Tuesday 27 December 2011

Immigrating to Australia

In 1968 my mother, father and I emigrated from Denmark to Australia. We sailed on the Elinis, landing in Fremantle on Australia Day, then continuing on around to Sydney where we finally disembarked. Even though we were voluntary migrants and we had our own funds we were still 'housed' in the migrant camp at Bonegilla, just inside the Victorian border, which operated between 1947 and 1971. The temporary accommodation provided at Bonegilla was very basic. The buildings were mostly standard Army type huts made of unlined timber-framed huts with corrugated wall cladding and low pitched gabled roofs of corrugated iron or asbestos cement. They had originally been built to accommodate twenty people with no internal partitions. By the time we arrived the huts were partitioned into 3x4 meter spaces. They were arranged in 24 blocks, each with its own kitchen, mess huts and ablutions. Most migrants remember the 'chicken sheds' as not being suitable for families. The beds were folding camp beds on 'farm-gate' bases and there were communal washrooms.
Safely isolated on the southern bank of Lake Hume, 12km from Wodonga in North-East Victoria and over 300km from Melbourne and 600km from Sydney, Bonegilla warranted no attention from the metropolitan dailies while it ran quietly and efficiently. It did, however, concentrate the attention of the press on three occasions.
In 1949 thirteen newly-arrived children died from malnutrition in the winter of 1949. There was a flurry of activity to explain that all was well at Bonegilla. An inquiry found that children suffering from gastroenteritis had been on a ship-board diet of boiled water for a prolonged time. The inquiry was also critical of how the Bonegilla hospital was under-staffed and inadequately equipped.
Young Italian migrants protested about the lack of work in 1952. They also complained about the food they were served, the lack of heating and the paucity of the recreation facilities at Bonegilla. Their protests hurried along renovation of the huts and spurred changes to ensure food better matched national tastes.
In 1961 German and Italian migrants posted 'ugly signs' along the road to the Centre: 'We want work or back to Europe'; 'Bonegilla camp without hope'. They smashed the employment office and clashed with police. Both incidents embarrassed the government into reviewing its intake and settlement policies. A few years later Bonegilla was deemed obsolete and redundant. The last arrivals came in November 1971. The Reception Centre closed at the end of the year without much public notice.
Memories of the physical setting of the Bonegilla Reception Centre have endured: the heat, the cold, the sun, the flies, the space, the sense of isolation and bareness; Lake Hume, twisted grey gum trees, long walks to Albury, magpies carolling and crows cawing. Those who arrived as children now smile indulgently at the recall of sunburn and fears of swooping magpies, nasty spiders, possums, bull ants and snakes before they grew accustomed to the Australian sun and wildlife. They remember the perils of deep-pit latrines. (From So Much Sky a history of Bonegilla)
The Block 19 remnant of the Bonegilla Reception Centre is now listed as a National Heritage. About 24 of what were once 834 huts in the Centre as a whole remain. The barracks buildings and their layout demonstrate the basic conditions typical of migrant reception places. Block 19 retains a strong sense of what the migrant experience would have been like. 
My clearest memory from this time was playing out in the hot summer sun with two other girls (I was 4 then). I had finished of a brown glass jar of medicine so as a reward I was allowed to keep the jar to play with. I'd filled it with water and taken it outside. I took a sip of the water and offered it to one of the girls. The other girl wanted some to but I didn't want to give her any because she'd been mean to me earlier. I grabbed the jar and started running away. I tripped, dropping the bottle and smashing it. I fell onto the broken glass and several pieces cut into my left wrist. I remember riding in the ambulance with my mother trying to speak english with the paramedics and fussing over me. My dad passed us on the road. He was coming back from a round of job interviews in Sydney and wondered who the ambulance was for. I still have a messed up scar on my wrist from where the doctor stitched it - stitching was obviously not his forte.
My dad would be given a list of job interviews to attend and would set out for Sydney or Melbourne for a few days to attend them. If you rejected any your name would be put to the back of the file. Many of the immigrants resented that their qualifications were not respected and they were expected to be happy to do any sort of work. Every job interview my dad went on he would always be told 'We'll let you know' and they never did. By the time my dad worked that out he also worked out that he need a car so he could go hunt for his own job and not just the jobs the 'employment office' sent him out to. A mad Egyptian  friend we'd made at Bonegilla, Kemi Morcas, took dad to the nearest town and dad bought a silver Holden station wagon with red leather seats and off he went for a job interview at Kodak in Melbourne.
In Copenhagen he had been one of an elite team of pioneering computer programmers who worked on a massive mainframe computer at the Copenhagen university servicing the physicists at the Niels Bohr institute. There were only a few of this particular type of computer in the world. One in Copenhagen, one in London, one in Milan, IBM had a couple and I think NASA had one. Kodak were only just setting up their computer department, they had one other programmer. At the interview the chap interviewing dad said, 'Well Mike, I've got no way of knowing whether this super computer your telling me about even exists, but if it does you've got more experience that anyone here. We'll let you know'.
My dad had had enough of 'I'll let you knows' and said, 'No you won't. If you can't let me know here and now then don't bother I'll look elsewhere'.
The chap said he had to consult with his 'supervisor' and left the room for ten minutes. He came back in and said, 'Well the jobs yours on one condition'
'And what would that be?' my dad asked.
'You shave your beard off - you look like a terrorist!'
My dad thought about it for approximately one microsecond and said, 'I'll take it!'
The two later became great friends and dad found out the chap hadn't really gone out to 'consult' with his supervisor, it was just bullshit. Anyways, it meant we could get out of Bonegilla. The chap rang 'a friend' and organised a flat for us the next day and helped us move in. He organised some spare stuff we needed and came round with an esky full of 'cold ones' and some folding chairs. My dad tells this story way better and I'm encouraging him to start up his own blog to tell his stories in. Hopefully he'll have photos too - I'll keep you posted when he launches.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Encounters with Snakes

