Sunday, December 12, 2010

Derby Journey

Last night I watched Canberra's representative team the Vice City Rollers take on and thrash the Sydney City Assassins. It was an epic bout for many reasons; a record-setter for derby attendance in Canberra, with over 3000 tickets sold - and the bout being held at the AIS Arena (Australian Institute of Sport)! But it was epic most of all because this is the first time Canberra have won against Sydney. The girls played so beautifully as a team, and though Sydney's defense was still A-grade, our packwork ensured that the VCR jammers got through the pack again and again. It was a very inspirational game!

And quite frankly I need all the inspiration I can get right now - today will be our first scrimmage session with the big kids.

From the time we started as Fresh Meat on March 16 this year we have always been the newbies, and though we all train together on Tuesday nights we usually split into star levels for any contact drills. We've certainly never had full-blown scrimmage with these girls, but as newly-minted Orange Stars the time has finally come - and I for one am a wee bit terrified!

It's funny to think that this time last year I was pumped about learning to skate but feeling a bit ambivalent about the contact aspect of roller derby. I'd already ordered my Reidell R3s, but when they arrived I really was hard-pressed to stand up in them! Now I am about to play with and against girls who have been skating longer and harder than me - many of them on our rep team. What a journey!

It looks like our Carnival of Carnage (debut bout) will be in late February next year, and then our intake will be drafted into the League's 4 teams. I am still terrified of breaking bones. And this is not as unlikely as it sounds - in the last 2 months we've had two broken collarbones, a broken wrist, a broken nose and a broken leg (in that order!). There have also been some broken ribs in the mix. So when I tell you that I am a bit scared of lining up with the big kids you can maybe see why!

But part of the derby thing is feeling that fear and, if not overcoming it, at least dealing with it. So this afternoon I'll line up with and against some of our hardest hitters - Aunty Aggro, The Cleaver and the Dalai Slam'er. But I'll also be playing alongside derby legends like Dr Hell, Bambi von Smash'er and DeNature, so that's gotta be worthwhile! All these women have the potential to break my bones, I'm just hoping they'll choose not to!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Counting my blessings

It's that time of the year; thoughts turn to family and friends and we count our blessings, all while our material society reaches its consumer zenith in the form of CHRISTMAS SHOPPING.

This time last year my workmates pulled together and made a Xmas hamper so that C and I would have some treats over the holidays. We weren't destitute by any means, but things were tight (especially by Canberra standards!), with Clinton studying full-time and the two of us living off my APS 3 salary. But we did alright - our rent was always paid and so were the bills. We had everything we needed, all we had to forego were the little luxuries. God knows, there were (still are) plenty of people less fortunate than us.

This time of year always gets me thinking how lucky I am. I think in a way I am fortunate to be aware of how truly blessed I am. It helps put shit into perspective. Imagine thinking constantly of all you didn't have, all that you wanted. Plenty of people have no choice; but I'm pretty sure plenty more just can't see that the crap they want, the misfortune they imagine, is nothing more than a societal burr demanding we worship whitegoods, fancy cars, and an assortment of other nonsense.

I got a letter from the mother of my new sponsor child (the former one, Rene, turned 18 and so left the program) the other day, expressing so much gratitude for the fact that I was sponsoring her little boy. It really brought home to me that the small amount I contribute, which is really not much money in the scheme of things, was worth so much to her and her family. One thing I was proud of C and I for achieving over the past 18 months of being an on-again, off-again single income household was that we both kept up our sponsor child payments.

Anyway, C has now landed a permanent APS 4 as a graduate at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, which is bloody brilliant. I'm feeling absolutely flush - today I ordered a case of Tasmanian wine, and after work went to an exhibition/sale of handmade resin jewellery and bought what seems like kilos of the stuff! It's kind of fun to be so indulgent for a change. But I will not forget how lucky I am.

I have all I want, and all that I need. A home, a man who loves me, family, friends, satisfying work. I might not have as much stuff or money as a lot of people, but I'm certainly better off than most. It's always nice to take some time out to think about that, to savour the abundance of life, because things can always change in a heartbeat, and you never know. Better to realise how lucky you are while you have it, rather than when - if - it is all stripped from you by the vagaries of fortune.

It's better to think of all you have, rather than what you don't. Many blessings to you all this Christmas.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I feel bad now!

