Tag Archives: book

What’s On Your Bookshelf?

The simple answer to this question, is too many books. Our 18 year old son would tell you there are far too many books in our house. Indeed, he of messy room and dumping his stuff our in the spare room for the last two years, even took me to task about it last night and had the audacity to ask me how many of them I’d actually read. While I must admit the same question frequently crosses my mind, the point is that the books on the shelf are either waiting to be read or they’re too good to part with, in which case getting rid of them would be akin to murdering a close friend. As avid readers, I’m sure you will understand, even if you have converted over to one of those dreadful, electronic Kindle-type devices.

So, what have I been reading?

Well, I’ve actually been reading quite a lot of books (at least for me) lately.

The dog highly approves of a night in reading.

The first cab off the ranks was Mark Lamprell’s: The Secret Wife. I’m not going to go into much detail here but I highly recommend it, and point you to my non-spoiler review: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2022/04/23/midnight-with-the-secret-wife/

This month took me back into Ethel Turner territory. There was an Open Day at Woodlands, where she was living when she wrote her iconic classic: Seven Little Australians. I am currently reading her WWI trilogy, and in the last month I’ve finished The Cub and Captain Cub and the last one Brigid and The Cub arrived in the mail today and I can’t wait to get stuck into it. It addresses some really interesting issues, and one that intrigues me is the whole business of mothers giving their consent for underage sons to fight. Ethel Turner didn’t give her consent for her own son, Adrian, to go but pushes the barrow in the book. I am also analysing these books in detail for my blog dedication to Ethel Turner: Tea With Ethel Turner: https://wordpress.com/view/teawithethelturner.com

Meanwhile, I am still reading Kerri Maher’s The Paris Bookseller, which says it is “inspired” by the life of Sylvia Beach who founded Shakespeare and Company, the famous English-language bookshop in Paris, and was the only one with the courage and vision to publish James Joyce’s controversial novel: Ulysses. This book was a natural choice for me, because I did a solo reading at Shakespeare and Company when I was staying in Paris in 1992, which was rather extraordinary in itself, but particularly considering I was only 23 at the time. I had to pass an intimidating interview with the inimitable proprietor, George Whitman and even had to draw up my own promotional poster to go in the window. These days, it feels like I made the whole thing up, but I have photographic proof. It really did happen.

Performing My Poetry at the Shakespeare Bookshop, Paris 1992.

Anyway, if you have ever considered reading Ulysses but have been too intimidated or just couldn’t understand a word of it, I have come across a wonderful annotated version online at the James Joyce Project: https://www.joyceproject.com/ i dare you! Give it a try!!

Or, if you’ve read it, please let me know how you found it, but no spoilers please!

Lastly, I’ve ordered Tony Birch’s book of short stories: Dark As Last Night, which has won the Christina Stead prize for fiction (NSW Premier’s, judged by Beth Yahp, Bernard Cohen and Nicole Abadee). You can read another of his stories here: https://www.theguardian.com/…/tony-birch-my-dads-ashes… It views a tough subject with a touch of humour, and is a great read.

What have you been reading lately? Why not join us at What’s On Your Bookshelf and share it with us? You can link up your post below.

What’s On Your Bookshelf is a monthly link-up co-hosted by Debbie (Deb’s World), Jo (And Anyways), Sue (Women Living Well After 50) and Donna (Retirement Reflections). #whatsonyourbookshelfchallenge

Best wishes,

Rowena

Midnight With “The Secret Wife”.

If you go digging through my archives, you’ll notice that despite being a self-confessed book addict, I rarely write book reviews. That’s because I’m unfortunately more of a book collector than a voracious book reader. Of course, I have good intentions, and get carried away on the wings of fancy, but all too often the rubber doesn’t hit the road.

Anyway, today I’m breaking with tradition because I’ve just finished reading Mark Lamprell’s: The Secret Wife, and I’m too excited to keep it to myself. I absolutely loved it, and thought you might love it too. I rarely read non-fiction, and despite my best intentions, have often failed to finish even novels I love. So, the fact I was sticking matchsticks in my eyes to stay awake and finish this book, is a very strong endorsement. Indeed, to quote Australian music legend Molly Meldrum: “Do yourself a favour”, and read this book.

So, what was so good about it?

For me personally, I’m Australian and I enjoy stories from my own backyard, as well as reading foreign literature. Indeed, I suspect each of us likes to see our own world reflected back to us through the arts, as much as we also appreciate a more cosmopolitan diet. Yet, at the same time, it wasn’t consciously Australian and would easily translate elsewhere.

Secondly, I really appreciated the highly developed characterisation with his profound understanding of human nature. The storyline hinges on the friendship of two very different women, Edith and Frankie, their husbands and children and is mostly set in the 1960’s. Naturally, as characters in a novel, they go through many ups and downs, dramas, catastrophes and successes. Lacking in self-confidence myself too often, I related very strongly to Edith even though I’m a born extrovert and would’ve loved to be Frankie in my dreams.

I also really appreciated how Lamprell handled the interaction of this wily cast with the finely-tuned precision of a symphony conductor, yet with casual realism. There were times the characters became people I know, but I also felt Mark knew me like the back of his hand. I’m sure I got goose bumps more than once.

Another point I greatly appreciated about the book was Mark’s dynamic and complex vocabulary. Not all writers appreciate words, but I love words with a passion and am quick to take my hat off to those who make the effort (or even flourish). My kids have told me off for writing in books, but I always read books with a pen in hand, and my pen was very busy throughout (which is a great sign, btw.) I even jotted a few words in the back.

