Bali, Gunung Agung

This is last week’s blog. Somehow I didn’t get round to writing one then.

My love affair with Bali began in 2009. With several others, I joined my friend and colleague Michele Hendarwin on a Yoga Retreat and cultural experience. This turned out to be a life-changing time for me. I had never wished to visit Bali before but, in the interests of challenging my (then) fear of flying, Michele convinced me that the short flight from Perth to Bali (about three-and-a-half hours) was a good place to start! Since then I have returned to Bali once or twice a year. Sometimes with Michele’s Yoga Retreat and sometimes with my family.


At the moment the one thing on my mind is Gunung Agung volcano in Bali. I’m wondering if there is a tipping point after which the eruption has to take place? The volcano is presently rumbling and shaking and the seismic charts look dire.

The Indonesian authorities have already evacuated over 25,000 people from Karangasem district to centres such as the one in Klungkung where they are being cared for. The evacuees have had to leave their homes, temples, pets, and livestock. The crops in the fields lie in the direct path of the volcano.

The last time Gunung Agung erupted was in 1963 and lasted for a year. In that eruption, ash and lava was thrown 10kms into the air. Acid rain and rocks rained down on the east coast of the island. The official (conservative) estimate of people killed in that eruption is around 1,200. However, many of the elders who lived through it believe the number of people killed was in excess of 5,000.

Water, especially clean, potable water, is always an issue in Bali. The camps have limited resources for the many thousands of evacuees. ABC News reports: “At the Klungkung evacuation centre south of Mt Agung, soldiers from the Indonesian army were preparing rice for the 3,500 villagers who had moved into the site. The evacuees were housed in tents and the local sports hall, sleeping on camp beds and the floor.” In the midst of the trauma it warms my heart that care is being taken of those Balinese displaced by the impending eruption.

Gunung Agung is a mighty volcano, over 3,000m high. Pura Besakih is a temple complex in the village of Besakih on the slopes of Mount Agung. It is the most important, the largest and holiest temple of Hindu religion in Bali. The monks have been evacuated from the temple.

Mt. Batur, also erupted in 1963, a few months after Agung. Mt Batur is known for the hot springs in the caldera. Kintamani is the village on the rim of the volcano.

To my all my Balinese friends, I wish you safe passage through this troubling time.

Amed village, East Bali, Indonesia
Bali’s highest volcano Mt Agung, seen from the black sand beach at Amed village in East Bali, Indonesia.


Bali, Gunung Agung

Dairy farm memories

I grew up on a farm in Africa. Although it was not solely a dairy farm there was a dairy. Long before before milking machines the cows were milked by hand. Every cow had a name and if I think about it hard enough I can remember a few of them. I can remember the cool, dark dairy in the early morning. The fragrance of the warm milk mingles with more pungent smell of the silage, and the waft of fresh manure. In my mind I can hear the cows munching, the sound of milk frothing against the sides of metal buckets, and the dairy hands talking and whistling softly. Most of the commands where whistles as the cows were moved along and the next lot moved in. My mother would sit up at a high desk recording the amount of milk from each cow.

Friesland cow. Photo courtesy Roy’s Farm

The Friesland dairy herd were, at that time, my mother’s pride and joy. Butterfly was the colossal Friesland stud bull. He was kept penned for a lot of the time and as a result was quite cantankerous. One day he escaped from his pen and it just so happened that my younger sister and I were in the vicinity. He came lumbering after the two of us and the bunch of African children we were playing with. We all ran for our lives, screaming (of course). I grabbed my sister by the hand and dragged her willy-nilly to the silo. Normally we were forbidden to climb into or onto the silo but under the circumstances I disregarded that command while ‘escaping’ from Butterfly. I can’t remember the outcome of this adventure but seeing it was not me who released Butterfly from his pen, it was probably trouble-free.

I’ve often thought of Butterfly and wondered why such a delicate name was bestowed on such a massive animal. What happened to him I have no idea. The dairy was eventually closed. The big metal cans used to transport the milk to the Dairy Marketing Board – who knows what happened to them?

I can recall things about those early mornings in the dairy which, in reality, I was probably too young to remember. But, there is a softness in these memories; the memories evoke the peacefulness of the predawn milking.

Nowadays I can’t even drink milk!


Dairy farm memories


Who whistles these days? Lily is learning to whistle and practices while she is doing other things like homework. I whistle. My father used to whistle and so did my mother and my maternal grandmother. She, Granny Lucy, was a brilliant whistler. She could whistle vibrato and I was fascinated as to how she did that. I’ve tried and failed to sound like her. Roger Whittaker can whistle beautifully. I sent Lily this link so she could hear how beautiful whistling can be. Kath said that Tex also enjoyed it and wagged his tail in time to the music!

Tex enjoying Roger Whittaker’s whistling

My father had a special “I’m home” whistle that he did when he came in from the farm. I was trying to think of it on Father’s Day but couldn’t quite remember. I emailed my siblings to see if any of them remembered the notes he whistled. Straight away my oldest brother and youngest sister came back to me via phone and messenger to show me. My sister in South Africa phoned me and whistled the notes. Then I remembered and I have been doing the “I’m home” whistle quite a lot. Father was a good man, so kind and patient.

People know who you are if you’re a whistler. When I worked in the retail book trade, no matter where I was my colleagues would say, “There’s Eleanor!” I was also advised not to give up my day job but I think that is just an Australianism because I’m actually quite a good whistler. There is a young woman who works as barista at one of the local cafés; she’s a whistler too. Whistling while you work!