Today I went back to Flemington to interview the racecaller, Greg Miles. He was so lovely to interview, really relaxed and easy going, made the experience of interviewing him a real pleasure. Plus the VRC reps were uber-helpful. Made me feel kind of bad for everything I said in the previous post!

So you know, I just wanted to put it out there that my problem is with the racing industry as a whole, not the VRC in particular! :-D

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Melbourne Cup

"...on this most Australian of days." The Governor General presents the tophy to winning owners at the 2010 Melbourne Cup

I went to the Melbourne Cup last week. It was for work. I had to apply for us all to get media accreditation from the Victoria Racing Club, so it was kind of a big deal (or a pain in the arse, depending on who I'm talking to!).

As she was presenting the trophy to the winner, our Governor General Quentin Bryce referred to the Melbourne Cup as "this most Australian of days." I think it's really interesting how a horse race has become so aligned with notions of Australian-ness, to the point where our own GG buys into the mythology.

But the thing about the Melbourne Cup is that it has been this way almost since it's inception. If we've been listening to the hype (or even if you've been totaly immersed in the subject because you're researching it for work purposes!) you can't fail to have missed the fact that the Cup has been going for 150 years, as of the most recent running.

In 1880, when the population of Melbourne was less than 300,000 people, some 100,000 showed up at Flemington to watch the Melbourne Cup. In 1895, when Mark Twain was visiting Australia, he witnessed the lead-up to the Cup in Melbourne (though he was on a boat travelling to NZ by the time the race was actually run), and he was led to declare that Melbourne was "the mitred Metropolitan of the horse-racing cult", that Flemington Racecourse was "the Mecca of Australasia", and the Melbourne Cup itself was "the Australasian national day." [For references, see Following the Equator, Mark Twain 1896]. So Quentin Bryce was merely one more in a long line of people who view Cup Day as a sort of Australian Holy Day.

The early days of horseracing in Australia were about improving the breed of horses in the new colony, and a race was merely a way of proving superior bloodstock, rather than an end in itself. But nowadays it's a full-blown industry, with all the attendant problems which that brings. People are in it for the money, horses are seen as nothing more than investments, and those that don't succeed are quickly cast aside.

Every year some 17,000 thoroughbred foals are born in Australia - this figure does not take into account the number of horses imported into Australia to race - and every year some 18,000 ex-racehorses are sent to the knackery. Think about that figure for just a minute - 18,000 unwanted, cast aside racehorses slaughtered, every single year.

I could also go into the treatment of racehorses, the high incidence of pulmonary bleeding (that is fancy talk for bleeding from their lungs), which has been shown to affect a staggering 95% of horses following a race [for reference check, see Birks EK, Shuler KM, Soma LR, Martin BB, Marconato L, Del Piero F., Teleis DC, Schar D., Hessinger AE, Uboh CE, “EIPH: postrace endoscopic evaluation of Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds,” Department of Clnical Studies, University of Pennsylvania, Equine Veterinary Journal Supplement, September 2002, but I got it from], and other, equally awful aspects of horse-racing.

My main objection to this sport is that we CELEBRATE it. You know, greyhound racing has a pretty seedy reputation, and most people know about the issues of greyhounds needing to be rehomed, but nobody is jumping up and down to cheer on the greyhounds the way we do the Melbourne Cup every year. I just think more people should know the truth about the industry, so they can make an informed choice about whether they want to support the 'race that stops the nation', rather than just getting caught up in the annual hype about the race, and the myth that it's a glamorous sport.

And as for it somehow being our national day, well, I call bullshit on that too. Maybe once, in the 'good old days', it was a proud and noble tradition, but with the advent of professional trainers, marketing, and sponsorship it has moved into the realm of an industry, one based on the exploitation of animals. I have spent the last year and a half researching it, and this is the sad conclusion I've come to.

I'd better look out though, people are probably going to start calling me un-Australian now.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Brooding on breeding

This is so un-PC, but honestly, if one more person tells me they are pregnant before year's end, I'm afraid that instead of offering them my congratulations, the words "Oh for fuck's sake!" will involuntarily escape my lips.

This year - 2010 - has gone from seeing the very first one of my close childhood friends getting pregnant and having her baby, to a sudden flurry of reproductive enthusiasm that has now gripped what seems to be every woman I know. This includes (in order of The Grand Announcement) a Uni friend; my boss; my very best friend from my twenties; my younger cousin; and now his older sister is the latest to announce the forthcoming arrival of her offspring. And these are all Confirmed Sightings, they do not include those I know who are currently, shall we say, in the market!

