Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: best and worst

The sun is setting on 2013...
So today is the last day of the year. I know I started this year feeling pretty hopeful, and while I'm ending it also feeling hopeful, there were some pretty bleak in-between-times that happened there.

Highlights and lowlights were all pretty closely intertwined. As an example, I went to Canada and saw the Northern Lights, which was amazing, but I also got such bad gastro that my guts were seriously fucked up for months afterwards, and I'm still dealing with the effects of it unfortunately. There was also some pretty negative step-family stuff that happened, but the upside is that I feel closer to my blood relatives now than I have in years. I am incredibly grateful to be part of such a strong, supportive, and loving network of people.

For part of this year I felt so trapped - living far from family and friends in Western Australia, saddled with a mortgage, and being bullied at work - and yet now I feel so free - back in Canberra, not working, and studying full time. It's so, so great to get to do what I want to do, to think about what I want to think about. One of the things that happens when you're being bullied is that you feel incredibly powerless. You don't think there's anything you can do to take back your power. Well, as a last resort I quit my job. It was the best thing I could have done. Now I find myself wondering how one (weak, pathetic, and terribly insecure) person could have gotten the better of me like that; the fact that I can now ask this question I take as a sign of my returning inner strength.

I don't know what 2014 holds for me. I don't feel desperate to embark on it like I did with 2013, convinced it would bring me new hope. I actually feel quite calm, sure that whatever else, the year ahead will bring new opportunities, new challenges, and hopefully many more occasions for happiness. Fingers crossed!

Goodbye old year!

Monday, December 16, 2013

It's all good!

It has been over 3 months since I last went to work. That's a quarter of a year! But it sure doesn't feel that long ago. A couple of weekends ago I went to visit a heritage site where I had an upcoming job interview, and when I walked into the property the heritage smell hit me, and I felt physically sick. Soon after I had been contacted to schedule that interview, my eye began twitching, and in the mornings I'd wake up with a sore jaw from having clenched it in my sleep. It was pretty telling to have such a physical reaction. I know I'll deal with it eventually, especially when I start working again and (hopefully) replace bad memories with good.

It's been 10 weeks since I moved back to Canberra, and I really am loving it. This is the third time I've moved to Canberra. The first time I enjoyed being here, in a superficial sort of way. Then I went to Tonga, and on returning I felt really disillusioned about the place. The city was so radically different to what I'd seen in the Pacific - in terms of priorities, climate, attitude. Tonga opened my eyes to aspects of my own culture, and in so many ways Canberra did not compare favorably to a tropical island paradise! Now, third time lucky, I feel like I am in a much better place to appreciate all that Canberra has to offer.

I feel lucky. Every morning I wake up, and I no longer dread the day ahead. Don't get me wrong, I am glad to have had the Westralian experience, and I don't regret going over there even though it was a very difficult time from start to finish. I'm glad both that I gave it a chance, and that we called it quits when we did.

The whole experience is quite a complex one to process. As time passes I'm sure I'll be able to find more positives in it, but I am very glad to be closing out the year on the east coast. I joke that the whole point of spending two years in Perth was just to make me appreciate what I have here so much more, but that's actually not far from the truth.

It's a relief to have the sense that "It's all good!" once more.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Orange star rising

Nearly three years ago, I skated and passed my first Orange Star test with Canberra Roller Derby League. Since then I have had to do the equivalent thing three more times. Twice with Perth Roller Derby (where the test is just called the Level 3) - the first time to transfer and the second (in February this year) because I had skipped 6 months of training!

Today I did it again with CRDL, because I was transferring back to the League after more than 2 years away. I passed, and even though I already have one orange star sticker on my helmet I thought I'd add this second one too, because I really feel that I have earned it. In so many ways returning to the League feels like I've come full circle.

Returning to Canberra also feels like I've come full circle. I feel so much more grateful now for everything I have here! After being stripped of so much of my support network while living on the other side of the country, I realise now how much being close to my friends and family means to me.

I feel revitalised and rejuvenated. I know part of this has to do with the fact that I haven't been at work now for over a month (which always helps!), but a lot of it also has to do with feeling connected once again to the people and places that matter in my life. I am incredibly, unbelievably happy to be back in Canberra. Which wasn't something I ever really thought I'd say!

Between returning from Tonga and leaving for Perth I was pretty down on this place. It did occur to me while I was in WA that perhaps the whole life lesson I was supposed to learn was about how good I'd had it in Canberra, so I'd be able to embrace it when we returned. Whether or not that's what the Universe was trying to teach me, it certainly reflects how I feel!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Wave Rock and surrounds

Day one and two of my little road trip with Dog Friday comprised the area around Hyden, including the various rock formations known as Wave Rock (a small part of a larger granite outcrop known as Hyden Rock), the Humps and Mulka's cave. These rocks were amazing, as were the wildflowers.

Despite its beauty, the area is seriously affected by salinity, which has rendered all the once-fresh water systems salty.




Friday, October 04, 2013

The Tin Horse Highway

Way back when I first moved here, I attended a conference paper given about the Tin Horse Highway, a stretch of road running from the wheatbelt town of Kulin to the local bush racetrack. I pretty much decided then and there that I had to see it for myself, and now, in closing my Westralian Experience, I have done (am still doing!) a little week-long road trip, encompassing the wheatbelt and the south coast, and including the Tin Horse Highway.

Below are pics of some of my favourites, though eventually I got sick of pulling my car over every hundred metres, and decided to stop photographing after the first two dozen or so!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Dad's Poem

My Dad wrote me a poem before he died. He was known for his poems, which he'd whip out at our various family gatherings - engagement parties, visiting relatives from overseas, any occasion was enough for Dad to write a poem about.

But he'd never written one for me until last year, after he learned he was dying. He read it aloud the last time the Menzies family were all together, in February of 2012. I found it today while going through my filing cabinet in preparation for the move, and because I only have the hard copy that he gave me I thought I'd spend the time and tears transcribing it.

So here it is.


Twelve thirty-eight, a miracle of the night,
No crying, slow blinks in Leboyer-dim light,
Dark hair, perplexed peeps,
Mouth agape while mother weeps,
Into water, first bath by sire,
Shaking hands, brain on fire.

Clumsy mitts that can’t disguise,
A first look into those dark eyes,
Gazes meet and one heart soars,
Misty eyes, the clench of jaws,
Nurse has seen it all before,
Grabs new baby, out the door.

Pediatrics now ensue,
She’s overcooked, but she will do,
Yaya arrives with second sight,
Adds more chaos to the night,
Mother sleeps and dad departs,
To Sydney Faculty of Arts.

Cigars all round that no-one smokes,
Lots of laughter, sleepless jokes,
Pheromones on overtime,
Exhaustion sweet, joy sublime,
Back to Crown Street, one more peek,
Through thick glass, view oblique.

Home at last, but colic bound,
Baby cries, a ghastly sound,
We helpless as that week-old child,
Doc assures us symptoms mild,
Try telling that to parents new,
Frantic learning, brains askew.

Lying on the bed one day,
Gibberish babbled, three at play.
Baby chokes and ceases breath,
Scares us shitless, imminent death?
Dad grabs child by legs and feet,
Inverted shakes above the sheet,
Bub comes to with awful cry,
Relief abundant she didn’t die.

Trained from two as pillion child,
Dad rides carefully, never wild,
Off to playschool on seat of tank,
Back at 3 and draw a blank.
“The bleeding’s stopped,” I hear the cry,
News to me, now what’s awry?
Shovel blow into the skull,
By rival child, slightly dull.
Ambos called, panic surging,
Siren blares at Isa’s urging.

Off to Daceyville,
In school band,
Dad thinks it’s grand,
Flat and sharp,
Who needs a key?
The tears still flow
And all agree
That these kids are just talent plus,
A bandmaster’s genius.

But better for the education,
Is some global perambulation.
So round the world six months is spent,
In countries new, of vast extent.
And travel through these sprawling nations,
Means lots of time at railway stations
Playing cards while others view,
Dad and daughter stuck like glue.

Then it’s time for secondary learning,
Dad wins vote for school discerning,
St Catherine’s is the choice at last,
Not for snobbery, or chasing caste,
Just to give his precious girl,
A better chance at life’s pearl.
Alas she was her father’s child,
For private school a bit too wild.

So off to high school, where things smooth out,
Many fewer rules to flout,
There’s still some wilfulness observed,
But also teacher-praise incurred,
She sticks to it to some degree,
And does quite well in the HSC

Well it’s off to the Gong with Dad in tow,
Orientation, all that show.
But Gongoloids don’t suit young Eees,
Nor does uni, she’s not at peace.
A month or six of break’s required,
Before once again she is inspired.
So ay out west she stakes a claim,
Straight HDs in the BA game.

By now Dad’s skint and not around,
To have his ear upon the ground.
And many are the things, he fears,
Troubling Isa, bringing on tears.
Accumulated listings of regret,
Are bigger than the national debt.
And sometimes with the weekly post,
She fires arrows, with Dad the roast.

But this too passes, as time immemorial,
She does more study, a Masters curatorial,
Then finds her life-long niche at last,
Museums, curation, nothing half-arsed.
Joins the derby, learns to skate,
A gentle sport to participate
In clashes wild she busts a knee,
Expressing her femininity.

Then there is her perfect feller,
Her Clinton – the calm co-dweller.
A perfect match in many ways,
For him there can be no better praise,
Than making happy a dad’s only child,
Truly on whom fortune smiled.

So young miracle of the night,
I know this sounds a little trite,
But I really have to say aloud,
You’ve made your Dad, so bloody proud.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Road Trip 1

In my last few weeks in WA I am trying to do a spot of sight-seeing. This place truly is beautiful, and it seems a shame that I have seen so little of it in my two years here. So earlier this week Janet, Heath and I took a quick 3-day road trip to the Pinnacles on the coast, and New Norcia a little bit inland, all within a couple of hundred kilometres of Perth.

Arriving early to catch the sunrise

This odd assortment of shapes and sizes covers a relatively small area, and the theories around their formation are just that - theories.


One theory is that these lumps were once the root system of large tuart trees, and that the original soil line was much higher than what we see now.

Wildflowers at the side of the road

The New Norcia Hotel, where we stayed. Originally built as accommodation for the parents visiting the pupils at the (European) schools.

The Abbey Church

Decorated in the 1960s using a traditional style, where coloured plaster is put on the walls in layers, and then scraped back to give the effect of illustration

The monastery where the Benedictine monks live

Abandoned building made from bricks manufactured onsite

Oven doors of the now-defunct Mill House

Inside the chapel of the (European) Boy's School

There were lots of walls everywhere - walls to keep boys away from girls, and to keep Aboriginals away from Europeans  

Chapel in the (European) Girls' School, Saint Gertrudes

Friday, August 09, 2013

I know that often when you look back on things after the fact it's hard to see why you made such a big deal about them in the first place. Two instances from my own life come to mind immediately.

One happened just last week, when a dehumidifyer in one of only two 'good' storage areas flooded into the carpet. The storage area, though not ideal, is one I established myself. It has climate control and a mobile dehumidifyer, so everything that has gone into it has been treated properly - cleaned, rehoused, accessioned, documented, and finally, stored. So when I saw that wet stain and smelled the musty air, all I could think of was the inevitable mould, and the wasted hours and hours of labour and effort that had gone into creating that space.

I just wanted to cry, because I didn't know how we could ever completely dry that carpet, and even if we were permitted to remove it, it would still be days before that happened. In a room already subject to rising damp this spill seemed the death knell of good storage, as mould really was the inevitable result.

Fortunately, the maintenance guy had the GENIUS idea of cutting out the entire square of wet carpet. The Property Manager uhmed and ahed a little, but we made it happen, and within an hour of me first becoming aware of the disaster I was smiling once again.

The other example I think of that looks completely different from this side of it was when C and I got trapped in a gorge on the Larapinta Trail for three days due to rain and rising water levels. At the time, that was really scary. We were in the middle of nowhere. We made one attempt to get out, but when C got wet and his lips turned blue, and our fingers went numb with the cold, I made the call to pitch the tent and stick it out.

We rationed our food and watched the water level on the creek next to us rising, and after 3 days of non-stop rain everything except our sleeping bags was sopping. We decided that if they too got wet then we'd set off our emergency beacon, because hypothermia was a real risk. On the fourth day we had to leave, because our food rations were so low we'd not otherwise be able to make it to our next food cache. Thankfully the sun shone for the first time in days, and we made it out fine. Sure we had to squeeze three days walking into two, but we got to our next food cache safely, and notified everyone that we weren't dead (after being reported missing by a friend!), and by the time we'd completed the total hike it was hard to remember what the whole fuss was about.

But at the time, I was aware that we were potentially in a life-or-death situation. Had we made a stupid decision, it's quite possible that we may not have made it out unharmed. But we didn't, and so we did.

I am trying to see my current situation like that. I am so flooded with anxiety right now and have been, let's face it, for months on end. I'm sure that by the time this is all far behind me I'll wonder what I made such a song and dance about. But at the moment, getting through this - even with the end now in sight - is challenging.

PS Re-reading this post I realise both the issues I outlined involve flooding! Perhaps I should just stay away from water!

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Bitter. Sweet.

It's official, we're leaving WA! Clinton has accepted a job back at his former workplace in Canberra, and, though I do not yet have any work lined up, I won't be waiting to get a job before heading back.

