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I suppose our neighbourhood is like most others really. The only happenings from year to year are the changes of season which, unfortunately, seem to affect everyone. For some it is in a small way but for others, well, their whole lives are torn apart and they are uprooted from everything with which they are familiar and comfortable.

My dearest friend and next door neighbour is Daphne. Her family has lived on the same patch for generations. Two things about Daphne's family which I find really heart-warming are that the eldest girl is always named Daphne, and that the current generations wear the same beautiful fragrance that their mothers before them have worn. They are very traditional.

On my South side is old Mr Hydrangea. A fairly harmless old man most of the time but he can be moody. One is never quite sure which side of his personality one is going to be exposed to. Sometimes he can pop out all pink and rosy and be happy and positive and other times he can be dark and blue and quite depressing to be around.

Next to Daphne on the Northern side is Iris. Her family is certainly interesting. She has a Dutch uncle on her mother's side, a Spanish cousin, her father, a very nice man has a Japanese mother and his sister-in-law is bearded, poor thing, but she is one of the best dressers in our neighbourhood. The range of colours in her wardrobe is absolutely astounding and the way she mixes and matches colours is eye catching at the very least, one could even say traffic stopping. Iris even has a dwarf on her father's side, though what he lacks in height he makes up for, like the bearded sister-in-law, in style and colour.

Across the path is the daffodil family. They are such a bright, sunny bunch. Their faces are always happy and smiling and no-one in that family ever has a bad word to say about anyone. The littlest ones though are little show offs. They do love twirling their little hooped skirts in front of anyone who passes by.

Next to the daffodils is a garage and Ivy and her friend Virginia live around the corner on the Northern side. Ivy was a very friendly, outgoing person when she was little but these days she and Virginia tend to stick together preferring their own company. Ivy in particular has become quite withdrawn and terribly clingy. Another of their friends who is also rather dependent and often looking to friends around her for support, is Jasmine. She, however, is not quite as needy as Ivy and Virginia, sometimes making her way alone, but one cannot help but wonder what happened in their early lives to make them so lacking in independence. Perhaps they were never encouraged to be brave or to try new things? Who knows. Generally we just live and let live around here.

On the South side of the neighbourhood is one person who isn't a positive force and that is Mrs Weeping Willow. She is morose and very negative. She just sits all day next to the pond, staring into the water as if it holds all the answers to her problems, whatever they might be, and seems incapable of raising a smile for anyone. I don't know her background but it has certainly had a debilitating effect on her, leaving her constantly sad. We tend to let her be, but whether that is a good thing or not, I'm not sure.

Where Mrs weeping Willow is constantly sad, like all neighbourhoods we have our hot head who is permanently angry. Good old Red Hot Poker never disappoints. One expects him to be angry and he always is. It's sad really. Anger wastes so much energy and it must be exhausting, to say nothing of the damage to his health. But the entire family is the same. They stand all day in big groups and whinge about the state of the world and get into such a lather that their blood pressure rockets and before you know it their heads are bright red from all that anger with no release button. We give them a wide berth.

Another good friend is Violet who also lives on our Southern side. Violet is very shy and self-conscious and always overdresses, in green, her favourite colour, no matter what the weather, sadly covering her beautiful lilac and mauve dresses that she usually wears. Like Daphne she smells beautiful, though her fragrance is more subtle and she is such a winsome little thing. We don't see much of her but when she does emerge she is chatty and personable.

We have a couple of I-want-to-be-noticed types in our neighbourhood too. Tall Poppy stands head and shoulders over most of his neighbours and has a true lust for life. As he is no slouch, I think that anyone who holds himself up so straight and erect, no mean feat in Spring or Summer in the wind, deserves to be noticed and acknowledged. I just love his bright post-box-red hats. Cousins of his have beautiful colours but aren't as tall as him. The other I-want-to-be-noticed type and frightful flirt is little Miss Show Peony. Life is all about her. She doesn't like the wind. Who does? She complains because she doesn't have protection from it in Spring to prevent the wind doing permanent damage to her face. Then, she craves and demands rain in Summer. Can you believe it? Who doesn't want rain in Summer? But do we get it? No. Only our neighbours in the vegetable patch get that. But Showpeony goes on and on about it. She must have water or her beautiful face will be withered next Spring. She is terribly vain. But when we do have Summer rain, well she is something to behold. Her magnificent face glows.

