Thursday, February 21, 2013

let it rain

The parents meeting is postponed tonight. D’s choir is cancelled too. We rejoice.
We were looking forward to these activities but suddenly we are liberated, free to stay home, linger over dinner of chicken curry, snuggle up inside reading a book while the rain pelts down on the roof. 

We are hoping to get properly flooded in again like we were a few weeks back, when the first day of the school year was cancelled due to the weather.

The terror of catastrophic climate change notwithstanding...I love it that every now and then good old Mother Nature puts us back in our place and  says “ Well guys, you are  staying home today”

Last time, we put on our rain gear and headed out into the tempest. D and I wore  raincoats and gum boots and were soon completely drenched. Felix more sensibly put on his swimmers and ended up wading into town through the metre deep lake across our road. Someone else was kayaking where normally cars and buses go. And of course there was virtually no traffic on this end of the flood-blocked road, so you could take a peaceful stroll along the damp tarmac, instead of belting across it, burning petrol. 

Friday, February 15, 2013


( early January, post-festival)

that's what they're calling the festival now, like it's a town in it' s own right. Which it is, albeit a pop-up town. It’s a bustling city of canvas and plastic, a fantasy village where musicians and jugglers and dancers perform in dozens of venues every night of the week, and strange and magical folk - gremlins, giants, clowns -  can be seen in the streets around dusk, when the golden lanterns light up and the food stalls ( everything from Yum Cha to Jamaican) take on their evening glow. There are sideshows and art galleries; There are talks on pregnancy, preventative medicine, politics and permaculture; workshops on weaving, mask-making, poetry, pottery. It's really dozens of festivals all running simultaneously - an extraordinary cultural celebration.

This year's Woodford Festival experience was one of heat, dust, crowds and exhaustion. For me it is a bit like being in India and I spend half my  time hating it: I long for cool clean silence and my own bathroom. An hour later I'm moved to tears by the beauty/sacredness/humour of the experience. The good heartedness of so many people. The fun of dancing to Brazilian music at breakfast time with some friends you just ran into in a cafe, and that amazing little girl who gets up and sings with the musicians, while her Mum cooks our eggs.

Or the young man who plays fiddle like an angel, plays songs written by his father, his grandfather, six generations of fiddle players from a tiny snow-swept island. Which you enjoy in the company of an old friend who you haven't seen for ages who happens to be sitting next to you. 

Or the woman - you've never heard of her who sings 'Woodstock" at a late night venue, with such intensity, you feel you never heard the song before. We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden. 

Or the quiet moment on the Hilltop, above the pulsing night lights of the festival village, with three friends, watching the full moon over the Glass House Mountains

There is an overwhelming smorgasbord of stuff on offer, and many clashing program dilemmas: Will I go to the tango class, or to hear the talk on shamanism? To the ukulele workshop or to check out Malcolm Turnbull? John Butler Trio or Archie Roach? Fire Event Choir first thing in the morning, or to the indigenous culture-sharing? Or to yoga? Or just lay low back at the camp and sleep in because I'm exhausted, and there are still days of all this ahead. Not that sleep is possible what with the heat in the tent and all the dust blowing in. It's exhausting alright. 

And fabulous - no matter how much you miss, there is plenty you don't. Like Shane Howard - is he going to feel like a faded old rocker? Not at all. Solid Rock, Standing on Sacred Ground, Living on Borrowed Time - hundreds of us throw ourselves onto the dusty dance floor in the huge sweaty circus tent and sing along, nothing outdated about man  or song.  

He has several indigenous musicians on stage with him. He thanks the Jinibara people for welcoming us to the land, then goes on to name the tribes of the back-up singers, the didge player and others. I guess it's the simple power of naming and acknowledging identity that brings tears to so many eyes. we are reminded for a moment of what feels important to us. 

Then there is Archie Roach, presented at the ampitheatre to a huge audience, with a cast of thousands on stage supporting him, a tangible feeling of love and respect. I'm not even that crazy about Archie’s style of music, but I was in tears for most of the concert, as were half the audience. Just something about the utter authenticity of the man himself, who has suffered so much, yet emanates love, like a rock. 

Though I couldn't but feel a touch nostalgic for the good old days when it was just him and his guitar and his beloved Ruby Hunter, playing in the old Murri Tent of long ago Woodfords.

It has been a challenge for me to 'let go' of what Woodford, (and it's genesis, Maleny )Festival used to be. It was our local festival in South East Queensland. Smaller, more ‘folky’, not as commercial and mainstream, not as loud. More hay bales, fewer plastic chairs. More jamming in the campground, more nudity, less security personnel. And absolutely no chance of Julia Gillard turning up, as she did on a surprise visit this year(keeping up with Malcolm?). 

