Rusk Assessment

Phew! Finally, we’ve moved into the house we’ve been imagining for 30 years. And it’s lovely – all new, all clean, and best of all, clutter-free! Thank you, Lewis the fantastic carpenter and clutter-buster, who built us hundreds of drawers/cupboards/ built-ins/walk –ins/ plug-ins and slidey bins that have us as close to minimalist as we’re ever likely to be.

But not for long.

Enter our granddaughter Matilda Florence Byng and her lovely parents, trailing the vast paraphernalia of stuff required to deal with a baby’s hunger, thirst, tiredness, cold, heat,boredom, snot, vomit, plops, and anything else that mess-croppedisn’t going to help her get into Oxford. (Well you can’t start these things too early). And it’s messy. But somehow a pile of miniscule vests, a cereal- encrusted bib or a little coloured brick that gouges a chunk of skin from the unwary foot, are all so cute!

Nevertheless when she leaves, we like having our clean house back – for about ten minutes! Less, actually, before I find myself all teary when I come across a packet of her special organic rusksrusks-cropped – the signature snack for our favourite dribbly person – trailed around the house with her particular pals, Pinkie the pink thing and Kevin the koala. And suddenly we find ourselves with a big Tildy-shaped hole in our lives that we long to fill with all that wonderful mess, tedium, vigilance and joy that a gorgeous little person creates effortlessly. I’ve always thought a clean house was overrated, now I know why.

bob-and-tildy-2

reading-to-tildy

 

We didn’t have long to wait before we were reunited for her first birthday celebration in London. It’s a trip we’ve made at least forty times before, so why do I suddenly feel so anxious? It’s all here – the family, the old friends, the dulcet articulate drone of Radio 4, the shops, the theatres, the streets and buses and tubes we’ve been hopping on and off since childhood. And maybe because Tildy is our tangible, and precious reminder that so much is set down early in life, I’ve been thinking about that childhood.

Freedom to roam the streets, taking ourselves to and from school, risking our lives on dodgy playground equipment with no parents hovering, are all gifts we didn’t value at the time. We were allowed to get on with it, and I can see now, that if you’ve just come slidethrough a world war, letting your kid hurtle down a slide the size of Nelson’s column, was the least of your worries. Nevertheless, I don’t remember feeling scared of my world, and I’m the person who invented risk aversion.

I do get it, that the golden era of free university, a bag of chips for sixpence,fries a month in Greece for twenty quid, and a house that we didn’t have to mortgage our souls for, is long gone. And was it really that golden? I remember pubs so smoky you couldn’t see who you were talking to (just as well really), having to go down the street to make a phone call, living in flats with no central heating,  no fitted carpets and – ikeaunimaginably – no IKEA furniture or Netflix! But there were reassuring, if dreary certainties: a job for life with a gold watch and a pension if you stuck it out, a religion that promised you a spot in heaven if you did all those Novenas, and the knowledge that tomorrow would be pretty much like today…just a bit duller.

This generation has to write its own script – aided and abetted by Messrs Jobs and Gates and Zuckerberg, who may or may not have equipped them for the bumpy ride on the Globalisation/Brexit/Trump juggernaut through a warming planet into a sharing economy, armed with a smart phone and a flexible take on each new scary twist technology throws at them. nokia-3310And while there’s no way they want to go back even to the Nokia 3310, never mind the shared phone box in the street, what kind of world is our lovely little bub going to inherit?

Louis MacNeice – well known Irish poet (and friend and colleague of my lesser known  dad) – must have been having the same wake-up-in-the-night scary thoughts about the future for children yet unborn, when he wrote these lines in his sombre and frightening poem ‘Prayer Before Birth’*

‘That the human race may with tall walls wall me…

Would freeze my humanity…

Would make me into a cog in a machine…

Would blow me like thistledown hither and thither…’ (Oh no, poor Matilda!)