It is also worth noting that The Secret Wife is a historical novel. I was touched and impressed by Lamprell’s eye for detail and accuracy. It’s so easy to Google these things now, that there’s no excuse for getting them wrong. There is just enough detail to add flavour and authenticity, but not too much to bog you down.

All of that makes me sound intensely critical and punctilious (to steal a word from Mark). However, what we’re all looking for is a gripping story. A tale which draws us in and keeps throwing us bait until we’re caught hook, line and sinker. Where we can’t put the book down, yet we don’t want the book to end either. That is certainly true of The Secret Wife. The plot is also refreshingly unpredictable. He leads us up one path, and then we are taken somewhere else entirely, although not left alone lost in the dark either.

I know I’m saying a lot without saying much at all about this book. That’s because I know how much I hate spoilers. I just want a “yay” or a “nay”, and something to back it up. Yet, I’m busting to talk to someone about it.

However, I’m also into biography. So, once I like a book, or fancy an author, I want to delve into their head, their heart, their past, present…the works. (Indeed, I’ve been doing just that with author Ethel Turner over at my other blog Tea With Ethel Turner.) So this leaves me asking: “Who is Mark Lamprell?” and I suppose you might be wondering the same thing, and why I read: The Secret Wife, especially when I could’ve been reading your blog posts and works of fiction instead…

Mark Lamprell – Photo Ian Erick

Well, the official answer is: “Mark Lamprell is an (Australian) writer of novels and children’s books published in sixteen countries and twelve languages, including the novels The Full Ridiculous and A Lover’s Guide to Rome. He also works internationally as a writer and director in film, with movie credits including Babe Pig in the City, My Mother Frank, Goddess, A Few Less Men and Never Too Late.

There’s a more complex answer here, where Booktopia asked him Ten Terrifying Questions: https://www.booktopia.com.au/blog/2022/04/21/ten-terrifying-questions-with-mark-lamprell/?fbclid=IwAR10IScuXeqzO3eEluwWUtZb9ICn93sRAXkHBCS8JUqbAwLBQxZpsZ6Kwwk

However, for me, Mark Lamprell was also my uncle’s school friend. My dad was one of seven, and being the eldest grandchild, I was only ten and eleven years younger than my youngest uncles. So, it wasn’t unusual for me to be down at the house when their friends were around. Moreover, their house was a sprawling Californian bungalow. None of the doors were ever locked, and people simply came and went. Oftentimes, we’d be gathered around the kitchen table philosophising. One would be having breakfast, another lunch and someone else having a snack. It was definitely laissez-faire, although there were still non-negotiables like my grandfather wanting my uncle to get his hair cut.

My grandmother in a professional capacity. This was for the BBC around 1938.

Yet, as I’ve mentioned before, my grandmother was Eunice Gardiner, an international concert pianist, music critic and later professor piano at the NSW Conservatorium of Music. In the loungeroom, there was her Bechstein grand piano, and after my grandfather passed away, it was joined by a large concert-sized Steinway grand, which she’d brought out from England. Having two large grand pianos in your lounge room, certainly makes a statement.

My Great Grandmother, Ruby Gardiner (McNamara) was in some ways Edith to my grandmother’s Frankie. Both of them stood their ground at times, and were still their own people. I look at this photo now with Ruby looking across and even deferring to her daughter as though she’s not expecting to be in the shot. Hadn’t picked up on that before.

So, the house had this sort of dichotomy, and that fits in very well with Frankie’s world in The Secret Wife. Moreover, like Frankie, there was so much we didn’t know about my grandmother’s career, and who she was. Indeed, I venture to suggest that everyone probably has their secrets. Things even our nearest and dearest know nothing about.

While The Secret Wife and I were obviously a very good fit, I ended up reading it because the publisher sent me a copy to review. I was attending a novel writing workshop with Graeme Simsion (author of The Rosie Project who I’ve reviewed before). I mentioned that I’d attended a similar workshop with Mark Lamprell at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, and the publicist said she’d send me a copy of his new book. I was delighted, and mentioned he was a family friend. The book duly arrived, and I thought I’d better read it tout de suite to honour the deal. No forgetting to read this book. By this time, I picked up an extra 38 “friends” at the Pearl Beach Book Sale. So, it wasn’t that The Secret Wife was without competition. I clearly needed to get reading.

Family Press Photo 1960 around the time of the TV interview.

However, reading The Secret Wife now was mind-blowing timing. A few weeks ago, I was contacted by historian, Ann Curthoys, who let me know that back in 1960 my grandmother had appeared on an ABC TV panel interviewing Paul Robeson, an African-American singer, actor and civil rights activist and soon of a former slave when he toured Australia in November 1960. The interview covered racism, equality and freedom and was recorded on the 5th November, 1960. Three days later, JF Kennedy defeated Nixon in the US presidential election, and it was broadcast on the 13th November, 1960. It was just under three years before Dr Martin Luther King’s famous  “I Have a Dream” speech, which followed a march by over 200,000 people on Washington on the 28th August, 1963. I was able to order a copy of the interview, and have been working on a transcript. I am gobsmacked.

A media shot – my grandmother with the eldest boys at the piano around 1942.

So, reading: The Secret Wife which is set in this similar social context, was an incredible fusion. However, my grandmother was leading a different life to anyone really what with her prodigious talent and being married with seven children and still pursuing her career. But I think she just had this trajectory in her mind and it just kept going. She probably knew nothing else.

As for my grandfather, there was a miniature grand piano on their wedding cake. So, I doubt he had any illusions. My grandmother, her piano and her career were a package deal. There was never any suggestion she was going to stop.

