March Reading Update

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March has come and gone and I cannot believe that it is April already. Where has the time gone? March turned out to be a very busy month. Since late February I have been back into the study mode and that puts a big dent in my reading progress. This semester I am studying Ethics and Australian History, so there is a fair bit of heavy reading.

Last time I talked about how I like to read different types of books at different times of the day. I study during the day while Dan is at Yellow Bridge. It’s a bit hard to study when he is around – he gets rather vocal and it’s difficult to concentrate. So during the day, when I feel fresher and more alert (supposedly!) I have been reading about Utilitarianism, Deontology, Consequentialism, Human Rights, Indigenous History and the Frontier wars. Yeah, some really big words there! By the time evening comes around I’m feeling rather brain dead. I’m looking for some fun, laughter and escapism. Hence, there’s been a lot of Rick Riordan this month.

I knew this would happen once study rolled around again but that’s the rhythm of life. Reading for fun, like other things, has to fit around the ebb and flow of life. Luckily semester break is just around the corner so April may look a little better. But here’s what I managed to read during March…

  • The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
  • Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan
  • The House of Hades by Rick Riordan
  • The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan
  • Elizabeth Costello by JM Coetzee
  • The Secret War: A true history of Queensland’s Native Police by Jonathan Richards

The Secret War is a non-fiction book I read for an Australian History tutorial presentation. It’s about the Frontier Wars in Queensland and particularly the role that the Queensland Native Police had in the dispossession of Aboriginal people.

“In Queensland, the Native Police played a major role in the dispossession of Aboriginal people from their land, the almost complete destruction of Aboriginal law, and the disintegration of Aboriginal families.” (Richards, 2008, p. 5)

I thought it was an excellent read. It is certainly a shocking and shameful part of Australia’s history. It’s uncomfortable facing the dark side of our human nature. Our capacity for cruelty, violence and inhumanity often seem to know no bounds. But we are also capable of so much more – honesty, compassion, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. True reconciliation requires us to acknowledge the past so that we can create a better future – a future that is based on equity, understanding, inclusion and belonging.  

Book Bingo for March

I only ticked off one book for this month – oh well. January and February were pretty good months so I guess it’s okay to have a slow month now and then.

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Book with a Red Cover: The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

Hopefully it won’t be another whole month before I see you here again. In the mean time…

Happy Reading

 

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Book Review: Where the Trees Were by Inga Simpson

 

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Last year as part of my studies, I completed a creative writing unit called Writing About Place. We conducted roving workshops in the natural and urban environment, explored personal essays and short stories about the importance of place and were required to select two texts to review, as well as write our own fiction and non-fiction pieces. When choosing a nature book to review, Inga Simpson’s book, Where the Trees Were (2016), immediately came to mind. Inga Simpson is an Australian writer known for her love of nature.

 

First of all, the blurb…

Finding a grove of carved trees forged a bond between Jay and her four childhood friends and opened their eyes to a wider world. But their attempt to protect the grove ends in disaster, and that one day on the river changes their lives forever.

Seventeen years later, Jay finally has her chance to make amends. But at what cost? Not every wrong can be put right, but sometimes looking the other way is no longer an option.

 and now the review…

In the summer holidays of 1987, Jay and her friends spend their days on the river, swimming, climbing trees and catching yabbies. When they discover a grove of carved trees, they immediately sense the need for secrecy and swear an oath to protect the trees. Inga Simpson’s Where the Trees Were follows Jay and her friends as they negotiate adolescence, relationships and high school, while trying to keep their promise to each other and the trees. However, two incidents occur that will test their friendship and change their lives forever.

Moving back and forth in time, from Jay’s childhood home in the Lachlan Valley to Canberra 2004, where she works as a conservator at the National Museum, the story pulls together the themes of identity, Indigenous Land Rights, conservation and the consequences of secrets. Simpson deftly negotiates the shifts in time and place by alternating the narration between first and third person, while still maintaining Jay’s point of view.

Where the Trees Were is Simpson’s third book and was shortlisted for an Indie Book Award, as well as being longlisted for the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Australian Book Industry Awards, and the Green Carnation Prize. Simpson has also been a winner of the Eric Rolls Nature Essay Prize. She describes Where the Trees Were as “a deeply personal story” and her passion for nature is evident throughout the book. Nature is everywhere. It is not just in Jay’s observations of the stringy barks and red gums that line the river, or the dragonflies, cockatoos and platypus, but the way the river and the trees speak to her. Even in Canberra, Jay is constantly aware of the plane trees and currawongs, the crimson rosellas and the fresh snow on the Brindabellas. Simpson brings an attention to the detail of nature that enlivens the senses. 

