Friday, May 31, 2013


The dog is in the boarding kennels. This is a source of much ambivalence - she loves the excitement of meeting old friends (there are some long stays) but the wrench of separation is getting stronger each year. Still, she's safe and well cared for.

So, I gone from this - the late afternoon sun as I leave the kennels

to this -  the late afternoon sun in Barcelona, two days later.

We flew Emirates on the A380 for the first time and the whole service is very impressive. The flight scheduling is terrific, leaving Sydney at 2130 and arriving in Barcelona at 1330 the next day (23 hours elapsed real time) with one short efficient flight change in Dubai. It is essentially one long night of eating, sleeping, reading, movies and music in a fantastic aircraft. Well timed Melatonin and the odd sleeper help too. The music selection is second to none and the movie choices vast.

I've nearly finished Iris Origo's autobiography "Images and Shadows", a perfect aeroplane read - a thoughtful recollection and reflection on a life born into privilege in New York, Long Island, Ireland, England, and especially the Florence and Tuscany of the long gone expat years of the early 20th century. War and Fascism are nigh, and her War in Val D'Orca is with me, my next read. And then there's The Leopard in my bag too.

I watched two films. The much praised Quartet was the first, which was fortuitous for if it had been the second, I doubt I would have finished it. I'm sorry to say I found it, despite fine casting and some good performances, notably Michael Gambon's, overdrawn, predictable, contrived and pretty two dimensional. Tosca's Kiss it isn't.

What reservations I had, watching it, flying through the night (still eating) were magnified even more by the second - Amour.

This extraordinary film is deeply deeply moving. It doesn't need me, nor anyone, to precis it. But you do need to see it. And keep it with you then. It is, frankly, everything Quartet isn't, although there is no comparison. It's just that I saw them together and they both purport to be about love. Only one is. Don't let anyone tell you Amour is achingly sad. It isn't. It is achingly beautiful. And while I remember - another comparison I shouldn't be making is the sound tracks. For all the Verdi this Verdi anniversary that in Quartet, with all the usual suspects, Amour has the most wonderful soundtrack I can remember. I don't mean the Schubert, no, no, lovely that it is, of course. I mean the unnervingly powerful sound of turning life's pages, of dragging feet, of the breath, and of silence. The only thing I found incredible was that it was acted. It seemed and still does seem so absolutely real.

I had embedded a trailer. It doesn't need a trailer. I've deleted it and now found this David Stratton interview with the director Michale Haneke and the actor Jean-Louis Trintignant. Watch this, if anything, although that I only saw it after seeing the film wasn't a bad thing, for me.

Monday, May 27, 2013


You may remember Judy's 60th birthday week on Lord Howe Island.

She recently had published her contribution to the series 'This Life' in the Australian (which I don't financially support and hence wasn't aware of this till yesterday). With permission, here it is:

IT is Friday the 13th and an unseasonably hot, windy day for October. The family farm has been sold and now the leftover stock and plant has to go - everything - today.
All the paraphernalia of a working farm is laid out in rows in the front paddock - from tractors, trucks and big machinery to rusty rabbit traps and piles of corrugated iron - all treasures of my brother and father, and grandfather before them, some of the items brought home from other clearing sales in other times in the expectation of coming in handy sometime.
The stockyards hold the remaining animals: shorn sheep with fat autumn lambs worth $150 in a good year will sell for $47; beautiful stud Angus cattle, knocked down for half their value.
How does one put a figure to the work of three generations? After all, we are lucky to have sold the old place. It is now the fifth year of a drought, a drought that will probably break all records.
Everything is sold - the good, the rubbish, and the genuine trophies such as the old iron water cart by John Furphy with its unique inscription, snapped up by a local antique dealer.
After the sale, as the loaded trucks and trailers drive away, I sit on the front veranda of the old homestead for the last time in close to 60 years. There are ghosts here - so much stuff happened here, as it does to us all.
Among those ghosts I see a little girl with her beloved grandmother telling her stories, singing songs and reciting favourite poems; several years later, I see the same little girl leaving for boarding school, 10 long steps to the car, last hug from Nana, last look back. That little girl is me and I never see my nana again - she dies suddenly three weeks later. I am 12.
I see the spotlight still rigged up near the gutter for my dad to shoot foxes. There were always foxes; especially when my sisters and I came home at night in cars with boyfriends. The sight of my dad in his PJs on the veranda with a rifle worked every time.
I hear the heavy drumming of rain on the iron roof at night - the best sound in the world - snuggled up safe and warm in bed, and my parents are young again and bright with hope.
We, who are already ghosts of our past, gather around on this veranda. My strong, lovely, funny brother only 38, with a new little daughter and so much still to do and to live for then, is here too. He has pancreatic cancer and he is dying. We sit with him as he leaves us forever, and let him go.
A true farmer to the end, his last words are: "Dad, go and shoot that bloody useless sheepdog - the mongrel's not going to outlive me!"
Our small world, with all its hopes and plans, fractures then.
There is a swallow's nest above the front door with three fat, baby swallows craning over the rim. They look ready to fly, with the parent birds perched on a nearby fence keeping watch. I hope the new owners don't knock all the nests down, but I think the babies will be gone by then. Every year they come back to this veranda, from thousands of kilometres away in another land, to build their nests and send the little ones off on their own journeys.
I think about home, the smell and feel of it, the deep knowing when you are there. I drive down the hill and away.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


For over a month now I've been struggling to find time to make note of one of my simplest pleasures - the southern / autumn equinox. How strange it seems as I read about the prolonged northern winter and its stuttering spring that down here the season I enjoy most is that of the transition away from the high sun.

Summers here are bimodal. For all the fun of hot days and warm languid evenings, of swimming and the smell of salt and the sea, of on-shore breezes and wild thunderstorms, these are the holiday summers of the city. In the bush, the focus is elsewhere. The sun sits high, its heat is harsh and burning. The dry sclerophyllic forest continually drops leaves, crisp and dry and almost smelling of ignition. Bush fires are on everyone's mind. Water is precious and you wait, and wait, for rain.

And there's snakes about. They're more frightened of me than I used to suspect and will be off in a flash unless cornered. But I do worry about the dog although she's a sensible bush girl, alert and cautious. Nonetheless, there is some unspoken relief in not having to watch every footstep as the weather cools and they slow down and slumber.

So, come the lowering sun, a calmness settles on the country. The overlong glaringly bright days shift into a lovely balance of light and dark; the rhythms of life are gentler. Tensions ease. Day by day I watch the shifting of the sunrise from south south-east to due east. The first rays soften, playing horizontal light across the grass till they find the house. The sun now becomes a blessing.