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, November 14, 2010

That's how the light gets in.

'There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in.' As Leonard Cohen sang these words, from "Anthem" (Ring the Bells) at Rod Laver Arena tonight, I was struck for the hundredth time this evening by his beautiful, flawed, romantic masculinity. Beautiful singing, extraordinary musicianship and grace all round, from detailed introductions, and slow bows to each band member and singer, returned slowly, before each turned to the audience and bowed. Singers and musicians all clothed in various suits and clothes of greys, purples and whites. So dignified and passionate.

But at the same time with the words to this song I was thinking about Aung San Suu Kyi, and wondering if she had indeed been released this evening. It's wonderful to come home and see on the newsites the smiling face of this dignified and gracious woman, finally freed (and hopefully permanently).
These are the people I want to emulate as I grow older. Dignity, grace and passion.

Ring the bells.

A day later: I found a link:

Saturday, November 13, 2010


The chickens have now been out of the egg for about ten days. Whenever we open the lid of their box they jump up and start flapping their little wings, unless it's late afternoon, when they are settled down on their newspaper bed like one big fluffy pillow. Here they are when they were first put into their box after being in the incubator. Some of them are moving faster than others: for example the really blurry yellow one in the bottom left hand corner.

We have since bought them a proper water dispenser so they don't have to walk into the bowl to drink.

Abel came round the other day and showed us how to tell male from female - the woman - as he said. At first it seemed a very imprecise science, though there are things you can look for in the way their feathers develop, when they are very little, and then in their little vent, so you have to hold them upside down and massage them a little. I could kind of see what he meant, but am not giving up my day job yet.

Mother Nature has excelled herself, apparently, producing eight female and seven male chicks, evenly — though confusingly — distributed between dark and light colours.

One of Joel's friends came round on Tuesday, and they spent a good hour just sitting and cuddling the chickens. And Jane from the chook group is coming tomorrow to bring her son to admire them. The more we handle and pet them the better. One of them hopped up on my hand a moment ago, and that was cute. They are rapidly getting too big for this box, though they are far too small to go up to Ceres, so Paul is converting the lower floor of Joel's treehouse (don't ask) for lodgings. But today it's raining steadily, and in any case he is still recovering from being bitten by mosquitoes or spiders the other day.

The chook group is losing Kelly, but before she left for her Very Big Job in Canberra, she spent an afternoon with the chickens up at Ceres, and took these terrific photos.

One of the proud fathers.

"Peck hem up right as they grow and ete hem in."

Another proud father with a group of proud mothers.

This is what free range really looks like: chickens with room to run around under the fruit trees.

End of a long day in front of the camera.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Late with essay: here's a tiny installment

Oh dear. I am running along as fast as I can, whizzing past a series of writing deadlines. I'll keep going, but will just pause to paste a couple of paragraphs:

In yet another display case in the same hall in Canberra are three petitions on bark from the Yirrkala people in Arnhem land, presented to the parliament in 1963, and 1968, requesting that their submission protesting the proposed excision of land from the Arnhem Land reserve be heard before the relevant committee. The petitions are typed on paper, with English translation beneath, and pasted onto bark that is decorated with traditional Yirrkala designs, including fish, turtles and lizards. They are accompanied by an appropriate certification from the Clerk, affirming that their form on bark was acceptable to parliamentary bureaucratic requirements: ‘I certify that this Petition is in conformity with the Standing Orders of this House.’ An information card in the case also draws attention to the medieval antecedents of the form of the petition:

The three bark petitions displayed here are vivid examples of the fundamental right, dating back to the thirteenth century, of citizens to petition parliament concerning their grievances.

There’s a lovely and not atypical contradiction here between the anxiety about the  form of the bark petitions that needs to be reassured with the Clerk’s certification; and the affirmation, taking the longer historical view, that these petitions are ‘vivid’ exemplars of a medieval tradition. These differences may reflect changes in attitudes to indigenous culture between the 1960s and the more recent present: they are just as likely to reflect the contradictory relationship between modernity and its medieval inheritance.

I just remembered why I love my job. Now, back to it!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Chicken scratching for my immortality (with apologies to Joni Mitchell)

The incubator itself is nothing more fancy than a big polystyrene container. There are channels in the bottom to hold water; while the top has a small heater, with thermostat attached, and a small perspex square to look through. There's also a wire tray that sits on top of the water channels. Add a thermometer on a little stand; and that's pretty much it. You select clean eggs with smooth skins, and store them for no more than a few days after being laid before stabilising the temperature at 103, filling one of the channels with water, and laying the eggs on the wire tray. You mark one side with a pencil cross; the other with a zero. For 18 days (for chicken eggs) you turn the eggs morning and night; clockwise, then anti-clockwise. If you keep turning them in the same direction they get all twisted up inside and don't develop. Of course the hen does all this keeping them warm, and humid and turned properly all by herself.

After 18 days you make sure there is water in the outside channel (more in dry climates), turn them for the last time and close the lid. Under no circumstances must you open it until the chicks have hatched.

Before I left for work this morning I could hear a faint chirruping. And now there are about four or five that have come out of their shells, and I can hear them scrabbling around amongst the broken shells, chirping madly. Joel and I watched two come out at the same time, about half an hour ago. The first thing you see is a small triangular piece of shell broken off. Then the baby chick's single tooth breaks through the membrane. There's usually a pause of about an hour while it recovers from this exertion. Then it starts to break the egg in a zig zag pattern, around the broadest part of the egg. This might take half an hour. Then all of a sudden, the egg breaks neatly in two, and panting and puffing, the chick unfurls itself and kicks free of the egg. It's wet, of course, and can hardly hold up its head. Peering into the box, you are very relieved to see it panting and breathing. But within half an hour, it's sitting up; and within another half hour, it's dry and fluffy.

Sitting at my desk, I can hear them moving around so vigorously I think they're going to lift the lid and come out, though I know that's impossible. As I go and peer into the box again, I can see the humidity starting to fog up the little window; one or two more eggs have their first little triangle broken, and are wobbling back and forth; while some are not moving at all. I'll give them another 24 hours, then will have to open the box and start to feed the little ones, knowing that those who've not yet made it out, probably won't, or are unfertilised or damaged in some way.

Watching the two little ones emerge — one pale, one dark — with my own child was pretty extraordinary. He's seen this before, but doesn't remember; and at 15 is suitably intrigued, sentimental and concerned about them.

Warm thoughts tonight, then, of the many friends and facebook friends who've given birth recently: Nicole, Amy, Belinda, Clare, and yesterday, Genevieve; and very soon, Kim; and next year, Melanie. And for all those who nurture, in all ways. Well, it was work-in-progress day for our graduate students today; and I know we all felt so proud of them.

So if you're up at Ceres around about Christmas or the New Year, and see some smaller,  younger hens up there, you'll know you were a bloggy witness to their birth.

And just because we can link, here's Joni, in Japan:

Monday, November 01, 2010

Late Hallowe'en tribute: The Headless Horseman

The streets are quiet today; like a late Sunday morning. And why? Because it's the Monday before the Melbourne Cup. Only in Australia do you end up with a four-day weekend to celebrate a horse race that lasts about two minutes (though I'm sure it seems longer if you have put a lot of money on it).

Anyway, I'm working on my Magna Carta essay; Joel is home because the teachers are only giving them fill-in work if they go to school as they are having some other meeting. And after a little searching, I've found a slightly wobbly video of his vocal group at Melba Hall from earlier in the year. Sound and picture get a little better as they go along: but it's a nice taste of what the group can do.

Actually let's call this a tribute to Hallowe'en and the Melbourne Cup: