Terra Australis Cognitus

Hendrik Hondius Polus Antarcticus

Hendrik Hondius Polus Antarcticus

As usual for me, I’m already plotting and researching the next book, whilst still finishing the current manuscript. And, as usual for a writer drawn to magic realism as a socio-political storytelling device, it involves truth-telling of the macro (historical events, including injustices) through the micro (everyday life).

The next book comes from my fascination with the intersection of European superstition, religion and science during the 17 to 19th centuries, and the impact that has had on First Peoples (Australia). Focusing on the baggage that explorers, privateers and other pirates carried with them as they sailed the seas in search of fame, power and fortunes, I’ve delved back in to the history books.

Of course my envisioned fictional interpretation will include invasion, massacres, genocide, land/resource theft, and forced assimilation. It will look at the culturally biased reasoning behind these abhorrent actions. The foundations of systemic racism in Australia. In a way, this next story is an attempt to deconstruct racism and explore hope, through fiction as opposed to twitter rants.

Honestly, I am tired of talking about racism. I’d much rather we were at a stage of collective consciousness where it didn’t exist anymore. Or at least a critical mass working on mitigation of the harm racism causes. Instead, in Australia we are still having the ‘yes that is racist. And that. Can you at least listen? Urgh!’ conversation.

Delving in to Australian history, discussions about racism need to include facing up to theft. How can we talk about justice if we can’t talk about injustice? And as Australia was founded on a rolling-wave of robbery, then let’s talk about that.

In the seventeenth century, the legend of Terra Australis Incognita played on many a man’s imagination. The mythical unknown lands of the south were once thought to contain riches beyond belief, and perhaps a few scary monsters. The idea of Terra Australis came from a theory of balance – land mass/es of equal weight of those in the north must exist in the south.

Although scientific exploration was behind the searches for this unknown southern land, it was commerce that enabled the journeying. France, England, Portugal, Spain and Holland were all racing to find the best sources of spices, fabrics, wood, precious minerals, and more. And that meant finding the safest, most economical passages to these foreign lands. Wars were staged, pacts were made and unmade, unsavoury weather was endured, and new sea routes were opened. And still, the myth of Terra Australis Incognita existed.

Whilst it was England that first mapped the entire perimeter of the great southern land, documenting that it was indeed a separate continent, over a hundred years prior the Dutch were the first Europeans to set foot on this land. And the Spanish were the first Europeans to note that it was not connected to nearby land masses, such as New Guinea, as previously thought.

There were a few factors that stopped these other European nations from invading the territories of the First Peoples of the great southern land. And there was also the more ethical nations that came here to trade decades before the Europeans, such as the Makassans.

Of all the nations, it was the English who invaded, and set in place many decades of theft and violence. And they brought with them the seeds of systemic racism. Would things have been different if another European nation had ‘claimed’ this land? Probably not. Although, there is a slim possibility that they would have plundered the resources, and then left.

Terra Nullius was the lie that Australia was founded on. A culturally-biased belief that the land belonged to nobody. And this conclusion was reached by the English invaders’ believing that the First Peoples were not equal to them. In fact, they were not even seen as people. The earliest colonisers may have tried to justify their rationale with science, and even religion and economics, but at the very root of the violent occupation was racism.

And so the many decades of *Terra Furatus commenced. Theft of land. Which could not have occurred without Hominem Furatus. (attempted) theft of humanness. (*excuse the Latin via Google)

Racism is the denial of another’s humanness. This denial occurs on an individual basis (discrimination, antagonism, violence etc) and systemic (forced assimilation, inequitable services/treatment, police/custodial violence etc). Until systems of power (law, policing, governance, economics) and systems for people (education, health, commerce, social services) acknowledge inbuilt unconscious bias, then much needed societal change will be difficult to bring about.

The crimes of colonisation need to be acknowledged. The violence and theft need to be taught in schools and universities, and in workplaces/sectors. And this includes a more honest discourse on the world views of those who did the deeds – the explorers, the privateers, the missionaries, the pastoralists, the mavericks, the scientists, the politicians, the ‘heroes’ of history. Even if that is uncomfortable for those who now reside on stolen lands. There can be no justice until the past is acknowledged. And myths are debunked.

There was never a Terra Australis Incognita. It was just a myth that led to invasion and centuries of ongoing settler colonisation. To the First Peoples who’d been living on the great southern lands for 80,000 years, and to their neighbouring nations across the seas, this land was Cognitus > known. What was unknown before the arrival of Europeans was racism. And the many injustices that have racism at their core.

Justice is the logical next step. And justice can take many forms – treaty/ies, truth-telling, land rights, retribution, repatriation, plus more. But justice won’t be possible until the widespread unconscious bias is no longer denied, and the harmful impacts of racism are addressed.

The past can show us the way forward. Researching history leaves me in awe of the courage and achievements of those long dead. Imagine what future generations can achieve if we, the present, are committed to being brave, truthful, and empathetic. Many nations around the globe seem to be in a dark age, but I still have hope.

Illustration: Hendrik Hondius’s plate. Originally published in 1637. Above version is from Jansson’s¬†Grooten Atlas, showing Tasman’s explorations of the western coastline of New Holland, ‘Nova Hollandia detect Anno 1644’, the southern tip of Van Dieman’s Land and an edge of New Zealand. Source: State Library NSW – http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/collection-items/polus-antarcticus¬†

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I have patrons for my writing!

The last couple of weeks I’ve been peeking through the growing pile of debts, at my computer screen – reading arts grants, job pages, and other sources of potential income. And, as usual, spending too much time procrastinating on Twitter.

As is often the case for me, it was on Twitter that a potential solution was found. A means of managing the practicalities of living AND pursue my long-time dreams of writing. Another artist I follow on Twitter, Alysha Herrmann, was promoting her page on somethings called Patreon. What is this……

Curious, I did some research: starting with a read of the official blurb on the Patreon site. Ah, another crowdfunding platform. This one is aimed at linking arts patrons/supporters with creators. So they can do what they do best – create! There is a choice of per project, similar to other crowdfunding platforms, or monthly contributions, which sounded a bit different.

I’ve read a lot about crowdfunding, but have not gone there before. Some sites and projects are great, some not so. So I did some more looking into Patreon. I searched for reviews exposing the darkside of Patreon. Scam or not? And other than people saying how hard it is to attract patrons, supporters¬†or backers, I didn’t find anything too worrying.

Having self-published my debut novel, I know it takes nerves of steel¬†to promote yourself as an indie. But I’ve also learnt a fair few social media skills along the way. Why not give it a whirl? Nothing to loose, and perhaps something to gain.

First up, the platform is really easy to use. Very similar in usability to Google+ or Yammer. Setting up a creator profile takes about the same amount of time and skills as designing a WordPress blog. My newbie tip: have at least basic skills or find someone to help you.

The most time consuming part is what to say. So do some thinking about your goals, rewards, creator needs, and capabilities before you start. It will make it easier. Look at accounts by artists/writers/designers similar to you – what are they wanting, what are they offering, what tone do they use?

Patreon recommends using videos to attract sponsors, but that’s not my thing. I have a morbid dislike of putting my image and voice out there. Many introvert creators are the same.¬†So I had to make sure my written words could do a good job of promoting me. Luckily, I’m a writer so could manage this without too much stress.

Setting up the financial side of a creator account was fairly easy for me as I already had a PayPal account, and had my financial details nearby. I’ve been selling my book online for three years, so the USA tax forms weren’t daunting. It was great that they have the form ready to fill in electronically. Many other US-based platforms don’t give users as much help and information.

Links to commence promoting my page was not too difficult for me, again because of my experience as an indie author. I already have a fairly strong author platform (i.e. social media presence) so it was fairly simple to link these accounts.

Coming up with goals, rewards, background, intended use of funds etc wasn’t too daunting for me, as I’ve years of experience working in project management, grants writing, research and policy. All I needed was to downplay the corporate speak, don’t overshare, and write a clear plan for potential backers. I’ll go back and tweak these sections, once I get the hang of crowdfunding.

So I set up my creator account, wrote embarrassing things about myself, invented some rewards, and clicked the launch button. Simply by posting on Twitter,¬†I had three patrons within the hour, and reached six by the next morning. For a newbie, and having peeked at other accounts, I think that’s a promising start. I still have to do a proper launch, but its a good start.

