About jml297

Reader, writer, lover of words and music.

Short Writing Works

Every now and then a challenge comes up to write a piece within a very tight word count. These tend to be part of a writing prompt or contest, and they can provide a good opportunity to flex a different kind of writing muscle. Having a theme to work towards is also a creative challenge, setting parameters that provide a sense of direction for shorter work.

Recently I came across a piece that I wrote last year. The requirements were to write no more than 25 words, and the work had to include ‘winter’, ‘writer’ and ‘silhouette’. This is what I came up with:

A hunched silhouette

Pen gripped tightly

The writer crafts

Her work nightly

Hours are lost

Worlds splinter

As she creates

Stories of winter

I also had a go at a writing challenge put out last year by wonderful mystery writer and blogger Margot Kinberg. This one was limited to 50 words and I used the word count to set a crime scene where something went wrong.

No-one told him about the dog. He’d had a clear run. The so-called secure complex was barely a challenge, the target easily despatched. The dog had been in the lounge room, cowering. He knew he had to get out, timing was everything. But he couldn’t leave the dog.

There is something about writing in a condensed format that is really satisfying. Another 25 word challenge has been issued by the Australian Writers’ Centre, this one with the words ‘victory’ and ‘violin’ to be included. I’m off to have a scribble – it is hard to resist a writing challenge!

Do you enjoy writing very short stories?

[Photo: Avenue of Honour, Ballarat]

A Clutch of Camellias

The early blooming Sasanqua camellias herald the start of months of delightful displays of colourful blossoms. Next to flower are the Japonica camellias, which are able to cope with shade and filtered light, and the Reticulata varieties which have gorgeous large flowers. Camellias flower from autumn through to spring depending on species and variety. They are usually long-living, with some surviving over 100 years. The Sinensis camellia from China is the tea plant, but it is rarely spotted in most gardens.

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I love the density of the petals in this variety

Camellia colours range from white, pink and red to maroon and purple – almost black – flowers. And their names are colourful to match: Bob Hope, Contemplation, Cornish Snow, Happy Holidays and Early Pearly are just a few. The hybridisation of camellias means there are thousands of different plants available, and flowers range in size from small, tightly petalled blooms to the more flamboyant varieties, nearly the size of a bread and butter plate. White camellias were a symbol of New Zealand women’s right to vote.

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Alba plena camellia

This greenhouse favourite of Christmas time, with its beautiful waxy bloom and glossy leaves, is hardier than most amateurs imagine, and does well if kept clear of severe frost and intelligently handled … The red and white selfs are the best and most floriferous, but there are pretty striped and fringed sorts procurable. Pears Cyclopaedia, 1932

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A tinsie camellia

The camellias bloom in winter when the skies are cold and gray,

When the sun shines at its weakest and the spring seems far away …

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A variegated camellia

In shades of pink and creams and reds the colours one might name,

Each is an individual for no two look the same

(from The Beautiful Camellias by Francis Duggan)

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An espalier camellia spotted at Mt Boyce Nursery

the camellia pushes against the warm glass,

it has been looking into this room for 150 years

(from Halfway up the Mountain by Dorothy Hewett)

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Even the bees love camellias!

Do you enjoy the beauty of camellias in your part of the world?

[All camellias are from my Mum’s garden, except for the nursery example]

Neighbourly Thoughts

Recently I came across a Chinese proverb in a magazine: Love your neighbours, but don’t pull down the fence. It made me think about neighbours in general and the act of being a neighbour.

Growing up in a Sydney suburb, we knew our neighbours in part because there were other children in our street. Neighbours on one side kept an eye out for us and there was a doorway in the fence to allow easy movement back and forth. These neighbours were older than our parents, and there were grandchildren of a similar age who visited regularly. There was a golden Labrador called Cleo who never seemed to mind being roped into various games and activities. Other delights included a steering wheel attached to a fence, a mulberry tree in a corner and for some reason that I can’t recall, a poker machine in the kitchen. It was an old-style machine that was played with shillings or ten-cent pieces, and what a thrill it was to pull the handle and ‘win’ the occasional jackpot.

I’ve lived in villas, in student accommodation and on a property with acreage as well as in country towns and now in the mountains, and I’ve had a mix of neighbours along the way. The farming neighbour was usually spotted at a distance, and there were sensory delights at cropping time, especially with a paddock of coriander close to the property boundary. Living with an abundance of space made it a bit challenging to get used to people living close by when I moved into town but I’ve been lucky to have had good neighbours.

