#95 Learn more about our First Nations People

There was barely a whisper about the history of our First Nations people while growing up in Australia in the 50s and 60s.

Occasionally a momentary regret at my ignorance would surface—like the year a young Irish girl, who spoke Gaelic*, attended our school for a while. As we crowded around this transparently-skinned lass with nary a freckle on her pale face, listening to the glorious lilting description of the lush green hills of her homeland, we assured her that we, too, knew and spoke an indigenous language.

We managed to string a few words together— ‘yoothamurra’ (the name of the property where one of us lived) , ‘burrumbeet’ (a tiny town nearby, where we occasionally picnicked) and ‘bet-bet’ (we were reading The Little Black Princess that year)—but even our new Irish friend Noírín, saw through the pretence.

Later, any historical education I may have gained—white or indigenous—was waylaid by taking predominantly scientific and mathematical subjects. But on the basis that it’s never too late to be educated, the time has come to:

#95 Learn more about our First Nations People

It’s clear why Australia Day is thought of by so many as Invasion Day, because that’s exactly what it was. Changing the date to a more inclusive one seems a no brainer. Back in my childhood, in the land of the long weekend, it was always celebrated on the Monday closest to January 26th, so it would fall on any day between the 23rd and the 31st of January.

By way of proof, my 1968 diary entry:

(Early to the realisation that James Bond films were not for me)

Note that entry for January 29: ‘… It’s a public holiday for Australia Day.’

So—hardly a date set in stone.

Then there’s our national anthem. We stood for God Save the Queen until about 1984. Then we switched to Advance Australia Fair which exhorted Australia’s sons to rejoice. Australia’s daughters made a fuss, so that became Australian’s all rejoice. But if the daughters were cross, imagine how the oldest known civilisation on earth must feel having to claim to be ‘young and free’. So that needs to change.

I’ve just finished reading Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe’s breathtaking book,

outlining the evidence that land cultivation, sustainable farming practices, housing, water and fire management were all practised for aeons before the arrival of the white settlers. The victors always get to rewrite or whitewash history, I guess, but reading it gave me one of those rare moments when the worrying way we’ve managed this continent hit home. By introducing cloven-hoofed animals to clomp around the place, destroying the soil and eating what little arable grasses exist right down to stubble, we’ve done a great disservice to the land.

As the judges of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards said: Dark Emu is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what Australia once was, or what it might yet be if we heed the lessons of long and sophisticated human occupation.’

So then I turned to the Uluru Statement from the Heart to better understand how we can become a more inclusive nation. It’s a beautifully worded rallying cry for us all to come together.

Surely a voice in Parliament must be the first step?

Meanwhile, my journey continues …

—————————————————————————————————

*I have it on good authority that ‘Gaelic’ is a term no longer used. The language is known as ‘Irish’ now.

#94 Practise ‘The Science of Wellbeing’

The image above, of the dog contemplating his happiness in the moment while his master dreams of unattainable goals, is a well-known meme for mindfulness and savouring life as it happens.

Having immersed myself over the past 5 weeks in an on-line course run by Yale University through Coursera, it neatly sums up the essence of what I’m learning:

#94 Practise ‘The Science of Wellbeing’

Contrary to what I’ve always thought, studying at Yale isn’t stressful at all. The course is free, I’m doing it from home, and as the professor taking it is a young woman who looks a little like the daughter of a friend, she’s nowhere near as scary as the professors who taught me aeons ago.

Dr Laurie Santos, Yale Professor of Psychology

She sits in a comfy chair with the students around her, peppers her tutorials with phrases like ‘this is so cool’ or ‘you’re gonna love this’, and sets multiple choice exams at the end of each week that mirror her tutorials word for word.

As the course had the word ‘Science’ in its title, I believed in it immediately, and although there’s an element of rain drops on roses and whiskers on kittens, if the science says it works, who am I to roll my eyes and wonder if it may be a bit too Pollyanna-esque?

Anyway, what’s wrong with roses and kittens?

So what does the science tell us?

Let me summarise to save you the trouble of going to Yale.

The things we think we want are not the things that make us happy. In fact, just about everything our brain tells us that we need to be happier is wrong. This is known as mis-wanting. Analysis of studies (demonstrated by impressive graphs), has shown time and again that beyond a certain income, more money and possessions do not make us any happier.

Hedonic adaptation then means we get blasé about the good things we have in life and stop appreciating them. This puts us on the treadmill of striving for something more, even though that, too, will be subject to hedonic adaptation in time.

So how do we overcome the fault in our brains?

It takes practice, and that seems to be the overarching message of this course.

