On camping

enchanted forest

It’s spring, and as I mow, my mind rattles with minutiae and skittering thoughts shaken loose by motion and noise of the old petrol push-mower. How do I prove that my mother is stubborn? Where are all the great male muses, historically speaking? Do I think enough about intersectionality, or am I only looking for confirmation of my own experiences in feminist writings? Is the written word really addictive, or do R. and I have the kind of natures that would make pretty well anything open to abuse? When I sit down to blog, however, I find I am thinking about something else entirely. I live amongst people who don’t camp.

Most of my late teens, twenties and early thirties were spent in tents. My family, my partners, my friends, all camped pretty well every time they went anywhere. The first time I returned from North Queensland to Sydney and slept in a small flat in Chatswood after months of camping, I felt strangely confined in thought, as well as in person. I lost my virginity in a tent; I worked on farms up and down the eastern side of Australia, and pretty well always went back to a tent at the end of the day; I made my home in tents on five continents, over fourteen years. Then I bought the witches cottage and I wasn’t a nomad anymore.

I have of course camped since. A. and I camped out in a national park near Armidale on a trip to a protest rally, and were stalked by a malevolent possum. My sister R and her husband took us camping in the wildest part of Poland, on the Biebrza River, on the first overseas trip Owl ever took. We camped for five days; Owl getting increasingly whiny about the fact that his excessively bony ribs dug into the ground despite an air mattress that I claimed was for the feeble. We camped, too, with our friends W & M, in Norway, where the camping laws are beautifully free and easy (500 m from a dwelling, not on tilled soil), and where Owl discovered the joys of baby wipes and no longer felt sullied by being exposed to filthy wood-smoke and the grime of the woods. KLM lost the tent I had packed up wet, and it re-emerged three days later – the Owl felt the odour was enough to function as some kind of aversion therapy, but I remained sentimental about the fragments of Norwegian moss that snuck back into Australia past AQIS. But these short forays are not the same as those marathon sessions, often of months at a time, of living separated from the night by only a thin layer of taffeta and a slightly thicker one of tarpaulin, or, on fine nights, just a layer of mesh.

My intimates now are generally of the resistant kind. At Byron Writers Festival I threatened to book a campsite, but my companion’s need for solid walls was vindicated when it rained incessantly the whole time we were there. I actually have close friends with whom I have never camped. In my twenties, this would have been unthinkable.

I think perhaps I need to undertake some re-education. Maybe do a bit of brainwashing. I don’t really want to have to find new friends, I hate people too much.

*this post was intended to have photos, but wordpress is being a bitch. Photos may or may  not follow later.


‘Twas the night before census

I’m a geographer. This means I have a sneaking fondness for Census. The data may be flawed, the ABS might have royally pissed everyone off in one of the greatest marketing fails since Hannibal thought elephants might win the locals over, but it’s all we’ve got, and sometimes I need data to make a point, however specious.

I also love the outrage. I love how people who have no problem documenting their every move on Facebook/ Instagram/ Snapchat/ Twitter  suddenly become apoplectic with fury because someone has asked them to attach their name to their income and their religion. Perfectly reasonable humans who have store cards for every shop in town go into meltdown because ‘someone is trying to collect my data’.  Peeps, we know you can’t use an apostrophe. We’ve seen you making duck-faces. Your name was attached to the ad for ‘mature local men looking for a relationship’. It is already too late. If you use an IGA card, someone somewhere already knows when you buy lube. The credit card company knows what you bought at the Avid Reader last time you were left alone pissed with the internet. Think about that for a moment.

This Census-season we have the usual round of hating on anyone who has a different imaginary friend, and lots of the material is recycled. I am using this particular example, because for some reason it is the one I have had the most exposure to this year.


This has been passed to me by a lawyer friend.

Is it the same lawyer friend for everyone who has posted this? She must have a lot of friends. In diverse spheres.


As you may or may not realise, the next Australian Census will be taken in one month on Tuesday, 9th August, 2016.

If you haven’t realised, you are missing one vital credential for taking part.


For the first time this year there will be a No Religion option.

Actually, not true. It’s just the structure that has changed. Please see attached.


Please be careful how you answer this question. Bear in mind that although many Australians have no religion these days, the Muslim population in Australia will all declare that they are Muslim and this fact will be counted to ascertain what type of country we are in regard to religion.

