Monthly Archives: January 2014

Isn't she lovely

Stevie Wonder was warbling away as I emerged from my slumber this morning. His tune, ‘Isn’t She Lovely’, caused me to reflect, as much does these days, on the ageless beauty of women – those in my life, as well as those portrayed on screens small and large. My mind drifted to two in particular as ‘Early AM’ rattled on about the extreme heat of and fire danger presented by the current weather conditions over south-eastern Australia. They pair concerned were from the big screen.

The first duo of movies I have viewed this mint new year both featured stars whose initial beauty of youth have long deserted them. One is a Dame in real life, the other was once married to a Sir. Both have shed the flawless skins of their twenties and now sport the lines of maturity – lines that still point to the beauty beneath the mere external; lines that, in this day and age, are no deterrent to their star power. They ever increasingly possess the skill to express any desired emotion in their respective roles with an ease younger starlets will need years to perfect.

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As that same ‘Early AM’ carried news of yet another inquiry into the foulness perpetrated by the Catholic church, this time in the UK, ‘Philomena’ was bought to mind. Dame Judi Dench, in her part as the eponymous hub of this movie, had for all her life suffered from the heart-wrenching hollowness of a child ‘forcefully’ taken from her by this unfeeling, to put it mildly, ‘Christian’ organisation. The removal did not occur immediately after childbirth, but several years further down the track – well and truly after a bond had developed between mother and son. As we later discover the child is sold – that’s right, sold – to American adopters (they being the only ones back then able to afford the church’s stiff prices). ‘Philomena’ is not a story of the expected ‘happy everafters’ either.

The vibrancy of youth that led our central figure to commit the ‘mortal sin’ has disappeared by the time Steve Coogan meets her in the guise of Martin Sixsmith, a one time spin doctor for the high and mighty who has fallen from grace with a thud. He is trying to resurrect his journalistic career and Philomena’s story is the vehicle. In the Stephen Frears’ directed screen rendering, Coogan plays his role with sensitivity, stepping back and allowing the Dame to ply her craft, which she does impeccably. We watch in awe as she transforms from a meek, beaten-down woman to someone unwilling to be trodden on any more, even if ever-ready to forgive. From dowdy frump Philomena’s beauty and feistiness comes increasingly to the fore, under Sixsmith’s prodding, as the journey proceeds. The scene where she convinces the journalist to remain in America is priceless, but within minutes Dench has us reaching for our tissues as she takes yet another hit to her hopes.

There is steel in Judi Dench as she battles to keep a career going despite suffering from severe macular degeneration. She will not let it take over her life, just as Philomena, in this true tale, in the end refused to allow what the Catholic church did to her define her existence. As the award season is on us, understandably this performance has been lauded and listed. In a competitive field this year Dench will give strong opposition and even if she remains ungonged, her ‘Philomena’ is already on my list as candidate for film of the year. Hopefully there are many roles remaining for this elegant, beautiful woman.

Although both Dame Judi and the female actor at the fulcrum of ‘Saving Mr Banks’ missed a Golden Globe due to the searing performance of Cate Blanchet in ‘Blue Jasmine’, we nonetheless, with the second of my two viewings, saw a consummate headliner manipulate us into our tissues as well. She plays PL Travers, the author of ‘Mary Poppins’, as she does battle with Walt Disney to protect the integrity of her characters in his film version of her children’s classic. As with Coogan, Tom Hanks, as the Fantasyland king, gives us a muted performance to take second billing to Brit veteran Emma Thompson, bringing to life the Australian writer. These days Ms Thompson is no longer the darling of stage and screen as she was when in marital partnership with Sir Kenneth Branagh, but she still possesses actorly chops enough to carry a movie like this. It is probably a cakewalk for her, but such is her adeptness in the role the nominations keep coming. As with ‘Philomena’ this is a movie of transformation, as to be expected, but in this case a Disneyfied one as in real life the central harridan stayed true to her unappealing self. Paul Giamatti does a pleasant turn as the driver who was instrumental in the crusty one’s eventual softening, with this ‘West Wing’ fan pleased to see BradleyWhitford emerge from that show to delightfully play one of the co-writers of the 1964 film. Rachel Griffiths gets a look in as well. The Australian flashbacks, featuring Colin Farrell as Travers’ antipodean father, to me, lacked authenticity, but overall the two hours spent watching the journey of a reluctant author to the glitz of Hollywood was time not wasted. And here is a tip – do remain seated through the end credits.

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As Tinsel City slowly wakes up to the paying power of the greying generation – we who want more from the muliplexes than the crash, bang wallop of noisy CSG generic fodder, then so more movies of rich reward as the aforementioned pair will be produced. In turn, this will enable us to see venerable thespians at the height of their powers. They still retain beauty more than enough to turn the heads of us too savvy to be mesmerised by the latest nubile darlings Hollywood throws up then throws out once they are ‘past their peak’. We want substance alongside screen beauty. Dench and Thompson, along with Mirren, Streep, Weaver, Hazlehurst and increasing numbers of others are providing it for us. ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ could just as well apply to these grand dames as to Wonder’s infant daughter Aisha.