In those long ago pre-parenting days D and I worked on fire events, performed in street bands and local choirs. Now we love being carefree punters. And try to welcome the changes. There are a lot of young people here. Including F and his friends , for whom it is the euphoric  high point of the year because they are free to roam with their friends. 

It's a tribal gathering for us Woodford. We see scores of people we know, from the homebirth midwife to the guy who taught us percussion to F's old kindergarten teacher. The parents of F's school friends, and the occasional long lost acquaintance from a former life. People whose kids we've seen grow up, and the kids themselves, now waiting on tables or even performing. It's a warm feeling of belonging. 

And - once the rather harrowing land-grab for the best spots in the camp ground is over on day one - people are, well, just a lot more friendly than out in the real world. There are many nice casual exchanges, even a few deep conversations with complete strangers. 

One night we have a drink at Bills Bar -  such an artfully decorated marquee that I keep forgetting I'm not at some sophisticated hotel in the city. We chat with an old Maleny friend Anna, who has been with the QFF for years. As site manager she has a meeting each day with the police – we’ve seen quite a few strolling the dusty streets in their blue uniforms. 

They are just having a great time, Anna says. Because there is virtually nothing for them to do. We’ve had a couple of kids trying to get in over the fence and one person with an ounce of marijuana. That’s it.

It wasn’t till she mentioned this that I realized just quite how remarkable it is that such an enormous crowd could be so peaceful and harmonious. No drunkenness, no violence, no incidents. Amazingly I didn’t even see anyone being rude! A glimpse of how the World could be.  

Imagine, says D if the outside world disappeared and we had to live here forever. It wouldn’t be too bad. Though of course we’d have to produce food – Still there’s such a concentration of skilled people here – I reckon we’d put together a pretty good little society…

Yep, nice fantasy. Meantime, by day seven we are so tired, so dusty and dirty, we can’t wait to get home and sift through the memories at leisure. 

Waiting for sunrise on the hilltop - January 1, 2013

reminder: We all suffer

October 19th 2012

The urge to write...I miss blogging.

Especially about the small things. Like that bloke I see in the gym, and feel slightly hostile towards. He always uses the rowing machine for ages and ages, till the sweat is flying off him.  I send him unfriendly, impatient vibes from across the room, pedaling or lifting while I wait. Hurry up.  He’s one of those familiar faces in our little town: don’t know his name, have never spoken to him, imagine we wouldn’t much like eachother. 

Yesterday I was in a cafe flicking through the local paper while waiting to meet a friend, and I noticed this man a couple of tables away, sitting with a woman. A few minutes later I heard sobbing and looked up to see him with his head in his hands, shoulders shuddering, the woman apparently comforting him.

I’ll probably never know why and it doesn’t matter - the end of a relationship, a death, a medical prognosis, a heartbreak about a child?

I felt such a rush of sympathy for that man, in that moment. Felt my heart open. Remembered that we all suffer. I sort of wanted to thank him, but of course I quickly looked away, not wanting him to be embarrassed that I’d seen him so exposed and vulnerable.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

heaven is old friends

( from August 2012)

Heaven is old friends

My cup is full: Four perfect sunny winter days in a row, spent at our local Byron Bay writers Fest, then on a long walk by the sea. All this with three of my oldest women friends, visiting  from Victoria. 

Deb and I calculated that it was almost forty years ago we met at a party in first year university, a very posh party with marquees set up on a tennis court and a Rolls Royce in an air conditioned garage. We two were the only barefooted hippy girls among the preppy bottle blondes. Neither of us can remember the names or faces of our dates. No idea whose party it was.

I met Laura not long after this, also through university, at a Women's Lib Consciousness Raising Group. Seems so quaint now, felt so bold at the time. We sat around in a circle each week earnestly discussing ...what? I can’t remember. I think we read Germaine Greer and Kate Millet. Nowadays she's  Dr Laura, professor of anthropology.

My father, already dead by the era of our CR group, used to say that it was nice for a woman to be intelligent - but a smart girl should always pretend to be just a bit dumber than she really was, and never quite as smart as the man she was with. Naturally, this caused eighteen year old me to embrace feminism.

