Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why it's great to see him go....

I grew up in rural Australia, in conservative country. A few months before I met the waiter, aged 18, I voted for Malcolm Fraser and I still, looking at the mettle of the man now, do not particularly regret that. It was John Howard's first rise to prominence, when I shared a house with students of politics in Melbourne in 1987 that forever opened my eyes to the shortsightedness that became the calling card of the recent Liberal party in Australia. Perhaps I am just a socialist to the core, I make no apologies, I believe that one is simply born that way, but I am not interested in what John Howard's government did for the individual (or claimed to have done), I am interested in what it means to be an Australian in a country run under his regime. While living in the UK in 1998-1999 and discussing the direction in which Australia headed I found myself deeply ashamed. That was the time of Pauline Hanson and it was clear that Howard was taking advantage of and encouraging her racism to advance his own political mandate.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I'm back!

It might sound a little corny to say that I just had the best holiday of my life but there you have it.

Tonight my skin is browner than it as been for over 19 years (since Mexico 1987/88) I haven't yet washed the southern salt from my hair as keeping it there might just somehow make the holiday last that moment longer. I won't lie that I am not tempted to bore you with a blow by blow account of every perfect moment in the last week but instead I will just give you these disjointed sentences.

Friends are wonderful. Cute old ramsackle hotels are the right place to stay between friends houses. The beaches in Northern NSW are the absolute best in the world. I want to move down there. I like fishing and I adore headlands. While I was baking in the sun and swimming in the ocean SS was winning the most improved skier award at his school snowy mountains trip and finally finding a sport he loves. I can never spend enough time with S.

Thats's about it...for the moment.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Life is a carnival isn't it?

I want to type, "I have a new husband", I mean you would swear that I do.

We met one morning in the kitchen right next to the breakfast bar and with the fruitbowl at our elbows. If I tell you there was a 'moment' then that wouldn't really explain a thing. Couples who have been together for 20 years don't have 'moments' do they? No, we have huge unfathomable crisis. We lurch from emotion to emotion with the swoops of a rollercoaster. We don't slow at all at the rise and the fall, but at the absolute lowest point and right there at the very top, we just stop....

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tangled webs

Emotion eats at the flesh of my lungs. I can't breathe because breathing means I am alive and it seems I am not so sure about that anymore.

If you had to open it, that pandora's box of twenty years of things that no-one ever said, would you do it? Would you at least take a peek to see if everything was in there still or would you just fling it open on the floor in front of him for careful mutual inspection?

I did neither, or we did both, I can't see through the tangled webs right now to tell you either or neither or nothing at all. Does it matter either way? It isn't always the road that you take, it isn't always the journey, sometimes, just sometimes, it IS the destination. Sometimes you just have to get there any way you can.

I think we are swimming. Sometimes, tired, he reaches to me to hold him up and other times it's me floundering and calling for his help. Through fog we glimpse the other side we take heart and with new vigour we strive against the current and then it's gone again. I wonder about going back to where we were but that shoreline seems to be long gone, flooded perhaps or just swamped by waves from all that frantic kicking?

What am I saying? My marriage is like the Mississippi in flood, or something mutually magnanimous...?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Autumn Afternoon

There is something about the afternoon light in autumn. I love the feel of winter on the edge of the breeze, like a promise of warm roast dinners and mugs of steaming hot milo. But there is something else too, the dark creeping up on you early and a new quietness as people withdraw inside their homes that bit sooner each day leaving behind a still, sad loneliness that reaches deep inside. It makes me want to cook and bustle in the kitchen, make noise and light that will reach it's fingers out of my windows and fill that cold sky, streaked with lonely afternoon bird calls, with warmth and music and human energy.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Moment.

The 4WD was big and new and shiny, you know the kind, one that has never left the bitumen and probably never will. I was sitting at the table in the park while S slept. I was still sipping my second beer while he had downed his in the usual minimal number of gulps. The view in front of me was laid out in a patchwork of greens and blues; trees, fields, towns and forests all laid out like a checkered tablecloth leading out to sea. I was allowing myself to relax and soak it all in when the vehicle turned off the road and rumbled urgently past me. Doors slammed and the sound of childen laughing rang across the bright green grass. The childen ran past me, laughing, wrestling. A boy of about twelve, a girl of ten or so, their mother herding them, camera in hand.
"Get over by that tree." She ordered, and they laughed, obliging, caught up in their own happiness and in the game they played. "No, not there! By the side, off to one side." The children tussled again, the boy pushed his sister, laughing, she pushed him back, then he hugged her and the camera clicked. Two laughing faces framed by pink frangipani flowers on one side and the distant carpet of the greens hills fading into the ocean on the other. Perfect.
The children ran back past me and I glanced up to catch the mother's eye. She shook her head, flustered, tired out by their energy and volume. I smiled. I wanted to say, "Stop! Enjoy this moment. In two years those children won't run and laugh like that. They will scowl at you when you ask for their photo if they even deign to sit in a car with you on a Sunday afternoon in the first place." But I just smiled. And she herded them back into the car and in a spin of rubber on the gravel they were gone. Children's laughter fading into the exhaust fumes of an oversized 4WD leaving a hurry on a Sunday afternoon.

