Monday, July 25, 2011

Finding Julia - Post Card from Canberra.

You can walk from just about anywhere to anywhere in Canberra.

There is a vast network of walking and cycling tracks along all the major thoroughfares.

And there is virtually no traffic!

I've seen more traffic on Friday afternoon in Hawera.

And everywhere you go there are magpies.

It's a city of magpies and monuments.

I enjoyed walking from the Old Bus Depot market all the way along Lake Burley Griffin

(I think that's what it's called) to the Art Gallery,

and down to the local shopping centre near Parliament Buildings.

Of course I was sure I was going to run into Julia doing her weekly shop at Coles on Friday

night; after a hard day defending the carbon tax.

But she was nowhere to be found.

Even in the New Parliament buildings, where I did a thorough search of both the Upper and

Lower Houses, and the roof top.

In case she's slipped out for a ciggy.

I did catch up with her later on the TV news.

In a way this trip was a lot to do with memorials, if not monuments.

It was a sort of living memorial to my Uncle Don,

who's time has almost passed,

and who is the holder of so much of the oral history of my family and of the times he lived in.

He's the Granny's elder brother.

They share a preference for quiet contemplation and books and art and the natural world.

So this was a chance to enjoy a bit of that together, in an unhurried manor.

And for me to meet for the first time as an adult, those members of my family

who exist in that parallel universe across the Tasman.

And to hear the stories from the past that are so important,

and allow you some insight into why you are who you are.

The Granny and I laughed most inappropriately in the reading room of the Canberra State Library while reading excerpts of a novel written by my Grandma Beatrice in the early 1930s.

It's called The Lure of Pleasure.

I know! It sounds like a very bad Mills and Boon Title.

But it's actually very moralistic, and not much pleasure was had by anyone from what I could see.

She gave some of her characters a very hard time. Particularly one called Madge.

The story goes that all the friends and relations round Croyden in those days were terrified of offending her, lest they turn up as a character in one of her stories.

She also wrote under the pseudonym of Grandma Pixie in the Weekly Times for many years.

My Uncle Gordon has kept all her letters to him as a child.

He allowed me to choose one from his collection to have as my own.

I brought home a lot of the memories and recollections, as told to me for the first time, by the people they happened to.

Each with a slightly different perspective on the same events.

One of Uncle Gordy's stories I'll have to make up my own ending to.

It involves some childhood exploits with an echidna in a hessian sack, being dragged around the town for good sport.

Gordy is a real animal lover, so he wouldn't have meant it any harm. It was just something to do with your brother and your mates.

I wanted to know what had become of the echidna. He can't remember!!!

In my version it just crawled out of the bag and waddled away .

We also had the pleasure of experiencing a mobile family afternoon tea, prepared by my Auntie's Kathy and Doreen

(she who is famous for the white above knee boots).

Not just the stories were passed down that day.

I came home with this lovely Crinoline Lady cake plate,

various pieces of curtains, tablecloths, remnants of material and other treasures from her cupboard.

Travelled all the way in the back of the car with the afternoon tea from country Victoria to Canberra.

Much to the consternation of my Uncle Joe, who clearly does not understand the order and priority for packing luggage for us "magpie chics'.

Many of the treasures once belonged to my Grandma Hazel.

And I did find something vintage and interesting in Canberra.
In fact a whole market full of it.

The Old Bus Depot market happens every Sunday in Canberra.

The quality of the merchandise was very high.

Beautifully handmade items.

With price tags to adequately reflect the work and time that goes into producing them,

which I was pleased to see.

If you want to get a bargain, then this is not the place to come.

If you understand and appreciate the investment involved in handcrafting, collecting and re-purposing, then it is.

There was such a lot of beautiful hand knitting to choose from, and hand dyed wools and yarns.

Available in every colour you would care to imagine.

I found a lady who made beautiful and ethereal looking gowns and wrap skirts from hand dyed thrifted doilies.

This wedding dress was my fav.

This is Cocky, who I remember from my first visit to Australia when I was three.

My Uncle Steve has been his curator for the past forty five years or so.

They have very long lives. He'll probably outlive my Uncle Steve.

In fact Cocky is most fond of my Auntie Kathy, who does all the daily curating!