  • Determine your top signature strengths (as assessed by a questionnaire, or you could ask your friends) and focus on them, as they will lead to the most satisfaction in your life:
I so wanted bravery and zest but got stuck with self-regulation and humour
  • Have experiences, rather than buying ‘stuff’. Experiences have been shown to create greater satisfaction in life.
  • Take a moment each day to savour something special, no matter how small. (Spotted a blue tongue lizard in your garden? That will do it, so make a note of it or take a photo.)
Aren’t you gorgeous?
  • Keep a gratitude journal by the bed to write down at least 3 things you’re grateful for. Every. Single. Day. Because even a bad day will have some little kernel of goodness;
  • Make and maintain social connections. While this may may not work so well face-to-face during a pandemic, at least we have any number of electronic ways to help us (which is something to be grateful for…)
  • Find a good mindfulness tape and practise regularly, even if only for ten minutes a day. (More clever graphs show that this works wonders!)
  • Prioritise sleep (now you’re talking … )
  • Exercise regularly (or perhaps not … )
  • Smile or chat—even briefly—to a stranger, because it makes both you and them feel better;
  • Express gratitude to other people;
  • Make the time to do the things you enjoy. In other words, work at becoming ‘time affluent’;
  • Repeat all of the above.

It makes sense that practising positive, life affirming habits will improve wellbeing. I have a neighbour whose raison d’être is to assail me with tales of what’s gone wrong in his life, through no fault of his own, interspersed with stories of who in the vicinity of our street has died, who’s had a fall, and who’s been moved into a nursing home. It’s exhausting spending time with him but thanks to this course, I now realise why he does it. He’s trained himself so well, practised being like this for so long, that he’s become an absolute expert in misery and discontent. So practise does make perfect.

The course has reminded me of something else, too. To find answers, I could’ve just re-watched the closing credits of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.

As Michael Palin said, ‘well, it’s nothing very special’.


If you follow these guidelines, and also remember—when you’re feeling very small and insecure—how amazing and unlikely is your birth, you’ve got it covered.

#93 Try your Hand at Amateur Cinematography

It was an offer too good to refuse.

BB, my Bunnings buddy, asked me if I knew how to film and edit a video to post on YouTube.

Now I’d read about actors who, when quizzed as to whether they could ride a horse bareback, had brazenly told the director ‘of course I can’. Even though they’d never quite mastered their childhood rocking horse. So I immediately said to BB, ‘Of course I can!’.

It didn’t hurt that he’d also hinted it might make an interesting topic for a blog post.

And so … here we are:

#93 Try your Hand at Amateur Cinematography

Another reason the idea appealed was because BB had built a clever rotating soil sifter based on Costa Georgiadis’ instructions in a Gardening Australia episode,

a neat little contraption that sieves soil as it’s shovelled into a turning mesh barrel, before spitting weeds or big bits out the other end.

How long must I turn this? Seriously?

But BB had taken it a step further and come up with an ingenious method of automatically rotating the sieve without the need of an expensive motor (or an expensive helper for that matter).

This deserved a wider audience.

This had Oscar nominee written all over it.

After a morning’s filming using my trusty iPad, and a few hours editing the rushes (as we cinematographers call the unedited footage), I finalised the grand opus, ready for BB to post on YouTube.

There are a few important lessons I’ve been able to take away from the experience:

  1. It’s probably not a bad idea to rehearse a script before shooting. Maybe even several times.
  2. Keep each scene nice and short … so you can
  3. Reshoot when you’re not happy with it (without driving everyone nuts).
  4. When the Talent says “I’m not sure if you can see this,” make sure you move in for a close-up.
  5. When the Talent proudly points to another part of his design, swing the camera in that direction as soon as you’re aware that’s what he wants. (So it’s important to PAY ATTENTION while filming)
  6. Always make sure there’s a cute dog somewhere in the shoot.

So here it is: the DIY cordless rotating sieve or trommel

I predict a glowing future for BB, now known as the Talent.

Not so sure about the cinematographer …

[Masterful cameo of fed-up trammel turner played by Mrs BB]
[Cute dog played by Captain Oats (without-an-e)]

#90 Hold a Reunion Entrée prior to a Reunion Luncheon

And so it came to pass that the great School Reunion Luncheon of 2020, the very one for which I’d lovingly reconditioned my old school dolls (blog post #86) fell victim to Covid-19.

There’s to be no 50-year school reunion this year, and based on our ages, it may be some time before it’s safe for us to travel, or mingle, again.

Perhaps we should

#90 Hold a Reunion Entrée prior to a Reunion Luncheon

to stave off reunion hunger.

