Armidale, NSW

The Armidale School, July 2012Those of you who are regular readers know that this blog is rarely, if ever, written in real time. Traveling and creating the sort of updates that I like to write is challenging, to say the least. I stayed with P. and K. in Armidale from July 4-18 before I went on to the Hunter Valley and the Thoroughbred stud farm about which I’ve already talked to some of you. I know that you understand and will follow along, anyway.

When I was still visiting friends in Marlo, I received an email from P. in Armidale. He said that he had been a bull rider and still has horses. He must have read my profile and noticed that said I’d like to ride again, and that I spent summers painting the granary, the barn, the shed, the garage, the shop – because he invited me to come up and paint the house he shares with his partner, K. Since I wanted to head north and east into New South Wales, I thought that was a great idea.

Canberra July 2012On the way, I stopped briefly (from 5 p.m. one day until 11:55 a.m. the next) in Canberra, which is the capital of Australia. One thing I can report from Canberra is that it is cold. Cold enough to have an outdoor ice skating rink, which was a nice surprise. I didn’t go skating, though, because the rink was quite small, the ice looked terrible, it was crowded and I didn’t have my own skates with me. Other than that, it looked great. The cold did not seem to affect the natives, who dine outside no matter what the weather. I went to a little café in the morning – emphasis on little – where there was no seating left inside. There were heaters outside, though, and I noticed a woman out there enjoying her porridge, sitting with a gentleman who was eating bacon and eggs, each dressed in overcoats, gloves and hats. Stubborn cusses, these Aussies. I did finally buy a pair of gloves in Canberra.

I think I indicated in the last entry that the bus ride from Marlo to Canberra was five hours; to Sydney the next day, another four hours. Then another four hours (which turned into six because of a train delay) to get to Tamworth. It’s a big country.  Eventually, I arrived in Armidale (see previous entry), a community of some 25,000 souls, an astonishing number of public, private and boarding schools (the featured photo is The Armidale School), a university, and two cathedrals, one Anglican, one Catholic. The New England Highway, one of the three major eastern Australian highways, runs through it. Considering its relatively remote location, Armidale is a sophisticated little country town. Besides the annual Fall Festival, the 9th Annual International Film Festival also attracts an audience and took place August 3-5 – tickets were sold out in one day. There were also several little cafes where a person could get a decent flat white – yet another sign of civilization.

P., one of my hosts, works for the shire council (sort of like a county government) at their water treatment facility where effluent is recycled for irrigating alfalfa that feeds beef cattle which are then sold each year. On his way to work every day, he passes the farm that he owned for years. He rebuilt the house, fenced paddocks, raised kids … but they never lived in the renovated place together as a family. P.’s wife moved into an apartment in Armidale after a fall during the remodeling process, and never moved back in. He was served, the property sold and the proceeds split. P.’s heart is still at that place where someone else now lives and enjoys his hard work. He grieves for the home he built.

It’s easy to understand why. P. grew up at Black Mountain, out in the bush. He started bull riding at a young age, starting with calves, then steers, then bulls and rode rodeo events for years. In the 1980s, he went to the Calgary Stampede as a member of the Australian team. He still trains horses and has half dozen spread over a couple properties. He has a prize saddle from Texas with the 4-H logo on it (those of you who grew up in the country will understand that …) which was fascinating. Weird to see that hand-tooled, high cantle, horned saddle hanging in his workshop are along with the Aussie stock saddle.

Armidale Courthouse, July 2012His kids have gone on to be cowboys, too. While I was there, the Calgary Stampede was underway in Alberta, Canada and his daughter was there. Another son sent him a Facebook message from somewhere out in the bush where he’s rousting cattle. His other son is a trick rider extraordinaire who has been to Hollywood but is now in Byron Bay, training others.  He credits his father and his upbringing with much of his success and love of horses.

If there was a prototype for a cowboy, P. looks like he was issued by Central Casting. He is tall, lanky, a bit bow-legged. He is sinewy, his face is lined from years in the sun. The only thing that deviates from the stereotype is his hair, which he wears long and plaited like an American Indian. In fact, he loves Native American spirituality and showed me elk skin drums that he made himself.

Armidale Post Office July 2012P. spoke a great deal about the home he refurbished and the acreage he had as well as the fact he had to drive past it every day on the way to work. He has a beloved dog buried under a gum tree there, and one day on the way home pulled over to visit the spot, grateful for the dog’s presence in his life for so many years.  We drove out there one day and immediately understood his longing, seeing how it is a happily situated place, a stream cutting through the property, cattle in one paddock, sheep in another. He pointed out the fences that he built, the way he divided the land for stock, the stone house that was refurbished and decorated in a western theme. I wondered if home is the place that you grieve, as well, the place that you idealize and mourn when it’s gone, always wondering what could have been and what you would rather have had, if only circumstances or people had fit your plan. I wondered if P. would ever be able to let his disappointment go, and most would say that letting go would be a good thing, but sometimes I’m not so sure. Some people have a deep need to remember, and to long for something. Sometimes what we imagine satisfies that longing like nothing else ever can.

Phil Snell's farm, Armidale, July 2012P.’s goal with that property was to build a place for his family. The work took years to complete, and in that time, kids left home and his wife and he divorced. So again, I have to look at the idea of family as home, no matter where one is in the world. His partner K. spent about four years up in the Northern Territory, working as a physio therapist, flying in to remote communities to provide treatment both in hospital and out-patient. The Aboriginal population is large in that part of Australia, and unique. She relates an experience of taking cover in a hospital during a cyclone, seeing everybody sleeping together in family groups, thinking that she wished there was a place that she belonged like that. She did end up being adopted into a family and tribe, fortunate enough to experience members of a tribe opening their hearts to her.

So if we’re looking at connection to place as home, I think we also have to consider the people that accompany the place. I have been alienated by the superficial ideals of Southern California, not that I’m saying that everybody shares that superficiality. But that quality is repellant to me. In that case, the place has been defined by the people for me. And maybe this journey is one on which I long to find not only where I belong, but to whom I belong, as well.






It was my fault. When my next HelpX host contacted me and mentioned that one of their properties had a mineral pool near it and she wanted to make it a place of healing, I was thinking in California terms where place of healing is generally a euphemism for where New Age meets new boobs.  Designer fat farms are disguised as wellness centers, Malibu spas double as drug treatment facilities for movie stars. Even my Ob/Gyn offered what she called “boutique” services, including Botox and dermal fillers along with hormone replacement therapy and pap smears. In the Golden State, centers for healing often have little to do with actual well-being and more to do the appearance of health.

