Friday, August 18, 2017

A sibling recalled

For those who didn't see the latest parish magazine, this is the text of my eulogy for my sister: 

Some of you may remember Gerald Durrell’s famous book MY FAMILY AND OTHER ANIMALS. I sometimes thought that if I wrote a book about Julie it would have been titled MY SISTER AND OTHER ANIMALS. Certainly most of you are aware of her love of animals. She started small with white mice and canaries, then cats and dogs before progressing to chickens, ducks, geese, goats and horses.

But that was just one of the many sides of Julie. From the moment I saw her in her cradle at the end of 1953, my life would never be the same. For example I saw every movie Elvis Presley made in the 1960s until she was old enough to go to the cinema alone.

There was Julie the student. She was a picture in her Collegiate school uniform, complete with hat and gloves -- heaven help any girl seen in public without them. After her years at collegiate, she attended the same school as Errol Flynn, though in a different decade. She took up archery, she sang in a gospel group, she won prizes for dressage riding. Later on she was to take up croquet. Probably not a lot of you know she did two years of law at uni, before leaving to work at the new Wrest Point casino, where she progressed from croupier to inspector. 

Julie the world traveller was another one of her hats, and she saw a lot of the world. Whether it was riding horses around the pyramids, dining at the Waldorf Astoria or going around Picadilly Circus on the rear seat of a motorcycle, she seemed to have done it all. One of her favorite destinations was Hawaii and I lost count of how many times she passed through Honolulu. In her wake she left a scattering of new friends and acquaintances, people of all types who fell under her spell.

But it wasn’t all glamor and jet-setting, though she was seen at times feeding her animals wearing a mink coat and diamond ear rings. There was the practical Julie -- when something went wrong in our house, I started wondering how we could manage without it, while Julie was unscrewing the back looking for the defective part. I once saw her build a hen house in my backyard out of some scrap timber, a roll of wire and a sheet of corrugated iron.

She had a habit of gathering up bits and pieces that might come in handy one day. Wood, metal, wire... one day she told some workmen who were clearing out a shop that they could drop off the shelving and such bric-a-brac at her house rather than take it to the tip. They accepted the suggestion immediately. 

Her back paddock remained an oasis of green grass as Lenah Valley was slowly enveloped by the urban sprawl. . The local children often called in to give the horses treats -- the horses knew this and would wait at the gate with anticipation after school let out. One neighbor told me that her visiting grandchildren would come into the kitchen every morning asking for carrots for Julie’s horses.

(In years gone by, some of the local children volunteered to watch over the animals while Julie was at work, sort of the Merry Men to her Robin Hood. One girl dashed across the footbridge during a storm and led the goats to safety before the creek flooded!)

Even the possums, considered a pest by most people, made friends with Julie. One mother possum came down with her baby in tow most nights to get a snack while Julie was outside feeding the animals.

Julie the artist was another part of her life. In the 1960s, she did a lot of painting and sketching, and a couple of her pictures hung in the dining room of her father’s hotel. She was over the moon when one of her pictures sold at an art show.  

Later on she took up photography with enthusiasm -- before Photoshop came along, she would force her animals to pose wearing antlers for her Christmas card photos. With the advent of digital photography she accumulated countless pictures of nature, animals and gatherings of her friends. At one point she was virtually the unofficial photographer here, capturing the events St John’s every week.

Julie was a regular here at St John’s from the 1970s, and she brought me into the fold ten years later. Her baptism by Alan Stubs was one of the high points of her life. I was there when she came up out of the water and I’ll never forget that smile. While she was working at Wrest Point, she stipulated that she wanted Sunday off every week. This probably surprised management, since they often disciplined their workers by not putting them on the weekend roster. But Julie was willing to sacrifice the extra money so she could worship with her church family.

And maybe that’s how we’ll remember Julie -- meandering through the wonders of this world and the next, admiring its beauty and the people and the creatures in it. She is always happy to see them, and I like to think they are happy to see her. 

I know we always were.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Winter days at the farm


As we bore through the heart of mid-winter, lots of things have to be done.

My sister married last year, an American from North Carolina.  Everyone asks me where they are going to live, but I have no answer.  At the moment, Julie and Gene are dividing their time between US and Australia, trying to fit in various commitments to the satisfaction of both sides. 

So I'm a bit busy, keeping an eye on her farm (farmlet if you want to be precise) -- I have help feeding the livestock most days, but it takes a bit of time buying feed, making sure the house is secure, and keeping the cats company for an hour or two.

Days when I am feeding, I go over twice a day and go in the front door.  Change into boots and go out the back door.   Start with going into the hen house and feeding the chickens;  check for any eggs.   Then go down to the creek and feed the ducks and geese, a noisy business.