Yesterday I was reading Carl Sagan and Ann Druyans book Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors when I came across a fascinating section (on dominance and submission) on the Manitoba garter snake. These snakes hibernate in enormous dens of up to ten thousand individuals, the proverbial snake pit.
'In springtime, the females are sexually receptive as they emerge, one at a time, from the den. And a good thing too: Waiting impatiently is a gang of several thousand males, who pounce on each female as she exits, forming a writhing, orgiastic, but largely infecund "mating ball." Competition between males is fierce, both pre- and post-coitus; after mating, the victor will insert a vaginal plug so no rival can succeed if he has failed to impregnate the object of his affections. Even among snakes the is a core of basic behaviour - including dominance, territoriality and sexual jealousy - that humans have no trouble recognising.'
Click on the link to watch as a  female garter snake emerges from a snake pit.
 Luckily we don't have those writhing smakepits in Queensland because R is completely freaked out by snakes. Personally I quite like snakes as long as they're not poisionous - nothing wrong with a nice friendly python, here I am, kissing one.

Since moving to Queensland in 2001 we've had a few adventures with various snakes. The first was when we were living in Montville down on the Sunshine Coast. We were renting an old wooden  two storey house. One day the kids came and said there was a python out on the back balcony.It was fairly big, 2 meters long and about the same diameter as my forearm. The poor thing, I thought, it must be hungry! I went inside and came back with an egg for the lovely cute python. It had placed itself just near the steps going down so I went down a few steps and then offered it the egg. Bloody grumpy python! It lashed out and snapped at me! I nearly fell down the stairs! I mean there I was coming with milk of human kindness and it snaps at me! I didn't think it was so cute after that.

We got the neighbour (being a local he was used to pythons) to take the snake away down the road. A few days later we were on the front balcony having a cup of tea when R suddenly noticed that tangled in the wisteria branches near our ankles was the same python - apparently they home unless you take them more than 5 kms away! We called the snake catching man and he took the python 10 kms down the range. Nearly everyone up on the Range covering the Maleny-Monteville-Flaxton-Mapleton area has a python in their roof - they're very good at keeping the mice, rats and possum population down.
Kids are not nearly so squeamish - here's Young Son readily gulping down a glass of snakes blood in Guilin, China
Our next encounter came a few years later after we'd moved to Cairns in the far north of Queensland. We had a lovely grey kitten that went missing one day. After about a week or so there was this god awful stench that began to pervade the kitchen and front balcony area. It smelt like something was dead. I had a girlfiend, Fuschia, visiting up from Monteville and she got her ex around (they're useful for some things!)  to crawl under the house and see if he could see anything. He emerged a while later with eyes as huge as saucers. 'There's this ginormous python under the house. It's dead, it's stuck under the airconditioning unit, I can't get it out. It's got a dead grey kitten stuck in its mouth!' Hence the smell. It turns out it had choked on the kitten!
The next day my intrepid mother crawled under the house with a meat cleaver and hacked the python in two and dragged the two halves out and buried it. Because it had been decomposing for a while it was running with decomposing flesh and body fluids as she dragged it out - yuck! It was as thick as a thigh and 3 meters long! 
This image is from www.amazingaustralia.com

A few years after this my mum had a white Corella cockatoo called Willie. He was sitting in his cage in the kitchen while I was cooking dinner one night and he was have a thing or two to say, making a racket and generally being a noisy pest so I took him around the side of the balcony and put him under Third daughters window. A little later he made some high pitched distressed noises and I called to him that I would be there in a minute to see what he wanted. By the time I got around the side I could see there was a long skinny python wrapped around poor old Willie. I screamed through the window to third daughter 'Get dad, there's a snake, there's a snake' I don't know I called for R - he came out and grabbed the only thing available - a plastic kids beach shovel and started trying to chop the snake as it slithered out of the cage and under the back steps. Luckily despite numerous attempts, in his fearful frenzy he missed - pythons are protected in Australia. It was too late!  Willie gave the death rattle and curled his toes up. Now obviously pythons aren't terribly good at advance planning, because even if it had managed to swallow poor Willie it would of been stuck in the cage, it's girth too wide to fit back through the bars.
That night when we went to bed R thought he could hear pythons. 'What's wrong with you?' I asked.
'I can hear snakes, the whole hill behind us is probably writhing with them.'
Here's R looking very brave overcoming his snake phobia in Phuket earlier this year
He then decided he had to go to the loo but didn't want to get off the bed - by this time he was convinced there were probably more pythons under the bed. He stood up on the bed, took a giant leap off the bed to the ensuite. When he lept back on the bed  he peered at me closely and said 'In fact, you're looking a bit snakey too!'
This image of a python catching a white corella is from www.strangeark.com

Sunday 18 December 2011

Headhunters in Borneo

Back in 1987 I travelled to Kuching, in Sarawak Borneo. Kuching means cat and was at that time an undeveloped sprawling small city. Hotels and other concrete public buildings were surrounded by wooden houses and huts climbing up the hillsides. We stayed in a small guesthouse and ate at the local street corner stalls where invariably a woman of indeterminate age would be squatting over a wok on an open fire cooking up some super yummy mie (noodle) dish or the famous Sarawak Laksa, a divine non-curry version of the well known soup.
After some days exploring the city we decided to head off (pardon the pun) upriver in a longboat and stay with the native people of the interior the Iban people. Even by Malaysian standards Sarawak has an extraordinary mix of peoples: the largest ethnic group is neither Chinese (26%) nor Malay (21%), but the Iban (29%). The Iban have long since been acknowledged as the fiercest headhunters on Borneo. Back in the bad old days, an Iban lad couldn't hope for the hand of a fair maiden without the shrunken head of an enemy to call his own, and bunches of totemic skulls still decorate the eaves of many a jungle longhouse. Fortunately for visitors, headhunting hasn't been practiced for a while, although some of the skulls date from as late as World War II when, with British support, Iban mercenaries fought against the occupying Japanese. If you've seen The Sleeping Dictionary you'll get some idea of the feeling of the place. 
We stayed in a longhouse three days, learning how to use both bow and arrow and blow pipes and track the forest for game. We cooked our kill over large pit fires when it was wild boar and over the kitchen wok when we were unsuccessful and had to eat the village chickens instead. Every afternoon the tropical monsoon rain would pelt down and we were taught the rather neat trick of hacking of a super large leaf (like an elephants ear plant) with our machetes to use as the local version of an umbrella. 
Inside the longhouses women would sleep in one area and men in another. If a young man fancied a girl he would come and steal her away from the sleeping area and lay claim to her if you know what I mean ;)  The chief of the longhouse proudly displayed the skulls suspended in baskets from the ceiling  of the tribes past victims and showed of the tattoos on his legs marking each head he'd taken. Even though I wrote above that the practice was supposedly stopped after WWII, we noticed some of the younger men did actually still display two or three tattoos on their legs. When I asked one them about this he just stared into my eyes and his lips slowly curled into a smile. 

