Musings and photographs from a man in a little house by a river, on a little island at the bottom of the world.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A Blue Room Book Review - TC Boyle - San Miguel

San Miguel, the setting for the Boylster's latest, is an island. Have a look at the author’s portrait inside the back cover of this tome, and, dear reader, you will see why your humble scribe calls him the Boylster. What a dude! As I read this book it seemed to lead me to conjure up all those 'islands in the stream' of my life. Of course, my whole existence is an island experience. I never thought I would see out my days contentedly on this exquisite place, surrounded by the southern seas. I always felt the my latter life would be, as Graeme Connors signature song suggests, one of 'moving a little further north each year,' preferably up the littoral of Mangoland. Thanks to a wonderful woman, and her perfectly imperfect small abode by a river, that hasn't eventuated. My island is far bigger than the one TC writes of, as is that tropical one I long to return to, an island where beauty abounded everywhere one looked - the women, the kids, the paddy fields, the beaches and, best of all, the smiles. But again, Bali is far bigger, as well, than San Miguel, off the Californian coast.

As my reading of the book was nearing its termination, out comes the Weekend Australian with a 'special' on islands off the Australian Coast. Now these were more like it, these were more akin to the dimensions of Boyle's decidedly non-paradisiacal island. The ‘Oz’ for me is a Saturday ritual, and its magazine section featured Rottnest (a lovely piece by Robert Drewe), North Stradbroke, the Tiwis, the Cocos(Keeling), and culminating with Tasmania. No, not the big island itself; but some of the off shore component parts. Those noted were windswept King; the island of tears in Flinders; Maria, with its eclectic history; and the one I adore, Bruny. I guess the one featured most resembling San Mig would be Schouten, off the East Coast's Freycinet Peninsula, now deserted, but with a history akin to TC's speck in the sea. Today, Three Hummock and Hunter off the North West tip would most equate. But the place I couldn't get out of my mind as I happily ploughed my way through this terrific tale was much, much smaller than all of these, and than San Miguel to boot. And it was an old photo, an image of a residence that did it. The two sand blasted homesteads, as featured in Boyle's diptych of a tale, were almost characters in themselves, so vital were they to the island survival of the Lesters and the Waters.

The Iron Pot is a tiny, tiny piece of rock where Storm Bay transforms into the entrance to the Derwent estuary. It has room for a lighthouse, the first or second structure of its type in Australia, depending on definition, and the double story keeper's house. I suppose the reason it stuck in my mind was that keeper's quarters looked so incongruous in size to its small knob of land, surrounded by sea. As well, if you look carefully, dear reader, you can see people in this old photograph. Have a look below – does it not all seem out of scale; out of place to you as well? Anyway, when I imagined Boyle's two dwellings, this is the place I saw in my mind. Once the book was satisfactorily completed it was off to the ether I went. Perhaps I should have been looking for the gen on San Mig, but what the book did was twig my fancy about the Iron Pot. We know what it was like living on Boyle's island, but I was interested in those people on the tiny Tasmanian islet - what was it like living out there? I suspect it was not as isolated a station as the Californian island, for Hobart was just up river, and it was possible to decamp at any time with the amount of shipping going by.. The light had been 'manned' since the early days of settlement, with two convicts and an overseer the first permanent residents; living in tents – and Storm Bay does live up to its name! Can you imagine the hardship? In 1862 it became the site of the world's briefest gold rush. One Saturday news spread around the taverns of Hobart Town that the keeper of the light had found some 'colour' in a seam of quartz on his rocky outcrop. In a town economically suffering from, and being depopulated by, the rushes on the mainland, this was hearty news indeed and two hundred souls rushed, by any means available, down to the Iron Pot. By Sunday it was ascertained there was no more gold to be had other than the keeper's, and by the start of a new week they were all home, snug, if miffed, back in the city.

The Pot’s living quarters were constructed in 1885, and survived one destructive maelstrom after another until demolition in 1921. In this year the light was automated and its human occupants decommissioned. Is he in the old photo of my mind, Robert Roberts, who fathered of the only child born on the island – Essie Margaret? In my bones I know there is a good story there in that intriguing image. Details on-line are scant, but I know there's a book to be had on the history of the Iron Pot, and I will seek it out – that is my intention. 

But let us return to the Boylster's tome. It is a very fine rendering from man who, in his wordsmithery, is the consummate yarn spinner. The initial section deals with the first family, the Lesters, followed by one centring on their headstrong, wilful and very bored, put upon daughter, Edith. This made for sublime reading. San Miguel was no starveacre place; a decent living could be made, but the place was not without its vicissitudes when Marantha, and her husband, the Captain – a Civil War vet – lived there. Marantha was terminally ill, and the happenings on the island, such as they were, are related from her point of view. He was a driven man, answering to his demons, determined to succeed regardless of the cost, human or otherwise.

Coming along much later, there were not so many privations for the Waters, and for a while, till Pearl Harbour takes the focus away, they achieve a notoriety of sorts for their hermit like existence. Herbie is what we would now term as bipolar, but wife Marianne loved her life, and belated motherhood, on the island. Her two female predecessors loathed their incarceration. The only weakness, I felt, in the whole book was the lack of a substantial linkage between the families. A minor character, Jimmy, living all his years on San Mig, or thereabouts, was a teenage farm hand for the Lesters, and an ageing sheep herder for the Waters. He provides our answers as to what became of Edith – fame with carpetbaggery thrown in, it seems – but the final third seemed too much an anticlimax. Perhaps the narrative needed not a change in dynasty. Boyle would no doubt counter that the story is the island, rather than the people inhabiting it.

