Category Archives: Craft

How to do history

cabbageToday I’ve been crocheting a cabbage. It has a head and three green leaves; I may have to make one more leaf to make it look a little more cabbage-like. Lately I’ve made a kayaker, a few turtles and fish, a platypus and a blue damselfly (a blue dragonfly-like creature). These are all being stitched to a 60 metre (and growing) crocheted, knitted and woven representation of the Macquarie River stretching from Bathurst, to Hill End, Dubbo, Warren and beyond. This evening, at 5pm, we’ll be unfurling this “banner” at the Council chambers to no to a proposal to divert up to 10 megalitres of river water a day to a gold mine near Blayney. Some people will sing; others will hang more conventional banners painted by local teenagers saying things like DON’T ROB OUR RIVER; others will be holding home-made placards. Wiradjuri people, who have been here since time immemorial and call the river the Wambool, will be there too. Just now, I just got a call from an older man who said he would be there but he might be a little late, as his wife is infirm.

In the local paper today we’ve been branded as “emotional greenies” by Councillor Michael Coote, who is very cross at being bombarded with text messages. He feels we have been blessed by the gold mining company’s offer to take our water. The economic bonanza to follow will be like “winning the lottery”.

“As councillors we have to make decisions based on facts and not emotion,” Cr Coote said. “Let’s take the emotion out of this.”

The idea that Cr Coote is all about the facts and environmentalists are all about emotion is rather curious. Our case against the proposed extraction from the river is based on a cartload of scientific facts, all of which appear in Council’s own reports and pronouncements about the state of the local environment. Local temperatures are rising as climate change kicks in, and biodiversity is falling as habitat is destroyed. We environmentalists are quite aware of these facts, and find them devastating. Yes, devastation is an emotion. But it’s not a random or irrational emotion – it’s a congruent response to a set of facts.

Whether he realises it or not, Cr Coote is having some emotions himself. It would appear from the Advocate story that he is sick of the “scare campaign” by “greenies”. He’s sick of it! He’s not going to take it any more! He wants to get this whole thing over with by having Council vote in favour of the water sale tonight. That’ll stop those pesky text messages, and allow the river of cash to flow.

The fact is that we all have both minds and hearts. We all bring both to bear on our beliefs, values, opinions. It guides the language each side prefers to use. We say “water”; Cr Coote says “effluent”. It’s simply wrong for Cr Coote to say that he is being rational and we are being emotional. All sides in this are emotional.

While Cr Coote believes he is being factual about the river water sale, there is a fair amount of mythology – fantasy – at the heart of such an approach to the natural environment. The fantasy is that we can keep plundering our natural resources indefinitely. If there are consequences, they will be dealt with by unnamed, unknown people in the future, or downstream, or somewhere else in the world. To countenance this brings the possibility – perhaps just a whisper – of feeling bad. Best to retreat into a fantasy world in which “facts” can stand alone without being tainted by someone’s tears.

So, back to my crocheted cabbage. It’s true, Cr Coote, I’ve been feeling emotional about the river. As well as researching it and writing a respectable, unemotional submission to Council, I’ve been working off some sadness by making these little objects. The saying goes that history is made by those who show up. The suffragettes had a long procession of embroidered banners. We’ve got a long woolly river bearing turtles and cabbages. You might be just one person, just one cabbage – but together, we’re strong!

Crochet me a river

The beginning

The beginning

So! We’re already just over a couple of weeks into the new year. If you don’t watch them (days) they tend to escape. In just a few weeks – it’s not certain exactly when – we’ll find out whether the Powers That Be are going to go ahead and divert water from the Macquarie River into the wide open maw of an open cut gold mine. The quantity would be up to 10 megalitres a day, about four Olympic swimming pools’ worth. If the project goes ahead, the water will go out in an ordinary-looking concrete water pipe; the pipe will be laid down by people who are just going about their ordinary jobs; and then people will start working at the gold mine and earning good wages, part of which they will spend at the ordinary Coles or Woolworths supermarkets and perhaps the cafes and dress shops in town. In other words, a perfectly ordinary thing is about to happen.

It’s all pretty routine, but hundreds of people are making it known that they don’t agree. Opposition to the diversion of river water to the Regis gold mine is coming from all quarters – cabbage growers downstream, people who like to fish for Murray cod, people worried about diverting water out of the district just as global temperatures are rising, people dismayed by the privatisation of river water, people worried about declining flows into the fragile wetland habitat  of the Macquarie marshes at the other end of the catchment. Kayakers, bushwalkers, people with dogs that like to swim (that’s me and my dog, Bertie). The nuns around the corner from my house. People who can’t see the point in another gold mine when we’ve already got an absolute whopper just down the road.

Just because something is business as usual, doesn’t mean we have to keep doing it. Smoking, slavery and foot-binding were once business-as-usual.

So what’s a girl to do but take up her crochet hook and fight?!

A small group of “craftivists” has been getting together on Thursday mornings to create a long, crocheted, knitted and textile-based representation of the Macquarie River. We’re hoping that by the time Council makes its decision we’ll have something long and colourful that we can brandish before the media and general public.

The process has been wonderful so far. It’s both relaxing and, to use a rather over-used word, “empowering”.

If you’d like to join in, we’re meeting at Rahamim, 36 Busby Street, Bathurst on Thursday mornings from 10am to 12noon. Come for the whole session or just part thereof. Or if you’d rather just work on a stretch of it at home (we’re asking for lengths that are 20cm wide by however long you like – ie narrow lengths that we’ll join together), you can just drop them off at Rahamim any time in business hours (ask for Sally).


