King Parrots, A Poem by Alan Gould

The king parrots have returned to the Blue Mountains, working their way through trees bearing fruit. Recently I arrived home to find half a dozen of them picking off the small fruit on a plum tree. They are bold in colour and temperament, and are charming despite the destruction. This poem expresses what it is like to have a visitation.

They’ve arrived.

That’s all I am allowed to know.

Four, no six, they have materialised

 

trembling on the Mexican Hawthorn

as though the tree had just devised them,

six startling orchids,

 

or six jocund rascals, outrageous

in their green or crimson balaclavas

and crimson pantaloons,

 

tucking away their conifer wings,

eating with greedy disdain

like babies or commit strip bandidos.

 

My lawn is rubbished with half-eaten crimson berries.

Vandals. Solferino angels:

how can my eye stray while they remian

 

in creaturely candelabra

on a sky of nursery blue.

It’s like a siege.

 

One cocks its head, as though to say,

‘Don’t worry. We are too brilliant to be real,’

then goes on eating from my tree.

 

They’re gone. The branch skitters into stillness.

And I could spend a year behind this glass

longing for their return.

ALAN GOULD

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Female Australian king parrot

[Header photo: male king parrot about to take off with some fruit]

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Write Where You Can

I don’t know if I’ve ever been precious about where I write, but over the last few years I’ve been working on writing wherever I can. This really took off whilst I was participating in NaNoWriMo a couple of years back. Working full-time and maintaining a life whilst generating 50,000 words in a month saw me tapping out words in lunch breaks or whilst waiting in queues. Vague notions of not being able to start to write until I had a pocket of clear time were cast aside as the pressure was on to simply get the words down.

NaNoWriMo is not my normal writing style. I usually wish that I wrote more, and had some sort of discipline about writing practice but that isn’t the reality. Although I relish structure in my professional life I continue to be reluctant about imposing the same sort of schedule around what I write and when. It puzzles me why I am so resistant to adopt a regular pattern of creativity. I know that the muse doesn’t turn up on demand when I finally sit at the desk. The muse is a fickle creature, often putting in an appearance when writing tools are nowhere in sight, such as whilst driving or out walking.

But something that I learnt from the NaNoWriMo process is that it is possible to write anywhere. I am writing the first draft of this post from an outdoor setting at Bunnings, a hardware and gardening chain, whilst the family looks for plants and gadgets. Ear plugs help to drown out the sound of children playing nearby and people having lengthy conversations about the various merits of kitchen fitouts. I can still people watch, but I can also get some words down rather than just be frustrated by another day slipping away with not enough words captured.

Mobile devices make it easier to be able to work on the go. I tend to carry my current writing notebook too, just in case as the act of writing it down still works best sometimes. But it is convenient to tap something out in an application, and the ability to synchronise across devices means that it is easier than ever to write on the move.

The need to write becomes a compulsion at times, especially when a story is taking hold or that missing piece of a puzzle suddenly appears.  The ability to get these thoughts down quickly matters, so the notion of writing where you can comes into play. Work can be edited and rearranged with issues resolved at a later time. Getting the words down gives you something to edit.

I’ve worked in my car, at cafes, in queues and on the train (a particular favourite). Conference calls and work seminars are also great opportunities to think and write differently about works in progress, or to record ideas that occur out of the blue for another story. Airport lounges, shopping centres, hospitals, waiting rooms at professional offices; really just anywhere will do. Over the years I have developed the ability to focus quickly and deeply on what I’m writing on, as if there is no time to waste.

My preferred writing location will always be at home at my desk or kitchen table, where the environment is familiar. But it provides me with a great deal of comfort to know that I can, will and do write anywhere.

Do you write where you can?

[Photo: old telegraph/post office counter display at West Wyalong Museum]

Woodford Academy, Oldest Building in the Blue Mountains

From its origins as a roadside inn, the Woodford Academy on the Great Western Highway has seen a variety of uses over the years. It started out as a weatherboard and stone inn called the ‘Sign of the Woodman’ in 1834, providing accommodation for 10 people and stables for passing travellers.

During the early decades of the 19th century, the Great Western Road to Bathurst was a journey of up to four days. Twenty Mile Hollow (now known as Woodford) was a popular stop at the end of the second day of travel, between Springwood and Blackheath on the road west.  The pub was rebuilt and expanded further during the gold rush years of the 1850s onwards, when it was known as the King’s Arms. In 1868, it was bought by Alfred Fairfax as a gentleman’s residence, and he renamed it Woodford House.