Wow! There’s been so much to think about, and more to come. For now, I’m going to let the book settle. I really want to talk it over, and share it with someone (something I obviously can’t do in a review.) Maybe, I’ll start talking to myself.

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin

PS One thing I didn’t mention was that my grandfather was the consummate book collector and my grandparents’ house was overflowing out the back and under the house with boxes, and boxes of books. Indeed, when my grandparents first got married, my grandfather’s mother sent over his books to their new home, and they apparently arrived even before the furniture.

Don’t you just love family stories?!!

Featured image: Geoff Newton. Thank you Zac the dog for posing for the camera. Since he spends much of his life sleeping underneath my keyboard and while I was reading the book, it seemed appropriate for him to appear in the photo.

Still Raining – Pearl Beach, Australia.

My apologies if you only like to see pristine postcard views with constant blue skies and happy days. However, I am intrigued by the post-storm environment and how all this heavy rainfall is impacting our local landscape, especially the local beaches which I feel I know like the back of my hand, but don’t really.

The river and gum tree are new additions to Pearl Beach

All these storms reveal aspects hidden beneath the surface, or just deposit all sorts of flotsam and jetsam from goodness knows where on the beach like the tree skeleton and half -pumpkin I found at Pearl Beach today.

Unfortunately, these swollen rivers also carry away treasured homes, possessions, animals and there’s tragically also been the loss of human life.

There is no mercy.

Or, is there?

For every tale of loss and heartless devastation, there are also miraculous tales of rescues, near misses and the hand of God seemingly raising them directly out of the depths.

Or, perhaps it all just comes down to luck, and a cosmic roll of the dice in this random universe.

Wouldn’t we all like to know. Know for sure I mean. Not just have a copy of the manual.

It reminds me of that great scene towards the end of The Wizard of Oz where Toto exposes the man behind the curtain, and it makes all this cosmic wondering all so simple.

Anyway, I was over in Pearl Beach today to attend a novel-writing workshop with Australian author Graeme Simsion, who wrote The Rosie Project which has subsequently expanded into the Rosie Series. He’s recently put out a new book: The Novel Project, which formed the basis of the workshop. I am going to come back to this in a few days after all the material we went through today has settled, and I’ve also got through our son’s 18th Birthday on Tuesday and cooking a sit down dinner and dessert for 13 people I believe. I had wanted to order pizza, but he who must be obeyed had other ideas.

An aerial view of Pearl Beach on a sunny day.

Before I head off, if you’ve been praying for rain lately, could I just ask that you be a bit more specific about where you’d like the rain to fall, because we’d actually like to see a bit of sunshine. Not all sunshine. Just a bit of balance.

Well, I’d better head off now. The next couple of days are going to be huge, and I’d better redirect my attention to more earthly concerns.

Best wishes and thank you for joining me in Pearl Beach in the rain, especially when you could’ve been out in the sun.

Best wishes,

Rowena

What’s On Your Bookshelf?

This is my first contribution to a blogshare which is right up my alley: What’s on Your Bookshelf, hosted by DebSueDonna, and Jo. I could be here for several years and you’d be long gone, if I literally went through every single book on my bookshelf, and the contents of my To-Be-Read Piles around the house could also tie us down for awhile. However, what I’ve actually reading is thankfully a much shorter list. Indeed, I’m currently reading one book.

This rather exclusive solitary read is Jules Sebastian’s Tea & Honesty. It is hard not to introduce Jules Sebastian without mentioning her famous husband musician Guy Sebastian. I don’t like linking women to their famous husbands as though they’re nothing more than an pretty accessory and that they have no world, thoughts or achievements of their own., However, I did buy this book because she was Guy’s wife, and I knew something of their personal journey beyond the music industry. I quick flick through, showed Jules was very much a powerhouse in her own right. Moreover, she shares about being naturally shy, and she is a good listener, an observer, a thinker but in a kind, gentle and encouraging way that’s very refreshing. Moreover, I found out this Jules has a few worlds a knew nothing about. and they lead an interesting and very challenging life at times and she’d have a lot to say. What I didn’t know was that Jules has her own Youtube Channel and a program Tea With Jules: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6Y0dEiUcSIClA5KkqywvJA

I’m about halfway through it now, and I’m deliberately reading it slowly to take it all in. I think it’s very timely as many of us face a restart after the last two years. Jules reflects back on interviews and gives really good advice for people starting out and wanting to start a dream from scratch and how to find a way through the jungle and towards success. That’s such an important part of the road to success we don’t often hear about. BTW I wasn’t so keen on the podcasts. I think they’re geared towards a different demographic.

Meanwhile, although this book is still in transit, I’m going to mention it anyway along with the usual way I stumbled across it. The book in question is Irish author Michael Harding’sThe Cloud Where the Birds Rise, with illustrations by Jacob Stack. I stumbled across it a few days ago when I went on a quick trip to Midleton, Cork via Google Earth and of all the places I should come across, I find a bookshop. Of course, I had to check out the books they had on offer and looked up their website. That’s when I saw the book and it was like love at first sight. However, I resisted temptation and decided to do a bit of research before I bought another book into the house. That’s when I came across a podcast where Alan Keane interviewed Michael Harding on The Artists’ Well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrRYg1hvCh0 Now, I was really hooked, and after enjoying this interview so much, I headed off to absorb Michael Harding’s podcasts (@hardingmichael) and I’ll be lucky to find my way out the front door for the next six months. I’m riveted.

So, naturally, I can’t wait for this book to turn up, and I must confess, I bought another one while I was there (to justify the postage of course!): Staring at Lakes. I’ll report back and let you know how they go.

