I’m not the first to find America hard!

Nothing new about that title, what’s new is that I’ve found I’m not the first in my genetic lineage to find America hard and choose Australia instead. Meet George William Parkinson, my great-great grandfather. [I’m guessing that’s a painted back drop for the photograph, which raises the question, why roses George? Why rambling roses? Nice bow-tie and fob-watch by the way]

Gold Miner Ancestor Grannys Side George Parkinson

Despite looking kindly enough, my Grandmother, his granddaughter, said he was grumpy. She also had a story about his bowed legs, but if I told that now I would be getting ahead of myself. You’d be grumpy too if you’d had the pain in your legs that he probably had everyday since he was 11 years’ old.

George was born on the 5th of March 1838 in Bristol, Gloucestershire, to John Parkinson and Mary Anne Parkinson née Cole (pictured above), who were at the time both 18. George was followed over the next eight years by brothers Arthur and Thomas. John was an upholsterer and all seemed perhaps straightforward enough for the growing family. We will never know how they heard the news of Californian gold, or exactly what caught John’s imagination, but in 1848 he and George headed for New Orleans on the ship, The United States. John and George (aged 11) arrived in New Orleans on January 31st 1849 and headed up the Mississippi to join the overland route for California and gold. Yup, they were ’49 ers.

Here Granny’s story departs from the constraints of linear time. Her story had young George at the Battle of Little Bighorn, his life being saved only because on the day before the deaths of Col. Custer and all his men, George’s horse rolled on him breaking both his legs. Having been evacuated for medical attention he avoided the slaughter. George certainly had bowed legs, but Custer’s Last Stand, known to the Lakota and other Plains Indians as the Battle of the Greasy Grass, did not happen until 1876. By that time George was married and a proud father in Australia. Never let facts get in the way of a good story. Again we will never know, but I wonder if George’s horse did roll on him at some point on the wagon journey across to Sutter’s Creek. Accidents must have been regular. Perhaps because of his injury George and John left their fellow travellers, who were later massacred. Perhaps George’s broken legs saved their lives. Perhaps a growing lad with poor diet who rode a horse for months across America just developed bowed legs. We will never know.

I am again speculating, but forgive me, no one in my family tree has ever been rich so I suspect John was a better upholsterer than gold miner. The next we hear of John and George they are in Victoria, again chasing that most elusive metal as part of the Ballarat gold rush. The Victorian gold rush began in 1851, and father and son must have arrived in Victoria by 1853, because in May 1854 George gained a third younger brother, James Henry.

Star of the EastThis had me intrigued. How and where did the family reunite? I cannot find any passenger lists showing John or George leaving California. And why on earth did Mary Anne agree to the family joining a second gold rush? I thought perhaps she had no choice if mail arrived from California telling her that John and George had moved on, calling her to join them. But then I found record of a John Parkinson and company of 1 arriving in Melbourne on September 1852 on the Clipper Star of the East; a ship that sailed out of Liverpool. Liverpool is a long way from California.

I looked on in the Unassisted Passenger Lists, and there she is, Parkinson Mary Anne, arrived Melbourne, December 23rd 1852 onboard the Covenanter (great name for a Presbyterian). Now this advert is not for Mary Anne’s sailing it’s for Progress, a ship to be succeeded by the new Covenanter. When I read it the first time I missed the ship’s name and imagined it somehow took over six months to arrive. I bet Mary Anne’s glad I was wrong, that does seem unreasonably long. Six months in a leaky boat notwithstanding. But now we know something of the Covenanter; it was new. And it is another bit of rich context:

Covenanter 10 Jul 1852

It seems that our Mary Anne arrived in time to cook Christmas dinner 1852, just three months after John arrived. I wonder if he knew she was coming? I started to wonder, am I saying that John and George returned to Bristol to collect Mary Anne and the boys? That’s romantic dedication if you’re at a gold rush in California. Maybe George’s accident was earlier on in their journey than I had assumed and in fact the two returned to Bristol without reaching their dream of Californian gold. Thwarted by these United States, did they too return home before setting out again in 1852. Frequent sailing miles? Maybe, but I repeat my question, why on earth did Mary Anne agree to a second gold rush? I am however not at all surprised that this time she refused to be left at home. Although I am curious why they didn’t all travel together.

