Fast away the old year passes

Another difficult year and I am still waiting for the old normal where nothing much happens.

This year I gave up my beloved home to the Mr Fluffy debacle. I bought an old property and renovated to make it pretty. This resulted in damaged hands and emergency surgery. Sigh!

I promised my dear friend Miss H that I would start blogging again and the year has almost gone before I could make it come to pass. But I have dug out a Christmas story and post it here as a small gift to myself and to you. I hope you like it




Not having a mother meant that much of the burden of running the household fell on my sister and I. By the time I was thirteen I could do all of the cooking and chores necessary required of a good housewife. I could do the grocery shopping and could judge exactly the right amount of frozen peas to pour out of the bag. On one memorable occasion I asked my father why we couldn’t get a dishwasher like other families. He responded “I feed and clothe three of them; why would I want another one?”

But the biggest burden of my childhood was doing the washing. To get to the laundry you had to go through my sister’s and my bedroom. This was due to the peculiar nature of our house; my father didn’t think it necessary to do more than slap up a few walls to create our bedroom. Every Saturday my father would fling open our bedroom door and bellow “Time to get up girls and do the washing”.

We had a huge old fashioned washing machine with a wringer placed strategically over the bowl. Dirty clothes would be flung into the great maw and be hauled out into the waiting cement tub to soak until my father came in from the paddocks to put them through the wringer. We had to wait for him to do this as my mother had once put her hand though the wringer and this had resulted in broken bones. Even my oblivious father seemed to realise this was beyond the capabilities of a 7 and 11 year old.

When we got an automatic washing machine my sister (who was working full time by this stage) stopped doing any of the washing except her own. It was then my job to do all of the washing for the rest of the family; which I did until I left home.

So now I loathe doing the washing. I am inclined to leave it as long as is practical. I will reach further and further into the back of the drawer until I hit the uncomfortable undies. I create a Leaning Tower of Pisa of skirts, shirts and socks. Eventually I am forced to do the washing. I will do six loads, wait impatiently for them to dry drag them and shove them away.

Don’t get me started about the ironing.

This goes with that

I regarded with envy those girls who’s mothers collected them from school and took them shopping. They ran across the road from the school gate and jumped into shiny new cars to be whisked away. Our car was old and only clean when I washed it, which happened on average once a year. My father never came to the school to collect me and shopping was an event rarer than a lunar eclipse.

These girls sped away to shops like Sportsgirl, Portmans and Sussan where the clothes were bright and shiny and smelled faintly of dye.

My new clothes came from Santa. Occasionally there would be a new dress for the agricultural show. The rest of my clothes came in bags from aunts, cousins, distant relations or family friends. While I revelled in the adventure of opening those bags and digging through the contents to see what fit, they were never new and rarely fashionable.

Oh how I longed for more than school shoes to wear to church.

I would go into those shops and touch the bright clothes, running them thought my fingers, wondering how I could steal them and take them home without anyone finding out.

I still accept hand-me-downs from my sister and buy second hand clothes off eBay. But nothing will beat the joyful feeling of going into a shop and buying a new dress. Even better if it’s on sale

A degree and half a Cherry Ripe. What more could one girl need?

My father walked out of my university graduation about half way through.

I never really expected him to come. I had a long list of school plays, parent-teacher interviews and sporting activities that he failed to show up for. So it was a great surprise to me that he volunteered to drive me the 600 odd kilometres from the farm to where I had been attending university.

It would be the third time he made the trip in three years.

The first was when I had left home to go to uni. This was a time filled with perpetual panic. Dad had had cataracts which had meant that he had gone virtually blind and was unable to drive. I had friends going to the same university but somehow it never occurred to me to ask for their help. I had nowhere to live once I got there as I was one of the unlucky ones who had missed out on a room on campus and was to be billeted with some stranger. I had no idea how I would get myself and one suitcase of precious things (including a few new clothes bought especially for the occasion) from one place to another once I got there as Dad’s grand plan was to put me on a bus. It was a disaster of epic proportions. As often happened in my life family friends intervened when things spiralled out of control and my Uncle Peter volunteered to drive me. So Dad came too.