He wrote this poem during World War 2, and it seems like a highly appropriate response to all that carnage and hopelessness. But then it dawned on me that the generation for  whom he held such fears, was mine! And only a few years after all that horror, we just strode on through perfectly OK lives with scarcely a backward glance. Indeed as he hoped, in his last verse, the earth:

‘Provide[d] me
 with water to dandle me,

Grass to grow for me,

Trees to talk 
to me,

Sky to sing to me,

Birds and a white light
 in the back of my mind to guide me.’

So clearly there’s no point in viewing the future through my nanna-shaped lens, so badly distorted by worry and bewilderment. Hell, I don’t even have a smart phone, so how would I know how it all works! parot-3-200x150What I do have is the weight in my arms of a fragrant little person pointing with equal delight at the jeweled bright Queensland parrots, or the soft, dun coloured London sparrow-1sparrows…she’s not fussy…everything is a complete delight to her. And together with trusty friends Pinkie and Kevin, her joy in the adventure of her life is what will inspire us all.

tldy-and-friends

  • These are just random extracts from this poem. The full version is very powerful, and a bit scary. Nevertheless I commend it to you (maybe with a strong cup of tea…or gin.)
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A place to Mungindi for (apologies for the terrible pun!)

IMG_3382270px-Mungindi

In April I was able briefly to swell the population of Mungindi (NSW and QLD) from 1,110 to 1,111. It happened when the gals from the local book group wanted to discuss my book (Treading Water – shameless plug), and invited me to join their next meeting. ‘What’s that?’ I exclaimed to my friends George and Jane, who issued the invite. ‘They want to read my book, and they only live 500 kilometres away? I’m there!’

Fresh from hob-nobbing with the Clapham trendies in London, I knew it would be different, and it is. It’s hotter and drier and less crowded than London, but Mungindi can give Clapham a run for its uber-trendy money. And where better to start than in that that barometer of cool – the coffee shop? Does that pass muster? (note rural metaphor) Let’s see, does it have:

  • A clever pun for a name? Yup
  • Authentic industrial chic? Definitely
  • Great coffee? absolutely
  • Welcoming/familiar /home from home/ stay as long as you like? (You know, like in the Friends’ coffee shop Central Perk) Oh yes!
  • Fashionable clientele? Well, we did bump into a well-known local artist and cotton farmer, who was wearing a pair of shoes I considered mugging her for. But if ‘active wear’ is all the go in the coffee shops around Clapham, they might find themselves out-chic-ed by that tall willowy gal looking amazing in jeans and white shirt. Her fashion choice has to accommodate running her house with four kids and a nanny, managing her and hubby’s large business enterprise, and maybe taking the helicopter to Wollongong later! I suppose that might just qualify as active wear.

daily grind

So yes, The coffee shop gets a big tick.

What about accommodation? Well, if you’re as lucky as I you’ll be welcomed into the pages of Vogue Living, all due to the design flair and enterprise of Anna, Jane’s multi-talented daughter.

Jane:Annabrekkie MungAnd since they are both foodies from way back, the cuisine got lots of stars from me (to be honest, I lost count after the third -or was it fourth – G&T). As for the guest wing (attached to the vast machinery shed) it’s so gorgeous, I wanted to live there foreverguest room

So all this augured very well for the Book Group. I’m a bit of a BG veteran…six at last count, and still active in three of them, but this one was a bit special. For starters you just couldn’t live in this community if you were daunted by distance, and I couldn’t begin to calculate the number of miles driven by everyone in order to be at the meeting. But once welcomed into Sally’s spacious and gracious home, they were there to laugh, talk, share experiences and party! It’s an all day frock up, morning tea, lunch, afternoon drinks affair. And they were so appreciative that I had come all that way to talk about the book. They have to be joking! I wouldn’t have missed it for anything…it was quite wonderful, as you can see. And can you spot the one who had to leave the lunch a little early to drive 80 kms to supervise the sheep mustering? She’s the one in the active wear!

book group

Some time in the afternoon a crowd of children wandered in for after-school snacks and a swim in the pool. Someone had picked them up from the bus and delivered them all safely – just part of this far-flung village raising its children together. Earlier in the day I had met many of them all in their all age classroom at the local school. I was immediately reminded of another small place a mere 13,000 ks away and about 20 degrees cooler, which happens to have the best education system in the world!

