Saturday 29 September 2012

Surprising Melbourne

I always love going to Melbourne. I love the known and the unknown of it. Some things you know will happen, and they will be wonderful. Some things are unexpected, and also wonderful. I knew the Melbourne Writers Festival would be fantastic. I didn't know that I'd go in for a bit of big game hunting.

I used to visit Melbourne quite often.

Now I only get to visit once in a Blue Moon
Some things stay the same.

They're crazy about football in Melbourne
While some things are new.
A Paris style bike hire scheme
but in Melbourne you can hire helmets too
 They seem incapable of designing a new building that has flat walls.

Glimpses of spring


 Sometimes you see a massive goose in the city for no apparent reason!

I've seen this guy before- in the middle of nowhere in NSW.
Instantly recognisable in his wacky racers garb

Sometimes you find a little unexpected flash of France

Joan of Arc stands guard
 at the entrance to the State Library of Victoria

While I saw a real peacock at Melbourne Zoo, there were lots of peacock hued girls. Fashion?

Or advertising?

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

Thursday 27 September 2012


I was very interested in this session to see Nobel Prize winner Peter Doherty talk about his new book Sentinel Chickens. What a perfect combination of topics- birds and medicine- right up my alley!

Peter Doherty is a vet, scientist, winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine (the only vet to do so as yet), and former Australian of the Year. This was an interesting and wide ranging discussion. Sentinel Chickens is "not a chook book" he advised, but more like a CSI for chickens (and other birds). An appeal for the value of science. He felt that as he got a bit older that he started to smell the roses and look at the birds. Despite the opening of the book being about Peter Doherty trying to find some puffins on a holiday in Alaska he doesn't think of himself as a birdwatcher.

Peter spoke quite a lot about influenza, all fascinating stuff. Influenza is maintained in nature in birds. I think lots of us know that. All the recent bird flu stuff. What I didn't know is that influenza is a gut infection in birds, and often quite mild. Influenza is basically a disease of water birds. These birds poo out the virus into the water, where it survives quite well in the environment. Scientists wanting to check birds for influenza infection, insert a swab into the lower portion of their gut. Urgh.

One particularly interesting discussion was about the use of voltaren (diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication) in cattle in India. Of course cattle aren't eaten in India, so I'm not really sure why they were being treated with voltaren. When the cattle die the vultures then move in, but it turns out that voltaren is extremely toxic to vultures- they die very quickly of kidney failure and visceral gout. Vulture populations have declined by 95% over the past 25 years. The decline in the vulture population lead to an increase in wild dogs and rats who were able to scavenge the cattle carcasses instead, this then has caused an increased incidence of rabies. All because cows were given some anti-inflammatories! The flow on effect of such things really can be extraordinary, and quite unimaginable. The increase in rabies is probably quite lucky for the vultures, otherwise their plight may not have come to attention, or there may not have been as much of an effort to find the cause.

I'm looking forward to reading Sentinel Chickens to read more about the plight of the Indian vultures and many other bird matters. In 1930 there was a "Parrot Panic", where hundreds of thousands of parrots were killed, and which ultimately lead to the founding of the National Institute of Health in America. Now that has to be an intriguing story too.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday 26/9/12

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.  

This weeks words come from my recent reading of Henry VIIIs Wives. This is the second post of words from this book, the first one is here

1. Chaconne (Noun)

2. Bourree (Noun)

Even though his lame leg and huge size prevent him from taking part in the dancing, he loves to watch Katherine dance with others, delighting in her quick feet and the elegant turn of her head in a chaconne or bourree.

Chaconne- a dance in slow triple time probably originating in Spain. The free dictionary. 

Bourree- an old French dance resembling the gavotte. The free dictionary. 

3. Masques (Noun)

We are all involved in rehearsals for masques to be held later this month, in an effort to rouse the King from his lethargy. 

A dramatic entertainment, usually performed by masked players representing mythological or allegorical figures, that was popular in England in the 16 and early 17th centuries. Often performed at court. The free dictionary. 