Mary Anne is a very interesting woman; one of several I’m proud to list among my ancestresses. We guessed didn’t we that she and John were not affluent in 1848, perhaps John wasn’t the greatest upholsterer or perhaps his dreams were just bigger than his abilities. But whatever the reason, when he and George headed off in search of fortune in California, Arthur was sent to his grandparents while Mary Anne and Thomas went to the Stapleton Poor Asylum. Interestingly they weren’t admitted, they went at the instigation of their church, who arranged that Mary Anne would be trained as a nurse and midwife in return for board and lodging. That’s right, in 1848, Mary Anne was a single mother, separated from two of her children, working in an asylum and workhouse, training as a midwife and nurse. She does look capable doesn’t she. That photo up the top of this post is Mary Anne. And whether travelling with John and George or without, in 1852 she travelled with two small children to Victoria.

Mary Anne and John had a total of six children over 23 years. She died of pneumonia in 1879 at the age of 59 (women in my family don’t make old bones), in Auckland New Zealand. Of course they didn’t stay in Victoria, I mean there was a perfectly good gold rush south east of Auckland in the 1860s. I am only surprised John didn’t drag her over the Pacific to Chile.

Our George of the bowed legs, who was not at the Battle of the Greasy Grass, married Susannah Elizabeth Norris in 1866 in Fitzroy, Victoria. Poor Susannah died the next year and George then married Emily Browell and they had six children together. He died on 17 May 1920 in Footscray, Victoria, at the age of 82 and was buried with Masonic rites. George’s eldest son, Frederick Arthur Parkinson was my great-grandfather. My Poppa. To my knowledge he never left Victoria, but perhaps there’s something poetic in the fact that in this photograph he appears to be wearing moccasins. Or am I imagining…

Poppa Parkinson

 

Reading in a time of isolation

When we’re all feeling too overloaded by reality at the moment there’s nothing like a Lord of the Rings marathon to escape for a few hours from a world of hand-washing. There’s even a relevant parallel – Frodo went to Mordor to destroy something that was causing people to die, we have to stay isolated to stop something that is killing people, and it is something that we have the power to stop. Be like Frodo, do what has to be done, stay self-isolated – you’re saving someone’s life, maybe lots of someones. Enough rant, maybe. At least for now. But even I can only rewatch LoR so many times in a week, so last night I started watching Hanna – excellent, love it. Only one series (so far) so the binge won’t go too long and I’ll be back to reading!

Mmm reading, actual books, mmmm… when your brain starts to recover enough from the shock of adjusting to this world we’re currently working out how to live in, y’all are going to need to progress from the electronic box and read. And like I can’t always rewatch LoR, I can’t always read work stuff, love it though I do (I could write a post of all the anthropology stuff I plan on reading, now that would be speculative fiction). But back to published fiction written by others for my/our enjoyment. I recently asked my FB friends for recommendations, I was looking for something light or fun or mindlessly violent. I didn’t want to think too much, at the moment I’m being paid to think and sometimes we all just need a little gratuitous…. imagination to get us through. I offered bonus points for female authors since that’s still a penchant of mine. I’ll include their list below, or I might just weave them in, but for now I need to repay their generosity with a list of my own.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club Book 1) by [Goss, Theodora]In a previous post I recommended Theodora Goss’s now complete trilogy The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, and The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl. Love them all, totally what I’d love to be reading more of at the moment, but I’ve finished the series and so has Goss. Sniff. If you want some fantasy whimsy you can’t go past Laini Taylor and her trilogy that starts with Daughter of Smoke and Bone

“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love.
It did not end well”

my heart aches… luscious indulgence, blue hair and chocolate cake… I mentioned one of her books Night of Cake and Puppets once before. Just divine. When I want something divine I’m with my FB beloveds who are always happy to recommend any Kerry Greenwood, do yourself a favour, read them… Corrina Chapman, Miss Fisher… read them all. I also agree with my recommenders that Kate Atkinson is awesome and I can’t wait to read Big Sky. Wonderful Chicago based crime and flawed heroine VI Warshawski is always reliable at the hands of Sara Paretsky, wonderful local crime stuff.