And something that surprised me – although very grateful to my first patrons, I didn’t suffer from my normal feelings of not being worthy, guilt of taking other peoples’money or other forms of self-doubt. This is an important milestone for me. And a massive step to overcoming my dislike of¬†being too visible –¬†as well as¬†my fear of success.

If interested, my Patreon site is here. I just used my real name to make it easier for people to search for me, as I read that Patreon’s search engine is one of its weaker points.

Feedback is welcomed. I see typos every time I look at the page. So its still a work-in-progress. I won’t mind if you point out more typos.

Would you like to support me to develop my career as a writer, but the thought of monthly payments put you off? You still can. Simply use the PayPal button on here (ie WordPress blog) > over there in the right-hand sidebar (not visible on mobile devices). I also have a PayPal button on my Wyld Words bookshop website, for people who’ve expressed an interest in helping me keep another local bookshop from closing. ¬†I love book lovers ¬† ūüôā

Okay – time for me to get back to being a bookseller / writer.

Did you hear….?

Did you hear the news?

They found…
A pile of discarded clothes.
An old drunk.
A crumpled bird.
A boy.

Did you hear he took….
A bike.
A pack of smokes.
A jumbuck.
An orange.

They hunted him down….
In a ute.
On horseback.
On foot.
On Facebook.

He was killed…
In revenge.
By accident.
In blind-rage.
With hate.

Its his fault…
He shouldn’t have stolen.
He shouldn’t play hookey.
He shouldn’t be black.
He shouldn’t be.

They arrested…
Your neighbour.
Your friend.
Your father.
Your son.

The boy’s family is…
Grieving.
His family is grieving.

On Country

100_1817An ancient ocean roars under the red dirt. Hush. Be still for just a moment. Hear its thundering waves crashing on unseen shores.

This vast ocean was there in the beginnings, as it will be in days not yet begun. Alongside their gentler brethren, massive creatures once tumbled in the ocean’s depths; jaws chasing tails. This harsh water-ballet continued until the meek inherited an evaporating body of water. With budding legs they crawled onto land and spawned. With the passing of time, their descendants and descendants’ descendants’ procreated. Each generation becoming less and less like their forebearers, as they roamed unhurriedly, populating a new-born world.

Creatures of all sizes and shapes have left their marks on terra.  Pawmarks in an empty creek bed, claw marks on fossilised trees, impressions of a thumping tail across a gibber plain. Alongside a slithering trail in red dirt, footprints appeared Рthe biped had arrived.

The originals co-existed alongside mega-beasts, taking only what was needed. Until time circled once again, and the era of colossal rulers was no more. By the time their bones mingled with dust, other creatures already roamed the earth. Beasts of many sizes have lived alongside us, playing witness to both extraordinary and commonplace moments throughout time. Together we have watched mountains birthed, oceans recede, and whole species return to the earth from whence they had sprung. Compared to all that has come before, these ripples sweeping over Country now, heralding the arrival of a new beast, they are nothing. The tide will once again turn, as dictated by eternity’s ebbs and flows.

The ancient ocean isn’t trapped underground, confined to the interior basin. This briny mother has sent her progeny far and wide, to travel further than you or I could ever imagine.  Droplets of this ocean can be found in sun-warmed rock pools. They are carried along by snaking rivers, or nestle in shallow puddles in lush fields. Dewdrops ride on the wings of birds, eager to try exotic flavours in faraway lands. The earth’s tears keep watch from omnipotent positions in the mists. Thirsty wisps of clouds travel far and wide, growing fatter and fatter, until they can hold no more. Spilling their loads over land and sea, this generative liquid is quickly absorbed. The circle is complete.

The ocean travels far, but never once forgets from whence it came. People soak up this ocean too, catching its life force as it falls from the skies; unaware that the water that caresses their upturned faces was once home and sustenance to long-forgotten creatures. When all else has departed, water survives in its many guises. Cry not for those that are gone, for traces of ancients waters live on within us; connecting us to all that is, was and will be. We are all one, kin to that ancient ocean.

“Grandfather, who are they?”
The old man turned, brow buckled from eons of sun, wind and rain. He blinked, focusing on the girl who stood by his side.
Shifting from one leg to the other, the girl pointed towards the raising sun, “Over there. Can you see them? What do you think they want?”
“Country,” replied the man, as he looked out on the plain of red dirt. “It’s always land they seek.”
Nodding, the girl looked up at the old man, “Under the name of which god do they now come to claim what is not theirs?”
“These ones worship something called ‘the economy.’ They appease it by making big holes, to take out the shiny rocks that have slept within the earth since the beginning. And, to make matters worse, they create a mess in the process. Such destruction that they almost sully the eternal waters.”
“It’s not theirs. Neither the land or waters.”
The old man shook his head gently, “No. And it’s not ours either.”
“Why do they not care for Country? Why do they seek to own what cannot be owned?”
“They still don’t understand.”
“Are they simple or something?”
Sighing, the old man turned away and walked towards a cliff-face. He put his hand on a rock-tapestry of browns, reds and blacks,¬†“Not all of them. Some have listened, shown that they are¬†willing to learn.”

“Grandfather,” cried the girl. “Why are you leaving? Shouldn’t we do something?”
“There are enough warriors here to deal with this. Or, should I say, there’s a deadly mob keeping an eye out for Country.”
The girl chuckled, “Don’t”
“Don’t what?”
“Try to sound young. It won’t work, you’re too old.”
“I’m not old! I’m only a few hundred of thousands of what these goonyas call ‘years’. Come, lets¬†rest until the next time we need to visit Country.”

The girl watched her Grandfather walk forwards, through the rock. Turning back towards the plain, she noticed something waving in the early dawn light. Shielding her eyes with a raised hand, she looked to the east. A large black, yellow and red cloth undulated in the wind. Underneath this banner stood hundreds and hundreds of people. People of all ages.

“Grandfather is right,” she said under her¬†breath. “The People will weather this current storm. After all, they’ve been here a very long time.”
She walked towards the edge of the rock platform they had been standing on, and jumped. Disappearing, with barely a ripple, into a small rock pool that lay on the red earth.

Opening the jar of wishes

20141219_221933

LillyPilly Tree, decorated by author (Dec 2014)

You know that saying…..the one about cups. Well, it’s always bothered me. My cup is neither half full, or half empty. I’ve suspected for a while that my cup is just about right. Opening the Wishes Jar reinforced this belief.

On New Years Eve 2013, a group of us put wishes in a jar; scribbled lists on scraps of paper. Some wrote resolutions; aspects about themselves that they really wanted to change. Others wrote wishes; things that they would like to do, have or achieve. We wrote these lists in secret, and promised to keep them sealed in a jar until the next New Years Eve, where we would share what we had written. As we had shared a number of New Years together, there was no doubt that we wouldn’t be doing it once again, in twelve months time.

When the calendar came to an end, I had forgotten what I had written. So I had no idea if I was ‘on track’. A couple of days ago, we gathered on New Years Eve for a barbeque and drinks. Eventually the hostess brought out the jar, and we all randomly selected a piece of paper to read out. I was very nervous, even reluctant, to let someone read mine out. Especially before I even had a chance to read it privately. However, I went along with the group norms. And was surprised at what the 12-months-ago-me had set as goals. As someone who never even attempts to write an annual list of resolutions, I was surprised at the outcomes. So what where these wishes?

1. Ride a Motorbike:¬†I think at the time I generally did mean to ride, not own. And I did ride a motorbike. Late one January night, I jumped on the back of a motorbike near Kep, in southern Cambodia. The region’s electricity had just gone off, leaving me in the dark and far from town. A stranger, who I had been having a beer with, offered to take me back to my motel. Being the safest option, and most appealing, I jumped on. First he showed me his amazing shack, with a three-walled bedroom that was open to the sea, facing a pier that fishermen tied up to every morning. I had a great time, riding through the dark, feeling at ease on the back of a bike.

Later in the year, I jumped on the back of a scooter in Bali, Indonesia. It was the best way to get to and from the closing party at the Ubud Writers Festival. In my purse I had a newly acquired International Drivers Licence, hoping to hire a scooter when I was in Bali. Which I didn’t end up doing, as the streets were extremely hectic; I’m not that silly.

When I wrote wish number one, I think I was just wanting to jump on the back of a bike. However, by the end of the year I owned a brand new V-Star Cruiser. Crazy, I know. Now, 6 weeks later and a few instances of wobbling, I’m really loving being back on a bike.

Verdict: Well and truly Achieved

2. See Uluru:¬†Originally I had hoped to see the sunrise over Uluru on the day of my 5oth birthday, in January. Instead, in July I joined friends on a road-trip to see Uluru for another Karen’s birthday. Just being there was amazing. Being there due to the generosity of others was more than amazing. (People answered a plea to buy my book, so I could afford to go on the trip after my job had disappeared).

Verdict: Achieved

3. Publish my Second Book:¬†The Procrastination Bird made a huge nest in my writing room, and invited all its friends to move in throughout 2014. Well, not really. Having hit about 75,000 words into the draft, I realised that the point of view was all wrong. Not only faced with¬†the need to¬†change first person to third person omni, the chronological order was also out. Making these changes is like wallowing in a pit of lumpy custard. It’s just so hard to get out off. And sticky. I’m sure I’ll eventually get out, and book number two will be published late this year.

Verdict: In Progress

4. Go Overseas: Not sure why I put this one on the list. I had only ever been overseas once (Independent Samoa), and had no plans to leave Australia again. Well, about 2 weeks after putting that piece of paper in the Wishes Jar, I found myself overseas. passing through Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam. And not for a holiday. My younger brother passed away whilst travelling. I accompanied my parents to Cambodia to deal with the various authorities, as they had never been overseas before and they are getting on in years. One day I might write in-depth about that particular journey. Not yet, though. The rawness of those memories still need to fade a bit more.

In September, I found myself overseas yet again. Not really planned, but part of my new philosophy of living life to the fullest. I’ve seen enough people I care about leave earth too soon, too suddenly. Being faced with mortality is the kick I needed to stop wasting my allotted time. I also wanted to jump back on the saddle, and not let the Cambodian experience put me off travelling. So off to Indonesia I went, to volunteer at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival in Bali. It was a truly wonderful experience, and I can’t wait until the 2015 Festival. I’m also planning to go to Myanmar (Burma) in March, alone, having discovered that travelling solo is very rewarding.

Verdict: Achieved with Mixed Feelings

5. Take a Sunday Mystery Drive:¬†Mystery Drives is something I used to do with a particular friend. Over the years, we are still friends but our lives aren’t the same any more. We didn’t do any Sunday Drives in 2014, despite promising each other that we must do it soon. However, I still participate in mystery drives, on my own. Now that I have a motorbike, mystery drives are not just confined to Sundays.

Verdict: Ongoing

6. Say ‘YES’ to Opportunity:¬†There are way too many instances where I have said ‘yes’ to share here. Many times in 2014 I have taken a different path, tried something new, grabbed life by the horn, and successfully silenced my inner introvert. Turning 50, as well as grief and loss, is the perfect incentive to saying yes to opportunity.

In Ubud I crossed paths with Jenny, an expert in the Art of Yes. An older woman than myself, Jenny has spent a large part of her life travelling the world, saying yes to adventure along the way. Despite being in her company for such a short time, I learnt not only the importance of saying yes, but how practising this fine art can lead one to the Fountain of Youth.

Verdict: Perfecting

7. Meet New People:¬†Perhaps a year ago I meant that I would like to widen my friendship group. Not sure if that happened, but I think that I’ve taken steps to do so. I have tried to be a bit more outgoing in social settings, instead of hiding behind my mobile phone. At the end of 2014, I made myself go to every single network/industry seasonal event I was invited to. It was scary (especially the state Writers Centre drinks, where I didn’t know anyone), but I enjoyed getting out a bit more, and listening to people.

I made more connections in the on-line world, networking and sharing with people on Twitter and Google+. Some of these kind people inspired me to write, sent messages of support during the dark moments, and wrote very touching reviews of my first book. So I don’t care what anyone says: real communities can be found via social media.

Verdict: Just Getting Started ūüôā

All up, as my list was read out on New Years Eve, I was pleasantly surprised at all the wishes that had come true. And for those that hadn’t, or were not yet completed, I am confident that they will eventuate in due course.

Everyone else, plus a few extra people, wrote new lists, and placed them in the Wishes Jar until the next New Years Day. I didn’t. I don’t really know why. I just didn’t feel it was the right thing for me to do. Perhaps I’m now happy to accept whatever comes my way. Maybe I’ve got enough to work on at the moment. I wonder if I’m scared at jinxing things, or finding out that what I put in the jar is not really what I want.

More likely, it’s because my cup is just right at the moment. Despite some steep downs amongst the ups of 2014 (some of which I have shared in previous posts, and some that I won’t share publicly), I’m doing more than okay. I’m content with my just-right, half-way cup.

 

Wishing everyone Happy New Year. May 2015 fill your cup with good health, laughter, love and peace!

And for my next trick…..

Despite the rain, work and family commitments, I’ve clocked just over 30 kms on my new toy. I should really be sharing how many words I’ve 2014-Yamaha-VStar-250awritten this month, as I did intend to participate in NaNoWriMo. Instead, I’ve been participating in life – with no regrets.

As some of you may recall, I’ve had a bit of a year. A few unexpected circumstances that pushed me close to the edge, testing my mettle as they say. And other moments where I’ve willingly jumped off a cliff or two. Jumping isn’t a bad thing. It can lead to all sorts of adventures and new opportunities, as well as a means of self-development.

Two jumps that I took this year, which have led me to taking my most recent decision, involved travel. The first was a much needed road-trip to the centre of Australia. Made possible by the kindness of others. On that trip, I remembered how much I loved being on the road. The wind, the sense of freedom. When I returned home, I promised myself not to wait so long between trips. Taking the responsible-but-quirky option, I began to research vintage caravans. I spent many hours happily day-dreaming about locating a rare pre-70’s bondwood, doing it up and going on jaunts. I would be a writer-in-transit, working on my novels in various caravan parks around Australia.

And then an adventure further afield distracted me. Out of the blue, I was contacted about volunteering at the 2014 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. In Bali. A place I had said I wasn’t interested in seeing. In fact, earlier this year I had declared my overseas travelling days over – despite only leaving Australian shores twice. Never say never. Trading in my frequent flyer points, I jumped off a big cliff. And had a fantastic time. In Ubud, I met a few women, my age or older, who inspired me. They were following their creative dreams, saying yes to whatever adventure came their way, and living life to the fullest. Having left Australia whispering ‘I can do this’, I returned knowing that I can indeed do anything. The only limits are those I set myself.

What tends to happen in my life, especially lately, is that opportunities come out of the blue. It’s up to me to see them as opportunities, and to say yes. So when I got a call from a broker about re-mortgaging my house, I said ‘show me what you’ve got’. He did, and I negotiated for more, than said yes. My intention was to pay of my credit card and do some home repairs. Maybe even finally build a deck out the back. Instead, I got a bike.

Not a safe vintage caravan. Or even a retro push-bike. I brought a motorbike. It’s not really a rash decision. Its something I have been planning to do for over 25¬†years. As a young parent, when I reluctantly sold my two motorbikes of my early 20’s, I promised myself that I would get back on a bike when I turned 50. That date came – and went. Life had other plans for me. Or so I had thought. Last week, taking control of my life once more, I went shopping. Three days ago, I eagerly stood by the window, curtain drawn, waiting for a delivery. Ten minutes after the truck left, I was leathered-up and down the road. Scared, looking stupid, but still down the road – on my sparkling, brand new motorbike.

Being back on a bike is scary. Its heavier than the bikes of the past. And with more oomph. I’m older, less supple, heavier and no longer have 20/20 vision. However, age brings a certain wisdom. So I’m more cautious and patient than the 20-something me. For starters, I now take the need to wear protective gear serious. I know that I’m not immortal and I plan on having many more adventures. So, over the last three days, I’ve taken it easy. Re-learnt how to take corners without wobbling. Practised operating throttle, clutch, gears, two brakes, and indicators (in the right sequence). Slowly getting my groove back – I mean balance.

