Tuesday, March 31, 2020

three by sea

Sometime in the far-away of last summer, I took my three daughters to the shore, at a place caught between the Pumicestone Passage and a beloved playground on Bribie Island.

The light was waterlogged, impressionistic, and I sat above the tidemark while the welcome swallows swooped and darted around me, and took photos as my children played, watching as they came together and then moved apart, came together then moved apart, each caught in their own world.

The light caught and held them, so at times it seemed they moved within a painting and I watched the changing light and shifting reflections on the glassy water until my youngest daughter persuaded me it was time to be a dinosaur mummy and hatch some sand eggs.

That time is in the 'before' now. But this time of enforced inaction, with nowhere to go and no urgency to do anything. is bringing with it time for reflection, for looking back and remembering how silken and easy the air was that night, the joy of the children, the feel of complete content.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Then and Now and Story

Before the sun rose, in the smoke-hazed early morning, before my children woke, I left my parents' house and strode down the street to the train station. It's a busy line and the train was unexpectedly full - mostly of men wearing high-vis tops. My parents still live in the house we moved into when I was eight - but I was travelling back to the home of my first memories.

When I ascended from the depths of the underground loop at Parliament Station it was still dark - the sun still a promise. I walked quickly - lacking time before my children arose to conquer the day.

I passed a swish, old fashioned hotel, all plush and chandeliers, studied Parliament House across the road and sighed over the extravagance of the Princess Theatre - spoils of the Gold Rush I assumed.
I had planned to catch a tram, but within minutes I'd turned down oak-lined Victoria Parade and was passing the hospitals.

It's not a far walk to the suburb of my first memories - one of Melbourne's oldest. I grinned as I turned down Brunswick Street - all the memories from my late teens and early twenties - meet ups with friends at the Veggie Bar, dates at the Black Cat Cafe, the Rob Roy hotel where I lost my dad's green leather jacket he'd kept from the seventies. I walked these streets so many times, dressed up and eager to be going out, tipsy in heels and heading for the last train home. I was wearing heels then, in honour of that time, and also a habit on my few kid-free occasions, to mark the event. My camera was heavy around my neck - I was unbalanced in all direction

The council high rise flats spiked into the sky opposite the turreted shop I bought a Persian carpet in with my first professional-job pay cheque. Most of the kids in my prep class were recent immigrants who lived in the high rises - I think I was one of only two or three kids in my class who spoke English as a first language. I wonder if any of the kids from that class still live locally.

Gertrude Street is a strange mix of highly styled, hip retro shops, with concrete floors and lots of in-jokes, lovely old terraces and colourful but slightly unsettling graffiti. I walked down with joy, eagerly noting the mix of new and remembered.

On a whim I crossed the road and veered down Napier Street to the church I went to as a child. (Memories of haunting, ancient music and the scent of blown candles.) In the shadow of the high rises, it's an old, bluestone building and I caught my breath when I saw it had been turned into high-security apartments.


The church is one of my main connections to a young woman whose life I stole for one of my characters. She was born ninety-nine years before me, went to the same church as me, her father owned property on the street - a block away - that holds my first remembered home. She attended Methodists Ladies College, which is where my grandmother went and my father taught. Her father and brothers went to Scotch College, like my cousins, uncles, grandfather and great grandfather. One of her brothers went to Melbourne Uni - my Uni, and also my first home. She had a brother called Caleb - my son's name, a brother called James - my nephew's name.

Her name was Grace Cheong and she died of complications after influenza in 1898. If she had not died she would have gone to Melbourne University. (I think about her daily and hope any distant relatives do not mind how much of the facts of her life I have purloined. I hope it helps I do so with love and respect.)

Of course, my character (my book being a fantasy) has powers of water, bestowed by being outside during a phenomenal solar storm, but I discovered Grace while doing research on the Chinese in Victoria during the time period I set my book. (Fire & Tempest begins properly in 1905, when my character - Lilias- is twenty-two, a widow, with a half-indigenous child who has been stolen and placed in a mission.)

