Friday, July 31, 2009

Where Land Meets Sea

Is everyone in thrall of this junction? There's a continent of us here, clinging to the coast.

I have seen all these on the beach: shells, bluebottles, thongs (just one of a pair), seaweed, pigface, grasses, plastic bottles, syringes (after a storm), rocks, nappies (wedged between rocks), a turtle carcass, cigarette butts, pizza boxes, dead birds, live crows, seagulls and cockatoos.

I can't get enough. I have to go back every day.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Uluru: to climb or not to climb

This is not new news now, but I've been sitting on it and trying to decide how I feel for a while.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National ParkImage by frizzetta via Flickr

Go here to see the article in which Kevin Rudd gives his opinion on the possible closure of the walk up Uluru.

The Anangu (the traditional owners of the land) list a variety of reasons people should not to walk up the rock. Some of them relate to the environment: damage to the surface of the rock; increase in harmful bacteria in the water in around the rock, due to lack of toilet facilities on the three-hour climb. (And it is these reasons, presumably, which has Peter Garrett, the Minister for the Environment, convinced that the walk should be closed.) Other reasons given for the request that visitors not climb the rock relate to the danger of the climb. And some reasons relate to the traditional owners' beliefs about the rock.

The Anangu, presumably, could just close access to the rock. They haven't done that as yet; they just ask visitors not to climb it. The rock is already closed at various times, and during bad weather by the Manager of the National Parks (I suppose). I wonder why the traditional owners don't just close the rock at all times.

On the issue of Kevin Rudd coming out so publicly and strongly against the closure of the walk up Uluru, I have more definite opinions. Our PM is known for his Christian faith. He's not averse to sprinkling his soundbites with "God" and "pray" and "evil" and "hell". Why, then, so averse to the equally illogical beliefs of other Australians? I think the answer is obvious: the supreme being I barrack for is better than the supreme being you barrack for. Mine is great. Yours is just silly.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The North Coast with Whales (and other animals)

We left Sydney on Monday for Nelson Bay. I'd called Melaleuca Backpackers' Accommodation about 7 that morning to book a hut, having read good reviews on the Net.

Met Jeannette (our hostess); Peter (our host) introduced us to Froggy, the tawny frogmouth who is convalescing on the property after injury and rescue. Froggy was being fed twice daily but now has to shift for his own supper, which he is doing successfully. Unfortunately, though, he has a nasty habit of diving onto the guests, and this put back his full recovery for a few weeks when a frightened guest injured him trying to fend him off.

Also met one of the resident koalas.

And a convalescing wallaby.

Went whale watching the next day.

I've been reading that Australians, in this time of economic downturn, are opting to spend their holiday dollars overseas; and we didn't see big groups of holiday-makers. Lovely! We were able to book & check in on the same day. Well, could also be the time of year: most people going skiing perhaps, instead of to the beach. However, seems the South Korean influx is pretty healthy. Groups of young travellers arriving in Sydney, next day to Nelson Bay: whale watch and sand dune surfing. Next day to the Blue Mountains. . . a look at the Three Sisters and back to Sydney. Home to Seoul the next day.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wildlife in the Backyard

Very often, I will see something amazing and take a photo of it. Sometimes I will take a photo and see something amazing in it.This is what happened with the photo above.

I hoped to get a good shot of the rainbow through the kitchen window. (Mind you, rainbows haven't been very unusual over the last month or so. However, most of the state is still in drought, which is why we have had so many native birds in the city in recent years.) My

Rainbow lorikeet in grevilleaImage by zoom_eric via Flickr

neighbours' trees offer a continuous bird show: usually rainbow lorikeets--on this occasion, sulphur crested cockatoos. But how wonderful to see what I had not expected, an eagle, somewhere very high up, whose appearance would have been hidden by the cockatoo if I had taken the photo a split second later.

It's the first time I have seen an eagle in the area. (Mind you, I don't go about looking for them.) But I have seen many wonderful animals in my yard and the neighbourhood, and here are some of them.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

I met a young man. . .

Crepe myrtle in Mary Street last summer

Wednesday I parked the car in Mary Street, just down the road from the college and outside the doctor who doles out methadone in the morning. After work, as I was stowing my bag & umbrella on the passenger side of my car I heard a voice greeting me: "Good afternoon madam."