*William Doyle, Fulbright scholar and a lecturer on media and education at the University of Eastern Finland was advised by his Harvard professor to “learn from Finland, which has the most effective schools…” Following his recommendation, he enrolled his seven-year-old son in a primary school in Joensuu. Finland, “which is about as far east as you can go in the European Union.” What he discovered is also there for all to see at St Josephs Primary – which is about as far west as you can go in one day in Queensland! Let’s see…

  • “Most children walk or bike to school, even the youngest.” Yup
  • “Fresh air, nature and regular physical activity breaks are considered engines of learning.” Definitely
  • “Children are assessed every day, through direct observation, check-ins and quizzes by the highest-quality ‘personalised learning device’ ever created – flesh-and-blood teachers.” Absolutely!
  • “In class, children are allowed to have fun, giggle and daydream from time to time. Finns put into practice the cultural mantras I heard over and over: ‘Let children be children,’ ‘The work of a child is to play,’ and ‘Children learn best through play.’ Oh yes!
  • “The emotional climate of the typical classroom is warm, safe, respectful and highly supportive in a classroom atmosphere of safety, collaboration, warmth and respect for children as cherished individuals.” Right on!
  • “As a visiting Chinese student observed: ‘here, you feel like you’re part of a really nice family.’” Couldn’t have put it better myself.

Most of the kids will go to boarding school in the city, but what resilience and sense of themselves and their place in their community they take with them. I used to work in a school that had a boarding strand. So a simple question like what did you do on the holidays? Opened up a whole new world for us all. The town mice, who thought wandering round the shopping centre looking for the right nail polish and the hot boys, was good fun, had to concede that their country cousins had something pretty special going on. Amid the cotton chipping, lamb rearing, mustering, harvesting etc etc which these gals did routinely, their stories told of community, hard work, wonderful family times (that includes their horses, dogs, and all manner of four legged and feathered creatures), more hard work, resilience, yet more hard work and a long treasured sense of belonging to the country they love.

Internet service in Mungindi might be dodgy at times but communication is fantastic, not to mention all age learning, talking to each other, being accountable and important in your group, active community work through all sectors of the town, and mutual support. These are the offers made by the country. Ooh…where have I heard that before…is it Finland?

 

*http://www.smh.com.au/national/this-is-why-finland-has-the-best-schools-20160324-gnqv9l.html#ixzz455UH1Uco

 

Thrills and Spills

tilda 5Thrilling is not a word I’d use to describe our life at the moment. Comfortable, yes. And predictable. We know we won’t be running the New York Marathon any time soon, I’ll never be size 8 again, and there will definitely be a re-run of ‘Midsomer Murders’ some time in the next 24 hours.

marathon

So predictable is a bit dull, but it’s pleasant. We might cruise tranquilly through the specials at Aldi, or have morning tea at the seniors film club, go to choir practice, or play golf…fortunate indeed to be able to drift peacefully into our sunset years. The closest we get to thrilling is when Midsomer Murders shows an episode we haven’t seen before. Or maybe we just can’t remember.

midsomer murders

But all that changed at 4.35 pm on Thursday 21st January at St Thomas’ Hospital. Within sight of Big Ben and the London Eye and probably within the sound of Bow Bells – if they were dinging especially loudly – our first grandchild, Matilda Florence (Mo Flo* to her friends) arrived.

big ben

Our first sighting was on Skype, but within 24 hours we had in our arms the soft weight and heft and smell of this brand new person. It is nothing short of astonishing. A couple of days before, she was a tidy bump that twisted and flexed, but didn’t stop her mum going to the movies or eating a birthday banoffee cake (made with mango – Queensland style). But now! This wriggly bundle of life with the dark eyes and rosebud lips is so emphatically here! She commands us all to smile and coo and repeat to each other how beautiful she is. And she is.

thea banoffeetilda skype

OK, arguably no more beautiful than all the other babies, but try telling that to all the people grinning stupidly around her. She is beautiful because she’s the next bit of our families – those little houses of hope we constructed in the face of all the crap that life might rain on us (not literally, we hope). Thank goodness we don’t know this when we embark with such blithe optimism on the business of rearing new people out of love and hope. And thank goodness we don’t know how hard it will be to give ourselves over to these new people…to watch and fret over their every move, to minister blindly to their every need, even when we are only guessing what that need is.

