Halleluja

When they told me that the music would contain lots of Hallelujas my mind went immediately to singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen.

Imagine my surprise then at the beautiful Mandeville Hall in the grounds of Loreto College in Melbourne’s very swish Toorak, the Hallelujas were part of Frideric Handel’s Messiah. Originally an Easter offering this English-language oratorio burst onto the stage of Musick Hall in Dublin on April 13, 1742.

We enjoyed excerpts performed by Cantus and Sonare Novesia, from the Cathedral of St Quirinus, in Neuss, Germany. Eight glorious voices soared through the rafters and we were left absolutely spellbound.

And yet another performance at St Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne.

Normally when you hear of Melbourne talk turns to Federation Square, Lygon Street, Southbank and the Victoria Markets. And the Casino. Who cares!

We were spoiled by several days in South Yarra, 4 kms out of the CBD and roughly 1,300 kilometres south of Brisbane. A bustling, upscale suburb with art deco apartments facing the Yarra, and well-preserved mansions, South Yarra is full of swanky boutiques, art galleries, cocktail lounges and eclectic bistros. I was tempted by a cat collar with bell for $77 – Ha ha ha -and of course I came upon a great bookstore.

Avoca Book Store, Toorak Road, South Yarra

I’ve been known to favour walking tours of an eclectic nature when I travel and I wasn’t disappointed with South Yarra’s offering of a two hour stroll with an architectural expert explaining the various styles of housing.

Both trams and train service South Yarra and the nearby Botanical Gardens and other reserves offer a great stretch of the legs. Honestly, it was just so therapeutic being surrounded by greenery after having been in drought effected territory for so long.( Note to self : plant more trees this week and steer clear of chocolate).

We went Airbnb. I love them and detest the impersonality of hotels. After all, seen one marble bathroom, you’ve seen them all.

Halleluja!

To Censor or not to Censor – that is the question.

Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.”

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

The Little Community Library in the parkland near my home continues to gain momentum. I put a call out for more children’s books at the beginning of the school holidays and the neighbourhood came good with DVDs, small toys, and colouring in sets as well as a variety of reading material.

Over the past weeks there has also been the donation of numerous LGBT Romance novels. Often they are sneakily hidden between the pages of other books.

Personally, I’m not offended, but as this communal Library is frequented by children of all ages who utilise the reserve with its playground equipment I have been taking these books out of circulation. Effectively I’ve played Censor. It doesn’t sit well but I have genuine concerns that if a 7 year old goes home with one of these novels a parent could go into meltdown. This could possibly result in the loss of this resource.

A friend has questioned my stance, given that I’m not so zealous with the plethora of religious books that are donated.

None of these books are tossed into the garbage bin. They are donated to an organisation where they can be better appreciated. The plethora of religious books are given two weeks on the shelves before they are removed. I think that’s generous.

Am I becoming a Book Nazi?

The National Archives in Canberra has updated its cafe with a new display on banned books. You can read about the secret history of Australian censorship as you sip your coffee. You can also examine a censor’s report or flip through a copy of a book or magazine once prohibited in Australia. This Cafe is going on my Must Do List For when I next visit the ACT.

Ride Like A Girl

Michelle Payne became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, Australia’s most prestigious horse race. As she came off the course in Flemington, Victoria, she told waiting media: “I want to say to everyone else, get stuffed, because women can do anything and we can beat the world.” Go girlfriend!

Ride Like A Girl hit the cinemas last week telling the story of Michelle’s big win in 2015. 

I had expectations that this would be just another feel-good film about a young girl who managed to overcome the odds in a male-dominated industry to win horseracing’s biggest prize. Just another National Velvet.

It was more than that in that it is so totally Australian. It’s not particularly clever, it’s charm is that it is simply Dinky Di to its bootstraps. Sam Neil plays patriarch, Paddy, a horse trainer and the father of ten children, eight of whom become jockeys. Michelle’s mother died in a car accident whilst she was still in nappies, her sister Brigette died in a race fall, and Michelle herself nearly died after a fall in 2001.

Teresa Palmer ( Hacksaw Ridge) plays Michelle and despite being of fragile appearance is determined and headstrong. She had dreamed of winning a Melbourne Cup since childhood.

Michelle’s horse on the day, Prince of Penzance, was 100-1 prior to the race, and of course we all love a story of the underdog getting up. Michelle’s brother, Stevie, played himself in the movie and he was the strapper on the day in real life. A Downs Syndrome kiddie it is the Michelle-Stevie relationship which really works and to this day they own a farm where they train horses together.

There were two things that disappointed me about Ride Like A Girl: firstly, actress Magda Szubanski. There have to be other middle aged character actresses in the country chasing work, and it’s not like customers are queuing up for a five minute performance from Magda. Magda playing Magda has been done like a dinner. 

