30 January 2007

Meeting of the Port Macquarie Book Society

The fortnightly, sometimes weekly, bookclub convened today. There are just the two of us so it's not really a bookclub, but that's how Kerri-Ann and I met...trying to establish a 'real' bookclub here in the cultural wilderness of Port Macquarie.

The local library has a weekly get-together which they call a bookclub, but it's not. It's tragic. They choose a 'topic' to read around every month and then meet up to report back to the group on what they've read -- no, they don't read the same book. Here's the topics for the rest of this year:

March 6Dare to be different
April 3 Canada
May 1 We Live and Learn
June 5 Prize Winner
July 3 Hobbies
August 7 Book group
September 4 The ABC of Audio Books
October 2 Author in common - Paullina Simons
November 6 Stone the Crows - Australian Humour

I mean, I'm tempted to go along just to discover which books they come up with for the "dare to be different" category. Worshipping the Anti-Christ for Beginners? Bondage and Humiliation in the Mid-Northcoast. More like Racey Scrapbooking for Adventurous Pensioners.

So anyway, there was a note on the library noticeboard that promised a real bookclub. One where people go wild and actually read the SAME book and discuss it. Of course, it turned out that this bookclub only had one existing member -- the note-writer, Kerri-Ann. I was the only person who'd responded to her ad in six months. So we met up for coffee and chatted about books for a couple of hours. So that's what we do now -- talk about what we're reading, what courses we want to do next, the dearth of culture in Port Macquarie (that's a long conversation).

This week we met up at the Rainforest Cafe. It was a steamy day so was nice to sit out under the towering trees, and not eucalypts for a change. We both had a smoked salmon caesar followed by a cakey thing. (Kerri-Ann's already blogged about this so you can read her version of events here).

By some curious coincidence there was actually a koala high in a tree by the wooden walkway leading up the cafe. It was fast asleep as is usual. There aren't too many eucalypts in the rainforest so it must have been drawn in by the heat.

Seeing this one made me miss my koalas at the hospital. Tomorrow there's koala handling and rescue training so I'll get my koala dose a day earlier than usual.

29 January 2007

I do, I do, I do, I do, I do-oo-ooo-oooo

the rotunda
So my brother, TonTon, married his fiance, Lena, on Saturday at the rotunda in the park, right by the water at Williamstown. Despite temps topping 40°C in the preceding weeks, Saturday was cold cold cold; about 15°C (or so it felt to me, although D said it was more like 20°C) with an absence of humidity and bracing wind. This made us a motley crew -- everyone had to cobble together a warmer version of their original outfits. I had on the black cardie, Mum popped a plum jacket over her sundress, one of TonTon's friends up from Sydney had to make do with a kiddie jacket cast off by one of the bridesmaids.

stressed junior bridesmaidsThe bride was glorious in a long cream-coloured frock and strappy purple heels. The bridesmaids, my two neices and their best friend, all looked stressed wondering was the right moment to start flinging rose petals at Elena as she was led to the rotunda through the park by her cousin, Mikhail (not Gorbachev). TonTon was beaming from ear to ear and we all cried and snapped pictures like paparazzi. D was on video duty but we still made eye contact when the celebrant reminded us that a marriage in Australia is the joining of a man and a woman... That brings to mind a clever bit of stand-up Ellen DeGeneres does on her DVD Ellen DeGeneres: The Beginning. She talks about th anxiety that seems to surround conservative people when gay marriage is brought up. They seem to jump straight from same-sex marriage to interspecies marriage like, you can easily go from wanting to marry your girlfriend to, say, wanting to marry a goat. She then proceeds to imagine what it would be like going out with a goat...

But I digress...there was a lovely part of the wedding vows in which Elena actually makes a verbal commitment to TonTon's two girls. It was a beautiful touch. Then we all headed for the pub and then onto the reception place. Mr Lamborghini's son was having his reception at the same place (no really, it was the guy who owns the franchise in Australia, apparently). So there was a host of burly Italian blokes milling around the entrance, while inside there was a placard congratulating Giovanni and Charlene (obviously an Aussie girl). Parked outside on the pavement was a lamborgini with the license plate "LAAMBO". Don't you hate typos?