4. Chamberlain

Her husband, Lord Baynton, will go with them as well, since he is Katherine's chamberlain. 

i) a. An officer who manages the household of a sovereign or noble; a chief steward
b. A high- ranking official in various royal courts. 
ii) An official who receives the rents and fees of a municipality; a treasurer. The free dictionary. 

5. Sconces (Noun)

Tom has long wanted to use his skills to make decorative ironwork- finely wrought lamps and fire baskets, wall brackets and candle sconces. 

A decorative wall bracket for holding candles or lights. The free dictionary.

6. Rood screen (Noun)

To his delight, the Church dignitaries have asked him to construct a large, intricate rood screen for the church where Dan and Alice were married. 

A partition of stone or wood, often richly carved and decorated, that separates the chancel from the main part of a church: it is surmounted by a crucifix (rood), and was an important feature of medieval churches, in England many rood screens were destroyed at the Reformation. 

Picture source

7. Tilt-yard

When the boys go outside to practice archery or the tilt-yard skills, she take up her lute and plays and sings, or puts in more work on a piece of intricate embroidery.

An enclosed courtyard for jousting. Wikipaedia. 

Saturday 22 September 2012

Birds of Melbourne

Birdwatching is a wonderfully transportable activity. My recent holiday in Melbourne allowed me to spot some interesting birds. Although most were familiar to me. I only had my little point and shoot camera, not Mr Wicker's fancy camera, but still did ok I think.

A family of Australian Wood Ducks (Chenonetta jubata)
enjoying the Treasury Gardens

A female Magpie Lark (Grallina cyanoleuca) collecting mud for nest building. 

Red Wattle Bird (Anthochaera carunculata)
perched on a Gymea Lily

On my search for the 50 Mali statues I found this rather utilitarian looking pigeon keep.

I wondered why it would be there. Turned out to be part of Melbourne's pigeon management strategy. Pigeons are often a problem worldwide of course. In Paris. In Sydney. And in Melbourne.

Quite clever I think, better than trying to poison them or catch them.

Lorikeets appear to have taken over Melbourne CBD in recent years. Their noisy squeakings were everywhere. I didn't remember them as so prominent. Turns out I was right, they've moved back in increasing numbers.

Rainbow lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus)

Speckled Dove (Streptopelia Chinensis)
White-plumed Honeyeater (Lichenostomus penicillatus)
Quite a good bit of biodiversity for a city I think. Of course I haven't shown you sparrows, sea gulls, magpies, or Indian mynas which were also all over the place. 

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

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday 19/9/12

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.  

My son recently did practice for the NSW Premiers Spelling Challenge. I didn't know some of the words! How embarrassment. 

1. Dunnart (Noun)

Furry, narrow-footed marsupials the size of a mouse. Wikipaedia

Picture source

2. Skillion (Noun)

A sloping roof surface, often not attached to another roof surface. Wikipaedia

Picture source

3. Ducat (Noun)

A gold coin that was used as a trade coin throughout Europe before World War I. Wikipaedia. 
Not the i left off a motorcycle then as I first suspected. 

4. Minim (Noun)

i) A half note
ii) An insignificantly small portion or thing
iii) A downward vertical stroke in handwriting
iv) A unit of fluid measure, US 1/60 of a dram (0.0616 ml), UK 1/20 of a scruple (0.0592 ml)

Who knew a scruple was a fluid measure?

5. Wushu

The Chinese martial arts. The free dictionary. 

6. Ocarina

An ancient flute-like wind instrument. Wiki

Picture source

Monday 17 September 2012

John Lanchester

I wasn't planning to go to the John Lanchester session at the recent Melbourne Writers Festival, but who could pass up a free ticket to such a wonderful session? Both John Lanchester and the wonderful Jason Steger from The Age. Fabulous. 

John Lanchester hasn't been on my reading radar for all that long. I'd seen rather glowing reviews for his most recent book Capital earlier this year, and am very keen to read that. I was even more keen after this session. 

John Lanchester was a journalist and restaurant reviewer before turning his attention to writing books fulltime in the 1990s. He has published 4 novels, one memoir and one work of nonfiction. He was in Melbourne primarily to promote Capital, and much of the talk was about this book. John feels that story is a fundamental appetite, and that as a reader you can fully occupy another persons being with a novel.

