Wednesday, 25 June 2008

A little light relief

Thinking about why a person would choose to migrate to Australia I came across the following advertisement. Perhaps it is a good thing that the Jaeckels didn't have access to YouTube.



And for a little cultural insight on an Aussie icon that comes with a warning for a short (albeit very funny) piece of bad language:



With thanks to the Scared Weird Little Guys, Mr Blithe and Spencer Howson of ABC Local Radio (612 ABC Brisbane Radio)

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Laughing in the wind

It’s been cold recently and misty. There is nothing like an empty house on a cold misty day. Bare boards echo, windows let in stray draughts, the wind catches on the eaves and whistles. Cows make strange noises as they push up against the fence right below the front windows as they reach for the choicest morsels of grass.

My brother-in-law asked if we had considered double-glazing in the extension. After I had finished laughing, I asked him if he though we should do it before or after installing windows that fit properly, latches that close and the occasional screen. In Queensland I would rank insect screens far above double-glazing. But seriously, this is a house that still has holes in the floorboards where kitchen pipes came through. A couple of windows don’t close properly, there are still some bare rafters and unclad walls, most of the skirting boards still need to be replaced as do architraves and a couple of doors. Double-glazing is an affectation that hasn’t even crossed our minds.

On the other hand we have magnificent views of the misty valley. Some days we are sailing above the clouds. Perry’s Knob and Mount Marrow become islands that we could navigate our way around, anchor and dip into the cold, swirling water. Other days you can see every detail of the farms below and the occasional car sliding between fields.

A few nights ago a vast red moon hung suspended in front of our newly painted windows, simultaneously glorious and eerie. At night the lights of Ipswich trace the distant horizon and we can see who has popped out for the evening and left on their outside lights. In the day, we are garlanded by low denim and yellow hills and crowned by unlimited sky. A hillside of dry grass waves in the wind and a dam seems to disappear as it reflects a passing cloud.

“Who needs double-glazing?” we declaim as the wind snatches the words from our lips. The windows rattle and a shower of elderly putty patters dryly to the ground.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Painting the future

The Jaeckels are on board the Schnelle Reise and are sailing down the west coast of Africa. I’m not sailing anywhere, either in reality or in my writing. I’m not miserable, just kind of stuck. Perhaps my writing is mirroring the tedium of being on board ship for long months. I’m trying to decide if I should jump ahead and start writing about the Jaeckels’ arrival in Australia then double back to fill in the details of the voyage. I’m a bit choked there too since someone asked me what was going to happen to them when they got to Australia – “would there be a bushfire…?” No, I’m not planning a bushfire…aw did that spoil the surprise? Really it’s not that sort of book and bushfires weren’t really that common here. But I am trying to work out exactly where the book is going. I try to write as often as I can because I feel much calmer and happier on days on which I have managed to write something. I do think though that perhaps I shouldn’t have told anyone that I was writing a book. It just irritates me when people ask about what is going to happen or even worse, how it is going. And then I turn curmudgeonly, if that is a word.

So let me tell you about a few other things instead. The council hasn’t given us an extension of our building approval, they have simply told us that they haven’t yet decided that we haven’t failed to meet requirements. And they don’t anticipate deciding until the end of December. The end result once we translated all the double negatives is that we have a bit of breathing space. Really there’s not much left to do in which the council is interested, but finding the time is tricky. Mr Blithe is back at work, the builder has wrapped up all the big jobs and left us to our own devices and it’s just Blithe Boy and I during the day.

The outside of the house is being painted as I write. Peter Painter is the quietest of all the tradespeople so far. He arrives at 6.30am, has a cup of coffee while looking over the valley then I hear the creaks of the scaffolding, the flare of a match lighting the first of many cigarettes then only the intermittent sweep and thump of brushes. Once he has finished the outside transformation will be complete and we will be entirely on our own. I only wish that I could write as effectively and change things as efficiently as he. And that my book would end up the sunny literary equivalent of daffodil yellow and sky blue.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Queensland rising

Queensland has an interesting reputation in Australia. If I could draw parallels with the United States, it is seen as a cross between Florida and Arkansas. It has a fabulous climate and wonderful beaches, but is kinda backward: a place in which to holiday and not to live. Southerners head up here for holidays and retirement, but seldom venture far from the golden coastline of high-rises, high fashion and cutting-edge food. Poor people move here because the booming suburbs of Brisbane have cheap housing. Migrants and visitors don’t venture too far from the coast. The hinter and further lands are the territory of feared rednecks and the oft-cited, but rarely sighted banana benders.