Well, that’s about it for now.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Book Launch of “Murdering Stepmothers” & the Case of the Rambunctious Child.

“Never work with animals or children.”

-W. C. Fields

There are times when every parent, and maybe even doting grandparent, wants to disassociate with naughty or over-exuberant children, and pretend they’ve never seen them before. Whether we admit to that in public or not, is another matter. However, we all know it’s true.

Things were doubly complicated with my two, because from the time our daughter was born and our eldest was only two, I developed a debilitating muscle wasting disease called dermatomyositis, and I couldn’t keep up. Hence, my parents had a much more active role with the kids and often had to step up and into my shoes. Well, that’s my justification for why my father was in charge of our rather unruly four year old daughter better known as Miss who could do no wrong.

My dad with a very unruly Miss Four while her mother hides behind the camera. Or, perhaps that was Geoff but this photo looks more like my handiwork.

This wasn’t the only sign of misbehaviour either, and to be perfectly honest I’m sure someone gave her red cordial, orange Fanta or something else along those lines` that night. Our kids were strictly “no artificial colours or preservatives”. However, strict adherence doesn’t mean the system was foolproof.

Anyway, my aunt was having an official book launch at Gleebooks in Sydney by Julianne Schulz from the Griffith Review. This won’t mean much to many of you who are overseas, (or in Australia beyond academic circles for that matter). However, my aunt is a professor and an award-winning author and she’s spoken at numerous writer’s festivals, including the Sydney Writers’ Festival ( which gave yours truly access to the Writers’ Greenroom. I was in heaven!!)

So, in other words, this was no backyard launch, and quite a serious affair. One of those events where parents always give their kids a talking to before you all arrive about being on their VERY BEST BEHAVIOUR!! They are to be seen and not heard. Of course, “not seen and not heard” is capital letter TROUBLE in these situations, and to be avoided at all costs.

However, 12 years down the track from said book launch, the behavior of Miss Four, (and indeed it was only Miss Four who was playing up) appears rather funny. She was pure mischief that night, and her brother and their friend were pretty good. Indeed, when I look at the photos, I think the friend is wondering what she’s on. Mind you, both the boys were already at Big School so they had an unfair advantage.

Legitimately drawing on the wall in the boardroom at Concordia College, Toowoomba while my grandfather’s portrait watches second from the left.

While we’re on the subject of taking unruly kids into adult situations, I also found a photo of the kids when we were visiting Concordia College in Toowoomba. My grandfather, Pastor Bert Haebich, was the first Acting Principal there back around 1948, and we were given a lovely tour of the school by the Communications Manager. She was such a kind soul and as we’re in the very prestigious boardroom which has my grandfather’s portrait in the very stately line-up, she gave them whiteboard markers and allowed them to write on the whiteboard. She was someone who really understood young kids and parents. At the same time, it does look funny and out of place.

They really look like they’re plotting and planning future mischief over dinner here.

As for the title of my aunt’s book, it’s full title is Murdering Stepmothers: the Execution of Martha Rendell. Martha Rendell as the last woman to be hanged in Western Australia, after being found guilty of poisoning her three stepchildren with medicine. It’s a great read but might be hard to get hold of.

Not the best photo of the kids with my aunt. I’m on the look out for a better one.

Of course, my aunt adores my kids, and still believes they can do no wrong, despite this eventful night.

Do you have any stories of your kids having a moment? Of course, you do. Even parents of cats and dogs have stories of pure mischief.

Well, my two are about to turn eighteen and sixteen and let’s just say the perimeters have changed, but we’re not out of the woods yet.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share 24th January, 2022.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

How are you? If you were coming to my place, we’d be sitting out the front wearing masks and sending hand signals. Covid has gone from being “over there” (a common phrase used here in Australia due to our geographical isolation) to being in certain hotspots, and then “out there” but not local. However, now it is here but not here. Loads of friends have had it or have it, but as far as we know, it’s not inside our house, or indeed inside our very own lungs. At least, we think it’s not. I can’t even even smell a RAT let alone buy one.

When I think of covid creeping around like this and the sense of it finally getting hold of you, I’m reminded of a kid’s folk story which was read aloud to me with great inflection and animation. “Who’s Got My Hairy Toe?” There are a few variations of it, but the one I know finishes off very dramatically with the dreaded monster saying: “YOU”VE GOT IT!!!!” I still haven’t forgotten that sense of absolutely leaping out of my skin forty years later, but there’s what this whole lurking omnipresent covid situation feels like right now. Fortunately, some vulnerable people I know (including those with my medical condition) have got through omicron without going to hospital so that is encouraging.

Meanwhile, life goes on.

Most of the news this week relates to our son, who is just a couple of months off his 18th birthday. Last week, he went away to the Church’s youth Summer Camp. This is probably the highlight of his year. He does sound and DJ work usually at camp, which he loves. I don’t know a lot of what happens at camp, and the old adage “what happens at camp stays at camp” applies, although I did chase up covid transmissions afterwards and he was full of stories about the pranks other people were caught up in. While he was away, we got into his room and I was just going to wash the bedding, but before I knew it, I was going a major clean and we were actually able to walk through the joint to install an air-conditioner. This was good, because we were expecting to lock him away in there for a few days after he got back as a precaution. However, when he arrived home he was so animated and full of stories, it was hard to stay away.

