Book Review: Weekly Times Nowaudigital : 16/10/2013 9:33 am :
I came across a fabulous review of In Stockman’s Footsteps by Christopher Bantick at the Weekly Times Now website. I’ve copied it in its entirety below.
THIS book is a testament to the bush. Jane Grieve is a rare writer.
She can bring her great love of the land and its hard bitten people to the page with passion and a celebration of the bush spirit.
- In Stockmen’s Footsteps By Jane Grieve Allen & Unwin, $29.95
She’s about as Aussie as billy tea. While the book follows her life from bare foot on the black fertile soil of the Darling Downs to her decade with the legendary R.M. Williams establishing the Stockman’s Hall of Fame, there is much more besides.
Central to the book is Grieve’s commitment to the furtherance of the bush and specifically the outback way of life.
This began with a real sense that she came from people who loved the land and understood the importance of the pioneering spirit.
This heritage took her across the wide brown land, first as a station cook at just 18. She describes this journey as her entrance to the “school of hard knocks” and she notes the “freshness of youth and pure ignorance were more often than not, my greatest allies”.
Given that Grieve began with the bush in her blood, when she met R. M. Williams, while working for Bill Durack, brother of the enduringly significant Mary and Elizabeth Durack, her life changed.
This was because she shared the same vision as Williams did of recognising the massive contribution stockmen provided to Australia’s sense of itself. The book goes to some lengths to give an account of how this came to be.
The insight she gives to R.M. Williams, and how he worked to ensure the Stockmen’s Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre at Longreach in Queensland came to be, is sure to attract anyone with an interest in bush traditions.
While this is a story of a remarkable woman, it is really a book about a kind of Australia that in many ways is fast disappearing. It is important to be reminded of it.
Homeaudigital : 01/10/2013 12:50 pm :
I discovered a secret weapon on the trip home; the blindfold mask provided by Qantas in their little hygiene pack. It was miraculous, for such a simple device.
I put it on in Hong Kong, and apart from waking up and watching a couple of movies during that 8-hour leg of the 27 hour trip, I slept the whole way.
Now I’m home and once again I can see my homeland anew. I feel the urge to photograph everything as I have done for the last 4 weeks, because home is indeed a lovely place in its hugeness and pastel shades.
Everyone says “what was the best thing?” How can I possibly choose? We have known so much kindness and hospitality, seen so many delightful sights, been immersed in so many different lifestyles, and each is lovely in its way.
Perhaps the best thing has been being reminded that there is a world out there and that it is possible to dip into it for a time. Yes, for me that is the best thing. There will be a next time, and sooner rather than later.
More Swedenaudigital : 29/09/2013 4:16 pm :
A more sombre evening was the tone of our second and final night in Sweden. Once again at Anders and Maria’s house, but after each of us had spent a decent amount of time snoozing on sofas (someone snoring loudly) we had another grand Swedish repast and a very small amount of beer, and the Schnapps and Cognac stayed under wraps.
Anders drove us back to our motel on the other side of Stockholm close to midnight, after an inspection of Ylva’s new acquisition, her own bedsit condo which is as snug as; her father thinks it’s a study apartment. In fact, we were surprised to hear that she is having a party for minimum 15 in that tiny space in a couple of nights, and were with her when she bought Twister as the focal entertainment. Hmmm.
Rolf and Ylva, having taken us around old Stockholm in all its magnificence the previous afternoon, covered the rest this morning. They were so generous with their time. It was absolutely wonderful having local guides, otherwise we would have not had a clue what we were seeing or where we were going. In fact, we would probably still be there instead of winging our way back to the other side of the globe.
Hmmm again. Now, that’s a thought.
Swedenaudigital : 29/09/2013 11:30 am :
We missed our morning appointment with Ylva, our bright and bubbly little tour guide. “Don’t worry,” she said when I apologised for our tardiness. “I’ve still got 10 fingers and 10 toes.”
But she had taken the day off work especially, so it was mean of us, but unavoidable, as I have not felt so ill for a long time. I seriously thought I was going to throw up in the train – the underground has this way of throwing moving shapes at your impaired vision, and there’s not enough fresh air to compensate. Everyone said it was cold but I was GLAD it was cold! It took the edge off my more immediate physical concerns. And provided some much-needed fresh air.
As it eventuated, once we (Robert, me and Rolf) had found Ylva it was lunch time. In every respect the Swedes are so much more earthy than any other cultural group I know; they are to a man fit and healthy (looking, anyway), they walk everywhere and they eat the most fantastic stuff. Even so, I could only pick at the edges of a plate of delicious salad that included cottage cheese and salmon, and lots of fabulous healthy salad veggies.
I think the cottage cheese went down, but I forfeited on most of the smoked salmon (almost my favourite thing) and felt that the lettuce would probably play havoc with the remains of my insides; but at least I could look at it without too severe a reaction. Progress.
Our guides, Rolf, Ylva and Anders, took us to the Vasa museum, one of the most extraordinary experiences to be had anywhere. A brand new fantastic warship was launched near the site of the museum (at the royal palace, actually) in around 1672 and sank in all its glory on its maiden voyage of 1500m – right next to where they have now built the museum. It lay there for nearly 300 years and was re-found in 1959, eventually refloated in a massive operation, and conserved over a period of about 40 years, an enormous undertaking. But it was pretty well intact – albeit somewhat misshapen and haphazard, which required years of jigsaw-puzzle-type activity – and a most amazing time machine.
The result is simply marvellous, a marvel in the true sense of the word. We spent hours there looking at this magnificent vessel from below, above and in the middle. It was a Swedish time capsule and spoke volumes about their rich heritage.
Land of the Trollsaudigital : 29/09/2013 7:09 am :
And then, Sweden!
Yes, we found Heathrow. In a smaller car which we had collected in Wales we were fair game to the madder of the English drivers, who swoop up behind you and sit about 16 inches from your tail til you lose your nerve and pull over for them to pass.
Therefore London driving was not fun, and finding Heathrow through a maze of Monday-morning traffic and flyovers and passunders and multi-laned freeways and direction signs galore was one of my less enjoyable driving experiences. But, we got there. I was glad to hand over the car even though we did get charged a mysterious 40 quid ‘out-of-hours’ fee despite the ‘in-hours’ nature of our handover. One is not in a position to argue and well they know it.
And on the plane again; arriving at Arlanda airport in Stockholm to a wonderful welcome from our bright-eyed girl Ylva and her papa Anders …. holding up a placard saying “Goodonya Grieves, Welcome to Sweden”! followed by a family dinner of typical Swedish repast …. a smorgasbord of delicious Swedish treats prepared by Maria, Anders’s partner.
Ylva’s mum Eva was there, and Rolf arrived from Hedemora, and after the elderberry wine and beer Anders brought out the Schnapps and they all sang their rank Swedish Schnapps songs as we scholled and scholled and scholled. Then we broke out the Cognac which had been our gift, and some whiskey with a name like Leathfrogue appeared, and we made some serious headway with the lot.
At one stage during the evening Robert was seen to be playing didgeridoo on our hosts’ vacuum cleaner – once we managed to convince them that they had to turn it OFF for this travesty to occur. He managed to get a very respectable didg sound out of it even though it was a Swedish vacuum cleaner and he was fairly thoroughly under the weather.
Our enthusiasm for the evening was such that, like a bunch of ridiculous teenagers, we didn’t know when to stop (I thought it was the Swedes who are reserved? They always claim to be) and the Grieves ended up crashing on the sofa bed for the night rather than risking the incomprehensible train system to the other side of Stockholm where our motel room lay empty and sad without us (but with all our things).
And the morning brought remorse. The sort of remorse that in my case was accompanied by hot and cold tremors and the sort of head – and stomach – that God invented to punish sinners.
Wiltshire, actuallyaudigital : 23/09/2013 6:15 pm :
The lady at the accommodation we found on Late Bookings suggested we go out and peer in through the perimeter, as we may not think it was worthwhile paying to go in.
There were these gorgeous little spotted birds loitering around the waiting queues; were they thrushes? They were really beautiful, covered in spots from head to toe and very cheeky.
They kept me amused, once I had rushed – run, actually – to the car to grab my camera when I realised I had left it there. It was SOOOO worth the wait! It was another British triumph of getting the hang of the tourist market, with great audio speakers for every person who paid the 8 quid to get in, which told the story of Stonehenge (such as it is known) in 7 stages.
5000 years of history. They have been able to carbon date it because the people who cleared the site used deer antlers for the task; you can only carbon-date matter which has been living, apparently.
Fantastic. I’ve wanted to see Stonehenge all my life and it did not disappoint. It was wonderful.
That about does me for Britain, in the time-frame given. Even though we are staying our last night a stone’s throw away from Windsor castle, which we saw in the distance, we opted for a stint in a local pub as a gradual let-down from our adventures.
Tomorrow Sweden, God-willing that we find Heathrow.
Bath to Salisburyaudigital : 23/09/2013 3:13 pm :
Exhaustion by any other name ………………………
And so this evening finds us in Salisbury, filled with the wonders of Bath and plenty to think about. More than anything I thought how my old Latin teacher Miss Young would have loved the Roman baths. In vain I tried to translate the Latin inscriptions but very little came back to me, except thoughts of Youngie and her comprehension of and love for that old language and the heritage it told. Tells.
It always seemed to me that Youngie really loved the Romans … and I have the impression that they were in the main benevolent colonisers. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong.
Amazing that time has covered the site of the baths with 20 feet of ground, so that you have to walk down lots of stairs to get to them. The personal stories, as usual this time ‘round in the UK most beautifully presented and the artefacts beautifully restored and displayed, brought the human factor into such sharp focus.
It was a thrill for me that Bill Bryson was one of the voices on the audio trail at the Roman baths, being a Bill Bryson fan myself and currently rocking the bed every night with his hilarious descriptions of Europeans. His voice on the audio was not what I expected. Quite Pommy, and with just a trace of the American mid-west remaining.
To have slept last night with the sound of the River Avon outside our window, and paced today the Bath streets resonant of so much past and so many wondrous tales, and taken the double-decker bus tour of the town (upstairs, up the very back as usual), and gaped at the Roman baths and seen the statues of Caesar and Claudius and Hadrian (who was a bit of a spunk, actually – nice bod anyway) and soaked up their stories and remembered Youngie so profoundly has drained the last vestige of energy from me.
The Cotswolds, the Somerset scenery, its thatched and tiled rooves, Tudor houses, brick and flint constructions, stone walls, hills and hedges – I hope they lodged somewhere in my saturated memory bank. They were certainly appreciated at the time.
Stonehenge tomorrow, then Windsor. Our second-last night in the UK.
Bathaudigital : 21/09/2013 4:19 pm :
We took the moving-on option. It was about 4 inches on the map to Bath and looked quite daunting, so jg got in the driver’s seat once again and negotiated miles and miles of once-again amorphous freeway. Wales blew by in a not-inconsiderable number of hours. The place names lived up to their reputation of being beyond incomprehensible, and within hilarious. What’s with the non-use of vowels, for goodness sakes? We had bought a cd of Welsh songs but decided it was too miserable to listen to, couldn’t find our Scottish one or the auto harp from York Minster, so listened to local radio instead.
Bath is alive with the annual Jane Austen festival, and we were damn lucky to get a room at 7.00pm. But luckily I found a squirrel’s tail at the door of the pub whence I went to use their wifi to book said room. Robert has yet to see the rest of a squirrel, but I thought I did well to find that much of one for him.
At least, I think it was a squirrel’s tail. I hope it wasn’t diseased as I handled it rather a lot.
It turned out that we are within a small leap of the River Avon at tonight’s motel, the last room available in Bath – at the Old Mill in Batheaster. I dined on sardines, giant ones, a one-off experience that I can tick off the list (bones, bones, bones) and Eton Mess, which has featured on every menu since we’ve been in the UK and I felt I should try once, under the sanctimonious gaze of the resident diabetic who is so disorganised that he has run out of diabetic’s medicine and is therefore being careful about what he eats.
And dropped into bed. We were many hours in the car, me at the wheel. Only 2 days left in the UK. Robert feels most of his wishes have been met – a game of golf and a race meeting would have completed his experience, but otherwise he is replete with the experience.
I think it’s been absolutely fantastic, and am not ready to go home. Sorry, home. I’ve been on the hook for so many years though! It’s nice to slip the traces.
Walesaudigital : 21/09/2013 12:17 pm :
But no – on second thoughts, look for us in Solva, Wales. The archetypical smuggler’s cove, you keep expecting to see a one-eyed pirate with a parrot on his shoulder and a wooden leg saying “Aaaaaaarrrrrrgh me hearties!”
This is a place of quite breathtaking beauty.
There is the odd tendency for kitsch throughout these islands, no place-names mentioned. But in this place, Solva, there is nary a garden gnome or plastic flower in sight. There doesn’t need to be. The gardens grow lush and colourful, and not altogether where they are planned to be (such as on top of stone fences, which can’t be doing the stone fences much good).
The birds are singing their delight at living here. The seagulls are so content that they just sit on the water amongst the myriad yachts and enjoy the act of being.
So – today we left Ireland. I woke up at 2.00am and thought “Do I need to pinch myself? I am in Ireland. Ireland.” But it didn’t last long, because the wake-up call woke us up at 6.30 and it was all systems go to be aboard the Stena ferry at 8.00am.
Chrissie, bless her darling heart, had given me some sea-sickness tablets in anticipation of my usual reaction to (1) being on a boat or (2) sitting in the bath too long, and watching the water. So, drugged, I slept the 4-hour crossing to Wales in a hideously uncomfortable position and then could not rouse myself sufficiently to make the most of St David’s, whence we drove as soon as we had collected our Hertz car at Fishguard.
Nonetheless, St David’s was remarkably fantastic and we walked and photographed, and ate an ice cream that was alleged to have been locally and freshly made; Robert had dairy, I had strawberry.
We decided in honour of our friend Jenny Morris to stay in her home town of Solva. We found a b&b with a friendly cat, and then walked around the harbour, the beautiful harbour, a smuggler’s cove full of moored sailing boats and colourful rowboats and phantom pirates saying “Aaaaaaarrrrrrgh.”
God! What a place. Will we stay here for another day, or will we progress to the Salisbury Plain and seek out Roman ruins at Bath? Tomorrow will tell.
Ireland 2audigital : 19/09/2013 3:34 pm :
One could not do a fleeting trip to Ireland without mentioning its particular traffic idiosyncrasy, which builds on the basic British tenet that ‘anything goes’ on the road.
Tractors. We haven’t seen one on the freeway yet, but then we have kept off the freeways so that is no indicator. But all along the maze of other roads and including tiny one-car lanes all of which don’t seem to faze semi trailers or people who think it’s a good idea to just stop and have a cup of tea the while, there are capped gents driving all sorts of tractors with all sorts of trailers and loads.
They obviously feel, and probably quite rightly, that they have an equal right to the road and that as they are not in a hurry nor should anyone else be. We weren’t; I didn’t mind. But it can be a bit hair-raising passing them. They never seem to see the need to pull over and let everyone pass, and everyone is so good-natured and relaxed that it sort of doesn’t matter, somehow. And it’s contagious.
Actually – there was a trotting horse and gig being driven happily along one main-ish road, with no apparent sense from any of the many cars waiting to pass that this was in any way untoward or even possibly (heaven forbid!) illegal.
Registration? Tail lights? Indicators? You gotta be kidding!
I just love it.
In fact, we both just love Ireland. You can sense that they have the same sense of humour as us; they are pathologically pleasant and happy; they are unfailingly polite and friendly (unless you capture them with your car door); and they are heartwarmingly ready to laughter.
If you see a space where we used to be, look for us in Ireland.
Irelandaudigital : 19/09/2013 11:32 am :
Is it the GPS? Yes, I do believe so. Marital relations have been much more pleasant now that we have a second woman bossing us around – one we can really have confidence in.
It turned out that Fethard (pr ‘Feathered’), whence we lobbed by sticking a pin in the map of Ireland and telling our GPS lady to take us there, was exactly where we needed to be for a short drive (like, in the event, 3km) in the morning to Coolmore Stud for the thrill of Robert’s lifetime.
It was also a medieval town with some great features including a town wall still largely standing, and a sort of castle thing in quite good condition, and plenty of charm. Plus an Irish slant on the history of it; eg Oliver Cromwell stabled his horses in the abbey ‘as a gesture of disrespect’; he seems to have had a penchant for this sort of thing – or religious horses – because at Rosslyn Chapel in Edinburgh he also stabled his horses in the chapel, but their guide book just said that he stabled his horses in the chapel.
Coolmore Thoroughbred Stud has been the keystone for the development of the profile of the Irish thoroughbred industry for the last 40 years. They took a punt on going big and it paid off, big time. Some of the greatest sire names of international racing were there for the viewing either in the flesh or via their halters, life-sized bronze statues or luxurious stables (Galileo, Danehill, Danehill Dancer, Holy Roman Emperor, Yeates, Zoffany to name just a few). Courtesy of Lex Heinemann, who organised our visit, and with the good graces of a young man called Peter Steele who showed us around and shared information and his time most generously, we had a fantastic overview of its operation.
4500 acres of it – they have a huge complement of stallions and mares, with many outside mares served in a season. Coolmore offers employment to many people, with cattle, hay-baling, and usual farming activities keeping them more than occupied, along with the corporate administration of such a large international business. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to look around, and a wonderful business for Ireland.
After Coolmore, conscious that we only have 2 ½ days total in Ireland, we stuck another pin in the map with a view to seeing the Atlantic Ocean (Robert for the first time); the placename of Ballybunion added to the attraction of our choice and thence we headed. Through, I have to reiterate, magnificent countryside. With our GPS lady’s gracious consent we kept off the amorphous freeway, consulting the compass every now and then to see which way was up.
We forged our way through narrow country lanes with stone fences, hedges abounding, wall-to-wall cattle & sheep, colourful and happy villages, lots of flowers and colours and fresh-painted houses. It was a lovely day’s drive.
The Irish people were all really friendly except for the woman Robert accidentally captured when he opened his door without looking after I parked half on the street, half on the narrow pavement in a little town. It was very undignified for her and despite his earnest apologies (she obviously didn’t know how rare this was) her reaction was comical in the extreme – abso-bloody-lutely furious – and her rage exuded from her retreating back all the way down the street. Don’t blame her. Bloody tourists.
Ballybunion was blowin’ a right gale straight off the Atlantic; we lobbed into a motel and got a great room at a great price because of being Australian (once it was ascertained that we weren’t South African), with a view over the Atlantic and part of this enchanting town. The driver (me) was exhausted. But it felt like the right thing to do to go out in the gale and battle against the wind down the cliff to touch the Atlantic, feel the salt (and rain, as it suddenly happened) in our hair, check out the golfcourse and wish (!) Robert could have a game there (4th most famous in the world, visited regularly by Bill Clinton whose statue is in the main drag), and wish we had time (hoho, what a SHAME!) to go to the races tomorrow.
Irelandaudigital : 18/09/2013 9:40 am :
Whether from tiredness, travel fatigue or personal history, I felt no connection with Ireland, none a’tall a’tall.
None of the place names rang the slightest bell, I had no idea where anything was or should be, and less idea what I should be seeking out to ogle. Nor for that matter, the wish to ogle anything. Travel fatigue, I guess.
With this car we also hired a GPS. Without a doubt it got us out of the Dublin airport carpark, where we would otherwise still be. And saved us from divorce. Bas has thoughtfully purchased a compass; so we know which way is north! Amazing difference and a surprising comfort. I was nervous about ending up in Belfast by mistake, especially as the very first newscast we heard on the shuttle bus to the car hire place was entirely about men being arrested in Dublin for being in the IRA and possessing firearms. Two different lots this week.
The freeway could have been anywhere; we knew we had to get off it and into the country. This we thought we were doing when hunger overcame us at 3.00 and we slipped off it and into a town with an impossible name, which took us an hour to get out of even with the GPS. But Ireland’s charm started to manifest ….. the houses were no longer the grey of Scotland, but painted white with red bits, and yellow and some other colours, and with heaps of flowers in flower boxes.
And the first people we have met are absolutely lovely. Gentle, and friendly, and solicitous. So far this has held true. On the streets and in the pubs they say ‘hello’ and mean it. Even the children look at you and say ‘hello’. It’s extraordinary how such a cultural difference is so obvious and widespread. And enchanting.
The landlord at the small B&B where we eventually found a bed in the medieval village of Fethard in Country Tipperary (no pubs in the previous tiny villages as we would have expected in England and Scotland, and we were starting to get worried by 7pm that we would be sleeping in the car) would still be in our room talking if we had let him. Paddy, his name is, of course. But we eased him out and fell into bed after another fish’n’chips meal down the street – which will probably be my last. I think I’ve satisfied that craving.
And we completely accidentally ended up 7 minutes from tomorrow’s destination, Coolmore Thoroughbred Stud. Amazing.
Glencoe – Rosslyn Chapel – Greenlawaudigital : 16/09/2013 6:46 pm :
Morning brought noise in an otherwise quiet place – Tyedrum at the southern end of Glencoe.
Did I say Glencoe valley, or glen or whatever it is, was a wild and remote place in the extreme. I didn’t think there would be anywhere on this crowded island where there was no sign of habitation or, for that matter, potential for habitation. But we drove for miles and miles through beautiful rugged country until we began to wonder if we would ever get to civilisation again, or find somewhere to stay for the night.
The colours! Shades of brown and yellow and green with heather on the hills. Grey shale in slabs and lumps, with water glistening en route down the sides of the sort of majestic mountains that make you want to sing highland songs. On and on and on with the road a tiny ribbon winding along close to the bottom of the valley.
Tyedrum loomed and an ancient hotel run by dour women in the best Scots tradition – I won’t be putting it on tripadviser, but the company in the bar was good. And faithful to the forecast, the fine weather of Saturday turned into gale-force winds and driving rain on Sunday. We woke to the roaring of the wind and the rattling of horizontal rain. We were glad to experience this side of Scotland! Especially as we left ………………………..
A couple of inches on the map doesn’t add up to many miles, but the miles are slow. The roads and driving are idiosyncratic to say the least – our traffic cops in Aus would have a field day. The roads are small and wiggly, with hedges on either side. As there are very few verges, people just pull up …. on either side of the road whichever direction they are going. The traffic just waits, then goes around them. Everyone seems incredibly patient and reasonable and the situation suits me just fine. I’m the driver.
Our destination was Greenlaw to report in to Phip and Tim before we leave Scotland…..quite a long drive. Our via was Rosslyn Chapel at Roslin, on the edge of Edinburgh. My mapreader, who has been seriously derelict in his duties to the point sometimes of near-murder, with some ‘encouragement’ from me today at last learned to plan and to watch the map, and to pre-empt our next turn instead of saying “oh, we should have taken that one” or worse still “I think we should have taken that one, but I’m not sure”. In short, after another bumbling start and more loud muttering about how much better it would have been had we invested in a GPS, we got everywhere we wanted to get and it wasn’t simple.
So hats off to Bas.
Rosslyn Chapel is tucked away in a hidden spot. I visited 38 years ago when it was not famous, with Chris McConnel whose family also cherishes the name & heritage of St Clair, and his mates Rick Evans and Rodney Bell. It’s a different kettle of fish now that its value has been recognised and steps taken to salvage and present it in the best possible way.
It’s out of this world. Surreal. And filled with mystery and unresolved riddles. The guide was excellent, and the adjacent displays lively and interesting and explanatory. Hats off to the Rosslyn Trust as well. It was a wonderful experience for us to visit.
And back at the semi-subsistence lifestyle of the Culhams in Greenlaw, we had chores – letting out the chooks & ducks, collecting the eggs – and it felt like coming home. Topping off the day and the Scotch (as my grandmother would say) experience were a brace of grouse and a breast of pheasant for supper. We may not have ‘done’ Scotland fully but we’ve made some serious inroads!
Loch Ness through Glencoeaudigital : 16/09/2013 4:00 pm :
My whiskey-sampling duties notwithstanding, I rose full of purpose and much recovered from a somewhat dispirited finish to yesterday.
I even found it in my heart to like Basil Fawlty a bit.
The sonar boat tour of Loch Ness was fantastic, largely because our skipper John was intimately involved with the scientific explorations of the Loch and therefore a mine of information about the whole thing.
Loch Ness – part of a huge fault that effectively chopped the head off Britain and extends to Norway. Exacerbated by glacial action so that the loch floor is flat, albeit pretty consistently 230M deep. At an alarmingly close proximity to the edge (he took us there to show us, and of course being Scotland the lifejackets were all visible and in their original packaging in the hold) it is still deeper than the English Channel at around 25M deep.
They have taken core samples from the floor of the Loch which give amazing reports on the annual climatic conditions; eg, the industrial revolution is evident, and the subsequent clean years after it was cleaned up; and the Pacific Atomic Tests and Chernobyl……all set down in layers on the floor of Loch Ness.
As in … wow!
Very few fish live there, as the Loch Ness Monster eats all the food – or all the fish? Or perhaps it’s because the water is extremely brackish from tannin from the trees, and photosynthesis is curtailed severely, underwater visibility being 9M max, and food is minimal as a result, so fish stocks are way less than one would expect from a body of fresh water that is greater than the combined total of freshwater in the whole of Britain.
So we set off late after our Loch Ness experience (and after dallying at the gift store), and I just had to see Guisachan at Tomich, another of my grandmother’s childhood haunts; not Guisachan itself, home of Lord & Lady Tweedmouth, now a ruin, but adjacent Kerrow, home of Tweedmouth’s mother Lady Aberdeen who was my grandmother’s step grandmother. She was wonderful to my grandmother and her sister Lily, and kept ponies and treats to make their holidays special. It was lovely to see the home where Mimi spent many happy times.
We then rushed, somewhat, down the side of Loch Ness, nary a monster in sight, but many spectacular views and Highland colours that defy the apparent barrenness of the place. Miles and miles of seemingly wild and uninhabited land from Glencoe through its haunted glen on a cushion of sound from the Scottish songs on Robert’s new cd (as sung forever by Gran Grieve).
And evening at last at a place called Tyndrum, on the edge of civilisation, with crisp air, sweet water and gale-force winds promised for tomorrow.
Perthshire (before Drumnadrochit, Loch Ness)audigital : 16/09/2013 10:37 am :
My whiskey-sampling duties somehow got in the way of a more substantial blog yesterday, and for my own diary purposes I want to write down what we saw.
Basically, in something of a rush because suddenly we are running out of time in Scotland, we whisked through the land of my forefathers (one wing of them) to catch a glimpse of the sights our grandmother grew up with. Some of them not much changed in the over-one-hundred intervening years, I suspect, although she might disagree with me.
Perthshire is the lower part of the highlands, and of course an enchanting place; the more so because I have read my Grandmother’s words of playing barefoot in the heather with her sister Lily (why weren’t they bitten by an adder?) and visiting the people in the local village of Spitalfield.
Their mother sent them off with baskets of food to Spitalfield, to give to those less fortunate than themselves. This was a habit my grandmother continued throughout her life in Australia.
I imagined the village simpleton (I can’t remember his name) who used to fascinate them on the tiny streets which would undoubtedly have had the same houses in the late 1800s. Other stories Mimi my grandmother told throughout her writings of the characters who lived in the village brought it to life on the page as it is still living on today. I will have to refresh my memory when I get home.
We didn’t find Gourdie, her childhood home, but anyway its incumbents the Charles Coxes weren’t answering the phone so we couldn’t very well just lob.
We did find Clunie Kirk though, set in magnificent countryside amongst huge old trees and fields, and beside the loch where the children (my grandmother and her sister Lily Nicholls, and Wee Ruthie Young the vicar’s daughter (Miss Young, Senior Mistress at Negs when I was there) – and possibly her brother too, the one we found in the cemetery who was killed aged 22 in the Peninsular War) used to play ice hockey with sticks and turnips. I found the headstone which undoubtedly belonged to her parents and brother. I imagined Youngie (‘Wee Ruthie’) living in the Manse adjacent and playing under the trees that are still there, praying in the Kirk which still serves the local community under the care of a lady vicar.
Drumnadrochit, Loch Nessaudigital : 16/09/2013 7:37 am :
One has a duty, when in Scotland, to sample the whiskey.
I am upholding my duty. The whiskey isn’t bad either. Goes down a right treat with just a tad of ice and just a tad – the tiniest tad – of H2O.
I want my friend Rob to take note that I am doing this just for her, as she is a whiskeyphile. A full report will be forthcoming; but unfortunately not a full bottle of whiskey as it’s too heavy. I should know. I am currently carrying a full bottle of Bundy for my Swedish friend Rolf and it has been an act of pure love to do so.
Less than half the weight of my luggage is clothes.
At Drumnadrochit they do not come at providing a lift in the rather ancient hotel, and we are on the 2nd floor. I need Rolf to know that I have thus dragged his bottle of Bundy up 4 (more) flights of stairs and will drag it down again tomorrow. And across to Ireland, and to Heathrow, and to Stockholm.
I will enjoy finishing the bottle off with him. I enjoyed starting off the bottle with him.
Today was a driving day. They all say here “OHMYGODYOUARENOT DRIVINGTOINVERNESSIT’SBLOODYMILES!” and we panic, and think OhMyGodInvernessIsMilesAwayWhatAreWe DOING!!!! And then we find out it’s only 3 hours. Three paltry hours. It looked a helluva long way on the map of Scotland. So after exploring my grandmother’s haunts in Perthshire in a whirl we jettisoned my ‘lations in Dunkeld because of perceived time constraints, and rushed up to Inverness and down to Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness because we had to see the highlands and Loch Ness, and found we still had 5 hours of daylight up our sleeves.
The lassie at the desk booked us into a motel room what was still uncleaned; and took our money for a 4pm boat tour that when we turned up for it was fully booked before we hit town. So we decided to check out Urquhart Castle, but it closed just as we got there. So I resorted to sampling the whiskey. It was actually a much more lasting experience than doing a sonar boat tour of Loch Ness, and much less expensive than doing a tour of Urquhart Castle, in case anyone is wondering.
Hopetoun to St Andrewsaudigital : 13/09/2013 12:42 pm :
Hopetoun House is Scotland’s, if not Britain’s, grandest stately home.
We have had one after another amazing experience during this trip, based on the fantastic good fortune of having locals who have been kind enough to show us around.
Kerry took us for a private tour of Hopetoun House and its gardens.
Hopetoun and its inhabitants are a case of ‘google please’. I can’t possibly describe the ins and out of this 300-odd-year-old mansion sitting on a huge estate beside the Firth of Forth, within sight of Edinburgh’s famous suspension bridge.
Hopetoun features breathtaking proportions in sheer size; unsurpassed carved wooden panels and cornices. Priceless furniture and tapestry hangings and art; huge and lovely Persian rugs, one custom-made with a previous Marquis’s name written in Persian script into the actual weave; gorgeous Georgian ceilings.
Grand sweeps of lawns fore and aft, with black St Kilda sheep grazing thereon! Only-in-Britain walled gardens which Bris & Kerry’s daughter Skye, Lady Hopetoun, is re-establishing with astonishing skill (perhaps not quite so astonishing, considering the family penchant for magnificent gardens).
One of the previous Earls was the first Governor General of Australia; one was Viceroy of India for 7 years. Theirs was the first Scottish family to introduce life-long housing for former employees; their legacy of public service is huge.
It was great to have the opportunity of an insight into the workings of the family who actually live there, and the complexities of the peerage. And we left Edinburgh and Hopetoun later than we had anticipated, Kerry and Bris having been so kind and welcoming and full of fascinating chat. I can’t believe the generosity of spirit of our friends on this side of the world.
So then we travelled to St Andrews, Fife, which is Mecca for Robert the Golfer and where we are staying tonight – much contrary to our tiny itinerary for seeing the Highlands. A lot to do now in 2 days. But we will sleep in a gorgeous hotel overlooking the sea and St Andrews golf links. And it’s a case of every moment counting, and every moment’s being very, very worthwhile no matter how far we get or how much we end up seeing.
Edinburgh and Hopetounaudigital : 13/09/2013 7:41 am :
Wednesday dawns and we leave Phip and Tim pretty close to the appointed hour. They have been kindness and generosity personified, and our Scottish experience has been hugely enriched by their efforts to point us, and take us, in the right direction. It’s been fantastic in the Border country and we’ve cut our time short for the Highlands. But no matter.
The goal is Edinburgh and Bas has personal ambitions to visit Rosslyn Chapel, 2 museums, and the whole of Edinburgh before our scheduled arrival at Kerry & Bris Bovill’s home at Hopetoun by 5.00pm. In the event, we do our usual getting lost thing, despite Phip’s written instructions to the park & bus station in Dalkeith. The problem is that Phip said to take the A720 at a particular roundabout …… but the A720 goes in both directions. We choose the wrong option and sail off into the distance with Edinburgh getting smaller and smaller behind us.