Pondering, I continued on my way, imagining Grace walking beside me, laughing with her sisters, escorted by one of her brothers, secure in the knowledge she was 'the flower of her family', protected by wealth, education, strong church connections and family, from the racism of the time, not yet affected by the White Australia Policy.

Retracing my steps to Gertrude Street, I turned at the next block down Gore Street, where we moved when I was two. The hodgepodge of old houses and the overgrowth of greenery delights me. There is peeling paint and graffiti - incongruous with what I know of the astronomical house prices in the area.

I passed the old house of childhood friends, tried to work out the house across the road that was my childcare, where Father Christmas one year decided to journey across the roof, fell, and broke his ankle. There are apartment buildings where the carpark used to be where I'd play kick-the-can with the big kids after community meals. I believe there might have been a murder there at a later date.

After I studied my first home from across the street, the big ashram next to it that ensured I fell asleep to chanting through most of my early childhood still large and imposing, I made my way down to the grunge and history of Smith Street.

I've taken this area as the setting for another group of stories - about a group of five sisters granted access to a magical world created by the wishes of Scheherazade's descendants. My on-earth descriptions are too one dimensional so I was attempting to observe and document, solidify the now, rather than the blurrily remembered. Compared to where I live now these streets appeared grimy, hemmed in, chaotic. I was overwhelmed with the confusion of colour, style, brick and blue-stone and tenacious green living things. Memory, history and the Now collided in a cacophony I needed time to make sense of and I struggled to take in all the details I was determined not to forget.

The sun had risen, hazy from the bushfires. The rubbish truck lurched up the street. (I made a note of the time and day for later use.)  Time for me to leave, to try to unravel the density of memory, history, story and the scents and visual details of the-here-and-now.

A quick call to my mum - the kids are still sleeping - but they won't be for long. My eyes darting here and there, camera constantly clicking - the focus playing up as I'm out of practice, my head completely taken in story and fragments of description, I cross the road to the tram stop, eager to begin the journey back to the suburbs and my life as it is now.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Land-locked (I miss the shore)

Land-locked, house-bound, I miss the shore.

I am so grateful for our garden, for our views to hills and paddock - each mornings sunrise over the hills is a blessing. But I miss the sea.

I've been looking through old photos from when we were home at Christmas - remembering the deep delight of being in the place that makes my heart sing. Remembering my younger children's exhilaration and wonder as they ran and played, observed and studied.

This will not last forever.  I still have hopes that come September we'll be able to go home for a week.

But for now, I look back on photos from our Summer and live vicariously through past joy.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019


One of the most magical things about whales (from a purely ego-centric point of view) is how interested they seem in us. It could be a matter of 'keep your friends close and your enemies closer'- and I do see that after we hunted them to near extinction and then polluted the ocean it would probably seem wise of them to keep an eye on us - but that doesn't quite seem to be it. 

We journeyed up to Hervey Bay recently and took one of the whale watching boats out to see the Humpback whales on their annual migration. It was truly amazing how intent the whales appeared to be in coming up to the boat, showing off, and having a look. They splashed their flippers and circled the boat repeatedly, and it really seemed like they were checking us out. 

In all the vast space of the ocean, and even in all the vast space of the bay, they approached us with curiosity and playfulness. My two year old, whose obsession with the Octonauts - cartoon characters who rescue a variety of marine animals-, recently eclipsed her interest in dinosaurs, was entranced. And, I may be biased (almost definitely biased) but they seemed to be especially interested in her - often following as she ran to the far end of the boat from the crowd. ( We ran from end to end of the boat many times over the course of the morning. Many times) 

A few days later, my husband and his friends hired a boat to go out and complained about the whales approaching. Let me repeat - he complained about the amount of whales coming up to his boat. I am still blinking and it's taken me a few months to get around to recording our trip. He said the whales kept swimming around them and then the tour boats would cruise up and then they'd have to move on because the fish would be gone As it was just a small boat he went out fishing with I can only imagine how immense the whales looked from eye level and be exceptionally jealous. Next year I am going out in the fishing boat to see the whales. (No fishing allowed!) 