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Old taproom with shelves marked out and a centrepiece of grapes, peaches and corn above the door

The alternations, extensions and repurposing of the property helped to ensure its survival. Various uses included as a guest house, licensed hotel, boarding house, private hospital and a boarding school, when it became known as the Woodford Academy. From the late 1930s onwards it was a private home until Gertie McManamey, daughter of scholar and principal of the Woodford Academy, bequeathed the property to the National Trust in 1979.

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Old schoolroom at Woodford Academy

Aboriginal heritage in the area is acknowledged; the nearby reserve has an engraved groove in a sandstone platform, considered likely to be a signpost or signal to assist travelling Aborigines.

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View from bedroom in loft looking towards Great Western Highway

From foot traffic to horse and carts, wagons to motor vehicles, the passing parade of people heading west has been viewed from this site. The loft area above the residence is accessed through tight wooden stairs. The rooms offer views of the highway, gardens and courtyard. The property has a central courtyard area, reminiscent of Rouse Hill House, with access to washrooms, kitchen, laundry and stable areas.

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Kitchen, including stone sink

Throughout the property there are series of photos celebrating previous eras, highlighting the many lives the property has had. Memorabilia in the rooms provide insights into what life was like in earlier times, before the arrival of electricity, sewerage and running water.

On the day of my visit the academy was doubling as an exhibition space, continuing to provide a place for people to come and gather and experience something unique.

[Photo: front of Woodford Academy from Great Western Highway, Woodford]

 

A History Lesson

Recently I attended a talk by Grace Karskens, a noted colonial historian. Her published works include The Rocks and The Colony. Karsken’s talk was about her upcoming book, Recovering Vanished Places: Stories from the Hawkesbury/Nepean River.

History is approached by Karskens by an ethnographic focus, a wide lens which includes archaeology, ecology and geography amongst other studies. Sources range from official documents and historical texts to newspaper articles, paintings, local and family histories, letters, poetry and folklore to provides a broader context to understanding history on a deeper level.

Part of the challenge lies in what cannot be found or ascertained. Of course not everything is recorded or accessible, and sometimes all that remains is a sanitised version of real events.

Something that resonated with me was the snatches and snippets of past events that are woven into stories. As a writer I feel at times that my mind is swirling with scraps of stories, real and imagined. Some are recent, others are not my memory fragments but those of parents, grandparents and other relatives. And it isn’t just family that provide threads to weave stories from; chance conversations with friends and strangers also provide material.

Whilst some fictional scribblings require little in the way of research, unlike academic endeavours, it was interesting to hear Karskens talk of how obsessive the need to know can become. It is this attention to detail and intellectual vigour which creates work which resonates with readers. Again this has similarities in the fictional space. Research is an important aspect across many genres: as a reader few things jar more than reading something factually wrong in a story.

The talk provided a taste of what is to come, a book which promises accessible and illuminating insights into vanished places along the Hawkesbury and Nepean Rivers. There is a link to a TED talk by Karskens here.

What lessons from history do you take on as a writer?

[Photo: view of Hawkesbury River near Wisemans Ferry]

Cicada Days

As a harbinger of warmer days to come, it’s hard to go past the cicada. It might be due to the combination of a dry winter and a warm start to spring but in recent weeks there have been discarded cicada shells all over the place. Fence posts, brick walls, tree trunks – all are seemingly dotted with husks, cast aside as cicadas move on to their final phase of life. During the day the air often thrums with their calls. Usually camouflaged by leaves, they are hard to spot unless being chased around the neighbourhood by hungry birds.

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After the countdown, they go over the top, grey shapes in the grey dawn, clambering out of themselves (Cicadas by David Campbell)

Cicadas were captured as temporary trophies when I was a kid, with a league ladder of varieties according to scarcity. The common Greengrocer wasn’t given much weighting; Yellow Mondays were a bit harder to find, Black Prince cicadas were highly sought, along with the noisy Double Drummer. The cicadas would be brought to school in ice cream containers with holes punched into the lids, to be admired and swapped before the cicadas were released.

There are Miller or Floury Baker cicadas, covered in fine, silvery hairs. I haven’t seen a Cherrynose cicada, but they are meant to be more common on the coast. There are Red-eyes along with smaller varieties such as Fairy, Maiden and Midget.

