Category Archives: family

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!

This (highly visible) body

Yesterday a friend of ours, Chris Marshall, turned up at the house to talk about the Peel Common and noticed the giant cracks in the wall. He is a soil and geology man, so the discussion about Bathurst’s clay soils, and how they make houses crack as they expand and contract, went deeper than the usual discussions on this topic. The usual discussions go like this, “Oh hell, locracks_in_wallok at that giant crack in the wall.” And the reply: “Oh yes, Bathurst is built on clay soils that expand and contract in times of rain and drought.” But with Chris Marshall, it goes like this: “Our Pleistocene-aged sands and gravels are topped by Holocene-aged swampy meadows with dark coloured clay loam soils.” Actually I’m paraphrasing here from a paper he has just written as part of the Cox’s Road Dreaming Project.

I was getting ready to scoot out of the house to perform Invisible Body at the Bathurst entertainment centre. But I really wanted to stick around for geological time. I wanted to be in a discussion that had absolutely nothing to do with me. This weekend, I’m a little over talking about me. I’m sure I’ll get interested again shortly, but for now, I’d rather be thinking about the Holocene period and swampy meadows and dark coloured clay loam soils. But there’s one more thing I have to do as part of my contribution to the Bathurst outpost of the Sydney Writers’ Festival: be on a panel titled “The Joy of Blogging”. It’s at 4pm in the Wattle Foyer in the BMEC today, if anyone in the neighbourhood is reading this and wants to come on down (the panel will include fellow local bloggers Marg Hogan and Cherie Quade. I know I’ll rise to the occasion and even enjoy it (as I finally began to enjoy the performance of Invisible Body) but right now, at this minute, I’m longing to get on to the not-me parts of the universe.

Actually, just on the cracks in the wall: When my two little nephews and their friend were visiting, I told them the crack in the hall was a crack in the space-time continuum. They looked slightly alarmed so I said, “Only joking!” But I shouldn’t have been such a wimp. I should have let myself do their heads in. Kids get it too easy these days.


PS: The performance went really well – people loved it. Kudos to director Fiona Green who managed to wrangle two slightly difficult, nervous, non-actors into a piece that really worked on stage.

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.

***

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.

****

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.

 

 

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:

 

Time for afternoon tea

My name’s Tracy and it is thirteen days since I’ve had a coffee. I’m doing this one day at a time. I’ve sworn off before and I might have to do it again, but for now, it’s no coffee. What motivated this was a trip to the doctor a couple of weeks ago. The doctor had rung back after I’d done a blood test. Alarm bells. Please don’t ring after a blood test. It’s never good. He left a message saying he didn’t want to give the results over the phone. Ah, hell. Steve took an hour off work to be there. We went in, sat down. Steve opened his notebook, the one he used all last year to take notes in case I went into fugue state and failed to take anything in. The young doctor – he seemed new to the game, filling in for my usual GP – gravely told us that I had high cholesterol. We sat there waiting for the bad news. But he stopped right there at high cholesterol. I wanted to laugh loud and long in relieved delirious joy. But I didn’t. I sat there and tried to take the news as seriously as the young doctor was taking it. He told us why high cholesterol is a problem and what one should do about it. All the usual keep-healthy things.

Keep healthy things. Okay. So I’m off the emergency things like taxol and carboplatin and I’m on to common-or-garden preventative measures like diet and exercise. By the time I got home I had embraced the whole idea. I wrote notes for Operation Low Cholesterol and stuck them in a prominent position in the kitchen. I was keen to go back in three months time (by which time the young doctor would be in Broken Hill) with lower cholesterol and a gold star.

All last year, people (bless them) gave me hints and tips and books and websites about healthy eating. Other than hatching my own kefir in a jar kept in the dark under a black sock, I didn’t do any of it. Some people with cancer go for broke on the dietary front but I concluded that if things were that bad I would settle for the big guns. As in, “Nuke this, please.” Which worked out pretty well.

But now it’s over to me.

Coffee isn’t directly implicated in the high cholesterol realm, but the way I like it – a large flat white on full cream milk – is. I could ask for skim, but I fear that would be the slippery slope back into a bad habit (a bad habit for me; can’t speak for others). It’s easier for me to go cold turkey than to moderate.

But I’m not giving up tea. That would be a step too far.

I grew up in the tea-drinking culture of mid-century Anglo Australia. Mum got me on to tea before the end of primary school. (There was also Pablo instant coffee, but we won’t go there right now.) At a certain point during my teenage years I stopped having a teaspoon of sugar in my cup. Dad had his black with three heaped teaspoons of sugar. And a bit of lemon, if there was one in the house. The ritual of tea was heralded by someone singing out, “Cupda dee!” and there would be a line-up of cups on the bench.

I’ve always loved George Orwell’s eleven golden rules for making a nice cup of tea.

Now, having declared good riddance to everything ovarian-cancer related, I find myself organising an Afternoon Teal at my place next month. So I’m back in the territory. Early last February I was diagnosed with the disease; this February, like other Februaries in Australia, is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. Our team colour is teal (barely noticed in the sea of pink for cancer of that other part of the body). I’ve committed to attempting to make cupcakes (low cholesterol? gluten free? wholemeal? sugar free? the possibilities are endless) that look like this:

I’m no baker, or cake decorator, so it could be interesting. The purpose of my Afternoon Teal (Saturday February 21, 3pm-5pm) is to raise awareness of ovarian cancer and to raise money for research and support projects. If you’re in Bathurst and you’d like to come along, email me at tsoren@tpg.com.au; if you can’t come but would like to support the cause, here’s the link to my donation page:

https://ovariancancer.secure.force.com/CICD__Fundraise?id=70116000001AKJp