Sole Sister

Cruising in the single lane

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Coal, don’t dig it….


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.


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.


Going dotty


Yayoi Kusama has been called the “Priestess of Polka Dots”. And a few hours gazing at her creations is certainly enough to send you happily polka dotty. The Japanese octogenarian’s most recent Brisbane exhibition, which I just managed to catch before it wrapped up at the Gallery of Modern Art earlier this month didn’t disappoint in the dot department. Spots of all hues camouflaged sculptures, paintings of pumpkins, Picasso-like portraits, lighted and dark kaleidoscopic mirrored infinity installations, all creating a sense of collaboration with kids, Indigenous artists and the avant-garde art world. A visual blitzkrieg.


Kusama’s dot fetish was said to derive from an early childhood illness with hallucinations impairing her sight with dots in front of the eyes. Another of her themes is the concept of infinity which she represents not only through mirrored installations but infinity “net” paintings of endless interlinked patterns. The artist said this fascination was a result of looking down at the endlessness of the Pacific Ocean on her 1950’s flight from Japan to New York, where she became a leading art scene member. Pumpkins? She likes their shape, their “grotesqueness” and their “homeliness”.


Yayoi Kusama’s dotty interpretations of Marilyn Monroe (left) and Elizabeth Taylor. 

Mirrored infinity room installations. 

 It was Kusama’s third Queensland Art Gallery-GOMA outing, the first being at the Asia Pacific Triennial in 2002 when she especially wowed the kids with her “obliteration room”. Imagine being a kid walking into a room painted completely white and being invited to stick coloured dots wherever you like to your heart’s content!  The relationship between QAGOMA and Kusama nurtured through the Triennial was rewarded with another exhibition in 2012; the 2017-18 show Life is the Heart of the Rainbow; and major acquisitions making the Gallery’s collection one of the most significant in a public museum outside Japan.


Infinity nets. 



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Happy New Year – 明けましておめでとうございます


Nengajou welcome the New Year for multiple millions of Japanese.

Happy New Year! As millions of lunar calendar followers around the world welcome in the 2017 New year, those following the Oriental calendar are preparing to wave goodbye to that little scallywag the monkey and welcome in the stately rooster.

In Japan, where Oriental symbolism is synced with the lunar calendar the Rooster has crowed his first 2017 morning call. Multiple millions of nengajou, the little symbol cards that friends and family send each other, rather like Christmas cards, are arriving in special postal deliveries through the day. Across the world revellers are waking to sore heads, or the first day of well intentioned resolutions. The rooster will be in hot demand this year, this famous early morning riser credited with being able to foretell the future. Many will hope that he can see an end to the political upheavals experienced in numerous countries in 2016.

2016 calendars will come down and their replacements will go up. I have written before about the attachments I form to my calendars, which usually include one put together by my photographically talented older brother; another which I order specially from Tokyo’s captivating Blue and White Shop in Azabu Juban; and one which arrives every year from a young Japanese woman who stayed with us as an international language student over 20 years ago.



Hello new Blue and White, goodbye old; and a sad farewell to this Southern NSW egret image. 

This year I’ll be putting up a beautiful calendar featuring Japanese art treasures, given to me by my Japanese family, which has been published by JAL Airlines for as long as I can remember. The pieces chosen for each month are exquisite, of the quality of treasures I’ve seen in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Oriental section. While a calendar’s not quite as good as the real thing it’s an excellent substitute.


A section from the January illustration from the JAL calendar. 

Whether you’re an Oriental or a lunar cycle person here’s wishing you a very happy 2017 . May the qualities of warmth, generosity, diligence, sociability and excellent communication skills attributed to the rooster be the overriding zeitgeist in 2017.


Avid readers


A favourite haunt back in the ’90s when we lived in inner-city Brisbane was the original Mary Ryan Bookshop in Latrobe Terrace. Apart from its laden shelves there was a welcoming coffee shop on the lower level where I would take my mother for our fix of caffeine and to enjoy its treed garden sloping down one of Paddington’s many gullies. Mary Ryan was one of the first bookshops to incorporate a coffee shop and the genial owner Phil Ryan a pleasant and knowledgable source of advice on what to buy.