But, being the Boylster, his language sings like a San Miguel fall breeze, and the 'busy tedium' of island life, in his hands, is as compelling as a Hitchcockian opus. His command of the vernacular is spectacular as he scours for the perfect word; the perfect phrase. I am an avid devotee, always in awe. I will construct a story from my research on the Iron Pot in due course, but it will be a few pages of scribblings compared to his 350 plus on his Pacific coast location. But I am sure on that wind basted rock at the mouth of the Derwent there are people, as pictured, who have stories to tell too - and I will have a go at some form of imagining. I am not a great author like Boyle – but the pleasure of spinning a cogent tale resides deep inside me, just as, no doubt, it does for the Boylster! 

TC Boyle's web page =

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Across the River

The Cows of My Lives

Life One

The Wall came down in '89. I didn't know much about it. We didn't live near it, but of course I'd seen something of the events on tele. I asked my Dad if it was a good thing, a good thing for Germany. 'No', he said. 'No it isn't. We will be invaded from the east, my son – from the east.' I didn't really understand what he meant then, but looking back, I guess he was right in a way. My dad was a reticent man – even dour; humourless in that typical Teutonic way, you might say. Each morning he'd go off to work in his dark suit, come home with the papers, take off his tie, quietly eat his dinner - always on the table at six - and then retire to his study. He didn't care for radio, television or music – just his papers. He was a floor-walker at a big department store on the Friedrichstrasse, a major shopping street in Berlin. His job was to keep the young shop assistants in line, a job he did well judging from the few times I visited him at his workplace. Years later I asked him if he had liked that job. 'Not much,' he had replied, 'I found it hard to be polite to the customers, to smile at them the way I was supposed to – particularly the tourists. But I liked the young people we had working for us. They were different to my generation, freer somehow. They seemed at pleasure in being in this life. They could chat; make small talk to the customers. And they smiled – they were always smiling. It seemed to lighten things just a little, you know?' I knew what he meant, and I knew why. My Dad's generation carried the guilt. They weren't responsible, but it pervaded everything about them, and they carried it everywhere. It weighed them down.

My dad became a little strange after the Wall came down. I woke up one morning and there was a large chunk of it sitting out there in our tiny back yard – just sitting there. A big piece of the Wall – all brick and grey cement, with prongs of steel reinforcing sticking out. I was gobsmacked. I asked Mum how did it get to be there, but she just shook her head and continued preparing breakfast. When Dad came down I repeated the question, but he just smiled a little, and placed one finger beside his nose, and I was none the wiser. My Dad rarely smiled, so even that jolted me somewhat.

And it all became decidedly odder. One Friday evening he came home carrying two tins of paint – one of black, another of white. I didn't ask, but clearly, Dad was changing. I wasn't sure about this new Dad. These days, when he emerged from his study to go to the toilet, instead of taking his newspaper, he removed the atlas from the bookshelf and took that. Very significant as it turned out, and at weekends he'd leave his thick broadsheets completely to go on long solitary walks. I also knew that, after I had retired for the evening, he and my mother would stay up to all hours, talking and drinking red wine. I am not making this up; I saw the bottles in the morning. Prior to this alcohol had never featured in our household. Something was going on.

After the night of the paint tins Dad was up earlier than normal the next morning, and out the back. When I went out to check on what he was doing, I saw he was painting our chunk of the wall; painting it black and white. I asked the obvious, and in return I received a smile almost radiant. 'Can't you see son, it resembles a cow. I am painting it like a cow, like a Friesian' I couldn't see it myself, and I suspect he'd never even seen a real cow. It seems, though, he even knew the different breeds. But one thing was sure, he was happier than I'd ever known him. I asked what he was going to do with it when he finished. His answer? 'It's what I want to leave behind, son.'


Then I knew – something was really afoot.

Life Two

That 'afoot' was Australia. A few weeks after 'the cow', we took a train for Hamburg, followed by the overnight ferry to Southampton. We then boarded a ship to Australia – not a liner, but an old freighter that took on a few passengers. When I asked my Dad why we didn't fly like everyone else, he replied enigmatically, 'Ever seen me jump, son?' I considered for a while, and then shook my head in the negative. 'It is not natural, my lad, for a man to leave the ground, you see?' I was beginning to see that there was still much I didn't know about my father.

We arrived in Sydney late at night and went to a hotel. The next morning, so bright, so sunny, we walked down to Circular Quay. And there, to one side, was the Opera House; how it shone, how it sparkled. We caught a ferry, and out we proceeded onto the vast harbour, over which dominated the Bridge. I'd seen pictures of it and the Opera House of course, and of kangaroos and koalas. I observed no marsupials that first day, but I saw much that demonstrated that this was a very different place to Berlin. We docked at Manly, and walked up the Corso to a big, old pub – well old for our new country. There we ate the biggest steaks I had seen in my life, and my father actually had a beer. Despite being German, to my knowledge, it was his first. The English was hard going initially, but we made ourselves understood. Dad knew some from the Americans after the war, and from his time dealing with tourists. I learnt it at school, but the way these Aussies spoke it was much different to my teachers – flatter, coarser somehow; but once we picked up the rhythm, we got along okay. Even Mum had a go to the brightly smiling waitress.

After that massive repast we went over the road to the beach. A real beach! It was the first time I had seen one, if you don't count the artificial ones in the parks of our home city. There were people everywhere – of all hues and all tongues. They were in the water, throwing oval balls around, or just walking. There were bronzed Adonises, skimpy bikinis, lifesavers patrolling, withered prunes of old men and women, little kids running around naked - it seemed whole lives could be lived on this beach. Some people were lying on the sand, on big towels, and some of the girls wore no tops. I’d seen bare breasts before in Berlin parks during our short summer, but I didn't know you could see them on real beaches too. I was going to like this country.

