I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bad rufous night heron! bad!

Early dusk, and the pale yellow light of a rain-drenched Hallowe'en shone on the huge reddy brown bird, perched solidly on the edge of the fishpond, amidst growth that after all this rain can only be described as verdant. And shining.  I summoned the others to marvel at its beauty, then we ran outside, shouting loudly, to frighten it away from the fishpond. It flew away; but an hour later was back, perching high in the citriodora. We looked it up, and it's a nankeen or rufous night heron. When it's breeding, it has an elegant white plume down the back of its neck. The one we saw had a plume about eight inches long, as opposed to the much shorter one in the picture here. I understand it's feeding itself and its young, but after such a visitation, we don't see our fish for days. And even if we could frighten it away, it would still come back and be feeding at night. It was huge, solid, and placid. And hungry. Trick or treat, rufous night heron?

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Looking for America

After Italian class, popped into La Latteria for burrata and squaquerno cheese, olive oil from Gippsland, then Dench for grain loaf. After lunch, washing up with Joel playing Simon and Garfunkel's "America" which he's hoping to sing in his music class on Thursday (honestly, that class sometimes sounds like something from Glee) and the two of us singing along and harmonising as we went. Reminded me of harmonising Methodist hymns with my family over the kitchen sink, years ago.  I'm supposed to be working on my essay on Magna Carta; and he's supposed to be doing piano practice before we visit Paul's parents. But here am I searching versions of the song on YouTube, while I can hear him trying out the chords to the song on the piano — and now the guitar (which he can barely play). It's enough to make a fond mother weep.

Not really a video here; but lovely music for a rainy Saturday afternoon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Annual mammogram is clear: check!
Annual ultrasound is clear: check!
Annual physical exam is clear: check!
Annual interview with the goddess: brief, but clear! Check!

It's not that I was really worried: apart from a cold, I'm fit as a fiddle. But so I was when I first discovered the tell-tale dimple in the bathroom of the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St Louis during a meeting of the NCS congress committee, almost exactly four years ago. So the possibility of a nasty surprise is always in the back of my mind. But as the years and treatment go on, it seems less and less likely I'm up for any kind of recurrence. I've just ridden home from this very reassuring set of appointments. I've also just ridden home again from the clinic wher I found, just where I parked my bike the first time, the hand-made copper earring Paul brought me from Lebanon, which must have slipped out of my ear when I was putting my helmet back on. All these things, on top of a gym session which included a lot of running this morning, have left me feeling extremely fit and healthy and pleased with myself today.

Searching back for that post about my surgeon, I also found this one about elementary meditation; a practice I have let go, rather. I feel I am moving too fast at the moment (the books I'm writing; the committees I'm attending; the plans I'm making) for such a slow activity. But of course, that's probably a sign I should think again about doing something slowly.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A quick word from Hypatia

Many thanks to all who've contributed suggestions to Hypatia's reading and listening list. She has emailed to say how grateful she is to everyone — "moved and cheered", she says. And she'll keep checking back, so if you think of anything else, please add it in.

She also says she is very happy for you to picture her as Rachel Weisz, though I must admit this film passed me by completely:

Friday, October 22, 2010

It's quite simple, really

At a book launch recently, I was moaning to someone that I was struggling to finish the last chapter of my book because I wasn't sure how it was going to end. Russell said, brilliantly, "It was an ARC grant, wasn't it? Just go back to the application."

Oh. My. Goodness.

I've just done precisely that, and pasted in a number of finely crafted paragraphs into my chapter to work from. Now I just have to hold my nerve, join up the dots, somehow work in Sir Nilss Olaf, and I'm done.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pink breast cancer nonsense time again: but a challenge for you here.

Yes, folks, it's October again; the joyous time of year when "awareness" of breast cancer is being sold, world-wide, to consumers of anything from hair-dryers to teddybears, water to yoghurt. I've written elsewhere (a long time ago) about the insidious association of shopping with medical research and the much-vaunted "awareness" of the disease (anything with "Shop for the Cure" associated with it is deeply problematic, in my view); and others have written eloquently and knowledgeably about the irony of the miniscule donations made to breast cancer research from companies whose products may well contain carcinogens, to say nothing of the dreadful infantilisation, eroticisation and sexualisation of women and the breast ("saving second base!") that characterises many of these campaigns. If you're interested in reading more in this vein, check out Breast Cancer Action or Twisty's recent post, with its excoriating critique of the recent Facebook "it" campaign. There is also this celebrated essay by Barbara Ehrenreich.