After work today, I clocked up my first 30 kms. And sometime before that, I relaxed, and began to once more feel one with the machine (yes that’s cheesy, but if you’ve ever ridden a motorbike, you’ll know what that feeling is like). I also accepted fear as a friend. Fear is good. It keeps us alert. Reminds us that we are alive – and intend to stay that way.

I have many more kilometres, and hours, before I’ve properly mastered riding. It’s foolish to think that I can just wipe away over two decades of not riding. However, I’ve made progress with achieving yet another milestone. And I’m not stopping. The road is calling. There are many more adventures to undertake. I have remembered how to say yes to life. Yes to me.

 

On the blue highway, you travel alone

Road_croppedDay 9 of my road-trip into outback Australia, and I was heading south again; back through familiar territory. Cruising down the Stuart Highway on a sunny Winter’s morning, passing Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands (APY Lands), I was soaking in the magnificent view of Musgrave and Everard Ranges in the distance.

Up ahead, I saw an old car parked on the side of the road. Jacked up, with a tire leaning on the back bumper. An old man stood by the car, hand out.

Don’t Stop.

I slowed down, and pulled over.

Don’t Stop.

Getting out of the car, I evaluated the situation: flat tire, old man and a woman just a bit older than myself; and my over-packed car.

We can’t do anything – let’s leave.

They needed a lift to Mintabie, about 60 kms south-west, the old man and the flat tire. There was no spare, so air was needed. I had no room for either in my car.

We can’t do anything – let’s leave.

There was no rope, so I couldn’t fasten the tire to my car.

We can’t do anything…

The man told me how they had broken down, a couple of hours before sunrise. I was the first person to stop. It was 12.30 pm.

…let’s leave.

They had travelled from Fregon/Kaltjiti, a small APY Lands community a couple of hours north-west along a sandy road. Even if I had phone reception, there was no-one to call. And no way of carrying either the tire or man. I promised to find help at Marla, which was about 30 kms down the road.

Leave it to someone else.

I asked if they had any kapi (water). They didn’t, so I topped up my water bottle and gave it to the old man. I also offered a couple of puyu (smokes), for the long wait.

Leave it to someone else.

On the road again, I thought about who I could ask for help. I also pondered how anyone could leave an older couple on the side of the road. The day was only just warming up, and I knew that the small road-side fire they had lit would have barely chased the chill away. And the water I had given them wouldn’t last long, as the day was heating up.

What ever happened to the travellers’ code? Didn’t people stop any more when they saw a person in need on the side of the road? Have we become so isolated, so uncaring towards our fellow humans?

Leave it to someone else – don’t stop.
Don’t stop – I’m sure they are okay.
Don’t stop – its none of our business.
Don’t stop – people disappear out here.
Don’t stop – my friend told me that if you stop to help, black people rob you.
Don’t stop – there is nothing we can do.
Don’t stop. They are not like us – they are the ‘other’.¬†

All morning, that couple heard you. They saw you drive past. You in your fancy 4-wheel drive, with the new camper trailer that has all the bells and whistles. For hours the old man held out his hand, asking for help. And you just drove on by. You were seen, you were heard. Such words, thoughts, they linger in the dust. Thrown from your car window, left to rot on the blue highway. Scattered by the biting wind, amongst the scrubby vegetation, lying to rest on the red sands. They heard you. I heard you.

How was your trip?
The Rock was amazing, so spiritual.
We watched some Aboriginal dancers, it was so interesting.
I bought a lovely dot painting.
We had a go at throwing a boomerang, it was fun.
It was NAIDOC Week, so we went to a community event.
The kids’ school always does something for Reconciliation Week.
I like learning about Aboriginal culture.

You just travelled through Aboriginal lands. Some of the most stunning country in the world. Parts of that Country is still inhabited by Australia’s First Nations Peoples. All of it is still Aboriginal land. You were welcomed as visitors. You were given the chance to learn about Aboriginal culture, to see the landscape through others’ eyes.

You took those experiences.
You took lots of photos.
You had many ‘ah ha’ moments.

– but still you did not stop.

I’m not going to throw out the ‘r’ word. It’s probably more an ingrained fear of the ‘other’ that leads people to drive past when others are in need. However, isn’t it time to stop letting xenophobia steer you in the wrong direction?

In case you are wondering, I did find help. When I got to Marla, I approached an Aboriginal man with a ute. He and his travelling companion were heading up the Stuart Highway. Coincidently, they were returning to Fregon. I knew that they would stop and help.

Four days later and I’m still shaking my head. Okay, I said I won’t use the ‘r’ word, but I can’t help thinking that the reason you didn’t stop was because they weren’t like you – they were ‘black’. So, instead I have another word for you: shame.

 

This blog post is part of the July 2014 Deadly Bloggers Blog Carnival. Check out some deadly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers here.

The Zen of Road-trips

Uluru, Northern Territory (image from Australian Travel and Tourism Network)

A lot has happened since last week. I’m still on that cliff, wondering whether I will fly or flop. The way ahead remains unclear, but staying in limbo¬†is no longer an option.

Firstly, I have lost my job. I’ve been on eggshells for so long, hoping the program I worked for would not be another victim of the current slash & burn budget. Getting the news yesterday was more of a relief than a shock. At least I no longer have to wait – doing that crazy flip-flop between optimism and pessimism. And despite facing unemployment, with no prospects on the horizon, I chose optimism.

Before I heard the news, I had already made up my mind to hit the road. As you may recall, last week I was preparing to wave good-bye to my friends, as they headed for Northern Territory. On the joint 5oth birthday celebration trip that I was supposed to be on, but had pulled out of due to job insecurity and lack of savings. Well, choosing optimism, I decided that I would find a way to join them.

And a way presented itself the very next day. An unexpected parcel arrived, full of freshly printed copies of my novel. So, I asked friends and co-workers if they would like to buy one, so that I could buy petrol for the trip. And buy they did. I have been feeling very loved, and overwhelmed, by people’s generosity. Within a few days, I had the money I needed for petrol. Any additional funds will go towards other travel-related expenses.

I’m doing this trip on the cheap: camping in a tent, or sleeping on the back seat of my car on cold night. And it gets very cold at night in the bush. It is Winter, after all. My friends have hired camper vans, so I can use their stoves. Otherwise, I’m planning on being fairly self-sufficient. I’m not even bothered that I will be driving on my own, as I can use the time to think about where I’m going in life. Or plot out my next novel. Better yet, I’ll pump up the music and sing my heart out as I travel through some amazing parts of Australia.

The trip from south of Adelaide to Uluru (our destination) is approximately 3,300 kms. Lucky I love to drive! Other than seeing the sun rise over Uluru (the world’s biggest rock), we have no other plans. We know there will be many nights sitting around camp fires and days spent meandering north. No doubt we will find some interesting sights and adventures on the way. Perhaps even some new friends.

Would you like to join me? Well, keep an eye out for blog posts, and updates via Twitter and Facebook. I plan on taking lots of photos on the road, and write as often as I can (internet connection may make blogging a bit challenging). I hope you will enjoy my updates, as I travel by convoy into the heart of Australia. I might also share some historical stories, from places I visit. And I’m going to be dropping into country bookshops, seeing if they are interested in stocking my novel, and doing a review of each shop. Perhaps I will even make time to work on my current manuscript. Its been a bit neglected. However, as parts of this book is set in the outback, I’m sure I can find inspiration whilst I am on this trip.

So, I’m going on a road-trip. An epic road-trip. Such adventures are not just for the young or grey nomads. Nor are they just cheap family holidays. Middle-aged road trippers can have just as much fun, and the journey can be memorable. I’ve had many a great road-trip. Australia is ideal for wandering. You can see so much more when travelling by road, and there is the option of stopping whenever you feel like it, or changing destinations. And there is the opportunity for thinking time, as you watch the road unwind in front of you, or gaze into a camp fire at night. Sitting under star-lit heavens, witnessing the awesomeness of nature, catching a glimpse of wildlife – these are moments that can transform us. Journeys can help us reconnect to nature, and reconnect to ourselves.