Neighbours can be a friendly presence, someone to keep an eye on your place if you are away for a while, to collect mail and newspapers and give you peace of mind. A wave and a smile can be enough to make you feel at ease, and it feeds into a sense of being part of wider community. Neighbours share news and plant cuttings, turn up with extra servings of food and even Christmas gifts for my dog. They know what is going on in the neighbourhood, and a quick catch up can be most enjoyable. Neighbours keep an eye out for each other without infringing on each other’s space.

My neighbours are one of the reasons why I love mountain life. From my arrival here I was made to feel welcome, and there are many small gestures of kindness shared between us without any sense of expectation or reciprocation required. During weather events – such as heavy snowfall or the bushfires in 2013 – we keep an eye out for each other and share news and updates. It is impossible to put a value on the peace of mind that comes with having good neighbours.

There was another quote on the page of proverbs that I read: A stranger nearby is better than a far-away relative. There is truth in this Korean saying.

What are your neighbourly experiences?

Proverbs spotted in Issue 3 of Breathe Magazine Australia.

[Photo: snowfall in July 2015]

Yuranigh’s Grave

I lived in the central west of New South Wales for over 10 years. During this time I travelled the highway more times than I care to remember, and the focus was usually on getting from point A to B as quickly as possible. There were many signposts and points of interest along the way, but most of these were merely noted as something that could be returned to at a later point when more time would be available to explore.

Recently I travelled this road again with my Mum, who has a wide range of knowledge on many topics. When we passed the signpost to Yuranigh’s grave, Mum mentioned that Yuranigh had travelled with Major Thomas Mitchell. Mitchell has appeared in some of my posts recently as I have wandered up and down the mountains, including his encounter with David Lennox, and his work on improving the descent from Mount Victoria. Mitchell’s exacting and pernickety nature had been referred to in True Girt by David Hunt. We found the time to take the dirt road up to see Yuranigh’s grave near Molong.

Yuranigh had joined Mitchell’s third exploration of tropical Australia. He was one of a group of about 30 men including 23 ‘prisoners of the Crown’ who accompanied Mitchell on this expedition. It was noted that Yuranigh appeared to have been added to the camp at Boree, near Orange, and remained for the entire journey. The esteem in which Mitchell held Yuranigh is apparent from this extract from the official journal:

(Yuranigh) has been my guide, companion, councillor and friend on the most eventful occasions during the last journey of discovery. Yuranigh was small and slender in person, but he was of most determined courage and resolution. His intelligence and judgement rendered him so necessary to me that he was ever at my elbow, whether on foot or horseback. Confidence in him was never misplaced. He well knew the character of all the white men of our party. Nothing escaped his penetrating eye and quick ear. 

Following the expedition, Yuranigh went to Sydney with Mitchell, and a request was made to the Governor that he receive a gratuity for his services. He later returned to the Molong area but he passed away soon after. Yuranigh is buried in one of the Gamboola paddocks with marked trees. Mitchell ensured that Yuranigh’s grave was fenced at government expense, and he paid for an inscribed headstone.

Carved tree, Yuranigh's grave, Molong

Marked tree, Yuranigh’s grave, Molong

Mitchell had been accompanied by Aboriginal guides on his three major expeditions ‘to assist with finding water and to express his peaceful intentions’. But the relationship with Yuranigh was something special, recorded not only in the official journal of the expedition but displayed in Yuranigh’s burial. This is how it was described in a newspaper article in 1943:

In the sheep pastures surrounding Gamboola homestead, near Molong, there is a lonely grave in an area at whose four corners are to be seen four trees marked in Aboriginal fashion. It is the grave of Yuranigh. He was buried there according to the customs of his tribe. The marked trees are a tribute of his countrymen. Over the grave is set a tombstone bearing the following inscription, the tribute of the white man:

To native courage, honesty and fidelity, Yuranigh, who accompanied the expedition of Tropical Australia in 1846, lies buried here according to the rites of his countrymen, and this spot was dedicated and enclosed by the Governor-General’s authority in 1861.