I looked up but I wasn't sure where the voice was coming from. There was a young man crossing the road walking quickly towards me, but I didn't see his lips moving, and his face was expressionless. I couldn't tell if he was looking at me or past me. I turned my attention back to arranging my stuff. "How are you madam?" I heard and again I looked at the young man crossing the road. No-one else was so close to me, but his mouth hadn't moved as far as I could tell and the inanimate expression hadn't changed.

I closed the door and started to go around the back of the car to the driver's side door. I couldn't though, because by that time the young man was blocking me. He was too close.

He said: "Madam, I'm desperate. I haven't got anywhere to sleep tonight. My father and step-mother have thrown me out. I've got nowhere to sleep. I've got no family. I'm desperate. I've got cancer, madam." He took off his beanie and showed me a bald head, with a few wisps of fair hair just above his neck. His face was very pale, unearthly. He stood very close to me. I thought he would cry.

"I need money madam. No-one will give me a job. I need to get a place to sleep tonight. I've got no family. You've got a family. Can you imagine what it's like to have no family?" I couldn't. His situation seemed hopeless. "I'm 27, madam. I don't take drugs," he told me. "I don't drink. I go to church every Sunday." That's what brought me up a bit. You don't tell an atheist that, and gain much kudos. But I wasn't sure it was just a story. He sounded credible. He sounded very sad. And he was standing very close to me.

He wasn't tall. Just a little taller than me, but thin. He looked right into my eyes. I felt menaced, and I began to feel nauseous. He was obviously sick. "Have you been to Centrelink?" I asked him. And he replied, "I have to pay twice what they give me, for rent." I didn't understand what he meant or how it related to my question, or his situation. "I'm desperate madam. I don't want to beg but I'm desperate." I took out my purse and gave him $5. I was upset and I wanted to get away. He said, "I don't want $5. I need $50 to get somewhere to sleep tonight. I don't want to have to keep on begging. I hate it. I'm desperate."

I inched past him and to the driver's door. I closed it and started the engine. And he didn't try to open my door for which I was grateful. He walked quickly away towards the doctor's.

I felt nauseous all the way home, and I'm still upset as I think about it. If I were certain that he had wanted the money for drugs, I would be able to lay the experience to rest. But I'm not. I know he was suffering from something, quite possibly cancer. What he said was credible, perhaps, but doesn't Centrelink look after people who can't support themselves? I would have offered to go with him to Centrelink, but I was afraid of him.

I am wondering what I should have done. I am wondering if I have a lack of basic human feeling. I am wondering if I could have made a difference. I can't forget what one speaker said to us on the last day of high school. He said we have many people now who ask us to help them. The number of people in need increases, and we are increasingly called on to open our hearts and purses. People become inured to the suffering of others and close themselves off from it. He said that it was the wrong way to go. The right way is to become increasingly sensitive to the suffering of our fellows. This is the way we must proceed if we are to create and live in a caring society.
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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Talking Books

Radio Talking BookImage by kiddharma via Flickr

Photo by Sam Mills

I travel to work by car. I know I shouldn't; that it's better for me and better for the environment if I travel by train. But it takes so long. And I'm not a very organised person. I can't seem to shop and have stuff ready just to throw into a frypan or the oven and so compile an appetising evening meal for Alex and I. And I really want to get out for a walk along the beach every day. (Difficult to get in the 5 clicks these days. It's darkening at 5 o'clock.) So, I'm looking at 45 minutes by car, or at least an hour and a quarter by train.

Self-justification now out of the way, this is my topic: the talking books I listen to going and coming, over the M5, up Fairford Road which becomes Stacey Street through Bankstown; becoming Rookwood Road through Chullora and then Joseph Street. I vroom through a host of suburbs I don't even want to learn the names of. The arse-end of Sydney town. I try to distract myself by listening to talking books. I have noticed that these do not all offer the same entertainment value.

Some talking books are eminently satisfying: a great tale written by a skillful author and voiced by someone with an unitrusive and melodious voice, rhythms and accent absolutely fitted to the setting and characterisation of the tale. But, when the actor's rendition doesn't hit the mark for me, I find myself ready to judge the writing as sub-(my)-standard. I don't really know if the writing is poor. I just know that I can't stand to listen to it. If I wanted to search for the truth, I should go & get the print version and see whether my poor opinion of the novel stands up. But by the time I have become so disillusioned with the performance of the text that I cannot listen to it any more, I also cannot make myself read it; I am so convinced that it's badly written. It has already caused me such pain.