Going to Summer Camp isn’t such a thing here in Australia like it is in America and possibly Canada. However, our kids have gone on Scout and youth camps. The first time our son went off to the Scout Jamboree, we received an urgent text warning us that funnel web spiders had been found in two backpacks when they arrived home. Our son promptly removed his pack from his room and dumped it at my feet. I don’t know what madness made him think Mum was the great protector and defender against deadly spiders, especially when HE’S the one who is into spiders. However, kids are always unpredictable and keep putting parents on our toes. There were no spiders in the pack, and hopefully no covid in him now.

It did feel good to get his room sorted, and it’s encouraging me to keep going.

During all this household sorting business, I came across a postcard advertising sailing with the Young Endeavour. The Young Endeavour Youth Scheme, in partnership with the Royal Australian Navy, provides young Australians with a unique, challenging and inspirational experience at sea on board the national sail training ship Young Endeavour. The actual ship is a replica of Captain James Cook’s Endeavour which “discovered” the East Coast of Australia in 1770. These days we are hopefully more sensitive to Australia’s Aboriginality, and that Australia was never “lost”, or a blank canvas, or “terra nullus”. However, that’s another story.

What matters here, is that I actually managed not only to fill out the paperwork, the next day I was notified that he had a berth. On the 21st March, 2022 he sails out of Geelong, Victoria and arrives in Sydney on the 30th nine days later. This means we’ll be driving him down there, and will be there to see him arrive back. This is such good news, because he’s had quite a few significant disappointments and setbacks due to Covid. Most notably, he missed out of his European History Tour in 2020 and that was a very big deal. This, he feels, makes up for that, so now we’re saying our prayers and crossing our fingers that all goes smoothly and he’ll be off. Nothing is a certainty anymore and while I try to be optimistic sometimes I feel doomed. That we might indeed be under an unlucky star. However, usually my spirits lift and our plans aren’t dashed on the rocks after all.

Meanwhile, in between trying to get our daughter organised for heading back to school on February 2nd, I’ve been beavering away on my family history research. I’ve taken January off my WWI research and wasn’t intending to do much research at all but the weather hasn’t been the best, covid’s around and I’m back at it.

My book pile is also growing beside me. These are the books I’ve bought in the last couple of weeks, and a new book pile which is growing beside my writing chair in the loungeroom. This is not the book pile on the coffee table or the book pile I lent to a friend first because I thought she’d get through them all before me. There’s still Kay Arthur’s: “Choosing Joy”, but recent arrival are Tim Hawkes: “Ten Leadership Lessons You Must Teach Your Teenager”. I’m going to start reading that today, and I think the title is just asking for me to read one lesson per day. Jules Sebastian’s book: “Tea and Honesty” arrived today. I couldn’t wait to order that even though I’m well and truly overloaded with books already. She’s married to international musician Guy Sebastian. Guy’s songs are deep and philosophical. Moreover, Jules’s brother committed suicide while they were on their honeymoon, so I think she’ll have some good things to say. There’s also Sally Rooney’s novel: “Normal People”. It’s been around for awhile. Have you read it? Then, there’s Mark Kurzem’s: “The Mascot” which is a WWII Jewish escape story. I loaned it to a friend first and he loved it. Lastly, I’m reading my aunt’s national history of the Stolen Generation to fill background on some of my family history. My great grandfather’s cousins were married to Aboriginal women and living in the Yass Black Camp so I’m trying to find out more about that.

Uncle Roy left and my grandfather on the right. This might’ve been my grandfather’s 90th Birthday.

Lastly, my Great Uncle passed away during the week. I think he was 97 and still lucid. I haven’t seen him for quite awhile. He was the youngest in the family and my grandfather was the eldest and there were four sisters in between. They were born and raised in Hahndorf in South Australia which is like living in a museum in many ways, especially if you are living in one of the original houses on the main street. The Haebich used to have the blacksmith’s shop on Main Road and my grandfather told stories of watching the hot iron wheel plunging into water a steam shooting up. It must’ve been such a spectacle especially back in the days before TV and the Internet. I’m not even sure he went to the movies as a young child. He never mentioned it. Thanks to covid and distance, we won’t be getting down there for the funeral.

The Kids and I outside Haebich’s Cottage 2013

Well, that’s all folks.

How are things with you going? I hope you’ve had a good week.

Meanwhile, you might like to join us over at the Weekend Coffee Share, which is hosted by Natalie the Explorer https://natalietheexplorer.home.blog/

Best wishes,

Rowena

Mum’s Taxi Revisits Mt Penang Gardens, North of Sydney.

It’s been quite awhile since you’ve heard a peep let alone a loud beep from Mum’s Taxi (AKA the Tutu Taxi). Being in lockdown for the last almost three months and throughout the last 18 months, I’ve literally been able to hang up my keys, stay in my pyjamas and write to my heart’s content. As blissful as that might sound for any writer, writing in lockdown is quite different to being a poet ensconced in your ivory tower. So, it was hardly no prison cell and I was allowed outside for exercise and could go walking along the beach, bushwalking or visit my friend in his social bubble. However, it’s not the same when park benches are covered in red tape because you’re not allowed to sit down, everyone’s wearing masks unless they’re exercising, and you have to QR code to enterjust about anywhere. So, it was with a mixture of jubilation, trepidation and continued isolation, that the people of Greater Sydney welcomed Freedom Day a few weeks ago.

Anyway, on Tuesday our daughter told me I was driving her up to get eyelash extensions. She paid for them. I wasn’t going to spend out money on that. I’ve never been a fan of fake eyelashes. However, she wears them for ballet concerts, competitions etc and so I guess once you’ve crossed that bridge, it makes more sense.