However, Where the Trees Were does more than just draw the reader’s attention to the nature that surrounds them. While Jay carts grain before heading off to university, she notes, “That harvest was theirs; they were part of it, almost part of the land itself.” Food, and the harvesting of food from nature, is everywhere, from the simple roast pork and vegetables, to the fancy dishes of the Canberra cafés, from gathering blackberries and apples along the river, to drinking a nice red from the local winery. Simpson gently underscores the relationship we have with nature, no matter how urbane our lives might be, and our responsibility for its protection.    

Where the Trees Were is a beautifully told story that evokes memories of a more carefree time, when children could wander and explore from dawn to dusk, discover the secrets of the natural world, climb trees and camp out under the stars. It calls us away from our screens, to see and hear and reconnect with nature and each other. 

Reconnecting with Nature

As I read Where the Trees Were, I was inspired by Inga to recapture some of that connection we have with nature. Living in a regional city, it is easy to forget that the food from the supermarket, packaged and labelled in plastic, once started life as a living, growing plant. I wanted to reconnect with nature by growing and harvesting food from our garden, to feel it’s freshness as we prepare it in our own kitchen, and taste the textures and flavours straight from our plate.

We only have a small courtyard, but we have started growing a few vegetables and herbs in pots. We’ve planted spring onions, leeks, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicums, lettuce and a wide range of herbs. It is quite surprising how much you can grow in a small courtyard when you put your mind to it. We’ve even got some climbing snow peas.

There were a few stops and starts, like remembering that plants need water too, but finally we achieved our goal – a garden salad where everything came from our garden. It was actually pretty exciting. I’m having to wait now for the next handful of cherry tomatoes to ripen, but it feels good to add a little something from the garden, even if it’s only some fresh herbs. 

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I love the way a book can have a direct impact on your life. It is one of the things that I think is so important about literature. It can take us physical places like the Lachlan Valley or Canberra, but it can also take us to places in our mind, where we can reflect on the one question that sits at the heart of our being: what does it mean to be human? As we read, we discover a little more about ourselves, our relationship with the world and with each other. Where the Trees Were invites us to leave the office once in a while and reconnect with nature. It may even rekindle some childhood memories of your own.

Happy Reading

Inga Simpson (2016), Where the Trees Were, Hachette.

 

 

 

 

 

Big Red Bash #7: Signs for the Times

I know. It’s been a long time between drinks. I had intended for this post to be out some time ago. Then life happened. A bunch of assignments, a sudden death in the family, a sick kid…

But here we are finally at the end of our outback adventure and as I promised last time, this final instalment is about a special project I had going during our trip. Travelling through the Australian outback necessitates long stretches of driving. Sometimes the scenery doesn’t change all that much. Occasionally we spot some livestock or pass another vehicle. We also have to keep a look out for kangaroos who decide the grass is greener on the other side of the highway. But there is one thing that often catches our attention – town signs.

Not so long ago, the town signs around Australia were pretty standard – a simple white sign with black lettering. But this is not the case any more. I have noticed a  change in recent years to utilise a wide variety of designs which reflect something about the town’s location, industry or history. I think it’s a good idea. Not only are there some really interesting and beautiful designs, but the signs give little clues to the history that might be discovered and inspire travellers to stop a while to explore.

As we set off on our trip, I thought it would be interesting to get a photo of every town sign on our route, after all it might be quite a while before we were back that way. I managed to do this for almost all of the towns we passed through, stopped for a cuppa or stayed for a while. Here are some of the interesting things we noticed on route or have discovered since coming home.

 

Australian towns have some very interesting names and sometimes you wonder where they came from. Towns like Cunnamulla, Thargomindah and Wallumbilla are believed to originate from the indigenous names for the area. Others, like Condamine, Mitchell and Roma are named after Colonial figures and explorers.

 

It became quite apparent that towns within the same shire often shared similar designs, shapes and backgrounds, yet included a feature specific to their own area. I really liked the signs for Bollon and St George, which I thought were not only beautifully designed but also quite original.

 

I also liked some of the signs in the Maranoa shire which had a very pretty purple, pink and red sunset background with a striking black silhouette.

 

Four of the towns on our route – Condamine, Cunnamulla, Birdsville and Wallumbilla – are all featured in the Australian version of the song “I’ve Been Everywhere”. Even Toowoomba gets a mention too.

