New Year, moving into 2017

Many years ago, the Old Year was symbolised by an old man with a scythe, leaving, and the New Year as a baby entering the world. Of course, there is a clock about to strike midnight. These memes are still used today – often as cartoons and with a political theme.


In my mind, New Year is to do with reflection on the past year. A few years ago I found a letter in the Weekend Australian that more-or-less sums up some of what I mean. The gist of the letter, by Rachael Krinks from Trevallyn, Tas., goes like this, “… reflect for a few minutes … what things are you grateful for? What did you achieve? What could you have done better? …” and so on and so forth. So, it seems to me that the resolutions we make at new year may not be generalisations about ‘giving up’ anything or ‘losing weight’ or going to the gym but rather thinking more about how we conduct ourselves day-by-day. To begin and end each day with a feeling of gratitude is a fine way to start. Can you read? Can you write? Have you got food in the fridge? Have you got a fridge? Running water? Air to breathe? Shelter? Clothes to wear? All these – and more – are things we can be grateful for. To whom or what are we grateful? Now this is tricky … the Universe, The Goddess, God, your own self? Just offering the thanks in a non-directed way seems to work for me! In our house we are grateful every day that we live in Australia. Roland often says that when we were accepted as migrants into Australia, it was like winning the lottery.


When I think of my family and friends all over the world this New Year, I wish them this Australian Blessing by Aunty Betty Pike, a Noongar Elder. She was  originally from Perth, and now lives in Geelong, Victoria. I copied it down and it goes like this,

May you always stand tall as a tree. Be as strong as the rock Uluru. As gentle and still as the morning mist. Hold the warmth of the campfire in your heart, and may the Creator Spirit always walk with you.

So, here’s a Noongar painting ‘Learning Circles’ by Alta Winmar, to reflect upon. I think it is appropriate for the time of year and the wishes that I send to family and friends.

Alta Winmar, Noongar artist. “Learning Circles”

Learning Circles

This art represents life, learning and acquiring and passing down knowledge.

The centre image is a tree showing the cycles of life with many branches of people coming together, connecting to each other, mother land, sea, and sky above.  The flowers are the outcomes of people from many areas coming together in peace to talk, think and share knowledges.  The cycles of life hold us, the people, all the animals, all the plants, the living earth, the seas and the sky together and throughout time.  The cycles of life hold all living things together from the past to now in the present, and into the future.

It is through the cycles of life and understanding that a small ripple from a centre moves through, connects, and is absorbed like knowledge is acquired, to be shared for the growth of all mankind.

About the Artist

Alta Winmar is a Balladong/Koreng Noongar woman living in Perth, Western Australia. She is a Noongar artist who has exhibited works in Western Australia and art pieces in other parts of the world.  Alta is a proud Noongar Yorga (woman).

Above all, as Natalie Goldberg says, “Let us always be kind in this world”

New Year, moving into 2017

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's SorryMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Having a grandmother is like having an army. This is a grandchild’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details. Even when you are wrong. Especially then, in fact.”
I don’t like reading about bullying but recently I’ve read two books where the initial premise is bullying. First, I read Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood and shortly afterward, this book by Fredrik Backman. While bullying is not the main theme it seems to underpin both stories. In Cat’s Eye it is a small group of girls picking on one girl and in Backman’s book it is more general – a school picking on Elsa (age 7) because of her being “different”. What strikes me in both stories is how ineffectual most of the adults are in protecting the children. Elsa’s granny encourages her to fight back, “Kick him in the fuse box” she says, and Elsa does but still lands up in the principal’s office and, usually, held to have done something to provoke the bullying and not walking away. Only when her grandmother was alive was the school principal pulled up about that. Elsa has learned to run away, and to run away fast. She has learned to fib about the bruises and scratches. Most of the time she lies to protect the bullies (from her grandmother). The hate-filled notes that are left in her locker she destroys by tearing into small pieces and depositing in wastebaskets all around the school. Remember, she is only seven years old. She uses what resources she has to protect herself.
The bullying parts of this book made me angry as they did in Cat’s Eye. The types of bullying are different but the distress is not. Different personalities react differently to bullies. In Cat’s Eye, Elaine is subjected to bullying by her abusive ‘friends’ and believes she deserves it. Elsa, on the other hand, may not name it bullying per se but she reacts to the abuse (physical, mental and emotional) positively. She runs, she fights back and she never, ever snitches on the bullies.
There is an element of fantasy in My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. The blurb on the jacket says, “Firmly in league with Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman. I would have to agree on both counts. There is another world that Elsa escapes to when the going gets really tough, The Land of Almost-Awake. Her grandmother showed her the world and the told her the tales of the magical land. They speak another, secret, language that her grandmother taught her when she was very young. According to the questions and answers on Goodreads, the language is Esperanto.
If I have some of the qualities that Elsa’s grandmother has, I think that would be a fine achievement.

