Monday, April 17, 2017
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Monday, August 25, 2014
Sunday, August 24, 2014
After my volunteer stint in Arnhem Land, I came home with several metres of handmade lino cut and screen-printed cotton produced by the wonderful indigenous women of Maningrida. What was I to do with it? The selfish part of me wanted to adorn my home with its beauty. Hang it on the wall, drape it over my bed, make a dress or skirt. After all, I worked like an ox in a timber yard for its favour, survived stifling humidity and fell victim to great gaps of mental acuity (see fruit loop brain!), and suffered the deprivation of a decent coffee for 2 weeks! I deserved it! The generous part of me, on the other hand, began contemplating my accumulation of ‘stuff’. I have heaps of it. Stuff in the closet, stuff in the storage shed, stuff on the floor, a more than healthy dose of personal stuff, and generally, stuff from here to eternity. Cushions it was then!
I’m pretty sure the plump and colourful result of my labour would make the women happy. They’re unique and original. If you run your fingertips over the fabric, you can feel the rawness of paint, imagine the women at work. They come complete with imperfections from the hand printing process, with piping in a compatible or contrasting hue, have twin ties to fasten them on the back, and are filled with the softest, bounciest, and most eco-friendly cushion inserts ever, and made from recycled water bottles.
I’m offering them for sale at $50 a pop.
0431 600 138
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Sunday, August 3, 2014
Sunday, June 22, 2014
Before I left I was concerned with two things. How my sensitivities would cope with my perceived notion of domestic violence, and whether, as a single woman, I could transition to life there. On those two counts, my concerns proved unjustified.
I worked as a volunteer in the Bawinanga Women’s Centre, a social enterprise providing empowerment and employment for the local indigenous women. Whilst ‘work’ as we know and understand it generally means 5 days slog to enjoy 2 days rest, the opposite seems to be true for our first nations people. Despite earning a wage for hours worked, the women often didn’t show up. Sorry business – the cultural practices and protocols surrounding death which can last up to a week, ceremony, gone fishing, gone walkabout for pandanus gathering, and other long established customs inform their day-to-day and keep cultural tradition alive and well in the community. How real!
The women are sewers, textile print-makers (lino-cuts and screenprints), artists, cleaners, op-shop attendants and much more. To hear them speak ‘language’ in the Centre I was reminded of my own ignorance. An ancient lineage it is and it made me reflect on what values and beliefs I hold dear and how often they direct my life. Notwithstanding a common indigenous view that white people are ‘tissues’ – white person arrives, white person leaves, another one takes their place – I felt their reserved welcome of me, and to make the occasional eye contact, was humbling. I was fortunate to work alongside them, teach them a few sewing techniques, and learn a whole lot more from them. Here’s some of their lovely work.
More screen-printed designs
A parallel universe it might be, but the alternative reality was at such odds to my own that the cultural difference I experienced left me feeling emotionally drained and disturbed. As far as most of the balandas (white people) there are concerned, the Government ‘Intervention’ is a failure. Housing’s an issue, but mainly for the balandas. There’s never enough. The housing built to accommodate the indigenous people on the other hand, from the outside at least, seemed neither wanted nor needed. While I was told its frowned upon by authorities, the locals look far more comfortable sitting on the dusty red earth around the ubiquitous fire, burning day and night, in the front yard. The constant smell of smoke in town made it hard to breath. The supermarkets bulge with soft drinks, sweet biscuits, potato chips, long life milk products and 2-minute noodles. Sugar is devoured with a kind of manic obsession and the packaging dropped where it lands. ‘White man’s products! White man’s problem’! The town is one depressed looking garbage dump. The mangy, emaciated, scabby dogs in their hundreds satiate their rabid hunger by foraging through the balandas bins, knocked over by one large roaming resident pig who also feasts on dog and human faeces. "Watch that you don’t hit the dogs on the street" I’m warned, ‘Otherwise you’ll pay". Why the dogs appear to command the reverence of a holy cow I never found out. The effects of smoking and sugar consumption pose the two most serious health risks in the community, according to my friend who’s employed by the health service. About 10 percent of the school age children in town turn up to school. And why would they? They’re being asked to learn a curriculum in a language foreign to them! Once the young men are initiated at around 12, there seems no good reason for them to return to school. The school counsellor I spoke to one evening was at a complete loss to know how to engage them. ‘There’s no good male role models in town’ she lamented.