Bad Memory (Jessica Shaw Book 2) by [Gray, Lisa]Also in crime, yes I’m realising that I’ve spent a lot of time in crime and mindless violence lately for some reason… anyway, also in crime is Lisa Gray who started a Jessica Shaw series that’s in a style similar to Sara Gran. These are both young women writers, very definitely writing for an anti-heroine millennial audience – these are raw, broken protagonists and totally awesome. Not for the reader who doesn’t accept that their young protagonists may do drugs and go off the rails from time to time. Speaking of millennials, an awesome young friend recommended Sally Rooney’s Normal People, and while I’m only two chapters in, I’m really enjoying it. Unique writing style that takes you way inside the characters, really great. Thanks Rohan.

My number one recommendation follows that trajectory of flawed life and crime: Alexandra Sokolov has just finished her 6 part series that I’m prepared to call as being the current Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I’ve been reading these as published, and you must read them in order. OMFG. Violent. Inside America today. Just absolutely brilliant if you like your FBI agents conflicted, your vigilante’s hot and feminist, and the world a bit better without some toxic masculinity. Justice. Do yourself a favour, lock the door, claim the couch and read the Huntress FBI Thrillers.

Another writer I adore who has flawed incredibly powerful female protagonists is Nicola Griffith. Aud (rhyme’s with shroud) Torvingen is everything you want in an angry empowered woman breaking things for justice. The first book is The Blue Place, followed by Stay and Always. I am inviting you to pain however as not all of those are available in e-format everywhere. Griffith also writes SciFi that for mine is up there with Ursula Le Guin in terms of it’s creativity and depth: Ammonite is a mistress-piece. Also in the most amazing sci-fi tradition of Le Guin is NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy (finished). Just breathtakingly awesome, fabulous. Can’t believe I hadn’t read them earlier. I see that there are more Jemisin books for me to read, so yay for that!! If you were a fan of Iain M Banks, who I forgive for being a man, you’ll love Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series. Wow. I’ve only read the first but wow. Really complex so I would say I’m going to re-read the first one and then keep going in order, just because it’s hard to keep straight in your head and to be honest I just don’t remember the characters well enough at this point.

Back to Nicola Griffith’s though, proving the enormity of her talent is Hild, her historical reimagining of the life of Hildegard the Abbess of Whitby, long before her conversion. Just brilliant historical fictionalization, luscious and rich and womanly.

I stThe Ides of April: A Flavia Albia Mystery (Flavia Albia Mystery Series Book 1) by [Davis, Lindsey]ill mourn the passing of Ariana Franklin (Diana Norman), I loved her Mistress of the Art of Death series, must read some of the books she published as Diana Norman. Of course I also enjoy Cassandra Clark’s Hildegard of Meaux books AND in writing this I’ve just discovered there are two I haven’t read yet!! YAY, happy Wendy. Staying in historical fiction, Lindsey Davis has a new book coming and I do totally love her Flavia Alba novels set in Ancient Rome and focusing on of course Flavia Alba, a private eye and hysterically funny young wife. Awesome fun. Very dry.

I have some Indigenous Australian and American women on my kindle sample list – looking forward to those, but there are some days when risking a new author feels like a gamble I’m not up for at the moment. One I read a while back is Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby and it was great if you’re looking for Australian Indigenous writing about life being an Indigenous woman today. And I see she has another Too much Lip, that I must look at.

I MUST get myself into Toni Morrison, unforgivable to be hesitating, I have the Song of Solomon waiting. If you’re looking for Black American heartache of the most contemporary kind I recommend Jesmyn Ward’s Men we Reaped. It is such an important book, Black Lives Matter y’all, and those young men were killed by the violence of the American system… it’s a compulsory read now that I pause and reflect. Read more Black women folks!

While I’m on my soapbox about race and equity and justice I’m also getting picky as I get older, not only do I prefer reading women writers, but if I’m going to read a book set in Africa about African people I want it written by an African woman writer… so sorry I’ve gone right off Alexander McCall Smith… sad because I did love those books, but these day’s I see it as cultural appropriation and I’m not comfortable with that. I’d rather go looking for the awesome African women writers like Chimaamanda Ngozi Adichie. I find Olivia Butler’s writing not to my taste, but for African Sci-Fi I believe you can’t go past Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti series – loved that to bits. I like the look of Elif Shafak’s work too although I’m yet to read those. If you’re looking for Palestine I recommend Consuelo Saah Baehr’s Three Daughters, it’s really special. Of course the Title image for this post is from a book by the late Marsha Mehran, an Iranian refugee who wrote two of the world’s most beautiful books Pomegranate Soup and Rosewater and Soda Bread, they’re about being a woman from Iran adjusting to life in Ireland. A struggle that Mehran herself was tragically unable to make.