I can whistle, or rather coo, like a dove or pigeon with my hands clasped – and I can make that coo vibrato. The secret is to have warm hands. Cup your hands nice and round, making something similar to an ocarina. When I teach my grandchildren to do this, I cup my hands and let them blow into the space between my thumbs. So long as they keep their lips firm it works. Loose lips just make spit. Loose lips sink ships. I’d like to be able to play an ocarina.

I can whistle loud and shrill with two fingers in the corners of my mouth. I had to practice for a long time to achieve the skill. I finally managed it whilst in school (a long time ago) in a boring lesson. A piercing whistle emerged amongst the spit that was a by-product of the process. Hastily, I took my hand away from my mouth and looked around innocently. I can’t remember what happened after that.

I can whistle shrilly with a gum leaf between my thumbs. I can whistle through an empty toothpaste box. However, I can’t sing at all. I’m absolutely tone deaf.



Looking through my files I found this:
Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. 

This made him “A super callused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.”

Isn’t that just about the best thing you’ve read today?


Bedtime and sleep

Here’s an observation: how come some journalists, newspaper editors, and reporters know so much about health and fitness? I’m not referring to well-researched articles where the reporter quotes (accurately one hopes) a reliable medical or scientific source. I’m talking about the out there commands and/or instructions how to do something. One that pops up fairly frequently is about sleeping and what not to do in bed if you want to sleep well. How many times have I read that bed is only for sex and sleeping? This is possibly based in some research but why I wonder, does this one-size-fits-all become gospel just because it is repeated ad nauseam?

For myself, and I am a good sleeper, I do lots of other things in bed! I love to read in bed, books and the newspapers. Sometimes sitting up in bed is the best place to meditate, especially on a frosty morning. I do some supine yoga asanas nearly every day – I find bed an excellent place to extend and work the hamstrings without hurting my back. What better place to do the daily Sudoku and crossword than in bed? I do eat in bed, mainly snacks not a full meal although the luxury of a full breakfast in bed cannot be overrated.

Of course the rich and famous have used the bed as a place for interviews and protest – John Lennon’s and Yoko Ono’s Bed In for Peace, for example. Apparently the invited press were expecting something sexy, after all Yoko and John were on honeymoon! John Lennon said, “There were we like two angels in bed, with flowers all around us, and peace and love on our heads,” he continued. “We were fully clothed; the bed was just an accessory. We were wearing pyjamas, but they don’t look much different from day clothes — nothing showing.” Time magazine have a series of photos that are worth looking at – hard to believe it was 40 years ago.

Still on the subject of beds, I do like a properly made bed. A super smooth bottom sheet and the blankets pulled up to just the right level. Hospital corners with neat pockets are definitely a requirement, no casual tucking in on my bed! Three well-plumped pillows although I only sleep with two but I need the third for when I prop myself up to read in bed. Clean sheets that have been dried in sunlight have a charm all of their own (and spell-check wanted to change my use of the possessive ‘their’ to their adverb ‘there’! Tut tut MSWord).

Bedtime and sleep

Writing about Reading

When I had been at uni for a semester or two, I was given an assignment to write a Literature Review. This made very little sense to me. I asked my anthropology tutor, “What is a Literature Review and how do you write one?”

“It’s a review of the literature on your essay topic” was the best explanation I was given. I couldn’t believe how little I knew. I have been a reader my whole life and now I discover that I have read all the wrong books. Many years later I had a similar conversation with my PhD Supervisor. “I’ve read so many books” I said, “but hardly any of them are of any use to me here.”

This is about when I worked out that a good simile for the research behind a PhD Thesis is a stack of many fat Yellow Pages directories with a thin Telephone Directory on top. The Yellow Pages support the Telephone Directory. The PhD candidate has to have all the Yellow Pages (research) stacked up before the Telephone Directory (Thesis) can be useful.

To return to my assignment Review of the Literature, I actually wrote one by mistake. Once I knew what I was meant to be doing I found I could do this thing. Writing an Annotated Bibliography was another hurdle for me. I ended up by keeping copious notes of every academic paper, every book and any other learned source that might prove to be useful. All these notes, alphabetically filed, written in pencil, are still here in my study. I need to clear them out.

Teaching tertiary students, which is where my studies eventually took me, made me appreciate the obstacles I had managed to overcome. I think lecturers, teachers, and tutors sometimes forget the ways of learning before actually grasping something. Meeting the student at the bottom of the ladder and not halfway up is probably the most effective way to teach.

Once my Thesis was out of the way, my next task was to learn to read for pleasure again. However, my critical eye will always be open and not a few books have been scrapped because of this. Deep reading is a skill that I had to learn. Sometimes reading like this is a nuisance and I have to suspend my pedantic internal reader.

At the moment there are two books that haunt me. Both are novels, one very well written the other not so brilliant but both have the power to startle me when my mind is at rest. Oyster by Janet Turner Hospital is one and the other is The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. I was warned that Oyster would cause flashbacks – and so it does. The Lovely Bones, well I don’t know. I wouldn’t recommend it. I reviewed it on Goodreads and have just managed to post it to this blog.

I have reviewed Oyster and published it to this blog but will do so again. Ironically, I decided to read Oyster for relief, to break up the intensity of The Neapolitan Novels. Well, I do some silly things sometimes and this was one of those times.

Writing about Reading