Reading Challenges : Where Are We Up To?

I’m not really into Reading Challenges as Quality wins over Numbers each and every time. Just read any of my Performance Management Reviews over the past twenty years. Have never been results driven either as my father kindly reminded me on his deathbed. “Pet”, he said, “you’ve always lacked ambition”. Said like it was a curse. Yep, that’s me. Retired and self funded at 58. Booyah.

Challenges have definitely changed the direction of my reading which is a positive or I’de still be reading Arthur Upfield novels and biographies from the Golden Days of Hollywood.

I continue to work through the Around The World Reading Challenge having completed books written about other countries last year including Somalia, Sweden, Iceland, French Equatorial Africa, Botswana, Cypress and Ethiopia. Titles are not provided : it’s more a learning tool to gain a better understanding of a different country’s culture.

From “The Books That Made Us“, ( as in a Nation, as per ABC TV ) I completed another three or four titles though am still trying to work my way through Carpentaria by Alexis Wright. Interestingly, my daughter has been moaning about a 500 plus page 2013 Miles Franklin Award Winner for months from the same list which she let me borrow over Christmas. Cat Balou, take more holiday leave : Questions of Travel by Michelle de Krestser is NOT even included on that List. Should I bother?

Leah is the Caretaker of a Street Library on the other side of the country, in Bussleton, Western Australia. She created Leah’s Street Library Reading Challenge with more of an Aus-centric feel to it for 2022 of which I powered through completing 42 of the 50 required books. The themes which let me down included :

book published in year of birth
book written by an author of the same name
an audio book. ( Just not happening)

The Gaia Reading Challenge was created by Aussie blogger, Sharon from Gumtreesandgalaxies.com, to encourage more reading about the environment, climate and nature. Last year was my first time participating and I managed ten books including a couple of kiddies titles. Loved it! I’ve always been a bit of a Greenie – who remembers the Save The Whales marches in the 70’s? – but reading books of this ilk has encouraged me to further tweak my behaviours. More on this another time.

Please join in if interested. The more the merrier…..

The Zoom Book Club has petered out with Covid restrictions now eased though the Probus Book Club continues. More on this another time too.

Something I plan to implement in 2023 is to read more books by Australian authors from earlier days. This interest goes back to meeting and hearing a local author, Shirley Chambers, presenting her book “Words From The Past, a Literary Landscape of the Darling Downs“. Shirley’s book mentions author Ronald McKie who wrote the 1974 Miles Franklin winner, The Mango Tree, which became a movie several years later. Yep, I’ll research Miles Franklin Award Winners since its inception in 1958 – before I was even born ! This will also substantiate reading the de Kretser previously mentioned.

I have to get back to Carpentaria but would love to hear your reading plans for 2023.

The Week That Was

I’ve been totally irresponsible and the current state of the house is a consequence. The ensuite needs decontamination, lawns need to be mowed, and the second guest room is screaming for a lick of paint. Don’t even mention the garage.

Saw a local community theatre production of “Calendar Girls” last weekend, attended the Wynnum Fringe two nights in a row to enjoy some non mainstream theatrical productions, won the raffle at a charity event, and planted thirty seedlings.

Watched a bizarre little movie which I picked up at the local U3A Trash N Treasure Sale. Highly recommended to seek these sales out because they are all downsizers offloading quality goods. This little gem was the 2007 film “Across The Universe” described as “jukebox musical romantic drama” incorporating 34 compositions written by the Beatles. Baffling in that I have never been a Beatles fan, not having been exposed to their music during the formative years. The wooden HMV radiogram in the old family homestead encouraged Gilbert and Sullivan or Mario Lanza LPs. Boy, did it shake like it suffered from Parkinsons when I put my T REX on the turntable.

Even with my limited Beatles knowledge I picked up on the references to Janis Joplin and Jimmi Hendrix and being set during the Vietnam War was interesting. It is an enjoyable little flick and having read the trivia notes on IMDB I’m keen to watch it again – and soon. Still shaking my head at some of the drug references connected to the Magical Mystery Tour…..