The three of us - Deb, Laura and I - travelled through Asia for several months over the uni summer break of 1976. Not entirely harmoniously. In fact half way through our drug-addled trip we all went in different directions. Laura was cross with me for not being a good enough feminist: I was still shaving my legs and eyeing off boys. Debbie was in a bit of a dream and barely able to see because she’d broken her glasses almost as soon as we got off the plane in Denpasar. I was irritable with her for trailing along while we did the hard slog with maps and train timetables and ‘South East Asia On A Shoestring’

Thirty five years later it’s all fodder for much hilarity as we recall getting way too stoned one night in Sumatra, and the perilously overloaded boat to the island, and how the local kids running our bamboo-hut accommodation brazenly stole our dope and our thongs and our clothes off the washing line. We gave them stern lectures (‘Stealing is wrong’ etc.)  Unrepentant, they continued to wear our thongs and tee shirts. 

We wallow in nostalgia. ‘I was terribly unhappy then’, reflects L. Her parents had just divorced and the girls she was sharing a house with, she tells me, were all into self harming, cutting themselves. All these years later, I am still shocked. Those nice brainy  young women, who I was rather in awe of.

Minutes later we are back in the now, sitting in the winter sunshine between writers fest sessions, showing eachother photos on our iPhones, of children and grandchildren and agreeing that Alex Miller is a bit of a bore and Michael Kirby is adorable. 

Marriages have been and gone, hearts broken and healed, children grown, careers had, or not. So much that once felt so burning, so intense, so painful is now just an another story about the past. The abusive husband ( “God, he hated you two. Can I thank you right now for being there for me?”), the depressed and and obsessive husband, the unfaithful lover ( "Oh alright, I was just as bad as him,  young and silly" ). All water under the bridge.

Janet and I I met a year or two later than the other two. We were at teachers’ college together, training in media studies - film and photography. We both had affairs with our lecturers. She married hers, but it didn’t work out long term and the night she finally left him she turned up on my doorstep with a suitcase. 

Ten years later our roles were reversed - I was devastated after my big relationship bust up and she offered me refuge. Both times we ended up  finding ourselves rather domestically compatible, chatting and laughing over the washing up.

In all these friendships there have been fractures, interruptions at times for several years. Because I just couldn’t stand the bloke she was with, or how many drugs she was taking, or how self-important she’s gotten. But all that is just dusty old history now too. 

Over dinner we all say ‘Should I?’ before indulging in one glass of wine. We congratulate eachother on how great we look  in our late fifties. We are happy for eachother, things have turned out well in many ways. We are all with well-loved men, have nice children.

How extraordinarily familiar these dear women are to me. How intimately I know them. Their body language, the way Deb shrugs her shoulders, and Laura tilts her chin and Janet waves her hand around. As well as their youthful foolishnesses, I know their handwriting and their laughter and the shapes of their bodies, as they know mine.

We give eachother back fragments of memories: They knew my Mother, who’s been dead twenty years now. Laura reminds me of the day we three bought our tickets for that trip, how my  mother cracked a bottle of champagne with us in the courtyard of her art gallery down in Johnston street. Her generosity, and the way she treated us as adults. Yes. 

Janet drove me to the airport before dawn, when I got the call that Mum was dieing. 

Sitting up on at the lookout on a perfect Byron Bay day, watching the whales cavorting in delicious blue-ness, Laura ( always known for her directness) says “I suppose we will be at eachothers funerals one day” We all tut-tut and say she is morbid. But really, what I hear her saying is, “ Isn’t it great to share the journey of life with old companions?”

blog again 

Back at the blog...after a year of study, several months of holiday, then major internet frustrations i.e. we didn’t have any for ages after electrical storms etc .

I’m thinking I might start a new blog. I’ve never liked the name of this one. The word acidopholous is not pleasing. I suppose people with digestive tract issues are always accidentally stumbling in here in google-search of probiotics. 

And I don’t want to keep reinforcing the story that every morning I start off with good healthy intentions, and every day I end up succumbing to naughty, yummy, addictive bad-for-me chocolate...

A not entirely untrue story, but not necessarily not a version of things that I want to be constantly reminded about.

Anyway, for now, here I am again with a backlog of stuff ‘scribbled down’ into the laptop last year, and over summer.

June 2012

I’m missing blogging. I miss my gentle musings on things. In the last few days: the abundance of citrus -oranges, lemons, mandarines. Our trees and everyone else’s glowing with warm colours. We try to give them away, press them onto friends and visitors. There is a basket full by the front door, a note Please Take Some.

Or the Woolfie experience. Our neighbours cat, staying with us for two weeks while they’re away. We who object to all cats on principle, but have fallen for this cuddly amethyst-eyed princeling.

The little bird  that flew into the window on Saturday, then died in my hand - fluffed up all her feathers, then expired. 

