the lost artist and the dancer

Back in 2007 I had a brief, passionate affair with an artist who drew me with the most extraordinary flair. Who wouldn’t love someone that saw you like this?

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sitting sketch by wei liang liu

His name was Wei liang Liu, he was from the Chinese mainland and spoke limited English, but he could draw like a demon. We visited Rookwood together, he cooked delicious Chinese meals and drew me obsessively, talking vaguely about schemes to make money, wondering whether he should go back to China. He was going to paint me for the Archibald; we set up two huge mirrors at right angles, planning a trio of Jaqis, Primavera style. During lunch break, a passing truck shivered the building and the two mirrors fell with a prolonged, splintering crash. It didn’t seem like a good omen.

Language wasn’t the only barrier between us, and it all ended in frustration and a little shouting on my part, to my eternal shame. We lost touch. I forgot that he had given me an entire sketch pad of exquisite charcoal sketches… until I was sorting a shelf in the dressing room and found them again. What to do with these ravishing images? I decided to sell a few limited edition prints, and keep half the profits for Wei liang.

Now I just have to find him.

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supine reclining sketch by wei liang liu

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inverted reclining sketch by wei liang liu

thoughts on the death of Prince

“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old…”

I thought of posting that on Facebook, but having just spent half a day arguing with someone who was outraged because I shared a list of massacres of Indigenous Australians under the heading “Lest We Forget” a few days, as it happened, before Anzac Day (he accused me of “devaluing our sacred day”, a charge I found insulting to more than myself) I refrained. But Prince’s death haunts me in a way worse than Bowie’s did.

Bowie lived a near-perfect artist’s life. Wild youth, huge following, glamorous relationships, enough troubles to keep him edgy and sensitive, and an apparently serene middle age retaining his reputation for both wisdom and bold experiment. Then a brief but active later age, and enough warning of his demise to leave this world in a fashion worthy of his spectacular life – dropping one of his best albums on us from heaven, as it were. Just so perfect a human (in all his/our flawed, imperfect glory), so well and wisely and generously managed a life, all you can do is offer up a prayer of thanks.

But Prince – Prince dead at 57 from what looks suspiciously like an opiate overdose. Oh no. Prince, caught up in the dark side – that’s sad. I mourn death less sorrowfully than many, especially a timely death. I could be persuaded that Amy Winehouse’s death was timely, in a ghastly, tragic way: she was a burning rocket of a girl – you could mourn what she might have done or become, but you could hardly be shocked or surprised: she wrote herself a short trajectory. But there’s nothing timely in a death at 57 from opiates.

A moment’s speculation: I can’t imagine Prince doing heroin. Opium, sure – prescription drugs, very possibly. Heroin? He just wasn’t that low-rent. I assume the details will come out soon enough.

The thing is, if he was doing opiates, how did he live so long? Or was his youth clean, and only, as middle aged crept toward old age and somehow, maybe, all the prodigious music was no longer enough to quell the demons… did he feel the drive of the ambitious calcifying into the anxieties of the impotent? Did he, amidst all his world, the lavish trappings of success, fear losing himself? I expect we’ll hear he was on painkillers for an injury, but people on opiates for an injury know that an overdose will kill them; he wasn’t that stupid. 57 isn’t young, but it’s too young to bloody die… especially if you’re rich and famous.

Vale, Prince. When Doves Cry is so deep under my skin you can see it in my DNA.

Close Nauru

I know, I had stopped posting here. But this is important. This is a documentation (compiled from published sources by my sister) of conditions on Nauru for asylum-seekers, particularly children – followed by a form letter to send to your MP. It’s an election year – just tell them you won’t vote for them unless they stop supporting current policy. The Greens, Burnside and some state premiers have all offered plausible solutions to end this ongoing atrocity – enough is enough. We need a new conversation, and this is how we start it.

CONDITIONS ON NAURU

photo 01 OPC view

Basic facts about Nauru

  • Nauru is 1500km from the Solomon Islands and 2300km northeast of PNG, and lies almost directly on the equator. Its nearest neighbour is another small island 300km away.
  • Its area is 21 km2 and its population approximately 10,000.       (For comparison, Tasmania is over 68,000 km2 ).
  • Nauru’s sole natural resource and industry is a phosphate mine, employing roughly 10% of the population (ie. they have a 90% unemployment rate).       The reserves are expected to run out in the near future.
  • There is no agriculture industry, though there are wild pigs and fowl on the island.
  • There is no fishing industry.
  • Virtually all food and products are imported.
  • The average income for a full-time worker is around AU$6500 p.a.

