then there’d be the staccato runs of her green Singer sewing machine.

Mum, Dad, Deb and me at the Carnarvon Pool, c. mid '70s.

Mum, Dad, Deb and me at the Carnarvon pool, c. mid ’70s.

She made her own clothes and the clothes worn by my sister Deb and I. Even our knickers and bathers. In this pic Mum’s wearing a crisp white dress with blue flowers that she wore for years and we’re wearing the red bikini bathers she made. (Everyone said these were cute, but we yearned for shop-bought ones.)

By the late ’70s she’d switched from ladies’ frocks to curtain contracts to earn a living. Nice straight lines. A lot easier, and more lucrative, than shaping fabric to women’s bodies.

calico_bodiceNow I’ve got my own hands on the scissors. I’ve made a calico toile for a set of three turquoise fifties dresses with big gathered skirts. We’ll be coming on stage in our lovely frocks, only to disrobe to our taupe “undies”, in which we will do some physical jerks while someone else reads out our True Confessions. As I whined last week, this is outrageous behavior for me, especially the physical jerks. But I think I may be on top of skipping backwards. As long as I don’t think about it too much.

But making the dresses … that’s beautifully familiar. The movements of scissors, fabric, machine, pulling gathers – they’re all body memories. Apparently when you watch something, the same parts of the brain are triggered as if you do the actions yourself. As I sew, I channel my mother’s movements.

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Carbon_dioxide_Waste_2_Art_2015Meanwhile, this year’s Waste 2 Art project is ready to ship. It just needs to go down the road to the Flannery Centre today at 2pm, and then it just does its own thing. I’ve finished fiddling with it. It’s in its cardboard box, waiting to go out of the door. I really enjoyed painting the ring-pulls red and black. The finished piece is a bit of mess, really, but it’s nice to simply participate. The exhibition will be open from May 1-10.

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Meanwhile, the world goes on being convulsed by trauma; now Nepal. And before that the Kenyan university students. But Bathurst is absolutely gorgeous at this time of year. The trees are yellow and red and orange; there are leaves everywhere. The air is crisp.


 

APPENDICES

Waste 2 Art Artist’s Statement

Title: Carbon dioxide, 2015.

Artist: Tracy Sorensen

Media: Recycled items: Found vintage ring pulls; recycled lamp frame; red, black & blue paint from 1970s Hobbytex tubes; lid from old storage canister; found toy car. New item: Beading wire.

Measurements: 36 x 36 x 24

Place of execution: Bathurst, NSW, Australia

When you pull back on a ring pull on a can of beer or soft drink, you can hear and see and feel – in the tiny droplets of water – the action of carbon dioxide. It’s the CO2 that makes the fizz.

When I walk my black Labrador, Bertie, around McPhillamy Park on the top of Mount Panorama I keep an eye out for ring pulls. I only collect the old-style ones that were discontinued in the 1980s. I like the way their twisted, folded shapes recall the hands that originally tore them from the cans. Delightful moments of fizziness and pleasure are frozen in time in these found ring pulls.

In this piece I have used ring pulls to represent carbon dioxide. It is often represented in three-dimensionally as two red spheres (oxygen) attached to one black sphere (carbon). I painted the ring pulls with Hobbytex paint recovered out of old tubes. (Hobbytex was a fabric-painting craze in the 1970s.) Anyone who has used Hobbytex would have noticed its powerful petrochemical fumes.

Carbon dioxide provides more than fizz; it’s an essential part of all life on this planet, and it helps to create the greenhouse effect – a global blanket – that keeps the earth warm enough for the human life we’ve grown accustomed to over the entire course of human development.

You can have too much of a good thing. Since the industrial revolution, when we began burning fossil fuels in earnest, the amount of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere has grown by about 30%. Now, our global blanket is getting a little too warm. I’ve represented this by using the curve of the lamp frame to suggest the curve of the atmospheric blanket over the surface of the earth.

I found the metal toy car, encrusted with dirt, in the back yard. It has been painted in the black and white Marlboro livery of motor racing legend Peter Brock’s cars. Carbon dioxide molecules trail out the back of it like a bride’s long train, and ascend into the overarching atmosphere.

Lest we forget

Every year at about this time, I think of Simpson and his donkey. I’ve known the story of this courageous pair – how they toiled up and down the cliffs at Gallipoli, taking wounded soldiers to the hospital ships – for as long as I can remember. It’s a fragment of a bigger story that encompasses poppies and mud and the opening scenes of George Johnston’s My Brother Jack, where there were gas masks and crutches in the hall and strangely disfigured men lurking out the back.

The earliest Anzac Day ceremonies were personal; they evoked particular young men that people had known and loved. Now, a century later, those young people are more abstract to us. But because of the stories woven round them, they will not be forgotten.

What about the young people a hundred years from now? They don’t yet have names or faces. But they’ll be just as real as we are now. And it may be that they will look back at us and wonder how we could have forgotten them. How could we have had so much information about climate change and yet done so little?