Just for the moment, let us overlook the use of  one of my favourite phrases ‘in regard to’. If I started editing this dreck for Watson-approved language, I could be here all night, and there isn’t enough alcohol in all the world for that. Let us look instead at the last Census, in 2011. The percentage of the population who identified as Muslim was somewhere just over 2%. My partner likes to buy lotto tickets, and when playing lotto, these would be quite good odds, comparatively. However, as a winning-percentage-of-imaginary-friend votes? Negligible. Hinduism is actually growing slightly faster.

Even though you may now have no religion, please consider entering the religion you were christened or born into, when answering this question.

This is great advice for 90% of the people I know who are still dealing with the long-term trauma caused by the religion they  were ‘christened into or born into’. Would you like to Skype my parents regarding this matter?

Otherwise in time Australia will officially be declared to be a Muslim country because the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census will reflect this. Just imagine the repercussions if that were to happen.

What repercussions are we imagining here? If we (god forbid) see after Census that we have a slightly larger Islamic population than last time, we might get more funding for schools in areas, like western Sydney, that struggle a little AND have a proportionally slightly higher Muslim population. Improved education? More culturally sensitive health-care? More targeted social services? These are the repercussions I am imagining: services and funding that lessen the chance of feeling socially isolated and alienated, and subsequently reduce the chances of falling into potentially bad company.

For Australia’s future I would ask you to please pass this message on to your family members and friends

For Australia’s future, I am doing just that. I’ve edited it a bit, for clarity.

P.S. Might want to get your head round what the Nicene Creed actually is, as well.

Scenes from the end-times

My co-worker K rings me crying on a Thursday afternoon, and my first thought is that someone is dead, because that seems to me to be the only thing that would make K cry. It is almost a relief when I find out that it is merely that council has withdrawn funding from the local tourism body, and we have all been sacked.

I have been working on farms for the course of my degree when I started volunteering at the information centre, driven by an interest in the other side of the region that I had previously only seen as an interloper, a transient, an itinerant, a seasonal worker. I have bought a house; I have committed to staying, and suddenly I see the region from a different perspective.

It is a novelty to be warm, clean and to have to brush my hair and iron an article of clothing to go to work. This novelty wears off rapidly. It is also a novelty to work in an environment of supportive women, and this novelty does not wear off; later I understand just how rare is this environment, this strong wish for each other to do things well.

Karen and Jane teach me all the things that years of working in male-dominated industries have not, and they educate me in the importance of communicating in job-share arrangements. Neither woman would describe herself as a feminist, but that is what I see in their careful sharing of information, their gentle corrections whenever I fuck up, which is reasonably often, their insistence on leaving long and incredibly detailed notes at handover, their willingness to show me new skills and their vocal acknowledgement of the one or two things that I actually do well. When they retire, I suddenly understand that this was  a unique working relationship that I will always be attempting to replicate.

The first week after the sacking is the most difficult. I question my value. I whine to anyone who will listen. I worry about my finances. I cancel plans to go and look at the motorbike that was going to typify my mid-life crisis. I wonder how high my blood pressure is, but rather than checking, I run further every morning than I ever have before. The dogs hate this, and complain loudly when I eschew the turnoff that means home and breakfast.

The first weekend I have to go into work is dreadful. There is no point making any long –range plans. Some of my pet projects are obviously not going to go ahead, and I save them to my memory stick and remove them from the office computer, feeling like I am burying them alive.

The second week, something changes. I am talking with my  friend R about work-life balance, and the things we could do if we only had time; specifically the mental filing cabinet we both keep of things we want to read, and the occasional fantasy about writing something. Suddenly I feel  a sense of possibility. Which does not deter me from applying for the new job when it is advertised, and spending my alleged ‘day off’ over-preparing for an interview.

Competent friends give me good sartorial advice – the stylist par excellence among them emphasising a need to wear comfortable underwear. My friend M kindly offers me a patented ‘close of interview’ speech that he maintains has never failed. I wear shoes and makeup, speak in grammatical complete sentences, don’t swear and reiterate my competence in every way.

I return to the car to find I have left the headlights on and killed the battery. I ponder whether this need to groom for an occasion has in fact contributed to me behaving like a ditsy femme, and gulp outdoor air after an hour talking non-stop to a panel in a windowless room. Then I bail up a couple of tradies and ask them to help me clutch-start the Quoll-Hunter.



Werewolf running

My sister R. maintains here that she has sucked at every sport she has ever tried.