Capital is a big novel about London. There is quite a history of London novels of course. John made an interesting point about this- London was the largest city in the world when printing became widely available. John Lanchester reread Middlemarch and quite a few other 19th century works to prepare for Capital. 

John Lanchester lives in London, and he was inspired to write this book by looking out his own window. He felt that he was the last non-financial worker in his street. He quipped that he never saw a man during the day, that his street appeared to be like a work of feminist science-fiction, he saw only women, but they continued to breed. Wives piled children into increasingly large 4 wheel drives, and the houses had become like grandees- summoning servants to them- pilates instructors and feng shui experts alike. 

He didn't try to write an inclusive novel, some groups such as white working class aren't there as they don't live in his part of London anymore, having been pushed out by property prices. Still he has a large cast of characters living in Pepys Road. He wanted to keep the tension equal between them all, like snooker balls on a table, they all have the same weight, but aren't all at play at the same time. Yet they all matter equally. 

John Lanchester spoke quite a bit about his writing process. Apparently his style is quite different in each book that he has written. He feels that the bits of him that write a particular book get used up, and aren't available for the next book. He writes by always going forward. He takes notes on things to fix later, he doesn't reread, and doesn't rewrite as he goes. When he has finished a draft he puts it away for a few months to be able to see it clearly when he looks at it again. 

As he has written both fiction and nonfiction he spoke a bit of the difference between them for the writer. When writing fiction you can do anything, but you can't explain it. Explanation tends to break fiction. If you waste time writing fiction, it is wasted. Whereas with nonfiction, you still know the facts you've researched and can recover some use from them in another way. 

John Lanchester has another recent book called Woops: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and Noone Can Pay. A nonfiction book explaining the recent Global Financial Crisis. John described it somewhat delightfully as a "benign tumour that grew out of Capital." Even though Capital is only set in 2007/8, it is already an "historical novel". Somewhat unbelievably no laws have been passed anywhere in the world to stop the types of recent financial collapses from happening again!

Both John Lanchester and Jason Steger are erudite men who speak wonderfully, often with great humour. It was a delightful session, one that I will remember for a long time. 

Sunday 16 September 2012

Sophie Scott Goes South

I've long been obsessed by the notion of Antarctica. Back when I was 20 I decided to write an action thriller set in Antarctica. I'm not sure why, it's not really my genre, and I don't really write. Pity I didn't get round to doing it though, now Matthew Reilly has been there and done that, and my ideas would just seem derivative.

I always do enjoy tales of people journeying to Antarctica, so of course was keen to get my hands on Alison Lester's latest book, Sophie Scott Goes South. I saw Alison Lester speak at the CBCA Conference in Adelaide in May.

Sophie Scott Goes South is somewhat of a collaborative effort. In 2005 Alison Lester made the long journey south herself on the Aurora Australis from Hobart (5475km each way!). She sent daily emails to schools and families around the world. Children often drew responses to her emails and sent their artworks to Alison Lester. She then created the Kids Antarctic Art Project. There are lots of amazing resources, articles and images about this project online. Alison often manipulated or compiled the children's images to make them her own. She describes that process here. There has been a touring exhibition of those artworks for several years, although I haven't been lucky enough to see it.

Sophie Scott is a 9 year old girl whose father is the captain of the Aurora Australia. She goes with him for a 5 week supply journey to Antarctica. Presented in diary format Sophie tells the story of her voyage- her anticipation, the cramped sleeping arrangements in the cabin she shares with her Dad, the astonishing journey with massive seas and seasickness. The voyage south is exhilarating despite the extremes of weather. Icebergs. Penguins. Seals and whales.

Fully illustrated by the beautiful pictures from the Kids Antarctic Project and also by photographs that Alison Lester took on her trip. Sophie Scott Goes South conveys a lot of information as well as telling a story. Antarctic explorers. Icebergs. The amazing weather at the bottom of the world, and glimpses into how people survive there.

Yet all written with a view to kids.