The Coachella Valley where I lived has more than its share of wealthy residents. Example: The median income in Indian Wells is around $80,000. Most of those people come and go, staying for a few months in the winter until the weather gets too hot and they wing back up to Bainbridge Island in Washington, or maybe Coeur d’Alene , Idaho. In my experience, more than one property equals high income and material prosperity. So when we arrived well after dark in the little village of Pilliga and drove through knee-high grass to park in front of a house sporting a window with broken out panes and a door that didn’t have a door knob let alone a lock, I was surprised. The house had electricity but no heat, just hot water bottles and stacks of blankets.

When one has waited on a platform for two hours and ridden a train for six, been driven in a car for another three, not eaten in eight, and is fighting a virus, even the Four Seasons would look bleak. My host was excited about dropping all our things and getting straight down to the hot mineral bath for which Pilliga is known, but all I could do was sit on one of two twin beds and try to absorb my surroundings.  Wearing two sweaters, a scarf, boots and my jeans, clutching a hot water bottle, I still shivered. I pleaded exhaustion and promised to check out the hot mineral pool in the morning. My host said she’d be up at 5 a.m., ready to go. I turned out the light and crawled under the covers, not bothering to undress, with my hottie, as they called it. (I could have used a different kind of hottie to keep me warm.)

Although there was stomping, clomping and some quiet singing early in the morning, I didn’t completely wake until the sun was well up, around seven. I was dressed already so that was handy. I had been told the night before that they typically didn’t use the toilet because the septic system was dodgy and the composting toilet wasn’t yet functional, so I had a quick slice of bread with peanut butter, put some tissues in my pocket and wandered off in search of a bathroom, or, short of that, a friendly shrubbery.

The morning was robin’s egg blue. Tawny gold. Fringed with scrub oak and bush. Rusted corrugated steel sheds. Houses with clotheslines out back and trucks out front. A herd of goats in a paddock. A primary school founded in 1883. A community center with (praise be!) public toilets – that were unlocked. A tennis court. A boarded-up café, all peeling paint and sagging roof. A road sign that pointed out that the new café was farther down the road into town. Endless, flat, golden land, quiet enough to make your ears ring. Crisp but not frosty, sun warming already.

Everything looks better in the morning.

K. came back from the pool later, wondering where all of us were. Her son was awake, but her daughter was still asleep, but got up after we all started chatting a bit. I shared the details of this project with them, and C. mentioned a friend of hers who had traveled the world and written about the same thing – sort of. C. herself is firmly rooted in Melbourne – grew up there, and just completed nursing training and has started a new job.  She’s a city girl. Her idea of home is Melbourne. Her brother, E., has lived in Thailand, the Phillipines and the Northern Territory with his mom and dad. Yet he considers the house where he spent the most time of his childhood in Invergowrie home because it was the place they always came back to.


In the vernacular of the Aboriginal tribe that is native to that area, Pilliga means “place of oaks.” There are oak trees there, but more notable is the bore bath, a thermal pool that is a favorite of the grey nomads, retired Australians who tow caravans around, staying for a few weeks here, a few weeks there. Pilliga is barely a village, but has the necessities: police, a post office, a café/convenience store, a pub and fuel.  It’s nearly 300 kilometers west of where I arrived in Tamworth, on the North Tablelands of the Great Dividing Range – which is actually a network of mountain ranges – that runs all the way from southern Victoria up to Queensland.

The area around Pilliga is full of broad-acre farming, and one of the main crops is cotton. As we walked along the road up to the pool, I made the comment that it looked like a cushion had exploded, picturing someone moving furniture and having a couch pillow escape. My host’s son told me that the fluff blows off of trucks hauling bales of cotton. The cotton farmers irrigate from the Murray and Darling River systems as well as the Great Artesian Basin aquifer.  Right now, just about everybody is worried about water quality because 70 percent (yes, that’s seven-zero) of New South Wales is under exploration permit for coal mining and coal seam gas

I finally went with the family to the bore bath, a mineral pool that maintains a 99 degree temperature. The water smells slightly sulfurous, but not overpowering. A thin layer of green algae or moss coats the bottoms and sides of the pool. While the heat felt great, the most fascinating thing for me was watching K. give her daughter C. a treatment. K. is a physical therapist (or physio, as they call them over here) and is truly a healer. After outfitting C. with special floats that she constructed herself, she supported C. as she floated, stretching her, bending her, swishing her back and forth in the water, even dunking her for greater access to a sore hip or shoulder. The treatment went on for at least an hour, and the entire time, K.’s face was composed in a beatific smile. Then, she started on her son, and did a treatment nearly as long. Altogether, we spent maybe 2-3 hours in the pool. The night wasn’t quite cold enough for frost, but when I got out, my core temperature had been raised to the point that I wasn’t cold. We all scurried home to bed before we got col.

We were back at the bath by 5:30 the next morning, the only ones there for about an hour. With the lights off, Orion, the Pleiades, the full moon glowed. Steam from the water and our wet bodies. Wood smoke. The low gush of water coming out of the pipe. The sky turning from cobalt to sapphire to aquamarine, blushing in primrose and apricot. Once the sun was up, we dressed and left to drive back to Armidale, stopping to visit K.’s sister and niece along the way

K. possesses passion and idealism and compassion in abundance. Many would identify her as a child of the 60s and 70s, maybe even a hippie. But labeling something is a convenient way of dismissing it. Yes, K. is an activist and conservationist, attending demonstrations against coal seam gas exploration and mining and its resultant pollution. Her bathwater is saved for laundry, which in turn is used to flush the toilet. She uses a dishpan, something that I haven’t seen since I was a kid, and throws the water out on the back yard garden plots. A compost bin resides in the kitchen. Worms and their castings break down the compost on the garden. She grows her own vegetables. She is a vegetarian. The house is heated with a wood stove.