Tilda 4

So that’s part of the thrill – the sheer optimism of a new baby. But there is more to it. Trouble is, every time you try to explain it, you end up in clichés, because it’s the most common thing in the world. It has to be, or we wouldn’t have a world, so why is it so special when it happens to you? That’s the paradox – it’s unique and commonplace, profound and ordinary. It’s so huge it connects you with the grand universal story of humankind and yet all these unexceptional people have managed it…even idiots like your own parents!

Tilda me and Bob

But there are a few special thrills for grandparents:

  • You get to relive and remember when it was you that was suddenly responsible for this other life…the whole sweet awfulness of it all.
  • Airbrushed by time, you realize what a remarkable job you did getting them to sleep, feed and poo unscathed. (That’s them. You were extremely scathed at the time).
  • You get to say profound things like, ‘I think it’s wind,’ and people listen to you as if you know stuff.
  • And it’s your baby with a baby of her/his own. We can’t help taking some vicarious pride. Job done, back patted. We must have done something right. (Certainly not tight swaddling…I still can’t manage that.)

tilda and me

And as for that old chestnut, ‘the best thing about grandchildren is that you can give them back.’ Nup, that’s not it. Surely the best thing about the degree of separation is that you feel the same ridiculous love for this little person as you did for your own, but because it’s no longer you in that hormonal haze of exhaustion and exhilaration, you can enjoy the marvel of it, and savour it, think about it, gaze at the baby and later at the pictures (all 529 of them) with a bit of time to enjoy it. Not too much savouring went on first time around. More like saving – your life – before you go bonkers.

Thea, Si and Matilda

Happy two-month birthday Matilda – the thrill that keeps on thrilling!

*Can’t claim the name…that was coined by that well known wit Dr Tim Dark.

 

 

Bring a Plate… and they did!

 

retro-housewife1

This is by way of a massive thank you to all the folk who answered the call to Bring a plate to the launch of my book Treading Water, because as far as I’m concernedthey are the three most terrifying words in the English language. Scary words like Make my Day! Mind the Gap! or, ‘Yes, you’re Pregnant! pale into insignificance compared with the dreaded words, ‘Bring a Plate’.

It’s a wonderful Australian tradition, and epitomises the combination of hospitality, sharing the workload, neighbourliness, and sheer competence that is found among my friends. But in a person of my culinary ineptitude it strikes terror. Because no one ever eats anything I bring! (At least I know to bring something, unlike my English pal, who took it as a plea for crockery and just brought the plate…but it was a nice one)

‘You’re being paranoid’, said hubby after my fifth failed attempt to wow them at Nursing Mothers, and I returned with my tragically still-laden plates. He had an ulterior motive though, because it meant he could happily tuck into the returned goodies: leaden scones, soggy tea-cakes, Anzac biscuits you could sole your boots with and on one auspicious occasion, a pizza that was so dry and hardened we hung it on the wall and told everyone it was a Mexican wall plate (this is true!) It stayed there for six months…even the ants wouldn’t touch it.

mexican   Why would he eat it? Suffice to say the competitive element of the bring a plate thing generated an improvement on the normal offerings. It’s not that I don’t try, I do! And I can turn out a dreary litany of spag bol, roast chicken, and lasagne that kept the family from starvation. If ever I happened upon a new recipe that worked, I’d be so thrilled I’d serve it up ad nauseam (literally), until they were all screaming for that marvelous spag bol again. Not all bad though. We’ve turned out a pair of kids that will eat anything and can cook most things rather well.