Perhaps, unlike the Anzacs, they just don’t have a good enough story. Social scientists tell us that information, by itself, doesn’t make much impact on people. Stories, on the other hand, have sticking power. And the stories we don’t tell each other – the silences – are just as important.

Anzac stories can be told simply, powerfully, emotionally. There’s a boy from the bush, running into enemy fire, legs like springs. Climate change offers some scientists writing papers full of maths equations that nobody else can read and a vague sense of guilt about not switching off the power at the wall. For most people, climate change just thuds quietly to the bottom of the brain.

But stories are made as much as they’re born. Historian Charles Bean worked tirelessly to promote the memory of the Anzacs at Gallipoli. The Gallipoli story caught on because it combined with the needs of a new nation hungry for stories to tell about itself. A century on, our political leaders are keener than ever to bathe in reflected glory.

It certainly beats talking about parts per million of carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere. We can know, and yet we can forget.

First published in the Western Advocate, April 25, 2015 as a contribution to the Sustainable Bathurst column.

 

 

Back on the Hobbytex fumes

I’ve just arisen from the sofa, where I had a glorious two-hour nap (2pm to 4pm) all snuggled up in a pudgy doona listening to the rain patter endlessly on the roof. I thoroughly enjoyed this interlude and only feel a little bit guilty about it. It was a bit of mental time out from the great pile of things I should be doing/could be doing. I’m going around with this pile stacked on my head like a woman in Africa carting water or a girl in a grooming and deportment class. It’s nice to sometimes just shake my head, stand to one side and let all those titles (the books of Marking, Reading Serious Things, Writing Serious Things, Organising Stuff) fall to the floor. And step over them and lie down.

Besides the doona/sofa combination I do love a bit of craft. Craft is the gift that goes on giving. I have no professional credentials in craft. I’m a naive craft artist, like Grandma Moses was a naive painter. I do it the way it’s done in middle childhood. With gusto and lumpiness.

Hobbytex_WIPOver the past few days I’ve returned to my 2015 Waste to Art entry (deadline at the end of this month). I’ve had the Hobbytex out to paint my collected vintage ring pulls. I’m painting two reds to every black to make up my series of carbon dioxide molecules. These are hanging from the framework of an old macrame pendant lamp, bought off eBay a few years ago for the Lost Arts of the 1970s exhibition. I skinned it down to its skeleton, saved the wooden beads and threw away the dusty layers of thick, cream synthetic cord. All those hours of finger-straining work, unraveled, hacked up, dumped in the wheelie bin. Sorry.

Hobbytex paint, as some of you may know, is pungent stuff. This is pure petrochemical twentieth century toxin. To revive the almost-hardened paint in vintage tubes, I’ve been twisting off the nibs and dribbling in drops of thinners. Hobbytex thinners are the most extreme thinners imaginable. Virulent. Approach in full body gear. They work beautifully. The paint softens and glistens, forgetting its age, instantly reverting to its pliable, dazzling youth.

Hobbytex is so cool, I’m amazed it has never been hipsterised. If the company could just rework itself for a new age – like Tom Jones did, finding a new audience among the children of his original fans – then there might be a way for it to survive. Hobbytex’s soul sister, the paint-by-number phenomenon in the United States, has had something of a revival. And colouring-in for adults is big at the moment. But no. The Hobbytex company appears to be sticking to its stolid dagginess (bless its cotton socks). I fear the day they finally do what I did to the macrame pendant lamp shade.

Hobbytex_WIP_2Anyway, I’ve used up a bit of my precious Hobbytex on a found toy car to create an impression of the Marlboro livery of Peter Brock’s famous race winner. It will sit under the dome of the skeletal lamp shade, representing the contribution to greenhouse gases of the internal combustion engine.  It’s all coming together, slowly.

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In the meantime, I’m slogging through a project initiated by my friend Fiona Green, called Invisible Body. I say slogging because I’ve had to drag myself through it the way this person drags a cat who does not want to go for a walk on leash. Invisible Body will be a ten to fifteen minute performance during the Bathurst chapter of the Sydney Writers Festival. Three of us will read out pieces about our own bodies and perform things, on stage, physically in front of people. This is where the dread comes in. I’m happy to write, I’m happy to read things out, I’m happy to do bits and pieces on video that can be edited later but I’ve managed to avoid doing live theatre since about the age of 14, when I was a fairy in a pantomime put on in the Carnarvon Civic Cente. All memory of this performance has been lost without trace and even the building it happened in has long been demolished and replaced. That’s how much me and live theatre are not a thing. I’m doing this project out of an idea that it’ll be good for me and maybe for others (I’ll be talking about my illness and surgery, so it counts as an awareness activity). It’s good to stretch out of my comfort zone and participate in original theatre being created in my own town. That’s what I’m thinking. What I’m feeling is Reluctant Cat on Leash Being Dragged Across Floor. If I can just get on top of doing the skippety hops in time with the others (skippety skippety forwards, skippety skippety back) without losing it on the backwards skips, I might feel better about it. We’re giving two performances at the BMEC on May 22 and 23.