Until I experienced K. and P.’s lifestyle, I never questioned if I perhaps had an attitude of entitlement. Coming from California and an upper middle class lifestyle that included a BMW and a 4000-square-foot home, a person can get used to those things and assume that the entire world has access to them. I don’t think that I am that naïve or arrogant. But living in material prosperity for a prolonged period of time, a person becomes accustomed to things like flushing the toilet without thinking and allowing shower water to run down the drain. And how many times did I do just a quick load of laundry? Basic residential conservation is simple, but the fact is, saving water in those ways is just not convenient. Plus, in California’s Coachella Valley, it’s actually illegal to install a grey water recycling system. The cities have just started to use recycled water to irrigate a handful of the 120-plus golf courses.

Which begs the question – for me anyway – is home where you let the shower water run? Or is home where you are vigilant and conserve what you’ve got

Next, Armidale and painting with K. and P.

Another Conversation with Artist Craig Barrett

As part of my Western States Tour 2010 (see archives from August – October 2010) I visited the farm in Minnesota where I spent my childhood. After see the place and walking through the house, I insisted to my father and siblings that something had to be done.  The house was falling apart: the ceiling in my bedroom losing its tiles, mouse droppings all through the carpet and on the mattresses, shelf upon shelf of mildewing books, a basement in which our wonderful neighbor burnt out three sump pumps in heroic attempts to keep it dry.

The house looked as though the inhabitants had left for just a few days and decided to never come back. Dishes sat in the kitchen cupboards; Mother’s stainless measuring cups hung inside the door; clothing still waited in the closets. The first time I walked through the house during that visit, I left quickly. In the past, the presence of Those Who Had Gone Before had always been palpable. Now the place felt truly abandoned, and I was spooked.

On Sundays during my childhood, my father would drive us down county and township roads, checking the crops. We would pass random abandoned farms –  a barn with a caved-in roof, a house with a sagging porch, hip-high grass, trees overgrown around the lot as if to protect and conceal the decay. After my visit, it appeared that my family was going to follow suit and just leave our place to fall apart on its own. I was ashamed.

I neither intended nor desired to own our family farm someday. But I didn’t ever think that it would not be there.  The possibility of selling any of it never occurred to me. Yet in December last year, 15 acres of the original homestead were purchased by a young farmer and his wife who have now demolished the uninhabitable house and some of the outbuildings. Now I picture a steel building the size of an airplane hangar sitting where the house used to, bursting with John Deeres and Internationals, 30-foot harrows. I haven’t decided whether or not this is a nightmare or merely a fact.

“Late Afternoon – Lindsay Park” is Craig Barrett’s misty-eyed view of the farm that he says, “in my head, really belongs to me!”

But I’m not the only person in the world who has had to process losing family land. Some of you may recall that I had the pleasure of speaking with artist Craig Barrett last December after I was galvanized by an installation of his work, “Everyman,” at the Shrine of Remembrance war memorial in Melbourne. I wanted to speak with Craig again because at about the same time I was visiting my former home, he opened an exhibition called “Buying Back the Farm,” his creative reaction to a farm being sold out of the family – a place that he had hoped to someday own.

Craig Barrett did not grow up on Wangambeam, the farm just outside of Euroa, Victoria, that his Uncle Jack and Aunt Elva owned. But it was integral to his childhood in the form of a holiday haven, an idyllic place where he and his brothers played.  The land came into the family through convoluted relationships on his grandmother’s side.  Approximately 1,200 acres remain of what started as 120,000. Barrett quips that “families killed farming,” the mathematics of repeated division splitting acreage into smaller and smaller pieces as each child matured and wanted his own land

I spoke with Craig at Angela Robarts Bird Gallery as we walked through his current exhibition, “A Shared Vision: Drawings by Craig Barrett and Photographs by David Tatnall.”  His love for land and landscape is apparent, but I was there not only to admire the current work, but also to speak with him about the paintings and drawings that his way of reclaiming the farm.

“Then and Now – Wangambeam” with a “now” thoroughbred race horse in the paddock that used to be for abandoned calves.

Craig calls Wangambeam his Dreaming, a reference to the Aboriginal belief that before this time, there was another time where all that is around us was created. Aboriginal art is one of the ways by which that culture expresses its histories and passes down traditions and stories of the Dreamtime. Barrett’s art hands down his history, the images of one of the places that created who he is today. Craig bought the farm back figuratively – by painting it, both as it is now and how it was, sometimes superimposing one upon the other. The old dairy, the shearing shed, the house, the machinery.  Ghosts and dreaming.

While we sat chatting over coffee and he took out a portfolio binder full of photographs: An idyllic pastoral of two young boys overlooking a rolling valley, a creek flowing through the background, a paddock dotted with hay bales at the foot of the hill where they stand under a willow tree. Barrett called it the Australian version of Norman Rockwell. To me, it is a Constable or Turner watercolor.  Another shows Craig with his arms around the neck of a fawn-colored Jersey calf. The next, a fast moving creek, boys fishing from a bridge. Page after page of reproduced family photographs, every one soaked in the past, cured with nostalgia.

He shows me an aerial view of what is now called Lindsay Park, Jack Hayes’ Thoroughbred stud farm and training facility.  The stable was built on the paddock, and beyond it are pools for equine physical therapy, padded corrals for lunging and exercising.   The shearing shed is now a ballroom for celebrations continued beyond the winner’s circle. The tractor shed stands, covered with vines. So does the dairy. And the beautifully situated house has been renovated – a postcard sent 40 years ago by Craig’s mother unearthed from behind a kitchen cupboard.

” Woolshed,” with the “now” heavy rail fences for horses and the ghostly remembered details of the woolshed.

Hayes moved to the property to Euroa (the name means “joyful” in the old Aboriginal dialect) from the Barossa Valley in South Australia where his former property, Angston, is for sale. Euroa consists of about 2,700 people and sits just off the Hume Highway on the way from Melbourne to Sydney, a more strategic location than South Australia.  During the nine months that he spent drawing and painting the property, Craig had unlimited access to Lindsay Park. But he doesn’t like to be there anymore amongst the 120 people that work for David Hayes.

I ask Craig about the concept of genius loci, the spirit of place: Do we get taken up in the mythology of a place, until it becomes unclear whether the place has its own spirit or if we have imbued it with a spirit by imposing on it our own longing?  Looking back can be important. Staring is a distraction at best, destructive at worst.  He admits, “I prefer to be alone, so this may be part of what I build around me.”  That’s an arresting piece of awareness.  We create our own reality which includes memories – soft, fuzzy bricks of the wall with which we surround ourselves.