‘Philomena’ website = http://philomenamovie.com/

‘Saving Mr Banks’ website = http://www.disney.com.au/movies/saving-mr-banks

A Blue Room Book Review – After the Fire A still Small Voice – Evie Wyld

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Women. Will they ever be understood by the male of the species? They’re mysterious, beguiling creatures – so easy to love, with most of my gender in complete inadequacy when coming to grips with their feminine psyche – with this only adding to their allure. I am permanently in thrall of the women in my world. I find them easier to talk to than most men as they have endless topics of conversation, not just footy, cricket and when at a loss, the weather. I love being in their company. My own special one is a gem, but even after all these years of being hopelessly besotted with her she can still surprise. Could I write a fictional account centred on one? I have my doubts. From memory, in all my scribblings, there’s only one that has a woman at the centre – (http://blueroomriversidedrive.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/the-white-bikini.html) – and I doubt if I came anywhere getting it right with her!

I write stories. I love the process of it. There really isn’t much of a point for doing so apart from the fact that a few people I love read them and seem to enjoy my efforts. I doubt if any will see the light of day in terms of being published, but that doesn’t overly concern me. It’s become an essential (to me) retirement pre-occupation. It was only reading Evie Wyld’s most praiseworthy first novel that I realised how sexist I have been. I write about men – I suppose how they work, or at least this one, is what I know best, even if relating to them I often find hard yakka. Women, on the other hand, are far more open about their lives and I love to pry. It’s given me the basis for some of my scribblings, even if they’re not told from their perspective.

Conversely, Ms Wyld’s debut effort was almost entirely male-centric and she really has us pegged. She was able to delve beneath the skin of her ‘strong, silent types’ and get to the nub of their tortured souls, particularly with in the ones who are her main protagonists. She captured the essence of those who have fought for their country and came home angry, not understanding why. One was violent to his partner-in-life without understanding why. Some had to escape their demons into the desert, or the sub-tropical north, to try and give it all meaning. There was one war-blitzed character who found, as I have, perfect contentment in later life – at least he in part understood why. As with us both, in the famous words of Jimmy Buffett ‘There was a woman to blame!’ It was a bravura accomplishment, even if there were bits that annoyingly jolted. I have no problem with her having one of her ‘men’ as a born again Christian, but to locate him in an Aussie town entirely populated bysuch-likes seemed to me somewhat surreal. Would motels in the seventies turn away Vietnam vets – I doubt it, despite the high feelings at the time. I think also there were a few factual inconsistencies that gave me the irrits, but these are minor matters when the big picture of what this Australian born, UK resident has produced. Her two main men, Frank and Leon, operating forty years apart and in very diverse locations, eventually have their lives entwined. Frank takes off from the nation’s capital to steamy Mullaburry, on the north coast, to flee. Leon also has connections to this hamlet. The latter’s demons are Vietnam induced and need to be exorcised elsewhere. Will these seekers of redemption entirely ever become at peace with themselves?

The book has won awards and the author has been recognised as one of the most promising talents of her generation – so who am I to quibble. But quibble I will with her denouement as I felt there was still some teasing out to do to make this a wholly five star experience. There is no getting away from the fact, though, that this book took me on a journey I found immensely rewarding.

Evie Wyld has a newer release – ‘All the Birds Singing’, a tome revolving around a country type born in Oz, but, like her, now resident in Old Blighty. Its hero, Jake, is woman. Can she write as well on one of her own gender? Its premise is intriguing. ‘After the Fire A Still Small Voice’, about flawed men, aims at flawlessness and almost succeeds. Has she conquered the curse of the sophomore novel? I intend to find out.

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Evie Wyld’s web-site = http://www.eviewyld.com/

A Burnie Tale – Charlotte

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It was a shock. I breasted the final dune, surveyed the strand to the east and saw her. She was the first person I had witnessed actually bathing – practically the first person on the beach full stop, apart from some fishing types occasionally up at the heads. I was used to having the long arc of pristine white sand, stretching all the way around Ringarooma Bay, to myself. She was close enough for a discrete camera shot, drying herself after her dip. I liked having figures in my landscapes, but was very wary being targeted as some sort of of infringer of privacy, or worst, a ‘perv’. But I felt relatively non-intrusive in this situation, with my long lens fully in use, so I captured ‘Black Bikini Woman’.

Still, it felt odd her being there. I hadn’t noticed her passing through the camp-site, as the fishermen had, earlier. As I commenced my perambulation to the west, I wondered how she had arrived to be there. For the fist time in a long while I started to feel some elation – elation that I had spotted and photographed her. I hadn’t felt that way for quite some time. It felt good and I now felt certain that I could end my self imposed exile. I had a room booked for the following night. After that, I would commence the journey south, back into my life.

In truth, though, I hadn’t been totally isolated. Occasional people braved the track in and frequented the camping area where I was trying my best to be a hermit. I resented it to start with; now I was less irked. These intruders were either passing through to drop a line in the estuary, or they’d put up a tent to spend a day or two. They’d wander off to explore the dunes, just as I did with my downtime. With these ‘interlopers’ I was polite if approached for a chat, but I never initiated and kept to myself. I went into Gladstone for supplies, and even once down to St Helens. This broke the monotony, but largely I spent the summer with my words and my own thoughts, reflecting back on the hand dealt me. I felt it had been a long journey – but especially after the woman on the beach – I was ready.