The next day we took the train and this gave us an idea of the huge scale of our new homeland. We decamped at Adelaide, and a bus took us up into the hills to the east of the city. Then I found out something that Dad had decided not to tell me, something he kept as a surprise – that there was an Australian branch to our family. We were welcomed by dozens of new relations, and that night they threw us a barbecue, the Aussie way of greeting newcomers. My Dad – my sombre, lumpen father-  well, he got drunk. 'Pissed as a fart,' was how his new family members described him as they toted him off to bed. Drunk on Coopers Ales! He was free, and it was a one off – he never touched the stuff again. But in this country my Dad knew he was free of the past, finally rid of the guilt.

By the time I started school dad had a job much like the old one back on the Friedrichstrasse,   doing something he was good at - keeping a staff in line. He no longer had to wear a suit, but instead lederhosen. He'd come all the way to Australia to wear the national costume for the first time – he liked the irony in that. Through family connections he was working in a beer hall. Not like those vast barns back home, but a smaller one, largely out in the open. You see, from all over this Australia people came to these hills to get a taste of Germany. I found this unusual – it wasn't what I expected, but there you go. Dad even said that here he could be jolly to the customers, even if he couldn't to the staff. I asked if he found it hard being so friendly. 'Not hard at all, son. Nothing seems hard in this country.' And as for Mum, well for the first time in her life she wet to work too – as a pastry-cook in a bakery. My parents were reborn, but what about me - how would I find school?

Well, not too bad, actually. I soon discovered, even with my stilted English, I was well ahead of my new classmates, particularly in maths and science. I was soon correcting the teachers on occasions. A few were a bit snarky, but mostly they took it in their stride as I was finding most Aussies generally did. Back in Germany I wouldn't dare correct a teacher! The other boys were a different matter – they hated me for that. 'Suck' they called me. When they required of me whether I was a Ford man or went for Holden I couldn't answer, as was the case as to whether I barracked for the Port, or favoured the Crows. I knew vaguely the former referred to cars and the latter to the peculiar brand of football they played in these parts. When I opined that soccer was the superior sport, they said that was for 'poofters' and 'wogs', and with that they largely left me alone.

The girls, though – now they were a different matter. They told me they found my accent 'hot'. And there was this one beauty in particular. She wasn't like the others – on about Michael Jackson and Madonna; Neighbours and Home and Away. She got on all right with the other girls, but always seemed slightly apart from them. They called her 'Heifer' for her troubles, but she didn't seem to mind. She reckoned there was no malice in it – and they could be fair bitches to those they suddenly decided to dislike. To me she moved at a slower pace than the other skittish fillies, but not always, as I found out. And she liked me. She liked the way I talked, liked the fact that I was bright; when she wasn't. She liked that I wasn't one of the lads rough-housing around the playground, swearing at the top of their lungs for the benefit of her gender. Her real name was Racquel, after some actress, and right from the get go she seemed to take me under her wing.

I asked her why Heifer? She replied that the other girls figured she resembled a cow way back in the early years, and it stuck. In truth there was something just slightly bovine about her, with those big brown eyes you could get lost in, and her solid chunkiness. But it was her lips, those amazing lips I was so drawn to. These days you'd think they would have been botoxed, and she wore a shiny sheen of a lipstick on them – and also, right from the get go, I knew what I wanted to do with those lips.

Netball was the reason she was allowed to go her own way by those girls. She was by far the school's champion player, and she was respected for that. I went to watch her one Saturday morning. She was astounding; so quick on her feet, so aggressive. The opposition players wouldn't go near her with her bulk and speed, and our school won easily, down to her. When she came off after the game, delightfully hot and sweaty, I told her, that as well as being incredibly sexy, she could sure play that game. 'I know,' she gushed, her eyes so animated, 'I'm going to play for Australia.'

Life Three

She didn't, my beautiful Heifer, she married me instead.

After that school up in the hills, I went to uni down in the city – studied engineering. Racquel stayed, went to work in Mum's bakery. I said Mum's – she was manager by then, so Racquel had a head's up. My lovely girl soon found she was a natural, and before you could blink she was responsible for the cafe side of things. Of course, by this stage, we were more than just friends – we were lovers. Some days off she'd come down to the city to my small room, but mostly I'd spend my weekends back in those hills – and we’d find places. Why in Australia you could even do it outside. She'd love to be on top, and I adored the way her size seemed to envelop me completely. Our lovemaking was languid, luxurious – bliss. But it was those lips, those lips I couldn’t get enough of.

We married as a matter of course, a big lusty Germanic wedding in Dad's beer hall, and honeymooned at Victor Harbour, as you do. Then came the sprogs; two lads. Alex was named after my Dad, is as bright as a button, destined for uni. He'll go far, that one. As for Percy, well he's not so brainy, but he plays footy, the local variety, like a gun – and goes for the Crows to boot. I'll sit and watch a game on the tele with him, but it all seems a bit brutal to me, always smashing into each other. There's no finesse about it like the game I relish on SBS. Why Percy? Well it was Racquel's turn to name number two, and she said he was named after a teacher. There were no Percy's teaching at the school while I was there, and she refuses to give more detail. She has a secret, just like my old man, and I guess I kind of like her having it, so I do not insist- even if there's a story to be had there.

We're in Whyalla now. We didn't mind the place to start with, and the job I've had since uni, in the ship yards, pays well – but we have new plans. I must admit I like getting back to Adelaide for meetings and stuff. There's this one art gallery I go to, not the big one in the arts precinct, but a smaller, private one. You see, it has a cow.

Dad's gone now. He worked the beer hall till he retired, and he didn't last too long after that. He never touched a drop of beer again, but he and Mum became even more partial to reds, always South Australian of course. Mum's in a nursing home and does not know us any more. We're told she hasn't long to go – a month or so. It's sad, I know, but out here in Australia Dad could smile, and she smiled along with him. He died, and she will too, shortly, and if she could, like him, she'd look back on a life now replete.

