Friday, 25 April 2014

We've boundless plains to share - lest we forget

The alarm went off at 4:45am and I was immediately awake, despite being mid-dream. I could hear light rain falling on the corrugated roof and my resolve to attend the ANZAC Day dawn service in Tamworth nearly crumbled. I pressed on. We drove through the streets, deserted until we neared ANZAC Park, found a park and walked towards the crowd assembled in the pre-dawn.

Wreaths laid in Tamworth at the dawn service for ANZAC Day.
Copyright 2014 divacultura
The rain had stopped. The service was conducted with moving simplicity. The crowd was asked to join in for the hymn, "Abide with Me". I did, but couldn't hear many others. The bugler played "The Last Post", lacking power, volume and confidence, but adding in lots of notes not usually heard in the piece. (Bugles are very hard to play, especially if you're nervous or emotional.) The gentle morning warble of magpies filled the silences.

A piper played something I didn't recognise on the bagpipes and the kookaburras thought it was hilarious. My brother and I found that hilarious and had to avoid looking at each other to avoid ruining the solemnity of the moment. Meanwhile the kookaburras laughed and laughed and laughed.

Both verses of the national anthem, "Advance Australia Fair" were sung, including the lines about welcoming people who come here from across the sea: "we've boundless plains to share". There were a few more voices joining in this time.

Flag at half mast as the dawn breaks in Tamworth this morning.
Copyright 2014 divacultura
We dispersed just as the sky was beginning to lighten. People staying to talk, look at the wreaths, while others took off to find their sometimes precariously parked cars.

We went back into town later for the march down Peel Street. As the bands played, the servicemen and women, and children from every school in Tamworth, paraded before an appreciative crowd. Overhead, planes flew in a formation that looked like the outline of an aeroplane itself. Tiny children, weighed down by the medals of a deceased relative, walked restlessly; others looked curiously at the crowd while waving, delighted to receive the occasional reciprocal wave.

I was heartened to hear that all but a handful of Australia's servicemen and women are back home. I hope the others return soon and that there is no need for them to go away again unless in a community assistance role. We are fortunate. I hope that today's reflection may cause our community to be appreciative of the fact that our citizens can generally live safely and peacefully, acknowledging that this is not the case for all people in the world.  I hope that we can extend our hands to those people and be true to the words of our national anthem. Lest we forget.

Advance Australia Fair
Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil;
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history’s page, let every stage
Advance Australia Fair.

In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross
We’ll toil with hearts and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands;
For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.

In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Talking to the animals

Whenever I visit my family I am surrounded by animals of all kinds. It's a welcome change from my urban life, where I admire other people's dogs from afar. 

Sometime yesterday one of the heifers gave birth to a female calf, chocolate brown with soft curls. Her mother seemed to take little interest and the calf was left alone, breathing heavily and rapidly. The calf was able to stand up but seemed exhausted by the effort. Meanwhile the mother looked on and moved away whenever the calf approached. The calf sniffed my legs and groin, imagining that I might have milk to offer. I didn't. Somehow, the calf managed to attach herself to the mother's udder, but this was short lived when the mother wandered off. 

Another cow tried to nudge the calf towards its mother. The calf responded by trying to drink from it. 

We decided to separate the cow and her calf from the rest of the herd. We got them into a separate paddock, carrying the calf part of the way. While the calf rested in the shade of a tree, the mother bellowed and stared at us but made no move to be near her calf.  We ran her up along the fence line towards a smaller yard and then the cow climbed over the fence - back into the paddock from which we'd just removed her! A horse was saddled and the job finally completed. 

I've named the calf "Kylie", even though she's not mine to name. I hope it sticks and I hope she makes it.

Checking each other out.
Copyright 2014 divacultura

We tried to feed Kylie on the bottle but she didn't like that much either. 
Trying the bottle.
Copyright 2014 divacultura

I decided that Shirley the lamb was a better prospect as I explained she would one day help me knit a jumper!

Shirley the lamb
Copyright 2014 divacultura 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Lolling about with a novel - holiday bliss.

Yesterday I did something I haven't done in a while. I spent the whole day reading a novel. The novel in question was "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt, winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize for literature. The last thing I did before sleep the night before was read more pages. I reluctantly stopped for sleep.  The first thing I did upon waking was reach for the book. I stopped for breakfast and then placed a chair on the verandah to take advantage of the autumn sunshine and took my spot. I stopped for lunch and then finished at about 4pm. I raced towards the end because I was so engrossed in the story. Upon finishing I felt simultaneously satisfied - as if I had just finished a delicious meal - and bereft, because the story was gone. 

I think "The Goldfinch" is my new favourite book of all time. 

It's a long time since I've been free to completely absorb myself with a novel in this way. It's also been a while since I have loved a novel so much that I feel part of the story. It reminds me of Easter holidays long gone. 

Returning home from boarding school or university, it was nothing for me to stay in bed with a big novel. I read Peter Carey's "Oscar and Lucinda" and "Illywhacker" in single, day-long sessions, emerging bleary-eyed and jet-lagged from my trip into other places through the pages of a book. 

Taking literature subjects at university, with their demanding reading lists, meant homework was a pleasure, even if the choice of what to read next was dictated by upcoming assessments. 

I find the choice of "what's next" after such a big, satisfying book as "The Goldfinch" difficult. After such absorption and connection with one writer I find the switch to another author can be jarring. My choice this time is a slimmer book: "The Italian Girl" by Iris Murdoch - my book group's next choice. The gears changed as I opened to the first page and began the task of reorientation. They are still grinding a little, but I'm sure we'll settle in together. 

Having finished the novel, I now understand a conversation I had with my local Yarraville bookseller about the Booker Prize winning "The Luminaries" by Eleanor Catton - another big, fat book which I enjoyed immensely. The bookseller hadn't enjoyed "The Luminaries" because she was part way through "The Goldfinch" when she grabbed it to take on her Christmas holidays. She was dismayed to discover she had the wrong book and was forced to commence "The Luminaries" while she was stranded, remote from her copy of "The Goldfinch". Devastation! Disappointment! Frustration! Restlessness! All would have ensued. 

I'm amazed that in such a busy year I've managed to finish two huge novels - along with six others!

How do you like to read? What are you reading now? What's your favourite book?

My view from the verandah. The aeroplanes were very busy. 
Copyright 2014 divacultura

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Superannuation - what's your name again?

I've made some progress on my superannuation campaign! I've also been stuck in another bureaucratic loop.

The good news is that I've received a refund of insurance premiums and fees. It's a small amount of money but an important acknowledgement that other people were spending my money in a way I had not authorised and that is of no benefit to me.

In the meantime, the Australian Tax Office is investigating whether I've been denied choice of superannuation fund under the requirements of the superannuation choice legislation. I suspect I know what the answer will be, but it's all part of amassing evidence to then mount an argument and perhaps broaden the campaign.

My local members of parliament will soon be hearing from me.

Today I received a letter from the UniSuper Fund thanking me for my request to change my membership details. They then went on to note my new name and new address.  I've had the same name since birth and the same mailing address for fourteen years, so I was a little concerned. I rang the fund and was advised that the university HR department had changed my details.

"Change them back please," I said.

"We can't do that over the phone," came the reply from Alice.

"Why not?"

"Only the university HR department can change those details. You need to speak to them."

"Am I the owner of the account?" I asked.


"If there was money in the account, would that money belong to me?"


"Why can someone who is not me change my name and address?"


"You'll need to speak to HR. I can't do anything."

Maybe I'm feeling a bit sensitive after having to convince another employer on the weekend about what my name is. There was no folder with my name on it. Several people pointed me to the folder with the right first name, but the wrong surname.

"Oh, you're not Tanya Frew?"

"No I'm not."

"Are you sure?"

I have no patience for conversations like that.

I refuse to be sent back into the bureaucratic haze of buck passing between the employer and the superannuation fund. I insisted that the details be fixed. Alice just called back and told me the problem had been rectified. It's amazing what becomes possible when you persist, sound like you know what you're talking about and sound like you mean it.

I'll be calling the university HR department tomorrow to remove any authority for them to make changes to my account. I'll also be asking for details of the authority that they had to make the changes in the first place. That should be interesting.

In the course of the call, I've discovered that my account has been reopened, but no money has been paid in. It is set up without insurance attached, so that tells me that someone, somewhere is listening.

I'm a supporter of compulsory superannuation, but won't accept this distortion of the system.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

To borrow a phrase - I can't stand the rain

It's raining in Melbourne. It's been raining solidly for the last couple of days. Apparentlly we've received our monthly rainfall in a couple of days. I forget which month. It's a bit wearing, travelling around, hauling umbrellas, avoiding others' umbrellas, being constantly damp, managing frizzy hair, but it's been lovely to see the grass green again.

I've been persisting with my daily walk. The trains and trams are so stuffy and humid that it's actually nicer to be out in the air, even if you are a bit damp and your hair has turned into a fuzz ball. In one spot where I walk there is a glorious stand of eucalyptus trees. I pause to take in the scent. I also notice the bubbles forming on the puddles and feel sorry for the people trapped in their cars, lined up and going no where.

I've been puzzled by the people I've seen hunched over, as if they are making themselves so small, they would fit between the raindrops. In one hand they clutch an umbrella. Why don't they open it and take shelter?

Umbrellas are particularly hazardous when boarding and alighting from trains and trams. I was nearly stabbed to death by a small Asian woman who suddenly changed direction while we waited to touch off our mykis on the way out of the station. I stood very still and she looked terrified.

All the floors are slippery and I walk like a 90 year-old woman everywhere I see a smooth service. Since my fall last year, I'm acutely aware of how a simple fall can cause serious injury. I'm constantly surprised by how many walking surfaces are completely unsuited to wet weather and rushing crowds of people.

This morning's commute was chaotic. Power failures further down the line meant cancellations and delays. As the train pulled into the station 15 minutes late, the windows were dark with crowds inside and fogged with all their breathing. I insinuated myself into an inadequate space, having already let one train pass. I held onto an overhead railing at an angle just wrong enough to make me feel discombobulated when I finally arrived at my destination.

Coming home a woman asked whether station announcements are made on the train.

"Sometimes," I told her. "If you're lucky, they might even be accurate."

She looked at me like I was some kind of zealot.

Soon the voice of Metro trains announced that the next station was Seddon. It wasn't. It was South Kensington. Only two stops out. The woman looked at me with mistrust when I told her where to get off. The train, I mean. I shrugged. She could trust me - a stranger on a train - or she could trust the disembodied, malfunctioning woman with the voice. Or she could look out the window and see the name of the station.

It's nice to arrive home to a dry place; although I'm slightly nervous that the unattended hole in the ceiling will soon prove to be catastrophic.

As I settle in to watch Survivor tonight, I'm reminded to be glad that I'm not camping on a beach, even if I was in the running to win a million dollars. Or in north Queensland waiting for the cyclone to arrive.

How do you feel about rain?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

In concert - Bernadette Peters

I spent last night with Broadway star Bernadette Peters in concert. I saw her a few years ago at the Sydney Opera House and remember being a little disappointed. I put it down to the dodgy acoustics. When she came out and started with "Let me Entertain You" from the musical Gypsy, I wondered if it wasn't the hall that was the problem last time.

Before the show I struck up a conversation with a woman whose table I was sharing while I had a cup of coffee. She didn't really know who Bernadette Peters is and had won her ticket on the radio. I told her that she's 67 years old as the woman looked at her program. The woman told me that she hadn't looked as good as Bernadette when she was 25! I considered her now and believed this to be true.

Ms Peters looked fantastic wearing a spaghetti-strapped, soft lilac gown with just the right amount of sparkle and a split in the front of the skirt coupled with satin heels. She shimmied around the stage and wasn't always on the microphone.

Hamming it up during one of the best versions of "Fever" I've ever heard, the diva slinked her way up the stairs to lie on a black velvet pillow and strike a shapely drape on top of the piano, she sang the song with lust and wit accompanied by double bass and drums. Yes! This was great performance.

Charming conversation interspersed the evening. "Joanna" from Sweeney Todd started with a cracked note, but improved from there. I started to get a bit twitchy and then I realised what the problem was. Bernadette Peters is much more an actress who sings, than a singer who acts. She is at her best when there's an emotional or comic element to the song. Listening to her sing is not enough and will be a disappointing experience. If you can absorb yourself in the emotion of the performance, then the experience is sublime. Losing my Mind from Stephen Sondeheim's Follies was extraordinarily emotional and like watching someone have a break down driven by the grief of a broken relationship.

The show ended with the big Sondheim song, Being Alive from Company, full of hope (and a fluffed lyric or two).

For encore, Peter Allen's song "I Honestly Love You" left me with tears overflowing. She then shared "Kramer's Song" a song she wrote as part of a children's book written for an animal shelter charity. Kramer is her dog and it was lovely.

I'd love to see Bernadette Peters in a show, rather than just in concert. It must be incredible.

Were you there at Her Majesty's Theatre last night? Have you seen Bernadette Peters? What did you think?

Monday, 7 April 2014

You must want this - because we're telling you you do!

On my way home this evening I walked past the H & M store which opened in Melbourne's old GPO building in Bourke Street on Saturday. Until this week, I had never heard of H & M. Apparently they are a Swedish clothing retailer and we're supposed to be beside ourselves with excitement.

By the middle of last week, builders were putting the final touches to the building and installing red carpets, velvet ropes, spotlights and marquees. There was also a huge digital clock counting down the very seconds until our deprivation would be ended and Melbourne would have the only H & M store in Australia. I watched as two young women shooed the fifty-year old male security guard behind a pillar so they could take photographs of the front entry (before the store opened). A whippet thin, spray tanned PR blond standing nearby smirked as she tried to operate her phone with her stupidly long fake fingernails.

Since the opening on Saturday, people have been queuing for hours to gain entry. To a shop. That's right, people have been lining up for hours so they can go into a shop. If it was World War II and we were in Leningrad, then this might be appropriate if the shop was a bakery or supermarket, but it isn't. Presumably all of the merchandise inside the shop is only a click away from the comfort of bed if your ipad is handy. Amongst all the groaning about the demise of bricks and mortar retailers, the hype seems ridiculous.

On Saturday there was a DJ inside Flinders Street Station. That was nice, but it didn't inspire me to go and stand in a line for hours. Banners at Southern Cross Station told me that the moment I'd been waiting for had arrived!

I wonder what it's like inside and whether there are crowds of people and the restriction of numbers is just to keep the queue in place, with the double effect of scarcity and desirability sending the message that everyone needs to be there.

A quick look at their website suggests that it's Swedish Target or Big W. I suppose that's handy, but it's not enough for me to stand in a line for hours. I would have trouble doing this for the Leningrad Bakery, I'm certainly not doing it now.

The last time I queued was Expo 88 in Brisbane. The whole city learned how to queue for hours at Expo. It was so well-organised and there was passing entertainment, that you didn't mind. You knew that it was only going to be there for 6 months, so there was a now or never aspect to it. Word got out very quickly about what was worth queuing for and logically, the places that were worth the wait always had a wait. I haven't heard that H & M is a pop up shop and will be gone soon. I can just wait until the day I can just walk in the door. I expect to be as underwhelmed as I was when Zara opened at the other end of the mall.

I wonder how long the velvet ropes and security guards will last? Have you been to H & M? What's it like? What are you willing to queue for?

Friday, 4 April 2014

What I'm saying "thank you" for this week.

This morning I woke up at 5am, forty-five minutes before my alarm was set to go off. I'm grateful because it gave me time to wash my hair and still be at work on time. I felt better about myself today.

Thank you.

A participant in the program I have been facilitating this week, bowled up to me at the end of the two days, looked in my eyes, smiled and told me that I had really inspired him.

Thank you.

Another participant told me that he had realised that he has been badly behaved at work. He also told me that his behaviour had been bad for 40 years and no one had ever told him. He told me that he now knows he needs to change. He told me he needs help because he doesn't know how to make the change. I felt privileged to be the person he confided in. I had thought he would be difficult to deal with, but I had really enjoyed his participation. I told him so.

Thank you.

I was to meet a friend who is visiting Melbourne this evening. He received an invitation relevant to the conference he's here attending and had to change our plans. We're meeting tomorrow for lunch. I'll be much fresher and awake! (I'm very tired this evening.) I now get a bonus early night and still get to see my friend.

Thank you.

Listening to the story of a boy who fled Afghanistan at the age of 14 after his father was murdered and spent a year in immigration detention on Christmas Island, I thought about what I was doing when I was fourteen. I was at school. I was starring in the school musical. I was playing music. I was reading novels. I was hanging out with friends and writing letters to my pen pals. I don't think I would have been able travel alone to the other side of the planet and start a new life. This boy is now vice captain at his school and is relishing the opportunity he has to sit exams.

Thank you.

Lastly, I'm grateful for Survivor. Last night was sensational viewing in the Beauty, Brawn and Brains season. The show gave me a point of connection with one of the less engaged participants at today's workshop. I also had a fabulous debrief on the phone afterwards with one of my friends. (For the record, Cass did her dash last night and LJ is very nice to have around.)

Thank you.

And lastly, always, thank you for the music. This week I've been listening to Max Richter's The Four Seasons Recomposed and The Fray's album "Helios".

What are you saying "thank you" for this week?

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

"Sorry" - pondering the art of the apology

Lately I've been thinking about apologies. I think this is partly because the evening news is filled with stories of the day's proceedings at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The personal stories are harrowing and I find it difficult to comprehend that what now seems like an epidemic was hidden for so long. The stories are also littered with brave souls deciding to speak up and then being further victimised in the way the institutions responded to the complaint. Often one of the things being sought was an apology. Frequently, the institution receiving the complaint was a faith based organisation. I can imagine these organisations are proud of values like compassion, respect, justice and empathy. Money was usually offered and usually rejected as the apology remained missing in action.

Australia's most senior Roman Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, recently apologised to abuse victim John Ellis. As I watched, I didn't notice what was said because I was so overwhelmed by the fact that he wasn't looking at the person to whom he was apologising. It just looked like a person going through the expected steps, rather than demonstrating any heart connection. (I can't judge intention, but am reflecting on what was being transmitted on the visual communication channel.)

Tonight I also heard that two years ago, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, apologised to the families of people killed at the Hillsborough soccer stadium twenty-five years ago.

Apologies are so often sought. I wonder at the satisfaction when they are received. What is the essential quality that causes the apology to be received in a way that it goes some way to repair damage and hurt?

Australia has its own long record of grappling with the question of saying sorry to our indigenous people. I could always embrace the idea that one should be offered because it just seemed like the decent thing to do. In February I was listening to the radio in the car, while I drove across town. The show was being broadcast from a concert to mark the anniversary of the apology which was eventually delivered by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Kutcha Edwards talked about the wound that indigenous Australians have as a result of the removal of children (the stolen generations). He talked about that when you're wounded you have less capacity to deal with further pain; while ever that wound is left unattended it will fester and ache and ooze and weep. The wound needs to be tended to, so that it can begin to heal.

I listened and the tears rolled. It was the most humble and sensible description I had ever heard.

We know the power of words - to heal or inflict pain - so why is it so hard to say sorry with truth and sincerity? Perhaps it' s the surrender of the ego as wrongdoing is admitted. In order to reach this point, empathy needs to be felt and demonstrated.

Kutcha Edwards also made me rethink my working definition of empathy when the broadcaster raised the family metaphor of "walking in another's shoes". Mr Edwards pounced and said that this was not enough; the understanding needs to be deepened so there is appreciation for why a person is in a particular pair of shoes.


I was in Federation Square in Melbourne, as the community gathered together to hear the Prime Minister apologise on behalf of white Australians. I cried. I stood amongst others who were also moved.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard also apologised to mothers and their children who were separated at birth through policies of enforced adoption. It was overshadowed by the internal political shenanigans of the Labor Party at the time, but I remember being just as moved.

It seems we have a lot to say sorry for as a country and probably as individuals too. Have you apologised lately? Perhaps you've received an apology - what made it work? or fail?