Tuesday, 29 July 2008


I tried to find some clever way of describing the various school events, an influx of family visitors (none of whom have yet offered to paint!) one here, others on the way, the impending council inspection on the morrow and the continued search for a car. I started out with a few lyrical metaphors, a quick wordsketch of busyness, some overly florid phrases and abandoned them all.

The reality is that I am just busy, rather too busy to be crafting well-honed metaphors and incandescent literature. Surprisingly, perhaps because the Jaeckels have taken on a life of their own, their story continues to unwind in my notebook. There’s a lot to be said for the simple discipline of having a clearly delineated time in which to write. Other things are ruthlessly put aside. In those few early morning minutes, housework remains undone, the computer is ignored, I don’t get dressed beyond layering on a few sweaters and my dressing gown. I do concede to one of my weaknesses and make my first cup of coffee. Then I shift the piles of half-read books, school notes and unsorted mail, sit down with notebook and pen at my dining table and write steadily for half an hour if I’m lucky.

My sister wants to read the book before she’s sixty. I restrained myself from verbal or physical retort. Why do I feel eight years old when I am with my siblings? Even if I wanted to, I can’t offer any kind of timeline for this book, but it is getting written. Whether or not she ends up getting to read it is out of my hands.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Traipsing in the mud

Balancing an armload of shopping bags, small child, backpack and umbrella this morning I dripped my way into the Rosewood IGA and immediately saw the picture mentioned earlier in the comments. As part of its expansion from merely an IGA to a Supa IGA, the supermarket spent some time and trouble looking at photographs at the Rosewood Scrub Historical Society. Their selection of local images were enlarged into photo murals that decorate both entrances. And the image right near the rear entrance is a train at Perry’s Knob. Whether the society chose the spelling or the IGA did, they are promulgating the “K.” I feel vindicated.

I’ve been trying to shop locally and have changed my shopping from a run down the highway to a meander over the hills to Rosewood. Every time I follow the ridge past the cemetery and descend the curves into Rosewood, I think of the early settlers taking the same route by wagon. Today I was idling along behind a Linfox container truck groaning its slow way up the inclines and felt as if I was probably going along at a similar speed as they did. The nice thing is that it is such a pleasant drive that I don’t mind taking it slowly. There are rolling hills, occasional glimpses of the river plain below, distant sightings of the jagged peaks of the Main Range, a mysterious plantation of huge old hoop pines, old houses, sagging sheds with rusted rooves, the local garbage dump, the mine, occasional livestock on the road…who could be bored?

It’s rainy and surprisingly cold. Our road has a muddy stream down either side and the centre is a mass of bumps. The badly filled potholes on the Rosewood Road have all washed out and our driveway…well it is not in good shape. I had to take a couple of runs at its steepest part before the wheels would grip today. There are days when the thought of a nice sealed driveway or a big four-wheel drive are very seductive. I’m guessing that when this house was built in the 1920s, access was via what is now the neighbour’s driveway – a gentle incline that is a meek cousin to our bush track. Our neighbours over the road find our driveway very amusing and seem to enjoy the occasional mishap, slide, spurts of gravel, cursing and clouds of dust.

Today was a little more difficult than usual because in addition to the slippery driveway, I have a damaged left thumb. At the time I hurt it, I thought that it was a good thing that it was the left hand and not the right. Now I have realised how much I depend on a sturdy left thumb. The list of things that it hurts to do grow longer by the minute: changing gears, releasing the handbrake, picking up a lot of things, turning off our solid old light switches (the kind that go “thunk” when you move them), lifting small children, buttoning things, using the Apple command key…After all the things I have done on the house and managed to avoid damaging myself, last night I was heading for the shower and decided to change a light bulb on the way. It was just a bit too high so I grabbed a chair, stood on it and fell off it. My backside squashed the recycling very effectively (though it is not a technique I am planning to use again) and my thumb stopped itself on the remains of our back window leaning in the corner with nails strategically pointing out.

At the time all I could think of was not breaking the screen and back windows. Afterwards I was trying not to hyperventilate at the sight of blood streaming down my wrist and dripping in the sink. Now I am trying to work out if I can paint one-handed or if it is the perfect excuse for sloth.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Who was Perry?

I don’t know Perry. I don’t know if it was a first name or a last name. All I know is that when I look in a south-easterly direction from my house, the hills that make up the other side of the Marburg Valley terminate in a bumpy ridge named Perry’s Knob. I don’t know if Perry found it, or owned it, or if he was just a well-endowed local resident.