It’s been interesting to see how Queensland has slowly moved more to the centre with our local-boys-made-good now prime minister and treasurer of the country (oddly enough they even attended the same high school although not at the same time). The media are treating the change cautiously. On one hand, these people are savvy enough to have resoundingly won an election, on the other, they are Queenslanders and capable of sudden strange behaviour. And then Kevin Rudd appointed that woman with the funny man’s name, Quentin Bryce, as Governor-General. I wonder what school she went to? Are the Queenslanders taking over the country?

My musings on the idea of Queensland have been prompted by thoughts about some of its more colourful characters. Whatever you may have thought of them, people like Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Pauline Hanson, J.C. Heussler and others, were bigger than life characters. Marburg had its own “big character” in the person of Euchariste Sirois. For some people he is just a funny name that they can’t pronounce on a bridge over Black Snake Creek. Others remember the hospital he built from scratch and the many family members he delivered into the world. Others recall him marrying his matron. Still others remember his battle to have the name of Marburg restored after World War One and his constant letters to the editor on behalf on local issues.

Sirois’ letters to the editor are pompous and long-winded, but rewarding to the patient reader. Taking my turn at the historical society’s open afternoon, I crocheted several long rows (trying to project olde-worldy charm rather than simple exhaustion and relief at being away from renovations) while being read one of his letters by another member. One of Sirois’ pet issues was the need for improvement of the main road through town and on to Toowoomba in one direction and Brisbane in the other. As part of his campaign he wrote letters to the local newspaper in the persona of Carl the Ignorant German Immigrant. Feeling the need for more coverage of the issue, “Carl” was ceremoniously buried and his grave crowned with a large stone bemoaning his death at the hands of local council inactivity on the matter of the road.

A few weeks ago the Historical Society was offered this very headstone that has been on someone’s property since the 1920s. Sadly, Sirois could not foresee this far into the future and was going for maximum exposure by writing the epitaph on a one metre high stone. We had hoped for a long, low stone that could easily be installed. The plan is to erect it in front of the building, unless of course the council follows historical precedence.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Getting back on track

It’s hard to know where to start when you’ve been away from something for a while. I find lists are often useful for organising my thoughts so I thought I’d produce a list of things that we’ve done in the last 10 or so days.

1. Made a list of things to be done.
2. Had many cups of coffee to help assimilate the reality of the task.
3. Tried to think of a place for my mother to stay as the promised spare room wasn’t yet ready (ever valiant and up for things, she slept on the office floor).
4. I removed lino from toilet and landing floor, sanded with orbital sander (yes that was fun), sealed with first coat of polyurethane, fine sanded and am about to add additional layers.
5. Mr. Blithe installed battens and side pieces for living room ceiling.
6. The builder installed metal struts to support the beam that we had earlier lifted in the living room.
7. Mr Blithe and I sheeted the living room ceiling with MDF “fake vj” sheeting. This only took until 1.30am one fine night or should I say morning? In the end the new ceiling is 52 cm higher than previously.
8. The builder cut a large hole in our bedroom wall to install a wardrobe (currently awaiting doors).
9. Mr. Blithe replaced a large hole in the old kitchen wall with vjs taken from the bedroom wall.
10. Mr. Blithe and I sheeted what will eventually be the ensuite walls.
11. We replaced all the broken or missing window panes.
12. The builder cut through the wall of our current house to make an archway leading to the joining hallway and the former bathroom.
13. The laundry was wet-sealed and certified as per council regulations.
14. We discovered (painfully) that tiling is not our natural metier and have asked a friend to help.
15. For the only time (I hope) in my life, I was out of bed at 6.15am to shift dirt to cover our new plumbing work so that we could have our final plumbing inspection.
16. We had the inspection. The inspector was to come “after lunch” which he did by arriving at 5pm. It took about five minutes and we passed.
17. The electricians rewired the entire house, installed plugs, ceiling fans, lights, smoke detector, fixed up our phone connections and provided us with the required form saying that they had done so.
18. I spent an anxious half hour reconnecting us to the internet.
19. Various walls were scraped back and sugar soaped.
20. The painter sanded back the outside walls, primed them and has started painting them daffodil yellow.
21. We discovered the house removers had not done a required structural inspection, hounded them for close to a week and got them to arrange and pay for it. The engineer popped in today for five minutes and completed the forms.

