Fourth Hill. Part 5

Clara, Boyd and Tucker
painted wattles gold

When mining started to decline in Warrandyte, farming and fruit orchards took over much of the land that was viable and the bushland on unfarmed surrounds started to recover. Transport to the town improved and artists began moving into the area attracted by the picturesque village on the river. It is in part their legacy, along with the absence of a railway, that has thrown a protective veil over Warrandyte and saved it from over development.

In 1905 the landscape painter Clara Southern (1860-1949) married Warrandyte miner John Flinn and settled in her cottage named Blythe Bank on a hill above the river. Clara captured Warrandyte’s natural beauty and spirit in her impressionist landscape works such as The Road to Warrandyte (c 1905-10) Bush Camp (1914), Evensong (c. 1900-1914) and A Cool Corner (1928).

Warrandyte was swept by two converging fire fronts in 1939. More than two hundred residents fled to the safety of the river with nothing but the clothes on their backs as clouds of flame tinged smoke billowed overhead.

Clara’s house was spared, but much of her artwork that had been purchased by local residents was lost in the hundreds of houses that perished in the fires. Blyth Bank eventually succumbed to a later bushfire after her death.

Clara encouraged other painters to visit the area and it is believed her enticements were responsible for initiating the local artistic community. Over time Clara was joined in Warrandtye by Jo Sweatman (1872-1956), Frank Crozier (1883-1948) and Penleigh Boyd (1890-1923). Many others including Albert Tucker (1914-1999), a member of the Heidi circle, and Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) visited and painted Warrandyte.

Architects and potters were also drawn by the scenic tranquillity and drew inspiration from the town on the river. Alexa Goyder (1892-1976) developed novel design practices using local stone and recycled materials that stimulated the work of later architects such as Alastair Knox in the 1970’s.

Painter Penleigh Boyd was inspired by the wattles that bloom after the coldest months of winter. He became known for his paintings of the Warrandyte wattle with works such as Bridge and Wattle at Warrandyte (1914), Wattle Gatherers (1918), The Breath of Spring (1919) and Golden Fires of Spring (1919).

The same wattles had a calling to the Wurundjerri who believed the beautiful acacia was bad luck in the home and should never be bought inside.

Fourth Hill. Part 4

growing through history to create a wedge of green
a contested space, the cities lungs
the forest breathes life and fire
glowing with the bright and blinding light of an Australian summer

Warrandyte’s landscape changes markedly from season to season. On windless days in autumn there is an eerie silence in the parched bushland after a long summer. The baked clay floor is covered in discarded leaves as the days become shorter and the nights become cooler and the land awaits the first signs of rain.

Spider webs strung across the tracks glisten with early morning dew above empty cicada shells and sun-bleached butterfly wings scattered on the ground. When the rain arrives the perfume of eucalyptus permeates the forest and there is a flurry of growth as the plants sigh relief that they survived the summer.

After the rains in late autumn and winter when maidenhair, mosses and lichens cling to damp shady areas under tall gums, a colorful display of fungi and toadstools appear scattered through the damp undergrowth. The fungi emerge on verges and cling to rotting logs and tree trunks. On cold winter mornings when the valleys are cloaked in a swirling mist I sometimes go foraging for the edible species.

The rains that swell the river and fill the dams attract an army frogs. My favorite is the pobblebonk (Limnodynastes dumerrilii) who’s call sounds like a banjo string being plucked. Flame robins and scarlet robins flit around whilst kangaroos graze in open paddocks or laze in the grass taking advantage of sunny days.

When the days start to lengthen, the bushland areas turn golden with the wattles bursting into bloom. Green hood orchids appear from amongst the native grasses, and purple and mauve colored flowers auger the coming of spring.

Spring erupts with early morning bird choruses and the frenzied activity of nesting, mating and raising young fledglings. Reptiles like blue-tongues and snakes start to emerge from their sleepy winter abodes.

Butterflies, bees and other insects take advantage of the bountiful nectar-rich flowers. Sugar gliders hunt the abundant insects while ringtails feast on the new growth of eucalyptus trees. The forest comes alive under the watchful gaze and rhythmic groans of the tawny frogmouth, and the double note of the boobook owl calling.