Back to the art gallery and its bovine - well sitting there contemplating the cow makes me feel close to my father. Like what he painted out back all those years ago, with its huge body, tiny head and limbs, it looks little like the real thing, or maybe a bit more than Dad's did. And it is black and white. It seems there is an Aussie sculptor who has made a good living out of these cows, and they’re everywhere, if you know where to look.  I count my blessing here too – my Heifer, the lads and I ruminate on what my life would have been had we remained in the old country. It's quiet in the courtyard, so in my mind I can finesse our latest plan too.

Like Dad, Mum and myself all those years ago, my family, well we're heading off to a new life overseas too. Just as with that little family back in '93 – only not so far. The writings on the wall for shipbuilding in this state, and I'm getting stale, we need a change. And I'm wanted – they are prepared to wait until Mum passes before they see me take up the job down there. We're off to Tasmania. We will be living in Circular Head in the far north west of the island, Smithton initially. South of it, in a wilderness area called the Tarkine, new mines are opening up and I've snavelled an engineering design job in one of the companies involved. It took a while for the politicians to get their act together over all this down there, and the 'greenies' were none too happy – there being lots of protesting and so on. But the locals want it. They have been doing it tough for jobs for a decade or so. But it’s all up and running, and I see it as part of my job to try and look after the environment down there as much as possible.

And I won't be going to art galleries any more, or at least, not that one in Adelaide. I'm told that around Smithton are the prettiest herds of Freisians you're likely to see in the whole country. Dad will be around me everyday. I'll be continuously reminded of that man who once painted a lump of bricks and mortar into his private vision of a cow, his private vision of a future.

Thursday, 14 February 2013


Silver Linings and Hollywood Endings

We all chase silver linings in our lives. Different people, different silver linings. For some it is money, for some success in a chosen field, for others it’s the garnering of respect from those around them, and it works in combinations too. It's all to do with happiness, the thought that by the time one's life is drawing to a close that it has all been worthwhile. The one that has exercised my mind, since seeing the film, has been the silver lining of love, or the seeking thereof. Of all silver linings, it is undoubtedly the one most sought. I have been lucky in this aspect, for with my DLP (Darling Loving Partner) I have found my silver lining in spades. When my end is reached, it'll have all been indeed worthwhile.

As happens with some books, some songs and some movies, the mind is often set by them off on a course of some interesting remembering – especially since there has been a vast minutiae of people and places in this particular longish life. The film caused me to recollect two souls who figured for only a short time, years ago, and the small regret involved. Of course the stimulus for this was the wonderful SLP ('Silver Linings Playbook') – it took me back to a trip to a special place where I found two equally special beings with a story to tell me.

We are only a couple of months into this shiny new year and already I've been blessed to be able to watch some excellent Oscar fodder – 'Life of Pi', 'The Impossible' and 'Flight'. 'Quartet' and 'Hitchcock' weren't bad either, and there's 'Lincoln' and 'Anna Karenina' still to come. But, to my mind, there is something even more alluring about 'Silver Linings Playbook' than those cited movies– and I feel it's Jennifer. Some critics have described the SLP as a rom-com, and sure there are some comedic moments. The two leading protagonists are decided misfits – well, at least they start out that way – and there's been numerous films based around various permutations of that premise – last year's delightful German contribution 'Vincent Goes to Sea' a case in point.

All basic stages of SLP's supposed genre go something like this – encounter, connection, developing feelings, realisation, an impediment, and then the final set piece that overcomes all. SLP largely follows this framework, replete with the desired for Hollywood ending – sorry if that's a spoiler. Synopses of this sure-to-be classic abound on line to tantalise, but what makes SLP soar above the usual dross movie America turns out is the quirkily dysfunctional imperfections of the leading hands. Our own Jackie Weaver is the glue that holds it all together, even if she resembles a stunned mullet throughout – surely not enough for an Oscar nomination, but there you go. Bradley Cooper fits his manic character like a glove; de Niro, as the father and obsessive footy fan, grates perfectly – but Jennifer steals the limelight. This was my first meeting with Ms Lawrence, and I will be surely seeking her out in future roles. She bypassed me with 'The Hunger Games', but she definitely has 'it’. There is magic about this film – 'The Girl from the North Country' sequence, the yearning for a seemingly lost love, the old men's betting, the Indian psychoanalyst and, overriding all, the power of a contest to fully dominate one's being, in this case between footy teams and dancing partners. The final perfectly flawed dance championship rounded it all out sublimely, even if at one stage we didn't quite know if it was all going to be Hollywood, for the silver lining could have gone off in another direction entirely, and off I went in the direction of rumination.


She was a sun-kissed, freckly Aussie woman, bursting with vivaciousness, perhaps carrying a little more excess weight that in her pomp, but with a shining face enveloped by ringlet curls. She was very, very comely. Think Susie Porter and you get the idea – in fact I think we'll call her Susie as I have no recollection of her true appellation. Her partner was more reticent, and I very quickly picked up on his accent. He was French. Tall, slim – his face had a bit of the ugly/handsome look to it so esteemed by his nationality in their leading men, say, someone like Daniel Auteuil. We'll call him Daniel then.

The place was Uluru in the Year of the Outback. The iconic landmark is intrinsically special in itself, but Daniel and Susie were the icing on the cake of a long, long day. It had been a 4am start that morning back up in Alice, and a long, long drive down the Stuart in the mini-bus, and then across to the Rock. I was journeying alone, and the two aforementioned were seated opposite, seemingly lost in each other. They'd be in their late thirties/early forties, but with their nuzzlings and sweet whisperings, they were akin to new lovers half their age – so initially there was no connection between us. Reaching Uluru, I wandered off alone, and returned to the bus at the appointed time to go around the corner to Kata Tjuta, before coming back for the traditional sunset viewing. Our two guides, as ocker a pair as it was possible to find, dished out some cheap fizzy plonk, and I meandered over to the viewing platform, and leant down on the railings close to the two love-birds. Glasses in hands, we exchanged platitudes about how beautiful it all was. Constant topping up of the champers started to have an effect, and I became more voluble, with Daniel/Susie responding in kind. I told them my story, they responded with theirs. By the time we'd finished doing so we were back on the bus; the best of more than slightly inebriated mates, and halfway up the road to Alice.

C1985 – 2002

Australian backpacking girls in the UK were very marketable, once upon a time, back in the eighties – probably still are. They were readily employed for their work ethic, reliability and sunny disposition. Susie, who did most of the talking relating it all back to me during that desert night, reckoned she had the choice of a number of positions a few days after disembarking her Q-bird. She'd made her way to Earls Court, as you did back then, and the rest was easy. She settled on waitressing at a French restaurant, as it seemed the classiest option. Now if Susie was still stunning approaching forty, she would have been truly something back then, and of course she was soon noticed by the rest of the crew at her chosen work place. The person doing the noticing that most attracted her was the Gallic looking one, the one working the stove. It was the way he ogled her when in turn he thought she wasn't looking – but she was, and her radar was up. The nights went by, the frisson increased between them, but there was no approach on his part. Being Australian, Susie wasn’t backward in coming forward, particularly when there was the possibility of a new beau to be had. One night she made sure he couldn't ignore her any more, and she found that Daniel was more than comfortable with that. It all developed speedily after the ice breaking. In no time they were lovers shacked up together – and it was blissful. They explored each other and they explored Southern England in their rare times off. A couple of times they took the ferry to the French coast, and once spent a weekend in Paris, his neck of the woods. They were the best of pairings – deeply in lust, deeply in love. Then all too soon her time was up, her visa had expired and it was time to return to Oz. He escorted her to Heathrow. The parting was fraught, but he made passionate promises to her, she back to him.

Of course the 'rom-com' impediment in this tale was the tyranny of distance. They wrote fervently, religiously to start with, but it soon all dissipated. When she met someone else, missives ceased altogether. That someone else she married and had kids by, but this relationship had also petered out by the mid-nineties.

Social networking was in its infancy then, but she found him. She knew from one of Daniel’s last communications that he had returned to Paris, and emails flew through the ether between Sydney and the city of love. He had a similar story – marriage, kids, divorce. Emails devolved into expensively long phone calls, and, as we know fortune favours the brave, and our Susie was not one to die wondering. Ever overt, she asked certain questions and ascertained there was a possibility of re-ignition, so again a plane took her to Europe. She had to know if there was still a spark, and very quickly discovered her instincts were correct. She proposed a return trip by him to her neck of the woods, and he wasn't uncomfortable with that notion either. He promised to visit her in Oz as soon as he tidied up 'a few loose ends’, and this time a promise held up.

It was then, in the Outback, our paths crossed. She informed me that the Parisian spark had turned into an Aussie bushfire; that the 'silver lining' was within reach. But my radar was also out. I had my doubts. Despite their canoodling and her enthusiasm, he was very reserved in talking about it. Perhaps he was simply tired. Or maybe he felt submerged by her volubility; perhaps it wasn't as straightforward for him as it was for her. His English was fine, so it wasn't that, and I knew he had less than a week remaining in our country. I was uneasy about it all

As we drove on northwards into the night our conversation faltered, and then ran out of steam completely. I drifted off to sleep. When I awoke we had pulled into our Alice terminal, and the seats opposite were empty. As I stepped off the bus and thanked the guides, I looked around, but there was no sign of Susie and Daniel.

Had something happened whilst I dozed? Had they argued, had he come clean? If all had been okay, surely they would have wanted to say goodbye? Of course, my small regret is obvious. I now had no way of knowing if their, or perhaps more accurately, Susie's, chase for a silver lining had that Hollywood ending. Had my worst fears been realised? Had it all foundered in the real world where Hollywood fears to tread? Since watching SLP, it has been gnawing away at me, ever so slightly.

 I wish I knew, I wish I knew.

Website for 'Silver Linings Playbook =

Tuesday, 12 February 2013


It’s Hard to Admit….But I Like Essendon

I know, I am an old softie. True, dyed in the wool Hawks supporters, reading this would be mortified. Even my own daughter, to whom I've passed on the Hawthorn gene, probably will not speak to me for a week or more – although, if that occurs, I'll remind her she once went out with an Essendon tragic, so she can't be too hard on me.

Hawks hate Bombers – that, these days, is a given – although, for me, hate is always too strong a word. There is much history, much bad blood between the two outfits, and my transition from 'severe dislike' to 'quite like' has only been since 2009 – and I'll explain why, if you care to read on. No matter where these two great teams find themselves on the ladder, when they meet there is great passion on the field, and even more so on the terraces between their respective armies. Conceivably, the rivalry was at its fiercest in the mid-eighties when these two teams met repeatedly in grand finals, but it is still more than palpable today. Who can forget Dermie's running through of the 'Dons’ three-quarter time huddle, incensed in 1988 that a free paid against him, for simply kissing Essendon hard nut Billy Duckworth, resulted in a Dunstall goal being disallowed. I was watching that day. I could not believe it! I was incredulous! Later came the 'line in the sand' match. For once, in '04, the Hawks were struggling and Dermie said, 'Enough is enough'. The melees that occurred saw many gallant Hawkies rubbed out, but the tribunal seemed to forget there was also another team involved. I was more than incredulous! Then came the worst black mark of all against Sheeds' men, and it was down to their big gorilla in the forward line, the loathsome Matthew Lloyd. Our brave ball handler, Brad Sewell, one of the fairest players ever to don the 'poo and piss' colours, was streaming away from the back of the centre bounce, ball in hand, when….THUMP, he was cruelly shirt-fronted, dealt with in a most unseemly manner, by said ape, charging out of full forward with only maximum damage on his mind. He managed that all right. Knocked the poor mid-fielder out cold, broken jaw to boot. At least the cowardly Lloyd had the decency to retire after that match. But I remained beyond incredulous!

Matthew Lloyd had been the team of the black guersey and red diagonal stripe's chief goal scorer for season after season, but, as well was, by far, their chief whinger. As soon as he was beaten in a contest, instead of battling on, he'd be wailing to the umpire about how unfairly he'd been treated, pleading for another free. Unbelievably, the men in white were sucked in time and time again. Mr Lloyd should have been in the Australian slips cordon so plaintive were his bellows to the umpire!

Now some misguided people tell me all this is no different to Buddy. I find that very hard to believe. Why don't I know for sure? It is because I am so blindly enamoured of my heroes in brown and gold that I find it impossible to watch a game, particularly live – I'd be afraid of a heart attack due to the stress, - but even on tele. Game day/night sees me doing anything to take my mind off the footy. At fifteen to twenty minute intervals I’d check the radio for a score update, and may listen a while if they seem in control. It is only when the Hawks are ten or so goals up in the last quarter that I will actually watch. Needless to say the '08/12 grand finals were nightmares, and they are being tipped, even at this early stage, to figure prominently again.

These days Geelong is considered our bogey team, but the real wrath of the brown and gold army is still reserved for the 'Dons. The Cats are feared, not hated. Ever since our underdog win in '08 there have been some classic matches between us and them, with Essendon generally not in the contest agin us from the get go – and I suppose that has moderated my anti black and red stance to a degree. Towards the end of the noughties I began to realise with Essendon that it was only the one player who'd get my bile surging, and after his thuggery in the Sewell incident, the lamentable Lloyd was gone – there was no one I could rail against any more. Sheedy also departed – but he had always seemed to me more of an advertisement for the game than a coach to inspire.

So here I am today. I can not only handle Essendon – I have been known to actually praise them, and I am about to again. I've always genuinely admired Hird. Even back in his playing days I felt he was an ornament to the game – everything Lloyd was not. And then there's the captain. There's only one man braver playing football today. He gave his all last year as others faltered, and then fell, around him. He was almost last man standing, and we are now, sadly, getting an inkling as to why that was. Perhaps, with the farrago that is now developing around the team, he could lose the more than deserved '12 Brownlow. It would be a travesty if Hird couldn't coach and Jobe Watson, the son of another out-and-out champion, couldn't lead. To me Hird and Watson have always been men of character, and I am upset, that their names, and that of AFL footy, have been sullied. To me it also seemed that, under these two, Essendon was on the brink of another golden era - that would appear somewhat unlikely now. At this point in time it seems the Club's only failure was some laxness in being aware of what a couple of employees were up to. That they had some self-seeking charlatans in their ranks should not endanger their whole season. There would be no joy whatsoever for me in a full strength Hawthorn thrashing a gutted Essendon in 2013.

As for Lloyd; yes, I have softened there too. He now writes for my newspaper, 'The Age', and his column, in a recent Sunday edition, showed just how much he was hurting for his old team, for his mates. Dare I say it – he is a far better scribe than footballer – his pieces are always well put together, articulate, thoughtful and balanced – everything his bump on Sewell was not. He also brings great illumination to match day commentary in the visual media.

My football world could cope with Buddy leaving the Hawks. What I couldn't cope with is an Essendon unable to fire a shot because of the actions of a few mavericks who placed ego before sense. And as well, a good mate, who loves her Bombers, is distressed at what has befallen her much adored team – and I think she knows me well enough to know that some of what has been scribbled afore is 'tongue in cheek'.

So in season 2013, GO HAWKS! But even more so, GO BOMBERS!

Monday, 11 February 2013


Blue Room Book Review - Anita Heiss – Am I Black Enough For You

The standout 'sisters' of Indigenous Australia provide some powerful role modelage for all of us in this country, but particularly for our youthful potential glass shatterers of any hue, whether they be urbanites or bushies. This increasingly polyglot nation of ours, vibrant with the input of multiculturalism, and the huge contribution of the First Australians in all facets of our culture, has all combined to help make this land truly the 'lucky country’. We are the envy of all countries who have so wasted their blessings in recent decades, due to greed. Instantly recognisable to all are two of the best who I am particularly fond of – Cathy Freeman and Debra Mailman. My fondness is not as one would expect- for their sporting and acting prowess, but because of the SBS series 'Going Bush'. You see, trying to make my efforts to teach an appreciation of Aboriginality to essentially 'white bread' classes in my monocultural, rural school, this journey of the two urban lasses, due partly to fame, partly to personality, immediately connected with my charges. They loved the wholesome camaraderie of Cathy and Debra, off together on a great adventure to places new to them, and like a foreign country to my 'tweens' in a very moist corner of Tasmania. They were, and we were, introduced to bush tucker, ceremony, glorious dot paintings, and the music. At the end of each viewing my students sang the theme song with joyous gusto. I tacked on the songs of Carmody, Little, Roach and Sultan – the latter a massive hottie my girls agreed – as well as readings from Indigenous authors. This was where I first encountered Ms Heiss, a true crusader for her cause in bringing urban Aboriginality to the masses, a task no doubt made easier by the resounding success of 'Redfern Now'.

It was her poetry that first grabbed me in its potential as a teaching tool – her meanings so clear and pointed and therefore readily accessible to still developing minds. The impression I garnered through her versifying wordsmithery has been reinforced by reading 'Am I Black Enough For You'. Articulate and feisty, Anita stands her ground, strives to convince all of the veracity of her views, and was part of the powerful coterie needed to put the odious Bolt back in his place. She is also quite stunningly beautiful, if an old fella is permitted to comment on that.

Ms Heiss uses the landmark court case, one that illuminated the racism plainly contained in that lackadaisical journalist's notorious article, to serve as the fulcrum around which her narrative is constructed in this tome. She riffs on her upbringing, the successes she has had in many areas of life, her comradeship with her 'sisters-in-arms', and the state of black/white relationships in these post-millennium years. She looks at the situation of other first peoples in like nations around the globe to illustrate how short of the mark we are in this regard. It's a broad canvas she covers, and there is much in her words to ponder on. There were a few areas where I felt Ms Heiss overplayed her hand a tad, being somewhat light on in commenting on the vast measure of goodwill there is out there from 'thinking' non-indigenous Australians for the situation many of her brethren find themselves in through no fault of their own, whether they reside in city or bush. The blame for it all definitely lies completely elsewhere, outside the bounds of black Australia. Whilst we have the 'red neck' brigade, spurned on by the shock jocks, in our midst, we need more of the ilk of Heiss who, as she did with Bolt, to expose rednecks for what they are - narrow-minded clottish dill brains full of windbaggery. In ninety-nine percent of what you expound here, Ms Heiss, in ‘Am I Black Enough For You’, you are spot on!

Non Aboriginal Australians, from 1788, on have inflicted so much on our first peoples that we are still so lamentably in the red when it comes to the business of 'sorry'. Even so, I was proud for our country when a PM stood up, and from the bottom of his heart, said that word on a glorious day too long in coming. Then a 'liberal' had his say and undid so much of what was so special, so meant, on that day – and the 'redneck brigade was given something more to hang their vile hats on.

I couldn't agree more with Ms Heiss in her views on Australia/Invasion Day. What a circus it is becoming. Once upon a time it hardly mattered as it simply was another day off without given much of a thought to. Now, it seems to me, it has become commandeered by the rednecks, an excuse to get pissed and to piss on any divergent 'coloured' view to what they perceive to be 'patriotic', but in reality is divisive drivel. The day needs the 'steam' taken out of it; it needs to be an inclusive celebration and not one that ostracises the people from who 'terra nullus' was so violently taken, and many who have arrived since who are not wan of complexion.

In the days when I performed my trade as an educator of youngsters we, for many years, looked at possible alternative dates to this day of booze and flag waving hooning – and changing that flag was an issue that formed a part of our discussions as well. The task in this I sat for students was to redesign the flag with an indigenous element – some put in a kangaroo! Anyway it seemed that there were dates that would do a pretty good job of being an alternative to the current siting of our national day, and I put them out there for consideration-
16 August - the day that another PM poured some dirt into the hand of the great Vincent Lingiari, as forever placed into the nation's consciousness by Mervyn Bishop's extraordinary photograph
10 December - the anniversary of Keating's Redfern Address – has there ever been more significant words spoken in our great country​?
 29 June - marking the birth of the indefatigable Eddie Mabo, to whom Australians owe so much.

To my mind, if the US can have its Martin Luther King Day, surely one of the above is worth considering, even if not a direct replacement for Australia/Invasion Day.

Another tantalising thought that Ms Heiss comments on is for us to follow other enlightened countries – eg Canada, New Zealand – and have a set number of seats reserved for our first peoples in the national parliament. As recently as this month (February 2013), this very notion was advocated by George Vasilev in a column in 'The Age'. It makes so much sense, but of course there would be the usual unseemly hue and cry of 'preferential treatment' from, you guessed it, the 'redneck brigade'. Surely, after all Indigenous Australians have suffered from the decidedly non-preferential treatment at the hands of the majority's forebears, and still do, it is time to right the balance.

And as if all this is not enough, Anita Heiss also writes chick-lit, but is novel in doing so as she takes it all from an affluent urban Aboriginal perspective. Despite the perceived inappropriateness for an aged male to say so, I like chick lit, and intend seeking out her titles. Also, it is beyond me how she has been unable to be successful in 'Finding Mr Right'. He's out there waiting for you somewhere Anita. For all your championing of rights of others, perhaps it is now the right time to balance it with a little championing of what's right for you. I'll keep my fingers crossed you find him.

Anita Heiss' Website =

Sunday, 3 February 2013


Jimmy and Josh – My Sunny Companions


It’s a highway, is A1A. It travels down Florida’s Atlantic seaboard, linking up all the major population centres of that sunshine state. Jimmy has presumably travelled up and down its length all his adult life. I would like to think his introduction to the thoroughfare was when Jerry Jeff Walker, of ‘Mr Bojangles’ fame, took him along it as far south as it went – down to Key West, where together they penned ‘Railroad Lady’. For a while that city at the end of the Keys was as synonymous for being Jimmy’s home as it was for hosting Hemmingway. These days Jimmy flies, piloting his own jet to the appointments of his busy, but not too busy, life.

At 67 I reckon Jimmy is worth squillions. Just one of his enterprises, his franchise restaurants, is constantly expanding and have even reached Oz. One is up and running at Darling Harbour, another set for the Gold Coast. I reckon the latter would be more Jimmy’s sort of place, living as he now does in Florida’s Palm Beach. My DLP (Darling Loving Partner) and I will be visiting Surfers later this year and we hope the eatery will be opened by the time we do. I’ve never seen Jimmy in the flesh, but at least then I can say I’ve eaten at one of his restaurants and had a ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’. You see Jimmy is all about beaches – always has been, always will be, and there’s some beaut ones along that Mangoland strip. I can’t wait to be visiting them again for the umpteenth time in my life.

Jimmy also does a bit of scribbling in various forms. He writes for big people and little, and has had three New York Times No1 bestsellers. About the only project of his that didn’t go gangbusters was a stage musical, but our Jimmy will never die wondering.