Strike One to the Heart
I’d grown up on the opposite northern coastline, separated from my litterol of temporary residence by the Tamar, in a provincial town that falsely flattered itself that it was a city. It was a good childhood with loving parents, but by the time uni came around I was ready to move south. My schooling was over, with some academic success, leading to a first year of tertiary study being a doddle. Thereafter it became harder and I struggled to keep my head above water. At the end of my sophomore year I dropped a subject, requiring me to resit the exam in question before the commencement of the university’s autumn term. I spent Christmas with my folks and then returned to Hobs. The campus, I found, was very different to term time – devoid of students; mainly populated by academics and administrators. I found a niche in the library to call my own, put my head down and did what was required of me to pass the ordeal. I soon realised I’d allowed myself too much time before the exam, so I began to ease off, looking around for a distraction. None of my usual crowd had yet returned so, in the end, the needed diversion turned out to be Tori. I’d noticed her on several occasions, doing essentially what I was, preparing for a sup, as these examinations were referred to. On this particular evening it happened that there were only the two of us on one of the upper floors of our ‘prison’, the library, so I sauntered over. With as much of a casual air as I could muster, I informed her that, if she felt like a break, with some company, at any stage, to let me know. In truth I wasn’t a ‘player’, it being something out of character for me to make the approach. Realising how lonely I was, this time I threw caution to the wind. I’d had a few relationships at school, so I was no virgin, but my uni days so far had been marked by a conspicuous lack of action on the female front.

To my delight the young lady in question smiled and accepted my invitation. Half an hour or so later she came jauntily over to me and said something to the effect that she was done for the night. She informed me, with a twinkle in her eye, that she lived on campus but, if I had a car, we could go down to the Bay – Sandy Bay – for a coffee. She seemed very trusting, along with being, I soon discovered, very voluble to boot. From the moment she stepped into my vintage Vauxhall till the instant I drained the last dregs of my coffee, she was like a wind-up doll – prattle, prattle, prattle. But I liked that. I wasn’t shy, so much as reserved, by nature, so I was happy to let her chatter on.

When I returned her to the front door of her college she surprised me by slipping across the front bench seat of my old bus towards me. She placed her hands on either side of my face and planted a kiss on me – not just a peck – it was an enthusiastic ‘pash’, tongue and all. ‘That was fun,’ I remember her saying. ‘Can we do it again tomorrow?’ Could we what!

We became an item and I was soon well and truly in her thrall. Tori, like me, was studying arts – but for her librarianship was the goal. She was Chinese Australian, but I suspect her ancestors had been here since the gold rushes the way she rabbited on. She was finely built – boyish actually – with almond eyes and sleek jet black hair. For this lad from the sticks, she was exotic in the extreme. She was no novice in the sack either, but for her sex had to be carried out the same way she lived life – at full tilt. As soon as I was satisfied off she hopped – the dominant position was always her forte without variation – and she would immediately get on with her routines. If it was after we retired for the night, the instant we finished she’d turn over and be out for the count. It never occurred to her some mutual pleasure might be involved – hers – and just shrugged me off when I suggested ‘stuff” we could do to make that possible. Still, I couldn’t help but love Tori. I loved her to bits – so much zest for life; so much energy. She adored partying; she adored dancing and she adored gossip. In those regards we were yin and yang. From the moment of that first kiss I think I knew we were destined for marriage. She didn’t seem to have a problem with that. And, yes, we both passed our sups!

Time cruised on by – and I was in a very happy place. It was all perfect – well almost. Tori was attacking life like a she-tiger defending her cubs. We gained our degrees and scouted around for job opportunities. In those days they were not difficult to find. As her family were Melburnians, we decided to move back to my home town – closer to the Mainland – and soon her parents put on a lavish wedding for us in Yarra City. They even took on the expense of flying my family over. We then settled into provincial life – me at one of the high schools, she at the regional library.

In those early years I didn’t have much to complain about. Tori and I had an active social life, there was only a modicum of stress involved in our vocations and my wife was loved by all. She confronted childbearing like everything else – with a full head of steam. Whilst trying to fall pregnant with number one she was insatiable. But now sex was even more perfunctory; clinical almost. It gave me no pleasure and she seemed to have no time for pleasure. It wasn’t too long before our son Jack was born. It was a straight forward birth, despite the fact that she was a mere slip of a woman. Tori was fulsome in her praises for her gynaecologist. She claimed he was an angel making it so easy for her. Now I became the sole breadwinner but, as always, her oldies were ever generous, doting on their new grandson. We had a home of our own and very soon Tori was keen to add to our tiny nuclear family. It was the beginning of a new and wonderful life, but also turned out to be the end of one of mine.

I obviously didn’t twig way back then. Perhaps I should have. It seemed so obvious later on. She refused the services of Dr Alomes for this pregnancy, opting for the town’s only alternative. I found that a little strange, but I didn’t give it much thought as I found Alomes – a tall streak with bulbous eyes, thinning hair and constant dandruff – austere and distant. Again, there was the flurry to conceive. Once this was achieved I was relegated to the spare room. Again, despite my annoyance, she hadn’t changed with her affections towards me, so I accepted it. Once Kerryn came into the world, the girl we were both hoping for, Tori seemed to recede further away from me. I was still on the outer sexually, but I put that down to post-natal issues. Although I couldn’t fault her as a mother to our lad and little miss, it soon became obvious she was not the same vibrant, helter-skelter wife I had become used to. As we approached thirty, there was a distance between us I couldn’t put my finger on. When I raised the issue, I received the same old shrug and she went on with what she was doing.