But this post is for my new friend: let us call her Hypatia. I met her earlier this year, and while we got on very well, we have become much closer since she was diagnosed with breast cancer, very recently. It's an email correspondence, as she lives in a far northern country. We have much in common. We both love our academic work; and both reeled to see how a diagnosis like this cut such a swathe through our sense of self as thinking, writing women. Her progress through treatment is going to be rather longer than mine, I'm sorry to say, as she is starting with chemotherapy, then moving on to surgery, radiotherapy and hormonal therapy; so she is looking at about a year of being — if not sick all the time — then acutely under the care of the medical profession. She has had her first two doses of chemotherapy: her hair is falling out; her brain has gone mushy, she says; and she had a violent anaphylatic reaction to the first dose. She has a bruised hand from the second; and her ankles and toes are painful. Other side-effects, too. But she doesn't want to join a support group and "have her colours done."

Like me, Hypatia was also diagnosed around October; and has been somewhat spooked, I think, by the horror stories you hear around this time. For me, it was poor Belinda Emmett, who died the week I was having my surgery, the night Kylie Minogue made her first return to the stage after a year away. (This means, yes, I am a week away from my fourth-year mammogram and ultrasound next week: fingers crossed...) There is also the gruesomely normative femininity that is so often the only one available on so many commercial "awareness" sites. We're "aware", already, alright? And some of us are smart and clever, and miss our work and our colleagues when we are sick.

I feel very far away from my friend. And I know you would like her, and wish her well. So this is my October gesture. I'm inviting you to send a message of support to Hypatia in my comments box. Or to suggest something she might like to read or listen to (because there will be days when she won't be able to read a sentence). Or your favourite thinking woman's blog (don't worry if you can't make the link work). Let's put together a collection of things a sick and smart woman (truly, when I met her, she was blazing with intelligence and smartness) might like to read. I don't mean necessarily hi-falutin', either: someone loaned her a boxed set of Little House on the Prairie, and it seems to have gone down a treat, though I bet she just dipped in and out of it, because that's all you can do. But there'll be times over the next year or so when she'll be feeling stronger. And perhaps the list we make might be something you can send to your friends should they ever be in similar straits. This seems to me a good thing to do in breast cancer October.


What a lovely cat she was.

My mother sent me three photos she found of Mima, all taken by my mother-in-law, in May 96. Joel was 14 months old; Mima a few years older. Lots of things to like here: that these photos have been circulated around among two grandmothers and a mother; to see Mima sitting safely on the window sill, observing the baby, and watching over him, but out of his way; and to see Joel's stripey jumper (knitted by Mum), his little red cup which has long disappeared, and his long wispy hair. I'm afraid to say it got quite a bit longer before we thought about cutting any of it off. Also, the Paddington bear rattle at Mima's feet that Whatladder gave him. The photo of Joel would have been taken on one of Nan's Tuesdays, when she would come and play games and sing songs with him all day long. She would have carefully brushed his hair before taking his photo, too.

But here is Mima up close, looking like a goggle-eyed model for a Kliban cat cartoon. In latter years, she had become rather thin: here she is in her furry maturity.

And here she is again, wearing her most noble and wise expression:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Word salads; salad words; salad days

I am now really truly and seriously working on chapter seven. In it are Camilla's tampon; Annie Liebowitz; Virginia Woolf; the little model of St George and the Dragon that replaces the jaguar on the Queen's car when she rides out; a drinks coaster and a packet of chocolates. If only I could get the order right.

But in the meantime, I am driving to Glenroy to pick up a new thermometer for the incubator — and then driving back later that day with my wallet. I'm making a warm salad of zambucca prawns, polenta chips, fresh coriander, and yoghurt cheese. I'm meeting with students and going to meetings, and agreeing to attend lots more. I'm answering emails and paying bills. I'm watching the Australian women's hockey team win gold in Delhi. I'm watching Chilean miners ascend from the earth. I'm starting to think about a lecture I'm giving soon on John Forbes. I'm planning a trip to Perth in a couple of weeks; and wondering how to finish my essay on the Australian parliamentary obsession with Magna Carta before then. Thanks to a facebook friend, Gio Abate, I'm journeying back to the past, listening to Melanie Safka, "Leftover Wine". I'm checking the temperature in the incubator before finally setting the eggs tonight, while improvising a metal tray out of a cake cooling rack because the proper one has gone missing (I'll have to get something bigger in three weeks when the chickens hatch, otherwise they'll fall off the edge of the cake tray: hardly an auspicious beginning to life). I'm tidying up the garden because the designer has entered it into a competition, four years later. I'm experimenting with some new medication. I'm thinking about how to fulfill the annual leave requirements while serving out my term as head.

