Sole Sister

Cruising in the single lane


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Meandering in the Meander Valley

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East your heart out Don Bradman!

Tasmania might be small in size and population, but in the BIG THINGS department it definitely punches above its weight. I was unaware of this until I came across the BIG CRICKET STUMPS during a recent visit. Then, on my return home, a Spirit of Tasmania newsletter revealed the treasure trove of other BIG THINGS around which they have created a tour route. There’s the obligatory BIG APPLE, at Spreyton, near Devonport. Then there are the Big Trout, Penguin, Tassie Devil, Platypus, Potato, Lobster, Coffee Pot, Cherry and Raspberry. And, at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, the Big Slide Rule. But my favourite (apart from the Cricket Stumps for personal reasons), is the BIG THUMBS UP at Scottsdale

I came across the Cricket Stumps in Westbury, in the bucolic Meander Valley, just south of “Launnie” on the Bass Highway. The stumps are among Westbury’s drawcards – along with The Maze and Pearns Steam World – and the delightful township itself. The Stumps stand eight metres high, and three metres across, and commemorate the legendary Jack Badcock, a former wearer of the Baggy Green and the first Tasmanian to make a century for Australia in the 1937 clash against England. Commemorating Jack Badcock, and other significant figures from the town’s formative years, is the finely sculptured metal Westbury Silhouette Trail. 

Metal silhouettes marking the histories of cricketer Jack Badcock; Father James Hogan; ; and wood carver Ellen Nora Payne.  

Others joining the esteemed ranks include Father James Hogan, 1825-1899,  Westbury’s first resident priest and a renowned horseman who served his community for 50 years and was revered by all denominations. Ellen Nora Payne, 1865-1962 , was a wood carver whose work can be found in prestigious institutions all over Australia and Britain. Some of her finest examples rest in St Andrew’s Anglican Church outside which her commemorative silhouette stands. And Sir Walter Lee, a wheelwright and local lay preacher who was three times Premier of Tasmania and a Knight of the Realm. 

In the six years since I was in Tassie the migration from the mainland has gathered steam. In quaint Westbury my BnB proprietor had escaped the heat of Central Queensland, while another new business owner had moved from New South Wales.  Westbury is typical of Meander Valley villages with original shops and houses. It exudes the feel of an English hamlet, with its own village green and town common, and a strong presence of imposing solid, century-plus churches. The town was surveyed in 1823 with early plans by Governor Arthur for it to be a major north-western Tasmania centre. Troops were stationed around the Village Green and free men, women and convicts moved in. Governor Arthur’s big plans failed to materialise and nearby Deloraine prospered instead.

The family-run Green Door Restaurant, and its courtyard; substantial old trees frame the town common. 

Westbury has the charm essential for a developing tourist magnet. I settled comfortably for a weeklong stay in my Gingerbread Cottage BnB (the second “B” an optional element in the accommodation package) and enjoyed the hospitality of the newly renovated Green Door Cafe, Restaurant and Apothecary’s with its gracious indoor dining areas and spacious courtyard. A genuine family affair, Green Door proprietors have long-term plans for an ambitious enterprise that will cover paddock-to-plate dining, cooking and herbal remedy classes and takeaway picnic baskets. Hard working family members combine the skills of a horticulturist, a professional pastry and sweets chef, a trained barista and an accomplished cook.

Apple Tree Cottage and Gingerbread Cottage BnB in William Street; the sought-after dairy products from the Meander Valley’s contented cows. 

Motoring around the (usually green) Meander Valley caps off the magic of this region. Sadly, I was there at the tail end of the hot, dry summer with bushfires burning above in the Central Highlands. A planned trip to the Liffey Falls had to be abandoned because of roads closed by the densely billowing smoke obliterating the afternoon sun.

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Bushfires in the Central Highlands billow behind the Meander Valley. 

Clouds of smoke blacken the afternoon sky; from Deloraine; getting close. 

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Coal, don’t dig it….

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Stopping by to support last week’s student climate march in Brisbane brought the heartwarming realisation that when our current crop of post-Millenials take the helm Australia will be in good hands. Rather than handing over to a generation of screen-absorbed, entitled, feckless, democracy-rejecting free-loaders, as Gen-Zers are frequently portrayed, the marches and their aftermath highlighted how switched-on, across-the-issues and involved in the affairs of their nation they actually are. The marches were well organised, well attended and well behaved; the young speakers articulate, concerned and altogether impressive.

