Category Archives: Carnarvon

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.


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.


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?


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.


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!)


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.


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:


On being stared at


Photo by Jean-Francois Phillips/Flickr Creative Commons.

As children we’re told not to stare. Being told not to stare begins as yet another arbitrary and baffling instruction among the dozens of arbitrary and baffling instructions of daily life. You have no idea why you shouldn’t but if you’re good, you try not to do it.

It’s hard, though, when it’s something you haven’t seen before: a man with a hole in his throat that he uses to breathe through; a penis; a woman from India who appears to be wearing her curtains. After a while you understand that it’s rude to stare because it makes the staree uncomfortable. There’s not just you in the world, looking out. Other people have feelings. It’s all right, however, to stare at things. They don’t have feelings.

My body, under my clothes, is eminently stare-able. Some things are missing while other things have been added. The first time I went to the swimming pool after surgery, I changed into my bathers in the toilet cubicle, because there were young children there with their mothers and I didn’t feel like adding my strange naked body to the mix. The next time, I just changed with my back to the room (my back looks normal) and by the third time my new body seemed normal to me and anyway, if people stare or ask questions they can go right ahead. (It would appear that nobody’s looking/nobody’s noticing/they’re all being discreet.)

Normal. Such a loaded word. We are heavily socialised into what’s normal. We spend our school years practicing normal, sifting normal from odd, inventing and applying new rules, including and excluding. Bullying.And sometimes people are regarded as things, so it’s okay to stare. The days of the human zoo are not that long behind us. Aboriginal people are still working on getting back the heads of relatives that were sent overseas to museums.

And then there are bones and Egyptian mummies and people from thousands of years ago whose bodies have been beautifully preserved in icy peat bogs. Surely it can’t hurt to stare? And yet, as we stare (even if just on a computer screen) there’s a presence. The wisp of the presence of that person, a trace, perhaps, of their feelings.

As I get older, I get twitchier. By which I mean, I’m getting more interested in bird watching. If I go for a walk, I notice the birds. I sometimes remember to take my magnificent binoculars, a present from Steve. I spy on the birds.

On a visit to Shark Bay ten years ago, I followed a twittering sound to its source – a small spiky bush. I pushed a branch aside and there, in plain, easy view below me, was a nest of baby birds, now suddenly silent. For a split second I was pleased to find the nest, to see the birds up close, but then I felt bad. It wasn’t just that I might have frightened the baby birds. It was a different feeling, more like being embarrassed when you barge into the loo when someone else is in there. It felt wrong to be peering into such a hidden, domestic space.If I were a fox, I’d have just enjoyed the buffet.

Anyway, here’s a giant tortoise who was busy mating with his girlfriend when a film crew rudely interrupts. Piss off, says the tortoise, and gives chase.

Twenty things

It’s Friday afternoon already. Where have I been? It’s hard to say.

In an effort to answer this question, I’m going to give a list of twenty things – animal, vegetable, possibly mineral – that might help me to recall some of the hours of my own life.

Gascoyne River in flood.

Gascoyne in flood, March 2000.

1. I’ve been watching the Gascoyne River come down, in real time. Excitement had been building for days, as big rains in northern Western Australia began making the rivers flow. The brown water spread out across thousands of kilometres of red-brown land, eventually sending feelers into the dry gravely riverbed near Carnarvon. As the lead waters began to flow, people went out to have a look, as they’ve always done and as we used to do. Children splashing excitedly in water. Eels flipping in the shallow lead waters. I followed all this on Facebook. Locals have been posting updates and photographs on the “I Grew Up in Carnarvon” page so all of us, Carnarvonites and ex-Carnarvonites alike, could follow along. It’s nothing like being there – the smell of the air, the heat, the crunch of gravel, the sounds of the bush and the birds – but it’s a way of remembering, of sharing the excitement.


That’s one thing. I don’t think I’m going to get to twenty. But let’s at least get to two.

2. I have been feeding Sebastianne, a friend’s tortoiseshell cat. She is mottled all over. Her nose is mottled. She yowls when I arrive, hisses when I try to leave, doesn’t seem to eat much. Her mistress has left out five – yes five – litter trays for her to choose from. This is because Sebastianne doesn’t like to revisit a used litter tray. This morning she was rolling on her back, rubbing herself against the warm terracotta brick paving just outside the back door. Beside her were giant zucchini leaves and yellow flowers.

3. I have been drinking many cups of tea.

4. I’ve been teaching at CSU. First week of session. First days back after a year off sick. One class on Wednesday, one on Thursday. As we went round the room introducing ourselves, I asked Wednesday’s class to say their names, their area of specialty, and one other word – could be any word. These (below) are the words given by the students, in the order in which they were said:

5. Potato.

6. Couch. (Yes! I’m cheating on my Twenty Things! I’m going to borrow the students’ words!)

7. Yellow.

8. Mango.

9. Pen.

10. Room.

11. Alpaca.

12. Ottoman. (I asked whether he meant footstool or empire – he meant empire.)

13. Platypus.

14. Turtle.

15. Beach.

16. Hypotenuse.

17. Hot.

18. I find this list interesting. Some words seem to be inspired by the words that came before (eg potato/couch and platypus/turtle/beach), while others seem to spring out of nowhere, like Ottoman and Hypotenuse. Most are nouns. Most of them trigger clear mental images. I didn’t ask Thursday’s class to give me a word. I regret that.