Further information can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nauru

General access for the OPC (Offshore Processing Centre)

  • Although the centre is supposedly open, detainees are searched when leaving or entering the camp, including when they go to school. All detainees – adults and children – may be strip-searched.
  • They are regularly intimidated and harassed by the security guards.
  • They are forbidden to take money or food out of the centre.
  • They are forbidden to take smartphones into the centre.
  • They are forbidden to talk to journalists.
  • Journalists who wish to go to Nauru must pay the Nauru Govt an AU$8000 application fee (non-refundable, per person), and the Aust Govt forbids journalists to interview detainees about conditions and insists they submit all material to the govt for clearance before publication.
  • Facebook is banned on Nauru.
  • All staff working in the centre face a 2-year jail term if they speak about conditions in the centre.

Conditions in the centre

  • Most live in tents, with no air-conditioning (Nauru lies almost directly on the equator).
  • Photos provided by refugees show mouldy tent roofs and rusty fans.
  • Refugees have described rats making nests in their pillows, and cockroaches everywhere preventing them from sleeping at night.
  • They are forbidden to have cooking facilities, sharp implements of any kind, glass bottles, blu-tac, and many different kinds of food (including vitamin and protein supplements and chewing gum).
  • They cannot take food out of the dining room (not even a piece of fruit).
  • Much of the food served to them is beyond its use-by date, and many detainees have suffered food poisoning as a result
  • Most longterm detainees have serious vitamin deficiencies which are not being treated.
  • The school in the centre has been closed, and detainee children are supposed to attend Nauruan schools.
  • There is a pre-fab medical unit inside the detention centre (IHMS), which is only available to asylum seekers and OPC staff. Those deemed to be refugees and all Nauruans are compelled to use the Nauru Hospital.
  • IHMS only has very basic equipment, and the 72 babies and children who were the subject of recent reports of being returned to Nauru were in Australia for acute health issues which were beyond the ability of Nauru facilities to treat. (According to several of his statements, Peter Dutton sees this return to Nauru as removing children from detention, because the OPC is described as “open”.)

Conditions outside the centre

  • At school, the children suffer bullying, sexual harassment and corporal punishment
  • The local hospital is in such appalling condition it is detailed separately, below. (All those deemed refugees – as opposed to asylum seekers – are not allowed to use the OPC’s medical centre, and must use the Nauru Hospital.)
  • Once deemed refugees, asylum seekers are released into the Nauruan community. They have no prospect of employment and little prospect of being resettled. Australia still refuses to take them even once deemed refugees. Peter Dutton says they should return to their own country or, if they “don’t want to” do that (a breathtaking ascription of choice to those who have been forced from their homeland!) they may be resettled in a third country…yet NZ recently offered to take all those whose refugee claims have been accepted, and Dutton refused.

The Nauru hospital

  • In a flood area (with normal tropical rainfall, the road outside can be up to 1.5m deep in water)
  • Very dilapidated wooden building
  • No insect screens (necessary for both hygiene and health)
  • Stray dogs wander through the wards looking for food and can attack patients.
  • Peter Dutton said “I’ve been to many hospitals in regional Australia, including in towns where people would say that those hospitals aren’t up to the standard of those in Nauru.” Yet below are real pictures of the Nauru Hospital, taken in October 2015 – after the so-called upgrade for which Peter Dutton claimed $29m was provided. (Apologies for image quality – for the originals please go to Free the Children Nauru on Facebook.)

photo 02 hospital1

photo 03 hospital2

photo 04 hospital3.JPG

photo 05 hospital4

photo 06 hospital5

photo 07 hospital6

photo 08 hospital7

photo 09 hospital8

photo 10 hospital9

The photo below is inside the OPC on a day with light (by tropical standards) rainfall. The children are wading ankle deep in water which is full of phosphate dust – a known irritant and toxin.

photo 11 phosphate swamp

Below are photos of young children showing the number of days they have been in detention.

photo 12 child1-827

photo 13 child2-808

photo 14 child3-904

Other sources of data

https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/document/publication/forgotten_children_2014.pdf The Commission conducted interviews with 1129 children and parents in detention, providing a much needed foundation for objective research findings. Standard questions were used in all interviews so that the reported impacts are measurable.