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In subsequent media follow-ups post-Millenials gave eloquent feedback. I happened across Tom Switzer’s Between the Lines on RN to hear a 15- and a 17-year-old speaking with confidence and coherence representing both sides of the issue. Heartening! And in John Menadue’s blog Pearls and Irritations Year 11 Brunswick Secondary College student Isabella Harding wrote how, while not someone who usually skips school, … “when I heard about the strike, I knew that my support would be far more important than my VCE attendance. I mean, one day fighting for the future of every life on the planet is clearly more essential than one more day of study…..During that march and listening to the speeches afterward, I felt something that I had never felt before. We all did. It was hope…….We have to keep marching, we have to be standing up to our politicians and we have to be fighting for our planet.”

To me that’s it in a nutshell. Democracy is about the informed participation of the people in their own futures. What better lesson in participatory democracy, and that old-fashioned subject civics, can Gen-Zers have than to actively be involved? I’m sure they learned more in the planning of and participation in the marches than spending the day in the classroom.


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When in Canberra…

….I never miss the opportunity to check out what’s on at one of our national capital’s impressive array of galleries and museums.  Some are must-sees,  such as the amazing Songlines earlier this year, others worth seeing but more of the three-and-a-half star mark, such as the current Rome: City and Empire. On loan from the British Museum in London with around 200 objects on show it features a more fraction of the 100,000 treasures that actually make up the collection. 

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Still, just contemplating the map at the start of the exhibition underscores the sheer size of the Empire in its heyday – a vast stretch of territory covering present-day swathes of western Europe, North Africa, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, England and Wales. Just as the British took advantage of empire by appropriating treasures, the Romans also enslaved conquered peoples and seized their wealth. While missing major masterpieces from the British Museum the exhibition focuses on objects from quotidian life, funerary art and items like coins. The collection owes much to the discovery of burial hoardes from various locations including Britain.

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Intricately carved 100 BCE Etruscan alabaster burial chest. 

Highlights include an exquisitely carved Etruscan alabaster burial chest; a relief depicting gladiatrices Amazon and Achilla, showing Roman-era women had won the right to take up the sword; a 2000-year-old freestanding basanite (volcanic rock) bath in a style very like those found in trendy bathrooms now; and a bust of the renowned Hadrian, who liked to build walls and who was said to be openly gay.  

This Roman bath would go well in a modern-day showroom; Hadrian the wall builder. 

Bust from now north Africa (l); Funerary relief, Palmyra, Syria (r) ; bust of Bacchus. 

Mithras slaying the bull; the gladatrices Amazon and Achilla. 

 

Items from the Hoxne Treasure in England from the fourth and fifth centuries. 

Rome: City and Empire  runs at the National Museum of Australia until February 3.

 


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Book tasting

Listening to a recent RN book chat show the topic of hard copy versus online books came up. Without hesitation the participants gave the thumbs up to “the real deal” books, the ones you could smell and feel, and enjoy browsing through at a real book shop. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the touch-and-feel variety our annual “book tasting” at Avid Reader bookshop in West End, with resident guru Fiona Stager, wouldn’t be nearly as pleasurable.

Take your pick…..

This year’s selection revealed a botanical emphasis, coincidental because earlier this year I had my own “botanical immersion” through German forester Peter Wohllben’s fascinating The Hidden Life of Trees. First on Fiona’s list was The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, by Queensland writer Holly Ringland. Set in Queensland’s canefields, the Sunshine Coast Hinterland and Central Australia the novel communicates its domestic violence theme through the dramatic beauty of Australia’s wildflowers. “You’ll never think of the Australian landscape the same way again,” our host advised.

Next, The Botanist’s Daughter, by Kayte Nunn, an colourful story of a race to find a life-saving plant involving two female botanists, set across more than a century. The Overstory a lengthy and complicated tale by American Richard Powers connects people through trees – “it takes reader commitment but is well worth it”, was Fiona’s advice. In Unsheltered veteran Barbara Kingsolver, long-time writer on topics like social justice, biodiversity and the interaction between communities and environments, tells the tale of a now-destitute middle-class American family who inherit a tumble-down house originally owned by a botanist. Warlight, Michael Ondjaate’s spy-themed novel set around post-Second World War London, follows the elusive struggles of 14-year-old Nathaniel and his older sister to piece together the mysterious life of his parents. A key character leading a double life as a natural history radio presenter adds a strong natural history component.