The bolt from the blue came the very day after Kerryn turned one. We’d had a party for her, attended by Jack’s little mates as well. Everyone seemed happy; we all entered into the spirit of the occasion. The day after, I returned home to a cold, empty house – no heat; not the usual smell of the evening meal cooking away. She was gone, as were the two children. The house was devoid of any sign of them. I was gobsmacked; shell-shocked. It took me a while to gather my thoughts and hop into action. I rang around our friends. They denied any knowledge of the threesome’s whereabouts, but with a couple I sensed they weren’t entirely being kosher with me. It was her mother who eventually spilt the beans. Tori, Jack and Kerryn had moved into Alomes’ McMansion in what amounted to the posh part of town, such as it was. I later discovered a tad more about the affair. The good doctor had parted with his spouse a year or so beforehand to ‘wait’ for Tori. They had been involved from almost the day Jack arrived in the world; the fact that I was being cuckolded by Alomes was reasonably common knowledge about the traps. I felt humiliated and began to be obsessed with the fact that Kerryn may be his. As my darling girl was the dead spit of her mother, with Tori vehemently denying an alternate parentage, no genetic testing was possible. If it became a legal issue I knew who would win, so I tried to put it to the back of my mind. The thought lingers on to this day.

Of course it all hit me hard, but I was helped by a gradual softening of my ex-wife’s attitude once divorce papers were signed. We shared the kids almost equally – with my girl always happy to come to her dad. Jack was a mummy’s boy and that was occasionally a struggle. Life, though, became more tolerable. I threw my energies more into my teaching, took up photography as an outlet and knew I would survive.

Strike Two to the Heart
I was burnt, burnt badly by Tori – so I was very wary about dating again. It was then I discovered married women. Being in a small town a single bloke of a certain age was fair game. And that served my purpose. I had affairs – ten or so if I added them up on my fingers, depending on definition. They were mainly brief, all bar one without any strings. Through all this I discovered just how wonderful lovemaking could be – what I was missing out on with Tori. The women came in all shapes and sizes and I appreciated them all. They were good natured and just wanted some spice in their lives. But I fell for Bronnie though, I must admit. She was a pocket-sized Marilyn Monroe – very curvy and I adored her softness. She was adventurous as they come in the art of sending me to heaven – she was up for any suggestion. We seemed well suited; she loved the fact that I was turned on photographing her in something alluring, or nude. I was just starting to get attached when, sensing this, in a moment of frankness, she informed me I was only one of a number of lovers she had around the town, with her hubby knowing and accepting. She would never leave him. I lost interest after that and moved on. I had the photos though – I even took them to my north-eastern exile with me. Looking over them always bought a smile to my face recalling her free-spirited voluptuousness – even more so today. They were good times with her, fun times. I craved more of the same.

Around the mid-nineties Kerryn became too ‘difficult’ for her mother. Tori was soon insisting that I take on full responsibility for her and I was glad to comply. It turned out that, although Alomes had tried his best with her – there was no hint of any impropriety – his ‘creepy’ eyes spooked her and she found him ‘gross’. Once she moved in she seemed to settle down and I enjoyed her company. She turned a blind eye to the parade of women in my life, some of whom, being a small town, weren’t unknown to her. She knew well enough to be discrete. I don’t know if it was Kerryn in turn having a settling effect on me, but in truth I was tiring of my semi-dissolute life. In time something would get out with that undoubtedly having a negative impact on my teaching. My daughter was coming to the end of her primary schooling, so we made the mutual decision that the time was ripe for a change as the old century drew to its conclusion. Jack was now old enough to cope with that. He was close to Alomes – in fact he begrudged his time with me. I respected the man for his relationship with my son. Jack still doted on his mother as well. I weighed it all up and in the end applied for a transfer to Hobart. I’d served my time in the provinces.

Money was a little tight to start with and my job suddenly became harder now I was teaching savvy city kids. So I took a chance and moved to the private system and I soon started to thrive. Before I could blink an eye, I was running the humanities department in a Catholic girls’ school and I was in clover. I was also developing my own writing – if you taught it you had to walk the walk, or so I believed. I started off with stories and opinion pieces, with some, to my surprise, actually being published in local journals. I started to think there was a novel in me – if only I could hit on a winning theme.

Then Cora entered my world. Tall, dynamic and confidant – she enrolled in an Adult Ed class in creative writing I was taking at the time. She initially hoped it would assist her in tizzying up her research findings for scientific journals. After a couple of lessons she soon realised it wouldn’t; so one evening she waited after class to tell me she would not be back. In recompense she invited me for coffee – again down the Bay, so perhaps I should have been warned. I discovered she was a biologist at the Antarctic Centre, specialising in plankton – what else? We soon found we shared passion for the type of films shown at the city’s iconic (and only) art house cinema, the State. I commented that it was remarkable that in all the times I had been there I hadn’t laid eyes on her. If I had, I certainly would have remembered. Cora was striking in appearance – you couldn’t miss her. She was a willowy redhead in her mid-forties – and with her unruly mop of hair, signature hippy skirts and the type of jumpers now popular again thanks to ‘The Killing’s’ Sarah Lund – she’d turn heads in any crowd. Turns out she was a night time frequenter of the movie house in question, I preferred the early sessions. She was also into photography – so a perfect match?

We talked on that evening. I discovered she resided in a large house on the flanks of Mt Wellington, near Ferntree, with half a dozen other semi-alternative women. My gaydar was out, but she just laughed and stated she was strictly hetero, although a couple of others were in same-sex relationships. Coquettishly, with a twinkle in her eye, she commented that she was between engagements at that present place in time. As night followed day I responded to the implied invitation and asked her to accompany me, in the evening, to see the latest French-Canadian offering at the cinema. The answer was to my satisfaction.