Meanwhile I am still ambivalent as hell about whether or not I want to bring a child into this world, and be its parent. Selfish? Maybe. But it's nobody's damn business except me and my husband. What I'm certainly NOT looking forward to is the forthcoming Family Christmas, where I will be the only female of reproductive age NOT sporting a baby bump and tales of morning sickness and swollen ankles. Oh, I simply cannot WAIT for everyone to ask me when C and I are going to start spawning, and telling me about how my fertility is declining with every passing day.

Seriously, when you've had that conversation with your Mum where she suggests you think about having your eggs frozen, you just don't need to rehash it with the rest of the family.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Today I got my first taste of someone directing some heat-of-the-moment aggression at me during scrimmage practice. And not on the track, but on the sidelines.

I don't think it's unusual, and pretty much everyone has a story about someone snapping at them for no reason (and I'm sure I'll probably do it to someone else in turn). It's actually not so much that it happened that bothered me, more my reaction to it. My very first instinct was to burst into tears. Seriously!

I guess it's some kind of conditioning - someone yells at you, totally unexpectedly, for something you had no intention of doing, and the first reaction is to crumble. Or maybe that's just me. Anyway, that reaction, my reaction, kinda took me by surprise.

I have seen things getting a little heated on the track a few times during scrimmage, which is pretty natural. I guess the important thing to learn is to be able to rein in the immediate reaction, and take a couple of deep breaths. Sometimes you give a hit, or do some blocking, and people take it a bit personally, and come back at you for revenge.

I've also felt my own anger threshold being crossed, though it wasn't during scrimmage. Someone was getting in my face and giving me shit during a regular 'ole paceline, and I seriously wanted to tell her to just GET FUCKED, but I sucked it up. But yes, if I'm being honest I have to say that if we're doing hitting drills, and she's in my line of fire, I do not hold back. It's stupid and immature I know - all I'm saying is that, even though it hasn't yet been an issue for me during scrimmage, I do know that I too have an anger threshold that might push me over, and suddenly it will be Snapsville, population ME.

One thing that impresses me about roller derby is that most of the time there is very much a sense of 'what happens on the track stays on the track.' Everyone in our league trains together, even though they bout as 4 separate teams. Even last night, at a CRDL vs. SRDL bout in Sydney (frickin' BEST bout I have seen, ever! If you are a fan of derby in Oz and you missed it, you missed out!) there was rivalry between the teams on the track, sure, but afterwards everyone was at the same pub chatting and complementing each other on the awesome blocks they had put on them. It's so positive, and such a great example of how women can relate to each other. Ah, roller derby - it almost makes me believe in the Sisterhood!

So today this lady and I got over it, and I'm pretty sure it's not going to be an issue for us in the future. My real shock and surprise were not even directed at her reaction, but my own. I am finding this whole derby journey quite interesting in terms of the things it is offering up for self-reflection. And not all of it what I might have expected.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Scrimage Sundays

So now that I've passed my Yellow Star assessment, there's this little world of fun that I and the other Yellows have been admitted to. It's called Scrimage Sundays, and it's basically taking all the skills and drills we've been working on for the past 5 months, and using them in the game they call Roller Derby!

Today was the first time we got to give it a go, and it was soooooo much fun! I'd heard a rumour on Facebook that we were gonna be scrimmaging today, and I was a bit worried about it. We'd done this Blood and Thunder drill a few sessions ago, which is basically like a 'last man standing' type game, where it's every woman for herself on the track and you gotta take down others to win. My response to this was to be like a deer in headlights and be taken down straight away, or to just run away and end up out of bounds (automatic out), so I was a bit hesitant about what I'd be like at actual scrimaging.

Turns out it's LOTS of fun. And now, I actually feel like I do play roller derby, instead of just pretending. Obviously none of us was particularly outstanding this first time through (ok, except for this chick Terror Bonesaparte, and another called Violet van Slam, who are pretty frickin awesome jammers and blockers respectively, but we'll leave them for the time being!), but I feel confident that my skills will improve.

Oh, and as a prelude to the scrimmaging we did Blood and Thunder again, and this time I made myself stay strong and stable, and though I didn't exactly hunt people out and dispatch them, I withstood enough hits from others to end up in the last five or six standing, which was quite an achievement. The next step is to become more aggressive, and bring the fight, rather than just withstanding it!