Petition – https://www.change.org/p/peter-dutton-peter-dutton-mp-reverse-the-decision-to-return-72-children-to-immigration-detention-on-nauru-and-release-all-children-from-immigration-detention

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

Save the Children

Free the Children Nauru (Facebook)

We Care Nauru (Facebook)

http://www.julianburnside.com.au/guardsconduct-in-nauru-getting-worse/

 

WRITE TO YOUR FEDERAL MEMBER

To find your MP, go to http://www.openaustralia.org.au/?gclid=CMr2nNS8mssCFYKXvAodBR4Ayw and enter your postcode, then use the Contact Form link in the column at right to email them. The text below is appropriate for all Labor, Liberal and National Party members.

Dear ….

I am aware of the following issues with regard to asylum seekers on Nauru:

  • 1) detention centres are inadequately equipped and in dilapidated condition
  • 2) some children are approaching 1000 days in detention
  • 3) detention centre guards are unnecessarily aggressive towards detainees
  • 4) medical care and dietary supplies are grossly inadequate
  • 5) despite being a so-called “open” centre, the rules and restrictions on detainees – including strip-searching, intimidation, media bans and the gagging of staff – suggest the use of Orwellian doublespeak
  • 6) conditions on Nauru outside the OPC are little better than inside the OPC, and condemning refugees to an indefinite stay on Nauru fails to provide them with the asylum to which they are entitled.

Your party endorses the policy of maintaining asylum seekers in detention, and endorses the management contract currently held by BroadSpectrum (formerly Transfield). It is unconscionable for anyone to be forcibly detained in such conditions. It contravenes Australian laws on the length of time a person may be held in custody without charge – which, although they conveniently do not apply to offshore detention centres, still confer a moral obligation on our government and our politicians. The situation also contravenes both the UNHCR 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (particularly Articles 10, 16, 21, 25, 26, 31, 33, 34 & 35) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Articles 3, 5, 9, 13, 14, 23, 25, 26, 27, 29 & 30).

As a concerned voter, I will not be voting for any candidate who supports – either specifically or tacitly – such appalling treatment of those who have fled from their homes in traumatic circumstances, only to be subjected to further trauma by a country from which they ought to be able to expect better.

Yours sincerely

A place called Willow Bend

Yes, I’m blogging again, after a long silence, because the other day I paid over more money than I’ve ever spent in one transaction before… ever in my life, by a factor of about 10… for a house. I now own this sweet, three-bedroom, 1.5 bathroom, 1920s bungalow on just over half an acre, with a willow-shaded creek at the bottom of the garden and a view of sheep in purple meadows. I own it outright — well, two-thirds, plus a loan from my sister.

It’s an investment property, a reno, but you never saw an on-sell project so cherished in the process. If it doesn’t sell — and it’s in a country town where, despite a fine community spirit, fully a third of main street shops are vacant or for sale — if it doesn’t sell in a few months I’ll have to either put a tenant in it or give up my Redfern Street Redfern apartment, my home for fifteen fabulous years — my partner won’t be thrilled since his home is on the coast too. It’ll be a major wrench whether it sells or not. But I’ve no regrets; this was money well spent.

So here we are, me and Ay-One, cleaning, painting, building, tiling, paving. Mending, tarring, gerni-ing and painting the roof. Putting a picket fence across the front, post and rail down the side and star pickets and reo across the back to disappear when you look at the creek. Lifting the veranda and cutting French doors from the lounge to the sunroom. It may sell in a month, or it may take six, but by then it’ll be such a delightful little corner of paradise that anyone looking for a home in Grenfell would be mad not to snap it up. So by the end of the year I should be on to my next project: a reno and subdivision in a town a little closer to Sydney.

Meanwhile, come on out west to an old goldrush town in wheat country, bushranger country, Henry Lawson country, where every year the warm and resilient local community puts on a historic arts festival on the June long weekend. I’m thinking I might host some sort of informal forum about some aspect of the life and work of Louisa Lawson. And I’ll have a charming country cottage, gorgeous from its mosaic front step to its timber tree-terrace over the creek, on the market for well under a quarter mill, and open for inspection. Three bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms, paved and trellised entertaining areas, huge powered shed, vege gardens, compost beds and chicken coop – it’ll one day make the perfect family home, holiday home or B&B, and it’s being lovingly renovated as we speak.

jaqipascoe.com is here…

I am pleased to announce, after a farcically unreasonable delay (like, several years), and the navigation of assorted designers, dramas, distractions, breakdowns, new starts, changes of plan and random stumbling blocks, I finally have a website.

jaqipascoe.com

I admit it’s nowhere near as good as I’d like it to be, and furthermore it’s in Flash, so in a year or so I’ll probably get it converted and upgraded, but for now at least I have some sort of coherent web presence. Feedback is welcome.