One of the most shocking of all sights I encountered though was ‘death alley’ (my description). This is a stretch of coastline some 500 metres long at the edge of town where the locals dump the clothes and personal effects of their dead. Custom suggests that the incoming tide will 5 times wash the effects clean of any undesirable spirit energy, and then, in an ideal world, it would be transferred to the tip. This doesn’t happen of course, and the result is a coastline littered with rotting and rusty rubbish, including car batteries, prams, fridges, lengths of iron, mattresses, bed-frames. etc.
I recommend the edge. It's a fascinating place, full of wonder and knowledge.
Thanks women of Maningrida.
Friday, May 2, 2014
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Brothers and uncles, grandparents and gads
Babes to their mamas, and lovers and dads
With trust and honor they served our shore
Naivety and courage their distinguishing lore
When the fighting was done and they all returned home
The welcome was short, yet the life-time long
For the horrors of combat are enclosed in the mind
And the memories live on, the triggers grind
‘It’s bullshit’ he’d say with loaded expression
downing a claret to anaesthetize his depression
‘The glorification of war is demonstrably mad’
he reminded us yearly, which just made me sad
I was fine all morning till the bugle was played
At the market where all the fresh fruit is displayed
The diggers were two in their medals and stripes
And the tears flowed freely, for suffering, for hype
Lest we forget
Monday, April 21, 2014
Lately I’ve been sewing again. After a long spell. Because I couldn’t get a job. I didn’t want any of them, but that’s irrelevant. Here’s what I’ve been making. They're made from old woolen blankets.
Mostly though, I’ve undermined my inner needleworker. A combo of mediocre self-esteem, combined with a general belief that every woman sewed, didn’t they, like learning to set the table during home economics at school, or having to check in at the clinic for a Pap smear every so often. You just didn’t talk about it, did you? Well, you mightn’t!
Anyhow, after a long 40+ year initiation, I’ve grown up, and bought two industrial machines. I’ve grown up to the extent that I’ve even put a dollar value on my capacity to thread a needle (does this needle actually HAVE a fucking hole, and if so, WHERE?) from the right direction. I’m seriously expensive (but I trade ... seeds, vegetables, overseas trips), and I’m worth it!
Monday, June 3, 2013
5.00 a.m. It's something you have to get used to on the Camino, being woken at insane hours, grumpy at the chorus of nasal trumpeters who've kept you awake half the night. Every night I have the earplugs at the ready, and every night they get inserted, fall out, get taken out because I feel like I'm suffocating via hearing-deprivation, get cursed, and despite my best efforts, get lost or swallowed during the night by the angel of mercy! Your typical pilgrim hostel is dormitory style, which you share with anywhere between 4 and 100 people. Neither privacy nor modesty belong on a pilgrimage. They're first world luxuries. Being woken to the sound of backpacks being dragged across the floor, zips opening and closing, plastic bags being rustled, walking poles collapsing in a racket on tiled floors - it's not the kind of gentle introduction to the day I've come to expect and depend on. Not a morning person! I've had to process my resentment at being woken so cruelly. It doesn't get easier.