We threw lolly-coloured streamers to the people waving and held on until the streamers snapped and the water between us got wider and wider. 

Antarctica is an important place. One that needs to be protected for future generations, and for itself. I hope I get to visit myself one day, and make my own Antarctic diary just like Sophie.

An Illustrated Year is hosted by An Abundance of Books.

Saturday 15 September 2012

As we must appear to the hawk #5

I always like peering out of a plane window. Now you can peer out with me. This is a recent flight from Sydney to Melbourne. 

Taking off over Sydney is always wonderful

The biggest beach is Bondi

Australian Alps is a bit of a grand term
but still, there is snow

And ski resorts

It took me a while to work out what was wrong in this next image. Large areas just looked dead. Then I realised it was land affected by the terrible fires on Saturday February 7 2009 (I'm pretty sure that's what it is anyway). A day that became known as the Black Saturday fires. 173 people died that day. 

It was sobering to see it still look so awful

Melbourne, a bit hazy
and I suspect I inadvertently had manual focus on

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

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday 12/9/12

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.  

My words this week are from my recent reading of A Wrinkle in Time

1. Swivet (Noun)

'I've been in such a swivet- It may not do any good, but at least I can try.'

Extreme distress or discomposure.

2. Sumac

And though it was warmer than it had been when they so precipitously left the apple orchard, there was a faint autumnal touch to the air; near them were several small trees with reddened leaves like sumac, and a big patch of goldenrod-like flowers. 

I was very surprised to see her reference sumac here. In Australia it refers to a Middle Eastern herb. It's quite common here now (I've got some in the pantry), but wouldn't have been more than 10 years ago, let alone 50 years ago. I figured there must have been another usage. And so wiki tells me Sumac in the Americas refers to a rather vast genus, Rhus, which includes Poison Ivy and Poison Oak.

Monday 10 September 2012

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time is an unusual book. A sensation since it was first published in 1962, still an enduring favourite it seems. This year marks the 50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time, and I had the opportunity to read it for a second time recently.

I first read A Wrinkle in Time a few years ago. Obviously as an adult. I didn't find it as a child, which is a shame I think. The first time I read it, I really didn't understand it all that well, and so didn't like it all that much. This time through was a different story.

It has a great hook in the first chapter. Right from the first line cliche-

It was a dark and stormy night. 

we are drawn into the story. Meg Murry lives with her mother and three brothers. Her father is absent, a source of much gossip in town. Meg has mouse-brown hair, braces and glasses, she is bright but slipping classes in school because of the family turmoil. On this dark and stormy night, Meg has trouble sleeping, her younger brother Charles Wallace is busy in the kitchen making hot chocolate and tuna fish sandwiches- (if only todays 4 year olds were so capable!), when the mysterious and vaguely scary Mrs Whatsit comes to visit.

What follows is a rather amazing scifi journey. A search for her father with a lot of ponderings about the bigger questions along the way. There's a strong religious vibe to the story. Classic good versus evil doing battle. Shadows falling over good lands that sort of thing. I did wonder if I was imagining it at first, but I wasn't- Madeleine L'Engle had strong Christian beliefs. It's quite interesting. A Wrinkle in Time was both attacked for being too religious by some, but has made the banned books list in the US for some time. It seems that religious conservatives feel it "gives an inaccurate portrayal of God and nurturing in the young an unholy belief in myth and fantasy." Damned if you do and damned if you don't it seems.

While I was reading this book I dined alone in an upmarket restaurant one night. My waitress immediately gushed over the story- her mother had read it to her when she was a young girl, and she had read it many times since. She'd lost her copy, and just the week before had been thinking of buying a new one. I hope our chance meeting prompted her to get her new copy and reacquaint herself with this classic story.

Read as part of my ongoing quest to read 1001 Childrens Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up.

Sunday 9 September 2012

On the Wing

On the Wing was the final sessions that I attended for Melbourne Writers Festival 2012. Indeed it was the reason that I stayed for the entire festival duration. Who could pass up a session with Sean Dooley, Janine Burke and Peter Doherty?