Relations somewhat strained (the navigator still grumbling about never travelling without a fuckin’ GPS ever again, as if this fact is somehow my fault) we eventually reach the centre of Edinburgh and of course it’s worth all the effort. Even though it’s raining. We are equipped for such contingencies and each acquire an umbrella as well.
Most of the destinations are jettisoned; but those we achieve are fabulous. The tour of Mary King’s Close gives us an insight into life there 500 years ago – not enviable. The Mylne ancestors are duly photographed (or their memorial is) at Greyfriars Kirkyard, as are many other enchanting tombs and stained-glass windows and fabulous old buildings.
The guide in Greyfriars tells us some grim and gruesome stories; one in particular is the story of a barred alleyway of tombs we had found and photographed, which had a sign indicating it was a jail – here in the churchyard. Turns out that 2000 unfortunates who had been silly enough to sign the Covenant to follow the Church of Scotland many, many years ago (enough to stop you going to church, really) were thrown in there and the key thrown away; anyone who fed them was thrown in too (someone must have had a spare key) and they were left to the elements.
Kind of puts a different slant on the perils of signing on the dotted line. Our guide says it’s haunted, and that he wouldn’t go there during the day let alone at night.
Robert acquires a tweed coat and tie, another dream fulfilled, and we take the tourist bus tour of Edinburgh in which the commentary appears to be out of sync with the sights described but nonetheless is great, a potted City of Edinburgh. So, we’ve seen everything! Tick off Edinburgh; of course we could spend a week in the city but we haven’t got a week. Our next task is to get lost finding Hopetoun House, where we are staying the night with Kerry and Bris Bovill; we do admirably at that but on the plus side accidentally discover the way to the airport, a skill we will need on Monday if we ever find our way back to Edinburgh after our travels.
A road maintenance worker finds us sitting beside the highway with an upside-down map and puzzled looks on our faces, and offers to lead us to the Hopetoun House turnoff. We arrive at the Bovill’s house an hour later than planned but to a warm welcome and familiar faces.
A late night around the remains of a delicious meal in their gorgeous home and still there is a lifetime’s reminiscing to do with Kerry, a member of one of our family’s great family friends the Reynolds’s.
Hounds, Huntsmen and Horrible Historiesaudigital : 12/09/2013 8:37 am :
For the first time since we got to the UK I saw the early morning. It was a shock to the system but well worth it; I had a suspicion it would be worthwhile! A 5.30am rise and a rambling drive to a place called Hen Toe (why? Ours is not to reason why ….I guess the answer could be “Why not call your town Hen Toe, for God’s sake? What’s wrong wi’ THA’???????” We also went through Abbey St Bathans and Nether Monynut – is this perhaps whence the Monynuts emerge? The mind boggles.) with Tim at the wheel of his 4WD rewarded us with the once-in-a-lifetime sight of the Berwickshire huntsman giving his hounds their first run of the season.
Gotta say …………….. dogs I mean hounds GALORE!!! There seemed to be at least 50 of them (25 couples) and the happiest bunch of critters you ever saw. They were exuberant to say the least, and bounded over to us to give us the once-over before Rory the huntsman blew his horn (didn’t say Tally Ho which was disappointing) and took off with a bunch of horsemen & women in hot pursuit.
The thing that stood out most of all was the bond between huntsman and hound – every one of them. He knows each one by name and each one knows its name. He gives out strange hoots and calls and baying sounds to tell them what to do, and they respond by spreading out to search for a fox or coming back to him. It was lovely to watch even though as it was a training day for the young hounds there were stragglers still coming out of the gorse and heather (looking a little dazed) long after the rest of the pack had gone over the next hill.
It was freezing and windy and the encroaching wind farms (much loathed as eyesores, but I don’t mind them) were going at a batting pace. Tim drove us the long way home so that we saw the Torness atomic power station, glorious countryside and the sea. The North Sea, with an oil platform in the near distance.
And that was BEFORE breakfast.
But admittedly, Phip’s delicious scrambled-egg breakfast was a little late.
After another farm visit to a cousin and family friend Lucy and her hubby Dunc, who are tenant farmers on a farm called Galalaw, Kelso, at Floors Castle estate, our next appointment with History in this blood-filled land was the memorial service at Branxton (across the border in Northumberland, England) on the field of Flodden, where Scotland was so horribly decimated 500 years ago.
The Scots turned out in all kinds of fancy regalia – one chappie looking very grand in tartan from top to toe and medals all over his coat. Lots of kilts and tams and caps, one with huge eagle feathers sticking up, and nary a pair of jock to be seen I feel sure. Although I didn’t look.
There were Coalstream Guards in lovely red regimental uniforms. A pipe band all kitted out in kilts and with dirks in their socks. And quite a few rather astonishingly colourful trews with an assortment of bright jackets and tam’o’shanters atop.
A big day, and I am exhausted.
More Greenlaw, and Selkirk – Scotlandaudigital : 11/09/2013 7:27 pm :
From the outset I thought it would be a great plan to stay in one place for a while in Scotland, really get the feel of it.
I’d kinda thought Perthshire, or somewhere near the sea. But in the event, one thing leads to another with the busy lives of Tim and Phip Culham at Greenlaw and they are so generous the way they share themselves, that we’ve made plans not to leave til Wednesday. And the Border country is gorgeous. Its beauty never ceases to amaze us as we drive around lanes that are now becoming familiar – me whizzing around in our little diesel Vauxhall which is as zippy as all getout.
Which is lucky; one needs to be able to slip out of tricky situations in an instant, with narrow roads and concealed exits and hair pin bends and turnoffs at strange angles.
The stitching in Robert’s shoes had begun to unravel; Phip told us where to find the cobbler in Kelso so we bumped over the cobbled road in Kelso town centre and deposited them there for the day. It was worth it just to hear the cobbler speak “och aye, dinnae worry” so we didn’t. Although finding him again and collecting the shoes at the end of the day’s exploring was a worry.
Selkirk was the destination, Robert’s grandfather’s old home. The 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden was a solemn day today, the towns filled with ceremonies and memories and ghosts for days past and future around this terrible event. 3.30 today was the appointed time for the 500th anniversary commemoration. A service will be held tomorrow (we will go to it) at Branxston where it happened. Ten thousand Scots at least (the figures have varied all the way up to 25,000) died that day, fighting King Henry VIII’s troops under the Earl of Surrey. King James IV was killed, and his 100 chieftains with him. Scotland was left without leadership and in a mess and it was a hundred years before they got their act together again.
One hundred men left Selkirk to fight for their King; 1 returned. Anyway, we happened to go there on the 500th anniversary and that was pretty spectacular.
We didn’t find Glenochar, but we found evidence of lots of Grieves. We had black pudding, white pudding, a Scotch pie and a Haggis pie from Lindsay Grieve’s snack bar just for the sake of trying them out. Not a bad taste, but a bit greasy.
We forgot to go to the cemetery and look for more Grieves, but suspect they will still be there if we should ever return.
It was a fine but overcast day and it rained between Selkirk and Kelso before we got there on the way home. As a consequence the light was simply wonderful over the patchwork of hills and fields in every stage of agrarian metamorphosis.
And here’s the rub; Rowan Atkinson was born just down the road from Greenlaw. His Blackadder character was taken from the name of the river that runs through the town. It joins the Whiteadder (pr WHIT–UH-DUH) which then runs into the Tweed. All abound in salmon and trout. It’s a land of milk, honey, copious snow, and thousands of years of heritage including my own.
The Good Life at Mansefield B&B, Greenlaw, Scotlandaudigital : 11/09/2013 4:27 pm :
No, not Selkirk as it eventuated. We didn’t leave Greenlaw all day. Our hosts Phip and Tim arrived back from a trip to Italy in the middle of the night and so the morning found the house humming with their presence, and the kitchen table laid out with a beautifully—presented English breakfast for their houseful of guests – concert-goers Robert and me, and Jeremy and Sue from Somerset.
And the day was filled with the usual activities of their Scottish home and 25 adjoining acres, albeit with Aussie-born cousin Phip (Filmer/Culham) at the helm with husband Tim.
Our having been allotted fantastic gum boots (we cannot do gum boots in Aus – these were really really comfortable, no blisters), there was the dog to walk, chooks and ducks to let out, baby chicks to put back into the chicken coop with their fussing mother, Dexter cows to feed and scratch and fuss over, Tim’s enormous 17h Irish Draft hunting horses to say hello to; sheep to inspect from the bridge across the charming burn over the road.
There were vegetables to collect from the lush and bountiful veggie patch, and moths to catch and squash in the hothouse – but not before their grubs had had their way with the broccoli.
Meantime Phip cooked a ‘cracking’ pork roast with entirely home-grown veggies – including tatties – for a late lunch and their charming son Toby arrived to eat it with a bunch of Uni mates returning to Stirling University. Great to have an opportunity get an insight into the youth of Scotland.
It has been fabulous this time round in the UK having a car, because we can really truly get into the byroads and countryside and imbibe it totally. It has been fabulous to stay with locals and meet their friends and see their haunts and get a proper understanding of their lives here. We have been so very, very lucky in that respect. Soon we wander off into the unknown and God knows what we will drive right past.
In the meantime Sunday 8th September was spent in the delightful company of Phip and Tim, eating, talking and, after lunch, walking on their friends Peter and Jenny’s farm which featured pheasants by the score fattening up for a November shoot, a hugely deep ‘dean’ or valley with a sparkling burn at the bottom and sheep and badger “lodges” (dugouts like wombat holes) scattered up its sides, and the remains of a bronze-age settlement.
Duns Concert – Scotlandaudigital : 11/09/2013 8:00 am :
.. and this is what we did. Phip had organised for us to attend a Cabaret evening at Manderston, an Edwardian mansion at the nearby village of Duns. The concert was in aid of Equibuddy, an organisation her friend Jenny put together as one step further on from Riding for the Disabled – her program has the disabled people actually doing gymnastics on specially-trained horses (ones used, actually, for able-bodied competitors).
Jenny lives in Greenslaw and we hope to have a look at what she does with Equibuddy.
Meantime …. the concert. But first of all, the house. Sumptuousness on a grand scale is Manderston, from marble floors and high skirtings and columns and architraves to ornate (in the extreme) plasterwork on walls and ceilings. There were murals on the ceilings and magnificent paintings on the walls.
The billiard room, where we gathered for drinks to begin with, had silk ‘wallpaper’; actually, so did the other rooms.
And the piece de resistance, a silver-plate balustrade adorned the marble grand staircase; the silver balustrade is taken down twice a year bit by bit and laboriously polished by hand.
This house, while not as grand by half as Floors Castle externally but extraordinarily more ornate inside, is also surrounded by a vast estate and a high stone fence which seems to go on for miles and miles.
Now for the concert. Not just any cabaret performers; international stars Dame Ann Murray (soprano) and Robin Leggate (tenor – he has performed often with Placido Domingo) and pianist Mark Packwood.
They sang a selection of Noel Coward and Cole Porter, and a selection of others – some sad, some hilarious, all beautiful. It was a wonderful experience. We went to bed satisfied with our day, and with unfamiliar stars glittering in the northern sky. Another good day tomorrow, hopefully. Perhaps Selkirk.
Mansefield, Greenlaw – Scotlandaudigital : 10/09/2013 5:00 pm :
Tomorrow dawned, and called itself today. The date is 7th September 2013. It’s a Saturday, and Australia’s federal election is in full swing.
Even though it was a lovely sunny day, and we knew this to be rare, we slept in til 10.30 without any guilt whatsoever, even about wasting a sunny day. Phip’s B&B room is spacious and elegant, with sumptuous drapes in front of a huge window overlooking a lovely walled garden. Why go out? It’s very damn nice inside!
But go out we did, to Kelso just down the road, and added to the world total of oohs and aahs all along the way. The hills rolled away from lovely valleys, a patchwork all stitched together with hedges and stone walls. Tiny villages clung to narrow lanes and the smell of fresh-turned earth and cow dung was in the air. The weather was bracing but the sun shone in dapples.
One could never have too much of the sight of the landscape here, it is too beautiful for words.
Then into the world of opulence and, if you will (and I do) excess – Floor Castle, the seat of the Duke of Roxburghe. Only photographs can possibly describe this enormous and magical series of conjoined castellated buildings overlooking a sweeping lawn to the River Tweed, with a backdrop of what seems to look like original Scottish forest, and set in a 58,000 acre estate which includes 241 houses.
Beautiful, surreal, fabulous, stuffed full of fantastic furniture and carpets, a whole room full floor to ceiling with stuffed birds. It’s fantastic that they open it and certain of the surrounding gardens to the public, even though of course they have to do so to make the estate pay. Inside the castle is, according to Phip’s sister in law (who knows) the best collection of porcelain in the country. The paintings weren’t bad either – Gainsborough’s and Reynolds’s, and huge wall tapestries, and riches beyond my wildest imaginings (or wishes for that matter).
Why people have to accumulate so many possessions is beyond me. But the Roxurghe family lives there, the current Duke (the 10th) in his late fifties and a really good bloke, according to the staff – who nonetheless address him as “your Grace”.
The staff were fantastically well-trained, loyal to their Duke and their castle, friendly, and knowledgeable to a fault. Their being present in each room and available to explain everything we asked really gave us value for our visit (which at £7.50 each was much less than Leeds Castle £15.00 each).
The stone estate walls, at least 8 feet high and capped with rounded stones, went for miles and miles and miles. Yes an experience to see it, that’s for sure – and one to remember. But our evening went one step further ..
To Scotlandaudigital : 10/09/2013 3:00 pm :
Friday dawned with us in York and the first rain since we reached the UK. It was another part of the experience, and another day of driving …. 6 hours to be precise.
Once we worked out that we were heading south instead of north out of York (I really must get a compass, I haven’t a clue where north is) we got ourselves on the road to Scotland via one or two other places. My map-reader had not improved with sleep and it really is a miracle that evening found us in Greenlaw, Scotland, as planned – drinking Guinness in the local pub, and eating haggis in the local fish n chips shop.
It was Yorkshire Dales in the morning – no sight of Moors – and rich rich countryside into which sheep were stacked as if they were in holding yards. Stone walls abounded, and not just occasionally. They defined the small paddocks and were perfectly built and maintained beautifully. The animals stood in them obediently and with no apparently inclination to move elsewhere, despite the crowded conditions (by Australian standards).
We realised we were in Hadrian’s Wall country and wiggled all over the countryside looking for it. Each place we stopped had a different set of instructions as to how to get there. In the end we reached a town called “Wall”, which was auspicious, and followed our second set of instructions which led us to It – the Wall. It was a very exciting moment. It was constructed in 122AD. Yes, 122, I haven’t omitted a digit. The bit that was still standing was in perfect condition. More would be there still except that it has been pirated over the years for building materials. Amazing. I am talking two thousand years.
We doggedly continued our journey and could not help but notice that the buildings turned in what seemed like very quick time from quaint and decorative to somewhat dour, brown, and no hint of frivolity or decorativeness. My Scottish ancestry forbids me to use the word ‘dour’, but I did wonder why it was suddenly so difficult to hang lovely baskets of flowers from the windows, and paint the houses white. Brown and serviceable, the houses unadorned, the countryside bare and windswept. The people still conspicuously grumpy about the English (and would you blame them?).
The evening smell of Greenlaw in the rain reminded me of the smell of homesickness, a 38-year-old memory. It also reminded me of the smell of Scotland in general – ingrained coke, dampness, coldness and romanticism. Here we are at the top of the world! Here we are in the auld country, the place of my grandmother’s stories, the memories of her wonderful childhood; how could I possibly use the word “dour”?
The blokes in the pub – Benny, Jimmy, David and Bill – were cheeky and delightful. They were also impossible to understand, even when asked to slow down – and said ‘aye’ and ‘ken’ and ‘dinnae’ with spontaneous regularity, as if it was totally natural.
As of course it was.
They all had relations in Australia.
Tomorrow is another day.
City of Yorkaudigital : 10/09/2013 1:30 pm :
“Oh, the grand old Duke of York, he had ten thousand men, he marched them up to the top of the hill and he marched them down again”.
That nursery rhyme went round and round in my head so that I thought of our erstwhile family life, with Robert singing to the kids, so much that after I went to sleep I dreamed of Fairmont, our home of that time in Warwick. It was a kind of nightmare really, but cathartic. I haven’t allowed myself to look at that til now.
Seemingly innocuous on its approaches, it eventuates that wider York is built around a medieval walled city which protects a cathedral of breathtaking proportions and decorative construction. To protect it from tourists they call it a Minster, so that you don’t realise it’s really an 800-year-old cathedral.