At this moment, not knowing what the future holds for me, I’m in need of such reconnection. I’m in need of hitting the road, being open to possibilities, and seeing where I end up. Maybe I’ll even see you on the road? If so, do¬†wave back…its an Aussie tradition.

 

 

Is it time to jump again?

Kurt VonnegutI find myself perched at the edge of a cliff. Seems like I’ve been here before. Not this overhang, but one similar. A few moments ago, I stood here, at the summit, wind in my hair, trying to peer through the¬†dense¬†fog – in the hope that I can finally see what lies below. And then I asked myself: at what age does one stop leaping off cliffs?

Thinking back to those other cliffs, there are many ways to disembark. There were a few times where I was abruptly pushed. Other times I was nudged. And at least on one of those occasions, I grabbed on to a ledge and attempted to claw my way back onto the ledge. Surprisingly, despite these rough starts, I¬†didn’t get too scratched and bruised on the way down. Often the landing was surprisingly soft, and I would find myself in a much better place. Then there were those other times¬†that I¬†leaped off the precipice, head back, laughing all the way. Whether pushed or not, over time I’ve developed a fine set of wings.

Part of me saw this latest cliff coming, but another part of me was in denial. You see, I was distracted. I was dreaming of building a glider, ready to leap again, so I didn’t see the¬†shadow approaching. That glider isn’t anywhere near ready, so it won’t help me. You see, once again, I’ve been pushed to the edge of a big drop. In four days time I may be without an income. Like many writers, I rely on a day-job to pay the bills. And there are other, non-monetary reasons that working outside of the house is good for writers, so I need that job on a few levels. However, recently there have been dramatic political changes, which has resulted in financial uncertainty for many Australians. Workplaces are downsizing, continued government funding of community programs is unconfirmed and consumer confidence is low. Many are waiting to hear if they will still have a job after this week, next month, or next year. These last few weeks of waiting have been really hard. Thus, I find myself on a cliff, once again.

I remember a Summer’s day many years ago. It was new years day, and I was down the beach with my children and some friends. On that day, I stood on an actual cliff. And I jumped into the sea – repetitively. Perhaps I was a tad old for such reckless behaviour, being in my mid-thirties and sole-parent to three, but it felt so empowering. That day, that moment, I felt as if anything was possible. Which is a good omen for the beginning of a new year. Anyway, having watched me from the sand, the kids decided to follow me up that hill. Once at the top, we peered down together. I looked down, confident that I have the capacity to safely land from such a height, and knowing how good it felt to leap into the air. The children looked down with some fear, and perhaps a little bit of admiration for their mother. I asked if any of them would like to try it. Now this may sound foolish, as they were so young and not yet strong swimmers, but I have never been a conventional parent.

I wasn’t foolish, either. I took it as an opportunity to teach them how to calculate risks, feel the fear, and then do it anyway. First I showed them how to look around, find potential hazards such as rocks or shallow water. Then I told them how to safely leap. I suggested that I jump first, promising to catch them if they struggled in the water. Lastly, I told them that it was okay not to jump, that going back on the path they had climbed up was also a good way¬†to get to the bottom. After some hesitation, two jumped, one after the other. The joy on their faces made me laugh, startling strangers on the beach. They both had a small moment of panic when they found themselves in the water, but I helped them to the shore, all the while feeling proud of their achievement. I’m yet to know if showing them how to¬†leap into the unknown has given them transferable coping skills. I hope so. I know I still go by the mantra that you need to be aware of what might go wrong, feel the fear, but jump anyway.

To be honest, I like jumping off metaphorical cliffs. It makes me feel alive. It allows me to see things differently. It gets me back on my life-journey when I’ve become inert. However, unemployment wasn’t the cliff I was planning on jumping off next. I had been envisioning a tiny cliff – an adventure in the form of an epic road-trip. I was supposed to be preparing to travel a 3,300 kms return trip, to the centre of Australia with friends, to celebrate us all turning 50 by watching the sun rise over Uluru. It has been a dream of mine for a while, and they all wanted to do it too. Well, looks like they’re going and I’m not. Thanks to not knowing if I’ll still have a job, I can’t afford to splurge on such an adventure at this point in time.

So I’m standing alone, on a different cliff then my friends. In four days I may be unemployed and facing dire financial challenges. I’ve already done some basic planning to minimise risks, and I’m ready to put these plans into action. This will ensure that I don’t risk losing my house. It may be some time before I am stable again, but I need to get some sort of income happening really quickly. I also need to prepare myself to wave bon voyage to my friends, and not feel too down that I won’t be joining them.

Then again – there is still four days until I’m potentially out of work. And there is still fourteen days before my friends leave. Anything can happen in that time. As I’m such an expert at leaping into the unknown, if there is a way off this cliff, I’ll find it. Stay tuned for an update – perhaps from somewhere on the side of a dusty road, in the heart of Australia.

 

tribute to a writer

When we look back on what has brought us to here, we may recognise the many people who helped us to develop a passion or the skills for writing: that primary school teacher who spent just a few extra minutes, a grandparent who could weave a fine tale, a parent who appreciated the value of an active imagination, fellow writers who showed you a trick or two, neglected family members who patiently gave you space. Without them, who knows, we may not have become writers.

Then there are the people we admire: famous writers from whom we happily soak up every word from both their pen and lips, or authors we secretly wish to emulate. When pressed, we can all drop a name or more, confess to which writers have inspired us.

Today I pay tribute to a writer that inspires me. For some readers, her name will be familiar. Or perhaps her books. For others, it will not be the books that they remember her for, but for her selfless work as an advocate.

On Thursday 10 April 2014, Doris Nugi Garimara Pilkington AM passed away after another fearless battle with cancer. She leaves behind a large family who loved her, many friends,  and a lasting impact on countless others from around the world.

How does one measure a life well-lived? Is it through success or accolades? By the accounts of those who have shared your life, love and home? Or through stories of overcoming adversity? Maybe its making a difference, being a voice for others and bringing about change? Is it through physical expressions of creativity that inspire, confront and reach out to others? Aunty Doris achieved all of this, and more.

Aunty Doris won many awards, as both a writer and advocate for the stolen generations. In 1990, she won the David Unaipon Award for her book¬†Caprice: A Stockman’s Daughter. The Western Australian government honoured her as one of the state’s Living Treasures in 2004.¬†In 2006 she was made a Member of the Order of Australia, for her contributions to the arts and literature. And she was awarded a Red Ochre Award in 2008. ¬†Further reading on her success as a writer can be found at¬†Austlit¬†¬†and The West Australian.

For me, Aunty Doris is more than a source of inspiration. She is someone who I admire Рas a woman, mother, grandmother, aunty, social advocate, writer and much more.

It has often been said that we ride on the shoulders of those that go before us. If so, I have many that have gone before me, in my family, that I can look up to and learn from. I am proud to say that I come from a line of very strong women – such as my mother, both my maternal and paternal grandmothers, and Aunty Doris.

Against trends, Aunty Doris published her first novel in her early 50’s. And she continued to write, producing two more books in a trilogy which was loosely based on the lives of family members, set amidst some of Australia’s darkest secrets. With her second book becoming a well-known movie, directed by Phillip Noyce, Aunty Doris achieved something that will continue to impact on the lives of many.

Finally people were paying attention, more began to question the past and to acknowledge that the Government’s treatment of Aboriginal peoples was¬†highly¬†regrettable.

The books, and movie, highlighted the generational impact on Australia’s first nations¬†peoples’ social and emotional well-being due to the policies that saw countless children forcibly removed from their parents and communities.

Aunty Doris was not a lone voice in the wilderness, for there were many strong advocates and champions, but her stories touched hearts and minds around the world.

I have expressed in earlier posts how I would like to one day become a writer whose work challenges people’s thinking, to be able to shine a light on injustices and inspire others to make a change. In other words, to write like Aunty Doris.

My recently published novel is not that book. My first book is a bit of frivolous fun, which has its place. My next three novels will perhaps be different, for they all explore issues such as racism, white Australia policies, stolen generations, displacement, loss of land, identity and belonging.

I don’t envision making the huge impact that Aunty Doris’ work did, but I know that by writing these themes I will be melding my writing skills with my life-long passion for social justice and human rights.