Note: When Craig emailed these images to me, he informed me that the all of the background material for the “Everyman” installation at the Shrine of Remembrance has been acquired by the State Library of Victoria. This comprises of some fifty pencil / crayon drawings drawn while reading the poems of Owen and Sassoon, some twenty full-size cartoons over which the calico banners were traced, all correspondence with the  Shrine regarding the proposed installation, mock up photos of the installation, studio photos of works in progress, two proto type banners , etc etc. Craig now has works in the collections of National Gallery of Victoria, the Shrine of Remembrance and now, the State Library of Victoria.

An image from “Everyman” which will now reside in the State Library of Victoria.

He has also been asked to provide images as stage projections for the music festival One Great Night on Earth, being promoted by Chip Monke (of Woodstock brown acid fame) who has collected Craig’s work. The concert is a fundraiser for Fine Green Paddock, a not-for-profit organization that helps Australian farmers facing financial challenges due to natural disasters.

Marlo and Bendigo – Again

Sculpture Sutton Grange art showJune seemed to be all about relationships – meeting new people and renewing acquaintances with friends I made last year in October, November, and December.  In the blogging master class I made the acquaintance of a few women who were disciplined bloggers, who I am now trying to emulate.  Through a friend of mine in the UC-Riverside MFA program (who is a freshly minted MFA in Screen- and Playwriting) I met a delightful young woman with whom I shared a flat white coffee and a few hours of conversation. Judith and Milton’s daughter and her partner have become new friends, as well.

A journey up to Bendigo to visit with Judith and Milton seemed like a good thing to do.  I had taken the train up a couple weeks earlier to see an exhibit from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, “Grace Kelly: Style Icon” which displayed gowns and dresses from her movie roles and her role as a Princess. (By the way, there’s a really obnoxious ad before this video starts …Just a warning.) The exhibit was crowded and over-heated (note to self: don’t wait until the final weekend of a show) but the gowns were fabulous to see, especially to someone who loves textiles and still sews.

I still like Bendigo immensely, and the hospitality was without fault. Although it’s a provincial city of only 100,000 people (I think it’s 100,000 – there’s no metric conversion for population, right?) it is the third largest city in the state of Victoria. Bendigo Art Gallery is the only venue in Australia that will host the Grace Kelly exhibit. The Bell Shakespeare Company (out of Sydney) presents there regularly. With the growing population come more amenities plus, it’s an easy distance from Melbourne and its activities.

One might think that the sign for an art show would be a little more … well … polished.

While I was there J&M and I visited the Sutton Grange Art Show, a yearly event that is not juried, although prizes are awarded. There was a preponderance of water color landscapes, and a number of oddities, but I liked the sculptures. According to the nice people collecting the $2 admission at the door, there were more than 200 paintings entered.

Visiting my friends down in Marlo, Debra and Andrew, also seemed like a good thing to do, so I set out from Bendigo on train one morning (not quite two hours on the train) connected in Melbourne to the Bairnsdale train (another 4 and a half hours) and then hopped on a bus to Marlo in east Gippsland (another 2 hours).  Cities and towns aren’t close together in this country.

Cold weather in northeastern Victoria is pretty typical as it’s on the south coast and enjoys lots of rain in the winter. I think the weather might slow down the photography business, but A. is quite extroverted and we had many lively discussions – he does possess a contradictory streak, god bless ‘im. D&A’s house is quite comfy, though, and I had a room with a heater all to myself. When I arrived, Ming, a Chinese student, was staying through Helpx. When I left, a French student, Camille, had just arrived. Since the Helpx thing was covered, I got to relax and visit – and didn’t even have to wash windows this time.

After a week in Marlo, I caught a bus in Orbost to Canberra (4 hours) where I stayed overnight at the grubby YHA hostel, then caught a train to Sydney the next day (4 hours) and stayed with my friends Susan and John. (We attended the New Year’s Eve festivities at the Sydney Opera House last year.) Then, on to another train to Tamworth (6 hours) where I’ll be a Helpx-er to Kate and Phil. I’ll paint and hopefully get back on a horse if Phil is ready to mentor me since it’s been awhile. He used to be a bull rider (has the championship belt buckles and saddles to prove it) and still , in his words, “messes around” with horses on his ranch in the hinterlands of northern New South Wales. Should prove to be an interesting couple weeks.

This entry is short, I know, but is intended to just be a space marker between my time visiting in Melbourne and starting my journey staying on organic/sustainable farms. I feel as though I am finally getting into the true purpose of my time here.