My thanks to Alla, who helped me get this version together, and Nick, who broke through the security-obsessed barriers put up by my hosting company to actually upload the damn thing. He’s still working on the optimisation.

gun control doesn’t kill people…

Apropos of the grief in the US over the recent school shooting, there are few Australians, I think, who see American resistance to gun control as anything but madness. As it stands, the Constitutional right to bear arms is a clear and present danger to the citizens and culture of the US (and, by extension, the rest of the world). But for those insisting that guns don’t kill people, people do, here’s a quick illustration of the effect of lax US gun laws compared with China’s, which are much stricter.

On December 14, the very same day as the Sandy Hook massacre, there was a remarkably similar attack in China. An angry loner took a knife and stabbed an elderly woman who lived next door to a school, then he followed up with attacks on 23 primary-school children. How many died in the mayhem?

None.

With thanks to Fiona Scott-Norman for the catchy headline.

your phone, at the price of a few congolese and the last mountain gorilla

Useless to decry the development of smartphones: there ain’t no going back. But we should at least be aware of the cost to the planet in general, and to other peoples and other species, of our advancement. A mineral they pan for in streams in the jungles of the Congo is a basic ingredient in cellphone circuit boards. It’s helped corrupt several economies in the region, causing godknows howmany human deaths and threatening the survival of the mountain gorilla. Ask for a “Gorilla Safe” mobile phone, from a manufacturer that sources its coltan elsewhere than the Congo, or petition you favourite phonemaker to clean up their act.

http://www.cellular-news.com/coltan/

Thanks to Harry for the link.

vale ruth elizabeth walker whitelaw

I’m having to backdate this post because the events of Granny’s death – a death which was, after all, a huge relief for all concerned, Gran most of all – were rapidly overtaken by the unceasing tide of everything else, and in any case my immediate writing obligation was a eulogy. I struggled, in composing the eulogy, to keep my anger out of it, and largely succeeded. But in the midst of death we are still plagued by life, so with my fiftieth birthday fast approaching I have been organising beachfront accommodation and steampunk drink dispensers and assorted other fun and games, all the while aware that an incoherent rage was simmering away underneath, awaiting its chance to find language and release.

I’ve blogged about my maternal grandmother and the condition of her final years before, back in 2009. At that stage Gran, at 90, was about to have a hip replacement, which was expected to reduce her pain while pretty much guaranteeing she would never walk again (admittedly a likely enough prospect, sooner or later, with or without the surgery). Whether it reduced her pain I cannot say; her pain was considerable either way, and she was on a morphine patch, regular Panadol and assorted other drugs for at least the last few years. (The patch is a slow-release dosage like a large square band-aid; they stick it on your back and renew it regularly.) Of course she never did walk again, and the three years she lived after that surgery crowned an exquisitely, inhumanly drawn-out decline. To tell the truth, her passing was for me a solemn rather than sad occasion; after Granddad and Mum died in Dec’06-Jan‘07 Gran had little heart for life, and the ensuing five and a half years were simply a wait for death – patient, valiant and courteous at first, then increasingly wretched, painful and confused as her body and mind gave out.

I remember my grandmother as a youthful, elegant, vivacious and attractive woman. From her girlhood she loved to dance, and she played tennis in her prime and bowls later and was physically active well into old age. Even when she was reduced to using a walker I remember her hobbling determinedly round and round the circuit of the nursing home, maintaining what fitness she could. But by the time she died she was completely crippled, her legs twisted stiffly to one side at the hips and dreadfully withered, her left arm useless, contracted in a tight, painful, ugly spasm after her last stroke. She was blind but for light and shadow, had limited movement in her good arm, couldn’t tolerate many foods and was plagued by a variety of skin problems. For some months she was on a medication whose side effects included itching so violent that she would scratch till her body was flecked with blood. Her toilet functions were no longer under her control, and she wore napkins day and night. Her spasmed hand tended to develop fungus and skin-rot in its clammy creases, so she wore a sheepskin pad that hooked over her thumb and strapped round her wrist. By the end, her mind had long since given out under the strain of grief, confusion, humiliation, longing, and religious crisis.