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Damon_writingJust looking through the pictures I’ve taken over the past couple of weeks. So much going on! I particularly love this piece of creative non-fiction by Damon, young friend of my nephews, who was here for one night during the school hols. Pure Kerouac, I think.

 

It isn’t easy being green (or pink, teal or purple)

I’m writing this with Australia batting against India in the background. Steve is standing behind the sofa watching, making “ooff” sounds, which is what he does when watching any sort of sport, whenever there is a significant movement.

On New Year’s Eve at Fiona Green’s place I found myself saying that this year I’d learn the rules of cricket. It’s weird when you hear yourself say something surprising. Where the hell did that come from? I can only guess it had something to do with Dad, who might have been hovering around in spirit – drinks and a big bonfire in a backyard could easily have attracted him. Dad always played and watched cricket and I always sidestepped it because to be honest it always seemed deadly boring to me. Men in white clothes standing solemnly around in the belting sun; the occasional flurry followed by more standing around. My evasion became a lifelong habit. But Steve likes to watch the cricket and when he does, there’s an echo of earlier times. And now I feel slightly bad about living through all these Australian summers and still not knowing the rules of cricket. So I’m going to give it a go. This will not be easy. I will have to fight a strong desire to immediately do something else. Like maybe arranging crockery shards by colour or size, in anticipation of one day making a mosaic table top. Or sorting old photos into albums. Rules of cricket. Why did I say that?

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When I sat down to write this I was distracted by the cricket. What I was really going to write about to today was Purple Day! Today is international epilepsy awareness day. Epilepsy makes the brain fire off in all directions, leading to fits and seizures. My little nephew Joey succumbed just after his third birthday with a particularly nasty form of the disease, the Doose syndrome, which is resistant to medication. He was having twenty or more seizures a day. These involved sudden “drops” or “flops” to the floor. He’d be conscious again immediately, and sometimes crying because on the way down he might have hit something hard like the edge of a coffee table or a concrete birdbath. So he took to wearing a blue helmet. At the end of 2013, a few months after Dad died, things got so bad that he

Joey with Hazel the therapy dog.

Joey with Hazel the therapy dog.

ended up in Sydney Children’s hospital for a long stretch. I remember going to see him there when he was visited by Hazel the therapy dog. I also went upstairs with him and Deb for one of his brain tests. His little scalp had electrodes taped all over it. And he was well and truly over it. Sick of all this crap going on. The good news is that a few weeks later, the seizures had stopped. He got all the way through last year, his first year at school, seizure free! Did the medication combo finally hit the right spot? Had he simply grown out of it? Nobody really knows. Today, in honour of Joey, I’ve purpled up my Facebook profile picture and I’m writing these paragraphs in this blog.

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Meanwhile, at the end of 2013, I wasn’t feeling that crash-hot myself. It turned out to be primary peritoneal cancer, a variation on ovarian cancer, explored at great length here in this blog. The awareness ribbon for this is teal. Shortly before that, Mum got in on the illness act with a spot of bowel cancer, which thankfully was removed all in one go in one operation, and she didn’t have to have chemo or any further treatments. Now, what colour is the awareness ribbon for bowel cancer? Could it be …. brown? Surely not. Must Google it. Back in a moment.

Wow. There are a lot of awareness ribbons. I guess there’s a lot to be aware of. “Use the search box to find your illness or cause”. Okay. Looks like blue or periwinkle covers the bowel. But using the search term “colon” does in fact bring up a brown ribbon! Speaking of bowel cancer, an ex boyfriend has been diagnosed with it, and is in for a long and involved treatment regime. Thinking of you (while not breaking your anonymity here!)

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After Deb got breast cancer (pink ribbon, everyone knows that) and Joey started having seizures and Dad died of pulmonary fibrosis and Mum got bowel cancer and before I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Deb did say, at one point, “What were we in a past life? Axe murderers?” We don’t subscribe to deserved illness theory any more than we subscribe to the deserved good fortune theory. But there are moments that make you wonder. Anyway, we’ve almost got a rainbow of ribbons, just in one family, and all just in the past few years. Before that we’d had a very good run.

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Which brings me, finally, to the green ribbon, or should I say Greens ribbon, that I’ll be wearing on Saturday, the day of the New South Wales state election. I’m not a member, but I’m happy to support the local candidate, Tracey Carpenter, who has been running a very serious and successful campaign. It’s actually not that hard being green, if you’re able to steel yourself against the waves of warmings and extinctions, fracking and fossil fuel-burning. I’ve been doing a spot of handing out how to vote cards at the pre-polling booth in Bathurst. A couple of weeks ago I went along with Tracey when she drove up to Rylstone in the north of the Bathurst electorate to meet and greet at the annual Rylstone-Kandos show. With iPhone in hand, I spontaneously decided to record her talking about her policies, as she drove. Here it is: