Friday, April 28, 2006

My Street

Some bloggers who I don’t know at all, and whose blogs I found through I can't remember what meandering path of links, have been showing each other pictures of the streets where they live. I thought I’d take the opportunity to show you mine too.

Eyre Street is not an obviously beautiful street. Not like the last place where we lived, which was just off Alexandra Avenue on the bank of the Yarra. But Eyre Street has a charmingly unassuming air of, oh, say, 15 to 20 years ago. I know that I've mentioned before how Townsville is remarkably like how I remember Brisbane from the days of my childhood, and Eyre Street captures that vibe perfectly. It's all to do with the daggyness, the buffalo grass, the general lack of landscaping or renovations of any kind. Eyre Street is not pretending to be in Tuscany or in London or East Berlin or the future. It's not even pretending to be in the past, despite the impression that it creates. Children happily ride their bikes up and down it. A game of cricket would not be unheard of. Though there have been some new apartment blocks put up, and some fairly recently at that, Eyre Street has not lost itself to pretension, and remains as wide, dry and cracked as the desert salt lake from which it takes its name.

The streets of South Yarra were charming, yes, but with a most self-conscious bow in the direction of England. Eyre Street, on the other hand, is nothing but Townsville.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


I used to sleep in on ANZAC day, and I would tell everyone that it was an anti-war statement. I’m as anti-war as anyone you’re likely to meet. I abhor violence of all kinds, but most especially violence perpetrated in the name of ‘keeping the peace’. It sickens me to think that the lives of soldiers are put in danger by our leaders for their own macho pride or political gain. I know that soldiers choose that danger when they choose their profession. I’ll come back to that. But ever since that day in 2003 that I joined thousands and thousands of people marching against war in Iraq, well, OK, I joined thousands of people for the speeches out the front of Melbourne’s State Library and then ducked into Rue Bebelons, that little bar with red walls and cut flowers perched in massive vases everywhere, and my friends and I had a couple of beers apiece while we waited for the marchers to file slowly past. In the end, it didn’t matter whether we were drinking or marching against the war, the government ignored us all and sent troops to Iraq anyway. It did this unashamedly for the purpose of securing an alliance with America and helping them keep the oil prices down. Ever since that day, I have been extra cynical about the reasons why countries find themselves in conflict.

That you’re against violence is a very easy and acceptable thing to say, but my problem is that I don’t really have an alternative to offer - at least not on the scale of international conflict. If I found myself in a country under attack, especially if that country was Australia, I wonder would I wish for defence from armed forces of some kind? Would I be thankful if they were there? I have no idea. As I sit comfortably at home on this sunny public holiday, it’s easy for me to spout that any desire to be defended would be outweighed by my belief that fighting is not the solution. I think to myself that any fear I felt during an attack would not be diminished knowing that there were guns on my side too. But I don’t know for sure that that would be the case. And the truth is that even now that we live in Townsville, one of the few places in Australia that has actually seen an attack by a foreign army (though it was in 1942), I still can’t imagine what it would be like to be a civilian trapped in a country at war.

Hayden always attends the ANZAC day ceremony, in remembrance of an uncle that he lost, and last year I went along for the first time to accompany him. I was hoping to be moved to consider war and peace and the value of life. I was hoping to gain some understanding of the point of view of the soldiers. The version of the ANZAC story that I was told in school emphasised how young and na├»ve the Australian and New Zealand soldiers were, and I was hoping to gain some idea of why people still choose to join up and fight in these days, when the dangers are more fully understood. But at that ceremony I really wasn’t moved at all, and that’s not just because I was irritable from getting up before the light and leaving the house without a good strong coffee. The ceremony itself was such tinny affair, lacking in any kind of solemnity, and I was sure that any real diggers would have to have been ashamed of it. It was more like a family-entertainment dress-up show than a commemoration of lives lost in war. There was a primary school band playing, and some high school swot who’d been given a trip to Gallipoli because she was the perkiest blonde in her year told us how she would ‘never forget that trip’, though she didn’t tell us anything specific that she remembered about it either. Afterwards there was a lot of public drunkenness and gross behaviour of seedy looking guys with grandad’s medals pinned to their jackets worn with jeans and sneakers. The whole thing made me queasy.

This morning when the alarm went off in the dark, I remembered the awfulness of that Melbourne ceremony last year and I wondered if this morning’s ceremony would be any better. I was interested because Townsville has a big army presence, and I wanted to see how a real army town went about remembering its dead.
And I am glad that I made the effort to get up and go down to the War Memorial park. The park is on the waterfront, opposite the marina whose water this morning was as still as a mirror. It is a beautiful spot to see the sunrise on any day, and this morning it was most movingly accompanied by a simple, serious service and the laying of many wreathes. A female soloist sang Amazing Grace beautifully clearly and without warbling, and after the ceremony was over I walked across to the memorial, passing a cordoned-off VIP-style area where many women, some older but some less so, sat quietly and sadly by themselves. One of the speakers, himself a veteran, had spoken of the ‘futility of war, but the necessity of defending freedom’. I was grateful to have heard the soldier’s point of view so eloquently expressed, but I’m afraid I still feel nothing but sadness about war. I don’t feel that any honour at all on the soldiers’ behalf, though I suppose that they feel that honour themselves. I hope that it is enough for them.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The best $2.50 I ever spent

After I wrote that last post, we went down to the pool for some late afternoon exercise and were delighted to find that for one day only the local dive shop was offering an introductory dive, included in the cost of our pool admission. It was so fun! I’m so so glad that it’s swimming weather all year round in Townsville!

PS If you haven’t read the post below, please don’t bother. It’s full of nonsense.

Take the Weather With You

How does the weather affect you, if at all? Stephen R Covey reckons that ineffective people are affected by the weather, and that effective people carry their own weather with them and are, presumably, always sunny. I think that Covey is right about many things – and I do think that anyone who assumes that The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is just another nonsense self-help book for ambitious MBA’s should really have a proper look at it. But I’m not sure that I’m with him on the weather. Oh, well maybe he just hasn’t lived in Townsville, or worked on a building site where a few drizzly days in a row (OK, it’s getting to be a couple of drizzly weeks in a row now) lead to thousands and thousands in lost moolah for the company and a rising instance of porta-cabin fever.

You might be thinking that I did enough complaining about the weather over the last couple of months. And you would be right. But may I just say here in one breath that I’m soooo envious of everyone else’s weather in temperate zone, that I’m nearly sick of hearing about it except that I want to hear so much more: my sister finding ripe figs in her overgrown garden in Canberra; Hayden’s mum planting out bulbs in her garden in NZ, Claire and Ed’s spring BBQ in London. In Melbourne, autumn is easily the most beautiful season, with the days still long but cooler and all the leaves of those thousands of avenue trees fluttering slowly to the ground. When I worked at the Melbourne Business School, I turned up late every day of April and May due to dawdling on my morning walk through Carlton Gardens (the rest of the year I turned up late as well, but due to other reasons). I am so jealous of all that is happening in the temperate world, and in addition am missing the extremes of summer in Townsville. I know, after all those complaints! But in summer here, keeping cool was something to do. The mild weather we’ve got now is just boring.

For any new listeners, the thing about Townsville summer is not how hot it gets. It really only gets to be quite warm here, by the rest of Australia’s standards. Elsewhere in Australia, the midday heat reaches skin-boiling point, then in the evening a lovely cool breeze wafts off the water and allows you to sleep. In Townsville, the temperature doesn’t get that high, but it simply doesn’t cool down, ever, over the five months of summer. It’s five months of non-stop warmth.

Come the start of April, the big thing for us was to monitor how cool it had got overnight, on our fancy Christmas present alarm clock-thermometer (my mum and Hayden sharing a fascination with statistics, that present was a foregone conclusion. Mummy, you pretended that it was easy to give that present away, but we could tell it wasn’t). And while I did enjoy a few fresh mornings sitting on the balcony and reading until 9:00am (back in unemployment days, obviously), the novelty has since worn off. It has been cooler, yes, but it has also been drizzly with rain, and limp and humid. The foliage is looking greenish, I suppose, and that is better than the fried look of the dried brown grass and rock in summer, but I’m missing the soft yellow-to-warm brown range of deciduous leaves, not to mention the beautiful blossoms of spring. It is excruciatingly sweet to see pictures like this.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Don’t have much to say, really, about anything.

Bin spending too much time with inarticulate builder blokes. Work’s going OK.

Except they haven’t paid me yet. Hate the first part of a new job where you’re trying twice as hard to do everything right, but they haven’t paid you yet so in effect you’re doing it for nothing.
Paid tomorrow, I think.

That’ll be good.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Happy Easter Weekend

I’ve done this before. I’ve got a job in the week before Easter, and then enjoyed the four-day weekend like nothing else.

This Easter has been jam-packed with activity, including a bit of hiking on the beautiful Magnetical Isle.

There is more description to come, but right now I have to go and squeeze the very last out of this lovely, lovely weekend.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

My head is a box filled with nothing and that’s the way I like it

I always thought that in that song, Ben Lee was talking of his head as a box in a Zen kind of way … but now I am beginning to think that he might just be talking about a time when he needed a rest from creative endeavours, and so got himself a job on a building site. I got myself a job on a building site, and now my head is deliciously, gloriously filled up with absolutely nothing at all. I don’t think it’s even a box; it’s just a blank. It is full of blank.