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A shell on the left, a cicada getting ready to emerge on the right

It is mainly the male cicada who sings by flexing their tymbals which are drum-like organs found in their abdomens. They drink and eat using their beak or rostrum, and begin life as an egg embedded in a tree limb. When the egg hatches, the ant-like form falls to the ground and digs until it finds roots to feed on. Cicadas can remain underground for anywhere up to 17 years, according to the species. It is an active life spent feeding and tunnelling.

As nymphs, they return above ground and climb the nearest tree to shed their exoskeleton. Their wings inflate and their bodies harden. They search for a mate with males singing to attract females, and the cycle begins again. As an adult they have a short life, usually only a few weeks.

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Greengrocer

There are over 3,300 varieties around the world, and a couple of unusual Australian cicadas are the Blue Moon and Bagpipe Cicada.

There is a lovely poem about cicadas by David Campbell here.

Do you have cicadas in your backyard?

Main source of information on cicadas: Cicada Mania web page. It is brilliant – hover over a link and the mouse arrow turns into a cicada!

[Photo: Greengrocer cicada]

On A Nostalgic Note

It might be due to a sense of nostalgia but recently I found myself looking at record players online. The sum total of records in my life at this time? One: Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday. I recently bought it for a dollar at a community fete. I had flicked through the other offerings which included a bewildering number of tartan-inspired tunes celebrating Scottish heritage as well as a couple of spoken albums including an all-cast version of The Little Prince. Maybe I should have bought a couple more.

I had been tempted by some of the compilation albums featuring some of the big names and groups of the 1970s whilst smiling at the cover art. There was even an album in the stack celebrating James Cook with a mixture of jigs, classical music and poetry, the inside of the album containing drawings and exploratory maps.

Although I am wary of gathering more stuff in my life, there is room for records. I love listening to music and usually have the radio or an iPod shuffling in the background. A huge variety of music is available on various devices at any time. I still have boxes of CDs which I’m reluctant to let go, although most of my music is now digitalised. There are also old cassette tapes squirreled away too, mainly mix tapes carefully compiled for long trips or created by friends.

There has been a vinyl comeback in recent years with some artists embracing the format more than others. A browse on eBay turns up iconic albums re-released on vinyl.

So what is the appeal? Better sound quality. Listening to an album in the way it was intended, without the cherry-picking or just listening to the top-rated songs. To listen to the songs in order instead of ceaseless flitting from one thing to the next, even though compilation albums mix it up. To rediscover songs and memories on old albums discovered in future travels.

It is also to revisit, or attempt to revisit, my own musical history and memories. The first record that I can remember as a Christmas gift was Corroboree by Split Enz, the cover brown and black and white. Buying Crazy for You by Madonna as a 45 after seeing ‘Desperately Seeking Susan‘ with teenage girlfriends. A whole range of music embedded in my memory from childhood from some of the hundreds of albums owned by parents, family and friends. The art of lining up the needle with precision on the desired track, the hiss and crackle of motes of dust. Cover art still vivid in my memory, including the helicopter shot on the front cover of ABBA’s album, Arrival.

Do records tap into nostalgic memories for you?

[Photo: front cover of the Billie Holiday album, Lady Sings The Blues]

Grains of Gratitude

One of the tiny changes that I’ve made in the past year has been scratching down three things I’m grateful for each day. This concise capturing of moments or things helps to redeem even an otherwise terrible day. And as the habit has become ingrained, I sometimes find myself sifting through a day to find glimpses of things I’m grateful for, as well as noting moments with merit as they happen.

Here are some of the things I’ve been grateful for recently.

  • Open spaces
  • Echidna (spotted scuttling off the road near Lithgow)
  • Laughing with Mum
  • Singing
  • Different experiences
  • Valley views
  • Clouds. Just because.
  • Magpie morning chorus
  • Sunshine
  • Reading in my chair
  • Full moon rising
  • Chores: routines rock
  • Books, my reliable escape
  • Home
  • Scribbling
  • Naps
  • Storm rolling in
  • Local radio
  • Dancing
  • Word joys
  • Being

What are you grateful for in your life?

[Photo: clouds atop Mt Wellington, Hobart]

Writing Prompt: Write About Someone Doing An Everyday Task

The prompt: write about someone doing an everyday task that reveals something fundamental about who they are.

