Jacaranda Dreaming

Jacaranda Trees...these ones are near The Bloke's work.

Jacaranda Trees…these ones are near The Bloke’s work.

It’s Jacaranda season in Sydney — signalling the time of year when our city begins the swing into summer and lets loose its inner show off. All around this harbour town the treeline is splashed with blossoming bursts of colour, and before too long the streets will be carpeted in thousands of impossibly blue petals.

The Jacaranda tree (Jacaranda mimosifolia) is not native to Australia, but like all good things from not-so-distant places — Phar Lap, the Finn Brothers and Russell Crowe immediately spring to mind — we’ve claimed them as our own. The trees are actually of South American origin, and the word “Jacaranda” was first described to the English speaking world in the first edition of A supplement to Mr. Chambers’s Cyclopædia way back in 1753, more than thirty years before The First Fleet even arrived at Farm Cove. But claim them we have, and their spectacular blossoming in late October or early November each year heralds the coming of our splendid sub-tropical summer and, for many Sydneysiders, often triggers other memories as well.

The famous Sydney Uni Jacaranda (1927-)...it holds a special place in my heart, and that of many other alumni.

The famous Sydney Uni Jacaranda (1927- )…it holds a special place in my heart, and that of many other alumni.

One of the most famous Jacarandas in Sydney stands in the Quadrangle of Sydney University, my alma mater and my father’s as well. The tree was planted in 1927 by E G Waterhouse, a professor of comparative literature who also popularised the growing of camellias in many Sydney gardens. University folklore has it that if you haven’t started studying for your exams before the Jacaranda blooms in the corner of that incredible Gothic quad, then you’re doomed to fail.

My memories of the Sydney Uni Jacaranda are overwhelmingly positive: the cloisters beneath the tree were a beautiful place to sit and read, to soak up the atmosphere, or to feel the palpable sense of history that pervades those elegant sandstone buildings. There were days when we would sprawl beneath the blossoms before lectures, unperturbed by the “Keep Off The Grass” signs, secure in the belief that they couldn’t possibly apply to us. And if we were asked to move — well, it was probably time to get to tutorial anyway.

Jacarandas in Grafton, Northern NSW

Jacarandas, Grafton NSW

My other Jacaranda memories are much older.  As a child, a giant Jacaranda tree grew outside my second-storey bedroom, and every November the blossom-laden branches outside my window transformed my room into a lilac bower. It was easy to believe in flower fairies looking out into that spreading canopy of mauve and blue. I was utterly heartbroken when the tree grew into the sewer line and had to be removed. They are, after all, spectacularly beautiful trees.

Nowadays, I get my Jacaranda fix wherever I can: there’s a gorgeous one at Marvel Girl’s school, and you see plenty just driving around the neighbourhood. I wish I could plant one in our own yard, but our narrow Northern Beaches block doesn’t have the space for such a specimen. And besides, I still have those special trees — those of my childhood memories and my student days — and they will stay with me forever.

Lux Veris

Spring 2015 021

Morning on the Corso…this is Spring in Sydney

I love the light at this time of year, when bleached skies and metallic seas signal the onset of Summer. There is something uniquely Australian about the quality of that light: an intrinsic brightness with a shine and sheen that we recognise — instantly — as being the light of our homeland.

Pilots call it ‘severe clear’, a term used to describe conditions of unlimited visibility, but it’s a remarkably accurate expression. There is nothing subtle about the light in the Antipodes: here the sun blazes, the heat blinds.

In Sydney we appear to have skipped straight past Spring, with the temperatures in recent days soaring into the thirties. Around here, the beaches have been packed and the Manly Jazz Festival has been in full swing. It’s great weather for jazz, and for Jamiroquai too. While Winter might make us head for the mellow tunes of Milky Chance, Spring and Summer have us cranking up the car stereo, and reaching for Robin Schulz and Ministry of Sound Annuals. At this time of year my rear view mirror often provides glimpses of Marvel Girl busting out her best dance moves (quite a range, considering the confines of her car seat) while Miss Malaprop sings along — in her own words, as usual — thinking she can rap just as well as Nicki Minaj (she so can’t).

It’s been fantastic weather for footy, too, with last Sunday going down in the history books as a golden day in Australian sport: first the Wallabies won at Twickenham and sent the hapless Poms packing out of the Rugby World Cup, and then the North Queensland Cowboys took home their first NRL premiership in spectacular fashion with Johnathan Thurston kicking them to victory over the Brisbane Broncos with a field goal in extra time. It was a Grand Final for the ages, and one I won’t forget.

But then again, the October Long Weekend always has a touch of enchantment about it, because every year at 2:00am on the first Sunday of October, a magical thing occurs: Daylight Saving Time begins. Well, that is to say, it begins here in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania — for some obscure reason (still unknown to the rest of the states and territories along the Eastern Seaboard) Queensland doesn’t participate. To be fair, they always have done things a bit differently up there…though not even I am game to mention the Bjelke-Petersen years…

Still, for the rest of us, the beginning of Daylight Saving Time means longer days and lingering twilight. It means trips to the beach after school, it means barbecues and a few quiet beers at dusk. And for a lot of Australian kids, it means going to bed when it’s still light.

Strangely enough, some of my most vivid childhood memories are of lying beneath my window in my bed as the golden light of day slowly faded into the deep tropical green of evening. I can still hear the last raucous squawks of roosting lorrikeets, and the rhythmic thunk of the filter in the neighbours’ pool after someone popped in for one last swim. I can still see the inky silhouettes of trees on the horizon, and the first twinklings of the stars high above. Only when I had seen the Southern Cross wheel its way above my head would I close my eyes and sleep, secure in the knowledge that I was truly home.

Ahhh…that light, again. Severe clear by day, warm and inviting by night. And while Dorothea Mackellar may be justly famous for summing up what Australia is like in “My Country”, I think — oddly enough — that it was Wordsworth who understood just what I experienced as a child, even if he felt it a few miles above Tintern Abbey instead of in Sydney:

My local rockpool...photo credit Yury Prokopenko

My local rockpool…photo credit Yury Prokopenko

         …And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.


			

The Wellspring

My First Principles: words, music, food.

Know your First Principles…

This month marks the first anniversary of the day I sat down, summoned my courage and started blogging. From the outset, I have said that this is where I come to make sense of it all, and after twelve months of showing up on the page I firmly believe that doing so has benefited me, and probably my family, too.

I believe it’s important to thank all the people who have joined me since I set sail on this voyage, and to make special mention of the mums who sought me in the school playground to chat about everything from Holiday Bonus Points to the meaning of saudade, or to jokingly re-introduce themselves after I blogged about The Name Game. I want to thank the friends who provided early encouragement (and who, to my eternal gratitude and partial disbelief, continue to do so), as well as the hundreds of complete strangers who stumbled across my little site and stayed to read a post or two. Discovering that my words have been read by people all over the world, from Argentina to Germany, Turkey to Taiwan, as well as here in Australia has been an astonishing and humbling experience.

Find your wellspring...

Find your wellspring…

I believe there is a wellspring in each of us, the source of our creativity and our connection with humanity and the planet we are so lucky to live on.  Writing this blog has enabled me to dive into that wellspring and to clarify what is important to me, what I am passionate about, and also what I am challenged by. It has provided me with a platform to speak my truth, whether I was struggling to make sense of the Sydney Siege, or speaking out against the death penalty, or fangirling over my two favourite Toms (Wlaschiha and Hiddleston), or reveling in the beauty of street art.  And writing about all these things has enabled me to connect with people in ways I never have before.

I believe that I am truer to my First Principles – my Holy Trinity of words, music and food – when I visit my wellspring regularly.   When I align myself to these three things, my most important sources of nourishment, I live a better and far more authentic life. I may not always progress smoothly; life simply isn’t like that. But honouring the things that make me who I am and finding the time and space to share them with others certainly makes it easier to deal with the inevitable ups and downs that characterise every person’s existence.  Blogging reminds me that we are all riding this rollercoaster together, and that it can be terrifying and thrilling and every other kind of emotion I can name (and probably a few I don’t know yet know precisely the right word for) along the way.  It also prompts me to remember that the same is true for each of us, the world over.

Connect...

Connect to your own greatness…

I believe I am blessed in my life to be supported by my family, the crazy trio you may laughed with – or perhaps just laughed at – and cried with over the past year.  You’ve shared our adventures and misadventures, and witnessed some of the tests and trials my husband and I have encountered while parenting two strong-willed and independently-minded girls. The Bloke, Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop all inspire me, challenge me, delight me, frustrate me, and fill me with more joy than I ever thought possible. They also willingly put up with a wife and mother who is happiest when tapping away at the keyboard, and who considers herself incredibly fortunate to be able to do so on a personal and a professional basis – even if it means my life is regulated by the alarms I set to remind me to pick the kids up from school.

