Category Archives: Mt Panorama

Things on a table

I took this photo as soon as Judy left, struck by all the stories flowing from the things on this table. And the table itself. And the tree you can see through the window. The more I look, the greater the orgy of gratitude. That after everything, I get this table, that shaft of light, that tiny kookaburra with a hole where there was once a tinier black plastic snake.

So, to explain: Judy came round to drop off a stretch of the crocheted Macquarie River that a group of us have been making. We’ve been doing this since the end of 2015, when we heard a gold mine was sniffing around wanting to divert river water into its cyanide-laced belly and excrete the leavings into the water table feeding the Belubula River. We began stitching, and completely forgot to stop. The river is now about 80 metres long. The decision about whether to sell water to the gold mine is on hold, but as soon as it goes back to Council, our river will be ready to join the fray.

So Judy came to drop off a stretch. This contained a very neat green length stitched by Mum during a visit here, and some orange-bordered fish created by Judy herself. On the weekend, Vi and I will occupy the Girl Guides Hall, stitching the river in the company of local Aboriginal women making a possum-skin cloak. The possum skins for this exercise have come from New Zealand, because possums are a feral animal there.

Judy was in a hurry, had errands to do, is off to Western Australia with her husband, but I convinced her to sit down and have a cup of tea. The house is in uproar, dozens of work-in-progress projects strewn about, but the table was wonderfully bare and inviting. We soon changed that. On the way to the table, before she even got to the table, Judy spotted Gribblies. This is her name for the plastic cereal toys you used to get at the bottom of packets of Cornflakes. A long time ago. Cough. These Gribblies were lying about amongst bits of half-dead succulent and tiny stones in a dusty terrarium on the kitchen counter. She told me they were very valuable. We fished them out and while we drank our tea I lined them up in a circled wagon around the wooden vase in the middle of the table. The pokerwork vase itself (a bit like this) came from my Newtown friend David Haag, who’d found it in an op shop, the design mostly rubbed off. The dried flowers in the vase were everlastings. I told Judy that in Spring, parts of Western Australia are carpeted in these flowers, and the ones in the vase were grown in my back yard in honour of them. Judy is the sort of person who likes such details. She really liked the Gribblies. When she married, she brought her small box of Gribblies and added them to her husband’s bigger box of Gribblies. The Gribblies solemnly mingled together in holy matrimony. The marriage produced two children, and these children obliviously played with them, chewing on them, losing the tiny black snake out of the mouth of the tiny kookaburra.

Talk of collections moved on to a discussion of buttons. Judy said a button tin was one of the “sacred possessions of a woman”. I’m not willing to generalise but I will admit that this is true in my case. I ran and got out my grandmother’s button tin, which lives in the cabinet holding her treadle-powered Singer sewing machine. The round tin itself, which you can see there on the table hails from 1981, which, in the context of my grandmother’s long life, makes it quite “new”.  It celebrates the marriage of Lady Di and Prince Charles, son of the man who is, as it turns out, Not Dead.

Judy’s hands moved swiftly. These are war buttons, she said, grouping them together. I peered more closely. Gee. Yes. Buttons from army uniforms, and what looks like airforce uniforms, or are they all army? These are buttons from work shirts. Fancy buttons from coats from the 1930s. I went for the self-covered buttons. Mum was a dressmaker when I was little, and I enjoyed watching her cut a circle of fabric and use a special contraption to press them into something so neat and perfectly stretched. Judy wasn’t so into the covered buttons. Her Mum never used to do that. In all of this, my grandmother’s hands. Here are her hands at work. Here she is carefully sliding small buttons onto the shaft of a safety pin to keep them all together. Here she is wrapping a piece of wire around a finger. Here she is dropping a round plastic Tiddlywink into the collection because it is round and plastic and button-like. Here she is snipping the metal pieces out of the back of a bra because they might come in handy, later. She is here.

And there was a tiny glass jar with some white covered buttons in it and a tiny scrap of paper, hand written. A message in the bottle, written to the future. To her descendants. “Buttons from my Moroccan wedding dress”.