Can’t you read a recipe? I hear you ask. Yes I can, and if I make a massive effort, it will be edible, but not a patch on the people who just have a sense of it, who know what goes together, who know that exotic herb, (and can probably grow it in their window box), and their love of it, and casual audacity about what will go with what, infuses the food with flavour. It does! A plate of cheeses and grapes…my latest safe offering just doesn’t cut it._windowbox_xlg

And it’s a skill my friends pass off with such casual competence. After a massive year of house building and moving, one lot found time to leave a wonderful dish of beef cheeks with chermoula in our fridge to welcome us home from a trip. (What’s chermoula? Dunno, but it’s delicious). When asked about some delectable but elusive taste, another friend will say, ‘Oh, I had this at a restaurant…they’d added blah blah, so I experimented with it.’ And in between marking piles of books, cleaning the house, looking after kids, hubbies, parents and most of the neighbourhood, will turn out a spectacular feast…every night.

And, these accomplishments were displayed even more spectacularly at my recent book launch.

Out now on Amazon

Out now on Amazon

me maybe best

(Shameless plug…you knew it was coming!) The booze was the easy part, and just required boxes and boxes of wine to be delivered to our door every day. The fact that the postman thinks we’re raving drunks was a small price to pay for the conviviality it generated. But, given my own ‘issues’, the plea to bring a plate was made with some trepidation. I shouldn’t have worried. The food was absolutely fantastic and there was so much of it. And it’s not just the quiches and the dumplings, the meatballs and the roulade. It’s the idea that those three words invoked a response of such extraordinary generosity, kindness and people’s desire to bring along their friendship in tangible (and edible) form that was so special.

crowd nice 2

Renowned political journo Annabel Crabb has nailed it in her TV series ‘Kitchen Cabinet’ during which she routinely disarms the most hard-arsed politicians with food. They are prepared to risk becoming lard-arsed (sorry…couldn’t resist) in order to appear more human. Hard to hate a person in a frilly apron, no matter how draconian their policies.frilly apron It’s a notion explored her new book, Special Delivery. Needless to say, she is wonderful with food, but also wise enough to know there is more to it, as she explains in a recent interview:

Annabel“Food is the internationally recognised culinary code for ‘I come in peace’. It is a language that says so much more than ‘Please let me in, Madam Speaker’. To friends and family, food can say everything from ‘I’m sorry you had a bad day’ to ‘Congratulations, you clever thing’. And it means still more when brought to the door.”

So maybe it doesn’t matter if the gingers won’t snap or the torte is a bit tart, it’s the thought that counts. OK, I’m thinking, profiteroles would be nice, or maybe some of those chilli lime shrimp cups. And naturally, I’m hoping like hell that someone else brings them!

profiterole

Treading Water – a novel by Angie Oakley

Cover_front publicity

At last! My book, Treading Water is out on Amazon as we speak. It’s on Amazon Australia for $23.39, and on Kindle for a mere $6.11. It’s also available in America and UK, but the UK paperback is 15 quid, so maybe download it. Here’s what it’s about:

 Life seems good for Lucy – she’s so pretty and popular at her exclusive girls’ school. But under that smiling facade is a dark secret that draws her back to the bridge where a young man died. Paul has always been there when she needed him – so grown up and capable and kind. But as they grow ever closer, what he knows about the tragedy at the bridge threatens to destroy her faith in him forever. 

Two young people struggling in families fractured by divorce and bereavement – can they ever be free of the past?

And here are some compelling reasons why you should buy it.

(A) You’re looking for a really good read that will absorb and engage you.

(B) You love me and/ or are related to me.

(D) You quite like me.

(E) You don’t mind me.

(F) You want to be able to tell your friends you know a famous author.

(G) You like blue books, they go with your decor.

(H) The beautiful cover will look good on your coffee table.

(I) I gave birth to you.

If you want it to go gangbusters for me, (publishers’ bidding war/ Hollywood movie/ Booker Prize…that sort of thing) then here are your instructions:

(A) Read it if you want to…that would be wonderful!!!!!! And then give it a review.(Amazon, Goodreads etc.)

(B) Recommend it to all your friends, acquaintances, workmates, bookshops, literary agents, publishers, compilers of best seller lists, famous people who like books…anyone will do. And don’t forget Christmas is coming…Great Aunt Gertie will love it.