Life is too short to be so miserable. I've had six job interviews in the last nine months with no result, so I don't want to stick around in the hope that I might get another job from here. Since I'm now willing to make compromises on things like accepting a contract position and taking a pay cut, I hope that actually being in Canberra will make things a bit easier in terms of employment. Plus, there's the whole PhD thing to be going on with!

The challenge for me now is to stick out the next few weeks - I'll be resigning hopefully tomorrow - without giving in to the inevitable bitterness I feel about my experience at the Prison. I could spend a lot of time ranting about the negative work culture I encountered, or my grave concerns about the approach being taken to the heritage there (basically stripping it back to the convict era, and not respecting the complexity and unique multi-layered-ness of the site), but I really just want to let it all go and move forward.

It was a little bit of an act of faith, coming over here. I certainly had expectations. These expectations were not only not met, but dashed, shredded, and destroyed. It's big-picture stuff, though - not just reflective of the Prison but of the state of cultural heritage throughout Western Australia. Nothing I can fix and totally outside my control. Also the big-picture stuff that happened in my own life since moving here, like my Dad dying, closely followed by his wife, and then the breakdown in relations with her family. Being so far from support networks during these events has just amplified how isolated I am here.

Moving back to Canberra feels like another act of faith, though I think this time I have fewer expectations. I'm shrugging my shoulders and just handing it all over to the Universe. There is nothing I can take from this experience but what I've learned, so over the coming weeks I aim to keep my shit together and focus on the positives of having been here.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Giving up and moving on

Tomorrow is my birthday, and I feel like a bit of consolidation of my life is in order.

I have finally accepted that the whole WA thing is not going to work out, and am ready to let it go and move on. While I'm not leaving just yet (I don't have a job to go to, after all!), in my heart and mind I am distancing myself and moving away from this place. It's sad, but you know, life is for learning. And I have learned that living by the beach is not, on its own, enough to make me happy.

I had high hopes for 2013, I admit, especially after the utter train-wreck that was 2012. The first quarter of the year wasn't too bad, but soon after we returned from Canada it all went a bit pear-shaped, with my Dad's widow dying of cancer in April, and then the total shit-storm that was dealing with her (recently changed) will, and all the step-family DRAMAS leading up to the 12-month anniversary of my Dad's death. The silver lining of that cloud was a renewed appreciation for my blood family, though. Dad's siblings gave me staunch support throughout, which was very much appreciated.

Then I didn't get the job I'd been acting in for 18 months. Which wasn't actually a surprise, given the environment I was working in, and the political situation with my manager. I could really sympathise with Julia Gillard when she got the boot from the Labor party. Just as capable of doing the job as her successor, but ousted for political reasons, the crap she has had to endure inevitably means that the position will be much easier for the next woman in the job. And the whole thing was just so UNFAIR - for both of us!

Yet somehow, in spite of all this, I feel that there is a light at the end of the 2013 tunnel. I'm not quite sure what it looks like just yet, but I'm pretty sure it looks nothing like WA! I'll let you know when I get there.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Time ticking

I have this watch now. It's a family heirloom, though I don't know who it originally belonged to. My paternal grandmother had it, and it seems likely that it originated from her side of the family, as she came from a wealthier background than my farming-family grandfather. Who she inherited it from is a bit of a mystery. I am trying to date it to get a better idea of who might have owned it. Apparently one watch-maker suggested c.1910.

Despite the mystery of who owned it first, I like wearing it. It makes me feel connected to the women in my family. I take comfort and strength from the unknown wrists that it has circled, and the many hands that have wound it. It looses around 10 minutes every 24 hours, though it seems to lose more time when I'm unfocused and running around, and less when I'm calm and my energy is directed. Is that weird, for a watch to so fully embody the metaphor it represents? Time ticking, losing time, finding time...

I haven't worn a watch for over 20 years, and I am out of the habit of using it to actually measure time. But whenever I tuck my hair behind my left ear I hear it ticking, and that is reassuring.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Number One Sweet

You know those family foods that you grow up with that seem normal, until one day you realise that in other people's minds what you're eating is weird?

That role was played in my life by the Number One Sweet. I don't know why it's called that - as a kid I never questioned it, nor did it ever occur to me that others might not know what a 'Number One Sweet' was. It was what my Dad ate for breakfast pretty much every day while I was growing up, and occasionally as a snack. It was certainly an important part of my childhood diet too. 

So what exactly is this culinary oddity? A Number One Sweet is peanut butter, jam, and cheese, between two bits of toast. You could have it with bread, but toast works better. Other stipulations are that the jam has to be strawberry, and the cheese has to be cheddar. As for peanut butter, crunchy or smooth, you choose.