However, what she didn’t tell me was how long it was going to take. Now, I should’ve been prepared to hang round for eternity. After all, isn’t that what parents do for their kids? Wait?!! I’m not into all this cosmetic beauty stuff and how it all works. However, I did take a book, my journal and regretted not taking my SLR and just having the camera on my phone.

I started walking around looking for a park bench in the shade to read my book. By the way, I was reading Julia Baird’s: Phosphorescence: On awe, wonder and things that sustain you when the world goes dark. It’s an absolutely brilliant book, and what I’d describe as a “slow read”. I wanted to savour and enjoy almost each and every word. So, it’s taken me a very long time to finish it. Indeed, I started reading it in September last year. Honestly I thought it had been a year or even three. Here’s one great quote from the book:

Life is tempestuous and life is precious, and recognising that those two things are twinned is part of the secret of the truly phosphorescent.”

Julia Baird

There wasn’t much left to read, and I seemed to finish it off in about an hour. Of course, there was that great sense of regret you have when you finish a book you love and wave goodbye to your new best friend. Although I immediately decided I was going to start back at the beginning again. I really want to etch this book into my psyche and remember it all. It’s filled with stories and quotes from numerous thinkers and poets and it’s so very me. It’s like exploring a fascinating and exhilarating world, and I have also made a note to self to head out on a night kayak run with my husband and experience the Phosphorescence first hand for myself.

After finishing my book, I walked around the gardens regretting I hadn’t bought my digital SLR. However, the camera on my phone didn’t do too bad a job. Yet at the same time, I wondering whether photographing wildflowers in a man-made garden really counted, especially after going on some magnificent bushwalks and photographing the wildflowers actually in situ and in the wild. Isn’t it just like photographing lions in the zoo rather than heading off to Africa? The photos still look good. Indeed, they probably look a lot better, but they’re simply not the same.

Anyway, while I was there reading my book, I glanced up and noticed what appeared to be a class or two of young kids running down a steep, small grassy hill. They were having an absolute ball, and there is something so liberating about running fast down a grassy hill as a young child which almost feels like flying and you’re about to take off. Apparently, when I told friend about this my face was so animated that he asked me what childhood memories it brought back. There wasn’t anything specific and I can’t remember a lot of hills, but the exhilaration is still with me and perhaps I should sneak in there after dark and let myself go.

Reading my book and watching all those kids running must’ve done my head in, because yours truly who has been to this park a couple of times before, got lost and couldn’t find the exit. Indeed, I found myself stuck inside a maze. This is what happens when you’re exploring man-made garden instead of the bush. The bush is simple. You go in. You come out. Well, it is where I’ve been going bushwalking but these are hardly complicated hikes. Of course, I blame lockdown for this. So many everyday kills have been neglected and have rusted away. Indeed, I’m sure four months of solid repetitive research and writing at home has literally rewired my brain and done all sorts to my neuropathways. Indeed, while being so focused on a lockdown project so I’d have something to show for all that time might actually prove a mixed blessing.

Anyway, two hours later, my phone rang and I was summonsed to pick her up. We were going to go for a bushwalk together, however, it was now raining and so we raided a local bakery and had lunch in the car looking out onto the beach.

My daughter’s glasses on the dashboard looking out across our local beach.

And yes, the eyelashes certainly looked spectacular. Not completely ridiculous either, but not the sort of thing a hibernating bear requires. I’m actually looking forward to going to the hairdresser next week, and guess who is coming with me…

Looking out at the beach through the rainy windscreen while eating our lunch.

Have you been on any good walks recently or read any book books? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 11th November, 2019.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

I’m not so sure you’ll be wanting to come round to my place this week. Not only is the house a disaster zone, but the air is redolant with the aroma of choking bushfire smoke and while I was  picking our daughter up from school today, a warning siren sounded on the radio from the Rural Fire Service warning that the fire status is catastrophic for Greater Sydney tomorrow. People have been warned to get out and not to expect assistance from fire services. They could well be overwhelmed with not enough resources to go round. Many schools will be closed and there really is that sense of Armageddon in the air. Meanwhile, I’m trying to “Keep Calm & Carry On”. We’ve had dire warnings like this before about others pending catastrophes (Y2K for example) and nothing’s come of it. Just because the conditions are condusive doesn’t necessarily mean disaster. That said, there have been over 70 bushfires raging over the weekend. However, aside from the smoke, they haven’t impacted on us here.

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This photo was taken later in the afternoon just as we were leaving. The Jacaranda tree has a very special place and was in full bloom and absolutely stunning. 

The highlight of the last week was heading down to Sydney on Saturday to attend The PLC Garden Party. That’s what my old school calls their annual fete, which pretty much gives away that I went to a high faluting school. I met up with a group of friends for traditional lunch of champagne and chicken sandwiches at the ex-students stall (usually known as the “old girls”). I skipped the champagne and bought myself a $6.00 chocolate cupcake with a mountainous swirl of butter cream on top. It was interesting trying to eat that elegantly in front of my friends as I face-planted into the icing, resembling a grubby two year old. Of course, I should’ve known better but clearly my sweet tooth overrode all sensibility.

The cake stall wasn’t my only point of weakness.

There was also the book stall. No doubt many of you have also succombed to this weakness and like any other form of addict, really should go cold turkey and implement a firm policy of total avoidance. 100% abstinance. However, when it’s the end of the day and you can fill a box for $10.00, practicality sets in although many would see this as a guised form of FOMO (fear of missing out).

The other aburdity of bringing home even just this relatively small box load of books, is that I’ve put the house on a diet and I’m actively putting this bookcumulation process into reverse and clearing the shelves, piles, columns away so we can aquire that very rare commody…breathing space.