After that I go across the creek and feed the horses - the big one Shadow and the miniature breed Trouble - before I hike up the hill in the back paddock with a carrot for Rosie, the donkey who lives next door.  This isn't too bad if it hasn't just rained, it can be pleasant with the sun on your back and a slight breeze blowing down Lenah Valley.  But I always take the hiking stick that Julie brought back from NC for me.

Then, carefully cross the creek and back to the house.   By the time I feel ready for a cup of tea or coffee, to be consumed while I keep the cats company for a while.  Silk likes to go outside afterwards;  Kes prefers to remain indoors, but she is almost 22 years old so that's quite reasonable.

And in the evening, repeat.  With the main difference that I lock the chickens up instead of letting them out into the run.  And I will probably watch the news on Julie's television set, since I don't own a working TV myself at home.

So the time ticks away, and one day I look at the calendar and notice to my surprise that they will be returning in less than two weeks.

And just when I'd got into a routine...

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Robert W. Chambers revisited

Felt a bit better today, less tired and not as dizzy.  No appointments today for a change, so spent the afternoon quietly at home listening to music and re-reading Robert W. Chambers' short story "The Repairer of Reputations."

I had not read Chambers since my teenage years, and I had forgotten nearly all of it.  [Spoilers ahead!]  It is narrated by a troubled man in what was then the near future, and some parts of the story don't seem to add up.  But the first time you read the story you shrug that off, figuring that you'll eventually work out what is going on.

When I was younger, I was slightly baffled by the story and did not appreciate Chambers' artfulness in showing us everything through the eyes of an unreliable narrator.  In fact, you realize after a few pages, we are hearing a tale told to us by a madman  -- nobody and nothing he describes are likely to be true. 

The story was first published in the 1895 collection THE KING IN YELLOW and has achieved a new life through being referenced in recent movies and television shows.   I suspect, though, that readers who come to the book through that route will be as nonplussed by the story as I was in the 1960s. 


Friday, February 24, 2017

The Books of 1972

Recently on Facebook, there was some discussion about the number of books I seemed to have read down the years.    I explained that a lot of my reading had been done in my early years when I had a book on the go almost continuously.  From memory I used to read about six paperbacks a week.

To examine the original data, I blew the dust off one of my old notebooks (and I mean that literally) and opened it to see what I read in the month of November 1972, which is -- um -- almost 45 years ago.

  3. THE BLIND WORM by Brian Stableford
  4. SEED OF THE DREAMERS by Emil Petaja
  6. DON'T FALL OFF THE MOUNTAIN by Shirley MacLaine
  7. LOST HORIZON by James Hilton
  8. THE CYBERNETIC BRAINS by Raymond F. Jones
  10. THE DAYS OF GLORY by Brian Stableford
  11. THE INHERITORS by A. Bertram Chandler
  12. THE GATEWAY TO NEVER by A. Bertram Chandler
  13. KING KOBOLD by Christopher Stasheff
  14. THE HIGH HEX by Laurence M. Janifer & S.J. Treibich
  17. DRAGONFLIGHT by Anne McCaffrey
  20. THE BLACK STAR PASSES by John W. Campbell   
  21. DR. FUTURITY by Philip K. Dick
  22. THE CRACK IN SPACE by Philip K. Dick
  23. HELL'S GATE by Dean R. Koontz
  24. THE NEW TOMORROWS edited by Norman Spinrad
  25. INFINITY TWO edited by Robert Hoskins
  26. THE REBEL WORLDS by Poul Anderson
  27. THE WEATHERMONGER by Peter Dickinson
  28. THE HOLLOW by Agatha Christie
  29. THE STAR VIRUS by Barrington J. Bayley
  33. THE WARLORD OF THE AIR by Michael Moorcock
  34. THE ENEMY STARS by Poul Anderson
  35. GOD BLESS YOU, MR ROSEWATER by Kurt Vonnegut
  36. ALICE'S WORLD by Sam J. Lundwall
  37. NO TIME FOR HEROES by Sam J. Lundwall
  38. EMPIRE OF TWO WORLDS by Barrington J. Bayley
  39. VULCAN'S HAMMER by Philip K. Dick
  40. DR. OX AND OTHER STORIES by Jules Verne
  41. THE BLONDE AND THE BOODLE by Jack Trevor Story
  42. A BOOK OF MILLIGANIMALS by Spike Milligan
  43. MASTER OF LIFE AND DEATH by Robert Silverberg
  44. INVADER FROM EARTH by Robert Silverberg
  45. SKYJACK! by Clark Whelton
  47. FLIGHT INTO DANGER by Arthur Hailey.