Google Perry’s Knob and you will find it listed on Queensland rail maps as the centrepoint of the Rosewood train. This is by far grander than it sounds. The official route is Rosewood, Cabanda, Perry’s Knob then Kunkala. Of these, Rosewood is still a working railway and is the terminus of the Brisbane electric rail line. Cabanda and Perry’s Knob are historical points on a map, but don’t exist as actual stations. Kunkala is a restored railway station down a sideroad off the Rosewood-Tallegalla Road. On the last Sunday of the month, enthusiasts run a steam train for visitors. Its sponsoring organisation, the Australian Railway Historical Society refers to the station as Perry's Nob.

Fifteen minutes of a recent meeting on the Marburg website were devoted to a discussion of Perry’s Knob. You see, the map on the front page of the site originally listed Perry’s Nob. After some discussion, a “K” was carefully inserted in front of the “N” which was downgraded to a “n.” The decision was based on official nomenclature and certain peoples' personal pedantry. Some trepidation was involved because the original unmodified map comes from a book that is written by “someone who knows.” I’m presuming that they don’t object to the cropping, colouring, tidying and other aesthetic modifications.

Other than noting that a nob is defined by my trusty OED as “a person of wealth or high social position” or “the head” whereas knob is defined as “a rounded protuberance especially at the end or on the surface of a thing” or a “prominent round hill” I gave no further thought to the matter. Official maps also list the geographical feature as a “knob” rather than a “nob.”

Members of the historical society are troubled however. People whom live on streets named after them, i.e., people who matter in Marburg, aver that it is and always has been “Perry’s Nob.” Discussion was animated and passionate. Should customary usage prevail or should geographical accuracy be adhered to? Is the nob/knob discrepancy related to German-English language issues? Whose feelings would be hurt? On such things do small-town politics ride.

A leaflet on the Main Range (“stretching from the New South Wales border at Wilson’s Peak to north of Cunningham’s Gap, [that] acts as a natural barrier between the Moreton Region and the Darling Downs, and forms part of southeast Queensland’s mountainous Scenic Rim”) published by the Queensland Geological Society refers to Perry’s Knob as an example of remnant basalts left by the volcanic activity that formed the range.

According to an Ipswich City Council document Perry’s Knob was “named after the Perry family who owned the western slopes and the knob itself.” All the maps other than the charming hand-drawn one adapted (with permission) for our website use knob.

So now I know that it was the Perry family and not Perry Something and that they owned the land and the knob. We have a map that aligns with contemporary geographical standards and wider cartographical and geological usage (and incidentally satisfies the geographical pedant though not the local historian). What I don’t know is whether local history and popular usage should trump these. And am I going to be run out of town?

Friday, 18 July 2008

21st century angst

I think I’m having some kind of early mid-life crisis. Last night I was lying awake in bed telling myself how tired I was and how much I needed to sleep (which strangely doesn’t make you sleepy). Instead I was making lists in my head of the things I have done in my life that could be classified as work and dividing them into paid and unpaid categories.

Into the category of paid employment was:
Teaching English (as a second language).
Marketing dimsums for a Chinese business.
Taking Santa photos for David Jones (department store).
Tutoring and homework assistance.
Trade promotion (advertising, events management, speechwriting).
Teaching assistant at uni.
University instructor (media and popular culture)
Maître d'hôtel (or as it is charmingly called in the US “hostess” which means something else entirely in Australia.)
Freelance editing.
Survey research and interviewing.

Unpaid and volunteer employment:
Sub-editor for an on-line magazine.
Website coordinator/administrator.
Photo editor.
Graphic layout.
Computer trainer.

There is a definite trend here that was keeping me awake last night. In general, the things that I really enjoy doing I don’t get paid to do. In fact, having a graduate degree in mass communication tends to freak out potential employers, although it did lead to a conversation the other day that amused me. I was talking to someone about how difficult it was to find good jobs locally especially with my qualifications. Without giving me a chance to elaborate on this, she assured me that I could always go to uni, in spite of my age (and perhaps obvious deficiencies?) and get some formal training. I never got a chance to explain that it was just that -- my formal qualifications -- that seemed to preclude me from doing anything interesting.

