In 1983 I learned more than I knew I was learning…

At that time I lived in Glebe and was in some ways at a rather low ebb, in hiatus from teaching but still editing Neos. I lived for a while in a boarding house in Boyce Street with assorted students, crims and schizos and one or two ordinary folk. It was an education. Among my neighbours was a schizophrenic Aboriginal woman whom I call “Marie”.  As I listened to Marie, who was also kind of concierge to the house, I found a story emerging amid the apparent randomness and even craziness. I tried to capture that in a poem at the time. Every word in the poem she actually said, though not all at once, and I have structured it so that her story emerges, as it did for me over a much longer time. An artist who lived upstairs read it and said I had captured her exactly.


The house in Boyce Street. At the time I occupied the front room. “Marie” was on the second floor at the landing. The artist had the balcony room.

It is clearly no longer a boarding house.


Marie: Glebe 1983

(for the “stolen generation”)

my mama was black
dadda a scotsman

in the home there was a flower
it woke us up

see here it is

and here’s one i’m saving for matron
(i loved you matron)
i’ll write a book for matron

she’s gone now
they say she died

i think i will come back to her

she said “you’re in trouble, marie”
she said “have the baby”
(i was nineteen or twenty)

i know all about cocks
men can be cheeky
but the girls are worse
two backyard jobs

matron’s gone now
see her flower?
i’ve pressed it for her

i’m forty-two years old i am nothing
a woman not married in this society
is nothing

my dream is to get married
i said to matron
“i will have babies for you”


i’ll give up smoking
i must control the grog
but when my head’s upset i need a beer

the pub is good
nobody looks down on you there

i hope my joseph is happy
he chose his family
and thomas
where is thomas?

there have been too many men

i’ll go picking again
on the riverina

this is not my place

this is a dead end street this is a dead man’s house
but there is a lane

they call me

words are very powerful
you must be careful how you use them

do the children still read?

the television
i got mine at the hock shop forty bucks
it freaks me out


i see myself and matron and joseph and thomas
i learn a lot
it freaks me out


this is not my place
my head hurts here

all that fucking going on
over my head

i’ve never hurt no-one
let them kill me it’s good
it doesn’t matter
i’ve never hurt no-one
but i’ve been hurt

do you know my dream?

this is my dream
i’ll have a coffee shop
and there will be little huts
and no-one will be turned away

we did that once
had pillows all over the house

i learned
and elocution

i’ll get up early and get a job
it’s good i reckon
will be good
after christmas
next year
i’ll leave this place

but it’s good
i reckon

see this flower?
i’m saving it for matron
and here is the one
that woke us in the home

my dadda was a scotsman
my mama was black




Each photo is linked to its story.  See A guide to Australia’s Stolen Generations and 100 Year Commemoration of the Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Training Home.

See also Punishment and death at Cootamundra for a contrarian view from Keith Windschuttle. BTW, if you happen upon that chapter directly via a search you could be forgiven for thinking it had some kind of official status. I find that a bit deceptive, but then I guess it is up to me (caveat emptor) to check the home and about links.

Archie Roach at Cootamundra Girl’s 100 years playing ‘Mum’s Song’ by Kutcha Edwards.

Full of hatred and full of anger
Which I needed to release
But with love and understanding
I’ve moved on and I’m now at peace

Late at night I still remember
I would cry myself to sleep
The scars they hurt no longer
But the memories are deep

As we come up to Australia Day tomorrow it is time to reflect soberly and honestly on the full picture of our country’s history.

Miss Odgerny and other contemporary figures

Annabel Crabb is spot on today.

If we learnt anything at all about misogyny in this grubby old week, it’s that as a nation, our ability to spell the word is in precisely inverse proportion to our eagerness to fling it about online.

If we wipe the week down for a minute and examine where it all started, we find a text message from the former speaker, Peter Slipper, in which he likens an intimate female body part to a brined mussel.

It’s easy to see why this sort of observation, once published, might be inconsistent with the continued exertion of distinguished and unimpeachable authority over the federal House of Representatives.

