Thursday 30 June 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday 29/6/11

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

Recently I've been reading another My Story book to my 10 year old son for bed time reading. He's probably almost grown out of bed time reading, but we plug on, rather slowly it must be said with this book. It really hasn't grabbed my attention, or his. We're 90 something pages in, nothing has happened, and they all have odd names, even the dog, Pollux. Although any book set 2,000 years ago will have some interesting words. And this one is no exception.

1. Distaff (noun)

Mother handed me the wooden distaff.

A word so important that it needs its own wikipaedia page. Not being one prone to doing much spinning I wasn't aware that a distaff was a tool used in spinning flax and wool.

2. Strigils (noun)

Slaves carry our strigils, oils and sponge sticks. 

An instrument used in ancient Greece and Rome for scraping the skin after a bath. The Free Dictionary.

Strigils are so important they're on display at the British Museum.

3. Stola (noun)

Mother has bought me a new tunic- it is very long, like a proper grown-up stola.

The traditional garment worn by Roman women.

4. Dormice (noun)

I loitered as far back in the party as I could, feeling as fat and full as one of those stuffed dormice. 

Any of various small, squirrellike Old World rodents of the family Gliridae. They hibernate, and it is speculated that their name comes from the French, dormir, to sleep. 

As an Australian, I've heard of dormice (although always presumed that they were doormice), but didn't really know what they looked like (or that you could eat them). I don't generally find rodents all that cute, but these are certainly too cute to eat.

Although it definitely appears that they did.

Sunday 26 June 2011

VIVID Festival

There were over 30 light installations that formed the Vivid Festival. Some were obviously big drawcards like The Opera House and Customs House. The others were scattered around Circular Quay and The Rocks.

Some were just to look at, and ponder.

Some were interactive for the kids

Peddling hard to power the hula hoop lights in the trees

Jumping about to splash some paint on the MCA
And then they painted the whole town red

And purple

And blue

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

The Dog on the Tuckerbox

It's great to find a nice picture book that teaches a new generation of Australian kids about the more important and iconic pieces of our colonial folklore. Without being too overtly preachy, or boring. This book does that splendidly.

The Dog on the Tuckerbox is of course a famous monument outside of Gundagai in New South Wales. It is a frequent rest stop for the hordes driving between Sydney and Melbourne on the Hume Highway.

Photo credit

The book tells the story of the faithful dog Lady who sits waiting on her master's tuckerbox for him to return. Her master, a bullock team driver called Bill, has left her to guard his bullock team after they became bogged near Gundagai. Bill never comes back, but Lady patiently waits for him to return as a faithful dog will do. I'm reminded of my grandfather's awful dog (she loved noone but him) who pined by the gate waiting for him to return from hospital after he took his final trip there. Of course, he never did return either, but she pricked up her ears at every old man in a hat who walked in view.

In yet another moment of great synchronicity this is the second book in a row that I've read where a devoted dog is attacked and mauled by wild beasts, and needs to be sewn up with twine.

The monument is based on the legend of Bullocky Bill, as memorialised in two poems. The website from the photo credit above, gives a somewhat different version of history, which I'm not quite sure how to believe.

I can't do all this thinking about Gundagai without this song entering my head. Although it has nothing to do with the monument, or the legend of Bullocky Bill. Interesting to see that it makes the Top 30 Australian Songs of All Time!

Sunday 19 June 2011

Old Yeller

It may be hard to believe but I'd never seen the movie Old Yeller til last year. I knew it was about a dog, and that it was sad, but that was it. I watched the movie last year, and it was sad. Very sad. So sad that I was a bit anxious about reading the book. 

And it is a sad book, but young Travis has such a great voice. Immediately distinctive. And totally engaging. Fourteen year old Travis Coates has to be the man about his family's farm in the Texas Hill Country in the frontier years of the mid 19th century, when his father leaves to take cattle to Abilene, Kansas. Travis is left on the farm with his mother, and younger brother Little Arliss. Old Yeller moves onto the farm soon after and wins a place in the family's hearts despite his thieving ways. 