(C) You don’t have to read it, just download it and give it a REVIEW on Amazon or Goodreads or anywhere really Four stars please.****

(D) If you can be arsed, give it a WRITTEN REVIEW! Here are a few key phrases – feel free to use them:

(aTreading Water  is a remarkable/insightful/compelling/engaging/authentic work of fiction.

(b) Treading Water takes us into the lives of the young and troubled. It’s a difficult journey, but ultimately a rewarding one.

(c) If you only buy one book this year, make it Treading Water by emerging novelist Angie Oakley (OK a bit over the top…but you get the drift).

OTHER WAYS TO GET THE BOOK:

(1) Here’s the link to the publishers, who will get it to you, and point you to other outlets.( I hope it works…any advice on how to do links would be gratefully received)

poster — 01

(2) I may be able to convince some bookshops to sell it Watch this space.

(3) Come along to The Big Launch! There will be wine, nibbles and you can buy a personally inscribed copy of the book for $20! (I know…bargain!)

Venue: Three White Rooms Gallery, 138 LaTrobe Terrace, Paddington, Brisbane 4064

Time: 6-8 pm

Date: Thursday 5th November

RSVP: roboak@yahoo.com by 29th October

OK now you need to prepare for a relentless onslaught of publicity, obsequious flattery (what good taste in books you have… etc) reminders, date claimers, tasters, teasers etc etc. I am planning to master twitter, so I can tweet you to death, and to pop up on facebook interminably until you’re so sick of me you’ll buy the bloody thing just to shut me up! Don’t say you weren’t warned.

 

A few good men (and one bad one)

firework-glitter--champagne-thumb-480x537-945-thumb-350x391-946

Tadaa! Drum roll! Glitter descending! Champagne ! (well, prosecco). Huzzah!

This is the first of what will become a ceaseless stream of self-promotion, as I prepare the world for the self-publication of my book, Treading Water.

book 2

What used to be dodgy Vanity publishing has become cool! It’s now Independent (or Indie) publishing and is all the rage, so I’m about to add my offering to the deluge of print spewed out from Macs and PCs all over the world. It was hard enough writing the thing, but now I have to promote it non-stop on Facebook and twitter and every other outlet I can find. Hubby has even volunteered to dress up as a town crier, so if you hear some loud bell-ringing in your local shopping centre, it could be him! (Jokes)

town crier

So, what’s my book about? I was once told by a very wise fellow, that every book needs a bastard in it, so I’ve got a doozy in mine. Feel free to hate the handsome, rich and selfish David Connolly, who leaves his wife and family with such casual cruelty, that his two little girls become collateral damage. It’s not immediately obvious in the relatively privileged circles in which they move – they still have good clothes, good schools and plenty of friends. But Lucy, the youngest, is so deeply affected by the loss of her beloved father, she finds herself Treading Water through her childhood and teenage years.

Villainc.svg

I’ve made the dad the villain of the piece, partly for dramatic effect, and partly because I’ve seen (and read, in students’ poems and stories) how the loss of a dad’s attention at a crucial age can have a devastating effect on a daughter. It’s not always so. Loads of parents who can no longer manage to stay together, handle it all fantastically well, with patience and decency and love. Step-parents and step-siblings often become the new version of the extended family with really great outcomes for everyone. But Treading Water is a shout of protest for those little gals so hurt by their loss, that it threatens to blight their whole lives. But please don’t think it’s a man-hating diatribe. I have a few flawed women in the mix, and plenty of very nice men in there too. Hopefully I’ve achieved a gender balance not evident in the current parliament!

gender balance

(Update: Friday 11th September Malcolm Turnbull replaces Tony Abbott as Prime Minister and wastes no time in adjusting the gender balance in his ministry. Who knew he was reading my bog!)