In the midst of all this, and I’m sure there are things that we did that have disappeared into the mists of physical exhaustion, Mr Blithe received and accepted a new job offer. We also had a sad burial of Clara the Guinea Pig who was killed by what we think was a wild dog. It broke into the cage and got her but not her sister. It was a sad introduction to the realities of life for Blithe and Merry Girl. Clara now lies surrounded by native Bailey’s cypresses in a beautiful resting spot. I only hope not too many family pets will join her.

What I haven’t done is any writing, or much thinking. I have done things in the last week that I never imagined myself capable of doing, but I don’t think the builder’s life is meant for me. In fact, I’d rather not even tackle another renovation. Right now I wouldn’t mind a long beach vacation with a good library close to hand.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Game on

I’ve just sorted out the Jaeckels’ departure in light of the information I found out about the Port of Hamburg. A section of my notebook is now marked with *, **, *** and a ∆. I only hope when I go back to type it up that I can work out the multiple directions the text is heading. It is as convoluted as the currents of the Elbe River swirling into seawater at the ocean mouth. Okay, okay, it’s early in the morning and metaphors can be a little strained at this time. I haven’t even finished my first cup of coffee. I sometimes wonder if what I am writing on the novel even makes sense or if when I come back to it in the clear light of day, it will be pages of gibberish.

I have been remiss in keeping people up to date. Blithe Girl had a wonderful birthday. The Iraqi government and FIFA cooperated, the game was on, and Harry Kewell scored the winning goal (and only goal of the match) for Australia at the end at which they were sitting. Though exhausted on her actual birthday, I think she glowed all day.

A letter to this week’s Gatton Star recommends parking at Riverview train station as the hidden secret of successfully travelling to Brisbane. The only downside to the birthday excursion to Lang Park was that Mr and Blithe Girl did just that and returned to find that someone had tried (unsuccessfully) to break into the car. So dear readers, please ignore said advice even if it was in the newspaper and everyone knows that what’s in the paper must be true.

The game is on for us in a different way and one that will lead to less blogging over the next few weeks. The council has told us that if we don’t meet the June 15 deadline for “practical completion” of the extension, we will have to go through the whole approval process again and get a new development approval. It took two months, a lot of trouble and significant expense to get the last one. Mr Blithe is taking next week off work, my mother is coming up from Sydney to look after Blithe Boy and we are going to do our best to meet the deadline. A few things depend on other people, but we will get done what we can. It will be interesting and I suspect painful, but we are determined to finish this project. I’ll write what and when I can, but I can’t promise anything. I have to wrap up the website project on which I’ve been working for the Residents’ Association in the next 48 hours and then the game is on.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Come travel with me

The Jaeckels are on board the Schnelle Reise and it has just set sail. I was writing this morning and had the ship immediately heading out along the North Sea when I thought that I needed to check my geography. If you go to Google Maps and type in “BallinStadt Museum, Hamburg”, you will see where the dormitories for migrants were located. Select the “satellite” button then zoom out. The dormitories were on the Veddeler Bogen that fronted the M├╝ggenburger Zollhafen (or M├╝ggenburger Port of Entry). Ships would travel at least four kilometres west before meeting the main channel of the Elbe River. It was then 100 kilometres to the North Sea.

If you zoom outwards and follow the track of the Elbe to its mouth you can see images of the ships in the middle of a dredged shipping lane. On either side of the river are scrubby shorelines of low bushes, rocks and the occasional beach, backed with rows of orderly fields, cultivated as close to the shoreline as possible. It looks cold and not very welcoming.

Within 100 kilometres you are passing to the north of the Netherlands. If you zoom out far enough you can see the little balloon marking the BallinStadt Museum and all of Europe and Africa. The Antarctic lines the bottom of the page and you can get a sense of the distance and challenge such a journey would have been. At any point you can zoom in for a closer look at the shorelines past which the ship would sail. Look at Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Angola, Namibia, Capetown. Look at the cliffs, beaches and wild oceans of the Cape of Good Hope, at the shadow of the cape that darkens the deep waters then look at the Indian Ocean. Zoom out again and see the great distance of unbroken blue before the distinctive outline of Australia.

If it doesn’t fill you with awe and excitement, then you probably wouldn’t have chosen to be on such a voyage. Myself, I’m ready to get on a ship right now. Instead I’ll go pick up the children from school. If you haven’t been entirely devoured by the wonders of satellite imagery, take a moment to browse the website of the Ballinstadt Museum. It’s fascinating and might ground you back in reality if you so choose.

Postscript: I changed the search term on Google maps to "BallinStadt Museum, Hamburg" as I myself could not replicate the search when I used "Germany."