Strawberry Fields


Then this Little Library, in Houston, Texas, came up on social media. Bizarre, I’m telling you.


This week I read Louis de Bernieres’ novella, “Red Dog“, which was transposed into the popular Australian movie of the same name, and just finished Jane Harper’s “Exiles“.

Harper’s first book about AFP Aaron Faulk was also transposed into a popular movie, “The Dry” starring Australian Eric Bana. Book 3 with Faulk yet again investigating a crime in a regional setting and I could hear Bana’s voice as the story unfolded. This is the last Faulk book and the author has given him a “happy ending”. I didn’t find that part of the story quite so believable but then I had all the romance knocked out of me years ago.

As always Harper has made the landscape a character in itself and although I now want to visit a country town boasting vineyards I may not be prepared to leave the motel room alone for some time.

The pumpkin vines were becoming far too wayward. They had to go.

The house keeping? I was told a long time ago by a wise old woman that no-one has ever had engraved on their tombstone ” She Kept A Clean House”. I’m holding on to that thought.

Some Aussie Stories…..

2022 has been my year of Tim Winton novels : Dirt Music, Cloudstreet, Breath, and The Shepherd’s Hut. An Australian writer Winton was named a Living Treasure by the National Trust of Australia, and has won the Miles Franklin Award four times.  

Two and half weeks in and I’m abandoning the latter novel. I’m done. Sorry Tim, it’s me, not you. Too much ugliness in the real world I don’t need anymore of it in my own little bubble. Shepherd’s Hut is almost too painful to read.

I’ve also put Carpentaria, another Miles Franklin winner by Alexis Wright, to the wayside. I will come back to it when the days are meant for languishing under a ceiling fan but for now I’m battling to work out if the author is being sarcastic, passive aggressive, or if I just lack sophistication required when it comes to award winning books. Guessing the latter.

Talking of stories I did attend a presentation of short films at our local Performing Arts Centre last week. “A Celebration Of Stories from Minjerribah”, as North Stradbroke Island is known by our First Nations People, these shorts captured cultural stories from Elders and community members about the stolen generation, an old mission, passing on traditions, and the last Aboriginal fishing crew on the Island and how fishing on the open beach connects them to their ancestry.

A few tears, a few laughs, and Straddie never fails as a beautiful back drop. 

Small Projects and a Book Review.

I was recently introduced to a woman of around my vintage at an author talk at the local Library. Turns out that she is a writer and during the worst of Covid was asked to commit to a “small project”.

Shirley Chambers’ “small project” was indeed a misnomer as it involved the chronicling of the rich literary history of Toowoomba and the Darling Downs, which are located to the west of the Great Dividing Range in Queensland.

Toowoomba, known as the capital city of the Darling Downs, has its colonial beginnings dating back to 1816. Much of its history has been preserved in its buildings and heritage-listed sites with the region also being renowned for its farmland and grazing. Shirley Chambers, who was born on a farm at Rocky Point on the Downs, has authored “Words From The Past”examining those who formed part of the literary landscape and how their time in the area may have inspired their life experiences.

Arthur Hoey Davis, born in 1868, is perhaps one of the better known authors from that region. Writing under the pseudonym of Steele Rudd (1868-1935) Davis wrote sketches of life which were based on his father’s experience as a selector, someone managing a free selection of land before it was surveyed. These sketches were combined and published as “On Our Selection“. The Rudd Park at Nobby stands as a reminder of his contribution.

Other writers were educators, some were country folk simply expressing their experiences in the bush, some became influences in the literary field, and Mary Hannay Foote, (1846-1918), was an absolute trailblazer becoming Queensland’s first professional female journalist. Several writers had their written work evolve into movies for the big screen, whilst the works of contemporary award winning children’s book illustrator-author, Narelle Oliver, (1960-2016), remain firm family favourites around the nation to this day.