The second was at the end of my final year when he came to collect me and the car full of books and sundry detritus I had managed to collect.

So here we were at my graduation. I was so proud I had made it through and that he was there to see it. I know he was there for the keynote speech. There couldn’t have been too many people besides him and me who were riveted by a scientist speaking about working in arid countries in Africa and the new drought tolerant bean crop they were developing. I remember it quite clearly. I might have a Bachelor of Arts in Late Medieval and Early Modern History with minors in Classical Literature and English but I am still a farmer’s daughter.

He stayed to see me get my “piece of paper” and then he wandered off to the campus shops.

I know other girls who got pens, earrings, necklaces and some even got cars for their graduation presents.

I got half a Cherry Ripe.

Eulogy for my father – Part 2.

Eulogies like funerals are for the living not the dead. We write eulogies to comfort those left behind. In doing so we rewrite history or gloss over the difficulties of our past relationship. I am reminded of one of my grandmother’s favourite sayings “If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all”.

But if a relationship is real there is good with the bad and it is not all sweetness and light. Everything that we said about my father in his eulogy was true. To a point. So here are the bits that didn’t make the cut.

My father was a difficult and complex man who appeared to the world to be a simple one. He was everyone’s friend but only had a few close confidants. He was outgoing and gregarious and loved a chat with mates at the pub but he avoided crowds. He rarely left home and lived his life in a 20 kilometre radius of his front door.

He was a stubborn shit who could never be convinced to do anything that he didn’t want to do. He would ignore you and blithely do exactly what he wanted. If pushed you would be met with anger. I remember one of my cousins ringing me and asking me to convince my father to do something. She said “but you’re the only one he listens too”. But really I think it was because I was the only one who didn’t try to get him to do things he didn’t want to.

He was an accepting of individuals but was generally xenophobic, homophobic and misogynistic. He listened religiously to hate filled radio shock jocks and regurgitated their rhetoric. Yet he was the first to lend a hand and be distressed if people were treated badly.

We learnt very early in my adult life to not discuss politics. He (along with the rest of my family) was at polar opposites to me. My sister once asked of him about me “where did she come from?” His response was “I don’t know; she’s a Cuckoo in our nest!”

He loved to know everything going on but he never rang to initiate a conversation. When I was young I rang home every week. My father would answer the phone and ask how I was and then say “I’ll get you grandmother”. He then received all of my news though filter of her. After her death I was still expected to ring once a week and we finally learnt how to have a conversation but he had a magic phone which never rang out; only in.

Until her death it is almost impossible to think of my father outside the context of my grandmother. He left the raising of his children to her and he was mostly absent. I often describe my childhood as one of benign neglect. Nothing bad happened to us but there was little attention and no overt affection.

My father always made it clear that he expected me to leave the farm and make a life for myself somewhere away from the 20 kilometre radius of his front door. Once I left it was also very clear that there would be no going home and there would be no financial support from him.

After my sister’s son was born she told me that unlike us she wanted her son to grow up knowing that she loved him. It was then that I realised that in our whole life’s my father had never said he loved us. I was 32. I decided that he didn’t need to say it but that I would. So every time I spoke to him on the phone I would say “I love you, Dad.” At first I was met but stunned silence. After about two years of my persistance he would reply “Yes me to.” It took 10 years but the stubborn man finally gave in and would say “Love you too.”

It wasn’t much. It was good to know. It was everything.

Eulogy for my father

Ross was born in 1939 in Canowindra. He was the third of four siblings, John, Colin, Robyn and brother also to his foster sister, Jen. He was brought up on the family farm at Eugowra, enjoying the farm work life, combined with his love of fishing and shooting.

