I invite you to visit also my literary blog: Journeys in Creative Writing where I post original fiction including short stories, poetry and 'Paternity', a full length mystery novel.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Aboriginal Activist is Australian of the Year 2009

Photo ANU

Aboriginal activist, lawyer and academic Professor Mick Dodson (above) has been named Australian of the Year 2009. The appointment has been widely acclaimed.

Professor Dodson is of the Yawuru people of the isolated Southern Kimberley region of northern Western Australia. He has previously held the position of Social Justice and Equal Opportunity Commissioner, and is on the staff of the Australian National University in Canberra.

Mick Dodson is a no-nonsense Australian who has already asked us to have a conversation about the possibility of changing the date on which we celebrate Australia Day, now January 26.
He said on television last night that he didn't feel strongly about the matter himself but understood that many of his people did.

January 26 commemorates the landing in Sydney of the first British Fleet which carried chained convicts who were thrown out of Great Britain in 1788. From this grand (!) beginning sprang our nation.

But so did incessant wars which reduced the number of the original black inhabitants from about a million to 300,000. The wars were of the guns against spears variety, with gifts of poisoned flour and sugar aiding the white cause. Many Aborigines died of newly introduced diseases.

The early British/Australians also took half cast children from their mothers, placing them in institutions with the hope that the culture would die out. Today these youngsters are known as the 'stolen generation'.

It is thought that the Australian Aborigines came here as immigrants from Asia, perhaps 120,000 years ago. They lived a hunter gatherer existence, with caring for the land the centre of their culture. And yet the British declared that Australia was terra nullius - a land without people - and used this lie to justify their takeover.

No wonder many of today's Aborigines call January 26 'Invasion Day' and commemorate it separately to celebrate their survival.

Photo Auspic

Kevin Rudd (aboved) , elected Australian Prime Minister thirteen months ago, does not want to change the date, even though one of his first acts in the job was to say 'sorry' to the Aboriginal people, a moment of intense healing for Aboriginal people and whites alike.

Personally, I feel pretty mixed up about Australia Day. We do have a pretty great nation now which is moving back to its traditional egalitarian values. And that is something to celebrate.

John Pilger, Australian journalist, internationally acclaimed and sometimes regarded as controversial, talks about these values in his book 'A Secret Country': 'One of our distinctions as Australians was that, unlike Britons with their walls of class and Americans with their vast disparities of wealth, we struck a fine balance between the needs of the community and the individual.

'We measured social progress, it was said, not so much in terms of productivity and "consumption" as by the well-being of the producers - all the producers, especially the providers of labour.'

For about ten years - during the time of the Howard Government - we seemed to move away from those values.

It is inconceivable to so many worldly people that the English Queen (although also known as Queen of Australia) is still our Head of State. We are now a confident multicultural people and the republican movement is gradually gaining strength, although mired in red tape.

I reckon the happy solution to the Australia Day date of celebration would come if we declared ourselves a republic and moved the celebration over to a new, neutral day. Then, we could all relate to a truly unified celebration.

Photo Auspic

To my mind in the past thirteen months there has been a big positive shift in Australia, despite the global economic crisis which is moving closer to us every day, to the extent that a recession is now regarded as almost inevitable.

The Rudd Government's inclusiveness and seeming transparency has already earned it much kudos, and many feel Australians are moving closer together again, away from the dog-eat-dog of the past few years. I believe that Sorry Day helped that no end as well.

There are other matters which the new Government has done which have brought more Australians together.

An Aboriginal woman Faith Bandler was awarded the nation's top honour this week for a lifetime of service to Aboriginal people. Ms Bandler also led the campaign surrounding the 1967 referendum which was to result in an astounding decision in which 90 percent of the Australian electorate agreed to a proposal to give Aborigines a vote. It had only taken 179 years since the dispossession began.

Th new government is dismantling the terrible refugee detention centres - a plus so far as the migrant community is concerned.

And we have our first female Deputy Prime Minister whe less than a month after the election served as Prime Minister herself when Kevin Rudd was in Bali for the global climate change meeting. Julia Gillard (above) is a single woman, a lawyer and a determined red head with a great sense of humour.

She has the astounding job title of Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister fo Social Inclusion.

Such a huge job!

Photo Auspic

There are many more women in parliament, with ministerial positions.

And then, of course, we have our first ever female Governor General, the Queen's representative, Ms Quentin Bryce AC.

Her Excellency is a 65 years-old mother of five, with five grandchildren.