Bloomsday in Melbourne

It started with my friend Susan posting a comment on Facebook about where she would be on June 16 – in Melbourne at Bloomsday. I responded that I was envious (after looking up what exactly Bloomsday is) and told her that I wished I could be there.
Because at that point, I wasn’t sure if I was coming back to Australia.
But then I was.
But then, she wasn’t going to be able to make it to Melbourne for the festivities.
But then, she did. And it was perfect because Bloomsday is a celebration of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. Her connection with Joyce is visceral, partly fueled by her heritage (her entire family is Irish, and many still live in Ireland). After finding the book when she was a young girl, she was immediately fascinated by it and vowed to one day understand the language she found beautiful but baffling. She studied Joyce at Berkeley. Wrote her thesis on it. Has been to Dublin. Retraced his characters’ steps.
On June 16, the day that Leopold Bloom set forth on his journey through Dublin, cities all over the world set about “re-Joycing,” presenting plays, readings, lectures, classes and so on.  Of course, there are those who travel to Dublin and duplicate his journey, in fact, that’s how the whole thing started in 1954. The Bloomsday in Melbourne Committee marked the day with a play adapted from the text of the final chapter in the novel, “Penelope.”  At first glance, Joyce’s stream of consciousness would appear ideal for theatrical adaptation. But Joyce’s Penelope, Molly Bloom, is static throughout the entire chapter, her thoughts shared with the reader after she’s retired to bed. As the director said in her introduction to the play, “A woman. On a bed. Forty-four pages.” But the adaptation worked. Five characters – including a man in lacy bloomers, chemise and corset – played Molly, representing each aspect of her character. A photo of the set heads this post.
My navigation of the tram system has improved since my last visit, so we made our way through the blustery (read: windy and freekin’ cold) Melbourne day to the Trades Hall.  The hall sits on the corner of Victoria and Lygon Streets, straddling the Central Business District and the gentrified suburb of Carlton with its trendy restaurants and shops.  It was built in the 1870s to be the headquarters for Melbourne’s trade unions, and still serves that purpose. We climbed the stairs to one of the hall’s ballrooms, directly across from another that had a stage full of band equipment on one end of the room, a full bar at the other.  We agreed that the setting, complete with the pong of stale beer and urine, was ideal for the staging of a Joyce event.
Susan is much more on top of this whole timely posting thing than I am and shared this on her Tumblr blog the next day. In the post she said, “if you have to ask you don’t get it.” I would amend that (because I did sort of ask) to: “If you have to ask, you don’t get it – yet. And want to.”
After the performance and before the lecture, we spoke briefly with Francisca (or Frances?), a lovely woman sporting short silver hair, a brocade jacket and a long plum velveteen skirt. She is one of the founders of the festival, and pointed out that 2012 is a big year. The novel has reached its 90th anniversary since publication and the heir has just lost copyright. Next year, adapting pieces of the novel won’t be such a big deal.
One of the other founders, Philip Harvey in a jaunty green and white Tattersall plaid shirt, introduced Professor John Gatt-Rutter who presented his research. The professor is not an expert on Joyce, but discussed the evidence that points to Joyce using his friend Ettore Schmitz, better known by the pseudonym and nom de plume Italo Svevo, as a model for Leopold Bloom.  Schmitz was a student of Joyce’s in Trieste and was also a writer. Joyce championed his work, and Gatt-Rutter says that he is now regarded as one of the best Italian novelists of the 20th century.
I enjoyed reading Ulysses. I “got” it. I could follow. But then I would doze off. Okay, stop laughing. What I mean is that Joyce’s characters’ stream of consciousness is hypnotic. Reading Ulysses is like driving on a long, straight highway and watching the white lines instead of the horizon. The blur is mesmerizing, and each line has its own life span as it dashes past, but looking at the lines is looking at the details instead of the greater image – a driver gets pulled in to that world of white flashes. Before you know it, you’re off the road.
Reading Ulysses is an experience in completely giving oneself to the language and inner workings of mind. (You notice that I didn’t say “the characters’ minds.”) The work is fascinating, not only for what it tells us about us, but for what it tells us about Joyce. I suppose that is true to an extent about all books, depending upon the skill with which they are constructed, but in this case, the author is ever-present.
There are times, like Bloomsday, where I feel woefully inadequate as a writer. That concern comes not only from reading the work of a master, but also from the gaps in other literary reading. I was not an English lit major, but a theater major. I did not read Joyce – I read O’Neill. And O’Casey.  And Beckett (which I guess is sort of like reading Joyce…). I read theatrical literature: plays. So thankfully, I know the story of Ulysses as told over and over by so many writers.  Best-selling novel The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Nefenegger also told the story from Penelope’s point of view, but certainly not Joyce’s Penelope, Molly Bloom. Molly is a wonder unto herself.
Since this site is dedicated to the concept of home, it’s worth mentioning that Joyce left Dublin in his early twenties and never returned, choosing instead to live in Trieste, Paris and Zurich. In fact, his remains do not reside in Ireland – his grave is in Switzerland. Ironically, the Irish government refused Nora Joyce’s request to have his body transferred back to Dublin shortly after his death. Although Joyce rejected Dublin, all of his fiction is set there.  He said that he always wrote about Dublin because he felt if he could get to the heart of that city, he could understand anything: “In the particular is contained the universal.” If it is true (as Napoleon reportedly said) that geography is destiny, then Joyce helped prove that maxim.


   It is Sunday morning (Saturday around 6 p.m. for my Pacific Standard Time friends) and I have just returned from my marketing in Coburg. I am currently housesitting (and cat sitting) for a lovely couple – the daughter of a couple I stayed with in Bendigo last December.   Many of you know my hesitation in coming back to Australia this year. The email from J’s daughter tipped the scales and here I am, happily ensconced in a nearly new three bedroom with my very own room and bath, full kitchen with lots of pots and pans to use (some of which I don’t quite know what to do with) and a couple who has urged me to help myself to the perishables in the refrigerator and the pantry. Say no more.
  The house where I’m staying is just a few blocks from the train station and shops. Shops with names like Ottoman Kabobs and Pizza, Pantheon Cakes, Parthenon Shoes, Continental Groceries, Dong Natural Therapies, etc. line the Coburg section of Sydney Road, a main north-south artery.  There is also a plethora of Asian-owned variety stores where a person can find everything from salad spinners to ladies’ girdles. My stops this morning included the fruit and veg stand (a kilo of mandarin oranges for $1.99; a kilo of gigantic navel oranges for $0.99), Crystal Bakery (a terrific apricot Danish), Coles supermarket (various and sundry items) and finally to Al Alamy,(which in Arabic translates to “world of foods”) a grocery and café that has the very best flat white in the area. Joey and George, the baristas there, have memorized my order. So far I’ve received two free coffees. Not sure what that’s about, but I’m grateful for the treat.
   Melbourne reminds me of the American Midwest – specifically, Kansas City, where I lived for 16 years. Much of the architecture is of the same mid-19th Century vintage. And the other day I smelled something that was vaguely familiar, something that evoked a feeling of nostalgia … fallen leaves. Maple leaves, actually.  I’ve lived in the southern California desert so long that I have almost forgotten that there are places where trees lose their leaves.
   I do have responsibilities while I’m here, though. Actually a responsibility named Willow, who is an adorable (if a little needy) kitty-cat. I arrived to an empty house, but knew that there was a cat in residence. After a couple hours moving a suitcase, using the bathroom, getting comfortable, no feline showed up to investigate, so I deduced that the cat was outside or in hiding under a bed. Turns out that she was where she usually is – hidden under blankets on the couch. And I do mean under.  I had to pull back her covers to get the photograph. When she’s out from under, she’s talking to me about being hungry, or needing to go out or wanting attention. She’s quite content sitting on my lap while I work. Makes it harder to reach the keyboard, but it is cozy.
   I arrived Melbourne and was greeted by the worst weather they’d seen so far this Fall – 9 degrees C (about 48 F) and raining cats, dogs and ponies. For all that, I was still grateful to be out the Sonoran Desert, where the temperature was 104 the day I left. And even though I’ve been cold a great deal of the time since I’ve been here, Mom had a point when she said that you can always put on enough clothing to get warm, but you can never take off enough to get cool. True. The photo to the right is a view down O’Hea Street looking toward Sydney Road.
   In the past weeks, I’ve spent a good deal of time working on queries and scouting out how to make my blog better. In fact, there just happened to be a writers’ conference in progress when I arrived and I participated in a class concerning that specific topic.  Don’t worry – you won’t really notice anything besides a new look. My readers should also find it much easier to get email updates and so on. There might be a RunNorthGoWest Facebook page in the works, too, so all of you will have to Like RNGW on Facebook.
More soon – about Blooms Day.