When it became clear in March that the May celebration wouldn’t be happening, a member of our class of 1970 emailed us all:Alas, the conversation went nowhere.  It appeared that no-one was “tech savvy” nor were they keen, nor able, which was probably just as well. Can you imagine the horror of a Zoom meeting, wrangling forty old school chums who hadn’t seen each other for fifty years?

As an alternative, I threw out the idea of creating an electronic “Reunion Book”, where everyone who’s interested provides information about their life in the intervening fifty years, replete with photos, old and new for compilation and dissemination.

Which is how the production of the great School Reunion Book of 2020 fell to me. Questionnaires were sent out and duly returned. Dozens of old school photos arrived and the great task began.

It was then I discovered that emailing a book that has loads of photographs is … well … impossible. Way too many megabytes. Sharing the document via Dropbox was recommended as a way around this, but my experience with that particular program was still painful after it lost a couple of chapters of my novel. To my relief, it turned out that the class of 1970 is a cohort of women who don’t engage comfortably with computers. Not Dropbox then.

Trial and error led me to the realisation that pasting all documents into Microsoft Word’s ‘Trip Journal’ …

rather than the usual blank document, might be the solution.

By then dividing this into three volumes, and saving each of these volumes as a PDF (for export), it was possible to reduce over 150 megabytes of data down to a mere seven, which could be emailed back to everyone. The things you can learn late in life!

Volume One showcased all the formal school class photos we could muster, beginning with an adorable class of infants in 1958…

through the challenging mid teens …

                                                                               where did all the boys go?!

until we turned into responsible prefects …

Volume Two held all our life stories and current photos, outlining in more—or less— detail what we’d been up to since leaving school. Hearing so many tales about the boarders’ homesickness made me realise that it hadn’t been the jolly hockey sticks and midnight feasts that we day-scholars assumed.

One of my classmates wrote a particularly poignant remembrance of being left by her parents at boarding school for the first time:

Standing inside the front door there’s just the dark silhouette, the two of them walking out and away from the front door. It was a large sturdy heavy wooden door that easily glided open and glided shut, with a click. It was a ‘characterful’ door, stained glass in the top half of it and/or either side of it. As the two of them walk away there’s the dull realisation that you are staying … 

Another story recalled those mortifying moments of adolescence:

I’ll never forget that school concert when our Latin Class had to sing My Darling Clementine in Latin—“Oh Divina Clementina”—dressed in togas and holding scrolls, (you couldn’t make this up, could you?) and my toga fell off in mid song. There’s no coming back from that. 

Volume Three contained all the unofficial photographs people managed to dig out of storage—long forgotten school picnic days, a class trip to Tasmania in 1969, and several ‘formals’ held with the boys from our brother school.

I only recall these dances as a vaseline blur. We all knew that ‘men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses’ so I’d refuse to wear my much needed spectacles on these occasions, which meant I had no idea if the aforementioned ‘men’ had me in their sights or not. The events were terrifying.

Well over half the class contributed to the Reunion Book, and we realise that when we do meet up IRL, we’ll be able to hit the ground running. No awkward, ‘And where are you living, now?’ or ‘Do you have grandchildren?’

Nothing of the sort. Now we know each other well enough to cut straight to the chase. I can’t wait to find out from Sarah* what it was like to run a chalet in Austria, or ask Marilyn* to give me some tips from the head of the Sogetsu school for Flower Arrangement after her years spent translating in Osaka, or quiz Barbara* about the archeological digs she enjoyed with her husband.

A delicious entrée. I can’t wait for the main course.

*Not their real names, but definitely their real lives

 

 

 

#89 Make Maggie’s Dried Mandarin-skin Powder

There’s a lot to love about Maggie Beer. Her warmth, her charm—which I’m assured by people who have worked with her, is utterly genuine—and her taste buds.

Especially her taste buds. If Maggie says this ingredient goes perfectly with that one, you can believe her, and if you have any doubts, just buy me a tub of her Pheasant Farm Paté for a demonstration of how happy her flavour pairings can make someone.

So when a recipe in her recent cook book, Maggie’s Recipe for Life—a compilation of recipes aimed at reducing the chances of Alzheimer’s and other lifestyle diseases—called for dried mandarin-skin powder, I simply had to make this ingredient for my pantry.

#89 Make Maggie’s Dried Mandarin-skin Powder

Now this is where Maggie sometimes challenges her adoring fans. For example, her recipe for the delicious-sounding eggplant, tomato and feta salad begins with the words, ‘Some years I grow up to six different varieties of eggplant in our garden’.