I believe, looking back, that it probably wasn’t a coincidence that I began blogging in spring, the season of rebirth and renewal.  Spring is a great time to start new things, and to watch them grow. One of the themes I have returned to again and again over the past twelve months has been seasonal change, as I’ve connected with the world as it transforms itself around me and noticed details I may not have otherwise. In the process, I have become far more aware of how I respond to the seasons and the unique ways they express themselves in this Great Southern Land. (As a side note, I would also argue that spring is probably a much better time to set resolutions than those first remorse-filled weeks of January when we lament our Christmas and New Year’s excesses and wish for the umpteenth year in a row that the festive season and the bikini season did not coincide.)

But having said that, I also believe that it doesn’t matter when you start something new: the important thing is to begin. To have a go. Or to have another go. Or even to resume doing something you love, because you know it serves you and brings you closer to who you truly are. For me, it’s writing, reading, listening to and playing music, cooking well and eating better.  It’s also exercising: running, weight training, and practicing yoga.

...and Begin.

…and Begin.

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend a yoga workshop welcoming the coming of spring.  It was a chance to find stillness within, to connect with my breath, to meditate on new beginnings and to draw strength and inspiration from the wellspring within.  Emerging into the twilight two hours later, I was greeted by the sight of the moon, luminous and full, lighting up the evening sky.  Seeing that shining orb reminded me that I, too, have come full circle, and I remembered what I wrote in my very first blog post: that what I write here may never be great, or even particularly good, but it will be mine. The most important thing was that I began.

So rise up.  Follow your breath.  Find the wellspring within.  Connect.  And begin.

Melbourne Cup 2014: Triumph, Tragedy and a Touch of the Tawdry

Ryan Moore rides Protectionist to win the 2014 Melbourne Cup (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Ryan Moore rides Protectionist to win the 2014 Melbourne Cup (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

The Race that Stops a Nation.  I mentioned it in my last post as marking the final stop of the crazy train before it makes its reckless descent into the Silly Season, with its whirl of office parties and pre-Christmas drinks.

This year’s win, by Protectionist — the first German horse to win the great Australian race — was undeniably convincing.  British jockey Ryan Moore rode brilliantly, timing his run towards the post perfectly to finish the 3200m race a full four lengths ahead of Red Cadeaux, who placed second in the big event for a record breaking third time.

At our house, the win was celebrated with enthusiasm by Miss Malaprop, who had drawn Protectionist in the two dollar sweep at The Bloke’s office, and by Marvel Girl, who had picked Red Cadeaux in her classroom sweep and won points for her school colour house for placing second.  Yep — you read that right — her classroom sweep.  That’s how big this race is in Australia: at 3pm on the first Tuesday in November, just about everything stops as the vast majority of the population crowds around television screens, radios, or any other handheld device you care to mention, just to find out who will win the Melbourne Cup: schools, shops, businesses — everything but the betting agencies.  It’s so big a deal in Victoria that the metropolitan region of Melbourne has a public holiday.

Now, the Melbourne Cup wouldn’t be the race it is were it not for a spot of controversy, but this year it was for all the wrong reasons.  It wasn’t just about the use of horse whips, or about the fact that Australia lost over a billion dollars in a single non-productive afternoon, or even about the sordid Instagram feeds depicting inebriated young women passed out face down on the grass or vomiting into garbage bins track side.  It wasn’t even about the (very) public marriage proposal made by a canary yellow clad Geoffrey Edelsten to his (very) much younger partner Gabi Grecko in the presence of his estranged (but not quite divorced) wife and a bunch of bemused reporters.

No, this year it wasn’t until after the race was run that controversy — closely followed by its near relative, tragedy — came calling.

Here at home things went slightly awry when Miss Malaprop finally understood that she had won Daddy’s office sweep, not a horse, and that she wasn’t going to get to ride Protectionist at all. (Fortunately she’s a bit too young to realise that she is not likely to see her winnings from the sweep either — I’m still waiting for The Bloke to bring mine home from last year.)

