Category Archives: galahs

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.

Cockatoos, mushrooms and feral children

Crafty mushrooms in a quiet moment, Kandos Community Hall.

Crafty mushrooms in a quiet moment, Kandos Community Hall.

Yesterday I spent three hours companionably in the company of crocheted, knitted and otherwise crafted mushrooms. They were poked into a mesh bed, and under the mesh, it was a tangle of white string that made me think of neurons in trouble – the sort of image used to show to illustrate the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. The mushrooms were made during a community craft workshop led by Liz Day, and they were part of the Cementa 15 contemporary art festival in Kandos.

The tangled network below the mesh represented what really goes on in in nature. Plants talk to each other via the fungus internet.

I was scheduled to mind these mushrooms for three hours from 1pm to 4pm yesterday afternoon. Before I headed off to the community hall for my shift I picked up a Cementa 15 counted cross-stitch kit. I imagined sitting quietly beside the mushrooms, stitching contemplatively, nodding or chatting to the visitors coming through.

But when I got there it was all as noisy as a PCYC hall in full swing, with children shouting, people shouting at the shouting children and lots of other colour and movement. This was art outside the “white cube” of the art gallery. This was art in amongst it. Would it hold up to the thrashing? My job was to keep the kids off and out of the mushrooms. Two feral children (where the hell were the parents?) spent the afternoon going near, near, near, over, over, around, around but not quite touching. Apparently they’d been there all morning, too. They’d taken up residence near the mushrooms. This was their spot for the day. In a faintly aggressive manner they offered visitors wrapped Starburst lollies. (Lucky they were wrapped, because the fingers were grubby.) Some accepted the gift, others frowned. Eventually the kids spilled half a bottle of no-name Cola over the wooden floor and were sent out.

Merciful quietness.

One of them came back, hovering in the doorway. “Out!” I said, having had more than enough. But he had in his hand a fragrant double delight rose, obviously pinched from a nearby garden, which he handed to me. So I took the rose and let him walk quietly across the floor to the back door.

The room at the back of the hall also contained Christine McMillan‘s great big pile firewood. It looked like an ordinary woodpile except that each piece was nice and smooth on one side, showing off the grain. Men in particular liked this one. Women gravitated towards the mushrooms. For whatever reason – nature or nurture or an interesting combo – that’s what I observed.

There was a robot down the far end of the room that wasn’t working. “Robot’s off,” I’d say as people entered. This box, made out of pallets, the shape of a tardis or phone box, stood silently, unmoving. Some people, having read that it was supposed to follow you around, spent time with it, doing hopeful antics around it. But it stood there, blankly, offering nothing.

Before that, my friend Jacqui and I sat on a pew in the little stone church on the other corner to experience Jason Wing‘s sound installation. The sound was of cockatoos and other birds recorded in Blacktown and Kandos. The piece related to how stolen Aboriginal children and their parents would try to communicate with each other using bird sounds, because the missionaries forbade them to use their own languages. The screeching got louder and louder until we were all completely absorbed in this sound and then, as it tailed off, you heard the monotonous raspy cries of baby birds calling for food, and the beautiful carolling of magpies. Cockatoos speak directly to my soul.  “My true church”, I scribbled in pencil as I listened. I looked at the empty wooden holder for HYMNS and listened to the hymns of this country.

And then, after the cockatoos and the mushrooms and feral children, I went back to Karen‘s pom poms planted in the vacant block with the majestic escarpment behind them. Leanne, who lives in the house opposite, had composed a poem about them. She read it out so I could record it on my phone. As she finished reading, a small flock of parrots flew across the sky.


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.

Going to look at the house

It’s 10.13am. In half an hour Anna is coming to get me. A and M are facilitating this shift for me. They are wonderful. Last night I walked down Cascade Street to Sherman Ave in the pitch dark thinking, “This is what it’ll be like to be out and about in Katoomba at night.” No-one else was out. It was deeply black and silent, lights on in houses, that’s where people stay.

M. served up something called laverbread featuring seaweed and oats. It was gritty. We listened to our own and other people’s teeth crunching down on black sand.


Later, in Blues Cafe, with blues music playing
I just saw the inside of my house beside the bush and I saw around the back and there on top of the Hills Hoist was a GALAH. A wooden galah wind-thing. When the wind goes, the wings spin. The air was still, and the two wings were down. But there it was, the house of my dreams, COMPLETE WITH GALAH.

The house was set up for children. There’s a wooden barrier into the kitchen. There’s a metal grate around the fire. There’s a little swing-set out the back.

Deborah, the Ray White R/E agent, is a really nice person. Anna and I were innocents. We didn’t know what questions to ask, how we should be proceeding. I made it instantly clear that I wanted this house and no other. Deborah suggested I look around, go to other R/E agents. Which was nice of her.

Anna and I did a walk to Minnihaha Falls where we’d walked once before and taken photos, stripped down to our knickers. The water came crashing down the falls. The sky a deep blue. White trunks of trees against deep blue sky.

I just thought of an ironing board. I have enough room for an ironing board. The ironing board can be permanently set up. This just makes me want to cry. And there’s a linen cupboard. Need I say more? It is too, too much.

I want to go to Katoomba

8.30am, bedroom, Cleveland Street, at my fabbo big old desk.

Now what can I say? I want to go to Katoomba, live in a pink cottage with galah, volkswagen and palm tree motifs in stained glass throughout. To fund this life, I want to be a freelance writer with a super-duper computer.

I love Newtown to pieces but I think I’ve done Newtown. Katoomba is very colonised by alternative lifestylers and I want to be one. I need to go up to Katoomba, up to the galahs.

Just went and discussed this latest idea with Lisa. We gabbled about how we both have a storng feeling of needing to move on.

PMT art exhibition in just a few days’ time. I took my hands right off it, and it has flourished. Funny that.

I saw a cat at the pet shop yesterday in a cafe. She miaowed at me, talking directly to me: “Hey! You! Get me out of this cafe! Take me home!” I had an instant connection with her. One of those dark brown/black cats with flecks of ginger and gold all over. I really wanted her. Have to be loyal to Prince. Prince and I have a good relationship at the moment, since I came back from Katoomba and felt very happy to see him.