She is country Victoria's answer to Bindi, but she presides over a collection of shelties, poodles, ugly cats, miniature ponies, chooks and birds, approximately equivalent to the number of Little Black Sambo's pancakes!

She does all that from this beautiful spot in country Victoria near Tatura.

I had to have a fairly extensive photo shoot with Harry the rooster, as he would be a fairly useful model for one of The Granny's chook paintings.

He was most co-operative and photogenic.

I caught a ride from Canberra to Tatura with the Uncles, who were able to fit me in because we'd eaten all the afternoon tea!

We stopped along the way at the Dog on the Tucker Box Memorial near Gundagai (hope I have the spelling correct).

You know the song, from Dad and Dave from Snake Gully, used to be on the radio?

The Road to Gundagai.

It's somewhere just over the boarder from the ACT into New South Wales.

Near Snowy River Country.

Anyhow, I loved that series, and particularly that song, so this was quite a significant event!

Clearly the Uncles thought so too.

This is my Uncle Gordy without his trademark "Ned Kelly" beard.

I hardly recognised him without it!

Here he is.

So I arrived unannounced at my Auntie Kathy's, which was done in collaboration with my Uncle Steve, for fear that she would be up all night cleaning the toilet and vacuuming if she had known I was coming!

So I had a few lovely restful days in country Victoria, reading my book in the sun, chatting to Auntie Kathy and visiting all my dead people in the little cemetery at Murchison.

They are all there. Grandma and Pop, and Auntie Marita, and cousin Shannon.

And Kathy and Steve will be there one day too. They've chosen their plots.

The only one not there is my brother Matt.

He wanted his ashes scattered in the Tasman Sea.

Metaphorically half way between both countries that he felt identical loyalties to.

I understand why.

I too sometimes feel that parts of Australia are my spiritual home, although I have never lived there and only spent small blocks of time there.

But I feel like that about parts of New Zealand too.

I think it is simply a visceral feeling of connection to a landscape and its history, at the emotional point where they intersect for me personally.

As I was whizzed down the Freeway from suburban Melbourne to the airport by my lovely cousin Simon, I was pleased that I would only have to point the car in the direction of Motorway South - Hamilton and keep going, when I got back to Auckland.

How very uncomplicated!

And when I reflect on why it is that I choose to live here and not there, and why it is that The Granny has chosen to live here and not there for most of her life, I think it is something to do with the uncomplicatedness. That the eccentrics and make doers and non fitter inners are all universally welcome here, just as much as the two cars, the batch and the boaters, and that innovation is admired and respected, and that we are somehow a less homogeneous society.

No firm conclusions. It may all really come down to landscape of one kind or other, in the end.

And this is the landscape i came home to.

Probably a once in a life time event. About 4 inches of snow in my garden.

Snow to sea level in many parts of the country.

Richard took these photos with his phone.

And as I contemplate my mountain of holiday washing, I am lookin out the window at the real mountain. All picture perfect and cone shaped, fully covered in snow.

And i am happy to be home Blog Chics.


  1. Wow i am actually speachless i am truly lost for words at the beautiful trip, story and wonderful memories you have shared. I feel very humble if that is the right word. I love your familys cake stand how lovely to be able to bring it home and what a beautiful home you have. dee x

  2. What pretty dresses, pretty cake stand and pretty snow ::))

    What a lovely recollection of stories and memories you've shared xxx

  3. So pleased that you're (both) home safe & sound. Quite a catch up & an adventure to boot with a good old fashioned afternoon tea in the middle of it all. Nice to bring some bits & pieces home with you. Wasn't the doily wedding dress just gorgeous indeed..very Magnolia Pearl. I am inclined to wonder if all those doilies might get just a tad heavy all in one garment like that...what do you reckon. Eccentric, make doer & non-fitter-in..ah that's why I live here!! ...but thank goodness I don't have any snow (sook)..WOW..all looks very English at your place with your formal hedging & the amilliary sphere in the middle ..immediiately spotted by our amateur astronomer here of course. Much love Catherine. Hope you've got good gumboots : )

  4. enjoyed having you here & chatting our turn to visit but i need to get valium for the flight over!!! kathy tatura


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