At this time of year tiny floral beauties burst forth to brighten up the landscapes harsh façade. The bush is ablaze with orange-yellow and red blooms of bush peas, prolific showy white petals of prickly tea-tree, sprays of pink bells and blue pincushions, and the chocolate and vanilla perfume of the chocolate lily. It becomes evident why Warrandyte has, and continues to be such an inspiration to artists.

When summer arrives the brilliance of spring fades and the bush becomes tinder dry. Plants start to set seed, their feathery plumes dispersed by the wind or carried away by insects and birds. The predominantly white Christmas bush and Burgan that flower during summer court butterflies to a background orchestra of cicadas, grasshoppers and crickets.

On warm days skinks and blue-tongues sun themselves on rocks. People flock to the river seeking a quiet corner to cool off, until the gusty north winds send them scurrying from the bush like ants in search of cooler, safer places, away from the threat of bushfire.

Fire has been an integral part of the landscape since the Wurundjeri used it as part of their hunting techniques. Since European settlement numerous fires have swept through the area including one on Black Thursday in 1851 that would have cleared much of the bush in which gold miners were searching for gold, leaving it black and scorched. Parts of Warrandyte were also devastated by fires in 1939, 1962, 1969 and 1991. On most of these occasions the river provided refuge from the smoke and flames for residents who fled there to escape the advancing fronts.

I watched the red orb over Kinglake from my balcony when the Kilmore fires burnt on the evening of 7 February 2009. The heat had been oppressive that day. The wind roared like a high-speed train driving heat from the depths of hell before it. The fire sucked oxygen from the air and ripped tree trunks from the earth. It melted paint from doors and flesh from bones without mercy or discrimination. Many perished that day, but Warrandyte was spared by a wind change that came through earlier than predicted.

Fourth Hill. Part 3

I see their ghosts running through the forest
that consumes the evidence of their passing
as mines and sheds and steel
succumb to natures endeavours

In the late 70’s, around fifteen year after the Monument mine closed, I used to ride my horse through the bushland around Fourth Hill and swim bareback in the Yarra at Warrandyte. I would often tether my horse at the front of a shop so I could go in and buy ice cream to eat sitting in the shade of the willows by the running waters of the river.

About twenty years ago I moved to Warrandyte. Now I go jogging through the forest on the trails I used to gallop along.

The earth’s wounds of the past have grown over with grasses, creepers, orchids and wildflowers that spread their carpet beneath the eucalypts and wattles. The kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, echidnas and lizards that scurry around are warned of my approach by the kookaburras, cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets squawking at my intrusion.

I pass abandoned mine shafts sprouting native grasses and the rusted corrugate dwellings falling back into natures embrace. The miners abandoned mullock heaps are cloaked in lichen and mosses and riddled with ant colonies.

I imagine the heart break of the Wurundjeri who cared for this country that sustained them, their culture and language, when their land was taken by those whose eyes only saw land as a commodity. An asset to profit from.

As my feet carry me through the bushland the only gold I see now are the golden wattles that brighten my winter run. Their yellow blooms under the stringybark trees dust the river’s surface with pollen.

Sometimes I think I catch a glimpse of the ghosts of those who went before me on the shady banks of the river and around the the deserted mine shafts. I am enamored by how this ancient land has taken back its birthright under Bunjil’s watchful gaze.

Fourth Hill. Part 2

gold bought them in
and broke them
the micks, the chinks, the poms

In early 1851 Victorians’ started leaving the colony to seek their fortune in the new gold fields near Bathurst in New South Wales. The Melbourne Mayor and local business owners formed the Gold Committee because they feared a mass exodus interstate. They offered a two hundred guinea reward for payable gold found within 100 miles of Melbourne.

Melbourne publican of the Rainbow Hotel in Swanston Street, Louis Michel, despairing at the loss of his customers to the northern goldfields went in search of gold with his companion William Habberlin. In the depths of winter in June 1851 the men found ten pieces in the bed of Andersons Creek at Warrandyte and a fever of gold erupted.

By August the gold epidemic had attracted one hundred and fifty miners. They swarmed around Andersons Creek scouring the gullies for alluvial gold, slipping and slid through the steep surrounding hills of stingy bark searching for finds. The sounds of the men as they dug and washed, dug and washed, would have echoed through the bush as they sifted for the precious metal.

The activity resulted in a series of proclamations being issued that established Victoria’s first ever goldfields regulations. By the end of the year many prospectors had left due to floods, or were lured by the whisper of rich gold deposits at Clunes and Ballarat.

The Wurundjerri were no longer free to move around their ancestral lands. They wanted to have a place that gave them access to their traditional country and managed to gain a reserve of about 782 hectares on the Yarra near what is now known as Pound Bend.

Alluvial miners took a renewed interest in the Andersons Creek area in 1854. A sense of adventure, dreams of prosperity and being your own boss led to a new search for gold. Stories of gold nuggets that promised a quick fortune were plentiful.

Before the introduction of big machinery, prospecting was one of the few pursuits that offered an equal chance of success to both rich and poor. By September 1854, around two hundred people lived in tents and crude shacks, and dug at Andersons Creek using the water in the Yarra for their sluicing and puddling operations.

In 1855 quartz reefs were discovered in the area around Fourth Hill, one of the highest points in Warrandyte. The mining population swelled to around six hundred and the river was soon lined by tents.

A miners life was tough with long hours of physical labour in harsh conditions, often with only damper and mutton to sustain them. The camp-followers who sold food, drink and stores at inflated prices arrived in the wake of the miners, and Victoria’s first goldfield, and the town of Warrandyte was born.

The area would be poked and prodded and pillaged over the next one hundred and sixteen years. Fourth Hill was denuded of tree cover for structural timber and firewood to drive steam engines that worked the mines pockmarking the hill.

In 1856 it became apparent that the area needed policing and the first police magistrate and goldfields warden, W.C. Brackenbury, after whom the street I live in was named, was appointed to resolve mining disputes and other problems. The same year the first school was opened for the miners children, and a year later a postal service commenced.

The remaining Wurundjeri became an annoyance to prospectors who wanted to work Pound Bend. New resident Gold Warden and magistrate, Warburton Carr, was appointed in 1858. His attitude toward the presence of the declining Wurundjeri was that they were a problem, evidenced by the fact that his judicial decisions towards whites were more lenient when Aboriginals were involved.

The acceleration of gold mining hastened the demise of the Warrandyte Aboriginal Reserve at Pound Bend as prospecting claims intruded. By 1859 the Aboriginal population had fallen by an estimated eighty-three percent from 1836. The remaining twenty-two members of the Wurundjeri clan were eventually moved to Coranderrk, established by the government as an Aboriginal reserve on Badgers Creek at Healesville in 1863.

Over a period of about seven months from mid 1859, Patrick Geraghty, the local innkeeper began an ambitious project with William Moore to dig a tunnel into Fourth to intersect the gold veins believed to be hidden there. They built a tramway to carry rock away and dug one hundred and twenty-two metres into the hill through solid rock. It would have been back-breaking, monotonous work digging and lifting heavy loads in the confined space of the mine. The pursuit of what was believed to be a line-of-reef in the hill proved frustrating and elusive for the miners and when they failed to find what they was looking for, the endeavor was abandoned.

Large-scale machinery gradually took over from individual prospectors. Massive earthworks were undertaken to manipulate and dominate the environment in search of the elusive, precious yellow metal.

A sluicing company set out to divert the Yarra River and create an island to enable the bed of the main course to be dried out and worked for alluvial gold. It was one of the biggest engineering feats attempted in gold mining.

Another significant engineering project was tackled by the Evelyn Tunnel Gold Mining Company in 1870. It involved blasting a tunnel 195 metres through the isthmus where the Yarra completes a hairpin bend at Pound Bend near where the Wurundjeri used to live. This enabled about five kilometres of the riverbed to be dried and dredged for alluvial gold. The tunnel was completed but a plethora of setbacks and poor yields resulted in the company being wound up in 1872.