A case in point: I had to stop listening to Jeffrey Eugenides "Middlesex" because the actor voicing the story used a Yiddish accent, instead of the Greek accent the characters would have had. The earlier generation of characters are immigrants from the Greek-speaking part of Turkey at the time, Smyrna (present day Izmir). I found it excruciating to listen to him, especially when he voiced the women characters. He sounded like a hairy-legged drag queen.

Another one I had to stop listening to was "The Unknown Terrorist" by Richard Flanagan. The

'CoverCover of The Unknown Terrorist

protagonist, "the Doll" is an exotic dancer, and described as very beautiful by the narrator. Other characters admire her beauty. She is an anglo Westie, so I know what she would sound like. I hear Anglo Westies every day. And she wouldn't sound like a 150 kilo Lebanese panel beater. The actor voicing her got it very wrong. I don't expect Richard Flanagan will ever read my review of his talking book, but if you do, Richard, I'm sorry, that's the way it is. The talking book stinks. I will never know if your novel cuts it now because I can't bear to read it. It's been spoiled for me.

By comparison, I've just finished "People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks. Masterfully read. Easy to listen to. A host of different voices created by the reader: male & female; English that is Italian-accented, Anglo-Australian accented, American (East Coast)-Accented, Hebrew-accented, Arabic-accented. And all of the accents, it seemed to me (and I encounter many of these accents most days while I'm teaching English to my students) were perfectly natural and credible.

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Friday, July 3, 2009

"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen"

Have watched my four-month-old reading group give up the ghost, and I am in mourning.

Cover of "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen"Cover of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

It passed on Wednesday night. Left a sour taste in my mouth. . . and it wasn't just the half bottle of rough red I'd downed while cooking the lasagne. I should have taken more notice of "Any Good Books Lately": a paperback I picked up for $2.00 at the Basement Bookshop. It suggested that you need at least 12 eager souls to form a reading group. I kicked off with eight (including me). Some might say it was doomed to failure--an unlikely task--akin to training fish to swim up a dry river bed.

Two members dropped out after the first meeting in April. (E. & M. had not been able to say "no" to me. They wanted to please me, so they came along to meeting number 1 and I appreciate that. They just couldn't go on pleasing me, and I bloody hate them for that.) However, I had forced them to read "The Road" by Cormack McCarthy: a masterpiece, no doubt, but it had given me nightmares, even the third time through. Bleak. Some would say depressing.And then there were six.

The RoadImage by -Ant via Flickr

L. made an emergency dash to
London to care for her daughter. J., L.'s partner, stayed away from the next two meetings, too. And then there were four.

Cover of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Clu...Cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

But I met up with an old Moorefield school chum-Y.-and she was enthusiastic about coming to the next meeting in May. Said she'd bring the wine.

A. brought along the nosh: wonderful Leb from deepest

aldous huxleyaldous huxley via

Ashfield. We drank Y's rather special red. Just the three of us. H. couldn't make it that night. The novel was "Brave New World". After we'd made a dent in the dinner, I showed them Aldous Huxley on the cover of "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", and shared my scoop about how the Doors had named their band after his book "The Doors of Perception". We discussed "Brave New World" too, at least A.& I did because Y. hadn't reread it.

In June we met at A.'s place. Three present again, but not the same three. This time it was A., as you'd expect, myself and H. (Y. gave Alex a message on my mobile as I was driving to A's place. She wouldn't be there, she said, too much Cert 4 stuff to do.) So, A. & H. & I talked about "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen", which we all panned remorselessly. Comic title, I thought, but the one-liner couldn't carry the whole book. And it was so silly, wasn't it, the idea of flying schools of salmon to the desert for the fishing pleasure of a sheikh. Ridiculous!

We decided we'd read "Shadow of the Wind", by Carlos Ruiz Zafon next time.

Next time was Thursday, 1st July. A. called that afternoon & told me she & H. wouldn't be coming. I already had the lasagne prepared, the vegetables prepped and the house respectable. Oh well, down to four avid readers for the evening. L. & J. arrived promptly & we talked about "Shadow of the Wind". At seven o'clock I decided we should eat, but Y. hadn't arrived. And she hadn't called to cancel this time. I tried to call her, but she never picks up her mobile.

And then there were three.

We ate the lasagne and some delicious broccoli salad which I'd googled the recipe for that morning.

But that flat feeling, as if my insides were coming together, stayed with me. I couldn't sleep. I was reamed out and empty, despite the big meal. Still hungry. Still up at 2 a.m. ruminating on the folly of assuming that my enthusiasm would beget enthusiasm in others.

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