For those of you in Asia and in need of a laugh I strongly recommend Ovidia Yu – just so much fun. She has two crime investigation series set in Singapore: Aunty Lee is set in current times and is full of wonderful cooking, I swear you can taste the page. Su Lin instead inhabits pre-WWII Singapore and the first book is The Frangipani Tree: it is a total delight. I’m currently listening to The Tensorate Series which is brilliant sci-fantasy from Singaporean queer non-binary author JY Yang. Totally fabulous to inhabit a gender fluid, sci-fi universe that has no white colonising cowboys (we all know I love Firefly, but you also all know exactly what I mean by this comment). French/Vietnamese American author Aliette de Bodard has three really enjoyable Asian sci fi books in The Universe of Xuya series. Now that I’ve looked at her webpage there are recipes and more books to try. I especially like the ideas of her Vietnamese inspired retelling of Beauty and the Beast where they’re both women and the Beast is a dragon… curious!

And while we are in Asia but returning to America, do read The Healer’s War by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. It’s a fictionalised fantasy autobiography that is really worth taking the time to explore.

That should be enough to keep you occupied for now, do let me know if you have other ideas to add to my pile of potentials. There are so many worlds in our imaginations just waiting for a text to unlock their potential…

So if you’re thinking about going and socialising, remember grab a book instead. There will be a day for meeting up with friends,

Image result for this is not that day

 

Proven Survival tools in Chicago

IMG_4861America is odd, an intensive MA is… intense, winter has been arctic vortex insane, and I’ve been neglecting you all rather than bombarding you with exhausted monologues of frustration and tears. But spring has sprung, the grass is ris’, the end is approaching (of my MA and possibly civilisation as we know it, but let’s not despair). We are lovers and fighters and we don’t give up for anyone. I thought tonight I’d share some of the soul-food that has sustained me over the seven and a half months that I’ve been here. It’s free advertising for the capitalists who benefit from your purchases, fetishes and consumptionisms, but see how you go enjoying my suggestions…

The Marvellous Mrs Maisel… it’s hilarious, she’s brilliant. It’s empowering in a quiet yeah don’t give up kinda way. It’s discretely feminist in a who needs men other than for sex occasionally kinda way, there’s no violence. Did I mention that it’s hilarious? Wish there was more tv like this – it’s from the writers of the Gilmore Girls so I wonder if any of you watched that? Maybe I wish she drank less because really women, we don’t have to drink like fish to be successful, just like we don’t always need men and fish don’t need bicycles. Scenes in the second season in Paris… love, love, love. Oh Paris… so sad on so many levels for so many reasons. Oh Paris…

Of course if you binge watch it right before giving a class presentation you might find yourself giving high speed asides on family dysfunction that are related although tangential to your topic and seemed funny to you but may have gone over the heads of your class since it is morning in America and you are not Mrs Maisel.

Reading about women getting on with living and inspiring us all to believe that we can… Ariel Gore’s We Were Witches – I would never read a novel about a just-gone-teenage American woman living in poverty, going to college with a baby, coming out… it is brilliant. I read it in a day, another beloved friend stayed up most of last night reading it. Just so wonderful on more levels than I know how to say.

IMG_5331Reading fiction about women doing fabulous things after not being given an easy start in life, without spending agonising pages on self reflection and guilt trips… Theodore Goss The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, and the follow up which was equally as luscious, European Travels for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. All those awful male Gothic scientists like Moreau and Rappaccini and Jeckel and Hyde, well Goss has blessed them with intelligent, wilful, hilarious and damaged daughters who seriously kick their fathers in the reproductive-selfishness organs… and Gothic scientific society where it hurts. I laughed out loud, they’re brilliant. Oh and when I’m trying not to think before sleeping but can’t afford the time of a novel or the risk of binge watching a series of tv, I’m reading Ursula le Guin short stories and talks in bed, with a warm turmeric and cocoa drink.

