Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Here's the thing: I'm moving back to Melbourne.
Hence the sporadic blogging of late.
It hasn't been an easy decision. New Zealand has been very good to me, and I love living on an island in this lovely mudbrick house. But I get homesick, as is probably clear from this blog.
So I'm in total disruption right now, with two burly blokes packing boxes in the lounge room and the distinctive sound of those tape dispensers ringing around the vineyards. All three of us have our personal MP3 players on, which is a vast improvement on the loud Bon Jovi to which one normally has to listen under such circumstances. (Although I've always had a sneaky soft spot for Bon Jovi. But don't tell anyone.) Instead, I am underlining the homesickness by playing Deborah Conway's String of Pearls, which I haven't wanted to hear for several years because it's just so Melbourne.
I've got a jar of shells by my bedside
I've got a silver train running outside
I've got a heart running wild...
I've got a yellow rose from my garden
And a faded photo of my father
He's still keeping one eye on the weather...
I've got a bird that sings in the morning
Shadows on the floor slowly shifting
I've got a box of paints but the lid's gone
I've got a string of pearls...

Packing up is odd, isn't it? Yesterday I spent ages cleaning out the fridge, which I found strangely soothing. Then my list for this morning began:
- Take down fairy lights.
We didn't bring all our stuff to NZ. Far from it. We brought about a third. The rest is in storage in our house in Melbourne. But somehow, since we moved to NZ, we seem to have accumulated:
- Several quivers
- An 1820 artillery officer's sword
- A whole lot more books
- A whole lot more paintings
- All Susannah's childhood books that her Dad had kept safely in his basement in New Plymouth for twenty years and gleefully handed over the moment we arrived in NZ
- Not to mention her Girl Guide beret
- A (well, another) Moroccan leather pouffe
- Two Moroccan mosaic tables
- One large Moroccan lamp

(Confession: we haven't even been to Morocco - yet. We got the lamp in exotic Hastings.)
- An old set of Encyclopaedia Britannica
- Several glorious Peter Collis ceramic things
- A Turkish rug (we did go to Turkey)
- About three dozen old tins, bottles and jugs
- A knitted koala tea cosy called Kevin.*

I don't know where it all comes from. I can't begin to imagine how it's all going to fit in the Melbourne house, along with all the stuff we already have. But it will. It just might be rather eclectic - but then again, it already is. I might write one of those interior style books, like "Junk Style" or "Country Style" except mine will be "Weird Shit".
Speaking of books, the other big life shift is back to full-time work. I start as Web Services Manager at the State Library of Victoria in a few weeks. It's one of my favourite places in the world - now I get to go there every day. It's even got its very own Centre for Youth Literature.
So I'll be writing fiction part-time from now on. And there's plenty to be going on with. I haven't been able to write for a few weeks now and I'm starting to get twitchy.
But right now I have to get back to the cardboard boxes and endless lists.
Then I might clean the fridge again just for fun.

* PS: All koalas are called Kevin, according to a certain New Zealander who once spent a great many hours calling to a furry creature in a tree outside our house in Sydney, "Kevin! Come here, Kevin." She wouldn't accept that it was a possum.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


Another new year.
I've been thinking over the past few weeks about the radical shift in perspective that's taken place in the last twenty years in Antipodean relationships with our great traditional protectors, Great Britain and the US.
I know that's not a new line of enquiry. (Indeed, I once wrote a thesis on an associated topic - poets' views of landscape.) During the course of my adult life the world, and the cultural life of the place in which I grew up, has been reshaped.
Funnily enough, while my thoughts have focused largely on books and writing, the initial pondering was prompted by gardening: I've been thinking a lot about gardens (more on that later), and remembering the quantum shift towards planting and designing around indigenous plants that occurred when I was growing up. It's entrenched now, taken for granted, but has enjoyed a huge surge in interest in Australia recently as a result of the drought and the push towards more sustainable gardens.
So with this in mind, on the plane to and from Melbourne last week I read the Peter Timms edited collection of essays, The Nature of Gardens, then David Malouf's Quarterly Essay, Made In England.
Malouf traces the critical point in the self-sufficiency of Australian thought to the Second World War, when invasion appeared imminent:
What it did was bring Australia - the land itself - fully alive at last in our consciousness. As a part of the earth of which we were now the custodians. As soil to be defended and preserved because we were now connected to it. As the one place where we were properly at home, the one place to which we were related in an interior way by daily experience and, as Vance Palmer put it, through love and imagination and which related us, in a way we were just beginning to grasp, to those for whom the land of Australia had always been this...

I'd argue that the cracks had appeared much earlier, in visual arts and poetry, and wonder too about the role of modernism and the impact of the Great War in breaking open the old ways of thinking before 1939. Perhaps they simply prepared the ground.
Amazing, really, how quickly the turnaround happened. When I was 18, even in a proudly patriotic family, it was clear to me that anybody who wanted to get on - especially writers - moved to London. I just never got around to it.
Of course some of that lives on, and some of it is perfectly sensible. Yet somehow in the decade or two between the Clive James/Germaine Greer exodus and my generation the earth shifted dramatically.
It's still shifting.
And so am I.
But that's another story.