Yuranigh's grave, Molong

Yuranigh’s grave, Molong

An additional headstone was erected in 1900 and the inscription was repeated. According to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, the grave site is the only known site in Australia where Aboriginal and European burial practices coexist.

Yuranigh is remembered not only at this site, but there is a lagoon, a county in Queensland and a creek near Molong named after him.

Sources:  Molong Express and Western District Advertiser, Sat 17 Apr 1937; The Longreach Leader, Wed 15 Dec 1943; Australian Dictionary of Biography.

[Photo: view of Yuranigh’s grave with one of the carved trees under shelter]

Writing, Nature and Presence

Recently I attended the inaugural Eleanor Dark lecture which formally closed the Blue Mountains program of the 2017 Sydney Writers’ Festival. The lecture, held at the grand old Carrington Hotel, was given by Delia Falconer.

Falconer is known for her novels including The Service of Clouds which I’ve referred to previously as one of the books that is intricately linked to the fictional world of the Blue Mountains. Falconer’s book on Sydney as part of the series of books on the Australian capital cities was also wonderfully evocative of place, history and atmosphere. And so it was with interest that I attended this lecture which had as its focus the themes of writing, nature and presence.

It was fitting that Falconer was chosen to deliver the inaugural lecture as she had written part of The Service of Clouds whilst in residence at Varuna, the National Writers House bequeathed by the Dark family. Falconer spoke of her time there with fondness, of coming across Eleanor Dark’s gardening journal which illustrated her exacting practical mind, and the joy that Dark took in the local eccentricity of Katoomba life along with the magnificent landscape.

Falconer noted that part of the motivation behind Dark’s landmark trilogy The Timeless Land was distaste at the mindless celebrations around the sesquicentenary of European settlement. Dark’s response was to carefully research and write a fictional account of the early years of the colony from the viewpoint of the colonisers and the Aboriginals; this may be seen as clunky from our current perspective but it was revolutionary at the time. The natural world featured strongly in these books, and Falconer quoted someone as saying that Dark’s work gave the reader a sense of sunlight and the scent of boronia. It can be seen as a precursor to Australian nature writing.

From this foundation, the lecture moved to the challenges of writing in a world marked by the loss of abundance in nature. A simple example was given of driving at night through the countryside – or anywhere outside the suburban sprawl – when the windscreen would soon be choked up with moths and the like. Or the movement en masse of Sydney fruit bats over the city skyline at night. Both examples, which were commonplace, are now relatively rare. Some writers in this field maintain that we are going through the sixth great extinction, a time of rapid loss of species that is unprecedented.

I was interested by the idea that we are indirectly impacted by the kind of animals and plants that surround us, yet it is hard to know what you haven’t seen. This in turn could lead to environmental generational amnesia, where elements of the natural world are entirely lost or become so rare as to no longer be on the human peripheral. There is now a term for the psychological distress caused by such significant environmental shifts – solastalgia.

But what can writers do in such a period of change and uncertainty? Falconer urged writers to tell the story. Use autobiography to look back and understand what has changed. Make it uncomfortable. And think ahead to the future.

[Photo: view from Govett’s Leap lookout, Blackheath]

 

On Looking Up

If your spirits are low, go for a walk. Hear the morning chorus, watch as magpies squawk and squabble overhead. Listen to the smooth notes of a currawong from high up in a gum tree, and watch a squadron of parrots chasing each other before feasting on seeds in the pine trees.

On a good day there will be at least one kookaburra chortling away. Way up high there is the frantic screech of a white cockatoo, seldom alone and usually part of a rowdy, wheeling mob. A red flash as the compact bodies of rosellas, one of the shyer birds, fly by. Wattle birds feast on the nectar of native shrubs, their sombre grey and white plumage contrasting with their red neck wattles and the dash of yellow on their bellies.

Look up and see a beautiful butterfly, camouflaged against the heritage paint of an old building. Look around and see the blur of a bright brown rabbit, tucked in against the edge of long grass along the roadside. And a white horse sitting down in a paddock, its stillness a contrast to the movement around it.

Learning to look up has been one of the most rewarding lessons of my life.

How often do you look up?

[Photo: a red wattle bird]

Creative Challenges

Every now and then I like to set myself a creative challenge. I should disclose that these challenges are seldom well-thought out, but tend to be based on a suggestion picked up from elsewhere or a random thought which seems like a really good idea. From this somewhat vague beginning I’m off on a journey which may last mere moments or months, depending on the situation.