Little Arliss is annoying like all little brothers. He keeps playing in the dam used by the family for drinking water. He continually collects all sorts of critters, and he generally gets in the way. Travis has a lot of work to do. He has to ensure that the family's corn crop isn't robbed by the many varmints that want to eat it- raccons, skunks and bears. I don't think enough books these days use the word varmints. I think we should bring it back. He has to brand their pigs, even though they are essentially living wild in the surrounding land. 

There's plenty to educate and amuse a modern Australian, or probably an urban dweller from anywhere about the habits of various varmints. The racoons come to raid the corn field at night. They "strip the shucks back with their little hands, and gnaw the milky kernels off the cob." Skunks like watermelons, they "open up little round holes in the rinds and reach in with their forefeet and drag out the juicy insides". Coyotes like watermelon too. Deer aren't as fussy and like corn, melons and peas. Wild hogs pop their teeth. 

Travis has a fantastic turn of phrase:

I was weak as a rain-chilled chicken, but most of the hurting had stopped.

She (a doe he is trying to shoot) kept doing me that way til finally my heart was flopping around inside my chest like a catfish in a wet sack.

The references to both animals and people afflicted by rabies, or hydrophobia as it is most commonly refered to in the text is rather fascinating medically. I remember them calling it hydrophobe in the movie version. Australia is a rabies free continent, so we have no cultural memory of such sickness. We don't have to vaccinate our pets against rabies even. Travis's Mama cleans his leg wounds from the wild pigs with hot water then pours turpentine into the wound. We can only wonder at how much that would hurt.

And Travis was quite the ethicist for his time:

I never minded killing for meat. Like Papa had told me, every creature has to kill to live. But to wound an animal was something else. 

This is something I've been thinking about for some time. Not that I'm forced to hunt for my meat. A simple trip to the supermarket, or the butcher is all it takes. But more generally our use of meat and the ethical and environmental impacts of our diet. It has all become quite contentious and topical in Australia in the past few weeks, after revelations (and rather graphic footage) of the treatment of Australian cattle shipped to Indonesia as part of our live export trade. 

But ultimately, Old Yeller is a book about a boy and his dog. Travis and Old Yeller forge a strong bond in the few short months that they live and work together. Old Yeller is a bit of a loveable rascal. But he is a faithful, wise and brave dog who protects his new family from multiple threats. And he pays for his devotion in the famous climax of the book. 

Old Yeller is a fantastic book, that deserves to be more widely read. 

I'm offering up Old yeller as my first post to both The Classic Bribe and Kid Konnection at Booking Mama

the classic bribe

Saturday 18 June 2011

VIVID Customs House

I had thought that the Opera House would have been the best bit of the Vivid Festival.

But Customs House was too, too incredible. I hadn't heard anything about this before I went. So it was the thrill of the unexpected, and the thrill of discovering something that was just completely astonishing. I don't think I've ever seen a public display of art to match it. 

Customs House by day:

Ho Hum. Sydney Sandstone. Even with the Ice Bear. 

And by Vivid:

 They animated extra hands on the clock, had time whizz by, and then the building crumble!

They made the building breathe!

And the columns spin!

They filled the building with water 

And then drained it all out

We had a fabulous hotel room that night, and I could keep watching from our balcony!

The amazing folks who did this. 

So Clever. So Astonishing. I wish it was like this every night. Here's a timelapse video (not mine) to give you a bit more of an idea how it was on the night. Customs House features at the end, and not for long enough. I loved it so much. Can you tell?

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday 15/6/11

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

Time has somehow got away from me yet again, and it's been three weeks since I last posted about Wondrous Words. That statement almost feels confessional! Not that I haven't been reading any Wondrous Words of course. I have. Lots of them. I've been making somewhat slow progress through Kidnapped, and have been reading other things as well, which doesn't help. Still, Kidnapped is a fabulous source of words. I've already done one post inspired by it, and I imagine there shall be several more. 