Words From The Past” spotlights nearly thirty wordsmiths with a connection to the Darling Downs. Some were born in the area, others built their lives around the Downs, and a few were simply travelling through. It is an interesting and easy read which would appeal to those who love reading and Australian history, and at $10 a book ( postage additional) is going to make a delightful Christmas stocking filler!

Note to Sharon at https://gumtreesandgalaxies.com/author/gumtreesandgalaxies/, :I believe Shirley has banners featuring these writers at The Lighthouse…..


Serendipity Part 2: The Airfix Kit

Before Covid I suffered a major attack of the vapours whilst in bed one evening scrolling through social media. The aeroplane in which my father and his Bomber Command Crew had flown during WW2 had become a newly released Airfix Kit. It was the unmistakeable nose art that alerted me. (Yes, an Airfix Kit : one of those model aeroplanes that comes in a thousand tiny pieces that you have to glue together. Very easy to suck up in the vacuum cleaner from personal experience…) 

Suffered a similar attack recently which I shared here having discovered that my father’s war diary outlining his missions flying over the skies of Germany ( as well as numerous dalliances with young women) had been earlier this year handed in to the Australian War Memorial as part of a Deceased Estate. Okay, so it was more of a hissy fit.

I have not been able to peruse said diary yet, though my youngest daughter had a two hour viewing session donned in a plastic coat and white gloves.

I had been chasing information about the meaning of the artwork. Depicting the crew members I’ve been trying to ascertain which of the figures represented my father. Since the death of my favourite aviation tragic and friend, writer Justin Sheedy, the military knowledge has been a bit light on so I joined a Bomber Command social media site. Oh, Justin mate, they speak a whole new language……

I also learned that after the completion of their Second Tour the crew, including my father,  were dispersed to become flight instructors or to other squadrons.

Further scrolling of the social media site and I was once again alerted by familiar nose art. SPOOKY. I learned that it was only weeks later that the plane with its new crew was lost over Germany. SPOOKY. An accompanying post from one of the crew’s daughters advised that her father had been taken to Prison Camp to sit out the war. SPOOKIER.

I’ve had kind offers of assistance to complete the Airfix Kit from site members. I purchased several kits, one for each of the grandchildren. It’s just a pity I never wear my glasses when I’m vacuuming.

The Lucky Galah by Tracy Sorensen : Book Review

This novel is an unexpected entry in the Gaia Reading Challenge and is most definitely on the quirky side. You see, the narrator is a female Galah by the name of Lucky who translates from “screech to English” the events in a remote coastal village on the north coast of Western Australia in the 1960’s, just prior to the moon landing.

Admittedly, I’m a sucker for Galahs. I had my first as a pet when I was 10, Andrew, followed by Sam, playmate Lah Lah , and then Lenny who replaced Sam when he died. Lenny was a hormonal teenager so I had to rehome the latter two birds when I downsized. Neighbours were unimpressed with the noise : Lenny was like a recalcitrant teenager and squawked whenever anything that moved came into sight.

Sam and Lah Lah. I had a pink dressing gown at the time so I’m sure Sam saw me as a large Galah.

The fictional town of Port Badminton is on the open mouth of the real Shark Bay which Charles Darwin noted on his first visit to Australia as having “excessively beautiful parrots“.

Lucky introduces herself before she begins to tell the story of Port Badminton’s role in the 1969 moon landing :

I’m in my cage on the Kelly’s back verandah. I sit here, unheard, underestimated, biscuit crumbs on my beak. But fate is a curious thing. For just as Evan Johnson’s story is about to end (and perhaps with a giant leap), my story prepares to take flight…”

Lucky shares her journey, “nestling with her siblings in our hole in our  gum tree “ on the riverbank,  feeling “a human hand reach in, making exploratory movements” , to finding herself in a cage on a back verandah of one of the locals.

Her position on the verandah provides a view of the happenings within Port Badminton as well as all the characters ; the prawn fishermen, the dingo shooter, the town drunk, the aboriginals, as well as all the newer families to town who are  connected to the Dish, instrumental in keeping communication lines open to the astronauts.

Lucky focuses on the arrival of Evan Johnson, radio technician, and wife Linda who is keen to start a new life away from the Big Smoke. Of course, although Evan is distracted by his work, Linda is like a fish out of water and doesn’t cope.

The small town of Port Badminton becomes every small town, and the dynamics of its inhabitants are both familiar and the perfect combination of nostalgia and brutality. We feel the excitement for the scientists achieving their goals, and pity for the women who are simply making do.

The author includes authentic trivia from the 1960’s including pre dinner snacks of curly celery, feathered carrots, and radish flowers, cereal boxes containing collectable toys, home made Grappa at barbeques,  Brownies raising funds ( Bob-A-Job), and  washing the sheets in a copper each week. Who remembers those? *

The Galah is an intelligent animal, despite its reputation as a clown and a lightweight. A captive Galah needs constant activity if it is not to decline into depression. Tearing up books, page by page, is a mental, physical, and spiritual workout for me; as good as any gym, yogaclass or university”. Lucky’s most recent book is Donald Horne’s “The Lucky Country”.

Then there are the wonderful descriptions of the environment and landscape. ” Tropical Cyclone Steve, a male cyclone with a beer belly and long, grey, windswept hair, thongs flapping at his feet, formed out of the ether somewhere in the Pacific” and “she watches the water suck back, back and then hears the flute-like sound, a roar, as the water comes crashing in again, sending a giant white fountain into the air. It drops and chases itself back down its lair in streaming white foam rivulets. The gurgling, sucking noises are thrilling.”

This read is a gem. It is not as simple as it seems with layers of storytelling including the frailty of relationships, expectations, and our interconnectedness with the environment as well as with animals. The descriptions of both the natural environment and the wildlife that live within it are totally authentic. Loved it!

*We used the copper for cooking freshly caught sand crabs and prawns. Must have been worth a few bob as it was the only item stolen from the family home after my father passed.

Washing Copper.

* NOTE :

Galah is also a derrogatory term that means a “loud-mouthed idiot.” Named specifically for the galah, a native Australian bird that makes a distinctive (and quite funny-sounding) call.

“Oh, Scottyya bloody galah! What are you ON ABOUT?!”

from the Urban Dictionary.

Caroline Jones, Journo, & a Book Review

Winter temperatures in Queensland are at their lowest for over a hundred years and we are only twelve days in! Actually, I don’t mind it. You can get a lot done when you’re not a wet slimy mess as is the case in summer. Achieving heaps but at a relaxed pace. Even my reading is less frenzied.

Late last month Australian journalist, Caroline Jones died at age 84. One of the obituaries stated that Jones was a “groundbreaking Australian journalist and champion of women in media…who paved the way for women and became a passionate and generous mentor to young rural and regional reporters”.

Which led me down a rabbit hole, of course……

Essentially, Jones joined the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in 1963 becoming the first female reporter on the daily current affairs program, This Day Tonight. She went on to become the first female presenter on Four Corners, a hard-hitting news program, followed by a stint presenting a spirituality-focused radio program on ABC Radio National. This morphed into Jones hosting the much loved Australian Story from 1996 until her retirement from the ABC in 2016.

In addition, Jones also worked alongside Aboriginal broadcasters at Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association in Alice Springs as they produced their first cultural and current affairs programs for television and was appointed an Ambassador for Reconciliation by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. She was a foundation member of the Australian Council for the Arts, formed in 1973, as well as a foundation member of the Australian Classification Review Board, formed in 1970. Jones was also co-patron of Women In Media, and in 2017 the annual Caroline Jones Women in Media Young Journalist’s Award was launched. 