It was disconcerting for me to read that. I always think of her as reasonably athletic, and wonder where that leaves me in the scheme of things. I never sucked at hockey because I never tried, but I sucked majorly at roller-blading, and regularly hurt myself at a running speed considerably slower and designed to cover less distance than R. manages.

I run early in the  mornings because I have dogs, and because I am a fidgety and have trouble sitting down or thinking things through if I don’t take off some of the edge first thing in the morning. I run to think (and to listen to the news, during election years) without the Owl giving me commentary designed to distract and annoy in the background. In summer I run with bare feet because my friend R. and I read Christopher McDougall’s  ‘Born to run’ and immediately fancied ourselves as incipient  Tarahumara runners with less stamina, less alcohol and less propensity to indulge in orgies with our neighbours. In winter I run in vibrams, a t-shirt and mittens, because my thermostat works roughly like those in old Japanese petrol motors. Emmy and Loki tangle me up in their leashes so often that I have a permanent chain-mark on Emmy’s leg, and rope-burn on Loki’s.

My favourite runs are the runs around full moon between summer solstice and autumn equinox. Everything is monochrome, and we can go further through the stripy silver bush and up the hill behind the creek, dry this season, where wide swathes of grass have been cut, and a trail with stubble that is hard on unshod feet snakes across the hillside.  It is the end of May, and this morning we followed the full moon up Herding Yard Creek with our paws all uncovered. Winter is nowhere near.

Personally, I blame Greg Hunt. He’s got goblin ears.


The real and the imagined

My friend R. has bought a fish van and become one of those mobile purveyors  of fresh seafood you see in rural Australian towns throughout the hinterland. R  is even fonder of bad puns than I am, and there were lots of suggestions for a witty business name (my personal choice would have been The Road Less Trevallyd), although in the event, the business remains named after the previous owner.

In my head I saw the waiting at the docks as the sunrise painted the sky extraordinary colours; the gentle swell of the waves slapping on a dock made of nothing as crude as concrete, and possibly cobbled together from stones and mud. On more turbulent mornings I envisaged small but hardy storm-tossed boats landing with their riggings askew (I’m not entirely sure what an askew rigging would look like, but in my head that sounded sufficiently nautical).

It turns out that what actually happens is this:

You turn up the first time without any reading material, and sit behind some kind of breeze-block wall. The fish-dealer is late. Your curious friend texts you ‘Are you  meeting the trawler?’ You text back ‘By trawler you mean parking behind the warehouse, don’t you?’

Subsequent meetings on the dock see you reading, with relish, the 2014 Ned Kelly award winner. Or doing paperwork. R. maintains that the paperwork was done in a sailor dive bar drinking rum with some feminist pirates, but I have my doubts.

It’s an election year. Unfortunately, you’ll hear almost as much about ‘small business’ as about that other mythical entity ‘the family’.

The upside of an election year is that you all get to be bored by my thoughts again. I won’t even insult you by asking you to follow me on twitter.






In Europe with Ralph

RalphEvery three years we bribe my father to look after the menagerie, and take the winter off to visit the family on the other side of the world. This is a procedure akin to invading a small country with a guerrilla army, and the implications that we have to consider vary ridiculous amounts, just in case we thought we had worked out a foolproof way of getting our arses 17 000 kms.

This year we had to freight the Owl’s medication, pre-loaded in syringes and only stable at a narrow range of temperatures. I had horrific visions of being left behind on the tarmac after the airline decided we were terrorists, or having the medication confiscated and having to decide between the Owl’s health and a trip to Europe (don’t embarrass me by asking what I would have chosen). I rang the airline. I emailed the airline. I filled out some contact forms on-line on the airline website. Everyone promised me it would be ok, so I printed all these promises, and the repeated warning that they would not be able to refrigerate the medication on-board, and the doctors letters in English and Polish. I loaded the esky, hereafter known as ‘Ralph’ after my friend C’s late husband, the original owner, and I placed all our paperwork on the top.

As is the case with so many things I worry about, the oft-stated strict policy of no on-board refrigeration for medication turned out to be totally false. Leggy women in beautiful scarves whisked Ralph away and looked after him – in their concern for Owl’s well-being, we received lots of extra ginger ale, and they all but pre-chewed his food for him (I’ll promote you, Etihad, but if I do, can we have business class next time?) Then no one looked at Ralph, or the letters, until we were departing Frankfurt on the return leg of the journey, whereupon they opened the Polish version, looked bemused, and waved us through.