Of course that was the start. We were soon lovers, with Kerryn wholeheartedly approving, for at least she was available. But it was all strictly on Cora’s terms. She would spend her week days at work and on the mountain, only coming down if there was something really special for which either of us required partnering. As for the weekends, then she was all mine. Friday night would usually find us at the State. Saturdays we’d be up early, down to Salamanca Market for supplies, followed by driving off to capture something with our cameras. Tasmania was special in this regard – there was always something to point a lens at. In the warmer weather it would be landscapes, with Cora a willing model, unclad if the setting was suitably private. With her hair, fulsome breasts and alabaster body the camera loved her – as I did. With her around I had no problems with figures in landscapes. My camera couldn’t get enough of her.

Sundays would find us sampling the local eateries, or improving our own culinary skills. The apex of the weekends, though, were Sunday nights. In my bedroom candles would glow and pungent smells would emit from an incense burner. It was massage time. Cora would be adorned in something to titillate, or nothing at all. She would proceed to send me to bliss-out with her hands and sensuous oils. Mutually satisfying love-making would ensue. Occasionally, she would also make love to my camera if she was in the mood. I was living the dream – I should have known it was too good to be true. After a couple of years of this, along came Charlotte. Boy, was she a different kettle of fish!

Strike Three to the Heart – and Out?

My father was a skilled bushman. He had to be to survive a Depression upbringing, making it through those flint-hard, frost-riven winters down the Huon. Growing up he knew how to snare rabbit and wallaby, tickle mountain trout and cajole lobsters from their watery lairs. He carried those practices into adulthood and was still supplementing our diets as kids with these skills on the North West Coast.

It was he who discovered Boobyalla. My father loved the bush and was home in it; the more isolated, the better. He was always one for seeing where a road led, with one day it leading to Boobyalla. It was a ghost town – just a few tumbledown old tin-roofed sheds by the Ringarooma River. In its brief heyday it had been the port for the tin mines at nearby South Mt Cameron – but those times had long gone. The dunes between it and the sea rivalled those of the Henty on the West Coast, being where my father discovered a sort of treasure – ‘driftwood’ as he called it. I doubt if this wood had touched the sea – rather his ‘treasure’ were the remains of ancient timber sculptured into fantastical effects by the power of wind and sand. These extra-ordinary finds for him represented both art and hopefully financial gain to add to his meagre earnings as a busman. He bought them home by the station wagon loadful, varnished them to a sheen and highlighted their best features in gold paint. He then had them mounted for display and for a short while they were the rage of the town. Today they would probably be regarded as kitsch – but who knows; in the future, if they are still around, they may come back in vogue.

When my brother and I reached our teens we were introduced to the Boobyalla dunes; the same sort of dunes that further west nowadays are raking in the tourist dollar as world standard golf links. I immediately could see my father’s attraction to this wild place, only infrequently visited by those in the know. With him we’d scour those sand-hills for my dad’s mother lode, hauling our unwieldy cargo on our backs to the sheds of the once river port. I can only recall a few incidents from this bygone time. I remember leading the old man back to camp; he weighted down by so much bounty he had a stout walking stick in hand to assist with balance. Suddenly said stick heavily thwacked down beside me with a mighty force, for my father was an exceedingly strong man. I froze and looked down to see a writhing tiger snake, of considerable length, in close proximity to my legs. He trod on it just behind the head and finally dispatched it with a few more solid blows. ‘It’s autumn son,’ he casually stated. ‘Breeding season. They’ll come at you then.’ On another occasion he took my brother and I out shooting. Spotting a flash of grey out of the corner of his eye, my huntsman father. spun around and with deadly aim fired off a shot. It wasn’t a wallaby as expected, but some form of large water bird – a crane perhaps. I’ll never forgot the look in his eye as he realised his error – one kills for tucker, not for sport.

I clearly remember the magnificence of the dunes with the early morning, or late afternoon, light on them. I remember the calcified forests we found – the stumps of trees covered in aeons-old, solidified, wind-hurled sand. We’d camp under the stars and we listened to my father’s yarns as the billy boiled. I loved telling my students yarns during my teaching; I love telling yarns in print. That, I know, comes from him. Back then I wanted to be like him when I grew up. That only happened in subtle ways. My brother had the privilege of most of his genes – but I received some important bits. They were good times with him; they were fun times.

The turn of the millennium came and went with Cora and I relatively happy in our routines. I was still smitten – still worshipped her mind and her body. She, though, was not one for committing, refusing point blank to take our relationship to a more formal level. Living with me was out of the question, despite my occasional pleas – but then Charlotte happened.

We rarely deviated from the State for our cinema viewings, but back in 2003 came a film that was generating much heat at the multiplexes and we went along to see it. From it came the nub of an idea for a novel. The film was ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom were swinging from the rigging and it was fun. It seemed pirates were the flavour on the month and it hit me – was there room in the literary pantheon for a female take on these ‘Robin Hoods’ of the seas? I then recalled something I had read years back, tucked away in the recesses of my synapses. Tasmania had a female pirate, albeit somewhat lesser known than Jack Sparrow. But using the Keith Richards’ inspired character as my template, perhaps I could hit the jackpot with a feminine interpretation. I’d recapture the whimsy of that film, set it in the southern seas, loosely basing it around the facts of a stunningly beautiful woman done wrong and forced into acts of piracy. I’d spin a great yarn – in the same way my dad spun them years ago by the camp-fire at Boobyalla. That would work, wouldn’t it?

