Category Archives: Steve

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.

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 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 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 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 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!

Ring pulls, rabbit knees and cream of tartar

Larissas_cushion_aI’ve finally finished Larissa’s cushion: a zebra finch in the middle (she’s doing a PhD on animal personality); her four kelpies around the edges with decorative guppies (Larissa has also studied the personality of guppies). All rendered in Hobbytex. The blue and red edging is old bias binding tape found in a sewing box inherited from her paternal grandmother. That’s one for the Completion files. Completion feels good.

And there were rich pickings on the ring pull fields today. I went up to the top of Mount Panorama late this afternoon. It was all grey and gloomy. The earth was damp with fungi rising. Some hoons had been through, leaving two great circular patches of rough dirt. The grinding motion of the tyres had turned over the top centimetre or two of topsoil, bringing long-buried ring-pulls to the surface. They lay there in the poor light, ripe for the picking. I felt like one of those birds that follow tractors, going for the worms.

I struggled with my bad right knee. I bent down and rubbed at it and tried to ease the kneecap into the right spot. That seemed to help. I told Steve about the knee book I’m reading. It’s the memoir of a man who buggered his knees cycling up hills and eventually found his own way to a cure. His thesis is that a lot of light movement is better for bad knees than heavy intermittent workouts to build up the quadriceps. To support this he quotes a study in which three sets of teen rabbits were treated for bad knees in different ways. (The rabbits did not show up in the lab with bad knees; they were given them. Under anaesthetic, they each had small holes drilled directly

Rabbit knees

into the cartilage.) When they woke up from their operations, the rabbits were either in a plaster cast (immobilisation) or rigged up in a contraption that lightly, continuously, bent and unbent their bad knees. A third group was given heavy, intermittent exercise (simulating a regular workout at the gym). The group that had their knees gently bent and unbent for them did a lot better than the other two.1 This was discovered by killing all of them and pulling apart their tiny knees to examine the rates of healing of the cartilage. I told Steve about this tragedy and he said, “Well, you want good knees”, as if to say, “To make an omelette you have  to break eggs.” Or: “Cartilage research has its costs and benefits.”

Earlier in the day, I rested my knee on the coffee table as I spoke to my old school friend, Tricia Fong. She asked what the thing with the green dresses was all about. Oh yes, the Invisible Bodies performance, only a week ago but now rapidly receding in my mind. I told her about it, and she said the teal dresses had made her think of the fund-raising stalls we’d had in primary school. For one of these, Mum had made tiny teal dresses for Barbie dolls. These were simple affairs involving a bit of shirring over the ample plastic bust creating a gathered skirt. I said I couldn’t remember this at all, but as I said it, the hint of a possible memory began to awaken. These are little gifts,  bits of my own life given back to me. Which brought us around to toffees, also sold on these stalls, which I do remember. I used to love making them. Tricia said she remembered how, at my house, we added a pinch of cream of tartar, but that her own mother didn’t have any in the house and toffees made there weren’t as good. So after our phone call I went on a cream of tartar research mission. Cream of tartar is the acidic crystalline substance that spontaneously forms during wine making. In cooking it can stabilise whipped egg white and it prevents crystalisation in toffee. Yes. Our cake-stall toffees were the clearest, purest red, like thick glass.


1. Salter, R. B., Simmonds, D. F., Malcolm, B. W., Rumble, E. J., MacMichael, D., & Clements, N. D. (1980). The biological effect of continuous passive motion on the healing of full-thickness defects in articular cartilage. An experimental investigation in the rabbit. The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, 62(8), 1232-1251.

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:


Living in a tiny house

It was dark and I was lying flat on my back on a mattress in a moving van. Out of the window, all I could see was the dark sky, and power lines and the tops of trees. The van was a camper van and we were being transported through the streets of Melbourne to an address in Coburg. It was mysterious and tiny. It was a capsule for living in, going camping in, sleeping in.


Cabin No. 4 at the holiday park in Port Campbell, Victoria.

Steve and I got back from our two-week holiday along the Great Ocean Road on Sunday. Until the last three nights in Melbourne, where we had urban experiences, we were camping in a tent and living in holiday cabins. All tiny houses. Tiny houses are, like kale and beards, a Thing. You can see them in hipster corners of the Internet in all their Tiny stylishness. Really, they’re just another riff on cubby house or caravan, but now they’re being promoted as a way to live lightly on this earth, not taking up too much space. Instead of a giant McMansion that you have to burn truckloads of coal to heat and cool, you can live in a mini-home that you can heat with a candle and cool with an icy pole.

As a short person, I love them.

If you take your eyes off it, it grows.

If you take your eyes off it, it grows.

I love the way everything in a caravan or holiday cabin is in easy reach. Here, in my own house, I have to get up on a stepladder to reach the blender. The sink and kitchen benches are just a tiny bit too high, making me feel like a toddler at a hand basin. My face is at the very bottom of the bathroom mirror. Even my pot plant, getting in on the act, has gone for giantism, nearly reaching the extra-high ceiling that everyone admires (they admire both the ceiling and the pot-plant, although some find the plant a bit scary). When we book into holiday parks, I’m usually hoping they’ve got a small ’70s caravan out the back that we can have, preferably complete with orange and brown curtains. When I was five we lived our first months in Carnarvon at Baxter’s caravan park. Mum set up her sewing machine in that tiny space. Everyone had an annexe. A lot of people lived there permanently.

As I walked along the beach at Blanket Bay in the Great Otway National Park on the Great Ocean Road, I crunched over some tiny homes. They were tiny grey shells, the shape of a soft-serve ice cream, with tiny snails in them. They inhabited shallow pools of sea water on the rocks. They moved slowly from here to there, sucking at the sand on the bottom, creating beautiful patterned trails, some ended forever by my Goretex boot. Crunch. Sorry.

As I walked along the beach, I scribbled cosmic thoughts on a scrap of lined paper:

The universe unravels and knits something else.

Too, too, too beautiful! I almost don’t want to see it. I’m not alone. I’m not homeless. I’m held in the universe.

The ocean is working as hard as it ever was. I’m Alive. This moment is life. There’s no break between rock and limpet.

There are just outbreaks of energy. “Just.” Stars explode. Just another outbreak of energy. There is no illness, no death. Just a suck back, like a wave, breathing out, crashing against the shore.

Later, back in the tent, I was reading my iPhone 4 (reception was surprisingly good) and came across an article about the work of young physicist Jeremy England, who has come up with a theory about the origin of life being in the dissipation of energy, and how the theory of dissipation applies to living and non-living things. The important thing is not “life” as such, but how systems cope with energy. As usual, I had that fabulous feeling of almost-but-not-quiteness I get around ideas that feel right but about which I know next to nothing.

But I do think that we “have” this planet earth in the same way as the blue periwinkle “has” its tiny shell home. The periwinkle both has a home and is its home, made of stuff that is living and non-living. And it is fragile. Just like our planet, a tiny home in a vast universe.