Saturday, 30 July 2011

A wedding frippery

I recently found out that the white wedding dress was an innovation of Queen Victoria. She didn't want to wear a heavy brocade gown and wore something lighter and more summery for her wedding. Somehow it become first the fashion and then the tradition to wear white. So the bride wearing white at a wedding is hardly a tenet of Western civilisation or indeed, even a very long tradition.

A new exhibit on the history of the white wedding dress is opening at the Bendigo Art Gallery and the ABC recently featured a short piece on the collection. Here's the 5 minute news story on the exhibit. I especially enjoyed the Australian focus and the now-elderly bride who was so thrilled that her wedding dress made by her mother was included.

I also like the emphasis on the stories behind the dresses. For me, it is always about the stories.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Dancing gal

For those of you who know Blithe Girl, you may enjoy watching this clip from YouTube. She's in The Brisbane Gang Show this year. They did a flash mob to promote the show in Queen Street Mall which is the main shopping area in Brisbane. It was great fun to watch.

Click here to watch the clip. And click here to purchase tickets.

Who would have thought my daughter would ever be dancing in Queen Street Mall (or to be honest, able to dance at all?)

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Signs of the times

I was in Sydney on the long weekend to catch up with family. It was a lovely visit. I very rarely see my brother and his family and it was great to spend some time with them. Now that we are "all grown up" (and I put this in quotations because I at least very intermittently feel adult) it's a different kind of relationship. Although there was a moment in the car with my Dad driving when he was cranky at us for not being ready on time then told us off for chattering too much. We caught each others' eye, started to giggle and nudge each other and I felt about 12 years old again.

I love to search out good signage when I'm travelling and post here for your enjoyment my favourite of this trip. My father doesn't like crass mentions of bodily functions so let me just say that this was in a small public room and that people might have wondered about the clicking going on in the cubicle. Not only is the sign funny but it's also a neat little reminder of cultural difference.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Writing slump

I've lost my writing mojo.

Somewhere between Easter and now, I've lost the motivation to write. I've started a handful of posts and done the digital equivalent of crumpling them up in my hand and tossing them in the bin.

Maybe I'm just tired. Maybe I'm just discouraged. Or maybe I'm just not meant to be writing right now.

I'll keep trying. Thank you for your patience.

If you're looking for something to read about Marburg, Queensland, please take a look at our Marburg
news site. There's stories there ranging from new coal exploration leases being applied for in the Marburg area to fund raising morning teas and the enduringly famous Saturday night Marburg dance. Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale reputedly met his wife at one. What better endorsement can there be?

Tuesday, 26 April 2011


Just coming out of the strange Easter/ANZAC Day/school holidays calendar mash-up. I've been meaning to do so many things but so far have managed only some rest, large amounts of chocolate consumption and some long-delayed excavation of my bedroom floor. But in response to a special request from my friend Ms AbsurdBeats, two photos of recent wildlife. First, tongue-in-cheek wildlife: our windscreen after a nighttime drive through the Lockyer Valley. And second, a classic Aussie welcome to Girraween National Park.

Happy Easter everyone.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Photo glee

What I really need to do is a list as long as my arm of chores and obligations and writing. What I actually am doing is playing with my new camera. Its arrival was a saga of parcels sent to the wrong place, enquiries unanswered and persistence. But it is here and I am very happy. Officially it is for work. I actually have a photo shoot job coming up. Unofficially I might just use it occasionally for myself and here for you...

Autumn, Two Tree Hill

New leaves on what we call the vanilla flower bush because the flowers smell just like the vanilla air freshener in cars.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Publishing links

Things have been kinda up in the air around here lately. I'm busy jumping back and forth between various jobs and levels of sanity. If you're interested and have small feet (European size 37 or Australian 6B), here's a niche shoe website that I've been working on for the last few weeks. Ships worldwide...

However, to keep you up on your toes regarding the book world, here are a couple of interesting links.

The first is a blog
reviewing self-published books. You may not be interested in self-published books or the world of self-publishing but these are fascinating reviews full of very helpful information on what terrible mistakes to avoid in your writing. And they are often cringingly amusing (in that sort of "hope I've never done that, must pull out my writing and check" way).