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Before I move on from the school Garden Party, I wanted to share one of our important annual rituals. Every year the Knox Pipe Band plays at the Garden Party. They’re our brother school and that also btw was where actor Hugh Jackman went to school and I’m not sure if he was the only lure for some of my school mates to audition for the Knox Musical, but he was the lead male back in the day and not a bad incentive. Thoought you’d appreciate a few photos. BTW I should also point out that my school used to be the Presbyterian Ladies’ College and both Knox and PLChave Scottish heritage hence the pipe band.

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It was actually quite a social weekend. It started on Friday night when we attended a birthday party at the “The Treehouse”. That’s what my friend calls his pole home up among the gum trees and it appears that the local wildlife have also made themselves at home, which includes at least one possum, rainbow lorrikeets and cheeky sulfur-crested cockatoos which my friend refuses to feed because they’ll chew up your house. I made an ambitious Caramel Nut Tart. It’s taken me two years to muster up the courage to make it. We have it at the Macadamia Castle up near Byron Bay and the recipe was published in a local cookbook. Yum. So proud of myself for doing this and I’m planing to make it for Christmas Day.

Rowena Japanese dinner

Out for dinner at a Japanese restaurant with a friend.

I stayed with my parents on Saturday night and spent the day in Sydney. I went back to the Church I grew up in on Sunday morning nad chilled out for the rest of the day with my parents and brother and even tinkered away on the piano. I’m rather deluded when it comes to these piano efforts. I expect to be able to pick up the music I used to play back in the day and play it like no water’s passed under the bridge and I’ve been keeping up my practice. Yes, very deluded. However, I’m adding ambitious to that description because I’ve photocopied the music for Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and Phantom of the Opera’s Music of the Night. By the way, I probably should mention that my mother is a piano teacher and accompanist and has loads of music at my fingertips. Indeed, her loungeroom with the grand piano and all the music is a musical bonanza. I often take my violin down but didn’t this time as it would’ve spent the day in a hot car, which it doesn’t like. 

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Private Jack Quealey

Lastly, I’m still deeply embroiled in my research. The twists and turns keep changing. However, I’m fundamentally researching my Great Grandmother’s family, the Quealys of Lisheenfurror, Moyarta, County Clare. My Great Grandmother’s brother, Jack Quealey, served in WWI and I was researching his war service in more detail this week. Trying to nut out even a general idea of what he went through is very difficult , despite reading through his service records with a fine tooth comb. However, they mentioned he was wounded and that put a sort of stake in the ground. I was able to work out that he was was most likely wounded in the battle of Mouquet Farm near Pozieres. I then turned to the old newspapers which are online and found some gripping letters home which were published in local papers, which gave incredible insights into what our soldiers and my Great Great Uncle went through.It was incredibly humbling and I don’t know how anyone made it out alive. By the way, working on these war records atm has been great timing. Today, is Armistace Day. 

So, that sums up last week.

How was your week? I hope you’ve had a great one.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by  Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to pop round and join us.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share…2nd September, 2019.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Since this is all about virtual sharing, I can offer you a slice of passion fruit sponge cake with a generous dollop of cream without having to fend you off with my fork. You see, in reality this cake is mine, ALL mine. However, I can be very generous with all of you. Almost all of you are too faraway to collect.

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Passion Fruit Sponge Cake (butter needed to be mixed in better…oops)

Yesterday, it was Father’s Day here in Australia. A day which promises so much, but frequently under delivers. Or, completely contrary to one’s hopes and aspirations is catastrophic. I know we all try to hold back the tide for special occasions, but it isn’t always possible. It is what it is. I explored realities versus expectations in yesterday’s post Not Quite A Perfect Father’s Day

Yesterday, was not only Father’s Day. It was also the first day of Spring…yippee! Sunshine here we come. I have to admit I’m looking forward to warmer weather, especially the in between months of Spring before the place turns into a furnace in Summer. The beach is only down the road as well…heaven on earth.

The last week was rather uninspiring. We had a few days of ferocious rain and wind, which while nothing like the force of Cyclone Dorian which is hitting the US, it was still quite intimidating and made its presence felt. By day, I bunkered down in bed underneath the doona reading Oliver Twist.

Indeed, speaking of Oliver Twist, I finally finished it over the weekend. Have you ever read it? I absolutely loved it. While I read A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities at school, Oliver Twist is the first of Dickens’ novels, I’ve read by choice. I also prefer to read shorter works. So, for me to actually make it through to the end of a 500 page novel, was also a personal triumph. I found myself completely absorbed in the story. Although I know the musical and we actually put it on when I was about 12 at school, I found the novel was in a league of its own. The characters were much richer and complex and the novel is deeply philosophical as Dickens explores the aftermath of the Poor Laws of 1832 and the horrors of the workhouse, child labour and the world of crime. London comes across as a veritable cesspit, a place to escape at all costs. Knowing that Geoff’s family was living through these times in London, further brings Dickens’ stories to life for me.  These weren’t just characters in a novel. These characters represented real people… thousands and thousands of people grappling with extreme poverty and crime as the only way out. I’m certainly glad I wasn’t living through these times.

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“Please, Sir. Could I have some more?”

Have you read Oliver Twist or any of Dickens other works? Are you a fan? Do you feel Dickens has a place in the modern era or belongs in the past?