Alas, Mary Ryan Paddington was one of many such book-lover-friendly enterprises that succumbed to the competitive forces unleashed by  the internet in the 2000s. Those that have survived are much treasured. In Brisbane the best known of these are Riverbend Books in Bulimba and Avid Reader in West End. As a end-of-year treat my bookclub facilitator had the prescience to reserve a spot with the latter’s knowledgable owner Fiona Stager, a much-sought-after presence at such talks because of her wealth of knowledge of the latest publications and her well regarded opinions.  Apart from her status as an avid and discerning reader Fiona has a wealth of knowledge of the publishing industry as a lecturer on the subject at the University of Queensland.


Over glasses of wine and tempting snacks she talked through her reading suggestions from the latest publishers’ offerings. Interestingly a number were by Australian writers, underscoring the health of our literary scene.  Her recommendations:

Not Just Black and White, by Lesley and Tammy Williams, which tells Lesley’s story of being an Aboriginal girl from Cherbourg settlement forced from home to work as a domestic servant; Ghost Empire, beloved ABC Conversations host Richard Fidler’s rich telling of the history of old Constantinople; The Riviera Set,  the rollicking bed-hopping and partying history of the monied and famous at the Chateau de l’Horizon near Cannes over a period of 40 years; The Atomic Weight of Love, Elizabeth J Church’s story of an ornithologist who marries a much older physics professor recruited to work on the Los Alamos Project and her battle to retain her own academic identify; The Birdman’s Wife in which Melissa Ashley gives artist Elizabeth Gould the credit she deserves as the true genius behind John Gould’s famous early sketches of Australia’s unique bird life; To the Bright Edge of the World, an Alaskan explorer’s story extracted by Eowyn Ivey from journal entries, military reports, letters and documents; Our Souls at Night, a tender account by Kent Haruf of a widow who asks her widower neighbour if he’d consider sharing her bed – not for sex but for warmth and comfort; My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Stroud’s telling of a hospital-bedside reconciliation between a long-estranged mother and daughter;  Between a Wolf and a Dog, the heartfelt account by Georgia Blain, daughter of acclaimed journalist Anne Deveson and broadcaster Ellis Blain, of a woman dying from a brain tumour, and written at a time when Blain herself was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer; Truly, Madly, Guilty, world top-seller Australian Liane Moriarty’s latest pot boiler and suggested by Fiona as the perfect beach holiday read; One, Patrick Holland’s well researched account of the demise of Australia’s last bushrangers, the Kenniffs, in western Queensland;  in Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil, popular writer of young  adult novels, Melina Marchetta, makes a provocative move to crime fiction to reviewer approval; Midsomer Murders screenwriter Anthony Horowitz has fun with the vintage crime novel genre in Magpie Murders;  nature writer Simon Barnes tells how birds help us understand the world we live in, in The Meaning of Birds; and finally,The Memory Stones, Caroline Brothers’ harrowing account of the Disappeared of Argentina’s  military coup in 1976 and the ongoing devastation down the generations.

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By the book

When I retired a few years ago I was regularly quizzed on how I would spend my oodles of new-found leisure.  “Read more books” was my repeated response. Of course, I haven’t read nearly as many as I planned – there’s always so much to do when you’re retired!

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Many friends have resolved the ambition to “read more books” by joining a book club.  Most speak glowingly of the enjoyment derived from getting together with others to discuss and analyse a shared book, often over a glass of wine and a meal. There’s companionship and the exchange of opinions and the discipline imposed which gets the books read. But despite those reassurances joining a book club wasn’t my thing.

Until recently! A friend, a seasoned book clubber, said a spot had become available in her circle and would I like to join? Curbing my instinct to graciously decline I chose to do a trusty old SWAT analysis on the proposition. My reluctance hinged mostly on the disciplines involved: to read a book I may not like; to have to read according to a set timetable; the tricky dynamics of groups, especially when you don’t know the other members well; the risk of the group being too much “club” and not enough “book”; my responsibilities to the group dynamic.

On the potential plus side? The discipline would ensure I completed at least one book a month – what better way to “read more books”? I would pay more attention to the writing so I could substantiate views on the read – it’s easier to say you’re enjoying a book than to explain why. I would be introduced to tomes I might not otherwise have considered. And then there’s always the enticing meal and glass of wine to enjoy with refreshing company.