I am glad they have the photo.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

April 1973 - AM

Like in any home almost anywhere in the world the kitchen was the life of the house. In the centre of the narrow room, under the windows, was the ‘Everhot’ slow combustion stove. I can still hear the creak of the firebox door, and my memory can feel the emanating heat, in summer, in winter, early in the morning and late at night, the constant unwavering soul of our home.

Until I was about thirteen I was awoken every morning to the sound of my father chopping kindling to stoke up the fire. I didn’t have a bedroom; instead I slept in the ‘sleepout’, which was basically an enclosed verandah. It had a door that opened onto stairs leading into the side garden. Out there the lemon tree, the orange tree, the peach trees and the plum crowded against the louvered southern wall. The door was weathered though and rather than strain it against the torn green linoleum to force it to a shuddering close each night, it was just left open. As I woke each morning to the sharp splintering sounds of my father’s axe work the open door afforded me a view of the woodheap and the child’s timber and chain swing alongside it. Of the wattle trees and the ironbark silhouetted against the white early dawn of the western sky. I would lie there as my eyes gained focus gazing at those dancing leaves. I saw them filled with creatures and faces. Laughing dancing girls and stern pipe smoking grandfathers. Yapping excited fox terriers and proud contented cats. In centre, facing me, cross-legged I saw an aboriginal man, holding his didgeridoo and staring hard into my face as he made his silent tribute to the beginning of the day.

All this as I listened to the firebox-ready wood crash and tumble into the woodbox by the back door, then the squeak of the firebox door and the scrape of the stoking tool as my father searched for still-warm embers amongst the ash and then laid out a few torn sheets of newspaper with the splintery tinder over it. In moments I would hear the roar and crackle of flames followed by the decisive slam of the firebox door as my father deemed his task as complete, a job well done.

It was wise to wait for a moment until the kettle was boiled before throwing on the warmest clothes I could find. Scrabbling through my ‘lowboy’ for any ill-fitting hand-me-downs from my three siblings and five cousins, the legacy of being the youngest in the generation. It is well that I was not concerned with fashion then, as I must have looked quite lost and unkempt. I rarely wore shoes, so I would run to the warmth of the kitchen before my hardened little feet had time to feel the cold.

Up above the high cupboard was where the ‘Milo’ was kept and I was allowed two teaspoons of the malt chocolate mix in hot water, one sugar and milk if we had any. If not, I would top it with tablespoons of lumpy powdered milk that became a treat in itself, sweet chewy globs of milky goodness. I would have to hide to eat that though, sneak out to the cold front verandah where my mother could not snap at me for being wasteful and greedy. “When I was a child.” Her voice would drone on endlessly.

We lived in the same house that my mother had grown up in. She reminded us every single day how lucky we were to live in such comfort, in a house with running water and painted walls. With fresh bread delivered twice weekly instead of damper made on weevil infested flour, with an actual kerosene refrigerator instead of the air-cooled ‘meatsafe’. According to my mother, everything was better when she was a child. Living on corned beef and unsweetened cocoa, believing that cheese was a treat as wonderful as chocolate and teeth could only be cleaned properly with charcoal was some form of utopia that she seemed to be forever guilty of depriving her children of. Meanwhile I spent my every waking moment straining to hear the sound of a vehicle or an aeroplane, dreaming of what it would be like to have a neighbour that lived closer than 10 miles away or a shop that was closer than sixty miles away. Civilisation called to me like some shining beacon in the far distance, on those cold mornings around the stove in that tiny kitchen my utopia was a land of homogenised milk in a bottle instead of manure laced in a bucket; of electric lights and doors that closed; and most of all of other people. It seemed that even then, my mother’s idea and my idea of the way life should be was somewhat different.

After I had swallowed down the last sweet chocolaty drops of my morning Milo and my mother and father were leaning, smoking cigarettes over the stove and sipping their hot tea I would carefully pour a cup for my Grandmother. She had a favourite cup and saucer and she drank her tea white with none. My feet would feel their way across the wide worn cypress pine floorboards through the dining room across the gold linoleum in the sunroom and to her door.

“Good morning Sunshine” she would say as she unhooked her sliding door and let me in. I loved the mornings in my Grandmother’s room. The “His Master’s Voice” radio and her dressing table top drawer filled with exotic earrings and untouchable pills. My cousin took one once. I always imagine it was one of the little red ones. They bundled her into the car and rushed her to the hospital. An hour and a half of stressful dirt road driving all the way to town. I assume they pumped her stomach when they got her there because she lived to climb the rafters in the shed another day and swallow some strychnine so that the whole panicky process could be repeated. Another survival to add to the family story archive, told and retold until nobody can remember exactly how the original story transpired.