The old town around it, inside the city walls, is called a shambles. Its narrow streets are cobbled for the most part, and curved, and quaint in the extreme. The buildings are gorgeous, a shambles of random styles each vying the other for gorgeousness. I took lots of photos and, as I’m getting a bit sick of using superlatives, I think they will have to speak for themselves.
Needless to say, we were enchanted with York, and strolled around hand-in-hand (a bit surprising considering our navigational blips) gawking and trying to memorise it all.
The old city wall seems to still be complete. Its grand stone gates and round gatehouses are fabulous. The Minster is everything it’s cracked up to be. We just missed Evensong, but heard the last of the singing which in that space was mesmerising.
We met a busker who asked us if we knew of the Seekers (my second such inquiry in 3 days). Did we know the Seekers???! It’s so nice to be able to name-drop! I promised that I would get my brother-in-law Keith Potger to say hello to him. He nearly swooned – he really did, he nearly swooned. It was rather a marvellous moment. Then he started to play “The Carnival is Over” on his zither (a bit of an unfortunate choice, since that’s the one song Keith won’t play for reasons known only unto him – but still, it was a lovely thought).
Travelling Northaudigital : 10/09/2013 10:00 am :
And so farewell to Kerstin, our wonderful host of the past 3 days. She assured us she would cry all day, which was very flattering. I think she actually went to the beach
There was a certain amount of shaking-down in the matter of map-reading. I seem to be the appointed driver, nebulous British road rules notwithstanding. My navigator was apt to get tetchy and use the word ‘fuck’ quite a lot – perhaps it was because he bumped his head on the corner of Kerstin’s overhead window before we left; or perhaps it was because he is still feeling fairly unwell and is sick to death of coughing and all it manifests.
We eventually found our way out of the spider’s web of Norfolk roads and got onto the A47. My navigator insisted that we deviate into the city of King’s Lynn for a looksee, and against my better judgement I did what I was told. So we wasted quite a lot of time being lost in King’s Lynn, and seeing nothing of interest, and ended up eating our fish & chips lunch (only the fish for me) in a deserted car park.
I eyed off the vacant lot adjacent for its quick-and-discreet pee potential, but decided the better of it. Blackberry bushes on bare bottom was not an appealing thought. Instead we picked ripe blackberries for dessert. We managed to find the A47 again – but not before I had gone around the same roundabout, and passed the same labouring cyclist, 3 times. I think I might have said ‘fuck’ then too.
It was of course not my fault.
Onto the Lincolnshire plains and memories of Pride & Prejudice and the Lincolnshire regiment – wasn’t it? Anyway, I thought of P&P out of respect. There were more hedgerows, open fields of ripe wheat, potato crops, cabbage crops, Sherwood Forest – all whizzed by in a blur, nary a hill in sight. A wide brown-and-green land.
A special treat was realising that the grey hedge whizzing along beside us was in fact a drystone wall for miles and miles. Drystone walls being my personal specialty I was thrilled. But the road did not encourage or even allow for stopping, so we had to assume we would see more in a place that was more photographer-friendly.
The A47 morphed into the A1 and we knew we were on the right road for Scotland. With a certain amount of tetchiness again, and reading the map wrong and saying “No, don’t go there” so that we nearly missed York altogether, (I’m really going to have to deal with that navigator) we managed to find a motel in the centre of York, and discovered that York’s reputation as a city of wonders is more than justified.
Great Yarmouth on Seaaudigital : 10/09/2013 7:00 am :
Great Yarmouth, day 3 of our Norfolk odyssey, suffered terribly during WW2; in fact, it was the first place to be bombed in WW1, with German incendiaries from those blimp things, I can’t remember the name but it will come to me (possibly at midnight).
Yarmouth was the centre of the herring industry for 400 years or so, til the middle of last century. There’s a museum about it, built in the building where they did the herring smoking to make kippers, and the smell of smoked herring that is permanently ingrained in the fabric of the building adds to the authenticity of an already-excellent display with lifelike models of fishermen and fishwives.
We stroll along the beachfront where lots of astonishingly fat British people are sunning themselves in different states of undress. I decline the offer of an ice cream on that basis. We have extremely fatty fish & chips as we dangle our legs over one of the piers. A one-off, it’s a luxury that leaves our Aussie attempts at fish’n’chips (sorry Pauline Hansen) for dead. The fish is moist and tasty; the batter (yes, I ate the bloody batter) crisp and delicious.
The chips were rather soggy. I fed those to the enormous seagulls (by enormous, I don’t mean fat, but that they were twice the size of the seagulls I am used to). It made me unpopular with Kerstin that I encouraged them to come to us, but I have always been a sucker for seagulls for some reason.
Back in Reedham, our Swede left us on the 3.30 train. It was truly sad to see him go ….. but we will catch up with him in Stockholm in a couple of weeks. We have to – I have his duty-free Bundy rum as hostage.
Basil Fawlty being still out of sorts and needing all the sleep he can get, Kerstin and I spent the evening in the pub beside the canal. Seriously, Reedham’s a gorgeous place. The comfortable pub culture, the sense of community it creates as a place of daily relaxation, is catching.
Foulshamaudigital : 09/09/2013 4:00 pm :
Still day 2 in Norfolk in Kerstin’s car and a very special discovery. We eventually find Foulsham, where my dad was based during the war with Squadron 462, Bomber Command.
I’ve been there before but only found an empty field with a bank of trees. This time we have time to seek out more concise directions. There’s an empty field with a bank of trees but on this occasion I am able to collar a local who overflows with helpfulness and information in a delightful Norfolk accent.
“Yes,” he says. “There is still part of the airstrip. I’ll lead you there.” And we trundle off at a batting pace, wondering if he has forgotten we are following and we are going to drive up behind him as he parks in his garage and goes inside for tea. But he stops. “This is it, you are driving on it,” he says. There’s about a mile of it on a rise, and halfway along evidence of a cross strip.
Then the gem – a piece of first-hand information from our Norfolk farmer. “When my mum was knee-high to a bumble bee, she told me, she used to watch the planes having to bank steeply when they came in over that stand of trees at the bottom of the strip.”
Suddenly I can visualise my father piloting his Halifax back to base, the knot in his stomach starting to unravel as he spots that stand of trees with a mile of white concrete stretching out for him. His plane is lighter than it was when he took off over the side of the rise at the other end; he’s discharged his load away to the east and once again got away with it.
Not all of them were so lucky. Dad will have to write the letters home once they have worked out who those may be.
It’s a pretty powerful feeling to be standing there.
Norfolk Explorationsaudigital : 09/09/2013 3:00 pm :
Day 2 in Reedham dawns sunny and warm yet again. The Europeans express amazement and delight; the Australians say “Oh? This is special?” and put a coat in the car just in case …………….. we’ve heard about British ‘warm’ days!
The 4 of us squeeze into Kerstin’s 2-door Nissan something-or-other (small) and set off on a journey of exploration through the Norfolk countryside. We pass through impossibly narrow country lanes with hedgerows on either side, where meeting an oncoming car is an excitement in itself. There are subtle ‘lay-bys’ where you squish yourself up against the hedge so the other car can gingerly edge past (some not so gingerly, which makes me glad I’m sitting on the hedge side).
The countryside is agrarian. Sugar beet crops look somewhat wilted at first, as the Reedham area is suffering from a drought; it hasn’t rained for 10 days. They perk up as we get closer to the coast and look lush and green. There is a huge sugar-beet factory not far from Reedham.
Wheat crops are being harvested. Bale after bale of wheaten hay lies ready for collection and depositing into huge, really, really enormous, haystacks. Winter feed? That’s what Robert says.
A pheasant casually strolls across the road and ducks into the hedge. Classic Dutch-type windmills hove into view. We pass whole villages of adorable houses with THATCHED rooves. We stop and photograph them. We pass canals – we are after all on the Norfolk Broads – with picturesque boats moored all along the sides.
Across fields of wheat you can see the masts of sailing boats, a most incongruous sight.
We wind through a spider’s web of roads, Kerstin pulling over to take over the map of which Rolf has charge, but is not alert enough to keep track of which part of the spider’s web we are currently negotiating. The villages are no more than 5km apart, each vying for quaintness, thatched rooves, delicious Tudor-style pubs with voluptuous baskets of colourful flowers hanging all along the fronts.
Reedham and Norwichaudigital : 09/09/2013 2:45 pm :
In Reedham you waken in Kerstin’s loft room to the sound of pigeons cooing. It is one of the most comforting sounds on God’s earth and it takes you back to your Lota childhood.
Overlaid on that sound is the occasional – very occasional – swish of a car’s tyres, and voices as some people, a man and a woman, walk past on the narrow village road. Then the sound of the train takes over, and echoes through the crystal-clear air to remind you that life is happening out there, people are being carried towards their day’s obligations and duties while you, lucky you, are lying listening and savouring the smell of fresh clear English air wafting through the open window.
There are other bird sounds, but always the doves. The other birds are busy getting the early worm. The doves you feel, are just sitting cooing, perhaps waiting for a lady dove to go past so they can do the manly thing and make the morning worthwhile.
Suddenly you realise there’s a slow rhythmic tap tap tapping happening and you think with some excitement, “Oh my God, there’s a WOODPECKER woodpecking! This is sensational!” But it turns out to be Basil Fawlty sending an email on his android.
On the first day we go to Norwich on the train, the 4 of us, and explore this amazing city on foot for many hours. Overseen by a Norman castle and an ancient cathedral and a fabulous church at every turn (there are 52 of them), we trudge over cobblestones and down winding narrow streets with our hearts bursting and our eyes saturated with wonder.
There is a pub in Norwich for every day of the year. The one where we have lunch was built in 1249. It’s called the Adam and Eve and it has a rakish, tumbledown look about it which belies its apparent sturdy construction in stone and brick with huge timber beams. It is festooned with a plethora of flowers, hanging from hanging baskets, growing up from subtle garden beds, hanging over adjacent walls.
It was built for shorter people. The food is fabulous.
The Norwich cathedral took about 200 years to build. It was started about a thousand years ago. A thousand years. The mind boggles. Who has passed through this place? What words have been spoken from the beautifully carved pulpit? How many people have listened, rapt or terrified? What lovely songs have been sung from the magnificent choir stalls, in what harmony, what combination of voices offering glory to God and underpinned by the music of the enormous ancient organ whose pipes dominate an entire wall?
We collect our car and, under Kerstin’s watchful eye, I drive us all the half hour to Reedham for a Kerstin-cooked supper, more table talk and much, much too much wine and duty-free whiskey.
It’s wonderful to have all our legs under the same table once again.
Norfolkaudigital : 09/09/2013 2:00 pm :
Kerstin and Rolf arrived at Reedham station on foot soon after we did, but not before we had dragged our bags up 2 huge sets of stairs, across the railway bridge, and down the other side.
Kerstin was on the side we had arrived on, too late to show us how we didn’t need to drag our cases up and across, but could walk the short walk to her place by another route.
Rolf sauntered on to the other side, looking for all the world like it wasn’t 32 years since I had last had a proper look at him; although I may have omitted to mention that part of our London experience was catching the train to Walthamstow to visit Kerstin’s daughters Stina and Sara a few days before, and having a first and fleeting look at Rolf there when he arrived from Sweden en route to Kerstin’s for his reunion visit.
Friendship transcends time. I’ve seen Kerstin often, and kept in close contact with her, since we were all such good friends all those years ago in sunny Queensland. Rolf I had not. We’ve corresponded by email over the past year, but since 1981 when I visited Sweden, nothing – just life washing us along in parallel tides of commitment and activity on opposite sides of the world.
So we sat around Kerstin’s kitchen table and toasted ourselves and missing friends who would have completed the picture, and told each other we hadn’t changed in 32 years, and found the easy laughter and companionship again. We became young again. It was lovely.
Kent 2audigital : 09/09/2013 1:22 pm :
Kent! Known by fame, known by name, but still – what can possibly prepare you for the reality? Suddenly Headcorn hove into view – a fact noticed only by Bas after I had settled myself down with a British Rail sandwich, thinking we still had at least half an hour to go.
We arrived in a flurry and recognised a handsome man at the other end of the platform by virtue of (1) his own description of himself (tall, blond) and (2) the fact that he was the only person there. The name Kinloch features regularly in my great-grandfather’s diaries and here was the desendant of the person who had been so kind to him as a young bereaved army officer in India all those years ago.
Colin swept us away to his Tudor home in the quaint village – one of course of a string of quaint villages – called Tenterden. Daisy the Weimaraner graciously consented to share her space in the boot with our luggage, and we were on the way through adorable English country villages and hedge-lined country lanes, our eyes saturated with visual delights.
Colin’s wife Mary welcomed us and we were shown to an upstairs room which had been there since the 1600s and was showing the effects of time only with respect to its floor levels. We realised that any ambitions to play marbles were quashed. Luckily it hadn’t occurred to us and anyway, we didn’t have any marbles.
My cousin was anything but a stuffy Pom, and generous to a fault. He and Mary made it their primary aim to give us a good time. So, we had it.
More Kentaudigital : 09/09/2013 1:00 pm :
How much can you pack into 2 part days and one night? You’d be surprised! When it’s in England, and everything is so handy nearby, the getting there is not such a major issue. And the getting there is part of it anyway.
We had been fascinated by the oast houses on the farms – gorgeous round brick silo things with funny peaked hats on top. We were told that they were oast houses, where the hops for which Kent used to be famous were dried out in readiness for making beer.
Colin’s daughter Harriet and her partner Bertie arrived in time for a dinner out at one of these – they are now disused and converted for various uses. This one was converted into a restaurant. There was a familial comfortableness in Harriet, Bertie was lovely, and I hope their daughter will come and visit us in Aus next year.
We hauled our cases downstairs again after a breakfast of kippers. We waited in vain for a squirrel to appear through the kitchen window and join the blue tits feasting on peanuts and grain at Colin’s generous bird-feeder in their sumptuous garden. It was time to move on. Robin had arrived to take us to Leeds Castle as Colin and Mary had a prior lunch engagement at Hastings (a throwaway name – a mere thousand years of history there, and then some).
A Cedar of Lebanon that was 1200 years old; oak trees that made our pithy excuses for oak trees at home look pitiable. Expansive, lush grounds full of picnicking Poms, and overlooking all on a hill in the distance, Leeds Castle complete with moat, swans both black and white, unbelievable woodwork, incredible stonework, battlements, arrow slits, suits of armour, m’lady’s bedchamber complete with maid’s bed in the corner ….. the works; all there for real and practical purposes, albeit bygone.
How many oohs and aaahs can you manage in a week? We contributed generously to the sum total but were out-oohed by a large Australian lady who was talking on the phone to someone back ‘ome, telling her Leeds was the best of all the castles she had seen, describing in vivid detail the huge wooden chest she was currently looking at (as were we) and telling her friend she should come and see for herself. It sort of gets down to that in the end. There’s too much to believe alone. You have to phone someone and tell them, or write a blog, or take a thousand photos.
I have taken the last 2 options. I’m not game to turn on my phone in case Telstra finds me and sends me a bill for $15,000. Well, it happened to someone (and perhaps will to the lady at Leeds Castle?).
Sissinghurstaudigital : 09/09/2013 11:50 am :
And next was Sissinghurst. My sister Tina had said “If you can – see Sissinghurst”. I explained that this was not on the agenda of possibilities. But it seemed that it was. After a suitable recovery time, the same day that we arrived at Cousin Colin’s home we loaded ourselves up (minus Daisy, who somewhat reluctantly, and overtly mournfully, consented to stay behind and mind the home fires) into Colin’s car again and set off through the miraculous countryside of Kent.
Up hill and down dale, it was possible to imagine highwaymen at every turn and coaches rattling down the winding cobblestone streets in the villages; stopping at public houses that had barely changed in their skeletal forms for the past 400 years.
The hills rolled off into the distance, divided into green squares by hedgerows. Stands of Robin-Hood forests dotted the hillsides, made up of massive birch trees and age-old oaks. I found myself searching for green-clad figures with funny feather-spiked hats lurking amongst the trees; there weren’t any, but their ghosts were definitely there.
Sissinghurst, the dream home of Vita Sackville-West, if it was nothing other than the buildings that framed it would be enough to make you swoon. But it is so much more than that. A munificence of Englishness, plants such as we coax into being in Aus flourishing into relaxed lushness as if this is the place where they really belong; which of course, it is. Ordered beds full of luxuriant growth nurtured in such a way that it all looks easy. But again of course they are the result of the careful planning of their originators and constant care since.
And most of all, Sissinghurst resonates with the memories of romantic figures in an impossibly romantic era; Vita Sackville-West’s own somewhat gravelly voice reading her own poetry in the tower studio where she worked. Her letters to husband Harold Nicolson speaking of their mutual love for this place of dreams.
