Archive | January 2012

What the bloody hell is a feminist?

As you stand surrounded by the debris of domesticity, up to your armpits in washing, cradling a sick child and wondering what’s for dinner can I ask what are your thoughts on feminism? I know probably not your most pressing issue at the moment but bear with me.

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Reading this Week – The Testimony – Halina Wagowska

As time passes The Holocaust of World War II moves further into the pages of history. The tragedies and atrocities are at risk of becoming facts, figures and statistics on a page taught to disinterested students who would rather be at the beach than in a stuffy classroom.

Eighty-one-year-old human rights activist Halina Wagowska counters this with her autobiography, The Testimony.

At ten years of age Halina lives the blissful innocence of a happy childhood with loving parents, she reflects on how those early years develop the resilience that will get her through the next five years enduring unimaginable horrors.

The Testimony is structured into snapshots where Halina deflects attention from herself by devoting each chapter to individuals who crossed her path. Stasia, the Gentile nanny so devoted she joins the family in the ghetto. Frieda, the intelligent scholar who urges survival will mean testifying to what they experienced for the rest of their lives. Sasha, the Russian soldier, who rescues the nearly-dead Halina and nurses her back to health providing her with the first kindness she had experienced for a long time.

There is a sense Halina has kept some of the horror she experienced to herself, although what she shares will cling to your thoughts for days afterwards. The image of a child responsible for carting bodies from the gas chambers to furnaces then lugging the buckets of ash and bone to the nearby swamp is haunting.

However, her youth also provides her with adaptability, a quickly growing sense of rat-cunning, and an ability to focus on the immediate. When the adults around her become overwhelmed by the big picture view of the situation Halina struggles to keep them alive.

Halina continues her story after the war ends and poignantly documents how peace did not necessarily bring joy. Alone and uneducated the teenager must create a new life for herself.

Arriving as an immigrant in Australia she works as a cleaner, studies and ultimately enjoys a career in pathology. The experiences of her formative years, and the influences of those she loved and lost, shape her commitment to human rights, working tirelessly for Aboriginal education, homeless students and bioethics.

The Testimony provides us with a valuable of record of the long-term impact of the Holocaust and a moving personal retrospective paying tribute to those who aren’t here to tell their stories.

Review originally written for the Hardie Grant Book Club.

The Laundry

Right, it’s decided, this family are becoming nudists. No I’ve made up my mind I can’t be talked out of it.

This post is brought to you from under a pile of washing so high it makes Everest look like a hill.

We’ve currently experiencing yet another season of wet weather, most of the area on the Mid North Coast is on flood alert, and I’m too scared to even look at what’s happening in Queensland given what they went through last year.

Just so you don’t worry, there’s no risk of Shambles Manor flooding. One of the advantages of purchasing on top of a rocky hill is that you are well out of contention for any flooding. Of course it also means the cost of building sky-rockets and you get to a point where you run out money and have to learn to love unfinished floors, un-landscaped gardens and the gaping hole where the pool would have been.

So due to the non-stop rain instead of celebrating Australia Day with a barbie at the beach, bribing my brother with beer to take some good-looking family shots (and up close shots of the food, sand etc – he doesn’t really get the point of those) so tonight I could write a beautifully, lyrical post about what it means to be Australian and share with my overseas readers a little of the beauty of a summer day in Oz,  I will write a ranting diatribe against laundry. Glad you stopped by now?

There are clothes and towels everywhere. I’m about to break the ban on using the clothes drying. The ban came about because the winter electricity bill sent Mr Shambles reaching for his heart medication and took some pretty fancy juggling of funds from me to get paid off.

But right now I don’t care about electricity bills, or the bloody ozone layer. Look I know we are in trouble with the environment, I know it matters but I’m in a crisis of my own and don’t have the energy or time to worry about the world crisis. I know that makes me a bad person ruining the world for my children but I’ll deal with that when the sun comes out again and the washing is done.

What I care about is the fact we are running out of clothes and there are dirty ones strewn throughout bathrooms, bedrooms and in the hallway.  Another of the sacrifices that had to made when money became a problem with building was we lost downstairs, all of downstairs. So the laundry got moved to a cupboard in the hallway. Unfortunately we still haven’t got the cupboard doors to hide the laundry. So clothes are spilling out of the hampers, over the floor. Hippie Child should do well in high jump at this years athletics carnival – she has to leap over the piles to get to her bedroom.

The new decorative feature of our lounge room is an assortment of clothes horses holding the  damp and soggy clothes we have managed to wash – we could be here for weeks before they dry.

Seriously people if in the next few days if I get to a point where all the clothes are washed, dried, folded and put away I am going to put a ban on them ever being worn again. Note, I’ve long given up on the possibility of ironing en masse we do that on a as-needed basis when we pull the items out of the wardrobe and have a debate on how many creases you can get away with before the iron is heated up.