And I'm waiting for Paul to come home from Sri Lanka (no ordinary research trip, this one), as he's going with some indigenous AFL players to visit indigenous communities in Sri Lanka, a kind of reconciliation program through sport. Oh, and look what I've just found on YouTube: some raw footage of the doco they're making, with a nice soundtrack: keep watching till you see someone — is that Adam Goodes? — pick up the flag at the end of the soccer pitch and make like the didgeridoo with it:

You can't really see Paul here; except sometimes with his camera.

So that was what some of today was like. But it began (and here I'm responding to KG's curiosity after my FB update), with a boxing class at the gym.

Since Sophie, my dear trainer, left the gym a few months ago, I've been working on my own, though have also just started pilates classes. But for two weeks the gym made all its classes free for members, and I signed up for a trial this morning.

I'd done a tiny bit with Sophie, so had a rough idea what to expect. Alex the trainer is pretty tough, though. There were six of us in the group, so after a bit of a warm up, we divided into pairs. I held the pads for another woman for the first 15 minutes, as Alex took us (in his rather heavy French accent) through a sequence of various things. I can't describe them very well, really, but there's lots to remember. Left foot forward; keep both hands up in guard position; and then various crosses and jabs; punching directly into the pad held up before you; or swinging across, almost horizontally into the pad held at right angles; then ducking; then kicking up into the pad held low; then punching down, either quickly or strongly, into the pads the other person holds at thigh height. Then some elaborate sequences of left right, up and down, etc. It took me a long time to work out which bit I was counting, and my partner was very patient. So we'd do a sequence of five movements, with ten, then eight, then six repetitions, etc. Then we swapped; and she held the pads for me. Then we did a mini circuit of 60 second repetitions: skipping rope; jumping backwards and forwards on the rope ladder laid out on the floor; a little push-up assisting machine; steps up and down on a little step; a little wheel you'd roll out and back from a kneeling position; then resting your forearms on a big punching back lying on the ground, and bringing your knees up to kick it. Then another short punching session; then a stretch. I have to say it was a lot of fun. To my surprise (apart from the difficulty of co-ordinating and counting the sequences), I wasn't too slow, or unable to do most of it. There were two men and four women. Some skipped faster; did lower squats; and more full-length push-ups than I did (I'm concentrating on my form, here, to make sure I'm doing them right), but I held my own. And certainly wouldn't have been able to do that 12 months ago.

In keeping with the salad-theme of this post, I have now lost any thread it once had, and so, unusually, I'm not going to edit much. I'm going to bed, instead.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Why a facial recognition problem is a problem

At Readings for a book launch on Friday (the second that week) I was trying to get close to the action and found myself stuck in a long aisle with no chance of seeing anything. I passed a woman who smiled at me and looked familiar, and assuming she was a graduate student in my school (there are lots and lots) I made a cheery remark about what a terrible place it was for a booklaunch. (And it is, in its logistics, though I love that they are willing to have academic book launches there.) You can't see or hear the action very well, and if you are a customer wanting to browse those sections for an hour, it's impossible.  Anyway I explained all this to the poor girl, then went back around and up another aisle and found some people I knew. During the launch speech, I looked over to the cash register where the wine was being served, and sure enough, there she was, obviously an employee. Well, she may also be a graduate student. But I did feel foolish. But have learned that it only makes it worse to go and apologise for my rudeness: viz. "I'm sorry I was rude about your workplace: I thought you smiled at me and I wrongly assumed I should have known who you were — but didn't." And even worse to start explaining about the whole face-blindness syndrome.

Also, what I want to know is this: how many times is it acceptable to refer to your own work when launching a book by someone else? Not that many, I would have said. I have just been invited to do my first launch speech, in December, so my mind is much occupied by the genre.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Gadding about

The last two or three weeks have been hectic. Two events in Perth; and then a day trip to Canberra on the kind invitation of Black Rod for the opening of federal Parliament the next day; then another departure, on holiday, to East Gippsland, with bikes on the train, the day after that. Lots to blog about; as well as many emails to catch up on; and book chapters and articles to finish. And the minutiae of administration: bleah. I'll write properly soon.

In the meantime, here's my certificate from my balloon ride, plus the map with our route from D6 to H4 in green texta. I'd ideally like to see a full stop after my name, but I have to admit I think the syntax on this certificate is pretty good, as such things go...


Actually, I've just realised that to describe an adventure, as opposed to an adventurer, as "flamboyant" is not totally felicitous. I must have been wanting to read that as a description of myself, I think.