And the text certainly established Mr Slipper’s status permanently, in the minds of anyone who might have been wondering, as ”bivalve-curious”.

But … misogyny? That’s a big call.

The Oxford definition of the word is ”hatred of women”.

Is it misogyny when Tony Abbott refers to the ”housewives of Australia … doing their ironing”?

Is it misogyny when some buffoon at a union dinner makes a cheap and speculative (and defamatory, which by the way is why you haven’t read it, and not very funny either) joke about the Opposition Leader and his female chief of staff?…

Sexism is everywhere in politics – you just have to count the examples that have cropped up this week once everyone suddenly started to care about it.

Mr Abbott’s response to the speech, understandably, was very different; he couldn’t believe he’d been called a misogynist, and that – in my personal opinion – is fair enough.

Mr Abbott has been guilty of sexism, and at times extreme dopiness, with respect to women. But a deep and unswerving hatred of women, ”every day, and in every way”? It’s not a case I’d prosecute.

Thursday, the day on which Christopher Pyne was arguing to the Speaker that the word ”bloke” was sexist and unparliamentary, and everybody else was going through the roll-call of the guilty, otherwise known as the guest-list for the CFMEU dinner, was the first International Day of the Girl.

One in three girls around the world do not get an education, the charity Plan International reports. One in seven is married before the age of 15. One in four is sexually abused by the time she’s 18. On Tuesday, as Australia’s gender debate revved up, 14-year-old Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban; punishment for her insistence that she has the right to be educated.

The definitional squabble over the term ”misogyny”, in other words, is rather a clear-cut affair, in certain less blessed parts of the globe…

One of the most sensible things I have read so far.

You want to see misogyny? Look no further than the Taliban. Comparatively you won’t find much of it in any Australian parliament, though sexism and dopiness are not so hard to find.

Then there is a tradition, quite venerable really, as any fan of the 17th century poet and libertine the Earl of Rochester knows:

Love a Woman! y’are an Ass,
‘Tis a most insipid Passion,
To Chuse out for Happiness
The idlest part of God’s Creation.

Let the Porter and the Groom,
Things design’d for Dirty Slaves,
Drudge in Fair Aurelia‘s Womb,
To get Supplies for Age and Graves.

Farewel Woman, I intend
Henceforth ev’ry Night to sit
With my Lewd Well-natur’d Friend,
Drinking, to engender Wit.

Then give me Health, Wealth, Mirth, and Wine,
And if busie Love intrenches,
There’s a sweet soft Page of mine,
Do’s the Trick worth Forty Wenches.

Now that could be called misogyny, even if it is not entirely clear how serious Rochester is…

Leaving that and the Punch and Judy show of 2012 politics aside, I go back a bit – but not before commending a couple of other articles.

Charles Waterstreet in today’s Sun-HeraldGillard brought down the House.

…Abbott likes women around him, so do I. They are smarter. Like Ramjan, they are more generous, kinder and emotionally honest. Ramjan built houses of bricks in her career, Abbott a house of sticks.

In law, good character means, among other things, that what such a person says about a matter is more likely to be believed. If Ramjan says she was intimidated, surrounded by fists, then I believe her. If Abbott could not recall it, then I would have believed that, too. When he changed his mind and said it did not happen, I believe Barbara.

The Prime Minister nailed Abbott to the wall this week. We have all done stupid things. Men of character apologise and move on. They don’t hide from the fog of the past and suddenly remember. I have been accused of living in a glass house of misogyny and sexism myself. When I appeared with Penny Wong on Q&A, I whispered to her that we had something in common. She turned to me quickly – ”We both love beautiful women”. She laughed, I think.

Abbott could not laugh when Gillard stripped him of all his emperor penguin’s clothes in the chamber. One thing he could do is get dressed, get on his bicycle and cycle down to Barbara Ramjan’s house and apologise.

Michelle Grattan: Misogyny war has no winner.