1. Raillery (noun)

The pound Scots being the same thing as an English shilling, the difference made by this second thought was considerable; I could see besides, that the whole story was a lie, invented with some end which it puzzled me to guess; and I made no attempt to conceal the tone of raillery in which I answered-

from the French raillerie (from the Free Dictonary)
1. Good-natured teasing or ridicule; banter.
2. An instance of bantering or teasing.

WOW. If I was better read I'd sure know this word. Raillery appears to be in every classic text of English literature! How embarrassment, it's in several books that I've already read. 

2. Dirk (noun)

The first was full of meal; the second of money-bags and papers tied into sheaves; in the third, with many other things (and these for the most part clothes) I found a rusty, ugly-looking Highland dirk without the scabbard. 

Clearly some sort of weapon from context. Interesting that it's a man's name as well. 

A dagger especially as worn by Scottish Highlanders, a relatively long dagger with a straight blade (from the Free Dictionary)

3. Hawser (noun)

Sir, I lie here with my hawser up and down, and send my cabin-boy to informe. 

I really wasn't sure from context here. Turns out it's a rope. Who knew that there were names for particular kinds of rope?

A large heavy rope for nautical use. Again from the Old French haucier (to hoist) (from the Free Dictionary)

This process really helps my enjoyment and expand my understanding of a complex book like Kidnapped. Thanks for such a wonderful meme Kathy. 

Sunday 12 June 2011


I'm very thankful for the day several years ago that I bought this 3 CD audio book. When did I buy it and why? I'm not exactly sure, I vaguely remember it being on a sale table. But one day recently I decided to pick it up and put it in the car stereo. Just to try it. And I'm so very glad that I did. I don't often listen to audiobooks. My attention wanders, and I find that much time has passed and that I've really lost track of what is going on. This audiobook, read by Tim Flannery himself, grabbed and held my attention from the start. 

I've long admired Tim Flannery and his work, and always meant to read more of his writing. He comes across well on the tele, or in interviews, and I love those shows he does with John Doyle. He is clearly intelligent, with a lovely sense of humour.

This engaging and fascinating book is part memoir, part travelogue, part non-fiction work on kangaroo biology. Tim Flannery, who will go on to become Professor Tim Flannery, and Australian of the Year in 2007 didn't get into the course he wanted to study straight out of school. He wanted to study biology, but instead got into humanities at La Trobe. It's great to see a more circuitous path lead to great success. 

The first CD and a half documents a failed circumnavigation of Australia that Tim made as a student in the summer of 1975. Tim sets off with a friend, both ill-equipped for the journey, with little money. Rather hilarious recountings of his attempts to collect museum specimens from the roadkill encountered on the trip. He describes a frontier version of Australia that probably still exists out there, and makes you long to do your own roadtrip through the red desert heart of our vast continent. Because of this newly stirred longing I read the article about driving across the Nullabor in this weekend's Weekend Australian. The article references what looks like a fabulous audio tour on the ABC site of Crossing the Nullarbor. It's only stirring the pot more. My feet are becoming decidedly itchy.

Disc 2 has a couple of astonishing chapters filled with astounding, but little known facts about marsupial anatomy. Logically enough they have feet adapted and fused to take the strain of hopping. Marsupials exhibit what is thought to be the primitive version of mammalian genital anatomy. Male kangaroos have a "capacious scrotum" that sits in front of their S shaped penis. The female kangaroo has two vaginas but doesn't give birth through either. They can suspended development of a new foetus whilst the older sibling is still suckling. The mother has 4 teats and can supply different milk out of each- one appropriate for a 2 year old who needs more water, and one appropriate for the newborn, who needs more energy. Each youngster only ever uses one teat, and the mother delivers milk specific for it's age and stage.

I've always loved the word capacious. 