Of course you do Maggie, but did you know that the rest of us consider ourselves very lucky if a bog-standard Solanum melongena bush gives us two or three eggplants?

So it was no surprise to turn to the back of her book for the dried mandarin-skin powder instructions to find this:

Oh Maggie, Maggie. What if we don’t have a ‘very old, very reliable bench dehydrator’, or even a very old, very unreliable one? Or indeed, any dehydrator at all?

So it looks like I’ll have to trust Maggie’s taste buds, accept that dried, powdered mandarin-skin is a worthy creation, and channel her thoughts to come up wth my own method.

The first step, of course, is to grow at least two varieties of mandarin tree. Foreseeing this need, several years ago I planted both an Imperial and a Satsuma mandarin tree. The former produced pip-laden, dry, shrivelled fruits that weren’t worth the space they took up in the garden. But the latter? Deeply orange in colour, sweet as pie, not a pip to be found, easy to peel and abundant. Simply delicious!

Here are the steps to preparing mandarin skin for its journey into powder, what I like to call, ‘respecting the fruit’ by utilising a ‘head to tail’ approach.

  1. Peel the mandarin so the skin remains in largish pieces:
  2. Devour the fruit segments
  3. Gently scrape away the white pith from the skin. The end of a steel vegetable peeler works very well. It doesn’t matter if it tears a little.
  4. When you’ve finished, they’ll look a bit like this
  5. Store them in the fridge until you have enough to spread evenly on an oven tray
  6. Pre-heat your oven to low (90-100ºC) then place the prepared skins on their tray in the oven for 35-45 minutes. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. They should look like this at the end of drying:
  7. When cool, pulverise in a whizzer till they have the luxurious appearance of gold dust
  8. Indulge your senses with the heady aroma of limonene, more glorious than saffron, more functional than real gold dust
  9. Store in airtight container
  10. And sprinkle on breakfast cereal or desserts to re-capture the aroma of your mandarins for months and months.Magical!

 

 

#88 Pay Tribute to a Special ANZAC

The words of Clive James’ moving poem to his father—My Father Before Me—woke me this morning. As the radio tribute’s final words were spoken, “My life is yours; my curse to be so blessed’, I thought of my own father on this Anzac Day.

#88 Pay Tribute to a Special ANZAC

My dad— Jack— fought in the 2nd AIF 31/51 Battalion, from 1942 to 1945, serving in Australia, on Bougainville Island and Papua New Guinea, and in the Solomon Islands.

He was stationed in Darwin on February 19th, 1942, the day it was bombed, managing to take a photo or two:

and, to compound his bad luck, was on duty in Cowra on 5 August 1944 when over 1100 Japanese prisoners-of-war attempted to escape.

That day is described as ‘the largest prison escape of World War II as well as one of the bloodiest’. It was only when he was dying that my sister and I learned it was an event that had stayed with him forever.

Jack lived till he was 89 years old, but he never celebrated Anzac Day. In fact, he positively disliked it, so my sister and I have a rather different view of it to the rest of Australia.

Certainly, in the ’50s and ’60s it wasn’t an event on the scale it is now. We realised early on that there are some old soldiers who don’t want to be reminded of what they endured.

He wrote to my mother from Cowra, the month before the outbreak, speaking of movements in the camp: “Most of my friends are gone, or else going within the next few days. Gosh … you have no idea how attached we can become to each other, it hurts saying goodbye knowing that we will probably never meet again. That is the only redeeming feature of the army – its remarkable, firm comradeship among men who have been in it for a fair while. They will do anything for each other.”

In a letter he sent to his father-in-law dated 6 September 1945, which we found after he died, he wrote: “Much has happened in the past few weeks, the war is over and we have been told we are the victors. Perhaps we are, I don’t know.  Personally, when millions of men are killed, cities of culture razed to the ground and nations ruined economically, I don’t consider anyone to be the victors. Still, if peace can be maintained for the next century or so, this war will have achieved something.”

Unlike Clive James’ father, Dad was fortunate enough to return home safely, where he settled down and worked hard for his family in his own small business all his life.

A good man, a fun uncle and the best dad.  I like to think he may have appreciated today’s understated Anzac Day.

They say, Lest We Forget.

As if we ever would.

#87 Plan for “The Year of Living Safely”

The longer I’ve lived, the more the years have merged into each other, especially since ceasing work.

So if you were to ask me what I got up to in, say, 2013, I really wouldn’t have a clue unless I checked my photos and bank statements.

Today, I’m taking the bold step of predicting that in the future, not one child or adult living on earth at this moment will ever forget what they were doing in 2020.