The last few months/years I’ve been running over in my head what I should be doing with myself. I want to open a bookstore in Marburg, but that isn’t going to work while the children are still young. I’m trying to work out how to run a communications business from home – something that ties together all the things that I enjoy and at which I am good. And this is what keeps me awake at night seeing that I probably won’t be making my millions writing historical vampire romances. I’ve already abandoned the notion of making any of the Jaeckels undead.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Horror stories

It’s been a long tiring school holidays. The children spent much of their time squabbling. Blithe Boy is now old enough to join in and cheerfully echoes his older siblings’ pronouncements. Fortunately, with the new part of the house we now have enough staircases, far enough apart, for one per child to sit on and ponder the error of their ways. And the staircases have been well used over the last few weeks. Squabbling children is nothing new but between painting the house which leaves me tired and cranky, adjudicating battles, separating combatants, feeding and watering, failing to keep up with various tasks, receiving a death sentence for our second car and subsequent decisions about how to replace it and a persistent undercurrent of frustration at not getting any writing done, it’s been a very long fortnight (not to mention a run-on sentence).

Blithe Boy has discovered the power of saying no. His latest is that he won’t drink milk after his sisters told him that it comes from a cow. “Don’t like cow’s milk” is his plaint. And so, today inspired by the pair of huge black crows hopping around our yard, I told him that we only had crow’s milk. He was quite happy to drink it and delighted by the notion. It has come to this – lying to children.

Then last night, Mr Blithe told me that I should be writing vampire romances. Apparently, and I have heard this from other authoritative sources, vampire romances are the new wave. As Gail Collins, smart-writing columnist for the New York Times, and a favourite of Mr Blithe’s, advises “If you want to become a best-selling novelist…start by making your hero a little bit undead.”

In her July 12 column Collins is riffing on the best-selling The Twilight Saga written by a stay-at-home Mormon mother, Stephenie Meyer. The fourth novel is about to be released with great fanfare. Collins points out that “People who have tried to write fiction may be deeply depressed to hear that she did it [wrote the novels] in a flash after she had a dream about the characters, who then inhabited her mind and dictated the novels to her.”

My concern, after the last few weeks is that anything inhabiting my mind is not dictating novels to me, or if they are, only of the mundane variety spiced with a dash of horror.

Friday, 11 July 2008

After the rain

After the rain has come the cold. We had overnight temperatures in the low single digits, cold daytimes in the low teens all accompanied by a biting wind. Unusually I have had the fire on during the daytime. I tell myself that it serves a dual purpose: heat and dealing with the piles of wood rubbish left from the building. I do have pangs of regret as I have burnt offcuts of solid hardwood handrails and the remnants of morticed studs from the removal of our dining room wall. They aren’t anything that can be reused but they are part of our house. It seems in some way cannibalistic.

Even Blithe Girl who never feels the cold has complained of cold hands and enjoyed the fire. The mice have certainly been grateful. We’ve named all of them Russell after the noises they make in the night. They seem to be making themselves very comfortable. I had to pick up some new traps yesterday at the supermarket (or as we euphemistically call them in front of the children “mouse persuasion devices”). They only had very flimsy models, so much so that the Russells enjoyed a good snack last night without setting off any of the “devices.”

About four years ago we had a mouse plague and I kept a tally of “persuaded” mice. I stopped counting when we got close to one hundred. Mr. Blithe crawled around under the house and filled every gap with expanding foam. It seemed to work. This time there are so many gaps that we can’t eliminate them. We need to replace many a skirting board before the issue is solved. We thought of renting a cat but I am not a cat, nor an indoor pet person so we will have to persuade Russell as we can and live with him/them until the house is less holey.

It struck me though that mice and indeed fending off the winter cold must have been an issue in the early days especially when people lived in slab huts. Wood would not have been an issue as people were clearing the land as fast as they could under government incentives. There must have been woodpiles dotting every hillside. I imagine people would keep their fires going as steadily as they could. There were inherent dangers in these fires. There are many tales in family histories of mothers and children burnt, sometimes fatally, while cooking, tending or playing around fires. And there are many records of buildings burning down including the Marburg Butter Factory. You don’t hear too many tales about the mice, but I imagine that great effort and ingenuity went into keeping them out of precious crops, grain supplies and food if not out of the house. At least for us it is mainly only a nuisance.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Rainy day catching up

It’s cold and rainy. We’ve already had more rain this July than in four of the previous five years (yes I have an Excel spreadsheet with all our rainfall on it since we bought our first rain gauge in May 2003). It is conducive to staying in bed and doing nothing except that there is a lot to be done. I have been planning for days to take photos of the outside of the house to post here but rain has slowed this down. I really don’t want to traipse through the mud around the house, crawl under a barbed wire fence, then slog through knee high wet grass to get a good shot. Where is my dedication?