Ooops missed another series that’s beyond delectable – an ageing Sherlock meets and marries a far too young Mary Russell (“My wife reads theology at Oxford.” “Of course she does”). Ah Laurie King – love them, they’re delicious… at times ethnocentric and a touch creepy given the age differences, but luscious and a good giggle in a feminist, even a fish likes to cycle occasionally kind of way.

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Reading really important Australian Indigenous serious truths about knowing about what was happening in our beloved land before invasion… Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu should be obligatory, mandatory, do not pass Go, reading for every Australian. READ IT. Then do yourself a favour and read Griffiths Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia. It is frankly terrifying how new white-scientific knowledge about Indigenous people, culture and history is, how ignorant white-Australia remains, we need to get educated Australia. READ IT. Think deeply. You might even find your change your mind on some important things.

Now I should be studying, but Pooper the wonder dog upstairs has been barking for hours which is also stopping me going to bed… so it’s time for a sing-a-long. Or listening to Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto LOUD. True, not at all a feminist piece unless you’ve watched episode 10 of season one of Sense8, in which case you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about in terms of a feminist imagining of listening to The Emperor. Luxuriate in it. Remember the potential for awesomeness that was born when you emerged and took your first breath. OMG pop culture leap, the Emperor, is Rey going to have to do an Arya and stick it to the evil dead? Where would the universes be without women getting on and doing the work that just needs doing? You have watched Sense8 haven’t you?

IMG_E5395

Another miracle is the new Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier album, The Words of Men. When we saw them trial the album, Deb wanted to call the band “Deborah Conway’s Toxic Masculinity.” We laughed. It wasn’t just the wine. I think they’ve mis-named my favourite track: they called it Don’t You Forget Me. It really should be called Let’s Drink to Getting Old – it would be played at every Gen X significant birthday party for the next fifty years. Do yourself a favour – it’s on youtube, you don’t even have to pay – give it a listen, sing-a-long. Sing-a-long LOUD with ear-phones in while walking in the rain at a top-10 university in North America. Toast total strangers with your umbrella… only realise later that it’s beyond fortunate that nobody called the authorities to report you as having a mental crisis and being in need of shooting. But hey, do yourself a favour, listen, sing-a-long discretely. Somewhere safe. It will do you good deep in your soul. It’s good to be having the chance to be getting old(er)… we love too many who didn’t get that opportunity. Cease the Day.

Life is miraculous, we have to be here for each other somehow. I understand why people love spring when they’ve had real winter – why Easter is celebrated in spring. I worked out why I’ve been photographing so many flowers – that little bulbs could survive out there under the earth, under the snow, and then with just the provocation and encouragement of a little warmth they rise and produce such wondrous hope. It’s enough to make even the most lonely, damaged soul feel like there can be new life.

Oh, the below images are from the best gallery I’ve ever visited – big call. It’s in Baltimore and it’s called the Walters Art Museum. I did try to label the images so you could see the names and artists. The Japanese sculpture was exquisite. Very very good for the feminist soul when dead rich white men leave us wonders to enjoy!

Friday night is West Side Story (Lyric Opera), Saturday’s a cohort Chicago’s Architecture booze cruise, and Sunday (afternoon thankfully) it’s Greek Independence Day parade – research for my study of ethnic identity in America. What a pity they’ve forgotten how to make Greek Coffee. Sigh… see you there!

To Hellfire Pass and Back, Hallelujah

Soundtrack, a very broken Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen,
performed by  Jeff Buckley

img_7472I’ve never been one for war memorials, I’ve been to one Dawn Service, never felt I wanted to go to Gallipoli. But something in me jumped at the chance to take a trip to the River Kwai, it just seemed right somehow. I didn’t really even think about what it would be, just knew I had to go. It seemed like a good reason for having found myself in Thailand.

You might question my soundtrack recommendation for this post, but it seems so right to me, the rough, broken emptiness of the empty Hallelujah of Cohen crying for meaning. And performed by Jeff Buckley, the spaces between the guitar strings become the spaces in a disillusioned heart full of longing. For me, the sun-baked jungle mountains reached out to sons of a sun-burnt country whose faith was formed in suffering in a sun-parched Judea, until it resonated with a very hot agonised human thirst for meaning. I hope you’ll come to agree that the Hallelujah respects the spirit of those men, who, although broken, dying, tortured in body, mind and soul, even in death, still remained human, remained Australian, and endured.