I’m sorry; this is obviously not a fun read, but I find myself obliged to detail the reality of her life with a fierce forensic insistence precisely because we are so reluctant to face the issue. I learned many things from my grandmother, mostly through her gentle positive reinforcement. But it is this last, uncharacteristically bitter lesson I want most urgently to pass on: under the state as we know it, if you fail to face death proactively – if you allow uncertainty to dictate inaction – you may find only too suddenly that you are caught, deserving or not, in a living hell. You are now in the charge of a bureaucratic system, and for the sake of the individuals, corporations and government departments responsible for your ‘wellbeing’, your death must happen in a way that makes it clear that your carers did their utmost to keep you alive. Such a death may be untold, agonising years away, and your carers (who are neither fools nor sadists) may shake their heads at the madness of it all, but they can do less and less to ameliorate your misery.

I want to emphasise at this point that Gran was getting the absolute best of care. As the widow of a war veteran and recognised for her own war work (on a switchboard and as a driver), Gran had all her medical expenses paid by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. She lived in a state-of-the-art nursing home in the RSL complex at Narrabeen, where the staff are highly skilled and genuinely caring. Over the years I got to know most of them by name, and though I rant at the system they serve I consider them, in the scheme of things, absolutely blameless. Blame is an issue I’ll leave till later, because it should fall where it will only once the whole story is told.

There is a slippery slope from care to abuse, and another from capitalism to neglect, and they often seem, for the elderly at least, to run parallel – or now and then to toss you from one caboose to another. If only the ride were as rollicking as my clumsy metaphor makes it sound; in reality, the more sacred life is generally held, the less the individual owns it – owns their own life – and the more disempowering, prolonged and humiliating one’s last infirm years are likely to be. The fortunate will remain upright, able and largely independent until a mercifully swift collapse. But many, many others (will you be one?) spend long years acutely enfeebled in mind or body or both – raving, drooling, scratching, shambling shadows of their former selves, ghastly to their families (even those who dearly love them) and, truth be told, to themselves – brought to terror by a constant disorientation, driven to catatonic madness by the inability to escape a hideous TV show in the common room, seeing the high point of each day in a bowl of ice cream.

The metaphor of the slippery slope is irresistible, leading as it implicitly does to the grave. And indeed, I attended my grandmother as she slid slowly down it, from supported independent living (retirement village apartment with visiting cleaner, food deliveries and medics on call) to hostel (her own room and bathroom, lots of common space and assistance; you need a simple numerical code to get in and out the door of the complex). When you can no longer walk or your dementia is advanced enough that you need extra attention, you are transferred from hostel to nursing home (hospital-style private room and adjustable bed, and enough staff to wheel you to the dining room for meals, operate the hoist to move you from bed to chair to toilet and back, bathe you, change your napkins, turn you in the night, and so on).

When you can no longer sit up straight enough to be safe in a wheelchair, they shift you into a ‘tub’ chair, a big recliner armchair on wheels. Gran spent her last couple of years in one of these, into and out of which she was hoisted, splayed in an undignified squat, in a mechanical sling operated by two of the nursing home staff. The tub chair could be tipped to vary her angle of recline, but, given her acutely arthritic condition, sitting in it every day tended to bring on pressure sores. On days when these flared up she was confined to bed, since (notwithstanding the various unguents applied) lying flat for a while was the only cure. Not that she physically could lie flat; her knees were permanently bent and she had to be regularly turned from one side to the other. She lacked the agility even to reach the button to call the staff.

As she lost all dignity, autonomy and identity, Gran began to say and do things she wouldn’t have been caught dead doing in her right mind. She didn’t have much of a swearing vocabulary but she who had always been so ladylike did grow quite bold and blunt. She revealed a wistful fondness for men, flirting delicately with my boyfriend, who thought her an absolute darling. In the last few months, as she got sicker and weaker, she often could not bear to wear her teeth, and the fretful plucking motion of her good hand frequently lifted lap-rug and skirt to expose piteously withered thighs. In the last month or so I saw her several times pick her nose and eat it. In the last week or so, she took to howling in unmitigated distress – a loud, random, bleating wail that reminded the Tibetans among the nursing staff of the goats back home. They were compassionate people, but they only knew Gran as this fretful, helpless ruin of a creature, and a bit of a giggle helped them cope.