In practice, the Governor-General follows the conventions of the Westminster system of parliament and acts only on the advice of the Prime Minister of Australia. However, there have been four exceptions to this, including when Governor-General John Kerr exercised the reserve powers of his office in 1975 to sack the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam - a decision that rocked the nation.

Quentin Bryce is a lawyer and academic who has held senior public office, including Governor of Queensland.

She is a feminist and former Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

Australia's first female Governor-General says her appointment sends a message to all girls: 'You can do anything; you can be anything.'

Ms Bryce was born in a small Australian country town with a population of 200 people.

I have never seen so many Australian flags as I saw yesterday, Australia Day.

They were everywhere - on flag poles, on cars, draped around young people's bodies, made into hats and shirts, skirts and pants.

The Aussie flag (above) carries the Union Jack in the left hand corner, attesting to the connection with Briton. The seven pointed star below the Union Flag represents the states, and the group of stars on the right signify the Southern Cross, a prominent constellation in the southern sky.

To me, people seemed to be more enthusiastic about the celebration this year than ever in my experience.

Mind you we celebrated much in the same way as we do on any long week-end - by going to the beach, and with outdoor concerts and barbecues.

I noticed that my local supermarket stocked a huge array of Aussie Day gear last week which, by yesterday, was sold out.

Someone even draped the local beachside free gas barbecue with red white and blue streamers and flags.

There were more sedate picnics in the shade of large native trees in a local park ...

This little guy battled with his flag ...

And this BIG guy's traditional 'Esky' doubled as a seat as he waited for mates to arrive. The box would have been filled with ice and what we call 'coldies'.

This was one tribute to Australia Day ...

And here is another.

This is public art in a park in Tweed Heads, just inside the New South Wales border, in Australia, where most of these pictures were taken.

It depicts in bronze a group of little children looking lovingly at their nation's flag.

It will be interesting indeed to see where the conversation about the Republic, the design of a future flag, and Australia Day will lead us in the next few years.

I'd really like to know what everyone thinks about this. Particularly my fellow Aussies. Let's start a conversation ...

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Aussie Sheep with an Artistic Touch

My tribute to Aussie land leading up to Australia Day January 26, continues on the New South Wales side of the border in the Tweed Valley. This is an area very different from the high rises of Coolangatta and Surfers Paradise of the famous Queensland Gold Coast.

The Tweed is much greener and more open, with farms and hills in between splashes of suburbia, although most of the former majestic rainforests were cut down a century ago. The area has a coastal ribbon with beaches every bit as beautiful as those across the border.

The lovely valley is a spit from the Gold Coast but a million miles distant in style.

Murwillumbah, one of its main towns, is the home of the Tweed River Art Gallery known for quality exhibitions and its idyllic setting. I took the shot above from one of the gallery balconies. The 'sheep' are actually sculptures that look perfect in the green paddocks that stretch for miles.

Here's a close up of these lovely creatures.

The gallery itself (bigger than it looks here) has been designed to sit easily in the countryside.

The Tweed River Art Gallery is surrounded by breathtaking scenery, and has windows designed to take advantage of that from every direction.

The mountain in the distance is Mount Warning, actually the plug of a huge extinct volcano and reputedly the first spot on the East Coast to feel the sun's rays each morning.
The explorer Captain James Cook named the mountain because it warned him of the proximity of the land.

The mountains in the distance include the edge of the caldera of the volcano and part of the Great Dividing Range. This range originally cut off the early British settlers from easy access to the interior.

The waterway is the Tweed River that meanders for many kilometres through fertile land and down to the coast near my home.

The valley is known for its large number of resident artists and the gallery stages many exhibitions featuring local work. It also hosts travelling exhibitions that bring works normally inaccessible to people in the region, and has an excellent and growing collection of its own.

Entry is completely free to all.

'Mossy Gully Purlingbrook 2003' by William Robinson

A friend and I enjoyed the rib tickling exhibition of lithographs by the brilliant Queensland artist William Robinson, better known for his huge landscape paintings like the one above. Sadly gallery rules forbid me photographing any of the works actually on display.

Notes to the Robinson lithograph exhibition quote the artist as suggesting the works were a series of self revelations. He invites viewers to look past the caricature-style drawings of the artist amid farmyard animals to seek deeper meanings.

I loved the whimsical Robinson images on the Tweed gallery walls, as well as entries in the Tweed Valley Art Prize 2009 which is also on the current programme.

These budding artists were happy to have me snap them at work with their proud Mum in the children's area.

We two big kids had fun after a tasty lunch on the gallery balcony. We snapped each other against these great images over the gallery fire stairs. You can see this lovely art space leads just about anybody on the path of wanting to be creative! This is me acting out for the camera.