Now, I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing hallelujah

Our journey to Hellfire Pass started at the War Cemetery in Kanchanaburi where almost 7,000 graves attest to the 15,000 total POW deaths, and signal the some 100,000 Asian civilian deaths, lives that were lost building the infamous Thai-Burma railway between 1942 and 1943. Such a short time for so much death.

Standing among the graves of unknown soldiers I felt moved to sing Amazing Grace. Wandering I saw a crocheted poppy, symbol from last Remembrance Day. A friend of mine made several of those and here I was seeing one in Thailand. How far our simple acts of love and compassion can reach.

Hallelujah
Hallelujah

People from our group found the graves of some for whom they had come to pay respects. Already moved, we moved on to the site of the Bridge over the River Kwai. Bombed and destroyed and rebuilt it doesn’t seem to meet the size of David Niven, but the agony is bigger, somehow in every rail, in every sleeper, every rivet.

I had to go and look at the locomotives, two original rails re-laid, somehow they made it more real.

I love that in South East Asia there seems to be this habit of building temples near sites of suffering and death. As though prayer and stillness could ease the souls, the grief, the pain. I like it at the very least as a sign of respect and reverence.

Hallelujah
Hallelujah

I’m not even sure now how much I knew about Hellfire Pass before yesterday. We got to the museum, which is so fitting, and the thing that struck me most… a sign that said: there are no artefacts in this museum. The men who suffered and died here brought nothing with them to leave behind.

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the hallelujah

Warned about the number of stairs (121) and the “rough” track I headed off down the path to Hellfire Pass.

The rail bed is immediately impressive. Yes it’s been cleared and maintained as a memorial, but the engineer in me says this was a well built railway line. Cut into rock with blood. And the scenery is so gut-wrenchingly beautiful.

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

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I was walking along thinking how impressive it was, how incredible the feat of construction. The roughness of the cliff, cut back in to make the railway line level along the mountain side. It’s rough going even now but what stopped me, brought me up short, were the occasional sleepers still buried in the path. And I remembered again that this was built by men, POWs, by hand. Men brutalised. Feed starvation rations of plain rice, eating insects for protein. Digging through granite at the point of a gun.

And it is impressive. But then I came around a bend and saw the actual Hellfire Pass. And my immediate thought, “It’s an empty tomb.”

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It was called Hellfire Pass because the Japanese forced work 24 hours a day. And as the pass was dug, the conditions and the flames of the fires that lit their work by night, were as close to hell on earth as the men could imagine. And it wasn’t imagination, they were living and dying it.

At that point I started to understand how it was that the war in the Pacific came to a place where it could only end in the otherwise unthinkable use of nuclear bombs.

You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken hallelujah

It seemed kind of kitsch, but I felt I had no option but to take my hat off in awe, in horror, and in wonder. Awe and wonder, at the brokenness of hell, at the empty tomb filled with gut wrenching despair and loss and suffering.

And Mary stood alone outside the empty tomb and wept

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah

I was humbled in the presence of such great spirit.

img_7619Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

After the mist this morning we went to Saiyoknoi Waterfall, where there is no water. But the fallen leaves were being burned and created an eerie, supernatural sense of not being alone in these mountains even today. The tree roots, reaching out like some kind of skeletal being, one still shackled. Still reaching for god and home and meaning. Poppies and flower offerings for peace, on a Japanese loco, in the smoke and the sun and the drought.

Hallelujah

But I was still despairing about humanity. How can people have a future in a world of so much reckless hate? How can we have a future if it’s all happening again? Do we even deserve a future? I wandered off alone, unable to cope with other people.

But inevitably it was back in the van and we were off again to another rock cut railway with wooden trestles and I despaired.

The POWs working this section were herded each night into a cave so they couldn’t escape. And in that cave today: Buddha, incense, prayers for peace. I don’t know why, but it made me pause and wonder, maybe, maybe, maybe, is there some hope for humanity?