The second link is a blog by the same person who writes the reviews above. This one is bluntly descriptive in its title,
How Publishing Really Works. Plenty of material for thought and agonising over.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Monday, 21 March 2011

He wrote/she wrote

Take a look at this interesting site:

And read this article in the New York Times:

And the algorithm:

Then waste a significant amount of time testing this and tell me what you discover.

I discovered that all of my academic and professional writing in the last two years -- articles, reports, evaluations -- was judged to be written by a male. Even the more touchy-feely qualitative work was judged to be written by a male. Okay then. Perhaps academics are trained to write in a traditionally "male" way.

I then selected two blog entries. One was a more scholarly piece: Learning the Vernacular that given the above, I expected would be judged as "male". The other was my entry on the "episode of the snake in our ceiling" which is a more descriptive piece. Both pieces were assessed as having been written by a male.

When I entered a longish passage from my novel, the judgment was that it was written by a female.

I'm not quite sure what I can learn from this. Is my more successful, i.e., professionally validated writing, successful because it is written in a more "male" way? Is it a consequence of environmental factors that I write differently in different contexts? Is academia socialised to favour male behaviour? Where does my blogging fit into this? And how is it that I transition to a more "feminine" writing style in my novel? Would my writing efforts be more successful if I approached fiction in the same way as I approach report writing and blogging? Is there something in non-fiction that is more inherently male than in fiction?

Many more questions than I have answers for at this time and perhaps ever. But plenty of food for thought.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

A detour to Birdland

In the midst of what seems like the world falling apart -- earthquakes and armies and riots -- my children ran into the bedroom this morning to tell me there was a Tawny Frogmouth in the tree outside the kitchen window. Lying in bed trying to drag myself to the surface, I had heard the rapid patter of feet down the hall and sundry whisperings. They had fetched trusty Simpson and Day to identify our visitor before proudly announcing it.

Mr/Ms Frogmouth has been there all day, in spite of children playing, lawnmower buzzing, bins being opened and closed and camera shutter clicking. I think he might be waiting for the cool of evening. Or is he simply waiting for an unguarded guinea pig?

On the subject of birds, last weekend when we were walking along Enoggera Creek down near the Northey Street Farm in Brisbane, the umbrella trees were in full bloom. Each tree was covered by lorikeets that would take off in vast screeching clouds as you walked by, only to noisily return within seconds. I like lorikeets. They are a living illustration of the fact that beauty is not everything.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Inbox of shame

Someone was telling me the other day about how difficult it is to raise children in the age of access to modern technology and media. It set me thinking about some of the things that are different for me today from when I was a child.

One of them is my Inbox of Shame.

I'm sure that other people's inboxes are full of vital and fascinating emails. Mine is full of emails to myself. I used to write notes to myself on paper, with a pen, sometimes even in a notebook. Now, many of the things I need to remember exist only electronically. I'm so often out and about and internet access is so prevalent in the places that I work, that I send myself emails all the time. I think I rank as my own most frequent emailer (which is sad in a way).

I'm not silly about it. I don't write letters to myself (well only occasionally) but the subject lines say it all:

"a link"

"another link"

"More links"

"Useful article on health journalism"

"For work tweeting"

"Do I need to go to this workshop?"

"For Mr Blithe"

"Possibly interesting blog"

"Have I read this yet?"

When more than say, ten emails in my inbox are from myself, I try to clear out the backlog and put everything where it belongs. A lot gets binned, but then I used to bin or recycle a lot of paper too. Perhaps I need to stop thinking of it as my Inbox of Shame and think of it as the inbox of a busy but environmentally virtuous person. Let's go with that.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Avoiding cliche

How do you describe the last few days of summer while avoiding cliche? Every phrase that springs to mind: "dog days", "shimmering heat", "brassy sunshine", "warm fug of humidity", "burning footpaths", "breathless sunstained evenings", "car doors too hot to touch", "sudden gusty storms", "melting dregs of the day"...all sound trite and overused.

Has summer really been so dissected and described that there is nothing left to say? Or has my brain simply melted into a puddle of raddled cliches swirling around in what the sun and sweat have left?

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Super Vignettes

OED, Vignette: /vi:'njet/ A short descriptive essay or character sketch.
Me, Super vignette: Extra short descriptive sketch.