But down in Melbourne, a much bigger drama was unfolding in the yards and stalls of Flemington Racecourse: Admire Rakti, the Japanese horse who had started the race as favourite and placed last, died of a massive heart attack, and Araldo, injured after being spooked in a post-race incident by a couple waving an Australian flag, had to be put down.  Two horses — two incredibly beautiful, gloriously honed, impressively muscled and impeccably trained creatures — were dead.

No, this year’s race didn’t just stop the nation.

This year, it made us pause.  And reflect.  And wonder whether our armies of once a year punters and frocked-up flutterers might have got this whole horse racing thing slightly out of perspective.

This year, I suspect many Australians realised — painfully, perhaps — that the big race, with all its pomp and pagentry and talk of track conditions and trifectas, simply cannot happen without the horses.  And that it might be time we took a long hard look at what life is really like for these superb equine athletes all year round, and not just on their day in the November sun.

Because if the Melbourne Cup is going to remain relevant as a national obsession, I think many Australians would not want Admire Rakti or Araldo to have died in vain.  Hopefully, in future years, we will look back at 2014 as a turning point in Australian horse racing, and we will honour both of these magnificent animals with a lot more than a minute’s silence.

Farewell to the Old Plastic Cubby House

It’s school holiday time in this Great Southern Land of ours, and we have been blessed with some wonderful spring days: the sun has been blazing up the blue, keeping the chill from the afternoon sea breezes at bay.  Blossoms are budding.  I’ve started sneezing more (a lot more).  And the kids have been relishing the opportunity to play — raucously, for hours — in the back yard.

So far, these holidays, there have been no casualties.

Well, not until Friday afternoon, that is.  Marvel Girl came belting into the house, barefoot and wild-haired, shrieking at the top of her lungs: “The cubby house! The cubby hoooouuuuuse!”.  She was closely followed by Miss Malaprop, wide-eyed and aghast, wailing that, “It’s fallen over! And the roof has come off…and now it’s broken“.  These last words were uttered at a whisper, her hushed tone no doubt adopted in anticipation of the maternal tirade they both expected to follow.

“Well, that was good timing!” I responded brightly, “We have Council clean up this weekend, so we can put it out for collection.  Let’s have a look at it.”  Two pairs of eyes, one dark greeny-brown, the other light greeny-blue, watched me suspiciously.  Surely they were not going to get away with this so easily?

Like most siblings, Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop are a study in contrasts.  They are two very different individuals who love and fight each other in fairly equal measure but, fortunately, they complement each other too.  They’re like chorizo and haloumi, smoked salmon and capers, any other quirky combination you care to name.  When trouble is afoot, however, they tend to follow that timeless pattern of behaviour I remember falling into with my own brother: stick together, deny everything, and when all else fails — blame the other person.

Outside, surveying the damage, it was clear there was no coming back for the cubby house.  It was busted.  Completely kaput.  Bits of broken plastic were littering the lawn and a surprisingly large number of spiders crawling out from the newly exposed cracks in the frame.  Just regular, garden variety spiders, you know.  Nothing to get upset over.  This is Australia, after all — we don’t get too wound up over arachnids unless they are the poisonous kind, and we learn to identify them from an early age.  “They don’t have red spots, Mum,” said Marvel Girl cautiously, peering down at the rapidly disappearing spindly-legged creatures.  “Nup,” I replied definitively, “No Redbacks here, but it’s always good to check.”  She nodded solemnly in response.

Miss Malaprop, uncharacteristically blasé about the spiders, had other things on her tiny mind.  “You pushed it over,” she said accusingly, pointing at the shattered panels, glaring hard at her sister.  Once the ensuing shouting match had been dealt with, we set about dismantling the rest of the cubby house, the setting of so many imaginary adventures.

Ah, the old plastic cubby house.  It has been an ice cream shop and café that catered to customers’ every passing whim, a pirate boat from which many a scurvy dog as been sent to walk the plank, a hidden base for jungle explorers when covered with fallen fronds from the palm tree in the corner of the yard.  Climbing unassisted onto the faded yellow roof was a rite of passage for you and so many of your little mates, with the cry of surprise that “I can reach now!” inevitably being followed by a triumphant rooftop shout: “Look at ME!”

The back yard looks a whole lot bigger now, and perhaps even a little bereft now that those garish plastic panels, stairs and slippery slides have disappeared.

Farewell, old plastic cubby house.  You served us well.