Thursday 15 December 2011

Romance at Uluru

I'm going to tell you a little bedtime story. In the tradition of all good fairy tales this one has star-crossed lovers, evil antagonists and good fairies, all set against a dramatic backdrop.
This particular tale begins in front of the Space Shuttle at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, in February. Our hero is on his knee declaring himself to his beloved.  The star-crossed lovers board a ship and sail  the deep blue sea for many months.  In July our heroine is playing hangman with her children whilst our hero is shouting 'I'm the king of the world!' from the bowsprit. He can get a better view of the last space shuttle to head for the moon from here. Suddenly an iceberg looms in the mist. The ship hits it with full force. Our hero leaps onto the iceberg thinking it will save him. The captain calls over the loudspeaker for all hands on deck.  At the last minute our hero realises that everything that is most precious to him will go down with the ship if he doesn't do something. He abandons the iceberg and saves his family. He calls in a favour from the staff of the Flying Kangaroo (Qantas Link).
It is now Saturday, December 10th. The star-crossed lovers are at Uluru (Ayers Rock) This is a view of the Rock as we approached the airport. It was a  hot day , not even the goannas were anywhere to be seen, only a few crazy cyclists (not us!) On entering the Uluru Park area we were given an extreme weather warning by the lady in the toll booth - drink plenty of water, star-crossed idiots like us who want to go to the Rock in the middle of the day have died there from heat exhaustion.

The twins lathered on the sunscreen and I got out my trusty instant shade maker - my pink and red Boston umbrella - everyone laughs at you for taking an umbrella but then they all want to get under it when the sun is scorching. Funny that!
This is R's shot of Uluru - he's a master photographer!

We walked in close to the Rock with it's amazing textured surface, kind of like I imagine the moon's surface would be.
Suddenly R was down on one knee. He whipped a huge sapphire ring out of his pocket and proposed to me against the blood red backdrop of Uluru. He'd been a fool to think an iceberg could ever save him, life wasn't worth living if he couldn't be with me - (this is where you sigh and go 'Awww!) The twins rolled their eyes 'Are you proposing to mum again?!' Third daughter said. He then whipped out a couple of bottles of champagne -the favour he called in - the hosties had been in cahoots with him on the plane and given him champagne to stash in his briefcase when I went to the loo after he'd showed them the ring and told them his plan.

Back on the plane a fresh lot of hosties plied us with more free champagne and were all agog at the ring and the tale of our many engagements. When we got off, Young son said who was sitting in the row behind us said' 'You two sure got a lot of attention!'

  We flew on to Perth and that evening we went a WA symphony orchestra concert on the Perth esplanade with the twins and Venus. One of our friends Wendy Tait plays French Horn with the orchestra.
 It was just magical sitting under the setting sun as the orchestra played Orff's Carmina Burana (click link to listen to a snippet of it) which we had made our entrance to at our medieval wedding.                       

My girlfriend Therese sent a text message telling us it was a blood red moon in full lunar eclipse and we could just see the shadow beginning to slip across the moons surface as the orchestra began the final piece, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture with the bells ringing in  that splendiferous piece of Perth architecture, the Bell Tower, behind us, and the military canons blasting next to us.                                                                     
We raced home to watch the full effect of the lunar eclipse and R managed to capture some fantastic photos with his camera. The spectacle of a blood red moon was a fantastic and dramatic ending to a fairytale day.
R's excellent shot of the Red Moon Full lunar eclipse
The colour is caused by light scattering as it passes through the thin ring of the earth's atmosphere, removing the blue light and passing mainly the red, some of which still manages to reach the moon. Australian Aborigines see the coppery-red moon as an omen that someone has been killed. The Vikings believed the moon was being eaten by a wolf when it turned red. 

Tuesday 13 December 2011


 Alexandre Cabanel Birth of Venus  
When I was the age Venus is now, 19, an artist said to me that I would make a great model for a Venus painting. At that precise moment I determined that if I ever had a daughter she would be called Venus. Because I had chosen her first name R chose her second name. He came home one day all excited: 'I've seen this fantastic name if it's a girl, but I don't know how you say it' and proceeded to spell out SIOBHAN. My sister Rae immediately piped up: 'That's pronounced Shivorn - one of my friends is called that, it's Welsh'. Well there you go, that's how Venus Siobhan got her name!
Named after the Roman goddess of love, obviously she is reflected on a visual level in both Cabanel's and Botticelli's famous paintings of the Birth of Venus. As it just so happs the voluptuous curves of the Renaissance Venus is a perfect suit. The style of painting also suits Venus's ambiance being a great lover of the Romance novel - she can consume them at a frightening rate!
 Botticelli's famous Birth of Venus

As it just so happens Venus is also a great fan of that modern day Venus, Marilyn Monroe, and has perfected her pout, now known amongst the family as Venus's trademark pout that she displays to good effect in many photo opportunities.