As she drank her tea my Grandmother would tell me stories. Answer my questions about her childhood in Scotland and traveling to Australia by ship to grow up in Brisbane. She would allow me to gaze at my reflection in her magnifying mirror so I could imagine what I might look like when I was all grown up. So there I would be, perched on my grandmother’s bed, with my mismatched hand-me-down clothes, my chocolate ringed mouth, excruciatingly painful screw on drop earrings reflected in that mirror into the future while I thought about Scotland, castle, cities and ships. A world away from the morning bellow of the cattle in the yards, waiting to be fed and milked and drafted in a ritual that comforted and infuriated me all at once.

Grandma would shoo me away while she got dressed for her day and I would race across to the yards with the others. Most mornings I rummaged through the old shoe box by the back stairs, hoping against hope that my feet may have grown enough during the night that one of the pairs of dusty old riding boots might fit me. My mother would snap at me in her panicked voice to check for red-back spiders before I put my feet into danger. So I would use my hand to check as she insisted. That logic still baffles me? I never found a red-back and those boots never did fit, so I would stay barefoot, running across the sharp spiky dry grass as fast as I could so it wouldn’t have the chance to hurt my feet.

The yards were warm with animal respiration and busy as we worked, mixing grains, filling troughs with water and feed drums with hay. Mucking out the bull stalls, milking, letting calves in and out and. It was all hands on deck and conversation was king as we performed our tasks by habit. An hour or so of teamwork every morning and evening without fail. Back at the house Grandma would have a cooked breakfast ready on the table when we returned. We always came into the house through the kitchen, leaving boots outside or scraping the manure from our feet. The kitchen would be warm and filled with the smells of cooking as we crowded through to the bathroom to wash our hands and feet then quickly dress in slightly better clothes for school.

I never remember having to rush yet even after that leisurely two-course breakfast every morning where we delved into the cornflakes for the hidden toy and argued over how many omelettes we each had eaten, we seemed to have time to burn. We helped Grandma clear the table and wash up. Four kids fighting over who was wiping and who was putting away and my brother gleefully flicking me on the bottom with the wet teatowel. The drive to school was eleven miles. We always drove seven but my parents took it in turns with another family to drive the last five. So we met at the “Black Gate”, a gate thus named after it began its life soaked in Linseed oil but had long since grayed in the weather and the sun. We played hopscotch in the sand there as we waited for the other family and then for our parents to stop talking about the weather and the government and the price of fuel.


Then it was time for another day of school.... I hope you have enjoyed waking up with me on some unremarkable day in 1973?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Dad

It is twenty years today since my father died. Well since I found out anyway, he died sometime during the early hours of the morning.

The last time I spoke to him I called him from a phone box somewhere on the Southern NSW or Northern Victorian coast. I don't remember where we were or how long before he died it was. Perhaps 3 weeks or a month. That might sound odd now, that I would speak to him so seldom but with communication not so readily available then, as it is now, that was just normal for our family.

I remember he told me he was giving up smoking and that he had had a cancerous spot cut out from near his eye. "Give up smoking Love" he implored. It took me another ten years but I did it in the end. So there is some symmetry for me in today isn't there? It's hard to believe I can measure these huge milestones in my life in decades now and in a strange way realising that it is 10 years since I stopped smoking makes it seem less time since I lost my father. Those first 10 years went mind numbingly slower than the second, such is the age induced speeding up of time I suppose?

My husband went fishing on a friend's boat last night. Boat fishing always makes me miss my father most keenly. He would have loved coming to visit us here on the coast and going out fishing with us. He always dreamt that in his retirement he would be able to do these things. In the end his retirement was only 1 year long. He died aged 61. I feel ripped off, my kids feel ripped off, I think he was ripped off....Dying sucks.

I haven't spoken to my mother or my siblings about my father yet today. I suppose I should and yet my relationship with him was different from theirs. So sometimes talking to them about him takes him away from me and I resent that. I am my father's daughter. As a way of abusing me my mother thinks she is putting me down when she reiterates about how much like him I am. She couldn't be any more wrong. My father was friendly and accepting, loving and generous. I couldn't be more proud than to be told I am like he was.

I miss you Dad.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

It is Hot.

Finally summer is here.

There are storms tonight and it feels like November. It feels as if we have been cheated out of summer but, in all honesty, I haven't minded at all. Christmas wasn't the sweat fest that I have come to expect. On New Years Eve the heat hadn't wiped me out before the alcohol did and I actually have a tan this year as it hasn't been too hot to venture outside.

This summer has been very different.

I have walked on the beach every other day. My dog has frollicked with joy down there. If there was ever need to be reminded of how great living near the beach is I only need to look at his eyes. He is my introduction and the other walkers on the beach know me because of him. He takes his stick to everybody(anybody) and they throw it for him because he asks with such sweet innocence.

He gathers smiles for me. I have a fine collection :)