Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The road to Mildura

Sinews of cotton, the clouds reach sparsely through skies we flew through days ago.

Now we drive down roads wedded to the land by trains of purple weed; pattison's curse is a veil that marks the passing miles.

Mildura is an wooden chest upturned. Objects from several eras spill out and land awkwardly next to eachother. The Victorian post office and Officeworks whisper of the same yearning for communication, of paper and pens, and words written for posterity.

We spend most of our time telling stories, shyly proffering wisdom like a bird held on the palm of our hands, whose conviction we test before letting go.

An air of reassurance prevails. There is something comforting in the shared journey, an alliance of sorts.

Tomorrow we drive to the coast.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Going Away

Catch you in a little while.

For the next 12 days I'll be cycling round the Barossa with a pheasant pie in my knapsack, or kayaking around kangaroo island fending off the sea lions and penguins who want to say hello.

I'm looking forward to it. Who knows, I might find time to blog. Then again, I might be busy doing nothing.

Friday, September 24, 2010

creativity on tap

This is a really cool concept for a blog.

Jowell writes short fiction pieces inspired by photos sent to him by readers. He also reviews music and videos.

Better yet, his blog, Creative Writing Class looks like a series of laneways converging. Very cool. h/t Audrey

fighting accumulation

images form professional collector Lisa Congdon's Collection A Day project

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about stuff, as in things. I have a lot of stuff. Some of it is useful and necessary. For example cutlery, bowls, stationery, cushions, a sofa, a washing machine.

But I also have a lot of non-essentials that I've accumulated over the years: books, cds, more books, more cds. And a whole lot of things that "just caught my eye" and I thought, that would be nice on a shelf somewhere (hello ceramic owl collection).

Then there are those things that are hard to throw out - old instruction books, electronic equipment, cords, files and documents that "might come in handy one day"...

There's also a whole heap of things kept for sentimental value: cards, letters, tickets shoved in boxes under my bed that I never look at.

Sometimes, I wonder why I have all this stuff. Especially when I think about having to transport it all elsewhere at some point. Moving is such a nightmare.

There is something quite instinctual about accumulation, something comforting about having things. We use them to reflect our identity, to make our space our own. But they all too easily come to define us, and become the yardstick for our personal sense of security.

In reality, my stuff weighs me down, tricks me into thinking I'm secure in this world, when really all withers and fades, rusts and spoils.

I have fantasies of getting rid of everything, save for maybe my bed, a handful of books and a chair for guests. This will never happen, but maybe my intial goal for the next three months should be to not accumulate anything; to not buy anything unnecessary.

I started by not buying either of the most recent books listed for my course at uni. I just borrowed them from the library instead. That was easy. But it's funny how easy it is too look at my classmates' shiny copies popped on their desks and think I ought to buy one, that I'm the odd one out.

Feist on Sesame Street

I feel like my blog has become one big video of late, but oh well. I just can't not post this.

Feist's album The Reminder is a favourite, and the song 1,2,3,4 just a bit fantastic. It's makes me smile inside. I often play it while taking off for a run, or walking on a sunny day. It just perks me up straight away.

Anyway, she sang an adapted version to the monsters on Sesame Street... "1,2,3,4 let's count some more!"

As an aside, about a month ago I had to report on a kid being mauled by a sea lion at the zoo, and I couldn't get Feist's song Sea Lion Woman out of my head.. it was a bit inappropriate.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

William Carlos Williams

Words  that dance and speak of the ordinary; "no ideas, but in things". The particularity of life unearthing the universal: this is William Carlos Williams.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white chickens.

The Farmer

The farmer deep in thought
is pacing through the rain
among his blank fields, with
hands in pockets,
in his head
the harvest already planted.
A cold wind ruffles the water
among the browned weeds.
On all sides
the world rolls coldly away:
black orchards
darkened by the March clouds -
leaving room for thought.
Down past the brushwood
bristling by
the rainsluiced wagonroad
looms the artist figure of
the farmer - composing
- antagonist

Sunday, September 19, 2010

...think Frankie J. Holden as a circus ringmaster

Spruce Bringsteen

They've played the Annandale Hotel, wowed a crowd of thousands at a mass protest and most recently, conquered the streets of Newtown. "They" are the yet to be named, but still awesome, marching band started by my friend James, aka Spruce Bringsteen.

An algae-counting PhD student by day, Jimmy is band master of a bunch of brass, drums and woodwind that play 80s pop covers with such formidible skill and spirit you might mistake them for professionals.

I started by asking James what the inspiration for his band had been. He says it all began with a chance encounter with a group of school kids during a protest in Argentina against a Canadian uranium mining company.

JH: After an hour long march down the highway we were greeted by a rabble of kids from the local school all with their instruments. Their music transformed the place and gave energy and some funk to what we were doing. So we thought we should start a marching band back in Australia. Of course it took a years time and telling some proactive friends before we got it together.

Check out the kids protesting:

Soph: How do you manage to march, look cool and play a drum in time?
JH: I pretend my drum is a fixed-gear bicycle and rims on my glasses an inch thicker.

Soph: What songs get the kids going?
JH: Jump Around by House of Pain. We don’t know this one yet though.

Soph: Take us through your marching outfit.
JH: Think Frankie J. Holden as a circus ringmaster.

Soph: What is your favourite cat video clip on you tube and why?
JH: Right now my favourite is ‘Cat Playing I Spy’.

Soph: Musical inspirations?
JH: I think Tom Waits – In the Neighbourhood sums it up pretty well

Soph: Tell us a story about a rabbit.
JH: My first two pets were rabbits called ‘Misty’ and ‘Cloudy’. They bore no apparent preference for weather conditions.

Soph: Sydneys best kept secret?
JH: The entrance of the secret tunnel into state parliament the pollies use to avoid the media and protestors.

Soph: Last great meal you ate?

Thanks for sharing Jimmy..... long live the marching band in pop culture.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

drum it like it's hot

In a Storms Dressed As Stars first, this week I'll be bringing you an exclusive interview with the founder of Sydney's newest (and perhaps only), 80s covers marching band.

But before I can bring you the interview, you need to get acquainted with the band. So, here they are performing at the Newtown Pop Up Festival, which brought music, colour and a man dressed in a green rabbit suit to the grimy streets of Newtown on Friday night.

My good friend James, the band master supreme, is playing the Tom Tom on the left, sporting a fine red neckerchief.

The "festival" was a couple of hundred people walking through Newtown, stopping occassionally to party. The first stop was a house someone had lived in once... it if that gives you a sense of how strange, but charming this pilgrimage was. The amazing marching band led the way with such hits as "Walk This Way" and "The Final Countdown" to much applause.

We also made significant pauses at the IGA carpark, two dark laneways, two parks and numerous traffic lights. At each location we watched a different performance: fan dancers, two clowns throwing cream pies at each other, a guy playing a song on his guitar from a two storey apartment block and perhaps best of all, a 5 minute Iggy Pop Party. I know what you're thinking, what is a 5 Minute Iggy Pop Party?

There is nothing more I can say to explain it, because the title is very accurate. But I can show you some footage.

Keep an eye out for my exclusive interview with James in coming days.....

Monday, September 13, 2010

A swell afternoon

After bushfire training, my friend Suzi took me to the newest hole-in-the-wall Adriano Zumbo joint. He already feautures on Darling Street in Balmain, but this new patisserie/cafe is up the other end in Rozelle, just off the main street.

Inside, the cafe kitchen is on display through a big glass window. We were able to sit eating our blackened vanilla macarons while watching the pastry chefs make a croquembouche through the glass window. At one point a chef was standing on a chair, whipping a fork covered in toffee around to make the spun sugar. It was quite a spectacle.

Suzi, a jewellry-making-art-teacher-designer extraordinaire, at the Zumbo cafe.

On a sugar high, we decided to go down to Ballast Point, where the site of an old Caltex oil warehouse as been turned into a "park". I use inverted commas, because park makes you think swing sets and grass. But this "park" is more like a giant sculptured landscape.

Perched on the harbour foreshore near Birchgrove, the space is a mix of industrial materials turned into art, cool hidey holes surrounded by native plants, sandstone cliff faces and waterfront views. It doesn't feel cosy like other parks, but its charm stems from the sense you're perched on the edge of the world. This sense was heightened by how barren and empty is was today. I imagine it's more populous on weekends.

Our favourite spot was a rock wall that's dotted with locks engraved with various lovers' names. So far there's about 20 locks covering the wall. I assume someone put the first one up, and people have been inspired to do the same. 
detail of the lock wall

when it's not worth being a hero

Today was my sixth day of work in a row, and they've all been early starts. Needless to say I'm pretty tired.

Luckily, today was just bushfire training, which as my colleague said felt like going on a school excursion, what with wearing casual clothes and going to an exciting new place - the RFS headquarters.

Let me just say... if you live near the bush, either have an extremely good fire survival plan and an immaculately maintained property, or just don't even risk trying to stay and defend your home. I'm no authority on the matter, but it doesn't seem like many people have the mental strength to calmly stick it out while a massive fire engulfs their home. But I could be wrong.

It was really disturbing re-watching footage of the Victorian bushfires and thinking of the lives that could've been saved if people hadn't been caught trying to leave their homes at the last minute.

I'm also now terrified of going anywhere near a fireground. I don't know if that's the point of the training, but I'm kind of hoping I won't have to use my shiny new media pass any time soon. But with summer just around the corner I think I might be dreaming.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Beauty Has A Name

I've seen so many pretty things; but nowhere compares with you.

I've had Thad Cockrell's album To be Loved on repeat for the last week. There is a rare warmth and tenderness to his songs on what's ultimately a pop record.

He reminds me a lot of Josh Rouse. Both are more on the pop end of alt-country, with lovely sandpapery voices. In the past he's teamed up with Caitlyn Carey of Whiskeytown fame, but To Be Loved is just him and his band.

Beauty Has A Name is one of the loveliest songs on the record, although not the loveliest (Rosalyn and A Country of My Own are contenders for that one). But who can say no to a bearded man at a piano?

I'm again surprised and cheered that he manages to express his Christian faith with a confidence that means he doesn't need to sledgehammer the listener. He Set Me Free is probably the most obvious song about Jesus you'll find, and even it's a really charming bluegrass number.\

Hear more at his myspace page.

Monday, September 6, 2010

getting all gushy

To make sense of this post, refer to point three of my happiness list: the gift of family.

Here is my mother. She is, without exaggeration, an absolute gem. And today she was honoured for 20 years' service to the kids hospital at Westmead. Mum says that she knew she wanted to be a nurse at age 5. She wanted to take after her Great Aunty Soph, who was a nurse, and is my namesake. As an aside, Great Aunty Soph's old house still stands on the highway at Springwood, next to the church of Christ. I drove past it the other weekend and I think the little lane next to the church is named after her. Cool, no?

But back to Mum. For about 24 years she's looked after tiny, newborn babies who need intensive care (before that she did other things in nursing). She recently retired after having back surgery.

What is remarkable is the whole time she's worked in neonatal intensive care, she's never focused on the difficulties or tragedies that go along with working with very ill babies, although there are many. What I have heard her speak about, however, are the miracles, the joys and the families; the families who come from everywhere.

You see, sickness does not discriminate, and nor does Mum. She has genuinely loved and served people from all walks of life. Over the years I've heard about babies who've come to the ward from Fiji, remote indigenous communities, Mosman, Penrith and everywhere in between.

It's not really cool to love your parents a lot (or at least to admit to it) but I do. And I felt all mushy today reflecting on what a wonderful person is my mother. She is my best friend, and I admire her more than she probably knows.

All Delighted People

I recently reviewed Sufjan's new EP All Delighted People for Eternity. You can find the full review here.
Here's a taster.

I'll be upfront: this is no Illinoise. Wait, don't let your brow furrow so easily. Yes, Sufjan goes on a bit of an esoteric bender here, and yes, it seems he's in his wilderness years. But for the patient at least, the gold is here, it just needs to be dug up.
If you want to have a listen, the EP is streaming free on BandCamp here. So is the first single from his upcoming album The Age of ADZ.

Have to say, I definitely prefer the sound of the EP to the album at this stage...

I have a soft spot for the Suf, because I discovered his album Seven Swans just after I became a Christian, and it was the first moving, intelligent expression of faith in pop culture I'd encountered. Since then, he's just gone from strength to strength. Lately, those strengths taking on a strange form. But that's ok, he's allowed to go out on a limb. He's Sufjan.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Book of the Ocean

One of my lecturers (who also happens to be a best-selling author: respect), James Bradley, has edited an anthology of writing about the ocean. It looks to be pretty awesome.

I love the ocean, and all forms of art relating to it, not least of all prose and poetry.

Check out the cover... James is certainly pleased with it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Big Scary: Winter, Spring

photo: Big Scary

So I kind of missed Winter.

Remember Big Scary? They're that little Aussie band doing a different EP for each season, and releasing the singles free on myspace.

Well, I missed winter. But the single, "Thinking About You" is a lovely, hushed, piano ballad that goes a little Jeff Buckley in the middle. You can still hear it on myspace and download it free here.

And yesterday, they released their Spring single, Hamilton, free for download too. It's another great song. I think the magic is all in the sensitivity of Tom's voice and the way the song creeps up on you with its triumphant chorus, then leaves. I like.

The fact that their EPs are selling out continues to prove how clever it is to give people a free taste of your music (Sufjan's doing the same over here).

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I've been tagged by Ali, who was tagged by Ally, to tell you 10 things that make me happy.

My blog is a pretty good record of this. But I'll list them anyway. And yep, this list is super cheesy, but it's the truth.

1. the grace of god
2. yellow ranunculus on the first day of spring (thought that might not be obvious enough)
3. the gift of family
4. the gift of friends
5. laughter that makes you forget everything outside the moment
6. words that sing
7. music that speaks the truth of the heart
8. being near the water
9. adventures
10. really good coffee

And number 11... this cat that likes hanging out on the balcony, in the milk box.

I'm going to tag: Soph R, Christine and Audrey.

a lonely stem

There had to be one for my room too...

grace abounds


At $4 a bunch, on the first day of Spring, after a long morning at work, with 25 degree weather and glorious sunshine outside,  I couldn't walk past these ranunculus. And now I smile every time I walk into the kitchen.

A couple of days ago I picked some jasmine from the laneway and it's still scenting the house and reminding me of the grace that abounds in the changing seasons.