Initially he attended the local school at Paytons Bridge, and then he went to Eugowra Central school before moving on to Yanko Agricultural College. Unfortunately, he had to leave Yanko at the age of 16 after the death of his grandfather, so that he could help his father and brothers run the farm.  His own father’s untimely death at the age of 61 in 1969 made his hard work on the farm even more necessary.

Ross was very involved with the Church when he was young, as an altar boy and also a choir member. He met his future wife, Pamela at a Church Camp in 1961.  They were married in Orange in 1963 and their first child Deborah was born in 1964, followed by David in 1965, and Carol, who was his birthday present in January 1968.

In 1972, tragically, Ross’s wife Pam passed away, leaving Ross with three small children aged 4, 6 and 8 to raise. Ross’s mother Beryl stepped in to help Ross with the children, and with her help, Ross and the children continued to live at on the farm.

The children remember being taken by Ross, no baby sitters for him, to most of his activities, of which he had many! Ross was an active member of Apex, becoming President for a time. He later joined Rotary, and was also very active there, and he followed his father into the Masonic Lodge. He was in the Rural Fire Brigade, recently being honoured for 50 years service.

He was also involved with the Eugowra Show Committee. He was very proud that his family still continues his interest in this area. Both his daughters, and granddaughter Lydia, had the honour of being Miss Eugowra Showgirl, and David and his family are actively involved in the Show Society, working at the Royal Agricultural Show in Sydney every year.

On top of all these activities, he was a keen sportsman. In his young days he took part in competitive clay pigeon shooting, played tennis and was a member of the rugby league team. He was an enthusiastic cricketer and opened the bowling for Eugowra when they won the prestigious Grinstead Cup. Later he became a good golfer, spending a lot of his time at the Eugowra Golf Club, where he took on every job going, from barman and bouncer to President. His fishing was also a great love, and for many years he made an annual trek to the Top End with his mates for Barramundi fishing, coming home each time with a huge freezer full of fish.

In 1991 Ross’s first grandchild, Lydia, was born to David and his wife Cindy, followed by Martin in 1994. Then Deb and Paul had their son William in 2000. These three grandchildren were Ross’s pride and joy as he watched them growing up. He was so proud of Lydia’s achievements at school and university, of the love Martin shared with him for the farming life and his sports, and of Will’s school achievements, especially his music. Every time Ross came to Deb’s for Sunday roast, he would ask Will to get out his clarinet and play him a tune.

He was also proud of his children’s achievements as Deb continued her working life in Orange, Carol her life and work in Canberra, and as David joined his father working on the farm.

As you can see , Ross was always a busy man. Busy in the community, busy with his kids and his extended family, but most of all busy with the farm. The farm was Ross’s life and it was a 7 day a week, 365 days a year job, season to season, year to year. Occasionally he took a holiday, and did a weekly grocery run, but mostly he was on the farm, the place he loved the best in the world. In recent years he had slowed down, but his interest in the farm never wavered. Any activity on the farm that he couldn’t see from the verandah, he wanted to hear about from David on his daily visit. Everything was then noted in his diary.

Ross, despite his size, his booming voice and huge presence, was an unassuming man, a very kind, soft and gentle person, with a dry sense of humour. He was always ready for a yarn.  He listened to what others had to say, and, even if he did not agree, he never judged. Somehow he always found the right words to offer advice or help as necessary.

Although his sudden and untimely death did not take place where he might have wanted to be most, on his farm, there is comfort in the fact that he was with his sister Robyn and her family in Albury, where he always liked to visit, and he was not alone as he passed from this world.

Ross was a very big guy in all ways. He was a very big man with a very big heart, and his passing leaves a huge hole in all our lives. He will be so sadly missed. As a Dad to Deb and Paul, David and Cindy and to Carol; as Rosco to his grandchildren Lydia and Marty and Poppy to Will; as a brother to Colin, Robyn and Jen, but, to all of us, as the greatest of mates and a really great bloke. We all miss you, Ross.

Motherhood… or why I have cats


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It’s just as well I didn’t have children.