I have dreams of being eye to eye with a whale. But this close was pretty magical. 

(And any trip no kids fall/jump overboard I count a complete and spectacular success) 

Saturday, May 18, 2019


Reluctantly, but not (quite) tearfully, I have been forced to admit that our littlest one is no longer a baby. Or even a toddler. She is not, as she assures me, a dinosaur, to be specific a brontosaurus, or occasionally a pterodactyl (but not a t-rex). But she is no longer a baby.
Our littlest one turned two and a half recently.
I figure at two you are still so young that half years count so I paused to reflect.
Our Anna-saurus is feisty. She is determined. She is humorous. She is joyful. She is wondrous. She is adventurous. She is imaginative. She is brave. She is affectionate. She is giggle-some. She is a spectacularly bad liar. She is co-ordinated. She is communicative. She is a climber. She is protective. You're never in any doubt about what she is thinking or feeling or what she wants. She is creative.
It is completely impossible to imagine the world without her, but it is equally true that four kids is the handful everyone comments on when we go out. Four kids - some with challenges - is more than a handful. But our Littlest is still the best decision we ever made. (Along with the other three.)
I cannot imagine being without her expressive mimes, hand-hiding-her-mouth-giggles, awed 'Wow!'s,  fierce kisses and plentiful hugs. She completes our family.
She is now entirely one of the tribe. (Or pack. Maybe pack is more truthful. A rather wild and wilful wolf pack. Except with less order.)
She is her big brother's favourite. On account of her savageness and penchant for biting. He gives her lee-way in a way he wouldn't dream of for his other sisters. He gives her piggy backs and if they team up, he's on her team. Which isn't fair, because they are by far the toughest.
She is her five year old sisters best friend and near constant companion. They spend hours in the garden together making mud-messes and climbing trees. Part of the reason we decided four was the magical number for us was so our five year old wasn't left out as her older siblings are very much a team with similar interests. And it worked. Although our Anna-saurus is frequently too rough with her much gentler older sister, they love each other fiercely.
She is her eldest sister's toy, experiment, puppy and cuddleupagus. She is read to, taught gymnastics, carted around and made into a fashion show. Her big sister is amazing at helping locate her, and make sure she hasn't escaped, or got into the eggs again.
Anna-saurus is afraid of nothing except pelicans (and possibly me disappearing.)
If someone comments on what a pretty girl she is, she shakes her head emphatically and Rarrr!s. She is clearly a dinosaur. Or sometimes a puppy.
She can climb to the top shelves of the inbuilt wardrobes and I often find her hanging out up there, looking down on the rest of us. She loves to crack eggs. I don't think she has a partially for carpet, but it definitely seems that way. I now hide our eggs at the very back, at the very top of the corner cupboard. She adores drawing on walls. And herself. Luckily crayons nowadays wipe off easily. Running away giggling and going 'na-na' is just about her very favourite thing. Particularly if we have to go somewhere in a hurry. In which case she'll run and joyfully hide under the bed, or circle the car.
Her favourite songs are 'open shut them', 'incy-wincy spider' and 'there were ten in the bed,' but she also adores all variations of This Little Piggy. (I get bored with pigs, and tend to move on to fairies, possums and dinosaurs, who climb gum trees, fly, and eat cup cakes and blossom)
Her favourite books are Baby Cakes and Curious George and anything about dinosaurs.
If I let her she would watch Peter Rabbit and Dino Dana - a show about a young girl who studies dinosaurs -  all day long.
I often wonder what my children will end up doing with their lives - so young it's impossible to tell, but as long as my Annna-saurus never loses her mischief and joie de vivre I'll be very happy.