Norwichaudigital : 09/09/2013 11:00 am :
Seasoned British-rail travellers that we now were, the trip back to London was a cinch. We knew to keep an eye out for our station, since time on a train goes faster than you think and you can whiz past your destination with a glazed eye and a sandwich in your hand, and not know you’ve done so til the sea hoves into sight and the sea was not on your itinerary.
Robin deposited us at a station that was not Headcorn, but worked just as well. At Charing Cross we left via street level – no stairs – and caught a cab to Liverpool Street station, where we milled around with the milling crowd and soaked up the ghosts that populated the place.
You could stand for hours in Liverpool Street station and watch the mass of humanity that pours through it, as it has for over a hundred years. Their faces are in varying stages of emotion – some harried, some happy, all purposeful. It’s a place of purpose.
It echoes to the sounds of their voices mixed with the screeching of train wheels, the constant calling of doves, engines, motors, footfalls and phones. It’s filled with hopes and expectations, happy reunions, sad goodbyes. It vibrates with ghostly scenes from cinema screens – fur-collared ladies in a halo of smoke waving handkerchiefs at wooden carriages from which beautiful young soldiers hang out and wave.
You could stand for hours in front of the flower stall and still not fully absorb the riot of colours and shapes and smells all waiting for someone to claim them and take them home.
You could stand forlornly on the wrong side of the turnstile that requires 30p before it will give you admittance to the loo.
Robert and I did all that, and managed to get ourselves on to the 3.34 train to Norwich. We accidentally got into the right carriage, and accidentally sat in the wrong seats. We were soon set straight. The trip passed uneventfully but, as usual, through amazing scenery. It mostly went like clockwork. The only thing that didn’t was the British Rail WiFi for which I paid $8 on my credit card. It didn’t work. But then again, it could have been me. It often is, with WiFi.
Kentaudigital : 08/09/2013 10:19 am :
An unknown cousin, known only by name and reputation, had invited us to stay a night with him and his wife in Kent. So, dragging suitcases which seemed to get heavier by the minute (mine in particular, with a few books for giveaway gifts), we negotiated the UK train system and managed to get there.
It must be said at this point that the UK train system is a miracle in itself. When they say 12.03 is the departure time, 12.03 it is; not 12.00 and definitely not 12.10. I knew this from past experience; their world stops for no one and it all works like clockwork. It’s fantastic.
So being the nervous type I hustled Basil along. Bas, still coughing and spluttering and having attacks of feeling faint afterwards because he can’t seem to get rid of this wog that’s been dogging him.
We rushed out of the underground at Embankment, dragging our cases, and were confronted with a set of steps up into Charing Cross station that somehow rubbed the patina off such a romantic name. I forced Bas to take them on, with disastrous results ….. a coughing attack followed by a feeling faint attack and my having to drag both sets of cases up both sets of stairs.
I decided I wouldn’t mention that I discovered that if we had gone around the corner we could have got in without steps. Why cause a fuss? We got there, that was the main thing, and were soon ensconced on the train to Headcorn in Kent, watching amazingly gorgeous scenery whiz past at the rate of knots.
Travelsaudigital : 07/09/2013 10:28 am :
Cattle class isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be – and that is in the down-side department.
It’s really quite manageable. Cosy, yes, but really – is cosy all that bad? We had heaps to do watching stuff on the personal tv, eating stuff delivered by good-natured B.A. cabin crew, sleeping, and walking up and down the aisle for exercise.
26 hours of it. We got here. And by here I mean the U.K. Me wide-eyed and excited to see things I had forgotten, Bas wide-eyed and agog with the magnificence of London being seen for the first time.
It was said that he who is tired of London is tired of life. I agree. Where to begin to deal with appreciating even a microcosm of this fabulous place! We opted for the Big Red Bus, and spent day one cruising around the inner city past all the classic sights – and trying to work out which way was North.
How many adjectives are there in the world? Are there any that cannot be applied to London? One could be there for a year and still not plumb its depths. We had 3 days. We did our best. We took millions of photos, we walked, we learned how to work the tube. We got an overview, and loved it.
Back to the present … and some more travelsaudigital : 05/09/2013 11:05 pm :
The time seems right, just pipping time at the post as it were (we, and in particular Basil Fawlty, are not getting any younger) so we have booked our honeymoon 25 years after the event.
It’s Bas’s first trip to the northern hemisphere – oh, he’s been o/s plenty of times – Fraser Island, Stradbroke, a couple of trips to NZ including one where we took a couple of the kids who found the whole things a bit tedious (we didn’t).
I discovered on that NZ trip that Bas is a wonderful travelling companion. He did all the cooking, all the driving, and was immensely excited about the scenery and everything. I have great hopes for our road trip around the UK, especially as this time we DON’T have the kids (never again!!).
In the spirit of the thing, we have spent the requisite amount of time poring over travel books and looking on the web. We have made a minimum of fixed arrangements, since we rather fancy ourselves as footloose and fancy-free types. But nonetheless, we do have at least 1/3 of our accommodation planned and firmly in place, and the car booked and a flight booked from Edinburgh to Ireland.
The golden rule of not setting off in a state of exhaustion is looking like being bent quite rigorously – not an auspicious beginning, but unavoidable. Robert (aka Bas) has been the sheep obstetrician at the Ekka for the last 10 days, ‘sleeping’ in a donga full of snoring men adjacent to the cattlemen’s bar for the whole of the Ekka, so he is not exactly in prime condition.
I have contracted the Ekka ‘flu and have been lying low in a motel in Toowoomba after a busy Show Week cut short by commitments elsewhere; luckily my sister Tina has been ministering to me with potions and pills so I think I might have nipped it in the bud.
There’s quite a bit to do before our departure on 27th August; a Sydney trip with a library talk in Woollahra, namely. And then, the final pack. Tina has already had her way with the contents of my suitcase, forbidding me to take half of what I consider essential, after which she woke up the next morning and said “I think you should take out the green skivvy too.” Strangely, Robert’s suitcase is already only half full so hopefully the yin/yang principle will come into play.
2013 Outback Horse and Heritage Expoaudigital : 02/08/2013 2:18 am :
The Business of Launching a Bookaudigital : 04/05/2013 1:27 am :
The Business of Launching a Book. In Highlife Downs Living – May 2013.
Passion for words, outback combineaudigital : 01/05/2013 12:10 am :
Warwick Daily News report on my book launch at Gardens Galore in Warwick on Friday, 26 April.
Stockman’s Hall of Fame turns 25audigital : 30/04/2013 5:57 am :
CELEBRATIONS to commemorate the silver anniversary of the iconic Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame get underway in Longreach next Monday with the cutting of a cake and the launching of a book.
Queen Elizabeth II opened the iconic museum on April 29, 1988, which acted as a catalyst for a wave of developments that have changed the face of tourism in Western Queensland. One of the instrumental people in the hall’s early days was its first executive director Jane Grieve, and she has written a behind-the-scenes account of bringing the national museum into being.
Nicole Alexander Interviewaudigital : 10/04/2013 4:48 am :
Australia’s Bush Storyteller Nicole Alexander recently interviewed me about my latest book In Stockmen’s Footsteps for her blog.
Read the Q&A here. Thanks Nicole!
Down at the Creekaudigital : 26/09/2011 4:19 am :
Kookaburras laughing; koalas grunting. Magpie song.
Snippet of white underwing as a dollar bird flaps across the creek, settling on a high branch, there to watch, hawk-eyed, for dinner on the wing. Dragonfly dinner.
Sharp, twittering bursts of colour as small groups of double-bar finches flit in perfectly synchronised unison from seedy grass clump to wattle blossom to seedy grass clump. Squeaking. Whistling. Invisible in an instant.
Brilliant flash of blue-green kingfisher, darting; hunting. Splash.
A flock of cockatoos, arriving suddenly, flies screeching along the watercourse, weaving and dodging amongst the trees, flying off in an hysterical white cloud; leaving behind them for a short while, a startled silence.
An occasional ‘plop’ as a yellow-belly breaches and disappears again into brown water, leaving only telltale, silent, evolving rings.
A sudden scurrying sound and then splash! as a water dragon takes fright, panicking that his camouflage is not good enough (but really, it is); then a chain of rings surrounding lizard head zooms across the creek to lap the other side, abandoned in panic as the lizard rushes up the far bank and disappears into the long, yellow grass. A faint pathway of disturbed air and waving grass settles in his wake.
The hollow clank of the windmill provides intermittent background noise as its sails drift their open blades to find the face of the breeze to turn the mill pump, which will lift water from the creek up to the tank near the chooks’ yard – garden water.
A light breeze ruffles leaves and blossoms way up high; way, way up in the tops of the giant river gums. Gum blossoms drifting, drifting; gum leaves spinning, gum nuts falling, gliding, falling soundless, onto the elastic surface of the dappled brown water where they sit, held up by the surface tension. Not even the gum nuts with their sharp little points can break through this faintly-wobbling jelly-skin, not til they become waterlogged and then slowly sink, twisting down in a bubbling spiral, soon out of sight in the brown depths.
Blossoms, leaves, nuts, sit like icing on a cake, rising and falling on the tiny, imperceptible wavelets as the gentle breeze scuds along at water level and riffles the surface of the Oakey Creek.
The smells of marsupial, mud, clean brown water, gum blossoms, eucalypt leaves, and smoke from our little fire, spin on the breeze. They drift up from the ground and down from the giant trees above and across the top of the water and weave themselves together into a delicious familiar smell that says ‘home’ and ‘comfort’ and ‘fun’.
It says ‘down at the creek’.
Filtered sunlight bathes our eager little faces as we hop from tree root to tree root over the edge of the water, gently tugging at pieces of string suspended amongst them to see if they give promise of a hungry yabbie attached to the piece of flap tied to the other end.
Now and then a shout of ‘Hey, got one! Got a big one! Ooooooh nooooooo – he got away’ as a flash of blue exoskeleton and the thwack of a swift tail on the surface of the water tell the same story. Then another semi-circle of rings wobbles off to the middle of the creek, its other half breaking in tiny wavelets against the bank and yabbie holes below the enormous roots under our muddy, splayed, tough little feet.
Johnny’s mum sits in her house dress on a towel spread over the bare black earth, in a spot in the shade which has been scrupulously cleared of prickles and inflammable dry grass, higher up the bank. She watches and listens over us as our discreet little fire burns under a billycan of boiling water waiting for a fat yabbie to cook and eat on the spot.
‘Hey, let’s go down to the rapids! Hey mum, can we go down to the rapids? Will you come too – come on mum! It’s just around the corner. Come on!’ And along we race over logs, jumping over huge washout divots in the lee of the giant trees, skipping across dirt and clumps of grass, dry twigs crackling underfoot and the occasional ‘ouch, wait for meee!’ as the pointy end of a gumnut or a prickle broaches the tough skin underfoot, requiring a hasty removal; down to the place under the huge dirt cliff where the ‘rapids’ run twinkling like diamonds over a bed of coarse sand and pebbles. A faint whoosh as pebbles turn over in the ankle-deep water. Large freshwater mussels quickly shut themselves up and slide into the gritty pebbles when they feel our vibrations. We cool our feet in the rapids while the yabbies take heart from the quietness around our strings of meat up the creek, under the big gum trees, and come out of their holes again to feast. And be caught. And catch them we do, by the bucket-full.
This is home. This is my childhood world – the Oakey Creek, Darling Downs, Queensland, Australia, circa 1960.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
Anzac Day Tributeaudigital : 15/04/2011 4:14 am :
There aren’t so many left these days, but those there are, are more precious than gold dust. There are two old blokes in particular who get together now and then in Warwick to share reminiscences about a story none of the rest of us can possibly comprehend in its enormity.
David Watt and Kingsley Locke have been mates for 73 years. They were born a couple of weeks apart in Warwick – were in the same class at the Warwick High School – and were together on a very wet Sunday night on 24th May, 1942, when a train disgorged them and a dozen other Warwick boys, all 18 and trembling in their boots, at the 29th Infantry Training camp at Goondiwindi.
“We were scared,” says David. “We had no idea what the future held for us.”
Transferred to Canungra Jungle Warfare School for a gruelling month’s intensive day-and-night training, David and Kingsley ended up a couple of years later in Bougainville as signallers in the 26th Infantry Battalion AIF. They remember one night being on a beach, frantically digging with their steel helmets in an instinctive, but possibly useless in the circumstances, attempt to create cover.
Along with the rest of their platoon, they were supposed to be having some well-deserved R&R away from the action. But the Japs had worked out they were there, and were firing 20-pounders at their position.
What good would a small hole in the ground be if one hit you? Not much – but it made them feel better digging those holes!
One of these monster shells landed within a couple of feet of Kingsley – and did not explode. “God must have been saving me for the work I have since done playing the piano for The Happy Wanderers Band in Warwick for 35 years,” chuckles Kingsley. But the horror of that moment, and many others during that time, is firmly etched behind his smiling eyes.
David wasn’t so lucky at 3am on Tuesday, 9th January 1945, when a bullet hit him in the chest while he was ‘in our perimeter’, anxiously watching for night sleuths bearing death. “Didn’t see it coming,” quips David. Indeed. He might have seen that it was more than likely to come, sooner or later.
So, here they are today, these old fellers, cobbers to the end; they have lived the good lives so many of their mates were denied, David and his wife Marjorie enjoying life at Regency Park Retirement Village, while Kingsley, now aged 87, still enjoys his well-maintained yard in Warwick.
What were you doing when you were 18, or 19, or 20? I’ll tell you what I wasn’t doing, and it’s thanks to Veterans like David Watt and Kingsley Locke that I wasn’t.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
Get Your Running Shoes On – Warwick Pentathaudigital : 10/04/2011 4:17 am :
Pat Sinnott, the spokesman for the organisers of this year’s WARWICK PENTATH RUN on 21-22 May, is a committed marathon runner.
Running has been a lifetime’s passion which began when Pat was a child in Ireland. There, the cooler climate lends itself to year-round running events and the clubs with which he was involved from the age of 12 organised track & field events in the Irish summer, and cross-country in winter. So, Pat had had plenty of experience and plenty of ideas when a group of enthusiasts in Warwick decided to create a major race of some kind in Warwick.
In 2002 the first Warwick Pentath-run was conducted. In a unique format which is logistically impossible to organise in a metropolitan area, the Warwick Pentath-run is a marathon (42.2km) divided into 5 legs over 2 days, each leg a different kind of race so that its appeal is extremely broad.
Contestants can enter one, some or all of the legs.
Saturday’s 3 races are WIRAC-Yangan, a half-marathon on an undulating course, showcasing our Shire; followed by a 4.6km cross-country at Morgan Park; and a 5km flat sprint at Sandy Creek. Then there is a presentation dinner at WIRAC that night.
Sunday completes the test with the gruelling, and very visually spectacular 10km uphill run from Killarney to Queen Mary Falls; and the final leg is the very popular 1500m run up and down Palmerin Street, finishing at the Band Rotunda.
With about 75% of the 400 or so contestants coming from Brisbane and environs, the Warwick Pentath-run brings substantial revenue into the district, an estimated $100,000 spread across a range of businesses. It’s a magnificent effort from a group of enthusiasts, who invite and welcome local participation in what has become a great annual event for the Warwick district. And a local charity is always the beneficiary of all their effort.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
Pentath Poemaudigital : 09/04/2011 4:16 am :
APOLOGIES FROM A VERY CONTRITE WRITER
It’s really very humbling and kind of makes you wonder
To see in typeface bold and black your very public blunder;
When Peter said “You’re going to dread to see your Pentath Story”
I genuinely thought that I could never spoil their glory!
But then I looked; and there it was, right there in the March edition –
My rendering of that great event despatched me to perdition.
‘Cos while I always strive to tell a tale exactly right,
I hadn’t even told a tale! – by cripes I got a fright!
I saw at once that there had been a horrible mistake
Instead of a polished piece I’d sent the crappy notes I make!
I hoped the Pentath people wouldn’t know who’d caused this shame
But when I looked again I saw the footnote with my name!
What can I say? I can’t let such a gaff be too consumin’
But all the same it’s rather grim to find you’re only human!
Perhaps a fitting consequence for putting them in the gun
Would be to tog me up and make me do the Pentath Run!
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
Choppy’s Brush with Fameaudigital : 09/04/2011 4:13 am :
This bloke we know called John, he was inordinately proud of his Kelpie bitch.
She was pretty plain-looking as bitches go, and her name was Lamb Chop which wasn’t a fancy name, but John was inordinately proud of her. So when his cousin’s wife Janet invited herself to come up to stay for the Allora Show, to show her purebred Samoyeds that amount to the sum total of her reason for living, John said, “I’d like to show my canine too. I’m inordinately proud of that bitch, you know. Beautiful animal.”
Janet, steeped as she was in the world of all the intricacies of purebreds and showing and all the trappings and goings on, looked at John’s Kelpie bitch. She didn’t say anything – she just looked. A very well-mannered person was our Janet. And she knew which side her bread was buttered on. After all, John was her host. He and his wife Jan hosted her every year for the Allora show and it was a pretty comfortable arrangement, actually.
So Janet gave it a little thought and said, “Okay. I’ll give you a few tips if you like.” And she was on.
Having been given the inside running on how to train a dog for the lofty expectations of the Allora show circuit, John rose a little earlier than usual each day for weeks and trained Choppy to walk, and sit, and stay, and stand – just so.
Choppy progressed very well. She obeyed the commands to an absolute T. She even lost a little weight. There was no doubt, she was an inordinately exceptional dog, in any number of ways, not the least being her willingness to learn.
The great day arrived. John, well versed in the art of showing horses, had spent the evening beforehand preparing the tack for the job at hand. With infinite care and pride he shone up the plaited-leather halter lead that had previously served its purpose at the yearling sales. The fact that Choppy had never worn a collar before was incidental; it mattered with horses, but dogs? Much smaller animals. Much more manageable.
What did matter, though, and John was big enough to acknowledge this small oversight later, in the light of the events that unfolded, was the fact that the collar in question didn’t really fit very well.
Yes, as it evolved, that mattered.
John arrived with Choppy, very much Lamb Chop if you please on that occasion with a gleaming coat and a sparkle in her eye, in the back of the Toyota. He gave the halter lead one last rub on his trouser leg, fixed the collar proudly around Choppy’s neck, and set off towards the dog-showing ring at a brisk pace, a proud man, with his dog neatly heeling his left side as the occasion demanded.
And arrived, much to the amusement of the onlookers including Janet, and the consternation of his wife, who was fond of Choppy, with a lead pulling an empty, flaccid piece of leather. The Exhibit had slipped her collar, and was nowhere to be found, or not for a good while anyway.
There was a large showing of dogs that day. Allora is noted for the Dog component of its Show, and the competition was stiff. Much more stiff, you might say, than Choppy’s collar at that particular moment.
There was a lot to distract the attention of a wandering dog in that sort of environment. There were more dogs than she had seen in her entire life, for starters, and each had to be sniffed and inspected and courted and flirted with as dog ethics dictated.
Then of course, there were people, and around people there was sure to be food, and around food there were always kids, who were good for attention amusement and entertainment. This kept Choppy occupied for a good while, and much as to be expected, once sighted by her proud owners she was rather unwilling to submit once again to collar and chain.
But dogs are basically biddable creatures, and their symbiotic needs override all else when things get grim – as they undoubtedly did for Choppy when she displayed a reluctance to come to heel. Janet took over, bringing to bear her considerable expertise and experience in the matter, and using, in a stroke of sheer brilliance, her own showing equipment and a collar that fitted.
Choppy performed brilliantly. Not necessarily according to the expectations of the judges, and not altogether in sync with the other dogs in terms of the walking sitting staying and standing, but there was no doubt, she was an exceptional dog. Out of all those possible choices, the judges put her in second place; well, they couldn’t very well put her up the top, what with the walking sitting staying and standing thing being somewhat of a random nature.
John was well pleased. His judgement had been vindicated. He was, after all, inordinately proud of that bitch.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
Noelaudigital : 03/02/2011 4:12 am :
When the Ghost of your Past taps you on the shoulder, it can bless you with a warm and friendly breath; an invitation to take a trip down memory lane and revel, for a time, in the past – to trawl through memories conjured up by some obscure trigger and to live them anew, albeit through the prism of distance.
However, when this Ghost follows up with an unsolicited act of serendipity – well, then that can be unsettling, if not plain weird.
So it was for me. A couple of nights ago I was reading Barbara Kingsolver’s newest book, The Lacuna. Beautifully written (to be expected) and not as harrowing as I feared, the first harrowing part I encountered was the school experience of the hero. He, for reasons of his own, and somewhat diminished in trauma by the fact that the reader knew he was going to overcome and go on to make his own mark, was mercilessly persecuted by his peers at boarding school.
Basically, he was different, so he was bullied.
I put the book down to rest awhile from Kingsolver’s evocative portrayal of human cruelty – and in particular, kids’ cruelty. And as I reflected, quite unbidden a little boy called Noel came into my mind.
Noel was a kid at the Bowenville State School 50 years ago, who suffered from cerebral palsy. Although I had not seen him since then, suddenly I was awash with the memory of Noel, and of the mixed response Noel encountered at my childhood school – morbid wonder from some, angry impatience and intolerance from others, innocent patronising from still others. It took my breath away as I lay back and let the curtain of the past draw back on a playground scene, Noel struggling with his callipers and his bent legs to keep up with the game that was happening – indeed, to be acknowledged as part of the game that was happening. I saw his distinctive, peculiar gait as he loped around in his wide-brimmed grey felt school hat, smiling the innocent joy of a child playing – a smile with just a touch of anxiety at the edges – and eavesdropped in my mind’s eye as one child rushed to the teacher and said “Mr Collins – Noel has fallen over again.”
It didn’t take much. Just a small shove, often out of curiosity, and down he went in a tangle of wonky legs, arms flailing helplessly.
“Mr Collins, someone pushed Noel Callaghan over.”
Noel Callaghan! How long since I’d seen him, yet how clearly my mind pictured him still as he loped around, a brave little boy with crooked legs, valiantly struggling to keep up, always bouncing back from his many challenges and always smiling. Always smiling.
Eventually his parents put an end to that particular part of his life’s struggle, and Noel went to a Special School. ‘What became of him?’ I wondered. ‘What sort of life has Noel had?’
How many nights ago was it that this particular tableau came to me unbidden? Three? Four? So, how freaky was it today when a woman of the same surname phoned the motel to discuss a booking and, upon inquiry, turned out to be the sister-in-law of the same boy-now-man!
So, I was able to find out the answers to my questions about Noel. He is alive and well, though wheelchair-bound, all these years later. He has had a good life. He is a happy, productive man who, says his sister-in-law, would laugh now at the memory of kids pushing him over in the Bowenville State School playground – and kids rushing to pick him up, the yin and yang of human behaviour.
I wonder what sort of lives the kids who pushed him over have had?
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
Dalby Floods – Dec 2010/Jan 2011audigital : 09/01/2011 4:09 am :
The lack of blogs during the last few weeks is an indicator I guess – I’ve been aware I should have been blogging about the floods but hell, we’ve been busy! I’m stuffed! Besides, it’s everywhere else, in all the papers and news reports.
Also, being the techno-klutz that I am, my virtual assistant, Lyn, has been away and I don’t know how to work clipboards and all that shit so she puts my blogs up for me!! How pathetic is that!!
Yes, I nearly jumped out of my skin when I zoomed downtown in Dalby for a minute today and saw the creek up AGAIN, and the poor old shopping centre pumping water out of its underground carpark AGAIN AGAIN – third time in the past 3 weeks, they must be nice and shitty! Poor buggers. Fills it right up to the top – can you imagine? And the odd snake and other wildlife emerge at the top looking bedraggled and definitely not in possession of a cash card.
And there were the locals today, going about their business, hardly anyone standing, mouths agog, staring at the brown water roiling and rushing across the smaller of the two town bridges, and snaking into the underground carpark, and whooshing out of the valiant little 6” pump that does its best to stem the tide and fight the good fight for the underground car-parkers of Dalby (all of whom have, incidentally, I think, got their cars out in time; mad by now if they haven’t).
Our occupancy has been fantastic during it all, although the water scare (lack of, due to all the town’s boreheads being under water for a protracted period of time) was a bit hairy. The creek of my childhood, the Oakey Creek at Bowenville, flooded higher than ever in living memory. It was huge. We’ve had people stuck here heading west, stuck here heading east, coming in to help (SES & police) and now community workers ….. and, booking for the coming week, tradies. Who will be in demand and in clover for the next zillion years.
The consensus is that flood is worse than drought; drought damages lives and livelihoods, but not infrastructure. The losses of infrastructure through flood, especially the floods of the past few weeks in Qld, are breathtaking.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
The Helicopter’s Coming – a Tully Memoiraudigital : 22/12/2010 4:07 am :
I spend as much time as I can, reading.
It really is the most marvellous method of escape.
There is so much to read! There is so much good stuff to read, well-written and captivating; and that being the case, I have become very impatient in my endless quest for good reading entertainment.
There is always a pile of books on my bedside table. If one doesn’t serve the moment, the next will. They are ruthlessly culled, especially if they are poorly written by my expectations, poorly edited and presented – or just plain boring.
I couldn’t get my nose out of it.
One of the notorious Tully mob from Quilpie, John, the quintessential bushman, has obviously inherited the gift of the gab from his Irish ancestors, and carries the Writing Gene that is shared by his Durack cousins.
His branch of the family was left behind in Quilpie on the famous overland trek by the Durack brothers years ago. They have proliferated in the Catholic way, and are now firmly established in Australian outback lore. In his book, John Tully writes about the raising of the family of 8 sons and 2 daughters that he and wife Wendy created in the outback, during an era about which there has not been a great deal written.
Through his collection of very funny, sometimes poignant, and always evocative stories, John paints a lifestyle set in an almost-contemporary time frame … but in a world that is totally foreign to most of us.
The Tullys’ is a lifestyle that demands self-sufficiency, camaraderie, raw courage, and quite extraordinary competence. In this world of ours where livelihoods are so streamlined and specialised that the changing of a light bulb or a tap washer is outsourced – never mind a car tyre – the bushman stands out for the range of his areas of competence.
The distances the Tullys and their neighbours have to negotiate for the most basic of human endeavours are quite breathtaking. The vicissitudes of their day-to-day life defy belief. Yet as John says “The bush is a hard mistress; it was here before we came and will be here long after we have gone … To survive we must accept it for what it is – with all its beauty, harshness and cruelty. Then and only then will we be able to live in peace and harmony with it.”
I thoroughly recommend John Tully’s book THE HELICOPTERS ARE COMING; it’s an enlightening and well-written read. You can get a copy by contacting the Tullys on 07-4162 8485.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
Drenching the Sheep – The Morning Afteraudigital : 09/12/2010 4:06 am :
My hands are scratched, swollen, sore and weeping in a few places.
My back is telling me it has relentlessly been put to unaccustomed work, and asking me what I was thinking by so doing.
The pointer finger on my left hand has teeth marks on it and the top joint, already misshapen from a mishap with a huge thorn when I was gardening in Dr Geaney’s garden many years ago (ouch! The memory of having an enormous thorn wedged firmly in the joint, said thorn having to be surgically removed by Dr Geaney who was, luckily, an orthopaedic surgeon) … the top joint is today swollen further from being masticated by Dorper ewes.
Part of the skill of drenching involves hand-eye coordination, and the deftness of each interaction. There you are, wedged into a writhing mass of 50 or more woollen bodies in the race, with all your anti-prickle armour on, and a drenching gun in your right hand.
The drenching gun is suspended from a pulley that runs along the roof of the race, and is attached to a bag of drench.
You gently grab the soft muzzle of each sheep, speaking to it in endearing terms (well, I do anyway; I really like them). You prise open its jaw with the pointer finger of your left hand, making sure you put your finger in the back of the jaw where the teeth are not, rather than the front, where the teeth are – although every now and then you miscalculate, and your finger gets a thorough workout from the teeth in the front and it hurts. You insert the drenching gun into the back of the throat with your right hand and quickly squirt, holding the beautiful soft muzzle a moment to ensure the drench has been swallowed, savouring the smell and feel of the animal’s head, exchanging a knowing look with its trusting eyes with gorgeous long lashes, and imbibing the clean smell of masticated grass on its breath, appreciating meanwhile the discreet dousing of absolutely unadulterated lanolin to your hands and arms; then, if you can manage to remove your leg from the crush, you wade on to the next sheep, lifting your legs waist-high as you make your way along in this manner.
Sometimes, when a sheep is panicky, you find yourself in an embrace with a thrashing head which brings your whole upper body into play. Sometimes, when a sheep buries its head under the crush of bodies, you find yourself lifting 70kg of sheep to find and dose the missing head.
As a workout, it beats anything I have experienced.
This morning, muscles in various other parts of my body – arms, neck, legs – are echoing the sentiments of my back, and similarly grumbling and mumbling and asking for ‘show cause’ and to please be left alone today. Which they won’t. There are more to do.
The thing is, I really like drenching sheep.
I really like sheep. They have beautiful eyes, beautiful soft faces, beautiful soft noses, a lovely feel to them and even a lovely smell. The softness, in spite of their covering of sundry prickles and sharp seeds caught up in their coats, comes partly from the lanolin in their wool, partly from their temperament; on both counts they are delightful animals. Well, that’s my opinion.
In a serendipitous twist, the fact is that my adopted name “Grieve” means sheep farmer in Scottish.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
Drenching the Sheepaudigital : 08/12/2010 4:04 am :
Having got down and dirty in the matter of drenching over 700 extremely large and feisty sheep today (of which I personally drenched at least 350, possibly more), I have to say that I will be sleeping the sleep of the blessed tonight.
It has been some years since I ventured into the mad world of such physical labour; and I have to say, I love it. Even though I am exhausted.
Drenching the sheep involves donning as much protective clothing as the wardrobe allows – heavy jeans mainly, and a long-sleeved shirt, and dark glasses and of course a hat, and gloves if you have them which I didn’t, the better to stave off the myriad burrs and sharp things that lodge themselves in sheep’s wool.
And the boots and leggings that did such faithful service along the Kokoda Trail came in extremely handy, protecting my legs from kicks and bangs and more prickles.
Even though the sheep in question belong for the most part to the Dorper breed, which is supposed to be without wool, there were enough cross-breds amongst them to carry a fair bit of prickle-infested wool; and tonight, my hands and arms and legs are full of scratches and burrs that bear testimony to my gargantuan effort. Not to mention bruises and sore bits from bumps and bangs along the way.
Not every sheep sees the value of being drenched. It is a situation that is imposed rather than impressed upon them. The drencher, armed with a drenching gun, gets into a sheepyard race which is crammed solid with many individual 70kg packages of indignation, who voice their protest by either putting their heads down under the bellies of the others (which requires considerable physical wrangling to dislodge, both of the host with the protective underbelly and the unwilling drenchee), or leaping dramatically onto the backs of the ladies in front, stubbornly defying my gentle efforts at coaxing and convincing that it is all for their good. More wrangling required. Great for the abs and the pecs. A little tough on the lower back.
Sheep die very quickly from worm infestation. It’s not a nice death.
So, 700 or so large Dorper ewes are striding around Frosty Creek tonight knowing they have been through something – they are not sure what or why – and blissfully unaware that they have been saved from an unspeakably unsavoury end.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
Muckadilla Yogiaudigital : 03/11/2010 4:02 am :
Who’d ha’ thought that a tiny town like Muckadilla would have such a secret gem in its midst!
Picture Muckadilla; 57km west of Roma on the Western Darling Downs, little more than a whistle stop on the Western Line, and a blink-and-you-missed-it sort of settlement that ranges itself lazily – and briefly – along the Warrego Highway, that innocuous piece of bitumen that leads to all places west (including Amby, Mitchell, Mungallala, Charleville, Quilpie, Eromanga, and, for the truly intrepid, Windorah, Betoota and Birdsville – names that all shriek of romance, bulldust and conquest) and all places north thereof (including Morven, thereby to Augathella, Tambo, Blackall and Barcaldine via the Landsborough Highway where it meets another western highway, the Capricorn along the Tropic of the same name, from Rockhampton).
Picture Muckadilla, its 20 or so inhabitants apparently sleeping on a Wednesday morning at 9.30am, the only sign of life being the occasional flicking of the ears of a sleeping dog and the shifting of the denim-clad backsides of a couple of bushies leaning into the engine of an old ute pulled up at the garage-cum-post office. The odd truck rushes past and through, and a car now and then, hurrying past and apparently blinking and missing, and then one by one dusty cars arrive at the Muckadilla hall and disgorge women with yoga mats under their arms and towels over their shoulders.
They tote their water bottles into the hall, the door closes off the morning sun behind them, and for all intents and purposes Muckadilla returns to emptiness. But with a difference.