I suppose after talking about everyone else in my neighbourhood I should introduce myself. I have been here for years. Most around here call me Banksia. I've invested a lot of energy over the years establishing and securing a seed bank. I've created a stronghold for my seeds that no-one, and I mean no-one can get hold of. The only thing that can access my seeds is a fire. Not much chance of that happening. See you around the patch.

Winter has arrived, folks,
And with it comes the flu.
As I'm its latest victim
I'm perplexed at what to do.
The doctors think they have the answer
With a needle in the arm
But I am here to tell you
There is still cause for alarm!

My head is splitting fit to crack
My nose is dripping like a tap
And I'm just about ready for the grave!
But I'll settle for a 'Toddy'
Made with whisky if you please:
To ease the pain and suffering within.
But the sufferings without
Make you want to scream and shout
Has no one found a cure yet for this bane?

Now the answer to this problem,
In my opinion anyway,
ls to buy yourself some tissues
They helped me save the day.
I have tissues in the bedroom
And in the bathroom, too,
I have tissues in the lounge-room
And even in the Loo!
I put them up my nostrils
To help them stem the flow
But that didn't work; I should have known
The sneeze had nowhere else to go!

I paid a visit to the Doctor
And he was not impressed.
"My dear, your bronchial tubes are rattling
And there's whistling in your chest,
So I'll give you this 'ere mixture,
Some tablets and a spray.
I'm sure that they will help you
Live to fight another day."

I was shunned and isolated
When the virus took its toll.
No-one came to visit
Not a blooming soul.
So I tucked my box of tissues
Underneath my arm
Took the mixture and the tablets
Couldn't do me any harm? (Could they?)
My hottie' and my teddy
Were the only friends I had,
So with their help and comfort
I didn't feel so bad.

So now that I have warned you
At your peril take the risk,
Avoid those crowded places
Where those germs and bugs exist.
Unless you have your tissues
To cover up yow nose
I'm afraid the germs will get you
That's just the way life goes.

"Mum, Mum, wait till you see this!"

The girl was hard to see in the darkness: a vague silhouette, slithering over piles of rotting rubbish, fruit, vegetables and other unsold and out-of-date foodstuff. Behind the shopping centre a yard was enclosed by a brick wall, high, but not high enough to stop determined scavengers bunking up and over to look for anything which might fill an empty belly.

Lily was always hungry. There never seemed to be enough money for food. What did Mum do with it, she wondered. Smokes? Drink? Pokies? She could not be sure but they both did this nightly round of the grocery chuck-outs.

Her hands slipped over more rotten fruit: bananas oozing from split skins; apples, some still firm, most slimy and not worth a second touch, oranges covered in films of mould; mushy plums, apricots, grapes getting pongy, squashed tomatoes: a jumble of stale bread rolls, cream buns, tacky glazed icing, crumpets, doughy muffins, smashed cream cakes. Lily's fingers dipped in and out of her mouth: the taste was good but it was too dark to see what she was eating.

A rat scurried away.

Her hand fingered inside a fibre carton: packets of something unopened, several of them. She pulled one out in front of her face. "Hey Mum, come over," a loud but muffled whisper, "wait till you see what I got."

Her mother, a formless shadow slid around the jumbled garbage. "What is it then? What yer got?"

"Doughnuts, packets of 'em. They're in boxes like this. I seen 'em in the shop. Cor. I love doughnuts."

"OK, put 'em in the bag. We'd better be orf 'fore security comes round."

"I got a few rolls as well."

"OK, that'll do us dinner. Come on."

"Mum, how come all this food don't get sold in the shops?"

"Dunno luv. Waste, ain't it.

In 2003, I did a flight around the world. When I was in Beunos Aires I phoned my niece to let her know I would be arriving home on the following Friday. She asked what time and I said it would be about 8 pm. She then said, "Oh, that's bad luck. I'm flying out on Friday morning bound for Europe. I won't see you for a couple of months."

My flight was via Santiago, in Chile, where I was to have a 24 hour stop-over. When I arrived at Santiago airport, I made a sudden change of plans. Instead of staying overnight in Santiago, I changed my flight arrangements and was able to fly out that same day after a 10-hr wait at the airport. Everything went ok and I got into Hobart about 8 pm Thursday.

I immediately went to my niece's home. When I got to her front door I didn't knock but instead used my cellphone to call her. We chatted for a few minutes about missing each other and when we were likely to see each other again. Then I knocked on the door.

"Oh! There's a knock at the door," she said. "What a nuisance calling at this time of night."

"That's ok," I said, "I don't mind waiting. Go and see who's there. You never can tell who it might be. You might get a big surprise."

She opened the door and she got a big surprise.

She should have done it years ago.She pictured in her mind the "Leap of Faith" it required to perform such a task. Was it really a task? It seemed like she would require a natural trust in nature as well as a leap to freedom. Could she do it? Remembering the times she had passed this particular spot - witnessing the activity, purpose, and uninhibited action. The laughter - and the urging on, when a newcomer faltered and in an instant changed his mind completely!She remembered watching the courageous ones, soaring and dipping in the skies. How wonderful it would be to feel the wind taking you gently along, dipping and changing direction. You could pretend you were a beautiful bird like an albatross, spoken about reverently, in the poem of The Ancient Mariner, though his end was disastrous! In her mind's eye, she could imagine the colour of the sky and the fluffy clouds. Below would be a wondrous sight - farms and valleys and the blue ocean in the distance.

What about the landing? That seemed worrisome to fathom. How do they come down so smoothly without breaking their legs? The trouble now, as she thought about it all, was the timing. The years had already slipped away so quickly. When she had really contemplated the attempt she was much younger. She should have shown some courage and done it then, when she had the ability to carry it out. There was a very brave grandmother parachuting from a plane not so long ago!

The fact had to be accepted that she was now a great-grandmother and hang-gliding off a slopey grassed area, high up on the Lamington Plateau, would now have to be just a dream. She would have to be content relaxing in her favourite chair - striving to write her memoirs, poems and stories, for her beautiful great-grandchildren.

Three things come not back -
time passed,
the spoken word,
the neglected opportunity.

This child sleeping in the night

The scene is set, the stage is lit, the actors ready; the baby boy is real, quiet and still. The music plays, the angels sing, the cameras roll.

Do you see what I see?

Mary tries really hard not to drop her new baby. But he's getting heavy and he's quite big. Standing next to her, Joseph puts a strong arm around her shoulder. They smile at the little one. But Mary's arms are aching; she tightens her grip around him but she's not tried to cuddle a baby before. She's only twelve. Maybe she's not holding him quite right. Perhaps, if she'd been sitting down instead of standing . . .

The angels are still singing. How long will it be? She can't hold him much longer. It's no good. She leans forward and drops him down - hard - in the cradle. She bends her face close. Will he be all right? He's not crying. No, he's fine.

Enter wise and noble strangers from the East. They kneel with their gifts.

Do you know what I know? A child shivers in the cold.
Let us bring him silver and gold.

The angelic choir in beautiful harmony :

a song, a song high above the tree, with a voice as big as the sea.

The baby's asleep, at least he's not stirring, does not seem fazed by the bright lights and the cameras.

He will bring us goodness and light.

Shepherds kneeling, attentive, absorbed in the mystery.

Do you see what I see? Way up in the sky, little lamb. A star, dancing in the night with a tail as big as a kite.

A triumphal conclusion, the music swells:

Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light.

Nov 2012

She was a remarkable character: odd in lots of ways. We met her on holiday, not just casually; no, she spent two weeks with us as we travelled by bus to central Australia. Every day we said, "Hallo Rosie. How are you today?" Every evening we had dinner together at our motel.

Rosie told us she'd been sterilised when she was 24; surprisingly young we thought. She'd also had a brain operation and had had to learn to speak again. Had this influenced the person she'd become?

Rosie was a good name. She always wore something that colour, even her sunglasses were a shade of pink. We knew from our lunch together on the first day that she was not quite normal. She talked non-stop about all the trips she'd done all over the world. It seemed as if she must always be away from home. And then she told us that her husband liked her to travel. It didn't take long for us to understand why! Halfway through the meal she excused herself and went to the ladies' room. When she returned she explained that some of her lunch had got trapped in her teeth and since they were false she needed to take them out! We wondered why she needed to tell us this so early on our journey together.