However a couple of good men really stand out. They’re not actually in the book, but they have been absolute champs in the long and fraught process of getting the book out there.

a-few-good-men

The first is that most accomplished Brisbane novelist, and generous mentor of fellow writers – Nick Earls. There he was minding his own business one Saturday morning in the deodorant aisle of the local supermarket, when a certain deranged woman recognized him from his many school visits and writers’ festivals, and accosted him with an extremely cheeky request. Could he give her a line of endorsement for her soon to be published masterpiece? Mr. Earls, to his eternal credit, smiled uncertainly, gave me his email, and didn’t call security. He was probably hoping that the loony lady would forget the email, but no, three chapters and a synopsis thundered into his inbox, and elicited from him a fantastic line:

“Treading Water gets beneath the surface of lives that look suburban and safe. We need to see stories like this being told.”

Earls, Nick 2 It’s now emblazoned on the front of my book… such a famous name to lure the punters in! I did write back, to make sure I was authorized to put it on the cover, and received a very nice reply to the effect of: put it wherever you like! He didn’t actually say stick it up your bottom for all I care, but I wouldn’t have blamed him if he did. All praise to the decent, generous and talented Mr. Earls.*

And a hemisphere away, a Glaswegian photographer by the name of Gary Ross,** demonstrated a similar mix of generosity and talent. In looking for the right image for my cover, I came across his beautiful image of a young girl… my Lucy! It was on a site freely accessible, but the publishers needed more, so I tracked him down and rang him. Not only did he give permission, he sent a special high-res version of the picture, and refused payment, asking instead that I send a copy of the published book to his daughter Skye (the girl in the picture) with a personal message. What a legend! Faith in humanity officially restored!

book 2

And never fear, amid the struggles of the characters, there is still plenty of hope and humanity in my book. Here’s the blurb:

“Life seems good for Lucy – she’s so pretty and popular at her exclusive girls’ school. But under that smiling facade is a dark secret that draws her back to the bridge where a young man died.

Paul has always been there when she needed him – so grown up and capable and kind. But as they grow ever closer, what he knows about the tragedy at the bridge threatens to destroy her faith in him forever.

Two young people struggling in families fractured by divorce and bereavement. Can they ever be free of the past?”

Intrigued? I hope so! I’m planning lots more shameless promotion, a launch and a bit of razzamatazz – any excuse for some cheap plonk and nibblies. The launch will be in Brisbane, but you can all be there in spirit.

It is available as Print on Demand, or as an eBook on Amazon, Smashwords and many of the usual outlets, so we’re on our way. This is just the start!

*Nick Earls is the author of novels including The Fix, Zigzag Street, Bachelor Kisses, The True Story of Butterfish and Perfect Skin and the collection of short stories Welcome To Normal. His work has been published internationally in English and in translation.

**www.iworksphotography.co.uk

***”Villainc” by Caricature by J.J., SVG file by Gustavb – Moved to current name from Image:Villianc.svg (see original file history below). Move approved by User:Superm401. This vector image was created with Inkscape.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Villainc.svg#/media/File:Villainc.svg

A country that doesn’t forget 1915 -2015

horses Eumundi

You could not be in Australia, or among Australians* in 2015, and be unaware of what happened to an extraordinary group of men** on the Gallipoli Peninsular on April 25th a hundred years ago. Their extraordinariness has grown with the legend and become inextricably linked with the story of a newly federated nation in a new century. And they have come to represent all that is to be loved and admired and treasured by a small population emerging as a nation on the world stage. As many have observed, their feats of courage, loyalty to mates and stubborn determination to dig in, in the face of hopeless odds, have been replicated in many other places, from The Somme to the Burma Railway, from Vietnam to the Kokoda Trail. But it is on that sheer and beautiful Turkish headland that – like it or not – the legend of what has come to be seen as the quintessentially Australian character was forged.

Part of it is that they were unlikely heroes; lads seeking adventure, insulated by distance from an understanding of the political endgame in which they were unwitting players. They were endowed, according to the legend, with physical strength, a capacity for hard work, a larrikin disposition, and most poignantly, blithe optimism, which drained away with their blood into the Aegean, just like the heroes of Greek myth and The Iliad. It was replaced by dogged endurance, mateship and resourcefulness learned in no small part on the stations and small towns of country Australia.