Of course Venus loves Marilyn Monroe movies and the movie that makes me think of Venus the most is
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Another actress that makes me think of Venus is Brigitte Bardot.
This is Warhols portrait of Brigitte Bardot (interestingly in the continuiningly astonishing series of interlinking connections of Six Degrees of Separation type Warhol happens to be one of Venus's favourite artists)

Her infamous song with the enigmatic Serge Gainsbourg - Je t'aime moi non Plus which is played in the brilliant movie of Gainsbourghs life Gainsbourg was influential in causing Bardot to catch the attention of French intellectuals. She was the subject of Simone de Beauvoir's 1959 essay, The Lolita Syndrome, which described Bardot as a "locomotive of women's history" and built upon existentialist themes to declare her the first and most liberated woman of post-war France. Interestingly this links in to my perception of Venus as a person of heightened Existential and Social Intelligence.

 Here's Venus looking very Bardot and feeling Blondie french Sunday Girl

Social intelligence is what really makes humans what they are – it defines for us what it's like to be a human being living at the centre of the conscious present, surrounded by smells and tastes and feels and the sense of being an extraordinary metaphysical entity with properties which hardly seem to belong to the physical world. Social scientist Ross Honeywill believes social intelligence is an aggregated measure of self and social awareness, evolved social beliefs and attitudes, and a capacity and appetite to manage complex social change. Chimpanzees are very clever at the level of being able to make observations and remember things. They can remember better than humans can, but they, again, are inept at handling interpersonal relationships. So something else is needed. What is needed is a theory of mind, a theory of how other people work from the inside. This is social intelligence.
This is also what makes Venus so good at her potential field of study and work - PR, Marketing and Events Management. She works with my good friend Jules Adams at her company VTS as P.A. and gets to apply the PR she learns at Curtin uni to her job. A few weeks ago she was interviewed by Colosoul for a volunteer position. She was given it immediately and thought she would be helping with some events. Her first day on the job she discovered she had been put in the Devil Wears Prada position of liasing and coordinating between the Editor-in-chief and the events managers. They report to her. 'Are you ok with that?' the boss asked. 'Oh sure!' Venus replied, whilst inside she was thinking 'Faaaarck! I don;t know what I'm doing. Obviously I must look like I do!' This is typical - people immediately warm to Venus and and innately trust that they can depend on her. She has the most astonishing work and moral ethics.The work ethic she gets from R but the moral ethics - I have absolutely no idea where she got those from, they must of skipped a generation! I can just picture the editor asking Venus if she would just make sure all projects were in a day earlier than originally requested and finishing with a Miranda Priestly 'That's all!' and Venus would actually find a way to do it to the tune of Nancy Sinatra's  These Boots Are Made For Walking.