As the days passed we came to realise what a strange adult Rosie was. As a mature woman in her 60s she behaved like a child. She always had to be first off the bus even if she was sitting at the back and since coach tours operate rotational seats she was seldom at the front. She was halfway down the aisle before the bus stopped. Like a child she loved ice creams, frequently stopping to buy one; her favourite words seemed to be "Oh, lovely".

She was a passionate photographer, well taking lots of pictures anyway. When we stopped at a scenic spot Rosie's camera went into overdrive. Not only did she take pictures at ten metre intervals as we walked, she bailed us up demanding that we take her picture against the backdrop. As the trip progressed everyone did their best to avoid being near her.

At dinner one evening Rosie arrived last. She decided not to sit at the only place left. She demanded that our driver, Ron, move. He was gracious enough to do so.

Rosie had agreed to share a room with another passenger. Of course, they'd never met before. The much older woman told us how eccentric Rosie was: she wore a wig which she carefully removed; she then stripped off and walked around in the nude and later slept that way.

My lasting memory of Rosie is of the visit we made to the grave of Albert Namatjira. For most of us a respectful moment was required. Not for Rosie: she wanted not one but two photos of the headstone and then requested that someone take a picture of her standing beside it.

Rosie was strange, but she was memorable.

July 2011

The History Police were doing their regular spot check on the records of They did random samples on any Family History that appeared to be unverified, unsubstantiated or plain unbelievable. "Here's one" said Arthur. This family had a series of John's over several generations in the 19th century, in the Snowy Mountains town of Tumut. All of the John's died by accident.

  1. John L. arrived in the Colony in 1824 and was drowned in the Tumut River on Nov. 1, 1872, aged 68 years. There was an Engagement family picnic on a hot day when John and 4 of his adult sons went in for a dip. Several of the sons were alluvial miners. They would not have survived in their work if they could not swim, but they were unable to save their father. Maybe he had a heart attack or stroke but the official Death Certificate said: Accidental death by drowning. Present also at this picnic was his daughter Catherine 19 years old.
  2. John H. was killed by a fall from a hose in 1882. He had been married to Catherine only 6 years and had 3 daughters Mary, Alice and Dora.
  3. In 1887 Catherine married John O'Regan, who died only 5 years later in 1892. Ancestry. com said that this John 3 was also thrown from a horse.

Now all these deaths sounded a bit suspicious. What part, if any, did Catherine play in these 3 deaths?

The History Police went straight to the official Death Certificate. John (2) was listed as being thrown from a horse. John H. was an experienced landowner with the horse as his daily means of working on his sheep station. Being "thrown from a horse" seemed unlikely, but maybe he had hit his head on a rock. John O'Regan (3) seemed too much of a coincidence. Who had given these details to Probably a well-intentioned but ill-informed descendant. The History Police found that the Death Certificate in fact listed "dysentery" as the cause of death. Another family myth busted. Catherine's name was no longer "the black widow" but a courageous daughter and wife. As a widow, she raised her 4 daughters, the youngest Ella being the only child of John O'Regan (3). Catherine went into the hotel business in Goulburn, Camden and Wollongong. It took over 100 years but the good name of Catherine was restored to her family. Another success for the History Police whose motto is: "The original documents tell the truth!"

Frances Coll © 18-4-12

You hear people talking about the Sydney Harbour Bridge "ad nauseum." I would like to tell you a personal story about the Bridge through the less than favourable eyes of a schoolgirl. You see, my school was on the southern approach to the Bridge, on Observatory Hill. There were only two lanes to the approach to the Bridge in the 1950's. You entered the school grounds through black wrought iron gates, walked up the steps through a fragrant rose garden, then passed two tennis courts and up again to the main building.

The first inkling we had that changes were afoot came at the School Assembly. Our headmistress announced that the Main Road Board had decided to widen the approaches to the Bridge from two lanes to four in each direction. They would resume our entrance gates, the rose garden and the two tennis courts. To compensate for this loss, they proposed to build a brand new gymnasium with all equipment supplies and including an indoor basketball court. The Assembly exploded with noisy comment, some sad, some excited. There was already a great lack of outdoor areas for a high school of over 500 girls. The headmistress returned us to silence when she said that we would have no say in the matter.