My SWAT research turned up useful musings on the very subject which have, serendipitously, given me a couple of other potentially interesting blogs to follow. Not surprisingly both aired similar reservations to mine when mulling to-join-or-not-to-join decisions.

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Since becoming a book clubber we’ve read and discussed three novels: The Miniaturist by British writer Jessie Burton; Someone, by American Alice McDermott; and the current selection, Australian and Booker Prize winner Thomas Keneally’s Daughters of Mars. I was engaged by Someone, the story of an ordinary life in the Irish American Brooklyn community told in modest style, the characters so finely drawn. Jessie Burton’s debut novel took my fancy less, building unrealised intrigue. But as a window into the life of the well-to-do merchant class in 17th century Holland it held the attention. Thomas Keneally’s account of the lives of Australian nurses in the First World War, drawn from the journals of actual participants, falls into the category of “epic”, and is a timely read given the recent ANZAC centenary. I’m pleased we have six weeks between meetings this time to do justice to the almost-600 pages which foster profound feelings of admiration for the courage, skill and spirit of these Australian women of a century ago. We can be truly proud of them.


Lest We Forget

One has to have a good reason to set the alarm for 3am – and the centenary of the landing at Gallipoli is one of them. Despite the temptation to silence the persistent buzzing my daughter and I prevailed and headed down the hill for the train to the city. We joined an estimated 30,000 others in cordoned-off Ann Street in the Anzac Square precinct, to take part in the traditional Dawn Service at the revamped Shrine of Remembrance starting at 4.28 am, the exact moment those thousands of young soldiers waded ashore in the dawn light of Gallipoli 100 years ago. Today’s attendances at many locations around Brisbane stand in contrast to those of earlier years, particularly the fractious post-Vietnam War era, when participation in Anzac Day remembrances dwindled markedly, putting at risk the Anzac promise of Lest We Forget.  That pledge looks safe now with the younger generation comprising a healthy share of spectators and participants.  Our multi-cultural communities were also strongly represented and I overheard, as I entered the Shrine of Remembrance, a Turkish man ask if he could place his national flag on the memorial. In the true spirit of the reconciliation between our two nations the official happily welcomed the gesture.

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They shall not grow old…


Room with a view

It may not equal Basil Fawlty ’s nominated Hanging Gardens of Babylon or herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain but the view from my balcony offers visual pleasures year round. Happily for me it’s an elevated view taking in Brisbane’s ever-rising skyline and the city’s famous undulating topography, fast being transformed by apartment blocks but still surprisingly green.

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I’ve always been a sucker for a view and one of the clinchers in choosing my current abode was the outlook it promised. I have not been disappointed. With my shutters flung wide open I am privileged with a dress circle view of weather events, festivities, and the daily life of Brisbane. There’s the Riverfire Festival in September; random fireworks displays throughout the year; an endless stream of aircraft of all shapes and sizes delivering their human cargo towards Brisbane airport, or taking travelers away from the city; news choppers covering the drama of the day; fighter jet flypasts on Anzac Day or others commemorative events; a nightly parade of squabbling flying foxes heading out from their Perrin Park roost on their nocturnal foraging forays on backyard pawpaw and mango trees;  dramatic storms in summer; skyscrapers peeking through fog in winter; or, last month, in the lead up to the G20, the nightly play of lasers on city buildings.

In recent days we’ve been spoiled with dramatic storms, rare views of high-rise buildings misted over by steady rain, some amazing rainbow displays and eerie light shows on clouds and city buildings cast by the setting sun.


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Shine a little light…

Jonie Mitchell told us decades ago that we don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone. That’s especially true of electricity. Until you don’t have power you just don’t think about how much of your daily activities are made possible by flicking a switch. Power powers our whole day. This was made absolutely clear in the past week by losing power for over 24 hours as a result of Brisbane’s monster storm.

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My suburb was one of the worst hit and an early morning walk the following day showed why we were in the dark. Numerous huge trees had been uprooted bringing down power lines,  some ending up on cars and houses, and debris everywhere was closing streets and creating general chaos. The sheer randomness of the storm’s chaotic progress damaged tens of thousands of houses in its path, including taking the roofs off some riverside apartment blocks.

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A giant gum brings down power lines and puts paid to two cars and a house. 