A palomino mare and foal: golden horses, white railings, green, green field. Gone by in a flash of gold, white, green.

Grey mare with brown foal and a discussion of genetics. And why Blithe Boy isn't adopted even though he is the only blonde Blithe.

Local pacing trainer ambling along the road in his buggy texting as he goes. Does the law against using your mobile phone while driving apply here?

Unbearably muggy molten days turning to cool, dampness on the wings of a fantastical lightening and wind storm.

Learning some new techniques for
plotting novels and trying to figure out when to try them out.

Realising that while I like doing business, there are few things more boring than business network meetings.

Finding a three word description of my business: I sell words.

Being told that I am middle-aged and feeling middle-aged from lack of sleep.

A woman asking for scuffs (backless slide on shoes) at the shoe shop then telling me that she also doesn't like anything over the top of the foot. Me stopping myself from telling her that, by definition, that would no longer be a shoe, just something on which you were temporarily standing.

My big sister running her first half marathon in 2 hours and 36 minutes. I couldn't even run for half an hour. My admiration is boundless.

A huge brown bird dozing in the sunshine on a fencepost being harassed by a pair of lapwings until it finally flaps lazily across the dam. Downthrust from its wings ruffling the brown surface of the water. Walking stiffly to the side of the dam to drink with the lapwings still circling and insanely squawking.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Strange paths

It's been an odd week or so. The irony is that when I am busy getting things done in real life, my blogging suffers. I started blogging almost four years ago now as a way to get myself writing and to exercise my writing muscles. Now, much of my everyday life consists of writing and reading and I don't need the exercise so much. And I just often don't have the time or energy to write something interesting and significant. If you're interested in brief snippets of my life, you can follow my tweets. Sometimes it is easier to come up with 140 characters than a fully fledged post.

The second irony is that in being busy, I've started writing fiction again in odd moments. I've picked up a second part-time job working in a friend's shoe store. In between pricing shoes and helping people select shoes, I often have quiet moments and the motivation to write. I think my family are a bit horrified that I'm heading down the path of career suicide or are at the very least over-qualified. I point out that it's not a lifetime career choice but a part-time job that pays a few bills and isn't too stressful. I'm working two half days, between taking the kids to school and picking them up. It's a local shop in the next small town. I see lots of people I know, meet many others and find the people watching fascinating. I'm wondering if I could get away with writing a book based on the characters I meet in the mode of D.E. Stevenson's Miss Buncle.

It's also a delight to be out of the university and community consultancy mindset. No-one is talking about key learnings, policy recommendations, transparency, accountability, commitment to social equity, strategic support and all the jargon of bureaucracies everywhere. Not that I don't enjoy that but I can step away from it and see it for the self-contained (though better-paid) world that it is.

I'm also working on helping the shop get into online shopping. It's a slow process starting with needing to get a new computer. I discovered that the computer in the shop was bought second hand in 1998 from the local high school! I personally would never buy a computer that has ever been anywhere near a high school. It's like buying a car from a driving instructor -- the guts have been well and truly flogged out of it (not to mention the germs). Oddly enough, this dinosaur is connected to broadband. It's like the Mississippi River funnelled through a mouse-powered turbine that chokes regularly. Once the hardware problem has been solved, I suspect I've have less spare time for writing but I'll be using again some of my "core competencies" to "strategically position" the shoe store online.

See. I can still do it.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Cool but frightening

Take a look at this animated image of Cyclone Yasi bearing down on North Queensland. It is expected to cross the coast around 1am on Thursday. Residents are currently being asked to evacuate low-lying areas and to drive south as far as possible, but at least as far as Mackay. Enforced evacuations will kick in later today. Two Cairns hospitals are being evacuated to Brisbane.

Cairns is 1700km from Brisbane, Mackay is 1000km. So people driving themselves away from the coast need to be at least a day's drive south.

And for those congenital sightsee-ers, this message from the Deputy Police Commissioner who according to the
ABC says that "anyone foolish enough to venture out during the height of the cyclone will be left to fend for themselves."

"At about 8:00am tomorrow, on current predictions, it will become dangerous to be driving about or walking about or doing anything outside due to the force of the winds," he said. "If people purposely go out and get into strife and create a high risk, sending emergency services workers out into that environment is not practical or sensible."