Moving away from the botanical, Edward Carey’s Little shines a light on the founder of Madame Tussauds, the diminutive Swiss orphan Marie Grosholtz. In Less this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner, Andrew Sean Greer, takes a humorous look at literary life and the gay scene. “Funny is hard to write,” said Fiona. “This is funny without being cruel”. Avid Bookshop regular, Krissy Kneen, switches from her previous erotica in Wintering  to tell the story of a woman whose husband goes missing: “It is strong in landscape and has received good reviews”, said Fiona. Cryptic crossword king David Astle offers mental exercise with Rewording the Brain; and in The Golden Thread – How Fabric Changed History Kassia St Clair reveals the magical power of textiles. For food-lovers – or those who just love leafing through luscious celebrity cookbooks – Simple, Israeli Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest offering, promises straight-forward, Middle Eastern-inspired treats. “I’m obsessed with it,” Fiona confided.

Tips from other staff: Boy Swallows Universe, a debut novel by Australian journalist Trent Dalton – “a book that speaks to all people”; Normal People by talented young Irish writer Sally Rooney is this staff member’s “favourite book of the year; The Children’s House, by Alice Nelson, set in America, Israel and Rwanda, references an upbringing in a kibbutz children’s house and the author’s life in the various countries.

A Gentleman in Moscow is described as “a must read”; Man out of Time, the experience of living in a family where one parent is a severe depressive, offers “exquisite writing”; Prague Spring, by Simon Mawer, is set in 1968 when Russian tanks rolled into Prague; Sally Piper’s The Geography of Friendship is “an enjoyable read …. a vehicle for exploring female friendship”; Eggshell Skull is judge’s associate Bri Lee’s account of her work experience, including many rape cases, for which she shared the 2018 Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Awards prize; and for the kids, the crowd-sourced Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo; the Little People Big Dreams series about extraordinary women; and finally Kate DiCamillio’s latest adventure with her Louisana Elephante character, Louisana’s Way Home. 

Happy reading in 2019!

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Talking to trees

Apart from slowing down and smelling the roses apparently we would do ourselves a favour if we walked in the woods a lot more. In Japan, it’s already a “thing”. It’s called “forest bathing”, or shinrin yoku – shin meaning forest and yoku to bathe.

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Japanese scientists have researched the reasons why “forest bathing” makes us humans feel so good. The university website The Conversation reports the Japanese investigations identified three major inhaled factors making “bathers” feel healthier in diverse forest ecosystems –  beneficial bacteria, plant-derived essential oils and negatively-charged ions.

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After reading German forester Peter Wohllben’s fascinating The Hidden Life of Trees, a gift from my thoughtful elder daughter, I know why I instinctively feel so upset by the sight of a felled forest giant, or upended tracts of massacred trunks, roots and branches. Wohllben sets out how trees are much like human families, living in communities, bringing up their children, parenting them as they mature, sharing nutrients, helping those who are ailing, communicating, and warning them when danger is approaching. Like human towns forests go through cycles of life, death and regeneration , only on a much longer timescale.

Wohllben talks about how trees isolated from their forest environment struggle to survive, just like abandoned children. And those specimens singled out to beautify our cities, planted individually along suburban streets and city boulevards, are just like street kids, left to fend for themselves. He also described the “pain” caused to a tree by cutting into its bark, rather like cutting into someone’s skin. And we should think of sap as the tree’s blood.

Dr Qing Li is the world’s foremost expert in forest medicine. A medical doctor at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School and a visiting fellow at the Stanford University School of Medicine, he’s a staunch advocate of what forests do for us.  “Forests are an amazing resource,” he says. “They give us everything we rely on in order to exist. They produce oxygen, cleanse the air we breathe and purify our water. They stop flooding rivers and streams and the erosion of mountains and hills. They provide us with food, clothing, and shelter, and with the materials we need for furniture and tools. In addition to this, forests have always helped us to heal our wounds and to cure our diseases.” Now his research is proving how “bathing” in the forest boosts the immune system, increases energy, decreases anxiety, depression, anger and stress and brings about a state of relaxation.