I came away from today's session feeling really pumped, and really positive about the whole derby thing. I'm glad I pursued it through that initial period of doubt and kept pushing myself. I'm sure there'll be another wall or plataue to get through in the future, but for the moment I'm just gonna relax and enjoy the eight-wheeled ride!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Legend of Larapinta

I want to tell you about one particular part of our Larapinta adventure. Because an adventure is certainly what it became!

We started our walk at Standley Chasm, an easily accessible tourist spot 60-odd kilometres west of Alice. I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow description of each day of our walk, but will pick up the story when we reached Hugh Gorge junction. That was at around midday, by which time it had already been raining for around 20 hours. The walk continued on through the gorge, and the track notes advised us of having to wade through short stretches of very cold water. Given the weather conditions we thought it might be wiser to camp there for the night, and continue on in the morning, making up time later on.

Now, it wasn’t just the rain, but the cold too. Central Australia can be bitterly cold in the winter, and not just overnight. We’d been walking in constant rain for some hours, and I was pretty much wet through. The seals on my Goretex had finally given up the ghost (I bought it 8 years ago at an op-shop for $12, and it has certainly served me well!). Also was our discovery that morning that the tent was not 100% waterproof. It turns out that the attachment points need to be treated for it to be 100% sealed. Great!

Given all this, I wanted nothing more than to get into some dry clothes and climb into my sleeping bag. While we were pitching the tent two couples walked past us, having just walked through the gorge. Their advice was that the water was around mid-thigh at the deepest, and that we’d certainly be getting our feet wet during the 2.5km walk. Oh, and they also brought the unhappy tidings that the weather was forecast to continue raining for the next 3 days. Apparently 40mm were predicted to fall on Wednesday alone. It was now Monday.

Though with this update we really should have commenced to pack up our tent and set off straight away into the gorge, I simply could not face it. Besides, setting off into cold water, which we’d have to be wading through for some hours, did not seem sensible after we’d already gotten so cold and wet. I thought it best to stay put, and make an attempt to get out the next day.

The next day was Tuesday, and the rain had continued unabated overnight. The creek we’d crossed to get to our campsite was only slightly higher than it had been the day before, though the water was certainly more forceful. We packed everything up, from the inside out, to try and keep it all as dry as possible. I was wearing my thermal long johns (up until then just for sleeping), and my fleece under my damp Goretex. It seemed important to stay as warm as possible.

We hadn’t walked more than 100 metres when we got to the first section of wading, a narrow channel between two sheer cliffs. The opposite bank seemed around 30 metres away, and the water was a turbulent murky brown, with no way of gauging its depth. We stepped in, and it rose to the tops of our legs within metres. My boots filled. It was horrible. We stood in the rain, poking about with a stick to try and find a shallow point, but there was none.

Eventually we withdrew from the pool, and Clinton bravely stripped off to just his swimming trunks to try and find a way through. He had teevas (a kind of hiking sandal), you see, and so was not faced with the problem of wet feet in wet boots. But as he tried to find a path across he slipped into the water and was totally submerged. My heart went into my mouth – it was really fricking cold. When he got back to me he was shaking uncontrollably, and I started thinking of stories of hikers who’d died of hypothermia or exposure in the wilderness. Any thought of continuing seemed ridiculous; we had to turn back and get warm and dry as soon as possible.

We pitched the tent again, in the exact same spot as before. While trying to set up the little fly over the tent my fingers were so cold they were useless. I gripped the string with my teeth to make the knots. My feet were numb, and had been for some time. I can only imagine how cold Clinton must have been. Finally the tent was up, and the sleeping bags zipped together. My warm dry clothes were sadly now wet and cold clothes, but luckily I still had my sleeping socks, a thermal top and a second pair of hiking pants to wear. The dampness of my fleece was a blow, though.

So now we were at least dry, and beginning to warm up. The question became one of, “What do we do now?” It was Tuesday; we were meant to be arriving at our food cache on Wednesday, but it was still two days walk away. So we had 1 dinner, two breakfasts and two lunches. These would now have to be rationed. I could make the dinner stretch for 3 nights at a pinch. That meant that if the rain continued until Wednesday as forecast, we would have to leave on Thursday in order to get to Ellery Creek and our food by the Friday night. It was lucky that we still carried plenty of snacks – in fact, though the meals might have to be meagre, the snacks would be enough to contain any serious hunger pangs. We certainly weren’t going to die of hunger, anyway. And another problem we didn’t have to face was water, as there was plenty of that everywhere! The silt in it was enough to clog up my water filter several times, and made filtering enough drinking water for us a much longer process than ever before, as it had to be cleaned out regularly.