Without a mother to show me the way I am totally ill equipped. Like an archer with a quiver and bow but no arrows.

I look at my friends parenting with equal parts judgment and bemusement. I may criticise but I know that I could do no better and think I would in fact be worse. I would have been a yelling, smacking, because I said so, eat it now parent.

I always assumed I would have children. Not for some deep maternal longing but because that’s what you did. Find some man, marry and breed. When I was 28, the same age my mother was when she died, I had an epiphany.

I didn’t want to have children; I wanted daughters. I didn’t want to be a good parent; I wanted to create the perfect mother-daughter relationship. Not to perpetuate the species but to recreate the relationship that I missed out on.

But deep in my psyche there is a truth. You have children and then you die.

I know that people don’t actually die. But their hopes, dreams and their ability to hold a conversation seem to. Everything in their lives goes on hold for eighteen to twenty years.

They would say that having children brings them joy and gives them a type of immortality. Bugger immortality I want to live now. I have an animalistic need to survive and if that means never having children I’ll take that deal.

I have no desire to do something I would be bad at. Why inflict my smacking yelling self on some poor hapless child. Cats are much more resilient.

Choosing not to have children means that I have skipped an essential step in the aging process. Perhaps the goal in the end is not just to survive but to never grow old.

A perpetual Peter Pan.

Canberra’s Best Second Hand Bookshops


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I love the smell of a second hand bookshop. The slightly musky scent of old paper mixed the sweet smell of new print rates as one of my top five smells (along with freshly brewed coffee, newly mown grass, the air just before a storm and anything made with chocolate).. That smell mixed with the thrill of the hunt when I wander into to a great second hand book shop gives me an adrenalin high.

So when I overheard someone recently saying that there were no decent second hand bookshops in Canberra I was confounded. As a veteran book shopper with 25 years’ experience here is my guide to Canberra’s best second hand bookshops.

Canty’s Bookshop 4/59-61 Wollongong Street, Fyshwick
Open Mon – Sun: 10:30am – 5:00pm

Canty’s is my number one place to go second book shopping. Operating since 1993 they have an extensive range at very reasonable prices. Spread over three shops entering Canty’s feels like entering Aladdin’s Cave. You never know what gems you will find around the next corner.

They have a 50/50 split between fiction and non-fiction. Paperback fiction ranges from six to ten dollars.

If you need a coffee to recover from the hunt then Café Ona is just across the road.

Ron’s Book Shop 3/72-74 Hawker Place, Hawker
Open Mon – Fri 9:00am-6:00pm, Sat 9:00am-3:00pm, Sun 9:00am-12:00pm

If you’re looking for the thrill of the chase Ron’s Book Shop is for you. Tucked away in the middle of the Hawker shops; stepping into Ron’s feels a little like entering an episode of the TV show Hordes. There are books stacked in every corner and spilling over onto the floor.

The focus of the bookshop is primarily fiction with about a quarter of the shop give over to non-fiction. The fiction is in very good order and prices average $10 – $11.

For an excellent day out just across from Ron’s is one of Canberra’s hidden restaurant gems, Rock Salt.

Beyond Q 41 Curtin Place, Curtin
Open Mon – Sun: 9:00am – 6:00pm

To reach Beyond Q you go down a steep set of steps and into a subterranean wonderland. As one of the biggest second hand bookshops in Canberra they have an excellent range of both non-fiction and fiction and they have a secret squirrel section for the serious antiquarian. The prices are a little on the high side with paperbacks averaging around $12.

If you’re exhausted from browsing there is no need to look elsewhere for coffee and cake. Beyond Q has a cute little café tucked away right near their front door. They often have live bands playing. If you come at the right time you can browse for your favourite author to the sounds of jazz.

Book Lore 94 Wattle St, Lyneham
Open Mon – Sun: 10:00 am – 5:30 pm

Specialising in non-fiction Book Lore is in the inner north suburb of Lyneham. They have specialty sections in art, botany Australiana and military history.