Yesterday I had a houseful of children, even more than usual with school friends over on a rainy day. Their mother was suitably impressed with the paintwork on the outside of the house but was struck by the contrast with the inside, which is very much a worksite/work in progress. The living room has trestles and saw set up and piles of trim (architraves, skirting boards, wall trim) leaning against walls. Wall and ceiling sheeting lean against another wall. The compressor occupies a corner. The bedroom is the tidiest but still has piles of wood and spare tongue and groove (vjs) leaning in one corner. The old kitchen is our tool and everything-we-don’t-want-elsewhere repository. One old kitchen wall cabinet is piled high with sharp and poisonous things out of the reach of small ones. The toilet and laundry are swathed in drop sheets and semi-painted. I spent about 16 hours over the weekend painting or preparing to paint and I have the aches and bruises to prove it.

Scrape, sand, sugar soap, undercoat and seal, topcoat twice. Doesn’t sound like so much does it? Imagine doing it up a ladder stretching for the 3 metre ceiling. I’ve learnt a few lessons (you can infer for yourselves how I might have learnt them):

1. A small paintpot with a handle works better up a ladder than trying to balance an old icecream container.
2. You need two brushes to paint vj. A skinny one for the grooves and a wide one for the flat bits.
3. Never write on a wall even a bare wooden one in ballpoint pen. We now have a beautifully illustrated builder’s diagram on one wall that is perfectly legible through five coats of paint.
4. Don’t listen to salsa music on your iPod when you are on top of a slightly wobbly ladder.
5. Don’t paint at night with the window open unless there is no other time to do it. The newly painted walls become graveyards of flying insects. Moths are the worst as they stumble and leave wing fluff across broad expanses of previously impeccable antique white.
6. Make sure that you are on the bottom rung of the ladder when you step off it.
7. Pay someone else to do your painting.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Tentacles of nostalgia

Families are odd things. I’ve been feeling a bit low – some combination of a grey day, post-website completion letdown, school holiday tiredness and general restlessness. I had lunch with Mr. Blithe and assorted Blithe children today at his work. It was lovely, but university campuses also make me restless. I think it is because I spent so long on them. They are both totally familiar and also alien to my current life. You can walk onto pretty much any university campus in the world and it is instantly recognisable and to me, comfortable. I think it helps that I still pretty much dress like a student so I fit in! But it’s also such a step away from my daily life that I feel a wave of nostalgia.

Work is always a good thing when you are feeling restless and low so I turned to another small project that has been waiting in the wings. My mother brought a selection of old family photos when she visited and I have been scanning them onto my computer and fixing them up. In most cases I’ve managed to get a better image than the original.

And it is these photos that prompted me to think about how families are funny things. I see these children, so young and so close to each other. They seem the most perfect of friends and companions. And yet nothing is revealed of relationships, state of mind or psychological characteristics. You can look at a photo and not really know anything about how the people in the picture are thinking or feeling. You don’t know how they will turn out as adults, if they will be friends, what they will do with their lives. All you see is that one moment caught in time of three children with bare feet, sitting on their tarmacked front yard smiling at the camera.

I remember the dress: striped brown and yellow. I remember feeling cheerful and comfortable in the dress like a human bumblebee. I remember squabbling with my siblings though not if I was at that time. I remember the heat of the tar on the back of my legs and the array of bamboo sticks bound together to make a kind of fence for our row house so that we didn’t run out the front door and straight onto the busy road. I remember the water buffalo that used to pass the front of the yard and the children who would run after it to pick up the dung for the fields. I remember peanuts being harvested next door in the field and how we would run along the furrows gleaning fresh nuts. And the mice, rats and occasional snake that would visit. I remember convincing my best friend to climb to the top of a haystack to show me his physical prowess and him falling and breaking an arm. That was the second time his father had to take him to hospital on the back of his motorbike. Somehow, I never needed to go.

Perhaps looking at old photos isn’t really the best thing when you’re already feeling low. On the other hand, my mother is delighted with the images. This one was taken on their old camera that used to always grow mould on the inner lens in the intense humidity. Few of the photos of that era have survived intact. We look as if we have been playing in mud but it is just residual spores.

I’m trying to use some of these recaptured feelings from the past to think about how the Jaeckels might have felt, leaving family and friends. If they are in a new country with new customs and ways of doing things, how will that affect their old ways of interacting? How will they create new ways for their own family to interact? Will nostalgia grasp them or will they feel free?