The main reason I’ve been reading Dickens is that I’m working on writing a book of short biographical stories about our ancestors and the stories at the beginning are from this era, or even a bit earlier. To really tell a story well, there are so many details to absorb and yet these need to become the wallpaper and not the story itself or you’ll bore your reader to death. To be honest, I thought I’d have got there by now but I still feel like I’m having to process more before I’m quite ready to tell the story right. I’m not sure if this is the perfectionist in me or whether I’m not there yet. However, I’m trying to hang in there.

Meanwhile, my reading has gone off onto a different tangent. I was trying very, very hard to keep walking past our local bookshop Book Bazaar and  yet like a kid being lured into a candy shop, I ducked my head in through the door and spotted John Marsden’s: The Art of Growing Up. John Marsden is a distinguished Australian author of Young Adult fiction and was the founder and principal of two schools. As a writer myself, this had to be my kind of parenting book, although he’s quite hard-hitting and certainly not into free-range parenting by feel. Probably a good thing really. Anyway, thought I’d share a quote with you…

When I hear parents say ‘I want my children to enjoy their childhood; there’ll be time when they’re older to learn about those things’, I hear the voices of those who are scared of the vastness of the universe. These adults have a view of childhood as some kind of discrete interval, rather than just a few years from the continuum of life. How fortunate that the spirit, courage and curiosity of many young people remain largely undefeated by such adults.

-John Marsden, The Art of Growing Up

So, you could say that last week was book week.

In terms of blogging, I’ve done the following posts:

On The Run…Friday Fictioneers

A Festival of Red Doors…Friday Fictioneers

Hey, just when I thought I hadn’t done anything very exciting, I forgot that I revisited Heidelberg, Germany where I lived for six months back in 1992 when I was 22 years old. I had the time of my life there and made some life-long friends. We recently got a few crate loads of photos out of the shed, which included a second photo album of overseas photos. There was Heidelberg again. How beautiful. I showed the photos to my daughter and she asked why I came back. I must admit, I was wondering myself for quite a few years. Anyway, I ended up revisiting Heidelberg via Youtube. It was amazing. Here’s the link: Heidelberg Tour

So last week wasn’t quite so uneventful after all. How was your week? I look forward to hearing from you.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by  Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to pop round and join us.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 1st July, 2019.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share and a pinch and a punch for the first day of the month!

How has your week been? I hope it’s been going well. What’s the weather been like? We had some dreary rainy days last week but a few days of sun even if it’s freezing. I’ve had woolen gloves on and yet they’re still like ice blocks. I figure they lack the body heat to warm up even with the help of the gloves. These are desperate times. I’ve just put on the heater and will go out soon and hopefully boost my circulation that way.

Amelia Grease

This highlight for last week was watching our daughter appear in Grease the Musical which was put on by her school. She played a cheerleader and was also in the dance ensemble and we just loved seeing her up on stage. We also knew quite a few of the cast and were almost as stoked to see them up there. We’ve known one of Amelia’s friends since she was a year old so we go back a long way, which is really special.

Of course, the other thing about seeing Grease again was reliving my own teenage years where I must’ve watched that movie 10 – 20 times on the old VCR. We also played it at a slumber party for my 13th birthday. All but one of us had never seen it, but this girl had just moved to Australia from America and had seen it 13 times. We thought she was so cool!!

This is the last week of the school term here. We’re not going away these holidays. Our son will be appearing in the Scout Gang Show in the second week and that week is also packed with rehearsals. Our daughter has a lot of dance workshops and rehearsals. She’ll be doing her Grade 6 RAD exam in a few months and so it’s all action stations there and she also has a dance comp during the holidays. That had me trawling the globe in search of a tutu, but she’s borrowing one from her teacher. I suspect a growth spurt is around the corner and we’ll revisit the tutu next year.

Row a little boat

After all the excitement of watching Grease, I crashed over the weekend but I did read a fantastic book which I highly recommend. That was Richard Bode’s: First You Have to Row A Little Boat. Here are a couple of quotes:

“And so in time the rowboat and I became one and the same-like the archer and his bow or the artist and his paint. What I learned wasn’t mastery over the elements; it was mastery over myself, which is what conquest is ultimately all about.”
― Richard Bode, First You Have to Row a Little Boat: Reflections on Life & Living

“For the truth is that I already know as much about my fate as I need to know. The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze.”
― Richard Bode, First You Have to Row a Little Boat: Reflections on Life & Living

I’m still reading Kate Grenville’s: The Secret River. The train trip to Sydney certainly helped me make some steady progress. The train is probably my preferred place to read. While it’s snugly curling up in bed with a good book, it’s way too easy to nod off.

Last week we had a particularly great prompt for Friday Fictioneers. It was a photo of a box office and it doesn’t take too much imagination to see how that image would resonate for me. Here’s a link to my contribution: Triple-Threat Friday Fictioneers. I thought I’d also share a link to Keith’s contribution which I found incredibly funny: Keith’s Ramblings – A Theatrical Tale.

In terms of the coming week, I’ll be giving a talk about photography at Girls’ Brigade on Wednesday night. I was going to talk about finding inspiration in the every day. However, after seeing a friend in hospital last week, I thought I’d write about what photography means to me. I’m very pleased with how this is turning out and will be posting it on the blog. I’ve started off with how having my photo taken as a child made me feel special. I’ve moved onto my travels through Europe with the camera. Then, I addressed how photography has helped me get through some particularly hard times when health issues flared up and I couldn’t work. My whole identity, not to mention my very survival, was under threat but photography gave me a new identity and something to talk about instead of work. Indeed, the more I thought out this life change, it actually sounded rather idyllic aside from the fact of being broke.

Well that about covers the last week. How was your week? Hope you had a great one.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by  Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to pop round and join us.

Best wishes,

Rowena