Category Archives: Taro

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.

Twenty things

1. This morning Kirsty Lewin and Marcus and Enya the dog and I went off on a bike ride. Kirsty and I on bikes; Marcus on the back of Kirsty’s bike in his own baby seat and Enya either running along beside us or trotting at the end of her leash which was in turn looped over Kirsty’s handlebar. I felt sorry for Bertie, who was missing out on this experience on account of being completely hopeless.
2. Lorikeets in Perth: now pest declared. Last week (or was it the week before?) I was walking up the big main driveway at Curtin University, once the WA Institute of Technology, and noticed all the lorikeets. Things felt different. There was still that distinctive pine tree smell that will always make me think of my earliest days at WAIT in 1981. WAIT was built on the site of a pine plantation in the 1960s. There are still some tall plantation-era pines but not as many, the smell not as strong. Gardens were lush, plantings mature. That’s not how it was in 1981. And there were none of these lorikeets. You expect some things to stay the same, even if buildings and cars and fashions change. You expect to come back to the same smells, the same air, the same background of bird call. That’s what it’s like around Carnarvon, up on Brown’s Range, listening to the chiming wedgebills, aka Did y Get Drunks. Superficial things change but that particular birdcall, that red dirt, those seed pods on the acacia bushes, strip away the years or make them irrelevant. But Perth seemed to have shifted in some organic, fundamental way. The lorikeets were wrong. When I got back to Bathurst, I looked up the lorikeets and yes, they are strictly native to the eastern states. They are now taking over Perth, the result of an original flock kept near the University of Western Australia. Now they’re multiplying exponentially, eating grapes out of the vineyards, and they have been declared a Pest.
3. Back here in Bathurst, I find that the Mitchell Batteries man is studying to be a nurse.
4. The Mitchell Batteries man disagreed with the academic from some American university or other, interviewed on ABC Radio National’s Counterpoint program, who said the Internet was creating the dumbest generation ever. The Mitchell Batteries man, who sold me a $115 battery for the Subaru Outback, said the Internet enabled him to work by day and study at night. He was testing the battery by playing the radio; that’s how we both came to be listening to Counterpoint. He had a yellow trolley that he sat before the bonnet of the car. This trolley brought the new battery and received the old battery.
5. Still on the Subaru Outback: After I’d replaced the battery (this was yesterday), I took it to the Aquarius car wash on Durham Street. I heard something crunch but dismissed it. I enjoyed being soaped up and rinsed off and blow dried from within the comfort of my car. I drove home, came inside the house and looked back out the window to admire the clean car. I noticed the side panel was off the car. I made a mental connection with the crunching sound. I drove back to the carwash. Another car was just going into the bay, too late for me to do anything. I stood beside the plastic window and peered in, and there was the panel lying on the ground to the left of the bay. It was covered in suds. I had to wait until the car in there had finished. An automatic car wash bay is a no-go zone for an unarmoured human. A woman was waiting to drive her car in. I was standing there in front of the bay, peering in. I realised I was behaving oddly – standing carless beside an automatic car wash bay. I told the woman who was waiting what I was doing. I had to approach her car, and as I did so, she politely wound her window down.
6. I made Steve a DSB (drawstring bag) for his Nikon camera battery but it was about two centimetres too short for the job. So now I need to go back to the drawing board. I enjoyed making the DSB from a pattern I’d found on the Internet.
7. Bruce Fell, a colleague at Charles Sturt University, expressed sentiments similar to the academic from some American university or other at a seminar the other day. I such people a careful hearing but I secretly think they’re just old people who don’t want to update. They are resentful about the train slipping away from them; they don’t want to get on the train.
8. Bruce criticises the Internet from the Left; the American academic, I presume, was criticising from the Right. Bruce said he was concerned about not just the Internet but the whole use of social media by young people. They were online or staring at screens when they needed to be out in the real world, walking upon the earth. Bruce said there was an environmental disaster looming but young people who were entranced by technology were not going to bother acting to save the planet because they’d never physically engaged with it. They weren’t noticing the seasons; they were looking at little screens. In discussion time, I defended the new technological age. I agreed that we should be out walking the earth but said I also loved Google and Street View and Lolcats and Second Life and the ability to edit video in my own room and publish it on YouTube. Bruce said, why is it so good that everyone can publish on YouTube? Look at all the rubbish on it!
9. ABC Radio National has axed the Media Report, the Religion Report, Street Stories and Radio Eye. I read somewhere that this was all about relating to a newer Internet-focused generation and that shows like the Media Report and the Religion Report appealed to the over-50s and therefore not worth supporting. It’s terrifying when you read that appeal to the over-50s is in itself enough to render a thing obsolete. I’ll be there myself in five years’ time. Bruce might argue that the axing of the Media Report and the Religion Report are motivated by the same digital media forces taking over young people’s lives.
10. Just saw Burn After Reading. I can’t rave long or hard enough. The Coen brothers are the best. I love George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and even – now – Brad Pitt.
11. It’s almost 9pm. We went to the 6.40pm screening at the Metro Cinema after scoffing a pepper steak and veges so we’d be there on time. We got there just in time for the opening credits.
12. The stock market has gone to hell in a hand basket.