I can’t even pretty up this post with a photo – who wants to see someone’s dirty laundry (literally) – you’ve probably got some of your own you can go stare at – although at least you can comfort yourself with the idea that you now know someone in a bigger mess than you. See that’s my role in life – make other people feel good about themselves by sharing my excruciating reality.

Now off to give the family my new ruling that we are embracing nudity as a valid way of life. What have you got planned for the day?

Before I Had Children

English: this is a picture of my Barbie doll

Image via Wikipedia

Before I had children …

I knew good behaviour was just a matter of proper discipline.

I knew sexism and inequality were the result of gender stereotypes inflicted on children by parents – no child of mine was going to play with a Barbie Doll.

I knew consistency was the only sure way to deliver a well rounded individual to the world.

I knew my child would excel at school because I did.

I knew I wasn’t going to allow being a mum to change my life.

I knew you set boundaries and children fell  into line.

I knew parenting wasn’t as hard as people made out – you just had to be organised.

After I had children ….

I knew nothing.

Lord Howe Island – A Family Holiday

Despite my inclination for home and hearth occasionally  I must hoist myself out of the lounge and into the big wide world to give my children experiences beyond their small hometown and away from the digital activities that seem to control their free-time.

Lord Howe is a spectacularly beautiful island, off the mainland of Australia. It’s one of only four island groups in the world possessing World Heritage status and is packed with rare plants, birdlife and marine creatures.

Our Lord Howe Island adventure occurred a few years ago now, but it is one the children still speak about with great fondness.

There are only 370 residents on the island, and at any one time there is a maximum of 400 visitors. The island itself is only 10 km long and 2 km wide yet there is so much to do in that space.

The typical mode of transport is bicycle. It’s been many, many years since my bum graced the seat of a bicycle and even the lady at the bike hire shop was looking concerned as I made a shakey getaway down the drive. I seriously thought I was going to die as I gained speed going downhill, but KNEW I was gasping for my last breaths on the uphill run.

Nevertheless I persisted, my children took embarrassing photos (which you won’t see here) and maybe I was even a little bit fitter at the end of our seven day stay.

Fish Feeding at Neds Beach

One of our first stops was Ned’s Beach. Here hungry mullet, wrasse, garfish, silver drummer and metre-long kingfish swim up to you to be fed. They tickle your feet as they nibble on the bread you are madly throwing into the sea.

Lord Howe’s lagoon is protected by the world’s southern most coral reef. We took a turtle watching tour to the reef in a glass bottomed boat. It’s an amazing experience watching these giant creatures slowly moving through the ocean, while brilliantly coloured fish flit between the coral. The area is a protected Marine Park and home to 500 species of fish and 90 different forms of coral.


We were able to go snorkelling which my family enjoyed.  Me, not so much, the weather wasn’t perfect,  a bit rainy and windy, I took ages to squeeze into a wetsuit, get fitted out with flippers, mask and snorkel, lumbered into the sea, got bashed against the side of the boat, swam to the back and reboarded, a total of about 3 minutes actually in the water.  I warned you about my lack of adventurous spirit.

I didn’t think we were going to be able to get Hippie Child back to the boat, she disappeared out to sea, happily bobbing up and down.  Taking shots with her new underwater camera she realised she had lost her family but figured snorkeling was too much fun too worry about the old fogies.

We also spent a day at Old Gulch catching a boat ride to a magnificent spot where we swam on a deserted beach, bushwalked and enjoyed a picnic lunch. The rocky scenery here was mindblowing.

The beach near Old Gulch

Old Gulch

There is plenty to do for the active holiday maker – surfing, scuba diving, windsurfing. My husband and daughters hired a kayak and paddled from the main part of the island to Old Settlement Beach. I followed, with the assortment of accessories a family of four requires for a day at the beach, on my bicycle, with which we have already determined I had a love/hate relationship. By the time I got to the beach the family was on a pontoon some distance from the shore. I’d cycled, lugged all the paraphenalia onto the sand and now stood exhausted, wondering how the hell I was now going to swim out to them.  It was my own personal triathalon. (Husband says I must explain here that I have a tendency to exaggeration and my idea of long way/difficult task must be countered with the knowledge that I do NOTHING of a physical nature EVER).

Old Settlement Beach

However, as I stood deflated on the beach I was to experience the most magical moment of the entire holiday. A green sea turtle, sensing my unhappiness, swam up and spent the next thirty minutes peacefully swimming around me. It was calm and surreal. I tried to silently signal to the family to come in, they thought I was drowning, although didn’t seem in too much of rush to rescue me, but when they did get there the  girls too were thrilled at the chance to swim with a turtle. For my birthday that year Hippie Child bought me a necklace with a little silver turtle on it to remember our special holiday highlight.