It's a tough year to be in Queensland.

Onward and upward

I'm rereading Don Watson's Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language. It is not just a rant, it's an inspirational rant. Don't read it if you want to feel comfortable in your management-speak and your everyday sloppiness of expression. Do read it if you want to feel challenged to express ideas simply, clearly and powerfully.

In his own words:
Words can be like notes, like expressions of the soul. They can make our hair stand up, they can lift our understanding to a higher plane, make us see things differently. They can inspire love and hope. You can see it happen before your eyes. Words can create a magic halo. But they have to have some thought or sentiment attached; and, like notes, be skillfully arranged.
Go, arrange words, make some music.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Clearing out the baggage

January is one of my least favourite months. I am often still tired from the year before and that doesn't magically disappear on New Year's Eve. I sometimes wish it would burn up in the brilliant light of those fireworks. That would be a proper end to a year. (Note to self: perhaps I should invent a new religion this year or at least a few rituals).

I often don't know what the new year holds for me and that is stressful in itself for someone who likes to be in control of things or at least know where things (myself included are going). January is also a curious blend of the end of the long school holidays then the sudden transition to school routine for the kids and myself. All of a sudden we're back to timetables, sports, music, Scouts and all the paraphernalia of everyday life. Throw in a flood and I feel totally discombobulated.

This year I am trying to become calmer and more rational in my dealings with life. So on this last day of January I am going to have a whinge about something and then let it go, hopefully never to sully me again.

Before setting off on our epic family drive to Sydney and back after Christmas, I decided to test-drive our local library's digital loan system. I love books and I enjoy techie things so I thought it was great that our local library was offering digital loans. Hours and hours of aggravation later I was just pissed off. So much so that I wrote a furious email to the library which I fortunately diverted to my draft file while I sat on my anger a while. My dissertation advisor gave me the good advice not to send off letters in anger and it's saved me a few times. Not that the crankiness was unjustified but I probably didn't need to burden some overworked and underpaid librarian with my rant. Instead I am going to burden you then let it go…

This is what I wrote at the time:

Dear XyZ,

I recently tried to borrow a digital book and while able to borrow it, was completely unable to play it. I have a Mac and downloaded the recommended version of OverDrive. However, the Mac version of OverDrive won't play the more updated versions of the books. On the OverDrive site the version of the console for Windows is 3.2 while for the Mac it is 1.1. I received the message "This version of OverDrive does not play WMA Audio Books." Your site recommended that I use Flip4Mac but it does not support "content that is protected with Windows Media digital rights management (DRM)" which this content is.

I realise that the library site said that the book was not formatted for Mac but I need to use my Mac to transfer the file to my iPod. The recommendation to simply use iTunes doesn't work as to use iTunes I have to use my Mac. This is a ridiculous situation that a Mac user cannot use a product that is formatted for an Apple product unless they use a PC with Windows software. It is also unhelpful that your site suggests solutions that do not work. Why not simply say at the portal that "only PC users are welcome here"?

It is also a ridiculous situation that once I have "borrowed" a digital book, no other user can borrow it until I "return" it. Why are you using a system based on old models of libraries when you have digital editions that can be borrowed by as many users as want to at a time? Now I have five books that I have removed from circulation that I can't access or listen to and no-one else can either until my three week loan period expires. This seems a very poor implementation of technology whether it is by your choice or by software and book publishers stuck in twentieth century notions of readership and book publication.

I have completely wasted several hours of my time and will in future only borrow "real" books or purchase audio books from iTunes directly. At least I will be sure that I will be able to play them. Perhaps this was not an issue in the past but as more and more people use iPads, iPods and similar Apple products, more and more of your patrons will be alienated. And perhaps you will draw the conclusion that people aren't interested in digital books when in reality they simply aren't interested in obtaining them from sources such as the library. And that will be your and our loss, because your library is a wonderful asset to the community and should continue being so in the future, whatever direction technology takes books.

Yours sincerely,

An irate library client

Letting go NOW...

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Flooded with images

I am often the first person to whip out a camera and take a picture but I have been strangely unwilling this week. This flood has been widely documented and the flood of imagery has been overwhelming. It's hard to take a picture that shows the magnitude of what happened. And it feels wrong to take pictures of others' misery. So I have been constrained by my own misgivings. Here though are a few images of what the water meant to us.