Sean Dooley chaired the session, where I expected him to be more of a participant. Author himself of The Big Twitch and Anoraks to Zitting Cisticola, both of which I own, but sadly haven't read as yet. Sean did a magnificent job of introducing Janine Burke in the breathy speech of Sir David Attenborough, for whom she admits a rather extreme fondness in her latest book Nest, The Art of Birds. It was very funny.

Janine Burke is perhaps an unusual person to write about birds, as she is an art historian, biographer and novelist by trade. Although it turns out that she's done her fair share of birdwatching too. The Heide School and Sunday Reed introduced her to nature, and she has been watching birds for some time. Watching them construct nests on her afternoon walks she wondered why aren't they works of art? Birds nests are well constructed, can be beautiful and she wanted to see them again. They had all the features she appreciates in works of art produced by humans.

Janine felt that Picasso and Matisse had changed the perception of art in the twentieth century. They brought into art works that had previously been outside the definition of art- primitive and indigenous art, which had previously been housed in anthropology sections of museums, but have now moved into art galleries. Why shouldn't birds nests be seen as art, and housed in galleries? Janine Burke is actually curating an exhibition for next year which will showcase birds nests in a gallery! I hope I can get back to Melbourne to see it.

Peter Doherty is from the scientific side. Vet, scientist, winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, Australian of the Year. Author of three books, his new book is called Sentinel Chickens, about which you will hear more at another time. Peter sees authors as much like a bowerbird- picking up things from everywhere, and then putting them in an elaborate display called a book. He said it was common for older scientists to become very interested in the environment and ecology.

Peter said a very simple thing, that is so obvious when you think about it, but it really made me think, birds are often the only animals we see. It's true of course. Naturally if we have pets we see them more, but in the natural world birds are it. Well maybe insects if you look, but birds thankfully appear to outnumber insects in my vision at least.

There were lots of interesting bird factoids dropped into conversation during the session. Certain birds can remember where they have put up to 20,000 bits of food, and then remember their use by dates, and dig them up just as they are about to go off! Birds have the largest spatial awareness cortex of any species, which allows for the extraordinary 3D flight, when they fly in flocks.

It was a really interesting session. I've got lots more reading to do now, and a few other areas to investigate.

Saturday 8 September 2012

Melbourne, a city, in 50 elephants

It can be hard to take pictures of a city you know very well. I know Melbourne very well. I lived there in the 80s, and visited many, many times since then. I used to go once or twice a year. Sadly, I haven't been able to visit as often in the past few years, indeed it had been 3 years since my last visit.

On my recent trip to Melbourne there was a promotion to celebrate the sesquicentenary of Melbourne Zoo. 50 fibreglass models of elephant calf Mali have been placed in multiple locations in the inner city and CBD. Called Mali in the City, it has it's own iphone app to help you locate the Malis, and chart your progress. It was like a modern day treasure hunt. I didn't want or expect to find all 50 Malis when I started, but once I got to 25 I knew that I would do it. And I did. It's been a very successful promotion I think, at every Mali I found there were people there enjoying Mali, taking photos, plotting their progress on their iphone.

Here are some shots that help to show off Melbourne, and her panoramas. Not all 50 you'll be pleased to know.

Mali is appropriate for this week as yesterday, Sept 7 was National Threatened Species Day. Held on Sept 7 each year to commemorate the death of the last Tasmanian Tiger in Hobart Zoo in 1936.

2 Malis at St Paul's Cathedral

Saggy, baggy elephant at the visitors centre
very cool knitted covering, it wasn't wet and stinky
despite being out in the elements

Writers Festival flags fluttering

Federation Square- the location for the Writers Festival

Melbourne City from the south side of the Yarra

The Pollock-esque Mali on the left didn't impress me
 til I learnt that Mali painted it herself!

One of my favourites- inside the Intercontinental
showcasing the threatened Helmeted Honeyeater

Melbourne CBD from parkland at the Yarra

Here today.....Melbourne Zoo
I only wish that I had enough money to buy my favourite one at the charity auction. She'd look fabulous in my garden. Perhaps I'll show you her another time.

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