This morning I suffer the disturbance for 30 minutes, drifting in and out of sleep, and eventually get up around 5.30, my inner huff clearly audible, I'm sure. I sit on the edge of my bed, and drag my pack to my feet. If you can't beat them, you join 'em. The man on the top bunk, who I could particularly strangle this morning - the entire bunk was vibrating under the force of his gasp last night - is standing directly to my right, his hip virtually in my face, arranging something on his bed. He seriously needs to do something about the shock of matted hair on his back. Should I be the person to tell him? In front of me, at arms length, is a large German woman bent double, attending to her blisters. Her arse is almost in my face. I retreat a little further back onto the bed. To my right, another man, from the top bunk on the opposite side. Some people shouldn't wear lycra. He's emptying the contents of his pack all over the floor - why don't you take up the entire floor space you selfish sod? - while clearing his throat and flossing at the same time. I duck to avoid a projectile. Oh for God's sake! Add to this the passing traffic of people moving backwards and forwards to the dunny, and you've got a pretty clear picture of the normal morning routine in your average pilgrim hostel. I lower my head a little deeper into my pack, ferretting unsuccessfully for the bag that contains the electrical stuff, ipad and phone charger, uke tuner, batteries, and head torch. Suddenly I hear tinkle, tinkle, the sound of something light and metallic meeting tiled floor. I squint down onto the floor. A pair of dentures smiles up at me! Oh please!!!!! I look up, from one arse to another, but no-one seems to have noticed. On impulse, and wanting as little physical contact as possible with the 'visitor, I do what any empathic pilgrim would do and with great dexterity, and a further tinkle, tinkle, flick the dislocated smile back in the direction I presume it's come from. In an instant, a hand darts down into the semi-darkness and retrieves it.
I'm sick to the back teeth with it all!!
Friday, May 31, 2013
Maybe I'm cranky this morning because I drank more than my fair share of red wine last night. At $1.50 a jug, why wouldn't I (over) indulge from time to time? I stop at the first cafe I come to, only 2 kms down the road from where I stayed last night, for my second cup of coffee. The first one doesn't count cos it's from a machine. For the next 6 kms all I can think of is my feet, how much they ache, how sad they feel. It's walking on bitumen that does it; so unyielding. I keep reflecting on the fact I've grown muscle on my arms and legs, but not on my feet. They're working SO hard. Poor tired wasted feet!
So I arrive in the next village, having walked only 8 kms. I need a short day I say to myself, recover a bit, give myself a rest. But it's early, 10.00 am and nothing's open, apart from the cafes. I have my third coffee. I know. Bad! I send a text to a friend who's already reached the end of the camino, have a bit of whinge. I'm heard, and feel a bit better. I give the rose I've collected on the way to the woman behind the bar at the cafe, and feel virtuous!
I summon up the energy to keep walking. There are two options, one by the motorway, slightly shorter, far less mountainous, and one up and over the pass. 13 kms up and over the pass! I remember my note to self, no more bitumen if possible! Before I've even reached the edge of town, however, I get cranky again with a busload of tourists for monopolising the pilgrim statue and taking too long to say cheese to their respective cameras. I try distracting myself by drafting a ditty in my head to my sore feet but it lasts all of a minute. Breathe Catherine!
I begin the climb, my mind a monkey, jumping from one thought to another without the slightest effort! What's with the three married men who've propositioned me so far? How very un-Christian pilgrimage! Am I giving out the wrong signals? (fyi fellas, a woman travelling on her own, whether she's 18 or 60, is NOT an open invitation to have sex, so pull your heads in!) Why haven't I had an epiphany yet? I'm only 150 km from the end! What if I haven't had one before I reach Santiago? What then? What will have been the point of the pilgrimage? Should I continue walking? Another Camino? Will I have enough money? Why are the pilgrims who catch buses from village to village and then walk the last 100 kms entitled to the same 'certificate' at the finish as those who walk the whole 800 km? They're fake! Why are the lycra-clad pilgrim cyclists allowed on the same path as the walkers? Why don't they use their bloody bells? Will I find an albergue with a kitchen tonight to cook the big slab of fresh salmon I've got hanging off the back of my pack (thank God it's a cold day!)? Will there be wifi? Where's my Australian friend? Has she reached the end? Blah, blah, mind is out of control!
I hear the church bell chiming from the valley floor. I stop. Look back down the mountain. It stops.