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

My mother, the woman I thought I didn’t know

I am lucky to have been mothered in my life by two strong, beautiful, capable women. It took a long time for me to let myself discover in my stepmother a woman and friend that I love and respect. Until now I’d not discovered my mother as a person: she died in 1980, very much still my Mummy. I am lucky now to know and love these two priceless women. It’s wonderful that the human heart can morph, can love without limit or competition or comparison.

There’s a woman in my life I barely knew. Never got to know as a woman, as an independent person. Never got to separate the Woman from the role of Mummy.

Some may say I’m too much in my head, but it was feminist philosophy that hit my triggers, called challenge to my resounding clanging shut bronze defensive doors with many many locks. They said that the most important relationship for a woman to recover, to find herself, to discover human intimacy, to identify herself as a subject in her own right not an object relative to a man, is with her mother. No way. I checked the locks and bars. No mother needed here.

But here I am some eighteen months later, after a long-lost friend of hers telling me how much I am like her, after many more feminist nigglings “Before any woman, before you can see yourself as a person, you need to see your mother as a person, a subject in her own right, an individual not a role, a woman is a woman first, a daughter, wife, mother only thereafter”. After an uncle sharing photographs I didn’t have. Nauseated by endless feminist fiction where the daughter reconciles with her dead misunderstood mother. After visiting her grave and feeling almost nothing, after fleeting thoughts and questions I quickly suppressed. After all that niggling like a buzzing mosquito, on Saturday afternoon I found myself crying in the front bar of a pub. Hugging strangers. Telling all who’d listen that my Mum was there in ’54. Proud to have been born in Footscray. Bulldog Premiers. Singing under my breath the old words, words she held more dear than any hymn. It felt like it was time, not just for the Bulldogs but for us.

So here I am trying to identify for myself the woman, my Mum. To look at footsteps 36 years faded, and find a person. A woman.

I know she was loyal – perhaps to a fault. Loyal to her beloved Bullies, to family. Loyalty reciprocated by friends, even after her death. Fierce loyalty that could look a lot like stubbornness. She wasn’t shy, afraid to stand up for what she thought was hers, or afraid to speak her mind: I sure learned those traits young.

She was active in trying to get me the best. No pre-school near our home? She formed a committee, and it opened the year after I started primary school. No primary school near our home? She drove a parents’ council so one was built, opening for my Grade 6, just over a year before she died. She sewed my Barbie clothes when we couldn’t afford to buy them. She worried if the new high school would be good enough for me.

She loved food, and friends and wine. To party. She was vibrant. I think she laughed. Yes she laughed, I remember she laughed at other mothers’ horror when she brought me to my ballet concert covered in charcoal from my school concert chimney sweeping debut. Cleaned me up and sent me out to be a queen. She struggled with weight, but I remember soft enveloping hugs. I missed those hugs. She loved apricot – the colour, the fruit, jam, especially apricot flowers. And purple, I mean who has a purple toilet? I guess it was the 70’s. She didn’t drive and was afraid of water. She was afraid a lot I think, and isolated. She found a sister in my Aunt. She wrote ILY randomly through the calendar of 1980 on dates after she knew she would have died.

She was the queen of lists, she would have been dangerous had she lived to wield a spreadsheet. She worked as a book keeper then shop keeper. She could budget. On holidays we played cards, 500 and canasta. She had a home she loved, with simple treasures – glass reindeer, a trio of dalmatians, albums of Pat Boone and Johnny O’Keefe, Elvis and Bill Haley & the Comets. She loved Christmas planning, laying out the presents months in advance. She hated ironing. She was passionate in love and temper and joy. She beat herself up when she thought she didn’t meet her own standards. She and my Dad took turns to hold me when I had nightmares.

She was fallible, but aren’t we all. She wore pink, had manicured nails. She loved me. She laughed so hard she cried when I dropped the tablecloth out the apartment window and it caught on pipes halfway down.

bulldogs-1954Her mother died in Footscray. She and I were both born in Footscray Hospital. Her Dad was a life member at Footscray. Their blood ran red, white and blue. So I stood, tears flowing, in a Queensland bar surrounded by strangers, singing Son’s of the ‘scray, the red, white and blue. 62 years after she screamed herself hoarse when they last brought home the flag. And I think I met a woman with blue eyes, a voluptuous love, and a loyal generous heart.