No one deserves to live their final years like this, and it is a supremely bitter irony that we (and no doubt the rest of the Anglosphere) have inflicted such a vile predicament on the very generation to whom we sought to guarantee a peaceful, dignified end. Every care seems to have been taken, so what’s going wrong – and who is to blame?

It does annoy me that the state government has repeatedly refused to pass sensible euthanasia laws but the truth is that even if they had, it wouldn’t have helped Gran. In fact, one of the main reasons for the government’s cowardice is the same reason that kept Gran uncertain till no law could have helped her: religious fear. Gran – a staunch (though certainly not evangelical) Protestant Christian – longed for death from the time she lost her husband and daughter. In fact, some years before Granddad died, horrified by the sight of the two of them suffering the debility and pain of old age day after endless day despite their relative peace and affluence, I once asked her if they didn’t sometimes think of driving their car over a cliff together, or some other conclusive mutual end. Her answer? “Oh yes, but you can’t think of such things. You just have to go on the best you can.” She was nothing if not valiant, but by a couple of years after Granddad’s death “yes, but” had become something a little sadder. Leaning forward on her walker and fixing me with a rheumy, pained, but still fierce gaze she would hiss, “I wish the good Lord would take me now!”

She said this defiantly, shaking a little, clearly feeling that uttering this simple, painfully felt truth veered close to heresy. I remember when they put her on antidepressants, because as her condition steadily worsened her misery would not, could not lift by any other means. I think by then she was enduring a very long, dark night of the soul – a religious crisis brought on by the failure of her ideals and the betrayal of her faith. I remember her pitiful confusion: “My friend Lorna, she was much wickeder than me and she’s long gone. I don’t understand what I did wrong.” She knew I was not a believer, and I knew I was the only non-believer to whom she could talk of such things; her other confidants were all churchgoers. She occasionally challenged me: if I had no religious faith how could I hold convictions of any moral standing? I always answered with the simplest common sense I could find: good people deserve good treatment, good intentions merit mercy. If God is real, you’re going to a good place; if God is not real, from what we understand you’re still going to a good place. I don’t think I was much influence, apart from being the one listener to whom she could voice her doubts without having them denied. I remember her vacillation, her fear of committing a grave sin, her puzzled incredulity that she could be in such an unreasonable predicament. I remember the earnest, empty platitudes of the church workers who visited her. And I remember the bitter shift in her conviction, almost three years before she died: “If there was a pill, I’d take it!”

Alas, by then, even if there were a pill, she would probably not have qualified to be allowed it: in countries where euthanasia is legal you have to be in your right mind to be given the means. Gran was already showing signs of the temporal and spatial confusion that would make her final years such refined torture; in her last year or two she could no longer find the way to her room; she no longer knew what year it was, or whether her loved ones were alive or dead. I did some research on euthanasia, and discovered the favoured loophole. The only medical way out was to demand morphine from her doctor in increasing doses, but this was too tricky for her – not only too difficult to remember but also too calculated and sustained a campaign for her already-stretched conscience to allow. She could suspend superstitious fear long enough to swallow a pill, not long enough to override a doctor’s oath by stealth.

Christians generally believe that in the matter of death, we have no right to decide. The fact that you are alive means it is God’s will that you live, and your responsibility to make the best of it, no matter how irremediably horrible it is. If this flies in the face of logic and compassion, then logic and compassion are wrong – or rather, logic and compassion must be twisted into hideous parodies of themselves in order to justify God’s apparent cruelty. That, unfortunately, is just how faith works. For people like my Gran, it stayed her hand until her own hand was too feeble for the task, and she was forced to hold it out in vain supplication to people who wanted to help – with either assistance or spiritual reassurance – but who had nothing adequate to the task. My grandmother should have had a peaceful death in full command of her faculties, and well before pain, debility and disillusionment made a mockery of her life, her character, and her service to her family and the nation. Instead, her faith kept her imprisoned in a wretched oubliette of the soul, tortured by a moral code so obsessed with its own warped and self-serving idea of life that it cannot afford to acknowledge the reality.

I wish I could have made this post pithier – more concise, better organised, more orderly in its argument. But my thoughts seem jumbled and clouded by my grief – not so much for the loss of my grandmother but over the appalling injustice of her final years – and the overtaking events of ensuing weeks have somewhat subdued the rage that might have pushed my arguments into better shape. I spent the last nine days of Gran’s life by her side, something I’ll always be profoundly glad of, and there is a rather more uplifting account of this time in the eulogy. I’ve decided to publish that in the Writing section of my soon-to-be-launched website. When that’s done I’ll add a link here.

party of the half-century!