Strike One against the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The Main Roads Board made no mention of the fact that the iron gates and the main school building had been constructed by Governor Lachlan Macquarie as a Military Hospital in 1815, commonly known as the Rum Hospital. It was merely a property in the way of highway expansion. The gymnasium was duly built and it was impressive. It was the first full gymnasium in any school in NSW. We had to walk across a short bridge to reach it. The MRB had neglected to mention that beneath the bridge were two roaring lanes of traffic curving underneath from the eastern direction – the new Cahill Expressway.

Strike Two against the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

We never did hear what happened to the 1815 black wrought iron gates.

Frances Coll © 5-8-12

She looked too small to be a mother. Walking slowly across the African plain with a baby held on her hip by her left arm, her head swung left and right constantly. She was looking for any signs of the plants that had edible tubers which made up a large part of her family's diet. She was also on the lookout for any threats. Lions, leopards and cheetahs would were most likely dozing in this part of the day, but it paid to avoid even sleeping cats by a wide margin. There were a dozen other threats requiring constant alertness. Hyenas, and dogs would only hesitate a short while if they encountered a lone hominid, particularly one handicapped by carrying a baby. Easy pickings. Some of the grazing animals should also be given a wide berth. A startled buffalo or zebra would just as easily charge as run away from the diminutive being. But she had learned of these dangers from her mother and knew how to traverse the open country with some safety. Her dark eyes, deep set beneath a prominent brow ridge moved smoothly back and forth. With her snubby nose she delicately sniffed the breeze for any scents it might bear. Her ears were alert for any noise other than that produced by the breeze gently blowing through the vegetation. The short digging stick she carried in her right hand would be of little use as a weapon, but with the baby, it was all she could comfortably manage.

Up in the sky she saw circling vultures, but they were high and widespread. No possibility of any carrion nearby. A big bone or two would have been a welcome addition to the diet albeit extracting the marrow required using a suitable rock. She continued on, looking, listening, smelling. A short distance away she saw the tops of some thickly leafed bushes growing in a small hollow. This was an indication of water. It was unlikely to be a spring but a place where the ground water was closer to the surface. The bushes had sent down their roots to the vital fluid and produced a more verdant crop of leaves than the other plants not so fortunately placed. This small oasis was a likely spot to find the desired plants. It was also a place where small burrowing animals might make their home, but digging them out of their deep burrows was arduous and the digger was likely to attract attention and also be less able to see or hear approaching danger.
Maintaining her watchfulness, she walked cautiously to the hollow. At its edge she paused, scanned the surrounding area, sniffed the breeze and listened. Satisfied there was no nearby threat, she descended into the hollow. At the bottom, at the base of the largest bush was a dozen or more of the spiky leaves of the sweet tuber plant she had been hoping to find. Carefully she laid the baby on the ground and commenced to dig out the plants. The tubers were located a foot or so down, but the sandy soil made the digging relatively easy. Pausing occasionally to check for danger, she dug and extracted sixteen of the plants. She was careful not to detach the stems. These would be easier to hold while returning to the rock shelter where her small family would spend the night. When she had dug up all the plants she gathered them into a bundle. She picked up her baby, settled him on her hip and knelt to pick up the bundle. It was then she found she was unable to pick up all the plants she had laboriously unearthed. There were too many. There was also her digging stick that she was unwilling to abandon. The obvious answer was to only pick up and carry as many plants as she reasonably could handle. She could make the bundle smaller by removing the stems, but the tubers were lumpy and unwieldy and she would not be able to carry even half of them. She was loathe to leave any behind as she knew that they would be devoured by foraging animals and insects within a short period. Leaving them and returning for them later would be pointless. She considered the problem.

Although her family were presently occupying a rock shelter during the night, it was the normal habit of her people to spend it high in convenient trees where they couched in nests of foliage. The nest were built afresh each evening and were composed of leafy boughs usually secured with the more pliable branches and stems being woven and knotted to hold them in place. Her mother had shown her how to construct these elevated sanctuaries and she had adopted a particular way of twisting two pliable lengths around each other and then repeating the process to form a secure fastening. Looking down at the bundle of plants she slowly formed the idea of doing the same thing with the stems of the plants. She placed the baby on the ground and picked up two of the plants. She quickly had the stems securely joined and was able to sling the pair of plants around her neck. Repeating the action she soon had all the plants dangling on either side of her neck, leaving her hands free to pick up the baby and the digging stick. So laden, she returned across the plain to the rock shelter.

F. Brown. ©