And then Judy and I confessed our love of picking things up out of the ground. A shard of willow pattern plate. A nice piece of green or blue glass. So I ran back to my study and brought forth the large jar labelled Blayney Road Common. I pick things up when I go walking with Bertie (and earlier with Taro, when she was still walking; her bones are now resting peacefully in the back yard). The jar had a bit of dirt in it still clinging to bits of metal and a whole bakelite light switch, so I grabbed a bit of newspaper off the pile to protect the table. Newspaper. Such an ordinary thing, but threatened. It will be quaint, in the not-too-distant future. Yellowed newspaper will be like other things of the past that nobody uses any more, like box Brownie cameras or  manual typewriters. Fairfax reporters are on strike. It’s important to fight, but we all know it’s over. Not for journalism itself, hopefully, but for newsprint. For piles of inked paper lying carelessly around houses, ubiquitous, used to wrap scraps or start fires. Still, today I have a house with a pile of newspapers in it, and I used a bit to protect the table that was passed on to us by Steve’s Mum. It’s a piece of light mid-century furniture. It pulls out to a longer version if there are more people to seat. Judy and I talked about how found bits of glass and ceramic are more interesting than gold. Gold may be beautiful but it doesn’t exercise our minds. This tiny bit of pink flower might have been a teacup that might have been used by a woman a hundred years ago. She might have taken sips of tea as she sewed buttons on her children’s coats.

What else is in the picture of my table? The tree through the window where our own possums – protected native animals, not allowed to surrender their skins to Aboriginal women who might like to make a cloak – spend their nights prowling for something to eat, things to do. They clatter across the roof at dusk and dawn. There are three of them. What looks to be a teenager and a mother with a joey riding on her back. I love their big eyes, their cute pink noses They are wrecking havoc in the ceiling cavity. They have to go, but that means another project on the to-do list that is already very long and doesn’t include stolen mornings over tea and a button collection. And on the wall there’s the cockroach painting created by my artist friend Karen Golland out of sequins and there are the little woven mats Steve and I bought in Peru? Bolivia? and the Country Women’s Association cookbook, a new one Mum gave me only last year, and the collection of ring-pulls from Mount Panorama telling the stories of wild weekends of beer and car races and a spider plant that I call Deb after my sister because she gave me the plant (or its ancestor) and there are more stories in that picture but this will have to do for now.

Judy and I admitted we were borderline hoarders and discussed the minimalist movement that is fighting the good fight against clutter. But I don’t see clutter. It’s only clutter if there are no stories attached. Until the stories have finally and fully leached out, I’m quite happy to live amongst these things.

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.

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.

 

Bilby time

Bilby
Bilby/Australian Geographic. Photo: Mitch Reardon.

It’s Easter again. I’ve been thinking about last Easter, when I’d just had my second chemo session, and was whiling away a bit of feeling-nasty time by Googling the medical effects of crucifixion. That searing time seems remote, now.

I’m also thinking about my friend Sue who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer around the same time as me. We went through treatment parallel with each other, in different Sydney hospitals, and finished up at around the same time. We were both sent on our way in remission. But now, just a few months later, Sue’s cancer has come back. She’s back in the chemo chair for another grueling round.

For me, it’s so far so good. Somehow I’ve managed to go from nothing to too-busy, like a tap that can’t just come out slow but is either off or at full gush.

I have been resurrected. I’ve got back into the groove of teaching, which I enjoy.

This time last year I was working on my Waste to Art entry; I’m entering again this year. This year’s theme is waste metal, and I’m back on the 1960s and ’70s ring pulls found on Mt Panorama. I’m still finding a few every time we go up there to walk Bertie. He goes hunting for Maccas scraps and I keep my eyes peeled for ring-pulls. I was going to arrange them on a flat board with little hooks, but I’ve decided to hang them in a mobile. They’ll be painted red and black on the front, with the dirt of Mt Panorama left to cling to the back. They’ll be representing carbon dioxide, one black carbon atom attached to two red oxygen atoms. I might or might not include a found toy car.

On Monday I’ll be heading out to Kandos to help Karen Golland plant pom poms on an empty block of land for Cementa. Oh, the fun! Must take hat and loads of sunscreen!