At 50, I am a late first-time writer, something that has always concerned me. Looking back on Aunty Doris’ writing path, I know I shouldn’t worry – I have time to achieve both my writing aspirations and other goals. It is, of course, about both finding balance and juggling many balls.

Aunty Doris was not only a later-in-life writer, but she produced highly acclaimed works whilst being a mother, wife, nanna, sister, aunty, friend and more to so many people. On top of that, she was a fearless social advocate, in high demand as a guest speaker worldwide. She humbly spent time with some of the greatest thinkers and change-makers of this time, such as the late Nelson Mandala.

If I am ever asked that question which writers inspired you, I won’t need to think about my answer. One of my strongest inspirations will always be Aunty Doris. Unfortunately, I never had many opportunities to have known her better, but such is the ongoing impact of the policies and actions that resulted in the stolen generations.

May one day these ripples of pain be stilled, and may everyone find their way home. My Aunty is one of many voices that will ensure justice is achieved. I hope that one day my shoulders will be as strong, to properly carry those who follow after me.

Vale Aunty

 

 

Just because you live on island, doesn’t mean you are an island

Monk 2104 391 (2)

Kampot, Cambodia – taken Jan 2014

 

An occupational hazard of being a writer is unintentionally cutting oneself off from the world. Which then cuts off the connection to catalysts for writing; as it’s from the real world that inspiration for characters, plots, dialogue and settings is found in abundance. I would hazard a guess and say that even genres such as fantasy and sci-fiction is inspired by reality.

Throughout history, most published writers continue to hold down ‘day jobs’ in the real world, even if it’s just part-time. Not only does this provide a more regular income, but enables some type of connection to people and places. Much as we would like to live on an island, left to happily write and dream, eventually the words would run dry.

Finding the balance between the two worlds is hard. There are the eternal money concerns (writers do need a roof over their heads, and internet connection comes in handy) and the need for quality time with our long-suffering family and friends. All those things that call us away from the computer. And once away, we go about into the world, constantly distracted by our stories. Or we sit at the table with family, pretending to converse while really talking to a new character. How does anyone put up with us?

I find that the more I delve into my writing, the harder it is becoming to stay focused in the outside world. My mind wanders constantly back to the current manuscript I am working on, or thinking up new ways of marketing my last one. Lately I’ve been dreaming of how I can spend more time writing and less time working the¬†non-creative¬†‘day job’. It’s just a dream, but it feels real. You see, I want to do something really against the current trend. I’m thinking of opening a book store. You know, where books are sold…..those paper things with words in them. I know in many countries that print is dying, being replaced by digital books, but that trend doesn’t seem to be taking off in Australia just yet. Which is making me think, hope – just maybe I could do it. I can see it now: working on my new book in between customers, Black Books style.

Today I came up with a new idea. Not for my dream book store. Well, actually I had a few more ideas for that. No, I came to the realisation that once you have seen one dream come to fruition, then its much easier to nurture more dreams. Think about it. How many times have you been ‘on a roll’? Had a ‘hat trick’ of good luck? I think it’s not luck, but success. If one vision has become real, you know its possible, you know you have what it takes. However, I think this works only if you are prepared to put in the hard work, as no one waves a wand and a dream comes true. You have to work really hard. I recently saw a dream come true – publishing my first book. I know if I can do that, I can do anything.¬†So if I want to open a book store, if I really want to make that happen, then I can do it. I have the vision, the commitment for hard work, and the skills. I just need the finances. Still, confidence can overcome most barriers – even current lack of funds.

That’s not the only thought I had this week. The other one is also about not becoming an island. It seems that my doors are about to be opened to new family members. Flung open, actually. Having for months insisted that there are enough animals in the house, and not wanting to go through the final moments of ageing pets again, I’ve changed my mind. So it seems we are about to take on a few animals. First there are the bunnies, from the local animal rescue. Large rabbits that many potential adopters are overlooking, instead choosing the cute little ones. And next are the felines. A young cat who has endured endless pregnancies, and perhaps one of her newest kittens. Sure I’m not looking forward to the extra work, the distraction from writing. However, its something little I can do, to change the lives of a few animals.

When considering caring for others, I think back to my time in Cambodia earlier this year. Underneath the poverty and destruction of the environment, I kept noticing the loud absence of animals, birds and other creatures. In war, natural disaster and social unrest, pets and wildlife are often the forgotten victims. Other than give money, at this moment in time I can’t do anything about what is happening to people, animals and the environment globally, but I can do something locally. So I’ll open my door to a few who need a warm home.

Well, its late and I have an early start tomorrow. If I’m about to take on a horde of four-footed babes, then I must put aside the dreaming for now and make some cash. I am sure I will still have time for writing, though. Maybe I can even find some inspiration in the lives and characteristics of my new furry friends? I know its been done a million times, but I’m sure I can still find an untold story…..after all, I am a storyteller.

What day?

When I signed up to be part of the Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop, hosted by Book’d Out (click on below image), I had lots of ideas for what to write about. I was also going to do a giveaway for my new novel, When Rosa Came Home.¬†Now, with the deadline looming, all those ideas have flown away. This year, I am far from home on Australia Day. Even so, there are signs everywhere that its Australia Day tomorrow.

Walking along crowded Occheuteal Beach today (in Sihanoukville, Cambodia), I noticed a massive banner advertising a party cruise in honor of Australia Day – with Triple J Hottest 100 Countdown to get people in the mood. The ‘bring an Australian flag and get a bucket’ of booze promotion captures what Australia Day has become to many – and how we are perhaps seen by others. Then a couple of children approached me, selling string bracelets, and asked where I was from. When I said Australia, they pointed to the sign. I froze…that’s not what Australia Day means to me.

Australia Day means different things to different people – and that’s okay. Personally, I’ve always had mixed feelings about the day, and tend to keep low. While I am proud to be Australian, and even more glad to have been born in Australia after the places I have been in the last week, Australia Day is awkward. I can’t bring myself to celebrate the birth of a nation – on the date of an invasion that has had long-term consequences for the First Nations people. As a person of Aboriginal descent, it would feel wrong to fly the blue flag on that particular date. And to fly the red, black and yellow flag, of which I have a deep pride in, is still not widely acceptable. It should be though. Every Australian should be able to see that flag and know the real history (and cost) of colonisation.

Originally, this blog post was to be a deep discussion, sprinkled with historical facts and a bit of Aussie humour. Honestly, I can’t find the words. Not after the last few weeks, what I’ve been through (see previous posts). Instead, I’ll say that I’m missing my homeland and looking forward to getting back on Australian soil. Still, as usual, I won’t be celebrating Australia Day. Not until the date is changed.

As I type this, the bars on the beach are getting into the party spirit early, with fireworks and music. Earlier tonight I was entertained by people, from many countries, singing along to what they think are iconic Australian songs. Back home, I hope that people enjoy their long-weekend, however they choose to spend it. And I hope that they spare a thought for the high cost others have paid to enable them to now call Australia home.

AustraliaDaybloghop2014

weave a story / pen a dream

Traces of stories linger in the most unexpected places 
Stories are everywhere. I re-discovered this when I became a weaver of baskets. I say ‘re-discover’ because as a child I already knew this. Living in an old stone house, surrounded by farm lands and dilapidated sheds, my imagination was given plenty of space to run free. If I stopped for just a moment, I could hear whispers of story in the rustling of grasses, and smell tales as they floated towards the hills, on autumn winds. For hours on end I would sit and listen to furred, feathered and scaled friends, to the secrets they were willing to share. I could sense the yarns of long-ago people, their voices trapped within the stones of those old buildings that I called home. And when not outside exploring, I would sit with my Great-grandfather – listening to his wild tales of a life well-lived.

And then I forgot how to listen – I grew up.

Weaving Yarns
Thankfully, life has both cycles and circles. When an Aboriginal elder showed me how to weave, I started remembering. First I remembered that I had tried weaving before, as a child. For a brief time my mother made cane baskets, and I gave it a try. Weaving stiff cane never really appealed to me, so that phase didn’t last long. Decades later, when I was shown how to make baskets out of sedge grass, the way that Aboriginal people in southern coastal and riverine regions had been doing it for tens of thousands of years, I discovered a new talent. I was a natural at weaving fibres. Later I was shown other styles of fibre work, by Aboriginal weavers from around Australia, and even some methods used by nearby Island nations. One that really appealed to me is the method used in Australia’s central deserts, using short tufts of sun-hardened grasses called¬†tjanpi;¬†an aromatic grass found growing on the side of rock formations.