 

As rural towns decline and the population migrates to the big cities or the coast, tourism becomes an essential industry throughout the interior. Much as we always say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or a town by its sign – the truth is that we do. So anything that might encourage people to stop for a while in towns they would usually drive straight through, is a really great tourism initiative. The signs remind us that every town is unique, and despite the dwindling population, that these little places have been home to many people over the years and have their own place in our history.

Big Red Bash #5: Lining Up in Birdsville

Birdsville Hotel – Version 2So far, on our Big Red Bash adventure, we have followed The Adventure Way, been sobered by the tragic tale of Burke and Wills and the Dig Tree, and been quietly impressed by the revival of the Betoota Pub. After four days of travelling the outback roads of Queensland, we rolled into Birdsville – two days ahead of schedule! This turned out to be a good thing.

As we drove in past the town sign, we couldn’t help but see 4WDs and caravans pulled up and camped – everywhere! Birdsville is a small outback town – a very small outback town. The population only numbers a little over 100. Except for two events in the year, when it explodes to about … 7,000 (+/-). The Big Red Bash is the first event and the Birdsville Races, held in September, is the second.

With such an influx of visitors the town’s resources are stretched to the max and beyond. You quickly get used to lining up – for fuel, for bread, for pies and just about everything else. When we arrived in Birdsville on Friday, we had very little trouble fuelling up and booking into the Caravan Park. But by Sunday afternoon – it was a different story. The line of incoming vehicles stretched out along the main road, out past the bridge and out of sight. This was the line up for the fuel station. Only thing was – the town had run out of fuel. People just had to wait in the line for the fuel tanker. I think the whole town heard the cheer go up when it finally arrived.

Fuel Line Up – Version 2

As the Big Red Bash only started on Tuesday afternoon, we had a few days to explore Birdsville and socialise with the other Bashers camped in the Caravan Park. One of the good things about a town as small as Birdsville is that you can walk everywhere. In fact, with so many vehicles everywhere, it was probably quicker to walk anyway.

The Bash organisers had set up a registration and merchandise centre in the middle of town. So on Saturday morning we strolled down and joined the line to register, get our wrist bands and entry sticker for the car. Then we lined up to get some merchandise. After coming all this way, we wanted some proof of our adventure, and who knows if we would get the chance to come again. I was impressed at how well it was organised. A display area had been set up where you could look at everything, check sizes and so on, and once you had made your choice, one of the attendants would check things off on a list. Then you lined up with your list to collect the merchandise. Then you joined the line to pay for the merchandise. It was actually pretty streamlined.

Bash sticker – Version 2

Then we took a walk around town and joined the line streaming out of the Birdsville Bakery. Every morning there was a long line of people queueing up for freshly baked bread. This time we were lining up for camel pies.  Yes, I did say “camel” pies.  The Birdsville Bakery has a reputation for their camel pies. Are they really made from camel? Apparently so, and they tasted pretty good.

Birdsville Bakery 2

Of course, you can’t go past the Birdsville Pub. You need to at least step through the doors into the bar and look up. See the hat collection attached to the ceiling! With so many visitors in town, patrons needed to eat in shifts for the evening meal.

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Another building well worth seeing is the Australian Inland Mission Hospital Museum which has a good display of medical equipment and photos of Birdsville’s history. The hospital was once housed in the Royal Hotel which was built in 1883. The hotel is now heritage-listed and its ruins are pictured below.

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Despite the pressure that a population explosion places on a town like Birdsville, events like the Big Red Bash and the Birdsville Races are critical for the survival of outback towns. Okay, so the town ran out of fuel, and out of bread, and out of pies, but as tourists, we didn’t mind having to line up. It’s all part of the Bash experience and it gives us plenty of time to chat with each other as we wait. Besides, we’ll have to do plenty of lining up out at the Bash. That’s we’re headed next.

 

 

 

 

 

Big Red Bash #4:Betoota – Ghost Town

 

Arra Road – Version 2

The word “outback” brings to mind visions of an open barren landscape, sparsely populated, dotted with the ruins of abandoned homes and towns. Yet the journey into western Queensland has been anything but solitary. All along the way, we have been part of a long convoy of caravans and trailers, many heading to the same location – the Big Red Bash.

Whenever or wherever we stop, one of the first questions to be asked of a fellow traveller is, “Heading to the Bash?”, followed by, “Where are you from?”. From all over Australia, music lovers have hooked up their vans and trailers and headed for the Bash. Some are travelling in groups, while others, like us, are travelling on their own. But it doesn’t matter where you stop, or who you meet, the friendliness of strangers is always the same. There is a sense of camaraderie. We are all heading into a remote and harsh landscape, and you never know when you will need to depend on the kindness of strangers.