 

 

 

THE REVOLUTIONARY POTENTIAL OF CROCHET

In my twenties, I remember reading a pamphlet by Ernest Mandel (I think it was, will check), called The Revolutionary Potential of the Working Class. If the working class has the ability to change the world, what about crochet?

Question: Are you taking the piss?

Answer: Yes. A little bit. But piss must be taken.

This week a possum crashed down out of the ceiling of my hallway, bringing the manhole cover with it. Before we could shepherd it out the front door, the possum pissed on the floorboards. Maybe, as an oppressed, homeless possum, it was taking the piss. Literally. Because sometimes your ability to piss is all you’ve got. (I told you this was going to be a little mad.)

Question: What is the revolutionary potential of crochet?

Answer: I’m glad you asked. It has something to do with the meek inheriting the earth. Crochet is associated with the meek. Crochet is inherently non-violent; it’s unlikely that crocheters, even militant ones, are going to force anyone’s back up against the wall. (Airlines, however, beg to disagree. A crochet hook is a potentially gruesome weapon. Think eyeball, steel crochet hook.) If the meek don’t inherit the earth, we run the risk of the strong continuing to inherit the earth, and look where that got us.

Also: You might have noticed that the word crochet has the word Che inside it. As we all know, Che was a revolutionary. So there’s the revolutionary potential of crochet right there!

Che didn’t think think a new society would be very well served by people made up of all the faults and peculiarities of people who had lived in the old, bourgeoise society. So he said the Cuban revolution required a “new man“. People had to be different, or become different, if they were to build a new society.

Question: What if you’re not sure you can be a new man?

Answer: If you’re a man, you might become a new man by learning to crochet. The simple act of crochet could well challenge your sense of manhood and perhaps cause you to shed some of it.

Question: What if you’re not any sort of man, old or new?

Answer: Perfect!

Question: Why are you focusing on crochet in particular? Wouldn’t you get the same benefits out of knitting or paint-by-number or adult colouring in?

Answer: Perhaps.  But every art form (and crochet is surely an artform) has its particular attributes. There could be something particular about crochet that gives it an edge in the revolutionary movement. For example, the Wertheim sisters, who got the crocheted coral reef going, say that crochet follows some of the fundamental, mathematical rules of biological growth; therefore crochet, as an activity, is connected through technique to the techniques used by Mother Nature herself!

Question: So how is that revolutionary?

Answer: I don’t know, exactly, but I’m sure there’s something in it. Maybe – if crochet has a direct connection to the very processes of Life Itself then it somehow connects to the Agency of all life on the planet. If we can respect the common or garden crocheted knee rug that is used by old people in nursing homes, we might also grow to respect the agency of all the background processes that keep life going on Earth. And then we might not divert rivers into gold mines, because we’d be thinking about the Booroolong frogs.

Question: Agent as in Travel Agent?

Answer: No. Agency as in the capability to ACT and to CHANGE THINGS. If you are incapable of action or changing things, you can’t have agency. You’re just a plum pudding. Then again, a plum tree, arguably, has agency because it is actively involved in the creation of plums. These plums change the world because now it is a world with plums in it.

Question: So how is this revolutionary?

Answer: Because Life. And I’ve been reading a book given to me by my friend Helen the other day. It’s called Blueprint for Revolution – How To Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men and other non-violent techniques to galvanise communities, overthrow dictators or simply change the world, by Srdja Popovic and Matthew Miller. Anything Lego men can do, crochet can do better. I rest my case.

And here’s Ella Fitzgerald singing Cry me a River.

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.

The first hint of spring

What’s that in the air? Could it be a hint that this winter might one day end? We’ve had our snow, we’ve had our shocking news, we’ve had streets of trees without leaves. But there’s a trace of warmth in the air. And on Rocket Street, up the hill, there’s a tree in full pink blossom. Yes, it’s quite possible that – in a few weeks’ time – we might emerge from this winter into spring.

In my own garden, it’s Yellow Flower Season (YFS). The Cootamundra wattle is blooming and the daffodils are out.

Not only that, but I’m ten out of ten! I’ve just had my latest three-monthly cancer check, and my CA125 level is 10. Considering that when my tumours were in full flight my level was in the late two thousands, this is a magnificent result. It’s now a year since my last dose of chemo. Life stretches out, lazily, ahead.

A little too lazily. I’m still having trouble getting out of bed in the mornings. At the appointed time, it still feels like it must be 4am and what the hell is going on?

Pattern by WhittyB/Etsy

Oh, I finally finished the cross-stitched uterus and ovaries for my gynae-oncologist. I forgot to take a photo before I handed it over, but it looked just like this. I added the words “Here’s trouble” because that’s basically all I got out of decades of female reproductive organs. My doctor, a brisk, practical woman (I worship her, along with my Upper GIT*), looked at it briefly and said, “Good stitching.” And: “I’m not sure where I’m going to put this.” She’s not one to fake joy – too busy. But I don’t mind. I enjoyed making it & I really don’t mind what she does with it.

On Wednesday, I’m going to be delivering a little talk about my crocheted body parts at Nepean TAFE in Kingswood at 1pm. The general public is welcome, so if you’re in that part of town, feel free to pop in! Details from Cath Barcan at Catherine.Barcan@tafensw.edu.au.


* Upper Gastro Intestinal Tract surgeon