Anyway, bilbies. An Easter mascot for a country that has a complex relationship to bunnies. A country overrun by rabbits, endlessly working to eradicate them. Better to find a different symbol of fertility and new life. Easter bilbies are cute, almost rabbit like, make nice chocolates. But they haven’t quite taken off, have they? Supermarkets are chockers with rabbits and eggs. The Easter bilby is struggling, like so much of our native fauna.

***

I’m feeling the need to add my two cents’ worth about Belle Gibson and the Whole Pantry and the whole sorry story. I’ve done my share of 2am trawling around the Internet on the cancer trail. The trail starts straightforwardly enough on reputable support sites (like the excellent Ovarian Cancer Australia) and then goes off into personal stories (I couldn’t get enough personal stories, at one point) and then, unless you’re careful, you find yourself in the wild and woolly world of wishful thinking. YouTube is bristling with them, these advocates of what a fellow blogger calls fantasy based medicine. Over the past few days I’ve watched a series of YouTube clips – a regular video blog, or vlog –  made by a woman who rejected conventional treatment for breast cancer. She described the arguments she’d had with her oncologist, who told her  flatly that without aggressive treatment, she’d die. Still, this woman decided to go it alone and try to heal herself through diet. It didn’t work. To her credit, she kept vlogging as things got worse, and eventually admitted she’d gone down the wrong track. “I’m a cautionary tale,” she told her viewers. The last clip in the series was a tribute made by a friend in her honour. And then we have Belle Gibson. Penguin publishers, a variety of women’s magazines, the Apple company … all so “inspired” by the miraculous story of a diet-based recovery from cancer by a photogenic young woman that they neglect to do a bit of basic fact-checking. I’m glad Belle Gibson was eventually outed as a fraud – it appears she never had cancer at all – before her cookbook hit the shelves. I’m glad because people with cancer deserve as much reputable, responsible information as they can get.

In search of brain relief

Brain beanie/candypop creations/Etsy

I’m tired of being led by the nose by my brain. I think we’re going off in one direction, only to find we’re actually going in another, or around in circles. Or I’ll be somewhere and find that my brain has wandered off without me.

Meanwhile, and quite possibly related, my sleep patterns have gone down the toilet. I’m not getting enough when it’s dark, so I sleep for odd stretches in broad daylight.

I just read on Twitter that the human brain runs on about 12 watts. I think mine’s working on about 3 watts, but those three watts are doing enough to cause trouble. I can feel the brain cells jiggling; whether this jiggling is productive or not, I can’t yet tell.

For better or worse, today my brain has been exercised by the following:

      • A video about how to make fondant icing for cupcakes. This relates to a fundraising Afternoon Teal I’ll be hosting in February.
      • The Planning and Assessment Commission’s approval of a dirty great open cut coal mine on the Liverpool Plains, some of the most productive farming land in the country. This mine will dig up to 10 million tonnes of coal a year for 30 years. This is deeply crazy stuff. To have any hope of heading off a disastrous rise in temperature, we need to keep remaining fossil fuels in the ground. But the PAC’s report simply weighs up pros and cons as if half a century of climate science simply didn’t exist.
      • Interesting information, over a lunchtime chat, about some taxidermied local animals up at the big old Catholic school on the hill behind our place. The stuffed animals have been looking out of their glass cabinets at generations of uniformed schoolboys coming and going. I’m wondering if it might be possible to give these creatures a weekend outing, to participate in an exhibition of 200 plants and animals that I’m plotting …
      • A car that has a yarnbomb-style all-over coat made by near neighbour Steph Luke. When I took the wigs and hat she’d loaned me to get through last year’s chemo baldness, I found her in the middle of crocheting some additional touches. There are certain plans for this car. Stay tuned.
      • How to attach ring pulls to a sheet of translucent perspex for the coming Waste to Art exhibition. Answer: little clear hooks. There’ll be a mass of these on the translucent sheet representing carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere.

 

Mt Panorama ring pull

I’m still off coffee, by the way. But lots of tea. A friend suggested today that I stop drinking caffeinated tea if I want to get any sleep. This thought makes me want to curl up and not bother to go on. So probably not a great idea right now.