My friend the turtle.

There is so much to do,  seven days were not nearly enough to enjoy all the natural attractions. There are countless bushwalks to take including a  trek up Mt Gower. This is an iconic peak at the southern end of Lord Howe Island, rising 875m from sea level.  The walk is around 14km return and takes about 8.5 hours to complete, so you need to be in good health but given it’s one of the top 20 day walks in Australia I am told it is well worth the effort. Yes, you guessed it I didn’t actually do it.

On one bushwalk my husband and Hippie Child had a great time exploring the giant Banyan trees which dominate the island. These huge plants tower over humans and create an intricate link of roots and branches winding in and out of nearby foliage.

The trip provided an old-fashioned style break, riding bikes, jumping off jetties, swimming, far removed from the theme parks, and computer generated activities that so often draw the attention of families.  We dream about returning.

Wiggles Debacle

Oh dear The Wiggles have got themselves into a pickle. They are not playing nice with their friend and need to take some time out in the naughty corner for a while.

My relationship with The Wiggles was a long one beginning at  Selina’s, Coogee Bay Hotel in the late 80’s – they were the Cockroaches back then and it wasn’t the pre-school set bopping out.

Fast forward a decade and it’s another late night with the boys – this time it’s a non-sleeping child that will only stop screaming when I put the Wiggles video on. This was a behaviour that continued for months – waking up at 2 am screaming for The Wiggles. (Do not lecture me on reinforcing bad behaviour and making a rod for my own back – I was a sleep deprived, first time mum with an absent husband – nothing I did was rational). Even now, all these years later the opening bars of Fruit Salad can bring me out in a nervous rash.

I comforted myself with the fact at least Anthony was still cute, although perhaps not as sexy now his moves revolved around that whole fast finger shaking thing.

I shelled out for tickets to a concert in Brisbane once, Hippie Child proceeded to the mosh pit and fell asleep in front of a gigantic speaker. Obviously the conditioning from all those mid-dawn video sessions had kicked in.

Now what have the boys done to get themselves into trouble? Well five years ago original Yellow Wiggle, Greg Page, had to leave the group due to illness. Back-up singer, Sam Moran, got the gig of his life when he was handed the yellow skivvy (see there was the first mistake – they should have given him his own colour – but that would have really screwed up the marketing stuff that was already printed). Now Greg’s better and is reclaiming the skivvy. Trouble is nobody warned Sam about this, he apparently only found out when he was called to a meeting and handed his redundancy cheque (rumoured to be $60,000).

Obviously The Wiggles are used to very happy, clappy interviews, come on, a few jokes, a wave to all the kiddies at home, sing a song and off they go.

It all went horribly wrong yesterday on The Today Show.

I suppose it’s hard to be prepared for crisis PR when you don’t know you’ve got a crisis.

The band is  glad to have their buddy back and it’s a case of Sam who?

See it doesn’t go with the image guys. We thought friendships mattered in Wiggle World. Kids are taught to care about the people in their lives it didn’t seem like you cared about Sam.

Now I don’t like to criticise because you were such a part of my family for a long time, an endless loop of time actually, replayed over and over again to the point our videos literally wore out. I know you are nice guys. But given the money you’ve made out of being the Wiggles couldn’t you have offered Sam an alternative – help him record a solo album – get him a gig on a TV show. Something that didn’t sound like you just weren’t his friend any more?

The Vegie Patch

Peak oil. Rising sea levels. Climate change. Soaring energy prices. Ever wondered how self-sufficient you could be? Really if it came down to it could we survive unaided? How do you reckon we would go at generating our own food, electricity, water on a typical surburban block?.

We had a little test run here at Shambles Manor when my husband insisted on building a little vegie patch (in the front, unfinished yard). Yes he was right it did foster community relations with neighbours stopping buy to admire the handiwork. I think they are starting to get used to the weird people in the still-to-be completed shoulda-been-a-McMansion who are bringing property prices down in the area.

First step was building a little plot 2 metres by 2 metres then Mr Shambles asked nicely  (OK ordered) the girls to help – it’s not slave labour it’s a valuable learning/back-to-nature experience.

An assortment of produce was planted. Eggplants, snow peas, tomatoes, chilli, basil, coriander, grapes, lettuce, strawberries along with some marigolds which I think were supposed to keep pests away.

Lots of tender loving care was administered.

The end result? We enjoyed four or five great salads. Had a nice meal of tomato bruschetta. The herbs added flavour to a number of meals. The grapes and are almost ready for eating and the strawberry was a nice addition to my pink champagne last night.

Frankly, it took a bit of work. I’m thinking if push comes to shove and our only food source is the front yard we could be in trouble.