Book Lore’s small section of quality fiction and literature makes up around a quarter of the store. Fiction is offered at quite a good price ranging from eight to ten dollars. There is a small but thoughtful selection of children’s books.

If you build up an appetite book hunting Book Lore is right next door to Tilly’s Divine Café.

 Canberra Lifeline Book Fair

While not a book store, any list about second hand books would not be complete without mentioning this is Canberran intuition. With approximately 200,000 items for sale The Lifeline Bookfair is a mecca for second hand book hunters. Over 10,000 people attended the 2012 Autumn Bookfair.

All profits from the Lifeline Bookfair goes to the Lifeline Canberra telephone crisis counselling service. The doors open for the next Bookfair on 28 March 2014.

I believe in the philosophy proposed by S. R. Ranganathan in 1931 that every book has its reader. Even better if we can save the planet and buy it second hand. Good luck and happy hunting.

Beep Beep


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If I had a mother I would have been able to go for the Road Runner.

My sister decided that she and my brother were for the Road Runner and that I was to go for the Coyote. No matter how much I struggled or complained it made no difference. She would not change her mind. I was for the Coyote and that was that. Even when I watched the cartoon without them there I knew that I was for the Coyote. I was desperate to go for the Road Runner.

The Road Runner was fast and clever and went “Beep, beep”. The Road Runner always won. He never got blown up, run over, fell off a cliff or had dynamite explode in his face. The Road Runner did things with panache. Unlike the Coyote. He was a grave disappointment. The Coyote was out-smarted out-played and out run by the Road Runner. He was often beaten by his own ineptitude.

I wanted to be the Road Runner.

Inevitably in my life I was the Coyote. I fell over, forgot things, broke things and occasionally blew things up. I never ran with elegance and I never got things right on my first go.

Only now with the benefit of hindsight can I see the important thinks Wile E. Coyote can teach me.

Be creative in solving problems. Work hard. Always try your best. Make the most of what you have.

Never ever give up.

Happy Birthday to me


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As a child all I wanted for my birthday was chocolate packet cake. Any flavour would have done but chocolate was my favourite.

To hope for more was an exercise in disappointment. Other kids had parties and chose their birthday cake from the Woman’s Weekly Party Cake Cookbook. I knew better.

All the cakes, slices, biscuits and pies in our house were made from scratch. They were made with eggs from chickens I kept and milk from cows my father and brother milked. We did use margarine like everyone else (ironic considering my obsession with butter!). My paternal grandmother taught me to cook and I loved it. I never felt the need for store bought cakes but for my birthday it was what my heart longed for. To be a little like every other kid I knew. Nana would not buy those rubbish packet things but would usually relent for my birthday.

The first birthday party I had was when I turned 18. It wasn’t a large party; family and friends at the local golf club. There were however presents, a cake and alcohol. So there you have it, a party with everything.

My 21st was at that same golf club. It was an overblown affair with pink table decorations, burgundy candles and a fruit cake with pink sugar roses as was traditional in my small country town. Every present I received was for my Glory Box (for the uninitiated a Glory Box was a box full of things you used to furnish your home when you found a man, got married and settled down to breed). My entire extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins came; even second cousins once removed came.

It was also my father’s 50th birthday so many of our family friends came. I was born on my father’s birthday. Sometimes I think that is the only reason he remembers when my birthday is. We had nearly 100 people there.

Yet the thing I remeber most is my dissapointment that none of my friends were there. We had all just finshed at university and scattered to the four winds so none of them could come. Another dissapointing birthday.

So like Scarlet swearing she would never go hungry again my birthday now is never uncelebrated. It is traditional for my birthday celebrations to span approximately a week. My best friend dubbed it the “Festival of Carol”.

Not too many birthdays ago one of my lovely friends threw me a party with pass the parcel, pin the tail on the donkey, sparklers and a Dolly Varden Cake. Whoever said you can’t go back has it totally wrong. This was perfect.