Archive for April, 2003

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As Jeremy pointed out: “Yes, but what are we supposed to do?”


Overheard on the train to Katoomba:

Girl: My mother was pregnant when she married my father.

Other girl: Mine too. I think she got pregnant so my dad would marry her.

Today we consorted with our grown-up friends, who have children and houses on the North Shore: Piers, Tash, Bill, Anna, Thalia, Brad, Carolyn and Brigid. Last Friday we spent five hours in Corelli Cafe in Newtown with our young-at-heart friends who live in the Inner West: Big, Moira, Adrian, Sam, Kay, Kelso, Paula and Jason. But even there the conversation was all about rising property values. Sydneysiders only agree on one thing: it’s not called real estate for nothing.


Rach-the-artist: Look at these pictures! Patrick had his first easter egg this morning.

Big: How can that be? Yesterday his daddy ate the Easter bunny.

Actually Michael had the lapin au vin. Big, Rach and I all opted for the beef with potato rosti in beetroot jus, which I believe was the correct choice. Jeremy had the market fish and Jo had a fine rack of lamb, ho ho. The lime souffle with passionfruit cream rocked my tiny world. Below us, the sun glowed on the red sandstone cliffs of the Jamison Valley.

‘Snice here.

jolly good friday

Did I mention the food?

In Brisbane alone: Atlantic salmon at the Summit Restaurant on Mount Coot-tha, with two bottles of Penfolds Rawson


I called America to make sure all was well with my cat.

Kat and Ian stayed the night on Friday. Apparently Bebe jumped up and down like a kangaroo to look out the window in the front door, hoping to catch sight of us on the stairs.


Sarah: My hamstrings hurt, and I get no sympathy, because it’s self-inflicted.

R: Poor, poor Sarah.

S: But tomorrow I’ll be much stronger than you.

R: I had a baby.

S: I had two babies.

Mum: I had four babies.

R & S, in unison: You win.

brisbane water

Once when I was small, Mum and Dad took me to Palm Beach. We looked north to Broken Bay and Lion Island, and Dad said:

“That’s Brisbane Water over there.”

“Is that where Auntie Barb and Uncle Ron live?” I asked, and everyone laughed.

“No,” said Dad, “they live a thousand kilometres further even than that.”

Brisbane, as my sister keeps pointing out, is a great big sleepy country town. It’s tropical here, so a lot of the houses are beautiful old timber Queenslanders on stilts, with trellises and wrought iron verandahs and corrugated iron rooves. Trees grow lush and are festooned with flowers: jacaranda, bougainvillea, flame tree. I can hear at least five different birds singing – a mourning dove, a currawong, a mob of cockatoos, a honeyeater and a lorikeet. It’s overcast but steamy and hot. Insect dreaming. Ants found Claire’s gripewater and feasted. No colic for them.

Barbie and Ron live in St Lucia, near the University of Queensland. Barbie’s my father’s sister. She has a degree in botany and used to be the audio-visual librarian at the university. She’s small and round and quiet and immensely droll. At our wedding, Barbie and Jeremy’s Auntie Jan got talking and realized they’d known each other as children, on the huge cattle stations of northern New South Wales.

We Chalmers women marry men just like our fathers, and although he’s not a blood relation, I think of my uncle Ron as a Chalmers man. He and Barbie met in the botany department at Sydney University. He worked for the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organization, CSIRO, for many years, studying crops for arid regions. He’s brilliant and cynical and political and funny, and he’s always found me completely ridiculous, a quality I value in an uncle.

Ron’s very ill. Heart. We’re dropping in for lunch tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it, because Barbie’s a wonderful cook. We’ll sit on the terrace under the lush ferns that grow on the cliff behind their house, and if we’re lucky, the resident goanna will drop by.

(The kingfisher who lives in Sarah’s garden just made a bombing run at the window.)

You only get one life and you have to choose where you’re going to spend it: Sydney, Dublin, San Francisco, London. I’ve been to Brisbane every year or two for the past decade and a half, but it’s not enough. Years trickle away while my back is turned. Kelly and Ross grow like monkeys and learn to read and write. Baby Ely goes to university. Barbie’s hearing starts to fail. I drift in and out of their lives like a recurring character, like a comet, like a ghost.

and then

…she was in my lap gurgling, and I spilled hot chai on her.