The discovery of gold in the late 1890’s near Blacks Flat, and the Victory mine which penetrated Third and Fourth Hills, led to the brightest spot in the history of Warrandyte’s goldfields. Both mines achieving sizable yields.

Mining activity started to decline after 1910. The last mines to be sunk between 1953 and 1965 were the Monument shafts on Fourth Hill. The lessees of lease number 9188 who dug the shafts laboured whilst they lived in a tin shed built using a stringy bark tree for support. They found no gold and the dig closed in 1965. The shed and mine slowly being reclaimed by nature can still be seen on a walk along a steep narrow goat track.

The output from the Warrandyte goldfields was modest compared to larger fields, but the cost to the Wurundjerri, the local landscape and many of those who came seeking their fortune was high. With perseverance, some got lucky, but many succumbed to poverty, illness, violence or despair.

Fourth Hill. Part 1

I often go jogging or cycling through the state parks scattered around the area where I live and encounter remnants of history in one form or another. A year or so ago I did a research project to discover more about the local history and ended up writing an essay. I used a poem I wrote a few years earlier after one of my soujourns as inspiration. Over the next six weeks I am going to share this piece with you through my blog. I have divided up using the verse called Fourth Hill. Here is part 1.

Bunjil created this dreaming.

A crash of thunder and a hurling star

threw a landscape of beauty and plenty

that would stand for millions of years

Bunjil, the all-powerful great eagle hawk carved images of people out of bark and breathed life into the Wurundjeri. He shaped the surface of the land and the waterways that run through it and made it bountiful with animals, birds, and trees. Bunjil gave the people a code for living and he gave them tools, fishing sticks and spears, and taught them how to hunt and gather.

The spirits of the dreamtime have dwelt in this place since the earth began. The name Wurundjeri comes from the Woiwurrung language. ‘Wurun’ means manna gum, the Eucalyptus viminalis, which grows along the Yarra River, and ‘djeri’, the grub found in or near the tree. The Wurundjeri are the ‘Witchetty Grub People’.

I am a mere speck in the passing of time.

The river has always been beautiful to me, but when I step onto the land at Pound Bend, a peninsular created where the Yarra River turns back on itself at Warrandyte, I am on country steeped in the rich culture and spirits of the Wurundjeri. They held ceremonies there and welcomed visitors through smoke made by smothering a fire with young manna gum leaves. The river of mist, the Birrarung, now the Yarra River, was the centre of Wurundjeri Country and fell along the Yarra Valley songline route.

I close my eyes and try to imagine their sounds as they hunted and danced and cared for this place before Europeans came. The river was wider then and prone to flood after heavy rain. The Wurundjeri’s interaction with it ebbed and flowed with its rhythms. Children cascaded through the scrub beneath the manna gums to drink directly from the river. Bush tucker and medicine were abundant in the orchids, lilies, shrubs ferns and trees, and the Wurundjeri’s scars on the trees were fresh, before the scars on their culture were made.

Europeans arrived with seductive food and artefacts, invisible viruses and bacteria, and a lust for land and settled in Victoria in the 1830’s. As settlers claimed large tracts of land around Melbourne, Aboriginal people must have struggled to explain the intensifying changes. Soon, despite efforts at resistance, traditional Aboriginal culture was forced into decline.

Now a million people have stomped on this ground. Soils have been turned, waters churned, and the landscape changed to bend to our will.

Men re-shaped Bunjil’s creation with fences, roads and buildings. They bought animals that trampled the Wurundjeri’s native plant foods and guns that stripped the forests of wildlife.

I wonder how many tears must have fallen as the first people’s lives were changed irrevocably by the white ghosts who spoke in tongues they did not understand. I imagine the sadness that must have lingered when the last inter-clan Gayip (corroboree) lasting fourteen days and nights was held by the Wurundjeri in Warrandyte in 1851.

Soon after, those who did not succumb to disease were driven from this place.