And it is how they behaved in the face of impossible odds and bureaucratic bungling that has come to represent a rich vein of the national character, at least in our perception. And it endures as strongly as ever even though the last Gallipoli veteran died in 2002. All the revisionist versions – that it is a masculine and martial depiction of the national character that leaves out so many other important strands – cannot displace it. Indeed the SBS reporter Scott McIntyre, who dared offer a seamier version of the bronzed Anzacs – one of rape and careless violence typical surely of any armed force – was summarily sacked.Whatever our view of war and waste and sacrifice – and these questions are complex and troubling – the courage and fortitude of these men and women continues to be honoured. Anzac-Cove-Gallipo_3280787k

And the celebration has been remarkable. Some of us might have found the rock-concert scale of the Gallipoli service disconcerting (and absolutely freezing apparently, for special guests and ill-clad choristers forced by the logistics to sit for many hours in the dark.) They probably hadn’t imagined they would not only remember the campaign but they would go close to replicating the conditions!

But the importance of this major anniversary is reflected in the many and varied stories offered by all media outlets. And even if your main source is ABC Radio National (guilty as charged) the offerings were varied, absorbing, and moving. We learned of Indigenous Anzacs denied the vote, but proving more than equal when asked to fight for Australia. We discover that all of our lives have surely been enhanced (and maybe saved) by the lessons learned from the remarkable feats of medicine miraculously achieved in appalling conditions. Emergency methods of triage and the role of the paramedic invented by the humble stretcher-bearers are just a couple. And what about those unique and wonderful war-horses, the Australian Walers? I defy you to podcast their story and remain dry-eyed. And what happened to the conscientious objectors, or the shattered men whose war continued long after the Armistice? So many, many stories, all of which will richly repay a visit to http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/

gallipoli poster And let’s not forget Peter Weir’s elegaic, impossibly romantic and handsome film Gallipoli. The music alone will get you, as will Reflections on Gallipoli performed by the amazing Australian Chamber Orchestra with Richard Tognetti. On a more modest, but no less moving occasion, the Noosa Chorale sang Karl Jenkins’ Mass for Peace entitled The Armed Man. Even my somewhat reluctant hubby, who arrived murmuring something along the lines of this is two hours I won’t get back, had to admit he was blown away by it.

armed man

But the closest we came to peeling back the layers of legend, of hype, of militaristic jingoism was at a tiny settlement in the Sunshine Coast hinterland called Verrierdale. It consists of a small community hall with a raised stage in the corner, whose worn timber could speak of many a fiddler and foot-tapping accordionist at the dance on a Saturday night. Not easy to find in the pre-dawn darkness, nevertheless the grounds were full of locals gathered round a simple shrine. memorialWe had a piper, some speeches and Abide with Me, followed by the Last Post. An old proud uniformed soldier limped forward to lay a wreath, followed by a young girl remembering her Vietnam veteran grandfather. And then, for the price of a latte in some of the swankier spots of Noosa, a magnificent breakfast served by a dedicated group of locals of all generations. Smiling grandmothers doled out the milk liberally dosed with rum (known as a gunfire breakfast or, more locally Moreton Bay porridge!). And their grandkids buttered the toast and threaded their way through the tables serving and clearing. So enduring a tradition is it that the tablecloths are stitched with hand-knitted poppies, and come out every year, lest we forget. poppies

In nearby Eumundi, twenty spreading fig trees throw their welcome shade over the main street; one for each man lost from this town.The grief that spread like a stain through this small community is emblematic of the suffering of families all over the world. All that love, and all that loss somehow endured for the sake of a higher ideal. It has to mean something: decency, community, freedom, and ordinary people being extraordinary.

Avenue_of_Honour-27175-91401flowers eumundi

* And New Zealanders (great anthem!) and so many others, although surely the Dublin Fusiliers deserve a moment of our remembrance for their terrible losses.

**And women, who waited aboard Hospital Ship Gascon a mile offshore from Gallipoli ready for the 557 casualties from that first day.)