Walking again, I hear the sound and stop to listen again. Nothing. For the third time I begin walking and hear the sound again. I concentrate on it for a moment, and with a start, realize the sound is coming from my pack. It's my uke. Something is moving against one of the strings inside my pack, producing what sounds like the 'C' note. As soon as it occurs to me I'm making the music by the movement of my body, something shifts in me. In musical terms, or should I say in my simplistic musical knowlege, the note 'C' is what is variously described as the 'home key', the note songs sung in the C major scale often finish in, the comfort key. I'm struck by its significance. Coming home, in the realm of a spiritual practise I've followed for years, is coming home to the present, coming home to right here, right now. In the right here, right now, I begin to practise walking meditation, breathing in, breathing out, one foot in front of the other. It's astonishing how little emotional or physical pain there is when you focus on your breath. I walk on, aware of the birdsong, the wind on my face, the sweetness of the jubes I'm tucking into, the pink clover at my feet, the smell of the wild lavender, and come back to my breath, back to one foot in front of the other.
I look down from the mountain and see the highway snaking its way through the valley. The small dark moving shapes are pilgrims moving along, risking life and limb in the traffic. In three hours I've seen no other pilgrims on the mountain. I made the right decision.
Through the ancient chestnut grove.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Thank you for the wild red poppies and tiny daisies, the hyacinths and even the genetically-engineered canola flowers. They are my ground-dwelling rainbow.
Thank you for the chill wind that still blows from the late snow on the mountains surrounding the path, for it cools and comforts the workhorse that is body.
Thank you for the countless sculptures dedicated to the pilgrim. They are a reminder that this is no ordinary walk.
Thank you for Ibuprofen! What remarkable good sense to make the Spanish version three times more powerful than its Australian equivalent.
Thank you for frozen peas, nature's astonishing cold-pack!
Thursday, May 16, 2013
A few days ago I met Bob and Bloo, two Scotsmen, also travelling solo. We've been walking together.
Bob's 73, a grandfather, salesman, and extraordinary storyteller. His stories of the personal lives of European nobility from last century have restored my faith in history.
Bloo (don't ask!) is 62, an ex military pilot, with 35 years experience in the army. Last year he had a stroke, lost his power of speech, but with dogged will and support, has regained it.
When you're walking for up to 8 hours a day, every day, the heat burning down on you, the wind chilling you to the bone, your feet navigating the rocks on the path and screaming 'rest', it tests the fibre of your being, it tests the fibre of your doing. Out on 'the way', in conversation with the other, your common day-to-day censor, fried by the sun or buried underneath the old meat and peas in the deep freeze, becomes inaccessible. Camino Dementia! You become very personal, very quickly.
Keeping pace with the two B's has meant walking faster and further than I normally would. Two days ago, while walking the longest straightest stretch of nothing to date, a 16 km gravel road with no shade, no villages, and nothing to occupy the mind but mind itself, I asked Bloo to tell me what a soldier might be trained to 'think' in similar circumstances. He contemplated the question for a little while and replied 'see that puddle ahead? How far do you think it is?'. Make a guess, then step it out, he suggested. A bit later he continued. 'The horizon, do you want to know how far it is?' Math was never my strong point, but for the sake of conversation, I nodded. His response included words like height, square root and multiplication. Try it, he said. I spat the dummy. 'I'm not playing' I replied. 'That kind of game reminds me of questions thrown at me as a child, questions I could never answer. You remind me of my father!'. OUCH! He stopped, looked at me, and the offence was obvious! Censorius Unavailabilius! What a bitch!
Some time later, falling back to walk separately, my mind attached itself to how strong I was becoming, how powerfully I was walking, and, wait for it, comparing myself with the cripples on the path. Sure, I'd had some blisters but they'd healed. Fifteen minutes later, striding along confidently, my foot suddenly, and momentarily, went numb. I was concerned for half a minute, then not. A kilometre down the road I was crouched on the grass by the side of the road, shoe off, pain searing my foot, the two B's at my side offering comfort.
'4 days, no walking' said the doctor. Tendinitis!
Bye Bob and Bloo. Thanks for the lesson.