And Back Again

   ‘Round about April 1, I started getting really antsy, the sort of restlessness that some have called wanderlust, but in my case, I’m not so sure. That will be a discussion for another time.
   As my friends have told me, I’m a doer, and I felt that I wasn’t doing much of anything. I was staying with my brother and sister-in-law in Phoenix. I had prepared a good proposal and sent it to several agents in hopes of having someone invest in my book project so that I could return to Australia with more money in my pocket. I had also sent off many applications for work, and even tested with a temporary agency that was quite optimistic about placing me. Nothing. In all of this, I was plagued with doubt about what I should be doing. Sometimes on a morning walk I would pass an apartment complex, the sort that is a series of boxes dressed up to look like something classier. People walked their dogs, moved in, moved out, nearly fell down the stairs carrying too many boxes, struggled to fit the box spring around the corner. I watched these people living their lives, becoming  inordinately depressed, because I imagined myself getting a job, moving into one of those boxes, trying to get my piano up the stairs.
   My sister-in-law and I became good friends during this time, and I would share some of my frustrations – and fears – with her. I know that there were times that she noticed my swollen eyes after a particularly anxiety-filled day. I was working my plan, being responsible, mapping things out, determined to do this the right way. I talked to my oldest sister, who has always been supportive of my dreams. I talked to my other sister, who is analytical by nature, but told me, hey, if this is your dream, you better do it. And my brother, no stranger to risk, who farmed for years and runs his own business, said pretty much the same thing. My sister-in-law, when I confessed so much doubt, said “stay the course.” And finally, my brother, who is an engineer and whose life has been lived in concrete and sequential terms said, “I think you should go for it.”  I also spoke with the dogs about these issues, but found that they were more interested in what they thought was going on outside.
    My friends asked when I was going back. I told them , it depends on this. And that. And this and that. One day I confessed to one that I had plenty in the bank to buy a ticket, and maybe I should just do that.
   And still, I didn’t do it.
   Finally, during a visit to Rancho Mirage I spoke with my spiritual advisor. We sat down together and I started explaining what was going on, how there wasn’t a job and there wasn’t an agent, but there was a great proposal, and that everything was in place except the balance of the savings account.  She listened. Asked a few questions. As I answered them I understood that (once again) the only one getting in the way was me.  I started laughing (a little hysterically) and surrendered.
   Shortly after that, an Internet search revealed a pretty good one-way fare to Melbourne. My travel agent found one that was $200 more good. I bought it. After which my dear friend M. pointed out, “Hey – it’s the leap of faith, not the fall of faith.”  I’m counting on that.
   Part of that leap was letting my car go. Little Ms. Putt now has the honor of being a young girl’s first car. Her Mom has a Beemer, so does her grandmother and her aunt, and her cousin … they know what she’s getting into. Her dad has a detailing business, so Ms. P. will always look good.  It is the last remnant from my old life.
   A couple weeks before I left, my sisters and I had a weekend together, just the three of us. We goofed off, ate too much. I bought a pair of earrings that I didn’t need but were too nice to leave for a stranger; K. found a really cool vintage dress and K. found a plate to add to her ceramic collection. We visited and went ice skating and got awesome foot rubs and visited museums. I cried when I got on the plane to leave. As much as I wanted to return to Australia, I wanted to cling to something that I no longer have here, and maybe never had, if I even know what it is. One thing I know for sure: leaving feels different this time.
   Since June 2011, I have lived in 21 different places, some only for a couple nights, others for a few months. In just a couple weeks, it will be a year since all of my possessions have been in storage and I have not had a lease. To those of you who have supported my goals and dreams by sharing your homes and lives with me, thank you.
   And to those of you who will be allowing me to stay with you in the next year, I can’t wait to meet you.
   It starts in Melbourne.