All these things I long to turn over and contemplate for a few minutes more. But it’s already nearly 11 p.m. and I have an early start tomorrow, and an assignment to finish for class presentation on the work of Fiona Hall, and also a 3D work of my own due in next week for assessment, plus updating the art journal. I’ve gotta go to bed.

Fiona Hall

Up on the roof
august 2012

A few weeks ago F said he didn’t like bringing his friends home because I was such a  fascist, not allowing them to watch DVDs or play on the computer during the day. Like why couldn’t I just chill, like other kids’ parent?  I shrugged, gave my usual “I don’t care what other people do” speech. And felt pretty hurt. 

F spends a lot of weekend time over at his mates’. At E’s place they can ride their bikes along the river and shoot E’s bows and arrows in the paperbark swamp. Or at G’s there is the big garden, plenty of room to kick the soccer ball, and the tall climb-able pine tree; and of course unlimited access to G’s ipad and ipod touch.  Naturally the food at other peoples places is better too.


Despite all the above, he asked if two friends could stay over for the weekend. Of course I said yes. They had a school project to work on, the making of a ‘trebouche’, a sort of catapult. Smart science teacher had snared the interest of three teenage boys who would normally avoid any sort of homework like the plague, if possible. 

But give them a chance to play with projectiles ( blowing stuff up has also been popular) and they are in. The three of them mucked around with their prototype out in the garden, with golf balls and tape measures and string and rocks to stop it all falling over. D got in on the act too, with his electric drill and adult blokey expertise.  I spied on them all from the kitchen window, clustered around their contraption, their heads bent in concentration, bright in the spring sunshine. How wholesome and sweet. 

Later, a soccer ball got kicked onto the roof. Soon all three of them were up the ladder and hanging out on the roof. Calling down ‘It’s really cool up here’ They stayed on the roof for ages. Came down briefly for food;  and to gather some of F’s old toy cars, which have been gathering dust for a year or two now. They’d devised a game involving rolling the cars down the roof slope, racing eachother. Late afternoon they rode their bikes into town and down to the water hole and swung off the rope into freezing water - this exploit recorded on F’s camera, was shown to us later. 

I made them a risotto for dinner, then asked them to wash the dishes, which they did surprisingly efficiently, after only minimal protest. After dinner I played cards (Ligretto) with them, and later on they wandered into my office/music room and we played the marimbas together. Then they all went to bed in F’s room. Listened to their music for a while, went to sleep. 

Not a single whinge all day, not a single request to watch a DVD, not a single scowl. A bloody miracle. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas letter


after the rain

December 8th  2012

Dear friends

Please forgive me for not sending something more personal. You know the story: life is so busy, time is so short etc. I’d always imagined that as I got older my life would become leisurely and peaceful and spacious - but it feels like the reverse. 

This year has been especially intense - and also especially wonderful - because I have been a fulltime student doing ‘Visual Arts and Contemporary Crafts’. A one-year beginners’ course at the local Community College in Mullumbimby. 

Monday mornings during school term I’ve been up at dawn with the kookaburras ( sometimes make it to gym for an hour, sometimes not). I make my school lunch, make Felix’s school lunch, hurry him out of bed and through the obstacle race of shower, saxophone practice, breakfast deposit him at the school bus stop in town at 8.30 - Then - what joy! - I’m off to the Laneway Art Studio, and a day of learning and art-making. 

There were fifteen of us in the group this year, ranging from 18 year old Goth to mid-sixties retired advertising exec, a diverse but supportive group, united by gratitude and enthusiasm.  It’s a foundation year, so has been a pretty wild ride through everything from fabrics and plant-dying to ceramics, printmaking, painting, life drawing etc. 

It’s been humbling and at times frustrating being a beginner.  ( Why did I let my art go for 40 years after leaving school?)  Still, it’s incredibly satisfying to pick up that thread again. I hope painting drawing and printmaking will be part of life from now on.

Last night we had our big end-of-year student exhibition and party, with quite a bit of wine consumed and some of us dancing outside by the Laneway Studio at dusk to the gypsy/harp/kora music provided by a local musician...

(framed painting and lino print are my work)

Denis was our bartender

The night before that there was another completion: a huge celebration at Cape Byron Steiner school - Felix and all his year 8 classmates (14 year olds) presented their year-long individual projects. One of the girls made a film of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet - starring Felix as a rather reluctant Romeo - he did a pretty good job of it I thought. 