Not having power means no early-morning visit to the gym, no morning cuppa, no opening the fridge door in case precious cold air escapes, no quick morning check of the email, no hot shower, no cooked breakfast, no ironed clothes, no train to work or play, chaos on the roads, etc etc etc. It was like the 2011 floods, when we lost power for five days, all over again.

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Twisted iron sheets and other debris from an apartment block close off riverside street. 

On the plus side, the family did a lot of talking. Strangers started conversations. I slept like a baby in the quiet, pitch black, cool, post-storm aftermath. Only the hum of generators and helicopters – yes, back so soon after the G20 invasion – disturbed the silence. I learned how much you can actually do with a gas ring, a few candles and a miner’s-style head torch. With the blackout extending into a second night and the prospect of another make-shift meal looming suddenly cheers echoed down the street. Lights flickered and appliances sprang to life like  fairy tale heroes awakening from a deep slumber. Outside, bulbs progressively popped on illuminating the dark hillside.

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More power lines bite the dust! 

Thank you electricity emergency workers for toiling non-stop around the clock, in the chaos and drizzle, with live power lines everywhere, to flick on the switch to our lives again. How lucky we are to live in a society where being without power is rare when countless millions worldwide live permanently without electricity.



From little things…vale Gough

High on babyboomers’ where-were-you-when-you-heard list is the dismissal of the Whitlam government.  In my case I was visiting Brisbane from Japan to introduce my new daughter to both her maternal and paternal grandparents. Three years earlier as a news reporter on Channel 9 I had helped cover the Brisbane end of the 1972 It’s Time election when the sense of big changes ahead was palpable.

Gough’s election had coincided with my then husband’s appointment as a trainee diplomat and our subsequent move to Canberra. Arriving in the national capital in early 1973 was intoxicating. I quickly found work as a journalist on a local Canberra newspaper and the days were filled with the rapid fire legislative changes to the status quo. It was a roller coaster time for a populace so used to Conservative governments, despite the tumult of the preceding Vietnam War years.

In addition to being Prime Minister, Gough chose to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs, because of his longstanding interest in the area. Despite Cate Blanchett’s claim at today’s memorial service that it was not possible to do an impression of Whitlam, a popular pastime with the young trainee deplomats was very plausible impersonations of the distinctive-voiced Gough and his deputy Lance Barnard. They had great fun ringing colleagues with “requests” or “directions” from the boss. Or great fun until one day the Foreign Minister himself rang – but no one would believe it was really him.

As an honours graduate in Japanese language and culture, with an extensive knowledge of Japanese history, my husband accompanied Whitlam on an official visit to one of Japan’s ancient capitals Kamakura. He found Whitlam, renowned for his encyclopaedic knowledge of many cultures, was the one doing the telling of Kamakura’s history.

On another “minder” assignment, post-1975 when the Whitlams were evacuated to Tokyo from China following a huge earthquake, my husband was on hand when Gough was shown a copy of a newspaper cartoon that had come in overnight on the telex machine. It showed the Whitlams in bed with Gough saying to Margaret “Did the earth move for you too, dear?” Whitlam was mightily amused and exclaimed “The old girl will be flattered!”

In later years, back in Australia and again working in communications, I recall meeting and interviewing a number of high-achieving women who would tell me they got their start in life because of  Gough Whitlam’s reforms making university education free. I used to think of them as “Gough’s Girls”.

It was timely the droll Max Gillies was staging his new satire Once Were Leaders in Canberra in the week of Gough’s death, dedicating the show to the great man. It was also a great opportunity for me to remember life in the national capital in more inspirational times. Vale Gough.

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Weather warning

Ten of thousands of Brisbaneites showed solidarity with their fellow world citizens today by joining the local People’s Climate March as part of the international day of climate action to coincide with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon’s Emergency UN Climate Summit in New York.

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The march was one of around 2500 in 160 countries, including around Australia, and was organised by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and Getup. Following speeches at Queen’s Park in which the challenges posed by the coal industry to the environment, especially the Great Barrier Reef, were highlighted the assembled masses from toddlers to nannas and grandpas bundled off down George, Adelaide and Edward Streets chanting latter-day versions of familiar protest slogans.

It was just like being back in the ‘60s and ‘70s!


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