But still, we knew at least that our basic needs were accounted for. All we had to hope was that the campsite did not flood. This became of more and more concern as the day wore on, with no end to the rain. The little creek was transformed to a raging torrent while we watched, and I anxiously kept checking the high water line. The flood marks were something I had considered when we decided to stay at the gorge junction. I knew there was a rockpool further upstream by the track notes, and I’d tried to look at high water debris to get an idea of how in danger we were of flooding. My fear was that the rain would continue and the rockpool might overflow its banks, and we’d be washed away.

That might sound slightly irrational, but when I tell you that the rain did not cease for of 52 hours, and I watched a small creek quadruple in size over a period of hours, you might in some way understand where I was coming from.

Clinton assured me that at least the catchment area upstream from where we were was quite small, and, having agreed that we’d set off our Personal Locator Beacon only if our camp was flooded, there was nothing to do but sit in our sleeping bags and play cards while the rain continued outside.

This didn’t stop us from second-guessing ourselves, either. Had we made the right choice? Would we be safe? Should we have just turned back straight away? Because really, if the water level did not subside significantly by Thursday, we would be forced to retrace our steps to Birthday Waterhole, where there was a 4WD track. But the problem was that this also was a (hard) 2 day walk away, and there was no guarantee that there would be anyone to help us at the 4WD track. My preference by far was to continue on through the gorge, because not only was our food in that direction, but it was much easier walking, and would not disrupt our schedule too much.

When the rain finally ceased, in the early hours of Wednesday, it seemed too much to hope that it had stopped for good. We kept an ear out for the faintest hint of sprinkling from above, but the day dawned without a drop, and we were able – or rather, Clinton was able, as I was wallowing in the tent in hopelessness at that point – to start a fire. Thank you, firelighters! By slowly drying out kindling and then larger pieces of wood we had a wonderful fire that lasted us the whole day. We dried everything imaginable. Steam rose from socks, pants, boots. I eagerly checked the waterline at regular intervals, and it did indeed appear to be dropping fast. But still we held our breaths. If it did not rain again we knew we were out of the woods. But if it did...

On Thursday morning we woke up early, and we could see the moon and the stars. The sky was clear! As the sky to the east grew lighter our optimism grew and grew, until finally like a flaming beacon of hope the sun lit up the walls of the gorge all around us. It was like we were the first people ever to witness a sunrise. I will always remember that morning, and that feeling, because it was as close to transcendental as I have ever experienced.

So we made our way through Hugh Gorge, a walk that according to the track notes should take 2.5 hours, and took us five and a half. We clambered up cliffs and pushed through bush, and also of course waded through water. I kept my newly-dried boots dry, with a lot of assistance from Clinton, who made multiple trips across every watercourse, first to find a path, then to carry his pack, then my pack, back and forth, while I toddled through the icy water barefoot, clutching my boots and little else. He built me small stepping-stones so I could rock-hop across shallow streams without having to take my boots off, and even piggy-backed me across one short crossing. But though it took us ages, and the path was often arduous, we could not wipe the smiles from our faces, and upon finally emerging from the melaleuca thickets at the gorge mouth we knew we were saved!

The rest, as they say, is history. The tale of having to hike 31km in a day and a half, and the blisters from drying my boots too fast, and being reported missing.... well, they are stories for another time.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Just the tip of the iceberg

I am itching for a new challenge. I’d like a job that will give me a bit more satisfaction than my current position (I hear you say, “Wouldn’t we all?”). I want to do something that uses my skills to help, in terms of preserving and documenting significant collections.

There are a number of factors that make my current position feel less than satisfying. It seems that since coming back from Tonga I’m not so interested in taking a lot of this shit seriously. I disagree with the basic interpretive approaches that are being realised where I’m working. I’m struggling with having to conform to a uniformity that I feel not only dumbs down the whole exhibition, but renders it BORING.

I don’t know if I can even post this stuff on the internet anymore! Seems like everything I’m thinking about and wanting to vent about these days might be read by someone who shouldn’t see it, so I’m just self-censoring.

Maybe I should just write more about roller derby.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

OMG I'm getting OLD!

You know that thing you might do if you've had a blog for several years, where you go right back and re-read the early posts? And look at the pictures? And suddenly think to yourself, 'Oh my god I really AM ageing!'


I just did that now.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010