No serious harm done, but God! Time to call Child Protection Services.


We dropped the baby. She was lolling on one of Sarah’s chairs, and lolled a little too far. She somersaulted onto a cushion and my handbag, took a breath and roared. My heart cracked into tiny pieces.

She howled and howled until I fed her, then she cooed at her extended family for a while, then she drifted off to sleep. At least, I hope it’s sleep and not a coma. I’m still anguished.

space is the place

The parent’s room at Brookside Mall in suburban Brisbane is bigger than our whole apartment in San Francisco.

Plus, lessons in ornithology:

Dad: That’s an emu feather. Look how there are two shafts growing out of a single root.

R: Awesome. How many birds have that, then?

D: One.

neology, inc

1. stormbringer

Also yesterday at Petit Creme.

Big: See that? That’s Mark’s bike, Stormbringer. It rains every time he rides it.

Mark: Not true. I’ve ridden it twice when it hasn’t rained.

Big: You’ve owned it for four months.

2. arch-ninja

Doyle’s on Watson’s Bay. We sit in the shade of palm trees, wolfing fish and chips and beer, watching yachts bob on the harbour.

R: I think I want her to be an arch-nemesis when she grows up. We’ll give her ninja training, that sorta thing.

Kay: Whose arch-nemesis will she be? Do you have a worthy foe in mind?

R: Nah, I thought she could freelance. God knows I could use a replacement for my arch-nemesis. I figure there’s a lot of people out there in the same situation.

Kelso: Can’t she just be an ordinary nemesis?

Big: She has to start as an ordinary nemesis, and work her way up to arch.

3. fang-snatcher

At home in Bellevue Hill. I am eating a mango. My father-in-law has been to the dentist.

My mother-in-law: So how was the fang-snatcher?

I snerk, and inhale mango juice.


It feels like summer here. Claire’s sitting on my lap and singing to the lorikeets in the flame trees outside the window. The late afternoon light is the colour of Houghton’s White Burgundy.

We’re home.

We had breakfast at Petit Creme this morning with a mighty horde of well-wishers: Paul and Paula from the Moonbase, Squishy’s friend Shannon and the Sarcastic Mister Bennett, Michael and Rachel and Patrick and Uncles Barney and Big. I explained that we’d adopted Claire as a gesture of compassion towards the suffering nation of America. Her parents, I whispered, were Republicans.

My darling Bellboy, the pony on whom I learned to ride, turned thirty last November, and still looks about twelve. He patted me down for carrots and, finding none, turned his back on me and stared moodily out to sea. We had tea under the jacaranda tree with Thussy, and she gave Claire a kangaroo on a spring.

R: What shall we call him? What’s the Austrian for kangaroo?

Thussy: Kangaroo.

Lunch was in Duncan’s tree house overlooking Bungan Beach. Lauren made us chicken sandwiches, and Blossom the rottweiler drooled over Claire. Literally. There were great pools of rottie-saliva collecting on the deck.

I could totally live here. If I had DSL, and twice the bandwidth across the Pacific. And a private jet.


Howard Junker, editor of Zyzzyva, once seriously annoyed me by making fun of my accent. This is, in my opinion, an irregular verb: I speak with graceful fluency; you have a not unpleasant drawl; he or she butchers the language.

That said, the man knows how to beg. Seeking contributions, he writes:

“We don’t want you to vanish into the abyss.”

I scribble my check in hasty dread. Beyond me, oblivion yawns.


Jenny Fong is back from Carnivale in Rio, and told us about rushing sideways through crowds in an elaborate costume of plastic and feathers. Her shoulders were wide as a football player’s. She reached the rest of her samba troupe with seconds to spare.

Kathryn riposted with Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The Extra Action Marching Band Greyhound bus moved off before the sousaphone player had finished strapping instruments to the roofrack. He pounded on the roof and passing cars honked their horns, but the bus was almost on the freeway before the other musicians twigged to what was wrong.


R: I’ve been reading this great biography of Churchill, and when he was my age, he was a senior Cabinet minister. So that proves I suck.

S: Yes, I think it’s completely appropriate for you to compare yourself with Churchill –