Phoenix Deja Vu

On March 31, 2012 my father became an octogenarian. (That means he turned 80 years old. In the interest of being the family historian – albeit self-appointed, amateur, inconsistent – and since the celebration was held in Phoenix mid-March (because that was a time when those involved with educating or being educated could attend) I thought I’d share about the first time I lived in Phoenix. The info was provided by my dad, because, since I had just turned one year old at the time, I don’t remember much.
Dad was teaching in my home town of Hallock, Minnesota by the Fall of 1958. After graduating from college, he and his brother  had completed service in the military, having avoided being drafted during the Korean War because, “we were engaged in saving our country from the godless North Koreans by attending Concordia College, [Moorhead, Min.] maintaining a significant GPA, and passing some sort of academic test (which less than thirty percent of college attendees passed at that time), all of which seemed to exasperate our local draft board secretary, Ed Fitzgerald, a WWII vet who had fallen off the back of two-and-a-half ton truck (duce and a half),  never saw any action, and got out of the army with a physical disability … and wanted every young male to do his duty to the country.”
Actually, Dad had come back home to farm, but ended up teaching because making a living at farming (without more land or supplementary income) was impossible. I don’t think that’s much different today. Teachers were in short supply – and there was the answer.  After trying to enlarge the farm acreage and not reaching consensus with his farming partner (Uncle Lyndon), he looked for other alternatives to increase income and, since he knew that the school counselor was not going to stay around much longer, thought he would become qualified for that position. In his search to find funding for his Masters degree, he discovered the National Defense Education Act.  
The NDEA provided a stipend that was more than his teaching salary at the time, and tax free, besides. He could go get his Masters at no cost to him, using the stipend to move and for living expenses while he was attending school. He was accepted to three programs, but chose the one with the best winter: University of Arizona in Tempe, which had the largest education department west of the Mississippi at that time.  The idea was to get the Masters in Elementary Counseling and Guidance, since it met the Minnesota requirements for counseling in either the primary secondary levels.
(Digression: My Dad was the guidance counselor at the high school that I attended – the guy who administered the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, the PSAT, SAT and talked to students about attending college and which one might be best for them. I remember being fascinated by all those catalogues when I was a little girl, already planning to attend college by the time I was in first grade. And of course, I loved to get off the bus at the high school to ride home with Dad. He would come out of the faculty lounge smelling of cigarette smoke and a weird combination of wool, floor wax, paper, ink and wintergreen lozenges that he kept in his desk.  The secretaries in the office would dote on me, and I could use the typewriter – I think it was a Royal. I wrote my very first poem on that typewriter: “I’m Daddy’s Little Darling.” It remains unpublished.) 
And so, in 1966, we five kids and Mom and Dad set off on a four-day trip across the country in a ‘62 Pontiac hard-top with no air conditioning, pulling a very full borrowed trailer. I rode in the front (since I was about the size of a football – okay, maybe two footballs) and the other four rode in the back. I can only imagine the cacophony coming from the back seat. To hear my brother tell the story, we had nothing to eat on the way except Vienna sausages, off-brand Elf soda pop and potato chips. My father insists that we picnicked on those when on outings to Phoenix area parks, and that there was a variety of food available.
We stayed at the Country Club Apartments, a place that now gets mixed reviews, although there’s one here that is pretty stellar. My brother, his wife and I visited the old stomping grounds. I remember very little except having my blanket taken away to be laundered, waking up without it and waiting in front of the dryer until it was done. My sister and I were at home with Mom, who loved to be at the pool. In fact, she saved a kid who rode his tricycle into the water, sinking like a stone. She fished out the kid first, then went back for the trike.
While we were there my oldest siblings attended the Encanto School, which is still there at Osborn and N. 15th Avenue. My oldest sister attended second grade, my brother first and my other brother kindergarten. Kevin broke his arm while we were there but that didn’t stop him from becoming the undisputed and still legendary tether ball champion at Encanto. We visited there, too, but there wasn’t anyone around to give the sort of accolades a former champion deserves, so we had to settle for a photo-op in front of the banner and a portrait of the tetherball grounds taken through the chainlink fence.
By the time Dad finished the program in June of 1967, the ’62 hard-top had been replaced with a Pontiac Vista Cruiser station wagon, the kind with blue-tinted curved glass panels on the roof. The upholstery was powder blue vinyl. This car actually had seat belts – safety belts as we called them – and I know this because I didn’t latch mine all the way one day and ended up falling out of the car because I wanted to watch the ground go by. Right. No need for four kids in the back seat. My brothers were shunted into the two fold-down seats in the very back where they choked on the dust that seeped in the loose rear door and window assembly.  On the way back, from Phoenix, we stayed in a cabin at the Grand Canyon (slides of which were always shown at holidays), drove through Yellowstone National Park and visited a family that Mom and Dad had met when he was stationed in Germany.
My father ended up putting in 30+ years in the Minnesota education system. In the late ‘50s, he says that he really wanted out of the classroom, but couldn’t talk his brother into getting more land at the time. It took until the ‘70s to buy more acreage: a farm we called Midway (halfway between Grandpa’s and our home) and one called Prairie View (my great-aunties named that one). He says at one point he thought about leaving farming all together, getting into a city school system and earning a Ph.D., but after the year in Phoenix, he’d “really had enough.” 
And besides, as old Arvid Walstad pointed out, teaching gave my dad “something to do in the winter.”

Living’ in the U.S.A.

(Note:  Most of you know that I have already returned to Australia, but I feel as though I’m leaving some blanks here, and wanted to fill them in. So here’s a bit of info about my return to the States and my stay with KAT in Phoenix. Don’t worry, we’ll get back to the Australia stuff in a few days.)
   I couldn’t help but think of the Chuck Berry song as I landed at LAX, even though I hadn’t been longing for Los Angeles. Berry actually wrote the tune on a return flight from Australia in the late ’50s after seeing the living conditions of the Aboriginies.  Despite that bleak motivation, it’s a catchy tune, and, after all, I was glad to be done with a 13-hour flight.
   And things were different here. Or things seemed different. The most apparent different thing was the attitude of the Customs agents, especially the woman who hustled those of us who were sitting back in steerage out of the bathroom, all the while grinning at us like she knew we couldn’t be rude back to her. And guns. Lots of guns.  And strutting. Plenty of strutting going on down there as well.
   It’s not that I didn’t run across rude or stupid people in Australia or New Zealand. And yes, Australian police carry side arms. I understand that the New Zealand cops do not, but I never saw a single officer when I was over there, even though my hostel in Rotorua was a mere three blocks from the station.
   And rudeness. A boat-load of rudeness, too, with the exception of the final guy who stamped my passport and let me back into the U.S. after saying that he’d look for my book. Cool. Thanks, dude. (I didn’t tell him that I, too, am looking for my book.)
   Along the way, I couldn’t help but make a mental list of the things I did not miss: Rude rental car agents; L.A. traffic; the Inland Empire (an odd name for such a bleak place); landscape the color of putty; snowbird driving habits. However, I did miss my friends and my BMW, and happily, a friend was waiting with my car when I returned the under-powered 4-cylinder Cube I had rented to the Palm Springs airport Hertz.
   Describing the feeling of being back is difficult, especially since I spent most of the flight knowing that I wanted to stay. In fact, I had discussed returning to Melbourne in February and staying an additional month. I didn’t, and now I’m glad I didn’t. Money was scarce for the past few months, I didn’t find employment like I thought I would, and faced little besides frustration in the U.S. I can’t imagine the nightmare of facing all of that in a foreign country.
  As it was, I spent a couple weeks in Rancho Mirage with a very gracious friend, who really has gone above and beyond in terms of allowing me to stay in her home for weeks (months) at a time. The weeks allowed me to visit my things in storage, say hello, pet them a little bit, assure them that I hadn’t forgotten about them.  The best part: getting different clothing. How many of you have worn the same few pieces of clothing for 107 days? Two pairs of jeans, two tank tops, two skirts, two t-shirts, two cardigans, a zip-up hoodie. A pair of boots, a pair of running shoes, a pair of flip-flops. That’s it. That’s all. I left a stack of clothing in the hotel room in Auckland with a note on top, “Free to a good home.” I couldn’t bear to see that white hoodie and that print cardigan ever again. Ever.
   In two weeks, I had switched out my wardrobe (high heels again – hallelujah!) and arranged to spend a couple months at my brother and sister-in-law’s place in Phoenix. My mission was to find work, save a bunch of money, query agents and editors and maybe get interest in a book, then return to Melbourne in late May/early June. It was a good plan.