Now to go back, as promised, and to THE SHIRE!!!  Yes, I watched Puberty Blues last night – the 1981 movie, not the recent much praised Channel 10 miniseries.



Now those are more the Cronulla I remember, as distinct from the over-developed version I saw when I revisited this time last year. Even so, my time teaching at Cronulla predates the period Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey wrote about by a good decade or more. By the 1970s I was in Wollongong rather than Cronulla, and the drug issues that form part of the story in Puberty Blues I associate with Wollongong, therefore, rather than Cronulla. (The ethnic mix in that second North Cronulla still above is interesting too for 1981.)

Sadly, I don’t think the 1981 movie is all that good. Having 20-somethings (it seems) playing the school-aged surfie guys didn’t work for me, and the parodic elements in the story clashed with the serious rather too much. But I really don’t think the book is all that great either.

Nonetheless I enjoyed the nostalgia trip, even if it was to a place that wasn’t really quite like that at the time. But see Kate Hunter, Puberty Blues: boys were really like that in the 70s.

It’s so sad the boys in Puberty Blues do little to make life better – more fun, more interesting, more memorable for the girls.

Whenever a panel van pulls up, or a wave packed with surfers rolls in, the girls’ relationship shifts. The mood gets darker, loaded … dangerous. I wanted to yell at the boys, ‘Rack off, you dickheads, those girls were having a perfectly nice time until you showed up.’

Maybe that’s just me. Could be because now I’m a mother of daughters. I’m not a girl anymore. Thank God.



NOTHING is so beautiful as spring—
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
   The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

Gerard Manley Hopkins



West Wollongong this morning.

What is it about nostalgia?

I think it really is about our own mortality.


By D.H. Lawrence

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.


I am intrigued by phenomena like these two Facebook pages, both of them very active and very popular.



nos·tal·gia: noun

1. a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time: a nostalgia for his college days.

2. something that elicits or displays nostalgia.

1770, "severe homesickness" (considered as a disease), Mod.L.(cf. Fr. nostalgie, 1802), coined 1668 by Johannes Hofer as a rendering of Ger. heimweh, from Gk. nostos "homecoming" + algos "pain, grief, distress" …

And yes, I do indulge and am a regular on both Facebook pages. However, while in both cases many items of genuine human or historical interest emerge, I have reservations about nostalgia. The word history and definition above captures these rather well. We need to ask why we indulge, and whether we therefore do tend rather to be unappreciative of the present. Come to think of it, being nostalgic ON FACEBOOK is really delightfully ironic…


A truly lost Sydney. This was recently posted on the Lost Sydney page. very few of the buildings seen in that photo survive.

But then, neither does this:


And while much that is heart-warming, funny or fascinating surfaces on Lost Gay Sydney, so does much that was truly tragic and not worth the bother thirty years ago, let alone in resurrected form. Funny world, isn’t  it?

Yesterday I became quite nostalgic – some of it I think for good reason – about the cows of yesteryear as I trained through Albion Park and Dunmore/Shellharbour. But the past really is another country.


remnant of a dairy farm


Shellharbour urban sprawl

Bits again…

Oh yes! That’s what I must do! Thanks, Grammarly.


And then… I find I had read 3 of the top 10 most difficult books in English by the time I was 18! Or parts thereof at least. Which three? Not saying… But this is one – age 18:

Clarissa, Or the History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson – Richardson’s Clarissa is a heavyweight in more ways than one. The novel’s physical heft is part of its difficulty (she weighs in at just under three pounds in Penguin’s oversized edition), especially as her 1500 pages are light on plot (Samuel Johnson said you’d hang yourself if you read Clarissa for the plot). But what the novel lacks in plot it makes up for in psychological depth. Richardson was the first master of the psychological novel and he hasn’t been bested since. These depths are also dark and psychically wrenching: Clarissa’s rejection and dehumanization by her monstrous family and the sadistic torments she undergoes at the hands of her rescuer turned torturer, the "charming sociopath" Robert Lovelace, offer some of the most emotionally harrowing reading experiences available in English.