Monday 12 December 2011

The Thought Police

R rated Do not read if you are under 18 or emotionally sensitive An incident occurred recently at our high school that made me both cringe at the Thought Police policy of our education system but also to applaud the resistance to attaining a 'clean brain' by a select few students. If you ask the majority of people in our society I doubt that they would even realise the concerted and probably for the large part unwitting attempt at the school system to give our kids a clean brain. Brain-washing is after all considered the exclusive province of religious cults isn't it? Resistance to the 'clean brain' entails actually possessing the faculties to a) think for yourself, not just regurgitate other people's opinions and b) having the courage to reveal those thoughts. If more students were actually taught to think and question rather than rote learn we might even have to do away with the antiquated grading system of A B C D.  Now I don't say this lightly because I have in my custody  children of my own who display both polar axises.  I have a brilliant A student is great at rote learning and brilliant at anything where a formula can be learnt and applied ie Maths science. These are traditionally held as markers for 'How smart is your child?'  However, I also have a child who is brilliant at actually thinking for themselves, cross-referencing, self-learning and applying life experiences (we've done a lots of travelling) and considering issues on a deeply philosophical level. Which one is considered more intelligent?
Second daughter was part of the inaugural pack to go through the International Baccalaureate programme.  She is both academic and philosophically intelligent. It will be interesting to see what the selection process will be for students wanting to do the IB programme who are either only strongly academic or who have a strong philosophical intelligence but only traditional average academic achievement.  There is a big claim by the education department which sounds like a very catchy slogan - our main aim is to teach children how to learn for themselves. Sounds good feels bad - in reality it's a thoughtless catch cry. Yes, it may sound noble that they as an institution want to help our kids to love learning and to learn for themselves but it misses the point. Teach our kids to think for themselves and you might actually speed the evolution of society out of sheep farming.
Anyways,  the polar opposite of sheep farming incident I refer to in the beginning of this blog post occurred in October when the year 12 students were doing their English QCS exams.  India (that's second daughter) had conscience voted not to sit the exam (it wasn't necessary for her IB grading) and a few days later came home all excited  because one of her fellow students, the now infamous Jeremy Owens (unfortunately he doesn't yet have a website/blog I can refer you to, but we live in hope it won't be too long) had written a 'beyond controversial' essay. He was immediately elevated along with his partner in crime, the crime being free thinking,Finn Erikson, to a God-like status and established a small cult following whose mantra is 'Hail the free-thinkers!'
Now I'm extremely glad to report, being a long standing fan, that the enigmatic free thinker Nick Cave continues to influence some of today's generation with both his lyrics and books. (At this point you should probably listen to my all time favourite song of Nick Caves -from his Birthday Party days- Deep in the Woods, best after a few glasses of red) Jeremy Owens has quite obviously been inspired as a creative lateral thinker to write outside of social convention in strongly poignant tones about an issue society would rather not be spoken about. Particularly in an English exam. His writing produced an immediate response by the school systems crack pseudo-psychology wrexperts - duty of care was cited - in order to even want to write a controversial piece something bad must have happened to you, no seventeen year old student is actually capable of thinking these thoughts independently -apparently you can't be influenced by radical free thinkers and form your own thoughts and philosophies at that age!
Anyways, I reproduce here with his permission, his seminal work. The brief was to write an essay, the theme being Gold. Please feel free to comment after you've read this post :)
Golden Child
He always said that I did excellent work. It takes a certain kind of character to be able to do the things I did, achieve the things I achieved; that’s why he loved me, that’s why. He said that he loved us all the same, that we all meant the as much to him as each other. Lies! Nothing but Lies! Of course the others are too stupid to see that he was lying to them, leading them on, I saw it though; and that’s what he wanted, it’s what he intended. He made it so obvious to me, yet, to the others, it was so subtle and unimaginable, that they would have never even dreamt that it was true. They never heard the sarcasm that laced his ‘encouraging’ words. They did seem happy though, all of the others, all of my sisters and brothers; I guess ignorance truly is bliss. Bliss. Yes, they were very much bliss – with minds as simple as theirs it’d be hard to complicate things. ​I saw everything for what it was. I was the most crafty, the most loyal and quite easily the smartest; I mean I was the only one he ever taught to read after all! Recognizing this, he would praise me endlessly each night after taking me to bed – though never in front of them, naturally. He sheltered them from my evident superiority; it didn’t work though, couldn’t work. Somewhere inside of them, amongst their vile stuffingsreboant screams hit your body with enough force to make you shake, as if it were God’s own fremitus you’re feeling. Oh yeah, just for one divine and utterly surreal second, imagine it – the thought itself makes my vagina warm and wet and quop in time with my heart, the heart he broke. ​Alas, as beautiful and charming as that thought, that fantasy, may be it is sadly not what happened. ​I always did what he wanted, always! I did things that not just anyone would do, things that not everyone wanted to do. I wanted to do them though. I wanted to do them because he wanted me to do them. His will became me, he acted through me. Sure he had my siblings, my weak and always pathetic siblings, but how could he ever depend on them? I was the only one capable of doing what he wanted. Me and him, we always had a special bond and no matter how much those others, those other wretched kin of mine, no matter how much they wanted to do his work they would never, not ever, be fit to. Intentions are one thing but actions are another. He covertly measured us, judged us and weighed us on our actions – not our intentions. ​What actions I preformed! All for him! Fortunately my actions didn’t go overlooked; he had a reward system, a tally system of sorts. It was composed of a large and, for the most part, rectangular piece of ply wood. Set up portrait style above the mantle he wrote on it my name and, in what was little more than a futile attempt at fairness, the names of all of my sisters and brothers. He then drew up vertical lines from top to bottom of the board between each of our names, so as to separate them into their own columns. Whenever one of us did something good we would get an argentine star pinned to our column; however, do something bad and you’d lose a star. Now here’s the best part: if anyone ever did anything really super special they would receive an aureate star. I was the only one who ever attained one of those really super special gold stars – until this morning. ​He had always said I was the best! Then what did that lying filthy traitor do?! Why no more than give that lascivious little demimonde Debby a God-damned golden star! That wanton thieving whore! I had always despised Debby, her overbite wasn’t nearly as noticeable as mine and her teeth had only been a little crooked. He had always assured me that our dearest Debby was of no match to me, that her figure was much too flat and that he didn’t like the way her eyes were perpetually crossed. He said that he’d rather me with my uncrossed eyes and full physique to her pyknic habitus. But look at you now you bastard! See where all your tricking led you, hmmm? And where’s your sweet and petite darling Debby now?! ​My daddy, how you loved me so. How I thought you loved me! Didn’t you always say I was the best? Every night when we went to bed, didn’t you say that I was your favourite daughter? Didn’t you say that you thought I had the tightest vagina? I’ve always loved you daddy, ever since the first time you filled my mouth with you iron hard phallus. Didn’t I make you happy? Doesn’t my vagina feel as tight as it did when I was eight, is that it? That was six and a half years ago, your priapus was sure to cause some stretching. Every time my trawling through town was successful, every time I managed to attract a boy and lead him unawares back to our shack I did it for you! He thought he was in for an easy lay, that he was about to get lucky, when all he was really doing was feeding your anthropophagolagnia, almost quite literally! ​I mean really, Debby? I could understand if you gave that stupid star to one of the boys, to either Johnny or Rudy or Darren or Gary or even to one of the invalid twins George or Tom, but not Debby! You always told me, Loretta you’re the greatest, or, Loretta you’ve a vagina like no other. I hate it when people call me Loretta, I much prefer Lotti, but I made an exception for you because I loved you! You supposedly loved me but what about your daughter, my sister, Debby? I guess she was just as good, huh? ​Well look where temptation got you: lying dead on the floor, still clasping the corpse of your precious Debby, with what’s left of a vitreous bottle sticking out of your neck. Dishonesty got you that crack in your temple and libidinousness sent those iotas of brain to the floor. Licentiousness drove the blood from your crushed nares and split skull into the glazed porcelain eyes that reside at the bottom of your umbiliform sockets. Profligacy broke all the bones of our debauched Debby. Sluttery stomped in that pretty little face of her’s and drove its heel into her mouth. Is she still your golden child?

Thursday 8 December 2011

Sense and Perception

R has this weird heightened scent perception/association thing going on where he will randomly pick up a scent in the air and he immediately say things like 'Ah, that scent, it reminds of Brisbane, the Expo in '88....' 

I think we all do that consciously or subconsciously, he just seems to be particularly acute at associating smell with memories. You can also get a powerful sense of this with music and I think this is common for a lot of people. You hear a tune and and if it happened to be playing at a particularly poignant moment in your life you're quite likely to recall the event every time you here that tune. Some music just reminds me of a certain person. For example I hear CocoRosie's werewolf (click the hyperlink to listen to it) I think of second daughter. She used it in one of her design exhibitions so it infiltrated our living space for months. It's such a part of her persona that to imagine her without this particular music inhabiting the air around her is like trying to breath without oxygen. 

So this association works for all six senses. Six? you say. Well yes, because you would have to agree that if we include intuition as a sense then this is extrapolated into the experience of  Deja vu.  Association by sense and perception works for me with visual cues. I can't glance at the spine of a G√ľnter Grass novel without thinking of my dad or if we talk about movies - I freely associate life experiences with movies. What I'm talking about here is the ambiance that a particular director creates in a movie, the personalities or actions of it's characters. It's all sense and perception.