And honestly, would this movie have worked if it wasn’t so close to the first Tuesday in November and new frocks, eyebrow shaping and lunches weren’t in full swing?

I’ve never been to a Melbourne Cup. I nearly went on a 5 day cruise from Sydney to Melbourne for the event with a young man when I was 17 but my father spat chips ( as well as a lot of other things) so that never eventuated.

Over my working life I’ve only attended one Melbourne Cup Luncheon. Now cop this : work commitments meant I never even watched or listened to the race live for all those years. How UnAustralian is this? And you wonder why I retired early……

My youngest (currently in New Delhi) will be peeved that I’ve already seen the movie as she was at Flemington for the Cup when Payne rode the winner. That’s what happens when you don’t invite your mother along…..

I’ve just ordered the autobiography, Life As I Know It, from the Library.

Next week : Last Blood-Rambo 5. * Hanging head in shame……….

Note: Ride Like A Girl has been getting attention from both sides of the Horse Racing Industry – both negative and positive.



Raising Gypsies

Did I tell you I enjoyed Chicago at the theatre last weekend?

It was beaut to see Tom Burlinson again as Billy Flynn. Burlinson had success as a young man when he played young Jim Craig in the 1982 Australian movie The Man From Snowy River and Tommy Woodcock in Phar Lap in 1983. He then seemed to fade away singing the songs of Frank Sinatra in nightclubs over the years.

Also lovely to spend time in Sydney with the daughters before they both headed off again. You see, I’ve raised gypsies……..

My youngest flew out to India for work purposes for six months yesterday. (My apologies for my behaviour : I may have been just a tad fragile.)

My eldest is off shortly with her military boyo to be stationed in a remote region of Australia for two years. So remote that it will be an easier option to fly to India for a visit. And it’s a Dry Community. Good luck with that, Pocohontas……….

Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. – Ray Bradbury from Fahrenheit 451

No, there were no tears and I have been positively positive. Disgustingly positive really. And envious of course. I was already tinkering with a holiday to Arnhem Land in autumn so that’s now a done deal. My only concern is for the Labrador, Bentley, who is unused to crocodiles and dingoes, and is stone deaf. I’m fearful that if he meets a snake he will want to make it a playmate. Same with a dingo: he’s such a good natured pup with an inability to read social queues.

As for the Indian adventurer, just as well she’s vegetarian and did a spell in Beijing last year.

We’ve agreed to meetup in Darwin next August, to coincide with the Northern Territory’s Federation Day ( read : Cracker Night) and Darwin Cup. The gambler’s gene did not come from my side of the family though the need for a new outfit for the occasion certainly did. I’m currently researching a side trip to the Tiwi Islands.

Since retirement I have been regularly asked when I will be selling up to be closer to the girls. Makes me laugh each and every time. 

Safe travels, Cat Balou. Looking forward to belly dancing classes upon your return.

Sydney Writers Walk

Home after spending a few days in the old hometown of Sydney catching up with the daughters. Our girlie weekends tend to consist of champagne breakfasts, too much good chocolate, dumplings, laughs, and a trip to the theatre.

And lots of walking. 27,000 plus steps on Saturday alone. ( Thank God for old pubs with harbour views and cold ciders).

The Sydney Writers Walk is a series of 60 circular metal plaques embedded in the footpath between Overseas Passenger Terminal on West Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House forecourt on East Circular Quay.

The plaques were installed to honour and celebrate the lives and works of well-known Australian writers, as well as notable overseas authors, such as D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad and Mark Twain, who lived in or visited Australia. Quotes from a significant work and some biographical information about the writer are stamped onto each plaque,along with an excerpt of the author’s writing.

It’s a perfect walk along the harbour with an ice cream in your hand. Boysenberry.

I was born, schooled, worked, married and had my two babies in Sydney and have been returning on a yearly basis forever. Stupidly, I introduced the daughters to theatre at an early age. And champagne breakfasts.

The old homestead was demolished nearly thirty years ago and replaced by a McMansion so I’ve never had the heart to revisit.

Interestingly, the apartment where we stayed in the city was two doors down from my office from 1980 where a client picked up a chair and threw it at me. But that’s another story…….

She’s a whole different city since those days.

Dreamtime Journey Coach At Drayton, S E Qld.

I’m a little concerned that my last post about the Miles Franklin Award winning book, Too Much Lip, may have provided too many negative connotations about our First Australians.

So I thought I’de even the score by sharing a positive Indigenous experience from my recent road trip.

DownsSteam Tourist Railway & Museum is located at Drayton, an outer southwestern suburb of Toowoomba, South East Queensland, which makes it a perfect day trip to escape from the Big Smoke.