Among the many awards she received were the Order of Australia in 1988 and being voted as an Australian Living Treasure by The National Trust in 1997. This is a woman who hung tuff amongst the corridors of testosterone.

I’ve just finished reading Jones’ 2009 book, Through A Glass Darkly : A Joy Of Love And Grief With My Father,  a personal account of her father’s death and how she manages the grief over several years. 

Of course it’s not that simple. Loss and Grief and Love and Family and Responsibility are all big subjects and so I’ve been dipping in and out of this book slowly, like dropping a spoon into a can of Milo and licking the grains aways at a pace that allows you to enjoy every single malty morsel. 

Written in four parts, Jones initially provides a landscape painting of her father’s life. This resonated with me as it would with many whose parent’s lived through a Depression and World War. It’s a delightful read with it’s remembrances of times past : the weekly ritual of polishing shoes, back gardens laden with fruit trees, listening to the football on the radio.

Part two deals with her father’s illness and ultimate passing after an operation. This is brutal reading, with all the patient’s suffering, the medic’s attempts to play God, and the daughter’s inner rage, though again is so beautifully written. Maybe ” the medic’s attempts to play God” is poorly phrased, but you can guess, this resonated with me as well.

Caroline then exams her grief and questions her faith, even seeking out spiritual  guidance from a psychic. Been there, done that. Seven years after losing her Dad Caroline concludes having  coming to terms with the loss she experienced.

This is Caroline’s personal journey but it is a journey we all share in one form or other. The grim topic is made bearable because of its authenticity and it is so beautifully written. I’m sorry not to have paid her more attention whilst she was still with us.

The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you’ll learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”

      – Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler


NOTE:

Please be aware that I have not recently suffered any loss and am not in mourning. I was simply intrigued by Jones’ career path and wanted to learn more about what made the woman tick. I’m so glad I did.

I will admit that something else about Caroline did resonate. Her mother died when Caroline was a young though there was no time for mourning as her father, a returned serviceman, was from that stiff upper lip generation. But the time does come, often years later, and when it does it ain’t pretty.

Next book will be fun and fluffy : decapitations, poisonings, nuclear war, genocide. Promise.

Books and Birthdays

Friends and Dark Shapes by Kavita Bedford is to the early 21st century what Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip ( considered Grunge genre) was to the Melbourne drug scene of the late 1970’s, and  what Puberty Blues by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette, was to the young adults living life on the southern beaches of Sydney’s with it’s sexism and culture wars during the same period.

In essence, Friends and Dark Shapes focuses on a group of friends who move into a share house in Redfern. They are all on the cusp of thirty and navigating insecure employment, cost of housing issues, second-generation identity, online dating, social alienation and questioning superannuation. Amongst all this anxiety, the connection between these friends is often fun and supportive, though our narrator is also mourning the recent death of a parent. Yes, it’s a contender for the currently in vogue Sad Girl genre of literature,  but if you are at all familiar with people within that demographic, or have a passable knowledge of the tribalism of the city of Sydney, this is a book that will resonate. I loved it, and yeah, I get the references to gentrification of inner Sydney and how it has changed the landscape.

Talking of friendships, I recently celebrated a birthday with a lass I worked with some twenty years ago. It was one of those environments where it was said that if you survived you “gained the training to work anywhere”. True, and I was fortunate enough to escape with the mortgage paid out and my sanity intact. It was an environment that either encouraged friendships or destroyed them.

Anyway, this woman is also a Gemini with a birthday only two days after mine.

Gemini Traits :

  • Uses humor as a crutch
  • Could talk to a brick wall
  • Arguments as flirting
  • Knows a little about everything

During these volatile years we would exchange small gifts to acknowledge our birthdates. Sometimes you did these things purely to survive.

After we both headed in different directions we would catch up every couple of months, yet celebrate our combined birthdays over a flash meal and/or attendance at a musical or theatrical performance. $260 a ticket for the Moody Blues was worth every damn cent.