Sydney Uni made me do it, Mum! I just remember it was SO LOOOOONG! And then we had to read Pamela as well…

A silly list, actually…

And on the universality of nostalgia and the Proust moment, among other things, let me finish by sharing the current Saturday poem from Jim Culleny’s excellent daily poem series on 3 Quarks Daily.

At Midnight in the Bakery at the Corner

At midnight in the bakery at the corner
While bread and butter-biscuits are being baked
I remember the Rahman of my childhood
And Asmat’s sparkling eyes
Playing carom with me

At midnight in the bakery at the corner
While bread and butter-biscuits are being baked
I am boozing alone in my room
In front of me fried liver pieces gone cold in a plate
All my friends migrated to the Gulf

At midnight in the bakery at the corner
While bread and butter-biscuits are being baked
The wife of the Pathan next door enters my room
Closes the door and turns her back to me
I tell her, sister, go find someone else

When the bread develops its sponge, the smell
Of the entire building fills my nostrils.
by Dilip Chitre
from Ekoon Kavita -1
publisher: Popular Prakashan, Mumbai, 1992

On Bruce Dawe keeping on, and other miscellanea

Nice to see a poem by Bruce Dawe in today’s Weekend Oz Review. Yes, I do compromise my integrity every Saturday by patronising Rupert, as I do like the Review. The poem is called “The Ultimate Tally” and comments on James Magnussen and the 4X100 Relay in London.

— You gave it all you had. Luck turned away,

As did those bitter media reckoners, who say

You failed

Quite a lovely little poem, and hey the guy is 82 now!  Among my record ever posts is Friday Australian poem #17: Bruce Dawe, “Homecoming” — 19,998 views since November 2007.

Also in the Review is a great encouragement to read The Sex Lives of Australians: A History by Frank Bongiorno. One to look out for in the Library for sure.

Cross-dressing colonists, effeminate bushrangers and women-shortage woes – here is the first ever history of sex in Australia, from Botany Bay to the present-day

In this highly readable social history, Frank Bongiorno uses striking examples to chart the changing sex lives of Australians. He shows how an overwhelmingly male penal colony gave rise to a rough and ready culture: the scarcity of women made for strange bedfellows, and the female minority was both powerful and vulnerable.

Then came the Victorian era, in which fears of sodomy helped bring an end to the transportation of convicts. The twentieth century saw the rise of the sex expert. Tracing the story up to the present, Bongiorno shows how the quest for respectability always has another side to it, and how the contraceptive pill changed so much. Along the way he raises some intriguing questions – What did it mean to be a ‘mate’? How did modern warfare affect soldiers’ attitudes to sex? Why did the law ignore lesbianism for so long? – and introduces some remarkable characters, both reformers and radicals. This is a thought-provoking story of sex in Australia.

With a foreword by Michael Kirby, AC CMG.

Not in the Oz today, but my recent travels on Facebook have led me to two nostalgia groups: Lost Sydney and (just the other day) Lost Gay Sydney. This is such an interesting phenomenon that I may do another post on it later. One of my more popular posts here already has been Nostalgia and the globalising world — from Thomas Hardy to 2010 — 2,519 views since January 2010 and quite a few of my posts, particularly on The Shire, are nostalgia pieces.

It still seems odd to be getting nostalgic about the 80s and 90s – but people do in both those groups – and thirty years is thirty years, after all!


Newtown Bridge 1988 – I can get nostalgic about this! From Lost Sydney, though it could equally be on Lost Gay Sydney!

And speaking of nostalgia, I have really been enjoying the rerun of As Time Goes By, a British sitcom that aired on BBC One from 1992 to 2005. Starring Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer. I had never watched it systematically before, I have to admit, but now I am just loving the sharp writing and the display of some very fine ensemble acting.

ABC is also repeating Monty Don’s Italian Gardens, one of the most beautiful documentaries ever made, in my opinion.

The cinematography is to die for on that!