I have worked in some unusual places in my capacity as a reluctant but able office temp, yet I think that this job might take the biscuit. I wish I could show you pictures, and I hope to yet, because the view from my office window is amazing - even if the office itself is a portacabin atop two containers wedged into the side of a rocky hill. When they are finished, the owners of these apartments we’re building will sit on their balconies and look out over the town and the mangrovy coast to the south of it and out to the aqua sea.

The view isn’t the only good thing about my workplace. The facilities are quite something too. As the only lady on site, I get my very own portaloo, designated by a hand-written felt pen sign that is taped to the door. The foreman told me that if I catch any of the men using my portaloo, I’m to come and tell him. Furthermore, if they leave it in a state unfit for a lady, then he’ll get one of the labourers to come and clean it for me.

Thank you so much to everyone who sent their encouragement of my writing efforts, and everyone who told me of their inspiration for their own careers. It was so helpful, and lovely. I hope that you’re all going well.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Thank you

Thank you, a lot, for your comments on the last post.

You know, I am slowly coming to remember that I want to write because I love it, the act of it, and I want to make it a career simply because I don’t want to do anything else with my days.

It’s late now, it’s dark but still warm and I’ve got up from where I was trying to sleep with the sheet wrapped around me as cosy as a doona. My muscles are sore from a swim tonight that was just a splash in the water, not a training session, nor an effort to lose those extra kilos. It was just a splash in the water then, and now it’s late and I can hear light rain falling, it drops with a ping on the metal rail of our balcony.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Why did I want to do this again?

Ok, it’s time I ‘fessed up. I’m in a pickle.

I’ve walked so far down this road to being a writer that it feels like too far to turn around and do something else. I know that I haven’t come far at all in terms of fame or fortune, or publishing, but I have come a certain distance in terms of what I’ve given up to get here. Well, I’ve come to Townsville for starters. It feels a bit like the wilderness, to me. It feels a bit like it’s the end of the road. It doesn’t seem like I can just sidestep into some other kind of proper job, like I always thought I could when I lived in Melbourne. I used to think that I could always change my mind and become something else, but now I think that writing might be it, as far as opportunities go in Townsville. But try as I might I can’t get going again, with the writing. I’m stuck.

And I’d like to ask you for your help.

I’m trying to remember what it was that made me want to write in the first place. Not what it was that made me want to string some sentences together, but what it was that made me want to turn it into some kind of career. I’m trying to remember what it was that made me say “Writer!” instead of “Teacher!” or “Librarian!” or “Mathematician!” (OK, we all know why I didn’t turn out to be a mathematician).

Please, can tell me, as anonymously as you like, what was it that you always wanted to do? Or what you'd do if you had three or four other lives to live, as well as this one?

What was it that made you choose what it is that you're doing today?

Thanks for your help. I appreciate it.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Kiss Kiss

We watched the brilliantly named Kiss Kiss Bang Bang on video last night. It was the first movie I’ve seen in ages that really grabbed the whole of my attention, for the whole of the show. That was refreshing.

Usually I sit through movies and even when they’re boring I try to glean something from the experience, like analysing how the plot is structured and how the characters’ motivations are portrayed. I think I’m going to try to stop doing that; I really would prefer just to sit and enjoy the movie … but Hayden has the next choice for what we’re going to see, and he’s already told me it’s going to be Ice Age II. Hm.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


It has been a good day for poetry. And tea. I bought myself a little crappy teapot the other day, finally and cheaply from Woolies. I was so surprised at how pleasant it was to pour the tea from, into the china cup. Then I found this poem on Jeanette Winterson's website, but this is not the whole of it:

I like pouring your tea, lifting
the heavy pot, and tipping it up,
so the fragrant liquid streams in your china cup.

Or when you’re away, or at work,
I like to think of your cupped hands as you sip,
as you sip, of the faint half-smile of your lips.

I like the questions – sugar? – milk? –
and the answers I don’t know by heart, yet,
for I see your soul in your eyes, and I forget.

Jasmine, Gunpowder, Assam, Earl Grey, Ceylon,
I love tea’s names. Which tea would you like? I say
but it’s any tea for you, please, any time of day

Yeats: A Coat

I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heal to throat
But the fools caught it
Wore it in the world’s eyes
As though they’d wrought it
Song, let them take it
For there’s more enterprise
In walking naked

I suppose there is a certain amount of ‘walking naked’ that you do when you write a blog. The blogs where the truth is told unselfconsciously are the ones that I go back to and read and read again, and that is what I’ve tried to do here but I’ve got out of the habit of it, a bit, I think.

Today is the first day back at my writing desk for a while. I suppose I have been on holiday. For most people, a holiday is where they go for peace and quiet, rest from a busy life. But for me it’s the other way around. It’s quiet and still and I like it, back at my desk.