Do you have a local art gallery near your place?

By the way I have posted the fifteenth episode of my Australian mystery novel 'Paternity' on Journeys in Creative Writing. Read it now! There are also links available if you wish to start the story from the beginning.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Aussie Beach Culture

Most Australians live on the edge of their sprawling nation, as close to beaches as they can get. If they live in the outback or in country areas they overwhelmingly aspire to beach holidays.

I thought I'd chat about Aussie beaches as part of a series of posts leading up to Australia's National Day on January 26.

I'm lucky enough to live not far from the Queensland/New South Wales border where we have many many kilometres of stunning sandy beaches and crystal clear waters.

South East Queensland's famous Gold Coast with its high rises is a holiday tourist destination for people worldwide, and the Northern Rivers of NSW on the southern side of the border is magic for its sprawling green hinterland. Both feature a long magic peripheral ribbon of sand and surf.

Today we visit two beaches on the Queensland side.

The Gold Coast strip kicks off with a dear little cove that is probably my favourite - Rainbow Bay (above). This is well known for the famous Schnapper Rocks surf break, the home of international surfing competitions where board riders vie for big prizes.

Familes and oldies love Rainbow Bay because it provides safe swimming in sheltered water.

Just around a headland is the famous Coolangatta Beach framed by ugly/beautiful pandanus palms.

This view of Cooly shows the wide sand stretching northwards, commencing more than twenty kilometres of almost uninterrupted beaches all the way north to Surfers Paradise and beyond. The Surfers high rises are just visible in this next shot.

Depending on the whim of the tides, Cooly also often has a safe haven for families. I took these pix last week on an idyllic summer day when holiday crowds and locals were making the most of their leisure ...

The flag you see in the distance is an indication of the safest body surfing area on the beach. These flags bound an area patrolled by professional beach inspectors who do a great job.

Overseas tourists are often rescued because they do not realise the power of the rips and currents in some parts of the beaches. If they don't swim between the flags they can be in trouble. It is quite possible to be swept out to sea in a few seconds - in the wrong spot.

To me it's amazing that so many Aussies swim at the beach without too many tragedies. The famous Australian sharks also do not claim many victims when you think of the number of bodies around!

This is the Coolangatta surf break.

You can see that most Australians are sun wise these days and use beach shirts and smear themselves liberally with sun screen. Half an hour in the midday sun can mean a week in agony for someone without such protection.

Sun burn can also set you up for skin cancer - a big danger for Australians if they're not careful.

People without shirts don't stay that way for long.

Families love a lazy day on the sand ...

This group found some rocks in the shade.

These youngsters are transfixed because they have found a couple of dozen tiny catfish swarming and trapped in the shallows. The boy in red is taking a closer look.

The people on the right have found another group of catfish.

Aussie kids love to dig in the sand.

I asked permission of the Mums of these children if I might take their photographs. Of course, that was a signal for both of the little girls below to put on very serious curious faces.

While kids build sand castles ...

Oldies dream ...

Do you have a beach culture where you live?
Or do you have 'snow culture' or something else?

My Aussie mate Lilly of Lilly's Life is also doing a series of posts for Australia Day. Right now she's scaring the pants off all of us (as we say) with stories of dangerous Aussie animals. (Mind you few Australians ever lose a night's sleep because of hairy scarey creatures!)
Have a peek ... Lilly is always good value.


Thursday, 8 January 2009

Bird City - A Fig Tree to Love

For years I lived next door to a giant fig in a park. It was a lot of tree to love.

That tree spread its branches across an area as large as two large suburban lots. Its roots meandered across the space to my garden where it clogged up the sewage pipe.

But I had no ill feelings. I really loved that tree.

Officially it was a Moreton Bay fig or, if it had lived closer to Sydney, a Port Jackson fig.
It dominated the view from my kitchen window, and thus much of my life.

It was bird city. Life with these residents was always full of drama.

There was a family of magpies who lived there for years, with the male attacking all and sundry every breeding season. He swooped and dived
for weeks on end so that everyone in the street wore stout hats before venturing out .

One year the little family had a tragedy and lost all of the babies (I think to butcher birds) and all of the magpies left the tree, never to return.

Many tiny birds flitted among the branches of the tree.

Noisy minors with orange beaks and big eyes have babies that are the greatest naggers in the universe, cheep cheeping until they are fed.

The tree came alive with fruit bats every evening at dusk. The black shapes swept in against the darkening sky to feed on the fruit and hang upside down. They didn’t nest there but left late after making a great mess.