My generation has been lucky enough to miss a World War, and life has been mostly smooth sailing for us. That is, until a novel Coronavirus reared its ugly little genetic parcel of RNA and decided to inflict Covid-19 on the world.

Time to

#87 Plan for “The Year of Living Safely”

It’s going to be extremely tough for so many people, as jobs dry up, money disappears into the ether, and our lives are physically restricted. But maybe we should be relieved that no one is dropping bombs on us, there are unlikely to be food shortages, and no mastermind is trying to exterminate an entire race or entire religion. Even if we have to stay home for a year, if we help and support each other, we can probably muddle through somehow.

Remember,


Planning for the next however-many months of my life at home has made me realise that the past 7+ years of writing this blog has been the perfect preparation. Embarrassingly, I’ve discovered that my life in retirement has been almost entirely home-based. (I saw a meme once that suggested the trajectory of your life is determined by the song that was top of the hit parade in your country on your 14th birthday. Mine was Tom Jones’ Green, Green Grass of Home!)

So rather than re-invent the wheel, I’ve prepared a reminder of some of the fun and frivolous (and generally inexpensive) activities previously featured in this blog. As we’re urged to restrict our shopping, a few of them may need tweaking, but they’re all amenable to this.

A few other ideas spring to mind now, such as ‘Learn how to cut your own hair’ or ‘Move the furniture around to pretend you’ve renovated’. But I’ll leave other, more qualified, people to give tips on exercising-in-situ, virtual travel and the best books to read.

Meanwhile, stay safe and please, for the sake of our wonderful health professionals, as well as all our fellow travellers, stay home!

#86 Recondition old dolls

It began with an invitation. A school reunion — a BIG one — to be held this year in May.

After the momentary horror of acknowledging that so many years had passed since I left school, my thoughts turned fondly to the girls I knew back then and the fun times we had.

Recalling our school sports days, I idly wondered what had happened to the two dolls my sister and I had always taken to these events. They were dressed in the school’s summer uniform of the day — thanks to our mother who’d organised it from some magical doll outfitters she’d read about — and they became popular mascots for our sports team.

1960s love

Maybe I should dig them out from whatever forgotten box they’d been living in and donate them to the school? Wouldn’t that be a good thing to do?

But alas, over the years, the moths, silver fish and possibly even mice, hadn’t been kind to the dolls. It looked like I’d need to learn how to:

#86 Recondition old dolls.

One was missing part of her skull and all her hair. The other had only one eyelash, making her eyes appear rather lopsided when she blinked. They both looked unloved and rather tatty, but fortunately, nothing that couldn’t be repaired, so I began by machine washing Blinky’s uniform, while Baldy waited her turn. Shabby dolls

A Google search of dolls and their bits and bobs was an eyeopener. Unbeknown to me, there’s an entire world inhabited by dolls of all shapes and sizes, their never-ending wardrobes, and a vast selection of missing anatomy parts. Enter a local internet site called Gum Blossom Babies which proved perfect for all my needs.

The choice of wigs was amazing.

There was the ‘Annie’, with her ‘riot of ethereal curls’:

Annie

or ‘Betty’, sporting the ever fashionable sausage curls:

Betty

But mindful that such showiness was frowned upon by the nuns in our day, I settled on the ‘Doris’ a simpler, brown, no-nonsense wig that was a fair approximation of Baldy’s original tresses.

The skirt portion of both their uniforms were full of holes and unsalvageable,

Moth eaten skirts

but after washing them, then carefully unpicking the lower section of the uniform, they could be used as a template to measure new skirts using matching fabric. Thank goodness the bodice was in good nick, because I didn’t like my chances of re-creating those little sleeves and collar!

Pleats, I’ve discovered, are a bit of a nightmare, both to create and to press into perfectly crisp formation —

Pinning and pleating

until a friend introduced me to

Ironing with a Rajah cloth

the Rajah pressing cloth, a chemically impregnated cloth (gulp) that works like magic on pleats.

Once these new skirts were reattached to the bodices, Baldy’s missing pate and fresh ‘Doris’ wig were reattached, and Blinky was given a new eyelash.

The straw school hats, to which my mother had meticulously stitched the school’s hat band replete with the school crest, only needed the elastic replaced, and the blazers came up beautifully in the wash.

Once dressed, they were propped up on their new doll stands for all to admire:

Oh, the memories!

It would be such a good thing if I donated them to my school when I return there for the reunion, wouldn’t it?

Unless, maybe, just maybe, I hang onto them a wee bit longer?

I mean, I can always bequeath them in my will …