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My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman.

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old – for the older people among us!

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years OldThe Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old by Hendrik Groen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started reading Hendrik Groen’s Secret Diary with some trepidation – why would I want to read about this grumpy old man in an Amsterdam Old People’s Care Home? After all I’m married to an oldish man (5 years younger than Hendrik Groen) and I’m familiar with some of the ‘older male’ idiosyncrasies. Maybe, ten years ago, I would not have found much to keep me reading. In the event, I found this a charming book. There are moments of hilarity, gentle humour, and sadness. But overall there is acceptance of aging. There is recognition of the importance of like-minded friends in one’s life at whatever age. There is the sense of adventure that is fairly crucial to keeping up a person’s interest in life. I suppose it could be a sense of purpose, something to get you up and going each day. In Hendrik Groen’s life it is not necessarily some huge event but a visit to the Botanical Gardens with friends, helping his less-able friends with their daily chores. Overall, this tale left me with a feeling of appreciation for being older, being able-bodied and living in a country (Australia) where there is so much going for us ‘senior citizens’. Oh, and living in a warm climate. I don’t think I could handle the cold.

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The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old – for the older people among us!

The Long Drawer revisited

I wrote this Blog seven years ago and wanted to draw on it again today. I was stuck for a topic so this is my ‘go to’ box. I’ve added a couple of photos and edited it slightly (some of it seemed a bit garbled). I had to copy and paste as I didn’t know how to bring the post to the top of my Blog.

I dipped my hand into one of the files just a moment ago and came up with this – I cut it out of the Weekend Australian Magazine in February, 2001. So, it isn’t all serious stuff!


As you can see from the photo, there’s nothing posh about my Long Drawer. The cardboard box has has had a few incarnations – packing case, repository for academic drafts, and toy box for Rosie amongst other things.

My Long Drawer – box

The value of the Bakhtinian notion of the “long drawer”.

I have been a researcher since childhood. I have discovered that my researcher persona seldom takes a holiday. Conversations I have—and have had (or overheard), the books I read and have read, the events I participate in or observe become intrinsic to my life. The garnered information is stored, often in a journal, sometimes in memory, sometimes on tape or in pictures, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, but is there to be “drawn” on when I need it!

Connecting my familiar to what is, at first strange, carries me into my writing. Remembering stories and myths allows me, indeed provokes me, as author, to use my ‘long drawer’. A colleague mentioned (in passing) ‘the long drawer’. He was speaking about Bakhtin’s custom of ‘drawing’ on material that he had written many years earlier. The play on the word ‘drawer’ (I imagine the material was kept in a bureau of some sort) and ‘drawing’ upon it, befits the way I work and research and remember. These things I keep: letters, essays, and notes; I write down dreams, conversations and memories of conversations; I eavesdrop and take notes. I keep journals, diaries, taped interviews, lists, and newspaper clippings—many of which I draw on at various stages in my work.

When the dreaded block happens, I plunge my hand into one of the various boxes or files that serve to house the bits and pieces. I find in my ‘long drawer’ journals and diaries that go back forty years or more; scraps of paper with notes are even older. I remember the journals and letters I destroyed when I left Africa and regret that I was so imprudent and impulsive in burning them. The papers and letters I did keep take on a meaningfulness that makes me realise I was an historian, an ethnographer, an anthropologist, before I knew what the words meant. Among the treasures that remain in the cache, my ‘long drawer’, are my father’s handwritten notes of the eulogy he gave at his mother’s funeral in 1967—the year my daughter was born—and just by seeing his handwriting I feel and savour the threads that link the generations: I remember the fountain pen he used, I remember my grandmother’s funeral, and most of all, I remember my father.

The correspondence and conversations with friends, relatives, Australians, Zimbabweans, and expatriate Rhodesians is evident and the anonymous others whose words and conversations, overheard, are stored for retrieval when I need them. In the long drawer, past impacts on the present and the present on the past and traces of autobiography are spoor to draw in the reader.

This post is now part of my long drawer and in it I have drawn on my doctoral thesis, emails to friends and other hoarded sources.

Looking tidy today!

Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975)

The Long Drawer revisited

Bees and me

Looking back at life on the farm, I am struck by how little I remember. What I do remember is the house, known to most people as ‘The Big House’. I had my own special room in the Big House, a bee-proof room. It seems my allergy to beestings started very early in the piece. African honeybees, (Apis mellifera scutellata) are extreme bees; they attack, and once one bee has stung the rest of the swarm come in like kamikazes. There is a particular scent that swarming and stinging bees have. I don’t know if everyone can smell it but I certainly can. According to my research, it is an alarm pheromone that smells “a bit like banana”. I think that is stretching it!


I can remember the terrifying sound when the bees swarmed. If you saw a swarm coming in, it was like a thick cloud, like a taste of Armageddon. Should two or more swarms choose the same place to hive, a fierce battle would ensue. Anything or anybody who was in the area was in danger. I can remember one year all my mum’s hens were stung to death. Another year, my niece’s budgies, all gone. The farm dogs too.

African honey bee. Photograph by W.H Kern, University of Florida

In the Big House only one room was more-or-less bee-proof. This was the blackboard room, which opened on to the interior courtyard on one side and into a passage on the other, so two doors. There was one gauzed window. As soon as we heard the sound of swarming bees I would be hustled into the blackboard room and all the doors and windows closed. If my younger sister was at home, she came in too. While we were confined, would draw on the blackboard with coloured chalks or play dress-ups in mum’s silk wedding gown and dad’s black graduation gown. If a stray bee managed to find it’s way into the room it was squashed, and that’s where you could smell the bee smell. This was probably not a good idea as the smell enraged other bees, which might try and get in. It is important to know how to remove a beesting without pressing the poison sac. Scraping it off with a sharp knife is the best solution and then apply bicarb of soda. Trust me, I know.

After the all clear and most of the random bees had been cleared we would be released. The bees would swarm in the chimneys and in the ceiling space. As time went on, the bees that swarmed in the ceiling space above the sun-room made plenty of honey. The honey would drip through the ceiling and make a honey puddle on the concrete floor.

I’m sad that I’m allergic to beestings because bees are one of my favourite insects. Having to carry an Epipen® is a pain in the bum. Sometimes I think it is a waste of time. I don’t have a clue how to use it and it sits in a drawer in its original wrapping. I know what anaphylaxis feels like because beestings are not my only allergy. I’ve come round from anaphylaxis with needles stuck into me after taking antimalarial tablets and any medication with sulphates.

This blog started life as part of a writing marathon at New Norcia. It was the 20minute entry. My thanks to Liana Christensen and the members in the group for their encouragement and motivation.

Bees and me

Disappearing mugs of tea & coffee, and Academic Writing is a mask

I don’t know about you but this is what happens to me … I am sitting, comfortably – probably reading or doing a sudoko – quietly sipping on a mug of hot tea (please note, I’m very careful not to write ‘a hot mug of tea’) or hot coffee. After a couple of sips I reach out again for the mug and it is empty. In the words of Julius Sumner Miller, “Why is this so?” My attention may have wandered for a moment, but only a moment so where did the tea go? I have a theory, I have many theories that are totally useless in the event.


This tea/coffee discussion is not a proper entry for my blog.

I am writing a more whinging blog about why I can’t access my own academic papers published in journals. I’d put the paper up on but the original paper is long gone. The journal article I’m thinking of was on an ancient computer that died about 15 years ago. I’ve got the hard copy and I know if I copy it out I’ll change it! The Journal of Australian Studies claim copyright and I can’t even copy my own writing without written permission from the Editor. So, you’ll not be able to read my paper, Recollection of Identity: The Reassembly of the Migrant in JAS #77 2003 pp 109-116. Some academics have cited the work and that makes me feel it was worthwhile.

Nowadays, I use the academic style to hide behind. I have lots of things to say but they are not always acceptable. I stifle the urge to write publicly because what I have to say is inflammatory, to me and to others. Betrayal, loathing, exclusion, hate, love.

Academic writing is a mask.

Disappearing mugs of tea & coffee, and Academic Writing is a mask

Time with my Granddaughters 

Here we have an incipient blog entry. I’m committed to one blog a week and I’ve imposed one rule on myself, book reviews from Goodreads are not counted!

Tonight Rosie and Lily decorated the Christmas tree. Rosie, mostly in a hurry, much like her grandfather, has the tinsel and baubles strung up in quick time. Lily, on the other hand, digs into the decorations box and finds strange little objects all of which warrant a place on the tree. “I made this when I was little” she informs me earnestly, holding up a grubby tube of paper.
“What is it?” I ask.
“A reindeer” says she.

Now, looking just a trifle lopsided, the tree is completely covered in glamour and glitter. ‘Thank goodness they don’t have a cat’ I think to myself.

So now the next part of looking after my girls is to persuade them to go to bed.

Time with my Granddaughters