19. After my Thursday class I went for my first meeting with my PhD supervisors. Yes, for better or for worse, I’m embarking on a PhD. My PhD is going to relate in some way to crocheting my abdominal organs through ovarian cancer and treatment and how this relates to Life, the Universe and Everything. We had an invigorating discussion. I felt hopelessly ignorant. My brain has been teeming, screaming and running in circles ever since.

20. Last Sunday I sat with a small group of women at Vi’s house in Lambert Street and crocheted a flower-thing (actually it was part flower, part tiny body organs) to add to Prudence Mapstone’s giant crocheted blanket to  commemorate the 1960s flower power movement.

That’s twenty things! I cheated, but I’m going to let myself off the hook.

Jack and the tattered weed

sunflowerI’ve been having a lot of trouble getting out of bed in the morning. As I’m working from home, there’s no need to be up at six, or seven, or eight. Or nine, or even ten. And having begun the day late, it’s impossible to sleep early, so each day is starting later, ending later. In the 1990s I had friends who lived in Philpott Street, Marrickville, who had let this process reach its logical conclusion: they awoke just before dusk and went to bed again at first light. I remember being there at about one o clock in the morning while they ate and chatted as if it were one in the afternoon. I can’t let things get that bad, I tell myself. I’ll have to start getting up earlier. But then, suddenly, it’s  morning again. I feel like I only just got to sleep ten minutes ago. I decide to snooze a little bit longer.

This morning, at a time that felt like the middle of the night, I heard a short, sharp buzz. It was a text message from a friend inviting me to have morning tea at ten o clock, two hours hence. I went back to sleep. At five minutes to ten, I hauled myself out of bed and got around the corner to Fiona’s place. I told her that while I was physically present, my mind was not actually awake. She fed me a cup of coffee and the rich smell offered a magic carpet ride to the land of youthfulness, wakefulness and vigour.

She read me Shakespeare’s second sonnet.

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery so gazed on now,
Will be a tattered weed of small worth held –

It’s about what happens when one is over forty, and one’s brow is furrowed and one is just a tattered bit of seaweed washed up on some godforsaken shore and nobody can even be bothered to look at you …

The solution to this grim state of affairs, says Shakespeare, is to have lots of children. That way, you can continue to be young and beautiful because your children will be young and beautiful. You can gaze upon them and that will comfort you in your hours of pointlessness. Fiona’s brow has been besieged by forty winters; mine ten more. Between us we have not had one child; we are without remedy for the cruel ravages of time’s scythe.

Except for coffee. The coffee did the trick. I’d come as a tattered weed but I was leaving as a strong, bright sunflower like the ones that are growing against the fibro wall out the back, reminding me of all the other sunflowers of my life. They’ll grow anywhere. Galahs love the seeds. I may not have children, but I can always find a galah or a sunflower to get a dose of cheerful, hardy things (unlike, say, the white rhino, whose days are definitely numbered).

MBJBack home, as I did the dishes, I listened to a program on ABC Radio National about George Johnston’s My Brother Jack. It’s fifty years since the book was published. George Johnston and Charmian Clift and most of their children – non-hardy creatures – are long gone, but the book lives on. I’ve carted my copy around since I first read it as a teenager. Images from the book are companions through my life. Insects still drop out of the  dollicus*. Prosthetic limbs and a gas mask clutter the hallway. The gum tree in the front yard that Helen didn’t like because it was messy grows tall and strong in the Australian light; a broken man, falsely accused of murder, tends his roses. The green eyeshades worn by the copy editors at the Argus and the crumpled trench coats and pork pie hats worn by the reporters. When I told my English lit teacher how much I loved the book, she sneered: “What about the development of the female characters?” I was taken aback. I had so thoroughly identified with the tortured David Meredith (endlessly contrasted with his brave, straightforward brother Jack) that I had barely noticed Johnston’s two-dimensional portrayals of Sheila and Helen and Cressida.

lucky_countryThe book keeps company on my bookshelf with Donald Horne’s Lucky Country, published the same year. My Brother Jack has a digger painted by Sidney Nolan. The cover of Horne’s slim paperback is by Albert Tucker. It’s a craggy painting of a bloke with a beer in his hand, an Ace of spades in his pocket and the glorious deep blue sea behind him. In the sea there are bright triangles that might be the sails of boats or the fins of circling sharks. Both books were searing critiques of Australian life that became, as the decades rolled on, part of the pantheon of Australian mythology. The Australia Johnston and Horne both loved and deplored began to vanish and as it vanished, a fantasy took the place of all the messy details. Australia was a wide brown land inhabited by sturdy, uncomplicated Jack Merediths. It is this Australia – this fantasy lucky country – that is brooded over and celebrated in drunken, flag-covered binges on Australia Day. It is the Australia evoked by those who say Fuck Off We’re Full and by John Howard when he laments the “black armband” view of history. It’s a sentiment that spiked during Monday’s Sydney siege but was tempered by Tuesday’s #illridewithyou.

Tracy_Deb_Jetty_early_70sSpeaking of history, I have been besieged by forty years and ten. My brow is not that furrowed, but there’s a whole part of me – recovering from cancer, missing body parts – that is definitely doddery. And like George Johnston in exile on Hydra, I miss the Australia of my early memories. A child’s world is a simple world. Some people are good and others are bad. Your legs can run you up the side of a levee bank or down a burning sand dune. Your abdomen contains its full quotient of pink organs that slide easily over each other as you go into a handstand. The deep blue sea meets a clear blue sky that arches over a wide brown land with a blue EH Holden moving purposefully across it.

It’s driving into tomorrow, where things are different.

* The dollicus is the name the Meredith family gives a creeping vine in their back yard.