In 1839, James Anderson was the first white settler with hungry eyes to come to Warrandyte . He erected a hut and stockyard near where Andersons Creek joins the Yarra river and established a cattle station just west of the current township. The name Andersons Creek was given to the district in his honour. James Dawson soon followed in 1841 and set up east of where the township now stands. In the same year the area south of the river was surveyed and divided up into parcels and named the ‘Parish of Warran-Dyte, County of Bourke’.

It is thought that the name Warrandyte translates into ‘that which is thrown.’ One dreamtime story says that a long time ago Bunjil gazed down upon his people from the bright star Altair and saw that they neglected his creations and were in conflict. For their misdeeds, with a crash of thunder, Bunjil hurled down a star to destroy them. The star struck the earth and created the gorge which was later called Warrandyte.

Book Review: Metal Fish, Falling Snow by Cath Moore

Fourteen year old Dylan lives in a tiny outback town. Her absent dad was black and her mum is a white French lady. The two of them dream of one sailing across the ocean to France. When her mother dies in a tragic accident, Dylan is left with her mum’s boyfriend, Pat, a man with a bit of a gambling habit.

I felt sick all through the funeral. Pat had put Mum in the dress she’d worn when they first met. Made it all about him, and I felt thunder in my chest. Death is like the last glass of milk when there is no more in the fridge and the shop is closed ’cause it’s late Sunday arvo

After a flurry of mysterious phone calls the grieving pair set off on a road trip across outback Australia to a destination unknown to Dylan. People keep asking Dylan where she’s from because her skin is the wrong color.

Out here with Pat in the middle of nowhere, I wonder if all these other gum trees are safekeeping secrets too. Maybe there are stories deep down inside the roots or buried between layers of bark.

Dylan has a very specific way of seeing the world. She likes forks and Tina Arena and water. She doesn’t like bad parking or the wolf that lives inside her. She eats white before green and often finds herself in other people’s dreams.

The air is filled with Pat’s other memories trying to be heard. Some fall into the fire, they screech out with pain as they die. Others make a run for it hoping Pat will forget about them all together. One of them dances over the fire and flickers into my dreams.

On the road trip Dylan’s anger and grief get her and Pat into all sorts of strife, but an unlikely bond forms between the pair. Until Dylan realises their destination.

When we are shelling peas for Friday night fritters, all you can hear is pop pop pop! Little peas tumbling into the bowl just like Mum and me used to do, and that was nice, finding a memory in something small and green.

Told in the first person, Dylan’s voice is unique, imaginative and lyrical. Metal Fish, Falling Snow is an emotional journey about grief, friendship, identity, family, coming of age, resilience, and internalised racism. The intensity of the subject matter is lightened by a good dose of magical realism and Dylan’s unique lens on the world.

Born in Guyana and raised in Australia, Cath Moore is of Irish/Afro-Caribbean heritage. Metal Fish, Falling Snow is the screenwriters debut novel. Highly recommended reading,

On staying home

Gone are the days of commuting ninety minutes in the dark through windswept, rain battered streets. No more standing in a grey Docklands tower, clickety-clack for eight hours on a keyboard, as the winter daylight waxes and wanes, only to emerge back into darkened streets to climb upon a crowded bus of weary damp strangers to make the ninety minute trip home again.

If I block out the reality of the silent scourge, it’s tiny puffball droplets wreaking havoc on humanity, the sight of a weary premier, grey creeping up his temples from the news he must deliver day in, day out. News that catches in his throat, of illness, death, and the ever increasing curtailments he must impose on a public divided by understanding and castigation.

If I don’t focus on the struggle of those without jobs to make money to put food on the table for their loved ones and a roof over their heads, whilst their masters are holed up safely in their mansions. Or those with a roof but not the solace of its safety, crammed into tiny boxes like battery farmed hens pecking at one other to relieve the distress of their confinement.

If I forget about the elderly and the sick who are ending their lives in a lonely drowning, and the fears of the health workers risking themselves to make their passing as painless as it can be. If I don’t worry about the young people who’s futures have become suspended in the uncertainty of the unknown.