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Dr Qing believes if people were encouraged to visit forests for their health, they would be more likely to want to protect and look after them. Which no doubt would make Peter Wohllben – and the forests – very happy.

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The beauty of a Japanese forest in autumn. 


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Whadda we want? Our ABC!

This week’s Four Corners report on the Thai cave rescue garnered rightful praise from many quarters, ABC-TV’s investigative stalwart scoring yet more kudos for hard-hitting, non-sensational reporting. In this era of “fake news” thank goodness for shows like Four Corners. It reminds that sometimes one needs to get out into the public square to make one’s voice heard on matters that matter. Most recently I was called to Southbank Parklands, to the ABC headquarters, where Aunty loyalists young and old gathered to do their bit to protect the old girl . It’s common knowledge that this national treasure is suffering from the common current malaise of “fiscal squeeze”. Some even suggest she should be sold off to the highest bidder, God Forbid!

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Speakers Tony Koch, a former Walkley Award winning journalist, and Janine Walker, a former ABC presenter, unionist and academic, both fondly recalled childhoods in regional Queensland in which the ABC played an important community and entertainment role. Others stressed the need in this time of the 24-hour news cycle, diminishing printed media and under-funded long-form journalism of the importance to the democratic political system of maintaining quality, informed media. Such as that provided by the ABC.

I fear for the future of brilliant concepts such as Australian Story, which is currently on a mysterious “mid-year break” and Foreign Correspondent, and regret the demise of Lateline. And where would we be without Four  Corners, the show that spotlighted the Moonlight State, their brilliant 1987 expose of political and police corruption in Queensland; the nail-biting documentary recreation of the disastrous 1998 Sydney to Hobart which claimed six lives and five yachts; or more recent exposes of corrupt banking and insurance practices; inhumane practices at the Don Dale youth detention centre in the Northern Territory; and in the live animal export trade? Then there is the incomparable Leigh Sales who puts the hard questions to dissembling politicians. And let’s not get started on what’s happening to RN!

 

My introduction to protests was as a reporter in the early 1970s when Brisbane was in turmoil over the proposed Springbok Rugby Tour and Premier Bjelke-Petersen pulled punches like States of Emergency. Then in November 1975 I joined the shocked throngs following the dismissal of the Whitlam Government. I marched in the 2000 Brisbane Bridgewalk for Reconciliation, and again in 2003 as one of the 100,000 who took to Brisbane’s city streets to (unsuccessfully) convince the Howard Government not to join in the Iraq war, And again when the missiles actually went up. I’m partial to an environmental protest, especially those that look to protect the Barrier Reef.

I regard the right to protest as fundamental to democracy, and the duty of those who believe in this system of government. So, Whadda ya want? – the ABC! When do ya want it? – Forever!

 

 

 

 

 


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Learning to sing

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The term Songlines is widely recognised but for non-Indigenous Australians grasping the actually concept is more elusive. Hats off then to the National Museum of Australia in Canberra for its imaginative effort to bridge the gap of cultural enlightenment by taking the visitor on a colourful, multi-media Indigenous cultural journey through space and time across the continent and beyond.

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Woven versions of the Seven Sisters created by Indigenous women. 

Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters focuses on sections of just five songlines, a mere handful of the thousands that track across Australia telling the Indigenous creation story.  Those stories could be described as parables imparting traditional laws and creation interpretations, the battle between good and evil. The seven sisters are chased across the land by the lustful, shape-shifting sorcerer Wati Nyiru. He can become a tree, or a serpant, always trying to tempt and confound the sisters as they flee across the land, each songline having a different version.

The songline left by the sisters in their flight across country, employing all the tricks they know, such as flying, to elude Wari Nyiru creates the features of the land – boulders, hills, trees and waterholes. Eventually they fly into the heavens where they merge with the Orion constellation and Pleiades star cluster.

Ceramic tributes to the songlines. 

The standout feature of the exhibition was the amazing six-metre digital dome room wherein visitors could lie back and watch a state-of-the-art digital, high-res experience including the transit of Pleiades and the Orion constellation, the Seven Sisters rock art from Cave Hill in South Australia and vision of the sisters flying into the night sky. Given the scientific revelation that we humans all carry elements from the Big Bang within us, I saw the elegance of this songline.