For example in my last post How many times have you been engaged?  my life with engagement no 1. Saul Atkinson had the ambiance of the movie The Boat that Rocked with the pathos of Frida - the story of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. R would have said it smelt like the ocean with a hint of chili.


Engagement no 2. was definitely a Betty Blue, the French cult movie of alarming obsession, destructiveness, alternating in comic and tragic modes mixed with curiosity of a Marquis de Sade novel and a healthy swig of cognac. Definitely a metal and butter scent. The smell of guitar strings and freshly buttered croissants in the morning. 
Engagement no 3.was definitely  The Painted Veil heavily mixed with A Streetcar Named Desire. The smell of ordinary suppression - soap and vinyl.

Life with R? The beginning was Serendipity  to the sound of Vampire Weekend's Holiday  (click the hyperlink to listen to it), with a touch of Nina Simone's My Baby Just Cares for Me (love this clip from the fantastic movie Fritz the Cat!) drunk with the flippancy of a Limoncello on ice - a chance encounter with impossible odds of actually meeting again. 

This is followed by the rebellious immature romance and drama of the Titanic (and we have hit a few icebergs along the way) to the sound of French Horns solos from Mahler 5 (R plays French Horn). In fact whenever I wear Chanel's Allure parfum he says ' Ah, you're wearing the Titanic perfume!'

Now it's more the irrepressibly of the The Notebook to the strains of the Foals Big, Big Love, nibbling on marzipan and savouring the unsurpassable '82 Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay

Now if you've in any way touched my life for sure you'll eventually pop up in one of my blog posts and I'll have a movie and music association for you. If you can't wait however, (patience isn't always a frickin' virtue) and want to know what it is leave a comment in the comment box. 

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Surfin' Bird Shark Bait

'Well everybody's heard about the birds' the old Cramps song called Surfin' Bird reminds me of the day I could of been a Great Whites (shark) Lunch. I first moved to Margaret River back in '85. I was sick of living in the city and loved being surrounded by nature. My then boyfriend, Saul Atkinson, was a Chef, artist like his brother Shaun Atkinson, and both boys were surfers. Saul had tried to teach me to surf but I was completely un-co about the whole standing up on the board thing. Eventually I discovered Body Boarding and loved it. I had a Mach-7 triple fin board that set me back $300, webs, fins, steamer (it's cold water there) the whole works - it was serious, man. Of course all the surfers held body boarders in great derision, referring to them as 'esky-lidders' and calling out things like 'When you grow up are you going to do real surfing?' Ah, it was fun!

This is a picture of the main break at Margarets. It's perfect because on a good day it has both left and right hand breaks. We were always looking for the left hand breaks because Saul was a 'goofy-footer' being left-handed. Post Saul I continued to body board - below is a photo of one of my fiances, Michael Mattinson - a Photographer, whom I insisted learn to body board. He wasn't too happy after a few square dumpings and gave it up so I gave him up.
I then started to go out with Simon Carlin and hang out with his zany friends. One day early in our relationship the boys decided we should all go surf one of the reef breaks near Smiths Beach. 'You're up for the waves aren't you?' Simon asked me. 'Sure, no problem' I nonchalantly replied. I knew this could be a big break if the swell was up and I'd never surfed a serious reef break before but I wasn't going to act like a pussy now. I had someone to impress!
We drove down to the beach, got kitted up and paddled out. The boys all went straight for the main break and I paddled off to to smaller break at the side. Long drifts of seaweed kept grabbing my fins. I sat for a while up on my board watching the waves which were getting progressively bigger as the swell increased. I watched the boys catching a few sets and sometimes going under. Th darkness of the reef and all the seaweed was freaking me out. I had to paddle further out the back to the edge of the reef to avoid getting dumped onto the reef by the huge waves that were now rolling in. Shit! I had to get back to shore, this was definitely not for me, I didn't care about proving anything to anyone anymore I just wanted to get back to the beach without getting razored on the reef. I signalled Simon to come over and asked him to kindly show me the safest way back in.
Later that night I was having drinks with an old housemate of mine, John DiCarlo, telling him about the days adventures. Suddenly he put his glass down on the table and said 'What? You were out at that break TODAY? Don't you know they spotted a White Pointer cruising up and down the reef edge today. It was there most of the day apparently!'
I nearly fell off my chair!

Friday 2 December 2011

You've Been Engaged How Many Times?

I was playing Bauhaus Bela Lugosi's Dead  one day in the car and giving the kids the essential education on who the band and Bela Lugosi were. For those that don't know, the band chose the name Bauhaus 1919, a reference to the German Bauhaus art movement of the 1920s, because of its "stylistic implications and associations". The band also chose to use the same typeface used on the Bauhaus college building in Dessau, Germany. The Bauhaus movement was spearheaded by three of the worlds most famous architects, Gropius, Meyer and Mies van der Rohe, a design movement that was supressed by the nazi regime.
Bela Lugosi was of course the famous Hungarian silverscreen and Broadway actor who played Bram Stokers Count Dracula in1927. He was characterised by minimal makeup and his strong Hungarian accent, which is why we all walk around these days saying 'I vont to suck your blood' in a creepy Hungarian accent and paint our faces white when we pretend to be a vampire. 
Anyways, I then mentioned that the song, Bela Lugosi's Dead is played in the brilliantly underrated arthouse film Th Hunger It is the totally classy story of a love triangle between a doctor (Susan Sarandon)who specializes in sleep and aging research and a counter-culture vampire couple (Catherine Deneuve & David Bowie). That night we watched the dvd - the kids were entranced by the film. Second daughter began researching ankh jewelry with a hidden dagger like the Deneuve and Bowie wear in the movie and we spoke about macabre jewelry. 'My first engagement ring was actually a mourning ring worn in the 19th century to remember the dead' I told her (pictured below).
  'Wow, how Gothic' she said.
'How many times have you been engaged, mum?' first daughter asked with a starry eyed look in her eyes (she likes Romance novels).
'Oh, well, four basically but if you include all the times your dad's asked me to marry him seven'.
Then third daughter, ever scientifically measuring, asked 'Did you keep all the rings?'
'Of course' I replied.
'Well who were all these people you were engaged to, how come you never tell us any of your stories?' second daughter cried. (Which is actually why I started blogging - so my children could read my stories).
The first one was Saul Atkinson, or Skinny bums, as my dad called him. (See post Surfin' Bird Shark Bait)
He is a chef, surfer and artist. Everyone around him was either arty or alternative (mods, punks) and I remember the first party I ever went to at his house my eyes were like saucers at all the bizzare clothing and the weird but strangely stimulating music. I'd never been around people like this, in fact I hadn't even known they existed. It was one of those life altering moments.
Saul on the right in the hat, his brother Shaun on the far left.