It's not something I eat often in my adult life, mostly because it seems a bit too indulgent, but I have recently discovered a great sheep's milk cheddar that I thought would lend itself to the dish perfectly.

Today I was feeling a bit nostalgic and missing my Dad, so I thought it was a good chance to bust one out, and sure enough it was just as good as I remember. The salty-and-sweet taste resulting from the combination of the peanut butter and jam, with that added bite provided by the cheddar - delicious!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

I like old stuff better than new stuff

Yesterday we went to the salvage yard to try and find some timber that's the right size for the fascia of our house. The place was chock-full of gorgeous timber sash windows, and vintage 50s and 60s doors - both interior and exterior. I couldn't believe it - these beautiful quality fittings, tossed out, just so people can built their cement McMansions. It's a travesty.

It turns out that the guys who run the salvage yard actually demolish the houses. They knock down around four 20th century homes per week. People like me shouldn't go to places like that, because I just find it heart-breaking.

Everyone over here is so fixated on NEW NEW NEW, building ever-larger monstrosities, with no room to reflect on the beauty of the past. There is no way that a modern aluminium window has anything on a jarrah sash window, or a Bunnings chipboard door can compare to a solid hardwood door with carved trim. So why do people do it? I really don't understand.

On the other hand, last weekend we went to an awesome second-hand shop I've found, called Turnstyle. It was crammed full to the brim with amazing goodies from across the span of the twentieth century. I was looking for a desk, and found a marvelous jarrah number, circa 1940s. I also spied a chair that literally took my breath away as soon as I laid eyes on it, and which I decided I had to have - white vinyl, also a 1940s (or possibly 30s) vintage, with turned feet and original castors:

 As for the desk, scrunched up in the top drawer was the typed draft of a letter, dated 1984, where Mrs Sandford of Applecross requests that Jestset pay to fix her camera from damage it sustained on a trip to NZ earlier that year.

Desk top halfway through sanding. The whole thing could do with sanding back, but following an afternoon with the orbital sander I thought I might restrict my restoration to just the desk top!

I sanded it down using 80, 120, and finally 150 grain paper. Most woodworkers seem to like going down to 400, but I wanted to actually get behind the desk sometime soon! After getting it stripped back to raw timber I oiled it - check out the contrast!

Here it is in all its glory!

Yep, there's no doubt about it, I definitely like old stuff better than new stuff. It has history, and is also generally better made.  I'm sure my new furniture could tell some stories if it could talk, not least of all about Mrs Sanderson and her camera!

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Rest in peace Anne

Earlier this morning my father's wife and partner of 18 years passed away. She outlived my dad by only 10 months.

I am so glad I was able to go up to Brisbane last weekend and say goodbye to her. I didn't realise it until I got back, but it wasn't for her, or my step-sister, or my dad that I needed to do it, but for me. I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to be with her during her last lucid days. Apparently she died peacefully in her sleep. With her were her two children and her eldest grand-daughter.

I went to the florist this morning, and very appropriately they had some Banksia Menziesii in stock. I also bought a candle, because when my dad died Anne lit a candle for him, so I have done the same for her.

I have taken the day off work. I know that the normal patterns of my life will resume themselves very soon, but I wanted to take today to honour the sadness I feel, and to mourn for the woman who shared my Dad's life for almost two decades, and who made him very happy.

I hope that wherever they have passed to, they are together now.

Friday, March 29, 2013

It doesn't feel like Easter...

A week after getting back from Sydney I found myself booking flights to Brisbane for this weekend. My dad's wife is dying, and I feel like I want to be there. For her, for me, for my step-sister. For my Dad.

This time last year, Dad had come to visit us. I remember, because one of the few things he'd eat was hot cross buns with real butter. I made myself some (yeast free) hot cross buns too. He was loving the warm weather, though for me it was still a bit too hot in the sun. So we sat outside eating our hot cross buns, he in the sunshine and me in the shade, for the whole Easter long weekend.

I can't even remember how long he stayed, but I know it was 24 hours longer than he intended, due to an emergency trip to the hospital when he was having chest pains.

The only photo I have from that visit is this one:

Friday kept wanting Dad to throw the squeaky toy for her, but his bones hurt too much. Not too much to prevent him from laughing at her repeated attempts to attract his attention though.

When I look at this photo it makes me smile. It also makes me incredibly sad. He was so determined to get over here and see our house. I don't think I realised how bad his condition was. And six weeks later he died.

Where Dad sits in this photo has since been turned into a veggie garden. Time passes and things change. But some things never leave you.