As we headed north from the Dig Tree along the Arrabury Road, we could see the direction of the road by the long dust cloud that preceded us. We could even count the number of vehicles in front of us by the number of dust clouds. Sometimes we would pass a group of caravans that had pulled off onto the side of the road for morning tea or smoko, as it is often called in regional QLD. With a friendly wave, we would move up a few places in the convoy.

The landscape was indeed quite barren but possessed a stark beauty. You might wonder what could survive out here – but then, we are currently in the middle of one of the worst droughts in living memory. It would be interesting to travel out this way after a wet winter and see the difference.

Haddon Corner

 

We took a little detour off the main road out to Haddon Corner, the point where the borders of Queensland and South Australia meet. It wasn’t until we actually got almost to the end of the road, that we discovered you had to cross two sand dunes. We made it over the first sand dune, but decided to ditch the trailer to cross the second, and pick it up on the way back. I must admit, after all that, Haddon Corner was a little disappointing. I was at least expecting a sign, but there was a monument.

And finally we arrived at Betoota, a ghost town, with a population of zero.

 

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So, why go to Betoota?

In Australian culture, the song “A Pub with no Beer” has achieved iconic status. Immortalised by Australian country singer, Slim Dusty, the words go like this…

But there’s nothing so lonesome, so morbid or drear                                                    Than to stand in a bar, of a pub with no beer…

The story of a pub with no beer actually dates back to 1943, when a farmer called Dan Sheahan wrote a poem about a pub with no beer. His poem became the inspiration for  Slim Dusty’s song. You can read more about Dan’s story and poem here.

 

Betoota Hotel

For the last 20 years, the Betoota Pub has been a pub with no beer. Like Noccundra, the Betoota Pub is the last standing building in what was once the town of Betoota. But not for much longer. The Betoota Pub is currently under renovation, with the aim of reopening in August, in time for the Betoota Races. The new owner happened to be there and was quite happy for all the tourists to have a wander through the pub and see the progress so far. The idea is that the pub will be open during the peak tourist season and perhaps for private functions. So, if you’re thinking of getting married in outback QLD, you might like to keep Betoota in mind!

After wandering through the pub, we headed down to the creek to find a peaceful little spot to camp. Plenty of other travellers had the same idea too. It was nice to enjoy the quietness before joining the throng of the gathering masses in Birdsville – our next stop.

 

Betoota

Big Red Bash #2: The Adventure Way

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On the first day of our outback adventure, Dan woke up very excited. He knew what was happening and he couldn’t wait to get going. As soon as breakfast was out of the way, he was in the car, quick as a flash, sitting in the back with a huge grin across his face. Unfortunately, Bec couldn’t come with us this time as the Bash clashed with the beginning of semester two. 

Fine drizzling rain made a wet start for our trip, but we were heading west, so the weather was likely to improve. To make our trip more interesting, we were going to travel to Birdsville via the Adventure Way which follows the old Cobb and Co route through St George, Cunnamulla and Thargomindah to Innamincka, which is just over the border in South Australia. In the old days it would have been a bit of an adventure travelling  in a horse-drawn carriage on roads that were little more than a track. Today though, it’s a sealed road almost all the way to the state border, so it was an easy drive.

 

Riversands Winery – Version 2

On the first day we dropped into the Riversands Winery at St George. Wine tasting is one of my favourite activities when holidaying and Riversands is always a regular stall at the country shows west of Toowoomba. I’ve had Riversands wines before, but this was the first time I have had the opportunity to visit their winery. Driving in past rows of grape vines, we noticed how thick the trunks were and assumed they must be very old vines. However, not so. Those vines were table grapes which have thicker trunks than the wine varieties. One of the unique things about Riversands, is the range of pottery flagons shaped as boots, quart pots and bells. We have a set of their pottery boots which were moulded on the boxing boots of Fred Brophy, an Australian boxer who toured throughout regional QLD with his tent boxing troupe.

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 We spent our first night at the Cunnamulla Tourist Park. It was going to be our only camp with power, and a shower, for quite a while (or so we thought). As the park manager was directing us to our camp site, a large kangaroo provided some excitement as it bounded through the park, dodging caravans and tents and almost collecting a lady on it’s way through! According to the park manager, it’s a regular occurrence.  

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As we continued along The Adventure Way, we stopped at a town called Thargomindah which has an interesting place in Australian history. When we called into the Information centre, I noticed a lot of souvenirs with the words:

London

Paris

     Thargomindah

 What could Thargomindah possibly have in common with London and Paris? Well, London was the first city to use hydro-electricity to power electric street lighting, followed by Paris, and then….in 1898 Thargomindah was the third place in the world, and the first in Australia, to do the same. I think that’s an impressive achievement for a small outback Queensland town.

After Thargomindah, we took a little detour off the main highway to visit a town called Noccundra. It’s not really much of a town anymore. The only building still standing is the pub which is still in operation. So, of course, we just had to call in for a drink.

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We had originally planned to spend our second night at Innamincka, just across the QLD-SA border. Innamincka has a place in Australian history due to the sad tale of the explorers Burke and Wills. I had wanted to visit Burke’s grave which is located at Innamincka, however recent rain meant the road was closed – oh well. Innamincka is one of those towns with a very low population; except during Winter when everyone heads to the outback. So there were 4WDs everywhere, lining up for fuel and stocking up with supplies. As you can imagine, the Innamincka store does a roaring trade at this time of the year. Some people, like us, had travelled from the east. Some had come from the west over the Simpson Desert and others had come up from the south on the Strezlecki Track.  Since we had actually made better time than we expected, we headed back out of Innamincka to camp at the Dig Tree for the night. Sitting on the bank of Cooper Creek, the Dig Tree has an important part in the Burke and Wills story, but that will have to wait for another day.     

Inclusion – Side by Side

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Like many other proud Australians, our eyes have been glued to the television screen to cheer on our athletes competing at the 21st Commonwealth Games, here in Queensland, on the Gold Coast. The Commonwealth Games have a long history and have many things in common with the Olympic Games. Since the first games in 1930, they have been held every four years, (except during WWII) to spread goodwill and understanding throughout the Commonwealth of Nations. This is the fifth time Australia has hosted the Commonwealth Games and we are one of only six nations that have attended every games. And, not to boast, we do top the leader board for winning the most medals. As a proud sporting nation, the Commonwealth Games are pretty exciting for us.

The Opening Ceremony on Wednesday night had a strong focus on Australian Indigenous culture as well as our relaxed Australian beach culture. We really enjoyed it all – the Indigenous dancers, the didgeridoo orchestra and the towel change rooms (after all, we all need a little help from our friends sometimes). We were particularly moved by the raising of the Australian flag and the Aboriginal flag together – side by side.

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The parade of athletes began with Scotland, who hosted the last games in Glasgow, followed by the rest of the teams region by region – Europe, Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Caribbean, and Oceania. There are 53 nations in the Commonwealth, but dependent territories are able to compete under their own flags, making a total of 71 teams. Of course the loudest cheer was saved for the Australian team, almost 500 able-bodied and para-athletes, walking out together – side by side.

The Commonwealth Games is not only the largest fully-inclusive international multi-sport games, it was also the first. Since 2002 the Commonwealth Games has been an integrated competition. The athletes march side by side in one national team. The events are scheduled together, which means if you are at the pool, you see both able-bodied swimmers and para-swimmers compete and receive their medals. And all medals are counted in the nation’s total.

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For those of us sitting at home watching the Commonwealth Games, we can see the able-bodied and the para-events, side by side. We can share in the highs and the lows of all the athletes, side by side. The names of all athletes, able-bodied and para, become house-hold names. They are all  representing their country and doing us proud, side by side – as it should be.

Now we enjoy watching the Olympics, both Summer and Winter, too. We especially enjoy watching the Paralympics. Not because we think para-athletes are somehow more super human or more amazing, but because they are great role models for overcoming challenges and embracing life, no matter what curve balls it might throw at you. But we can’t help but notice the great difference in media coverage between the Olympics and the Paralympics.

 A local issue?

Now this might just be a local issue. Maybe it just reflects the attitudes toward people with disabilities in Australia. Or maybe it shows that the Australian media still has a long way to go towards equal representation. Are we alone in our frustration or is this a common experience world wide?

We have certainly come a long way in creating a more inclusive society. Not so long ago, people with disabilities were shut away from the world, excluded from education, the community, from life – they were invisible. Today people with and without disabilities learn together side by side, work together side by side, live together in the community side by side, and in sporting events like the Commonwealth Games, march and compete, side by side – as it should be.

But we still have much further to go

What if parents of children with disabilities didn’t have to fight for appropriate support? What if people with disabilities had better access to public transport, education and work opportunities? What if Olympic and Paralympic athletes marched and competed side by side in a fully integrated, fully inclusive Olympic Games? What if we could see equal representation across the whole of society?

 

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All people learning, living and playing together, side by side. That’s inclusion.