The reception was fun -- it's been so long since I've been to a wedding I'd forgotten how much fun they could be. We were at a table with my younger brother and a host of TonTon's friends, one of whom is a the CEO of publishing firm. We had an interesting chat about what she looks for in the covering letter on a book manuscript -- not even the manuscript itself, just the letter. Basically if you say your book's going to sell a million copies, it gets chucked to the bottom of the pile. She's looking for a bit of humility. If you're cocky in the letter, you'll be cocky all the way through the process from editing to marketing. For example, Tim Flannery, the new Australian of the year, is in her stable of authors and he's a right nob apparently. It's an interesting power play going between the author and publisher. A new author's offering up what feels like their first born, while the pubisher wants, well, somebody emotionally unattached. Not a great combination.

The great thing about being at a wedding with a large Russian contingent (well four Russians anyway) is that the vodka shots keep on flowing. Elena kept standing up and proclaiming "more Russian drink". You gotta love a sister-in-law like that.

23 January 2007

Trial Bay Gaol, South West Rocks

Warning: Before you proceed, this post is NOT about koalas. Yes, such a thing is possible. Although an act of animal benevolence does feature towards the end.

32km from KempseyD___ and I went on a day-trip to Trial Bay Gaol on Saturday. It's about an hour and quarter's drive from Port Macquarie, taking the Pacific Highway to Kempsey and then heading towards South West Rocks. Although we were so engrossed in the conversation we were having (ie what I was going to do with my life besides koala-wrangling and blogging-about-koala-wrangling) that we were half way towards Wauchope before we realised we were going the wrong way.

We drove through some picturesque little towns — Frederickton (given the predictable diminutive of 'Fredo' by the locals, Smithtown [presumably 'Smitho'?], and the melodious-sounding Bellimbopinni — littered with single-lane bridges and interesting configurations of rust and flora.

'My mo's bigger' 'No, MY mo's bigger...'The gaol is an impressive, if pint-sized, edifice constructed of pink and grey granite. It was erected in 1886, a time when they took Movember seriously, all year round, judging by the picture of the original prison officers at the site.

prison cells

The prisoners' main job was to build a breakwall as ships were habitually being drawn into the beach and running aground there. (Trial Bay was actually named for a brig called the Trial which came to grief in 18-oh-sometime). However, the granite being quarried for the breakwall was horrendously heavy and the project was doomed to failure. After about 15 years the prison was abandoned.

It was reopened during the first world war as an internment camp for Germans living in Australia (how bizarre, Germans seem such nice people!). At least then the prisoners were allowed to spend their days on the beach and were only locked up at night. Some amused themselves by painting borders of scenes from home around their cells.

Smoky Cape Lighthouse
Mediterranean viewAfter the gaol we headed to the nearby Smoky Cape Lighthouse. I'm quite besotted with our own lighthouse in Port so like to check out any other lighthouses that we come across. The Smoky Cape Lighthouse has a proper lighthouse shape (unlike ours which is more like a tin shed with a dome stuck on as an after-thought). It also has huge sweeping white walls that give it an almost Mediterranean feel.

seaside humourAfter we finished fossicking about the lighthouse, we headed in to South West Rocks for a bevy at the pub. It's interesting comparing different sea-side towns. Port seems like a metropolis compared to this place, although it does have a Thai takeaway with a cute name.

It was getting on to 6pm when we finally headed home. We were gunning it up the Pacific Highway, just on the other side of Kempsey, when we noticed a dog walking along the road in the direction of Kempsey. D and I both said 'is that a dog?'. D___ turned round at the rest stop a few k's on and drove back until the dog was in sight. It could have been a dingo as it was a nondescript browny colour but, as soon as it saw our car pull up, it crossed the road towards us.

He had no collar but was super-friendly -- clearly a pet and very used to people. Yet the only logical conclusion we could come to was that this beautiful dog had been abandoned by its owners on the highway. He wasn't in bad shape -- a bit of a skinned knee, his coat could use a wash and he seemed to have fleas. He jumped in the car with us without a moment's hesitation and accepted all the patting and stroking on offer. D___ had the bright idea of lining her hat with a plastic bag and filling it with water so our new friend could have a drink.