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Bird-watching contagion

When I moved to Marburg my mother gave me a bird book. I would have preferred a tree book – my inclination is towards things that don’t move, make noises and require cleaning up after. Plants do require care and sometimes a lot of it, but they reward such care by looking beautiful, creating shade and patterns of light, cleaning up the environment and did I mention that they are quiet? I must be the mother of a household of children. But my mother and my grandfather are and were birdwatchers so a bird book I got.

Over five years later I still don’t have a tree identification book, but I have used my bird book more than I ever imagined that I would. There are so many different and interesting birds in this area of mixed open grassland, patches of scrub and the swampy areas down in the valley. The bird book has actually become a little worn. Part of it is from my use, part from the fact that the children love to look through its meticulously illustrated pages. Seeing birds and identifying them is not the same as keeping birds. Most of the birds would terrify me in close proximity. Like I said, I’m not really a bird or animal person. I also continue to bemoan my lack of a tree book.

At 7.40 this morning I was lying in bed relishing the realisation that only myself and Blithe Girl were awake. I was in that delightful state of trying to decide whether to stay warm in bed or get up and make myself a quiet cup of coffee. My mornings are not usually like this, but it is school holidays and I’m trying to make the most of not having to leap out of bed and chivvy the children schoolwards.

My phone rang and the conversation went like this:

Neighbour: “Do you have a walking phone?”
Me: “Yes.”
Neighbour: “The harrier is out. If you come out your front door.”
Me: “I’m still in my pyjamas.”
Neighbour: “I won’t look, I don’t have my binoculars anyway. Okay I can see you now. In a straight line between you and me, on the fencepost. No, not that one, On the boundary between you and Russell’s. Okay it’s flying now.”
Me: “I still can’t see it.” Squinting in the bright sunlight.
Neighbour: “It’s flying up Russell’s field now. About a metre off the grass.”
Me: “I can see it, I can see it. Is it hunting? What does it eat?”
Neighbour: “Insects. Maybe bigger things like lizards.”
Neighbour and myself: Thanks and farewells etc.

So it has come to this. Five years in the country and I am traipsing around my front yard in flannel pyjamas and boots (sorry neighbour), treading over wet grass and looking for birds. Admittedly, a magnificent broad-winged bird flapping strongly as it flew uphill over the fields, dark brown and cream against the dry yellow grass. But a bird, and me getting excited. What has the world come to?

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Time cycles

Years after I’ve left university it is funny how the university year still shapes my life. Part of it is that after a decade at university, my internal calendar still makes me jumpy in autumn, the beginning of the academic year both in northern and southern hemispheres. The cooling temperatures interspersed with languid warm days, the sense of urgency that the falling leaves of autumn brings always brings signals to me that I have to get going, do things, put my head down and tackle whatever new that is coming my way.

The other way that the academic calendar still shapes my life is that Mr Blithe works at a university and his work timetable changes with the time of year. As his schedule changes, so does mine. Right now it is the semester break, what is officially called a “non-teaching period.” Mr Blithe doesn’t teach but he does catch a university bus to work. As the frequency of buses is downgraded to correlate with the holidays, he leaves for work a bit later. And I lose out on my precious near hour to write. It’s not his fault. I just can’t write when there is someone else wandering around getting ready for work, even a quiet pleasant someone.

It’s also the school holidays so writing has been relegated to the backburner for a couple of weeks. I’m trying to type up and tidy what I’ve done so far so that I’m up to date on the purely administrative side.

I’ve also spent most of the last week working in moments, spare and otherwise, on the website for the Residents’ Association. As of today, we have gone live in a kind of “soft launch” for people to have a look at and get an idea of what we’ve done. Feel free to take a look . Tonight is the monthly meeting of the association and I really wanted to have something done to show them. As well, I am weary of the project so it is good to have something finished. There are still various ends to tidy up. The designer is going to teach us how to administer it and make minor changes ourselves. The associated blog that we are using as our calendar will need to be regularly updated.

Then there was an entire weekend spent working on the house. We are becoming so boring. The yard is looking shaggy, friends are ignored, I can’t remember when I last got a haircut. But progress is being made. The laundry is tiled, the connecting hallway is sheeted, the living room ceiling only has two more panels to be put up. We’re about to tackle sanding and painting the utility rooms (toilet and laundry). We have aches, odd shaped bruises, scraped and punctured hands and sore knees, but we are within sight of completion. Whatever will we do with ourselves after that?