Now, I am no newby when it comes to yoga. I boast – sometimes, when it might impress, which is rarely – regular attendance at the classes of one Swami Sarasvati in Sydney in the ‘70s. Swami Sarasvati, in the way of yogis, swore to at least 120 years of living and looked 40. Shirley, on the other hand, does not mention her age but looks not a day over 55, and at that is more agile than most. I discover later that Shirley is actually 80, which impresses me no end because I have to say that Shirley’s yoga class at Muckadilla is up there with the best that I have experienced.
Shirley is trained in 4 of the disciplines of yoga, she explains, but she teaches a combination. And, she teaches it beautifully. We stretch and swivel and pose, stand on one leg and then the other. First we are cats and then we are cows, then cobras, then children, then dogs.
The tension in my shoulders dissolves as I roll my head from side to side, and then dissipates completely as we finish off with a relaxation that is so total that at least one of our number drops off into the deep sleep of the thoroughly exhausted. Of which I, by day 5 in the place time forgot, am not one, although the letting go of the stresses of the past year have brought about a certain lethargy that it will take more than a few more days to shake off.
Yoga Muckadilla style? Don’t sniff, I would drive a lot further than a mere 22 km across gravel and red dust for another one; and will.
At $6 for a 1 ½ hour lesson I’d pay more, too.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
The Verandahaudigital : 02/11/2010 3:59 am :
For an Aussie, or in particular a Queenslander, and more particularly a country Queenslander, a verandah is a necessary part of life.
It’s where you observe the world as it passes lazily by; and commune with it, from the earth below to the sky above and all points in between, depending on the angle offered by your verandah chair.
Me, I’ve always found a verandah to be a happy compromise, neither in nor out. And here on Frosty Creek, Muckadilla, my new verandah offers me more in the way of observation at close quarters than I could possibly have hoped for a year ago when Frosty Creek was not on the horizon as a dwelling option for us.
Thanks to the miracles of wireless internet, I can sit here working on my computer with a backdrop (or frontdrop, actually) of Frosty Creek and all it offers. I hear the breeze rustling the leaves of the river gums and box trees, currently lapping up the new life delivered by spring and rain – lots and lots of rain. I can hear, and see, the willie wagtails about their busy business amongst the lower prickly shrubs. I can see myriad white butterflies as they hover and drift and play –presumably – in the wind. I can hear the lambs in the sheepyards calling their mothers, and their mothers calling them, and it never stops when they are in the yards even though they must have well and truly mothered up by now.
And now a flock of sheep wanders past not 10 metres from where I sit, uninhibited by a garden fence (which, happily, we do not have) and heading for the rich pickings which abound in the green grass all about that has made them fat and contented.
A kookaburra calls to his friend; magpies sing, a truly delicious song. The various cheeping and twittering tells of lives being led and bounty being enjoyed by bird life of which I catch only glimpses as the many different birds swing from tree to tree.
I choose electronic silence. There is more sound than enough to satisfy the senses.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
An Indolent Obsessionaudigital : 02/11/2010 3:55 am :
Australia’s own Cattle King, Sid Kidman, routinely had the verandahs removed from each of the homesteads of his many pastoral holdings in the Australian outback.
And with good reason. They encouraged indolence, by his estimation. And by my estimation, they encourage indolence still. And relaxation, and enjoyment, and social intercourse. And the washing, actually.
Or mine does.
For many years I lived in my house sans verandah, and yearned for it to be otherwise. There had been good intentions by our predecessors, a fact that could not be ignored each time one of my babies fell out of one of the huge glass sliding doors that led to nowhere except ground level about 2 metres below. Each time this happened, I patiently dusted off the child and mopped the tears, rudely cursing those good intentions, and citing in colourful terms that the road to hell is paved with them as well as liberal amounts of dried grass, dirt and guinea pig droppings.
And for many a balmy evening we sat inside our glass sliding doors, my children and I, watching the sunset, watching the lightning, watching the birds, watching the world outside, without so much as a breeze in our hair or the scent of jasmine and guinea pig droppings in our nostrils, and dreamed of the day when we could afford to build a verandah on the other side of the glass.
Life is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fate smiled benignly upon the small woodland creatures who were regularly disturbed by falling children below the glass sliding doors, and decreed that enough was enough. A carpenter friend wanted a racehorse. We had racehorses to burn. A deal was done, and our verandah slowly rose from the dust and guinea pig droppings.
The kids fell more regularly for a time, from bearers balanced on uprights dug into large, deep holes. But there was a different, more jubilant tone to their wails. There was Hope, and hope waxes much more lyrical.
And with good reason. Eventually, eventually, a 3-metre wide verandah took shape, wrapping itself around both sides of our living room, past the dining room and even giving access to the kitchen window for fresh supplies for indolent verandah incumbents. I could have wept. I did weep. It was wonderful. Somewhat spitefully, we built a cupboard between the two protruding glass sliding doors, and stashed lots of junk in there, which made us feel much better about past wasted opportunities.
Then we pulled the disused squatters’ chairs out of dark, dusty corners of sheds and painted them up, the better to be indolent upon, on our verandah. We purchased an extension table and lots of chairs, so we could share the delights of our verandah with friends and relations.
Everyone agreed that the view was marvelous, the breeze was marvelous, the difference in summer temperature inside the house was marvelous – in fact, that our verandah was doing everything a verandah was supposed to do.
Even the magpies have got into the spirit of things, organising parties of their own, using our furniture. Sometimes these events – I suppose you could call them sing-sings – are catered, sometimes not, depending on our diligence at cleaning up after our own entertaining.
On a visit to Nimbin we purchased a set of prayer flags which now flutter in the breeze and give honour to the Gods of our verandah. I discovered that I could hang the washing on the steel cables which were strategically strung to stop kids from falling over the edge, while not obscuring the view. A marvelous view, actually.
My mother said, “Ah. The Grieves’ Chinese laundry”; shades of old Singapore. An exotic verandah, here in dusty Warwick! Unscheduled guests and Jehovahs are met with Grieve smalls, and larges for that matter, but do I care? Never! The ease of drying the washing is yet another manifestation of the many, many joys of my verandah.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
The Farty Seataudigital : 01/11/2010 3:53 am :
Arthur was never so glad as when the Nungil State School closed down. Well, it wasn’t so much that it closed down, but an old Maple Leaf war truck became available and was converted into a school bus, so the 10 or so kids from the Nungil State School could get the bus (such as it was) into Kulpi State School.
Arthur was the littlest one; in that capacity, before the days of the bus he always got the farty seat on the way to school.
What fascinated him most was the way the old mare’s bum winkled as she ambled along – in and out, in an out, in time with her pace and the effort of pulling the sulky along the dusty road.
He had a bonza view from his spot on the floor of the sulky, under everybody else’s feet. If you liked horse’s bums, that was.
You had to keep an eye on that bum, because out of the blue the winkling motion would give way to an explosion of soggy farts; fair in Arthur’s face.
The big kids, Pat and Peter and Lex, and Mr Creevy the schoolteacher (whom they picked up at the Brymaroo Pub on the way into school), all sat along the wooden bench seat above Arthur’s head.
Lucky jokers. It wasn’t great being in the farty seat. But if you were the littlest, there was nothing else for it. You had to fit in somewhere.
Pat drove; Pat was the biggest kid – she was 10 – and her father owned the mare – and the sulky for that matter. She wasn’t a bad driver either. But when it was time to catch the mare, and horses the other kids had ridden to school and left for the day in the horse paddock next to the Nungil State School GEEZE wasn’t that a nightmare! Kids and horses going hell west and crooked, darting in and out of the pepperina trees and everybody yelling at Arthur – even though (well perhaps because) he was the smallest one – to block ‘em as they whizzed towards him, kids and bridles and halters in hot pursuit.
No fear! What – did they think he was silly or something? He was out of there! Right behind the nearest pepperina tree.
But once you had her in the traces, and were on the way home, there was no stopping that mare. Pat’s dad Bill fed her on oats; that was the problem. She was always in beautiful condition, with a lovely dappled bay coat, and quite fat.
But the oats made her fart.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
The Motelieraudigital : 23/10/2010 3:52 am :
I am more than a little aware that there has not been much said from this corner of the world for the last – oh, how long??????
Motelling and writing inspiration don’t seem to go. There doesn’t seem to be enough head space left at the end of a day.
It has been the most bewildering few weeks I can remember! Like having young kids, everyone said “you’ll get used to it.” Yair well, I’ve got used to it.
But, apart from my early-morning walk around the very pretty town of Dalby, and dashing across to the Chinese restaurant for a takeaway meal this evening, I have not set foot outside the door of the Best Western Country Pathfinder Motor Inn Dalby, all day. Not street-side anyway. Room-side, yes – up and down and up and down, heavily laden with household goods and chattels for the comfort and cleanliness of our guests.
It’s okay though. I like it.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
Bush Christmasaudigital : 13/10/2010 3:49 am :
In a world that now largely expects that bought things are best, and that made things are make-do, it never ceases to amaze me how people in Australia’s outback actually do make things, really, really good things.
This they do using skills passed down to them, or exchanged between each other, or garnered from the many rural courses available from time to time in the bush; sewing, for example; cooking; artistic things.
I guess their time is not distracted by the time and social constraints that town people labour under. That, and that country dwellers have a culture of using their time to the fullest.
This year Bush Christmas will be held at the Downs Club in Mylne Street, Toowoomba (excellent opportunity to have a thorough snoop around that one-time bastion of masculine domination) – free off-street parking and delicious coffee & refreshments.
Fabulous place to do Christmas shopping in one fell swoop. And it is worth looking on the website to see a selection of what will be there; you could perhaps pre-order an item that almost always sells out because of its popularity …… the Christmas Hamper. Totally yum, totally cost-effective. And honestly, Bush Christmas is worth a visit in person. It will have heaps of other beautiful gifts as well.
More info: www.bushchristmas.com
Friday 19 November – Sunday 28 November
Downs Club, Cnr Margaret & Mylne Streets, Toowoomba
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
Lament for Billaudigital : 02/10/2010 3:45 am :
One phone call, and suddenly the world is a different place.
I worked in Toowoomba for Bill Durack, Architect, youngest living son of his generation of the Durack Dynasty, in 1978 for a year.
He was a truly delightful human being, in the Durack mould; erudite, educated, witty, gentlemanly, thoughtful, interested, interesting.
I had just returned from a year overseas, and was living at home with my parents while I collected the threads of my life. The job with the Durack, Brammer & Stekhoven architectural partnership was a simple one, as receptionist. I shared the job with another girl, Sue.
It was a run-of-the-mill reception/secretarial job, made colourful by the different personalities of the various partners.
Bill Durack – Mr Durack to me – was the most thorough person I had ever met. Every day he kept a minute diary on his desk calendar, in red, written two lines to one line space of diary page in perfect handwriting. Every week he dictated a letter to his “Dear sister Mary” or his “Dear sister Elizabeth” in Perth, in which he told all the family news to which, naturally, we his secretaries became privy by default.
I marvelled at his capacity for communication, his love for his sisters and his family.
In his office – the front room in the Lindsay Street practice – every single surface of every table and bench was covered with neatly-stacked piles of papers, letters, brochures and architectural drawings. He knew where everything was, and could lay his hand on anything at will. He was alone in that remarkable feat, and one would never have dared to move anything around for fear of dispossessing him.
One day he was in the drawing room plying his art, and because of the heat had left the windows of his temporarily-vacated office open. A willy willy arrived in Lindsay Street unannounced; it came in Mr Durack’s window, had its way with his stacks and stacks of papers, and left without ceremony through the front door, leaving in its wake a plethora of papers and paraphernalia (and a few things it had collected along the street before coming in) in absolute and total disarray.
Sue and I sat with bated breath, not daring to move out of our seats, as the papers and dust motes and leaves from the giant cedar tree outside slowly settled in the hallway. Mr Durack rushed out of the drawing room and stood at the door of his office and this is what he said: “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”
Oh dear, but he was a lovely lovely man!
This morning, he died. He was 92, or 93 or 94. Old, anyway.
My great-aunt Paddy McCallum had been a great friend of Bill Durack’s family. Paddy was a nurse, once the school nurse at the Toowoomba Grammar School, who took jobs looking after families whose mothers were ‘lying in’ in hospital with a new baby.
Paddy (Pat Pat to me) used to do this for all the new Durack arrivals, of which there were in the end 5 sons to Bill and Noni. Bill loved to tell me the story of how Paddy, who was a writer, said to him once, “One day I’m going to write a book and I’m going to call it Men I have Lived With!” ! – this was of course a shocking concept in those days, and true to form as Pat Pat used to enjoy saying shocking things.
Aunty Paddy, who was still alive in 1978, was delighted that I was working for Mr Durack and used to explain to me the family connection through her friendship with Bill and Noni and their family.
After a year, I decided to move on. Town life did not suit me, and I decided to go ‘bush’ or ‘walkabout.’ But in the meantime I had met, through Bill Durack and my job in his practice, RM Williams, and learned about the proposed Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame for which Bill was acting as proxy for his ‘dear sister Mary’ on the fledgling board. I was very interested in the idea, and had expressed my interest and appreciation to RM on various occasions when he came in to see Bill, bearing proofs for the first Vision Splendid brochure, and the constitution, and such things.
RM heard that I was planning to leave. He sent an emissary to tempt me to take on the role of secretary to the new Stockman’s Hall of Fame company. That is another story, as eventually I accepted although what I really wanted was to go bush. RM promised me horses and riding and I decided to take it on for a brief time, just to try it and see. 10 years later …………………
Bill Durack would never believe me that RM didn’t steal me from him. He brought it up every time he made a speech in my presence, the last of which was only last year at a Durack, Brammer & Stekhoven reunion lunch in Toowoomba. I’m really sorry that I could not convince him of the facts of the matter, but those indeed are the facts! It was town life that sent me away.
I have always kept in touch with ‘Mr Durack’; he has followed my life and I have followed his, and retain a friendship I value greatly with his family, in particular Matthew and Jenny.
I am very, very sad that his time has come. Australia has lost a valuable part of living history, another member of an irreplaceable generation, and a particularly special person.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
The Front Loading Washing Machine Incidentaudigital : 27/09/2010 3:12 am :
Here’s how it feels to look fondly into the happily-sloshing contents of the industrial-sized front-loading washing machine, as it slurps away at the dirt and unspeakables ingrained in the motel bedspread from Room 4 … and spy to your horror the Telstra USB stick belonging to the incumbent in Room 4 happily sloshing around with everything else, most notably Dalby water and soapsuds.
Shitty. Really really shitty. That’s how it feels.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
The Breakfast Debacleaudigital : 27/09/2010 3:11 am :
Day 2 of sole charge, and 6.30am finds me in the reception office doing battle with the computer.
- insert USB
- hit ‘today’s date’
- keep waiting
Fully engrossed with the unfamiliar concept of waiting (perhaps this is why computers and I do not mix?), I drum my fingers anxiously on the desk and pray that no one will want to check out before Doreen – who knows everything – arrives to nurse me through the process.
Bas, meantime, is preparing 6 breakfast trays.
He’s set everything out meticulously the night before. A tendency towards organisation skills has miraculously evidenced itself in the last week, probably with the encouragement of our partner Arthur, the other nominated breakfast cook, who has taught him everything he knows.
Each tray has a large paper d’oyly on it, with the room number neatly written in the bottom right hand corner.
It is then beautifully set up according to the needs of that particular breakfast order … cutlery in a clean white cutlery bag; salt & pepper, bread & butter plate, everything, in short, that can stay out of the fridge overnight is laid harmoniously on the tray.
(Personally, I would like to add a hibiscus blossom, but Dalby does not produce these.)
In the morning, all’s to be done is to cook the breakfasts and deliver them on time, with a charming smile. Easy peasy. Possible problems with the charming smile, depending on the hour.
So there I sit, waiting, waiting, for the computer to do its thing, when suddenly there comes an urgent call from the kitchen: “Come’n’elp me.” The tone is familiar. Chicken Little meets Basil Fawlty as pandemonium breaks loose in the kitchen. Bas has somehow got himself all in a muddle.
Twenty-four years have I shared my life with this man, and I have only ever seen him run twice, maybe three times ………… in the horse yards in extreme emergency (left gate open, horses spied gap, made to escape). Many years ago.
Day 2 Sole Charge Motelier Adventure – I saw him run.
He ran distractedly around the central storage rack in the kitchen, rushing at the fridge for extra ingredients, shouting expletives and incoherent – but undoubtedly urgent – instructions. He ran frantically at the stove to put some extra eggs in the poacher. He ran in small circles, gesticulating wildly, literally pulling at his hair, and starting to shout in full-throated Fawlty-ese. He positively sprinted back from Room 17 (the farthest room in the motel) when he discovered that, on top of all his other problems, he had misread the Room 17 order sheet to read “1 scrambled eggs, bacon, tomato & toast” when it actually read “2”.