She had started before first light, making her way to the laundry in the yard and getting the boiler started as the household slept. The clothes had been sorted the day before and she’d made sure that there was enough kindling and firewood to get the laundry done. The first load was ready to hang out by the time the dawn chorus began to swell around her.

She tucked the basket on her hip, the canes creaking a little. Mary made her way to the clothes lines, long strands of wire held in place by wooden poles which seemed too feeble to hold the heavy sheets and household clothes but they were up to the task.

Just before starting to hang the linen she paused, listening for movement, sniffing in the cold dark morning for other wood smoke. A small smile tugged at her lips. She would be the first to have her washing out again. Last week she’d noticed that Maggie from next door had hung her washing out the night before. It didn’t count, doing it late in the day. With the dust and muck from the mines it wasn’t worth it anyway; the clothes would need washing twice if you tried that trick.

With wooden pegs tucked into her mouth, Mary flicked and pulled and straightened the cotton sheets until they flapped neatly in the light breeze. A quick glance upwards at the lightening sky as the stars retreated then she was heading back towards the laundry, stepping carefully on a well-worn track, her mind slipping forward to what the day ahead would require of her. The weekly rhythm was ingrained and she liked to get a head start on washing day to set herself up for the week ahead.

[Photo: display of laundry at Cascades Female Factory in Hobart]

A Meander Around Molong

Molong is a small country town about 300 km west of Sydney on the Mitchell Highway, and about 45 km north-west of Orange. The highway skirts around the town itself, but it is worth stopping for a while and having a look around the commercial centre of Molong.

Old Bank and Post Office in Bank Street, Molong

Old Bank and Post Office in Bank Street, Molong

The township of Molong began as a government stockyard in 1845, and copper mining also began in the area at this time. This was the first metalliferous working in New South Wales. The first land grant was at Larras Lee, still marked by a stone monument along the highway into town. Travelling from Orange to Molong, the turn off to Yuranigh’s gravesite is signposted, and the remnants of the Fairbridge Farm School can be seen before the rows of poplar trees mark the entrance into the town. Molong is derived from a Wiradjuri word, believed to mean a place of many rocks, and there are many limestone outcrops through this part of the countryside.

Cobb & Co Coach House, Molong

Cobb & Co Coach House, Molong

The main street of Molong, Bank Street, is classified by the National Trust. Heritage buildings line the street from the old railway station past old banks and the post office, beyond the town hall and towards the residential areas of the town. They evoke a different time, and many of them were built during the 1870s and 1880s when the town expanded as the extension of the railway line provided confidence in Molong’s future. Insight into town life in 1871 can be found here.

Old shop fronts in Molong

Old shop fronts in Molong

With a small population of about 1500, the town is remarkably vibrant. On the Friday afternoon when I passed through, most of the shops were open offering everything from antiques and second-hand books to gelato and pies. There were galleries and gift shops along with a small group of locals running a fundraiser. It is still one of those places where locals take the time to smile and say hello to people as they pass by.

Molong Railway Station, now a library

Molong Railway Station, now a library

The railway station is now a library. It was built in 1885 in preparation for the arrival of the railway in 1886. From 1886 to 1893, Molong was the terminus of the Sydney line.

Telegraph Hotel, Molong

Telegraph Hotel, Molong

The Telegraph Hotel dates from around 1880, and was extensively renovated in 1910.

The Western Stores, Molong

The Western Stores, Molong

Many central west towns still have the old Western Stores shop fronts in their main streets, and Molong is no exception. The Western Stores and Edgleys Ltd was a group of department stores operating in western and central western New South Wales. In the 1960s the group was purchased by Farmers & Co of Sydney, and subsequently purchased by Grace Bros (now Myer). Part of this building is now a supermarket.

When was the last time you took a detour from the highway to discover a hidden gem?

[Photo: streetscape of Molong, looking down Bank Street from the Town Hall]

 

 

Poem: Suburban Song by Elizabeth Riddell

Now all the dogs with folded paws

Stare at the lowering sky

This is the hour when women hear

Their lives go ticking by.

 

The baker’s horse with rattling hooves

Upon the windy hill

Mocks the thunder in the heart

Of women sitting still.

 

The poppies in the garden turn

Their faces to the sand

And tears upon the sewing fall

And on the stranger’s hand.

 

Flap flap the washing flies

To meet the starting hail

Close the door on love and hang

The key upon the nail.

 

[Photo: display of ranunculars at Napier, North Island, New Zealand]