Yes folks, the notorious party house on Redfern Street is about to excel itself to mark a Very Special Occasion. It’s a delicate subject for a lady of refined sensitivities like myself, but there’s no escaping it: I am about to turn 50. In such circumstances it seems there’s only one seemly thing to do: party like there’s no tomorrow.

Accordingly, there will be three days of festivities in two diverse locations. Attendance at THE WHOLE SHEBANG is warmly encouraged, but those who lack the time and/or stamina for such serious commitment to idle celebration will be welcome at whichever bit most appeals.

FRIDAY NIGHT: My actual birthday, Mirjam and I will throw one of our notorious bashes involving live music and dancing, fairy lights, wicked punch and some serious dressing up. The theme for this night is STEAMPUNK… for no reason other than that it amuses me (and I get to wear my corset). As usual, there will be merriment, mayhem, and mattresses on the floor for those who don’t go home. BYO preferred poison.
SATURDAY MORNING: will begin at a civilized hour (which may be noon) with brunch for those who stayed and anyone who wants to join us. Then (after a stroll down the road for the locals to vote in the council election) the Kombi will lead a convoy to Patonga Beach on the lower Central Coast (a couple of hours’ drive). Feel free to join us there – see below for details.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON: Patonga is a tiny fishing village with a charming pub, a tennis court, beaches and stunning scenery. There will be boating, fishing, hiking for the energetic, hammocks for the lazy, and swimming if it’s warm enough. Overnight beachfront accommodation is booked at the Patonga Bakehouse Gallery and free to our guests. Between the Bakehouse and Al’s place, we can sleep a dozen at least, probably more. There’s also a sweet camping ground if you care to glamp.
SATURDAY NIGHT: A campfire on the beach, a barbecue, and fireworks if we can arrange it. I suspect my family will turn up and make speeches or something.
SUNDAY: will be like Saturday afternoon only it will seem shorter even though it’s actually longer. That’s because you have to go home at the end, and Patonga is a little piece of paradise.
STOP PRESS – LATE ADDITION: You only have to go home on Sunday if you have work/commitments on Monday morning. The Bakehouse is now booked for Sunday night as well, so anyone looking to extend their weekend getaway is welcome to stay an extra night.
WHAT TO BRING: For Friday, your favourite stimulants/relaxants. For the weekend, a general-use towel, swimmers if it’s warm, comfy clothes and a bit of food and drink. Patonga has a very limited general store (no fresh fruit/veg) and it’s 20 mins’ drive to the nearest supermarket. We’ll supply at least one main meal each day and various treats, but I suggest you bring snacks and/or contributions to the larder, and maybe some more alcohol. The pub has a bottle shop and their food’s not bad, but it’s not the cheapest place you could stock up. Don’t forget toothbrush and sunglasses.
PATONGA ORIENTATION: Patonga is a hamlet of about 120 houses surrounded by water on two sides and bush on the other. You take the freeway north from Sydney, turn off onto the Central Coast Highway at Gosford, follow the signs to Woy Woy and thence through the bush to Patonga. When you get there we won’t be hard to find; there are only three streets and everyone knows the Bakehouse Gallery. If we’re not there, try Al’s place at 13 Jacarandah Ave, and if we’re not there we’ll eventually find you back at the Bakehouse, enjoying the water view.
IMPORTANT; PLEASE NOTE: Patonga has no phone reception unless you’re with Telstra. If you need to reach me while I’m there, call 0407 300082.
The text of this post also appears as an event invitation on Facebook. If you’re on FB and we’re not yet FB friends, feel free to send me a request.

what?!!

Oh, oh, oh – I’ve already posted today but I was on the website of our august, conservative national newspaper and found myself with my mouth hanging open…

After Gina Rinehart’s attempt to buy up the financially-ailing liberal end of Australia’s media, the Greens proposed a national interest test for major media ownership transitions. An eminently sensible safeguard, one would think, against the power accruals of an unrestricted market, and the Government, only too aware of the damage done to its reputation and policies by the sometimes-bizarre propaganda of the Murdoch ‘hate press’, jumped at the idea. Apparently The Australian’s Barry Cohen is mouthing what counts for intelligent debate when he comments, “If the Left succeed with [sic] controlling what goes in newspapers, then free speech in Australia is finished.”