Glow Worms and Back to Auckland

    I really wanted to stay another day in Rotorua, especially since I had spent so much time goofing around with the gondola and luge thing and didn’t get to see all that the museum had on offer. The exhibits at the museum were terrific, and I had only one hour to try to take in the Brian Brake photography as well as the building itself, as well as the Maori exhibit, which is one of the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here, co-created by Te Papa museum in Wellington. But the coach pulled up and Brian the driver was full of information. In fact, all the way up to the Waitomo caves to see the glow worms, there was a running commentary on just about everything from kiwi fruit to what the three fisherman on the bridge caught today, and after a while I wanted him to just be quiet. When he wasn’t talking, he played informational DVDs, much like History Channel specials, all about the Maori people and their resistance to the British invasion. (And I don’t mean the four Brits with funny haircuts.) But. I might have enjoyed my visit to New Zealand a little bit more had I ridden along with Brian earlier in my stay.
    As Brian turned the coach toward the highway, he informed us all that we had slept last night in the bottom of a volcano. Of course, I knew that but didn’t think of it in those terms. I suppose it’s a bit like living in California and knowing that the San Andres fault (among others) is right out your back door, but not deliberating the fact too closely.  After all, the Central Volcanic Plateau is still active, but active in geological terms. So we climbed 1100 feet out of the volcano over mountains that form the dividing line between the Bay of Plenty and Waikoto regions of New Zealand.
    The region from the Bay of Plenty to the Waikoto River is called King Country and boasts the largest man-made fort in the southern hemisphere, made when the Maori resisted the British in the 1860s. The story starts long before then, however, in 1814 when the Maori and Brits signed the Treaty of Waitangi. The essentials of the document dictate that the Maori grant sovereignty to Queen Victoria, that the Maori in return would be protected by the British military against all other hostile invaders and finally, that they would retain possession of lands they already held. The last item was what caused the problems.
    In 1858, in an effort to consolidate and organize power, Maori tribes united to choose their first King. Most British officers saw this as an effort to resist Crown sovereignty. It was – but it was also an effort to keep other tribal leaders from selling land to the British. A rumor started that the Maori in King Country had already built a road to Auckland and were going to attack. In reality, it was Governor George Grey who had built a road from Auckland out to King Country, and was planning an attack. As much as Grey wanted peace (he had presided over territory wars in the 1840s) he did not want to share power with the Maori.  He had already sent an SOS to England, who sent 13,000 troops who were joined by an additional 2,000 Europeans and another 2,000 Australians. This force was sent out against 5,000 Maori men. The total Maori population in the 1860s was around 50,000 men, women and children. In modern terms, that’s like a force of 1 million invading New Zealand.
    The end result was that the British seized many more acres of land that were supposed to be in Maori hands, and had been at the time of the Treaty of Waitangi. Maori petitioned for the land to be returned. The British refused, and kept refusing. In the late ‘60s, Maori marched from the tip of the North Island and from the bottom of the South Island, converging on the capital, Wellington, where they demonstrated. In the early 1970s, they mounted a legal case. It took until the 1990s for the suit to go all the way to London to the High Court (which is the highest level of appeal in New Zealand). They won. A tribunal was assembled to investigate land claims, and still functions, unraveling claims from up to 200 years ago. Many Maori have had lands restored to them and are active in agriculture, fisheries, tourism, etc.
    All of this information was offered by Brian in as we drove through lush pastoral land, finally arriving at the Waitomo Caves, home of glow worms. The entire way, I had been humming the old Mills Brothers song that I remember my mother singing. And I have to say that the caves were … a disappointment. Yes, there were stalactites and stalagmites and lovely formations of limestone, a grand cathedral type room. Perhaps it was our tour guides’ monotonecontinuouscommentarythatwasruntogetherasallonewordexceptwhenhepausedtotakeaquick breath… andstartagain. Plus, we weren’t allowed to take photos. The picture at the top is the exit of the cave…that’s the only thing we could photograph other than the visitor center. Which was nice, but I refuse to include it here. Just a matter of principle.
    The experience just didn’t live up to the hype. The caves are owned by the family of one of the original discoverers, and they haven’t missed any opportunity to make a profit. Admission is not cheap, a gift shop offers loads of expensive New Zealand merchandise and their restaurant does a brisk business what with all the tour buses coming and going. A brief boat ride at the end of the tour offered a completely dark and silent opportunity to see the glow worms doing their thing – glowing – at the top of the cave. I tried to get excited about it, but just couldn’t. The most entertaining part of the tour was the young Indian man who was right beside me every time I turned around, sat behind me on the boat, and then tried to convince me that his coach was the right one – after all, it was going to Auckland. I had to explain that it wasn’t the same driver, and that my coach was across the street.
    Back in Auckland, I found the Air Bus shuttle out to the airport, where I then got another shuttle to my hotel, retrieved my bag from storage and repacked for the trip home. A six o’clock morning flight meant I had to be on the four o’clock a.m. shuttle to the international terminal. First leg of the trip was to Sydney, where I sat from 7:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. because the 12:15 p.m. flight had been changed months ago, but I guess passengers are the last to know, and what the hell, I was there anyway.  I finally boarded the flight to Los Angeles and frantically typed notes on everything I could remember so that I wouldn’t put off doing my blog entries. I worked until my computer battery was gone, and then tried to sleep a little while.
Another song that I dimly remember my mother singing … couldn’t find a recording, but here are the words. If anyone knows where to find the music, or who actually wrote the song, I’d love to attribute it to someone!
The earth was wet with the dew of the dawn
As the warm scented air swept over the lawn
A big ol’ worm came out of the ground
To see the world and to look around

And as he gazed at the azure sky
Another little worm came up nearby
Said he, with a wiggle, “You’re a cute little worm,
Let’s you and I go out for a squirm
I could easily fall in love with you
If you’ll condescend to a rendezvous.”

But the cute little worm just shook its head
And to the big ol’ worm it said,
“No rendezvous between us two
Because I’m the other end of you.”