Recently I attended a workshop on taking photos with a smart phone. It is easy to take for granted the ease and speed at which such photos can be taken then mentally discarded or left to take up space in the cloud – quite a contrast to what was involved in taking and printing a photo previously. Now instant gratification of the impulse to record a moment is within our grasp, but I was interested to learn a bit more about framing a shot and to work on quality rather than quantity.

The course was informative and interactive, and also provided insight into some of the many tools available these days to tweak shots and highlight aspects of a photo. It created a heightened sense of awareness too – on a brisk walk into Blackheath at lunchtime I felt as though there were photo opportunities everywhere. And what better way to embed these skills than to take some photos. Perhaps every day for the month of May. This was decided on 30 April, the day that I completed the course.

Early on in May I was blessed with some stunning sunsets and one morning, whilst thinking about some issue at work, I passed a beautifully painted doorway that I’d not noticed before. Even in a distracted state it seems my mind was scouting about for photo opportunities. But what occurred to me on reflection was that this collection of moments is as much about what isn’t captured as it is about what can be contained in the briefest wink of time.

There were the stunning palettes of sunsets that changed incrementally with silent grandeur when I took the time to be still and admire them. And the graceful dance of autumn leaves eddying this way and that, a meandering waltz towards the earth. The bare branches reaching skywards, as if with outstretched arms waiting for a cloak of spring leaves and blossoms. Or the clarity of the night sky, and the gradual progress of the moon.

It isn’t always possible to capture a moment that seems to hum portentously, nor should it be. Often it is enough to simply experience it, for the moment to leave the lightest of impressions on our minds, something to be called upon and reimagined as required. A perpetual reminder to be present when you can, to be ready for the delights and surprises that await your attention.

[Photo: frost on leaves spotted during a morning walk]

 

Hartley Historic Village

One of the first things to know about the Hartley area is that there is a lot of it. From the Blue Mountains heading towards Lithgow you first pass through Little Hartley (with the old Harp of Erin on the left hand side, past the lolly shop) then the roadhouse cafe and farming produce store at Mid Hartley. A detour along Browns Gap Road will take you through Hartley Vale, providing an opportunity to enjoy a lovely drive through the valley.

The historic village of Hartley is under the care of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). The NPWS took over the upkeep of the village in 1972, and there are various tours and accommodation options available. On the day I went for a wander there was a bus load of school kids visiting from the south coast, and they were split into groups to explore the historic courthouse and the Catholic Church.

The village of Hartley began to take shape in the mid 1830s with travel along the Great Western Road passing nearby following the opening of Victoria Pass. By 1837 the Hartley Courthouse was in operation, administering local justice until 1887 when court business was transferred to Lithgow. The building became a popular backdrop for tourists taking group photos on tours to the Jenolan Caves and was set up as a museum from the period after World War II until it came under the control of NPWS.

Hartley is one of the towns that came into existence due to the needs of travellers heading to the western districts, but then declined in significance when bypassed by the railway in the 1870s. The remaining buildings include old pubs and places of worship.

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Old Post Office, Hartley

The old post office is now a family-owned and operated cafe. The pressed tin ceiling, painted white, has a lovely rose design and there is local artwork on display and for sale inside the cafe. The granite tor, which I’ve written about previously, is located behind the old post office. There is an energy about it, and it is worth the walk up the slope in order to see the vistas stretching out towards Oberon and Lithgow, with the Great Western Highway snaking its way up the incline to Lithgow, Bathurst and beyond.

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The Farmer’s Inn, which now includes the Kew-Y-Ahn Aboriginal Gallery. St Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church in the background.

The Farmers Inn, which has served various purposes including time as a pub during the gold rush, is now a tourist centre and a gallery for indigenous artists from the central west of NSW.

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St Bernard’s Presbytery (right) and St Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church

Evidence of the strong Irish Catholic community is evident in St Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church and Presbytery, built in the 1830s and 1840s. The Anglican church, St John the Evangelist, is located closer to the highway and was built in the 1850s.

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The Shamrock Inn, Hartley

During my occasional visits to Hartley I’ve been drawn to the Shamrock Inn, one of the last buildings along the road. It seems to be settling down into its foundations with each passing year, the stones at the front of the building a little more uneven and the doorways slightly shorter than my height.