And my research led me to Charlotte. Born in 1788, Charlotte Badger was transported to Van Dieman’s Land on the good ship Venus in 1806, after a brief stay in Sydney Town. When the ship dropped anchor at Port Dalrymple, near the Tamar Heads, she helped lead a mutiny. Dressed as a man, she pistol-whipped the ship’s captain and assumed control, raided another vessel for supplies and sailed east, across the Tasman. It is known that she took a lover on the voyage, disposed of him at the Bay of Islands, Kiwiland, in turn taking up with a Maori chief. She also spent time on Tonga before making her way to Spanish California. What a tale – I was on a winner. I set to with Cora and Kerryn’s encouragement, whipping up an exhilarating start, or so I thought. I soon found, though, with all my other commitments, that progress became increasingly laboured as time went on.

Then one Friday night, at the North Hobart cafe where we usually rendezvoused when Cora came down off the mountain for the week’s cinematic offering, she was a no show. This was out of character, so I was immediately concerned. I rang several times to no response. I drove up to her ‘commune’ under Wellington – but felt foolish – and drove back down again. There would be some logical explanation on the morrow – surely! Despite repeated calls on Saturday, there was still no word, so on Sunday I took the bit between the teeth and drove back up the mountain; for real this time. I barely knew her house-mates – that was part of her ‘other’ life. I rang the doorbell and it was answered by a large, butch lady whom I think was named Eve. She straddled the doorway with the clear intention of preventing my entry, folded her floppy arms over her ample bosoms and uttered something to the effect – ‘I think it would be in your best interests to leave the premises’, slamming the door on my face. I knocked, I called out – but in the end I had no alternative. I did as she said.

Eventually Cora broke it off the old-fashioned way – by letter. She’d met someone – at her work. ‘It was karma. It was meant to be.’ She informed me he was a young American, new to her research team. She consoled me by stating that it had been fun, but she felt it had run its course. She’d make arrangements for one of her friends to collect the few belongings she kept at my place. That’s all she wrote!

Dumped for a second time around – or sort of the third, if Bronnie was included – it still hurt. Initially, with Kerryn’s unfailing optimism and my work, I knew I could cope. It wouldn’t knock me as much as Tori had. Eventually my colleagues at school started issuing invitations, even trying to ‘set me up’ on a few occasions, once they realised I was single again, perhaps out of sympathy. Then, as the school year started to wind down, I began to unravel. My beautiful daughter soon picked up on that. She had grown into a stunning young woman in the image of her mother. I didn’t want her worrying, especially as she was now in a relationship herself with a fine fellow, a lawyer hailing from our old home town. She did her best to keep me buoyant suggesting, just like all those years ago and the move south, that I should think about a circuit-breaker. ‘What happened to that novel you were writing, Dad? How about having a go at finishing it, to take your mind off things, over the summer?’

‘Charlotte! I’ll finish Charlotte,’ I thought to myself. But I’d need to get away to do that. I couldn’t stand staying in Hobs over the break with all the stuff that would remind me of times with Cora. That’s when it hit me – Boobyalla!

I knew the house would be fine with Kerryn. I hired a camper-trailer, attached it to my car and headed north a couple of days after school was over for 2008. The track in from Gladstone was as shit awful as I remembered it, but arriving at the still standing sheds, with the dunes hued golden in the last rays of the sun, I knew I’d made the correct decision. I could heal here, hopefully having something to show for it at the end of my stay. That first night I didn’t bother with the bunk, just hauled a mattress out under the stars. I lit a fire and boiled the billy, just as my dad and I did way back when. I had the best sleep I’d managed since Cora’s leaving.

The next morning, refreshed after a dip in the river, I stated plugging away on the laptop again. Soon I realised I had my writing mojo back. Charlotte engaged in swashbuckling sword-fight after swashbuckling sex exploit after swashbuckling pillagery- all the way across the Pacific from the Kiwi Isles to the Californian gold rushes. She fought Fijian head-hunters, married a Tongan prince, caught up with the descendants of Fletcher Christian and their topless wahines in Tahiti and led the rebels in the Mexican War of Independence. One day, after restocking back in the little town, I took another pretty ordinary trail to the north-eastern tip of the island – Cape Portland. As I stood atop of the furtherest point I imagined Charlotte and her motley crew sailing past that very location on their way to the adventures I was busy recording into my hard drive. Up there, in a stiff breeze, I plotted how she would meet her demise in the final chapters, being careful to leave a door open in case world wide acclaim demanded a sequel. I fantasised what I would do with the squillions I would earn for the film rights. As the sun set I ran through all the young actresses I knew and finally landed on the up and coming Gemma Aterton as the perfect choice for my feisty heroine – even if, in the literature, the real Charlotte is described as a stout, uncomely, toothless harridan. Driving back to my camp that night, as I dodged light-bedazzled roo and possum, I knew I was me again – my Hobart life was starting to call me home.

Soon after the apparition on the beach that was ‘Black Bikini Woman’, I packed up my temporary summer home and drove back to Gladstone – to its only pub, which hopefully possessed a room with a comfortable bed and hot shower. A friendly guy welcomed me in and said that, as I was the only guest, I was welcome to dine with his wife and he in the family quarters later that evening. So, after ablutions and finally feeling half human again, I went along the corridor to the door marked ‘private’ and knocked. Opening it was my apparition, ‘Black Bikini Woman’, or at least I thought it was. She greeted me with a smile bright enough to light up the moonless nights of purgatory and she beckoned me in. She was considerably younger than I – somewhere in her thirties, but I instantly felt a frisson. As her husband, introduced to me as Gary, cooked, she opened a bottle of red. If she gave me her name, I didn’t catch it. We settled down to roast lamb; they gave me their provenance, I gave my back story – even my misfortunes with Tori and Cora. As the evening wore on I became more buoyant, assisted by a second bottle. Eventually Gary had had enough, made his excuses and retired, leaving me with his now half sozzled missus. So then I had to ask the question, was she indeed ‘Black Bikini Woman’?

‘How do you know that?’ she chortled. I told her, even the bit about the photograph. She wasn’t upset, in fact she laughed. When I explained how taking the image of her on that beach had made me feel, she placed her hand on mine and said, ‘I’m glad.’ She explained that whenever she could get away and the weather was right, she would paddle her kayak down to near the heads, walk along the sand and swim in the briny – thus explaining my confusion as to how she came to be there. She claimed this kept her sane in such a place. Then it was time to say goodnight. I proffered my thanks and she walked me to the door. As I was about to leave she gently pulled me towards her and kissed me. No, it wasn’t a full throttle affair like that long time ago kiss from Tori – it was just a peck on the cheek. But it was enough. With that I knew I was moving on. I could be open to possibility again.

And no, there was no knock on my door in the middle of the night. I wasn’t really expecting it. I knew the beautiful, raven-haired woman in the black bikini would not be coming to seduce me. Still I had a fitful night’s sleep full of erotic thoughts. It seemed I had my mojo back in that regard as well. It was Gary who saw me off the next morning apologising for his spouse. ‘She’s sleeping it off,’ he explained, rolling his eyes. He bade me ‘safe journey’ as I turned on the ignition and pointed the bonnet south.

A New Innings
I am now in my early sixties. I’m content. As for Charlotte? Well I spruiked her around to the best of my ability with Kerryn’s help. She had beaten me to the gun and was about to publish her first novel for young people. But the same refrain kept coming back from publishers – if it wasn’t about wizards or vampires they weren’t interested. Nobody wanted pirates now, even if Hollywood churned out a few tired sequels to what had inspired me in the first place. So I went back to my shorter pieces and managed to find homes now and again for those, happy in the knowledge I had at least passed the writing gene on. But Charlotte had served her purpose. She and ‘Black Bikini Woman’ had got me back from a tough place – and I never did discover the name of the latter!

Life moves on and so does love, thanks to the marvels of the internet. One night, after a few reds, on a whim, I went on-line and tracked down Bronnie. It was easy – you know – Facebook. She was still resident in Burnie, recently widowed being, as it turned out, available for something to distract her from her ‘grief’. That salve turned out to be me. And, yes, we are still together – sort of. She refuses to budge from that town and I could never face the possibility of returning. So we are ‘bi-coastal’ and it seems to work. I go up for weeks at a time now that I’m retired, with Bronnie returning the favour. We have our down time and yes, to the best of my knowledge, I am the only one. She reckons she’s too old for that nonsense these days.

Alomes also passed away several years back and Tori returned to Melbourne to be with her aged parents. We have taken to corresponding with each other in that lovely retro manner of letters. She keeps me appraised with Jack, and I her with Kerryn. Jack is gay, happy in a relationship but we have never resolved our differences, whatever they may be. It is the only black cloud in my life. Kerryn and her lawyer have now set up home together too – but she more than once has refused his entreaties to make him an honest man. I like him. He makes me laugh. Tori and I dine together whenever I am in Yarra City, or she in Hobs visiting her daughter. She is still a striking woman, but with Bron, I know I am a lucky man. There might not be the fireworks of yesteryear, but what I have with her is pretty special. As for Cora, I have never set eyes on her again, even in a small city like our little capital. Maybe she’s moved away. It took me quite a while to venture back to the State, but now I am a regular again. Kerryn is about to make me a grandfather and I cannot wait to have something new in my life to adore.

omalley2

I can look back over my life and be glass half full about it all now – my father’s yarns; ‘Black Bikini Woman’; Tori’s sleek excitability; Cora’s fire and now Bronnie’s soft warmth – all have left an indelible mark. As, of course, have Boobyalla and Charlotte.

The Blue Room's Top Books Read in 2013

‘Move over ladies, the big boys are back in town’ could almost be the catch-cry for this year’s Miles Franklin Award. In 2013 it was the fairer gender who took centre stage, but in the last twelve months the male masters of the game all pushed out new product – J M Coetzee, Thomas Keneally, Richard Flanagan, Tim Winton, Christos Tsiolkas, Steven Carroll and Alex Miller. These behemoths don’t need awards to give their sales spikes – their names and oeuvre do that for them. To call the winner will be tough, but I know who my money will be on

Unlike the Miles Franklin, my best reads for the year, by necessity, are not restricted to that published in the previous twelve months. In my final years in the workplace I went on a book buying frenzy, expecting my retirement years would be financially quite straightened. This has not come to pass, but I now have a fair old backlog sitting in the man-cave to get through. Of course 2013 still saw me frequenting Fullers most weeks, but I had to be tough with myself and not be too tempted by their beguiling shelves. So following comes the best stuff I have read over the past calendar year:-

10. ‘The Forgotten War’ – Henry Reynolds – places the question as to why the great Aboriginal warrior leaders of the Frontier Wars are not held in same regard as Monash, Morshead and Blamey.

09. ‘Whatever You Love’ – Louise Doughty – the sex was truly awful, but as a mother’s worst nightmare this was sure a page-turner.

08. ‘Sydney’ – Delia Falconer – on my ‘bucket list’ is the aim to read all titles in this series’ fascinating takes on our major urban areas.