I loved the puffy crested pigeons with their strutting and their deep chests and cooing. They had amazing mating rituals and it was a hoot to see the girls flirting with the males in hot pursuit.

The lorikeets, one of the many colourful Australian parrots, were the cheekiest pack of all. I made the mistake of leaving honey and bread out in a dish until I heard it was bad for them and withdrew the feast.

These arrogant little creatures used to knock on the kitchen window, screeching for more. I’d have probably thirty of them fly in suddenly, and leave all together without apparent reason. They were real characters – every one of them different.

The fig was such a majestic tree, planted in the first decade of the 20th century by the first landholder in the area.

Its bark reminded me of elephants’ skin, and the roots were something out of George Orwell.

Children loved to climb high into the canopy. Mothers and their toddlers came with strollers and explored and rested.

Council workers looked after the tree and its little park, mowing carefully to avoid the roots, and tree surgeons came now and then to guard it against borers.

The branches hid lots of crooks and crannies for little scurrying animals, but I never saw a snake, although I’m sure they would have been there somewhere.

When I first moved next door to the tree I could see the sunset and even Mount Warning, the tall plug of a volcano which is reputedly the first point in Eastern Australia to feel the warmth of the sun’s rays each morning.
But as the years passed and branches spread, the view disappeared.

Occasionally I'd walk across and lay my head against the hard bark to feel its life within, and to be at peace. It was so cool under the tree, and seemingly so safe.

However, come a storm and wind, and the tree changed. It roared and swayed.

Sometimes I would be startled with a loud crack and crash and next morning a huge bough would be lying there on the ground beneath.

My fig tree sheltered many lives, but it could also be a widow maker – a term the old timber cutters used to describe a dreaded killer tree.

More pictures follow ...

That's my old house in the background - see how close I lived.
This week I made a little pilgrimage to see it all again.

The roots were something out of George Orwell ...

Crooks and crannies for scurrying animals

But the tree had a dark side ...

©June Saville 2009. Not to be reproduced without express written permission of the author.

Do you have a special tree in your life?

And by the way if you've read a few chapters of my novel 'Paternity' on Journeys in Creative Writing you'll be interested in Vikki North's great portrait of Pip our main character. See it now

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Do You Know This Woman?

Portrait of Pip by Vikki North

Do you know this woman? I've had such a fun time in the last couple of days since blogger mate and professional artist Vikki North of The Red Chair Gallery in California painted a concept portrait of the main character in my original mystery novel 'Paternity'.

She did an amazing job, with our views of this mythical character coinciding remarkably.

The character Pip is a Sydney journalist, a pocket dynamo who faces all sorts of dangers to track down her father who could have been a member of a pack of rapists. We're now up to episode twelve of her story.

Check out the portrait (and Vikki) and read the story itself on Journeys in Creative Writing. And please leave a comment telling me whether Pip's portrait 'fits' her personality ...

Saturday, 3 January 2009

We love them, hate them - computers!

I don’t know what possessed me, but I actually gave my computer a fond pat when the technician placed it on my desk this morning.

Surprised, he grinned across at me and said ‘you aren’t one of those types who has a name their machine are you?’

I hotly denied that – except to say that the closest to a regular moniker my computer had would be something like ‘you bloody thing’.

He’d had it at his workshop for almost a week, and in its place was a surprising aching void I couldn’t put a name to. The feeling was akin to grief and loss.

Many times during those first few days I had to pull myself up short from sitting down at my desk to discover the latest in Blogland.

I had to get the car out to pay an urgent bill instead of using BPay. The phone bill grew because there was no email. I mean, I live alone and I don’t particularly enjoy having conversations with the four walls.

Probably most difficult was that I couldn’t work on the re-write of the novel I’m serialising on Journeys in Creative Writing. My life was upside down.

I’m old enough to remember many many years without a computer at my disposal. But I still can’t imagine what I did without one.

We love them. We hate them. We find it very hard to be without them.

Enough to say - three days after my baby left home I rummaged around in a dark cupboard and came up with a laptop that hadn’t been used for yonks. It wasn’t mine really, but I knew the owner wouldn’t mind if I fired it up.

I battled with the plugs and USB fittings, the Ethernet connection and the virus updates and, even though I didn’t have any of my personal files, was able to get into the net and Blogland.


Do you have a name for your computer? Tell me in a comment.

By the way I've posted 'DNA and Its Secrets - Episode 12 of "Paternity", my original Australian Mystery Novel on Journeys in Creative Writing. Read it now!