Pride and preservation combined with an interesting heritage make Hartley Historic Village a place well worth the trip. 

[Photo: Hartley Courthouse]

Writers’ Journey, Sydney Writers’ Festival Event @ Katoomba

Like many readers and writers I find it interesting to hear how other writers approach their craft, how their interest in writing came about and what their process looks like, not least of all because it is unique to each writer.

And so I jumped at the chance to attend an event about the writing journey as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, held in conjunction with Varuna and the Blue Mountains Library. The four people who shared their stories and insights into the writing life are accomplished Australian writers across fiction and non-fiction and their oeuvre crosses many genres. David White, who facilitated the event, acknowledged the endless fascination that readers and writers alike have in the writing process.

The session began with each writer providing a 15 minute overview of their writing life. Malcolm Knox shared the story of his first day on trial with the Sydney Morning Herald in 1994; Catherine Cole spoke of the influences of childhood, of how the joy and pleasure of reading led to a desire to create. Craig Cormick demonstrated his passion for writing the story that demands to be told by passing around a sample of his many published books, ranging across non-fiction, children’s fiction and short stories. Lisa Chaplin, a self-described housewife with an imagination, outlined her transition from romance writer to historical novelist, and shared her approach to writing which includes a hand drawn visual map incorporating the three act structure, soundtrack and scented candles specific to the current work in progress.

The reality and challenges of a writing life were acknowledged by all of the writers. Self-doubt, how your best work isn’t always your published work and how success does not always correlate to talent were some of the points agreed upon. Cormick said that writing exposes your heart and that publishing takes a bite (out of it), but write anyway. A couple of good examples of learning from the masters was provided by Chaplin, who learned the art of editing through the Romance Writers of Australia, and Fiona McIntosh Masterclass. All agreed on keeping drafts of your work, and to remove your darlings to a separate document rather than to kill them off completely – a character or situation which might not fit one piece of work may suit another.

But there are many upsides to a writing life as well. The importance of small things, of celebrating the success of other writers and of keeping in mind the need to engage in the world around you. How the best you can expect is a life in which there is space and scope to write.

Write anyway – this was the overarching message. Embrace the power of creation, and believe in yourself as a writer.

[Photo: Lisa Chaplin, Malcolm Knox, Catherine Cole & Craig Cormick, left to right]

A Convict in the Family: Links Across Generations

Echoes of history are evident in the travelling exhibition A Convict in the Family, currently on display at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre. This exhibition from Sydney Living Museums features photographs of the descendants of convicts, usually in their own home, with items symbolising their ancestor’s crime.

The crimes that resulted in the life changing act of transportation are varied, and it is sometimes bewildering to see modern representations of these thefts. A retired academic sits at a kitchen table, looking directly at the camera, with a single gold ring representing his ancestor’s crime. Clothing was a popular item for theft, with coats, dresses and handkerchiefs featuring in several photographs, along with lace. Lots of lace. But not all crimes involved property, such as the convict transported for vagrancy.

In some of the photographs there are interesting links between the convicts and their descendants. The occupations of the descendants vary, but performing arts and public servants feature quite a bit. One of the descendants of James Ruse is included; Ruse was transported for breaking and entering, and was given an early land grant and the opportunity to establish a productive farm. His successful efforts were rewarded with additional land grants, and his legacy is noted in the photo above, taken on the Parramatta River. The excerpt is taken from his gravestone, which he partly carved before his death:

MY MOTHER REREAD ME TENDERELY WITH ME SHE TOCK MUCH PAINES AND WHEN I ARIVED IN THIS COELNEY I SOWD THE FORST GRAIN

This exhibition made me think deeper about these unconventional beginnings of European settlement in Australia, not least of all because like many other Australians I have a convict or two in my family tree. Theft of jewellery, a steel watch chain, a single handkerchief (valued at three shillings) and a wicker basket with nine pecks of beans – all of these crimes were serious enough to ensure a trip across the seas.

There is a link to a summary of the exhibition here, including an interview with photographer Mine Konakci. The importance of understanding your past in order to have a stronger sense of belonging is evident throughout the exhibition. The video interview includes many of the photographs and is well worth a view.

Do you have a convict in your family tree?

[Photo: taken on Parramatta River, Parramatta]