Some other random factoids I learnt from this wonderful book:

You can begin searching for dinosaur fossils in an outback pub. 

Tammar Wallabies can drink salt water, and are one of the few marsupials who breed seasonally. Their embryos lurk in suspended animation until the summer solstice, and are then born a month later in late January. 

Possums have the most dextrous ankle joints known. They can move their ankles through 180 degrees. 

Most marsupials are born when they are as big as a grain of rice. 

One sixth of Australia drains into Lake Eyre. 

There was a large carniverous kangaroo called Propleopus oscillans.

Kangaroo populations increased dramatically with the pastoralisation of the Australian landscape. It's not exactly known why but some theories include the farmers thoughtfully providing more frequent watering spots, and killing dingoes.

Still, 7 kangaroo species (10% of those that existed) have become extinct since white people came to Australia, and 7 more (30% of the small kangaroo species remaining) are now critically endangered, and no longer make an impact on the Australian landscape.

Tim ends the book on a rather pessimistic note, leading naturally to his more recent books such as The Weather Makers, which focus much more on climate change and the uncertain future ahead of both humans and kangaroos. 

Saturday 11 June 2011


The Vivid Festival has been running for a few years in Sydney. This year I got to go for the first time. And it was amazing! The Opera House was always going to be a highlight. It's always worth seeing, but this is extra special. The Vivid Festival only runs for another two days. So unless  you're actually in Sydney you'll have to wait til next year to see this. In the meantime:

A clever French company projected 3D animations onto the Opera House. It was an ever changing cavalcade which lasted about half and hour, but was in constant play from 6pm til midnight. And the Opera House wasn't actually the most amazing light show that night!

This post is my first offering for Saturday Snapshot, a weekly meme from at home with books.

Friday 10 June 2011

13 Modern Artists Children Should Know

I had been rather pleased with my academic success with the 13 Artists Children Should Know. Emboldened by that success, I went on to read 13 Modern Artists Children Should Know. Whilst I managed to get 67% of the cover art references on the Artist book, this soon plummeted to 0% here. The comic book style of the top one looked familiar, and those red spots readily brought to mind one of my favourite cartoons of the 20th century. 

The other two drew a blank. Which is really quite amusing because I was just bemoaning my lack of knowledge of the bottom artist recently.

Pablo Picasso
Marcel Duchamp
Marc Chagall
Edward Hopper
Alexander Calder
Mark Rothko
Joseph Beuys
Roy Lichtenstein
Yves Klein
Bridget Reilly
Dan Flavin
Eva Hesse
David Hockney

Still just 2 out of 13 women.

I learnt even more about Picasso, who certainly sounds an interesting character. I never knew enough before to know that I should be interested in him. He liked the carefree way that children drew pictures, and as an adult tried to teach himself how to paint like a child. He has a great quote that "every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." Which is very true.

It seems that quite a number of modern artists have rather tragic, short lives. Picasso lived to 91, but Yves Klein died from a heart attack at only 34, shortly before the birth of his son. Yves Klein famously invented his own colour (many early artists did apparently) International Yves Klein Blue.

Picture credit. Check out the video on that site- and this is before all the good drugs they discovered in the 60s!

An attractive shade of blue, but blue nonetheless. I now realise that I may have seen what was either an Yves Klein original, or something that certainly owed a great debt to him. I remember years ago seeing a "painting" at the Art Gallery of New South Wales that was a rectangle of a blue monochrome (without even the interest of any texture like the work above). I've always thought of it as The Paintchip, and it comforted me to know that even I could create monochromatic art good enough to hang in a prestigious gallery, if only I could be bothered. Perhaps it was actually great art because I've remembered it for so long?

Eva Hesse also died tragically young at 34, this time from a brain tumour. I don't imagine that I will ever be arty enough to understand her sculptural work with rope.

The cover artists top to bottom are Roy Lichtenstein, Bridget Reilly and Edward Hopper.