I learned a few things that morning. One is that you don’t laugh at Chicken Little. Two is you don’t laugh at Basil Fawlty.
Another is that looks can be deceiving.
Bas still has a bit of speed about him.
Oh – and I learned where the second egg-poacher is kept.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
The Start Up Motelieraudigital : 25/09/2010 3:10 am :
Here’s what it is like to be a start-up Motelier of 3 days’ duration.
You waken at 3.00am when your partner Bas (as in Fawlty) wakens loudly (yes, it is possible, believe me) and proclaims the alarm to be unset for 5.00am – would you please set it for him, he may not waken in time (ho).
You lie there, faintly perspiring at the memory of yesterday’s faux pas (as in pas plural), and loudly – to yourself – vowing they will not be repeated today.
Your perspiration waxes and wanes as your memory runs through the highlights of the day before … The look on the face of the man who returned to the office declaring a man to be in his bed; the look on the face of the man who returned to the office declaring a man to have come into his room when he was in his bed.
The look on the face of the man who returned to the office and politely inquired as to what he should do with the cleaning equipment left behind the door in his room (you and Bas having cleaned said room at 6.00pm when it was realised previous night’s incumbent had not checked out, to be unceremoniously checked out forthwith, his room to be miraculously cleaned post-haste by two start-up moteliers wielding various cleaning implements including bleach, according to a page of instructions, with more than one – more than two, in fact – squirts of room freshener applied by Bas as a parting gesture as he rushed out leaving half the cleaning equipment behind the door; and a lovely, lovely clean room with a beautifully-made bed).
Oh Lordy! Humour be my friend! What a day!
And that was only part of it.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
From Backwater to Mainstreamaudigital : 25/09/2010 3:10 am :
For 21 years, during what is fondly known as Stage 3 of my life, I lived close to the teeming backwater of Warwick.
The backwater part I didn’t realise at the time, because the teeming part was so engrossing and pervasive. Anyway, the backwater part was only about me, and quite self-inflicted. Went nowhere, did nothin’. Much. There was too much happening at home.
And this is why I am going on about it now. Suddenly, in the guise of motelier, I catch glimpses of a teeming mainstream as it slips in disparate pieces past my nose. Suggestions of different flavours, different lifestyles, different occupations, different places, drift past in snatches.
There is a world out there. There is a world out there!
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
In at the deep end – The First Phone Callaudigital : 20/09/2010 3:08 am :
Sunday 19th September, Day 1 for J.O.Grieve in her new guise as Aspiring Motelier Extraordinaire at Dalby, the Thriving Hub of the Darling Downs.
Sunday – traditionally the quietest day in the motelier’s week – had proved something of a challenge even as the quietest day. There still seemed to be quite a lot happening, not much of which I knew or understood. I had always been on the other end of the motel spectrum, and happily so.
So, when Irene suggested at 3pm – the quietest part of the quietest day in the week of the average motelier – that I might like to field one sad, isolated incoming phone call, I acquiesced. Irene thrust a prompt into my hand which said words to the effect of “Good afternoon, Best Western Dalby Country Pathfinder Motor Inn, Jane speaking,” (by the end of which, one might hope, the person on the other end was sufficiently softened up to have modified the complexity of their request).
This all I said with something of a quaking heart.
“Our bus has broken down. Have you got room for 14 people, we will be arriving in 10 to 15 minutes,” said the urgent voice on the other end. Whaaaaat??? I held on to the phone for long enough to ascertain that he wasn’t joking, and for long enough after that to make a valiant attempt at fielding his request. Then I squeaked “Could you hold on for a minute please ……………… IREEEENE!!!!”
To say that the proverbial hit the fan would be an understatement. The necessary rooms had been left over to clean at Monday cleaning rates, in expectation of the usual quiet Sunday. The peace of our afternoon, such as it was, was tipped on its head.
In the next 10 minutes I learned how to strip and make a bed, with hospital corners, and (under the guidance of the amazingly competent Christine, who came rushing at 2 minutes’ notice to help out) how to set up a motel room looking fresh and inviting – times 6.
The busload of mine workers (the bus was stuck in 2nd gear) were arriving as we whizzed, much like Mr Sheen in the ‘70s ad, around the last room and popped out the door.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
In at the deep end – The Motelieraudigital : 20/09/2010 3:07 am :
Today was my first full day of being a motelier, and this is how it went.
I was determined not to panic. That was my waking thought, and the thought I kept close to my heart all morning, as I wandered in and out of the storeroom, the laundry, the kitchen, the office, vaguely wondering how all the dots joined to make a cohesive whole, and what role I might play in doing this.
Irene was magnificently competent, as was Arthur. Even Robert, a motelier of only 3 days’ duration, also seemed to be magnificently competent, and confident. It was quite overwhelming, being the person who knew nothing to their everything, and who had not even broached the concept of confidence for fear that it might turn out to be an empty pot.
I tried to catch at straws of information as they blew past me in a positive hurricane of activity. I watched over Irene’s shoulder as she did incomprehensible things on the computer; I asked her what she was doing and when she explained, it was worse, far worse, than when she didn’t explain.
Then I remember that he who knows not and knows that he knows not can be taught; although I did think that the ‘he’ of the adage had a lot more going for him in terms of not being an old dog who couldn’t learn new tricks. But I tried not to think too much about that either.
Then Robert noticed that I was looking calm and took me strongly to task, reminding me that we were to be left on our own – truly thrown in at the deep end – in just 2 days’ time, when Arthur & Irene take off for 5 days to attend to grandparent duties, leaving us with a full house and an empty belfry, and that I should, in the spirit of the thing, be in a thorough panic.
That threw me. I was in such a thorough panic that I had to go to bed after lunch, and have a nano nap.
I arose, refreshed, and ventured into the belly of the engine-room to offer my services. Irene kindly offered me more instruction and then, when the phone rang, since it was safely 3pm on a Sunday afternoon and traditionally the quietest time in the life of a motel, she suggested that I could perhaps field my first phone call.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
Travelling Light – The Searchaudigital : 10/09/2010 3:05 am :
While events on a day-by-day basis are now unfolding swiftly, the Search for the Motel of our Dreams was by no means a quick process; nor was it an easy one.
When the thing was decided, the right motel having been found, we had a week to quickly reorganise and tip upside down the more-than-substantial lives and identities we had carved as a family at Warwick, our home of 20 years.
Warwick is a nice little town, and a nice little community. It is home to the oldest regional Public school in Queensland and one of the oldest grand country homesteads, lately restored but still in original condition, Glengallan Homestead. Warwick was originally intended as the main southern inland settlement from Brisbane. It was first settled from the south, the ranges to the east being too rugged to negotiate. But Toowoomba overtook it, due to location and climate considerations. But not before Warwick had constructed a great deal of its public self in substantial stone, with aplomb and grandeur and high hopes, and lasting beauty.
Warwick nurtured us well for 20 years. It helped us to raise our family, welcomed us to its bosom, provided us with nourishment and friendship and identity as only a small community can do.
It was not the dream location for our motel, however. We were looking at the mining boom and its contingent ‘certainties’, such as they are; we were looking for the excitement that is happening in the Surat Basin where coal and gas have turned to gold, and the rush is on. We were looking for the real Bush, too, where Robert belongs, hence the Muckadilla portion of this tale.
We looked at the Surat Basin and the coalfields from the north, the west, the middle, and the south. It took months and months, and miles and miles of driving, mostly by Arthur & Irene & Robert while I stayed home with my job. And in the end, they found what we were looking for much closer to home than we had hoped (home being, for me, proximity to my aging mama, and strangely and coincidentally, close to the very Bowenville air that begat and nurtured me for Stage 1 of my life) – at Dalby. Good old Dalby. Once – when I was young, eons ago, Dalby was a ragged little country town subsisting on farming and the Western Railway Line. Now, she is a sophisticated and cultured Lady, thrumming with life wrought by wealthy cotton farmers, Government agencies, and – the Surat Basin’s mining activities.
And – an hour by road from my Mama. Perfect.
So, Dalby it is. The Best Western Country Pathfinder. A small motel but just what we were looking for – a neat and tidy motel with neat and tidy rooms that serve their purpose honourably and with comfort and distinction.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
Travelling Light – The Planaudigital : 10/09/2010 3:02 am :
And of course I am realising that my 2 ½ stolid readers, all of them me re-reading what I have written and finding mistakes that have to be corrected, are wondering what the hell Glenochar, a tiny cottage on Frosty Creek, and Muckadilla have to do with Stage 4 and the finding of a living in a new life in a motel somewhere west of the Great Divide.
This is where my story becomes whimsical, because I know there are those (Capricorns mainly, and the odd Aries) who think this Astrology thing is all bunkum; and perhaps it is. However, being a Piscean of longer standing than I care to admit to, strangely and for whatever reason I seem to have spent my life wanting to swim in two directions at once. I also embody a great number of other Piscean charms, including dodgy feet, but the constant tug’o’war has been a major one.
Consequently, I have a suspicion that the new life we have devised, for the short-term at least, is going to suit me. We are to have a double life, thanks to our business partners Arthur & Irene who will share in the running of the Motel of our Dreams. We plan (God willing) to do month about, the on month being motel duty, and in the off month we retreat to our view of Frosty Creek and the magpies and the crows and the bleating of sheep and barking of sheepdogs; not to mention the rustle of the snake who lives under the house, and whom we hope will move out now that we are moving in (but you can never be sure).
There, Robert will imbibe the air that begat him and nurtured him for the first 40 or so years of his life; and probably a good many other things too.
I will look out the window of my writer’s donga at the gum trees along Frosty Creek and find my muse in the calling of the stormbirds and the peace of the bush. Already Glenochar has a magnetic effect on me. It seems to realign all those disparate ions that start humming in the town and crackling in the city, leaving me ragged and rushing to keep up with I know not what, as I become one with them in their ‘rush and nervous haste’ ……..
And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.
(from Clancy of the Overflow by Banjo Paterson)
So – Muckadilla is the base. The motel is the other base. Double life. Send your snail mail to PO Box 597, Dalby, Qld 4405. It will find me eventually.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
Travelling Light – Training the Cookaudigital : 10/09/2010 2:58 am :
Today I learned a humungous amount about food safety. As I listened with rapt attention to the facts about the horrors of those ever-lurking demons within our food, just waiting for each of us to drop our guard and give them an opportunity to breed into plague proportions and invade our stomachs, then our entire bodies, and carry us off to our cemeteries, chuckling hoarsely with unseemly glee and rubbing their little pseudopodia together like Shylock as he counted his money, I marvelled more than once about the survival of my own children.
At least one of them reared himself almost entirely on dog biscuits which he shared with the dog as they cemented their relationship up the back steps during his toddlerhood.
No amount of threats and offers of substitute food would alter his fondness for the contents of the dog’s dry-food bowl (we drew a firm line at the wet food), for which he would inevitably make a beeline whenever I was looking the other way. We kept the dog duly wormed, and 20 years later it would appear that no hydatids or hookworms were exchanged, as the child in question is now a strong, handsome man with engineering aspirations.
When the supervisor of the Food Safety Management course which I undertook today at the Toowoomba TAFE, in a bid to become a responsible cooker of breakfast at a motel, asked the class if we knew how to make rissoles, I couldn’t resist the temptation to tell them all I knew about the subject; which was, in the infallible way of the traditional (and possibly mythical, one would hope) shearer’s cook, to shape them under the armpit so that they are uniform in size, and a perfect shape.
Alas, Humour was not in that room today. Neither the class nor the instructor was amused, so I sat back down in my box. As everyone looked at me with undisguised horror and disgust, I stifled my mirth and attended to the serious matters at hand, such as the core temperature at which the meat in the fridge should be kept and whether or not to cover leftovers with Glad wrap. I found it best not to think of Tom Quilty’s poem The Drover’s Cook, because it was off-putting in the context of such momentous deliberations. All the same, most people in the Outback have been regaled at one time or another with that timeless favourite, and many a drover survived prototypes of Tom Quilty’s cook’s ministrations without so much as a fridge let alone Glad wrap, and without dying of food poisoning.
These are the words to The Drovers’ Cook by Tom Quilty (1958)
Now the drovers’ cook weighed 15 stone and he had one bloodshot eye
He had no laces in his boots and no buttons on his fly.
His pants hung loosely round his hips hitched by a piece of wire,
And they concertinaed round his boots in a way that you’d admire.
Well he stuck the billy on to boil and then emptied out his pipe,
And with his greasy shirt sleeve, he gave his nose a wipe.
With pipe in mouth he mixed a dough and a drop hung from his chin,
And as he mixed the damper up, the drip kept dripping in.
I walked quietly over to him and said “Toss that mixture out,
And in future when you’re working, keep your pipe out of your mouth!”
Well he stood erect and eyed me, with such a dirty look,
And said in choice Australian, “Get another bloody cook.”
“A cook” I said, “you call yourself, you greasy slob made out,
Why you should be jailed for taking work that you cannot carry out!”
He then uncorked some language, and I felt a thrill of fear,
As he swung his hairy paws about and said, “Trot your frame out here.”
Now, in outback brawls there are no rules, nor limits to the weight,
So I had to squib, or meet him, with my meagre 9 stone 8.
We both bounced into action, and fell into a clinch,
I put a headlock on him, but I couldn’t make him flinch.
For hours we fought in deathly grips, swung upper cuts and crosses,
We staggered and floundered in distress like broken-winded horses.
Then gaspingly he stuttered, “I’ve fought all through the north,
You’re the gamest thing I’ve ever met, so gimme your hand old sport.”
Well I can’t explain my feelings, with joy I nearly cried,
As we staggered to a shade close by where he sank down and died.
Now you talk about that saltbush scrap*, why – it was only play,
Compared to that gruelling battle we fought that fateful day.
And now above his resting place where the grass has grown to seed,
On stone is carved this epitaph for travellers to read,
“Here lies the son of Donald Gunn, none gamer ever stood,
Who died in dinkum battle, with Jimmy Underwood.”
*NB: This refers to the ballad Saltbush Bill, by Banjo Paterson – a very funny read and worth Googling.
© Jane Grieve – www.janegrieve.com.au
School Reunion – Sept 2010audigital : 05/09/2010 2:02 am :
I don’t know whether time files or not; but it undoubtedly passes.
If I had a head for physics I might be more able to accept Professor Stephen Hawking’s insistence that Time is a series of disparate events, not necessarily connected and by no means travelling in a straight line.
However, I am more interested in Stephen Hawking’s extraordinary courage and determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity; his persistence, his brilliance, his service to humanity when he could so easily just curl up and feel sorry for himself, especially in the extreme stages of his motor neurone disease. His actual ideas are beyond me.
Be that as it may, when it comes time for a school reunion, that block of Time that held my school years does seem to be something of a disparate event, and the events that join it to the present seem to melt away when all those familiar names come up again as a group.
I went to a boarding school, a dedicated boarding school. As such, we young women were incarcerated for long periods of time and with very little contact with the outside world. The sistership we forged (for better or for worse) seems to be a living thing. One would hardly think that a mere 4 or 5 or 6 years spent in close quarters at boarding school, and such a long time ago, would create such bonds. But it undoubtedly did.
This weekend (and by the time this blog is put ‘up’ by my wonderful virtual assistant Lyn, it will be a case of ‘last weekend’) 50 or so of us are to meet up, to celebrate, commiserate, compare and communicate as middle-aged women, many years having passed by.
Many of us (the Queensland contingent, largely) have lived our lives to a very large extent in parallel. We have done births, deaths, marriages, divorces and re-marriages en-bloc. We have loved as sisters, fought as sisters – swirling in and out of closeness like a heaving sea. This weekend we reconnect with the larger group and compare notes. There will be more to be said about THAT, no doubt!
1970 REUNION – September 2010
We’re gathered here today beneath these old familiar walls
To stir a soup of memories of our time within these halls
To recollect the days when in our bloomers and our girdles
We had our hours of glory on the highjump and the hurdles.
We have this thing in common whether single, mums or wives –
We shared our childhood years here ere we went to live our lives
We dwelt upon this campus in a metamorphic huddle
Before they cast us out into the ocean from this puddle.
Soliloquyaudigital : 01/09/2010 4:36 am :
September heralds the spring here in Oz, and both Spring and September, this year, herald for Jane Grieve, Writer, the rebirth of a new life. Stage 4, in earnest.