So, forty seven books in thirty days.  Most not long books,  some quite short in fact.  But you can see how it adds up if you keep reading at that rate for several years.  I may not know many modern writers, but I can claim to have a pretty good acquaintance with the authors of the first three quarters of the twentieth century !

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Shop till you drop

OK, I spent $300 on new comics in one afternoon yesterday. 


I hadn't been to either of the two shops where I buy my comics for a few weeks, but I didn't realize it had been that long.

The first shop, where I get my British and Australian stuff, I walked out with seven issues of THE BEANO, ten issues of COMMANDO and four issues of THE PHANTOM.

The second shop is the one where I get my American stuff. I came out of there with two issues of COMICS REVUE, one POPEYE, one DONALD DUCK, two WALT DISNEY COMICS, three MICKEY MOUSE and five issues of UNCLE SCROOGE. At least I get a 5% discount there as a regular customer, but bloody hell.   A lot of those comics are $4 in America,  but here we are paying $7 or $8  --  call it US$5.50

I didn't think it was that long, but you can't argue with seven weeks of THE BEANO sitting there waiting for you.

Tasmania -- Bushfire 1967

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the worst fires in the history of Tasmania. I was 16, working in my father’s hotel in the middle of the city. We knew it was a scorchingly hot day and the wind was blowing up, but we could never have believed the inferno that was about to descend on the country and suburbs. 

As the day went on, conditions worsened. The sky darkened, and a chokingly hot wind swept across the city. I stepped out the front door, and the street outside was filled with ash blowing through the city. All but one of the radio stations was off the air because the landlines to the transmitters had been victims of the fires, but we were getting news of the suburbs and the streets that the fires had been through.

My father went down to a hardware store and bought an extra long length of hose in case he needed to damp down the roof if embers started to land on it -- that’s if the water had been available. My mother was freaking out a bit because she didn’t know where my sister was; she got in the car and drove around looking for her, passing the Botanical Gardens where men with hessian bags were trying to beat out fires.

Eventually my sister turned up safe and sound. All my family came through that day safely. But after five hours, there were 62 people dead, 900 injured and over seven thousand homeless. No one who was there on that Tuesday in 1967 will ever forget it.
(Picture shows Lenah Valley in 1967 fire)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Barsham excursions and adventures in art

Liz Barsham is an old friend of the family.  We knew her before she became one of Australia's leading surrealist artists -- although she isn't happy with the surrealist tag and prefers to describe her work as "expressionist"  (she calls it Tasmanian Gothic).  Her new exhibition opened in North Hobart this month -- "Excursions and Adventures - new paintings by Elizabeth Barsham".  (Picture shows Liz on the left with Lara van Raay in front of one of her paintings.)

The works on show covered all sorts of emotions and styles.  "Eyes of the Forest" is a straightforward depiction of --  well, a forest of eyes.  "The Flower" caught many people's attention with its splash of colour illuminating a drab and dusty world.  "Battleship" is just that, and "The Mechanics" mixes apocalyptic wreckage with a rather endearing pair of mechanics who seem unphased by the cataclysym, jauntily wielding their spanners as they prepare for work.  

"The Great Silence", with its shambling beast approaching the viewer, would be perfectly at home illustrating a collection of stories by HP Lovecraft.  "The laughing girl" is at odds with its cheery title and caused some unease whenever I looked at it.

"Song of the Mill", 58 cm x 41 cm acrylic on paper, was her contribution to Metamorphosis, an international exhibition at the annual Ripattoni Art Festival in Italy.  Notable for surrounding its organ-playing protagonist with an array of Tasmanian ferns, which Cary Lenahan was happy to enumerate for me.

"Child's Guide to Wilderness" has something of a Lewis Carroll feel, with an immaculate little girl wandering through a strange world - which is obviously Tasmania, given the subtle inclusion of a Tasmanian Tiger and Mount Wellington in the background.  "McCrae's Hill" even more so, with a completely realistic Tasmanian countryside in the background of a typically Barshamesque shambles.
Sometimes the fantastic is so close to the real.  "Seabird" depicts a skeletal shape dominating the landscape,  recalling to my mind the chicken skeleton by my back door, so perfectly does it capture the long-dead avian look.

If I had to choose a picture I would want to live with on my wall, I would find it difficult to choose between the endearingly elliptical bestiary of "Strange Flightless Birds Wandered The Hills" and the small but perfectly rendered piece "Little Sisters of Perpetual Motion" which would have perfectly suited one of those abstract covers that Penguin paperbacks used to have back in the 1960s.