A1A is also the name of Jimmy’s fifth album, regarded as one of his best. It was also my initiation into his world. Why I purchased said way back in the early 70s is now lost in the mists. Maybe I’d read somewhere (Playboy? Time? – I took both back then) about his beach bum persona. Maybe, unusually, a local DJ may have stumbled across a track of his and played it. I say unusually because, apart from ‘Margaritaville’, (also the label applied to his restaurant chain), his songs rarely see the light of day here on commercial radio. Maybe I just liked the look of the album cover – Jimmy under some palms on front, a map of the A1A on reverse. Anyway, all I know is that, after just one listen, I was smitten – I became a ‘parrothead’ for life! I’ve been collecting his music fervently ever since. This laid back, bare footed, summer voiced troubadour of ‘gulf and western’ (his invention) reflected my own love of ‘Beaches, Bars and Ballads’ – the title of one of his box sets. In the US of A Jimmy has been, and still is, huge. He gave up worrying about album sales eons ago. He has no need – it’s his stage show that is the big ticket. Touring the vast arenas of the Americas, he draws hundreds of thousands at every stop – parrotheads ready to party. Here in Oz he has a loyal following too, but here he is best know for falling off a stage last year, taking encores at a Sydney concert. Luckily, one of the city’s best neuro-surgeons - parrotheads come from all walks of life - was seated approximately where the unconscious performer lay – such is the good fortune of Jimmy.

No concert is complete without the BIG 8 – it’s what the punters expect and that’s what they always get – ‘Margaritaville’, ‘Come Monday’, ‘Fins’, ‘Volcano’, ‘A Pirate Looks at Forty’, ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’, ‘Why Don’t We Get Drunk’ and ‘Changes in Attitude, Changes in Latitude’. Usually, these days, he’ll have a version of his Alan Jackson duet ‘It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere’ to excite the fans, and, if they’re lucky, his classic cover of ‘Brown Eyed Girl’

After years of his recorded works not making a dint on the charts, you could have knocked old Jimmy over with a feather when, in 2004, his ‘License to Chill’ raced to No1 on Billboard, becoming his biggest seller ever. There was life in the old sea dog yet.

A1A also contains ‘A Pirate Looks at Forty’, my personal favourite Jimmy track. When I first heard it, presumably sitting in a small room at a university hall of residence, I could never imagine what it would be like to be so old. Would my life pan out to be something like the pirate’s?
                                    ‘…I’ve done a bit of smuggling
                                     I’ve run my share of grass
                                     Made enough money to buy Miami
                                     But I pissed it away so fast
                                     Never meant to last
                                     Never meant to last’
Now, two decades and more past that august age, looking back, my life has been the complete antithesis -  land lubberish, conservative, sober(ish) – but, for the most part, it’s all been very, very lovely – a bit like Jimmy’s, I guess.

For forty plus wonderful years Jimmy Buffett has been my sunny life companion – but now there’s a new kid on the block!

Hello Starling

Unlike with Jimmy, I remember exactly how he occurred, this younger sunny companion. You see, I like discovering – movies, authors, painters, photographers – but especially new singers. UK music mags are of great assistance with the latter, particularly ‘Uncut’. I scour its music reviews, and if I espy someone who, within my preferred genres, receives a glowing write-up, I will then Amazon or YouTube for samples of their product. Thus it was back in 2003 youthful Josh must have been on one of my lists of prospective discoveries. One morning, sitting at my desk before school was up and running, I typed his name into the search engine and started another love affair. The first track I listened to was ‘Kathleen’, and I thought to myself, ‘Hmm, there’s potential here’. I went on to the next and was completely taken. Josh hooked, then reeled me in. It was a stomp –
                                    ‘Hello blackbird
                                     Hello starling
                                     Winter’s over
                                     Be my darling
                                     It’s been a long time coming
                                     But now the snow is gone’
And that’s what I’ve lived for all these long years on the planet – for the winter to be gone from my little island to a place far, far away.

The song put a ‘Bright Smile’ on my dial as I began to realise this was a finding of some import. When such a revelation occurs, I did my usual. Firstly, I soon became the proud owner of ‘Hello Starling’ via the assistance of eBay, and then linked BTD (Beautiful Talented Daughter) to my new foundling. Of course I didn’t know then what I know now. BTD went on to become an even more fervent fan than I, actually to the extent of seeing Josh strut his oeuvre live in faraway Oxford, UK. As well, so in thrall am I these days, Josh rivals Jimmy as the top of my wazzer.

Like Jimmy, Josh has more strings to his bow than just wandering minstrelship. His debut novel, ‘Bright’s Passage’, was superb.

Josh, akin to Jimmy, is not a huge name Downunder, but the young man has visited a few times, usually supporting a performer who is. He cannot yet draw the massive crowds of the Old Master, but he has won the hearts of the Irish in particular, this Idaho lad. And now – BIG CALL – his songsmithery is equal to the great man’s.

As a callow lad Josh was inspired to become a musician through listening to his parents’ album collection, the standout for him being his Bobness’ ‘Nashville Skyline’. In the same way, I know my BTD grew up with the songs of Jimmy resounding around her childhood home. I was also able to meld the words of the Parrothead King into a reasonably acceptable wedding speech for her union with the fine man she calls Bear. Between them they have given me the blessing of a wondrous granddaughter. I know my BTD will ensure the songlines of Jimmy and Josh Ritter continue on down through to her. 

So thank you Jimmy and Josh for the gift you give in music. Thank you Jimmy and Josh for continuously shooing away the winter of my thoughts; for bringing sunshine to the days when there’s snow on Dromedary and the jerry has the Derwent in its chill grasp.

A little taste of Jimmy =
A little taste of Josh    =