 My second engagement was to Duncan Baynton, with whom I had trekked the Himalayas. He proposed with this typical Calcuttan engagement ring (above) in Calcutta one day after I'd been working for Mother Teresa. I'd known him for some years, he was the lead singer of an underground band called 'The Tarantulas' (cool name, I know) with my housemate John DiCarlo on drums, and later in 'Kansas City Killers' (see pg 7 of link) They played originals as well as some Cramps and other alternative covers.
Duncan & I on Holi Day in India

 Later on in Agra, after visiting the Taj Mahal, I think he could sense my vacillation because he reinforced his proposal with this antique ring which had supposedly belonged to an Indian Maharini. Even though he was intellectually brilliant and we were well matched, the underground scene he lived in was steeped in drugs. My survival instincts kicked in.
After this I became briefly engaged to Michael Mattinson, a Photographer working for a local newspaper. He thought I was the most interesting person he had ever met, but still managed to to ask me to take out my diamond nose ring I'd acquired in Kathmandu 'just for this first time when you meet my parents' - conservative South Africans. God knows what I was thinking! After the initial rush, excitement of first love I realised it just wouldn't work. One day shortly after I moved in with him, I was playing an LP of The Cramps ('I'm a garbageman' if I remember) on the record player really loudly so I could hear it out in the garden. Michael came tearing out of the house. 'What on earth is that god damn awful noise?' he asked with a pained look on his face. Well, I just knew it was doomed from that moment. It was the equivalent to tearing the pages out of the Bible in front of a devout Christian.  To top it all off, in a temper tantrum he threw a precious glass bowl against the wall - he was sulking because I wasn't paying him enough attention. A friend of mine who is an artisan glassblower in Margaret River, Kent LeGrande, had blown this beautiful glass bowl before he had an awful accident on his motorbike one new years eve and lost the use of one arm. He still blows quite successfully now, but it took him years of bravery and hard work to be able to adapt to his disability and continue with his passion (see link for photographs of his studio work). In fact I was absconding up to Perth on the weekends to rendezvous with a paramour I'd been seeing for quite sometime, Simon Carlin, even whilst getting engaged to Michael. Clearly something was rotten in the state of Denmark.
 I had already met Russell, before going off to India, at the Busselton nurses quarters but that's a story for another blog. He was my fourth engagement. He was the person I was meant to marry. I had finally found my life partner!
 He was also my fifth.... on the Great Wall of China...
 And my sixth... At the pyramids in Egypt....
And my seventh.... At the Space Shuttle Cape Canaveral.... (see blog post Four Weddings, No Funeral for the proposal photos)