If I ignore the statistics that tell me about the 19 million infections, over half a million deaths, and the science that says we still know little about the long term effects, or our ability to find a vaccine that works.

If I don’t think about how I miss the embraces and shared tables with my nearest and dearest, or how long it will be before I see them again. Only then can I say lockdown isn’t so bad.

I am one of the lucky ones after all, with a roof over my head, a loving relationship to sustain me, and a secure work from home job that doesn’t require me to put my health on the line – a fact I have been reminded of every time I see my neighbours – a policeman, a nurse, and a school teacher – head out to work.

A pandemic resulting from human encroachment in nature is not a surprise. The likelihood this could happen has been known, and planned for to some degree for years in the form of medical stockpiles and land set aside for mass graves, and many eastern counties had pandemic plans in place. Only the loony fringe of 5G conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, and flat earthers who found a common cause in COVID-19 denied its existence.

The weaknesses in the capitalist ideal, and the consequence of failing to care for the environment have been exposed. The pandemic has triggered the sharpest and deepest economic contraction in the history of capitalism, reversed globalism, collapsed supply chains, cut international travel, put millions out of work and pushed business to bankruptcy.

The most uncompromising neoliberal economies were hit the hardest as our insatiable appetite for consumption petered out in the face of supermarket shelves emptied of toilet paper. Neoliberal ideologues suddenly stopped preaching fiscal austerity and free market determinism and came over all Keynesian, begging for government spending to prop up the economy.

Many people in our highly individualised society ignored pleas to stay home and distance, and the precarious casualised workforce desperate to keep their families from poverty continued to go to work. Both groups became perfect vectors for spreading the virus. It has demonstrated that we are a collective society and that when one is vulnerable, we all are.

My hope post pandemic is that unfettered capitalism cannot shake off the faults that have been exposed, and that we find a new, more compassionate way to run economies that are considerate of the environment and benefit society collectively, rather than simply deifying markets and profits.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

Henry David Thoreau

On a typical day, I roll out of bed at 6am to work on my book, or ride my bike in the winter forest with its early sprinkling of wattle dust. When I stop for a moment, I notice midges swarming in a patch of sunlight, and the music of birds as the gentle hand of the wind sweeps through the leaves of the eucalyptus trees. The noticing reminds me why I chose to live in this beautiful place some distance from the city.

My commute has been replaced by a short stroll to the spare room with its views of a forest, expansive crisp winter skies, and a grass tree that grows at a pace in keeping with this new pared back existence. My work is interrupted only by the sounds of bird calls and a giant yellow hound pleading to come in and loll on the bed behind me.

At night I eat home cooked meals and read a book. I watch a lazy moon pass across a blanket of stars, and listen to the silent streets reclaimed by creatures of the night no longer afraid because their greatest predator is safely locked up after dark.

Dinner parties and dates have been replaced by WhatsApp chats and the occasional Zoomed hello with friends I have known for more years than I can remember. We still laugh across the airwaves, compare notes on our small lives, share gossip, or reflect on our collective crush on Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton like giggly teens.

I have taken a week off work to toil in my garden and pluck weeds from the damp earth between rain showers. The meditative solitude leads me to contemplate this change, what it means for the way we live and what I believe to be important. The small 5km world in which I now exist contains most of what I need. Like Henry Thoreau at Waldon, I am living simply. I have entered my own social experiment.

The reflection reminds me of the many people in rural areas for whom all life is like this, and that it is not very different from the life I lived many years ago in my late teens in the east of the state, 5km up a lonely dirt road at the foot of the great dividing range. I find that despite the lingering guilt for feeling so, I am content with it.

A part of me hopes that when the virus is gone, life will not return entirely to what it was. Whilst I do not imagine we will collectively embrace the kind of ideas Thoreau espoused, perhaps it might do us good to move a little closer to them.

Book review: Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald

Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald is domestic noir meets disaster thriller – dark, tragic and funny.

Fran Collins returns to the Australian small country town she grew up in to care for her sick father, reluctant teenage daughter in tow for the weekends.