13. I write this to the sound of Taro snoring on the carpet behind me. She smells of wet dog. Steve and Rosemary took Bertie, Taro and Jasper to the river for a swim while I went on gardening and starting the cooking so we’d get to the movie on time.
14. I’ve been yanking out couch grass.
15. The two vege garden beds are empty and waiting. Empty except for some valiant sage that kept on keeping on regardless of drought and frost. I dug out the beginnings of sunflower seedlings. The sunflower from two summers back had produced seeds and they’d fallen to the ground and now they were going to grow into a new sunflower crop but I dug them out because I was taking a take-no-prisoners approach (except for the sage).
16. I notice that the potted strawberries have survived absolute neglect and the tulips have struggled to put out a warped flower but the geraniums are utterly dead.
17. The succulents in the front garden are flowering in orange and purple. These pigfaces (narrow gauge) have been green and healthy for well over a year; only now are they doing the flowering thing.
18. Kirsty and I rode along the bottom of Mt Panorama, along Boundary Road, through some open land where people camp, have sex, take drugs and light fires, then through a housing commission area and back on to Browning Street. I turned left at William Street and Kirsty, Marcus and Enya turned right.
19. At Boundary Road an enormous kangaroo was standing up on its hind legs looking at us. Enya spotted and and gave chase. Kirsty screamed at Enya.
20. For my twentieth thing, I’ll give an update on the renos. Everything has ground to a halt, but the work is not finished and we have not moved in. I’m amazed that Steve is not going nuts about this the way I am. I’m completely over it. It’s been a year now, and that’s enough for me. We need to have a retaining wall built and some pavers laid. After that, we can have the floors sanded and polished (or oiled) and only then can we officially move in with the furniture and everything, and only then can I move in to my new office and start work on this room, which will become the guest bedroom. And we’re buying and installing an awning, but the awning guys are going to want a flat paved area to work on so the real snag with everything is the laying of the paving/building of retaining wall. After this, I’ll have done renovating for this lifetime. I don’t ever need to do this again.

Getting Taro out of the river

Today I took the dogs to the river. Taro and Bertie. Yes, somewhere back there over the last two or three months, we acquired a new dog by the name of Taro Nusa. She’s a white Labrador, eleven years old and desperately in love with water. She’s addicted to it. I lifted the hatch at the back of the dark green Subaru Outback and they jumped in. Off we went, to their favourite place in all the world. I love the way they burst from the car into the landscape and immediately start engaging with it with all their senses, leaving donations of bodily wastes. Off down the dirt track. The mudpond on the track is now very thick, like pea soup. It’s been drying out. The first time Taro got involved, it was water, the second time thin mud and this time, thick mud. But to her, it was still a form of water. She dove in and immediately had brown mud socks and a brown mud nose. I had to haul her out by her thick red leather collar. Once she was out of the mud, she remembered the even more spectacular body of water that lay before her. The Macquarie River! Off she went, running down the slope, splash, she’s in without a backward glance. I threw a stick for Bertie, worrying about Taro. She won’t get out of the water and it’s quite possible that one day she’ll take off down the Macquarie river, out of sight, and sink somewhere without trace. She’s an old, plump, slightly arthritic dog and she completely forgets this when she’s in the water. I threw Bertie’s sticks mechanically and he went and retrieved them. Eventually, worried that Taro would overdo it and drown or disappear, I took my sneakers and socks off and my jeans and threw them on the ground next to the calico bag with Girrawaa printed on it (a craft project of the prisoners of the local jail) and went in after Taro. I was in my knickers, blue Kathmandu t-shirt, now old and shapeless, given to me by Lisa years ago and bare feet. The pebbles were smooth under my feet but very hard and slightly slimy. Hard to walk. But not deep enough to swim. I went in to waist height, coming round the bend in the river, looking ahead, no sign of Taro. Bertie followed me, prancing around and having fun, aware, I’m sure, that we were looking for Taro. The soles of my feet were sore, the water cold. There she was in the distance, just a head out of the water, a long way down the river. I called in my high-pitched calling-Taro shriek and she turned and swam back. Good girl. I watched her swim back. She came right up to me. I dragged her out of the water by her red leather collar. She was woofing and struggling a little bit – obsessed by the water, wanting to stay in forever – but I marshalled all my strength and dragged her 31 sodden kilos out of the water. Probably 35 kilos with all the water in her thick fur. I kept a grip on her collar as I picked my way over the rocks and gravel to my clothes. My feet aren’t very hardy. I was making a list of how to do this properly next time: wear bathers under my clothes so I can fetch Taro properly attired; take leash so I can clip her on and drag her easily; and take my pink plastic thongs for underwater rock-walking, to save my feet.