Each one I made had a story to tell
I soon discovered that baskets have excellent memory recall. They remember where their fibre comes from, the country where the sedges were harvested. Tjanpi remembers the  big trip to the city, when they left behind the desert winds that once made them dance. Baskets remember the laughter and conversations that snaked around the weaving circle, or the thoughts of the lone weaver as she/he sat in quiet contemplation. I know my baskets remember because when I hold them they whisper to me: what they have seen, where they have been, what they have heard.

Like stories, each person’s baskets are unique. Everyone has their own style and preferences for patterns and materials. The way someone holds the basket as it’s being made, and the tension of their stitches, are unique to that person. Amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander weavers, there are also distinct regional variations of styles, materials and methods. It’s possible to see a basket and know where it has been made, and sometimes even by whom.

The making of baskets is not that much different from writing. For both baskets and books have a way of asserting their own direction, subtly leading the creator. And they have much to teach; if you let go and allow the true story to emerge, the finished product is often better than what you had originally envisioned.

A basket starts with choosing the material; and there are plenty of natural and synthetic fibres to choose from, in all shades and textures. During the weaving process there may be call to change the pattern, use different stitches or add new materials and colour. A novel is the same, the storyteller makes some initial decisions – genre, point-of-view, protagonist – and perhaps an outline of plot. However, any or all of these may change at any time in the construction of the story. And that is okay.

Having spent years exhibiting and selling my weaving, over the past year I had no time for new baskets. The few I have kept sit in odd places around my home. Some have a functional use, others sit and gather dust. Occasionally my eye will catch one, or I will pick one up, and instantly I remember where I collected the fibres from, where I was when I wove it and even how I was feeling. My baskets let me recall fond memories and good company. However, as much as I like to weave, time had to be found so I could pursue stories of a different kind.

Weaving my Dream
I know it’s a clich√©, but as I child I knew that I would eventually become a writer. Learning to read and write wasn’t easy, though. First I had to learn how to harness dyslexia. When those chicken-talon scratchings on the blackboard finally transformed into letters, then words and sentences, my need for books became insatiable. Before too long I had outgrown children’s’ books and was devouring literature from all around the globe; my favourites being long-dead authors from Russia and England, and newer works from India and South America. With an ingrained love of story, of course I had a dream of becoming a storyteller myself.

It took me decades to realise that dream. I sort of got off-track, wandering out into the harsh Desert of Reality. Somehow I found my way back. On the eve of my half-century, I published my first novel, When Rosa Came Home, and I had realised a dream.

The formula to achieving this dream was fairly simple but needed a few drops of blood sweat and tears for the magic to happen. The secret of dreams is that they need to be backed with reality to come true. Like weaving, to write you need to have learnt some basic skills. And be willing to work for long hours to perfect those skills; to do the same thing over and over until your fingers hurt, then finally form callouses.  You need to learn how it has always been done, before stepping outside the square and creating something new. Finding your own voice is important, but only after you have developed a deep respect for traditions.

It starts with just one piece
Like a basket, for me a story starts with one thread. With When Rosa Came Home it was a single image: a flash of an aged hand reaching into a drawer and pulling out a flat wooden box. I took that one thread and slowly added others, stitching word on word, adding more and more, until over time I had a complete story.

This process, from image to published, took almost two years. At the same time I was working on two other manuscripts and a number of short stories. In the last year, I had also set up this blog and started delving into social media (forming my ‘writer’s platform’). Most importantly, I was also dealing with the fickle whims of life.

Life gave me so much lemons in 2012 that I was able to make a jug full of lemonade. The first lemon was suddenly finding myself under-employed and desperately trying to make ends met – the biggest focus was to keep the roof over my family’s heads. While taking any work I could, I cut back on expenses. This meant simplifying my life: baking bread, not going out, reducing car usage, recycling and recalling the cost-cutting domestic arts from my childhood on the farm. Being forced to become a recluse opened up a window of opportunity, allowing me to follow a long-held dream: writing. I had time. And what better way to have a holiday from reality then creating characters and stories?

So I wrote. And reality hit back. There was even darker months: I lost all of my cherished, aged pets; had white-goods and computers call it quits; and said final farewells to people I admired.  Some of these people were my age, others younger. I wrote harder Рseeing that black bird of mortality sitting on a tree nearby.

Come, let’s escape together
During this time I was mostly working on a ‘serious’ story, which uses magic realism to explore some of Australia’s darker post-colonisation history. For light relief, from life and that story (Where the Fruit Falls), I would work on¬†When Rosa Came Home.¬†I never envisioned publishing what was originally a novella; it was meant to be just for me. Mid-2013 I realised that it was a pretty good bad story, and that other people might find enjoyment in it. So I started preparing it for release, so that others may escape to the world I had created.

Life took some more positive turns, as well. I had a full-time job, and was getting back on track financially. Maintaining a writing schedule became a challenge, not only because I had less time but because my new job involved frequent interstate travel. Writing in motel rooms soon became a necessity, and was sometimes easier than writing at home; especially with some of those amazing motel-balcony views.

With¬†When Rosa Came Home¬†I wanted to create a setting and story that was reminiscent of simplier times. And I wanted to push back the ‘experts’ that advise new writers to be scarce with words, recommending instead that we rush from action scene to action scene. I detest this dumbing down of literature, this scarcity of words and lack of rhythm. So I revisited the books that I had cherished in younger years. Instead I took the advice of authors from another era; those respected storytellers who weren’t afraid to show emotion and inner turmoil, or explore the complexities of human relationships; who bravely used strings of adverbs and adjectives. These books were complicated yet simple, poetic and rich in description of place. They were the anti-thesis of the new wave of ‘Hollywood blockbuster’ writing styles. They were storytelling at its best.

I know not everyone will be attracted to the style of writing I have used, nor the story I have told. That is okay, its good for us all to have diverse tastes. I enjoyed writing with rhythm, exploring the beauty of language and images.

And within those pages I have also explored some topical themes. There are faint traces of exploring gender roles, the changing composition of family, land rights, marriage equality and striving for your dreams. However, I have done this in such a normalised, simplistic manner that most readers will not even notice. Even though I have created a whimsical story, in an almost magical setting, there is always room for reality: for story must reflect life.

Weaving a story
Those years of weaving have come in handy, as it helped me to understand the flow of a story. having developed an artist’s eye, always on the look out for new materials and fibres to weave with, I am now able to see potential in what is around me; collect pieces that can be added to my stories. Collecting fibre in unexpected places, often walking in new environments, has honed my ability to feel place. While working with the fibre, allowing the basket to guide what shape it will become, has allowed me time to reflect: to ponder life, the universe and everything. Reflection is a writer’s best friend. As is patience.

One must be very patient to be a weaver of both fibres and words. Over the past few years I have steadily and painstakingly added layer upon layer, word to word, slowly creating a story – my first novel. Sometimes it felt as if it had a life of its own, and led me down unexpected sub-plot paths. That’s okay – I really like where it has taken me. And I hope you do too. For, unlike my unsold baskets, this story will not be left to gather dust. When Rosa Came Home¬†has been sent out into the world, to be shared (and hopefully enjoyed) by many more people than just its creator.

Now, a weaver of stories cannot sit in contemplation for too long Рnot when there are more characters begging to be woven into a story. Its back to the keyboard for me, back to a story that is both dark and hopeful: Where the Fruit Falls. I will untangle this story, add some new threads, and have it ready later this year.

May 2014 be your year for chasing and catching dreams!

Where to buy When Rosa Came Home:

Paperback at:-  Lulu   CreateSpace   Amazon and their affiliated book-sellers

E-book at:-   Barnes & Noble (Nook)   Smashwords    Amazon     Inktera    Diesel
(soon to be on Apple, Sony and Kobo)

A tale of sand, magic and city streets

Shiny Clock (screensaver) by http://clock-desktop.com/

In the most ordinary of places, extraordinary moments can occur

Like many people, I am guilty of not taking time out from being obsessed about time. Sure, as a writer and sometimes artist, I feel absolutely no guilt in those moments that I am absorbed in creating, or thinking about creating. However, moving from the professional world of the day job to the creative realms after hours on a daily basis, means that I am often rushing, trying to squeeze in too much and not taking time to just be in the moment.