When we both started to prefer being in bed by 9pm we would celebrate our birthdays by sharing an experience. Neither of us are materialist and you do get to the stage when you just don’t need anymore STUFF. So we enjoyed events like pottery and painting lessons together.

Twenty years on and my friend suggested something new for our birthday. This year we each donated some money to the Guide Dogs Association to cover the purchase of jackets whilst the dogs are in training. This year we went to the organisation’s Brisbane Head Office and met Michael, the Labrador who is the local ambassador for Guide Dogs.

Meet Michael, my kind of man.

BEST CAREERS FOR GEMINIS

  • Likable politician
  • Actor who plays a quirky side character
  • Devil’s Advocate
  • Bubble gum wrapper joke writer

Isn’t it amazing how friendships evolve and last the distance?

Note : Number 3 in both Traits and Careers is on the money.

Plantastic! A to Z of Australian Plants

During a recent wander around the local environmental centre, Indigiscapes, with the Tuesday walking group I came across this book in the Gift Shop. (So now you also know I’m a sucker for Gift Shops, especially ones that carry jams and condiments made from local products. And children’s books. Children’s Books make me weak at the knees.)

Plantastic! A to Z of Australian Plants written by Catherine Clowes is exactly as the name suggests: an Australian Native for each letter of the alphabet. Clowes is a botanist and a teacher with a love of sharing knowledge which she does so well in this book which would have been an absolute Godsend to homeschooling mums and dads during periods of Lockdown.

Why?

Each double page is dedicated to a designated native. Those pages contain a concise description without getting over technical and losing the kiddies’ interest and illustrations by Rachel Gyan which are clear and easily identifiable. But the thing I really found both fun and inspirational is that each plant description includes a task to encourage our Little People to immerse themselves and engage in Nature.

For example, under L for the Lilly Pilly is a description, an illustration, and a task. In this case the task is to pick a berry from the Lilly Pilly and to plant it in potting mix and to nurture it with water and sunshine. Will it grow? I don’t know but I’m sure as hell going to experiment once the local Lilly Pillys start fruiting.

At the back of the book is a map of Australia which highlights where each of the 26 selected natives are found. So much information so simply presented.

I purchased several copies because I know several young mums who will find this book a huge help during the next school holidays.

The Adventures of Euca – Gaia Reading Challenge

It’s nearing Easter so I am preparing parcels to post to the Little People in my life.

“No chocolate, Mo. No sugar for this Little One”. This from a lass whose paternal grandfather fed her so many chocolate eggs for her 2nd Easter that she was as sick as a dog. Whilst I was quietly fuming – and cleaning – said child’s grandfather instilled his lifelong mantra : ” You’ve not had a good time till you’ve been sick”.

Thank goodness the maternal grandfather had a different outlook on life. A child of the Depression he did not believe in waste, so he lived by “everything in moderation”. Except fish. Fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner but that’s another story.

So that is why my Little People will be gifted something other than chocolate this Easter. Well, maybe a little Darrell Lea chocolate bilby but their main present will be a lovely little book called The Adventures of Euca : A Baby Leaf’s Big World.

Debut author Jennifer Howard is a nature lover who is “passionate about the environment, and about educating future generations on sustainability and the magic of the world we all live in.”

We meet Euca, a baby gum leaf, who lives on the very top of the tree, ” closest to the big golden sun whose lovely warm rays will help me to grow big and strong”.

Eucla takes us through his job role as a leaf to “help freshen the air for the whole wide world” as well as some of the native fauna who use the leaf coverage as home. He is close to his Grandpa Crinkle, an old wrinkled leaf further down the tree branches, and the life lesson is that at some stage the old leaf ” with a strong gust of wind” will fall to the ground and a new leaf will be born.

The illustrations by M K Perring are colourful and easily discernible to young eyes and this story is a gentle introduction to nature and the environment for our Little People.

I purchased my copies through Shawline Publishing Group. Always happy to support the independent author ( who have been known to become my all time favourites.)