Ash Mountain is full of childhood memories – Fran’s son from a teenage pregnancy, old friends and rivals, and dark secrets in the seminary – all of which return to haunt her at the same time as she is falling in love. The attraction to her love interest, the Captain, is complicated by the fact that their daughters are also forming a budding relationship.

The story is set against the backdrop of a scorching summer in the days leading up to a cataclysmic bushfire as one timeline, and events from thirty years earlier in another. The claustrophobic small town setting and the knowledge of the pending doomsday bushfire keep the tension cranked, and the narration by a prickly resentful middle aged woman brings plenty of droll humour to the table.

If, like me you live in a bushfire prone are, I recommend reading it in winter.

Lockdown Thrills

Melbourne is filling up with bandits, bushrangers and bankrobbers this week after the Premier made mask wearing mandatory.

Bruce Springsteen says the writing life is a mix of high anxiety and grandeur

When I can’t take the thrill of lockdown life any more, I’ve been tuning into ThrillerFest, and it’s a hoot. Usually held in New York, the event was forced online this year by the pandemic. I bought tickets to the CraftFest and CareerFest parts of the program.

CraftFest is a thrilling feast of thriller writers.When I logged into the online site with my secret password I discovered about one hundred author video discussions brimming with ideas, hints, tips and motivation for writing.

I’m a pantser until I need to be a plotter and a plotter until I need to be a pantser

CareerFest contains five additional videos that take you behind the scenes to advice from top authors and publishing experts about pitching, publishing and brand.

The best news is you can still get tickets and access the videos for at least six months. It’s one activity you can do without wearing a mask, and I think it will see me through lockdown. My favourite piece of advice so far is:

How do you get that shit done when you work full time …. Because I’m sitting here writing on my phone, not playing angry birds.

Book review: All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

Award winning All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews is a story of sisters, grief, and loss, told with an extraordinary sense of humour that makes the despair on the page readable. The novel explores the effect of growing up in a strict, closed religious community, the conflicting desires for life and death, the flawed and sometimes indifferent mental health care system, and the effect a family members mental health crisis can have on their loved ones.

Sisters Elfrieda and Yolanda grew up in the restricted confines of a Mennonite community in Canada in a family that indulged their rebellious daughters who strained against the communities restrictions.

Sometimes he referred to himself as a cowboy and these encounters as “mending fences.” But in reality it was more of a raid. He showed up on a Saturday in a convoy with his usual posse of elders, each in his own black, hard-topped car (they never carpool because it’s not as effective in creating terror when thirteen or fourteen similarly dressed men tumble out of one car) and my father and I watched from the window as they parked in front of our house and got out of their cars and walked slowly towards us, one behind the other, like a tired conga line.

Yoli grows up to be a divorced single mother and an author who writes YA books about rodeo romances. She carries around a plastic bag containing her latest manuscript – an attempt at a literary novel. Elf is a gifted and beautiful concert pianist who grows up to marry a loving man. She also wants to kill herself. The girls father committed suicide on a train track. Yoli, her mother and Elf’s husband dedicate themselves to keeping Elf alive, until Yoli starts to question that strategy and to search the internet for how to get hold of some Nembutal.

How are you doing? she asked me. Fine, fine, I said. I wanted to tell her that I felt I was dying from rage and that I felt guilty about everything and that when I was a kid I woke up every morning singing, that I couldn’t wait to leap out of bed and rush out of the house into the magical kingdom that was my world, that dust made visible in sunbeams gave me real authentic joy, that my sparkly golden banana-seated bike with the very high sissy bar took my breath away, the majesty of it, that it was mine, that there was no freer soul in the world than me at age nine, and that now I woke up every morning reminding myself that control is an illusion, taking deep breaths and counting to ten trying to ward off panic attacks and hoping that my own hands hadn’t managed to strangle me while I slept.

The story is told from the first person point of view of fortyish Yoli. The long rolling paragraphs pull the reader through the narrative, and the dialogue, which lacks quotation marks, makes you feel as if you are right inside Yoli’s head as she tells the story. It is a beautiful, sad, funnny and uniquely written book.