The dam going over the top of the wall.

Marburg Valley with the detention basin full and over the spillway.

The top part of our road after the rain (the bottom of it was still under water).

Anatomy of a road.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Four odd things

1. In the middle of the rainstorm, our phone rang and it was a telemarketer. Neither flood nor disaster…
2. ABC had a prominent notice on one of their television news bulletins asking people to "converse" water.

3. Our only piece of mail this week was a Telstra bill. See #1 above.

4. I received an email from the mobile library telling me that I had overdue books. The library is shut and I can't imagine that any mobile library is going to be out on the streets for some time.

Life goes on…

Thursday, 13 January 2011


Today was a completely normal summer holiday day. I did five loads of laundry and pegged them in succession on the line. I weeded the garden and planted some cuttings I brought back from the holidays. The tomatoes, basil and chives are thriving and I laid out another tranche of lettuce. Mr Blithe mowed. The children played with toys and pets and squabbled intermittently. We shared cafe lattes and gingerbread after lunch. We made phone calls, checked email, browsed the web, listened to music and watched television.

Nothing in particular stood out other than that it is a lovely day. The sky is blue and powder puffed with clouds. A cool breeze blows and military helicopters pass low overhead. The heavy thunk of the rotors and the grass bending in their passing is the only sour note. I wonder if they look down and see us here on our hilltop going about our very ordinary, everyday activities? Does it comfort them or bother them? Or do they notice nothing in their focus on their grim mission?

For these helicopters are combing the countryside looking for bodies -- preferably survivors but at this stage, they're girded to find victims. Upstream heading west into the Lockyer Valley and the Darling Downs, communities are devastated by the wall of water that came down the creeks and rivers. Downstream heading east into Brisbane, the city watches the river rising and falling with the tide and inflows from further west. Ipswich tries to clean up its CBD while Brisbane waits for a final peak before starting the effort.

We had heavy rain and 36 hours without electricity. Our road washed out. The water found a few new pathways into our house. The valley flooded and roads were cut. But we are lucky.

I thought today that in some ways our experience has been similar to those surviving the 1893 deluge. Perched high on the hill, unable to go anywhere, we simply went on with our lives. We played cards, read, peered down the valley, cooked and ate by candlelight and went to bed early. In many ways we are more fortunate than those more dependent on an urban infrastructure. We have our own water and sewage. We have a generator to run the essentials. I'm used to the fact that a supermarket isn't just around the corner and keep the store cupboard full. At some point we'll have to descend from our aerie and return to the realities of a working life.

But for now, ordinary is good.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Resolutely entering the new year

I always intend to make New Year's resolutions but somehow or rather time slips by me and I've missed that wonderful opportunity to think about the year gone and the year to come. My thoughts about new year usually occur in the quiet of mid-January. It's not that January is much calmer than other times of the year. The kids are still on holiday. I'm still trying to finish up all the things I promised to get done by Christmas and I'm trying to come up with new projects/funding/income for another year. But there is a kind of lull when I try (again) vainly (again) to organise myself, tidy the house and think of the future.

2011 is a significant year for me. A little over five years ago, I was wondering about whether to have another child. I remember saying to Mr Blithe "But if we have another child, they won't be starting school until 2011!" It seemed so far away. I worried about the effect on my career and life and yet took the plunge (so to speak). 2011 seems to have raced up on me and my baby is starting school in a fortnight. I still don't know what 2011 holds for me and I still don't know what I am going to do when I grow up but here are a few goals:

  • To clean up the "filing system" on my bedroom floor.
  • To find some kind of stable work (that is, steady work rather than working with horses!)
  • To improve my balance between work for money, work for interest and family life.
  • To write more.
  • To continue my efforts to be kinder to people including myself and to be more patient.
  • To be braver.

As part of my efforts to be braver, here is me hanging from a bar over a 2 storey drop at the free fall slide at Questacon in Canberra. I piked twice but managed it on the third go after grilling the poor attendant about potential risks, hazards, approximate height of the drop, average injury rates etc…it's a wonder he didn't just push me off the edge. And yes, the boiler suit is required and is not my normal attire.

Happy New Year everyone. May your year be full of challenges bravely met and goals reached.