07. ‘Richo’ – Martin Flanagan – a larger than life local footy hero bought to life by our best writer on the native sport.

06. ‘The Rosie Project’ – Graeme Simsion – rightly the commercial smash hit of the year and I loved it.

05. ‘A World of Other People’ – Steven Carroll – one of my favourites doesn’t disappoint with this tale of love amidst the ruin of war.

04. ‘The Memory Trap’ – Andrea Goldsmith – this author more than matches it with the big boys in this intricate, maze-like journey through relationships across continents and race.

03. ‘Five Bells’ – Gail Jones – a single iconic location on a single day but what a magic web Jones weaves.

02. ‘Coal Creek’ – Alex Miller – with the main protagonist, Bobby Blue, Miller creates the voice of the Outback.

01. ‘The Narrow Road to the True North’ – Richard Flanagan – heartbreakingly the best novel I have read this century. If it doesn’t take the honours in the aforementioned award I’ll cry into my beer. Flanagan’s Dorrigo Evans is a flawless masterpiece of a creation – the type of heroically flawed man our nation treasures.

Flanagan Narrow Rd

HMs to ‘Eyrie’ (Tim Winton), ‘Pictures of You’ (Caroline Leavitt), ‘You – a Novel’ (Joanna Briscoe)

Richard Flanagan is a proud, feisty Tasmanian and I think it would be fair to day my little island punches above its weight in the literary boxing ring of the nation. Sadly one of our local literary heavyweight champions retired into the sky this year. Thank you CK for all the reading joy your work has given me down through the decades.

2013 – The Blue Room's Year in Music

I’m excited. The Blue Room has discovered Spotify. It promises to be the perfect tool. It hasn’t arrived yet. Our computer is in dry-dock. When it’s back a family boffin will install it allowing the listening of whole albums legally, rather than just snippets. Thus a firmer base for the purchase of music ‘discoveries’ can be deduced. The Blue Room’s scribe, me, loves to find new stuff. I would like to think I am not your typical 60 plus year old stuck in a musical time warp of the musical heroes from my pomp – such as it was. And I still purchase actual CD albums – yes, I know, this techno-ignoramous is a throwback to another age compared to the hipster generation, but I still value having the music in my hand rather than somewhere up in the clouds.
And in 2013, even after the passing of the years since I bought Sgt Peppers way back in 1967, the beat of rock/country still flows through me. This year purchasing and playing new music has still enhanced my world. I know, as befits my age, I am not really up with the latest musical wonders – but my sources – ‘Uncut’ magazine, my BTD (Beautiful Talented Daughter), Paul, Caleb, Troy et al, all of whom recommend what they think I’d like, knowing my parameters pretty well. I’d like to think that I am reasonably eclectic – you may scoff but judge for yourself contemplating my list of the best of the last twelve months below. They are the albums I genuinely love – the ones that have been on high rotation on my music machine during the year. So here you go, presenting the Blue Room’s top albums of 2013:-

10. ‘Old Socks’ – Eric Clapton – Old Slowhand was probably just going through the motions recording this – I’ll grant you that. But as I can’t get enough of God, these renderings of some hoary covers will have to do.

09. ‘The Low Highway’ – Steve Earl – Here the sexiest man in alt country – BTD’s words, not mine – has produced his best for a while. This much married troubadour still has the fire.

08. ‘Imitations’ – Mark Lanegan – Another covers collection delivered in that voice of gravel – a departure from his attractive collaborations with Isobel Campbell.

07. ‘Even the Stars are a Mess’ – Whitley – The year’s most infectious song (Track 2 – ‘TV’) surrounded by plenty of other quality product. He’s been away to find himself but now he’s back with a good’un.

05. ‘English Rain’ – Gabrielle Aplin – ‘Discovered’ by yours truly on a UK talk show, the CD was cheap in JBs and I fell in love with it. And what a beautiful young lady to boot!

04. ‘My Favourite Picture of You’ – Guy Clark – The old songwriters’ songwriter’s paen to his life partner who is no more – heart-wrenching.

03. ‘The Beast in its Tracks’ – Josh Ritter – His last was a tad disappointing, but he is back with a bang and how!

02. ‘All the Little Lights’ – Passenger – a voice to love (me) or hate – but for my money two classic tracks with classy supports.

01. ‘The Great Country Songbook’ – Troy Cassar-Daley/Adam Harvey – this unlikely hit has now morphed into the year’s most controversial release thanks to Christmas Grinch John Williamson. It’s a buoyant collection of old chestnuts from two knockabout lads having a great time in the studio, as well as live. It took us all back to other places and other times. Only a crusty old curmudgeon would dis its success.

A couple of this year’s hopefuls just failed to make the cut. I’ve only been in possession of Nick Cave’s ‘Push the Sky Away’ for a few days but I am currently obsessed – sonorously magnificent. Neko Case’s ‘Worst Things Get……’ and Camera Obscura’s ‘Desire Lines’ were the best of the rest. The Hunters and Collectors tribute ‘Cauldron’ is well worth a listen, as is John Fogerty’s set of Duets recreating CCR’s hits with various folks – ‘Wrote a Song for Everyone’. The Emmylou Harris/Rodney Crowell collaboration ‘Old Yellow Moon’ stands up, as does Laura Marling’s ‘Once I was an Eagle’. Kim Richey (‘Thorn in My Heart’) and Patty Griffen (‘American Kid’) also had fine issues.

.The-Great-Country-Songbook.

So, over to you BTD, as well as anyone else up for the exercise.