Back in The Oz, Phillip Adams alarmed me rather:

SOME of the madder middle-eastern mullahs, including a number in Egypt itself, are calling for the destruction of those pagan pyramids – in the same ecumenical spirit as the Taliban’s destruction of the monumental Buddhas of Bamiyan.

Carved into a cliff not far from Kabul, they stood there from the 6th century to March 2001, when, having been deemed "idols", they were dynamited on the orders of Mullah Mohammed Omar. Later, some of the more tolerant Taliban (an oxymoron) would express regrets, if only because blowing up Buddhas was bad PR.

Now their Egyptian brothers want to finish what’s left of the venerable pyramids after various vandalisms of the past. While time itself has done the most damage to Egypt’s ancient tombs, some blame should be directed at the pharaohs themselves, who would, all too often, seek to erase the identity of their predecessors. 19th-century Europeans masquerading as archaeologists could be as brutal – one dynamited a huge hole in the Great Pyramid. And, yes, the radiant limestone that once encased Cheops’ man-made mountain was removed to build mosques in Cairo.

But Christians have been at least as destructive as Muslims. Leaving aside the Crusades, there’s the way Catholic Rome used the Forum as a quarry – and melted down the bronze from the roof of the Pantheon for the papal altar canopy at St Peter’s Basilica.

Every civilisation has behaved in an uncivilised way in regard to such looting and pillaging – right into the modern era of Christian missionaries burning down the great indigenous cathedrals in Papua’s Sepik region, and in the bulldozing of Aboriginal sacred sites by miners. The spiritual destruction of aboriginal religions throughout the world by white invaders was finally far worse than the destruction of temples and statues, and gets the endorsement of God in his Good Book. Look at what He did to Sodom, Gomorrah, the Golden Calf and the whole shebang with the Flood. Thus the most rapacious real-estate developers can claim divine inspiration, as can the Balkans’ ethnic cleansers.

You don’t need religion to inspire the demolition of the past, though…

Yes, I have of late thought quite a bit about the wholesale destruction in England and a little later in Scotland that accompanied the Reformation, and the 16th/17th century wars of religion in Europe. Madness finds a companion in the notion that God writes books – he doesn’t and never has – and even worse that I (or my partners in delusion) have the Magic Key to the book. There’s another topic for another day! Let’s just say that I think uncertainty is a really healthy thing.  Somewhere in that you may be afforded glimpses of a God who is really godly, unlike the extremely crotchety old bastard with an unhealthy compulsion for blood sacrifices who appears in the pages of the holy books of the three Abrahamic religions – alongside glimpses of a much more godly God…

But enough of that. See my older posts on The Bible if you want more.

Trouble is, fortunately, that Adams may be believing a furphy. Certainly hope so.

Someone who reads a lot of right-wing blogs in the United States these days might be forgiven for thinking so, though there is no sign here that any such Islamist clamor to destroy the monuments of ancient Egypt has actually arisen.

The fear that it has, though, is a textbook example of how a rumor, especially about a place as tumultuous as Egypt these days, can take on a life of its own — fed by a kernel of fact, a dash of Twitter, and a convenient coincidence or two.

The claim that radical Islamists had, in the name of the Muslim aversion to artifacts of paganism, asked President Mohamed Morsi to have the pyramids torn down apparently began with a June 30 item in Rose el-Youssef, an Egyptian magazine that for years was a mouthpiece for Hosni Mubarak, Mr. Morsi’s ousted predecessor…

Ahmed Sobeai, a spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, responded, “Dr. Morsi cannot respond to something that hasn’t happened.” Mr. Sobeai called the whole affair “an attempt to fabricate a crisis from an illusion.”

The pyramids, he said, are safe.

To be fair, Adams concludes his piece thus:

I’m not too worried about the pyramids. True, Islamic anger has been directed at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum in the past – forcing the curators to remove mummies from public view. But the overwhelming majority of the Egyptian people are very proud of their history – and would form the first line of defence if bulldozers started rumbling towards the Giza Plateau. Australia might offer help in such a circumstance. Jack Mundey could transplant our Green Bans.