Monday 28 November 2011

Impossible Survival

Events that happen in the lives of our children can cause us to reflect on our own experiences in a misspent youth.  Eldest daughter got her drivers licence a few years ago and happily is a very careful driver. Second daughter is in the agonising process of going for her 'P's' at the moment. Above is a picture of my first car that my dad bought for me- note the P plate in the window. It was a yellow Renault, bought from a university lecturer at the uni I was attending. My dad had a thing for European cars so it was an easy choice and the deal was negotiated in the wooden hallway of the lecturers garlic scented house. Pierre, as the car being a good French car was affectionately named, helped get me to and from Uni, an otherwise two and a half hour bus trip each way and more importantly saw me through my first nightclubbing expeditions and midnight rendezvous with boys.
In the second year of Pierre's short life I moved out of home and shared house with a girlfriend, Wendy Holland, and a gay guy (Marshall) and then an ever increasing number of stray people who needed housing. Wendy would come home with a doleful look in her eyes and say 'So-and-so just had a fight with his parents and needs somewhere to live, do you think we can squeeze him in?' In the end we had so many people in the house we even had them in our beds - I had to move out, I mean, enough is enough already! Anyways, one evening Marshall asked if he could borrow Pierre- he had a new fancy and wanted to take him out but had no car of his own. At 2am Wendy wakes me 'Dorit, quick get up, Marshall's being held down at the police station and we have to go get him out!' FFS! Down at the Perth central police station we collect one very drunk and miserable Marshall. 
'Oh Dorit!' he says to me, 'I'm sooo sorry, the bloody Pigs have impounded your car and put a yellow sticker on it.'
What the hell? A yellow sticker means something need fixing on the car and it is considered unroadworthy which I knew was not the case. 
'The bastards started picking on me just because I'm gay. They kept harassing me and slapping me until I admitted it, then they told me they were going to sticker my car' he wept. 
Of course I rang dad and the next day we went to look at the car. The entire floor and all the seats were wet where the rain had gotten in the open windows and it smelt of urine and alcohol.
 Lesson #1 learnt - don't lend your car to friends who are going out drinking! 
We sold the car and bought a sexy red, sporty Cortina that lasted approximately one year. About as long as it took for me to turn right at a traffic light intersection with the setting sun in my eyes and an approaching car that I couldn't see and promptly drove into the side off. 
Lesson #2 don't try turning at an intersection with the sun blinding you.
 This is car number three, a British racing green Rover, affectionately named Rover (original I know). My dad had a Rover that he refused to sell to me when my parents moved to Europe for a three year stint. I was so miffed I went out and bought my own Rover! The Rover was brilliant because it had a spare fuel tank that invariably came in handy on the long country runs between Perth and Margaret River, where I had moved to live. Living in Margarets with an artsy, surfing crowd it soon became obvious that the Rover was both expensive to maintain (probably why my dad hadn't wanted me to buy his) and impractical for transporting surfboards and large paintings. What do you think is the most creative way a bunch of artists can come up with for claiming the insurance money? 'Oh, we were picnicking by a lake and it accidentally rolled into the lake!'
Lesson #3 Don't ever try that trick - the insurance company kindly dried out the interior for us with their special super heater drying thingys and handed the damn thing back!
 We traded poor Rover in at a car yard. As I eyed a blue Ute the car salesman made the deadly mistake of saying 'Oh you don't want that car love, that's a blokes car, it's too heavy for a girl'. This was only a few years after Maggie Thatcher had proven that women could in fact do the things a man could so I promptly glared at the  salesman and declared that in fact it was just perfect and that was the car I wanted. The 'Beaut Blue Ute' was perfect for large paintings and surfboards, and yes in all honesty it was bit hard to steer ;p so after a sufficient amount of time had passed for me to maintain my feminist dignity we upgraded to a 4WD Pajero, perfect for surfing camping in the wilds of the south west of Western Australia.
The Pajero proved to be reliable car until one day it wasn't. I was driving up to Perth from Margaret River on a perfectly straight stretch of road doing the speed limit, 100km, when all of a sudden the Pajero starts fishtailing and the Pajero is doing cartwheels in the air. The next thing I know I'm sitting upright strapped into my seat in the middle of a paddock and my hair is dripping wet. Now sometimes on that long drive (300+ kms) I would stop off half way and swim 50 laps of the Olympic pool at Bunbury, but not on this day. A man appeared at the passenger side window.
'Oh,' he said 'You're alive! Are you ok? Here let me help you out, the farmer down the way is ringing for an ambulance. You'd better lay down on the grass and don't move'.
All I could say was 'but I haven't been swimming. Why is my hair all wet?'
It transpires that the rear axle had a hairline crack in it and chose that particular moment in time to snap. The car rolled about three times, the last time into a ditch which was luckily full of water because my head went out the window under the water before the car righted itself, hence the wet hair. The man had been driving behind me with his family and saw the whole thing. They thought no one could have survived that so he told his family to stay in the car. The farmer had also seen it. The ambulance eventually came, I was take to Harvey Hospital (read tiny out of the way) and xrays revealed nothing broken. The nurses and doctors declared it a miracle I was not only alive but unharmed. They phoned my dad and told him I'd had a 'little accident but not to worry nothing broken' so he decided he could wait til the next morning to drive down and collect me. I was really upset that he was so nonchalant about the whole thing when I nearly died! I think he got a shock too when he saw the car and found out what had actually happened - well his face went kind of white so I think so...
Lesson #4 Expect it when you least expect it.
The Pajero of course was a write-off and was replaced by a sporty gold French Feugo in which I'm glad to report no mishaps happened!

Monday 21 November 2011

Diving with Sharks

One of the aspects of diving that freaks most newbies out is dadun .... dadun ... dundundundundun - yes, that's right, JAWS! A few years ago now all six of us certified as divers and I can still remember being slightly paranoid about the sharks, particularly on that first night dive when I was positive the ferocious beasts were lurking in the darkness. Several years and many dives later we found ourselves in the Bahamas on Valetines day, which also happens to be R's birthday (R took the photo above). He wanted to go diving with the sharks. Ok, so that's fine for the two of us but was I really doing the right thing insisting our four children also come and offer themselves up as potential shark bait? 

 We had a few blood coloured cocktails and pondered the question of responsible parenting. I'm glad to say that as usual, living life in all it's experiences outweighed the cottonwool theory.
 As we reached this momentous decision the Bahaman Police band came marching down the main street of Nassau - it was a funeral march! The bishop of Nassau had died.  In Feng Shui they say that if one of your pets dies it is replacing the death of one of your family members. Well I claimed the bishop as my pet and took the poor chaps funeral as a good omen!

 To steel our courage we went off to the pirate museum  where replica pirate ships and fascinating accounts of the famous pirates like Blackbeard who had made the Bahamas their home were displayed. Henry Morgan led many successful raids including one on Panama city which earned the pirate a knighthood! One of his favourite hunting grounds was around the island of Andros where he would hang a lantern to lure unsuspecing ship onto the reef. The bluff is named in his honour - Morgans Bluff. Another pirate, William Catt is said to have buried his treasure in one of the many caverns on Cat island, named after him. Of particular interest to the feminists out there is the all female crew of The Shark Lady who would take to the sea topless.

After some time in the stocks contemplating our fate we swaggered off to meet the sharks that awaited those who had to walk the plank.

During our briefing we were warned to keep our hands tucked under our arms or into our weight belts. Once there's food floating around its easy for the sharks to mistake fingers and hands flapping around for a chunk of free meat. Meanwhile, the diver who was feeding the sharks to lure them in got totally kitted out in chain mail, which was reassuring. All I could think was if one of my children came up minus one hand I'd never forgive myself.

 This is first daughter diving down, she's a bit of an arm flapper so she was the one I was most concerned about. She was also the one who really didn't want to go and needed a push in direction of one more life experience. Thank christ she remembered to keep her hands tucked in!
                                        This is third daughter, fearless, she thinks she's superman.
                                 There were tons of lion fish (these critters are deadly poisonous!
And so many moray eels we became quite blase about them!

Finally as we sat on the bottom the chain mailed shark feeder released the bloody meat and 50 sharks made a bee line for it. As they swam in around us one of them knocked my mask with its tail. My eyes went wide as I calculated at lightning speed how to replace it without exposing my fingers. I slide my hand up my chest, pulled my mask back into place then quickly slid it back into my weight belt. The feeder swam off with the last little bit of meat to lure the sharks away and we slowly made our way back to surface amongst a few curious sharks who still lurked around us. Yay! The kids were exhilarated at having lived the diving with sharks experience AND they still had all ten fingers and toes!