His own project - once he started on it , after about six months of procrastination, and six months of nagging from me  - was three large panels of artwork. Well he only finished two of them but they were well-recieved.
Each of the kids had to get up and make a speech about their project/ process in front of a couple of hundred people in the school hall. Huge collective sigh of relief when the whole bloody thing was over!
It was definitely a sort of rites of passage, a marker of their growing up. ‘Developing the Will’, in Steiner-speak.
school ensemble performance

Denis and Felix did a different ‘rites of passage’ in September, when they went off on the 
‘Manhood’ camp, with  a mob of other boys and men. We women were also part of the whole thing - farewelling them on departure day, welcoming them back on their return with feasting and celebration.

I of course had my antenna out for anything phoney-new age-y about the process - But it  felt like the real deal: They all, young and old, came back from their Secret Men’s Business changed  in good ways - hearts open, communicative, articulate, appreciative,  taking more responsibility. Very beautiful -  Though its starting to wear off a bit now...

We mothers got to sit around in a circle and reflect on our relationship with our sons, and also to do some ‘letting go’ as they move into young manhood. Reminded me how much I love sitting in circles - that’s probably the only thing I miss since relinquishing my half-hearted career as a Gestalt therapist. So I reckon I’ll start up a little women's circle next year - And get back to the blog . There are lots of things on the list for next year, after pushing so much aside to do art his year.

Well there is only one more big event to get through pre- Christmas - the ‘Gala Concert’ at school next week - I’ve volunteered to make curry and serve at interval. We’re fundraising for school orchestra, to send them on a tour in New Zealand next year. 
As it happens Den Felix and I, plus our fifteen-year old friend Thea are also  off to New Zealand in a week for some walking, silence and clean mountain air. Happily we don’t know a single person in NZ.  After that, Woodford Music Fest for...the opposite sort of experience.

Of course that’s if the world doesn’t end on December 21st as predicted supposedly by the Mayan calender. Mullumbimby is the sort of town where such ideas enjoy a lot of currency - though always with a positive spin - opportunity for spiritual growth, step up to the ‘next level’ etc. Gotta say I love this little town - we have finally found our community here. 

Denis and I are both in choirs. His - ‘Spiritsong’ -  is serious classical stuff; Mine is ‘Raise The Roof Gospel  community choir’ - we performed a couple of weeks ago in the park at the Mullumbimby Music Festival ( great event). Whereas Spiritsong’s gigs are in cathedrals, accompanied by organ music.

(Raise The Roof - I’m in red, obscured by Jess’s arm)
Denis is as happy as can be with his rainforest regeneration work - loves being outside all day, swapping Latin  plant names  with his workmates.

Then there is the Kitchen Table Writers’ group - started and facilitated by me, and now with a life of its own - we’ve been meeting around my table for a couple of years, sharing our stories and getting  bonded - last week on full moon night  we put on our first ‘soiree’ - invited our friends to come and hear us read some of our stuff.

Am I sounding just  too smug? Like, My God, our lives are so wonderful!  And I haven’t even started on the gorgeous Friday morning farmers’ market, or the marimba group, or the fun with ukuleles...Weekends and school holidays at Sunshine Beach.

Yes, we are blessed -  it is a good moment for this little family - and precious. Because you never know what’s next and things can change in an instant. Some of the people around us have experienced  terrible suffering this year. Illness, death, addiction, many sobering reminders that life is a scary and  unpredictable business. 

So...2012 for us has been a year of 'Making Hay While The Sun Shines'!

Much love to you - I hope your year has been a good one...blessings...happy new year...
And who knows, maybe next year I’ll get the hand-printed linocut christmas cards together.

xxx Jane  
and Denis and Felix 




more art by me

Monday, January 23, 2012



Our ten days in New Zealand before Christmas was just as I hoped it would be: lots of exercise, fresh air, silence, clean water, beautiful landscape. VERY beautiful landscape. Why  have I never thought of going there before? 

Often our family holidays are spent in a social whirl with old friends in Victoria or with housefulls of visitors on the Sunshine Coast. So it was a lovely  change to go to a country where we didn’t know a single person. Lovely to spend time just the three of us. We were pretty harmonious. Although it was a little boring for F at times, being stuck with his parents. Hopefully  in twenty or thirty years it will be a beautiful memory for him too...

Bike track along the old Central Otago railway line

Heading out from Queenstown along Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy and the start of the Routeburn Track

Route Burn: the most amazing water

Routeburn. I had a dip in this freezing water after a sweaty walk up the mountain.

Big treat - the helicopter ride - incredibly fabulous endless vistas of  wild beauty 

We touched down at this lake perched in the mountains, got out of the chopper and ran around like excited children in the snow

We were dropped at this  hut - on the Kepler Track - and walked back down the hill to catch a boat across the lake back to Te Anu