With our hitch-hiker in tow, we headed back to Port and to our vet, who I knew would take in a stray dog. There was no question that we could keep him. Troi can barely cope if we show any attention to the cat (which therefore takes attention from him). Plus he doesn't like any other dogs, people, birds, insects, etc. So we sadly drove our little friend home, knowing that he would probably end up at the pound and possibly worse. And he was such a friendly dog! He didn't snap or even bark the whole time he was with us in the car. He just kept looking out the window, probably trying to search out his home...

What is wrong with people?

17 January 2007

Coetzee but without the disgrace

I finished up my second shift at the Koala Hospital at around 11.30am with a cup of tea in the staff-room. The conversation was dominated by irritations about Centrelink. Talk then turned to Koala Preservation Society name badges—Amanda had one and said they were available to volunteers prepared to cover the $7 cost involved. I was dying to become "official" so I put my name down for one as did the others. I remarked that I was sure that the koalas would appreciate knowing what to call us. "Hello, I'm Sam and I'll be shovelling your poop this morning". As a volunteer, I also get 10% off from the gift-shop which sells every kind of toy koala and koala-themed merchandise imaginable.

It was good to be off my feet. Even better, the staff-room was stocked with green tea. I looked down at myself — I had dirt under every fingernail, there were red scratches up the soft skin inside my forearm and there was dried dirt in the creases on the inside of my elbow joint. My shirt was wet and muddy. My legs were also streaked with mud. I'd caught sight of myself in the mirror outside the treatment room and saw that, not only was my forehead beaded with sweat, but my hair was fuzzy with humidity. A big tuft stood out from my ponytail where it'd obviously been yanked out by a tree branch.

It was a foreign thing to me to be that dishevelled and dirty. That night in the shower I actually had to scrub at places instead of the usual perfunctory rinse. You don't get too dirty sitting in an air-conditioned office all day. Though invisible, corporate grime is harder to shift; good, honest koala-loving grime on the other hand was a tangible sign of my doing some good. I felt worthwhile.

When I got home I also felt utterly exhausted — not just physically but mentally. I wandered around for the rest of the afternoon in a daze. It was like starting a new job when you are in hyper-alert mode, trying to concentrate on everything you see and hear. That night I slept solidly. You know the quick little falling dreams that wake you with a jolt just as you're entering into your deep sleep? Instead, I was driving down Pacific Drive and a koala bounded in from of my car. I woke up gasping!

I keep thinking about J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace, and how the protagonist's unglamorous work with dogs gave him some sense of absolution from his professional disgrace. Not that I have any episode of disgrace to overcome, but the work is surely ennobling for all its seeming simplicity. Perhaps the simplicity of a routine that nonetheless helps the helpless is where this kernel of soulful satisfaction resides.

10 January 2007

Eucalyptus: initial thoughts

I'm reading Murray Bail's Eucalyptus at the moment. There was a hubbub over it a while back when it looked set to be filmed not two hours' north of here, in Bellingen, NSW.

It's unfortunate that Nicole Kidman was slated to play Ellen. Unfortunate because that's who I visualise whenever she appears in the book: Nicole Kidman with that contrived pout and a few stuck-on freckles (a key aspect of Ellen's appeal is her bespeckled skin). It's horrendous enough that Kidman was chosen to portray Diane Arbus, not to mention her laboured performance as Virginia Woolf.

I've found Eucalyptus slow to get going, but now the 'hook' has appeared. At first I thought that the references to different eucalypts were simply atmospheric motifs; but Holland has just wedded them securely to the plot by proclaiming that only the man who can name every eucalyptus strain growing on his land shall win his daughter Ellen's hand.

It's all very "Theme of the three caskets" (Freud 1913), except the 'caskets' here are numerous and the chance of winning through sheer luck virtually impossible. Perhaps this makes it a (post)modern take on the whole storybook romance.