Toowoomba is on the crest of the Great Dividing Range, around 700 metres (2,300 ft) above sea level. This makes it substantially cooler, or less humid, than Brisbane with defined seasonal changes. Thus, the annual Carnival of Flowers to which those on the coastal fringe have been flocking each September to view the beautiful gardens for the past 70 years.

Operated by the Darling Downs Historical Railway Society and staffed wholly by volunteers, DownsStream Tourist Railway and Museum is dedicated to the establishment and preservation of a tourist railway for the Darling Downs region.

And the big bonus? You don’t have to be a train buff to enjoy this environment – it’s got this really pleasant vibe…..

The gardens are beautiful, you can enjoy a coffee on the station, and view the restoration of Toowooomba’s very own steam locomotive the “Pride of Toowoomba” which was built locally in 1915. After a little more than a century and well over a million miles steaming her way around Queensland, this once proud steam engine is now the only one of her class not to be scrapped. She is being restored to fully operational condition by volunteer craftsmen for mainline tours across the Darling Downs. (Keep an eye open for updates : there’s plans for train travel to the Granite Belt for wine tasting).

You can even enjoy a light lunch in one of the rail carriages!

The highlight of my visit was a tour of the Dreamtime Journey Coach which is a fascinating insight into Indigenous culture.

To acknowledge the contribution made by the indigenous workers to the construction of the railway up the range, an indigenous inmate from the Westbrook Correctional Centre volunteered to paint one of our carriages as part of his prison rehabilitation program.

Inmate “Domi” commenced painting the carriage in 2012, taking 19 weeks to complete his awe-inspiring, unique Indigenous Art Gallery on wheels (static exhibit).

The coach depicts the Aboriginal theme based on ‘Baiami’ who created the earth and all the wonderful landscape, mountains, lakes, rivers, billabongs, oceans and islands.

Experiencing our ‘Dreamtime Journey Coach’ is to take a spiritual journey from dawn to dusk. Domi’s paintings represent the traverse of a day, starting from the entrance with the orange and yellow colours of the dawn, then in the middle of the carriage the bright colours of the day and the other end of the carriage with the pink and purple colours of the dusk.

                – from website http://www.downstream.com

The twenty minute tour of this carriage, which included an explanation of characters, symbolism and meaning, tells a truly interesting and colourful story. Add to MUST DO LIST.

Located at 16 Cambooya Street, Drayton

Note : No, I do not collect tea towels. Not even good at using them.

Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko : Book Review

Published in 2018 by University of Queensland Press.

A few years ago I was a regular attendee at a local Bookclub. Lovely women though lots of Jane Austen and Alice Walker novels and strictly no consumption of food or alcohol. Not even a coffee. These old dears took their reading very seriously…….

When it was my turn to nominate a book I suggested something recent and by an Australian author : Melissa Lucashenko, an Indigenous Australian writer of adult literary fiction and non-fiction, and novels for teenagers.  Can’t get more Dinky-Di than that, can you?

I thoroughly enjoyed Mullumbimby as it was familiar in both location and context as well as being contemporary. It did not go down well with the old dears who were appalled by the language and the sex scenes. 

That marked the end of my Bookclub period.

Lucashenko’s latest book Too Much Lip won the 2019 Miles Franklin Award, awarded to “a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases”.

This is one confrontational novel with an uncomfortable depiction of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I’m even more uncomfortable in that as a non- Indigenous person I would be made a pariah if I even suggested some of the things which are in the book.

Protagonist Kerry returns to her hometown of Durrongo, just over the Qld border, on a stolen Harley to bid farewell to her dying grandfather. A fugitive with warrants out for her arrest, she intends to stay in town for the funeral only. However she soon becomes embroiled in dramas with regards to her family, her local family history, and the overdevelopment of the local community, and unexpectedly finds love with a white fella despite previously being a proud lesbian.

All of the characters are flawed and totally devoid of charm. There’s domestic violence, fraud, alcoholism, welfare, pedophilia and child neglect issues. There’s White colonisation, aboriginal massacres and the Stolen Generation issues to boot. Yet within all this ugliness and brutality entwined are beautiful things such as Dreamtime stories, connection to country, communication with animals (totems) and ancestors.

In the Afterword Lucashenko writes that while Too Much Lip is a work of fiction “lest any readers assume this portrayal of Aboriginal lives is exaggerated, I would add that virtually every incidence of violence in these pages has occurred within my extended family at least once. The (very) few exceptions are drawn either from the historical record or from Aboriginal oral history”.

Gulp!

Compelling reading.

Warning : I must be getting old. The language is more contemporary than contemporary. But not too old – if my daughters spoke like this they’d still cop a hiding.