What do I miss by not living in the moment? What do I miss by focusing on the sand that falls through the hour-glass, rather than seeing the beauty of each grain of sand? I waste opportunities: to absorb nature, build a real connection to others, to practice self-reflection, or glimpse the whole tapestry of life.

The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.” ¬†George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans, 1819 – 1880), quote from¬†Janet’s¬†Repentance

The day job involves interstate travel, which sometimes occurs in frequent blocks. After weeks of spending time in various cities around Australia, from the east to the west coasts, this week I had the chance to see my own capital city from a different perspective. Playing hostess to guests from all states and territories, I stayed in the east end of Adelaide city for a couple of nights. I can’t remember the last time I saw Adelaide by night, so it was fun to join with the visitors for evening walks, discovering interesting places to dine.

One night, after sharing a few hours of conversation over a meal, everyone wandered back towards the motel, some with the intent to purchase desert on the way. Standing outside the restaurant, waiting for everyone to pay and leave, I heard the faint sounds of music competing with the city noises. As the guests walked past, I suggested to a few that they should cross the road and pass by the busker I had spied. Soon it was my turn to leave, so I dragged the person I was with across the street, called by the sounds of a violin. In transit, my walking companion dropped a few coins in the hat, and turned to leave, as most people do.

I stopped, realising that I didn’t have any coins to give. Normally I would have just walked on, but this time I dropped in what money I did have; a note. The musician thanked me with a merry change of tune; I laughed, and moved on. Down the street, I bumped in to the others, who had purchased take-away deserts and were making their ways back to their motel rooms. Almost to the motel, I didn’t feel like going back to my room yet. Despite a chill in the air, and fighting the wind, with a chai latte for warmth I walked back up the street. Making myself comfortable on a bench, I settled in to hear more of the music; determined to just be in the moment.

Slowing down the sands, to see golden moments
Being in the moment is not easy, especially on a windy city street, with the distracting sounds of cars, patrons of the hotel across the road, people walking in groups along the street, people spilling out of restaurants. However, stilling my cluttered mind, looking up at the darkened sky, and really giving in to the music, I had fleeting success of just being.

And then I watched; it felt as if I was seeing the city through different eyes, with a beautiful soundtrack in the background. I then noticed that the busker also appeared to be people-watching, for his music frequently changed to match those walking by; some of which tossed money into his hat on passing. Not many spoke or made eye contact with the violinist, but there was often something in their bodies to show that they had heard; a slight shift that indicated the music had connected with them.  Earlier, I had a feeling that this busker was different, and my intuition was confirmed: not only was he a talented violinist, but he could speak through his music.

Finding a glimmer of magic on the streets
Loosing the being-in-the-moment vibe for just a moment, I couldn’t help myself; I approached the violinist in between tunes. And, as is often the case, I had a mad woman moment, and said something¬†unnecessary. As I recall, it was something about me not really being a weird stalker, but that I was taking time to just watch people; you know, the thing that us writer-types frequently do.

He politely smiled, and asked me what I write. And……I fell all over my tongue…..as usual. Its silly, I know, but I just haven’t got the hang of being able to succinctly say what I write or what my novels-in-waiting are about. I need to get better at this if I want to successfully promote my first novel, which will be released in December. I need to have an Elevator Pitch ready.

When I mumbled that some of my work is in the style of magic realism, he asked ‘Like Harry Potter?’ This is a common reply, and at this point I always struggle to find a way to describe my favourite genre in a way that doesn’t make me sound too much like a deranged wannabe-writer and, at the same time, properly target my response to the person’s understanding of literature (without assuming too much).

In this instance, I rattled off some magic realism authors that I felt he may know of; the likes of Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The musician nodded, and returned his violin to its well-worn position under his chin, while I walked back to the bench. His hand, holding the bow, poised above the violin, as he said, ‘I thought that was what I do; magic realism.’

And you know what: it is. His music, on a windy city street, is magic realism. In that ordinary setting (a city at night), with people walking along the street, on their way to/from ordinary moments, they pause for just one moment. As the extraordinary sound of a well-played violin reaches out to them, they stop; they connect to the music, they feel, they may even connect with the violinist, and then they walk on. That moment of connection to music is the magic. And this particular musician is a creator of magic realism.

Leaving the streets behind
Too soon, the wind got to me, making me feel uncomfortable. And my fingers started to itch, wanting to know what was happening elsewhere; slave to constantly checking my android phone. I collected my belongings, and got up to leave. First I stopped to thank the violinist for sharing his music, and asked for his name. And I left.

And I must confess, I left feeling a little bit smug. Although I have trapped my ego in a thick-walled cage, it’s still a wild beast and is a long way from being domesticated enough to be of service. So, my ego and me walked down the street, feeling smug about being one of the few who took the time to sit and listen to the music. Feeling smug that I had just acted like a ‘real’ writer (i.e. people watched); when in reality, I haven’t yet published a novel. And my smugness kept me warm on that cold street; at least for a few steps.

I soon came across another hat on the side-walk, containing not many coins. The hat belonged to an elderly man, who looked as if a warm bed did not await him on this cold night. It was the same person I had walked past earlier, on my way to dinner, not giving him a second thought, let alone a coin. Feeling ashamed, I put my ego back in its cage, looked him in the eyes and smiled. Then I dropped some money in his hat. I told him that I hoped that the cold night would not be too unkind to him. He smiled, and said that he would be alright.

When I got back to my cosy warm motel room, I reflected on how nice it was to have heard a story through music; not feeling a need to hear a verbal telling of the musician’s story. Well, I soon discovered: yes and no.

I ‘googled’ the musician, and within a few clicks, I discovered that there was much more to his story than the music he had shared with me. I soon discovered that I had just been in the presence of an angel, come to visit (as George Eliot so eloquently said); and I had been too focused on the sands to realise.

Melvyn Cann, performing in Rundle Street Adelaide, 23 Oct 2013

Melvyn Cann
performing in Rundle Street Adelaide
23 Oct 2013

The man behind the music
The street violinist that I had stopped to listen to was Melvyn Cann, who is a classically trained violinist; in addition to being a talented Australian composer and conductor. Melvyn Cann’s musical talents had been identified at a young age, being selected to study at the Adelaide ¬†Elder Conservatorium at the age of 13; three years after he contracted polio (see this newspaper¬†article¬†from 1954). Melvyn was then accepted to play with the South Australian Symphony Orchestra at 16 years of age, going on to perform with other esteemed orchestras; including holding the title of Concert Master for the Victoria State Opera.

Melvyn was granted a scholarship to attend Oxford University, where he studied philosophy. He then spent another 27 years in university, as a lecturer. He is also a known poet and artist (see some of his paintings, and a biography, here), and father of five.

In addition to a life of opportunities and rich experiences, Melvyn has had more than his fair share of challenges. It is both these challenges and opportunities that has led him to the streets of Adelaide and Melbourne, to become a street performer (read more about Melvyn here).

In his biography, Melvyn has written: “In the classical tradition, the composer creates a notation that is a key to realisation of the work. The score leads the performer to find the work to present it to the listener. But the work itself is entirely ethereal: it exists only in the consciousness of the creator, the performer and the listener. The score may be a bit of material hardware: it can be bought and sold. But the music itself cannot be so bought: or, at least, this is not generally the case.” (extract from biography, at ¬†https://juxtaposestudios.com.au/artist-profiles/exstasis

I think that the above quote sums up how I felt about Melvyn’s music; that he, the performer, is able to create something ethereal. He tells a story that only exists in the consciousness of the performer and the listener; if people would only take the time to stop and listen.

As is often the case, a simple event has shown me a lot, and has taught me a little bit more about myself. You just never know what you will find along the road of life. Nor can you ever assume to know the story of the people you pass in the streets.

If art does not enlarge men’s sympathies, it does nothing morally.” ¬†George Eliot, from¬†Letter to Charles Bray,¬†15 July 1859